Welcome to the September State of the Thing, your guide to all things LibraryThing. This month we have 3 exclusive author interviews (with Audrey Niffenegger, Christopher McDougall, and Dan Chaon), 1,310 free Early Reviewer Books, 721 free Member Giveaway books, and 9 author chats happening.
If you'd rather receive a plain-text version, edit your email preferences. You can also read it online.
Features and fun
We've been busy building new features, tweaking old ones and having fun. A few highlights:
- Tagmash. Tim recently revamped and expanded tagmashing—the feature that lets you find books across an intersection of two or more tags (like time travel, romance or France, WWII, non-fiction). Read more in the blog post.
- Arrr, Pirates. In honor of International Talk Like a Pirate Day, we sent the entire site into pirate-speak. All of the work was done by members using our translation system, the same mechanism that creates LibraryThing in French, German, and many other languages. To see what we did, visit LibraryThing in Pirate or view screenshots in the blog post.
- Series moving on up. We've added a new series line near the top of work pages. We have excellent data on series, thanks to members who have entered it into Common Knowledge, and since it's so useful we wanted to make it more visible. Read more in this talk post.
Author interviews—you ask the questions
Each month, I conduct a few exclusive interviews with authors for the State of the Thing. We're now giving you the chance to come up with interview questions too. Check out the Author Interviews—you ask the questions group. We started the crowdsource interview experiment last month, and several questions from LibraryThing members made it into the interview with Audrey Niffeneger this month. See the interview below for the questions and her answers.
Next month, we're interviewing Allison Hoover Barlett, author The Man Who Loved Books Too Much and Hope Edelman, author of The Possibility of Everything (both were Early Reviewer books, so you might have read an advance copy recently). Have a question for Bartlett or Edelman? Post it here.
Interview with author Audrey Niffenegger
Audrey Niffenegger is the author of the best selling novel The Time Traveler's Wife (recently made into a movie) and two graphic novels, The Three Incestuous Sisters and The Adventuress. Her new novel, Her Fearful Symmetry is a fantastic tale of twins, love and ghosts, set in and around London's Highgate Cemetery. Her Fearful Symmetry comes out on September 29th. Niffenegger teaches at Columbia College in Chicago.
You write of Highgate Cemetery beautifully—what's your connection to Highgate, and how did the book end up being set there?
I was initially planning to set the book in Chicago, using the wonderful Graceland Cemetery. Then I asked myself, What is the most interesting cemetery I've ever been to? and the answer to that was Highgate. I had been there in 1996, had taken the tour and remembered it as an enclosed, chaotic wonderland. So I called the cemetery's office and spoke to Jean Pateman; she was not too encouraging at first, but allowed me to come and meet her. We gradually built a very fruitful working relationship and friendship. Jean taught me a great deal about the cemetery and about London. All of the Friends of Highgate Cemetery were extremely courteous and helpful.
Neil Gaiman thanks you in the acknowledgements of The Graveyard Book—said to be inspired by Highgate Cemetery. Did you bond over cemeteries and ghosts?
I first met Neil in Sydney, Australia at a literary festival. We bonded over comics and graphic novels. Neil and his friend Hayley Campbell once took my Highgate tour. He was very close to finishing The Graveyard Book and just wanted a few finishing touches. It was great fun to show him around, since he was already very familiar with the place.
Questions from LibraryThing members:
From Katya0133: If you had $100 to spend at Hollander's for one project, what would you buy and what would you make?
I think I would buy quite a lot of Flocked Paisley Hot Pink on Burgundy paper and I would wallpaper my workroom with it. Then I would see what happened to the ensuing artwork. Probably things would get kind of bordello-ish.
From imager: Do you think of a story and then find the characters for it, or is it the other way around and the characters find you with their own story to tell?
I seem to begin with characters, and then the characters require more characters (they need friends and family) and then I need something for them to do, and then I have the glimmering of a plot.
From mmignano11, on film adaptation of The Time Traveler's Wife: I recently saw the movie made of your book about time travel. Is it difficult to see your work in the hands of the film-makers? Were you allowed much control over what was the final product? Do you feel most proud of your novel or the movie that has been made of it? Do you feel that the movie portrayed what you intended for the book to portray?
Well... I haven't seen the movie. I didn't have any control (novelists seldom do) and it seemed best to let the film makers get on with it without me hanging around. The novel is mine, the movie belongs to the director, actors and screenwriter, and to all the people who worked on it.
From VictoriaPL: I'd like Audrey to describe her desk or office/writing area. Also, does she write at a certain time of day?
I write whenever I can, but I am more productive at night. My writing area is a big desk covered with papers, CDs, bills, notebooks, half-read novels, post-it notes, two cats, a computer and all its paraphernalia, etc.
Read the rest of the interview with Audrey Niffenegger
Interview with author Christopher McDougall
Christopher McDougall's Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen is an investigation into ultrarunning, the Trahumara Indians, the running shoe industry, and more. Born to Run is currently in The New York Times best sellers list for Hardcover Nonfiction.
Your background is as a journalist—you were a war correspondent. How did you end up writing a book on ultrarunning?
By sheer coincidence and indignation. I was in Chihuahua on assignment from The New York Times Magazine to locate a fugitive Mexican pop star who was secretly running a brainwashing cult (true story). I happened to be flipping through a Mexican science magazine, and spotted a photo of an old man in what looked like a robe and sandals. He was tearing down some gnarly trail, and the caption said he was a 55-year-old Tarahumara Indian who'd won a 100-mile race through the Rocky Mountains. I'd just been told by a doctor that running even a few miles a day would destroy my knees, so as I stared at that photo, I wondered how that old guy could get away it and I couldn't. A few weeks later, I was trekking into the Copper Canyons in search of the Tarahumara.
You argue that humans have evolved to run long distances. How convincing is the evidence for that?
Very. Running is the only solution that resolves a handful of mysteries about human existence. Here's one: 2 million years ago, the human brain suddenly exploded in size. It only could have grown so quickly if early humans had a reliable source of condensed caloric energy—meat. The only problem is, the first spear heads only appeared 200,000 years ago. So how did humans get meat for nearly 2 million years without any weapons? Simple—by running animals to death. We're great at venting heat on the run by perspiring. Other mammals can only cool off by panting, giving us an amazing advantage.
You're not just an observer in the book, you also trained for and ran an ultramarathon. What was that experience like?
A total blast. By learning to run like the Tarahumara, I felt like I'd been given back the use of my legs. Running was no longer an aching misery. Instead, I quickly became energized, lightfooted and fast (well, relatively). In nine months, I lost 30 pounds and transformed from a guy who couldn't run 5 miles without getting hurt into a guy who could race 50.
Read the rest of the interview with Christopher McDougall
Interview with author Dan Chaon
Dan Chaon is the author of the novel You Remind Me of Me, and two collections of short stories, Fitting Ends and Among the Missing. Chaon lives in Cleveland, Ohio, and teaches at Oberlin College. His new novel Await Your Reply is a twisting tale of three seemingly unconnected characters.
I'm not sure how to sum up the book without giving too much away, so I'll make you do it. How would you describe your new novel, Await Your Reply?
It is a story about identity in our contemporary digital age. It follows three seperate stories of people who step out of their own lives and into new ones, and the stories eventually converge. The book begins with three images: A severed hand in an ice chest. A lighthouse in the middle of the Nebraska prairie. A man driving a car toward the Arctic Circle, in the light of the midnight sun. And then it begins to weave those scenes together.
Where'd the title come from?
The working title of the book was "Amnesiascape," but it turns out there's a book by Steve Erikson called "Amnesiascope" so that didn't work out. I thought maybe I would call it "Sleepwalk" but no one was really happy with that.
At the last minute, we came up with "Await Your Reply."
It came from that spam email that we all get, and which is quoted at length in the book: the daughter of a wealthy Nigerian gold merchant needs our help, if only we can give her our bank account and social security number. I love the melancholy formality of "Await Your Reply," and I like that there's something slightly sinister about it.
Read the rest of the interview with Dan Chaon
Author Norb Vonnegut's book picks.
- The Lords Of Discipline by Pat Conroy. Friendship and betrayal, unrequited love—these themes are Pat Conroy's backyard. In The Lords of Discipline, Will McLean (the narrator) takes us inside a southern military academy where we get a look at the plebe system. I love books that burrow deep into foreign worlds, a place where Conroy is the master.
- Double Whammy by Carl Hiassen. Many of Carl Hiassen's characters start as normal people, spiral out of control, and turn into cartoons—like the ex-governor named Skink, who dines on road kill and has a glass eye borrowed from a stuffed owl. Ironically, Hiassen "fictionalizes" the real-life people he covers as a columnist for The Miami Herald.
- The Tin Roof Blowdown by James Lee Burke. In The Tin Roof Blowdown, James Lee Burke "writes" the Louisiana dialect so well I can almost hear the sweet Southern tones inside my head. His heroes persevere and succeed against all odds—personal foibles notwithstanding. Cletus Purcell, a regular in the Dave Robicheaux series, is a drunk who swears better than anybody else in print.
- The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. Lisbeth Salander is one of the great underdogs of fiction. She is surly and asocial—a four-foot-eleven punk with lots of tattoos. She is also a brilliant mathematician and world-class hacker, expertise that appeals to me. It's sad that Larsson died in 2004, that he never lived to enjoy his phenomenal success during 2008. The entire Salander trilogy, books that Larsson wrote for fun, is being published after his death. Right now, I'm reading The Girl Who Played With Fire.
- The Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving. There's something about Irving's quirky families that always sucks me in. What's not to love about a son named Egg and a dog named Sorrow?
Norb Vonnegut was Managing Director at Silvercrest Asset Management, a money management firm. He spent the previous 14 years on the "sell-side," industry jargon for brokerages and investment banks, including stints at Morgan Stanley’s Private Wealth Management division, Paine Webber, and Chase Manhattan in Melbourne, Australia. Ten of those years were with a white-shoe brokerage, the place where he began writing Top Producer.
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.
Free books: Early Reviewers
Read and review free books, before they even hit the shelves! We've given out a whopping 36,268 books so far through Early Reviewers.
The September batch of Early Reviewer books contains 1,310 copies of 59 different titles, available to residents of the US, Canada, the UK, Israel, Australia, France, Germany, Denmark, European Union, Hong Kong, Iceland, India, Ireland, Isle of Man, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland. The deadline to request a free book to read and review is September 27th at 6pm EST.
The list of books
The most requested books so far this month:
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 books!
Popular this month
This month's most popular books on LibraryThing. The top ten now:
- The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown
- Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
- The Help by Kathryn Stockett
- The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
- Finger Lickin' Fifteen by Janet Evanovich
- The Strain by Guillermo del Toro
- Shanghai Girls by Lisa See
- Evermore by Alyson Noël
- The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson
- The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
Questions, comments, ideas, suggestions? Send them our way.
—Abby, LibraryThing's librarian (email@example.com)
WHY YOU GOT THIS: At some point you signed up for LibraryThing's monthly "State of the Thing" email.