Monday, January 31, 2011

Graphic Novel Monday: REVIEW: Sunny Side Down, by Lev Yilmaz

Sunny Side Down: A Collection of Tales of Mere Existence, by Lev Yilmaz. Published 2009 by Gallery. Paperback.

Sunny Side Down isn't a cohesive graphic novel as such, but rather a collection of comics in Lev Yilmaz's Tales of Mere Existence series. His style is reminscent of Matt Groening's Life in Hell comics; there are lots of checklists, square panels and "12 Types of Girlfriends" sort of comics, and his subject is mostly himself, his love life and his career and his lack of success therein. Let's just say, he doesn't come across as an optimist. But he's funny.

Here's one of his videos from his YouTube channel:

I've been a fan of his for a while now, since I first stumbled on one of his Tales zines at a local comics store, complete with a DVD of some animations similar to those on YouTube. I like his blase and self-deprecating style; it's the not the kind of book I could read cover to cover all at once, but it's fun to dip into his comics when I need a chuckle.

I'd recommend Sunny Side Down to folks who like cynicism and sarcastic humor. They're bleak but funny and touch on everyday life in a way that I think a lot of people can relate to with a unique and memorable voice. I don't have much else to say about Yilmaz's work. You'll just have to check it out for yourself sometime.

Rating: BUY

I'm a Powell's partner and receive a small commission on sales.

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sunday Salon-January's Accomplishments, February's Goals, and My Husband's Blog

I didn't have any specific reading goals for January- I designated it "free read" month, meaning I could read what I wanted without respect to review obligations or release dates- and I have to say it was pretty great. Having said that, I did read one 2011 release (The Fates Will Find Their Way, by Hannah Pittard) and one book I'd agreed to review (Hygiene and the Assassin, by Amelie Nothomb) but those were things I wanted to read anyway. I took the time to read a few more 2010 books like The Bells and Drinking at the Movies as well. Overall I'm very satisfied with the month.

February will be devoted entirely to reading 2011 releases, once I fulfill my pledge to read a Booker Prize winner at the start of the month, probably Moon Tiger. Today I'm reading Tinkers, which I'm enjoying, and finishing up a comics collection. I've been really behind on my graphic novel reading lately and need to change that!  I think I've given up, at least temporarily, on Wandering Stars. Just not for me, at least not right now. It's not going in my latest round of weeded books, so that's a good sign.

I'm taking a writing class at Grub Street in Boston, a well-respected writing studio that's produced many successful writers. I'm learning about the short story in an introductory fiction class, which I chose because I've been writing fairly regularly for several months but I don't think I really know what I'm doing! Although this class is focused on the short story, I'm hoping to learn some elements of craft that I can apply to my novel writing.

And I'll have lots of time to write since as of Tuesday I'm out of a job. My year-long contract with the Association of Jewish Libraries is up after tomorrow and I'm continuing to look for work. I've had a couple of unsuccessful interviews so far and doing my best to comb this very lousy job market for something. Problem is, I'm not really sure what I want. A bookstore, a library, something with books or publishing or social media. Anybody got any ideas? :)

My husband is blogging now too- he's serializing his own novel at The Matter of Dreams. It's a science fiction thriller about the dream world, government conspiracies and the power of love. Read it!

Have a great Sunday. More Sunday Salon here.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Friday Finds-The Vlog Will Return Soon, I Promise

First up is a graphic novel, Miriam Libicki's jobnik!, her memoir about her time in the IDF. I got this at my favorite local comics shop, Hub Comics, which always has something new and unusual. I can't go in there without buying something!

I bought Quiet Americans, Erika Dreifus's collection of short stories, from the author herself. I've worked with her some over the past year through my social media work with the Association of Jewish Libraries and I'm really looking forward to her book.
 A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear, by Atiq Rahimi, came for review from the fabulous Other Press. I've read two of his other books and I'm a great admirer of his writing. Can't wait!

Finally, I won True Grit and a collection of four other Charles Portis novels from the wonderful Overlook Press. Thank you Overlook! All five of the books look fabulous! I can't think of a better surprise!

What did you find this week?

See more Friday Finds at

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Booking Through Thursday: The Largest Book You've Read

btt button
What’s the largest, thickest, heaviest book you ever read? Was it because you had to? For pleasure? For school?
The largest, thickest, heaviest book I've read is probably Robert L. Herbert's Impressionism: Art, Leisure and Parisian Society, a tome on the Impressionist art movement. I read it my junior year of college for a class I took called "Paris in the Nineteenth Century," an incredible class- probably my favorite class in my entire education- about art history, social history, literary life and more in 19th century Paris. I struggled through 14 long, dense chapters, carted this coffee table of a book everywhere I went for over a week, and then wouldn't you know it, there wasn't one question on the final exam that required us to have read anything in this book! Oh well. It's a wonderful book and I learned a lot but it's certainly not appropriate for the casual reader!

More Booking Through Thursday here.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

REVIEW: The Bells, by Richard Harvell

The Bells, by Richard Harvell. Published 2010 by Random House. Literary Fiction.

The one word that would sum up The Bells for me would be uneven. Set in Europe of the late 1700s, it's the story of a young man named Moses Froben, so named by a pair of monks who find him floating in the river. His origins are obscure; the son of an outcast woman who rings bells in a Swiss town, he's been raised almost in the wild. Then monks Nicolai and Remus find him, take him to their abbey and raise him to be a singer- and he is phenomenally talented, so much so that his music teacher has him castrated at age 10 in order to preserve his angelic voice.

Moses grows up, falls in love, and eventually leaves the abbey; the novel opens with a letter from Moses's son, also called Nicolai, so we know that Moses will become a famous singer one day and that he will have a child, although how a castrated man comes to be a parent is only part of the story the book tells.

What made The Bells for me was the characters and the historical detail. From the little I know about castrati, Harvell seems to stick to historical reality in the way he portrays Moses, and he paints a rich picture of the abbeys and the cultural life of Vienna. These parts of the book were my favorites, along with the characters. I loved Amalia, the girl Moses loves. Nicolai and Remus are a great couple and loving parental figures to Moses. I felt like the first third of the book, detailing Moses's life with his mother, was the weakest, not least because of the angry, bitter tone that Moses takes. And I just didn't find that part very interesting. I was also disappointed in the endings given to some of the characters, especially Amalia, who deserves better. Finally, I found myself somewhat unsympathetic to Moses's actions surrounding the acquisition of his son. I know it's supposed to be romantic but it didn't strike me that way.

On balance I'd say I liked The Bells but couldn't quite love it. I think readers of historical fiction will enjoy the book, especially fans of Sarah Dunant, whose book Sacred Hearts I thought of often while reading this one. It's well-researched and beautifully written; my problems with the book had to do with some specific turns of plot that I found implausible. But it's a solid debut with a lot to offer to lots of readers.


FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

REVIEW: Hotel du Lac, by Anita Brookner

Hotel du Lac, by Anita Brookner. Originally published 1984. This edition 1995 by Vintage Contemporaries. Literary Fiction. Winner of the Booker Prize.

Hotel du Lac is a quiet novel that nonetheless has a lot to say. Winner of the 1984 Booker Prize, it's the story of Edith Hope, a writer on a self-imposed exile at an out-of-season Swiss hotel, which she shares with a small group of (mostly) women. Mrs. Iris Pusey is a narcissistic grande dame on perpetual holiday with her spinster daughter Jennifer; their primary occupation is consumption- shopping and eating. Monica is a tall, striking woman accompanied by a small dog but otherwise alone, a single middle-aged woman looking for what the Puseys already have, a wealthy man to support her. An older woman also resides at the hotel, staying on until the end of the season, at which time her family will send her elsewhere to be looked after. And then there is Edith, alone for entirely different reasons, who forms slight attachments to each but remains definitively on her own.

What we do know about Edith is that she's desperately in love with David, a married man and art dealer, to whom she writes detailed letters about the people and goings on at the hotel. But David is not the primary scandal she's escaping, and he won't be her redemption, either. That story unfolds slowly as Edith gets to know a Mr. Neville, a single and well-off man also in residence at this placid hotel that nonetheless buzzes with the quiet desperation of its inhabitants.

At the core of this slim novel is character- Brookner's and Edith's sharp character studies of the ladies, especially the Puseys, and Edith's own arc as she makes difficult choices about the next stage of her life. For a long stretch her future is open-ended and uncertain as she steps through each day walking the town, writing and navigating the genteel minefield of the other ladies' own emotional landscapes. The setting reflects Edith's state of mind, perpetually gray and blank. Color comes from the ladies' clothing and conversation. She's recovering from a major trauma, and more than that, has to decide what to do next; uncertainty is the dominant tone. Towards the end decisions agendas are revealed that change that landscape and lead to Edith's final choice, and it feels so right and well-drawn that it's hard to imagine it turning out any other way.

Hotel du Lac is a fine literary read that readers of thoughtful womens' fiction will savor and enjoy. Brookner mixes pathos and humor- her portrait of Mrs. Pusey in particular has moments of real hilarity- in a novel that resembles Jane Austen written in a contemporary style, but with an emphasis on the pathos. She uses the very Austenian theme of women's economic vulnerability but instead of marriage solving life's problems, she asks if the material rewards of dependence engender a kind of complacency or even rot. But the novel is smarter than to be so simple-minded in its message; Brookner also sets up contrasts that ask if being alone is the worth the price it demands as well. Overall thoughtful, thought-provoking and lovely, Hotel du Lac is a beautifully crafted narrative that will reward the careful reader.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Decline and Fall of Borders

There's been a lot of talk in the book news (Brillig, Sarah Weinman's article, the Washington Post) about the decline and (perhaps inevitable) fall of Borders, the national book chain. I've learned a lot from all of these sources about the particulars of why the company is having trouble and if you're curious about what's going on, I encourage you to read any and all of the articles I've linked to, and to look for more. I'm not in a position to offer my own take on why the company is doing so badly; as a bookstore enthusiast I am in a position to have seen the effects of these changes and management decisions over the years- and I continue to love Borders. All of these black clouds make me sad.

I remember when Borders opened a big store in Boston, in Downtown Crossing, a very lively part of Boston, an outdoor and largely pedestrian mall with the original Filene's Basement, two large department stores and more. Borders was the first book superstore I ever visited. I loved it. I would stop in on my way to work around 7 or so every morning, settle in with a coffee and read my own book or browse a little before work. I went there so often the cafe staff knew my name and would have my coffee ready as soon as I swished through the revolving door. It was like a cathedral of books, with huge ceilings, endless selections not just of books but the kind of music I listened to, the kinds of movies I watched and the kinds of magazines I read. Alternative stuff, foreign movies, small-press magazines, and of course, the books. Shopping at Borders was more than just shopping- it was an indulgence.

And it was on my path to work every day; the wonderful indie bookstores of Boston and Cambridge were tucked away in neighborhoods far from my daily routine. (And now most of those don't exist anymore.) Oh sure, I'd been shopping at the Harvard Book Store since high school but a trip to Harvard Square was for many years a rare treat. I didn't have an internet connection at home and didn't care about Amazon. Barnes & Noble was at the mall and they sold everything I didn't read. If there was something I wanted, I knew it was going to be at Borders, and I knew I could go there whenever I wanted.

Over the years I noticed the changes. The diminishing selection. The increased presence of bestsellers at the front of the store. The disappearance of the music section and the movies I liked. How the small-press magazines seemed to wither away as well.

Then they started opening these awful suburban stores that had 1/4 of the selection and reminded me of the old B&Ns, while B&N turned into what Borders used to be. It was around this time that I moved to Cambridge and started shopping indies in a dedicated fashion. My Amazon phase came and went, and  I wasn't going into Boston regularly anymore. My husband and I started making once- or twice- weekly evening trips to B&N to browse and relax. I developed an interest in going to bookstores just to see what they were promoting and found that B&N was kind of an interesting place. Meanwhile the suburban Borders were getting more and more dismal.

Now it looks like 2011 will almost certainly bring some bad news for Borders. It's too bad.  I can't imagine Boston and New York without Borders, especially the Downtown Crossing location here and Columbus Circle in New York.  I know this is also bad for the book business but there are a lot of people who can tell you more about why that is than I can- I believe them, though. And I don't know what to do about it. Shop there as some kind of act of charity? I don't believe in supporting any bookstore- or any for-profit business- as an act of charity. Soup kitchens and homeless shelters deserve our charity; a for-profit business succeeds or fails on its efficacy as a business- and some businesses, even some bookstores, sometimes fail because they deserve to.

I support indies because I think they serve a purpose in our society and I love shopping them. I supported Borders for many years because I loved shopping there, too. Boston doesn't have a big indie bookstore like Powell's or the Strand and I loved walking into a huge building filled with books that seemed to have everything under the sun, and always coming out with something great. That's not what it's like anymore. I don't know what the answer is but I think it's a shame and probably didn't have to happen this way.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sunday Salon- Projects New and Old

So as you might have seen yesterday, I'm participating in Bloggiesta this weekend, taking the opportunity to work on my new blogging project, a movie review blog called Marie's Movies. I've been debating doing a movie review blog for a while; my friends Andy and Amanda have such a good one that I've been a little intimidated but I decided to go for it.

I'm going to post as often as I watch a movie or have something to say and I'm hoping that having the blog will motivate me to catch up on my viewing. I've loved the movies almost as long as I've loved books- I remember wanting to be a film critic when I was about 10 years old watching Siskel & Ebert on PBS Sunday mornings. So I think this will be fun.

Of course if you'd like to visit my new blog and become a follower I would love you to bits. :-) I'm going to try to put together a giveaway in the next week or two as well.

Reading-wise, I'm almost done with Richard Harvell's The Bells which started off slow for me but which I'm enjoying very much now as I round the final corner. It picked up a lot about 1/3 of the way through, but I'll have a detailed review when I finish. I started Sholem Aleichem's Wandering Stars a week or two ago and I will admit that I'm not loving it. I will probably finish; it's a fun read, but it's going to take me a while. I'm hoping it too will pick up. After The Bells I'll probably try Yael Hedaya's Eden next. Next month, after I read a Booker Prize winner per my pledge, I'll dip into some 2011 releases, probably starting with The Fates Will Find Their Way by Hannah Pittard.

Speaking of Hannah Pittard, I had the pleasure of meeting her yesterday at a tweetup at local indie Porter Square Books. HarperCollins rep Anne DeCourcey introduced a group of us (mostly booksellers and two bloggers, Dawn of She is Too Fond of Books and myself) to Ms. Pittard, who was charming and funny. Her book isn't even out yet and it's already doing really well- its Indiespensable edition at Powell's has sold out, and it's a First Edition club choice for two major bookstores in this area alone, Odyssey Books and the Harvard Book Store. Looks like she has a bright literary future!

What are you reading today? What are you looking forward to next month?

More Sunday Salon here.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Bloggiesta! Working on a New Blogging Project

For the first time I'm participating in Bloggiesta but I'm not working on this blog. Not that this blog doesn't have lots to be improved, but I'm taking the opportunity to spruce up a new movie review blog, Marie's Movies.  The URL is for now though I may buy a custom domain later.

I've wanted to start a movie review blog for a while and I've debated including movie reviews on Boston Bibliophile but I think I want to keep this blog for books only.

So this weekend I'm working on the new one- the layout, the links, the logo, and I might even write my first post. Having worked on this one for a while, I have lots of ideas about the kinds of features I want to include but I'd love some suggestions, or, if you know of a great movie review blog I should be reading and following, let me know!

Bloggiesta is hosted by MawBooks or follow @Bloggiesta on Twitter.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Friday Finds! Sick Day Edition

No video this week; I'm taking a "sick day" and I don't think you want to watch a video of me all green and unhappy. I'll be back with another vlog next week but for now I have two great finds to tell you about.

First up is Solo, by Rana Dasgupta, about political changes in post-war Bulgaria. I won this book from LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program.

Next is What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers, by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter. Bernays and Painter are acclaimed writers and writing teachers and I used to have a copy of this book but got rid of it somewhere along the line. I'm taking a 10-week fiction writing class in Boston right now and realized I need this not just for my class but for my writing life.

That's it!What did you add to your collection this week? What are you reading? Have a great weekend!

More Friday Finds at Should Be Reading.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

REVIEW: Amberville, by Tim Davys

Amberville, by Tim Davys. Published 2009 by Harper. Fiction. Crime Fiction. Translated from the Swedish by Paul Norlen.

Eric Bear has a problem. A successful ad executive in Mollisan Town, married to the beautiful Emma Rabbit whom he passionately loves, it seems like he has it all. But when Nicholas Dove, local gang leader and casino owner, comes to him with an offer he can't refuse, he's forced to reconnect with his past and his secrets.

Amberville, the first in the Mollisan Town Quartet series of novels, takes place in a kind of alternate universe populated entirely by stuffed animals, thus Amberville is half noir, half fantasy. Tim Davys, the pseudonymous author, creates a strange and eerily familiar world in which all children are adopted, nearly every family is inter species and everyone is made of plush and stitches. Davys interlaces his world-building into the noir with a craftsman's hand- little touches here and there, nothing that overwhelms the story. And just as well, because the story is fairly light. Nicholas Dove tasks Eric with finding a mythical Death List, a list of animals who are taken away in mysterious pickups, never to be seen again, and taking Dove's name off the list. If Eric fails, Dove will have Emma killed. Eric recruits his old gang- TomTom Crow, Snake Marek, and Sam Gazelle- to help him.

But in Mollisan Town, everyone has secrets. Eric has a past, and a double; Emma has a secret life, too, and an interior self nobody knows. I like the way Davys constructs his strange little world and the plot unfolds smoothly, ticking off noir conventions without feeling stale or cliched. Having said that, I'm not sure the book would be all that interesting if not for the stuffed-animal angle; while I think the book is clever and a good mystery I'm not sure that's really enough. But, having said that, I am planning to read the three remaining books in the series, starting with the immediate follow-up Lanceheim which seems to have a completely different, and unrelated, plot. I would caution readers that even though Amberville is about stuffed animals, it's not a book for children and the characters, while fuzzy, are not adorable. There's violence, drugs, and other dark and disturbing things going on. Amberville probably won't end up being a classic of Western literature but it's a good read, and unusual, and a book I think lots of readers will enjoy. I look forward to more from this author and this series.


FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Jane Eyre: March 11- I Can't Wait!

I know, we've seen this before, but I am so excited, and now that I'm doing Laura's Jane Eyre readalong next month, I'm looking forward to the new movie even more.

Have you seen any of the previous film adaptations of Jane Eyre? I saw the 1983 BBC miniseries starring Zelah Clarke and Timothy Dalton, which I loved, and the 1996 movie with William Hurt and Charlotte Gainsbourg, which I thought was atrocious even though I thought Gainsbourg was note-perfect as Jane. I'm optimistic about the casting of Mia Wasikowksa as Jane; I think she has the right look for the part, and from the trailer, the right personality. I loved Clarke's pluck and spirit but I always felt like, cute as she was, she was too old; Jane is supposed to be about 18 when she comes to Thornfield and Clarke looked like a pretty 35 to me. (And of course I enjoyed Doctor Who actress Mary Tamm as Blanche in that adaptation.) Gainsbourg was perfect but Hurt was awful and their film sped through the story at a full gallop; Jane leaves Thornfield and the story goes full tilt towards the conclusion, on the very same day. Huh? At least that's the way I remember it.

The BBC could take their time, and they did, filming almost the entire novel; the Hurt/Gainsbourg version clipped a whole third. I'll be interested to see how the new version handles the St. John Rivers section, the part the Hurt/Gainsbourg version left out. Some people don't like it or find it tiresome but I actually liked that section for its mystical elements and the family story, and it's the part of the story where Jane really comes into her own.

I don't know anything about the director, Cary Fukunaga; he seems inexperienced when it comes to feature films. So we'll see. But I know one thing- I'll be there on opening weekend. Will you?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Musing Mondays: Light or Heavy?

This week’s musing asks…
Do you prefer deep, intellectual, “meaty” books… or light, “fluffy” books? Why? Give us an example of your preferred type of book. ;)

I'm a snob when it comes to books and I've never tried to hide it! Howard Jacobson's The Finkler Question is a great example of an intellectual read. So are most of Margaret Atwood's books, and A.S. Byatt's, and Ian McEwan's, and so on. Look at the Booker Prize. I'm also thinking of classics like Jude the Obscure, which I know one of my blogging pals is reading right now, and modern classics like The Master and Margarita.

Fluffy books have their place, too, and I like the ones that are smart and well-crafted. I love Celestine Vaite's Materena Mahi series, and Megan Crane's chick lit, and tight pageturners and thrillers. One of my favorite light books of the last few year is Marie Phillips' Gods Behaving Badly, a comedy about what happens when the classical Greek gods get an apartment together in modern-day London. I don't like books that are truly stupid, though, and there are some out there!

More Musing Mondays at

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sunday Salon- Winter is Here

First of all I want to thank everyone who commented last week on the death of my cat. I really appreciate each and every one of you who took the time to say something, either here or on Facebook or on Twitter. Jeff and I are doing okay and we've even started making arrangements to add not one but two kitties to our home in the next few weeks. We get purebred Siberians because my husband is allergic to cats and Siberians are hypoallergenic. When you're trying for a purebred it can take months so you have to start looking right away, and I didn't expect this to happen so fast but I think we lucked out with a pair of 2 year old females who are retired breeding cats. I kind of can't wait. Sasha will always be my little friend but I guess life goes on.

Reading? I've been doing plenty. I started reading Sholem Aleichem's novel Wandering Stars; historical fiction about the Yiddish theater, it came out from Random House in 2009 and I'm glad to be finally reading it. Alongside it I'm reading Hygiene and the Assassin, by Amelie Nothomb, a recent release from Europa Editions. Free Read January has been really fun and I'm looking forward to continuing through February reading "me" books along with the occasional review book. I have to read Lanceheim and The Matchmaker of Kenmare in February; other than that it's wide open. Who knows what I'll pull off my shelf next? Guess you'll just have to stick around to find out.

What are you reading? What are you looking forward to for the winter? I was going to do the War & Peace readalong organized by my friend Ann Kingman of Books on the Nightstand but I decided to do my other friend Laura's readalong of Jane Eyre instead because I just don't feel like I'm up to a big busy novel right now, and Jane Eyre is like comfort food.

Have a great Sunday and let me know what you're up to.

More Sunday Salon here.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Something Fun for a Saturday- Take a Quiz

You're The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe!

by C.S. Lewis

You were just looking for some decent clothes when everything changed
quite dramatically. For the better or for the worse, it is still hard to tell. Now it
seems like winter will never end and you feel cursed. Soon there will be an epic
struggle between two forces in your life and you are very concerned about a betrayal
that could turn the balance. If this makes it sound like you're re-enacting Christian
theological events, that may or may not be coincidence. When in doubt, put your trust
in zoo animals.

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

This makes sense- and it's my favorite book from childhood! What book are you?

Friday, January 14, 2011

Friday Finds- Snowed-In Edition

Finds Mentioned:
When They Come for Us, We'll Be Gone: The Epic Struggle to Save Soviet Jewry, by Gal Beckerman (Houghton Mifflin)
Lanceheim, by Tim Davys (HarperCollins)

Also Mentioned:
Tourquai, by Tim Davys

More Friday Finds at

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Special Feature: Interview with author Holly LeCraw & A Giveaway

    Yesterday I reviewed Holly LeCraw's debut novel The Swimming Pool; Holly was kind enough to take some time to answer some questions for you and me about the book and her writing life.
    What themes were you exploring with The Swimming Pool?
I was interested, quite literally, in the ripple effect—in the toxicity of secrets in families, in their effects over generations. So often parents keep secrets from children in an effort to protect them, and then the result is just the opposite. Although the thing people first focus on in the book is the affair between Jed and Marcella, the underlying motivations really spring from the parent-child relationships—and the fact that Jed and Marcella’s affair is quite Oedipal underscores that theme.
I was also interested in the idea of lack of control. Jed doesn’t know who killed his mother, and the uncertainty is eating away at him; he thinks an answer will satisfy him. But, in the end, control is an illusion for all of us, and we must come to terms with that.

    Why did you choose Cape Cod as your summer setting, instead of, say, a Southern resort area like Cape Hatteras? Does the cultural conflict between the North and South play any role in the book?

I don’t remember choosing it—I saw Callie and Jed at the Cape from the beginning. I think the cultural conflict only plays a small part here, but in the book I’m working on now I think it will be larger. I’ve got self-exiled Southerners again. I guess more than the particular regional differences, I’m interested in the idea of the outsider, and the discomfort of displacement. Although I’m also very interested in the different attitudes toward religion in the North and South, and I think that might come into play in my new book.
    Why did you choose to create a fictional, archetypal Cape Cod town instead of using a real one? How did that choice influence the story and the characters?
I think when real places are used that aren’t absolutely iconic it can be distracting. It’s too tempting to compare—“is that place really like that?” It messes with the fictional dream. Also, my Mashantum, while very similar to the town we go to on the Cape, isn’t exactly the same. I am not that interested in verisimilitude, and I didn’t want to be held to it. Any measures you can take, as a writer, to free yourself up are worth taking.
Why did you choose alternating perspectives and flashbacks? I've heard some writers say there is some resistance to flashbacks as a narrative device. Did you encounter any resistance yourself?
It seemed necessary to move around in time and perspective to tell the story I wanted to tell. I thought of it, the story, as a whole, organic thing, and I wanted to look at it from all angles. I don’t even really think of them as flashbacks. The characters’ memories are very much in the present, and they influence their actions in the present, so time seems more fluid. Metabolizing one’s memories in the present makes the memories a part of the plot in real time, if that makes sense.
As for resistance, no, I never got any. I was well-edited, but also lightly edited. The book was sold in very similar form to the final version. Early on in the writing process, I considered putting dates on the sections, but then I decided to try to write it as clearly as I could so that wouldn’t be necessary. I might have to do them in my current book, though. I’m not opposed to dates on principle; I just thought I could make The Swimming Pool work without them, and that the reader might stay more firmly in the characters’ heads that way. I thought my eventual agent or editor might suggest them, but they didn’t.
Would you tell us a little about your writing process? What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Write every day. Write as freely as you can. Read On Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande. Listen to your gut. Have faith. Don’t give up.
As for my own writing process, I try to follow my own advice, often failing miserably.
What do you like to read? What are you reading now?
I have been reading a lot of poetry. I’ve been felt far too immersed in the Web because of book promotion, and at this point I feel like the Internet is a Chinese water torture of banality, with just enough meaning to keep you hoping but not enough to keep you satisfied. (Book blogs, of course, are an obvious exception!) So I’ve been craving pure, concentrated language. I want to cleanse myself with words. Rumi, Rilke, Stevens, Eliot, Levertov, Gioia. Right now I’m all over the place. I am looking for passion and intensity and, not precision exactly, but care.

I’m also reading a selection of Jung’s writings. I’m fascinated that he was a psychologist and a scientist who truly believed in God—I am rather more interested in him as a mystic than a psychologist. And I think as an artist and a storyteller, I should know more about the collective unconscious and archetypes—or maybe just figure out what it is that I already know. But I’m at the beginning of this project, so right now I just have questions.
And I also am reading, or at this point re-reading, Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard, and Love and Summer by William Trevor. I tend to read a book very quickly the first time, and then, if it moves me, I slow down and read it a few more times. And I want to recommend American Music by Jane Mendelsohn, which came out last year. It didn’t get a lot of attention and I have no idea why, because it is beautiful.

Holly LeCraw's The Swimming Pool was recently named
one of Kirkus' Top Debuts of 2010, and was named a "Best
Book of Summer" by The Daily Beast and Good Morning
America. LeCraw has published short fiction in various literary journals and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. A native of Atlanta, she now lives outside Boston with her husband, journalist Peter Howe, and their three children.
Thank you Holly!
I have two signed hardcover copies of The Swimming Pool left over from my travels, which I'd like to offer to two of you! Here are the rules:
  • Leave a comment on this post with your email address, and tell me what you're interested in about the book. No email address, no entry- no exceptions.
  • No strings- if you want to tweet or Facebook or link to this, I thank you, but it's one person, one comment, one entry.
  • This giveaway is open worldwide.
  • The giveaway is open from now until midnight, January 31, 2011.
  • I will contact the winners via email soon after the 1st of February. Please reply with your mailing address within 48 hours or I will select another winner. I'll send the books out media mail.
Thanks and good luck!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

REVIEW: The Swimming Pool, by Holly LeCraw

The Swimming Pool, by Holly LeCraw. Published 2010 by Random House.

The Swimming Pool is just a really great read. Somewhere between a soap opera à la Melrose Place and an examination of modern family dysfunction, it's the story of Marcella Atkinson, a ravishing Italian beauty still desirable in her middle age and a murder shrouded in mystery. As a young woman she'd had an affair with Cecil McClatchey, a wealthy Southerner who vacationed in her Cape Cod town along with his family. One night Cecil's wife Betsy is killed, the killer never found. Now, years later, Betsy's murder haunts her fractured family; Marcella, divorced and mother to a beautiful, blossoming daughter of her own, embarks on a steamy affair with Cecil's son Jed, while her daughter takes a summer babysitting job for Jed's sister Callie, a troubled new mother.

But who murdered Betsy? It wasn't who I expected it to be, but I've heard so many readers say that already that I had a completely open mind when I read it. I know who I wanted it to be though! And what will happen when all of these volatile characters, with their secrets and their hidden agendas, collide like chemicals in a test tube? What will the fallout be? Who will precipitate it? Or will there even be an explosion? Will it just fizzle out like a broken firecracker?

You'll have to read to find out. The Swimming Pool will keep you gulping LeCraw's finely crafted prose like water. I had a great time reading this book. I finished it in about two days of voracious and obsessive page-turning. To me this book was a great, fun beach read- a well-written thriller/domestic drama with characters I believed in just enough, and whose sometimes outlandish behavior I was happy to forgive if only it meant I could spend more time in their messy, chaotic world. It's a tough book to classify exactly; it's not a trashy beach book by any stretch but there is something of the soap opera about their passions and scheming. It's going to appeal to lots of readers; it's a literary read that manages to be fun and light at the same time. Like I said, The Swimming Pool is a good time between the covers.

Come back tomorrow for my interview with author Holly LeCraw and a giveaway for you.

Rating: BUY

The Swimming Pool
by Holly LeCraw
I'm a Powell's partner and receive a small commission on sales.

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Graphic Novel Monday: REVIEW: Drinking at the Movies, by Julia Wertz

Drinking at the Movies, by Julia Wertz. Published 2010 by Three Rivers Press. Graphica. Nonfiction. Memoir.

Drinking at the Movies, veteran comic Julia Wertz's first full-length graphic novel tells the story of her move to New York City from San Francisco from 2007-2008. Previously she's released two volumes of her Fart Party serial comic and edited the anthology I Saw You....  I'm a big fan of Wertz's raw and often raunchy style, her expressive drawings and her slice-of-life subject matter, and her latest book did not disappoint.

If you've read any of her previous book you'll find yourself on familiar ground but this is the first time that she's stretched her comic legs into a longer story and although she does split the story into anecdotal shorter comics, the parts work well together as a whole. She uses the series of apartments she lives in to frame the story. The main thrust of the story is about growing up, taking responsibility and building her life in a new city- kind of typical 20-something stuff that many of us have been through.

All of this makes Drinking at the Movies a very satisfying read and a more mature volume than her previous books. This is a good thing- right? Of course. I mean, I loved the crass Julia of old but this new Julia is just as appealing. This book doesn't have as much swearing, violence, sex or blasphemy as her Fart Party books so readers expecting a longer Fart Party may be disappointed. But I don't think many people will be; it's still laugh-out-loud funny and just as true to life. I love how open she is about her personal life. She talks about her brother's struggle with addiction and shows us her own; her alcohol-soaked anecdotes are amusing but hint equally at a dark side to her life. She touches on relations with family and friends and the difficulty she has forming romantic relationships and getting a foothold on professional success, and she gives us a nice happy ending to it all. And she does it in her trademark visual style, which has grown up, too. All in all a winner.

Here's an interview I did with Wertz following the release of her last book.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I received this book from the author for review.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Sunday Salon- End of an Era

My husband and I had to put our beloved cat, Sasha, to sleep yesterday morning. He'd been sick since before Christmas, with what turned out to be some kind of sepsis. He had diabetes, liver problems and cancer and had been doing well on medication but this infection was too much for him and in the past couple of weeks he'd stopped eating almost entirely and lost more than 2 pounds. We took him in for blood tests yesterday, got the bad news and decided to let him go. He had a good life and he went peacefully. He was my little friend for 10 years and three homes, and he will be missed.

I don't know what today holds as far as reading or anything else. I'm reading Hotel du Lac, the Booker Prize-winner by Anita Brookner, and just heard yesterday that another Booker winner, Michael Ondaatje of The English Patient, has a new book due this summer. You can bet I'll get a hold of that one as soon as possible. I just got a first edition of The English Patient for my Booker collection; it's one of my all-time favorite books. I also want to read one of my graphic novels today, maybe Julia Wertz's new one, Drinking at the Movies.

My thoughts and prayers are with the victims and families of victims of yesterday's shooting in Arizona.

What are you up to today? More Sunday Salon here.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Friday Finds- New Year, New Finds

Finds mentioned:

Tourquai, by Tim Davys (HarperCollins, March)
The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine, by Alina Bronsky (Europa Editions, May)
The Art of Losing, by Rebecca Connell (Europa Editions)
Persuasion, by Jane Austen (Everyman's Library edition, Random House)

Other books mentioned:
Amberville, by Tim Davys (HarperCollins)
Lanceheim, by Tim Davys (HarperCollins)
Broken Glass Park, by Alina Bronsky (Europa Editions)

More Friday Finds at

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

REVIEW: The Colony, by Jillian Weise

The Colony, by Jillian Weise. Published 2010 by Soft Skull Press. Literary Fiction.

Jillian Weise's novel The Colony is about medical ethics, personal choices and society's expectations. A young woman named Anne Hatley, bright and attractive and smart, goes into a Long Island research facility- The Colony- to participate in DNA experiments that promise to restore her missing leg. She'll spend several months living there, interacting with the other patients and receiving treatments. This is a paid gig, and Anne thinks she's in it just for the money and the time off from work- she doesn't really want to change anything about her body, and she's skeptical that the painful and invasive treatments will even work. Then, over time, she's forced to confront herself, her relationships and her feelings about her changing condition.

To like The Colony you have to sympathize with Anne and although I found her difficult and irrational at times, I thought she was a very normal woman and easy to relate to. In this place devoted to physical and mental perfection, she finds herself under a great deal of pressure to think of herself as imperfect- this after a young lifetime spent living with a physical difference and learning to love herself and accept herself in the face of the kind of pity and condescension that those who are different often receive. Unfortunately, it seemed like this very interesting struggle got a little muddled in her romantic problems as she has to choose between her dull boyfriend and the charismatic Nick, a fellow patient with his own baggage.

Weise relies heavily on the real history of genetic experiments and eugenics in framing the narrative; Charles Darwin and Peter Singer appear as characters, and she includes documents and other material from the real Cold Spring Harbor facility in the book as well as a section of internet references documenting her research, lending her story convincing verisimilitude. The scientific stuff is interesting but the emotional component of the story is what interested me the most, and I wish Weise had developed this aspect more fully. The resentment, and pain, of being told that your difference is something wrong with you, that your hard-won self-acceptance is a sign of weakness, and that all you should want is to be someone else's idea of perfect are powerful emotional themes and although Weise does touch on them, I wish that she had pushed harder and gone deeper to explore them.

That said, I love that she wrote a novel exploring these issues, even if she didn't go far enough for me, and I think The Colony is a great starting-place for conversations about difference, about what it means to truly accept a person the way he or she is and about what we think about others tells us about ourselves. Pick it up if you're looking for something to challenge you and make you think.


FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

Monday, January 3, 2011

A New Year and a Blank Page

I have a not-so-secret habit; I collect blank journals. Well, I don't actually collect them, like I don't seek them out and try to acquire sets or certain ones; I just like them and buy them without necessarily any thought of how or if I'm going to fill them. Starting when I was a kid and up until my mid-twenties, I kept a journal and I was often on the lookout for just the right book to use; it had to have a sewn binding that would lay flat and it had to be pretty. It didn't necessarily have to fit in my purse but that was a plus.

I started out with silk-covered ruled journals I bought at a store stocking Chinese imports, then in middle school I had an ugly book with a picture of wood ducks on the cover. The cover was a sickly yellow colored waterproof plastic with a cheap paper illustration glued on. I wrote prolifically just to finish that book!  Sometimes I'd even write about how much I hated it. My favorite journal was a large book, probably 7x12 inches or so, with unlined ivory pages and covered in a beautiful, silky red floral fabric. That journal lasted throughout college and was an absolute pleasure to write in. The large size and the unruled paper meant I could really unfurl my thoughts across its pages without the limitations of a cramped size or straight lines.  I've never found anything like it.

I stopped keeping a written journal sometime in my mid-twenties but I still like my blank books. And I'll buy them, whether or not I plan to use them. Or, rather, I almost always plan to use them. I have one book I titled "Gardening," and in which I actually kept gardening notes- for about a month, until I realized I actually have no interest in gardening. There are several that I started for writing poetry, or for writing a novel, but I do my novel-writing on my computer and barely use the notebooks even for notes. A success story- I won a beautiful leather-bound blank book in a giveaway from Karen of Scobberlotch, just for the purpose of writing notes and ideas for a novel and I've actually used it just for that.

But most stories don't end so well. I keep a small Moleskine journal in my purse and I use that for shopping notes or ideas when I'm out but that's not even a quarter full and I've had it for over a year. It seems like there are stacks of blank books all over the house. One I use for notes for work- ideas, brainstorming and so forth- but the glue on the binding gave out about half way through and I actually picked up my old Gardening notebook to take its place. But most of them are just... blank. Or I've written in one or two pages. But I keep buying them anyway, because they're beautiful or they appeal to me or I just think, someday I'm going to do something wonderful with this book. Maybe this is the year!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Sunday Salon: And A Booker Prize Winner: December's Accomplishments, January's Goals

New Year's was another laid back occasion for the Boston Bibliophile family; we spent the evening at home with relatives, several of whom are visiting from out of state. It was very nice but I do miss going out to Boston for the First Night festivities. I've had a lot of fun times at concerts, film showings, performances, and just walking around the moonlight New Year's Eve looking at ice sculptures and taking in the scene. But then again, by the time New Year's Eve actually rolls around, oftentimes all I really want to do is have a nice dinner and curl up on the couch anyway.

Reading? I did somewhat poorly in my project to read 2010 releases in December; I enjoyed those I read but I didn't get to too many, mainly because it took me almost the entire month to read David Grossman's wonderful new book. In December I read:
  • The Swimming Pool, by Holly LeCraw,
  • Bad Marie, by Marcy Dermansky,
  • The Finkler Question, by Howard Jacobson,
  • From the Land of the Moon, by Milena Agus, and
  • To the End of the Land, by David Grossman.
I thought about continuing this project through January but have decided to just take January as a "free read" month and just pull some things off my shelf more or less at random. However, since Santa was very nice and brought me several Booker-Prize-winning novels, and since I have stacks of them sitting around, I'm also making a vow to read one Booker Prize winner per month, as the first book I read that month. So, to that end, I'm starting today with Anita Brookner's Hotel du Lac. Then I'm going to find something else. Since there will only be one new Booker Prize winner in 2011 I figure I can't fall too much farther behind.

I'm also working on a blog-improvement project: I'm creating two indices of books I've reviewed, one by author and one by title. The title index will be simple. The author index will take a little time, but I think both will represent a step forward.

How did you do with your December reading? Do you have any plans or reading resolutions for the New Year?

More Sunday Salon here.

UPDATE: The indices are done and are live on the blog! You can see them on the left hand sidebar near the top.