Welcome to the April State of the Thing, your guide to all things LibraryThing. This month we have a bevy of babies, an exclusive author interview with Anne Lamott, author recommendations from David Lipsky and Robyn Okrant, 2,123 free Early Reviewer books and 446 Member Giveaway books available.
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News and Features
Babies. Just, so many babies.
Out of ten employees, we're going to have 5 newborn babies before the first of July. Our sysadmin John
and his wife Lou had Max and William in March
. Developer Mike
and his wife Rebecca just gave birth to Lulu
. Next up are my husband and I (Sonya
) -- due at the end of May, then developer Chris C
and his wife will finish the trend in June--at least for now. You can see all of the LibraryThing baby announcements here
Free books: Early Reviewers
Read and review free books, before they even hit the shelves! We've given out a whopping 43,548 books so far through Early Reviewers. Sign up here.
The April batch of Early Reviewer books contains 2,123 copies of 94 different titles. The deadline to request a free book to read and review is Friday, April 23rd at 6pm EST. The next batch will be up during the second week of May.
The list of books
The most requested books so far this month:
Interview with author Anne Lamott
Anne Lamott's Imperfect Birds is the third in a series about the characters Elizabeth and Rosie (and now-husband James). First in Rosie, then in Crooked Little Heart, Anne writes of the growing up children do, and the growing up parents do as well. In Imperfect Birds, the first-person narrative shifts between mother and teen daughter. Elizabeth is simultaneously dealing with her own demons of depression and alcoholism while dealing with her child's growing freedom. Rosie pushes boundaries to the breaking point, with serious drug use and lying forcing Elizabeth to view the unpleasant realities of her daughter's actions and her own desire for polite fiction over impolite truth. Imperfect Birds has become a New York Times bestseller.
Anne's previous books also include the non-fiction Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year and Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith.
The title Imperfect Birds comes from a Rumi quote: "Each has to enter the nest made by the other imperfect birds." What is it about this quote that fits this story?
I love the truth of it, that really all we have to offer one another as sanctuary is our handmade lives—and that it is a lot—and enough. And how startling the image is because you would never think of a bird as imperfect, yet every teenager sees him or herself as so gravely imperfect.
One of the most interesting (and painful) parts of this book is realizing that in raising a child, you become acutely aware of your failings. Your teen's actions inevitably show your weaknesses, and all the while you're supposed to keep it together enough to parent them. What made you want to write about this?
I try to write the books that I'd love to come across, and I would have loved to come across material like IB during Sam's high school years. The only thing that really helps us in dark and dire times are each other's stories and truth—ie, nests.
Read the rest of the interview with Anne Lamott.
Author interviews—you ask the questions
Next month, we'll be interviewing Yann Martel, author of Life of Pi, about his new book Beatrice and Virgil. We'll also be interviewing David Baldacci, who's new novel Deliver Us from Evil, will be out April 20th.
Have a question for Martel or Baldacci? Post them in the Author Interviews—you ask the questions group.
Author recommendations: David Lipsky, author of Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace
David Lipsky's new book Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself follows author David Foster Wallace during the Infinite Jest book tour.
David says: To read David Foster Wallace is to feel your eyelids pulled open. Which makes it a wide-awake privilege to talk about his books on LibraryThing. DFW invented a new style (spoken, literate, incredibly sharp) and a new comedy. The style was the unedited camera, the feed before the director in the van starts making cuts and choices. The comedy was of a brain so big, careful and kind it keeps tripping over its own lumps. (Here's a great mock one-liner from his novel Infinite Jest, in a list of things people learn. "That public male weeping is not only plenty masculine but can actually feel good (reportedly).") I first started reading him in the early '90s, after his story collection Girl With Curious Hair. And I really fell in love with his work a few years before his longest novel, Infinite Jest: he began publishing long essays in Harper's Magazine, where people would brag about running into him in the hallways.
Reading these pieces was like hearing for the first time the brain voice of everybody you knew: Here was how we all talked, experienced, thought. It was like smelling the damp in the air, seeing the first flash from a storm a mile away. You knew something gigantic was coming.
Infinite Jest. An extraordinary book, his second novel. When it came out in 1996, it was like a readers' micro-climate; every conversation about books took place a little under it, everywhere you went, people brought up the book. It is, of course, a commitment; it's a first date you marry on. If you'd like to date it for a little while first, you could start on p. 809 (Kindle and iPad users, the first line is "The ceiling was breathing"), and read the heroic section about Don Gately in the hospital, then follow it through a wonderfully funny and harrowing underworld story all the way to the end. You'd be cheating yourself of what is an amazing reading experience, but it might make it easier to then go back and start the whole thing. If anyone is interested, you could message me through LibraryThing, and I could send a summary that would let you read those last 170 pps while staying up-to-date on what's happened in the book.
The section is a wonderful introduction to what makes this novel so extraordinary; a nearly unimaginably full book. When it came out, Walter Kirn said, "The competition has been obliterated. It's as though Paul Bunyan had joined the NFL, or Wittgenstein had gone on Jeopardy! The novel is that colossally disruptive. And that spectacularly good."
A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again. The best place to start with DFW. It's warm, brilliant, funny, kind: the essays here are endlessly charming—they're the best friend you could ever have, noticing everything, whispering jokes, sweeping you past what's irritating or boring or awful in humane style. The best piece is the title essay, about a week David spent on a cruise ship; for me, it's the single most fun piece of writing in the last 15 years. (When David's editor at Harper's received the piece, he said, "It was very clear to us that we had pure cocaine on our hands." The writing is that irresistible.) The collection shows every kind of strength: a lot of the pieces are what David calls "experiential postcards," but what they also demonstrate is what in tennis is called a complete game. Every type of stroke, every kind of wit, every sort of follow-through.
Aside from the title story, I'd recommend the piece actually about tennis ("Tennis Player Michael Joyce..."), the piece about filmmaker David Lynch ("David Lynch Keeps His Head"; great film crew personnel line, "the sort of sloppily pretty tech-savvy young woman you can just tell smokes pot and owns a dog"), and, especially, the piece about attending the Illinois State Fair ("Getting Away From Already Pretty Much Being Away From It All"). The last one is funny about hazardous baton-twirling ("a dad standing up near the stands' top takes a tomahawking baton directly to the groin and falls forward onto somebody eating a Funnel Cake"), cows, and has the best list of t-shirts I've ever read. ("Some presume a weird kind of aggressive relation between the shirt's wearer and its reader—'We'd Get Along Better...If You Were A BEER'.") If you're new to Wallace, these four essays are an ideal handshake.
Oblivion. His last published fiction. Dark, sad and brilliant. Many people love the short, shocking story "Incarnations of Burned Children." It'll test your reader's fortitude. For me, the best stories are: "Another Pioneer," which is beautiful and eerie—about a kind of Amazon child messiah; you can hear the palm fronds and ambient bugs, feel the great disquiet of encountering something huge; and "The Suffering Channel," about the length of a novella. Exceptionally funny and sharp, a comic piece about journalism (about which he's mostly dead on), potential new revenue streams for cable-TV, in-office exercise gear. It's just amazingly perceptive and funny, with a wonderful restaurant lunch in the middle. My favorite story is "Good Old Neon." It's the best story about being a person I know, the pluses and minuses.
It's a sort of update to Tolstoy's famous story "The Death of Ivan Ilych." It is unforgettable and something you should read right now.
Consider the Lobster. David's second essay collection. Experiential postcards about politics (his John McCain piece, "Up, Simba," won a National Magazine award; it's not so much about the Senator as about how politics works, how reporting on politics works, and ends with a great invitation: "try to stay awake"), sports, 9/11, talk radio. So good throughout it's hard to pick favorites: it's like rubbing your chin over a very long pastry cart. "Consider the Lobster," about a Maine culinary festival, is brilliant, funny, and could de-shellfish you forever. "Big Red Son" is about the awards ceremony for the pornography industry, and is incredibly sharp.
(The fans' "expressions tend to be those of junior-high boys at a peephole, an expression that looks pretty surreal on a face with jowls and no hairline"; and the oddity of seeing video performers faces, strangers' faces, in sex, "that most unguarded and purely neural of expressions, the one so vulnerable that for centuries you basically had to marry a person to get to see it.") There's no non-fiction that gives a better idea of where the country is, what it's like to live in it now, than this. Unless it's A Supposedly Fun Thing.
Click here to read the rest of David Lipsky's list of David Foster Wallace recommendations, which include: The Broom of the System, Girl with Curious Hair, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, and the upcoming posthumous book The Pale King.
Author recommendations: Robyn Okrant, author of Living Oprah: My One-Year Experiment to Walk the Walk of the Queen of Talk
Robyn Okrant shares what books influenced her Living Oprah project, started as a popular blog which documented her 2008 experiment to follow every piece of advice offered on Oprah's show, website or magazine, for an entire year. The blog was the basis for her book, which came out in January. Robyn's new project is called Ready, Set...Wife!", which looks at what it means to be a wife in 2010.
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. I've been interested in explorations of utopian and dystopian cultures since I read the genius satire Brave New World back in 1999. I was working at a marketing research firm at the time and was beginning to question how advertising and celebrity impacts women. Reading Brave New World definitely galvanized the way I approach the subjects of technology, commercialism/consumerism, and the media. It taught me to question trend, social mores, and cultural rituals. I don't think I realized it at the time, but when I conceived of Living Oprah, it was inspired by Huxley and his classic satirical novel. He taught me to always ask questions and never accept anything at face value.
Bridget Jones Diary: A Novel by Helen Fielding. This was the first 'year in the life' novel I remember reading. It was intimate and funny. A rollercoaster of emotion. Fielding's Bridget Jones is desperate in her search for happiness and a smaller dress size. My yearlong attempt to live my "best life" was also an unexpected and wild ride, and I wanted to give readers an equally unfiltered peek into my world. I felt some kinship to Bridget: we're both a bit clumsy, and while sometimes confused about the correct path to take, we are willing to take big risks to achieve our goals. We never shy away from sharing the truth of our lives with our readers, hoping the audience will laugh along with us, but willing to open ourselves to be the butt of the joke.
The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible by A.J. Jacobs. Jacobs project was inspired: to chronicle his year-long attempt to follow biblical teachings and its interpretations by a patriarchy of ancient scholars and rabbis. There are similarities to our projects: we attempted to remain as neutral and literal as possible while following religious dogma/the law of Oprah. We both also maintained a blog during our projects and our efforts could be read real-time on the internet. However, there were deeper social issues, personal anecdotes, and stories about the author and the project which deserved a much more comprehensive study in the form of a book. Jacob's project is entrenched in tradition and is the tour of one man through antiquated language and metaphor. On the other hand, Living Oprah is inexorably linked to popular culture.
It is a journey that could only be undertaken and interpreted by a female author, and addresses the question of why so many women place all their trust and faith in Oprah Winfrey and why she is their chosen 'prophet'. We both deeply respect our subjects, but do not believe they are above critique.
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll. Down the rabbit hole. The moment I launched the Living Oprah project, I jumped headfirst into a world very different than my own. And whenever I tried to force my own logic onto the situations I faced (does everyone really need a pair of white jeans and a panini maker?), things became confusing and frustrating. I learned to relax over the course of the year and overcome my defense mechanism: stubbornness. When I went with the flow and learned the laws of Wonderland, I was able to learn more and more in each chess square I jumped. And once my yearlong project was over, just like Alice, I would be forever changed as a result of my own visit to self-help Wonderland. Just as Alice says, "...it's no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then."
Author Chat lets you talk to authors—ask questions, get answers, and find out more about how or why a book is written. The schedule of upcoming chats is posted too, so you can plan to read the author's book ahead of time.
More free books: Member Giveaways
At any given time, there are hundreds of books available from our Member Giveaways program. Member Giveaways is like Early Reviewers, but isn't limited to select publishers—any author or member can post books. Request books, or offer your own!
Popular this month
- The Last Song by Nicholas Sparks
- The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova
- Soulless by Gail Carriger
- When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
- Beautiful Creatures by LibraryThing author Kami Garcia
- Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde
- Let the Great World Spin by LibraryThing author Colum McCann
- Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
- Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls
- A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick
Questions, comments, ideas, suggestions? Send them our way.
—Sonya, one of the LibraryThing librarians (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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