Blogs at Amazon

Grub for the Game: Tailgate Inspiration

According to Wikipedia, tailgating "often involves consuming alcoholic beverages and grilling food."  What's not to love about that kind of pre-game kick-off?   The art of the tailgate just keeps getting better and that includes the food and drink.  Don't get me wrong, hotdogs will always have a place on the grill, but you wouldn't be out of line to turn them into a signature of sorts with a unique mix of toppings.  If you are one of the many who will put on the team colors (around here that's blue and green--Seahawks--or purple and gold--Huskies), load up the cooler, and hit a stadium parking lot this weekend, let these cookbooks inspire you to some good eating and drinking.

 NFL Gameday Cookbook by Ray Lampe - For those who want to review photo highlights with a barbeque fork in hand.

NFLgamedayCkbk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The American Craft Beer Cookbook by John Holl - Craft beer. It's a good thing. This is about bringing the brewpub to the parking lot.

CraftBeerCkbk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guy on Fire by Guy Fieri - You know this man. Classic red Camaro, extremely blonde hair. Eats at kick-ass local spots across the country.  Appears trustworthy. 

GuyOnFireCkbk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Barbeque! Bible by Steve Raichlen - This is not called the bible for nothin'.  Don't mess with Raichlen when it comes to barbeque--just follow directions, lick your fingers, and take all the credit.

BBQBible

 

Thug Kitchen by Thug Kitchen - Get your veggies and your attitude on with this one.  Go for salads, tacos, or snacks, whatever you choose swearing is a main ingredient and reading the recipes is half the fun.  Dip, dip, pass, motherf*cker.

ThugKitchen

Chasing Paper: The Debt Collection Underground

Bad Paper“Creditors have better memories than debtors.” --Benjamin Franklin

Everyone knows about collections agencies, but how they actually operate is much more interesting than you probably think. Falling somewhere between Glengarry Glen Ross and Mean Streets, Jake Halpern's Bad Paper introduces us to an economy spanning many shades of gray. Halpern's book tracks the descent of "paper" (spreadsheets containing the information of millions of debtors and their debts) as it's sold for pennies on the dollar by banks and credit companies and passed through a network of collectors. Files are often bought and sold multiple times, each transaction stripping away the best remaining prospects as collectors wring paper dry through all manners of persuasion and coercion. Along the way, Halpern encounters first-hand the game's players, from the financiers at the top of the pyramid to mid-level "brokers" and the ground-level phone-jockeys; these are all hard men within their contexts, as one tale of a Tarantino-grade stand-off over stolen information attests. This book is unexpected, and unexpectedly fun.

Read these short biographies of some of the Bad Paper's most interesting players, and check out our Q&A with Halpern below. Bad Paper is a selection for Amazon's Best Books of the Month.

 


 Bad Paper's Cast of Characters by Author Jake Halpern

Aaron Siegel: Private Equity Fund Founder

“All of a sudden, you’re swimming in waters you didn’t really want to swim in – never would have conceived you’d be swimming in.” -- Aaron Siegel

Aaron is a banker who made a big gamble. In 2008, he purchased well over a billion dollars worth of unpaid credit card accounts for pennies on the dollar. What he bought, essentially, were just spreadsheets with names, addresses, phone numbers, and balances of debtors. All went well until some of those accounts were stolen and vanished into the debt underworld. Luckily Aaron had someone to call – a fixer named Branson Wilson who knew just what to do. (See below.)

Brandon Wilson: Debt Broker & Fixer

“I will come back down here, I will take your server, I will burn your agency to the ground, I will come to your house and burn it down, and then I will come back here and burn this store down. Understand?” – Brandon Wilson

Brandon Wilson is a former armed robber who now runs his own collection agency and debt brokerage firm. He also serves as Aaron’s emissary to the collections industry’s many unsavory precincts.

Shafeeq: Debt Collector & Security Specialist

“I can go and shoot a person—an intruder, at your house—and it would be a lot easier to do something like that with the security contract in place. Whereas if I’m just showing up at your house, and I shoot somebody, now there’s a lot more, you know, paperwork.” – Shafeeq

Shafeeq runs one of the collection agencies that Aaron hires to “work” his paper. He is a devout Muslim, who tries to avoid charging interest whenever possible. Shafeeq also runs his own security firm and is licensed to carry a firearm.

Jimmy: Debt Collector from the East Side of Buffalo

“Back when he ran up into my office with that gun, I’ll tell you what, it felt good. My adrenaline was pumping. I wanted to shoot him.” -- Jimmy

After going to jail, Jimmy turned his back on crime and reinvented himself as a debt collector. Even so, sometimes his past catches up with him.

Larry: A Debt Broker Based in Buffalo

“Certain things you don’t want to know, because once you know something, then you become an accessory to it or responsible—so it’s just better not to know, because most of the dealings on the level that we’re on, they’re not legitimate.” – Larry

Larry worked as a debt broker for years and is now trying to make a living as an artist.

Theresa: Debtor

“There are a thousand ways to rip off desperate people. The more desperate you are, and the less you have, the easier it is.” - Theresa

Theresa is a former Marine who fell hopelessly into debt when her marriage ended badly. She paid $2,700 to collectors who claimed to own her debt and then never heard from them again.

 


 

Bad Paper author Jake HalpernQuestions and Answers with Jake Halpern

 

On the surface, debt collection doesn’t seem like the most scintillating topic. How did you get involved with this story?

I know this sounds odd, but this book owes it existence to two people: my mother and Brad Pitt. It began with my mom. She started getting calls from a debt collector over a debt that she didn’t even owe. So I started investigating the debt collections industry and discovered that my hometown – Buffalo, N.Y. – was one of the epicenters. I ended up writing a profile about a collector, from Buffalo, for The New Yorker. After the article comes out, I get a call from Brad Pitt’s producer, telling me that he wants to turn the story into a TV series with HBO. I was shocked. But he was serious. So I end up traveling back to Buffalo, with the screenwriter, and we stay at my parents' house. It was surreal. The screenwriter is staying up on the third floor and my dad and his wife are making meals for him in the kitchen. Anyway, my job on this trip is to line up some interesting people for the screenwriter to meet, so his script feels authentic. Back when I was doing my story for The New Yorker, no one wanted to talk with me. Now, all of a sudden, I am doing a project with “Brad,” and people are tripping over themselves to talk. One night, the screenwriter and I go out to dinner with a banker and a former armed robber who had gone into business with one another. They tell me an incredible tale. They purchased $1.5 billion worth of bad debt for pennies on the dollar. Their aim was to make a fortune. All goes well on this unlikely venture until some of the debt is stolen and the former armed robber must delve into an underworld where debt is bought and sold on street corners. This quest ends in a showdown with guns in the inner city of Buffalo, N.Y. Needless to say, I was hooked on their story.

What was the most unexpected turn the story took?

There were a bunch of unexpected turns. My favorite involved a character named Shafeeq, who was a smart, charming, gun-toting, black, Muslim polygamist. He is a rather minor character in my story, actually, but he played a pivotal role in one dramatic scene – the showdown with guns – and so I really wanted his perspective. I tried to get him to talk for well over two years, but he refused. Then one day he tells me that he will talk, if I travel to Buffalo and meet him at his mosque on the East Side of Buffalo. So I go. I show up at the mosque at sundown and, almost immediately, this very aggressive panhandler accosts me. Then out of the shadows of the mosque steps Shafeeq. He is ENORMOUS, roughly six and a half feet tall, and weighing more than 300 pounds. The panhandler skedaddles and Shafeeq leads me into his mosque, which is situated in a beautiful old church. We talk for the next three hours. During this time, he give me one of my favorite quotes from the book, which is an impassioned defense of polygamy. He claims that, by being a good father figure to many children in the African American community in Buffalo, he is a powerful force for good, because is modeling good behavior on an exponential level. “You’re Xeroxing righteousness,” he tells me. It’s one of those little, kind of random moments that is just so bizarre, fascinating, and memorable.

The book is filled with rough-around-the-edge characters doing some shady things. Was there any moment you felt uncomfortable, or even at risk?

Just once. I was in the car with a former cocaine dealer, named Jimmy, who had reinvented himself as debt collector. We were on the East Side of Buffalo, which is poor and crime-ridden. Suddenly, Jimmy slams on the brakes, bolts out of the car, and leaves me sitting there for the better part of ten minutes. When he finally returns to the car, Jimmy tells me that he had just spotted a guy he knew, who had recently pulled a gun on him. Jimmy had apparently chased after him but not found him. At that moment, Jimmy was shaking with rage. I just sat there in the car with him, saying nothing while he regained his composure. It was a tense few minutes.

You describe some of the collectors engaging in some dubious practices in order to collect on debt, especially where it comes to taking advantage of debtors’ ignorance (with regard to collection law and their rights) and collector tactics such as bullying. Do you expect reform in this business, and do you hope your book plays a part?

I do hope things change. In 2015, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) will be issuing new rules that will – hopefully – change the way the consumer debt is bought, sold, and collected upon. And yes, I am hopeful that my book may help shed some small amount of light on the seedier corners of the industry. But ultimately, the ability of the CFPB to clean up this industry will also hinge on policing. Currently it is policing about 175 of the biggest agencies in the business. Yet according to recent industry estimates, there are well over 9,000 collection businesses in America. That’s a lot of ground to cover. So I am hopeful, but I am also doubtful that the industry will be fixed overnight.

Name three of your most influential writers or books.

The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession by David Grann. Grann is a superb nonfiction writer. The number of amazing stories he finds, on a regular basis, is mind-blowing.

Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing by Ted Conover. Conover is simply the best reporter I have ever encountered.

The Long Ships by Frans G. Bengtsson. This is a swashbuckling adventure tale involving Vikings. I love Vikings.

Next project, or current obsession?

I am weirdly interest in jailbird lawyers. I like the idea that there are a few prisoners who have studied the law, become erudite, and are helping work on cases. I am currently scouting out a story involving one of them.

In addition to your nonfiction, you co-authored a couple of well-received young adult novels. How’s that different? Do you plan more?

This is true. The biggest difference here – other than the fact that I write about haunted woods and iceberg fortresses – is that I co-write the books with my friend Peter Kujawinski. We wrote the first book in our Dormia series in 2009. Around that time, I was living on Navajo Reservation in northwestern New Mexico, which remains one of the most remote and sparsely settled regions in the continental United States. From my desk, in our tiny ranch house, I watched prairie dogs frolic and tumbleweed blow across the street. Meanwhile, my co-author – Peter – was serving as an American diplomat in Paris. His environs could not have been more radically different. Peter, known simply as “Kujo” by friends and family alike, inhabited a sprawling three-bedroom penthouse with stunning views of the Eiffel Tower. What united us, however, is that we were both twelve-year-olds at heart and wanted to make up imaginary worlds involving magical cities nestled in the mountains. So we started writing the Dormia series. And we just signed a two-book deal with Putnam / Penguin to start a new series. The first book, Nightfall, should be out in about a year.

"Some Monsters I Have Loved" by Keith Donohue

MonstersNew York Times best-selling author Keith Donohue's The Boy Who Drew Monsters went on sale yesterday. It's a hypnotic literary horror novel about a young boy trapped inside his own world, a boy who nearly drowned a few years ago and since then refuses to go outside. Instead, he stays in his room and draws monsters--but those drawings begin to blur the lines between fantasy and reality. To celebrate monsters, and Keith Donohue's new book about monsters, we're posting the author's list of favorite monsters.

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Monsters prowl the shelves of bookstores and hide between the covers, ready to spring out and catch the unwary reader. From the great monsters of myth and fable—the gorgons and harpies, the dragons and ogres—to the nightmare visions of today’s masters of horror, the supernatural takes form in hundreds of great stories designed to pluck at our deepest fears. Here’s a list of 12—no, make that 13—literary monsters I have loved.

1 and 2. Grendel and his mother from “Beowulf.” Grendel is bad enough, a giant shadow walker who likes to visit the mead hall and snack on drunken revelers. He is defeated by Beowulf, who rips off the monster’s arm, and leaves him to die. This upsets Grendel’s mother, who is somewhat worse than the son. John Gardner’s novel Grendel tells the story from the monster’s point of view, and Seamus Heaney’s bristling adaptation breathes new life into this ancient story.

3. Caliban, from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” Many of the other characters in the play refer to him as a monster, and he is often depicted as deformed in productions, but is he a true monster? Or a reflection of our inhumanity?

4. Frankenstein’s monster. It’s hard not to imagine Boris Karloff’s flat-headed monster with bolts through his neck, but the real monster, the creation of Mary Shelley in her novel, Frankenstein, is something much worse. Stitched together from cadavers, it’s been alive for nearly 200 years.

5. Dracula. Again, the movie is not the book. The vampire as portrayed by Bela Lugosi and scores of others loses some of the oomph from Bram Stoker’s weird novel. A study in point of view, the novel uses letter, diaries, and other eyewitness accounts of the descent into madness. Dracula may not even be the scariest monster in the book: think of poor Renfield and his most unusual diet.

6. The Pooka MacPhellimy from Flann O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds. Drawn from Irish folklore, the Pooka is one of the great comic literary monsters. Witty and urbane, he spends a great deal of the novel discussing philosophy with an invisible and quarrelsome Good Fairy who travels along with him in the Pooka's pocket. He believes his wife may be a kangaroo.

7. The Devil’s entourage in Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita. The devil, Woland, comes to Moscow in the 1930s, to wreak havoc on the Soviets. Among his entourage are a wisecracking giant cat named Behemoth, a redheaded succubus named Hella, and several henchmen, including Azazello, a broad-shouldered man in a bowler hat who has one fang sticking out of his mouth. They are far more fun than the Communists.

8. The monster from Stephen King’s novel It. Usually shows up as a clown, which preys on children. A clown!

9. The Tooth Fairy. The late Graham Joyce was a master of the story that deals with the psychology of fear and anxiety. “I am less interested in ghosts than in people who see ghosts,” he once wrote. In his wonderful coming-of-age novel, the Tooth Fairy shows up one night, oddly dressed and smelling of horse's sweat and chamomile, to visit the seven-year-old hero. And she stays through adolescence.

10. The Other Mother in Coraline. For me, the best of Neil Gaiman’s monsters is the Other Mother, who lives in a dimension apart from Coraline and her family, with a box of buttons.

11. The wraith in Sjon’s From the Tale of the Whale. There is a ghoul afoot in Iceland, the wraith of a man drowned in the sea, who must be hunted down by the hero of this lyrical gem of a book. The best way to catch a ghost might be: “to tell the ghoul the history of the world, of spirits and men, both evil and benevolent. In that way it will eventually see where it fits into God’s great mechanism and realise that it is in quite the wrong place. For how is a dead man to tell the difference between himself and the living if he is still able to walk around, participate in fights and run errands?”

12. The goblins in Maurice Sendak’s Outside Over There. A picture book about a girl named Ida, who must rescue her baby sister after the child has been stolen by goblins and replaced with a changeling made of ice. This is for children.

13. The ghost in Toni Morrison’s Beloved. “124 was spiteful. Full of a baby's venom.” A ghost, who reminds us that such monsters are often born out of our torment and longing.

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Donohue’s fourth novel, The Boy Who Drew Monsters (Picador), was published on October 7th.

The Invisible Front: Depression, Suicide, and the Military

The Invisible FrontInterview with Mark and Carol Graham

By Yochi Dreazen, managing editor of Foreign Policy and author of The Invisible Front

Suicide is a personal issue for me. I spent nearly four years in Iraq and Afghanistan, much of it with American combat troops. A few of my military friends took their own lives after coming home to the United States, and several others tried to. In dark moments, I sometimes thought about it myself. We, as a country, have gotten much better at talking about mental illness, depression, and suicide. But we have much further to go. Mark and Carol Graham have devoted their lives to finding ways of reducing—and one day eliminating—the stigma preventing those who need help from asking for it. My book, The Invisible Front: Love and Loss in an Era of Endless War, tells their story and offers an unforgettable way of understanding not just how much one family can bear, but how much one family can do to change the U.S. military. —Yochi Dreazen

Yochi Dreazen: This book details the deaths of your two sons, and your efforts to find purpose in those losses. Were you reluctant to relive such painful parts of your lives?

Mark and Carol Graham: Yes, we struggled throughout the process but we were determined that something good had to come from the loss of our boys and trusted you to write our story, as you understood they died fighting different battles. Jeff’s death was heroic and heartbreaking yet real and portrays the tragedies of war. He died proudly serving our nation. And it was too late to save our son Kevin from suicide as we tragically missed the serious warning signs of his depression. We knew our son was sad, but we just did not know he could die from being too sad.

Dreazen: In sharing their stories, do you feel like you learned things about Kevin and Jeff that you may not have known while they were alive?

Grahams: Absolutely. We feel most parents learn many things about their children as they grow older together, however we have learned things abruptly, as they were revealed in this book. Some things brought us joy, while others hurt and exacerbated the pain and grief yet again.

Dreazen: Do you think the book will encourage those who need help to feel comfortable seeking it?

Grahams: We truly hope it will. Oftentimes, like with our son Kevin, those struggling with depression feel ashamed and mistakenly believe it is a weakness or character flaw. We hope that by reading this book they will see they are not alone, that mental illness is real but diagnosable and treatable. It is not something anyone chooses to have. Just as no one wants heart disease or cancer. Eliminating the stigma surrounding mental health care will remain key in helping to break down the barriers to care.

Author Yochi DreazenDreazen: People see the military as different from the rest of the country. But can we really think of suicide as a problem for the military only?

Grahams: No, our military is comprised of America’s sons and daughters, a microcosm of our society. While the suicide rates are higher among veterans, suicide still remains a public health crisis for the whole nation.

Dreazen: Why was the military so slow to understand or respond to its mental health crisis?

Grahams: The whole country is still coming to terms with how to deal with mental health, including suicide prevention. It is not surprising that while engaged in combat for over a decade the military struggled like the rest of the country to understand that the stigma in asking for or receiving care for mental health issues is still so difficult. Change is hard, but eliminating the stigma is a cultural change for the military as well as throughout our nation.

Dreazen: Is there more the military should be doing to increase access to care or reduce stigma?

Grahams: Yes, the military needs to stay laser focused in their efforts to eliminate the stigma among all ranks. The military needs to make sure that from the top down and bottom up mental health issues are treated the same as physical health issues. The military must ensure there are enough mental health professionals available 24/7 to provide quality care for our service members, veterans, and their families.

Dreazen: Do you think the military suicide numbers will continue to go up, or have we turned a corner?

Grahams: Hard to say but we do feel progress is being made. We will be doing enough when every service member knows and truly believes that it is a sign of strength, not weakness, to reach out for mental health care; and when they ask for the care they need and deserve, they receive it.

Dreazen: What do you hope people will take away from the book?

Grahams: Hope to keep on living and the assurance that they are not alone. Also a better understanding of what mental health issues really mean to a family and our nation. That you must get mental health services for family members who need it today, not tomorrow or next week. We also want readers to see that no family is exempt from mental illness or substance abuse. These issues are real and, without professional care, can be deadly.

Dreazen: How can readers get involved in the fight against military suicide?

Grahams: Honoring the service and sacrifice of our military by being involved in suicide prevention efforts is key as it will help our military as well as veterans and those transitioning back into our local communities. All of us can be a part of erasing the stigma associated with getting mental health care. Openly talking about mental health at home, in schools, at work, and in our faith communities can make a difference in life or death, so that it is no longer the silent killer in the room.

 

Learn more about the Grahams at YochiDreazen.com.

 

Video: Ken Burns on the Making of "The Roosevelts"

RooseveltsKen Burns is known for telling epic stories about events and achievements in American history, from Prohibition to the Civil War to baseball. But rarely has he focused on personal history as he does in his latest documentary, The Roosevelts: An Intimate History, which profiles the entwined, influential lives of Theodore, Eleanor, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Burns recently visited us at Amazon to discuss the seven-part series, which began airing on PBS in September and is available on DVD and Blu-ray. (The series is accompanied by a book of the same name, written with Geoffrey Ward).

"If these people really did influence us more than any other family--and I can make that argument--we want to know where they came from," Burns told me during our interview. "Their empathy is borne of certain sufferings that they each experienced ... They're all wounded people."

Rick Riordan's Greek Mythology Pop Quiz

BloodOlympusToday marks the release of The Blood of Olympus, the fifth and final book in Rick Riordan's Heroes of Olympus series. It's hard to believe the second Percy Jackson series has come to an end, but in true Riordan fashion he wraps things up beautifully though of course we still want more (always). 

Next up will be a brand-new series based on Nordic mythology--look in the back of The Blood of Olympus for a tidbit of info about the first book...

After all the Greek mythology we've absorbed courtesy of the Percy Jackson books, including the recently released Percy Jackson's Greek Gods, now might be a good time to take a little pop quiz composed by the author himself to see how your knowledge stacks up:

Choose the best answer to each question below then check your answers to see how you did.

1. He was raised by the magical goat Amalthea on the island of Crete; after eating and drinking from the cornucopia, he was eventually returned to his father, soon after which he rejoined his brothers and sisters.




2. She was the mother of the goddess of spring, who was also the Queen of the Underworld; her name in Greek means “Barley-Mother.”

Artemis
Hera

3. Which of the Olympians chose never to set foot on Mt. Olympus?

Aphrodite
Athena
Poseidon
Hades

4. This god’s symbols are the shield and spear; the moons of the planet which bear his namesake are Phobos and Deimos.




5. This Greek goddess of victory’s Roman name was Vitula; the gods wisely did not contest with her, as she could not be defeated.




6. This Olympian god made golden mechanical women and twenty 3-legged tables with golden wheels that ran by themselves to help him in his smithy as he made weapons and armor for the gods and heroes. Who was he?




7. Chiron was this type of mythological beast.




8. This sorceress changed the men of Odysseus into pigs, although later she recanted and turned them back into men when Odysseus tricked her.




9. This was the favorite food of the gods.




10. Who ferried the dead across a river in the Underworld if they gave him the proper payment, a coin or obol, which the Greeks always placed under a dead person’s tongue when given a proper burial?




 SEE THE ANSWERS

Of All the Gin Joints: Amazon Editors' Favorite Movies, Watering Holes, and More

GinjointsLast week saw the publication of the book Of All the Gin Joints: Stumbling through Hollywood History. Written by Mark Bailey and illustrated by Edward Hemingway, it's a book of witty quotes, fascinating histories of Hollywood actors, and of course drink recipes. Chelsea Handler describes the book as "like being at the best dinner party in the world," and the editors at Amazon had a lot of fun with it. In return, the author and illustrator had some fun with us. Here are four illustrations of our Seattle-based editors, drawn by Edward Hemingway, who also illustrated Of All the Gin Joints. We've included some fun facts to go with the illustrations.

 

Amazonseira!-1

Seira

  • Favorite classic movie: The Wizard of Oz
  • Favorite dead actor or actress that you would like to drink with: Marilyn Monroe
  • Favorite watering hole: Russell's, Seattle
  • Preferred hangover helper: Cheeseburger and a Coke.
  • Hollywood drinking quote: “The problem with people who have no vices is that generally you can be pretty sure they’re going to have some pretty annoying virtues.” –Elizabeth Taylor

 

 

Amazonjon(1)

Jon

  • Favorite classic movie: The Night of the Hunter
  • Favorite dead actor or actress that you would like to drink with: Boris Karloff (we share the same birthday)
  • Favorite watering hole: Frankies 457, Brooklyn
  • Preferred hangover helper: Phở (Vietnamese noodle soup)
  • Hollywood drinking quote: “The whole world is about three drinks behind.” –Humphrey Bogart

 

 

 

Amazonneal

Neal

  • Favorite classic movie: The Long Goodbye
  • Favorite dead actor or actress that you would like to drink with: Humphrey Bogart
  • Favorite watering hole: Kings Hardware, in my neighborhood (Ballard) in Seattle. It’s old school – worn wooden floors, battered booths. I once watched a guy drink five bourbons, for lunch.
  • Preferred hangover helper: Coke, aspirin, sleep, remorse.
  • Hollywood drinking quote: “Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” —Jack Kerouac

 

 

Amazonchris2

Chris

  • Favorite classic movie: Casablanca
  • Favorite dead actor or actress that you would like to drink with: Steve McQueen
  • Favorite watering hole: El Quijote, New York. It's next to the Chelsea Hotel.
  • Preferred hangover helper: Bacon, egg, and cheese.
  • Hollywood drinking quote:“I feel sorry for people who don’t drink. When they wake up in the morning, that’s as good as they are going to feel all day.” – Frank Sinatra

 

 

A Love Story Complicated by a Crime: “The Paying Guests” by Sarah Waters

I received a somewhat disturbing text from a friend the other afternoon. She was running late for work Paying_guestsbecause she couldn't put a book down that I'd recently leant her. "How can I go? I must read on!" "But, the children!" I cried. She is a nanny, you see, so while I could relate to her plight--I had spent a rare sunny day in Seattle, indoors, eschewing some much needed vitamin D reading the very same book--I didn't have children to keep alive. Such are the perils when one picks up The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters. So readers, clear your calendars.

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Ms. Waters recently, on a not-so-rare rainy day in Seattle, to talk about this historical page-turner, set during a "politically untidy" time that has many parallels to our own. 

The story takes place in 1922 in suburban South London. WWI has ended and ex-soldiers are roaming the streets, unemployed and uncertain about the future. In a once grand and genteel house, Frances Wray--a spinster with a surprising past--lives with her mother.  "They've lost their men to war, and they've lost income and servants, and so they've had to bring in lodgers to make ends meet, and they are Leonard and Lilian Barber, the paying guests of the title. Francis is at first appalled by their gaudy furniture and bothered by the sound of them moving about upstairs, but finds herself increasingly drawn to Lilian. So the novel is the story of their affair and the sort of dramatic and really violent and alarming consequences that it has for everybody involved."

The novel was inspired, in part, by an actual murder case from that time--a case that had a "classic triangle at [its] heart--a wife, a husband, and a male lover. And, I began to think what it would be like if the lover was female--what that would do to the story, how it would touch on other issues in the period." With this germ of an idea, Waters began researching similar cases in earnest. "I was struck when I looked at those murder cases--and I looked at lots of other murder cases from the period. They did tend to feature ordinary people who by some sort of mistake, by a moment of madness, were plunged into nightmare and into disaster and ultimately towards some sort of violent death. And I was very struck by the fact that people in murder cases like that, they don't know what's coming...In the months, weeks, days leading up to the murder, they were just leading their ordinary lives."

Waters is known for plotting-out most of her books ahead of time, but she admits that she was knee-deep in the writing process before realizing that--despite the murder and the mayhem--the book is mainly a love story.  "I really was sort of rooting for Frances and Lilian but very conscious that their love came at a cost...Once I'd realized, though, that that was kind of the trajectory of the book--that it was based on their love--the book came together for me more smoothly. And then it became a novel very much about how their love is put under pressure, how it's tested by this dramatic incident, and the moral complexity of the events that follow."

Sound a bit dark? Fortunately, as fans of other Waters’s novels like Tipping the Velvet and Fingersmith can attest, she has a knack for humanizing her characters with pitch-perfect humor for the period that also resonates with a modern audience. "Often humor is so specific to its moment that it doesn't date well. There's nothing worse than, sort of, terrible comics movies from the 20s, for example...The best of them last but they just seem incredibly tiresome now as no doubt our movies will in another hundred years. So, it's trying to find humor that belongs, feels like it belongs to the period and yet still seems kind of funny to us. That’s quite a challenge...We do need to get beyond those static black and white pictures of the past and remember that people live their lives in color, and with laughter, as well as with tears and sternness. The whole range, that's how you bring the past to life."

The Paying Guests was a Best of the Month selection for September.

Weekend Reading: The Perfect Seattle Day... Sort of

It feels like fall has finally arrived in the Pacific Northwest. The sun is still hanging on in Seattle, but barely, and it's getting cooler. I have a neighbor who describes the Perfect Seattle Day as "gray sky, gray mountains, gray water." He'll have his wish soon. At least it will be good reading weather.

Here's what we'll be taking a look at over the weekend. Happy Friday!


 

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Atlantia by Ally Condie

Seira Wilson: A new stand-alone novel from the author of the Matched trilogy—one of my favorites. This one is also a dystopian novel, but one where society is divided into those who live above--on land--and those who live in the submerged city below the sea. And, like the Berlin Wall, whatever side you’re on is it—you can’t leave. Twin teenage sirens, hard choices, and a mysterious death—this is shaping up to be another winner from Ally Condie. (Available October 28th)

Also reading:

 
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Why We Lost by Daniel P. Bolger

Chris Schluep: The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are common topics for fiction and nonfiction these days. Mostly, I've recently been focusing on the fiction titles written about the wars--but General Bolger's honest look at what happened and why comes from a pretty unique point of view. This could be a big book.  (Available November 11th)

Also reading:

 
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Family Furnishings: Selected Stories, 1995-2014 by Alice Munro

Erin Kodicek: I’m reading Family Furnishings by Alice Munro. Much to many readers’ chagrin, Munro announced that she was putting her pen down for good last year, after just having won the Nobel Prize in Literature. ‘Furnishings’, therefore, is a hand-picked selection of short fiction that she wrote over the past two decades. Reading these stories makes me rue her retirement even more, but it’s also a reminder of why Munroe is so beloved. (Available November 11th)

Also devouring:

 
Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible

Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible by Peter Pomerantsev

Jon Foro: When British TV producer Peter Pomeratsev's traveled to Russia, he found a country wild at heart and weird on top--flush with cash, hustlers, and power brokers, but few rules (especially if you have cash). He also found an entertainment industry churning out agitprop and eager for Western tropes to co-opt with a Putin twist. The "surreal" subtitle is apt. (Available November 11th)

Also reading:

 
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The Final Silence by Stuart Neville

Neal Thompson: I’ve read enough mysteries and thrillers to know this much: when there’s a locked door, there’s usually something bad behind it. That’s what Rea Carlisle quickly discovers when she inherits a house from a strange uncle she barely knew. Turns out he was even stranger than she could’ve imagined. Set in Belfast, Northern Ireland, a city of ghosts and a blood-soaked history, it feels as if menace lurks with each turn of the page in this dark and brooding forthcoming novel from a master of neo-noir. (Available October 28th)

Also reading:

 

10 Books We Missed in High School … and Later Loved

Blame it on Cliff Notes, or our English teachers, or laziness, but there are plenty of classics that even our well-read crew of editors never read when we should have. Our friends at SheKnows.com asked us to come up with a list of books that we didn't get to until after high school. Sheepishly, we admitted that the list was a long one. Here are ten that we loved, even if we discovered them a bit late.

MobyMoby Dick

Reading Moby Dick in my early twenties, and once again in my late twenties, was a revelatory experience for me. For many reasons, it’s a book that I think about often. Here’s the line I’ve been considering lately:  “whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.” –-Chris Schluep

King Lear

Shakespeare and high school kind of go hand-in-hand. I remember reading Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, The Tempest, and a few others. But my most rewarding experiences with the bard have been when I’ve sat down on my own and cracked open a play or even one of his sonnets. Yes, you have to be in the right mood for something like this—but as a friend of mine recently commented: “it’s been 500 years and no one has figured out yet how to do it better.”  –-Chris Schluep

Crime and Punishment 

I shied away from Crime and Punishment in high school because it was sooooo long and seemingly complicated--but when I spent a summer abroad in college, I was desperate for something long and complicated and. . . in English. Never mind that C&P is, of course, a Russian novel, the English-language version--which I found in a used book store--meant I could have periods of respite from Spanish conversation with my non-English-speaking hosts and friends. –-Sara Nelson

Fahrenheit 451 

After graduating, I went on a time-consuming, extracurricular tear on some classics that apparently weren’t classic enough for my high school: Twain, Hemingway, Faulkner, etc. But best of all was Bradbury, and of all his indispensable books, Fahrenheit 451 appealed most to my Cold War brain. –-Jon Foro

GrapesGrapes of Wrath

I took the long way around to The Grapes of Wrath: starting with Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire, I worked through Wallace Stegner and other giants of western lit, eventually to Timothy Egan’s Dust Bowl classic, The Worst Hard Time. Steinbeck was the logical end of this journey, humanizing much of the suffering that formed the West, as well as the nation. –-Jon Foro

A Separate Peace

As the father of two teen boys, I’ve become something of an expert on the dark side of adolescence. Like Lord of the Flies and other sinister takes on coming of age, Knowles explores that fine and sometimes dangerous line between growing up on your own terms — or on someone else’s. –-Neal Thompson

Brave New World

I think I might’ve wrongly assumed that since I’d read 1984 I could skip Huxley’s take on a dystopian utopia. What was so remarkable about reading it years after high school was seeing how frighteningly prescient Huxley was in predicting their weirdness of life in a future society — like ours. –-Neal Thompson

FliesThe Lord of the Flies

Maybe it was my mom’s screams at my brother and me (“You’re just like ‘Lord of the Flies’ you two!”) that kept me away from this classic for so long. But thank god I finally discovered the book that explained the madness of boyhood to me, and so much more. Sorry, ma! –-Neal Thompson

To Kill a Mockingbird

I somehow lumped this in with some of the other books boring me to death in high school (Tess of the D’Urbervilles, anyone?) but when I read it as an adult I understood why so many people consider this their favorite novel. To Kill a Mockingbird is everything you need to know about innocence lost, injustice, kindness, and love. You can’t help but be changed by it. –-Seira Wilson

Catch-22

I had no idea that a story of war could be serious and funny at the same time until I read Catch-22. Joseph Heller introduced me to the brilliance of satire and ingrained in me the utter impossibility of truly “winning” a conflict of politics and belief, when human life is the currency being wagered. –-Seira Wilson

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>Read the original story at SheKnows.com

 

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