read-aloud_handbookMost of us enjoy looking at the outtakes that frequently run with movie end credits these days, scenes that had to be cut but still were worthy of a tag-on performance. Every author has experienced the same dashed feelings when space or other considerations required him or her to slash a favorite scene or anecdote from a manuscript. Until blogs came along, there was no way for authors to attach them to the end pages.

So here, saved not by the bell but by the blog, is my favorite anecdote that didn’t make it to the finish line of my seventh edition of The Read-Aloud Handbook.

Recently the author-entrepreneur Seth Godin offered the following definition of the modern librarian: “The librarian isn’t a clerk who happens to work at a library. A librarian is a data hound, a guide, a sherpa and a teacher. The librarian is the interface between reams of data and the untrained but motivated user.”[i]

For the most part, Godin was on target, although secondary librarians working with students who want to do just “enough to get by” might demur over the last part. I personally would add two more qualifications to the definition: spy and people-reader. In support, I offer the following anecdote from NPR’s 2009 “Story Corps” files in which Arkansas Court of Appeals Judge Olly Neal told his daughter how he went from operating on the fringe of delinquency to college and law school. (”Story Corps”[is part of a national oral history project associated with the Library of Congress.)

Neal’s story began one day in the high school library in segregated Marianna, Arkansas. At this point in his life he was the epitome of “at-risk”: One of thirteen children in a home without electricity, daily tormentor of teachers (he loved calling them by their first names and reducing them to tears), with a history of shoplifting and using his mouth more than his brain. On this occasion, Neal was cutting class and hiding out in the library when he spotted a book on the shelf by Frank Yerby, at that time a little-known black author of adult novels. Between the risqué cover and text, Neal was intrigued enough to want more. There was a problem, however.

Frank_YerbyIf he took the book over to the library checkout counter, the girls attending it would notice and surely tell his peers that he was taking books out. “Then my reputation would be down, because I was reading books,” Neal explained to his daughter, Karama. “And I wanted them to know that all I could do was fight and cuss.”

In keeping with his established shoplifting talents, Neal stuffed the book under his coat and walked out. When he finished it, back he went to return it, only to find another Yerby novel in its place. “So I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll read that, too.’ So I took it under my jacket,” Neal said. “Later, I brought it back, and there was, by God — there was another book by Frank Yerby! So I took it.”

All together he read four Yerby novels that semester and a habit was formed that lead to newspapers and magazines and eventually to college, law school, and a judgeship. Lifetime readers often meet one book that towers above all others, a volume or author that “hooked” them so deeply they were pulled for life into the ocean of deep reading. Neal, an African American, had no idea Yerby was the first African-American to write an American bestseller, the first to sell a book to the movies, and the first to become a millionaire from his writings (55 million books sold). Langston Hughes got the attention and fame, but Yerby got the sales and money. All Neal knew was a good story when he met it, sometimes helped by a risque cover.

But Neal was ignorant of something else as well, something he wouldn’t discover until a high school class reunion years later when he chanced to meet his former teacher-librarian, Mildred Grady. To his surprise, she clearly remembered the Yerby incident. “She told me that she saw me take that book when I first took it. She said, ‘My first thought was to go over there and tell him, Boy, you don’t have to steal a book, you can check them out—they’re free!’” (Grady had established the school’s library a few years earlier.)

It’s here that the librarian-spy becomes a people-reader. Neal explained, “She realized what my situation was—that I could not let anybody know I was reading.” But she also recognized an open window of opportunity. “She and Mrs. Saunders would drive to Memphis and find another one [Yerby book] for me to read—and they would put it in the exact same place where the one I’d taken was. You’ve got to understand that this was not an easy matter then— because this is 1957 and ‘58,” Neal said. “And black authors were not especially available, No. 1. And No. 2, Frank Yerby was not such a widely known author. And No. 3, they had to drive all the way to Memphis [50 miles] to find it.”[iii] She also paid for the books out of her own pocket.

There are incalculable benefits from a librarian or teacher who knows what their students are reading, who knows Billy is crazy about the Alex Rider series and when she sees in the catalog that the next book is out, exclaims, “Hey, Billy—good news!” On such solid ground is built a lifetime reader. And as Olly Neal knows, it also creates a lifetime debt to that librarian or teacher. And one more thing: The reading seldom stops at one generation. Neal’s daughter Karama owns a doctorate in genetics.

 


headhunters“You can’t go home again,” Thomas Wolfe famously wrote. This always struck me as a provocative statement. True, I accept the inevitability of change. I know that nothing remains the same for long. But I once lived on a faraway atoll in the equatorial Pacific, a lost world that seemed happily immune to the ticking of the clock. Over the years, whenever someone’s noted how much our world has been altered by the march of history – often said with a sigh of regret – I think back fondly to distant Kiribati, a twinkling cosmos of islands, certain that their isolation protects them from the ravages of the internet and the rise of Justin Bieber. Nothing changes in Kiribati, I thought smugly.

So it turns out I was wrong. I had lived on Tarawa, what passes for the main island, for two years, and when I’d left I’d written a book about my experiences called The Sex Lives of Cannibals. Obviously, I never expected to return, but then, years later, while following in the footsteps of Robert Louis Stevenson, I saw that my journey would take me back to my erstwhile island home. Stevenson is one of the very few writers to have ever called upon Kiribati. Another was Arthur Grimble, a former English colonial officer who wrote about the islands in the 1950s. Though separated by a half century, the island worlds they described would have been recognizable to each other, as indeed they were to me. Elsewhere in the world, change zips along at warp speed. Here, it moseys about like a turtle, slowly, deliberately, in no great rush.

And so imagine my delight when, upon arrival on Tarawa, I sensed that everything was exactly as it was. An atoll is but the narrow ridge of an undersea volcano, coiling around a shimmering lagoon that seamlessly merges with an endless sky. It always felt like a precarious place to hang your hat, but at low tide, with the lagoon in retreat, revealing an expanse of blinding mudflats, there is – at least for a few hours – the illusion of living space. There were more people on Tarawa now and mostly they had built their homes in the traditional style on platforms of coconut wood with walls of flapping mats and thatched roofs. The Mormons, I could see, had been busy building more schools and churches, and the island was greener than I recalled, but otherwise it appeared unchanged. The island’s lone paved road had mostly dissipated and a few of the cinderblock buildings were in advanced states of disrepair – not least our former house, which had steadily crumbled over the years – but this was to be expected. This wasn’t an innovation or metamorphosis. It was simply stasis, and in the face of inaction, nature asserts itself.

It was only later, as I gathered behind the guesthouse, standing on a seawall to enjoy the sunset, that I sensed profound change. There is not a more spectacular sight than that of the sun descending in crimson and orange grandeur along the equator, its wispy light casting radiant flares across the expanse of the lagoon and the cascade of palms following a sliver of land to the horizon. A gathering of fairy terns fluttered near shore, diving into the lagoon and singing melodically. I could hear the songs from the boys high up the coconut trees, which they had climbed to gather toddy, the tree’s nectar. The tide had come in and I watched it rise. And rise. And rise. Soon, it was bubbling beneath me, seeping into the seawall, and escaping like babbling fountains. The seawall was but a soggy, collapsing peninsula, suddenly surrounded on three sides by ever surging waters. I looked around me with particular interest, and noted the trees and bushes that just an hour or two earlier had been dry and undisturbed, but now lay immersed in the lagoon. Many of the coconut trees, I now saw, were dead, standing like mute sentries above the encroaching water. The island was sinking, its destiny foretold in the great beauty of the gathering sea. And this was something new and novel, and I reached for pen and paper, and began to write, describing what I saw, as if I were recording the dying days of Atlantis.

 


It’s not summer without a rom-com in theaters and with Austenland opening in New York and Los Angeles this weekend, Keri Russell embodies all our less-than-secret Janeite ambitions: to live in an Austen novel. Even if the idea of wearing a corset or being without a smartphone is unappealing, it’s not hard to imagine how fun it might be to watch others grapple with these issues.

Austenland is based on a book by Shannon Hale, which is part of the genre I like to call “Jane Austen fan fic”. While some books are direct riffs on Austen novels, others include characters who suddenly find themselves in an Austen novel. Or, in the case of Bridget Jones, in a love triangle that is remarkably like Pride and Prejudice (Austenland follows a similar path). And then there are the “how-to” books with important lessons we can learn from Jane Austen, some serious, some tongue-in-cheek. Ever since Jane Austen first wrote Mr. Darcy into existence, people have been getting lost in her work…and then writing their own takes on her world.

 

Living in a Jane Austen Novel

lost_in_austen confessions_of_a_jane_austen_addict

 

 

 

 

 

Lost in Austen, Emma Campbell Webster

Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, Laurie Viera Rigler

 

New, previously undiscovered Jane Austen Novels

dear_mr_darcy confessions_of_fitzwilliam_darcy missing_manuscript_of_jane_austen

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Mr. Darcy, Amanda Grange

The Confessions of Fitzwilliam Darcy, Mary Street

The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen, Syrie James

 

A Little Help from Jane Austen

miss_jane_austens_guide_to_modern_life dear_jane_austen jane_austens_guide_to_thrift

 

 

 

 

 

Miss Jane Austen’s Guide to Modern Life’s Dilemmas, Rebecca Smith

Dear Jane Austen, Patrice Hannon

Jane Austen’s Guide to Thrift, Kathleen Anderson

 

Austen-Influenced Non-Fiction

jane_austens_england jane_austen_education taking_about_jane_austen_in_baghdad making_of_pride_and_prejudice

 

 

 

 

 

Jane Austen’s England, Roy and Lesley Adkins

A Jane Austen Education, William Deresiewicz

Talking about Jane Austen in Baghdad, May Witwit and Bee Rowlatt

The Making of Pride and Prejudice, Susie Conklin

 

The Modern Jane Austen Heroine

bridget_jones_diary jane_austen_book_club definitely_not_mr_darcy

 

 

 

 

 

Bridget Jones’s Diary, Helen Fielding

The Jane Austen Book Club, Karen Joy Fowler

Definitely Not Mr. Darcy, Karen Doornebos

 

- Posted By: Julie Schaeffer, Senior Online Content Coordinator


Audio Excerpt (16)
Audio Excerpt And the Mountains Echoed Khaled Housseini (Penguin Audio)
Audio Excerpt Looking for Me Beth Hoffman (Penguin Audio)
Audio Excerpt A Conspiracy of Faith Jussi Adler-Olsen (Penguin Audio)
Audio Excerpt Zero Hour Clive Cussler (Penguin Audio)
Audio Excerpt Boys in the Boat Daniel James Brown (Penguin Audio)
Audio Excerpt Affliction Laurell K. Hamilton (Penguin Audio)
Audio Excerpt Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Roald Dahl (Penguin Audio)
Audio Excerpt The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More Roald Dahl (Penguin Audio)
Audio Excerpt Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator Roald Dahl (Penguin Audio)
Audio Excerpt The Roald Dahl Audio Collection Roald Dahl (Penguin Audio)
Audio Excerpt Matilda Roald Dahl (Penguin Audio)
Audio Excerpt The BFG Roald Dahl (Penguin Audio)
Audio Excerpt Me Before You JoJo Moyes (Penguin Audio)
Audio Excerpt Death Angel Linda Fairstein (Penguin Audio)
Audio Excerpt The Kill List Frederick Forsyth (Penguin Audio)
Audio Excerpt The Never List Koethi Zan (Penguin Audio)

Excerpt (11)
Excerpt The Fantastic Family Whipple Matthew Ward (Razorbill)
Excerpt Counting by 7s Holly Goldberg Sloan (Dial)
Excerpt Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea April Genevieve Tucholke (Dial)
Excerpt The Philosopher’s TableMarietta McCarty (Tarcher)
Excerpt Rabid Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy (Penguin)
Excerpt Clark Howard’s Living Large for the Long Haul Clark Howard (Avery)
Excerpt The Sound of Things Falling Juan Gabriel Vasquez (Riverhead)
Excerpt Sweet Thunder Ivan Doig (Riverhead)
Excerpt It Happens in the Dark Carol O’Connell (Putnam)
Excerpt All Good Things Sarah Turnbull (Gotham)
Excerpt The Spirit Keeper K. B. Laugheed (Plume)

Reading Group Guide (1)
Reading Group Guide The Wicked Girls Alex Marwood (Penguin)

Video (1)
Video Codex Born Jim C. Hines (DAW)


kind_of_cruelResearching my seventh psychological thriller, Kind of Cruel, I realized I was psychologically illiterate. The plot of Kind of Cruel involves hypnotherapy, and I’d never been hypnotized. I was planning to go for one session, but the hypnotherapist took one look at me, decided I was a little on the screwed-up side, and signed me up for fifteen sessions of “hypnoanalysis.” I quickly became aware that, dysfunctional as I undoubtedly was, I was far from fluent in the language of psychological dysfunction. I’d fancied myself an expert, and yet I didn’t know how to recognize a textbook narcissist, or an emotional energy vampire. I didn’t know what enmeshment was, or codependency, or emotional incest syndrome, or enabling, or triangulation. So, while I wrote Kind of Cruel, I simultaneously read lots of books with titles like Healing the Shame That Binds You, Trapped in the Mirror, and Toxic Parents and How to Survive Their Hurtful Legacy. (I had to hide that last one when my nearest and dearest visited, for obvious reasons!) All of these books were fascinating, and they taught me a lot. For forty years, I realized, I’d done my best to make myself understood from a position of psychological illiteracy. I’d relied on phrases like “Whenever I’m with her, I feel as if I’m suffocating” and “There’s something kind of off about him.” Suddenly, I had a whole new vocabulary at my disposal. I could identify people who posed a psychological threat, and I often found that I knew the right word for the threat they posed.

Imagine if we could all recognize a codependent narcissist as easily as a knife. If someone runs at you holding a knife, you’re immediately aware of the danger. You have the concepts and vocabulary you need. You think, “Knife—help—imminent, hideous death!” and you run. Also, you can be confident that the police will be familiar with the language of physical threat and understand the implications of “He came at me with a knife.” Everyone knows what a knife is, means, and is called. Same with a bomb. If someone lobbed a bomb at you and you thought, “What a pretty round thingie,” and didn’t run away, you’d get blown up. That’s the situation most of us are in, psychologically. Say to the world at large, “He came at me with enmeshment,” and you’ll meet with baffled looks. Most of us don’t know what that and other such terms mean, and I’d guess that a lot of people suspect they mean nothing, that American shrinks have made them up. As a skeptical Brit, I firmly believe that this is not the case. I’ve known enmeshment in Edinburgh, codependence in Coventry, narcissism in Newbury, triangulation in Truro. Okay, I’ve altered details for the sake of alliteration, but the point is still valid. This isn’t something that applies only to people in L.A. From Dagenham to Doncaster to Dundee, diagnosis is the key. Believe me, nothing scares off a damaged and damaging psyche as quickly or efficiently as the threat of diagnosis.

I’m currently reading Healing the Child Within. Partly as research, and partly because I’m still only at kindergarten level when it comes to diagnosing psychological dysfunction. One day, I hope, I’ll be an expert!

 

 


Excerpt (32)
Excerpt Everything for Us M. Leighton (Berkley)
Excerpt Race Across the Sky Derek Sherman (Plume)
Excerpt A Tap on the Window Linwood Barclay (NAL)
Excerpt The Family Tonino Benacquista (Penguin)
Excerpt Omens Kelley Armstrong (Dutton)
Excerpt Necessary Errors Caleb Crain (Penguin)
Excerpt Undead and Unsure MaryJanice Davidson (Berkley)
Excerpt Breath of Iron Kate Cross (Signet)
Excerpt Burn   Maya Banks (Berkley)
Excerpt Thirteen Kelley Armstrong (Plume)
Excerpt The Wicked Girls Alex Marwood (Penguin)
Excerpt Demian Hermann Hesse (Penguin)
Excerpt The Dominant Tara Sue Me  (NAL)
Excerpt Maggie’s Man Lisa Gardner  (Signet)
Excerpt Codex Born Jim C. Hines (DAW)
Excerpt Compound Fractures Stephen White (Dutton)
Excerpt Hotshot Julie Garwood (Dutton)
Excerpt A Dangerous Fiction Barbara Rogan (Viking)
Excerpt The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic Emily Croy Barker (Pamela Dorman Books)
Excerpt Breakthrough David C.M. Carter (Tarcher)
Excerpt Emperor of ThornsMark Lawrence (Ace )
Excerpt Magic Rises   Ilona Andrews (Ace)
Excerpt Heaven’s Fall David S. Goyer and Michael Cassutt (Ace)
Excerpt Pile of Bones Bailey Cunningham (Ace)
Excerpt The Artist’s Way for Parents Julia Cameron (Tarcher)
Excerpt Bait J. Kent Messum (Plume)
Excerpt Headhunters on My Doorstep J. Maarten Troost (Gotham)
Excerpt The Gallery of Vanished Husbands Natasha Solomons (Plume)
Excerpt The Husband’s Secret Liane Moriarty (Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam)
Excerpt Kind of Cruel Sophie Hannah (Putnam)
Excerpt The Kill List Frederick Forsyth (Putnam)
Excerpt The Good Lord Bird James McBride (Riverhead)

Reading Group Guide (3)
Reading Group Guide Letters to a Young Poet Rainer Maria Rilke (Penguin)
Reading Group Guide A Different Sun Elaine Neil Orr (Berkley)
Reading Group Guide Captains of the Sand Jorge Amado (Penguin)

Video (8)
Video Fantasy Life Matthew Berry (Riverhead)
Video Clark Howard’s Living Large for the Long Haul Clark Howard (Avery)
Video You Are Now Less Dumb David McRaney (Gotham)
Video Turn and Burn  Lorelei James (NAL)
Video Lil BUB’s Lil Book Lil BUB (Gotham)
Video Grow a Pair Larry Winget (Gotham)
Video The Asylum Simon Doonan (Blue Rider Press)
Video Everything is Connected Keri Smith (Perigee)


wicked_girlsIt’s interesting to stop and think, sometimes, about the roots of one’s work. If someone asks me where the ‘idea’ for my novel The Wicked Girls came from, it’s easy to tell the story of receiving a round-robin email calling for the death of a pair of British men who have never been forgiven for a crime committed in childhood; of emerging stunned from the cinema after seeing Heavenly Creatures for the first time; of seeing trial reports come over the wire at the newspaper where I worked, only to see almost unrecognisable stories appear in other publications; of watching a murder victim’s innocent landlord subjected to trial by tabloid as I wrote the book. But then other memories surface…

I grew up in Cotswold villages exactly like Long Barrow, where my girls’ original crime takes place: all thatched roofs and walls of golden stone and tiny medieval windows. There are scores of them, tucked away in lush green valleys, gathered round thousand-year-old churches, filled in the summer with camera-toting travellers, their eyes dark with bucolic dreams. These villages are the closest thing to the British dream: places where everyone believes that they could be happy.

The reality, of course, is quite different. Behind the Britain in Bloom contests and the jubilee hog-roasts lies a world where the class system never died out, where troubled families are as likely to be put in Coventry as helped, and where the only entertainment, if you don’t have a car, is the village Bench. The Bench can be found in every village, usually filled with a handful of sullen teenagers who fall silent when an adult walks past, a place where ‘nice’ kids are forbidden to go. The fiercest row I ever had with my mother centred around the fact that I’d been seen drinking cider on the Bench and had brought disgrace on her. Villages are like that: all judgements and pursed lips behind the mullion windows.

And every village has a Family. The one held up to all the other children as an example, the one people will cross the road to avoid. On the outskirts of my village lived the Broadhursts: a clutch of children ruled over by a bearded man who held his coat on with string. No-one had ever seen the mother. He was a farmer – well, he owned land on which he kept a collection of rusted machinery and some squealing pigs – but his main occupation seemed to be picking fights with the neighbors and threatening representatives of the local council.

We were the Posh Kids. There were plenty of us around; this was the Cotswolds after all. We spent most of our summers riding horses and occasionally dodging the odd small stone hurled from the village bench. Once I reached the age of 10 or so, the horses became a good excuse to explore one’s independence: for some reason the parents were under the impression, despite a healthy history of broken bones, that no real harm could come to us on horseback. My friends and I would spend our days ranging the countryside, swimming in the river, talking about boys. Not a bad childhood, as childhoods go, but sometimes our route took us across the Broadhursts’ land.

One afternoon in late June, when I was twelve – the crops waiting to turn and the sky high and blue – I was going to the next village to meet a friend when I arrived at Broadhurst’s barley field. The official right of way ran straight across his field, but he had planted over it so there was no sign of the path. On the far side, I could see him silhouetted against the sky, sitting on a chair atop an abandoned bus, a shotgun slung over his shoulders and supporting his draped wrists, like a character from a Mad Max movie. I pondered for a moment, then steered my horse along the hedge with the country person’s respect for crops. Broadhurst sat still and watched as I approached. When I got within speaking distance, I called a cheery country hello. He looked at me in silence.

I came closer. He stood up. Despite the heat of the day, his old woollen overcoat remained tied firmly to his body, as though it had grown to be a part of it. ‘What do you think you’re doing?’ he asked.

I didn’t have an answer for this.

‘The bridlepath’s over there,’ he said, pointing at the sea of feathered barley.

‘I’m sorry,’ I said. ‘I didn’t want to damage your crop.’

‘You people,’ he said, and hoisted his gun down into one hand, ‘think you can do anything. There’s a path. You’re only allowed on the path.’

‘I can’t see the path. I thought it was better if I…’

‘And now you’ve damaged my land,’ he said, and lifted his gun butt to his shoulder. My horse, Bones, shifted beneath me, snatched at a tuft of grass.

‘I don’t think I have,’ I stammered. ‘I just rode round the edge.’

Bones suddenly jumped, as though he’d seen a tiger, or a blue plastic fertiliser bag, which, as everyone knows, is the most terrifying thing one can find in the British countryside. To my left, a child my age clambered onto the roof of an Austin Healey that had been there so long its wheel-rims were sunk deep into the hardened mud. She was wearing jeans that skimmed her ankles, an old pink t-shirt so tight it squeezed the blossoming breast-buds beneath obscenely, and her hair had been cut with the kitchen scissors. She stared at me, I stared at her. A sudden cloud passed over the sun.

‘If I see you damaging my land again,’ said the farmer, still pointing his shotgun, his voice quiet and filled with menace ‘you won’t get off so easy. There’s a path. Use it.’

I apologised humbly and squeezed Bones into a trot. Rode off up the track to the main road, my face burning, as Broadhurst and his daughter stared silently at my retreating back. I never went that way again. Never told my parents, either, for fear that our freedom would be curtailed and the dead hand of parental supervision would once again clamp down. But there, lurking quietly in my memory, was my character Jade, waiting for her moment to step onto the pages of a book.


appointment_in_samarraYears ago, someone challenged a book group I was part of to see who had read the most novels on Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels list. I can’t remember if I had the top number, but I had read about half of them and was determined then to read every novel on that list. I love literary lists.

Ulysses, rightfully so, is at the top of the list. And there’s Great Gatsby. A fine novel…a little over rated and over-read…but not as much as #55’s On the Road. At #22 on this list—nestled in there between Saul Bellow and John Dos Passos—sits Appointment in Samarra, a novel I skipped over to read later for some reason. Why didn’t I consider this novel at the time? Was it the clinical sounding “Appointment” in the title? Did I assume it was a Middle East war story? Something Biblical?

I never made it through the entire list and didn’t take notice of the title again until a couple months ago, when I saw our stunning new cover for the novel. Jazz & fast cars & dancing & highballs…obviously not a Biblical story and certainly not clinical.

So I Wiki’d the book & the author John O’Hara and discovered he penned Butterfield 8, the source of one of my favorite Liz Taylor movies. “Mama, face it: I was the slut of all time.”

I knew I needed to reconsider this book.

I was sold after I read W. Somerset Maugham’s epigraph:

DEATH SPEAKS:

There was a merchant in Bagdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me.  She looked at me and made a threatening gesture,  now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate.  I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me.  The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went.  Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning?  That was not a threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of surprise.  I was astonished to see him in Bagdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.

The novel did not disappoint.

Written about ten years after Gatsby and set in 1930, this was called the hangover generation and the novel’s plot follows the unraveling of the central male protagonist during Christmastime after he drunkenly throws a highball in the face of a “friend” at a party. One bad decision leads to another for our anti-hero and at the end of three days of excessive drinking and cloudy, hung-over damage control, things do not end well. The moral of the story? Imbibe a few less drinks; don’t throw your drink in the face of the guy who loaned you $20k; don’t sleep with the mob boss’s mistress; and don’t beat up a one-armed war veteran.

John O’Hara presents us with a colorful world filled with small town country clubs, where African-Americans and Jews are outsiders and Protestants and Catholics are in constant conflict. A world where the drinks are always flowing, along with the dipsomaniacal insults, and misfortune might have been averted had there been one less holiday highball.

- Clinton Wilson, Marketing Manager


strange_medicineBy chance I overheard someone say that medicine went absolutely nowhere for thousands of years. I thought hmmm, that’s strange.
Think about it. The Romans, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution.  Indoor plumbing and the printing press and the steam engine. Playing cards, double-entry booking keeping and the Spinning Jenny.

Medicine? Zilch. Nada. Except, of course, for the four humors-blood, black bile, yellow bile and phlegm.

In fact, during all this time medicine did more harm than good. A reasonable argument can be made that patients of the great Hippocrates, 2,500 years ago, received better medical care than our first president, George Washington. Sick with a sore throat, he was drained of four quarts of blood by three of the finest doctors in the land. Each took more than the last, and poor George died within hours.

Medicine did, finally, get better, around 1850 or so. Doctors discovered things like anesthesia and germ theory, and, for the first time began keeping track of what they did.

Having wanted, like most authors, to build to a sizzling climax, this turn of events was most unfortunate for me and my book.  It was, however, a great boon for mankind, and something I’ve learned to live with.

These days my doctor hustles me in and out, and in the waiting room I still have to choose between Golf Illustrated and Sky and Telescope. But I figure things could be worse, lots worse…

 

 


woofatthedoorI’ve always loved wild things.

Even when I was a little girl I was fascinated by the beauty and wonder of the natural world. I blame my early upbringing in Central America. My family moved to Costa Rica when I was a few months old, so I grew up on a coffee farm in the rain forest. Such a lush vibrant setting wasn’t wasted on me.

When I was three, sitting in the backyard near a blooming bush that had attracted a swarm of swallowtail butterflies, I held my pudgy little finger up in the air. My mom asked me what I was doing. I told her I was waiting for a butterfly to land on my finger.

“Laura, sweetheart, a butterfly isn’t going to land on your finger,” she said, sorry to spoil the moment.

“Yes, it will,” I told her.  And it did.

As a young teenager in Florida, I learned there was more to nature than just delicate beauty. I spent countless hours on the beaches of the Gulf of Mexico. This might not sound like the most treacherous place on earth compared to the Costa Rican jungle, but when the undertow current of those calm Gulf waters claimed the life of a friend’s mother, I understood.  Nature is beautiful, but she mustn’t be underestimated.

Working at a zoo gave me another perspective. Wild things are truly wild. No matter the time spent raised by and cared for by humans, they are not ours. The animals I worked with had a depth and intelligence so different than the pets I’d grown accustomed to. I knew I could never forget that.

I’m honored to have the opportunity to write a mystery series that allows me to include domestic animals but also walks a little bit on the wild side.