Lewis Carroll introduced the world to Alice, a young girl who stumbles out of her dull reality into Wonderland, an absurd world of talking cats, mad hatters and a croquet-playing queen. Carroll was also an accomplished poet, turning the art of poetry on its head (check out his “Jabberwocky,” a personal favorite of mine that manages to make sense out of gibberish — “O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”). His sense of humor and tales of the absurd have engaged readers of all ages for over a century.
Lewis Carroll, born Charles L. Dodgson on January 27, 1832, was the third of 11 children born to a country parson. As an adult, he taught and published material on math and logic in Oxford. His vivid imagination was visible even in his teaching. “Lewis Carroll in Numberland: His Fantastical Mathematical Logical Life” explores Carroll’s body of mathematical publications, with a special focus on the fascinating (and fun!) puzzles, riddles and ciphers he created to use in his teaching.
Carroll spent his time outside of the classroom engaged in photography, and he was particularly interested in portrait photography. This hobby introduced him to Alice Liddell, the girl many believe inspired his most famous character (although he denied that Alice was based on any one person). “The Alice Behind Wonderland” explains the technology and techniques involved in Carroll’s photography and offers a glimpse at the life of the “true” Alice.
Due to his private nature, Carroll remains a bit of a mystery. Many of his private diaries have been lost. Fortunately, he was a prolific writer of letters to friends and family and much of that correspondence remains. Both “Very Truly Yours, Charles L. Dodgson, Alias Lewis Carroll: A Biography” and “The Letters of Lewis Carroll” draw on Carroll’s letters, photos and writings to construct engaging and insightful biographies. Carroll was considered a bit odd and that certainly inspires many questions about him that cannot be answered due to lack of access to his private writings. “The Mystery of Lewis Carroll: Discovering the Whimsical, Thoughtful, and Sometimes Lonely Man Who Created ‘Alice in Wonderland’” draws on Carroll’s personal bank records and correspondence from his family and the Liddell family in an attempt to explain just who he was and whether he was as odd as he seemed.
At his death in 1898, Carroll was a beloved, best-selling children’s author. His stories remain popular to this day. People are still drawn to him and his work because they are fun stories, but also because of the questions they raise. For example, “Alice in Wonderland and Philosophy: Curiouser and Curiouser” looks at Carroll’s stories from a philosophical point of view and ponders the deeper meanings behind them, relating them back to different philosophical ideas. Lewis Carroll was a fascinating man, both in his writing and in his life. Understanding him is certainly not an easy task, but there are many wonderful books in the library that offer insight into who he was and how he created those imaginative tales.Source of Carroll’s photo of Alice Liddell: serenity_now via photopin cc
Trudy Lewis is the Director of Creative Writing at the University of Missouri and author of two full-length novels (“The Empire Rolls” and “Private Correspondences“), along with many acclaimed short stories. Her latest novel, “The Empire Rolls,” is about roller derby and captures the changing social and financial climate of the Midwest surrounding the economic crash in 2008.
DBRL: Can you tell us about some of your inspirations for “The Empire Rolls”?
TL: “The Empire Rolls” was inspired by several factors: the Missouri landscape, the recession of 2008, a friend’s encounter with industrial polluters at a local creek and the changing status of public space and private interests in our national imagination. I began writing “The Empire Rolls” when I returned to Columbia after a stint as the Viebranz Visiting Writer at St. Lawrence University in upstate New York. I’d been writing a historical novel, but when I came back to Missouri and saw the changes that had occurred in a single year, I realized that I needed to capture the shifting scenes and values of our own times. One of the changes was the new roller derby team in town, the CoMo Derby Dames. Roller derby had all the elements that appealed to me: women’s empowerment, Midwestern populism, spectacle and ambiguous sexuality. Of course, the book is about more than the roller derby. It is about the changes that overtook our culture at this precise moment—the fall of 2007 leading into the great recession of 2008. It was around this date that roller derby, first developed in the depression, began to see another dramatic rise in popularity. At the same time, the war in the Middle East was coming home to Middle America, as veterans returned from military duty. In my novel, there are a number of returning veterans, and the skaters take on warlike identities such as “Raven Pillage” and “Gigi Haddist.” My protagonist, Sally LaChance, moonlights as the emcee at the roller derby. But by day, she works as a park ranger in Karst Park. In this capacity, she carries a gun and engages in a questionable use of force to defend her territory against polluters. Sally’s story mirrors both the violence of the war in Iraq and the comic mock aggression of the roller derby.
DBRL: Do you play roller derby?
TL: No, I don’t play. But I have two friends, Whiskey ShinDig (Felicia Leach) and Stonecold Janeausten (Devoney Looser) who are former members of the CoMo Derby Dames. When I was a teenager, I spent a lot of time at the roller rink, waiting for a longtime crush to look up from the pinball machine and skate with me. So I’m sure that’s another factor in my attraction to roller derby.
DBRL: The novel is set in the Boonslick area of Missouri. From what I understand that was a deliberate choice for the book. Would you like to discuss why you chose that location?
TL: Boonslick is a cultural region that includes Columbia, along with a number of nearby counties. By using the name, I set up a regional reference point without actually claiming to write about Columbia (although, if you are looking for verisimilitude, you will recognize mirror images of many Columbia institutions). I’m also trying to evoke the underlying Missouri culture. Many people think of Columbia as a place that is made livable by its cultural connections to urban areas elsewhere. I’ve found, on the contrary, that I’m energized by Columbia’s Missouri connections: the physical landscape, the small towns and rural areas, the music and folklore. My husband Mike Barrett teaches at Moberly Area Community College and I’ve been inspired by his students, who are often deeply embedded in the local culture and who don’t feel the need to disavow their roots in order to pursue some other goal, whether it is travel or art or career. So the invented town of Boonslick allows me to write about these issues and to work in the vein of realism without establishing a one-to-one correspondence between my fictional city and the Columbia readers may recognize. I’ve published a number of short stories set in Boonslick in addition to “The Empire Rolls.”
DBRL: Have you read any good books recently that you would recommend?
TL: I’ve been teaching and recommending “Fools” by Joan Silber, a book of linked stories about anarchists, lovers and other quixotic idealists. Silber will be reading in MU’s Visiting Writers Series in the spring (April 23). Another favorite is “A Tale for the Time Being,” Ruth Ozeki’s cross-cultural, cross-generational Buddhist novel. I’m also a big fan of the British writer Edward St. Aubyn; his most recent book “Lost for Words“ is a hilarious sendup of the literary awards system, including brilliant parodies of familiar writerly types. I’d like to take the opportunity to recommend some excellent books by local writers: Deb Brenegan’s “Shame the Devil,” a lively fictional take on the life of Fanny Fern, and Phong Nguyen’s “Pages from the Textbook of Alternate History,” a provocative collection of short stories examining history’s missed chances and close calls. Finally, anyone interested in Missouri fiction should look up “The Moonflower Vine“ by Jetta Carleton, originally published in 1962 but reissued in 2009. This book vies with “Stoner” (John Williams) as the best Missouri novel of the 20th century.
For more information about Trudy Lewis and her work, please visit her website. Be sure to check out “The Empire Rolls” at the library, or buy it from The University of Arkansas Press or locally at Yellow Dog Bookshop. Don’t miss her presentation here at the Columbia Public Library on February 10th at 7 p.m. in the Friends Room!
During a typical evening of discussing literature, violins and politeness in my conversation parlor, a colleague said to me, “Gentleman, it seems you love everything you read.” I stopped reading a cake recipe and smacking my lips and rubbing my stomach to consider. Considering all it takes is a savvy recommendation and/or a glance at the first few sentences to gather enough clues to know if a book will be to my taste, I am plenty fond of nearly every book I read. But while it’s true there are more great books than anybody could read in a lifetime, perhaps a gentleman’s effusions lose their weight when they’re spewed forth with identical giddiness and on a schedule one could set their tailor’s visits to. So take heed, I want to effuse really hard right now: “F” by Daniel Kehlmann makes the short list of my favorite books of all time.
It’s all the things I so often say about books I love: hilarious, heartbreaking, beautifully written. Rather than offer cogency and worthwhile words to demonstrate this, I encourage you to peruse the links I’ve provided above so that I can proceed in my typical slapdash fashion. “F” begins with Arthur taking his three sons to see a hypnotist’s show. His emphatic claims that he cannot be hypnotized are maintained even as he’s on stage and interspersing them with the words and actions of the thoroughly hypnotized, among them some things a parent shouldn’t say in front of his child. He’s hypnotized into being a vehicle for his ambition, which once unfettered by obligations like parenthood and not stealing his spouse’s money, is massive and fruitful. Arthur empties the family bank account and disappears to be a reclusive genius author. (One of his books so convincingly argues that existence isn’t real that it inspires a spate of suicides.) “F” then jumps years to delve into the adulthood of Arthur’s children.
Each child gets an awesome chapter. One, a faithless obese priest and Rubik’s Cube expert (though not championship caliber), eats candy in the confessional and reasons that his lack of faith can’t stop him from being an adequate priest. Another forges art under the name of his much older lover, a man he met while interviewing him for his thesis on artistic mediocrity. The forger’s twin is a finance guy, struggling to maintain his sanity while trying to prolong his clients’ ignorance concerning the millions of their dollars he’s lost. The offspring’s chapters sometimes intersect: one delightful instance is the priest’s lunch with the finance brother. When we see it from the priest’s side, we see his brother’s behavior as absurd and unexplainable. When he see it from the money brother’s side, the unexplainable behavior is gloriously explained, which isn’t to say that he’s not in need of a balanced regimen of medication. Also, there’s an apparition imparting crucial messages to the twins, but unfortunately it can’t tell them apart.
I’m wary of translated works because I worry something often gets, to coin a phrase, lost in translation. Since I can’t read German (I’m barely even comfortable in lederhosen), I don’t know if anything was lost, but I am sure this book looks great in English, as does “Fame,” the other Kehlmann novel carried by DBRL. Kudos to Carol Brown Janeway for the translation.
Daniel Kehlmann is a literary superstar in Germany (meaning he sells lots of books and probably gets all the writing implements and sausages his minions can carry), but he should be one everywhere.
History! History! History!…and a little travel too! The 900s in nonfiction are a must for the history buff and the travel enthusiast. Did I mention history? In this section there is a wide variety of books including dictionaries, encyclopedias, ancient civilization, baby names, genealogy, geography, travel guides, world history, biographies and even local history! While browsing the aisles I found these curious titles tucked away on the bottom shelves.
- “Lost States: True Stories of Texlahoma, Transylvania and Other States That Never Made It” by Michael J. Trinklein
This book was written to acknowledge these absurdly named territories that never made it to statehood for one reason or another. It’s a fun book with maps, stories and trivia to enhance any history buff’s knowledge!
- “Hey, America, Your Roots Are Showing!” by Megan Smolenyak
Ms. Smolenyak has been call the “Indiana Jones” of genealogy. She is best know for revealing connections between famous people such as Al Sharpton and Strom Thurmond, using DNA to solve crimes for the real NCIS and FBI and to locate family members of fallen soldiers as far back as the Civil War! This book is not a how-to book, but a novice genealogist could learn some pointers from this super sleuth.
- “London: Everything You Wanted to Know” (part of the Not for Parents series) by Klay Lamprell.
This is not a travel guide, rather it is an insider’s guide to the native’s life. The book is a collage of colorful, funky photos and drawings similar to those in the “Guinness World Records” books, with facts, true tales and trivia interspersed. You will see photos of weird cuisine (eels on a plate!) and punk style dress with mohawks. You’ll read about murdered kings, famous and infamous people such as Jack the Ripper, the Royals’ ancestral tree, creepy underground catacombs, a famous graffiti artist, how the streets in London were named and much, much more!
The post It Came From the Bottom Shelf! Books Not to Overlook in the 900s appeared first on DBRL Next.
Best books of the year lists are one of my favorite things about winter. Adding titles I’ve overlooked to my to-be-read list is a great pleasure, and I enjoy looking back at the year in publishing. However, time for reminiscing is short, because suddenly blogs and magazines are all atwitter over those books they can’t wait to read in the New Year. The buzz seems warranted, with forthcoming titles from heavy hitters like Toni Morrison (“God Help the Child,” April 2015) and Jonathan Franzen (“Purity,” September 2015), as well as a boatload of promising debuts. Neil Gaiman, Kazuo Ishiguro, Nick Hornby and many other big names also have books hitting the shelves in the next several months. I’m going to have to get a bigger night stand for all of these novels and learn to do with less sleep.
Here’s a sampling of recommended books. There is some overlap among the lists, but each has at least a handful of gems the others omit.
- “2015 Books We Can’t Wait to Read” from The Huffington Post
- “Most Anticipated: The Great 2015 Book Preview” from The Millions
- “Top 10 most anticipated novels of 2015” from The Washington Post
- “Anticipations: Coming in Early 2015” from Barnes & Noble
What book are you most looking forward to reading this year? Let us know in the comments!
Another year completed, another year begun. This is when we look behind us and say, “What was that all about?” while looking forward saying, “This time it will be different!” If you’re like me, this is also the time of year you take a long look in the mirror and say, “Grandpa?” To paraphrase the band They Might Be Giants, “We’re older than we’ve ever been, and now we’re even older.” We can’t hit the brakes on this process, and we can’t hit the reset button. Time waits for no one while it marches on like sands through the hourglass, or something. So we find our resolve, and we make promises we don’t keep, and we say to ourselves, “This time it will be different. We will eat better and get in shape. We will get a hobby, learn a skill or at least finally paint the house. We will find the cause of our dissatisfaction and fix it.” Then, next thing we know, it’s another new year.
So how do we break free from this Sisyphean hamster wheel of broken New Year’s resolutions and take care of business? Books (obvs)! There are many useful books to help guide and inspire us on the path to self-improvement. It just so happens that I have written three manuscripts which fall under this category (totally crushed my resolutions for that year!): “Cooking, With Food,” “Find the Right Pilates Instructor for Your Blood Type” and “Being Fat Is Stupid, Stupid!” Unfortunately, I have yet to find a forward-thinking publisher who wants to purchase the rights to these books. Until then, here are some titles that have actually been published to help you achieve your goals for 2015, or at least keep the trials and tribulations of this annual ritual in perspective.
“Stretch” by Neal Pollack
Based on Neal Pollack’s earlier satirical work it’s difficult to believe this man has a sincere dedication to the practice of yoga, but it’s true. Finding his career at a crossroads, and his body aging, he gives yoga a shot. He now writes a column for Yoga Journal and is a yoga instructor. The book is in a part a memoir of his experience as well as a look at the different corners of the yoga world. Don’t worry – despite the sincere devotion to his practice, he hasn’t lost his sense of humor or skeptical eye. This is an excellent introduction to yoga for people who think it “isn’t for them,” or are allergic to the earnestness often associated with it.
“Drop Dead Healthy” by A.J. Jacobs
A.J. Jacobs has cut out a successful career as a writer of “stunt journalism.” He regularly immerses himself in a subject to see what it’s like, using himself as a guinea pig (in one case, literally). In this book he sets a two-year goal to become as a healthy as possible. The book’s combination of thorough research and humorous tone make it a great survey of various health fads. It’s nice of him to put himself through all this so we don’t have to.
“The Road to Wellville” by T.C. Boyle
T.C. Boyle’s comic historical novel is set in Dr John Harvey Kellog’s (yes, the Corn Flakes guy) Battle Creek Spa. The book pokes fun at the strange “cures,” pseudo-science and hucksterism of the time. The scary part is when you start wondering how much resemblance there is to present-day health fads.
“Helping Me Help Myself” by Beth Lisick
Beth Lisick wakes up on New Years Day to find she is tired of dealing with the same problems year after year. Despite her skepticism, she binges on the works of successful self-help gurus. In addition to reading their books she attends their seminars and starts to fear she might actually learn something from these “gurus.”
“Promise Land” by Jessica Lamb Shapiro
Jessica Lamb Shapiro’s book takes on a similar challenge to the one in “Helping Me Help Myself,” but her skepticism has a more personal source because her father was an author of self-help books. The book is part memoir and part exploration of self-help culture. With an irreverent tone, she points out some of the snake-oil salesman in the field and attempts to determine if self-help culture really can be helpful.
“The Will To Whatevs: A Guide to Modern Life” by Eugene Mirman
Eugene Mirman is a writer and stand-up comedian. He also is the voice of Gene Belcher on the television show “Bob’s Burgers.” With a resume like that, why wouldn’t you accept his advice on life and act accordingly? His book contains advice on family, school, romance, money (to be exact, “The Money Lover’s Guide to Making Money”) and my favorite, “The Theory and Practice of Organizations Connected With Government, I think.” I’m pretty sure you could just read this book and throw all the others I’m recommending in the trash. (Wait! Forget that last part. Treat library books with kindness!)
“Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man’s Principles for Delicious Living” by Nick Offerman
Nick Offerman is another comedian on another TV show (“Parks and Recreation” – watch it!). Messrs. Offerman and Mirman are making me me think the real answer to all our problems is to tell lots of jokes and get a TV show. Offerman’s character on “Parks and Rec” has taken on some of the traits of the man himself, most notably his appreciation of whiskey and his skills in the woodshop. Offerman’s book is part memoir, part manifesto for a life well lived, and all hilarious. It might even inspire you to dig your jigsaw out of that mess you call a workbench and start making something.
“How To Sharpen Pencils” by David Rees
For some, learning a new craft or honing a skill is simply a hobby. For others, the act of mastering that craft is transformative. Can mastering the art of pencil sharpening be transformative? The last chapter of this book is titled, “How to sharpen a pencil with your mind.” We’re talking about some serious Jedi-level pencil sharpening here. I doubt you come out of that experience the same way you entered into it.
“Simple Times” by Amy Sedaris
Not everyone’s New Year’s resolutions aspire to change their body, mind or entire way of life. Some people just want to get around to learning that craft they’ve never made the time for. Now is the time! Amy Sedaris has some excellent crafts to teach. Personally, I’m looking forward to watching squirrels get diabetes at the Donut Squirrel Feeder I’m going to construct. The perfect accompaniment to that scene will be the gentle clanging of the Rusty Nail Wind Chime I will also make. Very soon. Before 2015 is over. I swear.
I saw a wonderful film not long ago called “Kill the Messenger.” That phrase is an old saw about taking out one’s displeasure on the one who brings bad news. This particular messenger was the San Jose Mercury reporter Gary Webb, and the message was his work tying the explosion of crack cocaine in the black neighborhoods of Los Angeles in the 1980s to important leaders of Ronald Reagan’s beloved Contras. The Contras were mercenaries who fought against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and who (believe it or not!) were supported by drug sales in Los Angeles and other cities after Congress voted down funding for Reagan’s war in Central America. Turns out they were protected by the CIA and the mainstream press, as well as functionaries close to the White House.
The film was a thriller with a bit of pathos thrown in to demonstrate what happened to a reporter who embarrassed the US “deep state.” It can be found online (if you have a credit card), but in any case, DBRL has Webb’s book “Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion,” as well as a few other interesting titles on the subject.
If you find it difficult to believe that the government prioritizes the “War on Drugs” and at the same time elements within the state are supporting the importation of those drugs, check out Douglas Valentine’s “The Strength of the Wolf,” which elucidates the many connections between the “deep state” and drug trafficking as discovered by the Federal Bureau of Narcotics prior to 1968 when the FBN was dissolved.
We also have Peter Dale Scott and Jonathan Marshall’s “Cocaine Politics,” perhaps the first to document the drug trafficking of Nicaraguan counterrevolutionaries (the Contras) and the complicity of mercenaries and US government leaders and institutions. Here I bow to another reviewer, Marilynn Larew, who reviewed the book for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (September 22, 1991, N9):
“Peter Dale Scott and Jonathan Marshall expand on revelations in the Iran-Contra scandal and the 1989 Kerry Committee Report. They assert persuasively that the CIA has long-standing alliances with men who deal drugs while doing dirty tricks for us in Latin America. The links go as far back as 1961 and the Bay of Pigs. Their story, however, is about the contra war, in which drug money paid for arms, the planes that carried ‘humanitarian aid’ in [and] flew drugs out, and Latin American colonels [who] made fortunes on drugs destined for American streets, all with our government’s connivance….The core of the book, the adventures of Jack Terrell…the soldier of fortune who tried to blow the whistle on the contra drug dealers, is taut as a thriller….The authors appear to evaluate the murky evidence in the government documents and news stories temperately. The thesis rings true.”
Alex believes she is going to die. The tumor growing in her brain, she expects it to be her end. When an electromagnetic pulse flashes across the sky, all of Alex’s expectations change. Suddenly, everyone in the age range of 20 to 60 is dead. Technology no longer works, and the world Alex knew no longer exists. Alex bands together with a little girl and a young soldier to survive, finding family and friends in them she never expected.
Obviously, by my description of “Ashes,” you can tell it’s apocalyptic fiction. I admit I’ve never been a big fan of apocalyptic fiction. For me, I find it a hard genre to read because reading about the world ending can be a pretty depressing topic. But Ilsa J. Bick is an amazing writer, and “Ashes” is easily in the top five best books I have read in the past two years.
It’s a fast read, and if you like the TV show “The Walking Dead,” I’m pretty sure you’ll love “Ashes” too. “Ashes” has the same feel as “The Walking Dead.” Odd characters come together, they fight together, create bonds, and then bad things happen. You’ll scream internally for the characters, root for them and cry for them, all because Bick creates them so beautifully. Before you know it, you’ll have finished the entire book in a few days.
Bick is an amazing writer, and although “Ashes” is considered YA, I would highly recommend it to the adult reader. Bick’s writing style is very honest. She’s got a unique take on action scenes, and I believe this is due to her background as an Air Force major. Her writing has a militaristic aspect, which happens to be perfect for apocalyptic fiction. Between this and her beautifully rendered characters, “Ashes” stands apart from the other reads in its genre.
The post Young Adult Books For Adults: Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick appeared first on DBRL Next.
It’s cold and dark outside, so warm up with a recommended book from LibraryReads! The January list is full of thrills and mystery, just the thing to get your blood pumping. Here are the top 10 books librarians love that hit the shelves next month.
“As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust” by Alan Bradley
“After the unexpected recovery of her mother’s body brings the de Luce’s family secrets to light, Flavia’s life is turned upside down. Now on her way to a Canadian boarding school, she must survive her first term – and more importantly, uncover the mystery of a corpse found in her dorm room chimney the night she arrives. A delightful installment in the series!” – Lizzie Gall, Grand Rapids Public Library, Grand Rapids, MI
“The Rosie Effect” by Graeme Simsion
“Don Tillman and Rosie are back again, and they’ve relocated to New York. Rosie is continuing her studies, while Don is teaching and even adding to his small circle of friends. But when Rosie announces that she is pregnant, Don is once again out of his depth. What follows are crazy situations that could only happen when Don is involved. Funny and heartwarming.” - Catherine Coyne, Mansfield Public Library, Mansfield, MA
“The Magician’s Lie” by Greer Macallister
“Arden is a famous illusionist whose show involves sawing a man in half, but one night, she grabs an axe instead of a knife and her husband is found dead under the stage. Can Arden, an expert at deception, get away with murder – or is she really innocent? Recommended to anyone who likes historical fiction, strong women characters and surprisingly twisty plots.” - Paula Jones, Brockton Public Library, Brockton, MA
Here’s the rest of the January list with links to these on-order titles in our catalog for your hold-placing pleasure. Enjoy!
- “The Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins
- “Golden Son: Book II of the Red Rising Trilogy” by Pierce Brown
- “The Dress Shop of Dreams” by Menna van Praag
- “The Bishop’s Wife” by Mette Ivie Harrison
- “Vanessa and Her Sister” by Priya Parmar
- “First Frost” by Sarah Addison Allen
- “Full Throttle” by Julie Ann Walker
The post Top Ten Books Librarians Love: The January 2015 List appeared first on DBRL Next.
For me, the mark of an especially good book is how firmly it grabs hold of me. It’s always a pleasure to stumble across a novel that captures my attention so tightly that it has me longing to get back to it during those moments I have to pause in my reading. Here are a few of my favorite thrilling finds from 2014 that I think other readers will also be captivated by:
- “Blood Work” by Michael Connelly. Readers may be familiar with Connelly’s two series featuring detective Harry Bosch and his half-brother, lawyer Mickey Haller. “Blood Work,” a novel set in the same “universe” as the books about Bosch and Haller, follows former FBI agent and recent heart recipient, Terry McCaleb. Upon learning that his heart donor may have been murdered, McCaleb becomes deeply troubled that his own life was saved at the cost of someone else’s. Despite doctor’s orders not to, he sets out to discover just what happened to his donor and soon finds himself in the web of an insidious killer. I could not put down this book and was unprepared for the story’s twist-filled conclusion.
- “Trouble in Mind” by Jeffery Deaver. I am a big fan of Deaver’s Lincoln Rhymes books, which follow a quadriplegic former NYPD detective who uses logic and science to find the solution to mind-boggling puzzles. This collection of short stories proves that Deaver can venture outside of the world of Rhymes and still produce a whopper of a tale. I enjoyed each of these short stories, but a few stood out for me. Rhymes makes two appearances in the book, including one that begins with the disturbing revelation that he has passed away – or has he? In another tale, a man returns to his hometown where he learns his long dead father was not what he seemed. The book concludes with a fantastic novella that follows a crime statistician who believes a series of deaths are not as random as they appear. Even readers who do not normally read short stories should consider this exciting collection of thrillers.
- “People of the Book” by Geraldine Brooks. This is probably my favorite read of the past year. Brooks’ fabulous novel begins with scholars examining the bits of materials found in between the pages of an illustrated Jewish manuscript called the Haggadah, in the hopes of determining the book’s history. Chapter by chapter the story unfolds in reverse, introducing the book’s previous owners and through this, revealing how the materials found their way into the book’s pages over the centuries. Although not a traditional mystery, this story unwinds in a way that will keep readers guessing as to the exact journey the Haggadah took through the centuries. I know readers will be as enthralled as I was by Brooks’ moving novel.
It’s hard to find a good subject for a book column in December. It’s not a good time for serious subjects. (Who has the time to concentrate at the height of a shopping season?) It’s too early for books about reinventing yourself (wait till January) or humor (better for April ). So, after contemplating my options, I decided to write about books that revolve around food. (We do eat a lot this time of the year .) These are not plain cookbooks, mind you, but books that describe places many of us would love to travel to and lives that have been marked by memories of food.
The first book I’d like to feature (also my personal favorite) is “The Language of Baklava” by Diana Abu-Jaber. It is a touching memoir of a girl coming of age in two worlds: the American world of her mother and the Jordanian world of her father. Growing up without a clear sense of belonging is very disorienting for Diana, but she is not the only one who feels disoriented. So does her immigrant father, who doesn’t seem to be able to decide where he – and his family – should live. He tries to hold on to his identity by cooking his native dishes, and for his daughter, that food becomes a trail she can follow down memory lane. With recipes for all occasions – festive and sorrowful – Abu-Jaber’s book is a joy to read and a joy to use in the kitchen.
“There is something to be done at this season,” begins Nina Mukerjee Furstenau in her book “Biting Through the Skin,” as she contemplates which holiday or festival she – a person born into a family of Bengali immigrants and a raised in the American Midwest – should celebrate. Like Diana Abu-Jaber, Furstenau struggles to define her identity and her culture and to bring order to her life. She solves her longing by cooking, and – later in her life – by embracing the faith and traditions of her ancestral country. Filled with the flavors and aromas of India and peppered with recipes, Furstenau’s book is a pure sensory pleasure, as well as an eloquent meditation on one person’s life.
Would you like to go to dinner with a New York Times food critic? If you said, “Yes,” then let me introduce “Garlic and Sapphires,” by Ruth Reichl. Reichl, a Los Angeles restaurant critic, takes a similar job at the New York Times. Now in New York, she finds herself in a position that can make or break a restaurant reputation, which means that many fashionable restaurants try to prepare for her visit. To make sure that she is not recognized, Reichl decides to wear disguises: wigs, fake jewelry, etc. This allows her to see restaurants through the eyes of their average customers. Unobserved, she witnesses the rudeness of the staff, notices different portion sizes (higher-status customers get bigger portions) and even different menus (unimportant customers are offered fewer dishes). Sincere and entertaining, Reichl’s book is an eye-opener on the world of New York restaurateurs.
No food column can be complete without mentioning French cuisine, and Ann Mah’s “Mastering the Art of French Eating” is just the book to show it off. Food writer Mah comes to France with her American diplomat husband, but she soon finds herself in Paris alone, for her husband is called to Iraq. To quell her loneliness, Mah travels around the country researching its iconic dishes like cassoulet, steak, andouillette sausage and crepes – ten in all. Mah talks to butchers, restaurant owners, chefs and other food aficionados, and she learns how the history of different regions of France is reflected in the evolution of their food. Liberally peppered with French expressions and recipes (I tried her steak recipe and it worked very well!), Mah’s book is a true ode to French food.
If you like spicing your food with stories, try “Secrets of the Tsil Café” by Thomas Fox Averill or “Cinnamon and Gunpowder” by Eli Brown. And, if you want to add a little mystery to your plate, don’t forget about experienced literary chefs like Diane Mott Davidson, Joanne Fluke and Tamar Myers. Whatever your food preference, you can always find a taste of it at your public library. As they say in the restaurants, “We’re here to serve you!”
The best way to read a book is to read it without knowing anything about it. But of course there’s only so much time to read, so it’s nice that there are gentlemen out there recommending awesome books. A gentleman doesn’t review a book, he merely recommends it and maybe adds some details about the book so his posts aren’t just absurd rambles or thinly veiled political rants or pointless introductions. But the book review industry is, in large part, in the business of summarizing works and spoiling as much fun as possible. And the book review industry is an unstoppable behemoth that eats books and poops cash and then doubles back to grab some of the cash. Yes, I’ve got a finger or two clasping at the beast’s tail. How else would I be able to afford the tremendous amount of pancakes a gentleman requires to start and end his day?
I’m going to tell you some stuff about a great book, but really you should just close this page, then open and close it several more times, electronically mail the link to all your friends (encourage them to open and close it several times), regular mail it to all your enemies, post the link on your social medias, shave the URL into your hair and read “The Book of Strange New Things” by Michel Faber. Really, one of the most satisfying things about this novel is the way details and plot are slowly released. If you prefer blog posts to novels or you like to know more about a book before you read it or you’re my mom, then keep reading. Might as well grab a snack. The gentleman recommends pancakes.
Michel Faber wrote this book, about a man and wife separated by immense distance, while his wife was dying of cancer. Pretty intense. Here’s a nice article if you want more details about Mr. Faber and the creation of his book.
“The Book of Strange New Things” begins with a husband and wife on the way to an airport. The husband will be whisked away for a substantial time, and though both parties see it as a necessary (glorious even) whisking, they are terribly sad to be separated. Then, matter of factly, we learn the man is going away because he’s to do some missionary work on a distant planet. Peter gets into one of those moist bed things that helps science fiction characters sleep whenever they must travel incredible distances. Bea goes home to their cat and their church. Peter arrives on Oasis (named by a contest held by the corporation that owns it) to minister to the aliens. Turns out he’s the third pastor they’ve had.
Since I didn’t read a bunch of reviews I had no idea whether the aliens were friendly or disturbingly hungry or basically just a bunch of pasta that some corporate bigwig thought it would be funny to have a pastor talk at. I also didn’t know what happened back on earth while Peter was ministering to the Jesus-loving aliens (whose faces resemble something like a walnut crossed with a couple of fetuses). I also didn’t know how Peter would acclimate to his new planet while natural disasters and human cruelty made a devastating mess of life on earth. The book is haunting and sad, but not hopeless. Kinda like eating a pancake without an absurd amount of toppings, except much more fun to consume.
I never wanted the book to end, but great things must. Also, as much as I’d like to mention pancakes again, this post must end. Have a great day, Mom!
One extremely popular title on the New York Times best seller list this fall is the legal thriller “Gray Mountain” by John Grisham. Like in all great thrillers, there is a hero pitted against a villain. Grisham’s hero is Samantha Kofer, third year associate with the prestigious Lehman Brothers law firm in New York until the financial crisis of 2008 upends her life and transplants her to the Appalachian coal country of Brandy, Virginia. There she works as an intern for the Mountain Legal Aid Clinic. While defending the citizens of the county and meeting the handsome litigator, Donovan Gary, she stumbles onto deadly secrets surrounding Big Coal mining!
This highly sought after title has created a rather lengthy waiting list at the library. So, if you are currently on this list, you might like to try these titles! (Publisher’s descriptions included)
“Raylan” by Elmore Leonard
When Federal Marshall Raylan Givens squares off against a known offender, he will warn the man, “If I have to pull my gun I’ll shoot to kill.” Except this time he finds the offender naked in a bathtub, doped up and missing his kidneys. Raylan knows there’s big money in body parts, but by the time he finds out who is making the cuts, he is lying naked in a bathtub himself, Layla, the cool transplant nurse, about to go for his kidneys. It turns out all the bad guys Raylan is after are girls this time.
“Stand Up that Mountain” by Jay Erskine Leutze
This is the true story of an outdoorsman living alone in Western North Carolina who teams up with his neighbors and environmental lawyers to save a treasured mountain peak from the mining company. One day the author got a call from a young woman, Ashley, and her Aunt Ollie. Ashley and Ollie said they had evidence that Clark Stone Company was violating the Mining Act of 1971 up on Belview Mountain, one of the most remote and wildest places in the eastern United States. They wanted Jay, a non-practicing attorney, to sue the company to put a stop to their mining operation. This is an underdog David vs. Goliath story with lots of good guys you love, and bad guys you love to hate. Not only did the case against the Clark Stone Company set groundbreaking legal precedent, but also the good guys won a complete victory. How they did it is chronicled in this book.
“The Perfect Witness” by Iris Johansen
She had the perfect life. She had the perfect cover. She was the perfect witness, until they found her. From the blockbuster bestselling author of the Eve Duncan novels comes a new, stand-alone thriller about a woman with a photographic memory who has lived her life in the Witness Protection Program. What she once saw put her entire family in jeopardy and now, years later, her cover is blown. She’s on the run, and the lives of those she holds dear hang in the balance.
“The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses” by Kevin Birmingham tells the story of how one of the great novels of the 20th century almost didn’t come to be. Birmingham provides a look at Joyce’s life and work in the larger social context of the early 1900s. Though the contents of “Ulysses” would hardly cause an eye to bat in the present day, during the time the Irish author was writing the book censorship was thriving in the United States and Europe. In the U.S., the Comstock Act prohibited the circulation of obscene materials through the mail. Only a small handful of men were charged with defining obscenity, and their definitions tended to be broad. In addition, “Ulysses” was challenged under the Sedition Act, with the accusation that it promoted anarchy.
Portions of “Ulysses” first appeared in a Chicago-based literary magazine, The Little Review. The periodical was publishing the book in installments, right up until the editors were arrested for doing so. Fortunately for literature, Joyce had many supporters who were determined to make his novel available to the world. Ezra Pound, who called Joyce “probably the most significant prose writer of my generation,” coordinated efforts on both sides of the Atlantic.
Your Classics Maven admits that “Ulysses” can be a difficult work of literature. But she urges interested parties not to shy away from the book without at least trying. She herself has enjoyed it in the way you might enjoy being around an eccentric relative you don’t always understand, yet who supplies enough golden moments to make the occasional confusion worthwhile.
Everyone who reads fiction should know why “Ulysses” is considered important. Birmingham says the book “changed people’s ideas about what a novel is and what it can do.” The title is taken from the main character in Homer’s ancient Greek classic “The Odyssey,” and different sections of the story mirror bits of that epic. But instead of taking place over a period of decades, all of the action happens in one day. This was a new idea at the time, although it’s a familiar framing device today. Also new was Joyce’s stream-of-consciousness narration, reflecting the way people actually think, instead of tidy summations. Some passages aren’t intended to be understood so much as experienced; the Sirens’ song from Homer is represented by a string of words chosen for sound rather than meaning.
Even if you only read about Joyce’s “Ulysses” instead of working your way through its text, you’ll see its influence in other novels. Some contemporary authors dispense with quotations marks. Joyce has been there, done that. David Mitchell experiments with structure in a Joycean way. Jenny Offill’s “Dept. of Speculation” changes format several times as scenes shift, which we completely accept because Joyce first showed it could be done. So even if you haven’t read “Ulysses,” by reading contemporary fiction, you’ve read “Ulysses.”
The post Classics for Everyone: Starring “Ulysses” as “The Most Dangerous Book” appeared first on DBRL Next.
Whether you’re looking to purchase a holiday gift for that special bookworm in your life, or you’re looking to get lost in the pages of a good book over the winter break, here are some “best of” lists of recommended young adult titles.
The Young Adult Library Services Association produces several lists each year which encompass books from a wide assortment of genres:
- 2014 Teen Book Award Winners (Alex, Edwards, Morris, Nonfiction, Odyssey, and Printz award winners)
- 2014 Top Ten Amazing Audiobooks
- 2014 Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults
- 2014 Top Ten Great Graphic Novels for Teens
- 2014 Top Ten Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults
- 2014 Top Ten Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers
Be sure to check out these lists created by the publishing industry’s most renowned book reviewers, many of whom are librarians:
- Kirkus Reviews’ “Best Teen Books of 2014“
- School Library Journal’s “Best Books of 2014: Young Adult“
- GoodReads.com’s “Best Young Adult Fiction of 2014“
- Publishers Weekly’s “Best Children’s Fiction of 2014” (This list is a collection of highly-acclaimed children’s AND teen books.)
- Bank Street College’s “Best Children’s Books of the Year, 2014 Edition” (Much like the Publisher’s Weekly list, this list features titles for both children and teens, however this list is conveniently sorted by age.)
With 2015 fast approaching, stay ahead of upcoming trends by subscribing to the library’s YA email newsletter. This monthly publication features reviews on the the most popular new releases in young adult fiction. Best of all, this newsletter is delivered straight to your inbox.
It’s also a good idea to monitor Good Reads’ lists of the “Most Exciting Upcoming YA Books” and “Upcoming YA Novels of 2015.” With your library card, you can reserve many upcoming titles before they are even published! Be sure to check out our online catalog, or give us a call at (800) 324-4806 to check on a book’s availability.
Originally published at Best Teen Books of 2014.
In 2002, the Daniel Boone Regional Library decided to start the community-wide reading program we now know as One Read. I was excited when it was announced that the first book selection was “Plainsong” by Kent Haruf. Kent Haruf was a former teacher of mine. This connection allowed me the opportunity to interview him for the library and to chauffeur him between readings and other events. Essentially, I was paid to spend time with the man. It was the best job I’ve been given in my time working for the library.
In every class I had with him he’d start the semester with a short speech to give the class an idea of the kind of writing he did. He told us about the town of Holt, Colorado, which existed only in his books. He said Holt was the kind of small town where everyone knew each other, “from the town drunk to the town mayor.” When he said that before a One Read event in Columbia, he got a little flustered. Columbia’s mayor at the time, Darwin Hindman, was there. Kent said he realized this was the first time he’d delivered that line with an actual mayor in the audience. Before a reading in Fulton, an elderly farmer and his wife approached Kent to tell him how much they liked his book. The farmer could especially relate to a scene where a cow gallops into the character Bobby and knocks the wind out of him. He’d had that exact experience many times himself.
Now I understand the true feat Kent accomplished in the classroom. We’re talking about short stories written by people in their late teens and early twenties. (I hope I’ve burned all evidence of mine.) Class after class. And he never seemed tired of us. He never made us feel like we didn’t have the potential, and he never made us think it could be easy.
For one of his classes we read Melville’s “Bartleby The Scrivener.” After we had all shared our impressions, he told us his. He told us about a former student at another college who was very isolated. The character Bartleby reminded him of that student. The last time he had heard about the student he was working at a bakery, living in an apartment above it, and spending very little time outside of those two places. I don’t know how many years it had been since he’d had that student in class, but you could hear the concern in his voice. You could tell he felt some regret that he wasn’t able to help the young man more.
That capacity for empathy made him such a good teacher, and a great writer. He cared about all his characters deeply, and he worked hard to bring them to life. Holt was based on the different small towns in Eastern Colorado he’d grown up in. Reading his books you can tell he had a real affection for the people in those towns. His writing focused on the small moments, the ordinary. His prose was spare but illuminated the moments he described. I think reading one of his novels makes our ordinary lives feel as significant as the lives in an epic or fantastic story. Maybe more so, for their being so familiar to us.
I was a little surprised by my reaction when I found out he had died. I admire him. I value the time I got to be around him, but I had only been in touch a handful of times since I graduated, and the last time was almost seven years ago. I haven’t become a published writer. I don’t teach English. I thought he was a part of my life that had passed. But the news was a real gut punch. Despite the lack of contact, I felt this sudden hole where he used to be. I realized the lasting impression he made. Then I felt sadder for not being able to tell him that. These kinds of common experiences – unexpected loss, small regrets – are what he wrote about so eloquently. I can’t help thinking as I try to put them into words, “Kent could have said it better.”
Kent Haruf wrote his seventh novel, “Our Souls At Night” before he passed away. It’s scheduled to be published in June.
Remember those good old childhood days of playing card games in a pretty old house while drinking hot chocolate and looking out the window at the limestone wall of a prison? Well, that might not be a typical childhood memory, but it gave local author Marlene Lee plenty of inspiration for her latest book, aptly titled “Limestone Wall.” The house that overlooked the prison, which happens to be the Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City, belonged to one of Lee’s father’s patients, and he would take her with him to visit the woman who lived there. In “Limestone Wall,” the main character, Evelyn Grant, moves into this very house in Jefferson City.
DBRL: Your most recent book, “Limestone Wall,” is about a recently widowed woman who goes to find her estranged mother, who is in jail for murdering twin babies. It seems like there are some pretty heavy themes in this book. Could you talk about your inspiration? I know that before becoming a full-time writer you worked as a court room reporter. Did that influence your work?
ML: I should make clear that my mother never killed anyone or went to prison! When I was a girl in Jefferson City, however, she died, and I’ve always wished I could see her again. This novel was a fictional way to think about what it is like to remember the past and to bring someone back to life and then to find firm footing between reality and wish-fulfillment.
My 30 years as a court reporter no doubt influenced the novel. The scene with Evelyn in the courtroom was easy to write because I’ve been in so many courtrooms. I also sat in that empty courtroom in the Cole County Courthouse so that I could describe it accurately and better imagine what it felt like for Evelyn to sit there, lost in thought about her mother’s trial.
DBRL: The excerpt from the book on your website describes a prison waiting room in vivid detail. Did you visit any prisons as research?
ML: The prison waiting room is not based on a real waiting room. I took a private tour of the Missouri State Prison with two people who are knowledgeable about the old penitentiary and life behind the walls. At the time it was being emptied out because the prison was moving to its new site; thus, the prison in “Limestone Wall” is nearly empty of inmates because that was its condition when I saw it. I’ve visited several other prisons in other locations. Once in the state of Washington I reported the deposition of a prisoner who was going through an appeal process. I don’t pretend to know very much about prisons. I used the setting of the Missouri State Penitentiary to help build my story rather than to inform readers about the prison.
DBRL: I heard that you’re a regular at Lakota Coffee. Do you have a favorite drink there?
ML: My drink at the Lakota is the same every morning: a single-shot, skim-milk latte. It never fails to satisfy!
DBRL: Have you read any good books recently which you would like to recommend to our readers?
ML: I love the writing of Edward St. Aubyn. His semi-autobiographical novels about the character Patrick Melrose are magnificent. He has mastered the ability to make the reader feel as if she or he is living the life of the main character, both in the small details and the large events. Patrick’s life is troubled, courageous, and he fights the good fight for self-control and self-knowledge. I love Marilynne Robinson‘s wise and compassionate novels. William Styron has always been a favorite of mine. All three of these writers have a sensitive, insightful writing style that I admire. There are too many wonderful writers to include in one short list!
Marlene Lee, along with other local authors, will be speaking on a panel at the Columbia Public Library on December 13th at 1 p.m. in the Friends Room. These authors (including David Collins, Ida Fogle, Elaine Stewart, Lori Younker, Nidhi Khosla, William A. Wolff and Wayne Anderson) will be talking about their contributions to the recently published anthology of fiction and non-fiction, “Uncertain Promise.” To check out Marlene’s other events and to keep up-to-date on her writing, please visit her website.
Yes, it’s the holiday season, but it is also awards season. Each fall we are treated to not only best-of-the-year book lists but also the Man Booker prize-winner and National Book Award titles, among others. If you have readers on your holiday shopping list, consider giving them one of these excellent books. (Book descriptions provided by their publishers.)
“Redeployment” by Phil Klay
Winner of the National Book Award for fiction
This collection of stories takes readers to the front lines of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, asking us to understand what happened there, and what happened to the soldiers who returned. Interwoven with themes of brutality and faith, guilt and fear, helplessness and survival, the characters in these stories struggle to make meaning out of chaos. These stories reveal the intricate combination of monotony, bureaucracy, comradeship and violence that make up a soldier’s daily life at war, and the isolation, remorse and despair that can accompany a soldier’s homecoming.
“Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China” by Evan Osnos
Winner of the National Book Award for nonfiction
From abroad, we often see China as a caricature: a nation of pragmatic plutocrats and ruthlessly dedicated students destined to rule the global economy – or an addled Goliath, riddled with corruption and on the edge of stagnation. What we don’t see is how both powerful and ordinary people are remaking their lives as their country dramatically changes. As the Beijing correspondent for The New Yorker, Evan Osnos was on the ground in China for years, witness to profound political, economic and cultural upheaval. In Age of Ambition, he describes the greatest collision taking place in that country: the clash between the rise of the individual and the Communist Party’s struggle to retain control.
“The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry” by Gabrielle Zevin
LibraryReads favorite title of 2014
A.J. Fikry’s life is not what he expected it to be. His wife has died, his bookstore is failing, and his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. He is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island and from Amelia, the Knightley Press sales rep who refuses to be deterred by A.J.’s bad attitude. And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore that gives A.J. the ability to see everything anew. It doesn’t take long for the locals to notice the change; or for that determined sales rep, Amelia, to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light; or for the wisdom of all those books to become again the lifeblood of A.J.’s world.
“The Narrow Road to the Deep North” by Richard Flanagan
Winner of the Man Booker Prize for fiction
A magisterial novel of love and war that traces the life of one man from World War II to the present. In 1943, Australian surgeon Dorrigo Evans is haunted by his affair with his uncle’s young wife two years earlier. His life, in a brutal Japanese POW camp on the Thai-Burma Death Railway, is a daily struggle to save the men under his command until he receives a letter that will change him forever. This is a savagely beautiful novel about the many forms of good and evil, of truth and transcendence, as one man comes of age, prospers, only to discover all that he has lost.
“Ordinary Grace” by William Krueger
Winner of the Edgar Award for best mystery fiction
Looking back at a tragic event that occurred during his thirteenth year, Frank Drum explores how a complicated web of secrets, adultery and betrayal shattered his Methodist family and their small 1961 Minnesota community.
For more inspiration, check out the awards lists in your library’s catalog!
I am excited to introduce a new series here at DBRL Next: Ask the Author. In these posts we will interview writers in our library community. Do you know of a local author from whom you’re dying to hear? E-mail us and we’ll see what we can do!
Our first interview is with author Eric Praschan. Praschan launched his writing career after suffering from a reoccurring illness that left him temporarily mute and unable to feel his extremities. In order to process this traumatic event, Praschan decided to turn this experience into research for his writing. Three years later, he self-published his first full-length novel, “Therapy for Ghosts,” which he later turned into a trilogy following protagonist Cindy James on her quest to uncover her past and reconcile with her family’s dark secrets. The author has now sold over 16,000 books. His latest book, “Blind Evil,” was published earlier this year.
DBRL: One of your first books, “Therapy for Ghosts,” was inspired by your battle with mute paralysis, as well as your experience with cognitive behavioral therapy. Your latest book, “Blind Evil,” is a psychological thriller about a police detective whose best friend is a primary subject in a double homicide. Can you talk about some of your inspirations for this book?
EP: Strangely enough, the initial idea for “Blind Evil“ came to me almost eight years ago on my honeymoon. My wife and I booked an inexpensive “beachside cottage” in Florida, but when we arrived at night, we discovered that the cottage was several miles into the woods surrounded by head-high grass. The cottage didn’t have window curtains and the cottages next door didn’t have curtains, either. There were cars parked nearby, but no lights were on, and no one was around. The moonlight trickled in through the trees, and it was dead silent. It was very creepy. My wife and I looked at each other and said, “I don’t think so.” We got out of there like our pants were on fire and drove back into town to stay in a resort. After we were safe in a room fully furnished with curtains and working lights, we laughed about it and said that that cottage was the kind of place from a horror movie “where people go to die.” Lesson learned – don’t go cheap on your honeymoon.
The image of that creepy cottage stayed with me, and over the years, the story started to emerge.
I could still envision that chilling moonlight, the eerie stillness and our skin crawling. Then the characters began to come to life. In terms of the psychological aspects of “Blind Evil,” the subject of psychology is fascinating to me – how the human mind works, how we react to each other and how we respond in difficult circumstances. I wanted to see what would happen if three close friends, whose lives had been entangled in a complicated manner while growing up, were placed in a psychological pressure cooker. John, a police detective, doesn’t know if he can trust his best friend, David, who is now the prime suspect in a double homicide. Emily, the woman they both have loved, is caught in the middle, and the tension rises. My motto for writing is: the more conflict, the better!
DBRL: All of your published books, with the exception of your short story “The Furrowed Brow,” are set in Missouri. As a local Columbia, Missourian, you understand the advantages and limitations of living in mid-Missouri. What are some things you like most about living here?
EP: I love the geography of Missouri. The forests, hills and rivers provide rich texture to the landscape, and I’ve always found great story inspiration from nature. There’s haunting allure and mystery hidden in the picturesque Missouri scenery. I enjoy the close proximity of rural and urban territories in Missouri. If you’re in a city, just drive 10 or 15 minutes in any direction and you’ll probably end up in the country surrounded by farms, fields and majestic horizon lines. It doesn’t get any better than that.
Columbia, Missouri is particularly inspiring for me because it is located near Rock Bridge Memorial State Park and other natural landmarks that can fuel the imagination. For my most recent novel, I actually hiked one of the trails and descended into the Devil’s Icebox cave at Rock Bridge State Park to do some research for a scene. The experience was thrilling, and I took pictures and notes in the darkness of the cave with only the light of my cell phone, all the while trying to keep my feet steady on the slippery, wet rocks. The people around me probably thought I was crazy, but I just smiled. Authors do crazy things for their stories, I suppose!
I also enjoy living in Columbia because it offers a great artistic community. There are so many wonderful writers I’ve had the opportunity to meet and become friends with, and it’s been invaluable to share stories, resources and experiences with them. Writing can often feel like a solitary journey, so it’s encouraging to have a writing family around you, and Columbia certainly provides that sort of environment.
DBRL: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers in our area? Are there local resources they should consider taking advantage of?
EP: The best piece of advice I have is simply this: don’t give up. Everyone has an idea for a book, but the difference between an idea and an actual book is the willingness to commit to your idea, to shut out distractions, to dedicate yourself to developing your craft and to sit in the chair and pound out the pages until the story is done. Discouragement, self-doubt, fear of failure, fear of rejection and fear of negative criticism will loom like a dark cloud threatening rain, but it’s your job to ignore the cloud and keep those words coming, even writing through the rain, if you must. The only person who can make you stop writing is you, so never give up and never stop growing as a writer.
For writers in Columbia, I would recommend taking advantage of several local resources:
- Daniel Boone Regional Library - they offer book readings and writing-related workshops throughout the year.
- Orr Street Studios Hearing Voices Seeing Visions: a monthly program combining literary and visual arts.
- Osher Book Talk Series: first Saturday of each month, 9:30-11:00 a.m., located at 1907 Hillcrest Drive
- Meet the Author Book Talks: third Saturday of each month, 10:00-11:30 a.m., located at the Boone County Historical Society.
- Quarry Heights Writers’ Workshop: writing workshop for fiction and creative non-fiction writing.
DBRL: Have you read any good books lately that you would like to recommend to our readers?
EP: Recently, I’ve read and would highly recommend Laura McHugh’s “The Weight of Blood,” which is set in the Ozark Mountains. With deeply developed characters, a rich atmospheric setting and a barn burner of a plot, it’s a literary thriller you won’t want to miss. I also recently finished Daniel Woodrell’s “Winter’s Bone,” which is set in the Ozarks as well. Woodrell’s novel showcases the landscape of Missouri in an unforgettable manner, and his main character, Ree Dolly, is a heroine for the ages.
These days many people like to do more than one thing with their lives. The results are often generously deemed unspectacular. For every brilliant acting performance by political savant Arnold Schwarzenegger, there are three ill-advised folk or jazz albums by some actor who found the time to buy a guitar or piano and grow a beard on the downtime from his day job. For everybody that grimaces at the idea of Stephen King directing a movie, or Wolf Blitzer babysitting their kids, or catching a glimpse of Terry Bradshaw, there is understandable trepidation caused by a novel by an acclaimed rock and roller. But John Darnielle is not your typical song and dance man. His acclaim hasn’t been generated by facial paints or scandalous dance moves but by the quality of his songcraft. Indeed, the author bio on the back flap of the magnificent “Wolf in White Van” proclaims he’s “widely considered one of the best lyricists of his generation.” Now granted, not everyone that can pen pretty lyrics can craft a decent novel. But consider this: Darnielle’s acumen for fiction is made evident by the fact that his band is called “The Mountain Goats” when in fact it is comprised often times by only a single human, Darnielle himself, and never by any non-human mammals. Also, a big hat tip to the interns here at the Next Blog for pointing out the band’s inability to scale the sheerest rock faces.
“Wolf in White Van” is a powerful book, dense with pretty sentences you can imagine Darnielle setting to music. Darnielle, in addition to shaming Sir Elton John’s tennis game, has written the sort of page-turner character study that most novelists don’t have in them. It’s a melancholy and sometimes grim look at the early life of a damaged man. While a teenager, the narrator survived a gunshot that left his face radically deformed. The novel flashes between Sean’s present and his past, eventually coming all the way back to the night when a bullet changed his future. To deal with living inside his head during his hospital stay, and with the loneliness that sticks with him indefinitely, Sean has created a mail-in role playing game. There are frequent asides from inside the post-apocalyptic world its players must navigate. Completing the game is impossible, which, given its subscription based nature, is just good business sense. This perhaps hints at a third talent Darnielle could unleash; I’m sure Pat Sajak is somewhere gritting his teeth right now.
John Darnielle will write and perform more songs. It seems likely he’ll write more novels. Here’s hoping he has plenty of time to do both and that fewer athletes open restaurants.