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This Month's Articles

REVIEWING

Zone One

by Colson Whitehead

Reviewed by James Petcoff


MEDIOCRITY RISES TO THE TOP

"Zombie See And Zombie Do, He's Here With Me And You" -Turn That Heartbeat Over Again-
Steely Dan

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Once upon a time, way back in 1957 when I was nine years old, I found two paperback books in my parents' book case that grabbed my attention for life. They were, "The Cross Of Iron", by Willie Heinrich and Richard Matheson's "I Am Legend." The former told the story of a young German soldier finding his humanity just before his death on the Russian Front during World War Two. The latter deals with a human survivor of a vampire plague who discovers that he is somewhat less than human himself.

The first time I saw George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, I was reminded of Matheson’s story and its core element – the real monsters are not simply mindless automatons. They are the human survivors, who, released from all moral ethical constraints and fueled by self-preservation, let their inner monster run rampant.  Colson Whitehead’s Zone One take on the Zombie Apocalypse is not new to the genre but introduces a new type of protagonist into the mix in the person of Mark Spitz, a low rent Odysseus, survivor of the plague that has turned the population of the world into skels (rabid zombies), stragglers (catatonic dead that stand in a stupor at a place they may have frequented in life), and survivors.

Mark is a slacker who, up until the plague, lived a life of diminishing returns at his parents’ home on suburban Long Island. The plague forces him and other survivors to make simple choices – survive or become food. He is in no way heroic and neither are the others he meets during his odyssey.  He is, however, all too human in .....Read More

REVIEWING

The Art of Fielding

by Chad Harbach

Reviewed by Sally Cobau

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Forceful Grace

Reading The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach is just plain fun.  You enter a world that to many will be immediately familiar—namely the small liberal arts campus.  In this case, the campus is Wetish College, a venerable institution overlooking Lake Michigan. 

College campuses are naturally rife with drama.  As insular worlds, characters can take on larger-than-life positions.  The jock.  The intellectual.  The sleazy professor who sleeps with his students. 

This familiar trope—the worn out older person (coach, teacher, administrator)—who finds love in innocent, beguiling youth and thereupon ends up in a terrific, sometimes heart-wrenching mess is embarked upon in The Art of Fielding, but with a twist—in this case the college president, one Guert Affenlight, who has always been straight, falls for the endearing, intellectually curious Owen.  I love this aspect of the book. 

Why?  I love it because author Harbach does not have Guert act cautiously.  At all.  Maybe he should considering how Guert might get fired, but instead he is just plain fired up for Owen.  The way he worships every move and body part of Owen’s is reminiscent of puppy love, not the love of a “sophisticated” college president, but Guert just .....Read More

MEMOIR

THE LAST HOLIDAY

by Gil Scott-Heron

Reviewed by Robert Fleming

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When Gil Scott-Heron, the acclaimed jazz poet, died last year, some critics talked about another waste of genius vaporized by drugs, for everyone knew of his troubles with coke, crack and jail time. But another thing was lost and that was the magic which ;was his raspy voice declaring his political and cultural lyrics over a pulsing, percussive beat.

Now, Scott-Heron's final book, "The Last Holiday," appears just in time for the birthday of one of his heroes, Rev. Martin Luther King. It is a new, posthumously published memoir hastily assembled for the marketplace

The singer/poet toured with Stevie Wonder for 41-days in 1980 to drum up support for a national holiday commemorating the fallen spokesman for the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

There have been several incarnations .....Read More

REVIEWING

At Home: A Short History of Private Life

by Bill Bryson

Reviewed by Emily Rosen

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Be careful what you ask for, because you may get it  – a kind of paraphrase of the original “wish for” and having nothing to do with the “Law of Attraction.”  I asked to review Bill Bryson’s latest book, At Home: A short History of Private Life, because I am a major Bill Bryson fan. A burly American now living in England, his wit, exuberance, love for the outdoors and unbridled curiosity about every bit of minutia in the universe, has captivated me continuously throughout seven of his previously published 14 books.

 

But I was hoodwinked on two counts: A “short” history is deceptive nomenclature when one is facing a deadline and holding a 532 page paperback, (plus 44 pages of bibliography, picture credits, index, and floor plans). And voyeur that I am, Private Life really suckered me in. But I am here to tell you that there is nothing in these pages .....Read More

NOVEL

The African Gentleman

…and The Plot to Re-establish The New World Order

A Novel by Fred Beauford

Chapter 40

40

This is getting down right ridiculous. Where is the wise Liz Gant when I need her!?

As I rode home that evening on the train that carried me across back under the River, into The City, what stuck in my mind most in the meeting was when Ron mentioned that Assai had made it a point to tell him to look after me.

As good as that news was, what also really got me was when he almost off-handily remarked that Assai was ready to join the Billionaire club. It’s funny, but I never thought of him as a rich man. I know I was being obtuse, but I mean, for God’s sake, I first met him on the subway!

How many billionaires do you bump into underground mixing with the masses, with nary a bodyguard in sight?

And where were his huge yachts, fancy women, multiple mansions, and million dollar watches?

He moved around us on the second floor as a serious, but humble, common man. His face almost took on a pained look when he asked me to join him at a meeting with the fancy dressed folks upstairs in Marketing. He dressed just like us, and if you walked into the office and saw him on the floor, you would never suspect that he owned the place.

I could walk up to him and ask him a question and he never looked down on me. Both he and Mr. Kan behaved in the same manner, and if Assai was so rich, then so was Mr. Kan, but again, you would never .....Read More

PORTFOLIO

Portfolio: The beautiful images of Joe Morgenstern

by Kara Fox

church in prague

"NEVER talk to strangers," my parents admonished me as a child. Occasionally, breaking that rule (as an adult) can bring treasured surprises. Years ago, while standing alone at the sales counter in Barnes and Noble, wanting to share the hauntingly beautiful music I had just discovered, I turned to the 'stranger' standing next to me, Joe Morgenstern, and broke my parents rule.

Thus began our wonderful friendship.

As you, dear reader, will soon see, Joe Morgenstern, winner of the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for criticism in 2005 (making him only the third film critic to win a Pulitzer for criticism), is one of those rare, multi-talented creative individuals. The range of his genius extends from the written word to the photographic image.

Reading the written word offers opportunities to conjure up images giving life to those words. When one views a photograph, one is also provided with an opportunity to connect that image with something personal. I am astounded at Joe's unique use of both words and images, and what he offers us, the reader/viewer to think about.

Many writers are technically correct and present important information to the reader. Often, for me, their words simply drop off the page into the ether, rarely to be recovered again by my brain. Joe is not one of those writers. He is renowned for his use of vocabulary and humor.

While reading his film reviews in the Wall Street Journal, I stop at some combination of words and wonder, "How did he think of that?" An example of one of his 'Morgenstern zingers' is in his WSJ review of the film HUGO on November 25, 2011. "Visually, Hugo is a marvel, but dramatically it is a clockwork .....Read More

REVIEWING

Death Comes to Pemberley

by P.D. James

Reviewed by Janet Garber

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Pride and Prejudice Revisited

Fresh from rereading Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice for the first time in xx years, and crying, "More, more," what a treat it was to slip so seamlessly and shamelessly into P.D. James's "sequel," Death Comes to Pemberley.

For women of a certain age, for countless numbers of fans worldwide - Austen's book has often been rated the most popular novel ever written – P & P evokes fond memories: discovering Elizabeth Bennet's witty, independent, modern spirit so like our own; following breathlessly the boy-meets-girl, boy-shuns-girl, girl-slaps-down-boy, boy-loves-girl, girl-spurns-boy, girl-loves-boy, girl-gets-boy and (whew!) boy-gets-girl plot, and inevitably falling for the elusive Mr. Darcy ourselves.

How we hated to bid goodbye to sister-confidante Jane, the other three silly airhead sisters, that embarrassment of a mother, the cool and rational, drama-avoidant father hiding out in his 19th century man cave/library, and .....Read More

REVIEWING

Traveling in Space

by Steven Paul Leiva

Reviewed by Russell Blackford


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Science Fiction with intellectual content and laughs

It is little wonder that the master of the genre, Ray Bradbury, gave his endorsement to Steven Paul Levia's Traveling in Space.  In form it's a science fiction narrative, but not one that presents space-opera-style battles, or one that aims at verisimilitude in the manner of hard sci-fi.

Instead, we're given a satirical story in the tradition of books such as Robert A. Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land, with which it shares something of a common sensibility, or even Gulliver's Travels.

Look for elements of Menippean satire, such as a fragmented narrative, philosophical debates, and pervasive mockery of both sacred and "commonsense" ideas.

Traveling in Space is sufficiently sprawling and complicated to require a list of.....Read More

A WRITER'S WORLD

A Writer's World

by Molly Moynahan

Don't Bore them with Reality!

"Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader - not the fact that it is raining, but the feeling of being rained upon."  E.L. Doctorow


Here are some things I've written about and never done or had happen to me: teaching in a prison, attending a dog training class, being in a commercial, being adopted, putting someone up for adoption, being a lesbian, being a vampire, being a man, being very, very rich and so on.

I am thinking about this because I've made a decision about something in the novel I am currently writing that requires a road trip. It's a relatively local road trip in Illinois so I think it will be worth it. I am not a fan of research mainly because my research has rarely led to a stronger project. In fact, research has frequently offered a wonderful opportunity to stray; to stray from plot, character, conflict and theme, stray from everything that matters while adding random details about a place or a food or a way to do a certain yoga move that does little to improve the story.                                                                                                 

Years ago I decided to write a multi-generational novel about a WWI nurse who ends up in the trenches in France nursing soldiers. This story was my grandmother's story so I travelled from London where I was living to Northern Ireland where she .....Read More

REVIEWING

The Marriage Plot

by Jeffrey Eugenides

Read by: David Pittu

Reviewed by Michael Carey

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Jeffrey Eugenides, author of the acclaimed The Virgin Suicides and the Pulitzer Prize winning Middlesex, has completed yet another masterful work in The Marriage Plot, in which he explores the lives of three college students at Brown University leading up to and following a little over a year after graduation day.

The Marriage Plot takes its namesake from the driving storylines of some of the great Victorian novels (Madeleine, the female lead, writes her senior thesis on the death of this theme in literature), while Eugenides writes the antithesis in this novel, a story of exploration of the self both within and outside of marriage and other interpersonal relationships. The story is set in the early 1980s, but the economic, political, and social climates of the novel make it feel eerily contemporary.

Madeleine is an English major from an educated, well-to-do family (her father was the president of.....Read More

REVIEWING

Come In and Cover Me

by Gin Phillips

Reviewed by Sarah Vogelsong

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Novels that tell the story of archaeologists uncovering the layers of their past while they sift through layers of dirt are common. Once the author introduces an archaeologist, the reader can be fairly certain that this digger has a troubled past, and that this past is bound to come to light over the course of the next 300-odd pages. Come in and Cover Me, the newest book by Gin Phillips, is no exception to this rule.

In this iteration of the story, Ren Taylor is a 37-year-old archaeologist who has made a career out of the discovery of an unusual set of Mimbres pottery believed to have been created by a single twelfth-century artist. One day she receives a call from a remote dig that has unearthed a bowl similar to her earlier finds. Naturally, Ren hits the road and joins the dig, seducing the hunky lead archaeologist, Silas, along the way.

So far, so good. But complications arise in the form of Ren’s permanently 17-year-old brother Scott, who died 20 years earlier. Unable to cope with his death, Ren has spent the last two decades rejecting emotional attachments and having visions of ghosts—usually Scott, but also Mimbres women, who indicate places where Ren should dig.....Read More