Tuesday, July 10, 2007

He will kick your ass and the other will beat you in chess-Authors Polly and Wenreb at Palmer Vineyards

From top: Author Mike Weinreb and Mark Rhodes-Author Matt Polly with Mark Rhodes

The most recent offering from Palmers Writers on the Vine series were the authors Matthew Polly who has just written American Shaolin (Gotham) and Michael Weinreb
who wrote Kings of New York (Gotham). American Shaolin is a tale as old and archetypal as a Vintage Charles Atlas ad where a literal 98 pound weakling transforms with will power, discipline and mentoring into a formidable fighting machine. Polly didn't buy a set of Sears barbells to undertake this, he went to China to seek out martial arts instruction from the mythical Shaolin temple. He studied there for two years and had a series of experiences worthy of Allan Quartermain including defending a friend against underworld types, defend the temple's honor in a no rules challenge match and compete in a Chinese national tournamnet. Kings of New York follows a group of high school age students on the Edward R. Murrow Chess Team in Brooklyn through a season of private clubs, cash games at Washington Park to the Nationals in Nashville. Weinreb's book follows a colorful group of chess prodogies, coaches and the occassional chess groupie in a work that recalls such idosyncatic sports classics as The Last Shot, and About Three Bricks Shy.

The two young authors entertained the group with anecdotes from their books and anecdotes about the authoring of their books. Weinreb mused about the internet and its impact on chess which has been considerable (individuals can memorize sequences, openings and strategies in ways that had been impossible to do prior to the WWW). He also mentioned that there are a lot of draws now (which he hinted might have to do with the information and influence of the internet). With the indiviuals in the chess universe of Murrow High, chess is often simply a way to be good at something when you aren't good at anything else. Indeed, the idea of chess as a signal of academic excellence is often a bit of a myth (at least these days) since many of the chess prodogies (as well as lesser players) end up becoming obssessed with the game and often neglect all other areas of there existence by playing a constant loop of matches with humans or online.

Polly's work and experiences were especially good fodder for the crowd at Palmer. He held forth on the history of the Shaolin Temple, the roots of Budhism, the philosophy of martial arts (You must "eat bitter," in other words embrace the physical pain of martial arts to achieve the desired physical and spiritual results). He also provided stories which illustrated the dismay of his father at his choice to immerse himself in the study of martial arts (Polly would practice striking a tree to develop the "iron forearm" on visits to his home in Kansas).

For more on these charming books and the others who wrote them see their websites

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I (Mark) have written for The Christian Science Monitor, Clear Magazine, Picture Magazine, Film Score Monthly, Dan's Papers, Rue Morgue, In Flight USA and a lot more publications that I can't remember.... My wife Lynn was a model with the Ford Agency and her photography has been featured in most of the publications I have written for...


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