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Write to the Point: A Master Class on the Fundamentals of Writing for Any Purpose Cover Image
$14.95
ISBN: 9781615194629
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: The Experiment - August 7th, 2018

Sam Leith’s Write to the Point is indeed a master class on the fundamentals of writing for any purpose. He is a literary editor at the Spectator and columnist for The Financial Times, Evening Standard, and Prospect. His writing has appeared in other publications and he has written several other books including Words Like Loaded Pistols: Rhetoric from Aristotle to Obama. His observations about language-what makes it tick, how it works (or doesn’t), and various ways to improve it are focused, entertaining, and born of experience. 

He takes you from the parts of speech through punctuation, rewriting exercises, techniques of accomplishing effective writing, common mistakes and controversies, and observations on writing for different purposes. He provides many fine recommendations on achieving a desired register, or tone, in your work. For me, the most important result gained from reading this work was learning ways to read my own writing analytically. Writing is like a musical instrument that must be properly tuned before it can sound right.

His advice is expert: Strive to produce right-branching sentences, with the subject and verb up front, (that is, part of the time), be direct, avoid cliche, begin with the most important elements, and consider the “camera angles” of your prose. Pay attention to how your writing sounds when you read it. Think of the effects of punctuation, syntax and choice of words on its cadence. Do they give it the kind of emphasis you want? Above all, seek brevity and clarity. And learn when to break the rules.

For anyone who enjoys the craft of language, and especially anyone who really wants to write well, this book will be a joy to read, and even to reread.

And since Sam Leith is an accomplished and influential writer, I wanted to get his ideas on a few topics. I very much appreciate his response to my questions.

32nd Avenue Books: How do you see language changing in the future?

Sam Leith: I think what we've seen is that thanks to digital media everyone now masters a much greater range of written registers and idioms than they used to: linguistic change moves faster, too, with in-words and borrowings going global in a matter of months rather than decades. So I think the melting pot is getting bigger, and richer, and more complicated -- and that's all to the good. 

32nd Avenue Books: Can you describe a single, most important thing that makes good writing good?

Sam Leith: There’s no single thing, because as I hope comes over in my book, using language well is *always* situational: it's about the right words for the right context and audience. But I do think that cadence is much, much more important than you'd think from the very limited extent to which it's discussed. A good ear for the rhythm of words makes a huge difference. 

32nd Avenue Books: Was there someone who had a major influence on you writing?

Sam Leith: There are so many writers I admire, and whose effects I've probably borrowed or imitated here and there, that it's hard to say. Some of David Foster Wallace's vamping between high and low styles, I think, has rubbed off on me in my journalism, and I've read a lot of poetry growing up so everything from Sylvia Plath's sound-effects or Auden's simultaneous exactness and talkiness to the stately cadences and unexpected word choices of early Robert Lowell have probably influenced my ear. Perhaps the likes of Berryman and Elizabeth Bishop and Nathanael West and Evelyn Waugh for taking a cheerful approach to dark material. But I can't point to a single writer I've been directly shaped by. It's all part of the mental mulch. Mostly I've been influenced by the people over the years -- parents, teachers, friends, colleagues -- who have pressed books on me and encouraged me to read very widely and enthusiastically. The more you read -- and in my case that's everything from Chris Claremont to Shakespeare -- the more you learn to write, in my opinion.

Steven Brehm

32nd Avenue Books, Toys and Gifts


Pandemic Cover Image
$27.00
ISBN: 9780525535331
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: G.P. Putnam's Sons - December 11th, 2018

Robin Cook has published over 30 works internationally and is credited with establishing the medical thriller genre. They have titles like NanoVectorToxinMindbend, and Mutation.

His latest is Pandemic, and it tells the story of a medical examiner in New York City who is faced with the dilemma of trying to determine the cause of death of a young woman who was DOA at his hospital. She had boarded a subway, apparently healthy, and then took ill only to arrive at the hospital without any identification, and quite dead. Dr. Jack Stapleton fears that the young woman may have died from a form of influenza 

such as the strain that caused the pandemic in 1918. He performs an autopsy and discovers the incredible fact that she has had a heart transplant and that her DNA matches that of the heart! Dr. Stapleton’s testing and investigation lead to a facility in New Jersey that conducts genetic research using CRISPR/CAS9 (a gene editing tool), and is owned by a Chinese billionaire named Zhao Wei. Daquan Zhao is his son. 

This work definitely invites discussion of important medical ethics issues as well as a discussion of patriotism itself. The roles played by Dr. Jack Stapleton, Daquan Zhao, and Zhao Wei, all illuminate these discussion points.

Wei is a brilliant and extremely successful businessman who apparently admires America. It is possible to imagine him developing futuristic cures for diseases that still plague us. His problem with China, it seems, is that he cannot remove the capital that he has created in his home country. Could there be a way for him to continue his experiments in the U.S. and to take the wealth from China? Zhao, however, is also megalomaniacal, brutal, and likely willing to kill to further his aims. Of course, he will ignore any government restrictions on his work, and so it appears he must be stopped.

His son, Daquan, wants to keep the benefit of his father’s work in China. He considers himself a patriot of the new China, but he is happy to use the American auspices of his father’s business to do so. He is also brutal and only interested in the success of his own aims. How should his actions be viewed?

Dr. Stapleton is a talented and committed medical examiner who is genuinely concerned about the common good and about following the law. But must these reasons prevent him from advancing medical knowledge? Details of these issues will propel discussion.

This tale opens the door to exploring questions of morality, patriotism and the quest for scientific advancement. Fans of Robin Cook, aficionados of medical thrillers, and those who appreciate works that give rise to debate will enjoy this book.

Steve Brehm

32nd Avenue Books, Toys & Gifts


And the Whole Mountain Burned: A War Novel Cover Image
$26.00
ISBN: 9781546081913
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Center Street - November 6th, 2018

Author Ray McPadden was a commander of an elite Ranger unit in Afghanistan. He was also in Iraq and worked with Navy Seals. He had four combat tours and received a purple heart, two bronze stars, and a medal of valor. Contemplating his history,  I’m a little uncomfortable calling the work  “fiction.” I suppose it is, but I don’t know how it could be much closer to the truth.  

This is a war story set in Afghanistan that begins in 2002 and then jumps ahead to 2008. It starts with a scene where a Sgt. Nick Burch is attempting to buy some fried potatoes from a boy named Habibullah when he is attacked by the Taliban. After a fierce exchange of fire, the attack ends. Sgt. Burch assumes that the boy has been killed but soon discovers that, no, he is simply on the other side of the house, cooking the potatoes, which he presents to Sgt. Burch! 

Habibullah has larger roles later in the story, as does a Pvt. Danny Shane, a “cherry” whose military development in the Kush is influenced by his Sergeant, Nick Burch. 

Danny arrives to Sgt. Burch’s platoon in 2008, and their chief mission is to search for an elusive insurgent nicknamed “the Egyptian.” As time progresses, Danny changes into a much more hardened soldier who remains loyal to his sergeant.  But Sgt. Burch has spent much time in combat, perhaps too much. His reasoning fragments from the stresses of battle and it affects his judgement, eventually in profound fashion. 

And The Whole Mountain Burned describes life in a combat unit in the ‘Stan. It is a blistering, rough tale of what that experience was for our soldiers who made the journey. It also gives a picture of the character of the Afghan people, as seen through the eyes of a soldier. If you like modern military adventures, this one is for you.

There are various fascinating military endeavors and battle scenes within the story, but for me, the truly frightening parts involved the episodes when Sgt. Burch’s grasp of reality disappears-he fantasizes a burning zeppelin that crashes during a firefight, he dances with a cobra, he thinks the mujahadeen can shape-shift, he even once proposes to eat the enemy-these events stem from macabre hallucinations born of prolonged terror. It made me realize that a soldier may need to keep separate the insanity (in war) from the insanity (caused by war), so as not to be overcome by either.

I wanted to know more about how the dangers and resulting effects of battle were observed and experienced, and how they connected to his writing process. I am very pleased that the author contributed his answers to some of my questions.They follow:  

32nd Avenue Books: How have your experiences in combat changed your outlook on life?

Ray McPadden: Many young men and women want to go war. It's a way to prove what they are made of, their self-worth. It's the ultimate game for measuring oneself. So with war in my rearview mirror, I think I'm a calmer person. I quenched the "thirst" to find out what I'm made of. I am satisfied. I like who I am. 

32nd Avenue Books: Can you describe how your memories of combat and your imagination combined to form the story in your book?

Ray McPadden: I started writing a memoir. Real experiences and memories just poured out of me. I let it all flow, and it was all about me. That made me uncomfortable. Plus, many of my powerful memories, like firefights, were isolated events with no larger implications or narrative. I decided to fictionalize my memories. It was a break-through moment that freed my imagination. Fiction gave me a chance to re-order stories, create different angles, and combine real people. Many characters in the book are combinations of 2-3 real people. I began to package real stories together in ways that created a better narrative arc. The book took form. 

32nd Avenue Books: What can you say about the effects of extreme battle stress on elite cadre?

Ray McPadden: Battle stress brings out viciousness and anger. Both are good qualities on the battlefield, but not so much in the normal world. Being hyper-alert and neck-deep in violence on a regular basis takes its toll. The longer it goes on, the more your sense of reality and your morals are challenged. One of the main characters in the book, Burch, is a symbol of this struggle. 

32nd Avenue Books: What has been your personal experience with battle stress?

Ray McPadden: I dealt with it mostly on my first tour in Afghanistan. It was a 15-month deployment in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley. We were constantly fighting in savage terrain. There was no rest, no safe area. It was a far different situation from say, the Battle of Fallujah in Iraq, where US forces geared up, engaged in a bloody battle to retake a city, and won within a couple weeks. During my first tour in Afghanistan, battle stress brought out selfishness. I tried extremely hard to keep it from clouding my judgement. You have to think of mission, and people. Self is the wrong answer as a combat leader. 

 

Steve Brehm

 

 


A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World: A Novel Cover Image
$26.00
ISBN: 9780316449458
Availability: Coming Soon - Available for Pre-Order Now
Published: Orbit - April 23rd, 2019

This is a post-apocalyptic work that describes a family and their dogs living on an island off the coast of what was once Scotland. It occurs in the future when almost all of the world’s population has died. No one is sure of the cause. Only about one person per million has survived; the rest have simply perished, having lost the ability to reproduce. This family lives and hunts and basically survives on their island, but one day a man arrives in a boat and discusses trading with them. However, the man tricks them and leaves the island with one of their dogs. Griz, the youngster whose dog was taken, gives chase in an attempt to reclaim the dog. The pursuit leads to the mainland where a variety of adventures and dangers ensue. While it is a tale of “survival, courage, and hope,” it is also a tale of great imagination. For me, the book was enjoyable because I liked the author’s vision of a world with very few people in it, but one in which I could imagine myself.

The story is actually being told to a photo that Griz had once found. Griz talks to the past from the present (which is our future). Sometimes the reader realizes that the story is being told from Griz’s future, and this play shows the author’s adeptness at time angling. He imagines a world without us, but one in which we still live. The bones of the past still exist in the future, and Griz knows of the “before” from books. When Griz wonders about our present, it makes us wonder about the future, about what life could be like.

There is a very surprising twist in this tale, and most of the details and complexity unfold near the end. Those who enjoy a revealing and relatively rapid denouement will find this work very satisfying.

 

Steve Brehm

32nd Avenue Books, Toys, and Gifts


Atlas of a Lost World: Travels in Ice Age America Cover Image
$28.95
ISBN: 9780307908650
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Pantheon - May 2018

Craig Childs is a nature and science writer who has published several other books including Apocalyptic PlanetFinders Keepers, and Animal DialoguesAtlas of a Lost World is his latest. He has also written for various publications and teaches writing at the University of Alaska and the Southern New Hampshire University.

This work examines the questions of when did people first arrive in the Americas, how do we know, and why did they come. Evidence seems to suggest that people first began arriving about 20,000 years ago but there is not uniform agreement on this. Radiocarbon dating and the discovery and analysis of paleolithic artifacts and fossils are the main ways that we can know the approximate date of arrival. However, there have been discoveries of other objects, such as stone points or a piece of a bone in much older strata that throw doubt on the date. Speculations as to why people came include consideration of genetic drivers, such as a rover allele or a dopamine receptor that will cause certain individuals to forage more or engage in risky behavior; climate changes, and even space-related drivers.

The author traces human evolution from Africa. Animal bones having been cut with stone about two million years ago, possibly by Homo Erectus, were discovered in Kenya. 100,000 to 70,000 years ago humans left Africa at Djibouti and entered the Middle East at the bottom of Saudi Arabia. About 48,000 years ago humans entered Sahul, the contiguous landmass of Australia, Tasmania and New Guinea, and there is evidence of humans butchering Mammoths in Siberia at 45,000 years. One theory has humans crossing a land bridge at the Bering Strait before it was submerged due to ice melt. They would have followed mountains or nunataks protruding from the ice. Another has them traveling down the Pacific coast in boats made of skins, following the Kelp Highway, a maritime ecosystem surrounding kelp and proceeding inland along rivers.

Craig Childs has travelled extensively-Alaska, Chile, Florida, New Mexico- to research various paleolithic sites. He has even spent time on the Harding Icefield to experience what the Ice Age Pleistoscene may have been like. Whether he is in a desert or a jungle, his imagination launches him to the period when the artifacts and fossils were in use or had life. The way he allows his study to transport him to that time draws me into his work. He can examine a prehistoric camel skull and, a moment later, there he is in the Pleistoscene watching for dire wolves and sabertooth cats, observing the landscape, smelling the moisture in the air, feeling the wind. When visiting Paisley, Oregon and reflecting on the Paisley Caves site as it existed 14,000 to 16,000 years ago, 6,000 years after the last glacial maximum, he writes: “Clouds streamed off the Cascades. Dabs of sleet pegged the ground, hitting my shoulders, nicking my cheeks. For time travel, stormy weather is best. The dry West can be nothing but sunny, everything cut into slices of shadow and light. On a day like this, sunlight turns into color and shape as shadows richen. Ghosts stir from the ground, silver-tipped rain on sage.”

This work was pleasurable and stimulating. Definitely recommended for those who enjoy nature and scientific adventures.

Steve Brehm

 


Small Fry Cover Image
$26.00
ISBN: 9780802128232
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Grove Press - September 4th, 2018

“Small Fry” was the nickname Steve Jobs called his daughter, Lisa. It is also the title of her autobiography. This book is a coming of age story, brutal in its innocence and complex in human emotions and values.

Author Lisa Brennan-Jobs endured the struggles on growing up with a genius, her feared and famous father and a sensible but confused single mom, Chrisann, to become an independent young woman that created her own path in life.

She survived the apparent immaturity of her parents and the distance and volatility of her father while experiencing an enormous desire to be accepted and approved by his family. Lisa managed to overcome the toughness of her early life to create her own triumphant future.

32nd Avenue Books Toys & Gifts


Bloody Sunday: A Thriller (A Dewey Andreas Novel #8) Cover Image
$27.99
ISBN: 9781250140760
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: St. Martin's Press - July 31st, 2018

The recent meetings between President Trump and Kim Jong-Un in Singapore centering on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the lifting of sanctions on North Korea almost seem to advertise Ben Coles Bloody Sunday. This work will appeal to aficionados of the spy thriller genre. It is a fast-paced yarn with plenty of violence and some pretty good twists and details. I don’t read a lot of thrillers, but I sure had fun with this one.

Actual current events will most likely remain quite different from this frightening tale in which Kim Jong-Un is not at all a “good negotiator,” “very smart,” or a “talented man who loves his country very much,” as our president recently said, but an insane psychopath bent on hitting the U.S with nuclear weapons to create a formidable legacy, North Korea be damned.

The North Koreans have enriched uranium but no ICBMs. The Iranians have ICBMs and decide to give them to the North Koreans. It is only through the actions, which include the use of a poison on a North Korean general, that CIA agent Dewey Andreas and a SEAL team may be able to stop Kim.Even if it was a bit of a stretch to imagine the good guys getting as far as they did with no losses, I’d still recommend Bloody Sunday to all who enjoy the amusement of a good airport thriller.

Steve Brehm


Indianapolis: The True Story of the Worst Sea Disaster in U.S. Naval History and the Fifty-Year Fight to Exonerate an Innocent Man Cover Image
$28.00
ISBN: 9781501135941
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Simon & Schuster - July 10th, 2018

Indianapolis

It is impossible for me to remember reading a book of this size (592 pages) that was such a binding adventure. It tells the story of the USS Indianapolis as the ship that took the uranium from the U.S. to Tinian Island, where the air force assembled the nuclear weapon that was used on Hiroshima, her torpedoing and sinking on the way back, and the court martial (and exoneration) of her captain, James McVay.

At times, the book reads like the World War II adventure story it is: simple, passionate, horrific. But at other times, because of the incredible amount of detail, it takes on a deeper quality. The many years it took the authors to create this book become evident when the reader grasps the astounding completeness of their work.

The authors are impressively credentialed. Lynn Vincent is a Navy veteran, a best-selling author and a journalist whose investigative work has been cited before Congress and the Supreme Court. Sara Vladic is an award-winning documentary filmmaker, a leading expert on the USS Indianapolis, and has published new research on the ship in Proceedings, the official journal of the U.S. Navy. Together they produced an extremely well-researched work, full of complexity developed largely from primary source material, and which took more than fifteen years to create.

When the Indy was sunk, the men who initially survived were in the Pacific Ocean and subject to frequent shark attacks. For four days and five nights they struggled with little food and water and insufficient life rafts. Some went insane from drinking sea water. Some fought each other.Their lives became an unmentionable hell. And when they were eventually discovered, it was by accident. Of 1,195 crewmen on board, approximately 300 died when the ship went down. Of those remaining only 316 eventually survived.

They had sailed without an escort and none was entrusted with following them. Admirals and other officers displayed a greater lack of diligence to duty than did Captain McVay, yet he was court martialed, a unique occurrence for a skipper.

Compared to the number of people who know that Japan was attacked with atomic weapons, few are aware of the story of the Indianapolis and her captain. For this, the Navy must take responsibility. The Navy prevented release of information about the sinking until news that the war had ended was released, even though reporters would have been able to report the loss. Simply put, the Navy wanted this horribly tragic story to be buried in the glee of ending the war, and it also failed to assign responsibility to those who may have prevented the tragedy of so much horrific loss of life. 

Bill Toti, commander of the U. S. submarine Indianapolis became an advocate of redefining the historical record regarding Mcvay, and his role is described along with the actions of an eleven year old boy named Hunter Scott. Hunter made a school history project from the story of the Indiannapolis, and he became a major player in McVay’s exoneration.

The authors included chapters describing what it meant to them to create this work-their challenges, experiences, events and memories of the survivors whom they grew to know.

This is a story that needs to be told because it is an important one whose telling somehow never really occurred. It is no less a part of history because it was delayed. It is no sideshow. This story is one of the America from which our America grew and it is one whose players and whose details must never be forgotten.Clearly, this book receives a strong recommendation for those who appreciate thorough and well-written history.

Steve Brehm