Krementz, Jill. The Writer’s Desk. NY: Random House, 1996.
Every writer looks around his workspace sometimes and wonders what other writers’ desks look like. It’s almost a prurient interest. Krementz, who is married to Kurt Vonnegut and is a leading photojournalist, has photographed more than 1,500 writers at work in the past thirty years. This splendid slender book brings together photos of fifty-three authors in their habitats, from Pablo Neruda and Archibald MacLeish to Stephen King and Edwidge Dandicat. Each photo is accompanied by each author’s thoughts on desks, typewriters, and writing methods and times of day. This is the sort of book you’ll pick up over and over again, examining the clutter on James Merrill’s desk, or wondering if you should try writing in bed, like Walker Percy or Cathleen Schine. Highly recommended. (12/26/99)
Varley, John. The Golden Globe. NY: Ace, 1998.
This 500-page romp is one of the best sf books I’ve read in the past couple of years. Set in the same post-Invasion universe as many of his other stories (especially The Ophiuchi Hotline and Steel Beach), this is the story of Kenneth Catherine Valentine, known to his generation as “Sparky,” and the scion of a multi-generational acting family. His domineering father, John Barrymore Valentine, possesses a towering talent and an ego to match, plus a rather mis-formed personality, which has warped Sparky in its own way. Now nearing the age of 100, the younger Valentine has spent several decades doing legitimate theater in the Outer Planets, between bouts of Punch-and-Judy performances and running cons to keep the wolf from the door. But now he has the opportunity to do Lear — the pinnacle role for a Shakespearean actor. Getting back to Luna in one piece is another question, though. In many ways, in his discursive, almost argumentative style of writing and in the multitude of ideas he spins out in the course of the story, Varley is the natural heir of Robert Heinlein. And any committed Heinlein fan is certain to like this book. (12/15/99)
Cowley, Robert & Geoffrey Parker (eds). The Reader’s Companion to Military History. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1996.
I originally picked this up at the library, just to browse through, but I stayed up late several nights running, absorbed in the essays and following the cross-references from topic to topic. My wife took pity on me and bought it for my birthday. You needn’t be a military historian to understand it and you needn’t be an academic to enjoy it. The editors have done a wonderful job of unifying the submissions of a large number of specialists and of controlling the jargon level. (Cowley is editor of MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History.) The articles also discuss art, philosophy, and other theoretically non-military subjects, as well as weapons and tactics. And the scattered lists — the 10 best battlefields to visit, etc. — will get your attention. Very highly recommended. (12/01/99)