Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Veil not worth parting

I had such hopes for Jay Davis' "Parting the Veil."
Veil is the story of John Creed. Revived after being clinically dead for 10 minutes, he discovers some new skills and has some disturbing dreams.
I expected too much.
I was hoping that from that set-up would follow a probing tale about near-death experiences and our connections to each other now and later.
Instead, it was all very let's-put-on-a-show. Events were too pat, and there was little in the way of character development.
I can forgive a lot in a work. As Jason noted in his post a few days ago, I think a captivating story elevates otherwise so-so writing. I think compelling characters can keep you turning pages filled with otherwise average writing.
Not everything is for everybody, I guess.
Tonight, "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society," a recommendation from my mom. And if all goes well I will avoid any housework at all and start on the books I picked up at lunch at Euclid library!!
Keeping my fingers crossed.
- Tricia Ambrose

Labels: ,

Monday, June 28, 2010

My son's love of the Buckeyes

As a diehard Buckeyes fan, I have to admit I'm more than thrilled by my 19-month-old son Samson's favorite book of late.

It's Triumph Book's "For the Love of the Buckeyes: An A-to-Z primer for Buckeyes Fans of All Ages." The book, written by Frederick C. Klein, isn't exactly ready made for a baby boy yet to turn 2, which only adds to my glee.

There's in-depth information for each individual, event or venue mentioned, even going as far as describing why Woody Hayes was fired in the late 1970s. In case you haven't heard, he punched an opposing player during a bowl game. Samson doesn't need to know that - at least not yet.

The book is 48 pages with wonderful artwork of some of Ohio State's greatest players and coaches. The obvious letters of note are E (for Eddie George), G (for Archie Griffin), L (for linebakers), T (for Jim Tressel) and W (for Woody Hayes), to name a few.

With each letter is an accompanying rhyme, which is right up Samson's alley.

His favorite: "G" is for Griffin, that's Archie, first-name. Two Heisman Trophies cemented his fame.

Samson is fascinated by the artwork of Griffin and it's warranted. Illustrator Mark Anderson is a talented artist. The book isn't too bad either. Just ask Samson.

- Mark Podolski

Neil Gaiman and the Difference betwixt Good Writing and a Good Story

Today’s post is all about Neil Gaiman. Place your bets on how long I can last without typing “oneiric.”

Gaiman co-edited an anthology of short stories, entitled Stories, with Al Sarrantonio.

It its introduction, Gaiman writes, “What we missed, what we wanted to read, were stories that made us care, stories that forced us to turn the page. Yes, we wanted good writing (why be satisfied with less?). But we wanted more than that.”

The Guardian Book Blog took issue with the comment, saying that the best writing must come with a good story.

To be fair, I’m not sure Gaiman would say any different. If anything, Gaiman seems to be saying that you can have a good story without good writing. (Harry Potter is an easy example but there are plenty of others.) But Gaiman said he wanted stories with both.

My co-blogger, Tricia, might argue that if a story is good enough, it is also good writing. She would not be alone in her opinion.

Isaac Bashevis Singer wrote, “A good writer is basically a story-teller, not a scholar or a redeemer of mankind.”

Others would argue that the two are inseparable. For the writing to be good, so must the story. (This is the point the Guardian seems to want to make.) Also, for the story to be good, the writing must be also.

Thomas Hardy wrote, "The recent school of novel writers forget in their insistence on life, and nothing but life, in a plain slice, that a story must be worth the telling, that a good deal of life is not worth any such thing, and that they must not occupy the reader’s time with what he can get at first hand anywhere around him."

I, personally, would distinguish between good writing and good stories; but I agree with the Guardian Book Blog in that the best examples of both have the support of the other.

Moving on, Stories includes short fiction from Roddy Doyle, Joanne Harris, Jodi Picoult, Peter Straub, Chuck Palahniuk and Michael Moorcock.

Doyle’s story, in the words of Gaiman, is “a beautiful, heartbreaking study of a mid-life crisis and the failure of a marriage.”

It also has vampires, which leads Gaiman to ruminate, “Like some kind of particularly tenacious vampire the short story refuses to die, and seems at this point in time to be a wonderful length for our generation. It’s a perfect length to read on an iPad, your Kindle or your phone.”

So there you have it. Short stories are the new vampires.

Finally, I wanted to leave you with Neil Gaiman and Damian Kulash from OK Go singing “Happy Together.”

-Jason Lea, JLea@News-Herald.com

P.S. This begs for a Venn Diagram showing where I feel certain authors land on the overlap between "good writing" and "good stories."

P.P.S. Oneiric

Labels: ,

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Odds and Book Ends (June 28-July 4)

Odds and Book Ends features activities and events in the area related to libraries, books and authors. Send your events to Community@News-Herald.com, and check back to The Book Club every week for upcoming events and activities at your local library.

No events on my calendar this week. Check back July 4 for more.

--Cheryl Sadler

Saturday, June 26, 2010

GalleyCat Invented the Remix

GalleyCat finished its remix of Horatio Alger’s Joe’s Luck: Always Wide Awake.

Eighty-four people – including writers of prose and poetry, artists and videogame designers – volunteered to rewrite a page Alger’s tale of rags to riches. GalleyCat has assembled these rewrites into one Frankenstein monster of a remix.

Some channeled H.P. Lovecraft, Jack Kerouac or Quentin Tarentino. Others drew their page as a comic book or rewrote them as Twitter feeds. Roheeni Saxena wrote her page as a pair of sonnets. Paul K. Tunis somehow used his page to explain the concept of Schrodinger’s Cat.

(Any reference to Schrodinger’s Cat is endearing to me. I watched Big Bang Theory for a season too long just because they mentioned the concept in one of their season finales.)

I rewrote the first page of chapter 25 (page 90 on the link) as a series of rhyming couplets. (I gave up on making the meter work, but I did manage to rhyme “Phoenix” and “V-6.”) Now, I can say I collaborated with Duane Swierczynski, the man who wrote Cable for Marvel Comics.

But Jenny Sparks, a freelance videogame designer, made the best contribution (p. 98). She recreated her page as a series of screenshots from an 8-bit role playing game. She even worked an Oregon Trail joke into her biography. (Creative, cool name, love of Oregon Trail – I’m guessing Jenny Sparks has to beat the suitors back with a cattle prod.)

Jason Boog, the man behind the remix, said he specifically chose Joe’s Luck because it’s awful. Its dialogue is so wooden, it’s a fire hazard. (Don’t like that joke? I have others. How about “so wooden, it can float on water?” No? “So wooden, UCLA tried to hire it as a basketball coach.” Whatever, I quit.) Without fear of ruining a classic, the remixers could let their ideas run rampant.

The entire project is available as a free e-book in abridged and unabridged versions.

-Jason Lea, JLea@News-Herald.com

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Danger of Rewriting Anne Frank

I have argued against fictionalizing nonfiction before.

When discussing Dave Eggers’ The What, I said the schism between Valentino Achak Deng’s life and Eggers’ novel distracted me.

So you can imagine how I feel about what has been described as a “sexed up” version of the Anne Frank story.

But, the thing is, this one bothers me a lot less after having read an interview with the author.

For those who don’t know, Anne Frank wrote what may have been the most important autobiography ever. As a teenage girl of Jewish faith and descent, she kept a diary while hiding from Nazi soldiers in an attic.

Sharon Dogar has now written a coming-of-age story titled Annexed from the perspective of Peter van Pels, a young man who shared the attic with Anne.

Peter is a real person. In her diary, the 16-year-old boy gave Anne her first kiss, though the relationship ultimately waned when Anne questioned whether her affinity for him was genuine or the result of their proximity and confinement.

I haven’t read Annexed yet. It doesn’t come out until October. But news reports have said that it includes scenes of “Peter yearning for and having a physically intimate relationship with Anne.”

The Sunday Times accused Dogar of “sexing up” the Anne Frank tale, but Dogar protests the implication that she’s exploiting Anne Frank or using her to tell tales of ribaldry.

In an interview with the Guardian, Dogar says of Peter and Anne’s relationship, “in the book the reality of just one truly intimate touch was enough to stop them.”

However, the criticism keeps coming. Anne Frank’s only living relative, Buddy Elias, said, “Anne was not the child she is in this book. I also do not think that their terrible destiny should be used to invent some fictitious story.”

The executive director of the Anne Frank Trust, Gillian Walnes, said, “I really don’t understand why we have to fictionalise the Anne Frank story, when young people engage with it anyway. To me it seems like exploitation. If this woman writer is such a good novelist, why doesn’t she create characters from scratch?”

Both of these criticism are fair, and I might be inclined with them had Dogar not made her own case so well.

In the aforementioned Guardian interview, Dogar said, “The problem is that a writer doesn’t always choose what they write. The idea of this book plagued me for 15 years. I tried quite hard not to write it, mostly because I had similar concerns; I couldn’t do it justice, I wasn’t sure it was legitimate, I didn’t believe I had the talent to portray the horror of the Holocaust. But sometimes stories just come and you can’t stop them.”

The Guardian also published an editorial defending Dogar’s decision:

Do what you like, only do it well – and don’t expect the relatives to approve...

The question of whether authors have the “right” to write about living or real people is not one that should be answered by the caretakers of historical reputation. Fiction is a free-for-all, and as long as an author can find someone who’ll publish what they write (or these days, publish it themselves), there are no actual rules about who or what can be tackled, give or take a few libel laws.

I don’t know if I agree with Dogar or the Guardian’s arguments. (I do think writers should have more standards than libel laws, and writers self-censor all the time.) But they are persuasive enough that I am willing to reserve judgment until I have read, at least, a portion of the book.

That having been said, the standards are raised when you deal with such respected source material. If Dogar succeeds, she’s a genius. If she fails, she’ll be remembered as the person who sexed up Anne Frank.

-Jason Lea, JLea@News-Herald.com

Labels: , ,

Monday, June 21, 2010

What makes a happy marriage?

Nothing like a few lazy hours relaxing with a novel.

Among this weekend's reads were "Writing Jane Austen" by Elizabeth Aston, "The Space Between Us" by John MacKenna and "A Happy Marriage" by Rafael Yglesias.

Each had something going for it, but Yglesias's work is the one that stood out for me.

Aston has penned several novels in her "Darcy Series." This is the first I've read, and I'll confess I likely won't be reading the others. It was a well-paced woman-in-a-pseudo-crisis-romance novel. I enjoyed it, but it left no lasting impression on me. Other than to remind me that I'd like to reread "Pride and Prejudice."

MacKenna's novel was a lot more complicated. At the outset, the protagonist reflects on the night his wife was killed in a car accident leaving him alone to raise their daughter. What follows are his reflections on his relationships with her, his daughter, his mother and his married neighbor. He's a hard character to have much respect for; he did not love his wife, he's not very nice to his mom and that's not the half of it! Though I guess there is something to be said for the novel's claim that it's questioning whether we truly know another person. I'm just not sure this is a person I'd want to know.

The highlight for me was Yglesias' "A Happy Marriage." This autobiographical novel alternates chapters between a couple's early days and the final days of the wife's battle with cancer.

It is a raw and emotional work. Yglesias' Enrique is not without his faults, and his relationship with his wife Margaret not the idyll we like to imagine in a "happy marriage."

Still, I was moved by the exploration. What makes a "happy" marriage? Is it only when faced with its loss that we truly understand what we have in a partner?

Yglesias writes: "Enrique was losing the partner of his past and his present and his future just when he most desired her choreography. ... Yes, he resented them all for asking him to make them feel better that a part of their world was ending, when the very center of his was melting in his palms, slipping through his fingers, spilling onto the floor. Soon, very soon, only a puddle of his heart would remain."

Sigh. Wouldn't it be a nicer world if we all could place our spouses at the center of our worlds before faced with imminent death?

- Tricia Ambrose

Labels: , ,

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Odds and Book Ends (June 21-27)

Odds and Book Ends features activities and events in the area related to libraries, books and authors. Send your events to Community@News-Herald.com, and check back to The Book Club every week for upcoming events and activities at your local library.

Make a Fairy Garden at 2 p.m. June 22 at the Read House, next to Mentor Public Library, 8215 Mentor Ave.
The event is for ages 3 and older with an adult.
For details and registration, call 440-255-8811.

The Perry Public Library will present the program “Water Features for Your Yard” at 7 p.m. June 22. Attendees will learn how to enhance yards with the sound of a trickling waterfall, the flowing images in a reflection pool and more. A representative of the Pattie Group, an award-winning landscape design firm, will discuss design, installation and maintenance in a power point presentation.
The Perry Library is at 5753 Main St. For more information or to register, call 440-259-3300.

A watercolor workshop will take place at 7 p.m. June 24 at Perry Public Library.
Participants will explore the technique of watercolor painting and create their own notecards.
The instructor will incorporate design, paint washes, mix colors and create textures, ensuring participants a good composition.
All skill levels are welcome and all materials are provided.
For details and to register, call the Perry Public Library at 440-259-3300 or visit www.perrypubliclibrary.org.

A Celebration of Pets will be from 10:30 a.m. to noon at the Burton Public Library on June 26. Sponsored by Amy & Kevin O’Reilly of Geauga Feed and Grain Supply and the Burton Public Library, the program will include a parade of pets and a special storytime.
John’s Photography will be on hand to take a photo of you and your pet, and you will be able to make a frame for your photo during the program. All ages are welcome and the program is free of charge. Dogs must be leashed and all pets must be under their owners’ control at all times during the program. Call the Burton Public Library to register for this program at 440-834-4466.

--Cheryl Sadler

Labels: , , , , ,

Friday, June 18, 2010

Surviving Bloomsday

Ron Artest thanked his hood, his wife and his sports psychologist in that order. Then, he still had time to plug his new single.

Say Queensbridge!

While I scouted the price of an Artest jersey, others celebrated Bloomsday.

James Joyce’s most celebrated novel, Ulysses, was set on June 16, 1904; so, every June 16, the fervent gather in Dublin to retrace the steps of Leopold Bloom.

My beef with Joyce is long-standing and well-documented. However, I’m considering giving Ulysses another chance after Michelle Kerns, a critic for who I have much respect, wrote a column on how Joyce Haters can become Joyce Lovers. (While I do enjoy Dubliners, I probably county as a hater.)

Her first suggestion is read a version of The Odyssey, the source material for Ulysses. (Check.) But her next recommendation flummoxes me. Kerns suggests that readers use one of the two schema that Joyce gave to friends to help them understand the book. (Yes, Ulysses is so confusing that two of Joyce’s friends requested a chart to help make sense of it.)

I don’t like the notion of using schema and criticisms to understand a text. I feel a good author will give you everything you need to understand a story on the page. If you want something obscure, leave it obscure. If you want to make something clear, clarify it. Don’t obfuscate something just so you can clarify it elsewhere.

Obviously, there are some exceptions. Language changes over years, and meanings are lost or added. If someone wants additional context that has been lost to history, fine. But James Joyce operated in darkness, regardless of era. (He described Finnegan’s Wake as being in the language of night. By comparison, Ulysses would be dusky. There is still light, but the sun is going down.)

Please understand, I’m not saying that Joyce isn’t genius or that people who enjoy his writing are wrong. I just bristle at stories that require an MFA to be enjoyed. Perhaps, I’m protesting too much. Maybe I should grab a schema, retrieve my copy of Ulysses and give it an honest go.

As Kerns said “like every meaningful commitment, the more you put into it, the more you’re going to get out of it. There are precious few books that fall into this category: Ulysses is one of them.”

But Ulysses is one-half of a high-maintenance relationship, and Joyce has hurt me before. I can’t shake the feeling that he might not be worth it.

In completely unrelated news, hard-boiled Scandinavian detectives are the new vampires.

-Jason Lea, JLea@News-Herald.com

P.S. Also unrelated, Tricia and I took a few minutes from our day to visit the beach and ask people what they are reading this summer.

(Yes, I may have worn a suit to the beach, but Tricia wore heels.)


Thursday, June 17, 2010

Favorite author delivers again

Jodi Picoult has been one of my favorite authors since I first stumbled upon "Perfect Match."

I was so enthralled I went back and read her earlier novels and have read all her subsequent novels.

But, I'm not always on top of the latest releases. That's what happens when a)You take recommendations from a lot of people and try to read them all b) You don't often purchase books, and c)You try to not live in actual filth.

Not that I'm complaining. There's scads of books that capture my attention. And reading "Handle With Care" was no less a great experience because I waited a year.

While I have loved some of her books more than others, none has disappointed.

This is no exception.

Click here to read an excerpt and listen to the author talk about the story behind the book.

I'd say I can't wait to read her "House Rules," but I probably will get wrapped up in a bunch of other works and stumble upon it later!

- Tricia Ambrose

P.S. Thanks for the suggestions! I've read some of the Michael Crichton works mentioned but not all. And, TJ, Eat Pray Love has been on my list for too long now (talk about late to the party!)

P.P.S. Michael Koryta will be at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Legacy Village at 7 p.m. tonight (June 17) to discuss and sign his "So Cold the River."

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Books for beach reading

In theory at least the weather in Northeast Ohio will be summery soon (keeping my fingers crossed that it's on a weekend).

I'm looking forward to kicking back with some good beach reads. And by good I mean page-turning, light, breezy, fun chick lit. And a touch of the bodice-ripper doesn't hurt either. Exactly the sort of book my cohort Jason despises.

Got to thinking about the best beach books I've read. And started looking for some new ones to put on my list.

NPR did a survey last summer and J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series books topped it.

At Amazon.com, the No. 1 book on the Best Seriously Entertaining Beach Reads is "This Is Not Civilization" by Robert Rosenberg.

About.com breaks down its top books to read at the beach by genre. It offers suggestions to hose who like romance, tear-jerkers, mysteries and more.

And Goodhousekeeping.com suggests Maeve Binchy's "Tara Road" as one worth toting on vacation.

I've read the Potter books and most everything by Binchy (including "Tara Road," which was a nice way to spend an afternoon).

I've put the Rosenberg work on my list, but I'm always looking for more, so if you've got a suggestion please pass it on.

Here's a few of my favorites you may enjoy. (And by you I don't mean you, Jason.)

"Penmarric" and "Cashelmara" by Susan Howatch. Families whose fortunes rise and fall across the generations. Just about every vice you can think of is represented here. Perennial favorites among the readers in my family.

"Good in Bed" and "In Her Shoes" by Jennifer Weiner. Women who think they're not thin enough or pretty enough to get what they want do. How can you not love that!?

Sophie Kinsella's Shopaholic series. Made for beach reading.

Let the sun shine!

- Tricia Ambrose

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Ghostwriters, Nitpickers and Minotaurs

I have a bit of ground to cover after disappearing for a week.

I could talk at length about Amazon getting into direct publishing or Penguin sex scandals. (Sadly, the “penguin” in question is the book publisher, not the bird. It would be funnier to write about salacious avian affairs.) But I’m too late to either of these topics to say anything new.

Instead, allow me to use this post as a purge for all of the worthwhile links that I have accumulated in the last seven days.

First, Michelle Kerns updates her Reviewerspeak Awards. For those who don’t remember, Kerns is meticulously following book reviewers so she can catalogue their most overused clichés.

Book reviewers seem to be aware of Kerns because usage of April’s most popular clichés has dwindled. Unfortunately, they have been replaced with others.

“Fascinating” and variations on “vivid” were the most common clichés of May.

In other news, Stan Carey has smacked back at the Queen’s English Society for its nitpickery. The society wants to “set an accepted standard of good English.” In other words, they want to regulate the tenets of the language.

That’s silly for a lot of reasons (and, seemingly, a tad jingoistic), but it’s not necessary for me to recapitulate Carey’s entire argument. Instead, I’ll leave you with a link and a quote:

This plaintive appeal is telling in many ways. It reveals the deep confusion that arises when one tries to reconcile language, in all its mutable complexity, with simplistic dogma and prejudice. It hints at a nostalgic hankering for the halcyon days when grammar education was based more on strict commandments (often imposed by grammarians to reflect mere stylistic preferences). It shows an arrogant presumption that right-thinking people ought to think just like them...

Since English seems to be changing faster than ever, no academy could hope to keep up. This is especially so because of the geographical reach of English and its consequent fracturing into countless overlapping varieties.

Elsewhere, The Millions details the joy of ghostwriting.

“I bristle at the term ‘ghostwriter,’” says [Michael] D’Orso. “It indicates dishonesty. It indicates hiding behind the scenes. I prefer collaborator. I’m not a shill.”

Finally, Minotaurs are the new vampires.

-Jason Lea, JLea@News-Herald.com

P.S. Thank you, Tricia, for keeping the blog warm while I was gone.

Labels: , ,

Monday, June 14, 2010

Never complain about the cold again after this!

While browsing the stacks of new nonfiction at Euclid Library last week, I happened upon "Ice Road" by Stefan Waydenfeld.

Subtitled "An epic journey from the Stalinist labor camps to freedom," it fit right into my desire to expand my knowledge of past conflicts. Plus, the title is a grabber, isn't it?

Waydenfeld's account of his Polish family's nomadic years during World War II is a real eye-opener.

I cannot imagine packing everything I own into suitcases at gunpoint, forced to leave my home, sent off to an unknown future. And the Waydenfelds did it more than once!

Waydenfeld doesn't mince words and his book is surprisingly unsentimental. There is no woe-is-me - and he sure had reason! - at all.

His family went from middle class existence (his father was a doctor; his mother a bacteriologist) to working the most brutal of jobs in the most brutal of conditions in a Siberian labor camp.

Reading his account of logging in Siberia and in particular of the night work on the ice road, I vow to never complain about the cold again.

In such circumstances, it'd be easy to lose hope. Yet he keeps focused on the future and a return to his education.

Among the items Waydenfeld lugged from place to place were school books. How many of us can say we would have done the same?

I'm not sure I would have had the fortitude to endure half of what he did, let alone with so little complaint and hatred for those who essentially robbed him of so much.

Read more about his journey here.

- Tricia Ambrose

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Odds and Book Ends (June 14-20)

Odds and Book Ends features activities and events in the area related to libraries, books and authors. Send your events to Community@News-Herald.com, and check back to The Book Club every week for upcoming events and activities at your local library.

The summer reading program for participants ages 16 and older, “Water Your Mind — Read!” begins June 14 at the Perry Public Library.
For more information, call the library at 440-259-3300 or visit www.perrypubliclibrary.org.

“The Art and Science of Aviation” will take place from 7 to 8:45 p.m. June 14 at the Middlefield Library.
Jim Arnold, licensed pilot, will explain how aircraft fly, cockpit instruments and the principles of flight in layman terms.
This program is sponsored by the East Geauga Friends of the Library. Registration is suggested for this program and can made by calling 440-632-1961.
The Middlefield Library is at 16167 E. High St.

Linda Legeza, Cleveland-based author of “Cooler Full of Fish,” will visit the Mentor Public Library (main) from 7 to 8 p.m. June 14.
The book is a novel about Jeff Grabowski, who has a magic touch with fishing and is using that touch to keep his father’s charter fishing business afloat. But Jeff wants more from his life and begins to search for his true calling.
Books will be available for purchase and signing.
To attend, call 440-255-8811, ext. 215, or contact Steve Haas at steve.haas@mentorpl.org.

Get Fit Challenge No. 1 will take place at 10 a.m. June 18 at The Read House, next to Mentor Public Library (main).
Stretch and strengthening will be included.
Registration required. Call 440-255-8811.

--Cheryl Sadler

Labels: , , , , ,

Friday, June 11, 2010

Thumbs up for 'Hand'

I was delighted to happen upon "The Hand that First Held Mine" by Maggie O'Farrell. I loved,loved,loved her "The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox."

I wasn't quite as captivated by these characters, but "Hand" still delivers.

O'Farrell tells two seemingly different tales, alternating between Lexie Sinclair and her struggles to make her way in the world on her own terms and new mom Elina and her partner Ted and their struggles to cope with parenthood.

Are these two stories connected? Of course. But not in the ways you first might think. O'Farrell is masterful at hinting at what lies beneath the surface.

Here we wonder how much can we trust our memory? Isn't there a reason the mind blocks certain events?

Again, O'Farrell mines the depths of human relationships and the many ways we justify our actions for our own survival.

- Tricia Ambrose

Thursday, June 10, 2010

My next person-gone-missing novel is "Songs for the Missing" by Stewart O'Nan.

This novel is much more focused on the family left behind after 18-year-old Kim vanishes one summer.

Do her friends know more than they're saying? Is her mother "enjoying" the spotlight? Is her father pulling away from the family? Will her sister let herself out from her shadow?

What has happened to Kim?

The answers to these questions are revealed slowly but surely. There is no a-ha moment here. Just a real-life scenario unwrapped a layer at a time - just like real life.

The only thing that kept me from fully getting lost in the novel - and it's a failing of mine, certainly not of O'Nan's - was the setting.

Missing takes place here.

The Larsen family lives in Ashtabula County. They talk of Painesville and Mentor and Sandusky.

My first thought was, how cool. But then I started looking for miscues. Perhaps it's the editor in me. Everytime a place or distance was mentioned, I paused and tried to calculate the accuracy.

I've never encountered this need before; just goes to show you how few novels are set in our backyard. I'll wager some Northeast Ohio readers would enjoy the novel more because of its locale.

My personal hangups with setting aside, Missing is a revealing look at the aftermath of tragedy and a family's struggle to cope with the unknown.

- Tricia Ambrose

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Dear Holden, Quit Whining.

Ever wanted to tell Mina that she was too good for Jonathan Harker? Or tell Sal from On the Road to get a job?

Letters with Character gives us the opportunity (though it does not promise responses.) The blog publishes letters written by real people to fictional characters.

Some people play the idea for laughs. For example, Jill Powers suggests Cathy from Wuthering Heights stop dating relatives.

“Please stop lusting after your cousins. First, ewww. Second, hasn’t anyone explained inbreeding to you (I would think this would be of particular concern to you considering the family tendency towards madness)? And third, you can do better. Trust me, those cousins of yours? They’re no catch.”

Others use it to criticise a character or the book. Michael Powell says to Ishmael of Moby Dick: “I know you think that your intended audience is deeply ignorant about whales, but rest assured that many of us have learned about them in school. Please stop with the woodcut print reviews and return to the story.”

(Michael Powell is so right that I’m giving him his own blog tag. He better not waste it.)

Some writers insert themselves into the action. For example, Florentyna Leow details her bad romance with Hamlet.

“Let’s get this straight: you are not all that. But that’s why I like you: you’re as screwed up as any one of us. The Romantics made you the Edward Cullen of the 19th century, but I never bought it. (In my mind’s eye, you’re David Tennant.) I suspect that in real life you would infuriate me a lot and make sexist/smutty jokes all the time, but you’d still be a very charming and witty piece of work. I have to write an essay on you now (How about you come over instead? We’ll have lots of fun punning together). Is there any way you could not die? I’d like you to be my jig-maker.”

A few just want to express their appreciation to the character. Alyssa Finnegan — who has the prettiest name ever, by the way — writes to Alice, “I just wanted to let you know that I truly believe your tales of Wonderland. All the other grown-ups refuse to believe you, I know, but I do. I believe you. I know in my heart that the Cheshire Cat, The Mad Hatter, and everyone else really exist, even that nasty Queen of Hearts.”

Completely unrelated, Jacket Copy, the LA Times book blog, is asking bookish types about their favorite summer reads. Most of them use it as an opportunity to wax nostalgic about their teen years.

-Jason Lea, JLea@News-Herald.com


Monday, June 7, 2010

The first of many people gone missing

I've remarked before that it seems as if my library trips tend to yield books with common themes.

That was proved again last week with what seems a spate of people gone missing books.

I'll start with "Precious" by Sandra Novack.

It caught my eye on the shelf because I've been meaning to see the Oscar-winning film.

This novel and that film, however have nothing in common. (at least, I don't think so. I haven't seen the movie.)

In the summer of 1978, a 10-year-old girl goes missing from a Pennsylvania neighborhood.

Her mom retreats further into her alcohol-fueled isolation.

But the family at the heart of Precious lives down the street. There the missing girl's former best friend Sissy and her sister Eva are struggling to cope with the aftermath of their mother's sudden departure.

Novack reveals much about the workings of a family. The silences. The arguments. What is said, and more tellingly, what is unsaid.

As the returned mom Natalia says, "The thing about memories is that you can pick which ones to hold on to, and which ones to let go of. You can keep the good and leave the bad."

Like most novels that stick with me, this one left me pondering.

Is it truly possible to choose which memories to keep?

Is it easier to have the one you love taken from you or to know they've chosen to leave you?

- Tricia Ambrose

Labels: ,

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Odds and Book Ends (June 7-13)

Odds and Book Ends features activities and events in the area related to libraries, books and authors. Send your events to Community@News-Herald.com, and check back to The Book Club every week for upcoming events and activities at your local library.

Make a Wave Chalk Art program will take place from 10:30 a.m. to noon June 11 at the Lake Branch of Mentor Public Library.
The event is for all ages.
The Lake Branch is at 5642 Andrews Road, Mentor-on-the-Lake.
For details, call 440-257-2512.

Friends of the Burton Public Library will host a book sale from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 12 in the library basement. Burton Public Library is located opposite the Burton Park.
Books (fiction and nonfiction), magazines, vintage materials, maps, records, CDs, tapes, videos and puzzles will be available. Enter the sale through the white door located at the back of the building.

In conjunction with he Kirtland Kiwanis Strawberry Festival, a Strawberry Jog (5K run and 1-mile walk), will take place June 12 at Penitentiary Glen Reservation. The festival begins June 17.
The jog will benefit the Imagination Library of Kirtland, an in-home reading/early literacy program for children from birth to 5 years old.
Check-in and registration begin at 7:30 a.m. The run will start at 8:30 am., followed by the walk at 8:45 a.m.
Participant fees and donations are $25 per runner and $15 per walker.
To register or for more details, call 440-256-2414 or e-mail NewStrawberryJog@yahoo.com.

--Cheryl Sadler

Labels: , , ,

Friday, June 4, 2010

Moved by a war story; looking for more

Before I share my thoughts about "The Things They Carried," I have to respond to Jason's most recent post.

I again (shockingly!) agree more than I disagree.

What is it about books that makes me feel guilty for putting them down when they're just not doing it for me?

I have no problem switching the channel after a few minutes if I'm not into a television show and have been known to stop watching a movie (usually by falling asleep) that doesn't hold my interest. But books are different.

Maybe it's what I perceive as the different role of reader versus viewer. When I'm watching something, I'm more passive, taking in someone else's vision of things. When I'm reading, I'm more active. The voices I hear in my head are of my own creation (that makes me sound a bit less sane than I think I am!).

I somehow feel if I'm not enjoying the work - especially if it's one recommended to me by someone whose opinion I value - that there's something wrong with me. And so I slog on.

I don't have a list, but I wholeheartedly agree with Jason that there are some works that are tough to get into but deliver in the end.

Now on to "The Things They Carried" by Tim O'Brien, a book my mom put on my list.

When it comes to books, my mom usually knows best.

I've said before I'm not much of a war book reader, though I think that may be changing. Until "Matterhorn" earlier this year, the only war books I thought were must-reads were "Johnny Tremain" and "Across Five Aprils." And I'd read those in grade school!

It's not a book to fly through. And I see why some have suggested it as required reading for high schoolers studying the Vietnam War.

Carried unfolds as a series of essays. O'Brien's prose is not the kind that keeps you on the edge of your seat; it's the kind that gives you pause.

"It's hard to tell you what happened next.
They were just goofing. There was a noise, I suppose, which must've been the detonator, so I glanced behind me and watched Lemon step from the shade into bright sunlight. His face was brown and shining. A handsome kid, really. Sharp gray eyes, lean and narrow-waisted, and when he died it was almost beautiful, the way the sunlight came around him and lifted him up and sucked him high into a tree full of moss and vines and white blossoms."

Have you ever read such an understated, moving, beautiful description of something so horrifying?

Carried is a novel that will leave you reflecting.

And now it's left me in search of other novels of war. Any suggestions?

- Tricia Ambrose

Labels: ,

Thursday, June 3, 2010

I'm gon' quit you, book

I don’t like to quit books once I’ve begun them. That’s the main reason I’m so hesitant to start anything longer than 300 pages.

I abide by the Lemon Law when it comes to books. If I hate or, more likely, am bored by a book’s first 50 pages, I’ll quit it without any sense of guilt.

But what about the case of Anna Karenina? The first 200 pages are fantastic and, then, momentum stalls. What do I do? I have 400 pages left. These remaining pages could contain soul-draining boredom or unexplainable brilliance. I could waste hours, days of my life slogging through barely tolerable prose in hopes of finding one or two passages that will justify my devotion. (Or, as my friend likes to call it, Bolaño-ing.) I could also cut my losses and move on.

The problem is, sometimes, it is worth it.

Karenina — worth it. The same is true of One Hundred Years of Solitude and even Moby Dick, though I’d advise people to skip the Cetology chapter.

But I’ve also read books that never recovered from a sudden loss in momentum. Soul Mountain seemed to be going somewhere until page 340. Then, the meandering began and didn’t stop until it reached the back cover.

So that’s the risk of quitting books. I might get stuck with The Deerslayer, but I could also miss Jane Eyre.

Sonya Chung of The Millions created seven categories for the books we quit and offered several personal examples. Here, I offer some of my own:

Books I Did Not Finish But Very Much Want to Try Again
1. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
2. The Profits of Religion by Upton Sinclair
3. Say You’re One of Them by Uwem Akpan

Books That I’ve Already Tried More Than Once But Couldn’t Engage With, I Don’t Know Why
1. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair (I do not know why, but Sinclair seems to be the author on who I have quit the most. You’d think it would be one of my established nemeses, Charles Dickens or James Joyce.)
2. Living to Tell the Tale by Gabriel Garcia Márquez

Books That I Found Mostly Painful and Likely Will Not Revisit
1. Finnegans Wake by James Joyce
2. The Corrections by Jonathon Franzen

Books Written By Friends/Acquaintances That I May Have Been Destined Not to Like in the First Place, But Gave Them a Try For Friendship’s Sake
I have never read a book that qualifies. Most of my friends do not write novels. The exceptions have the sense to not want my opinion.

Shlogged Through and Almost Abandoned, But Kept On; No Pay-off, I Felt, In the End
1. Memories of my Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garcia Márquez
2. Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
3. Anything by James Fenimore Cooper that was not The Last of the Mohicans.

Struggled Through, Maybe Put Down For a While, But Finished and Am Very Glad I Did
1. Pretty much any other Márquez book that has not already been listed.
2. Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
3. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

In unrelated and more important news, Chinese writer Liu Xiaobo has been transferred to prison camp after calling for more freedom and greater democratic rights.

-Jason Lea, JLea@News-Herald.com


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

We love you, Paul (yeah, yeah, yeah)

Singer Paul McCartney speaks to the media Tuesday about his Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song in Washington. (Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press)

The Library of Congress is recognizing Paul McCartney -- but not for being a "Paperback Writer." The library is awarding him the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song on Wednesday.

The article by Associated Press Writer Brett Zongker:
WASHINGTON — When it comes to popular music, it doesn’t get much bigger than the tunes Paul McCartney has written and sung over the past five decades with the Beatles and on his own.
McCartney, who has been knighted by the queen of England, is being honored with Washington’s highest award for pop music this week by the Library of Congress. The Gershwin Prize for Popular Song is named for the U.S. songwriting brothers George and Ira Gershwin, whose collections are housed at the library.
“Some of the songs you write, you don’t know where they come from,” McCartney said on stage Tuesday night. “So I have to believe in the magic.”
The tune for “Yesterday” came to him in a dream, he said. Nobody could place it, so he claimed it as his own.
McCartney joked the original lyrics were “Scrambled egg. Oh my baby how I love your legs.”
Then he took his guitar and said “Here goes nothin,” before he sang the familiar tune for a Washington crowd at a private concert at the library. The audience included House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Stevie Wonder and comedian Jerry Seinfeld. He also sang an encore of “Blackbird.”
The 67-year-old McCartney said he’s “slightly nervous” about performing about 3 feet in front of President Barack Obama in the East Room at the White House on Wednesday, when he will be presented the award.
“For an English kid growing up in Liverpool, the White House — that’s pretty special,” he said Tuesday.
“He’s a great guy,” McCartney said of Obama, “so lay off him.”
The former Beatle says it’s very special to win the Gershwin Prize because he grew up listening to music by the Gershwin brothers. Wonder and Paul Simon previously won the Gershwin prize.
Librarian of Congress James Billington said McCartney made an impact beyond music, “symbolizing and humanizing the global soundscape,” and with his activism around the world.
Faced with the Washington press corps, McCartney was quizzed on his inspiration for songwriting, his opinion on whether performers should earn royalties for when their work is played on the radio (he thinks they should) and even got a few autograph requests.
This is McCartney’s first major lifetime achievement award from the U.S. government. He was slated to win a Kennedy Center Honor, the nation’s top prize for performing artists, in 2002, but backed out because of a scheduling conflict. In 1990, McCartney won the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
The Jonas Brothers, Faith Hill, Stevie Wonder and Seinfeld are part of an all-star lineup that will honor McCartney at the White House concert. The concert will be televised July 28 nationwide on PBS.
Performers also will include White Stripes singer and guitarist Jack White, Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl, singers Emmylou Harris, Elvis Costello and others.
McCartney was knighted as Sir Paul in 1997 for his service to music. Thirty years earlier, he and the rest of the Fab Four were dubbed Members of the Order of the British Empire, a step below knighthood and an honor that drew some protests.
The one-time teen idol has since made his name as an environmentalist and animal rights supporter.
He said the Gulf Coast oil spill is “a disgrace” and those responsible must know how to cap a gusher if they’re allowed to drill at the sea floor in the future.
On Tuesday, he performed “Yesterday” with the Loma Mar Quartet, which played string instruments from the library’s Stradivari collection dating back to the late 1600s. Pianist Lang Lang also performed on George Gershwin’s piano.
Pelosi, went gaga over the former Beatle.
“Congratulations, Sir Paul,” Pelosi said. She thanked him for letting Americans travel with him “down the long and winding road,” and added “P.S. We love you.”

Don't know much about the Library of Congress? It's a public library in Washington, D.C., that collects materials in all formats and topics, made available to anyone (yes, ANYONE). Learn more about the library on its website, and more about the broadcast of McCartney's Wednesday performance here.

-- Cheryl Sadler

Labels: ,

Don't Stop Reading

One of my roommates from college is now a middle school language arts teacher in Indiana. The students joined together to make a music video to encourage reading, set to the tune of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'." Below is their completed music video, plus a clip that made the local news:

--Cheryl Sadler

Labels: , ,