How Books Brought Me Back into the World

reading aloneMy parents worried about me when I was young. They clipped out articles with titles like “What To Do When Your Child Doesn’t Speak” and strongly encouraged me to interact with the other kids in my nursery school and kindergarten classes. When my kindergarten teacher suggested to my parents that I be held back a year, it wasn’t because I wasn’t smart. I was. It was just that I wasn’t social.

Back then, there weren’t listicles on how to care for and feed your favorite introvert. There weren’t books like Laurie Helgoe’s Introvert Power and Susan Cain’s Quiet to reassure people that introversion wasn’t a liability . . . It was just a different way of being.

So I was looked at as someone who needed to be fixed. And in a way, I internalized this.Continue Reading

The Ploughshares Round-Down: The Ebook is Dead. Long Live the Ebook.

First computerOne of the best parts of being a book editor is that it gives you a magic power. You take a Microsoft Word file, wave your hand over it and say, “Now it’s a book.” And it’s a book. Up until that moment, it’s just words and ideas, and they could be changed, tweaked, or buried, never to see the light of day. After that, everyone, including the production department and the printer, believes it’s a book.

The creation of self-publishing has done little to erode that magical power. If you tell someone you’ve written a book, you can watch their eyes narrow as they wait to see what you might mean. Did you write something the length of a book? Or has a professional editor waved her magic hands over it and transmuted that into a book?

A book, the futurist Umair Haque once said, is already a perfected technology. An ebook has some advantages, but not enough to eliminate print books. It turns out the invention of ebooks is less analogous to the invention of the automobile and something more like the invention of shorts. Shorts are great, but they didn’t make everyone throw away their pants.

I thought of this late last week when I read about the closing of Atavist Books. Investors had put big money (by book publishing standards) into this startup, which was supposed to disrupt the book industry. The company only lasted for a little over two years before pulling the plug. For this to have happened, a lot of very smart people had to have completely misunderstood why readers read, and it’s worth figuring out what their mistakes were.Continue Reading

How to Read Derek Jeter: On The Devil’s Snake Curve by Josh Ostergaard

Can you find the symbols for American political power in this picture?

Can you find the symbols for American political power in this picture?

The Devil’s Snake Curve: A Fan’s Notes From Left Field
Josh Ostergaard
Coffee House Press, 2014
253 pages

Buy: book | ebook

Of course every history is subjective, but Josh Ostergaard starts his from an intriguing place by broadcasting his subjectivity. Devil’s Snake Curve is Ostergaard’s American history of the twentieth- and twenty-firstcenturies, as interpreted through baseball. The book is a collage of page-length anecdotes, equally likely to be culled from Ostergaard’s own underwhelming Little League youth or a century-old newspaper clipping, that cluster into themes like “Animals” or “Nationalism.” Continue Reading

Why I’m One Bad—But Well-Read—Feminist

Book Review-Bad FeministIt’s been a long time since I’ve felt like an adequate representation of “feminist.”

When I married my husband a little over seven years ago, I barely waited a month before giving notice at my full-time job so I could give full-time freelancing a try. Since then, I’ve slowly become ever more comfortable (sometimes too comfortable, I feel) with being almost completely supported by my husband. He pays all the big bills. He always treats when we go out to eat. I’m on his health insurance plan and his car insurance plan. Heck, I’m surprised they even bothered putting my name on the deed for our house.

I dance around the kitchen to songs with terribly misogynistic lyrics. I balk at squishing bugs, leaving this loathsome task to the man of the house. I get excited about things like color-coordinated scented candles and pinch bowls. Most recently, when I gave birth to my now three-month-old daughter, I became a corny cliche by admitting to my loved ones that, suddenly, it seemed as if nothing else mattered. Not my yoga teaching. Not my writing and editing work. Not even my dream to someday publish a book.Continue Reading

From the Ploughshares Shelves: July Debuts

Are you in the market for some top-notch summer reading, ideally from an exciting new author? Does your optimized, fast-lane lifestyle leave you no time to read full-length book reviews? If so, dear reader, rejoice: you are the target audience of the following bite-sized reviews, all of debut novels released this past month.

California by Edan Lepucki

jpegAs a recipient of the widely-coveted Colbert Bump (as well as the lesser known but no less meaningful Sherman Alexie Bump), there’s a good chance that Edan Lepucki’s debut novel has already crossed your radar. The book has become a rallying point in the very public and very portentous war between Amazon and Hachette: Colbert and Alexie asked their audience to purchase the novel from a non-Amazon retailer (Powell’s), in protest of Amazon’s hardline approach to e-book pricing, and the books’ sales have shot through the roof as a result.

All celebrity endorsements and corporate power plays aside, Lepucki has penned a novel more than capable of standing on its own merits.  California follows married couple Cal and Frida, as they attempt to navigate the book’s brilliantly realized (and all too plausible) post-apocalyptic world. Tension and darkness build throughout—and this creeping intensity, when combined with Lepucki’s crisp, unembellished prose, makes the novel a genuine page-turner. Regardless of your opinions on the Amazon/Hachette conflict, California is worthy of your attention.

Buy: book | ebook

Continue Reading

Huizache: The Biggest Little Secret in Texas

huizache3D_1As far as literary journal subscriptions go, I only maintain three. I’m one of those writers, and for my sins I mostly miss the great early pieces of writers I come to love years later. This is especially true of new Latina/o writers, who I think most people miss for various reasons, not least of which is the serious lack of hard-hitting journals that focus on new Latina/o work.

That’s not to say there are none though. Huizache, which is probably one of my favorite journals right now, has quietly carved out a space for Latina/o letters both old and new. Over the past three years, they’ve published work by Sandra Cisneros, Domingo Martinez, Héctor Tobar, and Lorna Dee Cervantes, almost without a blip on the literary radar.

Continue Reading

Book Recommendations That Indulge Your Addiction to That Feeling of Creeping Horror

nightfilmI was going through a major book slump this past month, and it was driving me crazy. I scanned my way through a how-to that felt flimsy. I rushed through one memoir that felt a bit all over the place, and abandoned another one after reading a single chapter. I made it more than halfway through a novel that had gotten a lot of hype but, despite being enchanted by the descriptions of place, I was indifferent toward the plot and the characters. It was starting to feel like one, long slog, and that’s when I picked up Night Film.

Immediately, within the first few pages, I knew this was going to be fun. Ah, I thought to myself. This is exactly what I needed. Suspense. The supernatural. Horror.

Twisted, dark souls doing twisted, dark deeds.

Marisha Pessl’s Night Film—about an investigative journalist looking into the death of a horror director’s daughter—pressed all the right buttons for me. It took me back to my first love—horror—and the quick, frenzied fling we had together felt damn good.

I’ve been this way since childhood; my parents worried I was too morbid for my own good. If you’re the same way, this list is for you. Just a warning, however, that my love of horror goes beyond ghosts and monsters and big, bad creepy crawlies. What I love is the stuff that sneaks up on you—supernatural or not—and worms its way slowly, insidiously into your brain, eventually suffocating you with that feeling of crippling unease.

So if you’ve already read and loved my number 1, Night Film:Continue Reading

Book Recommendations for All You Budding Freelance Writer Entrepreneur-Types

bookcaseThis past winter has been a hellishly bleak and frigid ice-scape, filled with dark mornings, dark nights, burst steam pipes, and broken furnaces. And frankly, it’s been hard to get myself motivated to do the work people are paying me for, let alone the personal projects that will someday bring me literary acclaim.

Still, despite the fact that I’m still wearing cardigans and cat slippers in my home office, I feel that spring is coming, and this gives me a renewed sense of purpose.

In fact, it’s this time of year that always inspires me to take on bigger and more ambitious projects as a means of revitalizing what the long, cold winter (and seasonal affective disorder?) attempted to kill. If you’re anything like me, I can only assume you’re suddenly itching to write a book, launch a new arm of your business, land a literary agent, or open a coworking space.

Before you get ahead of yourself, though, might I suggest the following resources?Continue Reading

Book Recommendations for Those Looking to Transform Their Lives

spqIt’s late February, the time by which most New Year’s resolutions slowly fizzle out and die—assuming they didn’t already crash and burn weeks ago.

What!? Me, cynical? Heck no!

In fact, I used to be so addicted to the idea of self-transformation that I actually ran a blog called Self Help Me, on which I reviewed the never-ending stream of self-help books I received through my job (I worked in the behavioral science department of an academic book publisher), through my book reviewing gig with Publishers Weekly, and from my local bookstore.

And although these days I feel as if I have life pretty much figured out (cue manic laughter and sobbing), there are still a few books I keep around for those desperate times when I need a reminder that positive change is possible. The bindings are well-creased, the pages have been dog-eared, and the passages have been underlined and starred. They are my touchstones.

So if you know anyone who’s been struggling with their resolutions (not that I’m insinuating anything), consider gifting them a copy of one of these bad boys:Continue Reading