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The Heat Lightning

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Pill-Popping Astrologists, Activist Moms, and Lesbian Artists

Carry the One

I try never to read reviews or jacket copy for books I plan to read. I felt comfortable that reading Lisa Schwarzbaum’s rave review in Entertainment Weekly wouldn’t spoil anything for me because Carol Anshaw’s Carry the One was nothing I would ever read. I didn’t have anything against it, I just saw the little girl in silhouette on the cover, thought “To-Kill-a-Mockingbird-lite” and moved on. Schwarzbaum’s review dispelled this impression. So now I’ll try to help you. Should you find yourself browsing – virtually or through the stacks – and come across Anshaw’s lovely book, you should buy it.

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Only Two Days Left to be a Part of History during World Book Night

World Book Night started in the UK last year, and this year it’s coming to the United States. Hundreds of book lovers across America will be giving away thousands of free books. You can be one of them.

It would be way too easy to walk into a bookstore or a library and give books away, so the World Book Night is going after light readers and non readers. The goal is to take an awesome book, put it in someone’s hands who hasn’t held one in a while, and inspire them to read more.

I’ve seen this happen. So many people who don’t see themselves as readers just haven’t found the right book yet.

I’d say it’s fairly easy to find people in Miami who don’t read much, so what have you got to lose? All you risk are suspicious looks from people who think that getting a copy of Zeitoun from you requires listening to a speech about how shitty the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina was. You’ve got to believe in the power of one of these titles.

You’ve got to think of a public space where you can reach reading novices, then go here and sign up.

You have the span of Eddie Murphy’s prison furlough to make it happen. Or a CBS reality show. Or watching the extended versions of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy four times back to back. We believe in you.

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Abu-Jaber: More Than Just a Name That's Fun to Say

AbuJaberBirdsofParadise

Diana Abu-Jaber’s Birds of Paradise is on bookstore shelves now. Here are five reasons you should read it:

1 – You love Miami, and by extension, Miami authors, and stories set in Miami.

2 – Abu-Jaber responded to sexist remarks from V.S. Naipul with class.

3 – While the names have been changed in Paradise, playing “spot the location” appeals to you.

4 – You love the lyricism of poetry but hate reading actual poetry.

5 – Its an exploration of a family in crisis which will probably struggle to find the accolades afforded a Franzen Freedom or a DeLillo White Noise because the author lacks a penis, but the characters are richer and prose is worlds better.

Visit Aaron’s blog, because it’s good: Sweet With Fall and Fish.

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Fashionistas AND Glitterati? Sign me up.

miami party

These quotes from various travel guides make we wonder, does Miami suffer from an image problem, or are these descriptions right on target?

“Ouch.  What did I drink last night?  An ashtray based on the taste in my mouth.  Best get some caffeine to stave off the hangover, and fresh Florida orange juice to wash off the tongue at Puerto Sagua in South Beach.  Then I believe I’ll sleep on the beach….
“Miami is a city made for tourists, staffed by folks who abase themselves before tourists as if they were Greek Gods.  As long as you can pay, expect some serious tropical coddling and cuddling.  Unfortunately, this town still manages to aggravate.  There can be snooty and/or self-absorbed attitude at some hotels and restaurants.  Driving through heavy traffic and around frequent construction sucks almost as much as the state of the city’s public transportation.”

- Lonely Planet Miami & the Keys: City Guides

I’m not sure how any of that is supposed to make me want to visit Miami. 


“SoBe (South Beach). . . is where the trendy, tanned, sexy, rich, and young play to excess. By day, supermodels preen in the surf and sand, the fashionistas and glitterati cruise the boulevard on shiny Harleys and in top-down convertibles, while the common folk stroll and gawk. By night, the SoBe crowd, believing that too much of a good thing is wonderful, has raised hedonistic celeb-studded clubbing to an art form. Put your sexy on and get naughty at top clubs like Mansion, Cameo, the Delano, or B.E.D., where you may catch a glimpse of Beyonce Knowles and You-Know-Who snuggling in the corner.”

- Fodor’s Miami and Miami Beach

Fodor’s thinks Beyonce dates Voldemort? That’s just weird.

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Get ready for Wildwood

Wildwood

Carson Ellis and Colin Meloy’s Wildwood comes out next month. Here are five reasons you should read it.

1 – You like the Decemberists not because it’s required by the Hipster Code of Conduct, but because of the story-telling inherent in Meloy’s songwriting, as evidenced here and here. And here, if you like murder ballads.

2 – You hung the dustjacket from The Mysterious Benedict Society on your wall.

3 – Imagining the original, unsuitable-for-children version between the lines appeals to you.

4 – It’s an instant classic that pays homage to some of the best epics in children’s book history – think Narnia, Middle Earth, and The Brothers Grimm – without robbing any of them. It’s quietly awesome, engendering nostalgia without being cozy and adventure without putting the entire universe in peril.

5 – You want to guess what Colin Meloy wrote about just to give Carson Ellis an excuse to draw it.

(Yes, that’s a badger pulling a rickshaw)

Check out Aaron’s blog Sweet With Fall and Fish.

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Snip, snip: proudly shooting blanks since the 1990s

Happily Shooting Blanks

Sometimes you do a wondrous thing quietly, for reasons entirely of your own choosing, and never expect public recognition for your efforts. Such was the case when I got a vasectomy.

Legally, if you’re eighteen, you can request a vasectomy. If you have children, doctors will sever your vas deferens without a second thought (or in my case, sever, cauterize the ends, fold them over, and staple them together). Childless and twenty-two years old, I had to undergo counseling before they’d consent to the procedure.

I told them I didn’t want children and never would. They said I was too young to know if I’d want children one day. I told them if I ever changed my mind, I was a firm believer in adoption. After an hour with two different folks, one male, one female, they scheduled the procedure.

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Let's All Hold Hands and Act Like We're Having Fun

Pretending You Care

Bookselling is not the worst retail job I’ve had. Relative it any kitchen job I’ve had it barely qualifies as work, but all retail dehumanizes its employees to some degree. Walking down the street on your worst day, the odds of telling a stranger to fuck him or herself are fairly low. Put that same stranger behind a counter and watch the f-bombs fly. A uniform exacerbates the situation, and a name tag practically demands a public dressing down at best, and spit or a latte to the chest at worst.

Please note, I’m not making those examples up. My favorite all-time public humiliation of a service worker was not the latte shower at Starbucks (“You disrespect me? You disrespect me? Here!”), but a guy who told a fellow server – for the benefit of the six people at his table and a few more sitting within earshot – “This must be a real step up for you from McDonald’s.”

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Read It Because It's Good, Read It Because You Should

So Much Pretty

The confusion and self-loathing and sense of powerlessness that comes from either affiliation with abusers and aggressors, or with apathy and inaction, is a part of the masculine experience. Just as fear is a part of the feminine experience.
-Cara Hoffman, The Beginning of Men
(Blog posted 10/6/10)

I offer that quote to prove that Cara Hoffman understands men.  Hopefully the cultural landscape has changed enough that there won’t be a backlash against So Much Pretty, but some of the comments I see on a typical browse these days tell me she might be in for a rough ride. If So Much Pretty starts controversy, it wouldn’t be the worst thing to happen. We could use more open dialog about how our culture perpetrates violence.

Her book is a brilliant piece of fiction, both for the author’s skill, and the story’s depth. It entertains even as it pushes buttons. It turns pages in a breathless narrative, while holding a mirror to how complacent we’ve become to the banality of evil. Hannah Arendt wrote that phrase in regards to nazis, but Hoffman’s novel tackles the violence that men commit against women.

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Ape House vs. Great House

Ape House vs. Great House

Nicole Krauss published History of Love the same year her husband Jonathan Safron Foer published Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. At the time, JSF was more critically lauded and better known than Krause, but that didn’t stop her from writing a far superior book. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is excellent, pitch-perfect, and a book I wholeheartedly recommend to everyone; History of Love is a beautiful piece of art with lines which have tattooed themselves on my brain.

This time out, Nicole Krauss’ Great House begs for comparison with Sara Gruen’s Ape House because of the titles and because I just read them both. Critics and readers who adored History of Love have been wondering for five years whether it was a fluke or a signpost. Fans of Water for Elephants have been anticipating Gruen’s Ape House as patiently as Pottermaniacs await the next movie.

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My nonsexual dream about intimacy, mystery, and Liz with GIANT breasts

Dream That Was
In ninth grade, I participated in a lock out. It’s similar to the lock in, wherein youths are locked inside a church or recreation center for twenty-four hours to prove how much fun they can have without supervision, and without drugs or alcohol. We began with a prayer at St. Matthew’s church, then we got in people’s faces with our youthful sobriety. We marched through the neighborhood with signs urging folks to Just Say No (yes, I’m 40), sang top 40 along with a boom box (wait, more like 50), danced on the sidewalks, and tried to get passing cars to honk at us.

Around ten pm, we went back to a parent’s house for a few moments of adult time. In other words, our parents chipped in to buy us all pizzas, then we told them to get lost while we played board games and watched videos. We would return to St. Matthew’s at noon the next day, but we couldn’t sleep until then or it wouldn’t be an official “lock out.”

Did I mention the sleepover was all girls, except for me?

Apart from Amy and Tiffany, I can’t remember who was there. Amy was the first girl in our class to grow breasts. I’ve never been a breast man, but when a girl’s bodily development has been hotly discussed for three years and she decides to share a bed with you, wearing only on oversized t-shirt and briefs, well… that kind of thing tends to leave an impression on a sixteen-year-old boy.

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Sort of the Best Books of 2010

everythinghere

I’ve already squawked about two of the best books of 2010 for THL but both are worth squawking over again. Don’t take my word about Heidi Durrow’s The Girl Who Fell from the Sky; it’s on more Top Ten, recommended, and Best of lists than “Toy Story 3.” Meanwhile, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet proves the mighty David Mitchell is capable of anything, including making his literary contemporaries look like amateurs.

One I haven’t mentioned here is Joyce Maynard’s The Good Daughters. A book so good it makes readers into instant fans, I find myself rehashing it every couple weeks as I suggest it to different readers. They return after reading it wearing the shining eyes and slack faces of the converted, and I’m sure I wear it myself. If hardcover prices cross your eyes, check out last year’s equally excellent Labor Day. Maynard is the real deal, folks.

Brock Clarke’s Exley takes place in Watertown, a short drive north of my hometown. I’ve found myself largely unable to write about Exley because every time I think of it, it’s like thinking about a favorite family member. Writing about it would cheapen the book for me, and I don’t want my words to lessen something I’m so fond of. Let’s just say it’s certainly worth reading.

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4 Sentence Review: Taberna Giralda

Taberna Giralda

I’ve been to this charming tapas place five times and I’ve yet to eat anything less than delicious, including the Pulpo al Gallega which I tried solely because I was told they make it correctly. My first visit, the waiter talked me out of a more expensive chicken dish in favor of the Berenjenas Fritas con Miel, a must-have dish of fried eggplant and honey. Excellent service is tough to find in Miami, but that’s the kind of treatment you can expect to receive here. If you don’t believe they serve the best sangria in Miami, then belly up and prove me wrong (and bring a Spanish-speaking friend if you don’t speak the language, and don’t like to point).

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The Woman Who Wrote a Great Book

Girl Who Fell from the Sky

At her reading for Books & Books Coral Gables, Heidi R. Durrow said The Girl Who Fell from the Sky was rejected by thirty eight agents and publishers.  It’s hard to imagine thirty eight people looking at this haunting, spare, sadly beautiful novel and saying, “no one will care about this story,” but that’s how she characterized her rejection.

This book spoke to me as few do.  Have you felt, when you hear a song or watch a movie, like it was played or filmed just for you?  Despite the white-looking woman in the author’s photo (and the fact that Heidi Durrow is clearly bi-racial in person and casual photos while her Facebook and publisher’s publicity photograph headshots emphasize her white characteristics is a post in itself hell, a host of posts, I knew the author had to be mixed race.  Had to be.  Either that, or a researcher like none I’ve ever heard of.  Her novel nails what it feels like to be mixed among people who aren’t, skin to bone.

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Virtual word of mouth: from my keyboard to your eyeballs

Word of Mouth

Read more Aaron on Sweet With Fall and Fish, OK? Cool.

Before Dan Brown wrote the The DaVinci Code, he was a midlist author that only a small collective of fans knew about. If rumors are to be believed, Random House was thinking of not renewing his contract.

I worked at a chain bookstore when The DaVinci Code came out. In keeping with our merchandising policy, it spent its allotted time in the front-of-store displays and had moved to a table in the mystery section. The next step would have been a face-out on the shelf, followed by one or two spine-out copies, and ultimately deletion when the paperback came out.

But something happened with The DaVinci Code that brought it off the mystery table and back to the front of store. Readers loved it, and started telling other readers. For sure, the book has its weaknesses. Booksellers heap disdain on this book like no other in recent memory. It’s 80% exposition and not well-written (linguist Geoffrey Pullum called Brown one of the worst prose stylists in the history of literature, saying his “writing is not just bad; it is staggeringly, clumsily, thoughtlessly, almost ingeniously bad”) but the story is compelling from cover-to-cover. The Da Vinci Code has sold 80 million copies and counting, and it’s a wonderful example of how important face-to-face interactions are for the life of a book, and always will be.

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Lection without prejudice: volume III

All Will Be Revealed
If you’re a completionist, I’ve been forcing you to read about books I was forced to read. Sorry about that. First, there was Light Years. Then, there was The Forever War. Then, there was this post. Let’s hold hands and get through it together.

I was scheduled to have dinner with Robert Anthony Siegel at the Book Expo America’s Winter Institute in Portland, so I fetl obligated to read All Will Be Revealed. I didn’t want to be the chucklehead at the table who hadn’t read the book. It was my first BEA, and I didn’t know I could fake it.

Macadam-Cage sent me a Review Copy before there was any artwork chosen, simple red paper with black print. I looked at the back cover. Pornography? Yes! Oh, it’s a period piece. Reading about pornography, then. Reading about late 19th century, still-photograph pornography. And explorers. And mediums. Please, just punch me in the face. Hard.

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Lection without prejudice: volume II

Forever War

It wasn’t a gun, but I read Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War under extreme duress. A loyal Books & Books customer wanted a copy, but the book was out of print. This happens fairly often. Fortunately in this case, the book was coming back into print with a different publisher. It was the only title missing from a large order, so I asked the folks at Macmillan to furnish me with an Advanced Readers Copy.

Needless to say, I felt obligated to read and review Forever War before I passed it along to our customer.

The re-edition had an introduction written by John Scalzi, current darling of hardcore science fiction. By hardcore, I mean unapologetic. You know how the mainstream media tarnished feminism’s image and it became a dirty word for a while there? “I’m not a feminist, but-” someone would say, then they’d espouse a feminist belief. A lot of marketing for science fiction is like that, but Scalzi doesn’t play around. He’s like, “Yeah, I write Sci-Fi; what about it, punk?” I love sociological SciFi, but anything in space make my eyes glaze over. Seeing his name made me nervous.

The Forever War opens with an army from Earth pouring out of a spaceship to open fire on an alien planet. Strike One: Army. Strike Two: Spaceship. Strike Three: Lazar weapons. Strike Four: Aliens. That would be no, hell no, no thank you, and who the hell GETS FOUR STRIKES?

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Lection without prejudice: volume 1

Light Years

After graduation we assume we’ll never be forced to read another book for the rest of our lives. We tell ourselves, if I want to read nothing but erotic manga, cookbooks, and memoirs from reality show members until I die, that’s the way it will be. I’ve got a newsflash for would-be booksellers, book bloggers, and reading group aficionados out there – you’ll be forced to read all the time.

Most people join book clubs because they like to read but can’t seem to find the time (i.e., there’s a House Hunters marathon on HGTV and my book is all the way in the other room) or have difficulty finishing a book they’ve started (i.e., it gets harder to concentrate on the printed word the more I drink). She knows reading is good for her and would like to do more. She believes the public shame of a reading group – more specifically, the idea of gathering to discuss a book she hasn’t read – will overcome her tendency to read “when she gets around to it” (i.e., never).

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Klosterweek: helping hands

we love u

Dear Mr. Klosterman,

While the conviviality of your writing style invites me to call you Chuck, I’ll resist the temptation; my impulse is to dislike people who use my first name on first correspondence, so I’ll not do the same to you.

Then again, perhaps you find my use of your last name off-putting and impersonal. Or worse, the unnecessarily formal address of a snob. Well, etiquette – if such a thing even matters or still exists – demands I err on the side of caution and use your surname.

I think you understand; you lived in Ohio, after all.

A friend bought me a copy of Killing Yourself to Live to keep me company during a period of convalescence three years ago. My pelvis, sacrum, and ribs were fractured. I spent my days in a haze of Oxycodone. Securing a drink was a walker-laden exercise which ate up an hour and left me sweaty and exhausted. My three clearest memories of this time are reading Terri Jentz’s Strange Piece of Paradise and wondering if reading was always going to be this difficult or if it was just the Oxycodone, the opening theme song of Futurama kicking in right when the meds hit my bloodstream and thinking broken bones were the greatest thing that ever happened to me, and becoming a fan of yours from page one of Killing Yourself to Live.

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