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?
Today we celebrate Veterans Day (also known as Armistice Day or Remembrance Day), a time to look back at the sacrifices members of the military and their families have made. In honor of the holiday, we have a special "Behind the Book" essay from Robert Coram, whose appreciation for his own father's sacrifice was some 50 years in the making—discovered only after Coram had become "a troubadour for America’s greatest heroes, the men and women who wear the uniform of this country."
His second military biography, Brute, comes out tomorrow and tells the story of Victor "Brute" Krulak, a Marine whose 34-year service included tours in Korea and Vietnam.
You can find an excerpt of the book here.
What does Veterans Day mean to you?
Booker Prize-winner author Margaret Atwood was the keynote speaker at Belmont University's Ninth Annual Humanities Symposium on October 27. Karen Trotter Elley, BookPage Production Designer, attended Atwood's talk. Below, she describes the memorable evening (Atwood sang!)—and provides some writing tips from the prolific author.
On Wednesday, I sat in a pew in the Belmont Heights Baptist Church patiently waiting for a talk by acclaimed author Margaret Atwood. In the row in front of me, a young woman squirmed in her seat, giddy with delight.
“I just love her,” she confided. “I never thought I would actually have the opportunity to see Atwood in person. This is the best thing that’s ever happened to me!” The young lady I assumed couldn’t possibly be over 18 years of age turned out to be a writing teacher at Belmont University, and she had just checked an item off her bucket list.
Then the highly anticipated event of the evening began as Sue Trout, professor of English at Belmont and an organizer of the symposium, came out to make her opening remarks. Trout stated that the evening was “one of those shining moments in life.” Chalk up another one for her bucket list.
According to the Symposium’s program, Atwood (author of 40 books) is a giant of modern literature, “a rare writer whose work is adored by the public, acclaimed by the critics and studied on university campuses around the world.” She is perhaps best known as the Booker Prize-winning author of The Handmaid’s Tale and The Blind Assassin.
When Atwood finally stepped up to the podium, she had a surprise for us. She listened to the Grand Ole Opry every weekend growing up in Canada, and one of her dreams was to someday sing to an audience in Nashville, TN. Since Belmont University is smack dab in the heart of Music City, she begged our indulgence. In a sweet voice with an authentic sounding accent, the sophisticated, world renowned writer delivered a more than adequate rendition of a verse from an old Hank Williams tune, “Why Don’t You Love Me Like You Used to Do.” The crowd went wild and one more bucket list item bit the dust.
After that, Atwood charmed us with her warmth, wit and wisdom as she made wry observations about writing and life. Her selected readings from her latest novel, The Year of the Flood (2009), introduced a future world where much of human life has been obliterated. Two women remain: Toby, a former God’s Gardener (a religion devoted to the melding of science, religion and nature) barricaded inside a luxurious spa, and Ren, a trapeze artist, locked away in a high-class sex club with a really good dental plan and the cleanest dirty girls in town. Adam One, the kindly leader of God’s Gardeners, is still around. But how many others have survived and in what form? Atwood wasn’t telling so I guess we’re going to have to read the book to find out.
To put a capper on the evening, there was an extended Q&A with Atwood followed by a book signing. It was a great night for readers, writers and bucket lists.
• In order to minimize confusion on the part of the reader, Atwood advises writers to use character names that begin with different letters of the alphabet or at least give them a different hair color. For example, Betty is a blonde and Barbara has dark brown hair.
• When writing about several different people, Atwood stresses that it’s important to keep their timelines straight. She suggests creating a chart with the years across the top and the months down the side. Be sure to put the characters’ birthdates in so you’ll automatically be able to determine the actual age of characters as time passes in your story.
• Check the world events against the birthday to determine what was going on at different ages in their lives. One example she gave was the invention of pantyhose, without which mini-skirts might never have existed. Another example cited was the color of appliances, carpeting, etc. used in homes at that time. Some folks still vividly recall the period in the ’70s when avocado green, orange and brown were all the rage in home décor. It’s important to get the details right, she says, or someone will write you a "yah, yah, yah letter," as she calls it.
• During the revision process, Atwood says you may need to cut what you may feel is a fabulous piece of writing. She advises writers not to throw those pieces away. “Put those cuts in a drawer. That deleted piece might fit perfectly in another writing project somewhere later down the line.”
What is your favorite book by Margaret Atwood?