Summer book giveaway

Guess book & flower

Guess the book (hint: gothic romance) and/or the flower for a chance to win a book or a package of seeds. You don’t have to get the correct answer to win. Ends Wednesday, June 24, midnight EST.

Here are a few of the books I’ll be reading and writing about this summer:

How to Be Both, by Ali Smith

Laudato Si: Praise Be to You, On Care for Our Common Home, by Pope Francis

H Is for Hawk book coverH Is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald

Bad Feminist, by Roxane Gray

Smile of a Midsummer Night: A Picture of Sweden, by Lars Gustafsson & Agneta Blomqvist

Rhythm of the Wild, by Kim Heacox

How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti

The Collapse of Western Civilization, by Naomi Oreskes & Eric M. Conway

Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng

Laudato Si books

Mad Men

Mad Men posterI was surprised at how bereft I was the day after the Mad Men finale, as though I’d said goodbye to my childhood forever. The only thing that made me feel better is the memoir I’m writing; nearly every day lately I return to the 1960s.

This post has spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the last episode of Mad Men, or if you’ve yet to watch the entire 7-season, 92-hour epic, you may want to stop reading right here. (Or click on these links to the New York Public Library’s Mad Men reading lists and NPR’s guide to the music of Mad Men. If you plan to watch or re-watch the series, you could supplement with books and music of the times.)

A few seasons into Mad Men, a couple of friends predicted that Don Draper would commit suicide, given his self-destructive tendencies. Many viewers thought the opening animation of a man in a suit falling from a skyscraper foreshadowed such an ending.

No, I thought. That’s wrong. A misreading of his character. Don is a survivor. (Indeed, so says one of the characters in the final episode.) Cheever Collected Stories book cover

I bristled at the judgmental tone I sometimes heard, as if Don deserved such an end, given his many faults. On the contrary, Don was emblematic of a certain kind of self-made man of his time–raised in poverty and neglect, a traumatized war veteran who became a successful ad man, rich beyond his wildest dreams, yet alienated and lonely. Like all humans, he struggles. Like The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, he’s lost.

You can find Don Draper in much of the literature of the 1950s and ’60s. The show’s creator, Matthew Weiner, drew heavily on bestselling books of that era, and was particularly influenced by the short stories of John Cheever, as well as Cheever’s journals. In fact, at the beginning of every season of scriptwriting, Weiner read the introduction to Cheever’s stories to the writers as a source of inspiration.

Weiner says that he loved reading the journals of 1950s and 1960s writers and ad executives and found them enormously helpful. While many of us look upon advertising with distaste, or at least ambivalence, Don Draper and his colleagues were in fact supporting families while doing deeply creative work. I think Weiner got it so right as he charted the highs and lows of these highly creative men and women. Weiner also points out that many famous artists have had to do advertising work to make a living.

When I was in college, a couple of my male friends had fathers who were prominent ad men, having commuted from the suburbs into Manhattan every day for thirty years. They seemed to feel pressure to follow in their fathers’ footsteps, and I sometimes sensed they were afraid they wouldn’t measure up. Advertising was a difficult, high-pressure career, but also an exciting and fulfilling way to make a living. And, of course, most ad execs were not deeply flawed Don Drapers.

One note of nostalgia for me is that the show ends in 1970, and in 1977 I moved to Manhattan, where I worked in book publishing. For a time I was in the advertising department of a large publisher, where I worked with artists, graphic designers, photographers, and other creative people. Publishing was a different world from high-stakes Madison Avenue advertising, of course, a backwater compared to the pressure of Mad Men agencies. But when I saw Mad Men’s meek Peggy Olson show up for her first job in that office in the sky, I was taken right back to my New York City days. Peggy’s world, where women in the workplace were all secretaries, was to a large degree my world. Needless to say, watching Peggy’s transformation has been riveting. Mad Men poster

In a remarkably candid interview conducted by the author A.M. Homes at the New York Public Library, Weiner says that he often discussed with his therapist the challenges of his work as the creator of Mad Men, and they often talked about Don Draper–his flaws, his motivations, his journey in life. Weiner reveals that his therapist helped him figure out whether it was necessary to be miserable when one is in the midst of creating. (Weiner implies that he was often miserable and concludes that, no, one does not have to be miserable when one is creating.)

Weiner says Frank O’Hara’s poetry in particular helped him understand the zeitgeist of the times. He read Lunch Poems and Meditations in an Emergency (which we see Don reading in one episode), and says that Meditations changed his life. That makes me curious, so I’ve added O’Hara to my reading list.

Here’s another fascinating tidbit: when they were looking for an actor to play the stranger that Don reaches out to at the Esalen style retreat, Weiner told the talent scouts that the stranger had to be an actor who was not famous and that this character “was the most important character in the entire series.” Weiner has more to say about this character and the closing scene in the New York Public Library interview. (The final scene is shown during the interview.)

The last episode concludes with what has been called the most famous commercial of all time: the Coke ad with the song, “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing.” People critical of this ending feel cynical about pairing this uplifting message, sung in harmony by people of all races, with crass commercialism. As for me, I thought the ending was perfect, in sync with the person Don is, and in sync with the times. Yes, Don Draper the ad man may have risen like the phoenix to create the most popular commercial in history. But I took his encounter with the lonely stranger at Big Sur to be an authentic moment of growth and greater self-awareness. I haven’t been to Esalen, but I’ve been to a place called Spirit Rock, and things like that do happen to people.

If Mad Men were to continue, I think Don Draper would still be the flawed man we know, far from perfect.  And yet, a better man, too. You can hear Matthew Weiner’s thoughts about Don here in the NYPL interview.

I think Matthew Weiner ranks right up there with the great novelists of our time.

If you’d like to meet the real ad man who created the Coke commercial (Bill Backer, who makes clear he has nothing in common with Don Draper), click here.

Mad Men Books and Music Meditations in an Emergency book cover

Mad Men characters love to read. Here are lists of the books they are seen reading on screen:

The Mad Men Reading List compiled by Billy Parrott, Managing Librarian at the New York Public Library

Mad Men Reading List Collection of 25 books read by characters throughout the series

Weiner chose a popular song of the time to close each program:

A Comprehensive Guide (Nearly) to the Music of Mad Men from National Public Radio

Are you a Mad Men fan and have you watched the ending? What did you think? If you’d like, please share your thoughts about any aspects of Mad Men.

On Reading the Tough Stuff

The Gorgeous Nothings book coverThis week I’m passing along a few of my favorite bloggers, people who have important things to say and they say it well.

I’ve recently become a follower of Book Guy Reviews, written by James Neenan, a Denver high school English teacher. I love what he says about reading difficult books.

On Reading the Tough Stuff

Writing (and reading) can be dangerous

I wanted to share a post I love written by Valerie Davies of New Zealand, an accomplished writer and journalist who left blogging for a while and has now returned, to the great pleasure of her many followers.

David Copperfield book cover

Valerie writes about reading aloud to your children in front of the fire or under the covers on a cold winter night….David Copperfield (Did you read it at a young, impressionable time in your life?)….a Queen who couldn’t stop reading….what Stephen King says about writing truthfully….the dangers of reading and writing….what some brave bloggers are doing….and for good measure, a recipe.

Click on the link below to read Valerie’s post:

The dangers of words.

The Uncommon Reader book cover

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

“I do not like postmodernism, postapocalyptic settings, postmortem narrators, or magic realism….I do not like genre mash-ups a la the literary detective novel or the literary fantasy. Literary should be literary, and genre should be genre, and crossbreeding rarely results in anything satisfying. I do not like children’s books, especially ones with orphans, and I prefer not to clutter my shelves with young adult. I do not like anything over four hundred pages or under one hundred fifty pages. I am repulsed by ghostwritten novels by reality television stars, celebrity picture books, sports memoirs, movie tie-in editions, novelty items, and – I imagine this goes without saying – vampires. I rarely stock debuts, chick lit, poetry, or translation….Above all…I find slim literary memoirs about little old men whose little old wives have died from cancer to be absolutely intolerable.”   A.J. Fikry, bookseller, in The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry bookcover

This is a quick, funny, sweet read about a bookseller who is down on his luck and turning quite bitter in his middle age. It’s a tribute to booksellers, book lovers, beloved authors, and their stories.  A Good Man is Hard to Find” (Flannery O’Conner), Lamb to the Slaughter” (Roald Dahl), The Diamond as Big as the Ritz” (F. Scott Fitzgerald), The Tell-Tale Heart” (Edgar Allen Poe), Ironhead” (Aimee Bender), What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” (Raymond Carver), Infinite Jest (David Foster Wallace), and many others have little parts to play in Gabrielle Zevin’s clever story.

After something good follows the tragic turn in A.J.’s life, he begins to change.

He’s inspired to write pithy little reviews for someone he loves. This is what he has to say about A Good Man is Hard to Find”  – 

“It’s Amy’s favorite. (She always seems so sweet on the surface, no?)…When she told me it was her favorite, it suggested to me strange and wonderful things about her character that I had not guessed, dark places that I might like to visit.”

You can tell a lot about a person by the books she loves.

 

Winners of the Literary Blog Hop Are…

Lynne Clark at Two Reads and Marie Stone are the Literary Blog Hop winners at Books Can Save a Life. Many thanks to Judith at Leeswammes for hosting this great event, and for all of you who stopped by to share what you’ve been reading.

The Signature of All Things book coverI’ll be sending Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things to Lynne.

We Are Water book coverAnd to Marie, We Are Water by Wally Lamb.

Here is the list of tantalizing books you shared:

Back When We Were Grown-Ups, by Anne Tyler

The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton

Forever, by Pete Hammill

Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn

Netherland, by Joseph O’Neill

Dreams of Joy, by Lisa See

The Kite Runner; A Thousand Splendid Suns; And The Mountains Echoed, by Khaled Hosseini

Dept. of Speculation, by Jenny Offill

Easy: Burial Rites, by Hannah Kent

Good Bones and Simple Murders, by Margaret Atwood

The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green

I Am Livia, by Phyllis T. Smith

The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt

Dr. Sleep, by Stephen King

NOS4A2, by Joe Hill

Written in Red, by Ann Bishop

The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Dovekeepers, by Alice Hoffman

The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak

Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson

Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen

Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte

Dear Life, by Alice Munro

Dark Triumph, by Robin LaFevers

We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson

We Are Water, by Wally Lamb

The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey

In the Garden of the Beast, by Erik Larson

Under the Wide and Starry Sky, by Nancy Horan

The Kabbalist, by Yoran Katz

The Dog Boy, by Eva Hornung

Dinner With Lenny, by Jonathan Cott

Isolation Door, by Anish Majumdar

The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas

The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion

The Constellation of Vital Phenomena, by Anthony Marra

One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp

Standing in the Rainbow; The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion; Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven, by Fannie Flagg

Solomon the Peacemaker, by Hunter Welles

Once We Were Brothers, by Ronald H. Balson

Books to read in 2014

Here’s my to-read list for 2014. It’s incomplete, always changing, and I’m sure I won’t get to all of these, not by a long shot, but it’s a convenient list when I’m choosing my next book. You may see a few of them featured on Books Can Save a Life. I’ve included titles that will be published in 2014, so you won’t find all of them on the shelves yet.

If you have enticing choices on your list, please share them in the comments!

Watch for my book giveaway in February to celebrate the second anniversary of Books Can Save a Life.

FICTION

The Snow Queen book cover

The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey    “If All of Rochester Read the Same Book,” 2014

The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt

Someone, by Alice McDermott

Carthage, by Joyce Carol Oates

Arctic Summer, by Damon Galgut

The Unknowns, by Gabriel Roth

The Circle, by David Eggers

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, by Haruki Murakami

The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert

Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson

How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti

The Paying Guests, by Sarah Waters

And Then We Came to the End; The Unnamed; To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, by Joshua Ferris

Orfeo, by Richard Powers

Never Go Back, by Lee Child

The Language of Flowers, by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

The Snow Queen, by Michael Cunningham

The Bone Clocks, by David Mitchell

The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer

The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton

Lila, by Marilynne Robinson

By Blood, Ellen Ullman

Canada, by Richard Ford

In Sunlight and in Shadow; and Winter’s Tale, by Mark Helprin

The Cuckoo’s Calling, by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling) and Untitled (2014)

The Woman Who Lost Her Soul, by Bob Shacochis

Off Course, by Michelle Huneven

Gone Girl; Dark Places, by Gillian Flynn (movies in 2014)

Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel (Best book of the 21st century, according to Elizabeth Gilbert)

****************

IN TRANSLATION

My Struggle, Books 1, 2, 3 by Karl Ove Knausgaard (Norwegian)

Treasure Hunt; The Dance of the Seagull by Andrea Camilleri (Sicilian)

Story of a New Name, by Elena Ferrante (Italian)

YOUNG ADULT

Son book cover

The Giver Quartet Series (including Son), by Lois Lowry

Divergent Series, by Veronica Roth

Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins

The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green

*************************

MEMOIR

Wave book cover

Men We Reaped, by Jessamyn Ward

Still Writing, by Dani Shapiro

This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage, by Ann Patchett

Wave, by  Sonali Deraniyagala

Intensive Care: A Doctor’s Journey; and Medicine in Translation: Journeys with My Patients, by Danielle Ofri

**************

NONFICTION

Five Days at Memorial book cover

Big Data: A Revolution that Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think, by Victor Mayer-Schonberger and Kenneth Cukier

Who Owns the Future? by Jaron Lanier

The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI, by Betty Medsger

Thank You for Your Service, by David Finkel

Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital, by Sheri Fink

What Doctors Feel: How Emotions Affect the Practice of Medicine, by Danielle Ofri

Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson, by Jeff Guinn

The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America, by George Packer

Margaret Fuller: A New American Life, by Megan Marshall

The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking, by Brendan I. Koerner

The Gorgeous Nothings: Emily Dickinson’s Envelope Poems

Stalking the Divine, by Kristin Ohlson

Sons of Madness: Growing Up and Older with a Mentally Ill Parent, by Susan Nathiel

Is There No Place on Earth for Me? by Susan Sheehan

Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom, by Leonard S. Marcus

On the fifth day of Christmas: The Quivering Pen

12 Days of Christmas

The Quivering Pen has been my happiest blog discovery of late. It’s a rich, beautifully written site about books, writing, and the literary life by David Abrams, a former Army journalist and author of The Fobbit, a comic novel about the Iraq War.

David is an expansive, passionate reader who writes eloquently about new, backlist, classic, and “lost gem” titles. You’ll find unusual and off-the-beaten-path books to add to your to-read list, and if you’re a writer, you’ll appreciate David’s generous sharing of his own journey and the wisdom of other writers.

I’m looking forward to reading David’s enticing backlist of posts. Among other attractions, he features Trailer Park Tuesday (new book trailers), Friday Freebie (a book giveaway), Sunday Sentence (the best sentences he’s read that week), My First Time (writers talk about virgin experiences in their writing and publishing careers), and Bookstore of the Month.

The Twelve Days of Christmas Song Poster by Xavier-Romero Frias is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

The Book Thief

“They say that war is death’s best friend, but I must offer you a different point of view on that one. To me, war is like the new boss who expects the impossible. He stands over your shoulder repeating one thing, incessantly: ‘Get it done, get it done.’ So you work harder. You get the job done. The boss, however, does not thank you. He asks for more.”       Death, in The Book Thief

The Book Thief book cover

Death is the narrator in The Book Thief, a young adult book about a German family during World War II that has a huge adult readership as well. It is one book not to be missed. The writing is outstanding. Published in 2005, The Book Thief won countless awards and honors, and has become a classic in YA fiction.

I recently reread the book before I saw the movie. I think the screen adaptation is a good one, although some viewers found it tame, and subtleties of the text can’t be captured on the screen. For example, Max, who is Jewish and hiding out in the home of Liesel and her foster parents, paints over every page of a copy of Mein Kampf and creates his own book, with illustrations. Max’s book is embedded within the pages of The Book Thief, and on the pages of Max’s book you can see faint traces of Hitler’s words.  One of the pages in Max’s book is a drawing of a girl and a boy holding hands and standing on a pile of bodies. Inscribed on the sun that shines down on them is a swastika, and the girl is saying, “Isn’t it a lovely day?”

The author, Markus Zusack, uses the written word as a thematic motif. While the Germans burn books thought to be subversive, Liesel and Hans write words on the wall of their basement as Liesel learns to read, and Liesel steals a book whenever she has the chance, in defiance of the Nazis. Liesel then begins to write her own book in order to make sense of the world’s chaos and carnage.

I do think the movie captured the essence of the story, and it is well cast, especially Sophie Nélisse as Liesel Meminger and Geoffrey Rush as Hans, her foster father. Death is the narrator in the movie, as he is in the book, and in both he is an unsettling storyteller who confesses he is haunted by humans. Of course, in addition to being the narrator, Death has a starring role in the plot as well.

My father was wounded in the war, just inside the German border. Occasionally, my mother spoke of her family’s Victory Garden, the rationing of meat and gasoline, and the “man shortage.”  I was born ten years after the war ended. As an adult, I eventually began to understand how the world turned upside down by war cast long shadows over my parents’ generation.

Have you seen the movie or read The Book Thief? What did you think?

Books by drone?

Holiday gifrs

Do you want your books and holiday gifts delivered by drones?

Please leave a comment and tell us what you think.

(Photo from FreeFoto.com)

%d bloggers like this: