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Lighthouse book

Howard Norman’s The Bird Artist, a 1994 National Book Award finalist, is the most exemplary text for learning how to best conjure up a unique setting. This elegant novel is the first book of his Canadian trilogy, and a subtle and hauntingly stark tale of suppressed romances, deep hatred and profound forgiveness. Its narrator, Fabian Vas, is a bird artist who draws and paints the Witless Bay. In the opening chapter, he confesses to murdering the village lighthouse keeper, Botho August, the secret lover of Fabian’s lonely mother.

His magical stage is, of course, Witless Bay, nestled along the harsh and misty coast of Newfoundland. The rains there play major roles in the unfolding human dramas: sometimes a joyful prelude; other times a soliloquy condemning the evils of man and bleakness of life isolated from the rest of the Earth.

In fiction, setting is a local goddess you must kowtow to before you lift up your pen and attempt to create an authentic fictional world. It is a lofty stage to be erected — an ornate frame within which a masterful painting will be hung.

You can hear raindrops weep in some pages with anger and whisper in others with great lament in the quiet of a lonesome night, but it is the people, the vital elements of a setting, which set this book apart from the rest. They all seem drawn and contorted in some way by the pull of the sea, their lives tilted by the weight of the dark waves.

Some characters are blurred at the edges, incomplete from within, with part of their soul hovering out over the waves, attached to land only by the tragic ropes that fasten their collective fate.

Others are nestled snugly and cozily in their broken homes like seabirds seeking temporary shelter on the edge of a neglected Earth. They talk, if at all, in crisp and terse shorthand codes known only to locals, as if the silence of the sea has made them all begrudging philosophers of life who toss off miserly nuggets of wisdom and pinches of humor — as if the simplicity of Witless Bay has made them talk less and think more.

The Bird Artist is an ode to the sea, homage to that unbreakable bond between man and the elements — and the ancient discord and perpetual harmony that coexist within it.

The novel is the manifestation of the author’s deep love for the land, and the sea that nurtures him. Only when a writer loves the locale this deeply can he or she deliver a work of such singularity.

It is the thematic evocation of the sea that casts the overwhelming spell upon this witty bay. The ocean is the vast bosom they run to seeking freedom, relief and redemption — a cursed siren bewitching them, yielding good tidings and tragedies simultaneously. The Atlantic becomes the mother goddess giving birth to joy, anguish, hope and broken dreams by her ever-changing faces and roiling depths.


Preach, my witchy sisters. The steady diet of literary fiction assigned by my teachers gave me plenty of characters with whom to commiserate, but not much concrete advice on how to endure daily snubs and painful insecurity. On Arrakis, resourcefulness was rewarded, strength was valued, and courage was required. OK, so Paul ends up being omniscient and worshipped as a god. But in junior high, a few delusions of grandeur can make for excellent armor. And as special as Paul is, it was the epic context of his story that made the real differenc
While Holden Caulfield was moping and breaking windows, Paul Atreides (Dune’s protagonist; Muad’Dib to the faithful) was equipping me with a junior-high survival guide. Paul is not a classic underdog. He’s the son of a duke. He’s been trained since birth in combat, diplomacy and general badassery by a cast of geniuses and battle-hardened weirdos with impossible-to-pronounce names. But when his world is turned upside down — when he leaves his home, loses his father and enters a physically and politically hostile environment — he doesn’t whine and cry and brood. He adapts. To this day, I can recite the Bene Gesserit litany against fear. It’s a great, geeky party trick, but back then it was also good gospel for an oft-pummeled kid:

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
I’d been slogging along, eyes on the ground, just trying to make it through another day of the relentless, petty slice and grind that is being a preteen girl. Herbert tilted my chin up so I could see the stars.

It’s a cop-out to ascribe the appeal of science fiction and fantasy to escapism. Lots of literature is escapist and the very act of reading (whatever the content) necessarily takes you out of a given moment. For me, Dune was escapist, but more importantly, it was expansive. It was a glimpse at the infinite; at histories barely hinted at but wholly felt; at destinies constructed over millennia, thwarted in a lifetime and rebuilt in a heartbeat. Its scale was so vast that it literally redefined possibility for me.


Is it weird to call a memoir about bipolar disorder entertaining? Well, this one is, thanks to the ease with which Forney translates her vivacious, fearless personality to the page. This is easiest when she’s getting that tattoo, planning a massive book party or orchestrating a steamy photo shoot in one of her manic phases, but her unfailing sense of humor, honesty and engagement with the world sustains us through the low phases as well. After receiving her diagnosis, Forney plans future projects to occupy herself when she becomes depressed, but as the cycle inevitably shifts, she writes, “I sensed that I had landed, a familiar feeling I’d forgotten. … I had a tickle in my throat and there was pressure in my nasal passages. I’d forgotten this part, too. During a manic episode, depression seems entirely impossible. At the end of a high, though, I’d get sick. I had a sinking feeling … I’d been so sure that I could manage without meds, that I could take care of myself. That conviction disappeared all at once.”From a distance, it can be tempting to romanticize the bipolar artist, as Forney herself points out, providing a list of celebrated painters, writers and composers who shared her diagnosis. But by alternating comics with pages from the sketchbook she kept during her lows, we see what depression looks like through her eyes, and any romantic notions are quickly dispelled.

Forney has a virtuosic understanding of what words and images can do in congress, playing them off one another in ways that allow her pages to be more than the sum of their parts. A wildly branching flow chart mimics the frenetic geometries of manic associative thinking; drops of water on a wall morph into a woodland scene to show the process of visual creativity at work; on one page, gray cloudlike forms press down on a small figure to evoke the claustrophobic anxiety that oppresses Forney during her lows. No matter what she’s experiencing, Forney wants you to be there with her. Chances are, if you have even a passing interest in nonfiction comics, psychology or what it means to be creative, you’ll want to be there, too.

Marbles, cartoonist Ellen Forney’s excellent graphic memoir about being bipolar, opens with her in the middle of a 5 1/2-hour session in a tattoo parlor. Every time the needle traces a line, Forney writes, she can “see the sensation — a bright white light, an electrical charge.” Those opening words are a perfect description of her book. From the very first page, Forney allows us to see sensation — to inhabit, as closely as possible, her bipolar world, from its manic, exhilarating highs to its oceanic, debilitating lows. Bipolar disorder defies easy treatment; each individual patient must become their own guinea pig to discover the balance of medication and lifestyle therapies that will allow him or her to achieve long-term stability. For Forney, this was an intense four-year process that she chronicles with her deceptively simple drawing style, an emotive line that matches her expressive prose.


In the wrong hands, fiction written to convey urgent social messages is as tedious as a political harangue. But done well, it can be both eye-opening and moving: think Charles Dickens on children and poverty in Oliver Twist; Upton Sinclair on the meat-processing industry in The Jungle; Toni Morrison on the tolls of slavery in Beloved; E.L. Doctorow on the collateral damage of war in The March.

But, as readers of The Poisonwood Bible and The Lacuna are well aware, Kingsolver is no mere propagandist. She is a storyteller first and foremost, as sensitive to human interactions and family dynamics as she is to ecological ones.

While Kingsolver’s seventh novel, Flight Behavior, does not quite achieve the resonance of Morrison’s and Doctorow’s masterpieces, this is partly due to its inherently less dramatic material. What it shares with these books is an integration of important issues with engaging narrative that feels organic: A colony of butterflies and a young woman have both deviated from their optimal flight paths, a story Kingsolver uses to take on global warming and the high costs to society of grossly inadequate public school education, especially in the sciences.

Kingsolver takes us deep inside her smart, appealing protagonist’s underprivileged world of free school lunches and soul-sapping secondhand stores. Despite her lack of worldly experience, Dellarobia is acutely aware of her family’s Appalachian hillbilly status. Kingsolver highlights social stratifications in often comic scenes, skewering with particular gusto a slick television reporter out to feed the public the most palatable version of the news. She also ribs a conservationist who cluelessly advises Dellarobia to reduce her carbon footprint by flying less and buying new energy-efficient appliances.

Earnest conversations between Dellarobia and Ovid about the direness of environmental conditions sometimes make us feel as if we’ve wandered into a sophomore seminar, but it’s impressive that Kingsolver doesn’t sugarcoat the sobering facts of climate change or the heartbreak of a marriage between two good people who are wrong for each other. With a scientist‘s attention to detail and a writer’s compassion for a diverse array of people, Flight Behavior tracks a young woman whose life morphs and takes flight just as she learns about the very real problems of the world in which she’s spread her new wings.

The word “rapture” appears on the very first page of Flight Behavior. This is appropriate, for the novel extols the ecstasy of passionate engagement — with people, ideas and the environment. We meet sharply disappointed 28-year-old Dellarobia Turnbow as she’s weighing the rapturous potential of an adulterous assignation against the almost-sure ruination of her good name as wife and mother.

Eleven years after the shotgun marriage that derailed Dellarobia’s dreams of education and a better life, her respect for her husband, Cub — a sweet, slow-moving lummox — is at an all-time low. “With occasional exceptions in the bedroom, Cub did every single thing in his life in first gear,” Dellarobia reflects ruefully. But she feels contrite when she’s tough on him because he is already browbeaten by his parents, struggling sheep farmers for whom they both work.Dellarobia’s life is changed by a magical, incomprehensible sight: boughs glowing with “an orange glaze,” which she interprets as “a vision of glory” that “looked like the inside of joy.” Her vision turns out to be some 15 million monarch butterflies that have come to roost on the Turnbow property in Feathertown, Tenn. — woods soon to be clear-cut by loggers in order to meet a looming balloon payment, if shortsighted Papa “Bear” Turnbow has his way.

When Ovid Byron, an elegant entomologist from the island of St. Thomas who has devoted his life’s work to the monarchs, comes to study the alarming phenomenon, he hires Dellarobia as a lab assistant, opening up her world exponentially. (The characters’ unusual names are all mashups from Kingsolver’s genealogical tree.) He teaches her the difference between correlation and cause, and that “terrible things can have beauty.”

The butterflies have gone off course from their normal wintering site in Mexico because of pollution and climate change, and it’s questionable whether they can survive the cold this far north. Freakish, ruinous rains, flooding and unexpected snowstorms provide a sinister backdrop to Kingsolver’s absorbing tale.


แม่ของรุสโซเป็นปกติใน Gloversville ของเยาวชนของเขา: หนุ่มตัวเองและสวยเธอถูกแยกจากพ่อของรุสโซและมีงานสำนักงานที่ดีในการทำงานสำหรับ GE ในเมืองใกล้เคียง แม่และลูกอาศัยอยู่ในอพาร์ตเมนต์ในบ้านสองครอบครัวที่เป็นเจ้าของโดยปู่ย่าตายาย ขณะที่เด็กผู้ชายรัสเซียจำได้ว่าถูก “ความสุขเป็นหอย” โดยเฉพาะให้หวานความสัมพันธ์เพียงแค่สองของเราชนิดที่เขามีกับแม่ของเขา ในประโยคสั้น ๆ ไม่กี่ที่จุดเริ่มต้นของหนังสือเล่มนี้เขาเรียกเต็มตาขึ้นโลกมีขนาดกะทัดรัดของ Gloversville วัยเด็กของเขา:

แต่ปฏิเสธที่จะไปง่ายตัวเองเพื่อชำระสำหรับความมั่นใจมาตรฐานที่เขาทำดีที่สุดเท่าที่เขาสามารถทำได้คือสิ่งที่ทำให้รัสเซียเป็นเจาะ  ที่นี่ในขณะที่เขาเป็นนักเขียนนวนิยาย สำหรับ “สามสิบห้าปี,” รุสโซบอกผู้อ่านเขาและภรรยาของเขาพูดติดตลกว่า “ไม่เคยไป [ออก] ทุกที่สำหรับนานกว่าที่ใช้สำหรับ … นมจะทำให้เสีย.”

แม้ว่าแม่ของเขาตายมีอิสรเสรีในที่สุดรัสเซียจากการปฏิบัติหน้าที่ยามของเขาเขาทำให้เธอภายใต้นาฬิกาของเขาโดยการเขียนไดอารี่นี้รุนแรง แต่กลับกลายเป็นว่ามันยากที่จะสลัดให้หลุดจากชีวิตประจำในการดูแลของคุณเอง

อะไรดูดชีวิตออกของ Gloversville บางส่วนของกองกำลังแน่ะเดียวกับที่เมืองเล็ก ๆ หันสดใสเป็นเปลือกทั่วสหรัฐอเมริกาในช่วงครึ่งหลังของศตวรรษที่ 20 ความต้องการสำหรับถุงมือลดลงโรงงานสิ่งที่ยังคง skedaddled ต่างประเทศคนงานที่สูญเสียอำนาจการต่อรองของพวกเขา ในปี 1967 เมื่อเขาอายุ 18 รัสเซียคว้าเส้นชีวิตออกมาในรูปแบบของจดหมายตอบรับไปยังมหาวิทยาลัยแอริโซนา แต่เขาไม่ได้ออกจาก Gloversville อยู่คนเดียว: นั่งข้างรัสเซียอยู่ในที่นั่งผู้โดยสารของ Galaxy ฟอร์ดของเขาหอบตลอดว่าไดรฟ์ข้ามประเทศระยะยาวเป็นแม่ของเขา เธอจะตัดสินใจว่ามันเป็นเวลาที่จะวิ่งเต้นเกินไปและที่ดีกว่าที่จะหลบหนีด้วยกว่าลูกชายคนที่เธอเสมอเรียกเธอว่า “ร็อค”.

ลูกชายอีกเข้าใจจะได้กดปุ่ม Eject แต่รัสเซียดูเหมือนจะมีความเห็นอกเห็นใจสำรองสำหรับกังวลแม่ขึ้นอยู่กับมักมากของเขา – เมตตามากขึ้นในความเป็นจริงมากกว่าที่เขาแสดงให้เห็นกับตาตัวเอง

สิ่งที่ต้องได้รับในน้ำประปาใน Gloversville, นิวยอร์ก, ระหว่าง 1950 เมื่อริชาร์ดรุสโซกำลังเติบโตขึ้นที่นั่น – บางสิ่งบางอย่างที่นอกเหนือจากฟอร์มาลดีไฮด์, คลอรีน, มะนาว, ตะกั่ว, กรดกำมะถันและสารพิษอื่น ๆ ที่ฟอกหนังเมืองรั่วไหลออกมา ออกทุกวัน

แต่วันหนึ่งหยดของทุ่งหญ้าต้องตกอยู่ในอ่างเก็บน้ำท้องถิ่นและรัสเซีย gulped มันลงเพราะเด็กไม่เขามีของขวัญของกวี ในวรรคหรือแม้กระทั่งวลีรัสเซียสามารถเรียกขึ้นทั่วโลกและโลกที่นักเขียนส่วนใหญ่เกี่ยวกับการปวดร้าวเป็นที่ของชนชั้นแรงงานอุตสาหกรรมขาว

รุสโซคือบรูซสปริงของนักเขียนนวนิยายในความเป็นจริงความภาคภูมิใจเพลงของสปริงส์ล่าสุดไพร่ “เราดูแลของเราเอง” ยังเล่นอยู่ในหัวของฉันเป็นฉันอ่านหนังสือเล่มล่าสุดของรุสโซไดอารี่อื่น ๆ รุสโซรู้ว่าสิ่งที่มันหมายถึงการดูแลของคุณเอง ในที่อื่นเขาเขียนด้วยกึ๋นที่โดดเด่นและมีอารมณ์ขันของเขาเกี่ยวกับชีวิตในวัยเด็กและการอพยพชั้นเรียนของเขายังคงขัดแย้งของเขาจากเด็กสีฟ้าปกไปที่วิทยาลัยอาจารย์และนักเขียน ส่วนใหญ่ของทั้งหมด แต่ที่อื่น ๆ เป็นไดอารี่ nuanced ตระการตาเกี่ยวกับแม่และทัวร์รัสเซียตลอดชีวิตของตัวเองจากการปฏิบัติหน้าที่ของเขาใช้เวลา – ความรักและอิดโรย – มองออกสำหรับเธอ

ที่ใกล้ชิดของคนอื่น ๆ เมื่อรัสเซียโดยการตอนนี้แม่ผู้สูงอายุได้ตายเขา berates ตัวเองว่า “flatlined” เมื่อเธอในปีหลังเพิ่งจะผ่านการเคลื่อนไหวของรวบรวม Mail List มันเองบัญชีท้ายชะมัดและรับประกันความผิด inducer สำหรับผู้ที่ของผู้อ่านเราที่จะดูแลตัวเองของพ่อแม่ผู้สูงอายุอาจจะมีความสอดคล้องสง่างามน้อย


Russo’s mother was an anomaly in the Gloversville of his youth: young herself and pretty, she was separated from Russo’s father and had a good office job working for GE in a nearby town. Mother and son lived in an apartment in a two-family house owned by his grandparents. As a boy, Russo remembers being “happy as a clam,” particularly given the sweet, just-the-two-of-us-type relationship he had with his mother. In a few short sentences at the beginning of the book, he vividly summons up the compact world of the Gloversville of his childhood:

But the refusal to go easy on himself, to settle for the standard reassurance that he did the best that he could do, is what makes Russo as penetrating a memoirist here as he is a novelist. For “thirty-five years,” Russo tells readers, he and his wife joked that they “never went [away] anywhere for longer than it took for … milk to spoil.”

Although his mother’s death has finally liberated Russo from his sentry duty, he’s kept her under his watch by writing this intense memoir. It turns out that it’s hard to shake off a lifetime routine of taking care of your own.

What sucked the life out of Gloversville were some of the same vampiric forces that turned vibrant small towns into husks all over the United States in the latter half of the 20th century. The demand for gloves decreased; what factories remained skedaddled overseas; workers lost their bargaining power. In 1967, when he was 18, Russo grabbed a lifeline out in the form of an acceptance letter to the University of Arizona. But he didn’t exit Gloversville alone: Sitting beside Russo in the passenger seat of his wheezing Ford Galaxy, all throughout that long cross-country drive, was his mother. She’d decided it was time to vamoose, too, and who better to escape with than the son whom she always called her “rock.”

Another son, understandably, would have pressed the eject button, but Russo seems to have had reserves of compassion for his anxious, insatiably dependent mother — more compassion, in fact, than he shows for himself.

Something must have been in the tap water in Gloversville, N.Y., during the 1950s when Richard Russo was growing up there — something, that is, besides the formaldehyde, chlorine, lime, lead, sulfuric acid and other toxic byproducts that the town’s tanneries leaked out daily.

But one day, a droplet of mead must have fallen into the local reservoir and Russo gulped it down, because, boy, does he have the poet’s gift. In a paragraph or even a phrase, Russo can summon up a whole world, and the world he writes most poignantly about is that of the industrial white working class.

Russo is the Bruce Springsteen of novelists; in fact, Springsteen’s latest proletarian pride anthem, “We Take Care of Our Own,” kept playing in my head as I read Russo’s latest book, the memoir Elsewhere. Russo knows what it means to take care of your own. In Elsewhere, he writes with his distinctive smarts and humor about his childhood and his still conflicted class emigration from blue-collar kid to college professor and writer. Most of all, though, Elsewhere is a gorgeously nuanced memoir about his mother and Russo’s own lifelong tour of duty spent — lovingly and exhaustedly — looking out for her.

At the close of Elsewhere, when Russo’s by now elderly mother has died, he berates himself for having “flatlined” on her, in latter years just going through the motions of caretaking. It’s a terribly stern self-accounting and a guaranteed guilt-inducer for those of us readers who are ourselves taking care of elderly parents, with perhaps less graceful consistency.

True man

Almost every candidate who is behind in the polls invokes President Harry S. Truman’s come-from-behind victory over New York Gov. Thomas E. Dewey in 1948 to boost the spirits of their supporters.

That campaign, which has become the source of many urban legends, was a transition from the New Deal/World War II era to the Cold War. In “Truman’s Triumphs: The 1948 Election and the Making of Postwar America,” scholar Andrew E. Busch revisits the campaign in great detail and persuasively shows how it shaped politics for several decades.

Mr. Busch, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College in California, has seemingly read everything written about the election aimed at both general and scholarly audiences. It’s part of a series of books on American presidential elections being published by the University Press of Kansas.

Truman, who was completing FDR’s term after Roosevelt’s death in April 1945, faced significant obstacles. The economy was sluggish, the foreign-policy situation was volatile, the public was tiring of the Democratic Party, and the Democrats were divided.

“The nation and world were in uncharted territory and seemed to be poised on the brink of major decision points, one of which was whether the thrust of the New Deal would continue,” Mr. Busch writes.

The unease was evidenced by the fact that two Democrats (former Vice President Henry Wallace on the left and South Carolina Gov. Strom Thurmond on the right) launched general election candidacies. Wallace thought the country was veering toward policies that were too pro-business and anti-communist while Thurmond thought the Democrats were moving too fast on civil rights.

The GOP, which was revved up by its large victories in the 1946 midterm elections, had its own drama. Dewey, the party’s unsuccessful 1944 nominee wanted to try again, but was challenged by Ohio Republican Sen. Robert Taft from the right and Minnesota Gov. Harold Stassen from the left. While Dewey was renominated, many in the party were concerned about his stiff demeanor and lackluster campaigning style.

In the general election, the Republicans’ worst fears came to fruition. Dewey sat on his lead and was all but measuring the curtains of the Oval Office. By contrast, Truman took nothing for granted and embarked on his now famous “give ‘em hell” campaign, in which he ran as a scrappy populist. He was also the first political candidate to air an advertisement on television.

Mr. Busch writes that “there is evidence that Dewey’s quietude led to a serious voter confusion or lack of understanding about his position or record.” Noting that Truman was extremely aggressive and often took liberties with the facts, the author points out that the president “claimed that the GOP only paid lip service to democracy itself.”

In the end, Truman won 49.5 percent of the popular vote and received 303 electoral votes. Dewey received 45.1 percent of the popular vote and 189 electoral votes. Thurmond received 2.4 percent of the popular vote and 37 electoral votes. Neither Wallace nor socialist candidate Norman Thomas received any electoral votes and they received 2.4 percent and .29 percent of the popular vote, respectively.

The results of the election would resonate for the next generation in the parties and in some ways still do.

For Truman’s party, Mr. Busch concludes, correctly, the results “confirmed that FDR had not been a fluke, and that Democrats had constructed a coalition that gave them a residual advantage going into national elections that was most favorable.” He noted accurately that the combination of strong anti-communism and domestic liberalism defined the party’s center for the next two decades.

In addition, Mr. Busch argues that Truman’s “scrappy, if demagogic, campaign, could continue to offer hope for embattled incumbents from the presidency to the county courthouse.”

While Dewey lost, the GOP wasn’t taken over by conservatives during the next generation. Many of his aides and allies were behind the drafting of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952. Ike ran and governed as a moderate who wasn’t afraid to spend money on highways and other domestic programs and was a supporter of expanding civil rights for blacks.

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The singular, iconic author was certainly complicated — and at times vain and quick to anger. Those critics who pigeonholed him as a sci-fi hack promptly felt the wrath of his epistolary ripostes. For example, six years after achieving lasting fame for his classic, Slaughterhouse-Five, a miffed Vonnegut felt compelled to write to Osborn Elliott, the editor of Newsweek, concerning a piece on science fiction written by Peter Prescott. Prescott’s offending lines went like this: “Few sf [science fiction] writers aim higher than what a teen-age intelligence can grasp, and the smart ones, like Kurt Vonnegut, carefully satirize targets — racism, pollution, teachers — that teen-agers are conditioned to dislike.” To which Vonnegut tersely replied, “I have never written with teen-agers in mind, nor are teen-agers the chief readers of my books. I am the first sf writer to win a Guggenheim, the first to become a member of the National Institute for Arts and Letters, the first to have a book become a finalist for a National Book Award.” He goes on to list his undeniably impressive accomplishments and titles for several more lines.
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Author Kurt Vonnegut, shown in 1979 in New York City, died in 2007 at age 84.
Author Interviews

Kurt Vonnegut Was Not A Happy Man. ‘So It Goes.’

Letters should be read as a necessary companion piece to Charles J. Shields’ evenhanded 2011 Vonnegut biography, And So It Goes. The Shields book reveals a successful but mostly unhappy man, one with a penchant for professional betrayals (he nixed an agreement with longtime friend and editor Knox Burger); an anti-war, liberal champion who had no problem investing in napalm manufacturer Dow Chemical.

This fierce pride in his work and resistance to the shallow critical dismissals that would label him a one-trick genre pony were tempered by a constant and playful deprecatory air. In 1959, Vonnegut wrote a short missive to a writer acquaintance named Norman Mailer: “I have just finished reading your ad for yourself — a lot of it twice, at your suggestion. Since my reputation is worthless, my comments on the book would be worthless, so f – - – them.”

His note to Mailer continues with an anecdote about a time, about 10 years prior, when the two of them socialized with Vonnegut’s drunk mother-in-law: “[She] was about two feet away from you, indoors, separated from you by a window shade drawn over an open window. She said to me in a loud, indignant squawk, ‘Well — I think you’re cuter than he is …’ It’s a fact, incidentally — I am cuter than you are. Respectfully, Somebody named Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.”

Toward the end of his life, the correspondence gets a bit sadder and more self-reflective, as is to be expected. In a few late letters, Vonnegut refers to himself as one of “Melville’s whalers, who didn’t talk anymore because they’d said all they had to say.” By the time he died, in 2007, the writer had outlived his first wife and many friends. In many of the letters, you get the sense that he is just killing time — making silkscreen paintings, writing tributes and blurbs — while waiting for the end.

If that seems unpleasant, consider it in light of his unsuccessful 1984 suicide attempt. After that booze-and-pill cocktail, he found reason to keep going — and even to impart some wisdom. Kurt Vonnegut: Letters ends, appropriately, with the last words of advice he wrote for an audience: “And how should we behave during this Apocalypse? We should be unusually kind to one another, certainly. But we should also stop being so serious. Jokes help a lot. And get a dog, if you don’t already have one … I’m out of here.”
Vonnegut saved some of his harshest criticisms for censors who would ban and sometimes burn his novels without having read a single page, and there are no shortage of these scathing attacks in the collection. But it’s the letters to his children that reveal the private figure. In the early ’70s, soon after he took a teaching position at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop (where he mentored the likes of John Irving and Gail Godwin), Vonnegut split from his wife, Jane. Though the breakup was mostly amicable, its quiet fallout underlies much of the subsequent correspondence with his daughters Nanette and Edith. In an unintentionally amusing letter dating from 1973, Vonnegut refers to Geraldo Rivera, Edie’s then-husband — and current Fox News reporter — as “a fierce Democrat and closet Marxist.” So it goes.

best Novel book

The final volume in Sykes’s The Aeons’ Gate series, The Skybound Sea, is perhaps the best of the three, as it seems the author has really gotten into his groove. The references to bodily functions are toned down, the pithy comments are increased, and the characters he has created have really come into their own. The previous book lagged a little, but the final volume doesn’t pull any punches, and readers will no doubt be pleased with the epic final battle between the adventurers, the netherlings, and the demons. Sykes leaves open the possibility of future books set in this world, and I am surely not alone in hoping that Lenk and his companions will return someday.

Nidal is a rather gloomy nation, where the shadowcallers of the dark god Zon-Kuthon excel in the arts of torture and can summon demons to do their bidding. Isiem is taken from his home at a young age to begin training to become one of these shadowcallers. His magical abilities are strong, his potential great. And yet… he chafes at the yoke of his god, and secretly dreams of a life in which he’s in control of his own destiny. When Isiem is assigned to help an allied nation secure a profitable silver deposit by taking out the humanoid race who currently claim that land, he is presented with a potentially life-changing opportunity.

Nightglass is full of deadly magic, a frightening god, and some seriously blurred morality. These elements and more are sure to keep readers enthralled to the last page. This is a great stand-alone fantasy novel; like all of the Pathfinder Tales, one does not need to have read past books or even be familiar with the Pathfinder world to enjoy the story. In a world where more and more fantasy novels are just one part of an epic series, it’s refreshing to find a good story contained in a single book.

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The Dice Man

And so it was. For me, it felt like everything. That summer, I foisted my copy onto my best friend, Leah. She read its 300 pages as swiftly as I had done. Then we both began living by the die. (“If it turns up even, we’ll bum a cigarette from the next guy we see…”) Just as Luke Rhinehart had a secret and unseemly attraction to his wife’s best friend, Arlene, I had a secret and unseemly attraction to my best friend’s younger brother, Jordan. I knew what I wanted the die for; like it had helped Luke Rhinehart, I hoped the die would maneuver me closer to the object of my desire. (“If it’s a one, I will leave Leah’s bed when she’s asleep and sneak into Jordan’s room…”).

But one doesn’t need a die to gamble. One can gamble by making impulsive decisions, you can gamble with your reputation, by recklessly spending, or promising impossible things on a whim; gambling is not just a discrete activity – it can be an entire way. Luke Rhinehart finds himself in ever more compromising and humiliating scenarios, usually in the presence of those he respects and loves the most. I’ve been there, too. Most of us have. Rereading this book was a revelation, and since then I have counselled myself, “Make the decision that causes the least anxiety.”

Luke Rhinehart could not commonly be considered an acceptable role model for any young person. But at age 13, The Dice Man was the perfect tool — the most perfectly complicit tool imaginable — behind which I could hide my “unseemly” desires, and eagerly enter the unseemly world of adults.
So I had Jordan read the book, and soon he was living by the die. While this was deeply maddening to Leah (I pretended to be irritated, too, when he would show up at dinner and place down beside his plate a red die with white dots; copy-cat! — so we stole the book away from him, though he was only half-way done), secretly I was thrilled. Now we all were speaking the same language. Now life could begin.

Eventually fall came and we gave it up. But while summer was still on, we played games we otherwise wouldn’t have devised, games we took really seriously, that involved stripping and kissing and more, over by the tennis courts near Leah’s house, a die spinning in the centre of the circle where we sat: Leah, her brother, her brother’s best friend and I. It was one of the most thrilling periods of my life — the dawning of our adolescent sexuality — and something of that book lodged itself deep within me. I think I never lost the sense that a life lived spontaneously, as if by chance, would always be a fuller, more exciting and truer life, than one led by the earnest evaluation of options from within one’s personality. (“Personality” is scorned by the Dice Man; it’s the cage that brings on the anomie).
Sheila Heti is the author of How Should a Person Be?

My father gave me The Dice Man when I was 13 years old. It’s a novel narrated in the voice of Luke Rhinehart, a jaded psychoanalyst, whose home and professional life have become so boring that he decides, one night, to rule his life by the whim of a die. Starting out, he thinks: if the die turns up a one, I’ll cheat on my wife. The die turns up a one.

The book is overtly a stab at the psychoanalytic industry, but it is also, I think now, a perfect depiction of the mind of a particular kind of addict: the gambling addict. Gambling addicts, like Luke Rhinehart, are notoriously impulsive and anti-social. Luke’s gambling introduces into his life mayhem, violence and deviant sex. I asked my dad a few months ago, “Why would you give that book to a 13-year-old? Wasn’t I a little young?”

“But it was so interesting!” he said.
So I have lived like a Dice Man: I have let things be chosen, rather than choosing, imagining that one’s task as a human is to navigate oneself out of impossible situations, slipped into so easily, rather than trying to avoid them. Re-reading the book made see that what the gambler gambles with is not money, but a sense of his own security.

One of the things I’ve learned about addicts is that they are compelled to escape themselves by any possible means — the drug addict with drugs; the gambling addict with the high of the gamble and the accompanying, omnipresent anxiety. Anxiety, a lesser pain, clouds over the deeper pain of a normal human life, which one cannot (and maybe should not) ever fully escape from. Besides, the attempt only causes new pains. Later in the book, Luke Rhinehart’s wife discovers that her husband left her and their young children because the die “willed” it. She turns on him, pained, at a dinner party, understanding his reason for the first time: “Everything between us… becomes ashes.”

“Yes,” he says.

And he continues to play his games, even up to the moment of his death. In the book’s final scene, he hangs from a cliff, when he spots two vines. “Ah!” he cries, excited. He’s going to use the hand that grips the cliff to reach into his pocket for a die, and decide.

PG-13 is produced and edited by Ellen Silva and Rose Friedman with production assistance from Annalisa Quinn.