Farhad Manjoo is lighting up the comment boards on Slate.com right now with a piece advocating the death of independent bookstores. Manjoo, Slate's technology writer, is responding to a Monday New York Times op-ed written by novelist Richard Russo, who decried Amazon.com's ruthless commercial practices and suggested they were killing the country's local literary sub-cultures.
Manjoo expresses disdain for the retail giant's more aggressive business tactics but argues that Amazon's cheaper prices, sophisticated recommendation engine and Kindle options are actually breathing new life into the book world, and that readers and writers alike should be happy about that.
"Sure, Amazon doesn’t host readings and it doesn’t give you a poofy couch to sit on while you peruse the latest best-sellers," he writes. "But what it does do —allow people to buy books anytime they want — is hardly killing literary culture. In fact, it’s probably the only thing saving it."
Question: Newspaper budgets have been slashed over the last decade because Craigslist found a better way to deliver classified ads. Travel agencies have shuttered because the Expedias and Travelocitys of the world put those services directly in consumers' hands. So are local bookstores just the next industry to be outsmarted, or do they offer a value that Amazon can't match? If so, will that value be enough to save them?
Space is devoid of the things we need to live and thrive: air, gravity, hot showers, fresh produce, privacy, beer. How much can a person give up? How much weirdness can they take?
In her most recent book, Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void, best-selling author Mary Roach explores what happens to your body when you can’t walk for a year, what happens if you vomit in your helmet during a space walk, how space agencies simulate space travel here on Earth, and many other fascinating aspects of life in space.
Roach’s previous works include Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, and Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex.
As part of the 10th annual Spokane is Reading event, which was started to inspire conversation among readers and encourage more adults to read, Roach will be in Spokane for two presentations on Oct. 20. She will read from Packing for Mars, share stories, answer questions, and be available for book signing at the Garland Theater at 1 pm (327-1050) and at the Bing Crosby Theater at 7 pm (227-7638).
Tonight from 7-9 pm
Discuss Tim O'Brien's Vietnam War novel, The Things They Carried, at the Barnes & Noble Bookstore just east of the Spokane Valley Mall.
Sunday, April 3, from 5-6:30 pm
EWU students will discuss O'Brien's novel.
Morrison Hall, EWU campus, Cheney
Tuesday, April 5, from 6-8 pm
Military personnel will discuss O'Brien's novel at Fairchild Air Force Base.
Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience
Wednesday, April 6, from 6:30-8:30 pm
This film documentary is based on the experiences of soldiers and Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Moran Prairie Library, 6004 S. Regal St.
A Piece of My Heart
Thursday, April 7, from 7-9 pm
Shiro Lauro's drama — the most frequently produced play about the Vietnam War — will be performed readers-theater style at Whitworth University. It's about women who served as nurses in-country.
Whitworth, Weyerhaeuser Hall, 300 W. Hawthorne Rd.
Monday, April 11, from 6:30-8:30 pm
Discuss O'Brien's novel; open to the public.
South Hill Library, 3324 S. Perry St.
You’ve got three and a half weeks to read Tim O’Brien’s Vietnam War novel, The Things They Carried, before O’Brien himself will appear at the Bing as part of Get Lit!
In the meantime, there are lots of events this week in connection with the Big Read.
And what's that, you ask?
The Spokane version of the Big Read 2011 — a nationwide event, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts, which encourages entire cities and smaller communities to read and enjoy the same book, more or less simultaneously — is focusing, this month and next, on O’Brien’s semi-autobiographical account (which was first published in 1990). Here's some of what's coming up this week:
To get a view of Vietnam that’s complementary to O’Brien’s vision, watch Oliver Stone’s 1986 film (starring Tom Berenger, Willem Dafoe and yes, a much younger Charlie Sheen). Downtown Library, 906 W. Main Ave. Wed, March 23, from 5:30-7:30 pm
Discussion panel on The Things They Carried
Experts about such topics as disabilities, engineering, media and military affairs will share their perspectives. EWU Riverpoint Campus, Phase One Building, Room 122. Wed, March 23, from 6-8 pm
Book discussion at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 51
A U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman will lead a discussion, open to all ages and backgrounds. VFW, 300 W. Mission Ave. Fri, March 25, from 5-7 pm
“Things We Still Carry: Veterans Reflect on the Big Read”
Two Vietnam vets and two Gulf War vets, all members of the Spokane chapter of Veterans for Peace, share their perspectives on O’Brien’s novel. Community Building, 25 W. Main Ave. Fri, March 25, from 7-8:30 pm
VETS: Portraits of Veterans and Their Stories
John Thamm shares his book as poets and visual artists provide additional perspectives. Visit johnthammstudios.blogspot.com. J.F. Thamm Gallery, 11 S. Washington St. Sun, March 27, from 3-5 pm
The American Experience: My Lai
An 80-minute documentary examines the 1968 massacre through the eyes of survivors on both sides; a panel discussion follows. Moran Prairie Library, 6004 S. Regal St. Wed, March 30, 6:30-8:30 pm
Book discussion at Barnes & Noble (Spokane Valley)
Everyone’s welcome in the cafe to discuss O’Brien’s novel. 15310 E. Indiana Ave., in the Market Pointe Shopping Center, Spokane Valley. Thurs, March 31, from 7-9 pm
Book discussion for EWU students
Student-led discussion of The Things They Carried. EWU, Morrison Hall, Cheney. Sun, April 3, from 5-6:30 pm
Fairchild AFB book discussion
For military personnel only. FAFB library. Tues, April 5, from 6-8 pm
Visit neabigread.com or ewu.edu/getlit, or write email@example.com or call 359-6977.
Books available over the next three weeks include a coming-of-age novel, an investigation of information systems, a road trip through Scotland, and a naturalist's view of the Pacific Northwest.
The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood, by James Gleick (Pantheon, 540 pages, March 1)
Pym, by Mat Johnson (Spiegel & Grau, 330 pages, March 1)
Edgar Allen Poe's 1838 novel is about a stow-away on a whaling ship who encounters mutiny and cannibalism before being rescued by a tribe of Africans and continuing his voyage toward the South Pole. Johnson's riff on Poe becomes a wide-ranging satire on American culture and race relations.
Rodin’s Debutante, by Ward Just (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 270 pages, March 1)
A coming-of-age novel set in northern Illinois and Chicago in the 1910s-'40s. A kid goes to a boys’ school endowed by a robber baron, becomes involved in football, sculpting and his studies — and also gets entangled in the aftereffects of a horrific sex crime committed during in the Depression. This is Just's 14th novel.
Tiger, Tiger: A Memoir, by Margaux Fragoso (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 330 pages, March 1)
A chilling account of how her life was controlled by a pedophile for 15 years, starting in 1985, when she was 7.
The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim, by Jonathan Coe (Knopf, 330 pages, March 8)
He doesn’t get along with his father, wife, daughter or friends. So naturally, he goes on an eccentric road trip to Scotland — during which he feels closest to his car’s GPS voice. A commentary on lack of communication in an instant-communications era.
I Am the Market: How To Smuggle Cocaine by the Ton, in Five Easy Lessons, by Luca Rastello; trans. from Italian by Jonathan Hunt (Faber & Faber, 180 pages, March 8)
The real action in cocaine smuggling is by the ton, so forget about some drug mule with capsules in her stomach. How can you move that much white powder? Conceal it in electric cables and liquids inside the shipping containers of reputable companies. Bribe officials. Bribe crane operators. Provide your own sniffer dogs. And send out mules, hoping they'll get arrested (as diversions).
Three Stages of Amazement, by Carol Edgarian (Scribner, 300 pages, March 8)
Her husband has just moved their family to San Francisco and founded a surgical instruments company. But funding is difficult. She has her hands full with an unhealthy child, too — and then the relative she hates turns up offering starter money to her husband's new firm. This is Edgarian's second novel after Rise the Euphrates (1994; about three generations of Armenian-American women).
In Earshot of Water: Notes on the Columbia Plateau, by Paul Lindholdt (Univ. of Iowa Press, 160 pages, March 16)
Like an Annie Dillard, Loren Eisley or John McPhee of the Pacific Northwest, Lindholdt covers our corner of the country — flora, fauna, people — by incorporating Lewis and Clark, Capt. James Cook and Bureau of Reclamation records into impressive prose.
Books coming out in the next couple of weeks include the third autobiography of a famous actress; novels about wealthy immigrants in a Rust Belt town, London teachers and detectives being bullied, and a housecleaner who opens a stud service; and nonfiction about how nuclear bombs are going to kill us all.
And Furthermore, by Judi Dench (St. Martin's Press, 290 pages, Feb. 15) A follow-up to Judi Dench: With a Crack in Her Voice (1998) and Scenes From My Life (2001), this is a partial, somewhat reticent autobiography of Britain's theatrical and cinematic Dame (many roles with the RSC, along with Notes from a Scandal, Shakespeare in Love, and, of course, six James Bond movies as 'M').
The Long Road Home: The Aftermath of the Second World War, by Ben Shephard (Knopf, 500 pages, Feb. 22) At the end of the war, perhaps as many as 15 million Europeans were wandering around without a place to go. American organizers assumed they'd all just want to go home — but Russians and Ukrainians were terrified about living under Stalin. The suffering and the poverty didn't end in April 1945: Two years later, just as the Marshall Plan was getting started, there were still a million people in refugee camps.
The Philosophical Breakfast Club: Four Remarkable Friends Who Transformed Science and Changed the World, by Laura J. Snyder (Broadway, 450 pages, Feb. 22) Two centuries ago, four Cambridge students — an economist, an astronomer, a mathematician and a polymath who knew about everything from geology to moral philosophy — used to get together, often get drunk, and ramble on about ideas that still have an effect on our attitudes today toward practical economics, computer science, and the interconnections between religious faith and Darwinism. Snyder has produced a kind of quadruple biography of early Victorian scientists.
Minding Frankie, by Maeve Binchy (Knopf, 400 pages, March 1) An entire neighborhood of eccentric Dubliners help a single father raise a boy — which works just fine, until a social worker butts in. (Binchy’s Tara Road, about Irish and American women swapping houses for the summer, was anointed by Oprah back in 1999.)
Nude Walker, by Bathsheba Monk (Sarah Crichton Books, 320 pages, March 1) In this novel, a Lebanese industrialist tries to revive a dying Rust Belt town in Pennsylvania. Kat is the granddaughter of one of the town's old guard; when she returns from National Guard duty in Afghanistan and announces that she has fallen in love with the much-resented industrialist's son, both of their families line up in opposition.
How the End Begins: The Road to a Nuclear World War III, by Ron Rosenbaum (Simon & Schuster, 320 pages, March 1) There are nuclear bits and pieces floating all over Russia and Pakistan. You think there aren't any religious zealots who could get their hands on them and start a regional nuclear war that could escalate into a worldwide holocaust? Even in the U.S., our nuclear command and control is so "rickety" that it has, every year, a 1 percent chance of failure. And Rosenbaum doesn't like our chances: "It's all about luck now," he says. "I'm a pessimist."
Cleaning Nabokov’s House, by Leslie Daniels (Touchstone, 330 pages, March 1) Reduced to housecleaning after losing custody of her kids, Barb finds some index cards. Are they an unpublished Nabokov novel about Babe Ruth? Maybe, maybe not. So Barb cheerfully opens a cathouse and regains her self-respect. Will she also regain her kids? Will the novelist be able to temper all the wackiness?
A Thousand Cuts, by Simon Lelic (Viking, 300 pages, March 4) A detective investigates a school shooting. Was it the teacher who was being bullied? Lelic switches points of view — kids, cops, teachers, administrators — to give the narrative a personal feel. In addition, back at her London precinct, the female detective is herself being bullied.
Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth, by Mark Hertsgaard (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 350 pages, Jan. 19)
As a catchphrase, "global warming" gained currency in June 1988, when a NASA scientist warned the U.S. Senate and the New York Times put the story on its front page. We haven't done nearly enough since then — we've mostly been in denial — but Hertsgaard goes beyond doom-saying to outline the long-term planning that has been accomplished.
The Death Instinct, by Jed Rubenfeld (Riverhead, 460 pages, Jan. 20)
A historical novel that's a follow-up to Rubenfeld's The Interpretation of Murder (2007), which was set in 1909 New York and starred Freud, Jung, and one of Freud's disciples. His latest focuses on the 1920 Wall Street bombing, a terrorist precursor to 9/11. Marie Curie even makes an appearance. If you liked Caleb Carr's The Alienist (1994) — I know I did — you'll like the mix of psychology, crime and historical figures here.
A Palace in the Old Village, by Tahar Ben Jelloun (Penguin, 190 pages, Jan. 25)
An elderly Moroccan immigrant to France returns to Morocco, builds a big house, and waits, fruitlessly, for his assimilated-to-France adult children to return to him. Jelloun, 67, has taught and written in French for the last 40 years. ---
Scorecasting: The Hidden Influences Behind How Sports Are Played and Games Are Won, by Tobias Moskowitz and L. Jon Wertheim (Crown, 280 pages, Jan. 25)
Known and Unknown: A Memoir, by Donald Rumsfeld (Sentinel, 830 pages, Feb. 8)
There were things, to him unknown, that should have been known. Rummy dithered and people died.
Mr. Chartwell, by Rebecca Hunt (The Dial Press, 250 pages, Feb. 8)
We, the Drowned, by Carsten Jensen (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 680 pages, Feb. 9)
Tales spanning two centuries of the sailing men from a small town in Denmark — their cowardice and bravery, and the women back home who sustain them. The novel's multiple narrators create an epic story ending with World War II.
History of a Suicide: My Sister's Unfinished Life, by Jill Bialosky (Atria, 270 pages, Feb. 15)
Kim killed herself 20 years ago. Now Jill Bialosky has used the techniques of literary nonfiction — diaries mixed with the work of psychologists and poets — to investigate family, parenting, guilt, and the ravaging effects of suicide on those who are left behind.
The Old Romantic, by Louise Dean (Riverhead, 350 pages, Feb. 17)
Dad's in his 80s and dying. His dutiful son tries to reunite the family, which includes the eccentric wife (divorced 25 years before) and the scapegoated, estranged son. What results is a profanity-laced family dinner and road trip. A very British novel.
The Night Season, by Chelsea Cain (Minotaur, 330 pages, March 1)
Fourth in the series of detective novels set in Portland. Cain parallels a 1948 flood with the strange cause of death for four murder victims whose bodies were plucked from the black waters of the Willamette.
People whose pain appears as bright light, David Cassidy fanatics, a 60-year-old failure and Ernest Hemingway's first wife — these are some of the topics in this selective list of books published from last week through the end of February.
A Stranger on the Planet, by Adam Schwartz (Soho Press, 330 pages, Jan. 25)
A debut novel about growing up in the '60s with the effects of a divorce and an emotionally needy, awkward mother.
Noah's Compass, by Anne Tyler (Ballantine reprint of the Jan. 2010 hardcover, 300 pages, Jan. 25)
Twice divorced, remote from his daughters, and now fired from his less-than-ideal prep school teaching job, plain and unassuming Liam now hopes to rejuvenate his life with an eccentric woman half his age.
The Illumination, by Kevin Brockmeier (Pantheon, 270 pages, Feb. 1)
Suddenly, beams of light start shooting out of people's bodies — it's their pain, made visible. In six interconnected stories that add up to a novel — a husband's love notes to his dying wife are passed among all the main characters — Brockmeier questions whether suffering can be beautiful.
Journal of a UFO Investigator, by David Helperin (Viking, 300 pages, Feb. 3)
A coming-of-age novel about Danny, whose investigations everyone laughs at until someone breaks into his house and steals his diary about his encounter with Three Men in Black.
I Think I Love You, by Allison Peason (Knopf, 330 pages, Feb. 8)
Teenage girls in 1970s Wales worship David Cassidy. A generation later, after disappointments and a failed marriage, one of them gets to travel to the States and meet a Cassidy expert. Will the celebrity worship that she used back then to help her work out her relationships with boys do her any good now? As an afterword-bonus, you get a 2004 interview with Cassidy himself, then 54.
West of Here, by Jonathan Evison (Algonquin, Books, 500 pages, Feb. 15)
A Widow’s Story, by Joyce Carol Oates (Ecco Press, 430 pages, Feb. 15)
You've been married to him for 47 years. He goes into the hospital, but you're both sure that he'll be out in just a few days. And then, suddenly, he's dead. The famous novelist escapes through work, laughs at herself, analyzes grief in brutally frank ways. A Widow's Story (pictured near top) is nearly a companion piece to Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking (2005)
Smoking Typewriters: The Sixties Underground Press and the Rise of Alternative Media in America, by John McMillian (Oxford UP, 300 pages, Feb. 17)
Today we blog; in the '60s, radicals used photo-offset printing to spread the word of social change through clandestine rags of a few thousand copies each. But the principles — among Tea Partiers, among Obama's young voters — are the same: communication among rabble-rousers by non-traditional means.
When the Killing’s Done, by T. C. Boyle (Viking, 380 pages, Feb. 22)
In Boyle's 13th novel, set in the Channel Islands (west of Santa Barbara), biologists and activists duke it out over invasive species. Boyle knows his biology and the various motives of his protagonists, resulting in "a piercing vision of our needy, confused and destructive species thrashing about in the great web of life."
The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain (Ballantine, 330 pages, Feb. 22)
We think we know Papa Hemingway — old and bearded and suicidal. But in the Roaring '20s, he was young and idealistic and very much in love. A novel told from the point of view of his first wife, Hadley.
Townie: A Memoir, by Andre Dubus III (W.W. Norton, 400 pages, Feb. 28)
A distant but famous father (also a writer); a working-class, single-mother upbringing in a Massachusetts mill town where drugs were readily available; and a mix of rage (lots of fights) and sensitivity (lots of storywriting) combine to enliven the memories of Dubus (rhymes with "excuse").
Arriving soon on bookshelves (and in the cloud): novels about Hungarians in love, preachers in prison, Greenwich Village in the '40s, an intelligent chimpanzee and a reluctant revenger — along with nonfiction about gay teens, a world chess champion, Bogie, a British boyhood, and the Good Book.
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