This post about the past weekend's Southern Festival of Books goes back to the very first night, when BookPage reserved a table at the Authors in the Round dinner. We got to the cocktail party a little late but there was plenty of time to catch a glimpse of authors like Kathryn Stockett, Robert Hicks, Jill McCorkle, Michael Sims and even John Carter Cash, who was wearing a dapper seersucker suit.
Our dinner companion was Madison Smartt Bell, who we're pretty sure was happy with his seat between two lovely ladies.
Conversation ranged from his early years in Nashville, to the Bell witch, to the merits of Goucher College, where he is a professor of English. And of course we talked about his forthcoming novel, Devil's Dream, which brings one of the Civil War's most complicated generals, Nathan Bedford Forrest, to life. Bell told us his college-aged daughter helped him finalize the book's structure, which jumps backward and forward through time with each chapter. Watch for more details in a website interview in November.
If you could have dinner with an author, who would it be?
That was before I realized how many book blogs there are. Holy moly. You know how sometimes Time magazine or Newsweek will release a list of the 100 best books of all time? (Or 1001!) Those lists drive me crazy, particularly when I start to tally up how many (i.e., how few) of the books I’ve actually read (and when I remember that I still haven’t read Catch-22). Well, that’s how I felt when I started perusing book blogs. It’s not uncommon for a book blog to feature a blogroll with over 50 blogs, to review new books every day (and these are recreational bloggers, presumably with other full-time jobs and responsibilities), and to receive over 20 comments per post. Figuring out how to navigate this large and active community is a daunting task… but here at The Book Case we’re going to make an earnest effort to try.
As part of an ongoing series, we offer part 1 of “Book Blogs We Love.” In each installation, we’ll give an overview of a few awesome book blogs.
Readers, please give us suggestions!
The Book Lady’s Blog is written by Rebecca, a book seller (and soon-to-be marketing coordinator for a medical company). Recent content includes a guest post from Allison Hoover Bartlett, author of The Man Who Loved Books Too Much, and a diatribe on the self-indulgence of Nicholas Sparks. I also enjoyed the review (with lots of great excerpts) of Michael Chabon’s latest, Manhood for Amateurs.
Technical writer Ti writes Book Chatter. My favorite thing about this blog is the format of reviews, each of which include a blurb from the book’s publisher, a short summary (“the short of it”), and a longer reflection (“the rest of it”). Recent reviews include Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Francine Prose’s Goldengrove.
Erin, who works at a public library, writes A Life in Books. The blog is basically Erin’s reading diary, which I love because of the variety of coverage. At BookPage, we write about what’s being published right now, and it’s refreshing to read about books that have been out for a while (like Hilma Wolitzer’s Summer Reading, which Erin found in a bargain bin at Border’s!). I also like this blog for the conversational tone of its reviews.
Finally, I'll admit that I was inspired to get going on this blog-finding project by Nina Sankovitch, whom I discovered in the New York Times. Nina reads a book a day and writes reviews on her website. At BookPage, we were pretty wowed by Nina's story. I figured that if she can read a book a day, then I can pump up my blog reading.
I may be the last person to hear about this, but a post this morning on Galley Cat caught my eye. There’s a company out there called BookSwim that’s marketing itself as the Netflix of books. For a monthly fee, you can have books (including brand-new hardbacks and textbooks) shipped to your door.
As a devoted library-goer, the site initially left a bad taste in my mouth because of the “Why not just go the library?” section (Answer: late fees, limited hours, limited selections, long waiting lists for popular titles, location). Hmm. I don’t know about that. Even if there is a long wait for new titles, my favorite part of going to the library is browsing the shelves and finding a surprise.
The site also seems to be keeping a close guard on the price of plans. Instead, we get details such as: “Whether you've got our 3 or 5-books-a-month plan, you've got your nose in a book, the wind at your back and the sun upon your face.” After a little digging, I found out that the cheapest plan (1 book at a time) costs $9.95 a month + $3.99 shipping and handling. 3 books at a time is $23.95 (free shipping) and 11 books at a time (“devout reader”) is $59.95.
Seems a bit steep to me, although I won’t knock the company until I hear feedback from someone who’s used their services. With so much new fiction out there this fall, I wouldn’t mind getting a few hardbacks at a discounted price.
Anyone out there tried BookSwim? Is BookSwim going to do for bookstores what Netflix did for Blockbuster?
Another dispatch from the Southern Festival of Books…
Bell is the editor of New Stories from the South: The Year’s Best (2009), an annual anthology of short fiction. Wilson and McCorkle both have stories in the collection. (And lucky for us, both stories are printed in their entirety online -- see links below.)
McCorkle read an excerpt from “Magic Words,” originally published in the fall 2008 edition of Narrative.
I loved hearing some back story behind McCorkle’s process; specifically, how she chooses subjects for her fiction and why she’s defined as a “Southern writer.” McCorkle said that she constantly carries with her an “ongoing collection of ideas.” When she decides to sit down and write depends on how much time she’s spent “walking around and thinking” about a character or situation.
Originally from North Carolina, McCorkle said that “the setting of a small Southern town comes right out of reality.” She continued, “Sometimes a place holds all the other pieces together.”
Wilson read from “No Joke, This is Going to be Painful,” originally published in Tin House.
As Bell said in the session, Wilson’s story “breaks taboo”; he writes across gender (his first-person narrator is female). Originally from Winchester, TN, Wilson explained that his characters operate in a small town in Tennessee because that’s what he knows.
Both McCorkle and Wilson were at their funniest while talking about student writing. (McCorkle teaches at NC State; Wilson teaches at Sewanee.)
Students run into trouble, according to McCorkle, when they don't “put a pulse in that body.” Lately, she said, she’s seen far too many “fairies and vampires” rather than living, emotional (human) characters with real stories to tell.
At the beginning of the session, Bell spent a few minutes talking about the different generations of Southern writers – from the Fugitives to the present. What has changed the most, he said, is the “rootedness of Southern writers.” Bell, for example, was born in Tennessee, but he has lived in New York and now teaches in Baltimore.
McCorkle described her childhood in Lumberton, North Carolina, a town home to I-95. Growing up, McCorkle was struck by the thought of the highway connecting "New York and North Carolina." Thus, the highway image often shows up in her work.
“What’s different about the New South is that it’s no longer a place of total alienation,” she said. “We have the freedom to get on that highway and go.”
I have yet to get my hands on New Stories from the South. Do any readers have a favorite story from the collection? For any fiction writers out there: Do you, like McCorkle and Wilson, place your characters in the region of your childhood? Are people "Southern" writers because their settings are Southern?
While the anticipation grows for Stephen King's Under the Dome, buzz is also building for the latest project from his son, who writes as Joe Hill. Hill's debut, Heart-Shaped Box, was an uber-creepy tale of a haunted rock star that demonstrated that a talent for tapping into the dark side of human nature just might be genetic.
In February, Morrow will publish Hill's second novel, Horns, a book the author describes as "another heart-warmer." It's already been optioned for film by Mandalay entertainment. The premise: a man wakes up after a wild night to find horns growing out of his head—and like Pinocchio's nose, they keep growing every day. Turns out his girlfriend's murder might have something to do with his strange condition.
Like King's Under the Dome, Horns will also be released (in the UK, at least) in a limited edition by PS Publishing. The limited edition of 500 will include art by Vincent Chong and be signed by the author. Full details on the special edition can be found here.
What do you think of this special edition trend? Are there any books you'd like to have a $300 deluxe version of?
As we blogged last week, Friday through Sunday was the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville. In honor of our Cozy Corner column – where Joanne Collings reviews two cozy mysteries a month – I attended a session on Friday called “A Whodunit and a How-to: Cozy Mysteries.” Authors Jennie Bentley and Emyl Jenkins were the speakers.
In August, Bentley wrote a behind-the-book column for BookPage about Spackled and Spooked, the second installation in her series about home renovator Avery Baker. Jenkins is the author of The Big Steal, a dead-body-free mystery starring antiques appraiser Sterling Glass.
At the Southern Festival of Books session, both authors described the concept of cozy mysteries and how their personal interests have played into their writing.
The parameters of the cozy genre are quite firm, according to Bentley: “no bad language, no sex, no gore, no violence.” She said that most cozies have a “gimmicky hook with tips in the back.” (For example, Jenkins includes an illustrated guide to antiques at the back of The Big Steal.)
A real estate agent and home-renovating enthusiast, Bentley received a three-book contract from publisher Berkley Prime Crime. The third novel in her series, Plaster and Poison, will come out in March 2010. Bentley has recently agreed to write two more books about renovator Avery Baker, and she joked that prospective titles might be Mortar and Murder or Haunted House and Homicide.
Jenkins, who has worked as an appraiser for many years and who authored a book titled Emyl Jenkins’ Appraisal Book before turning to fiction, insisted that “people and their surroundings can be very important – what you chose to have around says so much about you.” Thus, objects play a key role in The Big Steal as her heroine seeks to recover missing antiques. At the Southern Festival of Books, Jenkins got a lot of laughs when she revealed what she avoids in her writing: The 5 Bs: blood, bodies, bombs, bad language, bedrooms.
Any cozy fans have book recommendations? If you were going to write a mystery without a murder, what would your hook be?
These days there seem to be more vampires around than you can shake a stake at. On TV, with "True Blood" and the CW's new series "The Vampire Diaries"; on the big screen, with the films New Moon and Jennifer's Body; and definitely in books (which inspired all of the above except Jennifer's Body, an original screenplay by Diablo Cody).
A new wave of books is feeding on the lifeblood of this vampire explosion—vampire humor and mashups. Newbie and wannabe vamps will slurp up The New Vampire's Handbook, a snarky look at life as one of the undead that was edited by "the Vampire Miles Proctor."
Useful advice on topics like "Fighting Werewolves" and "Common Puncture Methods" are punctuated by "Words to Live Forever By" sections that offer advice like this:
If you find yourself fumbling at any point in your approach, try making a little small talk with your victim. Ask about his favorite hobbies, television shows or his taste in popular music. Then, once you're both feeling a little more relaxed, savagely plunge your fangs into his neck.
Another new book, The Vampire Is Just Not That Into You, plays off of both a book and the vampire trend (nicely done, Vlad Mezrick!). Any girls looking to lure a sparkly Edward Cullen of their very own will treasure the advice provided here, which includes ideas for making your bedroom more vampire-friendly (avoid thick comforters which can "muffle the exhilarating and delicious sound of your heartbeat"), 10 things not to bring up when meeting his family (don't bother asking for family photos!) and stories from real-life girls and the vampires who (might) be into them.
From the section on "10 tips on dating a (much) older man":
#4 Learn about his past. It would be super awkward to invite your vampire to tour Gettysburg if it turns out he, um, left mortality behind during the Civil War. Avoid forcing him to relive painful moments, like bloody wars or the time he missed an early opportunity to invest in Microsoft.
Time for a poll:
And a giveaway: comment about your favorite vampire story of all time (book or TV) before Friday, October 16 and win three books from our Halloween roundup, including Otto Penzler's The Vampire Archives. US residents only this time. Good luck!
Media coverage of twitter—which was ubiquitous when they discovered it earlier this year and hasn't let up much since—tends to focus on the sensational. Like Senators caught tweeting during a presidential address. Or celebs using Twitter to to break up. But there's a very interesting literary community out there expressing themselves in 140 characters or less. Including, of course, BookPage (@BookPage). At any moment, booklovers are tweeting out book news and links to articles or blog posts you'll want to read, announcing giveaways or just discussing the latest bestseller.
Excellent newbie guides to Twitter have already been written, so in honor of Follow Friday, after the jump we'll share a few of our favorite tweeters and keywords (aka hashtags) to get you started in the Twitter community. This being the end of a long week I'm sure to have left someone out, so please add to the list—or share your own Twitter name—in the comments!
People/publishers to follow
@Maud Newton (of Maud Newton)
@mikecane (ebook news and opinion)
@RonHogan (of GalleyCat)
@[your favorite author—they're probably on there!]
(enter these into the search field to find every tweet using that tag)
#fridayreads (on Friday afternoons, learn what everyone plans to read over the weekend)
#litchat (afternoon book discussion)
#reading (to see what people are reading anytime)
#tbc (the twitter book club! They're currently reading Zoe Heller's The Believers.)
You can also use hashtags like #bouchercon and #romcon to track current or upcoming book events.
Monday is going to be a happy day for a lot of kids.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days, the fourth book in Jeff Kinney’s “Wimpy Kid” series, hits bookstores everywhere on Oct. 12. With a whopping first printing of 4 million copies, Dog Days is the largest children’s book release this year, according to a press release from Abrams, Kinney’s publisher. The press release also offered the tidbit (the first I’d heard) that a Wimpy Kid movie is in the works with an April 2 release date.
Our reviewer loved the first Wimpy Kid book, noting that “the writing is sharp, and the artwork, though deceptively simple, is both entertaining and expressive.”
In the series, Kinney writes and illustrates the diary of Greg, “a boy whose mom makes him keep a journal about his life.” Greg is picked-on at school. He’s just “trying to make it through school in one piece,” writes our reviewer.
At BookPage, we were lucky to have Kinney as our “Meet the Illustrator” columnist in Feb. 2009.
He answered and illustrated a series of questions, writing that the message he’d like to send to kids is:
Take pride in everything you do, from tonight’s homework assignment to setting the kitchen table. If you always try to do a good job, even the most unpleasant task can be rewarding.
Are any readers going to buy Dog Days on Monday? With fall book sales down, let's hope Kinney's latest gives children's publishing a boost.
Vintage Books announced yesterday that humor magazine the Harvard Lampoon will parody teen sensation Twilight. Their version, Nightlight, will be published on Nov. 3. The Lampoon hasn’t parodied a book in 40 years, since 1969's Bored of the Rings.
The Vintage press release gave a brief history of the Lampoon:
The first volume of the Lampoon appeared in February, 1876. Written by seven undergraduates and modeled on Punch, the British humor magazine, the debut issue took the Harvard campus by storm. “Our success was immediate,” wrote founder John Tyler Wheelwright. “Our first edition of twelve hundred was sold at once.” United States President Ulysses S. Grant was advised not to read the magazine, as he would be too much “in stitches” to run the government.
Related in BookPage: Read our interview with Stephenie Meyer.
Confession: I’ve never read Twilight, so I don’t have much of an opinion on the parody… although I am envious of the group of undergraduates who got to write a book with Random House.
Thoughts from Twilight fans (or loathers)?