Monday, June 30, 2014

Writers and Their Fictions

After talking to some writer friends the past few weeks, I've been thinking a lot about the concept of books resembling an author's life. Many people come up with stories because of things that happened to them or their friends and family, or build characters that take after themselves, etc. But to what extent is this taking from real life a good thing? Does it make a book better to have that biographical element and first-hand experience, or does it show a lack of imagination or open-mindedness on the part of the author? Is it really creating a story if you take real life and just tweak it? Is there a difference between pulling concepts and ideas from experience versus taking actual events and people? Does that difference even matter? (Welcome to my brain. See how my thoughts spiral? LOL) And these, of course, are only some of the questions that run through my mind on the subject, but I'm not quite sure how I would answer them.

So it was fitting that this past weekend's New York Times Sunday Book Review had a piece about a related topic: Does knowing an author's background make the reading experience more or less enjoyable? We've got two points of view here, too--one from author Thomas Mallon and one from editor Adam Kirsch.

By Thomas Mallon: 
The New Criticism was entering its senescence when I began to study literature about 45 years ago. But even in its prime, a school of thought that forswore using a writer’s biography as a key to his work always seemed more relevant to the compressive structures of poetry than to novels, whose messy ad hocery led Henry James to call them “loose baggy monsters.” 
Applying the writer’s biography to one’s reading of a novel strikes me as less a matter of cheating or impurity than an additional, incidental pleasure: Ah, I know where that came from. David Copperfield’s time in Mr. Murdstone’s wine warehouse acquires only more poignancy from one’s being aware of the young Dickens’s own scarifying time inside the blacking factory. (That “David Copperfield” was Freud’s favorite Dickens novel is further proof that there are no accidents.) Briefly transferring our attention from a character to an author doesn’t dispel dramatic illusion any more than knowing the off-screen troubles of a movie star keeps us from engaging with a film. 
At its best, critical interpretation informed by biographical fact can deepen our emotional pleasure in a novel and our intellectual grasp of it as well. Flipping through the reviews of literary biography and authorial memoir that I’ve done for this newspaper over the years, I can see example after appreciative example of how a work of fiction ends up being illuminated by shining light on the author’s life. In 2007, I was struck by Claire Tomalin’s theory of how Hardy’s description of Tess’s “invincible instinct towards self-delight” may have been animated by an envious awareness of how little he shared that quality with her. Several years before that, Paula Fox’s memoir “Borrowed Finery” left me less than fully satisfied because the book interestingly revealed all the ways in which that writer’s fine fiction had come from the artful refraction of the real-life experiences now being served straight up. 
Many novelists — from Dickens himself to Willa Cather to, at an extreme, J. D. Salinger — have tried to thwart even the posthumous biographies that get written by “publishing scoundrels” (James again). In fact, the only writer I can think of who wanted someone else to finish writing his life while he was still living it is Gore Vidal. But biographers have generally done novelists far less harm than the literary theoreticians and purveyors of “cultural studies” who replaced the New Critics within universities, and who have made those earlier explicators seem warmly humanistic. There is plenty of excess, to be sure, within literary biography: The overextended Bloomsbury industry produced heaps of dull prurience and triviality. But would Virginia Woolf have gained the uncountable readers she did during the 1970s without the popular and very well done biography published by her nephew Quentin Bell? 
Disagreement over the merits of literary biography will likely subside by default, as the form begins to extinguish itself. Even among those who like it, demand is bound to slacken: Novelists’ lives are considerably less interesting than they used to be. Longer, yes, but much drier in every sense; less full of rivalrous brawling, less harrowed by the unemployment that was so often their lot before creative writing programs started offering them day jobs. For another thing, literary biography will be crippled by the absence of many of its old tools. Writers’ drafts, those manuscripts that show, line by line, how writers came to do what they did, now disappear with the deleting drag of a mouse; and for all the supposed permanence of tweets and Facebook posts, the deliberate letters that writers used to save and bundle have largely been replaced by emails and texts they don’t bother to archive. The bonfire of personal papers that Dickens lit on Gad’s Hill (with incomplete success) in 1860 now doesn’t even require a match.
By Adam Kirsch:
There’s poetic justice, and possibly a lesson, in the fact that the greatest English writer is a biographical blank. Scholars continue to write books about the life of William Shakespeare, but eventually these boil down to studies of his work or histories of his times. The few scraps of evidence we possess about him are simply too scanty to make him come to life as an individual. To some people, this absence is a scandal or irritant, and they try to fill the blank by insisting, irrationally, that Shakespeare was not Shakespeare but the Earl of Oxford, or someone else we can know more about. But to most readers, I suspect, the unknowability of Shakespeare is a key ingredient in his greatness. “Others abide our question. Thou art free,” wrote Matthew Arnold in his sonnet on the Bard, and this sense that Shakespeare stays one step ahead of us, always knowing more about life and human nature than we do, fits perfectly with his biographical elusiveness. 
Would we be better off if all our writers were similarly elusive? It’s tempting to argue the case, to say that knowledge of a writer’s life is a mere distraction from what really matters, the work. This stern impersonality was one of the tenets of modernism: T. S. Eliot insisted on the total separation of “the man who suffers and the mind which creates.” Henry James dramatized the same principle in his story “The Private Life,” in which a famous writer is simultaneously to be found making “sound and second-rate” conversation at a party and cloistered upstairs in his study, leading his real life at his desk. 
James’s ghost story drives home the truth that the data of a writer’s life is the same as the data of anyone’s life. Writers get married and divorced, make money and lose it, drink too much or stay sober, like billions of other people. But the billions of other people aren’t writing great books, which suggests that the source of genius lies elsewhere, in a place where biographical scrutiny can never find it. With a famous general, or a sports star, or a politician, the life and deeds are what matter, and in recounting them we have exhausted the subject’s importance. With an artist, the opposite is true: What matters is precisely what is left over when the actions are tallied up.  
Yet if we follow this austere logic to its conclusion, there would be no need to put a writer’s name on the title page of his book. For as soon as we identify two works by the same person, we begin to make connections between them — to notice similarities of subject and theme, treatment and technique. And since the biographical author is the only common denominator between the books, we cannot help developing at least a rudimentary idea about her, even if we know nothing but the name. The self that matters to us as readers is the one we encounter in, or hypothesize from, the novelist’s pages. It is impossible to read “Pride and Prejudice” and “Emma,” for instance, without developing a very vivid sense of the kind of person Jane Austen must have been; indeed, the pleasure of Austen’s intellectual company is one of the primary reasons we read her. In this she stands at the opposite pole from Shakespeare, who as a dramatist camouflaged even his literary personality. 
The question is whether we learn anything important about this literary self when we get to know its real-life biography. I think we can, but only if we keep in mind that the goal of literary biography is not to provide subject matter for gossip (or reverence), nor to help us issue an easy moral verdict. Rather, it is to use the life to clarify the factors that shape the work — to show how life and work were both shaped by the same set of problems and drives. Otherwise, we simply reduce writers to celebrities or acquaintances; and don’t we already have more than enough of both? 
See the original post HERE leaves much to ponder.

Thoughts? Feelings? Reactions?

Friday, June 27, 2014

Cover Reveal: "Unleashed" by Sophie Jordan!

I am so excited to be part of the cover reveal for the second book in New York Times bestselling author Sophie Jordan's awesome YA series, Uninvited, I can't even stand it. I've blogged about Sophie's work before because she is just so full of awesome, but today, you get to be one of the first to see the cover and read the description. You lucky readers, you. ;)

Buuuuut I'm going to keep you hanging for just a little longer while I give you a little background on the series...

The first book in the two-book series, the aptly titled Uninvited, is definitely a story you don't want to miss. I read it in a matter of days, just wanting to keep turning the pages for hours on end. It's dark and suspenseful but also filled with humor and honesty, delving deep into who we are, what we believe, and what we are willing to risk for those we love. Sometimes Davy's journey made me shiver in fear (and sometimes even cry, I'm not gonna lie), and other times she made me snort with laughter, but she always made me want more. I don't know how I'm going to wait until February to read the sequel!

The Scarlet Letter meets Minority Report in bestselling author Sophie Jordan's chilling new novel about a teenage girl who is ostracized when her genetic test proves she's destined to become a murderer. 
When Davy Hamilton's tests come back positive for Homicidal Tendency Syndrome (HTS)-aka the kill gene-she loses everything. Her boyfriend ditches her, her parents are scared of her, and she can forget about her bright future at Juilliard. Davy doesn't feel any different, but genes don't lie. One day she will kill someone. 
Only Sean, a fellow HTS carrier, can relate to her new life. Davy wants to trust him; maybe he's not as dangerous as he seems. Or maybe Davy is just as deadly. 
The first in a two-book series, Uninvited tackles intriguing questions about free will, identity, and human nature. Steeped in New York Times bestselling author Sophie Jordan's trademark mix of gripping action and breathless romance, this suspenseful tale is perfect for fans of James Patterson, Michelle Hodkin, and Lisa McMann. 

And now that you're hooked, here is your sneak peek at Unleashed...

Drumroll please.......................

What if the worst thing you ever did was unforgivable? 
Davy’s world fell apart after she tested positive for Homicidal Tendency Syndrome. She was expelled from her school, dumped by her boyfriend, abandoned by friends, and shipped off to a camp that turns HTS carriers into soldiers. Davy may have escaped, but the damage has already been done. The unthinkable has happened. Now, even worse than having everyone else see her as a monster is the knowledge that they may have been right about her all along. Because Davy has killed. 
On the run from government agents, Davy is rescued by Caden, the charismatic leader of an underground group of rebels. Despite Caden’s assurances that the Resistance is made up of carriers like her, Davy isn’t sure she can trust them. Then again, she doesn’t even know if she can trust herself . . . or her growing feelings for Caden. But if she doesn’t belong with Caden and his followers, is there anywhere she can call home?

Sophie was even kind enough to send along a mini teaser for you special readers:
I thought being labeled a killer and losing everything—my future, family, boyfriend, friends—was the worst thing that could ever happen to me. It’s not. Finding out they were right. Finding out that’s exactly what I am? 
That’s worse.
I AM SO EXCITED! Stay tuned for more from about this series as we approach the pub date for Unleashed. We'll be doing a Q&A with Sophie herself to celebrate the release...and who knows what else! ;) 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

"Mockingjay: Part One" Making a Marketing Splash

As any Hunger Games fan will be, I'm super excited about the freshly released promo trailer for Mockingjay: Part One. While the video doesn't actually show any scenes from the upcoming film (in theaters Nov. 21!), it gets the excitement brewing! (As do the recently publicized District posters!) has the scoop:

Although the third film based on Suzanne Collins's novels in The Hunger Games franchise won't be released until Nov. 21, the Capitol is determined to make sure you're on its side way before then.
After recently revealing their propaganda posters, the Capitol has now released an "official Panem Address" urging its people to remain "together as one."
"Your hard work feeds us," says Panem's President Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland). "And in return we feed and protect you." 
Snow knows that war is coming and is prepared to do whatever it takes to win – including using Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), who was captured by The Capitol at the end of Catching Fire, as a prop in his propaganda campaign. 
See the original post HERE 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Teen Reading Statistic Ridiculousness

This morning I was wishing (again) that I could just curl up with a good book and read all day, just for fun. I remember doing that so often in the summer when I was a kid. I had one of those miniature Jennifer Convertibles in my room, and I'd sit there all day long, squished up between the arms, a stack of novels next to me, and just read and read and read. Sometimes I'd go sit outside, stretched out on a towel, but wherever I was, there was a back.

Sure, back then, we had video games, television, all that jazz, and yes, I'd go play outside, too, but most days, I could be found huddled right in that spot. I was a little book nerd then and still am today, and while it wasn't super common for kids to do that in the summer, it wasn't nearly as uncommon as it is now. According to a new study by the Labor Department, teens only read an average of 4.2 minutes in a weekend nowadays.


GalleyCat tells us more:
Americans between the ages of 15 and 19 spend an average of 4.2 minutes of their weekends and holidays reading, according to new research from the Labor Department. 
The research revealed that 20 to 24 year olds spend an average of 10.2 minutes reading on weekends and 55 to 64 year olds spend a whopping 26.4 minutes on weekend days reading. For the most part, the average time spent reading goes up with age, except among 25 to 34 year olds who only spend an average 7.8 minutes reading on weekends. 
Vox Media has more: “The oldest Americans, meanwhile, read for more than an hour a day. These data only include reading for fun, however, which may be why the count for the student-age population is strangely low.” 
See the original post HERE

My mind boggles.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A Fun New Summer Read by Dahlia Adler

Today is a special day for my former colleague, Dahlia Adler. I worked with her back at Pocket Books what feels like eternities ago, but every once and a while we meet up to catch up. And today, her first book, Behind the Scenes, has hit the shelves! Yay!

Released from Spencer Hill Press in both eBook and print editions, Behind the Scenes is getting some great word of mouth from authors and readers alike. New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Echols says, "[This book] keeps the promise of its title, ushering readers backstage in a Hollywood romance they won’t want to leave. I loved this book every bit as much as I expected.”

I, myself, can't wait to read it. I just downloaded a copy to my Nook, in fact! :) 

High school senior Ally Duncan’s best friend may be the Vanessa Park – star of TV’s hottest new teen drama – but Ally’s not interested in following in her BFF’s Hollywood footsteps. In fact, the only thing Ally’s ever really wanted is to go to Columbia and study abroad in Paris. But when her father’s mounting medical bills threaten to stop her dream in its tracks, Ally nabs a position as Van’s on-set assistant to get the cash she needs.

Spending the extra time with Van turns out to be fun, and getting to know her sexy co-star Liam is an added bonus. But when the actors’ publicist arranges for Van and Liam to “date” for the tabloids just after he and Ally share their first kiss, Ally will have to decide exactly what role she’s capable of playing in their world of make believe. If she can’t play by Hollywood’s rules, she may lose her best friend, her dream future, and her first shot at love.

Congrats, Dahlia! Have an amazing pub day!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Book Review: "The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks" by E. Lockhart

After reading and loving We Were Liars, the most recent bestseller from E. Lockhart, all I wanted to do was read more of her stuff. So, naturally, I looked up her other titles right away. And to my great surprise—though it shouldn’t have been!—I actually already had one of her first books—one of her biggest, most well-known books, no less—on my shelf, just sitting there unread. It had been used as an example in a children’s lit writing class I took at Gotham Writer’s Workshops years ago, and I had purchased it instantly after that session. I just hadn’t read it. *hangs head in shame*

So I remedied that ASAP.

Frankie Landau-Banks at age 14: 
Debate Club.
Her father’s “bunny rabbit.”
A mildly geeky girl attending a highly competitive boarding school.
Frankie Landau-Banks at age 15: 
A knockout figure.
A sharp tongue.
A chip on her shoulder.
And a gorgeous new senior boyfriend: the supremely goofy, word-obsessed Matthew Livingston. 
Frankie Laundau-Banks.
No longer the kind of girl to take “no” for an answer.
Especially when “no” means she’s excluded from her boyfriend’s all-male secret society.
Not when her ex boyfriend shows up in the strangest of places.
Not when she knows she’s smarter than any of them.
When she knows Matthew’s lying to her.
And when there are so many, many pranks to be done. 
Frankie Landau-Banks, at age 16: 
Possibly a criminal mastermind. 
This is the story of how she got that way.

I didn't really know what to expect from this story, but I quickly found myself sucked into Frankie's world of elite boarding schools, secret societies, humorous antics, and life-changing lies. I mean, it's always fun when secret societies are involved, let's all just admit it, and Lockhart weaves in some really interesting true facts about real-life societies, just upping the intrigue. In some regards, the story is a little unrealistic and over-the-top plotwise, but this exaggeration is necessary to serve the purposes of the story, making me give Lockhart a pass. ;)

Lockhart's voice is accessible and smooth in this story, as well, and her use of the omniscient POV was one of the best I've seen in ages. It's not any easy POV to use successfully, but she managed to execute it in such a way that I really felt like I was overseeing the whole scene through a pair of binoculars, which is kind of exactly how you would spy on a secret society. I found it to be very fitting and very effective. 

In fact, I'm not sure I would've enjoyed the story as much if it had actually been from Frankie's POV. While the reader, of course, gets a lot of insight into Frankie and her thoughts/feelings, I didn't want to be in her head any more than I already was. Part of this was because I found Frankie to be a difficult character to truly like. At least not once she moved into the "In" crowd. However, someone Lockhart made me still care about Frankie, and I think the use of POV is largely why. I was able to find her relatable from an outside perspective, particularly in her need to belong and to do something meaningful even if she didn’t get the credit. 

More than any of those things, though, I found this story to be a surprisingly honest and realistic take on relationships, both friendships and romances alike, in terms what it means to know and love somebody, needing more than just “getting along,” and wanting someone to truly connect with. It really spoke to me on that level, even amidst all the high school drama, prank pulling, and sneaking around. The concept of social change also runs rampant in the novel, working itself into the story in a way that not only leaves you simultaneously impressed and appalled, but also leaves you pondering the ethics of it all.

The Last Word: A fun and quick read that will leave you thinking long after the last page. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

Friday Fun: Rap Meets Harry Potter

I don't know about you all, but I'm dragging my feet today. Though I don't get a traditional weekend being self-employed, there is still always something about Friday that makes me anxious for the day to end. So, let's have a little Friday Fun with some book-themed rap!

Last night on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, The Roots performed a Harry Potter-themed rap. 
Throughout the song, the band made references to The Boy Who Lived, butter beer, quidditch, Diagon Alley, the Hogwarts Express, and more. 
We’ve embedded the video above for your enjoyment–have you ever composed a song about one of your favorite books? (via, via GalleyCat)

This is probably the first time in my life I've truly enjoyed rap.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Beauty of Historical Fiction

I'm not going to lie: I've never been a fan of nonfiction, (narrative nonfiction and memoirs aside). There have been very few NF books I've read in my life that really grabbed me and kept my attention. I hate admitting it, but it's true. For me, the voice needs to be super engaging or I can't get through a book. And voice isn't usually top priority in most NF books, particularly when it comes to history-related NF, which I so wish I could enjoy.

Because I like history...I do. It's interesting and important to know so we don't continually repeat the mistakes of the past. But man, I just...can' it.

So, instead, I tend to turn to historical fiction to get my sense of the past. Tricky, yes, in that it is fiction so some liberties are sometimes taken, but with strong, accurate historical fiction, I can learn a lot in a way that keeps me turning pages. That's why I was so excited this morning when I saw a post on HuffPo Books this morning, listing some of the best historical fiction novels:

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." 
So begins A Tale of Two Cities, with one of the most celebrated opening lines in literature. What's often forgotten is how the sentence ends. (It is, to be fair, an extremely long sentence.) Written in 1859, the novel is set during the French Revolution. Having described the extraordinary contrasts of that time, Dickens continues: "in short, the period was so far like the present" that the "noisiest authorities" seemed interested in it merely for comparison with their own age. 
This is the huge appeal of historical fiction. It transports the reader to another time -- dramatically different yet full of striking similarities. While researching The Devil in the Marshalsea [Mariner Books, $15.95] I spent half my time marvelling at how strange things were in 1720s London and the other half laughing at how familiar it all sounded. To steal Dickens's syntax: We have changed so much, we haven't changed at all. 
The following ten novels are listed in chronological order. They are impeccably researched -- rich with fascinating historical detail. More importantly, they are all damned good reads. And given that Doctor Who isn't real (as far as we know), they're also the best mode of time travel we have.  

Regeneration by Pat Barker
Set in 1917
I think this is the best modern novel about the First World War. The psychological depth is stunning. Suddenly, these soldiers are no longer distant, historical figures. They are absolutely real individuals. A compassionate, subtle and gripping novel. 

Every Man For Himself by Beryl Bainbridge
Set in 1912
This wonderful novel is set on the Titanic. It is a short, pitch-perfect depiction of the tragedy, so convincing and beautifully paced... and as a bonus doesn't have Celine Dion warbling all over it. 

Affinity by Sarah Waters
Set in 1874
I could have picked any of Sarah Waters' books -- as they are all historical and all exceptional. Affinity is set in a Victorian prison and has a creepy spiritualist element that plays out brilliantly. It's all incredibly tense and atmospheric. Waters always creates great characters, but Affinity's heroine, Margaret Prior, is the one I care about the most. 

English Passengers by Matthew Kneale
Set in 1857
A group of travellers (some of them truly vile) set out on a long voyage to Tasmania. Disaster ensues. It's hard to sum up the story but it manages to be both very serious and very, very funny. I don't often laugh out loud when I'm reading but there is a scene with a panicked wombat that made me laugh until I cried. 

Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier
Set in 1821
Romance, adventure, dark deeds... and one of the most spirited and winning heroines in literature. Pure reading pleasure from start to finish. 

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Set 1775-1794
"It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known." Excuse me, I just have to go and weep in a corner for a little while. 

A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel
The French Revolution (again), so brilliantly evoked you feel you've lived through it yourself by the end. Quite simply, a masterpiece. Everyone is doomed from the start (that's not a spoiler, they're real characters, so we know how it ends). And still, when the end does come, it's completely devastating. Just don't mention Camille... oh, dear. I seem to be weeping again. 

An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears
Set in the 1660s
A smart, entertaining and satisfying mystery set in Oxford in the reign of Charles II. The structure is very clever (four unreliable narrators) and the setting feels absolutely authentic. The historical research is extraordinary, but is worn lightly. 

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
Set in 1327
A playful, atmospheric crime novel that is also a profound meditation on language, tolerance and freedom of thought. I found it a deeply rewarding book and I'm sure it has influenced a lot of historical novelists. 

See the original post HERE

I've actually only heard of one of the books on this list--and you can guess which one pretty easily!--so it's great to get some new ideas!

Some of my personal fave historical novels, though, include Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, Michelle Diener's Susanna Horenbout series, A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas, and too many more to mention!

What is YOUR favorite historical fiction novel??

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A Crazy--and Deadly--2014 for Amazon So Far

Amazon is in the news again, this week, and not just for the Hachette conflict, or even their new Prime music-streaming capabilities, or even their new AT&T-carried smartphone. No, this time it's about something a little more morbid.

According to GalleyCat, Amazon's warehouses are under investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor following two worker deaths since December:
The U.S. Department of Labor is investigating the deaths of two temporary workers at Amazon warehouses since December 2013. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited five companies for violations including: the contractor responsible for operating the facility and four temporary staffing agencies. 
One man died after he was crushed when he got caught in a conveyor system while sorting items at an Amazon fulfillment center in New Jersey. Another person died this month at an Amazon Fulfillment Center in Pennsylvania. 
“Temporary staffing agencies and host employers are jointly responsible for the safety and health of temporary employees. These employers must assess the work site to ensure that workers are adequately protected from potential hazards,” stated Patricia Jones, director of OSHA’s Avenel Area Office in a press release. “It is essential that employers protect all workers from job hazards — both temporary and permanent workers.” 
See the original post HERE

Oh, Amazon. It is not the year to be you. Seems 2014 is kicking more butts than just mine!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Monday Funday: Star Wars for the Little Ones

From Darth Vader and Son

This weekend, my wonderful nephew turned two years old. Naturally, what did I get him? Books, books, and more books. (Well, that and an awesome Pound Puppy stuff animal that makes "happy puppy noises" because he is obsessed with dogs.) Given that my brother is kind of a huge nerd (in the best way possible, of course. :-p He works for Google), I thought the Star Wars-themed Darth Vader and Son would be appropriate.

Unfortunately, they already had it. Buuuuut that roadblock did allow me to do a little hunting to find that a new story in the series of board books will be coming out later this summer, Goodnight Darth Vader.

Pre-ordering for the win!
The latest book is a bedtime story in which Darth Vader has to sooth many Star Wars characters to sleep. Check it out: “In this Episode, the Sith Lord must soothe his rambunctious twins, Luke and Leia—who are not ready to sleep and who insist on a story. As Vader reads, the book looks in on favorite creatures, droids, and characters, such as Yoda, R2-D2, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Darth Maul, Admiral Ackbar, Boba Fett, and many others as they tuck in, yawn, and settle down to dream.” 
The book comes out on July 22nd in advance of San Diego Comic-Con where Brown will be signing books. (via GalleyCat)
It seems Chronicle Books has also posted a trailer of this fun-filled intergalactic board book, so for a little silliness this Monday, let's give it a watch:


Friday, June 13, 2014

"I Know That It's Your Soul But Could You Bottle It Up"

There will always be people who prefer physical books to e-books. Always. I am one of them. I do read electronically sometimes--usually because of sales or e-only--but there's just something about holding the book in my hands, feeling the weight of how much I've read versus how much I have left, even the smell, of new and old books alike.

These sensory aspects give reading a grounding in reality when your mind is so swept away in imagination. It makes the whole experience feel more real, more visceral. Or at least it does to me.

The smell, in particular, is what concerns us over at RBtL today because it seems a scientist in the UK has determined the origin of that "old book smell" some of us love so much. And what are companies with large stakes in e-reading devices now planning to do? Bottle it up and emit it from your e-reader.


Co.Exist tells us more:
A Kindle and iPad are great for conveniently porting your entire bookshelf in your purse. But for the majority of Americans who view the independent bookstore as a haven and who get grumpy at the idea of not feeling the physical weight of words on the page, print books are far from dead. 
Reading a physical book is indeed a different experience than consuming an electronic counterpart, as book-toting holdouts love to point out. “An e-book offers little promise of discovery or wonder. Browsers may be ubiquitous in our e-portal age, but an e-book doesn’t encourage actual browsing,” is how writer Anna Holmes put it. 
One of the most unique and little-noted features of the dead-tree reading platform is its smell. A crisp new edition of Pride and Prejudice is scented a whole lot differently than the musty, middle-aged printing still being read in many a high school English class today.
But what causes these smells? A UK chemist and teacher who runs the blog Compound Interest, an exploration of everyday chemical compounds, went to investigate and came up with an infographic to explain the matter. 

That "new book smell" is a combination of the volatile compounds released from ink, bookbinding adhesives, and the paper itself. There isn’t much existing research that looks into these aromas. Because of the variation in chemicals and the hundreds of compounds that go into the process, the exact smells are hard to pin down, the blog notes. 
A larger body of research has examined the causes of old book smell, mostly because people use smell as one way to assess the age and condition of older volumes. The smell, the blog says, is caused by the chemical breakdown of lignin and cellulose compounds in the paper, which give off a wide variety of organic compounds, including those with smells described as being reminiscent of almonds, vanilla, floral, and sweet. Furfural, one byproduct, is often used to date the publication of old books. 
It’s clear that no one chemical causes the smell of new and old books. But if the printed word does go the way of the stone tablet one day, the chemistry industry can still save us. The Smell of Books (TM) offers “aerosol e-book enhancers” in scents such as Classic Musty Scent and Eau You Have Cats. 
See the original post HERE

Personally, if my e-reader ever starts smelling, I'm throwing it the eff out.

Credit: Title lyrics from "Bottle It Up" by Sara Bareilles.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

In Defense of the Love of Reading

Today, I'm feeling overwhelmed with a love of reading. Probably because I'm not feeling well, physically or emotionally, and all I want to do is curl up on the couch with a good book (for pleasure! not to edit!). So it is quite apropos that the lead post on the HuffPo Books page this morning is titled "7 Ways Books Can Change Your Life."

I will let this one speak for itself:

Often times, during a dark hour or an idle point, a book has changed my life. There are countless books that have pointed me in a different direction, or taught me a lesson. There are also many books that have helped me articulate my own emotions or thoughts, helped me find a voice. If it weren't for the books I've read, I'd be a very different man today...I'd even argue I'd be less of a man. 
Books, especially good ones, have that sort of power. If you let them, they can change your life, serve as another compass or guide, or give you a lift when you need it most. I'm sure you can think of at least one book that fundamentally changed you as a human being.
For all of us who've felt this transformation, or for anybody who hopes to find that in a good book, this is for you. Here are some of the ways reading a book can change your life. 
At the very least, you will connect with the person at the other of the dialogue, the author. But you will likely connect with much more than that: the zeitgeist, the universe, a reality that exists somewhere else or that one day could be yours. Reading is a lifeline to all else that is. 
Think about it: the book you are reading may have been written decades ago, in another country, maybe even in another language by a person who lived a completely different life. Or it may have been written in New Jersey a few years ago by some guy you know. Either way, you are having a conversation with someone else, and, if you nod along enough while reading the book, you're also finding a new friend and a friendlier existence.
Reading reminds you that you are not alone. Your struggles and dreams are shared. Your life is a part of a larger ecosystem. The greatest books comfort you with this sense of belonging. 
As with any good conversation, when you read you do a lot of listening. You are on the receiving end of a wire transfer of knowledge (with no transaction fee). This other person, the writer, is imparting something, at the very least one thing, you didn't have before: a fact, a theory, a point of view, an emotion. They are letting you into a psyche (theirs, their alter ego's, their main character's) and letting you in on some secrets.
And they are hoping you care enough to truly listen. 
So reading flexes your empathy. It works your capacity to connect to another person and invest yourself in their story. Even if you vehemently disagree with them, you get to know them, and as any script writer will tell you, that is how you end up using that giving-a-damn muscle. 
Give any book the opportunity and it will teach you something. It will at least teach you what not to do or say or believe in. But in order for anything to happen, you have to give it a chance, and to give it a chance you need to be humble. You need to think, OK, let me put down my ego and hear ya out.
Reading will very likely remind you that everybody else is smarter than you. In some way, everyone else has an edge on you. Every one of us knows at least one thing better than everyone else. Our life experiences, by themselves, give us a leg up on the competition; nobody has lived our life.
Once you embrace this truth, your humility deepens, because you know you don't have all the answers, you and your world are not all of it. 
It is like studying astronomy: you start with this world which encompasses everything you know; and then you move on to the planets, the awesome sun, the stars that dwarf the sun, the overwhelming constellations made of their own stars and planets, and on and on... 
This makes me feel tiny. My entire reality, that which has taken me over 30 years to put together, is an infinitesimal part of "all of it." 
But that's not where it ends. It also reminds me of how much more is out there. How much more is left to explore and know and live. My tininess is actually an invitation to let my imagination roam, let my eyes widen as much as possible to take more of it in. 
Same goes with the books we read. Each of them open up a new window of this universe, and we have the option of letting our eyes widen and start exploring. But first, check that "I know everything" ego at the door. 
The most moving (and enduring) books you collect are those that become a mirror. This mirror is placed in front of you when you read something that has you nodding along and thinking, yes, that is how it is. You just found a part of yourself. 
You may cry, smile, or wince, because that's you you're reading. You feel like you've been searching this whole time for this moment, but never knew that. The author has perfectly described the world (your world), or reminded you of your past, shone a light on your core beliefs, or lit up that dim hope you carry. 
The words written by a likely stranger have helped you connect with the person you ought to know the best, yourself, thus reminding you that sometimes a stranger appears within, too. But the more read, the more you'll educate yourself on yourself by finding what rings true. 
Reading challenges you. Taking a book seriously means risking the chance of finding an adversary. A book may become a headwind. These challenging books push back on everything you hold true. They tell you human nature is inherently evil, or that the Church is at fault, or that America is not the greatest country in the world. It will essentially say you're wrong. 
A poorly constructed book that does this is easy to dismiss. But one that has been carefully crafted, one that shakes you at your core, you can't brush off. It will demand that you stand up and defend your truths. 
A challenging book will force you to re-think those flabby truths. What you considered true will be put to trial, and by defending them you will grow stronger, regardless of the outcome. 
Reading helps you remain calm. It's as therapeutic as anything else. Once you start digging into a book that's caught your attention, time ceases to exist, your mind is completely immersed in what is in front of you. 
As with anything that fully engages your attention, reading makes you stop rushing or running from one point to the next. Instead, you are where you need to be, right here, doing this, and all other things are secondary. The worries, anguish, fears, and ambitions of a moment ago are boxed away in a container that read "for later." Your only worry is flipping to the next page to find out what's next. 
Reading is a pleasure -- it ought to be. Nobody has any time to read books you don't like. 
These are not books you disagree with or challenging ones, but just those that cannot keep you interested. Whatever you choose to read should bring you pleasure at some level. The amount of time and space that you invest in these darlings should be an investment, not a cost. The return on this investment should be some sort of joy: a joy in having experienced it, a joy in having learned from it, or a joy in having found a new friend in it. 
If this joy does not come up, not even in the first few pages, then I'd ask you this: would you buy a DVD for a movie you didn't like? Would you go on a second date with a guy who made you wince? Then why would you invest more of yourself in a book that is on that same level? 
Life is too short to read books that don't bring you joy, or worse, that don't matter at all. Read what enriches your life, and your life will change because of it.  
See the original post HERE

This post definitely sums up most of my thoughts on the matter when it comes to pleasure reading.

What do YOU love about reading?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Hump Day Humor: Fairytale Heroines in the Slammer

When I was searching for today's Hump Day Humor piece, all I could find was super-serious news about the Big-5, Amazon, book sales, etc. All important, of course, but not quite what either you or me need on a rainy Wednesday morning.

But then I saw this on HuffPo and knew I hit the lighthearted jackpot:
Show us one person who can't recite the story of Alice in Wonderland, Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White or Goldilocks by heart, and we'll show you a baby just born into this world. Because we all grew up learning of the dangerous scenarios these heroines had to endure -- from a wolf dressed as grandma to tumbling down holes deep enough for rabbits and finding unlikely roommates in three bears and seven dwarfs, these stories all paint a very pretty picture of girls lost and found. But what if our four princesses weren't so innocent?
Artist Marilen Adrover imagined just that, re-thinking the folklore as crime stories. Alice's hazy trips, Red's violent attempt at survival, Snow's seductress ways and Goldilocks' "misplaced" keys. How badass do they look now, eh?



See the original post HERE

Genius. You can even buy the above mugshots in various forms--as prints, as iPhone covers, and more.

Of course, this led me to ponder what other fairytale characters would have interesting mugshots... Puss in Boots? Cinderella? Jack (of "and the Beanstalk")? I can see a lot of possibilities for this kind of trend...

I also poked around Marilen's DeviantArt page to see what other kinds of work she does, only to find her range is incredibly impressive.

This haunting piece, for example:

"Anguish" by Marilen Adrover

Or this twist on a modern-day "Alice in Wonderland":

"Alice" by Marilen Adrover

And this powerful social commentary:

"I am Perfect" by Marilen Adrover