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December 2010

Then and Now: Rachel Swirsky, Transitioning from Booklessness to Being Bookful

Rachel Swirsky is among the most talented science fiction/fantasy short story writers working today--one of the new generation that's transforming the genre through a combination of inspiration, renovation, and fresh approaches. She's been nominated for multiple awards, including the Nebula, and attended both iconic genre workshops like Clarion West and iconic mainstream literary workshops like the Iowa Writers Workshop.

Over the summer, Aqueduct Press released a slim sampler: Through the Drowsy Dark. It's not quite the Collected Fiction that the world needs, but it's a start. It also lifted Swirsky out of the state of being bookless--said state having prompted me to interview her for my Conversations with the Bookless feature on my blog back in 2007.

Given the new collection, I thought it'd be interesting to ask Swirsky some of the same questions I asked her back then and juxtapose her answers from when she was bookless to now, when she's bookful. Thus the "now" and "then" responses below, along with some questions specific to this interview...


Continue reading "Then and Now: Rachel Swirsky, Transitioning from Booklessness to Being Bookful" »

S.G. Browne on Fated and Greek Gods

S.G. Browne is rapidly becoming known for his ability to take the familiar and re-imagine it through the kinds of humor and satire that also allows for interesting characters. His latest is Fated, which Kirkus in a starred review calls "Another radically funny comedy from one of America's best satiric novelists."

What's it about? From Publishers Weekly: "Browne...unleashes the irresistible tale of Fabio Delucci, who's getting tired of his job as Fate. It's a grind, working the Fate Radar and the Fate Generator program and reporting to Jehovah--known here as Jerry--who believes Fate's work has grown sloppy. Even his no-contact romance with Destiny has become distinctly unfulfilling. Then he falls in forbidden love with human Sara Griffen, and once he reveals his true self to her, their relationship is drastically transformed, and, naturally, big consequences threaten to crush him. Fabio provides an appealing commentary on the hazards of immortality, the uncertainty of destiny, and the lengths people will go for love, all wrapped up in a cute, funny package."

And here's Browne in an Omnivoracious exclusive telling us more about the origins of the characters and situations...


Continue reading "S.G. Browne on Fated and Greek Gods" »

Old Media Monday: Reviewing the Reviewers

[An abbreviated holiday edition of OMM, with many publications running scaled-back review sections this week]

New York Times:

  • Sunday Book Review cover: Dale Peck on My Prizes and Prose by Thomas Bernhard: "[P]erhaps it’s a good thing Bernhard isn’t more popular in the wide world. Perhaps acclaim of the kind he describes in 'My Prizes' would smother the idiosyncrasies of his texts with bland, universalizing exegeses. No doubt I’m contributing to that process with these words, in which case probably the best thing you can do is forget everything I’ve just told you and go read one of Bernhard’s books instead. Or, better yet, don’t."
  • Garner on Radioactive: Marie and Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout by Lauren Redniss: "Described simply, 'Radioactive' is an illustrated biography of Marie Curie, the Polish-born French physicist famous for her work on radioactivity ... and her equally accomplished husband, Pierre.... Described less simply, it’s a deeply unusual and forceful thing to have in your hands. Ms. Redniss’s text is long, literate and supple.... The electricity in 'Radioactive,' however, derives from the friction between Ms. Redniss’s text and her ambitious and spooky art. Her text runs across and over these freewheeling pages, the boundaries between word and image constantly blurring. Her drawings are both vivid and ethereal. Her people have elongated faces and pale forms; they’re etiolated Modiglianis. They populate a Paris that’s become a dream city."
  • Jason Zengerle on Play Their Hearts Out by George Dohrmann: "The result is 'Play Their Hearts Out,' an often heartbreaking, always riveting exploration of the seamy underbelly of big-time youth basketball — and one of the finest books about sports I’ve ever read.... He’s a reporter, not a polemicist, and he’s comfortable letting the facts speak for themselves. And the facts at his disposal allow him to create a rich narrative. In Keller, Dohrmann found the perfect protagonist."
  • Dani Shapiro on Poser by Claire Dederer: "Yoga! Let the eye-rolling begin. But what makes 'Poser' work on a lot of levels is that first in line to ask searching questions and poke fun is the author herself.... 'Poser' is a powerful, honest, ruefully funny memoir about one woman’s open-hearted reckoning with her demons. I only wish that Dederer had trusted herself just a bit more. Ever the journalist, she has a well-honed instinct to provide backup, context, proof to support her circumstances.... Stop, I wanted to tell her. Breathe and stay still. Keep your gaze close to you. In the hands of a gifted writer, the universal is embedded within the personal."
  • Ben Macintyre on Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia by Michael Korda: "Most treatments of Lawrence’s life can be divided into debunkings and hagiographies. 'Hero' by Michael Korda, as the title implies, is closer to the latter category.... Yet into this baggy but beguiling biography, Korda, the author of several works of history, has also crammed the darker incarnations of Lawrence, the shy depressive, the tortured ascetic, the 'odd gnome, half cad — with a touch of genius,' in the words of one of his companions behind Turkish lines. This book, for all its worship of Lawrence, leaves the impression that his heroism lay in a unique brand of personal eccentricity, a refusal to fit into the expectations of others, an unshakable determination to do things his own way, however peculiar and wrong-headed this seemed."

Washington Post:

  • Dirda on Long, Last, Happy by Barry Hannah: "Before going any further, let me say straight out that I was a fool to have waited so long to discover Hannah. Agatha Christie mysteries we read for their plots, Sherlock Holmes stories we return to for their gaslight and hansom-cab coziness, but the very best writers we love for the sound of their sentences, the shiver of pleasure delivered by unexpected words and astonishing turns of phrase, by the way their language makes us feel glad to be alive. You don't pick up James Joyce's 'Ulysses' because you want to learn about the events in Dublin on June 16, 1904; you don't read Hunter S. Thompson because you want to find out about the nightlife in Las Vegas. What Joyce and Thompson offer is simply the glorious experience of the English language knocking your socks off. Barry Hannah belongs in this noble company. And then some."
  • Daniel Stashower on Mr. Hooligan by Ian Vasquez: "Vasquez has a bone-deep connection with his setting that transforms an otherwise conventional story line into a dark modern-day morality play, complete with a pot-smoking ex-nun, Sister Pat, who comments on the action from the sidelines.... The author's crisp dialogue and low-life atmospherics have drawn comparisons to Elmore Leonard, with whom he shares an abiding respect for the cruel loyalties that can lead decent men astray."

Los Angeles Times:

  • Susan Salter Reynolds on The Killing of Crazy Horse by Thomas Powers: "No one is even really sure of Crazy Horse's date of birth, and the ambiguity carries through to his death. Powers is determined to untie the knots, to find out how Crazy Horse really died and why. There is a sustained feeling of excitement throughout the book, a sense of the historian's hunt as Powers ferrets out the answers. At most junctures, there is more than one telling of events: Words that mean one thing in English mean something else in Sioux. In every newspaper report, the career and bias of the reporter are considered as well as the surge of public opinion at the time. With every firsthand report, Powers reveals the bias of the teller — his relationship to Crazy Horse, his investment in the myth of the man.... He writes that he is grateful for the firm foundation of primary sources. But Powers has also clearly inhabited this story, living in it as one does a home or a piece of clothing that holds meaning for the wearer."

The New Yorker:

  • Dan Chiasson on One with Others by C.D. Wright (subscription only): "It turns out that the literary genre least likely to get in the way of this story [one woman's life from the often-told Civil Rights Movement] is poetry, which, despite its reputation for gilt and taffeta, comfortably veers close to 'documentary' conventions. It comes especially close in Wright's angular strain of postmodern poetry, which draws on refractive techniques now a hundred years old: collage, extensive quotation, multiplicity of voice and tone, found material, and, often, a non-authorial, disinterested stance.... No longer disorienting, not yet shopworn, they are, for the reader, transparent, like a documentary camera: you can see right through them to the subject matter."


Under the Radar: Ekaterina Sedia on Her Novel the House of Discarded Dreams

Looking for a unique novel that's thus far flown under the radar? You might try Ekaterina Sedia's latest, The House of Discarded Dreams, a phantasmagorical modern fantasy that follows on such critically acclaimed novels as The Secret History of Moscow and The Alchemy of Stone.

Booklist describes the new novel as follows: "Vimbai, who studies invertebrate zoology because of a fascination with horseshoe crabs, moves into the house on the beach in order to escape her Zimbabwean immigrant mother’s intensity; she finds something strange and beautiful. There are two roommates: Zach, who has a pocket universe where his hair should be, and Maya, who works in an Atlantic City casino. Vimbai’s dead grandmother haunts them, a ghostly presence who tells Zimbabwean children’s stories and does the dishes. When the house comes unmoored and drifts away to sea, Vimbai must bargain with ghostly horseshoe crabs, untangle the many and varied stories that have come loose in the vast worlds of the house, and find a way home. From Maya’s urban nightmares to Vimbai’s African urban legends, the house is filled with danger and beauty and unexpected magic."

And here's Sedia talking about the novel exclusively for the Amazon book blog...

Continue reading "Under the Radar: Ekaterina Sedia on Her Novel the House of Discarded Dreams" »

Ask the Editors: We're Baaaack

We were ready to hang up our Ask the Editors hats, but just couldn't end the fun without answering this one from Karin:

"Having read your Ask the Editors all month and purchasing many of the book recommendations, how about some suggestions for all the moms out there that have also done the same?  I noticed most of the inquiries were from women.  As a mother of four children (ages 7 - 12), life can get a little stressful, especially around the holidays, when school is out and the temperature drops and everyone is indoors.  Reading the newspaper and listening to the news can be a little depressing with what is going on in the world, and the sibling rivalry in the background doesn't help lift one's spirit.  Any thoughts on some positive, this is why we do it books?  Doesn't necessarily have to be only for moms, but women in general who are strong, caring and make a difference."

Karin, your comment spoke to a lot of us here, and a great antidote to depressing news and stir-crazy kids is a book that has you laughing out loud.  With that in mind, here are some of our favorites:

  • Hatched by Sloane Tanen--this is one of those books that looks a little kooky, but Tanen has a wicked sense of humor and I laugh every time I open the pages.   Ali and I are both fans of David Sedaris--he's totally irreverent and mocks his family without mercy, but you know they must love him all the same.  His latest book is Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, though Holidays on Ice is fun for this time of year, and Ali recommends Me Talk Pretty One Day because, "as an outsider, parenting seems a lot like landing in a foreign place and learning a new language, often incorrectly and always by trial and error."  That does sound a lot like parenting...

  • HY says Just Let Me Lie Down is a riot for the working mom, and I would also say When Did I Get Like This? is a good bet--short funny chapters (perfect for reading between tantrums, food prep, and  laundry!) gently remind mothers to relax and enjoy the special moments.

  • Miriam suggests the classic I Don't Know How She Does It and The New Yorker Book of Mom Cartoons.

  • Juliet would recommend The Happiness Project to any busy mom. "It details one mom's yearlong quest to make her life happier and more fulfilling".  This one also got a thumbs up from Ali, "just gave it to my overworked sister-in-law, and she loved it."

  • From Tom: "It's about a dad rather than a mom, but if a mom is looking for a slapstick-hilarious story that has its dark moments but with plenty of redemption--or just wants to feel that maybe they don't have it so bad by comparison--The Lonely Polygamist, Brady Udall's novel of a man with four wives and 28 children and plenty of problems, is just the ticket (and my wife enjoyed it just as much as I did)."

  • Mari offers this sanity-saver, "for any person (parental or otherwise) who’s reached the end of their rope, I recommend Martha Beck’s Steering by Starlight. She’s Oprah’s life coach, and at the risk of sounding to woo-woo, this book has been a bit of a survival bible for me during some very challenging times. Beck is also a mom, and she talks about how she worked through some really intense experiences in being a parent."

We also have some ideas for beautiful reads with strong women characters:

  •  The Help--definitely strong, inspiring women in this book, and every person I've given it to has loved it. In Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver chronicles the year her family spends living only on what they can grow or buy locally with entertaining results, and in Half Broke Horses, plainspoken Lily perseveres and triumphs under remarkable circumstances.
  • Major Pettigrew's Last Stand is a 2010 favorite around here, and Juliet also recommends Gilead because it is "a beautiful and moving meditation on the love a parent has for a child."   Shane seconds the recommendation for Gilead and anything by Marilynne Robinson.

And if you need something to keep the kids occupied so you can read, here are a couple recent books that I like:  The Do It Myself Kids Cookbook, 10-Minute Puppets, and Movie Maker.


Ask the Editors: The Final Trifecta

Well, here we are, with our last Ask the Editors requests of 2010.  We've had a great time thinking about books for the folks on Omni readers' lists--thanks for sending us the fun inquiries and thoughtful comments.   

First up is Liz:

I'm looking for books for my younger sister. She's a voracious reader, and a self professed snob. (That means nothing that could be described as "pink cover books" - again, her words.)   A mixture of S.A.D and work/grad school demands mean that her concentration has suffered. Are there any short story collections, essay collections (nothing too heavy) or novellas that I could buy her for Christmas?   Her guilty pleasure is crime novels and true crime, but she seems to have read everything I recommend.

Second, we have Patty-Leigh looking for a gift for her husband:

For my husband: loves a thrilling plot, especially war-related. He loves all Tom Clancy, some Clive Cussler. He also enjoys non-fiction action such as Blackhawk Down and Roberts Ridge (Afghanistan stories have a particular draw since he worked there as a humanitarian aid worker for a couple years). He hasn't read much in the last four years or so, being busy as a student so anything in that timeframe I'm sure he won't have read. Also, it would be great to get something in a Kindle edition since we're getting a Kindle. Thanks so much!

And last but not least, we have Karin, also looking for a book for her husband:

Any suggestions for my husband, 43 years old who is a commodities trader?  He Loves playing poker, trivia, puzzles, watching movies (independent films) stories of survival (ex. mountain climbing).  He enjoys reading the New Yorker along with an occasional Entertainment Weekly.  Thomas Wolfe, Katherine Dunn, Benjamin Black and Dave Eggars are all authors he enjoys reading.  He has a great sense of humor, dry and sarcastic and appreciates well written books.

Liz:  For a short story and crime novel combo, I suggest Patricia Highsmith: Selected Novels and Short Stories Stories, which just came out this month, so hopefully your sister hasn't gotten to it yet.  For essay collections, Barbara Kingsolver's Small Wonder is lovely; Darryl recommends The Memory Chalet and All Art is Propaganda; and Mari thinks the latest essay collection from Sloane Crosley, How Did You Get This Number, makes a  good grad school antidote.  Darryl also suggests the short story collections Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters by Salinger, and The New Yorker’s 20 Under 40.

Patty-Leigh: You asked for books available on Kindle, so I've included the link to the Kindle editions here as well.

  • For your husband, Tom recommends Sebastian Junger's WAR (WAR - Kindle) as "an obvious (too obvious?) pick, an immersive look at what makes an Airborne brigade in Afghanistan tick."  

Karin: One of the funniest books I read this year (and beloved by many around the office) is Jonathan Tropper's hilarious novel, This is Where I Leave You, and from last year, the equally funny paperback original by Steve Healy, How I Became a Famous Novelist

  • From Tom: "with his sense of humor, I'd recommend two scathingly hilarious novels, Sam Lipsyte's The Ask and Gary Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story, or, if he's up for something equally funny but with a little more heart, Brady Udall's The Lonely Polygamist."
  • Daphne recommends two highly anticipated and much adored novels that came out this year, Jonathan Franzen's Freedom, and Joshua Ferris' The Unnamed.
  • Tapping into a love of poker, Darryl reminds us of Bringing Down the House which became the hit movie "21", and Mari suggests "James McManus’s colorful Cowboys Full, the story of why poker’s the great American pastime." I loved McManus's previous book, Positively Fifth Street, a fascinating look at the origins of the World Series of Poker.  

  •  Mari and Tom also really like Blind Descent, which Mari calls, "a captivating account of the world’s greatest cavers on a mission to find the world’s deepest place."

With that, we've reached the end of this year's Ask the Editors.  Here's wishing all our readers many hours of book-induced bliss in the year ahead.


Old Media Monday: Reviewing the Reviewers

New York Times:

  • Sunday Book Review cover: Garrison Keillor on the Autobiography of Mark Twain: "The book turns out to be a wonderful fraud on the order of the Duke and the Dauphin in their Shakespearean romp, and bravo to Samuel Clemens, still able to catch the public’s attention a century after he expired. He speaks from the grave, he writes, so that he can speak freely — 'as frank and free and unembarrassed as a love letter' — but there’s precious little frankness and freedom here and plenty of proof that Mark Twain, in the hands of academics, can be just as tedious as anybody else when he is under the burden of his own reputation."
  • Michael Kinsley on Decision Points by George W. Bush: "I would take George W. Bush's schoolboy petulance and solipsism, which at least seem authentic and human, over George H. W.’s grandee-with-a-switchblade any day. There is something very modern, almost New Agey, and endearingly insecure, about the tone and posture the son adopts in 'Decision Points.' Even as he’s bombing Baghdad back to the Stone Age, he’s very much in touch with his feelings."
  • Maslin on The Sherlockian by Graham Moore: "[C]onsider 'The Sherlockian,' a new novel predicated entirely on Holmes worship, Holmes mimicry, Holmes artifacts and assorted other forms of Holmesiana. Its smart young author, Graham Moore, has done much more than fall into the fancy of Holmes’s existence. He has fallen down a Holmes well. He’s going to take a lot of readers with him too. Thanks to the sly self-awareness that keeps 'The Sherlockian' smart and agile, it’s possible to enjoy this book’s laughable affectations and still be seduced by them."
  • Peter Campion on Canti by Giacomo Leopardi, translated by Jonathan Galassi: "The 41 poems in Leopardi’s collected 'Canti' are distinct, and beautiful, for dwelling on a threshold between feeling and thought, between the sensuous world and the mind, between presence and absence. Like no other poet, Leopardi captures the subtlest sensations, just before they vanish.... The publication, at last, of a definitive English version of the 'Canti' should constitute an event in itself. But this book does something even greater.... Now, he may become as important to our own literature as, say, Baudelaire or Rilke, poets of comparable genius, whose work has long been available in fine translations."

Washington Post:

  • James Rosen on Outside Looking In by Garry Wills: "Such a mind can hardly be uninteresting. Yet Wills, now 76, proceeds here as though he believes it is, allotting little space in this slender memoir to self-examination. His subtitle, 'Adventures of an Observer,' neatly captures the author's view of himself, Zelig at the ramparts ('I have been able to meet many interesting people and observe fascinating events, partly by being unobtrusive'), while the main title defines the volume's readers, who are at all points barred admission to Wills's complex interior. Instead, 'Outside Looking In' functions like an erudite jukebox, summoning amusing, tragic and telling anecdotes at a rapid clip, each well told, all enriching our understanding of postwar America's politics, passions and pieties."
  • Dirda on Leopardi's Canti: "What finally makes Leopardi so appealing a poet is his combination of a classical intelligence coupled with a hypersensitivity to his own inner self and a sometimes enraptured, sometimes acerbic style.... Over the past half-century American readers have embraced the translated poetry of Rilke, Cavafy, Neruda and Akhmatova. Thanks to Jonathan Galassi's edition of the 'Canti,' it's Leopardi's turn now."

Los Angeles Times:

  • Susan Salter Reynolds on The Memory Chalet by Tony Judt: "It is easy to forget, reading this memoir, that Judt is reconstructing his past even as he lies immobilized in a hospital bed. All the pieces move: glittering, tingling chapters are rich in smells and sights and sounds and movement.... It's enough to renew a reader's faith in a writer's ability to cut a path to immortality."
  • John Lippman on Prejudices: The Complete Series by H.L. Mencken: "Reading one or two of Menken's reviews and essays is the kind of thing that you want to take, like a restorative, before bedtime, to counter the ill writing and easy thinking that daily passes before our eyes.... [W]hen it comes to cutting down just about any saint of American literature with his type keys, be it Robert Frost or Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mencken is the father of the modern literary exercise known as the 'hatchet job.'"

Continue reading "Old Media Monday: Reviewing the Reviewers" »

I Love You, Somerset Maugham: Day Five in Trebekistan

Well, I'll admit I've never read Somerset Maugham, but I'm sure going to give The Moon and Sixpence a shot now. An old friend in Philadelphia wrote to say that her husband was replaying tonight's last question almost as much as he replayed the punt return that won the Eagles game yesterday. And I have to say, having "20th Century Novelists" come out of the sky, when I was down going into Final Jeopardy to a guy who was crushing me all game long on stuff I had no idea about (Australia? Ship Happenings?), gave me an idea of what DeSean Jackson must have thought: "Oh my god, we just made up 21 points in seven minutes and now they kicked me a line drive on the last play of the game?!?" Any J! fan will tell you that the smart money when wagering from second place stays conservative and plays for the player in first to get it wrong (since you probably can't pass them if they get it right), but when faced with a dream category that I might have chosen for myself, I thought if I couldn't get it right I didn't really deserve to come back. So I went all in.

Jeopardy_Maugham And luckily on Jeopardy! all you often need is not to have read the book in question, but just read about it, in, say, a New York Review of Books article about its author, which is, I have to confess, the source of about two-thirds of all my knowledge. But now I feel it is my happy obligation to the game-show gods to actually sit down and read The Moon and Sixpence.

Knowing this little television run was coming up, I had thought I'd be blogging about it every night, but I haven't found many Omni hooks to do so, much less the time, in between replying to all the notes from long-lost friends (and the ones I see every day) who either knew the shows would be on or came across them by chance and, yeah, furtively searching to see what bizarre things people are saying about me on Twitter. (Favorite random Facebook message so far: "Your mild manner is intoxicating." My wife's reply: "I think they meant 'tranquilizing.'")

Of the many things I expected from this weird and temporary celebrity, the one I didn't really imagine, and the one that's been by far the best thing about it (the check won't arrive for a while yet...) is the sense of everyone I've ever known (and everyone they've ever known, by all reports) watching every night and rooting along, from Los Angeles to--I'm told--Afghanistan, without for the most part the knowledge that I have of what's going to happen. As the afternoons turn into evenings across the country, I get notes, and my friends and family get notes and pass them along to me, from people who just watched, and once again I am made to believe that this thing actually happened.

So any Omni readers who are tuning in--especially Western Reader!--thanks, and tune in again tomorrow. --Tom

P.S. When Julia guessed "John Green" in Final Jeopardy today, was she really guessing, or did she just blank and want to give Nerdfighter #1 a shout-out? Either way, our own Anne Bartholomew is no doubt thrilled. [P.P.S. According to Julia herself, it was a shout out. Nice!]

Notes on Marginalia: Sam Anderson's Year of Reading

I mentioned some favorites in the Millions' Year in Reading last week, just in time to miss the entry on Thursday from one of my favorite critics, New York's Sam Anderson, who, happily, turns the genre inside out with a glimpse into what his year of reading was actually like, with scans of some of his livelier marginal notes, written on the books as he was reading them. As someone who generally doesn't do more than underline in books or dog-ear pages I want to go back to later, seeing engaged notes like these makes me feel a little inferior as a reader. When I taught, I would push students to get over that hump of feeling like they couldn't write on their books, so I'm not sure why I don't do it much myself--am I afraid of being embarrassed later by my initial reactions? Or just feel that they aren't worthy of the text they'd share a page with? (Or maybe it's just aesthetic: Anderson's gracefully legible mix of small caps and casual cursive (lovely "f"s!) reminds me that one reason I don't write in books is that my cramped scrawl is pleasurable neither to write nor read.) But now I think it would be a great exercise to consciously scrawl all over the next book I read and see if changes my reading experience, or makes that initial experience easier to recall.

Hard to cut and paste them here--it's best to see them in the flesh--but some of my favorites of his: on DeLillo's Point Omega ("right on the border of stoner existentialism"), on David Shields's Reality Hunger ("I'm going to punch this bk in the face if it makes this point again"), on Franzen's Freedom ("OMG! Rolling eyes so hard!! someone needs to protect F's art fr his editorializing"), and, of course, Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken ("! AAAH!"--that's meant in a good way).

Appropriately, one of the most charming aspects of the post is a comment--which I'll assume isn't spurious--from his wife, "Sarah," who not only is "often stuck reading his [marked up] review copy," but with him following her reading of his copy over her shoulder:

The absolute worst repurcussion of reading a text marked by a person you live with is something I’m sure only the partners of critics must endure: being interrogated about what I think about the marginalia itself:
Me: lying in bed, reading
Sam: hey. Did you laugh where I wrote funny right there? (looking over my shoulder)
Me: bugger off, I’m reading.
Sam: what about that paragraph I marked as extra important? Super important, right?
Me: mmmm.
Ad nauseum.


Ask the Editors: The Sports Fan Who's Read 'Em All

Today we tackle what turned out to be a toughie, from Jill:

Help me find something to appeal to my hubby. He's retired, loves sports(don't bother, he's read them all), recently read all the Harlan Coben books, likes some popular fiction(Stephen King,Dan Brown,John Grisham), loves the newspaper, particularly sports columnists(although not Lupica so much). He's not a fan of mysteries, historical fiction, biographies, war stories, or mystical books. Let me know if you have any ideas!

A sports fan who has read all the sports books, and who has more things he doesn't like than ones he does, kept us thinking a little longer (and I hope we're not too late--free Super Saver Shipping is still available for delivery by Christmas through Sunday!). But we have a few ideas:

  • First, we took that "he's read them all" as a challenge rather than a prohibition, and have a few sports suggestions that he may not yet have gotten to (hopefully you'll be able to sort those out). My thought was for a book I've been recommending a lot this year, and that perhaps is new enough that he hasn't devoured it yet. George Dohrmann's Play Their Hearts Out is a great look into a world I didn't even realize existed (and I'm a big basketball fan): the business that has grown around even middle-school basketball stars: shoe companies, camps, tournaments, scouting services, and especially unscrupulous coaches. Dohrman paints a scathing but fascinating portrait of one such coach, and the kid whose talent he rides, and then abandons.
  • Shane went in the other direction, with a classic newspaper sportswriter who your hubby might like to be reminded of: Jim Murray, who "wrote for the LA Times back when it was good." But as I post this we only have one copy left in stock of his collection, The Last of the Best!
  • One of my favorite sports books of recent years, which that might be off the beaten path enough to surprise him, is David Goldblatt's The Ball Is Round, a huge but zippily written history of soccer that pretty much manages to be a history of the world in the last century as well. And Seira also thought of soccer, with the recent reissue of How Soccer Explains the World.
  • And Seira and I both thought of anthologies: she the new edition of the annual Best American Sports Writing of 2010, and me, in case in his newspaper reading he's missed some of the classic pieces from the New Yorker, their anthology of sports writing, The Only Game in Town.
  • Meanwhile, for his newspaper-loving side, Seira also thought of the irresistable coffee-table book, The New York Times Complete Front Pages 1851-2009.
  • A book that I've been looking forward to cracking myself (after I heard a great interview with the author on Fresh Air) is Poisoning the Press by Mark Feldstein, a history (by a journalist who was there) of Nixon's battles with the muckraking columnist Jack Anderson.
  • For something a little like Grisham, Seira likes Scott Turow (and I do too), and many of us in the office thought he really came through this year with Innocent, his long-awaited sequel to Presumed Innocent. And if the readers in our halls are any indication, he might get drawn quickly into Lee Child's Jack Reacher series. Reacher's a great character, and they are tight and tense stories that are definitely on the thriller side of things, rather than the mysteries he's not a fan of.
  • Thinking a little less literally than these ideas, Lynette has what I think might be the best recommendation of all: David Grann's The Devil and Sherlock Holmes. Grann, a New Yorker writer, is the perfect writer for a newspaper junkie like your husband. This eclectic collection of articles is just as unexpected and fascinating as Dan Brown or John Grisham’s best fiction—and they're all true stories. (Many of us also loved his bestseller Lost City of Z last year too.)
  • And in the same vein, of stories so well told that they'll draw in almost any reader, I'd suggest Operation Mincemeat by Ben Macintyre. Even though he doesn't like war stories, this is more a spy story set in wartime, a true-life tale about a so-crazy-it-might-work caper in World War II that proved crucial to setting up the surprise of one of the war's major Allied invasions. And, sticking with the same period, there is Unbroken, one of our most popular books of the holiday season (and for good reason)--it's an unbelievable tale (by the same author as Seabiscuit) of a young Olympic runner's survival of dozens of dangerous bomber runs, a crash in the Pacific followed by 47 days adrift on a raft, and then two terrible years as a Japanese prisoner of war. My jaw spent most of the time I read it hitting the floor, and his story's athletic beginnings might appeal to your husband.

Hope you find some good prospects in there, Jill. Thanks for asking! --Tom