July 25, 2011
What are you reading now?
“I’m making my way — carefully and very happily — through Gryphon, Charles Baxter’s career-spanning story collection. I’m a long time fan of Charles Baxter. I discovered him in my early 20s, and his work made everything else I’d been reading feel a bit hollow. There’s a subtle current in Baxter’s finest stories that feels mysterious and deeply wise and spiritual.”
John Dalton, author of The Inverted Forest
July 19, 2011
"Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand - an audiobook review
If you read a novel that mimicked the life of Louis Zamperini, the subject of Laura Hillenbrand's riveting bestseller Unbroken, you'd think the story was too incredible to be true. But Unbroken (subtitled A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption) is real - terrifying, inspirational and absolutely unforgettable. It's the sort of book that changes the way you think about the human spirit.
As narrated by the excellent Edward Herrmann - yes, I still think of him as the Head Vampire from The Lost Boys; it's not just you - the audiobook proves a perfect method to dive into the story of Zamperini, a juvenile delinquent from Torrance, California, who became an Olympic runner (he competed in the 1936 Olympics at 19 and was a favorite to break the four-minute mile) until World War II intervened.
Louie (that's him in his USC track gear over there on the left) joined up, ended up in the Army Air Corps and became a bombadier on a B-24 stationed in Hawaii. On a rescue mission, his plane went down into the Pacific in May of 1943; Louie survived - and continued to survive floating at sea for weeks with no provisions and through his time in several Japanese POW camps under conditions so horrific they defy the imagination. Let's put it this way: Given the choice, I'd take my chances on the raft, where Louie and two fellow survivors had to eat raw albatross and repel aggressive sharks by hitting them with the oars rather than go within 2,000 miles of a Japanese "punishment" camp.
Hillenbrand learned about Louie while researching the bestselling Seabiscuit, and she brings a compelling urgency to a story that's already deeply unnerving. Just surviving flight in a B-24 in the Pacific theater was miraculous enough; Hillenbrand offers chilling stats on how many planes went down in accidents and made me damned glad my own dad, who also flew in B-24s, was stationed in Europe during the war, where at least you had a fighting chance if your plane crashed (his plane didn't, or you might not be reading this blog post.
I am not a particular fan of war stories, but I will think about Unbroken for a good long while. It's the perfect sort of book to read whenever you feel that fate has dealt you a bad hand. It dealt Louie a bad hand, too, and he survived years of starvation, fear and violence. So stop your whining, and read this book.
July 18, 2011
What are you reading now?
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is by itself on my bedside table since it’s at least 40,000 pages long. I want to have it finished (for the second time) before [I see] the final movie. . . . I love all the Harry Potter books — the incredible imagination, the grit of the themes and how you just know to your soul that at the end, good will overcome evil. And what an adventure getting there. J.K. Rowling is an amazing writer.”
Catherine Coulter, author of Split Second
July 15, 2011
It's hard to say goodbye to Harry Potter
First let me confess: Though I once was one of those slightly scary adults who went out and bought Harry Potter books on the day they were released - and read them with the excitement of a 10-year-old - I never made it through The Order of the Phoenix. Not because it's the longest book in the series, clocking in at 870 pages, but because I felt it was bloated and took way too long to get moving. Perhaps there were other reasons: Too much to read for work, too little patience?
I still feel that way, but seeing the new Deathly Hallows 2 has sent me scurrying back to Phoenix and the final two books in the series, which I've never read. Hundreds of books demand my attention, and yet Rowling has captured my attention and clearly will hold it hostage until I finish Half Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows.
Such is the power of Potter.
Deathly Hallows 2 is a terrific film, the best moviegoing experience I've had in ages. Look at Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith) over there, throwing down with the forces of evil! But though it's thrilling and enchanting and immensely fulfilling, executed just about perfectly by the filmmakers and actors and screenwriters, Rowling's magnetism is what gets us in the end. I want to see the movie again and will, no doubt. But I also want to stay immersed in the heady joy of what is plain great storytelling. I don't want this feeling to end, even though the story has.
And so I return to the books I haven't read. I'm completely enjoying Phoenix this time round (skipped those troubling first 100 pages or so). Guess what! It gets better. I'm laughing at Fred and George Weasley's antics with the fireworks and their flip-off to Professor Umbridge when she demands they be flogged for creating a swamp in the halls; wincing at Harry's horrified discovery that his dad was something of a jerk at 15 (much like Harry himself in this particular book); grimacing over the bullying of young Snape (always my favorite character, with Hermione a close second); mourning the loss of - well, I won't say, in the interest of not spoiling anything, although by now if you don't know how Phoenix ends, what have you been doing for the past few years?
I can't imagine what it's like for kids who grew up with these books, anticipating each new release, arguing over who in the family got to read it first. I don't know if we'll see another phenomenon like Harry Potter in our lifetimes (though Suzanne Collins' compelling Hunger Games series makes a respectable stab at it), though I like to believe imagination is not a finite thing. No one on earth has done more to introduce kids to the pleasures of reading than Rowling, and I salute her for it. And I'll happily welcome the next Rowling when she comes along.
Miami proposes to close 13 libraries
Yes, I have my occasional wars with the library system (Broward County in my case - and no, I still don't understand why I have to update my phone number IN PERSON and not online; it's 2011, for crying out loud). But I sympathize with Miami-Dade library users now, even though many go to use the free Internet services and not to check out books.
Check out this story from The Miami Herald's Matt Haggman and Martha Brannigan:
"Seeking to close a $400 million budget gap, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s budget proposal, which includes a laundry list of cuts, features one particularly tough measure: shuttering 13 libraries across Greater Miami.
A decade ago, the county launched a library expansion plan that resulted in the opening of 18 branches. Now many of those would be closed. The reductions would save about $18 million, while eliminating 191 jobs in an overall plan that eliminates 1,292 positions countywide."
Click here to read the whole story.
July 14, 2011
Why book stores love George R.R. Martin's new book
And here you thought brick and mortar stores were done.
Julie Bosman of the New York Times reports that independent booksellers report that Dragons has quickly become the bestseller of the summer.
Bosman writes: "It also temporarily upended the conventional wisdom in the book business that devoted readers of genre fiction — whether romance, sci-fi or fantasy — have begun to prefer reading in e-book format over print. According to first-day sales collected by Random House, more than 170,000 print copies and 110,000 e-book copies sold on Tuesday, the largest opening for a Random House book in 2011."
Interest in the series has been bolstered by the HBO series Game of Thrones, which is based on Martin's "Song of Ice and Fire" series.
Click here to read the whole story.
Great summer read: Chris Bohjalian's "Secrets of Eden"
I look at summer as a good time to catch up on the things I have wanted to read but haven't quite managed to get around to yet. A few weeks back I finally pulled out Chris Bohjalian's Secrets of Eden from the ever-growing stacks around the house (no, I still don't have an e-reader) and I am glad I did.
The novel - it's now out in paperback if you want it for the beach or poolside - is about the repercussions of two deaths in a small Vermont town. At first, it appears churchgoing Alice Hayward has been murdered by her abusive husband, who then killed himself. But things turn out to be more complicated than that, and the story evolves through the not-always-reliable narratives of four people closely involved with the Haywards: church pastor Stephen Drew, whose connection to the family is more complex than it appears; tough-minded deputy state attorney Catherine Benincasa, who is suspicious of Stephen; Heather Laurent, a bestselling author of books about angels who grew up in a home rife with domestic abuse; and Katie, the teenage and now orphaned daughter of the Haywards.
Herald editor Amy Driscoll reviewed the book when it first came out, and here's what she had to say:
"Bohjalian has written a literary murder mystery that hooks readers early and keeps its secrets until the end. His characters reflect contemporary society - the smart-mouthed, knowing teen; the celebrity inspirational author - but his portraits serve more as critique than applause. He's questioning our own unthinking belief that we somehow know people from snippets on CNN or glossy spreads in People magazine.
He brings the story back to a gut level with the vivid colors of domestic violence -- the purple of strangulation marks, the blue of bruises, the scarlet of blood. A husband who is a pillar of society on the outside can be a violent monster at home, and Bohjalian's writing works on two levels as well. The language is calm, almost lulling, leading the reader along, right into the emotional razor blade embedded in the words."
Bohjalian's next novel, The Night Strangers, arrives Oct. 4.
July 11, 2011
What are you reading now?
“ The End of Everything by Megan Abbott. It’s so good. Megan is one of my best friends, and we do writing projects together, but we don’t talk about works in progress. Her book also has a girl detective theme similar to my book . . . . There’s a missing girl, and another girl is looking for her. Megan’s writing is always amazing, and in this book it’s at a whole new level.”
Sara Gran, author of Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead
"Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away" - a review
“It is amazing, what you can get used to,” marvels 12-year-old Blessing, the plucky protagonist of Christie Watson’s heartfelt coming-of-age novel, set in Nigeria but resoundingly universal in its depiction of a family struggling to rise above hard and dangerous times.
Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away is all about the ugly truths we must accept and get used to, but it also explores the importance of speaking out against injustice, even if the cost is high. The novel, Watson’s first, also offers a compelling and often wrenching portrait of resilience, a lesson Blessing learns after her mother catches her father in bed with another woman. He moves out and stops paying rent; her mother loses her job at the Royal Imperial Hotel, which employs only married women. And so she is forced to move Blessing and her older brother Ezikiel from their modern apartment in Lagos to their grandparents’ village in the Niger Delta, an unimaginable leap.
Watson, a Brit who trained and worked as a nurse, lives in London, but her depiction of rural African woes will unnerve even the most moderately pampered Westerner. We worry about traffic, job stress and the skyrocketing prices of everything from groceries to our cable bill. Blessing understands such worries, too; she has grown up with them in busy, crowded, contemporary Lagos, where the family lives on wealthy Allen Avenue. There, consumption and the flaunting of it is a way of life.
“If you had money to spend, Allen Avenue was where you spent it,” she explains. “And if you were even richer, like us, then you lived there. . . . Allen Avenue was brightly lit. People left their televisions and radios on loud all night, to show how much money they could afford to waste.”
Such troubles, though, quickly evaporate once her family arrives in the Delta, where there are more pressing worries than poverty (though poverty is pervasive): parasites in the river; bacteria in the food; poison chemicals in the air; no electricity, indoor plumbing or running water. Most alarming of all is the distant and then not-so-distant gunfire. Armed boys on gunboats cruise up and down the polluted waterways, and rumors persist about violence waged by government forces paid off by Western oil companies.
Click here to read the rest of the review.