• "Mad Men" returns this weekend. Which of these books do you want to see Don Draper (or other characters) reading on the iconic show's final season?
• Pop quiz time! Don't panic—it's a fun pop quiz. Check the books you've read on BuzzFeed's list to find out just how scandalous your reading taste skews.
• Did you know that Shakespeare's 450th (!) birthday is coming up this month? Perhaps you didn't know that there are several online Shakespeare courses that you can take—for free!
• Since you were such good sports about the quiz, how about a super-cute game called How to Be a Writer?
We love books about books, bookstores, book lovers—anything to do with books! In Gabrielle Zevin's new novel, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, the titular character is the prickly proprietor of a seen-better-days bookstore—Island Books—whose life is turned upside-down . . . in a good way. The enchanting book has a little of everything: romance, books, friendships, second chances. Read our interview with Zevin about it.
We were curious about the books Zevin has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked her to recommend three recent favorites, which she graciously agreed to share.
The Sisters Brothers
By Patrick DeWitt
When I was in college, I read that Vladimir Nabokov loved Westerns, and because I loved Nabokov, I thought I should make a point to read Westerns, too. For years, I’ve struggled through Westerns, but I don’t think I’ve ever truly enjoyed one until The Sisters Brothers. I loved reading about Eli Sisters’ struggles with oral hygiene, weight and romance. I wept for his horse, Tub. After a long dry spell, this is the Western I have always wanted to read.
My Accidental Jihad
By Krista Bremer
I ended up reading My Accidental Jihad because I met the author, Krista Bremer, at a book event. I’m not sure I would have read the book if I hadn’t met her. That one provocative word in the title might have led me to make assumptions about what kind of story this was going to be. In a way, this is the point of such a title. Though the word has a specific connotation to an American reader, jihad, as Bremer explains, means struggle. The context of this memoir is Bremer’s marriage to an older, Libyan, Muslim man, but at the heart of the story are the issues with which many women struggle: feminism, spirituality, love and children. The book is gently humorous, too: At one point, Bremer’s young daughter gives a Western makeover to a Muslim Barbie doll. [Look for our review of My Accidental Jihad in our May issue.]
Not so long ago, I wrote a Young Adult series, and to an extent, the writing of it burnt me out on ever wanting to read another one. That said, I was irresistibly drawn to the premise of The Winner’s Curse. A young noblewoman buys a slave, and then the two slowly fall in love. But how can she love a person whom she owns, and vice versa? This is a fascinating book, with interesting things to say about race, class, gender, history and power. In an odd way, it reminded of Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea. I can’t think of a more perfect, provocative read for a mother-daughter book club.
What do you think, readers? Will you be adding The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry—or any of Zevin's recommended books—to your TBR list?
• The HuffPost rounded up a collection of simply delightful—some downright amusing—bookplates.
• You may want to bookmark Flavorwire's roundup of 50 (!) of the best Southern novels for the next time you're craving a richly rewarding read set below the Mason-Dixon line.
• In other news, what do you think about Daniel McCaig's Ruth's Journey, the forthcoming (in October) prequel to Gone with the Wind, which will focus on the character of Mammy?
• I need another mug about as much as I need another tote bag. But this series of literary-themed cups compiled by BuzzFeed has me contemplating adding to my collection.
• We've all mused over which of our favorite authors or characters we'd like to invite to a gathering. In a refreshing (and amusing) twist, The Toast offers up six literary characters who, let's face it, would probably be terrible dinner party guests.
• Can Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory really be 50 years old? To celebrate, Penguin Young Readers and Dylan's Candy Bar are offering a pretty sweet contest.
RITA Award-winning romance author Robin D. Owens has just launched a brand new paranormal series with Ghost Seer (out this week). In it, Denverite Clare Cermak inherits her recently departed great-aunt's ability to communicate with ghosts. When she encounters the restless spirit of an Old West gunslinger and Zach, a handsome (and very much alive) private investigator, things start to get interesting. In this guest blog post, Denver native Owens offers a behind-the-scenes peek at the inspiration behind the fun new series.
The creation of the Ghost Seer series began with a road trip. I was born and raised in Denver, but always dreamt of castles in Europe. Even though the history of the Old West was all around me, I took it for granted.
Two years ago, I wanted to come up with a new series concept, and my mother and a friend and I were driving to California. It's hard to ignore the landscape that shaped the people, or the history those people made—gold rushes, the Overland Stage, the Pony Express, mining towns and ranch wars and gunfighters—when you're traversing the Western United States mile by mile.
So with that landscape and the bits of history we read as we traveled, ideas turned in my mind of a contemporary paranormal series set in Denver. With ghosts. And a woman who wouldn't believe in them, a logical sort, an accountant—but she'd have to come to terms with her "gift" or go crazy or die.
So I thought of a psychic power that passes from family member to family member—the ability to see and communicate with ghosts—and Clare Cermak came into being. Clare had a weird great-aunt Sandra who recently died and left her a fortune, the psychic gift, and a ghost Labrador dog named Enzo to help her accept her new powers.
I am most well known for my telepathic animal companions in my books, and I sure like writing them, so writing Enzo helped me transition to the new series.
On the trip we discussed men, naturally, and I came up with Zach Slade, an edgy, wounded warrior type of hero. He's a former deputy sheriff from Montana who, along with his partner, made a mistake that got him shot and disabled. He, too, has to reshape his life. He's not too happy about giving up the public sector, or even interviewing at the Denver private investigation firm that his old boss recommended. But when he meets and flirts with Clare, he's intrigued by the shadows in her eyes that hint at a puzzle to be solved, and, of course, he's attracted.
As for the ghost, this guy was THE archetype for all the gunfighters of the Old West, a man Mark Twain (who never let the truth get in the way of a good story) made famous . . . at the time. Now, he and his story are barely known. He can't move on until he redeems himself for the worst act of his life. I really enjoyed visiting places my haunt had lived, taking pictures, soaking up the atmosphere.
Ghost Seer has romance: Clare with a paranormal gift, and Zach with a whiff of the paranormal, too. Enzo is there as mentor and comic relief, and there's a light suspense twist, along with historical fact as true as I could make it.
Throughout the series both Clare and Zach will grow, and face danger. For Ghost Layer (coming in September), I took a couple of facts that got juxtaposed in my mind—a millionaire who moved an entire ghost town to his ranch estate and a "romantic" ghost that appeared, skeleton and all, in ladies' beds after they died. My millionaire is having house parties, and the ghost is driving off his female guests as well as his staff. In this story, the apparition was murdered and wants Clare and Zach to find his killer before he can go on.
I am having a great time writing these and hope readers enjoy them, too. Thank you for this opportunity for me to gush about my new passion.
Thank you, Robin! What do you think, readers? Will you be checking out Ghost Seer?
It's April 1st, book lovers, and the beginning of a month devoted to celebrating one of our favorite places on the planet: libraries! First off, April is School Library Month, and then there's National Library Week (April 13 through 19), National Library Workers Day (on April 15) and National Bookmobile Day (on April 16). Phew—that's a lot of celebrating!
All of this library love got us thinking about our favorite books about libraries and librarians, and so we decided to put together a list of them. Featuring cats, bookmobiles, archivists, time travelers, even Dracula—these 15 books will inspire a renewed appreciation for a place that is, in the words of Jamie Ford in his novel The Songs of Willow Frost, "like a candy store where everything is free."
Henry is a 28-year-old librarian who has a genetic disorder that causes him to travel through time involuntarily. Stacking books on the shelves in the library's inner sanctum, he'll suddenly vanish, leaving behind a pile of clothes, only to materialize in some unknown past or future moment, naked and nauseated. Often he travels to a certain Michigan meadow and visits a little girl, Clare, who sneaks him food and clothes. (Read more)
The Ice Queen is the tale of a librarian in a small town whose wishes come true, but not always for the best. When the unnamed narrator is 8 years old and her brother, Ned, 12, their mother leaves the children alone one night, ostensibly to celebrate her birthday with friends. The narrator wishes her mother would disappear—and she dies that night, her car crashing on an icy road. Years later, Ned becomes a meteorologist and moves from New Jersey to Florida, while his sister goes to library school, still feeling the guilt and self-loathing brought on by her wish the night her mother died. (Read more)
This Book Is Overdue!
By Marilyn Johnson
As Marilyn Johnson postulates in the gloriously geeky This Book Is Overdue!, librarians are no longer ladies in cardigans hovering over the card catalog. The new librarians are bloggers, information junkies and protectors of freedom and privacy in the Patriot Act era. Says Johnson, “The most visible change to librarianship in the past generation is maybe the simplest: Librarians have left the building.” (Read more)
The Historian follows a motherless young girl's quest to learn the truth about her father's secret past and his search through Cold War-era Eastern Europe for the murderous fiend that has cost him so much—Dracula. The two journeys (which include stops at several libraries) eventually become one as the story traces the monster's footsteps from the hallowed halls of Oxford to the mist-shrouded mountains of Transylvania and finally to a medieval monastery that yields a shocking truth. (Read more)
By Martha Cooley
At its surface, The Archivist is the tale of its narrator, Matt Lane, a 60-ish librarian at a private university near New York. Matt has been entrusted with the care of certain personal correspondence between the poet T.S. Eliot and his friend Emily Hale, letters that are supposed to remain sealed until the year 2020. But the archivist's attempt to preserve the privacy of those letters is a metaphor for larger concerns. (Read more)
The Geographer's Library
By Jon Fasman
Reading The Geographer's Library is like stepping into a sepia-toned daguerreotype: The past here holds all the clues. The novel's narrator is Paul Tomm, a young, sometimes painfully naive cub reporter coasting along at a weekly newspaper in a sleepy New England town. When a professor at his alma mater dies in mysterious circumstances, the reporter's research for a routine obituary leads him into an unimaginably poisonous labyrinth. (Read more)
By Rebecca Makkai
What do you get when you pair a children’s librarian—whose father may be connected to the Russian mafia—with a curious 10-year-old boy whose dubious sexuality has caused his evangelical parents to enroll him in an anti-gay class and strictly monitor his library material? What sounds like the setup to a joke of questionable humor transforms into a charming debut novel in Rebecca Makkai’s hands. (Read more)
On a cold winter night in a small town in Iowa, the director of the Spencer Public Library, Vicki Myron, was shocked to discover a tiny, weeks-old orange ball of fluff deposited in the returned book slot. For the next 19 years, the sweet and magical cat known as Dewey Readmore Books lived in the library, touching countless lives, offering hope and pride to a struggling community, and gaining worldwide adoration along the way. (Read more)
A thriller about a librarian? Have no fear, best-selling author Brad Meltzer soon gets you hooked. After a somewhat slow start, The Inner Circle quickly becomes a fast, fun thriller. Once the twists start coming, Meltzer proves his prowess with the Washington, D.C., political thriller, and soon it’s impossible to resist the lure of the next page. Meltzer cleverly disguises who’s telling the truth, making readers question if there’s anyone they can trust. (Read more)
Bartholomew Neil is a uniquely likable protagonist who at nearly 40 has lived with his mother his entire life. After her death, Bartholomew sets a few life goals, like having a beer in a bar with an age-appropriate friend and pursuing Girlbrarian, the lovely but withdrawn woman who shelves books at his local library. “Her long brown hair . . . covers her face like a waterfall can cover the entrance to a mysterious cave,” Bartholomew writes. (Read more)
Imagine a man who can bend a horseshoe with his hands, whose outsized literary interests include everything from Jonathan Franzen to Stephen King and who towers above most of us at six feet seven inches. He sounds like a comic book hero, but the most heroic thing about him is this: He chooses to spend his days working in a public library, even though he suffers from a syndrome that compels him to act out, often audibly. Tourette’s, which Josh Hanagarne has referred to for years as Misty (for Miss T), is a formidable foe and constant companion. (Read more)
This literary mystery begins in a marvelous place called the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a repository for literary works no longer remembered by anyone. A 10-year-old boy named Daniel is taken there by his bookseller father to assuage the lingering pain of his mother's death. The old caretaker tells Daniel to choose one book from the labyrinthian stacks, take it away and make sure it never disappears. (Read more)
The Camel Bookmobile
By Masha Hamilton
Masha Hamilton's compelling third novel, The Camel Bookmobile, leaves no room for doubt: Books are essential. Cookbooks, novels, parenting books—they all matter to Fiona "Fi" Sweeney, a librarian from Brooklyn searching for fulfillment atop a book-laden camel in the arid and dangerous bush of Kenya. Tiny, far-flung villages populated by nomadic tribes, largely forgotten and neglected by the greater population of a more modern Africa, welcome the bookmobile and Fi with a combination of curiosity and wary distrust of Westerners' belief that the rest of the world needs guidance. (Read more)
Running the Books
By Avi Steinberg
Avi Steinberg was meant for greater things. If not a doctor or lawyer (per his family’s expectations), his time in yeshiva should at least have turned out a decent rabbi. But no; he left yeshiva for Harvard, then stalled out as a freelance obituary writer for the Boston Globe. In search of a new direction, and the security of a job with benefits, Steinberg answered an ad on Craigslist and began life anew as a librarian in a Boston prison. Running the Books chronicles Steinberg’s years on the job, introducing a cast of inmates with whom his involvement went beyond mere book recommendations. (Read more)
Library: An Unquiet History
By Matthew Battles
Our Well Read columnist writes: "If you are a regular reader of BookPage (or even an occasional one), chances are you are also someone who has spent a fair amount of time in a library. Like me, you probably remember the monumental day when you got your first library card and, since reaching that milestone of childhood, have spent perhaps a little too much time roaming the stacks. Until I read Matthew Battles' engaging book, Library: An Unquiet History, though, I had not given much thought to the colorful past of those buildings-full-of-books that so many of us love." (Read more)
What do you think, fellow library lovers? Help us expand the list by adding your recommendations below!
Walter Kirn's chilling new memoir, Blood Will Out, details his fascinating, 15-year friendship with Clark Rockefeller, the man who claimed to be of the well-known aristocratic family but who ended up being not only an imposter but also a murderer. The book, which our reviewer calls "equally dark, edgy, humorous and philosophical," is our Top Pick in nonfiction for March. (Read the full review right here.)
We were curious about the books Kirn has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked him to recommend three recent favorites, which he graciously agreed to share.
Reality Hunger: A Manifesto
By David Shields
As people migrate into virtual worlds housed inside their electronic devices, a corresponding pull is building up that tugs us toward the actual, the palpable. Because life feels increasingly fictional, that is, we need not go to books for yet more make believe. This singular essay on our current predicament as authors and readers (and that means everyone) reveals the new possibilities of world building in serious literature. It shows us how the mind and spirit clothes itself in excerpts and quotations, samplings and borrowings, in its struggle to find definition and significance in an elusive age of flux.
How to Sell
By Clancy Martin
This novel of the retail jewelry industry and a Biblical contest for love between two brothers is a masterpiece of contemporary noir. Vanity and chicanery rule the day, and no one and nothing can be trusted, least of all the value of the bright baubles that drive the main characters' dodgy family business. Darwin was a romantic about life compared to Martin in this book, but his pessimism is strangely bracing, like a walk down a long street of shadows in the cold.
The Red Book
By Carl Jung
This is a mysterious, poetic and sometimes incomprehensible diary of the great psychoanalyst’s dream life. I like to read it before bed. It opens doors into my unconscious mind, and its presence lingers through the night. Jung reminds us that we’re all heroes on the inside, and that our insides are vast and bottomless. He gives us access to our mythical selves and challenges us to explore them and stay brave.
What do you think, readers? Will you be adding Blood Will Out—or any of Kirn's recommended books—to your TBR list?
(Author photo © Beowulf Sheehan)
Love is in the air . . . love of romance books, that is. This week, the Romance Writers of America (RWA) announced the finalists for the 2014 RITA and Golden Heart Awards. A big congratulations goes to our very own romance columnist, Christie Ridgway, whose Beach House No. 9 is up for a Best Contemporary Romance RITA! Check out our interview with Christie about the book.
Other RITA finalists include veterans Jill Shalvis (nominated twice, for It Had to Be You and Rumor Has It), Nora Roberts (for Whiskey Beach), Elizabeth Hoyt (for Duke of Midnight), along with relative newcomers Sarah MacLean (for No Good Duke Goes Unpunished) and Bella Andre (for The Way You Look Tonight).
The Golden Heart Awards recognize excellence in novels or novellas that have not yet been published, with finalists in eight categories chosen from more than 1,000 manuscript entries each year.
Check out the complete list of finalists here. Winners will be announced at a black-tie gala at the RWA annual conference in San Antonio on July 26. Which books are you rooting for?
• Voting is officially open for the 2014 Children's Choice Book Awards! Be sure to vote for your favorite books before the deadline of May 12, and then tune into the live video webcast of the awards ceremony on May 14. Which books do you want to win?
• The assignation of a sentence as one of the "best" is subjective, of course, but because there are so many of them in the world of literature, it's always fun when folks round some up, as in these 10 gems selected by the editors of the American Scholar. Do you have a favorite literary line? (The one most fresh in my mind is from War and Peace: “From the study, like pistol shots, came the repeated sound of the old Prince furiously blowing his nose.” The perpetually cranky prince has just said a stoic goodbye to his son, who's heading off to war. I love Tolstoy's indirect revelation that a tender-hearted sentimentality lies beneath the prince's gruff exterior.)
• Check out this HuffPost list of 21 female literary characters—from Elizabeth Bennet to Daenerys Targaryen—and what it says about you if you have a crush on one—or more!—of them.
• Speaking of which, Mental Floss compiled a list of 10 infamous literary characters who were actually based on real people.
Peter Stark has an affinity for adventure—whether it's writing about it or engaging in it himself. His latest book, Astoria, chronicles John Jacob Astor's early 19th-century attempt to settle the frontier of the Pacific Northwest by financing two expeditions—one by land, the other by sea—to the remote region. A couple of the adjectives featured in our review of the book are "sweeping" and "spellbinding." Check out the full review right here.
We were curious about the books Stark has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked him to recommend some recent favorites, which he graciously agreed to share.
In the course of doing research for a book like Astoria, which my agent has called “historical adventure,” I find myself reading bits and pieces of all sorts of works of nonfiction, as well as explorers’ journals and memoirs, history, anthropology and many other eclectic subjects.
But here are a few of the nonfiction books I’ve read (or am in the course of reading), and enjoyed recently, that weren’t directly related to research:
FORGET ME NOT
By Jennifer Lowe-Anker
The author was married to one of the world’s best-known mountain climbers, American Alex Lowe, and is a passionate artist as well as outdoorswoman in her own right. The couple climbed together; they traveled together; and they had a family of three boys together. While Jennifer took on the role of mother, Alex continued to travel around the world for long stretches, pursuing his passion for climbing, out of which he had made a career. In 1999, he was killed in an avalanche while climbing in Tibet, leaving behind Jennifer and their three young sons in Montana. One of his closest friends, and climbing partners, Conrad Anker, survived the avalanche. Their shared grief over Alex’s death brought Conrad and Jennifer closer together, and eventually they married, with Conrad helping to raise the three boys.
As a writer of adventure and exploration, and adventurer in my own right, as well as a father, I was attracted to Jennifer Lowe-Anker’s story. It offers a deeply personal insight into the risks and rewards of pursuing a life of adventure in the outdoors.
THE FOOTLOOSE AMERICAN: Following the Hunter S. Thompson Trail Across South America
By Brian Kevin
Kevin takes to the road in the footsteps of Thompson’s yearlong, 1963 journey through South America, in which Thompson sent some of his first dispatches back to publications in the U.S. There’s a certain eerieness in witnessing the young Thompson’s observations and experiences abroad, knowing, as we do, the role he would have in shaping the “new journalism” over the next several decades and what he branded “gonzo journalism.” It seems odd to call the young Thompson “innocent,” but there are glimmers of it in some of his dispatches and letters, as well as the beginnings of the provocative, confrontational stance he would adopt in print in subsequent years. Kevin also provides an intriguing modern-day travelogue to the places that Thompson visited, places where I haven’t been, but have wondered about.
By Ted Tally
This is actually a play, not a book. I’ve been interested in the dramatic possibilities of explorers’ stories, and an actor friend, Jeremy Sher, recommended I read this play. Based in part on letters and journals, it follows the Scott party in the early 1900s in its valiant British attempt to reach the South Pole before a Norwegian party led by Roald Amundsen, and especially focuses on the fatal return journey where the Antarctic winter caught Scott and his deteriorating men. I’ve been curious to see how dialogue and flashbacks can capture the spirit and the context of one of the great adventure stories of our time.
AMERICAN SPHINX: The Character of Thomas Jefferson
By Joseph J. Ellis
I’ve read a good deal of Jefferson biography, and I read this one specifically while researching Astoria. While it doesn’t cover in any depth the expeditions Jefferson launched to the West, which has been my focus, American Sphinx gives a multidimensional character portrait of the man who shaped so much of the North American political geography. I also love the title, which, for Jefferson, is utterly appropriate.
What do you think, readers? Will you be adding Astoria—or any of Stark's recommended books—to your TBR list?
(Author photo by Amy Ragsdale)
April's right around the corner, and even if it traditionally means lots of showers in the forecast, at least we'll have plenty of great books to cozy up with. The April LibraryReads list, which features ten of next month's newly published books that librarians across the country are most excited about sharing with their patrons, features something for readers of all tastes.
At the top of the list is Gabrielle Zevin's irresistible novel The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, which graces the cover of our April issue. Don't miss our insightful interview with Zevin about the list-topper.
See all ten of their selections right here. Are there any that you'll be adding to your TBR list?