Saturday, December 18, 2010

Literary Mama : Blog : Blog Book Review: Chosen

Literary Mama : Blog : Blog Book Review: Chosen

Read my review of local author Chandra Hoffman's Chosen on Literary Mama's blog.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Local Event: Nicole Krauss - Great House

This Thursday, I joined Lynn Rosen's Sneak Peak class for Nicole Krauss's reading at the Central Library on the Parkway.  Everyone in Lynn's class has already finished reading the newly-released Great House, a fact that surprised even Krauss.  (The class reads advance review copies of soon-to-be-published books.)

I saw Nicole Krauss when she was touring for History of Love.  This time around she seems more comfortable in front of a crowd.   Instead of reading from Great House, Krauss read from something she had prepared about the making of the novel.  Not only was it an exercise that addressed one of her obsessions (memory), but it anticipated those how did you write this questions.  When the final proof of the book is at the publisher, she says, it's like a door is closed.  Locked.  And soon the writer herself begins to forget all that went into the making of the story, how it came to be, the decisions involved, the discarded ideas.  The door is closed and the writer has lost the key.

Great House started as the short story "The Young Painters" published in The New Yorker, in which a New York novelist works at a desk she inherited from a Chilean poet after he was disappeared.  A year after she finished the story she went back and asked, what would happen if the desk was taken away from the novelist?

She had three elements, three obsessions going in -- a desk, a shark and a reassembled room.  She knew there would be four voices and that in some way they were going to connect. There was no outline, no structure. 

Writing for Krauss resembles anthropologists searching for dinosaurs.  The crew start out following their intuition about where a dinosaur might have fallen.  They walk back and forth looking for a claw or a knuckle.  When they find something, they dig until they uncover the dinosaur they've been walking back and forth on top of all along.  That's her process.  Follow her obsession, her intuition, until she uncovers the story she's been walking on all along.

In listening to her describe her process.  You might think, oh this is too intellectual. There's no emotion. This sounds suspiciously like a plotless endeavor.   But you would be wrong.  Now, I haven't read Great House yet.  (The Sneak Peak class thoroughly endorses it.)  Her second novel, History of Love, is one of my all-time favorite novels.  The character of Leo Gursky is one of the most memorable and lovable people I have met.  As a woman in the audience confessed, she sees Leo in a coffee shop whenever someone spills something and thinks that person wants to be noticed.  Krauss's obsessions do meet up and create a novel you want to keep reading. 

If you missed this reading, look for the podcast.  It takes a bit for the library to get them up.  I just listened to Jonathan Franzen's reading and the quality of the recording is very good.  Of course it's not the same as being there and having the opportunity to ask a question if you are so moved, then standing in line to get your book signed and being a blithering idiot in front of your literary idol, but it's good.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Read Local: We're Always Reading In Philadelphia

Well the summer's over.  I wanted to take a moment to thank all of you for reading along and supporting local writers, especially in this lousy economy.  Over the past few weeks, I've received some feedback  about Philly Word of Mouth's Read Local that I want to share it with you.
There so much great talent in Philly - both writers and lawyers.   I know now that if I'd worked at Cozen O'Connor, I'd be a Pulitzer Prize winner. --John Grisham

Philly Word of Mouth is the absolute best.   This summer's Read Local reading list was 50% women.  That's 12% more representation than the New York Times.--Jodi Picoult

Amen, Sister! --Jennifer Weiner

Philly's Lit Scene rocks.  Brooklyn sucks.  We're moving.  What's the admission's number at The Philadelphia School? --Nicole Krauss and Jonathan Safran Foer

This summer's Read Local program was a boon to the local economy. Who knew!  When you buy local writers' books, they spend like they've never had money before.  The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board alone reported a 10% increase in revenue.
  --Mayor Michael Nutter

Even the undead read in Philly.  What a great town!  --Stephanie Meyer
Keep reading and sending your comments.  Remember the fall is the perfect time to catch up on your summer reading. 

Read Local!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Book review: 'Let's Take the Long Way Home' by Gail Caldwell -

Book review: 'Let's Take the Long Way Home' by Gail Caldwell -

If I'm not mistaken, Judith Klein is talking about the Lombard Swim Club:
One evening, I accidentally left the book behind on a chair at an upscale Philadelphia swim club famous for its copious open bar and hard-drinking regulars. To my considerable annoyance, it disappeared, and its fate remains unknown.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Stories sparkling with poetic vision | Philadelphia Inquirer | 08/29/2010

Stories sparkling with poetic vision | Philadelphia Inquirer | 08/29/2010

A review of Robin Black's If I loved you, I would tell you this. I love when the Inky recognizes brilliant local talent.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Read Local: Almost Home

Pam Jenoff became an international sensation with her first novel The Kommandant's Girl, an historic fiction set in Poland during WWII.  Readers wanted more and Jenoff delivered with The Diplomat's Wife, in which one of the Kommandant's supporting characters takes center stage.

Almost Home: A NovelWith her latest novel, she steps away from historic fiction to give us a present-day spy adventure.  It makes you wonder if there's anything Jenoff can't write.

In Almost Home, Jordan Weiss works for the State Department as an Intelligence Agent.  It's been ten years since she graduated from Cambridge, ten years since her fellow crew member and boyfriend Jared drowned in the River Cam.  She vowed never to return to England and has managed to avoid assignments there.  But when she learns that her dear friend is terminally-ill, she puts in for a transfer to England.

Weiss's assignment is to investigate the Albanian mob.  She's also contacted by an old college friend who was on crew with Jordan and Jared. He suspects Jared was murdered. 

Jordan's no damsel in distress.  She's been compared to Jason Bourne of the Bourne Identity.  They both have lots of action and international intrigue, but Jordan has a past that she remembers, a past that she must revisit to solve her case and to learn what really happened to Jared.

I really enjoyed Almost Home.  Up until the very end, I wasn't sure who was the good guy and who was the bad guy.  Jenoff's knowledge and love of London and Cambridge is obvious in that they are not merely backdrops, but essential characters in this mystery.

A Hidden Affair: A NovelWhat really happened to Jared?  No need to wait; the sequel A Hidden Affair has just been released.  These two books make for a great week of beach reading.  Just make sure there are lifeguards on the beach, because your kids are on their own.

Who should read this:  Anglophiles who love to read about dreary old England while on the sunny shores of Jersey.

Philly Shout Outs:  There are none, but it's nice to travel abroad.

Philly Street Cred:  Pam Jenoff teaches law at Rutgers University in Camden.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

'The Murder Room': Heads-up on 'heirs' of Sherlock Holmes

The Murder Room: The Heirs of Sherlock Holmes Gather to Solve the World's Most Perplexing Cold CasesThis book sounds fascinating.  The Vidocq Socety in Philadelphia, a group of world famous detectives and crime specialists, has been solving cold cases pro bono since 1990.  

Author Michael Capuzzo will be at the Borders on Broad Street next Thursday, August 19 at 12:30.

Read more in USA Today.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Mary Roach on The Daily Show

If you missed Mary Roach at the Central Library this Tuesday, check out this video.  Very funny.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Mary Roach
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

Pam Jenoff featured in The Inky!

Globe-trotting heroine from a local writer

Monday, August 2, 2010

Two "Read Local" Author Events This Thursday Night

Susan Abulhawa will be reading from Mornings in Jenin at the Big Blue Marble on Thursday, August 5 at 7PM.

Pam Jenoff will be reading from her brand new novel A Hidden Affair at the Free Library's Central Library on Thursday, August 5 at 7:30PM.  Great gig, Pam!

Both events are free.  Come out and support these exceptional local writers.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Robin Black on the shortlist for the Frank O'Connor Award

So exciting!! Let's hope Robin wins in September.  Still we're so proud.  Congrats.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Read Local: Philly Girls Rock in Broad Street

It's 1993 and Kit is dating Dale, the front man for a struggling Philly band.  Despite the band's lack of success, he's already mastered the rock star persona.  He knows how to amuse his groupies.  Kit and Dale break-up.  Kit is devastated.  On her first post-Dale outing, she meets Margo, a woman who also dates a musician with similar skills.  After many martinis and the revelation that they're in the same situation, they decide (no, not to open a bar together but) to start a band together.
"You know," Margo said, "these people work in comic book stores and coffee shops and they feel so superior to people like us who have the nerve to get a nine-to-five job."  She shook her head in disgust.  "Just because they can wear an eyebrow ring to work they think they're fucking artists.  What gives them the corner on creativity?"
Kit and Margo do start a band; they get gigs; they're on the cover of the City Paper.  They experience more success than the old boyfriends' bands do, and faster too.  You know what they say: success is the best revenge.  But along the way, Kit stumbles--a lot.  Being single for the first time in years and being in a band gives her more and more opportunities to make bad decisions.  Sex, drugs, and rock and roll bad decisions.   As the band’s reputation grows, so does Kit's.  You start to wonder if this whole band thing was a bad idea.

I have to admit I wasn't expecting Broad Street to be as racy as it is.  What fun to vicariously experience all-nighters and one-night stands and wake up refreshed and guiltless in the morning! 

Kit and Margo develop a true friendship through some trial and error as they search for a reliable drummer and wonder what they really want out of this. Weiser captures the drama of putting an all girl band together in the mid-90s.  Here's a taste of Broad Street's feminist rock lyrics from "Slander You":

You go cruising down the Jersey shore,
Getting lucky with the local whores,
I don't care if what they say is true,
I just feel the need to slander you.

According to Weiser, she's putting the finishing touches on the sequel.  I'll keep you posted.  Until then try to catch her band The Tights playing a local gig.  Perhaps if you buy her a drink, she'll give you a hint as to what happens next.

Broad StreetWho should read this:  If you dated someone in the mid-90s who thought he/she was all that and a bag of chips.

Philly Shout Outs:  The Khyber, the Trocadero, Bacchanal's, Tower Records, Philly Record Exchange, Electric Love Muffin, etc.

Philly Cred:  Weiser and Carla Spataro are co-publishers of Philadelphia Stories literary magazine, PS Books, and they organize the annual "Push-to-Publish" Writing Conference, and the Writers Retreat at Rosemont College, etc.

Next up:  Mornings in Jenin.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Local Event: Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Goon Squad

Jennifer Egan's latest book, A Visit from the Goon Squad, is a collection of stories that revolve around the record industry.  There's even an A side and a B side.

At the Central Library, Egan read the first chapter "Found Objects." Sasha is a kleptomaniac out on a date.  In the hotel restaurant's bathroom, she discovers an open purse on the floor, a green wallet waiting to be taken.  As we follow Sasha through her date and robbery, we travel between this night and sessions with her therapist, Coz.

It began the usual way, in the bathroom of the Lassimo Hotel.  Sasha was adjusting her yellow eye shadow in the mirror when she noticed a bag on the floor beside the sink that must have belonged to the woman whose peeing she could faintly hear through the vaultlike door of a toilet stall.  Inside the rim of the bag, barely visible, was a wallet made of pale green leather.  It was easy for Sasha to recognize, looking back, that the peeing woman's blind trust had provoked her:  We live in a city where people will steal the hair off your head if you give them half a chance, but you leave your stuff lying in plain sight and expect it to be waiting for you when you come back?  It made her want to teach the woman a lesson.  But this wish only camouflaged the deeper feeling Sasha always had:  that fat, tender wallet, offering itself to her hand -- it seemed so dull, so life-as-usual to just leave it there rather than seize the moment, accept the challenge, take the leap, fly the coop, throw caution to the wind, live dangerously ("I get it," Coz, her therapist, said), and take the fucking thing.
And that's where the novel began for Egan.  With a wallet in the bathroom.   One evening she was having dinner with her mother at a hotel restaurant in NYC and went into the bathroom to discover a very vulnerable wallet.  Except Egan didn't steal it.  At first, she sympathize with the unknowing woman in the bathroom stall, having been the victim of many such crimes.  It set her to thinking about what kind of person would be tempted to take it.  At this point, Egan was researching a novel about women who worked at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, but she decided that the next morning she would write about this person.  That led to Sasha who led to Bernie Salazer who led to a cast of characters who move from the background to the foreground in different stories.  (I wonder if we'll ever see that other book.)

Egan sites two inspirations while writing the Goon Squad.  Proust for his obsession with time and "The Sopranos" for two reasons.  The characters are cliches in public, but are nuanced in private, and the characters go from being peripheral characters in one episode to central characters in another.

So she would follow different characters and explore beyond the cliche.  It was an exciting process, complete lawlessness as she hand-wrote story after story.  Then she typed them up, printed them out, and developed some self-defined rules.  In the end she stuck with three:
  1. Each piece had to stand on its own.  They could not lean on each other; they could only enhance each other.
  2. The collection had to have an extreme range of tone.  
  3. There could be no overlap in the stories.  Each piece had to be unique.
I love the way Jennifer Egan's mind works, her layering, her weaving.  As a writer, I find her inspirational.  When The Keep came out I gave it to everyone.  (Although I loaned my copy to someone.  Whoever that is, can I have it back?)  It's one of my favorite books of all time.

Even though I'm excited to read A Visit from the Goon Squad, I'll have to wait to the fall.  Egan's not local, even if she is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and confesses that she occasionally tries to convince her husband to move here--unsuccessfully.

Check out her groovy website.

A Visit from the Goon Squad

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Local Author Gets a Nod From Oprah

If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This: StoriesCongratulations to local author Robin Black.  Her debut collection of stories If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This is on O Magazine's Summer Reading List.

I might have to add this to our Read Local Summer Reading List.  Has anyone read it?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Summer Plans: Stay Local, Eat Local, Read Local

This summer I'm planning on staying local.  So I'll be spending a lot of time in the pool with my children climbing all over me.  When I do get some time to enjoy peace under the sun poolside, I'll be reading local Philadelphia writers.  

Perhaps I'll even run into other writers staying local and shopping at the local farmer's market.  I'd like to say that I'm a foodie who cooks with fresh seasonal ingredients, but I'm not.  That's my husband.  I go to the farmers market for the Apple Cider Donuts. Yum.  Although I can tell you that when figs are in season, wrap them in some prosciutto and Viola!  Perfection.  A recipe even I can handle.

So this is the pile of local writers on my nightstand right now:

You'll recognize some of the names from previous post about readings.  Now that school is out and my book tour has slowed down, I have time to catch up on my reading.  Let me know who your favorite Philly writers are.

I'm starting with Broad Street - an all girl band in the early 90s.  Ah, that'll bring back lots of memories.  Look for me by the pool.  And Read Local this summer.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Susan Abulhawa, Mornings in Jenin

Finally, I went to a reading at a coffee house.  Really, it seems like they should happen more often.  The Philadelphia Java Company (518 S. 4th Street) and Head House Books co-hosted a reading by Susan Abulhawa, the author of Mornings in Jenin.

In his introduction, Richard Holmes, owner of Head House Books, said that it was his mother-in-law who first discovered Mornings in Jenin in a London airport.  She loved it and gave it to her daughter to read.  Her daughter gave it to everyone to read including Richard.  The book has been selling twice as many copies as any other book at HHB, because the staff can't stop talking about it.

Susan Abulhawa talked about how she came to write the book.  She spoke about Palestinians leaving their homes in 1948, believing it was temporary, merely packing a bag for a few days away.  Jewish refugees who arrived from Europe, Russia, America, etc. walked into fully furnished homes - family pictures hung on the wall, fruit bowls still overflowed on the kitchen table.

That image hung in my mind.  What could have been going through the Jewish settlers' minds?  They have survived through horror, traveled miles and miles to live in peace.  But when they walked into these homes, didn't they think of who they were replacing?  Did they feel justified because someone had done the same to their homes?

But Mornings in Jenin is not about the Jewish refugees.  It is unapologetically the Palestinian story.

Some have criticized Abulhawa for being biased or unbalanced in her portrayal of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. In her opinion, Palestinians have been made to pay for the sins of the West. Edward Said, she said, believed that the story of the Palestinians isn't heard because they are victims of history’s greatest victims: the Jews.

Abulhawa didn't start out to become a novelist.  A combination of things happened.  First she traveled to Jenin in 2002 following the 9 day massacre.  She arrived just as the camp was opened.  For two weeks, no one including the press and human rights organizations had been allowed entry.  What she saw there and the stories she heard deeply affected her.

Second, shortly after she returned from Jenin, she was laid off from her job.  Her experience inspired her to write create a multi-generational novel about one Palestinian family's experience.  She spent four years writing Mornings in Jenin.  What started out as a story of two brothers separated in 1948, one being raised Palestinian and the other raised Israeli - a story to illustrate a history of a people- became a very personal story of one family. Abulhawa's characters came alive to her and were no longer symbols of a struggle.

She read two passages from her novel.  In this sweet scene, five-year-old Amal sits with her father (Baba).
     I could hear the turbulence inside Baba's chest, the protests of his lungs against each inhalation of honey apple tobacco.
     "Baba, who do you love more, me or Yousef?"
     "Habibti," he began.  I couldn't help but smile when he called me that.  "I love you both the same," he said.
     "How big do you love me?"
     "I love you as big as the ocean and all its fishes.  As big as the sky and all its birds.  As big as the earth and all her trees."
     "What about the universe and all its planets? You forgot that part."
     "I was getting to it. Be patient," he said, puffing on his pipe.  He exhaled, "And I love you bigger than the universe and all its planets."
     "Do you love Yousef that much?"
     "Yes.  As big as the ocean . . . but without all the fishes."
     My heart grew with all the fishes, the idea that Baba loved me just a little more.  "What about the sky and earth?  Do you love him that big but without all the birds and the trees?"
     "Yes.  But don't tell anyone."
     "I won't, Baba, I swear."  My heart swelled with the birds now.  "What about the universe part?"
     "Don't be greedy." He winked at me.  "I have to get to work, habibti.  Tomorrow."
     Habibti. Tomorrow.
Mornings in Jenin: A NovelSusan Abulhawa founded the organization Playgrounds for Palestine. Visit the website if you want to help.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

I Have Been Remiss

I have been remiss in updating the blog, and I must admit it has been for selfish reasons.  For the past few months, I have been busy giving readings instead of attending them.

Having your book published is a  tremendous event in one's life.  Having your book published is embarking on a new career--one that you have not spent years toiling away at in solitude.  You must go out and sell your book.

My book was published by a small press and had no bookstore distribution.  In other words, my book was only in bookstores where I or someone who liked my book convinced the buyer to put it on the shelf. 

This is not a posting of complaint.  It is a posting of gratitude for those people -- friends, acquaintances, and strangers -- who made a difference by getting When Love Was Clean Underwear into bookstores so that readers could stumble upon it.

Oddly enough, it was Barnes and Noble that gave me my first bookstore breaks.  Their store in Plymouth Meeting was the first to carry my book and I owe this to a stranger.  Fellow author Gus Cileone and I briefly met at the Montgomery County Community College Writers Conference last November.  After that Gus persuaded his local B&N to carry my book. Later the Community Relations Manager Chris Broome contacted me about participating in their Read Local Books series.

My second B&N success I owe to Tim Clancy (not Tom), a neighbor, who read my book and made sure it was stocked in the Rittenhouse store.  He was also helpful in scheduling a reading there.  Over sixty people came and my books sold out.  

I was at the Big Big Marble as part of their Writers and the Process Series thanks to the encouragement of my friend Don Gordon.  It was a lovely evening hosted by Minter Krozter.  There, I spoke to aspiring writers who attend writing workshops at the bookstore lead by Minter or her husband poet Hal Sirowitz.

I also owe my publicist Becky Kraemer a big debt.  The day she took me on as a client things fell into place.  Thank God she has a thing for fledgling authors wandering the marketing landscape without a clue.  Without all the local press, I wouldn't have had so many opportunities, like the chance to meet Debbie Rech and read at Head House Books.

My sister Mary Barr Mann set me up at Words in Maplewood, NJ where I met half the town.  Afterwards I hung out and we had drinks a few doors down.  A great evening.  I plan to write more books so I can go back there.

I've learned a lot over the past months.  In the future, when opportunities arise I'll have more ways of spreading the word about books I love.

Friday, April 16, 2010

This Weekend

Book it at the Free Library Festival | Philadelphia Inquirer | 04/16/2010

Check out the line up for this weekend's Festival. Lots of local talent too!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Novels she wrote, in Philadelphia | Philadelphia Inquirer | 04/15/2010

Novels she wrote, in Philadelphia | Philadelphia Inquirer | 04/15/2010

Check out Diana Marder's article on the local lit scene -- Susan Abulhawa, Robin Black, Joanne Dahme, Ru Freeman, Pam Jenoff, Ligia Rave and yours truly!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Everything Is Wrong With Me » Buy the Book

Everything Is Wrong With Me » Buy the Book
Everything Is Wrong with Me: A Memoir of an American Childhood Gone, Well, Wrong
I don't know this writer, but took an interest because my mother's maiden name is Mulgrew. He's giving a reading at Barnes & Noble - Rittenhouse on April 8 at 6PM. Check out the blurbs for his book. They're really funny.

CP Fiction/Poetry reading — next Wednesday @ Tin Angel :: The Clog :: Blog Archive :: Staff Blog :: Philadelphia City Paper

CP Fiction/Poetry reading — next Wednesday @ Tin Angel :: The Clog :: Blog Archive :: Staff Blog :: Philadelphia City Paper

Elise Juska will be reading. She's a fabulous writer.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Colson Whitehead Finalist for PEN/Faulkner Award

I'm starting to think I might be good luck for writers!

PEN/Faulkner Award Finalists Annouced

Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Books by Sherman Alexie, Barbara Kingsolver, Lorraine M. López, Lorrie Moore and Colson Whitehead are finalists for the 2010 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, the PEN/Faulkner Foundation announced Tuesday.

Alexie's short-story collection "War Dances" and Kingsolver's historical novel "The Lacuna" are in contention for the $15,000 prize along with López's "Homicide Survivors Picnic and Other Stories," Moore's "A Gate at the Stairs" and Whitehead's "Sag Harbor."

The winner of the award, the country's largest peer-juried prize for fiction, will be named March 23.

Judges considered nearly 350 entries -- all novels and short-story collections by American authors published in 2009.

Last year's winner, "Netherland" by Joseph O'Neill, was rushed into paperback after President Obama mentioned it in a newspaper interview. Having tired of briefing books, Obama said, he had taken respite in O'Neill's tale of cricket and friendship in post-9/11 New York City.

As each year's winner is thought of as "first among equals," all five finalists will be honored May 8 at an award ceremony at the Folger Shakespeare Library. Each runner-up will receive $5,000.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010