Sunday, November 29, 2015

Best Books of the Year List Is Starting to Round into Shape

Is it too early for all these "Best of 2015" lists that are starting to pop up everywhere?  Since there are only thirty-two days remaining in the year, and there has to be some kind of calendar cut-off date that makes sense, I don't think it is.

In my own case here at Book Chase, I am willing to include books that are published during the first week of December only if they are truly outstanding.  Otherwise, I do my best to limit my best of the year lists to books published between December 1 of the previous year and November 30 of the current year.  I'm working on my first long lists for fiction and non-fiction titles right now, but since I usually read less than 35 nonfiction titles a year, I'm not sure that I will be able to complete a full Top Ten list in that category.  

These are a few of the books that jumped out during my first brief pass through the 108 books I've read so far this year.

The Hot Countries - Tim Hallinan
The Essential W.P. Kinsella - W.P. Kinsella
The Fifth Heart - Dan Simmons
Darkness, Darkness - John Harvey
The Assault - Harry Mulisch 

Twain's End - Lynn Cullen
The Art of Memoir - Mary Karr
Deep South - Paul Theroux

Over the next two weeks, I'll be adding and subtracting books from the list as I re-read my reviews and check publication dates, but I suspect that most of these titles are going to be there somewhere.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

New York Times Lists 2015's Notable Books (and I've read exactly one of them)

The New York Times has just published its list of "100 Notable Books of 2015."  And I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, because it always seems to be the case when I read lists like this one, that I've read almost none of the books on the list. be exact, I've read one and have two others in my TBR stack someplace.  I should probably be more concerned than I am that all three books are fiction titles, but since I so seldom agree with the Times on what constitutes a "notable" nonfiction book, that's just business as usual. 

The one I've read is Elena Ferrante's The Story of a Lost Child, the fourth book in the author's Neapolitan Series.  In fact, I've read all four books in the series since mid-October, and I'm happy to see this one on the list. 

I picked up a signed copy of Lauren Groff's Fates and Furies in Austin in late October when I attended the Texas Book Festival there.  I probably would not own a copy otherwise because in the past I've found Groff's prose to be a little too dense for my taste but her festival presentation was so charming that I decided to take a chance on this new one.

The other book from the Times list that is still in my TBR stack is Toni Morrison's God Help the Child.  I'm a relatively recent convert to Morrison's fiction and this one sounds like an excellent addition to her body of work.

So for now now, I've read one percent of the titles on the list...with a pretty good chance that I will get that number all the way up to three percent some day.  Wow.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Barnes & Noble Signed Books Promotion

I was too late last year to take advantage of the Barnes & Noble signed books promotion, so I made a special trip to the bookstore this morning hoping to pick up a signed copy of Isabel Allende's The Japanese Lover.  Because she is one of the more "literary" writers who signed books for the event, I was a little concerned that signed copies of her book would all be gone by the time I got there.  But I shouldn't have worried.  There were about eight copies on the shelf and I bought one of the two they sold during the 45 minutes I was in the store.

Isabelle Allende Signature
The featured titles include cookbooks, novels, classic fiction, biographies, history, politics, celebrity books, and music legends and sports heroes. 

Well, take a look for yourself:

Here is the complete list of authors participating in our Signed Editions program.
Award-Winning Authors
  • Isabel Allende, The Japanese Lover
  • Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See
  • David Mitchell, Slade House
  • Nathaniel Philbrick, In the Heart of the Sea
  • Brian Selznick, The Invention of Hugo Cabret
Admired Authors, Enduring Works
  • Jay Asher, Thirteen Reasons Why
  • Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist (25th anniversary edition)
  • S.E. Hinton, The Outsiders
  • Khaled Hosseini, Kite Runner
  • Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth
Bestselling Fiction Authors
  • Mitch AlbomThe Magic Strings of Frankie Presto
  • Chris Colfer, The Enchantress Returns, The Wishing Spell, A Grimm Warning, and Beyond the Kingdoms
  • Victoria Aveyard, Red Queen
  • John A. Flanagan, The Tournament at Gorlan
  • Erin Hilderbrand, Winter Stroll
  • Jan Karon, Come Rain or Shine
  • Jeff Kinney, Old School (Diary of a Wimpy Kid Series #10)
  • Marie Lu, The Rose Society
  • Sarah J. Maas, A Court of Thorns and Roses
  • Gregory Maguire, After Alice
  • Richelle Mead, Soundless
  • Marissa Meyer, Winter
  • Rick RiordanThe Sword of Summer (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard Series #1)
  • Rainbow Rowell, Carry On
  • Brandon Sanderson, Steelheart (B&N exclusive edition)
  • Adriana Trigiani, All the Stars in the Heavens
Bestselling Mystery & Thriller Authors
  • David Baldacci, The Guilty
  • Lorenzo CarcaterraThe Wolf
  • Lee Child, Make Me (Jack Reacher Series #20)
  • Michael Connelly, The Crossing
  • Patricia Cornwell, Depraved Heart
  • Clive Cussler, The Pharoah’s Secret
  • Janet Evanovich, Tricky Twenty-Two
  • Elizabeth George, A Banquet of Consequences
  • Newt Gingrich, Duplicity: A Novel
  • Sue Grafton, X
  • Paula Hawkins, The Girl on the Train
  • Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child, Crimson Shore
  • Lisa Scottoline, Corrupted
Favorite Authors from Page to Screen
  • Jesse Andrews, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
  • Terry Brooks, The Elfstones of Shannara
  • Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower
  • Gayle Forman, If I Stay
  • Diana Gabaldon, Outlander
  • John Green, Paper Towns
  • Ransom Riggs, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
  • Veronica Roth, Allegiant (Collector’s Edition)
  • Andy Weir, The Martian
Fascinating Celebrities
  • Drew Barrymore, Wildflower
  • Abigail Breslin, This May Sound Crazy
  • Christie Brinkley, Timeless Beauty: Over 100 Tips, Secrets, and Shortcuts to Looking Great
  • Frederick Forsyth, The Outsider: My Life in Intrigue
  • Whoopi Goldberg, If Someone Says “You Complete Me,” RUN!: Whoopi’s Big Book of Relationships
  • Mindy Kaling, Why Not Me?
  • Khloe Kardashian, Strong Looks Better Naked
  • Mary-Louise Parker, Dear Mr. You
  • David Spade, Almost Interesting
  • Rainn Wilson, The Bassoon King: My Life in Art, Faith, and Idiocy
Internet Sensations
  • Shane Dawson, I Hate Myselfie
  • Connor Franta, A Work in Progress (B&N Exclusive Edition, hardcover)
  • Joey Graceffa, In Real Life: My Journey to a Pixelated World
  • Dan Howell, Phil Lester, The Amazing Book Is Not on Fire
  • Jenny Lawson, Furiously Happy
  • Jenn McAllister, Really Professional Internet Person
  • Paige McKenzie, The Haunting of Sunshine Girl
  • Robby Novak, Kid President’s Guide to Being Awesome
  • Tyler Oakley, Binge
  • PewDiePie, This Book Loves You
  • Brandon Stanton, Humans of New York—Stories
  • Zoe Sugg, Girl Online: On Tour
  • Kristina WebbColor Me Creative
Celebrated Chefs
  • Giada De Laurentiis, Happy Cooking
  • Paula Deen, Paula Deen Cuts the Fat
  • Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Dinnertime
  • Bobby Flay, Brunch at Bobby’s
  • Ina Garten, Make It Ahead
  • Sammy Hagar, Are We Having Any Fun Yet?
  • Nigella Lawson, Simply Nigella
  • Matt Holloway & Michelle Davis, Thug Kitchen Party Grub
Masters of Business & Money
  • Charles G. Koch, Good Profit
  • Tony Robbins, MONEY Master the Game
Music Legends
  • Carrie Brownstein, Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl
  • Elvis Costello, Unfaithful Music
  • John Fogerty, Fortunate Son
  • Jewel, Never Broken
  • Patti Smith, M Train
Sports Heroes
  • Colin Cowherd, Raw
  • Tim Howard, The Keeper
  • Mike Lupica, Fast Break
  • Jerry Rice, 50 Years, 50 Moments
  • Jalen Rose, Got to Give the People What They Want
Bestselling Authors Who Motivate & Inspire
  • Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic
  • T. D. Jakes, Destiny: Step Into Your Purpose
  • Joel Osteen, The Power of I Am
  • Dana Perino, And the Good News Is…
  • Ann Romney, In This Together
  • Don Miguel Ruiz, The Toltec Art of Life and Death
Favorite Authors On Politics & Culture
  • Ben Carson, A More Perfect Union
  • Chelsea Clinton, It’s Your World
  • Bill NyeUnstoppable
  • Rand Paul, Our Presidents & Their Prayers
  • Gloria Steinem, My Life on the Road
Powerful Narratives from Top Historians
  • Daniel James Brown, The Boys in the Boat
  • Brian Kilmeade, Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates
  • Erik Larson, Dead Wake
  • David McCullough, The Wright Brothers
  • Jon Meacham, Destiny and Power
  • Stacy Schiff, The Witches
  • Simon Winchester, Pacific
  • Bob Woodward, The Last of the President’s Men
Bestselling Authors of Children's Picture Books
  • Chris Van Allsburg, The Polar Express (30th anniversary edition)
  • Jan Brett, The Mitten (20th anniversary edition)
  • Caralyn Buehner, Snowmen at Christmas
  • James Dean, Eric Litwin, Pete the Cat Saves Christmas
  • Nathan Lane, Devlin Elliot, Naughty Mabel
  • Tom Lichtenheld (illustrator), I Wish You More
  • Brad Meltzer, I Am Abraham Lincoln
  • Julianne Moore, Freckleface Strawberry
  • B. J. Novak, The Book with No Pictures
  • Laura Numeroff, Felicia Bond, If You Give a Dog a Donut
  • Sherri Duskey Rinker, Tom Lichtenheld, Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site
  • Nancy Tillman, On the Night You Were Born
I don't mean to be this some kind of ad for Barnes & Noble, but this promotion does offer a rather unique opportunity to pick up signed copies of some very popular writers.  For those of you unable to visit a brick and mortar B&N in the next day or so, these titles are also being offered online, but you probably should hurry because this promotion is a popular one.  I didn't see all of these titles on display this morning and I do know that a couple of the "Fascinating Celebrities" had already sold out (Drew Barrymore and that Kim Kardashian person)...saying a lot about what people are willing to spend their money on, I think.  

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Oh look, Pie.

Happy Thanksgiving. 

This is my favorite holiday of the year...and I'm going to eat a whole lot of pie today.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving

This is the full episode of a Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special from a bunch of years ago.  It is just a bit blurry, but it still manages to bring back a lot of good memories - although I had forgotten what a little griper that Peppermint Patty was.


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Ann Morgan's Quest to Read a Book from Every Non-English Speaking Country in the World (In One Year)

Even though I don't watch Ted Talks as often as I should, I really do love the idea that they are always available out there - completely free of charge - for me tap into whenever I get a chance. The talks cover just about any subject you can imagine, some of them are long, some short - but the thing they have in common is that all of them will make you think.

I stumbled upon this one by Ann Morgan via a link on Twitter today.  Ann, it seems, took a look at her bookshelves one day to see what they tell the world about her and was not entirely pleased by what she found there.  She was particularly dismayed by the limited number of translated works she owned.  She wanted to do something about that...and did by setting up a new book blog in which, over a one-year period, she would review and talk about a book from every non-English speaking country in the world (almost two hundred countries).  

But let her tell it.  Click on this link to watch her 12-minute presentation. You will find other links at the Ted Talks site that will give you more detail on the books read and on Ann's blog.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Buffalo Noir

Buffalo Noir, a 2015 addition to the Akashic Books collection of noir short stories, follows in the tradition of the numerous series editions that have preceded it.  The books, most of them set in specific cities, offer twelve to fifteen stories from writers who are especially familiar with those cities and who recognize the undersides of those places that outsiders only stumble upon by accident - sometimes to their regret. 

This time around there are stories from the likes of Joyce Carol Oates (who recently tweeted that the "best view of Buffalo is in a rearview mirror), Lawrence Block (who was born in the city and lived there for several years), S.J. Rozan (whose family lore says that she was conceived in Buffalo), and Lisa Marie Redmond (who has been with the Buffalo Police Department since 1993).  Ed Park and Brigid Hughes, who also contribute stories to the collection, edit Buffalo Noir. The book opens with Park's eight-page introduction in which he describes the meaning of the term "noir" more by example than by explicit definition. Although his approach marks his introduction as different from the other introductions I've read in the series, it is highly effective and, in fact, Park's recollection of an incident from his own childhood is almost as intriguing as the collected stories themselves.

The twelve stories are as different in style as their authors. Some stories are told in a straightforward fashion and have conclusive endings; others are more open-ended and leave it up to the reader to decide what really happened. Some are dark and filled with the shadows one expects from noir fiction; others stretch the definition of noir almost to its breaking point.

I’m sure reflecting my personal reading tastes as much as anything else, my two favorite stories are both of the more straightforward type: Lawrence Block's "The Ehrengraf Settlement" and Gary Earl Ross's "Good Neighbors."  In Block's story, a wealthy man, used to always getting his way without much of a fight on the part of whomever he runs over in the process, makes a critical mistake when he decides to cheat his defense lawyer of the bulk of his fee. And in "Good Neighbors," the couple buttering up their elderly next-door neighbor in hope of inheriting her property some day does not react well when new neighbors move in and immediately gain the old woman's affection (Hitchcock would enjoy this one, I think).

Buffalo Noir is fun, and that is what noir fiction is all about, really. If you enjoy noir, you simply cannot go wrong with any of the books in the Akashic Books noir series, this one included.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

"Literature vs. Genre Is a Battle Where Both Sides Lose"

During a discussion of author James Lee Burke over on Twitter this week I made the comment that the man does not get all the credit he deserves simply because of the genre in which he chooses to work. I firmly believe that to be true in Burke's case because he is one of the most gifted writers of his generation regardless of critical perception. If you are unfamiliar with Burke's work, you are really doing yourself a disservice. 

Coincidentally, I just spotted a piece in The Guardian that puts forth the argument that "literature versus genre is a battle where both sides lose." One of the more interesting points in the article is that when a respected literary writer strays into a genre the author still gets more critical respect than the masters of the very genre in question. Writer Damian Walter uses Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale in comparison to Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games as an example of the point he is making.
Literary authors are the luxury brands of the writing world, the Mercedes, the Harrods and the Luis Vuitton of high culture. Genre writers are mid-range consumer brands, with an equivalent status to Skoda, Argos and Primark. Stephen King is the Ford Mondeo of letters, the writer dads actually read while pretending they got past chapter three of Infinite Jest in their 20s.
Which is really the heart of the problem. The market for high-end literature isn’t a healthy one. Intellectuals are reliably penniless, and fancy reading habits don’t make you cool any longer. The people who actually buy books, in thumpingly large numbers, are genre readers. And they buy them because they love them. Writing a werewolf novel because you think it will sell, then patronising people who love werewolf novels, isn’t a smart marketing strategy – but it’s amazing how many smart writers are doing just this.
Excuse me for a bit of a digression, but this whole thing reminds me of all those aging pop and rock recording stars who rather condescendingly decide to "go Country" in order to revive or save their sagging careers. That might work for one song or even one album, but fans really aren't that stupid and they will soon sense a lack of sincerity on the part of a singer or a writer - and they will scorn them, as a result.

But back to books...Walter sums up the "literature vs. genre" war this way: "They’re two halves of the same craft, and if the art of fiction is to remain healthy, we should stop narrowing its range with snobbery."  

Case closed.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Does Desperation to Sell Force Famous Authors to Reveal Pen Names?

Why slap on a sticker "revealing" the author's real name? Desperation to sell?

Authors have been doing it forever...writing under a pseudonym. They do it for a number of reasons: to disguise their gender, to try a new genre without linking their actual name to it forever, because they are so prolific that their publisher doesn't think another novel in their name will sell so soon, etc. 

Examples include:

  • Mary Ann Evans - George Eliot
  • Charlotte Brontë - Currer Bell
  • Emily Brontë - Ellis Bell
  • Anne Brontë - Acton Bell
  • Nora Roberts - J.D. Robb
  • J.K. Rowling - Robert Galbraith
  • Stephen King - Richard Bachman
  • Joyce Carol Oates - Rosamond Smith, Lauren Kelly
  • Ruth Rendell - Barbara Vine
And then, too, you sometimes have cases of multiple authors deciding to write under a single pen name:

  • Christina Lynch & Meg Howrey - Magnus Flyte
  • Frederic Dannay & Manfred B. Lee - Ellery Queen
  • Cherith Baldry, Kate Cary, & Victoria Holmes - Erin Hunter
But what I still don't understand is why a publisher and author decide to start overlaying the author's real name on a book published in a pen name? I mean, what's the point of using a pen name if later it's all "revealed" just to sell more books?

The photo up above (that I snapped at Barnes & Noble this morning) is what got me wondering. King did it the same way with the Bachman books that Rowling and her people are doing here. What the heck is that all about?  Surely, neither King nor Rowling needed the money that bad.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Movies for Readers: The Jungle Book

It's The Jungle Book like you've never seen it, and although some will probably still prefer Disney's cartoon version of the Kipling classic, the studio has done another wonderful job with this version.  It's set to be released in the Spring of 2016 and stars the voices of  Bill Murray (as Baloo), Scarlett Johansson (as Kaa), Christopher Walken (as King Louie), Ben Kingsley (as Bagheera), Giancarlo Espositio (as Akela), Idris Elba (as Shere Khan), and a bunch more. 

I'm not always a fan of how computers are used to make films nowadays, but this one, at least from its trailer, appears to be remarkable.  Projected date of release is : April 15, 2016 (and, yes, that's also Tax Day, so you may be looking for a place to escape the pressure on that day anyway).

Movies for Readers No. 5

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Comin' Right at Ya

One of the presentations I most looked forward to at the 2015 Texas Book Festival was the one featuring Ray Benson of Asleep at the Wheel.  Even though Ray and his co-author David Menconi were allotted the very last time slot on the second day of the festival and I still had a three-hour drive ahead of me, I was determined to make that session.  Good decision.

I’ve been a fan of Ray’s music since the early eighties and especially appreciate his efforts to keep Western Swing music alive.  Not only has Asleep at the Wheel recorded Western Swing albums of its own, Ray has produced three very fine Bob Wills tribute albums, and recorded a successful swing-oriented album, “Willie and the Wheel” with the one and only Willie Nelson.  But that’s the public Ray Benson everyone knows.  And I wondered if he would be anything like that public persona when seated on a small stage to discuss his new autobiography, Comin’ Right at Ya?  Well as it turns out, I had nothing to worry about.

Comin’ Right at Ya is the life story of Ray Benson Seifert, one of four children born into a Jewish Philadelphia family, a guy whose inventor father founded the Seifert Machinery Company and whose schoolteacher mother earned a master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania.  Ray Seifert grew up and became a self-described “Jewish Yankee Hippie” – and then his love of roots music led him to invent the “character” that the world now knows as Ray Benson, Texas country music star.

It took a while for Ray to make his way to Austin, Texas but thanks largely to Willie Nelson’s invitation he finally got here.  And he brought Asleep at the Wheel with him.  And the rest is history.  The Jewish Yankee hippie is now one of the state’s favorite sons, even to having been named “Texan of the Year” in 2011 by the Texas legislature. 

Ray Benson Signing at 2015 Texas Book Festival
A whole lot happened to Ray and the band before he achieved that lofty status, of course, and Ray tells it all - well, most of it because he admits that his publisher lightly censored some of his stories.  But even with the publisher looking over his shoulder, Ray shares stories about Willie, Dolly, Garth Brooks, Vince Gill, George Strait, Lyle Lovett, a lot of other friends he’s made in the business, and a few folks he doesn’t think too highly of.  Ray is as bluntly honest about his business and personal failures as he is about his successes, and his is a career which has seen many of both, including the nine Grammies Ray and the band have earned along the way.

Comin’ Right at Ya is for the fans, especially those who appreciate the heck out of Ray’s music but are only vaguely aware of his roots and how he has so successfully reinvented himself.  He’s Texas’s number one “Jewish Yankee Hippie” now, and the state is proud to claim him as one of its own.