Monthly Archives: November 2013

Big Books

Sitting on my bookshelf right now is Eleanor Catton’s debut novel, The Luminaries (832 pages), and Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch (771 pages). I decided to start with Tartt’s book, as it is shorter and Catton’s book is a historical novel, which I am not as fond of as other genres. I’m guessing it will take me at least 3 weeks to read The Goldfinch, maybe more, mainly because it’s too heavy to carry on the subway. If I had bought the e-version this would not be an issue, but I like to collect first editions and this one felt worth adding to my collection.

Earlier this month, Garth Risk Hallberg sold his 900-page debut novel for $2 million in a bidding war. The book has also been optioned as a film.

It is exciting to see this spurt of big books being published, but given the sad state of the US publishing world, I wonder how many people will actually read Hallberg’s book. Some journalists are postulating that big books are the antidote to Twitter, that there is a new satisfaction in reading something that takes longer than 24 hours to finish, but I’m not sure I agree.

Clearly there is a pride in reading a big book, but how many of you are willing to sit down with a novel over 700 pages? Or a debut novel, with an author you don’t know much about, and read 900 pages?

I went back though my reading history and identified the “big books” I have read over the years. The first one was Moby Dick (544 pages), which I had to read in high school. After college, I read Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow (770 pages) while living and working as an English teacher in Slovakia. One of the pleasures of that read was that I lived alone and didn’t have much of a social life, so I was able to read for very long stretches. In my twenties a book club I was in took on Ulysses, but it tore apart the group, with most of us (myself included), struggling with the book to the chagrin of the two who enjoyed it. Most recently I read Bolaño’s, 2666 (898 pages). I loved that book, but remember that I had to intentionally set aside time to read it, and only took it on after two friends told me how much they liked it.

I’m all for publishing big books, and keeping this literary tradition alive, but I wonder how many people are reading these big books and not just talking or tweeting about them….So, I’m curious, what is the last book over 700 pages you all have read and when? And if you haven’t taken on a tome recently, why not? Please leave a comment.

Happy Thanksgiving — to a weekend full of reading!


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Cartwheel, by Jennifer duBois, a two review

Cartwheel_approved cover


By Jennifer duBois

Random House, 2013

385 pages

Inspired by the Amanda Knox case, this novel (the author’s second) tells the story of an American foreign student accused of murdering another American while studying abroad in Buenos Aires for a semester.

Lily Hayes and Katy Kellers are roommates with a host family, the Carrizos, and while they get along well enough, they are mildly competitive. Katy is the “good” girl, who studies at night, charms the host mother and is getting over a recent break up. Lily is wilder. She bonds with the father of the host family more than the mother, she gets involved with an American boy who is the Carrizos’s neighbor and works at a local club. Five weeks in to their stay in Argentina, while the Carrizos are out of town for a baptism, Katy is murdered. Lily is one of the main suspects. Lily’s family (divorced parents and a younger sister) come to Buenos Aires to support her and come to terms with the fact that Lily is incarcerated in a foreign country. Told in alternating chapters the book recounts the weeks before and after Katy’s murder, exploring the question: could Lily have killed Katy?

This is a well-crafted book with great character explorations. I was very drawn to Lily’s dad, who is open and genuine, and to Lily herself. However, the scenes of Lily and Katy arriving in Buenos Aires were less compelling to me, than the scenes after the murder. The girls didn’t seem as curious about their new culture as I thought they might be. However, duBois does a great job exploring the connections between characters and in particular draws an interesting portrait of Lily’s family. Her parents lost a child before Lily and her sister were born and it is harrowing to think that they could lose another child to a Latin American jail sentence. I really enjoyed the themes explored in this book, in particular the idea that could Lily, a well-bred white girl attending a liberal arts college with well-meaning law abiding parents, commit murder in another country? DuBois examines Lily from multiple angles, including the view of the Argentinean prosecutor, Eduardo Campo. Cartwheel is a good read and an interesting look at how females can subvert each other.

DuBois teaches in the MFA program at Texas State University-San Marcos. She recently won a Whiting Writers’ Award. Congrats!

I received an e-book copy of this book from the publisher via Net Galley.

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We have two winners!

Thanks to all who checked out, or entered, Proto Libro’s first book giveaway. Due to the generosity of Other Press and author Thomas Van Essen, Proto Libro had two copies of The Center of the World – a debut novel which I feel has been underrated this year – to give away. Kirkus Review also listed the book as one of the “overlooked novels of 2013.”

So after the drawing…..


We have two winners…congrats to:


And thanks for all the book recs you provided when you entered the giveaway. Two of the books suggested were debuts. A debut novel: What Happened to Sophie Wilder by Christopher Beha; and a debut memoir: My Foreign Cities, by Elizabeth Scarboro.

More reviews to come next week…I’m writing next about Jennifer duBois‘s second novel, Cartwheel and then about James Whitfield Thomson’s debut novel, Lies You Wanted to Hear.


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Book Giveaway – Thomas Van Essen’s The Center of the World


Thanks to Other Press and author Thomas Van Essen for sharing with Proto Libro two copies of The Center of the World to give away to Proto Libro readers. This is a really great book, which I reviewed in June; I’m excited to be able to share it with you.

To enter the giveaway leave a comment to this post noting a book you think is really great that you would like others to read (book can be a debut or not). Leave a comment by noon ET on Sunday, November 10th.  Make sure you enter a working email when you do. I will be the only one who sees your email address and will need it to let you know if you have won. And there might be a delay before your comment appears on the site, as I need to approve comments before they become public.

On Sunday I will do a random drawing and announce the winners early next week.

Good luck!



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Stand out debuts from 2012 – 2013

As I reflect on the year of reading, I want to call attention to three debut novels that are now all available in paperback….

Best award-winning debut


I’m not one to seek out books about snow or Alaska, but I loved Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child. Its magical realism and poetic prose made for a splendidly unique book.

Best critically-acclaimed debut


Patrick Flanery’s Absolution stands out to me for his unique storytelling, moving story and sharp prose. I much enjoyed this book, but haven’t encountered many others who have read it. But Flanery fans don’t have to wait long for his second book—Fallen Land just came out. I can’t wait to dive in.

Best underrated debut


Thomas Van Essen’s The Center of the World drew me in to all four of its interlocking stories. The prose is crisp, the themes are engaging and I loved that the book revolved around a fictional painting. This is a great book that deserves to be more widely read.

Later this week I will be offering two readers of Proto Libro a chance to receive a copy of The Center of the World…stay tuned for details…..


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