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Tuesday, 03 December 2019 13:58

Word on a wing – ‘Bowie’s Bookshelf’

Confession time: I assume that I can determine what kind of person you are by looking at your bookshelf. It’s true. I will walk into your house for the first time, seek out any and all bookshelves (within socially acceptable parameters, of course) and make sweeping generalizations about who you are.

Anyone who spends serious time with books believes that much can be gleaned about a person by the books with which they choose to surround themselves. We are what we read. That’s true of us regular folks, but it’s also true of the creative giants who walk among us. Much can be learned about the artist through the art they consume.

Artists like the late David Bowie.

Veteran music journalist John O’Connell has written a book that grants us the next best thing to poking around Bowie’s personal library. “Bowie’s Bookshelf: The Hundred Books that Changed David Bowie’s Life" (Gallery, $18) offers up snapshot looks at the literary works that most inspired Bowie, from his early days through the end of his life. Through brief essays, O’Connell builds some connective tissue between the artist and the books on this list.

Published in Style
Wednesday, 27 November 2019 11:15

The year in books: 2019’s recommended reads

It has been yet another fantastic year for the written word, with many tremendous literary offerings hitting shelves in 2019.

Reviewing books is one of the best parts of my job. As part of that job, I’ve read dozens of books over the course of the past year. I freely admit that I tend to seek out works that I know will resonate for me – and hence usually enjoy the books I review – but even with that degree of curation, there’s no denying that there are always some that particularly stand out.

This is not your traditional “best of” list – that’s not my style. Instead, consider this a collection of recommendations. These are suggestions; I enjoyed them, so I thought that you might as well. I’ve also included selections from my writings about these books (please note that the full reviews are available eslewhere on our website). Bear in mind that this is not a comprehensive list. I’m just one man – there are scores more books out there, exceptional works that I simply never got a chance to read.

So are these the best books of 2019? I don’t know – it’s all subjective. What I can say is that every one of these works captured my imagination and my attention … and perhaps one or more of them will do the same for you.

Here are my recommended reads from 2019.

Published in Cover Story
Tuesday, 12 November 2019 12:48

‘Genuine Fakes’ keeps it real

What is real? What is fake? What do those terms even mean? Is there some kind of gray area in between? And what about authenticity? Is that the same thing? Can something be real without being authentic? Or authentic without being real?

That idea of what is real is the central tenet of Lydia Pyne’s new book “Genuine Fakes: How Phony Things Teach Us About Real Stuff” (Bloomsbury Sigma, $28). Through an exploration of eight different objects that land somewhere in that blurry place between real and fake, Pyne offers readers a chance to consider what the differences might be.

Too often, we allow ourselves to be conditioned to believe that there are two choices: real and not-real. But the world is far too complex to be governed by that sort of yes/no binary – authenticity depends on one’s perspective.

What Pyne does with “Genuine Fakes” is offer up examples that point up the malleability of authenticity; what is and is not real isn’t always set in stone. And just because something comes to be through methods different than the norm, does that make it fake? Or just a different kind of real? It’s a legitimately fascinating read, well-researched and packed with detail – the sort of book that will surprise and delight the intellectually curious.

Published in Style
Tuesday, 05 November 2019 12:36

‘The Body’ a fantastic voyage

How much do you know about the ways in which your body works?

Most people have at least a rudimentary understanding of some of the basics, but it’s a scant few that possess a truly thorough knowledge about the ins and outs of their assorted systems and the organs that make those systems go.

Don’t worry, though – Bill Bryson is here to help.

Bryson’s newest book is “The Body: A Guide for Occupants” (Doubleday, $30). It’s a thoughtful and thorough trip through the human body, an amiable amble from top to bottom and from the outside in. It’s a well-researched and witty exploration of the immense complexities of the human form.

Published in Tekk

“The secret of showmanship consists not of what you really do, but what the mystery-loving public thinks you do.” – Harry Houdini

Harry Houdini.

It’s a name that even now, almost a century after his death, remains familiar to the vast majority of Americans. A cultural sensation during the early part of the 20th century, Houdini captured the popular imagination in a way that few ever have or ever will.

Magician. Escape artist. Skeptic. Houdini was all these things, but those things were far from all that was Houdini. What is it about this man, this self-made myth, that continues to resonate with people to this very day?

This is the question that Joe Posnanski tackles with his new book “The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini” (Avid Reader Press, $28). It’s a look at the man himself, yes, but it is also a look at the people who have been influenced by their passion for Houdini. It’s a biography that examines its subject both directly and indirectly, and while the details of Houdini’s life are fascinating in and of themselves, they are rendered all the more fascinating when juxtaposed against some of the many people who have had their lives changed by their own Houdini-related journeys.

Published in Style

As the old adage goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. That may be true, but what about this: you can lead a donkey to the road, but you can’t make him run.

That’s the question asked by author Christopher McDougall in his new book “Running with Sherman: The Donkey with the Heart of a Hero” (Knopf, $27,95). In this nonfiction account, McDougall tells the story of Sherman, the donkey that he and his family rescued. From sad, almost tragic beginnings, we watch as Sherman – thanks to the boundless love and patience of Chris and his family and friends – goes from a shy, sickly, socially maladjusted donkey to a lean mean racing machine … eventually.

It’s a story about a donkey, yes. But it’s also a story about the lives that are touched by the indomitable spirit of that donkey. Through the successes and the bumps in the road alike, Sherman’s refusal to give up serves to rally the people around him. It’s the story of a man who has moved his family into the middle of Amish country in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The story of a man touched by the generosity and gentleness of the Amish people.

The story of a man and his donkey.

Published in Adventure

True literary excellence is rare. At any given time, there exists a relative handful of writers capable of creating legitimately exceptional prose. There are plenty of GOOD writers out there (though perhaps not as many as we might like), but scant few GREAT ones.

The truly excellent are the ones who are not only capable of crafting greatness, but are also willing to push boundaries – both the establishment’s and their own. These are the writers who, in continuing to challenge themselves, burst through the literary ionosphere and hurtle toward undiscovered realms.

Zadie Smith is one such writer.

Published in Buzz

BLUE HILL – A celebration of the written word is set to mark its third year in Blue Hill.

The Word. Blue Hill Literary Arts Festival is taking place October 24-27 in venues around Blue Hill. There will be speakers and panels and workshops galore, all dedicated to the joy of words. There will also be a number of other events – poetry crawls and art installations and community dinners and more.

Every bit of it dedicated to a celebration of all things literary.

The event has seen a number of acclaimed authors and literary types come through over the past two years, but this year’s festival looks to be bigger than ever, with notables from all walks of writing life participating over the three days of Word.

Here’s a quick look at some of what we’re talking about:

There will be a number of conversations featuring literary types. Journalist Dave Cullen and local student organizer Abigail Jakub will be interviewed by Brook Ewing Minner. Novelists Joe Hill and Elizabeth Hand will chat, as will New Yorker TV critic Emily Nussbaum and Blue Hill Books owner Samantha Haskell. In addition, there will be a panel on ethics in memoir courtesy of Maine Writers and Publishers Association, featuring Gibson Fay-Le Blanc, Elizabeth Garber, Linda Buckmaster and Jaed Coffin.

The New York Times children’s books editor Maria Russo will give a talk on “How to Raise a Reader”

As for workshops, well … wow. Music legend Noel Paul Stookey will offer one in songwriting and Richard Blanco – Obama inaugural poet - will offer one in poetry. Cynthia Thayer has a workshop on helping writers get unstuck, Elizabeth Minkel offers up something about writing fan fiction and Katherine Koch takes on memoir.

There are some all-ages workshops as well. Mia Bogyo will teach some bookmaking fundamentals, while Charlotte Agell (Catch an Idea) and Ellen Booraem (Lightning Round for Writers Young and Old) lead workshops that offer different forms of writing guidance.

The Poetry Crawl will feature former Maine Poet Laureate Betsy Sholl and fellow poets Sonja Johanson, Kifah Abdullah, Mark Statman, Marie Epply and Elizabeth Garber.

Plus, we have Word.Art, the annual show of word-related art at Winings Gallery. This year, the show features Mark Statman, Katherine Koch, Katy Helman, Kristy Cunnane and Buzz Masters.

All that, plus the festival will feature the debut of a new collaborative words-and-music performance piece courtesy of Paul Sullivan and the aforementioned Richard Blanco.

Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? That’s because it is; it’s an incredible amount of literary excitement to be packed into just three days, but there are a lot of people who work incredibly hard to make sure that it all comes to fruition.

Published in Cover Story

Writing is hard. Writing WELL is even harder. There are some writers who devote their lives to honing their specific craft, to finding ways to excel in their chosen niche. Some write fiction, some write nonfiction. Some lean toward the literary, while others revel in genre. Some are reporters and journalists. Some write essays or memoirs or comic book arcs. A person who is able to do any one of those things well is worthy of celebration.

Ta-Nehisi Coates does ALL OF IT.

The National Book Award winner and Macarthur Genius Grant recipient has made his first foray into the realm of fiction (leaving aside his magnificent Marvel turns on Black Panther and Captain America books); his newest work is “The Water Dancer” (One World, $28), a heartbreakingly powerful work of historical fiction and magical realism. It’s a fictionalized exploration of one young man’s struggle with (and against) the peculiar institution that remains our country’s greatest shame.

It’s also a story about the magic of memory and the power of stories, a look at how our pasts can shape our futures and how words can change the world. It’s a tale of love lost and rediscovered, all under the looming shadow of slavery. Freedom – real freedom – comes with costs both expected and surprising, but there are many who are willing to pay all that and more.

Published in Style

There aren’t many writers out there who are as thoughtfully scary as Joe Hill.

Hill has long shown a particular knack for telling stories that are, at their hearts, about the fears that we evoke in one another. Sure, there are supernatural or paranormal elements to some of his tales, but in the end, the real fear – the real impact – comes from man’s connection to man … and what happens when that connection is stretched, twisted or severed entirely.

Hill’s latest book is “Full Throttle” (William Morrow, $27.99), a collection of 13 stories aimed at stoking the coals of that fear, seizing hold of your imagination and pulling it into the depths. There are heroes and villains (although sometimes it can be a little tricky to tell the difference). There is justice and vengeance (although again – sometimes they look awfully similar). There are strange fantastic realms and there are places that look just like home, weird beasts and regular folks.

Published in Buzz
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