The Eggers Epidemic

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like Dave Eggers is everywhere these days. I know that this phenomenon is probably just a product of my newfound awareness of his existence after picking up his new book The Circle, but frankly, it’s gotten a little ridiculous. Not only did he write this new novel (and previous novels, of course), but apparently this man co-founded an organization that I have admired ever since I moved to Seattle. 826 Seattle is a nonprofit writing and tutoring center that inspires young people to cultivate their writing, which I obviously think is a noble endeavor. When I discovered Dave Eggers was involved in the founding of this national organization, I’ll admit I was a bit impressed. Then it turns out he edits a short story collection that I have recently stumbled upon (also associated with this volunteer organization). Then I fly to New York, and a woman sitting near me on the plane wants to talk about Dave Eggers when she sees I’m reading The Circle — she read an excerpt of the novel in a magazine and wants to know what I think.  Then I go to a bar in New York, I say that I work in the books industry, and the guy I’m talking to wants to know what I’m reading right now. I tell him I’m reading The Circle by Dave Eggers.  He tells me he is great friends with Dave Eggers’s brother. And he has met Dave several times. He thinks the Eggers brothers are both geniuses. At this point I’m thinking there must be some sort of conspiracy going on.  This feeling fits in perfectly with the storyline of Dave’s novel too, in an uncanny sort of way.

The story itself, which resembles my life in so many ways given my own position at a tech company, is quite compelling. I think the Circle is a sufficiently creepy tech company, the main character Mae is both relatable and frustrating, and the whole scenario is eerily plausible, as you would expect from any effective dystopian novel. For me, the test for the recommend-ability of a book is whether or not I’m thinking about the characters and the story when I’m not reading, and also if these thoughts continue after I finish. The Circle? Check and check. I think that everyone in our generation should read this book, we should talk about it, and we should work to avoid a similar storyline.  In the meantime, I’m waiting on my next Dave Eggers encounter. Perhaps a random street sighting? One can hope. 

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I’m Cuckoo for Rowling (and Cocoa Puffs for that matter…)

J.K. Rowling. That woman has certainly built herself a name that elicits a reaction. Usually a positive reaction, I would say, due to an almost-universal love of Harry Potter (I try not to dwell on the fact that I have to qualify this love with an “almost”). Sometimes a negative reaction, I would also venture to say, in the case of The Casual Vacancy. Then there is the reaction ignited by The Cuckoo’s Calling — a reaction that deserves its own realm for consideration. I just finished reading The Cuckoo’s Calling last night, and while I know that it seems a little behind the times, I was a little busy when the news first struck that Robert Galbraith was, in fact, a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling. Yes, I was busy. I was busy dealing with the chaos that exploded across the publishing industry in the wake of this discovery. Once bedlam had subsided, I finally got a chance to crack open that spine and check out Ms. Rowling’s newest work.

While I truly do enjoy books across the entire spectrum of genres, I wouldn’t say that a mystery is ever my “go-to” genre if I’m looking for the next book I might fall in love with. But if there are a myriad of mysteries out there that are on-par with The Cuckoo’s Calling, then I’ll admit that I’ve been overlooking a genre that should have more clout in my personal reading world. Just like in The Casual Vacancy, J.K. Rowling once again proves that she can create truly vivid and authentic characters. These characters are the kind that are so true-to-life, you wouldn’t be surprised to meet someone from her novel tomorrow, if the characters don’t already remind you of someone you know. But unlike The Casual Vacancy, this book is not wholly entrenched in the darkness of human nature and the dreariness of life. This book was filled with hope but without taking any of the easy ways out. The plot was engrossing, with just enough twists and turns to be surprising without being too far-fetched.

While I whole-heartedly understand her motivation for writing under a pseudonym (I can’t imagine the pressure that comes with that name of hers, but I can imagine that feeling of freedom to write in anonymity and enjoy writing simply for the love of the art), I hope that she doesn’t pull this move on me again. Maybe it’s because I’m from the Harry Potter generation, but I plan to continue reading every story that comes out of J.K. Rowling.    

James and Jason

For better or worse, many artists these days have decided to forgo the traditional boundaries between crafts. The number of singers who have decided to take up acting (and vice versa) has escalated beyond what’s worth counting. And while we’ve seen biographies and memoirs from actors for ages, we’ve recently seen an influx of actor-authored novels — to varying degrees of success, of course (James Franco has apparently just finished his debut novel. Enough said there. My beloved Lauren Graham, witty superstar of Gilmore Girls has also recently taken up novel-writing. While I prefer her performance on-screen, her attempt at creative writing was certainly not abhorrent). 

I launched into this craft-crossing stream of consciousness the other night while I was enjoying one of the best things of all time (I will hear no arguments to the contrary): live music. While Jason Isbell was holding me in a world of poetry and raw emotion, I started wondering what it would be like if more songwriters wrote novels (note: by “songwriter,” I mean to exclude the lyric genius who wrote Flo Rida’s class-act hit “Whistle” and anything remotely resembling this style. I’m talking about the more literary lyricists: Jason Isbell, Jay Farrar, Benjamin Gibbard).  Josh Ritter certainly contributed to my musings since he is a fine example of exactly what I’m interested in — a talented singer/songwriter taking his affinity for words and funneling it into a novel. The outcome was quite compelling. Bright’s Passage is a wholly unique work of writing, and I would like to see more of the same. Songwriters know their way around the world of words, and while poetry might be a closer connection, I think that if lyricists ventured a little further outside of their familiar realm, we could see some really innovative things happen to the novel. 

History will back me on the idea that songs and stories belong together. The oral tradition and the inception of storytelling are completely entwined. Both during and before Homer’s time, all of the epics and tales were passed down through song. Songs and storytelling are like peanut butter and chocolate. Maybe I’m just trying to force a relationship between my favorite things, but even so, I stand by my words: I want Jason Isbell to write me a novel.

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Vampires, Frappuccinos, and the Joys of Teen Fiction

I recently finished reading Rainbow Rowell’s newest book, Fangirl, and I think it’s fitting that my first post is about one of my deepest reading loves: teen fiction. Since hitting the quarter-of-century age landmark, I’ve decided that I no longer need to hide my affection for this genre or refer to it as my “guilty pleasure.” I’m not guilty about it. I’m downright unabashedly talking about my recent reads in the bar on Saturday night. That’s right Seattle, I just finished reading a vampire novel, and it was awesome (disclaimer: I’m not usually a vampire novel fan, and while I was temporarily on the Twilight bandwagon when I was 16—and it was still a standalone novel—I have since tucked-and-rolled my way off this wagon. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova is an exception I will happily delve into another time). The aforementioned awesome vampire novel from the bar was The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black. This book is exquisitely written and the first book I have read in quite some time that seized my attention within the first few pages and wouldn’t let go until well after I was done reading it. I recently had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Black, and her blue hair, endearing laugh, and quick wit only gave me more reason to get behind this book. (She also talked about hanging out in France while she was writing. Holly Black, can I be you?)

My love for YA goes back to my days growing up in suburbia, sipping on coffee-free Starbucks Frappuccinos, casually perusing the teen shelves at Barnes & Noble.  Then that awful day arrived when I started to get this nagging feeling that I was “too old” for the teen section.  I dreaded the daunting shelves that “mature” readers should be browsing, and I found myself clinging to the employee-prepared display tables for my next reads.  I didn’t want to face the shelves that I was convinced spanned beyond the bounds of the store.

Eventually I grew bolder, fell in love with the incredible selection and diversity outside of the YA world, and even started drinking coffee.  But then I got a job in the book world and realized I can have it all. I can continue to read the new and classic literary titles, but also drop my nostalgia for teen fiction and read it again in earnest.  Not in secret, not accompanied by a blush.  So for all of you YA-loving grown-ups out there (and I know now that there are a lot of you), this post is for you. And you can look forward to more YA-focused reviews and posts in the future.

And here’s to Rainbow Rowell and her new novel Fangirl, a fabulously written and wholly captivating novel about new experiences, self-discovery, and the power of writing.  This novel inspired me to drop all of my super-lame excuses and start doing what I love doing, what I have neglected to do for so long: begin writing.