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He’s Got a Ticket to Write

Tim Graham/Getty

The train Dominic Utton took to work broke down a lot. Each time it happened, he wrote to the railroad. They wrote back. And a novel was born.

When my debut novel, Martin Harbottle’s Appreciation of Time, was published this year, the feeling was unbeatable. I toured every bookshop I could find just to see it on the shelves. I checked Amazon and Goodreads reviews with something approaching obsession. Five-star reviews made me deliriously happy; three-star reviews crushingly sad. I kept simply picking up the book and gazing at it … It looked beautiful. It felt beautiful. My name on it—beautiful.


James Patterson Writes a How-To

As the top selling author in the world.

Not only does James Patterson find the time to publish anywhere from three to 13 books a year, the insanely successful novelist is now offering his aid to aspiring writers via a new how-to. Patterson offers readers lessons like “write stories the way people tell them,” or “short chapters keep people reading.” Perhaps most importantly for anybody who desires to follow Patterson’s trajectory as an author with a broad audience, he also advises to “know who you’re writing for and what they want.” 

Read it at Fast Company Create


Elizabeth Spencer Wins Rea Award

For work on short stories.

Author Elizabeth Spencer has won the 2013 Rea Award for short fiction in honor of her decades of work as a novelist and short story writer. The Rea Award, which was founded in 1986 “to ennoble the form, to give it prestige,” is given every year to a living U.S. or Canadian writer who the jurors see as having made a major contribution to the discipline. Currently living in North Carolina, Spencer, 92, is a native of Mississippi and the author of nine novels and eight short story collections, including Starting Over, which was published in January. Her novella The Light in the Piazza was made into  movie by MGM as well as a Tony Award-winning musical. The award comes with a $30,000 prize.

Read it at Rea Award

Ah, Paris

French Auto-Racer Turns Nazi Spy


Francine Prose’s absorbing new novel tackles Europe between the wars, concentrating on a real-life cross-dressing former athlete who cast her lot with Hitler.

Will readers ever get enough of the debauched, smoke-filled nightclubs of wartime Europe? The warbles of Edith Piaf and Pierre Bernac? The tuxedoed Marlene Dietrich? Hitler’s golden girl Leni Riefenstahl? It seems the answer is no—World War II and its surrounding events continue to be a gold mine for writers and filmmakers. Francine Prose, in a testament to her talents, has managed to create a wartime saga that is both original and epic. And yes, it’s based on a true story.

Hot Frenchman

The Wonky Elite’s False Prophet

Charles Platiau/Reuters

Thomas Piketty and his ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century’ are white hot, but he’s no ‘Tocqueville for Today’—and he and his fan club have Tocqueville all wrong.

In case you hadn’t heard, there’s a new Frenchman in town. Armed with progressives’ two favorite things—statistics and a European accent—the celebrity economist Thomas Piketty has hit American shores in support of his new book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century.Sadly for Piketty, his explanatory socialism is a nonstarter for every American except a handful of media, academic, and policy elites. In an ominous example of just how out of touch those elites have become, two of them have produced a wildly mistaken assessment of Piketty’s work—and haven’t raised so much as a peep of objection.

Capitalism by the Numbers

Charles Platiau/Reuters

Thomas Piketty’s ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century’ is a not so surprising best seller—it’s rigorously researched and arrestingly written.

Capital in the Twenty-First Century By Thomas Piketty‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century’ by Thomas Piketty. 696 pp. Belknap Press. $39.95 hardcover.Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century is a dense, data-intensive tome, clocking in at nearly 700 pages with more than 100 graphs and tables. That a book like this is a New York Times best seller speaks to the fact that the publication of Capital in the Twenty-First Century is, in some circles, an event.

Perfect Pregnancy!

From ‘Clueless’ to Clueless


Diapers are ‘pseudoscience.’ Dairy leaves ‘toxic sludge’ in your uterus. And whatever you do, don’t use tampons! Plus six more claims from the actress’s new book of amazing promises.

Alicia Silverstone, the Clueless star and former Aerosmith video vixen, caused controversy in 2012 after posting a video of herself pre-chewing her son’s food and transferring it from her mouth to his. Now she has written a book urging you to do the same.In The Kind Mama: A Simple Guide to Supercharged Fertility, a Radiant Pregnancy, a Sweeter Birth, and a Healthier, More Beautiful Beginning, Silverstone chronicles what might reasonably be called her unconventional parenting advice: Bananas are “a naughty food for a baby,” the diaper industry is “pseudoscience,” and vaccines are essentially shots of “aluminum and formaldehyde.

In Brief

This Week’s Hot Reads: April 21, 2014

A dystopic vision of our technological future, a bracing new analysis of capitalistic inequality, and a meditation on history and memoir.

The Word Exchange: A Novel By Alena Graedon ‘The Word Exchange: A Novel’ by Alena Graedon. 384 pp. Doubleday.$26.95 hardcover.In Alana Graedon’s new novel, her first, the agent of dystopia is a next-step smartphone that isn’t simply omnipresent, invasive and indispensible—such devices already exist. No, the Meme, as Gradeon’s invention is called, has the additional bleeding-edge capability of anticipating the user’s every need. Imagine Siri with predictive power.


Brilliant, Mysterious Penelope

Jillian Edelstein/ Camera Press/ Redux

Before she died, she was hailed as England’s greatest living writer, but she had a hard road getting there—at one point she even lived on a freezing, leaky barge.

“If a story begins with finding, it must end with searching,” says the epigraph of Hermione Lee’s biography of the English writer Penelope Fitzgerald.  The line is one of Fitzgerald’s: she attributes it to the German Romantic poet and philosopher Novalis in her last novel, The Blue Flower, which re-imagines his early life. But Hermione Lee—an Oxford professor of English, who has also written biographies of Virginia Woolf and Edith Wharton—thought it was a “very telling and moving remark” about biography in general: “You think you know why you are doing it and you think you know roughly what the person is like, but as you embark on the story you find more mysteries,” she said when I spoke to her on the phone.


Fix America in Six Easy Steps!

Todd Heisler/The New York Times, Redux

From campaign finance to political gerrymandering, the retired Supreme Court justice skips hard arguments in his new book in favor of unrealistic, poorly drafted solutions.

Reading retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens’s new book, Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution, I was reminded of an old Steve Martin routine from his standup days. “First, get a million dollars,” Martin explains in “You Can Be a Millionaire and Never Pay Taxes.” Then if the tax collector comes to your door asking why you didn’t pay taxes on your million dollars, just say, “I forgot.” Just like Martin, Justice Stevens wants to skip all the tough stuff, using his slim volume to offer overly simplistic solutions to some of the country’s most pressing problems, from political gerrymandering to Second Amendment gun rights and campaign finance.

Tasty Reads

Food from Your Favorite Books

Dinah Fried

Not content with just reading the vivid food descriptions in her favorite novels, Photographer Dinah Fried decided to cook and style the iconic dishes, served with a side of literature.


The Cheerleader Murders


For five long and very strange years, death haunted tiny Dryden, NY, a town near the Finger Lakes where a plague of car accidents, suicides, and even grisly murders involving two popular cheerleaders just kept mounting up.

At the end of Fargo, Frances McDormand’s police chief, Marge Gunderson, captures the psycho played by Peter Stormare. He’s in the backseat of her police cruiser and she talks to him as she drives. We see that she cannot fathom the evil she’s just seen.“And here ya are,” she says, “and it’s a beautiful day. Well, I just don’t understand it.” It’s as true a piece of acting as you’ll find—Marge really doesn’t comprehend a certain kind of human darkness.

Born Skeptical

Ehrenreich Gives God a Going Over


Social critic, scientist, muckraking journalist, Barbara Ehrenreich has never been one to take things on faith. In her new book she takes a hard look at everything from religion to science.

When she was a teenager, the prospect of the eradication of the human species did not strike the future social critic and activist Barbara Ehrenreich as particularly troubling. Humans were generally overrated. “I have known people who are duller than trees, as well as individual trees that surpassed most people in complexity and character,” she writes in her new book, Living With a Wild God: A Nonbeliever’s Search for the Truth About Everything.


The Week’s Best Longreads

From the hunt for musicians who disappeared without a trace to a baseball player’s secret escape from Cuba, the Daily Beast picks the best journalism from around the web this week.

The Ballad of Geeshie and Elvie John Jeremiah Sullivan, The New York Times Magazine On the trail of the phantom women who changed American music and then vanished without a trace.Yasiel Puig’s Untold Journey to the Dodgers Jesse Katz, Los Angeles The shocking saga of Major League Baseball’s most controversial player.Capitalism Unbound Timothy Shenk, The Nation Thomas Piketty and the new millennial Marxists on the scourge of inequality.

Polished Act

Mark Twain, Writing Coach


Young writers besotted by the image of a swaggering, confident Twain should take heart: Underneath that white suit lurked an author as insecure and neurotic as those who idolize him.

At twenty-five, I started to write a book about Mark Twain at twenty-five. His life was more exciting than mine. By that age he’d piloted steamboats on the Mississippi, witnessed the start of the Civil War, and fled his native Missouri for the faraway frontier of Nevada. There he met outlaws, hustlers, hunters, and homesteaders, and dodged bullets and bowie knives. His world was alive with incident and intrigue.My life, on the other hand, consisted of long hours at the New York Public Library, and choosing what kind of sandwich to buy for lunch.

History Lesson

Was There Really An Empty Tomb?


What makes Jesus different from the prophets of the world’s other great religions? The claim that he rose from the dead and left behind an empty tomb. But how much do we know about that?

The discovery of the empty tomb presupposes that there was a tomb in the first place, and that it was known, and of course that it was discovered. But if serious doubt is cast on whether there ever was a tomb, then the accounts of its discovery are similarly thrown into doubt. Christian apologists often argue that the discovery of the empty tomb is one of the most secure historical data from the history of the early Christian movement. I used to think so myself.


An Edward Hopper Novel?

Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Gift of the T.B. Walker Foundation, Gilbert M. Walker Fund

Two authors inspired by a Hopper painting are writing a serial story and posting new additions online throughout the month of April.

Have you ever found yourself staring at a painting, building in your mind a world of people, events, and emotions captured in that moment?All this month two authors have been taking that daydreaming tendency to a new new level by serially publishing an online novella inspired by Edward Hopper’s painting “Office at Night.”The novella, by Kate Bernheimer and Laird Hart, is in conjunction with the exhibition Hopper Drawing: A Painter’s Process organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art and on exhibit at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis through June 20.

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