Friday, February 29, 2008

So Brave, Young, and Handsome by Leif Enger

A friend who had read this before I did described the book as cinematic and I'd have to agree. While reading it, I could simultaneously see the whole story play out on a big, letterboxed screen so, if it were a film, So Brave is part buddy picture, part road movie and part Peckinpah Western, though one set in 1915, as the last vestiges of the iconic American West were dying for good.

I was a huge fan of Enger's debut novel Peace Like A River which catapulted him to some fame and acclaim. Naturally, there had to be some real pressure to write something on par with it but I think he has acquitted himself, admirably. Enger writes as beautifully as I remembered and the book is at turns exciting, funny, sad and redeeming.

So Brave is set in Minnesota in 1915 where Monte Becket, a novelist with one book and some fame and acclaim to his name (hmmm), lives with his wife and son. While struggling to write his next book, he sees a man come down the river on an unusual craft that he pilots standing up. The pilot, Glendon Hale, is a charming enigma. Slowly, Glendon reveals he is a former bank robber and outlaw, who has lived quietly for several years, building his signature boat and staying out of reach of the law's long arm. Despite being seemingly at peace, Hale is burdened by regret for walking out on his wife, Blue, more than 20 years before, when he was a very different person and what Glendon believes he must do is apologize to Blue, plain and simple, no expectations. A real friendship develops between Monte and Glendon and the novelist accompanies the ex-outlaw

Along the way, the pair are doggedly pursued by ex-Pinkerton Charlie Siringo (a real and fascinating historical figure in his own right), befriended by aspiring cowboy Hood Roberts, and reacquainted with sharpshooter Deep Breath Darla before reaching California, where Blue is believed to live.

I totally respect that Enger didn't rush out another novel to ride the success of Peace Like A River but I hope it won't be another six years before he regales us again with another magnificent story. The book won't be in stores until May so special order it or reserve it now so as not to forget.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

This offer only good until midnight Friday. Seriously.

Amazing book marketing here. From 12:01 am this morning until midnight on 2/29, Random House is offering the entire text of Charles Bock's Beautiful Children for download. If you have the paper, the ink and the time, you can even print out the whole thing.

A bold stroke from Random, the biggest of the big houses, in both trying to break Bock's much-hyped and well-reviewed debut novel and reach their audience in an alternate manner. Not only will this appeal to the younger, I-download-everything-to-my-Ipod crowd but by making it easy and available, it should reach the less technologically-dependent readers who will take the chance and download a book to their laptop or home PC, probably for the first time.

Check it out here:

Now let's see how many other publishers follow suit.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Cuttin' Up by Craig Marberry

If you know me at all, you know better than to get me started talking about my hair. I will bore you to death but will wax eloquent endlessly (at least I think so). For the past 20+ years, my hair has been cut by a variety of black barbers starting with Kevin Foston, my next door neighbor in the dorms and who, G-d bless him, would often give me my $3 haircut on credit because I needed time to come up with $3. The thing is, he got it right, and since white barbers were hit and miss, at best, I kept seeking black barbers to "bust my wig", as we said back then.

As Marberry says in Cuttin' Up, the barber shop is "the black man's country club", a place where black men can relax and talk and counsel and crack on each other and I know I didn't realize this when I would stroll in, looking for a cut.
I was a whiteboy going into a black shop and I wasn't always welcomed by the barbers or their regular customers. However, those times when I was made to feel at ease, when they'd say, "have a seat, bro, I'll get you in", I would stay with those barbers for years. I was grateful that I was allowed to be a small part of the community that is the black barber shop and those guys became my friends.

Marberry tries to bring this to life in short interviews with barbers and customers from all over the country along with photos of shops and memorabilia. Some are funny and others try to be kind of touching but it's uneven and there seems to be a lot of repetition of the same types of stories. You might read this and ask, "It's just a barber shop. What did he expect?" Well, I think there is a book out there about the charm and allure of the black shop, about the history and sense of place that exists there and if that was Marberry's goal, the book tries but falls short. However, I do hope someone will write that book.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Right in Steve Jobs kisser!

Great piece in today's Times in response to Apple's Steve Jobs sounding the death knell for reading a few weeks back.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

He's obviously one of us

This was the lede in today's Shelf Awareness:

"Ah, the smell of pure print."--Spoken after a deep breath by a 10-year-old boy as he came into the Harry W. Schwartz Bookshop in Mequon, Wis., on Monday. The moment "made me smile along with the customers and booksellers who saw and heard him," Pattie Cox of Schwartz wrote, adding that Monday was the boy's birthday, and his parents had brought him to the store for a treat.

I hope that kid had a great 10th birthday.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Goodbye, writer's strike. I'll miss you.

While everyone is rejoicing about the settlement of the writer's strike, I have to say I'm a little sad (like poor, doomed Dawson, at left) because I read a lot more during primetime than I would have otherwise.

I'm not one of those
high-minded, 'kill your television' types, who attributes the downfall of society to watching the tube but, like most of America, I do find myself watching too much stupid fucking television. (Getting a DVR has changed how we watch, but there is a new pressure: a feeling of getting too far behind in what we record and then feeling a perceived pressing need to watch so as to clear it out and not get even further behind. Ah, technology, you millstone around my neck.)

If anything, I'm reading more books simultaneously than I have in years--I just finished Leif Enger's new one (loved it! will blog soon!), I'm reading a birding book, Michael Wex's Nu?, a book on black barber shops, a collection of interviews w/ the Beatles and I'm anxious to start Dear American Airlines by Jonathan Miles, not to mention being only 3 weeks behind in my New Yorker's, which is a rarity.

In any event, now that we'll have our favorite programs back (in a few months, anyway), I hope I can maintain a better balance of good books and too muck stupid fucking television. As for the writers, good for you for getting what you deserve. Now get back to work. Heroes was just getting good.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Juicy and delicious

Okay kids, perhaps all you big city publishing types have known about this for months and have vetted the story and made interns call fact-checkers and found it to be just so much chin-music but here in the Flyover States, we're just getting this info and if half of it is true, it's quite the grand conspiracy.

Now I know Warren Hinckle is kind of legendary for being on the nutty side of the sundae bar (though I loved the Argonaut when it was in printed form in the early '90's). However, if there is truth to this and if he were the one to break the story that Judith Regan isn't the planetary scourge she was portrayed as during the
whole O.J. If I Did It (and I did, too) imbroglio, and is really only as evil as we thought she was before all this, well, it's so gooey-delish, so dripping with the hot fudge of Fox News human nastiness, I can't even stand it! You can't make this up and I hope no one did.

So has this story come and gone and I missed it somehow? If not, how is it this hasn't come to light before now?

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Cerealizing America: The Unsweetened Story of American Breakfast Cereal by Scott Bruce and Bill Crawford

About 10 years ago, I came across this book and just loved it. It went out of print before I thought to buy it so it made my list of books I always look for when I go into used bookstores. During the holidays, I spent a day wandering around Yellow Springs, Ohio, and sure enough, there it was on the top shelf of the cooking section in a small book store for just $12. Sold American! Hell. I'd've bought two copies if they had had them. The joy was in re-reading it and finding it better, funnier and more informative than I remembered.

The story of cereal as a staple of the breakfast table began as a by-product of the health movement during the early part of the 20th century in Battle Creek, Michigan (as featured in The Road to Wellville by T. Coraghessan Boyle) and was helmed by John W. Kellogg, a doctor who ran a sanitarium in Battle Creek. The uncomfortable and apparently ever-present spectre of constipation was on the minds of most Americans and was one of the driving forces in creating a cereal that was good for you. After many unsuccessful attempts to create a healthy but tasty breakfast food, the invention of the flake created an uproar. Today we regard the flake as déclassé and out of style--we have puffs and o's and loops and jacks and bits--but before all of these came the flake and it revolutionized brekky and created a giant industry. From there, you run into C W Post, General Mills and Kelloggs’ own brother, W. K. Kellogg, who really took the flake and ran with it, much to his uptight brothers’ chagrin.

Fast forward a few years and you’ll find that the cereal biz was perhaps the most influential industry to utilize advertising in radio and later in television. Cereal ads created some of the most memorable characters of our youths--Cap’n Crunch (conceived by Jay Ward, creator of Bullwinkle and Rocky), Tony the Tiger, Toucan Sam, Quisp, Quake, Lucky the Leprechaun, Sugar Bear and a zillion others--and we ate breakfast with them almost every day.

If you can find the book, buy it. Maybe read it over breakfast.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Winter Institute 08

It took me all damn week but I'm finally posting some info and photos from last weekend in Louisville. The American Booksellers Association started Winter Institute three years ago as a chance to add more educational services directly for booksellers. In attendance were 500 booksellers from all over the country, sales reps, publishing bigwigs, people who will soon open new stores, authors, both established and up-and-comers, the always amazing ABA staff and the assorted book dork like me. While this same crowd attends Book Expo America, the show is such a huge, sprawling production that the opportunity to put on meaningful classes is almost unachievable. This is an excellent alternative and I was really happy to have attended if only for a day and a half (the Institute ran from Thursday evening until Sunday morning).

The big houses were all flogging new titles and brought some name firepower like Augusten Burroughs and Mary Roach and authors they're trying to break like Garth Stein whose upcoming The Art of Racing in the Rain has Harper Collins heaving with high hopes.

A few other titles that were getting a lot of buzz:

--Hachette/Grand Central (or whatever their name is this week) is pushing Things I've Learned From Women Who've Dumped Me by Ben Karlin, the former executive producer of the Daily Show and the Colbert Report

--Dear American Airlines by Jonathan Miles from Houghton Mifflin

--The Resurrectionist and Mudbound from Algonquin. What they say goes so expect both of these to do well

and the one I've been eagerly awaiting and which I just started, So Brave, Young, and Handsome, Leif Enger's first new novel since the amazing Peace Like A River. Despite the fact that I gushed like a teenage fanboy when I met him, he still agreed to take a photo with me:

Leif Enger and Reed Next. What a nice guy despite his obvious discomfort! Sorry Leif but love the Slim-Jim tie!

Here are some more photos of the Friday evening author reception:

Book Sense maven Mark Nichols, who I hope greets me at the gates of Heaven and says "I was able to make some calls and get you in." That's just the kind of man he is and I hope I'm that lucky.

The lovely Lindsay McGuirk, the latest addition to the all-stars at Algonquin.

Speaking of Algonquin, here's Craig Popelars,
Algonquin VP of marketing, just ruining the picture! Wait'll Hellfire!

John Mutter, the big pen at Shelf Awareness, flanked by Hap Houlihan and Wyn Morris of the soon-to-be Morris Book Shop in Lexington, KY