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Graphic Novel Friday: Grant Morrison's Tragic Triumph

A few hours after I finished The Multiversity: Pax Americana #1 by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely, something happened: I got it. Now, I can’t shake the sense that I read the best superhero single issue of the year.

Morrison’s Multiversity project (available digitally on comiXology and Kindle, and in our third party marketplace) is a grand one for DC Comics: eight single issues--each a #1, and each issue features a parallel earth, complete with its own heroes and villains. Morrison promises that all of these #1 issues will eventually form a larger whole, a macro-look at DC’s Multiverse, a collection of 52 parallel earths targeted by a villainous collective known as The Gentry. Sounds convoluted, but the beauty of starting at #1 every time is that readers can jump in anywhere and catch a glimpse of a world that is brand new.

Pax Americana #1 features a world populated with heroes who resemble those from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen (or, rather the Charlton Comics hero analogues that Moore used to populate his story). Readers may recognize The Question/Rorschach, Blue Beetle/Night Owl, Dr. Manhattan/Captain Atom, and so on, but this is only the top layer of Morrison’s story, and a familiarity with its framework is not at all necessary. Rather than follow the same deconstruction path that Moore paved, Morrison writes a love letter to superhero ideals while horribly undoing them.

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Recipe Road Test: The Slanted Door's Ginger Braised Chicken

SlantedDoor2014 has been a really big year for cookbooks so deciding which one would be in the top spot for Best of the Year was tough. In the end, though, The Slanted Door: Modern Vietnamese Food really has it all. 

Let me start by saying that this cookbook is utterly beautiful and interesting to look through--every single page of text, be it recipe or brief essay, is accompanied by a full page photograph opposite. 

Broken into three acts according to the restaurant's location, The Slanted Door cookbook complements it's recipes with an entertaining history of a restaurant and the modern Vietnamese cuisine that has made it a top destination for food lovers living in, or traveling to, San Francisco for nearly two decades. 

The recipes that pack these pages are gorgeous, well explained, and inspirational.  The Slanted Door's Shaking Beef is one of the dishes I order every time I go, along with a couple of Ginger Limeade cocktails and the Stir Fried Green Beans--recipes for all of these are included in the cookbook, along with a wealth of other mouth-watering drinks and edibles you can now try at home.  Last week I made the Ginger Braised Chicken and it was heavenly.

If your evenings are as hectic as mine, I recommend giving yourself a little time ahead to do the prep work.  It's not too much, but I was really grateful that I'd cut the thin matchsticks of ginger and sliced the garlic cloves the night before.  This is a recipe I will make often in the future--everyone who ate it loved it, and Ginger Braised Chicken makes for a jealousy-inducing lunch the next day. 

MyGingerBraisedChicken

 

Here is what my Ginger Braised Chicken looked like before I put it with jasmine rice. I went a little rogue and used full size drumsticks so I did have to cook it a little longer to accommodate.  I'll stick to the smaller pieces per the ingredients list next time.

If you want to try this one yourself, the recipe and photo from The Slanted Door, our pick for the number one cookbook of the year, is below.

 

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
BRAISED GINGER CHICKEN
from The Slanted Door by Charles Phan
 
My mother used to make this dish whenever a family friend was pregnant, since ginger minimizes nausea and aids digestion. I like to start with a whole chicken, cut Chinese style (see instructions below), and save the breasts for another use.
  • 1 whole chicken, 2 to 3 pounds
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • ¹⁄³ cup very thinly sliced fresh ginger, about ¹⁄¹6-inch-thick
  • ½ cup rice wine, such as michiu or sake
  • 1 cup chicken stock (page 246) or water
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 3 or 4 Thai chiles, halved lengthwise
  • 6 green onions, white parts only, halved lengthwise
  • Slivered green onions, for garnish
  • Steamed jasmine rice, for serving

Serves 4 to 6 

1. Using a cleaver, cut the chicken legs from the body by cutting cleanly through the joint. Cut the drumstick from the thigh along the joint and, using strong, swift cuts, chop each drumstick and thigh through the bone into three pieces. Cut the wings from the body along the joint, and cut each wing into two pieces, a drumette and wing. Reserve the breast for another use.

2. Place the chicken pieces in a large mixing bowl and add 1 tablespoon of the oil, the cornstarch, and the salt. Toss to coat.

3. In a wide-bottomed clay pot or sauté pan over medium-high heat, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil until shimmering. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for a minute. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for 2 more minutes. Add the chicken pieces and a few grinds of black pepper and cook for another 2 minutes. Add the rice wine and let simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the chicken stock, fish sauce, chiles, green onions, and a pinch of salt. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, and simmer until the chicken is cooked through and tender, 20 to 30 minutes. Garnish with slivered green onions and serve immediately with steamed rice.

GingerBraisedChickenSlantedDoor

2014 National Book Award Winners

At an event in Manhattan yesterday evening, the National Book Foundation announced the winners of the 2014 National Book Awards in Fiction, Nonfiction, Young People's Literature, and Poetry. Phil Klay was awarded the highly anticipated prize in fiction for his collection of short stories about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Redeployment, while Evan Osnos's Age of Ambition was deemed the top nonfiction book of the year.

All finalists receive $1,000, and five panelists in each of the four categories decide who takes home the top prizes of $10,000 and a bronze sculpture. Since 1950, winners have included William Faulkner, Annie Proulx, Ralph Ellison, Katherine Anne Porter, Philip Roth, Alice Walker, John Updike, and Lillian Hellman, to name but a few. Congratulations to all of the 2014 finalists and winners.

See more National Book Award finalists and previous winners.

 

2014 National Book Award Winners:

TITLE

FICTION: Redeployment by Phil Klay

"Phil Klay's Redeployment takes readers to the frontlines of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, asking us to understand what happened there, and what happened to the soldiers who returned."

 
TITLE

NONFICTION: Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China by Evan Osnos

"Writing with great narrative verve and a keen sense of irony, Osnos follows the moving stories of everyday people and reveals life in the new China to be a battleground between aspiration and authoritarianism, in which only one can prevail."

 
TITLE

Young People's Literature: Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

"Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement."

 
TITLE

POETRY: Faithful and Virtuous Night by Louise Gluck

"You enter the world of this spellbinding book through one of its many dreamlike portals, and each time you enter it’s the same place but it has been arranged differently."

 

Excerpts from "BOMB: The Author Interviews" - Featuring Colm Toibin, Chris Abani, Patrick McGrath, and Martin Amis

BOMB-Author-InterviewsFor more than thirty years, BOMB magazine has been pairing artists, authors, poets, and painters together for intimate artist-on-artist conversations, more than 1,200 of them so far. In BOMB: The Author Interviews, published last week by Soho Press, the magazine's editor, Betsy Sussler, has compiled an incredible collection of authors interviewing authors: an unknown Jonathan Franzen; Roberto Bolaño, just before he died; Lydia Davis and Francine Prose; Edwidge Danticat and Junot Díaz; Jennifer Egan and Heidi Juilavits; and many more.

Below are snippets from two of those conversations, featuring two authors featured on Amazon's Best Books of the Year list: Colm Tóibín (Nora Webster), in conversation with with Chris Abani (The Secret History of Las Vegas), and Martin Amis (The Zone of Interest), in conversation with Patrick McGrath (Constance).

~

CHRIS ABANI: I play with sexuality in all my books. There’s an ambiguity to all my characters. In The Virgin of Flames, the protagonist wants to be a woman. I write my characters from the inside out. There’s no spectacle to it, so of course the first question is, Where is your body in relationship to this text? That always fascinates me. Before I wrote this book about this guy who wants to be a woman—I had always prided myself on, while being straight, being not homophobic at all. Until I wrote a scene where the character is finally about to make love to a transsexual stripper but realizes that that’s not what he wants. In fact, he wants to occupy the stripper’s position. And you have that whole Crying Game moment, but instead of the penis revelation being the thing, it’s the penis disappearance. So this transsexual stripper is teaching this guy how to disappear his penis, so that he could wear a G-string were he to perform as a stripper. I researched it on the Internet. My girlfriend at the time read what I had written and said, “This reads like a manual.” The rest of the book was beautiful but then it’s, “Okay, over here we have the penis.” I really had to go there, so I hired someone who performs as a woman. I said, “Okay, show me how to do this.”

COLM TÓIBÍN: Do you have his number? (laughter)

ABANI: I wanted to ask you, did coming out change your interaction with the text or with readership or with editorship or all of this?

ToibinTÓIBÍN: Yeah. For me, writing down the opening section of The Story of the Night and publishing it, was a very big moment. It was like what you were describing, except I realized I was going to go on being it, even if I stopped writing about it. It was like writing down the truth, which is something we should all be very suspicious of. And the question then is that of putting the truth genie back in the bottle. I would like a rest from either being gay, gay, gay or being Irish, Irish, Irish. Some other thing you could be—French, maybe, or very old, or clean-living—I might try. Obviously, being a woman would be terrific. I did it in my first novel so I suppose I cannot do it again. I wish there were more categories. I suppose there will be in time.

~

PATRICK MCGRATH: Evil accumulates?

MARTIN AMIS: Evil takes it out of you. Evil’s always been winning.

MCGRATH: Why should evil keep on winning? 

AMIS: Perhaps because the brain is partly reptilian. I have a rather schmaltzy notion of human potentiality which is, in fact, embodied in literature. 

MCGRATH: How do you mean? 

AmisAMIS: It’s a commonplace that literature evolves in a certain way but it doesn’t improve. It just stays there. It’s a model. I think literature has not just been about, but embodies: the best. The best that humans can do. 

MCGRATH: The best moral thought? 

AMIS: The best moral thought. The representation of humanity at the crest of itself. Something like that. In fact, I’ve never understood why the idea of literature as religion was demolished so quickly. It seems to me that would be a tenable way of looking at it. It’s a constant, making something out of the present and the past at the same time. Certainly an elitist thing, there’s no question about that. But it’s an elite open to everyone. 

MCGRATH: Do you see it decaying alongside everything else? 

AMIS: Literature? No. I mean, they say the novel is dead. Well, try and stop people writing novels. Or poems. There’s no stopping people. I suppose it’s conceivable that no one will know how to spell in fifty years’ time, but not while the books are still there. You don’t need a structure. The autodidact is omnipresent in fiction.

"Like a Mix of Don Draper and Rasputin": Moving & Shaking in 21st-Century Russia

Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New RussiaWhen the Soviet Union collapsed in the early 90s, the West rejoiced with the relief that came with the end of the Cold War and the possibility of an era of peace and cooperation. At the same time, its corporations and conglomerates trained a beady eye toward its newly opened markets, and a seemingly virgin economic landscape soon became home to icons such as Coke and McDonalds and Levi’s. But the door was open wide, and tagging along with big business were some seedier characters: organized crime, a youth-and-glamour-obsessed oligarchy, and an entertainment complex hungry for the new concepts of its Western counterparts. That’s where Peter Pomerantsev comes in. Born in Kiev but raised in Great Britain, Pomerantsev returned to Russia as a consultant to its burgeoning film and television—especially “reality” television—industries. What he found was a capitalist’s wet dream: an unfettered cash and service economy with no apparent limits on cash or available services--one where Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible, if you can pay for it. At the top of it all sits Vlad Putin, infusing the old TASS tactics with Hollywood flair to create a vision of a bare-chested (bear-chested?) virility and power, of both self and state. Pomerantsev finds himself gazing deeper into this looking-glass world—willingly and otherwise—and he finds it impossible to look away, as will his readers. This is not your father’s Russia, and yet it kind of is.

All that sounds hyberbolic, right? But it's all there. And to demonstrate, Pomerantsev has provided short biographies of some of the book's most interesting players. Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible is a selection for Amazon's Best Books of the Month.

 


Peter Pomerantsev (photo by Natasha Belauskine) Nothing is True and Everything is Possible: A Cast of Characters

By Peter Pomerantsev

 

Vladislav Surkov: The Kremlin "Vizier"
"Egor could see to the heights of creation...."

The hidden author of the Putin system, Surkov trained as a theater director, made his name as a PR guru before going on to become one of Putin's right hand men, running Russian politics like a mix of Don Draper and Rasputin. In his spare time he pens satirical, self-referential novels about cynical political operators who have sold their souls, writes rock lyrics and essays on modern art. When asked for his reaction to being sanctioned by US and EU for playing a key role in the annexation of Crimea Surkov answered: "I see the decision by the administration in Washington as an acknowledgment of my service to Russia. It’s a big honor for me. I don't have accounts abroad. The only things that interest me in the US are Tupac Shakur, Allen Ginsberg and Jackson Pollock. I don’t need a visa to access their work. I lose nothing."

Oliona: A Moscow Holly Golightly
"It's all true, you can really have the life; it's not just in the movies!"

Oliona has come to Moscow from a bankrupt mafia-run mining town to make it as a gold-digger in the city's decadent clubs. She's quite open, even proud of her bag of tricks, and attends a gold-digger school where she's taught how to seduce and keep an oligarch: never wear jewelry on a first date, she learns, dress down- so that he wants to buy you presents. But she's hitting her mid-twenties and that might spell the end of her career. She worries her sugar daddy is going off her, while her generation dream of Putin as the ultimate sugar daddy of them all.

Vitaly: Gangster Turned Film Director
"Usually you’d be one of my victims. But in this case we'll be partners."

Vitaly used to be a gangster in Siberia. Then he took all his all-gotten gains and ploughed them into the movie business. But they're no ordinary movies. He makes films about his own life, with himself in the main role, and his gangster buddies playing themselves. He spent years behind bars watching gangster movies and thought they were all fake: only a real gangster can make a real gangster movie.

Jambik Hatohov: The Fattest Boy in the World

Jambik Hatohov is 7 years old and weighs over a hundred kilograms (220 pounds), making him the biggest boy in the world. He lives in the North Caucascus, in a part of the country where the choice growing up is between being a wrestler or a Jihadi. His single mum thinks she can use Jambik's weight as a way out of the squalor, and hopes he can become a TV star. Meanwhile more and more "black widows," the name given to suicide bombers form the North Caucascus, make their way to Moscow to blow themselves up in the name of Allah.

Yana Yakovelva: Imprisoned Business Woman
"You think prison is something bad that happens to other people. And then you wake up and my God you’re a convict."

Yana was a poster girl for the new, capitalist Russia, running her own petro-chemicals business and living what seemed like a perfectly successful, Western-style life. But in Putin's Russia, normality is only ever an illusion. When some high-level bureaucrats want a piece of her company they throw her in prison on trumped up charges--and Yana is plunged into another Russia of convicts and corrupt courts. As she fights to get out, she finds her own case leads right to the top of the Kremlin.

Alexander Mozhaev: The Guardian Spirit of Old Moscow
"The drama of human lives is written in the buildings. We will be gone; only places remain."

The city is destroyed to make way for neo-Stalinist skyscrapers, and Mozhaev tries to save the last vestiges of the old town. This is more than about just buildings, in a system which is misusing history in the name of tyranny the fight for the city becomes a fight for a different sort of Russia. Mozhaev is the last romantic in a city of corruption.

Ruslana Korshunova: Supermodel
"I'm so lost, will I ever find myself?"

A Russian supermodel, star of a Nina Ricci ad, who killed herself by jumping from a NY skyscraper. She seemed perfectly happy, wasn't into drugs, was preparing to go to university. What lead to her death? Was it a tragic love story? Could it have been murder? And is her death connected to that of another top model who also died by jumping from a high-rise, this time in Kiev?

The Night Wolves
"We only have a few years to rescue the soul of holy Russia."

As Moscow plunges into a messianic fervor sects bubble to the surface. None is more striking than the Night Wolves, a Russian Hells Angels biker gang who have found God and see themselves on a mission to save the Russian soul from the decadent, Satanic West. Their faith combines Orthodox Christianity with a worship of Stalin and heavy metal. Surkov, as ever, is in the background, making the Night Wolves national stars as the Kremlin toys with a dangerous, and surreal, religious nationalist ideology.

Boris Berezovsky and Roman Abramovich
"This is a very Russian story, with lots of killers, where the president himself is almost a killer."

Two Russian oligarchs--now based in London--who are fighting the largest private litigation in history. Berezovsky, the older mentor known as the "Godfather of the Kremlin," accuses his protégé, Abramovich, known as the "Stealth Oligarch," of "acting like a gangster" and extorting a five-billion-dollar company from him. The trial opens up the insides of the Putin system, showing how it is increasingly growing to influence the West as the Russian super-rich descend onto London, Monaco and New York.

Vladik Mamyshev Monroe
"I want to try on every persona the world has ever known."

A performance artist, the inevitable guest at parties attended by the inevitable tycoons and supermodels, arriving dressed as Gorbachev, a fakir, Tutankhamen, the Russian President. In a world where gangsters become artists, gold diggers quote Pushkin and Hells Angels hallucinate themselves as saints and where "performance" is the buzz-word Vladik is a mascot and prankster philosopher. But as the new Russia tumbles from decadence to madness, from glamour to dictatorship, he finds himself appalled at the very cult of performance he celebrates: "Putin will eat up our country," he writes. "One day we will reach into the cupboard and reach for our clothes and they will turn to dust in our hands because they have been eaten by maggots."

 

Author photo by Natasha Belauskine

Martin Short: Humble Comedy Legend

I Must Say by Martin ShortYou might know him best as Ed Grimley, the grimacing, high-trousered pop-culture nerd of the rhinoceros-worthy quiff. Or maybe Jiminy Glick, the Hollywood "insider" who packs both obsequiousness and obliviousness into a single awkward, inapproptiate package. Over his long career, Martin Short has created countless iconic characters, filling many roles across a career spanning SCTV, Saturday Night Live, and dozens of films.

His new autobiography, I Must Say, is the story of his remarkable life--hilarious, heartbreaking, and inspiring. From his showbiz-obsessed childhood to Toronto's Second City improv troupe to Hollywood success as a "humble comedy legend," we meet his friends, loves, and co-conspirators: Gilda Radner, Mel Brooks, Nora Ephron, Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Paul Shaffer, David Letterman all make appearances, as do Steve Martin and Tom Hanks (in fact, their pre-colonoscopy ritual is not to be missed). We also learn how his upbeat sensibilities helped him cope with the losses of his older brother and both parents within months of each other, and more recently, his wife of thirty years. 

Short stopped by our room at Book Expo America in May to talk about the book, inspiration for writing it, and a few of his most memorable characters.

 

Raise Your Voice: A Conversation with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand

SenatorgillibrandA few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand for a discussion about her book Off the Sidelines: Raise Your Voice, Change the World. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised that she was such a pleasure to talk to--she was elected for a reason--but the Senator talked candidly and intimately about issues that are important to her and to her many of her constituents, especially women. The Senator is a strong advocate for the issues she cares about, and her book is part-memoir, part encouragement to people (especially women) to let their voice be heard. Here's a transcript of our conversation:

Chris Schluep: Why did you write the book?

Senator Gillibrand: I wanted to have an intimate conversation among women about issues that we care deeply about--our shared challenges--and to really create a call to action for women's voices to be heard on the issues that they care about. It's part memoir, part self help, but really about the broader goal of women being heard, because their life experience is so different, the perspective is different, and when women's views are heard, you'll have a broader base of ideas and a broader base of solutions.

CS: What do you read, and what effect has that had on the book you've written?  

Senator Gillibrand: I tend to read a lot of feminist literature, and I think it's really important, and I enjoy it. But I also tend to read biographies, and when I'm reading a biography of a woman, particularly a woman leader, I'm always looking for how she got from A to B. I'm always looking for that little bit of advice, which is why when I decided to write this book I did tell personal stories. I really did reveal very personal details of my life, because I want the reader to know, number one, that her story is not necessarily disimilar from mine, that some of these challenges are shared, some of the struggles are common, and number two, I want her to be able to see herself and know in some of the tougher stories that, she is not alone, that these kinds of things happen to everyone, and that through my own failures and lack of confidence and decision making, she can see how she can not only embrace her ambitions but aspire to do whatever she wants to do. So, I wanted to make it personal, but I also wanted to share how I got from A to B so that they could see themselves and help answer some of those tough questions they're facing themselves in their own lives.

CS: How are ambitious women treated differently than men?

Senator Gillibrand: I talk about one study in the book where if you show a picture of an ambitious man to a group of people they'll so, Oh, he's a leader, hard-charging... good things. And if you show a picture of a woman and say she's an ambitious woman, they'll say she's cold, calculating, self-centered. So just that word, for whatever reason, has a very negative impact on us as a society. But if you asked anybody, "do you believe that girls should have hopes and dreams, that they should have high hopes for themselves, and do you think they should work hard toward them?" everyone's going to say yes. So it's not the meaning that we reject, it's just the word. So... use a different word, but we should embrace this goal that "ambition" is not a dirty word, that in fact we want all of our daughters and women to aspire and then work hard toward those aspirations.

CS: Would talk about work-life balance, because you say in the book that you don't like the phrase "having it all"?

Senator Gillibrand: I don't like the frame, first of all, because "having" is an odd choice of words. It sounds like we're having a second slice of pie, or having a vacation, and the "all" really pits women against each other, because it's saying women who stayed home with their kids are having a less-than-full life, and it pits women against men in a very unhelpful way--so I'd rather the conversation focus on how we can do it all, because a lot of women are balancing work and family because they have to. In 4 out of 10 families, moms are primary or sole wage earners and 8 out of 10 families moms are working, so the traditional framework where mom stays at home and dad goes to work is part of a Madmen era that is just not reflected today.

CS: You write "Don't be afraid to show emotion." Could you talk about that?

Senator Gillibrand: It not only shows how much you care, but it's something that's relatable. so if you're really angry, or you're really upset, or you're really passionate, or you're really concerned, when you share that feeling, not only are people going to understand where you're coming from, but they'll understand the depth of your concern and the depth of urgency, and so without showing emotion it's very hard to convince someone that your advocacy is important. It's a powerful tool and we should embrace it as women. Because our ability to empathise, our ability to feel someone's suffering, or want to fight against some injustice is something that makes us powerful advocates and we shouldn't lose sight of the power behind the passion.

CS: And that was reflected in you're experiences with the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy?

Senator Gillibrand: A perfect example of it. Because men and women were sharing these very
heartbreaking stories of how all they wanted was to serve our country and even die for our country, and they were being told "no" based on who they love. And when I first met with Lt. Dan Choi his personal story was so upsetting to me because he talked about why he joined the military--that it was the integrity and the character of the military and their goals and values that he loved. But then when he fell in love and couldn't share that with anyone he served with, he felt like he didn't have any integrity. He felt like he was denied that basic honor because he was
forced to lie, and I thought that is a really horrible injustice and we're losing some of our best and brightest because of it.

CS: What does it feel like to have inherited the former Senatorial seat of Hilary Clinton?

Senator Gillibrand: Secretary Clinton has always been a role model for me. She's somebody who really got me off the sidelines when she first said at an event I was at "decisions are being made every day in Washington. If you're not part of those decisions and you don't like what they decide, you have no one to blame but yourself." That really woke me up, and I realized that there were conversations happening around the country and globally that I wasn't part of. And I wanted to be. I really wanted to be a public servant and be part of these debates, and so throughout my career I not only helped her in her Senate race, but we formed a relationship and she's been a mentor and given me advice every step of the way, and so I'm really grateful to her personally for not only being the role model but also being the mentor that I certainly needed in my career.

CS: What's the best lesson you've taken from being in the Senate?

Senator Gillibrand: That if you listen to others and you work toward a common goal, you can build consensus. You can find common ground. And even in a place as broken as the U.S. government and Congress, you can find people who want to achieve good things. And so with something like sexual assault in the military, we were able to garner the support of the most liberal senators, like Barbara Boxer and Bernie Sanders, and the most conservative senators, like Ted Cruz and Chuck Grassley and Rand Paul. And so, if you can just look at issues from a place of common sense and not dismiss people at the outset but actually engage them you can accomplish a lot. And so I really work toward those kinds of issues where there is commonality and we can build from there.

CS: What kind of advice were you given when you started putting everything online?

Senator Gillibrand: My Sunlight Report--I was really made fun of, and I got a lot of negative reaction from my colleagues, because I put on my meetings, I put on my financial disclosures, and I put on my earmark requests. And some of my colleagues made fun of me in saying, you know, "We're talking right now, is this a meeting? Are you putting this on your web site?" And I said no, this isn't a meeting. The whole purpose was to give my district, my constituents, more information--to say, listen, if I'm meeting with this activist group or this advocacy group, and you have the other position, you have a right to know so that you can ask for a meeting, so that you can be heard, too. And so I felt like we needed that level of transparency, and I was told that was stupid by many people and that you're just giving information to opposition researchers. But I felt very strongly that if it's something that I'm embarrassed about or would be ashamed of, then I shouldn't be having that meeting. If it's not worthy of public review, then it's not worth having. And granted, I was a newcomer. I was doing it differently. But I was sort of raised in the computer era, so I really feel like transparency in government is a great approach, because I always believe that sunshine is the best disinfectant.

CS: You state in the book that it's important for women to be smart; but you also say that they should not be afraid to be themselves.

Senator Gillibrand: Be exactly yourself. No matter what it is. And that's what my mother taught me. By the time she was my age, she was a second degree black belt. So, she had a very different approach to living life than most moms of her generation. I felt very lucky.

 

 

 


 

YA Wednesday: Best Books of 2014

Back in January I thought 2013 was going to be tough to beat in terms of great YA but here it is, mid-November, and I just got over the trama of having to narrow down my favorites to a list of 20.  Interestingly enough, the last couple of years have had the top picks release in the first half of the year.  Typically it's the fall that brings the "big" books, but not so in YA.  At the end of the day, and basically the year, I'm still most in love with We Were Liars (as an aside, in our Celebrity Picks Martin Short chose We Were Liars as one of his favorite books this year, too).   Below are the top 5 titles for the Best Young Adult Books of 2014: WeWereLiars400

1. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart  - What can I say, every bit of this short book is beautifully written and this is a story that grabs hold and doesn't let go.  Mystery, love, friendship, pain, and most of all beautiful writing fill these pages. I've received middle of the night email from friends I gave We Were Liars to, telling me they just finished (and it's 2 a.m.) and loved it.

2. Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer - In her debut YA novel, Belzhar, Wolitzer captures the urgency and larger-than-life feelings of adolescent love, heartbreak and friendship through the story of Jam Gallahue.  After a traumatic experience at home, Jam is sent to a boarding school with similarly "damaged" souls and there they uncover truths about themselves and each other.  Surprising, observant, and completely absorbing, this is a book you'll want to read straight through. 

3. Hollow City by Ransom Riggs - The long-awaited follow-up to Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children was worth waiting for.  Out in the world outside their island, Miss Peregrine's charges make their way to London trying to find her before it's too late.  The year is 1940, a turmultuous and uncertain time, and what transpires on their journey is harrowing and riveting.  Like he did in Miss Peregrine's Riggs includes eerie but perfect vintage photographs throughout the story.

4. I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson - Twins Jude and Noah tell the story of what happened between the age of thirteen and sixteen, a time when everything changed in their relationship,their family, and themselves.  The dual narratives dovetail beautifully, one starting at the beginning and the other moving backwards from where things ended up.  I'll Give You the Sun is a powerhouse story of identity, loss, fear, and forgiveness that had me trying to read at stop lights just so I could see what happens next.

5. Dreams of Gods & Monsters by Laini Taylor - This third and final book in the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy sealed it for me--this is one of my favorite YA series. Period.  Laini Taylor is an extremely talented writer and in this moment I'm reminded of how it feels to begin one of her books. It feels like you are starting something you won't want to end (and you won't).  The end of anything can be tricky, but Taylor knows just how to do it in Dreams of Gods & Monsters, combining new twists with the reappearance of beloved elements of the earlier books.  Good and evil, friend or foe, a blue-haired girl and fire-eyed boy--I miss all of it and think I might have to read these again.

You'll find the other 15 books that made 2014 memorable here.

BOTY2to5

Video: An Interview with Author and "Font Nerd" Lena Dunham
-- "I Love the World of Books"

DunhamPraise for Lena Dunham’s memoir, Not That Kind of Girl, has come from all angles: David Sedaris (“A fine, subversive book”), Judy Blume (“Always funny, sometimes wrenching”), George Saunders (“smart, honest, sophisticated, dangerous, and charming”), Miranda July (“hilarious, artful, and staggeringly intimate.”) At Amazon, our reviewer Brittany Pirozzolo called it “Thoughtful, hilarious, and exquisitely-written … like reading your quirky big sister's diary.” 

In this interview (taped at Book Expo America in New York back in May), the writer, creator, and star of HBO’s hit show Girls discusses how writing was actually her first love, and has remained a passion, as has reading. “I love the world of books,” she said.

Writing the essays that comprise Not That Kind of Girl gave her back the “one on one relationship with writing” that she’s missed while working on Girls.

Not That Kind of Girl was Amazon's Best Book of the Month "Debut Spotlight" in October, and was named one of our 100 Best Books of 2014.

How I Wrote It: Frederick Barthelme, on Dictation, Tornadoes, Dishwashers--and Chocolate

BathelmeFrederick Barthelme's new novel is There Must Be Some Mistake.

~~~

How

When starting a new project I first gather all I’ve got in the way of unused text--fragments of stories, scenes cut from novels, sketches, characters, complaints I’ve jotted down, jokes once-loved, whatever. All this stuff has little in common save once it was important enough to draft. I put this mess into a single file and begin The Rewrite. It’s building a monster out of body parts. I stitch the stuff together, revising, extending, smoothing, shaping, seeing where it leads me. I change things without a thought--names, places, times--always trying to find the drama in the microscopic without losing the macroscopic, trying to remember that characters have political and social notions embedded in their lives. For me this embeddedness of beliefs in the characters and their world is the real heart of fiction, and the way fiction works. I take mismatched parts and unify them, jam them together in the middle of a dinner party at someone’s house, add a couple of disinterested guests to lively up the show, and maybe something happening out in the kitchen, where things are always happening. Then I rewrite until a sentence, a paragraph, a scene catches me in a way that seems essential. Then I move on.

This “method” often delivers wonderfully unforeseen results, strange aspects of character, angles on the world that feel fresh and enrich the story, which is what the work is turning out to be by now. For my money, the cardinal rule is keep yourself guessing, surprise yourself, as if printing a photograph that gradually reveals things you had no idea were present.

Eventually all the elements are stitched together seamlessly--these characters in these settings living these lives that resemble our own, but are, in the final balance, wholly fabricated. What we have is a story or a book, a celebration, a festival of argument and suggestion, cajolery, seduction; a gift to the reader in hopes of finding a shared world.

Barthelme-office copyWhere & When

I write mostly after midnight. Years ago I worked on a typewriter at a desk, a door on two sawhorses. Later I used a computer. Later still, I began dictating into a mini cassette tape recorder. I wrote anywhere and everywhere. Two Against One was the first novel entirely dictated. I did it in bed, walking around the neighborhood, in the car, in stores. I wanted to change the prose, make it messier, more inclusive, so I dictated. I liked it. It was fresh and interesting to work that way. Double Down’s first draft was done mostly in lovely darkness on the beach at Fort Morgan, Alabama, in an aluminum folding chair. Bob the Gambler was dictated while driving around town, incorporating whatever sights were to be seen in the early morning hours. Elroy Nights was also a car book. All were dictated in sequence, sometimes edited and rearranged later. Then, with Waveland, I started using the computer again to do the basic text entry.

Most of the latest novel was written in my home office (hello Internal Revenue Service), at a desk, with my feet up, on a MacBook. It’s so small you really feel connected to it in some special way, so it’s a treat to write with.

In February 2012, with a tornado coming, we hastily abandoned the house, thus were absent when the roof came off, the ceiling fell, the lovely pink insulation drifted down, and the two-by-fours flung themselves through the windows. This excitement resulted in a two-month stay at the pet friendly Candlewood Suites, where the ongoing rewrites were done in a moderately antiseptic first floor suite, brown in color. (See the photo below.) We took the first floor the better to provide access to the outdoors for Marshall, everyone’s favorite Springer spaniel.

Space

I’m not the kind of writer to put encouraging quotes or snapshots or other small objects with special meaning around my work place. I’m afraid this kind of thing seems corny to me--the whole idea of surrounding oneself with “meaningful” tokens to spur the muse. I like the muse to keep its distance. And the knick-knacks, too, though it is certainly possible I take too hard a line on this.

By contrast, I’ll happily have the silent television running where I’m working, the better to steal some peculiar bit caught out the corner of my eye. And I will have the windows open if possible. I just don’t want a lot of preciousness around. I’m in my head when writing, and there’s a lot of stuff already in there, and that’s what I attend to. If I want something corny in the story, I want it to emerge “naturally” from my own corny heart.

Tools

With this book I downloaded Scrivener. Ordinarily I use Word like everyone else, so I cringed at the thought of special “writing” software. But once I figured out how Scrivener worked I found it very helpful. It fit my process perfectly. Easy to get things in the order I wanted, painless at text entry, good reorganization, a breeze. It was great and I now recommend it. What’s best about it is that it keeps the whole project at your fingertips in a way word processors can’t. You have all your chapters, sections, bits and pieces right there in a column on the left and the text of the moment on the right. If you want to check something, connect with a prior chapter, move a scene, remind yourself, whatever, it’s all right there in front of you. A big help for longer works. Five stars.

Soundtrack

I like things quiet when I work, so night is good. I love the ringing in my ears and the comforting hum of the air conditioning, the hiss of cars speeding by, whatever outside sounds manage to creep into consciousness. I’ll listen to music (using earphones, because it’s the middle of the night and there are sleepers sleeping), and when I do it’s usually non-tragic, non-hysterical stuff like Paul Bley, Keith Jarrett, the early Dollar Brand, many of the ECM players, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Django of course, Miles of Silent Way, and, if I’m particularly giddy, the nutball trumpet of Lester Bowie in the late I Only Have Eyes for You period. I like some classical music, old and new, and I love the sounds made by home appliances--dishwashers, clothes washers and dryers, hot water heaters, coffee makers. Some years ago I proposed to the record company that we release a record of a forty-two minute gourmet recording of my dishwasher. I made a demo CD complete with attractive cover. The CD was called Great Washer and it was beautiful in every aspect. It did not fly. Now, these many years later, I note that some shallow personages are posting low quality digital files of their lesser dishwashers on the YouTube. Sleep aids, they say.

Fuel

Chocolate.

~

> See all of Barthelme's books.

Barthelme-motellife

 

Best of the Year: Celebrity Authors Pick Their Favorite Books of 2014

It's becoming a thing: Each of the past few years, when we announce our editors' picks for Best Books of the Year, we also share a list of our favorite writers' favorite books.

This year we asked some of the biggest names in books, fashion, film, food, music, and more--all of whom have recent books of their own--to tell us about three books they loved in 2014. See which books Anne Rice, Brooke Shields, Lena Dunham, Norman Lear, Tory Burch, George Clinton, James Franco, Mark Bittman, Alan Cumming, Martin Short, Diana Gabaldon and others chose as their favorites.

The full roster is in alphabetical order below, or you can visit the Celebrity Picks page on Amazon.com.

Holly Black
Holly Black and Cassandra Clare
Mark Bittman
Mark Bittman
Grace Bonney
Grace Bonney
Tory Burch
Tory Burch
George Clinton
George Clinton
Alan Cumming
Alan Cumming
Christopher Paul Curtis
Christopher Paul Curtis
Kate DiCamillo
Kate DiCamillo
Ree Drummond
Ree Drummond
Lena Dunham
Lena Dunham
Cary Elwes
Cary Elwes
Gayle Forman
Gayle Forman
James Franco
James Franco
Alan Furst
Alan Furst
Diana Gabaldon
Diana Gabaldon
Atul Gawande
Atul Gawande
Dorie Greenspan
Dorie Greenspan
Grumpy Cat
Grumpy Cat
Deborah Harkness
Deborah Harkness
Laura Hillenbrand
Laura Hillenbrand
 Gina Homolka
Gina Homolka
 Jeff Kinney
Jeff Kinney
 Norman Lear
Norman Lear
 Laura Lippman
Laura Lippman
 Jane Lynch
Jane Lynch
 Lianne Moriarty
Lianne Moriarty
 B.J. Novak
B.J. Novak
 James Patterson
James Patterson
 Stephanie Perkins
Stephanie Perkins
 Jodi Picoult
Jodi Picoult
 Anne Rice
Anne Rice
 Sarah Richardson
Sarah Richardson
 Brooke Shields
Brooke Shields
 Martin Short
Martin Short
 Lara Spencer
Lara Spencer
 Brandon Stanton
Brandon Stanton
 Garth Stein
Garth Stein
 Amy Stewart
Amy Stewart
 Brad Thor
Brad Thor
 Scott Westerfield
Scott Westerfield
Meg Wolitzer
Meg Wolitzer
 William Gibson
William Gibson
 Sean Brock
Sean Brock

Announcing the Amazon Editors' Best Books of the Year

NgIt's been another phenomenal year in books, and we've just released our list of the Best Books of the Year. At the top is a debut novel that had us all talking: Celeste Ng's Everything I Never Told You. To quote our Editorial Director, Sara Nelson, the book "is kind of a ‘sleeper’ in that it got less attention initially than other novels, but Ng’s debut is a sad and moving story that we all fell in love with from the first line. Deeply felt and searingly emotional, Everything I Never Told You is the kind of novel that people say doesn’t get published any more. We’re so happy it did.” That's for sure!

Here is our top 10, along with excerpts of our original reviews of the books:

1. Everything I Never Told You: "There isn’t a false note in this book, and my only concern in describing my profound admiration for Everything I Never Told You is that it might raise unachievable expectations in the reader. But it’s that good. Achingly, precisely, and sensitively written." --Chris Schluep

Doerr2. All the Light We Cannot See: "This is a book you read for the beauty of Doerr’s writing-- 'Abyss in her gut, desert in her throat, Marie-Laure takes one of the cans of food…'--and for the way he understands and cherishes the magical obsessions of childhood. Marie-Laure and Werner are never quaint or twee. Instead they are powerful examples of the way average people in trying times must decide daily between morality and survival." --Sara Nelson

3. In the Kingdom of Ice: "Author Hampton Sides does a masterful job of setting up the voyage against the backdrop of the Gilded Age, developing fascinating characters along the way, and delivering a true triumph of narrative nonfiction. Drawing on journal entries, letters, and eventually his own visit to the region, Sides paints a vivid, moving, and breathless portrait of the crew of the Jeannette. How could a book about this much snow and ice be this good?" --Chris Schluep

Peace4. The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: "Although he continued to thrive academically in college, growing up in the second largest concentration of African-Americans living under the poverty line created barriers that even one as gifted as Robert Peace could not fully surmount. This is a riveting and heartbreaking read, as Rob Peace seems always to have been on the outside—the resented geek in the hood, and the inner city black man in the Ivy League." –Chris Schluep

5. Redeployment: "Klay is fearless; he eviscerates platitude and knee-jerk politics every chance he gets. '[A fellow soldier] was the one guy in the squad who thought the country wouldn’t be better off if we just nuked it until the desert turned into a flat plane of grass,' he writes. These stories are at least partly autobiographical, and yet, for all their verisimilitude, they’re also shaped by an undefinable thing called art. Phil Klay is a writer to watch." --Sara Nelson

6. Revival: "How does Stephen King do it? In book after book, writing long (Under the Dome, 11/22/63) or short (Joyland) he manages, nearly always, to tell a compelling story that is both entertaining and somehow profound, or at least thoughtful. His latest, Revival, is vintage King. It’s the perfect mix of baby boomer nostalgia (think Stand By Me) – this guy remembers the 60s with details you usually can only find in photographs – and good old American horror, the kind that was first elevated by such minor writers as, say, Poe and Hawthorne." –Sara Nelson

Hoffman7. Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller's Tragic Quest for Primitive Art: "Did he disappear into the tropical jungles, or was he rendered and eaten by the tribesmen, as many speculated and the Rockefeller family long denied? Award-winning journalist Carl Hoffman has stepped into Rockefeller’s boot prints and Asmat society, interviewing generations of warriors in an exhaustive and engrossing attempt to solve the mystery. The result, Savage Harvest, succeeds not only as a captivating and sensational puzzle, but also as a (seemingly unlikely) modern adventure and a fascinating glimpse of an anachronistic people pulled into the 20th century by the tensions of global politics." --Jon Foro

8. The Book of Unknown Americans: "In alternating chapters, these men and women share stories of how their adopted country has left its mark on them, for better and worse. The close bond that develops between the Rivera and Toro families drives the novel forward, particularly the relationship between their children Mayor and Maribel, as closely held secrets and feelings of guilt, love, hope, and despair are unpacked with warmth and compassion. With her cast of 'unknown Americans,' Henriquez has crafted a novel that is inspiring, tragic, brave, and above all, unforgettable. --Seira Wilson

Moriarty9. Big Little Lies: "What is it about Liane Moriarty’s books that makes them so irresistible? They’re just classic “domestic” novels about marriage, motherhood, and modern upper-middle-class family life, after all. And despite the fact that Big Little Lies is Moriarty’s sixth adult novel (and it comes decades after the grandmother of this kind of thing, Bridget Jones’ Diary), it is remarkably new and fresh and winning." --Sara Nelson

10. Station Eleven: "The story shifts deftly between the fraught post-apocalyptic world and, twenty years earlier, just before the apocalypse, the death of a famous actor, which has a rippling effect across the decades. It’s heartbreaking to watch the troupe strive for more than mere survival. At once terrible and tender, dark and hopeful, Station Eleven is a tragically beautiful novel that both mourns and mocks the things we cherish. –-Neal Thompson"

Graphic Novel Friday: All Super, No Baggage

We are in a superhero pop culture comics renaissance! With so many characters, properties, and super powers hitting big and small screens, maneuvering the various masks and origins can be challenging. Marvel Comics understands your pain and released a flurry of jumping-on points for new readers, creating spotlights for characters ready for the big time.

Captain Marvel Volume 1: Higher, Further, Faster, More by Kelly Sue DeConnick and David Lopez: Carol Danvers is a pilot, an Avenger, and the soon-to-be star of her own film from Marvel Studios in 2018! Oh, and she’s also Captain Marvel, a hero who isn’t a stranger to flexing her muscles in outer-space. DeConnick nails the snarky and confident voice of Danvers, while Lopez draws an empowered and expressive superhero.

She-Hulk Volume 1: Law and Disorder by Charles Soule, Javier Pulido, and Ron Wemberly: Another Avenger ready for her breakout, Jennifer Walters is a green-skinned attorney by day and the She-Hulk by…well, sometimes also by day as well as night. Jennifer must juggle the struggles of a private law office, a very weird assistant, and super-villains--and writer Charles Soule keeps it all afloat with plenty of humor and legal “Ah-ha!” moments without letting it fall into “talking heads” territory. Pulido makes it all sing with his clever panel and character work—this is the next book for Hawkeye fans.

Hawkeye Volume 3: L.A. Woman by Matt Fraction, Annie Wu, and Javier Pulido: Speaking of Hawkeye! Did you know that there are two? Yes, and this collection focuses on young Hawkeye, Kate Bishop—a character whom Fraction crafted so well that she deserves her own extended arc. Don’t worry, you do not need to know much more than that. Kate is in L.A. to become a private investigator, but she quickly finds trouble--big, bad, explosive trouble. Wu and Pulido (again) provide exceptional artwork that blends plenty of style with storytelling. And yes, Pizza Dog is in L.A., too!

Ms. Marvel Vol. 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona: Teenager Kamala Khan has enough on her plate: hormones, school, fan fiction, religion, and then she inherits Carol Danvers’ mantle as Ms. Marvel. Now, she’s a superhero with strange powers, and yet she still has to sneak out to attend her friends' parties. The book speaks to an audience hungry for an original hero who is every bit as super as her contemporaries. Plus, it’s great to see Runaways artist Adrian Alphona again.

Sure, superhero comics can be daunting, but these four offer no barriers to jumping in cowl-first. What great comics have you been reading lately, Omni readers?

 --Alex

"Fog Island Mountains" by Michelle Bailat-Jones wins Inaugural Christopher Doheny Prize

FogislandmountainsMichelle Bailat-Jones's novel Fog Island Mountains has won the first-ever Christopher Doheny Prize, which recognizes excellence in writing about serious illness. The prize was created by Audible in honor of Chris Doheny, an employee at Audible who lost his battle with cystic fibrosis in 2013.

Fog Island Mountains--the story of a man with terminal cancer whose wife disappears--was published this week, in paperback and audio (narrated by Jennifer Ikeda).

Our thanks to Diana Dapito, Director of Editorial Merchandising at Audible, for the following remembrance of Chris Doheny.

~

Chris Doheny--one of my closest friends and favorite colleagues--passed away in 2013 due to complications from cystic fibrosis. Unless you were part of his close inner circle (and even then the topic didn’t come up often), Chris didn’t talk much about his illness; about how difficult it was for him to breathe sometimes, and how a double-lung transplant, the last resort for treatment which Chris received in 2010, would still only potentially give him a few more years.

Chris Doheny2Instead, Chris liked to talk about books. (And music. And good coffee. And soccer. But a lot about books.) In our work together at Audible, Chris championed his favorites--Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, Pastoralia by George Saunders, Tinkers by Paul Harding … long before it won the Pulitzer. The first book he ever recommended to me, Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto, is still one of my favorites, and my son loves Jon Klassen’s darkly funny I Want My Hat Back, a gift from ‘Uncle Chris’ that perfectly reflected his wicked sense of humor. Chris’s discerning taste and deep love of literature was prevalent in all facets of his life--he even named his pet rabbit Vonnegut. Towards the end, he was almost done writing his own novel, and it was at his request that his vast collection of books was given away at his funeral--the best way for a book lover to leave a piece of himself with his friends.

And when we knew that the end was coming, Audible’s publisher, Beth Anderson--the woman who hired both me and Chris and had been our mentor since 2004--worked with Chris to figure out the best way we could honor him. And so The Christopher Doheny Award was established with The Center for Fiction to recognize excellence in fiction or nonfiction on the topic of serious physical illness. The author has to have personal experience dealing with life-threatening illness, either his or her own or that of a close relative or friend. Because even though Chris didn’t let CF define him, he thought it important that more books address the toll that serious illness can take on the patient, family and friends, and others.

I was honored to be a judge--along with Beth and the authors Ann Hood and Dani Shapiro--for the first prize awarded in Chris’s name. But I’ll admit I felt a lot of pressure reading through the submissions because Chris had such high literary standards and the winner absolutely had to reflect them. When I started reading Fog Island Mountains by Michelle Bailat-Jones though, its atmospheric storytelling really stuck with me, as well as the notion that, in Japan, doctors would sometimes keep the dire realties of a terminal diagnosis from patients. (Something that would have driven Chris crazy.) I knew I’d found my pick for a winner, and was thrilled to find that it actually was the unanimous choice of all the judges. I have no doubt that Chris would be proud of this selection, and am excited for more readers and listeners to discover it.

~

About Christopher Doheny
 
Chris Doheny joined Audible, Inc. while in college as a summer intern in 2002 just a few years after the company was founded. After graduating from Georgetown University in 2003, he returned to Audible, Inc. and spent the next eight years helping to build the company. Diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when he was just a baby, Chris strived to live as normal a life as possible. Chris received a double lung transplant in June 2010. He passed away on February 20, 2013.

Read more about the Chrisopher Doheny Prize here: http://centerforfiction.org/awards/the-christopher-doheny-award/

New York Times Book Review Editor Pamela Paul on "By The Book"

By-the-bookSince taking over the New York Times Book Review, Pamela Paul has revamped the venerable weekly, and brought it some much-needed life. Among her improvements, a weekly interview with a writer (usually) about his or her reading habits and predilections. Want to know what Michael Chabon has on his newsstand? Paul’s new compilation of columns, By the Book (with an introduction by Scott Turow) will tell you. We at Omni can tell you some of the same kind of stuff, too, of course, but we work on the principle that there’s plenty of info to go around, and whatever, whoever connects readers with writers is fine with us. And so, we turned interviewer of the interviewer, just to find out how she does it.

~

Is By the Book “edited”--i.e. do you cut answers, or rewrite questions or run answers together when appropriate?   

By the Book is edited in the sense that the editor (me) chooses who to include in the column each week, which questions to ask each person (the questions vary and rotate), and which answers will appear in print, where space is more limited. That said, we never edit within a given an answer--if we're going to include a question and answer, we run it in its entirety. We also edit for Times style, which has its own idiosyncrasies, and for accuracy. This is not a gotcha column in which we want to highlight someone accidentally referring to Isabella Archer. [p.s. - We didn’t edit Paul’s answers here either.]

Do you print every answer to every question, or do you pick and choose? What’s the difference between the By the Book that’s in the print paper and the one on the Web?

Pamela-paulWe do not have the space to include every question in the print edition, but we do run it in its entirety online--and in this book, which reprints the full Q and A. These are really portraits of a person through their life with books, and rather than abbreviate a long answer about someone's favorite novelist, that we should run it in full.

Why do you think the feature is so popular?  

As the editor of The New York Times Book Review, I like to think that book reviews are of paramount importance, but it would be foolish not to recognize the persuasive power of word-of-mouth. We all like to hear book recommendations from our smartest colleagues, best-read friends, spouses or just people we think are culturally tuned in or expert on a given subject. The idea of By the Book is to provide that word of mouth from the writers we most admire or whose work we most enjoy. Or whose opinion, on say, history books or music biographies we'd be especially keen on knowing. What By the Book does is marry word-of-mouth with informed opinion from our most popular and/or (not always the same) critically acclaimed writers. 

Do you do the interviews by phone, by email or in person?

As a reporter, I only conduct interviews by phone or in person--no exceptions. I'm actually vehemently opposed to email interviews, which I think have become too prevalent in journalism. A written answer is necessarily premeditated, edited, packaged. And it doesn't allow for probing, questioning, follow-up. So it feels odd to insist that this particular feature be done only by email (even when the rare person asks to do it by phone or in person, which has happened). But I think that this is an instance in which you want to get a deeply thought out answer, not an off-the-cuff response to a question like, "What book made you the person you are today?" It doesn't make for a better column if the person gives an answer and later realizes, "How could I have possibly said "Narnia" and forgotten about "Madame Bovary?" or whatever the specifics might be. Readers want to genuinely know what an astrophysicist thinks is THE best book about cosmology, not the first book that comes to mind.

Who has been your favorite By the Book respondent?

Very hard to say, I have many favorites. I think the journalist in me most appreciates the big "gets"--Malala Yousafsai, Hillary Clinton, Donna Tartt, Edward St. Aubyn. I was also incredibly pleased that the first two people I asked when I had nothing on paper to show and had just started the column--David Sedaris and Lena Dunham--both said yes right away.

Who would you most like to get but haven’t yet gotten for By the Book?

Happily, not a lot of people have said no. But I would love to get people who are not necessarily authors but are writers in other formats, or great readers. I'd love to have Mick Jagger or Paul Simon. Or both.

Are BtB respondents always authors?

No. The actor and comedian Bill Hader did one this past summer that I thought was brilliant and unexpected. He's an autodidact, a voracious reader, and he's got excellent taste.

Must you have read the work of the author(s) you choose for BtB?

No, but it helps. At the very least it helps to have a sense of their work, their lives, their experiences. Because the interviews are tailored to each person and you want a mix of both expected an unexpected answers. I really like the question "What's your favorite love story?" which I don't ask all the time, but I do like to ask both of the expected (a romance writer) and the unexpected (a military historian). Same thing goes with asking about self-help. Who knew Hilary Mantel would be such a fan of the genre?

Who chooses the authors and who does the interviews?

I do.

What happens if a BtB respondent has a new book that’s not positively reviewed in your pages?

In a way, By the Book is a nice way to balance our review coverage, and to offer readers another perspective on the author or her work. A reader may find herself disagreeing with the reviewer who pans a book, and very much liking what the author has to say for himself, or find they have literary tastes in common. 

What’s the best answer you ever got from a BtB respondent?

I think the best answers, honestly, are the ones that connect different authors. I realize its sappy, but what I love most is when writers find out they admire each other's work from afar. It was a delight when Donna Tartt said, for example, that she was eagerly awaiting the next Stephen King novel--before she saw Stephen King's rave of The Goldfinch on our cover.

What are you reading right now--and why?

I am reading all (or nearly all) of Dave Eggers's books in anticipation of an event I'm doing with him in San Francisco on October 29th. I had only read What is the What, so I'm going back and reading through his earlier books. I started with The Circle, then went to A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, and now I'm reading Hologram for a King, which I plan to follow with Zeitoun. He's been incredibly prolific in a relatively short period of time so I have my work cut out for me.

~

> See all of Pamela Paul's books

> Follow her on Twitter

A Unique Look at the ABCs: "Alphabetabum"

Award-winning author/illustrators Chris Raschka and Vladimir Radunsky recently teamed up to create an unusual pairing of rare vintage photos and verse in the highly original alphabet book. Alphabetabum

The antique photos of children accompanying each letter are a mirror into history and just examining the dress and expressions is fascinating.  Add to that Raschka's quirky verse, and you have a picture book that looks like an object from another time and is appealing to all ages.   See below for a look inside:

Cover

 

Images from Alphabetabum: An Album of Rare Photographs and Medium Verses

 
 
 
 
 
 

How I Wrote It: An Interview with Cary Elwes, on His Memoir, "As You Wish"

ElwesCary Elwes discusses his new memoir, As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride, a behind the scenes look at the filming of the cult 1987 classic.

In this exclusive interview, filmed this summer in New York, Elwes says he was inspired to write the book after meeting with the cast and crew at a twenty-fifth anniversary reunion in 2012. "I felt that the time was right to tell my story," he said.

"The making of the film was really a collaborative effort. We're like one big family ...It's not just my book it's theirs as well, it's all of ours."

The book contains never-before seen photos and interviews with his fellow cast mates, including backstage stories and secrets.

"How to Get A Major Book Deal" by Nir Eyal

HabitsAuthor Nir Eyal is all about making things that people want and getting it to them. His brand new book Hooked: How to Build Habit Forming Products is the fruit of many years of research and study. Now he tells us how he applied his hard-won principles to getting a book published.

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“Hi Nir,” the email began. “I have been reading your work and find it incredibly interesting.” Naturally, this is the kind of message a blogger loves to receive. However, this email was special for another reason. It was from a prominent New York publishing agent who represents several authors I read and admire. “I don’t know if you've already started down this road or whether writing a book interests you, but I’d be delighted to have a conversation with you if you are interested.”

Was she kidding? Heck yeah I was interested!

We scheduled a time to talk. She told me she is fond of my work and thought it could reach a larger audience if it was promoted by a major publisher. That email and the subsequent call would lead to the forthcoming release of my book, Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products.

I should mention that the focus of my research for the past several years — and the topic of my book — is mind hacking. I study the psychology of how products change human behavior. Given my knowledge of the subject, I’d be foolish not to use what I teach others. Here are three surprising techniques I utilized to write my book and a few tips from some very successful friends.

Write What You Want to Know

When Daniel Pink began working on his mega-hit book, Drive, he knew relatively little about the subject he was going to write about. What he did know for certain was that his curiosity was not yet satisfied. Pink told me he knew “enough to realize that the science of motivation was utterly interesting but woefully under-covered.” Interestingly, the more Pink learned, the more things fit into place. Today, Pink is an expert in his own right.

Curiosity is author rocket fuel. In my own book, I describe the psychological power of variable rewards. Receiving positive reinforcement at variable intervals — that is, not knowing when the good stuff is coming — has been shown to spike dopamine levels in the reward centers of the brain. It is a major reason why all sorts of experiences like video games, slot machines, action movies, and even our cell phones, keep us so engaged. For authors, searching for the answers we seek can be just as engrossing. The unpredictable nature of the hunt for knowledge can provide endless motivation for those able to harness it.

As Pink told me, “The big motivator for good books is the author’s own curiosity. If I’m not curious about a topic, why should I expect any reader to be?” Leveraging the variable reward of pursuing answers to one’s own burning questions is one of the best mind hacks I know.

Get Frequent Feedback

Many would-be authors believe they have to know all the answers before they start writing. Whether it’s a full volume book or a 500 word blog post, people tend to not start until they have all the pieces of the puzzle figured out. Generally, this leads no where. Far too many people who have important things to share never publish because they fail to take the first step.

When New York Times bestselling author Gretchen Rubin began working on her forthcoming book, Better Than Before, she admits that like Pink, she didn’t have all the answers. “If I have what I think is a good idea, I want to get it out into the world,” Rubin told me. “I don’t hold ideas back.” Despite knowing her ideas were only half-baked, Rubin began putting her thoughts and theories out into the world via her blog because, she says, “I learn more about them as I write about them and also because my creativity is more stimulated by throwing ideas out there … Often I will write a post about a new idea to see what responses it evokes.”

In my own book,I detail the psychology behind taking action. Psychologists have known for years that when a behavior is difficult to do, we need more motivation and willpower to do it. For many people, the burden of needing to have all the answers before writing, make the book writing journey too difficult to start. Instead, breaking down the process into small iterative steps can reshape and improve the work. Publishing small posts frequently with the intention of testing new ideas with readers not only provides a constant stream of critical feedback but also supplies a kind of intoxicating encouragement that can push an author forward.

Help Your Readers Invest in Your Work

Like Gretchen, the content of my book started as blog posts. After I had published my thoughts for several years, I began to see common themes emerge. I turned my posts into a series of lectures I later taught at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. As my blog readership grew, I received a few emails asking when I’d write a book. One of those messages came from Ryan Hoover who offered to help arrange my essays into a book format. Ryan’s work also helped identify holes in the text where I needed to do more research and writing.

When I had completed a rough draft, I decided to ask my blog followers for help and did something most authors would think is nuts — I placed the full text of the book online. Certainly, some people may think giving the entire world access to an unpublished book is crazy. However, the response was tremendous and the experience taught me something profound. By letting people make suggestions and improvements, readers were also investing in the book with their time and effort.

Psychologists have studied the powerful influence small investments can have on the way we think and act. Several studies have demonstrated that putting effort into an activity makes us more committed to it. A happy by-product of asking my readers for help editing my book is that I now have a team of advocates ready to tell others about the book.

When I received my literary agent’s email asking if I was interested in publishing a book, I was ready. I had put the psychological principles featured in my book to good use. By following my own curiosity, getting frequent feedback and asking my readers to invest in my work, I was in a great position to take my book to stores and eventually readers’ hands.

Editor’s Note: Nir Eyal is the author of Hooked: How to Build Habit Forming Products and blogs about the psychology of products at NirAndFar.com. For more insights into how products change user behavior, join his free newsletter and receive the first chapter of his book.

 

Lunch With: Mark Bittman, on Cooking with Speed and Confidence

20141014_133913_resizedI've been cooking since I was a teenager, starting as a short order cook at the Gibson Girl diner in Sparta, New Jersey. (Still the best job I ever had). I found myself thinking about that long-ago job as I leafed through Mark Bittman's new book, How to Cook Everything Fast, which encourages improvisation and experimentation. I remember the day at Gibson Girl when I ran out of bacon for our famous Butch Burgers--bacon, cole slaw, special sauce. I ran to tell my boss, Vinny Scapicchio, who slapped a couple pieces of ham on the grill. "They'll love it," he said.

In How to Cook Everything Fast, Bittman offers strategies and shortcuts designed to help people cook with the same level of confidence as my man Vinny. During a recent visit to Seattle, Bittman spoke with us over lunch (at Shanik Indian restaurant, followed by a shot at Uptown Espresso) about his attempt to create a book full of recipes (2,000 of them) that can each be completed in 45 minutes or less.

By combining cook steps with prep steps, the book is designed to streamline recipes and take away the excuses many people use for not cooking their own meals--not enough time, don’t know what I’m doing, don't have the right ingredients… The book encourages compromise, such as replacing ingredients with something that's close enough. “And I think that is what cooking is all about. It’s about compromise. We all feel sort of hurried,” Bittman said. “You never have the perfect ingredients.” 

To Bittman, perfect is less important than fresh and handmade. “I think the from-scratch thing is really important, because it’s the only way you know what you’re eating,” he said. “We don’t know what’s in the food we eat unless we cook it ourselves, and to me that’s the primary reason to cook. I want to know what I’m eating.”

These days, Bittman has become an evangelist (in his New York Times opinion columns and elsewhere) for encouraging people to eat better by folllowing a simple rule: “eat real food."

No need to follow recipes slavishly, he insists. If you have the basics in your pantry, you can make just about anything. With practice, you can even develop the instincts and trust in your own judgement to, say, swap in grilled ham atop a burger when you don't have bacon.

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> See all of Mark Bittman's books

> Visit his website

> Follow him on Twitter

 

Guest Review: Michael J. Fox on "The Pollan Family Table"

PollanFamilyTableThe Pollan family is expanding a presence in our kitchens that began with Michael Pollan’s ground-breaking book, The Omnivore's Dilmena. Now it's the Pollan ladies, matriarch Corky and three sisters Lori, Dana, and Tracy, in the spotlight with The Pollan Family Table, a new cookbook that begs to be read and shared, used widely and often (we chose it as one of our Best Cookbooks of November).  

Beautifully photographed, the recipes are personal and accessible, with enough variety to easily put together a delicious meal for guests or night after night for family.

Besides the recipes, I also really like the section called Sage Advice that covers everything from replicating buttermilk using 2% and lemon juice to removing corn silk using a damp paper towel. 

Below, Michael J. Fox, married for more than two decades to Tracy Pollan, shares his thoughts on The Pollan Family Table.

PollanFamilyWomenCropped

 


 MichaelJFoxIn the interest of full disclosure, you should know that the authors of The Pollan Family Table are my wife, Tracy Pollan; her sisters Lori and Dana; and my mother-in-law, Corky. My brother-in-law, Michael Pollan, the Carl Sagan of food, wrote the foreword. Spoiler alert: my review is a rave.

How could it not be? Notwithstanding the fact that I’d like to keep my place at that eponymous table—one that I’ve had the privilege to hold for some twenty-five years—I can honestly and enthusiastically report that this collection of recipes, reflections, and gorgeous color photographs is a thoughtfully conceived, beautifully realized, invaluable asset to any family making dinner plans. Moreover, it’s a paean to those moments, however brief or infrequent they may be, when we gather the people we love and share a meal.

So much can get in the way of preparing and convening for a regular family dinner. But this book offers solutions to those problems with simple recipes that cater to any taste or occasion, running the gamut from soup (Creamless Broccoli Soup with Whole Roasted Garlic and Frizzled Leeks) to nuts (Key Lime Pie with Walnut Oatmeal Crust).

And there is something in this book you will love, no matter your appetite or dietary restrictions. Even nonvegetarians will rejoice at what I believe to be the most perfect veggie burger on the planet, the Supreme Crispy Quinoa Vegetable Burger. Seafood lovers are well served here, too, with favorite recipes like Smoky Sautéed Shrimp. And just looking at the Citrus-Roasted Chicken with Grand Marnier triggers a Proustian flashback, bringing to mind not only the aroma and juicy, subtle flavor but also a cascade of memories, conversations, plans hatched, jokes and stories told and retold at family get-togethers. The familiar food and setting provide a continuum. Proust describes it as “Time regained.” Marty McFly might exclaim, “You built a time machine . . . out of a beef tenderloin?”

Every family’s story develops around its own table. You share the moments, both seminal and trivial, that over time become your life. For us, it’s a banquette in the breakfast nook of our New York apartment. In the chaotic process of raising four children, we have put in so much time around our own table—not only with meals but also with homework and art projects and games of Clue—that Tracy and I have had to reupholster the bench seats at least half a dozen times.

But the definitive PFT is the trestle table in the dining room of Corky and Stephen’s Connecticut home. As the family multiplied, there became less and less space for new spouses and their offspring and weekend guests, boyfriends, girlfriends, etc. Corky says that she and Stephen “were determined the family tradition would continue, with everyone able to sit together, rather than relegating the youngest to ‘the kids’ table.’ So ours became the ever-lengthening table.” When the table grew too large for the room, Corky and Stephen extended the house, knocking out a wall in the dining room to provide extra space for another half-dozen happy cousins.

So, yes, this is a book of delicious recipes, complete with pantry and market lists and tips on essential utensils and homespun advice; but what makes it compelling on the human level is its insistence that the family meal is not a thing of the past. The Pollan Family Table reassures that best intentions can be put into action and the results can enrich your family’s life in ways that are both harmonious and healthy. Corky, Lori, Tracy, and Dana share what they know so you can share with those you love. As I said, full disclosure: you knew it was going to be a rave because, after all . . . this is what my life tastes like. -- Michael J. Fox

Omnivoracious™ Contributors

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