Four short novellas or long stories, each fun in a different way. Rex Stout was at his (long-lived) peak in the late 1950s, so these are vintage Nero Wolfe capers. Oddly, the first three are holiday-centered, whereas the fourth opens on a random Tuesday in the fashion business. In “Christmas Party,” Archie Goodwin strikes fear into his boss’s heart by announcing he’s getting married. “Easter Parade” features (you guessed it) orchids. “Fourth of July Picnic”–in which Wolfe leaves home to make a speech–and “Murder Is No Joke” both involve women named Flora. My favorite moment comes in “Fourth of July Picnic,” when Wolfe and Goodwin give us brief impromptu autobiographies. A treasure for Stout fans; a good intro for newcomers.
It’s been 20+ years since Cory Goodwin broke into journalism by interviewing Mickey Ascher and Dan Quasi of The Rind at an antiwar march in DC. Mickey’s long dead, bludgeoned with a champagne bottle after a party in his Back Bay penthouse. The Rind broke up. Dan — murder suspect #1 — disappeared. Cory swung a summer assignment in Paris and came home married. Now she’s teaching school, separated, wondering what the hell she’s doing . . . until her old editor at Phases offers her a gig in Paris covering a Mystery Band.
That’s where Cory’s search for lost time collides with Dan Quasi’s.
What the hell is he doing? Is Boston’s onetime rock-protest hero really playing for an upscale networking program? Why would Dan and the other Rind survivors pick the Eiffel Tower, EuroDisney, and a village strawberry festival for their long-awaited comeback?
And what does this trip have to do with Mickey Ascher’s murder?
CJ Verburg’s brand-new Cory Goodwin mystery Another Number for the Road will whirl you back to the best of times and the worst of times: music, love, and flowers / drugs, sex, and violence. The leitmotif is music. This jukebox novel overflows with familiar songs and new ones, including some you can listen to with a click — interspersed with T.S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, and sneak peeks at a rock opera in Fantasyland.
To celebrate this unique book’s debut, we’re pricing the Kindle version at just 99 cents/pence until Memorial Day. Paperback $14.99.
Get it while you can!
As an avid writer and reader of historical romances, I’m attracted to today’s Thoroughly Depressing Word, shared by BK Magazine (the blog of publisher Berrett-Koehler) from the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows:
Avenoir (noun)*: The desire that memory could flow backward. We take it for granted that life moves forward. But you move as a rower moves, facing backwards: you can see where you’ve been, but not where you’re going. And your boat is steered by a younger version of you. It’s hard not to wonder what life would be like facing the other way…
I once blurted out a moment of avenoir to a man I loved: How ironic that when an affair ends badly (as ours soon would), you can always look back to the beginning and spot the warning signs. If only time worked differently, what heartache we could avoid! He pointed out that one could equally well look back to the beginning and spot warning signs in an affair that thrives. Only then we don’t see them as warning signs — charming eccentricities, maybe; signals of our distinctiveness, our unique affinity.
The catch to avenoir in real life is that one is not always the rower. Often one is the lucky passenger in the stern, facing forward, looking at the scenery ahead and at the generous friend who’s pulling the oars.
Spring is a season for looking forward, and also for looking around at the miraculous bounty Nature unfurls every year. I recently had the good fortune to visit San Francisco’s Botanical Garden, AKA Strybing Arboretum, which always — every single time — has something new to show me. This particular day was a cornucopia of azaleas and rhododendrons. They’re closely related, and thanks to creative growers, sometimes you can’t tell which is which.
Their frilly skirts remind me of the young ladies who used to stroll through Kew Gardens, my favorite place to wander and goggle on the other side of the world. I imagine how erotically these blossoms must have charged the mood when two lovers (in the old sense of that word) walked together down a path, itching to brush against each other, yearning to be even closer.
Whatever your own romantic situation right now, shake off your avenoir and go visit some flowers. Revel in their beauty, their magical recurrence, and the centuries of feverish appreciation they embody. Picture the variety of ladies’ pelisses and gentlemen’s topcoats that have set a tremulous barrier between skin and skin. Savor the thousands of romances that have been kindled and fueled by the lush flowers of a garden, or the tiny hidden splashes of color along a woodland path — thousands past, and thousands more ahead. Including yours? Is it time to pick a blossom and inhale the rich fragrance of remembrance? Or offer your flower to someone whose company unfurls your soul into radiant bloom?
Always a bright spot in our In box is Bay Area publisher Berrett-Koehler’s BKCommunique. Among today’s high points:
- Above the masthead, this unattributed insight:
“The sinking of the Titanic must have been a miracle to the live lobsters in the kitchen.”
- “10 Ways First-Time Writers Can Get Noticed on Social Media,” a guest post by Emily Sweet, the Executive Director of Brand Development and Client Initiatives at Park Literary & Media, on “The Writer’s Dig” blog by Brian Klems on Writer’s Digest’s website.
- and this news flash from Entertainment: “Alec Baldwin to co-write book as President Trump”
We hear this grand project will be a partnership between the Mexican and U.S. governments, underwritten on our side by a big expansion of the National Endowment for the Arts. Between artists, construction workers, and the PBS crew filming the whole thing for public television, thousands of jobs will be created on both sides of the border. Income from tourism is estimated at over $100 million.
Small presses are diverse, innovative, and plentiful in the San Francisco Bay Area. One of our favorites is Berrett-Koehler in Oakland. Besides publishing fascinating books, BK offers a newsletter which always lights up some unexpected nook of human thought, language, and/or endeavor.
Imagine stepping through the frame into a sepia-tinted haze, where you could sit on the side of the road and watch the locals passing by. Who lived and died before any of us arrived here, who sleep in some of the same houses we do, who look up at the same moon, who breathe the same air, feel the same blood in their veins—and live in a completely different world.”
At the other end of the alphabetical spectrum is
“Zoilist (noun): A person who thoroughly enjoys finding fault with others or in things around him or her.
Say the word out loud to yourself now that you know the meaning and see how many people immediately come to mind (except yourself, of course). That’s the really interesting part about it: no true zoilist ever considers him or herself to be one.”
Are you thoroughly depressed yet? Take heart! Here are two books from BK to recharge your batteries:
And a topical tidbit: “Famed indie bookstore Powell’s sent ten books each to Obama and Trump. Curious as to which books were sent?”
There’s also a 48-hour e-book giveaway you may find irresistible.
Check out all this and more at https://www.bkconnection.com/
by CJ Verburg
The land of precision watches and fine chocolate has grander ambitions for the 21st-century than a better cuckoo clock. Just up Montgomery Street from the Transamerica Pyramid is Swissnex, HQ for Switzerland’s high-tech liaisons with the Bay Area and Silicon Valley. On
Friday night, April 8, we’re here to learn about investigative projects in which scientists based at ETH Zurich (“Where Einstein launched his career”) are directing research teams of hundreds, thousands, or millions of ordinary citizens around the world.
That unassuming man in geeky glasses and rolled-up shirtsleeves is Kevin Schawinski, Professor of Galaxy & Black Hole Astrophysics at ETH Zurich. A winner of the Royal Astronomical Society’s thesis prize at Oxford and a NASA Einstein Fellowship at Yale, he also cofounded the Galaxy Zoo. As his colleague Lucy Fortson will explain shortly, galaxies fall into two basic groups: blue spiral, which are relatively young and still forming stars, and red elliptical, AKA “red and dead.”
In this age of Big Data, projects such as the Sloan Digital Sky Survey can provide scientists with more information than any one person, university, or even nation can process. After classifying 50,000 galaxies himself, Schawinski turned over the other 950,000 in the pipeline to sharp-eyed online observers. “Within 24 hours of launch we were stunned to be receiving almost 70,000 classifications an hour.” That’s the Galaxy Zoo. If it sounds like fun, you can click here and start classifying galaxies yourself right now.
First speaker on the panel is Professor of Computational Social Sciences Dirk Helbing, whose specialties include crowds and traffic. He gives us a whirlwind tour of Big Data issues and responses, starting with the paradox that as information proliferates, the percentage we can process drops: What we CAN know may actually decrease what we DO know. We do know that governments and corporations are voraciously collecting data on individuals. In China, “citizen scores” on a multitude of measures are already becoming the basis for what each citizen is allowed to do. Helbing coordinates the FuturICT Initiative, which uses smart data to understand techno-socio-economic systems. His project Nervousnet is “a decentralized Internet of Things platform for privacy-preserving social sensing services.” Provided as a public good, it’s a two-way open-source mobile app. Nervousnet is holding its first Hackathon April 22-23 — check it out.
Dr. Ulrich Genick moved from biochemistry in Berlin to structural biology and biophysics at Scripps, the Salk Institute, and Brandeis, to leading a large-scale study on the interplay of human genetics, metabolism, and taste perception at the NRC in Lausanne. Now he’s at ETH Zurich’s Institute of Molecular Systems Biology, where last year he cofounded the MIDATA health data cooperative. Its intent is to restore control of personal data (health data in particular) to the sources of that data. Instead of signing over your privacy rights to any service that demands them as a condition of access, you’d be able to retain secure ownership of your own data and license its use. Genick explains why his current research focuses on taste and smell: the genetic specificity and wide individual variation of those senses (single nucleotide polymorphism) makes them ideal for investigating the relationship between genotype (your specific genetic sequence) and phenotype (how you experience, say, a cup of coffee). The more participants who supply their DNA analysis and their sensory perceptions, the more accurate a portrait can be created of which nucleotides play what role in the genetics of taste and smell.
Widening our view from nucleotides to galaxies is Professor Lucy Fortson, a founding member of the Zooniverse project and current board chair for the Citizen Science Alliance. In her vision of the emerging future of scientific research, human beings operate as a single multicellular investigator, eerily parallel to the multistellar galaxies they’re classifying. Fortson’s own sleuthing took her from high-energy physics at the CERN particle accelerator in Geneva to cosmic ray and gamma ray astrophysics with the Chicago Air Shower Array at the University of Chicago; currently she’s at the University of Minnesota. She recalls her and Kevin Schawinski’s happy surprise at the Galaxy Zoo’s success, which encouraged its proponents to add a few more projects, then many more. Now it’s morphed into the Zooniverse, a worldwide online platform which invites volunteers everywhere to collaborate on research projects from astronomy to zoology.
Dr. Adrien Treuille, V.P. of Simulation at Zoox, came to this driverless-car startup from Google X; before that, he taught computer science and robotics at Carnegie Mellon. He zooms us back down to micro level as the creator of the online games Foldit and Eterna. In challenging players to compete at folding proteins and designing RNA, these games (like the Zooniverse and other projects discussed here tonight) also establish a collaboration among far-flung strangers. On a personal level, they awaken creativity and skills that participants never knew they had. On a scientific level, they focus a myriad of sharp eyes and minds on problems that are too vast and/or complicated for any ordinary pod of humans (or computers) to solve.
Along with the parallels among citizen-science projects, Lucy Fortson notes a contrast. For her research, she seeks as many participants as possible — the more people, the better the data. For his, Adrien Treuille seeks the most skillful participants. His games encourage self-selection: if you don’t win more points than the other players figuring out how to fold a protein from its amino-acid sequence, you’ll soon quit. Ulrich Genick takes a more traditional approach in his sensory research by recruiting a specific number of volunteers to study in a specific place. Similarly, for Dirk Helbing, a crowd of participants are his subject as well as his collaborators.
Emerging from this heady gathering, I find myself mulling over two common themes. One is the shift in scientific research from direct observation of physical subjects to designing experiments with and for computers. Do astronomy or botany students still choose the field from an attraction to planets or plants, or is the aptest motivation nowadays a desire to count and track? The other thread is the remarkable way the Internet age is bringing out the collective tendencies of human beings. We’re gravitating toward our ant-colony or school-of-fish side: diverse minds finding not just a common purpose but a common direction and rhythm. This is not new, but it’s a 180-degree-turn from my generation’s passionate commitment to individual self-discovery and self-expression.
I’ve been wondering for decades how the Net — freeing human connections from geography and even time — would change the concept of community. Maybe one answer is Citizen Science.