Monday, October 31, 2011

Mailbox Monday: The I'm grateful it's not snowing here edition!

Major snowstorm in October--that is one of the signs of the apocalypse, right?  I'm sorry, New York!

So, the past week wasn't as productive as I might have hoped in a variety of ways.  The one thing I did accomplish was attending the Northern California Independent Booksellers' Association Trade Show over the weekend.  I've been attending NCIBA for about a dozen years now, so none of these trade shows are really that exciting at this point.  But it's still nice to see friends in the industry.  I especially enjoy chatting with the publisher's reps about what they're excited about.  Obviously, their job is to sell titles, but you can tell when there's a book they're genuinely excited about.  And as you get to know them, they'll give you the straight dope.  They're just great people to talk books with.  No one works in publishing for the money.  They do it for love.

Speaking of talking (and talking and talking) as the show was winding down Saturday afternoon, trade journalist Bridgette Kinsella wound up sitting down beside me, and the two of us got into the most epic conversation of all time.  What a delightful lady!  Seriously, the highlight of the show for me.  The other highlight was grabbing a galley of Lauren Groff's forthcoming sophomore novel, Arcadia.  It's the single book that I'm most excited about, but is only one of many, many galleys I grabbed.  I'll post a full accounting here once I have one.  Maybe next Monday?

I'm not sure how much literary stuff I have coming up this week.  The Bay Area Festival of Science is going on right now, so science may trump art this week.  One exception may be a midweek appearance by novelist Hillary Jordan.  Her new novel, When She Woke, a near-future dystopian take on The Scarlet Letter, scared the hell out of me.  In it, the US has basically become a fundamentalist Christian theocracy--literally my worst nightmare.  I may have to go hear her speak.

Oh, you'll notice below that I finished 1Q84--late last night as it happens.  Wow.  It's an amazing (and yes, weird) achievement for Murakami.  Nearly 1,000 pages of Murakami in the course of a week was a lot more challenging than 1,000 pages of Neal Stephenson over a long weekend.  By the end, I was taking mental breaks with a YA novel, which worked well for me.  Now I must make one of my friends who has lived in Japan read the novel so we can discuss.

And on that note, even without NCIBA, this was an awesome week for books!

Sacre Bleu
by Christopher Moore
Release date: April 3, 2011
Source: the author

I'm such a big fan of Chris's.  Even though I've already read an unbound galley, I just love having a bound galley of each novel in my collection.  Of course, I will purchase a first edition of the hardback as well.  The finished book will be especially exciting in this case.  I can't wait to see the color reproductions of all the artwork in this book!

The Mirage
by Matt Ruff
Release date: February 7, 2012
Source: Gift from Chris Moore

Chris and I have been discussing Matt Ruff's novels for years.  Chris thought that I would really enjoy this thought-provoking novel.  He warned me not to expect Ruff's typically comic tone.  I can't wait to read it!  Sewer, Gas, and Electric has been a favorite satire for years.

The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde
by Oscar Wilde
Release date: January 28, 1900
Source:  my book group

I forgot to include this lovely hardback edition on last week's list.  The book group that I run likes to bring books to give away and share with each other at every meeting.  The lovely Valentina brought this one, I think.  I've really been wanting to read The Portrait of Dorian Gray, so this is perfect!

Smut: Stories
by Alan Bennett
Release date: January 3, 2012
Source: Electronic galley from publisher

Alan Bennett is an awesome playwright, and I loved his novella "The Uncommon Reader."  This slim volume is made up of two novellas entitled, "The Greening of Mrs. Donaldson" and "The Shielding of Mrs. Forbes."  This is going to be a pleasure to read!

The Innocent
by Taylor Stevens
Release date: December 27, 2011
Source: Amazon Vine program

Ms. Stevens' debut was impressive, but I was left uncertain whether I liked her protagonist enough to want to read a continuing series.  This is the novel that's going to help me decide.  Based on her own childhood being raised in a nomadic cult, it should be fascinating regardless.

The Orphan Master's Son
by Adam Johnson
Release date: January 10, 2012
Source: LibraryThing Early Reviewers

Yes, a third copy of this galley that I still haven't read.  (I'll get to it before January!  I'm thinking over Thanksgiving.  It'll make me thankful for my life in this country.)  The good news is that I'll have a copy to give away here.  I have to tell you, I heard raves about this title from a bookseller over the weekend. 

In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination
by Margaret Atwood
Release date: October 11, 2011
Source:  Paper galley from publisher

I was so delighted to see this galley show up because the book hadn't really been on my radar yet.  It looks very interesting, but also kind of dense and intellectual.  I will probably read it one essay at a time between other books, but I'm really looking forward to it!  I love Margaret Atwood.

The Devil's Elixir
by Raymond Khoury
Release date: December 22, 2011
Source: Electronic galley from publisher

You know I love a good thriller and I've never read Khoury.  This could be a pleasant holiday diversion.

The New Republic
by Lionel Shriver
Release date: March 27, 2012
Source: Electronic galley from publisher

I was shocked to learn, over the weekend, that this is a satirical novel.  It's not what I would expect from the author of We Need to Talk About Kevin.  I think Shriver is awesome, and I look forward to seeing a different aspect of her writing.  I doubt I will wait til next year before reading this.

Books finished this week:

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami (It was a marathon, not a sprint!)
Crossed by Allie Condie (I liked it a lot better than Matched, actually.)

Currently reading:

Why Read Moby Dick? by Nathaniel Philbrick

So, what have you guys been reading?  What awesome books have you acquired over the past week?  Please let us know in the comments!

Friday, October 28, 2011

LITQUAKE 2011: The Lit Crawl... Just in time for Halloween!

Once in a very rare while, the fact that I'm continually behind writing things up for this blog winds up being serendipitous.  Nearly two weeks after the fact, I am finally getting around to posting about the Litquake finale.  You got it--our famous Lit Crawl!  How awesome is our Crawl?  So awesome that they're now holding them in New York and Austin, TX.  For the uninitiated, allow me to share this quote from the New York Times about a past Crawl:
The striking thing about Lit Crawl, actually, was not the variegated writerly menu; nor was it the variety of venues—54 of them, including bookstores, bars, coffee shops, galleries and a bee-keeping supply store. Rather it was the specter of writing and literature—literature!—transforming an ordinary Saturday night in the neighborhood into a carnival of sorts. Up and down Valencia Street, crowds overflowed out of open doorways, and between readings, people hustled from one event to another or gathered on street corners clutching red Lit Crawl maps like participants in a mammoth scavenger hunt.”
—New York Times
This year, there were a whopping 77 different venue sites all over San Francisco's Mission District.  Each venue had between 3 and 9 readers, or in other words, hundreds and hundreds of authors participating.  And the audience is made up of more than 10,000 lit lovers.  Truly, it is a thing of beauty.

I've attended many Lit Crawls in my decade in San Francisco.  I enjoy being a part of the scene, but don't feel as strongly these days about trying to make it to each of the three "phases" of the Crawl.  This year, as noted many times, I was still sort of weak, so after a completely delightful afternoon spend with some pub crawling writer friends, I decided to just cut to the chase.  I skipped ahead to phase three, and parked myself early, so as to acertain a good seat and a good snack.  And with all of the dozens and dozens of readers and venues to choose from, I simply went to my favorite bookstore cafe.  You got it, Borderlands Bookstore & Cafe.  I love those guys!  I love the store, the staff, the events they host, and in recent years, I really love their charming cafe.  So that was the deciding factor, and it turned out to be an excellent way to determine the most entertaining readings.

It's a little bit funny how much I love all things Borderlands.  The store specializes in fantasy, science fiction, and horror.  I dabble in these areas, but I'm not a hard-core reader of any of these genres.  It's just a totally amazing store, and that's all there is to it.  But given the nature of the store, it is not surprising that the following readings that I filmed are just the perfect little literary bon bons to share with you this Halloween weekend.  Hence the serendipity!  I promise you, the following readings are all treats.

First up (after Jude Feldman's charming introductions) is novelist Steven R. Boyett.  The extent of my prior knowledge of Mr. Boyett was seeing him at lit events around town and asking who he was.  While waiting for the readings to start, however, he handed out some bookmarks and postcards describing some of his works.  His apocalyptic fantasy novels Ariel & Elegy Beach would probably be most up my alley.  However, Steve read from his most recent work, Mortality Bridge.  The subject matter and imagery in this reading is disturbing and horrific.  The novel is a sort of Faust/Dante mash-up involving a musician who must travel through hell to save the woman he loves.  So, this is disturbing, but very, very powerful stuff.

The other thing that I would note is that it does no justice to call this a reading.  It's a performance.  I have seen hundreds of authors read from their work, and some are better than others.  Steve Boyett's performance from his novel is among the best I have ever seen.  Video can't capture the full theatricality of the live perfomance, but I urge you to check this out:

Next up is genre-defying novelist Mira Grant. Here's what PW had to say about Feed, the novel from which she reads:
Starred Review. Urban fantasist Seanan McGuire (Rosemary and Rue) picks up a new pen name for this gripping, thrilling, and brutal depiction of a postapocalyptic 2039. Twin bloggers Georgia and Shaun Mason and their colleague Buffy are thrilled when Sen. Peter Ryman, the first presidential candidate to come of age since social media saved the world from a virus that reanimates the dead, invites them to cover his campaign. Then an event is attacked by zombies, and Ryman's daughter is killed. As the bloggers wield the newfound power of new media, they tangle with the CDC, a scheming vice presidential candidate, and mysterious conspirators who want more than the Oval Office. Shunning misogynistic horror tropes in favor of genuine drama and pure creepiness, McGuire has crafted a masterpiece of suspense with engaging, appealing characters who conduct a soul-shredding examination of what's true and what's reported.
I'd heard of both author and book at the time of this reading, but had no intention of reading it. In the two weeks since, I've purchased and listended to Countdown, the novella that's the prequel to this novel, and I suspect that I will probably read Feed and its sequels in the not too distant future. Great, just what I need, more books added to my list!

While Mira's novel is about a zombie apocalypse, it seems to be chock full of humor. Or at least this opening chapter is, and she does an excellent job of milking every laugh. It was the perfect palate cleanser after the heavy first reading. This is just plain entertaining, and as it's the first chapter of the book, there's not a thing you need to know:

At this point, I need to apologize to author Kirsten Imani Kasai who read from her novel, Tattoo. She was a great reader, and her novel is completely and totally original. (I may need a copy for the trashy underwater fiction collection!) I'm unable to share her reading with you because I only had a very few minutes of digital recording space left on the FlipCam. In fact, I thought I'd have to quit after Steve & Mira when final reader, Tim Pratt, announced that he'd be reading a series of very, very short pieces. So here are three of them for your viewing pleasure:

You know what's awesome? By visiting Tim Pratt's website in order to link it to this post, I realized the novel Blood Engines by T.A. Pratt that I have on my Kindle is his. Excellent! Clearly, I have some follow-up reading to look forward to after this successful event. If, like me, you feel compelled to explore the work of these writers further, I heartily encourage you to contact Borderlands Books. Their customer service is second to none, and I'm guessing they can get you signed copies of books by these authors.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

LITQUAKE 2011: The Art of the Mystery

Juliet Blackwell
Here is how it was billed:

The Art of the Mystery

October 15, 2011, 1:00 PM
Z Space
450 Florida St.

Litquake launches a new series of panels on the craft of writing, starting with thoughts on writing and suspense from four masters of the mystery. Discussion followed by a lively Q&A session.

Juliet Blackwell, Michelle Gagnon, Seth Harwood, Sophie Littlefield
Michelle Gagnon & Sophie Littlefield

After yesterday's sad story, I thought I'd post something happier--from authors who let me record them!  Unfortunately, I arrived just a couple of minutes late, so that's why the first segment begins already in progress.  And, as usual, I'm contending with the narrow focus range of the FlipCam.  But this video isn't too bad, and the panel is more than interesting enough to overlook the technical flaws.

These authors like me a whole lot better than Jeffrey Eugenides does.  I've known Sophie and Michelle for a few years now, but I only met Juliet on the day of this event--which happened to be her birthday.  So after this lovely discussion, the ladies invited me out for drinks, and I joined the three of them and a couple of other girlfriends for a leisurely afternoon of girl talk, lit gossip, and deep-fried food.  My lips are sealed, other than to say that Juliet has a great story about the legendary Octavio Paz, Sophie likes to stir up trouble whenever possible, and that all the lady authors were amused by the Eugenides tale, which had occurred only the night before.

Seth Harwood
And now for your viewing pleasure, I am delighted to share what turned out to be a fun and lively panel discussion from some excellent mystery/thriller/YA authors.  What I like best is the casual interaction between the panelists because, as they themselves note, every one knows everyone else in this community.  On top of that, each of these panelists is knowledgeable, personable, and a darn good storyteller.  Between them, they have published an incredible spectrum of fiction, and I defy you to listen to them talk about their work and not be tempted to read one or more of them.  (Personally, I'm salivating for Michelle's forthcoming YA trilogy!)  Above, I've added links to each of their websites for your convenience.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

LITQUAKE 2011: My Evening with Jeffrey Eugenides, or Some Days It Doesn’t Pay to Get Out of Bed

There have been several allusions on the blog to some recent health woes. I’m fine now, but two weeks ago, not so much. I’d been at home in bed for days, and Friday the 14th was my first day back at the office and back on my feet. I was weak. I should not have even been considering going out after work that evening. But it was Jeffrey Eugenides! The awesome Jeffrey Eugenides, out with his first novel in eight years! And I’d already read and loved The Marriage Plot. I wanted to be there.

I knew that the bookstore would be packed, not only because Mr. Eugenides is a major literary talent, but also because the signing was part of Litquake. That means it was on the radar of thousands more people than the average bookstore event. Just thinking about the potential mob scene made me want to pass out. So, this is what I did… I called the bookstore, explained that I was recovering from a medical procedure (true), that I was very weak (true), and was it possible to have a seat reserved for the reading? I said, “I know it’s a lot to ask.” I was pretty embarrassed to be asking for special consideration. And Corry at the Books, Inc. at Opera Plaza simply could not have been kinder. His response, “It’s nothing to ask.” He was so sweet. He made me want to be a customer for life. Really, such genuine kindness.

So, I got through the most unproductive work day of all time, and got over to Books, Inc. I grabbed a copy of the book and went to pay for it at the counter. (Because supporting our local independent booksellers is super-important!) As it happens, Corry was the very first person I saw at the counter. When I told him who I was, he smiled and told me there was a slip of paper with my name holding a seat in the front row. The store was already filling up, and I was so grateful for his intervention. I had arrived early, and just having a quiet place to sit until the event started made all the difference.

I was chilling out, reading a book, when I was approached by my friend Sue. What a happy surprise! We kibitzed until start time, and then went out for food and drinks next-door afterwards. By that time, there was plenty to postmortem. As expected, the store filled to a capacity crowd, and the event started right on time. Now, you know that whenever possible, I try to grab video for the blog. My excellent seat put me in a position to do just that. I was four feet away from the man, so for once, I had fantastic footage!

Mr. Eugenides started the evening with a few introductory remarks, including him telling the crowd that he spent his first several post-college years living in San Francisco, shopping in that very store. He then further ingratiated himself with the audience by explaining that it was the worst time of his life. He told a funny story about a psycho-roommate. I think we all have a story like that. He spoke for just about five minutes before he began reading from Madeleine’s narrative at the beginning of the book. He read well, and he read for a long time—nearly 25 minutes—in one long sequence. The novel is very funny, and he got a lot of laughs along the way.

After the reading, Mr. Eugenides spent about 15 minutes answering questions, many of which were unusually good questions. One that particularly impressed me came from a woman who noted that Mr. Eugenides had published a short story years earlier with a character with a name and story very similar to one of the three main characters in The Marriage Plot. She asked about the relationship, if any, between the earlier and more recent character. Mr. Eugenides did acknowledge that the earlier Mitch was a sort of prototype of the character in the current novel’s love triangle, and further acknowledged the relationship between that character and himself.

I think the most amusing answer came from a question regarding the audiobooks of his novels, and whether he would like to read them. (Yes, but it’s not going to happen.) He then told a story about a forthcoming film being made starring—of all people—Barbara Streisand and Seth Rogen as mother and son. I guess it’s a road trip movie, and he was contacted because the screenplay had them listening to CD after CD of the audiobook of Middlesex. He was contacted for permission, and he said he wanted to see how much humor at his expense was written in to the screenplay. And this also is what forced him to listen to the audiobook for the first time. He was quite surprised by some of the choices made by actor and director. Anyway, it was an awesome story, and I wish you could hear it in its entirety, but the reason you can’t will soon be clear. (Oh, but you will hear the Middlesex audiobook in the Streisand movie.)

I do not habitually ask questions at literary events, but sometimes I do. I had a question, and I was not trying to ambush Mr. Eugenides in any way. I was certainly not trying to make him feel uncomfortable. And I did not have an agenda. I just had a question. I thought it was a legitimate question then, and I still think so now. Let me back up a moment. As noted earlier, it was likely that I was one of the few people in the room that had read the novel which had only been on sale for a few days. I had enjoyed it immensely! The Marriage Plot is beautifully written, but it bears some resemblance to (I hope you’ll forgive me for saying) literary chick lit. The rich, flawed characters are beautifully drawn, the writing is gorgeous, and the story has plenty of substance and its share of pathos. But still, at its heart, it is a comic novel about young 20-something’s in a love triangle. You see my point?

So, the trouble started before I even got my question out. I was holding the microphone in my right hand, as the left had been balancing my little FlipCam propped against my knee all evening. I opened with a comment about how much I’d loved the novel, to which Mr. Eugenides responded, “Are you filming me?” I said, “Yes. Is that a problem? I’m happy to turn it off.” The visibly uncomfortable author replied that it was fine. It was just that technology had really changed. That he’s arrived at his first book signing in a horse and buggy. (Laughter.) He noted that I was lucky that he wasn’t Stephen Sondheim, cause he’d seen the octogenarian almost “rip someone’s head off” recently for a similar offense. I admitted that I’d actually filmed him at BEA, too (laughter) and again offered to turn off the camera. Again he declined and urged me to ask my question.

This is what I asked: When Jonathan Franzen published Freedom last year, there was a brief buzz in the media about male novelists writing about traditionally female subject matter (i.e. families and relationships) getting more review attention, press, and general acclaim than their female counterparts. I said that as another acclaimed male author, did he have an opinion on this matter? I asked this question in a friendly and positive manner, not because I already knew the answer, or I was presuming that the very premise of the question was correct, but because I was genuinely curious to hear his thoughts on the subject—which, whether a true premise or not, seems to me to be a subject worthy of discussion.

At that point, Mr. Eugenides looked significantly more uncomfortable. I again offered to turn off the camera, and he again declined. He said, “That was Jodi Picoult, right?” And I answered that it was a broad-ranging public dialogue that went far beyond any comments made by Jodi Picoult. Mr. Eugenides then noted, though, that there had been one or two very best-selling female novelists that had been outspoken on the subject. (And his memory was correct. Jennifer Weiner and Jodi Picoult were much quoted.) Mr. Eugenides continued that given the number of books they sold, he really didn’t know what they had to complain about. And besides, he has plenty of female writer friends (he named Lorrie Moore and Jumpha Lahiri) who get plenty of attention when they publish. He supposed it really just depended on the writer and the quality of the work. So, he answered the question, looking incredibly uncomfortable the entire time, and noted at the very end of the evening that Jodi Picoult “would hate him now.”

Now, had I had the opportunity to respond to Mr. Eugenides’ answer to my question, I would have pointed out that by necessity the most successful and best-selling among female authors must broach these questions, because for anyone less successful to do so looks like sour grapes. So, frankly, I find that part if his response to be somewhat naive. The second part of his answer is more legitimate, because he did name two highly acclaimed female literary novelists who do make a very large splash when they publish—although, two token women do not exactly prove parity. Nor do they disprove it. Like I said, I just think it’s a subject worthy of consideration and discussion. And finally, regarding his comment that it just depended on the quality of the work, it did come off as slightly condescending in my opinion.

Well, by the time this was all over, I felt completely terrible about making someone I admire greatly feel so uncomfortable in such a public way! As luck would have it, because of my excellent seat, I was also the first person in the signing line. Great. There was a short break while everything was organized, and during which time Mr. Eugenides left the room. Once he came back, I approached him and handed him my books to sign. I apologized for putting him on the spot, told him that had not been my intention. I explained that most authors were very happy for the publicity that came with film of their events. I explained that readers outside of major cities were always excited to be able to attend vicariously. I then offered to not post the video of the Q & A to the Internet. He agreed that would probably be best. I told him I understood. I then asked if he’d like me to at least post his reading. At first he said yes to this, but a few moments later changed his mind. So, for that reason, I’m not including links to any of the footage I shot that evening. And, no, you can’t find it online either, though there is plenty of other footage from other Eugenides events. He’s correct; the technology has changed. Now all you need is an iPhone, and I’m hardly the only blogger/fan making amateur films to share. So, it’s a shame, but of course I’m keeping my word.

I waited for quite a while for my friend Sue to make her way through the long signing line. While I was waiting, several people approached me and told me that it was a good question I’d asked, including a bookstore employee. It was nice of them because I was really quite bummed out. Writers always like me. I’m a serious, appreciative reader. I think that is possibly the first and only negative encounter I’ve ever had with a novelist on tour. Lovely Sue and I went out afterwards, and she did her best to make me feel better, and life moved on.

Now nearly two weeks have passed since my uncomfortable encounter with Mr. Eugenides. Having had some time to reflect on things, and quite frankly, having had time to review the taped interaction, I’m feeling a little less badly, and a little more irked about the whole incident. Simply put, at all times I tried to do the right thing. I wasn’t attempting to trip him up or push my own agenda. It was an awkward interaction, but no harm was intended. Jeffrey Eugenides let me walk away feeling like shit. I’m sure that my feelings weren’t his highest priority, but after all I did to apologize and make the situation right, he could have thrown me a bone in the form of a smile or a conciliatory word. But he really didn’t.

So, that’s what happened between Jeffrey Eugenides and me. I’m still a huge admirer of his work, and I don’t have significantly bad feelings about the man. Book tours are brutal. I think we were both having an off night. Probably I should just keep my big mouth shut. But you know what? This is my blog, and my life. I’m allowed to write about what happens to me, and so I get to tell my story. There you have it.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

“Pseudoscientific snake oil” in Lalawood

L.A. Mental
by Neil McMahon

Having just finished an emotionally devastating novel, I was looking for something lighter and a lot less challenging. Literary sorbet. Well, you get what you ask for.

LA Mental opens with several news reports of bizarre incidents of Angelino’s hurting themselves or others. From there, we’re plunged into the first-person world of clinical psychologist and college professor Tom Crandall as he gets a 3:00am wake-up call from his addict brother. Wanting to keep the police out of it, Tom ascertains his brother’s whereabouts in Malibu and races to the site. He find’s Nick’s cocaine-dusted car first, and stops to confiscate the drugs. He then follows the howls to his brother. Nick is perched on the edge of a cliff and even less coherent than usual, ranting, “There. Are. Worms. Eating my brain.” Tom’s attempt to lure him away from the ledge is interrupted by a cell phone call. Nick listens a moment and then immediately attacks Tom. The brief scuffle comes to a halt, and just as suddenly, Nick throws himself over the ledge. Tom leaps after.

And so it begins. I guess it’s not a terrible start, but this is one of those novels that just kept losing stars as it went. So much of the plot felt contrived, from Tom’s youthful background as a lifeguard, to a later convenient association with a renowned physicist. He comes from a family dripping with money, be unlike the rest of them, he chooses to live a modest, unassuming life. After that opening, the bulk of the plot revolves around a film production that his other brother, Paul, got the family involved with. It’s shooting on location at one of their properties. “The head of Parallax Productions—a native Swede named Gunnar Kelso—had been a world class physicist earlier in his life.” ‘Cause that’s normal. And the film they’re shooting isn’t just a little light entertainment; it actually explicates Kelso’s insane, cult-like theories. Kelso dresses his madness up in science, but Tom thinks to himself, “pseudoscientific snake oil.” That’s an understatement. God, it just gets more and more convoluted from there, and I don’t have the heart to go on. It’s all so dumb. I think I lost several IQ points just reading it.

I’m not very forgiving of bad science (and this is beyond bad), but it might be overlooked if the writing, characters, pacing, anything were exemplary, but it was all so… meh. Tom was such a non-entity to rest a novel on. I read this book at lightning speed, but I still kept forgetting his name. None of the other characters were very likable or especially noteworthy. Dialogue was occasionally cringe-worthy. (“If something goes wrong—they’re up against the power structure that owns the bones of this city.” Ugh.) Plot points are left hanging. It’s just a hot mess.

On the plus side, LA Mental is a short, quick read. It moved at a reasonable pace. It was, as requested, not too challenging. The author managed to capture the superficiality of Los Angeles. Most of the prose was serviceable. And best of all, I see no reason for a sequel.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Mailbox Monday: Seattle Skedaddle Edition

So, I've just flown in from Seattle, and boy are my arms tired.  Well, all of me is tired, but what a lovely few days I had up north!  The university business that took me up there was both pleasant and productive.  The weather wasn't quite as dreadful as I feared it would be.  I spent the most wonderful time visiting with good friends who were so kind to me!  I saw an entertaining musical which may some day be on Broadway.  I shopped til I dropped.  And I ate my way through the entire Pike Place Market.  In fact, I brought back lots of yummy stuff to San Francisco.  So, in honor of all of the above, today's mailbox is--yes--a ferry boat!

There's some literary stuff on the horizon this week.  I was hoping to attend a staged reading of Cory Doctorow's Little Brother, but I think I need to sleep.  There will be a fully-staged production playing San Francisco in January, and I will make sure to see it.  Also under the literary/theatrical overlap is the fact that I need to go see Kevin Spacey perform Richard III this week.  And finally, I should be fairly busy this weekend at the Northern California Independent Booksellers' Association trade show.  Hopefully I'll have a few interesting stories and/or galleys to share next week.

And speaking of sharing stories, sorry I dropped the blogging ball in Seattle.  I left the laptop at home.  More Litquake posts and video to come...

by Haruki Murakami
Release date: October 25, 2011
Source: Finished hardback from publisher

My friend Nicole, who knows well my literary proclivities, has been urging me to read Murakami for years--in the strongest possible terms.  And for the past year or two, I've been dabbling with the Murakami and loving his work!  Assuming I finish this epic, nearly 1,000-page novel, I'll have entered the big leagues.

Why Read Moby Dick?
by Nathaniel Philbrick
Release date: October 20, 2011
Source: Electronic galley from publisher

I read Moby Dick for the first time within the past ten years.  I loved it!  I can think of many reasons why this great American novel should be read.  I'm looking forward to hearing Philbricks' undoubtedly excellent argument.

The Free World
by David Bezmozgis
Release date: March 29, 2011
Source: sale

I've been wanting to read this novel, shortlisted for Canada's Giller Prize for a while. 

The Lost Throne
by Chris Kuzneski
Release date: July 23, 2009
Source: sale

It's been far too long since I've read my old friend Chris Kuzneski.  Of all his recent Payne and Jones thrillers, the plot description of this one has grabbed me the most.  And the price was right...

Countdown: A Newsflesh Novella
by Mira Grant
Release date: August 1, 2011
Source: sale

Ever since I heard Mira Grant read from this zombie series, I've been more intrigued than I expected/wanted to be.  This brief prequel was a nice way to get a taste without plunging into yet another Zombie apocalypse.  It was the perfect length for a flight between Seattle and San Francisco, and I have to admit it was entertaining.

by Ian McEwan
Release date: November 28, 1999
Source: sale

This is a polarizing literary novel that I am long over-due reading.  I am really looking forward to it!

Goodbye, Columbus
by Philip Roth
Release date: September 12, 1966
Source: Library

Hold on to your hats, because this may be my most shocking admission ever:  I have never read a Philip Roth novel.  There is no excuse.  It was certainly not intentional.  There are plenty of them on my shelves.  I don't know what to say.  I guess if I can read Moby Dick in my 30's and love it, there's still time to keep exploring and discovering classic literature.

Books finished this past week:

When She Woke - Hillary Jordan
Countdown - Mira Grant
Replay - Ken Grimwood - Talk about "replay," I first read this novel nearly 20 years ago.  I remember absolutely loving it!  I hardly ever re-read books.  Who has time?  But sometimes when I see a cheap audio book, I can't resist revisiting an old favorite in a new way.  I was listening to this one as I strolled the streets of Seattle.  Invariably, when I have such fond memories of a book from long ago, usually there is a degree of let-down upon revisiting.  I'm happy to report that was not the case here.  I still really loved this novel!  It's nothing fancy, just great story-telling, but I was captivated all over again.  I'm really glad I took the time to revisit.

Currently reading:

1Q84 - Haruki Murakami

So, what have you been reading?  What books have you acquired this week?  Please let us know in the comments!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

LITQUAKE 2011: Christopher Moore in Collision: Whales, Comedy, and The Impressionists

Sorry to be posting about this event ten days after it took place.  What can I say?  I'm a delicate flower.  I was having health woes last week.  The other thing is, the quality of the video below is so dreadful, part of me wonders if it's even worth the effort--but already people are already finding this blog doing Google searches looking for the video.  I situated myself as best I could in the cavernous space to be close to the chairs set up in the center of the room.  You know how much time they spent in those chairs?  None.  Instead, both Chris and Flip thought it would be a great idea to take the mike and move as far away across the space from where I was a possible.  I try, people.  [Note: And now that I've looked at the footage on a screen larger than two inches, it's not quite as bad as I though.]

So, what was this wacky event, you ask?  This is how it was billed:
Christopher Moore in Collision: Whales, Comedy, and The Impressionists

October 10, 2011, 6:00 PM
Z Space
450 Florida St., San Francisco
With Christopher Moore and Flip Nicklin

About ten years ago, New York Times bestselling comic novelist Christopher Moore decided to find out if there was more to write about whales, other than that they were "big and wet." And that's when he encountered National Geographic photographer Flip Nicklin. Then things got weird. The result was Moore's 2004 novel Fluke: Or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings, which featured a marine biologist named Clay Demodocus inspired by Nicklin, as well as a whale with the words "BITE ME" written on its fluke.

Now bosom buddies for over a decade, Moore and Nicklin get together at Z Space to showcase Nicklin's new book Among Giants: A Life with Whales, and give Moore fans a taste of Sacré Bleu, his 2012 novel set in France and featuring Vincent Van Gogh's murder as a jumping-off point. Moore will talk about art history, with a slide show of comics created from fine art. Nicklin will provide a slide show of his astonishing photographs of whales. What do they have in common? Nicklin's photos have been described as "painting with light." And the Impressionists' artistic quest was to "capture the moment" by "capturing the light." Otherwise, it will just be a good time and a lot of fooling around between two old friends.
The funny thing is that this strange juxtuposition brings together two very big parts of my own life.  Once upon a time, I was the editor of Discover Diving, a magazine for scuba divers.  I dealt with underwater photographers all day, every day--including Flip's dad, Chuck, himself a renowned underwater photographer and pioneer in the field.  Now, instead of photo spreads of undersea critters, I keep my editorial skills honed by dabbling with novelists.  In fact, I've been doing some proof-reading for Christopher Moore for years, starting with the novel--you guessed it--Fluke.  It all comes full circle.

As it happens, I have read Chris's forthcoming novel, Sacré Bleu.  It's wonderful!  And one of these days I'll get around to writing a review.  Without question, my favorite thing about the book was the tremendous information he included about the art and the artisits.  Frankly, I didn't even need the plot.  I could have read about these people and their work all day long.  It was fascinating; and I've been resisting jumping on a plane to Paris since putting the novel down.  Here's your chance to hear about some of that straight from the author's mouth.  It's an awesome art history lecture with that special Christopher Moore spin.  He won't be doing this on book tour, so here it is, for better or worse, semi-preserved here for you.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Well, I didn’t get it either

The Sense of an Ending
by Julian Barnes

At 176 pages, The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes Man Booker-nominated latest is barely even a novella. Yet, there’s something to be said for an author willing to tell a story in the time that is needed to tell it, and not feeling compelled to pad the narrative. Mr. Barnes has included exactly what’s needed within these pages and not a word more.

His tale is told in two parts, by everyman narrator Tony Webster. The first part, comprising approximately a third of the book, reads like a coming-of-age story. It recounts the formative relationships of Tony’s early life, both male and female, from his school days through early adulthood. We meet his closest friends, witness his earliest romances, and experience his first losses. This first section was good, but not great on its own.

The novella flowered in its second, longer part, set 40 years later. Now Tony is in his early 60’s, amicably divorced, and a generally content man. One day, he receives notification of an unexpected and frankly bewildering bequest—which is then even more bewilderingly withheld. These contemporary happenings open windows to events of the past and Mr. Barnes held me rapt with the tale.

Despite the compelling plotline, go into this novella expecting it to be character-driven rather than plot-driven. In the end, the inheritance is a MacGuffin, and not really that important after all. It’s the relationships of the characters that really tell this tale, and they are beautifully rendered.

Throughout the latter part of the story, Tony is told repeatedly (and without explanation, of course), “You just don’t understand!” Well, he thought he did, and I thought he did. But it isn’t until the very final lines of the novella that the full truth is made clear. The Sense of an Ending is brief, and it is masterful, and if it wins the Man Booker Prize in a few minutes, it will be entirely deserving.

UPDATE:  He won!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Mailbox Monday: Fall Leaves Edition

Is it just me, or has it been a really long week?  I did have a rough week last week, and I'll do you the favor of sparing you the gory details.  In addition to my medical issues, I had a truly squirm-inducing encounter with a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist.  I'll be blogging about that at some point soon.  It was not the highlight of my week.

On the other hand, I did get to attend quite a few excellent Litquake events, saw many friends, and got to go drinking with a bunch of awesome lady novelists.  Again, there will be follow-up blog posts, video, and more, as soon as I can get around to it.  Penny, was it you who was talking to me about Mira Grant and her alter-ego in the comments recently?  I shot some really great video of her reading from Feed that you can look forward to later this week.  Or perhaps I should save the zombies for Halloween?  I have so much fun stuff to share!  And at some point, I really need to write some book reviews...

Tonight, I have to choose between working really late (henceforth to be known as "what I should do") and going to see Alice Hoffman at the JCC, or Michael Ondaatje in conversation with Michael Chabon at City Arts & Lectures.  Any thoughts?  Tomorrow night is the book group that I run.  And after that I'm not sure what else is up for the coming week.  Oh yeah, I'm flying to Seattle on Thursday, where I will be seeing novelist Boyd Morrison and his lovely wife Randi over the weekend.  So, that's a full enough week.

I want to take a moment to say "hi" to all the nice folks who are visiting this blog because of the Blog Hop.  Already I can see that it's another huge success.  It's nice to see some fresh faces on the blog.  Do come back any time.  :-)

And on that note, an entirely too long and very diverse list of acquisitions this week...

The Night Eternal
by Guillermo Del Toro & Chuck Hogan
Release date: October 25, 2011
Source: Finished hardback from publisher

This was a really pleasant surprise!  The first novel of this trilogy scared the hell out of me, but I couldn't put it down.  I think I've been waiting for the third to come out before reading the second book in the series.  This would make for a fun Halloween treat!

The Time in Between
by Maria Duenas
Release date: November 8, 2011
Source: Finished hardback from publisher

I've already got a couple of galleys of this novel that has been getting some serious promotion from Simon & Schuster.  I haven't heard anything specific about the novel itself yet, but I'm looking forward to giving it a read.  If the house is pushing it that hard, I want to know why.  Count on a galley giveaway soon.

Eat Vegan on $4.00 a Day: A Game Plan for the Budget Conscious Cook
by Ellen Jaffe Jones
Release date: June 15, 2011
Source: Finished paperback from publicist

I'm what you might call a "flexitarian," rather than a vegetarian or vegan, but this looks like a great resource for our times.  I'm looking forward to trying some of the recipes.

The Marriage Plot
by Jeffrey Eugenides
Release date: October 11, 2011
Source: Purchased at awesome indy, Books, Inc.

Hmmm, I wonder what Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Susan had an unpleasant encounter with this week?  All I can say is that the novel is great.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret
by Brian Selznick
Release date: March 1, 2007
Source: library

There's a film coming and he has a new book out.  It was time to finally read this.  Plus, kids books are just what the doctor ordered when you aren't feeling well.

Death Match
by Lincoln Child
Release date: May 4, 2004
Source: library

More comfort reading while laid up.  I've had a galley since forever, but I finally read it on my Kindle.

Lightning Rods
by Helen DeWitt
Release date: October 5, 2011
Source: Kindle purchase

I've been feeling guilty for ages that I haven't got around to reading DeWitt's cult classic, The Last Samurai.  So, now that her second novel has been released more than a decade after the first, I was determined to read it in a timely manner.  OMG, do not buy this book!  I've heard to many good things about her debut to doubt it's the truth.  What happened?

by Jose Saramago
Release date: September 28, 1998
Source: $2.99 Kindle sale

I've never read it.  'Nuff said.

The Lost Goddess
by Thom Knox
Release date: February 2, 2012
Source: Electronic galley from publisher

I've never read Mr. Knox.  Have any of you?  This adventure thriller looks like it could be really good or really bad!  I'll totally give it a try.

A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Hope, Deception, and Survival at Jonestown
by Julia Scheeres
Release date: October 11, 2011
Source: Electronic galley from publisher

I have always been fascinated with the Jonestown tragedy, in part because of my vague memories from childhood, and in part because it's an amazing, awful story.  Do you know that I live one block from the site of the old temple in San Francisco?  It's a post office now.

The Demi-Monde: Winter
by Rod Rees
Release date: December 27, 2011
Source: Electronic galley from publisher

I'm not sure this will be my cup of tea, but I'm curious.  Becky, if you read it first, please let us know your thoughts!

The Vanishers
by Heidi Julavits
Release date: March 13, 2012
Source: Electronic galley from publisher

I'm more interested in the mother/daughter themes of this novel than the supernatural ones.  We'll see...

Books finished this week:

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
Lightning Rods by Helen DeWitt
The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
Death Match by Lincoln Child
The Callahan Chronicles by Spider Robinson

Currently reading:

There but for the by Ali Smith (I'd be done by now if the damn book had punctuation!)

So, what books have you acquired this week?  What have you been reading?  Please let us know in the comments!