Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Book that Broke the Three-Year Streak

Three years ago, my wife gave birth to twins. Fatigue followed Joy followed Excitement followed Anticipation followed Fear and so on. Cute kids, huh?

I know. But my reading habits changed (as did many other parts of my life, of course).

After a year or so of denial, we let the wasted New Yorker subscription lapse. I read more non-fiction, especially books with short chapters. I started but didn't finish more and more books. To be fair, I more or less gave up on movies, too--only one-hour episodes of The Wire or such could be squeezed into a day.

And for three years, I did not read a single book in one sitting. No book could keep me from turning off the light at a reasonable hour, knowing the "alarm clock" sleeping in the next room would go off every morning at or before 6:00 am whether I stayed up late or not.
But last week, I saw this review on the front page of the New York Times Sunday Book Review. When a Finnish first novel in translation merits the front page of this revered rag, I pay attention. And when the novel is short, I grab it right away. So I did.

And a few blessed hours later, I exhaled and finished The Book that Broke the Three-Year Streak: When I Forgot by Elina Hirvonen.

It's terse, gripping, intense. I humbly suggest you stop depriving yourself and buy a copy at the locally owned independent bookstore of your choice. Here's mine. Or here are some others.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Author Photo

"If you have an attractive looking author, there's a better chance that your book will get reviewed." - Nicholas Latimer, Knopf's director of publicity, quoting a People Magazine editor (via NPR).

I'll be frank, this post's origin lies in a shamelessly shallow conversation between store employees on Sunday night. Yes, shocking as it may be, it's true: we occasionally descend from the literary empyrean to discuss matters less profound than the existential foreshadowing apparent in Dostoevsky's Crime & Punishment or the influence of the nouveau roman on early 21st century Bosnian poetics. Last night, we were trying to come up with a list of attractive authors (and yet remaining vigilant in our service to you, the book-buying public), which led to the ever-so-slightly-less-shallow topic of The Author Photo. (Pictured above, Marisha Pessl, author of Special Topics in Calamity Physics.)

What makes a good Author Photo? Are they necessary? Do you even notice them? Have you - ahem - ever bought a book based on an author photo? I'm fully prepared to admit that I do pay attention to author photos, if only in a casual way. It's often a pleasant or at least amusing distraction on the job. While I'm not an aficionado or savant, I will offer up some memorable author photos, with the invitation to suggest some of your favorites/least favorites or simply remarkable for a certain Je ne sais quoi.

Roberto Bolano, real casual like

To reiterate: Zadie Smith writes books

Norman Mailer, perhaps a little too casual

William Vollmann wrote a 7-volume treatise on violence

Rita Mae Brown wouldn't be complete without her cat

Sammy Beckett could work on his intensity