Tuesday, February 2, 2010


[Photo Credit: Barnes and Noble]

Looking for a book to tap into all of your emotions? Unless you're a rock (and even then, maybe) The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein is guaranteed to have you laughing, crying, aching, thinking, feeling, believing within the first 25 pages. A quick read, it's available in paperback, and I suggest you not miss experiencing this gem of a novel.

The story is told through the eyes of the narrator - dear,wise, old, Enzo, Denny's beloved yellow lab (mix with a "problem solver" terrier?).

"Denny is as good as Ayrton Senna. But no one sees him because he has responsibilities. He has his daughter, Zoe, and he had his wife, Eve, who was sick until she died, and he has me. And he lives in Seattle when he should live somewhere else. And he has a job. But sometimes when he goes away he comes back with a trophy and he shows it to me and tells me all about his races and how he shone on the track and taught those other drivers in Sonoma or Texas or Mid-Ohio what driving in wet weather is all about."

Enzo, learns much of what he knows about the world from television. Denny leaves the tv on throughout the day to keep Enzo company until he gets home. Enzo loves watching tapes of Denny's competitive car racing adventures. Knowing that car racing is where Denny feels most alive, Enzo longs for him to find a way, out of the responsibility rut he's trapped himself in since his wife's death, to get back into it.

The themes of aging, death, love, letting go, and living are so well developed. Only a true philosopher could grasp it all and then condense it into this simple, wonderful tale. For me, the dying with dignity theme was most poignant. Also, the touching way Enzo helps Denny "let go".

Don't worry that the book is too much of a downer though. Hard to believe, but you will find yourself laughing harder than ever as this story drives its points along the racetrack of life. Enzo is the funniest human/dog soul you could ever hope to know. Truly, I dare you to not laugh!

Here's a cool interview with the author, Garth Stein. I can't wait to hear him speak at my local bookstore this evening!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick

A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick is a really good book. It is so well written. The book is Goolrick's first novel, but he also wrote a highly recognized memoir titled The End of the World as We Know It. Filled with beautiful, descriptive language; a compelling plot with two amazingly interesting and complicated main characters; passion and sensuality; and surprising twists and turns, you will not want to put this book down once you've entered this intriguing place and time.

The story begins on a cold, fall day. Set in Wisconsin, just after the turn of the century, in 1907. Fifty four year old Ralph Truitt is waiting for a train to arrive bringing him "a plain woman". A woman he has found through a personal ad he placed in a big city newspaper:

"Country Businessman Seeks Reliable Wife. Compelled by Practical, Not Romantic Reasons. Reply By Letter. Ralph Truitt. Truitt, Wisconsin. Discreet."

The train, carrying Catherine Land, the young woman who responded to the ad with a letter and a photograph, was running late. Ralph fondled her worn picture in his hand, noting for the thousandth time, "She wore a simple dress with a plain cloth collar, an ordinary woman who needed a husband enough to marry a stranger twenty years her senior." Goolrick's description of Ralph Truitt waiting on the platform is gripping and heartrending. This sad man finally has a ray of hope that he will find companionship and maybe even love. After just a few pages, I was hooked!

Catherine Land answers the ad because she cannot fathom living without two things: love and money. "She was determined, cold as steel. She would not live without at least some portion of the two things she knew were necessary as a minimum to sustain life." Ralph Truitt is her ticket. When her train finally arrives at the station, in Truitt, Wisconsin (the town Ralph Truitt owns) Catherine recognizes Ralph, but Ralph doesn't recognize her.

"Mr. Truitt. I'm Catherine Land."

"You're not her. I have a photograph."

"It's of someone else. It's my cousin India."

And so the relationship begins. Catherine Land is a beauty and a liar. She wants something of her very own and this is the story of how she goes about getting it.

In this NPR interview the author talks about the major themes of the book: Good vs. Bad, Winter to Spring, Redemption and Rebirth. A romance novel with extreme complexities, this novel arouses all of your senses. You want it to end a certain way, but you never believe it will get there. Do not miss this intriguing journey.

Blogger's Note: My book club LOVED this book, however, we were divided on whether or not we'd recommend it to a friend, mother, daughter, sister, brother or husband. Why do you think that might be the case? Would you recommend it? Can you see a reason why you might not recommend a book you LOVED to a friend? Let us know! I guess you know my response - I'd recommend it to everyone!

The dog days of summer ....

The dog days of summer demand some good old R & R .... grab a book, find a special reading nook, and treat yourself to a few magic moments ... Here are a few pics of my favorite early September spots:

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Clickers vs. Brickers

Here's an interesting book-related blog post I saw on Twitter today [via @chrisbrogan]: It relates to an unscientific poll conducted by J. C. Hutchins and posted to his site "The Official Webspace of Thriller Novelist J.C. Hutchins." The author conducted a poll on Twitter today (8.25.09) asking the following question: "When you buy books, are you mostly a "clicker" (meaning shop on-line) or a "bricker" (meaning shop in a brick and mortar store)?" Check this out: Clickers vs. Brickers [Posted using ShareThis].

My answer: I'm a "bricker". I love local bookstores!! Browsing is my favorite way to buy books; however, if I hear about a specific title/author, and I decide I need/want that specific book late at night or early some morning, I have been known to take the convenient route and purchase books on-line.

So, how about you? Are you a "clicker" or a "bricker" when it comes to buying books?

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K. Lee

[Photo Credit: Barnes and Noble]

World War II is once again the setting for another excellent book - this time Hong Kong is the war ravaged city, but like Leningrad, in City of Thieves (earlier blog post), this story is really more about the people than the place. As one reviewer of the book noted, "In desperate times, when survival is the only goal, an individual's true character is revealed."

The author, Janice Y. K. Lee, the daughter of Korean parents, was born in Hong Kong and lived there until she was 15 years old. She is too young to have been impacted by the actual war herself, but she clearly can relate to the East/West themes in the book. At 15, she left Hong Kong to attend a prep school in New Hampshire and then went on to Harvard for college. Writing a book has been a dream of Lee's since elementary school. The Piano Teacher is her debut novel.

This book is first and foremost a love story and an historical fiction account of World War II, and the clashing of cultures in World War II, told in two time periods - beginning post war 1952-53 and alternating chapters with years during the war 1941 - 43 - set, not in Europe, but in Asia - Hong Kong to be exact. The war version details how the idyllic, gilded, Hong Kong changes dramatically the day the Japanese invaded.

The book is filled with a rich cast of characters: Will Truesdale, the handsome Brit who arrived in Hong Kong in 1941 - lover of Trudy and Claire; Trudy Liang, a Portugese/Chinese beauty, daughter of a Shanghai millionaire - strong, fearless and provocative; Claire Pendleton, the "piano teacher" and naive wife of a British civil servant arriving in Hong Kong post war; and Victor, Melody and Locket Chen, the wealthy family both Claire and Will end up working for, who have a host of hidden secrets and past lives of their own. There are lots of other characters in the book as well; some the author introduces and then drops or never really ties up the loose ends on, but this doesn't really help or hurt the story. [Note: My book club determined these loose ends might be attributed to the fact that it took Lee 6 years to write the book and finally when she is pregnant with twins - her 3rd and 4th children - she becomes determined to finish the book before they are born. ] Overall, the key characters are well developed and make for a most interesting read (and book club discussion).

The Piano Teacher is a mystery, an epic tale of war and a twisted, complicated love(s) story. The author does an excellent job of describing the people, place and times - she picks you up and drops you right into the lives and events of the two different time periods. The novel illuminates a time and place, during and after World War II, not normally depicted. The different characters' reactions to the invasion, and the survival techniques they resort to as they live with the effects of their time and place, are ripe for discussion.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

City of Thieves by David Benioff

[Photo Credit: Barnes & Noble]

I was fortunate to catch a reading, by David Benioff, of his newest book City of Thieves at a local book store. Benioff is an accomplished writer. His first novel, The 25th Hour became a film directed by Spike Lee. Additionally, he has written many screenplays including: The Kite Runner, and the forthcoming films "Brothers" and "X-Men Origins: Wolverine". He was born and raised in New York City and currently lives with his wife, actress Amanda Peet, and their daughter, in Los Angeles. [Note: Amanda Peet and their young daughter also attended the book reading. It was a fun sidelight to watch his family, watch him, as he spoke.]

Set in Leningrad, during the siege by the Nazis in World War II, City of Thieves gives a microscopic, insightful, historical look into the people, and culture, of this time. Though the premise of the story is a rather frightening and dark adventure for the two main characters Lev Beniov and Koyla Vlasov. The young men were thrown together after being captured on the streets after curfew, and without proper identification. Their ticket to freedom involved a dangerous challenge in search of a dozen fresh eggs for one of the colonel's daughter's wedding cake. The search leads them through the countryside where along the way the reader is given glimpses into how a culture survives in the most difficult of times by retaining its humor, theater, music, and literature.

In the spirit of how new media is being used to communicate in a variety of ways, I am going to let you hear more about this story directly from the author himself through the attached You Tube videos:

City of Thieves is a great book. I strongly recommend it for you and your book clubs!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Facebook Founders' College Antics!

[Note: An update has been added below on 8.10.09]
Facebook is a topic of discussion in our new media marketing class this week and coincidentally the author of The Accidental Billionaires, Ben Mezrich, and I are following each other on Twitter. (I think he, or his publicist, found me through my link to the Harvard Book Store on this site.)

The Accidental Billionaires is Mezrich's eleventh book. Impressive since he looks about 25 years old in his interview with Craig Ferguson on the Late Late Show. Mezrich has created his own unique style of non-fiction by recounting stories about young geniuses and their creative shenanigans; sometimes leading to the creation of greatness as is the case with this pre-Facebook tale. One of his earlier bestseller books, Bringing Down the House, was recently turned into the movie "21" about the expert card counting MIT students who beat the system in Las Vegas.

Just released, The Accidental Billionaires is currently ranking #6 on the New York Times bestseller list and #1 on the Boston Globe bestseller list. The cover looks a bit chic lit, don't you think? I initially missed the fact that it was about Facebook's, Mark Zuckerberg and his Harvard College roommate, Eduardo Saverin. These two math geniuses were a bit awkward with women, and in their frustration hacked into the Harvard computer system; they managed to create a database, capable of rating all of the female students, which ultimately crashed the servers and almost got them expelled.

The excerpt Craig Ferguson reads on the Late Late Show also indicates this is a bit chic lit in nature, but it is on my must-read list for sure. Sounds like a fascinating tale. Sony pictures has purchased the film rights with Kevin Spacey producing.

So the book is about new media; the marketing is about new media; the movie is traditional media, but you can bet it will be combined with new media. The whole phenomenon is incredible to immersed in.

Blogger's Note: If you get a chance follow me on Twitter: www.twitter.com/mgnetworks or find my Facebook Page under MGNetworks (I need some fans there ... just started a business fan page this week - so far, not many fans!) Oh, and thanks, Mark Zuckerberg, and Eduardo Saverin, for being creative, mischievous nerds! You've given Ben Mezrich a story to tell and jumped some of us up a rung or two on Groundswell's Social Technographics ladder.

Blogger's UPDATE 8.10.09: I finished reading The Accidental Billionaires this past weekend. It is a quick, easy, fun read. The insight into how Facebook got its start, in a college dorm room, just 6 short years ago is really amazing. Filled with intriguing characters, and ethical dilemmas, the book serves as a teaser for more information about all of it. I can't wait to see the movie. I will also be much more interested in reading about Mark Zuckerberg, and all of the real-life characters mentioned in this book (Eduardo Saverin, Sean Parker, Peter Thiel, Tyler & Cameron Winklevoss, Larry Summers, and more), in the future, as a result of this glimpse into the founding of Facebook. I realize the author, Ben Mezrich, took creative license with the dialogue and some of the events in the book (as mentioned in his note at the beginning of the book) but it's clear he did his best to piece together the real story using the sources he had available to him-minus any input from the key character, Mark Zuckerberg.