Sunday, December 31, 2006

One Book

Through a leapfrog maneuver from one blog to another and clicking on a link, I find myself faceto face with a challenge I long to complete. One ambitious Canadian book blogger was recently inspired after reading Italo Calvino's If On a Winter's Night, A Traveler and in particular by the lengthy passage discussing the various searches that go on in a bookstore. She has dubbed it the "Calvino Meme" and attempts to slip titles underneath the categories he has imagined. I highly recommend checking it out and giving it a try, as I certainly will do soon.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Smonk, Tom Franklin

It was the eve of the eve of his death by murder and there was harmonica music on the air when E.O. Smonk rode the disputed mule over the railroad tracks and up the hill to the hotel where his trial would be.

And so begins this fabulous tale of the new mythology of Smonk, Evavangeline, Phail Walton, William R. McKissick Jr., and the entire town of Old Texas. The characters are truly unforgettable, as is the riding. What makes them unforgettable is not their commonality but the believable unbelievableness of who they are, the choices they make and how purely unredemptive most of them are. You don't have to like Smonk, though you might find yourself drawn to him in ways you can't quite explain. With his odd shape, his massive goiter, glass eye and more disgusting behaviors than can be listed here. You know you shouldn't care for Evavangeline; the surprisingly naive, violent, 15yr old whore who can't retain her rage when she drinks and yet finds herself allowing some hormone-driven actions with McKissick Jr. in a simple, openly heartfelt way of caring for him and a gaggle of orphans. McKissick Jr., possibly fated to be an outlaw no matter what chances he is given at a new life, proving that nature is often more powerful than nurture. Phail Walton: the head of the Christian Deputies who is so faithful, so devout that he drinks urine and slams his fingers in a drawer rather than feel the slightest feelings of lust and is also utterly, perhaps hopelessly, naive in his attempts to educate the near-outlaws who follow him.

It is not only superbly crafted as its sentences are nearly all worth reading aloud (and in fact, should be) but the imagery is so precise that you find it lodged permanently in your brain. Which, normally, is a wonderful thing for a novel to possess! Unless, like in Smonk, the imagery is so violent that the images can be disturbing to people who may focus more on that than on the gorgeously crafted prose that makes up every single page from start to finish.

It's edgy, rough debauchery that swirls like a prickly tumblewood flying across a desert; dark humor that tempts you not to laugh aloud; bleak beauty that is found in the hearts of even the worst characters: I am hopelessly, madly in love with this remarkable book. Though not for everyone, if it is for you then it will lodge itself on your shelf for years to come with many required rereadings. And reread you will.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

William Styron Dies at 81

Prize-Winning Novelist William Styron Dies at 81
by Renée Montagne

Morning Edition, November 2, 2006
· Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist William Styron died Wednesday of pneumonia at a hospital in Martha's Vineyard, Mass. . He was 81.

Styron won the Pulitzer for The Confessions of Nat Turner, a fictional account of Nat Turner and the slave revolt of 1831. As a white, Protestant Southerner, Styron was criticized widely for his portrayal of the black hero.

His other works included Sophie's Choice, the award-winning novel about a Holocaust survivor from Poland, A Tidewater Morning, a collection of fiction pieces, and Lie Down In Darkness.

Styron also published a book of essays, This Quiet Dust, and a best-selling 1992 memoir, Darkness Visible, that chronicled his suicidal depression.

The liberal ex-Marine was also well-known for his advocacy of human rights.


Sunday, October 08, 2006


Changing the look of Literati Illuminations. This might not be the only change. Be forwarned.

Speaking of blogs, I found a new LitBlog today. I haven't been able to get on the bandwagon for many that are out there (and there are way too many, of which this is one), but this one was a standout. Design, accessibility, readability, focus, lack of pointless chatter, so on and soforth. Check out BOOKWORM

I know that I am not the intricate, oft-updated, detailed, in the loop blog sort like Elegant Variation or Golden Rule Jones or Bookish or Book Ninja or Grumpy Old Bookman. Mostly I am just me wanting to write about what I read. As ambitious as I get, I will never have a fancy, streamlined, well-organized blog. Just the words here. The moral of the story? Keep on reading and always tell others what you've lately loved in the world of pages, black on white, alpha-art.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Road, Cormac McCarthy

Sometimes you come across a book that truly keeps you riveted. Not only while you read it, but for days after. McCarthy's apocalyptic vision does just that. I feel as though I cannot do this book any justice by writing properly formulated sentences. So much of my reaction is visceral, that a well-crafted paragraph will only take away from the impact such a work has on the mind and soul. So I give you scattered thoughts, emotions and perceptions. To know anything more, you need to read it yourself.

Fear. Chilling. Cold. Stark. A picture, a reality, voice of my nightmares. Desolate. Barren. Why worry about the boy’s heartbeat when every other thought is about mercifully killing him? Why be worried about him succumbing quiet, peaceful in the night when the other options are so much worse? What are they hoping for? What does their hope lie in? Why keep faith? What are they trying to survive for?

We long for absolute silence and the peace of not having anyone around. But if that were really to occur, we would be desolate within ourselves. We would be driven mad by every sound.

What did this? Nuclear holocaust? Meteor? Climate change?

Are the “bad people” bad for surviving in the only ways they know how? Why do they resort to cannibalism to appease their need for meat rather than learn how to plow the fields and plant things? Is the earth so scorched that nothing will grow? What will happen to the planet when all is gone? When all humanity, all animal life is gone...what will populate the earth? Lots and lots of trees? Nothing can appear from nothing. Can it?

McCarthy makes things happen when absolutley nothing is happening. How can so much happen when the world is so dead? Very few writers can paint such visions with so few words. This is one of them.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

MBA Day 1

Officially on the road! I left home at 6am after being up for only 30 minutes. And yet it was way, way too early for me. 7am is too early to wake up and I have to do it several days a week. Bought coffee on the way to meet the charter bus - mostly because I decided I might as well have some boost to the trip since I know I won’t fall back asleep, no matter how badly I will want to (and I do!). I had just sat down on the bus and in typical fashion, promptly spilled coffee all down my front. Right on my nice new striped coffee and cream striped shirt. Although now the coffee on it wasn’t just the coloring. At least we hadn’t started down the road and I was able to scour under the bus for my bag and pull out another top. A light sweater, but I get warm easily. I hope it won’t be a problem.
I do love the golden glow of the sunrise. It makes everything so warm. The music on my current iPod playlist (Amelie, March of the Penguins, Bill Evans) adds an interesting musical undercling to the scenery passing by the window. Corn fields, low shrubs, mown pastures; colors green, red, gold, purple. When did Autumn get here?

Lunch and on the way again. I read one book already today. I’m still reeling a little from it. The Road by Cormac McCarthy. What a stunning read. I blew through it in under 2 hours. Part of the speed was due to the pacing, to the way the novel pushed your forward out of curiosity and a palpable fear. The other part was the simplicity of the prose. No complicated phrasings to stumble over, no over-descriptive paragraphs to have to re-read several times in order to get a clear picture. And it was over too soon. More lengthy thoughts to come.
Some education sessions to attend this afternoon: events related ones and then a roundtable for your “younger” bookseller/bookstore owner (directed to those of us in our 20s and 30s). A reception. A few headed to author dinners - not me! I will take notes during the sessions because I am, in fact, a nerd.

1230pm ARRIVAL

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Simple Update

I have been reading like mad, but have been too preoccupied (lazy?) to share my thoughts here. Recently read and loved:

Smonk by Tom Franklin
Moral Disorder by Margaret Atwood
How We Got Insipid by Jonathan Lethem
Children's Hospital by Chris Adrian

This weekend I will be at the Midwest Booksellers Association trade show in St. Paul and will attempt to do some blogging from there. No promises, but the noble vestiges of action will be on my mind.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

American Bee, James Maguire

The dust jacket of this book is all you need to read to suck you inside in an instant. I could not not open the book and start from the beginning. It captures you like the peak, tense denoument of any thrilling movie or riveting sports event. And it's only a spelling bee!

Eagerly I dove into American Bee wanting to know...did David Tidmarsh win? Or did he hyperventilate and collapse onstage? How does this exciting moment, making up only the first chapter, constitute a book-length exploration of the spelling bee? As I read onwards, new questions sprang to mind: How did the bee become so huge? When did ESPN decide it was a worthy sporting event for their discriminating network to cover? Have the words always been so obnoxiously difficult? When did spellers start studying word etymology rather than simply memorize spellings? And so on.

Maguire not only answers all of these questions, but goes into a fascinating history of the spelling bee itself (social construct for young men and women to safely flirt with one another on wintery evenings in the 1800s), individual profiles of champions (several profiles covering the last 30+ years of spelling) and even into the history of orthography (spelling) back to the beginning throes of english. To think that our own dictionary, our modern spellings and fleshed out language, only truly became such 200 years ago is actually quite stunning in light of how many years society has existed and communicated to one another.

I love that Maguire makes all this so accessible that even a non-word geek would appreciate the fascinating bits of trivia and lingual history. I know this because I have been reading parts aloud to my spouse who does not, does not read, at all. He has been amazed at just how interesting this information is to him. Sure, we can read about the history of the english language and learn all about roots, outside language influences, the creation of the dictionary, etc. in other, lengthier, more academic tomes. But! But it would not be nearly as interesting to non-linguists, non-writers and non-orthographers. That's the spark of American Bee. What it takes to make what is seen as boring, interesting, is the skill of a talented storyteller.

Of course, the peering into the lives of kids who are so atypical and finding out what a broad cross-section of cultural and educational and class the Bee cuts into...that is the essence of a great history. The first national spelling bee near the start of the 20th century was won by a young girl who was, gasp, black. A black girl? You can imagine the tizzy into which society was thrown after that. Yet it stands as a perfect example of how the Bee progressed, culturally. Color-blind, gender-blind, the Bee only has ever focused on pure hard-work, intelligence and passion. Yes, passion. Wait until you read about these kids and the hours they put into learning about word roots, learning other languages and voraciously devouring anything they can read. It's enough to inspire someone to get out there and do the same, even "late" in life.

Who doesn't have an intense involvement with the spelling bee they lost? Who doesn't remember the word they mispelled and placed lower than first? I know I remember the word that brought me 3rd place in the school-wide bee I participated in as a 4th grader. Bacterium. I spelled it right in my head and raced through it, forgetting the "u". It ruined me for future bees. I guess I just didn't have what it takes. Did you?

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Galley Giveaway

My store does a galley giveaway once a year where all our extra galleys get set out and customers can take one for every book they purchase. It's a neat thing and people really seem to get a kick out of it. There are a a large number of good galleys hanging around this year because we got moer quantity or we all were interested in slightly more obscure things or we liked the books so damn much we kept the galleys. Currently I'm going through my stock here at home. I have a lot of books that I've brough home over the last year that I was (and still am) truly interested in reading, but doubt I will get around to them anytime soon. A lot of the nonfiction galleys I've brought home will stay with me. At some point I will read them. But the varied fiction types? Probably not. What I hate is constantly picking up and setting down books. Every time I pick one of these sort up, I peruse it, find it vaguely calling to me, then I put it down because I"m not in the mood or it just doesn't speak to me that day.

Then there is the problem of having new galleys every week. Those pile up faster than I can read them. These are books that I find interesting that someone else is not likely to read and rec so I need to do so. But other people keep recc'ing other books to me that sound really good and then I put down whatever I'm working on in favor of something great someone else has already read.

I think I need some steadfast rules to get through the galley dilemma. Some rules that will keep me structured and on pace so I don't feel so biblio-ADD. If I come up with any, I will let you know.

Friday, July 28, 2006

August Book Sense

The Yacoubian Building is a Booksense pick for August and my review was chosen to be featured with the pick! Exciting! I received an email from a representative for the company that distributes books put out by the American University in Cairo Press (English publisher of TYB), so I thought I'd post a link to a site where you can check out some of their other titles.

AUC Listings

(Also: I'm still stuck in the Northwoods and my internet access is limited so don't expect too many more posts just yet.)

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Brief History of the Dead Redux

I have been madly in love with this book since I read it after it first came out and I try to handsell it like crazy (though clearly I can't do it while I'm at a camp in the WI Northwoods). Anyhow, I came across this profile of it on Nancy Pearl's list today on NPR and this is a great summary. Just thought it would be something to be aware of. The last paragraph sums it all up perfectly.

It's difficult to do a precis of Kevin Brockmeier's The Brief History of the Dead. First of all, it sounds depressing, which it isn't, really. Secondly, it's one of those novels that's simply unique; I can't think of another story that's even similar. The plot, laid bare, is this: There's a worldwide epidemic due to an out-of-control synthetic virus that is inexorably leading to the end of humankind.

Sounds like a thriller, right? But the plot itself is almost incidental to the book's theme, which really concerns the quite literal power of memory. In the world of this novel, when someone dies, they go to some other, intermediate place, where they remain so long as there is someone alive who remembers them. When they no longer exist in the memory of anyone living, they disappear.

But again, Brockmeier doesn't mean this metaphorically -- in this intermediate place are ordinary people living their quotidian lives, publishing newspapers, falling in love, regretting the past, anticipating the future. In alternating chapters, we also get the story of Laura Byrd, who's part of a scientific team in the Antarctic. How these two seemingly disparate stories intersect gradually unfolds as the novel progresses. This is the kind of book you'll find yourself thinking about long after you've gone on to other novels. The writing is masterful, the ideas are provocative, and, all in all, this is a stunning achievement.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

One more thing before I go

Okay. this is so cool. I had to share.

The Official Podcast of BookExpo America

John Updike. Amy Sedaris. Barack Obama. Sigh. WIsh I could have gone. Oh well, one day....

Summer Delay

Okay. So a quick FYI. There will be very few (if any) posts over the next two months. I'm heading off for an adventure in the Northwoods and while I will have e-mail access and will bring a bunch of books with me, I may not get a chance to post anything here. So hold tight, don't let the mosquitos bite and we will be in touch again soon. Ta!

Honeymoon With My Brother, Wisner

Ladies, ladies, do I have a single gentleman for you! He is handsome (hoo-boy is he!), charming, a little shy and a world-traveller. He is Kurt Wisner, brother to Franz Wisner who wrote the above-mentioned book. Here's a peek:

Yes, okay, so Franz is also ridiculously handsome, but he's now taken. And I can't have Kurt so he is up for grabs ladies!

So the point of this post is not to ramble on about how remarkably handsome, sweet, polite, warm and charming the Brothers Wisner are (although I could, because they are). The point is that I have yet to mention this delightful read. I offer up excuse Number One which is that I have been preparing to leave for the wilderness for the next two months, but it's still a weak explanation.

Imagine you are ready to spend the rest of your life with someone. Your job is perfect. You have a great car, a house, fabulous pay and a girl you want to have babies with. Then with only a few days before the arrival of guests from all over to attend your well-planned, fabulous meaningful wedding -- she has her brother call to tell you that she can't do it. He isn't the brother noted in the title. No. That brother encouraged the dumped one to continue with the wedding anyway, but have a party instead. It worked. And so began a rolling ball that hasn't stopped and only gets bigger and better. Franz asked his distant, but supportive brother Kurt to attend his already-paid-for honeymoon with him. And it was on THAT honeymoon that the idea came up to bank all their bucks, sell what they could, store the rest and depart on an extended honeymoon. Yes, just the two boys.

Two years and 53 countries later, they have a book, tour across the country in a VW van, recruited Tom Cruise as a fan, signed a movie deal, have another book in the works and, well, Franz has since married and become a father. WHEW! It's no easy feat to accomplish this sort of thing. You have to be incredibly open and ready for (truly) anything to be willing to ride buses and taxis in Zambia, Botswana, Kenya and Zimbabwe; drive a new Saab across the European continent from Sweden; hike in the Andes; meet the creatures of Galapagos; trek up and down Machu Picchu; cavort in Brazil and more.

Honeymoon With My Brother is less about the recovery from a dashed fulfillment of the American Dream than it is about exploring the world outside yourself. It's about how life often only gets better after you think it has gotten as bad as you think it can get. It's about reconnecting to family (old and young), about learning how the rest of the world lives, about how to survive on your own wits and instincts. It's about taking risk and following your passions. No matter the cost. For the reward can only be happiness unlike anything you had thought possible.

An easy read that leaves you with big smiles, you will want to share this book with everyone who has ever had the rug pulled out from under them. Which is just about everyone.

Thanks again boys!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Yacoubian Building. Alaa Al Aswany

Aswany has woven for us a lush, rich tapestry of modern day Egyptians. Their struggles with religion, culture, sexuality and class explode into inevitable and sometimes surprising endings. This beautiful novel is both alluringly foreign and captivatingly familiar.

Guests of the Ayatollah, Mark Bowden

I'm only on page 25 but I'm hooked. Mark Bowden, author of Black Hawk Down has brought us an over 600 page exploration of the Itanian hostage crisis. His 5 years of research is evident in his accessible narrative that is detailed enough to make you feel as though you are right there while providing you with historical and character background to a depth that makes it hard to believe he wasn't there as hostage, hostage-taker, everyday observer or politician. The timing of this book with regard to Iran's stalemate with the United States is uncanny. The mentions of the historical actions of the U.S. along with the cultural misunderstandings between the two countries is quite illuminating. And frightening.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen

I had the opportunity to read this in ARC form nearly 2 months ago. Or has it been longer than that even? Anyhow, I was so excited about this book. But I couldn't say anything because it wasn't coming out for awhile yet and I'm feeling rather cruel if I post about a great book that someone might read about and forget before it is actually on the shelves. That's not fair to you, dear reader, or to the writer who gifts us with literary feasts. This is one of those books. If I recall correctly, Water for Elephants received more bookseller reviews and ratings at Booksense than any other in the history of their picks lists. It will be #1 on their list for June. I can't say I'm surprised since this gorgeous novel deserves the recognition.

So first off we meet our characters in the midst of something chaotic. It sucks you in instantly. You have to find out what is happening! But alas, we have to meet our main character (Jacob Jankowski) as he is now: old, cantankerous, frustrated with being old and more than a little sad. We love Jacob. We hate how miserable he is and wonder what sort of life he had that makes this new change so hard to cope with. This exploration into a stage in his life that changed him forever explains to us precisely why being caged like an animal is extra hard for him. Because for Jacob, that is exactly what he feels like: one of the caged animals he tried to help when he joined the circus. Accidentally, of course.

The flashes between past and present both progress forward in seamless, parallell lines. There is no awkwardness or sense of being lost in either time. Instead, we relate bit by bit as we move forward. And moving forward at a compelling pace! Once I started this book, there was nothing (except work) that could keep me from reading it. I anticipate reading it again soon now that I know what actually happens, I want to satisfy my hunger for the luscious details. The descriptions are never laborious or too poetic. Yet they are so utterly vivid that you can smell the manure and the sweat of the workers and the food tent; you can feel the heat and hear the squeaky wheels of the train as it slowly pulls away or the shouts of the sideshow callers. As a result of Gruen's intense and careful research, the reader is completely transplanted into the fading era of train circuses cris-crossing the country.

What I love most about this book is that you really get to know each character. Flaws and all. You have a slight feeling of compassion for even the seemingly cruelest characters (well, all but one really). Gruen's ability to portray basic humanity in all its complicated glories of love, jealousy, greed, cruelty and kindness is fabulous. She never over-reaches. It is a natural progression for everyone involved.

The gritty, sumptuous, magnificent writing gives us a deeply satisfying read. This one is truly an unforgettable book that you will want to go back to time and again.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Brushes with Writerly Glory

I apologize for being so lacksadasial in my updates. I have been reading non-stop, but an increase in work hours as well as a brief illness has subdued my regular additions here. The increase in work hours was due to accepting a new position at my bookstore. I now get to host and coordinate all in-store author events. In April we averaged 3 a week - many of which brought in several hundred people! So it's been busy.

Needless to say, there are great perks in this new position. Mainly in being able to cavort with writers as brief as their visits to us may be. As a sampling: It has been an honor to host writers such as Christopher Moore, Paul Rusesabagina, Jonathan Safran Foer and DBC Pierre.

Last night when DBC Pierre came in for his reading and we had a light crowd, we decided after to step on down to a local pub for a drink and some highly stimulating conversation. A brilliant, genuinely cool guy that DBC Pierre is. Oh, and his latest novel, Ludmila's Broken English is ridiculously well written.

Also! Not only was I blurbed by BookSense for Ariel Gore's marvelous first novel The Traveling Death and Resurrection Show, but Ms. Gore nabbed my post from this blog and posted it on hers. It's always good to know that your impressions of a book/writer are accurate enough for them to share with the world.

Coming up next week in my hostessing duties? Sebastian Junger and Augusten Burroughs. Then Mark Bowden and Sean Wilsey in early June. I love this job!!!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

ARC Angst

The frustration with the joys of Advanced Reader Copies of upcoming books: Loved it, can't wait for everyone to read it, must share about it now. Wait, can't. Isn't coming out until August. Shit. Never mind. guess I should read something that's already out on shelves.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Reading Group Resources


Reading Group Links
The following publisher sites feature reading group discussion guides:
Henry Holt and Co.
Houghton Mifflin Co.
Penguin Putnam
Random House, Vintage and Anchor
Random House, Ballantine Reader's Circle
more from Random House
St. Martin's Press
Simon and Schuster
Time Warner
W.W. Norton and Co.

Other useful sites:
See what our neighbors to the north are reading at the Random House, Canada web site.
NY Times Book Forum: You'll have to register with The New York Times (it's free and easy) before you can use their site, but they have some smart content about classic and modern works.
Rediscover the classics with Penguin books. This excellent web site is devoted exclusively to classic works, of which Penguin has been one of the world's leading publishers for over fifty years.
A one-stop-shopping site for reading group guides.
Book Reporter
Book Browse
Features some book recommendations and links to reading group guides, but the best feature is Reading Group Choices, an annually updated list of books that are great for discussion. Each recommendation includes a synopsis, author bio, and discussion questions.

Source: Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops

What I'm Reading Now

More details to follow eventually. But, things I have just read, am reading currently, or will be starting within the next day or two:

The Hearing Trumpet Leonora Carrington
We'll Always Have Paris John Baxter
Ella in Europe Michael Konik
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close Jonathon Safran Foer
History of Love Nicole Krauss

This doesn't count the GINORMOUS stack of galleys and finished books I have stacked by my desk that all need to be read...TODAY. Anywho. The only reason I'm neglecting you is that I'm reading too much, working more and not online enough. That's all for now.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Christopher Moore redux

The big Mooron himself on Talk of the Nation. After he is done with his current project, a sequel to Bloodsucking Fiends, he mentioned he's thinking it is time to take on Shakespeare. I am having a near-post-orgasm shiver just thinking of that pairing. That would be bloody marvelous!

A Dirty Job, Christopher Moore

I have been in love with Christopher Moore since I read Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove. I am ashamed to say that while I have read nearly every book he has written, I own zero. He is a writer you can read, relish and release. Kinda like fishing the eco-friendly way. What is interesting is that I read his books, including his latest, without ever really reading anything about him. I didn't go online and read interviews or even check out his website. I just loved to read him, laugh a lot, and wallow in the disturbingly quirky humor his books embody. But I didn't truly want to know anything about him. I wanted to be a fan of the books, not of the author. But since he is coming to my store and I have to interact with the man as a part of my job, I wanted to learn a little more about the actual author. I found this in an online interview which explained so much:

With a desire to do for the horror novel what the brilliantly belated Douglas Adams had done for sci-fi with The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

I love Douglas Adams. Have loved him for over a decade. Easily. And I also love Chuck Pahlaniuk, of the literary horror genre. Combine the two and you get Christopher Moore's writing. Slightly perverse, a little cynical, but honest and very, very funny. I don't want to say that he is highbrow writing, because he's really not, but you do have to have a certain perversity to "get" his humor, just like you have to be pretty dry to "get" Douglas Adams. Other things Moore finds funny? Mil Millington, My Name is Earl, Billy Collins and The Daily Show. None of which are surprising.

So in the latest Moore book, we have some repeat characters (like the Emperor of San Francisco and his dogs) and we have new ones fashioned in the usual vein of bumbling, slightly neurotic, totally genuine men and strong, sassy, sexy women. Our "hero" Charlie Asher is a man utterly devoted to his wife and while anxious about the birth of his first child, is eager to be a daddy. When his wife dies and a strange black man dressed in mint green (Minty Fresh) appears in the hospital room with his deceased wife, Asher realizes things are about to get really weird. Weirder than he could have ever imagined, even with his overactive, paranoid imagination. And on this journey we meet Death Merchants, hellhounds, the Morrigan, glowing red secondhand store items, ballroom-gowned squirrels (sort of), and try to save San Francisco (and ultimately the world) from the rising Forces of Darkness.

Typically Moore, typically paced so that you truly do not want to put the book down until you know what happens even with the sense that in Moore's books everything turns out well in the end (or at least, things turn out as they should) and typically laugh-out-loud funny to the point of wanting to read certain blurbs to random strangers even though you know that out-of-context it just isn't nearly as hilarious: like trying to explain an inside joke. And ultimately that's what Moore feels like: one big inside joke that you wish the whole world could "get."

Eat, Pray, Love redux

Elizabeth Gilbert on NPR about this delightful read.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert

Join Elizabeth on her post-divorce soul-searching journey through Italy, India and Indonesia. Honest and intimate: this part travel literature, part spiritual guide is packed with humor and in-the-moment emotional discoveries. Elizabeth doesn't skimp on baring her every thought and feeling as she traverses the geography of foreign lands...and of her own self. Though written by a woman, it’s all about universal, genderless places of the heart.

The Attack, Yasmina Khadra

Being translated into English and published in May, Khadra's latest novel has been nominated for the prestigious French award: the Prix Goncourt; and has even been optioned by Focus Features for film rights. Which is not surprising in the least. The plot alone is film-worthy these days. And Focus is the best film company to approach the movie. However, trying to remain as non-judgmental politcally and religiously as the writer will likely be difficult for a movie version.

The main character, Dr. Amin Jaafari, sees his wife off to visit family. The day she is due to return there is a suicide bombing at a restaurant and it appears his wife was the martyr. While the writing is simplistic with the occasional "big word" thrown in for good measure, the doctor's desire to unearth why his wife would do such a thing when there were no hints or signs that he saw, is a desire that is felt strongly by the reader. I'm not sure if the writing is a result of the translation alone or if Khadra is simply a simple writer. Either way, it is almost incongruous to have such easy reading mixed up with such a complex story and situation. Yet Khadra manages to give a clear account of what appears to the West as an unimaginable atrocity and to what the Middle East faces as a near-daily occurrence. While the reader doesn't find empathy for the "terrorists", the author paints a pitcure of them that puts one more in touch with the realities of these choices. You are given a clearer idea of why someone might make such a seemingly far-fetched decision. And this clarity comes through the eyes of a character who also struggles with the "why" of it all.

While not overly-impressed by this book, I loved that it was easy to get through, easy to access the greater questions of why there is such conflict and turmoil; to illustrate how complicated the Middle East conflicts really are. Westerners will never truly grasp the emotional urgency that drives the people we term "terrorists", people who live lives and dream dreams and aspire to being greater than themselves: concepts that are not unclear to Americans, regardless of religious or cultural background. And this is the hardest part of all to accept. That those who are encouraging and participating in terrible acts that destroy the lives of innocent people...they are not that dissimilar to ourselves.

The Attack asks the question: "But does that make it right?" Read and answer the question for yourself.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Last Chance in Texas, John Hubner

What happens when you take a state like Texas with one of the most brutal sentencing judicial systems in the country and match it up with the most progressive treatment programs for the most serious of teenage offenders? What happens when you take kids who have done horrendous things, the sorts of thing that people are never forgiven for (rape, torture, murder), and give them a true second chance? When you do these things you have arrived at the Giddings State School: the punitive holding place for the worst of the worst of Texas juvenile offenders. You combine kids from all types of vicious gangs and abusive backgrounds and give them such intense discipline that most of them understand quite clearly that if they don't obey and try to improve on themselves within these helpful, encouraging yet tough walls, they will go to prison for the entirety of their sentences. As adults. Which means they are more ruined for a future than they already were.

And so we have it. The author spends some intense time at Giddings, following along with a male and female group of kids going through the school's "Capitol Offenders Program" which takes the worst of the worst of the worst at Giddings and puts them through progressive yet very intensive therapy that involves going through their painful lives and confronting their terrible crimes. They have to learn tom come face-to-face with made them who they are today, learn how to fix their thinking, forgive themselves, understand their role as victim in their lives but then to face their crime, to feel the pain they inflicted upon others and come to grips with the fact that they have no excuses for what they did, they must take full responsbility for their actions, no matter how vicitmized they were as children.

The book is tragic and educational. It is disappointing and so hopeful. Even when you reach the epilogue and you learn where all these kids are today and you see that most of them will never end up where they hope to be; the point is that they are trying. They are making conscious efforts and decisions to avoid falling into old ways of thinking and behaving. And that is where the hope comes in.

The recidivism rates at Giddings are ridiculously low. Crazy low. So low that it makes us wonder why other juvy systems in the country aren't following their example. Part of the problem is cost. It is expensive to offer these types of programs with the sorts of trained and understanding, yet tough, individuals that run them. The other part of the problem is that it's always easier to put these kids away, labelling them as hopelessly criminal without a chance to truly change. It's easier to give in to fear than it is to think they might have a way of mending themselves and, in turn, mending our society.

So readable, so accessible, Hubner writes in a manner that makes you feel like you are with him behind the one-way mirror watching and listening as these kids go through the biggest struggle of their lives: confronting their real selves. I have a few complaints about the structure of the book: what went where and why -- and also the too-brief time spent with the girls' group. But even more important is that we need to read this book and champion ways of bringing this light and hope to as many of these hopeless juvy cases as we possibly can. Otherwise, what hope is there that things will continue to get better?

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Plots? What plots?

Okay. So I realize I've been a little short on the whole reviewing part where you give a little hint at the plotline or basic point of a book. I'm so used to having to write reviews at work where I'm just supposed to have a few words of an impression without plot since people can just pick up the book and find that out from the back or inside of a book. But you, dear blog reader, cannot do that here. Duh. So from here on out I promise to give some sense of what the heck a book I'm talking about is actually...about!

Thursday, February 23, 2006

The Meaning of Tingo, Adam Jacot de Boinod

Check out the website for this delightful little book: The Meaning of Tingo. I read an excerpt from it that was published in the March issue of Smithsonian Magazine on "The Last Page" of the magazine, a little column that is, in fact, on the last page.

It is difficult to explain without revealing the fun linguistic oddities that Monsieur Jacot de Boinod shares, but one must hear a few of these to get the picture of this collection. Essentially, think of all the unique emotions, physicalities, weather anomalies, expressions, etc. that we experience in life for which we have no words to encapsulate them accurately. Imagine being able to use ONE WORD to express any of the following:

the gap between each finger and toe
the excess weight one gains from emotion-related overeating
face that cries out for a fist in it
looking beautiful after a disease

to walk along in the water searching for something with your feet
to walk in windy weather for fun
the swinging of long earrings or the swishing of a dress as one walks

to be swallowed like a postman's sock (hopelessly in love)
to sever one's intestines (broken heart)

a camel that won't give milk until her nostrils have been tickled
to exchange wives for a few days only
to borrow things from a friend's house, one by one, until there's nothing left

To find out the words for these expressions, as well as the languages of origin, you'll just have to buy the book.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006


I am. I can't deny it.

OK. Brief bits.

Just recently read:

Floor Sample by Julia Cameron.
Memoir. Starts out strong and interesting. Carries on strongly but starts to taper out and feels more like a chronological listing of her mental state and correlating "episodes". Could have been truly a book about doing what you dream even when your own self fights you and despite poor past decisions. Sounds more and more like one big pity party with a lot of name dropping of the look-at-me-and-everyone-I-know kind. Too bad.

Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen
I should do a post just for this book but someone else is borrowing it at the moment. So, in summary: Fantastic read, very interesting subject matter (Train Circuses), brilliant characters and so utterly well-researched that you really do feel like the writer was there and is now taking you with her. I really, really, really liked this book. Once you read the first page you will not be able to stop until you finish.

A Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier.
Another book that should get more words. But I'm a slacker. Started this on Saturday afternoon. Finished it Sunday afternoon. It was all I wanted to do. The style of writing is known as "magical realism" for its slightly sci-fi leanings without being to believe? Yes, that's it. See, this was completely believable. In its pandemic that wipes out the population (except one lone female), the people who live in a city between earthly life and full-blown-gone-forever-death: both written in a way that you can believe that such situations and places do/could exist. Truly beautiful.

I'm trying to catch up on some books that are already out but we have Spring galleys coming soon. Eiiieeee! So I can't guarantee anything long, even if the book was stellar. Just a heads up!

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Broken For You, Stephanie Kallos

I was a little late in actually getting around to reading this one. The life of a bookseller is fraught with advanced reader copies of books you need to read to push when they hit the shelves, re-discovering old books, stumbling across hidden treasures - and you must read them all!! Or at least identify them and learn a substantial bit about them from trustworthy resources. Argh! So, yes, I didn't read Secret Life of Bees until it had already been out in paperback for many moons and the author had already published another novel that was selling like mad. It's easy to get behind, needless to say.

So this last October at the Wisconsin Book Festival (mahvelous event!), I got to listen to Stephanie Kallos and Mya Goldberg speak and read bits of their works. I knew that Kallos' novel was a big hit with booksellers and readers alike. I knew I needed to read it. Listening to her read from the first chapter, I was smitten. Of course, it took until a couple weeks ago to actually start reading it. I went the audio-book route, however. I can read while going on walks or driving in the car (audiobooks are a GODSEND - audiobooks on iPod? Greatest combination of greatest inventions ever!). Kudos to the reader, first of all. She was a delight. ANd anyone who reads audiobooks knows that the reader can make or break a book.

I loved this book. There were turns in the plot and additions of character I had not expected. And they were believable, the twists and turns. The character development was so incredibly honest!! More prosaic than poetry, more of a character study than intricate plot. It is an experience worth having....letting these people into your lives and making their hopes and dreams yours. While I didn't leave it feeling wowed, it was so satisfying a read that I felt more in touch with my own humanness when I was done. I do fear that the author used every trick in her book to write this and that her next novel won't be nearly as splendid. Unless this was just the unlocking of herself novelistically (yes, I just made that up), being the emobodiment of the rule: "Write what you know", and the next one will surpass what she knows without losing any of its honesty about people and emotions.

I can only hope.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Empress, Shan Sa

Initially in french, this will be the first time Imperatrice has been published in English. Current date for publication is May 2006.

The narration style is very unique for a novel. I've read numerous works of fiction that have been translated from other languages so I do believe that the writing style was very deliberate and not a result of translation style. We trace the rise and reign of China's first female emperor, Empress Wu, who reigned for 50 years (think China's version of Queen Elizabeth). Empress reads like the annals of history must read. It feels like more of a listing of events and conversations that have been recorded by attentive poet-scribes than a flowing narrative. This does not detract from the book, but rather enhances it. It gives a sense of authenticity. We never leave the point of view of Empress Wu, starting with her birth and continuing after her death.

Works of historical fiction that look at the lives of great historical women can vary so greatly from the stunning, lyrical, yet well-researched writings of Anchee Min or Indu Sundaresan to the too-colorfully-painted, highly fictional accounts by Philippa Gregory or Sarah Dunant. It is difficult to tackle the lives of women in places where while there were incredibly detailed accounts of daily life down to conversations held in court, but the private points ov view of these women are, for the most part, hidden forever. We can only speculate based on these public records, private letters and even poetry. Shan Sa does an exquisite job of drawing you into a world that while brutal in its bloodshed, was decadent and virile. The arts thrived and wars virtually non-existent except for minor rebellions. Commoners were given a chance to get involved with their imperial government and women had freedoms unparallelled either before the tang Dynasty and, in many ways, since.

For a great article on this era, specifically with regard to women, see Women of the Tang Dynasty. It just goes to show that even when women have freedom, choice and even power....the tide can be overturned by political power, ego and religion and send women back to being submissive slaves of men for hundreds of years. No matter how it looks now, we must always be aware that things can change. Again.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Mostly Bob, Tom Corwin

Courtesy of an evil co-bookseller, I was forced to open this book yesterday. Then I was forcecd to read it. Then cry. Geez. As if John Grogan's Marley and Me wasn't bad enough in its heart-searing, gut-wrenching attack on your heart, mind, soul and any part of you that's ever even looked a dog fondly let alone be stolen away with affection and love for one. Tom Corwin's tiny little 5-minute-read is nearly as devastating emotionally without all the details. When done right, simplicity is a powerful tool. In a matterof pages you meet Bob, fall in love with Bob, being to realize what is happening, then lose Bob. All while looking at a little silhouette in the corner of...who else?....Bob. If this isn't worth purchasing to loan to every dog-lover you know, it is definitely worth a trip to the bookstore with a kleenex to honk your nose and wipe your eyes when you're done. Thanks guys. *sniff*

Saturday, January 21, 2006


I do sometimes think that I sholdn't be around books so much. Here's an example of my literary explorations as of, literally, today.


~Another blank book with the front and back covers featuring the artist Jean Michael Folon


Empress: A Novel by Shan Sa


Friday, January 20, 2006


I am in the middle of reading both The Penelopiad and The Tent - Margaret Atwood's newest. It's so nice to have one follow so close on the tail of the other when we so often have to go what feels like decades between books from her. I am reading too many books at once right now to just do cover-to-cover, but its working nicely with these two since they are full of short, little chapters of exploration. I probably should be reading about Penelope straight through, but its fun doing it in bits. Makes it last longer. So far, I am liking The Tent more out of the two but that could change. I love the minimalism of it, like eating one oreo at a time instead of trying to down the whole lot of them. You know? And the illustrations are fantastic - all Atwood's of course. Below is a sample from her website where she has several comic strips that are caustically funny.

“All children ‘write.’ (And paint, and sing.) I suppose the real question is, why do so many people give it up? Intimidation, I suppose.”

Margaret Atwood

Tingle Alley: P967

This is the blog I most hope to emulate or at least draw inspiration from.

From one of the most recent Tingle Alley posts:

Pardon the ongoing lapse in blogging around here. It’s not, as you may have imagined, because the proprietress was on some sort of Schnapps Bender (always great fun until one wakes up one morning on a deserted slope in the Alps, wearing nothing but underwear and a sprig of edelweiss, after an ill-advised “field trip” to the schnappsian fount). Rather, I have been up against one of the great labor inequities of our day, namely the prohibition against blogging in meetings. Since I’ve been in meetings all day every day — in Asheville, in Poughkeepsie, across the Atlantic seaboard; sometimes I just wander into strange businesses and go and sit in their conference rooms, looking around expectantly till someone brings in some coffee and lets me show them my PowerPoint — this has radically curtailed my blogging. In an attempt to find a middle ground between business and blogging, I have even volunteered to live-blog the daily proceedings (“10:31 Jack requests materials for project. 10:32 Client asks for clarification on requested materials. 10:33 James Frey breaks into conference room in crack-fueled rage and combats various cops and authority figures placed around the room, wielding a numchuck in one hand and a 1993 Oldsmobile Cutlass Cierra in the other. The Powerpoint screen is getting sprayed with snot and vomit and blood. Also, my binder. 10:34 James Frey takes seat and admits that this last bit may have been an exaggeration. He was really just wielding some figures from Accounting. He asks that this remain strictly off the record.”) but so far I haven’t been able to get sign-off.

Funny, funny, funny stuff. If you haven't visited yet, do.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Come, I will have thee; but, by this light, I take for pity

I know its not technically a book I "read" but it is literary.


A Chicago Shakespeare production.

A dear friend of mine got tickets from a subscriber friend of hers who couldn't make it to their picked date for Chicago Shakes' Much Ado. So of course I dropped everything to go with her.

The theatre space at Navy Pier is gorgeous. It is so simple in its lines; lots of wood; a shape that is reminiscent of the old Globe; every seat provides at a minimum a good view. Others, of course, offer great views. It is clear in the staging of the play, the Director takes the shape of the space and the layering of the seats into account. The actors are very aware of the space they have to play in and will often physically open themselves up to the upper levels of seating with gestures, faces tipped upwards, etc. Even in the top tier of seats, you feel included.

I forgot how much I loved this play. It has been too long since I have seen it or read it. The dialogue is so witty and the characters are marvelously created. It never ceases to amaze me that Shakespeare created women characters of such diversity in personality - not jut the demure, obedient, sweet childlike women that all were expected to be, but also characters that were full of pissnvinegar, wit, intelligence and more. Beatrice - the middle-aged witty bachelorette who is insistent upon never marrying - because she can never find her match - one to be her equal or who can handle her. She is very opinionated and not afraid to be so. Uppity Women Unite!! I love that when she does find love it is in a man who is truly her other self. We know that nobody but someone like Benedick could woo her successfully and with whom she could truly be happy. He will let her be herself - loves her spice and sass and independence. If Shakespeare could visualize this hundreds of years ago, why do we women today still settle? Hello!!

My favorite performer in yesterday's show was James Vincent Meredith, playing Don Pedro. He is strong, handsome with a melllifluous voice that resonates in your soul. Yet he played Don Pedro with such sweetness, heart and even vulnerability that it only made him the more attractive of all the characters. In the end, when he lingers back as the lovers dance, you truly ache for him.

My second favorite was definitely Benedick, played by the utterly delightful Jim Mezon. His spit (literally) and swagger only made him more pathetic when he lets down his guard and realizes he is in love. His manliness seeming more a front than something real. His bravado and vocal expressions were perfect. Although I will admit that I was a little unsure at first. Not sur eif he just found his energy or if it was deliberate, but his spark shone brighter the more we saw him.

Constable Dogberry was brought to charming, bumbling life by Scott Jaeck. His constant stumbling around like a drunk when we all knew this guy just simply didn't know how to put one foot in front of the other (or one word in front of the other) although his heart is in the right place and he tries sooooooo hard to be the best Master Constable there could be.

Kevin Gudahl's Leonato was to fall in love with. If only I could have had a father so caring, passionate and sensitive.

Beatrice, Kelli Fox, is a character so well drawn that it is hard to play her poorly. Kelli Fox was no exception. She was given every word in such a way that the words themselves practically are stage instructions on where to look, how loud or quiet to be. What made her stand out was her physical comedy. Fun, fun, fun. Great body language. That woman knows how every subtle movement impacts a character like Beatrice.

Minor player Alan Schmuckler was so ridiculously cute and attractive that it was hard not to drool when he was on stage with his guitar. Yummy!

The one person I didn't care for was Sean Fortunato as Don John. I know the guy is supposed to be a slimy villain but it seemed too forced and stilted. Line delivery was not consistent and while I knew he was a bad guy, I didn't *feel* like he was a bad guy. I really just didn't care for him at all.

Overall, I was so pleased with the show. I laughed my ass off, loudly and heartily. When it was over I felt so light, free and happy. I truly cannot complain about any of it. It was so much fun visually and aurally.

I love Shakespeare.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Ariel Gore

So just a couple of weeks ago, I picked up an ARC (advanced readers copy) of a book titled, beautifully, The Traveling Death and Resurrection Show. Look, even booksellers are swayed by book covers. Maybe more so than average Joe Q. Public because we have so many damn books to read or at least know something about in order to discuss intelligently with customers. So I picked up this book because of several factors.

A) The cover is awesome.
B) The title was intriguing
C) It was slim and I needed something smallish to get back into a fiction groove since I've been reading so little of it lately.

Anywho. I picked up this book and started reading it the next morning. I finished it after work that night. I could not put it down. Compelling characters, structured stream of consciousness writing and an interesting but simple plot. Perfect! A note of redemption and hope found. Some dashes of tragedy and hardness. It's a dark tunnel with a bright light at the end. Maybe a few lanterns along the way. And you just keep going forward because you know eventually that light will reveal itself as something beautiful and open or a train. Either way, the darkness is over and you are satisfied. Incredibly satisfied.

So then I decided I needed to pick up Atlas of the Human Heart, Ariel Gore's memoir. As soon as I saw the cover I remembered seeing it on shelves and wanting to buy it, but not - for whatever reason at the time I have since forgotten.

Dear reader, do you know how hard it is to find a writer whose fiction and non-fiction nearly reads the same? I mean this as a compliment to the writer's voice. As an example, I love Anne Lamott's non-fiction but I think her fiction is terrible. Seriously. Ariel Gore has this voice that is so tough and introverted and exploratory and un-self-conscious all at the same time. I love it. I love the rambles and rants as much as I love her descriptions of the places she visits and the people she meets. Atlas... reads like fiction in its journey forward but is so sincere and honest and revealing that it can only be real. How much of any biography is ever really real, though? With Atlas, it doesn't matter. You don't care.

Come Spring, when her novel comes out, explore for yourself and see if you can figure out which is more true to life than the other - novel or memoir?

And I hope they keep the cover for TTD&RS. Marvelous.

Click here to visit Ariel Gore's website