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Wednesday, 16 January 2019 14:04

‘Philip K. Dick: A Comics Biography’

I’m never sure if I want to know more about my heroes. Specifically, literary heroes.

It’s not that I have any aversion to biography as a genre – I even enjoy a good memoir now and then – but for whatever reason, I tend to tread carefully when it comes to books about the people who write the books I love. There’s a separation between art and artist that just feels more important when it comes to authors I admire.

But then I stumbled across a graphic novel biography of Philip K. Dick and I couldn’t say no.

“Philip K. Dick: A Comics Biography” (NBM Publishing, $24.99) – written by Laurent Queyssi and illustrated by Mauro Marchesi – tells the story of one of the most prolific and belatedly iconic science fiction writers of the 20th century. It follows Dick through the trials and tribulations of his life, from his early concerns to his later paranoia to his lifelong struggles with money. While there’s not much new here for longtime fans, those with limited knowledge of the writer whose work inspired movies like “Blade Runner” and “Minority Report” and TV shows like “The Man in the High Castle” will encounter some surprises.

Published in Buzz

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

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
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

There’s no denying that Bill Walsh and Bill Belichick are among the greatest coaches in the history of football. One can argue about their relative placements in the pantheon, but it’s difficult to dispute either’s placement among the greatest of the greats. Meanwhile, Raiders owner Al Davis spent decades as the free-wheeling outlaw of the NFL’s leadership class, bringing his own unique ideas and passions to the game.

And Michael Lombardi worked under all of them.

Those relationships form the basis for Lombardi’s new book “Gridiron Genius: A Master Class in Winning Championships and Building Dynasties in the NFL” (Crown Archetype, $27). It’s a chance for Lombardi to impart the myriad lessons he has gleaned over his decades of working with some of the finest football minds in history.

Published in Sports

Sarah Bernhardt is one of the most legendary names in the world of the theater. She was the first global superstar actress, renowned for her beauty and talent on both sides of the Atlantic. Her performances were considered iconic, once in a lifetime experiences to behold. Her fame has transcended centuries; even today, lovers of the stage know her name and have heard of her exploits.

And yet … she had a rival. A rival whose naturalistic approach to acting bore a much closer resemblance to the modern theater than any of the highly stylized work being presented by Bernhardt. A rival who might have been even better. Eleonora Duse’s name has been lost to history, unfamiliar to all but the most devoted of theater historians, but in her heyday, she stood shoulder to shoulder with Berhardt’s greatness.

Peter Rader’s “Playing to the Gods: Sarah Bernhardt, Eleonora Duse, and the Rivalry that Changed Acting Forever” (Simon & Schuster, $26) takes a deep dive into this once-storied and largely-forgotten chapter of theater history, looking at the relationship between two women who ascended to the greatest heights of their profession, but took drastically different paths to get there.

Published in Style
Wednesday, 05 September 2018 11:04

To the extreme – ‘Superhuman’

Just what are we capable of?

That’s the question asked by biologists, psychologists, anthropologists – just about any “-ist” you can think of … what are the limits to human endeavor? It’s a question whose complicated answers evolutionary biologist Rowan Hooper hopes to unravel.

Hooper’s new book is “Superhuman: Life at the Extremes of Our Capacity” (Simon & Schuster, $27) introduces us to a vast and varied collection of outliers, individuals whose abilities in certain arenas far outstrip the capacity of the average person. Whether we’re looking at intelligence or physical endurance or courage or empathy, there are people out there who are more disposed to the extreme end of the spectrum.

Published in Tekk

Writing about science in a manner that is entertaining and accessible while also conveying the desired information with clarity and concision – not an easy task by any means. Finding the proper balance of wonky jargon and narrative engagement requires a backwards-and-forwards depth of knowledge about the subject matter AND significant storytelling acumen. It’s a shot at harmony while dodging discord.

In short, there’s a real art to science writing.

Nick Pyenson’s new book “Spying on Whales: The Past, Present, and Future of Earth’s Most Awesome Creatures” (Viking, $27) is a prime example of getting it right. Pyenson is unabashedly wonky for long stretches (though he does come by it honestly - he’s Curator of Fossil Marine Mammals at the Smithsonian and a noted paleobiologist), but he also allows his personal passion for the work shine through. True passion is infectious, and that’s what he brings to the table – the reader can’t help but be drawn along.

Published in Tekk

What happens to people when fame is thrust upon them too soon? What if they can’t handle the spotlight, yet neither are they allowed to escape it? And when that shine finally does fade, what if they want to forget? Can they forget?

These are the sorts of questions that writer/illustrator Michael Kupperman asks in his new graphic memoir “All the Answers” (Gallery 13, $25). It’s the story of his father Joel Kupperman, who in the years during and immediately after World War II was one of the most famous figures in the country, thanks to his childhood participation on a wildly popular radio program. It was a past the elder Kupperman fought to forget, but when the specter of dementia loomed, Michael sought to learn more about this time in his father’s life before it was lost to the rapidly-blooming cloud of oblivion.

Published in Style
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