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?
Writer Tasha Alexander and her Victorian-era novels featuring the intrepid, ahead-of-her-time Lady Emily should be well-known to BookPage readers—see our reviews of them here. The fifth in the series, Dangerous to Know, came out last week. Here, Alexander gives us a glimpse behind the scenes of the research required for Dangerous, making us even more jealous of the life of an author!
I spent much of last summer housesitting in rural Normandy, writing and doing research for my latest book. It was heavenly. The landscape is extraordinary, like walking through an Impressionist painting, and the food is everything you’d expect from France. I’d do just about anything right now for the village boulangerie’s still-hot croissants. Spending a significant amount of time in the place your novel is set enriches the story in ways you can’t anticipate—and in ways that would be impossible if you limited your research to reading.
But the thing that surprised me the most about my time in France was driving. Or navigating, really. And that was something that couldn’t go into a novel set in 1892.
To start, let me say, for the record, that I absolutely adore France and the French. Always have, always will. Until I came to Normandy, I’d not spent much time in France outside of Paris (it’s pretty hard to tear yourself away from Paris), and I was looking forward to exploring the coast, the crumbling châteaux, and the lush countryside. Armed with directions printed from Google Maps, I set off for my first excursion, to the seaside town of Étretat.
Within about half an hour, I was hopelessly lost.
Google Maps, you see, doesn’t quite fit with France. I was approaching the trip like an American—an American planning to follow numbered highways to numbered exits.
Now. The French have both numbered highways and numbered exits. But to get to them isn’t quite so easy as you might think. It requires a different frame of mind. You don’t want to look for the number—instead, you need to go through each roundabout in the direction of the next village that’s on your way to your final destination. Knowing you need the N15 or the D8 isn’t enough. From that day on, I abandoned Google for a real, hard copy map, and made lists of towns before setting off. In the end, it made for much more pleasant excursions. How lovely to look for Pierrefiques or Fauville-en-Caux, wondering what you’ll see there, rather than fixating on numbers. Sure, you may eventually wind up on the N15, but more likely, you’ll never see the entrance and will spend a gorgeous afternoon meandering through charming places you’d never have seen otherwise.
Once you get accustomed to it, switching back to taking I-80 to exit whatever seems pedestrian and crass. I’m already looking forward to my next trip along the back roads of France.
Thanks, Tasha! Next time you go to France, take us with you. :) Visit her site for more about Tasha Alexander and the Lady Emily series.
Today on the Book Case, we're featuring a post by music writer—and Nick Hornby reader—Carla Jean Whitley, who gave the new album from Hornby and Nashville musician Ben Folds a spin. How do the lyrics of Lonely Avenue compare to Hornby's novels and short stories? Find out.
Nick Hornby has practically made a career of being a music fan. Though he’s written a number of novels and books of essays, the success of High Fidelity (and its mark as required reading in the libraries of most 20- and 30-something men) cast him as the listener, the man who takes as much comfort in his CD collection (or vinyl, or mp3—whatever it is you listen to these days) as he does in anything else. Last year’s Juliet, Naked only solidified Hornby’s reputation as a writer who loves to write about music.
But last month, Hornby also stepped into the limelight as a writer who also writes for music. On Sept. 28, Ben Folds’ Lonely Avenue, for which Hornby wrote the lyrics, was released by Nonesuch Records.
It’s an interesting twist of fate for a novelist who once wrote, upon hearing the soundtrack to the film adaptation of his book About a Boy, “Seeing one’s words converted into Hollywood cash is gratifying in all sorts of ways, but it really cannot compare to the experience of hearing them converted into music: for someone who has to write books because he cannot write songs, the idea that a book might somehow produce a song is embarrassingly thrilling.”
Better yet, an essay earlier in the book from which that line was taken—Songbook, a collection of 31 essays about songs—centered on a Ben Folds song.
Hornby analyzed “Smoke,” declaring Folds “a proper songwriter, although he doesn’t seem to get much credit for it, possibly because rock critics are less impressed by sophisticated simplicity than by sub-Dylanesque obfuscation: his words wouldn’t look so good written down, but he has range.” Now, Hornby has become precisely that kind of lyricist.
Even in this shorter form of writing, Hornby exhibits the same wit, sarcasm and character development as in his novels. And just as in his fiction, the characters aren’t always likable at first glance. But Hornby provides a glimpse into each person’s motivation and character. In the opening track, “A Working Day,” the narrator vacillates from being his own biggest fan to his own worst critic, neatly capturing the artist’s struggle.
“Levi Johnston’s Blues,” the chorus of which was inspired by Bristol Palin’s now-ex-boyfriend’s Facebook profile, is the story of an 18-year-old boy who finds himself surrounded by the paparazzi and sorting through what matters to him after impregnating the vice presidential candidate’s daughter. It’s a tale we’ve heard plenty of over the past several years, but Hornby’s lyrics offer insight into what Johnston may have thought as he faced both the media and fatherhood.
From start to finish, the songs on Lonely Avenue are often every bit as quotable and sarcastic—and with Folds’ music, even more infectious—as Hornby’s literary work.
Today we have a guest post from Freddie O'Connell, web guru extraordinaire who is hard at work on a bigger, better BookPage.com version 2.0, coming to your browser in 2011. We asked Freddie to share a little bit about his experience working on literary sites with our readers.
I am an unabashed lover of books. My shelves at home are literally overflowing. I have, on occasion, sought professional safe haven among books, working for a time at Davis-Kidd when on temporary furlough in the aftermath of the dotcom collapse. Shortly thereafter, I went to work for NetCentral, the e-commerce subsidiary of Books-A-Million. And now, I'm excited that we're working closely with BookPage on a variety of projects. Just as exciting has been our completely unrelated relationship with some exciting debut authors.
So, as an agency, we've been immersed in thinking about how readers discover books online but also how writers think about communicating about their writing to audiences online. And as an agency that focuses on our customers getting found, we must think about the way the ecosystem of sites around authors and books and book recommendation services like BookPage are engaging with their content.
In our extended collaboration with Adam Ross, author of the remarkable Mr. Peanut, we encouraged him to think about his website as a place to include a book equivalent of DVD extras, which he did naturally. So the site includes a beautiful elaboration of the Sam Sheppard case for curious readers, as well as a gallery of unused and international covers of the book. And he also took naturally to blogging and Twitter.
After launching Adam's site, we watched in awe the rise of a writer who had written the book that everyone wanted to write about. Not all critics unconditionally loved Mr. Peanut, but they unconditionally wanted to express their thoughts. So we had a few Google Alerts configured to help us track the buzz about the book on the Web, and we quickly realized how haphazard the modern editorial process is for content sites the world over, some of whom link to Amazon as affiliates, some of whom link to the publisher page for the book, a few of whom were enterprising enough to link to Adam's site directly, and some of whom link to nothing at all. As an agency that wants our customers to be easily discovered (whether by link or by search engine, many of the latter of which rely on the former), we think about these issues all the time. In this case, we've achieved good success, ensuring that Adam's site is reliably on the first page of Google search results for people searching for [adam ross].
We were thrilled when, not long after the release of Mr. Peanut and the launch of Adam's website, we were approached by Natasha Vargas-Cooper who loved Adam's site (and his book) and wanted us to create a site for her book Mad Men Unbuttoned, which is a series of essays drawn from moments in the show that elaborate on the cultural indicators to which they're clearly or likely attached in some way. Natasha reaffirmed that what was true for a fiction writer like Adam is true for nonfiction writers as well: good writers are a pleasure to work with because they're constantly thinking about the process of communicating. It didn't hurt that Helen Stevens, our Chief Semantic Stylist who gives visual life to our ideas, was already enamored of the show. She quickly captured a style that suited Natasha and her book delightfully.
One of our ongoing challenges with Natasha, though, is that she already had a blog, The Footnotes of Mad Men, that inspired the book. So when people are linking to referential material, should they link to the blog or the book site? This gets at one of the overall challenges of link building for multiple points of relevant content. Rich content sites, including news and reviews sites, aren't often structured to facilitate easily managed and usable related content. We'll be covering the topic of how there is no standard or protocol for linking readers to related information on our own blog soon.
And now we're deeply immersed in making the BookPage experience a more rewarding experience for those who love to read. We need to ensure that our friends at BookPage can deliver a fresh and meaningful experience to those arriving at the front page while still ensuring that longtime readers can discover gems from among the deep and extensive archives of reviews and recommendations compiled over more than a decade of being online. Beyond that, we need to include ways for you to interact with this rich repository of material.
So we have a ceaseless and ceaselessly interesting flow of ideas coming from the writers we work with, those who recommend the best elements of their writing, and those who love to read the written word. This is made perpetually challenging, too, by the march of technology, which gave us first the Kindle and then the iPad, possibly upending Steve Jobs's observation that "people don't read anymore." We expect that the concept of the book will evolve, and we'll need to evolve our strategies for usable, discoverable access to books along with it.
We want you to discover the book recommendation service that will help you discover your next great book, no matter how you'll be reading it. So by all means, keep reading!
Are you a book blogger, or do you enjoy reading blogs about books? (If you're reading The Book Case, we hope the answer is "yes"!) Then you have to check out Book Blogger Appreciation Week, which starts on Monday, September 13. (There are giveaways—including a prize from BookPage—guest posts and interviews galore! How fun does that sound?)
To get more information on this celebration of the book blogging community, we invited Amy Riley, BBAW's founder and a blogger at My Friend Amy, to tell us about the history of the week.
In 2008, I discovered the vibrant and lively community of book bloggers. For a lifetime reader, it felt a bit like a dream come true to discover a whole community of people who wanted to spend a significant chunk of their time reading books and talking about them. And I also discovered there were so many books I knew nothing about! Reading my new friends' thoughts on books encouraged me to try books I normally would have thought were outside of my reading taste.
Book Blogger Appreciation Week seeks to connect the existing book blogging community; introduce others to the idea of reading book blogs for book recommendations; and elevate the profiles of book bloggers.
Unfortunately not everyone felt the same way and I noticed some criticism of book blogs by the more established critical blogs. I couldn't understand how enthusiasm for books could ever be a bad thing or what sort of threat we posed by sharing our musings on the internet. And so I decided to turn my frustration with these criticisms into positive action, and Book Blogger Appreciation Week was born.
We are now entering our third year, and the book blogging landscape has changed a lot. New book blogs are popping up all of the time and more formalized relationships are developing among publishers and bookstores, but that's really only a segment of book bloggers. There is no one definition or set of rules for a book blogger; we are as varied as the many books we cover. The only real requirement is a love and enthusiasm for books.
Book Blogger Appreciation Week seeks to connect the existing book blogging community; introduce others to the idea of reading book blogs for book recommendations; and elevate the profiles of book bloggers. It's a sort of retreat for bloggers who work hard all year long and a chance for everyone else to come in and see what we're doing. There are awards, interviews, guest posts, giveaways and more. If you love books or if you're curious about book bloggers, you'll definitely want to check it out! We welcome you with open arms. Friends of books are friends of ours.
It's always a thrill to see one of our contributors publish works of their own. The most recent BookPage writer to add something to the bookshelves of the world is Michael Alec Rose, a Vanderbilt professor and composer whose collection of essays on music, Audible Signs, has just been published by Continuum. Below, Rose explains the inspiration behind his collection.
I wrote Audible Signs for anybody who loves music, for everybody who feels passionately that this love can be investigated but never fully explained, for all who seek (like me) new ways of conversing intelligently about music, new strategies to honor both its exceptional clarity of feeling and its irreducible mystery.
The impetus to compose these “Essays from a Musical Ground” goes back to 1991, when I launched a newsletter called Musings, my way of keeping in musical touch with far-flung friends, some of whom play an active role in Audible Signs (I couldn’t have written the book without them). Musings ran to a single issue: Marriage, commissions for new musical works, parenthood, all intervened. But that essay—Vol. 1, No. 1—haunted me down the years and led to further essays, some for my students at Vanderbilt University, others for concertgoers in Nashville who enjoy grand opera at least as much as the Grand Old Opry. The lone issue of Musings now serves its turn in Audible Signs: it has been revised, expanded and mounted as one piece of artillery in my fourfold assault (Chapter 4) on Alex Ross’ best-selling book on 20th-century music, The Rest Is Noise.
The co-mingling of “Hey Jude,” Beethoven’s Ninth, and Shakespeare’s Sonnet #8 (in Chapters 2 and 3) springs from ongoing conversations over the years with students in my Beethoven and the Beatles course. I started “ Letter to My Daughter” a few years ago, but it was only last winter—as I was finishing the book—that Regina Spektor came into view as an ally of Rembrandt. The other essays in Audible Signs—including one on Springsteen and Brahms as spiritual cohorts—are newly minted, struck with the hot iron of all the great music reverberating between its two covers.
A further word about my argument with Ross, for those readers who (I hope) will have fun reading Chapter 4. First things first: just as there is no need to have listened to the music I write about in Audible Signs before reading it, it’s not required to read Ross’ book before diving into my disputation with him. I could easily have written at length about the things I enjoy in The Rest Is Noise. Why, then, in Audible Signs have I lodged such a litany of grievances against a book I generally admire? What’s at stake here is a principle that drives everything in my book—an idea that motivates all my work, all the more so the music I compose:
We show our love for people and things by paying close attention to them, by putting them at the center of our imaginative regard and celebrating them in all their complexity. My goal in cataloguing the shortcomings of Ross’ The Rest Is Noise is to encourage both his readers and mine to love more richly the difficult musical repertory he and I are both tackling. Perhaps I have taken my notion of “tackling” a bit too far in my pugnacious attitude towards Ross. Therefore, I’m grateful to have this opportunity to say once again that I remain a faithful—i.e., disputatious—fan of Ross’ writings on music.
I hope you will enjoy Audible Signs in the same spirit!
You can find out more about Rose and Audible Signs on his website, where you can also listen to some of his music. Read all of Michael Rose's reviews for BookPage. Curious about The Rest Is Noise? Visit Alex Ross' website.
Just yesterday, BookPage contributor Stephenie Harrison interviewed Nicole Krauss for our October print edition. Steph enjoyed the conversation—and its subject, the forthcoming Great House—so much that we begged her to give us a preview in a guest blog post. She kindly agreed!
Great House by Nicole Krauss
W.W. Norton • $24.95 • October 12, 2010
This reviewer called "dibs" on a copy literally seconds after BookPage received news that galleys were heading their way (just ask my editor; she'll confirm it!), and I dug in with a vigor and single-mindedness that I’m sure made the rest of my teetering tower of TBR books envious.
Rather than a single story, Great House shares the tales of four individuals who are linked in a variety of ways, some subtle, some less so. Initially, a rather imposing desk which has held a prominent place in all of their lives—an ark for all their sublimated frustrations and desires—forms the point of intersection. Through a lens that shifts across time and space, readers will dip into the lives of writers, parents and lovers, slowly furrowing deep into their very cores, where universal fears and the crux of identity are laid bare, serving as the true foundation that unites this colorful cast of memorable characters. Of course, characters and plot are but one portion of any successful novel; perhaps Krauss' great genius is her ability to populate novels of ideas with such vivid people, all cloaked in the most exquisite language. Here one of the characters, reeling from the removal of the desk from her life, finds herself questioning her skills as a writer:
The next day I did not go out to look for a new desk, or the day after that. When I sat down to work, not only was I unable to muster the necessary concentration, but when I looked over the pages I’d already written I found them to be superfluous words lacking life and authenticity, with no compelling reason behind them. What I hoped had been the sophisticated artifice that the best fiction employs, now I saw was only a garden-variety artifice, artifice used to draw attention away from what is ultimately shallow rather than reveal the shattering depths below the surface of everything. What I thought was simpler, purer prose, more searing for being stripped of all distracting ornament, was actually a dull and lumbering mass, void of tension or energy, standing in opposition to nothing, toppling nothing, shouting nothing.
What are you reading today?
Nashville author Bente Gallagher has written three books in a "Do-It-Yourself" cozy mystery series for Berkley under the name Jennie Bentley. This month, she hits bookstore shelves for the first time under her own name with A Cutthroat Business, a book set in Music City that stars Southern Belle realtor Savannah Martin.
So-and-so in this case is your character. Your main one, assuming you have one. Not everyone does. Some people write ensemble books, with whole casts of characters, all in the third person. Others, like me, spend all our time in one character’s head, and write as if we are that character. Given that, it’s not surprising that people wonder how much I have in common with my characters.
Yes, characters, because now I have two series going simultaneously, and two characters in whose heads I spend most of my time. There’s the Do-It-Yourself home renovation mysteries I write for Berkley Prime Crime, under the pseudonym Jennie Bentley, and the brand new A Cutthroat Business, first in the Savannah Martin Southern real estate series, written as myself.
And to answer the question: I’m a little like both of them, but not too much like either. They’re not that much like each other, if it comes to that. Oh sure, they’ve both got their insecurities and their little neurotic quirks—as does their creator—but they’re two very different people from two totally different backgrounds, and if they have traits in common, they’ve gotten them from different experiences.
Avery Baker, the protagonist in the Do-It-Yourself series, is a New Yorker born and bred. A sassy city girl and hip textile designer, she’s used to the hustle and bustle of Manhattan, so she feels very much like a fish out of water when she moves to tiny Waterfield on the craggy coast of Maine to renovate houses with her new boyfriend, hunky handyman Derek Ellis.
Savannah Martin, on the other hand, the main character in A Cutthroat Business, is a gentle-bred Southern Belle from a small town in Middle Tennessee. She’s sweet and ladylike, quite traditional, not to mention hyper-aware of having to say and do the right thing at all times.
All her life, Savannah has done what was expected of her, from going to finishing school in Charleston and coming out at the Christmas cotillion, to attending the university where her mother and father went and marrying the man her mother approves. Through it all, she fully expects that by doing everything right, life in turn will be perfect.
That is, until she learns that her perfect husband is no such thing, but instead is lying, cheating scum. At which point Savannah divorces his posterior and strikes out on her own for the first time ever. Instead of scurrying home to her family’s antebellum mansion in tiny—and fictitious—Sweetwater, to lick her wounds and wait for her mother to arrange another marriage with another suitable Southern gentleman, she stays in Nashville and begins to carve out a life for herself. For the first time, there’s no one looking over her shoulder and no one passing judgment on her actions. She gets a real estate license—in spite of her mother’s assertion that real estate is a cutthroat business, unfit for a lady—and starts to develop the kind of life she, Savannah, wants.
Into this mix falls the dead body of a competing realtor—chubby throat cut from ear to ear—as well as the last man on earth Margaret Anne Martin, Savannah’s sainted mother, would want her daughter to get involved with. Rafe Collier is the black sheep of Sweetwater, the boy Savannah’s mother, and every other mother in town, warned their teenage daughters about. Six feet three inches of testosterone and trouble, with a murky past and an uncertain future—not to mention a Harley-Davidson and enough sex-appeal for two men—he’s not the kind of guy a sweet Southern girl should want to tangle with, in any sense of the word.
Of course he’s also damn near irresistible.
So now Savannah has to figure out who killed real estate queen Brenda Puckett, and avoid getting killed—or kissed—by Rafe, all while trying to make a success of her new career before the money in her savings account runs out and she has to go back to selling make-up at the mall. And oh yeah, she has to do it while keeping the whole thing from her family, who would have collective fits if they knew what was going on...
So that’s Savannah. As for me, the author? Well, I’m neither a Southern Belle nor a hip New Yorker, although I’ve lived in both places. I’m not sassy and I’m not blonde, and I haven’t been single for quite a few years. I’ve never had a cheating boyfriend or husband, and I’ve never tangled with anyone I shouldn’t, in any sense of the word. I’ve also never stumbled over dead bodies or buried treasure or anything else that I write about. But that’s the beauty of writing, isn’t it? And of reading, for that matter. You get to be whoever you want for a while, whether you have anything in common with that character or not. And that’s a beautiful thing.
A Cutthroat Business went on sale June 29. Find out more about Bente Gallagher and her alter ego, Jennie Bentley, on their website.
As a former fiction editor, author Harriet Evans knows what makes for a compelling story. After a more than a decade of publishing women's fiction at Penguin UK and Headline, Evans left the industry to become a full-time writer. She has now published four books, the most recent of which is I Remember You.
In a post exclusive to The Book Case, Evans shares her all-time favorite vacation reads.
Perhaps you’re like me and reserve a lot of your reading for the summer holidays, when you can freely indulge in a pageturner, get sucked into it and devour it in a way you can’t the rest of the year. I was a very moody teenager who didn’t much like summer holidays with my parents and sister but was too pathetic to go off and do something exciting by myself, either. (How nice she sounds, I hear you cry). So all summer long I’d read instead (or write terrible poems, but don’t worry, I’m not going to inflict any of them on you), and that has stayed with me ever since. I’m quite particular about a summer read. I want something not too heavy, but it can’t be totally brainless, either. Here are a few books and authors I’ve enjoyed on my summer holidays over the years, which I remember as part of the holiday as much as the ouzo in Crete, or the spaghetti in Florence…
Have a great summer.
Harriet Evans is the internationally bestselling author of I Remember You and three previous novels, Going Home, A Hopeless Romantic and The Love of Her Life. Find out more about Harriet at harriet-evans.com. Do you have a favorite summer reading selection? Tell us in the comments!
In How to Booze: Exquisite Cocktails and Unsound Advice (Harper), authors Jordan Kaye and Marshall Altier pair classic cocktails with every imaginable social situation. We challenged them to come up with four drink suggestions for the July 4 holiday, and they more than met our expectations. If you want to add some flair to your Independence Day celebration, read on!
The government wants you to spend Independence Day buying cars. Your neighbor wants you to slather on face paint, buy half a ton of Lipton’s tea bags and protest on the White House lawn—or at least on the lawn of that socialist who lives down the street and won’t stop babbling about the World Cup. But deep down, you know that there’s only one way to honor the day, and it’s how the Founding Fathers would want you to do it, too: fire up the grill, throw on the steaks and—oh, yes!—shake up a nice, cold cocktail.
Of course, beer is also a fitting choice, but it will surprise your neighbor to learn that while beer comes from Europe (that sorry, suffering land of universal healthcare and trains that go too darn fast), nothing is more American than the cocktail. The cocktail, like freedom itself, was born here. Even better, there happen to be a few cocktails absolutely perfect to enjoy with barbecue. So here are four July 4 choices, for four different locales:
#1, Urban Dweller
If you aren’t going anywhere for the weekend, there is no better place to watch the fireworks than from your own roof. Just hope the landlord doesn’t notice you trying to squeeze the Weber into the elevator, and make sure your kids (if you have them) are shackled to the chimney pipe. Here’s a drink made from the official spirit of the American Revolution. The economies of the rum trade were part of the formula that led to rebellion and, when the party ended, George Washington ordered a barrel of Barbados prime for his inauguration.
2 oz aged rum
½ oz strained lime juice
¾ ginger beer
1 dash Angostura bitters
Shake rum, lime juice and bitters without ice, pour over fresh ice into collins glass and top up with ginger beer. Garnish with a wedge of lime
½ oz unsweetened pineapple juice
½ oz fresh lemon juice
½ oz orange juice
1½ oz Bourbon
½ tsp grenadine
1 dash Angostura bitters
Shake with ice and strain into chilled cocktail glass.
1 bottle Brut champagne
1½ oz Cognac
1½ oz Cointreau
1 bottle club soda
Rind of 1 orange(s)
Slices of pineapple(s)
Slices of orange(s)
Mix in a punch bowl. Garnish lavishly by placing orange and pineapple slices into the mix and placing sprigs of mint into each individual serving glass
2 oz Irish Whiskey
1 oz strained lime juice
½ oz simple syrup
3 slices of cucumber, muddled in mixing tin
8-10 leaves of lightly bruised mint
Shake with ice, double strain (to remove mint and cucumber bits) into old-fashioned glass over fresh ice
Garnish with a fresh mint sprig and cucumber slices.