Christina Thompson’s Come on Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All – A New Zealand Story gets one’s immediate attention for its outstanding title, of course. How could one resist? This tightly woven memoir was recommended to me by a writer friend who admires stylish writing and it certainly does offer some very fine writing.
But I was most drawn to it at the outset, because Ms. Thompson is an anthropologist, a field of study I have always loved. Early in her career, she lived and worked in Australia, and traveled to nearby Pacific islands, including New Zealand, where she met and eventually married a Maori, the point where this book really starts to take off.
The title of the book comes from a statement made by Maoris at an early meeting with some European explorers. It perfectly stands for the cultural gulf between the two peoples and the lack of understanding each had for the other’s entirely foreign culture. This theme of misunderstanding, and of culturally determined viewpoints, runs throughout the entire book. Because she is now directly connected to the Maori/Polynesian worldview by dint of marriage, and because she has an anthropologist’s ability to look beyond her own viewpoint, Thompson is able to navigate the intricacies of cross-cultural interaction better than most writers.
Thompson talks about her family, children, American and Maori relations as part of the effort to understand differences, and to explain behavior. It’s inevitable that Maori and Polynesian cultures are poorly understood in either Europe or America, where the author and her family now lives. In this memoir, author Thompson looks at the past and the present through the lens of contact and perception with a powerful incisiveness. Sometimes we are lulled by the commonplace story of the present, and then are shaken awake by its connections to a violent past. The historical Maoris were a violent and warlike people, and their collision with the equally violent (and self-centered) Europeans of the colonial imperial era created a long period of difficulty for the native people of New Zealand and surrounding regions of the Pacific.
This book is one I can recommend to anyone who wants to see beyond her or his own experience, to learn the limits of anyone’s personal perspective as it is part of a cultural construct, and to peek into the different ones that are around us in our now hyper-connected universe. Another fine book I am pleased to recommend. And I do think our conversation expands on the ideas that are present in the book.
Christina Thompson is the editor of Harvard Review. Her essays and articles have appeared in a number of magazines and journals, including Vogue, American Scholar, the Journal of Pacific History, Australian Literary Studies, and in the 1999, 2000, and 2006 editions of Best Australian Essays. She lives near Boston with her husband and three sons.You can read excerpts from this book, find some very interesting resources and learn more about the author and her work at www.comeonshore.com.
David Gessner is a sort of post-modernist environmentalist. He’s written a number of books that celebrate the natural world and the wild, and he is a terrific writer capable of transcendent prose and has the keen observer’s eye that anyone writing about nature must have. But he understands the difficulties and contradictions that suffuse contemporary civilization. And he has a sense of humor and irony (which environmentalists are not always known for).
In My Green Manifesto, he addresses a major issue that affects so many of us who feel strongly about the arc of modern civilization, that its inertia is overwhelming, the problems so great, the solutions so elusive, and the efforts of individuals so ineffectual as to make us lose all hope of being able to make meaningful change.
The book takes us through Gessner’s journey from the headwaters of the Charles River to its end in Boston’s urban harbor. His trip is made for the most part in company with a true environmental hero, Dan Driscoll, who almost single-handedly spurred the suburban and urban communities along the once highly polluted river to make significant changes to both restore and protect the river and riverside ecology. They travel in a leaky canoe, drink beer, sleep in tents, and enjoy the pleasures of a “limited-wild” experience.
Gessner takes heart from the work Driscoll has done, and shows us how important his practical efforts have been. “This new picture is that of a man or woman who knows how to get things done, who understands the value of momentum, of focus on a particular project. Not a shrill or dry or particularly flowery environmentalism … Someone willing to get in [a] fight and ‘Sue the bastards.’ Someone willing to stick their nose in there and feel what it’s like to get bruised. And someone willing to stay locked in that fight for years, even if it costs them emotional as well as actual capital.’’
Gessner writes with great humor and joy about the pleasures of being in nature, wherever one lives, and that is the core of his manifesto. His ideas will resonate for many who are not willing, able or equipped to spend significant time in distant wildernesses. And as a “manifesto” this book will be easy for most readers to digest and accept. Gessner’s message is positive and powerful because it is realistic and not preachy and because so many of us can relate to his experiences of the joy of being in nature and at the same time despair over the sheer extent of modern society’s environmental unconsciousness.
Gessner reminds us that it is possible to hold two seemingly contradictory ideas in our minds at the same time, that complexity and contradiction are almost facts of life, but cannot defeat us from taking action to make change. “The first idea was acceptance, the acceptance, totally without rancor, of life as it is, and men as they are … But this did not mean that one could be complacent, for the second idea was of equal power: that one must never, in one’s own life, accept these injustices as commonplace but must fight them with all one’s strength.’’
Author website here (you can find a list of all his many fine books there) Gessner’s latest book is one I am interested in reading as well. The Tarball Chronicles: A Journey Beyond the Oiled Pelican and Into the Heart of the Gulf Oil Spill chronicles his visit to the Gulf after it had passed out of the news. Not an uplifting story, I fear.
In this series of interviews, called Publishing Talks, I talk to book industry professionals and other smart people about the future of publishing, books, and culture. This is a period of disruption and change for all media businesses. How will publishing evolve as our culture is affected by technology, climate change, population density, and the ebb and flow of civilization and economics?
I hope these Publishing Talks conversations will help us better understand the outlines of what is happening in publishing, books and reading culture, and how we can ourselves both understand and influence the future of books and reading.
Miral Sattar is a young serial entrepreneur with roots in the publishing business. She is the Founder of Divanee.com and Weddings.Divanee.com and has worked in the media industry for 10 years. Ms. Sattar is a contributor for Time, teaches entrepreneurial journalism sessions at CUNY, and has contributed to Metro and Jane Magazine. She graduated from Columbia University’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, and recently earned an M.S. in Digital + Print Media.
In many ways Miral represents the future of the book business. She’s had innovative and smart ideas for new products and new uses of digital technology to create new ways for readers and writers to interact. Failing to gain any traction for her ideas within traditional publishing institutions, she set out on her own to build what she believes writers and readers want and need, a new and different publishing/reading platform called BiblioCrunch. There’s alot to be interested in here if you are looking for ways that online publishing can be made simple.
From the BiblioCrunch.com website:
What is BiblioCrunch.com?
BiblioCrunch.com is a platform that empowers writers and publishers to create and market their own manuscripts, completed works, digital books and bookazines. Through our platform anyone – bloggers, authors, aspiring writers, students, writers, journalists, publishers – can share their stories.
• You can create all your great books online through our easy interface in any format any eReader!
• Once you’ve written all the chapters for your book you can either post it for FREE or start SELLING.
• You can start SHARING your book via social media so others can download your book.
• VOTE your book to the top by sharing it with all your friends.
• Need to hire an EDITOR or DESIGNER? Why not connect with someone in the MEMBERS community to help edit your book and design an awesome cover.
Why use BiblioCrunch.com?
• BiblioCrunch is the place for you to write, read, and distribute your favorite books in just a few steps.
• Create virtual bookshelves, discover new books, connect with friends and learn more about your favorite books – all for free.
• On BiblioCrunch.com you can connect with writers, publishers, readers, editors, copyeditors, and designers to create the best books.
• We’re also cheaper than other services that take 30% of each book sold.
How can I share my books?
• Each book has it’s own public download page that you can share on Twitter and Facebook.
Building tools that make it easy for people to publish their work and for readers to read it is really a publishing function. As with many other sites, the idea here is that readers can decide for themselves what they want to read. It will be interesting to see if, as some traditionally minded digerati have suggested, that the editorial or curatorial role will be needed, perhaps more than ever, but if so, my guess is that it will develop in different ways, based on the different understanding of the editorial function that today’s writers and readers have developed.
I wanted to talk to Miral about BiblioCrunch because I am always interested in new ideas and constructs, and also because I think the story she tells about the genesis and plans for this site will be instructive and valuable to others in the book universe. And hopefully, her ideas might generate some additional thinking about how platforms, innovation and audiences for reading will develop in the near future. Creating a new publishing platform is no small feat, but the real challenge will be to attract readers and writers in significant numbers. I’m hoping this site will succeed through innovation and creativity, as a healthy publishing ecosystem requires a wide variety of niches, large and small.
From the author’s website describing The Winters in Bloom:
Together for over a decade, Kyra and David Winter are happier than they ever thought they could be. They have a comfortable home, stable careers, and a young son, Michael, whom they adore. Yet because of their complicated histories, Kyra and David have always feared that this domestic bliss couldn’t last – that the life they created was destined to be disrupted. And on one perfectly ordinary summer day, it is: Michael disappears from his own backyard. The only question is whose past has finally caught up with them. David feels sure that Michael was taken by his troubled ex-wife, while Kyra believes the kidnapper must be someone from her estranged family, someone she betrayed years ago.
As the Winters embark on a journey of time and memory to find Michael, they will be forced to admit these suspicions, revealing secrets about themselves they’ve always kept hidden. But they will also have a chance to discover that it’s not too late to have the family they’ve dreamed of; that even if the world is full of risks, as long as they have hope, the future can bloom.
The Winters in Bloom is the first book I have read by Lisa Tucker, whose books are about families and relationships. I wasn’t sure when I started it whether I was going to finish, I was worried that it was going to be formulaic and predictable, and especially at the outset of the novel, where the two parent characters are introduced, I was very nervous about where this book might go and whether I could stay with it.
It turned out that I could not put it down. It is full of surprises, deeply felt, complicated in ways that are better left for the reader to discover for her or himself. I ended up of course, loving the book, and looking forward to talking with Lisa about her characters and her writing. And did I say, she is a terrific writer?
As with the title itself, which has a subtle ambiguity, this novel will offer readers depth and a kind of thoughtfulness about what a family can and should be, that runs counter to our initial expectations for it. I really liked being surprised by this book. Lisa also gives a great interview and I think you will enjoy hearing our conversation about her book.
I really liked this quote about the book too:
“Brilliant, tender, and riveting. . . Reading The Winters in Bloom is like falling into some beguiling dream, one you don’t want to wake from. There is a fascinating strangeness at work here, an off-kilter logic that keeps you enrapt and breathless. This is what can happen to people like us when the past comes calling. Lisa Tucker has not described a world; she has created one unlike any you’ve never seen. She has breathed life into her characters, and they will breathe life into you.”
— John Dufresne, author of Requiem, Mass
Lisa Tucker’s website is worth a visit also.
Amor Towles’ Rules of Civility has become my favorite books. This WritersCast interview series has allowed me to read some incredibly good books this year; Amor Towles’ story of New York City in 1938 has risen to the top of my list of novels I fell in love with.
Rules of Civility opens with the book’s heroine, older, successful, married, with her husband viewing the famous mid-sixties Museum of Modern Art showing of Walker Evans’ 1938 New York City subway photographs. She and her husband see and talk about two particular photographs – a man she knew in 1938 and who mattered hugely to her life and helped shape the arc of her entire life. Then the real story begins, as flashback to that high intensity period of her life, when by accident, she began the process of becoming the person we meet at the opening of the book.
It’s a great way to start a book. Reminding us of just how much a role chance and happenstance – and what we make of it – means to our lives. Author Towles loves the way opportunity winds around us, especially it seems at the fraught time in our lives when we are setting out in the world to define ourselves, when we make the choices that define our lives, sometimes purely accidental, sometimes with just an inkling that these choices will have monumental effects.
There is a wonderful story here. Our heroine, Katey (who grew up as Katya, an immigrant’s daughter), is living in Manhattan. It’s 1938, still Depression era America, but just on the cusp of its ending. New York is both gritty and glitzy at the same time. Katey is working as a legal assistant, going out at night with her limited funds and her few friends.
One night, she and her best friend meet a man who will thrust Katey into a new life, where she meets the smart set of society, and gains the confidence to become a modern, successful woman, in many ways mirroring the American story arc of the same period.
Towles is a terrific writer, and I found myself reading some passages aloud to revel in the beauty of his sentences. He brings New York in 1938 to life, reminding us how close we actually are to what is now almost a forgotten period of our history. The book made me want to see again some of the great movies of this era, all of which shared the ironic understanding of modern culture this book displays. I’m quite certain Towles has seen them all and internalized their values.
You need to read this story for yourself – it’s complicated and has an utterly rewarding denouement. Suffice to say, Katey learns a great deal about the people she meets, loves some, despises others, and absorbs what she learns on the way to becoming herself. This one year is the pivot point for her entire life, and the sense we get from the story is that New York has engendered the same for millions who came there for a very long time, though probably for many less self-aware than Katey and her author, Amor Towles. Here’s one of the great lines from the book that in some ways encapsulates the story it tells: “from this vantage point Manhattan was simply so improbable, so wonderful, so obviously full of promise — that you wanted to approach it for the rest of your life without ever quite arriving.” Perfect.
This is Amor Towles’ first published novel. In our discussion, we talked about how he was able to write it, despite having a full time job and a family. And we talked about the story of the novel, and its characters, and about New York in the 1930s, a great and somewhat neglected period for fiction. It’s a great book and I hope an equally rewarding conversation for listeners.
Amor Towles website is worth a visit. And you also might enjoy George Washington’s Rules of Civility (& Decent Behaviour In Company and Conversation) which plays a critical role in this novel. And a nonfiction piece he wrote called What I learned from Cole Porter on Oprah.com.
In this ongoing series of interviews, called Publishing Talks, I have been talking to book industry professionals and other smart people about the future of publishing, books, and culture. This is a period of disruption and change for all media businesses. We must wonder now, how will publishing evolve as our culture is affected by technology, climate change, population density, and the ebb and flow of civilization and economics?
I believe that these Publishing Talks conversations can help us understand the outlines of what is happening in the publishing industry, and how we might ourselves interact with and influence the future of publishing as it unfolds.
These interviews give people in and around the book business a chance to talk openly and broadly about ideas and concerns that are often only talked about “around the water cooler,” at industry conventions and events, and in emails between friends. These conversations give people inside and outside the book industry a chance to hear first hand some of the most interesting and challenging thoughts, ideas and concepts being discussed by active participants in the book business.
It’s likely that most listeners of this podcast series are aware of the innovative storytelling project called The Mongoliad. This project, a “transmedia” collaboration of several science fiction and fantasy writers, along with their readers, and others, is one of the more far-reaching experiments in digitally enabled fiction. There are many interesting practical elements to this project, including quality control, story and character continuity, and other issues of control. And there are economic questions as well.
There are all sorts of bigger issues in play here as well, including the notion of author, ownership of ideas and control issues in a collaborative crowdsourcing environment, and the nature of writer and reader in a community setting. Hopefully these issues will continue to be explored and discussed in many other venues.
Mark Teppo is the Chief Creative Officer for Subatai Corporation, which is the operator of The Mongoliad project. Mark plots and fabricates alternate versions of historical eras for this project and others. He is also the author of the urban fantasy series The Codex of Souls (Night Shade Books) and lives in Seattle. His other projects include: Darkline: An on-going research and commentary site dealing with esoterica and the occult and Psychobabel, a pair of non-linear texts—The Potemkin Mosaic and The Psychobabel Folio—the Psychobabel project explores the landscape of dream, the labyrinth of linguistics, and the deconstruction of mythology.
Just after I interviewed Mark for Writerscast, Amazon and Subatai announced that Amazon will be publishing the books related to The Mongoliad. I asked Mark to comment here to provide some additional context for our discussion. Here is what he said:
Regarding the deal with Amazon’s new SF/F imprint, we’re thrilled that they want to bring The Mongoliad to a larger audience. One of the
things that we’ve always said is that, for many of us, a book doesn’t really exist until you can crack it open and bury your nose in its pages. I grew up with books, and still have a house full of them. Rooms seem strangely naked if they don’t have books in them. Digital technology is coming to books, and e-readers are definitely going to change the market, but they don’t make physical books any less a critical part of our being. To that end, partnering with 47North (Amazon’s new S/F imprint) to be able to produce The Mongoliad as a physical book is simply part of what we always wanted to accomplish.
On a more practical side, the e-reading market is still in its infancy. Those of us who spend all day on the Internet easily forget that a significant part of the reading audience prefers physical texts. We’d be remiss in our efforts to entertain everyone if we didn’t make every effort possible to let them enjoy our stories as well. Amazon’s entry into the SF/F publishing space will allow us to put the entirety of the Mongoliad on the shelves in bookstores by the end of 2012, which–in publishing terms–is almost overnight.
I think you will find this discussion about The Mongoliad well worthwhile. It is a really interesting project being done by a very smart and accomplished group of people. I’ve enjoyed reading it as the series has evolved, and recommend it to anyone interested in historical fiction and visionary writing or who might be looking for inspiration to develop other innovative models for digital storytelling.
I read Karl Marlantes’ novel, the extraordinary Matterhorn last year (and interviewed him about it for Writerscast – you can listen to that interview here). I don’t think I am alone in believing that Matterhorn is perhaps the finest and most important war novel of the Vietnam generation; for me at least, it belongs in the pantheon of great American war novels (going back to WWI, Thomas Boyd’s Through the Wheat is another great novel written by an former Marine).
It took Karl Marlantes more than 30 years to write and publish the novel we read as Matterhorn its final form. His new book, What It Is like to Go to War, now follows as a deeply thoughtful and moving work of nonfiction about the nature and meaning of war, and what it means to the individual warriors who participate who fight, as well as to the society that gives them that responsibility.
There are many parallels between the two books. I’d recommend you take on the novel first, spend some time thinking about its story and characters, and then move on to this new work of nonfiction, which is a combination of personal memoir, meditation and social, political and cultural analysis and polemic.
Insofar as fiction gives us our deepest emotional and spiritual truths, Matterhorn cannot fail to move you and allow you to feel the reality of what it is like when our best and brightest go to war. Then What It Is Like to Go to War gives us another carefully wrought perspective, what Marlantes has learned from his own experiences and from many years of studying and thinking about war and society.
And we should all be paying attention to what he says here. America has had more people fighting wars for a longer period of time than at any other time in our history. Indeed what does this say about contemporary American society?
In 1969, when he was just 23, Karl Marlantes was an inexperienced lieutenant in charge of a platoon of Marines whose lives were in his hands. His experiences in the jungles of Vietnam , molded and shaped him throughout his life. He has thought deeply about his wartime experiences, how they affected him and his comrades, as well as how other soldiers before and since have gone through similar experiences. In What It Is Like to Go to War, Marlantes weaves accounts of his own combat experiences with analysis, self-examination, and powerful ideas drawn from his wide reading from Homer to the Mahabharata to Jung.
Unlike many of us who feel that war must be ended in modern society, Marlantes starts from the belief that war is an inevitable component of societal and political being. What he is after is to make us think about preparing warriors not for fighting, which we already do quite well, but for living with the effects on those who go to war that derive from participating in the morally unnatural but societally sanctioned acts of killing other human beings.
Most societies that preceded us have used powerful rituals, myths and ceremonies to integrate acts of war into the fabric of their cultures, and to reintegrate their warriors thoroughly into their societies, while our secular, materialist society really offers no tools or methods to warriors (or for that matter to civilians) to create a holistic “story” of why and how war is meaningful and necessary.
One of the many points he made in this book really struck me is that those who send men and women to war are themselves warriors, that actual soldiers (as opposed to guns and bombs) are their weapons. These individuals must fully comprehend what they do, and must find ways to integrate their own acts of war as much as the soldiers on the battlefield who wield the weapons and who witness so much death and destruction on both sides of battle.
I found that the author’s afterword to the book was very important to my understanding and acceptance of his work:
“We must be honest and open about both sides of war. The more aware we are of war’s costs, not just in death and dollars, but also in shattered minds, souls, and families, the less likely we will be to waste our most precious asset and our best weapon: our young.”
“The substitutes for war…are spirituality, love, art, and creativity, all achievable through individual hard work.”
I can’t recommend this book to readers enough. It’s book that, like the work of my friend, Paul Chappell, (Will War Ever End and The End of War) has the potential to shift our societal dialogue about war and what it can and should mean to a modern society.
M.J. Rose is a critically acclaimed novelist – she’s best known for her thrillers, of which The Hypnotist is one. It’s in a series with The Reincarnationist and The Memorist, all them with reincarnation as a central theme. MJ’s characters are compelling and well drawn, and her stories are complex and original, the books are fun to read and impossible to put down. What more could you ask of a novel?
M.J. is also well known among writers for her activism in behalf of writers, and her brilliant understanding of marketing. But that’s a different conversation than the one we had about The Hypnotist, a book I deeply enjoyed reading, for me perfect as I got to read the book on vacation, and it is way better than most books we think of as “beach reads.” As one reviewer said: The Hypnotist has “something for everyone: murder, suspense, history, romance, the supernatural, mystery and erotica.”
The detective Lucian Glass becomes deeply involved in the pursuit of anti-hero Malachai Samuels, whose Phoenix Foundation is committed to the study of reincarnation (at almost any cost). Glass is a tortured soul whose own life connects him to the present and past day lives of other characters in this novel. It’s a complexly drawn story and one that will reward readers, even those who have no interest in the paranormal or esoteric metaphysical subjects that are do beautifully woven through the story. You will enjoy the denouement, and the story will stay with you long after you have turned the last page of the book.
Rose is a skillful writer who treats her readers to a high level of originality and surprising story making. She is also fun and rewarding to talk to about her books, as she shows in this insightful interview. She has a great website, a couple of blogs, and aside from having written 11 works of fiction, she has also co-authored two books about writing, and has been profiled in Time Magazine, Forbes, The New York Times, Business 2.0, Working Woman, Newsweek and New York Magazine, and has been on many television shows. She is also the founder of the very successful book promotion business, AuthorBuzz.
Dean Bakopoulos is a very funny and perceptive writer. My American Unhappiness, his second novel, takes place in Madison, Wisconsin during the period of the second Bush administration. Both the geographical and political backdrops are crucial elements of the story, whose main character is Zeke Pappas, a nebbish who runs a nonprofit called the Great Midwestern Humanities Initiative.
Zeke is an obsessive of some great measure. His life work has become the creation and maintenance of an “inventory of American Unhappiness,” a project that is a “byproduct of an overly cerebral loneliness.” He is also wildly naive and unrealistic, characteristics which in a certain way serve him well, as he is surrounded with problems in his life that would defeat the average person in short order.
Bakopoulos brilliantly balances the personal difficulties faced by Zeke with his involvement with some of the darker elements of the Bush era, including corrupt conservative politicians hiding the kind of personal behavior they legislate against in public, and the disconcerting pursuit of Zeke by a dark security-oriented governmental agency established after 9/11.
In some ways, the book could be read as just a zany midwestern comedy, but it’s clear that with Zeke Pappas’s story, Bakopoulos wants to tell us something important about 21st century American society. Zeke’s world is falling apart. His mother develops cancer, and decides to give her orphaned grandchildren (whom Zeke loves) to an aunt, unless Zeke can marry in time (impossible for him as he is simply too unrealistic about women). The government wants to audit the nonprofit he runs. Nothing works for Zeke. It’s a situation he feels he shares with the country as a whole, and Zeke knows it is the President that is the source of American unhappiness and ennui. Zeke sees Bush as “unencumbered by something as pervasive as unhappiness,” which makes him unfit to lead a country as complex and haunted as America. For Zeke Bush does not have the depth of spirit required to lead the nation.
Dean Bakopoulos is a writer to watch, a writer with great skills and who does have the depth of spirit required to portray the American scene through fiction. He is also a terrific writer to talk to about his work and gave me a great interview. You can visit his website to learn more about his work and ideas. I am definitely looking forward to reading his next book.
Just like millions of other Americans we were hammered pretty hard by this hurricane, in our small Connecticut town 99% of homes lost power, and as of today, September 2, still more than 55% of homes are without power. We got ours back last night, thankfully, but still do not have internet. Without a good connection, posting interviews is painfully difficult. I have several great interviews ready to post, next being with Dean Bakopoulos about his excellent novel My American Unhappiness. I hope to have a new Publishing Talks interview posted by next week also.
Our other big news is that Livewriters, our book and author video site, had its best traffic month in August, surpassing 70,000 unique visitors. We are posting ever more interesting interviews, readings and discussions with authors about their books there, plus featuring just about every book trailer there is. And if you want to enjoy a lively literary blog experience, visit Livewires, a fresh look at the literary landscape.
During the storm, I had plenty of time to read (print books by candlelight and flashlight, ebooks with the device’s own light) and am looking forward to talking to the authors of quite a few wonderful books, including My Green Manifesto, Just Bill, Confronting Collapse, and Duet.
My best wishes to all who suffered in and after the storm, and condolences to all those who died in it.