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Wednesday, 14 November 2018 12:59

‘The Grandmaster’ makes all the right moves

“Chess is everything: art, science and sport.” – Anatoly Karpov

The game of chess is one with an ancient history. The game has been played for hundreds of years by millions of people from all corners of the globe. It is buoyed by its universality and its basic meritocratic structure – the more skilled player almost always wins.

You would think such a game would have deep appeal to the American psyche. That isn’t the case, however – not since the too-brief domination of the world stage by Bobby Fischer back in the 1970s has the United States paid much attention to the game.

But when the World Chess Championship landed in New York City in 2016, Brin-Jonathan Butler was there for it. His chronicle of that battle between Norwegian wunderkind Magnus Carlsen and Russian Sergey Karjakin - the first WCC contested on American soil in two decades - is titled “The Grandmaster: Magnus Carlsen and the Match That Made Chess Great Again” (Simon & Schuster, $26).

It’s an insider’s look at a match that was considered almost a foregone conclusion at the onset before turning into a battle for the ages featuring one of the greatest finishes in chess history. It is also an examination of the history of the game as well as the state of chess today, both here and abroad.

Published in Sports
Wednesday, 14 November 2018 12:27

‘The Labyrinth Index’ amazes

As a book reviewer, dealing with ongoing series can be tricky. Leaving aside the fact that you need to have started from the beginning – no mean feat when new books are constantly crossing your desk – you have to find ways to keep your own viewpoint fresh as an overarching narrative unfolds over six, eight, 10 books. So as a rule, I don’t usually wade into those waters.

But every rule has its exceptions. One of mine is Charles Stross and his Laundry Files.

Published in Style

We have always sought to explore the unknown. There have always been men who want to be the first to be somewhere, the first to do something. The spirit of adventure runs strong with some – too strong to ignore and so strong as to lead to truly astonishing accomplishments.

In “The White Darkness” (Doubleday, $20), author David Grann offers up the story of one such man, a man whose lifelong affinity for the idea of polar exploration and the men who pioneered it led him to become a polar explorer himself. His devotion led to incredible feats, Antarctic adventures the likes of which we hadn’t seen in nearly a century.

The book – which sprang from an article Grann had written for the New Yorker – tells a tale both gritty and uplifting. It’s a story of how we might share the triumphs of the past while pushing forward along our own paths.

Published in Adventure

When one hears about a new Stephen King novel, one has certain expectations. We know that it is going to be a compelling story. We know that it will feature mysterious, likely supernatural elements. We know that the ideas resting beneath the narrative surface will be thoughtful and engaging.

And we know that chances are good that it will be long.

Not so with King’s latest. Titled “Elevation” (Scribner, $19.95), the author’s latest is a much slimmer story than we usually see from him – just shy of 150 pages. Have no fear, however – this Castle Rock tale more than meets all the other expectations you might have. But while the inexplicable and uncanny are present, this book isn’t ABOUT that. It’s a charmer of a feel-good story that illustrates the breadth of King’s talents, breaking some new ground while still doing what he does best.

Published in Buzz

It’s safe to say that the Boston Celtics of the 1950s and 1960s were the greatest dynasty in American professional sports. One could try to make arguments for other teams in other sports, but in terms of pure extended dominance, it’s tough to argue against eight consecutive championships and 11 titles in 13 seasons.

It’s also tough to argue against any two players being more vital to those victories than Bill Russell and Bob Cousy. But despite their brilliant dynamic on the court, their relationship beyond basketball is something a little more complicated.

Both aspects of the Cousy/Russell link are explored in Gary Pomerantz’s new book “The Last Pass: Cousy, Russell, and What Matters in the End” (Penguin Press, $28). Built around a years-long series of interviews with Cousy, the book explores the history of that dynastic time in Celtics history and examines an NBA that might have disappeared forever had Cousy and Russell not come along, all while also looking at issues of race in a particularly tumultuous time in our society.

Published in Sports

Here in 2018, the television entertainment options presented to us are truly staggering. Between broadcast networks, cable channels and an ever-increasing number of streaming services, it feels as though there are nigh-infinite options for new content.

And yet, for many of us, the choice is to look back. Whether it is a nostalgia trip or a youthful discovery of a show from before our time, we use the Netflixes and Hulus of the world to watch what was beloved a generation ago.

We watch “Friends.”

Why does this sitcom about six, well … friends living in New York City from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s still resonate? Why is it still among the most watched programs in both streaming AND syndication, even well over a decade after the final new episode aired?

That’s the central question behind Kelsey Miller’s excellent retrospective “I’ll Be There for You: The One about Friends” (Hanover Square Press, $26.99). This thorough and thoughtful book goes deep on the beloved show, exploring the behind-the-scenes making of the show as well as the broader pop cultural impact it had during its decade-long run.

Published in Buzz
Tuesday, 16 October 2018 18:10

‘The Library Book’ worth checking out

I’ve always considered libraries to be magical places.

My childhood was marked by eagerly-anticipated twice-monthly trips to the Bangor Public Library, where my voracious and omnivorous reading habits were readily sated. I’d spend hours wandering the shelves, putting together an impressive stack of books – one far larger than was generally allowed – and getting checked out with a smile and a “See you soon!”

Susan Orlean is a lifelong fan of libraries as well. Her latest book is “The Library Book” (Simon & Schuster, $28), yet another marvelous piece of writing from one of the best nonfiction authors of our time. Using a single foundational event – the massive fire that took place at the Los Angeles Public Library over 30 years ago – Orlean constructs a paean to libraries, leaning into LAPL-related specifics while also spinning off into thoughtful and celebratory musings on the intellectual, cultural, historical and political impact of libraries.

Published in Style
Tuesday, 16 October 2018 18:07

Taking command – ‘8-Bit Apocalypse’

In this age of esports and gaming computers and generational consoles, it can be easy to forget that video games have been on the entertainment scene for a relatively brief time. In the industry’s nascent years, video games were shared experiences, only playable through pumping quarter after quarter into game cabinets in arcades across the world.

Those early days serve as the setting for Alex Rubens’s new book “8-Bit Apocalypse: The Untold Story of Atari’s Missile Command” (The Overlook Press, $26.95). It’s a look at the world of video games – and the culture at large – through the lens of one specific game, the Atari classic “Missile Command.”

Through that one game, Rubens examines the explosion of the industry in the late 1970s and juxtaposes it with the Cold War political climate of the time – a comparison for which “Missile Command” was uniquely suited. It also allows for a look at how video games in general have impacted – and continue to impact - the culture at large.

Published in Tekk
Wednesday, 10 October 2018 12:20

New novel proves a worthy ‘Foe’

What is it that makes us who we are? And just what would it take to create something that accurately captures that indefinable something?

“Foe” (Gallery, $25.99) by Iain Reid is structured around that deceptively simple question. We all think we know what it is that makes us tick, but what if there were someone out there who wanted – who NEEDED to find a way to accurately recreate you for reasons that were seemingly important yet unfortunately murky.

What Reid has built is a philosophical puzzle-box of a novel, a near-future speculative journey that explores the notion of self-determinism and the lengths to which we will go to execute our perceived duty – both to ourselves and to those about whom we care the most.

Published in Buzz
Wednesday, 03 October 2018 12:50

Love hurts – ‘Heartbreaker’

Considering the wealth of recent works that marry genre conventions with literary fiction, you might think that there’s little left in the way of potential surprises. No matter how rich the vein might be – and it has proven to be rich indeed – you’d imagine that it would be difficult to mine something new and fresh from that lode.

And then you read something like Claudia Dey’s “Heartbreaker” (Random House, $26) and realize that there are creative powerhouses out there continuing to strike literary gold. It’s a novel about coming of age and motherhood and sexual politics wrapped in a sci-fi dressing of alternate history and cult dynamics. It is powerful and thought-provoking and unrelentingly weird – both in the tale and in the telling.

It shines.

Published in Style
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