Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Truth About Romance

Working mostly in commercial trade publishing, I've learned a thing or two about genre fiction. I've also learned that genre fiction is often stereotyped, mocked, and looked down upon by some readers who consider themselves more "literary-minded"--particularly when it comes to romance novels. But it's unfairly so.

I consider myself a fairly well-rounded reader. I'll give anything a try, whether adult, children's, literary, commercial, or non-fiction (though, I must admit, non-fiction is more difficult for me than fiction). As such, I'm no stranger to the romance novel. As a kid, I read a lot of Danielle Steel novels I actually think I've read every one of her books pre-21st century. At the time, I
didn't even know they were "romance novels"; to me, they were just stories. Stories about women, young and old, modern and historical, working their way through the world as they learn who they are and what they want and who is deserving of their love. Sure, most of the stories were formulaic and Danielle Steel in particular has a lot of the same elements with minor tweaks here and there, but each story still felt new to me. I learned something different from each one--about heartache, about happiness, about family and friendships and love. I adored those books.

Then, one day I just stopped reading them. I'm not sure why, maybe I was just too consumed with being a teenager and getting ready to go to college, but I stopped. Then in college I barely ever read for pleasure and at the time fell a little prey to the romance genre stereotypes myself in the whirlwind of academia, to be honest. But now, I'm back reading a variety of things, many of which are romance novels. In fact, romance is the genre I work most closely with on an everyday basis, and I continue to grow more and more respectful of romance writing as I interact more with authors, characters, and plot lines.

I dove back in when I got my first job in publishing, in the sales department of a major publishing house in NYC, and I picked up a copy of a book by Lisa Kleypas. It was her first contemporary romance, Sugar Daddy, and it, to this day, is one of my all-time favorite books. While the title might indicate a certain tone or theme, Kleypas's novel is brilliant. It's powerful and funny, insightful and beautifully written. I even have gone so far as to quote it from time-to-time, something I bet you'd never hear anyone admit before. I read the book in one night and went into work the next day and emailed the editor, just to let her know how much the book truly touched me. The editor forwarded my email along to Lisa, who responded, thrilled that it meant so much to me. Romance novels accomplish more than just an escape. All reading provides that. But romance novels can reach your heart in a way other books just don't.

Laura Clauson of The Daily Kos seems to feel the same way, now that she's opened herself up to the idea of romance novels:
Once upon a time I embraced the judgment. I was a reader of mysteries and sci-fi (you know, the genres that get their own sections even in serious independent bookstores) and on the eve of a spring break trip, I picked up a romance novel as a joke -- a joke I made out loud, more than once. Then I stayed up all night reading the book and started discovering that I'd been wrong. That book made me laugh. Its heroine fought back successfully against being victimized by men. Its villain was defined by his misogyny. And it was, it turns out, pretty typical in those broad strokes.

Read the rest of Laura's post HERE
Laura goes on to break down some of the common misconceptions about romance novels and when I saw her post, I knew it needed a shout out. So, take a look as she does her own feminist version of "Mythbusters" and blows the cap off the following stereotypes:

Myth #1: Romance novels glamorize rape.
Myth #2: Romance novels are just porn for women
Myth #3: Romance heroines are weak.
Myth #4: Romance heroines are just another version of the beauty myth.
Myth #5: Myth: Purple prose and other terrible writing.

And after you've done that, give a romance a read. Here are some of my personal favorites (in no particular order):

~ Sugar Daddy by Lisa Kleypas (duh, see above!)
~ To Scotland with Love by Karen Hawkins
~ Let Sleeping Rogues Lie by Sabrina Jeffries
~ Our Little Secret by Starr Ambrose (My conscience forces me
to admit that I edited this one)
~ Gentlemen Prefer Succubi by Jill Myles (hit shelves today so keep your eyes peeled!)
~ Thread of Fear by Laura Griffin
~ The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks (Yes, this is often considered a romance novel, whether you believe it or not)
~ Star by Danielle Steel
~ Tears of the Moon by Nora Roberts
~ Sunset Bay by Susan Mallery
~ One for the Money by Janet Evanovich
~ 20 Wishes by Debbie Macomber

There are so many more great romances out there but these are just a handful to get you started! Also check out "Smart Bitches, Trashy Books" , "The Goddess Blogs" , and Romance University for more great ideas.

UPDATE: Smith v. Stweart--No Wonder She Was Su(Su)ed

So, it seems I was missing some crucial information in my December 20th post about the Haywood Smith libel lawsuit: Haywood Smith was asking for it.

An anonymous source informed me that Smith is a frequent public speaker at writers conferences and chapter meetings and on more than one occassion she openly admitted that The Red Hat Club was semi-autobiographical and that her characters--the adulterous husband and the heroine's friends in particular--were based on real people. Despite warnings that such an admission in a public forum could lead to a lawsuit, Smith didn't keep mum on the subject. Instead, she even began joking about it, "saying her ex would have to admit to some very unflattering facts if he ever sued her -- like how he cashed out their savings and retirement so he could pursue a 20-something stripper who left him once the money ran out." One of Smith's admissions was even recorded on tape.

Now I understand Stewart's anger--I would have sued Smith too! According to The Legal Satyricon:

Stewart filed her own motion for partial summary judgment and showed that Smith knew about the key events in Stewart’s life, told Stewart that her life story was interesting, and that she had used information about Stewart’s life to create the SuSu character. Smith admitted that she used details of Stewart’s life for the character, but that she fabricated other events and details, and based some other parts of SuSu on other people.

Read the rest of the article HERE

Law.com and The Georgia Court of Appeals lists a series of similarities between SuSu and Stweart including:
...their propensity for being chronically late, their hair color (red/auburn), their chain-smoking and smoker’s cough, and the descriptions of their parents’ occupations and their childhood homes, as well as other facts about Stewart that were not matters of public knowledge until the publication of the book. In fact, the court trial found at least twenty-six specific examples of similarities between the two. As noted above, these similarities led many readers to immediately conclude that SuSu was based on Stewart.
Not to mention the even more obvious resemblences:

...both graduated from the same high school, and they both lost their first husbands to car accidents and they both had a hard time collecting the insurance settlements due to the interference of a subsequent lover. Both became flight attendants later in life and SuSu’s friends in the book call her the “world’s oldest stewardess.” (The Legal Satyricon)
It's interesting to me that much of this new information wasn't included in the articles I read summing up the case. These gems are kind of significant. My entire view of the case has shifted. Smith took recognizable pieces of an actual person's life and personality and weaved them into a a cheating, alcoholic atheist in so blatant a way that a friend commented on the record that "one friend said that SuSu was 'Vickie to a T' and 'couldn't have been anybody else'" (Law.com).

While I know that all fiction is based in part on real life, Smith took it too far, and flaunting her awareness of her actions was either extremely careless or very naive. It's hard to know which.

Only one thing is for sure: this case is going to make authors--and publishers--much more cautious. But it's nearly impossible for publishers to do legal reads for this kind of information on every single title they print. There are too many variables and too many possibilities. So, really, it's all in the hands of the authors themselves.

And quite frankly, as my source put it so perfectly, "it's a disservice to authors everywhere, but Haywood set herself up for that lawsuit. She placed herself on a platter with an apple in her mouth. What lawyer is going to walk away from that?"

Monday, December 28, 2009

A Wide-range of Book Titles

Hello, friends. I hope you all had a lovely holiday and aren't all back at work yet (like I am!). But I found this funny little article about silly book titles on EW.com, so I thought I'd share it for a little Monday morning laugh if you are:

There are tens of thousands of books published each year, and not all of them can bear memorable titles like A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius or To Kill a Mockingbird. Or even Heidi Montag & Spencer Pratt’s How to Be Famous. Take the examples above, which are culled from Do-It-Yourself Brain Surgery and Other Implausibly Titled Books. The book compiles the 50 all-time best entries for the Diagram Prize, an annual contest that Britain’s Bookseller magazine has held since 1978 for the oddest book title of the year. By the way, the winner of the 2009 Diagram Prize was The 2009-2014 World Outlook for 60-miligram Containers of Fromage Frais, a rich and creamy study of the future of dairy product packaging.

Check out more HERE

Do you have any funny titles to share??

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

More Lawsuits Pop Up in the Book Biz

The Red Hat Club lawsuit is going to have to make some room in the spotlight for the Wayans brothers.

According to the Associated Press, the former assistant to the Wayans brothers (Keenan, Shawn, and Marlon) is suing the three bros and their publisher, St. Martin's Press, for stealing his book and calling it their own:

NEW YORK — A former assistant to the Wayans Brothers has sued the comedy team for unspecified damages, saying they snatched his "You know you're a Golddigger ..." book and published it as their own.

Jared Edwards of Los Angeles filed the lawsuit in federal court in Manhattan on Thursday against Keenen Ivory Wayans, Shawn Wayans, Marlon Wayans and St. Martin's Press.

The lawsuit said Edwards worked as an assistant for a decade beginning in 1995.

It said in 2005 he wrote jokes about women who seek wealth and status through romance.

He said the brothers rejected his book, but in May published their own: "101 Ways to Know You're a Golddigger.'

St. Martin's Press did not immediately return a call for comment.

The lawsuit has gotten more press it seems than even the book itself, as no one seemed to know of its existance, even pop-culture guru Perez Hilton:

Normally, we would tell the celebs in question to pay the man and move on.v However, considering we didn't even know they had a book out, means it didn't do so well, further meaning they don't have money to be throwing around.

So unless you for reals stole from this guy, we'd fight him. But then you got to
ask yourself, which will deplete you thousands in left over Scary Movie money more: lawyer fees or paying this guy?

Choice is yours!

Read More HERE

Claims like these always make me wonder. It's hard to say if celebs would even bother stealing an idea--let alone an idea like this--when they have so much already. But people are selfish and greedy--and celebs like these often get themselves into debt by being careless as well--so I guess I wouldn't put it past them. I'm definitely curious to see what happens with this one.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Guest Blogger, Tara Hart: The Ins and Outs of Book Gifting

So here it is—yet another holiday season, and I sit here thinking about giving books as gifts. Now I want to start out by saying that I rarely give people books for Christmas; I prefer to give books throughout the year. I feel like Santa all year long because whenever I go visit a friend I usually show up bearing a book—or twenty!

But I have received some great books as gifts…and some others have been groan-inducing. The key to giving a book is the recipient. You have to take into consideration for whom you are shopping. For example, I gave a friend a cookbook for his birthday, consisting solely of soup recipes. Why, you ask? Because this particular friend has a few personality quirks that made this the perfect gift. First, he loves his blender. Second, he eats mostly veggies. Lastly, he has an aversion to chewing. Voila! A book about soup was a huge hit!

A book can also make a great gift when it speaks to something about your relationship. Last Christmas, my best friend got me a book titled How to Talk About Books You’ve Never Read by Pierre Bayard (Bloomsbury Press, 2007) because of the title and the fact that it mentions The Scarlet Letter on the back cover. Now, to get that joke you must know something about me: I faked reading The Scarlet Letter in high school and the teacher still to this day does not believe that I never read the book. This, of course, drove my perfectionist best friend crazy and she never lets me forget it, even 15 years later. The icing on the cake of this gift, though, was that when I was reading it at the train station one day, a guy stopped me and said how ironic it was to see me reading this book because of the number of books he has watched me read. It was great! Now it’s one of those books that I will never part with—the story is just too fun!

As you can see, books are definitely a good gift when keeping the recipient in mind. However, groan-inducing books appear when people buy me books just because I read a lot. Now I can hear you asking “What’s wrong with getting books?” And my answer is “Nothing.” But I do have a caveat: You must never buy books without actually thinking about the books you are buying. Do you know what kind of books the person likes to read? Does the book have to do with an interest of the person you are buying for? Is the book something the person would relate to at this time in his or her life?

That last question is one my boyfriend’s mother did NOT ask herself one holiday season. She gave me The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom. I know this book has changed the lives of many people, but as a 24-year-old I was definitely not thinking about who I am going to meet when I die. I was thinking about what I was going to drink at happy hour or eat for dinner. I had just met his family the month before at Thanksgiving and his mother and I talked about our love of books. I can still see Mary now in her local Barnes and Noble, trying to figure out what to get me for the first Christmas I would spend with her family. I'm not bashing Mary for trying, and it was one of the top selling books for 2003 and 2004—but it wasn't a book the average 20-something would enjoy, let alone want to receive as a gift. It was the perfect example of buying a book without thinking about the person receiving it.

Case and point: Books can be the most personal, amazing gift—just keep in mind who you are buying for. A book is a gift that can stay with someone forever.

About the blogger: Tara Hart is a life-long lover of books. Her infatuation with the written word began when she picked up The Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder. From there she has gone on to devour books of various sizes and ilks, and then she converted her love of reading into a career in publishing. She recently completed coursework to obtain her Masters in Publishing and spends her days negotiating book contracts and chasing foreign books and materials for the clients of the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency.

Thanks for joining us at Reading Between the Lines, Tara!

If you or anyone you know would like to guest blog for RBtL, please inquire via e-mail.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Libel Case Questions Where Fiction Ends and Reality Begins

This past Thursday, a Gainesville, FL court found author Haywood Smith--of the popular Red Hat Club, which inspired the real-life organization The Red Hat Society--guilty of libel against a childhood friend, according to the Associated Press:

The jury found on Thursday that Haywood Smith's novel "The Red Hat Club" damaged Vicki Stewart because it contained a character that closely resembled Stewart and portrayed her as a sexually promiscuous alcoholic. The jury rejected a claim of invasion of privacy.

The jury of eight men and four women awarded Stewart $100,000 in damages and denied her request for attorney fees.

"SuSu," a character in Smith’s novel about Buckhead socialites, shared many similarities with Stewart, including where she grew up, her jobs and the circumstances of her first husband's death.

Click HERE to read more

After the verdict, Stewart told the Gainesville Times, "All I wanted is for this not to happen to anyone else. I am so appreciative of this jury, that took it upon itself to do something that will make our country a little better, and hopefully make our publishing laws better. This should not have happened."

I was shocked to hear about this case at work last week; I hadn't even heard about it being in progress. But while I can understand some people's desire to create such a kerfuffle--ego can be an oppressive thing--I can't understand why a jury would agree with such a claim.

Novelists are constantly pulling from their lives, their experiences and their encounters with strangers, friends, and family. As Romantic Times blogger Nicole points out, "Basing characters on people in real life is nothing new. Characters as diverse as Lady Macbeth, Esmeralda from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Dirty Harry are all based on true life counterparts."

So, what's the big deal? It's how fiction works.

Besides, no, say, Californian reading a novel will recognize the author's neighbor's Vermont son. It's ludicrous to think that readers as a whole will recognize a character as a real person and think it's an entirely true portrayal and suddenly that real person is defamed. Of course, the line blurs in instances of a roman à clef, where a novel fictionalizes real-life political, pop culture, and historical (etc. etc.) figures, often in such a way that it's clear who the character is intended to represent. But it seems that the people in those roman à clef's, don't care as much. They are already in the public eye, and it's almost expected. There is the occasional lawsuit--for example, in 2008 Nicolas Cage sued actress Kathleen Turner for her portrayal of him in her book, Send Yourself Roses—but with everyday people, this kind of thing seems excessive.

Yet, despite its fairness, the implications of this case leave the field wide open for anyone to sue any author for defamation of character. Now that Stewart has won, it’s obvious to me that many similar cases will start coming out of the woodwork. And even people holding grudges could easily claim a character was based off of them and try to get an author found guilty or even just badly publicized.

I understand that people might get upset if a character portrayed in a negative light resembles themselves, but let me tell those people a little secret: no one knows...or cares.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A Book-filled Vacation

Hello, friends! I apologize for my long absence--I took a much needed vacation. And then I had to catch up from my vacation, which took longer than expected. And since I have no guest blogger articles yet **ahem** you know you who are *ahem* I had nothing to put up for your enjoyment!

But, while I was away, I did read four books. Yes, that's right, FOUR. And I thought I would share them with you:

Postcards from the Edge by Carrie Fisher -- This one was
my December book club book and I read it on the plane down to Miami. I have mixed feelings about this one, I must say. While the subject matter of this adult commercial novel was interesting (drug rehab, kind of a "28 Days" type deal), I struggled with some of the writing. Each part of the book is written in a different style: journal entries, one-sided therapy sessions, dialogue with no action, then just like a regular novel. While the styles were interesting and each gave the reader a different kind of interaction with the characters, I felt stressed out the entire time I was reading. The last third of the book was probably my favorite as the story chilled a little and the writing became more coherent. I do, however, applaud Fisher's ability to express the characters' emotions stylistically the way she does. It's definitely an intriguing read and creative study of style. I still am not sure how much I actually liked it though.

Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott -- This YA novel is probably one of the most intense books I've ever read. At just 176 pages, it's short but terrifying and powerful. Told from the perspective of an young girl who was abducted five years prior, the reader is deep inside her head as she is physically, sexually, and emotionally abused. And as her expected escape--getting too old for her captor so he'd murder her--slips away suddenly, she goes through even greater torment trying to find a way out. This book is disturbing to say the least, not only because it shows all the pain and torture she is put through but because it shows what kind of evil people are capable of, what apathy and inaction others can have when they can sense something isn't right, and how fear can cripple you and stop you from breaking free. I highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone. Just don't expect it to be a fun read. It's a fantastic read, but it sure as hell isn't fun.

Wake by Lisa McMann -- Another YA novel, this first novel in
a trilogy (at least that's what's planned for the series so far!) is also a great read. Janie is a 17-year-old who has the supernatural ability of being sucked into other people's dreams. It's not a power she enjoys, as sometimes she falls asleep at the wheel because her proximity to a sleeping person is too close and sometimes gets trapped in the worst nightmares. But as she learns to harness her power--and as she explores her first love, the only boy who seems to be able to interact with her in the dreams...and in the nightmares--she starts to realize just what good this "curse" can do. Clever and unique, this novel is skillfully crafted. Janie is relatable and likable, and McMann's writing is smooth, fast-paced, and sincere.

Whip It by Shauna Cross -- Yes, I know--another YA novel. What can I say? I love YA novels! Anyway, I saw the film adaptation of this book (starring Ellen Page, Marcia Gay Harden, and Drew Barrymore) before I read it and I absolutely adored it. It was such a feel-good flick, I wanted to watch it over again as soon as it ended. So, naturally, I needed to devour the book, which was originally titled Derby Girl. Unfortunately, I was not as impressed by it as I was by the film--shocking, I know. While Cross's voice is unique, hip, and unabashed, a coming-of-age novel revolving around roller derby is a difficult undertaking. It's not exactly the easiest thing to describe or to get your reader really involved in. I read most of the book feeling like I was held at a distance. Also, the ending was entirely different. I would have liked to pick and choose which parts to keep and which to change, as I wasn't satisfied with the ending to the book, though I would definitely take elements of it to add to the movie if I could. Overall, I did enjoy it though. It's creative and fun and just a light, relaxing read.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Best I've Read in 2009

This morning I decided to browse the New York Times's "100 Notable Books of 2009" list. Then I took a look at the top-10 2009 gift-giving lists from three NYT book reviewers: Michiko Kakutani Janet Maslin, and Dwight Garner. As I perused, I quickly noticed that I haven't read a single one of the books on these lists. And I'm guessing I'm not the only one. 

So, I've decided to make my own top-1o list, not of books necessarily published in 2009 but of books I've read in 2009, to give you all some fantastic recommendations. These are in no particular order (and thanks to Books-A-Million.com for the descriptions!):

HATE LIST by Jennifer Brown (Little, Brown Books for Young
 Readers, 9/09) - Five months ago, Valerie Leftman's boyfriend, Nick, opened fire on their school cafeteria. Shot trying to stop him, Valerie inadvertently saved the life of a classmate, but was implicated in the shootings because of the list she helped create. [...] Now, after a summer of seclusion, Val is forced to confront her guilt as she returns to school to complete her senior year. Haunted by the memory of the boyfriend she still loves and navigating rocky relationships with her family, former friends and the girl whose life she saved, Val must come to grips with the tragedy that took place and her role in it, in order to make amends and move on with her life.

IF I STAY by Gayle Foreman (Dutton Books, 4/09) - In a single moment, "everything" changes. Seventeen-year-old Mia has no memory of the accident; she can only recall riding along the snow-wet Oregon road with her family. Then, in a blink, she fi nds herself watching as her own damaged body is taken from the wreck...

A sophisticated, layered, and heartachingly beautiful story about the power of family and friends, the choices we all makeaand the ultimate choice Mia commands.

THE GLASS CASTLE by Jeannette Walls (Scribner, tp edition 1/06) - Walls chronicles her upbringing at the hands of eccentric, nomadic parents--Rose Mary, her frustrated-artist mother, and Rex, her brilliant, alcoholic father. As Rose Mary and Rex, motivated by whims and paranoia, uprooted their kids time and again, the youngsters (Walls, her brother and two sisters) were left largely to their own devices. [...] Walls describes in fascinating detail what it was to be a child in this family, from the embarrassing to the horrific. [...]

GIRLS IN TRUCKS by Katie Crouch (Little, Brown, tp edition 4/08) - In this tender debut, a less-than-perfect debutante decamps South Carolina for a life in New York City. There, she tries to make sense of city sophistication and to understand the strange and rarefied world she's left behind. 

THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE by Audrey Niffenegger (Harvest Books, tp edition 7/04) - A dazzling novel in the most untraditional fashion, this is the remarkable story of Henry DeTamble, a dashing, adventuresome librarian who travels involuntarily through time, and Clare Abshire, an artist whose life takes a natural sequential course. [...] An enchanting debut and a spellbinding tale of fate and belief in the bonds of love[...]

THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (Dial Press, TP edition 5/09) - January 1946: writer Juliet Ashton receives a letter from a stranger, a founding member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. And so begins a remarkable tale of the island of Guernsey during the German occupation, and of a society as extraordinary as its name.

ALL WE EVER WANTED WAS EVERYTHING by Janelle Brown (Speiegel and Grau, tp edition 5/09) - On the day Paul Miller's pharmaceutical company goes public, he informs his wife, Janice, that their marriage is over and that the new fortune is his alone. Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, the Miller's older daughter, Margaret, has been dumped by her hot actor boyfriend and is failing at her job, kind of spectacularly. Sliding toward bankruptcy, Margaret bails and heads for home, where her confused and lonesome teenage sister, Lizzie, is struggling with problems of her own [...]. From behind the walls of their Georgian colonial bunker, the Miller women wage battle with divorce lawyers, debt collectors, drug-dealing pool boys, evangelical neighbors, and country club ladies-and in the process all illusions and artifice fall away, forcing them to reckon with something far scarier and more consequential: their true selves.

INTERPRETER OF MALADIES by Jhumpa Lahiri (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 5/00) - Navigating between the Indian traditions they've inherited and the baffling new world, the characters in Jhumpa Lahiri's elegant, touching stories seek love beyond the barriers of culture and generations. [...] Lahiri writes with deft cultural insight reminiscent of Anita Desai and a nuanced depth that recalls Mavis Gallant. She is an important and powerful new voice.
OLIVE KITTERIDGE by Elizabeth Strout (Random House, tp edition 9/08) - At times stern, at other times patient, at times perceptive, at other times in sad denial, Olive Kitteridge, a retired schoolteacher, deplores the changes in her little town of Crosby, Maine, and in the world at large, but she doesn't always recognize the changes in those around her [...]. As the townspeople grapple with their problems, mild and dire, Olive is brought to a deeper understanding of herself and her life-sometimes painfully, but always with ruthless honesty. Olive Kitteridge offers profound insights into the human condition-its conflicts, its tragedies and joys, and the endurance it requires.

LIFE OF PI by Yann Martel (Mariner Books, 5/03) - This brilliant novel combines the delight of Kipling's "Just So Stories" with the metaphysical adventure of "Jonah and the Whale, " as Pi, the son of a zookeeper, is marooned aboard a lifeboat with four wild animals. His knowledge and cunning allow him to coexist for 227 days with Richard Parker, a 450-pound Bengal tiger.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Amazing Book Video

Check out this cool book trailer for Going West by Maurice Gee. It was filmed and created by the New Zealand Book Council and is eerie, clever, and striking. Though it might be slighting overstimulating at times, it's pretty amazing:

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Book Review: Fables, Volumes 1 and 2

After all these years, I've finally done it...I've read a graphic novel. Two, in fact! And I expect to read more.

My dear friend T.S. lent me the first two volumes of Fables by Bill Willingham--"Legends in Exile" and "Animal Farm"--as my first introduction to the genre. I've always had trouble with comics--I follow around in the wrong order and get myself all mixed up. But I read these volumes quickly and with voracity. With only one little blip of confusion (and it was because of me, not the novel!).

This series is genius, I must say. How can a graphic novel that takes all the fairytale characters and creatures, puts them in an underground city below NYC called Fabletown, and not be awesome? The storylines are unique and riveting, the characters funny and distinct, and the art intense.

I definitely recommend this series to anyone looking to try out a graphic novel. I enjoyed it more than I expected to. It was smart and funny and I was honestly very surprised by hits complexity. I guess I have always had kind of a skewed view of graphic novels, as I think most non-graphic novel readers do. I always thought of them as very simple, just like a comic strip lacking character development or real plot. But they aren't that way at all. It was refreshing, an interesting new way to read that got me interacting with the work in a very different way than purely text on a page.

I also had no idea that so many people were involved in creating each graphic novel. Someone creates it, someone pencils it, someone shades it, someone colors it, someone letters it, etc. etc. I always thought of it as having a writer and an illustrator and that's it. But it's an impressively collaborative effort, and one with pretty striking results.

Anyway, I am now beginning to ramble because I have yet to snag the third volume from T.S. and am itching for more!

The Last Word: An entertaining, clever, and multi-dimensional graphic novel series that's well worth a read.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

It's Almost a "New Moon"

Just a few days before the film adaptation of New Moon comes out in theatres, Telegraph.co.uk posted a fun little list about the "Twilight" films--"Twilight: Ten Things You Never Knew":

1. Over 5,000 actors auditioned for the role of Edward Cullen, which went to Robert Pattinson.

2. The actors need to remain pale, so their contracts reportedly include a "stay out of the sun" clause for the duration of the shoot.

3. The first Twilight film, directed by Catherine Hardwicke, took over $70 million worldwide and was the top debut ever for a film directed by a woman.

4. Two of the songs in the first film, Never Think and Let Me Sign, were recorded by Robert Pattinson.

5. The author, Stephenie Meyer, says that the idea for the book came to her in a dream.

6. Stephenie Meyer made a cameo in the first film, as a woman who orders a vegetarian sandwich in the diner.

7. The location of Forks, Washington was decided upon when Meyer googled the
parts of the US which have the most rain.

8. The name Edward Cullen is a mix of Stephenie Meyer's love of classic heroes of English literature, such as Edward Rochester and Edward Ferrars, and a common English surname found on seventeenth century tombstones.

9. There are five completed books in the Twilight saga – Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, The Host, and Breaking Dawn.

10. A sixth book – Midnight Sun – was leaked incomplete onto the internet. The book is still unfinished – Meyer says it is on hold indefinitely.

While a couple of them I did in fact know, and #9 here isn't actually accurate (The Host is not part of the series--it's an adult novel), I thought it would be a nice way
to start off a Tuesday morning.

I'm honestly looking forward to the release of "New Moon" and am planning to see it with a couple friends. While the first Twilight flick was certainly not quality--bad acting, poor pacing, some ridiculous special effects--I still enjoyed it anyway. The books are the same way: they aren't technically good but they're entertaining and enoyable nonetheless.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Gopnik Just Cooking Up Trouble

Adam Gopnik of the New Yorker obviously has too much time on his hands.

In his Nov. 23 article (don't ask me how it's posted already!) "What's the Recipe? Our Hunger for Cookbooks," he spends a grueling 4,500+ words overanalyzing and trashing cookbooks:

Handed-down wisdom and worked-up information remain the double piers of a cook’s life. The recipe book always contains two things: news of how something is made, and assurance that there’s a way to make it, with the implicit belief that if I know how it is done I can show you how to do it. The premise of the recipe book is that these two things are naturally balanced; the secret of the recipe book is that they’re not. The space between learning the facts about how something is done and learning how to do it always turns out to be large, at times immense. What kids make depends on what moms know: skills, implicit knowledge, inherited craft, buried assumptions, finger know-how that no recipe can sum up. The recipe is a blueprint but also a red herring, a way to do something and a false summing up of a living process that can be handed on only by experience, a knack posing as a knowledge. We say “What’s the recipe?” when we mean “How do you do it?” And though we want the answer to be “Like this!” the honest answer is “Be me!” “What’s the recipe?” you ask the weary pro chef, and he gives you a weary-pro-chef look, since the recipe is the totality of the activity, the real work. The recipe is to spend your life cooking.

Read more HERE

I think someone needs to get over the fact that he can't cook. There's nothing wrong with using a cookbook, for goodness sake. Cookbooks are a step-by-step guide to cooking--it's how we learn! Sure, there are a million different recipes for the same meal but that's the beauty of it all--you can always mix and match recipes, add your own flavors, and substitute things you don't like, to create something new. But you need a foundation recipe in order to do that.

I honestly don't understand why Mr. Gopnik is so up-in-arms about here. He's just wasting his energy.

Let the people cook already!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Book Review: Interpreter of Maladies

I've never reviewed a short story collection before, and quite frankly, I'm not sure how. Do I review individual stories or the collection as a whole? Who knows. But however I end up reviewing it--I still haven't a clue--it doesn't change the fact that Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri is a gorgeous literary gem.

I read one of her stories, "Sexy," in my "Women in Literature and Film" class in college. I was surprised to find how much I enjoyed it, even after spending two weeks dissecting it in class (I, of course, have blocked out all the lectures though and so can't share what we discussed). So, I went straight out and bought a copy of her first short story collection, with its Pulitzer Prize Winning sticker on the front, and proceeded to let it gather dust on my shelf.

I'm not sure why it took me so long to get to it--short stories are fantastic! They're humble and bite-sized, just right for someone on the go and who is constantly reading some lengthier piece, whether for work or for pleasure, and needs something more digestible. Plus, I write short stories. I like short stories. Why do I not read them more? I think I will start making them a staple in my literary life.

Especially after reading Interpreter of Maladies. Lahiri's language in this collection is lyrical, but not too much so; it still feels casual somehow, realistic, despite its brilliance. Her characters are interesting and unique, with quirks and fears and flaws. I can always empathize with them, even when they are my polar opposite. Lahiri pulls out the very basic human elements in her characters to connect us all, through time and culture.

The culture of her stories is another thing I love about her writing. Always the multi-culturalist, she shares a variety of viewpoints with her readers, focusing mainly on American and Indian cultures. Richly drawn and deeply described, she introduced me again and again to new ideas and traditions. I do, however, wish she'd branch out further to explore some different cultures, as the constant presence of Indian, American, and Indian-American cultures can sometimes feel a little stale when reading more than one story at a time.

My favorite thing about Lahiri's work, though, is the bittersweet tone her stories have. They never quite end happily but never end in disaster either. There's always something uplifting though in the emotional destruction she often represents. That's my favorite kind of story. It's the kind I like to write too because it's just, well, real.

Last Word: A beautiful and bittersweet collection of stories, with characters and themes that span the globe. Read them all, though my personal favorite is the first story in the collection, "A Temporary Matter."

A Book Too Funny Not to Share

I thought I'd seen enough from Sarah Palin in the book world lately, but apparently, I was wrong. Now, there's...wait for it....wait for it...the Sarah Palin COLORING BOOK!!!

According to the Washington Post, Going Rouge--Palin's "much anticipated" memoir--will be on-sale November 17, with some nice little spoof coloring books that share the same name:
Love her or hate her, people are drawn to Sarah Palin. Now, a new book wants you to color her.

One year after the race for the White House, publishers have released several books about the GOP vice presidential candidate. The most anticipated is her own memoir, "Going Rogue: An American Life," which lands on store shelves on Nov. 17 and is tops in pre-orders on Amazon and Barnes & Noble's websites.

Will there be parodies? You betcha.

In fact, the two spoof books share the same title. "Going Rouge: Sarah Palin - An American Nightmare" features essays by writers for The Nation, a liberal magazine. The other is "Going Rouge -- The Sarah Palin Rogue Coloring and Activity Book" by husband and wife team Julie Sigwart and Michael Stinson.

Read more HERE

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Boston Book Festival Bombs in Copley Square

Boston.com posted an article last Friday publicizing this past weekend's Boston Book Festival:

What a perfectly momentous time to launch the Boston Book Festival. Three years in the making, the ambitious inaugural event arrives in a marketplace mired in recession, with Wal-Mart, Target, and Amazon locked in a price war and as the publishing industry faces head-on the turmoil and transition familiar to anyone whose livelihood involves that future relic called paper.

“Historically, the conventional wisdom was the publishing industry was recession-proof, and if the adage was ever true it doesn’t remain the case,’’ said Gary Gentel, president of the trade and reference division at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, a sponsor (along with the Globe) of the Boston Book Festival. “That said, this is the perfect time for a festival. What a great escape.’’

Read more HERE

As the only major city without a book festival, the festival's founder Deborah Porter says "[it] is meant to celebrate our literary heritage and what Boston still offers the world. There will definitely be a contingent there that thinks innovations are liberating and will change things in a positive way."

While I applaud the sentiment and fully agree that book culture needs to continually be celebrated, I must chime in regarding this article's enthusiasm about the festival. I was in Boston this weekend. I walked through the festival on Saturday, unaware that it was standing in my beloved Copley Square. And it was not all this article claims.

Apparently, there was a lineup of"brand-name authors" participating--the only one of whom I've ever heard of is Tom Perrotta (Little Children)--as well as an array of "scholarly sessions" taking place. But all I saw was maybe 20 small, white tents/booths with a miniscule selection of books on display. There weren't very many people at the festival either, with some booths entirely empty. Granted, it was drizzling off and on and I only walked through the area, but it was less than impressive.

I'm a self-proclaimed book enthusiast of sorts and even I thought Boston's effort here was somewhat pathetic. The book fairs I had in school as a child were more complex and compelling. The most appealing part of the festival was the huge stage Berklee College of Music set up directly in front of Trinity Church, where performances were taking place (and the only real crowd gathered).

So, while I think Boston's heart was in the right place here, if they're trying to launch a fantastic inaugural book festival, they failed somewhat miserably. It was a sad day for Boston...and for books.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

"It's ok! I'm just picking up where he left off!"

There have been a lot of books published lately featuring characters from the classics, whether it be a re-telling of the same old tale with a new twist, a la Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, fan-fiction, or an official or unofficial sequel, people love to breathe new life into old characters.

But what would the authors' think of these new adventures?

Neely Tucker of The Washington Post gets upclose and personal with the authors--and estates---of three of such sanctioned official sequels:

In bookstores this week, Arthur Dent is hitchhiking through the
galaxy again. Dracula glides through the London fog once more, still in need of overwrought young women with plunging necklines and exposed veins. Winnie the Pooh is back to toddling around the Hundred Acre Wood.

This would not be remarkable were it not for the fact that the authors who created these literary icons -- Douglas Adams, Bram Stoker, A.A. Milne -- have been dead anywhere from eight years to nearly a century. But in the twilight world of officially sanctioned sequels, death is not an impediment to character development.

In three new books -- "And Another Thing . . . ," the sixth volume of the "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" series; "Return to the Hundred Acre Wood," the new Winnie the Pooh book; and "Dracula: The Un-Dead" -- the estates of the deceased writers (or their descendants) have hired writers to breathe new life into these characters, whether their creators would have wanted them biting people on the neck again or not. It's not a new practice, but this troika of high-profile revivals, all within a 10-day period, brings these after-death sequels to a new level of prominence.

For more of Tucker's story, click HERE

The general consensus among Tucker's interviewees seems to be that it's perfectly ok to go ahead and continute classic characters since the original creator is no longer alive to do so himself. But Jane Belson, Douglas Adams's widow, gets to the heart of it without meaning to, it seems. When asked how she thinks Douglas would feel about this news, she said:

"He hated writing books, but he loved having written them. . . . I'm not sure how he would have reacted to someone doing it for him. But it seemed like a good idea."

Personally, if you aren't sure how he would have reacted, I don't think it seems like such a "good idea."

Characters are an author's children; they are a little piece of an author's soul. I know if I were to publish a novel, I would most certainly not want someone else to finish something they think I didn't finish by writing a sequel. You don't play with someone else's genius. Continuing a character's life can change the entire power and meaning of the original work. I can't think of a better way to honor a writer and loved one. *Insert sarcasm here*

While I understand the argument for continuing a beloved character for the fans, I still feel some things are sacred. A writer's work being one of them, especially when he/she is no longer around to have an opinion. The fans will survive. They'll cherish what they do have and keep reading.

Some may say that writing a sequel like this is no different than taking a book and turning it into a film or television series, but I disagree. It's a horse of a different color. It's taking the author's vision and seeing it through a new set of eyes in an entirely new way. A sequel is almost shouting, "I'm prentending to be 'insert author here'!"

Dacre Stoker, author of the new Dracula sequel (and great-grandnephew of Bram himself), clearly disagrees, telling Tucker that:
"I'm not claiming I write like Bram, and I'm not claiming to be an authority on all things vampire," he says. "We're just coming back to Bram's character, to a man lost in the fray in a lot of ways, and to what he created. That's the point of the book."

But, quite frankly, the "point of the book" was expressed when Bram Stoker put down his pen.

If you want to write your own book, tell your own story, don't just continue someone else's.

Book Review: The Anthologist

Publishers Weekly gave Nicholson Baker's The Anthologist a starred review, saying "Baker pulls off an original and touching story, demonstrating his remarkable writing ability while putting it under a microscope."

Linnea over at Art Ravels posted a equally glowing review, giving a little more insight into the newest of Baker's novels:

I can't remember the last time I wrote about a novel, but then again I can't remember that last time I picked up such a good novel. The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker is a simple story told in a great voice that is incredibly appealing.

Told from the point of view of Paul Chowder, a sometime poet writing an introduction to an anthology of rhyming poetry, the story unfolds into one of intimate, blind self-destruction....

Read the rest of Linnea's review HERE

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Author Insight: An Evening with Jeannette Walls

I didn't know what to expect when I walked into the conference room at 4:30 pm on October 5th. I had signed up for my company's Author Lecture Series a couple weeks before and was reading The Glass Castle in anticipation for Jeannette Walls's talk. I'd been meaning to read her memoir for ages, but it sat on my shelf gathering dust until the moment I signed up. I knew if I were going to see her speak, I better read her book.

So, I read it--I laughed, I cried, I'll never be the same. My boss jokes with me by saying that every time something ridiculous and insignificant happens that someone is blowing out of proportion. But just now it wasn't a joke. JW's memoir was one of the most interesting, compelling, and inspiring stories I'd ever read. She had a childhood of such struggle, I never would've been able to imagine it had I not listened to her words as she shared her self-declared "source of shame" with strangers like me all over the world.

I could tell just from her memoir that she was a remarkable and resilient woman. But when it came time to listen to her speak, I wasn't sure in what shambles I'd meet her. As soon as I walked in the room though, it was clear she was more put together than I.

Tall and thin, JW dressed in a tailored black suit with a single strand of pearls around her neck, her wild red hair just tamed enough to make me incredibly jealous. She exuded beauty and confidence. Frankly, I was in awe. It was clear she was a force to be reckoned with. And then she spoke, and I was blown away.

For the hour long lecture, JW discussed a vast array of topics, all of which came back to one significant concept: truth. With all the memoirs that are on the shelves these days, it's easy to forget their purpose, particularly when the authors themselves aren't writing for anything other than money or fame. But JW's purpose was refreshing, admirable, and extremely worthy. She just wanted to tell the truth.

"The truth is a liquid and not a solid," she told us. "It takes many shapes, and everyone's truth is different. But basically, we're all the same. Underneath it all, we are so much alike, and it's that commonality that unites us all."

She never believed anyone would buy a story about her "little white trash life." She feared that "no doubt that once people knew the truth about me, I would lose everything.” She asked herself why she would ever expose herself like that, to write her story down on paper where she could never take it back, where her dirty laundry, as it were, would be hanging out to dry for all to see. But then she realized it didn't matter. Her "fantasy for the book was that a rich kid would read it and understand what it’s like on the other side and have empathy, but then my fantasy evolved and I wanted to give the same hope to poor kids too." That was the heart of it all.

The Glass Castle has far exceeded anything JW ever expected. It's gone on to become perhaps one of the most well-known memoirs in history and has caused reactions that JW never thought would be possible. Children read her book in classrooms to learn about poverty, and people JW knew as a child have even come out of the woodwork to apologize for looking down on her and putting her down. As JW said, “people are just trying to understand what other people think. It's all about getting to the truth."

JW went on to discuss her next book, Half Broke Horses. Using Norman Mailer's phrase "a true life novel," JW tells the story of her extraordinary grandmother Libby and her ordinary life. While technically fiction, HBH is as close to the truth as JW could get. "That magic that visits writer's when you make stuff up, that magic doesn’t visit me," she admitted. "I dig.”

And that's exactly what she did in her second book. Through research and interviews she pieced together her grandmother's life, "dramatizing rather than fictionalizing," she explained. "A memoirist is allowed to make up nothing. We can only have a different perspective or impression of the situation." She kept that philosophy with HBH and while I was reluctant to read it when I first heard of its publication, I am now intrigued to see JW's version of the truth through the eyes of her grandmother's successors.

Throughout JW's dynamic lecture, I couldn't stop smiling, the reason for which is two-fold.

First, I was given the opportunity to read a memoir that gets back to and fulfills the true purpose of a memoir. As JW put it, "people these days think memoirists are exhibitionists. It’s not that at all. This is my life. And maybe you can learn a little something about it without having to live it.” That is what memoir is all about, should be all about. It was rejuvenating for me to see that reality live on.

And then, on top of that, I was grateful to be able to meet this woman who had been through so much and somehow still cared so immensely about everyone else. I can't imagine that after what she'd been through, I would've been nearly as capable as she. I likely would've crumbled, and I certainly wouldn't have been able to be as open, as honest, and as caring as she seems to be. But "we’re all very strong and very resourceful," she shared. "We all come from hearty stock.”

And maybe we do. We just have to remember that as we move through our lives. And we must never forget, as JW reminded me, that "there’s no shame in failing. The shame comes if we tell ourselves we aren’t strong enough to get back up.”