Saturday, May 26, 2012

An Author's Event To Remember

I have been to hundreds of author events in my (un-?, non-?, semi-?) illustrious book world career.  But Thursday night, May 24, 2012 was the most memorable.  The event did not take place in one of the local independent bookstores.  And it did not take place in an overflowing auditorium for a world-famous author (Jodi Picoult, George R.R. Martin).  Where was it, you ask?  I'll tell you.  It was at my 7-year old granddaughter's school.  It wasn't even in the school auditorium.  It was in her classroom, and Haley sat at her desk during the entire event.

When we got our invitation to attend Author's Night from Haley's parents, we, of course, said yes.  After all, Haley is our granddaughter.  We all remember the seemingly millions of school, dance, choir, and sporting events that we attended for our kids, our relatives' kids, and our friends' kids.  Many were decent.  And many weren't.  Didn't matter.  It's how we support each other.  I expected this to be in the same category.  I didn't care if it was any good.  I'll go anywhere my grandkids go.

To say my expectations were exceeded is to say that I love my wife and kids.  Both are true but don't adequately express the emotion and sentiment behind the statements.  I was flat-out blown away.  The evening began with the teacher addressing the room of students and family members.  First of all, the teacher is someone who's been around awhile (although still way younger than me!).  She is a teacher that all of us, even today, would want if we were in school.  She has that combination of look, voice, and demeanor that lets you know she is a fantastic teacher.  But I digress.  So she explains the genesis of tonight's event and how proud of her students she is.  She tells us what is expected of us.  We are to listen to our student read her book, and then we get to comment on the back page.  Does she then release us to get started?  She does not.  She asks the kids what goes into a good story?  Hands shoot up.  One child says "lots of details."  Another says "a first sentence that grabs you."  A third says "good illustrations."  This is when the "blown away" part began.

But how would we know what to write in the "comment" page?  No sweat.  The teacher has given all of the family members a flyer when they walked into the classroom.  It's called "Welcome to Authors' Night!"  Here's the kicker.  On the page is a list of "Sample compliments" to guide us in our comments.  There are 11 examples.  Here are a few of them:

"Your story is filled with details."
"Your story made me feel...(happy, silly, sad, mad, excited)."
"I like how you ended your story with a feeling."
"I especially like the sentence ___________ because...)."

Are you kidding me?  I thought, "These are first graders!  Shouldn't they just be happy to know the alphabet?"  Well, let me tell you what happened when the reading began.  Haley's parents, brother, and 4 grandparents all stood around her while she read her book.  Even today I can't write as well as Haley does and never could.  The story had all of the elements that the teacher had spoken and written about.  It was fantastic.  I had the biggest s___-kickin' grin during the entire reading.  When she was done, I wrote my comment, kissed Haley, and went looking for another student to read her story.  My next book was written by Haley's friend, Taylor.  Guess what?  I had the same big smile on my face all through her reading.  And then again with a boy I had never seen before.  We finally left, but I was as fulfilled from an author's event as I could ever imagine.  Haley's other grandparents, Roseann and Jake, and Joni and I went out for dinner immediately after.  It was all we could talk about.

I just hope that all future author events are not ruined by what I experienced Thursday night!  Kudos to the teacher and students for putting on a remarkable demonstration of what reading (and writing) is all about.  As an avid reader and almost equally avid blogger, I couldn't have been prouder to be part of an event that exemplified all that's good about book world.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Guest Blogger #3 - Marsha Palitz-Elliott

Why do we read books?   

For some of us, books provide our principal source of 
information about things, places and people.  We read to be 
informed.  For others, we look to books for entertainment – for 
those laugh-out-loud moments and sweet segments that we 
enjoy and recall with pleasure.   

Books are travel agents, transporting us to different lands and 
different times.  Books can broaden our perspective and deepen 
our understanding of self and others.  They can provide a quiet 
respite from a chaotic and unsettling world.  

Some books challenge our paradigms and force us to look at the 
world differently. 

Others remind us that we are not alone; that there are people in 
the world like us, and while the specifics of their life experience 
may differ from ours, their experience of life rings true. 

In this era of sound bites and misinformation, broadcast 24/7,  
a constant stream of messages sent over the internet, Facebook, 
Tweets, and Twitters with little attention to facts, style, 
grammar, or even capital letters for god’s sake, to hold a book, 
especially one you have borrowed, turning the pages slowly, as 
others did before you, soaking in the words, enjoying the 
pictures they inspire, appreciating the craft as well as the 
content, seems almost counter-cultural:  a political statement, of 
sorts, like the collective action outraged librarians took when 
they refused to adhere to the Patriot Act requirement that they 
share their patrons’ reading records – ready to destroy the 
computerized subscriber lists in resistance to government 

Our choice of book is a private matter.  We are free to read what 
we choose.  And, what we read helps to inform who we are. 

A year or so ago, while wandering in one of my favorite 
independent bookstores – The Stand near Union Square in 
Manhattan, New York – a book caught my attention. 
(I believe books sometimes call out to you.  Anyway, this book 

The Book That Changed My Life edited by Roxanne J. Coady and 
Joy Johannessen, published by Gotham Books, New York, 2006. 
It features seventy-one writers who name the book that most 
changed each of their lives, and how and why it impacted them 
as it did.  What a gem!  

First the reader is presented with a fabulous list of books worth 
reading (or re-reading, as the case may be). Second, through 
these short essays we are introduced to the writing of seventy- 
one authors, inspiring more additions to our personal ‘must- 
read’ list.  And finally, we are reminded of why books are 
important – and what the writer does to produce an enduring 
and impactful publication. 

As I meandered through the book, I recollected an early read 
that changed me – A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith, 
first published in 1943.  I was about ten years old when I pulled 
this book from the massive wooden bookshelves of the Baker 
Street branch of the Bakersfield library, an old, grand building 
constructed of white marble blocks with broad steps leading to 
its entrance.  The rooms, a cool comfort, coming in out of the 
striking summer heat were furnished with oversized wooden 
tables and substantial wooden chairs, chairs that surrounded 
me, and left my feet dangling above the marble floor. It was 
silent there, save for the clip-clipping of the librarian’s heels as 
she crossed the room. 

While my experiences were quite different from Francie’s – her 
family newly immigrated, mine well-established in this country; 
she, living in the big city of Brooklyn, NY, and I living in a small 
farming town in Central California; her family poor, her father, 
an alcoholic, and my family comfortable and stable – like 
Francie, I was struggling to figure out who I was separate from 
my family.  For me, she was a kindred spirit, and Betty Smith’s 
book was like a bridge from the West Coast to the East, 
connecting me with Francie and in turn, with myself. 

Before I found A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, I had resisted reading.  
It seemed that my parents (and even my younger brother, for 
that matter) were so much smarter than I.  They were fast 
readers with big vocabularies.  I read slowly and struggled to 
focus. My parents perused the papers each morning and 
discussed in depth the stories of the day, stories that did not 
interest me. I felt dumb and defeated, and so turned my 
attention to relationships.  People are what interested me.  I was 
social rather than intellectual, I thought.  I did not want to 

But that summer when I was ten, at my mother’s 
encouragement, I joined a summer reading program at the 
Library and Francie Nolan showed me the importance of books.  
I saw how reading in some ways saved her from her strained 
home life and helped her find herself.  I began to see books 
differently, and as I read more the image I had of myself shifted. 

"And the child, Francie Nolan, was of all the Rommelys and all 
the Nolans. She had the violent weaknesses and passion for 
beauty of the shanty Nolans. She was a mosaic of her 
grandmother Rommely's mysticism, her tale-telling, her great 
belief in everything and her compassion for the weak ones. She 
had a lot of her grandfather Rommely's cruel will. She had some 
of her Aunt Evy's talent for mimicking, some of Ruthie Nolan's 
possessiveness. She had Aunt Sissy's love for life and her love 
for children. She had Johnny's sentimentality without his good 
looks. She had all of Katie's soft ways and only half of the 
invisible steel of Katie. She was made up of all these good and 
these bad things.  

She was made up of more, too. She was the books she read in the 
library. ....” 
-- Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn  

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Guest Blogger #2 - Steve Solomon

The joy of e-reading…

I can’t tell you how many times I heard avid readers say, “There’s nothing like holding a book in your hands and feeling the pages.”  These are the same people who actually believe global warming is real, smoking causes cancer, Sarah Palin is stupid, and the Chinese can drive.

I wouldn’t exactly refer to myself as an avid reader, but I do enjoy a good story that’s well-written and keeps my interest; a page-turner, if you please.  In the past, a good year for me was reading about 2 or 3 books, usually either during vacation, on the can, or sometimes in bed, although reading usually took a backseat to watching a little TV before turning in.

In November 2007, Amazon introduced the Kindle, the first mainstream, affordable electronic reader and, of course, I needed to be one of the first to get one.  I thought it would be amazing to download books in a few seconds and be able to carry over 1,000 books in a device the size of a thin trade paperback.  After all, this is important for someone who reads 3 books a year (that’s 333 years worth of reading – very cool).  In addition, we were downsizing our home and moving into an apartment, and we didn’t have room for more books.  So, I bought my first Kindle and have been hooked ever since.  During the first few years of Kindelization, I tripled my reading output and just loved the fact that I could adjust the type-size, look up words in the built-in dictionary, highlight passages (although I never used this one), and always return to where I left off without using a bookmark.  And, as an extra bonus, I was able to read with one hand, and I never again had to hold pages from closing either on their own or from the wind when reading outside.  Oh man, it just doesn’t get any better than this.  Or, does it?

The Kindle is great, but if you don’t have it with you, like a book, you can’t read.  I used to watch our son reading books on his iPhone (another great product from the technology gods).  I would think, “How can you read a book on your phone…too small.”  So, I downloaded the Kindle app for the iPhone, and I have never gone back to my Kindle since.  It’s not really too small to read.  In fact, it’s larger than the print in the newspaper, and the functionality of the Kindle app for the iPhone (and iBooks for the iPhone bookstore) is even better than the Kindle itself.  You can read in the dark since the screen lights up, and you have “book extras” where you can get a summary of all the characters, important places, notes for parents, books like this, background info, and even glance at the electronic glossary and a synopsis of the book (great for book club folks).  And, are you ready for the really big one?  I now always have my books with me since my iPhone is with me at all times.  So, if I’m in the doctor’s office (which happens often at this stage of my life), I read.  If I’m at the car wash, I read.  If I’m at the airport waiting to pick someone up, I read.  Do you see a pattern here?  Now, I’m reading 15 to 20 books a year because my books are with me 24/7!  I’m still not in Lloyd’s class, but I’m closing in fast.

So, if you’re one of those people who likes the feeling of paper pages, enjoys black and white TV, dial telephones and eight-track tape cartridges, maybe electronic reading is not for you.  But, for the rest of us who believe that change is good and have accepted the fact that our children and grandchildren will be reading from phones, tablets and computers, you should perhaps heed the wisdom of one of our greatest presidents, George W. Bush…

"You teach a child to read, and he or her will be able to pass a literacy test."

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Book Review - Meg Gardiner's First Standalone

I have just finished my last ARC (advanced reading copy).  It's #9, and I'm looking forward to catching up with "my authors."  I still have James Grippando, Robert Harris, David Baldacci, and Philip Margolin, among others, sitting in a pile in my closet.  But enough about my future reading plans.

Meg Gardiner's Ransom River, published by Dutton, a division of Penguin Group (USA),  is my first exposure to her writing.  This is book #10 for her and her first standalone.  It's due to be published on July 3.  Getting right to it, it's the story of a juror in a murder trial that is in session when 2 gunmen take over the courtroom.  For those of us who lived in Northern California back in the '70's, we remember when gunmen took over a courtroom in Marin County, and 4 people died. This evokes memories of that tragedy.

This story takes place in a small town in Southern California.  Rory MacKenzie has just returned to Ransom River after being gone for 2 years, following an accident that changed the lives of many of her family and friends.  She is impaneled to be a juror in the murder trial of 2 local policemen (1 woman, 1 man) who are being charged with the murder of a teenage boy who caught them in flagrante delicto (you didn't know that I knew Latin, did you?).  Of course, there is so much more going on than just the courtroom drama.  There's a bank heist from 25 years before.  There's an aunt and uncle on 2nd marriages, each with an adult child.  There's a local "businessman" whose son is the one that was killed and who has plenty of muscle to intimidate the residents.  It's a very intricate story.

Stephen King compared her to Sue Grafton, Lee Child, Janet Evanovich, Michael Connelly, and Nelson DeMille.  I haven't read Grafton or Evanovich, have read a couple of Connelly's, and thoroughly enjoy Child and most of DeMille.  From what I do know of these authors, I don't think I really agree with King (how bold - and foolish - is that?!).  I would liken her more to George Pelecanos.  They both write stories with intricate plots.

In one of my early blogs, I created a "B List" of authors.  These are authors that I make a point of reading all of their books.  Some of them are Grippando, Margolin, Michael Palmer, David Rosenfelt, John Lescroart, and John Darnton (refer to my blog from 2/13/11).  They are not Harlan Coben, Greg Iles, Tom Rob Smith, John Hart, Vince Flynn, or Daniel Silva.  But they're still enjoyable reads.  I would put Meg Gardiner on the "B List."  There is no shame in being on this list.  There are so many authors who don't even make it that far.  Sucks to be them!

Sunday, May 6, 2012


Cutting for Stone
Abraham Verghese
(2009 Alfred A. Knopf, 560 pages)

A very long book about a medical practice in a village in Ethiopia suggests boredom. In fact, this lovingly written novel is engaging, truthful and inspirational. The surface story is of conjoined twin brothers, Marion and Shiva, whose mother, a nun,  dies in childbirth at the hands of their otherwise brilliant surgeon father, Thomas Stone. The events occur in a mission hospital that the Ethiopians call "Missing" due to the difficulty of pronouncing the word in their tongue.
The name Stone, and the title of the book derive from the Hippocratic Oath, which reads in part:
"I will not cut for stone, even for patients in whom the disease is manifest; I will leave this operation to be performed by practitioners (specialists in this art). "

Stone abandons the Mission Hospital the day of the birth, and the boys, who are physically separated from their joined heads at the time of their birth, grow to be doctors in their own right. Marion, the firstborn, achieves academic success through constant self-discipline and effort. Marion is a prodigy who has a photographic memory, and gains international fame for his medical work without attending medical school.

The boys are raised by a male and female doctor at Missing, Ghosh and Hema. Ghosh gently guides Marion into the practice of surgery, and Shiva becomes a specialist in gynecology through Hema.

The  pages of the novel are filled with detailed and moving descriptions of Ethiopia, including the flowers, plants and trees, the customs of the people, the cuisine, and the culture of  village and  city life. The recent history of that land is interwoven into the plot. But all of this is an exquisite backdrop to the masterful descriptions of the nuanced thoughts and feelings of Marion, Shiva, Ghosh and Hema. The treatment of love, jealousy and sexuality in the book is sensitive and convincing. The numerous depictions of surgery are spellbinding, as one would expect from an author who is a doctor trained in Ethiopia, India and the United States, and is a professor of medicine at Stanford University.

A reader who will take the time to experience this broad narrative will be rewarded with not only an enchanting and poignant story that is filled with emotional wisdom, but also a fascinating look inside our amazing human bodies, that are both resilient and fragile.

Saturday, May 5, 2012


This blog has a few random news items.  The normally hyper-cogent (huh?) post that I'm known for (in my own mind) is not evident here.  Don't be too disappointed.

1.  Most importantly, tomorrow starts the first of consecutive Sundays for guest bloggers.  Right now, there are 11 people signed up.  That could expand (or contract) as we keep moving forward.  Our first guest blogger is Jeff Barnett.  You will see his post tomorrow.  Let's make sure that none of the posts are so good (like Joni's the other night) that you are all clamoring for a permanent replacement!

2.  Last year, I blogged about a new author, Paul McEuen, who wrote Spiral.  I highly recommended it.  I thought it was a great debut.  Well, I found out from him this week that he is up for Thriller of the Year at ITW, International Thrillers Writer.  If you haven't read Spiral, you might want to give it a shot.  I would love to hear your comments and reviews.

3.  Steve Berry, whose recurring character is Cotton Malone, will be appearing at The Book Passage on May 18.  The good news is that it's a Friday night.  It's not that much fun to go to Corte Madera from the South Bay during the week (or weekend, for that matter).  I intend to go so maybe I'll see one of you up there.

4.  I just finished Jodi Picoult's latest, Lone Wolf.  All I can say is that she is one of the finest novelists I know.  As many of you have gleaned by now, I try to read different types of books.  Jodi's books are extremely well-written.  They usually dwell on relationships, and this one is no exception.  If you remember (and I'm sure you consult my prior blogs regularly), her My Sister's Keeper made Volume I of Fiction for the Non-Fiction Reader.  This one is just about as good.

5.  I also read Vince Flynn's latest, Kill Shot.  He had to take some time off between this book and his last one (from 2010) due to a bout with cancer.  It appears he's going to be okay.  As far as the book is concerned, it was really good.  His last one, American Assassin, goes back in time to show how Mitch Rapp got recruited to the CIA.  I really enjoyed the first half of that book, which detailed the recruitment and the training.  The second half focused on Mitch's first caper and was not as interesting.  I wasn't that excited to read another one about the young Mitch.  Boy was I wrong.  It was really good.  I enjoyed it as much as I have enjoyed all of Vince's books about Mitch.  The guy can definitely write.

6.  There's also some sad news to report.  Last year, I read The American, book 1 in a series written by Andrew Britton.  Since then, Andrew has written The Assassin, The Invisible, and, very recently, The Exile.  I haven't read those yet but intend to.  Andrew recently died at the age of 27 from an undiagnosed heart condition.  His mom said "He just went to sleep and never woke up."  How sad is that?