The Invasion, by K.A. Applegate – Book Review

The Invasion, by K.A. Applegate is the first book in the Animorphs series. Scholastic began reissuing this popular set of books back in May of this year. They have even  spawned a television series. The new covers have a special glossy image which morphs back and forth between different creature-like images. A little creepy, but I figure I am not the real target audience for this book.

I can’t remember whether I have said so on the blog, but I know I have shared my creature aversion on several podcasts. It is one of the odd facts about me that invariably outs itself in record time. Whether it’s humans that are greenish with elven ears, talking human-animal combos, or even just talking animals in general, you can rest assured that I haven’t read it and have no interest in reading it. That means no Watership Down (though I loved The Secret of Nimnh), Where The Wild Things Are, no Star Trek or Star Wars, no Tolkien, just no. I have no idea what possessed me to pick up this little book about alien creatures’ invasion of Earth. Maybe I thought these might be cute to read with my cousin. The stories are a quick and interesting read, but they reinforced every aspect I have avoided about creature reading. That said, I will probably continue to read them with my cuz.

Basically, five friends take a shortcut they aren’t supposed to take and encounter a fallen space ship with a dying creature inside. He warns them of impending invasion and domination of Earth by slug-like creatures practicing mind control,  taking over whatever body they can get their hot little hands on (or whatever it is that slugs have). Before being tortured and killed by one of the evil creatures, called Yerks, the friendly creature passes along the gift of being able to morph into animals to the five friends. They have to learn to use their new abilities to save the Earth from an invasion of creepy slug body snatchers. No pressure or anything. If nothing else this book is a textbook case of why kids shouldn’t take shortcuts forbidden by your parents.

Anyway, the main story focuses on Jake who seems to be the de facto leader of the group. He and his friends try to adjust to their new found abilities and uncover the secret lair of the Yerks. Things get especially hairy when the group suspects someone close to Jake may have been taken over by a Yerk. There are lessons on responsibility, leadership, and standing by your friends, and identity interspersed with enough grossness to entertain any middle graders requiring such stimulation. The series will appeal to both girls and boys, and may well be the first step toward many hours of escapism as there are several more books in the series. Oddly enough, my cousin hasn’t read the book yet (she’s reading Julie Hyzy’s State of the Onion) but both her mother and I are already to get started on the next book in the series. Go figure. Recommended.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 The Psychopath Test, by Jon Ronson   Book Review

Review Copy.

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By Nightfall, by Michael Cunningham – Book Review

In Michael Cunningham’s By Nightfall, Peter and Rebecca Harris have been married for twenty years, both with successful careers in the arts, a SoHo loft and college aged daughter, Bea. There are  a few trouble spots in their careers (Rebecca’s magazine is in talks to be sold and Peter is stymied in his efforts to find an artist who meets the heavy standards of his ideals while still being profitable) and their daughter refuses to continue college, opting instead for a career in bartending as punishment for her parents, dear old dad especially. Ethan, Rebecca’s younger brother nicknamed Mizzy (“The Mistake”, for his late in life birth), arrives in the midst of the couple’s tightrope walk to balance a relationship that is increasingly stagnant.

By Nightfall is told from Peter’s point of view. The reader is privy to the way he carefully negotiates every transaction in his life, from the art he displays to the responses he makes in conversation with his wife, his clients and artists, his staff. The true goal in his life seems to be never to rock the boat. The reader quite literally get hears him judge people and situations, juxtaposing and weighing their histories and relationships, always offering up the remark most appropriate for preserving the status quo. Cunningham’s Peter is well-drawn, so much so that my reaction to him was constant throughout. I can’t say that I much enjoyed him. Less discernible are the remaining characters in the novel. You only get a sense of them through Peter’s own needs and fantasies; as a result their characters are less clear, but even still, there weren’t many that I liked.

Not much surprised me about By Nightfall’s VERY loose plot. By the second chapter, there is enough of a sense of Rebecca and Peter’s marriage, personalities and current life paths to know exactly how events will arrange themselves when Mizzy arrives. This novel mainly revolves around Peter’s minute-to-minute rationalizations and decision-making, burgeoning sexual identity crisis, loss of confidence in his career, and his efforts to stabilize his relationships with his wife and daughter (or abandon them completely). Being inside Peter’s head, and his hip stream of consciousness, is a lot like inhabiting a giant scorecard. The novel works as a study of a life that is barely holding together in face of middle age insecurity and the temptations and pitfalls of idealism and youth.

By Nightfall, will work primarily for those interested in an intricate character study and not much else.  This novel moved  slowly for me, in spite of its brevity. Though capable of reading books where not much happens,  I needed more than Cunningham offered here. It didn’t help that Peter annoyed me and made life as an established adult seem terribly unappealing – an endless dance of second guessing every word from your mouth, questioning every career and relationship decision ever made, and having the same conversations that you rather wouldn’t.

Cunningham’s writing is beautiful in places, descriptive but highly stylized. Peter is all about placing his judgements about those in his life in punchy little italics and parenthesis. It was pretty wearying. By Nightfall makes an excellent discussion piece, and Cunningham may have gotten many things right in his descriptive novel of mid-life ennui, but the unrelenting reality of Peter’s existence didn’t make this very enjoyable. Recommended for readers wanting either a glimpse the mechanics of art brokering, to take on the grim realities of aging relationships and careers and Cunningham’s most enthusiastic fans.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 The Magician King, by Lev Grossman   Book Review

Review Copy.

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BOOK CLUB – By Nightfall, by Michael Cunningham

Welcome to BOOK CLUB, a joint venture between me and Jen from Devourer of Books.  Today we are discussing about By Nightfall, by Michael Cunningham which was published by Picador Books.

By Nightfall is told from the point of view of Peter Harris, a middle-aged gallery owner struggling with ennui in his career and relationships, and beginning to question his sexual identity when his wife’s  beautiful (very), young, and possibly drug addicted brother comes to live with them.

Participant Reviews – 3R’s Blog –  CaribousmomDevourer of Books – Linus’s BlanketLiterate Housewife – That’s What She Read – Beachreader

If you plan on participating in today’s BOOK CLUB, please consider subscribing to comments at the bottom of the page.  I will be updating this post with new questions and ideas over the course of the day.

So…to start:

  • What were your general impressions of the book?
  • Is this a book you would have read had you not been reading it for a book club?
  • Did you find the title to be an appropriate one for the novel? Did it shape your experience and thoughts while reading? And if so, how?
  • Sex and sexual identity play a pivotal role in the novel. What does it mean in each character’s relationships and how does it influence their interactions? Are their differences in how sexuality is expressed as the characters age?
  • What surprised you most about reading By Nightfall? Is there a person in the book you would most like to meet? What would you want to discuss with them?
  • What would you identify as some of the main themes in this novel, and what was your take on the way they were presented? Did you find there were any messages the author was trying to convey?
  • Peter is as much in love with Rebecca as he is with her upbringing and family. What’s the appeal for him and how has this changed over the years?
  • What kinds of questions did you have during your reading? Were they answered?
  • What questions did you have for the group?

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 BOOK CLUB Picking Bones From Ash, by Marie Mutsuki Mockett

12 review copies of By Nightfall were provided by Picador Books in order to facilitate this discussion.  Thank you so much!

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The Magician King, by Lev Grossman – Book Review

Review includes some spoilers for The Magicians.

Lev Grossmans’ The Magician King opens with Eliot, Janet, Julia and Quentin as rulers of the magical kingdom of Fillory. The Magician’s saw them discovering Fillory, a rumored fairytale land, in the years following their education at premier magic school Brakebills. The path to Fillory was not an easy one.They all suffered betrayals and disappointments with Quentin being devastated by the death of his girlfriend, Alice. But now having grown bored being a king, Quentin is looking to be the hero of a new adventure. Janet, almost always sarcastic and withdrawn, accompanies Quentin to Outer Island, ostensibly to collect taxes, but eventually they discover something awry in the magic of the world, and that it might take seven golden keys to save Fillory.

I read The Magician’s last year for a book club and loved the writing but was less content with the story, which got bogged down in aimlessness. I was lured in again by Grossman’s writing, which is not only very smart, but engaging. The worlds and the magical details he creates are richly detailed, and my experience reading The Magician King was engrossing and, for the most part, enjoyable. Still the same is Quentin’s continuing inability to find happiness and fulfillment once he’s landed his dream job as King of Fillory. I had to keep reminding myself of just how young he was because he never seems it. Julia’s story also takes prominence in the story as the reader learns about her grueling and emotionally taxing journey to become the master magician that she is.

Grossman succeeds at making his characters interesting even if you don’t understand where there bleak outlooks on like come from. Julia is just as incapable of  being happy as Quentin. There is an interplay between them that is interesting to observe, and Grossman take the opportunity to say a lot about personal responsibility in relationships. You’ll either agree completely or be totally frustrated by this spect of the novel. The middle sections of the book did seem a little long amidst so much angsty emotion from Julia and Quentin, but recovers  as it builds toward its less that satisfying resolution. All the better to leave readers primed for the next book.

Readers who are new to the series will be able to catch up on the important parts from the last book while they are reading this one, but if you have read The Magician’s you will be mighty tempted to go back and give yourself a refresher  to see how Julia’s version of events stack up against the version of the story we heard before. Recommended.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 A Drop Of The Hard Stuff, by Lawrence Block   Book Review

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Out of Twenty: Edie Meidav, Author of Lola, California, Answers Twenty Questions

In this version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing victim author and they choose their own interview by choosing which questions, and how many questions, they want to answer! Edie Meidav’s new book Lola, California explores family relationships and the daath penalty. Weighty topics indeed. Edie answered twenty questions, and here is what she had to say about reading, and writing as an excorcism!

Would you give us a bit of introduction and let my readers know who you are, how you got started writing, and what kind of books you like to write?

I grew up in a very verbal household, primarily in Berkeley, the youngest of three, and found myself turning to writing and art in order to find airtime. I often find that writers have had some kind of issue with speech when younger, whether stuttering, mutism, multilingualism or some odd confection of all three. In other words, some kind of uneasy alliance with verbal language seems to sublimate expression onto the page. At a crucial age, eight, I learned from someone I respected that I should begin to read only adult books, and so delved, flailing a bit, into the books that were around our house: sociological tomes on the counterculture, odd geophysical texts, Dumas, Maupassant, Hugo, Biblical texts, Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet, Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying. All of these books, as I list them now, seem crucially linked to the project of Lola, California.

That said, I entered college as a biologist, spent most of my time paintiing, left for a dance scholarship in New York City and only at the eleventh hour decided to put down all other arts and dare to care about this secret friend that had kept me company all those years: in my last semester, I took a writing workshop with Peter Matthiessen, a true mentor, who then recommended me to his editor and for a prize. If nothing came out of either recommendation, I dared to believe in myself, and began to make all other activities handmaidens to writing, whether while living in Los Angeles, New York, Sri Lanka, France, or California. Daughter of California, a piece I wrote recently about the death of my father this past year and how California suggested possibility to me might be a useful hypertextual link.

As for the books I like to write: Because I believe the novel is one of our last remaining technologies for truly exploring the strange mystery of being human, I like to explore how we respond when placed in extreme situations. While people have called my first two books historical fiction, in truth those two novels might be considered solely literary fiction in the sense that while I like to use certain sociocultural contingencies to fret a character’s choice, my primary interest remains always this: character. A person alone, a person with others, a person within a particular society, a person on her deathbed.
 
I am often struck by the different ways writers respond to the proccess of writing a book. Linus’s Blanket refers to my use of reading and other activities as a means of escape and comfort, can you share with us any routines, food or recipes, or favorite books or rituals that help you thorough the writing process?

I always love the story of Ibsen writing so many of his plays, or at least gleaning inspiration, from his habit of reading a newspaper in a cafe; and that newspaper had a crucial hole through which he could spy upon his fellows. When I’m creating a story, I like to be in an environment rich in aleatory devices (cf. my advice to writers at Poets and Writers). When I am writing a story anew, I enjoy being around other live beings; when revising, I like to be in a place as devoid of outside input as possible so that I can truly hear the music of the text, since I think language ultimately always aspires toward the condition of music.

 Since I have two little daughters, whatever I once thought of as the perfect day for writing doesn’t fully exist anymore, but an overall arc in my creative life remains: mulling, filling the well, constructing, revising.

Write the question you would most like to answer in an interview, and then answer it.


Do you believe everyone is a writer?
This is the first question that came to me, and I will answer that by saying yes, I must think that everyone has at least one book inside. This qualifies me as truly American, an Emersonian down to my fingernails, but such must be the case. I have taught writing for so long that either this is an occupational delusion or a saving grace.

People live in stories, we are surrounded by them. What was it about this the story that made it the one you had to tell at this time? What impact did telling this story have on your life? Did you find that it had changed you?

Writing this particularly story has been like an exorcism. If Adam had the pleasure of naming beasts in the garden, I got to name certain primeval energies of my upbringing, whether or not these energies were related to friendship, sexuality, music, countercultural dystopia, and the death penalty. I am changed because now I feel that Rose and Lana, the main characters, as well as Vic, who completes the triumvirate, exist as avatars. Perhaps people who invest lots of time in playing computer games as avatars — The Sims, etc. — start to feel the same: a certain clarity about archetypal energies.

What are you reading now? What are some of your favorite books and authors? Has writing your own book changed the way that you read?


I am always about to read or in the middle of reading or thinking about having read J.M. Coetzee. As for favorite books: Lolita (Nabokov), Madame Bovary (Flaubert), The Names, Libra, Underworld (Delillo), Angels (Johnson), The Little Disturbances of Man (Grace Paley) and too many others to list. For what this is worth, I also love reading poetry, and, among many, Wallace Stevens and Rilke were big influences, as is the poetry and music of speaking languages other than English.

And what a wonderful question: has writing my own book changed the way I read? Subtly, surely, but in such a nuanced manner. I am probably always secretly looking for some kind of characterological ticking bomb and I appreciate when I recognize such a device in another author’s work.
 
Are you able to read when you’re writing and if so what books inspire you when you’re working your own book(s)?


If I didn’t read while writing, I would never read, since I love to touch my writing in some form every day. 

 What was the most interesting thing that you found out while researching this book that you ultimately decided not to include?


This is an oblique way of answering your question: I  thought, back in 2005 or whenever I first wrote this, that the inevitable, pre-apocalyptic form of government best suited to the primacy of choice as an issue in California would be a web-mediated bracelet that the governor had to wear as a condition of office: voters would stream in their influence and, consequently, policy would switch. Should I therefore have been surprised when Obama recently mentioned some web-based poll in order to determine policy? Was I that far-seeing? Not really. Such dystopian gestures seem almost predictable.

For what this is also worth, once there lived a whole section on an Arnold-like governor who engaged in sexual peccadilloes with the young Maria in his condo, daughter of the prison guard who tends Vic Mahler on death row. Prescient or predictable? Again, you judge.
 
What types of books would some of your characters have if they were readers? Given their issues what book(s) would you suggest for them to read?

Authors: Colette. Erica Jong. Jeanette Winterson. Henry James. Nabokov. Maya Angelou. Claude Brown. Cesar Vallejo. Rimbaud. Joan Didion.

In the past I have visited a blog called Daily Routines and it’s all about the schedules of writers and creative people. What does a typical day look like for you and how do you manage a busy schedule?


Perhaps the most extreme moment in the life of writing Lola, California might be this: when my first daughter was little, I would tiptoe out of the house at 5:15 am and write in a neighborhood big-chain coffeehouse. When my daughter awoke, my husband would call me and I’d rush home. Between 5:30 and whenever that call came marked my writing time on LOLA.
 
If you could have everyone read five contemporary books, which ones would they be?


Disgrace by Coetzee. Angels by Johnson. Madame Bovary by Flaubert. Lolita by Nabokov. The Little Disturbances of Man by Paley. Invisible Man by Ellison, which is a perfect book at its outset.

Did you know what you wanted the title of the book to be? How involved were in choosing the name of the book?
The original title, one of many, for this book was Steal Me, which could have occasioned some problems in the bookstores, a post Abbie-Hoffman sort of title. Briefly there flared these other titles: Highwway Five, None Their Master, Lola OneandTwo etc. Titles proliferate and then usually someone with commonsense says to me, as was the case with this novel: Are you kidding? This is the one. Such a stern rebuke helps: I tend to proliferate choices.

Do you ever look back at your early work? How do you feel your writing style or approachto writing has evolved since you first began?

 I have probably written fifty novels to the three that have been published: a Dionysian who enjoys getting lost in the forest, I write lots but only accept some of what I produce. Perhaps one day I’ll return to the other novels, or at least to those few for which I feel that crucial blend of pity and love that makes one want to coddle a concept along toward its first steps.
 
What were your experiences with reading when you were growing up? Was there a pivotal moment in discovering literature when you knew that you wanted to be a writer?


Well, in truth, I didn’t really apprehend that there was such a thing as a Writer until I was about eleven and read Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying and then something about this act of written gossip clicked. I wrote a novel with one of the ur-Lolas perhaps that same year, one with a line about which my brother still teases me: she tasted of apricot and honeysuckle. And later a line about a girl using more vinegar than oil. Both early metaphors crucially linked to food: what does it all mean? Metaphors transported me out of my gawky reality? Nourished me? That said, I didn’t get that one chose a profession which came easily to one; I thought the world of work was composed of stretching beyond myself, so it was only until my decision at age twenty to forsake all other artistic fancies and dedicate myself to the monkhood of writing that I started using the verb, as in: I’m writing a novel. For a long time I felt as if I were a fraud, which I think is a crucial stage in apprenticeship.

How many works in progress do you have going at any one time? How do you know when one has potential and when one just needs to be scrapped?


When I used to paint, I loved having a couple of canvasses going at once and I think I feel the same about writing: I like to have a novel going, the novel that most generous of forms, always awaiting, and then like to work in little off-shoots like short stories and the like.
As a published author, what’s been the biggest surprise about life after the publication of your first book?


Between those covers? People suddenly take your words with disproportionate seriousness! Now you know something; before you didn’t.

Are there other books you love or writers you admire that are from your local area?


Carolyn Cooke. Kate Christensen. Joan Didion. Ellen Sussman. Jennifer Egan. Jonathan Lethem. Rick Moody. David Foster Wallace. Brad Morrow. New work by Sharon Guskin. 

Who was your favorite character to write, and why did you have an affinity for that character in particular?


Well, in truth, I could write twenty novels from the perspective of Vic Mahler, all too easily, but it would be a bit repetitive, wouldn’t it?

Did you have to do much research when working on your books, and do you tend to write first or research first?


I like to proceed crabwise: research, write, research, write. Research is one of the most sophisticated forms of procrastination, surely — and that said, there is nothing like the kind of creative daydreaming serendipity that allows for sudden realization.

 

Where do you most love to write? Are there places where it comes to you easier than others?


My ideal place is a cafe in a foreign country where human gestures are subtly defamiliarized for me, allowing me the clarity of a kind of deathbed perspective.

What’s next?
A novel in Latin America: Cuba, where I just spent two months; Nicaragua; and perhaps Miami.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Out Of Twenty: Thomas Mullen, Author of The Revisionists, Answers Six Questions

About: Edie Meidav was born in Toronto and has lived in New York, Cuba, France, Nicaragua, Sri Lanka and other international zones. A former director of the MFA program at New College on Valencia Street in San Francisco, she is now in residence at Bard College. As a child, she acted as if language were indeed a virus.

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A Drop Of The Hard Stuff, by Lawrence Block – Book Review

A Drop Of The Hard Stuff, by Lawrence Block starts with Matthew Scudder revisiting an early case in his career as a private investigator. Newly sober and just released from his position in the NYPD following the accidental shooting death of an innocent bystander. While attending AA meetings, and in the midst of the stagnation of his current relationship, Scudder becomes re-acquainted with former classmate Jack Ellery, a man who took the opposite path and became a career criminal. When Ellery is murdered, Scudder investigates at the requests of Jack’s AA sponsor and friend.

Though there was a lot I enjoyed about this book, I did have some mixed feelings about it. This is my first time reading a Lawrence Block novel, and I would like to read another. Block has a distinct and detailed style which immerses the reader into the surroundings and habits of his characters. At all times, I felt like I was a fly on the wall of Scudder’s world and I love that feeling (or I normally would have), but here it was a bit problematic because of my lack of history with Scudder. This is the 17th book in the series, and while I liked the writing, this is not the one to ease into as a new reader.

Scudder is early into his sobriety, and a lot of the novel was concerned with detailing his program, examining AA history and sayings, meeting attendance and just how faithfully Scudder has to cling to his program and work his twelve steps. There isn’t much here that allows the reader a glimpse of who Scudder is later in life (which make up earlier books), so I didn’t feel like I was getting much insight into the way that he developed or reasons that he turned out the way he did. I did get way too much AA, so much so that I felt like the book was more a psychological study of Scudder and his sobriety than to him solving Ellery’s murder.

While the AA bits proved tedious, the case he was working was interesting, and provided unanticipated twists along the way. I’m rarely truly surprised with murder and mystery- there is usually an inkling of something somewhere- but I was in the dark for most of this one. Block is a great writer and has the kind of depth in characterization that I appreciate in crime novels. I will definitely read other Scudder novels, because I can clearly see the appeal – the writing is excellent. I doubt if I will read all seventeen books in the series, but I will ask around for a better entry point into these books.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 The Kid by Sapphire

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Out Of Twenty: Susan Gregg Gilmore, Author of The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove, Answers Nine Questions

In this version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing victim author and they choose their own interview by choosing which questions, and how many questions, they want to answer! Last year, I read The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove (read my review), by Susan Gregg Gilmore and I enjoyed getting to know Bezellia and her crazy family. The novel is a great selection for book clubs and is now out in paperback. Susan was gracious enough to play along and answer nine questions.  Here is what Susan had to say about reading, writing and meeting with a real life Bezellia.

Would you give us a bit of introduction and let my readers know who you are, how you got started writing, and what kind of books you like to write?

I am the mother of three almost grown children, the wife of a man I still adore after 26 years of married life, the youngest sister to three amazing siblings, the daughter of a hip 82-year old painter mom and a great story-telling father who is sadly no-longer living.  I’m the granddaughter of a one-time, Bible-thumping, fire-and-brimstone, revival-bred preacher, a lover of lemon meringue pie and most things sweet except for my coffee, cornbread and iced tea.  I am, in short, a Southerner who loves to write Southern stories.

I worked as a journalist for many years until I sat down to write my first novel not long after my fortieth birthday.

I am often struck by the different ways writers respond to the process of writing a book. Linus’s Blanket refers to my use of reading and other activities as a means of escape and comfort, can you share with us any routines, food or recipes, or favorite books or rituals that help you thorough the writing process?

I love routine and I love the morning and I love my morning routine.  I crawl out of bed and make a latte, years working as a barista have really paid off!  I sit down in my pajamas with my coffee and work for a good 2 hours before taking a housekeeping break.  I make the beds, walk the dogs, start a load of laundry, fix some toast and then head back to my desk.  I often play a Johnny Cash CD in the background – his deep, rich voice lulls me to the right place every time.

People live in stories, we are surrounded by them. What was it about this the story that made it the one you had to tell at this time?  What impact did telling this story have on your life?  Did you find that it had changed you?

I met a woman not long after moving back to my hometown of Nashville whose name is Bezellia.  I don’t know how she spells her name actually but I immediately loved its sound.  And from the moment I first heard it, I knew I had a girl who could move a story forward on her own. About the same time, I was looking for a house to buy and visited one that I had played in many times as a child.  When I went into the basement, a place I had never been when I was little, I just stopped as I near the bottom step.  I was breathless really.  In front of me were six rooms with cinderblock walls, no windows, and double locks at the top of the doors.  I understood in that moment that while I had been a child happily playing upstairs a very different world had literally existed underneath my feet.

I also knew in that moment that I had to face with what was in front of me.  I was not unaware of racial inequality as a child growing up in the South.  It upset me then as I it does now.  And the only way that I could come to terms with what still pained me about the South’s history was to write about it, i my own way, based on my own perceptions and memories.

Did you know what you wanted the title of the book to be?  How involved were in choosing the name of the book?

My first title for this book was simply, BEZELLIA GROVE.  My editor asked me to come up with another idea.  OK, I’m thinking how hard can this be.  I’ve written the entire book, now I only need a few more words.  About 50 titles later, I came up with THE PROPER LIFE OF BEZELLIA GROVE.  Before I submitted this idea, I called one of my favorite bookstores in Blytheville, AK, called THAT BOOKSTORE IN BLYTHEVILLE.  Marvel, one of the store’s most veteran staff members, answered the phone.  I ran the title by her.  She paused for a moment and then said, “What about The IMPROPER Life of Bezellia Grove.”

Needless to say, I loved it.  And I was so grateful to her that one of the central characters in the book I’m currently writing is called Marvella Mae Lane, Marvel for short.

Do you ever look back at your early work? How do you feel your writing style or approach to writing has evolved since you first began?

I never look back at my early work, only at a formal reading or book club, and then I’m only looking at bits and pieces.  I love to revise, and it would pain me not being able to take a red pen to it.

Hopefully, I will improve and grow with every book.  I think in the beginning, I had a tendency to rush at times, certain I was boring the reader.  Now I feel more confident in the telling of the story.  I take my time and able to go deeper into a moment.

Are there other books you love or writers you admire that are from your local area?

Darnell Arnoult is a fellow Tennessee writer and poet.  She is  the author of the novel, Sufficient Grace.  Darnell has taught me so much about the writing process and taking chances with my work.  I often start the morning reading a paragraph or two from her novel.

And just recently I discovered the work of Emma Belle Miles, a local woman who lived around the turn of the century.  Her observations of our local mountains and her personal journals which detail her hard life as a mountain woman are beautiful, sad, deeply spiritual, and a great resource for me as a writer.

What were your experiences with reading when you were growing up? Was there a pivotal moment in discovering literature when you knew that you wanted to be a writer?

Sadly, I was a very slow reader as a child.  But my great love (until I discovered The Secret Garden) was Little House in the Big Woods and all the others in the series.  I even made my family own children visit some of the Ingalls’ landmarks in South Dakota on one of our cross-country drives.  So yes, I may not have been a fast reader, but I savored every book, every word.  Even now, I take my time.  (These days I’m reading my daughter’s summer reading list.  First up, The Crucible.  I cannot believe how much I remember after all these years, and I’m thinking that maybe my slow, careful style is paying off!)

That pivotal moment, though, I have my mama to thank for that.  She was reading a paper I had written in school.  I think I was eight.  She loved it and told me I should be a writer.  I remember the very place we were sitting as if it were yesterday.  And I remember thinking at the time, “Yes, you’re right, that’s exactly what I’ll be.”

Did you have to do much research when working on your books, and do you tend to write first or research first?

Some more than others, but I love the research.  Whether looking at microfilm, conducting interviews, touring museums, taking sewing lessons, making jam, visiting funeral homes – I love it all!

Where do you most love to write? Are there places where it comes to you easier than others?

I can write anywhere!  But I love sitting at my desk in my bedroom that was made from Tennessee pine speculated to be around 300 to 400 years old.  The top is made of pine planks taken from the rafters of the old depot at Union Station in Nashville.  I love touching history as I work.

I have three copies of The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove to giveaway to readers of Linus’s Blanket. Just fill out this form, and I will pick a winner (to be notified by e-mail) sometime next Thursday.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Book Blogger Appreciation Week 2011

About: Susan Gregg Gilmore was born in Nashville, Tennessee in 1961. She began her writing career at the University of Virginia as a reporter for the school’s award-winning newspaper, The Cavalier Daily. After graduating in 1983, she assumed a secretarial position with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Her first novel, Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen, is rooted in summer vacations spent with her paternal grandmother and grandfather, a revival-bred preacher, who after church on Sundays, always took his granddaughters to the Dairy Queen. Her second novel, The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove (Shaye Areheart Books/Crown/2010), was recently named a 2010 SIBA Summer OKRA Pick.

Gilmore currently lives in Chattanooga with her family.

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One Day, by David Nicholls – Interview and Giveaway

In an intriguing premise, One Day, by David Nicholls follows the lives and relationship of Dexter Mayhew and Emma Morley over the course of twenty years of the date July 15. The two formally meet just as they are graduating from college and as subsequent years track them, they are many things to each other –  not speaking, friends, in bad relationships and bad careers or  both, and more often than not, never on the same page about their feelings for one another.

One Day is a book that I could easily imagine as the film that it has become, and definitely brings out all the nostalgia and latent emotions surrounding difficult love affairs with people that may or not be the right fit. Dexter may be somewhat charming and good looking, but he is not the best choice for a bosom buddy and an even worse choice for a boyfriend or lover, but of course that doesn’t stop the sensitive and intense Emma for struggling with her feelings for him for twenty years.  I am looking forward to seeing this laid out visually because I think film might solve a lot of the issues I had with the execution of the novel. Most of this is communicated through heavy dialogue (which admittedly, I’m not crazy about), and lengthy explanations catching the reader up from the previous year. It was hard to concentrate on the one day.

The movie trailer, however, looks absolutely compelling and I can’t wait to see the film.  I also enjoyed this little feature on the book and movie:

I recently had the opportunity to participate in a webinar with the author and screenwriter, David Nicholls. It proved to be a fascinating look behind the scenes at the novel writing, adaptation and filmmaking processes. I asked a couple of questions about the adaptation process and the books David would like to see his characters reading.

A few of the adaptations that you’ve worked on in film have been of classic literature. How did you find it was to make the transition in working on more modern pieces? 

David Nicholls:  That’s an interesting question.  I’ve been really lucky in adapting.  I think if I was to draw up a list of my favorite books, I’ve kind of somehow managed to get myself the gig of adapting them.  And that’s been wonderful.  And I’ve only ever adapted books that I love passionately like Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, and Far From the Madding Crowd (by Thomas Hardy).

But, the most contemporary book I’ve adapted was an incredible memoir by Blake Morrison called And When Did You Last See Your Father?  And the challenge with adapting that was that it was a memoir, that Blake Morrison was very much alive and very much looking over my shoulder.

And the approach there was really to treat it as a work of fiction and to kind of get Blake’s standing blessing to be able to invent.  And that was interesting because it was a more contemporary story and because Blake’s wonderful book didn’t really have a narrative, it didn’t really have a plot.  That was part of the challenge, to impose a plot on it whilst keeping faithfully to the book.

With books like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender Is the Night and Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Great Expectations, the job of writing is a little bit more like editing.  I think in my version of Tess of the d’Urbervilles, maybe 15 or 20 percent of the dialogue was entirely made up.  The rest of it was a kind of colloquialized, naturalized version of Hardy’s dialogue; likewise with Great Expectations, which I’ve just been writing. Dickens is much more sayable, much more speakable than Hardy.  Hardy isn’t a very natural, he isn’t a natural dialogue writer.  Dickens actually heightens with wonderful dialogue.

So, those adaptations have all been quite reverent.  And consequently, I feel a certain distance between myself and the book.  Adapting my own work, which I’ve done twice now, you have to find a balance. You want to fight in your corner on the things that you want to keep hold of, but also accepting that it’s a collaboration and you are going to have to say goodbye to things that you love.

So, when I’ve adapted my own work, there’s always been stuff which I’ve lost that I’ve found quite tough to think about.  But, I was a screenwriter before I was a novelist, so I was kind of braced and prepared for a certain number of those sacrifices.

Having said that, I’ve really loved doing this and I loved doing Starter for Ten.  I think if it ever happened again, then I would probably pass the book on to someone else. If another of my books was picked up for adaptation, I think I’d probably step aside, because I think sometimes it’s useful to have an objective editorial eye, someone with a fresh take to mold the material.  But, with One Day, I felt so close to it and so attached to it I would have found it very hard to pass it off to someone else.

I’m sorry.  It was a very long answer, but the short answer is, with a classic novel, you have to be reverent but editorial.  You have to approach it editorially as much as creatively.  And with adapting my own work or book, you have to be a little freer, a little bit tougher, and a little harsher in terms of letting things go and changing things.

I was wondering, Emma is very literary.  In fact, she’s very literary and she’s always making recommendations to Dexter on what he should be reading.  What would you recommend, based on their characters?  What books would you recommend to help them along?

David Nicholls: Help them along?  Well, let me think.

I mean, Emma and I have quite similar tastes.  I think she likes Emily Brontë and Jane Austen more than I do.  And I probably like Dickens and Hardy more than she would.  And she loves Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, which is a book I’ve never got on with.

But, for Dexter, I think the coming of age novel is important for Dexter.  I think books like Philip Roth’s Goodbye, Columbus, the books about the travails of youth, the kind of foolishness of youth, the foolishness of young men.  I think, Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, and Goodbye, Columbus are the books I’d probably press onto Dexter.

Emma, it’s hard because she’s so well read and her taste is so good.  I think apart from Wuthering Heights she has very good literary taste.  I think I’d be too scared to tell Emma to read a book, because she’s so well read and smart.

But, yes, what else does she give to Dexter?  I think she gives him some Milan Kundera, which were books that were very, very much around in the late ’80s and early ’90s.  Everyone was reading those novels.  I don’t think I’d presume to give Emma a book.  I think she’d probably have read it before me.

I also have a giveaway for those who might be interested. Fill out the form for an opportunity to win the prize below, valued at $30.95 and provided by Focus Features.

One (1) winner will receive:

  • Copy of the movie-tie in edition paperback book
  • Clear cosmetic case
  • Necklace
  • Moleskin Journal

I will draw a winner in a couple of day on August 19th, the release day for the film adaptation of One Day.

For more about the movie, visit the official website  and/or the Facebook page .

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Lola, California by Edie Meidav

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“Lola, California” by Edie Meidav

I haven’t run across many books dealing with death row and the death penalty. Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song comes to mind, and more recently, Naseem Rahka’s The Crying Tree (which Meghan reviewed a few weeks ago). In Edie Meidav’s Lola, California, a daughter is estranged from her father who is currently on death row and awaiting execution in ten days. A friend, from whom she has been estranged, finds her and attempts reuniting her with her father before his execution.

I like a novel that sets readers up with mysteries about its characters and Lola, California does that right away. It is easy to tell that the friends, Lana and Rose are very close, and both seem to have deep admiration for Lana’s father Vic Mahler, a writer of some note. I started to wonder right away what would have caused such a rift between the three of them that would send them so fully away from each other and into radically different lives.

Edie Meidav gives a flavor of the themes running through the novel in her playlist for the work featured at Largehearted Boy. There are some great songs listed there! She also played along and answered some of the twenty questions that I love to pose to authors. You’ll see that here later this month.

 Read an excerpt of Lola, California, by Edie Meidav at The Outlet.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Book Blogger Appreciation Week 2011

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