Monday, May 4, 2009

Emily has moved to Oregon

I no longer live in Iowa City, therefore, this blog has lost most of its purpose. If you're still interested in following my work, you can read about my new adventures in Salem, OR on my new blog, Desperately Seeking Salem.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Heavenly Lit

Absolutely LOVED the latest novel by Keith Donohue, which is being published this month.

I had picked up his first book, The Stolen Child, about three years ago at Prairie Lights and read about three-fourths of it before passing it along to my husband (who devoured it). Not sure what made me lose the thread in that first book, though I imagine it has something to do with it being primarily about boy's/men and men's lives. One little lost reader couldn't have hurt Donohue much, since he sold a lot of books, got a lot of attention, and quickly churned out this new one, Angels of Destruction.

And what a one it is.

The book opens with the arrival of a young girl named Norah on the doorstep of Margaret Quinn, a lonely widow whose husband has long died and whose only daughter ran away with a 1970s era radical ten years before. Materializing, it would seem, out of thin air, Norah presents herself as the antidote to Margaret’s unabiding sadness. Together, they concoct a story that Norah is her granddaughter, the daughter of Margaret’s long lost daughter Erica.

Very quickly, Norah establishes that she is no ordinary little girl. She speaks in beautifully crafted sentences, has a vocabulary to rival those of most college professors and drops prophetic bombs every time she is drawn into a meaningful conversation. She tracks animals with ease. She creates miracles that astound her classmates and anger their parents.

Is she an angel? Is she a Stepford child? Is she a demon? Angels of Destruction is a thriller wrapped in a ghost story, wrapped in a contemporary fable, wrapped in a fairy tale. One delicious Turducken.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Lovely Bones author coming to Iowa City

I first read The Lovely Bones in the fall of 2002, at a time when I was living in Germany and didn't want to be. I had just fallen in love, I had just moved half a world away from my future husband, and I was really bummed out from having just read The Corrections (seriously, every time I picked it up I spiraled further into despair. So I wasn't prepared to like it. And I didn't. I hated how ubiquitous her novel was -- every store, every shelf, even in Germany. I hated the set-up: dead girl telling her story from heaven. I hated that a little girl had to get raped and die for people to buy a book.

Time has clearly weathered my feelings towards The Lovely Bones. I picked it up again, as well as some of her other books, to prepare a mini-assessment of her for and found myself enrapt with Sebold's storytelling abilities and the power of her characters' voices.

Well, Alice Sebold is coming to Iowa City, and she's not even being brought here by the workshop. If I were anywhere near Iowa City next week I would go and see this brave woman.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Let's all read about Japanese internment

Getting through Sandra Dallas's Tallgrass for my review for was a bit of a slog. I kept waiting for this book to take off, but it instead got boggled down in little, smalltown dramas that detracted from the main event: there are Japanese prisoners in a camp located right next to your farm!

I admire Dallas for not sensationalizing this story, though. As a journalist, I can't imagine having such weighty material at hand -- the internment of Japanese-Americans on our own soil after the bombing of Pearl Harbor -- and not delving into those gritty details. Instead, she has created a family portrait that explores how fear and intolerance of the prisoners spreads like a virus through a rural community. That's an angle that makes this a good choice for the Linn County Reads program.

I think I've waited long enough to learn about what really happened in this dark chapter. You're reading it here: I vow to read Lauren Kessler's Stubborn Twig.

Monday, February 23, 2009

More bad news for art in Iowa City

Looks like the University of Iowa Museum of Art can't seem to get a break. The Chicago Tribune has just reported that about 2,400 books from the arts collection that had been in storage after last summer's devastating floods were soaked last night when a sprinkler head froze.

I'm no stranger to pipes freezing in Iowa. When I was living in the communist housing block off Lincoln Ave on the Health campus, the pipes in our first floor apartment froze for a few weeks every winter. Every February I would invite the maintenance people to come fix our drain, and one would arrive to try to unfreeze the pipe leading from our tub.

It can't be easy to take care of all that art when it's scattered in locations throughout the state and beyond. My heart clenches every time the elements destroys old books. Works on paper, even in bound form, are exceptionally fragile.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The next big thing in bookselling: Me

I was hanging out at Cannon Beach Book Company on the Oregon Coast this weekend when a couple walked up to the cashier to ask about the new Widow Clicquot bio.

"Is this good?" They asked? No one had read it.

Well let me tell you about the Veuve, as we like to call her in my family. My sister Ashley is one mean champagne drinker. She's recently attached herself to a sparkling Chinese man who boasts the same. So yes, I've read The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled it.

Here's what I told them:

"If you like champagne, it's required reading. There isn't a lot of source material out there on the widow, so some of what the author writes is speculation and oral tradition, but the stories in the book are the stuff of entrepreneurial myth. It's got fantastic information about the innovations within and rise of the champagne industry." Yadda yadda yadda.

I also warned them that the book is 2/3 text, 1/3 research references. I felt kind of cheated when I got to page 198 of 300 and realized I was done.

Anyway, I sold my first hardback nonfiction at an independent bookstore. Paul Ingram would be so proud!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Clocking in near perfection

As a book reviewer, I find writing raves and rants is far easier than writing middling pieces about so-so books. Call this the book-reviewer's lament: our lives would be much more fun if all books were either rock-your-face-off good or slit-your-wrists bad.

I didn't realize until I read my review of Paul Harding's Tinkers about two weeks after I had written it what a complete and utter rave it was.

Tinkers is about a man dying -- his last moments and days spent drifting in and out of delirium as he tries to piece together and make sense of his life. He revisits moments, mostly small ones, and in doing so, finds a way to reconnect with his estranged father.

I don't remember particularly enjoying the story of this book -- it's a man's book about manly things -- but the craftsmanship just blew me away. It's prose that leaves you breathless, and faceless.