By Gail Caldwell
August 2010, Random House
An unbelievably honest, moving and heartbreaking account of Caldwell’s midlife friendship with fellow writer Caroline Knapp, who died suddenly of lung cancer in 2002. Caldwell and Knapp shared everything—profound love for their dogs, Clementine and Lucille, a history of alcohol addiction and a passion for writing. Read it—and try not to weep.
"I have a photograph from one of those summers at Chocorua, framing the backs of my dog and Caroline's, Clementine and Lucille, who are silhouetted in the window seat and looking outside. It is the classic dog photo, capturing vigilance and loyalty: two tails resting side by side, two animals glued to their post. What I didn't realize for years is that in the middle distance of the picture, through the window and out to the fields beyond, you can make out the smallest of figures—an outline of Caroline and me walking down the hill. We must have been on our way to the lake, and the dogs, now familiar with our routine, had assumed their positions. Caroline's boyfriend, Morelli, a photographer, had seen the beauty of the shot and grabbed his camera.
I discovered this image the year after she died, and it has always seemed like a clue in a painting—a secret garden revealed only after it is gone . . . . Like most memories tinged with the final chapter, mine carry the weight of sadness. What they never tell you about grief is that missing someone is the simple part."
Our November print edition featured a roundup of Hollywood biographies, from American Rebel: The Life of Clint Eastwood to How to Be a Movie Star: Elizabeth Taylor in Hollywood.
The books we covered were mostly in the “classic” Hollywood camp (Doris Day, Grace Kelly), but you’re in luck if you’d rather read about contemporary movie stars. December 1, Transit Publishing (the force that brought us Unmasked: The Final Years of Michael Jackson) will release Brangelina: Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie by celebrity journalist Ian Halperin (also the author of Unmasked). The small Montreal-based publishing house is hoping for a hit—Brangelina will have a 100,000 copy first printing.
According to Transit, the book will include “exclusive revelations and personal anecdotes.” Get ready for “shocking new information about superstar Jolie” and “startling discoveries about [her] past.”
Also look out for Kiefer Sutherland: Living Dangerously in January 2010 and Little Girl Lost: Money, Fame and Britney Spears in April, both from Transit.
Do you like to read biographies of celebrities? Are there any superstars out there who still need a tell-all. . . or has it all been done?
It may sound pretty outrageous--kidnapping, pedophilia, skeletons in outhouses, fornication with ghosts, narration by hound dogs and bobcats--but Donald Harington's 12th novel, With, will surprise and delight you. Harington hails from the Ozarks and, in the tradition of William Faulkner and his invented Yoknapatawpha County, writes about a fictional backwater town called Stay More, Arkansas. . . [Harington] never falters, and you never doubt him for a second.
--Becky Ohlsen's 2004 review of With by Donald Harington
In an obituary in the Arkansas-Democrat Gazette, poet Miller Williams said: “Arkansas is going to be less than it was now that he’s gone. . . His presence made us feel that being here mattered. He made everything we were around seem significant and he kept alive for us things that we would have let slip away.”
Harington was 73. He won the Robert Penn Warren Award for fiction and was inducted into the Arkansas Writers Hall of Fame for his mystical, funny novels about life in the Ozarks.
Veterans Day has been an official holiday in the United States since 1938. Our November issue has a roundup of new titles to remember the soldiers who fought in battles past and present, but there are plenty more in our archives—so we've compiled a list of some memorable military histories. Do you have a favorite?
20th Century Battlefields by Peter and Dan Snow
Medal of Honor by Peter Collier, photography by Nick Del Calzo
The Bedford Boys by Alex Kershaw
The Coldest Winter by David Halberstam
Franklin and Winston by Jon Meacham
Now the Drum of War by Robert Roper
Eleventh Month, Eleventh Day, Eleventh Hour by Joseph Persico
11 Days in December by Stanley Weintraub
Jarhead by Anthony Swofford
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I read a lot of blurbs* -- the frequently overblown, sometimes clichéd, always enthusiastic statements, typically by one author about another author’s book. Because I see so many blurbs, they rarely impress me. So imagine my surprise when I opened a January galley from Simon & Schuster and found a simple two-page printout titled “Advance Praise for Elena Gorokhova’s A Mountain of Crumbs.” Contained therein is perhaps the most impressive collection of blurbs for a single book that I’ve ever encountered.
The first blurb is from Billy Collins, acclaimed poet and former U.S. poet laureate, who describes Gorokova’s account of growing up in the Soviet Union as “the Russian equivalent of Angela’s Ashes.” Next is Frank McCourt himself, the author of Angela’s Ashes, who died in July. Before his death, McCourt composed a blurb in which he ruminates about Gorokhova’s “rich experience” and wonders why the book is “so damn readable.” The memoir also garners praise from Nobel Prize winner J.M. Coetzee (“an enthralling read”); Sergei Krushchev, son of former Soviet prime minister Nikita Krushchev (“an endlessly Russian quest for self-redemption”); novelist Ursula Hegi (“gorgeous and evocative”) and Carlos Eire (“every page bears witness to the deepest longing of the human heart”). Eire knows a thing or two about growing up under a Communist regime, having won the National Book Award for Waiting for Snow in Havana, a dazzling account of his youth in Cuba.
So what did I do after reading all those blurbs? I started reading A Mountain of Crumbs myself, and decided in short order that BookPage readers would want to know more about Gorokhova and her “rich,” “readable,” “gorgeous and evocative” memoir. Stay tuned for an interview with the author in the January issue of BookPage. And never underestimate the power of a blurb.
* Did you know? The word “blurb” was coined by American author Gelet Burgess, who in 1907 commissioned a special jacket for his novel Are You A Bromide? and christened the young woman pictured on the cover as “Miss Belinda Blurb.” Miss Blurb had many wonderful things to say about the novel (“This book has 42 carat THRILLS in it”) and her last name was forever after associated with effusive praise for a book.
In looking over the lineup of 2010 fiction, we have noticed an abundance of historical novels. Which ones will you be reading? What is your favorite time period to read about?
I loved Girl With a Pearl Earring, so I can’t wait for Tracy Chevalier’s January release, Remarkable Creatures. In the novel, 19th century fossil hunter Mary Anning discovers her gift to “find what on one can see.” She is barred from the British academic community, however, and falls in love with “an impossible man.” Watch an interview with Tracy Chevalier:
A few years ago BookPage reviewed a “magnificent” biography of Emily Dickinson that provided “a comprehensive portrait of the poet's life and art.” In February, you can read a fictionalized version of the Dickinson’s life, The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson by Jerome Charyn. Dickinson biographer Brenda Wineapple writes that Charyn imagines the poet full “of mischievousness, brilliance, desire, and wit (all which she possessed) and then boldly sets her amidst a throng of historical, fictional, and surprising characters just as hard to forget as she is.”
Historical fiction buffs will also want to look out for Karen Harper’s The Queen’s Governess, a Tudor drama told from the perspective of Elizabeth I’s governess; Ellen Horan’s 31 Bond Street, about a 19th-century murder scandal in New York City (the book will be “difficult for any reader to put down,” according to Ron Rash); and Lynn Cullen’s The Creation of Eve, about Renaissance female painter Sofonisba Anguissola.
OK, if you're reading this you're probably a fan of BookPage, right? So why not admit it on everyone's favorite social networking site?
Now that BookPage has nearly 200 fans on Facebook, it's clearly time for a contest. Everyone who becomes a fan of BookPage between now and our 200th fan will win a free book*—and be entered in a drawing to win a free year's subscription to the print edition of BookPage (U.S. readers only). Our Facebook page keeps you up-to-date about blog posts and book news, and lets you chat with other booklovers in our "Discussion" board.
What are you waiting for? Ready, set—fan!
*comment on our wall with your favorite genre and we'll do our best to match you with a book you'll like!
One of the odd things about working for a publication is that your monthly timeline gets out of whack. A couple weeks ago I was writing about Christmas novels for a December feature. Now, it’s on to the New Year. In October Abby posted a preview of big February fiction titles, noting that Chris Bohjalian, Lori Lansens and Louise Erdrich have new novels coming out. Trisha has also posted a February teaser, writing about Joe Hill’s (Stephen King’s son’s) forthcoming Horns. After a meeting today about our February lineup (February already!), I jotted down a few other books you might want to remember.
Seems like anything even remotely connected to Jane Austen has an audience – see this month’s YA modern-day Emma, The Espressologist. Cathleen Schine, author of The New Yorkers, will re-imagine Sense and Sensibility in February’s The Three Weissmanns of Westport. In this telling, literary agent Miranda and library director Annie are Elinor and Marianne.
Heidi Durrow’s The Girl Who Fell From the Sky won the 2008 Bellwether Prize for Fiction. The book follows the daughter of a Danish immigrant and a black G.I. as she struggles with her biracial identity. Bellwether founder Barbara Kingsolver says of the novel: “Haunting and lovely, pitch-perfect, this book could not be more timely.” I am betting that this Feb. 16 release will be a highlight of the month.
In 2006, Whodunit? Columnist Bruce Tierney wrote that Swedish author Henning Mankell’s The Man Who Smiled is “a first-rate detective story” that “manages the border crossing into superlative mainstream fiction.” Mankell fans are in for a treat in February. The English translation of Mankell’s The Man From Beijing, a stand-alone international thriller about “a crime unprecedented in Swedish history,” will hit stores on Feb. 16. The plot will run from Beijing to Zimbabwe, and Mankell’s publisher is touting the author as the next Stieg Larsson. Sounds intriguing. . .
Also look out for plenty of Valentine’s Day appropriate books (a staff favorite title: You Say Tomato, I say Shut Up: A Love Story).
Have any 2010 books caught your eye? Tell us in the comments or in our Facebook discussion.
Whether or not it's warranted, news about mainstream publishing tends to trend toward the bleak. So it's always encouraging to hear about a company who is generating excitement about reading in a new way. Madras Press, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit publisher, is one of those companies. Their goal: to publish individually bound short stories/novellas and distribute the proceeds to charitable organizations chosen by the authors.
"Concord Free Press, One Story, the old Penguin 60s series, the Penguin Great Ideas series," explains founding editor (and author) Sumanth Prabhaker. But Madras decided to focus on publishing works that were "too long for magazines, too short for trade publishers."
"It struck me as kind of funny that so many writers immediately limit themselves with a certain page restriction when they set out to write a story, especially when print technology and the major distribution systems are perfectly capable of handling stories of basically any length," Prabhaker tells us. "There's really no reason for it, and yet, as I complained to more and more of my friends, it seemed like there were a lot of people in a similar position—stuck with good stories that nobody was interested in. . . . Often it's not even a matter of page count; it's just that the impact of certain stories can be lessened by the presence of other writing on either end, in a literary journal or magazine or collection."
Of course, authors are often pleased to have the opportunity to have a work that would not otherwise be published see the light of day, and sold to benefit their charity of choice. "We're very flexible about this, so our inaugural titles are helping to support a wide variety of places: health and human services, environmental protection, community organizations, a non-profit education institution, etc.," says Prabhaker.
Each book costs just $6. "Our books are tiny, and tiny things tend to cost less in our marketplace than regular-size things," says Prabhaker, adding that volunteer labor, free content from the writers and lack of national distribution all allow them to keep their prices lower. The books are for sale on the Madras Press website and in select independent bookstores only.
The first four titles will ship December 1. Here's a list of titles, authors and charities:
The Third Elevator by Aimee Bender, to benefit InsideOUT Writers (CA)
Bobcat by Rebecca Lee, to benefit Riverkeeper (NY)
Sweet Tomb by Trinie Dalton, to benefit the Theodore Payne Foundation (CA)
A Mere Pittance by Sumanth Prabhaker, to benefit Helping Hands (MA)
Madras hopes to publish another set in 2010, and eventually producing a set of four books every six months.
Would you buy a $6 short story?
Janis Irvine has been the owner of the Book Bin in Northbrook, IL, for about 30 years. She sent me this wonderful memory from her bookselling career, and I thought it’d make a nice final post for our National Bookstore Day series.
One day I overheard one of our sales ladies on the phone. The conversation went something like this: “No, you won’t like that... No, that’s not good... You’ve read that one... Yes, try that. You’re welcome. Goodbye.” I had to know what it was all about. It turns out it was one of our customers calling from the Phoenix airport. He’d read all the books we sent with him on vacation and needed something for the plane ride home. He was reading off book titles to our saleslady! That’s far and away the best part of our job: Talking about books with customers who have come to trust our judgment.