The OF Blog: September 2012

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Malazan Re-Read Series: Steven Erikson, The Bonehunters

The Bonehunters, the sixth volume of Steven Erikson's ten-volume Malazan Book of the Fallen series, has polarized its fan base ever since its release in 2006.  Some readers lamented its perceived lack of "new" plots (despite there being evidence to the contrary), the rise of character archetypes, and a conclusion that mirrors too much one of the concluding scenes in the second volume, Deadhouse Gates.  Other fans praised the novel for its development of certain themes, particularly those surrounding human behavioral traits, and the sense that the unfolding story had truly become "epic."  As is often the case with such clashes of opinion, the "truth," if any such thing can be said to exist within the subjective sphere of human beliefs, lies somewhere between these poles of thought.

This was my third reading of the book.  The first time I read it, back in May 2007, I was more in a rush to catch up and get to the then-just released seventh volume, Reaper's Gale, than I was with taking the time to consider just what was transpiring here.  The second time, back in the late spring of 2010, was read during a time when I was swamped with a lot of other responsibilities (including the final reads for what ended up being an aborted editorship of an anthology) and I believe the reading suffered then, as there was a lot I discovered during this reading that I had missed during my first two reads.

Coming off of the comedic-tragic Midnight Tides, the general tone here veers more to the apocalyptic, even more so than the previous two volumes, Deadhouse Gates and House of Chains, set on the Seven Cities sub-continent.  Sha'ik Reborn's rebellion has been crushed, but not at the hands of the Malazan 14th Army.  The last rebels, led by Leoman of the Flails, have fled to the site of a battle that became a curse to the Malazans over a decade before (more on this battle can be read in Ian Cameron Esslemont's Night of Knives).  For the first half of this massive novel, much of the plot focuses on issues of faith.  How does one respond to the crushing of one's initial fervor?  What forms do apocalypse take?  How can a group forge an identity when it is comprised of the untested and the broken?  How is salvation envisioned by those who scarred and disfigured?

Much of the action here revolves around those questions.  While doubtless those readers who read the series primarily for its scenes of "high magic" and battles were disappointed by Erikson's focus on exploring those issues, I found myself taking a keener interest in reading this.  What at first appeared to be an inconclusive, extraneous subplot (that of Felisin Younger and her eventual installation as yet another Sha'ik) became something more substantive during this re-read.  In the midst of character reflections on the bones of past societies (here, the "bonehunter" symbol becomes more than the literal bones that cover some who survive a conflagration), here was the birth of yet another human mechanism for coping with grief, loss, and suffering.  The ways of pleasure, chimeric as they may be, does present a way of looking at how humans strive to create order and happiness in the midst of chaos and pain.  The more I think about it, the more suitable it was that this subplot was left hanging here, with no conclusion in sight.

Yet there are problematic areas within those elements that I did enjoy reading.  It is not so much that certain things appear redundant (such as the wandering of Heboric's group, Kalam's adventure in Malaz City, and a few other scenes), as reiteration can serve to reinforce and reinterpret past events, but rather that there are so many elements occurring here (the transformation of the 14th into the Bonehunters, the ways in which Icarium and Karsa find themselves being transported to Lether, the corruption of Imperial politics and the subsequent uprisings against the Wickans, the further development of Ganoes Paran, the seemingly smaller subplot with Barathol Mekhar, among others) that at times the novel lacked the strong internal cohesion that the earlier novels possessed.  Much of this can be attributed to the need to develop seeds for events that both Erikson (Reaper's Gale, Toll the Hounds) and Esslemont (Return of the Crimson Guard) were to explore in greater depth later.  While the events set up here mostly are worth the effort devoted to them, the side effect was a narrative that felt fractured, as though the various subplots were pulling too strongly for attention.  However, the saving grace (beyond the eventual development of these subplots in later novels) is that the thematic core pervades each of these subplots, forging a stronger union than that provided by the main plot itself.

Despite this almost-unavoidable narrative weakness, The Bonehunters contains a wealth of interesting plot and thematic developments.  The Bonehunter scenes, whether they be "big" things such as the survival of the conflagration or the conflict on the seas or the "little" things like the introduction of Captain Sort, develop further the issue of how identities are forged.  The scenes involving Ganoes Paran reveal important developments in regards to the looming battle of the Malazan world's gods/Ascendants and the brief times that Heboric's PoV is presented, a foreshadowing of the ultimate end game is provided in a way that is subtle yet well-constructed when viewed in light of reading the tenth volume.  It is not a perfect novel, as the narrative does feel stretched to near the breaking point at times, but it is a crucial volume for understanding the events of the final books.  Certainly a better book upon re-reading than on its initial read.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Malazan Re-Read Series: Ian Cameron Esslemont, Night of Knives

One of the oddities of the Malazan series is that it was conceived as a dual-author secondary-world fantasy, yet five years passed between the publication of Steven Erikson's first Malazan novel, Gardens of the Moon (1999 UK, 2004 US), and his collaborator Ian Cameron Esslemont's first volume, Night of Knives (originally published in the UK in 2004 as a limited-edition book from PS Publishing; 2007 for mass publication in the UK, 2008 in US).  For readers new to the series, it is hard at first to tell the constraints with which both authors operate, at least not until the later volumes in Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen sub-series, when certain characters, such as The Bonehunters' enigmatic Temper, appear fleetingly without much explanation or when certain subplots are left hanging in suspension, such as the concluding The Bonehunters scene in Malaz City.  While these suspended elements are not vital to following the gist of the Malazan Book of the Fallen arc, there certainly is the sense in books 6-10 that there is something left to be told at another time.

Night of Knives is a peculiar book, even when taking into account the complementary purpose of Esslemont's writing.  It differs from the other Malazan books, Erikson and Esslemont's alike, in that the main narrative occurs roughly 9-12 years before the events of the other books and that virtually all of the action (minus the flashback sequences) occurs within the confines of the singular city of Malaz City and only involves a few PoV characters, most notably the young girl Kiska and the former soldier Temper.  When I first read it in 2004 (I have both the signed PS edition and the 2008 tradeback Tor edition), I found the work to be rather dissatisfying.  From what I recall, I had hoped for something a bit different than a murder-mystery/horror melange, something that would fill in more gaps in the larger narrative.  Yet this re-read, perhaps my fourth in the past eight years, was surprisingly the most enjoyable and revealing.

There are, of course, certain stylistic differences between the two writers.  Whereas Erikson, particularly later in his series (although elements of this were present in the first four volumes), focused more on the detritus of human societies and the rise/fall of material cultures (especially manifested in belief structures and the corresponding magic systems), Esslemont here uses a deceptively less complex narrative style that relies more on its two character poles (the young, naive Kiska and the weary, traumatized ex-soldier Temper) to create a sense of mystery out of events that were previously outlined in Erikson's earlier novels.

This approach does not always benefit the unfolding story.  While the terse narrative, stripped down from the emphasis on character interactions to build overlapping interpretations of events, does foster a greater sense of a "fog of war," there are times where the character motivations (particularly those of the Claws and the duo of Kellanved and Dancer) become murky because their actions are described by other actors who have little understanding of why the events of this Shadow Moon are so portentous.   This murkiness, while at times frustrating, is perhaps necessary, as otherwise the events would lack a sense of horrific suspense if the main actors of the Shadow Moon night had their own PoVs.

Suspense over what will happen to Kiska and, to a lesser extent, Temper is perhaps Night of Knives strongest element.  Since neither character had (yet) appeared in any of Erikson's novels, the possibility that one, or both, of the characters might meet a grisly end at the hands of those roaming between the Shadow and "real" world heightens the sense of urgency that exists from the rumors of a fateful convergence between the Emperor and his Assassin with forces opposed to their return from parts unknown.  Esslemont manages to utilize this uncertainty about the two characters well in spurts, most notably when ignorant Kiska serves as the receptive vessel for arcane knowledge that had previously been unrevealed in the previous Malazan novels, information that serves to foreshadow latter events in both Erikson and Esslemont's novels.

Yet there is a downside to this.  There is a sense of repetition, particularly in Kiska's scenes, as she goes from one knowledgeable (and potentially treacherous) character to another.  In these occasions, Esslemont does not differentiate enough  between those (such as a certain old mage) who seek to gain their own power due to the Shadow Moon's opening of worlds and those who seek other ends.  This may simply be due to having Kiska's character trying to serve as the reader's stand-in in the quest for further knowledge, but yet even in the more action-oriented scenes involving Temper (who, it should be noted, often feels as an afterthought for large stretches of the novel, even despite his backstory providing greater explanation of a character that appears in Erikson's House of Chains), there was this sense that the narrative was failing to maintain that fine balance between preserving certain mysteries and creating foreshadowings for later events.

Despite these weaker elements, overall Night of Knives read better this re-read.  In light of information revealed later in both authors' novels, this short novel felt more integrated with the overall story arc, both in terms of plot as well as in theme.  Esslemont's writing, although distinct from Erikson's in its style, contains very few inconsistencies with plot elements introduced elsewhere.  Those few times where it felt that events differed from other sources can largely be attributed to the authors' stated goal of the novels serving as a sort of dialogue that contains purposely different interpretation of events designed to force readers to reinterpret what they had read before.  The prose is utilitarian, neither sparkling nor tepid.  The characterizations, as I said above, were spotty but ultimately effective as vehicles for this narrative.  On the whole, Night of Knives is best described as solid, but nothing spectacular by itself.  However, when viewed as part of a much larger unfolding story, the novel certainly bears closer examination from those who intend to read not just Erikson's novels, but Esslemont's later works.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Books of My life

It is funny how thoughts can haunt and how you can swear that you have done this before, only to fail to find a record of this.  In light of an interesting meme that started with Justin Landon of Staffer's Musings and which has seen participation from Aidan Moher and Rob Bedford (as well as a possible coincidental post, minus any real thought behind it, at another locale), I found myself thinking of a book I read in 2004, Chilean writer Alberto Fuguet's Las Películas de mi Vida (The Movies of My Life in English translation).  I could have sworn that I said something somewhere (maybe I posted it on wotmania years before its 2009 shutdown) about this fine book or that I had at some time written a post that was based on that book's structure.  But it seems that I have not.

So with that in mind, I am going to write a few short entries of books read at important times in my life (or in one case, I'll refer to a review recently published) that have influenced me as a person/reader:

E.B. White, Charlotte's Web (1980)

In 1980, I was nearing the end of my kindergarten year.  I had already learned how to read a little bit, mostly self-taught, according to my mother.  What I really recall was the cartoon made from this book and how I laughed at Templeton the Rat's witty remarks, before crying at Charlotte's death.  I soon got hold of a copy of the book, and its illustrations and words, designed perhaps for a reader a few years' older than myself, occupied my time as I tried to puzzle out meanings.  Although I think there were a few children's books that I may have read before then, this was the first I could recall.

Crockett Johnson, Harold and the Purple Crayon (1981)

Harold and the Purple Crayon was perhaps the earliest fantasy that I read.  I recall first reading it late my 1st grade year (or was it the beginning of 2nd grade?  I know it had to have been 1981.) and losing my self in thoughts of taking a crayon (not necessarily purple) and drawing my way around to new vistas, discovering things along the way.  Although doubtless my parents would rather that I had not done so with the crayons at home, there are still times where I find myself wanting to get out a crayon and just scribble for a while, hoping to discover something new.

Alan Bullock, Hitler (1990)

This was the book that set me along the path to becoming a cultural/religious history of Weimar/Nazi Germany MA grad.  Although in time I came to disagree with most of Bullock's conclusions, over 50 years later, it is still a classic in the field.

Carlo Ginzburg, The Cheese and the Worms (1992)

I enrolled in Honors Western Civilization my freshman year at the University of Tennessee.  This book opened my eyes to what was possible in the field.  Although I recall not getting a great score on my paper on this book, Ginzburg's work has stuck with me for 20 years now.  It was the gateway to my later encounters with Natalie Zemon Davis' works and Robert Darnton's The Great Cat Massacre.  I don't think I would have studied cultural history if it weren't for this book.

Stendhal, The Red and the Black (1995)

For reasons not quite known to me still, this novel, which I read at the beginning of my senior year, is what got me interested more in the possibilities of literature in history than anything else (strange, since two years before, I read and enjoyed Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front for the second half of Honors Western Civilization).

Herman Melville, Moby Dick (Cliffnotes in 1991; full read in 1997)

If it weren't for a conversation that I had with my Cultural History of the French Revolution professor my last semester of grad school, I don't think I would have dared read what has become for me one of the most brilliant books of the past two centuries.  My HS Honors Senior English teacher made it a chore to endure; I ended up reading some condensed notes and not the actual book.  But in talking with my professor about certain literary works, he said that I had to read Moby Dick, keeping in mind that the whaling is a minor part of the story.  I did and he was right.  That was probably one of the turning points in my life as a reader.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince (2000)

It would take ages to tell the full backstory of this story.  At first, it was simply a thought-provoking story that touched upon love and the loss of innocence, but then it became something much more important to me when I met someone who also saw something deeper within the work.  Although I don't think as much about a particular Rose as I once did, I do see a kinship with the fennec.

Gabriel García Márquez, Cien años de soledad (2004)

This was the first novel I finished reading in Spanish.  One day, I'll write a formal review of it, but each time I re-read it, the more layers I unearth.  It is a beautiful, moving work that exists as a concrete metaphor as much as it does as a dream.

There are other books that I could have listed, but those would have merely been redundancies of meaning compared to the ones read first.  Although this may leave some of you dissatisfied and wanting to know more about the connections between certain books and myself, perhaps instead you'll reflect upon the books that you liked as well?

Feel free to share any of those meaningful works in the comments.

Malazan Re-Read Series: Steven Erikson, Midnight Tides

What a difference two years can make in the perception of the value of a re-read.  When I paused in writing my re-read commentaries, I had finished narrating what could have been a semi-acceptable close to a good four-part epic fantasy series.  Of course, there were gaps in the narrative that needed more explanation then, but for the most part, readers who stopped at House of Chains would have at least a decent chunk of the action complete.  Or so it would seem at the time.

The fifth volume, Midnight Tides, is rather audacious in its presentation.  Erikson here jumps back in his narrative timeline several years and goes to a continent barely mentioned at all in the previous four books, Lether.  It is a very different novel in its narrative, its prose, and in the characterizations.  It also is where certain themes introduced in the previous four books (in particular, betrayal, pride, the search for salvation, but not as much on redemption) become more crystallized and integral to the story itself; a pattern that manifests itself for the remaining books of the series.

When I first read it in 2004, I was in turns amused by the antics of Tehol and Bugg and saddened by the deepening tragedy of the Tiste Edur, particularly that of the Sengar family.  Having now re-read this book a year after finishing reading the final volume in the main series (and just after reading the first Kharkanas trilogy volume), Midnight Tides contains several events that foreshadow those of the concluding volume, The Crippled God.  Here, one may discover ruminations on the virtual slavery caused by power inequity (yes, the parallels between Lether and state capitalism – particularly that of the United States but not limited to it – are made quite explicit) that then dovetail into explorations of suffering and the role religion/gods play in that.  In hindsight, Erikson did establish the motives for not just the characters of this novel, but also those of the Crippled God and others in scenes here.

One complaint that I had before reading the final volumes was that Midnight Tides seemed to lack a cohesiveness to it.  The witty banter of Tehol, Bugg, and other denizens of Lether seemed to clash with the grimness of the Sengars, particularly Rhulad's descent into madness after his acquisition of a sword touched with the Crippled God's power.  Yet as I re-read this volume earlier this week, I began to appreciate this difference.  Comedy is not necessarily the antithesis of tragedy and here, the pathos of the final scenes is intensified because of the amusing first half.  In turn, the tragic elements (such as the betrayal of the Tiste Andii by the Edur) have sharper edges to them because the humorous scenes have set the stage for a more devastating conclusion.

Furthermore, this devotion of a middle volume to filling in the backstory of the mysterious raids on several continents adds a necessary pause to the greater narrative.  Set up at the end of House of Chains to be Trull Sengar's tale of how he came to be chained to a wall in the flooded Nascent, the reader begins to get the idea that the true story is not that of just a struggle against the chained Crippled God, but rather it is a multi-level exploration of what motivates people to seek justice, to cause pain, or to share suffering.  That last point in particular is worth keeping in mind for the latter half of this series, as when I first read it (and re-read this book prior to The Crippled God) I missed the significance of it being a focal point of Midnight Tides.

By itself, the novel is good but not extraordinary.  As I noted above, without the context of what follows afterward, the narrative can seem a bit fractured between the poles of comedy and tragedy.  Yet when placed within the larger narrative, Midnight Tides becomes a vital volume, as it contains the germ of the seed that later blossoms at the series' conclusion.  What at first glance appeared to be an extended throwaway section becomes upon re-reading the entire series a harbinger of the events, tragic and triumphant alike, to come.

A brief thought on reviewing

If you read a review of mine and all you take away from it is that I liked or disliked the work at hand, I have not succeeded at my goal of reviewing the work.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Two literary squirrels talk about Patrick Rothfuss' The Wise Man's Fear

Recently, two literary squirrels (let's call the first one Dunja and the second one Larry) decided to chitter about Patrick Rothfuss' The Wise Man's Fear.  There was much to talk about, as you will soon read.  Conversations, whether they be by humans or by literary rabid vampiric squirrels, do not always start at the beginning.  This was certainly the case here, as the two started by talking about the issue of sex in the book and then proceeded to outline the problems that they found with the novel:

I have to say that I'm really disappointed by the lack of sex in the book. Many of the reviews I read before the book were dissatisfied with the abundance of sex scenes. However, after reading, I have to conclude we were reading completely different books. So frustratingly vague on the Kama Sutra of the Fae. Had I paid for the book, I would have been devastated.

Yes, the nature of the sex scenes was really eye roll-inducing.  It felt as though Kvothe was just an oversized boy entering puberty that had no clue what sex was, other than it was something that seemed to sap his intelligence during the narration of those vague, poorly-written scenes.  Not that this is an isolated affair, mind you.

At least his sex scenes were brief in comparison to the pages upon pages of recounting minutiae.  Do people really want hundreds of pages detailing Kvothe's means of making money?

We should be grateful for the opportunity to read such realistic fantasy. Often complaints can be heard about fantasy novels written with less ambition, that the settings are not believable enough. Finally, we have a book where we can know all. Every penny, the state of every shirt, the price of every meat pie. I was thrilled to read about the creative ways of collecting tuition money, page after page after page.

What worries me is the character of Kvothe, the way I see his legend is being constructed. In the first book I saw hints of greatness, of adventure and high magic, stuff legends are made of. Not much of that unfolded in the second book. What concerns me is that those events might have never happened, and they never will, that they might be just rumors gone wild, maybe lies purposefully cultivated by the main character. Because from the earliest events, he worked on consciously creating his own legend.

And yet this apparent deceit is what so many of Rothfuss' admirers seem to have enjoyed most about this book.  That sense that they have caught on to Kvothe's unreliability, never mind that for many readers, the piling of BS leaves a rather unpleasant smell in the noses of those readers who want more than a nearly thousand page exercise in chicanery.  That is part of the reason why I found this book to be so tedious to read.  It was a perverse echo of Eco's essay on pornography:  we have to recount each and every step of the process in order to create the patina of reality over something that is a sordid fantasy.

Pardon me if I felt that the story lacked because it broke down into a series of explanations and contained little narrative "magic."

Like I said, I wouldn't mind a bit MORE pornography. I don't have high hopes for the third book, but I do feel hope.

Unless the writer changes completely the plot pace, I don't see how the trilogy could be finished, or at least concluded in some satisfactory way. There are plenty of books that show the way. It took Belgarath one book to retell the tale of his life. Pug needed maybe a bit more, but to be fair, he was a magician of two worlds. Harry needed seven solid books, but again, to be fair, his school sounded much less boring than Kvothe's. It is high time to kick Kvothe onto the road of some adventure. Or, at least, some PLOT.

I'm not as much concerned with plot pacing (although I do agree that events were narrated too heavily here) as I am with prose and characterization. I would have said theme, but there is very little thematic presentation in The Wise Man's Fear.  But the prose was much worse here.  It felt as though Rothfuss confused the need to expand the story with the need to expound upon details.  There isn't much in the way of a storytelling vibe to this novel, outside of the framing sections, because the characters felt a bit too flat.  Perhaps this was because Rothfuss wants to create a "surprise" in the third book, but here it just felt dull and rather boring.

And what about the circularity of the book's events?  Could the reader have skipped this book and feel as though s/he had missed little?

To skip a book? In a trilogy? The thought is almost sacrilegious.

But the perfect The Wise Man's Fear should have been condensed into two and a half chapters. Maybe three short ones and then the plot should have moved, into some direction. There is no much important information in this book. It could have been never written and we would be in the same spot as we are now.

I don't mind book with no plot. In fact, some of my favourite books are such. A book can be without a plot. Or without interesting character development. Or without intriguing ideas and events. But not without all of that at the same time.

I find Kvothe to be an interesting character. First he is so terribly awkward with his love, then he is awkward with the fae, we are reminded he is actually quite young. Then he goes and poisons, then butchers a whole caravan in a quite cold blooded and efficient way. I wonder is it the way he is, as a character, or the idea that sex is a bigger taboo than violence is being transferred from our world.

 Well, there are those who argue that some could just read summaries of 4-5 epic fantasy books and not miss a beat when picking up volume 12 or so…

Yes, books do not require a strong plot in order to be good.  But The Wise Man's Fear is no Pynchon, that's for certain.  It feels like it's a reprocessed meat. You know there's element of beef or pork in there, but it's so ground up and mixed with unappetizing things that the entire thing just feels devoid of any real flavor.

Kvothe was interesting at first, as I thought the first volume held some promise.  But here?  Beyond realizing rather quickly that he's just distorting "real" events, I found myself thinking that his character was meant to be inhabited by those who do find sex to be a more forbidding topic than the frags in a shooter video game.  I wonder if the casualness of violence compared to sex is something American-centric, or if it can be found in much of Europe as well?

I wouldn't know. In fiction, I'm casual towards both. Irl, I pick only the tastiest victims for my squirrels to feed on. Not casual about that at all. :)

This books makes me sad because of all the 'could have been'. So much potential, staying just that.

Well, squirrels are picky eaters, remember.  Although I know you don't mind me employing some of them as readers for books such as Wise Man's Fear, I somehow doubt that they'd relish dining on more of this sort of work.  It just isn't squirrel worthy, is it?


And with that, they scampered off, a bit despondent that The Wise Man's Fear just was not squirrel worthy at all.

A Literary Rorschach Test: Thoughts on Peter Stothard's Recent Comments

So another round in that epic clash between the bon ton and the hoi polloi has broken out over in the UK, this time centering around remarks made by Booker Prize chairman (and editor of the Times Literary Supplement) Peter Stothard regarding the pessimistic future of literary criticism.  Oh, how the retorts have been swift and biting!  If one were to play a drinking game in which one took a shot every time the word "snob" or "elitist/m" was used in those links, one would likely be comatose by now.  Hopefully, I will be pardoned or at least not drawn and quartered if I view with a skeptical eye many of the sentiments expressed in the links provided above.

The first thought that occurred to me is that I could not find a transcript of his comments.  That is understandable, as newspapers do edit their interviewees' comments into the space of a small column.  But here is the offending part of The Independent's column, at least for some:

The 61-year-old says: "There is a widespread sense in the UK, as well as America, that traditional, confident criticism, based on argument and telling people whether the book is any good, is in decline. Quite unnecessarily."

"Criticism needs confidence in the face of extraordinary external competition," the former editor of The Times says. "It is wonderful that there are so many blogs and websites devoted to books, but to be a critic is to be importantly different than those sharing their own taste… Not everyone's opinion is worth the same."

The rise of blogging has proved particularly worrying, he says. "Eventually that will be to the detriment of literature. It will be bad for readers; as much as one would like to think that many bloggers opinions are as good as others. It just ain't so. People will be encouraged to buy and read books that are no good, the good will be overwhelmed, and we'll be worse off. There are some important issues here."

When I read that piece yesterday, before the flood of blog responses began in earnest, I thought he had a valid point.  A critic is not the same as someone who goes on Goodreads or Amazon and leaves a star rating.  A critic is not someone who expresses his/her liking/disliking of a book.  A critic is not someone who describes how a book unfolds.  No, a critic is something different.  To me at least, a critic is someone who delves into the "whys" of a story, teasing out elements that bear further consideration (or in some cases, dismissal).  A good critic gives a reader a chance to (re)evaluate his/her own stances regarding the act of reading.

Yet in these type of reactions, you don't see the critic being portrayed as anything valuable.  Oh, no.  There is an underlying sense that one feels "attacked" when Stothard bemoans the apparent collapse of literary criticism beneath the sheer weight of other forms of literary discourse.  Let me turn this issue around and try and see this from Stothard's perspective.  I would imagine that he would probably counter some of the comments by asking simply, what reviews, blog-originated or otherwise, have you read lately that made you re-evaluate your position on what constitutes a "worthy" or "good" book?  I know for myself, it is increasingly difficult to find a review that does little more than just provide the reviewer's likes/dislikes, take them as you please.  Although there is some value, I suppose, in that style of review essay, is there really anything gained other than the reader finding someone who may confirm his/her already-held opinion on what types of works are worth reading?  I don't think one reads Goodreads reviews or those of several genre blogs (to use examples with which many readers here would be familiar) to learn anything about the art of writing or reading comprehension, but for those (such as myself) who do occasionally want something more, where do we turn?

The answers to that question are not pretty.  Newspapers and magazines traditionally have been the source for literary criticism that is more than two paragraphs long.  Yet over the past quarter-century, their coverage has been slashed in the US and likely elsewhere.  True, there are isolated blogs that do provide these voices (and Stothard is well aware of them, based on later comments), but how do you go about discovering them when you want something more than a review ending in 7.5/10?  From blogrolls and others' recs?  Sure, that'll work to a degree (this blog's blogroll does link to several who provide lit criticism), but it's hard to discover them on Google or elsewhere without wading through a lot of dreck.

Acknowledging this is not "being a snob."  One can find oneself longing for certain forms of literary review/criticism without dismissing out-of-hand newer media.  Stothard, I believe, is not dismissing blogging or online reviewing as much as he's expressing a fear that in this still-maturing online age, that certain voices that dare to dig deeper and to unearth things that are overlooked by the majority because they have chosen/are not capable of investing the time to explore why such a work is worth considering, that those voices will be drowned out by white noise.  I look at my shelves and I wonder if authors such as Thomas Pynchon, Samuel Delany, or Flannery O'Connor, just to name a few, would have achieved any sort of wide readership today if there were not critics as well as general readers praising their works and exploring just why their writings bear a closer examination.

It is too easy to get caught up in the rhetoric associated with "snob" or "elitist" and presume that the one expressing an opinion that runs counter to popular opinion is just fighting against an inexorable tide.  Perhaps that is so.  However, popular opinion does not mean that a work is good or that it will endure (true, the inverse is also correct).  But if those so-called "elitists" are dismissed with finality, who then will dare to go against populist takes?  That is the lingering question.

Wilson Rawls - Where the Red Fern Grows

I’ll start this by saying that I’m not the intended audience of this book on so many levels. I never read it as a child so I don’t feel emotions clouding what might be the reality of this book.  I don’t care about dogs, I don’t understand the fascination with coon hunting or the countryside. 

Some of the elements of the book I perceive as flaws.  The plot is too simple and too perfect. The characters are simple and cardboardy. The female characters especially, if they could be called characters at all, they behaved as if they possessed no mind of their own. The mother of the main character was shown only as a bundle of reasonable and unreasonable worry for her son, her daughters as candy-eating, wide-eyed cardboard dolls. The father and the grandfather of the main character were slightly better written, but by the end of the book we don’t know about them much more than what we knew at the beginning.

The coon hunting is an essential part of the book, but the descriptions of coon trails and tricks just couldn’t hold my attention. I don’t have a special interest in coons, so after the first few were treed and skinned, I had a hard time concentrating on the details of the hunts, and often I found myself skimming over the descriptions of trails, rocks and dogs.  Few episodes stand out, the rest is a vague blur of forests and rivers.

I didn’t like how the divine intervention or ‘divine intervention’ was used in the book.  Too convenient.  Say a prayer and God will show you where to buy the dogs. Say a prayer and God will finish cutting down the giant tree for you.  Believe in God and you’ll miraculously see the way to save your dog from the icy river. Believe in God and He will conveniently kill off your dogs at the end of the story so that the plot can be wrapped up nicely.  I suppose that from the PoV of the characters inside the book, divine interventions made a lot of sense and were not out of place in their understanding of the world. From my point of view, they were unnecessary, too convenient and they cheapened the actions and accomplishments of the characters.

How the book will end is obvious on the first page of the book as the publisher saw fit to print the quote about the Indian legend of the red fern on the first page. So it is not surprising. The death of the dogs left me cold, maybe because the whole book was about death and bloody bits of animals. Dan and Ann were trained to kill and they were very efficient hunting dogs. Their deaths touched me as much as the demise of those coons mentioned throughout the book. Very little.

I’m not especially for or against hunting for food or sport of non-endangered species.  However, if we establish it is okay to kill to satisfy bloodlust and feel the thrill of the kill, then we have to embrace all of the hunting, together with the possibility of hunters dying. 

All the characters and the whole landscape were just a scene for the tale of two dogs and a boy. In fact, I’d say the boy and his dogs were only cardboard characters as well, simple settings on which to show the universal story of love between men and dogs.  This is maybe the only part of the book that doesn’t fall short.

I think the book in itself is mediocre and that its qualities only surface for people who had dogs at an early age and could imagine themselves in place of the main character. This is a book to be read with heart and not mind.  I’m sorry, but I couldn’t do that.

Reflections on re-reading Wilson Rawls' Where the Red Fern Grows

I am writing this little piece to be a supplement to the review that Dunja is writing.  It is not a review of the book's strengths and weaknesses, but rather a commentary on this particular reader and the enduring impact that Wilson Rawls' Where the Red Fern Grows has had on me ever since my fourth grade teacher read the book aloud to my class 29 years ago.

29 years.  Hard to believe that it has been nearly that long since I last read it (I seem to have a vague recollection of re-reading it sometime just after the classroom reading sessions, but I know it couldn't have been any later than the end of elementary school).  Some stories move you, others make you face some very harsh realities.  Where the Red Fern Grows belongs to that latter category, for me at least.  Wilson Rawls wrote about what he loved, the Ozarks and country life around the turn of the 20th century.  When Where the Red Fern Grows was published just over 50 years ago, it quickly became one of "those" books, especially here in the American South.  My dad read it when he was about to enter high school and he said it was a very hard book to read, since he grew up on a farm and that my grandfather had dozens of hunting dogs, mostly beagles.

I can remember when I was about 6 or 7, my dad and I went to visit one of my aunts.  She lived next door to my grandmother (my grandfather had died when I was 3 months old) and my uncle kept about a half-dozen or so beagles in a kennel down the hill from their house.  I remember going over and poking my fingers through the chicken wire and having some sniff my fingers and a few of them trying to lick my small hands.  That, along with faint memories of a mixed-breed German Shepard from my first three years of life, are my earliest memories of being around hunting/guard dogs (we had a schnauzer when I was 4-6, but that dog didn't like little me enough for me to have many good memories of him).

Like most boys in my region during the late 1970s/early 1980s, I grew up with dogs.  When my parents moved to the outskirts of town in 1980, we lived on an 8 acre, semi-wooded plot.  Perfect for a young boy and a dog to go romp about, even if a highway was a quarter-mile away.  We had a lot of dogs at this time, after a stray "adopted" us and had her litter.  I was about 8 at this time (the schnauzer had run away right after we moved; my parents didn't believe in chaining our dogs) and it was fascinating to see the little pups (I want to say there were 6) nestled around their mother.

But there are downsides to being responsible for outdoor pets.  A few of the pups, the runts, were sickly and they soon died.  Being that I had just lost my great-grandmother and an uncle suddenly less than a year before, it was a sobering reminder of the fragility of life.  Some of the other pups wandered away, eager to explore the world around them, likely encountering death along the highway.  I remember two that survived to be full-grown.  We named them Bo and Luke, after the popular Dukes of Hazzard show at the time.  Bo contracted some sort of illness, one that caused seizures and then a state of paralysis.  I remember my dad getting out his shotgun, telling us to stand inside and not to look out, while he went down the road a bit to where Bo had become rigid.  I remember the sharp burst of the gun.  I did not dare peek out of a window or go outside for hours.

I recall Duke dying on Christmas Day when I was 9.  He had suddenly become ill and I think his heart just gave out in our garage.  He was barely a year old.  He had not survived his brother for long.

Yet during their brief times on this planet, I can remember running about with them, playing chase games.  Hugging them and petting them.  There is something to be said about the bonds that can develop being humans and dogs.  Bonds such as the one Rawls describes in this passage from Ch. 18:

"Men," said Mr. Kyle, "people have been trying to understand dogs ever since the beginning of time.  One never knows what they'll do.  You can read every day where a dog saved the life of a drowning child, or lay down his life for his master.  Some people call this loyalty.  I don't.  I may be wrong, but I call it love – the deepest kind of love."

 Bonds such as the ones I've had with the dogs of my childhood, or what young Billy has with Old Dan and Little Ann, contain as much sorrow as they do joy.  When my teacher read that aloud, a bunch of us were moved to tears, not as much because of their eventual end, but because each of us found ourselves remembering that playful pawing of our legs, the wag of their tails, the look in their eyes when we would say "good boy" or "good girl."  I did not realize it then, but I learned lessons of love through my care for the dogs and their deaths invariably made me sad.

For years, I could not even entertain the thought of re-reading Where the Red Fern Grows.  I knew I would break down and tears would flow.  Tears that had failed to flow when other family members died.  Barriers sometimes are necessary, but they should come down at some point lest they imprison the soul within them.  So when Dunja and I agreed to read some of the other's favorite childhood books and review them here, I found myself buying two copies of Where the Red Fern Grows.   It was time to re-read one of the most important books of my childhood.

I spent the past few days reading a book that was only 220 e-pages long.  I could only bear reading a few chapters a day, as I became lost in memory.  Thinking of not just the dogs of my youth, but of more recent ones.  Sugar, the white/yellow Lab that we got just after my HS graduation 20 years ago, who got annoyed with another Lab of ours, to the point of shutting her inside the garage after she pawed open the door, shoved the puppy inside, and then closed the door and sat there to prevent the other dog from leaving.  I remember her protectiveness, her love for my mother (all of our dogs have loved her the most), and her last years, when she contracted a horrible skin disease that left her smelling awful and with patchy skin that the vet could not cure.  I remember Ally, who we had almost 14.5 years, and her mourning when Sugar died of a heart attack at the age of 7.5 in 1999.  How she laid down on her grave and would barely move for two weeks after her death.  Dogs grieve at least as much as we do.  There was something of Little Ann in that gesture.

So many memories flooded back to me as I re-read the chapters.  Rawls' writing, with its focus on descriptive narrative, perfectly captures that feeling that many of us raised in the countryside or on the outskirts of town had.  There is a sincerity in his writing that makes like-minded readers ache at times, if they are not smiling and remembering their own dogs' antics.  Although the plot is rather simple, that of a boy wanting beyond hope two hunting dogs that would be the best in the Ozarks, his execution is pitch-perfect for those who have experienced similar desires.  By the time I reached the penultimate chapter, the one with the mountain lion, I was on the verge of losing it, like I knew I would.  It was a vicious punch to the gut, even though I knew what was coming.  I had to pause for a bit, to make sure my welling eyes did not prevent me from reading.  Still a devastating work.

No, that's not quite true.  "Devastating" would imply that there's nothing positive to come from it.  Perhaps "cathartic" best suits this feeling.  In being forced to recall not just the tragic ends of Old Dan and Little Ann but also the dogs my family has kept for over three decades, I also was able to remember those times I shared with them.  Maybe that's what Where the Red Fern Grows is strongest.  We had to confront the emotions of death and loss, while also realizing, as Billy does years later, that there was something special in that bond between dog and human that endures beyond grief and heartache.

As I finish writing this aside (which naturally grew in the telling), I find myself more at peace now.  I have a slight smile, thankful that even though the story brought back memories of grief, it also reawakened memories of my youth that I had thought were too deeply buried for recall.  Great stories can do that, no?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

I see the second volume of Andrzej Sapkowski's Hussite Trilogy, Los guerreros de dios, has been released in Spanish

For the past five years or so, I've been reading Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski's fiction in translation, first in English (Last Wish and Blood of the Elves), then in Spanish (the full Geralt saga and the first Hussite Trilogy book, Narrenturm).  I just learned that the second volume, Los guerreros de Dios (God's Warriors or The Warriors of God, depending on your preference) was just released in Spain on September 21 by Alamut.  Despite my recent cutback on purchasing new fiction, I think this will be a book that I will be importing in the near future from Spain, which should say how much I enjoyed Sapkowski's previous novels.

Speaking of Sapkowski, maybe after I finish this Malazan re-read/review project, I'll finish reviewing the last few books in the Geralt series and then start reviewing the first two-thirds of the Hussite Trilogy.  Sound like something that might interest readers?

Dana Spiotta, Stone Arabia

There is some mythical about rock and roll.  The loud guitars, the body-jarring rhythms of bass and drums, the piercing wail of the lead singer come crashing together to create an aural tapestry that makes our hearts beat faster and our emotions burble to the surface.  With that come the legends of average Joes and Janes (or Bob and Patti) who make it on their sheer grit and determination to see their visions come true.  But the road to such mythical glory is strewn with the corpses of bands and singers who just were not good enough, famous enough, or were just plain unlucky.  What dreams did they carry within them as they had to abandon being a rock star for the comparatively dull and non-glamorous life of a businesswoman or mail carrier, with maybe only a few part-time gigs at local dives to keep the dream burning bright?  Does age blunt the edges of disappointment, or does it sharpen it to a keen point?

Dana Spiotta's third novel, Stone Arabia, explores the possibilities buried within those questions.  Based to some extent on her stepfather, who was a part-time musician who almost but never quite made it big, her brother-sister duo of Nik and Denise Worth strikes a chord with those of us who envisioned ourselves being the next Robert Plant, the next Johnny Rotten, or the next Patti Smith.  It is hard for some of us to let go of our fantasies, to accept that we do not have the songwriting talents of a Bob Dylan or the guitar-shredding ability of a Jimi Hendrix or Jimmy Page.  Sometimes, those dreamers end up depending upon (or even using in a parasitical fashion) family, friends, and loved ones to give them $20 in gas money to drive the beaten-up van to the next gig or $500 for that new Gibson or bass drum.  Think back long and hard enough and a great many of us can remember those in our lives who dared to attempt the impossible dream, only to fall flat.  Spiotta's novel is replete with those moments where the dreams run head-on into a harsh, indifferent reality.

Denise is the grounded sibling of the two.  Stone Arabia revolves in part around her look back, from the late 1970s to 2006, over her brother Nik's life and how his dreams, chronicled in short passages aptly named "Chronicles," warped around the expectations of the world around him.  It is also a chronicle of a musician who almost made it, who had that record contract just slip out of his grasp.  But Stone Arabia is as much Denise's story as it is Nik's, as both are in their mid-to-late 40s and are confronting the driftlessness that has defined their lives, especially Nik's, to that point.  A key passage in the novel occurs almost exactly halfway in, as Denise has learned of the grisly fate of a former TV actor and his wife:
For days, I would return to the Garret story.  I checked the tribute site, but after a week it stopped getting new posts.  The story dropped away, just an autopsy toxicology report of the various substances in the bodies' bloodstreams.  I didn't care about that, how the contents of your blood became public information.  I just thought about, and could not stop thinking about, what Garret Wayne's last day was like.  Did he get up and think, This will be the last day of my life?  Or did he fall into a sudden rage, a rage of such distortive, annihilating force that he couldn't stop himself?  Was the gun sitting in a drawer, just in case?  I stared at the headshot photo of his actress wife that had become ubiquitous now.  Did she know what was coming?  If not, how was that possible?  I stared into the artfully lit eyes of this pretty, ordinary girl and tried to see if her future was written in her face.
We all long to escape our own subjectivity.  That's what art can do, give us a glimpse of ourselves connected with every human, now and forever, our disconnected, lonely terms escaped for a moment.  It offers the consolation of recognition, no small thing.  But what the televised bombardment of violent events did to me was completely different.  I didn't overcome my subjectivity; rather, my person got stretched to include the whole world, stretched to a breaking point.  I became pervious, bruised and annihilated.  That's what it feels like, this debilitating emotional engagement – annihilation, not affirmation.
Contrast that sobering passage with a "present day" comment, presented in drama-like dialogue, where Denise shares with her daughter about why Nik began making his "Chronicles":
I guess it really started around '79 or '80.  It coincided with his ending his band.  1979 was the last year Nik was actually in a band.  The year of the big disappointment.  I think it is fair to describe it as not entirely a surprise.  Nik was faking it.  I knew it, he knew it.  He wasn't really interested in the punk or post-punk music scene that was exploding.  He was too old, for one thing.  Nik was twenty-five and everyone else was like seventeen.  He was a poseur, as we used to say.
I took a sip of water.  I paused for the effect of recollection.
It is important to understand what was going on in those days.  After years of deadness, Los Angeles suddenly had this legitimate scene.  Nik cut his hair super short.  He knew what would work.  No gigs unless you had that look.  But already Nik betrayed himself with harmony and hooks.  Why not?  The Sex Pistols and the Clash had harmonies and hooks.  Okay, you spat and you cursed, but it wasn't ever that far from the Beatles.  What you couldn't do, though, ever, was play solos.  No guitar pretension and no drum solos and no complications.  Fine.  But LA was not London.  LA had to answer for the Eagles and Jackson Browne.  LA had some issues in it.  Somehow out of the good sun and the long days, LA felt a deep ugly rage.  It was swollen with heroin and debauched wastedness.  It was a badly stitched, angry-red, keltoid-scar rage.  It was a self-scratched, blue-inked, infected-prison-tattoo rage.  I understood, almost instantly, what that rage meant.  I loved that rage, the anti-tan pasty look, the deliberately ugly.  I understood how subversive ugly could be.  We had a terrible hunger for the nasty, the horrible, the deformed.
Beneath all of the excerpts from Nik's "Chronicles" lurk façades, deliberately constructed images that are at odds with the world around him.  Nik fabricates events, mythologizing them in the process.  His segments resound with the hopes and dreams of countless number of musician hopefuls.  When juxtaposed with Denise's more pessimistic portrayal of him and his talents, Nik's scenes take on a sense of bathos, as the exuberance fades quickly into a denial of the world around him.  Spiotta does an outstanding job over the course of 236 pages to explore these dynamics between the two siblings, their contrasting world views, and how hopes and dreams can lead to myths that are unknown to all but a small handful who view them with as much wistfulness as fond recollection.  Stone Arabia is a brilliant portrayal of a time and attitude that can seem a bit foreign to those of us who did not live the dream, but its ability to make even the more grounded readers experience the passion that fueled those wannabe musicians makes it worth reading for a wide spectrum of readers.

This review appeared in a slightly modified form at Gogol's Overcoat in March 2012.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Tentative plans for the 2012 Southern Festival of Books

Barring any unforeseen developments, looks like I will be attending the Saturday and Sunday sessions of the 2012 Southern Festival of Books in Nashville.  (For those curious about all three days, click on the link.)  Last year, I went to the Friday session and had a lot of fun and this year, since almost the rest of the family will be on a road trip to the Northeast and Canada, I decided that attending two days might be my consolation prize.  Helps that admission is free.

Below are the Saturday and Sunday times.  I'll bold the ones I'm going to try and see at least in part, either for the readings/discussion or for the signings:

Saturday, October 13, 2012

9:00-10:00 am, Legislative Plaza, Room 29
Nighttime Ninja
Ed Young
9:00-10:00 am, Legislative Plaza, Room 31
Rebel Soldiers and Citizens: Examining the Personal Motives of Confederates
Brian McKnight, Gordon Belt, Traci Nichols-Belt
9:00-10:00 am, Youth Stage
BrainQuest Challenge
9:30-11:00 am, Nashville Public Library, Conf. Room IA
Getting Fresh - Cook Your Best Southern Food
Tammy Algood, Debbie Moose, Kathleen Purvis
9:30-11:00 am, Nashville Public Library, Conf. Room II
Body and Spirit: New Voices in Women's Fiction
Pamela King Cable, Kimberly Babb Brock, Ginger Moran
9:30-11:00 am, Nashville Public Library, Library Auditorium
Women's National Book Association presents "Coffee with Authors"
Gail Tsukiyama, Christopher Tilghman, Karen Thompson Walker, Ben Fountain
9:30-11:00 am, Legislative Plaza, Room 30
Jesus Take The Wheel - Novels of Family & Faith
Christa Allan, Kelli Coates Gilbert, Kathy Harris
10:00-11:00 am, Legislative Plaza, Room 12
The Cove
Ron Rash
10:00-11:00 am, Legislative Plaza, Room 16
American Oracle: The Civil War in the Civil Rights Era
David Blight
10:00-11:30 am, Legislative Plaza, Room 29
The Hero, The Heroine, and the Assassin - YA Fantasy Novels

Karyn Henley, Sarah Maas, CJ Redwine

10:00-11:00 am, Legislative Plaza, Room 31
Tween Life - Writing Characters With a Sense of Self
Gitty Daneshvari, Tami Lewis Brown
10:00-11:00 am, Nashville Public Library, Special Collections Room
Profiles in History: Leaders of the Confederate South
Larry Hewitt, Rodney Steward
10:00-11:00 am, War Memorial Auditorium
The Flint Heart
Katherine Paterson, John Paterson
10:00-11:00 am, Youth Stage
BrainQuest Physical Challenge
10:00-11:00 am, Cafe Stage
Angela Easterling 
10:30-11:30 am, Nashville Public Library, Grand Reading Room
Barack Obama: The Story
David Maraniss
11:00-12:00 noon, Nashville Public Library, Conf. Room IA
Stay Awake: Stories

Dan Chaon

11:00-12:00 noon, Nashville Public Library, Conf. Room II
Region, Race and Memory: Inheriting the Civil War 
11:00-12:00 noon, Nashville Public Library, Library Auditorium
Beautiful Ruins
Jess Walter
11:00-12:00 pm, Nashville Public Library, Special Collections Room
Home to Us: Six Stories of Saving the Land
John Egerton, Nancy Rhoda, Varina Willse
11:00-12:00 noon, Legislative Plaza, Room 12
Tradition and Evolution in Today's Southern Kitchens
Chris Chamberlain, Paul Knipple, Angela Knipple
11:00-12:30 pm, Legislative Plaza, Room 16
The Pulpwood Queens Presents Authors that are Royal Southern READS!
Kathy Patrick, Amy Hill Hearth, Robert LeLeux, Lynda Rutledge, Jenny Wingfield
11:00-12:00 noon, Legislative Plaza, Room 30
Danger in our Midst: Reporting on Nuclear Waste and Gun Laws
Kristen Iversen, Adam Winkler
11:00-12:00 noon, Legislative Plaza, Room 31
Leave it on the Field: Culture, Politics, and SEC Football
Inman Majors, Chuck Thompson
11:00-12:00 noon, War Memorial Auditorium
Gone Girl
Gillian Flynn
11:00-12:00 noon, Youth Stage
BrainQuest Challenge
11:30-12:30 pm, Nashville Public Library, Grand Reading Room
Lulu Walks the Dog
Judith Viorst
11:30-12:30 pm, Legislative Plaza, Room 29
Burn For Burn
Jenny Han, Siobhan Vivian
11:30 am - 12:30 pm
Tommy Womack
12:00-1:00 pm, Nashville Public Library, Conf. Room IA
Speaking for the Trees: Old-Growth Forests in North Carolina and Tennessee
Bill Finch, David Haskell
12:00-1:00 pm, Nashville Public Library, Conf. Room IB
Our Feet May Leave, But Not Our Hearts - Stories of Home & Place
Silas House, Meg Medina
12:00-1:00 pm, Nashville Public Library, Conf. Room II
House Upon the Sand: Novels of Secrets and Reconciliations
John Neely Davis, A.J. Scudiere
12:00-1:00 pm, Nashville Public Library, Library Auditorium
Why Do So Few Blacks Study the Civil War?

Ta-Nehisi Coates

12:00-1:00 pm, Legislative Plaza, Room 12
Ada's Rules: A Sexy, Skinny Novel
Alice Randall
12:00-1:00 pm, Legislative Plaza, Room 30
Everything but the Main: Sides and Desserts for All Occasions
Fred Thompson, Patsy Caldwell, Amy Lyles Wilson
12:00-1:00 pm, Legislative Plaza, Room 31
Bowling Avenue to Beale Street: Tennessee novels
Blake Fontenay, Ann Shayne
12:00-1:30 pm, Nashville Public Library, Special Collections Room
Zooming In: Poems of Seeing the Eternal in the Everday
Kate Buckley, Charlotte Pence, Adam Vines
12:00-1:30 pm, War Memorial Auditorium
Grit Lit: A Rough South Reader
Brian Carpenter, Chris Offutt, Tom Franklin, George Singleton
12:30-1:30 pm, Nashville Public Library, Grand Reading Room
In Sunlight and in Shadow

Mark Helprin

12:30-1:30 pm, Legislative Plaza, Room 16
Beneath the Polite Mask: Two Mysteries, Vividly Rendered
Daniel Black, Marlin Barton
12:30-1:30 pm, Legislative Plaza, Room 29
Crocodile's Tears
Alex Beard
1:00-2:00 pm, Nashville Public Library, Conf. Room IA
Eat What You Sow: Two Paths to Culinary Consciousness
Jeremy Barlow, Janisse Ray
1:00-2:30 pm, Nashville Public Library, Conf. Room IB
Faraway Times, Faraway Places: Bringing the Past -- and the Future -- to Life
Jennie Bentley, Dewey Lambdin, Alana White, Jane Sevier
1:00-2:00 pm, Nashville Public Library, Conf. Room II
To Fight and To Live - Paranormal and Steampunk Novels
Bethany Griffin, Amanda Havard
1:00-2:00 pm, Nashville Public Library, Library Auditorium
J.R. Moehringer
1:00-2:00 pm, Legislative Plaza, Room 12
A Hundred Flowers
Gail Tsukiyama
1:00-2:00 pm, Legislative Plaza, Room 30
Future Imperfect: Dystopian Novels
M.M. Buckner, Moira Crone
1:00-2:30 pm, Legislative Plaza, Room 31
The Silence of Collective Memory: Stories of Racism in the South
Pam Durban, Molly Walling, Lila Weaver
1:00-2:00 pm, Youth Stage
Jilli, That's Silly!
Mark Wayne Adams
1:00-2:00 pm, Cafe Stage
Les Kerr and the Bayou Band
1:30-2:30 pm, Nashville Public Library, Grand Reading Room
My American Revolution
Robert Sullivan
1:30-3:00 pm, Legislative Plaza, Room 16
Histories of Freedom: People and Politics in the Atlantic World
Madison Smartt Bell, Jane Landers, Laurent Dubois
1:30-2:30 pm, Legislative Plaza, Room 29
Wacky Hotels & Wily Heists - Middle Grade Adventure Series
Roland Smith, Patrick Carman
1:30-2:30 pm, Nashville Public Library, Special Collections Room
Common Miracles and Everyday Revelations: Three Poets
Sandy Coomer, Clay Matthews
1:30-2:30 pm, War Memorial Auditorium
Father's Day: A Journey Into the Heart and Mind of My Extraordinary Son
Buzz Bissinger
2:00-3:00 pm, Nashville Public Library, Conf. Room II
Horror for Good
Robert Wilson
2:00-3:00 pm, Nashville Public Library, Library Auditorium
The Great Unexpected
Sharon Creech
2:00-3:30 pm, Legislative Plaza, Room 12
Boom Goes The Dynamite - Debut Novels of Modern Families

Tupelo Hassman, Lydia Netzer, Adam Wilson

2:00-3:00 pm, Legislative Plaza, Room 30
Cottonwood Summer '45
Gary Slaughter
2:00-3:00 pm, Youth Stage
The Fashion Designer's Handbook
Marjorie Galen
2:00-3:00 pm, Nashville Public Library, Conf. Room IA
Two Foot Fred: How My Life Has Come Full Circle
Fred Gill
2:30-4:00 pm, Nashville Public Library, Conf. Room IB

A Storied Past: Riveting Historical Fiction
Da Chen, Jennie Fields, David Madden
2:30-3:30 pm, Nashville Public Library, Grand Reading Room
Desperate and Darkly Beautiful: Two Master Storytellers
Ron Rash, Daniel Woodrell
2:30-3:30 pm, Legislative Plaza, Room 29
Daring Dames - Women Who Make a Difference
Carolyn J. Brown, Kerrie Logan Hollihan
2:30-4:00 pm, Legislative Plaza, Room 31
Agents of Liberty and Equality
David Cecelski, Nicholas Buccola, Devon Carbado
2:30-3:30 pm, Cafe Stage
CD Release Party "A Decent Pan of Cornbread"
Kory Wells
Kelsey Wells

3:00-4:00 pm, Nashville Public Library, Conf. Room IA
Our Jaded Optimism: Comedic Takes on the American Character
Rosecrans Baldwin, Jack Hitt
3:00-4:00 pm, Nashville Public Library, Conf. Room II
Sanctuary: Portraits of Rescued Farm Animals
Sharon Lee Hart
3:00-4:30 pm, Nashville Public Library, Library Auditorium
Ladies, Gentlemen, Losers and Loners: Three Story Collections
Adam Ross, Adam Prince, Claire Vaye Watkins
3:00-4:00 pm, Legislative Plaza, Room 16
Answering the Apocalypse: Stories of Families in the Aftermath

Ben Marcus, Karen Thompson Walker

3:00-4:00 pm, Legislative Plaza, Room 30
By the Sweat of Her Brow: Modern Women Poets
George Ella Lyon, Eva Salzman
3:00-4:00 pm, Nashville Public Library, Special Collections Room
Me-Oh My-Oh From K-Doe to Bayou: People and Place in Louisiana Music
Alex Cook, Ben Sandmel
3:00-4:00 pm, Youth Stage
Curious George's 71st Birthday Party
3:30-5:00 pm, Legislative Plaza, Room 12
Honey, That's Just How It Is: Stories of Appalachian Realism
Lisa Alther, Mark Powell, Charles Dodd White
3:30-4:30 pm, Legislative Plaza, Room 29
Coming of Age in Hidden Worlds - Victorian Novels for T(w)eens

Catherynne M. Valente, Sharon Cameron

4:00-5:00 pm, Nashville Public Library, Conf. Room IA
Nobody's Hands Are Clean: Two Mysteries
Sandra Brannan, J.T. Ellison
4:00-5:00 pm, Nashville Public Library, Conf. Room IB
Magdalene House: A Place About Mercy
Sarah VanHooser Suiter
4:00-5:00 pm, Nashville Public Library, Conf. Room II
Freedom Papers: An Atlantic Odyssey in the Age of Emancipation
Rebecca Scott
4:00-5:00 pm, Nashville Public Library, Grand Reading Room
War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865
James McPherson
4:00-5:30 pm, Legislative Plaza, Room 16
For Land & Family - Novels of Place and Perseverance
Courtney Miller Santo, Tatjana Soli, Gerald Duff
4:00-5:00 pm, Legislative Plaza, Room 30
Independent Princesses - Enchanting Novels for Tweens
Caroline Randall Williams, E.D. Baker, Alice Randall
4:00-5:00 pm, Legislative Plaza, Room 31
Riots and Their Cause: A Soldier's Story of the Ole Miss Riot and Strom Thurmond's America
Joseph Crespino, Henry Gallagher
4:00-5:00 pm, Nashville Public Library, Special Collections Room
This Fragile Life: A Mother's Story of a Bipolar Son
Charlotte Pierce-Baker
4:00-5:00 pm, War Memorial Auditorium
This is How You Lose Her: Stories

Junot Díaz

4:00-5:00 pm, Cafe Stage
Secret Commonwealth
4:30-5:30 pm, Legislative Plaza, Room 29
Matters of the Heart - Writing Romance Novels for Teens
Kathryn Williams, Melissa Walker

Sunday, October 14, 2012

12:00-1:00 pm, Nashville Public Library, Conf. Room IA
Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit
Corey Olsen
12:00-1:00 pm, Nashville Public Library, Conf. Room IB
Identity into Image: Photography of Place
Chip Cooper, Bruce Meisterman
12:00-1:30 pm, Nashville Public Library, Grand Reading Room
Creating Our Own Realities - Young People Making Sense of Their World
John Corey Whaley, George Ella Lyon, Loretta Ellsworth
12:00-1:00 pm, Nashville Public Library, Library Auditorium
Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War
Tony Horwitz
12:00-1:00 pm, Legislative Plaza, Room 12
An Artist and a Blue Beret: Young Heroines in War Zones
Bobbie Ann Mason, Ruta Sepetys
12:00-1:00 pm, Cafe Stage
Leipers Fork Bluegrass
12:00-1:30 pm, Legislative Plaza, Room 16
Authors and Social Media

Julianna Baggott, Ron Hogan, Michael Knight, Julie Schoerke

12:00-1:00 pm, Legislative Plaza, Room 29
Saving the World When Grown-Ups Can't - Fantasy Adventure for Middle Grade

Kelly Barnhill, A.J. Hartley

12:00-1:00 pm, Legislative Plaza, Room 30
Shades of Walter Inglis Anderson
Maggi Britton Vaughn, Kory Wells, Carole Brown Knuth
12:00-1:00 pm, Legislative Plaza, Room 31
Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality
Susan Cushman, Jennifer Horne, Wendy Reed
12:00-1:00 pm, Nashville Public Library, Special Collections Room
Cadence and Rhythm: Two Poets
Kevin Brown, Wanda Fries
12:00-1:00 pm, War Memorial Auditorium
Red Rain: A Novel
R.L. Stine
12:00-1:00 pm, Youth Stage
Conductor Jack & Coconuts the Kangaroo from the Zinghoppers
1:00-2:30 pm, Nashville Public Library, Conf. Room IA
Nashville Private Eyes
Steven Womack, Stuart Dill, Jaden Terrell
1:00-2:00 pm, Nashville Public Library, Conf. Room IB
America the Philosophical
Carlin Romano
1:00-2:00 pm, Nashville Public Library, Conf. Room II
Celtic Memories: Novels of Historic Ireland
Jim Johnston, Kathleen Fearing
1:00-2:00 pm, Legislative Plaza, Room 29
Beautiful Chaos
Margaret Stohl, Kami Garcia
1:00-2:00 pm, Legislative Plaza, Room 30
The Haves and Have-Nots: Debut Novels Exploring Two Americas
Amber Dermont, Michel Stone
1:00-2:00 pm, Legislative Plaza, Room 31
Standing Up: The Southern Belle Rewritten
Taylor Polites, Kathy Hepinstall
1:00-2:00 pm, Nashville Public Library, Special Collections Room
The Art to Being and Having Been: Salient Voices in Modern Poetry
Rick Hilles, Ellen Watson
1:00-2:00 pm, War Memorial Auditorium
Life After Death

Damien Echols

1:00-2:00 pm, Youth Stage
BrainQuest Physical Challenge
1:30-2:30 pm, Café Stage
Adam Burrows, Josh Preston
1:30-2:30 pm, Nashville Public Library, Grand Reading Room
Drop Dead Healthy: One Man's Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection
AJ Jacobs
1:30-2:30 pm, Legislative Plaza, Room 12
1861: The Civil War Awakening
Adam Goodheart
1:30-2:30 pm, Legislative Plaza, Room 16
Southern Living Around the Southern Table
Rebecca Lang
2:00-3:00 pm, Nashville Public Library, Conf. Room IB
Reconciling Faith and the World: Biographies of Spiritual Journeys
Randal Maurice Jelks, Diane Sasson
2:00-3:00 pm, Nashville Public Library, Conf. Room II
A Never-Ending Groove: Johnny Sandlin's Musical Odyssey
Anathalee Sandlin
2:00-3:30 pm, Legislative Plaza, Room 29
Survival Stories of Different Stripes - Middle TN Authors Discuss Their Work
Donn Sierra, Kimberly Dana, Chris McCollum
2:00-3:30 pm, Nashville Public Library, Library Auditorium
Brainy, Brawny and Brilliantly Reviewed: Debut Novels

Jennifer DuBois, Peter Heller, Ben Fountain

2:00-3:00 pm, Legislative Plaza, Room 30
By Means of Matter: Capturing Community Through Art
Susan W. Knowles, Art Shiver, Celia S. Walker
2:00-3:00 pm, Legislative Plaza, Room 31
Navigating the Past and Finding Forgiveness: Two Novels
Nancy Jensen, Sarah McCoy
2:00-3:00 pm, Nashville Public Library, Special Collections Room
Blood Feud: The Hatfields and McCoys
Lisa Alther
2:00-2:30 pm, Youth Stage
BrainQuest Challenge
2:30-3:00 pm, Youth Stage
READ20 Family Book Club Event with First Lady Crissy Haslam
2:30-4:00 pm, Nashville Public Library, Conf. Room IA
Reconstructing Order - YA Dystopian Novels
Julianna Baggott, Jeff Hirsch, Kat Zhang
2:30-3:30 pm, Nashville Public Library, Grand Reading Room
American Folk Songbook
Suzy Bogguss
2:30-3:30 pm, Legislative Plaza, Room 12
Growing the Crescent City: The History of New Orleans
Lawrence Powell, John Shelton Reed
2:30-3:30 pm, Legislative Plaza, Room 16
Bill and Hillary: The Politics of the Personal
William Chafe
3:00-4:00 pm, Nashville Public Library, Conf. Room II
Black Chokeberry
Martha Nelson
3:00-4:00 pm, Legislative Plaza, Room 30
Ten Years Later
Jane Lorenzini
3:00-4:30 pm, Legislative Plaza, Room 31
Tennessee in the Civil War
Carroll Van West, Spurgeon King, Timothy Johnson
3:00-4:00 pm, Youth Stage
The Ukedelics
Anita Moffatt and Todd Elgin
3:30-4:30 pm, Legislative Plaza, Room 12
Bound to the Land: Two Novels
Leonard Pitts, JR., Christopher Tilghman
4:00-5:00 pm, Youth Stage
Clifford's 50th Birthday Party
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