Erik Larson has a truly dark gift for turning nonfiction into pure entertainment. His sixth book, In the Garden of the Beasts, continues his reputation of capturing that which we wish were untrue by detailing the first year of Nazi rule with unflinching depth.
In his interview with contributor Alden Mudge, Larson discusses his struggle to cover the topic, saying, "When you get immersed in this era there’s something so repulsive about it that it can really drag you down ... No one really studies the very first year of Hitler’s rule. This is about the first dark warnings on the horizon."
With historical accuracy down to the weather and a uniquely personal and American take on the topic, In the Garden of the Beasts is something to get excited about.
I'm definitely picking it up today -- who's with me?
Happy National Library Week!
This probably qualifies as "preaching to the choir," but who cares—it's always a good idea to praise libraries, especially as the American Library Association encourages us to "Create your own story @ your library" during this special week.
So please tell us: Why do you love libraries? What will you check out next from the library? Why are you grateful for librarians?
Here you can watch John Grisham, Honorary Chair of National Library Week, weigh in on why he loves libraries.
What do you have to add?
I've been a devoted library goer my entire life (thanks, Mom!), and now I try to pass on the passion. Just last week, the 10-year-old girl I mentor told me she wanted to do some science experiments. Not being very "science-y" myself, I went to the source I knew would give us a hand: the local library. We checked out books that gave us plenty of ideas and all the information we needed.
Last night, BookPage's Associate Publisher Julia Steele and Contributing Editor Sukey Howard attended the Books for a Better Life Awards in New York City.
The awards benefit the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and recognize self-improvement authors. Here's an impressive stat from the awards' website:
Since its inception in 1996, Books for a Better Life has honored more than 500 authors and has now raised more than $1.7 million to speed our progress toward achieving a world free of MS thanks to the support of the publishing industry.
Childcare/Parenting: Brave Girl Eating by Harriet Brown (HarperCollins)
First Book: The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee (Scribner)
Green: Eaarth by Bill McKibben (Times Books)
Inspirational Memoir: Breaking Night by Liz Murray (Hyperion Books)
Motivational: Life Unlocked by Srinivasan S. Pillay, MD (Rodale)
Personal Finance: The New Good Life by John Robbins (Ballantine)
Psychology: Composing a Further Life by Mary Catherine Bateson (Knopf)
Relationships: Let's Take the Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell (Random House)
Spiritual: The Ten Things to Do When Life Falls Apart by Daphne Rose Kingma (New World Library)
Wellness: Back to Life after a Heart Crisis by Marc Wallack, MD and Jamie Colby (Avery Books)
Books for a Better Life also has a Hall of Fame, and this year Dr. Nancy Snyderman, the chief medical editor of NBC News, and Jamie Raab, executive vice president of Hachette Book Group and publisher of Grand Central Publishing, were inducted. Above, you can see a photo of David Baldacci introducing Raab.
Congratulations to the winners! In BookPage's self-help roundup of January 2011, we wrote that guidebooks can give readers "a renewed sense of purpose and effective new strategies for dealing with life’s challenges." As the Books for a Better Life website states, there is a clear connection between self-help books and MS: "Living with a chronic, unpredictable illness and overcoming life’s challenges go hand-in-hand with a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis."
Have any self-help books helped you overcome challenges?
Since 1997, the National Education Association has celebrated Read Across America Day on March 2, the birthday of Dr. Seuss. (He would have been 107 today.) The purpose of the day is to serve as an "annual reading motivation and awareness program" for kids and teens and to provide the resources to keep "reading on the calendar 365 days a year."
You can find local resources and activity ideas on the NEA website and on Random House's Seussville site. Just for fun, you ought to check out these "Lessons for Adults from the Father of Children's Stories" from Time magazine.
And now some questions:
What's your favorite book by Dr. Seuss? (The Lorax!)
If you're on this blog, you like books. How did your teachers and parents encourage your love of reading when you were a kid? (My parents took me to the public library all the time—especially during the summer—and my elementary school teachers and librarians encouraged me to participate in our Accelerated Reader program.)
How do you spread the gift of reading today? (I mentor a fifth grader and gave her a stack of books for Valentine's Day, including Spaceheadz. On our last outing, she talked my ear off about aliens. I was thrilled!)
I have attended many an event at Nashville's now-closed Davis-Kidd Booksellers (most memorably a Mockingjay release party), and like everyone else I was really, really sad when the bookstore closed in December.
Last week, I breathed a sigh of relief when the Borders less than a mile from my apartment was not on the closure list. Besides the fact that I appreciate living within walking distance of two bookstores, I also had plans to go hear Daniel J. Sharfstein read from his new book, The Invisible Line. (Sharfstein was originally scheduled to read at Davis-Kidd. He was worried his publicity was cursed!)
I had never been to a store event at this particular Borders, but I am happy to report that there were so many people in attendance that some had to sit on the floor. Sharfstein's book traces the history of three African-American families who chose to cross the color line and pass for white. In his talk last night, the author argued that these three complex stories are representative of America's story, where the construction of race and racial identity is anything but clear-cut.
As Sharfstein answered questions on judicial processes in the Jim Crow South and how genealogical research has given meaning to people's lives (like when a person who'd identified as white her entire life found out her ancestors had been slaves), I was struck by how valuable bookstore readings are. Twitter chats, the features on enhanced e-books and book trailers are all really snazzy, but nothing beats actually talking to the author.
Are you interested in The Invisible Line? Have you been to any inspiring bookstore events lately?
If you're a Moning Maniac, then heck yes it does. It's the release day of Shadowfever, the final book in Karen Marie Moning's Fever series!
If you couldn't make it to NOLA, you can get a taste of chatting with the author in this handwritten Q&A featured in the February issue of BookPage (I love Moning's answer for what she'd want with her on a desert island.):
Even if you're not into dark fantasy, you can probably appreciate that the Shadowfever launch party is pretty darn awesome. What would be your ideal author event?
Today marks the one-year anniversary of the devastating, 7.0 earthquake that hit Haiti, and as many news sources have noted, the recovery is slow. The Red Cross is still in the country and thousands are still homeless.
One of the Americans who was there when the quake hit was Dan Woolley, a director of Compassion International. Woolley was trapped in the rubble of his hotel for nearly three days, a story he recounts in his new book, Unshaken.
Woolley shared a little more about his story, and his return to Haiti this week, in an essay for BookPage.
You wonder what you will feel like in the last moments of your life, when you finally look death in the face . . . how your beliefs about death and the afterlife will play out. For me, it moved really quickly from abstract to tangible, given I was buried under six floors of rubble following the January 2010 Haiti earthquake. I will never pretend to understand why God allowed me to be rescued while many others did not make it out alive.
Sometimes it can be a downer to go back to reality after a nice holiday vacation, but here's one thing we can look forward to in the Nashville area: the annual Food for Fines program at the Nashville Public Library!
From January 10-20 you can earn $1 worth of fine credit for every can or package of food you donate to the library. Plus, you can help the NPL reach their goal of donating 48,000 pounds of food to Second Harvest Food Bank. (Learn more about this program in a story on WPLN.)
I know some people get discouraged from going to the library if they accumulate a high fine, but this program is a great way to contribute to the community and get a fresh start on your library record. I have participated in a similar program at the Central Arkansas Library System—ask a librarian at your local branch if you can give food for fines where you live.
And hey—while you're at the library, don't forget to pick up a copy of BookPage! Check here to find our locations around the country.
Last night I went to a party in celebration of Rodney Crowell's forthcoming memoir, Chinaberry Sidewalks (Knopf). It was a very Nashville evening—in attendance were local musicians and writers like Alice Randall and Robert Hicks, as well as Crowell's editor Gary Fisketjon. The show took place in the studio of noted photographer Jim McGuire.
After a pleasant cocktail hour, Vince Gill and Emmylou Harris took turns joining Crowell onstage as he alternately read from his book (often to chuckles from the audience) and performed some of his best-loved songs and newer hits like "I Know Love Is All I Need."
While writing his memoir, which he called "sculpting a memory," Crowell struck up a friendship with fellow Texan and memoirist Mary Karr. The pair ended up writing some songs together, and Crowell played two of them—he says he hopes to record them one day.
That said, the song that drew the biggest response from the crowd was the one he wrote and performed with Vince Gill. The chorus line "It's hard to kiss the lips at night/that chew your ass out all day long" was borrowed from Vince's father and got both men in trouble with their wives when it was first played. (See a video of Crowell playing this song in 2008.)
Crowell also performed two songs with friend and former bandmate Emmylou Harris, whose soaring voice was as beautiful as ever no matter what she said about having a cold.
Crowell proved himself as adept a reader as he is a singer. The final selection he read brought him and several audience members near tears—it was the story of introducing his mother to her idol, Roy Acuff, 50 years after she had attended the show where she met her husband.
Identifying herself as a lifelong fan, she told the most popular country musician of her generation that she'd met the love of her life at his concert in the Buchanan High School gymnasium, obliging everyone, myself included, to imagine this had taken place only a night or two before. . . . The meeting lasted no more than three minutes, but I wish it could've gone on forever.
Crowell will embark on a 25 city tour this January—catch him if you can.
The scene inside of Belmont University's Curb Event Center (in Nashville) was a little out of the ordinary on Friday, November 12.
For one thing, this bus was parked outside:
Inside, hundreds of kids and parents eagerly waited in the arena to hear the guest of honor talk about the week's hot topic. Yep, Jeff Kinney was in the building to talk about Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth.
While some kids scrambled for seats next to friends or ran back and forth from the popcorn stand, many of them looked just like this girl sitting in front of me:
Or these guys (please excuse my shaky camera hand):
When Jeff took the stage, he talked about the many, many rejection letters he got prior to signing a deal to publish Diary of a Wimpy Kid. He also mentioned that he originally thought Wimpy Kid would be published for adults, but he's so glad it got marketed as a kids book. He loves being embraced by "reluctant readers" (a term that was new to him when he started publishing).
Audience members also got to see a photo of the Greg Heffley float that will be appearing in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and watch a funny video of Jeff with cast members from the Wimpy Kid movie.
And then, there was a major surprise . . .
The actors who play Greg Heffley, Rowley Jefferson and Fregley in Diary of a Wimpy Kid made a surprise appearance! Jeff interviewed the boys about how their lives have changed since starring in the hit movie.
While everyone waited in line to get their books signed after the talk, I snagged a few fans to chat about why they love the Wimpy Kid series:
Moral of the story: Always go to events with your favorite author—you never know what surprises there will be!
Why do you love the Wimpy Kid?