As with most genre tropes, I’m a fan of time loops provided the execution is there. If the writer is lazy or uninspired, the loops quickly lose their luster, fading into a spiral of repetition that leaves us bored and disinterested.

But if the writer comes in hot, with thoughtful ideas and narrative clarity, the time loop can be a powerful storytelling weapon, providing an altogether different (but no less effective) path to character development.

Adrienne Celt comes in hot.

Her new book is “End of the World House” (Simon & Schuster, $27.99), a taut and tightly-told tale of one woman’s journey through the same day over and over again – a journey that leaves her entangled in mystery even as her memories begin to bleed together. The fact that the day in question just happens to be one where she has access to a private tour of the Louvre is just icing on the proverbial cake.

(In case you haven’t worked it out yet, the title of this review translates roughly as “Groundhog Day at the Louvre.” I frankly don’t care if you’re amused or not, because I am delighted with myself.)

This is a story that takes place in a world where the end is looming, where everything exists in a state of perpetual precariousness. And our heroine Bertie is left to navigate this world with companions who may or may not actually be there with her, a messy mélange of memory that leaves her questioning not just the reality of the present, but the truth of the past.

Published in Style

As someone who has been reviewing books for a long time, I’ve developed a pretty good curatorial sense with regard to my choices. The reality is that there are just too darned many books out there – there’s no hope of me reading them all. And so, I’ve gradually found a selection system that works for me.

But there’s no such thing as a perfect system.

And so, every once in a while, I find myself with a book that almost fell through the cracks. Usually, it’s a style or genre that I don’t ordinarily indulge in. For whatever reason, the title was never on my radar until one voice – usually a fellow critic or blogger whose opinions I respected – pushed it into my attention. Many times, that book still isn’t for me.

But sometimes, I get Tara Isabella Burton’s “The World Cannot Give” (Simon & Schuster, $27.49).

Set in an isolated Maine prep school, this is a story about the many shapes and flavors of fervor. It is a tale about the choices we make, about how we allow ourselves to be consumed by the outside influences that serve as flames to our moths. It is about sexuality and religion and the devotion that springs from them both.

It is also – if you’ll forgive the light blasphemy – one hell of a read.

Published in Style

What does it mean to be a good person?

That’s a question that people have been asking themselves since we’ve been capable of asking ourselves questions. There’s a fluidity that comes with moral judgments, a shift of perspective from individual to individual. “Good” means different things to different people, and yet … is it possible that there’s a right answer? Some of our most brilliant thinkers have devoted years of their lives in an effort to figure it out.

And now we can add Michael Schur to the list.

Schur – a television writer/producer responsible for some of the most beloved sitcoms of the past 20 years – has written his first book, titled “How to Be Perfect: The Correct Answer to Every Moral Question” (Simon & Schuster, $28.99). In it, he delves into the sometimes-thorny realm of moral philosophy – a subject that he explored to great effect in his excellent show “The Good Place” – and finds ways to connect the abstraction of thought with the concrete reality of existing in the world.

The result is a wryly funny book that is also packed with wisdom, a primer of sorts with regard to the semantics of being a good person. Each chapter is headed by a question that addresses moral behavior; these questions are explored and often (but not always) fully answered thanks to Schur’s wit and his willingness to mix it up with some admittedly challenging thinkers, all with the help of some dense philosophical tomes and a few modern-day experts to help guide him along the way.

Published in Style

You know who Michael Schur is, even if you don’t know you know.

Simply put, Schur is one of the creative forces behind some of the most beloved television programming of the past two decades. His wry wit and delicate sense of the absurd has contributed to some all-time great shows.

This is a guy who, after a few years spent on the writing staff at “Saturday Night Live,” would go on to work on NBC’s classic sitcom “The Office” before going on one of the all-time runs in the history of comedic television.

He and Greg Daniels co-created “Parks and Recreation,” which first hit the airwaves in April of 2009 and ran for seven seasons. While that show was still running strong, Schur’s next creation, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” debuted in 2013 and only recently concluded after an eight-season run. And in 2016, Schur turned moral philosophy and the afterlife into “The Good Place,” which wrapped after four seasons.

Think about that – this is a guy who played a major role in four of the definitive sitcoms of the 21st century and played a huge part in the creation of three of them. Michael Schur has worked on more seasons of excellent TV than there have been years starting with a 20.

(Now, I’ll confess that my fandom extends in a slightly wonkier direction, as I am a longtime fan of Schur’s work as baseball blogger Ken Tremendous – RIP Fire Joe Morgan – and his delightful partnership with the sportswriter Joe Posnanski on the eponymous Poscast, currently available wherever you find such things. He also holds an affinity for David Foster Wallace’s seminal “Infinite Jest,” which, as a dude who majored in English in the ‘90s, I totally get.)

You might think, “Wow! That’s a lot!” Particularly when you take into account all of the other projects that Schur produces and/or develops – can’t wait for his upcoming “Field of Dreams” show, by the way. This is one busy dude.

And so he wrote a book. OF COURSE he did.

Schur’s book – his first – is a nonfiction work titled “How to Be Perfect: The Correct Answer to Every Moral Question,” published by Simon & Schuster and out as of January 25.

(See our full review of "How to Be Perfect" here.)

Published in Cover Story

How much thought have you given to your voice?

Not the way it sounds, mind you. We’re not talking about the words that you might say or the notes that you might sing, but rather the actual voice itself. The physiological and neurological underpinnings of how we as human beings are able to harness its many complexities.

If you’re at all curious, then you desperately need to sit down with John Colapinto’s “This Is the Voice” (Simon & Schuster, $28). It is a deeply researched and incredibly informative plunge into what proves to be a surprisingly robust topic, one that digs into not just the nuts and bolts of how our voice works, but some ideas about WHY it works the way it does.

This unapologetically wonky book is rife with fascinating facts about the origins of human voice, packed with interviews that address the topic from all angles. Through delving into the physical, emotional and cultural connotations of voice, Colapinto illustrates just how vital a part the voice plays in our world – who we were, who we are and who we may yet become.

The fundamental idea that this book explores is a simple, yet far-reaching one. Basically, Colapinto argues that the ability to speak – not just to make sounds, but to SPEAK – has been the key to humankind’s evolutionary journey to the top of the heap. That ability to communicate concisely and flexibly is what truly separated us from the pack and allowed for the many developments that led us to our current status.

And it all started with a song. Kind of.

Published in Style

This beloved game show host and television icon has a new book out in which he looks back on a long and storied career.

Who is … Alex Trebek?

The longtime host of “Jeopardy!” has written a memoir, titled “The Answer Is…: Reflections on My Life” (Simon & Schuster, $26). It’s a chance to not just celebrate who Trebek has become, but to remember the earlier parts of the journey that led here – and to do so in his own words.

It’s a gentle voyage, to be sure. In a lot of ways, the book offers up its titular answer in much the spirit of the game show that came to define him – simply, concisely and accurately. The book matches the man, largely genial but with just a hint of remove.

As it should be.

(This is where I remind everybody that I was a contestant on “Jeopardy!” In fact, I was reading this book two years to the day after I got the call that I was going to be on the show. Obviously, this influenced the way that I experienced this book and I’m not going to pretend full objectivity. Nor am I going to ignore an in-context opportunity to mention it. I apologize for nothing.)

Published in Style

Few institutions are as reverent of their own history as sport. And few sports achieve the level of self-reverence of golf, thanks to the game’s lengthy history and cultural reputation. Tradition is important, whether we’re talking about the larger picture or the specifics of the game itself.

And yet, technological evolution is inevitable. If there is an element of competition involved, there will always be those seeking ways in which to give themselves an advantage. There will always be someone pushing the envelope in ways that clash with the conventional wisdom.

That clash is at the center of “Golf’s Holy War: The Battle for the Soul of a Game in an Age of Science” (Avid Reader Press, $28) by Brett Cyrgalis. It’s a look at the rapidly diverging worlds of golf instruction, one rooted firmly in the ways of the past and one seeking out the bleeding edge, one that explores the perceived pros and cons of both approaches while also spending considerable time with those who would espouse a particular school of thought.

It’s a book about golf, yes, but one that also seeks to be about more than golf, using the sport as a way into a discussion about our relationship with technology writ large and what that means not just for the future, but for our engagement with the past.

Published in Sports

There are a lot of pitfalls when it comes to choosing to dig into a literary series. The truth is that a lot of these series, while perfectly OK, are just that – OK. And if you’re OK with OK, well … OK. But if you’re someone who wants something more, someone who is looking for a much richer experience than you can get from the standard-issue sci-fi or fantasy series, taking the plunge can be tough.

Tom Miller’s latest is “The Philosopher’s War” (Simon & Schuster, $26.99). It’s the second installment in a series begun last year with “The Philosopher’s Flight.” It is also a book that strives for that richness of experience, one replete with interesting ideas, compelling characters and an ambitious world. And while it might not quite reach the heights to which it ultimately aspires, it still soars plenty high indeed.

Published in Buzz

There’s very little overlap in the writing Venn diagram of “funny” and “literary” – even most ostensibly humorous literary fiction definitely deserves the scare quotes around “funny,” while genuinely funny stuff doesn’t often have the requisite stylistic heft to warrant the literary tag – but Sam Lipsyte lives right square in the middle of it all.

Lipsyte’s new novel “Hark” (Simon & Schuster, $27) is another example of the author’s incredible gift for balancing poetry and potty humor, for blending the profound and the profane. This latest book – his first since the 2012 story collection “The Fun Parts” – once again places the American experience square in its sights, embracing the depths of inescapable weirdness that exist just beyond casual cultural perception.

It’s a quick-fire reading experience, with short chapters and frequent perspective shifts, capturing the kind of inner turmoil that can only come from discovering someone who you believe might actually have answers to the toughest of tough questions, namely: why?

Published in Style
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
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