“Woman must put herself into the text–as into the world and into history–by her own movement.” – from The Laugh of the Medusa by Helene Cixous
A voracious reader, yes. Audiobook listener? Not so much. Here’s one reason why it’s hard for me to get into audiobooks: I spend very little time driving. I work from home and have put less than 80,000 miles on my car in the last ten years. I can’t get into a story on my five-minute drive to the post office.
This wasn’t always the case. When I left my hometown of Chattanooga, TN for a new job in Lexington, KY, I had two kittens that I hated to leave unattended. When I got homesick, I’d put the fur balls in their kitty carrier and rent books on tape. Do you remember those portfolios of ten or more cassettes that you could rent at one Cracker Barrel and return or exchange at another one? The narrator’s voice somehow soothed the cats and entertained me on those eight-hour round trips.
I hear what you’re thinking right now: “Um, technology has advanced just a little beyond the book on tape circa 1997.” Yes, I’ve heard there are even books on CD now. And my husband and I have purchased audiobook downloads from Audible and checked them out from our local library’s Overdrive system. We usually listen to them on road trips, like the one we took last month to Savannah.
We listened to Campbell Scott read Steve Martin’s novella, An Object of Beauty. Zach and I don’t often like the same kind of books; he’s a fan of sports, politics, science fiction and history. And I’m a fan of…well, the stuff that’s on this website and you can see what I read over here at Goodreads.
For example, Zach just cracked the spine on Book 1 of 4 of the Lyndon Johnson biographies. No offense to Johnson’s biographer, Robert A. Caro, but these books are tomes. I love history, but I’d rather have Zach clunk me over the head with that block of a book than read it aloud to me. I can’t even imagine how many notebooks of cassette tapes just one of those books would create.
Back to An Object of Beauty…when it comes to audiobooks, Zach and I can both agree on titles from Steve Martin. I adored Shopgirl and we enjoyed listening to Martin narrate Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life. An Object of Beauty is set in the New York art world, a setting that Martin knows well because he is a huge art collector. We joke all the time that when Steve Martin agrees to reprise his role in a Cheaper by the Dozen sequel or is starring in Pink Panther 28, it’s probably because he has his eye on a Picasso.
I really enjoyed listening to An Object of Beauty. Campbell Scott is a terrific narrator, and though I have no interest in or knowledge of fine art, I was enthralled with the story of those who appreciate and deal in art. The book even references the heist at Boston’s Isabella Gardner Museum, an event that B. J. Shapiro wrote about in her novel, The Art Forger.
I wish every author and publishing company had the luxury and resources to afford a professional audiobook narration of their books BEFORE the book goes to print. Why? Because if Steve Martin had listened to Campbell Scott before he turned the book into his editor, he would have removed that extraneous dinner party in Miami that stole about 15 minutes from my enjoyment of An Object of Beauty. Perhaps that’s not a long time in audiobook minutes, but it’s a lot of unnecessary pages for attention-deprived readers. And I finally abandoned an audiobook I listened to while driving one leg of a road trip because the author fell so in love with the historical facts and sayings from the time period she was writing about that she stalled out on the mystery at the core of the book. That’s the benefit of ingesting a story with your ears instead of your eyes: you can quickly tell when a story’s veering off course.
A little more than a week away from my next road trip, I am thinking about my next audiobook selection. Have any suggestions? I’d love for you to share them in the comments below. I’ve also included a few “Suggested Reading” links below in case you’re interested in learning more about the audiobook phenomenon.
- The 2014 Audies Finalists - The Audies are awards “recognizing distinction in audiobooks and spoken word entertainment sponsored by the Audio Publishers Association (APA).”
- 40 Ways to Listen to Audiobooks Even If You Don’t Commute - BookRiot suggests ways in which you can get into audiobooks “even if you aren’t trapped in your car for 90 minutes every day…”
- Audiobooks and the Return of Storytelling - in this New York Times op-ed, T. M. Luhrmann talks about the experience of listening to audiobooks and says the “sale of audiobooks has skyrocketed in recent years.”
Just after graduating from college, Kelly Corrigan‘s motto was, “Things happen when you leave the house.” She was so eager to leave behind what she considered her dull home life, that she traveled to the other side of the earth, putting entire continents between her and her family. Corrigan was backpacking in Australia with a friend when her funds dwindled and she accepted a nanny job that would permanently change her world view.
This is the framework for Corrigan’s new memoir, Glitter and Glue. Corrigan used journal entries, letters and photographs from this time in 1992 to write about her job caring for two children in Australia whose mother had recently died. The Tanner family–also composed of the children’s father, grandfather and stepbrother–is still mired in grief when Corrigan moves in. Although the nanny gig is temporary–Corrigan plans to rejoin her friend in five months so they can scuba-dive along the Great Barrier Reef–the insights that she gains follow Corrigan back to America; back at home, Corrigan has a new appreciation for her family, especially her mother.
Corrigan wrote poignantly of having breast cancer at the same time that her father was being treated for late-stage bladder cancer in her 2008 memoir, The Middle Place. She dedicates Glitter and Glue to her mother: “This one’s for you, Ma. Long overdue.” The title of the book alludes to one of her mother’s sayings; knowing that she was no match for her husband’s big, gregarious personality, Mary Corrigan often said, “Your father’s the glitter, but I’m the glue.” Glitter and Glue is a brisk and memorable read. The video below is a heart-strings puller as well.
After five years spent researching and writing her last novel, The Dovekeepers, Alice Hoffman swore she would never write another work of historical fiction. This revelation came as a surprise to many of us seated in the pews of one of the oldest churches in the United States; Trinity United Methodist Church, whose original congregation dates back to the 18th century, was the largest venue at this year’s Savannah Book Festival.
Hoffman continued from the pulpit, explaining that she changed her mind about historical fiction when someone told her she should investigate the Triangle Factory fire. The fire “was the worst workplace disaster in New York City until the fall of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001,” yet know one had heard about it. Hoffman’s research led her to write an opinion piece about the fire that was published in the Los Angeles Times in 2011, and ultimately became her most recent fictional offering, The Museum of Extraordinary Things.
Instead of thinking about The Museum of Extraordinary Things as historical fiction, Hoffman said she considered her book a love story. A love story between Coralie, a young girl who knows very little about the world except what she has gleaned from books, and Eddie, a Russian immigrant who becomes embroiled in the mystery surrounding the factory fire while attempting to shed his family’s expectations and plans for his life. Hoffman said that The Museum of Extraordinary Things was also a love story between her and the city of New York. After 9/11, Hoffman encountered her first bout of writer’s block and feared she might never write again. She found her way back to writing by re-reading Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, but she truly fell in love again with New York City through her research of the history, people and places in The Museum of Extraordinary Things.
If you’re in the Atlanta area, you have a couple of opportunities to see Alice Hoffman. TONIGHT, Hoffman will be reading from her book and signing copies at FoxTale Book Shoppe. You can learn more about the event here. The event begins at 6:30 p.m.
Alice Hoffman will be speaking at SCADAtlanta tomorrow night, Friday, February 21, at 6:00 p.m. The event is open to the public. You’ll pay $10 at the door or get in free if you’re a SCAD student, staff or faculty member. The address is 1600 Peachtree St., Atlanta, GA 30357. A book signing and sales will follow Hoffman’s talk.
This past weekend I fled Atlanta’s latest round of snow and ice sequestration for the warmer climes of the Hostess City of the South–Savannah, Georgia. Although Savannah is just a quick, four-hour drive from Atlanta, this was my first time visiting the state’s oldest city. I was there courtesy of VisitSavannah to attend the 7th Annual Savannah Book Festival.
It seems I wasn’t the only one who migrated south this past weekend in search of better weather. I heard so many stories from people who were eager to escape snow and ice in different parts of the country. In fact, the weather prevented three authors from speaking in Savannah. The festival kept attendees apprised of schedule changes via the festival website and social media accounts. Volunteers handed out print copies of the revised schedule just outside the venues on Saturday.
I arrived late on Friday, so I wasn’t able to attend the keynote addresses of Scott Turow and Mitch Albom at the Trustees Theater. All festival events took place around Telfair and Wright Squares on Saturday. More than 250 volunteers and dedicated Savannah Book Festival staff and board members worked on the festival. Ex Libris, the bookstore at the Savannah College of Art and Design (better known as SCAD), sold books and merchandise in a dedicated tent in the middle of Telfair Square.
An alternative name for this year’s festival could have been the “Oprah’s Book Club Festival” as there were no fewer than four authors whose books had been previous Oprah’s Book Club picks. Wally Lamb and Anita Shreve both related their tales of getting “the phone call” from the famous talk show host whose book club picks quickly land on the bestseller lists. Alice Hoffman said she didn’t get the phone call from Oprah when Here on Earth was selected because the talk show host was on trial in Texas at the time.
Saturday’s sunny 60-degree weather and a stellar lineup enticed thousands to the Square. Although a blustering wind twisted the flags atop their poles and kept people in their warmest jackets, many who waited in long book signing lines were treated to a celebrity chef sighting or three, as Paula Deen joined her sons, Jamie and Bobby, at their hometown book festival. The Deens talked with fans in line and signed copies of their cookbooks.
You could also scoop up a fun literary treat at Leopold’s Ice Cream. The store named ice cream flavors in honor of the authors and books featured at this year’s Savannah Book Festival. Here’s a picture of Melanie Benjamin enjoying a cup of her ice cream, “The Aviator’s Vanilla.”
I plan to write separate posts about some of the author talks I attended because I found myself taking copious notes with my iPhone. In addition to witnessing the great speakers on the stage, I had a chance to catch up with a couple of good friends who joined me in the audience.
Here’s a photo of me with my book blogger friend, Anita of Anita Loves Books, in front of the Penguin Books truck. I told Anita that we should quit our day jobs and become Penguin spokesmodels, but I’m not sure she’s sold on the idea. They should at least let us drive the truck o’books, right? More to come…
The book trailer for Gary Shteyngart’s memoir, Little Failure, would have you believe that the title comes from the author’s physical and commercial shortcomings. James Franco, outfitted in a light pink bathrobe, plays Shteyngart’s husband in the trailer, and Jonathan Franzen makes a cameo appearance as his therapist. The parodic nature of the video is an introduction to the self-deprecating humor found throughout Little Failure. If you’re not a fan of the book trailer, you’re probably not going to enjoy the memoir.
Early in the book, you learn that “Little Failure” is a translation of the term “Failurchka,” a moniker that Shteyngart’s mother gives him as a boy. It seems a harsh term of endearment until you learn that Shteyngart’s father nicknamed his son “Snotty” because his child was often “sick and runny nosed.” In the beginning of the story, Shteyngart and his parents are living in a small apartment off Moscow Square in the former Soviet Union. Fearing for their sickly son’s health and his certain future of being drafted into the Red Army, Shteyngart’s family immigrated to the United States in 1979 as part of a trade deal that brought a number of Jewish families to America in exchange for grain and technology.
Upon arriving in America, Shteyngart’s parents change his name from the Russian “Igor” to “Gary” and enroll him in a Hebrew school near their new home in Queens, New York. Because Russian citizens were not allowed to practice Judaism, Shteyngart does not understand Hebrew, much less English, and has a hard time assimilating. That is, until he starts visiting his grandmother’s home in the afternoons for American junk food and quality time watching her television set.
Shteyngart, who wrote his first novel when he was five years old in exchange for slices of Russian government cheese, discovers that he can make friends by entertaining his classmates with his take on 1980s pop culture. He develops an alter-ego, Gary Gnu III, based on a puppet on the kids’ show, The Great Space Coaster, and writes his own version of the Torah called the Gnorah.
Readers who enjoyed Shteyngart’s first three books (all novels)–Russian Debutante’s Handbook, Absurdistan and Super Sad True Love Story–will appreciate the moments in the memoir when he references the real-life events that found their way into his fiction. Little Failure introduced Shteyngart to me. Since he and I are just a couple of years apart in age, I very much related to the pop culture and time periods referenced. And while there’s no arguing that Shteyngart is a gifted, funny writer, I grappled with whether or not I liked Gary Shteyngart as a person, probably because he struggles with the same thing in the true stories he shares in Little Failure. Still, there are passages like the following one about a gift he received from his first college girlfriend, Jennifer, that scratch through the layers of self-loathing and blustering to reveal his sweet side:
There’s a string around my neck with a single marble-like blue bead that I don’t dare take off, even in the shower, since it is a gift from her. For the next half decade, whenever I am anxious, I will spin the bead between my thumb and index finger. Even when she is gone. Especially when she is gone.
On its face, the story that Susan Gregg Gilmore tells in The Funeral Dress is a simple one: a young mother volunteers to sew the memorial dress for one of her co-workers who has died in a car accident. But readers discover that in this simple act, Emmalee Bullard is simultaneously claiming the only mother she has ever known and the child she didn’t know she wanted. The author also takes us back in time so that we get to know Leona, the woman who died in the accident, and the community that has formed around the Tennewa Shirt Factory, where Emmalee and Leona worked.
I wanted to read The Funeral Dress initially because the novel is based on an actual shirt factory in Dunlap, Tennessee, an area just outside of my hometown of Chattanooga. Susan Gregg Gilmore still lives in Chattanooga. We swapped a few war stories once we discovered that she was working for the local newspaper at the same time that I was working at the local TV station back in the 90s. But Emmalee and Leona’s story transcends the setting. Susan was kind enough to answer some of my questions about The Funeral Dress, and I’ve got a signed copy of the book up for grabs, so keep reading.
SS: In The Funeral Dress, you explore some big issues, chief among them I would say are death and what constitutes a family. What did writing the book teach you about death and dying? And what constitutes a family for you? Did writing the book crystallize your beliefs or change any of your opinions?
SGG: I’m the granddaughter of a preacher, the daughter-in-law of a preacher, and the daughter of a deacon and Sunday School teacher, all of whom appreciated a good, well-done funeral. There is a protocol, an etiquette to burying our loved ones that I embrace — it’s a comforting ritual to a life well- and long-lived.
Writing this book allowed me to put a lot of my feelings and philosophies about death and dying on paper – the most important of which is that even a passing in many ways is about community.
Family, for me, is simply defined — two or more people who are wiling to comfort and forgive and respect one another. In other words, love one another, truly love one another.
SS: I have so much respect for historical fiction writers who carefully walk this tightrope of fact and fiction. How did your background as a journalist help you research and write The Funeral Dress, a novel based upon a real shirt factory in Tennessee? How did it hinder you?
SGG: Not only am I a former journalist but both my bachelor’s and master’s degrees are in history. So I’ve always loved to research a good story. And I think understanding the patience that good research requires definitely was an advantage as well as fairly strong interviewing skills. But I don’t think it ever hindered my writing, thank goodness!
SS: How have the people that you interviewed for the book responded to the finished book?
SGG: The outpouring from the people in Dunlap has been overwhelming. Shortly after the book was released, a celebration was held in the old shirt factory. A small committee of determined women from the Sequatchie County Library recreated the setting of the original Spartan factories. Sewing machines, pressing machines, patterns, spools of thread, fabrics, buttons, and so much more was hauled back into the factory building which is currently the practice venue for the local roller derby team. But that day was not about me. It was about the women and men who once worked there. More than 300 former employees attended. And watching frail women finger a machine or hold a pattern in their hands was so moving, so incredibly moving.
SS: Writers often lose a lot of material in the editing process. What was the character, story or other element of the novel that you HATED to part with in the editing process?
SGG: In the final editing process, not anything that comes to mind. But with that said, I must say that after I had written 100+ pages, a year’s worth of work, I threw it all away and started over. The only remaining part was the initial death scene. And Leona, who was only a very minor mention in the first draft, turned out to be the only character who made it into the final manuscript — and she was a very important one at that.
If you’re in the Atlanta area on Monday, February 10, Susan will be visiting Book Exchange Marietta at 6:00 p.m. If you would like to win a signed copy of The Funeral Dress, please follow the contest rules below.
As we brace ourselves for the epic, two-inch blizzard that’s predicted for Atlanta, I find myself wishing I could declare a snow day, stay in my pajamas and continue reading my copy of Ariel Lawhon’s The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress. This new book is juicy, historical fiction inspired by the 1930 disappearance of a New York judge as told from the perspectives of–you guessed it–the wife, the maid and the mistress.
I got my signed copy of The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress last week when Ariel visited FoxTale Book Shoppe in Woodstock, GA. She moderated a panel that included authors Karen White, Susanna Kearsley and Kimberly Brock. FoxTale still has a number of signed first editions of The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress. Give them a call and they’ll mail you a copy, while supplies last. If you’re in the Nashville area on Thursday, Ariel will be celebrating the publication of The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress with her hometown crowd at Parnassus Books. To view more tour dates and learn more about Ariel Lawhon, visit her author website, ariellawhon.com and follow @ariellawhon on Twitter.
Another book that releases today is This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash. This is the follow-up to Cash’s critically-acclaimed debut novel, A Land More Kind than Home.
After winning an advanced reader copy of This Dark Road to Mercy, I swallowed this story down in three great gulps. I lent it to my husband because he likes suspense, and this book has plenty of it. It also has baseball, which is always a plus for my sports-obsessed spouse. One of the main characters is a washed-up minor league pitcher and the story takes place in the same year that major league baseball players Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa are chasing the home run record.
Tamara Welch (@rockstar1023 on Twitter) quickly became one of my favorite online friends when we started chatting and tweeting with each other through the She Reads Blog Network. This Mississippi native is the perfect combination of southern charm and sass, with a 14 karat heart. After a few misfires when it comes to meeting in real life (IRL), but I’m hoping that 2014 is our year.
Needless to say, I’m not Tamara’s only admirer. She’s lined up some terrific people to provide a month’s worth of blog posts on New Year’s resolutions. I’m flattered that she asked me to contribute my post on New Year’s resolutions that’s live today on the Traveling with T blog. I hope you’ll click on over there and leave a comment or two.
Novelist Laurie Halse Anderson has a theory–no, make that a strong conviction–about young adult book sales. When told by her publisher that they didn’t expect too many sales of her book Speak ”because teenagers didn’t like to read,” Anderson countered, “It’s not that teens don’t want to read; they don’t want to read books that suck.” Fifteen years later, Speak is sporting a silver foil anniversary book cover and celebrating more than three million copies sold. Publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux recently announced that the National Book Award finalist will be adapted into a graphic novel.
“The groundbreaking novel that changed everything,” Speak deals candidly with the topic of date rape. Anderson says the protagonist Melinda and what she goes through are based on her own experience of not telling what happened to her just before she entered ninth grade. And while Anderson’s subsequent young adult books deal with equally serious subjects like death and loss and eating disorders, the author wasn’t able to really mine her own personal history again until writing her latest YA novel.
For The Impossible Knife of Memory, Anderson revisited her own childhood experience of growing up with a parent suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, better known by the acronym PTSD. Her father, who left high school shortly before graduation to enlist in the U.S. Army, buried the dead at the Dachau concentration camp at the end of World War II. Anderson says her father is 86 years old now and still wakes up screaming from what he saw during the war. When Anderson was in middle school, her father started drinking heavily, lost his job, and their family lost their home. She remembers being sad and confused because she loved her dad, but she never knew which dad she was going to encounter from day to day as he tried to numb his pain.
In the last decade, as soldiers began returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Anderson knew she wanted to write about PTSD as a legacy of war. In The Impossible Knife of Memory, she details PTSD’s effects on veterans and their families from a teen’s point of view. Protagonist Hayley worries about her father, Andy, who struggles with PTSD after returning from Iraq.
Anderson, a prolific writer whose body of work also includes children’s fiction, historical thrillers and nonfiction, says adolescent readers respond to books (presumably ones that don’t suck) in deeply profound ways. Their demand for books that accurately depict their lives and stimulate their imagination is responsible for what Anderson calls a “seismic shift” in the publishing of children’s and young adult books. As an example, Anderson says kids respond well to historical fiction because it creates new worlds for kids to explore, just like the Harry Potter series and other books in the fantasy genre.
I saw Anderson speak at the Decatur Library on a Friday night, thanks to the bookstore Little Shop of Stories and Georgia Center for the Book. She’s on tour right now to promote The Impossible Knife of Memory, which has garnered positive reviews from a number of publications, including the New York Times and Kirkus. I also look forward to reading Speak, a book my friend who teaches high school English recommends and uses in his classroom. Anderson is a wonderful speaker and offers teacher discussion guidelines for her books on her website, madwomanintheforest.com. You can also follow her #lhatour adventures on Twitter.