"I cannot live without books." -- Thomas Jefferson

Monday, February 23, 2015

Don't miss Elisa Albert next week!

"After Birth is a romp through dangerous waters, in which passages of hilarity are shadowed by the dark nights of earliest motherhood, those months so tremulous with both new love and the despairing loss of one's identity -- to read it is an absorbing, entertaining, and thought-provoking experience."

- Lydia Davis, author of Can't and Won't


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

5 Questions with Paul Fischer

    Author Paul Fischer [Photo: Paul Fischer]   

1) For those of us who aren't familiar with Choi Eun-Hee and Shin Sang-Ok, can you give us the bite-sized version of what your book, A Kim-Jong-Il Production, is about?

Shin Sang-Ok was the biggest filmmaker, and Choi Eun-Hee the most famous actress, in 1970s South Korea. They had been married, had divorced, had had a very dramatic Richard Burton-and-Elizabeth Taylor kind of life when, in 1978, they were both kidnapped by Kim Jong-Il, who wanted them to make propaganda films for North Korea.

2) What initially interested you in this story?

Before I knew all the details I was just fascinated by the idea of the Faustian pact, of an artist given unlimited resources on the condition that their work support a tyrannical regime. When I looked into it more thoroughly, I became obsessed with the setting, the events, the people involved -- and what the story reveals about North Korea today. 

3) Your research took you to Pyongyang, a city few outsiders get a chance to visit. What was that like?

It's very surreal. Pyongyang is a city most North Koreans aren't allowed to enter: it's reserved for the elite but really built as a showpiece for foreigners. It's very clean, very quiet. There are very few cars, no businesses, no street names or numbers, no old people, no disabled people, no animals, no chaos. Loudspeakers play revolutionary songs all the time, everyone wears the exact same clothes. It feels very fake. It's as much of a real city as Disneyworld's Magic Kingdom is really a kingdom.

4) It's interesting that A Kim-Jong-Il Production was published shortly after the controversial release of the film The Interview. Was that planned? And are you at all concerned about retaliation from North Korea as a result of your book? 

No, it was a complete accident, and I think we had conflicting feeling about it -- whether it would make people interested in that whole world or whether it would create a certain confusion and fatigue by the time the book came out. Luckily it seems to have been the former.

As for retaliation, no, not really. The book portrays them as absurd but mostly it's about their dangerous, dark side -- which they're usually not unhappy to see talked about. It's being made fun of they have a problem with, really. When it comes to books they tend to just try and smear any Koreans involved, as in the case of Escape From Camp 14, for instance, where they didn't go after Blaine Harden but instead put a lot of effort into trying to discredit his subject. They've already tried to smear Shin and Choi, with little success. 

5) Any plans to turn your book into a film?

I'm having a few meetings while in LA! I think it's unlikely -- it would be an expensive film, with three Asian leads, and the possible threat of another Sony hack for whoever makes it -- but the possibilities are exciting, at least on paper. 

[Photo: Macmillian]

Paul Fischer will sign and discuss A Kim Jong-Il Production: The Extraordinary True Story of a Kidnapped Filmmaker, His Star Actress, and a Young Director's Rise to Power on Wednesday, February 18 at 7pm. 


Monday, February 16, 2015

Fifty Shades of Cynthia Weil

Author, songwriter, and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Cynthia Weil is coming to Book Soup this week and there are many reasons to be excited, some of which I will enumerate to you here:

1) Are there any 90s kids out there, Internet? I ask because Weil wrote the 1997 Hanson MEGA-JAM "I Will Come to You," which, ladies, you will recognize as the song that singlehandedly jettisoned you into puberty. Seriously, I was convinced Taylor Hanson would emerge from the heavens to rescue me from my destiny of PG movies and ten-o'clock bedtimes because of this song. Looking back now, it makes total sense that a grown woman was behind all that and not, you know, a twelve-year-old boy. My proverbial hat is off to ya, Cynthia!

2) Because she wrote a song for The Monkees titled "Shades of Gray" that's cool enough to not be included on the "Fifty Shades of Gray" soundtrack and because here at Book Soup we consider that a success.

3) And last but certainly not least, because I'm Glad I Did is Weil's debut YA mystery novel, set deep in the world of New York City's music business in the 1960s, and who understands the good and evil of that world better than the first-rate songwriter herself?

Cynthia Weil will sign and discuss I'm Glad I Did on Thursday, February 9 at 7pm. 


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

5 Questions with Amy Fusselman

Author Amy Fusselman [Photo: Amy Fusselman]

1. Your work tends to be intensely personal, even when you're taking on subjects that might seem impersonal at the outset, like the philosophies of space and play for example. I think there are a lot of writers who struggle with giving themselves permission to write creative nonfiction because it seems too personal. Do you ever find yourself struggling with this, and how do you deal with it? 

This is a great question. I feel that part of my passion about Savage Park is related to what you are asking about here. I do think the freedom to be creative is very hard for people to hold onto. It gets shut down at an early age.

In D.W. Winnicotts book, Playing and Realitywhich I read as part of my research for Savage Parkhe includes the following passage in his chapter on adolescence. I love this paragraph so much and have been trying to quote it as often as possible as a public service:

If you do all you can to promote personal growth in your offspring, you will need to be able to deal with startling results. If your children find themselves at all they will not be contented to find anything but the whole of themselves and that will include the aggression and destructive elements in themselves as well as the elements that can be labelled loving. There will be this long tussle which you will need to survive.

I really want this concept to make it into the public at large. The very common idea that if you are doing a good job as a parent, your children will be less trouble: so often this just isnt true. As parents, dont we want to raise our children to be whole peoplepeople who have access to all their emotions, who are alive and awake to all the beauty and possibilityand yes, the tragedyof life? I hope so. Savage Park encourages this.  

But I digress! To answer your question: I dont struggle too much with giving myself permission. I struggle in trying to edit well. If the work is personal, I want it to be so for the right reasons.

2. Reading Savage Park, I was reminded of an amazing park in the city where I grew up called Brigadoon Park. The amazing thing about it is that it has three enormous cement slides that have been there since they built the park in the 1970s. All of the neighborhood kids know to slide down the slides on pieces of cardboard, even though there's a sign prohibiting that exact thing, because it makes you slide down about 10x fasterso fast that it's impossible to land on your feet and you usually fall hard into a sharp pile of tanbark. I wouldn't call the slides dangerous exactly, but they're definitely unforgiving. You kind of have to learn where the limit is, and sometimes that can only happen through minor injury. I've never seen any other parks like Brigadoon Park probably for this exact reason. Do you think American parents and children could benefit from more spaces like these?

What city is that? I was in San Francisco this summer and was told about a park I didnt get to visit, at Seward Street. It sounds similar. The Seward Street slides were designed by a 14-year old (!!) and built in 1973 (pic below).
But the short answer to your question is: Yes!!

Seward Street slides [Photo: teamboost]

3. There's a great anecdote in your book about how your toddler Katie greets inanimate objects by saying "Hi!" Do you think there's a difference between how children and adults approach space? What do you think changes?

I do think children, and especially young children, who are just learning to navigate space, are more open to the concept that its a medium with properties of its own. I think we adults are more prone to just seeing through it to get to what we want. Its stopped existing for us. I write in the book that play is a state of consciousness that we are born into, and it decreases as we age. I think thats part of it. We lose that flexibility in how we experience. We have to work at it if we want to keep it.

4. I loved the documentary "Man on Wire," so it was especially enjoyable to read about your interactions with Philippe Petit. Do you have any insight about the way "PP" (as you refer to him in Savage Park) approaches space and play? What do you think enables him to take on such incredible featslike walking on a tightrope between the World Trade Center towersthat most of us would never even consider? 

I love that movie as well and was so happy to take that wirewalking class with him. In class he referred to himself as a tenacious little rat and I thought that was an interesting image. Id say he has that approach to his artmaking. He is absolutely relentless in his efforts to bring his artistic visions to life. But that fire is balanced by a very disciplined and methodical approach: a profound respect for space and objects. PP can be a fantastic clownbut he is in no way the fool. He is an incredible artist.

5. I was reminded a little of Rebecca Solnit's Wanderlust while reading your book. Are there any specific titles that you looked to for inspiration or background research while writing Savage Park?

I did read a lot for Savage Park and besides the Winnicott book I quote above, I have several others that I love. One is Johan Huizingas Homo Ludens. Its an overview of the play element of culture, and it has a lot of fun asides in it. For one, Huizinga felt that professional sports had completely lost its play element and suffered from over-seriousness. And he wrote that in 1938!

Amy Fusselman will sign and discuss Savage Park: A Meditation on Play, Space, and Risk for Americans Who Are Nervous, Distracted, and Afraid to Die on Friday, February 13th at 7pm. 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Don't miss film critic Matt Zoller Seitz tonight!

"Reality, in a Wes Anderson film, is a vulgarity, a cruelty, and a necessity -- for although his films are populated with people trying as best they can to create a superior cubbyhole of an illusion to live in, and for all that he adores and glorifies this effort, stubbornly, still, he always allows his beautiful worlds to be shattered. Like kids on the beach after a wave has sluiced through their sandcastles, Anderson's protagonists are left working up the will to rebuild again. We have faith that they will rebuild, perhaps less ambitiously but with more success. In The Grand Budapest Hotel, however, after the loss of illusion, only death remains."

- Anne Washburn, from The West Anderson Collection: The Grand Budapest Hotel by Matt Zoller Seitz


Monday, February 2, 2015

5 Questions with poet & author Dale Herd

Poet & author Dale Herd [Photo: Dale Herd]

1) First, the obvious question: It's been 25 years since you published your last short story collection, Wild Cherries, in 1980. What have you been up to since then, and why did you decide to publish Empty Pockets now?

I think it's closer to 35 years. In that time many things occurred: a great marriage, three sons, coaching ice hockey, surfing in Mexico, getting some movies made, meeting a lot of wonderful people, writing a few novels. Several of my friends, each a well-respected poet, got together unbeknownst to me and told the late Allan Kornblum of Coffee House Press that I had been working on some new stories. Allan then wrote that he would like to see them, then suggested I do a New and Selected Stories collection. I welcomed the opportunity. The poets are, in alphabetical order: Bill Berkson, Michael Lally, Lewis MacAdams, Duncan McNaughton, Kevin Opstedal, and Michael Wolfe. I owe the publication of the book to them. Many of their works can be found at Blue Press Books.

2) Your earlier short stories are pretty unusual - they're all so nuanced and compact! They remind me a little of Lydia Davis, and also Jim Carroll. Who and what are your creative influences? 

Hopefully, of course, some of the later stories are as well. I don't know either Lydia Davis or Jim Carroll, although tangentially their paths have crossed with several people I do know. Lydia Davis went to Putney, a private prep school in Vermont, at the same time as one of my best friends, Tony Ganz, did, and he always remarks on what a talented and prolific writer she is, although I have yet to read her. Michael Wolfe published Carroll's The Basketball Diaries when we all were living in Bolinas. I never met Carroll, although I did see him once in the Bolinas Bakery getting a coffee. Michael always told me what a great writer Carroll was. I certainly think that's true. Don't you love anecdotal gossip? 
My influences? Pretty standard fare: the short paragraphs between the stories in In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway, then all of his great short stories, Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio, Isaac Babel's Collected Stories, James Joyce's Dubliners, James Agee's A Death in The Family and Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, and, of course, the wonderful short stories of Chekhov and Maupassant.  Also, Bob Holt, a feature reporter at the Ventura Star Free Press, who taught me to always write a simple declarative sentence, something on the order of: "There is a long, flat sandy beach," to start a story with. A short stint working on deadline at a newspaper helps un-muddle your thinking and forces you to cut to the bone. If you want to write short, there is no better training.

3) How did you select which of your stories would be included in Empty Pockets? Any unifying theme, characters, or time period?

In general, they were chosen because I simply thought they were the best I could do. As for the last question, I leave all unifying themes to the reader; the characters are always people I have met; and, as to the time period, I believe if one is lucky enough to succeed with the work the time period is always now, following Ezra Pound's dictum: "Literature is news that stays news." It is presumptuous, of course, to call what I do literature, but it is what I always am striving for.

4) You'll be joined in conversation with Lewis MacAdams next month at Book Soup. MacAdams is a poet and activist known especially around here for his work cleaning up the L.A. River. How do the two of you know each other? 

After Donald Allen published my first book of stories, Early Morning Wind, way back in 1972, Lewis, who was the Director of Poetry at San Francisco State, invited me to read there. We met then and have remained good friends throughout the years and I hope for many more years to come. His collected works, Dear Oxygen, is a delight to read. Incidentally, he's the only poet who ever raised one billion dollars to restore a polluted river to its natural habitat. Who doesn't love that? If anyone deserves a MacArthur Grant he is that person.

5) What's next for you? Any future projects on the horizon? 

Currently I'm working on a sequence of novels titled: Rincon, Changing Weather, and Ventura, three tales that follow a group of close friends that met as surfers at the end of the 60s, and went on through the 70s and 80s pursuing their dreams. Then there is Dreamland Court, a Hank Williams type novel I have been working on since 1980, that I recently finished. Hopefully, it will be published soon and make a few people laugh.  

Dale Herd will discuss and sign Empty Pockets: New and Selected Stories with special guest Lewis MacAdams on Thursday, February 5th at 7pm.