There was an illicit behind-the-scenes thrill to Ann Patchett's panel at the Southern Festival of Books. Billed as "A Conversation" between Patchett and her friend and fellow writer Edith Pearlman (whose short story collection is a finalist in this year's National Book Awards), watching two authors chat before a considerable crowd in the War Memorial Auditorium was a glimpse into the writer's world that stood out from the crowd of readings and panel discussions.
The talk focused on the differences between writing short stories and writing novels, although there were plenty of detours along the way. Both authors were comfortable on stage, and they managed to make their discussion (which they had planned out over dinner the night before) feel polished, but also lively and spontaneous. Patchett couldn't say enough good things about Pearlman's work, which she learned about while editing Best American Short Stories 2006. Pearlman was equally complimentary of Patchett's prowess, saying to the audience, when Patchett expressed doubt that she could make a love story seem fresh, "Oh, I think she could—don't you?"
Highlights included Pearlman's explanation of her desire to write short stories and only short stories, despite people asking her if she was "smart enough" or "man enough" to write a novel. "Writing short stories is the way I live; it is my main pleasure," she said. She writes about six stories a year and publishes about six stories a year "though they're not the same six stories!" She expressed appreciation for novels, saying that "so much can happen in a novel" and that she admires the form but can't work with it.
Patchett, on the other hand, said she wasn't "generous enough to be a short story writer," explaining that novelists only really needed one idea, whereas for a short story collection, you need as many ideas as you have stories. (A arguable but interesting claim.) Though Patchett, like other MFA grads, started out as a short story writer, once she started writing novels "it was as if I had stretched out," she said, explaining that going back to the format would be similar to moving from a small apartment into a house and then saying you had to move back to the apartment. Interestingly, Patchett doesn't feel the same way about essays. (She's currently working on a collection of them and writing them "feels like a vacation" because she doesn't have to make anything up.)
Like any good small business owner, Patchett couldn't pass up the chance to deliver an impassioned plea for supporting local stores (especially her soon-to-open bookstore, Parnassus Books). "Although I've never been on Facebook in my life, find us on Facebook, 'like' us on Facebook!" she laughed.
A post from the Author Enablers
With more than 25 years of experience, Kathi Kamen Goldmark and Sam Barry have the inside scoop on writing and publishing. Together, they are the authors of Write That Book Already!: The Tough Love You Need to Get Published Now. Email them your questions (along with your name and hometown) about writing and publishing, and don’t miss their column on BookPage.com.
There has been a general sense of gloom in the publishing community for several years now. Many authors, publishing professionals, booksellers, and readers fear that the reading and writing of literature are in danger of extinction. There is reason for concern—closing bookstores, library budgets being slashed, a lack of appreciation for the liberal arts, and lower pay for authors and writers all around.
But at the same time, there is great reason for optimism. We’re going to focus on one in particular: Litquake. This remarkable annual book festival consists of readings, discussions, and themed events held at a variety of San Francisco bay area venues (bars, the Opera House, even in bookstores). The 2011 Litquake will feature 850 authors, including Thomas McGuane, Guillermo Gómez-Peña, Julia Glass, Jane Smiley, James Ellroy, Adam Mansbach, selected readings from pro-wrestler’s memoirs (really), and much more.
The truth is, American literature ain’t dead; in fact it’s thriving. Let’s support it by attending events like Litquake, buying books, and making sure our kids learn to appreciate good writing.
We'll have a full review of the book and its recipes from a real professional in our September issue, but after trying out this little spread, Eliza and I can say with certainty that Alisa's recipes are full of down-home goodness—they're classics, yet made with modern flair and by a baker who searches out fresh, quality ingredients with zeal. The woman makes her own version of Nilla Wafers, for heaven's sake.
Hope this whetted your appetite for Eliza's chat with Alisa, coming soon. As for me, I'm still working off these delicious desserts, but I might one day eat again. Maybe.
Handler was at ALA to promote his upcoming collaboration with artist Maira Kalman, Why We Broke Up (Little, Brown), which currently holds the title of my favorite book published in January 2012. I have never been so entertained watching an author sign books before: Handler took time to joke with everyone, interrogating the woman in front of me about the man whose heart she broke most recently and teasing me about the illegible handwriting on the Post-It that was supposed to show him how to spell my name. In short, he talks with the same freewheeling charm he displays in his books.
Later, Handler read from Why We Broke Up, interrupting himself with hilarious asides. Told through letters that teenaged Min writes to her ex-boyfriend, Ed, after their breakup, Why We Broke Up attempts to answer that unanswerable question by telling the stories behind objects Min has collected over the course of her relationship with Ed. Handler mentioned after the reading that he liked writing about teenagers because "everything's more interesting when it happens to a teenage girl." (He added that he meant that in the least inappropriate way possible.)
Handler is no stranger to writing about teenagers (his first novel, The Basic Eight) or love (the excellent novel-in-stories Adverbs). Here's a section of the first chapter of Why We Broke Up:
The thunk is the box, Ed. This is what I am leaving you. I found it down in the basement, just grabbed the box when all of our things were too much for my bed stand drawer. Plus I thought my mom would find some of the things, because she’s a snoop for my secrets. So it all went into the box and the box went into my closet with some shoes on top of it I never wear. Every last souvenir of the love we had, the prizes and the debris of this relationship, like the glitter in the gutter when the parade has passed, all the everything and whatnot kicked to the curb.
After a weekend of meeting librarians and authors, reminiscing about favorite libraries and geeking out over new books, the BookPage crew returned from the ALA Annual Conference in New Orleans on Monday night. I snagged way too many review copies for my carry-on suitcase (seriously: I had to check on the way home), but as we all know: Too many books is a good problem to have.
Here are my favorite moments from the conference:
BookPage had a booth, and countless librarians and library patrons dropped by to say hello and tell us why they look forward to receiving BookPage at the first of every month. My favorite was the librarian who told us, jokingly, that she wants to ban one patron from reading BookPage because of the sheer number of holds at he places after reading a new issue. (By the way, if you’re a librarian and you don’t receive BookPage, read about how you can sign up for a free two-month subscription.)
We had the pleasure of interviewing Tom Angleberger—author of The Strange Case of Origami Yoda and Darth Paper Strikes Back—at the Abrams booth. Not only was Tom a funny and enthusiastic author/illustrator, but he also created an Origami Yoda for us on camera . . . and staged an Origami Yoda vs. Darth Paper fight for us. Can’t beat that.
In honor of the publication of Super Diaper Baby 2: The Invasion of the Potty Snatchers, Scholastic held a huge party for Dav Pilkey. Red capes were provided and bartenders whipped up “tinkle-tinis.” Pilkey showed a video about his process, in which he explained that he incorporates misspellings and mistakes into his work because he wants kids to know it’s okay to not be "good" at the whole drawing and writing thing—as long as you’re doing it for fun.
Lauren Myracle, author of Shine, the TTYL books, the Luv Ya Bunches books and more, told us about how ashamed she was the first time she popped up on the most frequently-challenged books list—but now she sees it as a point of pride. (You go, girl!)
BookPage hosted a table at the Newbery-Caldecott-Wilder Banquet, and we gave away seats to librarians. The people at our table were a fascinating bunch—they had worked everywhere from a school library, a public library, a community college library to a prison library. We all had a lovely evening, and the one word that first comes to mind to describe speeches by Erin E. Stead, Claire Vanderpool and Tomie dePaola was “heartfelt.” I don’t think an eye was dry after Erin’s speech (A Sick Day for Amos McGee was her first children’s book), and Claire brought the house down with jokes like: “People asked me if winning the Newbery was like having a baby. I said: Winning the Newbery was like having a baby . . . if you didn’t know you were pregnant.”
We interviewed a grand total of 14 authors at ALA—including Jay Asher, Carolyn Mackler, Maureen Johnson, Francisco X. Stork, Maggie Stiefvater and more (stay tuned for videos). At the end of every interview, we asked each author to tell us a favorite library memory, and some of the answers almost made me tear up. Although we had a wonderful time rubbing shoulders with authors and indulging in a beignet or two, we never forgot what the conference was all about: libraries. I don’t think there was an author there who didn’t, in some way, credit his or her success to a librarian.
Did you make it to ALA this year? What was your favorite part?
Last night, I should have been at home packing for the Romance Writers of America conference. Instead, I went straight from work to the main branch of the Nashville Public Library to see Ann Patchett read from State of Wonder and get my book signed. (I read a review copy to prep for my interview with Ann, yet I still bought a hardcover. Is that dedication, or what?)
When I got to the lobby of the library, the first thing I noticed was the sheer number of people milling around. I thought I was doing pretty good to get there at 6 o’clock when the reading started at 6:45 . . . but by the time I showed up, the library’s auditorium was packed and there weren’t any seats left in the overflow room.
In the end, the library generously set up three overflow rooms, so nobody had to sit on the floor or stand during the reading. I’m not good at judging crowd size, but I heard one estimate that there were 800 people at the event! It was completely heartening to see so many people come out to support a novel in a city without an independent bookstore. (Thanks to Ann, that’s about to change.)
Ann was both hilarious and moving during her talk. For this hometown audience, she spoke about how Nashville is a city that needs a bookstore, how she wanted to strangle Michael Feldman after he gave away the ending to State of Wonder on Whad'Ya Know and how she does not have a “secret author answer” to interpreting her books. She also recommended The All of It by Jeannette Haien, a slim book she discovered, loved then insisted HarperCollins re-print. (Ann wrote the introduction.)
All in all, it was a fun and exciting event (orchestrated beautifully by the library staff) filled with hundreds of booklovers and one very gracious author.
Have you been to any great author events lately?
Our Father's Day Feature includes four books that would all be great gifts for dads, and Man with a Pan: Culinary Adventures for Fathers Who Cook for Their Families gives a huge pat on the back to dad-chefs and kings-of-the-grill. Author John Donohue has collected advice, testimonies and recipes from writers, editors and journalists and compiled it into a great book.
The trailer from Algonquin (which stars the author himself!) is pretty funny, and the 50's style nails it on the head: no longer are the days of women-dominated kitchens. Dudes, it's your time!
BookPage contributor Martin Brady writes, "A must-have for kitchen-friendly dads, this volume should reap rewards down the road for family appetites everywhere."
Just in time for Father's Day! Whose dad is king of his kitchen?
We know a lot of you are Lisa See fans—this makes today a big day since her fourth novel, Dreams of Joy, is hitting bookstore shelves. And it sounds like a novel worth waiting for. In her review, contributor Stephenie Harrison says, "Ever the consummate historian, See brings to life the realities of China during Mao’s Great Leap Forward, providing a fascinating and frightening new world for her readers to immerse themselves in."
See tells us how the book came about in a revealing Q&A. "I didn’t plan to write a sequel. I thought the end of Shanghai Girls was a new beginning. Readers thought otherwise. Absolutely everyone, including my publisher, asked for a sequel."
I heard Lisa See speak at the BEA author breakfast a couple of years ago, and she was wonderful. Though I haven't read Dreams yet, I'm thinking I'll pick it up soon. How about you?
As I mentioned on the blog a couple weeks ago, I recently went on vacation to Buenos Aires, Argentina. It was an amazing trip of both sight-seeing and relaxing . . . but that's not what I want to write about here.
I want to write about books! One thing that really stuck with me—especially after Nashville's been hit with so many bookstore closings—is how many librerías there are in the streets of BA. I felt like I could hardly walk two blocks without running into a store window packed with books.
Of course, my favorite of all was El Ateneo, the grand store that's housed in an old theater. It was packed to the brim when I visited, and I loved that the former private boxes had been turned into cozy reading areas. As you can see from this photo, I saw some familiar bestsellers on the shelves!
The biggest surprise of all for this book-lover was learning that Buenos Aires is the Capital Mundial del Libro for 2011. I learned this when I stumbled upon the "Tower of Babel" in the Plaza San Martin—a huge temporary tower made from 30,000 books and designed by Argentine conceptual artist Marta Minujin.
It's pretty stunning, no? For scale, just know that I'm 5'10.
The tower includes books from many different languages—I spotted Isabel Allende, John Updike, John Knowles . . . The books are supposed to create a "multilingual library," according to Minujin's website. "The tower structure is a helical structure of seven stories high covered with 30,000 books in different languages and dialects that reminds us of the mythical Tower of Babel." Here's a close-up:
As you might imagine, it was a bummer to come back to the "real world" at the end of my vacation. Happily, though, on my second day back at work I came across a very appropriate new book: The Foreigners by Maxine Swann. This novel comes out from Riverhead on August 18, and it's about three women who experience an awakening in Buenos Aires. According to Penguin's publicity materials, it's set against "the throbbing backdrop of this shimmering and decadent city—almost a character in itself."
I have big plans to spend my long weekend seeking out an Argentine Malbec and diving into the story. I'll let you know what I think, but I have high hopes.
Have any of you experienced any book-related adventures in a new city? What's the coolest book art you've ever seen?
Are any books currently helping you get over the post-vacation blues?
One of my favorite books in high school was Daisy Miller -- perhaps a strange choice for a 16-year-old girl -- but there was something fascinating and tragic about the 19th-century ex-pats seeking solace in European society. While Winterbourne toured Rome and Geneva, so many of the great artists and creative minds (such as Mary Cassatt, John Singer Sargent and Ralph Waldo Emerson) set sail for France, and this is the topic of two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David McCullough's The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris, which goes on sale today!
Check out the preview in McCullough's own words to give you an even better feel for the revolutionary and "medieval" metropolis of Paris in the 19th century in this trailer from Simon and Schuster:
Our reviewer Martin Brady writes, "Unlike the more recent, disputatious era of U.S.-Franco relations (remember 'freedom fries'?), McCullough's France is where the American flag was flown as a symbol of proud friendship [...] and where the rich heritage of America's revolutionary debt to Lafayette was continuously honored."
It sounds like a wonderful time to be in Paris! Are you looking forward to grabbing a copy of McCullough's new book?