Category Archives: Reading

Farewell to the Community Bookstore

The New Yorker has a video and short article up regarding the imminent closing of The

God Coffee, I Never Finished You

Community Bookstore on Court Street in Brooklyn. It wasn’t the (surely deliberate anachronistic and ridiculous getup of the) New York Times reporter or the man-on-the-street soundbites about what went on in that pretty that I enjoyed, but the walk down my old neighborhood, scene of many a walk while I composed the perambulatory (and thankfully never finished) God Coffee, I Miss You. It was a paean to my time in Brooklyn and those blocks sandwiched between 2nd Place and Atlantic Avenue, fresh out of college and living the life of Riley, where I spent a lot of my weekends and mornings after having worked until all hours at Avalanche, a hip little new media company on Hudson Street (near the offices of Viking Penguin and many a literary agent), home to the venerable BorderEqualsZero, in Cobble Hill Park, watching the nannies from the islands congregate while their charges ran around the grass in the middle of the beautiful brick buildings in that neighborhood.

The Community Bookstore was just down the street from that park, and I’d go in and pick up a used book or two, or three, all in the name of fleshing out this novel, or the next one, or the next. There was the flashier, cleaner BookCourt  down the street and the even bigger and flashier Barnes & Noble across Atlantic Avenue, and, of course, I’d browse through those, as well, but with my student-loan saddled shoulders, I came away with the most books from the Community Bookstore. While it was a good deal messier, it reminded me, for sheer volume and the sense that books had digested the room, of the back closet on my grandfather’s porch of a three decker in Worcester, Massachusetts, where books lined every shelf, in all states. It was a sort of magical space, where who knew what you were going to find, but it was likely going to be worth the archeology, whatever it was.

If you’re in the area I highly recommend stopping by for the sheer experience of it.

Version Control: A Book Review

Version Control

Version Control, by Dexter Palmer

As someone who has spent a lot of time thinking about time travel and how to use it in fiction, or even place it orthogonal to the story, I tend to dive into books with time travel with gusto and a keen eye towards how someone else might have done it.
So when I saw Version Control on the shelf at Barnes & Noble and had a coupon burning a hole in my pocket, I couldn’t help grabbing it. From the jacket copy it sounded like a quirky, funny take on inventing a time machine with a bit of a heart.

And while the book is funny (the dream of YHWH as the worst of all possible tenants towards the end of the book is hilarious), it’s not as funny as I’d expected. The grief and depression and general unsettledness of the age in which the book is set is far more prominent, but Palmer earns it with a thorough depiction of Rebecca and Philip’s relationship from the very start to the very end(s). Dexter Palmer fits in musings on love in the digital age, race relations and predispositions, scientific progress, our busy, unforgetting world, all swirling around the lovely and sad family story of Rebecca, Philip, and Sean.

The time machine, the causality violation device, around which the novel works isn’t a flash-bang time machine of H.G. Wells, but almost like a harpist, plucking at strings, jumping from this one to the next, the problems of history and continuity handled in an interesting, subtle way by Palmer. In fact, you (and they) are not even sure it *is* working at all. And that’s the same way the book worked for me — not a thunderbolt but just something that felt perfectly right.

It’s a different conception of a time machine from the one Sam and Laura build in Trip to the Quiet Room — their time machine fits in a bathtub, a storage shed, or a barn and tends to shred sheep in a very messy way, but with bubbles — but I loved his take on it, it felt natural, plausible, and fit so well into the story.

Two thumbs up, go and give it a read.

It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Least Popular of Times

Listen, you win some and you lose some.

You win some, you lose some

Winning some, losing some

Sometimes you’re the least popular, but at least you can console yourself that you’re super highly rated (because no one else has read it to give it a worse review).

You, too, can check out your year in books on Goodreads, if you track what you read there.*

 

 

 

 

 

Vote for The Little Red Publishing Hen in the Goodreads Choice 2015 Awards! Please.

This is going to remind people, people who have long memories, of another time and another place.

So I’ve been told I’m not allowed to go around people’s houses, sign them up for Goodreads accounts, visit the Best Picture Book page, write in The Little Red Publishing Hen and vote for it for best picture book any more.

But, what I can do is tell you how to do it yourself.

First, visit the Best Picture Book page.

Step 1 - visit the https://www.goodreads.com/choiceawards/best-picture-books-2015

Step 1 – visit the https://www.goodreads.com/choiceawards/best-picture-books-2015

Next, log in or create an account on Goodreads (it’s free!) and come back to that page.

Step 2: ready to write-in a vote!

Step 2: ready to write-in a vote!

Now you’re going to, very carefully, type in “the little red publishing hen”:

Step 3: Write in the little red publishing hen

Step 3: Write in the little red publishing hen

Then you’re going to click or tap on The Little Red Publishing Hen in that drop-down list. Or you’re going to hit enter…

Step4

Step 4: Nearly there!

Then, with all your might (maybe a little less if it’s a new computer or phone and you don’t want to destroy it, just for the sake of voting for The Little Red Publishing Hen), press that big, red Vote button!

Step 5: Wallow in your part in L'affaire Chicken!

Step 5: Wallow in your part in L’affaire Chicken!

And that’s it. Tell your friends, neighbors, Romans, countrymen. Send them here, which will send them over there. Download the book, read it (it’s free to Goodreads members and on the iBookstore), share it with your writerly friends (it’ll give you something else to talk about other than pitching them ideas for a story — and when you see the single solitary tear in their eye you know you’ll have hit a real nerve).

 

Pretty please?

Review: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh man, oh man oh man. I loved this book.
In fact, a few weeks after finishing it I was sitting on a concrete step watching a concert below on the stage, backdropped by the sun setting over the water. It was a little cool and the clouds leaked towards the horizon, turning grey, and I thought to myself, “I remember those days when we watched concerts by the water and life was pretty much perfect just before the apocalyptic plague hit.”

Station Eleven

Station Eleven

The book see-saws from the future, in which we don’t get concerts like that any more, to the present day to the past loves and lives of Arthur Leander, the actor, and wraps the strands so tightly together, so well, and it just adds to the sense of sadness at what was lost. I loved the writing, the plot, the structure of the book, everything.

In the edition I got (from Hughes & Hughes by the river in Ennis) it came with a sheet, on which two pages from the graphic novel, Station Eleven were printed. The book is by Miranda, one of the people nearly lost in Arthur’s wake and the book, which only exists in a very limited print run, is a central totem to the book (which you might have guessed, from the title).

If you like the dizziness that a David Mitchell book can inspire (like, say, The Bone Clocks), this is a book for you. I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

Lockjaw Magazine: Choose Your Own Adventure

So I wrote something for the folks at Lockjaw to include in their in-progress Choose Your Own Adventure story.Birdcage

It’s short, sweet (ish?), and will bring back fond memories of reading through countless possibilities and keeping one, two, three, four fingers stuck in pages where you mean to go back and fix the mess you wound up in.

Start at the beginning, see if you can find it… otherwise, for the lazy amongst you, feel free to jump to the bottom of this post to get the direct link of an out-of-context piece of the story that likely will make very little sense at all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As promised, the direct link to my particular piece of the puzzle.

Ah ha! Fooled you… or, some of the other contributors did, as they didn’t turn in their pieces on time… so the story will be published tomorrow. In the meantime, read the story, see where you think I may have wound up.

 

UPDATE: At long last, the link! Or at least a link to something to help you decide whether or not you’ll actually click on it.

 

 

Dennis Lehane on his Newest Book and Missing Boston

Dennis did a spot for WGBH a little while ago in which he talks a little about his latest book, his connection to Boston, even though he’s now living on the west coast. It’s a short but sweet interview but obviously the part that resonated with me was this:

I think you write better when you are homesick. [… T]he next book is set in Boston. I’m writing it from California. I’m thinking about Boston all the time.

There’s a long history of the exiled writer, whether self- or Hollywood-imposed, and I wholeheartedly agree, I think (and others may not agree) that my best writing comes when I’m writing about home. For example, Butterfly (which may be retitled William Murphy’s Trop to the Quiet Room, for sake of trying to hook an agent’s interest) is set in Worcester, Massachusetts, the town in which I was born; a little bit in that venerable tourist attraction, Old Sturbridge Village, just down the street from where I grew up; and Cape Cod, a favorite vacation spot from my youth (and still). For each of the interminable drafts I sat in my grandparent’s floor in a three decker on Hillside Street, wandered the muddy spring paths of Old Sturbridge Village, probably with a stick of rock candy in my hand, or sat with my back against the dunes down on Nauset Light Beach. Which is to say I use that feeling of homesickness to try and make the scenes that little bit more vivid, much like Dennis Lehane does and Joyce did with Ulysses (with far greater commercial and just plain old regular success).

 

Dennis Lehane is appearing at Listowel Writers’ Week, which has an amazing lineup this year. If you’re in the area at the end of May you really shouldn’t miss it. Tell Anne Enright I sent you.

A little taste of home

Foucault, in Winter, in the Linnaeus Garden, in my House

So excited at the arrival of this at the house the other day:

Foucault, in Winter, in the Linnaeus Garden

Foucault, in Winter, in the Linnaeus Garden

 

 

Churning through Owen King‘s excellent Double Feature with the intriguing The Room up next, but Michael’s latest delivery is slotted on the pile.

 

And on the Butterfly front, possibly to be retitled William Murphy’s Trip to the Quiet Room, no news for you, faithful reader, no news yet.

 

But go to Starcherone Books to get your very own copy of Foucault, in Winter, in the Linnaeus Garden.

“I miss Dunkin Donut”

Michael Joyce, he of the “no longer maintaining a web presence” fame (oh, and afternoon, a story, and Twilight, a Symphony, The Sonatas of Saint Francis, and Going the Distance, and, and and), once compared my latest novel to Haruki Murakami (“Murakami in Massachusetts,” specifically).

Am attempt to cope without a real Dunks

Am attempt to cope without a real Dunks

Well, I’ve yet to start an agony uncle column/website like Murakami, but I have to say, having read some of his advice (from an article in the Washington Post), I feel a new kinship with the author.

The question is “Do you have any cafe chains you like to go to?” To which Murakami answers, in part:

I miss Dunkin Donut.

Oh me too, Mr. Murakami, me too.

Claire North, Writing on Time Travel

As some of you may know, Butterfly, a novel is tangentially about time travel.

Time Travel at 6am

Time Travel at 6am

Claire North, author of the dazzling The Fifteen First Lives of Harry August, has written a blog post for Waterstones about just that very subject, since her book has a slightly different take on time travel than the usual “hop in a machine/Delorean and visit the past or future” bent.

It’s a good read about the problems every writer faces when thinking about writing about time travel. While Butterfly involves a machine and is of the (slightly) more traditional time travel narrative, it also doesn’t harp on that fact. Like Ms. North mentions:

“However, the stories we write are still stories about people – perhaps people beset on all sides by paradox and physics, but still people. “

Butterfly has always been about, first and foremost, the people: William Murphy, retired professional hockey player, Laura, his wife and now breadwinner for the family, their daughter, Sadie, Germaine, William’s ex-teammate and childhood buddy, and a venue that approaches time travel from yet another point of view, Old Sturbridge Village.

But while you’re waiting for Butterfly to come out, go read Claire North’s blog post, and then hit the library or your local book shop to pick up The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August.