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Making someone laugh is hard. Making them laugh with nothing but words on a page is REALLY hard.

That’s why the contenders for great comedic literature are so limited; while most writers worth their salt can elicit a few chuckles over the course of a novel, only a scant handful can use comedy as a literary foundation. It’s the difference between books with some comic aspects and legitimate comic novels. There are plenty of the former and surprisingly few of the latter.

Of course, then you have someone like Christopher Moore who totally throws off the curve. See, Moore’s entire bibliography is packed with capital-C Comic novels, including a couple that warrant inclusion among the very best ever (though even lesser Moore is funnier than 99.9% of the self-styled comedic literature out there).

His latest is “Shakespeare for Squirrels” (William Morrow, $28.99), the third in his ongoing series of parodic pastiche featuring the erstwhile fool Pocket of Dog Snogging. Like its predecessors “Fool” and “The Serpent of Venice,” this latest offering drops its nimble, quick-witted and foul-mouthed protagonist into a setting spun off from the brilliance of the Bard.

Moore brings his usual satiric edge and keen sense of the absurd to the table, mingling it exquisitely with a thoughtful depth of knowledge with regards to the works of Shakespeare. The resulting combination is bitingly funny and awash in coarse charm, a familiar narrative turned on its head. This book is fast-moving, smart … and utterly, unwaveringly hilarious.

Published in Buzz

Baseball is a game of decisions, both on the field and off it. And when we talk about Major League Baseball, well – there are A LOT of choices that need to be made. Whether we’re talking about in-game strategy or front office maneuvering, the sport is rife with opportunities to make decisions.

But how do we know if they’re the right ones? How do we know if we’re truly making optimal choices or if we’re being guided (or misguided) by subconscious belief systems and biases of which we may not even be fully aware?

Answers to those questions are among the many things that Keith Law is delving into with his new book “The Inside Game: Bad Calls, Strange Moves, and What Baseball Behavior Teaches Us About Ourselves” (William Morrow, $28.99). It’s an effort to make accessible the behavioral science behind the inherent biases that can impact our decisions, baseball or otherwise.

By walking us through the conscious and unconscious influences that impact how baseball works, Law gives us a new perspective on the intricacies of the sport – a perspective that matches the more data-driven and analytically-inclined model followed by 21st century practitioners of the game.

Published in Sports

Anyone who has been paying attention to baseball over the past half-decade is aware that the game has never seen this many home runs. Single-season records for homers has been broken and broken again, both by individual teams and by the league as a whole. More than ever before, the long ball has become the central part of the game.

There are a number of factors that enter into this. Analytically-inclined executives have made their way into positions of power in front offices all across the sport. Changes to the ball itself have undoubtedly played a significant part. Strikeouts no longer carry the stigma that they once did.

And then, there is the evolution of the swing itself.

It’s that last notion that Jared Diamond, national baseball writer for The Wall Street Journal, addresses in-depth with his new book “Swing Kings: The Inside Story of Baseball’s Home Run Revolution” (William Morrow, $28.99). It’s a deep and broad exploration of those coaches on the fringes whose refusal to be bound by the status quo led to brand-new thinking about how we swing the bat, as well as the players who made (or remade) themselves into explosive hitters by accepting some unconventional wisdom and thinking outside the box.

Published in Sports

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

There’s a big difference between literary fame and literary greatness.

There are plenty of writers who are great without being famous and more than a few who are famous without being great. A very specific confluence of circumstances is required for an author to achieve both. But even the greatest, most famous writers come to the end of their story.

Terri-Lynne DeFino’s novel “The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (and Their Muses)” (William Morrow, $15.99) takes a speculative look at what that ending might look like, creating a vividly detailed place where literary giants might spend their final days, swapping stories and generally accepting that the heady heights of their younger days are permanently behind them.

Published in Style
Tuesday, 17 April 2018 14:50

Hard-boiled hilarity – ‘Noir’

If you were to put together a short list of the consistently funniest authors currently working, Christopher Moore would be on it. Probably near the top. His books are smart and absurd, packed with dynamic characters and engaging storytelling. He has tackled the Bible and Shakespeare. He’s taken on the worlds of both art and science. Vampires and demons and Death, oh my.

With his latest book “Noir” (William Morrow, $27.99), Moore ventures into some new territory. Well, new in a chronological sense anyway. It’s the story of a guy tending bar in San Francisco during the post-WWII years. He’s just trying to get by when he’s swept up into a weird, wild, wide-ranging plot involving secret societies and flying saucers and mysterious government operatives and poisonous snakes and all sorts of strangeness. Oh, and there’s a dame.

There’s always a dame.

Published in Buzz

It takes a special kind of creative self-awareness to allow a story to be exactly as long as it needs to be. The temptation to either heavily inflate or drastically cut a word count in order to fit within certain generally accepted literary parameters is significant, so it’s impressive when a writer is capable of staying utterly true to the tale.

Joe Hill has embraced that notion with his latest book “Strange Weather” (William Morrow, $27.99), a collection of four short novels. Rather than force these narratives to be more than what they are, Hill simply tells the stories as they wish to be told. They’re lean and sharp, with nary an ounce of prosaic fat on any of their bones.

And oh yeah – they’re all excellent.

Published in Buzz
Wednesday, 26 April 2017 12:38

‘Smart Baseball’ lives up to its title

Keith Law book offers depth of sabermetric insight

Published in Sports
Wednesday, 21 December 2016 10:46

The year in books - 2016's recommended reads

This year has been a phenomenal year for the written word. So many brilliant works – fiction and nonfiction alike – appeared on bookshelves in 2016.

Published in Cover Story
Wednesday, 18 May 2016 13:56

Watching the world burn The Fireman'

Joe Hill's latest a sweeping and compelling thriller

Published in Buzz

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