Don't miss the contest going on at BookPage.com this month. To win up to 10 free copies of Impossible by Nancy Werlin for you and your book club, all you have to do is create a profile for your club on our site and post a review of a book you've read by September 1. Then email or comment on this post to tell me you've done it.
If you haven't heard of Impossible, check out the story behind the book as told by Nancy Werlin herself on our site.
Saturday, August 29 marks the four-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and the footage and stories from the storm have not gotten any less poignant and painful to watch, read and hear.
Particularly worth checking out is cartoonist Josh Neufeld’s nonfiction graphic work, A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge, which is released today. Neufeld tracks the lives of seven New Orleans residents affected by the storm: a woman who faces the filth and chaos at the Convention Center after the levees break; a young couple who flee to Houston, but lose meaningful possessions in their home; two friends who attempt to rough out the hurricane in a family-owned convenience store, only to be forced to the roof and nearly eaten alive by mosquitoes (and toxic flood water); a teenager who gets out of New Orleans in time but must move from city to city after the storm and during college; a doctor who refuses to evacuate his historic French Quarter house.
Neufeld, who after the hurricane spent three weeks volunteering with the Red Cross in Biloxi, Mississippi, originally told these stories online at SMITH Magazine. They got such a following that Pantheon Books picked up A.D. for a hardcover release.
Although Neufeld employs sparse language in speech bubbles and captions, reading his book is a fully emotional, multi-dimensional experience. The dialogue captures the initial skepticism, then disbelief, then fear and terror of people reacting to the beloved city under water. The illustrations give full life to the characters and to New Orleans, particularly in the two-page spread where mobs—abandoned by rescue teams—are forced to fend for themselves in panic at the Convention Center.
For a preview of Neufeld’s work, browse the A.D. website at SMITH Magazine. You can download images from the novel or watch a video of how it got made.
Out on August 29 comes Ned Sublette’s The Year Before the Flood: A Story of New Orleans. Sublette is a historian and musician who spent the year before Katrina as a Guggenheim fellow at Tulane. His memoir is divided into three parts – reflections on his early life in Natchitoches, Louisiana (pronounced “Nakatish”); his year in New Orleans in 2004-2005; and his return to the city after the storm.
The memoir is interesting for Sublette’s acknowledgment of his privilege in New Orleans as a white man, and his frank descriptions of the heated, complicated, and notorious race relations in the city.
Also noteworthy are the descriptions of musical genres and traditions in New Orleans—not surprising since Sublette was at Tulane to study the musical connections between Louisiana, Cuba and Saint-Domingue (now Haiti).
In The Year Before the Flood, as Sublette begins to “inhabit [his] Louisiana self,” the reader, too, starts to long for Coco Robicheaux, Fats Domino and the sticky-hot streets of New Orleans.
Other notable books include The Southern Cross, Louisiana-native Skip Horack’s short story collection that chronicles the Gulf Coast pre- and post-Katrina (published last week). Also check out Plenty Enough Suck to Go Around, the autobiography of “This American Life” contributor and New Orleanian Cheryl Wagner (published in May).
Can any BookPage readers recommend other books that have captured the post-Katrina Gulf Coast in a particularly sensitive or moving manner? Or have stories about New Orleans you’d like to share?
This weekend I'm off to visit my parents. I've finished the King and will probably pass it along to my mom. Two other books will accompany me:
Margaret Drabble's The Garrick Year. Just days after reading Roger Angell's essay about this 1964 novel in the New Yorker, I found a copy for a $1 at the Salvation Army. Serendipity!
Emily Arsenault's The Broken Teaglass, a debut novel coming out in October that I'm considering reviewing for BookPage.com.
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Will I finish one? both? neither, instead opting for one of the old favorites that still line the shelves of my old bedroom? I'll let you know on Monday.
What books are on your nightstand?
I'm a big fan of Sarah Haskins, a comedian who dares to critique the deluge of media targeted at women in a recurring Current TV segment called "Target: Women." Her riffs on the term "cougar" and yogurt commercials rank among my favorite online videos.
Recently, Haskins took on dating guides (aka books that "offer you a system for understanding and categorizing your failures") with predictably hilarious results. Her impression of Clare Staples, the author of Everything I Need to Know About Men I Learned from My Dog, is a highlight—and you'll never squeeze a tomato at the market in the same way.
p.s. If you're still interested in giving a dating advice book a try, check out my tongue-in-cheek look at a few of them from back in 2007. Can you spot the book Sarah featured in her video?
As a child I stole my mom's Stephen King novels from her bedside table (nothing like the lure of the forbidden!) and continued to read him through my teens. Over the last few years I've been a more sporadic King reader—skipping pretty much everything except Lisey's Story since Bag of Bones—but when I heard Under the Dome was along the lines of one of my favorites, The Stand, I was ready to dive in.
Then I opened our galley and found out it started on . . . page 73. Oops. Gives a whole new meaning to the term in media res, doesn't it?
Apparently we were the only unlucky ones, and Scribner got us a complete copy within a week. I've been working my way through the book ever since and can say that the Stand comparison is not too much of a stretch. After the jump, more on my impressions of the book so far (no real spoilers or plot details beyond those given in the published summary, but if you don't want to know anything about this one before you buy, stop here).
Since Under the Dome takes place in a small town sealed off from the world, it lacks the epic feel of The Stand. However, as in The Stand King uses his characters' predicament to address some major questions about human nature. The Stand asks if humans can avoid repeating their mistakes, and King's answer is ambiguous. In Under the Dome, the emphasis here is on compassion—or, sparing that, pity. What could force us to feel these emotions for the people we hurt, or see being hurt? What makes us stop seeing people as people, and why? The world watches as the situation in Chester's Mill goes downhill fast, and then turns away once the novelty of a town sealed off from the rest of the world fades and other news stories take top billing, recalling tragedies like Hurricane Katrina.
Under the Dome also contains signature King moments—images you'll remember, for better or for worse. And though the cast is huge, the characters manage to stand out as individuals. King fans should definitely mark November 10 on their calendar.
When we blogged about South of Broad, Pat Conroy's new novel, back in April, we were thrilled with the huge reader response we got.
Our readers commented to tell us how much they love Conroy and how excited they are for his new book. (To check out my original blog post, click here).
Today South of Broad goes on sale—and to celebrate, we are offering free copies to two lucky Book Case readers. All you have to do is comment on this posting by Friday, August 14. Tell us what your favorite Conroy novel is, or why you're looking forward to reading South of Broad. We'll select the winners at random. And don't forget to check out our August cover story on Conroy and South of Broad here.
Good luck! And happy reading!
Congrats to Neil Gaiman, winner of the Hugo Award for Best Novel for The Graveyard Book. Guess the judges were "astounded by Gaiman's sharp, spine-tingling storytelling," as BookPage reviewer Angela Leeper promised readers would be in our October 2008 review of the book. The Hugo is the most prestigious award in science fiction and fantasy, and past winners include Robert A. Heinlein, Lois McMasters Bujold, Susanna Clarke, Michael Chabon and Isaac Asimov. This is Gaiman's second "Best Novel" win (American Gods received the 2002 Best Novel Hugo).
The full list of 2009 winners can be found here.
Last week, I spent eight blissful days in Provincetown, Massachusetts, the very tip of Cape Cod and home to many talented writers and artists. Thousands of fascinating people have traveled through P-town over the years, but my family always took particular delight in one of our most notable neighbors—Norman Mailer.
Mailer lived just a few houses down from my family and someone always had a “Mailer spotting” story to tell. But walking by the Mailer house this summer, you can’t help but notice that things are different. Of course the great literary legend is no longer with us (he died in November 2007), but his house has been transformed into The Norman Mailer Writers Colony.
Opening its doors this spring, The Norman Mailer Writers Colony is a non-profit organization established to honor Mailer and his commitment to Provincetown and its artistic community. Mailer’s gorgeous bay-front estate is now a meeting place and residence for “promising writers, educators, editors, scholars and distinguished writers” and offers fellowships and weeklong workshops. Mailer’s third floor study, where he wrote many of his major works since 1975, remains as he left it—with books, notes and research materials that he was using as he worked on his final projects.
In addition to a number of programs and workshops on site, the Colony has established a series of national writing awards open to all high school, college and university students, encouraging the passion, skill and commitment Mailer exhibited during his 60-year writing career. I can’t think of a better way to honor the great writer—and to celebrate our great town of Provincetown. For more information on this remarkable Writers Colony, visit: www.nmwcolony.org.
The Book Case is proud to welcome author (and handwriting analyst!) Sheila Lowe. Here, she examines several handwriting samples from famous authors and demonstrates that telling a person's profession by their handwriting is easier said than done.
As part of my work as a forensic handwriting expert, I've studied more than 10,000 handwriting samples from people who work in a wide spectrum of professions and industries, including publishing. Authors like Dean Koontz, Michael Connelly, Anne Perry, and Dominick Dunne are part of my collection. So when BookPage asked me what commonalities there might be in the handwriting of authors, I had plenty of samples to look at.
The fact is, everyone's handwriting reveals a great deal about their personality, social skills, thinking style, ego strengths, and much more. But it's not a matter of merely looking at how a person forms their loops or dots their i's. Handwriting contains thousands of variables, and the experiences the writer has accumulated throughout a lifetime and their response to them creates a distinct pattern in the spatial arrangement of the writing on the page, the way the letters are formed, and the rhythm and movement of the writing.
Emily Dickinson had handwriting that is unusual in its excessive simplification, which reveals a problem with her ego. The extremely wide spaces between letters and words indicate her sense of, and need for, isolation.
Oscar Wilde's writing pattern is similar to Dickinson's in that the spacing, though not as extreme. So, we see these two authors had a strong need for personal space that dominated all aspects of their lives.
One of my favorite handwriting samples came in a letter from Dean Koontz, who kindly replied to a letter of mine. In his sample, the letters, words, and lines are quite close together, but not so close that the lower loops fall down and interfere with the next line (which would mean that he had trouble keeping things in their proper place). The writing looks warm and friendly but self-disciplined (the writer whose books have sold more than a half-billion copies would need to be self-disciplined!).
Dominick Dunne's handwriting is highly stylized, indicating someone who is concerned with image. It also has a left slant, which says he doesn't easily get close to people.
So we can see that despite some common characteristics, these authors have real differences, personality-wise, which makes sense. There is one thing they all have in common, though: their handwritings look nothing like the copybook model they were taught in school, and that means they each possess the characteristics of creativity, artistry, originality.
So coming back to the question, how do you tell who is an author by their handwriting? The answer is, you can't. Because each person is an individual with their own set of experiences and responses, like fingerprints, every handwriting is unique. There isn't just one type of author, so there isn't one type of author handwriting. But if the handwriting is creative, original, and expressive, it might have been done by an author. Or an artist. Or a photographer. Or...well, you get the picture.
Sheila Lowe is the author of the Forensic Handwriting Mysteries series, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Handwriting Analysis, and Handwriting of the Famous & Infamous. Her latest Claudia Rose mystery, Dead Write, is on sale this week.
Today’s publication of Nick McDonell’s third novel, An Expensive Education, probably has more than a few would-be writers twitching with jealousy—McDonell’s first novel, Twelve, was published when the author was just 18 years old.
On Sunday, the New York Times profiled the now 25-year-old writer. McDonell comes from a literary background—his father edits Sports Illustrated, and Hunter S. Thompson was a family friend. Although these connections no doubt helped McDonell get his first book deal, critic Michiko Kakutani validated the writer’s talent by calling Twelve “as fast as speed, as relentless as acid.” In BookPage, the novel was praised as being “energetic and episodic, brimming with tension. . . . McDonell, who is only 18, writes with a worldliness and wisdom that exceed his years.” Currently, Twelve is being turned into a movie by director Joel Schumacher, starring Kiefer Sutherland, Chace Crawford and 50 Cent.
Does anyone have other favorite authors who were discovered at a young age? A few immediately come to mind: Michael Chabon (The Mysteries of Pittsburgh was Chabon’s honors thesis and published when he was 25); Marisha Pessl (Special Topics in Calamity Physics debuted when Pessl was 28; Night Film is forthcoming in 2010); and Jonathan Safran Foer (Everything Is Illuminated was drawn from Foer’s senior thesis and published when he was 25). Young writer Kaleb Nation (age 20) is starting to get some buzz. His YA novel Bran Hambric: The Farfield Curse will be published on Sept. 1.