Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Book Review: The Third Chimpanzee by Jared Diamond

The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution & Future of the Human Animal by Jared Diamond

Fascinating book! A little dense so it took me a few days to read, but really interesting. In fact, since I started reading this book it seems like every other story I hear on the radio is about evolution, some are even on some of the exact topics in this book (which would be less weird if this book just came out but it was published in 1992.)

What convinced me to read it was a tidbit about how one of the very, very few things that are unique to humans is our desire to have sex alone, in private. Most animals do it in public, surrounded by their peers. Sadly, Dr. Diamond doesn't have a really cool explanation beyond that it likely increases the bond between partners which is crucial for raising human children, as they take so friggin long to raise. But meanwhile, I got all sorts of other neat tidbits of info: why are "bad boys" so attractive? Do other animals use drugs? Was farming the beginning of the end for humans? How/when/where did we develop language?

Basically this book isn't just about evolution as a fact. It's about the why behind it. Why did humans develop certain abilities, skills, or predilections and how were those things useful to us? Some are quite obvious such as domesticating animals, but others aren't such as murder. He looks at other species for answers which usually demonstrates how things we think are unique to humans really aren't, and it shows how truly useful ideas develop more than once. (Ants actually raise aphids like we raise cattle.)

Another undercurrent throughout the books is how we have evolved to the point where we can now destroy ourselves and the whole world. Several times Dr. Diamond mentions his sons, and how he's worried about the future they're inheriting. Reading the book 18 years after publication gives these arguments both more weight and less. The likelihood of nuclear war has lessened, while climate change has accelerated. I would be very interested if they added a new afterward in a newer edition. I wonder what Dr. Diamond thinks of the world today.
Interestingly, I came away from this book thinking how much like animals humans are (only 2% difference in DNA between us and chimpanzees). I told my friend T. about it, and she thought of the opposite - how much like humans animals are. (Yes, she is a big PETA supporter.) J. who recommended it was more interested in the history of the human being. It has a broad appeal and many people will get different things out of it.
This book will stay with me for quite a while. Whenever I see someone smoking, guys getting into a fight, or a woman being hit on in a bar, I will think of different aspects of Dr. Diamond's theories, and how pretty much everything we do is in an unconscious effort to pass along our genes.

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by Should Be Reading.

Grab your current read. Open to a random page. Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page. BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach p. 29

"He told me the story about how he helped test the lubricant for a launch-pad escape slide on the Space Shuttle. 'They had us bend over and they brushed our butts with it. And then we jumped on the slide. And it passed so [the shuttle mission] could go forward and the space station could be built. I was proud,' he deadpanned, 'to do my part for the mission.'"

Sorry this is more than 2 sentences but it really captures Ms. Roach's humor and also the obtuseness of some scientists.

Monday, August 30, 2010

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is now hosted by Sheila at One Persons Journey Through a World of Books.

Books completed last week:
none - busy week with other things (Dad's retirement party, out of town, prepping for half marathon next weekend.)

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution & Future of the Human Animal by Jared Diamond

Up Next:
The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time by Jonathan Weiner
At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson
How I Became a Famous Novelist by Steve Hely

Thursday, August 26, 2010

My Favorite Reads: The Amateur Marriage by Anne Tyler

In My Favorite Reads each week I feature one of my favorite reads from the past. August is Audio Book Appreciation Month, and although I normally don't like abridgements, I did really enjoy The Amateur Marriage by Anne Tyler.

Summary (from the publisher):
From the inimitable Anne Tyler, a rich and compelling novel about a mismatched marriage—and its consequences, spanning three generations.

They seemed like the perfect couple—young, good-looking, made for each other. The moment Pauline, a stranger to the Polish Eastern Avenue neighborhood of Baltimore (though she lived only twenty minutes away), walked into his mother’s grocery store, Michael was smitten. And in the heat of World War II fervor, they are propelled into a hasty wedding. But they never should have married.

Pauline, impulsive, impractical, tumbles hit-or-miss through life; Michael, plodding, cautious, judgmental, proceeds deliberately. While other young marrieds, equally ignorant at the start, seemed to grow more seasoned, Pauline and Michael remain amateurs. In time their foolish quarrels take their toll. Even when they find themselves, almost thirty years later, loving, instant parents to a little grandson named Pagan, whom they rescue from Haight-Ashbury, they still cannot bridge their deep-rooted differences. Flighty Pauline clings to the notion that the rifts can always be patched. To the unyielding Michael, they become unbearable.

From the sound of the cash register in the old grocery to the counterculture jargon of the sixties, from the miniskirts to the multilayered apparel of later years, Anne Tyler captures the evocative nuances of everyday life during these decades with such telling precision that every page brings smiles of recognition. Throughout, as each of the competing voices bears witness, we are drawn ever more fully into the complex entanglements of family life in this wise, embracing, and deeply perceptive novel.

Why I chose this book:
I liked seeing the different generations, and how the sins of the parents are visited upon the children. As with all Anne Tyler novels, this is a rich story of family. You sympathize with all the characters while still seeing their glaring flaws. Honest and real, Michael and Pauline could be the neighbors down the street.

Publishers, why oh why do you make abridged audiobooks? Never do them without the unabridged option. I hate abridged, only listen to them when they're the only option, and then wonder and worry about what I missed out on. Anything that's worth printing is worth including in the audio.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

“Waiting On” Wednesday: Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted here, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter: A Novel by Tom Franklin
from the publisher:

A powerful and resonant novel from Tom Franklin—critically acclaimed author of Smonk and Hell at the BreechCrooked Letter, Crooked Letter tells the riveting story of two boyhood friends, torn apart by circumstance, who are brought together again by a terrible crime in a small Mississippi town. An extraordinary novel that seamlessly blends elements of crime and Southern literary fiction, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is a must for readers of Larry Brown, Pete Dexter, Ron Rash, and Dennis Lehane.

Publishing 10/5/2010 by William Morrow

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by Should Be Reading.

Grab your current read. Open to a random page. Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page. BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution & Future of the Human Animal by Jared Diamond p. 61

"We are unusual in having sex mainly in private and for fun, rather than mainly in public and only when the female is able to conceive. Ape females advertise the time when they are ovulating; human females conceal it even from themselves."

This is the tidbit that was told me that got me reading this book! So I thought it might work for you all too.

Monday, August 23, 2010

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is now hosted by Sheila at One Persons Journey Through a World of Books.

Books completed last week:
The Interpretation of Murder: A Novel by Jed Rubenfeld

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution & Future of the Human Animal by Jared Diamond

Up Next:
The Known World by Edward P. Jones
I Was Told There'd Be Cake by Sloane Crosley
The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home by Dan Ariely

Saturday, August 21, 2010

When Book Recommendations Go Wrong

A couple of days ago an article in The Guardian addressed the issue: "When book recommendations go wrong. How many times has someone pressed a book on you 'that you'll love' which you actually loathe?" Of course this has happened to me. I'll bet it's happened to all book lovers. And just like the example given in the article, my worst offenders have been exes, as I discussed in my Dealbreakers post.

I have a very good friend, J. who is also a good reader, and we're in the same book group. But aside from book club books which we mostly agree on, our reading interests are diametrically opposed. If I loved a book, she'll hate it, and vice versa. Which doesn't stop her from recommending books to me! I smile, roll my eyes a little, and say to her, "but you know I always hate books you love, right?" and she insists this one will be different. But I've been burned too many times to try. I'm not sure why she's so insistent on continuing to recommend these to me. I think she's very optimistic and on one level thinks that if she love love loves a book, everyone will, right? Whereas with my background in bookselling, I really try to tailor my recommendations to the recipient, regardless of what I personally have been reading and liking. In fact, I've even been known to recommend books I don't like to people who I know will like them!

The bum books are actually pretty difficult for me to track, because mostly I don't finish books I don't like (life is too short!) so I don't include them in my list of books I've read. But one that comes to mind right away is One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. It was recommended to me by my youngest sister, L. when she was still in school, and I liked other books she'd suggested, but this one I detested. A family tree/list of characters at the beginning should have been a red flag. I was still having to refer back to that every couple of pages when I was halfway through, and I threw in the towel.

Another that was recommended by all and sundry for a while was Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier. I was listening to the audio book while driving to/from work. It was literally putting me to sleep and then I'd hit the rumble strip and wake up... and it would happen again and again. I found the book filled with bad Southern stereotypes and just tedious with very little plot. When I was 2/3 of the way through, I went to the friend who had pushed it on me, M., and asked if I had correctly guessed the surprise ending. When he confirmed it, I said "That's it! I'm done!" Ejected it and never looked back.

About ten years ago you shouldn't swing a cat without hitting a girl reading The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank, which was recommended to me by a girlfriend, S., who I didn't know well. I found it pretentious, disjointed, precious, and frustrating (although this one I did finish.)

I take all recommendations with a big grain of salt. Luckily, I don't actually get too many of them. Most of my friends know that with 350+ unread books in my house, I need another book to add to my TBR list like the proverbial fish needs their bicycle. And often when I do get recommendations, I nod and smile and then forget. It turns out unless the book is a loaner, most people don't ever ask you later if you actually read it. So don't worry if you are getting bad recommendations. Life is too short to read bad books!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Book Beginnings on Friday

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Becky at Page Turners. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.

The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution & Future of the Human Animal by Jared Diamond

"The next time you visit a zoo, make a point of walking past the ape cages."

As it's about evolution, this first sentence seems very appropriate!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Book Review: The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld

I am not a huge mystery reader but I do like them occasionally, especially when they are historicals with famous people thrown in, so The Interpretation of Murder was right up my alley. Having the Flatiron Building (my old office) on the cover didn't hurt, although it doesn't feature in the book at all. (A lot of the action takes place in Gramercy Park, which is fairly close by.)
Dr. Younger (fictional) is meeting Drs. Freud and Jung in Manhattan when they arrive a week before their scheduled lectures as Clark University and Columbia respectively. Meanwhile, a young woman has been murdered in a prestigious apartment building while another has been attacked with the same M.O., and the latter woman has lost her voice and her memory. Dr. Younger is brought in to analyze the surviving woman in hopes of getting her memory to return (and voice). A young detective and an unappreciated coroner investigate the attacks (and that of a third woman) while the doctors discuss Freud's theories, Oedipal in particular. Dr. Younger also might be falling for his pretty patient, and is working through his own issues regarding his father and Hamlet. Meanwhile someone is trying to discredit Dr. Freud, and Dr. Jung is acting very bizarre.
All the storylines tied together well. The book did keep me guessing although it wasn't too intricate. I liked how the building of the Manhattan Bridge tied in to the story, although all the Oedipal discussions got a tad repetitive (but surely there were this many if not more in reality.) While the American visit of Freud and Jung is true, the murder and attacks are entirely fictional. I have always loved this era of turn-of-the-century New York filled with robber barons and High Society, and all the period elements felt authentic. I did find one element of the writing style a bit unusual. Dr. Younger tells the story partly in first person. But other parts of the story when he isn't present are told in third person. The switching back and forth was a little jarring at times, but probably would have flowed better if I'd been able to read it in longer stretches.
All in all, it was a satisfying historical mystery. I stayed up well past my bedtime to finish it!

My Favorite Reads: Complications by Atul Gawande

In My Favorite Reads each week I feature one of my favorite reads from the past. August is Audio Book Appreciation Month so all my books this month are ones I listened to on audio.

Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science by Atul Gawande

Summary (from the publisher):
A brilliant and courageous doctor reveals, in gripping accounts of true cases, the power and limits of modern medicine.

Sometimes in medicine the only way to know what is truly going on in a patient is to operate, to look inside with one's own eyes. This book is exploratory surgery on medicine itself, laying bare a science not in its idealized form but as it actually is -- complicated, perplexing, and profoundly human.

Atul Gawande offers an unflinching view from the scalpel's edge, where science is ambiguous, information is limited, the stakes are high, yet decisions must be made. In dramatic and revealing stories of patients and doctors, he explores how deadly mistakes occur and why good surgeons go bad. He also shows us what happens when medicine comes up against the inexplicable: an architect with incapacitating back pain for which there is no physical cause; a young woman with nausea that won't go away; a television newscaster whose blushing is so severe that she cannot do her job. Gawande offers a richly detailed portrait of the people and the science, even as he tackles the paradoxes and imperfections inherent in caring for human lives.

At once tough-minded and humane, Complications is a new kind of medical writing, nuanced and lucid, unafraid to confront the conflicts and uncertainties that lie at the heart of modern medicine, yet always alive to the possibilities of wisdom in this extraordinary endeavor.

Why I chose this book:
I listened to this on audio and had many driveway moments, when I wanted to finish hearing the essay and so just sat in my car until it was done. With individual essays, it was perfect for getting in and out of the car periodically. The essays on the flesh-eating disease, and also on the incompetent doctors were the ones that I found the most powerful and which have stayed with me, even now 4+ years later. Dr. Gawande is a terrific writer, and really manages to explain medicine to a lay person in a very clear manner but that isn't dumbed down.

The Devil's Dictionary: A Glossary of Publishing Terms

In an interview, it's good if you can throw in a bit of insider's lingo. It shows you've been doing your research and are informed about the industry. At the very least, it's good if you can understand what your interviewer is saying to you! Like all industries, publishing has a lot of its own language and abbreviations. This is just a cursory list of some really basic terms that you might not know.

Advance Reader’s Copy – also ARC, or Advanced Reader’s Edition or ARE. A pre-publication printing of a book made from the second pass pages (so it will be riddled with typos as it hasn’t had a final proofread), created for reviewers and other promotions to feed interest upon publication. The front will usually have what looks like a cover, but the spine will be plain, and the back cover is a reproduction of the catalog page.

Back copy – any copy that appears on the back of a book. On the hardcover it could be blurbs, quotes, or an excerpt. On the paperback, it’s the description, author biography, and quotes.

Backlist – older books, from 3-6 months old until they go out of print. Backlist is often the bread-and-butter than pays the bills at a publishing house. The books have long since earned out their advances, and have proven themselves consistent sellers without any marketing or advertising dollars spent on them.

Blurb – a quote solicited from a published author or another name person in the industry or media pre-publication to be printed on the book as a recommendation.

Children’s/Adult – notice that children’s is plural and possessive while adult is singular. Yes, this is completely inconsistent and yet it’s the convention how each of the segments of publishing is referred to.

Face out/Spine out –how books are shelved at a bookstore. Face out is showing the cover, spine out only shows the end with the title. Face out books sell better, but you can fit a lot more books spine out.

Flap copy – the description, author biography, and quotes that appear on the inside flaps of a hardcover book.

Frontlist – the brand-new books, published within the last 3-6 months.

Format – the binding of a book. The most common formats are: Hardcover, trade paperback, mass market paperback, audio, board book, ebook, or reinforced binding (for libraries)

Galley – a pre-publication printing of a book made from the first pass pages (so it will be riddled with typos as it hasn’t had any proofread). Sometimes this has a paper or otherwise plain cover. Like an ARC, this is created for pre-publication publicity opportunities such as blurbs, and long-lead reviews.
Genre - the subject or category the book belongs in such as literary fiction, memoir, history, or young adult. More specifically when people talk about "genre books" they are talking about adult fiction books that fall into one of these categories: mystery, thriller, romance, western, science fiction, fantasy.

Imprint – a smaller division of a publishing house. Often these are a way to group books according to category or series, such as For Dummies, Mysterious Press, and Red Dress Ink. Other times they’ve been ways to reward editors who’ve done well at a house, and these divisions while without specific genre affiliations will usually reflect the personality and interests of the helmers, such as Spiegel & Grau, Reagan Arthur Books, and Amy Einhorn Books. There can be dozens upon dozens of imprints at a single publishing house.

ISBN – International Standard Book Number. Don’t say “ISBN Number” as that’s repetitive. They are now 13 digits, with the first 3 being 978- or 979-. The next digit is a 0 or 1 as it indicates the language (English). The next 2-4 digits are specific to the publisher. The last digit is a check digit which is calculated based on an algorithm of the previous 12 numbers. Supposedly they are all unique, and each format/edition gets a new ISBN, but occasionally there has been a mistake and there is a duplication. They are created by Bowker, and publishers have to purchase ISBNs.

Mass Market – the smallest size paperback book, also sometimes called “rack size” but that’s pretty rare these days. It’s usually 7”x 4.25”

Out of Print – also called OP. This status code indicates that a publisher has run out of stock and does not intend to reprint. Technically this indicates a book’s rights have been (or are able to be) reverted back to the author or original publisher. However, it is often also used when rights are retained. As far as the bookselling/buying public is concerned there is no real difference between OP and OSI.

Out of Stock Indefinitely – also called OSI or Permanently Out of Stock. A publisher uses this status code when they have run out of stock, do not intend to print more, but do not want to revert the rights back to the author.

Premium Paperback – this format is a recent development, it’s basically a slightly taller mass market. It’s 7.5” x 4.25”, and is priced at $9.99 (most mass markets are $2-$4 less).

Print on Demand – also called POD for short, this is where a publisher has created an electronic file of a book, which can be printed singly for individuals, instead of stocking large quantities of a title in a warehouse. Some bookstores have machines such as Espresso in their stores and can print POD books right there, whereas others much be ordered through Ingram’s Lightning Source or other sources. They often cost a few dollars more than standard printing, but when demand has dropped off significantly the alternative for most publishers would be to make a book OP.

Shelftalker – usually a piece of cardstock that is creased in the middle, so half of it can sit on a shelf under books (to hold it in place) while the remainder hangs down over the edge of the shelf. It can either have publisher-produced copy on it, or bookstores can create their own content, such as for Staff Recommends.

Slush – unsolicited manuscripts sent by hopeful writers to editors and agents.

Strippable – most mass market and premium mass market books, along with select trade paperback books are strippable. This is indicated by a triangle with an S in it on the inside front cover, which should also have a barcode next to it. When this book has run its course in a bookstore and needs to be removed to make room for new books, instead of shipping it back to the publisher for resale (which gets cost prohibitive on such low priced books), instead the front cover is ripped off and only those are returned to the publisher for credit. The rest of the book is trashed or recycled. If you see books for sale without their front cover, those are stolen goods.

Sub-Rights – rights in addition to initial publication that are sold off to other companies such as serial rights for magazines and newspapers, audiobook licensing, British and translation rights, dramatic rights, and large-print book rights. Please see my post here about working in Sub-rights for a fuller explanation.

Trade Paperback – the largest size paperback. This encompasses all paperback books that aren’t mass markets, but normally the books are either 5x7 or 6x9. Sometimes called “quality paperback” but that’s fallen out of fashion.

Trade Publishing – publishing that is focused on regular readers at standard bookstores, as opposite to specific publishing such as Professional, Technical and Reference (PTR), Academic, Textbooks, and Christian publishing. Some University Press books are for a trade audience, some are only for an academic audience.

Young Adult – also known as YA, these are books for teenagers. While there is usually some significant overlap with Middle Reader books, what usually makes a book “young adult” is some kind of risky or controversial content: sex, drugs, alcohol, death, illness (mental or physical), divorce, and so on.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

“Waiting On” Wednesday: A Novel Bookstore

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted here, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cosse, Alison Anderson (Translator)

note: this is the same translator who did The Elegance of the Hedgehog
(also no plot description from the publisher listed yet)

Kirkus Reviews 2010 July #2

When French author Cossé (A Corner of the Veil, 1999, etc.) pairs unlikely business partners in the opening of a unique Parisian bookstore, The Good Novel, that will sell only the best fiction, their venture succeeds and draws vehement criticism—and worse.

The selection process at The Good Novel, owned and backed by the lovely Aldo-Valbella Francesca and run by Ivan Georg, is rigorous. Members of a secret committee of writers and bibliophiles compile novels that they consider superior to the usual bestseller-list folderol. Their bookstore is a success. But almost immediately detractors publish diatribes accusing The Good Novel's proprietors and denizens of snobbery. Worse, someone is pasting these attacks up around town. When attempts are made against the lives of several members of the selection committee, Ivan and Francesca turn to the law in the person of a publishing-industry veteran turned cop, Gonzague Heffner, to determine how it is that seemingly coordinated thugs have learned the meticulously concealed identities of committee members. Is there a centralized plot by publishing interests to overthrow the upstart store, or are these the isolated jabs of irate inferior writers who take issue with the store's exclusive policies? As the investigation unfolds, rival bookstores open, initially strong sales falter, and it becomes clear that the attacks are a reaction to the very concept of quality in literature. This mystery is however incidental to larger themes of what superlative work in the literary sphere constitutes. Not without its surprises, the book doesn't quite live up to the high literary standards that its characters apply. While the central mystery stalls and dissipates without satisfactory resolution, the central conceit—what place is there for great and often difficult literature in a mercenary world—is manifest in the plight of the store and the disruptive influence it has on critics and booksellers the world over. The book's real strength is its romances—of both the bookish and human varieties. In attention to matters of the heart the story is redeemed, delivering a touché where its original thrust misses the mark.

A literary idyll preselected for bookworms and bibliophiles.
Publishing by Europa Editions on 8/31/2010.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by Should Be Reading

Grab your current read. Open to a random page. Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page. BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

The Interpretation of Murder: A Novel by Jed Rubenfeld p. 116

The whole case was out of whack: a dead girl nobody knew anything about, people losing their memory, Chinamen running away, bodies disappearing from the morgue. "Can't hurt to have a look around, though."

Obviously a mystery, 100 years ago (hence the un-PC language), luckily the detective is pretty dogged and uncorruptable (which was highly unusual in this day and age.)

Monday, August 16, 2010

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?
This meme is now hosted by Sheila at One Persons Journey Through a World of Books.

Books completed last week:
In the Sanctuary of Outcasts by Neil White

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
The Interpretation of Murder: A Novel by Jed Rubenfeld

Up Next:
I have gotten a lot of books lately, here are a few I'm trying to choose among:
Summer at Tiffany by Marjorie Hart
The Great Typo Hunt: Two Friends Changing the World, One Correction at a Time by Jeff Deck and Benjamin D. Herson
Chicken with Plums by Marjane Satrapi
Bitter is the New Black : Confessions of a Condescending, Egomaniacal, Self-Centered Smartass, Or, Why You Should Never Carry A Prada Bag to the Unemployment Office by Jen Lancaster

Friday, August 13, 2010

Book Beginnings on Friday

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Becky at Page Turners. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.

The Interpretation of Murder: A Novel by Jed Rubenfeld

"There is no mystery to happiness."

Appropriate first line for a mystery involving Sigmund Freud. Oh, and I used to work in that building on the cover (the Flatiron Building in NYC.)

Book Review: In the Sanctuary of Outcasts by Neil White

I probably shouldn't have read this so soon after Orange is the New Black. Or maybe read them in reverse order. But after reading Piper Kerman's story, I am less sympathetic to Neil White's. He is not only a people-pleaser, but someone who is pretty obsessed with outwards appearances and keeping-up-with-the-Joneses. Because of this, he ends up check kiting when his magazine publishing business gets into financial straits. The first time it happens, in Oxford, Mississippi with a newspaper, he was able to get out of it (he got some investors to cough up more money to pay off the discrepancies. All the investors lost their money.) And not only did he not learn, but the second time around he put a lot more people's livelihoods on the line, and lost a lot more money.

Then, after getting busted he's sent to a white-collar prison that is pretty cushy. True, it shares ground with the Carville Leper Colony (the last in the U.S.) but it's none too harsh. In fact his biggest complaints are that he can't have an iron or cologne, and he also can't just hang out and chat with the leper patients. Towards the end, he does seem to start having some regrets and realizations about his actions, but I was surprised a bit by how little he grew as a person. He is honest about that, and it's probably true more often than not, but I was hoping for a little more introspection and growth.

Now that he's out, I hope he's really truly straightened his life out. And not just not kiting checks anymore - I hope he's realized what's truly important in life, and it's not having a boat. He seems like he might have, but I would have liked a longer epilogue. Overall I did like the book. It was well-written, read fast, and has one of the most unique settings imaginable, however it does pale in comparison to Orange. It's unfortunate for Mr. White that I read these so close together as I think I would have enjoyed this so much more if I'd read it a year earlier. This book would be perfect for someone who would be interested in reading about what prison is like, but worries that a prison memoir might be too harsh and harrowing.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Book Review: Blue Latitudes by Tony Horwitz

Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before by Tony Horwitz

After A Voyage Strange and True, I was SO looking forward to this book! I love Mr. Horwitz's writing AND topics, so what could be better, and it pretty much lived up to my expectations. In fact, in some ways it was even better. I really liked Mr. Horwitz's friend and travel companion Roger. Not only is it always better when your main character has someone to talk to as opposed to internal monologues, but Roger is hilarious: lazy, drunk, and laid-back. A perfect travel companion. While he does share Mr. Horwitz's fascination with Captain cook (to a point), he also has limits much more in line with the reader's (ie: sane.) He reminded me a bit of Stephen Katz, Bill Bryson's friend and occasional travel companion in A Walk in the Woods and Neither Here Nor There.

Tony Horwitz (and often Roger) retrace the 3 major exploration voyages of Captain Cook. He circumnavigated the world 3 times, got the closest to Antartica as anyone did for another 75 years, "discovered" scores of islands including New Zealand and Australia (although the natives and Aboriginals would argue that since they were already there, those places didn't need "discovering") and mapped thousands and thousands of miles of coastline, so accurately that some of his maps were being used until the 1990s. Mr. Horwitz sails in a replica Endeavor ship, travels all over the Pacific from New Zealand to Alaska (although he forgoes Antartica. Roger though goes, but there's only a couple of sentences about Roger's trip.)
Filled with fascinating trivia and often-forgotten history, I enjoyed traveling the Blue Latitudes with Tony and Roger. Armchair travel has rarely been so entertaining.

Lost In Translation: What Job Postings Really Say

Today I'm going to look at some actual job listings and analyze what they actually are saying, and what a job seeker should see in these posts. I have removed the identifying information about the company.

Subsidiary Rights Assistant. Candidate should have experience in book publishing, preferably in subsidiary rights. Wow, that's really specific. While having prior experience is great, experience in subrights is unlikely for an entry-level position. Also note it says "should" not "must". Don't not apply because you don't have experience. Candidate must also be extremely organized and have a demonstrated ability to handle a large workflow. There will be a ton of paperwork and scheduling, and you'll probably be putting in more than 40-hour weeks.

This position will support the Subsidiary Rights Department, reporting to the Director of Subsidiary Rights. That is likely who you'll be interviewing with, so now you can google them to find out A) who to apply to (never only apply through HR), B) who to address your cover letter to and, C) everything you can about them so you won't be surprised in your interview.

Primary Responsibilities:
* Process and track foreign/domestic contracts, tax forms, and payments.
* Organize mailings and submissions for foreign/domestic subagents and publishers.
* Organize and prepare rights guides and arrangements for international book fairs.
* Provide administrative support for the Subsidiary Rights Department.
Your résumé and cover letter MUST emphasize your organizational skills. If you've worked as an assistant in an office, detail that. If you've organized an event for your fraternity, organized a volunteer group, a reception, or really anything at all, be sure to talk it up. This is not only a very important part of the job since they've now mentioned it 4 times, but I'd also bet the last person wasn't very well organized and you might be coming into a mess.

Required Skills: Remember, even though they say required, these are more likely their "wish list."

* Ability to prioritize, meet deadlines, and work independently. This means your boss won't be around much. It's good to mention if you're a self-starter.
* Exceptional organizational and interpersonal skills. Wow, mention #5. "Interpersonal skills" means a perfect time to mention that you've waited tables/worked retail/done any other jobs with the public.
* Experience at multitasking while working in a fast paced environment. Again, retail and waiting tables would be perfect.
* Superior verbal and written communication skills. You should have some experience with writing in college. If you've ever answered phones or done any public speaking, mention that.

Please email your cover letter and résumé w/ salary requirements to: XXX, subject line “Subsidiary Rights Position.” Résumé submitted without salary requirements will not be considered. Ouch. Hate this. Do your research. Check out the PW salary survey, and other job listings to see if they say how much they pay. Don't shoot for the moon - if your salary requirements are too high they'll assume you won't be happy doing this job for significantly less and they won't even interview you. But if you lowball yourself, you might have dug yourself a hole that's hard to crawl out of. Also, in all applications pay particular attention to any specific directions such as this note about the subject line. If you don't get that right, you won't get an interview. Instead you will have just proven you do not pay attention to details.

Executive Assistant, Literary Agency
This job will put you on the front lines running a top literary agency from soup to nuts, this may sound scary, but assistants usually run the office. That's not too uncommon. including foreign rights, audio and first serial rights, managing interns, redlining contracts, working with the bookkeeper and utilizing our software for managing author accounts. This could sound scary, but they'll train you on all the above. Applicants should have made the choice to become a literary agent and want to enter a job that is an intensive training period for becoming one. This means no wannabe authors for one, and also preferably no wannabe editors. If either of these apply to you, keep your mouth shut about it. You should be a voracious, comprehensive reader, have an open mind to all forms of great writing, both contemporary and historical fiction and nonfiction, adult and young adult, Seriously, you need to have read a lot more books in the past 4 years than just canonical Old Dead White Men. Expect to be grilled extensively in the interview about what books you've read lately, and you ought to be able to name at least 10 that have been published in the last 2-3 years. And they ought to be in a few different genres. Read up. and have a creative, entrepreneurial personality. Not entirely sure what this means. Creative I get, but entrepreneurial is a little trickier. A way to address this would be if you have ever helped start anything. Did you create your own club in college? Were you a charter member of any organization? Expert knowledge of Apple computers, website management, social-networking, and Dreamweaver software preferred. Remember "preferred" never means "required" so don't let a sentence like this stop you from applying. A demanding form of multi-tasking must come naturally to you because of your adept organizational skills. Ah, more organization, like the last job listing! Seeing a pattern here? Your writing skills must be top-notch and demonstrate the ability to "pitch" the essence of a book in a sentence as well as write intelligent, inspiring submission letters. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if they asked you to "pitch" them a book or two of the ones you've read lately. It really needs to be just one sentence, but it needs to be intriguing and interesting, not just plot. Again, you should have some writing experience from college. After two years of employment, you will be eligible to attend the London and Frankfurt book fairs. Good but not really relevant here unless you're unable to travel abroad for some reason. You must have publishing work experience or be a graduate of one of the college publishing programs. They say "must" but it isn't true. It's something they'd really like, and it would put you ahead, but you still should apply even without it.

Our Young Readers Sales Division is seeking an assistant to provide administrative support aka answering phones, filing, opening mail, etc. to the Vice President, Director of Field and Mass Merchandise Sales and the juvenile field sales force. This is an assistant to a pretty high-level person. You'd learn a lot but you'd have limited supervision. Again, you can find out who this is in advance, so start googling. This is a great entry level opportunity to liaise with various departments and learn about the business side of the publishing industry! Notice they're actually the first job that is trying to "sell" itself to you, the applicant, as sales isn't as glamorous as other departments.

The Sales Assistant:
1.Maintains and distributes sales materials, seasonally and weekly.
2.Manages Title Information sheets.
3.Distributes materials to trade shows and sales conferences.
4.Manages travel and expense tracking for the department.
5.Processes orders for author appearances.
6.Gathers samples for account presentations.
Guess what? All of the above again means: Organization! Pretty basic trafficking and paperwork.
Please apply if you meet the following requirements:
•4 year college degree or equivalent work experience In sales one doesn't always need a college degree but these days it's more necessary than not.
•Ability to lift/move packages weighing up to 20 lbs yep you'll occasionally be schlepping around boxes of books. Think of it as on-the-job weight training. Remember, lift with your legs, not your back.
•Strong organizational skills and the ability to prioritize multiple assignments Hm, this keeps coming up, again and again. What do you think should be repeatedly emphasized in your résumé and cover letter?
•Excellent written and verbal communication skills again, writing from college, and verbal communication you should address in any previous experience where you were dealing with people a lot.
•Strong follow-up skills and attention to detail another way to say "good organizational skills".
•Proficiency with Microsoft Office, especially Excel you should know enough from school to get by, and the rest you can learn on the job.

When you're reading through a job listing, you want to be sure that each and every skill, requirement, and attribute they mention is addressed in your material. Often it won't be so obvious on your résumé, which is precisely what your cover letter is for. It's where you explain how you gained a lot of communication experience dealing with irate customers at your summer movie theater or theme park job. You can talk about how organized you were while administrating a $40,000 budget for your sorority's Social Board (not to mention the events you organized). You can discuss how you came up with a new filing system while you were a student assistant in the history department, or how you helped the campus bookstore with ordering the textbooks for the new semester (organization, deadlines, and communicating with dozens and dozens of professors and departments - jackpot!) You'll need to think back over your own jobs and experience and pick out the details that will apply to this job, and point them out. Never ever let "requirements" hold you back. Worst-case scenario: you won't get the job. But you've got to apply.

My friend K applied for a job she wasn't remotely qualified for at a publisher. A day or two later a position 2 levels down came open at the house. Since her résumé was already in-house, they interviewed her for the lower-level job right away and she got it. Personally, I am sure I've not had all of the requirements for any job I've ever had, and yet I got those jobs. On the other hand I've applied for plenty of jobs where my background couldn't have been more perfect and I didn't even get a call, so you've just got to keep plugging away. Just be sure that you tailor every résumé and cover letter to each individual job listing.

My Favorite Read: The Year of Magical Thinking

In My Favorite Reads each week I feature one of my favorite reads from the past.

August is Audio Book Appreciation Month, so all my featured books this month will be ones I listened to on audio.

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, narrated by Barbara Caruso

Summary (from the publisher):
Didion's journalistic skills are displayed as never before in this story of a year in her life that began with her daughter in a medically induced coma and her husband unexpectedly dead due to a heart attack. This powerful and moving work is Didion's "attempt to make sense of the weeks and then months that cut loose any fixed idea I ever had about death, about illness . . . about marriage and children and memory . . . about the shallowness of sanity, about life itself." With vulnerability and passion, Joan Didion explores an intensely personal yet universal experience of love and loss. The Year of Magical Thinking will speak directly to anyone who has ever loved a husband, wife, or child.

Why I chose this book:
I read this shortly after a friend's baby died, and the book was so moving, touching, and yet Ms. Didion doesn't feel sorry for herself or want anyone's pity, and it helped me to understand a bit more about what my friend was going through. Perhaps a bit raw for someone who's just gone through a terrible loss themselves, but a powerful and heartbreaking story. I actually kept checking the box of this audio, because the narrator's voice wavers just a bit in certain parts and sounded like she was going to cry. I was so convinced that the audio was being read by Ms. Didion, that it took a lot of proof to make me believe otherwise. I was moved to tears myself many times, and I would catch myself holding my breath. I again had many driveway moments where I just couldn't stop listening even though I had reached my destination. It was a beautiful story, wonderfully told. I am terribly sorry it happened, but the literary world is the richer for it. I appreciate Ms. Didion sharing her worst days with us.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

“Waiting On” Wednesday: Hector & the Search for Happiness

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted here, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

Hector & the Search for Happiness by Francois Lelord, Lorenza Garcia (Translator)

from the publisher:
Can we learn how to be happy? Hector is a successful young psychiatrist. He's very good at treating patients in real need of his help. But many people he sees have no health problems: they re just deeply dissatisfied with their lives. Hector can't do much for them, and it's beginning to depress him. So when a patient tells him he looks in need of a holiday, Hector decides to set off round the world to find out what makes people everywhere happy (and sad), and whether there is such a thing as the secret of true happiness... Over a million readers worldwide have engaged with psychiatrist François Lelord s modern fable. Narrated with deceptive simplicity, its perceptive observations on happiness offer us the chance to reflect on the contentment we all look for in our own lives.

Publishing 8/31 by Penguin Group USA.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by Should Be Reading

Grab your current read. Open to a random page. Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page. BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

In the Sanctuary of Outcasts by Neil White
"As I walked through the kitchen, I saw an inmate stirring a huge pot of soup. He noticed the markers and yelled, "'Write big 'cause them lepers can't see worth a shit!'"p. 18

Neil White has to go to white-collar Federal Prison, and the prison he ends up at is also the last leper colony in the U.S.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Wowsers! Ice Cream!

Aren't compliments that come out of the blue the very best thing? While Marian's website isn't strictly a book blog, she is in the book business, and has a lot of industry info (particularly for job hunters) and FANTASTIC social networking advice. And today, on her 1-year anniversary, she did a call-out to the people who've helped her and guess who's #1 on the list? Moi! Thank you so so so much Marian. I hope I can be a "freaking star" to more people, and you made my day! Let me know next time you're in town, I'll buy the first round!
PS. You should really read her posts about being detained at Heathrow as a potential ilegal immigrant to the UK. Harrowing story, but with a happy ending.
PPS. If you want to know what this has to do with ice cream, you'll just have to go to her post. Plus seriously, doesn't everything have to do with ice cream? I don't need a reason to have ice cream.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is now hosted by Sheila at One Persons Journey Through a World of Books.

Books completed last week:
Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before by Tony Horwitz

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
actually, I'm catching up on some magazines. I'll probably start a new book tonight but am not 100% sure what it will be until it's in my hands!

Up Next:
I went to a used bookstore this weekend that I had never been to before, and these are a few of the books I bought:
What It's All About by Norma Klein
The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton
Fall on Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald

Friday, August 6, 2010

Book Beginnings on Friday: Blue Latitudes

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Becky at Page Turners. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.

Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before by Tony Horwitz

from the Prologue:
"Just after dark on February 16, 1779, a kahuna, or holy man, rode a canoe to His Majesty's Sloop Resolution, anchored off the coast of Hawaii."

from Chapter One:
"When I was thirteen, my parents bought a used sailboat, a ten-foot wooden dory that I christened Wet Dream."

Thursday, August 5, 2010

My Favorite Reads: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

In My Favorite Reads each week I feature one of my favorite reads from the past. August is Audio Book Appreciation Month, so this month will be a mix of books but they'll all be ones I listened to on audio. First up, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon; Jeff Woodman, Narrator

Summary (from the publisher):
Christopher John Francis Boone knows all the countries of the world and their capitals and every prime number up to 7,057. He relates well to animals but has no understanding of human emotions. He cannot stand to be touched. And he detests the color yellow.

This improbable story of Christopher’s quest to investigate the suspicious death of a neighborhood dog makes for one of the most captivating, unusual, and widely heralded novels in recent years.

Why I chose this book:
The narrator did a good job of sounding like a young boy although he was not one. In fact, this is a book I suspect is better on audio than in print (with one exception), because through the audio I really felt like I was inside his mixed-up mind. I normally don't like fiction on audio but this one was terrific. The story of course is well known now, as a quirky and sweet story of a probably autistic boy dealing with the real world, and a minor mystery that draws him out. I did of course miss out on the illustrations (when will audio book publishers give audio book listeners ALL of the book they've purchased including any visual elements? On today's iPods with largish color screens, it would be easy to flip through a little booklet that ought to be included.) But overall, it was a funny and thoughtful and unusual story, well-told.