Kick off your weekend by reading the true story of how one man turned a love of pizza into a career in the book industry. The Huffington Post tells the amazing tale of BGB-contributor Russ Marshalek in This is Why I’m Awesome: The Russ Marshalek Story. Soon to be a Lifetime mini-series.
Steven Hall, author of the excellent post-modern thrill ride novel The Raw Shark Texts, is one our all-time favorite authors here at BGB. Mr. Hall was gracious enough to send me a copy of his book after I snarkily called him out over a wrongly interpreted remark (oops!). Once in my hands, Raw Shark just blew me away. I give the book a shout out almost every chance I get. Seriously: type “Raw Shark Texts” in our search box over there on the right and see what happens.
Hall was the subject of our very first author interview, and he has been a friend to the blog ever since. In the greatest coup this blog has ever scored, Steven Hall was the guest of honor at a Baby Got Books’ Reading Series event here in Atlanta. See!:
We decided recently that it was high time to catch up with Steven Hall to see what’s new.
Baby Got Books Interview with Steven Hall, author of The Raw Shark Texts:
Baby Got Books: First things first. When’s the new book, variously known as “Book 2″ and code name “Hula Hoop,” coming out?
Steven Hall: I’d tell you if I knew! “Hula Hoop” really has taken on a life of its own and I’m just holding on as best I can. It’s a very complicated book to write, it has a lot of specific demands, some of which are pretty unique. I want to make sure I get it right, or at least give it my very best shot.
BGB: At 3 AM Magazine, they quote you as saying, ““Even more than Raw Shark Texts, the second novel uses the architecture of the book to tell the story (but not in the same way). The book also features one and a half returning characters from the first novel, a kite, lots of dolls houses and a gigantic art installation called Narnia Junction.” One and a half characters? What is that supposed to mean?! Any new developments to share?
Steven Hall: Heh, it means that the second character had a tiny cameo in Raw Shark Texts, so brief that most people won’t remember. Actually, it’s starting to look like ‘one and two half returning characters’ – somebody else from that first book is now making very odd semi-appearances in this one, it least, it might be them…
I’m very interested in creating a series of books that all enhance each-other – You can read any of the book alone, that’s fine, but if you chose to read Raw Shark and Hula Hoop, then each would be enhanced by possibilities presented in the other. Or not. It’ll depend on the sort of reader you are. I’m excited by the meta-game of how all these books fit together (the plan is for there to be seven, eventually) – so there will be areas for dedicated reader to explore not just within each novel, but very much in the spaces between them.
Hula Hoop is a hub book, in some ways – we’ll be meeting people in Hula Hoop that play important parts in books 3, 4, maybe 5. And that someone who played a very important part in book 1 too.
BGB: How many languages has Raw Shark been translated into now? I’ve lost count. Do you have a shelf with all of the editions on it?
Steven Hall: I think we’re up to thirty languages, although not all of them have been published yet. The complex Chinese edition came out last month. It’s a thing of beauty. Yes, I have a shelf with all the editions. People say “wow, I didn’t realise you’d written so many books.” I have to put them right. It’ll be nice when there are copies of ‘Hula Hoop’ up there too.
BGB: The screenwriter for the film adaptation of The Raw Shark Texts is Simon Beaufoy, who won an Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire moments after working on your project. Nicely done. What’s the latest word on getting Raw Shark to the screen?
Steven Hall: It was nothing to do with me! The credit for that goes to FilmFour and Pete Czernin from Blueprint Films. I think they’re trying to attached a director to the project at the moment, I’m trying to keep my nose out and let them get on with it. It seems to me that there are wall-to-wall cooks in film making at the best of times, they don’t need me sticking my nose in too. That said, I am very interested and excited to see what they come up with.
BGB: On your blog you mention working on any number of projects: Dr Who radio plays, a short film project, a top-secret e-book project for Book Two, on-going Raw Shark projects, Book Three (or did I make that one up?). Anything else that I’ve forgotten? It sounds very busy over there at Hall Manor. With so much happening, how do you keep everything moving forward?
Steven Hall: With difficulty (and no, you didn’t make Book Three up – that’s on the slab too, insanely). I’m also putting the groundwork together for a big project with the very talented Christian Ward. This is going to be something a bit different to my novel work, a different area of interest for me. I’m looking forward to stretching a different set of muscles and hopefully adding a second string to my bow. If we can pull it off, it’ll be quite a piece of work, I think. There never seem to be enough hours in the day, but I’m enjoying myself very much. To be honest with you, Raw Shark Texts was paralyzing for a while – it was so big, it completely took over my life, and it was very difficult to get past the craziness that ate up almost all of 2006-2008. I think I’m doing that now, or at least I’m getting there.
BGB: Speaking of Dr Who, you went out and bought your own Dalek with your Raw Shark advance. Have you picked up any new sci-fi ephemera lately?
Steven Hall: I haven’t, partly because there doesn’t seem to be anywhere to go after you have your own dalek!
BGB: When you were here in Atlanta, you got me listening to the Finnish band Pepe Deluxé. It’s still my go-to disc if I am faced with “I need to be cool” emergency. Do you have any new top-secret bands that I should get hip to?
Steven Hall: I’m sure a lot of people wouldn’t call them cool (but that’s good, cool people are often a bit naff, aren’t they?) but I’ve been very much enjoying the Envy and Other Sins album ‘We Leave at Dawn.’ It really is a brilliant piece of work, I think. And the last song, Shipwrecked, could have been written for the Raw Shark movie (if you’re reading this, FilmFour!). Very much worth a listen, I’d say.
Pepe Deluxé – The Mischief of Cloud Six
BGB: Have you started laying the groundwork with your US publisher to make sure that the book tour for “Book Two/Hula Hoop” comes through Atlanta?
Steven Hall: If I tour the States with it, I shall do all in my power to pass through Atlanta. We drank a lot of beer that afternoon, didn’t we?
BGB: Anything else we need to know about while we’re checking in?
Steven Hall: www.steven-hall.org
Through a top secret arrangement that I really can’t talk about, so we’ll really need to keep this between the two of us, ok?, I have a draft of the first few chapters of “Hula Hoop” in my inbox as we speak! What I can tell you, from what I’ve read so far, is that this second novel is going to be an interesting departure from Raw Shark. But remember, mum’s the word.
The Man-Booker Prize longlist has been announced. It seems like the winner from last year was just announced. Anyway, here’s your list:
The Children’s Book, AS Byatt (US publication – October)
Summertime, JM Coetzee (US publication – October)
The Quickening Maze, Adam Foulds (US publication – ?)
How to Paint a Dead Man, Sarah Hall (US publication – September)
The Wilderness, Samantha Harvey
Me Cheeta, James Lever
Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel (US publication – October)
The Glass Room, Simon Mawer (US publication – ?)
Not Untrue & Not Unkind, Ed O’Loughlin (US publication – April 2010)
Heliopolis, James Scudamore
Brooklyn, Colm Toibin
Love and Summer, William Trevor (US publication – September)
The Little Stranger, Sarah Waters (US publication – ?)
I have read exactly zero of these. Of course, only 4 of the 13 are currently available in the US, so I don’t feel like too much of a slacker. I’ve had my eye on Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn for a while but haven’t pulled the trigger. I’ve got to say that I’m intrigued that Me Cheeta made the list. It purports to be a Hollywood memoir of the 70 year old chimp that played Cheeta in the Tarzan movies. Yes! It has to be the biggest dark horse on any Booker longlist EVER. (It turns out that Cheeta didn’t write it. Scandal!)
There’s a new literary journal in town, Electric Literature, and it seems to have your “future-of-publishing” concerns all figured out. They will provide you with each issue in the format of your choice: e-book, Kindle, iPhone, and, if you must, a paperback. To run their operations as lean and green as possible, physical copies are printed on-demand, so unused copies don’t end up in remainder bins. It’s so crazy that it just might work.
These guys are not fooling around either. The first issue includes stories by Pulitzer-winner Michael Cunningham (The Hours), National Book Award-finalist Jim Shepard (Yeah, Like You’d Understand Anyway), Lydia Millet (How the Dead Dream, Oh Pure and Radiant Heart) and T Cooper (Lipshitz 6). Even so, they bill themselves as “Reading That’s Bad for You.” (You must see the catch phrase in context, so click here and here for examples.)
And then check out this excellent short film trailer for the Jim Shepard story in issue No. 1, Your Fate Hurtles Down at You:
These dudes have got it all figured out.
It’s been very quiet around here for the last week. Maybe you noticed, or maybe you were on vacation, too. Either way, I’m now back from glorious time away from the keyboard in foreign locales and am easing back into the workaday world. We could return to our regularly scheduled programming as early as tomorrow.
One of the things that I have been up to is checking out a super secret draft of the first chapters of the new novel by one of my favorite authors, Steven Hall. More on that later in the week…
The word on the street is that there is something of a zombie book phenomenon afoot. Even NPR recently ran a segment that helpfully explains the zombie modus operandi:
Rule 1 for zombies: You have to want to kill people,” says horror screenwriter Kirsten Elms. “You have to want to rip someone’s throat out — it doesn’t matter if they are your mother or your wife or your dog.”
I’m not much for conventional horror novels, but I felt compelled to check out this whole zombie scene. The result: reviews of the two zombie novels that I’ve read – so far…
Pride and Predjudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith
Pride and Predjudice and Zombies informs the curious reader on the title page that this is “The Classic Regency Romance–Now with Ultraviolent Zombie Mayhem.” Indeed it is. P&P&Z is a literary joke that seems to have been to its logical extreme. The author uses the text of Pride and Predjudice as a template into which he inserts zombies (and some ninjas) to create a new version of an old story.
The Bennett Sisters may be Shaolin monk-trained assassins of the undead, but that doesn’t mean that Mrs. Bennett isn’t consumed with marrying them off. Mr. Darcy may be a master of the deadly arts as well, but that doesn’t make him any less aloof. Zombie attacks, ninjas, training sessions in the dojos of the English country side keep the underlying story moving along.
Just for discussion purposes, which of these opening quotes would keep you reading?:
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
I think that the publishers have stumbled upon an excellent way to expose reluctant (i.e. male) readers to Jane Austen. I, for one, am going back to read the original work (via DailyLit). As I mentioned on Friday, the next Jane Austen “adaptation” by Quirk Books will be available soon.
Breathers by S.G. Browne
In Breathers: A Zombie’s Lament, Andy, our Zombie narrator describes his story this way:
It’s a classic story of suffering and redemption, like The Color Purple or The New Testament.
Only with cannibalism.
Well, at least it is an original story. And cannibalism is involved.
Andy is not thrilled to find himself among the undead after killing both he and his wife by falling asleep at the wheel. His family, who were mourning him only a few days ago, don’t seem to want him around – especially his dad. Discrimination against zombies is rampant. They aren’t even treated like humans. Rather than send the police, the animal control authorities are sent to retrieve errant zombies. It’s a hard road being undead. Andy eventually begins to find comfort and inner strength in a zombie support group at the local community center. “Breathers” is the pejorative term that the support group use to refer to the living. As the cover suggests, there is also an unlikely love story at the center of the book.
Breathers is a fun read (great for the beach), but it also has something to say about acceptance and having the courage to be yourself no matter how society at large may view you. No, really. A zombie novel with a message.
If you want to check out a zombie novel and are unsure of just where to begin, either of these would be a good bet. I liked Breathers a little better than P&P&Z, mostly because it was an original story. Jane Austen fans or those who have been meaning to get around to it, may want to check out Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Both are fun and make for a nice summer read.
And I’m not even kidding.
Like his 2006 novel “What Is the What,” which was based on the life of a Sudanese refugee, this is a work of testimony, and almost of ventriloquism.
Over at the LA Times Jacket Copy Blog, Carolyn Kellogg has concluded Post Modern (PoMo) month. Do yourself a favor and check out the month’s worth of great posts. One of my favorites is the 61 Essential Post Modern Reads: An Annotated List which features this handy symbol key to show which PoMo traits each book brings to the table:
Some of my favorite books of all time are on this list. I would have added Steven Hall’s The Raw Shark Texts, Marisha Pessl’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics, Rivka Galchen’s Atmospheric Disturbances, Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club, two or three more Pynchon novels, and maybe Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America and Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. Are the Jane Austen mashups post modern? What would you add to the list?
Update: Looking at the key again, I’d have to add Don Quixote to the list of “post modern” essentials. It has many of the traits, but it preceded “modern” texts by a century or two. So maybe “post-modern” can’t apply by definition. Still…
Howard Jabobson is a nestbeschmutzer. I don’t know what that means in Yiddish exactly. Jacobson’s novel Kalooki Nights defines the word as meaning “self-befouling” – and my limited understanding of the railroad car construction of German is that it would be one who be-schmutzes (dirties?) his own nest. In the context of the book, however, it seems to also mean one who airs the dirty laundry of his family, friends, or “people.”
The titular “kalooki” is a card game enjoyed by Max Glickman’s mother and friends. I had assumed that it was a Jewish card game, until I polled my Jewish friends. Unanimously, they had never heard of it. My friend WikiPedia says that it is a card game popular in Jamaica, which would make a certain sense in the context of the book (if at all true).
Max Glickman is raised by a Jewish family that eschews everything that hints at Jewish religion or tradition. Yet the family lives in strictly Jewish neighborhood, and in an apartment filled regularly with like-minded Jews who see Max’s father as a sort of philosophical leader. Of his father, the boxer Jack “the Jew” Glickman, Max says:
…he was happy for me to go to school and become a solicitor. Anything so long as I stayed away from Judaism, which he considered, somewhat illogically, to be a curse on the Jews.
Max’s boyhood friends are such opposites, that he Max rarely hangs out with both of them at the same time. Errol is an unabashed libertine – the equivalent of the snake in the garden – whose purpose on Earth seems to be to tempt Max to be bad. On the other end of the spectrum is Manny, a devout Orthodox Jew, who works with Max on a cartoon history of the oppression of the Jews called Five Thousand Years of Bitterness.
It hardly seems surprising when Max grows up to become an Art Spiegelman-esque cartoonist whose main interest seems to be exploring the Jewish people, mostly to their shame and discomfort. It is more surprising when Max is asked by a documentary filmmaker to help interview a Jewish murderer who has killed both parents by gassing them in their sleep. The murderer turns out to be a friend of Max’s.
Through the interview with the murderer, his comics, and the story of his childhood and adult life, there is no end to the nestbeschmutzing. Through these elements, the author explores virtually every aspect of what it means to be Jewish – good and bad, it’s all up for discussion. While the story is specifically about Jewish families, many of the themes in Kalooki Nights apply universally.
The novel explores how our families, and the history of the world at large, shape who we become – whatever our intentions are as we grow up. Simple assumptions about people based upon their station in life and who they appear to be, are often as wrong as wrong can possibly be. Life is messy. The world is a crazy place. Easy answers are hard to find, and, even then, highly suspect.
Max Glickman, the nestbeschmutzer, is often asked about his art, as surely the author must also be asked regularly, “who is this likely to help? Us or them?” “Them” being the people who will use any evidence of weakness or doubt or missteps (and even, well, evil) to justify their racist agendas. And, really, it’s a fair question. One that Max Glickman never comes up with an answer for. Easy answers are, after all, hard to find.
This is a heavy and challenging book. It took me a long time to wade through it, and I had to put it down through some passages that were especially difficult to read. It’s a brutally honest book that pulls no punches. It’s not for everyone. That said, if you’d like to check out this impressive novel, you can have my copy. It’s a beatup old paperback that I got for free via Bookmooch. I’m happy to share the love. Leave a comment below, I’ll pick a name from the interested parties, and drop it in the mail to you.
- Take this quick survey. It will be greatly appreciated. It’s about e-books and your views on new ideas like making a “mix tape” of your favorite short stories to make your own printed collection.
- Check out our giveaway of four different Worst Case Scenario guides. Leave us a comments under the original post if you’re interested. I’ll pick winners at 6PM (Eastern) today and mail books tomorrow.
- Canadians: What book stores and literary places of interest should I visit next week in Montreal and Quebec City? And brewpubs. Don’t forget brewpub recommendations, too.
- And don’t forget Bastille Day.
Um, that’s it.
Zeitoun is the new non-fiction book by Dave Eggers. If you’re a regular here, you know that I am an Eggers enthusiast. I am also from New Orleans, and I have been selectively reading from the pile of Hurricane Katrina-related books that have been coming out at a steady clip. Therefore, a Katrina-related book by Dave Eggers inserts itself directly onto the top of my to-be-read pile.
With Zeitoun, Eggers does for New Orleans AND post-9/11 hysteria what he did for the Lost Boys of the Sudan with his non-fiction masterpiece What is the What.
The book begins with an epigraph by Cormac McCarthy’s The Road:
…in the history of the world it might even be that there was more punishment than crime…
Certainly, a post-apocalyptic reference is fitting enough for a Katrina story. It is this particular reference with its foreshadowing of punishment that makes it particularly apropos for the story of Zeitoun, a story that had to be told.
Abdulrahman Zeitoun is a New Orleanian by way of his native Syria. He came to the U.S. largely by chance, and stayed to create a better life for himself. He is a husband and family man, a religious Muslim, and a successful and respected building contractor. His Katrina story begins almost exactly the same as everyone else’s, with a decision: should I stay or should I go? As you might surmise from the cover, Zeitoun chose to stay.
With his family safely out of town, Zeitoun finds himself in one piece after the storm. He sets off in his canoe to explore the city and look after his interests around town (job sites, rental properties, business office, etc). Zeitoun saves the lives of several people after the storm and looks after the abandoned pets of neighbors. He meets up with a few acquaintances, and they work together to survive and help out where they can.
Zeitoun is overcome with a sense of purpose, and he comes to believe that God has placed him in New Orleans to this end: to help others in need. The rude awakening, and the book’s gripping second half, comes when Zeitoun is arrested while standing in the hallway of a house that he owns for what amounts to “being suspicious”. What follows is a Dante-esque descent into hell that has to be read to be believed.
Eggers first encountered Zeitoun’s story in the McSweeney’s-published Voices from the Storm: The People of New Orleans on Hurricane Katrina and Its Aftermath. In the afterword Eggers says that the Zeitoun family’s story stuck with him, and he visited them the next time he was in New Orleans. He says, “from our first talk it was clear that there was more to their story…and so began an almost-three-year process…”
To tell Zeitoun’s story, Eggers interviewed Zeitoun and his wife at length, and traveled to Syria and Spain to interview other family members. He visited the jail where Zeitoun and his friends ultimately found themselves incarcerated. Eggers even found the arresting officers to get their first hand account. As a piece of journalism, this is book was no minor undertaking.
Like What is the What, Zeitoun is a compelling true story that reads like great fiction. The author removes himself from the subjects’ story entirely, letting the tale speak for itself. Zeitoun is also like What is the What in that although both stories speak of incredible injustices and personal tragedy, they are both, somehow, uplifting and .
Like its predecessor, all of the author’s proceeds have been donated to a foundation run by the book’s subject that will use the money for philanthropic purposes. If you liked What is the What, it is a safe bet that Zeitoun is for you. It is an incredible story that deserves to be widely read.
Chronicle Books recently sent us a few selections from their iconic Worst-Case Scenario series of instructional books to give away to our readers. The pocket-sized guides are humorous, appear to be factually accurate, and just may come in handy some day. Titles that we’ll be handing out include:
- The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Extreme Edition (sample advice: How to survive if you are buried alive)
- The Worst-Case Scenario Almanac: Politics (sample advice: How to work a receiving line during flu season)
- The Worst-Case Scenario Pocket Guide: Dogs (sample advice: How to get rid of skunk odor on your dog)
- The Worst-Case Scenario Pocket Guide: New York City (sample advice: how to swim across the East River)
If you’d like to be the proud owner of one of these handsome values at no cost to yourself, leave us a comment that includes your preferred volume(s). We’ll pick four winners next week to take home the booty.
Worst-case scenario: you don’t win – Free advice can be had at The Worst is Yet to Come – the Worst-Case Scenario blog.
That’s the name of the autobiographical tale I would tell about my life in show business. Although “okay” is probably an overstatement, and “show business” would be a downright whopper. But I did play drums in a couple of bands. Good times, good times.
Well, while in London with my family, I decided to pick up a couple of books at a local bookstore, one of which is called I Play the Drums in a Band Called Okay, by Toby Litt. It’s got a cool cover, textured like a record, and it’s got heaps of praise on the back cover and inside the front cover from plenty of respected rags and from a gentleman by the name of Peter Hook, for whom I’ve got loads of respect. No brainer, huh?
Well, the book is supposed to be a ripsnorting series of anecdotes from the author’s life as the drummer in the band Okay — a band with members named Clap (our author), Syph, Mono, and Crab. Sounds hilarious, no?
Well, really it’s not. I was so un-entertained and utterly disappointed by it that I gave up after 8 of the 26 chapters. So I don’t have anything to offer on the last three-fourths of the book, other than if you want to invest your time and money in this one, you’d better hope for a serious rally.
In other news, BGB Contributor Russ Marshalek says he might be tempted to buy a non-Kindle e-book reader if the price and terms were right. He says this in Wired Magazine. What?!
Tim O’Reilly says the Kindle needs to open its proprietary format or die.
I first met Emily Mandel at a book party after I’d just moved to New York. This is entirely sensible, as everyone in New York is in publishing, and everyone in publishing is always at a book party; as such, everyone in New York is always at a book party.
Mandel was introduced to me at this party by a mutual friend who’d recently read her debut novel Last Night In Montreal. The novel was described to me as being “strangely beautiful” by said friend, and upon meeting the slight, quiet, reserved and polite Emily Mandel, she didn’t seem the person who would have penned a first novel of the striking emotional scope and quiet grandeur I’d eventually find in Last Night In Montreal. I didn’t think this at the time; I’d not yet read Last Night. All I recall thinking is “this Emily Mandel author person is nice but strange, I don’t even think she’s drinking. Who doesn’t drink at a book party?”
Eventually, though-and by “eventually” I mean in the past few months-Last Night In Montreal, published by small, growing with a firm handhold Unbridled Books, has become a sort of literary fever amongst people I know, people I respect, complete strangers, the New York Times.
I tend to avoid (and this is me admitting this here, this is like my AA, so be kind) hot of-the-minute works of fiction that I didn’t catch on their rise; falling under the hypnotic spell of, say, Michael Thomas’ Man Gone Down would have seemed like a less personal experience to me if it’d happened after the Times’ cover feature had run.
So I met Last Night In Montreal on skeptical terms, finally cracking the book’s spine for the first time after I asked Emily to be my August author guest at my bi-monthly “Just Working On My Novel” reading series (shameless plug!).
On a rainy, muggy afternoon, I found myself instantly hooked.
At its core, Last Night In Montreal is a story about place. Lilia Albert leaves-and has always left. It’s what she does, it’s who she is, and it’s all she’s ever known, though she’s relatively unsure as to why. A willing participant in a muddled, cloudy kidnapping by her birth father when she was very young, Albert’s adult life has seen her traveling the entirety of the U.S. entirely guided by her own whims.
When Lilia decides to settle in New York, she, through a chance café encounter (there are many chance encounters in Last Night In Montreal, making it, amongst many other things, a book that speaks volumes to a belief in the romance of fate), meets Eli, a Brooklynite working on his thesis of dead and dying languages. They burn instantly, quietly, strangely, cohabiting in Eli’s tiny apartment and with Lilia at times out late at night chasing rainstorms with her waterproof camera. In Eli’s life, he’s felt surrounded by people who’d rather critique art than make it, and with Lilia he finds beauty in both her person and her passion. At night, she slowly unravels, in story after story, the discordant fragments she can recall about her past.
Then one day she goes out for the paper and doesn’t come back.
Throughout the rest of Last Night In Montreal, Lilia’s life slowly pieces together in fits and starts, in a thread that pulls Eli to chase her to Montreal via a letter from the mysterious Michaela. The prose is taut but lush, filled to the brim with writing that way too often punched my throat, grabbed my heart and forced me to put the book on my lap simple in order to catch my breath.
It could be said (and was, by Publisher’s Weekly) that the characters in Last Night In Montreal, Lilia specifically, are nothing more than amalgams of neurosis. I dispute that. Young Adult author John Green has made a career writing great books with the same female archetype-the “crazybeautiful”-in each one, and Lilia is by far a more fully realized, flesh-and-bone character, that also happens to have a very raw emotional linchpin. This is proven in many incredible moments throughout the book, but my favorite is also the first that made me realize the utter visceral reaction I would have to Last Night In Montreal. When she decides New York is calling her, Lilia is living with a woman named Erica in Chicago. She tells Erica she’s leaving for NY:
“Do you have a place to stay?”
“I’ll find something.”
“There, you see?” Erica leaned back in her chair as if she’d just proved something. Her smile bordered on smug. “That’s courage,” she said, “whatever you want to call it.”
“You don’t understand.” Lilia found at that moment she had no patience for anything: for this city, this street, this relentlessly trendy split-level bar, the identically dressed waitress gliding between tables, this blue-haired girl across the table with the beer. The sadness of the waitress’s blue-green snake tattoo, circling forever on the same tired wrist…”It isn’t courage, Erica, it’s exactly the opposite. There’s nothing good about it. It’s exactly like running away from everything that matters, and I wish I could make you understand that.”
That scene, which continues, wrecked me-there, in about two pages, Mandel had encapsulated what, for me, was an incredibly personal feeling that I’ve been consumed with ever since I left Atlanta for New York-a feeling that only worsens when I’m “congratulated” on a “move” that feels at times more like I ran away from something than towards something. The Montreal-based Sub Pop band Handsome Furs’ song “Handsome Furs Hate This City”, with its lyrics of “oh, life is long…and hollow” and “baby we can get you anything you want anytime you want but you won’t know what it’s for” rang through my head as a soundtrack to this part, too, and I’ve since become a bit compelled to make a Handsome Furs-centric soundtrack to the book (though Mandel herself, over at Largehearted Boy, gives a great BookNotes soundtrack to Last Night).
The end of Last Night In Montreal I had to, unfortunately, read on the N train heading from Queens into Manhattan, due to not wanting to be a horrible human being and end up canceling on plans to, well, to read a book. I recommend, if this should happen to you too, that you choose book-nerd over good person, and keep yourself out of social interaction until you’ve turned the last page and let the entirety of the sweeping, emotional ending pass through you. Last Night In Montreal is a fully-realized piece of powerful literary fiction-as such, it demands your full attention, and unless you enjoy sobbing in public, you’d better give it what it asks for.
So, to everyone who I ignored by waiting this long to read Last Night, here’s your one for the year: you were right. So very, very right. Last Night In Montreal is the harbinger of massive works to come, I hope, because this book, tender and powerful though it is, only makes me want more.
Handsome Furs – Handsome Furs Hate This City
I am a huge Dave Eggers fan (as many of us are at BGB) so it really didn’t take much to convince me to dash out to my local indie movie theater as soon as Away We Go started showing. This movie met all my expectations. It is quirky, sweet, funny and has a great soundtrack. After the movie, my husband asked me “What was the movie really about?” Upon discussion, we realized that it was about life, being a parent, making decisions on how to raise your kids and that ultimately there is no right answer.
There are five different segments in the movie each of which portrays a family with very different beliefs on family and particularly child-rearing. Some are hilarious, some are pathetic but mostly it demonstrates that you can only do your best and hope that your kids turn out okay. The two main characters, John Krasinski from the Office and Maya Rudolph from SNL are in their mid 30’s, expecting their first child and feel that they just don’t have their shit together. In one of the more poignant scenes of the movie – they are debating whether they are really “fuck-ups” or not. That is one conversation that all of us have had at some point in our lives.
Eggers and his co-author wife, Vendela Vida, have denied that the movie was autobiographical. Even if it is not exactly a story of their lives, I felt that Eggers was in his comfort zone with the themes from his other books: loss of parents, childhood, family, etc.
This is a perfect movie for a date night with your spouse especially if you want to reminisce about that magical yet crazy time in your life when you were pregnant for the first time and trying to figure everything out.
(Heather at I am Fuel… was also charmed by the movie and some excerpts from the soundtrack )
We’re off to the pool. In the meantime, check out stuff like this:
You’ll need to read this article to see what in sam hill that comic book cover is all about. You won’t believe how they’ve imagined Palin. You will totally believe how they’ve worked Cheney into the mix.
Were authors Jack Pendarvis (top) and Luis Alberto Urrea (bottom) separated at birth?
It’s the same dude!
Carefully curated links for your consideration:
- Roger Ebert explains why loudmouth/author Bill O’Reilly is toxic to civil discourse/the planet.
- Ragdoll pointed the way to this list of fifty timely reads – What to Read Now! (she’s read 5 of the titles listed, and I’ve read 3 – neither of us are timely)
- Awful Library Books (via Olive Reader)
- Best Library ad campaign in – pretty much – EVER (via Librarian.net)
- Carolyn Kellogg thinks the word “postmodern” may have jumped the shark
- Loose Tweets Sink Fleets – someone should have told author/nutjob Alice Hoffman (catch up on the ruckus with this article by Russ)
- Did you know that author Michael Lewis is from New Orleans? Neither did I. Check out this video of Mr. Lewis explaining why A Confederacy of Dunces is one of the best/funniest novels of all time
- Speaking of Michael Lewis, it appears that the Moneyball movie (that would have starred Brad Pitt) is not happening. However, someone has made an early script available for your reading pleasure. (via Rob Neyer @ Sweet Spot)
- Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother was adapted to the stage in Chicago. Check out video of the production here.
- In another adaptation, two Iranians have adapted the style of cartoonist Marjane Satrapi to explain the current situation in Iran.
- Little House’s Melissa Gilbert has a new memoir that has disturbing revelations about Liza Minelli and Andrew McCarthy. Click the link at your peril.
- Author Ben Tanzer hops on the Dave Eggers love wagon. Join us. There’s room for everyone.
My introduction to Joe Meno was through his heartbreakingly awesome novel The Boy Detective Fails – ZOMG! – check it out if you haven’t already. When the chance to interview Meno presented itself, I was on it like the proverbial thing that is on that other thing. Oh, and be sure to check out Tim’s rave review of Joe Meno’s new novel The Great Perhaps. Read on…
Baby Got Books interview with Joe Meno, author of The Great Perhaps
Baby Got Books: Your books, particularly the new one, are all very, very
character-driven-the characters are incredibly fleshed out and real,
with frighteningly well-thought-out eccentricities. Who are some of your
favorite characters in literature-”classic” or newer?
Joe Meno: Thanks so much for the compliment. To me, stories about characters, and their relationships to one another, so that’s where I always start. The ones that live on in my imagination always seem to have a real sense of complexity about them—Byron Bunch from Faulkner’s Light in August, Salinger’s Fanny and Zoey, Pecola Breedlove from Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. I have stolen liberally from each of those authors for my own books and stories—how Faulkner uses place to reveal character, what Salinger does with dialogue and gesture, how Morrison can give the reader a new understanding of a character through a single object.
BGB: Regarding the new book-clouds and squids: did you have to do much
research into either topic to make the imagery/meaning factually
accurate (is it factually accurate?)
Joe Meno: I worked on The Great Perhaps for about four years—the research for the novels was pretty extensive, ranging from looking into the prehistoric giant squid, German-American internment camps, radio serials of the 1940’s, social bird dominance, Marxism, the development of the F-4 phantom jet, and epilepsy, and I tried to make it as factually accurate as I could, although that is never the goal I have when I write. I just kept following my curiosity, looking for connections between the lives of the characters I was describing and what already existed in the world. For me the most interesting thing I discovered was how prevalent and, at the same time, how little we know about epilepsy. In the book, Jonathan has seizures which are triggered by clouds, which seems pretty absurd. But in reality, there are all sorts of cases of people whose seizures are triggered by these incredibly specific cues—lights, movement, sounds, one woman in Germany is stricken whenever she hears a certain piece of music by Brahms.
BGB: What was the impetus for Boy Detective Fails? That novel ranks in my
favorite books of all time, ever, and it’s so funny and aching and strikingly original that I’d be remiss in not asking about how it came to be.
Joe Meno: Thanks again. I actually started working on the book some time after September 11th, and at the time I was turning thirty, and in that way, the book is about how terrified I was that the world had become this random, violent, disorderly place. Usually, when I feel lost, I turn to books and music. In this case, I started thinking back to The Hardy Boys and Encyclopedia Brown and bands like Belle and Sebastian: there’s something incredibly sad about children who are smart, which Belle and Sebastian seem to capture in their music. Like all my books, it was a way for me to come to some kind of understanding about the world: why mystery was something important, something necessary.
BGB: What books do you recall reading as a child that first pushed you to want to write?
Joe Meno: With my daughter, I’ve been revisiting some of those books, like Where the Wild Things Are, and Madeline, and Ferdinand, and you realize how all the basic storytelling techniques that work for adults are there: character, place, action, change. It’s actually really helpful to see that, even as adults, I think we go to books for the same reasons: to have a moment to daydream, to experience something outside of ourselves, and be reminded of the possibilities of things.
BGB: What music are you listening to as of late?
Joe Meno: I’ve been listening to a lot of Beatles lately. My daughter is a year and half old and she just started asking to hear them by name, which is pretty exciting. I feel like whatever mistakes I make as a father, that at least I passed on something important, like an appreciation for “Hey, Jude.” She gets very serious and sings the Na-na-na parts at the end of the song, and it makes you realize what the point of making art is all of a sudden.
If you’d like to have Joe Meno read a part of the first chapter of The Great Perhaps just for YOU, click here.