Thursday, January 26th, 2012

January Author Interviews

This month’s State of the Thing, LibraryThing’s monthly newsletter of features, author interviews and various forms of bookish delight, should have made its way to your inbox by now. You can also read it online.

We had a whole host of author interviews this month:

I talked to Shalom Auslander about his first novel, Hope: A Tragedy, out this month from Riverhead Books.

Which of these characters came to you first? Which was the most fun to create?

Kugel, the main character, came first; I liked the idea of a character whose tragic flaw was hope, the very thing we’re supposed to never give up or go without. And yet here was a person, it seemed, whose hope was getting him hurt, who might be better off if he gave up and just accepted things as they are, i.e. crappy. Mother, though, was the most fun to create. She is eternally hopeless and finds glory in suffering and pain in joy; I was given birth to by people just like that. Also, she moans about being in the Holocaust, which she never was, and that makes me laugh.

Read the rest of our interview with Shalom Auslander.

I also talked to Theodora Goss about her latest book, The Thorn and the Blossom: A Two-Sided Love Story, published this month by Quirk Books. You may want to watch the book trailer to get a sense of the book’s interesting design.

How did you come up with the idea to have the book designed this way, as a “two-sided love story”? Can you describe the design process bit for us?

I actually didn’t come up with the idea of the two-sided design myself. My wonderful editor, Stephen Segal, came up with it and called me to ask if I could write a story that would fit the format. It was quite a challenge! We didn’t want a story that would simply have two sides to it—that wouldn’t really be using the format. We wanted a story that could only be told in this way, that would use the format as part of the reading experience. And I think when you read the book, you’ll find that it does. You can only understand the story, particularly the conclusion, by reading both sides.

But I was the one who decided that it should be a love story (after all, what other kind of story is so particularly two-sided?), and who came up with the story of Brendan and Evelyn. And after I had come up with it, the basic plot and the characters, then the characters started talking to me, as they do anytime you write a story. They started telling me what they wanted to say and do.

I should also mention the wonderful artist, Scott McKowen, who captured the feel of the story so perfectly. I can’t think of a better way to present this book than the way Scott has presented it, with the gorgeous slipcase and the illustrations inside. I think in the end, the book was a collaborative effort between the three of us. And once it’s read, the readers will become a part of the collaboration as well, because this story isn’t just on the pages. In a sense, it exists between the two sides, and that’s the story the readers will have to put together themselves.

Read the rest of our interview with Theodora Goss.

My third interview this month was with Susan Goodman, the H. Brown Fletcher Chair of Humanities at the University of Delaware, and the author of Republic of Words: The Atlantic Monthly and Its Writers, 1857-1925, recently published by the University Press of New England.

The Atlantic Monthly’s founders laid out quite an ambitious goal for themselves in 1857, “to be the exponent of what its conductors believe to be the American idea.” How did they manage to make a success of their magazine when so many similar ventures did not last?

As the country’s most intellectual and literary city, Boston brought together men and women who from the beginning of the magazine made it a powerful voice in American politics as well as the arts. Its success depended on a loyal group of contributors, informed and curious readers, often intent on self-improvement, and good management. Luck also played a part. The first issue, for example, contained Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poem “Brahma”, which provoked a craze of parodies and made readers eager for the next issue.

Read the rest of our interview with Susan Goodman.

I also chatted with Jay Wexler about his new book The Odd Clauses: Understanding the Constitution Through Ten of Its Most Curious Provisions, published by Beacon Press.

You write in the introduction that you first got the idea for writing a book about the Constitution’s “odd clauses” while you were working in the Office of Legal Counsel for the Clinton administration. Do you recall a particularly odd question the OLC was called upon to advise on while you were there?

There were all sorts of odd questions, but the one I spent most of my time on had to do with whether the President had the authority to create a national monument in the middle of the ocean. President Clinton was interested in creating a giant national monument in Hawaii to protect coral reefs, but it’s not immediately clear that the relevant statute giving the President the authority to create monuments (it’s called the Antiquities Act) gives him the authority to make monuments in the ocean. The question required a good bit of statutory analysis as well as analysis of the proper scope of the so-called “Property Clause” of Article IV of the Constitution. The legal opinion that came out of all that work is here. As it turned out, it was President Bush, not Clinton, who ultimately made the Hawaii monument.

Read the rest of our interview with Jay Wexler.

And, last but not least, we have an interview with Susan Cain. Her first book is Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, published this month by Crown.

You describe in your opening chapters the rise of what you call the Extrovert Ideal. Give us the nutshell version: what is this, and how did it come to be such a powerful force in American culture?

The Extrovert Ideal says that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight. Our schools, workplaces, and religious institutions are designed for extroverts, and many introverts believe that there is something wrong with them and that they should try to “pass” as extroverts. The bias against introversion leads to a colossal waste of talent, energy, and happiness.

In my book, I trace how we shifted from a “Culture of Character” into a “Culture of Personality” at the turn of the 20th century. Big business, the media, the self-help industry, and advertising all went through radical changes that had the effect of glamorizing bold and entertaining personality styles. I also tell the surprising life story of Dale Carnegie, who morphed from shy, awkward farm boy into bestselling author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, and is a fascinating example of this cultural transformation.

And I talk about why the Culture of Personality is not a great model for the 21st century.

Read the rest of our interview with Susan Cain.

Catch up on previous State of the Thing newsletters.

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Labels: author interview, authors, state of the thing

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

Announcing the February “Dickens of a” ReadaThing!

Mark your calendars! Coming up is a weeklong February ReadaThing, and with the bicentennial of Charles Dickens‘ birth on February 7 occurring right in the middle, we thought it would be fun to include a voluntary “Dickens of a ReadaThing” option this time. All are welcome: you don’t have to read Dickens if you don’t want to, and of course you don’t have to read for the full week: the goal is to have a few people from around the world reading at any given time during the ReadaThing.

The official start time will be at 1 p.m. on Friday, February 3rd in New Zealand: midnight GMT and 7 p.m. Thursday, February 2nd, in the Eastern US/Canada time zone. This ReadaThing will run for a full week!

For more information, see the announcement thread; to sign up, head right to the ReadaThing wiki. As we get closer to the date, consider posting your reading selection in the “What will you be reading?” thread, and during the ReadaThing you can use the “Log Book” thread to document your ReadaThing experience.

For more on ReadaThings, and to participate in planning future events, join the ReadaThing group.

Edward Pettit is spending the entire year reading books by and about Dickens, and charting his course at Reading Charles Dickens, so I asked him to weigh in on his experiences and offer some suggestions of Dickens-related books LibraryThing members might want to consider reading:

“For the Charles Dickens Bicentennial in 2012, I’ve decided to become a Charles Dickens Ambassador. First, I’m finishing a reading project I began on Sept 15, 2011 to read all of Dickens’ published work in just one year. Having read only a few of Dickens’ novels over the years (including A Christmas Carol a dozen times), I had always hoped to get to the rest of them, but never seemed to find the time, so what better time than the Dickens Bicentennial. And as reading is such a solitary activity, I thought I’d invite everyone along for the ride, so you can read (and comment) about my Dickens endeavours online.

Second, you can also join me at The Free Library of Philadelphia for events every month of the year as the FLP opens its amazing Dickens collection to the world in several exhibitions. We’re hosting literary salons, speakers, performers. We’ll follow Dickens’ foosteps on his visit to Philadelphia in 1842. We’ll even have some Drinking with Dickens events in local bars to imbibe the many Victorian beverages featured in the novels.

To further my duties as a Charles Dickens Ambassador, I also carry around a bag full of Dickens novels, which I freely give to anyone who asks for a copy. So join me in 2012. Become a CD Ambassador. Spread the joy of reading Dickens.

If I could recommend a starter Dickens work, it would be A Christmas Carol. It doesn’t need to be Christmas time to read this extraordinary tale of ghosts and transformation. I am moved by it every time I read it (and my kids are still scared to death of Marley’s ghost).

Or you could try The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, Dickens’ first novel (and first serial). This book is a pleasure to read with vibrant characters, especially Mr Pickwick and his manservant Sam Weller. The novel is not just funny, but there’s also a kind of innate joy and goodwill that rises out of its pages. I never wanted to leave this Pickwickian world.”

Ed (EdwardGPettit on LT) will be around during the ReadaThing as well, so look for more suggestions and recommendations from him as we get closer to the ReadaThing dates.

I’m already looking forward to this ReadaThing: I haven’t picked what I’ll be reading yet, but it’ll probably be some Dickens (maybe American Notes), along with whatever else I happen to be reading that week.

Reminder: For more information on the ReadaThing or to sign up, see the announcement thread. Have fun, and happy reading!

Labels: readathon, reading

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012

Try the 2012 75 Books Challenge!

If you’re looking for a fun way to get more involved with LibraryThing, you might consider joining the 75 Books Challenge for 2012, one of the site’s most active (and entertaining) groups. Members take a stab at reading 75 books in 2012 (although, as the group description notes, “It turns out we care less about the numbers than we do about the exchange of book info and the community of readers”). Your mileage will vary.

Participants are invited to start a thread and list/discuss what they’re reading (here’s the full list so far), but the group goes way beyond that, with monthly Take It Or Leave It (TIOLI) challenges, monthly themes (like Journeying January, group reads (like the SteinbeckaThon or Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa), meetups (D.C. and New York City meetups are planned for the spring, and a group met in Denver just this weekend).

The 75 Books Challenge has been going on for a few years now (I think this may be the fifth year), and it gets more and more interesting every time. I’ve joined the fray for the first time this year (you can see my reading thread here), and I’m already finding it lots of fun … not to mention the fact that my wishlist continues to grow as I see what others are reading!

The activity level is fairly high, but there’s a handy wiki to help you keep things straight, and of course the members of the group are always helpful to new members. Most importantly, it’s a fun

To participate, just jump right in by visiting the group page. And have fun!

Labels: groups, reading

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

January Early Reviewer Batch is up!

The January 2012 batch of Early Reviewer books is up! We’ve got 86 books this month, and a grand total of 2,069 copies to give out.

First, make sure to sign up for Early Reviewers. If you’ve already signed up, please check your mailing address and make sure it’s correct.

Then request away! The list of available books is here:
http://www.librarything.com/er/list

The deadline to request a copy is Monday, January 30th at 6 p.m. EST.

Eligiblity: Publishers do things country-by-country. This month we have publishers who can send books to the US, Canada, the UK, Israel, Australia, and a whole bunch more. Make sure to check the flags by each book to see if it can be sent to your country.

Thanks to all the publishers participating this month!

Taylor Trade Publishing Ballantine Books Monarch Books
Multnomah Books WaterBrook Press Hyperion and Voice
Tundra Books Riverhead Books Putnam Books
McFarland Beacon Press Eerdmans Books for Young Readers
MSI Press Second Story Press Faber and Faber
William Morrow Palgrave Macmillan Linden House Publishing
O’Reilly Media Wakestone Press Nilgiri Press
Candlemark & Gleam Jupiter Gardens Press Crossed Genres Publications
Random House Trade Paperbacks Jupiter Storm Rovira i Virgili University Press
Akashic Books Upper Rubber Boot Books St. Martin’s Griffin
BookViewCafe Random House The Permanent Press
Orca Book Publishers Human Kinetics JournalStone
Bellevue Literary Press Capricho Press Bell Bridge Books

Labels: early reviewers, LTER

Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

CueCats, T-Shirts, Stamps, Gift Memberships on Sale!

Through December 25 we’re offering sale prices on all our LT goodies:

Gift memberships are $5 for a year or $15 for life.

CueCats are $12.

T-Shirts are $12.95.

Our “Catalogued at LibraryThing” stamp is $12.95.

Stickers are $1.50.

Shipping’s not included in these prices.

Get your orders in now: USPS first-class orders must be received by Monday morning, December 20 to be delivered before Christmas.

Labels: cuecat, sale, stickers, teeshirts

Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

LT Staff’s Favorite 2011 Reads

I asked everyone on the LT staff to put together a list of their favorite reads from 2011. Here’s what they came up with:

Tim:

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White. Listened to this twice through in the car with my son. White simply never puts a foot wrong. The book is perfect.

Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years by Diarmaid MacCulloch. Engrossing door-stopper survey of Christianity—with a thousand years of Greek and Jewish civilization thrown in for context.

Founding Brothers by Joseph Ellis. A highly enjoyable series of vignettes related to the Founders. Ellis lied about his war record, but he’s still worth reading.

What Happened at Vatican II by John W. O’Malley. Excellent overview of the council from a historical, rather than theological angle, demonstrating, against recent chatter, that “something” did indeed happen.

Xenocide by Orson Scott Card. The only Card book I read in 2011, Xenocide isn’t as good as Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead, but it’s still hugely enjoyable. The audiobook version is particularly engaging.


Abby:

A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin. Yes, I’m one of the people who didn’t get started on A Song of Ice and Fire until the HBO series came out. But then I got to read/devour all five right in a row, without waiting years for them to come out, like the rest of you. Who’s laughing now?

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett. I just love Ann Patchett.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Erin Morgenstern writes beautifully, and it’s a treat to enter her fantastical, magical world. (If you liked this, you should probably also read Lev Grossman’s The Magicians and its sequel that came out this year, The Magician King).

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach. There’s a reason this book is hitting so many “best of the year” lists. An unexpectedly wonderful, woven together story about baseball, college, love, and life.

Bossypants by Tina Fey. This is a book that will make you look like a crazy person laughing loudly to yourself if you read it in public.


Kate:

I Was Told There’d be Cake: Essays by Sloane Crosley.

The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett.

In the Woods by Tana French.

Bossypants by Tina Fey.

Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell.


Chris H.:

The Sugar King of Havana by John Paul Rathbone.

Packing for Mars by Mary Roach.

Colossus by Michael A. Hiltzik.

The Clockwork Universe by Edward Dolnick.

The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins.

Obsessive Consumption by Kate Bingaman-Burt.


Brian:

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

The Time Machine by H.G. Wells.

Back to Our Future by David Sirota.

Decision Points by George W. Bush.

Parachute Infantry by David Kenyon Webster.


Jeremy:

Liberty’s Exiles by Maya Jasanoff. Even when I read this in May I knew it would be on my Best of 2011 list. It’s an extremely well-written account of the loyalist diaspora, drawing on a massive amount of new archival research. Full review.

The Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Phillips. As I wrote in my review, this novel “includes the text of a newly rediscovered Shakespeare play. Or it doesn’t. Either way, it’s a delightful examination of books and forgeries and Shakespeare scholarship, wrapped up in a meta-narrative and tied with a bow.” Full review.

Then Everything Changed by Jeff Greenfield. I absolutely devoured this set of fascinating alt-histories. What if a suicide bomber had killed JFK outside his house in December, 1960, before the electors had cast their ballots? What if RFK hadn’t been shot in June, 1968, just after winning the California primary? What if Gerald Ford had recovered from a crucial gaffe during a 1976 debate, and won reelection? Greenfield delves into some seriously wonderful political arcana. Full review.

Pym by Mat Johnson. A darkly satirical reimagining of Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. Full review.

The Story of Charlotte’s Web by Michael Sims. From my review: “If you’ve ever enjoyed White’s masterpiece, or like to know the “story behind the book,” this is a title you should be sure to add to your shelves. It’s a keeper.” Full review.

NB: I always post a top ten fiction and a top ten non-fiction list on my blog on December 31, so check in there at the end of the year for the complete list.


Mike:

A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin.

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson.

The Black Prism by Brent Weeks.

The Desert Spear by Peter V. Brett.

The Magician King by Lev Grossman.

What were your favorite 2011 reads? Come tell us here.

Labels: lists, reading, top five

Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

Reminder: Reading Flash-Mob in Portland!

If you’re in or around LibraryThing’s home base in Portland, Maine, we hope you’ll join LibraryThing and the Maine Humanities Council for a “Reading Flash Mob,” on Thursday December 15, to coincide with Portland’s annual downtown Merry Madness festival! We’ll convene outside Longfellow Books at 5:00 p.m. and read in public until around 6:30 p.m. (and then we’ll do some shopping or grab a bite to eat).

RSVP on the Facebook page, or just let us know here that you’re coming. We hope to see you there!

Labels: flash mob, maine, meet up

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011

December Early Reviewers Batch!

The December 2011 batch of Early Reviewer books is up! We’ve got 89 books this month, and a grand total of 2,395 copies to give out.

First, make sure to sign up for Early Reviewers. If you’ve already signed up, please check your mailing address and make sure it’s correct.

Then request away! The list of available books is here:
http://www.librarything.com/er/list

The deadline to request a copy is Monday, December 19th at 6 p.m. EST.

Eligiblity: Publishers do things country-by-country. This month we have publishers who can send books to the US, Canada, the UK, Israel, Australia, and a bunch more. Make sure to check the flags by each book to see if it can be sent to your country.

Thanks to all the publishers participating this month!

Gefen Publishing House HarperCollins Childrens Books Mulholland Books
Henry Holt and Company Taylor Trade Publishing Ballantine Books
Image Books William Morrow South Dakota State Historical Society Press
Fantastic Books Eerdmans Books for Young Readers Palgrave Macmillan
Dundurn Urban Romantics Hyperion and Voice
Sourcebooks Random House Crossed Genres Publications
Zondervan Amethyst Moon Publishing PublicAffairs
Riverhead Books Bethany House Chosen Books
Sunrise River Press Rovira i Virgili University Press Human Kinetics
SpaceStation Colt McFarland JournalStone
MSI Press BookViewCafe Prufrock Press
The Writer’s Coffee Shop Open Road Doubleday Books
Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Dutton St. Martin’s Griffin
Del Rey HighBridge NTI Upstream
Demos Health

Labels: early reviewers, LTER

Friday, December 2nd, 2011

Author Interview: Anthony Horowitz

We’ve got a special mid-month author interview with Anthony Horowitz, the author of the popular Alex Rider series of books as well as several popular UK television series and mini-series, including “Foyle’s War,” “Midsomer Murders,” and “Poirot.” Anthony’s latest work is The House of Silk, a new Sherlock Holmes adventure published last month by Mulholland Books.

You’ve written that you “paused for at least half a second” before agreeing to write a new Sherlock Holmes novel. What made you hesitate, and how did you
overcome the hesitation?

I had two concerns. The first was that, with so much Sherlock Holmes around—the Robert Downey Jr. films and the very successful TV series on BBC—I might be seen as jumping on a bandwagon. Also, I have my doubts about this rash of prequels, sequels and add-ons that are appearing. Are they just a cynical way to sell books? I agreed only because I love Sherlock Holmes and couldn’t resist the idea of moving into 221b Baker Street for a short while. I knew I could write a good book. I knew I would enjoy writing it. In short, I couldn’t resist it.

What sort of research or preparation did you do before you started writing?

I began by re-reading the entire canon, which didn’t take long. There are only 56 short stories and four novellas. I have to say that it was great to have an excuse to immerse myself once again in Sherlock Holmes. I then read a couple of books about nineteenth century London which helped me decide on some of the locations. The plot for The House of Silk came very quickly. I actually started writing it a week after I signed the contract … the prologue and chapter one, anyway. That was how I found my voice.

Did you find any aspect of writing The House of Silk particularly challenging (or particularly easy)?

The biggest challenge was to stretch the very elegant but fragile structures of the original Doyle novels to the 95,000 words demanded by my editors. I overcame this by effectively writing two short novels‐The Man in the Flat Cap and The House of Silk‐and intertwining them. I never use the word “easy” about writing but I have to say that I loved writing the book and that an awful lot of it seemed to fall into my lap. It took four months‐half the time of an Alex Rider novel.

What do you think it is about Holmes and Watson that makes them such wonderfully lasting characters?

It’s their interdependence. Doyle’s genius was to create a character who is cold, aloof, irritating, an occasional drug addict, a man who never reads fiction and knows nothing about philosophy or politics … and to partner him with a warm, affable, civilized, intelligent and totally loyal doctor. We read the books for the atmosphere and for the mysteries but above all because this is the greatest friendship in literature.

Do you have a favorite Sherlock Holmes story? If so, which, and why?

My favourite story is “The Dying Detective” (which takes place three days before The House of Silk begins). It’s a chamber piece. There’s no detection and no actual crime. But it’s a great duel of wits with a memorable villain and a startling denouement.

Read the full interview.

Labels: author interview, authors

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

Reminder: SantaThing Signup Closes Soon!

Quick reminder: signup for SantaThing 2011 closes at 4 p.m. EST tomorrow, Thursday December 1!

Go here to sign up, or feel free to browse the list of Santas and make suggestions!

Also see the Talk thread where generous LTers are sponsoring others so that they can participate in SantaThing this year.

Labels: santathing