John Vaillant at Village Books

Way back when I interviewed John Vaillant – in, I think, September of 2014 – I was living in Houston and getting ready to move to the Pacific Northwest. He mentioned that he’d be speaking at Village Books in February. And here we are: I went to hear him read and talk with Husband and Pops.

You know that I enjoyed his book; and I’ll tell you now that our interview was one of the most enjoyable (and moving) that I’ve ever done.

What I learned from this event is still more to his credit. It’s incredibly rare for an author who is this good with words – no, wait. First of all it’s rare for an author to be this good with words. But for an author like that to also be this composed a speaker; this articulate about the writing process; this calm and easy with an audience, this engaged with the people he’s speaking to; to have a strong speaking voice, read his own work beautifully; and then to be extremely funny to boot… well. I’ll cease raving and tell you just to go see him if you get the chance.

Also, I’m well convinced that his two earlier books, The Golden Spruce and The Tiger, would be up my alley. Sadly, as ever, my reading schedule is booked (ha), so we’ll see when I get around to them.

“Total Eclipse” by Annie Dillard (from Teaching a Stone to Talk)

I began by thinking I could review this essay, but I can’t. Annie Dillard and the force of these words here are too much for my limited powers of communication. Read this and wonder.



(As usual from that excellent source of excellent things, Liz.)

Christmas Day in book history

This post is part of a series.

To celebrate Christmas, let’s take a look at today’s date in authorly history.

reader's book of daysAs usual, I consulted A Reader’s Book of Days for today’s happenings, and found births and deaths of some literary figures unfamiliar to me.

Born in 1924: Rod Serling (Stories from the Twilight Zone), Syracuase, N.Y.

Born in 1925: Carlos Castaneda (The Teachings of Don Juan), Cajamarca, Peru

Died in 1938: Karel ńĆapek (R.U.R. [Rossum’s Universal Robots]), 48, Prague

Died in 1956: Robert Walser (Jakob von Gunten), 78, Herisau, Switzerland

But of real interest I found one anecdote. In 1956,

Kept from going home to Alabama for Christmas by her job as an airline ticket agent, Harper Lee spent the holiday in New York with Broadway songwriter Michael Brown and his wife, Joy, close friends she had met through Truman Capote. Because Lee didn’t have much money they had agreed to exchange inexpensive gifts, but when they woke on Christmas morning the Browns presented her with an envelope containing this note: “You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please. Merry Christmas.” Given the humbling gift of “paper, pen, and privacy,” Lee quit her job and set to work, and by the end of February she had written a couple of hundred pages of a manuscript that was first called Go Set a Watchman, then Atticus, and finally To Kill a Mockingbird.

That’s the stuff right there. I had heard (or rather read) this story before, of how Lee got the chance to write her novel, the only one she’d publish and one which has made such a difference in this country and the world over a number of years now. But the detail I hadn’t heard or at least hadn’t retained was that she had the bulk of her manuscript completed by February of a “year off” that started at Christmas. Now that’s impressive! For all those who were frustrated by NaNoWriMo last month, chew on this: Harper Lee’s masterpiece was written in two months. Whew.

And on that inspiring note… happy holidays, friends. Stay tuned for my annual “best of” and “year in review” posts in the next few days.

Halloween, or Dia de los Muertos, in book history

This post is part of a series.

To celebrate Halloween (today), or Dia de los Muertos (this weekend), let’s take a look at today’s date in authorly history.

reader's book of daysAccording to A Reader’s Book of Days, on October 31, 1795, John Keats was born, and in 2008, Studs Terkel died. I have not read much Keats, but I think I like him. I am very grateful to have a copy of Terkel’s The Great War on my to-be-read Britannica bookshelves, a gift from my buddy Gerber that I look forward to reading…someday.

In 1967, Richard Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America was published. I am not sure why this resonates with me. Perhaps Maclean references him?

And in 1615:

Miguel de Cervantes hinted at the end of the first book of Don Quixote that further adventures might be forthcoming, but before he could complete his own sequel, a rival appeared that credited another author, Alonso Fernandez de Avellaneda, on the title page and insulted Cervantes as old, friendless, and boring. Cervantes, meanwhile, took advantage of being second by adding a scene in which Don Quixote and Sancho Panza themselves mock the false sequel. In the second book’s dedication, written on this day, he mentioned “the loathing and disgust caused by another Don Quixote,” and in the book’s preface he completed his revenge: humbly declining to abuse his usurper, he instead told a tale of a madman who, after inflating a dog from behind through a hollow reed, asks, “Do your worships think, now, that it is an easy thing to blow up a dog?” “Does your worship think now,” added Cervantes, “that it is an easy thing to write a book?”

And that is a sufficiently odd anecdote, I think, to recommend its being shared here.

You may recall that I read book one of Don Quixote several years ago, and solemnly promised to get around to book two someday. I have not. And I hear book two is better, too. Sigh. So many books…

Happy weekend, friends.

gift reviews

It’s that time of year again: coming up! Gift reviews! Oh wait, I should explain. I was well into telling Husband about this year’s prospects for gift reviews with Shelf Awareness, when he stopped me to ask who they are gifts for. I see I was unclear. These books are sent to me for *special* gift reviews: meaning, they are reviewed for a Shelf Awareness special issue that reviews books that might be given as gifts in the holiday season. Often these are coffee table style books. I’ve been writing gift reviews for, oh, several years for the Shelf – you can see some here.

So I’m excited this year to have received three big, beautiful coffee table books for gift-reviewing. Husband mostly no longer gets excited for me when books come in the mail! so I especially wanted to share these with you.

Ships, Clocks, and Stars: The Quest for Longitude by Richard Dunn and Rebekah Higgittships


For a Love of His People: The Photography of Horace Poolaw by Nancy Marie Mithlo and the Smithsonian Institutionfor love

Great Bear Wild: Dispatches from a Northern Rainforest by Ian McAllister, with a foreword by Robert F. Kennedy Jr.great bear

Beautiful, no? Reviews to come… oh, but if you want an early tip, let me say that I adored The Story of My Heart by Richard Jefferies, republished with commentary by Terry Tempest Williams and Brooke Williams. As just a tiny little book, both a pleasure to read and thought-provoking, and easily taken in small pieces, I think it would make an ideal stocking stuffer for… well, any number of different loved ones, really.

progress

Friends, I have been busy. Busy reading books – my only employment these days, for the wonderful folks at both Shelf Awareness and ForeWord – but busy with a few other tasks as well. I don’t want to go into the real estate deals just yet; call me superstitious. For now, let me just say that things are going swimmingly for us, and we expect to be leaving Houston in early November for a new home in the beautiful north.

Our trip recently was excellent: productive, business-wise, but also enjoyable. Parents, small breweries, and the great outdoors. For your viewing pleasure, here are Husband and Pops on Fragrance Lake in Larrabee State Park. (Click to enlarge.)

10665740_10204905546027305_1388814135163948213_n

Thank you for bearing with me during these hectic times. More books to follow…

house hunting

Or some family?

with Mom

with Mom


with Pops

with Pops

We’ll be back to our regularly scheduled programming on Monday. Thanks for your patience.

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