Thursday, April 05, 2007

Interview with Christopher Moore

Our review of Lamb by Christopher Moore went well - Kevin, Cathie, Val, A.C., Sean, Alycia, and myself were all there to throw in to the discussion and everyone gave it a 4.0 except Sean who gave it a 2.5 and Kevin who gave it a 4.75. Below is the interview I promised I would post. It sheds some light on Moore's personal views of the life of JC. Enjoy!

Interview on Lamb - Independent Bookstores
by Gavin J. Grant

Christopher Moore's hilarious new novel, Lamb, is a March/April 2002 Book Sense 76 pick. Lamb, subtitled The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal, is a comical tale of the early years of one Joshua, more commonly known to us as Jesus Christ. Moore noted the lack of detail in the stories about Jesus' early life, and decided that he would provide the record of one of the possible course of events.

Moore is the author of a number of comic novels. His first, Practical Demonkeeping, established his place as a new voice on the scene, and since then, in novels like Island of the Sequined Love Nuns and The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove, he has continued to amuse and amaze readers. Moore's been on tour for the book on and off for the last couple of weeks, so we interviewed him by email. Writing Lamb must have been like walking a tightrope. There are so many people you could insult with a book like this; how did you strike that balance?

Christopher Moore: I used the same guide I always use: "Nothing mean-spirited." I was not writing an attack book, but I have no problem pointing out hypocrisy. Since the book was set in the 1st Century, most of the hypocrites weren't going to be bothered by being called on it today. Mostly I just had to cut my instances of Joshua (Jesus) using the "F" word. For some reason, people have a hard time getting over that.

What's the response been?

People like the book a lot. I haven't had a single negative reaction from a religious point of view. Some people don't like my sense of humor, but that's to be expected. As far as a reaction from the clergy or the laity, nothing but good stuff. I've had a number of ministers at my signings, all with kind things to say about Lamb.

Are you particularly religious?


Did you travel a lot to research this book?

I just spent a couple of weeks in Israel touring historical sites. Most of the research for this book was academic, that is, I read a ton of books on theology, archeology, history, and sociology.

Did you go to Kabul? And, if so, when were you there and what was it like?

No, I just picked Kabul off of a map of the silk road of the time. The reason I picked it for use in the book was the map showed these incredible canyons in the mountains above Kabul where Balthasar could have a fortress to hide in. At the time I envisioned a cliff-face fortress like at Petra in Jordan, or what we see in southern Turkey. Needless to say, I was more than surprised when, a year later, Kabul became a place in the news.

Okay, dreadful question: where did this book come from? Watching "The Life of Brian"? Partaking overmuch of Gideon Bibles in hotels while on tour?

Actually, the initial inspiration came from a scene in Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita, of the trial of Jesus from the point of view of Pontius Pilate, who was having I migraine at the time. A few months later I saw the PBS Frontline special called "From Jesus to Christ," and I came up with the concept for telling the "missing years" of Christ's life from the point of view of an unknown best friend. It's funny because that's what I do.

Reading Lamb is a lot of fun. Do you think it will encourage people to take a positive look at religion?

Actually, I think it may, especially since it focuses on the commonality of the major religions. That said, I'd be much happier if the book encourages people to take a more positive view of humanity than religion does; but even that seems pretentiously ambitious.

Did you read the gospels (the official and unofficial ones)? Was there anything that just jumped out that had to be in your book?

I read the canonized gospels many, many times, and actually had to go through them to make a credible chronology of events for the story, since the gospels don't agree with one another. Quite a few things jumped out at me as having to be in the book, especially those very few things that give clues to the characters of the Apostles: When Jesus first meets Nathaniel, who says, "What good can come out of Nazareth," then seconds later recognizes Jesus as the Savior. And the scene where a woman named Mary anoints Jesus' feet with oil and Judas goes berserk because of the money she spent on the oil. It goes on like that. I used almost every scene that revealed some sort of character trait in each of the Apostles. Many of them are only named and don't really appear to do anything in the gospels.

Are you tempted to write the story from anyone else's point of view?

Actually, I don't think I would want to write this story again, but I might be tempted to someday tell another Bible story. The story of Paul would be interesting in the New Testament, and I don't think many people really know it. (I don't, really.)

Have you ever been asked or hired to write a history of any organization?

Nope. I had to write a mission statement for a company I worked for once, but that's as close as I came. They went out of business in about a month, so I guess the mission wasn't that well-defined.

You've often been compared to Douglas Adams, (probably because there are only a few genuine funny writers around), have you read his books?

Yes. Douglas Adams was a great inspiration to me. I remember when I was writing my first book, Practical Demonkeeping, I said to a friend that I wanted to do for horror what Douglas Adams had done for science fiction. I'm not sure if I did exactly that, but that doesn't diminish the inspiration and admiration. I never met Adams, but I was stunned when he passed away.

When you first started writing, were there any models for the books you wanted to write?

Well, as above, there was Hitchhiker's Guide. Other than that, I felt as if I was writing perhaps a Stephen King novel that focused on humor. I learned how to write suspense from King's early books. As for the narrative voice, my model was Cannery Row by John Steinbeck. When I get lost in my work, I always go back to Steinbeck's comic work.

When you're writing, how do you make sure something is funny? Do you read aloud what you've written?

No, I don't. And it embarrasses me to attempt to. I also don't give it to other people. I just have to trust my instincts until the book is finished. So far, so good, because I don't cut much. Usually if I think it's funny, it is.

Are you working on anything now?

Yes, I'm working on a comic novel about whale researchers called Fluke. It should be out some time next summer.

What are you reading?

Right now I'm reading a play by Tom Stoppard, a novel called Sewer, Gas and Electric by Matt Ruff, which I should have read years ago, and I'm rereading all of Vonnegut. (Plus the voluminous research stuff for the new book.)

Do you have a favorite bookshop?

That's a tough question. I really like Moe's Books[1] in Berkeley -- it's a truly amazing used bookstore (four floors) and I usually leave with a couple of shopping bags full of books. I also like Cody's Books in Berkeley for shopping. (I sometimes take book-buying vacations to Berkeley, which is four hours from where I live. I'll eat pizza by the slice, buy books, then retire to a hotel to read.) There are some great bookstores around the country that I love , but that I've never had the time to browse through because I've only been there on book tour. I really like Powell's[2] in Portland, The Tattered Cover in Denver, for biggies, and Esmerelda Books[3] in Del Mar, CA, and the Book Cafe[4] in Capitola, CA for smaller shops. You can't buy books on book tour because of the luggage problem. It's like a teasing torture to see all those cool bookstores without being able to assault the stacks.

If you worked in a bookstore, what books would be on your Staff Picks shelf?

Funny novels that I don't think that many people know about: Hugh Laurie's The Gun Seller, Steve Kluger's The Last Days of Summer, John Welter's Night of the Avenging Blowfish, everything by Chuck Paluhniuk (Fight Club, Choke), Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash, my books, and of course, the comic novels of Steinbeck.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Fight Club and 2007 Titles through May

February's selected title was Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuck - I'll post the rating of the group later as it's on a seperate email... stay tuned for UPDATES or leave a comment!

Tuesday, March 27, 6:30pm

Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal
by Christopher Moore
The birth of Jesus has been well chronicled, as have his glorious teachings, acts, and divine sacrifice after his thirtieth birthday. But no one knows about the early life of the Son of God, the missing years -- except Biff, the Messiah's best bud. Verily, the story Biff has to tell is a miraculous one, filled with remarkable journeys, magic, healings, kung fu, corpse reanimations, demons, and hot babes. Even the considerable wiles and devotion of the Savior's pal may not be enough to divert Joshua from his tragic destiny. But there's no one who loves Josh more -- except maybe "Maggie," Mary of Magdala -- and Biff isn't about to let his extraordinary pal suffer and ascend without a fight.
Tuesday, April 24, 6:30pm

The Road
by Cormac McCarthy
A prescient account of a man and his son trying to survive in a devastated country where food is scarce and everyone has become a scavenger. The term survival of the fittest rings true here very few people remain, and friends are extinct. Essentially, this is a story about nature vs. nurture, commitment and promises, and though there aren't many characters, there is abundant life in the prose.
Tuesday, May 29, 6:30pm

Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard
by Kiran Desai
Sampath Chawla is born into a family slightly off kilter, to a mother not quite like her neighbors, in a town not quite like other towns. After years of failure at school, failure at work, it does not seem as if Sampath is going to amount to much. Then Sampath climbs up a guava tree in search of a life of peaceful contemplation -- and becomes famous as a hermit. Written with rich humor and an eye for the eccentric, this is a magical tale of a world gone slightly mad.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Titles Closing Out 2006

Here is the schedule for the rest of the year!

Tuesday, October 24 - The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho; meeting at the Townsend house!

November 28 – Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reich
(yes, I changed it. This is the first title. Comfort Me with Apples was the sequel)

December Holiday Story Swap – date to be announced, at the Townsends house.

January 30 – The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough

ECB Blog has been MIA

OK, so I took a little time off to have a baby and do the library gala. And, as a result, I have really neglected this poor blog. But I'm attempting to get back to reality now and catch up with all those things, so ....

For record-keeping sake, here is a run-down of what the Ecelctic Book Club reviewed during my hiatus:

June - Sunday at a Pool in Kigali

Notes by Cathie: "We had a small but lively group. (Kevin, Will, Sean, Val and me) Two new people showed up - I forgot to get their email addresses but I'm pretty sure they'll come back. AC (new in town) and Mary. Mary had actually read the book. Reviews on the books were mixed. Everyone said this was the best discussion in a long time. Here are the ratings:

Kevin: 4.25 (this was Kevin's book)
Will: 3.5
Val: 3.0
Cathie: 2.5
Sean: 2.0
Mary: 3.0
Alycia: 1.5 (Sean was acting has her surrogate LOL)
Average - 2.8

July - Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

As his life winds down, Rev. John Ames relates the story of his own father and grandfather, both preachers but one a pacifist and one a gun-toting abolitionist.
No rating info available, although no one seemed to like it much.

August - Title planning meeting & more Gilead discussion

September - The Last True Story I'll Ever Tell by John Crawford

Kevin - 3.5
Sean - 3
Cathie - 3
Alycia - 3.5
Steph 3
Average - 3.25

Interview with John Crawford:
Shocked and awed
John Crawford was called up unexpectedly to serve in Iraq, where he patrolled Baghdad and discovered he had war stories to tell. Then, after a chance meeting, the battlefield soldier became a best-selling author.
Floridian Times

By COLETTE BANCROFT, Times Staff Writer
Published August 25, 2005


TALLAHASSEE - Amid the lunchtime bustle of a restaurant near the Florida State University campus, John Crawford doesn't stand out.

He wears a white polo shirt, a string of small wooden beads inside its collar. His short, dark hair is damp with the August humidity.

Wiry and of medium height, he looks younger than 27. Chowing down on a Cuban sandwich, black beans and drinking a Red Stripe, he fits right in with the other college kids jamming the place.

And he is one of them, about to finish the last semester of his bachelor's degree in anthropology by writing a research paper on the evolution of the trickster figure in folklore.

But he is also a bestselling author in the middle of a media storm. "One day I was watching The Daily Show, the next day I was on it," he says. He's doing his fourth interview of the day, with three more to go.

Crawford is a veteran of more than a year of fighting in Iraq, patrolling the streets of Baghdad as an infantryman and living to write about it.

The Last True Story I'll Ever Tell: An Accidental Soldier's Account of the War in Iraq is a harrowing, tautly written and ruthlessly unsentimental story of the experience that profoundly changed his life. And now the book is changing it, too.

* * *

We had so far spent months in the desert and gotten just south of Baghdad before redeploying. The sudden introduction of a city was mind-blowing. The labyrinth of alleys and streets that would later become commonplace now seemed unfathomable. . . . It was the smell that was the worst. Rotting flesh and feces permeated the air, creating a stench that was unbearable.

- The Last True Story I'll Ever Tell (Riverhead, $23.95)

"I grew up playing GI Joe in the woods," Crawford says of his childhood in Palatka.

His father retired as a lieutenant colonel after 31 years in the Army, including service in Vietnam. His grandfather was a Marine. His great-grandfather was a Union soldier in the Civil War.

"My dad's into genealogy, and he's gone all the way back to King Philip's War or something, back in the 16th century, and everyone in the family was military," Crawford says.

Growing up steeped in that tradition, he understood the demands and dangers of military service as well as its rewards.

Crawford joined the Army right out of high school, serving three years with the 101st Airborne. He spent most of that peacetime hitch in Kentucky. "When I was at Fort Campbell, whenever we drove past Lookout Mountain, I'd say, "Hey, guys, that's where my great-grandfather got shot.' "

His service done, Crawford enrolled at FSU. In his book's preface he writes, "I enlisted in the Florida National Guard, what I thought was a joke of an organization willing to pay for the entire cost of my education in return for one weekend a month, two weeks a year."

Three years after he started college, Crawford was two credits from graduation and newly married. On the honeymoon cruise, he went to the ship's computer room to see if his grades from the last semester had been posted.

He found an e-mail from his father. His Guard unit was was being deployed. By February 2003, they were in Kuwait; they entered Iraq the day the invasion began.

* * *

People pick the Army - they become mechanics, water-supply specialists, cooks, clerks - but the infantry is different. The infantry picks the man: men who do poorly in math, excel at athletics, drink a lot, love their mothers, fear their fathers, men who have something to prove or fear they have already proven it all. We were both proud and ashamed of what we were. The stepchildren of the army, infantrymen are like guard dogs at a rich man's house. When people come to visit, the media, the USO, they lock us in the garage and tell us not to bark, but when night falls and there is a noise outside, everyone is glad we're there.

Crawford's book takes no stance on President Bush's decision to go to war in Iraq. "I wanted to avoid politicizing it. I know that as soon as you mention politics you alienate half the readers. This is about our experience as people over there, what it's really like."

Interviewers have asked him if he questioned whether he should go to war when he was called. "That's not how it works. I had contracted with the military when I joined the Guard, and they called me, so I went.

"I thought the war should have been a last resort. But nobody asked me what I thought. When you're a soldier, you don't question the administration; you're there to do a job."

But The Last True Story boils with anger at how his National Guard unit was treated by the military command structure. Equipped with unarmored vehicles, ragged uniforms, Vietnam-era weapons and body armor, their food and water severely rationed, their quarters squalid, they are "passed around the armed forces like a virus," attached to five different units.

Told their deployment would last three to six months, they remained in Iraq for more than a year. By the time they left, they had been there longer than any other unit.

That year, as Crawford describes it, alternated between brain-numbing boredom and skin-crawling terror. The book is filled with gut-churning images and brutal black humor, the soldier's time-honored method for coping.

In one story, Crawford makes a phone call to his wife, who has had a rough day taking care of a sick dog. So he tells her about his day.

"What could be grosser than cleaning up a house full of dog s---?" The disgust in her voice was palpable.

"Try cleaning up brains." I tried to catch the words and pull them back even as they leave my mouth. It's hard living with a bunch of soldiers and then trying to talk like a normal person to your wife on the phone.

* * *

Crawford, a voracious reader since boyhood, had taken writing classes at FSU, but when he borrowed a buddy's laptop one day in Iraq, he wasn't thinking about writing a book.

"I was bored. I had run out of stuff to read. So I wrote a short story."

As he finished it, a reporter for the Nation who was embedded with the unit for the day asked what he was doing. Christian Parenti read the story, asked if he could take a copy, got Crawford's e-mail address.

"I had a contract two weeks later" from a publisher, Crawford says. "It all evolved from that. That first story set the arc of the book.

"It sort of created itself."

Creation, however, did not come easily. He wrote some stories in Iraq, others after he came home.

The chapters of The Last True Story are loosely linked but stand alone as soldier's tales. "I saw these as short stories, as war stories that soldiers tell each other, part of that oral tradition."

They are based on real people ("Four of the names are changed, at the lawyers' suggestion") and real experiences, but Crawford doesn't present them as journalism. "All the events in the book are truthful," he says, but he sometimes combined details to make a story more effective.

Completing the book was one thing that helped him cope with the difficulty of coming home.

"When you went to war, in your mind the world stopped, but the world went on without you," he says.

Although his unit received a warm welcome in Tallahassee when it came back, Crawford felt he was on his own. At FSU, he had to reapply. "You're counted as a dropout."

His marriage was on the rocks; he and his wife separated. He was drinking heavily. In five months, he moved five times and once was nearly evicted.

"The hardest thing is learning to take things seriously again. After you've spent a year being shot at every day, where it's all literally life and death, it's hard to take, say, your credit-card bill seriously."

He also grappled with the attitudes of people who had not gone to war.

"Everybody has these yellow ribbons on their cars, like just saying you support the troops is enough.

"I would hear people saying, "We won the war, mission accomplished, we kicked their ass.' And they haven't left their sofas."

* * *

What I'm about to write is true. Utterly true. The first thing I wrote for this book was a fiction short story I wrote while still in Iraq. It was all about returning home and finding myself in a world where no one understood my experience, but they were all there to support me. . . . It wasn't until I got back that truth engulfed me like a storm cloud.

Since The Last True Story was published this month, Crawford's life has taken another unexpected turn.

"I still live in the same place. I haven't gotten any royalty checks yet," he says. But he has been interviewed by dozens of newspapers and radio and television shows.

In Tallahassee, the book sold out the day it hit shelves. It debuted at No. 21 on the New York Times bestseller list, and the paper published a piece he wrote about coming home on its Sunday opinion page.

An agency in Hollywood is looking at the book, Crawford says.

"Actually, over there we used to always joke about who's going to play us in the movie. My beard grows out really fast, so we'd always say Tom Hanks would play me, you know, he had that scruffy beard (in Saving Private Ryan)."

Crawford laughs. "Anybody other than Tom Cruise, I guess."

Some interview questions have surprised him. "I had this really hostile interview with a radio station in Miami. The guy kept saying, "You're slandering the soldiers, writing these things.'

"We really idealize soldiers, but soldiers are a part of their society. I'm very pro-soldier, but people need to realize they're human beings. I was a soldier. I know."

Most of the response from readers, he says, has been positive. The only negative feedback he has received is from people who are on the extremes of prowar and antiwar opinion. "They want more. They want me to be on their side."

He has heard from many of the men he writes about in the book. "They say sometimes it's hard to read it, because it brings back a lot of memories. But they've all been very positive."

And he has heard from another crucial critic: "My dad liked it, and that was important to me, because he's a veteran from a different generation."

Crawford and his wife are back together. He is thinking about going to graduate school to earn a degree in creative writing, "maybe do a little teaching."

And he is finishing that degree in anthropology, the social science that is pretty much the birthplace of cultural relativism. The Last True Story speaks bluntly about the rage American soldiers feel toward the Iraqi people in a situation where they never know who might be their enemy.

Throughout the book, Crawford and his buddies call Iraqis "hajjis," a slur equivalent to World War II's "Jap" or "Kraut."

"Americans always come up with a word for the people we're fighting. Before I left, my dad said to me, "Remember, you can't trust Charlie.' " Back on the green and peaceful FSU campus, Crawford says, "I know I shouldn't have that ethnocentric attitude. But you can only spend so much time trying to kill each other before you feel that way."

Friday, May 19, 2006

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

First - Below are some comments from Amy W. since she wasn't able to make last month's meeting. Sometimes daughters have birthdays and need cake. There's no way around that.

Second - I'm having trouble finding my notes and reader ratings for this book. I know I stuck them somewhere "safe" until I could post, but of course now they have "gone the way of Sayuri's mizuage" and just might be gone forever.
Forgive me, Eclectic Reader-san. If I do find them I'll make sure to post.

Comments from Amy W:
1) Loved the book! I give it a 4.75. I can't believe it is Golden's first novel.

2) Compared to Kite Runner, I thought this one had a more realistic memoir feel. In Kite Runner, there was one big climatic conflict/conclusion, but life isn't like that. This one had lots of little conflicts and resolutions through out, though I didn't like the store as well as Kite Runner so I gave it a lower rating.

3) One thing I generally notice is when a book is written by a man from a female perspective. Usually I won't notice or even think about it and I will be reading a long and then all the sudden, something doesn't ring true, the woman says or does something that seems out of character and I will look at the cover and discover it is a male author. I didn't feel that way for this book.
Here is a Q&A with the author.
have a great discussion!

Friday, March 31, 2006

Book Review Schedule Update!

April 25 - Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
An epic on an intimate scale, Memoirs of a Geisha takes the reader behind the rice-paper screens of the geisha house to a vanished floating world of beauty and cruelty, from a poor fishing village in 1929 to the decadence of 1940s Kyoto, through the chaos of World War II to the towers of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, where the gray-eyed geisha Sayuri unfolds the remarkable story of her life.

May 30 - Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor
The story of one African American family fighting to stay together and strong in the face of brutal racist attacks, illness, poverty, and betrayal in the Deep South of the 1930s.

June 27 - A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali by Gil Courtemanche
The swimming pool of the Mille-Collines hotel is a magnet for a motley group of Kigali residents: aid workers, Rwandan bourgeoisie, expatriates and prostitutes. Among these patrons is the hotel waitress, Gentille, a beautiful Hutu often mistaken for a Tutsi, who has long been admired by Bernard Valcourt, a foreign journalist.As the two slide into a love affair and prepare for their wedding, we see the world around them coming apart as the Hutu-led genocide against the Tutsi people begins. Tensions mount, friends are brutally murdered and unbridled violence takes over. Gentille and Valcourt attempt to flee the country to safety but are separated - and it will be months before Valcourt learns of Gentille's shocking fate.

July 25 - Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
As his life winds down, Rev. John Ames relates the story of his own father and grandfather, both preachers but one a pacifist and one a gun-toting abolitionist. Amazingly, just Robinson's second novel.

Call the library (461-0046) to hold a copy or the bookstore (864-2090) to buy one!

Running With Kites

Last Tuesday night found us back together again for our regularly scheduled review of The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini:

FROM THE PUBLISHER - The #1 National Bestseller
Taking us from Afghanistan in the final days of the monarchy to the present, The Kite Runner is the unforgettable and beautifully told story of the friendship between two boys growing up in Kabul. Raised in the same household and sharing the same wet nurse, Amir and Hassan grow up in different worlds: Amir is the son of a prominent and wealthy man, while Hassan, the son of Amir's father's servant, is a Hazara — a shunned ethnic minority. Their intertwined lives, and their fates, reflect the eventual tragedy of the world around them. When Amir and his father flee the country for a new life in California, Amir thinks that he has escaped his past. And yet he cannot leave the memory of Hassan behind him.
The Kite Runner is a novel about friendship and betrayal, and about the price of loyalty. It is about the bonds between fathers and sons, and the power of fathers over sons — their love, their sacrifices, and their lies. Written against a backdrop of history that has not been told in fiction before, The Kite Runner describes the rich culture and beauty of a land in the process of being destroyed. But through the devastation, Khaled Hosseini offers hope: through the novel's faith in the power of reading and storytelling, and in the possibilities he shows us for redemption.

We had a great turnout and a surprising whole-hearted rating of a whopping 4.6 out of 5 stars for this book! Some felt as if a few scenarios in the book were too good to be true, such as the perfect solution to Amir and his wife's childlessness and the full circle of evil Assef makes in the book. However, The Kite Runner remained a touching and powerful book for the ECB despite these cliche's. Here's how we rated it:

Amy W. - 5

Val - 4.25

Kevin - 4.75

Sean - 4

Alycia - 4.75

Barbara - 4.75

Stephenie - 4.5

Cathie - 5

There was an interesting article about the history of kite running and what one reporter interprets it to symbolize in Afghan Magazine. I told you I would post it so here it is!

Friday, March 17, 2006

Phonin' It In with Madison Smartt Bell

Despite having to reschedule our conference call with MSB, despite our usual meeting space being unavailable, despite not having access to a speaker phone and resorting to using my cell phone, the Eclectic Book Club's first experience with interacting with the author of the book we're reviewing was wonderful. We were able to talk to him for about 45 minutes and ask him all about our featured book, Save Me, Joe Louis, his work on Haitian books, his ability to write about "criminal and whores", and his Tennessee roots. Even if all of us didn't care for the book, I think we all enjoyed having face time with the author, and might consider reading more of Mr. Bell.

Here's how we rated Save Me, Joe Louis:
Amy W. - 1.5
Alycia - 2.5
Sean - 2.75
Kevin - 3
Barbara - 2
Will - 3.75
Val - 5
Cathie - 5
Stephenie - 2.75
Anna - 4 (unofficially)

When asked Amy's excellent question of "What would you recommend us reading in the future?" MSB had these titles to suggest:
Mary Gaitskill, Veronica
Robert Stone, Flag for Sunrise or Dog Soldiers
Carolyn Chute, Beans of Egypt, Maine
Anything by Cormac McCarthy

I hope we can have the opportunity to do this again. Wouldn't it be cool if we could get Margaret Atwood or Barbara Kingsolver on the phone?!? I would love to hear your comments - feel free to leave some!

Our next meeting is later this month, March 28th and we'll read The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

CAUTION: Duplicate Title Alert!

Alycia has brought it to my attention that there are TWO books with the title of Save Me, Joe Louis - one by Madison Smartt Bell (the right one) and one by a M.T. Kelly (the wrong one).

Go here to Amazon to purchase the one we are reading for our February 28th meeting. Bookstores can't order it as it is out of print.

More great news... thanks to Sandy, the EBC has an opportunity to conference in Madison Smartt Bell to our next book discussion - hooray! I'm in the process of figuring out the logistics to do that. If we need to relocate to another venue more condusive to conference calls I will be sure to let you know ahead of time.

MSB's homepage.

Editorial Reviews of Save Me, Joe Louis
From Publishers Weekly

Bell's compelling sixth novel follows two small-time crooks from Manhattan's Hell's Kitchen to rural Tennessee. Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal
In his seventh novel (following Doctor Sleep , LJ 11/1/90), Bell continues his exploration of the sociological factors that drive aberrant behavior. At its outset, Macrae, a Tennessee hillbilly with an artistic bent, goes AWOL from the army and is wandering the streets of Manhattan, broke and alone. A chance encounter with a streetwise, small-time mugger propels him into a life of crime and ever-increasing violence. Unlike his companion, however, Macrae retains a sense of guilt that ultimately enables him to secure a kind of redemption--with the help of a woman he has known since childhood and a final, necessary act of personal violence. Bell does a marvelous job of depicting life on the seamier side of the tracks and in drawing his characters. Their essential humanness comes through in spite of themselves. Evidence of Bell's growing maturity as a writer, this novel belongs in most public and academic collections and is ripe for translation to the silver screen.

January Review of "The Bluest Eye" by Toni Morrison

THE ECB met January 31st to review Toni Morrison's first novel, The Bluest Eye. The book was anticipated with trepidation for some, exhilaration for others, and proved to be a worthy discussion for all.

I sent this to the club before we met... it's from don't be afraid!

"Why Everyone Should Read The Bluest Eye"

While The Bluest Eye is about an African American family struggling with issues of identity and race, Toni Morrison explains why her book, in fact, has a message for everyone.

"I think a lot has changed since the '60s in terms of self-image. But there's still a lot of pain young girls feel because the bar is always being raised. The stakes are always higher."

When Oprah asked whether the word "beautiful" should be eliminated, this was Toni's response:

"That's what I thought. Of the virtues, it is not one. The virtues are not the accidents of birth. The virtues are things you work for. To be forthright. To be educated. To be in control. To be diplomatic. To be healthy. To be graceful. These are the things you can work for. You can get them. They are available to you."

"We don't have the vocabulary to tell children what to value. We do say, "Oh, you're so beautiful. Oh, you're so pretty. Oh—that's not really what we really ought to be saying. What do you tell a child when you want to say, "You are good, and I like that. You are honest and I like that. [Y]ou are courageous. I really like that. I really like the way you behave. I like the way you do yourself. Now. The way you are.' That's the vocabulary we need."

Here's how the ECB rated it:
1-5 Point Scale
(1 being the worst book you ever read, 5 being a glorious oasis of literature)
Val - 2.5
Amy P - 4.25
Amy W - 4
Alycia - 3
Sean - 3
Kevin - 3
Barbara - 3
Stephenie - 4.25
Will - 4
Total of 3.4 Points

Some day I hope Sean will post his formula for book ratings. It's highly scientific and just as entertaining. A great model for critics and bibliophiles alike!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

2006 Schedule

Here's what we came up with for the first part of 2006...
January 31 - The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (sorry Sean)
February 28 - Save Me, Joe Louis by Madison Smartt Bell
March 28 - The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
April 25 - Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
May 30 - Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor

We always meet on the last Tuesday of the month but if some of these dates are bad for the majority of the group due to spring break, school holidays, etc. we can discuss it and change them.

EBC Party Recap... things got dirty.

Santa, that is. The Dirty Santa book swap was quite lively this year, with several of the books stolen to their capacity. Here's what we ended up with:
Cathie - Autobiography of a Fat Bride (Steph's book)
Sandy - a Val McDermond library (Val's books)
Will - Memoirs of a Geisha (Amy's book)
Val - Confederacy of Dunces (Caleb's book)
Caleb - The Preservationist (Alycia's book)
Amy - The Kite Runner (Cathie's book)
Stephenie - The Dante Club (Sean's book)
Alycia - About a Boy (Steph's book)
Kevin - The Hours (Sandy's book)
Sean - Diary (Kevin's book)
Jennifer - When Women Come Out to Dance (Will's book)

The short stories were as varied as they had ever been! Everyone enjoyed them...
Others were "The Man Who Liked Dogs" submitted by Val, "This Dog's Life" submitted by Cathie, "Fruit & Words" submitted by Stephenie, a chapter from Haunted submitted by Kevin, "The Last Word and Other Stories" submitted by Sean, "Nicholas Was" submitted by Brandy, a chapter from The Tender Bar submitted by Caleb, "On Touching By Accident" submitted by Amy, a chapter from The Things They Carried submitted by Will, and "Accomplice" submitted by Alycia.

Big thanks to the Townsends for being our gracious hosts again this year!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali

I found a review of A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali by Gil Courtemanche on Amazon.
It is from The Washington Post's Book World.

Between April and July of 1994, some 800,000 ethnic Tutsis were systematically slaughtered by their Hutu neighbors in the tiny African country of Rwanda, the culmination of decades of institutionalized oppression. The killings were carried out neighbor-against-neighbor, by machete, gun or hand grenade, with torture and unimaginable brutality. Women, in particular, were singled out for terror equal to any crime against humanity in history. Although the Western powers were amply represented in Kigali by a robust U.N. peacekeeping force and armies of professional aid workers from France, Belgium and Canada, they made no intervention. To date, the U.N. Tribunal for Rwanda has convicted 12 Hutu leaders.

Since 1994, Rwanda has given new life to the defining questions of the post-Holocaust world. How did the perpetrators turn with such stupendous bloodlust on their neighbors? How did victims await their torture and death so helplessly? How did the West so incredibly fail to respond? To the huge literature of these questions Gil Courtemanche, a Canadian journalist, has added a novel.

If the "investigative novel" were a recognized category, A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali would define many of its virtues. Courtemanche describes his book as a "chronicle and eyewitness report" and specifies that its "characters all existed in reality." Footnotes provide historical documentation and explanation, and a reader coming to this book from even a cursory reading of journalistic accounts of the genocide immediately recognizes the profound authenticity of Courtemanche's vision.

The "pool in Kigali" is that of the Hotel des Milles-Collines, a centrally located gathering place in the early spring of 1994 for "international experts and aid workers, middle-class Rwandans, screwed-up or melancholy expatriates of various origins, and prostitutes." Here, Valcourt, a Canadian journalist, watches with a jaundiced eye over the drama of local wheeling and dealing, diplomatic toadying, military corruption and AIDS-ridden whoring: the colorful and tragic texture of life in a corrupt post-colonial African republic. It's a predictable enough portrait but it is seen with quivering rage and documentary exactitude through Valcourt's eyes; in a very true picture of a foreign correspondent's perception, he is jaded enough to show the truth but still retain a boundless capacity for moral outrage. "From the Napalm in Vietnam," Courtemanche writes, "he had come away burned; from the Cambodian holocaust, speechless; from the Ethiopian famine, broken, exhausted, stooped." But Valcourt loves Rwanda, he loves its people, and somehow he cannot lose hope for this beautiful country.

In particular, Valcourt loves a virginal girl called Gentille, and his meditation on her body and -- eventually -- her sentimental and sensual education under his tutelage takes up all of his attention that is not devoted to a fine depiction of Kigali in the days before horror erupts. It is not an innovative meditation.

"Gentille, whose name is as lovely as her breasts, which are so pointed they abrade her starched shirt-dress, Gentille, whose face is more lovely still, and whose [expletive] is more disturbing in its impudent adolescence than anything else about her . . ." and so on. Against the backdrop of Rwanda's descent into what will soon become a world-changing orgy of blood, witnessed and catalogued by a host of bureaucrats, meticulously documented in Courtemanche's shocking exactitude, a January-May, black-white love affair prepares itself. Documentary horror is vividly juxtaposed against middle-aged fantasy, the one as compelling as the other is trite.

Courtemanche gives us an inside view into what divides journalism, a noble craft, from fiction, which is -- no matter how debased -- an art. As a love story, Sunday is quite a poor novel, stumbling over the pitfall, common to journalists who turn to fiction, of confusing fantasy with the imaginative truth of fiction. As such, Sunday reads consistently like a journalist's account of his own experience, fictionalized only by a sense, perhaps inflated, of that experience's romance.

And yet to criticize this book for its weaknesses as a novel in itself trivializes its mission. As the genocide inexorably engulfs Valcourt and Gentille, the truth of Courtemanche's political outrage comes to eclipse the falseness of his romance. By novel's end, Courtemanche will have used fiction's unique capacity to imaginatively adopt the viewpoints of others to show us the reality of what happened in Rwanda more intimately than journalism ever could.

Sunday is less a novel than a kind of fictionalized witnessing, and in the end where it goes wrong is less important than where it goes right. To read the book alongside, for example, Philip Gourevitch's investigation of the Rwandan genocide is to glimpse the limitations of journalism, even inspired journalism, next to the enormous moral depth of which fiction is capable. The cri de coeur at its center is so necessary, so heartfelt and so deeply convincing that I think it fair to say that one cannot consider one's awareness of the Rwandan Genocide sufficiently profound without reading this book, or something like like this book, just as one cannot consider a moral education in the Holocaust complete without reading the classic works of Holocaust fiction. In the end, nothing else matters about this remarkable book.

Reviewed by Neil Gordon
Copyright 2004, The Washington Post Co. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

'Tis the Season for Snow and Bees

Lots of the books the EBC reviews have been made into movies. I might even say almost half of them. Seabiscuit, Lolita, Club Dumas, The Bell Jar, The Joy Luck Club, Like Water for Chocolate, The Handmaid's Tale, Fahrenheit 451, Girl with a Pearl Earring, In Cold Blood, and most recently, All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren and Bee Season by Myla Goldburg.

So Bee Season, the movie is playing now in theatre everywhere (except in Huntsville and its surrounding areas where they prefer to play "The Fog" and "The Exorcism of Emily Rose") and is starring Richard Gere as Saul and Juliette Binoche as the memorable character of Miriam, the mother. Reviews are good so far, and from their tone suggest fans of the book would enjoy seeing this movie.

One reviewer from
"A mesmerizing tour de force: don't miss it!, 12 September 2005
Author: filmfan75 from United States
I saw this film last night at the Toronto Film Festival. I am a fan of the book, and wondered how the story could be successfully adapted as a film. I worried that the ideas were too complicated, the characters too subtle, to make the transition. When I heard that Richard Gere was going to play the role of the father, I had more serious doubts. (Richard Gere playing a Jew? Almost as ridiculous as Melanie Griffith!) But I needn't have worried. The film is nearly a masterpiece. A subtle, emotional journey through a world of spelling bees, Hare Krishna, Kaballah, Kleptomania, and the gorgeously rendered interior spaces of the imagination. Beautiful, original special effects, delightful characters, great acting. The girl who plays the daughter is excellent, as are the other actors. Juliette Binoche is heartbreaking and mysterious, Richard Gere is perfectly cast as the self-absorbed (Jewish!) father, and Anthony Minghella's son is also in the movie, believe it or not, and he's very good. There are changes from the book. But the overall feeling is very similar. The movie is neither as funny or as dark as Myla Goldberg's novel. But the end might be more emotionally satisfying. See for yourself! You won't be disappointed if you approach with an open mind. Not for the cynical, or for the action film junkie, but I found this a delightful, rich, and emotional journey. Definitely a 10! Put it on the Oscar watch. "

Will you see it?

Saturday, November 05, 2005

The Best Book I've Never Read

OK. I get it. And I PROMISE I'll read it... as soon as I finish the 4 books I'm currently inching my way through: one by the nightstand, one by the bathtub, one audio in the car, and one for my lunch break at work.

Everybody and their grandma is telling me to read
Widow of the South by Robert Hicks. I'm not a big historical fiction fan, but I do like Tom Franklin and Howard Bahr, so I'm sure I can be convinced to give this one a shot.

Basic premise from the publisher:

"The title character of this haunting historical novel is Carrie McGavock, whose farmhouse was commandeered as a Confederate field hospital before the tragic battle at Franklin, Tennessee, in November 1864. That day, 9,000 soldiers perished. This tragic event turned McGavock into "the widow of the South." She spent the rest of her life mourning those lost, eventually reburying nearly 1,500 of them on her property. Robert Hicks's first historical novel captures the life-altering force that war exerts even on noncombatants. The Widow of the South is a brilliant novel that captures the end of an era, the vast madness of war, and the courage of a remarkable woman to claim life from the grasp of death itself."

Apparently Hicks himself is an absolute hoot to meet - a great entertainer as well as a writer. And he's also personally led the campaigne to preserve the Historic Carnton Plantation where the novel is set, and the nearby Franklin Battlefield.

So instead of trying to talk you into reading it, I suppose I'll shut up and crack it open.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

How to Find the Perfect Short Story

As veteran EBC'ers know, in December we don't read a book. Instead, each member finds a short story they want to contribute and we make short story folders to read and discuss at our holiday party. Finding the perfect short story can be tough. In past years, some have been funny, some have had a seasonal flair, some have been dark, some have been classic, some have been, well... odd. This is your mission if you choose to accept it.

The deadline for story submissions is before Thanksgiving. I need one copy from you so I can make lots of copies and put them in folders for our Nov. 29th meeting. Email it, snail mail it, or come by my home or office. The more stories we have the more fun we have! The December meeting date is TBA - you should receive an invitation soon.

Note: remember to NOT put your name on the copy ou send me. It's lots of fun guessing which person submitted what story. Also, make sure you include a copy of the copyright info! A good librarian is bound by God to give credit where credit is due.

Here are some tips for finding a short story, essay, or exerpt if you get stuck. If you know of more resources, feel free to leave a comment!

The AVL, or Albama Virtual Library has a link on our public library's website. See it on the left? Click on it and scroll down to the databases. Click on LitFinder and search a wonderful array of stories, essays, or speeches. Print out a copy that moves you and get it to me.
You can also find a great selection of story anthologies in the collection in Huntsville or any branch mear you. They even have their own call number, SC for story collection, and are probably found somewhere near the fiction sections.

Many authors write stories or essays for periodicals, and some have their own ss books.
Another option is taking a chapter from your favorite book. Some of my favorites are Tom Franklin, Alice Munro, Dave Eggers, and Dave Sedaris.

Classic Short Stories
More classics
ReadPrint online library
Scary Stuff
Funny Stories
These are just a few suggestions, there is a vast online collection out there!

Monday, October 31, 2005

October's Review of Club Dumas

We read Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte this past month and had a good discussion. Here's a quick synapsis from Reading Group Guides.Com:

"Rare-book sleuth Lucas Corso is hired to authenticate a manuscript chapter from Alexandre Dumas's The Three Musketeers, and to find the original copy of a manual for summoning the devil. These assignments lead him into dangerous waters as he becomes the target of devil worshipers, unscrupulous bibliophiles, and a cast of characters that seems to come straight out of Dumas's masterpiece, complete with a femme fatale and her sinister henchman. Aided by an enigmatic young beauty named for Sherlock Holmes's nemesis, Corso follows the violent trail of Dumas and the devil across Europe as he begins to uncover the dark and horrifying secret linking the two books. Arturo Pérez-Reverte has woven a brilliant intertextual puzzler, at once sophisticated and playful, in the tradition of Umberto Eco and Italo Calvino."

The 1999 movie, The Ninth Gate , directed by Roman Polanski was LOOSELY based on this book although it had some missing plot holes and the ending was different. But this is par for the course with Hollywood.

Born in Cartagena, Spain, Arturo Pérez-Reverte is currently one of the most successful Spanish language writers reaching best seller standards in many countries. After leaving his home country, Pérez-Reverte worked on oil tankers during the 1970s before becoming a journalist first for a Spanish newspaper, covering former Spanish African colonies in conflict (Western Sahara and Equatorial Guinea), and then for television reporting from Bosnia. Following four novels that were not particularly successful, fame arrived with The Fencing Master and continued with The Flanders Panel (that won France's Grand Prize for Detective Literature), The Club Dumas (nominated for a Macavity award in 1988) and The Seville Communion. He has also written an historical series featuring Capitán Alatriste that has yet to be translated in English. Pérez-Reverte's latest translated novel is The Nautical Chart.

GROUP RATINGS (1-5, 5 being the best book ever, 1 being total rubbish)
Val - 4
Amy - 3
Cathie - 3 (no dogs)
Will - 4
Kevin - 5
Stephenie - 3.5
Total Rating = 3.75

November's Book Sparks Controversy

We'll review The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad on November 29th at 6:30, the usual place. Upon looking I see there has been some controversy as the man Seirstad stayed with in the book has sought legal action against the author. This interview with the author is interesting, as well as this article and website from Shah Muhammad Rais, the offended party.
Interesting stuff.

Author Groupie

Here are a few authors that the EBC has either read or has visited our area this year.
Jack Gantos (cute guy with the glasses) was a wonderful speaker and entertainer and his books are amazing!

David Baldacci (this guy to the left) was the public library's Vive Le Livre (Long Live the Book!) speaker at their annual gala. He wrote Absolute Power and many more.

Chris Crutcher (above with some very stoked students) came for Banned Books Week to defend his work from the Big Bad Censors. He was great.

And one of my favorites, Joshilyn Jackson, the pretty one in the corner, was reviewed by the ECB and she was so kind to pay us a visit. Book clubs, take note! Ms. Jackson is a delight and her books are delicous. She's got a new one coming out in July and her blog is hilarious - I check it out daily.

The History of the EBC...

So, if you missed the last meeting you don't know that we decided to give this blog a try. Hopefully it will help us all stay up to date with the books we review, the reviews we gave each title, and new titles to consider. But before we go forward, I thought it would be fitting to give a little history of our fabulous book club...

- It all began in 1999...
We started out as the "Great Books of the Century Book Club" at Barnes & Noble, and we met out in the open of the store. Three members from that first year are still with us now - Will, Amy, and myself. I was working at B&N at the time and leading the discussions. It was a wonder anyone came to the meetings at all... I had enthusiastically given three books a month to read! It was that year that we had the infamous Song of Solomon meeting. The book by Toni Morrison brought almost 40 people to the bookstore to discuss it, and we still refer to it today.
Other titles we read that year: Lolita by Nabokov, Catcher in the Rye by Salinger, The Bell Jar by Plath, Catch 22 by Heller, The Joy Luck Club by Tan, Maus by Speigelman, Angela's Ashes by McCourt, American Tragedy by Dreiser.

- 2000
Since the century had turned, the book club had its first theme change of many. We became the "Portable Literature Book Club" and read books from around the world. We still met at B&N and had a good attendence. Someone usually brought in food from the country we chose and that lent an exotic air to our meetings. This was the first year we started our holiday party and met at my house for a Like Water for Chocolate Party where we had Quail with Rosepetal Sauce and other dishes from the book. It was also the year that Anna made her debut in November!

January / IRELAND - Tara Road by Maeve Binchy
February / COLUMBIA - One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
March / INDIA - The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
April / AFRICA - Out of America by Keith Richburg
May / ITALY - Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes
June / FRANCE - A Year in Provence, by Peter Mayle
July / GREECE - God's Snake by Irini Spanido
August / JAPAN - Bicycle Days by John Burnham Schwartz (we had sushi!)
September / NIGERIA - Girls at War & Other Stoires by Chinua Achebe

October / AUSTRALIA - In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson
November / THE REPUBLIC OF GILEAD - The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
December / MEXICO - Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

- 2001
We finally became the "Eclectic Book Club" and read some really great titles this year. We met at the Townsend's house for a great holiday party & discussed Fahrenheit 451.
January - The Poisonwood Bible by Atwood
February - Holding On by Isay & Wang
March - The Wanting Seed by Burgess
April - Ishmael by Quinn
May - Heroes, Rogues, and Lovers by Dabbs
June - Slaughterhouse 5 by Vonnegut
July - Kaffir Boy by Mathabane
August - Their Eyes Were Watching God by Hurston
September - The Stranger by Camus
October - In the Beauty of the Lilies by Updike
November - All over But the Shoutin' by Bragg
December - Fahrenheit 451 by Bradbury

- 2002
Marked our move to the Madison Library. Titles read included Girl With a Pearl Earring by Chevalier, In Cold Blood by Capote, Among Schoolchildren by Kidder, All the King's Men by Warren, Chang & Eng by Strauss, Gal by Bolton, A Prayer for Owen Meany by Irving, Seabiscuit by Hillenbrand, and Bee Season by Goldburg.
This was aslo the first year we started the short story swap in December!

- 2003
New faces joined and new books read!
The Sparrow by Russell, Cat's Eye by Atwood, A Girl Named Zippy by Kimmel , Life of Pi by Martel, The Jew Store by Suberman, White Teeth by Smith, Uncle Tom's Cabin by Stowe, Reading Lolita in Tehran by Nafizi.
And of course, the novel we ALL love to hate, The Corrections by Franzen.

- 2004
Many favorite titles were read this year, my own among them... A Tree Grows In Brooklyn by Smith, The Color Purple by Walker, A Bend in the River by Naipaul, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Hadden, The DaVinci Code by Brown, The Secret Life of Bees by Kid, Mountains Beyond Mountains by Kidder, Bel Canto by Patchett, and the lemon of the year, Dream Catcher by Salinger (Margaret, that is).

- 2005
And that brings us back to doh-oh-oh-oh (you must sing this line!)
This year has been great and I would love to see us branch out a little and get more readers involved in our discussions. SO.... invite a friend! Ask a neighbor! We meet on the last Tuesday of the month at the Madison Public Library at 6:30 PM. You won't regret it!
January - Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Sijie
February - Lying Awake by Salzman
March - The Invisible Man by Ellison
April - Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight by Fuller
May - The Time Traveler's Wife by Niffeneger
June - When the Emporer Was Divine by Otsuka / gods in Alabama by Jackson (met the author!
July - Ender's Game by Card
August - for the life of me I can't remember.. help!
September - The Dogs of Babel by Parkhurst
October - Club Dumas by Perez-Reverte
November - The Bookseller of Kabul by Seirstad