Friday, July 25th, 2014

Interview with Matthew Thomas

Some excerpts from our interview with author Matthew Thomas, which initially appeared in July’s State of the Thing.

Matthew Thomas‘s debut novel, We Are Not Ourselves, has been a decade in the making, and is set for release—at last—August 19th, 2014. The novel chronicles the life and stories of the Leary family, Irish-American immigrants making their way in New York City.

Matthew—born in the Bronx and raised in Queens—has spent the bulk of that decade as an English teacher at Xavier High School in New York City. He holds a B.A. from the University of Chicago, and studied with Alice McDermott at Johns Hopkins University. He and his wife currently live in New Jersey, with their twins.

We’ve got 25 copies of We Are Not Ourselves available through Early Reviewers this month. Go here to request one!

LibraryThing staffer KJ Gormley caught up with Matthew to discuss We Are Not Ourselves.

I could frame your book as everything from “immigrant story” to “big American Dream novel”: In your own words, can you briefly sum up what you think We Are Not Ourselves is about?

It’s the story of Eileen Tumulty growing up in post-World War II Queens as the only daughter of Irish immigrants and deciding from an early age that she wants a better life than the one she knows. The book chronicles her journey toward that life and the obstacles she encounters on the way, especially in her marriage to her beloved husband Ed Leary. The second half is the story of how Eileen and Ed handle adversity together.

I tried, through telling the story of this one family, to tell some of the story of the middle class in America—their hopes and fears, dreams and disappointments, and quiet achievements over the course of the twentieth century. I wanted to explore the enduring appeal of the American Dream and examine its viability in an environment that is squeezing out the middle class. In the end, I wanted to see what residual deposits might be left in the spirit when a person achieves that elusive dream at any cost.

The novel is told through the interchanging points of view of Eileen Leary and her son, Connell. Why did you choose these view-points and not that of Ed Leary, the husband and father in the family at the heart of the book?

I wanted the reader to feel palpably the absence of Ed’s point of view, and I hoped to provoke the reader to thought by leaving it out. In omitting such a focal character’s point of view, I wanted to capture some of the essence of Ed’s own isolating experience of dealing with the calamity that befalls him. There is a sense in which those on the other side of Alzheimer’s, even the closest of family members, find the experience of the sufferer inscrutable, almost ineffable. And from a dramatic perspective, I was interested in telling the story of how each of the people closest to Ed, including extended family and friends, responds to Ed’s disease in his or her own way. Ed became a fulcrum around which all the characters revolved, and his illness became a backdrop for a series of character studies and explorations into human nature. I tried to take my cues from the characters themselves in presenting a range of possible reactions that might capture the manifold ways people handle bad news.

The Leary family is composed of first-generation Irish-Americans and their son. Why did you choose this particular immigrant subculture rather than any other?

The Irish-American community is the one from which I emerged, so it was the one I could write about with the most immediate authority. I tried to capture some of the truth of the lived experience of a people in a particular place and time—a tribe, a dominant culture, a subculture, whatever you choose to call it—as best as I understood them. But one thing I found was that focusing on one culture offers the writer a prism through which to view many cultures. Even within this one culture, Irish-Americans in the New York area, there are countless subcultures.

The Irish who live in Rockaway are not the same as those who live in Long Beach, or on Staten Island, or in the Woodlawn section of the Bronx, or in Yonkers, or in Bronxville. And yet they share so many commonalities that they can reasonably be spoken of in the aggregate. I’m interested in the overlaps that lend universality to experiences, because there is something hopeful in thinking of universalities, and I’m also interested in the textures that make experiences distinct. Jackson Heights was a great backdrop for exploring both, as it gathers in one place people from every corner of the globe. On the other hand, I had no particular ambition to write an Irish-American novel, but was writing a novel, period, which happened to focus on Irish-American protagonists. I was thrilled to hear from a Greek reader that he’d seen his father in Big Mike, and from a Montenegran one that he’d seen his grandfather.

This book is refreshing in its frank discussions of money, at least in the character’s heads. Why do you think it was important to leave calculations of pensions and home equity loans in your novel?

I think it makes a book more realistic for there to be discussions of money in it—budgets, plans. This is the stuff of real life. It’s what the overwhelming majority of people have to deal with on a daily basis. Not to write about the routine details of people’s sometimes difficult financial circumstances is to avoid writing about a crucial aspect of everyday contemporary experience. And money is the last taboo in American life, so frank discussions of money, as long as they don’t delve into the most obscure minutiae and leave the reader behind, can create a frisson in the reader perhaps even more potent than the one created when a writer trains the lens on a character’s bedroom and intimate life.

What was your favorite scene to write?

My favorite scene to write was Eileen saying goodbye to Sergei, the live-in nurse she has gotten close to over the course of the book. It was a scene that unfolded for me in a relatively automatic way after all the work I’d put into constructing that arc of the story, and I just tried to race to get it down as it presented itself to me.

One of the underlying plots of Connell’s relationship to his father, Ed, is through their shared love of baseball. Why do you think baseball keeps turning up in books that are at some level about the American Dream?

I think part of why baseball has long been fodder for American fiction writers, apart from the novelistic feel of a season or the short story feel of an individual game, is that it does indeed bring people together in a common conversation. For years, baseball was a point of entry into American culture for immigrants who found they could share a language with established Americans in the joys and tribulations of fandom. And it was a primer for many males in the performance of the rituals of masculinity, beginning with stickball or little league or the catch with dad, and continuing, the idea went, into one’s relationship with one’s own child. Baseball fandom became a signifier of one’s willingness to assume certain ratified, prescribed male roles. And affections for teams were tribal, and epic in scope. If a girl’s father was a Yankees fan, then she was a Yankees fan. That bone-deep identification is fertile territory for fiction, because it activates the most basic impulse of storytelling. This is who I am—a Yankees fan.

»For more from Matthew, read our full interview here.

Labels: author interview

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

July Early Reviewers batch is live!

The July 2014 batch of Early Reviewer books is up! We’ve got 120 titles this month, with a grand total of 3,747 copies to give out, ranging from the upcoming Jack Reacher novel, Personal, to a biography of Hatshepsut—the longest-reigning female ruler in Ancient Egypt.

If you haven’t already, make sure to sign up for Early Reviewers. If you’ve already signed up, please check your mailing/email address and make sure they’re correct.

» Then request away!

The deadline to request copies from the May batch is Monday, July 28th at 6pm Eastern.

Eligiblity: Publishers do things country-by-country. This month we have publishers who can send books to the US, Canada, the UK, Israel, Australia, France, Germany, and many 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!

Santa Fe Writers Project Taylor Trade Publishing Riverhead Books
Putnam Books Lion Fiction Prufrock Press
Ballantine Books Bethany House Crown Publishing
Candlewick Press Cleis Press Mythos Press
Henry Holt and Company Quiller Press Great Lands Publishing, LLC
JournalStone Sakura Publishing Five Rivers Publishing
The Permanent Press Random House McFarland
Gotham Books Momentum Delacorte Press
Jupiter Gardens Press Books to Go Now Human Kinetics
Palgrave Macmillan Meadowbrook Press Recorded Books
Salinas Press Rockridge Press Calistoga Press
Eerdmans Books for Young Readers William Morrow Siena Moon Books
Open Books Demos Health Ghostwoods Books
BookViewCafe Booktrope Quirk Books
Bantam Dell Vinspire Publishing, LLC CarTech Books
Humanist Press Dartmouth College Press Algonquin Books
Plume By the Sea Books Publishing Company Gray & Company, Publishers
Raven Reads

Labels: early reviewers, LTER

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

Early Reviewers Bonus Batch from Hachette!

hachette_logos

Hachette, the publisher behind imprints like Little, Brown, Grand Central and Orbit, is participating in Early Reviewers in a big way this month—so much so that we decided to put together a “bonus batch” showcasing of all the great books available across their many imprints. All told, Hachette is offering 825 copies of 47 titles!

Note: For distribution-rights issues, we’re able to offer books in this showcase to US members alone. We hope to expand to all our members the next time we do a showcase like this.

The titles offered include Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s Marina, Megan Abbott’s The Fever, The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street by Susan Jane Gilman, Shadows in the Vineyard by Maximillian Potter(1), and a much-anticipated debut novel from NPR-contributor Brittani Sonnenberg, Home Leave. They’re repeating Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, which just won the 2014 Nebula Award for Best Novel, and whose sequel we hope to get into Early Reviewers in a couple months.

Note: all Hachette Showcase Bonus Batch titles are listed separately from the regular June Early Reviewers batch. Members are eligible to win books from BOTH the June batch, and the Hachette Showcase Bonus Batch.

You can see the full list of titles in the Hachette Showcase here. To request a copy:

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

» Then request away!

The deadline to request a copy is Tuesday, July 1st at 6pm Eastern.

Questions or comments about the Hachette Showcase? Come tell me what you think on Talk.

I’d like to give a huge “Thank you!” to everyone at Hachette who helped me coordinate this bonus batch!


Small print: Winning a book from either the Hachette Showcase or the regular June Early Reviewers batch will not affect your chances of winning a book from the other. You may end up with multiple wins! If you’ve already made your requests for the June batch, but would prefer to win titles from the Hachette Showcase instead, you can unrequest titles by going to the appropriate Early Reviewers list, selecting the batch you’d like to view from the drop-down menu, and clicking “Unrequest” next to any books you’ve already requested.

1. Full disclosure: Potter’s literary agent is a friend of Tim’s.

Labels: bonus batch, early reviewers

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

Rate Recommendations

I’ve added a new feature for members to help improve the quality of LibraryThing’s automatic recommendations. It mirrors something we did for author recommendations. This time it’s for works, addressing those times when you see a bum recommendation, or spot a book that’s too low on the list.

You can find the new “Rate Recommendations” feature in the “LibraryThing Recommendations” section of work pages. Click on “Rate Recommendations” and you get the expanded “rating” view.

Screen Shot 2014-06-18 at 11.04.23 PM

Rating is divided into ten boxes.(1) All things being equal, giving something six or more sends the recommendation up, and giving something five or less sends it down. We’re going to see how it develops before finalizing the algorithm, which will remain intentionally obscure.(2)

In addition to appearing on work pages, I’ve also made a page for members to rapidly peruse their works’ recommendations, and chime in on them, without going work page by work page. It keeps track of how many works’ recommendations you rated, among other statistics.

You can find your page here: https://www.librarything.com/profile_raterecommendations.php

Screen Shot 2014-06-18 at 11.08.59 PM

Here’s the Talk post about it. Come tell us what you think!


(1) It’s the same system as five stars, with half stars. Indeed, that was the original system for the author recommendation rating. But we decided it was too much like rating the book.
(2) At present, we’ve giving it a lot of power. This will probably be reduced. Either way, there’ll be factors other than the mere presence of a rating at work.

Labels: new feature, new features, recommendations

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

June Early Reviewers batch is live!

The May 2014 batch of Early Reviewer books is up! We’ve got 131 titles this month, with a grand total of 4,150 copies to give out.

If you haven’t already, make sure to sign up for Early Reviewers. If you’ve already signed up, please check your mailing/email address and make sure they’re correct.

» Then request away!

The deadline to request copies from the May batch is Monday, June 30th at 6pm Eastern.

Eligiblity: Publishers do things country-by-country. This month we have publishers who can send books to the US, Canada, the UK, Israel, Australia, France, and many 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!

Akashic Books Quirk Books Riverhead Books
Bethany House Lion Fiction Henry Holt and Company
Taylor Trade Publishing Sucker Literary Cleis Press
Gotham Books Eerdmans Books for Young Readers Salinas Press
Healdsburg Press Rockridge Press Demos Health
Crux Publishing Five Rivers Publishing Random House
Palgrave Macmillan Candlewick Press Del Rey
Gefen Publishing House Spiegel & Grau Anaphora Literary Press
Apex Publications Jupiter Gardens Press Bantam Dell
Gray & Company, Publishers Prospect Hill Press Immortal Ink Publishing
Bhive Comics Human Kinetics Exterminating Angel Press
William Morrow Small Beer Press Pants On Fire Press
askmar publishing Vinspire Publishing, LLC Bluffer’s Guides
JournalStone Crown Publishing Humanist Press
ForeEdge Prufrock Press Brandt Street Press
WallpaperScholar.Com Recorded Books McFarland
Algonquin Books Plume Ballantine Books
Orca Book Publishers BookViewCafe White Wave
CarTech Books Bell Bridge Books Booktrope

Labels: early reviewers, LTER

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014

Author Interview: Alexi Zentner

Some excerpts from our interview with author Alexi Zentner, which initially appeared in May’s State of the Thing.

Alexi Zentner is an Assistant Professor at Binghamton University, and a faculty member in the Sierra Nevada College low residency MFA program. His first novel, Touch, published in 2011, was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award, and The Center for Fiction’s Flahery-Dunnan First Novel Prize, among other accolades.

Zentner is dual citizen of the United States and Canada, currently based in Ithaca, NY. Set on a small, fictional island off the coast of Maine, his second novel, The Lobster Kings, is a nod to Shakespeare’s King Lear, and is out this month.

We’ve got 15 copies of The Lobster Kings available through Early Reviewers this month! Click here to request one!

LibraryThing staffer KJ Gormley caught up with Alexi earlier this month to discuss The Lobster Kings.

Although Shakespeare is definitely a cultural touchstone and enjoying a renewed popularity right now, can you familiarize us with the general theme and plot of King Lear, as you see it?

The brutally condensed version is that King Lear has decided to retire and to split his kingdom into thirds, because he has three daughters. He tells his daughters that flattery will get them the biggest slices of the kingdom. The eldest two daughters, Goneril and Regan, outdo themselves in professing how much they love the old man, but Cordelia, the youngest, refuses to play the game. She says she loves him exactly as much as a daughter is supposed to love her father. King Lear, who is not exactly at the height of his powers, is enraged, and gives her nothing. Because this is a tragedy, it’s all downhill from there.

The rest of the play is Goneril and Regan, with the help of Edmund, who is a bastard both literally and figuratively, plotting against Lear, and then Lear going mad and wandering alone on the heath. It’s more complicated than that, of course, and Cordelia, the true daughter, the daughter who tells the truth, tries to help her father, and, like pretty much everybody else in the play, is punished for it.

In Cordelia Kings you have created a strong yet entirely relatable protagonist. Why did you choose to tell the novel from her point of view?

One of the questions I’m getting often is, “Why did [you] chose to write such a strong female voice?” And the honest answer is, “Why not?” It never occurred to me not to. My default voice doesn’t have to be male. Why can’t my version of the great American novel, whatever the hell that is, feature a strong woman’s voice? There is no female voice just like there is no male voice. There are just singular voices. I can’t write women—nobody can—but I can write a singular woman. I can write the heck out of Cordelia. And that’s the thing: the novel really is about Cordelia’s voice.

It’s a particularly appealing voice to me, because I’m trying to raise the kind of strong, capable girls that grow up to be women like Cordelia, women who can say, I don’t care if this has always been a man’s job, I can do it too. And honestly, I just love Cordelia. She’s funny and smart and determined to show her father that she can live up to her family legacy, and she was a pleasure to spend an entire book with.

To what extent did you follow the plot of King Lear in writing The Lobster Kings, and to what extent did you go sail your own ship?

I love King Lear, and one of my strongest memories from university is studying the play. I was in London for the semester, and my professor was going blind. He’d committed to memorizing the complete works of Shakespeare because he couldn’t stand the idea of not having Shakespeare available to him. And when we got to the end of the play, when Lear comes back on stage carrying his daughter’s body in his arms, it was all my professor could do not to burst into tears. The play was so alive for him, and because of that, it became alive to me.

But I didn’t want to retell Lear. I think any person who is at all familiar with King Lear will see the ways in which I departed from Shakespeare. I took the play as a place from which I could set sail. The Lobster Kings is a riff on Lear much more than just a reworking. The inspiration is clear—my narrator is named Cordelia, after all—but I wanted to create something new. I like to say that all literature is in conversation with all of the literature that came before, and Shakespeare was one of the first voices in the room. My goal wasn’t to parrot back his words but to move the conversation forward.

Setting aside Shakespeare for a moment, this book is also drenched in sea mythology and fishing superstitions. How do you see these influencing the narrative?

I like to call what I’m doing mythical realism, as opposed to magical realism, which is so rooted in specific cultures, because I’m really trying to use our myths and our landscape. Of course, some of those myths have travelled from other countries The Lobster Kings leans on a number of Irish and Scottish myths, but they are seen through a North American lens.

For Cordelia, Loosewood Island is alive with the history of her family, and it’s a history that has been profoundly influenced by myth and superstition. The first member of the Kings family, Brumfitt Kings, had his bride delivered to him as a gift from the sea. For her dowry, the Kings family was given the blessing of the bounty of the sea. But every blessing comes with a curse. Cordelia is alive to the understanding that there was a time when, if a map said, “there be dragons,” the belief was that, well, there be dragons. Myths are just stories that have passed from families to entire cultures, and the myths and superstitions in The Lobster Kings are really the story of the Kings family.

What was your favorite scene to write?

I’m really proud of my first novel, Touch, and the people who loved it are almost evangelical about it, but it is definitely a quieter book. I say a literary novel is a novel where who the characters are matters as much as what happens to them, and in The Lobster Kings, the “what happens” matters a lot. There’s guns and drugs and action, and there is a scene at the very end of the book where, well, let’s just say that something happens. That was fun to write.

Read our full interview here.

Labels: author interview

Tuesday, May 6th, 2014

May Early Reviewers batch is live!

The May 2014 batch of Early Reviewer books is up! We’ve got 111 titles this month, with a grand total of 3,265 copies to give out.

If you haven’t already, make sure to sign up for Early Reviewers. If you’ve already signed up, please check your mailing/email address and make sure they’re correct.

» Then request away!

The deadline to request copies from the May batch is Monday, May 26th at 6pm Eastern.

Eligiblity: Publishers do things country-by-country. This month we have publishers who can send books to the US, Canada, the UK, Israel, Australia, France, and many 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!

Akashic Books Riverhead Books Putnam Books
Berlinica Prospect Park Books Taylor Trade Publishing
Santa Fe Writers Project S. Woodhouse Books Vinspire Publishing, LLC
Exterminating Angel Press Eerdmans Books for Young Readers Crown Publishing
Cypress House The Permanent Press River Valley Publishing
Prufrock Press Kayelle Press Tundra Books
W.W. Norton Horrific Tales Publishing Bantam Dell
Viva Editions Human Kinetics Quirk Books
Brandeis University Press Recorded Books ForeEdge
Whitepoint Press Algonquin Books Palgrave Macmillan
BookViewCafe Open Books Apex Publications
Bellevue Literary Press Bethany House Plume
Meadowbrook Press Carp House Press Ballantine Books
McFarland Booktrope Sakura Publishing
Iguana Books Wellworth Publishing King Northern Publishing
Del Rey Medallion Press CarTech Books
Harper 360

Labels: early reviewers, LTER

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

One LibraryThing, One Book: June 2014

Last week, we presented another slate of four candidates for our next One LibraryThing, One Book read, and asked for your opinions. Thanks to all of you who voted!

Our Winner

With 154 members voting, three of our selections (The Age of Miracles, Salvage the Bones, and The Flamethrowers—in that order) were extremely close. That said, The Penelopiad blew those other three out of the water entirely, and was our clear winner!

Originally published in 2005 as part of the Canongate Myth Series, The Penelopiad follows the experiences of Penelope, Odysseus’s wife, throughout the events of Homer’s Odyssey. It’s an interesting take on revisiting a familiar, classic narrative through a different perspective.

Details

If you haven’t joined us for One LibraryThing, One Book before, I encourage you to stop by the introductory blog post to catch up on the basics.

Official discussion for The Penelopiad will kick off Monday, June 2nd, at 12pm Eastern. But that doesn’t mean it’s too early to get started! If you’ll be reading along with us, or are still considering it, come say “hi,” in the “Introduce Yourself” thread. Have you read The Penelopiad before, or want to get discussion going while it’s still in progress? Share your (spoiler-free) thoughts in the “First Impressions” thread.

We hope that everyone who voted (particularly those whose top pick won!) will join us for the read! General questions or comments about One LibraryThing, One Book, are, as always, welcome here. Stay tuned to the One LibraryThing, One Book group for updates!

Labels: One LibraryThing One Book

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

Congratulations to Our Edible Books Contest Winners

Thanks to everyone who entered our Third Annual Edible Books Contest! Once more, you’ve left your judges impressed, and in serious need of cake we can eat right this second. Edible Books would be impossible without you. You can see all submissions for the contest in the EdibleBooks2014 tag gallery.

The Winners

The grand prize goes to LT member nk1271’s collection of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy cake pops. Made for a “geeky” potluck, these strawberry cake pops were accompanied not only by proof that nk1271 really knows where their towel is, but also references to the ill-fated whale and pot of petunias. We loved those additions.

Along with fame and glory, nk1271 will be receiving $50 worth in books, hand-picked for them by LT staff! Additionally, we’ll be sending the following LT swag their way: a LibraryThing t-shirt, stamp, sticker, CueCat, and three lifetime gift memberships to share.

Our first runner-up (and all attendant prizes) goes to Agailbee, for this charming take on the children’s classic, Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Comprised of a whopping 21 individual cupcakes (plus a single larger cake for the head), this confection bears a striking resemblance to its inspiration. He even has feet (chocolate chips), antennae, and branches (both licorice) to climb on. Well done!

3rd Place—We have a tie!

Kudos to our second runner-up (and winner of great prizes), WildNelly, for splitting the vote. We liked two of their creations so much, the judges here at LTHQ just couldn’t decide! One the left, this delicate birthday cake was accompanied and inspired by Peterson Field Guide to Eastern Birds’ Nests. Below and on the right, we have WildNelly’s homage to the American Girls Mystery series. Made for a daughter who’s a fan, they also held a mystery party, at which guests were challenged to solve the cake’s inspiration, The Curse of Ravenscourt.

Honorable Mentions

The competition was very close this year, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t also tip my hat to jessipete, for their impressively intricate rendition of of Smaug the Golden, from The Hobbit. The level of detail was incredible. I’m also really curious about the Elvish-inscribed cake in the background!

Thanks, everyone!

To all our contestants, congratulations! You all did amazing (and delicious-looking) work! Thanks so much for joining us, and I look forward to seeing more scrumptiously literary creations next year.

To our winners, be sure to check your profile comments shortly for details on claiming your prizes!

Labels: contest, contests, fun

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

Vote for June’s One LibraryThing, One Book

It’s time for our next round of One LibraryThing, One Book! Just like our selection process for the February and March picks, we’re asking for your input.

We had so many great books on our list this time that we couldn’t pick only three, so we’ve got a slate of four. Come rank the titles you’d like to see, and discuss with the community! The winner will be set and announced on Thursday, May 1st, at 11am Eastern.

» Go here or click on any of the covers below to vote!

More Info

We’ll be announcing our winner in another blog post on May 1st. You’re encouraged to start reading right away!

Official discussion will begin on Monday, June 2nd, at 12pm Eastern. As always, we’ll have the “Introduce Yourself” and “First Impressions” threads, for those who’d like to share their thoughts while reading. Stay tuned to the One LibraryThing, One Book group for updates!

If you’re new to One LibraryThing, One Book, be sure to check out the original blog post that started it all.

Questions? Comments?

As always, general questions/comments about One LibraryThing, One Book, are welcome on this thread.

Join us here to discuss the titles up for vote!

Labels: One LibraryThing One Book