When I tell people I wrote a book with my dad, they usually look at me with a mixture of curiosity and pity. Some confess they could never imagine doing that. Others ask how it went, in the same hushed tone you use at funerals. But one writing student of mine, who is several decades older and seemingly far wiser than I am, responded differently.
“It must be nice to think of the legacy you created with someone who means so much to you,” she said.
This was a beautiful sentiment, but it was not the way I, or my dad, ever thought about the collaboration.
A man walked down the street in Miami Beach the other day. He appeared preoccupied, a bit hurried, as you might be too if you were about to take a risk that no man ever had.
He had a bronze shaved head, a set of wide and sloping shoulders and a vault for a chest, but it was his left leg that left a question in his wake. Emblazoned on his calf was a rainbow-colored tattoo of a topless mermaid inside a hammerhead shark.
There was a story behind it, of course. It was almost—oh, if only it were—a myth. It was full of mystery and death, magical twists and turns, but whenever it twisted and turned too much, one had only to remember the simple question that began it: What's the half-naked woman doing inside the hammerhead shark?
There is no way to know for certain whether my mother’s death was the good death she wanted. But her willingness to think it through left us with less guesswork than most — and provided a good map for me as I tried to figure it out.
I am not sure I could ask for anything more.
The Irish writer Joseph O’Connor is still best known for his 2002 novel, Star of the Sea, but in 2016 he wrote a radio play, Vampyre Man, about the real-life relationship between Bram Stoker and the two greatest stars of Victorian theatre, Henry Irving and Ellen Terry. It is easy to imagine these three magnificent characters refusing to be abandoned on the airwaves, and O’Connor has given them an appropriately grand stage in the breathtaking Shadowplay.
One of the best ways to get know a country is by talking to its people.
NPR correspondent Frank Langfitt, who has covered China and other countries over a span of nearly two decades, proves this in latest book, The Shanghai Free Taxi: Journeys with the Hustlers and Rebels of the New China. The book is a master class on how to chronicle a changing country through the personal narratives of its citizens.