If I start by telling you that the Wild West outlaw Billy the Kid dies at the end of The Kid, Ron Hansen’s newest novel, you cannot complain about spoilers. Historical fiction is perhaps unique in being exempt from having to supply the reader with morsels of the unexpected to keep their appetite keen. We don’t read these books to find out what happened — we read them to better understand why Thomas Cromwell helped his king to murder his wives, or how Shostakovich managed to survive the ravages of Stalin. We want to know how these people felt; we want to inhabit their minds and their world in a way that conventional nonfiction does not allow. Continue reading
By Alina Cohen
A few days before the Problems and Provocations book launch, Stacy Switzer mused that the promotional materials somewhat misrepresented the nature of the event. “They’ve been saying panel discussion, but it’s not really a panel discussion,” she told me by phone. “It’s framed as more of a variety show.” Switzer is the former artistic director of Kansas City-based Grand Arts, a contemporary art project space that closed in 2015. Problems and Provocations, which she and collaborator Annie Fischer edited, celebrates the organization’s mission and projects throughout its 20 years of operation in pages both commemorative and absurd. Given the unconventional, expansive nature of Grand Arts’ work and the new book, a simple panel discussion just wouldn’t be fitting. Continue reading
October 17th was National Boss’s Day — appropriate timing for Grace Bonney’s tour promoting her new book In the Company of Women: Inspiration and Advice from over 100 Makers, Artists, and Entrepreneurs. Bonney, of Design*Sponge fame, moderated a discussion panel that evening at UCLA’s Freud Playhouse, which was hosted by Book Soup and featured eight of the women she interviews in her book: author Roxane Gay, Native fashion designer icon Bethany Yellowtail, comedy writer Shadi Petosky, founder of TransTech Social Enterprises Angelica Ross, artist Tanya Aguiñiga of Aguiñiga Design, founder of Oh Joy graphic design studio Joy Cho, and co-founders of Block Shop Lily and Hopie Stockman. Continue reading
By Alina Cohen
“Los Angeles, in my humble opinion, is moving more towards community,” said writer and filmmaker Cameron Crowe, who wrote the introduction to photographer Pamela Littky’s new book, The Villa Bonita, out from Kehrer Verlag this past September. Littky, who is known best for her celebrity portraits, is “capturing a new spirit of togetherness,” Crowe expounded. “People do, you know, need the smell of another person’s skin and a feeling that there is somebody on the other side of the wall.” Continue reading
Mark my words: it is no coincidence that Private Novelist’s publication coincides with the second day of Rosh Hashanah, when we Jews celebrate the new year and look towards Yom Kippur, when we will ask our old-testament-God for forgiveness. Nell Zink may or may not have dreamed up, planned out, and been the mastermind behind this non-coincidence. That Private Novelist is being released alongside her new novel Nicotine perhaps points to a larger conspiracy orchestrated by Ecco and HarperCollins’ — a collusion, if you will, designed to sell more books. But why give all the credit to some marketing department, when it might be Judaism we have to thank? Continue reading
Marketed as a young adult book, Özge Samanci’s Dare to Disappoint: Growing Up in Turkey, isn’t particularly one. It is better described as 13-up, for adults as well.
Samanci comes of age in interesting times in an interesting place – Turkey as it veers from secular state under military rule, to proto-democracy turning to Islamist autocracy. The second daughter of schoolteachers in Izmir, a town on the Aegean coast, young Özge idolizes her older sister, develops a serious crush on her first-grade teacher, and like every other Turkish child of her era, becomes steeped in the mythos of Kemal Atatürk. Everyone except her sister Pelin and her Uncle Nihat, a ne’er-do-well free spirit, is too strict, too serious, too buttoned-down, oppressed. Mother and father – especially father – drive both girls to succeed in school with the dream of having better lives than the humble ones of schoolteachers in a provincial town. Both must go to the best possible schools – primary and secondary schools in Izmir, university in Istanbul – and both must aim for engineering. Pelin excels, Özge struggles. Her only route into university in the capital is in math, which she neither likes nor understands very well.
From primary school onward, a heavy hand is everywhere, from family, from the regime, and later at university, from an Islamized student body. An early catalyzing moment is when she is punished by her teacher whom she idolizes – and she is no longer perfect. Throughout, she remains under the eye of Mom, and a perpetually disappointed Dad. Flunking out of school, she is one afternoon attacked in a wooded area. She escapes, and it’s an epiphanic moment. She realizes she cannot be what she cannot be and must follow her own passion. Enrolling in drama school while continuing her math studies, she does well at neither. Faced with one more course before scraping by for the math degree, she comes to yet another defining moment when friends cramming with her admire the artwork in her math notebooks – and everywhere else. “in the midst of the noise I grew up with,” she says, “I could not hear my own voice.” She becomes an artist. An assistant professor of interactive media arts at Northwestern University, she remains an artist today, having begun a sketch blog, Ordinary Things in 2006. We were Northwestern colleagues from 2011 until my departure this past August.
Dare to Disappoint would have made an okay print-only memoir. It makes a compelling graphic novel, quite similar in subject matter, locale, and treatment to Riad Rattouf’s recent The Arab of the Future. Samanci is a better artist. Depicting children, including her young self, as exaggeratedly small, her work evokes that of Chris Ware. The work is at once emotionally fragile and strong, poignant and wry, heartfelt and ultimately optimistic.
Charles Whitney is associate dean for academic affairs and professor of communication at Northwestern University in Qatar.
It’s Wednesday again and I miss Cookie. I know I’m not the only one, given how Fox’s runaway hit show “Empire” increased its tune-in audience by 43.75% over the course of the season, from 9.9 million for the January 7th pilot to 17.6 million for its regular 9pm time slot during last week’s double-episode finale. The numbers are higher if you factor in DVR and Internet views. The show, featuring the roller coaster life of former drug dealer turned hip-hop mogul and CEO of Empire Enterprises Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard) and his extended Philadelphia clan by business and by family, most notably his three sons Andre (Trai Byers), Jamal (Jussie Smollett), and Hakeem (Bryshere Gray), and his ex-wife Cookie Lyon (Taraji P. Henson), is not without its critics and controversy, which only adds to the fun. Even Alessandra Stanley, of The New York Times and the Shonda Rhimes debacle, deemed the season “pretty perfect.” Continue reading
One of the more spirited debates in literature over the past couple of years concerns the likability of characters, especially female characters. During an interview with Publishers Weekly in April 2013, Claire Messud took umbrage at the suggestion that Nora Eldridge, the protagonist of her excellent novel The Woman Upstairs, was not someone the interviewer would ever want to befriend. “For heaven’s sake,” Messud responded. “Would you want to be friends with Humbert Humbert? […] The relevant question isn’t ‘is this a potential friend for me?’ but ‘is this character alive?’” Continue reading
In 2005, the Smithsonian National Museum of American History mounted an exhibit titled “Whatever Happened to Polio?” The Salk vaccine, first available in 1955, all but eradicated the virus which killed thousands of Americans and paralyzed many more — most famously, Franklin D. Roosevelt — during the first half of the 20th century. “All but” is significant, though, as the exhibit highlighted. Despite the introduction in 1963 of the Sabin oral vaccine, making it easy and cheap to immunize large populations, there are still a few hundred cases of the disease each year, primarily in Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and, most recently, Syria. Global health experts fear that war, mass movement of refugees across borders, and prohibition of vaccination by extremist regimes could cause a renewed spread of polio in the twenty-first century. Continue reading
Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho is one of the most popular writers in the world. His
best known novel is The Alchemist published in 1988. Since then, Coelho seems to
have churned out a book every year or so. His books have been translated into 80
languages and have sold more than 165 million copies in more than 170 countries,
according to his publisher. He’s venerated by his fans and reviled by his critics, one of whom called Coelho’s previous novel Manuscript Found in Accra a “volume of ponderous clichés.” Continue reading