Friday, June 22, 2012

The Car Thief by Theodore Weesner

We first meet Alex Housman when he is 16 years old, after he's stolen his fourteenth car.  He can't quite pinpoint the reason why he does it but for perhaps an intangible feeling of being trapped in a tedious life filled with expectations that have no reward.  Alex is smart but not interested in school.  His father's job working second shift at the Chevy plant has the two of them living in a part of town that shames him.  His father dresses sharp but is prone to alcoholic binges that give Alex plenty of time alone to struggle with his feelings or do his best to avoid them by joyriding in other people's cars.  A self-made outcast, Alex has already seemingly hit the point of no return when readers turn the first page.  He's already coming to terms with the fact that he'll soon be arrested, and so he is.  What follows is Alex's story of detention and his struggle to fit back into his old life or a create a new one after his release.

Weesner's writing is austere in the same way some indie movies are austere, with no music, no frills or stunts to draw your attention from the rawness of his main character's journey.  Dialogue only makes an occasional appearance in the pages of The Car Thief.  A book with such limited dialogue can make for a slow-going slog, but such is not the case with The Car Thief. We live inside Alex's head as he seems to drift from place to place, vaguely ashamed of his alcoholic father and the evidence of their low-income life, making awkward and painful missteps with girls, with would-be friends, with the brother who he remembers fondly but seems to have moved beyond his reach.  His thoughtful and emotional journey is so absorbing that the missing dialogue seems of little import.

Alex is reminiscent of Holden Caulfield without the obvious and irritating wall of cynicism.  Alex's struggles with life's realities - recognizing his father for what he is both good and bad, his recognition of school as another version of captivity, and his realization that after crime and punishment he's no longer able to fit back into the mold of his past life - are dealt with convincingly and paced in just such a way that readers will feel that they are making these discoveries just as Alex is and not before. 
The Car Thief's coming of age story is brutally honest, painfully wrought, and compelling to read.

The Car Thief is an excellent kick-off for Astor and Blue's Digital First publishing model, which entails releasing books first in e-book format and following that with print editions.  Books get all the trappings of traditional publishers - vetting, marketing push, good books - without that expensive initial run to the paper presses.  Okay, that might not be a huge sell for me in my e-readerless corner of the world (I'm starting to feel like a curmudgeonly traditionalist, "Back in my day, books were made of paper, kids!  And we had to carry those heavy things 3 miles to school in the snow uphill both ways!), but realist me has to wonder if this kind of publishing model really is the way of the future.  I mean, it doesn't seem too farfetched to change over from the whole hardback to paperback publishing model of old to an e-book to print book publishing model of new wherein curmudgeons who like books to be made of paper have to wait for the book they want instead of cheapskate paperback lovers waiting to get what the book they want as in the past. 

P.S. If you're not an old-fashioned girl like me, you can get the book here.  Also, if you want a deal on a good read, you can grab it for a paltry $2.99 for Kindle until Sunday (June 24th).

(Disclaimer: This book was sent to me by a publicist in exchange for my honest review.)
What do you think about publishing this way?  And am I the last one that hasn't bowed out to the e-reader thing? 

Friday, June 8, 2012

Armchair BEA: The Way of the Future

As Armchair BEA draws to a close today, we're wrapping up a great week by getting and giving some tips about blogging so we can all stay energized and enthused about books and blogging well into the future. 

First, I'll dive right in and give a few.  Here are the three most important lessons I think I've learned in my blogging.

1. It doesn't have to be all about the books all the time.  - Okay, maybe some people are purists about their book blogs, and they never want to hear about anything else.  As for me (and others, I've heard), I want to know the person behind the book reviews, too, so if you've got a hankering to tell us all about your bad week at work, the amazing vacation you just arrived back from, the cooking/knitting/quilting project that is your pride and joy, what your crazy Uncle Joe said to you just last week, etc. feel free to share.  Books are great, but I love blogs that have books and a personal touch.

2. Don't overcommit.  - I'm still working on this one and pretty much failing.  There will come a time, if you write good thoughtful reviews for a long time, network with just the right people, and/or just get plain lucky that perhaps your e-mail box will find itself full of review copy offers.  Maybe you'll also be slurping up titles at NetGalley at an alarming rate.  Bottom line?  Review copies are great and a fun perk of book blogging, but there is too much of a good thing.  You will be tempted to say, yes, yes, YES!  But don't let it get to the point where you feel like you're always reading out of obligation even if the books are great and you've got the best of intentions.  Oddly enough, review copies, if not handled with care, can suck the fun and passion out of blogging much faster than you'd guess, and when it's not fun, it's just work, and really, who needs more work to do??

3. Don't forget to hang out with the nice other bloggers.  - The backbone and the best part of book blogging is and always has been commenting and community.  Don't get so caught up in trying to get a post up every day that you forget to pay your blogging buddies a visit and occasionally go out of your way to discover some new would-be blogging buddies.  We all need to feel like someone's reading all this typing, right?  ;-)  For me, it's easy to drift too far to one side or the other, only reading and commenting or only focusing on a getting content up on my own blog.  Never stop trying to find the balance, unless, well, you've already found it, in which case, you should probably draw me a road map to balance in the comments...

And, now, a question for you, good readers.  I've been blogging away here with more or less consistency since the end of 2007, and honestly, I'm starting to feel like I'm saying all the same things all the time.  Occasionally, I'm afraid I might even be boring myself.  Maybe it just feels that way, but it's hard to shake the scary feeling that I'm just...I don't know...beating a poor, dead horse.  That said, how do you keep things fresh and exciting?  I'd love to hear what you do when you feel like your blog is kind of cruising along on average-y auto-pilot, and you want to breathe a little life into it. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Armchair BEA: Best of 2012?

For me, aside from the fun of hanging out with all your friends from the computer, the big fun of BEA is the anticipation of all the new books coming out that could be the next big, exciting thing!  I've been enjoying poking around all the BEA galley guides and looking for the books that are supposed to be big at BEA, books that, if I was there, I'd definitely be angling for copies of.  I've narrowed it down to 5 for today's purposes even though there are so many I'd love to have in my hands. 

Future favorites?  We'll see!  

The People of Forever are Not Afraid by Shani Boianjiu (Hogart/September)  - Shani Boianjiu's riveting debut is a revelation-the story of three girls who grow up in a small Israeli village and join the Israeli Defense Forces at eighteen, where they experience a typical coming of age at the same time as preparing for the ever-present threat of war. Yael trains marksmen and flirts with boys. Avishag stands guard, watching refugees throw themselves at barbed-wire fences. Lea, posted at a checkpoint, imagines the stories behind the familiar faces that pass by her day after day. They gossip about boys and whisper of an ever more violent world just beyond view. They drill, constantly, for a moment that may never come. They live inside that single, intense second just before danger erupts.

In Sunlight and In Shadow by Mark Helprin (HMH/October) - Mark Helprin's enchanting and sweeping new novel asks a simple question: can love and honor conquer all? New York in 1947 glows with post-war energy. Harry Copeland, an elite paratrooper who fought behind enemy lines in Europe, returns home to run the family business. In a single, magical encounter on the Staten Island ferry, the young singer and heiress Catherine Thomas Hale falls for him in an instant, too late to prevent her engagement to a much older man. Harry and Catherine pursue one another in a romance played out in postwar America's Broadway theaters, Long Island mansions, the offices of financiers, and the haunts of gangsters. Catherine's choice of Harry over her long-time fiancĂ© endangers Harry's livelihood and eventually threatens his life.Entrancing in its lyricism, In Sunlight and in Shadow so powerfully draws you into New York at the dawn of the modern age that, as in a vivid dream, you will not want to leave.

Every Day by David Levithan (Knopf/August) -  Every day a different body. Every day a different life. Every day in love with the same girl.  Every morning, A wakes in a different person's body, a different person's life. There's never any warning about where it will be or who it will be. A has made peace with that, even established guidelines by which to live: Never get too attached. Avoid being noticed. Do not interfere.  It's all fine until the morning that A wakes up in the body of Justin and meets Justin's girlfriend, Rhiannon. From that moment, the rules by which A has been living no longer apply. Because finally A has found someone he wants to be with-day in, day out, day after day.

Gold by Chris Cleave (July/Simon & Schuster) - Gold is the story of Zoe and Kate, world-class athletes who have been friends and rivals since their first day of Elite training. They’ve loved, fought, betrayed, forgiven, consoled, gloried, and grown up together. Now on the eve of London 2012, their last Olympics, both women will be tested to their physical and emotional limits. They must confront each other and their own mortality to decide, when lives are at stake: What would you sacrifice for the people you love, if it meant giving up the thing that was most important to you in the world?

In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner (July/Simon & Schuster) - For seven-year-old Raami, the shattering end of childhood begins with the footsteps of her father returning home in the early dawn hours bringing details of the civil war that has overwhelmed the streets of Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital. Soon the family’s world of carefully guarded royal privilege is swept up in the chaos of revolution and forced exodus.  Over the next four years, as she endures the deaths of family members, starvation, and brutal forced labor, Raami clings to the only remaining vestige of childhood—the mythical legends and poems told to her by her father. In a climate of systematic violence where memory is sickness and justification for execution, Raami fights for her improbable survival. Displaying the author’s extraordinary gift for language, In the Shadow of the Banyan is testament to the transcendent power of narrative and a brilliantly wrought tale of human resilience.  

Any BEA books you're looking forward to?


Monday, June 4, 2012

Armchair BEA: Introductions first!

Well, this is weird.  It's Book Expo America time, and I'm not there.  I was there last year and the year before that and had an absolute blast meeting bloggers, picking up ARCs of the hottest new books, and networking with all kinds of publishing people.  While I wish like heck I could be there this year, the finances aren't there and the timing's not good, so here I am, bittersweetly watching all the tweets of those many who are on their way to a week of bookish awesomeness.  Rather than sitting back and being vaguely depressed all week, it seemed like a much better idea to enjoy the pleasures of Armchair BEA.  Sure, it might not be quite the same, but it's quite a bit cheaper, I didn't have to pack, and I've heard I'm not even required to wear pants to participate.  As it so happens, I am wearing pants, but you probably don't even care about that - yes, I could get used to this whole Armchair BEA thing.  As the kick-off for the event, we're interviewing our own selves and then getting out and about to visit the rest of the crowd.  So, without further rambling (okay, there's much more rambling), I give you an interview!

Please tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you? How long have you been blogging? Why did you get into blogging?

I'm Megan.  I've been blogging here at Leafing Through Life since October 2007, which seems like eons ago in blogging time.  Okay, it seems like eons ago in normal time.  Book blogging started for me when I came back from a six-month stint living in Boston, where I spent several enjoyable months working at the Downtown Crossing Borders (RIP :( ), with people who knew about and enjoyed books as much, indeed sometimes more than I did.  When I came back to Pennsylvania, I found myself jobless, aimless, and short of bookish companionship.  I've always been one for creating projects for myself, and I'd seen a few book blogs around.  I missed writing, and I thought it would be a grand experiment to try and review every book I read for a year.  Or 5.  ;-)

Tell us one non-book-related thing that everyone reading your blog may not know about you.

Since my aimless, jobless autumn of 2007, I have indeed managed to acquire gainful employment in the least bookish area I could find (unintentionally, of course).  I work in a surgical pathology lab giving case numbers to things like your appendix or your gallbladder or whatever when they are delivered out of the operating rooms of a pretty major Pennsylvania health system.  It's a sort of job I never knew existed, much less thought I'd ever be working at, being kind of a word nerd and a pretty major science-phobe.  I have to admit that the job I stumbled into is definitely interesting, but it definitely leaves me with a major need to escape into the bookish once I escape it.  Another reason I'm still plugging away in blogland at this much later date. =)

What are you currently reading, or what is your favorite book you have read so far in 2012?

I think I might talk about "best ofs" tomorrow, so, right now, I'm reading The Car Thief by Theodore Weesner, a re-release of a would-be American classic coming of age story.  It's a little young to be a real classic in my opinion, but it definitely reads like it could be one.  I'm also casting aside my book monogamy law (reading multiple books at one time doesn't really work out for me, usually), to read Stephen King's The Stand for Trish's readalong (The Stand...along!).  It's my first readalong.  So far, so good.  =)

Which is your favorite post that you have written that you want everyone to read?

Oddly, some of my favorite posts I wrote in response to (now defunct) Weekly Geeks prompts.  I mean, there's the one about the the magazine problem of yore, and the one where I wrote the mean letter to W. Somerset Maugham.  But, uh, I do actually like books from time to time as evidenced by the annual Leafy Awards which are hopefully as entertaining to read as they are to write.

(I think the point of this 5 question exercise was for this to be short and sweet.  As it happens, I am neither short nor sweet.  Okay, I'm kind of short, but not on verbiage.  What I mean to say is FAIL.  Also, I'm going to skip the fifth question because I'm kind of thinking you might want to have time to visit bloggers that aren't me today, too.)

If you're stopping by from Armchair BEA today, please do leave your link.  I look forward to visiting as many of you as I can after my liberation from giving case numbers to the tonsils and the gallbladders and the appendixes (appendices?) and everything later today!

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Photo Album by K.B. Dixon

It's become almost a yearly tradition for me to read and review one of author K.B. Dixon's short novels.  Since he sought me out a few years ago with an offer of his insightful, A Painter's Life, it's been a no-brainer to say yes to any review copies he's willing to send my way. 

K.B. Dixon's books are interesting experiments with storytelling in unique formats.  In A Painter's Life, he told the story of a painter via excerpts from his biography, reviews of his work, and excerpts from his journal.  The Ingram Interview probed the depths of the title character entirely in interview format.  It should be no surprise then that The Photo Album is, well, a photo album, except without the photos.  Okay, it sounds a little offbeat, and it is, but there's something clever to leaving the photos to the imagination and alluding to them through the stories and musings they inspire.

A person, a place, a thing --- for me a picture is always a picture of time, an instant rescued from oblivion.

Michael Quick, Dixon's fictional photographer, is a committed amateur photographer, not so prolific as to be famous, but invested enough in the art to wax philosophical about it.  His repertoire includes plenty of shots of his neighbors, the city of Portland, and the occasional inanimate object.  The format gives Quick the opportunity to navel-gaze over the art and aesthetics of photography as he collects some of his favorite shots.  Even better, it allows for a giving into the urge to tell stories that are, at best, tangentially related to the photo at hand that photographs often seems to inspire as they draw us into the bigger stories of our past and present.  By and large, what emerges is an engaging novella that mixes entertaining observations of the ordinary and amateur philosophizing about an oft underappreciated art.  Unfortunately, on some pages Dixon seems to be carried off on a tide of overwhelmingly advanced vocabularly.  Perhaps there's a method to this, but I'll admit that these pages found me with my eyes glazing over just a bit given the lack of context to give meaning to a bunch of lesser used words strung together in an impenetrable paragraph.  I tend to think I have a fairly decent vocabulary, but some of these pages had me second guessing myself. 

That said, when Dixon is on the mark, you'll be smiling to yourself or nodding appreciatively at the astuteness of his observations.  Quick's anecdotes about the neighbors he photographs can be a window on human nature.  His musings about life's oddities, like crossword puzzles drawing words out of you that you hardly realize you know, are things that you might well never think of on your own, but will strike you with their obvious truth.  Even his thoughts on photography and how it can rescue a moment, even a life from oblivion strike a chord. 

This is a picture of Terry Greenfield... He is working a crossword puzzle.  I have never understood the attraction of this sort of pointless intellection.  It was snapped just before Terry asked me if I knew a nine-letter word that meant "disturbance."  I offered "kerfuffle," a word I didn't even know I knew.  I don't know where I picked it up.  I have never used it in a sentence.  I can't imagine that I ever would.

A Painter's Life still hasn't been unseated as my favorite of Dixon's work thus far, but The Photo Album is another clever and entertaining read that uses an unusual storytelling device to draw out a character and the human condition itself.