Thursday, January 31, 2013

New Year, New 30 Day Book Challenge, Day 28

 Day 28: Upcoming Books We're Excited About.


As we near the end of our thirty-day book challenge, we thought it might be nice to look ahead and see which books we are most excited about. Mostly right now though, I am excited for this damn thirty day challenge to end. Oy.

The Fight to Save Juarez by Ricardo Ainslie (April)
This will be of particular interest to those of us who live in a border state. This is a portrait of Mexico’s bloodiest city. It's a first hand perspective on the drug war that has claimed close to 60,000 lives since 2007. Yes, you read that correctly, 60,000.

TransAtlantic by Colum McCann (June)
I just learned that we would have a new McCann this morning and I am so thrilled. I believe, and I could be wrong, but think it’s a novel from his short story about the first non-stop transatlantic flight in 1919.  The short story was published in the New Yorker last year.  

The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout (March)
A family is haunted by an accident that has killed their father. The two sons move away from their small Maine town, leaving the sister behind, but years later she calls them home where their past must be dealt with.

A Thousand Pardons by Jonathan Dee (March)
An emotional drama of a marriage in crisis. I hope you read the Pulitzer Prize nominated novel The Privileges; it was absolutely fantastic and this sounds like a perfect follow up.

Benediction by Kent Haruf (March)
I’ve written about Kent Haruf a few times, he is just a beautiful writer. Haruf has used the town of Holt, Colorado again as in previous books, this time a family deals with a father’s diagnosis with terminal cancer.


Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell (February)
Karen Russell is a brilliant short story writer, and I'm a huge fan. I'm her #1 fan. Think Annie Wilkes from Misery. This stellar collection is playful, whimsical, and...frightening. Russell plays with horror here, and with great success. And don't forget that her novel Swamplandia! was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

Ghostman by Roger Hobbs (February)
The last time I heard the Knopf folks so excited about a thriller, it was for a series of books written by Stieg Larsson. After a bank robbery goes wrong, the ghostman (normally the guy in heists who is so unmemorable that he's a ghost) is sent in to track down the robbers, the money, and the explanation for what happened. Think Ocean's Eleven meets Harvey Keitel's character from Pulp Fiction.

The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud (April)
It's been awhile since Claire Messud had a new book, but this one is worth the wait. The woman upstairs is the quiet neighbor you don't notice except in passing in a halfway when you exchange half-smiles. She's the repressed woman who's given up her dreams. This is Messud's protagonist, a teacher who lives in solitude and fear until she meets a family that opens her eyes to her dreams deferred. I love this book.

The Antagonist by Lynn Coady (January)
Okay, so I'm cheating a little because this book is on sale now. I'm guessing that you're not hearing about it much, though, and that's a huge shame. It's crazy good. Here's the premise: A guy writes a novel. One of his college friends, Gordon "Rank" Rankin reads the book. Rank discovers that his friend has based the novel on Rank's life, and he, Rank, starts writing emails to the author--outraged, crazed, drunken, pleading, confessional messages. Rank is the opposite of Midas; everything he touches turns to shit. Fans of A Fraction of the Whole should take note. Really, this book is the best novel out there that's flying under the radar.

Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala (March)
While on vacation over Christmas a few years ago, Sonali Deraniyagala's life was destroyed when the tsunami wave killed her husband, two sons, and parents. One moment she was in a Jeep rushing away from the devastation, and the next moment she's coming to into ruins. Yeah, it's not an upbeat or easy read, but it is courageous and unflinching. It's gripping. 

New Year, New 30 Day Book Challenge, Day 27

Day 27: Favorite Book Cover


We have attacked this question before so we’ve decided to limit ourselves to our favorite book cover of the past twelve months. It wasn’t long before we realized we would have to change that to favorite book covers; there was no way we could decide on just one.

Full disclosure; there are a few books on my list that I haven’t read, a couple that I probably won't read, and I have included a culinary book so you can gather pretty quickly I will never read it.  In fact, let's start with that book because it sure is pretty, and it’s the best book treatment I have seen in quite a while. 

Polpo: A Venetian Cookbook (Of Sorts) – cover design by Praline Studios. I came across this book when I was in New York for work a couple of weeks ago, and the cover image here doesn’t come close to giving you an idea of how gorgeous this book is. Go to the Praline website and check out the detail, especially the spine. It’s a complete work of art; how Bloomsbury did this for $50 I will never understand. 

Next up for me is a sentimental favorite which has already won a couple of small press jacket design awards.  We had lots of discussions about this jacket for Let the People In at work, lots of back and forth, but in the end our designer (Lindsay S.) did an absolutely fantastic job. [I totally agree. It's iconic.]

As usual, any time we do a list of any sort, I like to include a story collection; annoying ain't it?  I Am An Exectuioner: Love Stories by Rajesh Parameswaran (call me if you would like me to mispronounce that for ya) [Email me if you want Gianna's phone number] is a book I was drawn to by because of this really cool, really perfect cover design. Oh, I have been burned before, purchased a real stinker that looked pretty (still talking books), but this book was really fantastic. I can't remember if it made my top ten or not (I don't actually read our blog because I've heard it's quite bad), but I did like this book a lot. 

My next book has sat unread on my bookshelf for a year. I quickly became so tired of hearing my blog-partner-in-life go on and on about how good of a read it was, that I decided to put it on the back burner.  Like any life partnership, it's very difficult, and certainly a mistake, to acknowledge the other is right in any situation (I used to be a couples therapist), so while I really want to read Watergate by Thomas Mallon, I think it's best I don't for fear Liz will be right. [First, this is a lifetime gig? Shit. Second, I'm always right.]

This next book is as handsome to look at as Tom Cruise in Risky Business

Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, & the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright. Some subjects are hard to capture for a book cover. It leads to many different designs, many arguments, and often times one has to just sit down to with a couple of empty soup cans on a string--also known as an e-meter--and process it with your auditor to figure out what's really bothering you (that will be my only crack about Scientology...if you don't include the Tom Cruise comment. Seriously, I am done now). Anyway, my point is that sometimes typography is the way to go and this jacket is an absolute home run. Its thetan-tastic!  [I'm sorry, but this blog, though crappy, remains a pun-free zone.]

I was only going to do five books, but I want to give an honorable mention to The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin. Actually, this author has hit the jackpot when it comes to book covers; her past three books have had really great looks, hardcover and paperback versions. I think historical fiction is a touch genre to cover--it has to be clear that it's a historical novel--but it also has to look modern enough for us to be interested.  I will let you look up her previous books but here is a look at her latest. [A quick shout out for Melanie Benjamin, who was kind--foolish?--enough to answer our horrible questions once. She's made the New York Times extended bestseller list and success couldn't come to a nicer person.]


Yes, I do judge a book by its cover on a regular basis. I don't claim to know anything about good cover design, but like porn, I know it when I see it. It's simple: great covers lure customers into picking up the book. Less simple: nailing hundreds of pages worth of text with a single image. If Gianna hadn't already picked them, both Let the People In and Watergate would appear here. Consider them part of my list, but for the sake of variety, and since you just looked at them, I'll spare you.

Let's start with what I consider possibly the best book cover I've ever seen. Seriously. Peter Mendelsund, the designer, is the genius behind the covers of Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, the gorgeous new translation of Doctor Zhivago, the Jo Nesbo books like The Snowman. His cover for The Flame Alphabet, though, literally made the reps gasp when we saw it as sales conference. That day I wrote a note to a colleague that said "They better not change that one. It's perfect." (Covers often change between sales conference and on sale.) I wanted to own this book for the cover alone. I would frame this cover.

I love the look of The Beautiful Ruins, from the image to the script. It evokes a time and place and draws in readers. Don't you want to know the story that matches this setting? Me too. It's on my to-be-read pile right now.

For shear badassery, it's hard to beat Angelmaker's cover. It captures the clockwork mechanics that play a central role in the novel, it's has a code hidden in the design that's waiting to be cracked, and it's shiny.

My Random House Children's division colleagues loved Wonder, a book about a boy who can't hide his facial deformity from classmates. It's a book that passionately advocates for compassion and crusades against bullying. The cover conveys a message of fragility and surprise without beating you over the head with, like, Eric Stoltz's made-up face from the movie Mask. That would have been too much. This is not.

I was totally charmed by Where'd You Go Bernadette, and I'm totally charmed by this cover. It captures Bernadette's quirky nature and missteps--she's a world class architect trapped in suburban hell that's partially of her own making. It's just cool.

Speaking of cool, this reissue of Invisible Man is very, very cool. I already own Invisible Man, I've already read Invisible Man (it's great and a must read, by the way), so I really don't need this copy. But I want it. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

New Year, New 30 Day Book Challenge, Day 26

Day 26: Your Favorite Title


When you agree to questions like "What is your favorite book title?," you just know that you’re going to screw up and leave out your favorite title. I will wake up around 3:00 am and remember that I really loved such and such title more than anything else. Seriously, I am done with these lists!

Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal by Jeanette Winterson is probably the best title--the most heartbreaking title--I have seen in a long time.  The title is an actual question Winterson’s mother asks her in regards to her daughter’s lesbianism. As if it’s a choice.

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers is a big, bold, ego title that somehow just absolutely works.

The Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy: I just wrote about this book the other day but it's another memoir that just has the perfect title. After you read this (and my God, just read this book) you know that no other title would have worked.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender; actually, Girl in the Flammable Skirt and Invisible Sign of My Own are all really good titles by Bender.

Wocket in My Pocket by Dr. Seuss – This is the heartbreaking and timeless story of a man who has a wocket in his pocket. It also sounds dirty as you get older.

A few others that I like; Twenty Fragments of a Ravenous Youth; The Lover; How to Breathe Underwater; Girl's Guide to Hunting and Fishing; Breath, Eyes, Memory; Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter; The People of Forever are Not Afraid; Night Geometry and the Garscadden Trains; and and and....


I think that Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil perfectly captures the crazy beauty and eccentricity of Savannah described in John Berendt's classic.

Tell me you wouldn't be intrigued by a book with the title The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Mark Haddon's book lives up to the name.

Another Bullshit Night in Suck City is Nick Flynn's terrific memoir about meeting his father in a homeless shelter. It grabs you and lets you know that you'll be hitting rock bottom, but in a way that makes you want to keep reading. Recently the movie version of Nick's book came out; maybe more people would've noticed if they'd kept the book title instead of going with Being Flynn.

Hey Clarice, are the lambs still screaming? The Silence of the Lambs--chilling. A great mix of innocence and peril.

I also love titles pulled from Shakespeare. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury, Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov, Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose, Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, A Heart So White by Javier Marias, The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, and many, many other titles are pulled from the Bard's lines.