Living in NYC has its advantages. This week is the Book Expo America conference at the Javits Center and today was the book bloggers part of the convention. I took a day off of work and sat with a few hundred other bloggers in overly air-conditioned rooms and learned more about the trade.
The highlight of my day was a keynote by Will Schwalbe, a former book publisher and now web publisher and author. He spoke about the passion he has for books and his book, End of Your Life Book Club, a memoir about the books he and his mother read during her final two years with terminal cancer. “What book are your reading?” is a question they regularly asked each other and which stimulated conversations they had while she was getting chemo. Eventually they started reading books together and formed a book club of two.
Will’s passion for reading, writing and publishing was inspiring. He wishes we all asked each other every day, “What are you reading?”
How about you? What are you reading? (Leave a comment by clicking “reply” above….)
New review coming next week…..enjoy the weekend!
The New York Times reviewed a debut novel this past Sunday, on its front Book Review page, that I have been reading about on other websites, Helene Wecker’s, The Golem and the Jinni. Not many debuts make it onto that cover page, so this is a huge boon for Wecker. The book is set in 1899 New York City, and combines Jewish and Arab mythology by telling the story of a golem and a jinni who both arrive as immigrants in New York and create new lives and identities for themselves.
USA Today regularly writes about debut novels and has a “New Voices” column. This week they are featuring a book that Barnes and Noble is also plugging in their Discover Great New Writers campaign, Bill Cheng’s Southern Cross the Dog, which is set Mississippi in 1927, after the Great Flood. The book has been noted for being a story about Southern African-Americans written by a Chinese-American man from Queens. Cheng says in the USA Today piece that the story was inspired by his love of the Delta blues. The book chronicles a young man’s struggle to regain his life after he losses everything in the storm.
And finally, for today, I’ve added a new page to the blog! I cull a lot of websites looking for debut books and decided to put together a list of notable U.S. and U.K. debut book prizes. I focused on prizes for published books, not the prizes that help authors get their first book published, so that you can use this list as a way to discover new debut books on your own.
By Jan Richman
Tupelo Press, 2012
A journalist, named Jan Richman, is working for BadMouth Magazine when she gets an assignment to research and write about roller coasters nearing their demise. Richman begins with the Coney Island Cyclone, then visits the Kukwa-dan in Houston, the Tumbler in Salt Lake City and ends up on the Giant Dipper in Mission Beach, California. She chronicles her visits to, and her rides on, each roller coaster, encountering a unique collection of tour guides along the way. Woven between the roller coaster chapters are coming-of-age reflections of Jan growing up in California with a father who has Tourette’s. The book culminates with the Mission Beach ride and her widower father’s second marriage to a woman 30 years his junior.
An acclaimed poet, Richman (the author) has an insightful and engaging narrative voice, and a beautiful use of language. I found myself reading passages out loud, I was so taken with her prose. This is a character-driven, desultory story. When Jan is not riding roller coasters, she has sex New Orleans, does Karaoke with teenage girls in Houston, and gets a lap dance and meets a Spanish conceptual artist in Vegas. Jan is an adventurous spirit, willing to jump into any new situation. And since the story is told from a very close first person point of view, I felt very close to her on the page.
Richman lives in the Bay Area and created a fabulous book trailer. She was interviewed in Bitch magazine where she talks about why she named her fictional character after herself.
I bought the e-book version of this title. This is Tupelo Press’s first e-book.
I started this blog with the intention of writing about both debut memoirs and novels, but so far have just written about novels. I’ve started reading a couple memoirs, but often their tone is so much more matter of fact than novels that I find myself less drawn in. I relish the dream of fiction, and sometimes memoirs feel stark in comparison.
That said, one debut memoir that looks very compelling is her by Christa Parravani. It is the story of an identical twin whose sister dies when they are in their twenties. I read the first few pages of the book on my Kindle and was immediately drawn in by the weight of her story and the beauty of the prose. A lovely review of the book was just published on BookForum by Heidi Julavits.
Another memoir that I have read a lot about this spring is Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala. Wave tells the story of the 2004 tsumani in Sri Lanka. Deraniyagala was in Sri Lanka at the time and lost her husband, two children and parents all at once. I noticed the book’s cover in bookstores:
It has been widely reviewed and described as a heart felt and deeply moving story.
Full reviews of some debut memoirs to come this summer!