Booking Through Thursday -Beginnings

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What are your favourite first sentences from books? Is there a book that you liked specially because of its first sentence? Or a book, perhaps that you didn’t like but still remember simply because of the first line?

The book I’m currently reading, Tan Lines by J.J. Salem, has a very memorable first line. St. Martin’s Press made up a little video where several people in a public park read the line on camera. It’s such a sensational first line, I can post it here without even looking:

There are eight thousand nerve endings in the clitoris, and this son of a bitch couldn’t find any of them.

I should have the review posted later today.

Most of the time I don’t really remember any lines from a book. I’m more of a “concept” reader than a “word” reader, so a particular line has to really be great or memorable to stick. Since blogging reviews, while I’m reading a book I keep an eye out for a quote to post with the review, but I don’t remember all of those, even.

Janet Evanovich’s books have a lot of sticking lines. The first two line of the first Stephanie Plum novel made me an instant Plum fan: There are some men who enter a woman’s life and screw it up forever. Joseph Morelli did this to me — not forever, but periodically.
Other lines that stick out are:

“Writers use lies to tell the truth” from V for Vendetta
“There is a way to be good again.” from The Kite Runner

Yeah, see… Like I said, I’m a concept reader, not so much with the words.

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The Technocrati Spiders are Loose on my Blog!

I keep hearing about Technocrati and asked my techno-savvy brother about it. I still don’t know what he was talking about in his answer… the technical aristocracy? Anyway, I clicked someone’s Technocrati button and signed up at the site, adding my blog to the listing. Mt. TBR ranks 156,324 on Technocrati… whatever.

So when I signed up and stuff, I was told to post this:
Technorati Profile

on my blog. Okay, easy enogh… done. I went back to tell it I’d done that, and then it let the spiders loose on my blogPhotobucket
EEEK! I hate spiders. Do I need to call The Orkin Man now? Kill it!!  Kill it!!

An Interview With Nam Le

I’m so excited to announce my first author interview! A couple weeks back I read and reviewed The Boat by Nam Le, and was very impressed with his writing and the stories. Shortly after reading the first story, Love and Honour, I asked Le if he would be willing to do a Q & A interview with me, and he was gracious enough to agree.

First off, I want to say that Nam Le is very personable, friendly, and down to earth. The emails back and forth was just like receiving email from a friend, even remembering my daughter’s name. His answers show he took time to consider his answers, and I was impressed that he treated the questions of a blogger with as much respect as an interviewer from a major newspaper.

And now, In the Shadow of Mt. TBR’s first author interview

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Q: I know you’ve been asked this several times in interviews, but this is the question that made me want to do my first Q & A with you. The narrator in the first story shares so much with you, same name, work history and Iowa Writer’s Workshop, how much of the first story is autobiographical?

A: It depends on your definition. Certainly the protagonist shares my name, and many of my circumstances, but of course it’s arguable that all fictional characters are, through their elements, frankensteined from ‘real life’. (I don’t mean that flippantly!) A lot of people assume that it’s easier cribbing from ‘life’ than from ‘imagination’ (a distinction that’s false on many fronts, not the least of which is because both are unavoidably mediated – and complicated – by consciousness (not to mention the vagaries of memory)), but in fact I reckon it’s much more difficult. Why? Because me being me – that is, me being supported by my own entire subjective infrastructure – I’ll almost always find my accounting of my own experience more compelling, more resonant, than readers who can only go by my words on the page. Writing from autobiography can tend to be a selfish enterprise that way. And as a writer, I feel it’s my responsibility to make the words on the page as charged and suggestive as possible – for a set of readers bigger than just myself!

Here’s another proof that the first story isn’t straight reportage from my life: ‘real life’ is hopelessly messy whereas my story is pretty ruthlessly determined. It deals, to an almost painful extent, with cliché, with hackneyed conventions: the blocked, alcoholic writer, the close-mouthed father, the story spewed out overnight in an inspired rush, its single (typewritten!) copy then burned (in a gasoline drum!), etc, etc. I contrived this story in this way to show up the contrivance – the artifice – of such stories – as well as the body of assumptions we readers bring to such stories – whilst attempting to nevertheless get some truth or feeling across. Art, after all, is – at its best – a lie that tells us the truth, and here I needed some of the truth from my own life to improve the lie.

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Q: The Boat as a book and you as a writer are receiving a lot of attention from critics and the media. How surprised are you by this, and how are you dealing with it?

A: I’m very surprised, and I’m dealing with it as best I can! That is, with gratefulness, as well as guilt – and some grog thrown in – for the chances my book’s received that other books haven’t. It’s got to be said, of course, that expectations are so low for short story collections in general – let alone debut collections – that any attention at all is gravy. I’ll be first to admit how lucky I’ve been – most of all for the incomparable team of folks that have supported me and the book. When it comes down to it, you write to put your hand up for a conversation – with other readers, writers, and books that have inspired you – so it’s a thrill to think that this book’s getting called on.

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Q: Some of the stories in The Boat seem to not have an official ending, the reader just seems to exit the scene before the end. Did you write these so as to leave it open-ended for the reader to interpret, or are they endings more of a resolution of the characters’ emotions?

A: I like that you used the word ‘official’ – part of my personality balks at anything official, and so I guess it goes with these stories. That’s the easy answer. The tough question highlights the fact that each of these stories has its own type of ending. When you say some of them ‘exit the scene before the end’ I think that’s telling: it posits an assumed or expected end (though of course it’s not the end – the end before the end is the end … are we clear yet?) There’s a tired (though not entirely legless) workshop axiom that endings should be ‘surprising but inevitable.’ Here’s how I see it. First, my stories are longer than the average so having laid down all the narrative threads it would stretch credulity to have them tied up at the same time. Second, there’s nothing like having a clear end in sight to make the intervening stuff feel like filler; I ideally strive to command the reader’s full attention at every moment in the story. Third – a clear endpoint enhances the power of a bait and switch. And isn’t it all bait and switch? I largely adhere to the idea that there are few clean resolutions in life; that even epiphanic moments come broken and bruised and bent out of shape. Why should fiction be any different?

Of course, as we’ve discussed, a story is a contraption, and as such its parts have to answer, to some degree, to each other. For me, an ideal ending sheds light on what’s come before; it speaks to its own concerns and it justifies the occasion of the story – while at the same time it gives its elements (character, place, situation) life outside its own body. Paradoxically, I know to leave a story just when I feel it coming alive in that more sustained sense.

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Q: Recently I had a conversation with my local bookstore manager about short story collections. She said that short stories don’t sell, except to people who buy books by particular authors. How do you feel about this statement, and why do you think readers don’t want short stories?

A: The conventional wisdom that short stories don’t sell is, like all conventional wisdom, pretty instructive until it’s not. There’s an element, of course, of self-fulfilling prophecy about it, as well as a somewhat institutionalised sense that short stories are merely training grounds for novels. Another strain of conventional wisdom proclaims itself baffled that short stories aren’t more popular in this age of sound bytes and fragmented attention spans; I don’t buy this at all – I reckon it’s fair to say that given half an hour, a complete short story usually requires more concerted, careful attention than a novel chapter – particularly if it’s not the first chapter. It’s people like you and your friend who are on the front lines of the effort to challenge this conventional way of thinking.

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Q: Hari Kunzru of The New York Times suggested the subject matter of the stories in The Boat was “calculated to tug at the heartstrings – and wallets – of liberal American readers…” How do you respond to this?

A: As I understand it, Hari Kunzru was referring not to the subject matter of the stories in The Boat in general but to what he called ‘war porn’ of the first story. After the quote you reference he actually goes on to ask: “Could the writer, just possibly, be lying? For money?” It’s unclear whether he’s referring to the character “Nam” in the first story, or to me as the author. Either way, I thought it an odd question – for many reasons – but particularly given that that first story, “Love and Honour and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice,” makes no secret of its calling out of ‘ethnic’ narrative exploitation. In fact, that’s maybe the primary point of the story (and one that I’ve received flak for). For example: at one stage in the story, the protagonist, trying to justify the appropriation of his father’s ‘ethnic story,’ muses “If I write a true story … I’ll have a better chance of selling it” – that is, he’s asking the very question Hari Kunzru accuses him/me of ignoring. So I’m not sure I understand Kunzru’s point. Nor, come to speak of it, do I understand his premise: if indeed I wanted to pluck and pick-pocket those sucker Western liberal heartstrings and wallets, wouldn’t I (per his reasoning) then stick to Viet war porn? Why would I digress into the globe-trotting hodge-podge that’s the rest of the book?

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Q: Finally, I’m a big fan of the shortlist. What books are on yours?

A: Okay, arbitrarily limiting myself to fiction (and with all the usual caveats): Melville’s Moby Dick, Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, Nabokov’s Lolita, Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, Arthur Koestler’s Darkness At Noon, Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet On The Western Front, Frank Conroy’s Stop-Time, Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient, Richard Yates’s Revolutionary Road, Graham Greene’s The Power and The Glory and The Heart of the Matter, Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian and The Road, Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping, Don DeLillo’s Underworld, Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son, Edward P. Jones’s The Known World, fiction by Kazuo Ishiguro, Robert Stone, Mary Gaitskill, Martin Amis, William Golding, Philip Roth, Virginia Woolf, Peter Carey, short fiction by John Cheever, Raymond Carver, Lorrie Moore, Andrew Dubus, Tim Winton, Charles D’Ambrosio, Isaac Babel, Leonard Michaels, and on and on.

I have been Nominated…

Yay me!

It’s my first award… though I’m not sure it’s an award since I’m just nominated I’m a liittle confused by that. But I’ve checked out other nominees’ blogs, and they’ve posted their nominations, so if I’m wrong, at least I’m not wrong all by myself. 😀

Thank you Swapna at S.Krishna and Readerville for the double nomination! I enjoy blogging and write to please myself… if you haven’t noticed, I’ve got a kind of corny/weird/goofy sense of humor… and it’s great to know other people enjoy it, too. It’s a great compliment, and I’m honored. Thanks!

Once an award is received, the rules are as follows:
1. Put the logo on your blog. (hovering directly above)
2. Add a link to the person who awarded you. (linked ’em in the post, and they’re on my blogroll)
3. Nominate at least seven other blogs. (ugh! You made me work!)
4. Add links to those blogs on your blog. (easy part)
5. Leave a message for your nominee on their blog. (you’ll have to click and find out!)

My nominees (In NO particular order):

1. Just a (Reading) Fool I really enjoy his blog. His posts are at times philosophical, often witty, and always intelligent. And, as if that weren’t enough, the video clip at the end of his Sunday Salon proves he’s got a great blog! Can I get a napkin, please?

2. Fyfly’s Book Blogalways has a variety of books, and has added to my wishlist and, at the same time, put the breaks on Mt. TBR through her Ye Olde TBR(e) Challenge that I’ve also joined… just can’t seem to put the breaks on the ARC requesting… try as I might!

3. Kathleen’s Book Reviews is a blog chock full of information and reviews. She recently interviewed C. Comfort Shields, author of Surviving Ben’s Suicide. She’s also the keeper of the LT blogger blogroll 😉

4. Presenting Lenore just recently ended her Joy of Spooking giveaway, and poo! I didn’t win… but congrats to the three who did 😀 I did win a lovely boxful of European candies and treats that we’re still working on, though. I enjoy Lenore’s blog because she has a variety of books that she reviews, from Children’s books to fantasy (wait, that’s not too far apart, is it…). And I enjoyed reading her review with Spookingauthor PJ Bracegirdle.

5. Leesy Knits is a well-rounded blog. It’s not just about books and reading, but she also shares about her family and shares pics of her beautiful kids. Don’t forget to scroll to the bottom and play with the penguins!

6. Fashionista Piranha has a rather interesting motif. She reads and reviews, but also has fashion reviews. AND her first giveaway is fabulous! It’s a book, a beauty product, and a donation to your favorite charity. She calls it a “Make Waves” prize pack. So go enter 😀

7. Knittymuggins -The name alone makes her blog award-worthy 😀

Tuesday Thingers -Reco Me This, and Reco Me That

Today’s topic: Recommendations. Do you use LT’s recommendations feature? Have you found any good books by using it? Do you use the anti-recommendations, or the “special sauce” recommendations? How do you find out about books you want to read?
I have looked at the recommendations feature on LibraryThing, but I’ve never went by it.  And the anti-recommender is the anti-Christ when it comes to telling my what I won’t like… I wrote a post about that a few weeks back called Does A Christian Have a Brain?  if read more on that.  The special sauce is interesting but, again, I don’t use it.
Actually, the three ways I find out about the books I’d like to read is:
1.  BookMooch Recommendations -though I’m not entirely sure if it just throws out a bunch of books or if it’s really guessing at what I’d like.  The thing suggests books I’ve mooched and posted, so I don’t know if it has a brain.  At least LT’s algorithm sorta-kinda makes some sense.
2.  ARC sources such as Shelf Awareness, publishers’ and authors’ emails offering me books, and other “free” book places.  Hey, of course I’m gonna take free books!
3.  From my fellow LT’ers and bloggers.  I take your recommendations over an automated guesser any day!  At least you have a soul.  At least you have emotions.  At least you have some sense of aesthetics.  What’s the bot going to tell me?  Because I have Nietzche I won’t like The Purpose Driven Life… which I actually do have in my library?  Yeah…. whatever. (that goes back to the unsuggester is the anti-Christ.)
4.  Jan and Obie at my Waldenbooks… they know me so well! And Jan’s only been wrong once.  She suggested Annie Freeman’s Fabulous Traveling Funeral, but I thought it was just mneh.
5.  My momma.  Though, lately her taster is running on the off-side for me.  Lately she’s been reading about some retired old ladies running a B&B and solving crimes or something… I don’t know, maybe they are killing the guests.  I forget.  Maybe I watch too much Law & Order and read too much Stephen King.
6.  Then, of course, there’s just little me, touching-feeling-looking at the actual book on the shelf and reading the back cover.  However, with Mt. TBR and Mt. TBarc at capacity, I can’t even go to the mall for fear I’ll be drawn into Waldens and won’t be able to resist the lovely books… they want to come home with me…. they jump on the counter and make me buy them….
Okay, that’s enough silliness.

One More Year by Sana Krasikov

Title:  One More Year
Autor: Sana Krasikov
Pages: 196
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau (a division of Random House, Inc.)
Publish Date: August 2008
ISBN: 9780385524391

She was tired, tired of waiting for some big event to happen in her life, while things only dragged on and on… Everything in her life was about waiting.

-Better Half, p 91

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One More Yearis a collection of eight short stories by Sana Krasikov. It is a lopsided effort. A couple of the stories are brilliant, one is a one of the worst things I’ve read lately, and the rest are, mneh.

Unfortunately, the first story in this book, Companion, is about a Russian divorcee named Ilona. She lives in an apartment with Earl Brauer and their relationship is never clear. Is she the live-in nurse? Is she just a friend and roommate? It is a confusing arrangement, and the only thing I am certain of is that Ilona is a self-centered twit who isn’t worth my time to read about. Earl isn’t much better, but at least I can understand a feel a slight twinge of sympathy. He’s lonely and she’s a user, but where he also loses me is that he’s manipulative. This story was so bad, I would have pitched the book had it not been an ARC to review. 0 stars for this one.

The two stories that I felt were brilliantly written and had great character development were Asal and The Repatriates. Asal is the story of Gulia, the unofficial wife of Rashid, who was previously married to a druggie wife-beater with an overbearing mother. She wants Rashid to divorce his legal wife so they can marry, just like he promised. When he won’t do this, she leaves for America to let him stew in his juices. When the call finally comes that he’s going through with it, Gulia’s joy is short lived. (4 out of 5 stars)

It wasn’t despair that had made Nasrin do it, she thought, it was simple vengeance. How did one compete with insanity, she wondered.

-Asal, page 65

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One thing that I liked about The Repatriates is that it shows the occasional immigrant who, upon coming to the US, believes their homeland is the best in the world. I’ve known several Vietnamese who talk this way, and have a Cuban friend who is always on about the marvelous things communism has done for his country. But they always do this with their feet planted firmly on the green grass of a free country, which always irks me.

The first line of The Repatriates tells it all:

The last days of Grisha and Lera Arsenyev’s marriage might have been a story fashioned out of commonplace warnings.

It’s the story of religious fanaticism, delusions of grandeur and trickery, and what it’s like to wake up and realized you’ve been duped by someone who was supposed to love and honor you. (4 out of five stars)

The rest of the stories are mostly just okay. Some are better than others, but nothing I’d buy a book for.

Maia in Yonkers: Maia came to New York City to work for more money than she could make back in the Ukraine. She flies her teenage son to visit her, and he proves that Americans don’t have the corner market on surly teens. (2.5 stars)
Debt: Seems to be about my relatives… Lev and his wife receive an unexpected visit from his niece and her husband. But, like my relatives, she’s come to ask for money. AND like my relatives, if he tells her no, she’ll write him off as a selfish money-hoarder. (2 stars)
Better Half: After staying in America, Anya marries Ryan who turns out to be a pot-smoking dreamer who’s abusive and paranoid-jealous. He hides her paperwork she needs to get her permanent alien status, among other butthole things, and yet… ugh, I wanted to slap her. (3 stars, maybe 3.5)
The Alternate: A man seizes the opportunity to have dinner with the daughter of his old college sweetheart with the hope of an affair. Mneh… (1 star)
There Will Be No Fourth Rome: Another stupid woman putting her freedom on the line for her boyfriend. DUH! Nona says it best in this story, “Don’t you just wish you could kill people lie that with your thoughts?” You see, that’s why I choose to stay single.(3 stars)

This book could be renamed “Women Waiting Around for Their Boyfriends to Divorce Their Wives”. The title “One More Year” comes from the second story; Maia tells her son she’s staying in America for one more year, to which he reminds her she said that last year.

What this book does well is present a picture of Georgia and Moscow the west has not seen. A world of dower-faced, bitter people who are only after what they can graft and out-right steal from anyone, even their friends and family… especially their friends and family. I suppose, if this is a true portrait, it is a mentality born from so much poverty and oppression. Even after they leave the old country and set up in America, they bring the same mindsets with them. In this, Krasikov’s characters are real and imperfect, even if they are loathsome.

However, I think Krasikov tries to put too many characters in her stories, making it impossible to develop them properly. It’s possible they’d make better novels. Another problem I had with this book is I found several parts confusing; places I wasn’t sure who was saying what or what was even going on. There were several times I came jerking to a stop over punctuation, sometimes too much and others not enough. One of those times was a sentence with a comma that tore up the effectiveness of the thought. I read and reread it, trying to figure out what she had meant to say, finally saying, “I hate that sentence” before moving on. I think the fact that the first story was so bad the rest of the book was tainted by that.

For much of this book, I can’t help but think One More Year is the kind of commercialized book Nam Le wrote about in The Boat‘s first story: Ethnic lit for ethnic sake, not for the quality of the writing. “She’s from the Ukraine! Buy her book!” Oddly enough, like Nam Le, she’s a Iowa Workshop writer. Hmm… maybe the fellow student in “Love and Honor” wasn’t from China after all.

After totalling up all the stars and dividing by 8, One More Yearreceives an overall 2.5 stars. Mneh.

The Sunday Salon

The Sunday Salon.com

Let’s see, this week I’ve been friends with a snowman and a rabbit. I’ve b,een to Papau New Guinea, Boston, Czechoslavakia, and the Congo. I’ve lived in Kabul and Pakistan in a time women had no rights. I’ve been enraptured by the stories of a second-grader in Watertower and China. I’ve been out to the county fair, where we ate swamp fries, roas’nears and elephant ears, and drank lemon shake-ups to our hearts content. AND, yesterday morning, I took Maggie for breakfast at her favorite place, The White House.

Okay, the first four sentences were things I did in books, I read and reviewed The Rabbit and the Snowman, The White Mary, A Thousand Splendid Suns, and Gooney Bird Greene.

But we did go to the county fair and we really did eat breakfast at the White House. Of course, when the county fair is open, you have to go more than one day. You have to see the animals and the merchants one night, and do the midway on another night.

So Monday was roosters, rabbits and merchants night, which is my favorite. I love going through the merchants buildings and signing up for every single drawing every business, church or club offers. In the past I’ve one a DirectTV satellite package, Avon baskets, shirts, and other stuff I can’t remember. This year, though, so many were offering gas cards. That kinda sucks, since I don’t drive… but I signed up for them anyway.

On Wednesday, we went for bracelet night at the midway. I even got a bracelet, which is stupid because I have vertigo. Maggie and I rode an up and down kind of ride. It didn’t spin, so I thought I’d be safe… wrong. But I know to focus on one spot to keep from getting sick… Maggie, poor Maggie, did not. She quickly exited the side of the ride and lost her lunch. She was pretty much ready to go home after that. I have a question for any med-savvy people, Maggie has eczema that flared this week, so she’d taken Benadryl, can that make you more prone to motion sickness? I told her that’s why she got sick.

Oh well, we went to look at the horses after that. We scratched several piggie’s backs and made our way back to the midway for our last ride. By then Mag’s stomach was settled, and our tradition is to save the Ferris wheel for our final fair event. The thing creaked and groaned and scared poor Maggie, who thought with certainty we were going to plummet to our deaths. I told her it just needed some WD-40 and we were safe, though I secretly agreed with her and I never get frightened on rides!

We lived.

Breakfast at the White House… I’m sure you’ve been dying to know. Here in Logansport, there is a restaurant called “White House”. It is owned by Lester, who has been cooking at the White House since my momma was a little girl, and that’s saying something! Mags and me, we always order the same thing, eggs over easy, toast with extra butter, smoked sausage and bacon, home fries with onions, chocolate mile for Mags and coffee for me. We always have the same waitress, Karen, so we never actually have to tell her what we want, unless we are adding a pancake with peanut butter like we did yesterday. Mag’s loves Karen, who’s watched her grow since we had our first breakfast there when Maggie was three. Like most places Maggie goes, she gets away with a lot at the White House… she brings flowers and a smile, and all the orneriness she can muster!

Also this week, I found FRED, where Julie shared the Fart in the Duck, Fyrefly asked Where the Hell is Matt and Suey shared her addiction to Vlogbrothers.

My First Ever Giveaway!! is winding down… only 11 days until it closes! Right now, I have 584 entries, and am giving away a $20, a $10, and a $5 Borders gift card. 16 more entries will add another $10 gift card, and at 700 I was going to add another $5, but I’ve been thinking… that’s such a great number, that it might be more. So… if you haven’t entered to win yet, do it now!
Enter to WIN!!