Why I Hate TV and Maybe You Should Too

May 2019 New and Old Book Recommendations

Something New

The Attention Merchants by Tim Wu is a fascinating historical review of how the television and advertising industries grew up and eventually got in bed together. Wu makes the case that our attention spans have been bought and sold as commodities, often without our knowledge or understanding. He’s a fine storyteller who offers many provocative insights into how we spend our lives and give away much of our time for free. You’ll never look at TV or advertising the same way after you read this book. I also highly recommend his NPR interview. Both experiences are well worth your time, free of advertising, and might even change your life.

 

Something Old

AssociateI picked up a used copy of John Grisham’s novel The Associate for an airplane companion on a recent business trip. I’m a sucker for fast-paced thrillers, courtroom dramas, and intense nail-biters. Oddly, I can’t say this book is any of those things, but it’s a decent enough page-turner, and, well, I have a soft spot for Grisham. The plot revolves around a sexual assault scandal. Originally published in 2009, it seems even more relevant today in the wake of the Me Too movement. As far as I can tell, the film has been in development since at least 2014. If anyone knows more about this, please share. 

For June

I hope you’ve had a great spring reading season. Summer begins on June 21, so like all good nerds, I’m sure you’ve been researching your summer books. If not, you can count on The NYT Summer Reading guide. Check it out! 

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Iris Murdoch on love, justice and truth

Nick-Di-smI love it when philosophy and literature walk into a bar together, and I’m a great admirer of the existentialists. I don’t know a lot about Iris Murdoch, but I look forward to reading this book, especially her take on Plato.

Phil Ebersole's Blog

I recently read Existentialists and Mystics: Writings on Philosophy and Literature, a collection of philosophical writings by the late Iris Murdoch from 1951 to 1986.

I bought the book because I enjoyed her novels, although I admit don’t remember the plots of any of them clearly, and because of praise of her by Matthew Crawford, author of The World Beyond Your Head, which I admire and which I am re-reading as part of a reading group.

I admire Murdoch as a thinker, but there is much more in her thought than I could absorb in one reading.

What follows are ideas I took away from reading this book, which may or may not represent her thought.

One idea that, in order to perceive reality as it is, you must cleanse your mind of egotism and wish-fulfillment fantasy, which are the source of illusion.

This is true not only of…

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Something Old and New for April 2019

Nickzengosp

Old

I love philosophy. And I adore used books. So imagine my delight when I found The Gospel According to Zen (editors Robert Sohl and Audrey Carr) at a library sale for an unbeatable price: Freeee! 

This is a fabulous skinny (133 pages) volume of writings about Zen, God, faith, and religion, with the intriguing subtitle of Beyond the Death of God. Originally published in 1970, it can easily be found relevant today. The subject matter and individual essays are timeless. 

Eric Fromm warms up the audience with his opening essay, “Today’s Spiritual Crisis,” which he sees as an epidemic in the West: “It is the crisis which has been described as malaise, ennui, mal du siecle, the deadening of life, the automatization of man, his alienation from himself, from his fellowman and from nature.”

Yeah. Yesterday’s spiritual crisis is today’s spiritual crisis. Go figure. There are also koans, riddles, and poetry mixed in with the critical work to jigger your brain as only philosophical and artistic expression can.

When I went looking online, I found plenty of used copies available at places like Amazon and AbeBooks. Not free, but cheap. My copy has underlining, margin notes, and highlighting all over the place. I’m sure you can do better in the open market. 

I invite you to post a favorite used book treasure on my blog anytime!

New

I talk about my short story “Bella and the Blessed Stone” in this interview posted on the F&SF site (April 11). I hope you get a chance to check it out. You can buy a copy of the March/April 2019 F&SF here

Finally, as a reminder, the March 2019 Galaxy’s Edge (#37) contains my Italian folktale “The Sin-Eaters.” The magazine is available on the GE site.  

Happy springtime reading, peeps!

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Making History of an Alternate Kind

I’m happy to announce that my short story “The Winterberry” has just been reprinted in the new e-anthology Making History: Classic Alternate History Stories, edited by Rick Wilber.

This book offers a classy selection of alt-hist yarns by some amazing writers, including Karen Joy Fowler, Gregory Benford, Harry Turtledove, Michael Swanwick and Eileen Gunn. Many of these stories were award winners, as are many of the writers. For you paper-lovers out there, the print version should be available soon.

For trivia fans, I’ve included a snapshot of Alternate Kennedys, the short-story anthology in which “The Winterberry” first appeared, published by Tor Books in 1992 as a mass market paperback. And let’s not forget The Best Alternate History Stories of the 20th Century, where the story landed again in 2001.

Finally, just for fun, check out this list of the Best Alternate History Stories according to goodreads. It’s an incredibly comprehensive list. I’m talking hundreds of books! Alternate Kennedys came in at a respectable 156, and the Best of the 20th Century at a slightly better 63. 

New Story and Other

New Nick Story

I’m happy to announce that one of my short stories is in the brand new
March/April 2019 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. F&SF is celebrating 70 years of publishing some of the genre’s finest tales. I’m thrilled to be among so many excellent authors, including my two great pals John Kessel and Rich Larson.

Special thanks to C.c. Finlay and all the fine folks at the magazine. You can find the issue in bookstores in the US, including most Barnes & Nobles, or buy directly from F&SF. (I’ve copied in some order info at the bottom of this post.)

Other

menwomen1Since I’m digging on short stories so much lately, I’ll take this opportunity to recommend Haruki Murakami’s Men Without Women. Just as the title suggests, each story is about a man who is haunted by a woman he cannot possess. Murakami is one of my favorite authors. He’s a brilliant stylist who is equally adept at the long and short forms. I enjoyed this book for its many layers of complexity and surprisingly sensitive exploration of men and the inner workings of their hearts. (For you writers out there, Literary Hub published an interesting compilation of Murakami’s writing advice well worth exploring.)

Order info for F&SF:

Strange and Strangers

Strange

Books and stories about writers are a dime a dozen. Movies about writers are not terribly uncommon. But a good TV show in this narrow genre is a rare find, which is why I’m ever so happy to recommend Bored to Death, an HBO original series about a struggling noir author who begins moonlighting as an “unlicensed” private detective on Craigslist to help make ends meet.

The show stars Jonathan Schwartzman, who brilliantly plays the role of Jonathan Ames, an insecure novelist and inexplicably overconfident gumshoe. Equally hilarious are Zach Galifianakis as comic-book writer/illustrator Ray Hueston, and Ted Danson as New York magazine mogul George Christopher. It’s a pleasure to see these three guys together on screen as they fumble their way through Jonathan’s ridiculous detective escapades, while trying to deal with their multiple neuroses, bad habits, and dysfunctional relationships with women.

The only bummer about the series is that it ran for just three seasons (2009-2011). I’m in the middle of watching it a second time around and enjoying this trip even more than the first. You don’t need to be a writer to get this show — the comedy works on many levels — but if you are, all the better.

Read the NYT recommendation for the show here, and watch it for free on Amazon Prime.

(Rating: Gut Busting Silliness!)

Strangers

I love short stories, and it’s always a joy to read an anthology that includes the work of friends. So it is with Strangers Among Us: Tales of Underdogs and Outcasts, a sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes tragic, and often inspiring gathering of tales about people wrestling with mental illness.

Lucas K. Law writes in the book’s foreword, “Mental illness can target any age group at any time. Mental illness can afflict a person for a period of time or become a life-long struggle. Mental illness can spring from many sources and manifest in many forms.”

Whether we realize it or not, we all know someone who is fighting with depression, PTSD, bi-polar disorder, anxiety, or some other mental challenge. These stories, in their own unique ways, shine a light on such struggles and help us understand them through the gentle art of storytelling.

Of note: The anthology and some of its authors were nominated for several Canadian literary awards. A portion of the book’s revenue will be donated to the Canadian Mental Health Association. Buy many copies and give them to your friends and loved ones, especially those who are dealing with some form of mental illness. They’ll thank you for it. 

Check it out on goodreads, and read the Kirkus review here

(Rating: People Are Strange When You’re a Stranger!)

Coming Soon

March-April2

A new Nick story, “Bella and the Blessed Stone,” is in the March/April 2019 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. It should be available any day now. Like on March first. Yay!

A True History of SF’s Golden Age

Phil Ebersole reflects upon SF’s golden age with this thoughtful review of the new book ASTOUNDING. Enjoy!

Phil Ebersole's Blog

I just got finished reading ASTOUNDING: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard and the Golden Age of Science Fiction by Alec Nevala-Lee (2018)

This book is the story of how John W. Campbell Jr., the editor of Astounding Science Fiction magazine, and three writers most closely associated with him, shaped the American mind.  It provides a detailed and objective account of the personalities, relationships and accomplishments of these four figures, both for good and ill.

In 1937, when Campbell became editor of the magazine at the age if 27, popular science fiction was a minor subset of the action-adventure genre.  

His ambition was to make science fiction not only a source of entertainment, but a way of thinking about science and the future.

He was an outstanding editor, full of ideas, able to prod and provoke writers into doing better work than they thought…

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