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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New Nick Story in March 2019 Galaxy’s Edge

NickGE3-19I’m happy to announce that my short story “The Sin-Eaters” has landed in the March 2019 issue of Galaxy’s Edge. This is another original Italian folktale in my Il Villaggio di Ombre series.

For a short time, the story is available online, along with great fiction by Orson Scott Card, Joe Haldeman, and others, and columns by Gregory Benford and Robert J. Sawyer

Thanks to the fine folks at Galaxy’s Edge — Mike Resnick, Taylor Morris, and Shahid Mahmud — who have consistently published a fascinating mix of science fiction and fantasy stories every odd month since 2013. You can purchase digital or paper subscriptions and buy individual issues directly from the Galaxy’s Edge website. Enjoy!

And remember, Reading Is Fundamental.

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!

Moonlighting

A Book to Warm Your Toes on a Cold Winter’s Night

Laurence Housman, an Englishman who lived from 1865-1959, was mostly known as a playwright, often with a somewhat scandalous bent. He also wrote a delightful collection of original fairy tales titled Moonlight & Fairyland. Along with the stories are 16 fabulous full-color illustrations by Pauline Martin, inset on glossy paper (see snaps below).

Housman has a nice feel for the fairy tale form. The stories are sweet, sad, creepy, violent, scary, funny, and entertaining. He understands that fairy tales are guilty pleasures, like candies, that should be gobbled up and enjoyed. As some of you know, I’ve been somewhat obsessed with folk and fairy tales over the past few years, having written many of my own. I’m happy to add Housman’s wonderfully produced volume to my bookshelf. This was a gift from a friend. Publication date 1978.

(Rating: Fairy Tales Are Like a Box of Chocolates!)

Brain Benders

I’m once again moonlighting as a film reviewer. Both of the following are free on Amazon Prime and two of my favorites that I watched in January. If you’re up for a bipolar evening of movies, watch them back-to-back.

housegames-1House of Games is an interesting little grifter film from 1987, written and directed by David Mamet, about a gang of small-time con men just trying to make a living. You can see the wheels of Mamet’s duplicitous mind in motion as the story builds, and the do-gooder psychiatrist played by Lindsay Crouse becomes the mark. It’s fairly early work for Mamet. He had only a few screenplays under his belt before it, but this is his directorial debut. The acting is surprisingly awful, so bad that it actually added to my enjoyment of the movie. I’m guessing some of this was intentional as Mamet wanted to give the film the feel of early noir. But wow! Crouse is a nightmare in this movie. Drop it on your watch list just for fun.

(Rating: Don’t Burn the Popcorn!)

steeltoes-1On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have Steel Toes. This film, released in 2007, set in Montreal, is about a skinhead who brutally murders an immigrant and must own up to his crime. If you can stomach the violent opening scene, you’re in for a fascinating debate between the angry skinhead full of rage and hate, and the compassionate Jewish lawyer who chooses to defend him in court. David Gow wrote the screenplay and the original stage play upon which it was based. The performances are riveting, with both leads showing incredible range. A very relevant movie in our current social climate, well worth watching, contemplating, and discussing.

(Rating: Emotional Roller Coaster!)