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Weekend Reading

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All the Wild That Remains by David Gessner

We just wrapped up Best of the Month reading for March (stay tuned--it's a great list!), and are now All the Wild That Remainsfreed up to check out some buzzworthy books being released this spring.

Jon: All The Wild That Remains: Edward Abbey, Wallace Stegner, and the American West David Gessner (April 13). Two iconic writers who loved the West, who expressed their love in very different ways. Gessner examines the issues currently challenging this incredible landscape and how each man might have responded.

Also reading: Natural Born Heroes: How a Daring Band of Misfits Mastered the Lost Secrets of Strength and Endurance by Christopher McDougall (author of Born to Run), and Rain: A Natural and Cultural History (because I was born in Seattle) by Cynthia Barnett.

Erin: God Help the Child (April 21). “What you do to children matters...” This foreboding phrase informs the latest slim but searing novel by Nobel prize-winning author Toni Morrison, one that unravels the tragic consequences of a girl’s violent childhood.

Also reading: Made in Detroit by Marge Piercy (March 31). Gearing up for National Poetry Month in April...

Chris: All Involved by Ryan Gattis (April 7). In 1992, after a jury acquitted two LA Police officers in the Rodney King beating (and failed to reach a verdict on a third officer), Los Angeles was swept up by riots. This novel is about the experience of six people during that time. The publisher calls it “sourced fiction.”

Also reading: Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf (May 26) and The China Mirage: The Hidden Story of American Disaster in Asia by James Bradley (April 21).

Seira: I’m going to do a little cooking this weekend and start trying out April cookbooks, like Genius Recipes (April 7).  Right now I’m thinking about making the Chicken Thighs with Lemon or Grilled Pork Burgers...I think I’ll also try another recipe from The Perfect Egg (March 3)--a breakfast dish seems in order, maybe Egg Clouds or the Gyeran Bbang, which the author was introduced to as street food in Seoul, South Korea and describes as a pancake-wrapped baked egg sandwich typically fried, but in this recipe baked.  

I’m also going to finish the last few pages of Bettyville and maybe start Denton Little’s Deathdate (April 14), a new YA novel coming out next month that I’ve heard great things about.

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Straight on Till Morning: Iconic Images from the Voyager Missions

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The Interstellar Age: Inside the Forty-Year Voyager Mission by Jim Bell

The Interstellar Age

I was too young to remember the moon missions. By the mid-1970s, the country had largely overcome its zeal (and budget) for space exploration, leaving grainy tape of Apollo-Soyuz and Evel Knievel rocket bikes as sorry substitutes for a generation of Star Trek-addled brains yearning to go where no one had gone before. So when the unassuming Voyager probes were launched in August and September of 1977--just a few months after Star Wars premiered--our imaginations welled with images of alien worlds and the promise of a new age of space travel. 

We needed patience, though. Though the probes began their journeys moving at a velocity of 11 miles per second, space is big. But by the time the first images of Jupiter's Great Red Spot were beamed back to Earthlings in 1980 (via the trustworthy anchors of the nightly network news), brains like mine lit up like a gamma ray burst with the possibilities of deep-space exploration.

Almost 40 years later, the Voyager probes are still traveling, and incredibly, still broadcasting to Earth across the vast reaches of space. Jim Bell, a professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University, has written the definitive account of the Voyager program. Beginning at the mission's inception as an opportunity to take advantage of a rare planetary alignment, The Interstellar Age tells the story of the people who made a remarkable vision real and an odyssey surpassing all expectations--and the boundaries of the Solar System itself.

Enjoy these images from the Voyager missions hand-selected by Bell. The Interstellar Age is a selection for's Best Books of the Month in Nonfiction for February 2015.


Highlights from a Grand, Grand Tour

By Jim Bell, author of The Interstellar Age

Two robots, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, were launched from Earth in 1977 and sent on the grandest, farthest-flung adventure ever. Through their eyes, through their sensors, via their faint voices from billions of miles away, we have been vicarious fellow travelers on their Grand Tour of the planets Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune and their moons. Now, they are crossing into the threshold of interstellar space, beyond the influence of the Sun, in the realm between the stars… And still we are with them: wandering, wondering, seeking answers to humanity's oldest questions. Where did we come from? Where are we going? Are we alone?

Here are seven examples of some of my favorite Voyager-related photos and graphics from The Interstellar Age: Inside the Forty-Year Voyager Mission.


Voyager 1 and 2 Trajectories

Schematic diagram of the trajectories that enabled NASA’s twin Voyager spacecraft to tour the four gas giant planets and achieve the velocity to escape our solar system. (Photo credit: NASA/ JPL)

Voyager 1 and 2 Trajectories



Voyager and the Golden Record

Top: Spacecraft and systems/instruments. Lower left: Closeup of the Golden Record case mounted on the side of the spacecraft bus. Lower right: Close-up of the first side of the actual record. (Photo credit: NASA/JPL)

Voyager and the Golden Record



Clouds and the Great Red Spot. A spectacular example of a modern reprocessed Voyager image of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot shows the regional appearance of this three-Earth-sized storm system. (Photo credit: NASA/JPL/Björn Jónsson)



Europa, Close-up

One of the highest-resolution views of Europa obtained during the Voyager flybys, this reprocessed version of Voyager 2’s closest-approach mosaic shows spectacular examples of the cracks, grooves, and low ridges that imply the existence of a large subsurface ocean underneath this moon’s relatively flat, icy crust. (Photo credit: NASA/JPL/Ted Stryk)

Europa, Close-up


Voyager 2’s Departure from Saturn

About three days after the closest approach behind Saturn and the major scare from the scan platform anomaly, control was regained of Voyager 2’s cameras, resulting in breathtaking, impossible-from-Earth photos like this from beneath the plane of the rings. Modern digital reprocessing of the data helps to bring out additional subtle details in color and structure. (Photo credit: NASA/JPL/Gordon Ugarkovic)



A Pale Blue Dot

Voyager 1 took this solar system family portrait (top frame) on Valentine's Day, 1990. This was Voyager 1's final image mosaic, a view of the planets in our Solar System as taken from a vantage point beyond the orbit of Neptune. Voyager started photographing the planets at Neptune (N), moving in to Uranus (U), Saturn (S), then Jupiter (J), Earth (E), and Venus (V). Mercury and Mars were lost in the Sun's glare. The inset view of Earth is the "Pale Blue Dot…a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam," made famous by astronomer Carl Sagan, reflecting on the significance of one of Voyager's most famous photos. Below the mosaic is a computer simulation of the positions of the Sun and planets during the time the images were taken. (Photo credit: NASA/JPL)

A Pale Blue Dot


Eternally orbiting the Milky Way

While the Voyagers have escaped the Sun's gravitational pull, they (like the Sun) will forever orbit the center of the Milky Way, making long, 250-million-year loops around the galaxy for billions of years or more. As extrasolar explorers, they have ushered us all into the Interstellar Age… (Photo credit: Jon Lomberg)

Eternally orbiting the Milky Way

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Sara Says...

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Funny Girl by Nick Hornby

One of the few, albeit minor, drawbacks of this job is that while we all get to spend a lot of time Funny Girldiscovering books we love, we don’t always have the luxury of time to pause between books and see which ones are going to linger in our minds, which ones are going to become longterm residents on our personal Best Of Lists. I, for example, loved Nick Hornby’s Funny Girl when I read it last month – it was on our list for February – but I didn’t anticipate that it would be the book I’d be talking about weeks later.   

I’ve always been a Hornby fan, particularly of the older books, of which Funny Girl reminds me. More about culture and its purveyors than about love per se (though there’s plenty of pithy, witty wisdom about love here, too), Funny Girl seems at once both larger and smaller than Hornby’s other works. I guess what I mean by that is that it’s about a very specific time and place--while we hadn’t coined the term yet, it was the London “media world” in the 1960s.  (Then, “media” meant TV, books and – wait for it! – theater) – and yet, it’s also emblematic of a wider world.  (In this way, Funny Girl reminds me of Steve Martin’s wonderful Shop Girl, which was so specifically set in a more or less contemporary Los Angeles, but was entirely, and brilliantly, time-out-of-time.)  

Who, for example, can’t relate to the central theme which here centers on show business but is applicable to just about everyone:  what it’s like to have dreams, and to realize that sometimes your outsides just don’t match your insides. In Hornby’s world, that disconnect is sometimes obvious--his  heroine, Barbara/Sophie, looks like a strumpet but has the soul of a comedienne--and sometimes more hidden: Tony and Bill are the toast of the town for writing about an “ordinary” marriage when neither of them has anything close. Even more minor characters, like Clive and Dennis, are hiding some things.

Still, I suppose Funny Girl isn’t for everyone. One friend told me recently that she wasn’t crazy about British comedies, and it is definitely that (though as I said, it’s also bigger than that.)  And it is showbizzy and old fashioned, in a sense, so if you don’t have much interest in the way it used to be in the innocent pre-social media world, you might view it as a historical.  But there’s something so essentially true and generous in Hornby’s portrayal of popular culture that I can’t help thinking – in these weeks when one cultural icon is closing up shop (Jon Stewart) and another (SNL) is celebrating 40 years in business – he’s a genius at being both nostalgic and topical all at once. And that’s a combination that’s definitely worth talking about.

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YA Wednesday: Guest Essay from Gayle Forman

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I Was Here by Gayle Forman

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

I_Was_Here_225For many YA readers a new book by Gayle Forman is already cause for celebration and now the film adaptation of If I Stay has introduced her to an even wider audience.  This is one of those rare cases where the movie got people wanting to read not only the book the film was based on, but also the other half of the duet, Where She Went.

Forman's latest novel, I Was Here, is our spotlight pick for the Best YA Books of February and when she and her delightful editor, Ken Wright, were in town recently, we talked about I Was Here, the 2015 Printz award winners (we all love Jandy Nelson's I'll Give You the Sun), and a very interesting subgenre that's sprung up in the field of self-publishing... I really enjoyed hearing the story behind I Was Here and despite a busy touring schedule, Gayle was gracious enough to share some of that story and more in the exclusive guest post below.

I don’t write issues books. I don’t write books that set out to educate teens, to moralize to teens, to offer Valuable Life Lessons to teens. I write my books, first and foremost, for myself, and usually, even though they’re told through the voices of young people, they concern matters of my own (now middle-aged) mind.

So this is why I keep saying that my latest book, I Was Here, even though it opens with a suicide and was inspired by a young woman who took her own life, is no more a suicide book than my earlier novel, If I Stay, was a book about car accidents.

I Was Here follows Cody, a young woman drowning in the undertow of grief, sorrow, anger, and guilt following the suicide of her best friend, Meg. It is very much a book about resilience, about what happens when you ascribe all your power to other people, and what happens when you take it back. Mostly, however, it is a book about forgiveness.

But it’s also a book about depression. In part because of the link between suicide and depression—it’s estimated that more than 90 percent of people who take their own lives suffered from a mental disorder at the time of their deaths, with depression being the most common. And in part because while writing the book, I witnessed two of my closest friends go through a deep, dark depression.

It struck me, with both of them, that it was a very rigged fight. That’s because both of them were battling on two fronts: They were struggling with the physical, mental and emotional symptoms of depression. This alone would’ve been a tough battle to fight. But they were also so caught up in shame—as if the depression were somehow their fault, as if they were made of weaker stuff for having it.

It wasn’t their fault. And they aren’t made of weaker stuff. Suffering from depression is no more someone’s fault than coming down with a case of debilitating pneumonia or meningitis or some other terrible, but treatable, disease. But such is the tricky stigma of mental illness. Because it’s in your head, right? So you can control it. And if you had it more together, you wouldn’t have it.

That is a form of antiquated thinking, which current research continues to debunk. Research has shown that, like pneumonia or meningitis or any other disease, depression has a physiological cause—neurotransmitters in the brain being out of balance, with new research suggesting a link between inflammation and depression.  And it has a physical manifestation, be it insomnia or exhaustion, headaches, or lethargy. And it has an emotional component too, as does pretty much every physical ailment. (Show me one person who doesn’t feel blue when they have the flu.)

As a bystander, it was both heartbreaking  and frustrating to watch my two beautiful friends engaged in such a rigged fight. It was two against one, or more like two thousand against one.  It made me protective and angry that mental illness is still, still, mired in so much secrecy and shame. I suppose that some of that filtered into I Was Here as well, because, without giving too much away, so much of what goes wrong with Meg tracks back to the secrecy and stigma of mental illness.

Eventually, both friends found their way out of the darkness (or are finding their way, it’s a process) through a variety of treatments, but also by opening up in very public ways about what they were going through. When they did, they were both greeted with overwhelming compassion and support, and perhaps most important, a huge chorus of Me, Too. I suffer from this, too. I think it helped show them that it wasn’t a fight of two against one or two thousand against one. They weren’t alone. They had millions on their side.

In the weeks since I Was Here has come out, I’ve met some of those millions. On tour, and via email and social media, I‘ve been hearing a chorus of Me, Too’s. I also suffer from this. I also hide it. Suicide will always be mysterious, the victim and the perpetrator go down together. But we can remove some of the shroud around depression and mental illness by talking about it openly, by not hiding away in shame.

So perhaps in the end I did write an issues book. Good. If it gets people talking about their battles, I’m glad. Still, after watching my two friends come through the dark, dark tunnel, by opening up, by easing up on themselves, I still hold that forgiveness—of yourself, for your struggles, your imperfections, your humanity—is what the book is ultimately about.

--Gayle Forman

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Authentic Voices: New Memoirs from Kim Gordon and Robert Christgau

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Girl in a Band by Kim Gordon

Going into the City: Portrait of a Critic as a Young Man by Robert Christgau

GordonUnfortunately, sometimes great things just don't get along. Cats and dogs. Bacon and ice cream. Musicians and music critics.

In the late 1970s, Kim Gordon left her California childhood behind for New York, where she spent nearly three decades as a founding member of Sonic Youth, her proto-alternative band that practically mapped the leading edge of music until their 2011 split. A New Yorker from birth, Robert Christgau spent over three decades as music editor for The Village Voice, and over 40 years producing his Consumer Guide capsule reviews of almost 14,000 albums by over 7,000 artists. And like a good critic, his reviews occasionally rankled those whose work he rated. Such as Sonic Youth, who responded to some early disdain with some terse words of their own. Bacon and ice cream.

ChristgauCoincidentally, they both have books out this month (both which made our Best Books of the Month in Entertainment): Gordon's Girl in a Band, a memoir that goes well beyond Sonic Youth to reflect on her life in visual arts, the men in her life, and motherhood. Christgau's Going into the City: Portrait of a Critic as a Young Man is a love song to not only to music and his family, but also to the city that defined his life.

We took the opportunity to collect their thoughts (via email) on their experiences, their heroes, and the relationship between musician and critic.


Who were your greatest influences, or whose work do you admire most?

Kim Gordon: Sid Vicious. The Runaways. And Neil Young. I really like the space in Neil’s music and in his melodies. His voice never seems to change, and it still has a very authentic sound about it. I remember Neil telling me once that in rock it really doesn’t matter how good your voice is –what matters is how authentic it is. Neil’s one of the few people who has an authentic voice and also a great one. As for people today – I can’t think of anyone off the bat.

Robert Christgau: As an English major at Dartmouth I read a lot of criticism, some of which I admired enormously -Walter Jackson Bate on Samuel Johnson, Richard Ellman on Yeats, Edmund Wilson's Axel's Castle, Wordsworth's "Preface to The Lyrical Ballads." But due to the English department's New Critical bias, most of what I read annoyed me a little or a lot, and even when I ran into someone simpatico like Kazin or Trilling it didn't stick. I was good enough at writing critical papers that my chief mentor there advised me to become a critic, but I was having none of it. Once I got out of college, however, all kinds of critics I read on my own moved me -to stick to the years before I took up the trade myself, Leslie Fiedler, Pauline Kael, Susan Sontag, Pop Art theorist Lawrence Alloway, sportswriter Red Smith if I can include him (which I can), and above all A.J. Liebling on boxing and journalism. Mostly pop subjects, of course. But what's more important is that except for Sontag, all dealt principally in American subjects.


Are there critics/musicians that you admire or respect, or do you keep a professional distance?

KG: Greil Marcus – his book Mystery Train was very influential to me. He writes about music in the context of American cultural contexts and archetypes, and makes you think about certain aspects of music in entirely different ways. If it had a subtitle, it would be Greil Marcus’s How to Read Music. Byron Coley is another great music critic and commentator as well.

RC: I admire and respect most of the musicians whose creative output I enjoy. A few I'm awed by. But you can admire and respect from a distance, and what I've learned about artists tells me friendship is complicated for them, especially when fame is involved. That's one reason I'm not friendly with many musicians. Seems a little sad when I think about it.


Do you consider personality to be part of the performance?

KG: Sure. Even if you’re not intentionally trying to create some kind of persona or outsized personality, people project things onto you, even if sometimes they’re not true, not who you really are. The thing is, even if you’re not trying to create an onstage personality, your persona then becomes “anti-persona” – as if it were some kind of strategy, which it never was in the first place.

RC: A core belief of mine is that all artists create personas -not just Madonna's parade of public identities, say, but, in one of countless subtler instances, the grumpy drawl Randy Newman affects when he sings. I care about personas a lot -relate to them emotionally sometimes, as listeners are supposed to. But as a critic I can disconnect from those personas when necessary, and while personas generally refract what's called "personality," I never forget that the two things aren't the same. Do I think bad people can make good art? Of course I do -some of my favorite music is made by people I figure aren't so hot. But I'm not naming any names.


Who did you write this book for, and what would you like readers to take from it?

KG: Basically, I wrote it for myself at a time in my life where I was facing a kind of reckoning moment. I guess in retrospect, I thought it could be interesting for my daughter, Coco. Over the years we’ve had a few moments, or she’s read things about me online and reacted with that “Who ARE you?” – not in a celebrity way, more in a “I can’t believe you did that” way. I never think about being a role model, but a lot of people treat me that way, which is flattering, so I guess my book is also a way of taking responsibility and owning up to that. I hope it leaves readers with the message that I’m not all that special, that the same sorts of things can happen to them, too.

RC: I wrote this book for myself above all. It was my chance to write an extended narrative and reflect at length on my own life, quite possibly my only chance at either, and I wasn't about to compromise that chance by worrying what anyone else would think (which isn't to say I didn't worry). Insofar as the story has clarity and movement, and I worked hard to make it so, that's because those are literary values that mean a lot to me in a book-length work. It's the story of a bright but otherwise fairly ordinary person who closely observed some crucial strands of cultural history without making them happen except as a foot solider. From junior high school, a turning point I describe in detail, I was an observer. But I did create two things I'm proud of. One is the Village Voice music section, which remains influential conceptually even in these click-mad times. The other, a cooperative venture, is my marriage. I don't believe there's anywhere near enough hard-headed true-life writing about romantic marriage. Going Into the City means to correct that.


What is your quintessential New York City moment?

KG: It hasn’t happened yet. It might, it might not.

RC: Two come to mind -listening to Thelonious Monk through the open windows of the Five Spot in the sweet late summer of 1964 and following my wife as we bicycled around the half-built South Street Seaport and repaired our marriage in the brutal August of 1980.


What would you do if you could swap places, Freaky Friday-style, with a critic?

KG: Why would I want to do that?

RC: Beat myself about the head and shoulders until I woke up.




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Dangerous Fun to Write: Priya Parmar on "Vanessa and Her Sister"

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Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar

Much has been written about the legendary Bloomsbury group and two of its most famous members-- Vanessa and Her SisterVanessa Bell and her sister, Virginia Woolf. In her novel Vanessa and Her Sister, Priya Parmar examines their relationship through the lens of an obscure, real-life incident from their youth, that rocked the foundations of their family. Here, Parmar talks about taking on the formidable task of getting inside the minds of these beloved, historical icons.

Choosing the right character from history is a tricky thing. And it is easy to get it wrong. It has to be a historical figure I wish I could have known.  Because we are going to be spending time together—lots of time together.  It must be someone who fascinates. And right away, Vanessa Bell fascinated me. The deep stillness her friends described. Her careless disinterest in the social mores of the day. Her kindness to her family. Her huge talent and her careful, obsessive relationship with painting. The way she tried her best and was so profoundly betrayed by those she loved most. She steps out of the Bloomsbury correspondence as a woman who compels. She walked purposefully onto the page with her paint box, her buttoned boots and her steamship trunks. Clear-eyed and capable with a steely passionate core forged in purpose and courage. She was exactly the character I was seeking and so I began to immerse myself in the research. Her sister Virginia was waiting for me when I got there.   

Virginia Woolf. As in Mrs. Dalloway is off To the Lighthouse to live in A Room of One’s Own Virginia Woolf. It was a daunting thing to write about such a beloved feminist literary icon. It was bowel-wateringly terrifying when I realized I had signed up to write in the first person in the voice of Virginia Woolf. But that is what it would cost to spend time with Vanessa. And in the end I fell in love with Virginia. I fell for her absolute conviction and contradiction: her sheer nonsensical impossibility and glorious, shining talent. I fell for her refusal to eat breakfast, her stand-up writing desk, her obsession with fountain pens and her long brisk stride. Virginia was pure charisma. And she knew it. She was enormous, dangerous fun to write.

So much is known about these sisters but I chose to write about a time that has faded from their official history. The moments before they were available for public consumption. And the moments when their family landscape trembled and shook, rattling the bones of their relationship. Much of the Bloomsbury correspondence is published: Virginia Woolf’s diaries and letters, Lytton Strachey’s letters, Roger Fry’s letters-- but Vanessa’s letters are mostly not. Perhaps a few hundred out of the three thousand are printed. It is a great secret treasure trove, kept in basement archives in libraries in New York, London and Sussex.  

I moved back to London, choosing to live in a tall windowed, Georgian shoebox in Bloomsbury. I looked for small hooks in the history. Places where her character had snagged and caught and lingered. Places that would offer small insights into who Vanessa Bell was. Small unimportant facts became hugely important to me. That she started and stopped her letters throughout the day.That she wrote in pencil when she was in a hurry and waiting at the doctor’s office. That she mixed her metaphors and that she loved white walls. A person emerged. Not a historical collection of facts but a character full of likes and dislikes and opinions and cadence. And then she introduced me to her sister. It was a rare and wonderful thing to choose the right character and I feel so lucky to have spent this time with her.

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Get Cooking: February's Best Cookbooks

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The Gourmet Mexican Kitchen by Shannon Bard

VirginTerritorySL225Our favorite cookbooks this month range from single ingredient focus, like Virgin Territory, to the best new books on grain-free cooking, and decadent treats in Dessert for Two or Chocopologie.  Below are five of the Best Cookbooks of February, you can see the full list here.


The Gourmet Mexican Kitchen is for cooks like myself who love Mexican food and are ready to step it up from the usual tacos, enchiladas, and store bought salsa.
In Soul Food Love, the mother-daughter author team share family stories and delicious recipes that have been cooked for generations, updated to reduce fat but keep all the flavor you expect in dishes like Peanut Chicken Stew.
Mastering Homebrew is a beautifully designed paperback guide to crafting beer that walks beginning and advanced brewers through all the stages of production, interesting variation, and troubleshooting.
The month of February begs for chocolate (well, let's face it, so do the other 11 months of the year) and renowned chocolatier Fritz Knipschildt shares his magic in Chocopologie.
The authors of the best seller, Make it Paleo, are back with Make it Paleo II, featuring 175 new recipes for popular dishes made paleo-friendly.

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Hey, Ho, Let's Go! On the Road with the Ramones

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Punk Rock Blitzkrieg: My Life as a Ramone by Marky Ramone

Ramone01I'm a sucker for books about punk rockers in 1970s New York and London. Good thing: it's a Golden Age for them. Chris Stein's recent Blondie book is a treasure,Viv Albertine's Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys is a revelation, and Richard Hell's I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp is one of the most unusual coming-of-age stories that you'll read, at least if you're me. Memoirs from Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon (February 24) and John Lydon (April 28) are on the horizon. A Golden Age.

When Marky Ramone replaced original drummer Tommy Ramone (no relation) in 1978, he probably had no idea that his career with the seminal punk band (and Anthony Bourdain favorite) would span 1,700 live shows, a couple of decades, and induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. His new book, Punk Rock Blitzkrieg: My Life as a Ramone, unflinchingly recounts his life as a rock icon, from the rooftops of fame to the gutters of addiction.

We asked Mr. Ramone for a few highlights of his days with the band. He gave us more than a few. (Punk Rock Blitzkrieg: My Life as a Ramone was a selection for's Best Books of the Month in Entertainment.)


Moments from the Road with the Ramones

by Marky Ramone

I played about 1,700 shows with the Ramones. Our fans were and are truly the greatest in the world, and the shows reflected that, so it would be hard to pick out even the one hundred greatest moments, let alone three. And if you asked me tomorrow, the answers might be different. But anyway, here goes.

We usually traveled from show to show in the infamous Ramones van. When you log hundreds of thousands of miles with a few other people, you’ve got to find a way to stay sane and entertained. There were no cell phones in those days. No iPhones, no iPads. The oldies stations we listened to eventually got... old. So we pulled a lot of pranks.

Monte Melnick was our road manager. Monte was organized. Without Monte there was no Ramones. Unfortunately for him, he was often the butt of our jokes. One day in the late seventies we were on our way from Chicago to Detroit. We all had to take a leak and the next rest stop was at least a half hour away. So we pulled the van off to the service road of Route 90 and took our turns. Each of us would pee facing the van, so that the vehicle would shield us from the passing traffic. I went, then John, then Dee Dee. Joey was holding it in.

When it was Monte’s turn, John took the wheel, and we waited till Monte’s fly was open. At that point John put the van in gear and pulled up about fifty yards, leaving Monte exposed to the world. His reaction was the normal one. He panicked and ran to catch up with the van with his privates still hanging out. I let John know Monte was coming, and when he got close, John stepped on the gas and pulled the van forward another fifty yards. We did this a few more times. I don’t think that was the last prank we pulled on the way to Detroit. Maybe one day I’ll do a book of just Ramones road pranks.




The first time I ever visited Japan was with the Ramones in 1980. One of the many things I really loved about it was the sense of really being far from home and in a totally different culture. In the UK, of course, I knew the language. In Italy, Germany, and France I could make out many of the words and phrases. In Japan, the language barrier was complete.

And then we played the Seibu Theatre in Tokyo. The place was packed. The Japanese fans dressed exactly like the Ramones, knew the lyrics cold, and applauded wildly after every song. It was amazing and kind of surreal. Anyway, no more language or cultural barrier.

Or so we thought. The next day we had a night off, so Dee Dee and I hung out in the hotel lobby and ordered some sake. Sake is made with rice and served warm. It goes down easy, but it’s much more powerful than beer or wine. We drank five or six cups of sake apiece and had a nice little buzz going. Then we hit the streets of Tokyo.

Pretty soon we were staggering around and Dee Dee was letting loose, shouting that he saw Godzilla coming down the street. Japanese people in business suits were running from us like we were Godzilla. If I had my Hi8 video camera back then I could have made the first Ramones monster movie.

I did have my video camera with me when we toured South America in 1996. The audiences in Chile, Argentina, and Brazil had been getting bigger and bigger over the years, but this time there was something different going on. In Rio de Janeiro, for example, we were swamped by thousands of people at the airport, then thousands more surrounding the hotel. When we tried to leave the hotel to go to the sound check, fans swamped the van like we were in a human car wash. We accelerated gradually because we didn’t want to injure anybody, but eventually fans were riding on the hood and the bumper as we drove down the boulevard.

At night back at the hotel there was a building under construction across the street, and when I looked out my room window I noticed there were dozens of fans looking back at me. They had broken into the site and were camped out on empty concrete floors a hundred feet up to try to get a glimpse of the Ramones. It was another version of the van incident earlier in the day. I was afraid one of these guys might fall and the last thing they’d see is me in my bathrobe.

We played large outdoor soccer stadiums on that last South American tour. They held as many as sixty thousand people and they were sold out. Those buildings shook like it was an earthquake. Before we took the stage, fans shouted “Hey Ho Let’s Go” louder than thunder. And then for about an hour and a half with no breaks they sang every song with us. It was the closest we had ever come to feeling like we were in the Beatles.





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Weekend Reading

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H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

H is for HawkWalking to the park last weekend, I collided with a young chap so engrossed in a book that he…well, ran  into me. He was reading the latest in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series (“the very best one!” he exclaimed). Not terribly astute at multi-tasking myself, I think I’ll don a helmet when I venture back to the park this Saturday with my weekend reads. Here’s a peek at what a few of the editors will be digging into:

Erin: H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald (March 3): Already a huge hit in the U.K., this unusual and evocative memoir follows a woman who deals with the grief of losing her father by training a deadly bird of prey (as you do). At once an ode to a lost love one, and a beautifully wrought exploration of the majesty, and comforts, of nature.

Also reading: The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson (March 3) and Bettyville by George Hodgman (March 10).

Jon: The Great Leader and the Fighter Pilot by Blaine Harden (March 17): A lot of books about North Korea have appeared in the last few years, and understandably so: The Hermit Kingdom is inscrutable, enigmatic, predictably unpredictable, and menacing. Journalist Blaine Harden has gone there before with the harrowing Escape from Camp 14, and his new book returns to tell the parallel stories of the rise of Kim Il Sung and No Kum Sok, a young fighter pilot who plotted a daring, high-stakes escape to the south. (For something completely different from Harden, try A River Lost: The Life and Death of the Columbia.)

Also reading: H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald and Future Crimes: Everything Is Connected, Everyone Is Vulnerable and What We Can Do About It by Marc Goodman (February 24)

Seira: All the Old Knives by Olen Steinhauer (March 10): I’m a huge James Bond fan and love well-written spy novels though I haven’t dipped into one in quite a while.  I’m 100 pages into All the Old Knives and can’t wait to get back to the politics of spying, a terrorist hijacking, and a whole lot of questionable motives...

The Tragic Age by Stephen Metcalfe (March 3): A debut YA novel that I started last night and read 200+ pages before I fell asleep with the galley in my hand. After the first hundred pages I had decided I was going to stay up and read the whole thing, but in the end couldn’t keep my eyes open.  Metcalfe’s story of high school senior Billy Kinsey, his life, his family, and his inner thoughts grabbed me right away. I like the writing style and am totally caught up in Billy’s evolution from simply existing to actually living.

The Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall (March 24): Can you believe it’s been 10 years since the first Penderwicks book?  The new one is all about spring arriving at the Penderwick home and I’m betting it will be every bit as charming as the other books in the series.

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"I Wanted to Push This Some" - Scott Blackwood on His Novel "See How Small"

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See How Small by Scott Blackwood

SeehowsmallScott Blackwood's novel See How Small was our spotlight pick for January's Best Books of the Month. The story is built around a real-life, unsolved murder that happened in Austin, Texas, but the book is not a straightforward murder/mystery. Blackwood is an extremely talented, forward-looking writer, and there is no neat bow at the end of See How Small. It creates loose ends as much as it resolves them. If all this sounds a little confusing, read on to get a sense of what Scott Blackwood and his novel are about. Because, while some people just won't care for what he's doing, other people are just going to love this book. 


Chris Schluep: The book starts with a scene based on a real life event. Could you describe what led you to use it? Did you immediately decide to introduce it into a novel? Did you carry it around with you for a while?

Scott Blackwood: I wasn’t sure how to approach it initially. I was writing around the scene with the girls at first, I think, because I didn’t yet know how to tell it. I originally began the novel with Michael Greer, because I knew him, had written about him and his brother Andrew in my story collection In the Shadow of Our House. But one image from the actual event changed everything and when I found it, I knew it was central to the opening scene and how I’d approach it: a girl’s bright bare foot sticking from the water. I’d spoken early on to the firefighter who’d found the murdered girls inside the yogurt shop—and this is the first thing he saw. And when you think about it, a bare foot is such a delicate, vulnerable part of the body, and here, in the midst of real devastation, in the fire-blackened husk of the shop, was this tender human image. This one image had stayed with him for nearly twenty years. And so I knew then that the novel would begin with this image and that Joan of Arc was the patron saint here. And I knew that the girls—at least in my novel—having died together, would want to stay together and that’s why their voices are braided into a kind of chorus. 

CS: This is not a classically linear story. Describe the writing process while constructing this novel. 

SB: I don’t think our experiences of grief or of joy are really time-bound. If that were true, the past would easily be forgotten and we wouldn’t spend any time anticipating the future at all. We’d simply move into new experiences the way small children do. And in writing a book about unresolved grief, it seemed important that the grief (and the small joys held inside it) would be always now, always present. The when doesn’t matter. It’s always happening. The firefighter Jack Dewey is always finding the girls. Kate Ulrich is always answering that front door in the middle of the night or smelling her girls’ hair after a bath. Michael is always returning to the loss of his brother and his participation in the crime. Hollis Finger can’t stop imagining the little girl in Iraq in the blue flowered dress who is all girls, always, and is driven to build a likeness of these girls so that they have a presence in the world, a connection to everyone. It’s the girls who know that grief is necessary to life, that it gives joy meaning, and we need it to move forward at all, and that life is always remaking itself through it.  

CS: Were certain characters more difficult to write than others?

SB: Kate’s ongoing grief and anger were difficult to get to simply because I hadn’t ever felt this level of loss. But while writing the early portions of the novel, a chance event happened that changed all that: my then-six year old daughter disappeared from kindergarten one day and the police went searching door to door in our neighborhood and a helicopter hovered overhead. She was gone for an hour and as a parent you’re trying to shove aside terrible images that rise in your head, stay focused on the practical. But you sense that it could be a very different world, a gouged out future, if what you fear is happening comes true. In the end, my daughter had simply made up a play date in her head and gone to a friend’s house with a new babysitter who didn’t know our number or why this kid was here. She was fine. But my wife and I noticed the next day that our backs and arms and hamstrings were sore from holding so much tension during that hour. What would it be like to hold it for a lifetime? Well, fortunately we only glimpsed it, but it allowed me enter into Kate’s consciousness a little more fully, I think, after that. 

CS: Did you ever consider writing a straight mystery based on this story?

SB: We all hunger for resolutions, I think, in stories. We’re hardwired for it, though the kinds of resolutions we hunger for change over time. There was a time when most stories ended in a marriage or birth or some kind of coming together, a righting of what had been out of balance. That’s why so many people love a straight mystery because it takes something that’s at first disjointed—our “not knowing,” the world’s causes and effects hidden from us—and shows that it’s an illusion, that we can know the world, can piece it together and find the truth. It’s a good feeling to find the world back in its recognizable shape. But I wanted to push this some. What if that world doesn’t go back together so easily? What if all the usual ways of making sense of it fail us? What if we found ourselves isolated, unable to trust our institutions or even our own neighbors and friends to help us understand it? I wonder if it’s one reason a radio show like SERIAL is so popular- it reflects our insecurity with these kinds of resolutions? I’m very interested in these questions. Are there other kinds of resolutions—necessarily conjectural and incomplete—that might describe where we are now better? There’s a story in the novel about a premature baby with a damaged heart whose body gradually learns to use collateral arteries to reroute oxygenated blood to the brain. A new route. That’s what I’m interested in.

CS: You explore a lot in this novel—loss, grief, memory, blame—but also something sweeter, something more optimistic. Did writing the book change you in any ways?

SB: Right, it’s a book about loss for sure. Grief. But inside it is also a kind of joy that’s hard to describe. We can’t experience the other—a profound sense of loss— if our existence wasn’t also joyful and wondrous. There is an elegiac beauty to the whole thing, even a kind of humor, that the Girls and Hollis sense—what an amazing thing this is despite the pain of it. Would you have it some other way? Maybe. But that’s the gap between, the space between our desires and what the world offers us. The living and the dead, between ourselves and the “Other,” someone like Hollis. Maybe even one between ourselves and the Devine. For me there’s the great mystery and the deep humanity I’m going for: that gap between. And we might even occasionally cross it.  

CS: What are you working on next?

SB: A novel that’s sort of a prequel to See How Small, centered on Hollis Finger, the Iraq veteran who returns home only to begin experiencing disquieting religious visions and finds it’s difficult to return to his former life and family. It’s also a novel about mothers and sons and what it means to belong and abandon. 

CS: What authors do you yourself admire? Why?

SB: My favorite living author is Denis Johnson because he’s fearless and he marries his lyricism to prose and plot making in a way that makes him a truly unique and deeply affecting writer. He takes old story forms and reinvents them by having them sometimes work against each other in surprising ways. And like the great jazz masters back in the day, he knows how to play two notes to imply five, so you feel a wholeness and exactness in his work, even in a (page-wise) brief masterpiece like Train Dreams. He sings. Faulkner and Marquez because of the vision they had - all of their work was of a piece and gained power from that. Alice Munro and Marilynn Robinson for the same reasons and the beauty of the language. And they all go where the story takes them and never worry about getting lost.  

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It's What She Does: The Remarkable Life and Photographs of Lynsey Addario

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It's What I Do: A Photographer's Life of Love and War by Lynsey Addario

WhatIDoCoverLynsey Addario's passport reads like a litany of misery. An aspiring photojournalist at the moment of 9/11, Addario was recruited to record the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. Her decision to go launched her career as one of the world's most dedicated and celebrated chroniclers of human conflict, taking her on tours through Iraq, Darfur, Libya, the Congo, and Somalia, where her work earned her awards including the Pulitzer Prize and a MacArthur Foundation "Genius Grant." Her new autobiography, It's What I Do: A Photographer's Life of Love and War, is as direct as its title; Addario presents her extraordinary story in straightforward, understated prose, placing emphasis squarely on the facts and the subjects of her stirring photographs, generously reproduced in these pages.

And Addario doesn't neglect her own story. For its selection for our Best Books of the Month for February 2015, reviewer Amy Huff writes: "Her story often underscores her insecurities in her profession and personal life. Even with her numerous accolades, she worries about being forgotten, missing the breaking story, and not being taken seriously as a woman. It's a frank and refreshingly candid look into a successful professional photojournalist at the top of her game, but it never romanticizes the risks that are necessary to bring us her images. Her story is inspiring, heartbreaking and an eye-opening look at what it takes to reveal events from the other side of the world."

Enjoy these images and captions from author Lynsey Addario.



Couple watching TV in Havana, Cuba: I first traveled to Havana in 1997, one year after returning to New York from Buenos Aires. I was interested in photographing the forbidden, the idea that Cuba was one of the last bastions where Communism prevailed, and I wanted to capture what this meant for Cubans in their every day life.  I knocked on this couple’s door in Old Havana, introduced myself as an American photographer, and asked if I could come in and see their house. Fidel was on TV.  There was something in the simplicity of their expression, the spare room, and Fidel on the TV that resonated with me. Along Havana’s streets, ubiquitous graffiti touted the merits of Communism, and inside, Fidel seemed to always be making a speech on TV. The ideology was inescapable. I returned to Cuba every year between 1997 and 2002, and haven’t been back since.



Iraqi woman in a black abaya walking towards the smoke: In the months after Saddam Hussein fell, Iraq was enveloped in chaos: there was looting everywhere, general lawlessness, and fires seemed to be burning at all times around the country. Many of us journalists used to climb up on the roof of wherever we were staying, or look out our balcony windows, to try to spot where the latest fire was, and would start our days there, navigating our way towards the fire. I traveled to Basra in Southern Iraq in late May 2003, less than two months after the fall of the regime, and on one of the first days I arrived, there was a massive, black plume of smoke originating from the outskirts of the city. My driver and I went directly there, and I was looking for someone to ask what had happened. This woman was one of the first people I saw. I stopped her, and asked where she was going. She explained that she was going to look for her husband, who worked in the factory where the fire was raging; she was concerned because there was liquid gas in the factory, and there might be secondary explosions. I warned her not to go closer—that if her husband was ok, he would surely leave the area, and her effort might be in vain.  She looked and me as if I were crazy, and said nothing. And continued off towards the fire.



Injured soldiers coming out of the Battle of Fallujah, November 13, 2004, prepare to fly in a C-17 Cargo plane from the Air Force Theatre Hospital in Balad, 50 miles north of Baghdad, to military hospital at Landstuhl, Germany, and eventually on to the United States. In 2003-2004, I was embedded at the Air Force Theater Hospital in Balad during the bloody battle of Fallujah. By that point, I had spent almost two years in Iraq, covering the war from both sides--embedded with the military and with Iraqi civilians, and I had rarely seen an injured American soldier. The military was cautious not to let journalists document the gravely wounded, and I struggled with the fact that I felt Americans weren’t privy to the brutality of war. So when we were invited on this embed, I was skeptical about the access we would be given. I was wrong: the military offered us unabridged access to the wounded coming into the Balad Air Base. The only stipulation to my coverage was that I had to get signed releases from everyone I photographed—which was fair. It was my birthday, November 13th, 2004  the night we walked over to the tarmac to photograph a cargo plane that had been stripped of its interior, its floor and sides crammed  with injured troops. Dozens of soldiers had come fresh out of war, and were starting their journey home. As I photographed the troops bathed in the red light (red light is less visible from a distance, thus often used at night in areas under attack ) I remember thinking how important these pictures might be to a reader, that if they could see the toll the war in Iraq was taking on our troops, the images might influence their opinion of the war. According to the NYT article which accompanied my photographs, as of March 18, 2005, 11,344 American soldiers had been injured in the war in Iraq.



Bibiane: Bibiane, 28, weeps as she talks about her experience getting kidnapped and raped by three men over the course of three days in the forest in South Kivu at a center in Walungu, South Kivu, in Eastern Congo, April 14, 2008. Bibiane was left HIV+ after she was assaulted, and her husband left her because she was raped; she has three children, and one has just died from malnutrition. It was early 2008, and I had been working in the DRC documenting the civil war for two years. I had just received a grant to cover rape as a weapon of war, and I spent at least eight hours a day for two weeks interviewing and photographing women recounting their horrific stories. By the time I interviewed Bibiane, I had already spoken to dozens of woman. I always tried to stay strong and supportive while talking with them, in a lame effort to make them feel like perhaps their stories weren’t as devastating as they recounted. Among dozens of women I interviewed and photographed, Bibiane’s story stayed with me: perhaps it was the steady stream of tears that ran down her cheek as I photographed her, or the moment at the end of the interview, when I asked whether she was taking ARV drugs for HIV, and she opened up a small piece of cloth to reveal her medication and a lone potato—her one meal for the day.  And she was so matter of fact about her story, the way she recounted how she had been raped, had contracted HIV, how her son he just died, how her entire sustenance for the day consisted of a potato. It broke my heart.



Thousands of Syrians cross from Syria into Northern Iraq near the Sahela border point in Dahuk, Northern Iraq, August 21, 2013.  The United Nations High Commission for Refugees estimates that over 30,000 Syrians have crossed into Northern Iraq since the border was re-opened last week, and roughly three to four thousand continue to cross daily.  I had been covering the plight of Syrian refugees since 2012, but I had yet to witness such a scene of exodus. I often caught Syrians when they had already arrived in a host country, and were struggling to rebuild their lives and to survive in overcrowded camps and makeshift shelters amidst urban sprawl. But this scene was different: I was witnessing them flee, witnessing them cross into Iraq, a country that had itself been the scene of so much war, which had sprung its own refugees into Syria. When I photographed their faces as they trudged dutifully towards me, they were so human; but as I turned around to shoot a different angle—their backs as they entered northern Iraq, the endless stream of refugees looked like they were part of the landscape.



Rebel fighters and Libyan civilians cower as they listen to the sound of a plane at the frontline in Ras Lanuf, Libya: The frontline in Libya consisted of little more than dozens of armed fighters scattered along a paved road that connected Eastern and Western Libya, all the way to Tripoli. We spent hours each day documenting the fighting between rebel troops and Ghadaffi’s soldiers fighting from positions on the road up ahead. Ghadaffi still had an active Air Force at that point in the war, and he would routinely send attack helicopters and aircraft armed which would dump 250 pound bombs on our positions. No one ever knew exactly where the bombs were going to land, so when we heard the hum of an aircraft in the distance, it was like Russian roulette: everyone would cower, cover their heads, pray, or run in every which direction to try to escape the impending attack. I found it almost impossible to capture the drama of those moments before the bombs fell.



Darfur Rebels in the sandstorm: The first time I traveled to Darfur, I walked into Sudan from neighboring Chad, and rode around north west Darfur on the back of a pick up truck alongside 17 rebels. The truck was falling apart and over-loaded with the weight of too many fighters and all of their belongings, and broke down at least a handful of times per day. I shot this picture after one of the first times we broke down in the empty desert. The sky was darkening with a sandstorm, but there was a gentle afternoon sun peeking through the sandy sky. There was something so beautiful and serene about the moment, even though it was anything but that.  The fighter, a man, is often mistaken for a woman. This image always reminds me of the quiet, poetic moments in warzones that are always unexpected, but inevitable.


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