Category Archives: bookish

Lest you doubt the level of ‘picky’

Currently, there are 10 different paint colors on my wall, representing 4 trips to Lowe’s, one trip to Home Depot, and one trip to a local DIY store that carried Benjamin Moore Paint. You see, as soon as I spent a couple of days going over your posts, staring at the walls, and thinking of the end product for my bookshelf project, I decided to get busy. Last weekend was a long weekend; I thought I’d pick out a color and paint Sunday and Monday. Ha! I drove to Lowe’s, picked out a color, bought a sample and came home. I put a little on the wall, and oh my gosh, I hated it. It looked like the worst of a wintry day, and I really don’t like the cold, especially at this point in the season. So I went back to Lowe’s and then back again. I then decided to switch it up and went to Home Depot, and y’all, the color that looked gray at HD was flat-out purple. Uh uh. Then last weekend, I had tea with my best friend from high school, and she suggested (and my mom too) that I write Pottery Barn because the tearout I had was from their winter catalog. I got home, checked on the website and found the color: Newburyport Blue, Benjamin Moore. *cue angels singing* Except when I got the sample (which ain’t cheap in old Ben Moore), it was blue – country blue. I picked another color, got another sample and slapped it up on the wall. I think it’s a winner. It’s called Blue Note, which seems appropriate as I love Blue Note records. So, ten colors later (I mixed two together at one point to try to achieve the perfect blue gray), I give you the dining room table, in all its glory:

I. Am. THE. Picky. Girl.

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It’s a mystery! edition 2

2011, my fellow readers and bloggers, has sucked. Yes, I realize it’s only Day 19, but from Day 1, spent at the ER with my Dad, it has sucked. Then there was Week 1 with Dad in the hospital, and work literally being the most insane. Ugh. Not to say there haven’t been a few good moments. I’m grateful I am employed. I am grateful my Dad is *mostly* ok and on a regimen to strengthen his heart for surgery. All in all, my daily mantra has become “Get glad in the same pants you got mad in” because it can always be worse, and I know it.

How does this relate to mysteries? Mysteries are, to me, like therapy. I hibernate with mysteries. There is some healing property in them, as you may be able to discern looking at the sidebar. Yep, every read in 2011 has been a mystery. So how were they? Let me tell you:

Dead Politician’s Society by Spano*

Funny, quirky, a little bit naughty and not a lot nice. This debut is about a young-ish policewoman, Clare, who is eager to prove herself as an undercover cop. She bristles around her handler and isn’t the most perceptive cop, so she gets in trouble. A lot. Like, murders happen with her in the same room. However, she isn’t grating. Here’s the deal: a politician gets killed, and an organization, The Society for Political Utopia, not only takes responsibility but also writes the local newspaper an obituary, explaining why. As the murders continue, everyone is a suspect, local university students who follow cult-like after their leader; the professor himself, who thinks he’s a maverick but who is, in reality, a stereotype, sleeping with his students; the mayor’s wife who has lived, as a lesbian, separately from him for years. All the while, the killer messages Annabel, a reporter for the local paper who wants to stay close to the story, but the story may come just a little too close. There were a few moments where I had to really suspend my disbelief, but all in all, this was a fun read.

*Read on my mom’s Kindle when Coffee and a Book Chick advertised Robin Spano was offering her ebook for a limited time at $1.99.

Deadly Dance by M.C. Beaton

Love from Hell by M.C. Beaton


The Terrible Tourist by M.C. Beaton


I read this trio quickly and enjoyed every minute. Agatha Raisin is a middle-aged former publicist-turned-detective who is quite a bit vain and helplessly dependent on the idea of love, specifically when it comes to James Lacey, a man who, in all appearances, seems to want nothing to do with her. In The Terrible Tourist, Agatha chases after James to Cyprus, where all sorts of hijinks occur. Agatha meets an odd group of tourists while on a boating trip. She is alone, and there are two other trios, each a married couple and an older gentlemen. One group appears to be old money, while the other is a bit crass. The nouveau riche woman is murdered, and Agatha is in constant danger of being murdered. She is also in danger of leaving Cyprus broken hearted. In Love from Hell, Agatha and James are married, cannot abide one another, and argue constantly. That is, until James disappears, and a woman (with whom he has been sleeping) is found murdered. Agatha must, with the help of her friends, clear James’s name and determine whether or not she has any love left for her husband.

The Deadly Dance is the first novel where Agatha sets up her agency. The local constabulary isn’t happy with her amateurish investigations, but she quickly proves herself with the help of her ever-growing staff. The agency gets its first big “case” and what initially appears to be a horrible mistake, turns into a case bigger than Agatha bargained for. With the help of her friend/lover Charles, she must track down a fiendish, cold-blooded killer.

Death of a Village by M.C. Beaton

If I had to choose, I would most likely pick Hamish Macbeth over Agatha Raisin. The novels still have quite a bit of charm, but the stories don’t jump around like the Agatha Raisin series. In this episode, Hamish Macbeth decides to take a trip to ease his discontent. He drives to the hamlet of Stoyre, but the small village does not restore Macbeth the way he would wish. Instead, he finds a village somewhat different than what he remembers. The villagers are not welcoming; in fact, a fire destroys the home of the only outsider in Stoyre. Macbeth tries to investigate but is stopped at every turn by closemouthed, fearful villagers. Macbeth must make a chink in the village’s armor and figure out what the crime is with the help of reporter Elspeth and an elderly couple – Mrs. Docherty and Mr. Jefferson.

_______________________________________________________

Each of these is a great read, and I could certainly recommend them for light reading. What about you? Any mysteries lately? What have you been reading?

happy reading – jenn aka picky girl

P.S. If you want to know about the two Winspear’s I read, stay tuned. I plan to write full reviews of each because they were fantastic!


Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.

Except not really because I would probably be absolutely petrified, have a heart attack, and die. If you are completely lost, the title refers to the first and very well-known line from the eerie Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. My first experience with Rebecca was as a child when I first watched Hitchcock’s interpretation with Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier. I’ve seen it half a dozen times, more recently two months ago. I finally picked up a copy of the book at the library the day before Thanksgiving and devoured it as it rained outside, which, I have to say, is pretty much perfect reading weather but is certainly perfect Du Maurier reading weather.

The unnamed narrator, a young, unworldly woman, meets Maxim de Winter in Monte Carlo while acting as a companion to Mrs. Van Hopper, an older, wealthy, prattling woman. Mrs. Van Hopper refers to some sort of awful tragedy Mr. de Winter has endured (she seems to know everything about everyone), but our narrator doesn’t pry. Mrs. Van Hopper becomes ill, and the narrator finds herself more and more in the company of Mr. de Winter, an inscrutable but fascinating older man.

All too quickly, the holiday in Monte Cristo comes to a close, but Maxim refuses to let the naive young narrator sail off into the sunset. No, there is a much-less-happy-ending in the narrator’s future. The couple goes to Manderley, Maxim’s estate, and the young companion has no idea how to run a household, much less a household as large as Manderley. She meets the household staff and quickly learns Maxim goes about Maxim’s business while she is left to her own devices.

Mrs. Danvers, the housekeeper, conspicuously brings up Rebecca (the first Mrs. De Winter) in conversation, referring to how Mrs. DeWinter did this and how Mrs. DeWinter did that, leaving the narrator feeling more insecure and less able to learn how to adjust to her new home. Mrs. Danvers tempts the narrator with discussions of Rebecca’s rooms, the best in the house. When the narrator walks through the grounds, she looks up and curtains in Rebecca’s old room part to reveal Mrs. Danvers, ever watchful. Let’s stop there. Mrs. Danvers is easily one of the most spooky characters I have ever read about or watched in a film. Her obsession with Rebecca and her obvious distaste for the new Mrs. DeWinter verges on demented. This is one twisted housekeeper, and you should be very, very afraid.

As for Maxim, he is gone quite often and has turned sullen and standoffish inside the walls of Manderley. His moods are inconstant; he treats the narrator like a young girl (which drove me nuts). In the face of near insurmountable evidence, the narrator naturally believes he is still in love with the dead Rebecca. She begs him to host a ball for the neighbors, a costume ball, and Mrs. Danvers suggests what the narrator should wear. The tension mounts until the night of the party, and then there is all sorts of action.  Who was Rebecca, and what happened to her?

I will leave you hanging here because I don’t want to spoil anything. Plus, I think every blogger is owed several “Go read this book right now” statements throughout the year, so I’m calling in my first. Go read this book. Second, watch the movie. Third, come back and thank me, and we can talk. Need some more reasons? Spooky house? Check. Crazy housekeeper? Check. Dead wife? Check. Now go.

If you’ve read it, have you seen the movie? I seriously felt as though it played in my head the entire time. Hitchcock, of course, is a genius, but this film is truly a work of art and an excellent, excellent adaptation. What did you think? Rebecca truly made me want to devour everything DuMaurier has written.


Ooh! Ahh! Happy New Year!

I hope everyone had a fabulous New Year’s Eve. 2011: Better known as the year I turn 30. This will be a banner year. In that vein, I am cleaning house today. No reading or lounging around or blogging. I am taking down Christmas decorations, being ruthless about my closet, and trying to make decisions about my bookshelves.

2010 was a great year. It was my first year as a book blogger, and I have really enjoyed finding others’ blogs, connecting with bloggers on Twitter and sharing in discussion right here. I hope for much, much more discussion in the year to come. I read over 100 books, and as it was my first time ever to keep track of that, I was thrilled. You may have noticed, I have no charts or graphs detailing number of pages, number of female/male authors, etcetera. I am a laidback blogger. I love seeing charts and graphs, but I’m just not that kind of gal.

Here are some other things I’ve learned about myself as a blogger: I suck at challenges. No, really. My title “My First Challenge!” is the only post. I felt so guilty. Still feel guilty. Ugh. The sad thing is, I probably actually DID finish the challenge but didn’t post about it. I don’t like memes, except this one. Readalongs are awesome. The library is mega awesome. Twitter is not evil. If there is a blogging tiff, I will know nothing about it. Romance novels aren’t all that bad. Meeting bloggers in person is fun! And last but not least, I can read anywhere.

So that’s my wrap-up. My goals for 2011 for my blog? Blog more regularly. Try to increase comment discussion for the simple reason that I love discussing the books I read. Other than that, I plan to keep it simple. What do you guys think? If there are any lurkers (those who read but don’t comment), please say hi. I’d love to meet you – and to maybe twist your arm to read a couple of my favorite books!

Happy New Year, and as always, happy reading.

jenn aka picky girl


A home for my books.

I must have been a very good (albeit, picky) girl this year because I got Lowe’s gift cards. Hm, you might be thinking. What on earth will she do with that? Why, buy lumber for bookshelves, of course! My previous home had built-in bookshelves and though they were stacked three deep, they were perfect. How many bookshelves does my current home have? Three measly ones in my office to hold school books for reference. The rest of my books are shoved into cabinets and closets but are mainly under the bed in the front room. You read that right. While this has made for a major purging of books I wasn’t in love with, it makes it very difficult to lend books or find books for quick reference. It also makes it difficult to figure out what I have read and what I haven’t. So the goal is to turn a wall in my spacious dining room into built-in bookshelves. I am taking the opportunity to do it up right. New paint colors and everything. The problem, as it stands is that I love the color of my walls, but I really don’t love the white trim with the color for a library/dining room.

I’m thinking something a little lighter than the paint on this wall from the blog Isabella and Max:

Here is the space as it is, along with my inspiration photo:

So should I go with color on the walls with white trim and bookshelves? Or cream or white on the walls with black or gray on the trim/bookshelves? These are my dilemmas. But wait! I also need help with the details. I have several favorites, though the picture above is certainly the most classic. What do you like/love about these options? Which do you hate? Which one is only eh, okay? I want the DL, blogging buddies. I know design may not be your passion, but along with readings, it’s a big passion of mine, so help a gal out:


The End of a Semester (or, How I Turned into a Softie)

 

I have tried and tried and tried to finish a blog post this morning and just can’t. I have about 10 drafts going, but alas. Nothing. So I’m going to go au natural this morning.

I think part of it is the end of the semester has just really wiped me out. Grading nonstop until 1:30 in the morning is exhausting. And then, brilliant me decided to have a Christmas party. THE DAY AFTER GRADES WERE DUE. So that turned into a whole evening/morning of manic cleaning, menu planning, and decorating. The next day my parents moved out of my house (they stayed with me for a month between the sale of their old house and the closing of their new house), so the weekend was spent painting rooms and unpacking them. Their new house is beautiful and closer to me and not 100 years old, which is good for a number of reasons. Then Monday, my brother (aka Picky Boy) came in from NYC. In other words, it. has. been. crazy.

However, it’s a good crazy. I’ve done a little bit of reading, but honestly, I’ve been so busy, reading hasn’t been much on my mind. Plus, reading dozens of essays right at the end of the semester did me in. I had to share one story, though:

I had one student who, from the beginning of the semester, I really liked. He’s a young kid, from an inner-city school, and he was just so enthusiastic. When the class turned in its first essays, his was awful, though I could tell he spent some time on it. Truly. It was terrible. There was no organization, no coherence. The grammar was abhorrent, and there were sections I could barely read. So I pulled the kid aside and asked him to set up a time to meet with me because he failed the assignment. Those of you who teach know, not every kid will take advantage of extra help. This student did. He came to my office. I gave him two specific areas of concentration to focus on and told him to rewrite one paragraph. He did and brought it to me, and I increased his grade based on that paragraph.

Throughout the semester, he remained engaged and worked diligently, but he could never seem to really make the cut. We continued to work on several problems in his writing, and he improved steadily. During the final, I graded their final essays, and when I came to this particular student, I put my pen down. I read it through, and it was very obviously still his own work, but guys, it was good. It was organized. The essay topic was dead on, and I was so proud of him. I marked a few things and slapped a 90 on that essay and wrote him a note about his hard work.

When he came up to turn in his final, I pulled him aside and told him he couldn’t take the essay with him, as I wasn’t handing them back but that I wanted him to look at his grade. He scowled at my mark-ups on the first couple of pages, but when he got to his grade, he clutched his chest, looked at me, looked down at the essay and back up at me: “Really? I really got an A? I’ve never made an A on a paper.”

I told him he had done the work, had improved steadily and that he did a fantastic job on the essay. Tears welled up in his eyes, and he looked at me and said “Thank you so much. You made my Christmas.” I explained to him that the grade had absolutely nothing to do with me and that he should be proud of himself. He thanked me again and walked off, saying he would text his mom and grandma. I discreetly wiped tears from my eyes as well.

And you know what? He really made my Christmas. It’s easy to wish I made more money and gripe about how teachers don’t get paid enough (we don’t). It’s simple to fall into the trap of whining about those who don’t put in any effort and then complain because they get a C in class. But to really see a student persevere and improve and then appreciate your and his own work? It was really touching. The only problem is, ever since, I have been boo-hooing at the smallest things, and I am not a crier. Hell, last night we watched Cupcake Wars, and I practically cried. We watched Miracle on 34th Street yesterday, and the second Santa spoke Dutch to the little girl, off I went again. Don’t even let the ASPCA commercials come on. Frankly, it’s embarrassing, but I guess it’s better than the alternative.

So, to you and yours, whether or not you celebrate Christmas or just use the break as an excuse to read, I hope there is a little softie in you (if, for nothing else, so I don’t feel quite so foolish), and as always, happy reading.

 


(Almost) back to regularly-scheduled programming…

Merry Christmas! I feel awful for not posting in so long and hope you haven’t abandoned me. However, I have been doing a whole lot of this:

And not a whole lot of this:

But I do have reviews and exciting news right around the corner. So stay tuned, dear blog readers, I will return.

In the meantime, what the heck have YOU been reading that I should add to my TBR (To Be Read) list?


I am invisible … because people refuse to see me.

Teaching is a funny profession. Teaching well is insanely difficult. At this point in the semester, I am usually battling an upper respiratory infection. I don’t want to grade another essay. Students asking for their averages in the middle of class elicit blank stares and a speech balloon above my head that looks like this: $&@*! In other words, I am ready for a break.

However, the end of the semester for my American Literature class is also the point in the semester during which I get to teach and discuss one of my favorite novels – Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. I believe it is a vastly underappreciated novel. Also, don’t make the mistake one of my students did and download THE Invisible Man.


Invisible Man is a novel of race and identity, but it’s also a bildungsroman, the story of a faceless, nameless narrator and his realization that everyone around him only uses him for his or her own purposes. But I’m getting ahead of myself. The Epilogue of this novel begins:

I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Pie; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids – and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me….When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination – indeed, everything and anything except me.

The narrator is living in a basement in Harlem, a good bit after the Harlem Renaissance, surrounding himself with light bulbs, leeching electricity from the city, desperate to see himself. The proceeding novel is the story of why he can’t see himself. Told in episodic fashion, the novel begins when the narrator is young – school age, in fact. He is intelligent and knows he is intelligent, winning a scholarship to an all-black school, Tuskegee Institute. He is invited to speak before his town’s leading white citizens, which culminates in one of the most anthologized chapters of this or any other book, “The Battle Royale.” The scene, in which other young black males are blindfolded, stripped down to their underwear and told to fight, is brutal and horrifying. The men are taunted by a blonde white woman dressed provocatively, and the fear and scent of that fear is palpable. The men are then tossed coins as payment, but the coins (fake) are tossed onto an electrified rug, and the older white gentlemen see sport in this.

During this humiliation, though, our narrator can only think about his speech. He is proud, and he is focused. My students, when we began discussing the novel last week, were confused by the scene as it is rather chaotic, but even more so because, thankfully, they also saw how disgusting this behavior was and is and couldn’t believe anything like this could or would happen. We also discussed the subtext of the erotic here, and the danger for these men in this scene, particularly as our narrator then goes on to give his speech, slipping up and saying “social equality” instead of “social responsibility” and the tense moments after before he is basically told to “know his place.” Even as we only discussed half of the book last week, they were already beginning to pick up on one of the key themes of this book – blindness.

The narrator feels invisible, says he is invisible, yet he, too, struggles to see throughout the novel. In the scene depicted above he feels “a sudden fit of blind terror. I was unused to darkness.” Once he arrives at Tuskegee, again he is blind, but in a different way, believing his intelligence will be his champion; unfortunately, at every turn, he is thwarted. He leaves Tuskegee and the South for New York, a place where he can eat yams if he wants, wide out in the open, and he “no longer ha[s] to worry about who [sees him] or about what was proper.” However, the narrator never fully realizes that even the North has its own racial code, and there are consequences for every action, no matter how you gloss it over.

One day he watches as an old couple is evicted from their walk-up, seeing their possessions dumped into the street, and as he watches the crowd becomes more and more expectant of violence, until he steps up shouting at the people to remain “law abiding” in one of my favorite moments in the book:

Did you hear [the old man]? He’s eighty-seven. Eighty-seven and look at all he’s accumulated in eighty-seven years, strewn in the snow like chicken guts, and we’re a law-abiding, slow-to-anger bunch of folks turning the other cheek every day in the week. What are we going to do? What would you, what would I, what would he have done? What is to be done? I propose we do the wise thing, the law-abiding thing. Just look at this junk….Look at that old woman, somebody’s mother, somebody’s grandmother, maybe….Eighty-seven years, and poof! like a snort in a wind storm. Look at them, they look like my mama and my papa and my grandma and grandpa, and I look like you and you look like me. Look at them but remember that we’re a wise, law-abiding group of people. And remember it when you look up there in the doorway at that law standing there with the forty-five.

I can in no way do justice to the brilliant journey this spontaneous moment will begin for the narrator or its accompanying symbols of darkness and light, blindness and vision, invisible and visible. Suffice it to say, whether our narrator is working in a paint plant watching “the right white” paint made whiter by a dark black tint or standing on the porch to a small walkup shouting “Dispossessed!” after the old couple is forced out of their home, Invisible Man is an intricate, enthralling read that forces me to think about the ways in which we choose not to see certain people in our society or the ways in which we simply ask (or require) they take on our own comfortable idea of personhood in order to be recognized and seen.

Hm.. this one would also make a great readalong. I’d love to get some discussion going in comments if you have read it. I haven’t heard many bloggers mention it, so I’m wondering – has anyone out there read it? Or am I alone in my love of this book?


Madame Bovary, Part Two

I am sorry for posting this a bit late. I meant to do it early this morning, but A. I had a lot going on and B. I had no idea what I planned to write. I was tempted to write: “Emma, shut up and stop bitching” but thought surely I could come up with something more literary than that.

I have stewed most of the day about it and have come to a conclusion. The older Emma gets, the more angry she becomes. Her anger bubbles over, and she snaps at her child, her husband, her maid, everyone around her (that’s not the conclusion part). Frances focuses on the web of lies Flaubert spins for his characters, and though I think it’s a significant part of the book, I think the worst lie is the abstract one Emma focuses on. Emma thinks the world has lied to her, and she hates life because of it (there it is).

Life isn’t supposed to be like this, she thinks. Every moment leading up to her marriage, she lived in anticipation of that fulfillment, that idea of love she has carried around. She tries to discover “just what was meant, in life, by the words “bliss,” “passion,” and “intoxication,” which had seemed so beautiful to her in books.” Tucked away in a convent as a young girl where she is rewarded for her spiritual ardor, all the while sneaking highly-romanticized novels, Emma lives in an alternate reality. It is a mystical place, and Emma embraces it fully. When her mother dies, she writes a letter to her father, and the contents of the letter so worry him, he visits her, and

Emma was inwardly satisfied to feel that she had, at her first attempt, reached that rare ideal of pallid lives, which mediocre hearts will never attain. And so she allowed herself to slip into Lamartinean meanderings, listened to harps on lakes, to the song of every dying swan, to the falling of every leaf … [until] [s]he became bored with this, did not want to admit it … and was at last surprised to find … that there was no more sadness in her heart than there were wrinkles on her forehead.

Her dramatic nature has never been curbed, and through the ever-disappointed Emma and her love of novels, Flaubert swiftly eviscerates romanticism and its dangers. Emma acts her life; she doesn’t live it. When she attempts to be a good mother and wife, it’s draining, yet she feels better having almost (at least on pretext) been a loving wife and mother. Flaubert does not allow the reader any illusions, though. When Emma pushes her daughter Berthe away from her and Berthe cuts her cheek, Emma seems suddenly maternal. She insists on remaining with the child, but in her quiet moment she looks at

a few large teardrops … gathered in the corners of her half-closed eyelids, through whose lashes one could glimpse two pale, sunken pupils; the adhesive plaster, stuck to her cheek, pulled the stretched skin to one side.

“How strange,” though Emma. “The child is so ugly!”

She is detached, even in that second, and cannot make herself feel as she should. She is an actress, never fully involved in her own life and therefore, she is unable to enjoy it as well. Upon receiving a letter from her father, she becomes nostalgic, and again, it’s almost as if she’s viewing her life on a stage:

How happy those days had been! How free! How full of hope! How rich in illusions! There were none left now! She had spent them in all the different adventures of her soul, in all those successive stages she had gone through, in her virginity, her marriage, and her love; — losing them continuously as her life went on, like a traveler who leaves some part of his wealth at every inn along his road.

But what was making her so unhappy? Where was the extraordinary catastrophe that had overturned her life? And she lifted her head and looked around, as though seeking the cause of what hurt her so.

Here she recognizes the illusion and in almost the same instant, pushes the blame away from herself, looking around to identify who or what is to blame for her intense displeasure. Finding no one, she places the blame squarely on her husband, who, to her, represents her entrapment. Flaubert tells us, though, to be prepared for this. In Part One, he describes Emma as

Accustomed to the calm aspect of things, she turned, instead, toward the more tumultuous. She loved the sea only for its storms, and greenery only when it grew up here and there among ruins. She needed to derive from things a sort of personal gain; and she rejected as useless everything that did not contribute to the immediate gratification of her heart, — being by temperament more sentimental than artistic, in search of emotions and not landscapes.

Emma seeks something fleeting, something on the air she cannot quite grasp. I fear it will remain ever elusive and that Emma’s hatred of her life and the world can only turn inward.

*But that’s just what I think. Check out Frances at nonsuch book and all the other links to see what other readers thought of Part 2. And thanks, Frances! I am finding the conversation most interesting.


Texas Book Festival – Part Dos

Saturday night, I was exhausted. Like, too tired to read, and I’m never too tired to read. I guess dancing at The Broken Spoke until midnight Friday night and then traipsing across the capitol ALL day on Saturday was a bit much for this gal. I mapped out Sunday’s events, watched some HGTV in the hotel (I don’t have cable, so this was thrilling) and crashed. Sunday found me refreshed and excited to get to my two panels:

Literature on the Lam

Moderated by Skip Hollinsworth of Texas Monthly and filmed by BookTV, I was really excited about this panel. Criminals fascinate me, and I was practically fused to my seat I was so enthralled. Malcolm Beith, Jonathan Eig, Hampton Sides, and James Swanson were all panelists.

Each has a new book out dealing with infamous criminals. James Swanson, who wrote Manhunt about John Wilkes Booth, has a new book out called Blood Crimes, which is about Jefferson Davis. Patricia Cornwell deemed Manhunt to be one of the top two true crime novels along with Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. Hampton Sides writes about James Earl Ray in Hellhound. Jonathan Eig’s new book Get Capone posits new theories of the life Al Capone. Finally, Malcolm Beith wrote The Last Narco, a book about El Chapo, organized crime leader in Mexico.

The panel started on a light-hearted note as Hollinsworth asked Eig how he switched from writing about baseball players to Al Capone. Eig said he thought long and hard and asked himself: “Who else used baseball bats?” Eig’s sense of humor was welcome on the panel, and I’m curious how much humor comes across in his book. He says Capone was really “a product of Prohibition” who otherwise may have driven a truck or stocked store shelves. He had a chance to rake in money, though, and he took it. The odd thing about Capone, according to Eig, is how willingly he accepted the infamy. He asked “what kind of person welcomes that sort of attention” and ended by saying, “We’ve all got a little bit of larceny in us.”

Sides and Swanson were much more serious, tackling topics of national sensitivity. When asked how easily they could shake off the people of whom they wrote, all the authors said they could not. Sides and Swanson are left with questions as both John Wilkes Booth and James Earl Ray left many unanswered questions.

I particularly felt for Malcolm Beith, as he seemed genuinely disturbed by El Chapo. He answered he would never shake the man off because of the horror of his crimes, at one time killing 300 people in a vat of acid. El Chapo owns 23,000 square miles in Mexico and has enormous amounts of power. Beith, a former Mexican journalist, now resides in America and relates that at least 45 journalists in Mexico have died trying to bring to light the corruption.

Spanning cultural differences and huge time gaps, all the authors were interesting and obviously passionate about their books. I have added Manhunt, Hellhound, The Last Narco, and Get Capone to my reading list.

I can’t embed the video, but the link is here. It’s long-ish but worth the watch.

Swanson, Sides, Hollinsworth, Eig, and Beith at Literature on the Lam

Wickedly Funny Noir

This was a quirky bunch. Harry Hunsicker moderated a panel of authors including Lou Berney, Jonathan Woods, and Mark Haskell Smith. I haven’t read any of these authors, but the panel itself sounded interesting. Each was laidback and humorous and focused mainly on writing itself and not individual books. Hunsicker asked if there is any pressure to be funny, but each responded in the negative, Burney saying he writes characters “who aren’t funny but have a good sense of humor.”

How do you make sex funny? Woods, Berney, and Smith all agreed sex just is sort of funny. In fact, Berney doesn’t like writing sex scenes: “It embarrasses me; it embarrasses my Golden Retriever.” He relayed a couple of humorous scenes from his book. Smith said sex is just plain awkward, and he starts with that. He, though, apparently doesn’t shy away from these scenes, instead writing every gory detail. (My mom went to another panel the day before and said it was the closest thing to porn she’s ever heard. Apparently people with children there walked out as there was no warning and a children’s author was on the panel. Odd)

All agreed, as Burney said, “You have to learn to love killing things.” There is not a lot of humor in crime, but as Smith said, often the people with the best sense of humor are in law enforcement. The gist was, if we can’t laugh at something, we might as well “put a collective gun to our collective head,” Woods said

The audience here definitely felt more like a bunch of amateur writers. You know the type. They are really there for validation of their own work as opposed to really listening to what the authors have to say. Not all amateurs are like this, but many are. I did ask a question, though, to see if any of these guys knew any other funny noir other than Dashiell Hammett who wrote around the same time. They gave me some more current names, but that wasn’t really what I was looking for. It was a fun panel, though, and I will likely pick up Burney’s book Gutshot Straight. Mark Haskell Smith has written several books, Baked, Salty, Delicious, and Moist. Woods has a new collection of short stories Bad Juju and Other Tales of Madness and Mayhem.

Hunsicker, Berney, Woods, and Smith at Wickedly Funny Noir

 

The weekend was fabulous, and I can’t believe I have to wait another year to go back. I will definitely have to find some bookish events in the meantime. I hope you, dear reader, have something fun and bookish to look forward to – any great events happening near you?