Thursday, November 29, 2012

Book Talk: *You Couldn't Ignore Me if You Tried*, by Susannah Gora

cover image of YOU COULDN'T IGNORE ME IF YOU TRIED, via IndieBound.org You Couldn't Ignore Me If You Tried: The Brat Pack, John Hughes, and Their Impact on a Generation
Susannah Gora (book website)
Three Rivers Press (2011), Paperback (ISBN 0307716600 / 9780307716606)
Nonfiction: Entertainment/social history, 384 pages
Source: Purchased e-book (e-ISBN 9780307460066)
Reason for reading: Personal

Opening lines: “The lavender-hued poster of The Breakfast Club has hung on the walls of countless childhood bedrooms and college dorm rooms over the past quarter of a century. To anybody who grew up staring at that poster, with the film’s young cast staring boldly back, the words written there have held the power of a magic spell, a call to arms in the social battle that is adolescence.”
Book description, from the publisher’s website:
You can quote lines from Sixteen Candles (“Last night at the dance my little brother paid a buck to see your underwear”), your iPod playlist includes more than one song by the Psychedelic Furs and Simple Minds, you watch The Breakfast Club every time it comes on cable, and you still wish that Andie had ended up with Duckie in Pretty in Pink. You’re a bonafide Brat Pack devotee—and you’re not alone. 
The films of the Brat Pack—from Sixteen Candles to Say Anything—are some of the most watched, bestselling DVDs of all time. The landscape that the Brat Pack memorialized—where outcasts and prom queens fall in love, preppies and burn-outs become buds, and frosted lip gloss, skinny ties, and exuberant optimism made us feel invincible—is rich with cultural themes and significance, and has influenced an entire generation who still believe that life always turns out the way it is supposed to. 
You Couldn’t Ignore Me If You Tried takes us back to that era, interviewing key players, such as Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall, Ally Sheedy, Judd Nelson, Andrew McCarthy, and John Cusack, and mines all the material from the movies to the music to the way the films were made to show how they helped shape our visions for romance, friendship, society, and success.
Comments: I think I was months was born just a few years too early for John Hughes’ iconic 1980s teen films to resonate fully for me. When the best of them, The Breakfast Club, was released in 1985, I was almost twenty-one, a college student...and married with a baby. Although I wasn’t too far from high school chronologically, my life was clearly in a different stage. That said--although maybe not for that reason--my favorite movie associated with the “Brat Pack” era isn’t one of his. It’s the ensemble piece St. Elmo’s Fire, released just a few months after The Breakfast Club and featuring several of the same actors who had been in day-long high-school detention there as recent college graduates. I realize that it’s probably a lesser film artistically, but that doesn’t dim my affection for it.

In You Couldn’t Ignore Me If You Tried --a quote from The Breakfast Club--entertainment journalist Susannah Gora looks at several movies that, taken as a group, still seem to be held high in the affections of the now thirty- and forty-something adults who experienced them, sometimes in multiple viewings, as youth in the 1980s. They were movies that didn’t talk down to teens and young adults--rather, they spoke to us and like us (although perhaps more articulately than most of us). Their characters were authentic, even if the situations they were placed in weren’t always entirely relatable, and--possibly thanks, at least in part, to the simultaneous emergence and influence of MTV--they made use of music in effective new ways that contributed to the films’ emotional impact on their audience.

Although the period Gora considers is effectively bracketed by two films written by Cameron Crowe--1982’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High and 1989’s Say Anything (his directorial debut)--its primary focus is on writer/director John Hughes and his tales of contemporary Chicago-are teens, including Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Her research for You Couldn’t Ignore Me... included interviews with many of the participants in the movies it covers--writers, directors, actors, producers, and music directors--and offers a great deal of behind-the-scenes detail while mostly avoiding a gossipy tone.

I read this one pretty quickly, and found it informative and insightful--and it made me want to hunt up a few movies to add to the ol’ Netflix queue. Readers and movie-lovers within a decade or so of my age, and who have maintained a connection and affection for the pop culture that they consumed during their 1980s youth, will likely have a similar response to You Couldn’t Ignore Me if You Tried.

Rating: 3.75 of 5

Other reviews, from the Book Blogs Search Engine

My discussions of books by "Brat Pack" members featured in You Couldn't Ignore Me if You Tried:

Shop Indie Bookstores Affiliate Marketing Links

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

(More or Less) Wordless Wednesday: Observations

Tall Paul and I took a few extra days off for Thanksgiving (he's still off, lucky guy!), and spent most of one of them checking out the views of the city and the stars--the sky kind, not the Hollywood kind--at the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles.

This telescope is open to the public in the evenings. During daylight hours, it's easier to see stars at one of the planetarium shows.
You can take a tour of the solar system in the Depths of Space exhibits:
This is a very precise timepiece, especially by sundial standards
The Observatory is known for being one of the best places to view the city. Unfortunately, much of the city was hidden by haze the day we visited.
Observing the Hollywood sign from the Observatory
And we unexpectedly ended up in a crowd of people on the roof observing a marriage proposal! She said yes, by the way.
The Griffith Observatory is open to the public Wednesday--Sunday, and admission is free except for planetarium shows. It's far from a city secret, but it's easy to forget what a fine--and cheap!--place it is for a weekend outing.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Book Talk: *When It Happens to You*, by Molly Ringwald

cover of WHEN IT HAPPENS TO YOU by Molly Ringwald When It Happens to You: A Novel in Stories
Molly Ringwald (Facebook) (Twitter)
It Books (August 2012), Hardcover (ISBN 0061809462 / 9780061809460)
Fiction, 256 pages
Source: Publisher
Reason for reading: Personal (with a strong nudge from Beth Kephart)

Opening lines (from the collection’s first story, “The Harvest Moon”):
“As far as Greta knew, there was nothing in the sky that night.
“Lying on her back in the bathroom on the cool of the white marble tiles, ,she heard the summons again. Her husband tapped the horn of the car; one long, noisy beep followed by two shorter taps, as if in apology. She strained to close the zipper on a pair of jeans without pinching the soft flesh of her midsection. It was a task she found both onerous and humiliating, particularly since she had purchased the pair less than a month ago, having gone through the same depressing experience with every other pair that lay folded in her dresser.”
Book description, from the publisher’s website:
When it happens to you, you will be surprised. That thing they say about how you knew all the time, but just weren't facing it? That might be the case, but nevertheless, there you will be. 
Molly Ringwald mines the complexities of modern relationships in this gripping and nuanced collection of interlinked stories. 
Writing with a deep compassion for human imperfection, Ringwald follows a Los Angeles family and their friends and neighbors while they negotiate the hazardous terrain of everyday life—revealing the deceptions, heartbreak, and vulnerability familiar to us all.
Comments: I’m not a big fan of the short story, generally speaking. I’m inclined to blame it on my high-school literature classes, where they made up the bulk of what we studied, but it’s probably more because I prefer to spend more time with the characters and situations that I meet in fiction, and by definition, short stories don’t take much time. Even though it can be challenging to make time for reading anything some days, when I have that time, I usually prefer to invest it in a longer-lasting reading relationship with a novel. The increasingly popular “novel in stories” format is an excellent compromise for a reader like me. A collection as evocative and arresting as Molly Ringwald’s fiction debut, When It Happens to You, is no compromise at all.

(Yes, “that Molly Ringwald.” I’m on a bit of a Brat Pack binge this month.)

Although they have some surface resemblance, novels with several narrators differ from linked-story fiction. In my reading experience, a “novel in (x number of) voices” is more plot-driven, constructing its narrative from several viewpoints surrounding a common situation; a “novel in stories” seems to find its more connections through a common character or setting.

The eight stories in When It Happens to You are related enough to function as chapters in Ringwald’s overall narrative, but they shift perspectives, chronology, and style enough that each could be read independently. The common element is the characters Greta and Philip, whom we encounter at a time of marital crisis; at least one of them appears in every story, although they are primary characters in just about half of them. However, with each appearance, we learn something new about them and how they are being affected by their separation, sometimes seeing it through their effects on the relatives, friends, and neighbors who take the central roles in the other stories.

The other qualities that link Ringwald’s stories are their emotional honest, their vivid characterization...and just how well they’re written. I don’t think I was surprised by that, exactly, but I was impressed, and thoroughly drawn in.

Ringwald’s first book, the "illustrated self-help memoir" Getting the Pretty Back, was a surprising look at turning forty from a woman who, thanks to several iconic movies she made with writer/director John Hughes during the 1980’s, represented adolescence to millions. She’s obviously left her teens long behind, however; her fiction is the product of a mature, deeply thoughtful writer. When It Happens to You feels very accomplished for first fiction, and makes me curious to see what the future holds for Molly Ringwald, actor and author.

Rating: 4/5

Other reviews, via the Book Blogs Search Engine

Affiliate Marketing Links Shop Indie Bookstores Review

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Independent Thinking, Part 2: Indie Authors & the Indie Reviewer

My participation in Creative Alliance '12 prompted much consideration of my approach to my online life. As a book blogger, that life clearly includes books and authors...but it hasn’t included many from the swelling ranks of the “non-traditionally published.” This is the last of this month's posts on "indie authors." All opinions expressed here are my own, although some may be supported with links to related posts elsewhere.

Yesterday's thoughts pondered why more authors are publishing independently. Today's are about how that affects me as a reader and book blogger--a book blogger who has not eagerly embraced the self-published. I'd love to know your thoughts on both sides of the story.

My impression is that many book bloggers who avoid indie authors do so  ecause of negative experiences--sometimes their own, sometimes those they’ve heard about from others. They’ve been deluged with e-mails and press releases. They’ve been asked to review books that turn out to be poorly written, barely edited, and/or badly packaged. And in a few extreme cases, they’ve been publicly attacked for giving the honest opinions the authors requested.

I appreciate a writer’s investment in his or her work, and realize that the indie author may be even further invested as the book’s editor, designer, publisher, marketer, and sales manager--investments of creativity, time, and money (it takes money to make money). I also understand that so much investment can make it harder to see possible weaknesses in the work, or to accept constructively-intended feedback. On the other hand, indie authors should understand that most indie book bloggers do this as a hobby. While we do our best not to behave “unprofessionally,” we’re not “professional” reviewers, and because this isn’t our job, there are certain obligations we don’t have. Tolerating personal attacks on our opinions is pretty high on that list.

I realize it’s not terribly fair to shut out a large and widely varied category of authors based on bad experiences with a small fraction of them, but I think that sometimes bloggers feel it’s the only way we can manage it. Another obligation we don’t have is sorting through what traditional publishers call the “slush pile”--and as hobbyists, we don’t have time for it either. One reason many book bloggers prefer traditionally-published books is that, to an extent, they’ve already been “vetted,” and most of the time, we can trust the product that comes through that vetting process. Approaching the self-published book can feel more inherently risky. In announcing their recent decision to stop accepting and reviewing indie books, the group blog Insatiable Booksluts addressed that risk::
"I really hope you guys don’t hate me for this, but um . . . I’ve decided that IB will no longer accept pitches for self-published work. I’m not making a judgment about all self-published work here; no, this is about the fact that, energy-wise, it’s really draining for me to sift through pitches because I don’t have a touchstone for self-published work (emphasis added). Is this or that book going to be good? I dunno. I have to put a lot of research into books to see if it’s worth it to try to read it, and most of them don’t make the cut, so that work is for naught. The energy sap makes me less good at blogging; in the mutually-beneficial blogger/book producer relationship, I want to be able to hold up my end for people that I choose to work with...Sorry, self-published authors. We might still review self-published work here, if we come across something we want to read, but please, do not send us any pitches."
I think that lack of a "touchstone" to evaluate a book's quality is a perfectly valid reason for not reviewing it, and applicable whether the book is in a genre the blogger doesn't read or from an author who's going DIY (and maybe doubly valid if it's both, which is why I'm highly unlikely to review self-published paranormal erotic thrillers).

Without touchstones or vetting systems, we look for other ways to sort through it all, and in the online word, personal connections are one of the most important. Book blogging can be an odd hybrid of critical consideration and personal recommendation. If I’m not personally familiar with a book or author, I’m more apt to take a chance if people whose opinions I know and trust can make reassurances, and that’s likely to matter even more with books that are non-traditionally published. That said, many of my most-trusted sources keep the same distance from indie authors that I have, so we really can’t give each other much reassurance.

And with that said, I’ve found that I’ll be more likely to take the chance with indie authors if I already know them, through personal or online interaction, before I encounter their work. (And “interaction” is key here--if we’re not, at the very least, reciprocal Twitter followers, there probably isn't interaction. There are authors following me on Twitter whom I don’t follow back and who write in genres I don’t enjoy reading; we don’t interact, and I don’t consider those to be “online relationships.”)  

"Thoughts From My Reading" theme icon www.3rsblog.comIn all honesty, I usually ignore the review pitch e-mail that’s the equivalent of a “cold call” (regardless of source), and if I have no acquaintance with the sender, that goes double. I expect that I will remain non-responsive to out-of-the-blue “please review my book” e-mails...and I’m trying to resist the impulse to apologize for that. But if I know you and/or your writing and you’re putting out a book, there’s a high probability I’ll want to support your efforts. I might not blog about your book the same way I would if it came through more traditional, detached channels, and I’d acknowledge our relationship in anything I posted about it. Self-publishing has lost many of its negative associations during the last decade, but I realize that I still retain some snobbery toward it. I suspect that seeing writers I have a personal connection with succeed at it--and maybe even contributing just a bit toward their success--could take a good chunk out of that attitude of mine.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Independent Thinking, Part 1: Changing Times for Authors, or "Why DIY?"

My participation in Creative Alliance '12 prompted much consideration of my approach to my online life. As a book blogger, that life clearly includes books and authors...but it hasn’t included many from the swelling ranks of the “non-traditionally published.” This is the third of this month's posts on "indie authors." All opinions expressed here are my own, although some may be supported with links to related posts elsewhere.

"Thoughts From My Reading" theme icon www.3rsblog.comI don’t usually think of it in these terms, but it seems to me that if anyone could be described as a “self-published author,” it’s a blogger. The writer who stakes out his or her own plot for self-expression on the Internet is the very definition of “indie.” Some of us use our staked-out plots to write about what other people write. We’re “independent book bloggers.” If anyone understands the value of personal connections in discovering and promoting books, we do.

And yet, many of us independent self-publishers hesitate to discuss or promote books by independent, self-published authors; some bloggers decline to read and review books from “indie authors” at all. (On the other hand, many of us eagerly support “indie bookstores”...some of which won’t stock books by indie authors. That’s not today’s topic, however.) With very occasional exceptions, I’ve been one of those book bloggers, but I’ve recently been rethinking my stand...and please note that “rethinking” does not mean the same thing as “changing” (although sometimes it leads in that direction).

I’m opening up to taking indie-author risks less “occasionally” than I have,  and as the conditions that produce the books we love keep changing, I wonder if more indie book bloggers will come around to that as well. If writers are finding new ways to adapt to a shifting publishing industry, it makes some sense that readers would follow their lead.

As the barriers to entry for traditional publishing seem to rise ever higher, it feels like self-publishing products and services are a real growth industry--and public acceptance and respect are growing alongside. (Self-publishing can also yield better financial outcomes for an author than traditional publishing, but it may require some of the author’s financial input to get there...and, again, that’s not today’s topic.) With those conditions in place, there are certainly practical reasons for authors to publish independently, and some cases where it makes sense creatively as well:
  • their book is quirky and doesn’t readily fit any particular genre
  • their book fits very well into a particular and popular genre (romance, for example)
  • their book is more likely to find its audience slowly and gradually 
  • they have some name recognition, but in a field other than writing
  • they have some name recognition for writing, but in a specialized niche and/or not for books
The answer to the question "Do book bloggers affect book sales?" still seems to depend on who you ask, but indie books may offer opportunities to assess it. Self-published authors may welcome blog reviews, but they realize that many of their potential readers may not read book blogs, so they especially appreciate seeing those reviews shared in social media, cross-posted to Goodreads, and submitted to the websites where they actually sell their books. (Yes, this means that if you review an indie-published book, the author may ask you to re-post it on Amazon.com.)

BEA 2010, Javits Convention Center, NYC (www.3rsblog,.com)

As DIY publishing opportunities expand, traditional publishing grows increasingly consolidated; the “Big 6” are on the verge of becoming the “Big 5” next year with the creation of Penguin Random House, and industry insiders expect more sales and mergers to follow. Like many large-scale businesses, Big Publishing relies on “name brands” for the bulk of its sales, and its interests may not always align with those of readers. As J.C. observes at The Biblio Blogazine:
“Later in the article we get to what I feel is the true reasoning behind why these giants of the trade fail:
'They had the responsibility to shape society by providing it with books worth reading, to create a cultural legacy for our generation and generations to come. And instead, what did they give us? Ann Coulter, Navy SEALs, and Fifty Shades of Grey.' 
I cannot disagree with this statement. I truly believe that the bottom line has become more important than providing a quality product that people want, even demand, and would be willing to pay for...The devil is in the details, or in this instance, the quality of the content. Concern about the bottom line carries little weight with a reader. If you want them to buy your product, produce one worth paying for.”
(Mobylives, the blog of independent publisher Melville House, produced a good roundup of reactions to the merger.) The emphasis on “big names”--names sometimes better known for activities unrelated to books--at the highest levels of the industry will likely make it even more difficult for new writers to break in--and for readers to find them--than it already is. While the changes at the big publishing houses could present new opportunities for smaller publishers, more authors may come to feel that the indie-publishing route is their best option to get their work to readers. And if those works are embraced by readers, a successful self-publishing track record has been known to “establish” some authors enough to get industry attention and the larger audience it affords (Fifty Shades of Grey is far from the first or only example of this happening).

Today's thoughts ponder why more authors are publishing independently. Tomorrow's will be about how that affects me as a reader and book blogger. I'd love to know your thoughts on both sides of the story.

Monday, November 19, 2012

(Indie) Book Talk: *Ketchup Is a Vegetable*, by Robin O'Bryant

My participation in Creative Alliance '12 prompted much consideration of my approach to my online life. As a book blogger, that life clearly includes books and authors...but it hasn’t included many from the swelling ranks of the “non-traditionally published.” Today it does, in the second of several posts on the topic of “indie authors” I have planned.

cover of KETCHUP IS A VEGETABLE, via the author's website
"If you don’t have anything nice to say about motherhood, then… read this book. Robin O’Bryant offers a no holds barred look at the day to day life of being a mother to three, running a household and the everyday monotony of parenting. 
It’s not always pretty but it’s real. Whether she’s stuffing cabbage in her bra… dealing with defiant yet determined daughters… yelling at the F.B.I… or explaining the birds and the bees to her preschooler… you’re sure to find dozens of humorous and relatable situations. 
From the creator of Robin’s Chicks, one of the South’s most popular blogs on motherhood, misunderstandings and musings, comes a collection of essays that will not only make you laugh and cry, but realize that you’re not alone in your journey."
Robin O'Bryant was already represented by a literary agent when they decided to publish her first book, the personal-essay collection, Ketchup is a Vegetable: and Other Lies Moms Tell Themselves, independently through Greenforge Books (some indie-published books are fiction, and some “indie publishers” may be just a little fictitious). As a popular blogger and regionally-syndicated newspaper columnist, Robin has name recognition, particularly in the South. However, self-publishing Ketchup was a choice made with an eye toward raising her profile nationally, building a track record that traditional publishers might respond to for future books. Support from successful authors in a similar vein, like Celia Rivenbark and Jenny "The Bloggess" Lawson, and a first-place finish in the Non-Fiction category of the 2012 Shirley You Jest! Humor Book Awards suggest that it was a gamble worth taking. (Full disclosure: I was a first-round judge for the SYJ! Awards, but Robin’s book was not in the group I was given for consideration. However, she did generously provide me with a review copy when we met at Creative Alliance '12 this past September.)

Robin has three daughters under the age of seven, and since her experiences as their mother provide much of the source material for Ketchup, the book shoots straight for the popular mommy-blog market (those who read them--or would if they read blogs--as well as those who write them). However, it doesn’t have a “blog-to-book” feel; most of the pieces are longer and more fleshed-out than typical blog posts, which allows more space to hone the humor...and Robin’s writing is infused with plenty of funny. It’s not necessarily the sort that made me laugh out loud while reading it--that’s more likely to happen when the writing involves wordplay (or snarky pop-culture critique)--but I did smile in recognition of both the subjects and the voice. Robin’s a born-and-bred Southern gal, and it comes roaring through. Twenty years of living in the South made me fairly well attuned to the region’s distinctive way with language, but the fact that I heard Robin read in person at the Creative Alliance ‘12 “Say It Salon” helped me “hear” her even more clearly in Ketchup.

Ketchup bridges the humor and “mommy memoir” categories; most of the pieces in it are episodic, and there’s not much of either a thematic or chronological narrative through-line, but I don’t think that detracts from the enjoyment of reading it. Rather, the fact that it can be read in short bursts may make it even more appealing to its time-challenged core audience.

Robin gave special attention to producing a high-quality print edition of her book, but discovered that indie booksellers and indie authors, like indie authors and indie reviewers, don't always form the natural alliances one might anticipate. While she has successfully partnered with her hometown bookstore, Turnrow Books, she’s found that getting indie-published books onto store shelves can be challenging. She seems to be more than up for the challenge, though--and with luck, she’s laid the groundwork for her next book to find it a little easier.

Ketchup is a Vegetable: and Other Lies Moms Tell Themselves
Robin O’Bryant (Goodreads author page)
Greenforge Books (2011) Paperback (ISBN 0984716521 / 9780984716524)
Humor/personal essays, 264 pages
(Amazon.com review--four stars)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

At the movies: *Skyfall*

SKYFALL poster wallpaper download, via the movie's website
Action/adventure drama (2012), rated PG-13
Starring: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris
Written by: Robert Wade, John Logan, and Neal Purvis, featuring characters created by Ian Fleming
Directed by: Sam Mendes
Synopsis, via RottenTomatoes.com: In Skyfall, Bond's loyalty to M is tested as her past comes back to haunt her. As MI6 comes under attack, 007 must track down and destroy the threat, no matter how personal the cost. -- (C) Official Site
I had the strangest thought after seeing Skyfall, the movie which commemorates the 50th anniversary of James Bond, Agent 007, who has become one of the iconic characters of British entertainment. Another iconic character of British entertainment is just a few months away from a 50th anniversary himself. Maybe it’s time for the secret agent to meet the Time Lord? Nah, probably not. Although neither character is a stranger to regeneration--Bond’s on his sixth manifestation, while the Doctor’s made it to his eleventh--or to "rebooting" of his franchise, It’s hard to imagine that a James Bond/Doctor Who crossover would make sense anywhere in time and space.

That said, there have been plenty of times in those fifty years and dozens of films that Bond and his world haven’t made much sense. (I can’t speak for Bond in book form, as I only know the character through the movies, but I grew up on those movies during the Roger Moore era and feel justified in saying that.) Skyfall isn’t one of those times. Sure, there are plenty of chase scenes and explosions, a psychotic villain, and other Bond hallmarks (although there’s remarkably little sex by 007 standards), but there’s also a compelling story grounded in, and driven by, genuine human emotions.

Not that there’s much overt display of those emotions, mind you--that wouldn’t be properly British, and Skyfall is quite entrenched in the Britishness. The British intelligence agency MI-6, functioning in a new world where the enemies are a lot harder to identify, is under attack from an enemy who was once one of its own, and in order to protect it--and its leader, M--James Bond has to return from the dead and revisit his roots. The relationship between M and 007 is the key to the story; in some ways, it almost feels more like M’s story than Bond’s. I had no objections to that at all, and appreciated seeing Judi Dench have plenty do this time around. And at this point I’m pretty sure Daniel Craig is my favorite actor to play James Bond; he’s less glib and dashing than some of his predecessors, perhaps, but he’s had excellent story material in two of his three outings, and that’s made the difference for me. Another thing that made a difference to me in Skyfall was its villain. The success of Bond films often correlates to how strong the foil is, and Javier Bardem as Silva is an excellent one for several reasons, not the least of which is that his motivations are personal and comprehensible (even if he is, of course, psychotic)--again, it comes back to story.

I thought the current Bond era got off to an outstanding start with Casino Royale (2005), and was frankly disappointed by its immediate followup, Quantum of Solace (I was far from alone in that disappointment). Skyfall gets the franchise back on track, establishes a new order going forward, and honors fifty years of character history--taken together, it would be hard not to find all of that satisfying, and I certainly did.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

(Audio)Book Talk: *The Longest Way Home*, by Andrew McCarthy

The Longest Way Home: One Man's Quest for the Courage to Settle Down
Andrew McCarthy (Twitter)
Audiobook read by the author
Free Press/Simon & Schuster (September 2012), Hardcover (ISBN 1451667485 / 9781451667486)
Travel/memoir, 288 pages
Source: purchased audiobook (Brilliance Audio: Audible ASIN B009CMO4KO)
Reason for reading: personal

Opening lines (from the Prologue): “‘Are you awake?’ Something in the tone of my voice cut through to my sleeping brain.
“‘Coming,’ I called back.
“‘What time is it?’ D murmured.
“‘Four fifteen. We’re late.’ The night was still black. The canvas tent flapped in a dry breeze. I grabbed our bags, pulled at the zipper, and we were out. We slashed along a path through the dry bush lit by a waning moon, loaded into the jeep, and we gone in minutes.”
Book description, from the publisher’s websiteUnable to commit to his fiancée of nearly four years—and with no clear understanding of what’s holding him back—Andrew McCarthy finds himself at a crossroads, plagued by doubts that have clung to him for a lifetime. Something in his character has kept him always at a distance, preventing him from giving himself wholeheartedly to the woman he loves and from becoming the father that he knows his children deserve. So before he loses everything he cares about, Andrew sets out to look for answers.

Hobbling up the treacherous slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro, dodging gregarious passengers aboard an Amazonian riverboat, and trudging through dense Costa Rican rain forests—Andrew takes us on exotic trips to some of the world’s most beautiful places, but his real journey is one of the spirit. On his soul-searching voyages, Andrew traces the path from his New Jersey roots, where acting saved his life—and early fame almost took it away—to his transformation into a leading travel writer.

With an unsparing eye, Andrew relishes bizarre encounters with the characters whom he encounters, allowing them to challenge him in unexpected ways. He gets into peculiar, even dangerous situations that put him to the test—with mixed results.
Comments: I like to travel, but wouldn’t say I have a strong sense of adventure--there are many places I have no desire to visit and activities I don’t personally wish to do. But that doesn’t mean I’m not still curious, and for that reason, travel writing appeals to me. Since most of my travels these days involve a forty-mile stretch comprised of the four Los Angeles freeways between my home and workplace, audiobooks are a great way to pretend I’m somewhere else. I recently spent a week in several locales, some exotic--Patagonia, the Amazon, Costa Rica, Mount Kilimanjaro--and some less so--New York, Baltimore, Vienna, Dublin--with Andrew McCarthy as my tour guide. Our travels also took me deep into McCarthy’s psyche as he inched toward that “triumph of hope over experience” event: marrying for the second time.

If the author’s name sounds familiar, it’s probably because he’s “that Andrew McCarthy”--yeah, the one from the 80s (Pretty in Pink, St. Elmo’s Fire, etc.). He still acts, and sometimes he directs, but he’s also developed a career as an award-winning travel writer and editor-at-large for National Geographic Traveler magazine, where several of the pieces in his first book, The Longest Way Home: One Man’s Quest for the Courage to Settle Down, originated.

In many respects, McCarthy was already pretty “settled down.” He had two children and had been with his daughter’s mother for seven years; they’d been engaged for four of them. But when they finally began talking about wedding plans, he grew anxious and conflicted. He needed to figure out why--he hoped it wasn’t stereotypical male commitment-phobia--and as much as he loved his family, he needed to go off on his own to work through it.

It wasn’t long before the reason for McCarthy’s preference for solo travel seemed pretty clear to me: despite the fact that he’s made a living as an actor, a profession that seems to require extraversion, the guy’s a fellow introvert. While the book’s subtitle suggests he was searching for “the courage to settle down,” I think he was also seeking how to balance being a fully-invested partner and parent with preserving his core self--not an unusual challenge for anyone in a committed relationship, really. I never actually questioned McCarthy’s commitment to his fiancée or his children, and I'm not sure truly he did either. I think the struggle was more about intimacy and boundaries, combined with the concern of the once-divorced person not to end up a twice-divorced person. I was pretty sympathetic.

The book itself seems to reflect some of those intimacy-and-boundaries struggles. It’s not a fully-encompassing autobiography; McCarthy’s pretty sparing with backstory that doesn't relate to the issues he's trying to address, and will definitely not satisfy your curiosity about his 1980s Brat Pack heyday. He’s remarkably introspective and intimate with the reader in some places while keeping a distance in others, most notably in not referring to his children by name and identifying his future wife--spoiler: he does find that courage--only as “D” throughout the book.  Although I respect his choice to do so, that reserve may keep The Longest Way Home from fully satisfying as personal memoir. I'm glad I read it in audio; I think it might be easier to connect with the author, reading his own work, in that format. But the book also provides an effective introduction to McCarthy’s travel writing; I found that thoroughly engaging, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he keeps collecting awards for his work in that field.

Rating, book and audio: 3.75/5

Other reviews, via the Book Blogs Search Engine

Shop Indie Bookstores Affiliate Marketing Links

Monday, November 12, 2012

Monday Moment: Deck the Malls

Taken on Sunday morning, November 11, at Janss Marketplace in Thousand Oaks, CA. I guess I should appreciate that this didn't go up sooner--it's been an entire week and a half since Halloween! Sigh.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Book Talk: *These Things Happen*, by Richard Kramer (TLC Book Tour)

Book cover, THESE THINGS HAPPEN by Richard Kramer (via IndieBound.org) These Things Happen
Richard Kramer (Facebook) (Twitter)
Unbridled Books (2012), Hardcover (ISBN 1609530896 / 9781609530891)
Fiction, 272 pages
Source: Publisher
Reason for reading: TLC Book Tour

Opening lines: “A lot can happen in a day, sometimes. Not every day, of course. Most have one event, and that’s if you’re lucky. Many have less, which seems especially true in our school, which is hard to get into and committed to serving the community but is also, as a rule, unthrilling. Maybe things pick up in eleventh grade, which is when Mr. Frechette, a teacher we like, says our brains have developed to the point where we can grasp irony, accept ambivalence, and acknowledge the death’s head that lurks at the edge of all human endeavor. His exact words; I put them in my phone. We’ll see, although I trust him.”
Book description, from the publisher’s website: Set among Manhattan’s high-powered liberal elite and told through an ensemble of endearing voices, These Things Happen is a not-quite-coming-of-age story about a modern family. Fifteen year old Wesley, a tenth grader, has moved from his mother and stepfather’s home to live with his father and his father’s male partner for a school term so that father and son might have a chance to bond again. But when Wesley finds himself unexpectedly at the center of an act of violence, everyone around him must reexamine themselves, their assumptions and attitudes.
Comments: A lot can happen in a day, although sometimes its full effects aren't apparent till a few days later. If it's a day when your best friend decides that his student-government victory speech is a fine opportunity to announce his homosexuality to the entire school, and then enlists you to ask the adults you're living with--your gay father and his long-term partner--a couple of questions about their own experiences with "gayness," it's one of those days when a lot happens. And when that day is followed by one in which you learn that some of your school associates may not be entirely okay with your best friend's announcement, even more happens, and you start to see the effects.

Longtime television writer Richard Kramer worked on several TV series noted for character depth and authentic voices (thirtysomething, My So-Called Life,  Once and Again), and those attributes also stand out in his debut novel, These Things Happen. The third-person narration shifts among a half-dozen closely connected characters, but the central ones are fifteen-year-old Wesley Bowman and George, the actor-turned-restauranteur who has been his father Kenny's partner for a decade. Wesley has been living with his mother, Lola, and her older second husband, Ben, since his parents split up, but it's been decided that he should spend a semester living with his father so the two can re-connect. Kenny is a prominent attorney and in-demand spokesperson within the gay community, and he's just not around all that much for Wesley (or George, for that matter), so the arrangement isn't quite going as anticipated. And when Wesley is caught up in a gay-bashing incident directed against his best friend, Theo, bigger questions are raised.

Although not all of his characters will engage the reader to the same degree, Kramer makes each member of his large cast stand out as an individual, and he draws an involving picture of the complexities of modern family life--particularly if that life is being lived in Manhattan, which is effectively also a character in the novel. New York-centricity tends to be one of my sweet spots in fiction, and it added to the story's appeal for me. The third-person narration allows for exploration of each character's inner life without immersing the reader in it the way alternating first-person voices might. As the family's situation grows more fraught later in the novel, the style becomes more stream-of-consciousness. I'm not sure if that choice was made in order to make the reader feel the emotional currents more strongly, but if it was, it had the opposite effect on me--I found concentrating on those sections more difficult as a reader, and felt less involved with the story as it led up to its conclusion.

Despite that, I'd say Richard's Kramer's first venture into novel-writing succeeds, for the most part. Its greatest strengths are in areas that aren't too surprising for a writer whose prior work has been on acclaimed television dramas: the dialogue shines, and the characters are affectingly, recognizably human. These Things Happen is being marketed as adult fiction with potential crossover to young-adult, largely for its coming-of-age GLBTQ themes. Its attributes suggest appeal to wide potential audience, and I hope it finds it.

Rating: 3.75/5
Other stops on this TLC Book Tour:
Tuesday, November 6th: What She Read …
Wednesday, November 7th: Bonjour, Cass!
Friday, November 9th: A Patchwork of Books
Monday, November 12th: Wordsmithonia
Tuesday, November 13th: Kritters Ramblings
Wednesday, November 14th: Lectus
Thursday, November 15th: Peppermint PhD
Monday, November 19th: Hopelessly Devoted Bibliophile
Tuesday, November 20th: Books, Thoughts, And a Few Adventures
Wednesday, November 21st: Sara’s Organized Chaos
Monday, November 26th: Veronica MD
Tuesday, November 27th: In the Next Room
Thursday, November 29th: Chaotic Compendiums
Thursday, November 29th: Beth Fish Reads (guest post)
Friday, November 30th: Books ‘n Crannies
Monday, December 3rd: Bewitched Bookworms
Tuesday, December 4th: A Reader of Fictions
Wednesday, December 5th: Dreaming in Books

Affiliate Marketing Links Shop Indie Bookstores Review

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Note to Self: Dear Me, Age 20

This post was written for this week’s “Letter to My 20-Year-Old Self” Blog Hop for members of the midlife-bloggers’ group Generation Fabulous (#GenFab), hosted at Chloe of the Mountain. If you’re blogging during your midlife years, regardless of what you’re blogging about, and interested in being part of this group, you’re invited to e-mail Chloe directly.

Hi, me at 20!

listening and thinking (www.3rsblog.com)
NOT me at 20!
Well, there’s no going back now, even though this is probably the last place you expected to see yourself at this point. Barely had a date in high school, and now, not even two years out? Married and pregnant, although those events happened in the opposite order. And honestly, considering that you both took a Catholic-school-kids’ approach to birth control--that is, Catholic enough “be careful” (that is, not to use anything proven effective), but not Catholic enough to avoid doing things that might necessitate using it--you’re probably lucky they didn’t happen sooner.

As far as that goes, though, you’ll come to believe that there’s never an exactly “right” time for anyone to have kids, and that all things considered, this timing wasn’t all that bad. You’re young and healthy yourself, you’re not trying to get a career underway just yet, and you have support around you now.

Your parents, especially your mom, really couldn’t have been better about this unexpected development. There’s room in their house for you, your husband, and the upcoming addition, and they’re letting you stay there rent-free; your mom grew up in a multi-generational, extended-family household, and as far as she’s concerned, that’s just how family works. And she’s said she and your dad will care for the baby while you and B. are in college--because the one non-negotiable is that the two of you will finish your bachelor’s degrees. And although it’ll take an extra year to do it, it’s going to happen--debt-free, too. You’re in college at a time when your combination of high academic achievement and relative poverty will actually work in your favor; you’re both getting through on grants, scholarships, and summer jobs, and your parents’ contribution is keeping your cost of living minimal.

Living in your parents’ home as a married parent yourself won’t always be easy, and by the time you and B. finish university and move out on your own--you’ll work for the Ivy League university where he'll be in grad school--you and your mom will both be ready for some distance. But you’ll always appreciate their help, as well as the fact that your untimely timing allowed your mom three years with the only grandchild she’ll ever know. When the three of you leave, she’ll already be showing symptoms of the early-onset Alzheimer’s disease that will require full-time nursing-home care eight years from now (seven years of it, until she passes away in October 1999). You won't be around for any of that. I'm still not sure whether that made it easier or harder.

CLU(e) Bookstore window (www.3rsblog.com)
If only "getting a clue" were this easy...
You won’t want to hear this part, but I need to put it out there anyway. You and B. don’t feel you “had to” get married; you were already talking about it, although you figured it wouldn’t happen until some time after college. But baby makes three, and now, married you are...although adult enough to know what you’re getting into, you’re not. Early marriage and parenthood will give you a jumpstart on many aspects of adulthood...but in others, they will stall your growth for years to come. You’ll be functioning in a couple before you’ve learned to function as yourself, and you won’t understand where boundaries should be. Neither will he--and since you’re pretty much following his lead in this relationship, that’s going to be a problem. You’re trying to be, and do, and give, what you believe he needs...but neither of you really grasps just how great his needs will be. On top of that, you’re so focused on what he needs that it will be years until you start understanding what you need. Your needs as individuals won’t mesh, and by the time you recognize that, it won’t be worth wondering if they ever did. You’ll always be connected by your shared parenthood of C.--who turns out quite well, for the record--but it will take too many years to accept that you’re not right for each other. Trust me on this, though: that won’t mean you’re not right for anyone...or that there’s no one right for you.

And while I still have you as a captive audience, I have a few more things to tell you:
  1. That decision you made, spurred by the baby-and-marriage thing, to switch your college major to Accounting will pay off just as you hope. You’ll always be employable in your field, no matter where you live, and after years of the full-time-parent/full-time-job juggling act, you’ll be glad to have a solid career track record when you have to rely on your own income. You’ll never love the work, but that’s not really one of the payoffs you’re hoping for anyway, so I suspect that’s not a surprise.
  2. You’ve been reading since you were four years old, and you’re a chain reader--almost never between books for more than a few hours. What you read will change over time--your tastes will expand, and improve--but reading is fundamentally part of who you are, and from where I sit almost thirty years beyond where you are now, I can assure you it’s staying that way. 
  3. There’s not much else I can make that assurance about, other than this: you can’t plan for everything, and all too often, your plans won’t go as you planned. It doesn’t matter. You’ll--eventually, usually--end up pretty much all right anyway.
me at 48

Other posts in the #GenFab "Letter to My 20-Year-Old Self" Blog Hop:

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

It's Election Day in the USA!

"I Voted" Instagram photo reposted via Statigram
I never get one of those "I voted" stickers, so I had to find a photo of someone else's to post here.
I have voted "permanent absentee" for at least the last half-dozen years. In California, that means I vote by mail, even though I'm almost never out of state, let alone out of town, on Election Day (although I truly was an absentee voter for this year's June primary).

The vote-from-home, mail-it-in ballot makes dealing with California's runaway ballot-initiative system almost manageable. When you have to read and vote on more than a dozen propositions--which may include some that contradict others on the same ballot, and which are all written in some variation of legalese--it helps if you can sit comfortably and spend time with them. But after spending time with this year's propositions, I was willing to vote for just one more--a ballot initiative to get rid of ballot initiatives and actually force our elected representatives to do the jobs they were elected to do.

I mailed in my ballot for today's elections two weeks ago, which has given me blissful freedom to ignore the last-minute political-advertising blitz (from all sides, for the record). I've played my small part in this--I'm glad to have done it, and glad that it's done. I do wish they'd mail me a little sticker with my ballot, though.

Are you registered and eligible to vote? Have you done it already? If not, why are you hanging around here? Voting is your right and your privilege--go exercise it!

Goodreads Choice Awards 2012 (via www.goodreads,com)By the way...
While you're in a voting mood, why not submit your votes in the opening round of the 2012 Goodreads Choice Awards? Choose your favorites from 15 nominees in 20 categories--or write in your picks, if they're eligible! (I did.) First-round voting closes on November 10, and you can vote from anywhere--the only thing you need is to be a Goodreads member!

Monday, November 5, 2012

(Indie) Book Talk: *Characters in Search of a Novel*, by Molly D. Campbell

My participation in Creative Alliance '12 prompted much consideration of my approach to my online life. As a book blogger, that life clearly includes books and authors...but it hasn’t included many from the swelling ranks of the “non-traditionally published.” Today it does, in the first of several posts on the topic of “indie authors” I have planned for this month (somehow, NaNoWriMo seems like good timing for it).

CHARACTERS IN SEARCH OF A NOVEL: illustrations by Randy PalmerLoretta Squirrels. The Tarnations. Morty Portnoy. Scarlett Swells. Duke Devlin. Farley Spratt. And a couple dozen more, all born on Molly Campbell’s Twitter account--they’re in search of a novel, but they have found a book:
"Always curious about how a name might influence personality, Molly began a Twitter stream of names with one-sentence descriptions that soon took over her imagination. Loretta Squirrels, a moonshiner who also beats up her husband, gained notoriety on Twitter. Loretta was swiftly followed by eccentric dentists, dogs with human characteristics, cab drivers, Country and Western singers, and a movie star or two."
The most remarkable thing about Molly D. Campbell's Characters in Search of a Novel is that quite a few of these characters may not need one; in just a few hundred words, she's given them complete stories. The fact that each of these stories has a unique and distinctive voice is also remarkable. These characters were born out the author's fascination with odd names and first introduced themselves through her Twitter account, but she's really brought them to life in this unique collection of short fiction.

These stories are difficult to classify: extended character sketches that the author calls “micro-fiction,” most are comedic, and some have a unexpected amount of emotional depth. Many were first published online, but when Molly was ready to collect them into a book, she chose to publish it independently. She recognized that its unusual beginnings, coupled with the fact that each of the pieces is accompanied by an illustration of its subject by longtime Dayton (Ohio) Daily News artist Randy Palmer, made it just quirky enough that it might be challenged to find a place with a traditional publisher. The artwork made a high-quality print edition particularly important, and Molly worked with an editing and book-design team to produce hers (although Characters is also available as an e-book). Both the print and e-book editions are published through Amazon.com's Createspace platform and sold on Amazon.com.

CHARACTERS IN SEARCH OF A NOVEL cover image, via Goodreads
Molly is a two-time Erma Bombeck Award winner, so the reader would expect to find humor in her stories--and it's there, but many of them also have a surprising poignancy and hint at unexplored facets to their characters. Those are the ones that I most hope will find their novels, especially since she concludes some of their tales with twists worthy of O. Henry, and I’d really like to know where they go from there!

Characters in Search of a Novel can be a quick cover-to-cover read, but may be best savored a few stories at a time. It provides some wonderful examples of the art of character creation--but more significantly, Molly Campbell has created characters you'll want to know.

And I’m happy to have had the chance to get to know its author. I received a copy of Characters from Molly at CA’12, where she read one of its selections, “The Maestro,” during the closing night’s Say It Salon. I originally posted my review of the book on Amazon.com (four stars) at her request, but I always meant to share it here as well. Characters is a light delight of a read that would make an excellent holiday gift (and unlike my top 2011 gift-book suggestion, Anna Lefler’s The CHICKtionary, its appeal crosses gender lines).

Characters in Search of a Novel
Molly D. Campbell (author) (Goodreads author page),
Randy Palmer (artist)
CreateSpace IPP (Sept. 2012), paperback (ISBN 1478399619 / 9781478399612)
Fiction, 204 pages

Friday, November 2, 2012

Post #1799: Finishing Unfinished Business

As you probably inferred from the title, I'm on the threshold of another posting milestone--one that probably doesn't mean much except that it's another number ending in zero. However, it did prompt me to calculate whether I'd reach 2000 posts here by my 6th blogiversary on March 16, 2013. That would require daily posting for the next 134 days, with two new posts on 66 of those days...which is seriously unlikely to happen, so those two milestones will not coincide. And this pre-milestone post is essentially a placeholder to catch up on a few unrelated matters.

Matter #1:
In case you missed it, yesterday was National Author's Day (November 1, every year since 1949). It was also the day that the winners of the first Shirley You Jest! Book Awards were announced--and in case you missed that too, here they are, no joking:
Shirley LOL (1st place): 
Fiction: Pickin’ Tomatoes by J.W. Bull
Nonfiction: Ketchup is a Vegetable: And Other Lies Moms Tell Themselves by Robin O’Bryant 
Shirley HAH (2nd place):
Fiction: What Would Satan Do? by Anthony Miller 
Nonfiction: Confessions of an Edgy Suburban Mom by Pam Grimes

Shirley You Jest! Book Awards official logo
Presented by Liz D Publicity & Promotions, the SYJ! Book Awards were created to honor books by self-published and traditionally published independent authors that "bring the funny.”  Authors of fiction and non-fiction with strong comedic and humorous elements were invited to enter the 2012 contest to win book-promotion opportunities from its sponsors. Entries for the next contest will be accepted beginning June 1, 2013.

(Disclosure: I was a Nonfiction judge in the first round of the SYJ! Book Awards. and although I didn't review any of the contenders I considered, I'm excited that my submission to the finals scored the HAH!)

Matter #2:
My #FMSPhotoaday participation was spotty during October, but I wanted share five of my favorite pictures from the month (not all from the daily photo meme, but all previously posted on Instagram).

#FMSPhotoday 10/7/2012: Light
#FMSPhotoday 10/7/2012: Light (effects edited with Picfx)

Collage: ACS Relay for Life, 10/13/2012, Simi Valley, CA
Seen at ACS Relay for Life, 10/13/2012, Simi Valley, CA (collage created with PicFrame)

Grandmother/Granddaughter, 10/7/2012
Grandmother/Granddaughter, 10/7/2012 (collage created with PicFrame)

#FMSPhotoaday, 10/18/2012: "Made you smile today"
#FMSPhotoaday, 10/18/2012: "Made you smile today." Jack lives at my stepkids' other house (effects edited with Picfx)

#FMSPhotoaday 10/19/2012: Letters
#FMSPhotoaday 10/19/2012: Letters (effects edited with Picfx)
Matter #3:
This won't actually be finished till 2 AM this Sunday (11/4)--Daylight Savings Time is ending! Remember to set your clocks back one hour, and claim that extra sleep time this weekend!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Book Talk: *Block 11*, by Piero degli Antoni (via Shelf Awareness)

cover image: BLOCK 11 (via IndieBound.org) Block 11
Piero degli Antoni (translated by Erin Waggener)
St. Martin's Press (October 2012), hardcover (ISBN 1250001021 / 9781250001023)
Fiction, 240 pages

A version of the following was previously published in Shelf Awareness for Readers (October 30, 2012) as a compensated review assignment. An advance reader's copy of the book was provided to facilitate the assignment.

Opening lines:
“'Wake up. Wake up, my darling.'

"The old man sleeping next to her opened his eyes with great effort.
“'Mmm … what is it, libling?'
“'It’s time to get up. Today is the day, have you forgotten? Come on, I’ll get breakfast ready.'
"The woman thrust the sheets aside with a force that allowed her feet to slide down toward the floor. With her soles planted firmly on the ground, she steadied her body, her weight on her elbow, bracing herself for the next step.
She was old and tired, and the maneuvering required simply to stand up grew more exhausting with each passing day."
Book description, via the publisher's website:New York, the present: An old woman and her husband sit down for a breakfast of black bread and coffee at a table set for ten. Eight chairs remain empty.
Auschwitz, Spring 1944: Following a successful escape from the camp, a group of ten prisoners are rounded up for execution. But at the last minute, counter-orders are given. Since the camp needs every inmate for labor, only one prisoner will be sacrificed. And it is the job of the other nine prisoners, locked up in an empty building in Block 11 with nothing but a piece of paper and pencil, to decide by dawn who will die. Otherwise they will all go to the gallows.
Thus begins a night of storytelling with tales of horror, secrecy, and betrayal, but also of love and great humanity, as these ten prisoners debate who deserves to live and who deserves to die in a night filled with violence, emotion, and shocking revelations. 
Comments: On a day just months before the end of World War II, several inmates have managed a successful escape from the Auschwitz concentration camp, and there will be consequences for those remaining. Ten prisoners are locked inside Block 11, the “prison within the prison,” and given instructions: by dawn, they must choose one member of the group to be turned over to the firing squad for execution. If they fail to comply, they’ll all be shot. Meanwhile, at home with his son, the camp’s commander engages in a game of chess, through which he attempts to mirror and predict what is occurring in the block that night.

The group in Block 11 is not randomly chosen at all; it is intentionally representative of the population of the camp, and its members have complicated relationships with one another that, in some cases, pre-date their current circumstances. These relationships will be revealed and reshaped over the course of the night, through conversation and argument and momentary outbreaks of horrific violence. And as they struggle with their orders, the commander--who seems to possess a surprisingly intimate amount of knowledge about each of these prisoners--tweaks the rules, orchestrating a human chess game from afar.

The cast of characters in Block 11 is large, but author Piero degli Antoni manages to distinguish each of them as individuals as their terrible night goes on; they will surprise each other as they confront their terrible conflict, and they may surprise the reader too. Published in its original Italian in 2010 and now translated into English for the first time, Block 11 is an intense, morally complex psychological thriller. 

Rating: 3.75/5

Affiliate Marketing Links Shop Indie Bookstores Review