Sunday, April 16, 2017

Sunday Sentence: Dodsworth by Sinclair Lewis


Simply put, the best sentence(s) I’ve read this past week, presented out of context and without commentary.


If she was an angel, the girl at whom Sam was pointing, she was an angel of ice; slim, shining, ash-blonde, her self-possessed voice very cool as she parried the complimentary teasing of half a dozen admirers; a crystal candle-stick of a girl among black-and-white lumps of males.

Dodsworth by Sinclair Lewis


Friday, April 14, 2017

Friday Freebie: A Line Made By Walking by Sara Baume


Congratulations to Gayla McCann, winner of last week’s Friday Freebie: I Found You, the new novel by Lisa Jewell.

This week’s contest is for A Line Made By Walking by Sara Baume, author of Spill Simmer Falter Wither. Here’s what novelist Joseph O’Connor had to say about A Line Made By Walking: “After a remarkable and deservedly award-winning debut, here is a novel of uniqueness, wonder, recognition, poignancy, truth-speaking, quiet power, strange beauty and luminous bedazzlement. Once again, I’ve been Baumed.” Keep scrolling for more information about the book...


Struggling to cope with urban lifeand life in generalFrankie, a twenty-something artist, retreats to her family’s rural house on “turbine hill,” vacant since her grandmother’s death three years earlier. It is in this space, surrounded by countryside and wild creatures, that she can finally grapple with the chain of events that led her hereher shaky mental health, her difficult time in art schooland maybe, just maybe, regain her footing in art and life. As Frankie picks up photography once more, closely examining the natural world around her, she reconsiders seminal works of art and their relevance. With “prose that makes sure we look and listen,” (The Atlantic) Sara Baume has written an elegant novel that is as much an exploration of wildness, the art world, mental illness, and community as it is a profoundly beautiful and powerful meditation on life.

To entice you with a taste of Baume’s writing, here’s the first paragraph of the book:
      Today, in the newspaper, a photograph of tribesmen in the Amazon rainforest. The picture taken from a low-flying aircraft. The men naked but for painted faces, lobbing spears into the air as high as they can lob them, trying to attack the largest and most horrifying sky-beast they’ve ever encountered, ever imagined. The caption says they are believed to be from the last ‘uncontacted’ tribe.
      What a thing, I think, that there are still. People. Out there.
      And almost immediately, I forget.

If you’d like a chance at winning A Line Made By Walking, simply email your name and mailing address to


Put FRIDAY FREEBIE in the e-mail subject line. Please include your mailing address in the body of the e-mail. One entry per person, please. Despite its name, the Friday Freebie remains open to entries until midnight on April 20, at which time I’ll draw the winning name. I’ll announce the lucky reader on April 21. If you’d like to join the mailing list for the once-a-week newsletter, simply add the words “Sign me up for the newsletter” in the body of your email. Your email address and other personal information will never be sold or given to a third party (except in those instances where the publisher requires a mailing address for sending Friday Freebie winners copies of the book).

Want to double your odds of winning? Get an extra entry in the contest by posting a link to this webpage on your blog, your Facebook wall or by tweeting it on Twitter. Once you’ve done any of those things, send me an additional e-mail saying “I’ve shared” and I’ll put your name in the hat twice.


Sunday, April 9, 2017

Sunday Sentence: Collected Poems of Frank Stanford


Simply put, the best sentence(s) I’ve read this past week, presented out of context and without commentary.


Sweat makes the shirts look like maps.


Friday, April 7, 2017

Friday Freebie: I Found You by Lisa Jewell


Congratulations to Brittany Mishra, winner of last week’s Friday Freebie: Quicksand by Malin Persson Giolito.

This week’s contest is for I Found You, the new novel by Lisa Jewell. Here’s what Library Journal had to say about the book: “Jewell is a wonderful storyteller. Her characters are believable, her writing is strong and poetic, and her narrative is infused with just enough intrigue to keep the pages turning. Readers of Liane Moriarty, Paula Hawkins, and Ruth Ware will love it.” Keep scrolling for more information about the book...


In a windswept British seaside town, single mom Alice Lake finds a man sitting on the beach outside her house. He has no name, no jacket, and no idea how he got there. Against her better judgment, she invites him inside. Meanwhile, in a suburb of London, twenty-one-year-old Lily Monrose has only been married for three weeks. When her new husband fails to come home from work one night she is left stranded in a new country where she knows no one. Then the police tell her that her husband never existed. Twenty-three years earlier, Gray and Kirsty are teenagers on a summer holiday with their parents. Their annual trip to the quaint seaside town is passing by uneventfully, until an enigmatic young man starts paying extra attention to Kirsty. Something about him makes Gray uncomfortable—and it’s not just that he’s playing the role of protective older brother. Two decades of secrets, a missing husband, and a man with no memory are at the heart of this brilliant new novel, filled with the beautiful writing, believable characters, pacey narrative, and dark secrets that make Lisa Jewell so beloved by audiences on both sides of the Atlantic.

If you’d like a chance at winning I Found You, simply email your name and mailing address to


Put FRIDAY FREEBIE in the e-mail subject line. Please include your mailing address in the body of the e-mail. One entry per person, please. Despite its name, the Friday Freebie remains open to entries until midnight on April 13, at which time I’ll draw the winning name. I’ll announce the lucky reader on April 14. If you’d like to join the mailing list for the once-a-week newsletter, simply add the words “Sign me up for the newsletter” in the body of your email. Your email address and other personal information will never be sold or given to a third party (except in those instances where the publisher requires a mailing address for sending Friday Freebie winners copies of the book).

Want to double your odds of winning? Get an extra entry in the contest by posting a link to this webpage on your blog, your Facebook wall or by tweeting it on Twitter. Once you’ve done any of those things, send me an additional e-mail saying “I’ve shared” and I’ll put your name in the hat twice.


Thursday, April 6, 2017

On Influence and Tributaries: Edie Meidav Remembers Herb Caen



On Influence and Tributaries
by Edie Meidav

You may have gone so far as to imagine your own funeral but what kind of person foresees writing so strenuously that his last words will script his own obituary?

“It will trail off at the end, where I fall face down on the old Royal with my nose on the ‘I’ key.”

I came to discover the writer of these words, gone now twenty years, the way people once found broadsides: on the most dispensable paper, newsprint, the kind that leaves a slur of negative type on a table, and in the form of the daily column Herb Caen wrote for over sixty years in the Bay Area. Four years before his death, he had to quit the practice, having quipped that if he stopped seeing his name in print he would not know he still existed, but, seeing other opportunities for the act of inscription and glory, his will asked for fireworks to be set off, after his funeral, in San Francisco’s Aquatic Park.

When we moved from an inland suburb of Long Island to Berkeley, I was just eight and my first shock came in the lightness of air: in California, it seemed, you were meant to understand that not much held you up, not even the trusses on all the seismically-retrofitted buildings. You could just fly away, unpinned by the rigor of the East, and yet as consolation you were given an expanse into which you might dream a bit. That August, small fragrant yellow pinwheels I called cornflowers fell from a tree and littered the stairs up to our house and whenever I am back in California, the awe of cornflower air returns, again with its perfume of new freedom. Here you could walk without ever stopping, you could dream and make things, and if you didn’t walk, you could take not just trains but buses and boats.

Of course, in a sense you could do all these things and more cheaply and frequently and better in Long Island. Yet at least to my young mind, the gray of the world around had kept us compressed. Sometimes a neighborhood girl would take my brother and me a bit beyond our neighborhood so we could wait near a haunted Mafioso cemetery with cracked gray columns and a forbidding steel gate for my father to come home off the train from the United Nations where his profession seemed to have to do with being a perennially-frustrated idealist. In Berkeley, however, someone had turned up the light, and if there were cemeteries anywhere they were hidden from public view, behind unscratched brilliant pilasters or up the remote scorched hills. On trains in New York you could study signs not about cornflowers but about corns and hemorrhoids. In Berkeley you had to ask in the drugstore where aspirin was hidden. In this place, everything moved to health, everything efflorescing with liveliness like those cornflowers.

And the lexicographer of this exuberance was Herb Caen, the West Coast’s effusive Whitman, the coiner of the term beatnik, the man who called his city Baghdad-by-the-Bay for its multiculturalism, a repeater of the slogan that one should never call the city Frisco. Even as the Bay Area reckoned with the stale incense of buzzkill in the air, after the counterculture had landed like a snub-nosed paper airplane, even as avenues and parks were populated by all those who no longer bothered with the vanity of patchouli, vets high or frustrated or panhandling, even with the deinstitutionalization of patients out onto the streets, everything spilling out into an increasingly unfeeling polis, into the vacuum of each day, nonetheless there kept being this daily 1,000-word missive on the front of one section of The Chronicle, a little paean to joy and the way that it could resist the most lugubrious missteps and overarching views of politicians. Happiest when he could see the fancy in the grit and less so the reverse, Caen modeled a way of paying attention and engagement with all elements of a city. A latter-day heir of Walter Winchell whose bitterness was less, Caen had a greater moral force while at the same time being a romantic: his cries out for a nostalgic other San Francisco pierced my newish heart with the force of exile so that I grew up, notated by him, believing I belonged in that place. A dandy celebrating the presence of a good moment of camaraderie with his tipsters both famous and homeless, like the state itself he lived, as if a tightrope-walker bearing a parasol, at once in the past and the future. Though once it was joked that, having found some famous San Francisco sourdough sweet, Caen too had gone a little sour, I rarely found him anything but redemptive.

Though not everything about his work stunned me. I accepted certain features as part of a cosmos to which my citizenship was assured, but still skimmed quickly over: moments such as the puns or what he called namephreaks, discoveries of local people in professions with oddly fitting or absurd names such as that of my pediatrician, one Grange S. Coffin.

More importantly, prefiguring so many other people I would come to admire, Caen was my first flaneur, a skirter around the edge of urban life, hearkening back to the grace and gentility of a prior era. Imagine Leonard Cohen as columnist. The strangest part, for a man so devoted toward mourning the passing of the present moment, was that Caen seemed to know everyone who had formed the history of San Francisco, as if he were a timeless tuxedo’d turtle, around since the place had been the Barbary Coast through its time of Italian opera singers, the Enrico Carusos and a gogo girl like the image of Carol Doda whose giant sign on Columbus still boasted the on-off flickering nipples. Caen loved the crass and the genteel, creating each day a city that forgave others its foibles, passionate about San Francisco in the way that people from the boroughs or farther precincts can love Manhattan. Instead of writing of the heights of skyscrapers, Caen wrote of wisps of fog. Because of his talent in locating the city as a literary map itself, to read him in the morning was a way to understand our new land. He himself was a striver, liking to claim his own origin myth, pointing out that his parents had visited San Francisco nine months before his birth in Sacramento, all the way back in the mists of 1916.

Why bother recognizing him today? Never mind that once Silicon Valley came along, it recognized Caen as the prince of all blogs. Perhaps it might be best to remember Caen in this moment because he was, among all his virtues and voices, a chronicler of social protest: he knew that within the most specific flower blew the most universal wind. Rather than write about the rise and fall of movements, he sought out the small human moments within a crowd, and by doing so made clear how certain beliefs could become dangerously institutionalized within a given landscape or architecture. To read him was to read a humanist who left you with questions about your role in a greater social order.

Herb Caen: April 3, 1916 – February 1, 1997
In this strange time of ours, do we not need to find our Herb Caen, someone who can document the specific in our momentous warp and woof?

Jung famously said the single greatest influence on the child are the unfulfilled desires of the parent. If we can have literary parents, only because I would like to be among those who might claim him, I wish to think Caen too might have wanted to write novels and stories. Or perhaps, as is more likely the case, he was a man who found life replete, overjoyed to have written more than 16,000 columns of 1,000 words each. As one commentator said, his was “an astounding and unduplicated feat”: he created by far the longest-running newspaper column in the country. In the year before his death, in February 1996, a colleague of his wrote: “What makes him unique is that on good days his column offers everything you expect from an entire newspaper–in just 25 or so items.” Can we expect any less?


Edie Meidav is the author of three novels, including Lola, California. Her short story collection, Kingdom of the Young, was just released by Sarabande Books. She teaches in the UMass Amherst MFA program. Find her on Twitter at @lolacalifornia


Sunday, April 2, 2017

Sunday Sentence: The Devil in Silver by Victor LaValle


Simply put, the best sentence(s) I’ve read this past week, presented out of context and without commentary.


They were like a pair of leopards, held too long in a zoo. Remarkable, but a little ruined.

The Devil in Silver by Victor LaValle

Friday, March 31, 2017

Friday Freebie: Quicksand by Malin Persson Giolito


Congratulations to Eric Notaro, winner of last week’s Friday Freebie: The Accusation by Bandi.

This week’s contest is for Quicksand by Malin Persson Giolito, named the Best Swedish Crime Novel of the Year by the Swedish Crime Writers Academy. The Washington Post called it “a remarkable new novel...[that] in some ways recalls The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo....The author, Malin Persson Giolito, carries us deep into the lives of these star-crossed lovers and the decadent society that shaped them....Giolito, who practiced law before she turned to fiction, writes with exceptional skill. She seems to know everything about Stockholm’s rich and the ways of teenage girls. Her story examines the corrosive effects of vast wealth. Even the novel’s title, Quicksand, suggests a world that will suck in, swallow and devour the unwary.” Keep scrolling for more information about the book....


A mass shooting has taken place at a prep school in Stockholm’s wealthiest suburb. Eighteen-year-old Maja Norberg is charged for her involvement in the massacre that left her boyfriend and her best friend dead. She has spent nine months in jail awaiting trial. Now the time has come for her to enter the courtroom. How did Maja—popular, privileged, and a top student—become a cold-blooded killer in the eyes of the public? What did Maja do? Or is it what she failed to do that brought her here? Quicksand is an incisive courtroom thriller and a drama that raises questions about the nature of love, the disastrous side effects of guilt, and the function of justice.

If you’d like a chance at winning Quicksand, simply email your name and mailing address to


Put FRIDAY FREEBIE in the e-mail subject line. Please include your mailing address in the body of the e-mail. One entry per person, please. Despite its name, the Friday Freebie remains open to entries until midnight on April 6, at which time I’ll draw the winning name. I’ll announce the lucky reader on April 7. If you’d like to join the mailing list for the once-a-week newsletter, simply add the words “Sign me up for the newsletter” in the body of your email. Your email address and other personal information will never be sold or given to a third party (except in those instances where the publisher requires a mailing address for sending Friday Freebie winners copies of the book).

Want to double your odds of winning? Get an extra entry in the contest by posting a link to this webpage on your blog, your Facebook wall or by tweeting it on Twitter. Once you’ve done any of those things, send me an additional e-mail saying “I’ve shared” and I’ll put your name in the hat twice.


Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Book Radar: Eleanor Catton, Richard Flanagan, Salman Rushdie, Rebecca Schaeffer, Maurice Isserman, Lee Child


Booker-winning author of The Luminaries, Eleanor Catton’s third novel, BIRNAM WOOD, sold to Farrar, Straus and Giroux. A psychological thriller, Birnam Wood is set in rural New Zealand where super-rich foreigners have stored caches of weapons in fortress-like homes in preparation for disaster. The novel follows the guerrilla gardening outfit Birnam Wood, a group of quarreling leftists who move about the country cultivating other people’s land. Their chance encounter with an American billionaire sparks a tragic sequence of events which questions, ultimately, how far each of us would go to ensure our own survival–and at what cost.

Winner of the Booker Prize in 2014 for The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Richard Flanagan’s next novel, FIRST PERSON, about the producer of a TV reality show who recalls his years as a young, struggling writer and his decision to serve as the ghost writer for a notorious con man–and how he and grew increasingly uncertain if he was helping the con man write his memoir, or if the tables had turned and he was instead re-writing his own life–to Knopf for publication in April 2018.

Salman Rushdie’s THE GOLDEN HOUSE, a modern-day bildungsroman set against the panorama of American culture and politics since the inauguration of Barack Obama, it presents a host of memorable characters, including a young American film-maker whose involvement with a secretive, tragedy-haunted family teaches him how to become a man, weaving together a story of life over the last eight years: the rise of the Tea Party, Gamergate and identity politics; the backlash against political correctness; and the insurgence of a ruthlessly ambitious, narcissistic, media-savvy villain sporting make-up and colored hair, to Random House for publication in September 2017.

Rebecca Schaeffer’s debut NOT EVEN BONES, featuring a teenage girl who dissects monsters, packaging their parts for sale on the black market, but when her mother brings home a live specimen, she follows her conscience and helps him escape—and ends up sold on the black market in his place, pitched as Dexter meets This Savage Song, to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children’s for publication in Fall 2018.

Author of Continental Divide and winner of the National Outdoor Book Award for history Maurice Isserman’s CLIMB TO GLORY, the definitive WWII history of the 10th Mountain Division, the force of elite mountain and ski troops who led the Allied advance through northern Italy, and whose members (including Ivy leaguers, two Von Trapp children, future presidential contender Bob Dole, and the eventual founders of Aspen and Vail) would go on to reshape both America’s environmental movement and help launch its favorite winter pastime, to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

NYT bestselling author Lee Child’s NO MIDDLE NAME: The Complete Jack Reacher Short Stories, a volume of all Lee Child’s short fiction featuring Jack Reacher; a new novella, TOO MUCH TIME, along with SECOND SON, DEEP DOWN, HIGH HEAT, NOT A DRILL and SMALL WARS, five Reacher novellas which were first published in eBook-only form, and all the other Reacher short stories that Child has written, to Ballantine Bantam Dell for publication on May 30, 2017.


Book Radar rounds up some of the latest publishing deals which have caught my eye, gathered from reports at Publishers Marketplace, Galley Cat, office water-coolers and other places where hands are shaken and promises are made. As with anything in the fickle publishing industry, dates and titles are subject to change.



Sunday, March 26, 2017

Sunday Sentence: We Come to Our Senses by Odie Lindsey


Simply put, the best sentence(s) I’ve read this past week, presented out of context and without commentary.


And the back of every blond head in this town is hers, and love is a veggie skin scraper-offer.

“So Bored in Nashville” from
We Come to Our Senses by Odie Lindsey


Friday, March 24, 2017

Friday Freebie: The Accusation by Bandi


Congratulations to Bart Zimmer, winner of last week’s Friday Freebie: the new Penguin Classics edition of Beauty and the Beast, edited by Maria Tatar.

This week’s contest is for The Accusation by Bandi, now out from Grove/Atlantic. Subtitled Forbidden Stories from Inside North Korea, this might be one of the most important, timely books I’ve ever featured as a Friday Freebie. “Bandi,” which means “firefly” in Korean, is a pseudonym for a writer who is still living in his homeland of North Korea, and who wrote these stories in secret. The Accusation was written at great risk; it’s up to us to read them to validate the author’s peril. As the National Post writes: “The Accusation shines a light on the dark half of the Korean peninsula with stories that are as readable as they are important...If these stories are an exorcism for the author, they are a revelation for us; The Accusation is fiction, but it is fiction that screams truth. Like its great literary predecessor One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, The Accusation is a powerful work that seems destined to serve as the go-to example, and indictment, of life in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.” Keep scrolling for more information about the book...


The Accusation is a deeply moving and eye-opening work of fiction that paints a powerful portrait of life under the North Korean regime. Set during the period of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il’s leadership, the seven stories that make up The Accusation give voice to people living under this most bizarre and horrifying of dictatorships. The characters of these compelling stories come from a wide variety of backgrounds, from a young mother living among the elite in Pyongyang whose son misbehaves during a political rally, to a former Communist war hero who is deeply disillusioned with the intrusion of the Party into everything he holds dear, to a husband and father who is denied a travel permit and sneaks onto a train in order to visit his critically ill mother. Written with deep emotion and writing talent, The Accusation is a vivid depiction of life in a closed-off one-party state, and also a hopeful testament to the humanity and rich internal life that persists even in such inhumane conditions.

If you’d like a chance at winning The Accusation, simply email your name and mailing address to


Put FRIDAY FREEBIE in the e-mail subject line. Please include your mailing address in the body of the e-mail. One entry per person, please. Despite its name, the Friday Freebie remains open to entries until midnight on March 30, at which time I’ll draw the winning name. I’ll announce the lucky reader on March 31. If you’d like to join the mailing list for the once-a-week newsletter, simply add the words “Sign me up for the newsletter” in the body of your email. Your email address and other personal information will never be sold or given to a third party (except in those instances where the publisher requires a mailing address for sending Friday Freebie winners copies of the book).

Want to double your odds of winning? Get an extra entry in the contest by posting a link to this webpage on your blog, your Facebook wall or by tweeting it on Twitter. Once you’ve done any of those things, send me an additional e-mail saying “I’ve shared” and I’ll put your name in the hat twice.


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Trailer Park Tuesday: American War by Omar El Akkad




Near the beginning of American War by Omar El Akkad, Sarat Chestnut tells us she is, among other things, a hoarder of postcards and a chronicler of war. These two elements of the narrator’s life converge in the very first paragraph:
When I was young, I collected postcards. I kept them in a shoebox under my bed in the orphanage. Later, when I moved into my first home in New Anchorage, I stored the shoebox at the bottom of an old oil drum in my crumbling tool-shed. Having spent most of my life studying the history of war, I found some sense of balance in collecting snapshots of the world that was, idealized and serene.
Many of us feel like we’ve lived with war our entire lives (and, indeed, some high school students have known nothing but a numbing cycle of battle and blood, battle and blood), but Sarat lives in a world nearly 60 years in the future when war has been joined by plague, flood, and refugee camps as threats to the American way of life (whatever that’s turning out to be these days...). Emily St. John Mandel, author of Station Eleven, says American War “has an air of terrible relevance in these partisan times.” She knows what she’s talking about since Station Eleven is also a terribly relevant prediction of our apocalyptic future. In the trailer for American War, Akkad says when he wrote the novel, he little imagined we might very well be living in the prologue by the publication date (next month). Still, little in American War should come as a surprise to readers. “Nothing in this book hasn’t happened,” Akkad says. “It just happened to other people and it happened far away.” We should no longer go around in our comfortable American bubble, falsely safe in thinking “it can’t happen here.” American War delivers battle and blood to our front porch, then rings the doorbell.