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Books, authors and all things bookish
Hiroshi Sakurazaka on how reality and video games changed his fiction

Earlier this week, Jeff VanderMeer talked to science fiction writers about how their real-life experiences get absorbed into their fantastical novels. Author Hiroshi Sakurazaka — whose novels include “All you Need is Kill,” which was adapted into the Tom Cruise blockbuster “Edge of Tomorrow” — revealed the way a single video game encounter formed his approach to writing:

The year was 1995, I think. 

I ran into him at a run-down arcade in Shimokitazawa.

At the time, game consoles didn’t have Internet connectivity, so if you wanted to play against someone you didn’t know, you had to leave the house and head to the arcade.

I was really into a fighting game called Virtual Fighter 2. This game took Japan by storm—back then, you could stumble into any old arcade and there would always be someone there to play against (not via the Internet!). It’s a little unimaginable these days.

At the time, I was a bored college student and had racked up twenty straight wins at the arcade near my school. I...

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Small things add up in Matthew Thomas' 'We Are Not Ourselves'

Matthew Thomas' first novel, "We Are Not Ourselves," is an epic of small events. By that I don't mean its story is insignificant but quotidian: the particular struggles of the day-to-day. A family saga, spanning three generations, the book is centered around Eileen Tumulty, a daughter of the Irish working-class in Queens, N.Y. Eileen's existence is summed up in the first two syllables of that last name — tumult — or more accurately, in the drive to push past her limitations, which have been imposed in many ways by time and place.

"He worked for J.P. Morgan," she reflects of one young man from the neighborhood, "but he was from Sunnyside, his father was a laborer like hers, and Fordham was Fordham, but it wasn't Harvard, Princeton, or Yale." This suggests the rigidly stratified society in which "We Are Not Ourselves" unfolds, where opportunity is not open-ended but the product of attention and resilience and (yes) a bit of grace.

Grace, however, is hard to come by, at least for Eileen....

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Steph Cha's 'Beware' enters modern-day Hollywood noir shining darkly

Since Nathanael West's 1939 novel, "The Day of the Locust," scores of writers have succumbed to the siren song of the Hollywood novel. The call is particularly alluring for crime writers, each of whom brings to the task his (or, less often, her) unique sensibilities. Of late these reflect social and cultural nuances not possible three quarters of a century before, when West's painter-protagonist Tod Hackett was recruited from the Yale School of Fine Arts to become a costume designer and background painter in Hollywood.

Steph Cha's heroine, 27-year-old Juniper Song, is a Yalie too. A self-described "overeducated bum," Song worked out her fixation on Raymond Chandler mysteries in last year's notable "Follow Her Home" — but proved to be no Philip Marlowe. Her amateur sleuthing resulted in a trail of dead bodies.

"Beware Beware" finds Song at Lindley & Flores, a Koreatown P.I. firm where she's trying to put distance between herself and her first disastrous case by helping out on...

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Into the ether with Greil Marcus' ' History of Rock 'n' Roll'

"Once a song has gone into the ether, it never disappears," Greil Marcus remarks in "The History of Rock 'n' Roll in Ten Songs." But it never reappears in quite the same form, either. A song like "Money (That's What I Want)" means something entirely different when sung by Barrett Strong in 1960 as it does when sung by John Lennon in 1963 (or the Flying Lizards in 1979, for that matter).

Unlike many rock critics, who tend to fetishize the details of specific recordings, Marcus is interested in songs with multiple versions and variations, songs with more than one story to tell. More than any other music writer, Marcus has insisted on this folkloric approach to pop criticism, in which one song, or performance, leads to another. For him, "rock 'n' roll may be more than anything a continuum of associations, a drama of direct and spectral connections between songs and performers."

Marcus is best known for writing about the music of the 1960s and '70s, Bob Dylan and punk being his wheelhouses...

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Young poet pays homage to Ferguson at Hollywood Bowl concert

A young poet in a black dress named Caitlyn Clark ascended to the stage at the Hollywood Bowl on Wednesday night during the show featuring the Grammy-winning singer John Legend.

Legend had long been scheduled to perform Marvin Gaye’s album “What’s Going On” with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. But given the current events in Ferguson, Mo., it seemed an especially apt time to sing Gaye’s songs about a time of war and social strife.

Legend took the stage wearing a black T-shirt that read “Don’t Shoot,” and invited several young poets to respond to the events in Ferguson, Mo., including Clark, who read her verses as Legend prepared to play Gaye’s “Save the Children.”

As Rich Juzwiak wrote for Gawker: “Her brilliant three-and-a-half minute poem touched on racism, the state of Ferguson, Gaye's career, her father's deployment in Afghanistan, mainstream media's apathy, and her own frustration as a young person who feels like ‘the best I can do is tweet about it.’ ”

You can ...

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'Doom Patrol Omnibus' shows Grant Morrison's master plan

Before Grant Morrison was a huge name in mainstream comic books — the writer of series like "New X-Men," "All-Star Superman" and the forthcoming "Multiversity" — he was the brilliant weirdo who wrote "Doom Patrol." Morrison and artist Richard Case took over that fourth-tier superhero series at the beginning of 1989 and spent the next four years driving it through zones of surreal madness that comics had scarcely visited before (and mostly haven't revisited).

Their "Doom Patrol" run, close to 1,300 pages in all, is collected in this massive hardcover book; considered as a single work, its master plan is much more clearly evident.

The Doom Patrol had been kicking around in one form or another since 1963, a team of superpowered weirdos and outcasts led by a genius in a wheelchair (and yes, that premise has a lot in common with the X-Men, apparently by coincidence). The first great idea in Morrison's incarnation of the series was playing up the idea that "superheroes" could mean "people...

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Jules Feiffer dances with noir in his graphic novel 'Kill My Mother'

Most octogenarians are slowing down, settling into the freedom of retirement — but not Jules Feiffer. Instead, the playwright, illustrator, screenwriter and Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist went back to the drawing board — literally — to tackle a whole new art form: the graphic novel.

"Never having known how to work in this style, suddenly in my 80s, I discover I can," he says by phone from his home on Long Island, N.Y. "I was both shocked and appalled that I had assigned myself this 2½-year job of drudgery. It turned out to be fun, but at the time I thought, 'This is impossible, what am I doing?'"

The result is his new graphic novel, "Kill My Mother" (Liveright: 160 pp., $27.95), a noir tale of dames and drunkards, wannabes and heroes, animosity and motherhood. It leans an elbow on the bar of the classics of pulp fiction and film: The story takes place in Bay City, a Raymond Chandler locale; a fight includes a line from "The Maltese Falcon"; and some very bad things happen in...

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Stephen King gets doused in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge


John Grisham, what's holding you up?

Stephen King has joined the ranks of the soaked in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. In an Internet video, the bestselling author stands on a deck and allows himself to be doused with ice water -- leaving the ice in a freezer tray to prove it is, indeed, ice -- and manages not to swear, but just barely.

In case you missed it, here's how the challenge works: Film oneself getting soaked with a bucket of ice water and/or make a donation for ALS research within 24 hours, and pass the challenge on. Since the challenge went viral, the ALS Assn. has raised money and awareness. Between July 29 and Aug. 20 the organization raised $41.8 million for research from more than 700,000 new donors.

Many sports figures have joined in, including LeBron James, Brett Favre, Kobe Bryant, Boston Bruins hockey players and the offices of Major League Baseball, including Joe Torre and other Hall of Famers. ALS, or Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is also known as Lou Gehrig's...

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Sci-fi and fantasy authors reveal truths in the strangest fiction

Writers of realistic fiction are often are asked to wrestle with the question of autobiographical influence in interviews and essays. Some critics have made a cottage industry out of guessing even in the absence of hard data: Is the character a stand-in for the novelist? Is the plot based on something that actually happened in that person's life? Does the lost love exist?

Authors of speculative fiction face a completely opposite expectation, discovering that spectacle comes with the assumption that fantastical characters, dystopian story arcs, even an encounter with an alluring ghost emerged whole from the author's imagination, without any help from anything as boring as the pesky and unreliable imp known as reality.

I found this out firsthand with the publication of my own Southern Reach trilogy this year. The books revolve around Area X — an eerie, disquieting wilderness closed off from the rest of the world. Comparisons were made to all kinds of fantastical forbears (H.P. Lovecraft,...

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Paul Ryan is of two minds about Amazon -- or is he?

Rep. Paul D. Ryan's book "The Way Forward: Renewing the American Idea" is out this week from Grand Central Publishing. So Ryan, like any aspiring author, has hit the book-tour road.

He appeared Wednesday on CNBC's "Squawk Box," and the show's anchors had questions about Amazon. Grand Central is part of Hachette, the company whose books Amazon has made less available to readers during contract negotiations.

"As a congressman I have to watch what I say, for ethical reasons," Ryan said.

But then he added, "It's a very frustrating thing. I wish this dispute got settled up. Clearly Amazon's making kind of a power play here -- in my opinion."

Ryan is a conservative Republican from Wisconsin who chairs the House Budget Committee and was GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney's running mate in 2012. Like those of other politicians with big aspirations, his book is seen as a platform for a possible 2016 White House run.

That is, as long as voters can read it.

"Squawk Box's" Andrew Ross ...

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Florida Polytechnic University opens with a bookless library

Florida Polytechnic University is so new that it has only been open for a few days. It's the latest campus in the Florida State University system, has plans to be part of a new Silicon Valley East, and boasts a striking main building designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.

And a library with no books.

The main building is the Innovation, Science and Technology Building, which is where most of the 500 new students will spend their time in class. Its second floor includes the Commons, an area that includes its library services.

The Commons does have librarians and Internet connections to all the standard electronic resources of a university library. It provides access to a digital catalog that launched with 135,000 e-books. But take a look around the room, and it's completely bookless.

That is, unless a student happens to bring an old-style hardcover or paperback to school.

They might; like most university systems, Florida State makes all of its books available to students...

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Chad Kultgen's 'Men, Women & Children' comes to screens

Chad Kultgen is best known for his book "The Average American Male," the 2007 bestseller full of the meandering life and X-rated thoughts of, that's right, an average 20-something guy. Some people found it hilarious, others, misogynist. But it's his 2011 novel "Men, Women & Children" that's soon coming to screens.

The novel follows a group of junior high classmates, their parents and the private lives that the Internet enables them all to lead involving porn, video games and illicit relationships.

The film adaptation comes from Jason Reitman ("Up in the Air," "Juno") who has long been a fan of Kultgen's books. In 2011, he told the New York Times that he found Kultgen's work "shocking, but not because the content was unfamiliar. It was just a new experience to see those words written down."

The film version of "Men, Women & Children" stars Ansel Elgort ("The Fault In Our Stars") as one of the adolescents. The adult lineup includes Adam Sandler, Emma Thompson, Judy Greer and Jennifer...

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