The childhood home of Cormac McCarthy has burned down in Knoxville, Tennessee. The home was named most endangered historic structure in the county just last year by a local preservation group. It turns out that they were correct. (Thanks for the link, Frank.)
It’s been a little crazy lately on this end of your browser. How crazy? In the middle of reading about Largehearted Boy’s seventh birthday, I realized suddenly that our own blogiversary had passed us by unnoticed. On January 11th BGB began its fifth year of existence. Celebrate by sending us books and cake.
The Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society has opened its annual William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition (cash prizes, yall!). The Society is an offshoot of Faulkner House Books in New Orleans, which is one of my all time favorite stores. The deadline for entries of all types is May 1 if you’re thinking about entering. (Thanks for the link, Mom.)
And if you are entering, you might want to check out Steven Johnson’s article: DIY: How to Write a Book. It’s more about the mechanics than the inspiration. You’re still on your own in that department.
Johnson is author of the excellent non-fiction book The Ghost Map (my review). I’ve got to get my hands on his latest, The Invention of Air. Read and/or listen to an excerpt on NPR’s book tour page for Invention.
The American Library Association handed out their annual children’s book awards yesterday. The prestigious Newberry Medal went to Neil Gaiman for The Graveyard Book. Jen reviewed The Graveyard Book for BGB, and she says she knew it was a special book all along.
In addition to the Newberry and Caldecott honors, the ALA also honored BGB favorite Mo Willems with the Geisel Award honoring the most distinguished book for beginning readers for Are You Ready to Play Outside?
The Alex Awards, which I had never heard of, honor the best adult books for teen readers. Among the crop selected for recognition are Hillary Jordan’s Mudbound (BGB review), Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow (BGB review and one of my year-end favorites), and The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti.
Speaking of books for kids, I wrote about my household’s love of Oliver Jeffers’ books in my year-end appreciation of kids’ books (which also featured Mo Willems). The Guardian talks to Jeffers about his new book (excellent), and they have a gallery feature highlighting some of his books. If you have a small kid around, check it out.
Yesterday I spent what was easily the best four hours EVER in a children’s book store. The Little Shop of Stories hosted the book release party for Paste Magazine’s An Indie Rock Alphabet Book. With this book, Paste has cornered the aging hipster/kiddie book demographic in one shot.
The book is written by Caren Kelleher, Kate Kiefer, and Rachael Maddux with artwork by owen the owen. The book began, so the story goes, as an in-house project for a baby shower. Once the original book was finished (the now completed babies were in the audience), someone realized that there might be other people interested in having a book like this. And here it is. The huge crowd at the Little Shop says they guessed right.
The party featured Dale’s Pale Ale for the grown-ups and started off with groovy electronic background music by Judi Chicago to set the mood. Eventually the action shifted upstairs to the reading space. Terra kicked things off with an inspirational reading of Punk Farm. Two kids then read An Indie Rock Alphabet in its entirety. Cute! Book signing followed with two of the authors and owen the owen. Back downstairs, Judi Chicago played a few hyperactive songs that wowed the crowd and annoyed the squares at the Starbucks two doors down.
Before the party, I ran into Frank (of the awesome and sorely-missed former music blog That Truncheon Thing) who expressed his disappointment that W was for Weezer and not Wilco. He must not have seen the entry for U:
If you’re like me, you have been meaning to get around to taking that writing class one of these days. Partner, you’re in luck. (– If you’re in the Greater Metropolitan ATL.)
From the press release buried deep in my inbox:
On February 2, 2009, the freshly formed “Agnes Writes” program will debut a new series of writing classes taught by several of Atlanta’s most accomplished authors. The series will be hosted by Agnes Scott College, which stepped forward to give these classes a home in these difficult economic times, ensuring that Atlanta area writers will continue to have rich opportunities to develop their craft.
- David Fulmer, the Shamus Award winning author of six novels including “Chasing the Devil’s Tale” and the forthcoming “Lost River.” Fulmer will teach his very popular “Fiction Shop,” an intense study of the art and craft of storytelling.
- Hollis Gillespie, longtime syndicated humor columnist and author of three memoirs including “Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch: Tales from a Bad Neighborhood” and, most recently, “Trailer Trashed: My Dubious Efforts Toward Upward Mobility.” Gillespie will teach “The Shocking Real-Life Personal Essay Clinic – Your Crazy Family,” a class on how to turn your family lore into a boffo personal essay.
- Chelsea Rathburn, recipient of a 2009 NEA Fellowship in Poetry, one of only 42 recipients in the nation and the only one in Georgia. Her first full-length collection of poems, “The Shifting Line,” won the 2005 Richard Wilbur Award. Rathburn will teach a poetry workshop aimed at developing poets’ voices and guiding them toward creating compelling poems.
- Terra Elan McVoy, author of “Pure,” a young adult novel due out in April from Simon & Schuster. McVoy is the manager of Little Shop of Stories, a children’s bookstore in downtown Decatur that has garnered glowing national attention. She earned an MA in Creative Writing from Florida State University’s prestigious creative writing program. McVoy will teach “Writing Like a Grown-Up, But Thinking Like a Kid,” a class on the craft of writing chapter books for children.
For much more information, visit Agnes Writes. (Link now repaired. Sorry ’bout that.)
And now, today’s installment of “books that I read last year that are not getting the full attention that they deserve.”
Let’s get things started with Ian McNulty’s A Season of Night: New Orleans Life After Katrina.
McNulty’s book is a first person account of what it is like to live in the midst of an environmental catastrophe. The author had nowhere to go after the storm and a job that needed him to show up. So he does what none of us would have done and returns to his partially destroyed home without electricity in a city that lay in ruins. He gutted the heavily damaged first floor, moved all of his ruined belongings to the curb, and lived with his dog in the relatively undamaged second floor (minus a few windows). Winter two-steps into town and McNulty still has neither electricity nor hot water. It’s not all grim. To keep spirits up, the author throws a “bring what you have” party that really gets going when teenage Mormon volunteers happen by with food that didn’t start in a can. McNulty’s story is a great tale of survival and determination. I’m adding it to my Katrina Canon.
I can hardly believe that I am relegating Michael Chabon’s Maps and Legends to this type of review.
Michael Chabon is one of my favorite writers, without question. Maps and Legends is his first non-fiction book. The collection of essays provides the author’s take on writing and reading. The idea of exploring “the areas beyond the map” is a unifying theme that Chabon uses to describe his need to push beyond conventional ideas of genre and literary writing. The cover alone is worth the price of admission. The blue, green, and brown areas on the cover are each a separate intricately cut sheet that wrap around the book to form the dust jacket. Maps and Legends is published by McSweeney’s, and I am a huge fan of what they do with books.
And finally – Chris Adrian’s The Children’s Hospital rounds out this edition.
I’ll point out that The Children’s Hospital hard cover is also a McSweeney’s book. For a small independent press, they sure seem to crank out a lot of stuff that I like. Go, McSweeney’s, Go!
The novel is difficult to describe without making it sound ludicrous. It begins with a huge flood devastating the earth. The hospital along with the staff, patients, and visiting family are all that survive. The building, as it turns out, was designed to survive and accommodate those within indefinitely. An Arc. What follows for the next thousand pages of the story is an incredible exploration of Big Ideas, all of which I feel compelled to capitalize: Illness/Health, Truth, Beauty, Medicine, Motherhood, Theology, Life/Death, and Salvation. Adrian is a pediatrician, a graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, and a student at the Harvard Divinity School. He has some big things to say and the skill to say them. I’m not sure that I understood all of what I was being told, but The Children’s Hospital is an incredible piece of work.
I’m still catching up on books that I read last year. In a perfect world, you would have read a thoughtful post about each of these books. Instead, you get this post.
First up, Ben Tanzer’s Most Likely You’ll Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine:
Ben Tanzer is a funny guy, but Most Likely is a mostly serious look at modern-day relationships, romantic and familial. The title is taken from a Bob Dylan song, and pop culture references are sprinkled liberally throughout. When dispensing relationship advice, one character speaks in a Yoda inspired sentence structure. It’s a sweet look at life in the big city.
The next novel getting short shrift here is Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood.
I came late to the work of Murakami, but I’ve loved what I have read. One of my many reading goals it work my way through his work. The Murakami books that I have read so far have all had a surreal/Eastern Spiritual element to them. Norwegian Wood is a straightforward story involving love triangles and the resulting angst. The titular Beatles song is featured in the book, too. Murakami works all kinds of music into his novels (those that I’ve read at least), which is one of the reasons that I love his work.
And finally, I provide inadequate mention of Greg Melville’s Greasy Rider: .
Greasy Rider is a typical travelogue/road story, complete with the irritable travel companion chosen for his availability rather than his compatibility. Melville converted a used Mercedes diesel to run on used restaurant cooking oil and decided to become the first person to drive cross country powered solely on recycled veggie oil. The author fails to point out that running a car on this type of fuel is – um – illegal, however green it may appear (I had to have that fact pointed out to me elsewhere). Along the way, Melville breaks up the trip by reporting on the world of alternative energy through relevant field trips. Stops include Al Gore’s house, the Department of Energy’s underwhelming alternative energy research center, and a wind farm. It’s a light-hearted read about issues that we’re all going to know more about soon.
I’m wondering how much work, if any, will be accomplished in my place of business today. I’m going to speculate: none. Check out the links below if the workplace distractions reach epidemic proportions.
Kids’ letters to President Obama were featured in a New York Times editorial by Jory John, Program Director of 826 Valencia. McSweeney’s has also published book of the letters to be called Thanks and Have Fun Running the Country: Kids’ Letters to President Obama edited by, coincidentally enough, Jory John.
The New York Times also takes a look at the books that shaped the new President.
And let’s not forget Clinton. I read a great piece by George Saunders in this year’s The Best American Non-Required Reading called Bill Clinton, Public Citizen. It was originally written got GQ, but it is not available on-line. However, there is a short interview that Saunders conducted with Clinton that you can check out.
My Vegas reading performance art project failed miserably. I’m sitting in the Vegas airport now, catching up on a week’s worth of news via the free airport wi-fi (the wya God intended wi-fi to be). I was happy to see that the Morning News has announced the line-up for this year’s Tournament of Books along with this year’s format. Woo hoo. You can also become a fan of the Tournament of Books on the Facebook.
I hope that the blog will return to normal output soon, but nothing world changing is happening next week…
That was my record on Pulitzer Prize-winning novels. I loved A Confederacy of Dunces and To Kill A Mockingbird (those are in the “win” column), hated Independence Day, didn’t hate but didn’t think that much of Middlesex, and sort of liked The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay but thought it was way too long and wordy (so I feel compelled to put those three in the “loss” column). Of the Pulitzer Prize winners for fiction, that’s all I had read until I finished The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. I didn’t hate Oscar, but I also don’t quite get what all the fuss was about.
Our esteemed blogmaster reviewed the book here, and it won a bunch of awards, including the Pulitzer. So believe me when I say that I am in the minority when I react by saying “huh?”
To me, winning the Pulitzer tells me that it’s the best work of fiction from last year. It tells me that if I’m going to read one book written last year, this is it. Step right up!
Well, I stepped right up, and I just don’t get it. It’s not a bad book — in fact, parts of it are pretty good. But with all of the uproar, I was expecting something world-changing. But this story of a curse that follows a Dominican family, ultimately getting to our title character (who doesn’t appear nearly as much in the story as you would think, given that he’s the title character), written in a Salinger-esque style, with Spanish words sprinkled in here and there, just wasn’t world-changing for me. I learned a lot about the Dominican Republic and its political history, but I didn’t walk away with the feeling that I’d just finished the best work of fiction from last year.
So I put this one in the “loss” column, even if that’s only because it failed to meet very lofty expectations.
I’m headed to Las Vegas this morning for a week-long work meeting. When I travel, I always make a point of visiting of local independent bookstores. I’ve found that you can tell a lot about the character of a place by its book shops. I googled “Las Vegas independent bookstore” yesterday and found that there don’t appear to be any – if you discount “adult” bookstores and those catering exclusively to gamblers. An article in the Las Vegas Sun titled “Bookstores aren’t our thing, but Vegas has literary life” laments the fact and notes that everything about the city is geared towards removing you from solitary pursuits. I’m resolving to be seen reading each day that I’m there as some sort of political statement — or performance art. To what end, I have no idea. It just seems like the thing to do. (I should also point out that I am the world’s worst gambler.)
The Clash by Joe Strummer, Mick Jone, Paul Simonon, and Topper Headon is, as the cover below suggests, the official book put out by the group Rolling Stone called “the only band that matters.” It’s big, it’s pink, and it’s awesome.
The book is a treasure trove of photographs, set lists, notes, and other memorabilia that fans can spend hours poring over. The text of the book is largely taken from prior interviews (such as Don Letts’s documentary The Clash – Westway to the World). While some may be disappointed that there are not many new insights from the band in the text, it is hardly surprising given Joe Strummer’s death in 2002. The pictures take up any perceived slack in the narrative.
An early photo of the band shows Paul Simonon playing a bass with the notes painted on the neck in white letters amazed me. Now that’s punk rock. Pictures from the Notting Hill Carnival riot remind the reader of what a volatile place England was in the late seventies and how the situation almost couldn’t help but ignite punk music. The original photo of Don Letts walking ominously down the street toward the phalanx of policemen on the cover of Black Market Clash is a powerful image just waiting for the right moment to explode.
I was especially smitten with the photographs taken by Pennie Smith who describes taking an iconic shot of Simonon smashing a bass as terrifying. She was apparently much closer than the picture, later used for the cover of the masterpiece London Calling, would suggest. The cover of that album would come to define the band’s ethos – fans and students of rock history that were also destroying what had come before. Smith also took defining pictures of the band on tour in Thailand that would later be used for the Combat Rock album and publicity. I need to get my hands on the long out of print The Clash Before and After: Photographs by Pennie Smith.
After I got my copy as an early Christmas present for myself, I began e-mailing like-minded friends to make sure that they began dropping appropriate hints around anyone who might be buying them a gift. For fans of the band, The Clash is a must have. I’ve been flipping though my copy compulsively. I recommend The Clash, the book and the band, highly.
As a result of my immersion in Clash lore, I had to create a band-inspired logo through some not-so-punk DIY photoshopping.
Sweet. And now, some streaming audio of some of my favorite Clash songs
– London Calling
– Straight to Hell
– Complete Control
I’m casting my votes for the 2008 Believer Book Award Reader Survey (with original art work by Lil’ Got Books).
It’s hard to believe that this is my first appearance on the blog in the New Year. 2009 has gotten off to a crazy start, and I’m still reading the same book that I started on Thanksgiving! Things will calm down soon I hope.
That Neil Gaiman sure can tell a tale, especially for the YA crowd. Long ago I read and enjoyed his Anansi Boys, which is geared toward adults, but this was way more fun.
The Graveyard Book begins with the brutal murder of a toddler’s entire family by a member of the secret Convocation, the toddler’s oblivious escape out the front door and up the hill into the neighborhood graveyard, and the boy’s subsequent adoption by a couple of three hundred year old ghosts, the guardianship by a mysterious un-living/un-dead guy able to come and go from the graveyard (a kid’s gotta eat), and the eventual acceptance / protection of the “Freedom Of The Graveyard” granted by the graveyard’s most colorful inhabitants.
Growing up with the Freedom Of The Graveyard enables Nobody, Bod for short, to hang out with the dead and, throughout his youth, learn all the best dead tricks: Fading, Sliding, Dreamwalking, and soon enough, Haunting, Chilling, and Fear. We watch him befriend, lose, and re-friend (should be a word) a living girl who thinks he’s imaginary. He mistakenly journeys through the ghoul-gate with a couple of crazy ghouls (including Victor Hugo, the Bishop of Bath and Wells, and the 33rd president of the United States), develops a crush on a witch buried on the other side of the tracks, and finds an extremely well hidden and truly haunted tomb. For a short time, Bod tries his hand at school with, you know, living children, and eventually, (I hope this isn’t a spoiler) he finds his true name.
The Graveyard Book has so many fun little adventures, sparks of subtle humor, times of gripping suspense, glimpses into true darkness, and acts of courage and intelligence that I raced through it way too quickly. Throughout the tale we know the killer is out there seeking to end Bod’s life before he does what he is destined to do, but we never actually discover what that destiny is. Bod turned out to be a really great kid, ready to take on the world, so I’m really hoping that he will. And that we’ll hear more about those worldly adventures in a “part 2″ sometime soon.
Did that get your attention? Sound interesting? Fascinated, are you? Well, you’re not alone. I picked up The Sex Lives of Cannibals, by J. Maarten Troost, because I got suckered in by the title and by the glowing praise that his publisher heaped onto the back of the book (note to self: always remember to see if any of the praise comes from an objective third party).
I don’t want to completely bash the book, because I don’t think Troost did anything wrong. The book supposedly recounts the time he spent with his girlfriend on an extremely remote island in the South Pacific during a period when he didn’t have a whole lot of career ambitions, and I guess it does just that. But it bored me to tears. I kept waiting and hoping that something funny or insightful or even remotely interesting would happen, and I was let down.
Okay, I get it — things are tough when you live without the things you take for granted here in America. And third world countries can smell bad, particularly when they’re on atolls in the South Pacific where there’s nothing to do with the trash and sewage. Okay, I get it. I said I get it, now stop beating that horse to death!
Aha — a “twist” at the end! [spoiler alert, although I would be surprised if anyone reading this post planned on running out and getting this book.] After moving back to the U.S., our narrator and his girlfriend have trouble acclimating back to their past “normal” lives, and decide to move back to the South Pacific! A disappointing payoff.
I think I’ve mentioned my love of young adult fantasy books a couple of times, so I’ve decided to post on one…you know, all New Years resolution-style, and all.
Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman is the latest teenager-with-a-dragon story that has come my way, and I loved it. What could be better than a fictional ancient Asian culture based on spiritual, astrological dragons that commune with chosen humans who have trained from the age of 12 to become the Dragoneyes that will control the forces of nature and aid the emperor and his court in maintaining peace throughout the empire?
Well, our heroine, Eon, is really Eona, a crippled 16 year old girl pretending to be a boy, the Imperial court is guarded by eunuchs (that just cracks me up), people are being poisoned left and right, a missing spirit dragon shows up after 500 years, there’s an evil plot to take over the empire, and everyone sword fights. Gotta love a good sword fight.
Goodman throws in themes of accepting differences, the blind acceptance of what may or may not be true or right, and some plain old good vs evil. I do wonder if this sort of book actually appeals to the young crowd for which it’s written, but I had fun with it. Eon(a) is a smart, strong, scrappy girl who is occassionally misled, but eventually finds her way – which I’ll hopefully follow into part 2 soon.
Added Bonus: We have a copy to give away. If you’re interested in checking out a great YA fantasy novel with extra girl power, leave a comment. We’ll pick a random winner at the end of the week and hook you up.