I am a coward.
I mean, that’s not the ONLY thing I am. I’m also just plain sensible. But there’s no question that a decision I made a while back was made at least partially out of fear. It was a fear that I don’t always feel, nor always respond to when I do feel it, but in this case I was getting the same message from both my emotions and my brain, and that message was a clear and unequivocal Don’t do it.
So I didn’t. As I was working on Along Those Lines, I consciously and deliberately chose not to discuss one of the most significant lines in the human experience: race.
I can’t say that I’ve been called out by any reviewer or reader about this act of cowardice-cum-common sense, but that’s probably due to the book’s relatively small number of reviewers and readers. And who knows, maybe opting to write about race would have created more buzz, and sold a few more copies, and garnered a few more reviews, but at that point the reviewers might have been taking me to task because I did choose to write about race. It’s not as though the topic is simple, or uncontroversial; it’s arguably the single hottest of hot-button issues in America today, one that is currently warming up everything from Donald Trump’s presidential campaign to the various arguments about state monuments. I knew going in that I could do far more justice to topics such as gender differences in neurology or observation of religious holidays, even irreverently, than I could to that of race relations.
But why is that?
Reader tested and approved, and ready for your perusal, here are the books we’re reading now. What’s getting the most buzz? Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates, is searingly compelling, provocative, and powerful. Jane Gardam’s Old Filth trilogy, a long-time BookBalloon favorite, is bumped to the top of the list after it came up in conversation during Kate Walbert’s visit earlier this month. Sharp, funny, sweeping, and utterly delightful, Gardam’s signature series more than earns its place in the BookBalloon canon.
Extra bonus feature: check out the ABA’s September Indie Next List Preview for more suggestions. You can’t read them all, but why not try?
THE WHAT WE’RE READING NOW LIST
- Between the World and Me / Ta-Nehisi Coates
- Old Filth / Jane Gardam
- Beijing Welcomes You: Unveiling the Capital City of the Future / Tom Scocca
- The Children Act / Ian McEwan
- She Left Me the Gun / Emma Brockes
- Mislaid / Nell Zink
- Drawn & Quarterly: Twenty-five Years of Contemporary Cartooning, Comics, and Graphic Novels
- The Little Disturbances of Man / Grace Paley
- Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life / Karen E. Fields and Barbara J. Fields
Obviously, the great, great news of the week was Kate Walbert’s visit to the BookBalloon Forum to discuss her new novel, The Sunken Cathedral, August 17-19! Those who participated or even just followed the conversation enjoyed her generous, thoughtful responses to our questions. Thanks again, Kate. Click here to read what you missed (free to register), and keep an eye out for upcoming BookBalloon writer visits and other special events. I’m not saying Powerball is involved, but I’m not not saying it either.
One of the best things about BookBalloon is when a particular book suddenly becomes a Forum favorite. As readers, we are an enthusiastic (if you classify raving mania as enthusiasm) bunch, with widely varied but uniformly excellent taste (not bragging if it’s true), so when a book catches on, it’s kind of exciting. At this point, everyone reading this post should have pulled up the online book-buying modality or protocol of your choice, finger poised to one-click, or be ready to bolt to the nearest bookstore or public library, because you want want to get there first and grab a copy of Glenn Taylor’s newest novel, A Hanging at Cinder Bottom. Find out why in What Are You Reading Now? Aren’t you excited?
It may not exactly be the silly season in terms of what is playing in the picture houses and the cineMAH, but it is sort of the cringey season. I bet one million dollars you’re thinking of Meryl Streep right now.
BookBalloon Special Event: Author Kate Walbert Discusses The Sunken Cathedral in the Forum August 17-19August 11, 2015
Walbert, a 2004 National Book Award finalist for Our Kind, is known for her subtle, lyrical prose and her nuanced, powerful portrayals of the lives of women. In The Sunken Cathedral, she explores themes of art, aging, family, change, and history set in a nearly mythic New York City of memory and rapidly, even disastrously, evolving present. (Read reviews at the New York Times, BookPage, and Like Fire.)
Want to join the conversation? Joining the BookBalloon Forum is quick, easy, and free. Once you’re a member, click on Special Events to post your questions and follow this discussion. Stay to discover everything the BookBalloon Forum has to offer.
Whether you are a writing evangelist/street preacher, an artist/Beat poet/waitress, free-style telemarketer/life curator, or just generally interested in self-promotion/aggrandizing, you have doubtless heard about the importance of establishing, building, and enforcing your personal brand. (See 3 Ways to Go Big or Go Home.) Most people do not understand what “personal branding” actually means (a recent study indicates it’s deeply connected to the sovereign citizen movement), but as the song says, if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything. (See 7 Benefits of Considering Every Available Option Until the Problem Goes Away.)
But where do you begin? To start with, it’s helpful to establish some sort of catch-phrase, escalator pitch, safe word(s), or slogan to yell as you storm the barricades keeping you from living your best life (literal or figurative—this is up to you and your creative goals), or even when you want to add flair to a personally branded PowerPoint template. (See 8 Free Fonts That Prove You Pretty Much DO Know What You’re Talking About, Thank You.)
Another common use for a personal branding catch-phrase is to silkscreen it on a t-shirt for your followers to purchase at rallies/services, or to print on those big magnets you can stick crookedly to the side of your car. (See 10 Most Common Magnet Mistakes.) Just remember, your goal in catch-phraseologizing is not to make literal sense or convey real information–you’re trying to capture emotional lightning in a spiritual bottle.
This summer, one may find oneself reading a great deal of Virginia Woolf, as one might do when it is very hot and blank outside. One’s thoughts might then turn and swoop like a kingfisher across sun-burnished water; or lay damply like the red carnation Esmond Threwton places in dear old Lady B__’s aristocratically veined hands; aren’t young people so fine, so fresh, she thinks, in their heedless lovable tumble; but oh, she thinks, really it was so fine–this carnation just like the ones her nephew used to bring home before the war; all so fine and so fresh, her nephew’s carnations before the war…
Don’t stop reading! I’ll quit! After a few doldrums-ish weeks in the Forum, the pace has picked up, I am glad to say. This is mainly due to the release of a certain book everyone in the American-speaking world plans to immediately either read and talk about OR not read and talk about. Whatever its particular literary failures, triumphs, or disappointments, it is the rare book that commands this sort of enthusiastic pre-dismissal. Is that it? Preemptive disenchantment? I don’t know. I thought the very idea of a Ted Cruz memoir was ridiculous in the first place! But what do I know?
What a lark! What a plunge!
After many years of honing my craft at various workshops, classes, retreats, and MFA sweat lodges, I have heard the same writing axioms repeated over and over: Show don’t tell. Write what you know. Is this supposed to be English?
Frankly, these are no longer working for me. Do you have any other suggestions, rules, tips, etc., for a jaded writer?
Workshopped to Death
Some people contend that reducing the craft of writing to all-purpose, one-size-fits-all rules or laws (my preference) somehow robs it of vitality and provokes anxiety and/or terminal second-guessing in its would-be practitioners. The Wordsmith disagrees! Conventions and rules exist to give you (and your writing, of course) structure, purpose, and clarity. Don’t you want a little more structure, purpose, and clarity in your life and work? An employee handbook, as it were? As a very wise someone once said to the Wordsmith, “It’s just not that complicated. What exactly is your deal?”
#1 Pick: Circling the Sun: A Novel, by Paula McLain
(Ballantine Books, 9780345534187, $28)
“Reading Circling the Sun reminded me of the deep pleasure of solid storytelling: the vast landscape of colonial Kenya, complicated and compelling historical characters, love, suffering, and adventure combine to create a captivating narrative. McLain imagines the African childhood and early adulthood of real-life horse trainer and pioneering female aviator Beryl Markham, as well as her social milieu, which included Denys Finch Hatton and Karen Blixen, who, as Isak Dinesen, wrote Out of Africa. Markham lived a fascinating and uncompromising life filled with danger, ill-fated romance, and stunning bravery, and McLain does justice to her memory with this sensitive and beautifully written portrayal.” —Rhianna Walton, Powell’s Books, Portland, OR
Kitchens of the Great Midwest: A Novel, by J. Ryan Stradal
(Pamela Dorman Books/Viking, 9780525429142, $27.95)
“In the story of Midwestern chef savant Eva Thorvald and the people — and foods — that touch her life, Stradal has created a picture of the American foodie revolution of the past 25 years and of its intersections with class, economics, family, and culture. Along with irresistible characters and stories, this is a novel about the potential that food and cooking offer for joy and empowerment, for snobbery and shame, and for identity and reinvention. Beautifully structured and affectionately and hilariously written, this is a novel that — like Thorvald’s exclusive pop-up supper club — everyone is going to be talking about!” —Jessica Stockton Bagnulo, Greenlight Bookstore, Brooklyn, NY
Fishbowl: A Novel, by Bradley Somer
(St. Martin’s Press, 9781250057808, $24.99)
“Somer uses the unusual device of a goldfish plunging off of a high-rise balcony to tie together the disparate stories of the building’s inhabitants. As our hero, Ian, plummets past floor after floor, he glimpses the lives of the residents — witnessing birth, heartbreak, new love, and all of the pathos and wonder that comprise human existence. Although Ian has only a goldfish’s seconds-long capacity for memory, readers will find themselves returning to the essential truths of Somer’s characters again and again.” —Jill Miner, Saturn Booksellers, Gaylord, MI
Find the complete list at the American Booksellers Association website.
In this period of torpor and patriotism, I firmly believe (this firm belief is best expressed by what I like to think of as a classic Gallic shrug) that what you’re NOT doing is just as important as what you ARE doing. I think this is also in Plato somewhere—maybe that less-famous dialogue when he absentmindedly said “closet” instead of “cave” and a modern business empire was born.
Here is a list of some things you can NOT do, that I think are just as valuable, if not more so, than their counterparts:
- Publish a pretentious blog post on summer thunderstorms.
Well, that’s the whole list. I think we can all agree it is comprehensive. Keep cool, people, and read a book or something!
Announcement: In anticipation of Kate Walbert’s visit to BookBalloon later this year to discuss her new book, THE SUNKEN CATHEDRAL, we have TWO copies of The Sunken Cathedral to give away! See the Feedback thread in the Forum for details on how to sign up for the drawing to be held on July 6.