Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Sales Conference, Or a Tale of Awkwardness

The view from my
hotel room
I, Liz, flew to Florida very, very early this morning for the annual in-person sales conference for fall books.  For those of you dozens of readers who aren't in the book business, basically this is the company pep talk meeting, awards presentation dinner(s), and discussion of new books.  Parts of conference are exciting...and parts involve socially awkward people attempting to interact with other socially awkward people, to varying levels of self-awareness.  It's a hoot.

Here are some observations before I have to turn in my computer so that the IT people can remove an entire cat's worth of Zorro fur from my keyboard.

A beautiful site.

  • The Sanibel Resort is a Marriott property.  Marriott signed a deal with the devil (Pepsi).  My colleague Toni drove in from Tampa and brought me a case of Diet Coke, but she's staying in another building, so I had to claim my Diet Coke at the front desk.  I'm rationing.
  • Here's the thing: I work from home, not an office.  I therefore don't see the same people every single day, so technically I could wear the same clothes every day if I wanted.  To come up with clothes for five days can be a challenge.  
  • Also, we are book people.  We don't speak normal English...which is fine since the big boss, Markus, is German.  There is the whiff of desperation out there, the "Talk to MEEEEEEE!!!" of people who spend lots of time talking to the cat.
  • My boss asked me to be on a panel. She claims that my participation isn't just to provide an excuse to fire me.
  • Sales people flock to receive
    a signed book from Grisham.
  • John Grisham.  I sat at his table for dinner.  He requested the vegetarian plate.  Considering the frightening slab-o-cow that was deposited in front of me, I ate the whipped potatoes and the salad.
  • Speaking of Grisham, he has a new novel coming in April.  He's been a huge baseball fan all of his life (in spite of the fact that he's a Cardinals fan), and this is his first baseball-related story.  Calico Joe tells the story of a rising star playing for the Cubs, Joe Castle, and a struggling pitcher for the Mets, Warren Tracey, set during the summer of 1973.  Joe explodes onto the scene, breaking a record with his first few at bats.  He's a superstar in the making for the long-suffering Cubs fans (ask Gianna about her pain).  Warren Tracey's son Paul tells the story of these two baseball players, the baseball code, and a fateful August day when their paths collided.  It's a good read--reminiscent of The Natural.
  • I "celebrated" my fifth year with Random House.  And then I pointed out to a colleague celebrating her 35th year that I have only been alive 35 years.  I'm classy like that.
Unless Gianna figures out how to post on the blog, there might be a couple of days hiatus.  Just remember, Liz is always the answer.
Coming April 2012

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Expats by Chris Pavone


Ken Follett and Robert Ludlum fans won’t want to miss this smart debut spy novel by Chris Pavone.

Chris Pavone
Kate Moore moves to Luxembourg with her security expert husband Dexter and their two small children. Dexter has been offered a job that is too good to pass up working as a security consultant for a bank. He will have the task of building security systems to secure millions of dollars. It will, however, give him an opportunity to steal millions, but does he have a secret life? Speaking of secrets...Kate has a small one…she has been working undercover for the CIA for years. Their secrets collide when two FBI agents assigned to find out what Dexter is up to inform Kate that he is a thief.

This carefully thought out and soundly executed plot builds and unfolds slowly but is absolutely worth the wait, and plot twist after plot twist keeps you guessing. Maybe an expert thriller reader will uncover the bad guy before the end…but I was on the edge of my seat. The last fifty or so pages that nearly kept me guessing to the last page. 

Monday, February 20, 2012

Generally Horrible Questions: Karen Valby

Karen Valby is a senior writer for Entertainment Weekly and the author of one of our favorite books, Welcome to Utopia, that is new in paperback.  Perhaps because Gianna no doubt is blackmailing her, Karen has graciously answered our horrible questions.  And since she's in the entertainment journalism business, Gianna was in hog heaven asking lots of pop culture questions.  So here you go, some generally horrible questions for one of our favorites,

We love Melissa McCarthy
Karen Valby

1. Don’t be shy…give us your Oscar predictions.
First of all, I should say that I'm going to be watching this year's Oscars at the Oakwood furnished apartment complex in Burbank with close to 100 child actors. True story. That said, I haven't seen movies like The Artist and The Iron Lady, as now that I'm a mother I find myself only having the emotional reserves to see films like Footloose and New Year's Eve, only one of which was a disgrace. That said, I did see The Descendants and quite liked it. Same with Hugo. I want Viola Davis to make me cry in her acceptance speech. What I would give for Melissa McCarthy to take home an Oscar, but I'll be pleased to see it go to her good pal Octavia Spencer instead. [We think this may be the best answer we’ve ever gotten on any question...its loaded with excellent things.]
Viola Davis

2. Best book to movie ever is…
The Black Stallion. To Kill a Mockingbird. Winter's Bone. The Hunger Games. [An obvious ploy to get Gianna and Liz to read The Hunger Games. Not gonna happen.]

Melissa Gilbert
3. One of our favorite articles you wrote for Entertainment Weekly was the interview you did with Melissa McCarthy. It made us wonder which other Melissa you may love. Melissa Joan Hart, Melissa Etheridge, Melissa Gilbert, Melissa Leo, or of course…Melissa Rivers? Take your time we know this is tough.
(I'm betting good money that Gianna came up with this question and was halfway through a bottle of pinot when doing so. I also picture her being quite pleased with herself.) I'm going to go with Melissa Gilbert because a) half-pint and b) she used to be married to Bruce Boxleitner, a big childhood crush of mine. Scarecrow! Other childhood crushes: the young, black-haired George Bailey from It's a Wonderful Life, Scott Baio circa Joanie Loves Chaachi, the bad guys in Sweet Valley High, Italians. [You don’t know me Valby!!]

4. Favorite Housewife? – this question is dedicated to our friend Colleen.
Colleen, this conversation deserves a tasting menu dinner's worth of a conversation. I'm going to pick three in the meantime: Obviously Lisa Vanderpumpkin. Season 4 Atlanta's Phaedra Parks. And that dipsy doodle Sonja Morgan from New York. What do I wish more for my daughter by the way? That she not become a Real Housewife or that she not grow up to watch and write about them for a living? [We don’t know what any of this means but we hope Colleen enjoys it.]

This is Randy (with Ms. Lupone).
He's no Liz.
5. Liz or Gianna?
Randy Ham. [This is total b.s. Even Gianna knows the answer is always Liz! Ham is going to get an ass kicking…Italian style! In other words I will send someone else to do it.]

6. Book that changed your life?
This question feels cruel. So vulnerable-making, so much pressure! But I'll say Are You There God, It's Me Margaret? because it made growing up sound both terrifying and kind of fun-sexy. [This is an obvious ploy to get Liz to read Are you There God--not gonna happen.]

7. I’ve never read ____ and I am so ashamed.
Any Don DeLillo.

8. Coolest person you’ve ever met?
Slash.  Badass.
Hands down, Slash. I went on tour with his (pretty lousy) band Velvet Revolver for a week a couple of years ago. One night he brought me to the Hustler bus with him after a show. Those ladies were really impressed by my turtleneck and brown corduroy! Afterwards he took my hand to help me down the steps and we went and got ripped at a sports bar in Cincinnati. At closing time he went in the back to get high with the fry cook and then picked out a last song on the jukebox. U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For!" The next day at the airport the tour manager said the plane was short one first-class ticket. Well, of course that whiny pants Scott Weiland looked like he was about to pitch a fit and the creepy drummer wasn't going to fly with the riff raff. Duff's pancreas hurt so Slash volunteered to take the coach seat as long as he didn't have to check his guitar. He sat happily in the back row, his hair flattened against the window, and read a sci fi paperback. I love that guy. [Gianna didn’t read past the part where you went on the Hustler bus.]

9. I have read ____ and I am so ashamed.
Rob Lowe's memoir. [We heard that DeLillo pales in comparision]

Chris Hoyt, BookPeople cutie.
10. What are you reading now?
Ernie Cline's Ready Player One. Fun! [We approve.]

11. Liz and Gianna are going to start filming a reality show. Should we pull each other’s hair in the first episode or wait until sweeps week?
You need a love triangle, so I'd bring that BookPeople cutie Christopher Hoyt on board. [Gianna: We will have to buy a ladder so Chris and I can kiss Liz.  Liz: I resent this comment. For one thing, Chris is tall. Don't bring your short woman issues to this party.]

Karen Valby.  Good sport.
12. A Book and a movie we should read/see right away?
We should all stay in tonight and rent Moonstruck. And then we should fall asleep rereading Brady Udall's enormous-hearted The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint. [This book happens to contain one of Gianna’s favorite opening lines: "If I could tell you only one thing about my life it would be this: when I was seven years old the mailman ran over my head.”]

Thanks Karen!  We'll understand if you try to distance yourself from us.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Utopia in Texas

The effervescent Karen Valby

When I left Random House a year ago, they made me give back my American Express and my Jeep Liberty. What I took with me, however, was better: Karen Valby’s Welcome to Utopia.

Karen Valby is a senior writer at Entertainment Weekly, where she was originally given the assignment to find a town in America that had not been influenced by popular culture.

She found Utopia.

We’ve written about this book several times on the blog, but now that it is available from University of Texas Press in paperback I thought we should give it another mention.
Valby’s Welcome to Utopia  has been compared to Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, Larry McMurtry’s The Last Picture Show, Thorton Wilder’s Our Town, and the mother load… Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Augusten Burroughs also called it a “masterpiece of narrative nonfiction,” so you  know…if you like that sort of thing you may want to pick this up.

The paperback includes (in addition to the fabulous new cover) a new afterword that I asked Karen to write, and a reading guide that will keep your book group talking long into the evening. And you know the longer your book group talks, the more you get to drink. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Generally Horrible Questions: Jeremy Ellis

Jeremy at the Tadao Ando-designed museum in Ft. Worth.
The man appreciates art and design.
Jeremy Ellis is the new(ish) manager at Brazos Bookstore in Houston, Texas.  He started the job in August, but has been working in bookstores off and on for most of his career.  We decided that the best form of hazing is to submit him to our list of questions.  Welcome to the neighborhood, Jeremy!

Generally Horrible Questions: Jeremy Ellis

1. How did you get into the bookselling business?
It was completely accidental. I was 22, out-of-work, and there was a bookstore at a mall I liked. I thought I would do it for awhile and then, eventually, find my calling. Since that job, I've only had brief interruptions from independent bookstore jobs. [Just when I thought I was out....they pull me back in?  Watch out for horse heads in your sheets, there, Jeremy.]
Brazos Bookstore
2. What's the best experience you've had working at the bookstore?
It's hard to pick just one experience. But I guess I could choose one per gig. As a bookseller at Taylor's Books in Dallas, meeting Anne Perry the day after seeing the Peter Jackson film 'Heavenly Creatures' which details the true story of Anne's early life as a killer. As a bookseller at Trudy's Fireside Books, author and illustrator David Small handselling me Rule of the Bone by Russell Banks. As the event guy at BookPeople, hosting David Sedaris during his Me Talk Pretty One Day tour. As Marketing Director at BookPeople, my proudest moment was when the original 'This is My Favorite Book' was picked up by independent bookstores nationwide as the model holiday catalog. At Legacy Books and A Real Bookstore in Dallas, developing their websites. And now, at Brazos, my best days are those where I get to really talk to customers and help them find the book they didn't know they urgently needed. 
3. What book(s) changed your life?
I've read plays for years and years and they really have had the most visceral impact on my life. Both parts of Tony Kushner's Angels in America radically changed the ways in which I thought about myself and America. I think Arcadia by Tom Stoppard is one of the most perfect pieces of literature of the 20th century. I return to the short plays of Samuel Beckett time and time again for their optimistic outlook. [Gianna's scared of thespians....]

4. What are you currently reading?
I just finished Canada by Richard Ford. It is one of the best novels I've ever read. Also just finished Jeanette Winterson's memoir, Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal?. It is a remarkable book. I'm very excited to get into Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter Scott, but top of the stack, demanding immediate attention is What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank by Nathan Englander. [Damn straight. We will expect a book report about the Nathan Englander book next week.]
This one should
be on everyone's
reading list right now.
5. What's your #1 pick for reading groups?
Nausea by Jean Paul Sartre. I'm not usually allowed to lead reading groups.

6. Would you rather....David Mitchell, David Foster Wallace, David Sedaris
First, David Sedaris, because he makes me laugh.
Second, David Mitchell, because he makes me dream.
Third, David Foster Waller, because he makes me hurt.
[Fourth, David Arquette, because he makes you gag?]

7. What's the biggest lie ever told by a sales rep?
Nicholas Sparks was a passing trend.
8. What's your second favorite bookstore?

9. Gianna or Liz?
I love them equally for different reasons. I will never specify what these reasons are, lest Liz sick Zorro on me. [REALLY?  Why must we keep repeating this?  The correct answer is ALWAYS Liz.  Always.  Because Liz is the one who posts the stuff on the blog and she says so.]

10. The most depressing book you've ever read?
Jeremy (right) and his brother in
front of Brazos.
She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb was a downer, but I really enjoyed it. This was Oprah's second book club choice. I read it reluctantly, but ended up really loving it.

11. I've never read ____________.  And I'm so ashamed.
Any of the Harry Potter books. I'm not that ashamed.

12. Celebrity Memoir (Death is not an option): Snooki, Justin Bieber, 
Paris Hilton, Kardashian Konfidential.
Justin Bieber. On the day he begins his public meltdown, I'll be able to pull factoids about his life out and say I saw it coming all along. And that hair... (Of course, I'm mesmerized by Snooki's mustache as well.)

13. Dumbest question ever asked by a customer?
Q: I see your fiction section. Where do you keep your non-fiction books?
A: Everywhere that isn't our fiction section.
14. I wanted to be a ___________ when I grew up.
A Broadway musical theatre star. Get a glass or two of wine in me, and I can't stop singing show tunes.
15. ________________ is my favorite book ever.
Too hard... Different eras of my life have had different favorites. During my late teens and early twenties it was Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis. But then I met him, and he was kind of a jerk to me, and my youthful angst was receding. Anymore, I don't really have a single title that is my Number One. I love books for their individual ambitions and successes. [Are you just scared to say Twilight?  It's okay.  We'll eventually forgive you.]

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Days of Love...and Lack Thereof, Happy Valentine's Day!


I am embarrassed to say that this was just added to my list a week or so ago at my girlfriend’s urging, and of course I knew it had to be number one. And maybe you think it's cheating because I am once again technically choosing a short story, but rules like laws are meant to be bigamy, sodomy, and stealing beer from the Pump and Munch (it’s a real place).

"The Bear Went Over
the Mountain" was made into
a terrific movie.
Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage consists of nine extraordinary stories. If you haven’t read Alice Munro, this is a great jumping off point; it's one of her finest collections, and she without doubt is one of the best writers working today (and if you ever meet anyone who disagrees with that, unfriend them on Facebook immediately).
Alice Munro
For this blog I am going to focus on "The Bear Came Over the Mountain," the beautiful story which anchors the book.

Grant and Fiona are at a crossroad. Although they have had an imperfect marriage, (Grant has had short meaningless affairs with students and even a yearlong affair with a colleague’s wife) he does love Fiona.

Gianna's sweetie Natasha
When she begins showing signs of Alzheimer’s disease, she finally takes complete control of her life and marriage. She insists on moving to a nursing home when the disease robs her of the ability to care for herself. Grant finally agrees although it is clearly not what he wants. As the story moves forward Fiona begins to change in ways that Grant is not expecting, including falling in love with another man.

Where Alice Munro succeeds the most in her stories is in her complete grasp on humanity. She paints sweeping portraits with such gorgeous concise language that you are convinced that she was born to write.

Natasha's sweetie Gianna.....oy.


Now I could have picked a sappy love story or epic lovey dovey saga or poignant tale of tragic love; it is Valentine's Day, after all.  But let's be honest: I ordered pizza tonight and sang "My Furry Valentine" to the cat this morning.  I have to be true to me and my ennui.  I will turn back to my witchy, wordy goddess, my JCO.  She communes with my bleak, soulless interior void.
Zombies are a hot topic these days, just behind vampires in the proliferation of undead books of the last few years.  The Joyce Carol Oates take?  Well, she's dark.  Zombie is about a man's quest for love.  He meets people in bars and invites them home...where he lobotomizes them with an ice pick, turning the victims into zombies.  It's a sick man's way of keeping his lovers from abandoning him (until, of course, the brain trauma knocks them down for good).  Oates based her novella on the Jeffery Dahmer case, her way of trying to understand the mind of a serial killer.

Happy Valentine's Day from Book Land!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Days of Love...and Lack Thereof, Day 19


Well we are nearing the end, but have no fear (of commitment), my last two choices are pretty great. In fact my last two books are by writers I don’t talk about nearly enough; they are both brilliant, and much to Liz’s liking…one is a Canadian (Liz likes geography like she enjoys her men…cold and distant).

Elizabeth McCracken has several excellent books under her belt: a story collection entitled Here’s Your Hat, What’s Your Hurry, a truly inspired novel called Niagara Falls All Over Again, a heartbreaking memoir, An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination. Finally she is the author of a book that makes my top, oh, I don’t know… twenty?: The Giant’s House: A Romance.

Elizabeth McCracken
In short (no pun intended…seriously it's not intended), set in the early 1950’s, Peggy falls in love with James. Here are a couple of details. Peggy is twenty-five when she meets eleven-year-old James. James has a very rare endocrine disorder, which causes him to grow at an alarming and dangerous rate; his lifespan will be drastically cut short. Peggy is a lonely librarian (before attending the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, I am almost certain McCracken was a librarian) who has been disappointed by life, and certainly, love. James and Peggy, each in their own way, are social outcasts. They each have a curiosity beyond that of their small, unchanging town. In their ten year platonic relationship, Peggy raises funds to build James a proper house, proper furniture, and even has a car built to suit his needs (he reaches 8 ft tall and is over 400 pounds). She adores his strange but loving family and finally feels at home. A bit of a twist from here so I won’t spoil the read, but please give The Giant’s House a chance; it's one of the most original, moving, thoughtful books I have read. [And secretly Gianna LOVES tall people.]


I think if Gianna can select a short story ("Brokeback Mountain"), so can I.  "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is required reading.  Period.  A husband loves his wife so much that he takes her to the country to undergo a rest cure about she struggles with depression.  He's so loving, see?  His beloved has the run of an upstairs room in a country house, a room with the ugliest fucking wallpaper ever conceived.  It's not his fault, of course.  He didn't design the house interiors.  And besides, the doctor thinks this rest cure is restorative.

Anyway, our heroine spends days in her room and subtly she begins to see patterns in the wallpaper.  And then she sees the figures in the paper creeping.  And then she herself is creeping.  She's crazy with love!  (Or she's just crazy, driven insane by the well-intentioned men in her life who don't listen to her.)

Guess what!  I'm still single!

10 Cool Things: Full Circle Books

Full Circle Bookstore is one of those stores that is a true treat.  Like its hometown is a lot cooler than you might initially imagine (we're big fans of Oklahoma City), Full Circle Books may be the most gorgeous bookstore in the country that most people don't know about.  It's a gem that should make its way onto bookstore tourists' lists of stores to see and shop around the country.  

Here are 10 Cool Things about Full Circle.

1.  Old school selection and atmosphere.  This is a bookstore that values breadth of inventory and an appreciation for great books.

2.  A superb audiobook section, important to those of us who drive a hell of a lot.

3.  Pearl the White Buffalo.  Best store mascot ever?

Meet Pearl, the White Buffalo.  Moo.
4.  Did we already mention that the store is gorgeous?  It really is.

5.  The staff puts on a full production of Oklahoma! every week.  Time and location are secret.  First rule of Oklahoma!, you don't talk about Oklahoma!....

Those are real flames.
6.  There are two working fireplaces in the store.  You can buy books and burn them all in one location.  They must have great turn-out for Banned Books Week in September.
A local book group
meeting in the store.

7.  The store is next door to Gianna's favorite restaurant (the Olive Garden).

8.  The staff selection table next to the front door always has an interesting assortment of great books.

9.  Tall shelves make tall shoppers happy.  Liz is tall.

Even the children's section
is classy and cool.
10. Full Circle is close to several major roads/highways.  We've been lost in every direction!

Stop in and say hello to Connie and the Full Circle crew and buy some books!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Days of Love...and Lack Thereof, Day 18


Harold and Maude

Before anyone gives me a hassle let me just say that I know it was a movie first, then a novel. I don’t care, it's an easy way to get my favorite (well, second favorite movie) in my top five Valentine book list.

Maude is on the left, with the 'fro.
Harold and Maude are the cutest, sweetest, sexiest couple ever (and this novel…well, movie has a great soundtrack, it makes you want to date older….way older).  Editions of this book can be pretty pricey, but you have to have it on your shelf. Okay, don’t read, just see the movie. It’s a win-win.

Also, meet my girlfriend’s Valentine gift from me….Harold and Maude. [I think Gianna's trying to replace Zorro as our official mascot.  I also think that Zorro would destroy Harold and Maude.]


Not enough people have read Waiting for Columbus by Thomas Trofimuk.  Seriously, this book should have been a huge bestseller and every book group out there should have read it.  It's not too late.  Find a copy, read it, and then feel free to let me know how grateful you are.

Columbus is a guy who was found floating in the ocean off the coast of Spain, naked, mentally ill, believing that he's the famous explorer.  Except he can't be Christopher Columbus because it's the present day.  He's sent to live in a Barcelona mental hospital and though doctors try to engage him, he's resistant to treatment.  Then he begins to tell his story--or Columbus's story anyway--to Consuela, a nurse there.  (Oh, and he's still naked.  He hates to wear clothes.)  As his story unravels, his real life begins to come forward.

Yeah, this is another Liz-selected book about a mentally ill protagonist, but I swear that there is a love story here.  And it's a terrific read.  I promise.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Days of Love...and Lack Thereof, Day 17


I can't believe you even considered celebrating a Valentine's Day without Pablo! What is wrong with you? Do you know nothing of romance, of love, of getting laid? Listen, it's not too late to save face. Pick up a copy of Pablo Neruda's 100 Love Sonnets (I mean, it's in English and's one language for free!). 

"When I die, I want your hands on my eyes:
I want the light and wheat of your beloved hands
to pass their freshness over me once more:
I want to feel the softness that changed my destiny."
I know...guaranteed to get things going.


Earlier today a pal suggested that Gianna might have a better grasp of this theme than I do.  Humph.  Apparently he doesn't appreciate the awe-inspiring, loin-quivering appeal of Darth Dick Cheney.  But fine.  I'll pretend I'm Gianna.

I can't believe you even considered celebrating a Valentine's Day without Atwood!  What is wrong with you?  Do you know nothing of romance, of love, of getting laid?  Listen, it's not too late to save face.  Pick up a copy of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale (I mean, it's got graffiti written in's one language for free!).

Who doesn't want to read about the reversal of feminism and the forced sexual enslavement of the dwindling number of fertile women in the world?  Offred, (get it, "Of Fred?") is the handmaid of a wealthy couple, a servant with no control over her body and no rights.  Her job is to produce children.  It has been religiously decreed by the theocracy that has taken control of the country.  Atwood's book is shockingly prescient, and if she'd managed to include a reality TV series about Offred's tribulations on TLC I'd call her a modern Nostradamus.  

I know...guaranteed to get things going.