Bob Schwartz

Tag: books

Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House

Veteran journalist Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House won’t be officially published until next week. Its revelations are already the biggest news story of the day, and will continue to be for a while. (Trump’s response to Steve Bannon’s incendiary quotes in the book is to say that after he fired Bannon, Bannon “lost his mind.”)

If you’d like to read extended excerpts before it is published, see New York Magazine. Plus, the magazine illustrations by Jeffrey Smith  are as extraordinarily dramatic as the content.

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Belated Record Store Day Post

When I saw that a number of readers have been viewing my Record Store Day posts from years past, I realized that I had missed this year’s celebration (April 22).

So here’s a message: If you think that the diminishing presence of record stores, and their cultural sisters book stores, is not a problem for civilization and society, you are wrong. That is not nostalgia; it is the truth. The world is a better place with lots of music lovers hanging out together in record stores and lots of book lovers hanging out together in book stores. If you are a music lover or a book lover, and you have never hung out with your kindred live in a lively non-virtual space, you are missing something. Seize the experience.

World Book Day

Today, April 23, is designated World Book and Copyright Day by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization)—a day to promote reading, publishing and copyright. (In the UK, World Book Day is recognized on the first Thursday in March, but strangely World Book Night is tonight.)

UNESCO says:

World Book and Copyright Day is an opportunity to highlight the power of books to promote our vision of knowledge societies that are inclusive, pluralistic, equitable, open and participatory for all citizens.

The UN says:

It is on this date in 1616 that Cervantes, Shakespeare and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega all died. It is also the date of birth or death of other prominent authors, such as Maurice Druon, Haldor K.Laxness, Vladimir Nabokov, Josep Pla and Manuel Mejía Vallejo.

It was a natural choice for UNESCO’s General Conference, held in Paris in 1995, to pay a world-wide tribute to books and authors on this date, encouraging everyone, and in particular young people, to discover the pleasure of reading and gain a renewed respect for the irreplaceable contributions of those, who have furthered the social and cultural progress of humanity. With this in mind, UNESCO created the World Book and Copyright Day.

So today, read a book, write a book, publish and copyright a book. If you’ve already done any or all of those, start doing it again. Appreciate those who have done any of those things. And give a book to someone or read a book to someone, particularly to children.

Note: I know Cervantes, Shakespeare and Nabokov, but I admit that Garcilaso de la Vega, Maurice Druon, Haldor K. Laxness, Josep Pla and Manuel Mejía Vallejo are new to me. Among the things I learned is that Laxness received the 1955 Nobel Prize for Literature, and that George R.R. Martin (author of Game of Thrones) said “I think Druon is France’s best historical novelist since Alexandre Dumas, père.”

All of which serves as one more reminder of what great authors and books remain to be read, and as a reminder that World Book Day is a good time to get started.

Philip K. Dick, Now More Than Ever

Philip K. Dick color

Pretty much every day now, my head spins, just a little. My head does not usually and chronically spin, but it does these days. I find myself not so much trying to make sense of some things, but trying to determine whether there is or will appear some appropriate and constructive response. So far, nothing.

Today, however, I did think about Philip K. Dick. I wrote a little about Dick a while ago. To say he was just a science fiction writer is not nearly enough. Some of his many books and stories have been turned into a number of successful movies (Blade Runner, Total Recall, etc.) and now into an excellent TV series (Man in the High Castle).

The reason for his books being so adaptable, and for his loyal and committed readers, is that Dick was a visionary, some might say a prophet. He was also psychologically and cognitively different. The two parts often go together.

The reason I’m thinking about Dick is the possibility that those of us who are confused about what is going on are being far too rational and far too narrow about all of it. Maybe what we need is a much bigger and stranger vision. Maybe to understand madness, we all have to try to be a little mad ourselves, or pretend to be. Just a thought.

Anyway, Dick suffered through some mental illness and/or religious experience late in his life. Some would say Dick was a bit of a madman. Or a visionary or a prophet. In any case, if we want to know what the future might look like—or for that matter what the present looks like—we can do no better than look at it through Dick’s eyes.

Writer Jonathan Lethem has written some fine appreciations of Dick. This is from Lethem’s Introduction to Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick:

Dick’s great accomplishment, on view in the twenty-one stories collected here, was to turn the materials of American pulp-style science fiction into a vocabulary for a remarkably personal vision of paranoia and dislocation. It’s a vision as yearning and anxious as Kafka’s, if considerably more homely. It’s also as funny. Dick is a kitchen-sink surrealist, gaining energy and invention from a mad piling of pulp SF tropes—and clichés—into his fiction: time travel, extrasensory powers, tentacled aliens, ray guns, androids, and robots. He loves fakes and simulacra as much as he fears them: illusory worlds, bogus religions, placebo drugs, impersonated police, cyborgs. Tyrannical world governments and ruined dystopian cities are default settings here. Not only have Orwell and Huxley been taken as givens in Dick’s worlds, so have Old Masters of genre SF like Clifford Simak, Robert Heinlein, and A. E. Van Vogt. American SF by the mid-1950s was a kind of jazz, stories built by riffing on stories. The conversation they formed might be forbiddingly hermetic, if it hadn’t quickly been incorporated by Rod Serling and Marvel Comics and Steven Spielberg (among many others) to become one of the prime vocabularies of our age….

If Dick, as a bearded, drug-taking Cal-i-fornian, might have seemed a candidate for Beatdom (and in fact did hang out with the San Francisco poets), his persistent engagement with the main materials of his culture kept him from floating off into reveries of escape. It links him instead to writers like Richard Yates, John Cheever, and Arthur Miller (the British satirist John Sladek’s bull’s-eye Dick parody was titled “Solar Shoe Salesman”). Dick’s treatment of his “realist” material can seem oddly cursory, as though the pressing agenda of his paranoiac fantasizing, which would require him to rip the facade off, drop the atomic bomb onto, or otherwise renovate ordinary reality, made that reality’s actual depiction unimportant. But no matter how many times Dick unmasks or destroys the Black Iron Prison of American suburban life, he always returns to it. Unlike the characters in William S. Burroughs, Richard Brautigan, or Thomas Pynchon, Dick’s characters, in novels and stories written well into the 1970s, go on working for grumbling bosses, carrying briefcases, sending interoffice memos, tinkering with cars in driveways, sweating alimony payments, and dreaming of getting away from it all—even when they’ve already emigrated to Mars….

Whether or not he was ready for the world, or the world ready for him, he longed for a respectable recognition, and sought it variously and unsuccessfully throughout his life. In fact, he wrote eight novels in a somber realist mode during the 1950s and early 1960s, a shadow career known mainly to the agents who failed to place the books with various New York publishers. It’s stirring to wonder what Dick might have done with a wider professional opportunity, but there’s little doubt that his SF grew more interesting for being fed by the frustrated energies of his “mainstream” ambition. Possibly, too, a restless streak in Dick’s personality better suited him for the outsider-artist status he tasted during his lifetime….Here, from an introduction written for Golden Man, a collection of stories assembled in 1980, Dick reminisces:

But I think you should know this—specifically, in case you are, say, in your twenties and rather poor and perhaps becoming filled with despair, whether you are an SF writer or not, whatever you want to make of your life. There can be a lot of fear, and often it is a justified fear. People do starve in America. I have seen uneducated street girls survive horrors that beggar description. I have seen the faces of men whose brains have been burned-out by drugs, men who could still think enough to be able to realize what had happened to them; I watched their clumsy attempt to weather that which cannot be weathered. . . . Kabir, the sixteenth-century Sufi poet, wrote, “If you have not lived through something, it is not true.” So live through it; I mean, go all the way to the end. Only then can it be understood, not along the way.

Cigarette Ads Circa 1960: Size Matters

TV Guide - July 9 1960

Above is an ad from the back cover of TV Guide from July 9, 1960. It is for Parliament cigarettes. The image shows a man (judging by the hands) measuring a cigarette with a ruler, while a woman looks on with a mysterious, Mona Lisa-like expression. Is she thinking about taste? About how “your lips and tongue never touch” the filter? She is also holding a cigarette. Hers is lit and smoking.

In 1957, journalist and social critic Vance Packard published his groundbreaking bestseller The Hidden Persuaders, “the first book to expose the hidden world of “motivation research,” the psychological technique that advertisers use to probe our minds in order to control our actions as consumers.” Chapter 8 is entitled The Built-in Sexual Overtone.

Since then, discussions about the role of psychology in advertising have continued unabated. Setting aside those discussions, it can be said that sometimes a cigarette is just a cigarette, a ruler is just a ruler, etc. On the other hand, every picture tells a story. So what’s the story here?

Books: It’s Ramadan, Curious George

It's Ramadan, Curious George

Something can be significant and cute. It’s Ramadan, Curious George is that.

Published this past May, the book is a way to introduce little ones to the possibility that others believe differently, that there are other religious and cultural traditions than their own. In this case, a Muslim holiday is introduced through the antics of that famous playful monkey. (George distracts his hungry friend by playing checkers with him.)

Day of Fasting

H.A. and Margret Rey, the creators of Curious George, were German Jews living in Paris when the Nazis invaded in 1940:

Knowing that they must escape before the Nazis took power, Hans cobbled together two bicycles out of spare parts. Early in the morning of June 14, 1940, the Reys set off on their bicycles. They brought very little with them on their predawn flight — only warm coats, a bit of food, and five manuscripts, one of which was Curious George.

The Reys made it to New York with the manuscript. The first Curious George book was published in 1941 (this is the 75th anniversary). The rest is history, and a part of the lives of millions of kids (and their parents).

It is possible to help make the world better one book, and one monkey, at a time.

Books: W.P. Kinsella

The Essential W.P. Kinsella

The writer W.P. Kinsella has died at the age of 81. He is most famous as the author of the novel Shoeless Joe, which was turned into the beloved baseball movie Field of Dreams. (The book is infinitely better.)

That was only a small part of his work. He wrote many other books and stories, some about baseball, some about indigenous Canadians on the reserve (reservation), and others. All his work was by parts unique and charming and funny, filled with a lot of magic, because Kinsella was such a gifted literary magician.

I looked for an obituary to quote that didn’t spend most of its time talking about Field of Dreams. Not many of those. I also looked for an obituary that didn’t mention his personal life, which seems to have been untidy and ragged in some ways, as he apparently could be a difficult person, as talented artists are wont to be. He may have been difficult, but reading his work is easy, so what does it matter, at least to readers?

Many of his books appear to be out of print, as interest in his work has faded. His death has brought him more attention than he had for years, which is the way it goes. The good news is that last year a collection of his stories was published. Here is the publisher’s description of The Essential W.P. Kinsella:

This career retrospective celebrates the 80th birthday of baseball’s greatest scribe, W. P. Kinsella (Shoeless Joe), as well as the 25th anniversary of Field of Dreams, the film that he inspired.

In addition to his classic baseball tales, W. P. Kinsella is also a critically-acclaimed short fiction writer. His satiric wit has been celebrated with numerous honors, including the Order of British Columbia.

Here are his notorious First Nation narratives of indigenous Canadians, and a literary homage to J. D. Salinger. Alongside the “real” story of the 1951 Giants and the afterlife of Roberto Clemente, are the legends of a pirated radio station and a hockey game rigged by tribal magic.

Eclectic, dark, and comedic by turns, The Essential W. P. Kinsella is a living tribute to an extraordinary raconteur.

And from a starred review in Publishers Weekly:

The career of the incomparable Kinsella is beautifully represented by these 31 short stories, including, of course, “Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa,” the haunting tale of a baseball fan’s obsession with a long-dead star that was developed into a bestselling novel and then the film Field of Dreams. Other charming baseball fantasies include “The Night Manny Mota Tied the Record,” in which a fan agrees to sacrifice himself to bring back the recently dead Yankees star Thurman Munson, and “Searching for January,” which concerns an encounter with the deceased Roberto Clemente. Alongside these stories are several more realistic and mostly gentle satires, such as “The Fog,” that present the escapades of several indefatigable members of Canada’s First Nations. “The Grecian Urn” concerns a couple who can inhabit the interior worlds of great works of art. “K Mart” is the touching tale of three boys who use baseball to escape from their unhappy lives. Kinsella is a masterly writer of short fiction.

If you love good writing, please give W.P. Kinsella a read.

Record Store Day

Record Store Day 2016

Today is Record Store Day.

Record Store Day was conceived in 2007 at a gathering of independent record store owners and employees as a way to celebrate and spread the word about the unique culture surrounding nearly 1400 independently owned record stores in the US and thousands of similar stores internationally. The first Record Store Day took place on April 19, 2008. Today there are Record Store Day participating stores on every continent except Antarctica.

This is a day for the people who make up the world of the record store—the staff, the customers, and the artists—to come together and celebrate the unique culture of a record store and the special role these independently owned stores play in their communities. Special vinyl and CD releases and various promotional products are made exclusively for the day. Festivities include performances, cook-outs, body painting, meet & greets with artists, parades, DJs spinning records,  and on and on. In 2008 a small list of titles was released on Record Store Day and that list has grown to include artists and labels both large and small, in every genre and price point. In 2015, 60% of the Record Store Day Official Release List came from independent labels and distributors. The list continues to include a wide range of artists, covering the diverse taste of record stores and their customers.

Next to Independent Bookstore Day —coming up on April 30—this the most important cultural retail event on the calendar.

Independent Bookstore Day

Find your local record store and buy something—CD, vinyl, or whatever format you play that they sell.

And in two weeks, find your local indie bookstore and buy something there too.

 

Hey kid, rock and roll
Rock on, ooh, my soul
Hey kid, boogie too, did ya

Hey shout, summertime blues
Jump up and down in my blue suede shoes
Hey kid, rock and roll, rock on

And where do we go from here
Which is the way that’s clear

Still looking for that blue jean, baby queen
Prettiest girl I ever seen
See her shake on the movie screen, Jimmy Dean

(James Dean)

Jimmy Dean
Rock on

David Essex, Rock On

Donald Trump, You’re No Barry Goldwater

Donald Trump is now being compared to Barry Goldwater in 1964, an unfavored Republican candidate for President who lost big yet did not destroy the party.

I wrote recently about how the Bernie Sanders phenomenon is like the Goldwater one: a philosophical wing that will eventually take over the whole party—as Goldwater conservatism took over the Republicans.

To compare Goldwater and Trump, following are excerpts from their literary masterworks: Goldwater’s erudite and principled The Conscience of a Conservative, which is for many still the Bible of the modern conservative movement, and Trump’s Trump: The Art of the Deal, which is still…something.


The root difference between the Conservatives and the Liberals of today is that Conservatives take account of the whole man, while the Liberals tend to look only at the material side of man’s nature. The Conservative believes that man is, in part, an economic, an animal creature; but that he is also a spiritual creature with spiritual needs and spiritual desires. What is more, these needs and desires reflect the superior side of man’s nature, and thus take precedence over his economic wants. Conservatism therefore looks upon the enhancement of man’s spiritual nature as the primary concern of political philosophy. Liberals, on the other hand,—in the name of a concern for “human beings”—regard the satisfaction of economic wants as the dominant mission of society. They are, moreover, in a hurry. So that their characteristic approach is to harness the society’s political and economic forces into a collective effort to compel “progress.” In this approach, I believe they fight against Nature.

Surely the first obligation of a political thinker is to understand the nature of man. The Conservative does not claim special powers of perception on this point, but he does claim a familiarity with the accumulated wisdom and experience of history, and he is not too proud to learn from the great minds of the past…

So it is that Conservatism, throughout history, has regarded man neither as a potential pawn of other men, nor as a part of a general collectivity in which the sacredness and the separate identity of individual human beings are ignored. Throughout history, true Conservatism has been at war equally with autocrats and with “democratic” Jacobins. The true Conservative was sympathetic with the plight of the hapless peasant under the tyranny of the French monarchy. And he was equally revolted at the attempt to solve that problem by a mob tyranny that paraded under the banner of egalitarianism. The conscience of the Conservative is pricked by anyone who would debase the dignity of the individual human being. Today, therefore, he is at odds with dictators who rule by terror, and equally with those gentler collectivists who ask our permission to play God with the human race.

With this view of the nature of man, it is understandable that the Conservative looks upon politics as the art of achieving the maximum amount of freedom for individuals that is consistent with the maintenance of social order. The Conservative is the first to understand that the practice of freedom requires the establishment of order: it is impossible for one man to be free if another is able to deny him the exercise of his freedom. But the Conservative also recognizes that the political power on which order is based is a self-aggrandizing force; that its appetite grows with eating. He knows that the utmost vigilance and care are required to keep political power within its proper bounds.

The Conscience of a Conservative
Barry Goldwater


I don’t do it for the money. I’ve got enough, much more than I’ll ever need. I do it to do it. Deals are my art form. Other people paint beautifully on canvas or write wonderful poetry. I like making deals, preferably big deals. That’s how I get my kicks.
Most people are surprised by the way I work. I play it very loose. I don’t carry a briefcase. I try not to schedule too many meetings. I leave my door open. You can’t be imaginative or entrepreneurial if you’ve got too much structure. I prefer to come to work each day and just see what develops.

There is no typical week in my life. I wake up most mornings very early, around six, and spend the first hour or so of each day reading the morning newspapers. I usually arrive at my office by nine, and I get on the phone. There’s rarely a day with fewer than fifty calls, and often it runs to over a hundred. In between, I have at least a dozen meetings. The majority occur on the spur of the moment, and few of them last longer than fifteen minutes. I rarely stop for lunch. I leave my office by six-thirty, but I frequently make calls from home until midnight, and all weekend long.

It never stops, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I try to learn from the past, but I plan for the future by focusing exclusively on the present. That’s where the fun is. And if it can’t be fun, what’s the point?

Trump: The Art of the Deal
Donald J. Trump

Translators May Be Traitors

If you read important books that are written in a language other than your own, you are at a disadvantage. You are depending on the kindness or brilliance of strangers. On translators.

That is doubly complicated if the original text is ancient, and the original language itself is a mystery, even for those who are expert.

The Bible, both First and Second Testaments, not to mention collatral ancient scriptural books and fragments, are a well-known example. The same problem arises with Asian texts such as the Tao Te Ching, the I Ching, or early Buddhist discourses.

So you see the challenge. Jesus or the Buddha said great things in their native language. Nobody transcribed them when spoken. The thoughts and words were remembered and kept accurately alive, as accurately as possible, in oral transmission and storage. Then they were set down in writing, in a language related to the original speech, maybe, but later in entirely different languages. And as the words migrated, the texts were overlaid and transformed, even as there was a sincere attempt to preserve the original.

Finally, they come to you, in the language you speak, read and understand. Which is far removed from the original.

When the French had the audacity to translate Dante into their own language, the Italians came up with a harsh accusation: Traduttore, traditore. Translator, traitor.

Consider that when you read translations, you are someone who cannot read yourself, or even see. You are in the dark. You depend on those who read to you. And hope that they are good and true readers themselves.