Powered By Blogger

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Say Her Name by Francisco Goldman

Say Her Name by Francisco Goldman
Published by Grove Press ISBN 978-082119810
Hardcover $24
288 pages

Francisco Goldman fell in love with the much younger Aura, a graduate student from Mexico, studying literature at Columbia University. To his surprise, she agreed to marry him and they lived a very happy life. He recounts their short life together in his fictional memoir Say Her Name.

On vacation in Mexico, Aura has a surfing accident and dies. Goldman is devastated, and his pain is made more unbearable by his mother-in-law who blames him for her daughter's death, and vows that he will pay for what he has done. She implies that there was foul play, and not only does he have to deal with his loss, he has to worry about being arrested for Aura's death.

Goldman's grief is palpable and visceral. He was
"no longer him. No longer a husband. No longer a man who goes to the fish store to buy dinner for himself and his wife. In less than a year I would be no longer a husband than I was a husband."
Not written as a traditional memoir, Goldman tells Aura's story, using her own writings and diaries to do so. Aura is a poet, and this book has a very poetic, almost dreamy feel to it. He delves into her childhood, her close relationship with her mother, and her insecurities. Although we know that Aura dies, she comes to vivid life on the pages of this book. It is a loving tribute from a husband to his wife.

Goldman lays his grief out on the page for all to see, and it is hard to read at times. He cannot bear to pass by the restaurants and other places they used to go to together. He builds a shrine to her in their apartment, complete with her wedding dress hanging on the mirror.

Say Her Name takes the reader on an honest, emotional journey. We get to know Aura so that her death has an effect on us.  There is an element of mystery as well; how did Aura die and did her husband have any responsibility?

Aura and Goldman both studied Mexican and South American literature; if I knew more about it, that would have deepened my appreciation of the book even more.

Readers who liked Calvin Trillin's About Alice and Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking will be moved by this story as well.

Rating 4 of 5 stars


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Jo Nesbo at Barnes & Noble Upper East Side

A full house of very enthusiastic readers showed up to hear Norwegian author Jo Nesbo talk about his newest book, The Snowman.  I'm not a big crime fiction fan, and I have not read any of the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series of books (I know, I'm the only one), but I read his book The Devil's Star, and found it a crackling good story.

The events coordinator for the store introduced Nesbo by saying that "I promised I wouldn't butcher his name, but I wanted to give my Norwegian a try- ladies and gentlemen, Jo Nesbo", which elicited laughter from the audience. Then he actually did try his Norwegian, calling him "Hu Nesba".

Nesbo took the stage, and he is strikingly handsome, sort of a cross between Viggo Mortenson and Ed Harris. He has a quiet intensity, and spoke of his father, who spent time in New York City.

The Snowman is the only novel he has written that began with the title. He has a friend who needed a title for his movie, and Nesbo came up with The Snowman. Unfortunately, there was no snowman in the movie, so Nesbo kept the title for his book. He liked the idea of a cozy, childlike image of a snowman and using it in a different context, as something sinister.

In an early scene in the book, a mom sees a snowman in the yard and senses something is wrong; the snowman is facing the house, not the street. He knew it was a good scene, and it became the basis of the book.

He talked about the hero of this series of books, Harry Hole, a good policeman and a bad alcoholic. The character is many-faceted, and well drawn. When someone asked "who does Harry look like?", Nesbo pointed to himself and said "me." He sees Hole being played in the movies by Nick Nolte, someone he called "ugly/pretty", but Nolte is too old. (I say Viggo would be great.)

Nesbo answered questions, many of which concerned the sequence of the books released in the United States, which differs from the sequence they were written and released in Norway. I have to admit to being a little lost during this discussion, as there were some definite major-league fans in attendance.

He spoke of the difficulties in having the books translated into English; he laughingly says it is difficult to trust the translators. He doesn't read his books in English, he says that it is "inevitable that it will get lost in translation" and it leads to frustration for him. He did say that when the books are translated into Korean, they are translated from Nowegian to English to Korean, because it is too hard to go directly from Norwegian to Korean. Not too many people speak both of those languages.

Someone asked why so many Scandinavian protagonists have alcohol problems, and Nesbo said that it is a tradition, the "hard-boiled detective". Harry is a alcoholic who sometimes can't function, it is his Achilles heel, and he uses it to make Harry more interesting. I like that Harry is not a "pretty alcoholic"; he vomits into the sink at work, drags himself home from a bender- realistic, ugly things.

His favorite author is Knut Hamsun, who although he was controversial for his support of the Nazis during the war, Nesbo said that "we're all (writers) standing on his shoulders in Norway".

A question was asked about the corruption theme that seems common in Scandinavian crime fiction, but Nesbo said that Noway is one of the least corrupt countries. It is a literary device, not representative of Norway.

Nesbo plays in rock bands, and he started writing poems and lyrics at age 14. His first novel was written at age 37. His dad was an inspiration for him; his dad always wanted to write a book about his WWII adventures, but he died before he could do it. Nesbo quit his job as a stockbroker and started writing.

I think Nesbo will be a big deal in crime fiction; his characters, even the minor ones, are all well drawn, and his plots are well thought-out and interesting. The ardor of the crowd was impressive; he already has an enthusiastic base of fans, many who had all of his series of books ready for his signature.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty
Published by Amy Einhorn Books  ISBN 978-0-399-15718-9
Hardcover, $24. 95, 432 pages

Alice thinks she is a happily married twenty-nine-year-old woman, pregnant with her first child. When she wakes up after fainting and falling off her bike during a spin class, she is shocked to slowly discover that she is thirty-nine, has three children and a pending divorce. (Reminiscent of another Alice who fell and woke up confused in Wonderland.)

"What Alice Forgot" has a premise that may seem trite, but in the hands of author Liane Moriarty, the story will keep the reader wondering "would the person I was ten years ago recognize the person I am today?". It's an interesting concept, and one that will create fascinating conversations in book clubs.

Alice thinks she and her husband Nick are still happy, awaiting the birth of their first child. She discovers that she and Nick can't even be in the same room with each other, even though Nick once promised her that they would never divorce.

She is also estranged from her sister Elizabeth, who is struggling with infertility issues. She doesn't even know her three children. Her mother is now dating her husband's stepfather.

Alice searches for clues as to what has happened to her life. Everyone describes her as "always busy", though she no longer works, she volunteers at her children's school. She is "super-mom", currently organizing the baking of the world's largest lemon meringue pie as a fundraiser. We all know that woman, but Alice does not recognize her.

She discovers that she is dating the school principal, a nice guy named Dominick. She wants her husband Nick back, but Nick is always angry with her. What possibly could have caused him to hate her so?

Gina was Alice's best friend, neighbor and constant companion. Her relationship with Gina pushed her away from her sister and husband. Alice doesn't remember Gina, whom Alice saw killed in a car accident. It was very traumatic, and made Alice even more bitter.

Alice doesn't recognize the person she has become. She is rigid, strict, judgmental, and vindictive. Nick has asked Alice repeatedly to give him back the family engagement ring that belonged to his grandmother. Even though she hates the ring, Alice refuses to give it back, just to be nasty. Alice does not know the woman she has become.

Elizabeth's fertility problems are depressing her, and possibly ruining her own marriage. Moriarty does a wonderful job making you feel empathetic with Elizabeth and her husband. I like this couple, and their struggle seemed very real and sad.

But the story all comes down to Alice. She is a complex character, and her journey to understand how she became such a different person, one she did not like, kept me turning the pages. This novel will make you think about how life's journeys can change a person, and cause you to reflect on your own journey.

The mystery is whether Alice will get her memory back and which man she will end up with- nice guy principal Dominick or workaholic husband Nick. There are a few turns and twists along the way, but the conclusion is satisfying.

This book is from Amy Einhorn Books, who have had such favorite best sellers as The Help,  The Postmistress and The Weird Sisters. When I see the Amy Einhorn books imprint, I know it will be a book I will enjoy.

rating 4 of 5 stars

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Glee-ful Jane Lynch at BEA

Jane Lynch at BEA

Jane Lynch is one of the funniest actors working today. Her role in Christopher Guest's movie Best In Show stands out in a movie filled with great performances. Most people know her as the crazy cheerleading coach, Sue Sylvester, on TV's Glee. She's about to add author to her list of accomplishments when her memoir, Happy Accidents, publishes in September.

She spoke at the Book Expo in May to a standing room only crowd. She bounded out onto the stage, full of enthusiasm and smiles, which she displayed throughout her talk, wandering the stage, waving her arms, squatting at the end of the stage, moving as close to the audience as she could get.

She began by stating that this has been a good year for her: she got married "to a lady- cause I'm gay, I have a daughter and I turned 50". All this got her thinking about her life, and she put it down on paper.

Her wife is a scientist and deals in facts, while Lynch searches for answers anywhere, (astrology, etc). She says that she has a single minded focus, which has helped her in her career.

Growing up, she always felt "outside of her Irish/Catholic family". She loved TV, and while watching The Brady Bunch as a child, she knew she wanted to act. She sent a letter to the casting agent for the show, and got a response saying they did not cast from letters. Lynch actually ended up with a professional connection to The Brady Bunch: she worked on the comedic stage parody of The Brady Bunch, playing Carol in the Chicago show.

Lynch said that if asked what she would tell her younger self, it would be "to stay open and say yes to everything." She laughed as she said that her agent says "Jane will do anything for $1.50 and a steak".

After studying at Cornell University, Lynch ended up at Second City in Chicago. It was the only acting callback she got, and she thought she would find improv "unsettling- I like rules", she said. But she found being in an ensemble "perfect for my skill set" and ended up in the Second City touring company. It was one of her "happy accidents".

Someone asked about her initial reaction to the role of Sue Sylvester in Glee, and Lynch knew "it was great right away". She loved that in the first episode Sue was described that "she may or may not have posed for Penthouse and may or may not have taken horse estrogen". She loves that everything that Sue does is extreme.

She was asked about her singing in Glee, and she said that she "sings all day. But that doesn't mean that I'm good or that people like it." She spoke of her girlhood crush on Olivia Newton-John, and what a thrill it was to sing Let's Get Physical with her on the show. She also is pleased to call childhood idol Carol Burnett her friend, now that Burnett plays her Nazi-hunting mother on Glee.

An audience member mentioned the PSA commercial about using the 'r-word' that Lynch did with the actress who plays Becky, Sue's assistant/cheerleader who has Down's syndrome. Everyone applauded loudly, and Lynch is very proud to have done that. She spoke of working with Lauren Potter, the actress who plays Becky, and Robin Trocki, the actress who played her sister who had Down's syndrome. The relationships Sue have with her sister and Becky keep Sue from being nothing but a caricature, and Lynch does a marvelous job with the role.

Lynch acted bored and whipped out her Macbook to "check her email" during the Q&A, which garnered another laugh. She said she decides which project to do next based on "who's in it and what's to eat at craft services. " The best question asked "was which famous person would Lynch like to portray?" It is Eleanor Roosevelt's lover, Lorena Hickock.

Jane Lynch signed autographs following her talk, and she was gracious and vivacious; she's at a good point in her life, and she's happy to share her joy with all.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs

Reprinted from the Citizen:
Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs by Heather Lende
Published by Algonquin Books ISBN 978-1616200510
Paperback $14.95, 304 pages

T.S. Eliot wrote that April is the cruelest month; author Heather Lende would not give him an argument. In April of 2005, she was riding her bike near her home in Haines, Alaska when she was run over by a pickup truck and severely injured. In April 2006, her mother passed away after a long bout with chronic lymphocytic leukemia.
“Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs: A True Story of Bad Breaks and Small Miracles” recounts those stories and how those incidents affected her faith in God. It also gives a glimpse into the lives of the residents of Haines, and the unique lifestyle that Alaskans lead.
Lende’s pelvis was shattered in the accident. She was able to survive and make a relatively fast recovery because of her strength and good health.
She recounts her struggle to regain her lifestyle and health, although she ended up rehabilitating in a nursing home in Seattle instead of the chi-chi fancy ski lodge/spa she believed she would be in. Her time there will be familiar to anyone who has a relative in a nursing home.
Each chapter of the book starts with a short verse, many from the Book of Common Prayer, a book that Lende often turns to for comfort and guidance. Her experiences with her accident and her mother gave her the opportunity to reexamine the role that faith plays in her life.
Lende also writes the obituaries for the local newspaper, and she shares the stories of several residents in Haines. Everybody has a story, so the saying goes, and Lende does a marvelous job bringing her neighbors’ interesting lives to the forefront.
Wilma Henderson was a “formidable farmwife” who believed in the proverb “pray with your feet” by putting her faith in practice. She organized the town spelling bee, planted flowers in town parks and volunteered in the library.
When Lende worked as a hospice volunteer, her first client was a 57-year-old remarkable woman named Marian. Marian had everything organized for her death — her will, insurance papers, her sister’s phone number. She paid all her bills, packed all of her belongings so that no one else had to do it, and even wrote her own obituary.
Lende contrasts Marian’s outlook on death with her own mother’s. Lende’s mother had leukemia for almost 20 years, but she never discussed her own death with her husband or children. She fought death right up to the end, undergoing many rounds of painful chemotherapy. Towards the end, Lende wanted to talk to her mother about hospice care, but she knew her mother would have no part of it.
Her father asked her mother if there was anything she wanted to say to him or her children before she passed, but she did not; death was not something she could talk about. The only words she shared were “take good care of the garden and the dogs.”
After her mother died, Lende held onto a crumpled piece of paper she found in her mother’s coat pocket. It had on it four different grocery lists, and from this Lende took her mother’s wisdom about how to live life: “eat dessert, be sure there’s coffee in the morning, write things down so you don’t forget them, and don’t waste paper.”
The Tlinglit American Indian tribe lives in Haines, and Lende shares their lifestyle with the reader. Her description of a huge Tlinglit adoption ceremony, with its endless food, gifts and songs, is fascinating, as is the town gathering together to raise a huge, intricately carved totem pole.
Life in Alaska is very different, yet in many ways so familiar to small-town residents. Lende and her family eat bear tenderloin, skin and gut goats, and they grow much of what they eat right on their own property.
They keep hens for eggs, and grow what limited vegetables they can. (It is expensive to bring food up to Alaska from other places.) Alcoholism is a big problem in Alaska, and some of her friends sadly suffer from it.
Yet much of her story is familiar: Neighbors depend on each other for help, and look out for each other and their children. Many residents volunteer to better their community, and her sad tale of a young man killed in a drunk driving accident by his friend (who went to jail) is all too familiar in many of our own communities.
Lende’s book reminds me of one of my favorites, Anne Lamott’s “Grace, Eventually: Thoughts on Faith.” She works on living her faith every day, through the good times and difficult times.
I like that she prays every night, and even though she has her faults, as we all do, she tries to be a better person.
Her goal in writing this book is to “give readers a window into a specific time and place and, by being so local and personal, tap into emotions they may have too.”
Lende succeeds in this beautifully, and this is a lovely book.
I give “Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs” four stars.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Broadway's The Normal Heart

The Normal Heart, a play revival running on Broadway until July 10, is a stunning and powerful piece of theater. If you saw the Tonys this past weekend, you saw Ellen Barkin and John Benjamin Hickey win for their performances, and the show won a Tony for Best Revival of a Play.

The play is written by Larry Kramer, and the main character of Ned Weeks is based on himself. Joe Mantello, best known as the director of Wicked,  gives one of the best performances I've ever seen on Broadway, and it is a shame he did not win the Tony.

The play is set at the beginning of the AIDS crisis in NYC in 1982. Weeks and many of his friends see that many young, healthy gay men are becoming seriously ill and dying from a disease that no one knows  much about.

Barkin, in her Broadway debut, brilliantly plays Dr. Emma Brookner, one of the few doctors in NYC who is actively treating these patients and working to find out what exactly is killing them. She has a raging, powerful monologue in the second act that just leaves the audience spellbound.

Hickey plays the role of Felix, Ned's boyfriend who eventually contracts AIDS, and his scene where he rails against the havoc this disease is heartbreaking. Patrick Breen and Jim Parsons are amazing as well, and I found Mark Harelik's portrayal of Ned's lawyer brother moving, particularly his scene with Felix when Felix asks for help with his will.

The play pulls no punches in its political message; the city, state and federal government were slow to act against this epidemic because it was killing gay men. If straight people were dying in those numbers, it would have been a much higher priority.

Dr. Brookner tells Ned that someone in his group has to tell gay men to stop having sex until they find out what is causing this disease. Ned is not promiscuous, and he is at odds with his friends who fought for many years to be able to express their sexuality; some openly, some not so. Some of the men believe that gay men would not be as promiscuous if they were permitted to marry. I found that argument thought-provoking, especially given the political atmosphere in New York State right now.

The play is devastating, and many in the audience (including many men) openly wept. I noticed that Ellen Barkin was dabbing at her eyes with a tissue at times during the show when her character is on stage in the shadows. She sees this every night, and it still moves her; that is how powerful this piece is.

At the very end of the play, graphics are projected with names of people who died from AIDS on the stage and the walls. The unfathomable graphic that 75 million people have had AIDS and 35 million people died caused many audience members to gasp.

This is a play that should be seen by everyone who can go see it. The play itself is brilliant, honest and provocative, and the performances incredible. It will make you cry, laugh (at times), think and rage against the wasted time and lives.  It's also made me want to read And The Band Played On; Politics, People and the AIDS Epidemic by Randy Shilts.

Reagan- What Was He Really Like? by Curtis Patrick

Reagan- What Was He Really Like? by Curtis Patrick

I'll state right off, I'm not a big Ronald Reagan fan, though I am surrounded by many who are. So when I had the opportunity to review a book titled Reagan- What Was he Really Like?, I thought maybe I should read it to get some insight.

Curtis Patrick, who worked with Reagan for many years, wrote the book, so he had access to many people who knew Reagan in all different aspects. I did like how the book was organized, with each person getting a chapter for their remembrance, and their relationship to Reagan listed in the chapter contents.

Much of the book focuses on Reagan's time as governor of California. I found that interesting, as most of the Reagan books deal with his presidency; this gives a good overview of a difficult time in the history of California. Reagan was governor during campus uprisings in the 1960s, and one person recalled Reagan meeting with student demonstrators when he was advised not to do it.

There are anecdotes from a pilot and his wife who flew Reagan around California, his scheduler, and his receptionist; many so-called 'everyday people' shared their impressions and meeting with him. They spoke of how polite he was, always asking about their families, and writing them notes.

They talked of his strong ability to focus, how he held strongly to his beliefs and showed little ego. One person remembered that when Reagan was angry, he would throw his glasses and say "damn it!"

The book has lots of photos, mementos and primary sources, such as newspapers articles; they add an interesting component to the book. There is a reprint of an interview from The Capitol Report with Reagan discussing his first 18 months as governor.

There are some drawbacks to the book. The author uses italics and exclamation points much too frequently in the book. When you emphasize so many things, it tends to take away the impact of the really important things. A good editor would have done wonders for the book.

This book is not for everyone; it is really aimed at the Reagan devotee, of which there are many. They will enjoy this look at Reagan's early political journey, from the everyday people who surrounded him. If you are looking for a balanced, critical look at Ronald Reagan, this is not for you.

rating 3 of 5 stars

Friday, June 17, 2011

The House of Blue Leaves

There are a few Broadway shows that will be ending their limited runs, and I'm hoping to see them before it's too late.

Ben Stiller and Edie Falco are starring in a revival of John Guare's The House of Blue Leaves, and Falco was nominated for a Tony for her role as Bananas Shaughnessy, a woman suffering from some sort of unnamed mental illness.

Falco gives her usual remarkable performance, sliding in and out of reality while her husband Artie (a terrific Stiller) plans to run away to California with his downstairs neighbor/girlfriend Bunny, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh. She has many good comic moments, something I have not seen Leigh perform much.

Artie fashions himself a songwriter, and he hopes to look up his high school pal and successful Hollywood director Billy Einhorn, and get him to help make connections in California.

All this is happening on the day when the Pope is visiting Queens in October of 1965, and his car will be passing right by Artie's apartment building. Bunny wants the Pope to bless Artie's songs, and three nuns show up, climbing through Artie's window, hoping to see the Pope's parade. They are more like the Three Stooges than nuns, but when the Head Nun is played by Mary Beth Hurt, who can complain.

Artie and Bananas' son Ronnie, played by the wonderful Christopher Abbott, has snuck into the apartment. He is AWOL from the army, and in a brilliant monologue in Act Two, Abbott steals the thunder from his more seasoned co-stars. He breaks the fourth wall, speaking directly to the audience, and getting a response from them. His performance is nothing short of stunning, and I look forward to seeing him on Broadway in another role soon.

The show is part drama, part comedy, and has many poignant moments. Stiller makes the audience feel Artie's pain; he may be deluded about his talent, but he just yearns to have a better life, as do most people.

I appreciated how Falco played Bananas with a bit of mean streak in her; when she was coherent, she got in some digs at Artie and Bunny. When she was out of it, she was almost child-like. It's a complex, layered performance.

I have to say that the end of the play was shocking, and many in the audience audibly gasped. It was something I did not see coming. I would recommend this show, (especially if you can get a discount ticket) mostly for the acting by Stiller, Falco, Leigh and newcomer Abbott.

BEA 2011- Part 2- Mindy Kaling hosts the Adult Author Breakfast

I got to meet Kaling at BEA
On Day 2 of BEA 2011,  Mindy Kaling (best known as Kelly Kapoor and a producer/writer/ of TV's The Office) hosted the Adult Author Breakfast. Kaling has a book publishing in November titled Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns).

Kaling is very funny person, as evidenced by her opening remarks, when she said the audience was sitting there looking at her thinking, "Is that Padma Lakshmi?" "Did she start Google?" and "Is she a Southern state governor?", finishing with "Isn't she a tertiary character on a 4th rate network sitcom?"

She worried about following last year's host Jon Stewart, but she needed have bothered; she was hilarious. She reminded people that she is a "big deal on Twitter, which is the opposite of a book". According to Kaling, Ernest Hemingway would be "a god on Twitter", while "James Joyce would be bad".

According to Kaling, anyone "with a  sexy librarian fetish" would enjoy this breakfast, and she had never seen so many "sensible shoes and tote bags." She described the room as "a high school reunion where all the jocks and minorities were killed in a crash". Then she joked that she saw "a black guy, even some straight guys. Oh, they work here at the Javits Center." I laughed heartily at her jokes.

Her book is a series if short essays, with titles like "Don't Peak in High School", "These Are Body Parts I'd Give Up To Be Skinny Forever" and "Why Do Men Put Shoes on Slowly?". She places her literary style between Tina Fey, who has no vices, and Chelsea Handler "who has every vice known to man".

She hopes her book does as well as the three-year-old boy's story Heaven Is Real, whom she claims is "now friends with Kanye". She said that "so few people have met Jesus, I hope he monetizes the sh#t out of it", which got a huge laugh, as did her line that "Book TV makes up for The Kardashians. 

Breakfast goers got a short excerpt of her upcoming book, and it is very funny, much in the vein of Tina Fey's Bossypants. My favorite essay is "Guys Need to Do Almost Nothing To Be Great"; there is a lot of good advice for guys in that essay.

She then introduced "the random panel" who only have in common that "three of us are white, which apparently is important to you guys." Diane Keaton was described by Kaling as "the pinup girl for literate, sensitive men who date women."

Keaton began with "we're gonna slow it down now, my book is a sad book." Then, Again is the title of her memoir, mostly about her relationship with the most important person in her life, her mother. Keaton spoke lovingly about her mother, who passed away after battling Alzheimer's.

Her mom Dorothy worked at Hunter's Bookstore in Beverly Hills, and Keaton said it was "a great to see such a large group of booksellers." Dorothy wrote her entire life, about being a woman, about going back to school at age 40, and raging against her husband's cancer.

In 1993, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, but continued to write everyday , "in sentences, then just words, then just numbers until she couldn't write anymore".

Keaton spoke of never marrying, saying that she dated unattainable men, like Woody Allen, Warren Beatty and Al Pacino. She said "I wanted to be adored by all, yet chose to stay safe in the arms of Dorothy and Jack" (her dad).

While reading from her upcoming book about her mother's battle with Alzheimer's, she broke down and it was a moving, sincere moment. She sobbed noticeably, and the entire room became silent and teary-eyed.

Keaton said that her book is about "what's lost in success contrasted with an ordinary life". I can't wait to read it when it publishes.

Author Jeffrey Eugenides had the unfortunate position of following Keaton, but Kaling introduced him by saying that when she sees a copy of his Middlesex on a guy's bookshelf, she knows he's OK. She called Middlesex "a literary canary in my sexual coal mine".

Eugenides became a writer because he "didn't want to get up this early" which elicited a laugh from the audience. He joked about the morning's "trajectory from comedy to Alzheimer's to something sadder- marriage", which is the topic of his upcoming book, The Marriage Plot.

He described the process of writing this book, where his protagonist Madeline is "besotted with 19th century novels". Most great 19th century novels have marriage as its plot, and Eugenides updates that with his characters, who we meet following college in 1982.  It sounds intriguing, but he didn't have anything to share with us, as he just turned it in to his editor the day prior.

I missed the end of the program with author Charlaine Harris, who was the only author to have a complete book to share with everyone, the latest in her Sookie Stackhouse series, Dead Reckoning. Fans of HBO's True Blood series have something new to look forward to.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

How a book goes from proposal to publication

During BEA, I had the opportunity to visit the Harper Collins offices with a group of bloggers. We were treated to a discussion of how a book, in this case The Beekeeper's Lament by Hannah Nordhaus, goes from proposal to actual publication and beyond.

Editor Michael Signorelli began by describing the pitch he received from Nordhaus' agent about an article she had written about a beekeeper. She thought there was a good story there, one that would make an interesting book. Signorelli loved the proposal, and Harper bought the book.

With a non-fiction book like this, you usually get a proposal and outline of the book, with a few chapters written. A fiction book is usually bought on the basis of reading the entire novel first, which makes sense. The editor wants to make sure the ending of the novel works.

Signorelli's job is get everyone else excited about the book, and he did a terrific job with this book. Robin Bilardello from the Art Department showed us several different cover ideas they created before settling on the current one (see photo).

She spoke about using just bees on the cover, but that may turn some people off. (People have strong feelings about bees.) Some covers had bees, some had bees on flowers, some had a rendering of a beekeeper. We saw different fonts, and some of the covers differed only very subtly.

We heard from Erica Barmash in Marketing (a great host for the day!) and Jessica Wells in Sales discuss the different ideas they had to sell the book. Erica talked about reaching out to to bloggers, matching up the right book with the right blogger, and how she uses the Harper Perennial blog, The Olive Reader, to generate excitement. Jessica works with many of the big retailers, and I enjoyed her perspective of working with them during this changing economic atmosphere.

Gregory Henry talked about publicity, and I found his talk most interesting. He did not work on this book, but the ideas he ran through on how he would publicize this book to the many different special interest groups (targeting beekeeping organizations, farming organizations, newspapers in target areas such as California, where the beekeeper frequently worked, and Denver, where the author frequently writes for the local paper, NPR Radio) fascinated me. He was full of ideas, and this is something I used to do when I worked in a marketing department for an upstate mall. We had a very small budget, so creativity was key. I loved his creativity!

After a delicious lunch, we were joined by four Harper authors- Diana Spechler, who wrote Skinny, Greg Olear, author of Father Mucker (a great title), Lauren Belfer, author of A Fierce Radiance, and Talia Carner, author of Jerusalem Maiden. 

The authors spoke to us in small groups, and the conversations were lively and interesting. (I was delighted to run into Carner at a book signing she had at BookHampton in East Hampton last week, the link to my post on that is here.)

The best part of the day was hearing people who are so passionate about their jobs. This group loves books, and their excitement about their jobs was contagious. They inspired us all with their enthusiasm to keep on doing what we're doing.

Talia Carner at BookHampton

My husband and I made our first trip to the Hamptons this weekend. We had a lovely time, and enjoyed walking around the village. Of course, I searched out the local bookstore, and was delighted to see that Talia Carner, author of Jerusalem Maiden, was doing a signing on Saturday.

I met Talia at the Harper Collins blogger luncheon and had a wonderful conversation with her. I stopped by the beautiful BookHampton bookstore, which has such a fabulous, classy ambience with their wonderfully displayed books, and there was a standing-room only crowd there for Talia.

She spoke eloquently about her novel, set in Jerusalem during the end of the Ottoman Empire in 1911. Young Esther has to decide whether she should marry and have children to honor God as is expected of her, or to follow her dream and talent as an artist.

Creating art violates the second commandment, "Thou shall not create a graven image", so being an artist would put Esther in a struggle between her religion and her talent. Carner spoke of her grandmother and how her grandmother's ambitions as an artist were thwarted. She said she "was inspired by her grandmother's unlived life" to write this novel.

Carner did a great deal of research for her novel, visiting Jerusalem, and learning of the many hardships women suffered back then. There was a high infant mortality rate, and 50% of the women died in childbirth, mostly because they gave birth to so many children.

Since Esther made a trip to Paris in the novel, Carner had to follow her. Her vivid descriptions of walking through the city brought delight to the crowd.

Carner spoke with everyone and signed their books. I enjoy books about empowered women, and her words inspired me to put Jerusalem Maiden on my TBR list. I'll post a review soon.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Catch Me if You Can at Macy's

Last week my husband dragged me to Macy's because he needed shorts. I went (reluctantly), and got a big surprise. When we first walked in, I saw two women wearing bright blue stewardesses outfits, but they looked very dated. Then it struck me that they looked like the stewardesses from the Broadway musical, Catch Me If You Can.

We go upstairs, and the lovely ladies are there announcing that there will be a performance of three songs from Catch Me If You Can, in the men's department. Hallelujah! I told my husband to take his time, I would be enjoying the show.

Tom Wopat, who plays Frank Abagnale Sr. started the party with the song "50 Checks", which is on the cast recording CD, but not in the show. Too bad- it's a great song, and he is terrific. I loved him in the show.

Kerry Butler plays the love interest Brenda, and she belted out "Fly, Fly Away", her only big song in the show, which is a shame because she has a fantastic voice.

Aaron Tveit plays Frank Abagnale Jr, con man extraordinaire, and he sang "Good-Bye". He is so fabulous in the show, and he makes you forget that Leo DiCaprio played the role in the movie, no small feat indeed.

I saw the show and thought its was terrific- it is nominated for Best Musical this week at the Tony's, and while it probably won't win, if you are in NYC and want to see a fun show, go see it. Norbert  Leo Butz (nominated for a Tony) is unbelievable, and has the show stopper song, "Don't Break the Rules" that is amazing.

You never know what's around the corner in NYC- a Broadway musical preview at Macy's on a week night. I got to meet the stars and tell them how much I enjoyed the show.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Kelli O'Hara at Barnes & Noble

I saw Kelli O'Hara in South Pacific a few years ago, and she was so radiant as Nelly Forbush. I also saw her at Seth Rudetsky's Sirius XM's Live on Broadway radio show, singing a really cute song They Don't Let You in the Opera (If You're a Country Star).

She has a popular cabaret act that she has taken across the country, and now a CD of that show, Always, has been released on Ghostlight Records. To promote the CD, O'Hara appeared at the Barnes & Noble 86th St. store to sing five songs, and she was wonderful.

She opened with What More Do I Need?, written by Stephen Sondheim for the show Saturday Night. Then she sang a song by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey, the creative team behind Broadway's Next to Normal. The song was written for Sondheim's 80th birthday celebration, and you could hear the Sondheimian influence.

The CD is named Always,  and of course she sang the Irvin Berlin classic, a song her grandparents had at their wedding, and one that she has sung at weddings herself. It gave me goosebumps!

Another Sondheim song, Finishing the Hat, from Sundays in the Park With George was heartfelt, and she finished with her comic masterpiece co-written by her accompanist Dan Lipton, They Don't Let You in the Opera (If You're A Country Star).  This is an incredible feat of singing, and you have to hear to really appreciate it. The video below is from the radio show, courtesy of YouTube.

Editor's Buzz Panel at Book Expo

The Editor's Buzz Panel books

My favorite panel at the Book Expo is the Editor's Buzz Panel. Six editors each present a book from their publishing house that they are proud of, and one that they hope will be a big seller.

Denise Roy, a senior editor at Dutton, presented the novel The Underside of Joy by Sere Prince Halverson. It is the story of a woman who loses her husband in an accident. She has been mom to her husband's young daughter, but the girl's birth mother comes forward after the funeral to claim her daughter. It is an exploration of the complex relationship between two moms, and it is not what it appears to be.

Roy identified so strongly with the book because she too lost her husband at a young age, and she understood these characters.

Kathy Pories of Algonquin Books (one of my favorite publishing houses) spoke about Naomi Benaron's Running the Rift. The novel won the Bellwether Prize, chosen by author Barbara Kingsolver. Pories states that in her 15 years as a editor, she has never been so moved by a book as she was by this one.

It tells the story of a young Rwandan boy who wished to compete in the Olympics as a runner. Rwanda was undergoing the tragic genocide at this time, and this novel "coveys the beauty and tragedy" of this country. The young runner does not want to get involved in the Tutsi/Hutu conflict, he only wants to run, and this novel "forces us to recognize the repercussions of being apolitical".

Michael Pietsch from Little, Brown & Company had the book that most intrigued me, The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach. He had me at "it's the story of a catcher on a college baseball team". (My younger son caught since the age of eight.)

It's more than just a 'baseball novel' though. It's a novel about youth, of striving for perfection, of figuring out who you are, who you will become. Peach said he had "aching tenderness for these people". It has "two love stories, a death, a championship season- who could ask for more?" Not me.

 Popular author James Patterson said that is reminded him of The World According to Garp, which is one of my all-time favorite novels. This one moved to the top of my TBR list immediately.

Alaine Salierno Mason of W.W. Norton spoke about Diana Abu-Jaber's Birds of Paradise. She worked on Abu-Jaber's first novel, Arabian Jazz, and she believes that this will be her breakout book.

Set in Miami it's about "family, food and real estate- the three most important things in life." She says it is "deep and sophisticated", and speaks to "youthful passion and rebellion versus middle-aged wisdom".  Avis is a pastry chef whose thirteen-year-old daughter ran away five years ago. It's the story of how a family is lost to each other and must find each other again.

Mason states that this book is "a new level of literary achievement, so rich with complexity you can chew on it after reading."

Jenna Johnson from Harcourt Mifflin Houghton brought debut novelist Justin Torres we the animals, a slim story of three brothers and "the push, pull and comfort of each other". It forces us to "reconcile who we are with who our family wants us to be". It's "filled with energy, beauty and fireworks" and "this book creates hardcore fans."

She says that it is filled with original imagery and overcomes you. I met Torres at BEA when he was signing books, and he was just the most delightful person. He had a big smile for everyone, and seemed so thrilled to be there. He is a very genuine person.

The last book was from Alison Callahan of Doubleday, and it was Erin Morgenstern's novel The Night Circus.  Callahan got the manuscript and read it in five hours in the office cafeteria. It is set in the 19th century, where a magical circus pops up in a city for one day, then moves on to the next city.

There is a duel between two magicians, a game that only ends when one of the magicians dies. Celia and Marco find themselves pitted against each other, and falling in love at the same time. Callahan said that this is "like reading a book in 3-D, with pop-in visuals where you can smell the scents". It is a "feast for the senses in every way".

She says it is a big love story, like The Time Traveler's Wife. I can tell you that the buzz on this book at BEA reminded me of last year's Room by Emma Donoghue. Everyone wanted this ARC, and the line for her signing had hundreds of people in it, snaking all around the Javits Center. I spoke with one man who said that this was the most exciting, incredible book he's ever read.  I also liked the marketing of this book- Doubleday had people dressed in black and red, handing out bags of popcorn; it made an impression.

So to recap, the six books from the Editor's Buzz Panel in the order in which I want to read them:
1. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
2. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
3. Birds of Paradise  by Diana Abu-Jaber
4. The Underside of Joy by Sere Prince Halverson
5. Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron
6. we the animals  by Justin Torrres