The launch of A Tale of Four Cities is approaching on November 1 (!!!), so I’ve been spending most of my free time reading/editing stories, working out the final kinks of the website, and working with our incredibly talented artists to create pieces to complement each story.
Here are a few photos from the Great Gatsby boat tour that I attended on Saturday. The tour was pretty fun, although it contained less information about Fitzgerald and the novel than I expected. Still, the combination of sunshine, fun people, cocktails and a boat ride made the afternoon pretty perfect.
The photo above is what our tour guide thought was the closest approximation to the Gatsby house. See more images after the jump. read more
Tomorrow, I’m going with my friend and a bunch of her friends on a Great Gatsby Boat Tour, which, from what I can tell, will consist of sunshine, boats, literary nerds and lots of mint juleps. My kind of Saturday.
On Sunday, I run my second race ever, so we’ll see how that goes. My only goal is to beat my previous time, which I’m hoping will be easy, since it was pouring last time. We’ll see!
I recently browsed the picked-over shelves of a Borders that is closing in New York City. The store was frighteningly bare, down to romance novels and business books, with half the overhead lights burned out and tired booksellers forcing smiles as they faced their last few days on the job. It was incredibly depressing, and I left with a pit in my stomach and without a book in my hand.
While I’ll always be loyal to the independent bookstore — and especially to the used bookstore — the idea of any bookseller going bankrupt scares me a bit. I mean, Borders went under. What could this possibly mean for the mom-and-pop operations on Lexington Avenue?
Last year, the Waldenbooks closed in my hometown of Alpena, Mich., leaving the city with a gaping void. Sure, Waldenbooks was tiny and only carried the most mainstream books (plenty of Stephanie Meyers and Mitch Albom), but it was still a bookstore. Fortunately for Alpena, Blue Phoenix Books opened to fill the void, carrying a better selection of both used and new books and offering a much nicer environment. While it’s still uncertain whether this will survive in the city’s downtown, which seems to have an ever-revolving list of vendors, it’s great that for the time being, the city’s readers have a place to go.
I’m not an economist, and I don’t always understand the way the markets work. But I can’t help but worry about the fact that if the big stores can’t survive, it probably doesn’t bode well for the independent operations — those funky booksellers with their reading groups, wonderfully curated book selections and quirky section titles (see above).
And I suppose I’ll just try to do my part by frequenting those shops, realizing that while I might be paying more for the books than I would online, I’m also paying for the things I love about physical bookstores. Amazon.com is great, but it doesn’t smell like old paper, and you can’t browse the aisles when you’re in a bad mood, and they certainly don’t name their sections things like “The Civil War, So to Speak.”
Those are the things I’ll miss, and those are the things I’ll fight to preserve.
It’s a cold and slushy Monday in New York City, and I’m in the office. That’s the funny thing about working in news; it doesn’t stop even for government holidays, so we have to work when other people (cough MY ROOMMATES cough) get to go to brunch and hang out for the day.
This dictionary is probably one of my favorite things about my office. It’s the Webster’s Third New Unabridged Dictionary, and it looks and smells older than its 30 years. It has its own stand next to the window, and when I check a word in it, I get to look down at Midtown Manhattan for a moment before returning to work.
Michael Totten’s book The Road to Fatima Gate: The Beirut Spring, the Rise of Hezbollah, and the Iranian War Against Israel (coming out April 5) is now available for preorder. If you’re interested in reading it, you can order an autographed copy from Totten via his website (click here) or buy it on Amazon.com. I’d recommend ordering it directly from the author, since he’ll get more direct revenue from each sale and you’ll get an autograph out of the deal.
The book is an intelligent look at Hezbollah, Lebanon and the violence in the Middle East that combines history, political analysis and memoir. It’s an interesting read, and Totten is a great writer and a skilled reporter. It’s been a pleasure working on this book, and I’m excited that it will be coming out so soon.
A Facebook friend pointed me to an NPR feature on Stanley Fish’s book How to Write a Sentence. I’d never heard of the book, but it sounds interesting — the concept that good writing should be taught by looking at examples of amazing prose and understanding why they’re great, not by learning a set of rules. This is a thoughtful counter to the idea that writing ability is something people either “have” or “don’t have,” which implies that they don’t get any say in the matter and can’t work to improve.
“If you can begin to understand an accomplishment in detail, and be able to talk about what makes it work, you will begin to know why your sentences work or don’t work,” Fish says. His book, which is excerpted in the NPR article, provides exercises to help writers understand what makes a sentence great and to teach them how to write one themselves.
While Thursday is usually my day off, this is sadly not the case today. I’ll be heading into the office for a one-hour meeting, then spending the rest of my time working on the final edit and index for the book I’m finishing up. Maybe I’ll grab a coffee or take a few pictures somewhere in between, just for fun.
In case you haven’t noticed, I lead a very exciting life. I’m sure you’re all very glad I have a blog in which to recount my thrilling social-butterfly tendencies.
My favorite bookstore, McNally Jackson Books, just added an Espresso Book Machine to the store. You can search a database of any public-domain or specially licensed books, and the machine will print a paperback for you as you wait. It was really fun to see the process and hold the final product.
First, the machine prints the pages (see photo above), then it stacks them and prints the cover. Next, it turns the manuscript sideways and glues the spine to the pages. Finally, it cuts the book to size, discards the extra pieces (see photo at left), and spits out the book through a little slot.
The covers are made from a slightly cheaper paper than a normal paperback, but the books themselves feel sturdy and well made. Using the machine is an especially great option if you want to self-publish your own work or if you’re looking for an out-of-print book or something obscure that the store doesn’t have in stock. For example, the book we saw being printed was written in the 1600s and is no longer in circulation.
A book vending machine. It’s no hoverboard, but it still feels like we’re finally in the future.
This set of 100 classic Penguin book covers might be the coolest set of postcards I’ve seen in a while. Some of the covers are worn and clearly came from scans of originals, and the titles range from the well known (The Great Gatsby) to the humorously obscure (Keeping Poultry and Rabbits on Scraps). My only problem with owning these is that I’ll do what I always do with amazing postcards: Instead of sending them to my book-loving friends who would clearly get a kick out of them, I’ll hoard them in their box because they’re too cute to part with.
I’ve noticed a few bookstores that have adopted this amazing design element: books hanging from the ceiling. My favorite store, McNally Jackson Books in SoHo (left), has an adorable café with suspended paperbacks and wallpaper made of book pages. It’s so much fun to go there, grab a cup of coffee and read for a bit. (In addition to the great design, McNally Jackson has incredibly nice staff members and a well-organized and thorough book selection. The store also has great events and readings.)
While I love McNally Jackson, I was especially blown away by the look of Brussels bookstore Cook & Book, which is a design experience in itself. It’s divided into themed sections, and it appears that the hanging books are in the main area. That alone makes me want to visit Brussels and spend hours in this store.
If I owned my own place instead of renting — and didn’t feel guilty about boring holes in my books — I would totally try this at home.
I’m a little late to the party, but I finally finished reading Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom. I started it a while ago, but other books have taken up most of my reading time. If you’ve somehow missed out on the frenzy surrounding this book, Freedom is the novel that everyone raved about until Oprah claimed it for her book list, and now book lovers aren’t sure what to think. It’s mainstream now! We can’t be seen reading mainstream fiction!
Bullshit. First, I think discounting a book because it’s popular or has Oprah’s endorsement is as stupid as liking a book just because it’s popular. Sure, the Twilight series is popular, but it’s also terrible—it’s badly written and sends preteens a pretty awful message about healthy relationships. (And yes, I’ve read the entire series.) I’m aware that there are plenty of amazing books that haven’t become mainstream or gotten Oprah’s stamp of approval, and that doesn’t mean that they aren’t great or deserving of a read too. But seriously, book lovers need to stop being such elitist jerks and remember that reading is supposed to be about entertainment and enrichment, not just about proving to everyone around you how intelligent and original you are.
With that said, Freedom was a great read. I found myself wanting to cancel plans so I could hole up and read it, and I blew through three-fourths of the 576-page book in a week. I got so engrossed in the story of the Berglund family that I feel mildly depressed now that the book is finished, as if a few good friends moved away and I won’t see them again. For me, the connection I made with the characters makes the book a winner.
Freedom tells the story of one Minnesota family, the Berglunds, from the perspective of each family member. It’s simple and epic at the same time, capturing national and world events while still focusing on the lives of Patty and Walter and their kids, Joey and Jessica. Franzen is adept at showing why people are the way that they are, and even as the characters do despicable things, they’re still relatable and likable because of his compassionate writing. He sometimes gets a bit preachy (Walter’s political and environmental views often take the form of rambling diatribes) and errs on the side of too-gross detail (there’s a lovely scene where Joey fishes through a toilet full of turds to find a wedding ring he swallowed), but he’s also poetic and sympathetic, and that’s the side that wins in the end.
I’m glad when a truly good book is praised and given loads of attention, and I don’t think it takes away from the experience of enjoying the book. It’s a lot better, for me, than Oprah endorsing Twilight and convincing people it’s fine literature.
I’ve always enjoyed reading — and rereading — John Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley. In the book, Steinbeck drops his often serious tone to give a funny, cantankerous and enjoyable account of his cross-country road trip with his dog, Charley, in 1960. I’ve never taken a road trip that spanned more than a few states, but reading that gets me in the mood every time. It also makes me desperately want to adopt a French poodle.
The book has been hailed as a work of nonfiction American commentary, and I’ve always read it as such — a true glimpse into an America that is long forgotten and almost foreign to me. But when journalist Bill Steigerwald set out this year to retrace Steinbeck’s famous 10,000-mile journey, he discovered something interesting: the novel is more fiction than nonfiction. From the stops Steinbeck took (he didn’t even stay in certain cities described in the book) to the premise of the book (much of the trip was taken with his wife, not just his dog), Travels With Charley‘s facts didn’t hold up to Steigerwald’s research.
Steigerwald’s work and journey are impressive, and his blog is interesting to read, if a bit sarcastic and bitter at times. At the end, though, I have to say: who cares if it’s fiction? Steinbeck isn’t a journalist, and the label his publishers choose to put on his book has nothing to do with his intention or his ability. He gave a good view of America at the time, even if his conversations weren’t exactly recounted, and he entertained his readers at the same time.
There’s been a huge focus on the problems with fictionalized nonfiction recently, especially in light of the James Frey scandal. But I think Travels With Charley is different: first, Steinbeck never pretended his book was 100 percent nonfiction, and second, it was a long time ago. Standards for “nonfiction” and “fiction” have changed and become much more stringent than they were in 1961. Travels is a good book, an enjoyable read, and something that still holds up even if it’s not completely true.
I think Steigerwald says it well: ”It doesn’t matter if it’s not the true or full or honest story of Steinbeck’s quixotic road trip. It was never meant to be. It’s a metaphor, a work of art, not a AAA travelogue.”
I have always loved Billy Collins’ poem “Litany,” which I actually heard him read when I was in Dublin. I have to say, though, that nothing makes me love it more than hearing it recited by a 3-year-old.
While it was still disgustingly dark out this morning, Mike and I hopped on the bus down to Brooklyn to check out the Brooklyn Book Festival.
Originally, I was a bit miffed that I had to come back early for work because I had to miss a few presentations I was really excited about, including one of my favorite writers, Dave Eggers, who spoke at 5. But it ended up being really fun anyway, and I walked around all day with a book high and a silly grin.
Here are a few highlights:
Three minorities and a microphone
One session, titled “Culture Crash,” featured Ana Castillo, whom I studied — and liked a lot — in a Chicano literature class in college, and two writers I’d never heard of but really enjoyed, Amitov Ghosh and Colin Channer. They each read some of their works (note to self: buy all of them), and answered a few questions after the reading.
My favorite part was the (white) moderator, who apparently felt a duty to remind these three (minority) writers of the theme of the forum. He posed questions focusing on the “cultural,” but the questions were really awkward and none of the writers seemed to be able to answer them. I love awkwardness over a microphone.
Two out of three ain’t bad
I heard another much-liked writer, George Saunders (so funny!), read nonfiction, which was a nice surprise, since I’ve only read his fiction. I also fell in love with a new writer, Joshua Ferris, and cajoled Mike into buying his book so I could steal it. It appears to be written in the first-person plural (“We did this, we did that”), which is so weird and seems like something an English teacher would assign just to challenge her
But another woman who read with them — Lynne Tillman — was terrible. I felt sort of bad for her; she read after Ferris, who was kinda hot and charmed the crowd, and before Saunders, who was clearly the person everyone wanted to see. She was boring, droning and, worst of all, ridiculously pretentious. The best part of her reading was the snarky commentary Mike and I wrote back and forth in a notebook. Good thing she didn’t go last, or nobody would have stuck around.
The first event was a poetry slam featuring young (under 20) poets from Urban Word NYC, which seems like a really interesting program and one I would have thoroughly enjoyed as a teen. Too bad I first heard about it today. Some of the poets were incredible, to the point where I’d buy their books. And this, of course, made me ask myself WHAT, at 24, have I accomplished compared with the 19-year-old with a book deal?
Attack of the clones
I don’t think I would find as many hipsters with plastic glasses and front-swept hair at a Tegan and Sara concert as there were at the book fest. It was as if every coffeehouse, Apple store and thrift shop in the city emptied out and poured onto one city block.
In addition, there apparently was a woman walking around the crowd who looked identical to me, although, as Mike put it, “a little more generic.” Take that, less-hipster-looking-than-me girl!
“Your baby is DELICIOUS!”
My friend Steve ordered me to eat at the Original California Taqueria on Court Street in Brooklyn, and I was extremely grateful for the recommendation. The vegetarian burrito was delicious, although it was also the most awkwardly large thing I’d ever seen. If I had wrapped a blanket around it, people would have thought I was carrying a newborn with a crispy, flaky, delicious tortilla face.
A few months ago, I was contacted by a textbook publisher about a column I wrote in college (see here, ignore the horrendous picture). They wanted to use it in an anthology of writings for a college writing class. I was excited but wary; I assumed there was a catch or it was some kind of scam.
But today, I got my book in the mail! My column is printed, along with an interview with me, some vocabulary words used in my column, an explanation of how I used persuasive writing and a bunch of essay questions analyzing my writing.
In the interview, they asked me the response I got about the column, and I included an e-mail my friend Ed sent me:
“Deer Ms. England,
You’re column of the 14th was absolutely transpired. I especially
liked the way in witch u pointed out people’s common failings that even
spell-czech wont catch.
I hope u find many dates in the future who either already appreciate or grow too realize the true beauty of grammer.
Thank’s for the laughs, witch made me disrupt the quite calm of are newsroom here in South Bend.”
It’s so funny to read some of these essay questions, which break apart my writing like it’s a piece of 19th-century literature, not a grammar-rant column about online dating and “Saved by the Bell” written in less than an hour.
But who am I to kid? I’m so excited.
Here is a sampling of some of the essay questions, taken from “America Now.”
I discovered Shelfari a few weeks ago, and I’m completely obsessed. On Shelfari, you create a virtual bookshelf of all the books you own and all the books you wish you owned. It’s a good way to show off your library without having scores of people poking around your house. Check out my bookshelf here.
BOOKCROSSING Bookcrossing is a site where you “release” a book into the wild and see where it goes. You register the book on the site, print up a sticker with the book ID number, and stick it on the book. When someone finds the book, they log on, and you get to watch it travel from hand to hand. It’s a fun way to get rid of books you know you won’t read again and promote literary knowledge … or something. See my swaps here.
WHAT SHOULD I READ NEXT? On What Should I Read Next, you type in a book you loved, and it suggests other books for you to read. Sometimes it’s really random; if you type in “Atlas Shrugged,” for example, it suggests ”
All Marketers Are Liars: The Power of Telling Authentic Stories in a Low-Trust World” by Seth Godin. Interesting.