Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Favorite books

This is a nice little site about celebrities' (actors, writers, etc.) favorite books as children. Some of the celebrities are more interesting than others; I liked Joyce Carol Oates's explanation of why she loved Lewis Carroll's Alice adventures. Of course, the more important part of First Book is that it encourages young people to read. More specifically, the organization gives books to children from low-income families. If I recall correctly, I interviewed the founder of this organization, back when I worked for a national trade journal about nonprofit organizations. I've not really kept up with them, but they seem to have done ok.

What was your favorite book growing up?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Ok, America. Open Your Books to Page 1

Here's a summer horror story that's sure to curdle the blood of any book vampire. According to the Associated Press, the median number of books read by Americans in a year is four. And 25 percent of Americans didn't read a single book in the past year. As someone who averages four or five books a month, I find this kind of scary.

I'm lucky; I don't have to drive to work anymore. Before I started commuting on the train two years ago, I probably read ten to twelve books a year. While my commute is significantly longer each day than it was when I still worked in New Jersey, I'm sitting on a train for nearly all of my commute; drive time is never more than 10-15 minutes -- usually less than that.

Enough about me. The people who don't read tend to be less educated than the readers. That makes sense, of course. Those with strong high school and college training generally have learned the value of reading, and books are an important part of one's education. I thought it was interesting that Democrats and liberals tend to read slightly more than Republicans, because it makes no sense. There is no reason why a political affiliation should make any difference by itself.

But while some people don't read at all, others are more voracious readers than I am. One of the women interviewed for the story said she read seventy books a year, which is about 1.4 books per week. Yet, she also said she sometimes gets the stories mixed up.

As someone who occasionally has three books going simultaneously (train reading, bed reading, bathroom reading), I can understand how important it is to keep the type of book varied. Fiction, nonfiction, plays, poetry, science. Keep a steady diet of intelligent discourse for your brain. Mix in a little romance or fantasy or just plain crappy literature every once in a while for dessert. But whatever you do, America, read more!

I want you all ready for when my novels come out :-)

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Fancy Nancy Grows Up

Any children's writer who can dabble in adult literature and joke about genitalia sounds ok to me. Jane O'Connor is the author of the "Fancy Nancy" books; I've never read them, but hopefully in about four or five years, I will. Her first adult novel, Dangerous Admissions, is in paperback and the New York Times' review says it's not too bad. Actually, Chelsea Cain said it started awkwardly but eventually gets rolling into a nice little murder mystery. But perhaps Cain is unable to resist a murder mystery in which grammar features as a clue to the killer's identity.

"Grammarians, rejoice. You finally have your own sleuth," she writes.

O'Connor's protagonist is a freelance copy editor named Rannie, who lost her job at Simon and Schuster because she omitted the "L" from the title of a Nancy Drew mystery: The Secret of the Old Clock. As an editor who has been mortified to discover the same omission from the word "public" (spell check doesn't save you from that embarassment, folks -- not that real editors use spell check), I can relate to the character immediately.

Cain's review, however, leaves the reader wondering what happens in the book. Apparently the SWAK killer is terrorizing the Upper West Side, but I have no clue why we should believe a copy-editor who volunteers as a tour guide at her son's private school is an able gumshoe. I like the idea of the character, but I'll need a bit more to go on than that to plunk down $14 for a paperback. I'll wait for the garage sale.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Win at Math

Danica McKellar, who is most famous for playing Winnie Cooper in the Wonder Years, has become an author, but her book isn't about acting or life in Hollywood. McKellar graduated from UCLA with a degree in mathematics and has had a theorem that she co-wrote published in academic literature. I've never met the author of Math Doesn't Suck, but I'd love to buy her a drink and talk to her about Euler, Pascal, and irrational numbers. Oh yeah, and ask what she was thinking when she decided to do Path of Destruction.

I'm actually impressed by the amount of work she's done other than Wonder Years, and she's started to get writing and producing credits. Clearly, she's a smart woman, and I hope she'll be a notable player in the industry -- and possibly also in writing more books -- for many years.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Historic Women

Though I'm neither historic nor a woman, I thought I'd pass this along. It's the press release about the 28th annual Kentucky Women Writers Conference, which brings internationally renowned women writers to central Kentucky every year. It is returning to downtown Lexington, Kentucky, Sept. 27-29. Begun in 1979, the Kentucky Women Writers Conference is the longest-running event of its kind and will feature poets, novelists, journalists, publishers, children’s authors, a playwright, a sportswriter, and a filmmaker.

The Kentucky Women Writers Conference remains a premier destination for women writers at all stages of development -- published and unpublished -- and the festival of free events gathers a lively community of readers. The event is known as a forum that presents discussion on the craft and process of writing.

This year's conference has a new director, Julie Kuzneski Wrinn, a former president of its advisory board. Wrinn’s background is in book publishing, and during a decade in that business in Washington, D.C., she edited some of Kentucky’s most beloved authors, including Wendell Berry, Ed McClanahan and the late Guy Davenport.

"Arriving in Lexington and already knowing these eminent Kentuckians was a happy coincidence for me," Wrinn said. "And after five years of residing in the Bluegrass, I better understand the rich sense of place that inspires its many artists. Few states can claim such a thriving community of working writers as Kentucky."

Featured presenters during this weekend-long event include:
Nickole Brown, poet and marketing director at Sarabande Books;
Lee Byrd, novelist, children's author and founder of Cinco Puntos Press;
Nathalie Handal, poet and playwright (pictured above);
Sally Jenkins, Washington Post sportswriter and author of eight books;
Sedika Mojadidi, documentary filmmaker;
Jessica Care Moore, poet, publisher and creator of SPOKEN! on the Black Family Channel;
Naomi Shihab Nye, poet and author of over 20 books;
Helen Oyeyemi, 23-year-old British-Nigerian novelist;
Ann Pancake, a fiction writer whose forthcoming first novel concerns mountaintop removal; and
Michelle Slatalla, New York Times columnist and author of the Eastern Kentucky memoir, "The Town on Beaver Creek."

Wrinn is excited with this year's presenters, which continues the conference's tradition of bringing a diverse selection of writers to the Bluegrass. “A hallmark of the Women Writers Conference is the diversity of our line-up. We feature a core group of writers—Nickole Brown, Ann Pancake and Michelle Slatalla—whose work shares an Appalachian heritage, while our other seven writers encompass a remarkable range of ethnicities and literary genres," said Wrinn. "This attracts a diverse audience too—readers as well as writers, men as well as women—and allows us to engage issues of feminism and social justice from a global perspective.”

The conference, which is made possible in part by presenting sponsor, the University of Kentucky, and several continued community partnerships, is host to a series of free events beginning Sept. 27 with a screening of the documentary feature, "Motherland Afghanistan," followed by a discussion with its filmmaker. On Saturday, the conference presents a free reading by children’s author and bilingual publisher Lee Byrd, who will discuss how a book is made. Later that evening the public is invited to a presentation by keynote speaker Naomi Shihab Nye, an award-winning poet and essayist.

To register for the conference, view its details, or learn more about its presenters, visit

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Fellow Travelers

This book, 1,000 Places to See Before You Die, looks like a fun read. Yes, I'm behind the times, especially when it comes to travel books, but the CNN article about Patricia Schultz made me think that I might actually enjoy putting down one of the works of fiction I recently acquired and do a little travel reading.

However, it's hard to believe she's actually visited 80 percent of the places she writes about -- there's only so much time in a day and days in a year to actually accomplish that with enough enjoyment to describe a place fairly and accurately. Do the math. If I were to visit 800 places that I "must see before I die," I would insist on spending at least one day in each. That's more than two years in these places. Tough publishing schedule, if you ask me.

Even if she squeezes Trenton and Camden, New Jersey, into the same day, she still needs time for Philadelphia.

Be that as it may, I'd pick up the book if I happened into the Strand Bookstore. Now that's a place I'd spend a day in!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Gotta Be in It to Win It

I don't know that "Forrest Gump wins the lottery" works for me as a pitch. Call me crazy, but I think he already had won the lottery. He had enough money that he didn't have to worry about it (which is nice, because it's one less thing), had earned the love of a beautiful woman, and had fathered a child who loved him.

I realize it's a pitch, and Patricia Wood, in Lottery, her first published novel, wasn't writing about the fictional character Forrest Gump but creating her own -- based somewhat on her own family circumstances. I'm happy for her to have received a nice advance after struggling with novels that for whatever reason didn't make the grade. And I like the closing quote in the USA Today story: "I never in a million years would have predicted where I would be now. But there's an inevitableness about it. There's this strange familiarity I am where I belong."

Here's to another writer belonging.