Vonnegut Strikes Again

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First of all, please realize I am not trying to shill subscriptions to The New Yorker here but…

I recently subscribed to a package deal they have going on where you get 12 weekly “physical” issues, along with their online versions, access to all of the archived issues and a handsome (?) tote bag for 12 bucks.

To put that into perspective, as these mags have been dropping on my doorstep I have noticed that they have a cover price of $7.99 each. Not a bad deal. Even when the tote bag kind of smells like a mailroom.

Anyhow, I subscribed because The New Yorker has been an excellent venue for some amazing short fiction since 1925. Here is just a short list of authors whose short stories have been published within their pages:

Nabokov, Capote, Hemingway, Salinger, Ms Parker, Roth, Updike, E.B. White, Thurber, King, Foer (who debuted there), Fitzgerald, Cheever, Dahl, and Shirley Jackson. Ahh, Shirley.

In 1948 The New Yorker published Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery.” It has gone down as one of the most famous short stories ever published. While critically acclaimed, its controversial subject matter drew more reader mail than any other story in the publication’s history. Hundreds wrote in to announce the cancellation of their subscription.

And yet, the publication of such a story exemplifies why The New Yorker has been such an important channel for literary fiction to the masses. And to illustrate my point, I refer you to this wonderful passage from Kurt Vonnegut regarding the importance and agency of TNY:

(This is from Kurt Vonnegut’s 1974 interview with Joe David Bellamy and John Casey, published in The New Fiction and in Conversations with Kurt Vonnegut discussing the literary influence of The New Yorker.)

“One thing we used to talk about – when I was out in Iowa – was that the limiting factor is the reader. No other art requires the audience to be a performer. You have to count on the reader’s being a good performer, and you may write music which he absolutely can’t perform – in which case it’s a bust. Those writers you mentioned and myself are teaching an audience how to play this kind of music in their heads. It’s a learning process, and The New Yorker has been a very good institution of the sort needed. They have a captive audience, and they come out every week, and people finally catch on to Barthelme, for instance, and are able to perform that sort of thing in their heads and enjoy it. I think the same is true of S. J. Perelman; I do not think that Perelman would be appreciated if suddenly his collected works were to be published now to be seen for the first time. It would be gibberish. A learning process is required to appreciate Perelman, although it’s very easy to do once you learn how to do it. Yeah, I think the readers are coming along; that’s a problem; I think writers have tried to do it always and have failed because there’s been no audience for what they’ve done; nobody’s performed their music.”

Now that’s a beautiful passage. And I think it extends beyond just the influence of The New Yorker.

Even if you don’t feel like subscribing, the publication is very generous in providing many of the works from each current issue for free on their website. And if you do decide to subscribe, I have it on good authority that they still have a few tote bags left.

DT3

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Biting the Bullet … Finally.

Mine is red and has a green “Vertagreen” logo on it. It also says “Big Crop Fertilizers.” I carry it everywhere I go.

My Pen(cil) Cup

A long time ago, in what feels like a galaxy far, far away … I promised the world my thoughts on the humble bullet pencil. And then life got in the way. But, alas, no longer. I WILL write this post!

Not long after rediscovering pencils last summer due in part to my trip to Korea and all the wonderful stationery stores there and the fine folks over at the Erasable podcast, my curiosity began to peak about these pocketable little marvels called bullet pencils. So, a quick trip to Ebay and soon enough, I had a couple of these little guys in my possession. Then, a couple of kickstarters started for two modern takes on the classics. I quickly backed both the Twist Bullet Pencil and the Bullet Pencil TT and the rest is history.

tg_BulletPencils These are bullet pencils

Speaking of, although the history of the bullet pencil…

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The Anatomy of a Grammar Nerd

You know who you are. Sometimes you get called out as being a “Grammar Nazi.” Now why would people use words like that? You simply want to preserve the sanctity of the English language and people want to associate you with the Third Reich? Not fair. I hate the phrase “Grammar Nazi” but I will embrace the phrase “Grammar Nerd.”

And with that in mind, our friends at Grammarly are back with a new infographic based on their ongoing studies. Here is “The Anatomy of a Grammar Nerd.”

This graphic is so much fun, as was the last one that Grammarly sent us. Enjoy!

Anatomy of a Grammar Nerd Infographic

Bibliocast # 11

James Patterson’s Exploding Book, YA and ebooks, Buzz Books that are not jejune and Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook Book Club.

 

http://player.cinchcast.com/?platformId=1&assetType=single&assetId=7294741

Check Out Books Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with Biblio Circus Show on BlogTalkRadio

Review: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

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“Why is any one book different from any other book? They are different, A.J. decides, because they are. We have to look inside many. We have to believe. We agree to be disappointed sometimes so that we can be exhilarated every now and again.”

That’s a quote from The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, and I will admit I was most pleasantly exhilarated by this sweet and sometimes sad little tome.

What a lovely, special book this is. It is an ode to books and an homage to booksellers. It’s about life and priceless things lost and invaluable things gained. It’s about relationships; the ones we have with books and the ones we have with people we never would have dreamed we would meet.

A.J. Fikry is a recently widowed, 39 year-old cantankerous bookseller. His shop, Island Books, is a small independent store with a threadbare apartment upstairs where he lives. One evening, while drowning his grief of his lost wife in a bottle of red wine, he loses his most valuable possession. He awakens to find that his personal copy of Tamerlane has been stolen. Tamerlane was Edgar Allen Poe’s first published work, written when he was only eighteen years old. There were a mere 50 copies printed and at auctions, the rare copy that occasionally makes itself available will fetch upwards of $500,000.00. A.J. has happened across one such copy at an estate sale, where he procured it for the princely sum of $5.00. While he does not particularly like the book, he had planned to sell it so that he could retire early and spend the rest of his life wallowing in his own self pity without the burden of any responsibilities, social or otherwise. And now his book has been stolen and his plan destroyed.

A local police investigation on the theft goes nowhere. A few weeks later he returns to his bookstore/home after an evening jog to find a two year-old girl, all alone, sitting in the children’s aisle with an open copy of Where the Wild Things Are in her lap. Next to her is an Elmo doll with a note pinned to it. The note is from the child’s mother who has abandoned the child in A.J.’s store because she wants the child to grow up around books.

That’s the basic setup. From there, we are introduced to a handful of delightful characters. Their lives intertwine over the years creating a charmingly readable story. Needless to say, there are plenty of literary references and allegories along the way.

There are even a few rather surprising plot twists along the way. I think the book would have been just as good without them, so these surprises are really just like a tasty icing on an expertly prepared cake.

It’s rare when a novel comes along that is so enjoyable to read while also being so lovingly crafted. In case you can’t tell, I loved this book.

–Don Theo III

What’s up in YA? A Quick Rundown of What’s Good

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This past week on our Bibliocircus podcast, we spoke with Jennifer M. Barry about her favorite Young Adult titles from the recent past, present and future. Jennifer is a published author in the YA field as well as a pretty active reader so it was great to get some suggestions from her on what’s good out there right now. As promised on the show, here are the links to the authors and books she told us about.

First up is Brigid Kemmerer. Brigid is the author of the popular Elemental Series. This is a series of 5 books and 3 novellas that can be found here. Click on her highlighted name above for her Twitter page or alternatively, for all you Goodreaders out there, you can find Brigid here.

Next, Jennifer told us about the Irin Chronicles, by Elizabeth Hunter. Elizabeth has quite a following and is pretty prolific. You can catch up with her Goodreads profile here.

Kate SeRine has written a series called Transplanted Tales that Jennifer really enjoyed. Kate vowed to make sure her characters always have a happily ever after, and you can also find her on Goodreads.

Katherine Howe has written quite a bit since storming on the scene with The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, which was proclaimed by USA Today to be one of the best novels of 2009. Our co-host Jen really enjoyed Katherine’s latest book Conversion. Here is Katherine on Goodreads.

Emma Trevayne seems like a lot of fun. She’s another prolific author and the work Jennifer particularly enjoys from her is the Coda Series. In fact, if you have Kindle Unlimited, right now you can start reading the first in the series for free right here. And of course here is the linky-link to her Goodreads profile.

Finally, Jennifer told us about the Atlantis Series by Carol Oates. Carol grew up across the street from the childhood home of Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula. If that doesn’t make one destined to grow up and write supernatural stories, I don’t know what would. She lives in Dublin, Ireland, however if that’s too far for you to travel to get to know her, you can always pay her a Goodreads visit.

So there you have it ladies and gentlemen. I am finding that people of all ages enjoy titles in the robust YA genre. The problem is that sometimes it’s hard singling out the really good ones. Thanks so much to Jennifer for all of the recommendations as well as the links for this post.

To hear Jennifer discuss these books and authors in more detail, come on over and take a listen to the episode.

–Don Theo III

P.S. I didn’t read too much YA myself this past year but I did read Jennifer’s own novel Going Under: The Oracles of St. Ambrose book 1 and found it immensely enjoyable.

 
 

Don Theo III

The Oeuvre of Gillian Flynn

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I am sure we all have authors we love that are no longer alive.

For me, it is Patricia Highsmith. She wrote Strangers on a Train which was made into the amazing Hitchcock film of the same name.

She also wrote the Ripley series, the most popular one being The Talented Mr. Ripley. The Ripley books have been adapted for the silver screen several times, and the titular character has been played by Matt Damon, John Malkovich and Alain Delon. There are a little over a dozen more titles in the Highsmith canon, all of them worth reading.

Highsmith was a master of the psychological thriller. Her characters are richly dark and yet it is not uncommon for the reader to pull for the wicked dramatis personae of her stories.

She perfected the modern day anti-hero decades before the Tony Sopranos and Walter Whites of recent years.

There was really nothing else like Patricia Highsmith. No other author I have ever read has been able to combine such a level of psychological suspense and multi-layered character development while simultaneously structuring a narrative that wets the brain so fervently wherein the reader’s fingers itch to turn to the next page before finishing reading the present one.

When one happens across a writer that is no longer alive, with whose work they so strongly indentify and enjoy, it becomes blissfully painful when the fact is realized that this writer will write no more words. For in death there is no more narrative.

I read Ms. Highsmith’s novels over and over again. Eventually I realized the sad truth that with repetition the power of her words would diminish. I still re-read her books often, yet they will never have the power over me that they did on their first reading.

I sought after similar writers to try to fill the void, yet to no avail.

There are myriad “If you like this author…” sites online. You type in the name of your favorite author and the site’s software is supposed to magically burp up a similar author. I’ve tried many of these sites, typing in Patricia Highsmith’s name, and never getting anything close in response. I don’t blame these sites’ software or begrudge their intentions; I just came to realize there may never be anything else like her again.

In 2012 a book titled Gone Girl was released by Crown Publishing Group by an author named Gillian Flynn. The novel quickly became a sensation, rising to the top of the New York Times bestseller list. It has remained in the top levels of that list for over 200 weeks. It was made into a blockbuster film by powerhouse director David Fincher. Mrs. Flynn adapted the screenplay from her own novel.

Whenever a book makes this big of a splash and is then made into a successful film, I’m going to read the book first because we all know that the book is most likely going to be better than the movie, right?

So I picked up the book and within the first few pages I was hooked. Ms. Flynn’s method of telling her story, while not new, is refreshing and immediately engaging. I won’t spoil anything here but the book has alternating chapters between a husband telling his story about how his wife goes missing, and the wife’s side of the same story told via her diary.

Obviously the husband is the main suspect, yet there are dozens of twists and turns along the way. The storytelling form and function is delectable and what might keep the reader even more engaged is the author’s multifarious character development.

I remember being overcome with a slight but pleasant case of deja vu about halfway through the first act of Gone Girl. All of a sudden I started to realize what was so gripping to me about Ms. Flynn’s narrative style: I was reading the closest thing possible to a modern day version of Patricia Highsmith. Much like Ms. Highsmith, Flynn manipulates the reader and makes no apologies along the way. It was like happening across a literary holy grail, for this reader at least. I couldn’t read the book fast enough, and if I remember correctly I finished it in about one and a half sessions, the first half being a wee-hour rampage that only ended because my eyelids eventually lost their strength.

After finishing the book I felt like I had to know more about this new incarnation of my favorite novelist. I jumped into the google machine and was quickly thereafter gobsmacked with what I found: several interviews (The New York TimesWall Street Journal, and her AMA on Reddit to name a few) where she named her main inspiration as one Ms. Patricia Highsmith, further establishing her as the heir apparent to the Ripley creator’s throne. N.B. Flynn seems to have been particularly enamored with the Highsmith novel Deep Water, a notable reference when comparing the two writers.

Needless to say, I was happy to see that Ms. Flynn had a couple of other earlier offerings available, and scooped both of them up as quickly as Whispernet ™ would allow. I’ll give some brief thoughts on each of them here.

Sharp Objects

This is Ms. Flynn’s debut novel, which she wrote before she even had an agent. It was published in 2006 and it’s about a young up and coming journalist named Camille Preaker who lives in Chicago. She has moved there from a small town in Missouri where two recent murders have occurred. The victims were young girls and smelling an exclusive scoop, Camille’s editor dispatches her back home to put the story together.

The case and its suspects and circumstances end up being darkly woven into Camille’s own family and history in the town. I don’t really want to tip any more than that, but I will say that if you thought Gone Girl was leaning a bit to the macabre side, Sharp Objects has no problem tipping right on over into a deeply chilling space. It may even be more “Highsmith-y” than Gone Girl. It’s a pretty wild ride.

Dark Places

This is Flynn’s sophomore novel and I’ll admit was my least favorite of the three, however when it got to the third act it absolutely crackled off of the page.

This one was so dark. Yes I know, it’s called “Dark Places” and I should expect that, but I had a difficult time finding anyone to root for. This was a much slower build than the other two but with a massive denouement.

Also, this is the first time we see Flynn working with the alternate-point-of-view-by-chapter-break mechanism. Although this story is told a little differently. It alternates between a first person narrative of the main character Libby, and a third person narrative taking place many years ago.

The high concept is that Libby Day was a victim of a home invasion a couple of decades ago wherein her mother and two sisters were brutally slaughtered. Libby was the only survivor in the home. This took place on a farm in Kansas (reminiscent of In Cold Blood, maybe?). Her older brother was convicted of the crime and in present day, a group of crime enthusiasts get her to revisit the crime and the possibility of her brother’s innocence. The denouement I mentioned before really steps out there, perhaps overarching just a bit. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a great book, I just like the other two much better.

There is a reoccurring notion that weaves through all three titles, that of the idea that “you can never go home again.” In each of the novels, the protagonists leave comfortable lives to revisit their pasts, where proverbial demons and skeletons lurk and offer no escape without confrontation.

If you would like to dive in head first, you can get a complete set of all three novels for just $12.99 on Kindle or for about $28.00 in new paperback.

Ms Flynn is flying high right now, a sort of rock star of the literary world. She is planning a wide sprawling novel next, followed by a Young Adult novel. In the mean time she has signed on to team back up with Gone Girl director David Fincher to write the teleplay for his upcoming T.V. series called Utopia. Also, a lifelong comic books fan, she is writing the book with illustrator David Gibbons for a Dark Horse Comics book called Masks.

I for one, look forward to every bit of work she has in store.

Gillian Flynn lives in Chicago with her husband Brett Nolan and her two children.

-Don Theo III

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