A lot of fine business books were published this year. Big Data helped to popularize one of the catchiest business terms of the year. Who Owns the Future? stirred our thoughts on the relationship between technology and culture. But one book really took the prize.
Before that, some other highlights:
- Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success by Adam Grant
- Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger
- Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work by Dan and Chip Heath
Even two famous basketball coaches got into the game:
- Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success by Phil Jackson
- The Power of Negative Thinking: An Unconventional Approach to Achieving Positive Results by Bobby Knight
But the 500 pound gorilla of the year in business books was Lean In, in which Sheryl Sandberg urges women to stop apologizing for their success, while encouraging women (and men) to re-examine their business and home relationships. Not only was it one of the top business books of the year, it was one of the top books of the year. Maybe it's more like an 800 pound gorilla.
For more on Lean In, see Sara Nelson's Some Things You Might Not Know About Sheryl Sandberg.
In Part One of our interview with Hellboy creator Mike Mignola, we discussed the recent original graphic novel, The Midnight Circus, and his narrative influences. In Part Two of our spirited conversation, we explore the forthcoming Hellboy in Hell storyline, the changing status quo of his universe"”where Mike gently corrects my understanding about a particular character"”and our favorite new vampire film.
Alex Carr: While young Hellboy begins his adventures in The Midnight Circus, his career, as we know it, ends in Hellboy in Hell. What awaits him in Hell?
Mike Mignola: A lot of family stuff; I'll say some old "friends" with quotations marks around it; a lot"”a lot of stuff [laughs]. The first volume of Hellboy in Hell is really settling him into Hell. We get a tour of that world"”not the complete world, but Hellboy gets shown around a bit. We get to see a little bit of how my version of Hell works. And most important, we see that by Hellboy appearing in Hell, major changes have happened with the guys who have been running Hell. Hellboy gets in there and throws a pretty big rock in that pond.
There are some major changes that happen, and really, after that first volume I want to focus on doing smaller stories for a while and go back to my spin on fairy and folk tales. My long-term goal with Hell"”we'll see the Greek underworld, we'll see the sort-of Asian underworld of Hell so I can do Asian-related fairy tales and folklore and use the creatures from those mythologies.
AC: There's an apocalyptic theme running through your entire universe at the moment. We've got Hellboy in Hell, and in B.P.R.D. there's a multi-year arc called Hell on Earth. Why so grim?
MM: You know, things do look pretty grim, but I think there are more laughs in Hellboy in Hell than there are in B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth. I think Hell is getting nicer and Earth is getting worse [laughs]. Once we figured out what we were doing, the whole point of the Hellboy/B.P.R.D. stuff has always been evolution. The kind of evolution we're seeing on Earth is nasty evolution"”part of this kind of evolution is that you have to wipe out what was there before you can replace it. In B.P.R.D., a lot of the old ways of doing things are being replaced, and people are going to struggle against things like, you know, giant monsters coming down to re-pave the planet. Human beings are going to try to stop that. Can they do it? I don't know. Everything is changing, and there's a lot of destruction that goes along with it.
MM:Baltimore is a totally unrelated series from Hellboy. Do you mean Witchfinder?
AC: I'm sorry. I thought Lord Baltimore fit in there somewhere"”
MM: No, no. If, in fact, World War I came to a screeching halt because vampires starting overrunning the world, people would reference that.
AC: Thank you for the correction, Mike.
MM: I hope it doesn't hurt sales! If people think it's a part of the Hellboy universe, maybe that's why it sells as well as B.P.R.D. [laughs]. And that's fine.
AC: They're all resonating with readers, and when you create characters, be they leads or peripheral, is there a thread you recognize that makes for particular favorites among fans?
MM: I wish I could say I had any idea what I was doing when I designed characters. I just take things I like and make my version of it. Baltimore was never intended to be anything other than this original novel that Chris Golden and I did together. There was never any thought of this thing going on and becoming a series. If there's any common thing between these characters, it's that they weren't anything I was seeing in comics. Almost everything I've done is something I wish somebody else was doing, because it's what I'd like to read.
Way back when, Hellboy was entirely the comic I wish someone much more talented than I was doing, because I would have been a huge fan of that comic. But nobody was doing it, so it fell to me to do it. Baltimore, maybe on some level, is a reaction to how romanticized vampires are portrayed today. I'm a fan of the old-school supernatural stuff. So, the idea of glitter-y vampires and romance-y vampires"¦not my favorite thing. I was very happy to create a book that was completely on the other end of that spectrum.
AC: I agree, and I'm going to break here and ask if you've watched Kiss of the Damned. It's a new vampire film"”
MM: I have.
AC: Is that the kind of vampire you love, because I thought it was very old-school.
MM: Yeah, I thought that was great. I usually don't like things with a modern setting, but that I liked. That one had nice relationship-stuff but it didn't take the teeth out of them. My daughter is reading various YA [Young Adult] vampire stuff, and I ask her, "Is there even a bad vampire in the story?" There's always a good vampire now, but do any of them sleep in coffins? And I would bring her down to my library and say, "Here's every classic vampire literature. There are coffins, there's this, there's that," you know? "When you get to the YA stuff, you may try some of this stuff just to see where it came from."
AC: Reading The Midnight Circus felt like such a fine way to end autumn, and your stories play so well to that season"”maybe it's Dave Stewart's colors. Are you a fan of that season and the Halloween celebrations?
MM: You know, I don't do anything for Halloween. I carry Halloween inside of me [laughs]. I don't do costumes, I don't do sh_t like that. But certainly to look around my house"”it's not decorated like Halloween"”it's all fall colors. I love Halloween as a concept, but do I actually go out and do things? No. Trick or treating? Pain in the ass. Hate answering the door all night long. I do love fall, which is bad because I live in Los Angeles [laughs].
December 05, 2013
Mandela had not appeared publicly since 2010 when he attended the World Cup final in Johannesburg, the first held on the African continent. He remained a paragon of dignity and humanism, even as he quietly spent his final years in his childhood home in the nation's Eastern Cape Province.
Born on July 18, 1918, Mandela was eventually expelled from University College of Fort Hare for protesting apartheid, the system that he would ultimately see overthrown. He helped to form the youth league of the National African Congress, pushing for that body to take more radical steps against the white minority South African government. In 1956, he was charged with high treason; following a five-year trial, he was acquited. The ANC's tactics grew more militant over time, a process that he encouraged, and in 1964 he was sentenced to life in prison.
At the trial, he made this statement: "I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."
He would spend 27 years in incarceration before finally being set free.
On February 11th, 1990, Mandela walked out of prison to shouts and applause, his fist raised above his head. He was elected President of South Africa in 1994, promising to serve only one term, which he completed in 1999. Mandela's politics stressed forgiveness over vengeance, and as president he famously established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate crimes committed under apartheid. Bishop Desmond Tutu was appointed chair to the Commission, which granted individual amnesty in exchange for testimony about apartheid-era crimes.
After retiring from politics, he continued to work on the global stage, championing human rights and world peace, and taking up the fight against AIDS.
His death was announced by South African President Jacob Zuma on late Thursday, who said of him, "What made Nelson Mandela great was precisely what made him human. We saw in him what we seek in ourselves."
Months before the words "NSA," "PRISM," and "Edward Snowden" dominated newspaper headlines, Jaron Lanier's Who Owns the Future? warned us about the amount of personal information we have floating around the web. The truth is that while companies and the government are interested in our data at a macro level, the real danger is not being more vigilant about our personal information. The opening words of the book outline the problem well: "We're used to treating information as 'free,' but the price we pay for the illusion of 'free' is only workable so long as most of the overall economy isn't about information."
Lanier is no curmudgeon though. In fact, he is a total technologist (often referred to "the father of virtual reality") who has seen the internet develop from its earliest days, knowledgeable enough to approach everything with a healthy dose of skepticism.
In a lot of ways, Lanier is a bit of an oracle. For example, there's a chapter toward the end about the "creepiness" of how the government and internet companies can easily violate our personal privacy"”more or less predicting the potential of a surveillance program like PRISM. On one hand, I'm fascinated to see what a Jaron Lanier book tackling the NSA controversy would look like, but on the other hand, the fact that Who Owns the Future? retains its relevancy after the fact speaks to its strengths.
And yet for all of Lanier's criticisms, he is an optimist at heart. After all, he is a technologist, just a surprisingly rare one who believes in the good technology can bring but remains cautious enough to know that it can do just as much harm if we are not thoughtful and patient. He rails against the mindset that all technology is inherently good (he calls this "technological determinism")"”a narrative that dominates most tech writing. "My view," Lanier says," is that people are still the actors."
Toward the end, Who Owns the Future? delves into philosophical territory. Lanier proposes solutions to digital economies, attribution models, and net neutrality"”all parts of what he deems a "humanistic alternative" to the current picture of technology. This section of the book feels less vital than the first half, but it's fascinating to see the ideal future from a man who spends so much time thinking about tomorrow. Even Lanier admits it's pie-in-the-sky thinking ("I don't pretend for a moment that all the problems implicit in it are already known, much less solved," he concedes), but almost as impressive as his ideas is his ability to communicate these abstract concepts in layman's terms. In this way, it illustrates Lanier's best quality: he never forgets that the future must make sense for everyone, not just the technocrats.
This piece comes from our free Best Books of 2013: Reader's Guide, which you can download now for your Kindle. It features interviews, essays, excerpts, and other fun extras about the year's top 20 titles: Donna Tartt talks about her eating habits while writing The Goldfinch; David Finkel discusses the emotional impact following the 2-16 infantry battalion in Thank You for Your Service; and much more.
December 04, 2013
What to do with Arts & Photography?
In previous years, we Amazon editors crafted a single, 10-book list, cramming in everything that fits our liberal definition of "Arts & Photography": Art, Photography, Fashion, and Architecture. Of course, that was insufficient, ridiculous. In 2013 I've gone rogue, breaking every rule by breaking everything out into its own list (and in the case of Photography, three lists, because I like Photography books the most). Still, narrowing each category to 10 books remains an impossible task--these lists are skewed to my tastes while deserving books are necessarily omitted. But so it goes, and here they are. Our Best Books of the Year in:
Here's a closer look at three of our selections. See all of them here.
|Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton|
Stanton's thousands of not-quite-candid street portraits of New Yorkers (and accompanying captions, usually from the subjects themselves) have made his Humans of New York blog both poignant and extremely popular. And now, his book of the same title collects 400 of his best portraits, telling small stories that are outsized in their humor, candor, and humanity. Learn More
|Super Graphic: A Visual Guide to the Comic Book Universe by Tim Leong|
I'm not a comic book guy, and it's not even close. However, what Leong (a Wired art director) has done here transcends that universe by superhuman leaps and bounds. It's a high-flying exercise in graphic communication, a sort of Visual Display of Quantitative Information for the capes-and-SPANX demographic. Learn More
|The Digital Print: Preparing Images in Lightroom and Photoshop for Printing by Jeff Schewe|
Looking at pictures on your computer is all well and good, but sometimes your pictures are so nice that you want to put them on a wall. But looks can deceive, and the path from monitor to matte is fraught with often unexpected, disappointing results. Although it's Adobe software-specific, Schewe's follow-up to The Digital Negative (also excellent) is enlightening, engaging reading for the discerning photog, hobbyist or otherwise. Learn More
|See all of our picks for best of the year in Arts & Photography.|
December 03, 2013
After writing about Brown Dog, aka B.D., for more than twenty years, Jim Harrison has collected six B.D. stories into a collection called Brown Dog (one of our Best Books of the Month for December). These novellas--one of which has never been published--span nearly a quarter century, and it's an enormously satisfying reading experience to spend so much time with Harrison's hard-drinking, maddening, loveable, horny, scrappy B.D. We asked Harrison (via email) to discuss his most enduring fictional character.
B.D. is a (mostly) likable f**kup, maddening but worth rooting for. He's very familiar to me (he's my brother, he's me), and I wonder: has that always been the idea--to craft a recognizable, all-Id, Everyman Screwup?
Yes he is, but he's comparatively free. Part of being free seems to be being broke. You don't have to worry about money all the time if you're willing to just get by on a little food and a six-pack. I don't think of him as a "f**k-up" but as someone who lives within the limits of his environment quite well. His is in a tough place. I remember a miner out on strike years ago who fainted from hunger while playing in a park with his kids.
You've been writing about B.D. for many years. Has he evolved? How?
I don't think of Brown Dog changing. That's more an upper + middle-class tactic, where they're always saying, "I've changed." He's not involved in that kind of psychodrama. In his world it's about pussy or getting a drink.
There are strong female characters in these novellas, as in many of your books. Is there a source for that apparent understanding of women? Have you learned about the female perspective from the women in your life?
I was raised around strong females, with my mother and her four sisters, my own two sisters, and then having a wife and two daughters who are very strong. Plus female dogs, horses and chickens, so I'm used to them. You can't help but absorb their perspective, plus I read so many female novelists that it naturally gets into my system.
The Upper Peninsula"¦ is it your Yoknapatawpha County? What is it about that region that inspires you? And what is it about the country, the woods, that gives you so much to write about?
I'm not sure about Yoknapatawpha County. I revere Faulkner above any other 20th century writer, but I must say I don't think of the Upper Peninsula in quite that way. What I like is its immense expanse of woods, gullies and water, what with being bordered on the south by Lake Michigan and on the north by Lake Superior. It's a rich community in that mental sense of a vast number of people just trying to get by. You don't have to hear about the grand ambitions of our society in that culture. If a guy has a pickup that works, he doesn't get stuck too often and he can afford a few drinks he's a success. He doesn't complain about a hangover because he'd be ignoring the fact that he can afford to get drunk. There are thousands of places to fish and hunt. What more could one want?
Where would you rather be, walking in the woods or writing at your desk?
Both. I'd take a hundred walks a year and rarely see another human being but see an endless array of songbirds because of that vast arboreal thicket. This is all I want besides dinner. Of course I write, though I'm getting a little tired of it at my advanced age, so I begin the day by walking with my dog. Then I invariably write. I do a book a year because I don't know what else to do. It's my profession.
The novellas in Brown Dog span over 20 years of work. Why collect them into a single volume now?
The idea of collecting the Brown Dogs came from my Canadian publisher, Sarah MacLachlan. I said "Why would you want Brown Dogs in Canada?" and she said "We have more Brown Dogs than you do". This character is universal. I've met Brown Dogs in France, in country bars. They have no real complaints because they're free men and are living as best they can under the conditions they've set up. Brown Dog is the Chinese ideal of having a life where nothing much happens. This is a better thing than people realize.
Finally, can you describe your desk and work space? What are the "essentials" that you always have within reach while writing?
At my desk. I have to face a bare wall so I'm not diverted by my highly suggestible mind. When I need a break I look out the window or go outside, sit in a chair and stare at my wife's flower garden, with vegetables mixed in so you have both beauty and something to eat. It's kind of a simple life, but if I lived in New York I'd never get any work done because there are too many temptations.
Photo credit: Wyatt McSpadden
See all of Jim Harrison's books
When it comes to literary careers, Daniel Menaker's reads like a dream-come-true. After 26 years at The New Yorker, where he was a fiction editor (and where his own stories were published), he went on to work as an editor at Random House and Harper Collins, eventually landing as Editor-in-Chief at Random House. His new book My Mistake is a fascinating in-depth recollection of his experiences, filled with charm, publishing insight, and some titillating detail.
I recently talked to Menaker about his book. To read the names in the interview alone--Gina Centrello (publisher and president of Random House), Ann Godoff (former publisher of Random House, current head of the Penguin Press), Alice Munro (just won the Nobel Prize), William Maxwell and William Shawn (titans at The New Yorker), John Cheever, Tina Brown, etc., etc.--is to realize the scope of his experience. And yet, reading his book it became clear that he generally considered himself both insider and outsider.
We talked about that, and a lot more. Click the link below to listen to the interview. His is a life well-lived.
December is traditionally a sluggish month in publishing, a lull between the blockbuster fall season and the launch of a new year. Which makes December the perfect month to seek out gems that might otherwise get overlooked. For example, our Best of the Month list includes a bestselling Korean fable making it's English-translation debut; a collection of novellas by the brilliant Jim Harrison, featuring his long-running character, Brown Dog; an exploration of the history of New York's famous (and infamous) Chelsea Hotel; an epic biography of Ted Williams; and a collection of stories about heroines and villains, edited by George R.R. Martin.
Here's a sneak peek at a few of our editors' picks for December. (See the full list here.)
The Gods of Guilt by Michael Connelly
What distinguishes Connelly's Lincoln Lawyer books from the average legal thriller (in the same way his Harry Bosch series transcends "cop story") is the complicated likeability of his flawed hero, Mickey Haller, a criminal defense lawyer who works mostly from the backseat of a chauffeured Lincoln Town Car. Connelly writes crime fiction verging subversively on literature, and Haller is becoming an increasingly complex literary figure, cruising LA's darkest corners in a style that feels like a modern twist on Chinatown. (Think Clint Eastwood-Dirty Harry-San Francisco, but in LA, and without the big guns and the unresolved anger.) Incredibly, Connelly just keeps getting better. --Neal Thompson
Inside the Dream Palace by Sherill Tippins
With Inside the Dream Palace: The Life and Times of New York's Legendary Chelsea Hotel, Sherill Tippins has written the definitive biography of the New York landmark. Tippins's Chelsea lives and breathes along with the mind-blowing roster of (often infamous) geniuses and eccentrics who haunt its chambers. Dylan Thomas died at the Chelsea, and Bob Dylan wrote Blonde on Blonde there. Warhol's Superstars dined in its halls, and Dee Dee Ramone detoxed in its junk-friendly confines. Artists worked and trysted in wild pairings: Sam Shepard and Patti Smith; Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe; Jack Kerouac and Gore Vidal; Leonard Cohen and Janis Joplin; Dylan and Edie Sedgwick; Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick; and, of course, Sid and Nancy. Inside the Dream Palace stands as a fitting monument to the hotel, its misfit denizens, and the art that it nurtured and inspired. --Jon Foro
SUncharted by Erez Aiden and Jean-Baptiste Michel
According to Erez Aiden and Jean-Baptiste Michel, the authors of Uncharted: Big Data as a Lens on Human Culture, "If you wrote out the information contained in one megabyte by hand, the resulting line of 1s and 0s would be more than five times as tall as Mount Everest." In Uncharted, the authors explore the history and implications of Big Data--its influence on business, government, and our personal lives. But perhaps the most remarkable part of Aiden and Michel's work is how they are able to turn the abstract language of Big Data into an accessible and thoughtful book. Who knew millions of lines of data could be so much fun? --Kevin Nguyen
|See all of December's Best Books of Month|
December 02, 2013
The holidays can put a serious dent in your piggybank. But maybe you can get gifts for everyone on your list plus what you really want (books, right?)!
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November 29, 2013
Before we finish the leftovers from Thanksgiving and head into December, let's revisit one of the Best of the Month picks for November in Comics and Graphic Novels: Hellboy: The Midnight Circus by Mike Mignola and Duncna Fegredo. Demons and dark prophecies await young Hellboy as he sneaks away to find the circus, making for a classic Hellboy tale, but the way in which Mignola weaves familiar narratives into the compact story elevates it to must-read canon. In part one of our interview with Hellboy creator Mike Mignola, we discuss his narrative influences in The Midnight Cirucs, the art process, and why he dislikes the circus.
Alex Carr:The Midnight Circus stars a young Hellboy, whom we recently saw in B.P.R.D.: 1948. Was it a conscious decision to release these two stories so closely together"”and why the sudden focus on Hellboy at an early age?
Mike Mignola: You know, I think that was one of those happy accidents. Since we started using young Hellboy in the B.P.R.D. stories, 1946and 1947, it just made sense to continue in 1948, but I wasn't thinking about that at all when I started The Midnight Circus. When I started thinking about The Midnight Circus, I was looking for something to do with [artist] Duncan Fegredo that was different than what we'd done before [in The Wild Hunt and The Storm and the Fury]. Since Duncan killed off Hellboy, I thought, "Well, let's go to the other end of the spectrum."
It's set in the 1940s, so I was thinking Ray Bradbury"”what does a young kid in the 1940s do? He sneaks off and goes to the circus. Obviously, I was thinking about Something Wicked This Way Comes, that coming-of-age type of thing, where you're not a little kid anymore, but you're not quite an adult. And of course Hellboy grows up to be a guy who's always smoking a cigarette, so I thought about making that a moment. Is this somehow his rite of passage, you know, stealing a cigarette? So, Hellboy sneaks off and has a smoke.
And I'm a big fan ofPinocchio, the original book, and I'd always seen these funny parallels between that character and Hellboy"”with the whole real-boy thing. It was an excuse to do the circus, and once I got into the circus, I didn't really know what the hell to do because I don't really care about the circus. But I thought it would be a chance to do my spin on Pinocchio.
AC: Well, you've pretty much touched upon every question I had for you about the book [laughs]. You dedicate The Midnight Circus to Ray Bradbury: "Who confirmed my worst fears about the circus." When did you first encounter his classic, Something Wicked This Way Comes?
MM: Probably college. It remains my favorite Bradbury novel. I love that thing.
AC: I have to believe there is some sort of story behind your "worst fears about the circus."
MM: That's just me trying to be funny [laughs]. No, I always found circuses, especially clowns, so grimy and so creepy. Recently [publisher] Taschen put out a book on the circus [The Circus Book: 1870-1950], and I made sure Duncan Fegredo got the same book so we could compare notes"”and it contains tons of old photos of just the creepiest, grimiest, scariest-looking clowns and things. I can't imagine how anyone ever thought any of that stuff was cute or funny. It's just the worst-looking stuff I've ever seen.
AC: [Laughs] What about Pinocchio? You said you saw a parallel between that character and young Hellboy, and there's a significant thread in The Midnight Circus about this. What about Pinocchio's story makes for such fertile ground for you?
MM: My favorite gag in the new book is when the woman looking after young Hellboy wants to get him away from reading comic books. So she plops him down in the library, alone, with a copy of Pinocchio, which is an amazingly dark, very twisted, and disturbing story. "This is literature and comics are going to rot your brain," when Pinocchio is designed to scare little kids into being good. It's nothing but a parade of "If you're bad, your parents are gonna die." It's nothing but that. It's just relentlessly horrible [laughs], and it's so bizarre, so much weirder than the Disney film, which is why I wanted some discussion in there of the film versus the book.
AC: In The Midnight Circus, I noticed a shift in Duncan Fegredo's artwork"”something I'd never seen before from him. In a given single page, certain panels look to be done with pen and ink, while others look to be painted. Did you have any direction into the artistic process here, or what insight can you offer on how this look was achieved?
MM: Yeah, if you've seen any of our sketchbook sections, Duncan has done a lot of drawings and covers for us using ink-wash. The editors and I always think they look amazing, so when we started to think about the artistic look of this book we saw that we had the reality and then a descent into this nightmare-world. If we wanted, this would be the place to play with different techniques. Fegredo certainly took the ink-wash thing farther than any of us expected, and then when Dave Stewart adds his colors over that wash, it really does look like a painting.
AC: It's beautiful.
MM: And time-consuming.
AC: I feel like a bad Hellboy fan for asking this, but have we seen villainess Gamori before?
MM: No, we have not. It's funny"”I mentioned this book was time-consuming. I thought The Midnight Circus was going to come out a year ago. We started talking about it after Duncan finished his run on Hellboy, and I knew I wanted to introduce"”ah, I don't want to give anything away.
MM: She is referenced in Hellboy in Hell but I figured she would be established here, and then later I would reference her in Hellboy in Hell. As it turns out, Hellboy in Hell, the comic, has already come out [collection forthcoming] so she's been referenced before this book. It didn't really matter in what order they released because it worked out well in this case. But no, we haven't seen her before, but we will be seeing her again.