Saturday, February 25, 2017

AN ANTIDOTE FOR DESPAIR


“In times of political turmoil, books can become more relevant than they ever have. Frederic Hunter’s new novel, Love in the Time of Apartheid, paints a grim picture of what racism and dictatorships can do on a personal level. Hunter’s discussion of the sixties in South Africa seems closer than ever when put into perspective with our own tumultuous climate. To see two individuals kept apart because society dictates that they are from two very different worlds is devastating but very much a reality for Petra and Gat, Hunter’s main characters. Today in the aftermath of our political campaigns, we have seen opposing viewpoints break apart families, tear apart relationships, and irrevocably damage the personal lives of others. It is no different for Petra and Gat. They go so far as to try to out-run the oppression and the violence that surrounds them, only to be stopped by the overreaching hand of Petra’s father, who heads the Bureau of State Security. It is their love for each other and their personal moral compasses that rescue them. We can only hope that in the wake of our political uproar that something as good as the love Petra and Gat share comes out of it.”   —Emily Montaglione, Managing Editor    

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“I share Emily’s concerns but have less faith that things will work out given our recent elections where two very unpopular candidates faced one another. In the end, like the actor Viggo Mortensen and many others, I decided to avoid voting for Trump or Hillary, refusing to choose between two flawed major candidates, instead, writing in Judy Shepard’s name on the New York ballot. Nor do I see any relief in sight.

But I do cast a similar vote for the reading of books for there is artfulness out there in the literary world. While a strong majority of politicians are bought and sold by lobbyists, no one has yet been able to stop us from reading quality fiction or non-fiction, which removes us from the bickering and heat that runs rife in our political system. A good book can take us into a ‘better world’ without leaving us enraged by things we clearly haven’t the ability to fix right  now.

Politically I would say America got what it deserved this time around. Now is surely the time to say ‘God Save America,’’ for Americans and their candidates do not seem capable of bringing back wisdom. But a good book can surely bring back a sense if comity and convey a different perspective when it comes to seeing how different our lives might be.  —Martin Shepard
co-publisher

WHICH BRINGS US TO Love in the Time of Apartheid which was widely praised in the following Kirkus Review that appeared on September 15 and will be published at the end of November.

“A quasi-political thriller and love story set in 1960's Africa. Gat, aka Adriaan Gautier, has been given instructions by his Belgian superiors in the Congo: "disappear." With $2,000 American and a forged passport, he flees to South Africa to reinvent himself and shrug off the demons that haunt him from his soldiering in Prime Minster Patrice Lumumba's new Congo. The lonely Gat eyes an 18-year-old beauty from an Afrikaner and English family, and he begins a promising courtship. But Petra is the daughter of a racist Cape Town police colonel, and Gat abhors apartheid. Gat, who is guilt-ridden and fighting nightmares of murder, helps Pet see beyond her family's prejudices. When a black woman is struck by a car, however, Pet's rushed conversion to fervent good Samaritan-ism may be a bit too convenient. The lovers skip town and marry, but Pet's enraged father won't let them go easily. This novel's hodgepodge of subplots—hiding spies, thwarted romance, systemic racism—ultimately coalesces. Hunter (The Girl Ran Away, 2014, etc.), a former Africa Correspondent of the Christian Science Monitor, ably captures South Africa. Plain prose and dialogue keep the pace motoring, and the simply told espionage storyline may appeal to Ian Fleming fans. There is daring, intrigue, and an ugly current of racism, but make no mistake, this is a love story at its core. Austere and well-told; an unlikely mix of espionage, apartheid, and love on the run.”


Or this blurb from Joan Baum, NPR reviewer, who will likely expand her review after publication.

 “With a nod to Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Love in the Time of Apartheid, Frederic Hunter beautifully explores the subtle and sensual power of love as a counter force to the diseases of racism and war. Though set in South Africa, with nightmare flashbacks to the Congo when Lumumba was assassinated, the suspenseful narrative resonates with deeply moving timeliness.”

Click the link below for Fred Hunter’s Love in the Time of Apartheid. May you pass it on to others. 

Thursday, February 2, 2017


A SOCIOPATH IN THE WHITE HOUSE?
by Jacob M. Appel MD JD

As both a practicing psychiatrist and the author of the forthcoming The Mask of Sanity, a novel that features a high functioning sociopath, I find myself asked with increasing frequency about the mental health of our incoming President.  Readers inquire:  Is Donald Trump mentally ill?  What is his diagnosis?  Could he truly be a sociopath and what does this bode for our country? 

 Even if I were able to answer these questions—and my sense is that you do not need a fancy medical degree to answer the first two—I may not.  Since 1973, section 7.3 of the American Psychiatric Association’s code of ethics, colloquially known as the “Goldwater rule,” has prohibited headshrinkers like myself from offering “a professional opinion” about “an individual who is in the light of public attention...unless he or she has conducted an examination” of that person “and has been granted proper authorization for such a statement.”  So I am prohibited from commenting on Mr. Trump’s mental health based upon his public behavior—at the risk of losing my hospital privileges or even my medical license. 

 Similarly, I’d be remiss to claim that Charles Manson or the “Son of Sam” suffers from mental illnesses, as I have never evaluated either of them personally.  In the early 1990s, the APA adopted a more lax approach regarding deceased historical figures, so I am at liberty to suggest that the Roman Emperor, Caligula, was troubled, and to offer general comments on the mental health of Joan of Arc and Vincent Van Gogh.  But Fred Trump’s pride and joy is clearly off limits.  

The “Goldwater rule” arose out of a specific set of disturbing historical circumstances.  In the lead up to the 1964 Presidential election, a magazine called Fact published an issue on “The Unconscious of a Conservative” that focused on the psychological makeup and alleged pathology of Republican candidate Barry Goldwater.  The magazine’s editor, Ralph Ginzburg, included a survey of psychiatrists in which 1,189 out of 2,417 respondents declared the conservative Arizona senator unfit for the nation’s highest office.  Some of the comments published alongside the survey proved damning, even by modern standards.  

One anonymous critic wrote:  “I believe Goldwater to be suffering from a chronic psychosis.”  Another observed:  “I believe Goldwater has the same pathological makeup as Hitler, Castro, Stalin, and other known schizophrenic leaders.”  And a third:  “A megalomaniacal, grandiose omnipotence appears to pervade Mr. Goldwater’s personality giving further evidence of his denial and lack of recognition of his own feelings of insecurity and ineffectiveness.”  

Understandably, a backlash arose—both inside and outside the professional.  Bioethicist Jonathan Moreno makes a persuasive case that much of this handwringing among shrinks stemmed from fears that “amateurish psychological assessments and poor political prognostication” threatened the credibility of psychoanalytic psychiatrists.  Rather than an anomaly, concern over attacks on Goldwater followed similar reactions to A.A. Brill’s diagnosis of Abraham Lincoln as “a manic schizoid personality” and preceded William Bullit’s controversial “necro-analysis” of Woodrow Wilson.

During the recent presidential campaign, a number of leading psychiatrists and psychologists—myself included—called for the repeal of the “Goldwater rule.”  (APA President Maria Oquendo has led an impassioned public defense.)  Other thought leaders in mental health have circumvented the rule by offering “image” assessments without formal clinical diagnoses, an approach noted forensic psychiatrist Paul Appelbaum derided in the New York Times as “splitting hairs.”  As I have argued elsewhere, the cases where the “Goldwater rule” proves most harmful are not those involving politicians or celebrities, but criminal prosecutions of deranged spree killers like Gabrielle Giffords shooter Jared Loughner and Aurora movie theater gunman James Holmes. 

 In many of these cases, psychiatrists could offer a likely diagnosis based on public documents and courtroom “performances,” diagnoses that might help the American people understand these tragedies and could lead to both to more appropriate punishments and better prevention.  (Certainly, these killers should never walk the streets again, but many belong in psychiatric facilities, rather than prisons.)  Instead, the experts most fit to comment are unable to do so, ceding the public forum to uninformed talking heads.  In contrast, whether the political process truly suffers because I cannot comment publicly upon my congressperson’s sanity is not so readily apparent.

 What is rather clear in hindsight is that the late Barry Goldwater was not mentally ill.  While I disagree with many of the five-term senator’s political stances, nothing in his conduct over more than four decades in the public eye—including as a military pilot during World War II—suggests anything other than a noble, well-adjusted servant of the commonweal.  As a liberal myself, I fear one of the repeated canards of the American Left is the claim that political conservatives are mentally ill, rather than merely misguided or wrong.  From painting Ronald Reagan as a madman in 1980 to questioning John McCain’s temperament in 2008, the myth of the “crazy” right-winger has become a consistent theme in progressive politics. 

It is the meme that cried wolf.  (As far as I know, the only major party candidate who suffered from a mental illness between 1945 and 2016 was 1972 Vice Presidential choice Thomas Eagleton of Missouri, a fine United States Senator who had undergone shock treatment for depression, and who was rapidly pushed off the Democratic ticket by George McGovern when this became known.)  Only through the lens of the current political situation does the damage done by those false claims against earlier Republicans become fully clear.

Up to a certain point, of course, all presidents—and many successful people—have narcissistic and antisocial traits.  A bit of narcissism helps a psychiatrist get through medical school; a dose of sociopathy helps Presidents send American soldiers overseas to risk their lives.  But traits are not the same as pathologies.  Nobody wants a psychiatrist who does all the talking or a trigger-happy leader for the Free World.

This might be a good moment to make an observation that is not a popular view in liberal circles where I travel, nor presumably in conservative ones either:  By both international and historical standards, the differences between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, in terms of policies and values, were rather small.  So too of Bush and Gore, even Reagan and Mondale.  All of these men believed in certain fundamental norms—norms that are outliers in a world where half of the global population lives without basic civil liberties or political rights.  Among these common norms are the belief that if you lose the election, the other side gets to assume office.  No tanks or martial law involved.  And that if you disagree with your opponents, you are welcome to denounce them on television or the Internet—but not to poison them with polonium.  And, most important, that leaders of the other political party are opponents, or rivals, but not enemies.  None of these men ever conflated the elected officials seated across the aisle with the foreign operatives across the Bering Sea.  These are enormous commonalities, ones that dwarf any differences regarding tax policy or abortion rights or the wisdom of the War in Iraq

Certainly, the policy differences between the parties will affect the lives of ordinary Americans in countless, meaningful ways.  That is why we have elections:  For voters to determine the direction of these policies.  But the shared values of our recent political leaders in both parties far outweigh their disagreements.  Anybody who scoffs at the importance of these shared beliefs should spend a few weeks in Eritrea or Equatorial Guinea—or read a history of the Weimar Republic.  When someone challenges these common values, as Mr. Trump has arguably done, both sides need to step back from the brink and acknowledge their importance.  As Grandpa Vanderhof observes in the Kaufman and Hart comedy, You Can’t Take it With You, “Got all worked up about whether Cleveland or Blaine was going to be elected President—seemed awful important at the time, but who cares now?” 

The Goldwater rule prevents me from answering the question:  Is Donald Trump a high functioning narcissistic sociopath?  I must allow readers to evaluate that matter on their own.  What I can say is that high functioning sociopaths are dangerous.  Highly so.  They are often unable to accept criticism and incapable of adjusting their conduct to circumstances.   Great presidents are rarely judged by their Supreme Court appointments or infrastructure programs, but by their responses to cataclysmic challenges like Pearl Harbor, Soviet warheads in Cuba, or 9-11. 

 Had a   high functioning narcissistic sociopath been president during the Cuban Missile Crisis, we would all likely be dead.  Food for thought.  (I highly recommend that book on Weimar, by the way, for the next fool who declares, “Mike Pence would be worse.”)  Alas, I cannot comment on Mr. Trump’s mental health—either to bury it or to praise it.  But if I were a reader, I might ask myself what distinguishes Mr. Trump from Bernie Madoff or Martin Shkreli other than circumstance?


When George W. Bush was first elected president, I used to joke that the great thing about America is that even the son of a President can grow up to be President.  But I never doubted that George W. Bush was sane or rational or genuinely believed he was serving the public good.  Maybe the question we should be asking ourselves is not, Is the President a high functioning sociopath?  A better question might be:  How did we ever reach the point where anyone might even have to ask whether the President is a high functioning sociopath?  Once you’ve asked that question, does it really matter whether the clinical answer is yes or no?

Friday, January 20, 2017

AN INTELLECTUAL FAILURE OF MASSIVE PROPORTIONS

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from Chris Knopf   

The political establishment, in which I include government officials, party apparatchiks, consultants, and commentators, is acting like a wounded elephant, after running headlong into a tree—dazed and confused, and lumbering around wondering what the heck just happened.


 In the ad agency business, when the buying behavior of potential customers is directly counter to all the predictions of planning and research, we euphemistically call this a “disconnect”.  Our clients tend to use other words, like “you’re fired.”

What we have in the political world is a disconnect of massive, historic proportions.  I consider it a total, systemic intellectual failure.
             
By intellectuals, I don’t just mean PhD.s or other brainy sorts in various walks of life. I mean anyone who has an active mind, kept enlivened by lifetime learning and intelligent discourse.  If you could find one of these folks who thought a year ago that Trump would be elected president, or Sanders would emerge as a tight second for the Democratic nomination, you’d call them intelligent, but sadly misguided.
            
And yet here we are. 
           
Doubtless thousands if not millions of dollars were spent in recent years on pollsters and opinion researchers that should have revealed what we now know to be demonstrably true:  a huge percentage of voters hate the political establishment, and are in such emotional pain, they’d vote for anyone who said the American system is rigged against them, no matter how it was said. 
            
My experience with market research tells me two things:  all that money was spent asking the wrong questions, or the researchers totally misunderstood the answers they got.  A third possibility is that the people interviewed gave false testimony.  This happens all the time, which brought us New Coke, and why even gifted pollsters like Nate Silver can get it terribly wrong.  Only the deep heart of the respondents knows what they’ll actually do at the moment of decision.  In this case, in the voting booth.
             
I think that’s part of the explanation, but I’m inclined to believe experts heard what people were saying, but didn’t truly understand what they were hearing.  Any researcher will tell you that data means nothing unless properly interpreted. 
            
This misunderstanding worked its way from the information gatherers to the information disseminators—journalists and other commentators—who stirred in their own biases and vested (intellectual)  interests, resulting in a national frame of mind that was diametrically opposed to what was actually going on.
            
Confirmation bias is the scourge of the digital society.  We have so much information flooding our brains, unreliably curated, that we naturally embrace those bits that conform to our view of the world.  This extends to the media we gravitate to, which I’d include regular face-to-face conversations, as our social lives become more and more tribal—economically, ideologically, intellectually. 
            
So it should come as no surprise that the information gatherers, who mostly come from one social class (relatively well off) would unconsciously process the agony of another social class (working people in both parties facing declining circumstances) through their personal filters, however earnestly they believe in their own objectivity.  
           
 I’m reminded of the scene in The Big Short when Steve Carell’s character went to Florida and met a stripper who had something like five sub-prime mortgages.  It was a great Gestalt moment.  Economic catastrophe was about to land on our heads and almost no one anywhere would see it coming. 
           
 I didn’t see it coming either.  Neither did I think for a second that Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders would be realistic candidates (for the record, I hoped Bernie would prevail).  Though I had one moment at the beginning of the campaign listening to an NPR talk show, where a caller from Kentucky wondered about the media fuss over Jeb Bush when everyone he knew was excited about Trump.
          
 I wonder if there was a researcher moderating a focus group of middle-class people in Kentucky, or Michigan, or Connecticut, who heard everyone say that the American system had failed them, that they were frightened and angry, and fired up to do something about it. 

And if the moderator said to herself, uh-oh, these people are going to vote their hearts.  And nobody’s paying attention.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2016

CIVILLY DISOBEDIENT

We’ve had the privilege of publishing two novels by Tom LeClair, The first, Passing Off appeared in 1997, nearly twenty years ago, which garnered excellent reviews: The Nation saying that “it is like reading a Ken Follet thriller with a basketball overlay. Elegant  writing!” while the Washington  Post review concluded that “LeClair has written a book that is literate, lively and entertaining.” 

We published his second book, Lincoln’s Billy in 2015, and it remains among my favorite novels of all time, with The Daily Beast having this to say (I  paraphrase),  “The man who tells his own sad tale as Lincoln’s Billy is William Herndon. He was Lincoln’s law partner before  Lincoln ran for public office who failed to publish his long, version of Lincoln, so Tom LeClair has stepped in to write this 176 page bawdy expose of young Lincoln, a tough, sinewy historical  novel.  

So ends my introduction to Tom, who has long been a social critic and activist as he explains that
“the crowds of protesters at Trump Tower have thinned in the weeks since the election and how his rage propels him to stay at his lonely post on Fifth Avenue, standing vigil at Trump Tower”  To which I add that this blog is fascinating, ironic, funny, and caustic, and  will be running until early January, as our last blog for 2016 .



*         *         *

“The thousands who marched on Trump Tower in New York right after the election have returned to their hives and lives. Groups in the low double figures sometimes gather nearby at night. I’m the day shift, every day. It feels like the third shift because I’m usually a solitary watchman on Fifth Avenue across the street from the Tower. You can walk the sidewalk in front of the building if you agree to be searched by the police, but they would never let me stroll with my protest sign. You can also go into the Tower if you put your bag through an X-ray machine. I fold my sign into my bag and enter to use the Tower’s underground marble toilet. Down there in the bowels of the ziggurat, I think of Trump way up in his penthouse and a line by the novelist William Gass: ‘I want to rise so high that when I shit I won’t miss anybody.’

“Pedestrian movement several blocks in any direction from Ground Trump is curtailed and controlled by the waist-high barriers with metal bars you see at New York City parades. All the varieties of police swarm the area: Secret Service, a SWAT team outside the Tower’s front doors, traffic police in yellow vests, community affairs police in bright blue jackets, regular officers with their low-slung duty belts, undercover cops (I assume), and what my contacts, the blue jackets, call the “white shirts,” the lieutenants and inspectors. Many of the blue jackets in charge of pedestrians are women, Latino, or black, and some nod at my protest signs or even shake my hand when I arrive for duty. I think of them as secret sharers of the sidewalk. The white shirts are mostly white guys like me, and they don’t like me protesting the orange whale Trump on his block, their block.

“There is a protesters pen constructed of those metal barriers down the Avenue from the Tower. That’s where the after-work groups of 10 or 20 are confined, shouting out their chants without disturbing those who live in the building. I reject the cage. I take my stand smack in front of what I heard one black cop call the “Black House” so passers-by can take photos of my signs and the “TRUMP TOWER” sign behind and above me. I ask scores of smartphone users every day to post their photos online. Thousands walk past me in a day, and many may read my sign, but the solitary protester can now really multiply his semiotic impression through social media.

“I’ll stand at my post for some hours, and then a white shirt will come by and tell his blue jackets to move me. Once I conversed directly with a tidy whitey. He said, ‘You have to move.’ I said, ‘I’m not impeding pedestrian traffic.’ He said, ‘You have to move if you’re on the sidewalk.’ I happened to be standing right at the curb, so I stepped back onto the street, where I was protected by a barrier from traffic. The officer walked off, took out his phone, and I got a visit from the blue jackets who told me to move because they really didn’t want to arrest me.

“Speech is free if you’re in the cage or in motion. So I walk, as one blue jacket suggested,’ like a turtle; up and down the block because I can’t be arrested—I thought of the root meaning of arrest—if I keep moving. I stand still when people ask to photograph my sign, when I’m out of sight of the blue jackets, and when they go into one of their vans to get warm. But ‘going to and fro on the earth,’ as Satan tells God, doesn’t give the same impression as standing firm, hands behind my back, a sign hanging from my neck—posing as a lone heroic resister against the depredations to come. I’m not stopping any tanks, like that guy in Tiananmen Square, and I don’t want to end up, like Bartleby, in prison, but being solitary is advantageous. One day a woman with a sign stood next to me, and the blues converged to explain that since protesters were now two—a veritable demonstration!—we had to go into the cage.

“My first sign, RAGE TRUMPS HATE, was just ambiguous enough to get me interviewed by print journalists from Canada, England, Argentina, and France. And taped by TV channels in Russia, Japan, Sweden, and Kurdistan (whose reporter was amazed that an American knew who the Kurds were). Fox News and CNN are in the media pen right behind my post, but they never point their cameras my way. Like me, the lip-glossed and hair-fiddling talking heads want the Tower at their backs. With plenty of time to think, I imagine new visual memes: ‘Turn Your Back On Trump’ or ‘Take Photo, Post Tower On Its Head.’ When the lights go on to illuminate the TV reporters, pedestrians stop to gawk at them and impede other pedestrians. That’s when I realize police enforcement of the ‘stay in motion’ rule is arbitrary and selective, for officers don’t disperse the crowd of gawkers, valued New York tourists. But if three or four people stop at the same time to take photos of my sign, I’m told to move along by some among the blue jackets. They always cite ‘higher ups,’ and I wonder from just how high up the order descends. I like to think the petty occupant of the penthouse wants to cancel sidewalk mockery as he hopes to cancel Saturday Night Live.

“Invariably, the interviewers’ first question of me is not what I have against the outlier-elect but why I would be standing by myself holding a hand-lettered sign. I don’t try to change anyone’s mind. But if I’m sufficiently enraged to stand alone out in the cold every day, maybe I’ll inspire my fellow citizens to stay angry. NEW THREE R’S: RAGE, REJECT, RESIST. As another of my signs says, NEVER SETTLE WITH THIS FRAUD. Since it’s mostly visitors who walk Fifth Avenue, I also address them: TOURISTS: TRUMP TOWER IS NOT AMERICA. IT’S BABEL. I have some accompanying patter: ‘Free tour, Tower of Babel, coming down soon.’ I want visitors to take home or send home the impression that Trump and his tower of arrogance do not represent America. Of course, I know that’s a lie like one of Trump’s, for greed and hate such as his, founded and expanded this land to the California gold Trump loves. But despite my country’s distant and very recent past, I want foreign tourists to know America remains a republic of equal rights and free speech (as long as it’s in motion).

“Some passers-by ask to be photographed with my sign and me. My data is anecdotal, but I’d say Canadians are per capita, my chief huggers. Maybe no fences do make good neighbors. Europeans with their excellent English pat me on the back and extend their sympathies. On weekends, Latino parents want to photograph their children beneath my sign. To them, I extend my apologies. Chinese tourists, of which there are many on Fifth Avenue, stop, puzzle out my signs (GILD IVANKA, GELD DONALD) and ask permission before snapping. Maybe they think I will get in trouble if dissent is photographed. I suppose the security cameras overhead are recording all the activity so some future anthropologist may modify my anecdotal data. And when facial recognition gets powerful enough, I can scan Facebook and other social media to check if my photographers have indeed posted my impression as they promised.

“I don’t get many insults, perhaps because my block on Fifth Avenue with its Prada and Tiffany’s attracts few visitors from the Benighted States of America. Although I know the passers-by have little time to prepare a witty rejoinder to my signs, I’m still continually surprised at how dull the Trumpsters are. Maybe they’re just being charitable when they offer advice: ‘Get a job’ or ‘Get over it.’ I thank them and tell them that I have a job, protecting their First Amendment rights and that ‘it’—the profiteering and hate—is just getting started. Some in ‘Make America Great’ caps are curious. They ask, ‘How much you getting paid?’ for they assume that a man Trump’s age must be as guilt-ridden as he. Or they ask, ‘What country you from?’ for they know no native-born American would insult a president, at least one not born in Kenya. Moderates plead, ‘Give him a chance.’ I refer them to Charles Blow’s essay in The New York Times on the subject of just get along with the monster and show them one of my signs: I GAVE TRUMP A CHANCE, AND HE GAVE US RACE-BAITERS AND IMMIGRANT HATERS. Then I tell polite pleaders that I may decide to give Trump another chance because I pity their populist loser of the popular vote.”
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I hope all of you reading Tom’s blog will respond to it by commenting on this website and pass it along for others to read. You can also contact Tom LeClair directly by email: leclaite@ucmail.uc.edu 

This is a time when we are encouraged to buy Christmas gifts, watch endless TV ads selling Christmas gifts,  spend a couple of bucks for a Hallmark card and envelope. This commercialization of Christmas gets tedious after a while. And while I’m certainly not against this holiday, I do think LeClair’s blog adds a balance at this time and this particular year, before the President-elect takes office.  May you consider this as an electronic holiday card from us to you.

Martin Shepard, signing off.


Monday, December 12, 2016

BRILLIANT NEW VOICES FROM SOUTH ASIA

Co-publisher Chris Knopf takes over this week’s Cockeyed Pessimist blog with a short and eloquent piece about two novels that first appeared in India, from writers who will appear in 2017—Saikat Majumdar’s Play House, which we’re publishing in April, and Kaushik Barua’s No Direction Rome, due in November, and has already been sold to Blackstone Audiobooks.


*         *         *

 Comparing a writer’s work with another writer, particularly one highly regarded, is tricky business.  On the one hand, you’re paying a compliment by saying “His prose is rich and evocative, even Faulknerian.”  On the other, you might be saying, “This guy spent too much time reading Faulkner in college, and it shows.”

 We are blessed to be publishing in 2107 works by two authors from India, Play House, by Saikat Majumdar and No Direction Rome, by Kaushik Barua.  Both are entirely original works, and interestingly, very distinctive from each other.  Saikat’s book is lushly composed and sensuous, meaning it provokes all of one's senses – eyes, ears, sight, touch and smell.  With starkly drawn characters, written with careful attention to detail. Yet also paced like a suspense novel, that had me enthralled throughout.  Told from the point of view of a young boy, Saikat expresses the fear and wonder children experience living in the confusing adult world while allowing readers access to the realities beyond a child’s understanding. 

As to associations, I was initially reminded of Justine, the first in Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet.  Though Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient, D.H. Lawrence, Joyce, Faulkner and Gabriel García Márquez also came to mind.

If Saikat renewed my love for sumptuous prose, Kaushik’s work took me back to 1980’s New York City, and Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City.  The hero of No Direction Rome is also a young man adrift in a teeming metropolis, not knowing what to do with himself, seemingly attached to nothing, yet observing everything.  Where McInerney pulled off a risky second-person narrative, Kaushik delivers a crisp stream of consciousness that moves seamlessly from quip to commentary, to startling profundity.  
            
Though approaching the art of the novel from opposite directions, these books share an abundance of creativity, thoughtfulness, and gimlet-eyed perception.  I also found both to be remarkably mature works, in the mastery of difficult narrative techniques, and in the kind of awareness of the world you’d expect to from, older writers. 

Both originally published in India to wide critical praise, we’re pleased to introduce, Saikat Majumdar and Kaushik Barua to lovers of brilliant literature here in America and beyond. 

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Please share this blog with others and comment directly to myself and Chris below. You can also email Chris your comments directly at ChrisK@mintz-hoke.com 


Next week we’ll be  featuring a lengthy blog by author Tom LeClair entitled: CIVILLY DISOBEDIENT: WHY I’M STANDING VIGIL AT TRUMP TOWER







Wednesday, October 26, 2016

HUMPTY TRUMPTY

In 1991 we republished Daphne Athas’ Entering Ephesus which was originally published by Viking Press 20 years earlier. The critical response to our edition was both glorious and exceptional, gaining high praise from The Christian Science Monitor, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, The Kansas City Star, and several other newspapers.

Daphne, now 92 years old has not lost her touch. Still part of the faculty at the University of Carolina in Chapel Hill, her observation are always both classical and timely, as in this latest blog, Humpty Trumpty, as she comments on our forthcoming election on November 8th—one day shy of my 82 birthday.  May I be as surefooted if and when I reach her present age ten years from now. With that, I turn this blog over to Daphne...

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       Gram-O-Rama Guru Column 
Gram-O-Rama.com    

“Humpty Trumpty sits on his wall.     
       Preaching his best brand of spite to us all.”             
                
If younger generations, from Age 55 down ever watch gangster movies (1930's and 40s) on Turner Classics or elsewhere, they’ll come across:  “I’ll Smack you in the Kisser”.   In those days the taunt was irresistible, and the kids reveled in it when play-fighting death in the schoolyard.

What do the words mean?  Smack means HitKisser means Face.  Trump, who loves kissing women hasn’t noticed where he’s placed himself in history. He’s kissing like a smacker, leaving the American contemporary electorate to try to keep up with his passion for the old-fashioned.  He’s reversing vocabulary.  Cultural change has outpaced him but left the electorate upside down. Call it a turmoil of confusion.   

He makes kissing a ‘Hit” on women. Women, who have, from the Sixties, exercised in Gyms, practiced boxing to get into the men’s game, and tried to figure out where the boundaries are, so rife on radio, with different views on female and male morality and between power and love.  Multiply that exponentially and you arrive at a cultural morality in conflict with individual morality.  We’ve got a mish-mash of a locker room, athletic hero worship, fraternity guy culture (male) versus reasoned wonks (male and female), bookish nerds (male and female) and concerned middle-class parents.  Hacking aficionados have begun practicing locker room slang on the national level and Russia with its imperial tradition of czars sports a Putin who is apparently allowing cyber interference in US elections.
         
Distinctions abound but don’t tally:  Male TV Pundits practice Womens Righteousness.  Puritans of self-righteous disposition (men and women) rise to the challenge.  What if your nine-year-old son  ‘touches’ or ‘smacks’ the girl behind him in line and is called up by the principal?  How do you parent him correctly, advising him not to do this because if he were a fourteen-year-old boy he would be deemed a Rapist?  
       
Verbs change into nouns and nouns into verbs instantly before our tongues can wag left. The word Rapist blooms like a Fourth of July rocket.  Fields of voters are freed of old PC mandates rusted into media cyber systems.  Hardware can’t compete with human software or the resultant lightning changes in public persiflage.  Spell out exactly who did what to who.
            
Roger Ailes, fired as CEO of Fox News takes a job as a Trump campaign advisor, hopping from one million dollar CEO job to another.  Top echelons of governance and Wall St. are white-faced with shock. Your Bushes and other Republican leaders must decide whether they endorse or do not endorse the man they’ve chosen as a candidate.  They say they do not endorse Trump, they merely support the Republican candidate.
     
Paul Ryan is cryin’.  The space between ‘ Kisser’ and ‘Smack’ widens. 
        
Trump says he’ll sue the New York Times for front-paging women whose voices reach trembling mode while their mouths laugh, and one finger wipes a teardrop off a cheek, describing where Trump’s hands were groping—upper torso or up the skirt?  The woman is courageous, laughing and crying simultaneously.  We middle-class people admire her.
       
It is laughable, but ‘concerning’, our newly invented fashionable word. I ponder joining the rallying cry of "Rape!' streaming onto the airwaves.   Women have accepted ‘mens' behavior as normal' because 2,000 generations have said it’s so.  Power is the proof.
        
The qualities women have been recognized for are their wiles and beauty. It’s been so ever since Cleopatra; they’ve bought into being despised, worshiped, reviled, and worst of all, discouraged.
         
So far TV pics of the 20 or so women volunteers telling their 'Trump stories have had more effect than printed outrage. A picture on TV is worth a thousand sermons.  Ever since Zeus blamelessly raped goddesses, young boys and nymphs and up through the day Coach Sandusky entered Pennsylvania prison, the world has waited. 
        
Whether women’s wiles and under-estimated intelligence have failed, the humiliation still goes on.  Women, young boys, and girls —all the less powerful humans—know it.  It’s embedded in various cultures.  Power is Reality.
        
Simultaneously, perfidious Eve of the Bible and the blatant victim-witches of Access Hollywood are still alive and kicking despite Arthur Miller's Crucible.   These women are laughed off and Trump shouts "Lies! Conspiracy!”   Does he believe what he’s saying? 
         
Women—even majors in the Air Force—are still the bitches who had the sons, except, of course, for the virgin, Mary.  And of present protestors Michelle Obama is the most convincing, a black woman whose family worked their way into the middle class, not so she could become a President’s wife, but as a person who knows how to use the vocabulary of the heart with the same measure of passion and reason that Socrates and Jesus lost their lives for.  I hear the lonesome Warrior Wolverettes howling with increasingly justified intensity outside Hotel Doctor Trivago’s window, and as compensation in the snowy wilderness, I write this observation:  Knock your block off is not the answer       
       
Repetition sells products. Trump says if you repeat something enough people believe it.   Gertrude Stein in her famous repetition riff says:  “Loving repeating is always in children. Loving repeating is in a way earth feeling?”       
So what is Trump selling?  His name as a product?  His name as president?  Or his name as ‘earth feeling’? “I am the only one who can make America great again.”  The sound is a clarion which contains many rhymes:  “Trump.  Pump.  Hump. Dump.”
Repetition can sell, but it can also stop the listener cold.  Look out for repetition in the next two weeks. Watch how we will go with the flow.  Repetition is the answer.  Repetition is our modern Petition. Repeat after me, sayeth the teacher....
 

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DO SHARE THIS BLOG WITH OTHERS and comment on it directly to me at The Cockeyed Pessimist and also direct your comments to Daphne at daphne.athas@gmail.com

I also welcome any of you out there in the electronic Neverland to submit your own blog proposal that we might post in the near future.  My direct email is shepard@thepermanentpress.com


Tuesday, October 4, 2016

THERE’S A NEW SHERIFF IN TOWN

Twenty-seven-year-old Brian Skulnik, who has been the best Managing Editor we’ve ever had during his four-year term, is off to new challenges after October 14 to work with Rosetta Books in Manhattan. Succeeding him is a younger woman, twenty-six-year-old Emily Montaglione, who lives 10 minutes away from us. There’s a lot for her to get used to, but there is no question that she will be up for this new task. Emily also brings her own literary talents, as she has been reading four books a week for over a decade.  One couldn’t ask for a better replacement. You can reach her directly by email at emily@thepermanentpress.com or at our office weekdays from10 in the morning until 5 P.M. at 631-725-1101.

With that, as co-publisher along with Judy and Chris Knopf, it’s my pleasure to introduce her, for this is her blog.
               
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This past September I had the wonderful occasion to become acquainted with Martin and Judith Shepard and The Permanent Press here in Sag Harbor. It was amazing to see the publishing process and how many wonderfully exciting books were being created. I was inspired by their love of literature as well as their dedication to all types of authors. I knew at once that I wanted to work with them.

I had the opportunity to grow up surrounded by books and with parents who read to me every day. This early love of literature developed quickly.  Soon I was trying to read whatever I could get my hands on.  Once I could write my name, I got my library card which let me explore the local library to my heart’s content. I consider myself lucky to have been able to spend such large parts of my formative years between the pages of a book.

The love of literature didn’t stop there; my first job was at my local library. At fourteen years old I got the assignment of shelving books in the children’s department. Looking back I probably read more than I put away, but I got to spend every weekend surrounded by my favorite stories. In my teens, books were my best friends. I would finish class assignments quickly because I would often find that I had already read the material some time ago. One very kind English teacher introduced me to the classics. I discovered a love for Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Faulkner, Dickens and Chaucer.

By the time I graduated high school, most of my English degree was finished and I went on to declare a major in English literature. Once again my literary world was opened up further. More classics were discovered as well an even deeper love for medieval and Victorian literature. At that point, despite my degree being completed, my advisor insisted I stay and take another major. I decided the most compatible choice would be a psychology degree. This choice gave life to my other passion, child psychology. I went on to graduate school soon after for psychology and as they say, the rest is history.

Despite my choice in graduate study, my love for a good story never waned. I continue to read everything I can, and my taste for fiction has only grown. If there has been one constant throughout my life, it’s been books—a continuing source of comfort, Joining The Permanent Press has allowed me to continue this endeavor as I now work in a place where a good book is never more than an arm’s length away.

I’ve found, with all the new books that are coming out next year, hard to pick a favorite.  There’s something for every type of book lover from comedy, to romance, and mystery. Whether it’s a soul searching coming of age story like Play House due out in April, or a chilling tale of psychopathy, The Mask of Sanity due in March, The Permanent Press has something for everyone. While it may be difficult to choose only one favorite, it’s not difficult at all to find something you will want to read.

I think one of the joys of working for an independent publisher is the opportunity to experience the creation of stories. We get to work hands on with an author from start to finish, seeing the growth of a novel from a few submitted pages to a beautiful hardcover that we can share with the world.  At The Permanent Press it doesn’t matter what a writer’s background or status is. All that matters is the story they’ve entrusted us with and we look forward to sharing their stories with you.