Saturday, April 30, 2011


Phil and Donna and Joni and I went to see Abraham Verghese (Cutting for Stone) at Dominican College in San Rafael this past Wednesday night (for the second time, we ate at Il Davide, in downtown San Rafael - a very good restaurant).  Unlike Jodi Picoult, who got stuck in the 200-seat auditorium, this one was in a 800-seat auditorium.  It was absolutely packed.  In fact, we got there about 20 minutes early and ended up in the last row - in the balcony!  The space between each row was geared for kindergartners.  My knees were directly under my chin.

The format for this appearance was as an interview conducted by Michael Krastny, a local celebrity, who has a radio and TV presence connected to the arts.  It was interesting to see Verghese but the format is a little boring.  After the formal interview, he answered questions that were submitted by audience members on cards.  I much prefer author events where the author talks directly to the audience and takes questions directly from the audience.  Those events are more informal and quite a bit livelier.  Even Ken Follett, a true literary rock star, appeared by himself and took questions directly from audience members.

Verghese did have a few interesting things to say.  It took him 8 years to write the book and he admitted that 7 years ago (the book came out in 2009) he did a storyboard in which he envisioned amazing success with this book.  He was either very prophetic or very powerful in the universe.

Here are some random notes.  He is Ethopian of Indian descent (like his protagonist).  He is a doctor and teaches at Stanford.  The university gives him time to write.  And the movie rights to his book have been sold to a company called Anonymous Content.  When he was asked what actors he envisioned to play his characters, he could only come up with Kevin Costner.

Perhaps the most enlightening tidbit he gave was that there were times in the writing of the book where he cried over his characters.  He seems like a genuinely nice man.  He had written 2 non-fiction books before this one but had achieved limited success and notoriety.  Cutting for Stone elevates him to (super)star status.  Despite all of that, he maintains a humility and a "Gosh, I'm a lucky guy" attitude.  I liked him.

Upcoming events -
Richard North Patterson is coming to Book Passage on Monday, May 9, to promote his new book.  This guy is absolutely fascinating.  I've already shared the story of seeing him a couple of years ago and hearing amazing stories of how he did his research abroad under very harrowing circumstances.  He writes well and researches well.  Unfortunately, I can't make that one.  However...
Ann Patchett will be at an author luncheon on Wednesday, June 15, also through Book Passage.  I love her stuff.  So far, I've read 3 of her books - Bel Canto (great, until the ending), The Magician's Assistant, and Run.  She is excellent.  I'm hoping to read one more of her books before June 15.  As far as the luncheon itself is concerned, it's $55.00 per person, which includes a signed book (her new one), a catered lunch, and her.  Joni and I are already signed up.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

One (or two...or three...) and Done

I have read many authors - once.  I have also read many authors a few times before I decided I was done.  Here are some of both:

John Grisham - Way back when, I read The Firm.  I absolutely loved it - until the last 30 pages.  I figured that anybody who could write such a good story, and then screw up the ending, was not for me.  I said never again.  I actually caved a bit and, much later, read 2 of his novellas.  I enjoyed them.  But I have never read any other of his legal mysteries.  That puts me in the bottom .00000001% of novel-reading Americans.  So be it.
Steven Frey - Shadow Account.  It was so-so and not worth a 2nd read.
Tim Green (ex NFL-er) - Exact Revenge.  See Frey, Steven.
Randy Wayne White - Doc Ford series.  I read, I think, 3 of them.  Then I was done.
Alexander McCall Smith - 1st Ladies Detective Agency.  I actually read about 7 of them before I was done.  They're about, not surprisingly, a woman's detective agency, in Botswana.  All of them were of equal quality.  I have no complaints.  I was just tired of reading them.
David McCullough - 1776.  I love history.  In fact, I was a history major in college (that did me a lot of good!).  Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres.  What I discovered in reading 1776 is that I don't actually like reading real history.  I guess I was done with it after college.  When I was reading this, I thought that I was being punished for some undisclosed transgression (a plausible theory).
Jim Butcher - The Dresden Files.  This is a very popular series about a wizard in Chicago.  It's got fantasy elements to go along with real-life Chicago.  In fact, they made a TV series about it on the sci-fi channel.  I ready, probably, 4 of these.  They're well written and very creative.  I guess my problem was that I have a truncated attention span.  To paraphrase Joe Pesci in My Cousin Vinny:  "I'm done with this guy, too".
Martina Cole - Maura's Game.  This is about a British mob family written by a Brit.  It was decent, but I like my books to have the American president's speech rather than the king's speech.  I don't want my s's and z's to be mixed up.  Actually, I have nothing against it.  I just didn't like it well enough to read a 2nd one.
John Connelly - Josh, Lauren, and I read a fantasy novel of his called The Book of Lost Things.  We all 3 enjoyed it a lot.  In fact, Lauren, Joni, and I went to see him and liked him.  Then I read one of his mysteries, Every Dead Thing, and didn't like it at all.  Bye-bye, John.
Gregory McGuire - Wicked.  He's written several books that are take-offs on the Wizard of Oz.  I didn't much like it at all.  I, of course, loved the musical Wicked (who didn't?) but thought the book was boring and strange.
Arturo Perez-Reverte - The Club Dumas.  I know he's a pretty popular international author.  The book was a little bit too intellectual for me (some might say that Winnie the Pooh is a little too intellectual for me).  I wouldn't not recommend it (double negative Gail, Jen, Roseann? - so sue me).  I think there are definitely people who would like his writing style.  I just happen not to be one of them.
Steven Pressfield - Gates of Fire.  His books are all chapters of pseudo-historical events from a long time ago - millenia even.  This one was an episode about the war between Sparta and the Persians.  They made a movie about it called 300, in which 300 Spartans held of 20,000 Persians - give or take thousands.  The book is interesting and well-written. It's just a little too much work for me.  I know that Steve F. is a big fan.  I can see why he, and others, would be.
Alan Bradley - The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.  This takes place in England.  The protagonist/detective is an 11-year old girl.  It's cute.  I was not sorry to read one - and only one.
Cara Black - Murder in the Marais.  The private detective in this series (she's written 11) is half-French, half-American.  All of the stories take place in Paris.  Joni and I went to the Los Gatos Public Library to see her.  In fact, we got to talk to her for about 10 minutes before the formal presentation - just the 3 of us.  It was very cool.  Unfortunately, the book was just fair.  Sorry, Cara.  I liked you, but not that much.

Coming author events:  Abraham Verghese, of Cutting for Stone fame, is coming to Dominican College this Wednesday, the 27th, at 7:00.  Joni and I are going with Phil and Donna, and, maybe, Rich and Leslie.  I will report to you about the event in my next blog.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Seinfeld Post

This is "The Seinfeld Post" because it's a whole bunch of stuff about nothing.  These are random thoughts that are unconnected, except that they're all about books.  Here we go:

1.  I recently blogged about seeing Harlan Coben on book tour and how much we all enjoyed him.  I have now read his new book.  He gets better each time.  His first 7 were about Myron Bolitar, and then he started doing stand-alones.  Since he did his first group of Bolitars, he has written about 11 or 12 books.  Of those, 2 or 3 have been new Bolitars.  This one, Live Wire, is, again, about Myron Bolitar.  Besides having fun reading about these well-known and very familiar characters, he has also constructed a great story line with great writing.  It's funny, poignant, and exciting.  Nice job, Harlan!

2.  I recently finished Abraham Verghese's best seller - Cutting for Stone.  As I mentioned, I read it because I promised Phil that I would before going to see Verghese at, once again, Dominican College in San Rafael.  I'm glad I read it, and I would recommend it.  I liked it a lot.  I didn't love it, like some people did, but it's a good story and is well written.  I will blog after we go to see him.

3.  We ran into Donna R., and she highly recommended The Calligrapher's Daughter, by Eugene Kim.

4.   I was in Peets and was reading Cutting for Stone while waiting in line.  A woman in front of me told me that she really liked the book.  We got to talking, and she recommended a trilogy called the Josephine B Trilogy.  It's written by Sandra Gulland.  It's about Napolean and (not surprisingly) Josephine.  I didn't know this woman and certainly don't know her tastes.  So, take this recommendation for what it's worth - a crapshoot.

5.  Speaking of random, have any of you (besides Rich) ever emailed an author?  I have done it a number of times and have just about always gotten a response.  Most of the time, the emails are pretty generic, but I have actually gotten some detailed and very responsive answers.  Here are just a couple of examples:

     A.  Christopher Reich - I once pointed out to him that he used "just then" about every 10 pages.  He emailed and said that he wasn't aware of it but would watch for it in his next book.  True to his word, the next book only had it 3 times (even that was annoying because I was so tuned in to it).
     B.  John Lescroart - I was confused about the order of his books.  He sent a very detailed email and even suggested that I read a half of one of his books, read another one, and then come back to the first one.  How cool was that?
     C.  Sheldon Siegel - You all know that he went out to dinner with Rich, Joni, and me.  What's interesting is that I had already exchanged a number of emails with him before finally meeting him.  It was like meeting someone that I already knew.  His emails are always personal.  Now, when we email, he always asks how Joni (by name) is doing.

I promise that my next post will have something more interesting to say than "The Seinfeld Post."

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Series - And Stuff

At long last, I'm giving you the other half of the series that I enjoy reading.  I know many of you have had trouble sleeping while waiting for this list.  I mean, come on.  Who wouldn't?  But before that, let me give you a few miscellaneous pieces of information:

1.  Abraham Verghese, who wrote Cutting for Stone, is coming to Dominican College on Wednesday, April 27, at 7:00.  Joni and I are going along with Donna and Phil, and, maybe, Leslie and Rich.  I made the commitment that if Phil and Donna went, I would read the book beforehand.  I'm halfway through it and am really enjoying it.

2.  Joni and I went to Keplers last Thursday night to see Guy Kawasaki.  He's written 9 books on marketing.  He was part of the Apple team back in the '90's who presented the Macintosh to the world.  He had 2 stints with Apple.  He's a very humble guy but is considered a marketing superstar.  It was very cool to see him.  He was interesting and informative.

3.  I have recommended Keith Thomson's Once A Spy a couple of different times now.  I just finished Twice A Spy and was really disappointed.  It's a sequel but was not nearly as well written as the first one.  If you read the first one, I wouldn't tell you not to read #2, but don't expect to enjoy it nearly as much.

Series (ta da):
David Baldacci - The Camel Club - he writes a number of series and stand-alones, but the Camel Club series is his best work - I highly recommend it
Clive Cussler - all of his Dirk Pitt novels are fun - think Wild, Wild West in the water - his other 3 series are not very good - I do not recommend them at all
Sheldon Siegel - his protagonist, Mike Daley, is a SF attorney - his partner is his ex-wife, Rosie - these are murder mysteries with the courtroom thrown in - plus, Shellie Siegel (okay, just kidding - I call him Mr. Siegel) is the one who had dinner with Rich, Joni, and me - he's a good guy
Lee Child - his Jack Reacher series is a ton of fun - lots of adventure with a very solid hero
Dan Brown - of course, everybody in the universe knows about The DaVinci Code and Robert Langdon - what you may not know is that Angels and Demons was written prior to The DaVinci Code - and now there's The Lost Symbol - they're all very good - just because millions of people read them doesn't make them good - but in this case, they are (unfortunately, the movies are lousy)
Terry Brooks - I'm not a huge fan of fantasy but the Landover series is very entertaining - Rich and Leslie recommended them to me, and I recommended them to Josh - we have both liked them a lot
Stieg Larsson - Dragon Tattoo, et al - need I say more?
Tom Rob Smith - I have highly touted his 2 books - Child 44 and The Secret Speech - there are only 2 in the series, but I really love them - Child 44 is on my list of books for those who don't read much or who only read non-fiction - really, they're both big winners
Sam Eastman - he has written 2 books in his series also - and, like Smith, he writes about the Soviet Union (they take place about 30 years prior to Smith's books) - his protagonist starts by working for the tsar in book #1 and then for Stalin in book #2 - Eastman definitely pulls it off
Keith Thomson - I had him in here after book #1 when I knew he was writing book #2 - he's out - see above