Thursday, January 28, 2010

J.D. Salinger Dies at 91

One of my favorite writers, J.D. Salinger, passed away today at 91.

For years, his short stories have guided my writing because, to me, he is one of the most skilled, precise writers I have ever read. The way he crafted just a few sentences had more detail, voice and purpose than most writers ever dream of producing.

His love affair with his characters, particularly the Glass family, is also something that not many writers are willing to do nowadays. He invested time and patience into crafting fiction, not simply spitting out ideas onto a page and calling it fiction.

Mr. Salinger he remained a private person who cared about his craft so much that he protected his work, which is another trait I admire him for.

We, in the literary world, lost a great writer today. So if you want to honor his memory, do yourself a favor and just read him. I suggest starting with my two favorite short stories in the collection "Nine Stories," which are: A Perfect Day for a Bananafish and Teddy.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Change Your Life, Read a Book

I wrote my first book when I was seven. It wasn't an original genius creation, the protagonist was a cat, but it was a full story with a beginning, middle and an end. During that same year I became obsessed with Shel Silverstein and Rahl Dahl (I wished I was Matilda).

From that point on, I began devouring books like a fiend because I always need my fix. But with every work I read my fix gets worse -- and I don't care.

So join me and enter into the literary dialogue and read some of the works that have changed me:

"Howl" by Allen Ginsberg. After I finished reading this, my skin felt new and I no longer felt choked. I wanted to scream and spit and let out a "barbaric yawp" just like Ed Sanders (son of the Beats) did.

Read it once, read it again, then read it aloud to yourself, then to someone else and then find a recording of it -- so you can fully drop yourself into the anaphoric and lyrical verse describing the cataclysm of sick ideologies.

"One Hundred Years of Solitude" by Gabriel García Márquez. Forget the Nobel Peace Prize he won in 1982 and forget the fact that he's the lapdog of Fidel Castro, this book is the perfect execution of magical realism and the magnification of world myths. At times this book is vertiginous, but it is well worth it. I want to grow old with this book so it can continue to change me.

"The History of Love" by Nicole Krauss delves into the history of survival and the power of words through several points of view. Krauss' prose is precise, eloquent, funny and compelling. She challenges audiences, writers and society to look at ethnicity in a new way.

Those are my (current) top three works, but I also recommend:
"Unbearable Lightness of Being" by Milan Kundera, "Falconer" by John Cheever, "Interpreter of Maladies" by Jhumpa Lahiri, "M. Butterfly" by David Henry Hwang, "Gem of the Ocean" by August Wilson and "The Things We Talk About When We Talk About Love" by Raymond Carver.

If you would like to discuss any of these works or others, I would love to talk to you.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Old Firehouse Books: The Rise of the Indie Bookstore

Two months ago, Old Firehouse Books received a major facelift -- a new name (formerly the Book Rack) and a new home, which is located at 232 Walnut St. in the heart of Old Town Fort Collins. And despite the ugly recession we're trying to crawl out of, the bookstore is doing quite well.

According to Jacqie Hasan, Old Firehouse Books' store manager, the new location of the store is making them busier than ever, which is mostly due to the foot traffic.

Their former location at 1801 S. College Ave. was not nearly as visible of a location. Hasan said that before, you would almost have to know of the store in order to visit.

The new location is not only great for more business, but also more in-store activities. Hasan said they can now have more space for book clubs to meet, for author events (book signings) and for being a "third space."

"We’d like to become a third space, a gathering place for people that’s not home and not work, but a fun place to be," Hasan said.

Tegan Hollen, an Old Firehouse Books sales associate, said that she is excited to be downtown because not only is the location great, but they have many more oportunities to be a part of the community.

"We're now part of the downtown business association, which gives us a lot of opportunities to cooporate with other businesses and events or advertising," Hollen explained. "It's been really helpful for the store because we didn't really have that before."

Hasan agreed and said that the Be Local movement is something they're proud to be involved with because Fort Collins has such a strong commitment to local businesses.

And their success is not just from their new location, but who is working at the store matters the most.

"We were able to move because of all the support from our customers," Hollen said.

Hasan said her employees love to work there and are proud to be part of the independent bookstore movement and provide some of the ambiance and culture people look for in downtown bookstores.

"The fact that our name is not Barnes and Noble helps, too," Hollen explains. "But really, its customer service when it comes down to it. We try and spend a little more time with the customers that come in."

Listen to a podcast of the interview here.

Is J.D. Salinger Still Writing?

According to the Galley Cat blog, all of the frenzied talk about J.D. Salinger suing the writer, publisher and distributor of the unauthorized sequel to "The Catcher in the Rye, prompted the grand question we all want to know: What has Salinger been doing these last 44 years?

We all know Salinger is reclusive and values his privacy, Galley cat said he hasn't had a published anything since 1965, but has he still been writing?

In an 1974 interview with The New York Times Salinger said, "I'm known as a strange, aloof kind of man. But all I'm doing is trying to protect myself and my work."

The interview tried to delve into the reasons why he was silent for 20 years -- he values his privacy -- so much so that he opts to not publish the writing he creates daily.

"There is a marvelous peace in not publishing. It's peaceful. Still. Publishing is a terrible invasion of my privacy. I like to write. I love to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure," Salinger said.

From this 25-year-old excerpt, we can assume that he may still continue to write, but author and journalist Ron Rosenbaum wonders if we will see any of his work during our lifetimes -- even after Salinger is gone (because of the privacy Salinger uses to protect all of his works).

"It's pretty remarkable—amazing, isn't it, when you think about it—that he stopped publishing when he was only 46, half a lifetime ago. He stopped publishing but may not have stopped writing," Rosenbaum said.

For all we know," Rosenbaum added, "he may be withholding what will turn out to be the eighth wonder of American letters. Or not."

Monday, June 8, 2009

More Film Adaptations of Beloved Books

Turning a book into a movie isn't a new concept, but it seems that every time I turn around another movie says "based on the best-selling book."

While I enjoy watching those movies to point out every shortcoming, glaring plot holes and flat characters, I also love being blown away by a film's adaptation of a text (e.g. "Angels in America" by Tony Kushner).

However, this time, I'm not sure if I can bring myself to stomach the film adaptation of one of my favorite childhood books "Where the Wild Things Are" by Maurice Sendak.

Since 1963, this has held a special place in our hearts and the film may turn out to be good (even if Mr. Eggers co-wrote the screenplay), but it may just turn out bad, too.

The film comes out in late fall, but the trailers are already out and depict a Max unlike the Max I knew and loved. The boy in the trailer doesn't close his eyes with haughty angst, instead he looks desperate and lost.

Although I'm worried about the movie tarnishing my memory with the book, I'm more worried that people will never read the book and experience the magic within the pages.

One book that may lose its magic adapting into a film is my current favorite book, "The History of Love" by Nicole Krauss.

According to IMDB's Web site, director Alfonso Cuarón bought the rights before the book was published to become a film in 2010. This book has several themes, but survival and survival of the written language are the crux of the story.

If this film is about survival of the written word, wouldn't that get somewhat lost in the film- making process? And although the film adaptation of Sendak's famed novel may lose some of its sentimental shine, Krauss' book has more to lose.

And if you haven't read "The History of Love" then you should be reading it today. Her writing is thought provoking and precise as it digs into my skin and makes me realize just how powerful words can be. One of my favorite passages in "The History of Love" says:

"So many words get lost. They leave the mouth and lose their courage, wandering aimlessly until they are swept into the gutter like dead leaves."

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Laura Pritchett Discusses "Going Green" at Book Signing

On Saturday, June 6, Laura Pritchett attended the last book signing for her new book, "Going Green: True Tales from Gleaners, Scavengers, and Dumpster Divers" at the Barnes and Noble at 4045 S. College Ave.

The book, a collection of personal essays about from over 20 writers nationwide, including several Colorado writers, who focus on the way "being green" changed their lives.

Along with Pritchett, two of the local writers, Libby James and Paul Miller, attended the event and read excerpts from their essays.

Pritchett began the event by explaining that everything she was wearing was from a dumpster, except her shoes, which a friend gave her before they were thrown out. She explained that "dumpster diving" began as a way to occupy her kids that was "free and gave them something to do."

But as Pritchett and her kids continued dumpster diving, she said she noticed that while the free things in the dumpster were in good condition, often folded and smelling of laundry detergent was problematic. Soon dumpster diving became an ethical situation for Pritchett as she examined the ideologies in our society that made people throw usable items away.

Then she came on the word "gleaning" and that became her mission: to normalize gleaning.

Pritchett read an excerpt from her essay "It Keeps the Heart Happy" that detailed her experiences diving. She read: "Dive, Dive, Dive ... we're socially weird, but we don't care ... If only the Earth didn't have to give so much..."

Next, Miller read from his essay "Wood Blues," which was his experience with salvaging wood from his old house and also of blue-stained wood. Blue stain is a complex fungi produced by Mountain Pine Beetles when they successfully attack a pine tree, which has caused severe destruction to the western slope and soon the eastern slope of Colorado.

Then James read from her story "Of Bags and Rags." In her essay, she spoke about how she has had the same red windbreaker (she brought it for the audience to see) for 57 years. Her essay detailed her windbreaker as her "grand old rag that always stuck with me."

James said she also has another way she reuses -- she makes art out of old tea bags. And she said that moldy tea bags are great because they add a lot of color to her art. Her art, jacket and other items she reuses challenge her to see just how long an item can be reused.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Sherman Alexie Says e-Books Are Elitist

Famed literary author, Sherman Alexie attended the BookExpo America May 28 - 31 and spoke out against Amazon's Kindle and all e-Readers because he deems them as elitist. Alexie's rant against e-Readers caused quite the commotion and prompted him to clean up his message via his Web site.

In an interview with Edward Champion, Alexie said that e-books create elitism because not everyone can afford this technology, which creates a bigger economic gap among people in different social classes.

Although Alexie said e-Readers were elitist, he said it was more than just price -- it is about literacy and social issues. Sherman (among many) wonder if e-books become the primary mode of distributing books, then what happens to booksellers? So Alexie asks Amazon if they, "have any plans to fill the social gaps left by those closed stores?"

Alexie continued on to say that e-Readers may look nice, but they are an "anonymous box" that is trying to replace the book.

In the interview, Alexie responded to those offended by his remarks:

"I am taking a very tiny stand against many large corporations ... and all sorts of people are vilifying me for it ... They're treating me like I'm Goliath. It reminds me of the way people think of professional athletes and their salaries. All sorts of middle-class folks agree with the billionaire owners of sports team that the millionaire players may too much money."

Read the full interview here.