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Dee Williams's Essential "Big Tiny" Library

Big-TinyTen years ago, Dee Williams had a charming older house in Portland with "the beautiful gardens and the accommodating floor plan, along with the mortgage, utility bills, the hours spent laboring to keep things from falling under the weight of time and the elements." To pay for it all, she had an hours-long interstate commute and a job that brought her face-to-face with industry's nasty impact on the natural world. Then she had a heart attack in the grocery store.

With a pacemaker that made her feel her mortality as strongly as her vitality, Dee fixated on an article in a doctor's office magazine about Jay Shafer, a man who'd built his own tiny house. "I just stared at it, mulled it over, daydreamed, and then I thought: What would happen if I just... sort of... did that?" She rang Shafer up through Directory Assistance, and then she bought a plane ticket to visit him in Iowa City.

So opens The Big Tiny, Dee's wholehearted memoir of trading in the time and money suck of the house she thought she'd wanted and building her own tiny home on wheels, eventually parked semi-permanently in the backyard of dear friends.

Dee and her story are immensely likeable—she can laugh at and cheer for herself, and we're right there with her. The shift she made is also immensely inspiring, even to this inveterate collector of things. She makes me remember that I too am a "girl who loved sleeping in her tree house and who preferred staying outside, who still thinks reading by headlamp is romantic." Maybe trading most of my beloved stuff for more time and freedom would feel genuinely awesome.

Shelf space is scarce in Dee's tiny house, so I was curious about which books (if any) had earned the privilege of staying. Her essentials cover the how and why of tiny house building and living. — Mari

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My friend Logan and I got into a discussion about what we’d want to wash up on shore if we were trapped on a desert island. Logan wanted an axe—a bad choice because it wouldn’t ever happen, because an axe would sink. I wanted a book. A good book. My point is... I love books!

Over the years, many books have rotated in and out of my little house—novels, memoirs, how-to manuals and more—and these seven have taken up permanent residence.

TinyBuilding1. I first purchased Francis D.K. Ching’s Building Construction Illustrated when I was in college. I then proceeded to drag that book over mountain passes and halfway across the country, packing and unpacking it at least a dozen times before building my little house. It saved me a thousand times during the construction process; it has it all, from the basics of platform framing to the nuances of passive solar design. It even provides the common dimension of kitchen counters, tables and couches… super helpful information while designing a little house.

 

Tiny-HomeWork2. My brother gave me a copy of Lloyd Kahn’s Home Work a year or so before I decided to build my little house. It became one of my greatest sources of inspiration and information with thousands of photos... snapshots of beach houses, rolling homes, adobe huts, stick-built houses and stone-built barns. This book inspired me to rethink form, function and materials, and also made me want to be more like the quirky, cool people that Lloyd interviewed for his book.

 

TinyMaterial3. Almost a decade before I built my little house, I sat on the floor at the local bookstore, pouring over Peter Menzel’s Material World. I was thunderstruck by the photos taken in thirty different countries, showing a typical family staged in front of their house with all their worldly possessions – goats, chickens, rugs, a soup pot or (less often) a car and a small sea of furniture. It was humbling to see the comparisons, but also incredibly beautiful in the way it showed that kids in Mongolia prank in front of a camera just like the kids in Texas. Thumbing through that book became a regular habit, and I still find myself jaw-dropped as I meander through the pages while sipping coffee on my front porch.

 

TinyHumble4. Over the past couple years, I’ve come close to peeing my pants laughing as I’ve read and then reread Deek Diedricksen’s Humble Homes, Simple Shacks, Cozy Cottages, Ramshackle Retreats, Funky Forts: And Whatever the Heck Else We Could Squeeze in Here. It’s not just funny, but educational—I’ve learned something new every time I’ve thumbed through this hilarious, well-informed encyclopedia of funky smallness.

 

Tiny-Morning5. I received Tammy Strobels’s new photography book, My Morning View, in the mail the other day, and man-o-man it blew me away. It chronicles Tammy’s journey of living in a tiny house on a ranch outside Mt. Shasta (effing beautiful!!!), and also of working through her grief after losing her dad to a stroke. Her iPhone photography project is absolutely beautiful, and full of helpful advice for would-be photographers like me.

 

TinySmall6. Jay Shafer’s Small House Book has been called “the book that started a movement,” and I believe it. I wish this book had existed before I built my house; it’s full of inspiring photos, as well as information about community development, small house design and the need for better urban infill.

 

Tiny-Shed7. Along with Ching’s book, Joseph Truini’s Building a Shed was practically my building bible during construction of my little house. It provides alternative ways of framing out the overhangs, windows, doors and roof. It also provided a lot of great advice for pouring footings and building a foundation if you’re building a “ground-bound” house instead of a tiny house on a trailer.

 

TinyDeePortraitOf course, there are many other books that I’ve totally enjoyed—books that have inspired, informed and encouraged me to build smarter, live better and take a bite out of life. — DW

Dee Williams is a teacher and sustainability advocate. She is the co-owner of Portland Alternative Dwellings, where she leads workshops focused on tiny houses, green building, and community design. Williams lives in Olympia, Washington, with an overly ambitious Australian shepherd, in the shadow of the house of dear friends.

Five Questions with Elaine Lui and the Squawking Chicken

The Squawking Chicken's opinions are not for the thin skinned or weak willed. Canadian gossip blogger and TV talk show host Elaine Lui has spent her life getting to know the woman who raised her. She makes no apologies for her mother's aggressive personality; rather, she celebrates it with Listen to the Squawking Chicken, one of our Best of the Month books in April and a Mother's Day recommendation. In addition to acting as a personal memoir, Lui's book serves also as her mother's biography, detailing the life of a young girl growing up in Hong Kong to a young woman raising a child in a new country to a mature woman facing health issues. As such, we see her toughened by negotiating with members of the Chinese Triads, supporting her own parents in financial crisis, and other intense, personal experiences.

In the follow she said/she said, we asked Lui and her mother to answer five questions. The answers, like the book, say so much about the special relationship these two share.

Elaine Lui

How would you describe your mother/daughter relationship?

Elaine: My ma, the Squawking Chicken, was asked this question recently. Her answer: "I think we are more like sisters because I look so young". Everyone laughed. And while ma certainly doesn't lack for self-confidence about her appearance, she was definitely joking. Ma has always been my Mother. And our relationship as mother daughter is at once fulfilling, infuriating, and forever honest. Ma is my first and worst critic. She is also my most ardent supporter and my loudest cheerleader. In return, I would like to think that I am her fiercest soldier.

Squawking Chicken: I cannot do anything for Elaine anymore. She is mature. So I make her the soup. That's how I can help her to do her job. I worry if she don't drink the soup she will be sick. Healthy is important. I will always worry about her. Even though she is 40, she is still my baby. But she is 40, not 20. So she must take care of her skin.

What does "success" mean to you?

Elaine: Success to me means that I've been able to make my own choices and that I've worked hard in pursuit of the opportunities that those choices have made possible. Success is always having options. When you have options, when there are alternatives, you will never be stuck.

Squawking Chicken: I did not have success. I had nothing – no school, no business. We are immigrants. Our family did not have much. Elaine is successful now. I think I did a good job.

What is one thing you're scared of and why?

Elaine: I am afraid that my ma will stop squawking. I'm afraid that one day I won't be able to hear her. I'm afraid that if I ever stop being able to hear her, I won't know myself.

Squawking Chicken: I don't want to die! I say to my doctors, don't let me die! My daughter is on TV and an author, I want to show off!

Squawking Chicken

What is the perfect Mother's Day gift and why?

Elaine: For my ma, the perfect Mother's Day gift is straight up cash money. So that she can take it to the casino, her happy place, and play slots for as long as she wants.

Squawking Chicken: Money, of course.

If readers take just one lesson away from "Listen to the Squawking Chicken", what do you hope it will be?

Elaine: That love isn't homogenous. It doesn't look the same from mother to mother, daughter to daughter. That my mother loved me as much as any mother loved a child, even if her way was unconventional.

Squawking Chicken: I want to help people. My family life was hard. But even if you have hard times, you can still be OK. Maybe this story will help the people to know that.

Photo of Elaine and her mother courtesy of Dexter Chew.

100 Mysteries & Thrillers to Read in a Lifetime

AgathaThe Amazon editors have spent the last few months putting together a list of what we're calling 100 Mysteries & Thrillers to Read in a Lifetime-- a list of books that will make any person well-read in the genre. As in all lists of this sort, it's a subjective business; but that was half the fun. As Sara Nelson, our Editorial Director, likes to say, we're a pretty opinionated group when it comes to this sort of thing. So we argued, yes, but we're happy with the end result. We hope you are, too. If you're not, you can go to Goodreads to vote for your own favorites.

Here are some interesting details about our list:

  • We did not want to play favorites, so we listed the books in alphabetical order.
  • That said, there's only one author who appears twice on the list: Agatha Christie.
  • The first book on the list, A Coffin for Dimitrios, has even been read by James Bond (in the film version of "From Russia with Love").
  • We included four books for children and young adults. It's never too early to start.
  • Two books are only available as ebooks.
  • We included just a bit of true crime, namely In Cold Blood.
  • The last book left off the list was The Godfather.

Reading About Climbing with Steve House and Scott Johnson

Training for the New Alpinism by Steve House and Scott Johnston

As a writer for a blog that is somewhat preoccupied with literary fiction and popular nonfiction, it's not often that I have the opportunity (or reason) to go off-topic and talk about a fitness book.

Training for the New Alpinism: A Manual for the Climber as Athlete, by Steve House and Scott Johnston, is no ordinary fitness book. House is a world-renowned climber and an advocate of the "alpine-style": A fast-and-light, carry-all-your-gear approach that eschews the siege-style encampments and support typical in commercial mountaineering, especially in places such as Mt. Everest. In order to do that ("that" meaning scaling vertical ice walls thousands of feet high with a 20-pound pack on your back), one must be extraordinarily fit. Along with his climbing partner, Vince Anderson, House won the 2005 Piolet d'Or for their ascent of the Rupal Face of Nanga Parbat in the western Himalayas, and his previous book, Beyond the Mountain, won the 2009 Boardman Tasker Prize for Mountain Literature. Johnston, also a climber, has skied at the international level and coaches several top cross-country skiers.

If you're serious, or semi-serious, about climbing, this is your book. House and Johnston have put together regimens of varying difficulties that are both comprehensive and intense, while also addressing nutrition, mental fitness, and goal-setting. Though the exercises are nominally climbing-specific, they're appropriate for anyone who spends time in the mountains, or anyone looking to shake up their routine.

But even if you don't know a Prusik from a piton, there's a lot here to love. The book contains dozens of full-color high-altitude climbing photographs, as well as 27 essays by accomplished climbers, including Ueli Steck, Mark Twight, and Peter Habeler. To illustrate the unique nature of this book, House and Johnston (along with Patagonia Books) have provided several images, along with two excerpts:

  • "The Alpinist as Athlete": A summary of House and Johnson's philosophy of training's central role in the success of any climber
  • "The North Face of the North Twin": A short essay by House about a time something went sideways at altitude (the full story is included in Beyond the Mountain)

 Training for the New Alpinism is a book Fred Beckey would love.

 Images from the book (click for larger photographs):

Marko Prezelj climbing the short traversing pitch to the ice in the exit cracks of the headwall. North face of the North Twin, Alberta

Justin Merle chucks a lap near Ouray, Colorado

Continue reading "Reading About Climbing with Steve House and Scott Johnson" »

Amazon Asks: Daryl Gregory on "Afterparty," Comic Book Geekery, and Plagiarizing His First "Novel"

My excitement for Afterparty has been growing since the moment I read the book's synopsis back in December. It was a lock for my most anticipated Science Fiction & Fantasy books of 2014. Then, I started reading... and I just couldn't stop. Daryl Gregory has combined addictive elements of multiple genres -- the adrenaline rush of a race against time and enemies, the challenge to distinguish between good and bad guys, the inventiveness of a near future world -- to tell a story that's at once frightening and funny. Some chapters are so well-imagined I've gone back and reread them out of context, just to be there again. Ultimately, I chose Afterparty to lead the Science Fiction & Fantasy list for April, and it earned its place on our Best of the Month list, as well. Afterparty


What's the elevator pitch for your book?

Numinous is a smart drug that puts you in direct contact with God, giving you that feeling of oneness that you only get once or twice in your life. The drug was suppressed a decade ago, but now it's back on the street, and the woman who helped create it is trying to track it down--with the help of her own permanent hallucination, the angelic Dr. Gloria. I was trying to write a thriller that was one part Philip K. Dick, one part Elmore Leonard, and one part a TED talk by Oliver Sacks.

What's on your nightstand/bedside table/Kindle?

If the stack of books on my bedside table falls onto me, I'm a dead man. I keep buying books on neuroscience to steal ideas from, so near the top of the pile is Oliver Sacks' Hallucinations (which came out, frustratingly, too late to help me write Afterparty), as well as Inside Jokes by Matthew M. Hurley, Daniel C. Dennet, and Reginald B. Adams, Jr., which tries to explain the evolutionary and neurological basis for humor. I wanted to make sure to mention those because they make me sound smart. Lower down is The Best of Cordwainer Smith, Francine Prose's non-fiction book Reading Like a Writer, and Iain Banks' Stonemouth. But there are many more instruments of death teetering next to me. One good thing about the dozens of ebooks on my tablet, it's nearly impossible for them to crush my skull.

Top 3-5 favorite books of all time?

The list changes every day, but three that are touchstones for me are Little, Big by John Crowley, Use of Weapons by Iain M. Banks, and Resurrection Man by Sean Stewart.

Important book you never read?

I've taken three runs at The Brothers Karamazov. I will conquer you some day, Brothers.

Book that made you want to become a writer?

I can't separate reading from wanting to become a writer. As soon I read a great book, I wanted to write that book. My first "novel" was eight handwritten pages that I only later realized was a direct steal from The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet. I was 32. Just kidding. Eight. Pretty sure I was eight.

What's your most memorable author moment?

The afternoon I opened the acceptance letter to my first short story sale. "Letter" is too strong. It was a check and a piece of paper with one sentence from Ed Ferman, the editor of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. But that sentence was a phase change.

Preferred reading format: print? digital?

I still prefer print, but like the rest of the world, I'm reading more and more in digital. Now if only they can get that new book smell into my tablet.

What talent or superpower would you like to have (not including flight or invisibility)?

Daryl Gregory I'm a comic book geek, and I spent way too much time as a kid thinking over this question. Teleportation, definitely. I was a Nightcrawler fan.

What are you obsessed with now?

Thanks to that last question, all I can think about now is teleporting. Bamf!

What are you stressed about now?

I have to go online and schedule a bunch of flights. This drives me crazy. The Internet says, Here are 300 flights, in all combinations of price and date and time and carriers, now please imagine Future Daryl not hating one of these. It's one of those computational tasks that we need quantum computers for. Or a Downton Abbey butler.

What are you psyched about now?

I just want the Ant-Man movie to come as soon as possible.

What's your most prized/treasured possession?

Speaking of comics… I most treasure the statuette of Captain America that sits on our mantle. (It's golden age Cap, before he had the round shield, for you geeks in the audience.) It was given to me by a friend when I was moving out of town. Then I moved back, but kept it. Because, Captain America.

Author crush -- who's your current author crush?

Emily Dickinson, DM me back, 'kay? 'Cause I totally get you.

Pen Envy -- Book you wish you'd written?

Glen David Gold's Carter Beats the Devil. God, I love that book.

What's the last dream you remember?

This isn't exactly a dream, but I was recently at the Rainforest Writer's Retreat with 38 other writers. I was sleeping in my cabin when something woke me. I opened my eyes and saw a woman dressed in black standing beside my bed. I may have screamed like a 12-year-old girl in a Korean horror movie. It was then I realized (a) I wasn't quite awake, (b) there was no one there, and (c) it was a really good thing I was in a cabin by myself. Any roommate would have been really annoyed.

What's your favorite method of procrastination? Temptation? Vice?

I have to write in coffee shops, because if I'm home and the writing's not going well, I EAT ALL THE THINGS. Then I take a nap.

What do you collect?

Doubts, fears, the usual.

Best piece of fan mail you ever got?

In my short story "Second Person, Present Tense," the main character wakes up in the hospital after a drug overdose and knows that even though she has the same memories as the girl who previously inhabited her body, she's a new person, not the "owner" of those memories. I was proud of myself for inventing this disorder. Then I got an email from a professor in Tennessee who'd experienced the same thing, though his change was caused by a head injury after a motorcycle accident. For my next trick, I will invent some space aliens, and wait for them to call.

Favorite line in a book?

I live in a town that in the winter is grayer than Seattle, and whenever the sun does come out, I think to myself, "T'was Brillig!" It makes me feel better. Then I go outside and slay a jabberwock.

What's next for you?

I'm really looking forward to lunch. Then in August I have a short novel about horror and small group therapy called We Are All Completely Fine coming out from Tachyon Publications. Sometime after that Tor will be publishing my Lovecraftian young adult novel. And then dinner.

Amazon Asks: Francine Prose on Advice from Mavis Gallant, Negotiating Her First Advance, and the "Ultimate Empowered Little Girl"

Chameleon Club Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 is Francine Prose's 17th novel (and 27th book, counting nonfiction and young adult titles). And even this longtime fan considers it one of her very best. The story of bohemian Paris between the World Wars, it's bawdy and racy and not a little brave. Prose says it all started with a photograph she saw in a museum, a shot of two women at a table in a French bar: "one in a sparkly evening gown, the other in [male] drag." Et voila: a novel was born.


What's the elevator pitch for your book?

First I hit the panic button so we stall between floors, giving me a little more time to say: It's about what Paris was like and how it changed in the 20 years between 1924-1944. At the book's center is a woman, a professional athlete/auto racer and cross-dresser who attended the 1936 Berlin Olympics and became a spy for the Germans. The book is about (and told by) the people around her: a baroness who fostered her racing career; the brilliant photographer who took an iconic portrait of her and her lover; an American novelist; a heroine of the French Resistance; the owner of a legendary nightclub for cross-dressers. It's about love, evil, history, and truth.

What's on your nightstand/bedside table/Kindle?

I'm rereading the complete works of Barbara Pym; some of the books are physical books, some are on my Kindle, and all of them make me purely happy….

Top 3-5 favorite books of all time?

I'd have to tell you the top 300-500 books of all time.

What's the most Important book you never read?

Anything by Trollope and Galsworthy, despite how often people I love and trust have told me I should. I start, and I can't go on, I just can't...

What's the book that changed your life?

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

What's the book that made you want to become a writer? Alt: Favorite book(s) as a child?

The Adventures of Pippi Longstocking --the ultimate empowered little girl. Nowadays I even put up with the horrendous '70s film version of the book, to which my 7-year-old granddaughter is devoted.

What's your most memorable author moment?

The day that the legendary editor Harry Ford called to tell me he wanted to publish my first novel. This was in the early '70s. He said he supposed I'd be wanting an advance. I said I did. He asked, How much. I asked, What did he think? He said, How about a thousand dollars? I said, Great!! I was at a friend's house. I was sure I'd be hit by a truck on my way home.

What talent or superpower would you like to have (not including flight or invisibility)?

X-ray vision--the ability to see what people are really thinking. The ability to learn languages instantly and fluently.

What are you obsessed with now?

Syria. The Ukraine. Climate change.

What are you stressed about now?

Same as above.

What's your most prized/treasured possession?

Three rainbow-loom rubber-band bracelets.

What's the best piece of advice you ever got? The worst?

The brilliant Mavis Gallant, one of the great writers of our era, told me not to drink cheap wine, it's bad for the liver.

Author crush - who's your current author crush?

Karl Ove Knausgaard

What's the last dream you remember?

I dreamed I was wandering around a giant factory—lost. Confused, scared, running into weird and terrifying dead ends. I finally found some people who worked there and asked what exactly the factory manufactured. They said: Ball-point pens, and showed me one. I said, That's funny, those are the kind of pens I write with….Doctor Freud? Do we have to bother with this one?

What's your favorite method of procrastination? Temptation? Vice?

Computer solitaire is the answer to all three.

What do you collect?

Vintage postcards. Masks.

Best piece of fan mail you ever got?

I got a beautiful letter from a woman who told me that she had been reading Blue Angel and felt, in the room, the presence of her mother, who had died, and who would have loved my novel.

Brigid Schulte on Taming the To-Do List: "Put Joy First"

Overwhelmed_book-250x405To do list:

  • Get the snow tires exchanged
  • Renew tabs on Sean’s car; schedule Leo’s practice drives
  • Call the landscaper – what’s with those weeds?
  • Get rid of the damn woodpecker poking a hole in the house at 6am each day
  • Reschedule call with Brigid Schulte, author of Overwhelmed, which you had to cancel four times

I found it fitting that it took a week of texts and emails for Schulte and me to find a window in our respective schedules. When we finally connected, Schulte was charging her dying iPhone at the booth of a Eugene, Oregon burger joint, during a brief pause between book tour duties, her son’s University of Oregon tour, her daughter’s birthday, and visits with her sick father.

But thanks to the three-plus years of research she conducted for Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, she seemed serene and relaxed, even when the burger place began playing Nirvana, threatening threatened to drown out our conversation.

Her calmness was not always so.

Schulte’s exploration of the overworked, under-joyed American lifestyle began with a 2010 Washington Post Magazine story, an assignment she initially resisted. “I didn’t really want to face how I was spending my time,” she said. “I was really afraid of what I’d find … One more thing to feel bad about.”

She also worried that the topic of leisure “seemed silly and fluffy” in contrast to the heftier political coverage of her employer, the Post, and her war correspondent husband, Tom Bowman, NPR's Pentagon reporter. (Years ago, I worked with Bowman at the Baltimore Sun.)

But when the magazine article elicited hundreds and hundreds of emails--from women and men, young and old, sharing the pain, rage, and madness of their overwhelmed, joyless lives--Schulte knew she was onto something. “It blew my mind,” she said. And she realized: “I was not alone.”

Her journalist instincts kicked in and Schulte began to explore the madness of the modern American lifestyle, the misplaced priorities, and the health and quality of life consequences.

She found progressive companies--even the Pentagon--that have exploited the links between employee happiness and productivity, between leisure and professional creativity. She calls for workplace changes that place a higher value on achievement than work hours. Her research taught her how to work smarter, worry less, and prioritize fun--lunch with a friend, an afternoon with the kids, a new hobby, a run or a nap--yet still be more productive.

Schulte has also discovered the value of under-scheduling her kids and protecting family time.

“I do not feel overwhelmed anymore,” she said. “I flipped the to-do list and put joy first, I put the important stuff first.”

Brigid-1024x563
Here are Schulte’s “Top 10 Ways to Fight Back Against the Overwhelm”:

  1. PAUSE. Step off the gerbil wheel regularly--if even for a moment, even if you have to schedule it in, to figure out where you are and where you REALLY want to go.
  2. Understand how strong the PRESSURE is to overwork, overparent, overschedule and be busy and overdo and that humans are wired to conform. Our outlandishly unrealistic cultural ideals keep us spinning in “never enough”--that we can never be enough, be good enough, do enough in any sphere.
  3. Change the narrative. Actively support big change--in workplace culture, in cultural attitudes, in laws and policies: redesign work, reimagine traditional gender roles, recapture the value of leisure and play. Make conscious unconscious bias and ambivalence. Dispel worn out myths. Talk.
  4. Banish busyness.
  5. PLAN. DO. REVIEW. As you get clearer about where you are and where you want to go, begin to imagine in those moments of pause how to get from here to there. Experiment. Assess. Try something different. Keep trying.
  6. Set your own PRIORITIES--and then set up your own network of support that lines up with your values--that you WANT to conform to! POSITIVE PEER PRESSURE.
  7. When it comes to the To Do list, do a brain dump to get everything out of your head to clear mental space. Then give yourself PERMISSION not to do any of it. Also give yourself PERMISSION to put joy, fun, play, reflection and idleness or quiet time as top priorities and schedule it in until it becomes routine. You really DON’T have to earn leisure by getting to the end of the To Do list. You never will. So flip the list. Joy first. Do ONE thing a day and do it first. The rest of the day is a win.
  8. Chunk your time. Work in short, intense PULSES of no more than 90 minutes, and take breaks to change the channel. Check digital media at specific times during the day, and use timers so you won’t fall into the rabbit hole. Technology is seductive, lighting up the same structures of the brain that light up in addiction--so find your own system to use it wisely, not let it use you, or abuse you.
  9. Set common standards at home and share the load fairly, even the kids. Remember, as parents, love your kids, accept them for who they are, then get out of their way. That way, everybody has more time to connect--which is what’s really important, not how many instruments they play and how many travel teams they’ve made.
  10. More is not more. Think inverted U curve. Like anything, some activity for kids, some novelty for the brain, some amount of hard work, some time for technology … it’s all good up to a point, but more is not better. Too much, and the benefits begin to diminish. Find your own sweet spot.

Gabriel García Márquez (1927-2014)

Gabriel Marquez Gabriel García Márquez, the Colombian-born author known for his stories that blurred the lines between fantasy and reality--as well as the lines between tragedy and comedy--has died following a bout with pneumonia. As the author of novels including One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera, "Gabo" was instrumental in introducing Latin American literature to a worldwide audience, and was awarded the 1982 Nobel Prize in Literature "for his novels and short stories, in which the fantastic and the realistic are combined in a richly composed world of imagination, reflecting a continent's life and conflicts." García Márquez was 87.

 

 

 

 

 

Lay of the Land: Photos from Arlo Crawford's "A Farm Dies Once a Year"

After finishing Arlo Crawford's memoir A Farm Dies Once a Year, I found myself wanting to quit my desk job and do something that involves working with my hands. The book details Crawford's decision to leave his city life to help out on his parents' farm in rural Pennsylvania. To my surprise, the narrative is as much a curious look at the intricacies of organic farming as it is a rich, poignant portrait of Crawford's family and their relationship to the land and their neighbors. (On top of moving to the country, A Farm also gave me the urge to call my mom and tell her how much I appreciate her.)

If that's not enticing enough, Crawford was kind enough to share a handful of photos of his parents' farm and a few words to go along with them.


Crawford01

These pictures are different than what most people expect when they think "farm," but I love how still and solitary they are. For me, the most distinctive part of growing up on our farm was how isolated and quiet it could be, and how separate it felt from the outside world. The beauty in February is less conventional, but it’s also unadorned and bone-deep.

Continue reading "Lay of the Land: Photos from Arlo Crawford's "A Farm Dies Once a Year"" »

YA Wednesday: Dreaming of Gods & Monsters with Laini Taylor

At the beginning of this month Laini Taylor came to town and we got together to talk about Dreams of Gods & Monsters, the final book in her trilogy.  I first met Taylor in 2011 when I interviewed her here in Seattle for Daughter of Smoke & Bone and we bonded over our shared love of YA novels and John Fluevog shoes.  At the time, I tried not to sound like an obsessed fan girl. Even though I kind of was. And am. 

If you haven't read this trilogy yet, prepare to get hooked on a beautifully told otherworldly story of angels, monsters, and a couple of key humans, enmeshed in love and hate, bound by friendship and family. The detail is so rich, but not cumbersome, that now I picture other angels or monsters as Taylor describes hers, in all their glorious variety and contradiction. I would wear a sandwich board for these books.

Dreams of Gods & Monsters is our spotlight pick for April's Best YA Books, and in this final piece of the puzzle Taylor introduces an additional main character, a woman named Eliza, who ties all three books together in a stroke of storytelling genius.  In the video below, Taylor and I discussed Dreams of Gods & Monsters, the happiness of organic storytelling, and resurrecting Mark Twain.

As for the shoes...well, some things never change and so it was that three years later we had ourselves another Fluevog moment.  Shoe lovers, scroll down to see photos from the interviews.

 

The Interview Shoes:

Daughter of Smoke & Bone interview, 2011 / Dreams of Gods & Monsters interview, 2014

MeLainiShoes2011MeLainiFluevogs2014

Funny Business: Stanley Bing Explains It All For You

The CurriculumDo you have a crazy boss? Do you want to learn to be one?

Longtime Fortune magazine business columnist Stanley Bing (How to Relax Without Getting the Axe, What Would Machiavelli Do?) has mapped out for you -- in charts, graphs, ten commandments, and Power Point -- why people succeed in business, whether they're trying or not. His new book, The Curriculum, is a most serious spoof of what you could learn (or not) in an accredited b-school. Why pay a quarter of a million dollars in tuition, when you can buy that knowledge here for less than .02% of that.

Here, for example, is Bing's interpretive comparison of Lower, Middle and Ultra-Senior managers.

The Curriculum

We asked Bing some of our favorite questions. Read more about influential books, impressing his son, and predicting the future of technology here.

Amazon Asks: Stanley Bing on Influential Books, Impressing His Son, and Predicting the Future of Technology

Bing If you've read Fortune magazine anytime in the last 20+ years, or, for that matter, if you've cruised the business book world, you already know Stanley Bing: the funniest "business" writer on a very crowded block. Tomorrow, we'll unveil one of the riffs from his newest book, The Curriculum. But for now, we thought we'd grab him for a second, in between high level business meetings and attacks of corporate angst (is there a diff?), to get his answers to some of our favorite questions.


What's the elevator pitch for your book?

The Curriculum is a rigorous course of study designed for business students or interested professionals who want to achieve power and success without enduring the tedium, stress, and expense of a traditional MBA.

What's on your nightstand/bedside table/Kindle?

Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne, because it's discursive and hilarious; Teach Us To Sit Still by Tim Parks, because I can't, generally, and occasionally would like to; and Lad, A Dog by Albert Payson Terhune, because I loved it dearly as a child and get slightly lachrymose after a few drinks late at night and start ordering things.

Top 3-5 favorite books of all time?

Top Five (in no particular order):

  • Moby Dick, except for the long section on how to cook a whale;
  • The Metamorphosis, particularly the funny parts;
  • The entire History of Crime series, from Roseanna to The Terrorists, by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, which are the motherload of all subsequent Scandinavian crime fiction;
  • The Man Who Watched the Trains Go By by George Simenon, an incomparably perfect little novel about what can happen to a conventional person when the structure of his life unravels;
  • The Shining by Stephen King, because it's the last book that I had to read with all the lights on.

 

Important book you never read?

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. I tried. But there are now some mountains that my brain can no longer climb.

Book that changed your life?

There are probably quite a few, but I'll name two. The first is Crime and Punishment, because I read it at exactly the right moment in my teens sometime, and it seized me the way no other book had until that moment; it seemed like a whole world had opened to me that was in some fundamental way more real than my own. I loved it. I was also really influenced by The Power Elite by C. Wright Mills, which took an anthropological view of the corporate organization, viewing it basically as a totalitarian bureaucracy, a perspective that is very useful to me in my own work, which makes me sound very serious, I know, but there you have it. Oh, and I should probably also mention that reading my way all the way through Sherlock Holmes gave me a lifelong love for crime and detective fiction.

Favorite book(s) as a child?

I already mentioned Albert Payson Terhune, and I inhaled his books about his elegant, preternaturally intelligent collies throughout my childhood. I had no idea at the time that he was sort of a Nietzschean crypto-racist, with all sorts of views about superior bloodlines and terrible stuff like that. I thought he wrote very moving and exciting dog stories, you know? Also loved Booth Tarkington's Penrod books, which were all about being a ten-year-old boy in a placid, lovely, small-town America when I was one. I also remember getting a tremendous kick out of a series about cave people at the dawn of time I got at my local library that I now cannot find anywhere online at all. They were big and fat and immersive and if anybody reading this has an idea of what they might have been, I'd be obliged to you.

What's your most memorable author moment?

I was with my son at a Bob Dylan concert. It was intermission and some guy who wasn't too old came up to me and said, "Hey! You're Stanley Bing!" and shook my hand. "That was cool, Dad," my son said. We didn't cry and embrace or anything, but it was a good moment. I'd also have to say that being on Charlie Rose a while back about one of my books was a real thrill. I felt like a real, authentic author the whole time. And I say that not only because it's true, but because it's possible that Charlie may be reading this and it would help get me on his show again.

What talent or superpower would you like to have (not including flight or invisibility)?

"I would love to have the power to stop waking at 3 a.m. every night to check my e-mail."

BingWhat are you obsessed with now?

Two decades ago, around the time I started doing my column for Fortune, I believe, I wrote a humor column prognosticating a future where people would have cranial implants to replace all existing forms of electronic communications. I now believe it was a sort of Jules Verne moment for me, when I thought I was blowing sci-fi smoke, but I was actually predicting a likely future. I am now obsessed with the idea that very soon, before we know it, digital wetware will replace glassware to create surgically enhanced humans who will eventually form the genetic stock of the next iteration of humanity, rendering Homo Sapiens as defunct as our predecessor, Homo Neanderthanensis. I don't want to be around when that happens, by the way, but I would like to have my consciousness digitally preserved and housed in a pleasant place for later insertion into a fully functional cyborg when that's possible.

What are you stressed about now?

Putin.

What's your most prized/treasured possession?

My Martin D-18, which was built the year I was born and bought in a pawn shop in Cincinnati as a present for me when I was eight years old for $90. It's just as nice as it ever was.

What's the best piece of advice you ever got? The worst?

The best piece of advice I ever got was to stay one drink behind the most senior officer at the table or party. The worst piece of advice was to eat the worm at the bottom of a bottle of mescal one night at a boondoggle in San Diego.

Who's your current author crush?

Mark Bittman. He's actually convinced me to eat like a Marin County hippie before 6 p.m. It's the 6 p.m. part that's brilliant. Every day there's light at the end of the vegetable tunnel.

What book you wish you'd written?

Who Moved My Cheese. Not because of the message -- which is truly deplorable, viewing employees as tiny rodents whose masters may move their sustenance at will -- but because the book probably took 20 minutes to write and has now sold a hundred billion copies. It's the Quarter Pounder of business books.

What's the last dream you remember?

Just last night I dreamed that I was required to go back to the past and perform a certain task without upsetting the natural order of the future. I saw my boss when his hair was black. I saw several colleagues again, who I have missed, actually, since they left the corporation. I saw a 1995-era Cadillac stretch which seemed to be waiting for somebody more important than I was. It was very detailed and interesting. Then I woke up and realized that most of the philosophical issues in my dream have already been dealt with in The Terminator. I'm still thinking about it, though.

What's your favorite method of procrastination? Temptation? Vice?

My favorite method of procrastination is to do something else that needs doing, but not quite so imminently. Sleeping is also good, as is drinking until you really can't do anything very well anymore. And let's not forget about Amazon Prime. You guys have some seriously excellent content on there.

What do you collect?

Guitars, cameras, watches, yoyos, and comics. Some other things, too, but those are the main ones. Not all at once, of course. Sort of alternatively, never quite dropping any one, but focusing now and then on each. Right now there's a vintage acoustic guitar I don't need that I have my eye on.

Best piece of fan mail you ever got?

That's easy. A few years ago, a reader became annoyed at something I had posted on my blog. He shot off a note that was brief and to the point: "Your an idiot," he said. "Your" an idiot! I still feel wonderful when I think about it.

Digital Exclusive: Sue Monk Kidd on Oprah's "Super Soul Sunday"

Sue Monk Kidd and Oprah are together again! Kidd's The Invention of Wings was previously an Oprah Book Club 2.0 selection. Now she's chatting with Oprah on the Emmy Award winning OWN Network series "Super Soul Sunday." Here's a digital exclusive that you won't see on the show, to whet your appetite.

Oprah's "Super Soul Sunday" interview with Sue Monk Kidd airs April 13 at 11 a.m. ET, and can also be seen at Oprah.com.

Rabbit, Write: Five Things You Didn't Know About John Updike

Updike by Adam Begley It’s often useful to separate artists from their art, to assume that a novel, or an entire body of work, isn’t thinly veiled autobiography*. Updike, Adam Begley’s exhaustive and revealing account of the American master’s life, begs us to reconsider that doctrine. Detailed yet readable, it goes far beyond describing the chronology of this unsurprisingly complex (and often paradoxical) character, layering on the lit crit where John Updike’s real life bled into his novels. Essential for admirers and illuminating for anyone with an interest in literature, Updike already merits consideration as one of the best biographies of 2014. Begley has provided us five tidbits from his research for a glimpse into the Updike known only to aficionados and close associates.

* For this reader, at least, who is seemingly drawn to works by or about questionable characters

Updike is an Amazon Best Books of the Month selection for April, 2014.

 


Five Things You Didn't Know About John Updike

by Adam Begley

 

1. He dreamed of becoming the next Walt Disney. Updike’s first love was cartoons and cartooning. “Have I ever loved a human being,” he once asked himself, “as purely as I loved Mickey Mouse?” His ambition, as a boy, was to become an animator, and only settled on writing when he was in college. Even so, he spent a year after college at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art in Oxford, England. All his life he doodled, sometimes extravagantly, and he would often draw his own Christmas cards.

2. He was rejected by Princeton. The brilliant, straight-A student at Shillington High was offered scholarships by Harvard and Cornell—but Princeton turned him down. He decided on Harvard, where the annual tuition in 1950 was $600. He was offered $400 in financial aid for freshman year. His aid package increased over the years—because his grades were consistently excellent—and by the time he graduated, tuition was fully covered. He graduated with highest honors.

John Updike (photo by Irving L. Fisk

3. He never had a literary agent. Updike published more than sixty books in his lifetime, and most of them were reprinted as paperbacks and in various foreign languages. The amount of office work to keep track of rights and permissions for all those editions would have kept an agent busy around the clock. A phenomenally focused and disciplined worker, Updike did it all by himself; it was what he did when he wasn’t writing.

4. He was pen pals with Joyce Carol Oates. When he wasn’t writing for publication, Updike was writing letters—to his editors at Knopf and The New Yorker, to scholars and journalists, to friends, to his mother. But the person he wrote to most frequently was Joyce Carol Oates, a lively, gossipy literary correspondence as voluminous as you would expect from a pair of authors who were at the same time producing at least a book a year, decade after decade.

5. He played poker with the same crew for more than fifty years. They started playing in December 1957, a group organized by the owner of an auto parts store and the local pediatrician. They convened every other Wednesday, for low stakes: nickels and dimes until they made the minimum bet a quarter in 1960. Poker night was a raucous event in the early days, drenched in beer and wreathed in smoke. The camaraderie, and the sense of belonging, was for Updike the principal attraction; he confessed, in fact, to being only a mediocre player: “I am careless, neglecting to count cards, preferring to sit there in a pleasant haze of bewilderment and anticipation.” In 2004 he noted that he’d been playing with more or less the same men for nearly half a century, and that in the meantime he’d “changed houses, church denominations, and wives. My publisher has been sold and resold. Only my children command a longer loyalty than this poker group.” Perhaps the most remarkable thing is that he was far less passionate about poker than he was about golf!

How I Wrote It: "All I need is my laptop and a comfy chair" - Alice LaPlante

LaplateWhen a respected plastic surgeon mysteriously dies in a Palo Alto hotel room, a novice police detective immediately suspects foul play--especially after discovering that the man had three wives in three different cities. With that setup, Alice LaPlante's A Circle of Wives explores the mysteries of love and marriage, trust and suspicion. Based on a true story that occurred eight years ago in Standford (where LaPlante teaches creative writing), A Circle of Wives is LaPlante's second novel. (Her first was the bestselling Turn of Mind).

In addition to writing fiction--she has another novel coming out next year, and is working on her fourth--LaPlante also writes non-fiction. She described for me her somewhat unorthodox method of starting each day with some fiction writing, and then flip flopping throughout the day. "I keep my fiction and my nonfiction on the screen, and I move between them," she said.

LaPlante also discussed recently losing her home to a fire. The first thing she reached for when the fire broke out? Her laptop.

 

Amazon Asks: Bob Saget Gives a PG-13 Glimpse of the Man Behind "Dirty Daddy"

Dirty DaddyYou've likely seen actor/comedian Bob Saget on TV. Question is, which Bob Saget did you see? The family-friendly Saget of "Full House" and "America's Funniest Home Videos" fame is oh-so-different from the potty-mouthed button pusher who cameo-ed as a misogynist neighbor on "Entourage" and a drug-addicted actor on"Huff," appeared in the blue comedy documentary The Aristocrats, and starred in his own HBO stand-up special "That Ain't Right."

Now, as an author, Saget has written a bridge between his two extreme personas with Dirty Daddy: The Chronicles of a Family Man Turned Filthy Comedian, one of our April Best of the Month selections in Humor & Entertainment.

Characteristically tangential, in Dirty Daddy Saget jumps from endearingly genuine to sophomorically silly to jarringly vulgar without warning. Somehow, between the exasperated "Oh, Bob"s, the heartwarming "Awwww"s, the head-nodding "Right on..."s, and the cringe-worthy "Ew, really!??"s, we get to know him from his own tainted perspective. He shares a behind-the-scenes look at "Full House," name-drops comedians who influenced him (Rodney Dangerfield, Richard Pryor) and random celebrities he's encountered (Quentin Tarrantino, Jimmy Stewart), remembers career milestones like his first time on The Tonight Show. He also drags his family into it, discussing relationships with his mother, grandmother, sisters, and kids.

But we wanted to know Bob Saget, Debut Author a bit better. So, we presented him with our favorite questions and begged him to keep the answers "printable." What we got back was (with a couple of exceptions), surprisingly sweet.


What's the elevator pitch for your book?

It doesn't take long to explain, but before I'd go into an elevator to pitch it, I'm basically the kid who'd push the button on every floor to make sure they're a captive audience.

Dirty Daddy is about how the different aspects of my life have intersected. How I became what some people consider a "dirty" comedian, when all I've ever done is try to entertain my way through a life that often has a huge amount of heaviness in it. The book is about loss, survival, the love of comedy, and my testicles.

What's on your nightstand/bedside table/Kindle?

A stack of several books I've yet to read, a few DVDs I've yet to watch, and a tiny cheesy alarm clock that's had the same miniature battery in it for ten years. It's outlived my last three relationships.

Top 3-5 favorite books of all time?

The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men, Jitterbug Perfume

Important book you never read?

Pride and Prejudice

Book that changed your life?

Charlotte's Web

Book that made you want to become a writer?

Dirty Daddy

What's your most memorable author moment?

Writing for 48 hours straight with no sleep to meet a deadline. Most Adaptation-like moment I'd prefer never to repeat in my life if possible.

Preferred reading format: print? digital?

I will always prefer a hardback book, but I'm drawn to digital because it's so easy to acquire them when I'm having a need-to-read moment.

What talent or superpower would you like to have (not including flight or invisibility)?

I'd be really happy to be able to stretch myself to be as wide or narrow as I felt like being at the moment. Take up the whole doorway, or be able to slide myself under it. You asked.

What are you obsessed with now?

At the moment, the fantasy of being able to stretch myself as wide as a doorway, or be able to slide myself under it.

What are you stressed about now?

The state of the world. How desensitized we have become as people. How much we have to do to help this planet and its population. I am also stressed because once I am flattened out so thin to be able to slide under a doorway, I may never be able to ever be unflattened so I could be regular sized again.

What are you psyched about now?

The future. I have no plan except to take care of the people I love. I have no agenda, nothing to control. I'm psyched about what I can contribute that can be meaningful to myself and to others. I'm also looking forward to one day meeting a person has that same non-agenda. In the creative sense, I'm looking forward to collaborating with people I have mutual respect for to create some really good work. In the immediate sense, I'd like a nice piece of salmon that's not too pink inside and yet isn't too dry or crisp either. Nothing worse than a piece of dried out fish.

What's your most prized/treasured possession?

A pair of leather lace-less high-top All Stars my daughters gave me two birthdays ago. They're always coming apart at the sole, but I will keep repairing them until the end of time because they mean so much to me.

Author crush - who's your current author crush?

Mary Karr, author of The Liar's Club and Lit. I love her unabashed honesty and conviction to everything she believes in.

Pen Envy - Book you wish you'd written?

The World According to Garp. I was influenced by its fascinating and funny characters along with what could be deemed absurd with stream of conscious story lines that somehow made its whole world seem entirely possible.

What's the last dream you remember?

My mom, who we lost a few months back, came to me and the basic info imparted was-- everything was going to be alright; she was so proud of me; that the book was going to be received well by a lot of people. She told me how much she loved me seemed to infer I was going to find some new healthy romance--that she would not be involved with from the other side in any meddling fashion. Finally, some Freudian Relief.

What's your favorite method of procrastination? Temptation? Vice?

My favorite procrastination is to make the choice to have valuable times with human beings that I care about instead of holing myself up alone to get my work done. The conflict is the temptation to get the omnipresent assignment completed. The selfish and usually pointless approach is to try to get both done simultaneously--accomplish your work at hand while begging forgiveness of those close to you while you're basically working in front of them during what could've been specifically 'quality time.' The favorite method of vice is to diss all responsibility be work or social, go off by myself, and enjoy a good steak and a great glass of wine. Oh yeah, and my kids are there too.

What do you collect?

Sweet desk items my daughters buy me. Could be a plastic necklace, or a felt pen with a face dressed in a Christmas hat. Also enjoy a good glass pyramid to store my deepest wishes and dreams in. My favorite collections are gifts from my daughters that come from them knowing me, and knowing what items give me focus and meaning, There's a ceramic tiny ant eater or similar creature sitting my desk named "Pushkin." He's not named after the Russian Poet. If anything he is a mockery of anyone else ever named "Pushkin." I like him very much.

Best piece of fan mail you ever got?

The one (and there were several) from a young girl who thanked me for being part of "Full House" because her childhood was similar to the one depicted in that sitcom I was the father in. She said it was the only show she could watch with her dad, since she'd lost her mom, that they could sit and talk about their feelings after. She credits a show made for exactly her, a teenage girl audience--helping her get through how hard it was to live without her mother in her life.

Favorite line in a book?

Part of Tom Joad's speech from The Grapes of Wrath. It's lengthy but I think of it often:

Tom: "Then it don't matter. I'll be all around in the dark--I'll be everywhere. Wherever you can look – wherever there's a fight, so hungry people can eat, I'll be there. Wherever there's a cop beatin' up a guy, I'll be there. I'll be in the way guys yell when they're mad. I'll be in the way kids laugh when they're hungry and they know supper's ready, and when the people are eatin' the stuff they raise and livin' in the houses they build --I'll be there, too."

What's next for you?

I don't know, but I'll be there.

A Peek Inside "What Would Lynne Tillman Do?"

What Would Lynn Tillman Do?What Would Lynne Tillman Do? is a collection of 35 essays from a brainy, funny American thinker and writer--the kind of person able (and willing!) to dispense observation and advice on everything from great writing to Chet Baker to the Internet and how it has changed society. In other words, she's a know-it-all, in all the best ways: warm, wise, and, when it's called for, pointed in her criticisms. As someone said, she's not a malcontent, but she is discontented sometimes. She has also crossed paths with some of the greatest creative minds of the last several decades. (The book is introduced by Colm Toibin, after all.) Here we have Lynne Tillman's story of her interactions with the great 20th century expatriate writer, Paul Bowles.


In 1972, I was living in Amsterdam, and decided to edit an anthology of American writers abroad. Paul Bowles reigned as the preeminent American abroad. I told my Dutch publisher that his presence in the book was essential, and assured him that Bowles would definitely be in it. All bravado. I was a complete unknown. Anxiously, I wrote a letter to Paul Bowles, requesting his important participation. Shockingly fast, he wrote back, Yes.

I can't remember what Bowles first sent me. But soon the book's publication was delayed, and whatever piece it was, he had given it to someone else. I quickly and humbly asked for another piece; he amiably sent one along. I really didn't know what I was demanding of such a distinguished, sought-after writer. I knew nothing, I was a kid, and all my ideas about being an editor came from reading literary histories and writers' biographies. I had requested unpublished material from everyone. The long delays continued, and every piece Bowles sent me was eventually published somewhere else.

After the first publisher reneged—the novelty division was dissolved—a second publisher came forward to save the book, a friend with a small Dutch press who promised to bring the anthology out, fast. He didn't. I'm not sure how much time passed, but once again I needed to ask Bowles for new writing. Now he had no unpublished work at all, nothing to give; he was very sorry. Desperate, I wrote: Don't you have anything? I don't care what it is. Bowles kindly mailed a few poems he'd written in the early 1930s, noting that they weren't very good, but I could use them if I wanted. He didn't have anything else. Again, he was very sorry.

It never occurred to me that he might have been, with excellent reason, courteously bailing out of my long-sinking enterprise. But I was young, naive, hopeful, and these traits, mixed with others, allowed me not only to ignore that possibility but also to agree with his negative assessment of his poems. Yes, they're not very good, I wrote him. Of course I'll publish them anyway. You must be in the anthology. But, I pleaded, don't you have anything else? How about letters you wrote home from Europe?

Not long after, an airmail letter arrived, on onionskin as ever, but thicker than the one page he usually sent. He, or a helper, had typed copies of two letters he had written his mother on his very first trip to Europe. He had traveled there with composer Aaron Copland; Copland had been his music teacher, then a close friend. In one letter Bowles tells the hilarious tale of their sailing to Tangier. The second was written after he and Copland had settled in Tangier, about their travails with their piano, and also about Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, who were their friends. Use the letters if you want, Bowles wrote. I read them over and over, delighted with each line, and also by glimpsing his intimate and sympathetic relationship with his mother; I knew he despised his father. (In his autobiography, Bowles admitted to wanting to kill him.) Now it was worth it, every delay, everything—the letters were jewels.

Lynn TillmanOver those years, the anthology had gone through many transformations. Mostly I added people: it was hard for me to say no to friends, even those who weren't writers. When the second Dutch publisher stopped answering my letters, I finally gave up, though the book had been designed, typeset, and was actually on boards. I knew it would never be published. Curiously, I took this failure in stride, seven or eight years of work and waiting, making promises and breaking them. By then I was doing other things, living in New York and writing. Maybe more significant, the anthology had come to feel unnecessary to me, a leftover from an existence I no longer had or wanted. I'd done it, and was done with my romance of the American abroad—along with the rest of the world. Being in Europe had helped me unlearn some of what I'd been taught or unconsciously believed. Any writer knows that what's left out is as essential, if not more so, than what's there. Unlearning works that way. I unlearned the model of being an editor like Ezra Pound with T.S. Eliot, the unconscious belief that America was the center of the world, and that honesty meant saying what I thought and always being direct. (The Dutch and the English, former competitors for world dominance, taught me the wisdom of waiting as well as withholding.) As to new lessons: I learned I could be miserable anywhere in the world. I learned I really was an American.

Bowles and I continued corresponding, hardly ever mentioning the ill-fated anthology. He had suffered much worse fates than the ups and downs of publication, of course, specifically, the slow, sad decline of Jane Bowles and her death in 1972. In some ways I think he was forever amused by something invisible buzzing around him, and that something kept him going. Maybe he was amused just to be alive.

(c) 2014 by Lynne Tillman. From What Would Lynne Tillman Do? published by Red Lemonade

Kindle Singles Roundup, Including Colum McCann's First Short Story in a Decade

Longform digital stories seem to be having a prolonged moment, an ongoing honeymoon in the marriage between storytelling and the digitization of the written word. Pioneered by Kindle Singles, Byliner, and The Atavist, and hailed as an antidote to the dying space alloted in newspapers and magazines for short stories, novellas, and longer works of journalism, I've enjoyed watching more and more authors experiment with the form, in both fiction and nonfiction. In the coming months, Omnivoracious will begin featuring occasional roundups of these bite-sized stories. Or is that byte-sized?

Below are five recent notable stories, available in the Singles store, including Gone, a literary thriller from National Book Award winner Colum McCann (Let the Great World Spin, Transatlantic). Though McCann got his start writing short stories--he calls them "small imploding universes"--Gone is his first short story in ten years. Scroll down to read a Q&A with McCann and his publisher, Byliner.

Gone Gone, by Colum McCann

A single mother and her 13-year-old adopted son, who is deaf, live alone on the west coast of Ireland. Early one morning, the son walks down to the sea with his new wetsuit, and disappears. Investigators suspect the mother, who is racked with guilt: "A wetsuit? Why in the world? What sort of mother?"

The Death Factory The Death Factory, by Greg Iles

On the even of the much-anticipated release of Natchez Burning, Iles's first novel in five years, the author has crafted a prequel of sorts to the novel, an appetizer in which his long-running protagonist, Penn Cage, confronts more of the dark family secrets that continue to haunt him.
Baby Steps Baby Steps, by Mara Altman

This is Altman’s fourth Kindle Single, continuing her blunt, funny, and very popular explorations of the adventures in adulthood. Previously she's written about facial hair, orgasms, stand-up comedy, and diamond engagement rings. Here, she confronts the prospect of motherhood, from the expectations of others to her own ambivalence.
Brian Greene: The Kindle Singles Interview Brian Greene: The Kindle Singles Interview, by Rivka Galchen

Author and journalist Galchen (named by The New Yorker as one of 20 Writers Under 40) interviews physicist Brian Greene (The Elegant Universe, The Fabric of the Cosmos), who recently launched a series of free online science courses at World Science U (WorldScienceU.com). Here, he discusses string theory, Einstein, Higgs boson, and the nothingness of empty space.
Sleep Donation

Sleep Donation, by Karen Russell

When an insomnia epidemic afflicts America, an organization called Slumber Corps recruits healthy sleepers to donate sleep to insomniacs.  Though soundly in sci-fi and Orwellian terrain, the corruption and greed of the story give it an urgency that feels as if it could've been ripped from today's headlines.

Read Amazon editor Kevin Nguyen's interview with Russell.

~~~

Colum-McCann-Credit-Dustin-AkslandIn this Q&A between McCann and our friends at Byliner, McCann talks him about his heritage, his craft, and Gone.

Byliner: You grew up in Ireland, a country you’ve noted has been “shaped by books.” Last summer, Charlie Rose asked you what it means to be Irish. You answered, “We have an ability to sing, and the ability to tell a story, and the ability to live our lives out loud. … We seem to embrace a lot of different experiences. Also, we have that sort of lurking sadness.”  Was it from that lurking sadness that you pulled Gone?

McCann: I suppose Gone has several elements of lurking sadness. It exists there in the landscape too. The cottage out on the edge of the water. The single mother. The struggle against the darkness. The loneliness at the end of the year. Not your typical Christmas story, that’s for sure!  But I wanted to invert the expectations, too, and hopefully Gone does that in some way. It turns the tables. There’s a line in there about metal pipes embedded in the stone walls--in an odd way the wind moves over the mouths of the metal pipes and makes the wall sing.

Byliner: Mark Twain is famously credited with saying, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” The perfect word matters, because the relationship between the word and a reader’s understanding of it (and reaction to it) matters. But sometimes it’s very hard to put into words a specific feeling. There’s no translation that’s true enough, good enough. Tell us about how that influenced your decision to make Rebecca Marcus, the mother in Gone, a translator.

McCann: I was fascinated by the lack of a word for a parent who has lost a child. We have no word in English. I thought for sure there’d be a word in Irish but there is none. And then I looked in several other languages and could not find one, until I found the word Sh’khol in Hebrew. I’m still not sure why so many languages don’t have a word for this sort of bereavement, this shadowing. And so it seemed a good thing to turn my character into a translator. And then there was the Jewish aspect which attracted me also. There are fewer and fewer Jews in Ireland, but we still have one of the most famous Jewish characters in literary history, of course, in Leopold Bloom. So there was a direct reference to language there also.  

Byliner: Gone is your first short story in a decade. What brought you back to that form, and how does that form differ in routine from writing a novel?

McCann: I love short stories. They’re like small imploding universes. They are very tightly bound and controlled. I’d been wanting to write one for ages but just got tangled up in novels. The novel is the same in the sense that it is also a universe, but it explodes outwards with all that shrapnel going in several different directions. I don’t see too much difference in the forms except for the fact that writing short stories is like sprinting rather than long-distance running. Novels are more difficult simply because they are longer and require more juggling, but short stories are closer to perfection, if you can get the language right.

Byliner: As a writer, you create characters and their stories. How has writing helped you to "create" your own life?

McCann: Oh, I’m a complete and utter fiction. Then again, we all are. We shape ourselves by our imaginative reach. 

Byliner: When accepting the 2009 National Book Award for Fiction, you told the audience that being allowed to tell a story and listen to a story is a privilege. “Stories are democracy,” you said. “They are the purest form of engagement.” Is there one particular book that stands out for you as having engaged you and inspired your desire to write?

McCann: There are thousands of them. I hate to choose one. But Ulysses is up there. As is Ondaatje’s Coming through Slaughter. As is Berger’s To the Wedding. As is True History of the Kelly Gang. As is, as is, as is, as is … oh, I could go the length of my bookshelves and beyond. 

Amazon Asks: Christopher Priest, author of "The Adjacent"

The AdjacentOne does not simply read a book by Christopher Priest (The Prestige, The Glamour, etc.). It is not a casual, relaxing, kick back and enjoy type of experience. His books are often intentionally confusing, reality-mangling, complex adventures in which the reader must be a vigilant participant, attentive to hidden details and willing to dig deep into the layers. Priest's latest, The Adjacent is no different. The story shifts across time and space, between similar yet different characters. Sometimes it provides real links between them, and sometimes it provides red herrings... and rarely is there solid evidence as to which is which. Oh, and if you expect him to tie it all up in a pretty package by the last page, you've simply come to the wrong author. It's just part of his frustrating charm.

And so, anticipating that any questions we ask about The Adjacent will only result in our having more questions than we did to begin with (not to mention ruining the experience of reading for anyone who hasn't yet), let's focus on Priest himself. We asked him to answer a few of our favorite questions, and, true to form, we received answers that beg further illumination (which, of course, we know we'll never fully get).


What's the elevator pitch for your book?

He was a 21st century photojournalist with a camera that changed reality, she flew a Spitfire in World War 2, they were supposed never to meet.

What's on your nightstand/bedside table/Kindle?

The Third Reich by Roberto Bolano, The Red Line by John Nichol, the latest edition of "Fortean Times".

Top 3-5 favorite books of all time?

Song of the Sky by Guy Murchie, The Magus by John Fowles, The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells, A Sort of Life by Graham Greene

Important book you never read?

Almost everything else. I never got past the Battle of Borodino in War and Peace.

Book that changed your life?

Song of the Sky by Guy Murchie

Book that made you want to become a writer?

Non-Stop by Brian Aldiss

What's your most memorable author moment?

Finishing a book.

Preferred reading format: print? digital?

Print

What talent or superpower would you like to have (not including flight or invisibility)?

Perfect pitch.

What are you obsessed with now?

The forthcoming film of The Glamour.

What are you stressed about now?

The forthcoming film of The Glamour.

What are you psyched about now?

The forthcoming -- no, scrub that. The advent of spring and my cats are bringing in half-dead small animals.

What's your most prized/treasured possession?

Property is theft.

Author crush -- who's your current author crush?

Self-love is a sin.

Pen Envy -- Book you wish you'd written?

2666 by Roberto Bolano, The Time Machine by H. G. Wells, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein

What's the last dream you remember?

Never can remember them.

What's your favorite method of procrastination? Temptation? Vice?

Questionnaires.

What do you collect?

I never collect anything ... I accumulate stuff. Mostly books and cameras.

Best piece of fan mail you ever got?

"Dear Chris -- I loved your new novel. Brought back all those sexy memories. My lawyer will be in touch."

Favorite line in a book?

"This is the saddest story I have ever heard." (The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford.)

What's next for you?

The forthcoming film of The Glamour. The forthcoming stage play of The Prestige. My new novel in progress. A non-fiction work about aviation.

Up All Night: Karen Russell on Writing "Sleep Donation"

Sleep-donation

If the power of books is to bring people together, then there's perhaps no example more literal than the Craigslist missed connection I stumbled across just minutes before interviewing Karen Russell. The posting, titled (sic) "karen russel cutie - w4m", was written by an Austin-based woman who met a man reading one of Russell's books at a coffee shop. They hit it off, sort of.

"I said, "hey. karen russell. Right?" And i flashed you the cover of my book. As if you didn't KNOW i was reading it. We talked for a few minutes. You didn't even know. You didn't even know that um. You didn't even know that she had written other books. But i felt a connection."

I forwarded the link to Russell, who, delighted by the idea that her work could play matchmaker, said, "I want these people to find each other, and then I want to officiate at their wedding." Speaking with Russell, I found her sense of humor arresting, her laugh totally charming — a little surprising considering the darkness and moodiness of her latest work, Sleep Donation (one of our Best Books of the Month picks for March and a Kindle Single). It's a clever, haunting novella about a dystopian world where insomnia has become a fatal epidemic. The story follows a young woman named Trish who works at Slumber Corps, a company that helps those who are able to catch some Z's the ability to donate their shut-eye to the sleepless. Those familiar with Russell's previous work — her two short story collections, St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves and Vampires in the Lemon Grove, and her novel Swamplandia, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize — will find the same sci-fi and fantasy-mashing sensibilities here. Russell attributes her category-bending to a childhood reading lots of sci-fi and fantasy and not recognizing the lines between the different genres.

"I actually had so little awareness of what distinguished Jane Eyre from A Handmaid's Tale. When I was a kid, they all just read like great stories to me," she said.

Her influences include many classic sci-fi authors, such as Robert A. Heinlein, Frank Herbert, Octavia Butler, Ray Bradbury, and Aldous Huxley. But since her world experience first came from novels, her reality is grounded in fictions that existed to critique the real world. She jokes that her upbringing was like visiting the fantastical version of Paris at Epcot Center, then actually visiting Europe decades later.

Continue reading "Up All Night: Karen Russell on Writing "Sleep Donation"" »

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