Stewart O’Nan City of Secrets

Wait until you hear Stewart O’Nan read this before our interview, he’s incredible!  #RKBOTD #WYVRT



Dan Lyons Disrupted

Dan Lyons went in thinking it would work. A lot of his life of late had not. A veteran tech reporter for Newsweek he was (unwisely and) unceremoniously dumped after the third buyout, conversion, takeover – there’s probably a new name for it this week. Now, at the tender age of post-50, he found himself really needing a job, and one came unto him. He hired on as a content creator for the sort of high-tech startup he used to cover. The company was called Hubspot, and they manufactured marketing software. And, in the hilarious, powerful prose vision of Dan Lyons, the surreal. The outrageous

Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble by Dan Lyons will make you laugh out loud a lot. But it is never less than a crystal clear vision of corporate malfeasance and insanity here in emerging 21st century America. In some ways, it reads like a long-lost Kurt Vonnegut novel. It’s also a clarion-call warning. For all the hilarity (there is a lot of hilarity) and the absurdity, there are many chilling undertones. But make no mistake. This book is always fun to read, even when Lyon is describing despicable behavior that is a lawsuit waiting to happen.

From a first day when he’s not even expected to a first boss who ha barely graduated from college to a stuffed animal to the frat-house feel to the final, chilling acts of fired execs (the FBI got in on the act), Disrupted is always a blast. It’s very, very funny in scenes that are also quite bleak in their implications. Lyons has a talent for creating vivid characters, some of whom get their real names, and a few who get code names, to wit, “Trotsky,” a man who befriends Lyons. Suffice it to say that much of the books aims the engaging storyteller (Lyons) towards a conclusion we all know will Not End Well.

Lyons makes a lot of important points about company culture, frat-house culture, business fads, and the dire state of economic evaluations that turns bratty, smart kids into billionaires. Ageism gets a powerful voice in Lyons, and we’d all be well advised to heed his entertaining words. Open up this book and it’s impossible not to. In fact, the fact that this is a book and not just a blog is sort of retro and that’s the point. These paper things are a five-hundred-plus year-old technology that is still relevant. Humans one-tenth that age might be as well.

Dan Lyons and I had too much fun talking about his book. Here’s a link to the “time to read” executive summary, so you can listen for some seven or eight minutes and then bring it up with friends and pretend you read it.

Or listen here.

To really fake it, listen to the one-hour Dan-Lyons-makes-you-laugh interview by following this link and you can pretend you met him.

Or, listen while you pretend you’re working now!

Ian Rankin Even Dogs In The Wild

rankin-even_dogs_in_the_wildThe return of John Rebus as a senior citizen over the past three novels by Ian Rankin has been a joy for readers. The sensibility is easy, luxurious, smart, personal, emotional and compelling. The plots are twisty and feel real, but the pull is the people. Rebus, Siobhan Clarke and Malcolm Fox are characters we want to be with. Where they go, we will follow, courtesy the prose skills of Ian Rankin.

As Even Dogs In The Wild, the latest novel, opens, Rebus is in full retirement. He is a citizen again, no more, and eminently no less. He’s not particularly happy about it, but he’s trying not to grouse, an obvious impossibility. When Clarke and Fox ask for his help in two different cases, we may think we know where this is all headed.   Clarke is looking into the death of a government official and Fox, hated by his comrades for being far too good investigating cops in his stint in for The Complaints, is assigned to crap work on a surveillance detail. And Rebus gets a call from a former enemy and ally, “Big Ger” Cafferty, himself retired from his former place at the top of a crime syndicate. It will not be a happy time for any of them.

Readers, on the other hand will find the latest by Rankin, a gorgeous, immersive pleasure to read. Sentence by sentence, Even Dogs In The Wild is a true delight. His descriptions are powerful and evocative, whether he’s portraying people, places or peril. Plotting is delightful and surprising, but also poignant. Ultimately a novel about fathers and sons, Even Dogs in the Wild has a lot of resonance. Rankin has crafted a novel that both super-fun to read and quite hard to forget. It’s the sort of book you’ll go back and visit in memory, as if the reading itself were a crime-and-drama-filled vacation in Scotland, with friends who became family as events transpired.

For all the old-man, get-off-my-lawn attitude that Rebus brings into every scene, Even Dogs In The Wild find him to be a truly appealing character. He is by no means a man who would claim to have a superpower, or even be interested in one. Rebus is too stubborn for superpowers. He’s too human.

Here’s a link to our “lightning round” Narrative Species interview.

Or you can read it here.

Now, find your best single malt and settle down then follow this link for the immersive full interview. Or just read it here.

Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney The Nest #RKBOTD #WYVRT

Families are stories – plural. There are many stories in any single family, each one complicating the others even when there is no direct connection. Add adult siblings (plural) and the entanglement of story becomes so complex that it seems almost beyond the comprehension of anyone involved. Yet these are the stories that drive our lives. They’re tied up in a knot that we never have time to untangle.

With the vision of an artist and the precision of a social psychologist, Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney teases apart the ties that bind the Plumb family in The Nest. Start with the four siblings at a wedding; Leo, the rake, still married to Stephanie but behaving badly; Bea, the writer, still working on the novel “promised” by her acclaimed collection of short stories; Melody, married to Walter, a mother with twin daughters headed to (expensive) colleges; and Jack, married to his husband Walker, with an antique store whose cash ebbs more than it flows. There’s some money, which the siblings have come to call “The Nest.” But how much? And for who?

Don’t read the jacket flap. Just let yourself get immersed in Sweeney’s funny and poignant story about the power of family stories to tear us apart and bind us together in spite of any plans we might have made. She handles a huge cast of characters quite adroitly; you always know who you’re with and why. There’s lots of humor and way more actual middle-classish stuff than you generally see in fiction. The Plumbs are not inclined to talk about their superpowers (they have none). In fact, they’re often disinclined to tell those in their own family what the hell is going on. This makes it all the more fun for readers.

Sweeney also keeps the tension high, as we hurtle through the pages trying, hoping to find out just what is still in the Nest and whether or not those who need it are going to be able to make use of what is (or is not) there. Money matters to these characters, in much the same may that it might matter to readers. Mortgages and tuitions are more implacable and voracious than any villain.

Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney’s The Nest is a delight to read no matter what your inclinations or tastes may be. It’s a page-turner and a complicated but funny character study. It feels refreshingly breezy and honest. It ties some wildly complicated knots and then teases them, if not apart, it at least pulls the strings so they’re a little looser. Money matters to you and it matters to these folks as well. It puts us all on edge. Hold tight. The ties that bind might just forestall the fall.

You can hear my “lightning round” mini-interview with Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney by following this link to the MP3 audio file.

Or listen here:

You can hear my long-form, in-depth interview by following this link to the MP3 audio file.

Or listen here:

Paolo Bacigalupi The Water Knife #RKBOTD #WYVRT

bacigalupi-the_water_knifeThe world changes, but not that much. 2016 looks a lot more like 1976 than anything in the movie Blade Runner. The power of Paolo Bacigaulpi’s novel The Water Knife is there not so much because he nails the future tech (which he does handily), but because he knows how the present gets layered over the past to form the future. One moment, one minute, one year at a time.

Further into the current drought, things have grown worse. There’s a surprise we all see coming. The rich have continued to grow richer and now in the US, the poor and the middle class have become itinerant. Turn off the water in any suburb and you have an instant dystopia sans any futuristic trappings. Angel Velasquez is the man cuts off the water. Lucy is a journalist who is following a story about water. Maria hangs on to life at the bottom of the water barrel. The ties that bind the water go back to the early twentieth century.

Bacigalupi expertly creates a world of enclosed arcologies and desolated post-suburban, post-urban, post-industrial landscapes. It’s intensely depressing because it feels so just-around-the-corner. You pull a couple of plugs and the whole shebang comes apart at the seams. Against this background, Angel finds himself enmeshed in a level of violence generally reserved for the warzones of other countries today.

Having this play out in a recognizably deconstructed America is compelling and terrorizing, and it is to Bacigalupi’s credit that we are engaged with characters trapped in a very recognizable hell. And it’s fun to see a great thriller plot play out in this version of reality, even as it’s filled with a resonance that is generally reserved for endeavors that are generally labeled as literary.

There’s a temptation to label this novel dystopian, but it does not fit the mold. This is not our world gone bad. If the end were near, it would be a relief. As reluctant as we are to admit it, this is our world now. How many summers of rationing are we away from this? When you finish this book, try, just try to water your lawn on a sunny day. Water will come out of the hose! The world of The Water Knife is not a dystopia. It is real life, this moment. Today, yesterday, the day before – that was when we lived in utopia.

Hear my lightning-round interview with Paolo Bacigalupi about The Water Knife by following this link to the MP3 audio file.

Or just listen here:

Hear my in-depth interview with Paolo Bacigalupi about The Water Knife by following this link to the MP3 audio file.

Or just listen here: