"I really wanted to get to the heart of America..."
— Jack Bowen
It's not like he's unambitious! Apparently, it's Philosophy Week here at The Agony Column, so I thought we'd finish up hearing a pithy interview with Jack Bowen, who came to the Capitola Book Café And Recording Studio to talk about his book, 'If You Can Read This: The Philosophy of Bumper Stickers.'
So, you're thinking, sure, that's a short book, and it is — but therein lie both the charm and the intelligence. Bowen is not out to teach you the sort of stultifying, mind numbing stuff that guys in togas yak on about. He's here to make your drive, and as it happens, your world view more entertaining.
Bowen and I talked not so much about the many humorous bumper stickers he's collected (not purchased outright, but rather collected via writing them down, etc), but more about how he teases the smart stuff out of the sticky strips of paper that people like to put on their bumpers.
Now for the record, I have no bumper stickers, and this is mostly because I've never found anything worth advertising thusly. Unfortunately, there is a distinct lack of Stanislaw Lem bumper stickers. Or fortunately. It depends on how you look at these things.
Of course, that's what Bowen's book is all about, and he and I had a great time in the crowded, happily cluttered little studio away from home that I use at Capitola Book Café. When you read the book, which is indeed worth your valuable time, you'll find a breezy style that mashes up humor, intelligence, actual philosophy and whatever else comes to mind. What you will not find are the many, many pages he wrote and was forced to distill down into the final entries.
03-25-10: Terry Bisson Interviewed at SF in SF on March 13, 2010
"I'm an open source guy, if they want to do it, it's all right with me ..."
Terry Bisson is the moderator for SF in SF, but as readers should be well aware of, he's also an accomplished writer. At the last SF in SF, he told me he had just come from a literary conference for PM Press, where he's working on a series of new books. Some of them he's helping choose, and others he's written himself. I see Terry on a regular basis at SF in SF, and I try, try, try to give him a break, and not interview him every time. But this PM Press seems like a pretty big deal, and I did have a couple of questions for him.
Bisson is a writer with a chameleonic nature. One second, he's writing brilliant science fiction stories that are replicated over the internet with more frequency than the Good Times virus; that is, "They're Made of Meat." Take a second now and read it, just to remind yourself of How It Is Done.
OK, back now? I hope you can see why I really curious as to what Bisson is up to with PM Press, where he's got Kim Stanley Robinson, and some other folks you may have heard of (I'll let him spill most of the good news).
So here we are standing at SF in SF and it was my turn to get nice little download on Bisson's latest work, which is happily voluminous.
If you've listened to the panel discussions that he's hosted over the years I've been podcasting SF in SF, you'll have fond that Bisson is a man of many talents, a true working writer, who can match his prodigious imagination to any task at hand.
03-24-10: Chaz Brenchley Interviewed at SF in SF on March 13, 2010
A Not-So-Quick-Guide to Writing in China
Write what you know, write what you know, write what you know — how many books about finding a good local burrito joint does this world need? Probably not so many as are waiting to be written by the millions of qualified writers-in-training. So if we've got the local burrito joint genre covered. But lets say, you want to try something a little more ambitious.
Let's say you want to write a fantasy set in a medieval China; with a dragon under the sea, and jade an agent of magical mutation. And let's just presume that you're bread-and-butter British suspense and horror writer, with a single foray into fantasy. It's probably going to be a bit more involved that checking out the carnitas at the latest taqueria to open down by the Boardwalk.
Chaz Brenchley doesn't do things halfway. It's probably a good thing that he does not have access to a time machine or alternate quantum timeline technology, because he might just get literally lost in his research.
I talked to Brenchley about the creation of his latest fantasies at SF in SF on April 13, and he had quite an interesting tale to spin, not surprisingly, one nearly as the fantasies that spring from his "research."
I do put the word in quotes, because to my mind, any experience that involves a limousine is, well it can be research, but I'm tilting towards vacation.
Though in the long haul, Brenchley really did put in the sort of time that can only be called either research or masochism.
It is interesting as ever to see the variety of approaches writers take when it comes to their process. I remember that early on I was cautioned against, or at least talked to about, "asking process questions."
And I don't think that is all one should as an interviewer, but doing so opens up a real strong perspective on the writing. Chaz definitely belongs to a certain school, and that seems like the obvious choice — until you talk to the next writer, then the next.
I don't believe, however that's what Malinda Lo was thinking. She took the actual research route to create 'Ash,' not the "read-stuff-I-like-and-call-it-research" route. The upshot is a very menacing bit of writing.
What Lo's version of Cinderella has is a lot of heft for a YA title; I said it last time and listening to this conversation brings it back to mind, that this is a just a good book, regardless of the entry level.
Talking to Lo after the reading was a lot of fun as well. She has a very clear vision of what she is doing and why. Moreover, she has some great and very pertinent experiences to share with readers. This is a woman who did a season in hell, or rather, read through the slush piles for a major mystery publisher.
I was really quite struck by Lo's creation of the hunt, which seemed pretty savage and frankly rather tragic. Her descriptions of the stag's flight and death had the feel of an old painting, or series of paintings that you might find hanging in some musty English manor, sort of sun-bleached and faded — but still powerful and creepy.
"..receptivity to new or contradictory knowledge is really important..."
—Stephen S. Hall
That is to say, that it is compelling. At least in hands of Stephen S. Hall, whose new book 'Wisdom' actually succeeds in making the reader want to read about "wisdom" and furthermore, in having something interesting and, yes, compelling to say about wisdom that is not snarky, not smarmy, not holier-smarter-and-better-looking than thou. Hall gets to the core of wisdom, breaks it down, helps us understand the core components, and does it all in manner that manages to be quite entertaining. Of course this is all in the written format, where he can plot, plan, write, revise and architect his ideas. Fortunately he does just as well when he walks into a studio.
It was a good thing that Hall arrived half an hour early for our conversation, because by the time we finished, we were running really quite late — and we could have kept on talking longer. Hall's a veteran science journalist who has been writing for The New York Times Magazine for almost thirty years. He's like the Babe Ruth of science reporting. But what he told me about this book was really pretty surprising.
For one, thing, 'Wisdom' came together really rather quickly — he told me after the interview that it took a mere two years, and that's lightning-like in the world of non-fiction. On the other hand, you need to be lightning-like when you're working with cutting edge science, and Hall freely admits that the science isn't quite all the way here yet. That's one of the things that makes talking to him so interesting, because you can more easily wrap your brain around the speed with which all of this is unfolding.
Now usually, I podcast something like this, which is longer than an hour by six minutes, in two segments. And I may indeed split it into two for those of you lucky enough to have a short commute. But the message here is really interesting, and I think Hall manages to do something very, very difficult in an easygoing manner. I think that just about every reader has spoken with someone, probably a few friends to be sure who have purported to dispense wisdom. Hall manages to go them all one better. He defines wisdom, and it's a damn good definition. It'll make you think. Let the words enter your brain by following this link to the MP3 audio file.
New to the Agony Column
09-18-15: Commentary : William T. Vollman Amidst 'The Dying Grass' : An Epic Exploration of Simultaneity
08-21-15: Agony Column Podcast News Report : Senator Claire McCaskill is 'Plenty Ladylike' : Internalizing Determination to Overcome Sexism [Incudes Time to Read EP 211: Claire McCaskill, Plenty Ladylike, plus A 2015 Interview with Senator Claire McCaskill]
Agony Column Podcast News Report : Emily Schultz Unleashes 'The Blondes' : A Cure by Color [Incudes Time to Read EP 210: Emily Schultz, The Blondes, plus A 2015 Interview with Emily Schultz]