CHURCHILL AND ORWELL by Thomas E. Ricks: Churchill and Orwell proved their age’s necessary men. The glorious climax of Churchill and Orwell is the work they both did in the decade of the 1940s to triumph over freedom’s enemies. And though Churchill played the larger role in the defeat of Hitler and the Axis, Orwell’s reckoning with the menace of authoritarian rule in Animal Farm and 1984 would define the stakes of the Cold War for its fifty-year course, and continues to give inspiration to fighters for freedom to this day. Taken together, in Thomas E. Ricks’ masterful hands, their lives are a beautiful testament to the power of moral conviction and to the courage it can take to stay true to it, through thick and thin. What’s special about this audiobook is the comparison of the two men, with both similarities and differences. Personalities were different, too, as was public perception. Churchill didn’t read much fiction, and dismissed Henry James, not knowing or caring who he was. Meanwhile Orwell’s star began to rise as a prophet of the future, with many pithy quotes written as if penned today, like, “The very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world. Lies will pass into history,” and “all issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia.” Or “Nationalism is power hunger tempered by self-deception.” Or “Sports is war minus the shooting,” and “Big Brother is watching you.” He did not believe that the object of life should be happiness, but rather truth. Interesting is the quote, “The aim of a joke is not to degrade the human being, but to remind him that he is already degraded.” Churchill was more about perseverance in the face of overwhelming odds. “Never give up. Failure is not fatal; it is courage to continue that counts.” And: “I may be drunk, Miss, but in the morning I will be sober and you will still be ugly.” Author Thomas E. Ricks is a national security adviser for a think tank, has written for the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal, and is author of Fiasco, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Narrator James Lurie is an award winning stage and TV actor, with a gift for clarity and direction in non-fiction, too.

James Fallows is a writer and journalist for The Atlantic. He was Jimmy Carter’s chief speechwriter, and won the National Book Award in 1983 for National Defense. He has since written about China, business, technology, and the military in both books and articles. A Rhodes scholar at Oxford in economics, he also went to Harvard, where he was editor of the Harvard Crimson. He later worked as an editor at The Washington Monthly, Texas Monthly, and U.S. News & World Report. In addition to holding a number of honorary degrees, he is also a licensed pilot, and once, long ago, worked as a mail carrier for the USPS! (This may actually be a scoop.) Given this experience, it is perhaps befitting that his latest book is written with his wife Deborah, and is titled OUR TOWNS: A 100,000 Mile Journey into the Heart of America.

Jonathan Lowe) Describe your book tour. Whom did you meet?

James Fallows) Over the past four months, my wife, Deb, and I have spent most of our time on the road across the United States, talking with readers — and a wide range of other citizens. We’ve met business people, teachers and librarians, mayors and other political leaders, immigrants and refugees, artists, nurses and doctors, police officers and judges, architects and construction staffers, farmers and shop owners, reporters and local news staffers, entrepreneurs, brewers and distillers, truckers and delivery drivers, and the others who make up a modern community.

JL) Impressions of America between the coasts?

JF) The more we’ve continued to travel, the more humbled and impressed we’ve become by the breadth and intensity of the renewal efforts already underway in communities large and small. Every American is aware of the problems and failures of the current United States, from bitter division at the level of national politics to economic dislocation and stagnation, and drug-addiction scourges. But not enough people are vividly enough aware of how much innovative energy is being applied toward solutions.

JL) How do you think this will all turn out?

JF) We can’t be sure — no one can — of how the balance between national-level bitterness and local-level practicality will turn out. But the more we’ve seen, the more convinced Deb and I have become about the importance of sharing these stories and letting today’s Americans know about the solutions their fellow citizens are discovering.

JL) You and your wife recorded the audio version of this book, reading the alternating passages each of you wrote. What did you learn from the experience?

JF) We benefited from the guidance of a skillful producer / director of the recording, Gordon Rachman. Deb says about the experience, “Gordon was a great coach. He turned a famously arduous process —(think of going to the dentist!) — into one that was as pleasant and rewarding as could be. Think of the happy gas!” I agree with Deb, and found the recording process both more demanding than I expected and also more satisfying…in contrast to the tolerance for half-slurred words we get in normal life. Deb and I were trying to tell the story of what we had seen city-by-city as we went across the country. Telling those stories aloud, finally, seemed like the right and natural way to deliver the message. Although I couldn’t help copy-editing myself as we went along, or thinking, “Gee, there could have been a clearer way to make that point!” I am a huge fan and customer of audiobooks, and so I was all the more gratified to be able to participate in this part of the writing and publishing process.

From the Publisher: “For the last five years, James and Deborah Fallows have been traveling across America in a single-engine prop airplane. Visiting dozens of towns, they have met hundreds of civic leaders, workers, immigrants, educators, environmentalists, artists, public servants, librarians, business people, city planners, students, and entrepreneurs to take the pulse and understand the prospects of places that usually draw notice only after a disaster or during a political campaign. The America they saw is acutely conscious of its problems—from economic dislocation to the opioid scourge—but it is also crafting solutions, with a practical-minded determination at dramatic odds with the bitter paralysis of national politics. At times of dysfunction on a national level, reform possibilities have often arisen from the local level. They describe America in the middle of one of these creative waves. Their view of the country is as complex and contradictory as America itself, but it also reflects the energy, the generosity and compassion, the dreams, and the determination of many who are in the midst of making things better. Our Towns is the story of their journey—and an account of a country busy remaking itself.”

A tactical nuclear weapon has gone missing somewhere in the Middle East and is thought to have been smuggled into the United States by a small group of Iranian terrorists intent on chaos and destruction. The target? Unknown, but the FBI’s local director is convinced that it’s the Sequoya nuclear plant and that the clock is ticking. Convinced that the threat is real and that his only link to the terrorists is Harry Starke’s nemesis, Shady Tree, he turns to Harry for help. But Harry has demons of his own to deal with, and the hunt for Tree quickly turns into a race against time. Apocalypse is the 13th standalone novel in a series of hard-boiled thrillers. If you like tough-as-nails heroes and twists you won’t see coming, then you’ll love Blair Howard’s latest gritty, edge-of-your-seat thriller. Blair Howard is author of more than 40 books and more than 4,500 magazine, newspaper, and web articles. For seven long and dreadful years, I ran the Golf Travel channel for the New York Times company, and I continued to do so, even after the NYT sold the company in 2013, for 3 more years – 10 in all. My work has appeared in many national and international publications, including Delta’s Sky Magazine, PHOTOgraphic magazine, The Mail on Sunday, The Walking Magazine, Petersen’s Hunting Magazine, The Boston Herald, The Detroit Free-Press, The Anchorage Times and many more.

Jonathan Lowe) How did you began writing?

Blair Howard) I was a journalist for a great many years, eight of them for the new York Times company, but I’ve always wanted to write fiction but never could find enough time. I made several starts – short stories, one of which became my sixth Harry Starke Novel, Family Matters – but it wasn’t until 2015 that I began writing fiction in earnest. Harry Starke Book 1 was completed in September that year.

JL) What is the takeaway to Apocalypse, and the inspiration for it?

BH) Apocalypse is a thriller rather than a crime/mystery novel, and it’s the latest book in the Harry Starke series having been published only six weeks six weeks ago. It’s the result of a half dozen or so comments in reviews that stated that, “Harry Starke is no Jack Reacher.” Of course he’s not; he never was meant to be. He’s a detective, and a damn good one, or so his fans tell me across more than 6,000 four and five-star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. I never take negative reviews personally – you either like the stories or you don’t – but those comments started my juices flowing. “If you want Jack Reacher,” I thought, “I can do that,” and I did, and quite successfully too judging by the reviews: 115 so far at 4.8-star average on Amazon alone; even more on Goodreads.

JL) Why Indie and not a major publisher? Creative control?

BH) Over a period of twenty years, I had three different traditional publishers for 24 of my books. After each initial book launch, they promptly forgot about them and they ceased to sell. Now, as an Indie, I sell more books in month than I did in two years with a traditional publisher. I write the books, employ a professional editor, book cover designer, audio narrator (Tom Lennon) and I do my own marketing. Since I went Indie, I’ve sold almost 200,000 copies of my books (ebooks and paperbacks), including more than 6,500 audio books. I think I’m doing fine on my own.

JL) Any thoughts on the writing and marketing process?

BH) I do all of my own marketing and promoting. In fact, I spend almost as much time marketing as I do writing. I’m like the “My Pillow Guy” for my books.

JL) Anecdotes about fans of Harry?

BH) Anecdotes? I don’t know. What amazes me most is that so many of Harry’s fans think he’s a real person. Now that’s a complement any writer would be proud to receive. I know I am.

JL) What’s next for you?

BH) I’ll continue to write Harry Starke novels, and of course I’ll continue to add to the spinoff series, The Lt. Kate Gazzara Novels. One day, I may even try my hand at SciFi, or even a spy thriller. Who knows? I do know that I’ll continue to write until I am no longer physically able, and I hope Tom Lennon will continue to narrate the Harry Starke audio books. He is the audio Harry Starke; he does a great job.

JL) Agreed. Thanks.

JESSE McKINNELL grew up in Massachusetts but has lived peacefully in Maine for many years. On July 4, 2015, he had a dream about a dentist with a passion for writing sitcoms. Somehow, DEAD CATS and Other Reflections on Parenthood was the result. It is his first novel.

Jonathan Lowe) In 2020, who in the world would you most like to become POTUS, and why?

Jesse McKinnell) Oh man, I’ll settle for anyone reasonable. I can’t wait for the day when my phone isn’t blaring constant updates at me about whatever vaguely racist, misspelled tweets were unleashed on the world at 2 in the morning. I think I may have reached outrage saturation. I’m really quite concerned about the toll that humanity is taking on the environment, so I hope the next President will understand that there are a number of steps the government needs to take in order to reverse the path that we have set ourselves on. But as to an actual name that’s tough. I think it’s probably time we gave a woman a try, men don’t seem to be especially good at the job. But not Oprah. I’ve become so disillusioned and cynical about people in positions of power that it’s hard for me to pine for someone.

Q) Kittens are cute, but become sociopaths. Some babies do too. What is your thought on the fact that most pets in American eat healthier than kids?

A) My dog does not eat healthier than my kid. First my dog eats poop: her own, squirrels, other dogs, whatever. And second even the grain free, organic feed I buy her costs $10 and lasts over a month. There’s no way something so cheap can be very good for her. I just want to be clear on that in case you were trying to impugn my parenting skills. I have never let my kid eat poop. She got into the dog food once, but whatever. I was raised on complete garbage as a kid – Oreos, Hot Pockets. Side note: have you ever had a cheeseburger Hot Pocket, the ketchup and mustard was inside, oh man. So under appreciated! Lipton Noodle Packs, Frozen Pizza, etc. Now that I’m in charge, my family eats mostly vegetarian, mostly organic, mostly bought from our local co-op (yeah, I’m that guy). I’ve seen a shift in consciousness with friends in my generation where they are much more aware of what they put on their plates and their kids’ plates. Places like McDonalds are a testament to some of the socio-economic issues we have in this country that drive people to the lowest cost option, but I do feel like there is a greater emphasis on good food now than when I was a kid. It just needs to be prioritized and made accessible to everybody.

Q) Couple of the cool quotes by Kurt Cobain were “I’d rather be hated for who I am than loved for who I am not,” and “the duty of youth is to challenge corruption.” What about him is so compelling to you?

A) Cobain is fascinating to me for a number of reasons. I still remember where I was when I found out he had died. I was in a school cafeteria, and a whole section of the room just deflated. It wasn’t just boys. I think there are certain celebrities in our culture who people decide embody their belief system and they wear their fandom of that person as a character trait of themselves. It can be shorthand for filling out a personality. When one of these cultural touchstones kills himself, people are set adrift for a time. I’m certainly as guilty of this as anyone. I’m a grown man who still wears band t-shirts, as some sort of subconscious advance to people I meet about who I am and what they should expect from me if they choose to engage me in conversation. I’m not sure how much the angst that Cobain represented has festered. I wish it had festered but I fear that it has either metastasized into an angry tumor or been placated by the endless distractions that bombard us every day. I don’t know. The older I get the more confused I become by people.

(Jonathan Lowe’s novel “The Methuselah Gene” and “Judge Jury: Hybrid Stories” are now on Google Play and iTunes.)