broadsideblog

Posts Tagged ‘reading’

But what if you hate the characters — a la “Gone Girl”?

In art, beauty, behavior, books, culture, entertainment, film, journalism, life, movies, television on October 7, 2014 at 12:04 am

By Caitlin Kelly

 

Ben Affleck as Nick in the 2014 film, Gone Girl

Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne in the 2014 film, Gone Girl

Have any of you seen the new film “Gone Girl”?

Or read that best-selling book by Gillian Flynn?

Some readers loathed “Gone Girl” once they realize what appalling people Nick and Amy really are. We discussed it in our small book club and I was the only person to have any feeling for these two, and only really because both are such deeply damaged people.

But I came home from the film, which is 2.5 hours, worn out from how terrifyingly toxic Amy became on screen, played by Rosamund Pike, a British actress who usually plays gorgeous, flirty ingenues (as in “An Education.”) Not here!

Have you watched the Emmy-nominated Netflix series “House of Cards”? It stars Robin Wright, as a tall, lean, stiletto-strutting, icy, power-mad NGO director, Claire Underwood. She lives in a red brick townhouse in D.C. with her husband, Francis, whose own ambitions are jaw-dropping, and which — over the first two seasons — ultimately prove successful.

I watched House of Cards again recently, after binge-watching it in one bleary-eyed weekend a few months ago. It’s a real struggle to find even one character you’d choose to spend five minutes with, let alone marry, have an affair with, promote or manage. I can think of only two, really: Adam Galloway, a talented New York-based photographer and Freddy, whose hole-in-the-wall barbecue joint is Frank’s secret escape hatch. Both are used whenever helpful to Claire and Frank, and their essential humanity and warmth offer a needed counterpoint to their nastiness.

house-of-cards

So, what’s the appeal? Some people like to hate-watch, eagerly awaiting the downfall, literally, of that scheming, ruthless young reporter, Zoe Barnes, or the drunk young congressman, Pete Russo, or the naive NGO director Claire hires, then soon screws over.

I can’t think of many books I’ve read where I’ve been able to sympathize with or remain compelled by a difficult, nasty, ruthless character — and there are plenty out there!

Oddly, perhaps, one of my husband’s favorite books, and mine, is non-fiction, “My War Gone By, I Miss it So,” by British journalist Anthony Loyd, who spends much of his time in that narrative addicted to heroin — but the rest of it covering war, and doing so brilliantly.

4360

I also loved, (and these are very dark books!), the Patrick Melrose novels, whose characters are almost all truly horrible. They’re written by Edward St. Aubyn, also British, and offer some of the most powerful and best writing I’ve read in ages. He, too, was addicted to heroin, and one book in the series — impossibly grim — details his life in those years.

Can you read or watch — or enjoy — fictional or non-fictional characters who disgust and repel you?

Why “I hated it” doesn’t count as cultural criticism

In art, beauty, behavior, books, culture, design, film, photography on July 19, 2014 at 12:11 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Early this week, a Broadside reader — thank you!! — generously gave me a ticket to see Elena’s Aria, a work from 1984 by Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker at the Lincoln Center Festival, an annual event.

IMG_20140629_162728416

The auditorium was packed and I saw many dancers sitting around me, some leaning forward in their seats. The piece was an hour and 45 minutes in length, with no intermission and if you left, you would not be re-admitted.

Commit or else!

I didn’t hate it, but it was a challenging piece in a number of ways:

— It was really long

— It was very repetitive

— Much of it was performed in silence

— Much of it seemed to focus more on movement than pure dance

– It included black and white vintage film footage of buildings being dynamited to shards

I was very curious to read the New York Times’ review:

Made in 1984, it was her first dance to use spoken text and film. The program note describes it as a result of self-questioning, a search for a way forward. And on Sunday at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater, when it was performed in New York for the first time since 1987, that’s what it looked like: the work of a young artist who has hit an aesthetic wall and hasn’t yet discovered how to get past it…the overall impression of the work is less of emotional implosion than of expanding boredom. At the end, the women, seated in chairs, cross their legs and run their hands through their hair as part of a Mozart piano sonata plays…As drama, the dance cuts off empathy, but as these women fidget, you know exactly how they feel.

I’m glad I saw it, even if I didn’t love it. I was around the same as the choreographer in 1984 and, like her, had had some terrific early professional success. I remembered what that felt like.

I remember 1984.

I’ve only walked out of one play, as its themes were simply too painful for me personally. And I walked out of the terrifying film The Exorcist as I couldn’t take it.

Generally, I stick around. (Not a boring or poorly-done book. That takes up too much time!)

a5901V-cr

One reason is that I know what it takes to create a work of art or literature or dance or theater — usually years of training and rehearsal and guts and time and money and ideas and financial backing. Even if the result is atrocious, and it can be, it’s also the result, in many cases, of tremendous effort.

I don’t need to love everything I read, hear, see or listen to as long as there are some useful or intriguing ideas within it. Nor does it have to be quick or short.

It just has to make me think.

How about you?

How do you respond to art or cultural works that make you uneasy, uncomfortable or bored?

The (latest) book I just couldn’t finish…

In behavior, books, culture, journalism, Media on May 25, 2014 at 1:43 am

By Caitlin Kelly

 

photo(45)

Gah!

The fines alone for keeping this book out of library too long — I could have bought it.

And, too ironic, the title: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes.

It’s not even a very long book. I tried!

I just didn’t care about any of the characters. I didn’t find the plot, such as it was, compelling. Nor was the writing especially beautiful.

And it won the 2011 Booker Prize. Oh, well.

I just saw a friend’s post saying she couldn’t finish Donna Tartt’s latest, The Goldfinch.

I’ve tried several times to penetrate Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett and gave up.

Yet I am still slowly reading, and enjoying, Atonement by Ian McEwan, one of my favorite writers and recently (somewhat) enjoyed The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud.

I put off for years reading The Master and Margarita by Bulgakov, but couldn’t put it down and loved it.

What book(s) have you simply given up on halfway through — and why?

Moomins!

In books, children, culture, design on May 17, 2014 at 12:08 am

By Caitlin Kelly

IMG_20140509_113955449_HDR

In the interest of pure silliness, for those of you yet to meet them, here are the Moomins, a series of nine books by Finnish author Tove Jansson, published between 1945 and 1993.

The stories revolve around a large family of Moomins — who look a little like hippopotamuses — and their quirky friends and companions.

If you fly Finnair to Japan, your plane’s livery may sport Moomins; even the President of Finland has been seen wearing a Moomin watch.

Japan recently opened a cafe where you can — of course! – share a table with a very large stuffed Moomin.

Here’s a recent story from the Financial Times, reviewing two biographies of their creator:

It was only when the third volume in the series, Finn Family Moomintroll, came out three years later in 1948 that the Moomins begin their ascent to international fame. By the 1960s Jansson’s creation was manifesting as TV cartoons, stage plays and a bewildering range of licensed merchandise. There were picture books and also a widely syndicated newspaper strip, which Jansson wrote and drew herself before handing over responsibility to her younger brother Lars.

The Moomins remain big business. All the books are in print and sell healthily. The Finnish city of Turku boasts a theme park, Moomin World, where you can visit the characters’ houses and have your photograph taken with actors in costume. There is even a shop in London’s Covent Garden peddling nothing but what one might call “Moominery”.

The stories have also exerted an influence on many modern writers, for adults as well as children. Ali Smith, Jeanette Winterson and Maggie O’Farrell are self-professed Moomin fans. Philip Pullman has called Jansson a “genius”…

After I mentioned my Moomin-love to Jose, my husband bought me two Moomin books for Christmas, and this great mug, from which I drink my tea and coffee most days.

How can you feel gloomy with a Moomin in the house?

And guys — check it out! — there’s a 40 percent off sale this weekend at this site, with everything possible Moomin-related.

Do you (still) have a beloved children’s book or character in your life?

Readers — a decade later. This is why we write

In art, blogging, books, culture, journalism, life, Money, work on March 8, 2014 at 12:05 am

By Caitlin Kelly

A check arrived this week that left me so excited I burst into tears.

It wasn’t the amount on the check — $491.00 Canadian — but its source, a Canadian gift to authors called the Public Lending Right Program. If your books qualify, (only those published within the last 20 years), you can register your work and receive, in effect, a royalty paid out once a year for the public’s use of your books through Canadian libraries.

malled cover HIGH

The enrolment period is open now, until May 1. Maybe your works qualify!

I was also thrilled to receive a payment that didn’t feel covered with blood and sweat, the way so much of my work now does.

The publishing/journalism business today too often feels less like a creative endeavor than a protracted and wearying battle — rates remain low, publishers pay late and editors refuse to negotiate contracts that claw back 3/4 of your fee if  they decide they just don’t like your final product, even after multiple revisions.

One Canadian friend, with four books in the system, says she used to make a pretty penny from the sale of her intellectual property. A book’s advance, ideally, is only the first of an ongoing revenue stream from your work; with Malled, I also earned income from a CBS television option and multiple, well-paid speaking engagements.

Like most mid-list authors, I’ll never “earn out”, repaying my advance and earning royalties, so every bit of ancillary revenue from each book is very welcome.

Twenty-eight countries have a similar program to Canada’s, with Denmark leading the way in 1941.

Not, sorry to say, the United States.

It’s a sad fact that writers here are not considered successful unless they sell tens of thousands of copies of their books, a bar that very, very few of us will ever be able to clear. Not because our books are boring or poorly-written or sloppy. They’re too niche. They’re too controversial. They’re too challenging.

Or, more and more these days, with the closing of so many bookstores and newspaper book review sections, readers simply never discovered they even exist, which makes endless self-promotion even more necessary than ever.

Here’s a new website to help readers discover year-old books  — called backlist books, in the industry — they might have missed.

And another, focused on business books.

There’s a fascinating resource called WorldCat.org — do you know it? If you’re an author, you can search it to see where your books have ended up; mine are in libraries as far away as New Zealand and Hong Kong.  A friend once sent me a photo of three copies of my first book, Blown Away, on the shelf in a Las Vegas library. I felt like waving.

Measuring your worth and success as a writer solely by your financial income is unwise. But if you measure your books’ value by the number of readers reaching for them, even a decade after publication — as people clearly did with this statement, for my first book, Blown Away: American Women and Guns — you can enjoy a different sort of satisfaction.

That first book came out in April 2004, still finding readers. Certainly, gun use and violence in the United States is an ongoing issue  — I knew that when I chose my subject.

My second book, Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail came out April 2011 and in China last July. According to this PLR statement, it, too, is still being read; in this rough economy, many people have tumbled from well-paid jobs into low-wage, hourly labor.

Our books feel like dandelion seeds, something light and ethereal blown hopefully into the wind. Will they take root and bloom and spread, our ideas heard and discussed and maybe even remembered?

Beyond our sales figures, authors never really know who’s reading us.

Having proof of ongoing readership and influence?

Priceless.

Two great books I just finished reading — and you?

In books, culture, entertainment, life on February 7, 2014 at 1:05 am

By Caitlin Kelly

I very rarely read fiction, so it was a bit of luck that I recently found — in, of all places, on the book/magazine recycling shelf near our apartment building’s laundry room — two terrific novels.

books

“Cutting For Stone” is by physician Abraham Verghese, and I’d read the rapturous reviews and thought, not for me. It’s a long, winding tale of twin brothers born in Ethiopia and their lives. Both become doctors. I might never have bought this book, his first novel, or borrowed it from the library, but there it was — free for the taking.

I found many elements of the book compelling. He really knows, (and researched, as he included voluminous notes at the back), Ethiopia and its history and geography, so I felt literally transported. I’ve never been there and might never get there, so I enjoyed that.

His characters were clear, strong, sympathetic. He describes many medical situations in a way no one but a doctor could write so persuasively; I loved his insider story of his character’s training in a poor Bronx hospital, especially.

And I loved the cover image: mysterious, enticing, colorful.

The other book was “Tell the Wolves I’m Home”, by Carol Rifka Brunt.

RifkaBrunt_Tell-the-Wolves

I also loved its cover — that exotic teapot is important to the plot.

This one resonated for me on so many levels!

It’s told through the eyes of a 13 year-old girl and unravels a mystery about her beloved uncle who has recently died. I won’t give it away, but it’s a terrific read. She, like me, lives in a town in Westchester County, just north of New York City, so all the references registered for me as deeply familiar.

I also covered the AIDS crisis, as a newspaper reporter, as it unfolded in the mid 1980s in North America — the book is set in that time period and addresses that issue, and powerfully brings back what it felt like, then, to know people dying of it and how the world was reacting to them then.

The first book is about two brothers, once close, who become estranged for years; the second book is about two estranged sisters who move from hostility back to closeness.

(I was raised an only child so have no daily notion of what it’s like to live with siblings. One of books’ many gifts is bringing us into worlds we will never experience ourselves.)

I highly recommend both.

(Whoever is leaving those books downstairs absolutely shares my taste — I’ve also found and read The Dive From Clausen’s Pier and One Day, both of which I also really enjoyed. It feels like Christmas on that shelf!)

This New York Times review of the TDFCP praises what I also found extremely well-drawn — what it feels like to arrive in New York City knowing not a soul and re-inventing yourself.

I don’t read science fiction, romance, chick lit, horror or YA, but…

What have you read recently I should reach for next?

PLEASE SIGN UP FOR THIS WEEK’S WEBINARS:

LEARNING TO THINK LIKE A REPORTER; FEB. 8, 2PM EST

FINDING AND DEVELOPING STORY IDEAS, FEB. 9, 2PM EST.

DETAILS AND REGISTRATION HERE!

Questions? Please email me at learntowritebetter@gmail.com.

Are books — and their readers — an endangered species?

In business, culture, Media, work, journalism, books on January 11, 2014 at 9:58 pm

20131219120434By Caitlin Kelly

This recent piece in The New York Times makes sadly clear why the notion of producing a book — a dream for many — is becoming more of a fool’s errand:

Overall book sales have been anemic in recent years, declining 6 percent in the first half of 2013 alone. But the profits of publishers have remained largely intact; in the same period only one of what were then still the “big six” trade houses reported a decline on its bottom line. This is partly because of the higher margins on e-books. But it has also been achieved by publishers cutting costs, especially for mid-list titles.

The “mid-list” in trade publishing parlance is a bit like the middle class in American politics: Anything below it is rarely mentioned in polite company. It comprises pretty much all new titles that are not potential blockbusters. But it’s the space where interesting things happen in the book world, where the obscure or the offbeat can spring to prominence, where new writers can make their mark.

Budgets have been trimmed in various ways: Author advances, except for the biggest names, have slumped sharply since the 2008 financial crash, declining by more than half, according to one recent survey. It’s hard to imagine that the quality of manuscripts from writers who have been forced either to eat less or write faster isn’t deteriorating. Meanwhile, spending on editing and promotion has also been pared away.

As the author of two well-reviewed non-fiction books, both of which required national reporting, and as someone who would like to write more, I care a lot about whether new books get published, how much authors like me — yes, midlisters — get paid and when, and who, if anyone, will actually read our books.

malled cover HIGH

Without a book-seller to recommend my books or a reviewer to rave (one hopes!) about them, how will you — oh, elusive readers — find or choose us?

I gave up reading my “reviews” at amazon.com years ago as some ad hominem attacks were so nasty they left me shaking. I shudder to think how many potential readers I’ve lost thanks to the face-punches comments left there by people who take an unholy pleasure in savaging others.

Yes, be critical! Every ambitious writer needs to hear where we’ve failed to connect or persuade.

But don’t be vicious.

Professional reviewers know the difference between slicing with a scalpel and bludgeoning with a pick-axe. I’ve reviewed others’ books. I know the incredible trepidation with which any writer reads their reviews; one even wrote to me personally after I reviewed his book in The New York Times to take issue with my comments.

How do you decide which (if any!) books to read?

How many of you, as I still do, spend time in a favorite bookstore simply browsing covers and titles, old and new?

Do you briefly scan what’s on the front tables at your Barnes & Noble?

And did you know that the books there — some of them a decade old — arrive there not because B & N thinks they’re awesome but because publishers pay a fee to the bookstore for that placement?

With falling advances, writing is evermore dominated by people who don’t need it to earn a living: Tenured academics and celebrities spring to mind. For these groups, burnishing a résumé or marketing a brand is often as important as satisfying the reader.

This is a serious challenge for all but a tiny fraction of the truly fortunate — people whose combination of “platform” (i.e. millions of people eager to buy anything they write) and story attract a huge advance — like Allie Brosh, whose fantastic blog Hyperbole and a Half produced a book, published in October 2013, that is now a best-seller.

The rest of us will get an offer, after a few books, of anything from $15,000 to, (at best) $125 or $150,000, even that very rare, divided into four payments over two or three years; $12,000 or $8,000 or $5,000 a year is helpful, but no writer I know can live only on that income.

So we squeeze the important and reputation-building work of writing a book in between teaching others to write or bar-tending or cranking out copy on every other topic but that of our book, creating a competition between the work we hope will allow us to find new readers, terrific reviews, maybe an award or fellowship — and the work that puts gas in the car and food in the fridge.

We eke out excellence.

DON’T FORGET MY NEW SERIES OF 90-MINUTE SKYPE WEBINARS!

THEY START FEB. 1 WITH BETTER BLOGGING AND FEB. 2 WITH YOU, INC: THE BUSINESS OF FREELANCING.

DETAILS AND SIGN-UP HERE.

What (other) blogs are you reading? Recommendations, please!

In art, beauty, behavior, blogging, culture, design, education, entertainment, life, US, women on November 17, 2013 at 12:20 am

By Caitlin Kelly

I recently culled my list of blog subscriptions — from a fairly crazy 87 — to a still-unmanageable 46.

I enjoy blogs’ wide variety of voices and experiences. Many of my faves are written by women, some living overseas or in places I fantasize about — like the mountains of Colorado.

Now I’m looking for a few new ones to explore — so please give me some of your recommendations?

Some of the blogs I now read are purely or mostly visual — about art, interiors, design or photography — a refreshing break from words and also creatively inspiring. (I’m not as interested in traditional girly stuff like fashion , food, make-up, beauty or parenting as I am in design, ideas, history, urban life, labor, education, writing, work and relationships.)

The blogs named below are also visually appealing: they’ve chosen an attractive theme, use lots of photos and most of them consistently include useful links, all elements I really appreciate as a reader and have tried to do here for you as well.

They’re clearly written for an audience, and I’m glad they’re there.

Here are a few of my favorites:

The original Stumptown Coffee Roasters located...

The original Stumptown Coffee Roasters located at 45th and Division in Portland, Oregon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

{frolic}

This daily blog, written by Portland florist-turned-stylist Chelsea Fuss, is a charmer. She recently posted from her travels to Chile. The photos are lovely and she often includes multiple links to food, clothing, stationery and other items.

Small Dog Syndrome

It sounds odd to find and hire someone without ever meeting them, but Cadence Woodland, who writes this witty, worldly blog, became my assistant in January 2013 after I read her blog, loved it and knew she would be a terrific fit. She was then living in Utah and has since moved to London, so her recent posts are full of the joy and fear of looking for work and new friends in a new city. She manages to be both Mormon and feminist, an intriguing combination.

Éléments de costume pour bébé, France, XXIe si...

Éléments de costume pour bébé, France, XXIe siècle, présentation dans la devanture d’un magasin. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One quality, the finest

As a fellow Francophile Canadian living in the tri-state area (NY, NJ, CT), I really appreciate the spirit behind this lovely and informative blog, written by Patricia Gilbert, who teaches high school French. Every day, she highlights a French word, idiom or aspect of French culture, whether a current show in Paris or a singer or a painter. I have learned beaucoup from her blog. Like me, she also hopes to retire to France.

Looking at Glass

Another daily blog, written by another Patricia. I so enjoy her choices — every possible use of glass: in architecture, furniture, crafts.

Colorado Meadows

Colorado Meadows (Photo credit: QualityFrog)

Gin Getz

She’s currently in Patagonia, but usually lives in the mountains of Colorado. Her photos of the landscape there, often taken on horseback, are elemental, stark and beautiful.

Apartment Therapy

As someone obsessed with design — interior and exterior — I love this popular, super-fun and helpful blog. It’s exhaustive in its coverage, but whatever you’re looking for is likely in there somewhere. Despite the name, it’s not only about apartments, but addresses every issue of domestic life, and is also international. I like its focus on smaller, lower-budget homes, not blingy mega-mansions. It includes many photo renovation stories as well.

Under the counter or a flutter in the dovecot

The name alone! Writer Nigel Featherstone lives in a small cottage, with his chickens, in rural Australia. His work has a dreamy quality I always appreciate.

Mindful Stew

High school teacher Paul Barnwell lives in Kentucky, where he writes thoughtfully about a wide range of educational issues.

Fit and Feminist

Another athletic/feminist Caitlin! I really enjoy her take on women, our bodies, exercise, sports, fitness and body image.

Kristen Lamb’s blog

I’ve been reading her blog for a few years, even though it’s largely aimed at fiction writers and those who will likely self-publish. Kristen — who lives in Texas — is a pistol! She’s funny, blunt, personal and calls it as it is. I starred commenting fairly consistently on her posts, and one day (!) this fall my phone rang — and there she was! She invited me, on the basis of my own work and credentials, to teach a non-fiction class at her recent on-line conference, WANACON. I really enjoyed it, got good reviews and may do it again. Her blog, which has a stunning 29,000 followers, is helpful, smart and full of good cheer.

What are some of your favorite blogs?

What do you most enjoy about them?

Who are your favorite authors? A few of mine

In art, beauty, behavior, books, culture, education, entertainment, journalism on May 5, 2013 at 2:55 am

By Caitlin Kelly

The stack of books I’ve brought with me for a week’s rural vacation is nine high, from Joseph Stiglitz’ The Price of Inequality to Michel de Montaigne’s Travel Journal, from September 1580, during which the Pope greets him warmly and helps him become a Roman citizen.

On this journey, we are nestled at friends’ cottage in a cove on the Northern Neck of Virginia.

Time to read for pure pleasure!

I recently decided to finally read the Patrick Melrose novels by British writer Edward St. Aubyn. I’d heard and read so much about them and thought they just couldn’t be that great. But acerbic, cold-eyed, tart-tongued — they absolutely are.

They are not books for everyone! If you like shiny, happy stories about people deeply in love, optimistic and fulfilled, move on! His main character — a heroin-addicted hero, if you will in one of the novellas — is Patrick Melrose, wealthy, aristocratic, caustic. Sounds horrible. But so not.

This author knows his stuff inside out — the bitter, odd, deeply private behaviors of people with a lot of money and very deep secrets. Here’s an interview with him from 2006 from the British newspaper The Independent. And a Q and A from this year from The New York Times Book Review.

I also saw The English Patient, from 1996, on television again and felt in love once more with its creator, Canadian-Sri Lankan author Michael Ondaatje. His writing is exquisite, like entering a dream, so that when you put down the book again you almost have to shake yourself back into the room, here and now. I’ve so far only read two of his books, but loved both, In The Skin of a Lion, set in my home city of Toronto, and Divisadero, set in rural California. He has also written many books of poetry.

Michael Ondaatje, author of "The English ...

Michael Ondaatje, author of “The English Patient” speaks for the Tulane Great Writer Series presented by the Creative Writing Fund of the Department of English. Dixon Hall; October 25, 2010 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s an excerpt of an interview with Michael Ondaatje from Gulf Coast magazine.

I liked Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, (hated the next one), and Monica Ali‘s Brick Lane and Claire Messud‘s first book, The Last Life, (loathed The Emperor’s Children.)

If you have never read Alexandra Fuller, run! Don’t Lets Go To The Dogs Tonight is a beautifully written account of her growing up in Zimbabwe — as is Peter Godwin‘s When A Crocodile Eats The Sun.

Alexandra Fuller - We gaan niet naar de hel va...

Alexandra Fuller – We gaan niet naar de hel vannacht (Photo credit: Djumbo)

I realize my list is already heavily loaded with writers who are either British or partly educated there; many years ago, I loved the novels of Margaret Drabble and Nadine Gordimer as well.

I usually prefer non-fiction, and some of my favorites include the brutal but incredible war accounts, The Good Soldiers, by Pulitzer Prize winning American writer David Finkel and My War Gone By, I Miss It So, by Anthony Loyd; from amazon:

It is the story of the unspeakable terror and the visceral, ecstatic thrill of combat, and the lives and dreams laid to waste by the bloodiest conflict that Europe has witnessed since the Second World War.

Born into a distinguished military family, Loyd was raised on the stories of his ancestors’ exploits and grew up fascinated with war. Unsatisfied by a brief career in the British Army, he set out for the killing fields in Bosnia. It was there–in the midst of the roar of battle and the life-and-death struggle among the Serbs, Croatians, and Bosnian Muslims–that he would discover humanity at its worst and best. Profoundly shocking, poetic, and ultimately redemptive, this is an uncompromising look at the brutality of war and its terrifyingly seductive power.

Cover of "My War Gone By, I Miss it So"

Cover of My War Gone By, I Miss it So’

Here’s a longer list of my faves, from my website, with both fiction and non-fiction.

I don’t read chick lit, celebrity stuff, romance, horror or science fiction but am always on the hunt for great, lesser-known fiction, memoir, biography, history and belles lettres — maybe from 50 or 150 years ago.

Any suggestions from your bookshelf?

Libraries Matter!

In beauty, books, culture, design, news, urban life on March 29, 2012 at 1:48 am
English: A panorama of a research room taken a...

Image via Wikipedia

If you’ve never visited the magnificent 101-year-old library building at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 42d Street, the one whose wide entrance is guarded by two enormous stone lions, Patience and Fortitude, you’ve missed one of the world’s most beautiful spaces devoted to  books, reading and learning.

The library is going to get a $1 billion facelift thanks to British architect Norman Foster:

With the expansion the main branch will become the largest circulating library in the United States, Mr. Marx said, with publicly accessible stacks. “We need to provide the opportunity to browse for books at a time when bookstores are closing,” he said, adding that “scholars and researchers should be able to enjoy the serendipity of what they find on the shelf.”

But some patrons fear crowding at the main branch, where annual attendance is expected to rise to perhaps 4 million, from 1.5 million. “It won’t be O.K.,” said Donald Jones, 55, a Manhattan resident who uses the computers at the Mid-Manhattan branch several times a week. “One problem I already have is crowding with the computers.”

The plan also calls for turning second-floor offices in the main branch into workspace for as many as 400 writers and researchers and for keeping the library open until 11 some nights. (The latest it stays open now is 8 p.m. two days a week.) “We want this to be Writing Central for New York,” Mr. Marx said.

I confess, I haven’t spent a lot of time there, mostly because I work from home (as a writer) in our suburban apartment; I can’t justify the $15 trainfare and two lost hours commuting to go sit there, although it is truly a spectacular space.

I did spend a week or so there a few years ago working on a specific, fascinating and highly unusual research project for a fellow writer. He had discovered an amazing true story on a remote and distant Pacific island, Mangareva, about a crazy French priest who subjugated the natives and created a bizarre and highly punitive penal system using his own religious followers as his enforcers. Seriously.

My role? To translate original French documents — stored in Australia — into English so we could re-create and understand this story. It was utterly extraordinary. Reading the 150-year-old reports felt like opening a reporter’s notebook, so filled with specific details they were — from the narrow, muddy paths across the island to the huge piles of coconuts stacked aboard their vessel while in port. It was riveting reading and one of the most fun freelance jobs I’ve ever had.

Day after day, I’d settle into my seat at one of those long wooden tables in the glorious Rose reading room, my dictionary and laptop close at hand, disappearing for hours into a world thousands of miles away and decades distant. By day’s end, weary, I’d share my head, as if awakening from a delicious dream, walk down those wide marble steps and re-enter the riparian sidewalk on Fifth Avenue.

Here’s a fantastic trend already in 28 American states and worldwide, small boxes that resemble birdhouses or mailboxes called Little Free Libraries. The idea is to spread a love of books and community:

The idea has mushroomed.  Bol now encourages people to visit his website for suggestions on how to build their own library.

Today there are Little Free Libraries in at least 28 states and six countries including Ghana, Australia and Afghanistan. And people from more than a dozen other countries have expressed interest, Bol said.

On Bol’s website he offers suggestions on how to build the libraries and sells kits for a fee starting around $100. Money donated to his non-profit helps build libraries in needy communities and developing countries. The website says, “If you need help let us know.  Don’t let money get in the way.”

You can find the little libraries not just in front of homes, but also outside of health centers, coffee shops, bike paths, bus stops and store fronts.   People are encouraged to send in a picture of their library so it can be posted on the website.  In return they get a “Little Free Library. Take a Book, Return a Book” sign to post on what they’ve built, as well as a Little Free Library Charter number.

Do you have a Little Free Library near you?

Do you use (and love) your public libraries?

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 12,133 other followers