The Ballad of a Small Player follows a desperate English gambler haunting the high-stakes Baccarat tables of Macau. "Lord Doyle" quickly gets out of his depth, however, as he takes on Chinese millionaires and too-good-to-be-true girlfriends. The endless consumption and expenditure of modern China takes its toll on the expat lawyer until his reality begins to merge with that of a monster from Chinese mythology. Osborne writes interesting fiction that combines the cultural convictions of a declining West with the rising -- and in some ways more seriously capitalist -- East.
*** August 2011 Newsletter Pick ***
Gretel Ehrlich is a tough woman. This Cold Heaven is the record of her seven seasons in Greenland exploring the aesthetic and psychological impact of an absolute, frozen world. In 1994 she survived a lightning strike while walking her dogs, and reclaimed enough of her health and mental energy to travel to the Arctic Circle. Greenland is a place I never want to go, and it is fortunate that readers have Ehrlich to chronicle this beautiful and inhospitable land. Ehrlich bounces from dogsled to isolated village on the heels of seekers who came before, most notably the Danish/Inuit explorer Knud Rasmussen and American artist Rockwell Kent. Ehrlich drags her limitless compassion over the earth's darkest places, places of absolute winter and unending night where death by wolves and isolation are anecdotal. Her sentimentality is reserved for Greenland's energetic children, ethnographers, and wandering souls, but she never questions the motivations or ethics of Greenlandic journeys, thankfully. Instead, Ehrlich explores the bizarre pathways of experience when nature is unquestionably the dominant form of power in a human community and diurnal time is turned inside out. The reader is made to feel the relief of a successful seal hunt after acute and deadly starvation, the preternatural joy of Greenland's twinkling winter moonscapes, and the unspeakable horror encountered at the farthest end of the world.
*** July 2011 Newsletter Pick ***
Brabazon is a young, accomplished conflict journalist and this is his absolutely irrepressible account of a career covering West Africa's civil wars. The book is suffused with the near-supernatural coincidences and ironies expected of life closely observed, and it is strange that Brabazon's etymological heritage (his name literally means "mercenary") acutely describes the book's peripheral (anti)hero and Brabazon's African chaperon, Nick du Toit. Du Toit is a former member of the South African Recces, a notorious special forces group established under apartheid, and later a commander of Executive Outcomes, the largest mercenary organization in modern history. Brabazon and du Toit travel into Liberia to document an officially denied civil war, where Brabazon shares cigarettes with war criminals, marches over 200 miles, and is saved countless times by his mercenary companion. This book contains astounding insight into the conflicts of West Africa and their global sponsors, the callous commercial interests of private and state-sponsored media, and the difficulty of finding human connection in the most inhospitable of circumstances.
*** June 2011 Newsletter Pick ***
The Art of the Racing Motorcycle is a wonderful book, perfect as a gift for fathers who are especially gear-minded. Skilled action photographer Jean-Pierre Praderes and Phillip Tooth have compiled a wonderful survey of motorcycle racing and the visual evolution of racing bikes, including early, overtly-mechanical death machines; Britannia's first-place pedigreed Triumphs; quirky Italian exotics of the '70s; and more. Motorcycle racing navigates a perfect and deadly equilibrium of form and function, and this book beautifully describes the seduction of speed in one of its most enduring and mesmerizing incarnations. It makes a great embellishment for any workbench, nightstand, or library!
*** May 2011 Newsletter Pick ***
Zone is written in one sentence; that's a five-hundred-page sentence, a stylistic choice that may be intimidating enough to scare away readers from the otherwise fascinating story of a Croatian spy working for France, a story that takes place entirely over the course of a single train ride to Rome, and a mesmerizing expedition where Croat Francis Servain Mirkovic relives his memories of past loves, betrayals, and horrific episodes of the Yugoslavian conflict in narratives that hurtle along with the compulsive momentum of a bullet train -- so don't turn away in fear because, after all, it's only a single sentence!
*** February 2011 Newsletter Pick ***
Geoffrey Wolff, brother of Tobias Wolff, is a great writer and biographer. He creates enough interest with his own style, wit, and fascinating research to enliven the most boring subject matter, and his latest text focuses on the incredible first solo-circumnavigator, Joshua Slocum, and the final days of the golden age of sailing. Wolff's writing is incredibly precise in detail and historical accuracy. Even for those turned off by adventure or the sea, Wolff's marvelous text brings to life a lost world of outmoded pirates, human triumph, love in impossible circumstances, and the beginnings of globalized capital amongst mizzen-masts and sharks.
*** February 2011 Newsletter Pick ***
Antoine de Saint-Exupery is perhaps best known in America as the author of The Little Prince, but in France he is equally respected as one the greatest Gallic aviators and heroes. Wind, Sand, and Stars is his autobiographical record of flying with courageous and reckless men during the beginning of aviation, and of his subsequent adventures through Spain, France, and Africa. A great and beautifully written account of life lived in the extremes of human experience, this an overlooked treasure for those interested in history and flight.