Non-Fiction

Age of Anger by Pankaj Mishra

It is more than time for all of us to think about the flaws in the worlds we believe in, the worlds we are trying to achieve, and the worlds we inhabit.  Our dream worlds don’t admit everyone nor do they acknowledge the pain we have caused, and continue to cause for the lifestyles we live.  Mishra’s Age of Anger  does some of the work, but he misses in many ways. He focuses on thinkers as representative of times and the actors in those times. The driving force of many of his ideas is Rousseau.  He also tends to lump together the angers of Trump voters, Brexiteers and ISIS in a way that is too glib.  Many of you have well thought out arguments about these topics, and Mishra will prompt you to resurrect those.

Franklin Foer in the New York Times:
Liberalism has no choice but to sincerely wrestle with its discontents, to become
reacquainted with its moral blind spots and political weaknesses. Technocracy —
which defines so much of the modern liberal spirit — doesn’t have a natural grasp of
psychology and emotion. But if it hopes to stave off the dark forces, it needs to grow
adept at understanding the less tangible roots of anger, the human experience
uncaptured by data, the resentments that understandably fester. A decent liberalism
would read sharp critics like Mishra and learn.

Richard Evans in The Guardian:
Of course it is right to point to the downside of “modernisation”, however the term is conceived: in particular the violent and sometimes genocidal impact of European imperialism on other parts of the world in the 19th century, and the poverty and exploitation engendered by industrialisation. If 19th-century Europe was generally peaceful, its peace was punctuated by episodes of extreme and bloody violence. But history is a many-sided phenomenon. It cannot in the end be made to serve the interests of explaining the present through the vast and questionable arguments Pankaj Mishra puts forward in this thought-provoking book.

RIP Robert M. Pirsig

ZatAMM meant a whole lot to me.  I still haven’t figured out how well the philosophy holds up, but it inspired me when I became a teacher–even though I read it at a time when I would not have become a teacher if you had threatened that Donald Trump was going to be president of the country I lived in, if I didn’t–and the idea of quality is powerful in so many parts of my life.  I love it more for the fact that my son read it and lives out many of the principles that Pirsig espouses.

This is the cover that will always live in my memory, even though the book fell apart some time ago.

New York Times Obituary
The Guardian obituary
Original New York Times review by Edward Abbey
WashingtonPost
LitHub
BoingBoing

Websites:
Levity

American Widow by Alissa Torres

51jtw9rfnvl-_sy344_bo1204203200_What was it like for the widows of people who died in the World Trade Center in 2001. Alissa Torres writes about her experience in this graphic memoir  with art by Sungyoon Choi.

At the end of the book, on the first anniversary of 9/11, Allissa goes to Hawaii–away from it all. A relief from the shock and the struggle to rebuild her life and to get the relief from organizations like the Red Cross that had raised so much money to support the families of the victims.  All the lofty rhetoric was empty, as rhetoric so often is , and this book takes the reader to the ground and step step you enter the daily life of those truly affected by the tragedy.

Dare to Disappoint: Growing up in Turkey

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Meet Özge with her messy orange hair and striped shirt. She has a sister, Pelin. Mum and Dad. They live in Izmir, Turkey. Özge often follows her impulses. She challenges life.  The book is laid out like an artist’s journal.  Drawings scattered across the page. Some sketches some coloured or washed as though Samanci is piecing together short scenes from her life while developing the narrative of her life.  Whole sections of the book are the history of Turkey and what it was like to grow up there in the 1980s.  One TV channel.  Only a few choices of items at the store. Ataturk talks to young Özge from his portrait.

This is an apparent memoir about heading off in the wrong direction.  Not the direction your father, your teachers, your college professors and even your friends see for you.  In fact,  Özge disappoints herself, until finally she comes to where she is able to tell the story.  Now she is the graphic novelist we are reading.  But she began as a maths major, to be at as good a university as she can be at.  But she struggles. Although her mother supports her she doesn’t help her find what she really wants to do in a world where everyone else providing at best resistance.

I don’t want to use that reviewer cliche that even if it dares to disappoint, it doesn’t.   This is full of energetic drawing, use of colour and photos to liven up the mainly line drawn characters and scenes that are never boxed in by frames.  A colour wash or less defines each cell of the story.

Learn about a culture where Christian and Moslem, devout and secular interact on a daily basis, not comfortably or easily, but nonetheless they coexist. You will learn something of Turkish history often through Özge’s admiration for Ataturk. Of how she and her family lived with one TV station–where Dallas was a viewing highlight.

Özge’s mother and sister, but a father who “liked hard work, order and discipline.  These were the tools that helped him survive go to college, and become a teacher.” Özge asks her mother, “Why does he yell so much, doesn’t he love me?” Her mother answers her, “Your dad loves you. He never had a family.  He is learning how to be a dad without having had one.”

The book ends, “I had to do what I loved to do even if it’s against the expectations of the people I love.” Özge says, “Come, let’s swim against the tide” and the multicoloured fish replies, “Do you dare to disappoint.”

ViV AlbertinE Writes a Book

M-20Mag-20140724144211763661-300x0Listen to  The Slits. From 76 – 82 they were at the center of the punk world, while being on the fringe.Listen. This is essential rock and not rock at all.

On the one hand they are an accidental band, on the other, Ari Up was full of ambition, and although she started out not knowing how to play the guitar, VIv Albertine is the muical centre to the group.

The book tells her story all the time referring to clothes, music and relationships.  The history of punk step by stpe.  Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, Don Letts, Johnny Thunders, Keith Levene. Albertine writes in such a straightforward way

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Playing with The Slits

that it brings that world back. And her focus brings a poetry constantly moving through time. I remember some of this, but I lived it vicariously, Viv was right there and finally her book took me there.

The Arab of the Future in the New Yorker

I have just read The Arab of the Future, and you should too, but in the meantime, here is a really good profile of the author, Riad Sattouf. The article is called: Drawing Blood

72eef6d3852d3df33138ea30b248183f8beb328dOne of Riad Sattouf’s favorite places in Paris is the Musée du Quai Branly, a temple of ethnographic treasures from Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas, not far from the Eiffel Tower. One morning in mid-July, Sattouf, a French-Syrian comic-book artist who has recently emerged as France’s best-known graphic novelist, took me there, along with his year-old son, his son’s Ivorian nanny, and her three small daughters. He was dressed like a college student, with jeans, a black Lacoste T-shirt, white Stan Smith sneakers, and backpack. We were met in the lobby by Stéphane Martin, the museum’s president, who is a long-standing admirer of Sattouf’s work and has commissioned him to produce a graphic novel about the museum for its tenth anniversary, next year.

Read more…

Out on the Wire

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The Storytelling Secrets of the New Masters of Radio

Possibly the best guide to all kinds of writing published since Anne Lamott.   It focuses on This American Life and its ilk such as 99% Invisible
The Moth , Planet Money ,  Radio Diaries ,  Radio Lab , and Snap Judgement .

The care and attention to detail by the producers of all these programs is an inspiration. The techniques are spelled out by Jessica Abel, who manages to make an intelligent, fast-moving read out of the details of radio production of narrative non-fiction. The attempt here as with the best non-fiction is to present the truth, honoring those who are interviewed and whose stories are being told, in as dramatic a way as possible.   Abel is such an enthusiast for these programs that I hope she has not glossed over their failings. Reading the non-fiction graphic narrative that she has created it feels genuine.

This book grew out of a previous smaller publication Radio: An Illustrated Guide, that was written at Ira Glass’s request to be sold on This American Life‘s website in 1999.

The method that TAL  developed was to use storytelling technique to make non fiction radio essays.  According to Abel, what these shows have in common is that they ask big questions, concentrate on engaging characters with authentic voices and use a robust narrative structure with careful use of sound.  TAL has not just influenced radio but the state of written non-fiction and documentary film as well.

The structure idea is the sentence: “Somebody does something because_____________________ but______________________.  It is a story about_______________ and it is interesting because_____________________ .  After recording hours of interviews, many of these journalists plan their interviews, but still have to structure the story. Using different kinds of scenes, but each story is put together so that the listener always wants to know what is coming next.  On top of that the stories are driven by the journalist’s itches and interests , and structured and edited by the taste of the individual in agreement with the group.  The different programs have different styles some not using any commentary or sound.

.Also check out Transom Story Workshop  for more information on the technique.