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Masters

Alice Walker on Screen

Anthony Barboza

A new PBS documentary about writer Alice Walker finally tells her powerful story and has already moved audiences with its message writes Agunda Okeyo.

The documentary Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth is a cascade of impressive words and images revealing the life’s journey of a renowned author and activist. Although, British filmmaker and activist Pratibha Parmar has been a friend of Alice Walker’s for twenty years, she only decided to do this documentary when she realized that American Masters, perhaps the most prestigious televised U.S. documentary series, launched in 1986 by Susan Lacy, mostly featured men and often white men at that.

BOOKS

Farewell to Maupin's 'Tales'

As he writes his final ‘Tales of the City’ novel, Armistead Maupin talks sex, drugs, marriage, mortality – and lapping up Burning Man’s craziness - with Tim Teeman.

When I ask how his book tour is going, for what Armistead Maupin swears his last novel in the phenomenally successful Tales of the City series, the 69-year-old author laughs. Instead of giving a cursory “Fine thanks,” he tells me in his delicious, rich Southern drawl that he’s just had a discussion event with Don Bachardy, the artist and surviving partner of the novelist Christopher Isherwood. “We talked about the time Angelina Jolie sat for Don during one of her pregnancies,” Maupin says by phone from Los Angeles.

PTSD

Veteran Exorcisms

Goran Tomasevic/Reuters

A new book about a veteran undergoing exorcisms to purge himself of demons struggles with important questions about the costs of war and the nature of PTSD.

Tribal cultures differed in their approaches to reintegrating warriors. One common practice was to purify combatants after the fact, cleansing them of any evil spirits that might have trailed them home from battle. Sometimes, this purification centered on storytelling. A tribe would gather to hear a warrior recount his exploits, going into graphic detail, the bloodier the better. But in other societies, to tell war stories risked conjuring the dead and was considered dangerously taboo.

Feminine Mystique

A Life of One’s Own

Francois Duhamel/DreamWorks, via Everett

Jenny Offill’s second novel, 15 years in the making, looks at how a mother’s life can keep her from ever writing her second novel.

Jenny Offill’s first novel, Last Things, was published in 1999 and told the story of an 8-year-old girl named Grace, living in a small lakeside town in Vermont, being raised by a mother who at first appears whimsical and eccentric, but who the reader gradually comes to realize is mentally ill. It is easy to see why readers and critics compared it to Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping at the time—both novels tell the story of young girls growing up with absent or damaged parents, in a starkly rural setting, and employing a lush, pointillist prose style.

The Real Beehive State

The Land of the Permanent Wave

Jason Reed/Reuters

In the '60s South, long hair was a signifier and a deal breaker for men. In East Texas, they took this up a notch, as Bud Shrake discovered when Mrs. Shrake got ostracized, too.

The late Edwin “Bud” Shrake was part of a rich crop of writers that came out of Texas in the ‘50s and ‘60s and included Dan Jenkins, Blackie Sherrod, Larry L. King, John Graves, Larry McMurtry, Grover Lewis, and Cary Cartwright. Shrake was a newspaperman, a magazine writer, screenwriter, and a fine novelist. “The Land of the Permanent Wave,” first appeared in Harper’s during the magazine’s heyday in the ‘60s. Willie Morris, their celebrated editor, said that along with Seymour Hersh’s devastating account of the My Lai massacre, Shrake’s was his favorite story.

J’accuse!

Robert Harris: A New John le Carré

Corbis

A Jewish officer falsely accused and an intelligence chief out to clear his name are the centerpiece of novelist writer Robert Harris’s exceptional take on the infamous Dreyfus case. This novel puts him in the first category of spy thrillers says Michael Korda.

Nothing is more difficult than writing a “historical novel” about a real event (and real people), and few people are better at it than Robert Harris, the author of Fatherland. One problem with this kind of fiction is that all but the most ignorant reader knows how things turned out in the end, there are no surprises. In the case of his new book An Officer and a Spy the subject is the Dreyfus affair, so we know before opening the book that Dreyfus will be found guilty and that eventually, after nearly a decade, his name will be cleared—there have been innumerable books about “the Affair,” and even a movie (actually, by my count there are at least sixteen movies about the Affair, including the most famous one, made in 1937 and starring Paul Muni as Emile Zola, the firebrand French novelist whose accusations against those who had connived in finding Dreyfus guilty help free him), so the element of suspense, one of the most valuable tools of the novelist, is entirely missing.

Carry That Weight

The Beatles and JFK 50 Years Later

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

Many believe that The Beatles’ invasion was so popular because it helped America recover from the death of JFK. No way.

Fifty years after The Beatles’ historic Feb. 7, 1964, arrival in New York, it’s no surprise that for many their early success in America is still best explained as an antidote to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The enthusiasm The Beatles aroused, especially in 1964, was so outsized that it remains hard to attribute it just to their music and personalities.The problem with such thinking is that it distorts both The Beatles’ talent and America culture in the year after John Kennedy’s death.

Recipe for Love

Inside ‘Labor Day’s Sexy Pie Scene

Dale Robinette/Paramount Pictures and Indian Paintbrush

Four years after writing ‘Labor Day,’ author Joyce Maynard was teaching Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet to bake pies for a scene so sexy it’s being compared to the pottery sequence from ‘Ghost.’

When an author’s book is being made into a movie, it’s common for the writer to have a certain list of demands: script approval, final say on casting, access to the set. Joyce Maynard thought all of that would be nice when Jason Reitman (Juno, Up in the Air) approached her to turn her novel, Labor Day, into a feature film. But there was really only one thing that she insisted on as a stipulation of the adaptation: she personally must be the one who teaches its stars how to bake pie.

Longreads

The Week’s Best Reads

From the rise of a Christian cult in Wells, Texas to the confessions of an ex-TSA agent, The Daily Beast picks the best journalism from around the web this week.

Sinners in the Hands Sonia Smith, Texas Monthly When is a church a cult?Dear America, I Saw You Naked Jason Edward Harrington, Politico Magazine And yes, we were laughing. Confessions of an ex-TSA agent.Feminism’s Toxic Twitter Wars Michelle Goldberg, The Nation Empowered by social media, feminists are calling one another out for ideological offenses. Is it good for the movement? And whose movement is it?A Botched Operation Eyal Press, The New Yorker Steven Brigham’s abortion clinics keep being sanctioned for offering substandard care.

THE FUTURE

Self-Perfecting Machines

John Lund/Getty

Psychopathic machines? Lethal AI? These are the concepts we should be thinking about when we talk about the benefits of self-improving software. An excerpt from James Barrat’s ‘Our Final Invention’.

“… we are beginning to depend on computers to help us evolve new computers that let us produce things of much greater complexity. Yet we don’t quite understand the process—it’s getting ahead of us. We’re now using programs to make much faster computers so the process can run much faster. That’s what’s so confusing—technologies are feeding back on themselves; we’re taking off. We’re at that point analogous to when single-celled organisms were turning into multi-celled organisms.

XXX

Hollywood's First Sexplosion

20th Century-Fox Film/Everett

The story of how 20th Century Fox’s Richard Zanuck and David Brown led the doomed charge in sexually adventurous cinema with a pair of disastrous movies—in 1969.

Slowly, once again, the movies are edging toward respectable triple-X fare that features such porn staples as penetration, ejaculation, and erections along with superior screenplays, acting and direction. Of course, leave it to the French to push the boundaries, with Blue Is the Warmest Color and Stranger by the Lake.Curiously, it was mainstream Hollywood, i.e. 20th Century Fox, which over 40 years ago led the way with sexually adventurous cinema—only to be felled by the head-to-head crash of Myra Breckinridge and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.

Loud and Clear

Should Neo-Nazis Speak Freely?

AFP/Getty

New studies show that unbridled hateful speech can cause emotional harm. Is it time for the United States to follow other democracies and impose limits on what Neo-Nazis and other haters say?

Over the past several weeks, free speech has gotten costlier—at least in France and Israel.In France, Dieudonne M’Bala M’Bala, an anti-Semitic stand-up comic infamous for popularizing the quenelle, an inverted Nazi salute, was banned from performing in two cities. M’Bala M’Bala has been repeatedly fined for hate speech, and this was not the first time his act was perceived as a threat to public order.Meanwhile, Israel’s parliament is soon to pass a bill outlawing the word Nazi for non-educational purposes.

Space Flight

Branson’s Galactic Obstacles

Luke MacGregor/Reuters

In a new book, Tom Bower suggests Virgin Galactic may never achieve space flight. Though some of his claims are a bit alarmist, Bronson’s space program still faces major safety issues.

Will Richard Branson’s long-touted rocket ride into space via his Virgin Galactic enterprise ever happen?A new book, Branson Behind the Mask, by investigative reporter Tom Bower (to be published by Faber & Faber on February 6) casts serious doubt that it will.In fact, there is little in Bower’s book that is not already known about Galactic’s dismal record so far. Branson presents an easy target because he has so frequently over-promised on his bid to introduce so-called space tourism.

Haunted

Joyce Carol Oates Goes to War

Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP/Getty

The prolific novelist Joyce Carol Oates has just published a novel about the Iraq War and a veteran’s suspicion in a crime. Former Marine Elliot Ackerman wonders if she has what it takes.

War novels. Yeah, those books: The Things They Carried, The Hunters, Catch-22. We all know the type, sad books about happy-young men turning into sad-young men, or sad-young-old men, or sad-crazy-young-old men. But what makes a war novel a war novel? This certainly isn’t a genre open only to veteran writers, just look at the quintessential example: The Red Badge of Courage. Stephen Crane was born six years after the Civil War ended. Or Hemingway, the Papa of modern American war literature, whose combat service amounted to having a mortar explode next to him while his ambulance delivered chocolates to the Italian Front.

American Dreams

Henry James’s Suppressed Sex Farce

Miramax/Everett Collection

Almost without plot and with convoluted writing, Henry James’s final novels often leave people scratching their heads, but The Golden Bowl is a surprisingly saucy, wicked, and original exploration of American mores writes Nathaniel Rich.

If you are able to withstand the near complete absence of plot, the involuted (and convoluted) sentences, and the preposterous metaphors (“she sat there in the solid chamber of her helplessness as in a bath of benevolence artfully prepared for her”)—if you’re able, in other words, to withstand Henry James, you’ll find that The Golden Bowl is a sordid little sex farce.James demands more than the usual suspension of disbelief, but his premise is original and wicked.

Crossed

How I Write: James Patterson

Bret Hartman/Reuters

The best-selling author of the Alex Cross novels talks about how much of his life is spent writing outlines.

Describe your morning routine.I pretty much write seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. I’ll get up around 5:30, put my house in order, write a little bit, maybe an outline for that day. Then I’ll go out around 7, frequently walk a golf course for an hour by myself. Then I’ll come back and write until, oh, 11 or 12. It’s a combination of any business I have to do, whatever novel I’m working on, outlines … I was just compiling the number of outlines I do and found that I write about 900 pages of outlines a year.

XY

How To Be a Man

Bureau L.A. Collection/Sygma/Corbis

T Cooper, the author of ‘Real Man Adventures,’ picks his favorite books about the subject of masculinity.

I am a man. A fact I don’t take for granted, by the way—as I was not born a man. But you know what? It turns out nobody else is born a man either. Sure, roughly half of us humans are born male—but only a fraction of that fraction actually grow into men. To me, masculinity is earned, learned, taught, fraught, bought, borrowed, traded, sometimes stolen. It was certainly something I had to work for, and risk everything I ever had to attain, although of course “masculinity” is constantly evolving, more of a concept/construct than an actual thing—an “I know it when I see it” deal, like the Supreme Court and pornography.

Found

Lost Sappho Poems Found

Getty

Only a few poems of the Greek poetess Sappho’s work have survived but thanks to a leading scholar’s investigation two new works have just been recovered—and gives experts hope to find more.

A chance inquiry by an unidentified collector has led to a spectacular literary discovery: Parts of two previously unknown poems by Sappho, the great Greek poetess of the 7th Century B.C. One of the poems is remarkably well preserved and adds greatly to what is known about Sappho and her poetic technique.The two poems came to light when the owner of an ancient papyrus, dating to the 3rd century A.D., consulted an Oxford classicist, Dirk Obbink, about the Greek writing on the tattered scrap.

Legacy

This Week’s Hot Reads

The Daily Beast

From the controversial second book by tiger mom Amy Chua, as she tackles race and cultural advantages, to a reading of George Eliot’s ‘Middlemarch.’

The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America by Amy Chua and Jed RubenfeldThat Amy Chua’s new book, The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America, has, even in advance of its publication, inspired controversy, should come as no surprise. Chua’s previous book, the part-parenting memoir part-parenting manifesto The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, was an unapologetic account (and endorsement) of the strict, decidedly un-American parenting style typical in Chinese culture.

Sex, AIDS, and Survival

Sean Strub, activist and founder of Poz magazine, has relished taking center stage in fighting for dignity, justice, and care for those living with HIV.

On September 5, 1991, the AIDS activists Sean Strub and Peter Staley unfurled a giant condom made of parachute fabric over Senator Jesse Helms’s Virginia home. The music producer David Geffen had given them $3000 to have it made. The men’s other compadres from the direct action group ACT UP powered a generator which inflated the condom to keep it as “life-like” as possible. The legend across the outsized sheath read: “A CONDOM TO STOP UNSAFE POLITICS.

How I Write