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Dean Koontz Interviews His Dog, Anna, Who Interviews Him

Dean Koontz's latest novel is The City. On December 9 he's publishing a Kindle Single, Odd Thomas.

His dog Anna's, ahem, new book is Ask Anna: Advice for the Furry and Forlorn.

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Dean Interviews Anna

AnnaDEAN: Hey, sweetie, how does it feel to see your first book, Ask Anna, in print?

ANNA: Better than a bee stinging me on the nose, maybe not as good as being given a membership in the Sausage-of-the-Month Club. I'm a little worried about the celebrity thing, so I've ordered a custom disguise that makes me look like a poodle.

DEAN: There's an article in your book that reveals how people like Noah and Albert Einstein changed history by listening carefully to their dogs' advice. Are you aware of any more recent famous people who failed to heed the advice of their dogs?

ANNA: Tragically, yes. Mr. Johnny Depp's dog warned him not to play Tonto.

DEAN: Is there any down side to a dog being a successful author?

ANNA: Carpal-tunnel paw. Hollywood wanting to buy the film rights and recast me as a gerbil to be played by Adam Sandler in a furry suit. Perhaps a catty review here and there. Static electricity from the computer screen standing my fur on end, so that for hours at a time I go around looking as if I stuck my tongue in a wall plug.

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Anna Interviews Dean

Koontz2ANNA: Hey, Dad, what's it like having to share the limelight with me now that I'm a published author?

DEAN: I have no jealousy whatsoever. I hope you enjoy a career that is bigger than mine. And don't worry: I would never--never!--put one of those annoying post-surgery cones around your head for no reason at all except envy or something. And I would never--never!--change your name to Pussycat and make you answer to it.

ANNA: Good to know. Sometimes we go for a ride in the car and you let me drive, and then you insist on sticking your head out the window. Are you mocking me when you do that?

DEAN: No, short stuff. It's fun! All the great smells!! My ears flapping in the breeze!!! People pointing and laughing!!!!

ANNA: Since my book is about advice, is there any advice I've given you that you're sorry you didn't take?

DEAN: That incident with the angry ferret comes to mind. But they sewed the thumb back on nearly where it was before, and I can still hitchhike with it if I ever need to.

ANNA: Hey, Dad, let me put the loop of my leash around your hand, and I'll take you for a walk.

DEAN: Great! Can we go to the park? Can we? Can we? Will you throw the ball for me? Better yet, the stick! Will you throw the stick?!?

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> See all of Dean Koontz's books

> See Anna on Facebook

Excerpt: "The Fall: A Father's Memoir in 424 Steps," by Diogo Mainardi

ThefallBrazilian author and journalist Diogo Mainardi's unflinching story about raising a son, Tito, with cerebral palsy, The Fall: A Father's Memoir in 424 Steps is comprised of 424 short passages, each representing Tito's steps walking toward the hospital whose errors caused his disability. 

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Just before he was 6 months old, Tito went for another examination at Padua Hospital.

His neurologist lay him face down on the stretcher. At that moment, he should have rolled over onto his back. Instead, he merely waved his little arms about, but -- like a turtle -- he was unable to turn over.

That was the first sign that he had cerebral palsy.

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I had found out that my wife was pregnant exactly one year before.

I wrote about it on 23 February 2000 in my column in the magazine Veja.

I started by saying that, up until then, my rejection of fatherhood had been one of the rare, unquestioned certainties of my life. I went on to say that my wish -- and I quote word for word -- was to have "a turtle child, and whenever he became too agitated, I would just have to roll him onto his back and he would lie there, silently waving his little arms."

I got my turtle child.

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Some days after the examination at Padua Hospital, we received the results through the post. According to the neurologist, Tito had suffered "damage to the extrapyramidal system."

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I know how to read.

Reading is my job. I think by reading. I feel by reading. When we received the result of the examination at Padua Hospital, I read all about the extrapyramidal system. Nothing I read prepared me for what we were about to discover.

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Now I know what Tito has.

According to the neurologists who have examined him over the last few years, the damage to his thalamus was caused by his bungled birth. The thalamus is part of the extrapyramidal system. The damage is infinitesimal, so much so that no machine has ever yet managed to detect it. But it's serious enough to affect all his movements.

Tito can't walk, pick things up or talk normally.

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After examining Tito, the neurologist at Padua Hospital sent him to a physiotherapist at Venice Hospital.

During the weeks that followed, the physiotherapist put him through a series of tests.

It was only when all the tests were over that -- with a feeling of fear and panic -- I first heard the term which, from that moment on, would come to dominate my life.

Tito had cerebral palsy.

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The fear lasted a week.

Then it passed.

The reason why it took only a week for the fear to pass was a fall.

Tito was sitting on my lap. I was sitting on the sofa in the living room reading the newspaper. My wife, who was rushing about, caught her foot on the rug and fell flat on her face in front of us. When Tito saw her fall, he laughed out loud. We both pretended to fall over. And he laughed and laughed and laughed. And we laughed with him.

Tito's cerebral palsy immediately became more familiar. Slapstick was a language we all understood.

Tito falls. My wife falls. I fall.

What unites us -- what will always unite us -- is the fall.

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Abbott and Costello Go to Mars: On a voyage into outer space, Lou Costello gets his astronaut's boot caught in a storm drain and falls over when he wrenches it free.

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Francesca Martinez is a comedian.

She has cerebral palsy. All her performances revolve around that topic.

According to her, the term cerebral palsy can only have been invented to induce "fear and panic." That is why she likes to be described as a "wobbly" person. She is always wobbly, always about to fall.

Francesca Martinez's humor -- like Lou Costello's -- takes its inspiration from her falls.

Cerebral palsy is her astronaut boot caught in a storm drain.

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Francesca Martinez told the Daily Mail what had happened to her.

Her cerebral palsy, like Tito's, was caused by a medical error. Her mother was left unattended for some hours because "being a Sunday there were fewer hospital staff on duty." Francesca remained in the womb and was left without oxygen for seven minutes.

Cerebral palsy, she explains, "occurs when part of the brain fails to work. It affects one child in five hundred. Each case is unique, but usually people's muscle control and mobility are affected."

The best way to describe how cerebral palsy affects her is that she appears to be "slightly drunk." Her speech is slurred and her balance wobbly.

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Two weeks after learning that Tito had cerebral palsy, I wrote about it in my column in Veja:

My 7-month-old son has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy. From the outside, that piece of news might seem utterly desperate. From the inside, though, it's different. It was as if they had told me my son was Bulgarian. If I discovered that my son was Bulgarian, the first thing I would do would be to consult a book to find out more about Bulgaria: gross national product, principal rivers, mineral wealth, etc. And that is what I did with cerebral palsy.

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After saying that cerebral palsy was a term that struck fear into the heart and that, for the first time in my life, I belonged to a minority, I ended the column in this shamelessly sentimental way:

I consider myself to be a humorous writer. For me, there is nothing funnier than frustrated expectations.
Frustrated expectations about social progress.
Frustrated expectations about scientific discoveries.
Frustrated expectations about the power of love.
I have always worked from that anti-enlightenment viewpoint. Now I've changed. I now believe in the power of love. Love for a little Bulgarian.

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From that moment on, Tito's cerebral palsy became a recurrent theme in my columns.

Over a period of ten years, I devoted eight columns to him.

If, as Francesca Martinez estimated, cerebral palsy affects, on average, 1 child in 500, I published a column on the subject, on average, every 500 days.

Cerebral palsy affected the lives of my readers as often as it affects life in general.

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In an article in the Daily Telegraph, Francesca Martinez stated: "That's the huge secret about disability -- anyone with experience of it knows that a disabled person is just a person they love."

In my first article about Tito, that was the only "huge secret" I had to reveal.

Astonishingly, for me and for Anna, Tito's cerebral palsy was never a cause for sorrow. Astonishingly, for me and for Anna, Tito's cerebral palsy never seemed a burden.

At 7 months, Tito was simply a person we loved.

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In mid-2001, we took Tito to see a neurologist in New York.

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Tito and me in New York.

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In New York, I became Tito's first mode of transport.

He would point left and I would go left. He would point right and I would go right. He would point at his grandmother and I would hand him over to his grandmother.

Tito would choose my fate by sending me off to the right or to the left.

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The New York neurologist was very encouraging.

After doing a few tests, he predicted that, in two years' time, Tito would be speaking normally. He also predicted that, in four years' time, Tito would be walking on his own.

Both predictions proved false.

Tito never spoke normally. He never walked on his own.

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Christy Brown had cerebral palsy.

During the first few months of his life, his parents took him to various neurologists in Dublin.

They all said that Christy Brown would remain forever in a state of "torpor," because he was an "idiot," "mentally defective," a "hopeless case" and "beyond cure."

In his autobiography, My Left Foot, Christy Brown described how he was able to overcome the worst prognoses, finding a way of typing and painting with the big toe of his left foot.

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Like Christy Brown's parents, Anna and I learned to ignore all the doctors' stupid prognoses, whether positive or negative. Like Christy Brown's parents, Anna and I learned to celebrate each step taken by Tito, however wobbly.

After a certain point, we even learned to celebrate his falls. In the early years, Tito would always hurt himself when he fell. Over time, he developed new ways of breaking his falls.

Knowing how to fall is much more valuable than knowing how to walk.

Punk Rock Girl

Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys.: A MemoirViv Albertine's new memoir, Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys. is a book is divided almost straight down the middle. Side One is the story of her upbringing in the north London suburb of Muswell Hill: It's the mid-seventies, and the Sex Pistols are at the head of a massive, angry (or at least frustrated) cultural insurgence. Her rebellious tendencies have led her into the center of punk culture, and inspired by its outsized personalities and  confrontatonal style, she picks up a guitar, forsaking traditional training for the DIY ethos of the day. After her band with the pre-Pistols Sid Vicious (The Flowers of Romance--a possibly sardonic suggestion from Johnny Rotten) fails to launch, Albertine joins forces with The Slits, a ska-infused, all-girl outfit that, through the force of its collective will and audacity, elbows its way to the front of a stage filled with sharp, mostly male elbows. Everyone is wearing Vivenne Westwood's provocative clothing purchased from Malcolm McLaren's infamous boutique, SEX--at least as much as they could afford. Mick Jones of The Clash wanders in and out of the story, first as a gangly proto-punk spending all of his time and loose change trying to put together a band, and later as Albertine's on-again, off-again boyfriend (the classic London Calling track "Train in Vain" was inspired by her). It's a story in the best rock & roll tradition: Initiative leads. Ability chases. Success looms. Then someone bumps the turntable.

Side Two. The band has blown apart. Grownup problems ensue: education and career; marriage and kids; serious illness, divorce, and identity. The actor Vincent Gallo. Albertine moves through all of it, drawing from the same well of determination that compelled her to pick up the guitar for the first time. The two sides of the book may tell very different stories, but they share perspective and style that are both straightforward and ultimately uncompromising. If you love this music (and your library contains titles like Please Kill Me and Richard Hell's I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp), then this book is fascinating and essential. If not, it's fascinating and inspiring. It's occasionally coarse, and often terribly funny and fun.

In the spirit of the title, we asked Albertine three memorable examples of the three main themes: clothes, music, and boys.

 

Clothes, Clothes, Clothes
Your three memorable articles of clothing or outfits, where & when you wore them, where you got them, and what made them special.

My first cool outfit was by mail order, all the rage in the 1960s. It was a purple corduroy three piece suit, a fitted jacket, mini-skirt and hipster bell-bottom trousers with big belt loops. It came in pieces, so my mother had to sew it all together. Best of all there was a "Donovan" peaked cap included, like a Dylan cap, which I wore to death.

When I first went to Vivienne Westwood's shop "Sex" in 1975, I couldn’t believe that what I was thinking about and drawing at art college, someone else had thought to put onto clothes. I’d never thought of combining erotica, feminism and insurgency with items of clothing. I wore this look with my own embellishments from that day onwards and I didn’t have one peaceful journey through London for the next six years because of it.

Viv Albertine by Carolina AmbidaAs my 18-year marriage started to fall apart, because I’d started to play my Telecaster again (still a powerful weapon in the wrong hands), I began to think about how I was dressing. I had become very conventional, not wanting to be noticed, hiding away in a nice house by the coast away from London, and I had to think again about who I was, who I wanted to project with my clothes. You hear all these phrases like "mutton dressed as lamb," but I think good taste is good taste whatever age you are, and clashing prints with cuban heels now or matted hair and loads of black eye-liner back then are good taste - my version of good taste.

Music, Music, Music
Three inspiring/influential/rewarding musical experiences of your life. Bands that you’ve seen, shows that you’ve played, people you’ve met, or any other musical moment.

The first time a live show transported me was when I saw Fleetwood Mac play at a free night-time outdoor concert on a wild piece of land called Hampstead Heath near my home in North London. Everything about the evening was dark and mysterious and forbidden. Fleetwood Mac came on and played "Albatross," the guitars wailed over the tops of the black silhouetted trees, I felt like I was flying and swooping with them.

The second time has to be when I saw the Sex Pistols live at Chelsea School of Art. I was transfixed by Johnny Rotten, not because he was extraordinary, but because he was as near someone like me that I had ever seen on stage and I found that shocking, inspiring and fascinating. He couldn’t sing or play an instrument (like me), he came from North London, a poor family, below-average schooling, bad housing (all like me) and yet unlike me, he wasn’t ashamed, apologetic or embarrassed about any of this. The next day I went out and bought a Les Paul Junior and started to learn to play guitar.

Viv Albertine by Carolina AmbidaI stopped playing music for twenty five years. I felt it wasn’t an interesting medium anymore. By 2008 a couple of things had happened, the internet (making it possible to reach people without the conduit of record company men), I became healthy again and I went back to art school one day a week to explore my thoughts and feelings creatively. All this made me want to pick up the guitar and play and write songs again. Big changes in your life aren’t always about eureka moments, sometimes it’s just painfully slow, hard work and dogged determination.

Boys, Boys, Boys
Three who had a profound effect on her life, good or not so good.

The thing is, in the 1970s, ordinary girls and women were very repressed and oppressed, we had no role models, I never once met an interesting woman, in the arts or music who I could imagine being. They weren’t even in the media. The first woman who resonated with me was Yoko Ono. So I was influenced by boys. I wanted to do things boys did and I dated boys that interested me on that level. That realisation has made boys less interesting to me. What do I want or need from them now? Especially now I have my own home and a child. If it’s just about companionship, for years on end…well, that person is hard to find, male or female.

The three boys I nominate are: my first proper boyfriend, Magnus (who I still know and love, we are neighbours), he was interesting, well-read, an amazing artist, from a poor background, and I followed in his footsteps for a while to gigs and art school. I was thirteen, he was fifteen and we went out together for three years.

Viv Albertine by Carolina AmbidaNumber two has to be Mick Jones (guitarist with the Clash) who I met at art school when I was nineteen. I watched as he tried over and over again to form bands, full of passion, love of music and determination, which was very rare in a young person back then. He was also extremely intelligent, self-taught, interested in politics and all aspects of life. From him I learnt how to run a band. We are still friends and love each other too.

Number three is myself. I am the boy now. I am whole. I don’t look to a man to complete me, to inspire me, to lead me somewhere I haven’t quite got the courage to go to by myself. It’s taken fifty or so years to get here. Love and romance sure do look different from this perspective. Most relationships look a bit pathetic to me to be honest. I am questioning what two people are doing, clinging together for years and years on end, way past the relationship’s sell-by date. I would like a new paradigm to be the norm, but I haven’t figured it out yet.

Photos 1 and 2 by Carolina Ambida; photo 3 courtesy the author

Moosewood Cookbook 40 Years Later: A Guest Post by Mollie Katzen

MoosewoodCkbk400It's hard to believe, but the Moosewood Cookbook turns 40 this year with a beautiful commemorative edition that includes a new introduction by author Mollie Katzen.  

According to the New York Times, Moosewood Cookbook is one of the top ten best-selling cookbooks of all time and for many of us it revolutionized the way we think about vegetarian cooking.  First published as a spiral-bound notebook with hand-written recipes and simple illustrations,  this classic cookbook has stood the test of time and is still one of the most popular guides to making delicious home-cooked vegetarian dishes.  Restaurants today pride themselves on menus highlighting seasonal ingredients, but in the pages of this cookbook Mollie Katzen has been showing home cooks how to make the most of in season fruits and vegetables for decades.

We asked Katzen to write a guest post for us, in celebration of the 40th anniversary of her first cookbook*, and to share her favorite recipe from the book which turns out to be Califlower-Cheese Pie.

*Since Moosewood Mollie Katzen has written several cookbooks, including her most recent, The Heart of the Plate: Vegetarian Recipes for a New Generation.


The original Moosewood Cookbook originated, in part, from random notes used to help keep track of what my friends and I were cooking in the tiny kitchen of our modest 1970s restaurant. “Vegetarian” was in the early stages of becoming a “thing,” but it was highly unofficial. We were greatly inspired by international dishes as remembered from various world travel (actual or via the “ethnic restaurant” route), discovering cuisines from other countries that placed far less emphasis on meat and more on creative preparation of garden- and orchard-sourced ingredients.  (At that time, hardly anyone in the United States had heard of tabouli, pesto, hummus, or many other then-considered-exotic items that are now ubiquitous.)

Our food was largely plant-based, although that term was not yet in anyone’s vocabulary. The notebook was an attempt to more or less standardize our “cuisine,” which was varied and eclectic and often quite spontaneous—determined largely by the produce delivery of the day and the imagination and skill level of the cook. We had a casual approach to everything (including the idea of standardization itself), so this would ideally help us keep things somewhat consistent.  An inveterate journal keeper and art school graduate, I turned these notes into a booklet, speaking with an informal voice through my own hand-lettering (didn’t own a typewriter; computers decades short of existing) and pen-and-ink illustrations.

In 1974, I photocopied the booklet and sold copies through a local bookstore. Over the next couple of years, it ended up selling thousands of copies. In the fall of 1977, the national edition (the one many people have come to know) was first published by Ten Speed Press. It was not an overnight sensation; it actually took a few years to catch on and begin to sell. To this day, amazingly, the Moosewood Cookbook has never been out of print.

For Moosewood Cookbook’s 40th birthday celebration, Ten Speed and I have collaborated on an upgraded package with a fresh new look, built to last. For those of you with old, stained, notated, dog-eared, scotch-taped, rubber-banded (and in some cases, coverless) copies from yesteryear, you might appreciate this newly refreshed edition—whether for yourself or for someone who is new to this tome, inspired more by  curiosity, perhaps, than nostalgia.  In any case, we are thrilled to celebrate this milestone with you.  We hope these recipes—and this style of cooking, in general—will call out to you, giving you a range of ideas to keep your cooking fresh in all ways and helping you make or keep your kitchen a place of creativity and enjoyment.  --Mollie Katzen

 

CauliflowerCheesePieRecipe

 

Best Children's Books of 2014

BOTY2014KidsCollageThis year there seemed to be as many great children's books in the first half of the year as the second, great news for all of us book lovers who didn't have to wait until the big fall books to find the gems.  Case in point, The Pigeon Needs a Bath by Mo Willems--our top pick for 2014 that released in April--is hilarious whether you're 4 or 44. 

Deciding on the top 20 children's books is always difficult, but I won't complain about having so many beloved books to choose from over the course of 2014.  Below is a sampling of the Best Children's Books of 2014, the top five (of a total of 20) across all ages.  You can also see the top 20 for each category:

Top 5 Children's Books of 2014:

1. The Pigeon Needs a Bath! by Mo Willems (ages 3-5): A new book in the beloved Pigeon series, even the flies think the pigeon needs a good scrub.  Hilarity ensues as pigeon does everything he can think of to avoid a bath but when the inevitable happens, the pigeon is pleasantly surprised.

2. The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer Holm (ages 9-12): The clever, funny, and uplifting story of 11-year-old Ellie, who is entering a new chapter of her life when her grumpy scientist grandfather ends up living with them under strange circumstances.  As Ellie discovers new friends and interests, she and her grandfather form a unique bond that results in the gift of possibility for both of them.

3. The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel (ages 9-12): Historical fiction for young readers at it best, The Boundless successfully mixes history, folklore, and imagination into a sweeping adventure story. Will and Maren's paths cross twice around the Boundless, a train of epic proportion.  Though they live very different lives, they are united in the face of the murderers, thieves, and deception aboard the train's inaugural run.  

4. The Heroes of Olympus Book Five: The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan (ages 9-12): The final book in the Heroes of Olympus series, Riordan brings his A-game to end the story of these Greek and Roman demigods' battle to save the world from Gaea's destructive force.  Action-packed adventure, witty characters, and suspense make this one a page-turner from beginning to end.

5. Leroy Ninker Saddles Up: Tales from Deckawoo Drive, Volume One by Kate DiCamillo (ages 6-8): Award winner Kate DiCamillo kicks off a new chapter book series with a character readers may remember from one of ther Mercy Watson books, Leroy Ninker.  A sweet and funny story about a would-be cowboy and the horse he loves, this is a great book for reluctant readers and young enthusiasts alike.

You can see all of our favorite chidlren's books of the year here.

Guest Essay: David Baldacci, on the Origins of "The Escape"

In David Baldacci's latest novel, special agent John Puller hunts down an escaped prisoner who's become the most wanted man in America--his own brother. The Escape is an Amazon Best Book of the Month for November.

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Baldacci2The year was 1983. I was sitting in my law school class at the University of Virginia. It was my first year there and I didn’t really know anyone. We had name placards that we had to slide into slots in front of us so the professor could call on us by name. No pressure. Sitting next to me was a young man in full military dress blues. I found out later the JAG (Judge Advocates General) School--which trained military lawyers--was located right next to the law school. Military lawyers-in-training would also have classes with us regular folks. I remembered being quite impressed. Over three decades later I conjured up that old memory to write a scene in my new novel, The Escape.

In creating the John Puller series and wanting to immerse myself in the military world as much as I could without actually enlisting, I flew to Fort Benning in Georgia to spend three days with the infantry and the elite Army Rangers. (See photos below.) Jumping off parachute towers, firing sniper rifles, escaping from upside down Humvees and trying to keep up with two rock-hard Command Master Sergeants in performing the Army’s functional fitness training regimen was just what I needed to write the sort of books I wanted to. And most importantly of all, listening to soldiers from privates all the way up to generals tell me why they wanted to put on the uniform and risk their lives. That sort of information you simply can’t get by searching online.

The Escape is ultimately a book about brothers. So being the history buff that I am, I included a bit of history about two siblings from long ago, one famous, one not. We all know the story of General George Armstrong Custer, the flamboyant and publicity-seeking Civil War veteran who is best remembered for leading his Seventh Calvary to slaughter at Little Big Horn. What many folks may not know is that George had a younger brother named Thomas Custer, who was awarded not one, but two Medals of Honor during the Civil War for capturing two Confederate Regimental Battle flags. The second instance cost him a gunshot wound to the face, but did not stop him from riding back to his lines with the captured flag. This very same brother, along with an even younger brother, Boston, followed their older brother George to the very end, dying with him at Little Big Horn. Love can truly make you blind. But family is also forever.

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> See all of David Baldacci's books

> Follow him on Twitter

> Visit his website

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Amazon Asks: Patricia Cornwell, on Her New Novel, "Flesh and Blood"

Flesh and Blood is Patricia Cornwell's twenty-second novel featuring forensic sleuth Dr. Kay Scarpetta. This time Scarpetta pursues a sharp-shooting serial sniper, and her investigation leads too close to a family member--her own flesh and blood. Flesh and Blood is an Amazon Best Mystery-Thriller of the Month.

Cornwell

Describe your new book in 10 words?

Cornwell2Scarpetta is unstoppable.

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

My iPhone is loaded with a huge library of Kindle titles that make it easy for me to read while traveling. Some of the latest are Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin, A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and All We Had by Annie Weatherwax.

Top 3-5 favorite books of all time?

Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas, William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, and Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast.

Book that changed your life, or made you want to become a writer?

Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin. Books can change the world and fix what is horribly broken.

What are you obsessed with or stressed about now?

The Bermuda Triangle and Jack the Ripper (not stressed, just hugely motivated).

What's your most prized/treasured literary possession?

A book about Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture that was signed by Agatha Christie (which was a gift from her to someone named "Lucy Boo." I sure wish I knew who that was).

Pen Envy -- book you wish you'd written, or character you wish you’d created?

Okay, I admit I wish I'd created Sherlock Holmes.

What's favorite method of procrastination, temptation or vice?

Playing with our bulldog.

What do you collect?

Art by Dr. Seuss and really cool belt buckles.

Best/worst piece of writing advice you ever got?

Best: Don't take no for an answer. Worst: Do something else because you'll never make a living as a writer.

~

> See all of Patricia Cornwell's books

 

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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Continue reading "Graphic Novel Friday: Grant Morrison's Tragic Triumph" »

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

Omnivoracious™ Contributors

November 2014

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