Ok, I admit it—I’ve been a bad BookPage blogger as of late. Trisha thinks our blog readers must miss my voice—I think she’s just trying to flatter me into blogging more. But whatever the case, I’m back on this fine Tuesday because of the Facebook. I am, like most people I know, Facebook friends with a number of people I went to high school with—even if I haven’t seen them since graduation. And today, several high school friends updated their statuses about going out to get a copy of Fading Echoes. What’s this? A book I haven’t heard about?
A quick trip to Amazon.com reveals that Fading Echoes: A True Story of Rivalry and Brotherhood from the Football Field to the Fields of Honor by Mike Sielski goes on sale today.
It’s set in my tiny hometown of Doylestown, Pennsylvania and centers on the long-standing Central Bucks East/Central Bucks West football rivalry. Anyone who went to East (like me) will tell you what we lacked in football skills we made up for in academic achievement. Anyone who went to West will tell you it must have been terrible to go to East. But this book isn’t just about football.
From the publisher:
Doylestown, Pennsylvania, was home to the greatest high school football rivalry in the state. There was Central Bucks West, captained by senior fullback/ linebacker Bryan Buckley. And there was Central Bucks East, led by senior lineman Colby Umbrell. Bryan and Colby would meet each other as opponents in a game played on a grass field, but their dreams and devotion to their country after the horrific events of September 11, 2001 would lead each of them to the conflict in the Middle East. Only one would return. This slice of small-town American life is the compelling chronicle of two outstanding athletes: their lives, the game they loved, and the separate journeys they would undergo from the football field to the battlefield. But it is also a chronicle of those who helped shape them into the men they became, and the community that watched and cheered as they grew from game-playing boys into fighting men-and witnessed a sacrifice it would never forget.
Library Journal deems it: "A very moving, striking story exceptionally well told; for all readers." I'll have to join the Doylestown Facebook crowd and go out and get myself a copy.
The year isn't over yet, but in early July Amazon posted their "top 10 books of the year . . . so far" in several categories. This got me wondering: what are my top 10 books of the year so far? In no particular order, some favorite new books from the year. Links will take you to the BookPage review.
[gallery link="file" columns="5" orderby="title"]
The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Not exactly an original choice, but there's a reason for the good word-of-mouth on this novel. Tremendously moving and unexpected.
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. Like Henry James in Turn of the Screw, Waters leaves the "poltergeist or disturbed protagonist" decision up to the reader, but draws a compelling portrait of Britain's changing class system after World War II.
The Believers by Zoe Heller. Though this one wasn't as much of a page-turner as Notes on a Scandal, I appreciate a writer who's not afraid to make her characters less than likeable. Plus, I envy her Bahamas/NYC lifestyle!
Shelf Discovery by Lizzie Skurnick. Perusing this collection of essays dedicated to the teen reads of my childhood was a fun trip down memory lane. It will be especially enjoyed by anyone in the 25-35 age range.
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins. I know this isn't on sale yet. Does it make you feel better to know that I'm still in a state of anticipation -- this time for book #3? Sequels are often disappointing, but this one lives up to the standard set by The Hunger Games. (Watch for our interview with Collins in the September issue.)
A Day and a Night and a Day by Glen Duncan. I'd never heard of this British writer before galleys of Day crossed my desk, but I'm now on the lookout for his earlier works.
A Short History of Women by Kate Walbert. The lives of four generations of women are captured in just 300-0dd pages that have the heft of a much bigger book. It reminded me in some ways of The Stone Diaries, which I just read (and loved).
Little Bee by Chris Cleave. A talked-up novel that deserved the buzz it got, Cleave's portrait of a Nigerian refugee with a startling connection to a well-to-do British woman and her husband is a moving, honest story of immigrant life and the ties that bind us all.
A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg. I've long read and loved Wizenberg's blog, Orangette. Her memoir is written in the same friendly voice, but goes deeper into the stories behind the recipes. It is heartfelt, but not sentimental, and told with honesty -- so I'll be completely honest here and admit to staying up too late to read the whole book in one gulp and actually wiping tears more than once.
My Abandonment by Peter Rock. This novel about father-daughter survivalists who live off the grid was inspired by a true story and takes an unexpected turn.
What's your top 10?
I'm a big fan of Sarah Haskins, a comedian who dares to critique the deluge of media targeted at women in a recurring Current TV segment called "Target: Women." Her riffs on the term "cougar" and yogurt commercials rank among my favorite online videos.
Recently, Haskins took on dating guides (aka books that "offer you a system for understanding and categorizing your failures") with predictably hilarious results. Her impression of Clare Staples, the author of Everything I Need to Know About Men I Learned from My Dog, is a highlight—and you'll never squeeze a tomato at the market in the same way.
p.s. If you're still interested in giving a dating advice book a try, check out my tongue-in-cheek look at a few of them from back in 2007. Can you spot the book Sarah featured in her video?
On July 7, Lynn blogged about New York Times columnist Nicolas Kristof’s controversial column on must-read children’s books. Also on July 7, Kristof posted an acknowledgement of the huge reader response he received; more than 2,350 people commented on his list.
(For those who weren’t following the debate, Kristof posted a list of the “best kids’ books ever” and neglected to mention many wonderful authors. Personally, I was aghast that Laura Ingalls Wilder got the shaft.)
In his apologetic response, Kristof wrote, “As many readers pointed out, Roald Dahl really should have had a place on the list. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a pinnacle of literature, a bit ahead of Proust.”
Ah, Roald Dahl. How many of us have worn copies of Matilda, or James and the Giant Peach, or The BFG on our bookshelves?
As a huge Dahl fan, I was interested to read Wednesday’s headline from the UK’s Telegraph newspaper: “Roald Dahl proves a man of a great many letters for his biographer.” Apparently Donald Sturrock, a British documentary filmmaker and friend of the Dahl family, was set to finalize an authorized biography of the beloved author when he found an unexpected source: over 300 letters between Roald Dahl and his best friend, Charles Marsh. In order for Sturrock to have time to factor in the new information (“everything from politics and illness to sex, marriage and why he started writing,” says the Telegraph), the biography’s publication date has been delayed until September 2010. Sturrock won’t reveal how he got the letters.
There is, however, something to look forward to in the near future: Farrar, Straus and Giroux will release More About Boy: Roald Dahl’s Tales from Childhood in September, just days before what would have been the author's 93rd birthday (September 13). The publisher promises that this addendum to Dahl’s classic autobiography, Boy, is a “special keepsake hardcover edition” with “some of the secrets that were left out” from the original. Can’t wait!
Simon & Schuster’s The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington comes out in paperback on September 8. (Read BookPage's review here.)
And of course, the movie version of The Fantastic Mr. Fox, featuring the voices of George Clooney and Meryl Streep, is coming November 13. Click here to watch the trailer.
If you could discover a secret collection of letters from an author, who would it be?
To continue the reminiscing . . . does anyone have a favorite character, book or film adaptation from Dahl’s wacky universe?
When she was just 24 years old, British author Zadie Smith published her first novel, White Teeth.
The book went on to become an international bestseller, and introduced Smith as one of the world’s most promising new writers in 2000. Two years later came The Autograph Man and in 2005, On Beauty, another bestseller, was published. And this fall—November 12th to be exact—we have Zadie Smith’s first foray into nonfiction: Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays.
In her Foreword, Smith writes: “When you are first published at a young age, your writing grows with you—and in public. Changing My Mind seemed an apt, confessional title to describe this process. Reading through these pieces, though, I’m forced to recognize that ideological inconsistency is, for me, practically an article of faith. As is a cautious, optimistic creed, best expressed by Saul Bellow: ‘There may be truths on the side of life.’ I keep waiting, but I don’t think I’m going to grow out of it.”
Changing My Mind is divided into four sections—“Reading,” “Being,” “Seeing” and “Feeling”—and the essays cover topics ranging from personal experiences traveling the world to authors who have influenced her own writing to thoughts on public figures like Katharine Hepburn and President Obama to advice and lessons on the writing process.
Smith says that many of these essays were written at the request of editors for different occasions and publications. Some came from her own work on what might have been a new novel. Still others might have composed "a solemn, theoretical book about writing: Fail Better." But instead they come together to form a unique, deeply personal collection from one of our most talented—and talked about—writers.
The Penguin Press, Smith’s publisher, has high hopes for this new book. Will you pick up a copy come November?
Publishing cycles may be slow—but when a celebrity death is involved, those wheels tend to start turning a little more quickly. Ian Halperin, who has written biographies about Kurt Cobain and James Taylor, was already at work on a bio of the King of Pop when his sudden death made headlines. Simon & Schuster put the project in overdrive, and Halperin updated the manuscript with a chapter on MJ's death and funeral in time for a crash publication about three months ahead of schedule and less than two weeks after the news broke: July 14. So if you haven't had enough of the media madness surrounding MJ and his family—or would rather learn your King of Pop trivia in print instead of through breathless reporting—one of 500,000 copies could be yours. The audio version, from Tantor Audio and read by Richard Allen, will come just a week later on July 21.
As some Book Case readers know, before I came to BookPage in March, I was an Assistant Editor at Random House in New York City. I had the privilege of working with dozens of talented authors on hundreds of fascinating books. But one of my favorite projects—and one of the last ones I worked on before leaving Random House—was Mark Seal's Wildflower: An Extraordinary Life and Untimely Death in Africa.
Published in May of this year, Wildflower is the story of the captivating life and shocking death of world-renowned naturalist Joan Root. Mark Seal, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, is the gifted author. Mark took the time out of his busy schedule to answer a few of The Book Case’s questions about Wildflower and writing in general.
Wildflower evolved from a piece you wrote about Joan Root’s life and death for Vanity Fair. How did you first hear about Joan Root? What interested you in her story?
I read a one paragraph mention of her death in The New York Times Digest, headlined “Conservationist Killed”: “Joan Root, animal lover and conservationist who collaborated with her husband, Alan, on wildlife documentaries in the 1970s, was killed on Jan. 13 in Naivasha, Kenya. Root was shot to death by assailants who invaded her farmhouse, the police said. Two men were arrested, officials said. One of the couple’s films, “Mysterious Castles of Clay,” narrated by Orson Welles, showed the inner workings of a termite mound. It was nominated for an Oscar in 1978.” I had never heard of Joan Root, but was instantly riveted and wanted to know more. When I began researching her, a whole world opened—and I discovered a truly amazing woman who led two incredible lives, first as a famous filmmaker with her husband, Alan, with whom she shared a magical love and almost unbelievable adventure, and, after their divorce, as a brave and independent woman on her own, who put her life on the line to save the ecologically endangered lake on which she lived.
Tell us about your research and writing process. How did you tackle such a complicated project?
For the Vanity Fair story, I traveled to Kenya for Joan’s memorial service, interviewing her friends, fellow naturalists and ex-husband, Alan, as well as the police who investigated her murder. However, I felt like I had to get her voice in order to write a book about her—not an easy task when dealing with an intensely private woman, who barely spoke above a whisper and rarely gave interviews. Then, something incredible happened: Joan Root began speaking. Her ex-husband, Alan Root, emailed me, saying I was right about the speaking, but he had thousands of letters Joan had written to her mother, as well as letters she’d written to him during their painful separation and eventual divorce, and meticulously kept diaries over the years. I returned to Kenya and got the letters and diaries, which enabled me to find Joan’s voice, which became so critical for the book.
What do you hope readers will take away from Wildflower?
That we are all capable of second acts and second lives, and that one person can make a difference. Joan was an unlikely activist, but she put herself on the line for what she believed in. “It’s all talk, talk, talk, meetings, meetings, meeting but nothing ever gets done!” she once said. Her legacy is that she showed how action, instead of talk, can bring about change.
What can we expect from you next?
I’m working on a new nonfiction book as well as articles for Vanity Fair.
Any advice for aspiring writers?
Stay with it. And always concentrate on finding a great story. It’s often said that characters begin to speak to you—and they do. But it takes hard work and perseverance to get them talking.
For more on Mark Seal, check out BookPage’s review of Wildflower. Thanks for reading with us!
As one half of "The Whisky Couple," Hans Offringa conducts whisky nosing and tasting sessions throughout Europe and the USA. Offringa has just published Whisky & Jazz, a coffee-table book that combines two of his great loves. Read more about his inspiration for this book, volume two in a four-part series that combines whisky and the four senses.
Whisky & the Senses
guest blog by Hans Offringa
At the age of 18 I graduated from high school and, as a celebration ritual, was offered my first glass of Scotch whisky by a good friend. I instantly fell for the drink, and my natural curiosity made me go on a quest. It would turn out to be a lifelong quest. As a professional writer with more than 30 years of writing articles, books and manuals under my belt, I have been doing some serious traveling, mostly for research, from Scotland to Kentucky, from Hong Kong to San Francisco, from St. Petersburg, Russia, to the Sinai desert in Africa. My favorite country, however, is Scotland.
When I first visited that wonderful place some 20 years ago, the main purpose was to meet a series of distillers for interviews and photography. I fell in love with the countryside, with the people and with nature as a whole. Over the years I have traveled countless times to this part of the world and accumulated a wealth of knowledge and perhaps a bit of wisdom on the side thanks to the many people who were willing to help me: distillers, marketeers and fellow writers. In 1999, I published my first work about whisky with a Scottish business partner. It proved to be the start of a whole series of books and articles about the craitur. Three years ago I developed the idea to write four different coffee table style books about whisky and the senses. After all, we appreciate a good dram of whisky with our ears, our eyes, our nose and our palate. We hear a gurgling sound when we pour the whisky, we watch the colour, we smell the aromas and when we taste a sip, we feel a prickling sensation. Five senses cooperate closely to give us an impression of what we savour.
In 2007, part one, A Taste of Whisky, was published. In the book I describe how flavors and aromas come into being and how you can learn to discern them yourself. To top it off I asked four chefs from four different countries to create a 10-course menu with 10 single malt whiskies I selected specially for them. They all took an entirely different approach, as I had hoped for. On May 29 this year, part two was launched: Whisky & Jazz. In the first chapter, I compare the history of jazz with the history of whisky and identify areas of resemblance. In the second chapter, I describe the life stories of 10 jazz musicians followed by a chapter about 10 fine distilleries. The last chapter is a sipping and tasting guide, where I blend a particular song with a particular whisky, enhancing both the enjoyment of listening to music and the tasting superb whiskies. For each blend I wrote a blue note and a tasting note. Here you can find a link to the 10 pieces of music and listen to them while savouring your dram. Part three (looking) and four (feeling) of Whisky & the Senses are scheduled for publishing in 2010 and 2011. All four books can be read independently.
If you’re gift-challenged like me, holidays/birthdays/graduations and other gift-giving events have a way of sneaking up on you. We’re doing our part to help out by warning you a full week in advance that Sunday is FATHER’S DAY and if you don’t already have an idea for a present, you’d better get busy. Wait, there’s more. We’re also offering one lucky reader a chance to snag a Father’s Day gift collection without ever leaving the sofa. Our “Four for Father” collection includes these new releases:
That's what David Young, chairman and CEO of Hachette Book Group, hopes for Twelve's upcoming memoir from Senator Ted Kennedy. At a recent meeting with Books-A-Million, Young told buyers that editor Jamie Raab says True Compass "delivers" and described the book as "electrifying."
True Compass covers everything from Kennedy's youth to the current day in surprising detail. "Revelations in this book will amaze people," Young said, promising that Kennedy "went everywhere we wanted him to go" in the memoir -- including Chappaquiddick -- and that the scene where Kennedy informs their father of his brother Jack's death is especially poignant. The book will, of course, be embargoed until its October 6 release date. Will you read?