Category Archives: authors

Been Down So Long

Peter Brantley -- January 25th, 2014

Barnes & Noble store closing
A couple of weeks ago, the science fiction writer Hugh Howey wrote a pair of pugnacious “Here’s what I would do” posts on how to reform “Big 5″ trade publishing. Most of his suggestions are fist-pumping common sense to industry observers: e.g., release formats as soon as they are ready, don’t window e-books or paperbacks; eliminate the returns system for bookstores; ditch “do not compete” clauses in contracts which hinder adjustment of digital royalty rates; and generally speaking, “GIVE READERS WHAT THEY WANT.”

These blog pieces are terrific reads and highly recommended, though there are impediments to adopting some of these changes. And there’s one presumption that seems like a real doozy: Knowing that a large portion of book sales are still in paper, Howey assumes the continued existence of bookstores. Continue reading

Touchy Subjects: Tampa by Alissa Nutting

Jessamine Chan -- January 6th, 2014

tampa 2I saw the Facebook chatter about Alissa Nutting’s first novel, Tampa, when it was published last summer. Though friends insisted that it was a “must read,” I was turned off by the marketing campaign: emphasis on “graphic sexual content” in the ads and a lurid fuzzy black dust jacket. I don’t want to read anything that comes in a fuzzy black dust jacket. However, a friend lent me a copy with the dust jacket removed, and the denuded book plus being house-bound because of the snow and a sinus infection resulted in finishing the book in 1.5 days.

Tampa concerns a monomaniacal, super-hot 26-year-old married blonde middle school teacher, Celeste Price, who seduces 14-year-old boys. I was impressed by Nutting’s refusal to make the protagonist “likeable.” The book’s crescendos of pathological behavior spiral higher and higher, and the momentum of the narrative’s craziness is part of what kept me reading. Continue reading

TBR: 2014

Jessamine Chan -- December 27th, 2013

In 2014, I want to promise that I’ll become the sort of reader who always finishes one book before starting another, but honestly, I’m usually reading four books at a time and a more reasonable goal might be to finish the following titles by the summer. Here are some selections from my personal To-Be-Read pile: four titles forthcoming in the new year, plus one children’s classic.

barkBark: Stories – Lorrie Moore (Knopf, Feb.) : Though the rest of the world was clued into Lorrie Moore’s genius years, nay decades, earlier, I was introduced to her stories by my teacher, Rebecca Curtis, in 2009. How I survived my twenties without her fiction, I do not know, but I’ve made up for lost time by becoming a loyal, intense fan.


on such a full sea

On Such a Full Sea – Chang-Rae Lee (Riverhead, Jan.) This author plus this spooky cover plus a dystopian plot means that I will make time for this book.



the giverThe Giver – Lois Lowry (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1993) A friend lent me this children’s book just last week, with the short explanation that it’s super dark, also dystopian, and has a perfect ending.



blood will outBlood Will Out: The True Story of a Murder, A Mystery, and A Masquerade – Walter Kirn (Norton/Liveright, Mar.): In the new year, I will read more true crime. Kirn tells the story of his 15-year friendship with “Clark Rockefeller,” who turns out to be a serial imposter and double-murderer.



in the course of human eventsIn the Course of Human Events – Mike Harvkey (Soft Skull, Apr.): It pleases me to no end that my former PW colleague Mike Harvkey’s debut novel publishes in the spring. All I know about it is that it’s dark, violent, set in the Midwest, and the result of many years of Mike’s hard work.

For the sake of levity, I will also (finally) finish Anna Karenina, and hopefully tackle The Portrait of a Lady.

Eminent Victorians

Jessamine Chan -- December 13th, 2013

my life in middlemarchI once read Middlemarch in three days. Circumstances: age 20, studying abroad at Oxford, taking a tutorial on “The Victorian Novel.” (Apparently, real Oxford students read two or three novels for each of the weekly essay assignments, whereas we fee-paying Americans only had to read one). My Middlemarch experience: sleep, eat, read read read, eat, something something Dorothea, something something Casaubon, 500 pages to go, oh gosh, I still need to read secondary sources! Though I remember few details from the novel, I remember loving it, just as I loved all the books for that course: 850 pages of repression and longing followed by 150 pages of feeling feelings, usually with some richly metaphorical weather. Continue reading

Extended Play: More from the Jeremy Scahill Q&A

Alex Crowley -- December 5th, 2013

Earlier this week we ran a q&a I did with Jeremy Scahill in light of his latest, Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield, making our Best Books 2013 top-10 list. Scahill had a lot to say and moving beyond the limitations of print, I continue the interview here, another enticement to read this incredibly important book.


In answering my question about public response to his book, Scahill noted that…

A month after the book came out President Obama, for the first time in his entire presidency, gave an address to the American public at the national defense university and finally admitted that he had authorized US military actions that killed American citizens in drone strikes. So I don’t know if the book had any impact on his decision to do that, but I do think that there is a heightened sense that we need to confront these issues or else we’re going to pay a price down the line.

He also noted how current and former soldiers and intelligence personnel had positive responses to what he revealed about our use of Special Forces around the globe. I asked him why we he thought we haven’t heard more criticism from these quarters…

What’s been interesting in the context of the Edward Snowden story and the revelations about surveillance at home and abroad is that there can sort of be two ways that it can go down. On the one hand, fear that they will be indicted for being espionage agents. On the other hand, courage breeds courage; I’ve heard from a number of people who are potential whistleblowers and they’re disturbed at what they’re seeing inside the machinery of power. And I think for a lot of people who serve in the military, they’re kind of left wondering what the point of it all was. The US is going to leave in the next year, we’ve lost thousands of Americans and have no idea how many civilians have been killed, and I think that the men and women who are left with the conducting of these operations are left saying, “What is the point of everything we risked our lives to do?” Continue reading

The Discoveries of Graham Robb

Alex Crowley -- November 21st, 2013

On Tuesday morning I had the good fortune to hang out and drink coffee with Graham Robb—while pestering him with questions about his books and his background—as he is in briefly in the US to promote his new book, The Discovery of Middle Earth: Mapping the Lost World of the Celts. Robb is the author of Balzac: A Life, Victor Hugo, Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris, and The Discovery of France: A Historical Geography from the Revolution to the First World War, all of which have earned PW starred reviews. Not a bad haul, though you’d hardly guess it from how humble he is in person.

As one might guess from the above titles, British, Oxford-trained Robb is rather enamored with France; his background is in French Literature (he received his PhD. at Vanderbilt, where he studied Baudelaire) and his first few books were academic works (written in French). Though the French in which he produced those works was the rigid, scholarly variant, his popular books in English are witty and charming, full of deep insight yet still wicked fun.

disc of mid earthRobb’s ability to straddle worlds is obvious in his latest book, where he goes back through layers of history to the pre-Roman Europe of the Celts. This ease of movement across contexts could easily be chalked up to his time spent in both France and the US. He and his American wife—whom he met during his time in Nashville—live on the English-Scottish border and spend a good deal of time in France. They don’t own a place in France, however; rather they go there to take extended bicycle tours, a practice that has produced its fair share of research for multiple projects, including his work on the Celts. In this latest instance, it was trying to retrace the mythical Heraklean Way in southern France that led to a surprising discovery (which he lays out here in our q&a with him).

As a native New Englander, I’m wholly unaccustomed to walking around outside and finding shards of ancient pottery or other such trinkets of lives lived 500, 1000, or even 2000 years ago. This is not the case in Europe, where the ruins and artifacts of previous human habitations are regular features of the landscape. There, one can bike past mounds that are the overgrown remnants of ancient forts and stumble across pieces of metal or ceramic dug up by some farmer when he tilled his field. If one pays attention, long-disappeared cultures start making their presence known, though in odd ways.

Celtic culture, of course, is mostly known to Americans via Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, but it was continental in origin. They traded and fought with the Romans, among others, though now they’re remembered as being a strange, mystical sort typified by the figure of the druid. Robb told me that there are some cultural hangups in England about druids, as there is a notable neo-druid subculture there whose beliefs (think New Age, pagan, nature spiritualism) have little, if anything, to do with actual Celtic druidry. One of the best aspects of the book is getting to learn about real druids, as we actually know a decent amount about their lives and practices.

He had to run to his next scheduled appearance, so I didn’t get to ask him the 1000 other questions I had in mind (mostly more about druids). But I’ll hopefully get to track him down the next time again soon. Maybe on a bike ride through France.

Oh Canada!

Annie Coreno -- November 20th, 2013

What do these titles have in common, aside from the fact that they are all on PW’s 2013 best books list? The authors are all women, yes, but they are also all Canadian. Pretty shocking, considering the fact that the entire population of Canada is smaller than that of California. Is this a mere coincidence or is it evidence of something larger?

I may be prone to conspiracy, but I have a theory that Canadian women are the new old white men of the book world. In other words, they are taking over publishing. Come to think of it, this plan of theirs has been in the works for years—decades really. The Canadian literary scene is booming, yet completely under our radar in America. (If you don’t believe me, visit Toronto; there’s a bookstore every block and a half on Bloor Street.) Continue reading

PW Best Books 2013: ‘Forty-One False Starts’ by Janet Malcolm

Jessamine Chan -- October 31st, 2013

fortyonefalsestarts 18-31-42

Leading up to the November 1st publication of PW’s Best Books of 2013, our reviews editors are blogging about some of their favorites from our top 100. Here’s the latest post:

One list begets another, so here are three reasons why you should read Janet Malcolm’s stunning essay collection, Forty-One False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers:

1. Accessibility: I am the sister of an artist, I regularly read about contemporary art, but I don’t have a background in art history and often find art criticism to be chilly and impenetrable. Malcolm’s erudite, lucid, totally accessible essays allow me to study the work of Diane Arbus, Thomas Struth, Edward Weston, David Salle, and others, and learn about their worlds with her. What a pleasure to feel like a student again when you have such a witty and unpretentious teacher.

2. Acquaintance and Reacquaintance: Friends tell me that they started reading The New Yorker in high school or even as children. That’s lovely, but I didn’t start reading The New Yorker until about ten years ago, didn’t learn of its canonical place in the world of nonfiction writers until graduate school, and my introduction to The New York Review of Books was even more recent. For readers, who, like me, cannot call upon a lifetime of reading of these fine publications—where many of these essays were published over several decades—this book is a terrific way to catch up on Malcolm’s work. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself wanting to read her other books (such as Iphigenia in Forest Hills, Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice, The Journalist and the Murderer) when you’re done.

3. Pleasure: As Ian Frazier writes in the book’s introduction: “A lot of journalism is a bedtime story you are sleepily hearing for the hundredth time, but with a piece by Janet Malcolm, you never know where things will lead…The chance of being taken completely by surprise keeps you alert through everything she writes.” One of the joys of reading is communing with an author’s brilliant mind, and this book, above all, is curious and joyful. The collection has much to offer aspiring critics, writers, students of art and literature, artists, teachers, and readers who simply appreciate exceptional prose. I want to cite a particular passage for you, but I’d have to take a highlighter to the entire book.

Buying Habits of a Reviews Editor

Jessamine Chan -- October 18th, 2013

We’re in best books season here, and in the spirit of list-making, I offer another: books I purchased with my own cash-money. At PW, I have access to more free books than I can cart home, let alone read in this lifetime, but I still want to support independent bookstores and read older titles. During recent browsing trips to two excellent indie bookstores in Brooklyn—Greenlight Bookstore  and Unnameable Books—I found such unusual and delightful selections that I spent more than intended. Here are some of the titles I purchased this year and why: Continue reading

Tough Questions about Families and Technology

Jessamine Chan -- October 4th, 2013

TheBigDisconnect hc c2

In the past week, I’ve told every friend I’ve seen about this book. Some have toddlers and found the scary anecdotes to be too much. A friend who is 6 months pregnant was intrigued. While reading about how texting has replaced normal conversation or even email for today’s kids, I felt so guilty that I phoned my parents and best friend 90’s style and left voicemails and played phone tag. Remember phone tag? (My mom pointed out that she only texts with her daughters because we never pick up the phone.) One friend whose children are grown worries that maybe it’s too late—maybe technology is so much a part of children’s lives, the damage can’t be undone.

But it’s not too late, and you, blog readers who are parents or soon-to-be parents, should all read this book. The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age (Harper, Aug.) by clinical psychologist Catherine Steiner-Adair, writing with Teresa H. Barker, charts the negative impact of the digital revolution on parents and children. Continue reading