Reading: August 19th, Rittenhouse Square Barnes & Noble in Philadelphia

hangmans-game.jpgHello. I’ll be doing my first (!) reading for HANGMAN’S GAME on Wednesday, August 19 at the Barnes & Noble on Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia. My father worked a few blocks from that store, my brother lives a couple blocks up the street, and Nick “Hangman” Gallow, the main character of HANGMAN’S GAME, actually lives right on Rittenhouse Square. Also, I’ve shopped at this store. So the first reading for this book could not be at a more appropriate location.

P.S. The book has received another nice pre-publication review. “For sports fans and mystery lovers, HANGMAN’S GAME is the go-to book for the football season.” Thanks, RT Reviews!

Spinster, by Kate Bolick

-1Back in May I had the pleasure of meeting Kate Bolick, however briefly. She was one of 15 authors participating in Ladies First, an event organized by ladyfriend at this year’s Book Expo America . I wanted to meet Ms. Bolick because I had read her much-talked-about article All the Single Lades. I was intrigued by the article because I had long contemplated the single life from a male perspective—as you age, the stock character of the “crazy uncle” becomes ever more personal—and Bolick’s story about the female view inspired what has become a thread in the current draft of the sequel to HANGMAN’S GAME that I am currently (and optimistically) at work on.

In her new book Spinster Ms. Bolick goes deeper into the topic and, as the cover suggests (that is her in the photo), she aims to redefine the image of the single woman. Spinster is part memoir and part historical examination, as Ms. Bolick reports on American women writers who have, as far back as the late 1800s, fought against the notion that a woman’s life is defined by whom she marries, and when.

As I was reading Spinster, I shared notable moments or tidbits—and this book has many—with my lady friend. (This happens with just about every book I read, whether the ladyfriend likes it or not). As I approached the end of Spinster, I joked to her: “I can’t wait to find out if she doesn’t get married.”

I mention the joke not just because I found it amusing, but because I think it hits on something that will remain tricky for the spinsterish of either gender, and it is the stories that we tell ourselves. Whatever else marriage provides, it appears to tie up a narrative (“happily ever after,” etc.). Spinster is a thought-provoking attempt to build a counter-narrative, but it is a counter-narrative without an ending. The road goes on forever, and you end up as the protagonist in an Allman Brothers song.

That’s not for everyone.

Loitering by Charles D’Ambrosio

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I almost never read what could be broadly described as the alternative press, largely because it requires time I don’t have. Between working, writing, family, walking the dog, eating, fitness, crosswords, daydreaming, eating and sports—this Warriors-Cavs series is the greatest thing ever, right?—it’s all I can do to keep up my New Yorker subscription (and Bloomberg Business Week, Sports Illustrated, the weekend NYTimes and some other stuff).

Charles D’Ambrosio’s collection Loitering makes me feel like I’ve been missing something, possibly something quite important. While a couple of D’Ambrosio’s essays initially appeared in that that most gatekept of institutions, New Yorker ( I first became a fan of D’Ambrosio’s fiction after hearing his short story The Point read and discussed on the invaluable New Yorker fiction podcast) most of the pieces in Loitering first appeared in the alternative press. His writing goes on one brilliant flight after another. If I were the sort to highlight great lines when I read, this book would be glowing.

Many of D’Ambrosio’s essays are, directly or indirectly, about coping with the tragedy in and around his life. Some are about writing, including a great one about J.D. Salinger. My favorite in this book, titled “Casting Stones,” is on a topic from which I would not have expected greatness: the tabloid-friendly case of Mary Letourneau, a school teacher in the Seattle area who had a sexual relationship with a 12-year-old student.

It tells you all you need to know about Dambrosio’s approach to the Letourneau that he doesn’t spell out the basic facts of the legal charge until he is halfway through the essay. Part of this may be that he was writing about it in a time, and for a community, that could be assumed to know the basics of the story through saturation coverage. But D’Ambrosio’s approaches the Letourneau case from such a broad angle that his essay seems to speak not just to the matter at hand but to any number of the public gossip-dramas in the succeeding decades.

One brief example: in the Letorneau case, some commentators argued that she should have been punished more harshly, and that she would have been if she were male and the student female. To augment this argument they brought up a recent case in the Seattle area where this happened involving a teacher named Mark Blilie.

D’Ambrosio responded to this with, “On the superficial level there seem to be plenty of differences between the situations, and on the existential level there is nothing but difference. Letourneau and Mark Blilie are two different people…What kind of damage is done to our ability to love or understand and thus fully judge one another when we’re daily encouraged to forget they are people and view them as so much pasteboard, scenery, clutter, generalized instances (of murder, of rape, of embezzlement, etc?)” This then leads D’Ambrosio to Neitszche D’Ambrosio goes on to D.H. Lawrence’s quote: “The sympathetic heart is broken. We stink in each other’s nostrils.”

Mind you, Twitter had not even been invented yet.

D’Ambrosio, when he looked at Letourneau, considered the possibility that she really was love with her student. And while this detail is not necessary to prove the value of his writing, or to establish that he observed this case in a way that others didn’t, it is worth noting that, a couple decades down the road, Letourneau is long out of prison and now married to the student she was charged with molesting.

Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel

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If anyone comes to me for a summer reading recommendation—and this never happens, honestly, in large part because I work from home and then spend my nights in the company of two children and a dog, plus a woman whose knowledge of the publishing arena dwarfs mine—my immediate answer would be Station Eleven. Ms. Mandel’s book has been widely lauded, and justifiably so. It is smart and moves quickly, and while there is much to praise about it, I was most impressed by the way in which the post-apocalyptic story unfolds, effortlessly moving back and forth from the days before and after a new flu strain quickly wipes out most of the world’s population.

This book’s non-chronological story-telling reminded me of the movie Pulp Fiction. The way Mandel orders her scenes is not the obvious choice, but after you read the book, it feels like the only way this story could have been told. Great stuff.