Thursday, April 4, 2013

Soup and Salad: Now Let Us Praise Masha Hamilton, Paperback Reboot, American Reading Habits, Sorry Television's Great American Bookstore Tour, Coos Bay Catches a Wave of Fobbits, Flannery O'Connor is Badass, Kate Atkinson's Life, Ron Hogan Plays Book Matchmaker

On today's menu:

1.  As I've mentioned before, when I was serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom in Baghdad during 2005, I was sustained by a lifeline of correspondents and care packages from home--the majority of which came from fellow writers I'd never met, authors who belonged to the Emerging Writers Network and were rallied to my cause by EWN founder Dan Wickett (who is now also the publisher of Dzanc Books).  Among those writerly pen pals, none was more faithful and  encouraging than novelist Masha Hamilton.  I carried her book The Distance Between Us with me in my duffel bag as I deployed to the combat zone from Fort Stewart, Georgia and wrote her several words of praise and appreciation in an email early in that deployment.  She responded with a friendly, generous email which said, in part, "Please be careful in Iraq and listen to your gut. In my experience, the gut is often very wise...I will be thinking of you."  Thus began months of correspondence (which closed "the distance between us") and, at one point, included a very delicious care package direct from the orchards of Harry and David.  To this day, I've never met Masha in person, but when I read Unbridled Books publisher Fred Ramey's tribute to her at the Unbridled blog, I could only nod my head vigorously and say, "Yes, that's the Masha I came to know during my year at war."  Fred writes:
Being a publisher is a privilege. I’m reminded of that every time a new book arrives from the printer. But some authors an editor can be downright humbled to work with….What astounds me about Masha Hamilton goes beyond the extraordinary empathy of her novels and the artfulness of her story-telling. What humbles me about working with her is the recognition of all she accomplishes in the wider world.
These accomplishments include founding the Camel Book Drive, a mobile lending library of more than 7,000 titles availabe to children in nomadic schools in northeast Kenya, and starting the Afghan Women’s Writing Project which gives a worldwide voice to Afghan women who have stories to tell of their lives. Masha Hamilton is one of those writers who is making a difference in the world beyond just putting words on a page.  Her new novel comes out in June.  It is called, most appropriately, What Changes Everything.

2.  At The Millions, Nicole Bernier examines the ways in which paperbacks can reboot books: "A paperback isn’t just a cheaper version of the book anymore.  It’s a makeover.  A facelift.  And for some, a second shot."  Bernier talks to bookstore owners, publishers, and authors like Melanie Benjamin, Randy Susan Meyers and Jenna Blum who says, “The paperback cover [of Those Who Save Us] helped save the book from the remainder bins, I suspect.”  As someone whose debut novel came out as a trade paperback original, I'll admit to having a pinch of jealousy at authors who are able to celebrate more than one "launch date" for their books--though, in a way, I'm experiencing the reverse effect for Fobbit as it comes out in hardcover from Harvill Secker in the United Kingdom TODAY.

3.  I don't have much to add to the "Amazon Swallows Goodreads" discussion that wouldn't be beating a dead horse (except to say that I'm not deleting my Goodreads account or setting fire to my Kindle in a public protest), but I thought this examination of book buying/reading habits at The Atlantic was interesting.  The article has enough charts and graphs to make me cross-eyed, but here's the heart of the story:
The United States is not, sadly, a country of lit buffs. In 2008, a little more than half of all American adults reported reading a book that was not required for work or school during the past year, according to the National Endowment of the Arts. And as shown in the graph below, which like the other charts in this piece come courtesy of the industry researchers at Codex Group, and updates the sample data to match the 2010 Census, just 19 percent read a dozen or more titles. Or, to put it another way, according to Codex just 19 percent of Americans do 79 percent of all our (non-required) book readin'.
I'm proud to be one of those 19 Percenters.

Elliott Bay Books
4.  Are you following Sorry Television's Great American Bookstore Tour?  You're not?  Well, you should be!  It's like getting to ride in the passenger seat on a road trip, eating Red Vines and turning up the volume whenever The Belle Brigade comes on.  No, wait, it's better than that.  It's like:
Day 2 started (after a morning walk through Pike Place Market, and a visit to the first-ever Starbucks) with the much-anticipated trip to Elliott Bay Book Co., which is, I don’t know, heaven? Between the wooden floors, high ceilings, skylights, armchairs, reading tables, and respectful hush—I’d underestimated the value of shopping for books in peace and quiet—I basically wanted to throw down some blankets and camp out there forever, dividing my time between reading, sleeping and…no, just those two activities. In fact, the only thing that would make EBBC better is if its adorable little cafe sold wine. OH WAIT, IT DOES.
And now I'm punching myself in the head (which isn't easy to do with a broken arm).  Elliott Bay purveys wine?  Why oh why did I not linger there in the honeyed glow of its wood floors and bookly ambiance after my reading with Roy Scranton and Gavin Kovite last week?  Oh wait, I know why I left right after the reading--Jean was waiting for me back at the hotel room and I was afraid she was going to eat the slice of Cheesecake Factory's Chris's Outrageous despite our solemn marital vow to share and share alike.  As it turned out, she couldn't handle the Sweetness and left all but two small exploratory bites for me.  But looking back, I do wish I'd hung around Elliott Bay a little longer, basking in what Sorry Television calls its "aesthetically pleasing" book displays.  Next trip to the Pacific Northwest, I promise I'll browse and buy...and drink.

This is where I'll be reading
from Fobbit in May
5.  Speaking of the Pacific Northwest, have I mentioned how much I love it?  More specifically, how much I love the good people of Coos Bay, Oregon?  Jean and I honeymooned along their beautiful, rugged shoreline in 1983.  And now, Coos Bay is going all out in its campaign to have everyone in the community read Fobbit.  A special hug and smooch to the librarians who are rallying readers to the cause.  I'll be reading from Fobbit and visiting schools along the coast in May, so if you're in the area, please stop by and say hello.  And let me assure you, having your debut novel chosen to be the Title Wave "one book" selection is just about the coolest thing.  Cooler even than an afternoon with Red Vines and the Belle Brigade.

6.  "[Flannery O'Connor] was something like our badass grandmother who liked to say inappropriate things at a formal dinner table."

7.  If I hear one more person say that Kate Atkinson's Life After Life is, bar none, the best book they've read in years....well, then, I guess I'll just have to sit down and read it for myself.  Actually, I'd already put the novel near the peak of my To-Be-Read pile (aka Mt. NeverRest) after I read this New York Times article on Atkinson:
      Imagine having the gift (or the curse) of continually dying and being reborn, so that you relive segments of your life again and again, differently each time, going down various paths and smoothing out rough areas until you get it right and can move on. Imagine, too, that you are not conscious that this is happening, but experience it as intermittent déjà vu, a sometimes-inchoate dread, an inexplicable compulsion at sudden moments to do one thing rather than another.
      This is not an original artistic conceit, obviously. A century ago, the book “Strange Life of Ivan Osokin” depicted a young man who is given a chance to relive his life and correct his mistakes in 1902 Moscow. And in “Groundhog Day,” Bill Murray is forced to repeat the same wretched day, and listen to the same wretched Sonny and Cher song, in Punxsutawney, Pa., until he becomes a better person and wins over Andie MacDowell. But in “Life After Life,” her eighth and latest novel, the British writer Kate Atkinson has taken these notions — what if practice really did make perfect, and what if we really could play out multiple alternate futures — and put them through the Magimix, pumped them full of helium, added some degrees of difficulty and produced an audacious, ambitious book that challenges notions of time, fate and free will, not to mention narrative plausibility.

8.  I'm rarely at a loss deciding what to read next (See Also: Mt. NeverRest), but if I'm ever stumped, I'll turn to Ron Hogan.  He's started up a new literary matchmaking service ("Book, meet Reader.  Reader, this is Book.") called The Handsell.  Check it out.  And feel free to drop Ron a line if you need a recommendation for what to crack open next.  (Of course, as most of us already know, and as Hogan is gracious enough to point out, John Warner has been doing something similar for years as the Biblioracle.)

1 comment:

  1. So wonderful to learn more about Masha Hamilton. I can't wait to read her upcoming novel. And it's lovely to learn about your commaradarie both in war and on the page! Thanks, David.