Friday, November 30, 2012

The Books We Want for the Holidays: Angelmaker

The paperback
is available now.
So sometimes you want to read a book that's just bad ass in the best ways.  You want some adventure, you want some sexy times, you want some gangsters, and you want, say, a doomsday machine that a hapless hero accidentally activates and must figure out how to destroy before it destroys the world.  If you can throw in some killer elephants, a serial killer, a geriatric granny spy, and an army of militant monks standing in the hero's path, all the better.
The hardcover jacket
has a hidden code to
decipher, because it's
cool like that.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway.  Nick is spy novel master John LeCarre's son (daddy wrote Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, among many other books), and his exposure to great thriller plotting is evident.  What I love about Harkaway's writing, though, is that he's hilarious, he's outrageous, and yet he's completely engrossing.  Sometimes I'm reminded of Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club and Choke, and sometimes I'm reminded of Ian Fleming's James Bond novels, and sometimes I'm reminded of the new wave of snarky movie heroes like Robert Downey Jr's Iron Man.  But really, Nick Harkaway is a riot, and an original.  No one is writing books quite so entertaining right now.  

Come on--clockwork bees are going to destroy the world?  How can you resist?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Books We Want for the Holidays: The Plain in Flames

The Plain in Flames by Juan Rulfo  

(Gianna) As I stated on an earlier blog about this book, I am very late to the Rulfo game. My feeling remains that The Plain in Flames is one of the finest collections I have read in years. There is nothing more satisfying than reading a book and having it live with you for months, even years. This collection restores two stories that were left of the previous translation and have not in fact been published in English prior to this edition ("The Legacy of Matilde Arcangel" and "The Day of the Collapse"). Populated with characters living on the fringes of society, these stories are haunting, beautiful, and darkly funny.
If you are taken with the stories above, I highly recommend Rulfo’s short novel originally published in 1955 called, Pedro Páramo.  The tragic story of a son in search of his father has sold over two million copies and has never been out of print. It is, in every sense of the word, a classic.  If you love Gabriel Garcia Marquez, please consider reading Rulfo, he won’t disappoint. Plus, the dude had his own stamp!

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Books We Want for the Holidays: Building Stories

The phrase "Cyber Monday" makes me want to take a melon baller to my eyeballs, so today I'm picking the least e-friendly book out there right now.  Chris Ware's new graphic novel Building Stories was a decade in the making and consists of 14 pieces of graphic ephemera.  From a newspaper to a Golden Book to the box itself (which is the size of a Monopoly box), the assorted pieces taken together form the story of an apartment building in Chicago and its occupants.  Part of the novelty of this novel is that the reader can explore pieces in whatever order s/he chooses; there is no "right" way to read it.  I myself opted for smallest to largest, mostly because it was easier to organize and keep away from the devil cat.  I think that the free form nature of the book is confusing to readers, but think of this book as a collection of short stories; the order isn't as important in evaluating the work as a whole.

 Building Stories is lovely, and not just for Chris Ware's amazing artistic eye.  Of course Ware is the poster boy for graphic design geeks, but he's also a great writer of literature.  The women in Building Stories are struggling, and while this is a bit of a somber work, the artistry of story and illustration make it enthralling.  Also, and awesomely, one of the storytellers living in the building is a bee.  Who doesn't want to read a story from the point of view of the bee hovering around?

Feast your eyes on this treasure that has nothing to do with the cyber-manufactured hysteria.  (And no, Gianna, I'm not giving you Building Stories for Christmas.)

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Books We Want for the Holidays: Dan Winters

Ho ho ho!  And no, we're not talking about Gianna's other profession.  We're featuring some of our favorite picks for holiday gift giving, and first up is Gianna with books from photographer Dan Winters.

Last Launch: Discovery, Endeavour, Atlantis  and Dan Winters’s America: Icons & Ingenuity  by Dan Winters
You may not realize you it, but you know Dan Winters’s work quite well. You’ve seen his photographs in dozens of magazines, such as Discover, Rolling Stone, Audubon, Vanity Fair, Wired, and The New York Times Magazine.

He also has photographs in the permanent collections at the National Portrait Gallery, Museum of Fine Art Houston, and the very cool Harry Ransom Center here in Austin.

Winters has had a lifelong obsession with technology and science, which is truly apparent in Last Launch: Discovery, Endeavour, Atlantis (includes an introduction by by Al Reinert the co-screen writer of Apollo 13 and a prologue by astronaut Mark Kelly).  Winters was one of a handful of photographers invited to shoot the last launches of these space shuttles, including some rarely seen interiors.  The book is as gorgeous as it is moving.  It's one of the more fascinating photography books you’ll find this season.

Dan Winters
University of Texas Press has also just published Dan Winters’s America: Icons & Ingenuity. Included in this collection are famous portraits of people like Christopher Walken, Heath Ledger (one of my favorite photographs in this book), Morrissey, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and a truly iconic photo of Tupac Shakur from 1996.  Also included are a few space shuttle photos, cityscapes, collages, and one or two family shots.

I highly recommend both of these books, although Last Launch may be the timelier for gift-giving this season.

Photos can be seen here or on the UT Press website here

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

10 Reasons to Support Local Businesses This Weekend

Yeah, we are advocates for supporting local businesses, and it's that time of year.  Politicians are always talking about small businesses, so now it's time to back the rhetoric with your money.  Forget Black Friday, the real party is Small Business Saturday, and so we've created a quick list to highlight the best reasons for supporting your local bookstore (or other business).
Maria's Bookshop in Durango.
Who wouldn't want to shop here?

1. When you shop in a local bookstore you may actually meet the love of your life. You can’t meet the love of your life on Amazon (unless you’re browsing the small electronics). [On the other hand, the small electronics section does offer an alternate meaning for "stimulus package."]

 2. More than half the money you spend at a local shop stays in the local community. Comparatively, only 14% of what you spend at a chain stays local.  And if you're buying from that big online retailer who refuses to pay sales taxes? Yep, you hate your home town.

 3. It's just plain cool to be able to go in to a local store and demand to speak to the owner.  You can’t do that at Lowe's; we’ve tried.
Community.  That's what we're talking about.

 4. Fact: when you spend over $50 at BookPeople here in Austin, the head buyer comes down from her office and gives you a long tender hug.

5. Those local business people are supporting you too. It's a circle of life.  Hakuna Matata.

6. When you buy a gift for your mother and it's clear she hates it, you can take solace that she hates a gift that was purchased locally! And why is your mom so ungrateful? Geez.
Welcome to Blue Willow Bookshop.
Kids stuff on the left, adult books on the right,
friendly and helpful staff ready to assist in the middle.

 7. Still not convinced? Well maybe you’re forgetting that you can’t shoplift from, Amazon, or You can however steal shit locally! [Don't steal. It hurts local businesses more than it hurts box store retailers. And it's illegal. And Gianna is notorious about promising bail money and then never showing up.]

8. Local stores offer cool things that you can't find elsewhere.  And unique merchandise is harder for your ungrateful brother who lives 1,000 miles away to return.

Square Books, Oxford, MS.
This is Main Street America.
9. We aren't above mocking you online and in person.  Shame is a powerful deterrent. 

10. Most importantly, shopping locally makes you less of a douche now, and gives you a little bit of rope to do something asinine later, like never chipping in on office birthday gifts or baby showers.  

Monday, November 19, 2012

UNTITLED by Anonymous: A Text Conversation

Every now and then, we sales reps are asked to sell books about which we have no information.  Seriously, we're given an ISBN (international standard book number for those of you not in the book business), a price, and an on-sale date.  Perhaps it goes without saying that these situations produce a less-than-ideal selling experience.  Buyers hate it because they are buying blind, and reps hate it because if the book turns out to be a stinker, we're the ones who receive the complaints.  There are times when this sort of selling is necessary, such as back in the golden days of Oprah's Book Club when part of the deal with Oprah was that no one find out what the book was until the show aired.  Less successfully, several years ago Judith Regan basically lost her job after pulling an Untitled by Anonymous stunt for the book If I Did It by O.J. Simpson.  So here's the conversation that Gianna and I had via text this evening, as today I had the (fun? privilege?) experience of selling an Untitled by Anonymous book today.  Whatever it is, the book goes on sale on December 6th.

Place your bets.  And feel free to offer your own ideas.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

National Book Award Night Predictions!

Tonight, four lucky authors will have their careers change forever when they take home National Book Awards.  Here in Book Land we're always looking for ways to bet, make predictions, and go off half-cocked on things we know nothing about, so awards season is perfect.  Here are our predictions for winners in all four categories, hours before the award ceremony.  Note: if Liz is 100% correct, Gianna will buy her dinner.  If Gianna is 100% correct, it's a sign of the zombie apocalypse and you should hide.

Gianna's opening statement: I think after you read my predictions, you'll understand why people call me the Nate Silver of book awards.

Liz's opening statement: Who are these people saying you're Nate Silver?  We aren't counting the voices in your head.

Round One: Fiction
The nominees are:

Junot Díaz, This Is How You Lose Her (Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Group USA, Inc.)
Dave Eggers, A Hologram for the King (McSweeney's Books)
Louise ErdrichThe Round House (Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers)
Ben FountainBilly Lynn's Long Halftime Walk (Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers)
Kevin PowersThe Yellow Birds (Little, Brown and Company)

Gianna's PickWhile I loved This is How You Lose Her, I can't help but be reminded of the the movie, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, which my girlfriend watches every chance she gets. I am convinced that the judges, particularly Lorrie Moore, will have difficulty giving an award to anything reminiscent of Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey.

So, that narrows my choices down to Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, A Hologram for the King, The Round House, and The Yellow Birds. All great I am sure, but since I have only read two of these, I can narrow it down even further to Hologram for the King and The Round House. No, those aren't the two I read; I never end up reading the winners, so obviously I should take the two I've already read out. So, if I follow that logic, my final choice is Louise Erdrich's The Round House because not only have I not read this novel, I've never read any of her books. If you listen carefully you can hear Liz scream….

Liz's Pick: EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!  She's never read Louise Erdrich?  You know how Kelly Ripa spent a year auditioning co-hosts to replace Regis?  I'll start that process next week.  Anyway, I own all five finalists this year...and haven't yet read any of them.  Therefore, I'm going with the book I bought first, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk.  I was going to pick Louise Erdrich as well, since--like Obama--she has the woman vote and the minority vote, but I can't agree with Gianna.

Round Two: Nonfiction
The nominees are:
Anne ApplebaumIron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1945-1956 (Doubleday)
Katherine BooBehind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity (Random House)
Robert A. CaroThe Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Volume 4 (Knopf)
Domingo MartinezThe Boy Kings of Texas (Lyons Press, an imprint of Globe Pequot Press)
Anthony ShadidHouse of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

GiannaNow, for this category I am going to really do something different. I am going to pick the book I loved best. Hands down my choice is Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo. If this book does not win, I am going to petition that Texas secede from the union!

Liz: Rule #1: All things being equal, go with the book with Stalin on the cover.  Also, Anne Applebaum writes great histories about topics which interest me, like her previous Pulitzer winner, Gulag.  And as I keep telling people at presentations this fall, nothing says "Merry Christmas!" like a good history of totalitarian oppression.  Iron Curtain all the way.

Round Three: Poetry
The nominees are: 
David FerryBewilderment: New Poems and Translations (University of Chicago Press)
Cynthia HuntingtonHeavenly Bodies (Southern Illinois University Press)
Tim SeiblesFast Animal (Etruscan Press)
Alan ShapiroNight of the Republic (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Susan WheelerMeme (University of Iowa Press)

GiannaI have had great luck in the past picking the winner for poetry with my method of choosing the sexiest title. This year David Ferry wins with Bewilderment: New Poems and Translations. HOT! Talk about a great movie with Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey!

Liz: Who's NOT winning: David Ferry.  Wasn't this the name of Joe Pesci's character in the movie JFK? Tim Seibles.  I'm not sure how to say his name.  Cynthia Huntington, because Heavenly Bodies sounds a bit porny, as does Alan Shapiro's Night of the Republic.  I'm going with Meme by Susan Wheeler, because I appreciate brevity in poetry (so brief that I don't have to read it at all), and her title is one word long.  Congratulations Susan!

Round Four: Young People's Literature
The nominees:
William Alexander, Goblin Secrets (Margaret K. McElderry Books, an imprint of
Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing)
Carrie ArcosOut of Reach (Simon Pulse, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing)
Patricia McCormickNever Fall Down (Balzer+Bray, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers)
Eliot SchreferEndangered (Scholastic)
Steve SheinkinBomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World's Most Dangerous Weapon
(Flash Point, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press)

GiannaThe one with a bonobo on the cover.  [Endangered]

Liz: Never Fall Down.  I like the cover best.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Things I Love, Things I Hate, Things in Between, Volume 2

Thing I Love Immature Humor.  Let's say that you're pals with Gianna, and let's say that the head of the CIA resigns due to an extramarital affair.  Even better, Book Land is involved because the woman of the night happens to be the good general's biographer.  And then you get an email from Gianna that asks if the lady's book about General Petraeus is really called All In.  And you know that Gianna is snorting as she reads the story in the Huffington Post.  It's a lovely way to end a busy work week.

Thing I Hate Contested election results.  Forget Florida.  How is it that Gianna is winning our Liz vs.Gianna poll on Facebook?  Well guess what?  Book Land is not a democracy, and the correct answer is always Liz.  Or at least the correct answer is always Liz as long as Gianna wants me to continue to correct her punctuation.

Thing I Hate Jellyfish.  I think I'm supposed to find them beautiful, but other than the amazing drawings by Ernst Haeckel from Art Forms in Nature, they just look like floating wounds to me.


Yes Jhumpa, you are allowed
to write books for me.

Thing I Love Fresh manuscripts.  Every Thursday, the Random House sales force receives an email listing all of the manuscripts posted in the last week.  Often these emails are the first hints the sales team sees of the books we will be selling months to a year from now.  And sure, we're surrounded by books and assigned reading all the time, but I never get tired of the possibility of new, great books that I'll have the opportunity to read and then share.  Here's the entire email I sent to a colleague last week:

Subject: manuscript                                        

Two words: Jhumpa Lahiri.

It looks like there's a new Jhumpa Lahiri book for the fall of 2013.  That makes me happy.

Thing in Between. Cookbooks.  It's no secret that I don't like to cook.  Those people out there who read cookbooks for pleasure?  What the hell's wrong with you?  Do you need some reading recommendations?  Because we're here to help.  That said, I'm not averse to the joy of someone else cooking for me, which is why I'm giving copies of The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook to several friends.  One of my friends has been treating me to recipes from the SK blog for years, and my colleague Stacey has been making treats for her family and fellow telephone sales reps.  I'm pretty sure that she's going to send me cookies, and if you send me cash, I'll see if she'll cook for you too.  (No refunds.  No guarantees, and if you're Stacey reading this, no profit sharing.)

Thing I Love Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan.  The newest Ian McEwan novel goes on sale this Tuesday, and it's one of my favorites of the year.  Here is the Booker Prize winner and author of Atonement playing with the classic spy genre.  During the tedious part of the Cold War, 1973, a young woman is recruited by MI6 to join Operation Sweet Tooth.  Her mission: find susceptible writers and convince them to write pro-capitalist literature, thus combating Soviet pop culture propaganda.  Serena, our protagonist, finds an aspiring writer and convinces him that he's won a literary prize that will allow him to quit teaching and write full time.  She acts as his contact with the fictitious foundation, and eventually they fall in love.  Of course, their whole relationship is based on lies.  This is what McEwan does best--twisting characters through impossible scenarios and betrayals.  Good stuff.

Thing in Between Movie adaptations.  It's a bit cliche at this point to say that the book is better than the movie, even if there are instances when it's not true.  (The movie of Terms of Endearment was better than the book.)  This fall there's a movie version of my favorite book, Cloud Atlas.  I haven't decided if or when I'll see the movie, but regardless of the movie's quality, the publicity surrounding it has moved the brilliant novel onto the bestseller lists.  Here's a novel that takes some work--it's no young adult book masquerading as adult fiction, and structurally it's a challenge--and here it is selling all over the country.  That's something to celebrate.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election 2012, Liz and Gianna Version

Here in Book Land, we aren't afraid to ask the big questions.  Hell, as far as we can tell, we're the only ones to ever ask the biggest question.  On this election night, we don't ask you to stand in line, or watch endless returns roll in across the bottom of your TV screen, or avoid election fraud.  (Gianna's from Chicago, so she actually encourages fraud.)  We just ask you to help decide for the next four years what the correct answer is for the one question that matters most:

Liz or Gianna?

Your candidates:


My platform is this: Rachel Maddow will be in charge of everything. I'm just doing the leg work.

My favorite place to read over someone's shoulder. They seem to really enjoy it, especially if it's really a tight space or if they are reading a filthy book.
My Five Part Plan to Restore the Economy:
  1. Make pages of books out of money. 
  2. As my brother use to say when he was 6 years old, make everything cost a .10 and then people can buy stuff.
  3. Invest in money trees.  My dad would always say to my mom " Gee, let me go pick a thousand dollars off the money tree!" And to this day, I think how great it must have been to have that tree. 
  4. Bring China here, that way we aren't shipping jobs anywhere! 
  5. Legalize gay marriage so people have to buy me a gift for a change. 
I am against women's rights. Always have been, always will be. Next thing you know, they'll be driving, and we don’t need that kind of traffic in Austin!
Ice cream: Rocky Road (my black friend Jenelle wants me to say vanilla…what is she trying to say??)

I'm pro environment if I am in that environment. Like, I don't think smooth jazz should be playing in any environment that I am in. And I think pollution has gotten a really bad rap, I'm just not convinced it's a bad thing. It's just what the liberal media wants us to think.

West Wing character most like me: Claudia Jean Cregg.


I am pro book.  Unless that book is Twilight.  Then I'm pro-Twilight fan fiction, preferably in multiple shades of grey.  And I like to read in the bathtub, and particularly if I borrowed the book from you.  I believe that I must books gain character by being close to my nude, moist body.  Just like people. 

My Five Part Plan to Restore the Economy:
  1. Gianna will donate money to me (and to you).
  2. Fox News pays a "Liar Liar Pants on Fire" tax, and we literally set their pants on fire unless they pay.
  3. What's the second largest economy in the world?  Let's merge with them.  I hear that mergers are all the rage these days.
  4. Set up a Liz Relief Fund.  Text $909.99 to my phone along with your bank account number to make a donation.
  5. I will share my full plan after the election.  But I swear it's great!
I believe in women's rights.  Women have the right to worship me too.

Ice cream: Yes.  Feel free to deliver to me. 

I'm pro-environment.  I'm also anti-people.  You get off my land.  You hope I'm not pro-gun too.

West Wing character most like me: Claudia Jean Cregg.  And I'm six feet tall, Gianna.

Time to rock the vote.  Polls are open via Facebook.  Multiple Facebook accounts? Multiple votes!  Vote here!