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Few writers today have been working the cultural criticism beat as long and as successfully as Chuck Klosterman. To many, his is THE voice when it comes to pop analysis and contextualization. But while his latest book might explore some of those same ideas, it does so through a different literary lens.

“Raised in Captivity: Fictional Nonfiction” (Penguin, $26) offers the same sort of quick-hit cleverness that permeates Klosterman’s nonfiction, but via a delivery medium of short fiction. Flash fiction, really – none of the 34 pieces that make up this collection is more than a handful of pages and some are considerably shorter.

The book’s subtitle is an accurate one – the tales contained within are brief, fictionalized explorations of the same ideas and hypotheticals that feature prominently in Klosterman’s nonfiction work. They are strange and offbeat, small and skewed glimpses of the zeitgeist through weird-colored glasses – think “Twilight Zone” or “Black Mirror,” only in a much bigger hurry. And while they vary in length, style and tone, all of them ring loudly with the author’s distinctive voice.

Published in Buzz

There are good books. There are great books. And then there are books that are … more.

Books that marry deft, propulsive prose with potent, stomach-punch emotions and meticulously-conceived characters. Books that tell remarkable stories while simultaneously transcending the stories being told. Books that take hold of your brains and your guts with equally ironclad grips, demanding your attention and imagination.

Books like Colson Whitehead’s “The Nickel Boys” (Doubleday, $24.95).

Whitehead has long been considered among the best of his writerly generation; his last offering – 2016’s “The Underground Railroad” – won the Pulitzer Prize, among many others. The staggering thing is this: he’s still getting better.

“The Nickel Boys” is Whitehead’s seventh book – and arguably his best yet. He eschews the genre flourishes with which his previous storytelling ventures have been peppered, instead committing to a straightforward realism that allows just the briefest glimmers of hopefulness against a nigh-unrelentingly bleak backdrop.

Published in Style
Tuesday, 09 July 2019 20:23

Set sail with ‘The Porpoise’

There are those who say that there are only so many stories, that the myriad tales we tell are all variations on just a few themes. Even so, there is something truly remarkable that can happen when a writer takes it upon themselves to reinterpret or reimagine an already-extant story.

Mark Haddon has done just that with his new novel “The Porpoise” (Doubleday, $27.95). It’s a weird and fantastical take on William Shakespeare’s “Pericles, Prince of Tyre,” itself a story that was a reimagination of a tale that came before. It’s a strange and at times unsettling adventure, one that bounces back and forth through time and operates on multiple, metatextual levels.

It is a story about history, about how truth morphs into myth and how the stories we tell can bleed into the world in which we live. It’s about the agency of women and the ugliness of men, about the consequences of our choices and the meaning of love. There are stretches of swashbuckling derring-do and moments of quiet introspection. It is a tale that shows that isn’t always much difference between the past and the present.

Published in Style

No matter how far we move into the future, there will always be much that we can learn from the past. And often, the achievements of the former lead directly to paradigm shifts in the latter.

That’s where Dr. Sarah Parcak comes in. She is a professor of anthropology at the University of Alabama-Birmingham who is at the forefront of the cutting-edge field of space archaeology. Yes, you read that right – space archaeology. Through the use of high-resolution satellite imagery and other tools, Parcak and her colleagues have completely changed the game, finding thousands of heretofore unknown potential dig sites and unlocking whole new worlds of investigative possibilities.

The National Geographic Explorer, TED Prize-winner and all-around brilliant researcher has written a new book – “Archaeology from Space: How the Future Shapes Our Past” (Henry Holt and Co., $30) – aimed at sharing her work, its importance and the history behind it. It’s a chance to gain a closer understanding of the complexities of Parcak’s work, as well as the value that comes from digging into our ancient past. It’s a compellingly-written piece of popular science.

But it also offers something that other science-oriented nonfiction doesn’t – the warm, impassioned and funny voice of Sarah Parcak.

Published in Tekk

It’s that time of year when everyone is on the lookout for their next summer read. And what could be better for a summer read than a story that involves the summer game?

Linda Holmes – perhaps best known as the host of NPR’s excellent “Pop Culture Happy Hour” podcast – has written her first novel. Titled “Evvie Drake Starts Over” (Ballantine Books; $26), it’s the story of two people, each lost in their own way, finding solace in one another’s unexpected company – solace that begins as friendship, but gradually develops into something else.

It’s a charming and engaging story that also proves willing to look at loss and how that can mean different things to different people. The way we mourn – and what we choose to mourn – can vary wildly. Sometimes we wish to be helped. Sometimes we wish to be held. And sometimes, we simply wish to be left alone.

Published in Style

The quest for immortality is one on which people have embarked since we developed the existential understanding of what it means to die. Call it the fountain of youth, the philosopher’s stone, the elixir of life – whatever it is, it is meant to extend our lives beyond the limits nature has set upon them.

But even those who are single-mindedly devoted to that quest may need fellow travelers – and those travels can sometimes lead to something more meaningful than life everlasting.

Jake Wolff’s “The History of Living Forever” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux; $27) is the story of one such quest – a quest that threads through the past, present and future and sweeps into its maelstrom two people whose all too brief connection would have widely rippling impacts on their lives and the lives of those around them.

It is a story of devotion, both to the ideas we hold dear and to the dear people who first conveyed those ideas to us. It is about different kinds of love and what it means to sacrifice. It is about bad decisions made for good reasons. It is about believing that science can explain everything – including magic.

Published in Style

Memory is a powerful thing. Certain memories are so vibrant, so potent, that recalling them almost feels as though we’ve been transported back to the moment in which they took place.

But just how real could that sense of transport truly become?

That’s one of the central notions in “Recursion” (Crown, $27), the new novel from author Blake Crouch. It’s an exploration of what might happen if mankind was allowed to use our most vivid memories as a gateway to what came before. It’s a compelling thriller built on big ideas – typical of Crouch’s thought-provoking sci-fi sensibility.

Published in Buzz
Tuesday, 18 June 2019 19:34

Roger Dodger – ‘They Bled Blue’

Perhaps more than any other sport, baseball is entangled with its history. Even as we witness magnificent feats in the present, our eyes turn ever toward the past. Whether it is through statistics or stories, baseball fans love to look back.

Author Jason Turbow has a knack for transporting us to times gone by and thoroughly revisiting players and teams from the game’s history. We’re not talking about grainy black-and-white history, however – these are teams whose memories are still vivid in the minds of fans of a certain age.

His latest is “They Bled Blue: Fernandomania, Strike-Season Mayhem, and the Weirdest Championship Baseball Had Ever Seen: The 1981 Los Angeles Dodgers” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26). That mouthful of a title looks back nearly 40 years, digging into the particulars of an iconic franchise during one of the strangest seasons baseball had ever seen.

Seriously – the sport had never seen anything quite like the 1981 Dodgers. From the full-on phenomenon that was Fernando Valenzuela to the era-ending turn from one of the game’s longest-serving infields, from a season split in two by labor strife to the strangest postseason set-up ever, it was a time of turmoil and triumph.

Published in Sports

There are plenty of people out there in the world who will tell you just how wonderful it is to be a parent. For these folks, there is nothing quite so rewarding as becoming a mother or father. That notion of the importance of having and raising children has been part of our society for so long as to have become engrained in the communal discourse.

But what about those who choose not to be parents? Those who choose to be childfree?

Dr. Amy Blackstone is a professor of sociology at the University of Maine; her new book is “Childfree by Choice: The Movement Redefining Family & Creating a New Age of Independence” (Dutton, $26). In it, Blackstone condenses a career’s worth of studies focused on childlessness and the childfree choice into a treatise on the concept of what it means to be childfree.

Published in Style
Tuesday, 04 June 2019 16:18

‘Middlegame’ brings its A-game

The practice of alchemy is one of those things that most people are familiar with even if they don’t necessarily know that they possess that familiarity. Certain basic notions – turning lead into gold, the Philosopher’s Stone – have transcended their protoscientific origins and made their way into the common vernacular.

But what if alchemy worked? Really and truly worked? And what if its adherents still walked among us, operating at the behest of secret cabals devoted to both preserving and elevating the practice? What if the alchemists sought to rule not just the universe, but the very laws that governed it?

That’s the world we get with Seanan McGuire’s “Middlegame” (Tor, $29.99). But our entry into this world is not through alchemy writ large, but rather through its products and practitioners and (sometimes) both. It is a story of magic by way of science – or vice versa – but it is also the story of what it means to have gifts you don’t understand. It’s about living in a world where the possible is possible, but only to a scant few. It’s about being the sort of special that scares just about everyone who doesn’t share that kind of specialness.

It’s about the choices we make and the consequences, both near-term and far-reaching, of those choices.

Published in Buzz
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