Who is the Patron Saint of Booksellers? That would definitely be Sylvia Beach of Shakespeare and Company. Listen to this episode of Bookish to learn more about the remarkable woman of whom Ernest Hemingway said "no one was ever nicer to me." Let's get Bookish.
It's been a long while since I posted on this blog, but I am back to give some important updates. First, look for a new release soon. More on that in a future post.
Things seem to be going well at The Last Word Bookstore, but appearances, much like book covers, can be deceiving. Sal Terranova needs a new challenge, and Jake Donovan...well, Jake has no clue what he needs. The answer comes to both of them from a most unexpected source, one which will lead them and their friends on a journey of biblical proportions. Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the bookstore...
Book Town is the third book in The Last Word Series. It is available now in paperback and on Kindle here.
We have a release date! "Book Town" will be published on 9/5/18. You can pre-order the Kindle version at the link here or copy the link below. Link to the paperback coming shortly.
As promised in a recent Facebook post, in the days leading up to the publication of Book Town I will be interviewing some of the characters from The Last Word series. Today I am joined by Luis Ortiz, best friend of Jake Donovan, semi-boyfriend of Camden Templeton, and icon in his own right. Below is the transcript of our discussion:
Welcome to the blog, Luis. Thanks for being here.
Always a pleasure, bro.
Why is your hair wet?
I have come straight from swimming a thousand laps at the YMCA pool. Poseidon himself would be envious of my aquatic prowess.
So you swam like…
Of course. So how do you like “Book Town?”
A masterful work. As Heather said to me the other day, “It’s not Hemingway, but at least it’s not Faulkner.” High praise.
I appreciate that once again you have made me the central character in your literary endeavors.
Luis, you’re not the central character in any of the books.
Am I in all three?
Then I am the central character. I am Ortiz.
I assume the next book will simply be titled “Ortiz.”
Actually that one’s on the backburner for now. (Way back).
Why is that? (His eyes have narrowed; not good).
It’s taking time to fully capture on the page the full essence of all that is you.
I understand. (Smiling again, thank God). It is a Herculean task.
Any other thoughts on “Book Town?”
I said it all in the blurb I sent you. You will use it on the back cover, of course.
I can recite it from memory the readers of your blog: “If F. Scott Fitzgerald and St. Thomas Aquinas had a literary love child, it would still not be as compelling as this novel.” My eloquence amazes even me.
It amazes us all, Ortiz.
Wonderful. Now go work on the masterpiece that will be “Ortiz.” I think Javier Bardem should play me in the film version. We are both menacingly loveable.
As promised in a recent Facebook post, in the days leading up to the publication of Book Town I will be interviewing some of the characters from The Last Word series. Today I am joined by Sal Terranova, who along with his cousin Camden Templeton owns The Last Word Bookstore. Below is the transcript of our discussion:
Welcome to the blog, Sal. Thanks for coming in.
Like I had a choice. I live in your head after all.
Right. You seem a tad surly today. Why is that?
I’m not surly. But I am a little pissed that my page time got cut.
Ah, I see. It’s true that you are not as much of a focus in Book Town as you were in The Last Word and Writer in Residence, but –
Not as much of a focus? You call half the book not as much of a focus? I might as well be Jacob, for crying out loud.
I think you’re overreacting, not to mention being pretty harsh to Jacob.
Whatever. I could see if you gave extra chapters to Ortiz, but Jake? The preacher?
People know you already, and you still play a major role in this novel. You have to admit that Jake and our mystery guest have a certain symmetry that you would lack.
Because I’m a criminal, right? I was never convicted!
Not because you’re a criminal. You have been, for the most part, a model citizen for a few years now.
That won’t do me much good if you keep cutting my scenes. Keep it up and there’s no way Brad Pitt will play me in the movie.
That wasn’t very likely regardless.
Oh, so now I’m a mutt who’s too hideous to be played by Brad Pitt? Keep it up, Paco, and you might just wake up at the bottom of the East River.
You realize I can take you out with a backspace key, right?
Nice. Big man with a laptop. You’re nothing without me, pal.
You really do come across as much more pleasant in the books.
I’m sorry. I am a little surly, and not just because of Jake. I like Jake. I really like the new novel. It's different from what you've done before, in a good way. But the Jets are going to suck again this year, I dropped two grand at the racetrack yesterday, and Julia keeps bringing up her ticking biological clock. I mean seriously? She's like 25.
If it makes you feel better, you are back front and center for the next novel, and there’s a road trip.
A road trip? You mean I get away from Camden and Jacob and the freakin’ customers for a while? That’s what I’m talking about.
So, any last thoughts for our readers about Book Town?
Yeah; buy it, tell your friends to buy it, have them tell their friends to buy it. I need this one to catch Brad Pitt’s attention. And remember that Jake, lovely human being that he is, will always be Little Steven and I will always be Springsteen.
If you’re Bruce, wouldn’t he be Clarence?
I am amazed you would even ask that. Ortiz is Clarence, of course.
Of course. Thanks again for stopping by.
My pleasure. Next time you could at least have beer or bagels or something. Now go work on that next book. I’m ready for a change of scenery.
Available for pre-order soon. Watch this space for details.
"Things seem to be going well at The Last Word Bookstore, but appearances, much like book covers, can be deceiving. Sal Terranova needs a new challenge, and Jake Donovan...well, Jake has no clue what he needs. The answer comes to both of them from a most unexpected source, one which will lead them and their friends on a journey of biblical proportions. Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the bookstore..."
The opening line of a novel can set the tone for the whole book, and there are many that have become as famous as the book that contains them. What follows is by no means an exhaustive list of these great first lines; it is simply ten of my favorite opening sentences, almost all from novels I have actually read (this means leaving out classics like "Call me Ishmael" from Moby Dick...saw the movie, though). Feel free to add your own favorites in the comments section:
"I still remember the day my father took me to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books for the first time." - Carlos Ruiz Zafon, The Shadow of the Wind
"All children mythologize their birth." - Diane Setterfield, The Thirteenth Tale
"Robert Cohn was once middleweight boxing champion of Princeton. Do not think that I am very much impressed by that as a boxing title, but it meant a lot to Cohn." – Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises
"People are afraid to merge on freeways in Los Angeles." – Bret Easton Ellis, Less Than Zero
"I have never begun a novel with more misgiving." - W. Somerset Maugham, The Razor’s Edge
"My father had a face that could stop a clock." - Jasper Fforde, The Eyre Affair
"Midway upon the journey of our life I found myself in a dark wood, for the right path had been lost." – Dante, Inferno (yes, I know this wasn't a novel)
"A writer never forgets the first time he accepted a few coins or a word of praise in exchange for a story." – Carlos Ruiz Zafon, The Angel’s Game
"It was a pleasure to burn." - Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
"I first met Dean not long after my wife and I split up." – Jack Kerouac, On The Road
And here's one from a novel that will be published soon. Obviously not famous like the ones above (yet), but it may be my favorite of those I've written:
"I think I'm starting to miss killing people." - Paul Combs, Book Town
I did not receive a letter from Hogwarts when I was 11 years old; sadly, I ended up in the normal Muggle 5th-grade class of Sister Bernice, a nun who in her youth may have been a Golden Gloves boxing champ and who could certainly have given Voldemort a run for his money. I also didn’t read "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone" as a preteen, having turned 30 the year before it was published. But I have read all of the books multiple times now, and want to share some thoughts about Harry and his creator today on their shared birthday.
The good versus evil storyline has existed since the beginning of time; in fact, it is ultimately the basis of most of the world's religions. Stories of magic have existed almost as long, and the story of the orphan who overcomes great odds was popularized by Charles Dickens more than 150 years ago. Yet J.K. Rowling took these very well-known elements and produced something both familiar and new at the same time.
Harry Potter himself could have easily been a one-dimensional character, the lone hero forced to confront the greatest evil the world has ever known. Frodo in The Lord of the Rings trilogy is such a character, never really growing or maturing during the journey, simply putting one foot in front of the other. But Rowling did something with Harry and the rest of the young characters that hadn't been done before in children's literature: she let them grow up. Harry is 11 years old when we meet him, downtrodden by the Dursely's and unaware of his magical abilities. Over the next seven years he grows in the same way any child does, through trial and error, having goods days and bad (sometimes very, very bad), and discovering who he is as a person, a friend, and a reluctant hero.
Harry is the ultimate underdog, and people love an underdog. He is an orphan whose destiny will have him battle the most powerful dark wizard ever, which is daunting enough, but Rowling goes a step further and throws in enough obstacles to deter Hercules. Having most of the drama take place as Harry is going through puberty helps us relate even more; none of us have ever fought a mountain troll, but we've have fretted over asking someone to a high school dance. We love Harry and his friends first and foremost because they are us.
The other characters, particularly Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, also develop and grow throughout the series, and the romantic tension between them in the later books was yet another twist on "typical" children's literature. Rowling also makes the stories and characters real by having them deal with death in virtually every book. Death is a subject that rarely receives thoughtful consideration even in adult fiction, yet Rowling tackles it from the first chapter of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone."
The way Rowling portrays the adults in the Harry Potter series is yet another surprise. In most children's books, adults are either not present at all or are little more than bumbling idiots for the kids to outwit. The adults in the Harry Potter books are fully formed characters whose stories could stand alone if you removed the kids entirely. Rowling shows us the adults' strengths and flaws, glories and failures, and she does it from the perspective of the students in most cases; what they (and we) learn about Dumbledore, Sirius Black, Lupin, Snape, and others comes out in bits over the course of the narrative. And as in life, sometimes the kids seem more grown up than the adults and sometimes it's the other way around.
As adults, we love Harry Potter because the books (much more so than the films) have enabled many of us to both share a rare bond with our children and briefly relive childhood ourselves. Countless parents around the globe have either read the books to their children or waited patiently for the kids to finish so we could read them. Harry Potter has given us something in common with our children at a time when we might otherwise think they were from a different planet. And the books have transported many of us back to the days of our own childhood when we actually read during our free time rather than sitting in front of a computer or smart phone. They allow us to escape, however briefly, to a time when we had far fewer worries and responsibilities.
None of these things, however, would make the Potter books the best-selling series of all time (400 million copies in over 30 languages and still growing) if Rowling hadn't also written an amazingly compelling page-turner of a series. That it is both a great beach read and truly literature at the same time is all the more remarkable. She has woven the best parts of the hero-quest, magical fantasy, romance, Gothic suspense, social commentary, and even detective fiction into a tapestry that looks like nothing we'd ever seen before.
Furthermore, Rowling and her boy wizard did something many thought impossible: they made reading cool again, for adults as well as children. Prior to 1997, who would have imagined that millions of children would attempt to read an 800-page book in one sitting, or that their parents would be anxiously waiting for them to finish reading so they could start?
With the Harry Potter books, J.K. Rowling opened up a world of imagination to a generation of kids who thought for anything to be entertaining it had to have a plug, a screen, or an Internet connection. And these kids (and hopefully their parents as well) will keep reading, if only in the hope of finding another book or series that grabs them the way Harry Potter did. Even if Rowling had never written another word, people everywhere who love books would owe her a debt of gratitude for making reading a novel something we, and more importantly our children, look forward to again.
In the end, each person who has read the books loves Harry Potter for their own individual reasons, which is as it should be. But the reasons discussed above are the communal reasons, the things that draw us together as fans of the series. That shared experience in a disconnected and fractured world may be the best magic of all.
Happy Birthday Harry, and Happy Birthday Jo Rowling.
Not long ago I reread Helene Hanff's wonderful book 84 Charing Cross Road. After I was finished, a thought occurred to me: why did I just read a book (slim though this volume is) that I've read at least ten times before, when there are so many other books out there I haven't read yet?
It doesn't seem all that strange when we watch a favorite movie so many times we can quote the dialogue word-for-word, or when we listen to the same song or album repeatedly. But with books it is a bit different. Watching films and listening to music are essentially passive forms of entertainment; with a book there is a serious commitment of time, and the inability to do anything else while reading. You can use a power saw or fry chicken and listen to Beatles at the same time; try doing those things while reading A Farewell to Arms and you may end up in the hospital.
I believe there are several reasons we go back to the same books over the years. For one, we know what we're getting. There is nothing worse than spending hours or days reading a book only to find out it wasn't really worth the time, especially if the ending was a disappointment. With a book you've read and loved, you are never disappointed.
Another thing about rereading a well-loved book is that in many ways it is like visiting an old friend. I find that the books I tend to read more than once have especially strong and well-written characters in addition to a good story. Spending time with these characters again is like running into an old college roommate. You may not want want to live with them again, but it's enjoyable spending a few hours together.
Finally, the books I reread almost always give me something new each time I read them. Whether it's a passage I somehow didn't catch before, or an event that speaks to me in a new way, there's always something fresh about them. For example, I have read The Razor's Edge every year for 30 years, and each time I get something new out of it. The book hasn't changed, but my life has, and the novel reaches me in ways in my 50s that it never could have at 20.
So while I encourage everyone to read as many books as they possibly can (it's the key to a well-rounded life), be sure to take the time to go back and read the books you loved again. They'll wait for you and welcome you home every time.