Thursday, August 23, 2012

An English Author

Ian McEwan has a new book entitled Sweet Tooth. Well, it will be out in the US in October. I happen to have a signed British first edition in my possession as I write this. I have to admit I haven't read it yet. But everything I've heard leads me to believe I am going to enjoy it.

On Tuesday evening Ian Rankin answered questions about his fictional character John Rebus. (Rankin has been writing about Rebus for twenty-five years.) The conversation between Rankin and the moderator was so funny. It was as if they were discussing an old friend. Clearly the audience felt that way. They practically gave Rankin a standing ovation when he announced that Rebus would be making a comeback in his new book after retiring in the character in the book Exit Music in 2007. The new book will be called Standing In Another Man's Grave and will come out sometime in 2013.

This week has been such an amazing experience. The Edinburgh festival is really an intimate gathering of enthusiastic readers and writers who want to meet them. It's encouraging to see how these interactions play out, not only in book sales, but also in true appreciation of audience and writer alike. I leave Edinburgh Saturday morning for London. Although I am looking forward to that part of the trip,  I'll be a bit sad to leave the book festival and all of the great writers behind. It's been such fun. Now all I have to do is find the time to read the books that I've purchased.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Mole Breeches Magnificently

China Mieville is not a household name. Well, he's much admired in my household but that's beside the point. Mieville's writing is creative, masterful and yes, at times, weird. His imagination seems to know no bounds. He can be challenging to read, but who doesn't like a challenge in their life every now and then?

Last evening in Edinburgh Mieville answered questions about his inspirations (he includes a list of writers who inspire him in the back of every book), where his ideas come from, what jokes make him laugh, why he writes for both adults and young people and if one of his books ripped off Ulysses. He did so with charm, humor and a warm earnestness that was impressive given that he has answered these questions so many times before.  

Mieville's talk focused on his latest book Railsea, an unusual take on Moby Dick if there ever was one.  It's written for young adult reader's because, according to Mieville, when he was developing the story he imagined telling it to his 10 year old self. The voice in his head imagined a younger version of himself becoming immersed in the story in a way his adult self was unable to.  

He's very articulate about his writing, particularly how prolific he has been over the past 5 years. It was  such a joy to see him at the festival. I'll be thinking about his talk for a long time to come.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Anne Enright is brilliant. Her books are well worth reading, but more importantly for this week, she is engaging in person.  Her reading today at the festival focused on her newest novel The Forgotten Waltz.  She spoke passionately and intelligently about the Irish economy, Irish morals and the state of marriage.  If this is the example of what authors have to offer at the festival, I am in for a fantastic week!!  

There is an energy here that is hard to describe. Walking into Charlotte Square where the Book Festival takes place is like being transported to a world of thoughts and words conveyed through writing.  It's intimate and international, crowded yet personal.  As you can surmise, it's hard to explain.  I'll try to do better as the week goes on.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Confessions of a Serial Book Juggler

Most nights, there is barely enough room in my bed for me to sleep. As I brush my teeth each evening, I’m forced to decide which bedmate I can boot to the floor (or, occasionally, my inadequately tiny bookshelf). The excuses pile up in my head like lines I would use to blow off last-minute plans: “Don’t worry, Jonathan Safran Foer, I’ll get to you soon!” “Alice Munro, you know I love your short stories, but I really need to focus on this memoir right now.”

It’s the apology-ridden language of an addict, only for me, the substance in question is less dangerous (depending on who you ask, at least) than drugs or alcohol: I’m a serial book-juggler, and despite my best efforts, I’ll probably always be one.

So what is a serial book-juggler, you ask? In the simplest terms, it’s someone who bounces back and forth between several books at a time, reading a chapter or two here and then abandoning the novel for a few weeks in favor of some other, attention-grabbing read. More complicated, for me at least, is the way these books feel like planets orbiting my life. In my car: three titles, one of which has been riding shotgun for the past two weeks, glaring back at me like a neglected puppy. In my living room: a neat little stack that my roommates have collected, through which they mean to say “Quit leaving books in the living room.” In my bed: well, let’s just not go there. The cat that once nestled next to my feet has been replaced with a hardcover copy of the Aeneid and a few copies of The New Yorker.

There’s an upside, if you’re the type to find silver linings. On the few occasions when some sneaky friend manages to get inside my room (usually, it’s so messy I bark out a quick, “Don’t come in!” and close the door), I seem like a very literary person. There have been plenty of times when an acquaintance has mentioned Elizabeth Bishop and I’ve said, “Oh, borrow my copy!” It’s a way to make friends, and then lose them very quickly when they realize that you’ll forgo social outings so you can save up for that new issue of McSweeney’s or whatever.

I’m not proud of it. It takes me ages to finish any one thing, unless that one thing happens to meet that perfect confluence of time/place/interests. I’ve been reading Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison for months, yet picked up the previously mentioned Paris I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down and gobbled it up in three days flat. Currently, I’m forsaking Don DeLillo’s The Names, a collection of indie short stories, and an MFA application guide in favor of an advance reader copy of a goth-themed YA novel.  

When I feel guilty or strange about my addiction to starting books, to juggling them all at once, the Pollyanna side of me says that these heaps of paper are like friends. With every relationship, there’s a cycle. Your best friends never leave – I pick up Bishop’s complete poems a few times a month. Sometimes, you make new ones. Sometimes, a connection fades, only to come back stronger when the seasons or your perspective changes. Other times, you just don’t jell. And you know what? That’s ok. Nobody likes everyone, and not everyone likes you. Sometimes your friends are hip, and sometimes they’re embarrassingly loud or geeky (Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, for my part).

I probably won’t change my ways. There are plenty like me out there, brows furrowing as they shove aside stacks on their bed each night. We are a secret union, this type, and when all the e-readers in the world go on the fritz, we’ll be there to lend you a copy of our favorite poems.

Friday, August 10, 2012

In Search of Jackson Brodie's Apartment

Tomorrow the 2012 Edinburgh International Book Festival begins in Edinburgh, Scotland.  Browsing the program is like reading the Who's Who of UK literary royalty - Pat Barker, Roddy Doyle, Ian McEwan and Ann Enright.  Not to mention the North American, South American and other writers that appear on the list of 800 authors that will be appearing across the next two weeks.  It's bound to be an exciting event.

Oh, did I not mention that I'm going?  I leave one week from today.  Tickets are in hand to some big names who will be reading while I'm there.  Could there be an event in the world that would be more tempting?  Not for me.

While I'm there I am in search of the wonderful apartment Kate Atkinson's main character Jackson Brodie occupies in the PBS series Case Histories.  I covet that place - former garage doors that act as a wall that can be opened to the outside!  I suggest reading the Jackson Brody series by Kate Atkinson.  The TV series doesn't depict the subtlety with which Atkinson draws our hero.

Check in on the blog.  There will be pictures and tales of the adventure to come.

Cheerio!  Ta Ta! Tarah!

Expat Lit: Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Rosecrans Baldwin disent "il ne faut pas pousser mémé dans les orties"

Alright. Confession time: I love France. I love Proust, I love croissants, I love Francoise Hardy. I love Midnight in Paris and the way the French can’t pronounce hard h’s. There are even a few real live French people I happen to like quite a bit that I met during my time at UNC. 

It’s weird, I know. I hope that you can still respect me, at least a little bit.

By virtue of my interests, it follows that I also really like books about France, especially those written by folks who (like me) weren’t born with the “je ne sais quoi” but have to trek over and put in some time abroad to earn it. There are three people I’ve read during my twenty-something years on the planet that have chronicled this search for baguettes and the right striped shirt quite aptly: Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Rosecrans Baldwin.

You might have just read those first two names, waved your hand dismissively at your computer screen and said, “Wow, Linnie, really obscure picks you’ve got there.” But bear with me. I’m going to try to get to the root of why these two famous expats and one less-famous expat have been so successful at chronicling life abroad where others have failed. Really failed –gag-inducing-Cinderella’s-castle-portraits-of-Paris failure. I’ve picked up certain books, gotten halfway through, and then wanted to chuck them out a window when the description of a stranger on the metro seemed eerily similar, in its voyeurism and sap, to a passage from 50 Shades of Gray

Thankfully, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Baldwin spare you the saccharine, the superfluous.  In A Moveable Feast, you get typical Hemingway: spare, sparse prose that might seem dry for an instant, then wallops you over the head with its beautiful phrasing and wordplay when you aren’t looking. Hemingway’s style works perfectly in his account of life with one of his many wives (I can’t be bothered to look up which one, in fact) and among his famous friends. Seriously, who else could get away with calling Gertrude Stein a boorish oaf? Where some of his works have their moments of coldness or detachment, you can pick up on his fondness for the city almost instantly here. 

There’s a characteristic that unites all three of these books (two of which are outright memoirs, the other of which draws heavily on Fitzgerald’s real life) – Paris (or France, in Fitzgerald's case), the beloved subject, is still liable to the same jibes and criticisms that all of the characters and events receive. It might still be sacred, but these writers aren’t scared of getting a little blasphemous, a little ornery.

I don’t want to bore you with the classics. They’re just good, ok? Just read them. We sell them at Flyleaf.

Know what else is good? Paris I <3 You But You’re Bringing Me Down. Rosecrans Baldwin’s now a Chapel Hillian, but his account of life in Paris was thoroughly enjoyable. I laughed out loud in the non-metaphorical internet way, and ended up typing out entire sections to send to friends in emails and Facebook posts. After too many years of French classes and francophilia, I ate up all the weird colloquial phrases and tales of weird city folk like candy. And there’s lots of oddity to take in. The French phrase in the title of this post means “Don’t push grandmother into the nettles.” Still figuring that one out. I don’t even think Rosecrans himself employs that one too often.

Who knows what draws us Americans to that city of light. I know I’d do a lot of things for a great pastry, or a chance to bump into Sofia Coppola on the street. But if you, like me, can’t afford to hop on a plane with your Louis Vuitton luggage… might I suggest a great book?