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Lots of things to recommend that caught my eye in recent days. Have a look:
1. As it is the holiday gift giving season and whether or not you are shopping for yourself or others, I recommend you check out my friend Liz’s blog where she is reviewing not only YA titles but also a lot of mighty fine romances for adult readers. I guarantee you will find some books to buy there (and I second her recommendation of author Tessa Dare).
2. Jenny Davidson’s blog is another I highly recommend. I’ve mentioned it here before but if you haven’t checked it out, please be sure to do so. Not only do you get a ton of great reading recs of all kinds of books, you also gets links to tons of fascinating articles/sites online.
3. Just finished reading Outwitting History: The Amazing Adventures of a Man Who Rescued a Million Yiddish Books and I can not recommend it enough. If you enjoy reading cultural history titles at all, and regardless of whether or not you are Jewish (I’m not), you will find the story of Aaron Lansky and how he tracked down and saved Yiddish books (creating a book center to preserve and share them) to be absolutely riveting. Lansky is a great writer and he combines a ton of anecdotes with a lot of intriguing history around the Yiddish language and how it was developed. Great stuff.
4. This also caught my eye–Baby Birds: An Artist Looks Into the Nest by Julie Zickefoose. This oversized nature book is not due out until April 2016 but an advanced copy came my way and it is one to keep an eye out for if you are a bird lover (or artist). The author digs deep into natural history, references her daily diary and observations and complements the text with some truly lovely full color illustrations of (of course) baby birds.
5. And for Cyber Monday, we have reopened the Book Fair for Ballou High School Library for the day! If you have some time in the midst of your holiday shopping, please take a look at the Ballou wish list and send a book or two their way. Your generosity would be most certainly be very much appreciated.
All of these books are at the very top of my wishlist – can’t wait for them to appear! (The descriptions are from the publishers unless otherwise noted.)
1. The Last Love Song: A Biography of Joan Didion by Tracy Daugherty.
“Daugherty . . . offers a monumental, novelistic examination of Joan Didion’s life and career. The book’s impressively detailed attention to place, beginning with Didion’s California origins, grounds Didion’s development as both a fiction writer and journalist who served as ‘our keenest observer of the chaos’ of the 1960s and beyond . . . settl[ing] into confident, engrossing prose when focusing on Didion’s literary achievements . . . Daugherty crafts a complex, intricately shaded portrait of a woman also known for her inner toughness and intellectual rigor. This landmark work renders a nuanced analysis of a literary life, lauds Didion’s indelible contributions to American literature and journalism (especially New Journalism) and documents a ‘style [that] has become the music of our time.’” [Publisher’s Weekly]
2. M Train by Patti Smith. (Who isn’t waiting for this one?!)
M Train begins in the tiny Greenwich Village café where Smith goes every morning for black coffee, ruminates on the world as it is and the world as it was, and writes in her notebook. Through prose that shifts fluidly between dreams and reality, past and present, and across a landscape of creative aspirations and inspirations, we travel to Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul in Mexico; to a meeting of an Arctic explorer’s society in Berlin; to a ramshackle seaside bungalow in New York’s Far Rockaway that Smith acquires just before Hurricane Sandy hits; and to the graves of Genet, Plath, Rimbaud, and Mishima.
3. Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell.
In this crash course on the fledgling nation’s teenaged French general, undoubtedly the only American Revolution narrative to offhandedly drop a Ferris Bueller reference, Vowell (Unfamiliar Fishes) retains her familiar casual tone and displays her crow-like ability to find the shiny, nearly forgotten historical details. Unimpressed by Lafayette’s nobility, she instead admires his cheekiness and rebellious nature—traits well-suited to involvement in both American and French revolutions. Lafayette’s loyalty to George Washington and the U.S. came back to him during his triumphant 1824 visit, when cheering American crowds celebrated his return in numbers that easily dwarfed the Beatles’ invasion 140 years later. Jocularity and cheerful irreverence permeate the story….her combination of well-researched, obscure details with personal, family-filled anecdotes and references to recent events, such as the 2013 federal government shutdown, add plenty of sparkle to an old tale. The Vowell formula once again guarantees an entertaining, nontraditional look at American history and a fast, enjoyable read. [PW]
4. Mr. Splitfoot by Samantha Hunt.
Ruth and Nat are orphans, packed into a house full of abandoned children run by a religious fanatic. To entertain their siblings, they channel the dead. Decades later, Ruth’s niece, Cora, finds herself accidentally pregnant. After years of absence, Aunt Ruth appears, mute and full of intention. She is on a mysterious mission, leading Cora on an odyssey across the entire state of New York on foot. Where is Ruth taking them? Where has she been? And who — or what — has she hidden in the woods at the end of the road?
In an ingeniously structured dual narrative, two separate timelines move toward the same point of crisis. Their merging will upend and reinvent the whole. A subversive ghost story that is carefully plotted and elegantly constructed, Mr. Splitfoot will set your heart racing and your brain churning. Mysteries abound, criminals roam free, utopian communities show their age, the mundane world intrudes on the supernatural and vice versa.
5. There is also a rumor that Anne Fadiman is writing a memoir about life with her father, the great writer Clifton Fadiman, called The Oenophile’s Daughter. Hopefully we will see that one in FSG catalogs for 2016.
My son is going crazy waiting for the new Rick Riordan title: Magnus Chase & the Gods of Asgard Bk 1: The Sword of Summer. (If you read the Percy Jackson series you have a good idea what is going on in this book – I’m sure it will be just as satisfying as all of his others.)
1. I am trying to understand how my life has been complete without the “Gilmore Guys” podcast in it. I can not explain why I love The Gilmore Girls so much (I’m sure many people would go on about the writing or acting which is true); I just know that I do. I have written many things while this tv show in playing in the background. Now I must listen to the podcast and embrace the love in a whole new way.
2. I just added Sarah McCarry’s About a Girl to my wishlist based on this bit from the School Library Journal review:
This edgy, smart, and challenging title combines mythology, punk rock, science, a quest, feminism, art, dreams, and the power of stories and storytelling with unforgettable results. The well-developed cast of characters is racially and sexually diverse. The emphasis on the importance of female relationships—as family, as lovers, and as friends—is a welcome exploration of the many levels of intimacy.
3. My article just ran on the investigation into the June multiple fatality plane crash in the Misty Fjords National Monument near Ketchikan. It’s going to be a long involved investigation which is likely not a surprise to anyone but in light of all the breathless demands for what went wrong that so many news reports ran, I felt like I needed to write this. Partly based on my own thoughts about this crash, I’m putting together a series of articles about different types of pressure on pilots that I hope to have run next month.
4. I think you can understand that why my day job involves writing about plane crashes, watching The Gilmore Girls becomes all the more critical to my well being.
5. I just finished reading The Lost City of Z and I’m very glad I am not an obsessed explorer.
6. On yesterday’s agenda was contacting Columbia University to inquire about a possible graduate from the 1920s. Of these small research questions, a whole book is created.
7. I wish I could convey the degree to which Field Notes have become integral to my writing life. I have a general “To Do” notebook for everything in my life. I have a “Research Notes” book for the work-in-progress. I have a “Genealogy Notes” book for mysteries to follow-up on associated with my long-running family history project. I’ve got one for random notes/things I’ve heard that interest me/things I’ve seen I don’t want to forget/things that might be something but I’m not sure what just yet. I’ve got one for Shorefast Editions. I’ve got one for Resolutions to improve my life. And I’ve got the pocket calendar to tell me where I need to be and when and what I’ve accomplished.
I love them all.
8. Now reading The River of Doubt about Teddy Roosevelt in South America, plus the second in the Twinmaker series by Sean Williams as I prepare for the upcoming release of the 3rd book and my review of them all for Locus and….a book for Booklist. Also a lot of stuff about mountain climbing in Alaska. I am writing so hard on this book. I am really trying to make something great.
An assessment of life at the moment:
1. I have realized that the work involved in getting an agent after your agent retires is really exhausting. My synopsis is done but I need to update the professional bio (which feels like college all over again) and come up with a list of comparable titles (thus proving that while my proposed book is still unique, it is not too unique).
2. I'm also supposed to provide 2 chapters. As I am still researching the stuff for the beginning of the book, I'm not sure how I'm supposed to accomplish this in any sort of chronological order, but 2 chapters are 2 chapters, I suppose.
4. I will be at the Pacific NW Booksellers Association Tradeshow in Tacoma in 2 weeks, manning a booth for Taku Graphics & Shorefast Editions. If you are going to be there, stop by and say hello! (And enter our drawing for Alaskan awesomeness.)
5. My website is getting a bit of a redesign in the coming weeks. Mostly behind the scenes stuff (including a new commenting format).
6. I'm working on articles about aviation + mail in AK, fly-your-own-plane tourism in AK and the history of aviation and fishing. If this excites you, keep an eye at Alaska Dispatch News for more.
7. I think I have rewatched every episode of The Gilmore Girls a zillion times. I'm wearing out my dvds. (Perfect background watching for writing.)
8. I'm sending out 2 letters to churches with questions about family weddings from the past and purchasing some certificates from NYC. The genealogy continues.
9. I have to find out how to query for a Rockland State Hospital record of commitment because on top of everything else (and there has been a lot of stuff in my family history), we also had someone committed to one of the most notorious psychiatric hospitals in US history.
10. Of course.
11. Recent reads include Celine Kiernan's Into the Grey - a very atmospheric YA ghost story set in Ireland that I loved a lot. I'm hoping to get a review of it (and a couple of other scary-type books) submitted to an online review site. I'll keep ya posted.
12. I've been reading lots of small stuff around the edges. I can't seem to focus too much beyond my Booklist reading these days (which lately included a title about infectious diseases - oy). Last night I read Marie Claire magazine and it was almost too much. (I am however all over the 1930s articles on Alaska flying and fishing; that is my speed these days.)
13. I'm craving grilled cheese sandwiches. WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?
14. I have to send off a letter requesting archival information about the papers of a man who died 70 years ago. I thought I might be crazy to pursue writing an essay about him (I have no idea where I would submit it) but google searches bring up so little and there should be more. We'll see what happens. Maybe I won't find enough to write about - although that alone might be the point of the essay then.
15. I found out last week that one of my relatives died from complications due to syphilis.
16. Of course.
16. Pretty hard to top that, so I think I'll end here!
Several things of note in recent days as I process the AWP conference and absorb Iditarod madness over at Alaska Dispatch. A few things that have caught my eye recently:
1. Rebecca Hall is starring in the play Machinal which is loosely based on the life and death of murderess Ruth Snyder. I find it very interesting how journalist/playwright Sophie Treadwell wrote about Snyder in 1928: not in a biographical or chronological way but by breaking up her life into segments and looking into what would drive any woman of her times to murder her husband. Also crazy is that the newspapers ran pictures of Snyder as she died in the electric chair. I'm just not getting a warm fuzzy "good old days" feeling from that bit of information.
2. Quote from Hall: "It's primal," she says. "It was sort of a guttural scream (that) just tumbled out of the writer in response to anger and emotion to seeing that photo and following how this woman's mythology was built around this case."
3. The National Portrait Gallery has a new show: "American Cool" which includes portraits of Americans like Debbie Harry, Steve McQueen, Jimi Hendrix, Billie Holliday, John Wayne, Barbara Stanwyck and I could go on and on. (Joan Didion! Jackson Pollock! Duke Ellington!) You can see some of the portraits here. I want a coffee table book of this exhibition in the most absurd way.
3. What it's like to take the train for 47 hours - you certainly meet a ton of interesting Americans. (via longreads)
4. And via Jenny D., Gary Panter on the NY Public Library: "But much more exciting to me is knowing that really deep scholarship is going on there, the real thing, human computers desiring to know, souls burning with curiosity in a place that they can't exhaust, that there is a deep life of the pursuit of knowledge happening on and on in that hive."
5. Finally, a movie report. I loved The Lego Movie ("Everything is Awesome!!!!") and Monuments Men (Bill Murray = amazing) and after watching Thor: The Dark World (on blu-ray) I am having a lot of feelings for Loki. I am still trying to process if I am under a spell or something....
[Post pic - I'm also addicted to a rewatch of WONDERFALLS. You should be too.]
So, like lots of other folks, I see 2013 as an interesting mix. The Map of My Dead Pilots came out in paperback and has done pretty well with steady monthly sales. I was hired as a freelance aviation reporter and contributor to the Alaska Dispatch Bush Pilot blog and [drumroll please] I formed Shorefast Editions with my longtime pal Katrina and we republished The Flying North, the first of many more books to come.*
So that's all good!
I also attended ALA Midwinter, which was a lot of fun and gave me the chance to meet a ton of folks I only knew previously via emails and twitter. I also traveled to Haines, AK for the AK Historical Society/Museums AK conference and presented on The Flying North, meeting lots of other great folks (and falling hard in love with Haines). And in October I worked a table at the Pacific NW Booksellers Association for Shorefast and met a bunch of booksellers from the region and got to see how publishers pitched books.
That was very very interesting. (And I really should blog about ALA MW & PNBA because as an author and publisher I learned a lot, both good and bad.)
I also achieved a writerly goal by having an essay published in ALASKA magazine (September); something I long hoped to achieve.
In December I wrote my 100th YA column for Bookslut which was really startling. I can't believe it has been this long. I can't help but wonder if I am becoming too distant from what teenagers enjoy - if my choices are still a good fit. But I'm still enjoying it and the people I have met through the column. So I'm hanging in there and writing reviews now for both February (graphic novels) and March (science-based adventures) (lots of Tesla in that one, oddly enough).
On the downside, while I was preoccupied with all of this (and still reading and reviewing for Booklist of course), I did not make any real headway on my next book. I submitted an essay on my research ("Lost and Found in Alaska") to Bloom out of desperation; it forced me to sit down and think about what I am trying to accomplish with the fragments of book that fill my laptop. I'm not conventionally stuck on this book - not blocked - but rather tired. There is nothing I can give up, all of my other writing sustains me in ways financial or emotional or both, but I have to work better at compartmentalizing and just working through a schedule that includes time for the mountain book. (Which I could also call MAP part 2 as it includes thoughts on the literal creation of 20th century maps of AK by early pilots.)
This is such an ordinary writerly problem; it's almost embarrassing to admit. I'm not giving myself the time I need to write the book because there is no obvious place to sell the book. No one is waiting for it, no one is asking about it. My agent has left the business, my editor left my publisher. MAP sells on its own (although I'm working on helping it out a bit in 2014), but no one is waiting for more from me.
This means, like back in the days of looking for an agent, it's all up to me. (How did this happen AGAIN????) I've been letting myself down on this though; it's the only true writerly disappointment I have for 2013 but it's a huge one.
I have to do better, and that is my whole 2014 resolution: I just want to do better.
*You can buy a magnet of The Flying North cover! And if you like, you can sign up for the Shorefast newsletter and we will let you know as new books are available next year.
You don't usually put books in stockings but Kevin Guilfoile's A Drive Into the Gap is so reasonably priced ($6.95) and such a compact size (69 pages) that it fits perfectly into the stocking-stuffer category. It's also bloody brilliant, so a nice surprise to share with the reader in your life who likes books about fathers and sons, baseball, writing or heartfelt real-life mysteries. Special bonus if they know who Roberto Clemente was.
Basically, anyone who enjoys a good story which, in this case, also happens to be true.
I bought A Drive Into the Gap after reading Walter Biggins' review at Bookslut. It's about Guilfoile's father, who has Alzheimer's, and the mystery behind the bat that Clemente used for his 3,000 hit. It's also a bit about baseball, which Guilfoile's father worked in, and storytelling - especially about mythic moments - and about how Barry Bonds is a jerk. (I knew it!!!) (Okay this is only a couple of pages in the book but still, I KNEW IT!!!)
It's just a lovely little book, a quick but thoughtful read, and something different from standard stocking fare.
I also recommend some of the Field Notes notebooks as unexpected gifts. They are surprisingly addictive - you wouldn't think little notebooks would be so useful in the electronic age but they are. I love mine and use them to keep track of the different writing projects (big and small) that I'm involved in, as well as the standard daily "To Do" list.
Oh - and put some pens in the stockings! These are SEVEN YEAR pens and they are very reasonably priced and super cool. Pens are always good for the stocking. (I always put in scratch-off lottery tickets and coffee cards too.) (Oh and magnets which are always a good thing!) (And bookmarks!!!!) (And I buy an issue of a magazine that I think my husband would like but hasn't picked up.) (This doesn't fit in the stocking, but I put it underneath it.)
Hmmmm, what else? Oh - I also always put in Burt's Bees lip balm because, well, you can never have enough lip balm in the winter.
I love stocking stuffers. They make me happy. :)
I feel I have been neglecting my site horribly - I need to update the sidebar for several columns and I have run so many articles at Alaska Dispatch that I would like to copy here but it seems impossible to keep up with. Also my posts should be at last 3X a week and yet I continue to find myself here only once or twice which is really far too little. I'm working on it, promise.
Some interesting articles read lately I wanted to share. At Smithsonian, Tony Horowitz has a profile of Joseph McGill Jr who is staying in every former slave dwelling still standing in the US. He does this, to bring notice to the dwellings in an attempt to save them. His message is pretty powerful:
"Americans tend to focus on the 'big house', the mansion and gardens, and neglect the buildings out back," he says. "If we lose slave dwellings, it's that much easier to forget the slaves themselves."
Also a book I came across in the University of Utah catalog sounds interesting: Canyon of Dreams* by Don Lago. It includes stories of Edwin Hubble, who tested his telescope there in 1928, the Apolla astronauts preparing for lunar exploration, singer Roger Miller who lived there in a trailer one summer, "pushin' a broom" which later went into his song "King of the Road" (love that song!) and William Randolph Hearts fighting the NPS over his property on the canyon. I have been to the Canyon twice and it really is as spectacular as you hope it to be; I think this would make a very good read on western history.
Author Kelly McMaster has a lovely piece up at the Paris Review blog on owning a small bookstore and her deep love of reading. Here's a bit:
There was a loneliness that permeated my childhood that could only be filled by books. Watching my son's love of books simmer and steep, I realize it isn't so much that I'm afraid of not being able to relate to him if he were a nonreader, or that he wouldn't be smart or able to succeed. Books prepared me for so much--not just grief, but romance, betrayal, heartbreak. Stories sometimes functioned as a kind of escape, but mostly I simply learned how to be from my books.
After reading this essay, I added Kelly's book, Welcome to Shirley: A Memoir From an Atomic Town, to my holiday wish list.
Little Brown has a very cool tumblr - one of the best sites for a publisher on the web (I think). Also, they are publishing Col. Chris Hadfield's memoir which sounds like the book for Christmas. (He sang Bowie in space. BOWIE IN SPACE.)
I love these vintage Barbour ads - the notion of a "Ladies Scooter Suit" just makes me happy. (I have the Tomboy Style book - it's one joyful page after another.)
I am writing reviews for four books for December, reading three for Booklist (due in Nov and Dec), finishing up a book for the Bush Pilot blog at Dispatch and working on several articles. There is a balancing act out there for me that I haven't found yet but it will allow me to write as much for myself as for others. I have been there before; just need to find it again.
No worries. I'll get there. :)
*Canyon of Dreams is due out later this month.
Catching up on a bit of magazine reading and wanted to point out the lovely interview between Michael Pollan and Ruth Reichl in the June issue of Smithsonian. Here's a bit:
P: It's empowering, for them--for everyone. Food choices are something fundamental you can control about yourself: what you take into your body. When so many other things are out of control and your influence over climate change--all these much larger issues--it's very hard to see any results or any progress. But everybody can see progress around food. They see new markets rising, they see idealistic young people getting into farming. It's a very hopeful development in a not particularly hopeful time.
R: And it's something we all do. We've all been shouting for a long time, "You vote with your dollars." And it feels like when you shop in the right place, you shop in your community, you are personally having an impact.
P: And they see the impact because the markets are growing. There's this liveliness at the farmer's market and this sense of community, too. Which, of course, food has done for thousands of years.
R: But had not in America for quite a while. It had to be rediscovered.
Also, over at Alaska Dispatch I highlight a recent piece in The Economist about increased automation in the cockpit and the unexpected problems it presents. Here's a bit from what they had to say in the original column (entitled "Babbage") about the Asiana crash:
Babbage was recently shown a training report by a now-retired "standards captain" at United Airways, who had spent five years in Seoul instructing Asiana and Korean Air Lines crew. The account is not for squeamish passengers. The instructor describes how, when checking out even experienced crew, asking them to make a visual approach (ie, using basic head-up flying skills) for a landing "would strike fear into their hearts" -- so dependent had they become on the head-down operation of their automated equipment.
That explains how they flew the plane in to the ground - no one was paying attention. (Talk about definition of terrifying.)
Finally, very important piece in Orion about how breast cancer is such a popular cause in America but a cure remains out of reach. Most notably, we all need to way more careful about embracing the pink ribbon. A bit:
Even the American Cancer Society itself--whose board members, over the years, have held ties to the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, to drug companies such as GlaxoSmithKline, and to industries that produce carcinogenic products, such as the Sherwin-Williams Company (think paint stripper)--is not free from blame. With reported annual net assets of over $1.5 billion, the ACS "is more interested in accumulating wealth than saving lives," says the nation's leading charity watchdog, the Chronicle of Philanthropy. The ACS has a long history of obfuscating links between chemicals and cancer, according to an article in the International Journal of Health Services, and was conspicuously silent on California's Cosmetics Safety Act, which passed without the nonprofit's support in 2005. The Cancer Prevention Coalition says the ACS allocates under 0.1 percent of its annual budget to investigating environmental causes of cancer. Five radiologists have served as its president.
Also, this has nothing to do with any of the above but I have seen several previews for Gravity and decided my heart can not take watching that movie. Someone please tell me how it ends and then maybe I will endure it. :)
This week has been a rush of many different things, all converging at once in a mix of deadlines and To Do lists. In an attempt to take stock of the situation, here is where I am at:
1. Various sundry personal banking issues concerning the changing of banks have been dealt with. Partly complicated by auto deposit to the old bank which must be cleared prior to closing of that account. So tiresome to have monies in two different places (three if you count the business accounts).
2. Business cards ordered. This was terribly overdue as I missed them sorely at ALA and don't want to make the same mistake at PNBA and the AK History Conference. They are due in the week before I leave.
3. Flight arrangements made to Juneau; ferry arrangements to Haines set; hotel in order, registration paid for the conference; PNBA arrangements sorted as well. I am in Haines the end of the month, Portland the beginning of the next. My husband will be holding down the fort and dealing with boy and dogs and various sundry madness without me.
4. The boy's birthday is the week after PNBA. I realized yesterday that everything for that needs to be worked out posthaste.
5. Articles loaded for the Bush Pilot blog at Alaska Dispatch -- four articles in the queue now, one more I have all the notes for and needs to be written in the next couple of days. Follow-up email sent on another that has been long neglected. I have several stories here to work on and I need to get them done and in before Haines.
6. I'm doing a presentation in Haines. Don't ask me if I'm ready to go with that yet.
7. There is a September 15th due date for submissions to a site that I'm prepping an essay for. I think it's going to be good and i want to get it in. September 15th is really really soon.
8. I've got editing due for a Shorefast Editions project. Other people are waiting on me. Need to get that cranking. Now. (This the priority for tomorrow. I wanted it in last night.)
9. I'm reading WOKEN GODS by Gwenda Bond for my December column (great) and COLDEST GIRL IN COLDTOWN by Holly Black for my October column maybe (also great but if I can't get it read & reviewed in time I'll bump it to the December column). AMONG WOLVES for Booklist (turning this one in next week) and OWNING THE EARTH due by the 17th. (After that just one Booklist review due and that is not until early October so I'll likely bring it on the plane and write the review then.)
10. I've got to get my November column sorted out. Only one review is written for it and it's no easy cake column. It's all nonfiction, serious works (amazing works!) and I want to do them justice. I have to turn it in by October 25th. This one concerns me a lot right now.
11. Man -- this list is not making me feel better.
12. Appointments for the boy next week (doctor) and the week after (dentist). Haircuts need to happen in there for everybody in this house. I missed a nephew's birthday - that gift needs to be packaged tomorrow. (Fortunately he is only 1, so he won't notice.)
13. I did laundry today. That's something.
14. I renewed the domain name for our company (Moro Aircraft Leasing), I scanned and sent an article I promised a month ago. Done and done. Paid bills, refilled prescriptions.
15. Organization is key, but it also shows you how much more you need to do then you thought you had to do. Once it's all listed out there -- boy howdy, that's a lot.
16. New issue of Bookslut is up, with a column by me that includes some very good books. Check them out.
17. More later. Plus a Alaska-y tweets from @shorefastbooks by me. I can tweet from two places at once. It's my superpower. *grin*
What I'm Reading:
It's all about Booklist right now--I have two more books to read and review by September 3rd: Tracks and Shadows: Field Biology as Art by Harry Greene and Under the Wire: Marie Colvin's Last Assignment by Paul Conroy.
What I'm Reviewing:
My September column is turned in and my October column is pretty much written. (I could fit another book in if I read one that fits in the next couple of weeks, but it's good to go right now.) I still have one book for Booklist to send in (I'll do that the next day or two) and my "Cool Read" for November (Imperial Dreams) and Eruption! for my December feature on NF titles. (Good volcano books never go out of style.) And Souvenir Nation for my November column.
All of these are read and good to go, and they are on the "To Do" list this week for sure.
What I'm Writing:
Four articles for Alaska Dispatch on accident reports and hunting season (from a pilot perspective) and the aviation alphabet and lots of other stuff. It's sort of never-ending over there (the news is like that), so I just try to stay in front of it as best I can.
BUT.....I also want to get an essay on my next book into an online venue that is soliciting right now. Nothing on this until if/when it ever runs. But it must be done in the next two weeks and I'm working very hard to not shove it aside for the sure things on the table.
Where You Can Find Me Right Now:
The Back Page of ALASKA magazine has a short piece by me about flying over the Yukon River and Brooks Range and Edward Hoagland and "dangerous beauty". It's not online alas, but if you see it in the grocery store you could read it in two minutes!
What I'm Working On Other Than Writing:
A powerpoint presentation about The Flying North and Jean Potter and how we came to reissue her book because I'm standing up in front of historians in one month to talk all about it. This would be the part where I knuckle down. SERIOUSLY.
What I'm Reading:
Women of the Four Winds by Elizabeth Fagg Olds. I'm up to the fourth woman discussed in the book, Greenland explorer and American heiress, Louise Arner Boyd. Overall I've enjoyed reading about these women - I'd never heard of any of them before - and Boyd is a real character.
Eight Girls Taking Pictures by Whitney Otto. I'm conflicted on this one. Some of the chapters I've enjoyed a great deal whereas others really drag (to me anyway). But I'm still reading so that's something! ha!
Dwelling in Possibility by Howard Mansfield. Just started to read it for review - it's due out in September so I'll be writing about it formally this fall. The short reaction is that I love it. Mansfield is one America's most thoughtful writers (check out his stuff in Yankee Magazine) and I have looked forward to and enjoyed his books for years. In Dwelling he is writing about home, how we think about it, how it has changed over the years and what we want from the idea of "home". I'll post more on this as I read through the book but it's really wonderful so far and I can't recommend it enough.
What I'm Reviewing:
Boxers & Saints (2 volumes) by Gene Luen Yang. A two volume novel set during the Boxer Rebellion told from the Christian and "Boxer" positions (as portrayed by two young people) is....well it's pretty freaking amazing! I can't believe Yang decided to do this or that First Second embraced it. So much Chinese history is utterly unknown to westerners and the Boxer Rebellion is huge in how modern China developed so wow - delighted to see these books!
But....well, hardly anyone knows anything about the Boxer Rebellion and that makes these two books a bit difficult to follow. Joan of Arc appears to the young Christian but unless you are familiar with her story (and how it ends), you will likely be confused a bit. Ditto the figures from Chinese history who appear for the young Boxer and even more so, the whole history of western involvement in Chinese affairs which came to a boiling point in this period. The books really really needed an author's note, probably more than any book I've read in a while. While there is a brief list of books for more reading, it's not enough. I taught history and I had questions; I can't help but think most teenagers will as well.
(See more here on the destruction of countless rare books at the Siege of Peking.)
The Silence Of Our Friends by Mark Long & Jim Demonakos. Also for the September column, this gn is about racism in Houston in the 1960s and the protagonist's father who is a white reporter assigned to cover the Civil Rights Movement. From the Afterword it is heavily based on author Mark Long's childhood and he explains the real court case that lies at the climax of the novel.
I thought it was a good book and really appreciated that explanatory note (as it makes clear that the court case was based in truth), but it seemed like in order to fit in everything he wanted that the story jumped around a bit and small events are brought in and not developed. It's just seemed a bit uneven but I still think a very worthwhile read.
And Then There's This:
This is as infuriating as it is fascinating: The New Yorker on obsessive collectors of rare and endangered bird eggs. Idiots.
Author Bennett Madison talks to "The Rejectionist" about not writing one book and turning instead to another. Plus mermaids, sex from a teenage boy's perspective, the Melendy Quartet, his parents concern that he was having a moment from "The Shining" (uh oh) and lots of other writerly goodness that should not be missed.
Last weekend we took part in a community garage sale that was massive - 200+ houses with maps handed out and hamburgers and hotdogs sold and people walking from house to house pulling along wagons to load up at each stop. In preparation I went through every last inch of the house. Every.Last.Inch. You would not believe the little weird crap we found around here. (Or maybe you would!)
The biggest pile - the most difficult to pull together - was the books. I was pretty ruthless, not because I had to be but because I wanted to be. My son had aged out of a lot of his books so we had a ton there to sell but I had plenty that I have moved from house to house to house and while they are good books and I did enjoy reading them, I just got tired of trying to make the space.
So I sold them. I sold a freaking ton of books.
What's left are books I use as research or have deep sentimental attachment to (belonged to my father, gifts from my Great Uncle Ben, childhood books like Little Women that I have had forever), and also some great big coffee table books that I never tire of. It was interesting to pick and choose the novels I couldn't part with, some obvious (Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials which my son will love soon enough), some as lessons in how to write well (Glaciers by Alexis Smith, nearly everything by Andrea Barrett) and some that just always make me happy (Tam Lin by Pamela Dean - never gets old).
Plus Ray Bradbury. Of course.
There are still hundreds of books in my office but it's a lot more open, a lot easier to navigate and a lot more.....significant. These are books that matter, not just books I have. They probably only matter to me, but that's okay. For the first time in ages I don't feel overwhelmed when I walk into that space which is a very good thing.
Plus, now I've got all that room on the shelves to fill........... *grin*.
What I'm Reading:
Weeds: A Farm Daughter's Lament for Booklist. It's part of the American Lives Series, from the Univ of Nebraska Press. Interesting stuff.
The Magic Circle by my friend Jenny Davidson. I started it and then got buried under a ton of Booklist titles so had to set it aside. Now I'm back at the beginning as I had forgotten where I left off! More on this later, obviously.
Brewster* by Mark Slouka. I tweeted about this one a few days ago - unreal. It's going to be all over the place come award time, mark my words. It will be reviewed in my September column and it is the most heart-ripping, intense, honest coming-of-age story for young men that I have come across in ages. I have about 25 pages left and I know what's coming (or that something bad is coming) and I so wish it didn't have to be but there's no other way out for these characters. Keep your eyes peeled for Brewster (due in August); it's such an American story and although set during the Vietnam period will still 100% resonate with readers today. (Also - published for adults but an obvious older teen crossover as that is the age of the main characters.)
Give me a moment - still reeling from that one.
What I'm Reviewing:
Mister Orange by Truus Matti. This middle grade title from Enchanted Lion is set during WW2 in NYC and conflates a family drama with the young protagonist's discovery of art. Using the real story of Piet Mondrian as its inspiration, this is one reminded me of Sidney Taylor's All-Of-A-Kind Family books crossed with some Andy Warhol. It's sweet and kind and quietly surprising. Look for the review in my September column as well.
What I'm Writing:
A crazy amount of stuff I need to write starting with the introduction to a long out of print book that is returning, much to my joy. (More on this later.) Also articles about how the bush pilot myth is perpetuated by writers who visit AK, about Don Sheldon & Bradford Washburn flying on Denali, on a new photography book coming out with some pics of AK aircraft wrecks and an interview with AK author Jan Harper-Haines (whose uncle was the first man to summit Denali almost 100 years ago).
All of that, of course, is professional-type writing for other folks.
For me, there are two things - one about flying in mountains and pins on maps and getting lost and found (in more ways than on) and one on the naming of mountains and a man who claimed them. It's all good, promise.
*Be warned - the dog dies. (Yeah, I knew she would from the first time she showed up and I kept reading anyway. Dammit.)
What I'm Reading:
Still reading Pain, Parties, Work: Syliva Plath in New York, Summer 1953 by Elizabeth Winder. I had to set it aside while I'm researching some articles on aviation topics as this is for a fall column (like Sept). But I'm hoping to get back to it this weekend.
A Box of Photographs by Roger Grenier. A short NF title on the author's own family photographs as well as the cultural history of photography. It's rather compulsively readable for me as I continue to go through thousands (!) of family photos. Plus, the pics inside are really quite charming.
Kiki Strike: The Darkness Dweller by Kirsten Miller. I was thinking of this for July but I think it will fit better in August as an adventure-type column. It's Kiki and crew and it's all the goodness of girl detectives with BONUS international intrigue this time. Just fun for MG readers.
The End of Night by Paul Bogard. For Booklist - a cultural history of artificial city lights which sounds dull but is really quite interesting. I'm learning a lot!
What I'm Reviewing:
September Girls by Bennett Madison. More on this in the next month or so, but it is one of my favorite reads thus far this year. A modern and dark/brittle take on the mermaid legend. It's for older teens (lots of cussing) and it's perfectly for older teens - exactly as a 17 year old boy would think as romance looms large and his family seems to be teetering on the brink and nothing - nothing at all - makes sense. The family bits really impressed me; there is a lot more coming-of-age going on here than any paranormal romance. Fantastic.
What I'm writing:
A bunch of stuff going up at Alaska Dispatch in coming days. I'm writing an article over the next few days about some guys recovering a B-25 off a sandbar outside of Fairbanks and a couple of other shortish pieces about some fly-ins this spring and summer. I've got some long pieces in the early planning stages - and I found a killer copy of American Alpine Journal from 1959 (!!!) with a history of the naming of several of Alaska's most famous peaks. It is so perfect to an article I am working on about the first climber to die on Denali which is also for my next book (much expanded). What a score. I do love well organized used bookstores!
What I'm reading
The Reenactments by Nick Flynn. This is pretty amazing. It's a memoir of the period when Flynn's book Another Bullshit Night in Suck City was being made into a movie starting Robert De Niro (called Being Flynn - here is Roger Ebert's review). The chapters are only a few pages long and each page has only a paragraph or two on it. So it's not a cohesive narrative - more a bunch of memories, thoughts, flights of fancy, all grounded in what Flynn was experiencing as the movie was made. (Since it includes Julianne Moore portraying his mother who killed herself with a gun, the experience was pretty intense.) I'm just loving it - very thoughtful reading.
The Pink Sari Revolution by Amana Fontanella-Khan. For Booklist, this is incredibly timely. It's a topic that never gets easy to read about though.
September Girls by Bennett Madison. Just barely began this one but it's a beach read with mysterious beautiful girls (mermaids?) and Bennett...well, he's a writer who never lets me down. I'm looking to include it in my July column.
The Last Full Measure by Jack Campbell. I had to set this alt history set during the 1860s down as I had a pile of Booklist titles to get through. But I'm thinking now I will include it in either my August or September columns. It's really fun.
Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953 by Elizabeth Winder. Also just barely started this one but I'm thinking my September column. I find Plath endlessly interesting, less for how she died then the struggle of how she lived. It just wasn't easy to be a woman in that time (she's just a few years older than my mother) and to be a creative, passionate one - so tough. I'm looking forward to reading this.
What I'm Reviewing:
Just started my July column with Below by Meg McKinlay. I have an endless fascination with landscapes that are altered by intentional flooding for damns. I don't know why but the choice to bury someplace under water - it really gives me pause. In Below, which is a great young teen mystery/coming-of-age, McKinlay has nicely woven the story of a girl trying to come into her own with a look at how history is remembered and how facts can be manipulated. Plus there's a nifty mystery. It's a nice little read and In enjoyed it.
What I'm writing
My latest piece in my series on aviation on Mt McKinley is up at Alaska Dispatch, this time on the first aircraft landing in 1932. (More on this later as it involves one of my all time favorite bush pilots, Joe Crosson.) Now I'm reading on Bradford Washburn so I can have that piece ready to next week to my editors. But I'm also reading more about Allen Carpe, the expedition leader from 1932 who was lost in a crevasse. He was a very interesting man - completely in the vein of the 19th century scientist/explorer. I'm hoping to find enough about him to write some more because I'm just not ready to let him go yet. I'll keep you posted on how the research goes.
What I'm reading:
Below by Meg McKinlay (for the July column). I am still working with an outdoors/summer theme for July but it's turning into something water-related. Below is a perfect example - it looked like an offbeat title about a ghost town that was submerged in the creation of a manmade lake but with all the swimming going on, I'm thinking July just might end up being about swimsuit related reading. (This is how themes are developed in case you were wondering.)
The Last Full Measure by Jack Campbell (not sure where this will be reviewed). A novella set in alternate mid-nineteenth century history where southern politicians control the military and a politician from Illinois is imprisoned while a crew of West Point grads with names like Winfield Scott and Lewis Armistead and James Longstreet join forces with a professor from Bowdoin College named Joshua Chamberlain to break him out. It's just - smart and cool and fun. I never get tired of playing with history.
Wild Ones by Joe Mooallem (for Booklist). All I can say is that I'm already depressed about starving polar bears. Next chapters are on butterflies. God help me.
What I'm Reviewing:
Rocket Girl by George Morgan (for Booklist). Very timely after the whole NYT rocket scientist obit dramarama. All I can say is that it was really really hard to be a woman into rocketry in the 1950s.
Emily's Dress and Other Missing Things by Kathryn Burak (for September column) (maybe August). Partly a mystery, partly coming-of-age, some slight romance that becomes more significant but mostly a book about grief and confusion and family. Also, Emily Dickinson (always a good thing). The big thing about this title is not so much the story (which is great) but how it is written (which is incredibly subtle and elegant and unique). I am now a big fan of this author.
What I'm writing:
I have several emails out for some aviation articles; It's always hard to be patient and wait to hear from folks. (Why can't the world wait for my phone calls??!!) I'm also reading National Geographic articles by Bradford Washburn in the 1930s and 1950s for two upcoming articles on climbing Mt McKinley. There is nothing that beats going back to the source, plus I love paging through old Geographics - talk about getting a deep peak at the world as it was. Awesome.
And an essay on climbing/flying/mountain-y stuff. Who knows if it will work for where I plan to send it, but it fits the theme and it is what I know. Plus, it's an excuse to read about climbing/flying/mountain-y stuff and that NEVER gets old!
First, the new issue of Bookslut is up and includes my column on biographies (and biographical essays) for teens. Lots of good stuff in there on Yoko Ono, the Carter Family, the Brontes (talk about tragic!), some good scientists trying to save the wild horse population, and more. All highly recommended, of course.
For aviation types, I have a short post up at Alaska Dispatch on new flight time standards in the wake of the Colgan Air Crash in 2009.
Also, King Lear in Gwich'in!!!! This is so made of awesome I don't know where to begin.
And now, what I read recently and can't stop thinking about:
I am a big fan of magazines and long form journalism in general. I highly recommend Garden & Gun, Orion, Smithsonian and National Geographic, all fabulous in different ways. But my heart belongs very much to Yankee, a magazine my father subscribed to forever (really) and always reminds me of my Rhode Island side of the family. (An item on my dream writing list is to be published in Yankee.)
In the current issue, Howard Mansfield has two pieces, "My Roots Are Deeper Than Your Pockets" and "I Will Not Leave: Eminent Domain in Ascuteny, Vermont". Both deal with sense of place, with the attachment to and affection for the land and both are quintessential Mansfield. I've been a fan of his for a very long time - for the exceedingly authentic New England flavor to his writing and for the eloquence in which he captures the lives of people he meets and places he visits. Here's a bit of "I Will Not Leave" about Romaine Tenney and his tragic battle in the 1960s not to have to sell his farm due to progress:
Romaine's story stands as a regret. Romaine stands as the lost and the last; he's the lost authentic life, the unrecoverable past. He's as vanished as the road under our wheels at 65mph. We know that "all is change"--yet we don't know that. It's the truth we don't want to acknowledge. We want Romaine to be there on his farm forever. He is the Vermont we want to believe in. As his niece Gerri wrote, "He not only ... represented what Vermont stood for, but also unwittingly took so many of us to task to do the same." We want the old life, accessible, and we want the new things. Why do we have to give up one for the other? Regret is the literature of progress.
I return to Mansfield's collection Bones of the Earth every couple of years. It is a lesson in the best way to capture sense of place in your writing and quite enjoyable, interesting writing to boot. (It's an obvious win for New Englanders but anyone interested in historical preservation is going to like it.)
I was quite pleased to see these Yankee pieces online - it's a chance for folks new to Mansfield to get a taste of his writing (and also to get fired up about the struggle to keep your land). Mansfield is a writer who is criminally overlooked in my opinion; anything I can do to shine a light on his work is time well spent.
More on all of Mansfield's books at his website; he has a new title, Dwelling in Possibility, due out this fall.
Thanks to David Abrams and his best of 2012 reading list, I now have added several titles to my own wish list including Shine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer, Misfit by Adam Braver and Dust to Dust by Benjamin Busch. Be sure to check out David's entire post - it's fantastic.
Amanda Palmer will be speaking at TED next month and in typical Amanda fashion blogged about it and asked her readers to weigh in on her speech ideas. The comments really must be read - tons of fascinating stuff there about how a creative person connects with her audience and what the audience values the most and how the internet and social media work for all of that. I'm still thinking about this and how it applies to authors in particular, but direct you to check out Amanda's blog right now.
Relatedly, Amanda's husband Neil Gaiman has a gut wrenching post up about the death of his dog Cabal. Read it at your own risk because the tears will flow.
This look by The Atlantic at scholarly articles written about Sex In The City (and especially the Carrie Bradshaw character) has got to be seen to be believed. Here's a bit:
Dana Heller's American Studies article "Sex and the Series: Paris, New York, and Post-National Romance" analyzes the sixth-season episode "An American Girl in Paris (Part Deux)" and declares it a modern manifestation of early American literature's "Indian captivity narrative" (you know--young, virginal white girl gets kidnapped by bloodthirsty Indians, then is saved by other heroic white people and/or the grace of God). Paris stands in for the "evil" Native Americans, Carrie plays the helpless, innocent captive, and Mr. Big is, uh... God.
Oh, how I laughed! I laughed and laughed and laughed!!
[Post pic of Mark Dion's "Maple Tree Library for Studious Birds". I honestly can not get enough of his work.]
Friends, Romans, Countrymen....I am tired. I think it will take me a full week to recover from ALA Midwinter madness. If one must be tired though, this was a killer way to exhaust myself! In lieu of a thoughtful post (and I do have some brewing), here is a rundown of many books I caught a glimpse of that I wanted to share. (Please note though that there were several titles already on my radar - especially from First Second, Chronicle & Abrams, that I don't mention here. More on those in upcoming columns.)
1. The Cats of Tanglewood Forest by Charles de Lint, illustrated by Charles Vess. I saw this at the Little Brown breakfast and it is stunning; an illustrated MG Appalachian fairy tale that is a perfect match between author and artist. From the copy: In this whimsical, original folktale written and illustrated throughout in vibrant full color by two celebrated masters of modern fantasy, a young girl's journey becomes an enchanting coming-of-age story about magic, friendship, and the courage to shape one's own destiny.
2. Mister Orange translated from Dutch by Laura Watkinson, illus by Jenni Desmond. An intriguing sounding MG title set in NYC during WWII about a boy who takes over his older brother's delivery job and meets an eccentric customer called "Mister Orange" who is ultimately revealed as the painter Piet Mondrian. Their meetings and conversations provide the coming-of-age element to the story - all about life, war and the "freedom to create".
3. Weird Sea Creatures by Erich Hoyt. Major cool illustrated title on the animals that live in the depths of the ocean. The photos are amazing; I honestly can not get enough of this kind of thing, it's endlessly fascinating. (Ages 10 & up but really there's no age for this kind of book.)
4. My Parent Has Cancer and It Really Sucks! A collection of stories and advice from more than 100 teens who faced this crisis and the experts who helped them. Not a novel, not a candy-colored vision of illness but the real deal. Should be mandatory reading for everyone who seeks to romanticize disease.
5. Archangel by Andrea Barrett. I'm cheating a bit with this one as the book was not physically available yet, but I chatted with the WW Norton rep all about it and I'm just delighted to see Barrett return to the short story. From the copy: The first motorized bicycles, the first aeroplanes, the first amateur studies of genetics--twelve-year-old Constantine Boyd has his eyes opened to an unfolding world of scientific discovery in "The Investigators." In "The Ether of Space," "The Island," and "The Particles," young women and men passionate about the workings of the natural world experience the shock waves of Einstein's, Darwin's, and Mendel's work. And in "Archangel," Constantine Boyd returns as a soldier on the desolate fringes of Russia in 1919, where even the newly discovered magic of X-ray technology fails to offer the insight that might protect humans from the stupidity of war.
6. Brewster by Mark Slouka. An adult novel that looks to have crossover potential for older teens, the tagline here is about "two teenage boys and their hopes to escape from a dead-end town." It's set in 1968 and holds comparisons to Richard Russo and Andre Dubus III. I'm very interested by how common the theme sounds because it is something so many of us feel as teenagers but so few authors seem to capture well.
7. The Lego Minifigure Character Encyclopedia. My son is eleven; he screamed when I called him from the Exhibition Hall floor to tell him this was due out this spring.
8. Basher History: The U.S. Presidents. This is out now and is as good as the other classic Basher titles. Some of the YALSA teens wandered by when I was in the Kingfisher booth and they went nuts over the Basher books - scooping up posters of the Periodic Table and calling their friends over to see them. My geeky self was delighted and I'll be getting this book, like so many of the others, for my son for sure.
9. September Girls by Bennett Madison. Bennett is a favorite author of mine and I've heard good things about this one - it's one of the few ARCs I sought out over the weekend. This summer beach novel centers around teenage Sam and the mysterious beautiful girls he meets. It's a mermaid story but also about "oblivious parents, sibling rivalry, first loves..." It's called darkly imaginative and painfully honest - this just might be the mermaid tale I've been waiting for.
10. East of the Sun, West of the Moon by Jackie Morris. This jewel of a book (and I hope to review it along with de Lint's title in some kind of column down the line), is as lush and beautiful as it gets. From the copy: From the moment she saw him, she knew the bear had come for her. How many times had she dreamt of the bear.... Now, here he was, as if spelled from her dreams. "I will come with you, Bear," she said. It is the beginning of an extraordinary journey for the girl. First to the bears secret palace in faraway mountains, where she is treated so courteously, but where she experiences the bears unfathomable sadness, and a deep mystery...As the bears secret unravels, another journey unfolds... a long and desperate journey, that takes the girl to the homes of the four Winds and beyond, to the castle east of the sun, west of the moon.
11. Doll Bones by Holly Black. I have no idea how I did not know about this one - no idea at all - but here it is due out from McElderry in May and it involves scary dolls. (GAH!!!!) For MG readers, here's the description: Zach, Poppy, and Alice have been friends forever. And for almost as long, they've been playing one continuous, ever-changing game of pirates and thieves, mermaids and warriors. Ruling over all is the Great Queen, a bone-china doll cursing those who displease her.
But they are in middle school now. Zach's father pushes him to give up make-believe, and Zach quits the game. Their friendship might be over, until Poppy declares she's been having dreams about the Queen and the ghost of a girl who will not rest until the bone-china doll is buried in her empty grave.
Zach and Alice and Poppy set off on one last adventure to lay the Queen's ghost to rest. But nothing goes according to plan, and as their adventure turns into an epic journey, creepy things begin to happen. Is the doll just a doll or something more sinister? And if there really is a ghost, will it let them go now that it has them in its clutches?
12. Fifty Machines That Changed the Course of History by Eric Chaline. Part of a four book series that includes animals, minerals and the upcoming plants (which was stolen from their booth), these are very similar in format to DK or Thames & Hudson titles in the best way. As DK does so well, there is great information, short chapters and heavily illustrated pages but like Thames & Hudson, these have a more scholarly old world feel that makes them great for older teens and adults. Even the pages felt wonderful; really something special.
13. There is a stack of mysteries from Soho Press that is too much for here - I'm going to post a separate survey of them next week. If you love mysteries though, for adults or teens, you need to head over to their website and check them out.
14. And from the notes in my phone: Plague in the Mirror by Deborah Noyes, a time travel paranormal between the present day and 14th century Florence; Bad Girls, Sirens, Jezebels, Murderesses, etc. by Jane Yolen, a NF collection of short biographies and The Theory of Everything by JJ Johnson, about the longterm impact of grief. I was looking this one over and browsing the Peachtree booth when a librarian came up and positively raved about it. From the copy: Fifteen-year-old Sarah has been acting like a different person ever since she witnessed the gruesome accident that killed her best friend, Jamie. Sarah's grades are plunging, her sarcastic attitude is putting her family on edge, and she can't escape the feeling that life is random and meaningless. Sarah's turning point comes after she meets middle-aged Roy, who owns a Christmas tree farm where Sarah begins to work. Readers will easily relate to Sarah's use of cynicism as a defense mechanism -- her sharp-witted voice sets the tone for a story that's truly tragicomic. Equally entertaining are the hand-drawn graphs and diagrams that appear throughout (texts, stern lectures, tense silence, and breakfast constitute the bulk of a pie chart about Sarah's communication with her mother). The changes within Sarah are real and moving, and the open ending underscores the idea that although death may be certain, life is full of surprises.
15. I could go on and on and on but these are the standouts. More to follow as I go thru the Soho catalog and sort out the books reviewed in two recent issues of Booklist. Also, what I'm reading, what I'm reviewing and what I'm writing about (airplanes and mountains - big surprise).
What I'm reading right now:
That Mad Game: Growing Up In A Warzone edited by JL Powers. A collection of essays from conflicts past and present around the world. It's written for teens and will be in my April column. Really interesting stuff - great mix of voices and locations - some are stronger than others but overall it's really a must have for NF collections.
The Inexplicables by Cherie Priest. Finally back to this book! It's another entry in her Clockwork Century series, set in Seattle and focused on three teenage boys and their hunt for something wicked bad in the streets of this near-abandoned, polluted and seriously scary city. Perfect for teens - and yep, I love it.
Hidden Things by Doyce Testerman. This is one of those books that came up in a conversation at ALA Midwinter. I was talking about the new Charles de Lint MG novel, Kate Testerman mentioned he blurbed her husband's recent book, I asked what it was about, she mentioned something about urban fantasy and private detectives and I was gone.
Tiger Babies Strike Back by Kim Wong Keltner. Sort of a tongue-in-cheek revenge against the whole Tiger Mom madness from a year ago with a lot about growing up Chinese American. This one is for Booklist.
Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Her Family's Feuds by Lyndall Gordon. Got this one for Xmas and although it's kinda slow for me, I'm digging learning about Dickinson. I know so little about her - I remember learning a few of her poems in school but not much beyond that.
What I'm reviewing:
Yoko Ono: Collector of Skies by Nell Beram and Carolyn Boriss-Krimsky. For my April column and really really amazing. I can't recommend this one enough. Her story is compelling, the design is first class, the photos are great - I love it. It's pretty much pitch perfect.
Also, I'm working on the "Cool Read" for my March column...but not 100% sure on which book that will be yet. (I'm leaning towards this one.)
What I'm writing:
I have joined the staff of the Alaska Dispatch, an online news magazine out of Anchorage. I'm writing AK flying stuff for their Bush Pilot blog. I'm working on a post about a 727 that has been donated to the university aviation program and also looking at some accident data from past years to pick up some trends and pulling some literary references to aviation from AK books. It's a nice gig; we'll see how I do over there as I get more used to writing topical stuff again.
And I'm working on a magazine piece for somewhere else - until it's accepted I don't want to say where (and face humiliation!). I'm also trying to rewrite something that was rejected at one place to submit it to another. And finally for the western book I'm deep in the [mis]adventures of Frederick Cook on Mt Mt McKinley more than 100 years ago. Short story is he said he got to the top of the mountain and he didn't. Or most people know he didn't but some still think it's true. This all fits into the flying stuff too, I swear. Really.
1. Prompted by his recent crash, Richard Bach has completed his long intended final part to the bestseller Jonathan Livingston Seagull. I read this ages ago but had no idea there was supposed to be more. I imagine a revised/expanded edition of the classic will be appearing next year.
2. Rebecca Stott* writes in Smithsonian about the impact Darwin's home had on his writing (this is truly a lovely piece) and also in the upcoming issue, William Souder salutes the efforts of Minna Hall and Harriet Hemenway to end the feather trade that was decimating bird species. (There is a fabulous picture book about them, She's Wearing a Dead Bird on her Head!, by Kathryn Lasky; highly recommended.)
3. Everything you ever wanted to know about the seedy Tampa Bay scandal that brought down Gen Petraeus. I have to say, Town & Country is really the best place for this sort of "attempt at climbing the rungs of society" type article. Also, if anyone really doubts why the Kelly sisters were popular with older men after reading this then they are purposely being obtuse. (Pretty flirting women are apparently all the married brass wants.) SIGH.
4. Also, the woman who inspired Hemingway's "Snows of Kilimanjaro". (One of my all time favorites, and clearly a more honest portrayal then one might think.)
What I am reviewing right now:
Six Gun Snow White by Catherynne Valente for my May column. (HOLY CRAP - this was amazing, flat out majestic from start to finish.) (Also best ending ever.) (Also - I have a very skewed perspective on William Randolph Hearst now.) The Lazarus Machine by Paul Crilley for my May column. (Steampunk/Alt Hist coolness, lots of mentions of Ada Lovelace - yea! - two great teen protagonists, several fine female characters, quirkiness all around and more than one killer twist. FLAT OUT FUN.) Tiger Babies Strike Back, for Booklist. (And yes - the cover is certainly demanding a comparison to Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, isn't it?) Infestation by Timothy Bradley for my May column. (Holes meets every "B" monster movie from the 1950s ever made. Tween/young teen boys are going to fly through this one in a matter of hours; it's perfectly crazy and full of smart realistic enjoyable characters.)
What I'm reading now:
Archangel by Andrea Barrett. It's....wonderful. The first story includes Glenn Curtiss' history-making flight in the June Bug and that is only one small part of what makes "The Investigators" one of my favorite reads in ages. If you are a Barrett fan you will be overjoyed with this collection and if you aren't then you are really and truly missing something special.
Also: That Mad Game: Growing Up In a Warzone for my April column (on nonfiction); Imperial Dreams by Tim Gallagher (on tracking the Imperial Woodpecker) for Booklist and the urban fantasy Hidden Things by Doyce Testerman which is proving to be a noir detective/horror/fantasy mash-up in the best possible way. Not sure where a review for this will fit yet, but I'll be talking about it somewhere.
What I'm writing:
I recently had a short personal essay on flying in the Brooks Range accepted by Alaska Magazine, more on that when it runs this fall. I'm working on two separate sections of the western/mountain book - one on Russ Merrill finding a path through the Alaska Range and one on Frederick Cook's ill-fated climb up Mt McKinley. I'm going to try and submit one of these as a standalone to a literary magazine - but no jinxing by divulging too much here :). And finally, I'm writing about the Iditarod Air Force for my new job as a contributor to the Alaska Dispatch Bush Pilot blog. I've had several pieces up there already in the last two weeks including a couple on a recent crash in Rainy Pass.
* I received Stott's book, Darwin's Ghosts, for my birthday, but haven't read it yet.
What I'm reading now:
Soundings: The Story of the Remarkable Woman Who Mapped the Ocean Floor by Hali Felt. Really interesting biography of an unorthodox geologist and underwater cartographer. I'm loving how Felt wrote this book - she had to insert herself into it but explains how and why throughout the text. It's...like no other biography I've read; great stuff.
Chasing Alaska: A Portrait of the Last Frontier Then and Now by CB Bernard. For Booklist, so I can't say but the premise is quite intriguing.
What I just finished:
Deviant by Helen Fitzgerald. One of the titles from the new YA imprint at Soho Press. It's a conventional thriller in some regards - there is a conspiracy, the protagonist must figure things out, murders occur, etc. But the fact that it is conventional is part of what made me enjoy it so much. This is an actual teen mystery where absolutely nothing paranormal happens. It's all about a nefarious plot and there is a chase and sneaking into rooms at night and lying to cover your tracks and, well, pretty much what you expect in a mystery which makes Deviant so bloody refreshing. Most enjoyable - great protagonist! - will be reviewed in my June column.
Last week was mostly about another fatality crash in Alaska. I have things to write about that crash, things to write about flying in AK that are unrelated to crashing and just...things to write. It feels hard this week; so I need to try harder.
I am, at the moment (and yes this has changed in the last couple of days) reading three books for Booklist (one on commercial aviation, one on the history of Antarctica and one travel/memoir on Alaska), one for my June column (another YA mystery from Soho Press) and Soundings, for myself (still sublime). Plus there is the War issue of Tinhouse (which includes a Samantha Hunt short story and thus I had to have it) and several magazines all of which showed up at once and are glossy and thus irresistible.*
So, I'm flitting from one book to another with three Booklist reviews due in April (and two more on deck after those), the mystery column begging for attention (as those books are really like candy at this point - so much fun to read) and stacks of research surrounding me that I dive into every day, mining for the exact facts and figures I know are there and now am ready to insert in the appropriate places.**
And I'm writing about the affect aviation has had on climbing Mt McKinley. Short answer = a lot. (You probably knew that already.) I love this topic though - love combining aviation and climbing history and really love writing about Joe Crosson because I don't think enough people know about him. (He was the first pilot to land on McKinley.)
This has to be the most scattered blog post ever.
The one unexpected surprise I'm dealing with in writing the new book - the Mountain Book - is finding my voice. It's so weird to look for a voice in nonfiction (you would think it would just be MY voice) but I know what I have is not right. The words are stiff, hollow - flat on the page. I keep putting them down so the bones are there, so I know where I'm going, but it's a draft with no soul.
SO BLOODY FRUSTRATING. (End rant.)
Reading and writing will continue. It's the only way to find my voice, I just wish the sucker wasn't hiding so far away these days.
*And the Andrea Barrett continues but slowly, sparingly; I don't want to rush it. Archangel is so wonderful - can't recommend it enough.
** I actually have a phone call to make tomorrow to confirm that a list is kept of notable wrecks in Merrill Pass so search and rescue does not launch every time one of them is sited again. Some are 50 years old.
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Recent revelations on the writing front:
Last week I discovered that while my book did sell out of its first printing and go into a second, the print run on that first printing was dramatically smaller than I had been led to believe. Dramatically. This has left me reeling a bit as while I still sold out, I didn't sell out on a level that is anything impressive and honestly after all the work I did to sell those copies (travel, speak, send a thousand emails), and after the pretty big notice it received (starred review, NPR summer choice, great Air & Space review), it still sold only a few thousand [low thousands] copies.
So I'm wondering just what all the trying hard is really for.
My editor left after the 2nd printing, my agent has just left the business and while I have some emails & recall lots of conversations telling me that first nice round figure for the initial printing, now no one seems to know how I could have been so misinformed. And there's no one to challenge on it because, well, they're all gone. And really, what's the point anyway? The numbers are what they are and the book is still a wonderful thing and does any of it matter but that?
I should say no right now, shouldn't I?
MAP is now out in paperback (with over 2,000 on that print run) (I think). The paperback is really really lovely (Air & Space quote on cover!) and, well, that's it. But was it worth all of it? Or more importantly, now that I've done it once, now that I know I can write a book and get published and get positive notice, do I need to do this again?
Can I afford to do this again?
I'm not sure at the moment. I know that writing for Alaska Dispatch is a good thing, a paid-for thing (for all those "writing for free" folks who might be wondering), and there are other essay-type paying outlets I'm trying for and maybe that's enough.
I'll let you know what I decide.
Meanwhile: What I'm reviewing right now:
Antarctica: A Biography
by David Day and Full Upright and Locked Position
by Mark Gerchick, both for Booklist (both as you would expect from the titles); Hidden Things
by Doyce Testerman, an urban fantasy/noir mash-up that was published for adults but turns out to be an excellent crossover for teens - all about childhood and rebelling as a teen and how you never really can forget where you come from. This will be in the June column.
Let's see, also Escape Theory by Margaux Froley, a boarding school murder mystery also for the June column. (Fun in every way you expect with a great cast and I happily turned every page and look forward to more Keaton School skullduggery.) And The Lewton Experiment by Rachel Sa which I will discuss here this week and had some serious potential to be a very fun spin on big box stores and blind consumerism but got bogged down by tacking on a truly forgettable romance that seems to be here only because someone somewhere convinced the author she had to have it. Note to all YA authors: you don't have to have it. Trust me.
What I'm reading right now:
Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan which everyone and their cousin has already read but I put off as it is for my June column. So far, I'm loving the Nancy Drew girl detective spin, and the Scoobies in their clubhouse/classroom solving crime bits. The jury's still out on the paranormal stuff (I'm cautious - I've been down this road before and burned by YA titles)
Also, Rocket Girl: The Story of America's First Female Rocket Scientist by George Morgan for Booklist. (I can't believe this story, or that no one knows this story); Soundings by Hali Felt (got this for Christmas - first read about Maria Tharp in They Made Their Mark and have been curious ever since - she's as interesting as I hoped); When Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams which is gorgeous both in style and design, really really something and The Little Book of Lettering which will be a "cool read" in a column later this summer and I'm enjoying immensely as it is so very pretty. (The beauty of having your own column is that you get to indulge your inner typography geek.)
And I'm working on an article about Joe Crosson who was the first pilot to land on Mt McKinley in 1932 and I'm tracking the provenance of Ben Eielson's first aircraft in AK so I can ask some folks a few intelligent questions about it before it's hung in the Fairbanks airport and I'm lately very intrigued about the existence of a map in an air force base outside of Anchorage which includes push pins noting the locations of some of the earliest crash sites in the state. It's decades old but still there. I have to see it and I will write about it.
And I'm trying to figure out how to write about a pilot you've never heard of but managed to be at ground zero for several historical moments. He's the Forrest Gump of the flying north. Really. How do you resist as story like that?