Thursday, April 26, 2012

Forget Waldo, where's Susan?

Well, I don't like to dwell on my personal life here, but I just participated in an exciting Twitter discussion where I claimed to be a book blogger.  So I, uh, thought I should blog something, starting with a brief explanation of some stuff I've been up to:
  • Most notably, I am in the process of a major cross-country move.  That involves packing up a lot of books and a lot of everything else.  Briefly, my San Francisco apartment is going into storage, and I'm entering a (hopefully brief) nomadic period.  I'll be spending time in DC and NY in the next few weeks, and then back to SF later this summer through August.  After that, I'm not sure, but you may assume it will be a very literate city.  ;-)  Blogging will resume a more regular schedule in the near future.
  • I mentioned above that I'm Tweeting these days.  Remember when I used to do Mailbox Monday?  Well, it's a whole lot easier to just Tweet when new books arrive.  Or when I post a review somewhere.  Or just a quick update on what I'm reading.  Please feel free to follow me at SusanTunis on Twitter.
  • Did a stranger hand you a free book on Monday night?  That's because it was World Book Night!  The US participated
    for the first time ever, and I was so proud to be a book giver on this inaugural year.  Not only that, but I got to hand out copies of A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving, which happens to be my very favorite book of all time.  What a thrill!  I had a great time accosting commuters as I myself was crossing San Francisco.  I felt a little like a freak as I shouted about free books to disinterested people, but it was really fantastic to give out books to the people who were really into it.  Here's a photo of one happy customer.  (I love that her clothes match my blog, LOL.)  My favorite was a young man from Argentina, who couldn't believe there were no strings attached to the gift.  After I gave him the book, he asked, "Okay, what do I have to do now?"  I explained that all he had to do was read it and enjoy it.  He was delighted, and will be practicing reading in English.
  • Speaking of Mr. Irving (my very favorite author), I am so excited to have acquired tickets last night to hear him speak in Washington, DC in two weeks.  This is the perfect way to jumpstart a life on a different coast.  I've heard him speak many times before, but he's awesome and I worship him.  I can't believe I haven't read the forthcoming book, In One Person yet!  Yay for John Irving!  Boo hiss for Simon & Schuster publicity!
  • On the other hand, I've had the pleasure of catching "Author Guy" Christopher Moore on tour for Sacre Bleu twice, and videotaping him each time.  I promised him that I'd wait for the book tour to end before posting, but that video and several others will be posted in the near future, I promise.
  • What else?  Well, since I'll be on the East Coast, I'll likely be attending BookExpo America again this year (but maybe not the Book Blogger Con), and of course Thrillerfest in July.  I haven't missed one yet.  Oh, and I attended my first ever Left Coast Crime about a month ago in Sacramento.  It was great to see so many author friends and to make several new ones!
So, I think that catches you up on the basics.  Sorry to be slacking off, but it simply can't be helped at the moment.  I look forward to catching up in a big way in May.  I've read some amazing books that I look forward to sharing with you!  For now, I'd love to hear what you've been up to, and about anything extraordinary you've been doing reading.

Monday, April 9, 2012

When Brad met Hilary...

Full disclosure: I've never read Brad Parks or Hilary Davidson.  I mean, jeez, I can't read everybody

Hilary has just published her second mystery featuring travel writer Lily Moore, The Next One to Fall.  She originally landed on my radar for a variety of reasons.  I'm not sure if she came to my attention first as a member of the ITW Debut Author Class of 2010/2011 (of which Brad is also a member), or based on the rave reviews of her debut novel, The Damage Done.  Regardless, she made an impression, and I've been meaning to get around to reading her ever since.  And with a backlist of only two novels, there's a chance I actually will.

Brad, on the other hand, I know exactly when he came on my radar.  It was at the debut author breakfast at Thrillerfest a couple of years ago.  That breakfast is one of my favorite parts of the conference.  It's a great opportunity to get introduced, in their own words, to future favorite authors.  Also, it's just good fun, as each author attempts to outshine those who came before.  That year, it was definitely Brad Parks that everyone was talking about.  The man spent his two minutes launching into a full-on serenade of novelist Brad Meltzer with re-worked lyrics to the tune of "Maria" from West Side Story.  And he hasn't stopped singing since.
Nor, has he stopped publishing.  Brad has now released three comic mysteries featuring New Jersey investigative journalist Carter Ross.  The first was Faces of the Gone, followed by Eyes of the Innocent.  Now he's back with The Girl Next Door, and as you'll hear in the video below, there are at least two more novels in this series already in the pipeline.

Now, I don't know either of these writers well, but we travel in the same circles in the conference circuit and our paths cross once or twice a year.  It's clear that the two of them have become good friends on that same circuit, so it's fun to enjoy the mutual admiration society of their joint event.  They can sing each other's praises far better than I can.  (In Brad's case, literally.  And for those who are curious, he did sing at Book Passage, but just to kill time before the talk officially started.  Alas, I shot no video.  The link above will have to suffice.)

I'm just going to post the video in sequence below.  After introducing each other and making opening remarks, Hilary reads first, and then Brad.  After that, they pose a few questions to each other, and then open things up to the audience.  The last thing I'll mention is that I really need to apologize to Brad and all of you.  But mostly to Brad.  I positioned myself to film someone speaking at microphone at the podium.  As you'll see, they eschew it.  I finally repositioned myself when it was time for Brad to read, but before that, there's a lot of awkward trying to shoot around that pesky mike.  That's amateurs for you!  Hopefully those of you who were not fortunate enough to catch these two on book tour will still enjoy.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

A sad tale in any language...

The Thief
by Fuminori Nakamura

As much as I read, I read plenty of novels in translation. I neither seek them out nor avoid them. But as a not especially well-traveled American, I do always have a gnawing feeling that I’m lacking the cultural context to fully appreciate the tale I’m reading. And while that’s certainly no fault of the author’s, that was again the feeling I had while reading Fuminori Nakamura’s novella, The Thief.

It is about—you won’t be surprised to learn—a thief, specifically a pickpocket. Now, Japanese popular culture has disavowed me of any notion that theirs is a gentler, more upstanding society than my own. Much of what I’ve seen out of Japan is even harsher than what we Americans produce. Still, I have an idea that with the prominent role of honor in their society, that to be a thief in Japan is somehow… different than it is here. More of a break with the mainstream, but perhaps I’m overanalyzing.

What I can tell you is that the thief at the heart of this novel is a rather tragic character. Through the course of this brief tale, we get some inkling about how he came to his life of crime. Part of it was circumstance, but much of it was in his nature. For this man, to steal is almost a reflexive action, at times completely unconscious. A psychologist might have a few things to say, but I do know that psychology is not widely practiced in Japan. Regardless, he lives a very isolated life.

During the course of this story, two notable things occur: a woman and her child come into his life, and he comes to the attention of a bigger fish. Regarding the woman and the child—do not in any way assume you can guess the nature of those relationships based on that sentence. Regarding the bigger fish, he’s a scary man. He coerces this pickpocket into participating in some illegal activities. When asked why he was hired, the man responds, “Because you guys have no family. Because you’re all alone in the world and even if you died there wouldn’t have been a single person who cared.”

This is more of a character study than a true crime novel, and as such it succeeds very well. Nakamura does a great job of getting inside the thief’s head. The relationships this man does have are explored. And even career criminals have ethical codes, and this man is no exception. It’s an intriguing look at a man living on the edge of society. And while I note that it’s more about character, there are criminal plots that propel the story forward. Ultimately, the tale is short enough to be read in no time flat, which is probably for the best. This is not a world I wanted to linger in overly long. But it was an interesting place to visit, with no passport required.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

"Art isn't easy"

Sacre Bleu
by Christopher Moore

The quote above isn’t from Christopher Moore’s Sacré Bleu, but is rather from Stephen Sondheim’s “Sunday in the Park with George,” a musical about the painter Georges Seurat. These lyrics were like a soundtrack in my head as I read Moore’s latest:

Piece by piece-
Only way to make a work of art.
Every moment makes a contribution,
Every little detail plays a part.
Having just a vision’s no solution,
Everything depends on execution;
                                                      Putting it together-
                                                      That’s what counts!

Under the dust jacket
Sondheim could as easily have been speaking about writing—and let’s face it, he was. Christopher Moore’s latest is indeed a work of art, in more ways than one. The first thing the reader will notice is the extraordinary look and design of this gorgeous novel. It’s something so rarely seen these days, but in the not too distant past, bookbinding was its own art form. Kudos to HarperCollins for making this book so special! It’s covered in a metallic blue half dust jacket that allows the exotic, erotic painting printed right on the book’s cover to peek through. The endpapers feature a vintage map of Paris. The book has a lovely layout, and the text is—yes—printed in a rich indigo blue. And within, there are full color reproductions of dozens of paintings by the Impressionist masters who are the characters of this novel. It’s odd to spend this much time discussing the outside of a book, but that’s how fabulous this one is. And I have heard that only the first edition hardback will be printed in full color, so I would suggest grabbing a copy fast.

As for the story, that’s a little more difficult to summarize this time around. For past Moore novels, I could say: It was about vampires, a demon, a jinn, a sea monster that feeds on emotion, a man who walks on water. Like those previous books, this one features an element of the fantastic, but I absolutely cannot explain that element in a word, a phrase, or quite possibly a paragraph. It’s different, it took me quite a while to figure out what was going on, and I’m not going to spoil that ride for you.

A page from the book
What I can talk about is the world against which Moore’s over-the-top tale is set, and that is the world of the great French Impressionist painters. It opens with the death of Vincent Van Gogh in Auvers, France in 1890. Long assumed to have been suicide, Moore posits a murder. From that opening, the story moves to Paris, and takes up with Vincent’s shocked peers. The news is told to baker Lucien Lessard, the struggling artist at the heart of this tale, and one of the very few fictional characters in the book. Lucien rushes out to give the sad news to his pal Henri. You may be familiar with him as Count Henri-Marie-Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa, or just Toulouse-Lautrec, as he is generally known today.

Henri is the ideal sidekick for a Moore novel. As outrageously as Moore’s characters tend to behave, one gets the impression that Henri is depicted quite true to character. And he is wildly entertaining! The truth is, I didn’t need the somewhat odd plot about the color blue and the menacing “Colorman.” I could have spent this entire novel eavesdropping on Lucien, Henri, Monet, Manet, Pissarro, Gauguin, Renoir—yes, Seurat—and so many more, as they went about creating and discussing art. It was riveting. As with Moore’s Shakespeare novel, Fool, this tale clearly springs from the author’s love and appreciation of their work. And he’s done his homework; reading Sacré Bleu is like the most awesome art history lesson ever.

If that’s not enough for you, Moore has included a terrific Afterward entitled “So, Now You’ve Ruined Art” which answers “…what, among this big, blue lie, is true? What really happened?” And it wasn’t enough for me, actually. I was so entranced by Moore’s artists that I immediately dove into a non-fiction work after reading Sacré Bleu. It was all I could do to restrain myself from hopping on the first flight to Paris. That’s how this book affected me.

I realize I haven’t actually said much about what happens in the novel. My advice is just read and go where the story takes you. It’s funny and profane and over-the-top. It’s Christopher Moore. Art isn’t easy, and I don’t know another writer who can do what Moore does. As Mr. Sondheim said, everything depends on execution. Sacré Bleu is an homage to art from a true artist in his own right.

NOTE: There is an excellent website dedicated entirely to this novel here, which includes a reader's guide, an informative blog by the author, book tour info and more.  Also, with any luck, I'll be posting video from Chris's San Francisco book launch tomorrow.  Check back!

UPDATE 4/4: So, I did film Chris last night, and he was his usual uproarious self.  He asked me not to post the video until his tour concludes, so of course I'll honor his request.  But rest assured, I'll post it.  In the meanwhile, I have a backlog of video that I need to post, so I'll put up something soon.  :-)