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A Different Way of Doing Things: Book Blog UnCON

6 Apr

Perhaps you’ve heard of this small thing that’s brewing as an alternative to BEA Blogger Conference? The Book Blog UnCONFERENCE is the brain child of Jeff of The Reading Ape, and some prodding by a few other people, including Rebecca at The Book Lady’s Blog (and me, which mostly consisted of Twitter messages that just said, “YES!”).

I had the pleasure of attending the first two Book Blogger Conferences before they were bought by Reed Exhibitions, who runs Book Expo America. As a new blogger, the first year, I found the conference to be helpful and educational and I met some fellow bloggers that I never would’ve met or read otherwise. I didn’t know much about book blogging and having the opportunity to make connections with publishers, authors and fellow bloggers was a dream come true. I wasn’t taking review copies at that point, and I’d never thought that I’d have the audience to support such a leap. But here we are two years later, and I’m at a totally different place in my blogging.

I’m trying to actually make a career of this publishing thing – hence the Master’s in Publishing – and my scope of blogging is much broader. I feel privileged to have the connections in the industry that I do, but I also think I’ve got a long way to go.

At last year’s Book Blogger Con, I was less excited about the actual sessions, and more psyched about the connections I was making. One of my favorite moments from BBC: hanging out in the hallway with a bunch of fellow bloggers – some I knew and some I was just meeting for the first time – and discussing something totally unrelated to any formal session that was happening in the rooms around us. And those connections were far more impactful to me individually than some of the sessions BBC ran. Not because of the quality or topics of the sessions, but because I was at a different place with my blogging.

After some hullabaloo with registering for this year’s BBC, which included the powers that Be asking for blog stats, not publishing session topics or speakers and not making the BEA/BBC registration part clear, I was feeling very jaded by the whole shebang. I was not the only one. Jeff decided that we could totally host an alternative, one that is attendee driven, topic-focused, and organic. And the UnConference was born.

While it’s still in the planning phase, there’s a lot of excitement. The Center for Fiction has graciously offered up space for free, which means that registration for bloggers is free. A crucial part of making the UnCon successful is getting people to come, to suggest sessions, to just be their generally awesome selves.

Jeff noted this point on a follow-up post here that I want to reiterate. This is NOT a revolt or a protest, and its not directed at any one person or decision made by BEA/Reed. Its a matter of wanting to attend an event that’s by bloggers for bloggers, that takes our collective knowledge and puts it to work. We’re going to have plenty of time to interact with publishers and authors during BEA, but our needs and wants as bloggers are unique and we want an event just for us.

If this sounds like something you’re interested in attending, register HERE and follow the UnCon on Twitter for updates.

I’ll post next week with some conference session ideas I have, but please sign up and spread the word!

Looking back at 2011… and ahead to 2012

3 Jan

It’s a new year. It’s also a new day, a new week, and a new month.  (Did you get that memo?)

Which also supposedly means a wrap up post for 2011. I posted my Top Five at Book Riot in mid-December, and for the most part they haven’t changed much. The Art of Fielding maintained it’s spot even after I finished it – and I ended up buying it for my dad for Christmas. I set a few goals as part of Reading Deliberately at the beginning of 2011: read more Chunksters, Classics, TBR List, and Non-fiction and Blog more. Ugh. I already feel the shame creeping in of what I didn’t accomplish. Ah well, new year, new goals, right?

Let’s break it down a bit though.

I didn’t reach my goal of 60 books, but I did read 53, finishing the last one (What Alice Forgot), just before I had to jump in the shower to get ready for a New Year’s Eve party. I’m actually pretty happy about that because it’s still an average of more than one book a week. Of course, I’d like to read more this year, but I would be happy with meeting the same number. Grad school for the entire year this year will do a number on my pleasure reading, so this is the best I can reach for.

I also read 19,046 pages, which I’m also very happy about. The longest book I read in 2011 was actually the first book I read: Gone with the Wind. At over a thousand pages, it beat out anything else I read by far. Not as many chunksters as I’d hoped though – only a total of five books over 500 pages.  I also completely failed at reading more Classics this year too. And only six of my books were non-fiction. And that whole “blog more” thing – that didn’t so much happen.

But out with the old, in with the new!

I’m vowing this year – okay, maybe not vowing, because that’s awfully strong language – I’ll be trying this year to keep some of those same goals in mind. I’m still going to be Reading Deliberately, if for no other reason than the fact that my personal reading time is going to be precise and limited. In that vein, I’m also going to try to read more books that have been heavily recommended by friends or fellow book bloggers, like for example Mr. Peanut which Rebecca at The Book Lady’s Blog has been pushing forever.

Blogging more – I really want to do that. I really do, but I’m going to have to balance my commitments a little more strictly this year. That means at least one blog a week here, and at least one a week over at Book Riot. If I can do more, I will, but that’s what I’m shooting for, for now.

As part of my running 30 for 30 list, I’m going to work on Jane Austen, and Harry Potter, though I don’t know if I can take another crack at Anna Karenina until I get a different translation.

I’m also starting my “Take a photo every day for a year” task, which you can follow on Tumblr and on Flickr.

It’s going to be a great year. What are your reading goals? And resolutions?

One Week and Counting…

22 Dec

I can see you doing the math in your head. One week? Until what?? Christmas is in less than a week. New Year’s is more than a week away. That countdown is one week until I move. I’m not really moving that far away, just one floor up, from my room to my roommate’s Master bedroom, but I still have to pack all of my books. And while I’m about halfway down, I think I might have finally reached my breaking point.

This morning, I packed 14 boxes worth of books. And in the process of doing so, I realized how many I have that I really and truly will never, ever read. In the last several years – actually since the beginning of this blog – my reading tastes have changed, fairly dramatically. Not too many traditional chick lit novels for me anymore; my guilty pleasures are now purely YA. I just don’t have the patience for chick lit anymore, they’re no where close to being anything I can relate to anymore, but I own so very many of them, and most of them in hardcover.

But that’s just one category! I had a realization this morning that I really do not need to own so many books, that I likely will never re-read most of the ones I have read, and that space in an urban apartment is at a premium. There are only so many ways to squeeze one more bookshelf into a room. I think one of my projects as I unpack will be to not only sort my books and actually develop some kind of system where now there is none, but also to set aside two piles: one to donate to my local library book sale (which I’ve posted about before), and one to sale to my local used book store for store credit.

As we approach the end of the year, I’m listening more and more to those Christmas wishes I listed and thinking about what they really mean. It’s not the physical book that matters so much anymore; it’s the act of reading, the experience of enjoying it, and then the ability to share that in any way I can. And downsizing is a big part of that.

So as I’m packing up this week, I’m mentally keeping track of books I’m okay with moving onto another home, and pulling aside a handful of books I want to read before 2011 is done.

Somewhere in the middle of all this packing is Christmas, and then right after the move (I mean the day OF the move), I’m flying to Boston for New Year’s. Which means I’ve got a lot of reading time between now and midnight on Dec. 31st. Keep an eye out for my Best of 2011 sometime after Jan. 1st.

All I Want…Thankfully Reading & Christmas Wishes

16 Nov

Thanksgiving is in 8 days. EIGHT. DAYS. Where on Earth has this year gone? This Fall? It feels like I was just gearing up to start my Master’s and now my first semester is just about over. My mom is slightly incapacitated because of a bike accident and a dislocated thumb, so it’s quite possible that I will be responsible for Thanksgiving dinner this year. Which is fine and dandy except that I work until 9pm the night before. So I’m likely going to be very busy on Turkey Day itself, but I’d like to try to get as much reading in as possible, since one of my rare holidays off includes the post-Thanksgiving Friday.

Jenn at Jenn’s Bookshelves is hosting the third annual Thankfully Reading Weekend, which has the simple goal of reading as much as possible during the four-day weekend of Thanksgiving. That is a challenge I can get behind! Especially with all the books I’d like to finish before the end of the year, a weekend devoted to reading, food, football, and family is one I can absolutely support.

With this holiday approaching quickly though, I’ve started to think about my Christmas lists – both what I would like and what I want to give. You would think that, as a book lover, my wishlist would be full of new books and book-related accessories, maybe even a new eReader. But I find that my wishlist is going to be impossible to fulfill. Blame it on maturity, blame it on not having another inch of space to devote to any new things – let alone more books, I’m all about the intangibles this holiday season.

I wish not for new books, but for all the time in the world to read them. And review them.

I wish not for an iPad, but for the modesty to be happy with the gadgets I’ve already got and the patience to use them most efficiently.

I wish not for new PJs, but for a calm mind and peaceful thoughts to sleep better.

I wish not for a new party dress, but for an occasion to wear it proudly.

I wish not for bottles of good wine, but for schedules and lives that allow me to drink with my girlfriends.

I wish not for plane tickets, but for the excellent company on the other end.

I wish not for gift certificates to restaurants, but for the right guy to ask me on a date to one of them.

I wish not for a new book bag or school supplies, but for the ability to budget my time well.

I wish not for a massage at a spa, but for the ability to find stress relief in my everyday life.

I wish not for new running shoes or workout gear, but the motivation and energy to make exercise a priority.

I have a feeling Santa’s going to struggle stuffing my stocking this year…

What are you wishing for?

51 days and counting!

10 Nov

First off, yes, I suck. I haven’t posted here in a very long time. Between school, work and Book Riot responsibilities, I’ve been a neglectful blog owner. So my apologies. Some of you still visit me, so I hope you’ll forgive the absence.  In completely related news, I haven’t really read much since the read-a-thon, and I’m going through serious withdrawal. I did go on a cross country flight last weekend, but because I’ve been horribly sick with a death cold, I spent most of the flights sleeping or reading for school. ::Sigh:: is it a normal response to grad school to want to quit because you miss your books? That happens right?

I have been posting on Book Riot:

  • First a look at how chick lit is changing (or dying) in the recession age.
  • I also posted a reading pathway to one of my favorites, John Irving. Want to work up to A Prayer for Owen Meany? Follow this guide.
  • In honor of the beginning of Movember, I posted a list of the best literary ‘staches.
  • And today, one I’m particularly proud of, The Write Stuff, a look at presidential campaign books.

But back to the topic at hand!

There are just over 50 days left in the calendar year. I know, right? Where did 2011 go??

But it also means that the major book sites are starting to post their Best of 2011 lists. While I think it’s a bit premature, even though they’ve read all the pre-release galleys for anything coming out in the next 50 days, I’m gobbling up the lists, anyways. I likely won’t publish my own “best of” until Christmas time. Though knowing my schedule around the end of the year, it might even be after the New Year that I get around to it. I finish classes and school work for the semester in mid-December, but I’m already figuring out the best use of my reading time from now until 2012. I’ve got to read 15 books by the end of the year to make my goal of 60. I don’t anticipate that being a problem, but it’s going to be a race, that’s for sure.

I’m actually really tempted to draw my last 15 books (well, 14 – I’m almost done with Practical Jean by Trevor Cole) from Amazon’s Best of 2011 list. As much as I dislike buying from Amazon, the list isn’t off the mark at all and I could easily pull my last 14 reads from books I already own. How’s this list sound for a final push toward 2012? (And yes, I’m linking to Powell’s no Amazon. It is #IndieThursday after all.):

And then taking into account the books I don’t own but want to buy:

That’s 15 books. And about a million pages. Okay actually, according to Goodreads’ page counts, it’s 7,007 pages.  Someone send reinforcements. Or liquor.

Anna Karenina + Friday Wrap-Up

15 Oct

Holy moly, people! I’ve never been as busy as I was this week – and I posted here four times. Aren’t you impressed?? There’s been a boatload of stuff going on this week, clearly, and I don’t want you to miss a moment.

But first, I gotta talk about Anna Karenina – specifically the read-along I’m participating in over at Wallace’s blog, Unputdownables. And surprise, surprise, I’m already behind. We’re reading about 63 pages a week (~9 pages a day), which isn’t too terrible to manage, but this week I also wanted to read the introductory essay in my copy of the book to get myself in the right frame of mind and to also have a sense of what to expect. So I’m glad I read it – I got this whole theme of duality right off the bat, especially in the famous opening line, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” – but I’ll have to do some catch-up this weekend.

I’ll be check in with Wallace’s blog every Friday, and hopefully I’ll be posting at least a little something here on Fridays as well to go along with my reading, but no guarantees.

What’s also exciting about this read-along is that, by participating, I’m checking off one of my 30-for-30 goals! And as I look ahead to the next two years or so, I’m already making plans for a few of my other ventures. I’ve got sky-diving on the calendar, and I’m signing up for the New York City Triathlon on Nov. 1st (or at least signing up for the lottery in hopes of getting in). If I can’t get into NYC, I’m going to sign up for Nation’s Tri right here in DC which falls on my birthday next year. I may just do both ;).

And looking way ahead, I’m hoping to get into the Marine Corps Marathon in 2013, which technically will fall after my 30th birthday, but what a great way to celebrate, huh?

In terms of what’s been going on here, in case you missed it, I posted a review of The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon, announced my intention to read-a-thon for charity again this year, and then amended that announcement with my reading list, a second charity and matched donations. If you missed me over on BookRiot.com this week, I celebrated the library book sale and posted a plea to publishers: Don’t Be Like Netflix.

That was my week, how was yours??

Read-a-thon Reading List + Charity Update!

13 Oct

I posted a few days ago about how I’m planning on participating in the 24-hour Read-a-thon on Oct. 22nd, and ever since then, I’ve been narrowing down my book list to something approaching reasonable. And then the National Book Awards were announced yesterday, and it threw my list into upheaval.

You see, I’ve never been the type to try to read as many of the NBA finalists as I can before the awards in November. I try to keep my award fanaticism sequestered to Oscar season. But there were some great books on the finalists lists this year, and I couldn’t help but jump on my library’s catalog as soon as they were announced to reserve a few things.

I’m trying to be a little more strategic in my choices, mostly shorter books, a lot of YA and action-y books to keep my interest peaked. And as I said in my earlier post, I’ve got some school reading to do as well.

So here’s my tentative list for now:

I know what you’re thinking: Anna Karenina is not short, Rachel. I’ll be posting my plans for that book on Friday – it’s not out of left field I swear.

Now! On to much more exciting news!

I’m really pumped to announce two very exciting charity-related tidbits. First of all, I’ve decided that, in addition to First Book, I’m going to add a second charity that I’ll be turning the pages for: Read Out and Read’s Military Initiative. In case you’re not familiar, ROR provides books to children as part of their standard doctor visits. They’ve just announced that they’re expanding to 100 more military bases and as a military brat who loves to read (duh), I can’t NOT get involved with this great cause.

Also, to make that effort easier, Kerry at Entomology of a Bookworm graciously offered to match my donations, since she can’t participate in the read-a-thon herself! How amazing is that? Thanks, Kerry, for your generosity! That brings us up to 20 cents donated per page, and I’ll be splitting the donations equally between these two nonprofits.

One-Sitting Books: We the Animals by Justin Torres

22 Sep

Of all the buzzy books that I’ve read this year, Justin Torres’ debut We the Animals is the one that has most lived up to the hype. At only 128 pages, but filled with raw emotion and sparse language, the piece defies definition. Closer to a novella than anything else, the language and tone of the book is equally poetry as it is prose, a collection of moments as much as it is a story with a narrative arc. Torres has created, as it’s been described, “a gut punch to the soul.” Told from inside the world of three brothers in upstate New York, the children of a Puerto Rican father and a white mother, they are as tight and insulated as it gets. Their childhood, as narrated by the youngest of the three, is chaotic and confusing, but filled with love. Their father is abusive and their mother is depressive, but the boys survive together, each one a little wiser with age. The opening excerpt of the novella gives a good picture of the entire tone and sense of wonderment embedded in the sentences:

We all three sat at the kitchen table in our raincoats, and Joel smashed tomatoes with a small rubber mallet. We had seen it on TV: a man with an untamed mustache and a mallet slaughtering vegetables, and people in clear plastic ponchos soaking up the mess, having the time of their lives. We aimed to smile like that. We felt the pop and smack of tomato guts exploding; the guts dripped down the walls and landed on our cheeks and foreheads and congealed in our hair. When we ran out of to­matoes, we went into the bathroom and pulled out tubes of our mother’s lotions from under the sink. We took off our raincoats and positioned ourselves so that when the mallet slammed down and forced out the white cream, it would get everywhere, the creases of our shut-tight eyes and the folds of our ears.

Our mother came into the kitchen, pulling her robe shut and rubbing her eyes, saying, “Man oh man, what time is it?” We told her it was eight-fifteen, and she said fuck, still keeping her eyes closed, just rubbing them harder, and then she said fuck again, louder, and picked up the teakettle and slammed it down on the stove and screamed, “Why aren’t you in school?”

It was eight-fifteen at night, and besides, it was a Sunday, but no one told Ma that. She worked graveyard shifts at the brewery up the hill from our house, and sometimes she got confused. She would wake randomly, mixed up, mistaking one day for another, one hour for the next, order us to brush our teeth and get into PJs and lie in bed in the middle of the day; or when we came into the kitchen in the morning, half asleep, she’d be pulling a meat loaf out of the oven, saying, “What is wrong with you boys? I been calling and calling for dinner.”

The prose is lyrical and raw, but the thing I found most consuming was the way Torres handles revelation. I felt like I’d been dropped in the middle of this work and I had to use both hands to figure my way through it all. In a lot of books that would be a serious problem, but Torres’ writing has a way of being both elegant and concrete, relatable and still poetic. I have a hard time not saying too many good things about this book. It truly is a gut punch, but a word of warning: you’re not gonna get it for the first 98% of the book. You’ll be tempted to send me an email, and go, “Um Rach, what are you smoking? This is pretty good, but where can all this possibly be headed?” Keep going. The pay-off is coming, and it’s worth it, I promise. The not understanding and the lack of plot will come together. Pinky swear.

The only complaint I have – and it’s one that many others have made as well – is that I wanted more. Not in that, omg I don’t want it to end, wanting more. I mean that the story and the ending could’ve supported another 50-100 pages and still been a thoroughly enjoyable and equally gut-punching book.  Granted, by the end, I was ugly-crying because of how blown away I was, but I still wanted more. I read the last few pages several times, because I was hoping that if I flipped the pages enough, another chapter would magically appear.

Sadly that didn’t happen, but it pretty much guaranteed that I would be in line to read whatever Justin Torres publishes next. We the Animals is searing. And at fewer than 150 pages, it’s a book I’ll come back to again and again.

Review: Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman

8 Aug

Prepare yourselves: Matthew Norman’s debut novel, Domestic Violets, is that book that I’m going to be really annoying about for the rest of the year (and probably some of next, as well). And this is going to be less of a review than a fangirl gushing session. Okay, not entirely true. I’m going to try to review it, but I’ll tell you right now, it’s going to be all good.

In stores tomorrow, Harper Perennial is responsible for this funny, wry, and incredibly poignant look at modern family life and the frustrations we all feel about existing in a workforce that seems to be falling apart around us. In particular, Norman’s book takes place in DC during the height of the recession, and it looks shockingly familiar to me as someone who worked in DC during the height of the recession. It also looks brilliantly like the plausible fantasy of anyone who has hated their job (or not hated their job) and has decided to do something about it. I feel like I’m rambling, but Harper’s more eloquent and informative summary states:

Tom Violet always thought that by the time he turned thirty-five, he’d have everything going for him. Fame. Fortune. A beautiful wife. A satisfying career as a successful novelist. A happy dog to greet him at the end of the day.

The reality, though, is far different. He’s got a wife, but their problems are bigger than he can even imagine. And he’s written a novel, but the manuscript he’s slaved over for years is currently hidden in his desk drawer while his father, an actual famous writer, just won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. His career, such that it is, involves mind-numbing corporate buzzwords, his pretentious archnemesis Gregory, and a hopeless, completely inappropriate crush on his favorite coworker. Oh . . . and his dog, according to the vet, is suffering from acute anxiety.

Tom’s life is crushing his soul, but he’s decided to do something about it. (Really.) Domestic Violets is the brilliant and beguiling story of a man finally taking control of his own happiness—even if it means making a complete idiot of himself along the way.

Tom Violet is an Everyman; but he’s an Everyman unlike any I’ve ever read before. He’s that guy we all know (or wish we knew) – sarcastic, trouble-making, flirty, sensitive, insecure, authentic. He’s vulnerable, but his vulnerability is comforting and familiar because we’ve all seen that kind of vulnerability staring us in the mirror. It’s funny, but not pathetic. It might sound strange to say that I can relate to a man in his mid-thirties who’s struggling to stay afloat in his marriage and in his career – our vulnerabilities are quite different on paper. This is the genius of Matthew Norman.

Matthew Norman – I know – would deny my use of the term “genius” but I think it most definitely applies. I have actually had the pleasure of meeting Norman. Independent Virginia bookstore One More Page Books and Harper Perennial hosted several local bloggers to meet and talk to Matthew and his wife, and that event only served to confirm for me that Matthew Norman is exactly the kind of guy I want to have a bestselling novel, if for no other reason than he doesn’t take himself too seriously and he’s written a novel that absolutely deserves to be read by lots and lots of people. In the vein of Tom Perrotta and Jonathan Tropper (not my comparison, but apt and accurate nonetheless), Norman has created a character – and around him, a life, a family, a job, an ambition, a wife, a father, a host of insecurities, and physical and emotional hurdles – so complex and so relatable, I was rooting for him from page one.

Take this excerpt, from Bookreporter.com:

I creep down the stairs holding my nine-iron, which is the best weapon I can come up with. This seems like a better option than Anna’s hair dryer or, for that matter, it’s better than leaping from our bathroom window and fleeing off into the night by myself. I’ve got some clothes on now, a T-shirt and pajama pants, and Anna is at the top of the stairs in her sexy outfit with her cell phone.

“Who is it?” she whispers. Apparently she believes that I can see through walls and ceilings.

I’m nervous, but, more than that, I’m annoyed with the cosmic order of things because there isn’t an adult here to take care of this — a real adult, instead of an impostor like me. At this moment, I’m clearly fooling no one.

See what I mean? I often think, I need a real adult, because clearly, I am not one and rarely feel like I’m fooling anyone. (Go read the rest of the excerpt – it’s just as wry and astute as these three paragraphs).

I love this book. I laughed out loud many, many times in the process of reading this book, and I’ve been waiting to write and publish this review until the week of publication because I cannot state more clearly: GO BUY THIS BOOK. And I want you to do it right now. Here’s the most glowing review I can give this book: I was given a review copy by the publisher, but I am going to buy this book. I’m going to spend my money and buy this book, because I believe in it and in Matthew Norman. I also think it’s damn funny. And isn’t a good laugh reason enough to buy a book?

Review: Faith by Jennifer Haigh

28 Jul

During the early part of this century (that would be 2000’s), nothing rocked the country in a post-9/11  era like the priest sex-abuse scandal, especially in its epicenter of Boston. There was a sense that the trust inherent in the priesthood – of course you can leave your children alone with a priest! – shifted dramatically. And the expectation of innocence was shattered. Confidentiality was no longer a privilege and secrets became dangerous things in the Catholic church.

It’s hard to imagine a book with more secrets in its pages than Jennifer Haigh’s new novel, Faith: A Novel. Set during the scandal in Boston, Faith is narrated by Sheila, the half-sister of an accused priest and told as an epilogue to the unfolding of Father Arthur Breen’s tragic fall. Sheila knows only what she’s been told – by her and Arthur’s mother, by Arthur, by her other brother, and by the clergy secretary that worked for the priest (who is also the grandmother of the victim). She doesn’t live in Boston, though she grew up there, and her geographic distance creates an actual distance from the events of the book. As a reader, I also felt that distance which allowed for a bit more objectivity when judging Father Breen’s innocence or guilt. Sheila for her part believes that her brother is innocent. Until the moment that she almost doesn’t.

Let’s be clear: this isn’t Doubt. In John Patrick Shanley’s play (and in the subsequent Oscar-nominated movie), you just never know if the accused priest is guilty or not; you’re right along side the everyone else who suspects, but cannot prove, guilt. Haigh’s major conflict is not about abuse – though you do always feel a twinge in the process of reading it of not being sure; the central conflict is about trust. No one in the book doubts that Father Breen has been a dedicated member of the clergy and has served his community in the way that the very best priests can and should do. There’s a niggling feeling, like, maybe…no…no…well…maybe. Father Breen is an upstanding guy, but there a few things that make you wonder. Or at least make you understand how he could be accused of such a horrible thing.

Haigh handles each revelation of information – by both the narrator and by Father Breen – so carefully and precisely that you never see the bombs coming. It is such a skillful way of constructing a story. The suspense is inherent though you’re never sure whether Haigh is actually going to reveal whether Breen is guilty or not. But the beauty of the story and the way she writes it is that it almost doesn’t matter. I just kept turning pages – not to find out guilt or innocence – but to find out the fate of this man and his family. It is absolutely captivating, in a very real and human way.

One of the things that struck me about this book is the way it stays with you. I have said before about books as soon as I finished them, Oh this will be in my top five of the year. And then two weeks later, I’ve forgotten them. But this one, it’s haunting, and I’m still churning it over and over in my head. One thing that’s risen to the surface in all that tumbling is a reflection on the way that popular sentiment has a way of convicting people before they even get a chance to say a word. It’s heartbreaking that, throughout Sheila’s narration, we get everyone else’s opinion or verdict before we hear from Arthur. Even Sheila, who believes to her core that her brother is innocent, can’t bring herself to ask him out right. We’re so used to condemning the accused in the public eye before official judgement is given – and that is as much a lesson of this novel as anything else. I was reminded of this book once again when the Casey Anthony verdict was handed down. That is the mark of a successful novel, in my opinion. One that makes  you think about your place in the world, and how you treat everyone else in it. Beautiful, remarkable novel. I can say with certainty, this is going to be in my top books of 2011. Highly recommended.