Thursday, December 17, 2009

List of the Decade

With the exception of Don Quixote, I haven't heard of ANY of these so I'm intrigued by this potentially terrific list from the Guardian. Notable agents, editors and other book types offer their choices of what they consider the most overlooked books of the last ten years.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Me and the New York Times

The NYT picks their top ten titles for the year here:

Funny how we both do a sort of list-y review of Lethem's Chronic City but they loved it and I didn't.

Ah well. Great minds sort of think alike while imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right? Thanks NYT. I think this means we're going steady.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem

"How We Got Insipid", indeed.

422 pages, the better part of a month out of my life, lots of characters with silly names and sillier theories, minutiae heaped atop minutiae seemingly for the sake of more minutiae, escaped tigers, stranded astronauts, three-legged dogs, gray fogs, endless dope-smoking, holes in the ground and hiccups. All that work and this was what I got?

This one and that last rock 'n' roll novel of yours;
two strikes, Mr. Lethem, though I'm certainly pulling for you.

May I suggest
more Lionel Essrogs and fewer Chase Insteadmans or perhaps a return to gun-wielding kangaroos. I'll be waiting.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Just a couple of things to tell you about

First off, congrats to Leif Enger, whose wonderful So Brave, Young, and Handsome was awarded the High Plains Book Award this past weekend. (Oddly, as of this writing, they haven't updated their site with the winners.)

I loved this book and you can read my gushing post about it here:

Further kudos go out to a group of authors recognized by the National Book Foundation as notables in their 5 Under 35 selections,

Two of them have been read and reviewed here: Ceridwen Dovey's Blood Kin ( and Karen Russell's marvelous debut short story collection, St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves (

As I type this, I see Hilary Mantel has been awarded the Man-Booker Prize. I've no idea who she is but, obviously, I should acquaint myself with her work.

Also, The Huffington Post, which has always given a lot of space to books and authors has expanded and has a devoted books section now:

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Great Depression: A Diary by Benjamin Roth

The Great Depression: A Diary is just that, the diary of a Youngstown, Ohio lawyer, named Benjamin Roth, who began to keep track of life for a bit more than a decade after the Great Crash of 1929.
As the country tried to rebuild and reinvent itself after falling into the great financial mess, Roth recorded his thoughts and observations and tried diligently (and admirably) to learn how and why this happened.

As a diary, it's peppered with some interesting personal stories--friends and family who can't find work, the general unease of the times and how the conversations always turned to the economy. It also recalled home to me since I grew up just across the border in Western

However, since the diaries were likely never intended for publication by Roth, the entries get repetitive and downright tedious, especially the stock quotes of prominent local businesses. It left me cold and there were many points when I was going to put the book down. Then he'd write about how the country fears the coming surge of Socialism or how the government was helping industry, the banks and the citizens but the debt to the coming generations was going to be staggering.

The exact same things we are hearing and fearing now.

For that it was well-worth seeing the book through.

What we are seeing now, as new and troubling as it is,
it's all been done before. Better still, it's been overcome and long before the Internet , the 24 news cycle and globalization. The "mortgaging our children" claptrap, the 'righteous' anger, the belief that government can't possibly be counted on to fix this situation, the whole schmeer.

If anything, the book made me feel like we'll be okay and we will find our financial footing. The trouble lies in the likelihood that it will take far longer than we are prepared to endure since we are a nation beholden to
the Internet, the 24 news cycle and globalization. In the 1980's, the Dead Kennedys railed "Give me convenience or give me death!" not as their battle cry but to criticize who we had become. That could be our true stumbling block to economic recovery--that it won't happen as quickly as we think we are owed.

The book publishes in October

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

I'm Dying Up Here: Heartbreak and High Times in Stand-up Comedy's Golden Era by William Knoedelseder

The late 70's stand-up comedy boom changed American comedy almost entirely.
This comedy was different--it was hard to define but it was easy to see what it wasn't. It wasn't corny old schtick like Henny Youngman or Borscht Belt reruns a la Buddy Hackett. It wasn't what was filling the big rooms in Vegas like Don Rickles nor was it the counterculture comedy of Carlin, Cheech nor Chong. It was a strange animal and the rules were being re-written with each set. Robin Williams, Richard Pryor, Freddie Prinze, David Letterman, Andy Kaufman--as comedic styles go, they had little in common but they were all nurtured in the same scene, if not born in it.

The story starts off following Richard Lewis and his best friend, Steve Lubetkin, as they meet, learn the ropes and hope like hell they'll make it. Stand-up is starting to flourish at a few small clubs in New York where guys like Lewis, Boston's Jay Leno, and others up-and-comers are making lower-case names for themselves.

Then the whole comedy scene moves West to LA, mostly to Sammy Shore's Comedy Store, which really hit its stride when Shore's wife, Mitzi, takes over. She transformed the joint from a passable stage to the launching pad of the biggest acts in the business. What's crazy was that, somehow, she got all these comics to perform for free while she charged a cover. There's no doubt Mitzi really believed in these comics but she also took tremendous advantage of them, having them paint the club or pick up her dry cleaning.
Mitzi Shore comes off as totally self-absorbed and exploitive but she knew funny.

In 1979, Shore had opened her third or fourth Comedy Store in the LA area and was raking in enough dough to live the Cadillacs and cocaine lifestyle of the time. Meanwhile,
many of the young guys couldn't afford breakfast after performing; others were living in their cars while they worked toward stardom so some of the more established comics (Leno, Tom Dreesen, Elayne Boosler, among them) decided it was time to even things out. They approached Mitzi with an idea to pay a small "stipend"; gas money, mostly, but Mitzi wouldn't budge. She was convinced The Comedy Store was a workshop, a college, and when they really learned their craft, naturally, they'd be famous comedians.

As absurd as it sounds, the comedians went on strike and it forever changed relationships among the comics. Feelings were hurt, deep friendships were ruined, and as the strike dragged on, Mitzi showed herself to be completely out of touch with reality. When the comedians offered her a way to settle the strike, her response was "Not. One. Fucking. Red. Cent."

There are some terrific stories within the larger story. I was struck by the real sense of fraternity among the comics; they'd fix each others set, give each other material and really look out for one another. Interesting as well is that an entire generation has no idea how close Letterman and Leno were before the legendary showdown over Johnny's job. Now they're Jay and Dave (in fact, Jay's new show begins airing this week).

The only drawback to the book is the author overreaching. I almost tossed the book when, on page 14, the author described Richard Lewis' love of Greenwich Village clubs this way: "...where Warholian hipness permeated the walls and the smell of grass and the sound of Dylan still wafted in the air." Permeatin' the walls, is it?
Wafting, eh? Uh-huh. If you can get past sentences like that it's a quick, engrossing and very enjoyable book.

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Ten-Cent Plague: The great comic book scare and how it changed America by David Hajdu

Seems to me this country loves to watch judicial proceedings on TV--OJ, Bork, Anita Hill. People who will do their damnedest to duck jury duty will call in sick to work if the "trial of the century" is playing in their living rooms. In the 50's, there were hearings on the new medium, TV, that uncovered the Mob and others that allowed McCarthy to spread his hate and bile. Less well-known, were hearings that "exposed" comic books as the main cause of a highly feared condition known as juvenile delinquency. As David Hajdu ably recounts in The Ten-Cent Plague, you'd have thought it was the end of the freakin' world.

If there is a hero in the story, it's Bill Gaines, whose father,
M. C. Gaines, is thought to have been among the first to bind up reprints of Sunday comic strips into a comic "book". Bill went into the "family business", published countless comic titles and was quite successful. However, the horror and crime genre caught the attention of do-gooders and created a firestorm of trouble, leading to these nationally televised hearings, the enactment of ludicrous laws (merely selling comics became a punishable offense in some cities and towns) and, in the worst cases, led to public comic book burnings which fed the puritanical paranoia of the time. (Book burnings!)

I had no idea the lengths members of Congress and lesser elected officials, psychologists, (especially the shameful Dr. Frederick Wertham), and other high-minded moralists went to in order to vilify a harmless medium in the name of protecting our children (sound familiar rock 'n' roll, rap or metal music? computer games ?, etc.). As Gaines said, wisely, in an open letter to his young readers in one of his comics, "It isn't that they don't like comics for THEM! They don't like them for YOU!" Call me a pinko, bleeding-heart, liberal but I'll always be suspect of anyone who is supposedly looking out for me on issues such as morality, censorship, and what I can and cannot see, read, or hear.

What the hearings really succeeded in doing was to
ruin the careers of scores of talented artists and writers, printers and publishers, who just wanted to be able to create comics and make a living. The industry as it was then died, people lost those livelihoods and, eventually, the "menace" of comic books faded away. In the mid-1960's, when we had other issues to worry us, comics were put in proper perspective and the superhero boom brought comics back.

Just today, Disney paid $4 BILLION for Marvel Entertainment.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Bad Mother: a chronicle of maternal crimes, minor calamities, and occasional moments of grace by Ayelet Waldman

I have a recurring fantasy where I become really good friends with novelist Michael Chabon. In it, the Pulitzer prize winner and I hang out and talk comic books and music and literature, both lofty and less so. He not only lets me read early versions of his next brilliant novel but he asks for my feedback. I am supportive but honest, saying things like "Come now, Michael--Jews in Alaska? That'll never sell," which he appreciates. Then we have a beer and watch an episode of Firefly on the big screen TV he bought with his Pulitzer prize winnings. I become Uncle Reed to his kids, Zelda, Groucho, Fanny and Shmuley.

Sadly, after reading Bad Mother, this
book blogger's fever dream has been dashed.

Starting with the fact that I live in Ohio and he lives in Berkeley,
I knew chances were slim, but, after reading his wife's collection of essays, I realize this won't come to pass because I don't think Ayelet Waldman and I will get along. At all. Ever.

Waldman, a novelist and former attorney, got in hot water a few years back when she published a piece in the New York Times declaring she loved her husband more than her children. The aftermath was screeching
outrage and it ended in Trial By Oprah; Waldman actually went on the Big O's show and defended herself (admirably, I understand, which makes sense since she was a lawyer).

Here she writes about how difficult it is to be the Good Mother that I guess all moms feel the pressure to try to be. I'm neither a mother or a parent but it's obvious, even to me, that aspiring to that lofty ideal can only make a tough job even tougher. So where do we part company? How about where Waldman writes about being the mom
who tried to have dodgeball done away with at her kids school. The mom who is sure her kids are not only gifted but exceptionally so. Oh, right. THAT mom. Reed Next will have no truck with THAT mom.

My fantasy aside, the
unwavering and unflinching honesty it took to write these pieces--about her diagnosis with bipolar disorder, her youthful promiscuity, her decision to end a pregnancy and other painfully frank pieces--has stayed with me long after I finished the book. She's not shying away from anything here and if she is holding anything back, there can't be much left. If there is--"hoo hoo!" as they used to say on the old Jack Benny show.

There were times when the "oh, I'm such a bad mother" motif got a little tiresome but
I was quite captivated by the book. Much to my surprise, there were places I saw myself. Despite my belief that she and I will not make good neighbors, I admire her writing and appreciate the remarkable candor she brings to these pieces. The book is a keeper.

As for Michael, I can only imagine the pals we could have been.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


Here's a great look ahead at the biggest Fall list in some time. Some BIG names and some BIG books are just around the corner (and a few are already out)--Richard Russo, Lorrie Moore, Margaret Atwood, Audrey Niffenegger, some guy named Dan Brown (never heard of him), Lethem, Chabon, Eggers. Yoi!

Get ready and start saving your dough.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

So behind...such guilt

I think I'm going to try to make a clean slate of it by doing a quick and dirty catch-up/cop-out:

What I Was by Meg Rosoff.

Starts promisingly but builds to a crescendo where I ended up saying, "You call this a crescendo? Bah!"

Outliers: The St
ory of Success by Malcolm Gladwell.
Typical Gladwell
and I mean that in the best possible ways. Equally thought-provoking and yet fascinatingly simple and that I mean in the best possible ways, too. I kept saying to myself, "Well, sure. If I had thought of it like that, of course this story would turn out this way." The trick is I don't think of it that way until Gladwell brings these examples to my attention and makes me think of it his way. Then it all flows out. From the reasons behind the best hockey players to rice paddy success, to learning that Gladwell is JamaiCanadian, Outliers is, like its subjects, a great, big, bestselling success.

It Feels So Good When I Stop by Joe Pernice.
I got to re
ad the uncorrected manuscript and think it shows a lot of promise. At the same time, I'm anxious to see what a good editor is going to do with some of the less polished spots. It comes out next month so I'll find out soon enough. Still, I'm intrigued and look forward to the finished book.

I'm Not Sidney Poitier by Percival Everett.
I had high hopes for this one but finished it and felt like it's all been done before and done better. NEXT!

The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry. This was terrific and clever and confusing and rewarding (mostly). Plus, it reminded me of Jasper Fforde and how many authors you can say that about? (Few, actually). Was this set in the future or the past? London or the States? Was this sci-fi or a mystery? Did it resolve itself or is it the starting point for more books in a series or at least a sequel? I don't know but I think this is one of the most novel novels I've read in years and I enjoyed it immensely. More please, Mr. Berry. And soon.

The Giant's House by Elizabeth McCracken

I loved Niagara Falls All Over Again and was haunted by the story of Rocky and Mose, so it's a surprise it took me this long to get back to McCracken's earlier novel. I'm sorry I waited but I'm so glad I read it.

Subtitled, "a romance", The Giant's House is most certainly a love story but it's also a story of family and finding a sense of place. Peggy Cort, the small town, Cape Cod librarian is an unusual narrator but one whose quirks and humanity are endearing. Our giant, James Carlson Sweatt, is growing and growing from the time we meet him as an eleven-year old until he can grow no more. McCracken shines in the telling of
how the two become linked with gentleness and grace, two qualities neither Peggy nor James would be identified by. Lovely, sad, sweet and moving.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Stranger by Albert Camus

I last read this book in high school, not only to satisfy my curiosity about the author but also because of the song Killing An Arab by The Cure. How cool that the music I was now listening to was also so damned literate! I must be cool, too. That last point is debatable. Should we actually debate it with anyone who knew me then, I'm sure I would be pronounced decidedly not cool. Anyway, let's just say, I was wearing a lot of black turtlenecks (and let's face it, black turtlenecks weren't exactly plentiful in the fine haberdasheries of small town Western Pennsylvania so obviously, I was quite committed), smoking cigarettes, listening to sad music by sad musicians, reading sad books by sad authors and lamenting. Lots of lamenting, as memory serves and the age requires. Plus, the first line of the book,"Mother died today", was right in my sweet spot.

Despite being in my 40's, I remembered the book well and found it much the same--pointlessness celebrated. Sort of like the French New Wave actors like Jean Paul Belmondo and Alain Delon, all black & white and smoking cigarettes and making love and drinking wine and living for today because there is no tomorrow. And the boredom. The main character, Meursault is exquisitely bored with everything--his friends, his job, his mother's recent death and I'm certain that appealed to my teenage self. What's funny is now I find his boredom boring.
The book wasn't boring. It was Meursault's attitude which I found boring in the "goodness, we've done boring to death already, haven't we?"

Oddly, I found The Stranger to be much funnier than I remembered. In fact, I was laughing throughout; laughter I'm unsure was intended by the author and was most certainly lost on me as a sensitive 16 year-old.

However you choose to approach it, The Stranger is a must-read. It was a ground-breaking work from a school of thought that is part of literature and part of history. Camus was a fine writer and was leading a charge that was tremendously influential. If you had to read it for school or haven't read it since your own black turtlenecked days, you are heartily encouraged to pick it up again and spend another jaunty, lighthearted day at the beach with Meursault.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Sherman Alexie and the Kindle Fistfight in Blogosphere

In a May 31, New York Times piece about Book Expo, Sherman Alexie railed against e-readers, in general, and the Amazon Kindle, in particular, calling it "elitist." This naturally caused quite a kerfuffle on many industry blogs and all over Twitter.

The article below by Ed Champion allows Alexie to go into detail and, not surprisingly, he doesn't back down. He raises some good points even though I find parts of his argument rather unrealistic. Still, it's not
like Alexie doesn't give good quote or fails to offer up some thoughtful opinions.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Post book show buzz

Though I wasn't at BookExpoAmerica, the big book industry trade show this year, here are a couple of good articles about the show, the first from Publishers Weekly, giving a heads up on some of the big books for the fall.
From the look of things, I think this is the biggest fall I've seen in a number of years and considering the economy and the state of the book industry, it's a damn good sign. There are books by some big hitters like William Trevor, Margaret Atwood, Barbara Kingsolver and Nicholson Baker. Oh, and some guy named Dan Brown. (Dan Brown? Never heard of him.)

As you might imagine, I'm psyched about the new Sherman Alexie, the long-awaited next book from Audrey Niffenegger, and new novels by Richard Russo and Jonathan Lethem.

This second piece from the Washington Post, is more a look at where things stand right now within the industry. While some say the book biz is as cold as a corpse, I'd say it's closer to tepid. Still, it appears the future is now and the industry might finally be ready to admit it and, more importantly, act on it.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

My Abandonment by Peter Rock

If you tell me who I am, should I believe you?

In this disquieting novel by Peter Rock, identity is questioned from several angles and told from the POV of Caroline, a bright, 13 year old girl who
lives with Father in the largest city park in Portland. We're not sure where she came from, what's really in store for her or what exactly Father's true motives are as he tries to keep them both "off the grid" and undiscovered in plain sight.

Father appears to be a veteran with recurring and disturbing dreams of helicopters while Caroline has a vague memory of
a sister and parents that were part of her life before Father and is reminiscent of the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping a few years back. Rock continually blurs the line between genuine parental love and concern and the sense of "ownership" Father has over Caroline.

And how's life with Father? He's smart and kind, wise and strong and seems to truly believe he's doing what's best for her but let's face it--he's
creepy. His sincerity is creepy and with Caroline on the very verge of puberty and a new level of self-awareness, it makes Father even creepier. While he is constantly teaching Caroline and educating her with the help of encyclopedias and trips to the public library, he has chosen this life, this homelessness, for them and that is no life in which to raise a child.

I wondered if
Rock would be able to sustain that sense of foreboding, the tension of not getting caught and fear not--the book is unsettling throughout. Needless to say, Marley & Me, this isn't, but it is an intriguing if disturbing look at who we are to ourselves and to each other.

For more about the author, visit

Monday, April 20, 2009

Captain Freedom by G. Xavier Robillard

A friend of mine sent this to me and I have to say I was skeptical at first. The author is a McSweeney's guy and I have a real prejudice there, mostly because everyone seems to thinks its all brilliant stuff and I just don't get it; leaves me as flat and cold as a flounder in a fridge. But I trust my friend, I love the superhero thang and I needed something light to read on my cruise.

Gotta say, perfect vacation read. Captain Freedom is fast, funny and surprisingly insightful especially on the subject of fame in our current society.

The Captain is an analyst's wet dream:
vain as hell and COMPLETELY self-absorbed, yet still somehow super-heroic. The world Robillard has created is clever and plays to how ridiculously obsessed we have become with all things "celebrity". Even the super famous want to be more famous. Where does it end?

Now, there was no lack of groaners (a dinosaur called a "Thesaurus", for example. Must we? Really?) and it sometimes felt like that sitcom style of writing where they try to cram as many gags per page as possible but it can be forgiven.
Much like the drink du jour my faithful server, Nestor, kept bringing me on-deck, Captain Freedom was a tasty mix of frothiness and pithiness, served up tall and cool.

City of Thieves by David Benioff

I had never heard of David Benioff, I hadn't read any reviews of this book, no hype, nothing but this one had me at the cover. Something about it's Adrian Tomine-esque artwork and it's Charlie Brown pine tree just grabbed me and told me the story inside was worth reading. Then I read the 5 page intro. Three times because I couldn't believe how pitch perfect it was.

It's 1942, the siege of Leningrad. Bleak, cold, desolate. Lev, a 15 year old boy and Kolya, a Russian soldier, end up in a jail cell together, pleading innocence of their individual charges. A colonel makes them an impossible deal: in exchange for their freedom, the boy and the solider must find one dozen eggs for the wedding cake of his daughter who is about to marry. During the Siege of freakin' Leningrad!

Part buddy picture, part coming-of-age tale and certainly part "horrors of war" story, Benioff has created a masterful novel that is wildly funny, deeply moving and profoundly meaningful. The characters are rich, history is respected and Benioff has the ability to make you feel a part of the story; like you're there in this freezing, Russian winter, hungry as hell, scared, with your very freedom just within reach despite the absurdity and impossibility of what has been asked of you.

This will be the book against which the rest of his upcoming books will be measured and it will be no small task to best this one. I wish him luck and look forward to more.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Trying to catch up with The Good Thief

Well, I'm easily the blogger who blogs the least. Sort of an anti-blogger. I don't mean to be. I am backed up on book posts like I've been eating matzah all week. (I haven't been eating matzah all week though I should have been eating matzah all week. Another story entirely.) But it's got me on this rant about not getting the things done I really want to because I have all this other crap that needs my attention, as well.

For example, I really needed to get started on the yard yesterday as it appears that a herd of meerkats (a flock? a pride?) must have moved into my backyard over the winter and I never noticed somehow. The yard behind the garage is lousy with tunnels, mounds and bald patches. As I mowed, I was cutting the tops of these mounds off and releasing a geyser of dirt and dust into the air--charming. What I'm saying is the time I spent decapitating giant anthills could've been spent blogging about Tinti's The Good Thief, which I promised to post about months ago but haven't. So I will. Long story short:
I loved this book.

The story opens in an orphanage where we meet 12-year Ren, a one-handed orphan with a head full of lice and the tiniest hope of being adopted in his heart. Con artist Benjamin Nab, who is up to no good though is as charming and resourceful as the day is long, adopts Ren and finds him a quick study. Thus begins a tale that is a throwback to the likes of Dickens workhouse thieves or the stories of Robert Louis Stevenson. Narrow escapes, evil factory owners, kindly landladies, mousetrap girls, murderers, poverty, sickness and a sense of family--it's a rollicking tale and beautifully written. Tinti has a wonderful way with words and imbues the many characters with great humanity despite their many, many flaws. She can also be damned funny. Too, there is a cinematic quality to this story. You can just picture it all unfolding in front of you on a big screen.

With all the swashbuckling exploits and wonderful characters, The Good Thief offers a reassuring payoff: it finds family where there wasn't before. The author Richard Bach has a quote I've always loved that I think captures what Hannah Tinti does so well with this book:

"The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other's life. Rarely do members of one family grow up under the same roof.

Enjoy The Good Thief.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


Seriously. Have we learned nothing despite what we know we know? Like many other industries, publishing has been hit hard by this ugly and moribund economy. Lots of layoffs, an outdated business model and a shrinking buying public have led to promises of new thinking, innovation and efficiencies by those in charge and lots of public braying by those saying I told you so. Embracing new technologies like making digital publishing profitable for all involved (author, publisher, bookstore, etc.) seems to be the way to go and the mouthpieces at the larger houses assure us they’re hard at work at it while the rest of us Twitter away as though our very lives depend on it.

So, here sits the publishing industry at the corner of potential poverty and prosperity and what do we do? Hand out multi-million dollar advances to “authors” that have little possibility of earning out as though this industry crash has never happened.

Just today, it was announced that George W. Bush signed with Crown for $7 million. Last week, bestseller Audrey Niffenegger scored herself $4mil for the follow-up to her sleeper hit, The Time Travelers Wife and that was followed by hero/pilot Chesley Sullenberger III signing a two book deal worth $3 million; the second book will be his own inspirational poems.

Now Niffenegger is the only actual actual “author” in the bunch. I thought her first book was tremendous and the professional pep-squads are saying this book is even better. Still, good freakin’ luck earning out a $7 mil advance and don’t tell me it’s only because the book went to auction.

The hero/pilot's story is certainly compelling but what more is there to say? Don’t get me wrong: great job, Sully. You really ARE a hero but how much more is there? Birds hit plane, plane goes down, pilot saves plane and passengers, all in about 3 minutes. And your ‘inspirational poems’? Oh Christ. Not that!

As for W., it was inevitable and spinning the book as a examination of a dozen decisions he made as opposed to a straight memoir is actually great spin considering the esteem in which he’s held these days. But $7 million dollars?!? Will you be among the buying public for this title? I can assure you it sure as hell ain’t gonna be reviewed here.

Look kids, we’re drowning here and money, BIG money, is being thrown at questionable books. Can someone please tell the upstairs execs to quit it. It’s turning into big-money sports and we always say we hate that, right? All that ‘baseball has lost its soul’ stuff when Manny signs for $45 million for two years. So now it’s "well, if author X got $3 mil, we have to get our author 4". Look, I don’t begrudge Audrey a whole wheel barrow full o’ dough--she's a terrific writer. But now? Today? When we’re in the mess we’re in? Some perspective. Please. And maybe just a shred of integrity.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A couple of things

Lucky me, I've gotten some wonderful books of late.

I'm smack in the middle of Jedediah Berry's marvelous debut, The Manual of Detection. Clever and wry, funny and smart, it's remi
nds me of Jasper Fforde (LOVE Jasper! Plus he answers his own emails) though not as sci-fi. It's only been out a week so I encourage you to get it. If you don't already trust my recommendations, the fine folks at Penguin have provided the first chapter online: Can't wait to finish it and write something here.

In today's mail, I received new sandals in preparation for my upcoming cruise. However, upon opening the box, not only did I find I was the recipient of two LEFT sandals but they were of different sizes. Alas. It was the doldrums for me.

Fortunately, T
om, the handsome FedEx guy, arrived an hour or so later and lifted my spirits with an uncorrected manuscript from the good people at Riverhead (Lord, I feel like I'm on the Penguin teat at the moment!). Enclosed was a copy of It Feels So Good When I Stop by Joe Pernice with a lovely note from Joe on a card with Wonder Woman on it.

you're not familiar with Joe as a novelist (his first book was part of the 33 1/3 series a few years back; a novella based on the Smiths album Meat Is Murder; ring a bell?), you might know him as a musician as he is the driving force, singer, songwriter, guitarist of The Pernice Brothers, and for my money is among the most literate songwriters around. He's one of those guys to whose music you listen to and say, "Man, that guy has a novel in him". Well, not only does he but it'll be published this Fall.

So forgive me if I'm a little giddy as I write this and know that once I finish The Manual of Detection, I plan on diving head-first into It Feels So Good When I Stop.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Hello Everybody! The Dawn of American Radio by Anthony Rudel

I love radio despite what it's become--noisy and tasteless and corporate beyond belief. While corporations have almost always been a major part of radio, what we're forced to accept now by and large has left it sterile, bland, and as lifeless as a fish on the shore after the tide has gone back out to sea.

The idea of it, invisible waves going through the air that transmit music and opinion and news to you in your home or your car or wherever you can pick it up, is almost too strange to be real. That was certainly the feeling at the early part of the last century, when, admittedly, the world was much bigger than it is now and we weren't nearly so connected or educated. Rudel explains in a light and informative style, how in less than 2o years, radio changed America and the world.

In a short time, Americans latched on to radio with paws and claws and it changed how we thought, how we listened, how we were entertained and informed and from there, it spread its reach around the world. That farmers in Nebraska could hear about swells dancing to an orchestra at the Waldorf-Astoria in Manhattan suddenly made the world a lot smaller. It made stars of some, created business empires for others, all the while keeping the people informed as they had never been before
and changed us forever.

One of the elements of the book that caught my attention were the number of striking parallels from then and now--radio and the Internet, a nation facing a devastating economic crisis, the failures of Herbert Hoover and George W., the successes of FDR and Obama. Radio was originally the pursuit of amateur hobbyists; a small-time operation without regulation and with little sense of its own reach and potential. Who was it for? What could it do? The other question that loomed large was who owned the airwaves and who controlled them? Interestingly, these same questions were asked again in the last 10 or 15 years about the Internet. Let's hope we learn well before the Internet is completely taken from us and put in corporate hands, as well.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Leaping into the future?

I just signed up at Twitter in the hope that by tweeting regularly, it will cause me to blog more regularly and when all those Twitter types see how clever I am, they will race here and see what a wit I am and will clamor for more of that certain je ne sais quois de Reed Next, oui? Circular logic, I know but I've got to do something to spur myself on. Otherwise, I'll continue on as the most irregular blogger on the planet and will never be able to afford that operation for my maiden aunt since I'm paid so extravagantly for doing this.

You can follow me on Twitter: @reednext

I even found a photo of me I'd forgotten all about to use as my profile pic. It's from a few years back and was taken in the rumpus room with my old dog, Wally. A good dog, Wally was, and a good friend. He could hold his gin better than a bunch of Episcopalian country clubbers on 4th of July.

And since this is supposed to be a blog about books, I finished Hello Everybody: The Dawn of American Radio by Anthony Rudel last night (most enjoyable and I shall write more soon) and started the much vaunted Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry
. I was only a few pages into it before the Sandman smacked me upside the head but I'm quite intrigued. Thus far, it smacks of Jasper Fforde so that bodes well.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Breakfast at Tiffanys

Despite its stature as a classic, I'd never read the book. I'm so glad I did. A slim 80-something pages, Breakfast At Tiffanys reads very quickly but I have to agree that it is a defining work by a then up-and-coming author who got it just right. Had it been any longer, it would have risked being overwritten and betrayed the outstanding economy of the story. I knew I was done for when Capote described Holly as "a fragile eyeful".

This was a New York of a different time. Much romanticized since, it was a city that could contain majesty amidst squalor, like the story's neighbors under the shared roof of a Manhattan apartment building.

I saw the movie version years ago and don't remember it all that well, though I knew then it was quite different from the novel. Usually, a book turned film can't be done justice because of its length and depth. Breakfast At Tiffanys certainly has the depth and one would think the book's length would accommodate, for once, film's limitations. Whether Hollywood wasn't at a place in time where they could stay closer to Capote's story or they simply chose this as a starring vehicle for Audrey Hepburn, I don't know. After reading the real Holly, I don't see Hepburn at all--less nymph and more strumpet is in order--but I am curious to watch it again.

Still, if this is one of those books you've always meant to get to, I encourage you to spend a short time with Capote and with Holly. It's a wild ride but a trip well worth taking.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

I am Yinzer! Here me roar!

I am Yinzer In case you haven't heard, there's a big football game being played this weekend. My passion for books is rivaled (perhaps) only by my enduring love of the Pittsburgh Steelers. It is, like Lionel Richie and Diana Ross sang, an endless love. I bleed Black and Gold (notice when referring to the Steelers, the colors become uppercase).

No tourist am I; no fair weather fan; no jumper of bandwagons. Having grown up in Western Pennsylvania in the ‘70’s, it seemed to m
e the Steelers were always the champs much like FDR always seemed to be president to the generation before me. My neighbor’s father died of a heart attack, so happy was he that the Steelers won a Super Bowl. When I was in first grade, I met running back Franco Harris when he signed autographs at a department store in my home town. That same signed photo sits on my desk in my office, near photos of my wife and my old dog.

I live in a city whose football fans used to, at least, respect my team but now despise them, not only because their meager offering to the NFL consistently gets their asses handed to them when they play the Steelers but also because they perceived a season-ending
injury inflicted on their quarterback as a dirty hit when it wasn’t and the guy who did the hitting was a well-liked former Bengal with no reputation as a dirty player, ever. What used to be gentle ribbing and high-spirited teasing has become nasty and personal and-- I digress!

What I wa
nted to do before I got off on this rant was recommend a couple of books I’ve read about my beloved team who are poised to win more Super Bowls than any other team, ever. The toughest, roughest, franchise. The pride of Western PA. The classiest franchise in the NFL. The incredible Pittsburgh Steelers.

This is a memoir by running back Jerome Bettis. Tolstoy it ain't but it's an enjoyable look at the Bus and his last season before he retired. Great phots and a cool DVD, too.

Another memoir,
this time by the owner of the franchise. Mr. Rooney is a class act, like his father who founded the franchise, and the organization is held to the same standard. As an employee of the Steelers, you are expected to win whether you're a player or the IT guy. It's part of what makes the franchise what it is. If you're so inclined, I posted a review of this book early last year so you can search the archives.

The last one is a memoir by the former voice of the Steelers, Myron Cope, who we lost in 2008. His rather grating voice and heavy 'Burgh accent made people from outside W. PA wince but that voice always sounded like home to me. He invented the Terrible Towel in 1975 when he told people to bring gold dish towels to wave to a playoff game. He held the rights to the Towel and not many people knew until he died that the profits, almost 2.5 Million dollars, went to a school for people with physical disabilities and mental retardation. We miss you, Myron.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Perhaps more than you'd bargained for

Alas, dear reader (you know who you are--both of you), I can only apologize for my time away from blogging. While I've been reading and making my judgments on several books, I can but plead to a distinct lack of creativity coupled with a subsequent lack of desire to share my thoughts. It's not you. It's me. Really.

With that in mind, I pledge to do better and keep you current on what Reed reads. I've also changed the color scheme some though I'm undecided if I like it or not. Perhaps it's time for Reed Next to get a face lift. Any thoughts?

Now that I've begged your forgiveness, duly chastised myself and taken a quick shower, here are my choices for my favorite books for 2008:

  • The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson
  • Cerealizing America: The Unsweetened Story of American Breakfast Cereal by Scott Bruce and Bill Crawford
  • Just Say Nu by Michael Wex
  • The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
  • The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski
  • The Deportees by Roddy Doyle
  • The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti
  • St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell
  • So Brave, Young, and Handsome by Leif Enger
  • Dear American Airlines by Jonathan Miles
  • City of Thieves by David Benioff

As you can see, I've included both fiction and non-fiction in my picks and for all but two of these titles, you can find a post on this site. (I owe you reviews of the books by Tinti and Benioff and they will be added shortly.) These are in no particular order but if I had to choose my Book of the Year, and I must say, I had the good fortune to read some wonderful books, I'd have to choose City of Thieves. It is a remarkable story,
beautifully told.

Oddly, there seem to be two common threads in these titles, one canine, as evidenced by my choices of books by Russell, Stein and Wroblewski; the other being thievery as evidenced by Tinti, Benioff and, if you will indulge me, Miles (you may d
ecide for yourselves about the airlines but I live in Cinn city where our airport is the most expensive in the country for no good reason).

In the spirit of encouraging you to follow my example of the 50 Page Rule (To wit: if a book doesn't grab you in about 50 pages, close the book and start another. Life is too short to plod through a book you don't like), I have picked up and put down a few to which I offer a heads-up and thumbs down:

The Book Of Lies by Brad Meltzer. Despite having my favorite author inscription (he called me "the best human ever!"--how insightful), this book showed initial promise. However, I think this briskly paced potboiler is trying to be too many things at once.

The Moviegoer by Walker Percy. I'll be taken to task for dissing a book held in such high esteem by so many but I would ask, who among you is reading it for the first time in the 21st century as opposed to having read it years ago? If you were to read it now, you're likely to find it quite different without your your rose-colored bi-focals. It's dated style and feel left me cold and the characters are the very phonies Holden Caulfield railed against, except they're Southern and moneyed. Bah, says I.

I do think I may try an experiment this year. My old cellmate, Janet, the grande dame of bookselling, used to always alternate a new title and then an old one (she also bought CDs this way).
I think I may add a wrinkle to this and revisit books I've read before to see if they still hold my attention and my ardor. Thus far, the year began with Breakfast at Tiffanys, followed up with What I Was by Meg Rosoff and currently has me reading the luxurious prose of McCracken's The Giant's House. Stay tuned. Reviews will post soon.