Lynn Reads a Book
This blog reflects Lynn Rosen’s comments on books she’s read and on happenings in the world of book publishing. You can purchase Lynn’s book recommendations at Barnes & Noble (we especially recommend Lynn’s store in Wilmington, DE!) or at your nearest indie bookstore. Wherever you choose to shop, we ask that you please support a bricks & mortar bookstore. They need your support! Shop local!
If you signed up for the “Get Lit with Lynn” virtual event (which you can do by emailing me here), this is the letter you would have received today, 3/2/21. Dear Bookies, I miss you already! Instead of being with you this Tuesday evening, I’ll be at Barnes & Noble counting books. But I’m already thinking about when we can meet again and I’m cooking up new programs for us! In the meantime, I thought I’d send you an update, because a number of major authors have new books coming out today. Here are a few of the ones that interest me the most (some of which I did mention last week). Anne Lamott’s new book comes out today. Called DUSK NIGHT DAWN: ON REVIVAL AND COURAGE, in it she asks: How can we recapture the confidence we once had as we stumble through the dark times that seem increasingly bleak? Lamott is a writer who really knows how to say what she’s thinking and to analyze what she is experiencing, and she can be bold, bawdy, and irreverent, all the while being extremely faith-based. Her book about writing, BIRD BY BIRD, is certainly one of the top ten writing books ever. In my canon, it’s in the top five, and maybe even number one. Here is a piece about her new book that I think really gets at the essence of Anne Lamott. Kazuo Ishiguro has a new novel out today, KLARA AND THE SUN. Ishiguro is a fantastically talented writer with a wide range. While some writers stick to one setting and one style, Ishiguro is all over the place, and wherever he goes with his writing, he does it well. You might know him best for one of his most famous books, THE REMAINS OF THE DAY, which took place in mid-20th century England and was about a butler reminiscing about his years of service (played by Anthony Hopkins in a wonderful film). Other work of his is more futuristic, and one book, THE BURIED GIANT, is an allegory that takes place in post-Arthurian England. This new book is more along the lines of directions he explored in NEVER LET ME GO, and I don’t want to give anything away, but it’s hard to imagine this book will disappoint. Today includes a big publishing event: Michelle Obama’s hugely successful memoir BECOMING is finally coming out in paperback as well as in a young readers’ edition. Publishers release most books in paperback about one year after their original hardcover publication, however, with some popular books, they wait longer if the book is selling well in hardcover. Some books that got this treatment include A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW, ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE, and WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING. There are other categories in which this happens as well. For example, the highly regarded business book GOOD TO GREAT by Jim Collins was published in 2001 and has never been released in paperback. But at long last we will have BECOMING in paperback as of today. PUBLISHING NEWS We had several customers in the store yesterday asking for books by Colson Whitehead. This is because he was featured on “60 Minutes” Sunday night. I wanted to ask them: what, you are just finally reading his books? But luckily...read more
I tried to write a quick post about this book, but instead I went down a rabbit hole. What I had intended to say was something along the lines of this: I spent two nights staying up way too late reading this book, in the end it was not justified. I was not moved by the character or her plight—or more specifically, by the way her plight was expressed. Instead I decided that, before writing my post, I would read some reviews of the book and see if anyone else agreed with me. But first I read the back cover of the book (always a mistake to read it first and, as usual, it gave away much of the plot). And then I focused on the 3 blurbs that were on the front and back cover, glowing reviews from well-known writers. On the cover was a quote from Stephanie Danler, the author of Sweetbitter, a book I quite liked. That is what probably originally motivated me to read the book, that and the fact that it’s (supposed to be) set in the music world (warm memories of reading and greatly enjoying Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid – a much better book, read that one instead). I dunno – maybe these writers are friends of the author’s – the book I read doesn’t deserve the raves these writers gave it – sorry. But I was taken by something Danler said about the author – she called her “one of the most essential writers of the internet generation.” What exactly does that mean? I wondered. What is/who is the internet generation and why is Emily Gould essential to it, according to Stephanie Danler? So I decided to Google the author and learn more about her. And thus: rabbit hole. Emily Gould has a lot of cool things in her bio. She co-runs a publishing imprint called Emily Books. She is married to the author Keith Gessen. I read his novel A Terrible Country, about a Russian man who returns to Moscow after many years in the US and what his experience there kind of caught between two cultures is like. I taught the novel in my Hot Off the Press class and we had a great discussion about it. But Emily Gould is perhaps best known for an incident that happened when she was interviewed by Jimmy Kimmel who was, at that time, guest-hosting the Larry King show. Gould was then working for Gawker media, and oversaw something called the Gawker Stalker, in which people could post celebrity sightings. Kimmel and his guests excoriated her for running a part of a website that, they claimed, jeopardized the safety of celebrities by publicizing their locations (“so someone posts that they just saw Gwyneth Paltrow at the movies, they said, and when she comes out there are 12 psychopaths waiting for her) and also didn’t fact check any of their material. Kimmel was particularly upset because he had been falsely accused on the site of being seen drunk. Gould responds with smiles and eyerolls and claims she is representing citizen journalism. This interview was followed by much press, many editorials, and was even copied in a scene in Aaron Sorkin’s show “The Newsroom” (a scene I had seen –...read more
For my Hot Off the Press class, last week we discussed A Children’s Bible by Lydia Millet, chosen because this session we are reading prize winners or nominees, and this book was on a lot of “best of 2020” and award lists. I liked it very much and was surprised how many of the class participants did not enjoy the book. What I liked… The writing is excellent (we all agreed on that). The story is told from the point of view of a teenager and I think she did a great job with the voice; it was very convincing. (Although I can’t say I’m the best judge of authentic teenager speak these days!) The frame of the story is that a group of families rent a big old mansion (said to have been built and owned by “robber barons”) near a lake and the ocean somewhere in New England to spend the summer with their families. The parents are old college friends and haven’t all been together for a long time. They are artsy professionals. The kids all sleep upstairs in the attic and totally disdain their parents – in fact they won’t even admit to each other which ones of those embarrassing adults are in fact their particular parents. All goes wrong when a storm hits and, since this is climate change fiction, the storm changes the world. It’s actually many ongoing storms that devastate the eastern seaboard. The kids escape to a farm, leaving their parents behind. The book is a parable. It’s a devastating critique of people ignoring climate change. As the author said in a separate interview, she can’t understand why more people aren’t freaking out about the issue, and this is her call to arms. She herself has a master’s degree in environmental policy and works at the Center for Biological Diversity. Readers felt the parents were presented as too “extreme,” i.e. all bad – a bunch of uncaring, oblivious slugs. I guess my response to that is: unreliable narrator. The bible referred to in the title is a children’s bible that one of the young characters, the narrator’s younger brother Jack, is given by one of the parents and begins to read, well, religiously. His own take on the bible has to do with science and nature, and his interpretation of the book leads him to do things like collect the animals and bring them to safety before the flood. I enjoyed finding the many other biblical parallels in the story. Another Book I also just read Ethan Hawke’s new novel A Bright Ray of Darkness. The multi-talented Hawke tells the story of an actor whose marriage is falling apart and who is being featured in the tabloids because he recently got caught cheating on his wife. He is also, as the book begins, heading into rehearsals for a performance of Shakespeare’s “Henry the IV Parts 1 & 2” on Broadway, where he is playing the role of Hotspur. If you’re thinking that Ethan Hawke had some very similar circumstances in his own life, you’d be right. His marriage to Uma Thurman did fall apart amid rumors of his infidelity, and he did play Hotspur at Lincoln Center – I was lucky enough to see that performance, with Hawke, Kevin Kline, Audra...read more
I just finished reading You Again by Debra Jo Immergut and I enjoyed it very much. It was the kind of book that I couldn’t wait to get back to, that I stayed up way too late reading, and was late getting back from my lunch break because of, and then, after finishing it in a few days (eating it up, as it were), I felt sad to no longer be immersed in it. I can’t remember why I chose this book out of the huge pile of advance reader copies I had to winnow down when we moved out of our house. The colors of the cover caught my eye. And I thought maybe I remembered hearing that this author was the friend of another author I know, but now I can’t remember whom that might have been. But something about the plot description on the back of the book grabbed me (even though I really do try not to read back cover copy because it often gives too much away). All this factors made me hold on to the book and once I started to read it, within the first few pages, I was hooked. The book is mostly in a journal format written by Abby, the main character. It’s 2015 in NYC (it was time for a good NYC book!), and Abby and her husband Dennis have given up their promising art careers for workaday jobs to support the two teenage sons with whom they live in a Brooklyn brownstone in a not-quite gentrifying neighborhood. (Speaking of which, this book has a lot of characters driving places and parking in garages or, at the very least, easily finding parking spots, which is not something I ever experienced in NY!) The action is kicked off when Abby spies a girl on the street who looks exactly like herself 24 years ago, when she was a freewheeling NYC party girl and before the occurrence of some as yet undisclosed hazily recalled traumatic event. Back when she was still aspiring to be the promising and highly regarded artist she would become, and before she gave that part of herself up. Is this girl on the street the younger Abby? Is she even real? Are we experiencing some sort of rupture of the space-time continuum? All of those are the questions the book asks, and I do love a good time travel book! Debra Jo Immergut is a graduate of the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop and she has been the recipient of fellowships at respected places like the MacDowell Colony. This is her second novel and third book, the other being a collection of short stories, and she has been published in places such as the Wall Street Journal and the Boston Globe. In our system at Barnes & Noble, the book is listed as literary fiction. However, Immergut’s first book was nominated for an Edgar award, which is for mysteries, and this book feels more to me like a psychological thriller. So, if you’re looking for a good immersive read, I highly recommend this. But… (did you hear that coming? My friends always tell me they can hear the “but” coming.) As much as I liked it, as a former editor myself (once an editor always an editor, to...read more
Mrs. Dalloway turns out to be a good choice of a book to read during a pandemic. Mrs. Dalloway, as is noted on page 2 of the book, has been ill (“…she was over fifty, and grown very white since her illness.”) She has had “the influenza,” and it has affected her heart. The book takes place in 1923, so it is likely that Mrs. Dalloway became ill during, and survived, the flu pandemic of 1918. In a recent article in The New Yorker, Evan Kindley writes about how the famous first line of the book – “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.” – is being repurposed in social media for our current situation, as in “Mrs. Dalloway said she would make the mask herself,” or “Mrs. Dalloway said she would order from @Instacart herself.” (Read more HERE.) Pandemic references or not, Mrs. Dalloway is always a good choice of a book to read, for it never ceases to yield new insights, and Woolf’s prose never fails to astound (and often confound) with its brilliance. In Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf gives us so much: her brilliant stream of consciousness writing, a portrait of post-war London in the midst of modernization, and the story of a 52-year-old woman trying to discern meaning in her life, while twinning this with the story of Septimus Warren Smith, a “shell-shocked” WWI veteran on the verge of madness. Clarissa Dalloway has begun the day by purchasing flowers for the fancy party she is hosting that evening, and throughout the course of the one day during which the book takes place, the chain of actions set off by this sunny June day weave their way through London’s streets and in and out of the consciousness of so may of the city’s denizens. I had scheduled a virtual class about the book as part of my Women’s Words series because: how can you teach a program on important writing by women without Woolf? I also scheduled the class as a challenge to myself: can I teach Woolf? Am I, as a teacher, ready to take this on? I think my students will tell you that that I ably guided them through a thoughtful and careful examination of the book. As one of them said the next day: “I think we did justice to Clarissa.” But, knowing Woolf as much and also as little as I do, I’m guessing we missed more than we found. Which means that Mrs. Dalloway will be ripe and ready for my next reading, whenever that may happen to...read more