Book editor speaks up from flyover territory…

March 26, 2011 § 11 Comments

Jane Hnderson writes for the St. Louis Post Dispatch, the only daily in this Gateway area of 5 million people – pathetic, huh? ( I mean it’s pathetic that we only have one daily paper, not that she’s the book editor!)

Say what you will about online this and that. The Post rules around here…for now. And the young local journalists, the up and comers, have little interest in starting a “paper” newspaper.

All that aside, Henderson has what I consider to be the closest thing to a the perfect job; she reviews books.  She’s been out and about, a bit, in the journalism world, but she roosts here in STL and does her book thing, occasionally showing up at a writers’ conference.  (Funny how those conferences are so often about the book and publishing and NOT about the writing necessary to even GET to the book part….)

Here are a few things Henderson has to say about the book world:

“When I started as book editor it was more like 60,000 books were being published a year; now literally there are probably over a million new titles published a year,” she told the Washington University The Figure in the Carpet , newsletter,February 2011. 
(hmmm….that sounds positive, for those book writers among us!)

“Self publishing and print-on-demand titles made up over 760,000 of the new titles of 2009, but more traditional presses have also been churning out more titles, with over 280,000 new titles per year among them.” (OK, OK, there are thousands of possibilities, you could say…)

Henderson keeps her readers current via her Book Blog yet interestingly finds the blog a bit…abstract, you could say.  She’s not sure what a blog should be. It wasn’t part of the curricula when she was in J School. (true confession: Haven’t yet read her blog. Actually didn’t know about it ’til recently.)

While she believes the Internet does books a service, overall, in getting “press,” it may not be reliable in her opinion. Not reliable because of the anonymity of book postings…which can allow such reviews to be misleading or worse, she thinks, blatant self-promotion.
(I don’t know much about that simply because I pretty much read only book and writing bloggers who I respect for their diligence and their opinions and the info they impart.)

Henderson feels a lot of the celebrity books are “junky” and I salute her for saying it outright. She refers to the many pop personalities, Snooki among them, who “write” books.  She goes on to say that a lot of books are nothing more than extended essay, articles or news stories and because of her hyped up reading to cover the many thousands of books out there, she sees a lot, she says that are “repackaged concepts, and poorly written and edited.”   Henderson can dish some tough love on the bookworld. (I am guilty of assuming a book is “junky” before even giving it a try, like Snooki’s or OJ’s or (forgive me) Barbara Bush’s.)



 Henderson shares some surprising (and good) book trends. There are more independent bookstores in STL now than when she started as book editor 15 years ago!  They add significantly to the city’s cultural life.  (makes my heart sing!)

And we have indie publishers right here in our own backyard, including Blank Slate Press.

(makes my heart sing louder!)  

 Honestly, I wish there was a bookworld talk show.

bookin’ at big sleep…

February 8, 2011 § 17 Comments

Let someone who loves you read something you’ve written. No, really. Are you gonna get an honest opinion? No,probably not. But you will get encouragement and likely some sort of praise. And sometimes, that’s all you need to keep the writing going.

You gotta love niche and boutigue retail, better than their bigbox brothers. Come on, it’s true.
Sure,  it’s great to grab a book at Target when you are there anyway, doing your “conglomeration errands,” picking up dog food, cosmetics, long underwear and a greeting card because really, you don’t want to shop all over hell’s half acre getting all those things. And maybe you’ll just pick up something for yourself, like a book, if you need one and the budget is of the same mind.

However, every bookaholic knows that when really “booking,” that is, looking for a good or great read, an actual dedicated bookstore trumps Wallyword, and any of  the big etceteras.

Thus on Euclid Ave in St. Louis’ Central West End neighborhood where there are many treasures, from food to frippery, an indie bookstore breathes. 

Big Sleep Books has one room inside, one rectangular room and sometimes in the far corner, the shopkeeper’s friend or family or maybe an author can be seen sitting at a small round table, maybe eating. And the storekeeper is totally in tune with his books and talks with each customer, calls you “dude” and “friend” and other little appellations that you just don’t mind because it’s part of his book atmosphere, part of his sphere, overall.

One of the great things  about this store is that you know you’re among mysteries, thrillers or suspense. That’s it. No wondering what mood you’re in, what you might feel like reading. Your choices, your genres are narrowed, and you know that or you wouldn’t even be in there to begin with.

 I went the first time with HM; he was picking up an Ian Rankin novel. He stumbled across him ages ago while traveling and decided to zone in.  So I was with him and looked around at the bookshelves, all of which were a bit foreign to me cuz those genres were not, at thtat time, my thing.  The shopkeeper asked me what I liked – time period, location, etc. I told him. He zeroed in, and handed me the first in Victoria Thompson’s GasLight Series – Murder on Astor Place. I was hooked. Not “deep” or literary, but good mysteries starring highborn midwife Sarah Brandt and Irish detective Frank Malloy in turn-of-the-century NYC.  Good enough for me. So good that eight books later, I’m looking forward to her next one.

As I was paying for my Leduc mystery at the BIG SLEEP  the other day, I noticed WINTER’S BONE sitting there on the counter. The shopkeep noticed me noticing and said “It’s a great book. Very American. And the movie is good. It should win something.”
Let’s see if he calls it right. He knows his books. Inside out. Maybe the movie awards, too, but we know how mercurial those Academys can be. 

BOOK RECOMMENDATION: Leduc’s MURDER IN THE MARAIS. And so while waiting for Thomson’s next book to hit the stands on June 1, I am plunging into the Aimee Leduc series by Cara Black which was recommended by Jeanie.  For her book reviews, go to her “book” site, here.

A winner of a writing place…

January 25, 2011 § 17 Comments

Bissinger’s is a chocolatier, in the business of luxe sweet treats since the 1600s but it wasn’t ’til the 1800s that the family came stateside.
St Louis has two stores, the newest one having opened in 2007 which I refer to as “the bistro,”   a sweet little location. 

It sounds all haute and unapproachable but – not true! The Central West End embues it even more with charm and allure.

You can sit and sip and socialize. There is plenty of room yet it’s cool-cozy. It’s modern but no hard edges.

It’s warm despite its front being nothing but glass – the better for people watching.  Yes you can sit and look out. Or, look in.
Whatever you like.
And there are things to buy if you want to take home something Bissinger-y.

And we went in, not intending to have anything really, other than the comfort of a lovely hot chocolate…

OK, not a great picture but look at the size of that hot chocolate compared to the “normal” size water glass! Oh, yum.  This is the stuff of comfort food in the dead of winter whether the sun is shining or not.

And, there are things to buy if you are so inclined.

And then, because the place is new to you and you are “exploring” and checking it out as a future “writing place,” your date (HM himself) might order a little something, just to see what the “fare” is all about. Egads – yum. A blue cheese and spinach quiche…and a double chocolate scone.  With butter. So British.

So, a writing place – really? Oh, yes. In the middle of an afternoon, with a little urban-ness and a discreet wait staff and the rich hush of a library gone sweet on chocolate, it’s the perfect place to write. Even if the only thing you have is your planner and a Bic stick pen.

Can chocolate replace coffee? Replace it? No. Complement it? Yes.
Thanks, I’ll take both.
They fuel the pen-to-paper activity.

You can order from Bissinger’s, too, and then just stay home and snack on the stuff.
But for a chocolate adventure, you have to go see…and sip…and sup a little.

Get out of the house, get out of your usual skin to sit down and do some serious writing. Changing venue/location changes everything about how you see the (same old) things on your page.

CHOCOLAT, of course!  We saw Joanne Harris two years ago when she stopped in St. Louis and as she started out on her evening “lecture,” I thought ohgeezshedoesn’twanttobehereandthiswillbeboring.
Oh, how wrong I was. As she warmed up (shy), the anecdotes poured forth and she drew us into so many stories we lost track of truth and ficiton. And she spoke of the sequel at that time to CHOCOLAT. If you loved the CHOCOLATE world, the sequel will be a bit of an adjustment. Titled  THE GIRL WITH NO SHADOW in the U.S.  (and THE LOLLIPOP SHOES in the UK), it takes place in Paris, following the story of the Vianne and her daughters.  (sorry, Johnny Depp, the river pirate, is not in the story.)

A little break…

January 17, 2011 § 11 Comments

We sent south, to the bottom of Florida, to paradise.
We took a break.

(photo of Miami Beach taken from hotel/community boardwalk)

Actually, HM worked like a maniac but I went along to keep him sane.
It worked beautifully.

And so there are many (picture) stories to tell.
You may have already heard them, though, the stories that is, because there were so many people there from everywhere, likely from  someone from where you live. You may have heard them already, the stories of sun and sand and breezes and bare feet and fresh fruit to eat.
We need to know this, that these things exist, in the grey middle of winter.


October 19, 2010 § 6 Comments

Cool…as in “Cahokia.”

Last weekend, we visited the Mounds.
This is Monks Mound.
It is one of the Cahokia Mounds, found in Illinois, just east of the Mississippi and across from St. Louis.
It was built in 900 – 1200 by the Misssissippian tribe who carried backpack basket filled with dirt to heap, one atop the other, to create (build) the mound, a high and holy place. Assumedly, this one, the highest of the more than 50 mounds in the 30-acre area, was home and “reigning” place of the high chief of the tribe.

These are the stairs to the top of Monks Mound. It’s an easy climb. There are impactful views from the top.

Like this one.
It’s St. Louis in the (rather smoggy) distance.

The “cool” of the place is the mystery that surrounds it.
Yes, some things have been discovered as a result of intense archaeological efforts.
But overall, the Mississippians were not writers or recorders. Their civilization disappeared after about 400 years. The reason is unkown, though specialists refer to various obvious reasons such as societal unrest, illness, or failure and exhaustion of the land to continue to produce the chief sustenance – corn.

Some artifacts were discovered but other than piecing together some general info about the tribe, a great deal remains unknown. 

Which is really kinda cool.

cool…(definition of)

October 17, 2010 § 8 Comments

Not unusual, I am passionate about having the right to vote, as a human and as a woman, although I’d likely never be recognized as a flag waving, opinion-spewing civil politico.

Still, when we all stood for the national anthem at the last Cardinals game two weeks ago and discovered that we, the fans, were singing the national anthem, it was pretty freakin’ moving. 

Given the first four notes by the organist (his last game, last day), we sang a  cappella from the fifth note, forward.
We stayed together.
We hit the “high” notes.
When we finished, there was this pause, then uninhibited cheering.

Forty-four thousand people singing Keye’s composition.
Surely a  defining moment in the life of the word “cool.”

BEYOND THE BACK DOOR …Last week’s camera booty

May 30, 2010 § 31 Comments

All this was going on just beyond the back door.

So I walked the dog and drifted to the sanctuary of the front porch.

And found none.
There are various forms of “sanctuary.”
Today, this wasn’t working for me.

I went to the zoo. I haven’t been in 12 years. It’s free. I usually have some heartache at all these “captured” animals, but sometimes you can get tripped up on your opinions and miss out on stuff. So I went.  It was early.

The first animal I saw was the black bear.
There went my bleeding heart.
He paced, swinging his head. 
No pictures, he said.
I demured, sent him a telepathic bear hug and moved on. 

The penguin house! It was cold and filled with their unique screeching. It was feeding time. The zoo person was dressed in orange, black and yellow and I didn’t spot her at first. She blended in with the tuxedo penguins.  Again, no pictures. Didn’t want to use a flash in there.
The penguin house is a wonderful structure with tons of rocks, pools, a deep swimming sea, crags, twists and turns and the water goes underground and outdoors to their  faux sea. So they can be indoors or out and get there privately. 

The walk through the zoo however is lovely. Oddly. It’s a huge expanse, full of flowered and bushy paths and walkways and bridges and plenty of ponds and lakes. They have created quite an ecosystem in there.  The city birds enjoy hopping and pecking about on the grass that grows on top of many of the little outbuildings. The zoo doesn’t smell. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying it’s all Disney here, with bluebirds fluttering around and the animals all hugging and talking and butterflies landing on everything.

But it is a park for all sorts of animals, including humans, and it’s beautiful. The city supports it with taxes and it’s staffed with specialists and Washington Univserity interns and offers all kinds of clubs and programs. And there are children, tons of them learning about animals and falling in love with  them, too and will maybe grow up to be protectors of the wilds, both neighboring and distant.

The camels were shedding. While this is not an attractive, it was very hippy-natural.  Of all the animals I saw, the camels carried the most scent. Maybe because they’re stabled.

Do prairie dogs belong in a zoo?
I guess if there’s enough prairie per dog, it works.
They seemed happy though not sure I’d recognize an unhappy one. And they were busy.  And communal in their movements: one dashed into a hole, they ALL dashed into a hole. One ate, they all ate.  One sat up and looked around, and they all froze.

The admiring crowd of humans was kind, very hushed, not whistling or trying to get their attention, or slapping at the fence or anything.
Completely unlike the behavior of the humans while watching the chimps.

 The chimps each had a stick that they poked into the hole in the log, brought it out, then licked it or drew the stick between their lips. There was some good eating in that log.

Back home and the workers were gone. The silence was loud and lovely. Their machines were parked in the shade, still shuttering.

The kitchen was cool. And clean.
Indoors, order. Outdoors, chaos.

I made strawberry shortcake. Making biscuits is very centering.

Yes, there was whipped cream! (although next time, I’ll make that by hand, too.)

Back to the front porch with the dessert. Summer. So much sweetness.

A boxing we will go…and there’s a bit about a book here, too

April 21, 2010 § 26 Comments

Oh, the darn mirrors!  I realize they help observe “form” but egads…

Nory won an opportunity to take ten friends to a boxing class and asked me and we didn’t know what to expect other than we might be out of our comfort zones (totally) and one of my great friends came along (so I wouldn’t be the sole middle-ager) and we got there and milled around a bit, asking questions and waiting for the second trainer to arrive and then there were real training gloves to don which was very cool and immediately transformed my attitude and energy and then the music came on and our trainer began demonstrating and shouting out directions and there we were jump roping and punching bags (as pictured above) and scooting around aerobically and kicking and punching and cardio-ing and weirdly, everything started to get easier as we went along except for the fatigue part where you think your arms will fall off and then we were “on the floor” doing crunches and crazy planks on our sides and then we were back up to punch and kick and starting to get the hang of it even though turning to rubber at the same time and glad I didn’t have to do 15 rounds in a ring which I still can’t imagine, and then we were up and down and up and down with tips and encouragement along the way and then suddenly, we were done.

Forty-five minutes went like this (insert snapping of fingers) and then there we were all pathetically drenched in sweat and no one minded and no one cared about their hair and everyone felt lighter, relaxed, and very worked out.
So thank you Nory for opening another door!

Denouement: We’re signing up for class once a week. “Once a week will change your life,” said the trainer. 

Me, Nory and friends, post-workout!

The Pugilist at Rest
by Thom Jones has been on my shelf for years. I read it as soon as  I purchased it, read it all the way through, searching for why he was considered a prize winning story-ist (he won an O Henry for his title short story). I don’t think I “got it” at the time. I think I need to go back and read him now. Though there was a lot of pain as well as boxing and also the Viet Nam war in his stories, I am curious again about his style and craft and overall what caught Updike’s eye when he included Jones in a Best Short Stories anthology.

Breakfast, Books and a Burgeoning Crowd…

March 27, 2010 § 9 Comments

We got out of the car and pulled our coats tighter around us in spite of the early morning sun. Saturday, and we were out at the crack of down, driving about in downtown St. Louis, making one another snort-laugh while looking for the venue of the Authors Lunch hosted by the Assitance League that we were to attend. This was not just a dress-like-a-fireman morning; we had done our hair and makeup and were each in dresses, with Nory in heels. We were either going to hit the mark or go over it.

We hit the fashion mark and in the parking lot were surrounded by others with perfect hair, drawn in eyebrows, spring jackets, heels, pumps, bags, lipstick and some with their patient if not truculent men on their arms.

We were attending an event to which we’d been invited by one of those new acquaintances who is an absolute “find” in terms of shared interests, the wow of a good book and the social graces that would get her through anything. Two authors were to address the crowd. They did. The event was to be long and leisurely. It was. The food was to be fabulous. It was. And everyone at the table was assuredly entertaining, hand-picked by the new acquaintance.

As we approached the venue, and admired the swirl of attendance headed for the very same door, Nory was heard to remark: “We’re like the Gilmore Girls going to one of Emily Gilmore’s events.”

Lorelei and Rory

Me and Nory (casual pic; not dressed up here)

“What?” I said. “Oh, yeah.” I realized suddenly what she meant.
We solderied on, into the foyer that was another swirl of hellos and hugging and chatting and the greeters welcomed us warmly and pointed us to the table of name tags.

The room was huge and full of light and packed with round tables seating 10. The centerpieces were lovely and topped with famous authors names. We breathed their names as we passed each one – Jane Austen, CS Lewis, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mary Shelley and many more – on to ours named William Shakespeare. Perfect. The table was a gorgeous clutter of silver and glasses and white plates and promise. And the caterers delivered on the promise part, filling our glasses with ice cold lemon water, another with iced tea, another with juice and another with coffee.

Introductions all around at the table and conversation zoomed along. We gazed around. There were easily 300 guests.  And the two authors were already at a long approachable table, ready to sign books.
And yes, one of those authors was Ridley Pearson.
If you read this blog, you already know that I’ve seen him twice already in the past year. What can I say? It just happens. Nory retrieved the book she had brought along (Kingdom Keepers 2: Disney at Dawn). I had nothing this time since last time we attended one of his presentations, I had four of them with me!

Neither of us was familiar with the other author present, Ms. Eleanor Berra Marfisi, a touted author and poetess and also a celebrity on The Hill, a very special and specific neighborhood in St. Louis.

(Look closely at the picture and behind the fruit glass and behind the iced tea, there’s a Pearson paperback on the table!)

Breakfast was served in stages, like a dinner, only morning foods – first the fruit. I nibbled on Nory’s too, since she cannot eat the ripe riotous stuff. More conversation. An excellent presentation film about the Assistance League (should we join? Oh they need a certain amount of  service hours per year and new members require mentoring – can we do that? have we time? can we retire yet and get involved? oh, the fine things they do including school clothes for kids, gift bags of very needed items at the women’s shelters, running a fine recyled shop.)

Then the entree, with quichelettes, potatoes, toast points, and more conversation. Something about these tables was convivial, not the usual impossible distance of a 10-person table here. And books began piling up as our centerpiece as people bought books and were getting them signed.

And then Ms. Marfisi spoke.  She encouraged our laughter. She spoke of love for her Italian heritage and the way she developed its stories among families on The Hill and learned of their histories and recipes and family life.

She spoke most of all about the need for us to all write down our memories and our experiences. She encouraged us to preserve everything we could about our lives and do it on paper so that it could be passed on. She exhorted us to write poetry, no need for rhyme or reason but only to write, to try it, use it as tool to record. She pressed us to do our memoirs. She told us to laugh out loud and try new things. And to write it down.

She shared her writing-ness. She believes in all of us, in our ability to do that and promised that even as old (young) as she was, she, too, would continue to do so. I loved her immediatley for her perspective and for her sharing. Many writers don’t do that, thinking they are in such a separate place, as writers. Ms. Marfisi is there, cheering us all on, and promising that our stories are important.

Then Ridley Pearson spoke. His approach as a natural storyteller put a whole new light on writing and the writing game and he entertained us as a storyteller, delivering anecdotes from his own writing life and how it developed. There were new stories about his life this third time as I listened.

I swear, I could start his biography.  I’ll bet he’s already writing his own story, though. The man works at writing ten hours a day. I have already regaled you with his stories and recommended his Peter and the Starcatcher books so won’t bother you with that again. (But really, do you have anything in your TBR stack right now that tantalizes? Because if not, try a “Peter” book, though you really should go in order. There are four, with a fifth on the way.)

And then suddenly, it was over. The event, formally, came to a close with the announcement of stunning attendance prizes – three huge baskets of books and restaurant gift card offering enough to feed a family of four on The Hill. Excellent.

We hugged our new acquaintances, Nory got a compliment on her dress and a discussion on The September Issue (another blog to follow on THAT!) and we then squeezed into the miniscule coat closet to find our coats and wrapped up to face the “bbbrrrrrr” outside the glass doors.

Yes, I would begin every Saturday morning, alarm clock notwithstanding, to sit at that table with such a melange of people and professions and pointedly interested in service to others and in books!

Hurrah, all!

“Not too Emily-ish, was it, Nor?” I asked her as we descended to the parking lot and the wind whipped our hair.
“It wasn’t too bad.”
“Did you have fun?”
“Uh huh. But the next Kingdom Keepers book comes out in 10 days – how am I going to get it signed?”
“He’s going on tour. See where his stops are.”

And when we got home, she did.
Mark your calendars. Looks like April 15, on Euclid at the Schlafly library, will be his next “stop.”
 We’ll be there.

color, calor

January 25, 2010 § 6 Comments

“color, calor” sort of means”warm color”  …
…and though I know it’s not expressed correctly, isn’t it a wordsmith’s job to play with words?

It’s winter dark and dank here in the Gateway and such weather is an oddity really as we all standing around waiting for enough sunlight to see our shadows…

…for now, a little warm color to warm the eye… and the heart.

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