Tuesday, December 14, 2010

"The Best Book I Ever Received": Book Industry Folks Pick Their Holiday Favorites, Part 2

Gianna has gathered another group of holiday/gift-inspired book recommendations from some of our favorite people in the book business.

Karen Valby is the author of Welcome to Utopia, one of our favorite books of the year, and a generally awesome person.  Here's a trailer for her excellent book.

And here is Karen's pick:
On my 12th birthday, my mother gave me a hard-bound copy of Jay Leech’s How to Care for Your Horse. I loved horses--I lived for horses!--so at the time the present felt like a validation of not just my passion but my ability to be a good, capable friend and guardian to them. That year my mother’s bipolar disorder started chewing away at some crucial fibers a person needs to be a parent. As she unraveled, I dug deep into chapters like “Do You Really Want a Horse?” and “Diseases of the Horse” and “Common Unsoundnesses of the Horse.” I would read and study and practice and learn so that I could understand horses and their weaknesses and how to make them happy and healthy and whole. I like to imagine that my mother, who died six years later of a sucide, was already preparing me to take care of myself.

Sarah Bird – Author of The Yokota Officer’s Club, the upcoming novel The Gap Year, and a whole bunch of other great books. 
Oddly, Gianna, you are virtually the only person who has ever given me books (other than to blurb or send to my agent.) I guess I’m sort of the book giver in my circle. And I have loved every book you’ve given me, but The Frozen Thames still occupies a special spot in my heart. Maybe because it’s small, maybe because it’s beautiful, maybe because it’s unlike anything else I’ve ever read, it has stayed with me in a way few others have. Gorgeous illustrations coupled with a gorgeously-written vignettes about the few dozen times in recorded history that the Thames River has frozen has kept this wonder of a book forever frozen in my memory. Thank you again for sharing it with me.

Scott Montgomery is the mystery expert at BookPeople in Austin, and the driving force behind the creation of the store's mystery specialty store-within-a-store, MysteryPeople.  Here's his pick: 
A first printing of The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley. I already had one first that was signed by the man; I purchased it a week before he came to the store I worked at in LA, for four dollars. Even unsigned, it was worth around four hundred.  He told me he had forty copies of that printing when it came out. "I gave them away so I could nail stewardesses."

I started a friendship with this author I admired so much, watching him hold court at whatever bar we were at, talking about the soldiers, criminals, and actors he met, occasionally dispensing writing advice when nobody was looking. We had a mutual friend in Wyoming, writer Craig Johnson. Both would pick on one another and use me as messenger to send their jibes back and forth to one another. It was Craig's wife who called me over two years ago to tell me Jim had died. The news hit me like it was a family member.

That Christmas I got a package Craig. He said they were Wyoming/ Montana themed gifts- a fine cheroot cigarello, a hat band made by an inmate in the Wyoming penitentiary, and another first edition of The Last Good Kiss. I now have two very expensive bookends that remind me of a great hero, mentor, and friend that is the epitome of those larger-than-life characters you meet in this business. With its Hunter Thompson-esque look at the modern West and America in this tough, heartbreaking book, any edition is priceless.

The lovely one on the right is Gianna's mom.
And Gianna is the other one.
Margaret LaMorte - Proud (ish) parent of Gianna.  She may be the most fascinating woman on earth...I mean, she's to blame for Gianna. 

The best book I have ever been given is Janet Evanovich’s One For the Money. It was the first book that truly made me laugh out loud. I would read it in the break room at work and my coworkers would come in and ask what the heck I was reading, they thought I was crazy. [No comment upon Gianna's mom's sanity.] We had a little group of people and we would all share the Stephanie Plum books – it was a great little group and a lot of fun. I have many ideas for the movie series but I have yet to have a call from a single Hollywood producer asking my opinion.


My choice is pretty low brow – but the thing is, I don’t really get very many books as gifts; keep that in your judgmental mind! Okay, the best book I have ever been given was Hollywood Babylon (thanks Mom!) – I guess I was like… 11 or 12, certainly not age appropriate, what with the Fatty Arbuckle rape trial and the graphic photos of Jayne Mansfield’s car accident, not to mention the Lana Turner drama and Sharon Tate murder. Now that I am thinking of it – it’s the earliest form of TMZ. However you have to understand my obsession with Hollywood – I read every biography of every Hollywood celeb I could get my hands on. I know that this book is … oh boy… sleazy…but I just loved it and would read and re-read it all the time. I don’t know what happened to it – I can’t imagine that I got rid of it, it must have been stolen or tossed out by my girlfriend who had the sense to be embarrassed for me. Don’t fear…it’s still in print as all classics remain (although as a mass market, not a big hardcover).

Saturday, December 4, 2010

"The Best Book I Ever Received": Book Industry Folks Pick Their Holiday Favorites, Part 1

As the holiday season kicks into full gear, I’m once again reminded that the gift I most want—more books—is the one I’m least likely to receive. Just because I work in the book business doesn’t mean that I don’t NEED more books. I’m convinced that anyone who works beyond the college part-time job level in the book industry is in it for the love of the product (just as I’m convinced that anyone who makes a career of it is mentally not-right). It’s more than a job. Give us our books!

To that end, I asked a few booksellers to tell me the best book they ever received as a gift. Gianna says she’s going to ask her mom, too, and that Gianna’s mom will probably recommend “porn.” Something to eagerly anticipate!

Sara Glassman sells books at The Little Professor Book Center in Homewood, Alabama. Sara actually had several recommendations:

Dead Men Do Tell Tales by William Maples
This is a really engaging book about forensic anthropology. If you've got a "Bones" fan who likes the nitty gritty this is great for them! I got it when I was 15 and it actually set me on the course that ended with a graduate degree in Anthropology. Maples is great at balancing detail with anecdote and gives insight into cases as varied as identifying the Romanovs to the murders of Ted Bundy.

D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Mythology by Ingri & Edgar Parin D'Aulaire
My mom gave me a copy of this when I was very young, six or seven maybe. I'd checked it out from the library 10 times by the time she bought it for me. I loved Greek mythology. I knew the names of the Olympians before I knew the names of the Seven Dwarves. It's still one of my favorite books to sell so that I can introduce more people to these wonderful stories.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
This is cheating a little since it was a "gift" from Toni Hetzel (Toni is my Gianna for stores east of the Mississippi River, selling books to the stores in the Deep South, and a big fan of Juicy Couture), but I was having really bad week and I mentioned it to her when she was here for a meeting. She went out to her car and got an ARC (advance reading copy) of Sweetness and handed it to me. I started reading it then on my lunch break and it was the first thing that week that made me smile.

Brian Contine is a bookseller at BookPeople in Austin, Texas, who happens to be married to the store’s adult book buyer. He’s also a skilled amateur chef, a skill his wife joyfully exploits. Here’s Brian’s advice for holiday book giving:

In this season of giving, is there a way I can make it a little about me? Yes. Give your spouse a cookbook and you'll win every time. A couple of years ago, my wife gave me a copy of Simon Hopkinson's Roast Chicken and Other Stories. Hopkinson is the British Alice Waters, creating succinct, refined, homestyle recipes which will challenge the cook and warm the belly. I suggest Salade Frisee Aux Lardons. If it matters to you, and it should, this is the best written cookbook I've ever read, you could read it cover to cover without cooking a thing and feel full.

Anne Kimbol is an expert in a particular genre, mystery, working at Houston’s elite specialty store Murder By the Book. Nonetheless, the best book she ever received as a gift transcends genre boundaries:

A friend of mine gave me a copy of Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman. I have since given it as a gift to many friends. It is a book about different theories of time told as dreams of Einstein's. I know that sounds terribly boring, but the writing really brings you into the worlds Lightman created on Einstein's behalf. It is still the book I go to when I really need an escape from the everyday craziness of life.

Check back for other picks from some of the biggest book lovers in the country…and Gianna’s mom.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Liz's Ten Best of the Year (and so much better than Gianna's....)

Okay, to know me is to know how competitive I am, and it matters to me that almost 100 people clicked on Gianna’s Top 10 list. I know that people like Gianna…it’s just that I’m counting on you all to like me more. Don’t let me down, Liz Fans.

Here they are, my favorite books of the year from the side of the company I sell. Certainly there are books on Gianna’s side that I loved (Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, for example), but she stuck to her side, I’ll stick to mine. If we were on The Brady Bunch, we’d stick a stripe of masking tape down the middle of our bedroom. Without further ado:

1. The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer. My favorite book of 2010 happened to be a book I read almost a full year ago, yet it still lingers in my mind and few stories have measured up to this epic. The novel tells the story of a family of Hungarian brothers during the 30’s and 40’s; it’s a love story, a war story, a Holocaust story, a family saga, a thriller, and a page turner. If there’s any justice at all in the world, this is the book that every book club in the country will be reading when the paperback releases in January. In 1937, Andras Levi travels to Paris to study architecture, where he meets and eventually falls in love with a Hungarian expatriate dancer. As World War II approaches, though, the couple must return to Hungary to renew their visas, a process complicated by the Nazi invasion of their country. Jews trapped in a Nazi-occupied country, Andras is reunited with his older brother, a medical student studying in Italy, and his younger brother, an actor who had opted to remain in Budapest, is shipped out to the Russian front. The story becomes one of survival and the strength of family as they fight to stay together. There are a ton of World War II books out there, but this one stands apart. The writing is impeccable and at so many points in her sweeping story Orringer could have taken a misstep, but the novel stays on track at every turn. If you like architecture, European history, love stories, adventure tales, family dramas, it’s all here. I simply love this book.

2. To the End of the Land by David Grossman. This pilgrimage story of three friends struggling to deal with the horrors of war should appear on every best of the year list. Grossman’s haunting novel chronicles the history of Israel and the personal costs of the continuing conflicts in that young nation through the intimate and immediate story of Ora, a mother panicked that her younger son will die at his military checkpoint, and the trip she takes walking across the country with an old family friend traumatized by the war in 1967. The novel is made all the more incredible because David Grossman’s own son died in the Israeli army as Grossman was finishing a draft of this book.

This cat is not a tiger.
3. The Tiger by John Vaillant. Two topics about which I’m obsessed—cats and Russia. How could I not love a book that involves both? This masterful account of an actual man-eating tiger hunting down villagers in the outer reaches of the already remote Siberia, and how the largest land predators struggle for survival in the face of increasing threats is a must read. Vaillant skillfully describes the conditions that surrounded this one incident of big cat/human relations (nothing like envisioning the remains of your hunting buddy fitting into a duffle bag) as well as the greater tribulations involved in surviving in Russia, both humans and tigers.

Jennifer Egan signs books
 at Texas Book Festival.
4. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. I’ve already written on this little blog of ours that I believe that this book at least should have been nominated for the National Book Award, and the more that I think about it, the more it strikes me as truly brilliant. Linked stories loosely centering on a record executive, what distinguishes Goon Squad is the quality of Egan’s prose and her truly inventive experimentation with form without resorting to clever trickery or losing emotional resonance. There’s an argument to be made that Jennifer Egan is one of the ten best American writers working right now.

5. The Killer of Little Shepherds by Douglas Starr. Fans of Erik Larsson and Devil in the White City take note—Douglas Starr’s newest book is every bit as good. Around the same time that H. Holmes was terrorizing the Chicago Fair, a serial killing vagrant named Joseph Vacher was wandering across France and leaving a trail of blood behind. A forensics expert named Alexandre Lacassagne worked diligently to link together the series of far-ranging murders (this in the days when police departments in neighboring towns, let alone across 1,000 miles of territory, didn’t share information) and in the process revolutionized the science of police detection. The Killer of Little Shepherds is a blend of history, true crime, and CSI thriller, and a terrific page turner. As an aside, an Italian rival of Lacassagne promoted the practice of phrenology (skull-measuring) as a means of determining criminal predilection, and based on my not-so-extensive knowledge of the practice I’m going to covertly measure Gianna’s head at our office holiday party; that woman is hiding something sinister.

6. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender. The quirkiest novel I read this year is also one of the best. An adult fairy tale of sorts, this coming of age novel pushes the boundaries for family dysfunction and the angst and turmoil associated with being different. On her birthday, nine year-old Rose Edelstein discovers that she can taste the emotions of the people who prepare the food she eats, from her mother’s sadness to her outcast brother’s rage. Her brother, too, develops his own special gift. The empathy of children and the isolation of adolescence have never been told quite like this magical, haunting story.

7. How to Live by Sarah Bakewell. Already named to several best lists in Bakewell’s native United Kingdom, this philosophical meandering into the life and works of Montaigne takes a novel and accessible approach to the man who invented the concept of the essay. By asking the simple question “How to live?” and then answering it in a variety of ways pulling from Montaigne’s life and writing, Bakewell portrays a human, personable, flawed, funny, honest man who was at peace with the contradictions in his life. Four hundred years after he lived, Montaigne is made fresh, vibrant, and relevant to modern life in this enlightening book.

8. The Wave by Susan Casey. Waves are arguably the most destructive force on the planet, swallowing huge tanker ships and washing over oil rigs when the monsters really get to rolling. Half of Susan Casey’s book is a scientific exploration of the destructive power of monster waves, and the other half is a love letter to the thrilling world of big wave surfing and the (crazy?) surfers attempting to cruise upon the tops of 100 foot water walls. The Wave is fine adventure writing.

Anne Hathaway
and Jim Sturgess
9. One Day by David Nicholls. Rarely do I find myself so caught up in a story that centers around, well, love. Oh, and I dislike books that have gimmicky hooks in their storytelling because the gimmick often replaces the character development or emotional impact of a work. I really probably should have hated One Day. It’s a novel about Dexter and Emma, who go on one date in college, become friends, fall in love with others, and then fall in love with each other. It’s a novel with a gimmick—each chapter tells the couple’s story on one day, July 15th, over 20 years. It works, though. It’s not silly or forced, and the characters are compelling. I was rooting for them even as they made mistakes, and the whole time I was reading One Day, I kept thinking, “they have to make a movie out of this book.” Well, they are, and it’s starring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess (he's dreamy).

10. Hellhound on His Trail by Hampton Sides. I already knew the outcome, I already knew many of the details of the plot, so I was shocked at how suspenseful this history of the Muther Luther King Jr. assassination turned out to be. James Earl Ray, King’s killer, is a fascinating, horrifying figure, and the details of his crime and flight from the FBI read like the best thrillers. Oh, and there were a lot of things I DIDN’T already know. Did you know that James Earl Ray was an escaped convict at the time of the assassination? Or that he tried to break into the pornographic film business in Mexico and LA? This is riveting reading of great historical significance as well as a high action true crime story of the first order. Good stuff.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Gianna's Top Ten of Oh-Ten

I love lists, I do. I love them….reading them. I hate writing lists. I think making a best of lists is the hardest thing that Liz makes me do, she is the cruelest person I know. Anyway here it is: My Top 10 Random House Books of 2010 (just to be clear, this list is derived from the books I have sold this year, so no you won’t see Aimee Bender).  [The top picks from my side, including Aimee Bender, will appear in the near future--liz.]

The awesome and sassy Gail Caldwell

Let’s Take the Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell. This goes on top because it truly has meant the most to me and I already know that it will forever be a book that I recommend. The writing is flawless, just absolutely stunning. A beautiful memoir about Caldwell’s friendship with fellow writer Caroline Knapp (Drinking: A Love Story)--you won’t be able to read the first line of this memoir and walk away. “It’s an old old story: I had a friend and we shared everything, and then she died and so we shared that too.” I know, right? I asked Gail about that first line while we were walking to the signing tent at the Texas Book Festival. She stopped in her tracks and smiled – she said that she actually wrote that sentence years ago and put it away. I expect that maybe the book came to her in that way – in pieces as she was meditating on her loss. Grief can be that way, piece by piece. You should know that the page ends with the sentence, “Grief is what tells you who you are alone.” Sentence after sentence takes your breath away, it is that good. This book of course is many things to many people, but for me it is pure love story.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. This book makes the list because … well because this single book has changed the world a bit. How? The head of the Office of Human Research at NIH asked for an early copy of HeLa in order to reevaluate NIH policies on human research. Also the U.S. Department of Defense has changed their requirements for funding research on cell cultures to protect the identity of cell donors. After the release of the book three of the four tissue rights cases Rebecca writes about in the afterword were settled; all in favor of the patient. These cases had been pending for years. Finally, the Henrietta Lacks Foundation set up by Rebecca just awarded its first scholarships to descendants of Henrietta Lacks. Rebecca Skloot spent over a decade researching, writing and gaining the trust and support of the Lacks family (no small task and understandably so), a decade of believing that Henrietta Lacks deserved acknowledgement for her amazing gift to science. What would you spend an entire decade of your life doing? I want to end this by saying very clearly that I am not a science person, never have been. In fact when I was in my 8th grade science lab I accidentally dropped a thermometer on the floor (I am old so we are talking glass and mercury). And my teacher who had a pretty good grasp on my science ability screamed from across the room, “Don’t eat it!” Now, let me say I had no intention of eating it because you know, its glass AND mercury. Anyway needless to say I am a bit surprised at the passion I have for this book and this story and of course my respect for Rebecca Skloot is just immense.

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell. There are novels that are good, and you finish and life is great and all that. Then there are novels, sweeping novels that transplant you to another time and place. It’s rare because it’s a task for a true master. Enter David Mitchell. I hate calling this historical fiction but that is exactly what it is, but of the highest caliber. Mitchell in his most assessable work brings you to a small Dutch outpost in a mostly isolated Japan at the turn of the century. Mitchell is spot on all through this novel…wait, I almost called it a romantic novel…but you know what ….if it’s David Mitchell its okay to say that…and it’s true.

Welcome To Utopia by Karen Valby. Every single time I talk about this book I get a bit emotional. I just have such affection for the people of Utopia who Karen writes about with such care and skill. It is hard to talk about just one family in this book but Kathy Wiekamp is, for me, the hero. Kathy watched 3 of her 4 boys join the military and ship off to war. One son is killed and when his body returns home, every soul of Utopia lined the street to welcome home their boy. Kathy mourns her son and it is palpable. She creates a shrine of sorts in her home and of course continues to grieve but she has other boys in the military and one at home; she too must soldier on. When I think about the war now, when I think about the human cost, or of bravery, or even of the history of the Texan woman, my thoughts go back to Kathy Wiekamp who has forever changed me.

This Time Together by Carol Burnett. If you don’t like Carol Burnett you and I have nothing to talk about. And not to sound like an old person but…they just don’t make them like her anymore. These are little snippets from her life, some pretty poignant, most just hilarious. My favorites are stories about her grandmother, a total nut.

The Things That Keep Us Here by Carla Buckley. This novel gets my vote for just plain fun. But not weeeeeeeeeeeeeee fun…sort of creepy fun. But not creepy creepy fun….you know pandemic fun. Which would be totally fun if Buckley didn’t sort of convince you that it was actually going to happen….soon…which you know…not fun at all. Isn’t the bird flu back in the news? See?

Isabel Wilkerson at Tx Book Fest...
not expecting a picture, obviously.
 The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson. This is the full history of the decades-long migration of African Americans from southern states to northern and western cities in search of a better life. The migration totaled over six million people but Wilkerson manages to write about this exodus in prose that is incredibly intimate – focusing on a few families with an excellent eye for detail.

The Irresistible Henry House by Lisa Grunwald. Henry House is born into a world as a 1940s practice baby – a real baby that a college uses for its home economic courses. Crazy right? What if I told you that some schools actually did use real babies until they were adopted after their first birthday? Even crazier, I know, but true. Henry learns very quickly to please several different women at once…which of course makes him unable to commit to just one woman as he grows up….He doesn’t really do it on purpose; he hates it in fact. Grunwald has written a truly original sweeping novel (it spans several decades) of a man on a quest to love just one woman and to reconcile his relationships with the woman who raised him.

Blind Descent by James M. Tabor. I love a good non-fiction adventure story. Problem is they are far and few between. I am a huge fan of Into Thin Air and I can definitively say that this book is for those fans – but instead of going up…Tabor takes the reader in the other direction…way way in the other direction. It is tempting to see caving as a mere hobby but the fact is these men and women who risk life and limb to descend into the unknown are explorers and more often than not, scientists. How dangerous is caving? Well I counted over 50 ways to die in a cave(like a zillion ways to fall to your death in a cave by the way), let me just highlight a few of my “favorites:” Acetylene explosion (or camp stove explosion would stink too), tunnel collapse, unplanned detachment from rebelay (uh…you fall), strangulation in vertical gear (horrible), animals eat the rope (sucks!), asphyxiation by methane or carbon dioxide, stuck in crevice (no thanks James Franco), panicked buddy (also known as an ex-friend), drowning, electrocution, poisonous snakes and insects ( no thanks!) and of course just plain old panic (this is what would get me..actually someone [Liz] would just throw my panicking ass over the edge). Anyway….hobbie? No, don’t think so.

If I Loved You I Would Tell You This by Robin Black. This is the best collection of stories that I read this year. Not a light read--the stories are about death, betrayal, dying, or illness. My favorite story is called “The Guide;” a blind daughter prepares to leave her parents and go to college, your heart breaks a little bit for her father who has made his life’s purpose to be his daughter’s eyes. The title story is about neighbors in the midst of what seems to be a trivial argument over a fence and the property line – but the reality of it is quite different. I highly recommend this for Munro, Gaitskill, and even Strout fans.

Friday, October 29, 2010

They Were Robbed! Part 2

Ask me what my favorite novel of the year was, and the answer is simple and fast to my lips: The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer.  I read it almost a full year ago (it went on sale in June) and yet it still sticks with me, one of those books that ruins reading anything else immediately afterward.  For that reason I was truly peeved that this wonderful book wasn't nominated for the National Book Award, so I'm hereby nominating it as a Slappy Award recipient.  As discussed in our last post, the Slappy is our fake award--you get a trophy! (there is no trophy)--for the best books of the year that weren't nominated for the prestigious National Book Award, and named after the Liz and Gianna dorky antics making fun of Gianna's short stature while at sales conference last March.  Gianna is definitely not a basketball player with that pathetic vertical leaping ability.  I mean, I'm not THAT tall.  She's should put a little effort into that flailing leap of hers and high five a woman.  Sheesh. 

Where was I?  Right.  Orringer.

I loved The Invisible Bridge.  It's an epic story of a young Hungarian who wins a scholarship to study architecture in Paris during the 1930's.  While there he falls in love with a fellow Hungarian expatriate, a dancer, and they wed.  With the advent of World War II, though, their lives are thrown in turmoil, and when they need to renew their visas, they find themselves trapped in Nazi-occupied Hungary for
the duration of the world.  I should mention that they are Jewish.  This is a war story, a Holocaust story, a love story, a family saga, but the book transcends these pigeon-holing categories.  There are so many places where the story or characters could veer off course and effectively ruin a fast-paced, engaging, literary reading experience, but Orringer deftly navigated the pitfalls and kept her story moving while building tension and making her characters both sympathetic and realistic. 

I struggle to find a fault with The Invisible Bridge.  The critics loved this book, I loved it, book groups should devour it for years to come, and I only wish the National Book Award judges had granted my clutched-to-my-heart wish that Julie Orringer walk on stage in November to accept her award.  Sigh.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

They Were Robbed! Part One

It's a swing!...and a miss. Poor Gianna.

The nominees for the National Book Award were announced a couple of weeks ago, and like any other list, everyone has an opinion about this one, too, including your intrepid book reps.  I will not condemn the books that made the list--I haven't yet had much of an opportunity to read the non-Random House titles (I have read Parrot & Olivier in America, Peter Carey's historical fiction of an Alexis de Tocqueville-like character and his rascal companion).  Before the list was announced, though, Gianna and I had speculated on the books we read this year that we felt were worthy of consideration for one of the top literary prizes of the year.  Let's call our award the Slappy after the dorky high five Gianna and I shared on stage at our sales conference last March, as the diminutive Gianna flailed at my freakishly tall, fully extended arm.  We are not above company-wide dorkiness, particularly when lots of wine and barely edible conference food contribute to a sense of either ephemerality or indestructibility.

The first Slappy nomination for fiction published in 2010 goes to:

Jennifer Egan for A Visit from the Goon Squad.  We had the pleasure of meeting Egan at the Texas Book Festival a few weeks ago, and I'm pleased to say that she was personable, modest, brilliant, and charming.  Even if she'd been a Russell Crowe with her admiring public, though, I would still love her as the woman who wrote one of my favorite books of the 2000's, Look at Me.  That earlier book was nominated for the National Book Award (the same year that Jonathan Franzen won for The Corrections and other nominees for fiction included Dan Chaon, Louise Erdrich, and Susan Straight) and her latest, a group of linked short stories, received strong bookseller and review praise.  One of my booksellers at BookPeople in Austin even bet me that Egan would win the NBA this year. 

A Visit from the Goon Squad loosely centers around a music executive, Bennie, and his kleptomaniac girlfriend Sasha.  The stories reveal the characters' through time and across continents with a musical undercurrent binding them together.  Egan is a masterful creator of engaging characters and she doesn't shy away from telling stories innovatively; one story is told as a Power Point presentation, for example. 

Another reason Jennifer Egan is cool--check out her website: http://www.jenniferegan.com/.  The site includes lots of tidbits about how and where she wrote A Visit from the Goon Squad as well as songs that accompany the stories in the book.  From Led Zeppelin to Coldplay to Pink Floyd to George Michael to Bjork, the music that influenced the writing adds a depth to her process.  Not to mention that you have to give credit to a woman who would publicly reveal that she listened to David Gray (or am I the only one who finds him whiny?).  She's a gutsy, amazingly astute writer and definitely deserving of an awkward, flailing high five from a freakishly tall rep.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Texas Book Festival 2010: Doing THE WAVE with Susan Casey

Even though my beloved author crush Colson Whitehead did not propose to me last year (in his defense, he wasn't aware that I was expecting a ring because he didn't know who I was), I opted not blame the Texas Book Festival for my continuing lack of a social life or spousal bliss.  Sigh.  The book festival occurred this weekend, the fifteenth anniversary of the book lover's dream event, and I taped together my broken heart and drove to Austin for the fun.

The first event I attended featured Susan Casey, executive editor of O The Oprah Magazine and author of a new book entitled The Wave.  I read The Wave months ago when preparing for a March sales conference, but the scenes from the book have stuck with me--stories of huge cargo ships swallowed by the sea, a fishing boat in Alaska that survived a 1,700 foot wave (!!), and, incredibly, the surfers who try to ride the monsters.  I was not a fan of the ocean before reading the book (an encounter with a jellyfish when I was 12 and my inability to mentally block the idea that I'm swimming in fish poop killed any desire I might have possessed to swim in the beautiful briny sea), but Casey's book offered a new dimension to my ocean issues.  She manages to capture the potential destruction and terror of these huge waves without losing her undeniable love for the water.  She knows that the awesome force of waves could tear apart the strongest structures--the waves contain massive amounts of energy--and yet she cannot resist the opportunity to follow the extreme surfers like Laird Hamilton as they track and ride 80 foot waves. 

Susan Casey describes monster waves.
David Grann, author of The Lost City of Z and The Devil and Sherlock Holmes interviewed Casey for her Book Fest event, and at one point he asked her what she wouldn't do, her limits in immersing herself in her research topic.  She never reached a point where she backed away from an adventure, though.  She swam with Laird Hamilton around Jaws, the wave break outside Hamilton's home in Maui, and she actually rode down the face of several monster waves with Hamilton on a jet ski.  She already knew the threat--the first big surfing day she covered for the book ended with a couple of surfers dying--but she's passionate about the ocean and her story. 

On top of being a fascinating speaker, Susan Casey proved to be a great sport, generous with her time and supporters.  After signing books for the Texas Book Festival crowd, she walked over to BookPeople, the Austin independent bookstore ten blocks away, in order to sign books and talk to booksellers.  She even hung around a bit to shop, buying copies of the Gillian Flynn thrillers Sharp Objects and Dark Places, great choices in my humble, Random House-pimping, opinion. 

There are always the horror stories about authors who treat readers and booksellers poorly.  I certainly have milked the drama of a celebrity author's crazy wife over the course of the last year (the woman alternately thought I was the driver even though I introduced myself, and then the person who should hold her purse while she took her time in the restroom, and the five hours I spent in her presence have scarred my fragile psyche) and have my own list of unpleasant personalities *coughDr.Philcough*.  Alternately I keep a list of the great authors, the ones who appreciate that their writing is meaningful for their readers and are grateful, humble.  Susan Casey is the kind of writer easy to celebrate, the kind for whom I cheer when I see The Wave on the bestseller lists.  Meeting her and hearing her speak about killer waves was a great way to start my Book Fest trip this year.  She's cool.  Oh, and her book?  PERFECT for fans of Born to Run or Into Thin Air, a great gift for the holiday season. 

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Long Way Home

From Gianna:

It is a question booksellers and book lovers ask each other often, “What book has changed your life?” The answer, of course, changes with age, with what we’ve read, and with life experience. Occasionally, or maybe not even that often, there is a book that you want to push from your mind and can’t seem to move from your nightstand at the same time. For me that book has been Gail Caldwell’s Let’s Take the Long Way Home. It is subtitled “A Memoir of Friendship” which is pretty innocuous at first glance. A memoir of friendship to be sure, but the level of this friendship is spiritual and as committed as the best of marriages. It is the gorgeous story of Gail’s friendship with fellow writer Caroline Knapp (author of the two classics: Drinking A Love Story and Pack of Two ). The book begins with these lines: “It’s an old , old story: I had a friend and we shared everything, and then she died and so we shared that , too.” As women we are bombarded with false reports and bullshit polls that women don’t get along, and of course the media loves to portray us with our “claws” out – after each others' men or jobs...or are we simply jealous of each others' boobs? It is such a lie, such a crappy lie, but worrisome that some of us are buying into it. Women do have lifelong, meaningful, important friendships; we always have. Gail and Carol’s story is just one of many, as is mine.
I’ve lived with this book for the better part of two years now; I can not shake it, but it has weighed most heavily on my mind this past month.

I have a very close friend; she in fact was my first girlfriend. I was 18 years old when I met her; she told me I wasn’t funny and of course…I was smitten. About four years ago she was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer. And as that diagnosis does – it takes your breath away – but we live in a time where this is often called a manageable disease. And it is.  It’s not fun, but it is a constant battle. And then like metastasized breast cancer does…that little fucker spreads. Sometimes to the liver, lungs, bones, or the brain among a zillion other nooks and crannies, and for us we got bones. My friend took it in stride, fought on, chemo and radiation ,and just carried on. Recently tumors were found in her brain. So then came radiation on her entire brain, and more chemo of course. Things looked good, the doctors were still talking managed care, so we started planning a road trip from her home in Florida to Las Vegas, stopping here in Austin for a few days to rest. My friend has a small gambling issue – she won’t admit it – but, you know, it’s all she loves to do anymore.  She’s no good at it and I’ve never actually known her to win…but that’s another story. Anyway, we began planning. Then, just a few weeks ago, her Johnny-on-the-spot doctor didn’t like the way she was walking, ordered a CAT scan, and there you have it …more tumors.

I flew out again as soon as I could – our mutual best friend had to leave for a work trip so I would be in charge of caring for her. My friend is a lot to be in charge of without cancer by the way – she is a bit of trouble; add cancer to the mix and I had my hands full. We had scheduled an MRI and I have never been as nervous sitting in that doctor's office with her and our mutual friend (who had come back from her business trip) waiting for the results. We were positive, however; we thought from the CAT scan that we were dealing with one very treatable tumor. Turns out, CAT scans are so inferior to MRI’s that it shocked us when the sheer number of actual brain tumors was revealed. Numerous very small tumors all over her brain, and a few larger (but still small) tumors were also in the mix and these would be our focus. So we march on.

Today my friend is headed in for her fourth day in a row of Gamma Knife radiation – it's what it sounds like, extremely precise – you have a mask made of your face and are pinned down while you get zapped. I was with her when her mask was made and I at that moment thought How does she doe this – day in – day out? How? Anyway, so day four is today and she is in Florida and I am back in Texas and all I can think about every moment is how to get back to Florida – to get back to being useful. I miss making her meals (I am a terrible cook but she’s kind about it), bitching at her to drink more water, reminding her to take her pills (okay so once I forgot to remind her and claimed I did tell her but her chemo brain made her forget – not proud but it’s the truth), and it turns out….she thinks I am pretty funny.  So I miss not only making her laugh, because I can do that on the phone, but making her laugh in person because sometimes she comes really close to peeing her pants and that stuff is best in person.

So this is friendship, the entire thing. It’s about how we spend our time, and I am sorry for being corny but it is about taking the long way home.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Betting on Nobel

This year's Nobel Prize for Literature will be announced on Thursday and the various book industry news venues are posting almost daily updates speculating on which esteemed writer might win this year's prize.  While I have no doubt that every source is, well, full of it, I do love the annual Nobel Prize build-up because it focuses attention on so many great authors.  And leave it to the Brits to take pleasure in betting on who'll win a literary award.  The British bookmaker Ladbrokes posts the top odds for the world's current literary giants (http://www.ladbrokes.com/lbr_sports?action=go_generic_link&level=EVENT&key=214493738&category=SPECIALS&subtypes=&default_sort=&tab=undefined). 

It's a fascinating list, but really, does the Nobel Prize for Literature mean anything?  I do think that award recipients are worthy, and considering my career I'm always in favor of any event that will generate book sales.  But how does one go about selecting the pinnacle of lifetime literary achievement each year, the one writer whose life work outshines the other six billion people on the planet?  It can't be done, and so the award tends to rotate from country to country, genre to genre, honored as much for the political climate of the year as for the author's body of work.  When Harold Pinter won the prize in 2005, speculation was that the outrage over the US invasion of Iraq and the Bush administration's treatment of detainees kept the selection committee from picking the first American since Toni Morrison in 1993.  It's a weird prize that lends itself to stereotyping, a single individual representing a whole group of people, a whole country.  There's the Chinese guy, the Holocaust survivor, the Irish poet, the South African, the Gulag survivor, the African-American woman...it's a little insulting to the talented writers representing their demographics, but the award also calls attention to important works.  Is it a good thing?  Is it wrong?  Maybe it just is.

So who are the bookies picking this year?  The popular choice is for a poet to win since the last decade or so of winners have been novelists or playwrights.  The favorite right now is Tomas Transtromer at 4/1, followed by Adam Zagajewski, Adonis, and Ko Un all at 8/1.  Generally I don't read much poetry and am only familiar with the work of Adonis.  For me the list becomes far more interesting with the 11/1 writer, Haruki Murakami, and then a cluster of my favorite writers hovering at 18/1.  The odds go all the way to the dark horse popular "poet," Bob Dylan, at 150/1.  Here are some highlights from the list of the world's greatest living writers, authors worth reading regardless of whether they ever actually go to Sweden.

  • 11/1: Haruki Murakami.  Murakami is the best known Japanese writer in America, a post-modern writer who draws heavily from Western culture and music.  He's also an avid runner and recently completed his first ultra-marathon.  What to read: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, which infuses music, the fantastic, and violence around the story of a seemingly boring man whose cat runs away, kicking off a chain of event.s  Also, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Murakami's nonfiction account of his life as a marathoner and triathlete.
  • 18/1: A. S. Byatt.  Antonia Byatt is a British writer who won the Booker Prize for Possession.  Her most recent novel, The Children's Book, was one of my favorite books of 2009, a rich, historical novel revolving around a writer and her seven children in turn of the century rural England.  It's a book about family, secrets, love, and the loss of innocence children--and nations--experience as they mature, culminating in the outbreak of World War I. 
  • 18/1: Joyce Carol Oates.  Probably the most prolific writer of literary fiction alive today, Oates not only has cranked out dozens of books, essays, and short stories, they almost all been high quality.  She isn't afraid of violence and regularly pursues the darker corners of the "American Dream."  She won the National Book Award for her novel them (and should have won for Blonde, a finalist four decades later).  Oates also wrote my favorite short story, "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"  Check out We Were the Mulvaneys, a moving, dark story about the disintegration of a "perfect" family after the only daughter is attacked one night and her father can't cope with the violation of his daughter.  I also love Blonde, Oates's fictional life of Marilyn Monroe; I had no interest in Monroe at all until reading this book.  The same is true for The Falls, a novel that begins with a new husband committing suicide on his honeymoon at Niagara Falls, a tourist site which also didn't interest me until JCO immersed me in her story.
  • 18/1: Margaret Atwood.  I admit that I love Canada and therefore love Margaret Atwood all the more.  Atwood writes great literary fiction, great historical fiction, great speculative fiction set in a dystopian future.  She is known for her social conscience as well as her humor and lately has become an avid Twitter user (Tweeter?  Twitterer?).  Atwood won the Booker Prize for The Blind Assassin in 2000 and The Handmaid's Tale is required reading in many high schools and universities.  More recently Atwood has written two linked near-future novels, Oryx & Crake and The Year of the Flood, that predict apocalyptic catastrophe with the destruction of the environment and rampant genetic engineering.
  • 20/1: Cormac McCarthy.  He's dark, he's twisted, he's reclusive, he's Cormac McCarthy.  McCarthy won the Pulitzer Prize for his post-apocalyptic novel The Road, and literary critic Harold Bloom called his novel Blood Meridian "the greatest single book since Faulkner's As I Lay Dying."  Two great places to start for readers wanting to try McCarthy--No Country For Old Men, which inspired the Academy Award-winning movie, and All the Pretty Horses, which won the National Book Award.  Both books are superb examples of McCarthy's writing style but aren't quite as bleak as some of his other books.
  • 25/1: Maya Angelou.  Poet and memoirist (and cookbook writer) Maya Angelou is best known for her first memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, her story of growing up in rural Arkansas.  The book is required reading for many grade school students and I feel like it's sometimes dismissed because of the school-aged audience.  The best memoirs, though, seem to come from poets--Mary Karr, Nick Flynn, and also the first of the confessional memoirs, Caged Bird.  Angelou also composed and read a poem at Bill Clinton's first inauguration and is pals with Oprah.
  • 45/1: Chinua Achebe.  The Nigerian born Achebe is best known for his first novel, Things Fall Apart.  The book, about a tribal man whose life is complicated when Christian missionaries arrive in his village, has sold over 8 millions copies and is the most translated work of African fiction in the world.
  • 50/1: Ian McEwan.  A crafter of fine characters and stories, McEwan achieved a new level of fame after the release of the movie version of his novel Atonement struck box office gold.  A war story and love story, Atonement centers around a girl misinterpreting an encounter she observes between her older sister and a servant's son, leading to the young man's arrest.  When war erupts across Europe, he leaves to fight.  McEwan also won the Booker Prize for Amsterdam, and his most recent book is a humorous, amoral romp through global climate change called Solar.
  • 66/1: Michael Ondaatje.  Ondaatje, another one of my Canadian crushes, won the Booker Prize for The English Patient, which was later made into the Oscar-winning film.  The book is a sweeping love story set before and during World War II, and like most instances, the book is even better than the movie.
  • 75/1: Atiq Rahimi.  I admit that I wasn't really familiar with Rahimi until last year, but one of the cool aspects of the Nobel Prize is that it does have the potential to expose audiences to great literature from around the world.  Rahimi is definitely a great writer.  Born in Afghanistan, Rahimi lives and writes in France now, where he works as both a novelist and film-maker.  In 2008, Rahimi's novel The Patience Stone won the Prix Goncourt, France's most prestigious literary award.  The book tells the story of an Afghani woman caring for her wounded husband who lies comatose in a bed as war rages in the streets outside.  She's angry at her husband for deserting her via gunshot wound and slowly begins to tell him about her life for the first time, releasing her frustrations at her life, marriage, and the constraints placed on women in the Taliban-governed country.
  • 100/1: Peter Carey.  Australian novelist Peter Carey is one of the most gifted storytellers writing these days.  He's twice won the Booker Prize, for Oscar & Lucinda in 1988 and The True History of the Kelly Gang in 2001.  His latest book, a historical novel based on the real-life social critic Alexis de Tocqueville, is entitled Parrot and Olivier in America, and it too is shortlisted for the Booker Prize.
Who will win?  I myself think that it's about time a Canadian wins, so I'm crossing my fingers for Atwood, Ondaatje, or short story writer Alice Munro (also at 18/1 odds).  Unlike other prizes such as the National Book Award or Man Booker Prize, we won't have an inkling of the shortlisted books in advance.  In fact, the Nobel Prize doesn't reveal  finalists until 50 years after the presentation of the award.  It really could almost anyone walking away with the 10 million Swedish kroner and medal.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Banned Books

“If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.”
--Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan Jr.

It’s Banned Book Week, always a great reminder of the amazing works of literature (as well as popular dreck with controversial subject matter) and one of the defining statements of our Constitution. I’m a fan. I like to read the books that make the list and I am intrigued by the reasons for censoring books. Back when I was in college in the mid-90’s, the idea of banning books was treated as a criminal act, and while we espoused the attributes of postmodern theory that encouraged us to move away from absolute truths, one of the few universally understood Truths (with the capital “T”) was that everyone should have access to sources of knowledge and the right to determine what material was suitable for him/herself. A decade later and I wonder what happened to our idealism.

This year more than ever, it seems, the idea of censoring books and even rescripting the narratives that comprise our collective past seems to have pushed to the forefront of the collective conscience. Maybe I have a tendency to notice the limiting of knowledge more because I live in Texas, and the state school board currently is in the process of adopting textbooks. Earlier in the year the state school board decided to limit references to Thomas Jefferson because Jefferson coined the phrase “separation of church and state.” This week the state school board made the news again, this time for decided to remove references to Islam in school textbooks. Several weeks ago, the Humble, Texas, ISD revoked an invitation to young adult author Ellen Hopkins after they decided that her books were inappropriate for their Teen Lit Festival in January, and several other authors also invited to the festival pulled out in solidarity against the censorship of their fellow author. Meanwhile, outside of the Lone Star State and just in time for the 10th Anniversary release of her book, young adult author Laurie Halse Anderson is defending her National Book Award Finalist Speak against a Missouri professor who believes the book is “soft-core pornography” because of its depiction of date rape. Banned Book Week is vital because censorship remains a common, even accepted, practice, and even seems more prevalent.

I guess I just don’t understand.

What sort of education are we providing children if we aren’t exposing them to issues and then discussing these topics? Islam is the second largest religion in the world; why shouldn’t a Texas seventh grader learn about it? Why shouldn’t they be given the framework from which to form educated opinions when they become adults? How can one claim to be a patriot and love America but also deny the contributions of a man who wrote the Declaration of Independence, just because he, one of the founding fathers normally praised by conservative factions within the country, believed that government should not interfere with the practice of religion (and therefore the opposite as well)? By denying teens narratives about difficult topics such as rape, are censors protecting innocence or isolating the victims of very real crimes, victims who might have found hope in a fictional story to which s/he could relate? A lack of information doesn’t stop the crime, it just restricts the information that might help, enrich, educate, and raise awareness.

I grew up in a tiny town and by the time I left home for college I was under no delusions about the quality of my public school education. Resources were limited and reading wasn’t always encouraged. The district wasn’t wealthy and the school only had a few class sets of books; we read The Scarlet Letter, some Shakespeare, To Kill a Mockingbird, but didn’t have the opportunity to study books like I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings or The Catcher in the Rye. Nonetheless, I was never told that I COULD NOT read a book, and knowing that I wanted to study literature in college, I regularly sought out the books other schools were reading such as The House on Mango Street and Beloved. My teachers—including my mother, who was my junior English teacher—recommended books and while they occasionally offered opinions on the quality of books, they never removed the book from my hands (or the library).  Would I have been prepared for a college literature program if these books had been denied me?  I certainly would have struggled to catch up.

I’m not sure that the same access would be available to me today, however. In the last decade we as a society have developed a black-and-white view of the world, denigrating the diversity of thoughts and beliefs that once were considered the core of our liberty. During this time, the young adult book selection has exploded and books have developed cultish devotees willing to attend midnight release parties. We should be living in an era in which books are more popular than ever, finding a wider range of readers and adding thoughtful voices to the public discourse. Yet for every Harry Potter midnight release party, there is a minister in Florida wanting to burn copies of the Koran, a school board removing all 50 copies of Girl, Interrupted because of sexual content (never mind that the book is a memoir about a teen girl’s actual experiences, nor that most of these students being “protected” would have access to the movie versions of this and similar, more graphic stories).

Books are too socialist, too sexually explicit, too violent, too pagan, too “upsetting.” What’s left, though? How do people grow without ever actually experiencing anything? And isn’t it better to read about racial violence than slipping into a “protected” society that perpetuates actual racism and violence? Even if the Texas Board of Education refuses to acknowledge Islam, it is still a major religion and Muslims are living in our communities and contributing to our society. What is the benefit of promoting prejudice and hate through omission in textbooks? This decision is as ridiculous as the renaming of “freedom fries” a few years ago when “patriots” couldn’t comprehend why France wouldn’t fight a war in Iraq. Sorry, but that country didn’t disappear simply because some closed minded people wouldn’t say “French toast.” Sexual issues, racism, different religious and political beliefs—these are all controversial topics that won’t go away by burying our heads in the sand. And often books serve as conduits for conversations. We should nurture these dialogues not stupidly deny them because they might be uncomfortable.

Happy Banned Books Week.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Gianna's Thoughts on the Passing of a Bookselling Legend

Two weeks ago longtime bookseller David Thompson of Murder By the Book passed away unexpectedly. Yesterday a celebration of his life was held at the Briar Club in Houston and hundreds of people--including authors such as Lee Child and Robert Crais--gathered to pay respects, drink margaritas, and swap David stories. Gianna was unable to attend, so she composed this piece to be read at the gathering if there was the opportunity. Because the...party? wake? shindig?...was pretty informal and no one spoke, such an opportunity did not arise. Therefore, we are sharing her tribute to our friend David in this space. Here is what she wrote:

It’s been an incredibly difficult couple of weeks; just when I think the shock will wear off it just doesn’t. In the first few days after David’s death I found myself continually looking at his and the Murder by the Book Facebook pages – you’ve all seen the dozens and dozens of posts – everyone from famous bestselling authors to book lovers who never met David in person, it is truly remarkable. There was another post on Sept. 15th that I have thought about every single day – often more than once a day – it is a post that took strength, grace, kindness and enormous generosity. It simply read, “Thank you all,” and it was posted by McKenna. Just to know she felt us with her helped a little bit.

I am proud to work in books – proud of the way the staff at Blue Willow, Book People, and Sally at Brazos across the street (who knew David so long), and even stores across the country reached out. The staff at Murder by the Book has been, I have no words, very strong I guess, a real tribute to David. Anne, we depended on you for news, and everything else. I don’t know how you did it. This news truly rocked Random House, I got calls from editors and publicists – some crying on the phone. Ours is a business, and often the participants in the business of publishing books are required to be tough, consummate professionals, but my god they loved David. We really are a family – the kind of family that can’t borrow cash from each other because you know – we all work and books and make crappy money!

Now I want to talk about David possibly being a cross dresser. When someone dies, events, conversations, break down into such small moments for me – and I have been really focused on one in particular. One day, not too terribly long ago, David said, pretty casually, more casually than one would expect from anyone else but he said, “I sometimes accidently wear McKenna’s clothes to work.” I should point out that we weren’t in a confessional or even alone. McKenna, Brenda (David’s mother in law) and I were all in the back talking about I don’t know what but I am sure the topic wasn’t wearing each others clothes. Anyway, I said “What do you mean?” and David went on to say that McKenna buys these oversized Oxford shirts she likes to lounge around in and sometimes when he is in a hurry he just grabs one and goes to work, and later at some point McKenna will see him and say in a sort of sad but not totally surprised voice, “Oh David… that’s my shirt.” So I asked David if he has done it more than once and he was pretty proud to say yes, definitely more than once he “accidently” wore his wife’s clothes. I pointed out that once was an accident, twice was unfortunate and you know more than that is just cross dressing. Brenda had her back to David and I remember so so clearly looking at her and she was organizing books sort of shaking her head and had the sweetest smile on her face, and just by looking at her you knew she adored this guy. That’s one of my favorite moments, McKenna and I laughing – tears in my eyes, Brenda with that sweet smile and David trying to convince us it wasn’t weird.

One last thing. I last saw David on Sept 9th at the store, I just stopped in to chat and joke around for a bit and David talked about how excited he was to meet Dean Koontz in October. I was about to leave and then in the frantic passionate voice we all know from David he said, “wait wait come here!” We went to a shelf he picked up a book handed it to me and insisted I would love it. And that was that. . The last time I saw David he put a book in my hand – pretty perfect.