Friday, March 29, 2013

Amazon Buys GoodReads, and Other News

 I, for one, welcome our Book Overlords (especially since they're based in Seattle).
From Shelf Awareness:
Amazon is buying the popular book-focused social networking site
Goodreads, which was founded in 2007 and now
has more than 16 million members. The acquisition is expected to close
by July. Goodreads' headquarters will remain in San Francisco, and its
management is expected to stay in place.

As the leading social networking site devoted to books, GoodReads has
been considered an important element in addressing the "discoverability"
problem that grew with spread of e-books and Amazon and the collapse of
Borders: How would readers discover books if fewer of them were visiting
the best source for learning about new books, bricks-and-mortar

In one fell swoop, Amazon, whose algorithms for recommending books have
shown limited effectiveness, now owns one of the major tools built to
address the problem it created.

On the Goodreads blog,
CEO and co-founder Otis Chandler said the site "will continue to be the
wonderful community that we all cherish. We plan to continue offering
you everything that you love about the site--the ability to track what
you read, discover great books, discuss and share them with fellow book
lovers, and connect directly with your favorite authors--and your
reviews and ratings will remain here on Goodreads. And it's incredibly
important to us that we remain a home for all types of readers, no
matter if you read on paper, audio, digitally, from scrolls, or even
stone tablets."

But judging from the reaction of booksellers, publishers and some
Goodreads users, the process may not be so easy. The overwhelming
feeling expressed yesterday on Twitter and Facebook was surprise and
disappointment. @NextGenAuthors tweeted us: "Hey, your April Fool's edition doesn't come out until Monday!" Many
indies and their fans promptly cancelled their accounts.

The question is how a site that was prized for its independence and
noncommercial cred will fare as a part of the Amazon empire. As one
person commented on Otis Chandler's own blog on Goodreads: "I
liked/would prefer a community of readers not backed by someone with
motives to a) unrelentingly mine my data and b) sell me stuff."

In response to Chandler's comment that "We truly could not think of a
more perfect partner for Goodreads as we both share a love of books and
an appreciation for the authors who write them," Jarek Steele of Left
Bank Books,
St. Louis, Mo., wrote on his blog: "Really, Goodreads? You've forsaken
all the other opportunities to partner with independent bookstores,
Kobo, even Barnes & Noble & the Nook? How about iPad? Also, who at
Amazon has a love of books or authors?"

The Amazon record concerning book world companies it's purchased isn't
encouraging. While some non-book purchases, like Zappos, have remained
independent and fared well, some book purchases are either merged into
Amazon World or left to die on the Internet vine, such as Lexcycle and,
most tellingly, Shelfari, which, like Goodreads, is a social media site
focused on books.

Only last year, Amazon and Goodreads had a public fight that led to
Goodreads choosing to use Ingram data instead of Amazon's because of
Amazon's requirement that its data not link to another retailer. There
was no word on how this might change.

Goodreads has also been marked by a kind of openness that runs contrary
to Amazon's penchant for secret. Otis Chandler has spoken at many
conferences, giving details about site usage, and Goodreads shares
information with publishers. It's likely all that will change very soon.

The move also adds to the sense that Amazon is slowly buying up much of
the book world. Over some 15 years, the company has bought,, Brilliance Audio, the Book Depository, Shelfari,, Lexcycle, BookSurge, CreateSpace, and
(through AbeBooks) 40% of Library Thing.

Wired summed up this feeling well, beginning its story on the Amazon purchase of Goodreads with this: "Amazon looked back
to its roots in bookselling and forward to its future as the global
overlord of all reading and writing by announcing its plan today to
purchase social reading site Goodreads."

Forbes called the move a slap in the face of publishers,
writing that it's no coincidence that the deal came seven weeks after
Penguin, Hachette and Simon & Schuster launched Bookish.

"It's a brilliant move by Amazon,"
Mike Shatzkin of the Idea Logical Co. told the Wall Street Journal. "If
you are a book marketer, the two places you think about the most in
terms of online marketing opportunities are Amazon and Goodreads." He
added, "It makes me question whether Amazon's competitors are awake. How
could they let this happen?" 

And in his inimitable style, Knopf's Paul Bogaards tweeted,
"That's what all you morons get for sharing your books online."


Editor's Note: Judging from our e-mail over the last 12 hours, many in
the industry believe that the main reason Amazon bought Goodreads is to
bolster its discoverability problem. Although we don't usually "shelf
promote," please indulge us a moment. Two years ago, the Shelf launched
its consumer publication, Shelf Awareness for Readers, a free
twice-weekly customized newsletter that helps indies help their
customers discover the best 25 books published that week and that drives
them back to their local store for purchase. We now have 50 partnership
stores, with 200,000 subscribers; we've helped those stores to sell more
and more books and helped them reinforce customers' faith that their
local indie is the best place for learning what to read next. To find
out more information about our program, go to
I'm curently reading "Leaving Everything Most Loved" by Jacqueline Winspear, the latest Maisie Dobbs mystery, and I am loving it, of course! Here's some things the author posted to Facebook that I felt I had to share:

Hello Everyone! As you know (how could you fail to, with the posts appearing on this page) my new novel featuring Maisie Dobbs was published yesterday. I began my book tour on Monday, however, I am very aware that not everyone can make a point of going to one of the venues where I will be speaking. Technology to the rescue! At the Poisoned Pen bookstore in Scottsdale, my "interview" with Barbara Peters, owner of the store, is available to view at the following URL:

I took great care not to reveal any great spoilers about the new book, though I should warn those of you who have only just begun reading the series, that during the questions segment, members of the audience referred to events in previous books (and I made the odd slip too!).

In addition, I was interviewed for the blog A Writer of History, and it appears online this week - I thought the writers among you might be interested:

And finally, for San Francisco Bay Area readers - one event that does not appear on the Appearances page of my website is the radio show, West Coast Live this coming Saturday. West Coast Live is recorded with a studio audience in the Ferry Building down in SF - ticket details are on the website:

I think that will be all from me for a while - book touring is busy work, so not always easy to check in from the road. So, until the next time, I wish you all the very best, as always.
If you are like me, and you're one of the millions obsessed with Downton Abbey, a wonderful British tv series, you are probably grinding your teeth awaiting Season 4. In order to take the edge off the anxiety of waiting, PBS has come up with a nifty little period drama that should help to slake the thirst of Downton Abbey fans for at least a few months.
Wondering if "the love affairs of a store's clerks and wealthy patrons
enthrall viewers as much as the downstairs-upstairs goings-on at the
Grantham estate," USA Today noted that Mr. Selfridge, which premieres Sunday on PBS Masterpiece, is, like Downton Abbey, "a lavish costume drama set in early 20th-century England," though this
story focuses on "the rags-to-riches story of Harry Gordon Selfridge,
the charismatic, American entrepreneur who in 1909 threw open the doors
to Selfridge's, welcoming London and the world to the first truly modern
department store."

The show, starring Jeremy Piven (Entourage) and adapted by Andrew Davies
(Pride and Prejudice), is based on the book Shopping, Seduction & Mr.
Selfridge by Lindy Woodhead, which is available in a series tie-in
paperback edition (Random House, $16, 9780812985047).

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Perfect Red by Jennie Nash

Perfect Red, A Novel, came to me in a beautiful package from the author as part of a promotion from Shelf Awareness. Though I believe my copy is an ARC, Ms Nash tied it up with a red ribbon, signed it and included a note about the typos being corrected in the final printing, and there were two perfectly beautiful postcards showing a woman in profile who looks like Grace Kelly from the 1950s applying lipstick, with the phrase "What would you risk to follow your passion?" emblazoned in red italics on the upper right corner of the card. Readers learn later in the book that this is a representation of the book that the protagonist, Lucy Lawrence, self publishes.

Though elegantly presented and charmingly wrought, Perfect Red suffers from one outstanding flaw.
The characters are not drawn realistically or believably as they could be, descending at times into two-dimensional stereotypes or archetypes of people living in 1950s East Coast cities like New York and Washington DC. I found myself thinking that the novel could easily be considered Candace Bushnell-light, with its focus on all the surface things, like fashion, lipstick and men that women in Bushnell's novels are obsessed with to the nth degree. Yet instead of "Sex and the City" this novel is about the trials and tribulations of a young secretary to a publisher who has a book idea that "haunts" her and yet she hasn't the gumption to actually write the book herself, so she works in publishing as a way to somehow learn to write this book by hanging around writers and publishers and apparently gaining insight into writing by osmosis.

Though I liked the central idea of the book, that there is a lipstick that is such a perfectly red color that it causes a kind of fanaticism among women, who believe it has magical properties to snare a man, and that the passion and obsession to obtain the secret to this lipstick is overpowering for Lucy's father, I didn't really buy that this quest would bring Lucy and her father to the attention of the House Unamerican Activities Committee and Senator Joe McCarthy. I know that the HUAC destroyed the lives of many people who ended up on their blacklist, like Elia Kazan and other Hollywood actors, directors, screenwriters, etc. Their witch hunt for "commies," "pinkos" and other "reds" or communist sympathizers bordered on the insane, and caused a lot of damage to a lot of people's lives. But bringing in a young secretary who writes a fiction novel about a perfect red lipstick and its origins seems like it would have been well beneath their notice.

I insist on adding "young" before the protagonist's name because throughout the novel, she's like a drawing of a perfect 20-year-old blond girl living in the city (in the 50s). She's virginal, chaste, easily shocked, cries at the drop of a hat, is "plucky" but not aggressive, because that would be unlady-like, and she has the melodramatic and naive outlook on life that Nancy Drew or Doris Day had in their books and movies, that fresh-complexion, dewy-eyed belief that a man will take you by the hand and bring you ecstasy in the bedroom and then marry you and plunk you down into a nice suburb where you'll have two kids and the American dream all wrapped up. Yes, I mean characters sweet enough to give you diabetes. But even though Lucy breaks with tradition to want to be a writer, her ineffectual jabs at writing and her ability to give her book into the hands of TJ Wright (yes, the author actually has "Mr Wright" as a name for the male protagonist/antagonist) in order to save her job and her boss Jamison's job comes off as cowardly at best and stupid at worst. Any reader will see their betrayals coming a mile off. I was not surprised, then, when TJ turned out to be a cad, a thief and a rapist. I was surprised that Nash never calls the sexual assault that Lucy endures a rape, nor does she call TJ the novelist a rapist. Instead, Lucy continues to suffer at his hands when her boss fires her and tears up her manuscript, and then TJ and/or Jamison turns her in to HUAC after she rewrites (for the third time) her book and publishes it with her bookstore-owner boyfriend, Jeffrey. She seems to suffer no other ill effects from being raped, other than the satisfaction of seeing TJ become a homeless bum and Jamison lose his job and livelihood as well.

She's even too much of a coward to open an envelope from that boyfriend, and has to have someone open it for her. Her childish reactions and blindness to reality becomes so ridiculous that there were times when I wanted to grab her by the shoulders and shake her until her teeth rattled, and yell at her to grow a spine and stop being such a wimpy, whiny baby, and assuming that you need a man to publish a book. I would have told her mother to go to hell and I would have brought TJ up on charges and I would have decked Jamison the jerk, and I never would have been so submissive to a man I am supposedly in love with who runs a bookstore. Lucy acts like she is at fault for having been raped and robbed, and she practically crawls on hands and knees to get Jeffrey to "take her back" though Lucy and Jeffrey claimed they love one another. I realize sexism was pervasive in the 50s, but her childish naivete becomes nauseating (and ridiculous) after about the first 5 chapters. Readers can only suspend disbelief for so long.

Though it might not sound like it, I did, actually, enjoy reading Perfect Red, if for no other reason than for the insight into how lipstick is made, and the importance of color and style. The glimpse into the 50s world of fashion was interesting as well, and Nash's prose, while simple, was still clean and clear enough to aid the greased lightening plot along the fast track. I'd give the book a C+ and recommend it to those interested in 1950s fashion/cosmetics and glamor, and those curious as to how McCarthy's shenanigans effected people's lives outside of Hollywood.

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Sweetest Dark by Shana Abe and A Poets Journey

The sixth book in Shana Abe's perfectly marvelous "Drakon" series of paranormal romances, The Sweetest Dark came to me as an ARC from Random House that was a welcome surprise in a particularly rough week of Crohns flares.
I devoured The Sweetest Dark within 2 days (and it would have been one day had I not had to eat, sleep, spend time in the restroom and deal with activities of daily life) because Abe has this near magical ability to write characters that you not only identify with, but characters that seem so real and enchanting that you fall in love with them and truly want them to succeed, as you would a cherished friend or beloved relation. It doesn't hurt that most of the protagonists of her Drakon series are the disenfranchised, the lonely and unusual, the poor of pocket but not of spirit kind of people.
Her prose is pure gold, mesmerizing in it's luxurious folds that glow and glimmer like lamme or the finest silk. The plot moves at a swift but efficient pace, never slowing for too much description or narration, and the internal logic of the story makes all the magical events seem normal and natural within the story arc.
Abe is the Queen of paranormal romance, combining the writing styles of Patricia McKillip with that of John Steinbeck and a touch of Shakespeare's lyric to create a novel that grasps your hand on page one and pulls you onto the dance floor, not letting you go until, gasping, the final note has been played.
The story takes place in the England of 1915, where Eleanora,"Lora" Jones is an orphan with the kind of grit and fire it takes to survive the cruelties of King George V's England. She is enrolled in an elite boarding school called Iverson, where she meets Jesse, the school's groundskeeper, who is actually a star come to earth, and Armand, a handsome aristocrat who is, like Lora, part drakon and part human. Drakon are able to dissolve into smoke and turn from human to dragon after puberty. They are also able to smell and hear the music of jewels and minerals. Lora finds that she can play this music on a piano, though she's never had lessons in her life, and she also discovers a deep love of the stars and of Jesse, her own protective star, as well as Armand, her drakon alpha. Lora also learns to listen to the voice of the dragon within, and to trust herself and to fight back against the petty bullies at Iverson.
I was so enthralled with this glorious story, I didn't want it to end, and was depressed that the book ended before readers could discover whether or not Armand and Lora marry and continue on the drakon line, or even whether Armand ever learns to transform into his dragon form and fly free with Lora across the moonlit skies. (This book is available on April  2, 2013 from your local bookstore or Amazon/Barnes and
But regardless, The Sweetest Dark is a masterpiece of fantasy fiction that is so lush and brilliant, it should be considered a jewel in it's own right. Though it is being marketed as Young Adult fiction, I feel that, like The Hobbit, or the Harry Potter series, this is a book that adults who love a good fairy tale can enjoy, too. A solid A, and I would recommend it to anyone who loves beautiful stories/legends that enchant and draw you into their world.
{Note: The other books in Shana Abe's drakon series are, The Smoke Thief, The Dream Thief. Queen of Dragons, The Treasure Keeper and The Time Weaver.}
I would love to read this book, not just because it is about poets and poetry, but also because I have a long-standing fascination with Scotland and its people. 
I hope to one day visit Scotland and Wales, and navigate the moors myself.

Review: Walking Home: A Poet's Journey

As a memoir of traveling on foot, Simon Armitage's Walking Home is more
a cousin to Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods than Cheryl Strayed's
Wild. It's the amiable story of a 19-day ramble along the 256-mile
Pennine Way, bisecting England from the Midlands to the Scottish
border--at times a world of stunning beauty, but more often an
"unglamorous slog among soggy, lonely moors, requiring endurance and

Instead of traversing the trail from south to north, as is the custom,
Armitage decided to proceed in the opposite direction so he would finish
in the town of Edale, near his home. The other reason for his choice of
direction--the sense that this way he'd be walking downhill--turns out
to be hilariously wrongheaded. Armitage financed his trip with nightly
poetry readings, and he's meticulous about recording his take at each
stop, along with all the other odd objects audience members deposited
into the sock he passed for the voluntary offering.

There are no wild animals or outlaws to menace Armitage along the way,
but he recounts some frightening moments when he's lost in the mists of
the Cheviot Hills or scrambling up a narrow path on the mountain
ominously known as Cross Fell ("a truly terrible place"), where he
eventually beholds "a dizzying vastness full to the brink with nothing
but light and air." The boggy moorlands Armitage navigates bring to mind
the works of the Bronte sisters, and he remarks on the hordes of
tourists (many of them Japanese) who flock to the ruined farmhouse at
Top Withens that may have inspired the Earnshaw house of Wuthering
Heights. Armitage shares the path at times with a motley crew that
includes his wife and daughter and a college friend nicknamed Slug.
Their quirks and the litany of odd English place names--from the
waterfall known as Cauldron Snout to Blakehopeburnhaugh to Buttertubs
Pass--only add to his account's consistent charm.

The appeal of a book like Walking Home turns largely on the likeability
of its narrator, and Armitage scores high on that scale. Possessed of an
ample supply of sharp and self-deprecating British wit, he's erudite but
still in most respects an Everyman. Perhaps best of all, he concludes
his journey in a way that's as surprising for its candor as it is
completely satisfying. --Harvey Freedenberg

Unfortunately, this quote from Shelf Awareness is all too true about working in print journalism today.
"Newspapers always have been liberal places where people work hard for little pay, because they believe in the job. They always could empathize with the poor. But pay continues to dwindle to the point that I wonder what kind of person, today, enrolls in journalism school?"
Another very true quote:
"Tricky because I feel like that's what books do--they alter the course
of your life. Sometimes it's a nudge, sometimes it's a 180-degree turn.
You finish any book filled with new knowledge or new stories or new
insights about yourself. That's why I won't give away my raggedy
books--they are all memories, moments that changed me, steered me and
formed me. Pick one? Albert Einstein's Relativity. Novels I read to
forget the author and wander the world they've created. But to read the
words of a genius who changed the course of the world, his voice
speaking directly to me--that brought home the power of books, the power
of an individual human mind, and the miracle of writing that is the one
true elixir of immortality. "Deborah Cloyed, from Shelf Awareness' Book Brahmin

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Farewell Dorothy Parker and Other News

I can't believe that I missed this event, because I only read about it on Shelf Awareness after it was over, arg!
Last week, Seattleites witnessed a rousing book event at the EMP
(Experience Music Project) Museum, when the authors of The Mongoliad:
Book Three (47North) took part in their book's launch. Seven
authors--Neal Stephenson, Greg Bear, Mark Teppo, Nicole Galland, Joseph
Brassey, Erik Bear and Cooper Moo--came for a q&a, free drinks and a
swordfight. Brassey (l.) and Teppo donned a bit of armor and wielded
swords to show the crowd what they had been learning from The Flower of
Battle, a 14th century treatise by Fiore dei Liberi, an Italian knight.
The study of martial arts is no mere whim on the part of role-paying
fantasists; rather, the many battle scenes in the Mongoliad trilogy are
carefully planned and described based on real movement (and sound:
"singing swords" is not a metaphor--steel swords actually make singing
sounds when whipped through the air). Those attending enjoyed the demo
("Swords and alcohol. What could go wrong?"), and the subsequent
discussion about a cohort of authors meeting every Sunday with coffee,
donuts and Skype; it was a "gloriously messy" process.
 "So much is different--technology-driven changes, the dynamics and scale
of the business, of the city, of the world--yet some constants have been
in place since Walter Carr and Nanci McCrackin opened Elliott Bay. We
find books to put in the hands of readers, book-by-book,
person-by-person, day-by-day. It's been that ever thus."

--Rick Simonson
senior buyer and co-director of Elliott Bay Book Company's reading series, explaining how his
job has--and hasn't--changed over the years in an interview with

 Now I have a reason to visit Toronto, Canada. I think I'd love this odd, unique bookstore:

Toronto's Monkey's Paw: 'An Oddly Modern Antiquarian Bookshop'

"You have these hip 26-year-old downtown Toronto kids--they've actually
literally never been to a bookshop. They come here and they're like: 'It
reminds of a scene in Harry Potter.' My wife put it nicely: the Monkey's
Paw is like someone's idea of a bookshop,'
" owner Stephen Fowler told the New York Times T Magazine in a profile
of his "tiny shop... specializing in the arcane and the absurd"
headlined: "An Oddly Modern Antiquarian Bookshop

"This isn't the store where you'll find the book you were looking for,"
Fowler observed. "It's the store where you'll find the book you didn't
know you were looking for." T Magazine noted that "you may find
something else surprising at the Monkey's Paw, too: a glimpse of the
future, a way forward for the old-fashioned bookstore in the age of the
iPhone and the e-book."

"Most booksellers can't adjust to the postprint era," said Fowler. "The
only way to sell books in the 21st-century is as artifacts. I'm a
20th-century person myself, but with Monkey's Paw, I've tried to adapt.
This place is a church of print. It's just that the old rules are a bit
scrambled.... The experience of Web browsing makes it possible for a
shop like this to exist. The randomness of the book displays, they're
like the Web--masses of unrelated information popping up next to each
other, their context pretty much wiped out. Basically, the Monkey's Paw
is a celebration of old print culture, presented in way that resonates
with digital-age people."

I've read a couple of Po Bronson's books, and this latest one looks pretty interesting. I think that Bronson has taken over for Studs Terkel as the bard of the American people.
Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing
by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman (Twelve Books).

Also, I just finished reading Code Name Verity, which I'd assumed was going to be like most YA books and have something of a happy ending, but it didn't, and "Farewell Dorothy Parker" by Ellen Meister, which I'd assumed would be research-heavy and somewhat biographical, but it wasn't what I expected, either. Farewell is actually  a light, fun, quick read full of romance and the trials and tribulations of the wee timorous cowering beastie that is the protagonist, Violet, who shrinks from pretty much everything in her life. The reason that she is such a chicken is because her sister was verbally manipulative and abusive to her as a child, which apparently scarred her for life. I found that rather hard to believe. I was bullied and tormented by many more people than Violet as a child, and it certainly didn't turn me into an emotional coward and a timid, cringing person who can't manage to deal with relationships or social situations without falling apart and running away. 
But Violet comes upon the ghost of Dorothy Parker, who shepherds Violet into a romance and out of an abusive relationship, and she also helps her get custody of her niece and get over her social timidness. Of course, there are all the great Dorothy Parker quips and quotes along the way, and we learn that Ms Parker had some family trauma to deal with as well. Still, I found Violet's choice of career (movie critic at a magazine) interesting, since she was able to be vituperative on the page but couldn't summon the courage to tell an old boyfriend to get lost in person. I enjoyed Violets interplay with other characters, especially with her niece, but I have to say I found her inability to cope with any kind of confrontation rather annoying and silly by the time I was halfway through the book. Still, the plot was so swift and the prose so clean and clear, I had the book done in the space of an afternoon. I'd highly recommend this novel to those who enjoy stories of the Algonquin Round Table and Dorothy Parker's legendary wit, while also reading a love story that has the requisite HEA. Solid A.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

The State Of Journalism and Librarian Exercise Video

Journalism is becoming less of a career and more of a dinosaur vocation every day. For those that don't believe it, I hereby present the case of this gentleman, Nate Thayer, who hasn't been working in journalism as long as I have (I have about three years on him) but still has obvious chops in the media industry, certainly more national stories published than I have, and he STILL has to put up with editors trying to get his work for free. Disgusting. I have to note that one of my former professors during grad school was C Michael Curtis, who was an editor at this publication, back in the day.

This is pretty funny: -->
History of Librarian Exercise Videos: 1987 Edition

the headline "Where Van Halen Meets Librarians: The Weirdest Thing You
will See Today," video archeologists at the AbeBooks blog unveiled their
latest find: the "Betty Glover Library Workout Tape Ad
spoof, made in 1987 by an Arizona State University student. The video
"claims to offer librarians a way to fight slack muscles and flab while
in their element, with such exercises as the vertical drawer pull, and
horizontal drawer pull, and rapid-fire stapling."

Books translated to movies are becoming more common each year. Now if they'd just take more science fiction/fantasy books and put them on the screen, or even better, science fiction/romance or space opera hybrids, I'd be a happy camper!

Thanks to the success of programs like Game of Thrones and The Walking
Dead, book-to-television adaptations are a hot ticket
as the networks prepare for a new pilot season.

"Here is an anecdote a producer shared with me during the pitch portion
of this development season," wrote Nellie Andreeva at
"He'd taken a writer to a network meeting. The writer poured his heart
out pitching a show based on his life, but the network executive
appeared uninterested, barely paying attention. As they were heading
out, the producer mentioned he also had the rights to a book. Upon
hearing the title, the executive's eyes immediately lit up. 'I'll buy
that show,' the exec exclaimed before even hearing what the book was
about. This has been the case over and over this season, with the
networks going hard and heavy after book adaptations and remakes of TV
shows and movies, betting on underlying material as well as the familiar
or catchy titles that come with it."

Included among the upcoming "slew of literary adaptations" are:
CBS: Backstrom, based on the books by Leif G.W. Persson; Anatomy of
Violence (Adrian Raine's The Anatomy of Violence: The Biological Roots
of Crime); Intelligence (unpublished book by John Dixon); Under the Dome
(Stephen King's novel)
Fox: Delirium (Lauren Oliver's trilogy); I Suck at Girls (Justin
Halpern's book)
NBC: Girlfriend in a Coma (Douglas Coupland's novel), Undateable
(Undateable: 311 Things Guys Do that Guarantee They Won't Be Dating or
Having Sex by Ellen Rakieten and Anne Coyle), The Secret Lives of
Husbands and Wives (Josie Brown's novel); To My Future Assistant (blog
and upcoming book by Lydia Whitlock)
CW: The Hundred (based on the books by Kass Morgan); The Selection
(novel by Keira Cass)
ABC: The Returned (upcoming novel by Jason Mott)
FX: The Strain (Guillermo del Toro's vampire novel trilogy)

In addition, there are several "contemporary takes on the literary
classics" in the works, including Fox drama pilot Sleepy Hollow
(Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow), NBC's Wonderland
(Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland) and ABC's Venice
(Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet).

Sunday, March 03, 2013

My friend and former collegue, Chris Maag

I haven't written much about my career in journalism on this blog, mainly because I wanted to keep it clean for all my passionate ramblings (and the words/websites/photos/videos of other book people) about books and readers and librarians and authors.
Just this once, however, I am going to make an exception, and write a little about working for 8 years at the Mercer Island Reporter, a weekly newspaper on Mercer Island, Washington.
The thing you need to know about Mercer Island is that, unsurprisingly, it is a wealthy enclave of doctors, lawyers, celebrities, dentists and CEOs of major Seattle companies, including Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft. the other thing you need to know is that Mercer Island is full of surprises, like drug problems at the high school (one of my fellow reporters summed it up best (Jeff Gove) by saying "Where there's excess money, there's always going to be drugs and alcohol.") and eccentric children's poets like Jack Prelutsky, fantastic, generous bookstore owners like Roger Page of the wonderful Island Books, a thriving independent bookstore, and yarn-bombing, farmer's market-going, chicken-farming families with children who enjoy what is arguably the best school system in Washington.
Among all the millions of crazy stories on Mercer Island rests the Mercer Island Reporter, whose staff of 9 included native Islanders, like Joan Allen, our secretary, and current residents who were born in the Midwest, like Jane Meyer Brahm, our editor at the time, who was a brilliant and nurturing leader/den mother to our motley crew of reporters.
We were like a family of creative, often contentious, people who really cared about telling the stories of Mercer Islanders and providing some glue that held the community together, albeit briefly, as they read the news every week in our gorgeous broadsheet newspaper.
There was Jeff Gove, a city reporter and an intense young man with a wicked wit and a desire to dig deep into the underbelly of Mercer Island to unearth all the secrets and stories that some wanted to keep hidden. Following him was Chris Maag, a brilliant young man with amazing curls, an infectious laugh and more disco dancing moves than you could shake your booty at. His stories were always full of heart and warmth and something extra that made you want to read more of whatever he was writing, just for the subtle insights into human nature that he managed to prise from the people he interviewed like pearls from oysters.  Following Chris was Stephen Weigand, who, though he tried to hide it, was one of those people who seemed tough at first glance, but once you got to know him, you realized he was not only sharp as a tack, but kind, and sweet natured and tender-hearted. All three of these young city reporters were beautiful to look at, Jeff being dark, brooding and lean, Chris all wiry muscles and sunny-faced, and Steve tall, dark, slightly-Asian with a dimpled smile that was so disarming he could be telling you that the world was coming to an end and you'd accept it with good grace.
There were education reporters, Nora, Mary and lifestyle reporter, myself and lifestyle editors, from Linda to Trish to Nicole and a gal whose name started with a C, I want to say Colleen, but that wasn't it, who was partially deaf, who came and went about every 6 months to a year, with the exception of Linda, who, not unlike a cat, had to get used to you and come to you with friendship. If you tried to befriend her prior to that, you were not welcome, and were, instead, treated to withering critiques, blistering glares and often pretending that you weren't even there. She was the award-winning lifestyle editor for somewhere around 7-9 years, I believe. I feared her for several years, until she finally warmed enough to my presence to create a wary truce, oddly enough, just before she left the newspaper in favor of ParentMap, a local parenting publication.
We also had a sports editor/reporter, Ethan and Matt and someone between them whom I do not remember, and we had an ad salesman, Aiden Mahr, whose birthday was yesterday (March 2) and who is, and was, a multi-lingual Irish gentleman whose charm, wit and fantastic sense of humor kept us from imploding during tense times at the paper. He was like the charming uncle who knew just when you needed a joke, or a word of encouragement or a kindness to help you through. He even met my friend Rosemarie Larson and myself at the Dublin airport on our trip to Ireland in 2000, and drove us around to our hotel, gave us good advice and then invited us for debriefing drinks at a hotel owned by Bono Vox of the band U2 on the last day of our trip.
Ethan treated me terribly, so I'd rather not talk about him here, but I got along fairly well with Matt Phelps, who was a strong sports reporter and a no-nonsense editor. He had, and still has, a rather macho sense of humor that is by turns dark and cynical while still being hilarious. Though he's had heart trouble his whole life, many operations later he still manages to write cutting-edge stories about dangerous people and places without turning a hair. He's just naturally fearless, and though he doesn't look like Sean Connery, he's got that sexy secret agent aura that makes you think there's something going on when he's not at work that he couldn't tell you about unless he killed you afterwards, in the name of national security, of course.
Nora, who started as an education reporter, bloomed into a fantastic journalist whose stories were so intricate and honest and beautiful that they made you cry, or laugh, or see the world in a different way (which is what all good art does, really). Nora is a gorgeous gal of Irish heritage from the tough side of Chicago, whose snappy Dorothy-Parker-style wit kept us laughing and whose big heart made everyone love her. She was the first person besides myself and my husband to hold our preemie infant Nick at the Swedish Hospital NICU. She held him like he was made of spun glass, and eventually cuddled him close, and instituted a "baby time" at the MIR, when my husband would bring Nick to the MIR offices when he came to pick me up at the end of the day. Nora would shout, "Baby Time" and everyone would take a break to hold, cuddle and play with Nick, who didn't mind being passed from one person to another at all. He loved all his newspaper aunties and uncles, and now that those same people are all having babies of their own, I like to think Nick was their "experimental" baby/toddler, the one who showed them the joys and sticky sorrows of parenting for a short time.
We also had great photographers, Marta Storwick, a Mercer Island native and incredible adventurer whose journeys to Africa netted her unbelievable, grand photo spreads and stories and, eventually, a husband and a new career as a nurse. Photog Julie Pena was a sparky young lesbian who wouldn't take crap from anyone, but was still a sweetheart and a marvelous photographer, and Matt Brashears, an adorable young lion of a man whose photos always managed to capture the perfect moment at whatever event he was at. He shot some photos of Nick as a baby that to this day look more 'professional' than any studio photographer's work I've ever seen. He's just that talented.
The point is that we were a family, not just a loose collection of reporters/editors/photogs and ad salesman/secretary. We saw each other through good times and bad, through divorce, illness, unexpected pregnancy and premature baby, side jobs and bad interviews and outraged Mercer Island parents. I truly loved each of these people, though I think a couple of them hated me, for no reason I could ever discern.
So, though I've hooked up with many of these people on Facebook in the years since I've left the MIR back in 2005, (just before it was sold and turned into a ratty tabloid), I only recently found Chris Maag's wonderfully well-written blog, here:
Turns out he's moved from his native Ohio to New York, where I'd bet he still occasionally dances the night away at some disco hotspot. His blog is wonderful fun, so please stop by, read and enjoy.
I sincerely miss working at the MIR, though it was stressful, chaotic and sometimes emotionally painful. I am still proud of what a beautiful, meaningful newspaper we all produced. You just don't see those kinds of papers anymore, and journalists of my stripe are going the way of the dinosaur and the dodo. But no one can take the memory of these great human beings and our work away from me.