Tom Clancy was born in Baltimore County, Maryland on April 12, 1947. Known for his collection of best-selling political and military thrillers, Clancy has famously stated that he studied English Literature in college because he was not smart enough to study physics. But upon publication of his very first novel in 1984, The Hunt for Red October, Clancy proved he has a deep knowledge and understanding of the very complex inner-workings of the U.S. government. In addition to writing dozens of best-selling fiction novels, Clancy has written several nonfiction books about the U.S. military, including Shadow Warriors: Inside the Special Forces and Into the Storm: A Study in Command which he co-wrote with General Fred Franks, Jr. Many of Clancy’s books have also been turned into popular movies and video games.
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24 Hour Party People was released in 2002 by United Artists. The story focuses on Tony Wilson, played by Steve Coogan, who was the head of Factory Records in Manchester, England during the 1980’s and 1990’s. Wilson was a Cambridge-educated journalist who had a dissatisfying job at a local television station and wanted to do something on grander scale. In 1976 he attended the small but now famous Sex Pistol’s concert at the Manchester Lesser Free Trade Hall. It was at that concert that Wilson got the idea to become a concert promoter and began a weekly series of punk rock shows at a club in the city. The film follows his decision to start a music label with the first band he signs being Joy Division, who soon change their name to New Order and become an international phenomena. Wilson signs other bands that go on to become legendary in the post-punk rock rave scene including the Happy Mondays and A Certain Ratio. The movie is not only informative about this period in rock history, but it’s also upbeat, funny, and playful. The directors continuously splice live footage into scenes and have actors talk directly to the audience, breaking through the fourth wall. There are also numerous cameos by real people from the story including Tony Wilson, singer Howard Devoto, and Paul Ryder of the Happy Mondays.
Walter Van Tilburg Clark’s classic 1940 western The Ox-Bow Incident tells the story of two drifter cowboys who join a posse to find the murderer of a local man. A mob mentality takes over the men in the posse and they become determined to lynch the suspected murderers when they find them, rather than defer to the rule of law and let the court system exact a punishment. The characters in the book struggle with their own ideas of right and wrong and debate whether vigilante justice is the most effective means of policing the rugged and often lawless Old West, or whether vigilante justice is itself simply a form of lawlessness.
Paulo Coelho was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1947. During his second year of law school Coelho chose to abandon his studies and travel throughout Central and South America, Europe and North Africa. He sought out information on secret societies, religions and mysticism, which eventually led him to join a branch of Catholicism called Regnus Agnus Mundi. He detailed his 1986 spiritual journey along the Santiago de Compostela, the Road of Santiago, in his book The Pilgrimage. Coelho’s first major success as an author came with the 1988 publication of his book The Alchemist, an adult fable in which a boy embarks upon a courageous journey and learns to follow his heart. The Alchemist has been translated into 56 languages and has sold over 40 million copies in more than 150 countries. Many of Coelho’s subsequent books have also become bestsellers including Eleven Minutes and The Zahir. His latest novel is The Witch of Portobello.
On January 20, 2003 First Line Features’ film American Splendor premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. Paul Giamatti stars in the movie as real life cartoonist Harvey Pekar. Pekar, working as a file clerk at a VA hospital in Ohio, has little beyond books, music and conversations with his coworkers to break up the monotony of his simple, blasé life. When an acquaintance of Harvey’s, Robert Crumb, achieves success as a cartoonist, Harvey decides that he too can make a living in this field, writing a series based on his own ordinary, everyman life. Composed of unglamorous stories about a likeable but downtrodden man, Pekar’s American Splendor comic book series becomes a cult classic outside of the mainstream and Harvey is surprised to find himself a sort of celebrity icon. He also finds his true love in the equally offbeat Joyce Barber, played by actress Hope Davis. Pekar and Barber both appear in the film at different points playing themselves, and directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini use many unique devices to tell the story, including interspersing animated footage with live action shots. American Splendor was nominated for a 2003 Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay and won the Grand Jury Prize for Dramatic Film at Sundance.
In 2002 Anne Ursu’s first novel, Spilling Clarence, was published. The story focuses on Clarence, Minnesota, a small, fictional college town that is also home to a pharmaceutical factory. One afternoon an explosion at the plant sends a mysterious vapor throughout the sleepy village, and slowly the effects of the fumes are revealed as townspeople begin to recall everything that has ever happened to them throughout their lives. People react in different ways, but many are almost suffocated by the powerful memories of past sins that they have committed or wrongs that have been done to them by the people they love. Touching and bittersweet, Spilling Clarence won Ursu the 2003 Minnesota Book Award for Best New Voice.
Jasper Fforde was born in London, England on January 11, 1961. Fforde started his career in the film industry, but in 2001 shifted his focus to writing and published his first book, The Eyre Affair. This was the first of his Thursday Next mystery series, which revolves around detective Thursday, who is a Special Operative in literary detection. Fforde’s imaginative fiction incorporates classic characters and stories from authors such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Charles Dickens and Charlotte Bronte and travels through time, leading readers on madcap adventures that are suspenseful, humorous and completely unique. The fifth installment, Thursday Next: First Among Sequels was just released in July. Fforde currently makes his home in Brecon, Powys, Wales.
Wordplay, released in 2006 by IFC Films, is a documentary focusing on the people who create and the people who play the New York Times’ daily crossword puzzle. Will Shortz is the puzzle’s editor and Wordplay provides an in-depth look at the involved process he follows to create and publish the puzzle everyday. Devoted puzzle players including former president Bill Clinton, talk show host John Stewart, and the bandmates from the Indigo Girls explain their relationship with the game (for instance, Bill Clinton reveals that his strategy is to go down the list of clues until he finds one that he can answer, even if he has to go through 20 clues he doesn’t know). The documentary also highlights the network of expert puzzlers who can solve entire puzzles in under two minutes, and who gather for a yearly convention and competition during which the fastest and most accurate puzzle solver is crowned the crossword puzzle champion.
Dan Chaon‘s first novel, You Remind Me of Me, was published in 2004 and immediately garnered critical acclaim. The story revolves around the lives of two brothers who have never met. The older brother, Troy, was given up for adoption by his teenage mother, but she was never able to come to peace with that decision. Though she was determined to provide a good life for her second son, Jonah, whom she decided to raise herself, her battles with deep depression and mental illness left him insecure and unable to trust other people. Neither boy had an idyllic childhood, and both in their own way decide to try and make a better life for themselves as adults. Jonah searches to find his older brother, and along the way invents a new history and identity for himself, rooted in fantasy and dreams. The story is brought to a potentially terrible climax, and it is then that we see the impact of each brother’s background on their ability to make decisions that will affect their lives positively or negatively.
Author of the popular Anna Pigeon mystery series, Nevada Barr was born in Yerington, Nevada in 1952. The daughter of airplane pilots, she was raised on a mountain airport in the Sierras. Barr’s first love was the theater and she has a Master of Fine Arts in Acting. She worked in commercials, radio, and theater for eighteen years before deciding to become a park ranger, like her protagonist Anna. It was during her time as a ranger that Barr wrote her first Anna Pigeon mystery, Track of the Cat, which went on to win both Agatha and Anthony awards for best first mystery. Barr, who now lives in New Orleans, has written thirteen books and is also an accomplished painter.