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.
In January, Jada Pinkett Smith and Spike Lee called for a boycott of the Academy Awards because so few black actors were nominated. They also called for emcee Chris Rock to step down from his position. I’m glad he didn’t. Last Sunday night in the Oscar ceremonies Chris Rock tackled the question of African-American representation in the film business head on, addressing it in his trademark irreverent way. You may or may not have liked Rock’s approach, but I thought this was a great way to use his platform to confront an issue rather than to give it up. This made me think of a recent situation in Philadelphia. As reported in The Philadelphia Inquirer, some students at local high school Friends’ Central were offended by the use of the “n” word in the book The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Students and faculty took a vote and decided not to have students read the book. What a lost opportunity! What a chance this would have been for teachers to use this as a springboard for a meaningful discussion of racism and race relations, how things have changed over the years, and how things are represented in literature. I say, use the platform you have to talk about making change. Kudos to Chris Rock for taking on an important issue with courage and humor. One of the best novels I’ve read recently that tackles the issue of racism and does so in great literary form is Welcome to Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson. It’s out in paperback now, and the Open Book friends to whom I’ve recommended it have all come back to tell me how much they like it. If you read and liked it, post a comment in my blog (click HERE). And of course we have it, as well as Huck Finn, available for sale at the Open Book Bookstore. Finally, I’m happy to share some great recent press for Open Book… An article in the Huffington Post and… An article about how many new bookstores opened last year, including us! Tomorrow at the Open Book Bookstore we a great event for adults about the art and technique of creating great children’s picture books. It’s a free event at 7pm – come on by! Details HERE. Check out other events too, including Writers at Work Conference, Genre Mix ‘n’ Match Writing Class, Dinner and Lunch with a Book, and our fun St. Patrick’s Day...read more
Cold weather caused a pipe to burst last week in the ceiling of the Drama Book Shop on West 40th Street in Manhattan, damaging many valuable books. Lin-Manuel Miranda to the rescue! The creator of the Broadway smash “Hamilton” tweeted to his followers to support the store and later made a video encouraging people to make purchases and donations. His help made a great difference. Just another friendly neighborhood indie bookstore supporter! And btw, have you seen the show? It’s brilliant! In other book news, Harper Lee passed away last week at age 89. To this day, her Pulitzer-prize winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird continues to be a bestseller and its story continues to touch and inspire readers as well as viewers of the film (or maybe that’s due to Gregory Peck…). For decades she was a mysterious one-hit wonder who shunned the spotlight until last year when HarperCollins published Go Set a Watchman, the book that Lee wrote first, and which her editor (wisely) told her to rewrite from the point of view of Scout as a young child. Controversy continues to swirl as to whether Lee, who suffered from dementia later in life, truly wanted this other manuscript published. Closer to home, things are busy at the Open Book Bookstore. According to the American Booksellers Association, we are part of a trend – 61 new stores opened in 2015. Some of our most popular books this month are the new Zahav cookbook by Michael Solomonov, and the entertaining novel The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, as well as adult coloring books. We even had an coloring book evening — fun! (Don’t worry, we’ll have another!) Young adults are enjoying the new graphic novel Roller Girl and for the littler ones it’s been a season of new classics by favorite writers like Mo Willems and fun new discoveries like local writer Zachariah OHora. What else, you ask? Why, events, of course – lots of ‘em! Such as… Do you love children’s picture books? Click HERE. Looking for a fun and novel (pun intended!) way to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day? Click HERE. Want to eat some good food and talk about books? Click HERE and HERE. Have you thought about writing a memoir? Click HERE. Are you interested in learning how to get a book published? Click HERE. Already published and need some advice on what to do now? Click HERE. As always, stay tuned for more!...read more
This past Sunday I attended the kickoff event for this year’s Philadelphia area One Book One Jewish Community program. I am a volunteer member of the implementation committee for this group, and I help review selections and choose a book. This year we selected a memoir called A Backpack, A Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka by Lev Golinkin. It tells tells the story of Lev and his family. Soviet Jews, leaving the USSR and settling in America. The kickoff event took place at Gratz College and about 400 people attended. I had the honor of interviewing Lev on stage after his talk, which was fun. Open Book Bookstore, our store, was also the official bookseller for the event. After the event, a woman came up to the book table and asked me where I got the books, i.e. from whom I purchased them. I replied to her: “I am a bookstore.” It turned out she too worked at a bookstore, and she was hoping no doubt that her store might provide the books. A good thought on her part, but I’ve got it covered. But what really struck me the next day as I was recalling this interaction was the way I replied to her, how, without really stopping to think, I simply said: “I am a bookstore.” It’s what, in high school English, we learn to call personification. Actually, now that I think of it, it’s the opposite of that. In personification, human qualities are given to inanimate objects. Here I made myself into an inanimate object. Except our bookstore is not inanimate. It’s a very vital, living place, full of activity and conversation, and filled with a stream of thoughtful, interesting people. I spend a lot of time there, and it has begun to feel like part of me. Most of my conversations these days, anywhere and with anyone, are in some way about books, and I spend huge chunks, if not most, of my time reading books or ordering books, managing inventory, and selling books. Indeed, I have become, and I am, a bookstore. Come visit me and my bookstore at 7900 High School Road in Elkins Park, PA. And if you’d like to read Lev’s memoir, which I recommend, we have it in stock or you can get it...read more
I’m a big fan of Ruth Reichl; I really enjoyed her memoir, Tender at the Bone. I was pleased when I heard she was turning her hand to fiction, and I was very interested to read her new novel, especially once I started hearing the good reviews. Can you tell that opening was a set up for disappointment? Indeed, the novel was a let-down for this reader. It is the sort of book that, when I started it, I knew right away that it wasn’t really going to engage me, and I kept telling myself to put it down when there were so many other books beckoning for my time. Yet I persisted. I think I did so in large part on the strength of her name, her reputation, and my previous pleasant experience with her memoirs, and to a lesser degree because I did find her main character, Billie Breslin, to be charming, and I was interested to see how she made her way to finding herself in this coming-of-age novel. Not only do we have a charming Billie, but Reichl has created a quirky and appealing set of secondary characters to keep Billie company, particularly Sal, the owner of the cheese shop where Billie works. Reichl also, unsurprisingly, writes really well about food. Much is made in the beginning of the book of Billie’s special talent. She has a perfect palate, and can taste anything and discern what the ingredients are, even if it’s something rare and obscure like, apparently, curry leaf. However, later in the book this is only glancingly referred to, and I was sorry to see this amusing parlor game drop. When a character takes a bite of food, Reichl’s prose lights up with colorful adjectives. Unfortunately, when she’s merely writing about plot, her prose is duller. As for plot twists and turns and the big reveal… well, I figured out the secrets about Billie’s sister long before they were revealed (if you’ve read Nicole Krauss’s The History of Love, you will, too), and the love interest has a flashing red arrow pointing at him, so that one is a given. As for the main plot point of the book, Billie’s discovery of a secret stash of letters between famous chef James Beard and an unknown young girl written during WWII, it is (here comes that word again) a charming conceit, but not, for me, enough to hang a novel on. My verdict? A good beach read, but your brain won’t get too tangled up in...read more
Dear Caryl, You mentioned when I saw you Friday night that someone had recommended you read The Two Hotel Francforts by David Leavitt. That was such a funny coincidence because I was in the middle of reading it myself! I finished the book this weekend, and I thought I’d share my thoughts with you. I like David Leavitt. I read his last book, The Indian Clerk, and thought it was interesting and pretty good, and I also read The Lost Language of Cranes, which is his most highly-regarded book, although I must confess I don’t remember much of it. He always seemed to me like a writer who deserved more attention. This new novel has been getting a lot of positive attention, and I was looking forward to reading it. The book tells the story of two couples, Pete & Julia and Edward & Iris, who meet in Lisbon in 1940. American expatriates, they have had harrowing escapes from the encroaching Nazis, and have made their way to Lisbon to await passage back to the US on the ship Manhattan. The new acquaintances strike up a friendship, which evolves quickly into flirtation and then, unsurprisingly, into an affair. What is surprising is the partners who embark on the affair: Pete and Edward. It was this unexpected twist that made the novel sound interesting to me in the first place. After their passion is teased and then consumed, the relationship develops into something more predictable and less pleasant, more tedious, a kind of “you don’t love me like you used to” sort of thing. Iris then comes to see Pete for a “talk,” and explains the workings of her extremely unconventional relationship with Edward. Something about the tone, the setting, the story of the seemingly breezy and worldly couple who mask deep troubles, made me feel like the author was trying to do Fitzgerald and/or Hemingway in a way that felt derivative, not inspired or laudatory. It’s one of those books where the narrator (Pete) tells you at the beginning what’s going to happen at the end and, instead of following his story with interest in the process of how the characters got from A to B, I instead found myself skimming pages in a rush to just get it over with already. Unfortunately, I wanted to like this book much more than I did. In the end, Caryl, I wouldn’t really recommend it for you, but I’ll be happy to recommend some other good summer reading! Start with The Transcriptionist, a debut novel by Amy Rowland. See here for more info: http://lynnrosen.com/a-great-new-book-for-your-summer-reading-list/ Best,...read more