Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Generally Horrible Questions: Suzy Spencer

(Gianna:) What’s that, you’ve read Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker, Fifty Shades Freed, and you just finished Jeffrey Toobin’s incredibly sexy book about the Supreme Court? You’re ready for more?  I mean a lot more? I mean are you ready for the real story? If Fifty Shades made you blush, stop reading here and don’t pick up Suzy Spencer’s Secret Sex Lives: A Year on the Fringes of American can’t handle the truth. Not this truth anyway.

Suzy Spencer spent nearly eight years researching Secret Sex Lives, from Craigslist encounters to swing clubs to SMBD to phone sex (Is that right, SMBD? I don’t know. Ask Liz, she’s totally into all that). [I prefer BDSM, but whatever.]  Sort of hard to believe that a nice, Christian girl from Texas spent eight years talking to strangers about sex and going to swing parties….Wait.  No, that actually seems about right. I really did love this juicy read; in fact, I devoured it in one day. Let me say it this way: I have never dog-eared a book so much in my life.

Suzy Spencer is a New York Times bestselling writer who has really outdone herself with Secret Sex Lives. It's brave, it's smart, and it's absolutely filthy. Well done.  Let's ask her some horrible questions and see who blushes first! 

1. What book changed your life (and don’t say the book you just wrote, because anyone who reads it will see that it changed your life…we mean someone else’s book!)?
I HATE this question because the book that changed my life wasn’t a book, it was the Dennis the Menace comics. Does that mean I was ahead of my time? Into graphic novels before graphic novels were trendy? Because I’m not talking about those little thin Dennis the Menace comic books. I’m talking about the big, thick ones – Dennis the Menace in Hollywood, Dennis the Menace in Hawaii. Oh, gee, why did I have to use the phrase “big, thick ones?" [If you weren't going to point it out, you have to know that we would.]

Okay, a book book – Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes. That book was so vivid that my skin felt the melting silver when it spilled. 
Suzy leather.

2. What books did you read while doing research for Secret Sex Lives?
Indecent by Sarah Katherine Lewis (great book), How to … Make Love Like A Porn Star by Jenna Jameson (not what the title insinuates – I learned nothing about making love like a porn star, dang it), The Other Hollywood: The Uncensored Oral History of the Porn Film Industry by Legs McNeil & Jennifer Osborne (great info!), and The Ethical Slut by Dossie Easton and Catherine A. Liszt. (Have you read that one, Gianna? – hint, hint.) [Hint taken!]

Gee, that’s not very many books for a nearly eight year project. Okay, after going the porn route I went the memoir route. (Obviously, I’m not counting Jenna Jameson’s bestseller as a memoir, even though that’s what it was.) Some Didion, Jeannette Walls, Megan K. Stack, Patti Smith, (Stack should have beaten Smith for the National Book Award), etc.

3. Liz and I both have a connection with you through your true crime book Fortune Hunter--Liz, because it’s about her former BookPeople boss who was convicted of murder, and me because it was one of the first books I read when I moved to Austin. Can you give us a quick update on Tracey and Celeste?
Tracey is out of prison and living in Houston where she’s a frequent shopper at Brazos Bookstore. Celeste is still in prison and writing books. Her most “famous” is a cookbook collaboration called From the Big House to Your House. By the way, Celeste is looking for dates via (Gianna?) [First of all, it's Liz we are trying to set up through the justice system, and second of all, she’s into dudes so Celeste won’t work…does she have a brother?]

You didn’t ask, but Stephanie Martin from Wages of Sin is also seeking generous dates via Meet-An-Inmate. (Gianna?) And I’ve been told that Stephanie has a pet rat that she carries around in her bra. (I’m refraining from doing any more Gianna references. I figure they’re getting old by now.) [Gianna loves Wages of Sin and is proud of it.  And Gianna quite possibly has rodents in her undergarments.]

4. Which of these Ryans would you most want to spank (they have been very naughty): Ryan Gosling, Nolan Ryan, Ryan Seacrest, Ryan O’Neal, Meg Ryan, or Ryan Lochte?
Can I have another choice, please? [No, you may not have another choice. We choose Ryan O’Neal.]

5. I’ve read _______ and I am so ashamed.
Jackie Collins. I mean, I’ve read and read and read many Jackie Collins novels. Oh, my! [You don’t sound as much ashamed as you do…proud.]

6. At what point did you realize this book was going to take a turn from cultural studies to more of a memoir?
When my editor DEMANDED it. 

7. Liz or Gianna?
May I have another choice, please? Oh, all right, Ryan Lochte because that paddle would bounce right off his tight … oh, wait, Liz. I’ll take Liz. But will Liz take me? [Depends--how tall are you?]

8.  You really could have left some of the very personal accounts of your life out of the book; it was brave to include them. Why did you make that choice?
My editor DEMANDED it.

I know, I know, I’m laying (no pun intended) the blame on my beautiful editor and not taking responsibility for my own actions.

Seriously, though, she’s an amazing editor who encouraged me to include things that I preferred not to. And I tried writing the book without those things. But it just didn’t work without them, because it wasn’t honest. And the book is supposed to be about truth and honesty.
[We think it's brave!]

9. I have never read ________ and I am so ashamed.
Oh, golly, gee, the list is embarrassingly long. How about we go with one obvious one? Gone with the Wind. No, To Kill a Mockingbird. No, Lonesome Dove. Oh, gee, see what I mean? But I’ve read Jackie Collins. [Well we always hear comparisons of Jackie Collins to Larry McMurtry, so it’s a wash.]

10. You’ve taped a segment for the new Katie Couric show which aired on October 18th. What kind of filthy words were you not allowed to say? …Because you’ve got a lot of filthy words in this book, Suzy.
Katie does not want to talk about "drip lists."
And Liz does not want to know what
they are.
There are? Okay, I learned that I can’t say “drip list” on TV. (See Secret Sex Lives, Chapter 3.) “Emily,” a swinger from the book who was on the show with me, learned that she can’t say “vagina” on TV. But I learned (and I promise you that that “but” isn’t intended as a pun) that a Kinsey researcher can say “anal sex” on TV. Go figure. [Yeah, don’t say ‘drip list’ again.]

11. What’s your purity test score? What do you think Gianna’s score is? Liz’s?
Gosh, I haven’t taken that test since high school when I didn’t know what half the questions meant and I lied to improve my score. And is high good? Or is high bad? On second thought, don’t answer that question. Let me Google that.

Okay, I’ve now Googled “purity test.” There’s something called the Libertarian Purity Test. Is that what you’re talking about? Dang, that thing’s too long to take. I think I flunked. I mean, I’m not even sure I understand the test questions. For example, “Should the law itself be privatized?” What the heck does that mean? Am I back in high school?
By the way, Liz flunked with me. Gianna passed. I mean, Gianna passed out. Is that good or bad? [Liz and I actually took this test and guess what? Turns out, Liz is the kinky one. I know, we all thought it would be me.  And Liz is pleading the fifth in explaining her score. How is it she's still single?]

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe

Allow me to explain sales conference preparations.  At least for Random House, we are sent lists of the titles that will be discussed at conference and that we will then sell to stores afterward.  There is an expectation that we will sample most of the books--pretty much everything for which their is edited material available.  On top of that reading, their are books called out as priority titles for my channel--the independent bookstores around the country.  These priority titles are divvied up among the reps so that by the time we get to sales conference at least a couple of people in the room have read the book and can offer sales handles and impressions.  And then there are a few titles which we're all supposed to read.  These are the books that, in a perfect world for the publisher, would become huge bestsellers or award winners or cultural milestones (or all of the above).

Back in February, the Random House reps were buzzing about a book assigned as a top priority for the fall season.  We were all assigned to read it, and my boss, Valerie, already raved about how compelling a read it was.  I was interested, and it's part of my job to read the priority books, and I'd met the author years earlier at a bookseller meeting when I was working for BookPeople.  He was Will Schwalbe, and at the time he was the editor at Hyperion.

Will Schwalbe
I started reading The End of Your Life Book Club on a Thursday.  I read about 30% of the book, and then I emailed my boss and told her that I felt like I understood the book and could sell it, but I didn't think I could finish it.  It hit too close to home.  All day Friday I tried to work, and to start reading another book, but I was distracted.  I couldn't get Will's book out of my head.  I ended up reading it over the weekend, and then I tracked down Will's email and sent him a letter about how much his book moved me.

The End of Your Life Book Club is an incredible memoir that details the relationship between Will and his mother Mary Anne, and how the two of them shared books in a two person book group after Mary Anne was diagnosed with terminal cancer.  The first thing to know--Mary Anne was an incredible woman; she was the first female head of admissions at Harvard University, and she was a lifelong leader in championing education and literacy around the world.  She taught her children to love books, so it was a natural question for Will to ask his mother "What are you reading?" as they waited for a doctor's appointment.  Thus began their journey together through cancer and family as told through the books they shared.  From Crossing to Safety to The Hobbit to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, they ranged freely from book to book, discussing the unimaginable--the knowledge of life and death and fear and anger and faith--through the stories they shared.

Mary Anne Schwalbe passed away a couple of years ago, and then Will began to write.  From the emails we exchanged after I'd finished reading his book, he shared this: "I had all sorts of reasons for wanting to write this book. Selfishly, it provided a way to keep Mom's voice in my head for years after her death. But more than that, I also wanted to provide a springboard for people to share their stories of people they love who have died, and also to engage around topics so many people shy away from: not just death, but dying."
Mary Anne Schwalbe raised money for mobile
libraries in Afghanistan later in her life.

My mother had passed away from cancer just six months before I read The End of Your Life Book Club, in August, 2011.  She was a high school English teacher and she shared her passion for literature and education to several generations of students, including my siblings and me.  I credit Will's memoir with allowing me ways of thinking about the void left after my own mother's death, and a means of processing my own grief.  I found myself thinking about how I relate to people through books, from tumultuous teenage years when my mother and I could still agree that Beloved and The Great Gatsby were brilliant works and that Twain was a safe space for us to argue (I hated Huck Finn, she loved it).  I have found friends through book conversations--hate Confederacy of Dunces? We can hang out--and strengthened those friendships through the books we shared with each other.  "What are you reading?" is the ice breaker, and the language spoken in the world I inhabit, and chances are that if you're reading this blog, you inhabit that world too.  (Or, you know, you're looking for porn and were woefully misled in that Google search.)

Since reading The End of Your Life Book Club, I've spent a lot of time thinking about the books I wish that I could discuss with my mother.  I've been reading other books that friends have recommended in the past that have sat on my shelves for years; reading The Secret History helps me feel closer to a friend because it's a book she loved, even though I've been traveling for work quite a bit recently and haven't seen much of this friend recently.  People ask if Gianna and I hang out or talk frequently, particularly since Gianna left Random House and we weren't actually working together anymore.  And yes, Gianna and I talk (or text, or email) all the time, but frequently we're talking about the books we're reading.

Will Schwalbe and I exchanged a handful of emails in February, and then recently I contacted him again to ask permission to write about this contact on this blog.  And those emails, an exchange floating from careers to grief and loss to sleep difficulties and hotels, those emails also always contained a discussion of the books we're reading.  It's the language we speak.

I'm including the long list of books and authors Will and Mary Anne Schwalbe discussed during the two years she battled cancer.  I encourage you to read The End of Your Life Book Club, and then to keep reading.  This list is a great place to start.

Louisa May Alcott (Little Women)
W. H. Auden (“Musee de Beaux Arts,” from Collected Poems)
Russell Banks (Continental Drift)
Muriel Barbery (The Elegance of the Hedgehog, translated by Alison Anderson)
Ismael Beah (A Long Way Gone)
Alan Bennett (The Uncommon Reader)
The Bible
Roberto Bolano (The Savage Detectives, translated by Natasha Wimmer)
Geraldine Brooks (March; The People of the Book)
The Book of Common Prayer
The Buddha (The Diamond Cutter Sutra, translated by Gelong Thubten Tsultrim)
Lewis Carroll (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland)
Julia Child (Mastering the Art of French Cooking)
Karen Connelly (The Lizard Cage)
Pat Conroy (The Great Santini)
Colin Cotterill
Roald Dahl (Charlie and Chocolate Factory)
Patrick Dennis (Auntie Mame)
Joan Didion (A Book of Common Prayer; The Year of Magical Thinking)
Siobhan Dowd
Dave Eggers
T.S. Eliot (Murder in the Cathedral)
Ian Fleming (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang)
Ken Follett (Pillars of the Earth)
Esther Forbes (Johnny Tremain; Paul Revere and the World He Lived In)
E.M. Forster (Howards End)
Anne Frank (The Diary of Anne Frank)
Nikki Giovanni
William Golding (Lord of the Flies)
Gunther Grass (The Tin Drum)
The Haggadah
David Halberstam (The Coldest Winter)
Susan Halpern (The Etiquette of Illness)
Mohsin Hamid (The Reluctant Fundamentalist)
Khalid Hosseini (The Kite Runner; A Thousand Splendid Suns)
Patricia Highsmith (Strangers on a Train; The Price of Salt; The Talented Mr. Ripley)
John Irving (A Prayer for Owen Meany)
Christopher Isherwood (The Berlin Stories; Christopher and His Kind)
Jerome K. Jerome (Three Men in a Boat)
John Kabat-Zinn (Full Catastrophe Living; Wherever You Go, There You Are; Coming to 
Our Senses)
Walter Kaiser
Mariatu Kamara (The Bite of the Mango, with Susan McClelland)
John F. Kennedy (Profiles in Courage)
Larry Kramer
Munro Leaf (The Story of Ferdinand, illustrated by Robert Lawson)
Dennis Lehane
C.S. Lewis (The Chronicles of Narnia)
Jhumpa Lahiri (The Interpreter of Maladies; The Namesake; Unaccustomed Earth)
Anne Lamott (Travelling Mercies)
Stieg Larsson (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, translated by Reg Keeland)
Victor LaValle (Big Machine)
Donna Leon
Malcolm X (The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley)
James McBride (The Color of Water)
Ian McEwan (On Chesil Beach)
Alistair Maclean (The Guns of Navarone; Where Eagles Dare; Force 10 from Navarone;
Puppet on a Chain)
Thomas Mann (Tonio Kroger; Death in Venice; The Magic Mountain;
Mario and the Magician; Joseph and His Brothers, translated by John E. Woods)
W. Somerset Maugham (Of Human Bondage; The Painted Veil; Collected Short Stories, including “The Verger”)
Rohinton Mistry (A Fine Balance)
JR Moehringer (The Tender Bar)
Toni Morrison
Daniyal Mueenudeen (In Other Rooms, Other Wonders)
Alice Munro (Too Much Happiness)
Nagarjuna (Seventy Verses on Emptiness, translated by Gareth Sparham)
Irene Nemirovsky (Suite Francaise, translated by Sandra Smith)
Edith Nesbitt (The Railway Children)
John O’Hara (Appointment in Samarra)
Mary Oliver (Why I Wake Early, including “Where Does the Temple Begin,
Where Does it End?")
Frances Osborne (The Bolter)
Randy Pausch (The Last Lecture)
Susan Pedersen (Elinor Rathbone and the Politics of Conscience)
Harold Pinter (The Caretaker)
Reynolds Price (Feasting on the Heart)
Thomas Pynchon
Arthur Ransome (Swallows and Amazons)
David R. Reuben, M.D. (Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex: But Were
Afraid to Ask)
David K. Reynolds (Constructive Living)
Marilynne Robinson (Gilead; Home)
David Rohde
Tim Russert (Big Russ and Me)
David Sedaris
Maurice Sendak (Where the Wild Things Are; In the Night Kitchen)
Peter Shaffer (Five Finger Exercise)
George Bernard Shaw (Saint Joan)
Bernie Siegel, M.D. (Love, Medicine and Miracles)
Alexander McCall Smith (The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency: The Miracle of Speedy
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (The Gulag Archipelago)
Natsume Soseki (Kokoro, translated by Edwin McCelland)
Wallace Stegner (Crossing to Safety)
Edward Steichen (The Family of Man, prologue by Carl Sandburg)
Wallace Stevens
Lydia Stone (Pink Donkey Brown, illustrated by Mary E. Dwyer)
Elizabeth Strout (Olive Kitteridge)
Josephine Tey (Brat Farrar)
Michael Thomas (Man Gone Down)
Mary Tileston (Daily Strength for Daily Needs)
Colm Toibin (The Story of the Night; The Blackwater Lightship; The Master;
J.R.R. Tolkien (The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings)
William Trevor (Felicia’s Journey)
John Updike (Couples, My Father’s Tears)
Liv Ullmann
Marina Vaizey
Sheila Weller (Girls Like Us)
Elie Wiesel (Night)
Tennessee Williams (A Streetcar Named Desire)
P.G. Wodehouse
Geoffrey Wolff (The Duke of Deception)
Herman Wouk (Marjorie Morningstar)

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

School Reading

(Liz) Rarely do I have trouble getting into a book.  I'm the opposite of ADD with my reading; I don't drift off, and I devour almost everything I begin.  But then occasionally there's the book that doesn't click and I end up pushing it to the back of the pile for another day.  One such book is The Secret History by Donna Tartt.  EVERYONE loves this novel.  My closest friends.  My colleagues.  Go into a bookstore and ask.  They will tell you it's great.  So what the hell's wrong with me?

Last weekend I gave a book presentation to a parents group at St. Thomas High School in Houston.  It's an all boys Catholic school, and I was the special guest for the meeting that coincided with Homecoming and the school's annual book fair.  Had I known it was Homecoming I would have worn a corsage.  I've given presentations at several private schools and find myself impressed by the differences between my high school (fall carnival involves mazes of cardboard boxes taped together) and these schools (fall festival involves mechanical bulls).  Their school: future Hall of Famer Craig Biggio is the baseball coach.  My school: my basketball coach taught my biology class, but we had the seventh period class and the school could only afford six class sets of dissection materials, so I never had to hack into critters.

You're sending your kid to
an elite private school! Congrats!
Either he's going to break down or
die! Bring on Harvard!
After my presentation, I started thinking about school themes in books and movies.  I'm a sucker for a Dead Poets Society and School Ties.  Somehow poetry and Latin are far less tedious in film form.  And so I decided to give The Secret History another try.  This time, finally, after years of abortive attempts, the book clicked for me.  It's great.  So here's a quick list, by no means complete, of some of my favorite novels set in the fascinating, disturbing world of the elite education institutions.  Some common trends: the new kid/new teacher is always the focal point, never join the exclusive organization because you'll end up involved in scandal (and possibly murder), language classes are torturous, and the charismatic artists and geniuses are always trouble.  In short, should you find yourself in private school, find the Gianna and stick close to her.  She'll moon you, but you won't end up pregnant, plotting to kill anyone, or reciting poetry in the woods.

The Secret History.  Let's start with the book it took me so long to discover.  Richard, the average guy from California, transfers to a small, liberal arts college in Vermont. Once there, he ingratiates himself with the elitist group of five students and their teacher who are obsessed with the study of Greek.  The idyllic life turns Greek tragedy, though, as a night of bacchanalian frolicking starts them down the slippery slope to murder.  It's smart, dark, and worth all of the bookseller love.  I haven't finished it yet, so don't tell me what happens, 'kay?

Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl.  Like your books too smart and clever for their own good?  Most of the time, aggressively clever stylizing in books irritates me, but this one is the exception.  The protagonist, Blue Van Meer, is a wise-cracking master of all things literary and cultural, and Pessl's first novel uses parenthetical asides masterfully (and in almost every sentence).  Blue enrolls in the elite St. Gallway School and connects to the popular kids (the "Bluebloods") and their favorite teacher.  A murder or two later, though, and Blue is in the midst of her own nightmare.  Special Topics was one of those books I couldn't quit talking about when it came out.  Lots of fun.

A Separate Peace by John Knowles.  It's pretty much required reading, right?  But I admit that I haven't read it since I was in high school and don't remember much beyond the charismatic Phineas (is that right?) and the quiet intellectual Gene.  They are attending the ubiquitous all boys prep school in New England, it's World War II, and everything changes after one summer.  Sure, your kids will get into the Ivy League if they attend these prep schools, but there's also the chance that they'll end up suffering or dying.  Is it worth it?

Cracks by Sheila Kohler.  New girl?  Check.  Private school?  Check.  Popular teacher/exclusive club?  Check.  Dark side of adolescence?  You betcha.  Cracks deals with the adult members of a girls' school swim team returning to their alma mater for a weekend when the school attempts to raise some money by rekindling their school girl nostalgia.  They instead are confronted with the kids they were, from cliques to swim meets to betrayal and darkness.  This is a great read and probably off most radars.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark.  Dead Poets Society owes quite a bit to Miss Jean Brodie.  Welcome to the private girls school in Scotland, and meet Miss Brodie.  She's the woman with the unorthodox teaching methods who takes the best students under her wing.  She's a woman who isn't afraid to live (she has her romantic liaisons) and isn't afraid to bring out the best in "her" girls, but one of them will betray her.  Great book, and it's Muriel Spark, who's a great writer.

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes.  Last year's Booker Prize Winner was on our best of the year lists and quickly found its place among my favorite books.  It's also a book about school chums, the philosophical genius kid who's new, and the dark secrets that shake their world years later.  Required reading, and at about 150 pages, it's required reading that doubles as a nice way to spend an evening or weekend.

Others?  What am I missing?  It just occurred to me that these books would make a great series for reading groups.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Let the People In

“I'm not afraid to shake up the system, and government needs more shaking up than any other system I know.”


I knew very little about Texas before I moved to Austin. I had no connection and no real affinity for this state. Now, over a decade later, I can't imagine leaving. I moved here mid-October of 2000, Gore vs Bush, and it was a crash course in Texas politics. And I know, I know, I should be ashamed that the only thing I really knew about Ann Richards was a famous quote or two (“Poor George, he can't help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth”), and of course I knew what she looked like...that gorgeous iconic hair. What I didn’t know until now was what she meant to Texas (and still means to Texas) and in a larger sense, to the country.

Jan Reid’s biography gives us some real depth into Ann’s life; her childhood, marriage, children, and of course her rise to the governor's office. The details are in here too; her alcoholism, her failed marriage, where some thought her politics went astray. What you walk away with after reading Let the People In is a true sense of how very real Ann Richards was.

“I have a real soft spot in my heart for librarians and people who care about books.”

Ann and Dolly
Several months ago when I began talking to librarians, booksellers and sales reps around the country about this book, most everyone had an Ann Richards story they wanted to share--a memory, a favorite quote, something to be thankful for. I spoke to people from California, Illinois, Utah, DC, and of course here at home where many folks had stories about actually meeting Ann. I’ve worked on many books and it’s a rare thing for one to elicit such personal and profound feelings. I can tell you there is nothing, absolutely nothing better, than when a book you’ve watched so many people work incredibly hard on totally hits the mark; Let the People In is that book. It’s a perfect book for right now.

Cecile Richards
For me, the book was a wake up call; so many things that she fought for all those years ago are once again on the chopping block. And for those of you who wonder, where is our next Ann Richards? Who will be brave enough to not mince words, to take on the establishment? Well, my vote goes to the president of Planned Parenthood. I mean, this woman took on Komen when they wanted to abandon women in need of health care. She took on Komen and won. That takes balls. What the heck is her name? Oh yeah, Cecile Richards. Apples and trees.

“Poor George, he can't help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth.”

“I have always had the feeling I could do anything and my dad told me I could. I was in college before I found out he might be wrong.”


Unlike Gianna, I grew up in Texas and Texas politics have been on the periphery of my entire life. That includes Ann Richards, who became governor around the time that I was in high school and becoming more conscious of how elections, people, and policies influence actual people's lives. I wasn't old enough to vote yet, but I remember the heated gubernatorial race between Republican Clayton Williams and Richards, and how the more he talked, the bigger grave he dug. Richards would be called a drunk, and she wouldn't back down.

"I did not want my tombstone to read, 'She kept a really clean house.' I think I'd like them to remember me by saying, 'She opened government to everyone.”

Ann's cameo on
King of the Hill
Some other impressions of Ann Richards--there was the guest spot on King of the Hill (which is the best show ever created about Texas), and there was the retired governor who lived across the parking lot from BookPeople. She would storm into the storm on a weekend wearing workout clothes--usually a t-shirt and spandex tights--and buy a newspaper, and woe to the bookseller who made her wait in line just to buy a newspaper. And then there was Ann Richards the parade marshal during my high school years. She visited Woodville during the Tyler County Dogwood Festival, and served as parade marshal, riding in a horse-drawn carriage down the highway. My high school marching band followed just behind, and I am honored to say that I marched through Ann Richards's horse's poo. Ann's tailor lived in Woodville, the woman who crafted those brightly colored power dresses.

"If you give us the chance, we can perform. After all, Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels."

Of Ann the Governor, I remember a woman who wasn't afraid to call a spade a spade, and who fought for changes in policies like education funding. Remember all of those accomplishments that George W. Bush claimed as reasons to elect him President, back when he first ran for office and Texas was a leader in education and business? Those were policies that Ann Richards put in place. Mostly, though, as another election approaches and I found myself yelling at the TV during the first Presidential debate, I wondered what had happened to politicians who weren't afraid to call bullshit. Attacks on the rights of women? Bullshit. Attacks on gays and lesbians? Bullshit. Xenophobia? Bullshit. Ann Richards was that type of Governor, a woman who fought for what she fought was right, even if it wasn't ladylike or genteel. She was a revolutionary and the last great governor of the Lone Star State.

Asked once what she might have done differently had she known she was going to be a one-term governor, Richards grinned. "Oh, I would probably have raised more hell."

Monday, October 8, 2012

Things I Love, Things I Hate, Things in Between (A New Series?)

Liz here.  So Gianna's computer is on the fritz (What can I say?  She bought a Mac....and....cue the hate mail!) and she can't send me the blog post she was supposed to send me a week ago.  She's sorry.  Really.  And it's Monday, and a government holiday, and I'm in a bit of a mood.  My head's a bit all over the place.  I thought I could wrap my brain around my brain by trying to categorize the random thoughts floating around in there.
We love Allison Janney. 

Thing I Love
Allison Janney.  Why?  I thought of her because the movie adaptation of The Hours is on TV right now and she was one of the subtle reasons I was able to tolerate this movie even though I loved the book too much.  And then I started thinking that AJ was also in the movie adaptation of The Help, and The Ice Storm in which she hosted the key party.  Also, she was C.J. Cregg on The West Wing, and she's tall.  What I'm saying is that I wouldn't protest if Allison Janney played me in the made-for-TV version of Liz and Gianna's Adventures in Book Land.  Gianna would play herself, of course, and since I think she has a massive crush on Janney, the TV version of our blog might be steamier than the real life one.

Thing I Hate
Insurance companies of all forms.  Back in August, my air conditioner broke on a Saturday and in the space of two hours my house temperature rose to 90 degrees inside.  I couldn't move Zorro away from the fan.  I called an air conditioning repair service and they fixed the broken motor.  This morning, when I finally got around to calling the home warranty company with whom I have a policy since I just bought my house in May, they refused to reimburse my $700 because I didn't call them first.  Go to hell, American Home Shield.  And yes, this is why I was in a bad mood today.

Thing I Hate
Doorbells ringing unexpectedly when I'm in the bathroom, unless...

Thing I Love
...the guy ringing the doorbell is an incredibly good looking man registering voters on behalf of the Democratic Party.  If all things between the parties were equal (and they certainly aren't), I'd vote Democrat based on the beauty of this guy.  I needed to update my registration anyway, so I gave my address and phone number to Mr. Beautiful.  If he "forgets" to turn in my form and then decides to swing by later to personally apologize with a backpack full of books on his shoulder, a tub of ice cream in one hand and a case of Diet Coke in the other, I will open the door again.  Why isn't E.L. James writing this fan fiction?  I am going to imagine that Mr. Beautiful is a grad student majoring in library science too.

Thing in Between
I'm currently reading a book called Dora: A Headcase by Lidia Yuknavitch.  It's a novel that takes Freud's classic Dora case study and turns it on its head, turning Dora into the master observer/analyst/subverter of norms by making her a teenage girl intent on messing with the mind of her therapist.  I loved Yuknavitch's memoir of her train wreck life, The Chronology of Water, and I think her writing is seductive.  And normally I can't get enough of mental illness as a theme in literature, but I haven't decided what I think of this book.  The Dora character is a fascinating and sometimes hilarious mess, but she's maybe too much of a teenager for me to tolerate.  When did I become this person?  I think I missed my teenage rebellion stage in reading, and diving into books like The Catcher in the Rye after a certain age makes them seem...trite? Whiny? Mean-spirited?  But Yuknavitch is an incredible writer and I am sucked into her story in spite of my ambivalence to the character.

Thing I Love
An unreliable narrator.  Dora, she certainly can't be trusted, particularly regarding her impressions of Sig, her analyst.  And I read The Talented Mr. Ripley last week and there's a book I can get behind.  Ripley is a most compelling sociopath.  Did you know that Ripley writer Patricia Highsmith was born in Fort Worth?

Thing in Between
Keira Knightley.  The actress has become the queen of the literary adaptation to screen, including this year's adaptation of Anna Karenina, which I will watch because Tom Stoppard (the guy who wrote the play Arcadia and the screenplays for Shakespeare in Love and Rosencrantz and Gildenstern Are Dead and Enigma (if you've never seen this smart thriller starring Kate Winslet, you've missed a gem) and Empire of the Sun (Christian Bale's first film)) wrote the screenplay.  But I'm talking about Keira here.  In the last ten years, Knightley has starred in adaptation of Pride & Prejudice, Atonement, Silk, The Duchess, Never Let Me Go, A Dangerous Method, and now Anna Karenina.  My problem, though, is that while some of these were good movies, Knightley is never the thing about them that stands out as remarkable for me.  Take Atonement.  I very much liked it, but I remember thinking that the little girl in it was incredible, and the cinematography would win an Oscar, and that I love a Phillip Glass score. Oh yeah, and Keira Knightley was in it.  Oh well.  I don't loathe her with the ire I generate for Kirsten Dunst, but I'm not seeking out her name in the credits.

The latest bookshelves
at my house are pipes.
Thing I Hate
I never have enough bookshelves.  I am reaching hoarder status with the books.  I think I have a problem.  I perform Google image searches of bookshelves and then drool.  Gianna's planning an intervention, and I just hope that Mr. Beautiful the voter registration canvasser comes along to convince me that I have a problem.

Thing I Love
More pipe bookshelves
at Lizzy's house.
The first real cold front swept through over the weekend and for a few blessed days, at least, the temperature is down in the 50's at night.  I love love love a cold tile tub filled with steaming hot water, a book in hand, and a long, long soak.  I'm often asked my opinion on the e-book revolution in the publishing industry, and my biggest problem with e-readers is that they aren't conducive to bathtub reading and I refuse to give up my baths.  So if you follow my reading on Goodreads and wonder how I can read multiple books at once, here's the deal.  I have the audiobook I'm listening to in the car.  I have the manuscript I'm reading on an e-reader for work.  And then I have the book I'm reading in the tub. I love my tub.

Nothing beats a bath and a book.
Thing I Hate
Recently a statistic was released that stated something to the effect that 55% of adults read young adult or children's books.  When I was a kid, I couldn't wait to read adult books, so I really don't get this trend.  I'm not saying that young adult fiction is bad; I'm saying that there are thousands upon thousands of books published every year that are age appropriate for a thirty-five year-old and I don't see what s/he gets out of reading books intended for fifteen year-olds.

Thing I Love
Baseball playoffs.  Go Orioles!  Go Giants!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Liz and Gianna's Bad Ass Book Fall Preview, Part 3

Hello again,

Thus far we've previewed the big releases from Gianna's University of Texas Press, and then part two featured the half of Random House that Liz sells.  For part three, we're teaming up to cover the other half of Random House.

Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power
Jon Meacham

(Gianna) I noticed last month that the description of this book promises to deliver the goods on the passion and sensuality of Jefferson, and to that I say…sold! Turns out however, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jon Meacham felt he should give you a full portrait of the man, so you will also get details of everything from The Declaration of Independence to the famous dinner parties, to Monticello, to the Louisiana Purchase (he had no idea kids would just use it as a playground!), and Jefferson's tactical political maneuvers. Random House has a handful of really great nonfiction books this year, and this may just be the biography of the year.

A Wanted Man 
Lee Child
On Sale Now

(Gianna) It sounds crazy, but I don't think Child has had a stinker in any of his dozen or so books. He receives rave reviews, booksellers absolutely adore the series (and him), and if you can find a better book in the genre, well Jack Reacher would just die…but then not really die, you see you would just think he died but then he would show up in the next book. If you haven't tried this great series, you really can dive in anywhere, and unlike so many writers, Lee Child just gets better and better.

The Twelve 
Justin Cronin

(Gianna)I am so excited that this book is finally here! I haven't worked for Random House in over a year but that doesn't stop pretty much every single bookseller I see from asking me when it's coming out, and if I can get them an early copy. The wait is over (sort of …two more weeks….sorry). And I don't want to freak anyone out but…The Twelve is even better than The Passage. I know!

The Devil in Silver 
Victor LaValle
On Sale Now

(Gianna) Between this novel and Gone Girl, I had a pretty creepy summer. In fact, I think for everyone who read Gone Girl, this should be the next one on your list. I would compare his writing a bit more in line with Dan Chaon, but for readers of smart, psychological thrillers, this is a must have. LaValle is smart, original, and has written an unputdownable book with The Devil in Silver.

Joseph Anton
Salmon Rushdie
On Sale Now

(Gianna) Joseph Anton is the Random House book that I have been most excited to read.  As of right now I am about 200 pages in and its just fascinating. For those who don't know or remember, when Rushdie's Satanic Verses was published, conservative Muslims accused him of blasphemy which resulted in Ayatollah Khomeini calling for a fatwa – asking good Muslims to kill Rushdie and those associated with the book. While Rushdie was never harmed over the book, many others were, including the Japanese translator who was murdered. Of course because of timing, this book really resonates.  [Liz: "Joseph Anton" was the alias that Rushdie used while in hiding, picked from his two favorite writers--Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekhov.  The reviews are calling this book one of Rushdie's finest.]

Rod Stewart...Gianna's ex?
Rod Stewart

(Liz) According to my New York colleagues, Rod Stewart lives in the Broadway building where Random House is headquartered, so how awkward would it be if, say, Simon & Schuster were his publisher?  I admit that I know little to nothing about music, but Gianna, she's a music aficionado, and I'm pretty certain that she once sang me a song about wanting her body and thinking she's sexy.  Actually, I kinda think that Gianna and Rod were a couple back in the day.  Didn't he sleep with a lot of people?  Why not Gianna?

Silent No More
Victim One

(Liz) The biggest scandal of the year came when the revelation that longtime Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky abused children over the course of many, many years, and that school officials covered up his transgressions.  Lives were destroyed, reputations ruined, and innocence lost.  Now Victim One from the court case reveals his story of courage and survival in confronting his abuser.

The Black Count
Tom Reiss
On Sale Now

(Liz)  I've been hearing about this book for months.  Seriously, my RH colleagues won't stop talking about it.  It turns out that Alexandre Dumas, the author of classics like The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, based his swashbuckling characters on his father, General Alex Dumas, and more incredibly, Daddy Dumas was the son of a black slave in Haiti.  Briefly sold into slavery, Dumas managed to rise in social stature to the rank of general, joined the French aristocracy, and commanded armies.  The Black Count is the sort of literary sleuthing that makes reading the classics fun.

Brian McGrory

(Liz) Brian McGrory owned a dog who was ailing, so he took his pooch to the vet.  The dog didn't make it, but Brian found love with the vet instead.  The vet?  She has a couple of kids...and a chick that grows up to be Buddy, a rooster with an attitude.  Buddy likes the family, but he doesn't like Brian.  Brian, learning to relate to children and a new family, takes his clues from the cantankerous fowl.  It's Marley & Me with poultry.

The Headmaster's Wager
Vincent Lam
On Sale Now

(Liz) This is my kind of book--literary fiction from an up-and-coming author, set in a region I don't normally encounter in fiction.  The title character in Vincent Lam's novel is the Chinese headmaster of a school in Vietnam.  His son, trying to prove his devotion to his father, says the exact wrong thing at the exact wrong time, and as civil war begins to engulf the country, the headmaster, Percival Chen, finds himself risking everything to save his son--his school, his fortune, his life.  With the help(?) of his longtime friend (who is shady), Percival is thrust into the middle of a political landscape in revolutionary Vietnam and China that he cannot comprehend, a world where influence and allegiances suddenly matter more than money.  Put Vincent Lam on your radar.  He's an author to watch.