Book Review: “Not on Fire, but Burning”

Posted in Blog by - Nov 04, 2015

Not on Fire, but Burning by Greg Hrbek
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s tempting to say that Greg Hrbek’s Not on Fire, But Burning is to the War on Terror what Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five is to World War II (or perhaps to the Vietnam War, since Slaughterhouse-Five was published at its height in 1969). Both are works of speculative fiction (“science fiction” seems too narrow a category for Hrbek’s novel) about the tragic folly of war whose characters, as Vonnegut phrased it, come “unstuck in time.”

Not on Fire, But Burning begins with a cataclysm in San Francisco, then jumps eight …

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Review: The Best American Short Stories 2014

Posted in Blog by - Oct 26, 2015

The Best American Short Stories 2014 by Jennifer Egan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The 20 stories in this collection range from merely very good to outstanding. The curating hand of editor Jennifer Egan feels tangible to me, both in the gender balance of writers, which is pretty much 50-50, and a skew toward longer, more experimental writing toward the back of the collection.

If the stories have anything in common, it is their distinct settings. Reading the collection end to end, I got a feeling of travelogue, of visiting a broad range of places, times, and subcultures: a lonely forest lookout …

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Book review: Love and Rockets: New Stories #1

Posted in Blog by - Oct 25, 2015

Love and Rockets: New Stories #1 by Gilbert Hernández
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Love and Rockets, the black-and-white comic magazine written and drawn by Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez (plus, occasionally, their brother Mario) was one of the best things about the 1980s for me. When it ended and the brothers went on to other worthy projects, I didn’t pay as much attention to what they were up to. So it’s delightful to rediscover them in collections from the Love and Rockets revival that began around 2008 and find their powers undiminished.

Highlights of Vol. 1 include a complex punk superheroine-team epic …

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Re-reading ‘All the King’s Men’ after the Summer of Trump

Posted in Blog by - Oct 04, 2015

The first time I read All the King’s Men I was in my mid teens. It was the phenomenon of Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy that prompted me to pick it up again all these years later, even though Willie Stark, the Southern governor whose rise to power in the 1930s the book chronicles, is the opposite of Trump in many ways. For one thing, Trump inherited wealth while Stark was born poor.

Maybe Willie is closer to Bill Clinton, another Southern governor who pulled himself up from poverty and dallied with women (and they do have the same first name). You …

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Fandemonium Blog Tour Interview #3: Shady characters

Posted in Blog by - Sep 13, 2015

Last of three interviews with the author on the deluxe Fandemonium Blog Tour, Sept. 7-14, 2015.

What makes Fandemonium a unique novel?

It’s unique because I was so clueless and naïve about publishing when I wrote it that it never even occurred to me to try and write in a commercial genre or imitate a best-seller. I just tried to write something good.

Why did you choose the colorful world of comics to feature in Fandemonium?

I was a comics fan and collector for many years, and they say to write what you know. But I sincerely think the book could have been about any business; it didn’t …

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Fandemonium Blog Tour Interview #2: What’s in a name

Posted in Blog by - Sep 13, 2015

Second of three interviews with the author on the deluxe Fandemonium Blog Tour, Sept. 7-14, 2015.

What is the name of your latest book, and if you had to summarize it in less than 20 words what would you say?

Topless Hotties is the title of a piece of fiction I’ve been working on that is either a long short story or a novella. I hope it’s not a novella. It’s about a veteran journalist who has a knack for writing headlines. Full disclosure: I happen to have won some awards for writing headlines.

How long …

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Fandemonium Blog Tour Interview #1: How it all began

Posted in Blog by - Sep 13, 2015

First of three interviews with the author on the deluxe Fandemonium Blog Tour, Sept. 7-14, 2015.

When did you begin writing? Why?

I might have been 9 or 10 when I started writing my first novel. It was going to about the kidnapping of Walt Disney, because that would give me an excuse to set it in Disneyland, which was the most wonderful place imaginable to me and millions of other American baby boomers, better even than Oz or Wonderland because it was real. We knew it was real because we saw it on TV every week, even if we couldn’t get …

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Rate Your Lodging: Olympia Tower Hotel and Convention Center

Posted in Blog by - Sep 13, 2015

This review of the Olympia Tower Hotel, setting of Fandemonium, appeared on rateyourlodging.com, the website for Rick Moody’s novel Hotels of North America, on Aug. 1, 2015. Hotels of North America is available Nov. 10, 2015.

OLYMPIA TOWER HOTEL & CONVENTION CENTER, 302 PARK AVENUE, NEW YORK, NY, JUNE 8-10, 2012

Anyone my age who grew up watching New York TV knows the phrase “the peak of elegance in the heart of Manhattan” like they remember the name of their first pet. You couldn’t get away from the commercials. The thing is, at one time it was probably true. Movie idols, presidents, …

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Book review: “Notes on a Scandal”

Posted in Blog by - Apr 30, 2015

“When women stop reading, the novel will be dead,” Ian McEwen once wrote. Since women buy an estimated 80 percent of all novels, it’s peculiar how few female protagonists these days are occupied with anything besides overthrowing dystopian dictatorships or pursuing passion with handsome, sexually dominant (but intrinsically nice) billionaires and other similarly mythological beings.

 

Zoe Heller’s second novel, “What Was She Thinking? Notes on a Scandal” (2004), a probing portrait of the toxic bond between two female teachers at an English high school, is a refreshing exception. Ostensibly the book’s topic is as titillating as “50 Shades of Grey”: an …

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Womansplaining ‘Mad Men’

Posted in Blog by - Apr 13, 2015

 

Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) and Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks) in “Severance,” first of the final seven episodes of “Mad Men.”

Helen A. S. Popkin writes about technology, pop culture, gender politics and social media. Recently we talked about “Mad Men” and in particular “Severance,” first of the show’s final seven episodes.
 
RS: You called “Mad Men” a “great big Dick Whitman pity party on account of life in the ’60s being so difficult for tall handsome rich white men.” Yet you called the scene in “Severance” where Joan and Peggy are treated like crap by sexist men at a presentation “excellent” …

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