Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Birthday: Back to the Future, Books, and...a Basket of Beans.

Ernie Cline and his Delorean.
So my birthday passed a couple of weeks ago, and the party person I am...I celebrated by working.  I traveled to Austin to attend a bookseller luncheon with Ernest Cline, the author of the upcoming novel Ready Player One, a book that celebrates the joyfully geeky 80's culture.  How enthralled is the author with period pop culture?  He spent his book advance on a Delorean (the Back to the Future car) and then installed a flux capacitor.  I have no 80's music nostalgia at all, but I do love me a vintage video game, and on the drive home that afternoon I recalled that my first Nintendo was a joint birthday gift the summer that we turned 11 (the joy of the twin joint gift, joint birthday cake, joint birthday party), a gift we never expected because our parents disapproved of video games.  Coincidentally, our great grandmother died that day too, but the Nintendo seemed more significant. 

Most people won't give me books for special occasions because I already have so many.  Two notable exceptions growing up were a couple of Christmases for which I received the Anne of Green Gables box set and a copy of The Hot Zone.  Both impacted me--Anne gave me a smart, outspoken "kindred spirit" to follow on adventures, and The Hot Zone...reinforced my monkey horror.  It's still the scariest book I've ever read.  Nothing says "Merry Christmas Lizzie!" like monkeys carrying Ebola into the US; I dreamed about bleeding from my eyeballs for months after reading it.

Gianna and her friends occasionally will have book exchange parties, an awesome idea.  Each person brings a copy of a book that possesses special meaning for him/her, and then the participants talk about the books, why they're special, and then exchange.  I think Gianna brought Kathryn Harrison's The Kiss.  (She might not have, but Gianna loves this book.  Nothing says "Party at Gianna's House!" like a literary memoir about an incestuous relationship.)  One of the best parts of my job involves finding readers for the advance reading copies of forthcoming novels, and occasionally I will love a book that I'm also selling so much that it feels like I'm sharing a personal treasure with a fellow book lover.  There's a little novel just published called The Upright Piano Player, a quiet, contemplative book in a perfect package that redefines the idea of summer reading.  One of my colleagues called me to ask if I'd read it back before our sales conference months ago, and through his enthusiasm it became an overall rep favorite.  It deserves a wide readership.  Check it out.

My sister and I don't exchange birthday gifts most of the time.  It just seems strange.  We do typically get together around the time of our birthday, usually for an Astros game (though I'm a book nerd and she's an aerospace engineer, we both love baseball).  We going to see the Astros lose to the Red Sox in a few days. 

And the Astros games bring me around to what Gianna gave me for my birthday.  Between innings, Goya, the Mexican food company, sponsors a shell game contest on the jumbotron involving a baseball hidden inside a can of beans and shuffled around.  It's hilarious.  Even better, though, is the prize for the lucky fan who gets to play: a gift basket of Goya products.  I think it's awesome--go to the game, win beans!  I have wanted to be the lucky contestant for years.  My pal Gianna has attended enough Astros games with me over the last few years that she knows of my gassy obsession.  And then she surprised me. 

That's every Goya product Gianna could find.
It weighs about 30 lbs.

Never mind that I don't cook; I'm going to display this prize on my dining room table for years.  The Antiques Roadshow will visit my area in 2041 and I'll haul in my gift basket and have it appraised, and they will marvel at it.  I will bequeath my Goya gift basket to a literacy foundation and they will take my vintage beans and sell them for books and create the Liz Sullivan literacy center and in the lobby will be a mural of fart-inducing products, books, and Gianna and it will be magical.  Like the musical fruit.

Give books for birthdays.  Save the ozone layer from noxious gasses and other beany perils.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Great Books Coming Soon

[Liz writing:]  So my life has been a little crazy with the Gianna leaving Random House and then the travel season leading me to tornado zones...and flood zones...and fire zones (my territory butts up to the gates of hell), and yet still 238 people visited our little blog last month.  It begs the question, "How bored are the various web-surfers of the world???"  Anyway, we're getting back into the swing of things and I'm sure that we'll have more Gianna antics soon since it's too hot in Texas to wear proper clothing right now.  Since we haven't posted anything lately, though, we thought we'd catch you up some of the new releases just out or coming soon.

The Devil All the Time is one of the most disturbing books I've ever read...and I loved it.  Donald Ray Pollock burst onto the literary scene a few years ago with his short story collection Knockemstiff, and his new novel traverses the same down-on-its-luck landscape.  Fans of Dan Chaon's Await Your Reply, Flannery O'Connor, and Cormac McCarthy should love this story of religious zealots and serial killers and one boy maneuvering between a moral life and the life to which he seems destined when his mother dies despite his father's ritual sacrifices.  If you're intrigued by a the image of a man and his son kneeling at a prayer log in the woods night and day, surrounded by crosses and the ground covered in the blood sacrifices they've offered God, praying for a miracle to save the boy's mother, this book is for you.  It's not for the feint of heart, but I loved every page.  The Devil All the Time goes on sale July 12th.

Summer is blockbuster season in the book world as well as Hollywood.  This year the Robopocalypse is coming.  Think about it--EVERYTHING in our modern world is controlled by computers, and in Daniel Wilson's thriller, the end of the world is upon us when a scientist crosses the threshold from smart technology to thinking technology and a computer named ARCHOS begins to take over the world.  A computer virus goes out to all of those phones and cars and computers and toasters out there and no one is safe.  Imagine you're driving down the highway in your Prius and suddenly the computer in your car steers you into a wall.  And that computer in the air traffic control tower?  It decides that smacking planes into each other would be a great way to dispose of a few hundred humans.  And you receive a call on your cell phone telling you to rush home because your child is sick...except that the call is computer-generated and luring you toward an untimely end.  A group of intrepid humans begin to fight back.... If you liked The Matrix and the movie version of Minority Report, you'll welcome the Robopocalypse; in fact, Steven Spielberg optioned the rights to the robo-thriller before Daniel Wilson had even finished writing his novel.

[And now a word from Gianna....]

I left Random House a few months ago to work for UT Press so I won't be writing about Random House books anymore trust me! Except …. this one time.

Vaclav and Lena by Haley Tanner: I don’t want to over sell this but, if you miss reading this novel… well you will end up ruining your summer. Seriously. No, wait…I will ruin your summer (threats are better).

This is an amazing love story about two young Russian immigrants living in Brooklyn--Vaclav dreams of becoming a famous magician and Lena will be his lovely assistant--and then she is taken away, suddenly and without warning. The story is filled with an almost fairy tale quality, the writing is so pitch perfect (and by pitch perfect please just pick the book up and read the first few pages of the grade school Vaclav and Lena going through their magic routine…the Russian accents are wonderful). It really is a perfect book.

Okay so one more Random House book and that’s it, seriously –

The Storm at the Door by Stefan Merrill Block

I am not going to make a huge deal about this book. I am not going to make a fool of myself like I did with Story of Forgetting. I mean I really think people thought I lost my mind I talked about that book so much (by the way I totally lost my mind because of that book)[She's right; she's crazy. And she never shut up about that book]. Okay. Story of Forgetting was very good. It was excellent. This book is better. It’s more mature and the writing is better. It’s heartbreaking, in fact. Like Stefan’s first book this novel is based in part on his family (his grandparents' marriage) which makes it all the more interesting. Think Revolutionary Road. Yes, it is that good. He will be at BookPeople on July 12th. Give him some love – he is amazing.

So that’s it for me and Random House. I won’t be writing about RH titles anymore! Was that more or less believable than Congressman Weiner’s “certitude” comment? [Less.  And Gianna has sent me some incriminating pics in her time....]

Bright’s Passage by Josh Ritter

I love this fucking book. (And let that be a quote on any jacket – it's called class). I read this book in a fury of passion. I would not put it down; everything else could wait. The story of Henry Bright (and what can only be described as his journey) is so vivid, beautiful, funny, and passionate…ahhh I sound crazy already. Anyway it will stay with you long after the novel ends. It is as haunting as it is luminous (and Liz…. I never say that about a book do I? In fact when someone calls a book luminous I run, but don’t run because I never use that word!) [We make fun of people who use the word 'luminous' to describe books.  Does it glow in the dark?  Doubtful.  This is a very good book though.] This small book has so much going for it: set during the First World War, a battle between good and evil, it's only $22, and of course it's a love story. It’s a first novel to be sure, but my God what a wonderful novel. [I think I am Gianna's God.] Oh and be on the look out – Ritter is on tour (hint hint).

These 3 books will appear on my year end list…I just know it….damn lists.