Category: books

Step Into the Mind of Your Favorite Iconic Author

Angela Davis annotated If They Come In the Morning

Image from PEN American Center’s First Edition/Second Thoughts Auction catalog.

What if you could step into the mind of your favorite author while they wrote your favorite book? What if you could find out not only how they crafted that brilliant prose, but what inspired them in the first place? And what if you could find out how they would write the book differently if they wrote it today?

Guess what! Now you can. Well, if you have enough money.

Today, the PEN American Center’s First Edition/Second Thoughts auction takes place. If you don’t happen to be in New York, you can bid online or by phone.

More than 75 famous authors and artists annotated their most iconic work, including notes in the margins, whole essays, pictures, doodles, and in one case of a photographer, a whole new set of images added to the book. Participating authors include Alice Walker, Billy Collins, Tony Morrison, Jane Smiley, Amy Tan, Joyce Carol Oates and many, many more.

If not limited by funds, which book on the list would you bid on and why?

I’m torn between Barbara Kingsolver’s Poison Wood Bible, Sue Grafton’s A is For Alibi, and Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club. Each of those books showed me something new about reading, writing, and about myself. They are also books that have stayed with me longer–because of their characters, or story line, or plot twists–than some of the more established and more part-of-the-cannon literary works that I have read.

Here’s the PEN American center’s promotional video for the auction. It includes some of the writers reflecting back on what it was like revisiting their work.


Nightstand Reading List

Survey question: Do you have a stack of books like this on your nightstand? If so, what books are contending for your pre-slumber attention?

Nightstand books

I’ve started and almost finished all of these, but something forces me to bring up new reads before the first one is finished.

The Faith Found in Books

bibleWhen I was nearly 21, I got my cat Scout at a town 6 miles away.
His name wasn’t Scout at the time, it was Shadow, but dammit I was an English major and I knew wearing a beret all the time wouldn’t give me cred so instead I wanted to name my pet after one of my favorite literary characters since that was for sure original and cool and made me look legit.
So I named him Scout.

But here’s the thing: I’d only read To Kill a Mockingbird once in my life. Freshman year of high school.
Unlike other books I’ve read, loved, and continued to reread over and over, I don’t recall having that feverish need to read and reread To Kill a Mockingbird. I kept meaning to read it again. I swear, I meant to.

Two weeks ago I pulled it from my bookshelves and started reading. I’d just reread In Cold Blood (for probably my sixth time since first reading it a few years ago) and wanted to meet Dill again. His character was inspired by little kid Truman Capote.

I’d also been feeling a need for some nostalgia and some comfort. I recently started a new job and even though I am excited about the new adventure and am grateful, I’m having a hard time catching my breath and I worry it will affect my still-growing relationship with my boyfriend.

And I’m far from my close friends. And my family. And both my grandmothers were recently moved into assisted living facilities. And I haven’t seen them since they moved. And one of them is losing more and more of herself to Alzheimer’s and it’s completely out of everyone’s control, most of all hers, and before she was transferred to her new home she once found out it was Sunday and proceeded to walk two confused miles to church since her drivers license had been taken away months ago. Read more »

The Fault In Our Scars


For the past year or so, I’ve kept hearing about “The Fault In Our Stars,” the tale of two teenagers who fall in love after meeting at a cancer support group. I’ve seen the rave reviews. Heck, there’s a movie version coming out in June, and I’ve seen the trailers. I’ve even gone into the bookstore, picked up the book, and debated buying it, all to put it back down again and wander over to another section.

The reason: I’m feeling a very specific brand of emotional cowardice right now. I don’t think I can handle All of the Feelings the book is sure to provoke. First love + terminal cancer = Lareign Curled Up in the Fetal Position, Weeping Softly.

There are times when I want a book or movie or song to make me cry, times when I cue up Neko Case’s “This Tornado Loves You” or Cat Power’s “Manhattan” because I’m convinced I have some sadness that needs to be released. At that point, it’s like blowing your nose: Kind of ugly, and you don’t want to do it with anybody else nearby, but you feel better once it’s over.


I’m not sure the same is true of “The Fault In Our Stars,” at least at this point. I’ve become all too aware in the last couple of years of just how fleeting life is, of how quickly people we care about can leave us. It’s not that I can’t handle reading about bad things or sad things, either; I do that every day, whether it’s checking the news or reading a novel for class. I don’t go peering around corners looking for stray emotions that snuck out of the Feelings Zoo. It just seems like a bad idea to immerse myself in this particular combination of beautiful things (like love) and sad things (terminal cancer) right now.

The actors in the trailer seem to be hitting all the right notes, and author John Green seems to be happy with what Hollywood has done to his book, which is rare enough in itself. But I think I’m just going to have to wait, on both the book and the film.

What Would You Ask a Panel about Paths to Publication?

GetLit14I’m reaching out to the esteemed readers of Bark for much needed help. During this year’s world famous Get Lit! festival, I’m moderating a panel on the many publication options today’s market offers.

A Brave New World: Finding Your Path to Publication in Today’s Market with Rebecca Zanetti, Danica Winters, and Shoshanna Evers. 

Never before have authors had as many options to get their prose into the hands of readers as they do in today’s market. But how do you know which publishing model is right for you and your writing? Join authors Rebecca ZanettiDanica Winters, and Shoshanna Evers for a frank and honest discussion of the benefits and disadvantages of current publishing options. Together, these three successful and multi-published writers bring expertise on just about every path to publication you can imagine, including small presses, digital firsts, traditional big 5 houses, self-publishing, and hybrid models. Bring your questions! Moderated by Åsa Maria Bradley. 

Time:  12:00-1:30 p.m.
Venue: Spokane Convention Center
Room: 205

If you were to go this panel, what would be the questions you’d like answered?

It would be great to see you at the panel, so you could get your questions answered. However, if you can’t make it, I’ll see if the authors would visit Bark for an extended discussion.


Dave Eggers’s The Circle: A Mirror and a Crystal Ball

the-circleHave you ever read a book that left you feeling a little hollow, a little less safe, and yet it was a story that you felt completely in control of most of the time? That was my experience reading The Circle by Dave Eggers. The Circle is a story of a twenty-something woman named Mae (short for Maebelline, a sure nod to the makeup brand, leaving readers to wonder if Mae’s parents had actually named her after a beauty product in this dystopian society) who has just landed a job at a futuristic version of a Google/Facebook/Twitter-like company called The Circle, making her a “newbie” Circler.

In her first week or two there, she learns just how much this job will become an overbearing part of her life. She’s required to “smile” at all sorts of meaningless chatter online (The Circle’s equivalent to “Likes” on Facebook.) and every few days it seems that a new screen is being added to her desk, requiring her to pay attention to multiple social and business arenas at once.

At first, I was as enamored by The Circle as Mae was. What’s there not to like? The campus is beautifully manicured, all amenities are free to employees — even a stock of merchandise brought into the campus’s overnight apartments for employees who don’t want to drive home after a long day at work — and creativity seems to be bursting out of every room.

This, coupled by the fact that Mae is able to include her parents (her father suffers from MS) on her super amazing health insurance, makes The Circle seem like a dream job, which is the point.

Eggers sets us up to fall in love with the place, but all the time, we’re watching Mae being bombarded with more and more media, technology, and social obligation, and it all starts to feel like a burden not worth carrying. Mae is even chastised for not attending enough after-work festivities when she first arrives on campus. Like a good employee who wants to please her superiors, she acquiesces and starts to fill up her time with extra-curricular activities that keep her on The Circle campus overnight more often than not.

Read more »

money & beats & art

this past tuesday, beats music debuted.  if you haven’t heard of it, it’s a new streaming service being offered by a collective of pretty d*mn impressive people, including dr. dre, trent reznor, and jimmy iovine.  i did some searching around the internets and, near as i can tell, most of the media coverage around this launch was focused on that music dream team & how their product is different from pandora, rdio, spotify, rhapsody, itunes radio, youtube, etc. (the main talking point being that beats is an actual service, one curated by real humans instead of robots or algorithms or whatever).

but rather than a summary of beats’ product model, what i hoped to find was some music journalist who had broken down beats’ business model.  on none of the articles i found (even with click-bait titles such as “7 things you should know about beats music“) was the topic of artists’ revenue ever seriously covered.  i was most disappointed to not find any mention of that from pitchfork or sound opinions—until i learned that pitchfork & sound opinions were both “curators” on beats.  it was especially disappointing to not hear from the sound opinions co-hosts, not least because i’m a huge fan of greg kot, but also because jim derogatis tried to take pitchfork founder ryan schreiber to the woodshed over journalistic ethics for curating an online music tv channel.

the closest i found to any reporting on the issue was a throwaway graf at the end of a rollingstone piece:

Beats Music is also focused on creating a service that is fair to the artists whose music it streams, and will pay the same royalty rate to all content owners. “Beats Music is based on the belief that all music has value and this concept was instilled in every step of its development. We want it to be just as meaningful for artists as it is for fans,” Reznor said in a statement. “We’re committed to providing revenue to artists, while helping to strengthen the connection with their fans.”

Read more »

Five (Kinds Of) Fiction Books I’m Not Reading

When we entered 2014, I didn’t make any resolutions — at least not out loud. I did strengthened my resolve regarding healthy living and work/life balance, but who doesn’t reevaluate those things when they’re shoved in your face at the beginning of each year. It turns out the biggest decision I made was not what I would call a resolution, but a declaration. And it was about books. I told myself that I would be more intentional about the books I read, that if a book wasn’t holding my attention I would not waste my time. Avid readers know that there will always be another book to read, and the list will never get any shorter. So off I went on my quest, happy to rid myself of the books I felt like I should read but wasn’t really into. But then it came to me — there are books that I am just straight up avoiding, and they all fall into certain categories. I don’t know what these categories say about me, but I don’t mind sharing.

1. The Round House by  Louise Erdrich

I’ve checked this book out of the library, brought it home, placed it on the kitchen counter, and walked by it for weeks before taking it back, unread. I have purchased a copy for my Kindle. I have recommended it to other people. I cannot read past the first three pages. Melissa and Karen have both spoken expressed my fears better than I can.

2.  The Known World by Edward P. Jones

Having read EPJ’s Lost in the City and being so moved by it, that I gave my copy to my brother, I felt honor-bound to read one of his other works. It didn’t take long before I was walking in a wide berth around the chair where I’d set down the book. I don’t mind admitting that if I sit, and think about the American Slave Trade my emotions vacillate between anger and humiliation — not what I’d like to feel for an extended period of time. Avoidance? Hell yes. Read more »

Salinger, To Choose the World or Not


Salinger chose writing over all else. But maybe that was the only choice he could make.

Dylan and I watched the documentary Salinger a couple days ago, and I’m a bit perplexed by the message my husband came away with: if you want to be a real writer, you have to hole yourself up in a bunker and reject the world. Do I believe this? No way! But Dylan is the kind of writer who needs long stretches of quiet solitude to feel like he can produce, so he related more to Salinger’s proclivities than I did. He feels resigned to the notion that, because he’s chosen a life of moderation, a life that includes a job, a wife, and maybe children, he has sacrificed his writer’s life. In other words, my husband is a man of extremes, and his natural writing process is a lot more tedious than mine. He tells me that this makes it no fun at all, a real burden sometimes.

I’m also made of extremes, but of a different kind. I write in frantic bursts or not at all with all sorts of chaos going on around and inside me. I thrive on it. If I feel the energy and the idea, I put it on the page. If I don’t, I go about my life doing other things. This is no way to produce writing on a regular basis, but I feel alive when I am writing, and it’s never felt like a burden.

At one point in the Salinger documentary, his ex-lover, Joyce Maynard, recounted that Salinger had told her this about why she would never amount to anything: “Your problem is that you’re in love with the world.” For some reason that statement made me very sad. It told me something very personal about J.D. Salinger, and maybe something important about myself. Salinger was at war with the world, and after (and during) WWII, he fought that war on the page. He felt that the world was out to get him, and maybe it was, seeing that he was living in the sick, capitalist, sell-out culture that Holden Caulfield railed against in The Catcher in the Rye, the culture that cares more about making money than making art.

I think I’m like Joyce. I’m in love with the world, and maybe that’s my downfall, but I don’t think so. The world is part of me, and me of it. And no amount of holing oneself away will change that.

What version of the writer’s life have you found to work for you? Maybe I can compile a bunch of ideas for new ways of thinking about this dilemma and share them with my husband so his process doesn’t feel like such a burden anymore.

(un) Necessary Errors

As 2013 winds to an end, magazines and media compile their annual “Best of” issues and articles on all topics of interest to readers and consumers. Books are no exception. The first such lists I read came from Slate, pitched as “Best books of 2013: Slate Staff Picks.”  

This list came out on Monday and is not to be confused with Tuesday: The overlooked books of 2013. or Wednesday: The best lines of 2013, and the best poetry of 2013. or Thursday: Dan Kois’ 15 favorite books. All capped off with Friday: The Slate Book Review Top 10.

I like finding out about great books I’d missed in a given calendar year and it’s fun finding out which books  writers I admire enjoyed this year. Perusing the list, I’d only heard of a few. Egger’s new novel about social media domination was familiar and one I’d been considering picking up. “We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves,” by Karen Joy Fowler about a child raised alongside a chimp as part of a psychology experiment sounded intriguing.

131202_SBR_NecessaryErrors_COVER.jpg.CROP.original-originalAnd then I was very surprised to see a book I’d read and which I’d found thoroughly unimpressive. David Haglund wrote in praise of “Necessary Errors,” a novel by  Caleb Crain and I was curious what he liked about a novel I’d found so mediocre.

Having moved to Prague in 2003, two months after graduation to teach English, I was the target demographic for this coming-of-age story set in post revolution Prague, and following the mild adventures of a recent college grad who moves to Prague in 1989 to teach English.

And at first, I dug the book.  Crain perfectly captures the feeling of living in Prague months removed from college.  The sense that you are truly experiencing life, that you’ve taken a significant and worthwhile risk by moving so far from home, but combined with a dreading feeling that you are spinning your wheels, while peers back home move on with graduate school and careers.  There is the magic of seeing a city with centuries of history become your home; and the loneliness of knowing you’ll always be a foreigner to the Czechs. Read more »

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