Friday, February 22, 2013

The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin

The Aviator’s Wife has been on sale for about a minute in a half and it’s already in its 237th printing. Well, officially it’s in the 6th printing, but that’s a lot of books sold just out of the gate, man!
My second favorite thing about Melanie Benjamin is that she is so adept at choosing smart, strong, interesting women that we know very little about. Her two previous books, Alice I Have Been and The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb are perfect examples of fascinating subjects; while you’re reading, you can’t help but make lists of friends that you want to talk about the book with, and if you’re a nice person, perhaps lend the book to your friend.

The Aviator’s Wife is my favorite of the three Benjamin novels that I have read; it’s a true page-turner. To be perfectly honest, when I learned she would be writing about Anne Lindbergh I thought, "This might be less edgy than her two previous books, and maybe just not in my wheelhouse." I sat down to dip in, and the next thing I knew, I was a couple hundred pages in and completely immersed. I actually knew next to nothing about the Lindbergh story, not to mention Anne, so page after page was a revelation. She was a bad ass. She an aviation pioneer in her own right, too (she was the first American woman to earn a glider pilot’s license). Melanie Benjamin does a fantastic job painting a portrait of the insane thirst the public had for anything and everything Lindbergh, especially after their first baby is born. The tension that leads up to the actual kidnapping of baby Charles is perfectly captured. 

Charles and Anne
I won’t comment too much on Charles and Anne’s marriage, which I presumed was a perfect All-American union, but turns out I didn’t know a single thing about their life together and don’t want to ruin it for anyone else. Not wanting to ruin something is a rare thing for me.

Cubs fan
I know you’re dying to know what my first favorite thing about Melanie Benjamin is. Her eyes, the way she dances, the way the moon bounces off her hair? No, my favorite thing about her is that she is a Cubs fan. Its also probably the saddest thing about her. I know it’s the saddest thing about me. Go Cubs….

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Presidential Reading

Yesterday being President's Day, I went out of my way not to do anything. I did eat apple pie for breakfast because I'm an American. I do my part for the country. I don't really like that Lincoln's and Washington's birthdays have been reduced to one Monday day off. I was a bit obsessed with the Presidents when I was a kid, which led to a lot of useless trivia; we probably shouldn't elect another Quaker (Hoover, Nixon), for example. Also, let's face it, I was a weirdo. I named the toenails on my right foot after less well known or more notorious Presidents. I hesitated to include this information here, but Gianna's freaked out by feet and this paragraph is payback for her inability to actually deliver cookies to my house when she says she's going to bring them right over. The piggy with the pointy cornered nail was Franklin Pierce. Millard Fillmore was the big toe; that name just screams "plus sized," right? Warren Harding and Chester Arthur filled in the middle and Nixon was the little piggy who went wee wee wee all the way home.

I digress.

Shall we talk about books and the Presidency?

President #26: Theodore Roosevelt. Teddy is the subject of many books including Edmund Morris's excellent biographies, but my personal favorite of the ones I've read is Candice Millard's The River of Doubt. After Roosevelt lost an attempt to be reelected as President a decade after he left office, and facing a crisis of age and confidence, Roosevelt and his son Kermit decided to become Amazon explorers. They set off on an expedition down a previously uncharted river that almost cost the President his life. Tropical plants and critters, fish that swim up your urethra, die, and lead to penectomies (we don't use that word often enough on this blog), and savage territory only made Roosevelt's lack of experience and preparation all the more obvious. Who doesn't love arrogant white guys brought to their knees by nature?

President #37: Richard Nixon. Yeah, there's plenty to say about Nixon. All the President's Men is the classic text. We recommend the fictionalized take on Nixon's downfall, Watergate by Thomas Mallon. Nixon is both sympathetic and delusional, and Mallon's book is a psychological exploration of a great man, a well-crafted epic, and a chilling account of hubris.

President #20: James A. Garfield. True story--at the Republican National Convention in 1880, Garfield was there to nominate another guy. Toward the end of his  passionate speech, though, he rhetorically asked "Who do we want?" and someone in the crowd yelled "We want Garfield!" A few months later, Garfield was officially elected President. During the height of Gilded Age corruption, Garfield promised to be one of the great Presidents of all time. And then he was assassinated (spoiler?). Once again we are recommending a Candice Millard book, this one called The Destiny of the Republic.

President #43: Al Gore. Just kidding. George W. Bush. Maybe this pick is a bit of a cheat, but American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld is loosely based on Laura Bush. It's probably more fun to read about the fictionalized party goer and favored son Bush than any of the books coming out about the W years these days.

President #36: Lyndon B. Johnson. Robert Caro's masterful biographical series, the most recent of which is The Passage of Power, are the definitive books written about LBJ. I also want to give a shout out to Billy Lee Brammer's The Gay Place, though. Brammer was an LBJ staffer and wrote a classic novel about Texas politics centered around a LBJ-esque governor.

President #33: Harry S. Truman. I admit it; I love Truman. He was given an impossible task--serving as President after more than a decade of FDR and at the end of major war, tasked with negotiating surrenders, war trials, and the emergent Soviet Union. Truman was the guy who decided to drop atomic bombs. For better or worse, the guy had balls of steel. David McCullough knows how to write a Presidential biography, and Truman is my favorite of his books.

President #3: Thomas Jefferson. We love Jon Meacham. We aren't the only ones. Meacham's latest, Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power takes on Jefferson's life and also looks at his political philosophy. Even though Meacham's book was a big hit during the holiday season, I'm sure that a few people out there haven't yet picked up copies. An aside, Meacham is charming and funny in person (on top of being wickedly smart).

President #44: Barack Obama. Before he was President, Obama was a writer. His memoir, Dreams from My Father, is the story of the American dream. It's the story of a man who's lived his entire life in between worlds, the mixed race son of an African father and American mother, who knows his father more from stories than as an actual person. Obama traces his family's past, from his mother's journey from Kansas to Hawaii, her relationship with the Kenyan man who left the family when Barack was two, and Obama's rise to the top of his Harvard class and work as a community organizer in Chicago. He goes back to Kenya after his father's death, finding his place in the world and as his own man.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Valentine's Day, Gianna Style

I have often thought I should have been a relationship therapist…a love doctor.  You have a love condition? Honey, I’ve got the medicine.

At the University of Texas Press, we have many excellent choices for Valentine’s Day. Let me list a few, giving you an opportunity to really suss out which of our books speaks from your heart directly to your true love.

Naked Truth is a really fantastic choice of your love is a stripper. It is also an excellent choice if you’re a stripper, or you enjoy strippers and view them as artists. I guess what I am saying is, “Who can’t you give this book to?”

Go Down, Old Hannah is a really sweet and certainly safe choice if your relationship is just beginning to bloom romantically. It says, “I want you, but not all the way.”

Sex Work in the City just puts a smile on my face. Certainly a more realistic version of HBO not at all lauded Sex in the City, this little ditty is set in the other city that never sleeps, Tijuana!

Intimate Commerce might seem like a daring choice for such a pure holiday, but I don’t think I am too far off base when I say that there really is nothing better than a monetary exchange when dealing with matters of the heart.

The Concubine, the Princess, and the Teacher. Well, you won’t find a more perfect book for the triad relationship whose members also enjoy a little role-playing. Obviously this book is also good if you’re married to a teacher.

The Art of Friction. Yes, that’s right, it’s an art, and it’s about time that someone has written a well researched book about it.

Witches, Whores, and Sorcerers is a no brainer for the Harry Potter fan that you are currently sleeping with. Also the perfect last minute gift if you’re the type to sleep with a whore on Valentine’s Day.
Manhood in Hollywood from Bush to Bush is a classic Valentine choice year in and year out for the film buff that you’re porking.

Psycho Sexual might be the perfect book choice for the man or woman you are trying to get rid of, or a Valentine that you actually broke up with over a year ago but who you occasionally still find hiding behind shrubbery in your backyard taking pictures of you through your kitchen window while you make dinner for your new lover. This is one of our bestselling titles this time of year.

And one more for you totally vanilla, completely lame book lovers out there. Our bestselling Valentine’s Day book of all time…

One Hundred Love Sonnets by Pablo Neruda. It's pink and bilingual, bitches!

Just as one final note, I hope its clear that I don't have a clue as to what any of the above books are actually  about (with the exception of Neruda). You know, pretty much same deal as every single blog I post. Its my motto, know as little as possible. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Valentine's Day, Liz Style

Even Jane Seymour's incredibly
tacky jewelry is more appropriate
for Valentine's Day
than these (admittedly great) books.
Ah, love. When talking about what we would post this week, Gianna suggested that we feature our publishers' best-selling titles for the lovers' holiday. After hanging up the phone, though, I realized that, having hugged two different people over the weekend (old friends visiting), I am emotionally spent and have little to offer you lovers. I'm going to sit here in my lonely house with my box of Little Debbie Nutty Bars and think about books that tell that special someone that you really, really (don't) care.

Ten Books You'd Be an Idiot to Give to Your Sweetheart for Valentine's Day (But Are Nonetheless Really, Really Good)

1. Revolutionary Road. I love this book and I was even the token fan of the movie, but seriously, if you gave this book to your wife, she'd probably take the dog and move in with her sister that night. Frank and April Wheeler have high aspirations of creative genius until they move to the suburbs, sell out for Frank's boring job and Mad Men-esque two kids, and April loses her acting career and will to live. This book blows a 1.7 blood/alcohol level, and, yeah, (spoiler alert) there's a botched abortion.

2. The White Hotel. D.M. Thomas wrote an erotic tale full of illicit love...between Sigmund Freud's son and a hysterical woman. Freud is the woman's therapist, she may be making the whole thing up, and really it's about the horrors of the Holocaust.

3. The Bottle Factory Outing. I love Beryl Bainbridge, and particularly this book. Brenda and Frida work in a factory that bottles Italian wine. The company has a picnic, and while one of the women is a born victim, the other is a brash fighter who wants to find romance and love. But instead she's killed and stuffed in a wine barrel. (Yeah, that's a spoiler too.)

4. Sophie's Choice. First: Holocaust. Second: A mother has to choose which of her children will survive. Need I say more?

5. The Virgin Suicides. What's creepier--the parents who smother their daughters so much that they begin to kill themselves one by one, or the boys watching across the street who silently witness the family's demise?

Oh my god!
They shot Bambi!
6. The Road. I think The Road is the standard bearer for bleak reads. Cormac McCarthy is one dark dude, so his version of the post-apocalyptic future involves a man and his son walking down a road, hiding from cannibals, and saving the bullets in that gun for the right moment.

7. Where the Red Fern Grows, The Yearling, Old Yeller. Nothing says "I'm not getting laid tonight" like giving your sweetie one of these classics about losing the family pet(s).

8. The Handmaid's Tale. Saunter up to your lady, wrap your arm around her, and her the scene in Margaret Atwood's feminist dystopian novel in which the protagonist, Offred, fulfills her handmaid duty by having sex with Fred and his barren wife. Guess who's sleeping alone tonight! You are, hot shot!

9. American Psycho. Patrick Bateman? He gets off by admiring himself, fixating on the mass consumerism of 80's culture, and, you know, killing women. On the other hand, Christian Bale is naked in the movie version.

The cover is red!
It's perfect for V Day!
(No, it is not.)
10. Push. Sapphire's novel which became the movie Precious is all about an inner city girl learning to read. Also, she was sexually abused by both parents, has a child with Down Symdrome she named Mongo (short for "mongoloid"), and is pregnant with another child. She's on welfare and her mother beats her. And when she finally escapes...yeah, she has AIDS.

What's crazy about this list is that I really like these books (except for American Psycho, which isn't my preferred version of depressing). They are great reads (as long as the date isn't February 14th).

And yes, I'm still single.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Things I Love, Things I Hate, Things in Between, V3

Thing I Love: The Random House Telephone Sales Department. Sure, they are my colleagues, but that's no guarantee that I'll like you. Heck, Gianna was once one of my colleagues. This group, though, makes me happy. First, they are professionals who do a great job of selling books to hundreds (thousands?) of stores. Second, they are team players who regularly chip in to help out toward the bigger picture.  If you're in a bookstore and there's a signed copy of, say, My Beloved World by Justice Sonia Sotomayor or the soon to be released Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell, there's a good chance that the phones sales team set up that warehouse signing with the author. Most importantly, though, they are HUGE Baltimore Ravens fans, and they've had a great week. Also, they are 1,200 miles away, so I can take this picture:
The Random House telephone sales department, Ravens fans
And re-post it on Facebook as this picture:
I could used Photoshop, but cutting and pasting really points to my dedication
to a prank. They love me. (They threatened me. On a public forum.)
I'm pretty sure that the telephone sales department loves me too.
Marisha Pessl

Thing I Love: Fall books. Yeah, it's barely February, but we're beginning to hear about the upcoming fall books. There's a new novel coming from Marisha Pessl, the author who wrote Special Topics in Calamity Physics, which I loved. The new one is called Night Film, and holy hoo-hahs is it creepy. A disgraced reporter is fairly obsessed with the Oscar winning director Stanislas Cordova, a recluse who specializing in movies that combine Hitchcock-esque suspense and slasher films. They are freaky, and because of the content, they've become cult pictures only screened at secret gatherings. Then Cordova's daughter Ashley dies. Suicide? Foul play? What's going on at Cordova's mansion? What's up with the occult-like clues surrounding the case? And where is Cordova? Marisha Pessl's book has rep buzz already along the lines of what I heard for Justin Cronin's The Passage a few years ago. I flew through it, even at 700 pages. Seriously, 700 pages, three days. Mark it down on your list (and get comfy; it doesn't come out for quite awhile). This book is crazy fun and just creepy enough to keep you reading.

Thing in Between: The Super Bowl. Consider this: people watch the Super Bowl for the commercials, yet this is supposed to be the pinnacle of the NFL season. And those commercials? About 75% of them are less entertaining than an episode of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. Some--looking at you Go Daddy--are incredibly offensive. And the most memorable part of this year's Super Bowl was the power going out. So let's think about this: the game is so dull that a power failure was more entertaining than the "sport." Can we finally agree that baseball is a superior sport? Good. Spring training starts in a week and my team is set to lose 120 games! Go Astros!

More Tina! More Amy!
These two are invited to our
dinner party.
Thing I Hate: Seth McFarlane is hosting the Academy Awards. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are not. Televisions need selective mute controls. If you haven't heard, by the way, Amy Poehler signed a book deal. If it's even half as good as Tina's, it should be terrific. (Thing I Hate: Amy's book isn't from Random House.)

Thing in Between: I know that I have hoarding instincts when it comes to books, but seriously, how is it that I live in a cruel circle of buying books, buying bookshelves to hold new books, then seeing that I have shelf space and thinking I need more books? I think that I've been hexed or something.
Who doesn't love a list? (Gianna)

Thing I Love: Book lists. Make a list and I'll read it. What did you read last week? I want to know. Also, I love that Gianna hates making lists. Torturing Gianna is a pleasure unlike any other. She whines quite a bit. I haven't suggested we tackle the Modern Library List, yet. She has it so good.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

New Year, New 30 Day Book Challenge, Day 30

Oh Flannery, I could never hate you!
Day 30: The End.


On the 29th of January, I sent Liz a text telling her how excited I was that we only had two more days of our 30 day challenge. It's really tough trying to come up with books to write about every single day, especially when the prompts are often the same questions worded a bit differently. “What’s your favorite book?” "What’s your favorite book that you own?” “Who is your favorite author that wrote your favorite book?” By Day 14, I seriously starting hating Flannery O’Connor. 

Anyway, so on the 29th I was pretty excited, just two more daily blog posts and then I could take a break. It was then that Liz reminded me that we actually didn’t start on January 1st,  and that we actually had three more posts. I’m not going to lie, I shed some tears and felt a little hate in my heart for Liz. But this is it, this really is the last day. And it won’t be like in years past when I would let Liz bully me into an additional thirty days. I’ve grown wiser (and lazier).
me when i cant figure out what to write

I thought I would hit the highlights and lowlights of our challenge.  The best book I read last year (Day 1 question) Why be Happy When You Can be Normal. Book I read more than three times (Day 2) Rubyfruit Jungle (possibly a low point as I think I admitted to stealing). A book that makes me happy (Day 5) Bossypants. Book by my favorite author (Day 16) I chose my new favorite authors like Karen Russell. Book you wish more people had read (Day 24) Autobiography of a Face. Favorite book cover (Day 27, I thought we were done so this too was a low point) Polpo.
I will now use this to help count to thirty

Final confession. I wrote this blog yesterday thinking it was the last day again.  Why did I ever agree to this and why in hell am I incapable of counting to thirty? 


Here's the thing: Gianna doesn't get that people LOVE lists. She loves lists too, except when she's the one asked to compile them. I don't know why she can't count to thirty, but I have heard that she graduated from primary school. I'm waiting for the verifying documentation.
Camel. toe.

Oh, and we're doing this again. I don't care what Gianna says; she made the mistake of sending me a picture of her with some massive camel toe. I am not above posting embarrassing things on the internet. It's blackmail. Which reminds me--next 30 Day Book Challenge, Day 1: Favorite Book About Blackmail.

When I couldn't sleep last night, I stumbled across a librarian's book challenge that involved reading one book from all of the Library of Congress categories and subcategories. That's 229 books. Gianna doesn't know how good she has it.

Friday, February 1, 2013

New Year, New 30 Day Book Challenge, Day 29

Day 29: The authors you'd like to join for dinner

Here we are, so close to the end. Gianna is so upset at the prospect of the 30 Day Challenge ending that she's in mourning. I, Liz, am made of stronger stuff and will soldier on for the good of all humanity. Before Gianna burst into tears and ran screaming from her computer, though, she shared with me her picks. Here you go:

Gianna's perfect dinner party:

Serving cocktails, obviously, Dorothy Parker. No gathering of literary wits should exclude her.

Serving drinks, Dorothy Parker

As for the rest of the gathering, Gianna wants to dine with the funny ladies. I'm sure she's trying to lift her spirits even as she grieves for another book list winding down. She's really quite upset. At first, Gianna just wanted "Tina Fey x 10,"

but then I think she realized that Tina Fey is my doppelganger, and to diffuse that bit of awkwardness she edited her list. Now, along with Tina, Gianna will be joined by Lily Tomlin,

Carol Burnett,

and Gilda Radner.

More than one of these dames snort-laughs before appetizers are served.

Liz's perfect dinner party:

I tend to start twitching in groups larger than about five people, so dinner will be cozy. I like the idea of hanging out with writers who seem like they're intelligent but unpretentious. Jeffrey Toobin, who wrote The Nine and The Oath, seems like he'd be a great dinner companion.

And Jennifer Egan; I've liked all of her books.

Mary Karr needs to be there because we could talk about East Texas and also because I suspect that she might swear.

Michelle Obama...I bet she's a great guest. She doubles as the unofficial bouncer.

Finally, to keep conversation flowing and bind the room together, Jon Stewart will be joining us.

There's a good chance that we'll eat chicken pot pie. Who doesn't love chicken pot pie?