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About Chris Schluep

Chris Schluep spent more than a dozen years editing books in New York before moving west. He takes great pride in reading a wide range of books and connecting interested readers with the books they'll love. Chris lives in Seattle with his wife and son, and he feels like he may have one of the best jobs in the world.

Posts by Chris

Peter Matthiessen Dead at 86

Matthiessen2Peter Matthiessen died today at 5:15pm EST after an illness of some months. He was 86 years old.

Matthiessen was born in New York in 1927. Shortly after graduating from Yale, he embarked for France, where he co-founded The Paris Review. (He later disclosed that he was working for the CIA at the time and used the Review for cover.) An active environmentalist and champion of human rights, Matthiessen produced such great works as The Snow Leopard, At Play in the Fields of the Lord, and In the Spirit of Crazy Horse. His epic Shadow Country, three novels that he painstakingly reworked into one volume, covers the life of Edgar J. Watson, Florida sugarcane farmer and infamous murderer. Shadow Country won the National Book Award in 2008. 

Matthiessen worked up to his death, and his last novel In Paradise, set during a spiritual retreat in Auschwitz, will be published on April 8.

The Amazon editors recently spoke with Peter Matthiessen.

“I Felt I Could Go Deeper with Art” – An Interview with Peter Matthiessen, Author of “In Paradise.”

Peter_Matthiessen-CREDIT-Linda-GirvinNote: Sadly, Peter Matthiessen died today, April 5th, at 5:15pm EST after an illness of some months. He was 86 years old.

Matthiessen was born in New York in 1927. Shortly after graduating from Yale, he embarked for France, where he co-founded The Paris Review. (He later disclosed that he was working for the CIA at the time and used the Review for cover.) An active environmentalist and champion of human rights, Matthiessen produced such great works as The Snow Leopard, At Play in the Fields of the Lord, and In the Spirit of Crazy Horse. His epic Shadow Country, three novels that he painstakingly reworked into one volume, covers the life of Edgar J. Watson, Florida sugarcane farmer and infamous murderer. Shadow Country won the National Book Award in 2008. 

Read on for our recent interview with Peter Matthiessen--

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Peter Matthiessen, three-time National Book Award winner and esteemed author of both fiction and nonfiction, has never backed away from writing about difficult subjects. In his new novel In Paradise he sets his story in the mid-90s, at a spiritual retreat at Auschwitz—the result is a book that is as profound and searching as anything he has written before. In Paradise is our spotlight pick for the Best Books of April

The Amazon books editors recently had the opportunity to ask Mr. Matthiessen some questions about In Paradise

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Chris Schluep: When I first started reading the galley, I thought, “I didn’t know Peter Matthiessen was Jewish.” But you’re not. How aware of this were you while writing the novel?

Peter Matthiessen: I was aware that I wasn’t Jewish, of course, and I was only somewhat hindered by doubt on that score. It was more that I wasn’t qualified in other ways. I wasn’t a veteran of the camps, and perhaps more important, I hadn’t lost family in them; some people don’t think you’re entitled to write about the camps unless you’ve had first-hand experience of them. And of course I was humbled by the many powerful accounts of life in the camps: who needed mine? If I couldn’t bring something fresh to it, why do it at all? Nonetheless, there was a strange experience I wanted to write about.  In the mid-1990s an international group of more than a hundred went to Auschwitz. We chose to go in the winter, because that was the toughest time for the prisoners, and we stayed in the former SS barracks and meditated on the selection platforms in all weathers. It was a way of honoring or “witnessing” for the more than a million who had died there. In addition to the violent impression the place itself made on us, so grim and relentless—the towers and gates, all that barbed wire, the few decrepit barracks still standing--most of us experienced a peculiar event in the course of our stay there, a manifestation of … something. I couldn’t purge myself of the wish to write about it. I’d kept a journal of my time there, and later I sketched out a factual account, but I found no way to do justice to the experience with the bare facts, which were nebulous. Under those circumstances, I felt I could go deeper with art, with a novel. As a character in the book, an old painter, says, “The only way to understand such evil is to reimagine it. And the only way to reimagine it is through art.”

MatthiessenCS: One of your greatest gifts as a writer is the ability to express authentic outrage in the face of injustice. Is this something you’ve actively sought to do throughout your writing career?

PM: I’ve mainly sought to keep my voice down, let the evidence speak for itself.  Which is not to say that I wasn’t really angry about certain situations– Cesar Chavez and the farmworkers, the neglect of American Indian people, the systematic exploitation of the environment for unworthy purposes that results in its ruin. I’ve always lived by Camus’s idea that the duty of the writer is to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves, and perhaps that’s more true of the death camp victims than anybody else. I don’t want to urge good behavior on people – I don’t think that’s my role--but there’s nothing in human nature that separates us from the potential for doing such evil again. We all have this capacity – we can’t only blame it on the Germans.

CS: Do you view that as a part of your writing legacy?  

PM: I’ve never really thought about my “writing legacy.” I’m not sure I have one.

CS: One of the characters—Anders, the evolutionary biologist—questions whether a potential for evil behavior can be called “unnatural” or “inhuman," and there’s a great Solzhenitsyn quote in the novel along the same lines. Where do you fall on this? How does your understanding of Buddhism inform your reaction to evil? 

PM: I have to agree with Solzhenitsyn (and Anders) in the tragic absence of any more sensible explanation. To get to the bottom of evil has taxed far greater minds than mine, at far greater length, so I’ll avoid the temptation to define it definitively. But Buddhism has a teaching, which comes in three parts: We shall not do evil; we shall do good; we shall do good for others. The last part is key. I have to agree with his Holiness the Dalai Lama – the only essential virtue is kindness, compassion. To the extent that everybody in In Paradise, including my main character, Clements Olin, is trying to behave decently, to be open to the others on the retreat, the book recommends that. But in a few cases, it’s a painful recommendation. I quote someone in the book as having said that the point of life is to help others through it. Essentially that would be a Buddhist thought, and at my best, so to speak, I try to go along with it.

CS: If I were to summarize the book to someone, I’d say it’s about art, spirituality, and love in the face of the void. But that seems too schematic, and it narrows it. 

PM: Those labels all apply, of course, but others do, too.  I never describe it if I can help it. I try to avoid restraining it that way.

CS: It’s evident in reading the novel that you’ve read much literature on the Holocaust. Could you provide a short reading list for our readers?  

PM: I think Primo Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz is the one absolutely essential text, because it’s so concentrated, and he expresses himself so vividly and beautifully. This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen, by Tadeusz Borowski (who is the subject of Clement Olin’s research in In Paradise) captures the lunatic aspect of the whole phenomenon of the death camps – how terrible and how ordinary they were, the disgusting food, the living circumstances that sooner or later would kill you, as they were designed to. Borowski just describes it; Levi spells it out. And then there are the extraordinary diaries and letters of Etty Hillesum, a wonderfully intelligent and thoughtful young Dutch woman, with a family, a lover, aspirations to be a writer, who died at Auschwitz in 1943. And you read with dread, because very quietly, through the eyes of this enormously sensitive person, you see the Holocaust developing, life narrowing down, and you know that these people are going to get arrested, sooner or later.

CS: Is there a book you haven’t written that you would like to write? 

PM: Many. Where do I start?

Jeff VanderMeer Drops by Amazon to Talk About "Annihilation"

51H2WZitH0L._BO2,204,203,200Jeff VanderMeer, author and Omnivoracious contributor, stopped by Seattle on his recent book tour. Having worked with him extensively on many Omni posts, and having read a few of his books (try City of Saints and Madmen), including his latest novel Annihilation, I was excited to sit down with him.

Annihilation, which was a Best Book of the Month for February, is one of those books that will either draw you in from the start or spit you out confused and reeling. Four women--simply known as the Psychologist, the Surveyor, the Anthropologist, and the Biologist--are sent on the twelfth expedition to a mysterious region simply known as Area X. From there the mysteries multiply, as VanderMeer leads us on an adventure deeper into the unknown. The Los Angeles Times had this to say about the book: "'Annihilation,' in which the educated and analytical similarly meets up with the inhuman, is a clear triumph for Vandermeer, who after numerous works of genre fiction has suddenly transcended genre with a compelling, elegant and existential story of far broader appeal."

There are two more books to follow in the Southern Reach trilogy. And you won't have to wait long--Authority is scheduled to be released in May, and Acceptance will publish in September.

YA Wednesday: Margaret Stohl Interviews Seth Fishman, Author of "The Well's End"

Well's EndAuthor Seth Fishman's new Young Adult novel The Well's End was published yesterday, and it's getting great reviews. Booklist gave The Well's End a starred review, calling it "a fast-paced, thrilling adventure story that begs for a sequel."

International best-selling writer Margaret Stohl, co-author of Beautiful Creatures, caught up with Seth to generally fawn over the book and ask him some questions.

 

Seth Fishman: First of all, my biggest thanks for these really amazingly fun and original interview questions.  I’ve long loved your books, and it’s hard to imagine you reading mine and enjoying. What an honor!

Margaret Stohl: Seth, your brain = a deeply dark place. Comparable to, say, a well. True or False? Discuss.

SF: Truish! I’d like to think that if you shine a light into my brain, you find that it isn’t so scary, or that it’s full of nice things, like water or wishes. That said, I often set the tone for The Well’s End by imagining what it would be like to be stuck down a well.  The cold, the smell, the darkness, the fear. My mind and wells = best friends.

MS: When a little girl falls down a well and years later, finds herself getting in once again over her head—this time in the middle of a conspiracy involving a killer virus, her father, and her school—I get the feeling this story didn’t come from a dream about sparkly vampires, Seth. How did it come to you?

SF: I like all sorts of vampires, but when I set out to write this book, I wanted to ground the story in as much terrifying reality as possible. So I started with the girl who fell down the well, loosely based on ‘Baby Jessica’ McClure, who really did fall down a well in my hometown when I was a kid. Once I had this backstory in place, I wanted to invite the reader to become so confident in the reality of the book’s world that when it tilts, they don’t even notice (or, at least, feel that it’s very naturally part of the ride).

MS: The Well’s End is an adrenaline rush from start to finish. Was that the plan, or do you just like to torment high school students? When you read, are you also an adrenaline junkie?

SF: Ha, very kind of you to say! Maybe the torture comes as payback for all the years I was a camp counselor. I’d say that I worked very hard with my editor on the pacing of the book, though I didn’t map out cliffhanger chapter endings or anything like that. Still, considering that the [semi-SPOILER] virus moved pretty quickly, if I wanted to have anyone living by the end of the book, I had to keep the pedal to the floor. The challenge, I suppose, was building legit, fleshed characters while they were constantly running for their lives. As to reading, I love a good thriller or adrenaline push (like Pierce Brown’s Red Rising or Marie Lu’s Legend series) but I’m just as much a fan of the slower literary (David Mitchell or Gabriel Garcia Marquez being favorites). Depends on the mood, on where I’m reading them, and on whether I want to get any sleep!

MS: Bones break. Bullets fly. Parents and students are disposed of. And I’m reading your book on a flight home from Tokyo, having Battle Royale flashbacks. Did you know you were going to have to shed a lot of blood to take Mia on her journey from just being the girl who fell down the well?

SF: I’m not afraid of killing off characters. In fact, I believe one of the reasons Game of Thrones is so compelling and ‘fresh’ is that George R.R. Martin kills off major characters left and right. This raises the stakes in the book and keeps the reader on his/her toes. It also is a real challenge that I love: the author has to be able to create more than just one character and rely on them. Battle Royale still haunts me; I believe having The Well’s End haunt someone would be the height of compliment. 

MS: Your main character, Mia, is a competitive swimmer thrust into the role of survivalist. She talks about forcing herself to “dive in,” as an exercise in conquering her own fears. Yet your book is full of things to be very, very afraid of, right?

SF: I couldn’t help but play with the juxtaposition, really. The idea that Mia was petrified of water and darkness because of some freak childhood accident did nothing to stop me from putting ‘monsters’ in the water and the dark. In this case, her fears were justified.

MS: So can fears really ever be conquered? Or do they just give way to new fears? What’s more frightening – trusting people or diving into the unknown?

SF: I’m really fascinated by the role fear plays in the actions we all take, every day. For Mia, I wanted her fears to both hinder and aid, to be very much part of her identity. At the same time, I don’t think facing fears is easy; you don’t have a fear of heights and go skydiving once and get cured, you’re still scared of height, just more able to deal with the phobia. I wanted fear to push Mia, and I wanted her to not always be rewarded. Sometimes the answer isn’t to dive right in. And if you do, you might not always like what you find. 

That said, I think trust is one of the greatest characteristics of humanity. When we learn to trust someone, they become a part of ourselves. They know our needs and fears and our weaknesses. If you travel in a group, and you trust those people, suddenly everyone becomes smarter faster stronger. 

MS: Diving in seems almost like the best way to describe the narrative structure of your book, Seth. Maybe that’s also an apt way to describe a debut novel, from a successful literary agent no less. What made you dive in as a writer, here and now?

SF: A ‘debut author’ is a deceptive term. Most writers have books and stories in drawers that have never seen the light of a bookstore shelf. I’ve been writing as a hobby since I was fourteen, and The Well’s End was the culmination of years of false starts and craft-building. Debuts are really just a longtime writer’s chance to finally meet an audience. Despite the fact that I represent some amazing authors as a literary agent, and have seen them go through publications of their own books, this still feels entirely new and exciting and, in some ways, terrifying.

MS: I really loved your book: what else should I read? What goes next to The Well’s End on your imaginary shelf? For that matter, what would Mia Kish’s favorite books be?

SF: That’s a great question (and I’m so glad you loved the book)! It’s hard for me not to think of the books that influenced me when I was a teenager when creating Mia, which is, I understand, potentially problematic to a modern audience, so I’d say she’d have a nice mix. Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins, Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami, Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (I know, I know, borrow someone’s copy or go to the library), and aside from the two titles mentioned above, Laini Taylor and Leigh Bardugo and, ahem, a certain Icons series are really wonderful. Finally, I’d think that Mia would be open to having amazing graphic novels like Saga by Brian K. Vaughn or Fables by Bill Willingham. If you want a good thriller, read Lexicon by Max Barry (though I don’t see that on Mia’s shelf, not as much as, say Prep or The Secret History).

MS: When can we get our hands on the next one?

SF: Ha. Ask my editor! She has it in her hands as we speak! Should be out one year after The Well’s End.

 

 

Guy Kawasaki Reviews Barry Eisler’s "Graveyard of Memories"

51OnO463a2LGuy Kawasaki is the author of APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur; What the Plus!; Enchantment; and nine other books. Previously, he was the chief evangelist of Apple. Kawasaki has a BA from Stanford University and an MBA from UCLA as well as an honorary doctorate from Babson College.

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There are some things in life that you don’t want to end. Massages, Thanksgiving dinner, and Steve Jobs product introductions are in this group. If you’re into thrillers, I would add Graveyard of Memories.

Seriously, this book is insanely great—especially if you’re a Japanese-American like me who isn’t offended by a racial stereotype of stone-cold, martial-arts, samurai-assassin Japanese people. Steve Jobs taught me that it’s better to be feared than loved, anyway.

If you want to savor Graveyard for as long as possible, read every article and watch every video that Barry included in the Acknowledgments before you read the book. By doing this, you’ll learn about paraplegic sex, gun versus knife killing range, flying-triangle strangles, and killing people by electrocution according to Dartmouth.

Then, when you read the book, you’ll have a much better appreciation of what’s going on. It’s like the difference between drinking regular coffee and artisanal coffee—which is another thing you’ll learn about. Rain makes all this action Child’s play. After I read Graveyard, I wanted to go on a tour of Tokyo to visit all the spots that John Rain hung out—up for Raincaching, anyone?

And be sure to pay attention to a character called Gai Kawasaki because he isn’t killed off. Like the Terminator, maybe he’ll be back. Come to think of it, What are the odds that Barry would name a character Gai Kawasaki? I am just so happy that he didn’t name the medical student in the morgue Gai Kawasaki…you’ll see why.

"The Southern Reach Trilogy: Annihilation" by Jeff VanderMeer

51iOjUPf6tLJeff VanderMeer has been a longtime contributor to Omnivoracious.com, so when we heard he had a new book coming out, we were excited to read it. Of course, there's always that concern of "what if it's not that good?" But in this case, those concerns quickly flew out the window. It's even a Best of the Month selection for February.

Below is a photo-essay from Jeff. Enjoy.

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This year, FSG is publishing my Southern Reach trilogy, starting with Annihilation this month, then Authority in May and Acceptance in September. The trilogy chronicles the attempts of a secret government agency, the Southern Reach, to decipher the meaning of a place called Area X. For thirty years, Area X has remained mysterious, remote, and concealed by the government—to all appearances pristine wilderness. For thirty years, too, the Southern Reach has sent expeditions into Area X to try to discover the truth. Some expeditions have suffered terrible consequences. Others have reported nothing out of the ordinary.

The first novel, Annihilation tells the story of the twelfth expedition—through the eyes of a nameless biologist. Their mission is to chart the wilderness, take samples, and expand the Southern Reach’s understanding of Area X. But they soon find out that the information given to them about Area X is incomplete or inaccurate, and that they are being manipulated by forces both strange and all too familiar. An old abandoned lighthouse and a tunnel plunging into the ground hold secrets none of them are prepared to face. A moaning in the distance at dusk seems to have no natural cause.

The second novel, Authority, examines the problem of Area X from within the Southern Reach, through the eyes of John Rodriguez, aka “Control,” who takes over as director of the agency and begins to investigate the fate of the twelfth expedition. Acceptance, the third novel, chronicles the Southern Reach’s increasingly desperate efforts to find answers while bringing the reader back into Area X, albeit under much-changed circumstances.

The exact location of Area X is left vague, but it’s based in part on my hiking in North Florida’s Panhandle region, much of which contains a rich ecosystem of swamp, marsh, pine forest, lakes, and coastal habitats. It’s a place you can get lost in, which is rare these days, and it’s unbelievably beautiful as well. There actually is a lighthouse out at the St. Marks’ Wildlife Refuge, too.

So when Omni asked if I’d give readers some teasing glimpses into the Southern Reach and Area X, I thought it made sense to pair a brief abridged excerpt from each novel with images from the region—all of which are by Tallahassee photographer Riko Carrion.

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From Annihilation: The biologist, setting off for the lighthouse after the disappearance of two expedition members…

“Now a strange mood took hold of me, as I walked silent and alone through the last of the pines and the cypress knees…It was as if I traveled through the landscape with the sound of an expressive and intense aria playing in my ears. Everything was imbued with emotion, awash in it, and I was no longer a biologist but somehow the crest of a wave building and building but never crashing to shore. I saw with such new eyes the transition to the marsh, the salt flats. As the trail became a raised berm, dull, algae-choked lakes spread out to the right and a canal flanked it on the left. Rough channels  of water meandered out in a maze through a forest of reeds…islands, oases of wind-contorted trees, appeared in the distance like sudden revelations...The quality of light upon this habitat, the stillness of it all, the sense of waiting, brought me halfway to a kind of ecstasy.”

 

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From Authority: The director of the Southern Reach, watching the video from a failed expedition into Area X…

The wreckage of the old walls formed deeper shadows against the sky, and he could just see the wide line that was the stone path running through. In the foreground, a woman, the expedition leader, was shouting, “Get her to stop!” Her face was made a mask by the light from the recorder and the way it formed such severe shadows around her eyes and mouth. Opposite, across a kind of crude fire-burned picnic table a woman, the expedition leader, shouted “Get her to stop!” “Please stop!” “Please stop!” A lurch and spin of the camera and then it steadied. The person holding the camera began to hyperventilate, and Control recognized the sound he had heard before was a kind of whispered breathing with a shallow rattle threading through it. Not the wind at all. The woman on the left of the screen then stopped shouting and stared into the camera. The woman on the right also stopped shouting, stared into the camera. An identical fear and pleading and confusion radiated from the masks of their faces toward him, from so far away, from so many years away. He could not distinguish between the two manifestations, not in that murky light.

Then, sitting bolt upright, even knowing what was to come, Control realized it was not dusk that had robbed the setting behind them of any hint of color. It was more as if something had interceded on the landscape, something so incredibly large that its edges were well beyond the camera’s lens. In the last second of the videotape, the two women still frozen and staring, the backdrop seemed to shift and keep shifting…

 

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From Acceptance, an expedition passing by the lighthouse once more…

The lighthouse rose from fog and reflections like a mirror of itself, the beach gray and cold, the sand rasping against the hull of the boat as they abandoned it in the shallows. The waves came in small and half-curling like the froth of malformed questions. The lighthouse did not resemble her memory of it, for its sides had been scoured by fire, discoloration extending all the way to the top, where the lens, the light within, lay extinguished. The fire had erupted from the landing windows as well, and in combination with the bits of broken glass, and all of the other talismans human beings had rendered up to it over the years, gave the lighthouse the appearance of something shamanistic. Even the haphazard wall put up by long-dead defenders contributed to the impression that it was hiding, in a useless attempt to fit in with its surroundings. Reduced now to a daymark for their boat, the simplest of its functions, the one task that, unperformed, made a lighthouse no longer of use to anyone. “Burned by the border commander,” they had been told. “Burned because they didn’t understand it—and the journals with it.”

Did the journals remain regardless, reconstituted, were they now to enter, walk up into the light room, undo the trap door, stare down as had the biologist? Would the reflected light from those frozen accounts irradiate their thoughts, contaminate their dreams, forever trapped by that vision? Or would they find just a mountain of ashes? She did not want to find out.

 

100 Books to Read in a Lifetime, a List from the Amazon Editors

We've spent the last few months having some very interesting meetings....

When we got the idea to put together a list of 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime, we thought "how hard could it be?" Answer: it's extremely difficult to winnow down a lifetime of reading into 100 books.

But after a lot of discussion, pleading, reading, rereading, and sometimes outright arguing, we now have our list. You can see it here.

There's also an opportunity for you to join the conversation over at Goodreads, where readers are adding their own favorites and voting on the list that's accumulating. There's some interesting crossover between the two lists, and many of the popular readers' picks are books that we struggled over while creating our list. More on that at another time.

Here's our Editorial Director, Sara Nelson, talking to the Huffington Post about 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime. We know you won't agree with all our picks. It's inevitable. But it's also half the fun.

 

Bernard Cornwell, Author of "The Pagan Lord," Muses on the Path to Christianity

51Ru+zFMMPLEditor's note: Bernard Cornwell's The Pagan Lord is the seventh book in his Saxon Tales series, which started in 2004 with The Last Kingdom. Cornwell recently sent us this essay, in which he examines the spread of Christianity through Europe. It's not the typical Christmas story, but it will be an interesting read for some of our readers.

He was the ‘red ravager’, described as ‘cruel from a child’, a warlord, a rapist, a thief, a murderer and an inveterate enemy of the church.  He is also one of our greatest heroes, so how did King Arthur turn from being a villain into a shining exemplar of Christian chivalry? The answer is syncretism, the merging of religious beliefs. The early saints’ lives of the Celtic church depicted Arthur as a murderous pagan, but unable to eradicate him from popular legend the church simply recruited him so that instead of searching for Bran’s cauldron he pursues the Holy Grail, and instead of being a persecutor of Christians he becomes their champion.

We live in a world of syncretism. The names of January, March, April, May and June all derive from pagan gods, as do the names of our days. We knock on wood, avoid sitting thirteen to dinner, give presents at Christmas and millions believe their destiny is foretold by the stars. Christianity attempted to eradicate such paganism, yet the old heathen names, traditions and beliefs persist like junk DNA in our cultural genome. How on earth did that happen? 

A better question might be why our European ancestors became Christian in the first place. A believer would surely answer that the manifold truth of the religion prevailed over ignorant superstition, but the very persistence of those superstitions suggests that the answer is not quite that simple.  A Roman, before the era of Christianity, would have accepted that there were many gods and seen nothing strange in worshipping one, two or even three hundred of them, but he or she would have found it very odd indeed to be told there was only one god, and that this sole deity was, above all things, jealous.  So how did an intolerant monotheism win out against the tolerant polytheism that had prevailed for so long?

CornwellOne answer is that Christianity proved more profitable. There is a telling story about King Edwin of Northumbria, a powerful pagan who ruled what is now northern England and southern Scotland in the 7th Century. He probably worshipped the Norse gods like Thor and Woden, but at some point he encountered a Christian missionary who suggested that success in war and material prosperity would follow a conversion. Edwin put that to the test and god came through with a battlefield triumph and massive amounts of plunder. The king’s chief pagan priest told Edwin that the old gods had never shown such favor and that Northumbria should therefore convert, which it duly did. The story echoes the experience of Constantine, the Roman Emperor who converted because the Christian god gave him victory over Maxentius. It is a common enough tale. In the early 10th Century a Viking named Hrolf took land in what is now Normandy and the treaty confirming his possession insisted he became a Christian. ‘Paris,’ Henry IV of France declared when he changed from Protestant to Catholic, ‘is worth a mass.’  The Duchy of Normandy (which led to the throne of England) proved well worth a mass too.

The early Christian missionaries targeted such rulers. The17th century Treaty of Westphalia brought peace to war-torn Europe with the famous settlement of cuius regio, eius religio which we might translate as ‘his state, his religion’.  That, of course, decided between Catholic and Protestant, but it applied in early mediaeval Europe too. Convert the king and the king would put pressure on his subjects to conform. Pope Gregory the Great, the 6th Century pontiff, had no qualms about advising Christian magnates to put up their tenants’ rents if they resisted conversion. There is a deal of self-interest here. Christianity managed to persuade ruler after ruler that material wealth and martial victory would be theirs if they changed religion, but plainly the Christian god was not going to give every ruler victory nor spread the wealth evenly, so a second lure was needed; magic. The Christians disdained to call it magic, though if we saw someone hang their cloak on a sunbeam, as Saint Brigid did, we might be forgiven for suspecting trickery. The early church annals are replete with such miracles; the dead are raised, the sick healed, crops saved, and wonders performed, all proving that Christian magic was far more powerful than pagan sorcery. And persecution of rival sorcery went on well into the seventeenth century, as the people of Salem learned to their discomfort.

51PrYqbtDHLYet the church never entirely defeated paganism. They co-opted it when they could by building their churches on the sites of pagan shrines and transmuting pagan celebrations into Christian feasts. Samhain, the Celtic day of the dead when food and drink were put at the door to avert vengeance, was turned into Halloween’s trick or treat.  The Venerable Bede, writing sometime around 700 AD, recorded the spring-time feast celebrating Eostre, a goddess of fertility. Some scholars contend that the name Easter refers to a point of the compass, but Bede, closer than they to the struggle between Christianity and paganism, makes the connection explicit. Easter, Christianity’s most joyous and sacred festival, is named for a pagan goddess, while the giving of Christmas gifts is most likely a holdover from Saturnalia, the Roman midwinter celebration.  So people had to be seduced into the new religion by proof that it was more profitable than the old, and by co-opting the old when it proved too powerful to destroy.

There is a common Christian complaint that crass materialism undermines our spirituality, but perhaps the complainants should remember that such materialism was used to spread the gospel in the first place. And, to ask Yeats’s famous question, what rough beast is slouching toward Bethlehem to be born? Look for a beast that offers wonders and, more importantly, material benefits. But whatever comes Wednesday will still remain Woden’s day and Thursday will forever belong to Thor. The pagan gods are with us still.

Bernard Cornwell was born in London and now lives in the United States. In addition to his hugely successful Sharpe novels, he is the author of the Starbuck Chronicles, the Warlord trilogy, the Grail Quest series, the Alfred series, and the Saxon Tales series.  His newest novel is The Pagan Lord (Harper, January 7, 2014).

Oprah's Book Club 2.0: "The Invention of Wings" by Sue Monk Kidd

The_Invention_of_Wings3Oprah Winfrey has announced her next pick in Oprah's Book Club 2.0!

The book is The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, the celebrated author of The Secret Life of Bees.

Set in the early 19th century, The Invention of Wings revolves around two women: Hetty "Handful" Grimke, a slave girl living in Charleston, and the Grimke's young daughter, Sarah. The book begins on Sarah's eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership of ten-year-old Handful. 

Based on the real life Grimke sisters, who defied great odds to help launch the abolition movement in the United States, this is a marvelous novel. The story spans thirty five years, as the lives of Handful and Sarah become intertwined in a complex dance of two women striving for lives of their own, shaping each other's destinies, marked by guilt, estrangement, and the search for authenticity in defiance of social norms.

Here's Oprah herself on The Invention of Wings:

 


Sara Says: Oprah's New Book Club Pick is Same Old Song, Only Better

 

It's All Good: A Look at the Goodreads Choice Awards

Every year the good people at Goodreads ask their readers to vote in a variety of categories--culminating in early December with the announcement of the Goodreads Choice Awards winners--and every year the program seems to get bigger and bigger. During the season when anyone with any book authority (including the Amazon Editors) comes out with a Best-of list, the Choice Awards truly represent the people's choice.

Here's a look at some of the winners.

  • BrownKhaled Hosseini's wonderful And The Mountains Echoed was the top pick in fiction. For the record, the Amazon Editors ranked it at #2 in our Best Books of 2013.
  • Dan Brown's Inferno was one of the top sellers of the year at Amazon, so it's no surprise that it landed at #1 in Mystery & Thrillers.
  • The Choice Awards winner in Historical Fiction was another favorite of the Amazon Editors. Kate Atkinson's Life After Life was our top pick for Best Books of the Year So Far (which came out in June). It's nice to see that the people agree.

You can see all the Goodreads Choice Awards winners here.

Let us know your favorite read of the year.

 

Best Books of 2013: Business & Investing

BOTY13_B&IA lot of fine business books were published this year. Big Data helped to popularize one of the catchiest business terms of the year. Who Owns the Future? stirred our thoughts on the relationship between technology and culture. But one book really took the prize.

Before that, some other highlights:

Even two famous basketball coaches got into the game:

Sandberg._V374013687_But the 500 pound gorilla of the year in business books was Lean In, in which Sheryl Sandberg urges women to stop apologizing for their success, while encouraging women (and men) to re-examine their business and home relationships. Not only was it one of the top business books of the year, it was one of the top books of the year. Maybe it's more like an 800 pound gorilla.

For more on Lean In, see Sara Nelson's Some Things You Might Not Know About Sheryl Sandberg.

For more on the Best Books of 2013, go here.

 

Nelson Mandela Dead at 95

MandelaNelson Mandela, one of the most iconic figures of our time, has died. He was 95 years old.

Mandela had not appeared publicly since 2010 when he attended the World Cup final in Johannesburg, the first held on the African continent. He remained a paragon of dignity and humanism, even as he quietly spent his final years in his childhood home in the nation's Eastern Cape Province. 

Born on July 18, 1918, Mandela was eventually expelled from University College of Fort Hare for protesting apartheid, the system that he would ultimately see overthrown. He helped to form the youth league of the National African Congress, pushing for that body to take more radical steps against the white minority South African government. In 1956, he was charged with high treason; following a five-year trial, he was acquited. The ANC's tactics grew more militant over time, a process that he encouraged, and in 1964 he was sentenced to life in prison.

At the trial, he made this statement: "I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."

He would spend 27 years in incarceration before finally being set free.

On February 11th, 1990, Mandela walked out of prison to shouts and applause, his fist raised above his head. He was elected President of South Africa in 1994, promising to serve only one term, which he completed in 1999. Mandela's politics stressed forgiveness over vengeance, and as president he famously established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate crimes committed under apartheid. Bishop Desmond Tutu was appointed chair to the Commission, which granted individual amnesty in exchange for testimony about apartheid-era crimes.

After retiring from politics, he continued to work on the global stage, championing human rights and world peace, and taking up the fight against AIDS.

His death was announced by South African President Jacob Zuma on late Thursday, who said of him, "What made Nelson Mandela great was precisely what made him human. We saw in him what we seek in ourselves."

 

Daniel Menaker on The New Yorker, on Writers, the Drive to Succeed, and More

PhotomenWhen it comes to literary careers, Daniel Menaker's reads like a dream-come-true. After 26 years at The New Yorker, where he was a fiction editor (and where his own stories were published), he went on to work as an editor at Random House and Harper Collins, eventually landing as Editor-in-Chief at Random House. His new book My Mistake is a fascinating  in-depth recollection of his experiences, filled with charm, genuine insight, and some titillating detail.

I recently talked to Menaker about his book. To read the names in the interview alone--Gina Centrello (publisher and president of Random House), Ann Godoff (former publisher of Random House, current head of the Penguin Press), Alice Munro (just won the Nobel Prize), William Maxwell and William Shawn (titans at The New Yorker), John Cheever, Tina Brown, etc., etc.--is to realize the scope of his experience. And yet, reading his book it became clear that he generally considered himself both insider and outsider.

We talked about that, and a lot more. Click the link below to listen to the interview. His is a life well-lived.

 

DanMenakerInterviewMP32

 

 Photo credit: Katherine Bouton

 

MyMistake

Amazon Asks David Baldacci, Author of "King and Maxwell"

With the release of his latest novel King and Maxwell, we caught up to David Baldacci to give him the Amazon Asks treatment.

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Describe your book in 10 words or less?  

My sleuths help a son whose dead father isn’t dead.

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

W is for Wasted; Thomas Jefferson, The Art of Power; The Reluctant Tuscan; The Hamlet. I multi-read!

Favorite books of all time? 

Sophie’s Choice, The Cider House Rules, To Kill A Mockingbird, A Tale of Two Cities

Book that made you want to become a writer? 

Eudora Welty’s and Raymond Carver’s short stories.

Most memorable author moment? 

Being mistaken for John Grisham. What an ego stroke that was.

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

Seeing the future. At least then I can see my mistakes coming.

What are you obsessed with now? Baldacci-David-credit-Alexander-James-for-KING-AND-MAXWELL

Fantasy stories.

What are you stressed about now? 

Holidays coming.

What are you psyched about now?

Holidays coming.

What's your most prized/treasured possession?

My kids. I know, awwww.

Pen Envy - Book you wish you'd written?

A Tale of Two Cities

What's next for you?

An eBook-only short story titled “Bullseye” in February. The YA fantasy, The Finisher, in March and a new Will Robie thriller, titled The Target, in April. I’m also working on a new thriller for the fall of 2014. Other than that, I’ve got nothing going on.

What's the last dream you remember?

I’m on a stage holding a statuette and thanking some sort of Academy for their vote. Not really sure what that was about.

Favorite line?

A legal one. The slippery slope is indeed slippery. In that one phrase is about as much wisdom as you can pack into six words.

Favorite method of procrastination? Temptation? Vice?  

Procrastination: Boating, walking while daydreaming, kayaking. Temptation: Going out to eat. Vice: A bottle of Amarone wine followed by another and so on and so on….

What do you collect? 

First edition novels and custom pens.

Best piece of fan mail you ever got?

Many that begin with, “Thank you, Mr. Baldacci, your books have gotten me to be a reader again.”

 

See all of David Baldacci's books.

Introducing the Amazon Editors' Best Books of the Year

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Each month the Amazon book editors hold a number of meetings, both official and ad hoc, to discuss the best books we've read, culminating in our Best Books of the Month selections. Those lists lead us to this time of year, in which we take a look at our favorites-- including upcoming books through the end of December, and the few that might have slipped through the cracks the first go around. And after a lot more discussion (sometimes heated), and rounds of votes, we arrive at our Best Books of the Year.

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is our pick as the Best Book of 2013. In some ways, that came as no surprise to us (although it did come as a result of a healthy and prolonged discussion). Our intrepid, extremely well-read director, Sara Nelson, jumped on The Goldfinch early on, singing its praises to anyone who would listen. And she started months before the book was even published. The Goldfinch has just debuted at #2 on the New York Times bestseller list, but it lands at #1 for us. To echo what some are already saying, it's the kind of novel that only comes around every decade or so: arguably Dickensian in its treatment of Theo, a 14-year-old boy who loses his mother, steals a painting, and sets off on a journey populated by a rich cast of memorable characters.

Our number two pick is Khaled Hosseini's And the Mountains Echoed, a book as well-written and deeply moving as his first two novels (The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns), proving perhaps that lightninig can strike thrice.

The number three book on the Best Books of the Year list is David Finkel's phenomenal Thank You for Your Service, a nonfiction account of the hopes and pain that soldiers carry back with them from war. It's not an easy read, because the subject isn't an easy one, but I could argue that it's the most important book on this list. The writing is exquisite, the compassion disarming.

The fourth book on the list was our #1 book when we announced our Best Books of the Year So Far back in June. Chances are you're already familiar with Kate Atkinson's Life After Life, a brilliant, multi-layered novel in which her protagonist moves through multiple lives, each one an iteration on the last, flirting with the balance between choice and fate. It deserves all the accolades it has received.

Finally, one of the ones that got away the first time. Sort of, at least. Pilgrim's Wilderness: A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier was a category selection in our Best Books of July, but it didn't make our main Best of the Month list. Chalk up its high place on the Best of the Year list to a classic word-of-mouth story. It was only later that this nonfiction saga of Robert “Papa Pilgrim” Hale, his wife Country Rose, and their 15 children living in the depths of Alaska started getting passed around among the Amazon editors. (A few read it back in July, but not all.) This compelling story, filled with dark secrets and surprising disclosures, eventually consumed us so much that we felt we had to give it a high ranking on the Best Books of the Year. We believe readers will not be disappointed.

Of course there are lots of other great books in the top 100, and in our dozens of Best Books of the Year categories. We've put so much into this year of reading and discussing, and sometimes arguing, that it's a thrill to finally be able to share the Best Books of 2013 with you. There's something for everyone here, so enjoy!

Talking with Donald Driver, Author of "Driven"

51nwBsnc4JLMaybe you saw him win the Super Bowl.

Maybe you saw him win the Mirror Ball.

And whether you're a football fan or a fan of Dancing With the Stars (or like me, a fan of both--yes I'll admit it), there's a very good chance you know who Donald Driver is. He's got a killer smile and killing moves, and he kind of seems perfect in a way. But he's not. He's made mistakes, and he deals with them with disarming honesty in his autobiography Driven. It's all there--the highs and lows, and the lessons he's learned along the way.

Recently, I got the chance to ask him about his book and his life.

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Chris Schluep: You are very honest about your rough childhood. Was it difficult to open up about the crime and poverty that pervaded your youth?

Donald Driver: I have always viewed sharing my story as an opportunity—an opportunity to show kids who are going through some of the same things I went through that there is a better way. I want kids to know that no matter where they’re from or what they are going through, nothing is impossible. All you need is a dream and the determination to achieve it, no matter what obstacles are in your way.

CS: As a reader, one of my major takeaways from Driven was that it's okay to make mistakes. Was this an important message for you to get across to people?

DD: Yes! It’s okay to make mistakes, but you have to own them and learn from them so you don’t make them again in the future.

CS: You were a low draft pick coming out of college—making the Packers wasn't a shoo-in. How did you motivate yourself to succeed?

DD: I saw where I came from and knew I didn’t want to go back to living that life. I remember lying in bed with my brother when we were kids (we had to share a bed) and telling him, “I’m going to get us out of this. I’m going to make it.” I didn’t want my family to struggle and I was going to do anything and everything to make the team and ensure they wouldn’t have to anymore.

CS: When you came to Green Bay, you weren't even sure where it was on a map. But when you retired from football, you were given the key to the city. How did Green Bay change you?

DD: It expanded my family by a few million people! The way Packers fans embraced me from day one, and the love they showed me throughout my entire fourteen-year career, it truly does feel like they are part of my family. The fans mean the world to me and I cannot thank them enough for their support.

CS: You had the benefit of playing with greats like Brett Favre, which taught you a lot. As your career progressed, was it important for you to provide similar mentoring to younger players on the team?

DD: It was important because showing those young guys the ropes not only helps them make your football team better on the field, it also helps them learn the right things to do and say off of it. I was fortunate to have a few vets looking after me, it’s one of those things you just try to pay forward when it’s your turn.

CS: You got down to 2 percent body fat to perform on Dancing with the Stars. Was winning the Mirror Ball as difficult as winning the Super Bowl? Is that even a fair comparison?

DD: I think it’s a fair comparison because they were both incredibly tough to accomplish. There would be days where my partner, Peta, and I would practice for ten or twelve hours. But winning the Super Bowl took me twelve years to accomplish, so I think I have to give that the edge.

Man Booker Prize Goes to "The Luminaries"

41Adtc6kT7LShe’s young, she’s talented, and she just won the Booker. 28-year-old Eleanor Catton started writing her doorstop of a novel, The Luminaries, when she was 25 years old. She must have had an idea she was good:  she’d already written one book, The Rehearsal, which received critical praise, and in 2008 she was awarded a fellowship to the Iowa Writer’s Workshop.

But to go on to win the Booker, the UK’s preeminent book award, is quite a feat. She beat out a who’s who of authors to get the award: Jhumpa Lahiri, Colm Toibin, Ruth Ozeki, even Jim Crace (who, Philip Roth-style, had announced his retirement from writing earlier in the year).

The Luminaries, which was an Amazon Best of the Month selection in Literature & Fiction, is part historical fiction, part mystery, and a whole lot of good writing. The story takes place in New Zealand in 1866. Walter Moody, just-arrived to find his fortune, fairly quickly discovers himself among twelve important men of the community who are trying to solve a recent crime. As Lucy Scholes put it in a Guardian review from last month (and let’s face it, she nailed it), the book is “a tale of adultery, theft, conspiracy, trafficking, blackmail and murder set against the backdrop of the gold rush, opium dens, seances and tarot cards -– but The Luminaries is a dazzling feat of a novel, the golden nugget in this year's Man Booker longlist, a pastiche quite unlike anything I've ever come across, so graceful is its plotting and structure.”

As I read this book, I kept going back to Scholes' review in my mind, to its accurate description of the novel and to her almost-prediction that it should win. Would the Man Booker Committee agree with her?

Now we have our answer.

Congratulations to Eleanor Catton. We can't wait to see what you do next.

Canadian Author Alice Munro Wins 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature

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Alice Munro, the Canadian short story writer, has been named the winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature. In recent years, the prize has gone to an international cast of authors: China’s Mo Yan in 2012, the Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer in 2011, the Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa in 2010, and Herta Müller in 2009, a German novelist and poet born in Romania.

Ms. Munro, who is 82, has had a long and distinguished career built exclusively on the short story. Her win is notable for a number of reasons—she is the 13th woman to win the award since 1901, and her naming comes at a time when many see a resurgence in the popularity of the short story.

In a statement released by Knopf, her American publisher, Munro had this to say: "When I began writing there was a very small community of Canadian writers and little attention was paid by the world. Now Canadian writers are read, admired and respected around the globe.  I’m so thrilled to be chosen as this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature recipient. I hope it fosters further interest in all Canadian writers. I also hope that this brings further recognition to the short story form."

Munro began her career at a relatively late age. She was 37 years old when her first collection, Dance of the Happy Shades, was published in 1968. Although she has stated that she originally considered short story writing as “practice,” Munro stuck with the form. It has served her and her many readers well. She is a recognized master, a writer who can at once be considered a regional writer—her stories are almost exclusively set in rural Canada—but whose treatment of relationships, subtle humor, and play with the chronology of storytelling have made her a world-wide star. Before the announcement, the Japanese writer Haruki Murakami was listed as the front-runner—given 5-2 odds by Ladbrokes, the British bookmaker. Munro had been given 4-1 odds.

Winning the Nobel represents a financial windfall for Munro. She will receive 8 million Swedish kronor, which is about $1.2 million. The prize committee generally calls the winner by phone; it is reported that they had to leave a message for Ms. Munro, who was eventually notified by her daughter that she had been awarded the prize.

Munro is the author of 14 short story collections, the most recent being Dear Life, published in 2012. Last year, she informed The Globe & Mail that it would be her last.

Brilliant and Forceful: Editor Benjamin Griffin Discusses the "Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume Two"

Twain2

The editors at The Mark Twain Project at the University of California, Berkeley have undertaken something extraordinary. Reading through the Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 2, one can't help but wonder if they knew what they were getting themselves into when they started. This is an immense, comprehensive, endlessly fascinating and entertaining book that reveals Twain in ways that most autobiographies—or biographies, for that matter—can only sniff at. One thing's for sure: they didn't know they were working on a runaway best seller when they published Volume One in 2010 (more on that in the interview below).

Omnivoracious talked to co-editor Benjamin Griffin to get his take on the project.

_______________________________________________

 

Chris Schluep: How long have you been working on this project? How did the project come to be?

Benjamin Griffin: I’ve been working at the Mark Twain Project since 2005, but that makes me relatively “new”; my co-editor, Harriet Smith, for just one example, has been here thirty-five years. The Project exists because the UC Berkeley Library has the Mark Twain Papers—the manuscripts that he left to his daughter when he died. The Papers have been here as a special collection in the library since 1949, but it wasn’t until the 1960s that it became possible to publish them at will. So the Project is like several things rolled into one: it’s a manuscript archive, it’s a publication program, it’s a library and research center on Mark Twain and his times. The Autobiographyis just the latest of more than twenty-five volumes we’ve published in what will eventually be the first complete edition of Mark Twain’s works.

CS:  Did you have any idea that Volume One would be as successful as it was?

BG: None whatsoever. UC Press’s earliest estimate of a print run was 7,000 copies; I thought that sounded ambitious. Probably the editors are really the last people to ask; we had been working on Mark Twain’s Autobiography for years, and maybe if we’d been “fresher” to it we’d have grasped its popular appeal. Or maybe it’s me; I remember back in 1980 I said “no one’s going to want a ‘personal computer.’” So naturally Volume One sold half a million copies. And it was the holiday season, with retailers trying to acquire stock, and book-lovers trying to get first printings – it was like Wonkamania.

CS:   Did that add pressure to the work you were doing on Volume Two?

BG: Nope. Because by the time Volume One was in stores, we were halfway through editing Volume Two. Right now we’re halfway through editing Volume Three. Maybe I should say Harriet and my co-editors are halfway through; I’m falling behind in my editing because I have to do a lot of interviews. Anyway, we’re always working as steadily and as quickly as we can, and it’s done when it’s done.

515a3+7FWDLCS:   The original papers have been described as “rambling.” How did you go about organizing the autobiography? How much did you have to cut out?

BG: “Rambling” is such an ugly word. What about “sprawling”? Or, say the book “takes in” many different types of material – that it’s omnivoracious. As for organizing, and omitting things, that we don’t do. Earlier editions only printed what was “interesting.” They were trade editions, and meant to be marketable. And so they cut things. One truncated edition rearranged the text in the order of the events of Mark Twain’s life, like a conventional memoir, which is not how he wrote it. I think it’s interesting that these redacted editions turned out not to be very popular or marketable, whereas the Project’s complete edition has been taken up by the public. Interesting and encouraging.

CS:   There’s a conversational tone to the papers—they are very personal for the most part, addressing his day-to-day thoughts and observations, sometimes angry and often arrestingly compassionate and thoughtful. But there are times when the autobiography takes on a more self-conscious tone, and it’s apparent that Twain is addressing his own “brand.” He’s tackling so much in this work. The more I read, the more I began to understand just how complex he was. Interested in the world. A great thinker with a contemporary voice. A guy who wanted to make money. This is a long lead up to my question, but how do you summarize Twain the man? How do you summarize the autobiography?

BG: Frankly, I wouldn’t dare. Mark Twain wrote: “What a wee little part of a person’s life are his acts and his words! His real life is led in his head, and is known to none but himself.” He keeps coming back to the frank admission that a totally truthful autobiography can’t be written. And yet his autobiography, just because it spills over into so many areas of life, is uniquely revealing of his mind and his world. He seems to be many men, yet the final impression is of someone definitely singular.

CS:   How has this project changed your view of Twain?

BG: When you work on one author during most of your waking hours, you no longer have a “view” of him. He becomes the element in which you live. It would be interesting to have Twain’s view of us—risky, too. I take comfort from the fact that he cared passionately about his works being correctly printed.

CS:   When will Volume Three be released, and can you give a hint at what readers can expect?

BG: “Another damned, thick, square book,” as the Duke said to Gibbon! Volume Three is projected for 2015. It’s uncategorizable, like the other volumes, but it will contain a long appendix of special interest, the much-talked-about Ashcroft-Lyon Manuscript. It’s not part of the Autobiography but this seems the best place to print it. It’s a searing indictment of Twain’s secretaries, who he thought were conspiring against him. It doesn’t show him at his most lovable, but it does show him, in the last year of his life, writing brilliantly and forcefully; and it’s important to Twain scholars—quite apart from its interest as scandal.

Amazon Asks: Jason Mott, Author of "The Returned"

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Jason Mott has a lot to be happy about. His novel The Returned received multiple starred reviews. It hit the New York Times best seller list. And ABC Studios picked up television rights, with the show already slated for the 2013-2014 midseason. USA Today describes the book as "a tense and touching treatise on life, death and life again, centered on an aging couple dealing with the resurrection of their 8-year-old boy nearly 50 years after he drowned in a river."

We reached out to the author, who is currently on tour, with our "Amazon Asks" questions. Read on to learn more about him. (Who knew Jason Mott was a die-hard fanboy?)

 

Describe your book in 10 words or less?

A family is given a second chance at life and love.

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

Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Favorite books of all time?  

Grendel by John Gardner, The Lord of the Flies by William Golding, The Epic of Beowulf (various translations).

Book that made you want to become a writer?  

Grendel by John Gardner gave me “permission to write.”

Most memorable author moment? 

Speaking with a woman who told me how The Returned helped her cope with the loss of her mother.

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

I’d love to be able to read minds.

What are you obsessed with now?

B movies. I’ve always been obsessed with them, and now I love how they’re getting so much attention.  When SHARKNADO took over Twitter, that was hilarious.

What are you stressed about now?

Just trying to keep up with life on the road during the book tour.

What are you psyched about now?

I’ve started working on a new writing project, and that always excites me.

What's your most prized/treasured possession?

A copy of one of the first short stories I ever wrote.

Pen Envy - Book you wish you'd written?

Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo.

What's next for you? 

My editor and I have just started revising my next novel manuscript. And I’m also playing with a screenplay. Hopefully that’ll lead somewhere.

What's the last dream you remember?

Honestly, I had a dream about being interviewed. I think it’s the byproduct of being on a book tour.

Favorite line?

“Let me live in greatness or courage, or here in this hall welcome my death.” – The Epic of Beowulf

Favorite method of procrastination? Temptation? Vice?

B movies. Just can’t get enough of them.

What do you collect?

Comic books. I’m a die-hard fanboy.

Best piece of fan mail you ever got?

When my superhero-themed poetry collection came out, someone actually sent me some old Superman comics along with a very personal note about what the comics meant to them.  It was incredibly thoughtful.

Omnivoracious™ Contributors

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