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Read an Annotated Excerpt From Adam Sternbergh’s Near Enemy

Last week, Shovel Ready, the crime novel about a garbage-man turned hit-man in a near-future dystopian New York, written by Vulture contributing editor Adam Sternbergh, was nominated for an Edgar Award for Best First Novel. Here, we asked Sternbergh to annotate a short excerpt from the sequel, Near Enemy, which was published earlier this month — including thoughts on history's first murder, the dubious appeal of Pepé Le Pew, and just how crazy New York apartment locks used to be.

This used to be a city of locksOriginally, this line, which is now the first line of Chapter 2, was the very first line in the novel. I still like it as a potential opening line — and I have a real fetish for great opening lines — but I eventually decided to start the novel with an extremely short Chapter 1. (It’s eight lines and 54 words long.) I really enjoy when books throw you directly into the action with a punchy opening. The punchiest opening ever, in all likelihood, is the one for Don Winslow’s Savages, which notoriously starts with a first chapter that reads, in its entirety: “Fuck you.” Depending on your temperament, that’s either grating or exhilarating (I lean toward the latter), but it definitely gets your attention..

Every home, at least five, down the door, like a vault.

Chain lock.

Rim lock.

Fox lockThese are all real kinds of locks. The Fox Lock, also known as a Police Lock (or the Fox Police Lock), was designed by a German immigrant and Staten Island resident, Emiel Fox, at the turn of the 19th century. In the most popular iteration of the Fox Lock, when you turn a key, two horizontal bars bolted to the middle of the door extend out into the door’s frame. (There’s another variation of Fox’s Police Lock that involves a metal bar that’s propped on an angle against the door itself.) The Fox is a serious, badass lock, and a fixture of movies and TV shows about New York in the 1970s — the kinds of shows where New Yorkers would come home, then ritually twist and secure multiple locks as if they lived inside Fort Knox. (At this lock-selling site, the Fox Lock is introduced with the line, “This lock has to be the ultimate prop if you are making a movie about NY City,” which is true.) As a kid growing up far away from New York City, that ritual — the Locking of the Locks — seemed emblematic to me of what life in chaotic, lawless, crime-ridden New York must be like..

Deadbolt.

Funny name, that last one.

Dead. Bolt.

Neither word exactly conjures security.

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George R.R. Martin Just Disproved a Major Song of Ice and Fire Fan Theory With One Word

For years, A Song of Ice and Fire fans have argued over the true nature of Coldhands, a mysterious, vaguely undead character who assists Bran Stark in his journey north of the Wall. Is he, as many argue, actually Bran's long-vanished uncle Benjen in disguise? Now, thanks to one intrepid Redditor, we have our answer. User _honeybird visited Texas A&M's Cushing Library to read the original manuscript of A Dance With Dragons, which was full of numerous handwritten notes between George R.R. Martin and his editor, Anne Groell. Scribbled in the margins at Coldhands' first appearance, Groell asks, "Is this Benjen? I think it's Benjen ... [smiley face]." Martin's response, circled in red: "NO." If only all ASOIAF fan debates were so easily solved; now we just need Groell to ask a question about Jojen Paste, and the world of message boards can live in harmony forevermore.

Every Thomas Pynchon Novel, Briefly Ranked

When you read enough of Thomas Pynchon's novels (actually, make that any of his fiction), you begin to understand why the author has gone out of his way to stay out of the public eye since the 1960s. Pynchon's view of the world is strange — people are shady, corporations are never up to any good, and we're all going to go through this life and never find the answers to some of our bigger questions. Whether it’s the massive Gravity's Rainbow, a book considered a life accomplishment to some upon completion; or Inherent Vice's paranoid, psychedelic take on hard-boiled detective fiction (immortalized onscreen in Paul Thomas Anderson's adaptation, a Pynchon first), there's always something ominous on the horizon in the author's books.

Sounds grim? That's the great thing about Pynchon. »

  • Posted 1/9/15 at 3:15 PM

How the CIA Torture Report Became a Surprise Best-seller

The book business in 2015 is pretty much a crapshoot, but it’s hard to believe that even the canniest insider could’ve predicted the sales success that indie publisher Melville House has had with The Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Torture

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  • Posted 1/8/15 at 12:02 PM
  • Primer

A Timeline of the Abuse Charges Against Bill Cosby [Updated]

Thirty years ago this fall, The Cosby Show debuted on NBC, and its star was catapulted into the comedic stratosphere. The timing is prime, then, for the release of a sprawling biography. Written by former Newsweek editor Mark Whitaker, Cosby: His Life and Times documents the man’s rise from the Philadelphia projects, while also detailing the creation of his family sitcom and the murder of his son Ennis in 1997.

The book is notable, however, for its complete avoidance of sexual abuse allegations that have dogged Cosby for more than a decade. In a statement to Buzzfeed's Kate Aurthur, Whitaker says, "I didn’t want to print allegations that I couldn’t confirm independently." Regardless, their absence is glaring. Consider the following timeline an appendix to the book.

"Tamara Green, a lawyer, alleges that Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted her in the 1970s." »

  • Posted 1/7/15 at 6:10 PM
  • Books

What Michel Houellebecq Represented to the Charlie Hebdo Shooters

If gunmen hadn’t attacked the offices of Charlie Hebdo today, killing 12 people (including the provocative magazine’s editor-in-chief), the conflict over Islam’s place in Europe would still have been Paris’s topic one. There were yesterday’s rallies in Germany to talk about, some in sympathy with France’s anti-immigrant National Front, but also the publication of the sixth novel by notorious anti-Muslim provocateur Michel Houellebecq, out today. A caricature of Houellebecq graces Charlie Hebdo’s new cover, after all.

“The predictions of the sorcerer Houellebecq,” reads the headline. »

  • Posted 1/7/15 at 9:38 AM
  • Twitter

Does Retweeting Your Own Praise Make You a Monster?

Twitter has a relatively short and specific official code of conduct (called, officially, The Twitter Rules) that forbids obvious transgressions, like spamming and posting threats. But if you spend enough time on Twitter, you soon learn that there’s a larger and stickier web of constantly evolving Twitter ethics. For example: In some corners of Twitter, it’s considered a great offense (for reasons that elude me) to retweet someone if you don’t also follow them. Elsewhere, some people assume that if you follow someone, it’s only polite for them to follow you back. Many people on Twitter (more justifiably) get angry at so-called manual retweets, i.e., retweets preceded by RT that “rob” the original tweeter of his or her hard-earned and well-deserved retweets. Everyone agrees it’s bad form to steal someone’s joke and tweet it as your own. And depending on whom you ask, it’s also an offense to retweet someone’s link without acknowledging the person who directed you there with a hat tip (h/t), or to repost a funny photo with your own punch line attached. Yet all of these rules (and more!) are broken all the time, and usually, I’d surmise, by people who aren’t flouting the rules so much as acting in ignorance of the fact that these rules even exist.

But what Twitter disapproves of most is retweeting praise. »

  • Posted 1/6/15 at 5:00 PM
  • 2014

How to Do Pop Culture the Steven Soderbergh Way

Stephen Soderbergh does his homework. The director just released his diary of all the media he consumed in 2014 (it's an annual tradition), and the totals are astounding: More than 100 different films, 30-some-odd books, and dozens of TV shows. And he did all that while working on The Knick and Magic Mike XXL! Surely you, with your comparatively minuscule workload, could afford to mimic Soderbergh's watching habits and thus gain a small measure of his encyclopedic film knowledge. If you're so inclined, here's how to do it:

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Haruki Murakami Is Starting an Advice Column Because You Need It

Normally the path from advice columnist to award-winning author runs in only one direction, but leave it to Haruki Murakami to do something different. The Japanese novelist is launching an online advice column where, according to his spokesman, he will "receive questions of any kind," in any language. (Within reason.) The column will appear on a new website called Mr. Murakami's Place (Murakami-san no tokoro), and the author's spokesman said Murakami was open to answering questions about himself as well. It's all a way for the publicity-shy writer to engage with his fans, so once this is up, look for Murakami to raise his engagement even further by producing relatable web content, like "31 Things Unemployed Cat-Loving Japanese Men Know to Be True," "84 Times the Shifting Nature of Reality Gave Us Life," and "What I Talk About When I Talk About Running."

7 Books You Need to Read This January

Each month, Boris Kachka offers nonfiction and fiction book recommendations, and you should read as many of them as possible.

Great journalism and great fiction both live in the gap between noble ideas and flawed human beings. »

  • Posted 1/5/15 at 2:30 AM
  • Books

Mark Zuckerberg Kicked Off 2015 by Starting a Massive Book Club

If you're one of those people whose New Year's resolution is to read more books, then Mark Zuckerberg might have the fillip you need to reach your goal. The social-media titan — who has more than 30 million followers on Facebook — is beginning a book club in the form of a community page. Titled "A Year of Books," the group will read new material every two weeks and discuss it in comment threads. "My challenge for 2015 is to read a new book every other week — with an emphasis on learning about different cultures, beliefs, histories and technologies," Zuckerberg wrote on his timeline. "Books allow you to fully explore a topic and immerse yourself in a deeper way than most media today. I'm looking forward to shifting more of my media diet towards reading books." The first book is Moisés Naím's The End of Power, about the world's trend toward giving individual people more power, as opposed to larger entities. At time of publication, more than 120,000 users had liked the page — that's either a lot of accountabilibuddies or empty promises!

  • Posted 12/23/14 at 2:00 PM
  • Books

10 of the Best ‘Dear Sugar’ Advice Columns by Wild Author Cheryl Strayed

The last words that Reese Witherspoon utters in Wild come directly from Cheryl Strayed’s memoir (no spoilers, but trust us: You may tear up when you hear them) and will certainly send many people rushing out of the theater to buy a copy of the book. Wild — both iterations — is about many things (nature, infidelity, forgiveness, grief, heroin, finding properly fitting hiking boots), but among them, it is a love letter to words: the words Strayed’s mother said to her before she died, the words in the books Strayed carried with her on her 1,000-mile trek across the Pacific Crest Trail, and the words she finally allowed herself to believe in order to move on with her life and find peace. Strayed’s words are powerful, strong tools, both spoken and on the page, and her ability to say exactly the right thing at the right time may be most apparent in her pre-Wild writing, before the country knew her name. In fact, it was before anyone did: She only went by Sugar.

Strayed started writing the weekly "Dear Sugar" advice column on The Rumpus in 2010. »

All 50 Christmas Gifts Given in the Harry Potter Books, Ranked

It makes total sense that J.K Rowling would choose to release more Harry Potter tales over the Christmas season, considering her original stories are by far the most festive of this era's popular young-adult fantasy series. (You don’t see Katniss popping on a Santa hat, do you?) The wizarding world is not only obsessed with the festive merriment of the holidays — possibly to make up for the fact that poor, orphaned Harry had so many disappointing Christmases before arriving at Hogwarts — but that time of year is also often the setting for major plot events. It's Christmas Day when Harry sees his parents in the Mirror of Erised in the Sorcerer’s Stone, when Hermione successfully brews Polyjuice Potion in Chamber of Secrets, when Harry overhears Professor Snape and Draco Malfoy’s chat about Voldemort outside Professor Slughorn’s holiday party in Half-Blood Prince, and when everyone suddenly discovered teenage angst at the Yule Ball in Goblet of Fire.

Christmas was also Jo Rowling's time to spread thick the famously evocative feast imagery. »

  • Posted 12/19/14 at 7:08 PM
  • Art

21 Art Books to Give This Holiday

If you’re still in search of a last-minute holiday gift, we’ve selected 21 books on art and design — from semiotics to Italian architecture — that will make the perfect present.

  • Posted 12/18/14 at 4:40 PM
  • Books

Another of Amazon’s Publishing Opponents Calls a Truce

Macmillan CEO John Sargent’s hard stand against book discounting in 2010 was the first salvo in the war of Amazon versus Big Publishing (and led eventually to the Department of Justice’s lawsuit against the latter). Today he announced a multi-year truce of sorts, becoming the latest to make a deal with the etailer to regain at least some control over the price of the company’s books. (Simon & Schuster made a deal in October, and Hachette, whose books Amazon had been deliberately underselling, came to terms last month.)

There’s a major catch, though, at least in Macmillan’s case. »

The 10 Best Comics Series of 2014, the Year Feminism Conquered Comics Culture

Unexpectedly but unmistakably, 2014 was a pivotal year for comics. For starters, the industry had its best sales month in 17 years. What's more, sales rose for both digital and physical purchases. The unending boom of licensed comics properties reached an insane critical mass: Warner Bros. and Disney unveiled slates of DC and Marvel superhero movies running all the way to 2020, Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America: The Winter Soldier demolished the box office, five comics-adaptation TV shows were on the air in primetime (with many more to come), and it seems like we can't go more than a few days without some kind of superhero casting announcement.

On top of all that, this was the year feminism conquered comics culture. »

John Cleese Revisits His Pre-Monty Python Time in New York

“What I remember,” John Cleese says as he peers outward from center stage at the Schoenfeld Theatre, “is, during our first rehearsal, a lot of people in the very back, moving around.” It was exactly 50 years ago, in the fall of 1964, and the Schoenfeld was called the Plymouth. Cleese and six university friends had staged a comedy revue that had gone on tour; renamed Cambridge Circus, it was transferring to Broadway. Those people agitatedly milling around “were the investors. And after the first rehearsal, they told us they wanted us to change about 20 percent of the show.” Never mind that it had toured to New Zealand and back; it was rewritten, “and was better for it,” Cleese admits. When it opened, it received good reviews in nearly every paper except the New York Times (“a series of irrelevancies that fall flat”). Cleese recalls watching the opening-night party disintegrate as that review came in. The show closed in three weeks, reappearing briefly in an Off Broadway house. But before long, Cleese was getting regular work on the BBC; within five years came the premiere of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, in which he and five friends sicced dead parrots and the Ministry of Silly Walks upon the world. 

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  • Posted 12/17/14 at 1:04 PM
  • Books

J.K. Rowling: No, Professor Snape Was Not a Vampire

Just like her partner in two initials George R.R. Martin, J.K. Rowling is releasing 12 days of digital Christmas gifts for fans. Today's Pottermore update: a story on vampires, which Rowling admits she didn't include in Harry Potter because "there was little I could add to the tradition." Besides, she says, vampires are an Eastern-European thing, and she tried to draw more from British and Celtic mysticism when creating Harry's world. Still, one bloodsucker does make a brief appearance in The Half-Blood Prince, and Rowling admits she had plans for another: a vampire teacher named Trocar, who would have presumably only taught night classes. Rowling adds that, despite appearances, Severus Snape was not a vampire either, making this the latest Pottermore update to come back to Snape in the end. We've previously learned why he became a Potions teacher and all about the drab industrial town in which he grew up, though Rowling has yet to confirm whether or not Snape was based on Antonin Scalia.

Yes, There Are Jewish Wizards in Harry Potter, Says J.K. Rowling

J.K. Rowling confirmed today that there is indeed one Jewish student at Hogwarts. (Just one? Help a kid out, J.K.) Rowling wrote on Twitter that one can indeed be a chosen wizard:

 

  • Posted 12/16/14 at 12:30 PM
  • Excerpt

Decoding Those Lingering Jay Z Illuminati Rumors

In his rollicking, insightful new book Season of the Witch: How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll, author Peter Bebergal delves deep into the weird connections between popular music and the occult, and how the former has so often utilized the mystique of the latter. In this excerpt, Bebergal looks at the rumors that have long circulated about Jay Z's involvement with the mysterious Illuminati cabal, and what those rumors signify about how we think of the rap superstar.  

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