Sunday, December 14, 2014

Give This Book: Holiday Ideas 2014, Part 2

About a decade ago while out enjoying SXSW I received a phone call from my friend and then roommate that went something like this:

Me: Hello?
Friend: Hi. You have to come home; I think the house may have been robbed.
Me:  Why do you think the house may have been robbed?
Friend: Because the house was robbed.

Bless her heart; she was trying to do that thing where you break bad news in the most gentle of ways.

this song will now be
in your head
So, yeah my house was burgled and those little sons a bitches got a pretty good haul (relax book lovers, not one book was stolen so we can be pretty certain it wasn’t a gang of nerds). They took every ounce of booze in the house, my  old Minolta camera (which my mother tortured us with when were kids) and they cleared out over half my cd collection.  Like any civilized person my cds were alphabetized and A-O were stolen and yes, that included my Falco, Rock Me Amadeus extended mix single. Life just is not fair, I know that now.

I tell you this horrifically sad story for two reasons. First, teenagers simply can not be trusted. If you do trust them (and you should not!), prepare yourself for disappointment and fewer musical choices. Second, a day or two after the unfortunate incident, I actually felt a bit lighter which intrigued me. A few weeks later I found  a few of my rare cds at a used music shop here in town (I was doing the equivalent of looking for a lost dog and checking the pound every day).  I was told that I could buy the cds back at the store’s cost (if I produced my police report). Huh, buy my stolen goods back? It was the most tempting, most American thing ever, but I thought maybe I liked having fewer things and walked away.

Marie Kondo
From that incident on, I have made an effort to acquire less and get rid of more but it wasn’t until reading The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo that I was able to begin to turn the process of having fewer things into a life practice. I got rid of what I got rid of, some of it was easy (so long acid washed jeans with a rip at the knee, we were so good together once), some things were hard (can we work this out acid washed jean overalls with a rip at the knee). Other things were off the table and I think you know what I am talking about…the books. All the books, so many books, the books the books the books. Why didn’t those kids take these books? Rotten kids leaving me with all these

Marie Kondo prescribes holding each object in your hands, does this object, this thing, bring you joy? Obviously you cannot do this exercise if you’re drunk, holding a balled up pair of knee high striped socks with tears in your eyes and babbling something about Lollapalooza and 1998, it’s not helpful. And also, don’t ball up your socks anymore; there is a chapter on that in the book.

So, over a weeklong period I sat with a couple hundred books. I held each one, thanked the book, or in many cases wondered why I still had the book (lots of stinkers, let’s be honest), but I really had to meditate on what brought me joy. Was it the book, or was it the memory of the book, would I read the book again, did I need this physical book in my house? The answer was almost always, no and I began to purge nearly half my collection.

While there are certainly books that would painful for me to get rid of (my signed All Over But the Shoutin’ while not my favorite book, is very personal to me) and I know now that I can, I can get rid of any book in my house. Okay…that’s an overstatement but you see where I am going.

Most of us have too much, we do. We are drowning in it. So in this season of giving more stuff you can give the gift of letting go, having less, and moving on. This book helps you prioritize and rationalize why we keep things, why it’s so hard to let go, and why our lives are better with less clutter. And seriously, stop balling up those socks; they’ve been good to you.

Right now, both of my dogs are sitting at my feet and I just can’t help but think….is it one dog too many?

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Give This Book: Holiday Ideas 2014, Part 1

It's about time for Gianna to begin thinking about what she wants to give me for Christmas. There's no reason you can't steal her ideas for your own gift giving needs. Also, remember to share your book giving ideas (or this blog) with the hashtag #GiveaBook. Penguin Random House is donating a children's book to Save the Children every time the hashtag is used on Twitter and Facebook (up to 25,000 books). Normally I avoid the children, but this is a cause even my Grinch-y heart can support.

Holiday Gift Ideas:


How to Be Both by Ali Smith.

Ali Smith is one of those writers that should be a mega-seller, a genius of the craft who never writes boring books. If you (or your special friend) likes Hilary Mantel, you'll like Smith. Like Mantel, she's a British writer who's been nominated for the Man Booker Prize multiple times, including for How to Be Both. Here's why this book is a great gift: 1. you don't have it yet. It just went on sale in the US, so you can be confident that it's something new. 2. It's the most inventive book of the year. This novel is actually two stories, one set in Renaissance Italy and one set in modern England. Some books are printed with the Italy story first, some with the contemporary story. It doesn't matter which way you read it, but how you read the one part influences your reading of the other. Allow me to quote Washington Post critic Ron Charles: "Playfully brilliant. . . . Fantastically complex and incredibly touching. . . . This gender-blending, genre-blurring story, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, bounces across centuries, tossing off profound reflections on art and grief, without getting tangled in its own postmodern wires. It’s the sort of death-defying storytelling acrobatics that don’t seem entirely possible. . . . [A] swirling, panoramic vision of two women’s lives, separated by more than 500 years, impossibly connected by their fascination with the mystery of existence." 3. While it's experimental fiction, it's also readable and funny and touching.

Pair this book with another book: Once you read one Ali Smith novel, there's the strong possibility that you'll want to read more. Check out Hotel World, a first rate ghost story about lost love. Another possibility is Virginia Woolf's Orlando, the benchmark for genre- and gender-bending fiction.

Pair this book with a treat: Stick with the half-and-half theme with some black-and-white cookies.

This book is perfect for: fans of literary fiction, the Man Booker Prize, and those who like to read books that aren't formulaic. Fans of art, as a Renaissance fresco is at the center of the novel.


All the Truth Is Out by Matt Bai.

Let's say that you have a politics junky on your list, but you don't really want to go there because nothing ruins Christmas dinner like your crotchety uncle expounding on Obama's administration. You can still make your politico pal happy. Just give him/her a book about a politician who's been out of the public eye for 25 years. Matt Bai's All the Truth Is Out is the Gary Hart politics book you never realized that you want to read. For those born after 1985 or so, Gary Hart was a front runner for the Democratic nomination in the 1988 election. During the campaign, though, it came out that he'd spent some quality sexy times with model Donna Rice (on a boat named "Monkey Business," no less). Hart's campaign was dead in a matter of weeks, Dukakis won the nomination, George H.W. Bush was elected President, and the nature of politics changed significantly. Obviously a ton of politicians had dabbled with the sexy ladies in the past. The difference with Gary Hart, though, was that with the advent of the 24 hour news channels, these stories moved from the grocery store checkout lane to network news. This book looks at that shift, telling the Gary Hart story like a thriller, with the reporters racing to pay phones every time Hart stepped outside, as well as the impact this shift has had on US politics since then. Can you say Lewinski? Think about it: can the country really get the leaders it needs to thrive if all politicians must live to standards that most people in positions of authority (and otherwise) don't maintain? The media freaks out over what the Obama girls are wearing for a photo op ceremony, and if this non-event is newsworthy, can you imagine how insane the Kennedy Presidency would have been in the age of nonstop media coverage? Or how about the Reagans and their fondness for consulting with psychics? This is juicy stuff, but with the benefit of some historical distance.

Pair this book with another book: Take a look at The American Vice Presidency by Jules Witcover. Is there a more entertaining political office that the Vice Presidency? From guys who were drunk at the inauguration to guys forced to resign to guys who shot other guys (sometimes accidentally), these guys are awesome.

Pair this book with a treat: If we're talking infidelities and politics, you need to stock up on the booze. Maybe you should sample some of the craft brews from Gary Hart's home state of Colorado. Here's a list to whet your whistle.

This book is perfect for: fans of The Daily Show, fans of Game Change, the people who don't complain about political rants on Facebook, the people who are endlessly fascinated by the circus of Fox News, etc.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Books NOT to discuss at Thanksgiving Dinner

This might be Gianna's family...or it might be from
Good Morning America's Awkward Thanksgiving Photos.
If you read one blog post today about how to survive your Thanksgiving should
probably be one written by just about anyone else. Let's say that you are joining your bookish family for turkey and such, though, but need to stay clear of awkward themes. You're entering a minefield of cranky people pissed off that the gravy and turkey aren't ready to go to the table at the same time, and the prudish aunt who's offended by every topic of any interest and is not so silently judging your life choices, and the asshole uncle who's been watching cable news all year and has many, many racist sentiments to share, and your precocious cousin who's the queen of the duckface selfie and also tight with Jesus, and yet there you are, crusading book nerd, searching for anything, ANYTHING, to discuss that won't lead to tears, screaming, or your brother live-tweeting the whole ordeal with the hashtag #shitcrazyfam. Oh yeah, and there are about four family dogs present and all are having turkey-gasms while the bird is roasting. We want you to survive the day relatively unscathed. Why? We love our fans (and those who search online for "awkward lesbian conversation" or "The Sound of Music Liesl" and find this blog).

Here you go. DO NOT offer up these books/authors as topics of conversation if you want to keep the peace. (Alternately, if you love the holiday train wreck, by all means use this list as a game plan for your day. We won't judge you.)

No, you don't want to
discuss this book or
movie with your parents. 
1. Fifty Shades of Grey. Chances are that this is the one book that multiple people present at your dinner have read (or about which they have an opinion). Now that the movie trailer is playing online and in theaters, the Fifty Shades insanity is ramping up once again, but don't fall into this trap. First, do you really want to hear your mom talk about steamy sex books? And then there's the chance that your dad also read it "just to see what the fuss was about," and though he secretly loved it, again, it's a parent talking about sex at the Thanksgiving table. And then granny wants to know what they're talking about and precocious cousin invokes the name of Jesus to offer an opinion totally based on her extensive life experience of church youth group trips to Mexico. The aunt who may have conceived precocious cousin without ever actually having copulated with asshole uncle is judging you. Also consider that your mom might utter "Oh my," and invoke her Inner Goddess when the dogs begin humping each other. There's on way your brother won't post the whole scene on the internet. Best to avoid.

2. The Colony by John Tayman. This book is a history of the leper colony on the island of Molokai, Hawaii. Not only is it about leprosy and the glory of body parts sloughing off (who needs a nose?), but it's also the story of how a bunch of people only suspected of having leprosy were forcibly removed from their homes and sent to Molokai even when they didn't have the disease. Pass the lumpy mashed potatoes.

3. The Hot Zone by Richard Preston. Maybe you should just avoid all books about infectious diseases. This one is topical in that it's about the history and threat of Ebola, but prudish aunt will not want to hear about hemorrhagic fevers while cooking that cranberry sauce. It's a really great, terrifying read, though, and I actually did read it over the course of a Christmas afternoon one year when I was a kid.

We love Ina, but she's not the one
cooking your dinner. Red flag. 
4. Anything by the Barefoot Contessa. Your food is not going to look like Ina Garten's. Your asshole uncle is not going to like that you're comparing his grocery store-bought pecan pie to the the picture of the pie in the cookbook your mom is showing your father, complete with judging and whispering. While I would love to attend an Ina-catered T-Day gathering, your relatives aren't professionals and you will struggle to swallow that dry turkey bite if you sink into a reverie for sumptuous feasts that might have been. (This advice extends to all cookbooks, except perhaps for that Guy Fieri person's because he doesn't seem particularly competent or sanitary. And now I'm checking to see if Guy Fieri is published by Penguin Random House....okay, good. He's not published by my company.)

5. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. There's a good chance that asshole uncle dislikes prudish aunt. There's a good chance that prudish aunt wants to destroy asshole uncle's life. These people didn't start as miserable jerks. There are years of hostilities simmering and you don't want to give either of them any ideas. And let's not even start with your parents' marriage.

6. The Dinner by Herman Koch. I love this book, but A) it's dark, B) it's unsettling, C) it's all about a horrible family meal and secrets, and D) don't give the relatives any ideas.

7. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Your cousin is already insufferable. Avoid books about which she's a crusader. Okay? Okay.

8. The Children Act by Ian McEwan. I love this novel and think it's a book that most people should read and discuss. It's a short, moral novel about a family court judge whose husband of 30 years has announced he wants an open marriage, and then the court case she must decide the next day. The case involves a hospital suing to administer a blood transfusion in order to save the life of a 17 year-old kid with leukemia. The kid is a Jehovah's Witness, though, and is religiously opposed and self-righteous in that way that teenagers are about their untried convictions. This is a great, great book for your reading group, but in the family Thanksgiving minefield, you're just asking for some teenage proselytizing or asshole uncle mansplaining.

9. The Song of Fire and Ice Series (Game of Thrones) by George R. R. Martin. Prudish aunt will not approve of the gore, or the sex, or the dragons, or the incest. Asshole uncle will not approve of you paying for HBO to watch the series.

10. Going Clear by Lawrence Wright. Oh, dude, we love love love this book, and the word is that HBO is making a documentary based on the book (and hired 160 lawyers to vet everything). This is the history and expose of L. Ron Hubbard and the Church of Scientology. It's juicy stuff and full of details about Hollywood, religion, cult behavior, abuse of power, science fiction, aliens, and money. Why avoid it? A) There's a possibility of sliding down the slope of logic that suggests that if this religion is a corrupt scam, what about all of the other faiths out there? B) There's the chance that your relatives are prank people and will sign you up for the Scientologists' mailing list. Once you're on there, you can never escape. C) There's the possibility that precocious cousin converts right there at the table, or asshole uncle rails so vehemently about the sheeple and Hollywood elite liberals that he has a heart attack. You do not want to be the one asked to administer CPR to that asshole, and with all the excitement of a crisis, the dogs are probably humping again in this background. Steer clear.

Happy Thanksgiving. Good luck.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

How to Shop for Books Like a Pro

A couple of months ago, a popular site in the bookish corner of the internet posted a piece about how a lifelong book lover no longer knew how to shop for books in a bookstore. On the one hand, the author of that piece used gifs and that repetitive ridiculousness makes me want to hit people. On the other, I'm willing to acknowledge that bookstores can be overwhelming, particularly during the holiday season when stores are crowded. Here are a few tips to enjoy your trip to the bookstore.

One of the most beautiful stores I visit for work,
Full Circle Bookstore in Oklahoma City.
1. Find the store that fits you/your needs. I guarantee that you will be disappointed if you walk into a mystery bookstore and can't find that new Joan of Arc biography. That's stupid and frustrating for everyone, but believe me, IT HAPPENS. I don't go to the hipster foodie place to buy Diet Coke because all they'll have is nasty foodie artisan sodas. If you liked the Longmire series by Craig Johnson and want something similar, the mystery store is a great choice. I visit a lot of bookstores and most, even the large ones, have some specialties.

2. What's your objective? Figure it out in advance. Most people don't just wander into a grocery store without a specific goal in mind. For me, it's usually "I'm out of ice cream. I must buy ice cream. Where is the damn ice cream? For the love of god, I need ice cream now. NOW." For bookstores, it could be "I want to see what's new," or "I need a gift for Gianna's birthday four months from now," or "I heard about this book on NPR and it sounds amazing." It helps to have a goal in mind.

3. Call ahead if there's something in particular you want. If you heard about a book on NPR, that means that thousands of other people also heard about it. Sure, if we're talking about the new John Grisham thriller, the store most likely will have a fat stack of books waiting for you to walk through the door. If you are in search of a book that your friend mentioned at lunch as being the best she's read this year, and the publisher is Smaller Than a Butt Crack Press, call ahead. And when you go in to pick up your book, figure in time to poke around and see what else captures your interest.
Welcome to Maria's Bookshop in Durango, Colorado.
From here: new arrivals on the table in front, staff picks on the
endcap to the left, gift items under the table, and a canoe
hanging from the ceiling. 

4. When you get to the store, stand near the front door and get your bearings. Generally you will see: new arrivals, bestsellers (either national or for the store), gift items and seasonal merchandise like calendars, and possibly books for upcoming author signings. There may be themed displays. Where is the information desk in relation to where you are? Where is the restroom? If there's a cafe, where is it? Soak it in. Now it's time to play.

5. How to Browse. I like to start with the new arrivals because these displays change most frequently and are usually also the books featured in reviews and media. Insider tip: Tuesday is the best day to discover what's new since that's the biggest industry-wide release day of the week. Also, the Tuesday closest to the beginning of a month is more popular than, say, the third Tuesday. This year September 30th was a huge release date since it was a Tuesday, the day before a new month, and in the fall. You know how movie studios release the Oscar buzz movies in the fall? The same is true for the book industry.

Great book. Has nothing
to do with dog pictures.
From new arrivals I then head to table displays and any staff recommendation sections I can see. I want to know what the booksellers are reading because they tend to find the great books before anyone else. If a bookseller is recommending Margaret Atwood and I love Margaret Atwood, I'll check to see what else that bookseller is recommending. I regularly buy books based entirely on the bookseller's word. I trust a bookseller a zillion times more than I trust online algorithms. I loved Richard Flanagan's literary novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North. If I were to follow the online recommendation, then, I should also be interested in...a picture book about dogs. I loved Hampton Sides's In the Kingdom of Ice, a history of an arctic expedition in the 19th century. And thus, according to the computer, I should like We Were Liars, a young adult novel about a group of affluent teens spending the summer of the family-owned island. Sigh. Anyway, moving on.

What are you in the mood to read? There's no reason you have to spend time in every section of a bookstore. I almost never visit the religion section (fear of smiting). I don't like fantasy books, so I gloss over those. I do love fiction, but that's a broad category and typically the biggest section in most bookstores. So let's say that you want a novel. How do you find what you're looking for among thousands of books? Here's how I do it.
  • Check favorite authors. What haven't I read? What's new? 
  • Absolutely judge books by covers. If a cover jumps out at me, I'll at least read the summary even if I've never heard of the book or author or publisher. (That said, try not to rule out a book entirely based on the fugly cover.)
  • Totally lost? Play bookstore bingo. Pick a shelf, pick the fourth book over, or the blue book, or the first book you find with a certain word in the title. You're exploring. 
  • Visit a section that's off your radar. I've already said that I don't shop in the religion section, but the flip side is that I'm fascinated by religions from a cultural studies angle. I won't be interested in Joel Osteen's latest book, but I would be interested in a new biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. 
  • Ask a bookseller. 
This is Consuelo at BookPeople in Austin.
She's a great reader. Don't be afraid to ask
 her for book recommendations.
She's there to help.
6. Seriously, ASK A BOOKSELLER. They know what's popular, they know some hidden gems, they know what's over-hyped. They most likely can remember the title of that book you heard about on NPR. They have ideas for your next book group pick. If you want to read something in the vein of, say, David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, they will know where to start. Booksellers are your guides. They read all the time. They are members of reading groups. They have great suggestions for what to give to your uncle you only see every other Christmas. You are not disturbing them by asking questions. Booksellers are there to help you find the perfect book. Would you hesitate to ask a waiter for a beverage refill? Don't be shy.

7. Don't be a book snob, and don't tolerate it either. I think that people are afraid of booksellers (and others) judging their reading tastes. It happens...but it shouldn't. There are books that I think are awful, but at the same time when I'm working in a store, my goal is to help the customers find their perfect books. I was in a bookstore selling to a buyer when a customer came in and wanted recommendations. This customer, a woman in tennis attire, asked for "books that typically have pink covers." I admit it. I may have vomited in my mouth a little. The buyer stopped what we were doing, stood up, and assisted the woman in finding something she'd love. The customer left happy and the buyer made a sale. Do you think that the hardware store employee judges you for buying a certain shade of paint? When I bought my house, one of the rooms was painting a chartreuse color that made my head hurt. Someone sold that hideous paint color, but I doubt anyone thought twice about the transaction.

Let's say that the bookseller looks nothing like you. Maybe she's a goth girl with a bunch of piercings. Maybe he's the stereotypical preppy gay guy. Maybe she's a middle aged PTA mom type. So what? Here's what you have in common: you both like books. Keep in mind that many booksellers are a bit introverted. They are bookish people. Chances are that the bookseller is willing to set aside her social
From Beauty and the Beast, Disney
discomfort every day in order to be surrounded by the books she loves. The icebreaker you need to crack the introvert bubble is "What are you reading?"

8. Have an idea. It's easier for a bookseller to recommend a book if you say "I'm looking for a gift for my uncle. He's really outdoorsy and likes to birdwatch," or "I need a book for my friend's seven year-old daughter. She's not into the whole princess thing. Help?" If I were looking for a gift for Gianna, I might say "I need a present for my pal who loves literary fiction but also as a twisted sense of humor. She loves women comics like Kathy Griffin and Gilda Radner. One of her favorite books is Dan Chaon's Await Your Reply. I know she's already read Gone Girl." That's a lot for the bookseller to use in helping me find a book.

This fall, Penguin Random House, working with Save the Children,
 is donating a book to a US child in need for every #GiveaBook
hashtag on Twitter and Facebook.
Let's change the world one book at a time. 
9. Don't piss off the bookseller with your smartphone. Booksellers aren't paid a lot. Also, they aren't the ones setting the prices on books. It is an insult to whip out your phone and price shop online for the book they just spent time finding for you. You would never bring your food truck-purchased sandwich to eat at the table in the upscale restaurant because you like the ambiance but can't afford a souffle. If you are taking advantage of the availability, recommendations, and atmosphere of a bookstore, you should buy the book there. If I'm in Mississippi and one of the booksellers is raving about a novel, I buy it from that store instead of giving that sale to another retailer. Reward the store that did the work.

10. Have fun. I really don't like shopping for anything...except for books. Books are commodities, but they are also sources of inspiration, creativity, challenging ideas, great stories, fascinating histories. I think it's high time we celebrate bookie culture the way that the foodies have elevated the concept of destination restaurants and grocery stores.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Texas Book Festival: Cynthia Bond and Bill Cotter

If there's one book that has lingered in my head this year, it's Ruby by Cynthia Bond. Bond is a talented writer in the vein of Toni Morrison, but she's also managed to write a harrowing novel set in my old stomping ground in Southeast Texas. Seriously, she sets Ruby in towns of several hundred people that only the locals could pinpoint on a map. And if you grew up in the Piney Woods, you know that beyond the natural beauty of the Big Thicket there's a potential for sinister acts. Ruby is about, well, Ruby, a woman who returns to East Texas after years away in New York. She's back, but she's also sleeping with all of the men in her small community and not attending church...or bathing. Ruby is a damaged woman, a haunted woman, a point of obsession for the community that created her. Parts of Ruby reminded me of Sula, one of my favorite books ever, and author Cynthia Bond has a huge literary future before her.

And then there's Bill. Bill Cotter quite possibly is the real life version of the Dos Equis "Most Interesting Man in the World." He's smart. He's funny. He's lived an unconventional life. And he's a talented writer. I worked with Bill for a couple of years at BookPeople and he was the one who kept me from going postal on occasion. Fresh out of college and uncertain of my life trajectory, Bill was an example of someone willing to live on his own terms. When he left the job I was pretty distraught (far more so than when Gianna left Random House; I never really liked her). That Bill has found success as a writer with the super cool McSweeney's Press is pretty phenomenal, his last book called The Parallel Apartments, which Texas Monthly called "Funny and profane and more than slightly unhinged." Hell yes. 

Go to this event.

Cynthia Bond and Bill Cotter will be appearing at 2 pm on Saturday, October 25, in Capitol Extension Room E1.026. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Texas Book Festival: Nicholas Kristof

New York Times reporter Nicholas Kristof has become a champion for human rights globally, from human trafficking victims, to girls denied access to education because they are girls, to the people falling through the cracks in our own country. A few years ago Kristof and his wife Sheryl WuDunn wrote Half the Sky, a call to arms for recognizing the global potential of the human race if we quit repressing half the population. Thanks to Oprah and a PBS series and a bunch of course adoptions, Half the Sky sat atop the bestseller lists for weeks.

Nicholas Kristof's new book (again written with WuDunn) takes the idea of  further. A Path Appears picks up with how we can work toward equality with steps taken in our own backyards. You don't need to go to Eastern Europe to fight sex slave operations; you do need to speak up for the daughter across the street whose parents are beating her. When you're enduring another assault from the daily news cycle of fear, oppression, and terror, A Path Appears can combat feelings of helplessness.
Half the Sky

Nicholas Kristof will be speaking on Saturday, October 25, in the House Chambers at 10 am. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Texas Book Festival: Station Eleven and Emily St. John Mandel

The National Book Award finalist shortlist was announced this morning, and low and behold, there is Station Eleven. I am giddy. In case you missed it, here's my list of reasons you should read Station Eleven, and you can add "the author will be at Texas Book Festival" to the list. And she's a National Book Award finalist. And this is Emily St. John Mandel:

We all know that this woman will be Gianna's next stalking victim.

What are you waiting for? Why haven't you read Station Eleven yet?

Emily St. John Mandel will be speaking at 3 pm on Saturday, October 25th in the Kirkus Reviews Tent.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Texas Book Festival: Merritt Tierce

I wrote a long piece about Merritt Tierce's Love Me Back a few weeks ago. I think it's one of the most important novels to be published this year, and one that doesn't flinch from taboo subjects and representations. Love this book or hate it, this is a book that demands conversations. Why not have those conversations with the author herself? Merritt Tierce is smart, articulate, and sometimes hilarious in person. She's as ballsy as her prose and falls into the grand tradition of fierce Texas women. Need proof? Tierce, who like her novel character worked at a high end steakhouse in Dallas, twice waited on conservative drug addict nutjob asshat pundit Rush Limbaugh. Limbaugh left her $2,000 tips, but being a staunch defender of women's and abortion rights, Tierce opted to launder Limbaugh's tips into the TEA Fund, an organization that helps cover the cost of abortions for those who can't afford them. Since this story was revealed, Tierce has received death threats and harassment from Limbaugh's cult supporters. Merritt Tierce is a bad ass.
Don't mess with
Texas women.

If you're a serious book lover, a fan of experimental fiction, an engager of difficult subjects, one who believes that all voices deserve to be heard, you are the people who should seek out Merritt Tierce at the Texas Book Festival and you should read Love Me Back

Merritt Tierce will be participating in the Autobiographical Fiction panel at Texas Book Festival on Saturday, October 25, at 3:15 pm, in Capitol Extension Room E1.026.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Texas Book Festival: Colson Whitehead

Now we've come to another installment of "Colson Whitehead, Will You Marry Me?" I'm sure I've mentioned the incredibly talented Mr. Whitehead on this blog before...such as here...and here...and here. In spite of the online stalking, my literary hubby for some reason agreed to travel to the Texas Book Festival again this year. I do consider this information as a sign that he's coming around to my version of reality. I can't wait to introduce Zorro to his new daddy!

"Keep that Liz weirdo away
from me."
Because I know that all of you would like to meet the man who's stolen my cold, cold heart, I encourage the masses of Adventures in Bookland devoted followers to attend Mr. Liz's Whitehead's Texas Book Festival panel. I guarantee that it'll be fun. The panel is about poker, and The Noble Hustle--Whitehead's book about competing in the World Series of Poker--is pretty darkly hilarious. And not only can you vet my future spouse (see if he minds a casual nuptial, as I don't really like ceremonies, or people, or clothes with buttons), but you can improve your own gambling skills. Learn firsthand how to sit for hours on end without losing concentration! Discover how antisocial introverts without job skills earn a living! Become the emotionless automaton you always hoped to be!

I love The Noble Hustle--one of my favorite books of the year--and Texas Book Festival gives you the opportunity to discover how great it is too.

Colson Whitehead will be speaking at 12:30 pm on Saturday, October 25, at the Texas State Capitol: Capitol Auditorium Room E1.004.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Miss America Meets Little Miss Mini Maid

Gianna cozying up with the judge
Miss Elizabeth from Romper Room
People often say that I have a former beauty queen vibe, that I am a picture of pure feminity.  The truth is, they’re right; I was born to ride the pageant train. I knew at the tender age of four as my tiny fingers wrapped around that bouquet of runner up flowers (rot in hell adorable winner #10!) the pageant loss would haunt me forever (and by haunt I mean scar).

Kate Shindle
I tell you this as an introduction to a book that I should have written but, unfortunately, Kate Shindle beat me to the punch. When I look at Kate it’s like looking in a mirror.  A couple of old pageant broads! Me, fresh from (in some circles forty years is still mighty fresh) the world famous Little Miss Mini Maid Contest (sponsored by Carson Pirie Scott – talk about fresh) and Kate, the 1998 Miss America Pageant winner. Like looking in a mirror…

Kate’s book, Being Miss America: Behind the Rhinestone Curtain, is part pageant history and part memoir. For example you’d be surprised to know that the pageant was started pretty much for the same reason Facebook was started: to ogle women and advertise stuff.  In the book, Kate insinuates that the pageant is a bit antiquated. As an example she tells the story of traveling to communities all over the country to talk about HIV and AIDS prevention (her platform in 1998 and still her passion today). The Pageant thought that was great but they asked her to not use the word "condom." I know, what’s so antiquated about that?  She also thinks having women parade around in bikinis in order to receive a college scholarship is…. I want to say antiquated again, but let’s just say, icky. Like we say in the Little Miss Mini Maid circles, "why in the world is someone over the age of seven even in a bikini?"  Weird.
I was robbed! (of a childhood)

I like to call Being Miss America a thinking woman’s history of the pageant. It’s not dismissive of pageant history, nor the platform and opportunities it afforded Kate, including helping pay her way through Northwestern University (yea, Shindle’s no dummy).  Her relationship with winning Miss America is complicated to say the least. She is thoughtful, fair, and honest in this really well written memoir. Oh, and now that the book is out in the world, she is totally on the Miss America Pageant’s shit list…which I sort of love her for.

Kate created a stir by not wearing
the crown in this official photo
Speaking of loving her, Kate came to Austin to meet with the publicity and marketing departments at the press. I am in the sales department but you can bet I hightailed my lesbian ass right on into that meeting.  I sat close enough to her to hold hands…which in hindsight I can see  that it made her uncomfortable every time I stretched my hand out and tried to touch hers.  Anyway, I would say we were about seven minutes into the meeting when Kate dropped the F-bomb. I couldn’t help but think…put a Johnny Walker in one hand and a cigarette in the other, and man o man, I could absolutely fall in love. Now that’s a Miss America I can get behind (but have been asked to stay at least 500 yards from. And by "asked" I mean ordered by a court).