Archive for the Category »Bookstruck «

BOOKSTRUCK: Jim Fusilli

Bookstruck-LogoThe novels of Sinclair Lewis influenced me, particularly Babbitt and the Zenith books. Philip Roth and Saul Bellow too. James M. Cain. Elmore Leonard. I’ve said this before: A single sentence in a Brian Moore novel changed my life.

But the book that really stunned me was The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald. It was published in ’95, so I was already working toward becoming a novelist and came to it too late for it to influence me in a formative way. I’ve read it many, many times. It’s an account of the young life of the man who became Novalis, an 18th century German poet who is seeking his muse – which turns out to be an obnoxious 12-year-old simpleton. It’s about family, genius, loss and the inexplicable nature of love. Fitzgerald is magnificent, really: She never imposes herself on the story. It’s a tour de force without pyrotechnics. She just lets the characters develop. The story washes over the reader. It’s a miraculous achievement. It took me weeks before I stepped away from the glow of the characters and what happened to them, and then I thought, “How did she do that?” Until I asked that question, I felt as if I had lived the story. It didn’t sit within me as fiction. It was as if it happened to me.

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Jim Fusilli’s novel Road to Nowhere was published by Thomas and Mercer in 2012; its follow-up, Billboard Man, will hit the shelves (and e-readers) this September. His other novels include Narrows Gate, Hard, Hard City, and A Well-Known Secret. Fusilli is also the author of the acclaimed Pet Sounds (an innovative exploration of the Beach Boys’ classic album) and rock & pop critic at the Wall Street Journal.  You can follow him on Twitter @wsjrock. He lives in New York.

Book hyperlinks courtesy of Greenlight Bookstore, Brooklyn, New York.

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BOOKSTRUCK: Sarah-Jane Stratford

Bookstruck-LogoThere are always the usual suspects in considering books that changed my life. Books like Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale aroused and infuriated me, keeping me energized and focused on the ongoing fight for human rights and true equality under the law. Deep readings of Twelfth Night and the first half of The Winter’s Tale led me to explore the complexity and elasticity of relationships and the curious bittersweetness that must always play some part in our lives, even in our greatest joy. And Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia awoke me to the poetry of regret and the foolish futility to which we’re so prone – the desperate need to assert some sort of control in our worlds, internal and external, and the way that need, when enacted, is more than likely going to turn around and land us in a much bigger proverbial paddle-less place.

But the book that really changed me, that affected not just my heart and mind, but set me on a whole new journey, was wholly unexpected: Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation. I read it with a zooming pulse and churning stomach, staying up late several nights because there was no putting it down – and certainly no getting to sleep. I’ve always been political, and I’ve never cared for processed food or the corporate industry that supports fast food, but that book both educated me and coalesced several strands of my politics, jump-starting my impassioned environmentalism, which was an immediate and obvious fit with my lifelong feminism. It was disturbing and upsetting, but galvanizing. It turned me into a fierce and fearless environmental activist, determined to paint not just the town, but the world, green. I’d love to write a book that lights such a fire under readers (burning on responsibly sourced wood, natch), but what I love about Fast Food Nation’s ongoing hold on me is that it continues to make me think – and fight – well outside myself.

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Sarah-Jane Stratford is the author of two imaginative, suspenseful historical novels (with vampires at their heart): The Midnight Guardian and The Moonlight Brigade. She is also writes on politics, feminism, the environment, theater, and where they all collide, for SlateThe Guardianand other publications. You can follow her on Twitter and find her on Facebook. She lives in New York City.

Book hyperlinks courtesy of Powell’s Books, Portland, Oregon.

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BOOKSTRUCK: Michael S. Roth

Bookstruck-LogoI teach Madame Bovary, a book that has been a drug in my blood for a very long time. Why? I quote a few passages from the recent Lydia Davis translation:

After the ball, Emma returns to her dull life:

Reverently she put away in the chest of drawers her beautiful dress and even her satinshoes, whose soles had been yellowed by the slippery wax of the dance floor. Her heart was like them: contact with wealth had laid something over it that would not be wiped away. 48

As the affair with Rodolphe starts:

She said to herself again and again: “I have a lover! A lover!” reveling in the thought as though she had come into a second puberty. At last she would possess those joys of love, that fever of happiness of which she had despaired. She was entering something marvelous in which all was passion, ecstasy, delirium. 142

Rodolphe prepares the note to drop Emma:

But once the pen was in his hand, he could not think of anything… 176

Indeed, these women, flocking into his thoughts all at the same time, impeded and diminished one another, as though by the sameness of his love. …his pleasures, like school children in a schoolyard, had so trampled his hert that nothing green grew there…177

 The driver of the carriage in which Leon and Emma are having sex:

[The driver] could not understand what mania for locomotion was compelling these individuals to refuse to stop. 217

I’ll stop, but it hurts to do so. There are so many delicious sentences that give pleasure even as they remind one that the pursuit of pleasure (at least outside of art) is doomed to trivialization, cliché and disappointment. I’ve taught the novel dozens of times, and I still am thrilled by it. That’s why I can laugh as I quote from the master’s letters:

“Passion does not make verses; and the more personal you are, the weaker… The less you feel a thing, the more capable you are of expressing it as it is ..But one must be able to make oneself feel it. The faculty is simply, genius: the ability to see, to have the model posing there before you.” (Letter to Louise Colete, July 6, 1852)

“To have talent, you must be convinced that you possess it; and to keep your conscience pure you must set it above everybody else’s. The way to live serenely, in clean, fresh air, is t install yourself on some pyramid, no matter which, provided it be lofty and have a solid foundation. Ah! It isn’t always “amusing” up there, and you are absolutely alone; but there is some consolation in spitting from so high a place.” (Letter to Louise Colete, May 29, 1852)

I first read Flaubert at Wesleyan. Teaching it here now is wonderful!

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Michael Roth is the president of Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, where he also teaches. He is the author of Memory, Trauma, and History: Essays on Living With the Past (Columbia University Press 2011) and a frequent contributor to the Huffington Post and The Chronicle of Higher Education. (Click on the links for some of his articles in each publication.) His thoughtful, insightful Wesleyan blog can be found here.

Book hyperlinks courtesy of Broad Street Books, Middletown, Connecticut, and Columbia University Press.

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BOOKSTRUCK: James W. Hall

Bookstruck-LogoFor me, the book that knocked me flat, after years of reading widely but indiscriminately through high school, was John Fowles’ The Magus.  It was well-written (though not densely poetic like one of my other favorites at the time Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet), and it was a mystery, and a sensuous romance, took place in an exotic locale, and featured a philosophical puzzle that intrigued me.  It asked this question in a very concrete way:  How much of our life is determined by our own free will choices, and how much of it is guided or predetermined by forces we can not see and are likely never to discover.

Maybe this existential question was rendered in a simplistic way and because it was my first encounter with the concept, I was unduly impressed.  I’ve never re-read the new version of The Magus partly because I didn’t want to sully the golden memories I had of that reading experience.  But in some strange way The Magus still guides my own aesthetic…which is to try to write a book that is at once lyrically written, emotionally engaging, suspenseful, sexy, scary, and intellectually challenging.  That’s a high standard, and not one I live up to regularly, but it’s part of what drives me to keep trying.

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James W. Hall is the author of seventeen suspenseful, beautifully written novels set in South Florida, twelve of which feature his tough, intrepid antihero Thorn. These include Magic City, Hell’s Bay, Silencer, and the most recent, Dead Last. Hall is also the author of the fascinating, enlightening Hit Lit: Cracking the Code of the Twentieth Century’s Biggest Best Sellers, which gets at the heart of the immortality of books ranging from The Godfather to The Da Vinci Code. He divides his time between South Florida and the mountains of western North Carolina.

Book hyperlinks courtesy of Malaprops Bookstore/Cafe in Asheville, North Carolina.

 

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BOOKSTRUCK: Beth Fish

BookstruckI always have trouble with questions that ask me to name just one book in answer. As soon as I give a title, I immediately can think of 10 more books. Thus I don’t have a single favorite book, but a handful that usually come to mind. The same goes for Joseph Wallace’s question, What was a book you can remember reading that simply struck you still?

The books on this list were written in the last century and share little in common except I can still remember how taken I was by the prose, or the story, or thoughts they generated.

The first two that came to mind were Bastard out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison and Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier, both southern fiction. I picked up Bastard out of Carolina in an independent bookstore on the Outer Banks, brought it back to our rental house, and didn’t move from the living room until I had read the last page. I remember feeling book drugged and out of it for the entire evening as I digested Bone’s life and the horrors of her childhood.

Cold Mountain had a different impact, and what I remember most is the dreamlike mood that Frazier created as Inman–Odysseus-like–worked his way home to Ada and the shock of the events that were later to come.

I was already in graduate school when I discovered Colette. I don’t remember what I read first, probably Sido or My Mother’s House. The beauty of her language when describing meals, the gardens, the pets, her mother is what struck me so hard. Some sentences were so strong, I’d be stopped short just to absorb them. Once I discovered Colette, I read everything of hers I could find and was never disappointed.

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“I’m a book lover and freelance book editor, reviewer, and journalist blogging as Beth Fish,” reads the biography of the blogger behind the widely read Beth Fish Reads blog. She is also a member of the National Book Critics Circle and a reviewer for AudioFile Magazine. She lives in Central Pennsylvania. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, tumblr, and other social-media sites.

Book hyperlinks courtesy of the Towne Book Center & Cafe, Collegeville, Pennsylvania.

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BOOKSTRUCK: Kristin Bair O’Keeffe

Bookstruck-LogoI was living in Shanghai, China, when Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle knocked me over the head, tossed me over its shoulder, and toted me down an alleyway, at the end of which hung a blinking neon sign that read “Literary Nirvana, This Way.” It was 2006. I bought a copy at the Charterhouse Bookstore at the Shanghai Centre on Nanjing Road (now closed) and hunkered down with it and a cup of tea in the adjacent Starbucks. By the end of the first scene (a bizarre phone conversation while the narrator cooks spaghetti), I was hooked.

Since then—and especially as I happily burrowed my way through Murakami’s latest, IQ84—I’ve tried to pinpoint what it is about his work that makes my head buzz. Thus far, I’ve pared it down to three things:

  1. It’s sexy and dangerous and risky.
  2. He manages to tell important stories about place, history, politics, and humanity without making readers roll their eyes and think, “Oh, this is about place, history, politics, and humanity.”
  3. Truly, no matter what unexpected turn the plot takes (and whew, there are some unexpected turns), I trust the narrator (and ultimately, Murakami) completely. I’m like one of those zombies in an old B-movie with my eyes closed and arms out in front of me. Talking cat? No problem. Two moons? Bring ’em on.

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Kristin Bair O’Keeffe is the author of two novels: Thirsty (2009) and The Art of Floating, which will be published by Penguin’s Berkley Books in early 2014. She has also written for  BluestemPoets & Writers MagazineThe Gettysburg Review, and many other publications. After spending five years as an expatriate in Shanghai, she now lives in Massachusetts with her family. You can find her on Twitter and Facebook.

Book hyperlinks courtesy of Brookline Booksmith, Brookline, Massachusetts.

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BOOKSTRUCK: Three Perspectives

Bookstruck-LogoA trio of talented novelists reveal some books that struck them still.

JAEL MCHENRY: The book that really blew me away and didn’t let go was Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card. It was the first time that I was so surprised by a book that I had to immediately start rereading it to see what I’d missed. A particular twist late in the book manages to be both completely out-of-the-blue and obviously inevitable — and as a writer I’ve been trying to capture that elusive magic in my own writing ever since. I felt for the characters while recognizing the craft of the writer at the same time — again, elusive magic.

KAREN PALMER: Larry Brown’s 1991 novel Joe hit me hard. The combination of lyricism and grit. Characters far outside my personal experience, and landscape as alive as ever any character could be. The dialogue is constrained, at times almost inarticulate, but it says everything. The most evil person in the story escapes justice, a devastating conclusion but exactly right. My response to this novel was chemical, like love at first sight, and every few years I return to it, to feel that love again.

LISE MCCLENDON: Back when I first started writing fiction I read anything and everything I thought would make me a better writer. Along the way I read Rich in Love by Josephine Humphreys. I remember how it affected me because I burst into tears at the end. Not because it was that sort of a novel (although it is a very emotional, heartfelt story) but because I thought I would never write a book that good. But, criminy, I’m trying! Maybe the best thing about writing? Always striving to be a better writer.

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Jael McHenry’s 2011 debut novel, The Kitchen Daughter,  received terrific reviews from O, The Oprah MagazinePublishers Weekly, and many other publications. She is currently revising her next novel while also contributing thoughtful blog posts on writing and life to Writer Unboxed and other publications. You can follow her on Twitter here.

Karen Palmer is the author of two highly praised novels, All Saints and Border Dogs. Her work has also been published in The Kenyon Review and other publications, and her story “Virtuoso Mio”  was selected for Pushcart Prize XXIX. Currently at work on a memoir, she can be found on Twitter as well.

Montana-based novelist Lise McClendon  is the author of the Dorie Lennox and Alix Thorssen mystery series, as well as the acclaimed stand-alone Blackbird Fly and the recent  change of pace All Your Pretty Dreams, of which she writes, “If Elizabeth Bennett had been born into a Minnesota polka band, her story would be All Your Pretty Dreams.” She’s on Twitter here.

Book hyperlinks courtesy of the terrific independent bookstore Country Bookshelf in the equally terrific Bozeman, Montana, and via Amazon.

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