31 December 2010

Best Books of 2010

Best Fiction
Joanna Smith Rakoff, A FORTUNATE AGE
Jonathan Franzen, FREEDOM
Bernhard Schlink, THE WEEKEND
Joshua Ferris, THE UNNAMED
Dinaw Mengestu, HOW TO READ THE AIR

Best Nonfiction
Colson Whitehead, COLOSSUS OF NEW YORK
Nicholas Carr, THE SHADOWS

Best Memoirs
Patti Smith, JUST KIDS

Biggest Page-Turner: The Stieg Larsson "Failed To Finish GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET'S NEST" Memorial Category
Laura Hillenbrand, UNBROKEN

Best Fiction Based On Other Fiction

Modern Library of Awesome

Best Books With Not-The-Best Endings
Jen Baggett, Holly Corbett and Amanda Pressner, THE LOST GIRLS

Not-So-Great Book With a Great Ending

Most Disappointing
David Nicholls, ONE DAY
Tom McCarthy, C

Most Surprising
Jim Bouton, BALL FOUR
Don DeLillo, MAO II

Most Quoted
Haruki Murakami. Bad habit. 

(Don't like my picks? Check out the AV Club best books of the year post for opinions more closely aligned to your liking. Also see from this blog, my post from July of the best books so far.)

30 December 2010

Yay! Kindle lending is here!

But just once per title, and for just 14 days. And only one of my purchased titles is loanable, but if anyone wants to borrow THE FINKLER QUESTION when I'm done, I'm your woman. Galleycat reports TRAVELS FROM SIBERIA and FREEDOM are lendable, both great books from the passing year.

29 December 2010

Reading Regrets of 2010

I didn't finish all the David Foster Wallace books -- not during the summer, not during the rest of the year. I'd attribute this to my hesitation about the short stories (about which, I could write another entire post) and my preference for novels, refusal to get to THE BROOM OF THE SYSTEM until I had gotten through those. But I did finish ALTHOUGH YOU END UP BECOMING YOURSELF (review... this weekend? stay tuned), and all the nonfiction, and I still have till April 14 before THE PALE KING comes out.

I didn't really make any progress on the Modern Library list, the ostensible reason for starting this blog. I know I've said I wouldn't do this but maybe I do need a deadline. I know I could probably finish them in a year if I really cracked down on myself, but the truth is I don't want to. There's just too much out there I'd like to read otherwise. Maybe by the time I'm 30? (It'll go great with my Obligatory Recapturing Youth Road Trip.) But I am hacking through LORD JIM, which I liked more about 30 installments ago, to be perfectly honest. My Joseph Conrad history on this blog is pretty deplorable.

I didn't finish the Sandman series, but I did get up to A GAME OF YOU which was the first volume I ever read -- so I have five left. (Puzzlingly, one isn't available through the NY Public Library -- vol. 7 or 8 I think? How did this happen?)

I think what these regrets demonstrate is my vacillation between having a reading Plan and Sticking To The Plan Forever, and haphazardly picking books from all around. This pattern repeats in my larger life and there's a lot to be said for the serendipity method, but I'm just type A enough that I can't give into it fully. But I would like to do all these things in 2011, at least get a running start.

28 December 2010

Unsponsored message

Look at your current reading material. Now back to this book. Now back to your current reading material. Now back to this book. Does your book look like this? No. Could this book, out today in bookstores everywhere, be yours to entertain and delight for a mere $8.99? YES IT COULD.

Congratulations A, I will be out beating the bushes for a copy shortly.

27 December 2010

Literary News Stories Of Note, 2010 Edition

Surprising author death of the year: J.D. Salinger. Thought he would outlive us all, frankly.
Unsurprising author non-death of the year: Philip Roth. Still think he will.
"What, that was a book?" of the year: "The Social Network" née THE ACCIDENTAL BILLIONAIRES. Ben Mezrich is crying into his bathtub of cash that they didn't keep his title, which sounds like the name of an epic caper movie a la "The Great Race" or "It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World." (We've got 'em on VHS!)
Driest topic I yet will read everything I can on: E-book pricing. Then again, as more people get e-readers, this will only continue producing six-paragraph stories out of "You know how this was $9.99 before? Well it's $12.99 now."
Best comeback: Nick Hornby to The Believer. (Here's an excerpt from the latest.) I knew if I just clapped hard enough it would happen!
Biggest nothing of all: The revelation, per a New York Magazine cover story, that James Frey's new venture is rife with unscrupulousness and slime. (In effect, he pays writers a small amount of money to write YA books, with a promise on a share of the film and secondary rights should they ever pan out, goal being to create some kind of media empire for bad-looking thrillers.) I mean, he may have good taste in brunch venues but what, was he going to be knitting sweaters for orphans for the rest of his life?
Most overblogged... AND YET: Jonathan Franzen everything. I couldn't help myself, I know, but in no other story can you cover the doings of both high and low literature, encompassing topics like sexism in book coverage (yes also I KNOW) and Oprah. Speaking of...
Potential overblogs of 2011: Oprah's new channel: what will it mean for the book club given her latest installment?; the U.S. adaptation of "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" is set for release (whose reach is longer than I expected given my dad made a Lisbeth Salander joke about Troy Aikman's outfit while commenting on the Packers-Giants game -- he hasn't even read the books!); the rise of a million competitors for the Kindle.

Haul blog

THE NEW YORKER 20 UNDER 40 (ed. Deborah Treisman)
Keith Richards, LIFE
Roger Sterling, STERLING'S GOLD
And book-related if not the actual object, the Penguin cover postcards. (Geeking out!)

Elsewhere in the household, the former American Studies major unwrapped THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MARK TWAIN, the assistant president of the basketball fan club got KISS 'EM GOODBYE: AN ESPN TREASURY OF FAILED, FORGOTTEN AND DEPARTED TEAMS and the enthusiastic late-adopter grandpa got a Kindle... not bad on the landscape. Okay, your turn to brag. What did your holiday book-stack look like?

22 December 2010

Happier holidays

Due to a family situation posting will resume on December 27. Do not adjust your monitors. 

21 December 2010

"Nothing rivals the control you get from writing a novel: how it’s just you and your story and that great intangible, the reader’s imagination to see the world you're building on the page. Television, as many anti-TV types point out, does a lot of that work for you: instead of imagining how a character looks and sounds, the viewer gets them served up in high-def."
Author Jennifer Weiner finds a surprising amount to like about shooting a TV pilot she cowrote.

20 December 2010

As good a man as the good old city knew

This weekend I atoned for some of the jokes I've made at Charles Dickens' expense at the Housing Works CHRISTMAS CAROL marathon. I missed Scott Adsit (Pete Hornberger on "30 Rock") and Francine Prose but caught a lot of the celebrity readers, including Kurt Andersen ("Studio 360"/ HEYDAY, formerly of "Spy," "New York," etc), Justin Taylor (EVERYTHING HERE IS THE BEST THING EVER -- good gravy he looks so young) and Mary Gaitskill (VERONICA -- best dressed of all the readers). I wish I remembered who the guy who kept apologizing for his Cockney accent, saying he sounded like Dick Van Dyke in "Mary Poppins" -- anyone?

Listening to Dickens aloud is such a fundamentally different experience from reading him. I had to read A CHRISTMAS CAROL in seventh grade I think [private school! Christmas lit for everyone!] and I remember boredly skimming it; I haven't seen the stage version in a handful of years. But maybe this Dickens is meant to be read aloud; even his lists have poetry to them.

Anyway, the New Yorker Book Bench has a nice write-up and a photo in which you can just barely see me. Unrelated, one of the $1 carts has a full set of A DANCE TO THE MUSIC OF TIME in paperback (4 volumes), so if you need those books you should buy them. It was only with extremity that I pried them out of my own hands.

18 December 2010

While apartment hunting

"And you know what else, Walt Whitman lived in that building over there."
"What?! No!"
"Yeah, he wrote LEAVES OF GRASS there."
"Do you ever try to look in his windows for inspiration?"
"You have no idea how many Walt Whitman poems I've written."

17 December 2010

I should take different trains

This collage of sketches of readers on the NYC subway (and accompanying speech bubbles) : Me :: On The Street :: Other women in New York

Is this the first book tour-turned-movie?

Margaret Atwood's tour for her last book, THE YEAR OF THE FLOOD, is now a documentary. Looks like your best chances to see it though are in Victoria (British Columbia) or Barcelona in 2011.

16 December 2010

In memoriam

Here's an admittedly incomplete list of writers who died in 2010. I can't believe Salinger was this year! That feels like long ago.

15 December 2010

14 December 2010

Message to authors

If your book is as good as you think it is, then you shouldn't instruct your fans to spam Amazon with uninformed 5-star reviews. Yes, SPAM. "I've had this book for 12 hours and I already love it!!!" is of no more value than "Penny stocks and V1agra!!" when it comes to deciding whether to buy a book. How about a review from an expert or a doctor (or could you not get an expert?) instead of:
  • "This is a great book that is definitely large and full of data."
  • "was blown away first of all by the physical size of the book"
  • "You know sometime genius only appears in their first work, but with his second book [author] DID IT AGAIN!"
  • "I've been looking forward to this since I first heard [author] talking about it, and expected it to be amazing"
  • "Thanks for devoting so many years of your life to researching this so meticulously and sharing that with the world."

Now, I have been asked by authors whose mailing lists I'm on to contribute a review on Amazon, and I have not, mostly because I couldn't be bothered. But there's a difference between a thoughtful review and a raft of fanboys. What that practice says to me, the book-buying public, is that you, Author, think I'm so stupid that I'm going to buy the book off those reviews, when in reality I will probably just borrow it from the library and hate-read it. And maybe get carbs all over it. That's right.

We found the worst "Eat Pray Love" tie-in ever

At the grocery store there was a coupon for $5 off "Eat Pray Love" on DVD or Blu-Ray... stapled to a head of iceberg lettuce. Sure, I'll go on this round-the-world adventure, as soon as I finish eating this leafy water!

13 December 2010

You're waiting for a train, a train that will take you far away

Love the concept, but this Klosterman-Franzen piece from GQ leaves a lot to be desired. Capers, for example. No time for capers? I do, however, relish the implication buried in the fragment "a period in high school when he listened to the Grateful Dead without smoking pot."

Three of which in New York, naturally

The Huffington Post has a slideshow of its readers' favorite independent bookstores, including some classics like the Brookline Booksmith (check!), Powell's (check!) and Quimby's in Chicago (check!). New York's share includes the Strand and McNally Jackson -- although for what it's worth, I'd probably go Housing Works over McN. J. for personal reasons.

Should your local indie be on this list? Please, direct my future vacation plans (sort of joking).

11 December 2010

Going indie

Back when I lived in Pennsylvania, the closest bookstore to me was a sad little mall Waldenbooks accessible by the once-an-hour bus to Allentown. (Don't break out the tiny violins, the local library was amazing.) Publishers Weekly linked to a story today about how a secondhand chain called Read Green has taken over the space where the Waldenbooks was. I hope this trend continues, if only because the Borders-Barnes & Noble merger dance going on right now would leave a lot of empty mall spaces.

09 December 2010

An English major gets her wings

Tag line on the new TV spot for "The Social Network." Tipped off by Caroline McCarthy of CNet on Twitter.

08 December 2010

Filmbook-to-be: New "Anna Karenina" in the works

This time it's Keira Knightley in Greta Garbo's boots, with "Atonement" director Joe Wright directing. This is one of those stories I think filmmakers will just remake over and over again, asymptotically, never reaching the greatness of the book -- not that I mind. (I haven't seen either of the Garbo adaptations... the 1997 one is not bad, and surprising given that Sean "Draw it again!" Bean plays Vronsky. Alfred Molin is a stellar Levin though, for what it's worth.)

07 December 2010

At this time of year, remember that it could be worse

The New Yorker writeup of Jonathan Franzen's appearance on "Oprah" yesterday (which we missed, having to toil) sounds like the most awkward performance review ever.

NYC: WORD's Annual Holiday Open House

This year, they aren't just signing -- the authors invited to WORD in Greenpoint will also be "moonlighting as booksellers" this weekend. Management recommends you go Sunday afternoon to catch Rachel Shukert (EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE GREAT) and Sara Marcus (GIRLS TO THE FRONT) to pick up their books and if you're lucky pick their brains as well. (Both books are Harper Perennial paperback originals, but that is a coincidence.)

06 December 2010

Teenage Jonathan Franzen?

Teenage Jonathan Franzen. (2nd from right, via Paris Review) He might agree, as may we all hope, he has improved with age.

Many are called but few are chosen

U.K. nonprofit World Book Night wants to give away a million books on March 5, 2011, and the list of books is pretty prestigious. But what's with making prospective givers apply and limiting their numbers to 20,000? Can we not all give away books enough?

05 December 2010

And YOU get a chapter! And YOU get a chapter! EVERYBODY GETS A CHAPTER

For the five people who didn't have to read them in high school, Oprah's final book club picks (until she launches her own network next year) are a Dickens doubleheader, A TALE OF TWO CITIES and GREAT EXPECTATIONS. (Actually, I can't remember whether the latter was required reading in high school or not. First sign of aging?) As is obvious but worth pointing out, Charles Dickens is a dead white man.

04 December 2010

"More than three years after the discovery of the body parts"

I don't think it lives up to its billing, but this Telegraph piece on a Swedish murder and subsequent investigation is incredibly weird and disturbing, even if it didn't inspire Stieg Larsson or Henning Mankell. (No spoilers for the books inside.)

03 December 2010

True! Reader! Confession!

My office book club has met twice and I am 0 for 2 in attendance. Last month I had a training session during it (if I'd had my druthers, but anyway), This time I hadn't finished the book (Stefan Zweig's THE POST OFFICE GIRL -- and it is terrific so far) and I felt so guilty I stayed away. I didn't want to be there flinching when spoilers were unveiled, nor did I want to show up and sit there nodding and... nodding.

(I blame the library's copy of the book for not getting to me sooner. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.)

Which is worse: to not go to book club when you haven't read the book, or to go and not be able to substantively contribute to discussion?

Unbookening, how it's done

Bought 2 books
Received 6 to review
Checked 5 out of the library
In: 13

Donated 30
Gave away 6 to various people
Returned 9 to library
Out: 45

I would love to call this a "reboot" of the Unbookening franchise but I guess that would mean they'd fire me and cast Hayden Panettiere as the plucky blogger with a book problem. Please don't write in if you believe this to be a desirable upgrade.

02 December 2010


This is more to your writing interest than to your reading interest (presumed on both counts), but a blogger named Gwen Bell started a project for December called Reverb with daily writing prompts. (I realize it's December 2nd already, but I'm ever the procrastinator, witness this entry which I am shoving under the door as it shuts.) You can blog or tweet your answer, or you can just write it down for yourself somewhere.

01 December 2010

NYC: And Tiny Tim, who (SPOILER)

How cool! Housing Works is hosting a marathon reading of A CHRISTMAS CAROL on December 19th. Hoping for mulled wine or at least hot cider.

30 November 2010

Who Is The Who

The Times newsletter today attributed this quote to the subject of Dave Eggers' WHAT IS THE WHAT, although in the actual article the speaker is one J. Christopher Gallagher. I was hoping for a Bernard Goetz, vegetarian activist afterlife, but it seems to be just a misprint.

So what's Deng really up to these days? Far as I can find he lives in San Francisco, is married with a baby and is working on building schools in the area of Sudan where he grew up, with the help of the foundation that bears his name.

29 November 2010

Now where have I heard that before?

"The guide's creator certainly had a talent for fiction: Despite his claim that 'all young persons are more or less unbalanced,' author Sherwin Cody was just 26 years old. His only previous volume was a self-published poetry chapbook." Slate reviews what it claims is the first how-to about writing fiction and finds it pretty sound, actually.

Cyber Monday at your friendly neighborhood bookstore dotcom

Cyber Monday is against my religion, but Borders.com is offering free shipping on orders of $20 or more, BN.com has buy-1-get-50%-off for some Times bestsellers (Scott Pilgrim Vol. 1 among them) and Amazon appears to be featuring a sale on reference books. Hey, remember reference books? Well, you can get the OED for just $379.95 and free shipping.

ETA: Simon & Schuster is offering a $40 for $20 Groupon on their online store... which apparently exists.

28 November 2010

Traveling with the Kindle

Short review: Big fan!

Slightly longer review: In transit may be the perfect place to use a Kindle and its major advantage over paper books, whose tactile experience is still pretty damn special to this author. I could merrily click away knowing that if I were to finish all my downloaded books I had access to BOOKS FOREVER if I wanted to buy another. Because I wasn't switching back and forth between paper and screen, as normally happens when I'm reading something on the Kindle, I didn't get that jarring feeling.

I'm not saying I would burn all my books for it, but I see the utility, particularly for people I know who travel a lot for work. Also, I was somewhat isolated on this trip, and if I had had to run out and get another book (heaven forbid) I might not have met with such success. We were all but snowed in for a few days. (Rural areas -- they're way out there.)

My only real problem with it was surviving those pauses between "Please put all your electronic devices away" and "it is now 'safe' to use portable electronic devices, never mind that airline employee you're sitting next to who was writing e-mails on his Blackberry during the entire takeoff segment, please just believe us when we say that your 4-year-old iPod is hazardous to our entire operation." That is, regrettably, not a flaw of the device.

27 November 2010

According to one way of looking at the problem, a personal library is an enormous accumulation of books you don't want to read – either because you once tried and failed, or because you've already read them and won't ever need to reread them. So what function are they actually serving? In past times, the library of a grand house was a domestic resource that contained a repository of knowledge that couldn't be stored in any other way. It was also somewhere your guests might find something with which to entertain themselves in the quiet times between talking and eating.

These days, no such extravagantly space-consuming resource seems necessary. There will always be books to which one wants to refer back again and again, but what of most of the novels, biographies of minor figures, the tidal wave of critical theory? The answer is: they can go. Having served their moment, they can be shown the door. It's a brutally efficient new system – buy, read, flog on Amazon Marketplace – but it feels like a mid-life rite of passage.

--Stuart Walton, "My book cull: a loss of shelf esteem." But are we not all entitled to pretend we have the library of a grand house once in a while, if not the rest of the house?

26 November 2010

Are you a Dwight, a Janet or a Michiko?

Concurrent with its 100 notable books of 2010 (which will take me a few days to digest) the New York Times has published the top-10 lists of three of its lead critics, Dwight Garner, Janet Maslin and Michiko Kakutani. Here's where I would rig up some kind of clever personality quiz taking your favorite color and the last magazine you read into consideration... I was surprised to determine that despite disagreeing with some items on her list, I'm definitely a Michiko.

25 November 2010

Stoner Thanksgiving message

Pending your personal beliefs on reincarnation of course, does it ever unnerve you to think that you could have been born in a pre-Gutenberg universe where the only books you saw were held by monks, not as if you could even read them, and so you would see books as not just metaphorically a sacred object but as literally a sacred object as well, something you could never touch let alone own, and which you were lucky even to see at all and had no thought of understanding?

I've been taking too many Vitamin C drops, but for living in a time when printed books are plentiful, cheap and endowed with cultural value,

I am profoundly grateful this Thanksgiving Day.

24 November 2010

Reading on The Road: Final Frontier Edition

It's now or never! On this trip, for the first time ever, I am only bringing my Kindle. It made sense because I had too many books to bring and will be jamming all my luggage into your overhead bin (yes, yours; sorry) on my way across the country. Also, I took a health survey at work and was paid off in Amazon credit. (Was I supposed to spend it on my actual health?) Here are a few books I have on there in preparation:

Haruki Murakami, A WILD SHEEP CHASE
Louis Auchincloss, A VOICE FROM OLD NEW YORK

Either this is going to work, or I will be reviewing a lot of airport books in December. "Whoops, no, I didn't read the book club book, but that Nora Roberts is crazy, right?" (I kid a bit. In the worst case scenario I'll just pillage from my mom's stash, because she will probably have extra books along. That's what you get for not reading my blog, Mom!)

What are you reading this weekend?

23 November 2010

Well I guess I'll just put it off forever then

University of Chicago Press is releasing Anthony Powell's Dance To The Music Of Time series as e-books, but they aren't Kindle compatible. Can we think of a series that is more conducive to digital purchase?

"Confidence is hardly in short supply for Jay-Z."

One can feel the waves of shock radiating off Michiko Kakutani's very positive review of Jay-Z's promised book, DECODED. I mean, she describes "Big Pimpin'" as "a comical, party-down song"! I foresee a lot of angry letters to the Times, but I wouldn't write one.

22 November 2010

Was it good for you, voters?

For once, I have read two of the nominees for the Guardian's Bad Sex in Fiction Award -- and judging by the passage quoted, FREEDOM should run away with it -- but the news in Britain is that voters tried to get Tony Blair's autobiography on the fiction list as a political commentary. (THE SLAP is really good; don't be deterred from its description here.)

Four is a trend

Apparently I do have a cultural line across which There Be Monsters, and that is this New York Observer story on writers quitting fiction to write video games. I am not against all video games, nor am I against authors writing for video games which indeed can be very elaborate (though I'm going off my experience beating my head against a wall trying to beat Myst... remember Myst?) A working author is a working author! But I am not convinced this is "the way the industry is going," and if it is then we need to turn this minivan around.

21 November 2010

Balm to the human soul

Above embedded: the latest episode of the web TV series "Cooking the Books," in which Emily Gould makes food with authors. Here's author Marcy Dermansky has to say about her novel BAD MARIE:
"I was having fun with coincidences in this book. I mean, it's preposterous what happens in a way -- Marie reads a book when she's in prison by a French writer and she goes and she finds her friend. Her friend's husband, of course, is that writer. I think when you write things you can do whatever you want."
I recently finished Joanna Smith Rakoff's A FORTUNATE AGE, another novel I think has fun with coincidences. I really liked the book -- following a group of Oberlin friends through post-college life in New York City -- but I think at one point it stops just a twist short of being totally unbelievable. (It's the scene where Emily goes to Caitlin Green-Gold's apartment, the first time, if you've read the book.) I almost picked up my disbelief at that point, but I went on, and the way it was woven into the rest of the book it almost made sense... but not too much sense that I wouldn't mistake it for life.

My craving for realism, particularly in books set among people I seem to know and places with which I'm familiar, could be a critical weakness but I keep feeding it anyway. Certainly there are sad or depressing coincidences out there, but what do people normally say when faced with one: Oh, how funny! What a small world! Usually it's a source of delight. A novel flush with coincidences, if written well, provides us with those little sparks of delight when a character just happens to bump into her old college nemesis, or watches his bandmate fall for the woman he's been trying to pursue for years. Even if we haven't had those things happen to us, we could point out a similar exchange. It's only when authors overuse this device (or use it poorly) that we remember the book is not life.

20 November 2010

Filmbook: Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part 1 (Abridged Straight-From-Theatre Edition)

One non-spoilery observation: As my friend and I were waiting to be seated for this movie, we were trying to remember what year the first installment of the franchise came out (2001, in fact) and how old the youngest kids who would remember that movie would be today. I doubt it was deliberate that the several directors and bunches of producers involved with the "Harry Potter" adaptations seemed to age their movies along with some sweet spot in their demographic. Still, that first movie in my recollection was pretty tame, whereas this one offered its own versions of horror-movie setups that cause audiences to shout "Don't touch that/ go in there/ turn the light on!" I definitely enjoy them more with some teeth, and I'm not a scary-movie fan at all.

One more: I think everywhere but the balance sheet it was a colossal mistake to split this book, as indicated by "Part 1," into two movies. And not just because I'm annoyed at having to wait till next July for the second one.

19 November 2010

Translation nerds RISE UP might enjoy this account from Jayne Williams about working with a German publisher who wanted to change the title of her book SLOW FAT TRIATHLETE: LIVE YOUR ATHLETIC DREAMS IN THE BODY YOU HAVE NOW to the diet-tastic AT LONG LAST FIT AND LEAN.

18 November 2010

Unsurprise of the Week

Sloane Crosley is finally quitting her day job to write full-time. And yeah, I do give her credit for hanging on this long, considering that she was publicizing her own books on her off time from publicizing other people's books, essentially doing the same job over and over. (The more times you write "publicizing," the more you become convinced you're spelling it wrong.)

Depending on your perspective she's either living the dream of many in book publishing, or got extraordinarily lucky on her professional connections. I like her writing, so I'd say she's definitely living her dream (I hear not everyone in publishing wants to be a published author... maybe it's just a rumor). Working inside the machine undoubtedly helped her, but if she had shirked her work no one would have taken her seriously. Best of luck, Ms. Crosley!

17 November 2010

That's National Book Award Winner Patti Smith to you

It's true! Smith nabbed the nonfiction prize at the American publishing fiesta held here in New York for her book JUST KIDS. During her acceptance speech she cried and reminded the audience that she worked in a bookstore when she first arrived in New York.

On the fiction shelf, Jaimy Gordon's LORDS OF MISRULE pulled a surprising upset -- so much so that to all accounts I have seen, she didn't have a speech prepared. Much congratulations also to Kathryn Erskine and Terrance Hayes for taking home the big ones in young-adult fiction and poetry, respectively.

Not to be outdone by some young punk kid, Tom Wolfe sang part of "The Girl From Ipanema" during his speech. Really. He really did that. Do they make white-on-white Hawaiian shirts these days?

16 November 2010

"You want to do something new when you write a novel, it's right there in the word novel."
--Jonathan Franzen reading at 92Y last night. I don't know why the audience laughed on that?

15 November 2010

D-list celebrities need not apply

David Mitchell is auctioning off the name of a character in his next novel, which he blushingly refused to speak about when I saw him at Book Court last summer, to benefit autism research in the UK. Important to note: "The author reserves the right to make the winning character name as large or small a character as necessary for his book. The character will not be based in any way on the actual winners’ characteristics." (via Moby Lives)

Currently installed on my desk at work

After ten months at my current job and nearly two years at the company, I finally decided to "express my personality" on my desk. (Well, more than the Now Panic and Freak Out sign, anyway.)

I knew that suspicious-smelling corporate merger promotional water bottle was good for something.

14 November 2010

Olive Editions: They did it again!

Look what I spotted at Borders on Thursday night!

I've written before about the adorable tweeness of Harper Perennial's Olive Editions. The next three have been released -- THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD, BRAVE NEW WORLD, and this one, a book I love and one of my best novels of the Noughties. I'm not even sure what kept me from buying it -- I love it, don't own my own copy and my edition of MYSTERIES OF PITTSBURGH could use some company.

See the other debutantes at HP's blog The Olive Reader. And honestly, if you haven't read this book yet, do it now. You'll be riveted to your chair.

13 November 2010

Not only is Jhumpa Lahiri involved in the new season of "In Treatment," now Adam Rapp is writing scripts for them? Maybe I should be watching this show.

Next year in magical thinking

Joan Didion has finished a new memoir that will be out next year. Not forthcoming: Her blog -- she says the idea of blogging "makes me uncomfortable."

12 November 2010

Wait... authors in the U.K. get paid every time someone checks their books out of the library? Where on earth does that money come from?
Via Ed Champion on Twitter: In the next McSweeney's Michael Chabon will publish the first four chapters of FOUNTAIN CITY, the legendary [only to me?] 1500-page novel he abandoned to write WONDER BOYS and the probable inspiration for Professor Grady Tripp's baggy unfinished masterpiece. Probable buy.

11 November 2010

NYC: Come see Maria Schneider and Nathan Rabin tonight

Shameless plug! Readers in the vicinity should plan to hit the joint Onion-A.V. Club reading at the Borders in Columbus Circle at 7PM. Schneider created the Onion columnist Jean Teasdale and has a collection of "her" work out now called A ROOM OF JEAN'S OWN; Rabin published THE BIG REWIND last year and MY YEAR OF FLOPS this year.

Ben Mezrich exists for my amusement

Would someone from Doubleday please confirm for me that this is real? Or Mr. Mezrich himself? Anonymity guaranteed! (It's from what purports to be their Tumblr account.) Because, WOW.

10 November 2010

Filmbook-to-Be: "Jane Eyre" (2011)

The Charlotte Brontë classic gets a very moody, almost horror-movie treatment from Cary Fukunaga ("Sin Nombre"). Mia Wasikowska (daughter Joni in "The Kids Are All Right," Alice in the Tim Burton "Alice in Wonderland") is Jane and that's Michael Fassbender ("Inglourious Basterds," "Hunger") as Rochester.

I may or may not be in for this movie, but the trailer did illuminate for me one additional reason I have never warmed up to this book. And now I feel totally traumatized and need a hug, the end.

Trailer via Word & Film, Random House's really nice new landing page for its movie news.

Meet Jane E-Book

From the "we already knew this, but now we have data" department: The e-book market is still narrow but deep, finds a Forrester forecasting report* which posits that 7 percent of American adults online are doing all the buying. The prototypical US e-book junkie is a woman (woo) who does 41 percent of her reading in digital form and -- not surprising -- buys and reads more than her non-e-reading counterparts.

What boggled my mind was only half of that 7 percent is using a Kindle or other e-reader; the rest are reading on computers or their phones (or iPads, or tablets). Kindle for BlackBerry just came out and do you know how eye-bleeding it is? Think I'd rather stare into space.
At the same time, Forrester's blog post on the report points out that the most common way people get books these days is still borrowing from a friend or the library, so it's not as if it will happen overnight. Then again, Kindle lending (with the publisher's approval**) has been promised soon, so...

*Which I would buy, indeed in e-book form, were it not $499. Can I borrow someone's copy?
**Let my skepticism on this point be noted. Granted, I don't know so many people with Kindles that I'm dying for this feature, but the ones I know also buy a lot of books, thus exponentially expanding my reach if it were allowed -- given that we don't physically swap Kindles now. 

09 November 2010

Out today: Princes of darkness

Salon.com calls Stephen King's new collection of stories FULL DARK, NO STARS "horrible" -- though it's unclear whether the reviewer means it as in "full of horrors" or as in "bad." Perhaps both.

Oh yeah, and George W. Bush's memoir DECISION POINTS is out and its first juicy tidbit concerns a fetus in a jar. A fetus in a jar! Worst way to teach your kids sex ed ever. (Belated warning, after you read that story you will be reduced to muttering to yourself "Fetus in a jar?!?!" for the rest of the day. I don't think I can say anything else, in fact.)

08 November 2010

My word of the day: nostrum

From Merriam-Webster:
Definition of NOSTRUM
: a medicine of secret composition recommended by its preparer but usually without scientific proof of its effectiveness
: a usually questionable remedy or scheme : panacea
Example from the NY Times:

Dr. Farley [New York City health commissioner] is more forceful in print. His 2005 book, PRESCRIPTION FOR A HEALTHY NATION, which he wrote with Dr. Deborah A. Cohen, senior natural scientist at the Rand Corporation, foreshadowed his hair-shirt approach to public health in New York. In its review, Publishers Weekly characterized the authors as “scolds” and “puritanical,” and predicted that Americans would react to their nostrums the way [daughter] Emily Farley’s students did: apathetically.

07 November 2010

The rent is too damn high

The mansion where parts of Martin Scorsese's adaptation of THE AGE OF INNOCENCE were shot is looking for a tenant if you've got a spare $18,000 a month lying around. Surprisingly, it's not in Gramercy Park or the Upper East Side as I would have guessed, but in Park Slope in Brooklyn.

06 November 2010

Publishers Weekly's* Best Books issue hits stands on Monday, but their top 10 is out now. The overlaps with Amazon's list if you're keeping score at home are FREEDOM, JUST KIDS, THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS, THE WARMTH OF OTHER SUNS and THE BIG SHORT. Much love for THE LONELY POLYGAMIST and THE SURRENDERED here.

Jess and Jen, I will definitely be making my own Top 10 of 2010 list (and really, thank you so much for asking!). I did a best-of list last year, although it wasn't limited specifically to 10, because the Internet is crazy and there are no rules. I want to squeeze in a few more weeks of reading, too -- as always.

Meanwhile -- and not just you, but everyone -- what books would definitely make your list this year? What do you think has been overlooked so far, given that some heavyweights' lists are still outstanding?

*Disclaimer: I occasionally review for them, although I did not contribute to making either this list or the longer list, so I'm just as curious as you as to what will show up on it.

05 November 2010

Friday afternoon brainteaser

My friend Shana wrote to me with a lit-related question and I am totally stumped:
There was this short story I read when I was in 5th grade as part of our "great books" reading class. It involved people telling a story around a campfire (at least I think) about a miserly old woman with a big house and no friends. And one day she got a chicken bone stuck in her throat and the doctor said she was going to die. And she had trouble breathing so she decided to get rid of the things in her house by giving them away to her neighbors. By the end of the story she'd made so many friends since she'd given away all her belongings and her friends and her were laughing so hard that the chicken bone popped out of her throat. It's probably really random or obscure but I've wanted to find it again and I thought you might be able to help.
I was not able to help, but maybe you are. I on the other hand have now read several medical accounts of choking and will be subsisting on oatmeal and applesauce for the rest of the day.

Just when you thought it was safe... to send another e-mail...

Emory University's Salman Rushdie archive will allow visitors the chance to play on his computers, as representing the primary medium for most of his late novels. Can't wait till we can read writers' e-mails in printed collections. (Nosy like that.)

04 November 2010

Amazon Picks 10 Best Books of 2010

Preempting Publishers Weekly's list, typically the earliest, by about four days. New-media whippersnappers!

Strong disagreement here over #7 and I've never even heard of MATTERHORN. I guess it's time to start working on my own list. What do you all say?

My dream Patti Smith/ JUST KIDS index

  • Thrift Store Clothing Scores
  • Meals Eaten At The Automat
  • Tantalizing One-Line Descriptions of Explicit Mapplethorpe Photos Which Do Not Appear In The Book
  • Max's Kansas City*
  • Times Robert Mapplethorpe Said "Patti, no!"
  • Bookstores Smith Worked In
  • Times People Mistook Smith For A Lesbian
  • Times People Mistook Smith For A Drug User
  • Hey, Did You Know Blue Öyster Cult Used To Be A Legitimate Band
  • Memorials Held For Famous People Who Died In The 1960s
  • Haircuts And Their Meaning
  • "Saw A Double Rainbow" (okay, one citation: p. 273)
*Most confusingly named venue... ever?

03 November 2010

Josh Karlen: The WORMBOOK Interview

Being a nosy reader as always I pestered LOST LUSTRE author Josh Karlen with a few questions about what he had been reading lately.

What was the last book you read and loved?
I was deeply immersed in memoir, autobiography, and personal essays while I was writing my book, so the most recent books I've enjoyed have been in these fields, rather than fiction.

I recently re-read after many years Alfred Kazin's WALKER IN THE CITY and rediscovered how extraordinary the descriptive prose is about tenement New York and specifically from the perspective of boyhood. To my mind, Kazin wonderfully pushes descriptiveness to the very limit of what the sentence will bear, and then stops. Its also a fearlessly soulful and tender book.

I've also recently enjoyed Annie Dillard's AMERICAN CHILDHOOD and Rebecca Solnit's A FIELD GUIDE TO GETTING LOST for the sheer wonderful writing. And Fitzgerald's THE CRACK-UP. In fact, I've been dipping into Fitzgerald again and finding again how truly great a stylist he was, and what a warm and decent and razor-sharp intelligence shines through his best work.

What was your favorite book when you were 12?

I can't remember what I was reading at that precise age, but generally in the years before adolescence I read TOM SAWYER and HUCK FINN and TREASURE ISLAND and enjoyed them immensely.

What book that you read can you confidently say changed your life?

I'm not sure there was one single book I could name for such a strong impact. I can name a few books that changed the way the way I think about what good writing is, and so they in effect changed my perception the world.

When I was in my teens and starting to write, Hemingway, predictably enough, upended the way I thought about how to write prose. And Conrad, Jack London, Melville made an enormous impression because they presented a whole new range of possibilities of how to live one's life, how to forge a new destiny. In my case, this led me to go to the Amazon on a silly adventure at age 18, so in a sense these authors did change my life in a concrete way.

In college, I remember the absolute shock when I first read Henry Miller's TROPIC OF CANCER, which again upended my ideas of what good writing is both in style and substance--it was an explosion. In my twenties, Orwell's exquisite essays did the same, showing me the power of non-fiction, expertly handled.

I'm not sure any single book could be said to changed my life, but I think strings of books, taken together, combine to open up new ways of thinking, provide examples of how to approach the world as a writer, as a person. For instance, the books of Conrad, London and Melville, or the long list of books of essayists I've read the last few years have had a cumulative effect or opening new avenues of how to look at the world as a writer--and therefore as a person. They are the same thing.

What's the last book you put down without finishing?

I wouldn't wish to identify a specific book that didn't grab me, especially since I often put down books without finishing them. That's in part because as a working parent in NYC, I'm lucky if I have time to finish the newspaper each day. I'm also increasingly impatient with books to either get to the point or, if not, to write in such a way I find too compelling in thought or description to pull away from. Few books grab me that way.

What is your favorite place to read?

I don't have a single favorite place to read--I enjoy reading at home, but I suppose I enjoy reading outside most of all--in a park, on a beach, on a porch, or by a pool. Any place relatively quiet in the sun where I can stretch out and have a soda or coffee. The nice thing about reading outside is that you can take a break and have a swim or throw a ball around with the kids, and then go back to the book refreshed.

Who or what do you think most influences what you read, and why?

When I was younger I preferred fiction, though now I read more essays and memoirs. I still enjoy fiction, but these days, I want essential truths placed right up front and discussed. Life is too short to waste on extraneous issues unless they are written about with extraordinary charm-- but when they are, its wonderful.

LOST LUSTRE: How the dirty city feels and looks

I started Josh Karlen's memoir LOST LUSTRE when I was in the middle of Patti Smith's JUST KIDS, a book that for all its hardness is more New York fantasy than reality. Jumping from Smith's cozy Chelsea Hotel existence -- art and poetry till the wee hours, lobster claws at Max's Kansas City -- to scenes of Karlen running away from bullies and gang members in an East Village that looked as if it had been bombed was like having a bucket of cold water thrown in my face.

Yet it was a necessary one, because both artistic dream and urban nightmare belong to the city. (I did like some things about JUST KIDS but I'll get back to that tomorrow.) Karlen's collage of experiences as contained in LOST LUSTRE, skipping backward and forward from his parents' divorce to midday meditations from the office, aren't all so violent as that opening shot, but the thread connecting them is the sense of loss -- primarily, for Karlen's innocence when his mother moved him to pre-gentrification Avenue C.

That brutal backdrop pushed him to escape -- into an arts magnet high school, into the punk scene (as he mourns a friend whose band The Lustres gave him the soundtrack to some of his best moments), into the arms of his first love and the SRO where they used to stay. Karlen's text is his ambivalence about his memories, the debauchery of his youth taped over with disapproval over the bar owners who would serve him and his underage friends to excess and the ruin to which some of them came as a result.

As a memoir in fragments LOST LUSTRE left me with a lot of unanswered questions about Karlen's upbringing, but the current of feeling superseded my need for answers in the end. I would absolutely recommend reading this book in the context of others about New York past -- besides the coincidence with JUST KIDS I was reminded of LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE BRONX IS BURNING, for example, and portions of THE TENANT -- as one image among many.

This review is part of a TLC Book Tour in which a bunch of bloggers review the same book. So if you don't like my take on it, visit Life in the Thumb tomorrow.

02 November 2010

Hatches battened

Not that I really have room to protest, nor that I think the amount of money I pay for it (nearly nothing) should lead to better service (which is excellent already)... but the New York Public Library online accounts have been down for two days and I am not dealing particularly well. What if I need to renew a book and I don't even know???

01 November 2010

There are no T-shirts, yet

Today marks the beginning of National Novel Writing Month [NaNoWriMo], annual frenzy to finish a 50,000 word novel* in 30 days**, and writers everywhere will perhaps look a little bit tired in response. Launched in 1999, it has produced several books that hurdled to mainstream publication, most famously Sara Gruen's WATER FOR ELEPHANTS.

After a term of disproportionate vacillation over the subject I am reluctantly out this year, for reasons that will only bore you. However, for the slightly less ambitious I recommend National Blog Posting Month [NaBloPoMo], for posting a blog entry every day, which really anyone can tackle. Or we can start National Read More Month and sink into the cozy sloth this weather demands. NaReMoMo? Yes/no?

* so what if it's more like a novella. I mean, that is still a farking lot of words.
** 1,667 words per day. You're welcome.

Field trip!

Last week I went to a new library branch near my office to drop off some books. This is one of the smallest branches I've ever visited - your basic retail floor, only the back half is all wrought-iron-capped shelves and a short-looking second floor with a spiral staircase, and that rickety bridge. 

This smartphone photo does not adequately capture the surprise. 

Obligatory depressing midterms post

Jon Avlon of The Daily Beast claims the subgenre of anti-Presidential angry screed has flourished like never before in the first half of President Obama's first term. I have my doubts as to his methods but then there's this:
There are plenty of rational reasons to oppose the policies of President Obama and his administration. Accusing him of being a Manchurian candidate out to undermine the Constitution and replace it with Communism isn't one of them.
See also Poll: 1 in 5 Americans Believe Obama Is A Cactus.

31 October 2010

Unbookening Returns From Its Jaunt In The Wilderness

Bought 2 books
Checked 8 books out of the library
Got 9 books to review

Gave away 15 books
Returned 15 books to the library
Gave one to my mom

(If you're new: What is unbookening?)

I assumed when I started tracking the books that were flowing in and out of my life, that I would get to a magical status point in which I would not buy too many books, nor would I get too many. For a lot of reasons, that has not happened. There is an obvious metaphor I could make here but I won't.

Nevertheless, I should start publishing this list again. I think it really does make me consider whether I need that $1 used book sale in my life (more than just to look, anyway), and I am probably moving house next year, so the fewer the better. I'm not going to get all ambitious and claim I'm good at getting rid of books I don't need, I still think there are far worse vices.

For one thing, I tried this a few weeks ago and nothing came of it, but I think I will make a better effort to borrow books from friends before buying them. I know a fair amount of bibliophiles (local and far-flung-but-will-mail) and as long as they don't mind, maybe we can help each other, especially when it comes to classics. This is a fine idea unless you are stubborn and don't like asking for help even when you need it. Lord knows we don't know anyone like that around here.

30 October 2010

From Ireland to BROOKLYN

It's hard to describe a book as a "book club book" without it being interpreted as a slight in some way. Colm Tóibín's BROOKLYN struck me as a good book for a group discussion because my reaction to its ending ranged from "What the..." to "No wait, this is perfect," and I couldn't decide what side I was on.

The book transports the young Eilis Lacey from Ireland to Brooklyn in the middle of last century in search of a job, a diaspora I frankly hadn't been all that aware of despite being a little Irish. (Eilis herself is a little lost to world events, given her befuddlement when a bookseller refers to the fact that her Jewish professor, who has sent Eilis for some study aids, lost his whole family in World War II. "Why would anyone want to kill that man?" he asks.) Stepping out from under the shadow of her confident sister Rose, Eilis follows her brothers into emigration for work, then as BROOKLYN continues becomes a figure of self-actualization more than a journey narrative.

Despite the 50-to-60-year difference between us, Eilis' life isn't all that different from mine: She lives with roommates, goes to work every day in a job that she hopes will lead to the job she really wants (as a bookkeeper for the department store where she's a clerk), worries about her mother without having much influence over her. The major difference between us is the number of parental figures who govern her life: The local priest, who first found her the job, keeps tabs on her even at social dances, her supervisor at the store tries to give her clothing advice, and her nosy live-in landlord Mrs. Kehoe makes cutting comments about her every move. Her first radical act of separation from them is dating a boy who is (horrors!) not Irish, but Bay Ridge Italian, a fact she even has to hide from her judgy roommates.

That amount of social protection seems like overkill for Eilis, a serious and quiet girl, until the end of BROOKLYN when she finds herself without those safeguards. No spoilers, but I was surprised by the way she acted in a couple of instances. Not that Tóibín is suggesting that that para-parental haze was good for her, but... maybe it wasn't bad, necessarily? Those figures (Father Flood, Mrs. Kehoe, etc.) have much more influence on her than her own mother, who is both a tragic and infuriating figure; that struck me as strangely modern as well. The book challenged my expectations as historical fiction per se, but I don't know if that's because of the ending (again... no spoilers), or because I could so easily picture the store she was walking to, or that the white immigrant American experience is so often framed as a 19th century tale with an early happy ending.

29 October 2010

Reading on the Road: The Ma, I'm on TV edition

Watch out D.C.! This weekend Regular Commenter Elizabeth and I are going to the Rally to Restore Sanity And/Or Fear.

I'm lugging Josh Karlen's LOST LUSTRE and Henry James' THE AMBASSADORS with me, and if I finish those I'm going to start Joanna Smith Rakoff's A FORTUNATE AGE, which I have wanted to read since seeing her at the Brooklyn Book Festival.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez has a new book out (a collection of speeches called I DIDN'T COME TO GIVE A SPEECH) and is finishing a new novel. Yes!!! He totally couldn't stay away!

28 October 2010

When you find a stranger in the alps

It's cool, I'll just reinstitute my book ban after I buy this.

27 October 2010

Arundhati Roy may be arrested in India for speaking out in favor of Kashmiri independence.
I went to see "Easy A" last weekend and movie wasteland or no movie wasteland I enjoyed it more than I expected.

A tidbit for the reading-oriented: The plot is a retelling or reframing of THE SCARLET LETTER -- the Hester Prynne figure being Olive Penderghast (Emma Stone), whose opening transgression is telling her best friend she slept with a (fictional) date. Olive's class in school is reading THE SCARLET LETTER and there's a running joke about her fellow students watching the movie instead of reading the book. Olive jokes to the camera that if viewers are not going to read the book they should rent "the old version" -- I think the 1926 Lillian Gish version, judging by clips we see in "Easy A" -- and not the Demi Moore adaptation because it deviates too much from the book. Later, her English teacher (Thomas Haden Church, who is very funny and underused) jokes about the number of papers he's getting about how Hester Prynne takes a lot of baths -- apparently a feature of the Moore version (really?), although he knows and gets Olive to admit that she actually read the book.

I haven't seen the 1995 Roland Joffé version they're talking about, but I knew it won a couple of Razzies and, given that I wasn't suggested or made to watch it when we studied THE SCARLET LETTER, suspected it might not be of the best caliber. There's also a case file on it in Nathan Rabin's new book MY YEAR OF FLOPS (if I may so shamelessly plug) in which he calls it a "beautiful, idiotic dream" and writes, "It seems apt that a novel about infidelity should inspire one of the least faithful literary adaptations in American film."

You'd think high school cheating would have evolved by now from the hoary days of my youth. (The popularity of Cliff's Notes, for example, given how obvious they look, has been always a mystery to me... as the sort of smug A student who would never use them.) At the rate of adaptation we're on today, English teachers of the future should hope every movie made from a book for the next 30 years is unfaithful enough to prompt such blunders as Olive's classmates are prone. But that's a terrifying future; in adaptation I always hope, as this blog's string of disappointed movie reviews can testify. It won't stop the cheaters anyway; they'll only find another workaround.

26 October 2010

Mark Zuckerberg: Possesed of a sense of humor?

On "The Social Network" to Business Insider:

"Every single shirt or fleece that I had in the movie was a shirt or fleece that I own."

I think his criticism is flawed, but still: points.

Justin Bieber dramatic reading

That's Canadian actor Gordon Pinsent, who you might remember opposite Julie Christie in 2007's "Away From Her," stepping into a Canadian comedy show called "This Hour Has 22 Minutes." Let it also be noted that Bieber's memoir's full title is JUSTIN BIEBER: FIRST STEP 2 FOREVER: MY STORY. Two colons. Good lord.

Dedicated to Coworker Grace, whose relationship with Mr. Bieber is... complicated.

25 October 2010


Thanks, NY1, for scaring the bejesus out of me when on a routine coffee break I heard "author of BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES." But it is not Tom Wolfe whom we celebrate but Burton Roberts, a former judge in the Bronx who was the inspiration for Myron Kovitsky. (Or, Morgan Freeman in the movie version.) A World War II vet who attended NYU and Cornell, Roberts was also one of the defense lawyers in the Amadou Diallo case, that's right, defense.

Jhumpa Lahiri's next project

I could probably do a Things I Learned on Twitter every day (see: yesterday), but here's today's: Via Todd VanDerWerff, author Jhumpa Lahiri (THE NAMESAKE, UNACCUSTOMED EARTH) is a story consultant on this season of HBO's therapist series "In Treatment."

According to the Boston Globe, she is consulting on the episodes featuring Irrfan Khan (who appeared in the Mira Nair adaptation of "The Namesake" as Gogol's father, and was the police inspector in "Slumdog Millionaire") playing "a recent widower who has just moved to New York from India after being forced to retire... liv[ing] unhappily with his Americanized son and his American daughter-in-law." Definitely Lahiri territory. I don't have HBO, but if you do, you should tune in for that.

No, seriously, you're all fired.

No one saw fit to tell me Garrison Keillor has a daily podcast where he talks about writers' birthdays and reads poetry? On the bright side, I have a new great way to start my work day.

24 October 2010

What Sarah Palin makes in her speeches?

NEWSFLASH: Kanye West just admitted on Twitter to getting mixed up
about his "double en-tundras." This delights me almost as much as when
people misspell "voila" and end their sentences with, "Stringed
instrument tuned a fifth lower than the violin!"
Takahashi continues: "So after Ryan O'Neal has slaved away to become a lawyer, they never give the audience any idea what kind of work he does. All we know is he joins this top law firm and pulls in a salary that would make anyone envious. He lives in a fancy Manhattan high-rise with a doorman out front, joins a WASP sports club, and plays squash with his yuppie friends. That's all we know."
Takahashi drinks his water.
"So what happens after that?" Mari asks.
Takahashi looks upward, recalling the plot. "Happy ending. The two live happily ever after. Love conquers all. It's like: we used to be miserable, but now everything's great. They drive a shiny new Jaguar, he plays squash, and sometimes in winter they throw snowballs. Meanwhile, the father who disowned Ryan O'Neal comes down with diabetes, cirrhosis of the liver and Meniere's disease and dies a lonely, miserable death."
"I don't get it. What's so good about a story like that?"
Takahashi cocks his head. "Hmm, what did I like about it? I can't remember. I had stuff to do, so I didn't watch the last part very closely."

--Haruki Murakami, AFTER DARK

23 October 2010

Adam Levin's rule for writing

Chicagoist: What’s one thing about writing that’s really impossible to teach?
Adam Levin: How to sit well. I get these killer students, these talented, hardworking, every-teacher's-dream-type students, and I go, "Write perfect sentences over and over until you arrive at a story," and they do it. I tell them, "Never be boring," and they cease to ever be boring. But then I'll say, "Hey, my back hurts really badly and it's probably gonna hurt for the rest of my life because during the first ten-or-so years that I devoted to writing fiction, I sat all hunched over the keyboard for hours on end every day, so please don't sit like that, okay? Make yourself sit up straight when you work or, at the very least, get up and stretch every twenty minutes," and they give me this look like, "Stretch? What are a stretch?"

22 October 2010

Blind item

What memoirist am I unable to stop hate-reading because his lack of self-awareness is totally astounding? (Not the one who was recently profiled in the New York Times. That profile actually made me like him a lot more.)

21 October 2010

A special invitation

I am the Questionmaster so if you need me I will be biting my fingernails in the corner. Dare I hope for a special appearance?

Here's a live link to the chat.

New York: The Bookslut Is Here

Well, she's been here for a few days anyway, but Jessa Crispin, founder of Bookslut.com, is speaking at Melville House in Brooklyn tonight at 7.

If I had to make a list of top 5 inspirations for me to start this blog, she and now the Bookslut empire would be on it for sure. One of the things I enjoyed the most about her blog was how vehemently she disagreed with the other sources of literary news I was reading at the time. When I started a blog I didn't really think in terms of voice or perspective, and to find someone who had such a clearly defined voice was instrumental. I realize there are many litbloggers who also excel in this arena, and that is why we love them, but she's the first one I found.

(All this from my forthcoming book, THE INTERNET USED TO BE BETTER/ GET OFF MY LAWN.) 
An independent bookstore in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Harvard Book Store (not to be confused with Harvard's official bookstore the Coop), is following in McNally Jackson's footsteps and offering delivery-by-bike to customers in the neighborhood. Cambridge, Somerville and Allston get same- or next-day delivery. I got my copy of DEMONOLOGY there! In case you need a suggestion of what to order.
(Via Galleycat.)

20 October 2010

By my totes shall ye know me

New Yorkers, Greenlight Bookstore (beloved of me) has gotten itself a store tote bag, which to me says two things: One, the bookstore is doing well enough to warrant it; and second, you need this accessory. I personally "only" have 2 other bookstore tote bags in the rotation, so I'm due.

Tom Sawyer would be proud

The first volume of Mark Twain's autobiography is slugging it out for the top spot on Amazon's preorders list with two kids' series juggernauts, Rick Riordan's THE LOST HERO (he wrote the PERCY JACKSON books that were made into a movie in February) and the latest DIARY OF A WIMPY KID. I think a fake funeral is in order.

19 October 2010

If you know aught of Wolfe or Kesey, you know I was in California over the weekend (well, tumbled off the plane yesterday morning). I thought about writing a Reading On The Road post, as I do, but I wasn't sure how much I would get read if anything. I was still vacillating half an hour before I had to be at JFK, which is uncharacteristically indecisive even for me.

On the flight out I was unseasonably plowing through Ian Frazier's TRAVELS IN SIBERIA. The in-flight TV system was broken and repeating a 40-minute loop of promotional clips of Broadway shows, shopping, actors from "Fringe" being interviewed. The man next to me hadn't brought anything to do, and about two hours in he pressed the call button and complained to the flight attendant, "Can you do something about this? It keeps repeating. I'm beginning to get irritated." The world's tallest, baldingest 5-year-old.

On the flight back I didn't sleep much but I read most of John L. Parker's ONCE A RUNNER, which I picked up on a whim at the Strand a few weeks ago. It's sort of like a FOUNTAINHEAD set in college track and/but (depending on your view of THE FOUNTAINHEAD) it improved as it went along.

18 October 2010

Nudge, nudge

I'm over at the A.V. Club this week talking about THE INTUITIONIST.

Got laureate?

W.S. Merwin is speaking at the New York Public Library on Friday. If you don't like that, they're bringing Edwidge Danticat and Zadie Smith soon (and Jay-Z! Although that was only in one of their e-mail blasts months ago, and I foolishly hit REPLY and accosted some poor intern about why it wasn't on the event page. Sorry intern!).

17 October 2010

Who else had major travel lust after reading the Times books essay "Read My Book? Tour My House"? I felt so lazy -- I haven't even sought out Whitman's place in Brooklyn Heights, let alone his house in Camden! Let's all go sleep over in Agatha Christie's house!

Well, let's not. But here's my contribution: We didn't stop in but this weekend I drove past the former site of the cottage where Ken Kesey wrote ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST, also appearing in Tom Wolfe's THE ELECTRIC KOOL-AID ACID TEST. (A few of them are still standing, although I believe Kesey's is not.) Have you ever gone out of your way to see a writer's house or landmark? One I've never been to but am dying to visit is Edith Wharton's mansion in Lenox, Massachusetts -- maybe next spring.

16 October 2010

National Book Award notes

I've had a couple of days to see what People On The Internet are saying about the NBA nominees, and I would like to append these conclusions to my original post:

1. The biggest surprise of the list according to People On The Internet was that Jonathan Franzen didn't receive a nomination for FREEDOM. Professionally, for him, it may be kind of a bummer, but I can buy that the committee wanted to go the undiscovered/hidden-treasure route with their picks, and I wouldn't criticize them for doing so. Sure, it would be a big feather in Franzen's cap, but he's already got a best-seller... and "Oprah"... and the Pulitzers... and the NBCC... and all the year-end lists. I'm interested in finding out more about these authors the committee deemed worthy of praise.

OR it could just be backlash because the NBA nominating committee consists of fiction writers who are all SUPER JEALOUS. Take your pick.

2. I expressed my surprise that Patti Smith had scored a nomination for her memoir JUST KIDS, and I should have clarified that I was surprised in a pleasant way: While I haven't gotten around to reading it, I hear great things and having seen her in concert, the woman is a force. If I had dug a little deeper in the nonfiction category, however, I would have discovered this Not Your Mother's National Book Award nominee sooner. Meet SECRET HISTORIAN: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF SAMUEL STEWARD, PROFESSOR, TATTOO ARTIST AND SEXUAL RENEGADE, by art historian Justin Spring. Now that I have your full attention, Steward was an English teacher, turned novelist (after being fired for one of his scandalous novels), turned pal of Gertrude and Alice's, turned tattoo artist, turned researcher for Kinsey going into the gay scene where he wasn't welcome. Whatta life! You almost want to read the book just to find out why you might have gone all your life without hearing of him.

Do you have any stray opinions about the awards? Does book award season bore you completely?

15 October 2010

November 20 marks the hundredth anniversary of Leo Tolstoy's death (which sounds quite dramatic!). What is Russia doing for it? Nothing. The estate is doing a little, but feels that the government could and should be doing more. What am I doing for it? Uh, vodka party, anyone?

14 October 2010

My picks for the Boston Book Festival

Boston is a city I love and Saturday's book fest kicks ass -- I'm sorry to miss it. (Maybe next year?) If you're in the neighborhood, here's what I would definitely not miss:

  • "First Time's A Charm," 10AM -- Justin Cronin (THE PASSAGE), Joshua Ferris and Jennifer Haigh (THE CONDITION) on life after winning a major award. Hubris city?
  • "Pop Culture," 12PM -- Embarrassingly general title, but the prospect of David Rakoff and getting to hear Chip Kidd speak again is a major draw.
  • "From Page to Screen," 1:30PM -- Dennis Lehane, A.M. Homes and Tom Perrotta on their movie adaptations (if you will... their filmbooks). Perrotta and Lehane have worked on the screenplays of some of their projects, but if I remember correctly Homes wasn't involved at all with hers, though she wrote for "The L Word" for two seasons. (Kind of shocked that trivium stuck to me, but anyway.) Hoping Perrotta drops hints about his next book (2007's THE ABSTINENCE TEACHER was a little disappointing).
  • "Home & Away," 3PM -- Bill Bryson and some other dude. I mean, does it matter?

Here's the full list in case you don't trust my judgment (but I urge you do).

13 October 2010

My preorder box is burning

Great news for "Mad Men" fans: Grove/Atlantic will issue a hardcover of STERLING'S GOLD, the autobiography fictional ad man Roger Sterling has been working on all season. But can they get John Slattery to do the audio book?

National Book Award finalists announced

Stay tuned for the big upset.

Peter Carey, PARROTT & OLIVIER IN AMERICA (read it, liked it!)
Nicole Krauss, GREAT HOUSE (hear good things)
Lionel Shriver, SO MUCH FOR THAT (hear good things, like the author)
Jaimy Gordon, LORD OF MISRULE (never heard of it
Karen Tei Yamashita, I HOTEL (never heard of it)

Barbara Demick, NOTHING TO ENVY: ORDINARY LIVES IN NORTH KOREA (never heard of it)
John W. Dower, CULTURES OF WAR: PEARL HARBOR, HIROSHIMA, 9-11, IRAQ (never heard of it)
Patti Smith, JUST KIDS (what!!!!!)

The ceremony's November 17th and Tom Wolfe will be getting a special achievement award. Check out the website if you want to read up on the finalists and the poetry/YA categories.

Filmbook: Destroying tomorrow's GATSBY remake, today

Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway? I THINK NOT. Other terrible casting suggestions made in this post: Brad Pitt or Chris Pine (seriously???) as Gatsby and Natalie Portman or Nicole Kidman as Daisy. This is some sort of plot, right?

12 October 2010

Howard Jacobson's THE FINKLER QUESTION, out in the U.S. today, has won the 2010 Man Booker Prize. Given that there are already 49 holds on it from the NY Public Library, someone guessed this one right.
This week's New Yorker cover is killer. (Roz Chast of course)

11 October 2010

Luckily, it was paperback

Someone threw a book at President Obama at a rally in Philadelphia yesterday. Really?? Sadly, no one seems to know what book it was, so the gesture is kind of lost. The thrower apparently told the Secret Service he had written it and was throwing it so the President would catch it with his face read it.
Relevant to my interests.

Somebody get me this book!

"That summer, he abandoned the science-fiction novel he’d been working on and started what became Gawker Media."-- from the New Yorker profile of Nick Denton
Here's a cool twist on the best-of list: The Los Angeles Times finds the 10 best "best-of" collections from this year. Especially looking forward to the 2010 edition of NONREQUIRED READING.

10 October 2010

The Harper Perennial book about literary tattoos I wrote about last summer is coming out this week! It's called THE WORD MADE FLESH and its accompanying (some images NSFW) blog is providing me a much needed image break after staring at THE INSTRUCTIONS all weekend. (That's right. I have run straight out of words. I fear for the future.)

09 October 2010


  • Not only is there potentially a fourth Stieg Larsson book, his dad is now claiming there is a fifth which he wrote before #4 because it "was more fun to write." (L.A. Times)
  • "The Kindle changed my reading habits, because I now buy books pretty much only when I’m drunk, and late at night." Elif Batuman sounds like she'd be fun to hang out with. (Boston Globe via Peter W. Knox)
  • Forgive me if you all knew that Keith Olbermann is a huge James Thurber fan who reads his short stories out loud on his show. I just found out this week, perils of the cableless. (GalleyCat)
  • Literary betting news! Britons can no longer bet on the Booker Prize after a suspiciously large amount of money was placed on only slightly tarnished star Tom McCarthy. (Guardian)
  • "Discussed: Comical Hats, Tertiary Characters, Conan the Barbarian, The Dark One, Typologies Within Typologies, Moral Predicaments, Braid-Yanking, Rhapsodies Over Brocaded Silk, Arcane Metaphysical Theology, Clark Gable." Name that fantasy author! (The Believer)
  • This SPOILERY review of "The Social Network" is probably my favorite which I also disagree with. It's an art. (The New Republic).
  • "It was a great way of getting out of the house, of not being stuck alone in my room all day, and, as I have Lonoff say in THE GHOST WRITER, I got to use a public urinal — that was a breakthrough — and also I got to read a lot." Yeah, Philip Roth, it sounds like you really got a lot out of teaching. Any of his former UPenn students wish to speak to that experience? (Esquire)