July 19th, 2005

For the record, I do accept bribes. Oh, say you are going to be joining my family, by maybe marrying my brother. Dropping off an autographed copy of Nick Hornby's latest novel, A Long Way Down is a great start. If you are unfamiliar with the name Nick Hornby, you might be more familiar with some of his work.

High Fidelity (book - movie)
About A Boy (book - movie).

Thank you for my book, Kristen.

Everything is Illuminated - Jonathan Safran Foer

July 7th, 2005

Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran FoerWith only a yellowing photograph in hand, a young man--also named Jonathan Safran Foer--sets out to find the woman who may or may not have saved his grandfather from the Nazis. Accompanied by an old man haunted by memories of the war; an amorous dog named Sammy Davis, Junior, Junior; and the unforgettable Alex, a young Ukranian translator who speaks in a sublimely butchered English, Jonathan is led on a quixotic journey over a devastated landscape and into an unexpected past.

As stated in the synopsis of the book, a young American (Jonathan) flies to the Ukraine in search of a woman who allegedly saved his grandfather from German soldiers. While in country he meets up with his translator (Alex) and driver (Alex's grandfather).

The book is laid out in what I understood to be three different formats. The first of which was Jonathan, the American's book which is a work of his family's history. There were some extraordinary happenings in his ancestry; many of them are then detailed on paper. The second style that at first glance may seem to be actual events as they occurred as if Alex were the main character recounting them; I interpreted as Alex's book. Both characters, then, are young authors. The third and final format (italicized) is Alex's letters to Jonathan.

The back and forth between the three different formats was annoying at first. The hardest part was Jonathan's family history. Before you realize it you are plunging generations into the past to a small village in Eastern Europe to follow the lives of characters that ultimately have little to do with the plot. Next you have Alex's narration and perspective both in his letters to Jonathan and also his telling of the story. Alex speaks English, though he struggles. Certain things he says, like many (in my experience) who are branching out into a language other than their primary, are too literal in their translation. This is funny at first as my American arrogance allows me to laugh at Alex, which is fine. I believe it was put in to be funny. After it was funny, it became tiresome. The gimmick of having someone who speaks broken English try to express himself as he tells tales of his sexual prowess only goes so far. It wore thin.

Like almost every other book, Everything is Illuminated has quotations of praise from "respectable" members of the media. There was some very high praise for author Foer. I had no problem with my expectations, they were not exalted due to the praise, but as I read I did remember the praise on the back and was a point. That point came with about 100 pages to go. When young Jonathan has reached his grandfather as he digs through layers of genealogy, specifically once his grandfather meets the gypsy girl, the book was transformed.

To be fair, I do need to circle back and discuss the relationship between Alex and Jonathan. The timeline of Alex's letters was: funny - tiresome - worthwhile. There is a turning point in his correspondence with our young protagonist that beyond which I viewed Alex in a new, significantly more positive, light.

(I am not positive which happened first, this specific happening or the introduction of Jonathan's grandfather to the gypsy girl. I apologize if Alex changed first, for my above comment about when the book "got good" is inaccurate.)

I had a slow time through the beginning of the book, but I was captivated towards the end. The remaining pages were though they were written by someone else. My thought was that the story was in that final 100 pages and what came before it was filler. The author had an idea and had to wrap it in story. When I saw author John Sandford speak he advised that, when writing, your last four chapters would be your best writing and it would take much editing so the level was that throughout. Maybe Sandford is right, maybe Foer just did not go back and edit. Who knows? At this point it does not matter. Foer earned his praise with Everything is Illuminated.

I was worried when I read that the book was about an incident that happened during the Nazi regime. I became apprehensive of a book that would then be too deeply rooted in the historical significance of the war. I did not want to read a book like that. As it turns out, I did not have to. The war is mentioned; but it comes to light in a way that made me wish for more.

The author set the hook and reeled me in. I recommend this book, but do ask that you be patient.

Buy Everything is Illuminated $11.16

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Book of the Month - July, 2005

June 20th, 2005

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

A Clockwork Orange - Anthony BurgessA vicious fifteen-year-old droog is the central character of this 1963 classic. In Anthony Burgess's nightmare version of the future, where the criminals take over after dark, the story is told by the central character, Alex, who talks in a brutal invented slang that brilliantly renders his and his friends' social pathology. A Clockwork Orange is a frightening fable about good and evil, and the meaning of human freedom. And when the state undertakes to reform Alex to "redeem" him, the novel asks, "At what cost?"

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Rabbit Redux - John Updike

June 15th, 2005
Rabbit Redux by John UpdikeThe assumptions and obsessions that control our daily lives are explored in tantalizing detail by master novelist John Updike in this wise, witty, and sexy story. Harry Angstrom—known to all as Rabbit, one of America's most famous literary characters—finds his dreary life shattered by the infidelity of his wife, Janice. How he resolves or further complicates his problems makes for a novel of the first order.

After reading Rabbit, Run for a class in college, I never thought I would read another book in that series. When it was suggested that we set the next one as Book of the Month, I had to seriously think about it. In case you were not aware, I did in fact comply with the suggestion. As result of setting Rabbit Redux as Book of the Month, even I happened to read it...

Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom is a blue collar worker from Pennsylvania. He has never had the most successful marriage. In fact, since his days as a star high school athlete, he has not been successful at anything. At the point this book takes place (late 60s, early 70s), Harry appears to be hitting an all time low.

The irony of his life is spiraling out of control. He is a man in support of the Vietnam war; he though enlisted, never served closer to the war than Texas. Men were drafted and sent overseas, many did not make it home, while he, who wanted to go, was left in Texas.

The four influential people that come into his life all represent different parts of society with which Harry disagrees. Skeeter is a black man with strong liberal opinions. Jill has her youth though much of her is taken away by drugs. She also, in common with Harry's sister Mim, uses sex as a tool. Stavros, the fourth, is a foreign man who has come to the United States and found success, mostly at Harry's expense.

Walking into Harry's life are three social stereotypes (Skeeter, Jill, Mim) of the era in which the book was written. He is confronted with their ideas and forced to listen to their stance on issues. The world is moving rapidly outside his door and these three influences in his life sit him down and try seeing a new point of view. Stavros represents the oppression which Harry places over himself; hiding himself from the need to exert himself to make any change in his life.

The only interesting part of the book was the conversations that took place relative to the issues of the time. As a social commentary the book held my attention. It failed on all other fronts. The entire first half of the book and many parts contained within the second half were nothing more than filler. It was as if the author wanted to share his ideas on society as it existed and threw together a plot to contain his dialogue.

This was my last "Rabbit" book, and barring some unforeseen event, this was the last book I will read by John Updike. Yes, parts were interesting, but the rest of the book did not come close to holding my attention.

Buy it from Amazon $10.50

Book of the Month - June, 2005

May 20th, 2005

Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran FoerWith only a yellowing photograph in hand, a young man--also named Jonathan Safran Foer--sets out to find the woman who may or may not have saved his grandfather from the Nazis. Accompanied by an old man haunted by memories of the war; an amorous dog named Sammy Davis, Junior, Junior; and the unforgettable Alex, a young Ukranian translator who speaks in a sublimely butchered English, Jonathan is led on a quixotic journey over a devastated landscape and into an unexpected past.

Buy Everything is Illuminated $11.16

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When the Wind Blows - James Patterson

May 17th, 2005

When the Wind BlowsFrannie O'Neill is a talented Colorado veterinarian haunted by her husband's murder. But the course of her life is about to change again. After another bizarre killing, Kit Harrison, a troubled and unconventional FBI agent, arrives on her doorstep. And late one night Frannie stumbles upon a strange, astonishing phenomenon.

Her name is Max. Only eleven years old, she will lead Frannie and Kit to uncover one of the most diabolical and inhuman plots of modern science.

With this now being a three part series, I decided it was time for me to get my feet wet. It has to be decent to warrant a second and third installment, correct? That is what I found. It was decent. In no way would I call this Patterson's best, but it was good enough. I will read The Lake House and Maximum Ride to see how the story plays out. I will admit I am curious to see where the author is going with these characters.

The author speaks of the importance of this book in an introduction. He mentions that ideas he thought were an act of fiction may be more real than we want to believe. Then again, I am sure that helps book sales. Either way, here is another quick read from James Patterson. Pick it up if you have a free weekend.

Buy When the Wind Blows $7.99

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John Sandford

May 15th, 2005

John Sandford, author of the Lucas Davenport mysteries, is currently on tour promoting his latest novel Broken Prey. For his complete tour schedule click here. I drove to Ann Arbor the other night to see him at Nicola's Books.

This was now the second time I was seeing John Sandford on tour. I had seen him the year before as his latest (at that time) was released. It was at that signing that I had my collection signed. I had not updated it since, so I only needed the new one signed for my library.

Sandford regaled us with stories before he answered questions. When our curiosity was satisfied, he began the signing. Once the line had dissipated, as he mentioned pre-signing, he stuck around to answer any specific questions and hold a short writing workshop. The neat part here is that there were only two of us who stuck around.

I held my tongue as I felt I did not have much to contribute to the conversation. The other two, a gentleman and the author, seemed to do well on their own. I only interjected when I could as they searched for the names of other authors and books to use as examples of their points.

Through the question and answer session that precluded the signing and our talk afterwards he never once disguised what he did. He always referred to the writing as his job. He spoke of being a writer as he would if he were the head of a major corporation. They have one big thing in common: they have a product they are trying to sell.

During the first Q&A, a woman asked why the author chose for his hero to settle down with one woman as opposed to another. She was met with a shocking response that had nothing to do with the moral character of either woman. Woman A sold more books than Woman B. It was a better business decision on the part of the writer to choose one over the other, so he did.

This prompted the aspiring writer, he was a professor, to ask if Sandford was truly as cynical about writing as he came across as. The author replied that it is not cynicism. Writing is his job. He did not try to glorify the occupation. He said writing is hard work. It is what he does, what he feels he has to do, every day.

The author went on to tell many things about writing. He said that you need to be able to write about something with which you are familiar. If you have never been to a murder scene, do not write about one. You may write your mystery/thriller from the perspective of someone else whose perspective you better understand. He did, however, speak about relationships you should play on in your own life. Maybe you know someone who knows a police officer. Get that person to get you in touch so you may ask to ride along in the car. The things you learn on that ride, or a series of those rides, will be invaluable.

He does not know how his books will end when he sits down to write them. What he does know is that in the first chapter someone will die, in the second chapter the characters will be introduced and towards the end there will be a gun fight. This seems like a pretty basic approach, but it is a tried and true model for him. He does not outline the story at the beginning, but he will do so towards the end. When he is nearly finished with the book and has but 30,000-40,000 words to go he will lay out his story. He wants a galloping finish so everything must be summed up at the appropriate time. The ending is very important.

If you have never written a novel before, the last 4 chapters of the one you write will be the best writing you have done. Revision is important. You must constantly edit your writing; especially when it is complete. For your book to sell in New York to be published, the entire thing must be as good as those final four chapters. This may mean for a lot of re-writing.

The standard newspaper column will be 750 words. The author feels as though he could write that much at this point in his career in 20-30 minutes and it would be pretty good. If you can get to a point where you are comfortable writing 750 words each day, he says you can have a complete novel in about 7 months. To be safe, he suggests a 2 hour commitment each day.

You need to be married to the idea of writing and completing a novel. The hardest part, he offers, will be in the endurance. To be able to sustain one idea from page 1 until the end is very difficult. There will be times when you want to quit. There will be times when you think the idea is not very good. You must keep going; having the stamina to finish is a key success factor.

He addressed the subject of writer's block. He quoted a fellow author for this point of the conversation; I apologize for not remembering who it was. Said author was asked by the president of a college in Minnesota what he did when he gets writer's block. He responded in kind with a question asking her what she does when she gets president of the college block. This may seem silly, but with some thought you see that you find a way to get things done. To elaborate and personalize the story some, Sandford says that if he is having a hard time at any point he will go back and do some editing. Maybe he has written enough for that day and after some proofreading he will pick it back up the next day.

You need to decide what you want to do with your novel. There are two options (for the most part). Option 1 is that you write a book that allows you to show your artistic side. You are an artist and you want to share your vision with the world, well with the 20,000 people who will buy your book at least. Option 2 is that you learn the demographics of the book market. You find out that the bulk of book sales comes from women ages 35-60 who live in households with enough disposable income to buy hardcover books. If you know this and learn their wants and needs you may better cater to them. Doing this, explains the author, you may now share your vision with the 2 million people who buy your book. I do not use this as a threat. I am stating, as did Sandford, that many people choose option 1, there is nothing wrong with it. The explanation is more about option 2. If you want to sell a blockbuster, and you have never sold a novel sure to understand there are certain nuances that will help and others that will deter the performance of your book.

Nothing John Sandford said came across to us as arrogant or far-fetched. I ask that you do not read it that way if my recap felt that way. The talk we had on Thursday was extremely helpful to someone like me who hopes to write a novel someday. I thanked the author that night and I thank him again for his time and guidance. It was unbelievably kind of him to take the time like that for us. Also I would like to thank Nicola's Books for hosting and keeping the store open while we chatted and the professor for asking all the right questions. This was an atypical book signing; one that will not be forgotten. What a fantastic experience.

Cool gift.

May 14th, 2005

When I went to visit my sister in Boston she handed me a present. Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Everything is Illuminated, visited Boston College. She tells me she heard the guy was on campus and had nothing else to do at the time so she stopped in and heard him talk a bit. While she was there, she picked up a copy of his new book Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close and got it signed for me. What a great sister!

Author Appearances.

May 13th, 2005

If you have never been to a book signing it is a very interesting experience. I will admit I find that readers have more to gain from it than those who do not read, but I would never recommend someone not attend. The only time I would say it is not as exciting is when the author does not talk.

Sometimes they will read excerpts from the book(s) they are promoting with the tour, sometimes they will sit and tell stories; most of the time they will have a question and answer session. There are times, however when the appearance is only a signing and you walk into the location and get in line and wait to have your book(s) signed and then you leave.

Some authors travel alone, some with a publisher. Some are very nice, others view the line behind you as daunting and prefer to keep things moving. Some allow for pictures to be taken with them while you get your book signed, some do not. You almost always have the option to get your book personalized (though I only get mine "flat signed", signature only).

The majority of the questions center around the following examples: When is the next book coming out? What is your next one about? Will this or any be optioned for a movie? Will you ever do a cross over novel with another writer? Where do you get your inspiration for these books? Is the main character modeled after someone you know? How did you get into writing? How long does it take for you to write a book? Do you know what how each book will end the minute you start writing it?

When you are having a book signed, the page on which the author will place the signature is the actual title page of the book. You will always know the title page from the rest as on its back there is the copyright information. A trick of the trade is to fold the inside flap of the dust jacket between the pages to mark the title page, thus making it easier for the author.

If you happen to bring copies of the author's work with you, you will typically be categorized as a collector. This flag will do nothing more than cost you a little time. I have heard the rule stating if you have more than 6 books, you are a collector; other times it goes unsaid on a "you know who you are" basis. Being a collector at a signing almost always will mean they as you wait until the end. You could be the first one to show up for the event, but they will still ask you be one of the last to leave. The justification is that somehow it is worse to be behind one person with ten books than ten people with one book each. How? I am not sure. The line will form without you in it. Many people will have their book signed while you wait. Eventually you will be greenlighted to join the queue. This can work to your advantage though as you then have the author in a more intimate environment as most of the other patrons have gone. Only one time have I encountered an author who has stated they will not sign more than one book other than their current release. They will sign as many copies of the new book as you have, but only one book besides.

You can find out about author appearances from a variety of sources. The location hosting the appearance will often have a flyer listing upcoming visits and/or details on their website. There may only be signs posted stating the author, time and date of the appearance. My personal favorite method is by simply visiting the author's personal website (if it exists); they generally have a page devoted to their tour schedule. The only downfall to using this angle exclusively is that you may miss out on authors you have never seen before.

Then of course there is the rest of the internet on which you may find people who attend these appearances regularly and they can be a great resource if you are looking for information (see also: e-mail me). I will try to begin posting my favorite authors' tour schedules in case you are interested, but if you have any questions, let me know. In turn, if you have any info you think I may find interesting either leave a comment or follow the same e-mail link above.

I will also try and recap each appearance I attend and fill you in on any details you missed. I have created a new category to the Books blog for Author Appearances where I will contain all of the information discussed on this topic.

I love seeing authors speak and have the opportunity to pick their brains. To date, the furthest I have traveled for an author appearance is 2 hours, though I imagine that personal record will be broken.

As Simple as Snow - Gregory Galloway

April 27th, 2005

As Simple as Snow by Gregory GallowayIt is said that Anna (Annastasia) Cayne was born in a thunderstorm. A slightly spooky and complicated high school girl with a penchant for riddles, shortwave radios, Houdini tricks, and ghost stories, Anna spends much of her time writing obituaries for every living person in town. She is unlike anyone the narrator has ever been with, and they make an unlikely, though happy, pair.

A week before Valentine's Day, Anna disappears, leaving behind only a dress placed nearly near a hole in the frozen river, and a string of unanswered questions.

Desperate to find her, or at least to comprehend what happened and why, the narrator begins to reconstruct the past five months. And soon the fragments of curious events, intimate conversations, suspicious secrets, and peculiar letters (and the anonymous messages that continue to arrive) coalesce into haunting and surprising revelations that may implicate friends, relatives -- or even Anna herself.

A mesmerizing labyrinth of art, magic, and cryptic codes that sparks the imagination and teases the intellect, As Simple as Snow is a mind bending mystery, as well as a poignant and wise look at young love, loss, and family.


An eccentric girl comes into the life of our narrator. She, through her mysterious means, turns his life upside down. How could this girl, so different from the rest, have such an impact? How could she burn an impression so deep into his soul?

Galloway had the narrator mesmerized by Anna, but he was not the only one. I, too, was fascinated by this character.

I am very impressed with the story and the writing. The situation is one which has me torn on my opinion of the author. I am torn between the idea that I would not want to read another book by him and that I cannot wait for him to write many more so I may read them all. The only reason I would not read his other writing is I would be afraid it would not be as original; not as good. It is an odd feeling, one I am not used to, to finish a book and be left with this strange appreciation for the author because of the work he completed. The book was not the best I have read, but Gregory Galloway took me in directions that are usually left untraveled in my literary adventures and for that I thank him.

Of course I have a few complaints with the book, more loose ends than anything; a few points with which I would like closure. Other than those, I really enjoyed this book. It is not often that I read something other than a mystery. Sure there was mystery wrapped up in this piece of fiction, but there was also much more.

...There's a whole world all around more interesting, wonderful, terrifying, mysterious, amazing than any novel ever written. Pay attention. Take a chance. Dare life. (p.19)

Buy As Simple as Snow $16.29

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