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The Things They Carried
The Things They Carried
by Tim O'Brien
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.05
96 used & new from $6.51

5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful writing; deceptively complex stories, February 6, 2010
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This is a new reprint of a 1990 book which garnered enormous praise. It was a Pulitzer Prize finalist and a New York Times Book of the Century selection, among other commendations. It is a finely edited and carefully polished set of 22 true life stories (or chapters, as critics disagree whether to think of the book as a novel or a collection) about the Vietnam war experience by a great storyteller, Mr. O'Brien. From a literary point of view, these stories are clever, compelling, satisfying, and original; but, it is the content stands out.

O'Brien puts himself into most of the stories as a character and as the storyteller of events experienced by a small group of infantryman who are bit players, at most, in a geopolitical conflict way beyond their control, influence, and even comprehension. We see the war through the eyes of barely post teenage grunts who have to deal with fear, death, and the enormous discomforts of jungle warfare while trying to keep somewhat desperate ties with the saner worlds of family, girlfriends, and back home.

These soldiers are essentially doe-eyed youthful innocents being used as pawns by people and forces way beyond them and without any comprehension or even objection. They are in the war because they were placed there. O'Brien focuses on the inner lives of these "small" people. All the characters are revealed in very effective ways as essentially human with sharply and individually defined emotions, psychologies, and intellects. We see their morals out front and open, especially that of the O'Brien character. As a whole, the stories of these innocents are like seeing the skin ripped off of a person where it is impossible to deflect one's attention; the explicit and raw humanity exposed is riveting.

For O'Brien, the telling of the these tales is his way to deal with what he's seen and done in the insane environment where he was placed 30 some years before. They are so provocative (for O'Brien) that even characterizing them as truth or fiction becomes an emotional and philosophical conundrum. He cannot live otherwise than by telling these stories. There may be no seams between the stories and the author's own life narrative. A true life character in the story "Speaking of Courage" is tormented after the war by a need to tell his story but no one wants to hear it, except O'Brien himself, who wrote about it in a previous publication. That person killed himself a couple of years afterwards, presumably because it was not the story itself that he wanted told, but because he desperately needed the act of telling it as a personal purging.

For O'Brien, the stories are redemptive; he is trying to purge, but the emotional depth of the stories won't let him stop.

Create Your Own Blog: 6 Easy Projects to Start Blogging Like a Pro
Create Your Own Blog: 6 Easy Projects to Start Blogging Like a Pro
by Tris Hussey
Edition: Paperback
Price: $24.99
69 used & new from $0.01

48 of 51 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nice guide to blogging projects, January 20, 2010
The philosophical question of the day is: if you don't blog, micro-blog, or social network, do you exist? Certainly not to the multimillions, or billions, who at least read postings from blogging and social network sites like Twitter, Facebook, and FriendFeed.

Tris Hussey is one such blogger and is probably more intense about it than most. He is a longtime blogger, educator and speaker, and writer of blog related topics. His background and enthusiasm for the topic and casual, easy-going writing style serve him well in authoring "Creating Your Own Blog: Six Easy Projects to Start Blogging like a Pro."

Even though online software tools make it easy for nearly anyone to start blogging those who want to do it well for personal or professional reasons will benefit from the guidance found in this book. Hussey is comprehensive in his approach: he describes blogging as essentially storytelling and is enthusiastic and inspiring about it; he gives a short history of storytelling online via simple to very sophisticated tools; he details how to set up, install, and configure both hosted and self-hosted sites; and he even shows how to make money while blogging.

The meat of the book is in chapters 5 through 9 where he details how to set up and maintain personal, business, podcasting, video, and portfolio blogs. In chapter 10 he explains "online life streaming" where blogs, micro-blogs, social networking sites, and mobile communications converge into a mash of running digital history in real-time--for those not concerned about their life activities being stored permanently in searchable online databases.

Managing all of this does get complicated and Hussey is adept at explaining the how and why of spending the time to do it well and right. The book contains information on intellectual property issues and Digital Rights Management, privacy, search engine optimization, controlling spam and abusive commenters, as well as examples of blogs he admires or believes are models of good blogging.

Instead of covering all topics in depth, he shortcuts by detailing better choices and practices from his own experiences. He provides express recommendations on blogging hosts (he likes WordPress best,) hardware (microphones) and software choices. His emphasis in such choices is on low-cost and ease-of-use options. There is enough material to satisfy those with advanced needs and capabilities. The mashing of blog; photo, audio and video posting sites;and social networking sites is especially worthwhile for serious online communicators.

Hussey writes from experience as one of the earliest bloggers and one of the more prolific ones. He writes with some humor and in an easy-going style that is easy to follow and absorb. The book is heavily illustrated with screenshots of blog pages, websites, and applications along with some graphic illustrations and photos of hardware. There are stylized "Tips, Notes, New Terms, Cautions, an Idea Galleries" throughout. I found many of the screenshot illustrations to be too dark or too finely printed to be useful. Younger eyes may not have a problem.

This is a very good book for those thinking about starting blogging for business or personal reasons.

FTC disclosure (16 CFR Part 255): The reviewer has accepted without solicitation a reviewer's copy of this book which is his to keep. He intends to provide an honest, independent, and fair evaluation of the book in all circumstances.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 5, 2013 12:10 AM PDT

How to Make Animated Films: Tony White's Complete Masterclass on the Traditional Principals of Animation
How to Make Animated Films: Tony White's Complete Masterclass on the Traditional Principals of Animation
by Tony White
Edition: Paperback
Price: $30.59
47 used & new from $20.21

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A heavy weight instruction book, December 11, 2009
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Even though contemporary animation is predominantly made by digital means, Tony White's book, "How to Make Animated Films," makes it clear that traditional principles of animation including hand drawing are still important. The book promotes itself as a complete master class of the traditional principles of animation teaching techniques made famous in the golden eras of Disney and Warner Brothers. As White states, such techniques are still in use by contemporary producers like Pixar and animators like Hayao Miyazaki. He makes the case that the core principles of animation never change and basic skills such as drawing ability and understanding of classical principles of art - perspective; anatomy; composition; light, color, and tone - will always underlie quality animation.

The book has two parts: How to Be an Animator, and How to Make Animated Films. White emphasizes 2-D skills as the best way to study and master core principles even if later those skills will be combined with 3-D skills using digital tools. Employers now, he says, expect animators to be versed in traditional principles even as they apply their skills to producing materials directed to popular productions, especially in the game making area.

Each chapter includes chapter assignments and suggestions for further reading. Part one contains chapters on animation basics like key positioning, motion, weight, anticipation, and dialogue. A handful of chapters deal specifically with drawing walking scenes - generic, with personality, quadruped walking, and the like. There is a segment on selection of necessary tools and equipment. Part two focuses on film concepts like meaning, conceptual ideas, thumbnails, storyboards, framing, transitions, staging, and continuity. All the essential film processes are covered - background and environment, audio coordination, scanning, coloring, compositing, rendering and editing. Every topic is shown in a step-by-step manner by text descriptions and explanation and with extensive illustrations.

The book is lavishly produced with heavyweight paper, multiple color illustrations on most pages, is nicely laid out, and has sidebar tips and notes sprinkled throughout. The book is unusually weighty, in the physical sense, at nearly 3 pounds!

White is an experienced animator, director, author, and educator and writes well and enthusiastically; he is in love with the animation process. If anything, he is a bit too hyped, judging by the excessive use of exclamation points, sometimes after every sentence in a paragraph! Regardless, he is a competent instructor and the book is useful even for raw beginners although some professionals wanting to become more adept at animation will be rewarded, as well.

There is a good index and six appendices, most dealing with the author's businesses and projects. The best ones include sample exposure sheets and production folder suggestions, and the glossary. There is a DVD included filled with animated movie samples and filmed excerpts of lectures.

Video Production Handbook
Video Production Handbook
by Gerald Millerson
Edition: Paperback
37 used & new from $5.18

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nice primer, August 5, 2009
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Easy to use and affordable video hardware makes it easy for everyone to produce videos of mediocre to poor production quality. Such clips are readily available on YouTube and elsewhere on the Internet for personal viewing on a desktop computer, laptop, mobile device, or cell phone.

Good production quality video requires the producer to know what he/she is doing. That involves utilizing the right equipment, tried and true photographic and cinema graphic techniques, editing visuals and sound effectively, and formatting the results appropriately for the viewing audience.

That's where a book like "Video Production Handbook, Fourth Edition," is valuable. The newest edition updates essential material which represents long standing practices in the film and video production industries. That involves script writing, camera and lens techniques, working with actors and production crews, lighting setups, audio capturing and processing, editing, and more.

The book is designed as a teaching tool and comprehensively covers all of these traditional elements while also providing material on the latest technology and video hardware and digital/computer-based peripherals like storage devices and media. The book is intended to be introductory and addressed to the novice video producer. Depth of treatment is sacrificed for breadth. There are sections, for example, on copyright and contract issues, and editing, that just barely introduce the topics. But, the concept here is to present nearly everything the beginner needs to know without getting bogged down in excessive details and complications.

The first chapter is an overview of the video production process. There is a full chapter on describing the typical production crew and what each member does. Another chapter deals with organizing a production shoot .There is an emphasis throughout on choosing and using the latest hardware for video, audio, lighting, and backgrounds.

That approach works well here. The presentation is relatively light and easy to digest. The book is rich in production values - full-color graphics, easy on the eyes layouts, plenty of illustrations, and glossaries in each chapter itemizing those topics covered therein. There is a handful of checklists for various production processes. The fifteen chapters cover all of the basics of quality audio/video production with high regard for clarity. The presentations assume no technical background and the lowest level of consumer investment in equipment.

For educators, there is an associated online instructor's website with access to PowerPoints, video demonstrations, and other teaching materials. Video Production Handbook is a fine primer for aspiring producers.

Cutting Rhythms: Shaping the Film Edit
Cutting Rhythms: Shaping the Film Edit
by Karen Pearlman
Edition: Paperback
Price: $37.27
53 used & new from $2.09

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Surprisingly good and useful conceptual effort about film editing, July 6, 2009
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"Cutting Rhythms: Shaping the Film Edit" is a very effective attempt to articulate intellectually the purported pure "intuition" and "gut feelings" editors use in cutting a film. Whereas most editors and film makers cannot explain well why their editing choices are made, author, Karen Pearlman, creates a clear and useful vocabulary which breaks down editing decision-making to readily understood components which immeasurably improve the understanding and communication of film editing concepts.

Imagine a casual baseball fan watching a pitcher throw; he brings an untrained ignorant eye and sees only an indefinite blur of action while a baseball pitching coach breaks down the components of a pitcher's mechanics into "load," "explosion," and "finish" (and further, into subcomponents.) The breakdown into discrete elements facilitates correction and improvement between player and coach. Here in "Cutting Rhythms," the author's conceptual framework performs a similar function about editing, useful for film makers. editors, and film scholars, and even for mere film fans like me, helping enhance enjoyment of film viewing. I applied the knowledge to the first film I viewed after reading the book (The Ghost and Mrs. Muir-1939) and was well pleased with my new ability to recognize and evaluate editing choices while viewing the film.

The presentation of the book is at an academic level suitable for scholars and intellectually serious film people. Ms. Pearlman draws on the writings and research of film theorists, neurologists, philosophers, and film pioneers like Vertov, Eisenstein, and others. She models editing concepts partially on dance and movement theory to explain editing choices. The rhythm of film editing, she argues, derives from the rhythmic experience of editors of the world and of their own bodies. Film viewers themselves apply (subconsciously) their own rhythmic experiences in accepting and evaluating the film experience, emotionally and physiologically

There are three primary types of rhythm edits - physical, emotional, and event rhythms. Overall film rhythm is comprised of time, movement, and energy shaped by specific tools. Pearlman articulates the tools of rhythmic creation -timing, pacing, trajectory phrasing, and the psychodynamics of synchronization and tension and release. Certain editing devices include parallel action and slow and fast motion segments.

The emphasis in the book is on visual rhythms although Pearlman covers the related elements of sound and music rhythms, as well. Using her concepts of rhythm she creates an effective "style chart" based on continuity/discontinuity and related/unrelated dichotomies to categorize classic scenes of editing like the Psycho shower scene, the Apocalypse Now opening, and important scenes of other well-known movies. Pearlman focuses a chapter on common scenes made for creative editing - chase scenes and "two handers" involving dialogue/action between two characters in one scene.

Some of her concepts are illustrated by examples from popular movies like The Godfather, Goodfellas, and the French Connection. For a book built on a doctoral thesis, the writing and is accessible and flows fairly well. There are extensive endnotes for the most engaged readers. The book contains many photo illustrations, set-out "Practical Exercises," and has an extensive bibliography and a short index. I thought the photo illustrations were limited - some images were just printed too darkly to be helpful; and there weren't enough images, especially for illustrating text attempting to draw distinctions in sequential frames.

Overall, the book does a nice job of filling a need for describing film editing in a coherent, understandable fashion.

Twitter Tips, Tricks, and Tweets
Twitter Tips, Tricks, and Tweets
by Paul McFedries
Edition: Paperback
89 used & new from $0.01

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fine, comprehensive manual, June 8, 2009
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There are many people who cannot conceive why Twitter has become a global cultural phenomenon. Sure, Twitter provides some supplemental technical communication value beyond instant messaging and e-mail, but how significant can 140 characters and less text messages be? After reading "Twitter, Tips, Tricks, and Tweets," I now have a better idea.

However, this book is not meant to explain sociological or cultural issues about emerging technologies. It is essentially a manual about setting up, customizing, and using Twitter technology for casual computer users who now readily can be publishers and distributors of media. In that it does a good job, covering all the basics of Twitter, how to extend its reach with mobile devices, how to extend its breath by coordinating information with social networking applications like MySpace and Facebook, and how to extend its depth by explaining how to share photos, video, and music and how to use scheduling software, and more.

Author, Paul McFedries, is an accomplished technical writer and covers the Twitter technology comprehensively. The coverage is primarily for basic users but provides enough advanced material to satisfy more sophisticated computer users. He writes casually. The book is filled with step-by-step instructions, color screen shots of Twitter and other related software, sidebar tips and notes, and a short glossary of terms. Also, there is a useful summary chart of text commands for mobile devices.

There is plenty of good content but the books layout takes some getting used to. Most pages have four to five different text colors, three or more text styles, and two or more graphic images. I found it quite disorienting, as the pages seem mosaic like me, instead of merely text like. Younger generations, used to multi-formatted websites and the like, might not object.

As a manual, the book works well enough. McFedries explains how to open and customize a Twitter account, how to send and receive messages ( "tweets"), how to search for messages and people, and how to coordinate Twitter with separate blogs, websites, mobile devices. He also supply some suggestions for using it efficiently and even more effectively by using snippets of JavaScript and other code.

The most interesting material for me was that explaining how Twitter data can be searched or identified by location, date, tags, and more, using the power of XML combined with cell, WiFi, and Internet networks. All this twittering activity is stored in a vast linked databases, and eminently sortable and searchable by all kinds of parties, not just Twitterers, but marketers, law enforcement, government, and perhaps nefarious types accessing hard drives filled with data for all kinds of (good and bad) purposes. Clearly, privacy is becoming a quaint, old-fashioned concept. Promiscuous Twitterers, I think, either don't know or don't care.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 13, 2009 9:12 AM PDT

In the Kitchen: A Novel
In the Kitchen: A Novel
by Monica Ali
Edition: Hardcover
87 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Funny and entertaining novel about a London chef in a middle age crisis, June 2, 2009
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"In the Kitchen" is a likable book with a strong narrative and charming characters. The protagonist, Gabriel Lightfoot, is the chief chef of a high-end contemporary London hotel restaurant where an immigrant laborer is found dead in the basement. That death unleashes a large handful of plot elements which immerse Chef in a police investigation, a doomed infatuation with a foreign prostitute, and an illegal enterprise being run in the hotel by his superior, all while Chef tries to implement a restaurant business of his own together with wealthy and influential partners. There are other plot elements as well complicating Chef's life to a point where his insanity, job, domestic life, and integrity are placed at risk by his middle-age crisis or mental illness, culminating in a dramatic resolution of the novel.

Author, Monica Ali, is an adept wordsmith and imaginative in her descriptions of characters and environment. Some of her similes are startling and provocative. She demonstrates ability to construct a flowing and appealing narrative, although some of the plot elements don't seem to add much to the story or characterizations. She does have remarkable sensitivity to the character elements (especially dialogue) of a large handful of multicultural and multi-class of characters including Chef's coworkers at the restaurant and Chef's family members. There is plenty of humor throughout--wry, dry, absurd, surreal, and even slapstick - much of it subtle, as not many reviewers here on Amazon have mentioned it. (Or maybe one's appreciation for humor is highly subjective, and I am far out on the deviation index.) It reminds me of some of Kurt Vonnegut's later stuff.

Beyond the ostensible narrative and characterizations there are modest sociological and political themes relating to multiculturalism in modern English society, national economic evolution from global power to has-been nation, and the role of ethics and values in modern urban society. Although, Ali has been termed (yet another?) "voice of a generation" that characterization, I believe, cannot be legitimately justified by this book - there is way too little "voice" and "generation" here. This novel is just one of a vast number which posit a relatively ordinary protagonist existentially coping with the complexities of relationships, job demands, mortality, and the randomness and heartlessness of modern life. The genre is getting close to being exhausted, in my view, but can still be, and is here, funny and entertaining.

iMovie '09 & iDVD: The Missing Manual
iMovie '09 & iDVD: The Missing Manual
by David Pogue
Edition: Paperback
Price: $39.99
84 used & new from $0.01

52 of 59 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another great manual from Pogue Press, May 17, 2009
When Apple updated, or more accurately, replaced the well-regarded iMovie 6 in late 2007 with iMovie `08, many users were disappointed if not outraged. `08 was an entirely different application and eliminated many features of iMovie 6 which users had grown to depend on. Now, with the new iMovie `09, users have a good reason to be happy again. Some lost features are back, many features are improved, and a whole lot of new features have been added.

Pogue Press/O'Reilly's new book "iMovie `09 and iDVD" covers the new iMovie in a comprehensive way emphasizing the linkages of the new application to iMovie 6. The book is another of the "Missing Manual" series that follows the established brilliant template of comprehensive feature descriptions and explanations, practical guidance and tips, honest critique, and articulate and witty expression. Co-author David Pogue is known as one of the world's greatest communicators. Here he is assisted by Aaron Miller who focuses on updates from the previous edition of the book.

The book is comprised of three parts and four very useful appendices which include a full menu by menu guide, a troubleshooting guide, a master list of keyboard shortcuts, and an unusual visual client sheet describing the various components of the open iMovie project window. Part Three of the book is all about iDVD, which has not changed since the last edition of the book. That part covers the basics of the application; menus, slideshows, and mapping; designing themes; and some advanced techniques.

The opening part covers everything a user needs to know about the iMovie program from importing video and media, to constructing the visual and audio tracks, using special effects, editing with the built-in correction tools (image stabilization, color adjustments, cropping, etc.) adding titles and credits, and a short chapter on the artistic elements of editing. After your masterpiece is done, the authors explain in Part Two how to save and format it, distribute it, back it up and archive it, and adapt it to multiple formats for viewing on the web, iPhone, YouTube, and other hosts.

As usual with any "Missing Manual" book, the book is richly produced with plenty of full-color screenshots and photos, filled with Tips, Notes, FAQs, advanced material, and sidebar material. For those features of iMovie 6 not included in the new application, the authors provide more than adequate workarounds. There are also supplemental sections on Garage Band and QuickTime player applications basics. Pogue is known for including not only practical professional tips on movie making, but also purchasing recommendations and efficiency and production suggestions from his own experience.

This is a top-notch guide to iMovie `09 and iDVD.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 23, 2009 7:15 PM PDT

American Rust: A Novel
American Rust: A Novel
by Philipp Meyer
Edition: Hardcover
54 used & new from $0.01

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Overrated novel about hapless characters in the Rust Belt, May 7, 2009
This review is from: American Rust: A Novel (Hardcover)
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"American Rust: a Novel" has been well received by many readers and reviewers. They commend the story of two boys involved in a reckless killing, the descriptions of the atmosphere of the decrepit western Pennsylvania locale, and the character presentations.

I respectfully demur. Other than the killing scene and a couple of prison scenes involving one of the boys, the story lacked compelling interest. The many sentences describing the locale are repetitive and add nearly nothing to the narrative. There must be more than a dozen separate descriptions of hillside greenery interspersed with decaying steel factories all without much significance.

The characters - the two boys, some immediate family members, and a small handful of townspeople -are fairly mundane, simple, and not very interesting even though they are drawn realistically. Since the events of the narrative are mundane and the setting nearly irrelevant the characters are the essence of the book. The author insufficiently develops the personalities and motivations of these characters. The characters implicitly are trapped by economic and personal circumstances in a failed region but there is no examination of why this is, or should be, and what we are to think about it. And, no character was likable or had even literary appeal, in my evaluation.

My most significant criticism of the book is that it lacks themes or concepts tied to elements in the reader's life and situation. The mark of a great novel, it's been said, is the quality and quality of its thematic resonances to the reader's life. Is there some necessary relationship of the characters to the fact of the decline of the economics of the region as implied by the title? Are these characters archetypes of human society or American society? Are there lessons to be drawn from the narrative events? These are good questions which are not asked much less answered.

Where is the meaning?

The author could have drawn out the relationship of the decline of the steel industry to the relevant persons and could have developed metaphors in the narrative and setting for economic, sociological, and/or psychological themes going beyond the mundane personal narratives of these characters. Some reviewers have mentioned the presence of social commentary. I found no evidence of it.

This is not a bad book; it is competently written, but it is a simply-drawn mere narrative of small, uninteresting characters.


Love and Obstacles
Love and Obstacles
by Aleksandar Hemon
Edition: Hardcover
103 used & new from $0.01

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting set of stories of (and by) a Bosnian expatriate, April 12, 2009
This review is from: Love and Obstacles (Hardcover)
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Love and Obstacles

There are eight interlocking short stories in this volume about a young man leaving his native Bosnia for Chicago, USA and growing up as an immigrant American. The author, Aleksandar Hemon, is a much-awarded writer, primarily of short stories. The likely autobiographical experiences and events of the stories in this book reflect universal themes of mixed identifications of old and new homelands, the complexities of maturation, and the existential aspects of culture and life itself. These themes are combined with current Bosnian history, post-9/11 American culture, and an examination of the role of literature in life.

The protagonist of all the stories is a young man who varies in them as either a major figure in the stories or a promiscuous observer. Hemon's skills as an observer are admirable as he draws sharp descriptions of people and places, especially of his parents, locales in his native Bosnia, and characters the protagonist is associated with in Africa, Europe, and America. He seems to delight in odd and interesting characters, mostly a heroic/tragic combinations engaged in writing, diplomacy, and shadowy political-criminal enterprises.

The writing is compelling and the use of language creative, witty, and humorous. The unusual large quantity of adjectives and adverbs is noticeable, but effective, and never overdone. Despite the mastery of the writing, the intellectual themes are unexceptional. Stories of a teenager developing into a young man experiencing drinking, sexual urges, familial separation, quest for meaning, etc. are nothing new, and Hemon adds little originality here. The protagonist's meditations on the relevance of literature to life are unoriginal also. But there is a nice passage in the final story in the collection called "The Noble Truths of Suffering" where a broken down, alcoholic, Pulitzer prizewinning writer explains to the protagonist that he used to think that great writers knew something he didn't, could teach and illuminate, had wisdom and knew truth, but discovered that they know nothing. They were faking it.

The author seems to imply that he might agree with this, that writing is worthless, like everything else, except for a barely describable yearning for love and meaning.

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