Acclaimed author and well-regarded funny person Gary Shteyngart (Super Sad True Love Story) releases his much- anticipated memoir, Little Failure today.
Born in Leningrad, USSR, in 1972, Shteyngart takes readers along for the long haul: from his family’s immigration to Queens, New York, and through his often alienating, awkward adolescence, family dysfunction, fears, disappointments and first forays into the world of writing.
Although there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, Shteyngart's aim is always honesty, and his delivery is unflinching. Our reviewer, Alden Mudge, said, “Few writers have written about the soul-scorching experiences of their lives with such wit and ferocity as Shteyngart does in Little Failure.”
This is an excellent book to start off your 2014 with, and this trailer, in typical Shteyngart fashion, is amazing. There's a reason The New Yorker has named Shteyngart as "the leading book-trailer auteur of our time."
With appearances by Rashida Jones, James Franco and fellow author Jonathan Franzen, this is a book trailer home run.
What do you think, readers? Favorite moments? Favorite cameos? Will you read Little Failure?
BEA is all about building buzz for books. Publisher booths are festooned with posters heralding the big fall releases from authors like Mitch Albom, James Patterson and Diana Gabaldon. But being at BEA also allows for readers to make smaller, but equally significant, discoveries. Our advertising manager Angie Bowman has just such a story:
The memoir Unremarried Widow was literally shoved into my hands while I was walking the show. I almost left it in the booth because I don't read much nonfiction, but the back cover letter from the editor compared the story to The Time Traveler's Wife. That's my all-time favorite book, so that was all the description I needed to convince me to stick with it. I read it on the plane ride back from BEA and I bawled my eyes out almost the entire flight. I could hardly speak I was crying so hard. A girl sitting near me on the plane asked me what I was reading because obviously it must be really good! Unremarried Widow was a heart-wrenching memoir. Artis Henderson is a master storyteller and writer. If you are looking for reading suggestions, Bowman highly recommends.
Heads in Beds by Jacob Tomsky
Doubleday • $25.95 • ISBN 9780385535632
On sale November 20, 2012
We interviewed Tomsky for the December issue of BookPage. You can read that Q&A here for a preview of what you'll learn in Heads in Beds. I love his answer to the question, "What are the most annoying words a guest can say to a front desk agent?"
Here's an excerpt from the book—and an example of how not to act in the lobby:
There are a thousand ways to complain, a thousand ways to have your problems instantly solved. As far as the most effective tactic, would I suggest screaming at an employee? Obviously, I would not.
Here is what I would suggest: Before approaching any employee, try to pinpoint exactly what the problem is (You were promised one rate and charged another / A bellman was rude to your wife / Someone must've thought you were finished with the pizza box you left on the floor of the bathroom and threw away the last cold slice), and then, if possible, what solution would make you feel satisfied (Having the rate adjusted to reflect the original booking / Being assured that the issue will be investigated and the bellman will be spoken to / A pizza slice on the floor? It's gone. Let it GO). Though most complaints should be delivered to the front desk directly, in person or on the phone, keep in mind that most issues you present will not have been caused by the front desk at all. So briefly outline your problem, offer a solution if you have one, and then ask whom you should speak with to have the problem solved. "Should I speak to a manager about this?" "Should I speak to housekeeping about this?" Those are wonderful and beautiful questions to ask. Most of the time the front desk will be able to solve the problem immediately or at least act as proxy and communicate your unrest to the appropriate department or manager. Want to make sure the agent doesn't nod, say "certainly," and not do a damn thing? Get his or her name. Nothing tightens up an employee's throat like being directly identified. You don't have to threaten him or her either, just a nice casual "Thanks for your help. I'll stop by later to make sure everything has been taken care of. Tommy, right?" Whatever you asked me to do I am DOING it.
Lastly, let's try to keep fiery anger out of the lobby. Almost 100 percent of the time the person you are punching on had nothing whatsoever to do with your situation. It's a hotel; nothing's personal. Here is a nice rule of thumb we can all try to remember: a person of culture should make every effort to hide his frustration from those who've had nothing to do with its origin. Boom.
Winter Journal by Paul Auster
Holt • $26 • ISBN 9780805095531
on sale August 21, 2012
Thirty years after his breakthrough debut, the memoir The Invention of Solitude, Paul Auster returns to the medium in Winter Journal.
With the hindsight of Didion, the narrative elegance of Nabokov and the mesmerizing writing for which he himself is known, Auster (now 65) steps into what he calls "the winter of [his] life" by looking back on a lifetime. He shares his memories and the fleeting moments of his body—places it has been, things it has felt (both wonderful and terrible)—through threaded vignettes constructed of languorous sentences that feel much like memory itself. Each fragment careens toward death, a boat against the current.
Auster writes as "you," a device which could feel like an assault were it not for the accomplished writer behind it. At times, the "you" seems removed, peering at his former self in a distant way, as when he recounts the hours immediately following his mother's death: "No tears, no howls of anguish, no grief—just a vague sense of horror growing inside you." At other times, the "you" seems to be surprised and thrilled all over again, such as when he discovers his own penis at age five: ". . . how fitting that you should have a miniature fireman's helmet emblazoned on your person, on the very part of your body, moreover, that looks like and functions as a hose." And always, the "you" is hypnosis to trick you, reader, into remembering a life that isn't your own.
It's a fast read, never waning to nostalgia, that will move you to chew the cud of your own mortality and (somehow) still find time to disappear into your own memories.
You think it will never happen to you, that it cannot happen to you, that you are the only person in the world to whom none of these things will ever happen, and then, one by one, they all begin to happen to you, in the same way they happen to everyone else.
Your bare feet on the cold floor as you climb out of bed and walk to the window. You are six years old. Outside, snow is falling, and the branches of the trees in the backyard are turning white.
Speak now before it is too late, and then hope to go on speaking until there is nothing more to be said. Time is running out, after all. Perhaps it is just as well to put aside your stories for now and try to examine what it has felt like to live inside this body from the first day you can remember being alive until this one. A catalogue of sensory data. What one might call a phenomenology of breathing.
Will you keep an eye out for Auster's new memoir in August?
Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie
Random House • $35 • ISBN 9780679456728
To be published November 8, 2011
The fact that I've been anticipating this book for months is no secret to Book Case readers. Having finished it over Labor Day weekend in preparation for interviewing Massie for our November issue, I'm happy to report that this was a book worth waiting for. Eight years in the making, backed up by Massie's decades of research on the Russian family, Catherine the Great is an expertly crafted page-turner of a life story.
One of the things that makes Massie's biographies so wonderful to read is the way he is able to empathize with his subjects, and try to understand their motivations, without lionizing them. While it's clear he likes and respects Catherine and her accomplishments, he doesn't try to hide her flaws.
Since I know that what many people are curious about when it comes to Catherine the Great is her love life, here's a passage where Massie examines her relationships with a succession of younger "favorites" over the last 20 or so years of her life.
What was Catherine seeking in these ornamental young men? She has suggested that it was love. "I couldn't live for a day without love," she had written in her Memoirs. Love has many forms, however, and she did not mean sexual love alone, but also companionship, warmth, support, intelligence, and, if possible, humor. . . . Desire for love and sex played little part in attracting her lovers to her; they were motivated by ambition, desire for prestige, wealth and, in some cases, power. Catherine knew this. She asked them for things other than simple sexual congress. She wanted an indication of pleasure in her company, a desire to understand her point of view, a willingness to be instructed by her intelligence and experience, an appreciation of her sense of humor, and an ability to make her laugh. The physical side of her relationships offered only brief distraction. When Catherine dismissed lovers, it was not because they lacked virility but because they bored her. One need not be an empress to find it impossible to talk in the morning to a person with whom one has spent the night.
What are you reading this week?
Life Itself: A Memoir by Roger Ebert
Grand Central • $27.99 • ISBN 9780446584975
on sale September 13, 2011
Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic Roger Ebert has written more than 15 books, worked for the Chicago Sun Times since 1967 and been on television for 40 years. While his memoir Life Itself covers every major moment in Ebert's life, it is more than anything an example of why he has become such a preeminent cultural voice.
On the set of the show, between actually taping segments, we had a rule that there could be no discussion of the movies under review. So we attacked each other with one-liners. Buzz Hannan, our floor director, was our straight man, and the cameramen supplied our audience. For example:
Me: "Don't you think you went a little over the top in that last review?"
Gene: "Spoken like the gifted Haystacks Calhoun tribute artist that you are."
"Haystacks was loved by his fans as a charming country boy."
"Six hundred and forty pounds of rompin' stompin' charm. Oh, Rog? Are those two-tone suedes, or did you step in some chicken shit?"
"You can borrow them whenever you wear your white John Travolta disco suit from Saturday Night Fever."
Buzz: "Yeah, when are you gonna wear it on the show?"
"He wanted to wear it today, but it's still at the tailor shop having the crotch taken in."
Buzz: "Ba-ba-ba-boom !"
Will you be reading Ebert's memoir when it comes out in September?
Townie by Andre Dubus III
W.W. Norton • $25.95 • ISBN 9780393064667
February 28, 2011
Set in a depressed Massachusetts town, Andre Dubus III's memoir is tough and poignant and hard to read. This is a world where kids get beat up and stolen from; they attempt suicide, deal drugs and have casual sex, and parents struggle to provide three (even one) meals a day. Though we know the outcome of this story going in—Dubus III eventually writes House of Sand and Fog—you'll read with the same anticipation you might feel while watching a hard-scrabble sports movie (think The Fighter). And it doesn't hurt that Dubus III writes clean, beautiful sentences. Sometimes it is hard to reconcile the iron-pumping, class-skipping kid with the man who becomes a writer.
In Townie, the narrator's dad, short story writer Andre Dubus, moves out after he and his wife divorce. Dubus III and his three siblings live with their mom in a series of small dirty houses in rough neighborhoods while their dad lives in faculty housing at a local college. The book's title comes from a derogatory term used by students at the college:
One morning between classes I cut through the student union building, its pool table and soft chairs, its serving counter where you could order a cheeseburger and coffee or hot chocolate. A group of them were over by the picture window which looked out onto the raked lawn. I heard one of them say, "That's Dubus's son. Look at him. He's such a townie."
I'd heard the word before. They used it for the men they'd see at Ronnie D's bar down in Bradford Square, the place where my father drank with students and his friends. It's where some men from the town drank, too—plumbers and electricians and millworkers, Sheetrock hangers and housepainters and off-duty cops: townies.
What are you reading today?
The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure
Riverhead • $25.95 • ISBN 9781594487804
April 14, 2011
If you can relate, then have I got a book for you. Wendy McClure's charming new memoir is about her obsession with "Laura World," and her search for the truth behind the beloved series.
It's a fascinating read, and it's also quite funny. For example:
And, oh my God: I wanted to live in one room with my whole family and have a pathetic corncob doll all my own. I wanted to wear a calico sunbonnet—or rather, I wanted to not wear a calico sunbonnet, the way Laura did, letting it hang down her back by its ties. I wanted to do chores because of those books. Carry water, churn butter, make headcheese. I wanted dead rabbits brought home for supper. I wanted to go out into the backyard and just, I don't know, grab stuff off trees, or uproot things from the ground, and bring it all inside in a basket and have my parents say, "My land! What a harvest!"
What are you reading today?
The Pioneer Woman:
Black Heels to Tractor Wheels
by Ree Drummond
William Morrow • $25.99 • ISBN 9780061997167
On sale February 1, 2011
It's no secret that I'm a big fan of the Pioneer Woman, aka Ree Drummond. I've enjoyed making her recipes for a couple of years now; I'm fascinated by her city-girl-to-country-girl story; and last year I braved the crowd at her cookbook signing in Nashville. I even went to the gym just so I could watch her recent throwdown with Bobby Flay. (Who knew that not having cable could lead to more exercise? Who knew that watching a cooking demonstration while on the treadmill will make a person drool even more than watching it on the couch?)
And this weekend, I get to meet Pioneer Woman in person. On her family's ranch in Oklahoma. (Cue hyperventilating.)
I'll be taking lots of pictures, shooting video and chatting with PW about her memoir, The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels.
You can already read a lot of the story on ThePioneerWoman.com—the first two-thirds were published originally as a web serial. Part three of the book picks up where the serial leaves off, after PW's wedding. That you can read on February 1.
Check back soon for updates from my trip. And here's an excerpt from the memoir to whet your appetite for some old-school romance now:
Cowboy. I'd never spoken to a cowboy, let alone ever known one personally, let alone ever dated one, and certainly, absolutely, positively never kissed one—until that night on my parents' front porch, a mere couple of weeks before I was set to begin my new life in Chicago. After valiantly rescuing me from falling flat on my face just moments earlier, this cowboy, this western movie character standing in front of me, was at this very moment, with one strong, romantic, mind-numbingly perfect kiss, inserting the category of "Cowboy" into my dating repertoire forever . . .
I don't know how long we stood there in the first embrace of our lives together. But I do know that when that kiss was over, my life as I'd always imagined it was over, too.
I just didn't know it yet.
Blood, Bones and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton
Random House • $26 • ISBN 9781400068722
March 1, 2011
How's this for a recommendation:
"Magnificent. Simply the best memoir by a chef ever. Ever. Gabrielle Hamilton packs more heart, soul and pure power into one beautifully crafted page than I've accomplished in my entire writing career. Blood, Bones, and Butter is the work of an uncompromising chef and a prodigiously talented writer. I am choked with envy." The writer of this blurb? None other than Anthony Bourdain, author of Kitchen Confidential, A Cook's Tour and Medium Raw.
Unless you're familiar with New York restaurants, you may not have ever heard of Gabrielle Hamilton. She is the chef of Prune in Manhattan's East Village, and she has also written a chef's column in the New York Times. Blood, Bones and Butter tells the story of her upbringing (father was a set designer; mother was French) and path to opening a successful restaurant.
Though the memoir gives a behind-the-scenes view of the restaurant industry (some dirt included), the real treat is Hamilton's evocotive writing. Here's a sample from an opening scene, when the author and her siblings sleep outdoors the night before her family's lamb roast:
I quietly thrilled to be packed into my sleeping bag right up next to them. I felt cocooned by the thick crescendoing song of the crickets, that voluptuous blanket of summer night humidity, the smell of wood smoke, the heavy dew of the tall grass around us, the necessary and anchoring voices, giggles, farts, and squeals of disgust of my older siblings. This whole perfect night when everyone is still, pretty much, intact and wholesome, is where I sometimes want the party to stop.
In the morning the sun will come up and the rest of life will resume--where it will become cliche to admire the beauty of the stars, facile to feel transported by the smell of wood smoke, childish to admit to loving your siblings, and weak to be made secure by the idea of your parents still married up in the house--and we will awaken and kick out of our sleeping bags and find in the pit a huge bed of glowing coals, perfect for the slow roasting of the lambs.
Sound like something you'd like to read more of?
What are you reading today?