From Books

Is E-Reading Finally Mainstream?

How much of your reading in the last week was done online?
Probably a lot. But how much of your fiction reading was done online?
Probably more and more every week! E-reading has officially moved out of the fringe and has become mainstream in the past couple of years. There is a variety of devices you can choose from, from Amazon’s Kindle to Barnes and Noble’s Nook to Apple’s iPads. Even more people seem to be doing their reading on smartphones. So have paper books gone the way of the dinosaur? This has been a heated subject of debate for the past few years, but I think it’s only really become relevant to devoted readers recently. Now the cheaper prices of ebooks, combined with some pretty slick, convenient devices, make it hard to say no to e-readers, even for the most die-hard book devotees.

So where do you fall in the so-called war on paper books? Do you still love the smell, the feel, and the experience of opening a book? Would you rather save your money and buy more ebooks? Or do you prefer the electronic reading experience, with its built in lights and ability to check email or define words as you go?

I’m personally a half-and-halfer. I love having paper books, and I get inspiration from seeing my collection on the wall. But I appreciate the ease and convenience of ebooks. They’re great for traveling or when you’re far from home for a long time. They’re great for buying books that you don’t want to spend the hardcover price on. And if it leads to more people buying more books, that seems like a good thing for authors and readers alike. As long as sufficient protections for writers are built into the ebook business, as publishers and agents are hopefully starting to do, it seems like a good thing. But I’ll mourn the day when people don’t have books on their shelves.

So how do you feel about the ebook revolution? Do you use tablets for school, or read your homework on a device? Do you take a device traveling? Do you love cozying up with a paper book? Do you hardly even remember what paper feels like? Where do you fall on the spectrum, and what do you think is the future of the paper book?

What Children’s Books Do You Hold Close To Your Heart? And Some New Ones to Add to the List

Children’s books have a funny way of sticking around in our minds and in our hearts. They catch us in our earliest days of reading, and they’re often beautifully poignant, sweet, or sad in ways that adult books struggle and fail to capture. Some children’s books stay with us forever. I’m thinking about books like THE GIVING TREE or CHARLOTTE’S WEB; these books teach us about death, about hardship, and also about generosity, friendship, and love.

So what books from your childhood still have a special place on your shelf or in your heart? Which books would you want to read to future kids in your life, whether it’s as a teacher, parent, or cool aunt/uncle? Here are some faves of mine, as well as some new recommendations for children’s books that might reach that special place in your life.

CHARLOTTE’S WEB: Yes, this is the big granddaddy of sweet, sad, moving books. We grow to love Wilbur, Charlotte, Templeton the Rat, and all the rest; and we learn about compassion and the cycle of life.

A CRICKET IN TIMES SQUARE: I loved this one, involving a country Connecticut cricket who finds himself in the subway station of Times Square, befriending cats, rats, and bodega owners. It’s beautiful and funny too.

Z FOR ZACHARIAH: This one falls more in the category of young adult, but it stayed with me long after I read it (for the third or fourth time). In a post-nuclear world, one little valley seems to have avoided the fallout that has spread across the rest of the globe. There’s just one girl there, until a man arrives with a suit that can withstand radiation. But there’s only one suit — and he’s very protective of it.

Check out this article to see some new children’s books that are sure to move you: http://www.bustle.com/articles/41588-7-childrens-books-that-are-even-more-healing-than-the-self-help-section

And how about adding YOUR favorite books to the list? What children’s books should be handed down from generation to generation?

Life on the Writing Trail

I’ve been terrible, readers. This spring’s schedule of teaching and keeping up with multiple writing jobs has overwhelmed me and I haven’t been able to keep up with regular posts. But I haven’t abandoned Writerly Life! This blog will still be a vital source of tips and techniques and larger thoughts about what it means to be a writer; but I’ll have to hold myself accountable and devise a posting schedule that is truly manageable. So for the future, let tell you to expect a weekly post, but one with greater length and substance than your average posts. I’ll be working hard on those posts to make sure they’re up to a high standard, and that they get you thinking about writing, memory, life, creativity, and much more. Don’t give up on me yet!

At the same time, of course, I’ll be wearing my other hat of acting as co-editor of my new literary magazine, Two Cities Review. You’ll see me over there, writing about the intersection of writing and city life, and you can expect any relevant post about writing to wander over here as well.

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Are You a Binge Reader?

I saw an interesting post on the New Yorker’s Page-Turner blog the other day about a new trend in entertainment consumption that book publishers are trying to capitalize on. We’ve all heard of “binge watching” as the new it term for sitting down and bombing through an entire season of “Battlestar Galactica” or “Orange is the New Black” on Netflix; there’s something absolutely addictive not only in the way the episodes are framed these days, but even in the way they’re queued on our computers, inviting us to watch more and more. Now publishers are trying to make “binge reading” a thing. The Christian Science Monitor has more: read the article here.

Do you think binge reading will catch on the way binge watching has? I think there are two problems with the way the article is being framed; first, likening binge reading to binge viewing is misunderstanding the fundamental difference in thought that occurs when reading and when watching tv; and second, binge reading has already existed long before the advent of television. This may sound a little contradictory, but bear with me.
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Countdown: My FAVORITE Read This Year Is…

I’ve been counting down my top ten read of 2013 as our Kickstarter project counts down. We now have just a few days left and we need your help! Consider donating, and in the meantime, take a look at my FAVORITE read of 2013.

The Flamethrowers, Rachel Kushner

I just can’t get over Rachel Kushner’s The Flame Throwers. It is so wildly exciting as a story for so many reasons. It’s dark and dangerous; it’s cold and clear and beautiful; it’s got some kick-ass female characters; it’s sensitive and sad; it enlightened me about what a few corners of the world looked like in the 1970’s that I knew virtually nothing about. It does all these things, and is also just a rip-roaring good read.

The story follows “Reno” as she’s known, a young female motorcycle enthusiast who somehow ends up in the landspeed motorcycle racing time trials across the barren salt flats of the western United States. Reno loves racing for the speed, but somehow she becomes caught up in the 70’s intellectual art scene of New York. In this crowd, every act is a statement, every event a creation of art. So her focus on motorcycle racing becomes something of an artistic statement, and it grants her entry into a very exclusive club.

As we’ll see, the world of the 70’s art scene is cruel; even as it claims to espouse liberation of every kind, it actually polices its members. Gender and sexuality are explored here with a stunning eye for detail and nuance of meaning. And that’s only the beginning. The Flame Throwers captures the world of a youthful, transgressive, and misguided, or self-deluded, culture. It captures revolutions in Italy and slave labor in South America. Its reach is truly global, even as its story is inherently personal. I can’t recommend this stunning, original book highly enough.

Thats my top ten! What are YOUR favorite reads of 2013? What are you looking forward to in 2014? And can you help get our magazine launched? Donate to our Kickstarter project today!

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Countdown: My Second Favorite Read This Year Is…

We’re counting down the days left until we run out of time for our Kickstarter project, and we desperately need your support to launch. I’m also counting down my ten favorite reads this year, and we’re almost at the end!. My second favorite read is the oldest book on the list; it’s a classic I only got around to reading recently. Read on to find out that my second favorite read this year was…

Middlemarch, George Eliot

I’m not the biggest Victorian lit fan. Jane Austen has some good moments, but overall I’m usually bored; the writing can be very dry, and the reflections of people and their doings too outdated to apply to people today. I therefore avoided George Eliot and her Middlemarch, thinking it would be typical nineteenth century British literature. How wrong I was!

It’s hard to describe what is so profoundly moving in the large, leisurely story of Middlemarch. Here’s what I wrote in an earlier review:

Middlemarch succeeded in utterly beguiling me. It’s less like Austen to me, and more like Henry James; it is passionate, realistic, and willing to gaze upon the lives of unhappy individuals with great clarity and compassion. Unlike the stories of Austen, which generally bear toward a marriage, several marriages happen in Middlemarch right at the outset. The drama will stem not from who will marry whom, but what life will truly be like after these matches, for better or for worse, have been made. One storyline follows Dorothea, an enlightened, modern women with great wisdom, ambition, and intelligence. She is a wonderful character to follow, full of identifiable emotion, passion, and loyalty. She marries an older man who is a respected scholar because she believes she wants to support him in his great work; but to Dorothea’s dismay, and the reader’s as well, we discover that his work is useless and backward, the scholarship that he has been devoting his life to an utter waste of time. Through Eliot’s graceful writing, we can see a marriage, having lost its foundation, crumbling from within.

There are other married-life dramas within this story, including another marriage that seems to begin on the best of terms, but begins to fall apart as husband and wife discover how little they know about each other and how unwilling they are to understand each other. Eliot’s descriptions of the small bitternesses of relationships, and how wounds can fester, or how chasms can open between people who once loved each other, are sensitive and real. They feel as relevant to relationships today as they must have been about marriages of a previous century. Frequently I felt myself associating guiltily with the character of Rosamond, whose utter self-absorption causes rifts to open in her marriage. She firmly believes each new hardship is done deliberately to spite her or marr her happiness; it’s these sorts of perspectives that I feel I take when I’m at my worst. And it’s these sorts of perspectives that can make relationships fall apart.

Of course, in the time and place of Middlemarch, divorce or breakups are not an option; so the members of these unhappy unions must struggle along the best they can, facing a lifetime of dischord. They realize that unhappy marriages can mean a lifetime of smothering their true selves, or subjugating their wills to others; but a chance for freedom, even at the risk of social disapproval, might just be worth taking.

Middlemarch is a small-town gossip novel; it’s a gripping portrait of troubled family life; it’s a coming-of-age novel; it’s even a murder mystery. I found it riveting, honest, subtle, and true. It’s the first book in a long while that I’ve felt a real, personal connection to. Finally, I get what all the hype was about.

Stay tuned for my FAVORITE read of 2013, and Donate to our Kickstarter project today!

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Countdown: My 3rd Favorite Read This Year Is…

We’re counting down the days left until we run out of time for our Kickstarter project, and we desperately need your support to launch. I’m also counting down my ten favorite reads this year. My third favorite read is the only short story collection on my life. Read on to find out that my third favorite read this year was…

Dear Life, Alice Munro

What a triumph that Alice Munro should win the Nobel Prize for Literature this year. The timing couldn’t have been better, considering she published what might be her very best story collection yet a year ago. After a few decades and a few dozen books, Alice Munro’s mastery of the short story is unmatched; her writing has a clear, fluid beauty to it, as though you were holding water in your hands. The stories in Dear Life have that crystalline quality, as well as her usual warm understanding of humanity, but they are also among her most tightly plotted stories, with startling twists and taut suspense at every turn.

In this collection, Munro is making some of the more bold choices of her storywriting career, pushing characters to the brink. I somehow found these stories to hold more deadly emotional violence, more devastating choices, than ever before. Her writing is stunning on every page, her cold weary understanding of the choices we make to grow up, the quiet sacrifices we make, at its very height. There’s warmth here, too — a calm glowing portrayal of the inner life all people have.

We’re almost at my favorite read this year! Stay tuned, and Donate to our Kickstarter project today!

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Countdown: My 4th Favorite Read This Year Is…

We’re counting down the days left until we run out of time for our Kickstarter project, and we desperately need your support to launch. My 4th favorite read was a Byzantine war story — guessed it?

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, Anthony Marra

Much has been said about the stunning novel debut of Anthony Marra, his A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. Not enough has been written about the fifty-year night of war, dislocation, flight, and torture of Chechnya. The region suddenly flashed onto Americans’ radars this year due to the identities of the marathon bombers, but long before that terrible event happened, dark stories were unfolding in Chechnya unread. Here at last is a fictional story that brings to light this region. But more than that, this novel captures the complex way people and their choices become interconnected, and the astonishing generosity human beings are capable of even in the cruelest of times and situations.

Even amid unending war, some characters in this dark and epic novel are determined to save each other. The plot is Byzantine in its intricacy; with the skill of an older writer, Marra releases information a bit at a time so that the true complexity of the characters’ interdependence only gradually becomes clear. You’ll be glad you learned about a largely forgotten corner of the world and its suffering — but you’ll also be glad to discover a new writer who is sure to be a major force in coming years.

Stay tuned to find out my favorite read this year, and Donate to our Kickstarter project today!
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Countdown: My 5th Favorite Read This Year Is…

We’re counting down the days left until we run out of time for our Kickstarter project, and we desperately need your support to launch. I’m also counting down my ten favorite reads this year. My 5th favorite read has hookups, breakups, and relationship mixups. Read on to find out that my 9th favorite read this year was…

The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., Adelle Waldman

Waldman’s debut novel has gotten a lot of buzz this year, and for good reason. The author has taken on the challenge of capturing modern hipster Brooklyn life, but specifically from the perspective of a hipster Brooklyn man. In her deeply sensitive, intensely psychological portrait, she captures a great deal of the hypocrisy and under-the-rug sexism that still goes rumbling along through relationships today.

Main character Nathaniel imagines himself to be the modern, enlightened man — supportive feminist, sensitive boyfriend, friend to women. As a writer he preens and sees himself as the classic sensitive artist, able to see the shortcomings of others with a particularly sharp lens. He’s more or less completely unaware of the ways he still belittles, judges, and patronizes the women in his life, even the women he thinks he loves. The fundamental misunderstanding that still goes on between the sexes is the subject of this book, and I found Waldman’s portrayal to be clear-eyed, realistic, and cutting. It’s up to you to decide whether this is a send-up of contemporary Brooklyn life — or whether it’s a realistic portrayal.

Want more? Stay tuned for my favorite read of 2013, and Donate to our Kickstarter project today!

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Countdown: My 6th Favorite Read This Year Is…

We’re counting down the days left until we run out of time for our Kickstarter project, and we desperately need your support to launch. I’m also counting down my ten favorite reads this year. My 6th favorite read has people who come through television screens and men without faces. Read on to find out that my 6th favorite read this year was…

After Dark, Haruki Murakami

I’m a die-hard fan of Haruki Murakami’s work. The first time I read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle in college, I knew I had never quite experienced a story or a writer like this before. Murakami plays with the fantastic, but it’s his own particular brand of magic; it’s weird, sensual, and often unexplainable, but always affecting. The strange setups he creates end up feeling like a powerful metaphor for life, but they don’t fit easily (or boringly) into a tidy allegorical interpretation.

Since that book I’ve enjoyed many others of Murakami’s, but his new book After Dark is a particular favorite. Unlike his massive opus 1Q84 from a few years back, After Dark is a tidy, slim little novel all contained in one night in the dark bar and club district of Tokyo. We follow a small cast of lonely late-night characters as they move through the city after hours, occasionally bumping up against each other. As with other Murakami books, there’s something strange and very unsettling going on here, and there’s also a very simple human drama underneath that. That mix of the sweet and the strange is what I love about this author’s weird and wonderful books.

Want more? Stay tuned to find out my favorite read this year, and Donate to our Kickstarter project today!
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