Yesterday marked the 45th anniversary of the moon landing. Almost half a century after this remarkable event, it's easy to forget that shooting humans 238,900 miles away from Earth and having them walk around on the moon is one of the most amazing feats humanity has ever accomplished.
We were lucky enough to interview Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin about his memoir Magnificent Desolation in 2009. In the memoir, Aldrin discusses the reality of coming back to Earth and the adjustments he was forced to make. Aldrin doesn't shy away from the difficulties he faced upon his return, and his memoir is an intimate portrait of the life of a hero.
The authorized biography of Neil Armstrong, First Man by James R. Hansen, follows the guarded life of Aldrin's fellow moon-walking shipmate. The detailed, extensive biography is a fascinating examination of the life of one of America's legends.
Reading about these men makes you marvel not only at the moon-landing, but all the things humanity has accomplished since.
In today's guest post, BookPage contributor Carla Jean Whitley discusses what it's like to go from critic to critiqued on the eve of the publication of her first book.
I was recently part of a group of readers who were assessing recent reads and recommending a variety of books. A dozen people curled themselves around cups of coffee in the second-story nook of my local bookstore, eager to hear what upcoming books the booksellers would suggest.
Some of those gathered—including me—were equally excited to share the best books we’d read lately. But as the conversation grew more analytical, I was taken aback by a realization: Soon, readers could be assessing my book.
I’ve grown accustomed to reviewing other people’s work. Review writing was my favorite course in grad school, and my first writing paycheck was for a book review. I’ve reviewed books and music for much of the 10 years since that first piece was published. I try to consider the reader or listener, not the author or musician, when I write a review; even so, I’m keenly aware that there’s nothing to be gained in beating up on an artist. Even when I’m editing at my full-time magazine job or grading the work of college students, I’m quick to offer criticism coupled with praise.
Will reviewers be so kind when they read my work?
My first book, Muscle Shoals Sound Studio: How the Swampers Changed American Music, goes on sale today. It’s a history of a tiny recording studio in northwest Alabama and how it became a destination for artists such as Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bob Dylan, The Black Keys and the Rolling Stones. Eleven-and-a-half months lapsed between the day I received a signed book contract and the moment I hit send on an email containing my manuscript. I spent those days buried in research, poring over album reviews and old interviews, watching documentaries and searching for mentions of the historic Alabama recording studio. And as I did, I battled the voices in my head, which were quick to assess every stroke of the keyboard.
As I wrote, I often returned to my writing mantra, care of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: shitty first drafts. I practice this daily as a magazine editor, but writing a book amplified every insecurity I’ve got. Rather than obsessing about whether people would like the book, if it would sell well or what I might write in the future, I labored to redirect my attention to the thing I know best: Writing.
After months of questioning myself—but never the story of this remarkable recording studio—I’m ready to hold the finished product in my hands.
Carla Jean Whitley is a writer, editor and teacher based in Birmingham, Alabama, where she is managing editor of Birmingham magazine. She is a regular BookPage contributor, and is still talking about her favorite book of 2013, Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. Carla Jean volunteers with literacy organizations and teaches journalism at the University of Alabama and Samford University. Connect with her at carlajeanwhitley.com.
Author photo by Cheryl Joy Miner.
Deborah Harkness is a busy woman. A professor of history at the University of Southern California, Harkness somehow managed to write a bestselling trilogy in between classes. The enormously popular All Souls fantasy series comes to a close with the final installment, The Book of Life. In our interview with Harkness, our interviewer remarks that the trilogy is an "addictive blend of history, science, romance and fantasy that chronicles the complicated relationship between a witch named Diana Bishop and a vampire named Matthew de Clairmont." (Read the full interview here, and a few extra tidbits we couldn't fit into the print issue here.)
We were curious about the books Harkness has enjoyed reading, so we asked her to recommend three favorites, which she graciously agreed to share.
To be perfectly honest, I’ve been so busy writing and teaching lately that I haven’t been able to do much reading for pleasure. So I’m going to have to fall back on three of my favorite books—books that I’ve read and re-read and can recommend with enthusiasm. They may not make a list of literary classics, but these are my desert island books. So long as I have these three books, I’d be perfectly occupied for years.
Gone With the Wind
By Margaret Mitchell
I first picked up Mitchell’s classic book because it was so thick I knew it would keep me busy for days. There was no library in town, and the Bookmobile only came once a week so you had to plan carefully. No matter how many times I read it, I still wonder how the book will end. It’s exactly the kind of character-driven storytelling that I most adore, with two unlikeable central characters and a huge supporting cast. If you’ve only seen the movie, read the book. It is a very different experience, I promise.
By Anya Seton
The true confessions continue. My mother recommended this book to me when I was a history-mad teenager. She had loved it and thought I would enjoy it, too. She was right. I absolutely adored the story of Katherine Swynford’s illicit relationship with one of the most powerful men in medieval England. Katherine is a smart, politically astute heroine who knows her limitations as well as her strengths. It’s a terrific read.
The Game of Kings
By Dorothy Dunnett
My undergraduate advisor suggested I read this—after I finished my honors thesis. She was right not to tell me about it before the thing was filed, or I wouldn’t have graduated. Dorothy Dunnett’s sprawling, epic Crawford of Lymond Chronicles (this if the first of six volumes) and its House of Niccolò prequels (eight volumes) kept me going through my first year of full-time employment and for many years after that. The Game of Kings is set in 16th century Scotland and is so well researched that I have been known to recommend parts of the trilogy to students who are confused about what happened at the Battle of Lepanto. Crawford of Lymond is another adoringly unlikeable main character, and the dialogue and plot move at a blistering pace. You will never keep all the twists and turns straight—don’t even try. Just settle in and enjoy the read.
Have you read any of Harkness' favorites?
(Author Photo by Scarlett Freund)
Ten years later, check out our 2004 Top Picks in Mystery:
January 2004: The Frumious Bandersnatch by Ed McBain
In the 53rd book featuring the cops of the 87th Precinct, McBain (aka Evan Hunter) spun a "hilarious and diabolical"—and topical—web, skewering the music industry, sensationalist cable news coverage, George W and the Patriot Act. Read our review.
February 2004: Hard Revolution by George Pelecanos
Pelecanos fills us in on the backstory of D.C. private investigator Derek Strange, star of such titles as Soul Circus and Hell to Pay, from coming of age in the early '60s to his experience as a cop during the riots following the assassination of Dr. King. "Hard Revolution plants the reader in the middle of a population run amok, where the major difference between the criminals and the cops is possession of a badge." Read our review.
March 2004: Deep Pockets by Linda Barnes
Private investigator Carlotta Carlyle takes on the task of unearthing a blackmailer who threatens a Harvard professor over his illict affair with a student. First the student turns up dead, then the blackmailer, and the professor seems to be the culprit. As might be expected, he claims innocence, and it falls to Carlotta to uncover the truth. This pageturner comes highly recommended for fans of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series. Read our review.
April 2004: Sleeping Beauty by Phillip Margolin
In Margolin's chilling novel, true-crime author Miles Van Meter's bestseller told the story of the serial killer who killed several people in Miles' life and put his sister in a coma. Flash back six years to the story of high school soccer star Ashley Spencer, who escapes the murderer who kills her mother and father—the same killer who leaves Miles' sister comatose. But back in present-day, Miles reveals that all is not as it seems. "Sleeping Beauty is a must for suspense fans; red herrings abound, and the twists are as convoluted as the whorls of a killer's fingerprint." Read our review.
May 2004: Live Bait by P.J. Tracy
This Minnesota mystery comes from mother-daughter writing team P.J. and Traci Lambrecht. Homicide detectives Leo Magozzi and Gino Rolseth follow up their Monkeewrench (2003) adventure with an investigation into a string of octogenarian murders—and some of the victims were Holocaust survivors. Read our review.
June 2004: Loaded Dice by James Swain
Retired cop and gamesman Tony Valentine makes a living uncovering crooked gamblers. In his fourth appearance, he ravels to Las Vegas to investigate a lovely blackjack amateur who bears an uncanny resemblance to Valentine's deceased wife. "Swain is a master storyteller, often mentioned in the same breath with Elmore Leonard or Carl Hiaasen." Read our review.
July 2004: Little Scarlet by Walter Mosley
In the summer of 1965, the Watts riots rage in L.A., and Easy Rawlins is charged with investigating the murder of a young black woman, one who cared for a white man who narrowly escaped a mob of angry black youths. "Mosley captures the nuance of atmosphere and time better than any mystery author since Raymond Chandler; he is the unchallenged modern master of the craft." Read our review.
August 2004: The Wake-Up by Robert Ferrigno
"Robert Ferrigno is in many ways the consummate author," and in this edgy noir, who proves just that. Mostly-retired black-ops specialist Frank Thorpe comes to the aid of a mistreated vendor in an airport, and with that small act, "the first domino is pushed, the carefully arranged pattern goes awry remarkably quickly." The villains in this one make it a true standout mystery. Read our review.
September 2004: Destination: Morgue! by James Ellroy
This collection, packed to the brim with crime and murder, is composed of 14 pieces including three novellas, a profile of celebrity defendant Robert Blake, several true-crime stories and a wealth of autobiographical material that provide a template for writing a mystery novel. "If you feel that your favorites have gone a bit too soft around the middle, a touch mainstream, give James Ellroy a shot." Read our review.
October 2004: California Girl by T. Jefferson Parker
Part family drama, part murder mystery, this California tale is "first-rate; the true success of the book, though, is how well it captures the time and place, a sun-drenched, orange-scented utopia gone but affectionately remembered." Read our review.
November 2004: The Rottweiler by Ruth Rendell
A serial killer christened "The Rottweiler" starts picking off girls one by one and steals one token from each. When the victims' belongings turn up in an antique shop, the police begin to investigate the many quirky characters who reside in the building. Read our review.
December 2004: Rumpole and the Penge Bungalow Murders by John Mortimer
Modern-day Rumpole shares with readers the details of his very first case, the defense of a young man accused of killing his war-hero father. "The Rumpole books are equally appealing to fans of British mysteries and aficionados of the bad-boy English authors of the '50s. They are clever, exceptionally relevant and crammed full of the sort of weird and wonderful quotes that stick with you long after you put the book down." Read our review.
Were you reading any of these winners in 2004?
Like his rebellious game warden Mike Bowditch, Maine author Paul Doiron has come a long way. His debut thriller, The Poacher's Son, was nominated for an Edgar Award, and each subsequent book has gained richness and nuance. In Doiron's newest novel, The Bone Orchard, Mike shows signs of becoming a real hero. Doiron shares a little bit about the journey he has made as a writer and how it is reflected in his hero's story.
When I began writing my first novel, The Poacher’s Son, I had no idea I was about to change my life. I was a magazine journalist who had written a few nonfiction articles about Maine game wardens, and one Saturday morning, I started noodling around with a short piece of fiction—not even a story, just an anecdote—about a rookie warden and a marauding black bear. For reasons I still don’t understand, I wrote the episode from the perspective of the young man, whom I named Mike Bowditch. It didn’t occur to me that this might be the beginning of a crime novel, let alone a series of them.
I just wrote the story and, because I liked what I’d done, I kept going. I decided my warden should return home after dealing with the bear. What does he find there? A message on the answering machine. Who is it from? His estranged father. Who is his father? A notorious poacher in the North Woods. Mike Bowditch, I decided, has become a law enforcement officer to make amends for his dad’s life of criminal acts.
As I continued writing, I found that one creative choice led inevitably to another. A son who chooses his profession as a rebuke to his father is going to have a lot of unresolved issues. He would be filled with anger and yet crave approval and respect. And because I was writing this story in the first person, it followed that Mike Bowditch would be blind to his own emotional problems. The plot of what I now recognized as the beginning of a novel took shape from this essential conflict in his character. The father is accused of having committed murder, but the son, despite his boiling resentments, cannot bring himself to believe that he is guilty.
Flash forward several years: The Poacher’s Son is done, and I have just approached Ann Rittenberg, the woman who will become my literary agent. She asks if the book is the first in a series of Mike Bowditch novels. The idea had been brewing in the back of my mind while I was writing. Game wardens are Maine’s off-road police force, and they are involved in the investigation of almost every major crime committed here. There were opportunities for my troubled-but-brave young warden to get himself messed up in any number of stories. In fact, I was itching to tell them.
I also recognized that few readers would continue rooting for an impetuous and headstrong protagonist if he didn’t mature, no matter what other noble qualities he might possess. Rather than write about a character who stays the same from book to book, I decided, my series would be about the process of becoming a hero. How does it happen? What mistakes would Mike Bowditch need to make, both personally and professionally, from story to story, and how would he learn from them?
The Bone Orchard is my fifth book, and I have said that it is my best (although readers will get to decide that question for themselves), and I’ll try to explain why. Over the course of the series we have watched Mike Bowditch get in recurring trouble with his superiors who believe he is unfit to be a law enforcement officer. At the beginning of The Bone Orchard, Mike has finally come to the same conclusion. He has left the Warden Service and is working as a fishing guide. He is trying to move on with his life. He has gone from troublemaker to caretaker, tending to both a mansion in the woods and the family of an incarcerated friend.
There’s only one problem: “Just because you’re done with the past, doesn’t mean the past is done with you,” Mike realizes. After his former sergeant Kathy Frost is forced to kill an unstable Afghan War veteran in what is a “suicide-by-cop” incident, she begins receiving threats. She blames Mike for having left the service, for not having been with her as back-up the night of the shooting. When she herself becomes targeted by a sniper seemingly out for revenge, Mike finds himself outside the investigation and second-guessing his decision to quit. His newfound maturity allows him to see that there are other ways of getting answers than going head-to-head with people. And he realizes, as he gets pulled into the hunt for the shooter, that he has all the necessary instincts and skills to be a successful law enforcement officer after all.
The Bone Orchard is about all the ways the past can haunt us and what we need to do to transcend it—lessons it has taken Mike years to learn. The novel isn’t the conclusion of the series. But it is the end of a story I began writing one Saturday afternoon many years ago, and the beginning for a newly self-aware and heroic Mike Bowditch.
Thanks, Paul! Readers, The Bone Orchard is out now!
Author photo credit © 2012 Lori Traikos.
This week's recipe comes from Marinades by Lucy Vaserfirer—a cookbook entirely dedicated to what our cooking columnist Sybil Pratt describes as "that little something that gives anything and everything you cook on the grill a special zing." Try this Indian-influenced Curry Marinade with lamb chops.
This bright yellow mixture isn’t exactly an authentic Indian recipe, but it’s sure to satisfy fans of curry.
Tool: 1-gallon zip-top bag
Yield: About ½ cup (enough for 2 to 4 servings)
Measure the oil, lime juice, ginger, garlic, jalapeño, cilantro and curry powder into a 1-gallon zip-top bag and shake or squeeze until blended. Season to taste with salt.
SUGGESTED USES: boneless, skinless chicken thighs, pork chops, or lamb chops (marinated 2 hours to overnight) or shrimp (marinated 20 to 45 minutes), grilled.
Grilled Lamb Rib Chops
For 2 servings, add 6 frenched lamb rib chops (about 1 inch thick) to the Curry Marinade in the zip-top bag and turn to coat. Seal the bag, letting out all the air. Marinate for at least 2 hours and up to overnight in the refrigerator.
Set the bag aside at room temperature for about half an hour. Remove the chops from the marinade, pat dry with paper towels, then grill over direct high heat until medium-rare, 10 to 12 minutes (or until the desired doneness), turning once. Moisture will just begin to accumulate on the surface of the chops when they are medium-rare. Tent the chops with foil and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
Serve these lamb chops with dal and basmati rice, or any other Indian-style side dishes you like.
Somehow, it's almost August, and the summer is winding down. Which means there's one more month to cram in some summer reading! The August LibraryReads list features the 10 titles coming out next month that librarians are most excited about reading and sharing with their patrons.
Featured on the list is our August cover-star Amy Bloom with her book Lucky Us, a tale of sisters traversing 1940s America in search of success and happiness. Our Top Pick in fiction makes the list, Liane Moriarty's Big Little Lies, which follows three women as their children enter kindergarden and disaster looms. You can see the full list on LibraryReads website.
Which books are you most looking forward to, readers?
With an entire trilogy coming out in three months, Grace Burrowes has been busy! The first in the Captive Hearts series, The Captive, was released this month. This Regency romance trilogy focuses on the troubled, but of course swoon-worthy, veterans of war and the women they return home to. The next two installments, The Traitor and The Laird, will be released in August and September respectively. In this guest blog post, Burrowes reveals the perks of widowhood for Gillian of The Captive.
Widowhood is a time of sorrow, and widows above all women are to be pitied. Gillian, Countess of Greendale, has waited eight years to earn such pity.
Gilly has obeyed society’s rules and married the man of her father’s choosing. Eight years later, she’s finally a widow, and more than prepared to take advantage of the very same rules that consigned her to a loveless marriage. Now those rules say she’s entitled to live quietly on her own. As a widow, she will endure poverty and obscurity happily to have the peace and contentment that even society admits are her due.
Two problems stand between Gilly and contented widowhood. First, her late husband left her dower house in atrocious condition. Creeping damp isn’t the worst of it. Bats, possibly; a leaking roof, surely. Second, her young cousin Lucy is much in need of a father’s love and attention, but that good fellow has only recently ended captivity in French hands, and is otherwise occupied.
Gilly stirs herself for Lucy’s sake to confront the girl’s father, Christian, Duke of Mercia. Gilly is prepared to give His Grace a sound dressing down—Lucy needs her papa!—but His Grace dangles a lure before Gilly that tempts her from her plans of obscure widowhood. Gilly wants peace and contentment, and she wants to ensure Lucy’s well-being. Christian offers Gilly a place in his household—they are cousins by marriage, after all—and asks her to join him and Lucy at his country estate.
Oh, the blessings of widowhood! Because of her widowed state, Gilly is free to accept Christian’s offer and join him in the tranquil, bucolic splendor of the Severn family seat. She has company, she’s in comfortable surroundings, and she has a widow’s autonomy. She can also keep an eye on Lucy, but increasingly, she finds herself keeping an eye on Christian as well.
He’s not a particularly impressive figure at first—weak, mentally troubled, overwhelmed with the effects of captivity and the burdens of resuming his ducal responsibilities. As much as Gilly longs for independence, she can’t help but sympathize with a duke who was cruelly deprived of his own independence and taken captive. Christian can’t help but admire Gilly, whose relentless independence becomes both an inspiration and a challenge.
Gilly thinks she’s playing by society’s rules as the story opens, but by the end of the book, for Gilly and Christian, the only rules that matter have to do with love and honor. Propriety and the social expectations? Not so much.
You can see more about the trilogy on Grace Burrowes' website.
I dare anyone who doubts the abillity of the personal essay to enlighten to remain in that mindset after reading even two pages of The Empathy Exams. In a dozen wide-ranging essays, Jamison, a Brooklyn-based writer who previously published the novel The Gin Closet, seems to leave no nook or cranny of the human experience unexplored. With fearless honesty, she reveals the ways pain—both physical and mental—affects us and the ways we respond to others around us. Take the title essay, which takes on the subject of empathy using the lens of Jamison's experience as a medical actor, as she displaying symptoms for doctors-in-training who must ask the right questions to unlock a diagnosis. During this process, she reflects on her own response to others in pain, and on the ways she expects those around her to react when she is in need of empathy.
I wonder which parts of my brain are lighting up when the med students as me: "How does that make you feel?" Or which parts of their brains are glowing when I say, "the pain in my abdomen is a ten." My condition isn't real. I know this. They know this. I'm simply going through the motions. They're simply going through the motions. But motions can be more than rote. Tey don't just express feeling; they can give birth to it.
Empathy isn't just something that happens to us—a meteor shower of synapses firing across the brain—it's also a choice we make: to pay attention, to extend ourselves. It's made of exertion, that dowdier cousin of impulse. Sometimes we care for one another because we know we should, or because it's asked for, but this doesn't make our caring hollow. The act of choosing simply means we've committed ourselves to a set of behaviors greater than the sum of our individual inclinations: I will listen to his sadness, even when I'm deep in my own. To say going through the motions—this isn't reduction so much as acknowledgement of effort—the labor, the motions, the dance—of getting inside another person's state of heart or mind.
What are you reading this week?