Sometimes I wish I were still assigning fiction -- I'd love to get the first crack at reading Nicole Krauss' Great House (Norton), which will be published October 4.
The first novel from Krauss since The History of Love, Great House also explores the effects of the Holocaust and the Diaspora, though its scope encompasses other acts of erasure, like Pinochet's Chile. It centers on "a stolen desk that contains the secrets, and becomes the obsession, of the lives it passes through." In the lives of Krauss' four narrators, the desk comes to represent all that they have lost and all that has been forgotten in the chaos of life. Let's hope this one is just as multilayered and moving as The History of Love.
Related in BookPage: Read an interview with Krauss about The History of Love.
Today is the first-ever Book Blogger Convention, and instead of posting the usual "Best of the Blogs" roundup, we are thrilled to welcome Rebecca Joines Schinsky to The Book Case. Rebecca is Associate Director of the convention, but she is probably better known for her smart and funny posts at The Book Lady's Blog--on everything from author events, to new books to her disdain for Nicholas Sparks. Below, Rebecca offers her advice for starting a book blog; if you've ever wondered about sharing your love for reading with a larger audience, you've come to the right place. Thank you, Rebecca!
When Eliza asked me to write this post, my first thought was, “Finally! An excuse to share all of the wisdom I’ve earned the hard way these past two years!”
Then I remembered that I’m really just making it up as I go along…
But I must be faking it pretty well if Eliza thought I actually, like, know things about blogging, so I figure I’ll take a stab at it. How bad could it get? I mean, I’m already known as that girl who talks about throwing her panties at authors.
(See what I mean about making it up as I go along? You can plan that kind of ridiculousness.)
Anyway, without further ado, my top five tips for new and would-be book bloggers.
Do Your Homework
I started blogging the way I do most things--I jumped right in. That was fun, but I did it without any real knowledge of different blogging platforms, software, gadgets, etc. I had (briefly) used Blogger in the past and didn’t love it, and several of the blogs I was reading at the time were on Wordpress, so I just trotted over to wordpress.com and signed up for an account. Then I proceeded to stumble my way through it.
That’s not a bad way to learn, but it is very fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, and it can be stressful. If I had it to do over again, I’d spend more time learning about the options, talking to established bloggers (BTW, I love getting email from new bloggers and people who are thinking about starting), and considering the possibility of self-hosting. I’ve just made the transition, and I wish I’d started off self-hosted from the very beginning.
Also: do some googling and make sure there’s not already a blog or business with the title you’re considering. I really learned this one the hard way, as The Book Lady’s Blog started under a different name and changed when I got a scary “cease and desist” email from a business I’d never heard of but who had a copyright on the title I’d chosen.
Don’t Obsess About Free Books
Getting review copies and ARCs (advance reading copies, which are also called galleys) is privilege, not a right, and you don’t have to get them in order to write a fabulous blog.
Start off reviewing whatever you like, whatever you are reading. Sign up for the early reviewer programs at Goodreads and LibraryThing. Subscribe to Shelf Awareness, and click on their banner ads for ARCs. (You’ll be tempted to go crazy on it at first, but beware: the TBR pile will quickly grow to frightening size, and you’ll be wondering why the hell you requested that book in the first place.)
As you develop your blog and build your profile in the community, publishers and authors might reach out to you to ask you to read and review their books. It’s exciting when that happens, but don’t lose your head---accept the books you are actually interested in and pass on the rest. Consider posting a review policy on your blog that will help interested parties identify the books that will be a good fit for you.
Bottom line: you’re not entitled to free books, and it’s important to learn the etiquette that goes along with requesting them and reviewing them.
Regardless of what your goals for your blog may be, you need to get connected and meet people. If you *really* just wanted a place to record your thoughts, you’d write a diary. Blogging is about sharing your thoughts in a public forum, and it is much more fun when you have a little help from your friends.
Visit and comment on blogs you enjoy. Participate in the conversations that crop in the comments on your blog. Jump into the craziness that is Twitter. Don’t be intimidated by the supposedly “big bloggers.”
Social media is the great equalizer---you can tweet alongside your favorite authors and your idol bloggers, and there’s a good chance they’ll tweet back. All you have to do is reach out.
Which brings me to:
Save the Drama for Your Mama
So the post you wrote didn’t get any comments, or a blogger you’ve visited and commented on hasn’t commented on your blog, or someone didn’t respond to your tweet, or maybe you’re just feeling left out and lonely. These things happen. To all of us. You and your angst are not special.
Put your big kid underpants on and deal with it.
Nobody likes to read a whiny blog post about how alone you feel and how badly you wish more people would comment on your blog (hello, can we say fishing for compliments?), and nobody---really, nobody!---wants to read another post or tweet about blogging cliques. I’ve been doing this long enough to know that no two people define the “big bloggers” the same way, and there’s no secret blogging mafia who controls the internet.
Really, it’s the internet. It’s open to EVERYONE.
Take a few days off if you need to. Think about why you started blogging in the first place. Send an email to a trusted blogging friend. Remember that other bloggers have lives, too, and it’s probably not personal.
But keep it to yourself.
And please, for the love of all things sacred, don’t write a post that you know will be controversial just to stir the pot and drive traffic to your blog. Yes, the bump in hits will be nice, but it is so not worth it. Do you really want to be thought of as that person?
Be Yourself and Have Fun
Yes, it’s the same advice your mother gave you when you headed off to summer camp, but it’s still applicable. In fact, starting a blog is a lot like going off to camp in some ways. You don’t really know anybody, and you have to just put yourself out there.
My blog has A LOT of my personality in it, but that’s not a requirement. You can be as private or public as you like, but be true to yourself and your voice. Sure, it might sound like fun to write all of your reviews in Yoda-speak at the beginning, but how sustainable is that? Do you really want to be saying, “Loved this book a lot, I did” for the next ten years?
Talk about books the way you’d talk about anything else. Let your readers get to know you.
Anybody can write a summary or review of a book and post it on the internet. By being yourself, you make your blog a unique space, and you give readers a reason to keep coming back.
Also: do what works for you. There’s no right or wrong way to write a blog, no set number of required posts per week, no mandate on how often you blog or what you blog about.
If you build it, they will come. Write great content that reflects who you really are, and you’ll eventually find the right audience.
Photo by PJ Sykes.
In Michael Sims' upcoming anthology, Dracula's Guest, readers can look to an earlier time when vampire literature reigned supreme: the Victorian era. The 19th century was a breeding ground for stories of the undead, which culminated in 1897 with the indelible classic, Dracula.
In Dracula's Guest, Sims has collected a wide range of tales prefaced by an introduction that charts what he calls "the natural history of the vampire." In a Behind the Book essay for BookPage, he explains the constants—and the variables—of vampire lore.
Some vampires are very pale, but then so is Taylor Swift, and she’s not a vampire. Probably. Some flee from a cross the way Superman dodges kryptonite, but others could march into a Baptist revival and not blink an eye. Many have a serious case of death breath, but clearly some sparkly tousled young boy vamps do not, or moody teenage girls would not be so eager to kiss them.
Paul Doiron is the author of The Poacher’s Son (published May 11 by Minotaur Books), a crime novel about a rookie Maine game warden who is thrust into the hunt for a murderous fugitive—his own father. Doiron is also the editor-in-chief of Down East: The Magazine of Maine and a Registered Maine Guide. In a guest blog post for BookPage, the author describes the night a game warden first came to his rescue and how the experience has haunted him ever since.
I was struck by lightning.
People use that term as a metaphor all the time, but in my case it actually happened. Beyond being a nightmare experience, it also served as the starting point for both my writing career and my lifelong fascination with Maine game wardens.
On Memorial Day weekend 22 years ago I went camping with two friends in the Mahoosuc Mountains of western Maine. I was fast asleep when the lightning struck. The bolt hit a fir-tree at the edge of the clearing where we had made our camp, and the electricity traveled through the roots. I was actually blown off the ground and received a burn the size of a quarter on my side.
My friend, sleeping in a tent nearer the tree, was not so lucky: the current nearly electrocuted him. We were miles from the nearest road, one thousand feet up. I spent five hours alone with my friend, thinking he would die, while his brother fetched help.
Just before dawn, help finally arrived—two emergency medical technicians, and the district game warden, a rugged man named Don Gray. They stabilized my friend’s breathing. Soon volunteers from the Appalachian Mountain Club and Outward Bound arrived to carry the litter down the steep hill to the ambulance.
My friend spent a week in the hospital, and doctors told us that his heart had stopped when the lightning struck. He recovered fully except that he had no memory of that night. I, however, will never forget it.
The article I wrote about our ordeal was the first I ever published, and it appeared in Down East, the magazine I now edit.
Despite my own trauma, I continued to explore the Maine woods, finding my way into the remote and dangerous backcountry. I met other game wardens and made friends with old loggers and trappers, even a former poacher or two. I started writing about some of these people, first for Down East and later in The Poacher’s Son.
In time I decided I was ready to take the test to become a Registered Maine Guide. Maine is one of the only states to require that anyone who guides people into the wilderness be licensed. At my oral exam I would face a panel of experienced and unforgiving outdoorsmen who would grill me on using a map and compass, first aid, woodcraft, canoeing and finding lost people.
On the morning of my exam, I was surprised to find, sitting across the table from me, a familiar face. Don Gray had retired from the Maine Warden Service, but he was still testing the mettle of potential guides.
I introduced myself as one of the boys struck by lightning on Baldpate Mountain so long ago.
Don nodded knowingly. “God,” he said, “Wasn’t that one hell of a night, though?”
An hour later I passed the test.
Editor's note: In BookPage, mystery columnist Bruce Tierney writes that The Poacher's Son is "easily one of the best debut novels in recent memory." Do you agree? What other mysteries or thrillers would you recommend to those who enjoyed The Poacher's Son?
Author photo by Mark Fleming
A recent article in the Montgomery Advertiser describes fans visiting Monroeville, AL, in honor of To Kill a Mockingbird--and it's got me wondering: What are your favorite literary destinations?
Off the top of my head, I can think of several. There's always Oxford, MS, with Faulkner's Rowan Oak. Eudora Welty's home is a few hours away in Jackson. Near Nashville, you can visit Carnton Plantation, the setting of Robert Hicks' The Widow of the South. Concord, MA, is home to Louisa May Alcott's Orchard House, the Mark Twain House is a couple hours away in Hartford, CT, and Edith Wharton's fantastic estate is in Lenox, MA.
Staying in NYC after BEA? The New York Times has a created an interactive map filled with Manhattan literary destinations. Or, an online search for "literary pilgrimage" provides plenty of options.
I'll be in San Francisco over Memorial Day weekend, and my trip itinerary includes its own sort of literary pilgrimage--to the famous City Lights Bookstore, founded by Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti in 1953.
Got any good literary destinations? Share your ideas in the comments.
This week's recipes are from Cooking from the Garden: Best Recipes from the Kitchen Gardener, a book with "an inviting retro look . . . and recipes that cover the gastronomic gamut from breakfast to dinner and from starters and snacks to salads, sides and sweets" according to cookbook columnist Sybil Pratt. Serve the summer vegetables atop the creamy corn polenta, or use them for separate dishes: it's up to you! And let us know if you give them a try.
4 side or 2 main-course servings | 220 calories, 8g fat, 260mg sodium; per side serving
This dish combines four of my favorite foods: fresh corn, polenta, rich and tangy Parmigiano-Reggiano, and thyme. Pair it with a full-bodied, oak-aged Chardonnay, and you’ve got a match made in heaven. When using subtler, less oaky wines, substitute fresh goat cheese for some of the Parmigiano-Reggiano. A note about the corn: cut and scrape it from the cobs at the last minute—while the stock is heating—for the best, sweetest flavor.
Fresh from the garden: CORN, THYME
1?2 cup reduced-fat ricotta cheese
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or smoked mozzarella
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1?2 cup coarse cornmeal
2 cups fresh corn kernels (from about 4 medium ears)
1 tablespoon butter
11?2 teaspoons fresh or 1?2 teaspoon dried thyme, optional
1?8 teaspoon salt
Blend the ricotta and Parmigiano-Reggiano in a small bowl and set aside.
In a heavy saucepan, bring the stock to a boil. Using a wire whisk, slowly add the cornmeal in a thin stream, stirring constantly to prevent lumps. Reduce heat to low and cook for a couple of minutes, whisking often, until the polenta reaches the consistency of thick mush. Stir in the corn kernels, and continue cooking and stirring until the corn is tender-crisp, 3 to 5 minutes.
Remove from heat and stir in the ricotta mixture, butter, and thyme, if desired. Taste for seasoning and add salt as needed. Serve immediately.
— Recipe by Andrea Immer
There’s no rule that a vegetable stew must be eaten piping hot. This one, in particular, is delicious warm or at room temperature. Leftovers make a good sandwich filling or addition to a salad plate.
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 bay leaves
2 onions, coarsely chopped or sliced
6 plump cloves garlic, peeled and halved, plus 1 clove for garnish
6 fresh thyme sprigs
6 fresh sage leaves
12 small carrots
3?4 pound small new potatoes
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
1?2 pound yellow wax beans, or a mixture of varieties, ends trimmed
5 tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and coarsely chopped
1 yellow bell pepper, cut into 1-inch strips
1 pound summer squash, cut into large pieces
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon lemon zest
In a wide soup pot or casserole, warm the oil with the bay leaves over low heat until fragrant. Add the onions, 6 cloves garlic, thyme, and sage; cover and cook while you prepare the vegetables. Cut fat carrots in half lengthwise; leave small ones whole. If the potatoes are small, like large marbles, leave them whole; quarter larger ones or cut fingerlings in half lengthwise. Lay the carrots and potatoes on top of the onions and season with a little salt and pepper. Cut the beans into 3-inch pieces. Add them with the rest of the vegetables to the pot. Season each layer with a little salt and pepper, then cover and cook until tender, about 40 minutes. If tightly covered, the vegetables themselves will produce plenty of flavorful juices. If the pot seems dry, though, add a few tablespoons water.
For the garnish, chop the parsley with the last clove garlic and the lemon zest until all are in fine pieces. Serve the stew in bowls topped with the parsley mixture.
— Recipe by Deborah Madison
In recent weeks, I've fielded several requests for gift ideas for graduating seniors, either from college or high school. Of course, my default answer is always: "books!" But I know it helps to be a little more specific.
Instead of buying a grad a gift card to a book retailer--although there's certainly nothing wrong with that!--think about the following gift ideas, instead. (And yeah, yeah, Dr. Seuss's Oh, The Places You'll Go is perennially appropriate; I got a cherished copy myself. But below, I've focused more on practical suggestions.)
For a high school grad, you can't go wrong with William Zinsser's timeless guide On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction. This is by far my favorite book on the craft of writing because the thesis is pretty much foolproof ("simplify, simplify, simplify"); the examples are amusing; and the advice successfully guided me through all of my college papers. I still consult my 25th Anniversary Edition, and now the 30th Anniversary Edition is on sale.
Any college grad should be happy to receive a cookbook. Boring, right?! Wrong. When I graduated from college, the last thing I wanted to spend precious cash on was a nice cookbook. (Silly, since what was I going to do. . . eat all my meals in restaurants?) Though we can all find recipes on the internet now, no sort of meal planning can beat flipping pages and seeing pretty pictures of potential dinners. Browse our cookbook archive for ideas. My first cookbook was from trusty Rachael Ray (30 Minute Meals), and I still use it all the time.
High school or college grads would be lucky to receive Manisha Thakor and Sharon Kedar's On My Own Two Feet: A Modern Girl's Guide to Personal Finance. As the title suggests, the intended audience for the book is women--the assumption being that more women than ever are in charge of their own or their family's finances--but I think the advice is universal. I'm usually skeptical of personal finance books, but Thakor and Kedar break down budget and savings plans and explain investing in terms that even a teen could understand. This book will make concepts like "saving for retirement" much easier to grasp. (For coupled readers, Thakor and Kedar have a new book out called Get Financially Naked: How to Talk Money with Your Honey.)
Do you have any suggestions for graduation gifts?
A Gate at the Stairs
by Lorrie Moore
Knopf, September 2009
So, I've been looking forward to reading A Gate at the Stairs since its fall publication, when it was described in BookPage as "solidly and delightfully Lorrie Moore territory; there’s the isolated, intelligent female narrator who both hides and survives through her humor and nonchalance; the Midwestern landscape that stretches with ennui and possibility; the pithy wordplay that is as haunting as it is lighthearted." The story is about Tassie, a 20-year-old girl who takes a job as a babysitter during winter vacation. Sarah, the woman who hires her, takes an immediate liking to Tassie and—oddly—asks her to "be there with us for everything, from the very first day." The excerpted passage is from Tassie's first outing with Sarah, who is adopting. They go to meet the birth mother (Amber) and adoption agency counselor (Letitia).
If you've never read Lorrie Moore before, or A Gate at the Stairs is on your TBR list, I encourage you to check out this novel—either now or in September, when the paperback comes out. Moore has a knack for describing bizarre situations that still feel instantly recognizable, and she's hilarious, to boot.
Things moved with swiftness and awkwardness both, like something simultaneously strong and broken. We hung up coats; we ordered; we ate; we made chitchat about the food and the snow. "Oh, there's my probation officer," Amber said, giggling; her face brightened, as if she had a little crush on him. "I think he sees us. He's sitting right over there by the window." We looked up to see the probation officer, his blue jacket still on, his bottomless Diet Coke stacked with ice. A going-to-seed hunk in a windbreaker: the world seemed full of them. We all just stared to buy ourselves time, I suppose, and to avoid the actual question of Amber's crimes.
Letitia began to speak to Sarah, on Amber's behalf. "Amber is happy to meet Tassie as well as you, Sarah." Here Amber looked across at me and rolled her eyes, as if we were two girls out with our embarrassing mothers. I had been noticing Amber's face, which was as lovely as advertised but sassy, with a strange electricity animating it, and with the missing teeth she seemed like a slightly educated hillbilly or an infant freak. her hair was a gingery blond, shoulder length, as straight and course as a horse's tail. "Amber is wondering, of course, about your religious plans for the baby. She is very interested in having the baby baptized Catholic, aren't you, Amber?"
"Oh, yeah," said Amber. "That's the whole point of this." She pulled out the front of her bulging stretchy sweater and let it snap back.
"And of course, she would hope you would have the child confirmed as well, when the time came."
"We could do that. We could definitely do that," Sarah said agreeably.
"Were you raised Catholic?" asked Amber.
"Uh, well, no, but my cousins were," said Sarah, as if this solved everything.
The Audie Awards were given out last night in New York City, and the biggest prize—Audiobook of the Year—went to Nelson Mandela's Favorite African Folktales. (Read more about this book and listen to an excerpt.)
Mandela and the 23 artists who participated in this recording must be pretty pleased to have beaten out the Bible and Patrick Swayze. We're guessing that the talented readers combined with the fact that 100% of the proceeds from the audiobook go to a nonprofit working in South Africa and the U.S. to combat HIV/AIDS and The Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, convinced judges that this one deserved the prize.