January 2010

english 101 #1: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

  • About the author EB
  • January 29, 2010

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Welcome to English 101: The Harper Perennial Classics Book Club! Today’s book is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

As I think I may have said in the introductory post, I resisted reading ATGIB for a long time, scowling in the face of anyone who suggested it to me by saying, “but it’s about a young girl growing up in Brooklyn who loves reading! And you’re a young girl growing up in Brooklyn who loves reading!” But when I eventually read it, somewhere around age 13 or 14 (oh, how I wish GoodReads had been around to keep track of my reading back then!), I fell in love. I knew just how Francie felt, wanting to lose myself in the world of books because it was so much better than what was going on in the real world, though I was young enough that I don’ think I articulated it to myself that way. ATGIB was beautiful and sad (the scene where Katie lays her head on the table and sobs after the funeral stayed with me all these years), and I remembered it fondly.

I’m so glad I first read it when I did, because the most prominent thing about it this time for me was the all-consuming, unending poverty. Collecting junk to sell for pennies. Mixing old bread with water and other kitchen scraps to make meals. Feeling the concrete through the holes in your shoes. The Nolans are always cold; always hungry. They are barely surviving.

The first time I read ATGIB, the main thrust of the novel for me was Francie’s coming of age, becoming aware of herself as a woman and as a writer. This time, the main thrust was still Francie’s growing awareness—but rather, her awareness that the Nolans’ poverty is not acceptable, and, more importantly, not faultless, and that it is within her to live a better life.

Though, the main lesson of the book is still: Don’t marry a drunk! Seriously.

I’m dying to hear what other people thought, especially if they were reading it for a second time. Also, are there any ATGIB haters out there? It’s so universally beloved that I would LOVE to hear from someone who thought it was just “ehh.” Please discuss! Either here in the comments or on twitter (use hashtag #english101).

And remember, anyone who comments here OR twitters using #english101 will have a chance to win a copy of Brave New World, next month’s book! Do both and they’ll count separately. And if you blog about ATGIB in the next few days, please leave a comment with a link for more chances to win!

And check out Roaring 20s on Monday for another perspective on ATGIB.

things we are sad about today

  • About the author EB
  • January 28, 2010

The passing of Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States:

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The passing of J.D. Salinger, literary icon and author of The Catcher in the Rye:

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The passing of Zelda Rubinstein, the psychic from Poltergeist:

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the lionel shriver blog challenge!

  • About the author EB
  • January 28, 2010

Long before I came to work at Harper Perennial, Lionel Shriver was one of my favorite authors. Soon after reading it, I became an evangelist for We Need to Talk About Kevin, her tale of a mother’s absolute worst nightmare, and followed that by thrusting her other books on all my closest friends.

Lionel’s new book, So Much for That, is on sale March 9. To celebrate, and to further gently strongarm everyone I know into reading her books, Nicole of Linus’s Blanket and I are hosting a Lionel Shriver Challenge!

Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to read one (or more!) of Lionel’s books before the release of So Much for That on March 9. A list, with details on each book, is below. And to make this even easier, Nicole and I will each be giving away two copies of each book! All you have to do to win is to comment on one or both of our blogs (we’ll calculate our winners separately) and tell us why you want to read (or read more of) Lionel’s work. If you tweet or blog about it, leave another comment with the link and we’ll count that too. Do it by Feb 1, please!

We’ll all post our reviews on March 9, and anyone posting, commenting, etc will be entered to win a copy of So Much for That (more details as we get closer to the date.)

So now, here’s the books. I’ll be reading Checker and the Derailleurs and The Female of the Species, the only two I haven’t read so far!

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American children’s book illustrator Irina McGovern enjoys a secure, settled life in London with her smart, loyal, disciplined partner, Lawrence—until the night she finds herself inexplicably drawn to kissing another man, a passionate, extravagant, top-ranked snooker player. Two competing alternate futures hinge on this single kiss, as Irina’s decision—to surrender to temptation or to preserve her seemingly safe partnership with Lawrence—will have momentous consequences for her career, her friendships and familial relationships, and the texture of her daily life.

It’s like Sliding Doors—only way, way smarter. If you’ve never read Lionel before, I recommend starting with this or We Need to Talk About Kevin.

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Eva never really wanted to be a mother—and certainly not the mother of the unlovable boy who murdered seven of his fellow high school students, a cafeteria worker, and a much-adored teacher who tried to befriend him, all two days before his sixteenth birthday. Now, two years later, it is time for her to come to terms with marriage, career, family, parenthood, and Kevin’s horrific rampage in a series of startlingly direct correspondences with her estranged husband, Franklyn. Uneasy with the sacrifices and social demotion of motherhood from the start, Eva fears that her alarming dislike for her own son may be responsible for driving him so nihilistically off the rails.

This one’s a classic. Lionel is an expert at bringing you into the lives of some rather unlikable women and making you see the world through their eyes.

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Tennis has been Willy Novinsky’s one love ever since she first picked up a racquet at the age of four. A middle-ranked pro at twenty-three, she’s met her match in Eric Oberdorf, a low-ranked, untested Princeton grad who also intends to make his mark on the international tennis circuit. Eric becomes Willy’s first passion off the court, and eventually they marry. But while wedded life begins well, full-tilt competition soon puts a strain on their relationship—and an unexpected accident sends driven and gifted Willy sliding irrevocably toward resentment, tragedy, and despair.

My favorite without a doubt.

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Following the death of her worthy liberal parents, Corlis McCrea moves back into her family’s grand Reconstruction mansion in North Carolina, willed to all three siblings. Her timid younger brother has never left home. When her bullying black-sheep older brother moves into “his” house as well, it’s war.

Each heir wants the house. Yet to buy the other out, two siblings must team against one. Just as in girlhood, Corlis is torn between allying with the decent but fearful youngest and the iconoclastic eldest, who covets his legacy to destroy it. A Perfectly Good Family is a stunning examination of inheritance, literal and psychological: what we take from our parents, what we discard, and what we are stuck with, like it or not.

If you like messed up families . . .

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Eleanor Merritt, a do-gooding American family-planning worker, was drawn to Kenya to improve the lot of the poor. Unnervingly, she finds herself falling in love with the beguiling Calvin Piper despite, or perhaps because of, his misanthropic theories about population control and the future of the human race. Surely, Calvin whispers seductively in Eleanor’s ear, if the poor are a responsibility they are also an imposition.

Set against the vivid backdrop of shambolic modern-day Africa—a continent now primarily populated with wildlife of the two-legged sort—Lionel Shriver’s Game Control is a wry, grimly comic tale of bad ideas and good intentions. With a deft, droll touch, Shriver highlights the hypocrisy of lofty intellectuals who would “save” humanity but who don’t like people.

Definitely thought-provoking.

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Beautiful and charismatic, nineteen-year-old Checker Secretti is the most gifted and original drummer that the club-goers of Astoria, Queens, have ever heard. When he plays, conundrums seem to solve themselves, brilliant thoughts spring to mind, and couples fall in love. The members of his band, The Derailleurs, are passionately devoted to their guiding spirit, as are all who fall under Checker’s spell. But when another drummer, Eaton Striker, hears the prodigy play, he is pulled inexorably into Checker’s orbit by a powerful combination of envy and admiration. Soon The Derailleurs, too, are torn apart by latent jealousies that Eaton does his utmost to bring alive.

So psyched for this one!

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Still unattached and childless at fifty-nine, world-renowned anthropologist Gray Kaiser is seemingly invincible—and untouchable. Returning to make a documentary at the site of her first great triumph in Kenya, she is accompanied by her faithful middle-aged assistant, Errol McEchern, who has loved her for years in silence. When sexy young graduate assistant Raphael Sarasola arrives on the scene, Gray is captivated and falls hopelessly in love—before an amazed and injured Errol’s eyes. As he follows the progress of their affair with jealous fascination, Errol watches helplessly from the sidelines as a proud and fierce woman is reduced to miserable dependence through subtle, cruel, and calculating manipulation.

This one too!

common pornography pet winners

  • About the author EB
  • January 28, 2010

I am happy to announce the winners of the three copies of A Common Pornography. Here, in all their glory, are my three favorite entries:

From Mark Russell (I’m still laughing about this one):

I had a black lab named Toby who was headstrong and oversexed, to put it mildly. Though our back yard was surrounded by a six foot tall fence, he would routinely get out. He accomplished this herculean feat by getting a running start and leaping at the top of the fence like a puma. He would catch the top of the fence with his front paws, and then claw his way up furiously with his back paws until he was perched atop the fence, at which point he would bound off toward the other side and the adventures that it surely awaited. By the time we caught up with him, he was usually busy humping a confused calf or an abandoned mop.

One day, my brother and I were tasked with the chore of catching Toby and bringing him inside. Not wanting to come in, he crouched in the corner of the garden by the rhubarb. He tantalized us with the possibility of cornering him, but every time we approached, he effortlessly bolted away and holed up in a different corner of the yard, starting the game over again. This went on for about half an hour and we were no closer to bringing him in than we were in the beginning. Finally, I turned to my brother and said that it was getting late and that if we ever wanted to go inside, we had to devise a better stratagem. That was when I suggested to my little brother that he should “present himself” to Toby by getting down on all fours as if to allow himself to be mounted. He was skeptical at first, but it’s a testament to just how bereft of alternatives we were that he soon agreed to it.

He got down on his hands and knees, arched his back (I give him points for coming up with that little extra touch) and stuck his posterior out seductively towards the dog. In his satyr-like horniness, Toby fell for the ruse and made a beeline for my brother’s ass. Neither of us had anticipated the purpose and speed with which the lab detected and honed in on the bait we had offered him. My brother, seeing this missile-like dog rapidly closing in on stealing his innocence forever, broke his position and ran into the house crying.

On the plus side, I was finally able to catch Toby. On the down side, we were soon thereafter forced to give him away.

From Ryan:

There’s not much to say about my childhood hamsters. They were cheap, slept by day, dug at night, and died after a year or so. Sometimes they would never even get a proper name and lived their whole life as Hamster.

Hamster escaped again. Did you clean Hamster’s cage Ryan? Mom, I need some food for Hamster. Hey(new friend)! Wanna see my hamster? His name is Hamster. Here…have a Cheetoh, Hamster. You’re a good hamster, Hamster.

Well, I guess there was something to say about Hamster.

From Kate:

My childhood dog was named Zowie, that was short for her full name, Sauerkraut Lady. I named her myself. She once ate an entire apple pie, glass pie plate included. She was fine after surgery.

let’s talk about our to-be-read piles

  • About the author EB
  • January 27, 2010

This might not be interesting to anyone but me and the one person who asked for it on twitter, but here are the books on my to-be-read pile (in no particular order). Stars next to books from the harpercollins family:

Songs for the Missing by Stewart O’Nan
Showgirls, Teen Wolves, and Astro Zombies by Michael Adams*
Normal People Don’t Live Like This by Dylan Landis
What Was Lost by Catherine O’Flynn
Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing by Lydia Peelle*
Girl Trouble by Holly Goddard Jones*
Like You’d Understand, Anyway by Jim Shepard
Awesome by Jack Pendarvis
The Night of the Gun by David Carr
The Boys in the Trees by Mary Swan
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
City of Refuge by Tom Piazza*
Checker and the Derailleurs by Lionel Shriver*
The Female of the Species by Lionel Shriver*
Getting Stoned with Savages by J. Maarten Troost
The Secret Lives of People in Love by Simon Van Booy
The House of Tomorrow by Peter Bognanni
Hummingbirds by Joshua Gaylord*
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba*
Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O’Nan
The Summer We Fell Apart by Robin Antalek*
While They Slept by Kathryn Harrison
A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor
Bliss by Lauren Myracle
Teenage by Jon Savage
The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston
Superfreakonomics by Dubner and Levitt*
The Weight of Heaven by Thrity Umrigar*
Legend of a Suicide by David Vann*
Almost Dead by Assaf Gavron*
How Sex Works by Sharon Moalem*
The Indifferent Stars Above by Daniel James Brown*
Numb by Sean Ferrell*
Sick City by Tony O’Neill*
The Blessings of the Animals by Katrina Kittle*
Vanishing by Deborah Willis*
Chasing the Leopard by Julian Smith*
The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter*
Girls to the Front by Sara Marcus*
Lit by Mary Karr*
Hating Olivia by Mark SaFranko*
The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver*
Vanishing and Other Stories by Deborah Willis* (currently reading)
A Tree Grows in Brookyn by Betty Smith* (currently reading)
A Vindication of Love by Christina Nehring* (currently reading)

Anyone else care to share theirs? Warn me away from anything horrible on this list? Make me put something wonderful at the top of the pile?

a new look for william shakespeare

  • About the author EB
  • January 25, 2010

I love these clever takes on Shakespeare covers by graphic designer Mike Young:

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Check out the rest of Mike’s Shakespeare covers (including King Lear, Twelfth Night, and Othello) here, and check out his blog (featuring more design and illustration) as well.

naked girls reading . . . in nyc!

  • About the author EB
  • January 22, 2010

Naked Girls Reading, the reading series that features, you guessed it, naked girls reading, will be having a New York City event at the end of this month!

“The people who bring you Pinchbottom burlesque present the New York Edition of the nationwide hit nude literary salon. Hosted by Nasty Canasta. January 29 will close out the first-ever nationwide “Naked Girls Reading” event with “NAKED GIRLS READING PULP: Gotham’s Seedy Underbelly” featuring lurid readings set in the Big Apple. Seating is VERY limited; buy now. Reserved seating tickets include 1 drink from Madame X’s “Foreplay” menu.”

You can buy tickets here. Or, if $25 is too rich for your blood, you could always stay home, take off all your clothes, and read in front of the mirror, but it probably won’t be nearly as fun.

Harper Perennial Pets Presents . . . Boo-Boo!

  • About the author EB
  • January 21, 2010

It’s the return of Harper Perennial Pets!

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This week, in honor of the on-sale of A Common Pornography, we present Kevin Sampsell’s cat, Boo-Boo!

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(photos by Frayn Masters)

As Kevin says:

“For a long time, we thought she was a neighbor’s cat who just liked to hang out in our yard. We’d tried to lure her in and eventually she would come in and stay in for a long time. We realized a few months later that she must not belong to anyone. She’d stay inside our place all day and usually at night too. And we feed her every day too. One of her favorite things to eat is yogurt. Maple and lemon are her favorites.”

“I’m not averse to putting cats in my writing either. My last two story collections each had a story with a cat as the main focus. In Beautiful Blemish, it was the story I Heart Frankenstein, and in Creamy Bullets it was Cat in Residence. Though there is no mention of cats in my memoir, there are a few mentions of my childhood dog, Scooter, whose photo will appear in the PS section.”

Note: Scooter is quite adorable as well. To celebrate the return of Harper Perennial Pets and to celebrate Boo-Boo and Scooter, I am giving away three copies of A Common Pornography. Just comment below with the name of your childhood pet for a chance to win! Bonus points for telling a weirdly hilarious story about him or her (and by bonus points I mean I will count your entry twice.)

letters of note

  • About the author EB
  • January 20, 2010

I’m loving Letters of Note, a website that is “is an attempt to gather and sort fascinating letters, postcards, telegrams, faxes, and memos.” Especially this one written on Superman letterhead!

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on sale today

  • About the author EB
  • January 19, 2010

In addition to the many other great books we have going on sale today (see below for the complete list), we have two of my absolute favorites:

Out in paperback today is Zoe Heller’s The Believers, a family saga that fans of Jonathan Franzen, Claire Messud, and Lionel Shriver will likely enjoy. If you’re in New York City, you can see Zoe tonight in conversation with her editor at Powerhouse Arena, and if you’re anywhere else you can check out her blog tour, which starts today.

Also out today is a book I can’t pimp enough: Kevin Sampsell’s A Common Pornography. It’s already gotten some great attention, including a peer review from Justin Taylor on htmlgiant. Kevin’s also made an awesome video that addresses the quandary one might face when reading a book with the word “pornography” in the title:

Other books coming out today include:
Brave New World (a deluxe modern classic edition with a very touchable new cover)
Mrs. Lincoln
The Red Convertible
With Wings Like Eagles

“here is the hope that we are the two”

  • About the author EB
  • January 14, 2010

Many, many thanks to editor Peggy Hageman for linking to this, the most awesome (and only) craigslist casual encounters book-related ad I have ever seen:

Looking for well-read woman for fun and talks – m4w – 42 (Santa Monica)

Hi there, I am Max and what’s well-read? Let’s say you’re interested in or have read: “Lit” by Mary Karr, “Run” by Ann Patchett, both books by Stieg Larsson, or “Gunshot Straight” by Lou Berney. A bonus if you like “Cowboy Full”. Fine by me if you like movies too. Let’s talk, have a drink or two, get naked and be merry. Here is the hope that we are the two.

Please note: most of the books he names are harpercollins books. Um, go us?

novel tea

  • About the author EB
  • January 14, 2010

I received a lovely gift in the mail yesterday:

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Novel Teas are teabags packaged with lovely literary quotes and sayings, include one of my favorite quotes of all time: “She is too fond of books, and it has turned her brain.”

Sadly, I don’t really like tea. But if I did, this is the tea I would drink!

english 101: the winners!

  • About the author EB
  • January 13, 2010

I’m so excited that you’re excited about English 101: The Harper Perennial Classics Book Club! Here are the randomly selected winners of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn!

Nicole
Amanda
Terri
Judy
Rebecca

Get reading!

why we love our authors (fashion edition)

  • About the author EB
  • January 11, 2010

You might remember our holiday grab bag post from Myrlin A. Hermes, author of The Lunatic, the Lover, and the Poet, where she taught us how to make awesome recycled scarves. Well, imagine our excitement today when a giant box arrived to the office of Rakesh Satyal, Myrlin’s editor. Scarves for everybody!!!

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(left to right: Rakesh, marketing director Amy, me, Rakesh’s assistant Rob.)

Thanks Myrlin!

happy (belated) birthday dennis cooper!

  • About the author EB
  • January 11, 2010

Yesterday was Dennis Cooper’s birthday. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was celebrating by digging further into Smothered in Hugs, Dennis’s upcoming essay collection. (So far my favorite piece is definitely the one on Courtney Love.) Luckily, I was informed of this important day by harper perennial author Justin Taylor over on HTMLGiant, where he posted a pretty comprehensive list of things you too can do to celebrate Dennis’s special day.

Dennis is headed to our office later this afternoon, so stay tuned for a possible autographed Ugly Man giveaway . . .

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