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20 Oct

Oy vey, people. OY. VEY.

What a week I’ve had. I wanted to write a real post for you, maybe a review or a well-thought out response to the National Book Award hubbub. But work and school and family have wrung my neck this week. And it’s only Thursday. So I’m going to just do a quick thing and let you get back to whatever it is you all do when you’re not hanging out with me here.

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I can’t NOT comment on the Lauren Myracle NBA fiasco though, because in my last post I mentioned that I was going to try to read that book BECAUSE it was nominated. I’m still going to read it, but I wanted to say something about it first. I know a few things:

  1. If you’re announcing a major award, it’s probably a good idea to confirm both title and author if you’re keeping your finalist list confirmations only to conference calls. I know that “Shine” and “Chime” sound a lot alike, but “Lauren Myracle” sounds nothing like “Franny Billingsley.”
  2. Lauren Myracle is the classiest person ever.
  3. The NBF probably could’ve handled the snafu better – like not wait several days to fix the mistake and then not ask Myracle to withdraw “to preserve the integrity of the award and the judges’ work.” Using that kind of language implies that Myracle’s book isn’t worthy of the prize, which is just plain untrue (and mean). Also, by making the mistake, waiting to fix the issue and then using that language in their request, they shot their own integrity in the foot. Don’t use that as your excuse.
  4. NBF’s saving grace? Donating $5,000 to the Matthew Shepard Foundation to raise awareness of issues raised in Shine. Props for that.
  5. Upshot? Shine has been getting the kind of publicity you can’t buy and I’m sure her book’s sales have skyrocketed. Talk about a silver lining.

So suffice it say, I’m not sure what side I come down on – if there is even a side to be taken. But I will say I think it’s a shame that none of the major media outlets gave a crap about the awards until they messed up. That’s a sad commentary, unto itself.

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I posted a few times over at BookRiot.com.

(Non)Spooky Reads: Books For the Wimp in Us All

Beyond Awards Fodder: Literature for YA Snobs

Go check me out.

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WHO ELSE IS DOING THE READ-A-THON ON SATURDAY?!?

I’m more than a little excited. Can you tell? I’ve decided, thanks to a brilliant suggestion by Jenn at Jenn’s Bookshelves, that I’ll be tracking my progress over the 24-hours on Tumblr instead of here on the blog. I know that many of you use a Reader, and read-a-thon spam is never fun when you wake up in the morning. I will have a sticky post here though.

Also, one more shout-out to Kerry for matching my donations this year. If anyone else would like to donate to First Book or Reach Out and Read’s Military Initiative, please drop me an email (there’s an envelope up there on the right you can click). You don’t have to match me page-for-page, but any little bit helps! Or I encourage you to donate to any good reading charity if you can’t participate in the read-a-thon. OR if you are reading, are you contributing? Doesn’t have to be by page, it can be by book, by chapter, by number of hours, anything.

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And finally, I do have a ton of school-related reading to do Saturday, along with a boatload of other work to catch up on, on Sunday. I should be making a to-do list and mapping out my time for the weekend since it’s going to be crunch time from Friday night through Monday morning. But what am I doing? I’m making a list of snacks to buy and looking up meals to make for read-a-thon. #ProductivityFail.

I’m going to try to be somewhat healthy this weekend, and I’m planning on getting hummus, veggies and pitas; apples (I’m loving Cortlands right now) and peanut butter; whole wheat pasta and vodka sauce with sausage for dinner; zucchini and squash; and popcorn. I’m also on the lookout for good hot apple cider. I will probably also get either pistachios or sunflower seeds because I find that if I keep my hands busy cracking shells in the wee hours of the morning, I don’t get quite so sleepy.

What’s on your snack list? Any go-to suggestions?

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If I don’t make it back here tomorrow, have a great weekend and stop by this weekend for read-a-thon.

Fists in the Air – Let’s RIOT!

7 Oct

If you haven’t seen it yet, let me introduce you:

I’ve been tweeting about it, Tumbling about it, Facebooking it, but I’m excited to announce that I’m one of the 12 founding contributors to Book Riot! Formatted kind of like HuffPost but with better writing and less pretentiousness, Book Riot will be the place to go for commentary on books, the publishing industry, and all the things you didn’t think you needed to know but absolutely do about all things literary. The diversity of contributors is awesome, and it’s like someone took my favorite bloggers and shook them up and put them all together (and then let me add my two cents as well). The brainchild of The Reading Ape, Riot is all about connecting books to readers, plain and simple.

I’m PSYCHED to be a part of it. Have no fear, A Home Between Pages won’t go anywhere, but I will most likely be posting less frequently here. But I’ll be linking to my Book Riot posts here on Mondays and Wednesdays, as well as posting original content here when I can. So far I’ve got a couple of posts up:

Beyond Sparkly Vampires: YA for Lit Snobs

Magic For Grown-Ups

And I got to flex my old recommendation muscles by taking on Amazon’s algorithm where I suggested a follow-up based on Game of Thrones, and the reader’s pick? Mine!

There are lots of great things to explore on the site, and I fully encourage you to make them a regular stop on your blog reading journey. Also find Book Riot on Facebook and on Twitter.

Banned Books Week 2011

26 Sep

Saturday marked the beginning of Banned Books Weeks, celebrating books banned or challenged. It still astounds me to learn about books being challenged on school reading lists and in libraries, but it happens with surprising frequency. Thankfully, books are rarely removed (or banned) any more, though in some places that’s not the case. Books are still taken from shelves, librarians are forced to get rid of books that contain “offensive” content. Though most of us are familiar with the challenges of classic literature, like Catcher in the Rye, new books are still challenged. Take a look at the list of the most frequently challenged books in 2010:

  1. And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
  2. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
  3. Brave New World , by Aldous Huxley
  4. Crank, by Ellen Hopkins
  5. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
  6. Lush, by Natasha Friend
  7. What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones
  8. Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, by Barbara Ehrenreich
  9. Revolutionary Voices: A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology, edited by Amy Sonnie
  10. Twilight , by Stephenie Meyer

And according to the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, at least 46 of the Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century have been the target of ban attempts. See the list of Banned Classics here.

You can participate this week in a variety of ways. Like Banned Books Week on Facebook, use the hashtag #bannedbooksweek on Twitter, follow on Flickr, and watch videos of people reading from their favorite banned book as part of the Virtual Read Out on YouTube. I’ll be posting my own video later this week.

So tell me, what are you reading this week?

Borders & The Future of Bookselling

20 Jul

I admit most people who were going to comment on the closing and liquidation of Borders have already done so since the news that the bookseller is officially going under two days ago. But I’ve been mulling it over, reading through some articles and blog comments and trying to decide how I feel about the whole mess.

And my overwhelming feeling is sadness.

As a former bookseller – and one who worked for Borders’ largest competitor, Barnes & Noble – my reaction has been more personal than (I suspect) the Average Jane out there. Fellow booksellers can relate. It’s never a good thing when there are fewer shelves to peruse, fewer opportunities to discover a new book because you saw it on a bookstore table somewhere or because a bookseller suggested it. One well-meaning friend expressed to me that she was surprised that I was sad about the closing since I’d been pretty loyal to my  former employer and wasn’t really a regular Borders customer.

I don’t think its possible to express how off base that sentiment is. The word “competitor” is key here: without like-minded competition in the market, it doesn’t open up an opportunity for a monopoly by B&N; it only drives those book-buying customers who are losing their town’s only bookstore to Amazon in even larger numbers. Brick-and-mortar bookstores provide a service that is hard to come by, and the big chain bookstores provide that service to droves of people who would never set foot in an indie bookstore. We’re losing not only the opportunity to browse, but we’re also losing miles of shelf space dedicated to niche genres – romance, sci-fi and fantasy, manga, even most of the non-fiction categories you take for granted in a box bookstore – that indies don’t have the space nor the inclination to stock. Those genre purchaser are going to flock to online retailers, which only furthers the decline of hand-to-hand bookselling.

One lesson I’m taking from all of this is that I must make a more conscious effort to be aware of how my book purchases are made. I – and we all – should become responsible consumers, if we’re dedicated to books and to the place brick-and-mortar bookstores have in our culture and in our economy. As a blogger who receives many books for review, the book purchases I make from this point on are going to become much more strategic.

If you follow me on Twitter, you might have seen my tweets about how I planned to purchase George R. R. Martin’s new book A Dance with Dragons. There is a Barnes & Noble two blocks from my work in downtown DC, but I’m choosing to buy this hugely successful book through my local indie bookseller. I don’t buy many books from bookstores any more, but I KNOW Martin is going to sell a preposterous number of copies, and I can do my small part by buying from a bookstore that might not see as much of the love because it’s likely that many people pre-ordered the book online. I wanted my dollars to directly support a local business, and I will happily pay more for the same book to do so.

However, I’m staring down the barrel of graduate school in about a month and I plan to order and buy my textbooks from Barnes & Noble. I’m doing this because, with the Borders closing, I’m reminded that it’s not just the indies we’ve got a responsibility to – it’s all bookstores, whether they’re corporate giants or locally owned. There is  a place – a welcome place – for Barnes & Noble and other box bookstores like Borders in our book buying sensibilities. We have a responsibility to remember that as well.

If you don’t believe me, take the example of the Barnes & Noble that opened my sophomore year of college in the neighboring town near my campus. There had previously only been one, very tiny, poorly stocked indie bookseller in my college village – it was the ONLY bookstore for about 50 miles in any direction (not counting my college bookstore – and no one did). If you didn’t live in the village, you likely had no idea that this tiny indie existed, and therefore had no available brick-and-mortar bookstore without driving an hour away. When the Barnes & Noble opened, it became one of the busiest and most popular places to go in town. People made the effort to travel to shop there and it was never empty, no matter the time of day. For that community, that was their local bookstore. When they bought from this store, it put money into the local economy that was previously being spent exclusively online. Now, I can’t imagine what would happen, how that city and the surrounding towns would drastically change, if they were to lose their bookstore.

Think about how much money would be lost to Amazon based purely on the fact that this bookstore stocked all the required school reading for no fewer than five school districts. And then tell me that all box bookstores are killing bookselling.

There’s no denying that the practice of bookselling is changing, but as long as there are bookstores out there, there will be capable and intelligent book lovers who will be happy to suggest a book to you. If you haven’t visited your local bookstore, maybe this weekend take a trip and remind yourself how great it feels to walk down the aisles and discover something new.

I am a Powell’s affiliate, and I’m in the process of becoming an IndieBound affiliate. I encourage you to visit your local indie as well. Find it by clicking on the banner below:
indiebound

If you’d also like to shop online, I encourage you to use Powell’s:
Visit Scenic Powells.com
I’ll also be posting the giveaway winner for Erica Jong’s Sugar in My Bowl this evening at 8pm so be sure to enter by clicking on the title or here.

And if you don’t win, you can buy a copy by clicking on the cover below:

Reading Deliberately: Assuaging the Guilt

5 Jul

One of the big literary links floating around the bloggosphere today is The Millions’ release of their Most Anticipated: The Great Second-Half 2011 Book Preview list. And I’m feeling really guilty about it. I’ve read the list. In fact, now I’ve read it a couple times.

And with a few exceptions – Eugenides, Martin, Grossman, Perrotta, Harbach – I neither care (and likely never will) nor will read most of the books on that list. The ones I’m looking forward to are the ones by bigger names, by best-selling authors, or in a few cases, books that have already gotten some buzz like Chad Harbach’s upcoming The Art of Fielding.

I feel slightly like a fraud. Especially because I retweeted an article from Book Forum about how the process of best-seller lists for books is doing more harm than good to authors, readers and the book publishing industry. It’s an article I totally agree with, and I absolutely despise that our best-seller lists are primarily made up of books whose covers are filled with the name of the “author” instead of the title.* Nothing screams to me “bad writing” more than the font size of the author’s name on a cover. It’s about branding, not writing, and branding is about sales. I agree that we should be promoting smaller names (literally and figuratively), who deserve recognition for the quality of their writing.

And yet…

I am guilty of using sales as part of my gauge for whether a book is worthwhile of my time. It doesn’t mean I’ve ever picked up a James Patterson, but I’ve bought books because they’ve done well. I’ve played into the hype machine – my praise of last year’s The Passage was proof enough of that – and I can say I don’t plan on picking up most of the books on The Millions list with confidence because, in most cases, I’ve never heard of the author or read any of their previous books. In other cases where I do know the other or have heard of their previous work, like with the new novels by Alan Hollinghurst or Ha Jin, the books feel like too much, too cerebral, like too much work. And then I start to feel like a fraud. What kind of blogger, what kind of so-called literary book reviewer am I, if I don’t want to read Delillo or Bolaño, because they’re too hard?

I’m trying to read the classics as part of this year of reading deliberately. I’m attempting to go beyond my comfort zone, but what does it say about me that I’m not open to reading a few of those unknown authors on the chance I’ll actually like them? It’s not like The Millions isn’t a trusted resource. Their critiques are well-thought out, their scope broad. But I still struggle. There are so many books to read, I know, but why shouldn’t I make time for one or two I’ve never heard of before?

I read a lot. I read a lot of books that I’m pretty sure I’m going to like. When my constant refrain is “so many books, so little time,” doesn’t it make sense to choose books I’m pretty sure I will enjoy? How much obligation do I have – as a reader, as a book blogger, as a consumer – to discover and promote books that may not get as big of a voice as others because they come from small publishing houses or because they do not get as large a cut of the promotional pie in their big houses? And is the obligation to my readers, to authors who need the voice, or to myself ? Am I too comfortable in my reading choices? And is that okay?

I’ve got a lot of questions – mostly about what I should be reading – but after typing out this whole post, I realized that I already answered my some of my own questions: my only obligation is to myself. Before becoming a blogger, I never worried about whether I was branching out enough or reading lesser known authors simply because they were lesser known. Reading for me has always been a pursuit in pleasure. I read for many reasons: escapism, knowledge, etc. But never should I have to justify my solitary activity to anyone besides myself. There’s enough self-imposed guilt involved in how much or how little I’m blogging; why add to that guilt in terms of what I’m actually reading? That’s supposed to be the best part!

As bloggers, I think we often feel like we’ll never be able to read every book we want to. It’s frustrating to look at my shelves and my wishlists and to know I’ll likely never read some of the books I already own, let alone all the future books being released that I’ll want to read as well.  It’s a never-ending cycle, and the best I can do is to choose a few titles from the lists of forthcoming releases – even if I know the author already – and give them the best voice I’m capable of. Maybe I’ll only manage to review Chad Harbach’s book of the debut authors on The Millions list. But isn’t that better than nothing?

*”Author” is in quotes, because too often – as with the newest Tom Clancy – the biggest name on the cover didn’t actually write the book. A co-writer did, and their name appears teeny tiny in comparison. Branding, baby. “Tom Clancy” is the name that sells the book.

Banned Books Week

27 Sep

 

Saturday, Sept. 25th marked the beginning of Banned Books Week, which runs through this Friday, Oct. 2nd. A description, from the Banned Books Week website:

Banned Books Week is the only national celebration of the freedom to read. It was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. More than a thousand books have been challenged since 1982. The challenges have occurred in every state and in hundreds of communities. Click here to see a map of book bans and challenges in the US from 2007 to 2009. People challenge books that they say are too sexual or too violent. They object to profanity and slang, and they protest against offensive portrayals of racial or religious groups–or positive portrayals of homosexuals. Their targets range from books that explore contemporary issues and controversies to classic and beloved works of American literature.

Here at A Home Between The Pages, I’ll be celebrating banned books all week, discussing and reviewing commonly banned books, and generally promoting the importance of the First Amendment and free speech in literature. This is one of those topics that’s really close to my heart, so I’ll be dedicating the blog to it this week.

For today, here are some links to get you started. Am I missing any? Please feel free to add them in the comments. Or if you’re doing Banned Books events on your blog, please link away 🙂

As for me, I’ll be wearing my “I Read Banned Books” bracelet all week.

The Hype Machine

5 Aug

There are two books coming out this month that, despite the hype they’ve received, I have zero desire to read. One is a little more hype-y than the other, but still my level of excitement for either of these is negligable. The first is Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart and the second is Freedom by Johnathan Frazen.

I got an email from Amazon regarding their picks for the Best Books of August and both of these novels were on the list. I’ve always said that I don’t mind hype regarding books, I kind of thing its a good indicator of the quality of the book, but typically this is only true of reader-fueled hype. Gary Shteyngart’s book is a victim of over-hype on the part of his publisher (in my opinion), and I’m loving all the publicity out there, especially the book trailer (featuring James Franco!):

But! I don’t have any idea what the book is about! I feel like, maybe somewhere there have been reviews, but I just don’t have a clue what the book is about. Maybe about a guy who can’t read? If you’ve done a review on this, and can shed some light on this book, and if the hype is worth it, please let me know in the comments. Part of the other reason I don’t want to read this book is because it feels too out there — out of my comfort zone, I should say — for me. Is it post-modern? (If so, this kind of explains my distaste.) But I can’t really put my finger on why I can’t get excited about this one.

The other book — Freedom by Johnathan Frazen — is a little trickier for me. It hasn’t been getting the same kind of marketing dump that Shteyngart’s has, but the noise has been similiar. I blame the hype for Freedom on the fact that Frazen’s previous novel The Corrections was a huge success, by most people’s standards. People were reading this really long novel and falling all over themselves with praise. It won the 2001 National Book Award for Fiction, so the praise certainly wasn’t unwarrented. And his next novel has been nearly 10 years in the making, which means that it’s been one of the most hotly anticipated books of the year. These are all things that I understand. I don’t despute these facts, and I understand why people are excited for Freedom.

But.

I couldn’t finish The Corrections. It’s one of those DNFs that I’m not very proud of — and it makes me feel like I’m not smart or insightful enough to get it. Granted it was a pretty deep, dark book about the complexities of family and when it was released, I was graduating from high school. I like to think that I was a pretty mature 17-year-old in 2001, but like most 17-year-olds, I was pretty self-involved. That being said, in the nine years since its release, I haven’t tried again. It’s sitting on my parents’ bookshelf and I keep wanting to pick it up, but I didn’t even get past the first 20 pages the first time. That’s not exactly a good feeling to go in on.  

So maybe its understandable — or not — that I have no desire to read Freedom. Maybe I don’t want to be disappointed again. Or maybe I’m thinking I should try The Corrections again, now that I’m older and wiser, since it has a proven track record already. I don’t want to give up on Franzen after 20 pages, almost 10 years ago. But with so many great books being released in 2010, I need a reason to give it another shot. Do you have one for me?

Stacks and Stacks

7 Jul

Welcome to all my new followers! Poke around, see whatcha find, but be careful. Some of those bookcases are a little overloaded, and the stacks are likely to tip. If you get lost, send up a flare.  Also there’s some big happenings around here, check the end of the post for more details!

I’ve been intending to write this post for awhile, like oh, since I got back from BEA, but you know, it was just a lot of work, what with stacking the books just so, and taking the pictures and then, ugh, uploading them. Kidding, of course. I just fail at planning ahead. But never fear! Lovely stacks of books from BEA, most of which are not suffering from extreme glare issues.

There’s a quite a selection here, but there are a few on this list that I’m particularly excited for. I’ve talked about the Buzz books I’m psyched for like Room by Emma Donoghue and obviously my glee for The Passage cannot be denied. (Speaking of which, Powell’s is giving away a signed first edition of The Passage. You can enter here: http://wfi.re/1hoga). But there are a few others on this list that I’m also really excited for.

  1. Peep Show by Josha Braff (yes, the brother of Zach Braff). Published last month by possibly my favorite imprint, Algonquin, this one caught my eye since I adored his first novel, The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green. It follows a teenager in the 70s who must choose between helping his ailing father in the Times Square adult theater business (hence the title of the book) and his mother’s growing Hasidic faith. Sounds like a fantastic read, and a story that I’ve never seen before, for sure. Plus Algonquin rarely disappoints, so I’m looking forward to this one.
  2. The Wrong Blood by Manuel De Lope. I picked this up completely by accident in the Random House booth (Other Press, a RH imprint, is the publisher) and thought it sounded good just from the blurbs on the back cover. But then I started to see it popping up in lots of places, like Trish at Hey Lady featured it in her “Peeing My Pants” series, and then yesterday morning it showed up in The Pass’ Fall Preview Supplement. Seems I’m not the only one excited for this book.
  3. Sunset Park by Paul Auster. Sad to say, my experience with Auster’s work is extremely lacking. His The New York Trilogy is one of those that I can’t believe I haven’t picked up yet, and I bought Invisible for my dad last year, with the full intention of reading it myself. I hasn’t happened yet, but Auster’s new book is coming out in November and I fully intend to get to it before it goes into paperback ;). I’m mostly kidding, but I am excited for this book.
  4. Mr Toppit by Charles Elton. Another Other Press find that I didn’t intend to get, but which I’ve now heard great things about. Other Press’s Web site has this to say: “Spanning several decades, from the heyday of the postwar British film industry to today’s cutthroat world of show business in Los Angeles, Mr. Toppit is a riveting debut novel that captures an extraordinary family and their tragic brush with fame to wonderfully funny and painful effect.”  Originally released in 2009 in the UK, the reviews have praised the “pitch-black humor.”  The U.S. version will be released in November. 

There are so many fantastic books in these stacks though, it’s hard to know when I’m going to find the time to read them all! Ohh look more!! Anything in these that you like? (I am still in the process of updating my Goodreads to reflect the aquisition of these books, along with the books I got at ALA here in DC a few weekends ago.)

A couple other pieces of news that I mentioned at the beginning of this post: I’m quickly approaching both my one-year anniversary on this blog, and my 100th post. I think that calls for some giveaways, don’t you?? Keep an eye out later this week for the details.

Also, I don’t make it a habit to make shoutouts, but my girl Lilu is up for the job of a lifetime as MTV’s first TJ (that’s Twitter V-jay) and needs some votes to make it happen. Voting starts at 11am today, you can vote on Facebook here: http://facebook.com/zync. Go do it. She’s the bomb, and she likes books. So yay for that 🙂

Review: The Passage (at long last!)

30 Jun

I swear to you, I have not forgotten about reviewing Justin Cronin’s The Passage. Though at this point, it seems almost needless, since everyone any one and their mother has reviewed this book. But for the three of you out there who read my blog exclusively (hi Mom and Dad! ::waves::), I’m posting my review.

As I mentioned, I got an autographed galley of The Passage at BEA and was hesitant about it to say the least. When you hear words thrown around a book like “vampire,” “Stephen King,” “The Stand,” “buzz-worthy,” “horror,” “post-apocalyptical” and the like. Now, I’m not one of those people that totally shuns books for being popular if they sound good for a reason, like the Millenium trilogy by Stieg Larrson. Granted, it took me quite a while to read the Twilight series and I eventually read The DaVinci Code, but I’d heard from more than a few people that these were not well written, so I wasn’t exactly jumping on the bandwagon. But bandwagons are not necessarily bad things — if that many people like something, people who I would normally trust for book recommendations and are telling me to read it, I listen. The same thing happened with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and The Help and I loved both of those books. But nevertheless, I was still hesitant about The Passage because it didn’t sound like a genre I would enjoy. I’ve never read Stephen King’s The Stand, and I hate anything Anne Rice-y.

But as Kate said, the book is “without genre” — totally uncategorizable. And she was right.

The initial premise of the book is that, sometime in the near future, a down-on-her-luck mother who turns tricks in a motel bathroom while her daughter Amy stays locked in the bathroom, murders a college kid who picked her up and in her panicked flight away from the motel, abandons Amy at a convent somewhere in Iowa. Sister Lacey, an African nun who has her own secretive and dark past, takes her in and understands that there is something special about Amy. Simultaneously, the military and scientific researchers are hacking their way through a South American jungle, seeking the victims/survivors of a virus. This is where the term “vampire” crops up, but it’s clear that the head scientist dislikes this description, since it conjures fantastical images, and this is a very real disease that has the potential of creating a super-human-like situation, healing broken bones in hours, preventing all types of illness, allowing people to live for centuries. You can see why the military would be interested. We also run into a couple of federal agents who are collecting murderers from death rows all over the country, people who won’t be missed, and shipping them off to a secret government location somewhere in Colorado. They get orders however to find and collect Amy — the first child they’ve been asked to take, let alone someone who’s not in prison — and it leads to some problems.

That’s the gist of the first, oh…150 pages. But this books clocks in at 764 pages. So that paragraph I just gave you gives away almost nothing. It’s a good place to start, and yet doesn’t at all convey the suspense of those first pages either. I can tell you over and over again that, on paper, this is not my type of book. But I was hooked, from the first paragraph, the first page, the first chapter, I was totally and completely hooked. It’s mostly Amy’s story that kept me moving through the book, but by the time I got to the later chapters, I was just as invested in the other characters as well, and I was totally in a “what happens next” mindset. Except it was more like “WHAT! HAPPENS! NEXT!!!”

I’ve heard and read a few reviews that it dragged in parts or that there are too many characters to keep track of or that Amy’s story isn’t enough for them to keep reading once you move past the first section of the book. I guess I can sort of see where that might have happened, but for me it just didn’t. To give you sense of what my reading process was like, I started reading on the train back from BEA, late, late on Friday, and then woke up mid-morning on Saturday, picked the book up and did not put it down again until close to midnight that night. Then on Sunday, I woke up early, because I’d been dreaming about it, and read it again all day. I finished it that evening. Granted I do read pretty fast, but no faster I think than a lot of you book bloggers out there. But it took me just over two days. For a nearly-800 page book. Length clearly wasn’t that much of a factor for me.

I see the criticism out there, but really what I want to say to those people that would read this blog and have read things I’ve recommended in the past, just TRUST me. My poor autographed galley is destroyed because I read it, and then gave it to my mom who kept asking in those first 150 pages, “What’s going to happen?” I refused to tell her and now she’s completely and totally immersed, and totes the book everywhere. Chunks of pages are falling out of it and I know I’ll want to read it again, so I’m planning on buying a hardcover copy as well. This is a book I’m going to want to keep for a long time, especially considering that this is the first in a planned trilogy.

Have you read The Passage? Do you plan to? What more can I tell you to convince you that the hype is for real reason?

FTC disclaimer: I got this galley from the publisher, but I’m going to buy it anyway!

NYC/BEA/BBC Wrap-Up, Part 3

15 Jun

I woke up early on Tuesday to help my mom get to the train station and to drop my suitcase off with my cousin. Turns out, putting 20 books in a piece of luggage makes it REALLY heavy. I helped my mom lug the bag into Penn Station, and departed for Javitts as soon as she was settled. She tried to move the bag and rightly decided to get Red Cap service. (I followed her lead on my trip home and got help bringing my bags down to the train too. They also let you get seated early, which is great, to avoid the rush of people when you’ve got heavy suitcases to maneuver).

I showed up at Javitts expecting my quietest and most educational day of the conference and I was right. I attended the opening plenary session, “A CEO Panel on The Value of The Book,” which was incredibly interesting, though it turned a bit into a bitch fest about the future of the publishing industry in the eBook shadow. The panel included: Bob Miller, Group Publisher, Workman; Esther Newberg, Executive Vice President, International Creative Management; Skip Prichard, Chief Executive Officer, Ingram; David Shanks, Chief Executive Officer, Penguin Group; Oren Teicher, Chief Executive Officer, American Booksellers Association (ABA); and Scott Turow, Author and Incoming President, Authors Guild. The overall mood of the session was simultaneously optimistic and troubled. There was the ever-present question of books as commodity and how the publishers, authors and agents can adapt to a changing landscape. Teicher of ABA made a great point that booksellers (and I would add bloggers to this statement as well) are simply curators of books; it doesn’t matter to them what format they come in, so long as bookstores can figure out how to adapt equally to the eBook revolution. And while most of the panelists agreed that eBooks are a revolution, one of the panelists — I can’t remember who but it was one of the publishing CEOs — made a point that, right now, eBooks only account for 10% of the publishing landscape. Sure, that number is growing, but it’s still only 10% and, as of this moment, eBooks are not more profitable nor easier to produce than paper books. In fact, they’re more expensive and more labor intensive to produce. But they are the future of publishing, at least in part, and the publishers are trying to adapt the old ways.

One idea that I really loved and thought was worthy of adoption by US publishers came from Turow, who mentioned that he’d just met with his Italian publisher and they had the idea of bundling multiple formats of a book together. So that when you buy a hardcover, you also receive a code to download the eBook for free. That felt like a lightbulb moment for me, because wanting multiple formats of a book is something I really struggle with. For example, my mom bought Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War by Karl Marlantes on her nook, which means that I can borrow it from her via the LendMe feature, but it’s a book I think I’d like to own in hardcover as well. I’ll probably read the eBook version, but why should I have to choose? Packaging those formats together seems like a logical way to encourage purchases of both book formats, eBook and paper (either hardcover or trade paperback).

After the plenary session, I hustled my way up to Random House to meet Kate, one of my sorority sisters, for lunch and a tour of the RH offices. She’s the Executive Assistant to the President and Publisher of Random House, so clearly has a very important job. Keep in mind I was also there on release day for The Girl That Kicked the Hornet’s Nest which is published domestically by RH. While the building was not as nuts as I was expecting (maybe because Larssen isn’t exactly doing press tours or visiting the publishing house — too soon?), the lobby was adorned with posters of the cover. I got to meet the Publisher, Gina Centrello, who was very sweet but also, I’m sure insanely busy. We took a tour of the building, after Kate oh-so-casually gestured to her very full bookcases and shelves and said to take whatever I wanted. Funnily enough, most of what she had, I already owned! I’m a good book buying consumer after all. Then we went around the corner and had some of the most incredible Thai food I’ve ever had in probably the smallest restaurant I’ve ever been in. Among other things, we discussed the industry, BEA and my decision to go to graduate school. Overall a great visit, and it was great to catch up with her.

I jumped back on the Subway to get back to Javitts in time for the 7 x 20 x 21 panel, which is in its 2nd year at BEA, but the format goes like this: 7 presenters get 20 PowerPoint slides, each displayed for 21 seconds. Each of the presenters were unique and interesting (you can find a great article about the panel on the Publisher’s Weekly site here), and I took something great from each of them. One thing that I found most intriguing — and blame this on both my Classics Challenge that’s floundering a bit and on the fact that my certificate is in the education field — is the idea of “teaching literature backwards” presented by Ed Nawotka, editor-in-chief of PublishingPerspectives.com. So that instead of starting with King Lear, for example, you start with something contemporary, like this summer’s break out The Passage, and work your way backward to Stephen King’s The Stand and eventually get to King Lear. In this way, students see the direct influence of classic, seemingly irrelevant, literature on current, popular fiction. Essentially, give them something they want to read and inspire them to want to find out what inspired it. Fantastic concept, don’t you think? One other thing to note from the panel was the presentation by author Justin Taylor and agent Eva Talmadge who are co-editing the new book The Word Made Flesh, about the rise in popularity of literary tattoos. Their PowerPoint slides were, of course, photos of literary tattoos. (The photo above is not from the book or the presentation, but from Contrariwise, a website dedicated to literary tattoos).

After that, I hit the much-anticipated BEA Adult Editor’s Buzz panel. And was completely blown away. Of the six books that were presented, I genuinely now want to read all of them.

Room by Emma Donoghue — Synopsis (from Powell’s):

To five-year-old Jack, Room is the entire world. It is where he was born and grew up; it’s where he lives with his Ma as they learn and read and eat and sleep and play. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits.

Room is home to Jack, but to Ma, it is the prison where Old Nick has held her captive for seven years. Through determination, ingenuity, and fierce motherly love, Ma has created a life for Jack. But she knows it’s not enough…not for her or for him. She devises a bold escape plan, one that relies on her young son’s bravery and a lot of luck. What she does not realize is just how unprepared she is for the plan to actually work.

Told entirely in the language of the energetic, pragmatic five-year-old Jack, ROOM is a celebration of resilience and the limitless bond between parent and child, a brilliantly executed novel about what it means to journey from one world to another.

West of Here by Jonathan Evison — Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Set in the mythical town of Port Bonita, on Washington’s rugged Pacific coast–with part of the narrative focused on the town’s founders circa 1890, and another part set in 2006 revolving around the lives of their descendants–West of Here is part romance, part adventure, and a total reminiscence on the American experience as we’ve lived it via books and film and TV. In essence, it’s about the footprints of time, about the human spirit, both individual and collective, and about the echo of human life, how something that happens in one generation keeps reverberating through all the years that follow.

Juliet by Anne Fortier — Synopsis (from Powell’s):

Twenty-five-year-old Julie Jacobs is heartbroken over the death of her beloved aunt Rose. But the shock goes even deeper when she learns that the woman who has been like a mother to her has left her entire estate to Julie’s twin sister. The only thing Julie receives is a key–one carried by her mother on the day she herself died–to a safety-deposit box in Siena, Italy. This key sends Julie on a journey that will change her life forever–a journey into the troubled past of her ancestor Giulietta Tolomei. In 1340, still reeling from the slaughter of her parents, Giulietta was smuggled into Siena, where she met a young man named Romeo. Their ill-fated love turned medieval Siena upside-down and went on to inspire generations of poets and artists, the story reaching its pinnacle in Shakespeare’s famous tragedy.

But six centuries have a way of catching up to the present, and Julie gradually begins to discover that here, in this ancient city, the past and present are hard to tell apart. The deeper she delves into the history of Romeo and Giulietta, and the closer she gets to the treasure they allegedly left behind, the greater the danger surrounding her–superstitions, ancient hostilities, and personal vendettas. As Julie crosses paths with the descendants of the families involved in the unforgettable blood feud, she begins to fear that the notorious curse–A plague on both your houses –is still at work, and that she is destined to be its next target. Only someone like Romeo, it seems, could save her from this dreaded fate, but his story ended long ago. Or did it?

Bad Science by Ben Goldacre — Synopsis (from Amazon):

Have you ever wondered how one day the media can assert that alcohol is bad for us and the next unashamedly run a story touting the benefits of daily alcohol consumption? Or how a drug that is pulled off the market for causing heart attacks ever got approved in the first place? How can average readers, who aren’t medical doctors or Ph.D.s in biochemistry, tell what they should be paying attention to and what’s, well, just more bullshit?

Ben Goldacre has made a point of exposing quack doctors and nutritionists, bogus credentialing programs, and biased scientific studies. But he has also taken the media to task for its willingness to throw facts and proof out the window in its quest to sell more copies. Now Goldacre is taking on America and its bad science in this revised version of his runaway U.K. bestseller. But he’s not here just to tell you what’s wrong. Goldacre is here to teach you how to evaluate placebo effects, double-blind studies, and sample size, so that you can recognize bad science when you see it. You’re about to feel a whole lot better.

The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore by Benjamin Hale — Synopsis (from Amazon):

Bruno Littlemore is quite unlike any chimpanzee in the world. Precocious, self-conscious and preternaturally gifted, young Bruno, born and raised in a habitat at the local zoo, falls under the care of a university primatologist named Lydia Littlemore. Learning of Bruno’s ability to speak, Lydia takes Bruno into her home to oversee his education and nurture his passion for painting. But for all of his gifts, the chimpanzee has a rough time caging his more primal urges. His untimely outbursts ultimately cost Lydia her job, and send the unlikely pair on the road in what proves to be one of the most unforgettable journeys — and most affecting love stories — in recent literature. Like its protagonist, this novel is big, loud, abrasive, witty, perverse, earnest and amazingly accomplished. The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore goes beyond satire by showing us not what it means, but what it feels like be human — to love and lose, learn, aspire, grasp, and, in the end, to fail.

The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee — Synopsis (from Amazon):

The Emperor of All Maladies is a magnificently written “biography” of cancer–from its origins to the epic battle to cure, control, and conquer it.

I’m particularly excited by Room, West of Here and The Emperor of All Maladies. After the panel, there were a limited number of galleys available right outside the door, and the mad rush to snag copies was absolutely unreal. I managed to get Bruno Littlemore and Juliet, and over the course of BEA, I picked up Room and West of Here, both signed. And the first thing I did when I got home? Contact Scribner for a review copy of The Emperor of All Maladies. Chuck Adams, the Algonquin editor who presented West of Here, said about the book, that in his 40 years in the business, it was the best book he’s read. And he was the editor for heavy hitters like Water for Elephants. High praise indeed. Similar praise came from Cary Goldstein, the editor for Bruno Littlemore, who said that he’d waited for a year and a half for something to cross his desk that he felt was worthwhile to acquire, seeing as he only acquires one book a year for Hachette’s imprint Twelve (for the number of books they publish in a year — one a month). He also said about the infamous love scene between chimp and human, “It’s not bestiality, it’s love.”

Outside the Buzz panel and after fighting for copies of each of these awesome books, I ran into Kate, who was on her way to a Young to Publishing event, a group that she chairs for professionals new to publishing. I decided to skip the Opening Night Keynote with Barbra Streisand and headed down with Kate to The Frying Pan, which is basically a bar on a boat — yes, as cool and swaying as it sounds — where I met some very nice and smart people. On the walk to the event, I asked Kate about The Passage which is being published by Random House, and she refused to tell me what genre it falls in or even really what it’s about. In her words, it’s “genre-less.” Because, as she said, “I can tell you what it’s about and you won’t want to read it. Vampires and post-apocalyptic stuff. But its so much more than that. You have to read it. I’ll send you a copy.” Turns out she didn’t need to send me anything. I was able to get a galley signed by Justin Cronin the next day on the floor.

Coming up:

  • My last two days at BEA
  • BBC
  • And my review of The Passage (finally!)