A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby

a long way downMy co-worker Leslie recently wrote a post about books that are going to be made into movies. Nick Hornby’s A Long Way Down is one of them. He’s also the author of About a Boy and High Fidelity. Hey, both of those are movies too.

It all starts on New Year’s Eve when four very different people climb onto a roof to commit suicide. Suicide is a solitary job. You want to be left alone with your thoughts, which is ironic since your thoughts are what make you want to commit suicide. Group suicide is for Jim Jones and those Heaven’s Gates people. .

Martin is a washed up talk show host (think Good Morning America but British) who spent time in prison for having sex with a 15-year-old girl. His career is dead. He’s now the host of a local TV station that is viewed by maybe 30 people. His ex-wife won’t let him see his daughters. He doesn’t want to see them either because he feels like a washed-up loser. He decides he’s done with his life and climbs on top of a roof that’s known for jumpers when he’s interrupted by a fellow would-be jumper.

Jess is a mess. Not even a hot mess because being a hot mess implies you were something grand and slightly astonishing at one point and now there’s nothing left but a glimmer of that. Jess’s dad is an education minister (for some reason I see a preacher in a church throwing literature books at people) and she finds ways of embarrassing him and her mother on a daily basis. Her older sister Jen went missing. Jen didn’t leave a note or any clues as to where she went. Jess’s parents thinks Jen is dead and they go about their lives as if this is common knowledge and they rarely say her name. Jess is wonderfully foul-mouthed, hopped up on drugs and Bacardi Breezers and still chasing after the boy who dumped her. He is the reason why she wants to jump off a building.

JJ is an American musician whose band was starting to get a following when they decided to call it quits. He had a girlfriend, a promising music career and then nothing. The music came to a grinding halt, his girlfriend left him and then he and his best friend parted ways. He’d gone from touring cities with his band to being a pizza delivery boy and decided he’d kill himself on New Year’s Eve.

Maureen is in her 50’s and has a severely handicapped son. She’s sheltered and lonely and shy. As much as she loves her son Matty, she can’t do it anymore. She can’t stand to see the days, weeks, months, and years stretch out in front of her, caring for her child who is a vegetable. She decides to climb to the top of a building and jump.

All four of them find themselves at a loss up on the roof. Nobody wants to be the first jumper, let alone commit the act in front of strangers. They start to talk. Not the kind of “Someone Saved My Life tonight” kind of talk. More like “Why are you jumping?.” And each of them try to out-do one another: “My story’s worse than yours.”

The four of them climb down from the roof and go for a drink. They make a pact that if they still feel like killing themselves in 6 weeks’ time they will go through with it.

Little by little they worm their way into each other’s lives-sometimes not in a good way. Jess is a foul-mouthed brat who says anything that comes to mind. If she doesn’t like you, she’ll let you know. And then some. She’s the character I love. And hate. Martin is still a jerk that goes between knowing he’s a loser and thinking he’s still TV royalty. Maureen is terrified of the world and has never been on a proper vacation. JJ is living in the past, getting embarrassed and delighted when people recognize him from “that band.” What do you call a musician without a girlfriend? Homeless.

What drew me in deeper into this novel was the fact that Martin, Jess, JJ, and Maureen weren’t trying to save each other’s lives by putting suicide on hold. It was more of “Let’s go get a drink or nine, play ‘My life sucks more than yours ever could,’ and see what happens tomorrow.” Not once does this book get preachy or anti-suicide.

Suicide is an uncomfortable topic whether it’s talked about or not. A Long Way Down smashes that uneasiness and says it with honesty: people think about killing themselves. The thought bubbles up and most times it goes away. In the end, Martin, Jess, JJ, and Maureen don’t become best friends and vacation in Maui. But they do go through something that connects them.

Nick Hornby is a hilarious writer and he deals with a subject that makes a lot of people cringe. Since I like books about people who are (or seem) more messed up than me this was the perfect book. 

I haven’t gone looking for a roof to jump off in three days.

Getting Graphic

We’re heading steadily through March, and I have to say I’m a wee bit proud of myself for continuing to work through my only New Years resolution this year. If you’re a regular reader, you may recall my self-imposed reading challenge which was designed to stretch my mind and read outside of my comfort zone.

Here’s a quick rundown of my 2014 Reading Resolutions:

  1. Read something a library patron recommends
  2. Read this year’s Everett Reads! book 
  3. Read something difficult, either due to subject matter or writing style
  4. Read an award-winning book
  5. Read something that is super-popular
  6. Read a book that was the basis for a TV series or movie
  7. Read a classic work of literature
  8. Read an annotated classic work of literature
  9. Read something that will help me plan for the future
  10. Read something that will help me reconcile the past
  11. Read a graphic novel (see below)
  12. Read an entire series that is new to me

You’ll kindly overlook the fact that I’m skipping around on my list. Sure, it would have been more organized to tackle these in list order, but it turns out I can’t quite ignore that little voice inside my head that still wants to rebel against prescribed reading–even if I am the person who came up with the guidelines! The only way to drown out the voices is to read what I’m in the mood to read. And this month I decided to get graphic.

I’ve always gotten a bit lost trying to read graphic novels. My brain can’t stop looking around at all the images, and comparing and contrasting what I see with what my brain is trying to imagine on its own. Rogue brain. Be silent!

PrestoEnough of my neuroses. Let’s talk about Bandette. Presto! is the first book in the Bandette series by Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover. Bandette is a teenage thief who calls Paris home. I like to refer to her as a modern-day Nancy Drew meets Robin Hood meets Sherlock Holmes. She always dons her costume, complete with cape and mask, before venturing out to clean up the streets, thwarting the criminal underworld as well as the local police inspector, Belgique. She has a weakness for first editions–her personal library is split between the books she’s purchased with her own money and books she has “liberated,” also known as stolen. And her skills as a thief are only matched by her quick wit and unique sense of humor. Bandette may not take the world so seriously, but is that due to her age or her occupation? Take this line, for example. She’s in the thick of battle and still manages to quip:

Hush, Matadori! The air is already thick with bullets. Do not overcrowd it with drama as well.

Presto! combines the first five issues of the Monkeybrain comic book series Bandette. And while I hadn’t read them until I happened upon this tome in our Young Adult graphic novel collection, I am hesitant to read any more until the next bound volume is published. For one thing, it will build anticipation. It will also allow me to work on other reading challenges in my list. And honestly, reading them bound together with all the little extras in the back (including author interviews and a behind-the-scenes look at the process of writing, drawing, and coloring the comic) is in and of itself a beautiful thing I’d miss out on.

When I started reading Presto!, which can be easily consumed in an afternoon, I knew I would need to take notes on my reading experience for the blog. Here are my reactions, perceptions, and ideas that I recorded during my introduction to Bandette. You can click on each image to make it larger and easier to read.

Notes1 Notes2

Since it’s past my deadline (Bandette wouldn’t follow any but her own deadlines!) I’ll let my handwritten notes above speak for me. You can also take my husband’s word for it, as he devoured Presto! the night I brought it home to read and nagged me about it until I had time to read it myself. I even purchased my own copy, knowing I will re-read it in the future.

Overall I’ve come out of this third reading challenge with a better appreciation for the illustrated novel and a definite plan for Halloween. I’ve also got what I would call a new literary best friend. Bandette, I can’t wait until we meet again in volume two.

Spot-Lit for March 2014

Spot-Lit

Here’s our hand-picked list of fiction titles coming out in March. Click the titles below and then the Full Display button to read summaries or reviews or to place holds.

General Fiction / Literary Fiction  

Bark    Orchard of Lost Souls    Curse on Dost    Blazing World    Boy, Snow, Bird

Bark: stories  by Lorrie Moore
The Orchard of Lost Souls  by Nadifa Mohamed
A Curse on Dostoevsky  by Atiq Rahimi
The Blazing World  by Siri Hustvedt
Boy, Snow, Bird  by Helen Oyeyemi

First Fiction

Redeployment    Burnable Book    Wives of Los Alamos    Precious Thing    Weight of Blood

Redeployment  by Phil Klay
A Burnable Book  by Bruce Holsinger
The Wives of Los Alamos  by Tarashea Nesbit
Precious Thing  by Colette McBeth
The Weight of Blood  by Laura McHugh

Crime Fiction /Suspense

Accident    Disappeared    Why Kings Confess    Black-Eyed Blonde    Watching You

The Accident  by Chris Pavone
The Disappeared  by Kristina Ohlsson
Why Kings Confess  by C.S. Harris
The Black-Eyed Blonde  by Benjamin Black
Watching You  by Michael Robotham

SF / Fantasy / Horror

Man Came Out    Undead Pool    Murder of Crows    Trpoic of Serpents    Code Zero

A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain  by Adrianne Harun
The Undead Pool  by Kim Harrison
A Murder of Crows  by Anne Bishop
The Tropic of Serpents  by Marie Brennan
Code Zero  by Jonathan Maberry

Romance

                    Evening Stars          Replacement Wife          Love Comes Calling

Evening Stars  by Susan Mallery
The Replacement Wife  by Tiffany Warren
Love Comes Calling  by Siri Mitchell

To see all on-order fiction, click here.

Heartwood 4:2 – Lands of Memory

Jacket with citationTurn off your interruptive devices and find a comfortable chair where you can slip into the dreamlike short fiction of Felisberto Hernández’s Lands of Memory.

The book consists of two novellas and four short stories all featuring a Uruguayan pianist as the first-person narrator. These pages are concerned with phenomena and spirit and thought and memory; they’re about people and events remembered later by a probing and persistent mind. The two longer pieces are especially satisfying – filled with episodic scenes, rich in detailed remembrances of the narrator’s life, and pieced together in sometimes surprising ways. As is the case with richly orchestrated music, those who immerse themselves in this concentrated and reflective storytelling will be well rewarded.

One of the things I especially like about Hernández’s writing is his narrators’ sensitivity to the world around him. This is not always a blessing, as can be seen in the passage below, which will give you an idea of what you can expect to find in Lands of Memory:

At times, without recalling the notes of a melody, I could remember the feeling it had given me and what I’d been looking at when I heard it. One evening as I was listening to a brilliant piece while staring out the window, my heart came out of my eyes and absorbed a house many stories tall that I saw across the way. Another night, in the penumbra of a concert hall, I heard a melody floating upon ocean waves that a great orchestra was making; in front of me, on a fat man’s bald pate, gleamed a little patch of light; I was irritated and wanted to look away, but since the only comfortable position for my eyes left my gaze resting on the gleam of that pate, I had no choice but to allow it to enter my memory along with the melody, and then what always happens happened: I forgot the notes of the melody – displaced by the gleaming pate – and the pleasure of that moment remains supported in my memory only by the bald pate. Then I decided always to look at the floor whenever I was listening to music. But once, when a lady behind me was with a very young child, I saw water appear between my own feet, gliding along like a viper, and then suddenly its head began to grow larger in a depression in the floor and eyes of foam came running along the liquid body to gather in the head.

____________________________

Felisberto Hernández’s work has influenced Latin American writers from Julio Cortázar to Gabriel García Márquez to Roberto Bolaño.

Heartwood | About Heartwood

Pulp Rock

Once upon a time various musical genres – blues, country, honkytonk, western swing and others – amalgamated into an exciting new sound called rock and roll. The music was edgy, full of vim and vigor, and never boring. As time moved on, corporate lackeys watered down the rock and roll to appeal to a wider fan base and generate taller stacks of money. Later still, rock evolved into a highly orchestrated, squeaky clean entity, in the process losing its edge and becoming, dare I say, boring. Until roughly 1975 when bands such as The Ramones re-introduced the idea of some mates getting together, picking up instruments, throwing together a few chords, and creating exciting sonic art.

However, today’s blog is about pulp fiction. So place your seats in a reclined position as we journey from music, through a metaphorical slipstream, and ultimately land in the works of John D. MacDonald.

Rocket to RussiaThe Ramones, Richard Hell, Dead Boys and others emerged, in great contrast to the highly-produced sounds of Yes and ELP. Gone was the boredom of album-oriented-rock. A new frenzy of emotion leapt from these bands’ ineptitudes, and it became apparent that a satisfying thrill could be obtained listening to music filled with uncertainty; uncertainty if the band would land together on beat one, if the bass player would actually make it through a run, if the blazing guitarist would manage to finish his solo before the vocalist came back in. This was excitement! Disaster might rear its head at any moment, and this created a riveting listening experience.

Exit music, enter literature. There was a time when pulp authors would pump out prose at an alarming rate. The result was similar to my beloved rock and roll: a disaster lay lurking behind every corner. Due to the speed with which they worked, quality within a single book could vary significantly. When prose was bad it was quite bad, but when it was good it was amazing.

And this takes us to John D. MacDonald. He wrote thrillers, what one might loosely think of as private detective stories, often set in Florida, often featuring Travis McGee, a salvage consultant who finds missing things for money. McGee’s character is quite different from the typical private eye, although the morose life-view which permeates the PI genre is an integral part of his persona. What sets MacDonald’s stories apart are, mixed among the mundane and sometimes poorly-written prose, stunning observations presented in vivid wordsmithery.

So rather than reviewing titles or describing plots, I leave you with excerpts that reveal the essence of MacDonald’s writing style.

  • “We were about to give up and call it a night when somebody threw the girl off the bridge.” – from Darker Than Amber
  • “Good old Meyer. He can put a fly into any kind of ointment, a mouse in every birthday cake, a cloud over every picnic. Not out of spite. Not out of contrition or messianic zeal. But out of a happy, single-minded pursuit of truth. He is not to blame that the truth seems to have the smell of decay and an acrid taste these days. He points out that forty thousand particles per cubic centimeter of air over Miami is now called a clear day. He is not complaining about particulate matter. He is merely bemused by the change in standards.” – from The Scarlet Ruse
  • “It is strange how a man, totally naked, feels a little more vulnerable. It seems to be a distraction, an extra area to guard. Cloth is not armor, yet that symbolic protection makes one feel at once a little more logical and competent. Doubtless the hermit crab is filled the strange anxieties during those few moments when, having outgrown one borrowed shell, he locates another and, having sized it carefully with his claws, extracts himself from the old home and inserts himself into the new. The very first evidence of clothing in prehistory is the breechcloth for the male.” – from The Scarlet Ruse
  • “The only thing that prisons demonstrably cure is heterosexuality.” – from The Long Lavender Look
  • “He had detected a certain sensitivity, a capacity for imagination, in the girl in New York. But the years and the roads, the bars and the cars and the beds and the bottles—they all have flinty edges, and they are the cruel upholstery in the dark tunnel down which the soul rolls and tumbles until no more abrasion is possible, until the ultimate hardness is achieved. So here she sat, having achieved the bland defensive heartiness of a ten–dollar whore.” – from Slam the Big Door

coversSo climb aboard the non-stop express to MacDonald’s melancholic, intoxicating world. And while you’re there, give Rocket to Russia a spin.

Easy Ideas for Literary Mardi Gras Gala Costumes

stranger-than-fic-narrow

Are you thinking of joining in on the Mardi Gras fun at the library this Saturday, but hesitant because of the costume piece of the puzzle? You can always ‘come as you are’, but I’d like to suggest some really easy author and literary character costume ideas for your inspiration.

You could come as Madeline, Virginia Woolf, or Mark Twain, but those costumes require some specific clothing. Here are some ideas which can come straight from your closet without any special purchases.

index (14)nancyLet’s start with a fun one: Nancy Drew. Throw on your favorite twin set, loafers, knee highs and head band and then simply grab a flash light and magnifying glass and you’re good to go. Check out a copy of one of Nancy’s mysteries and it’ll be super obvious who you are.

index (15)harrietIf you want a younger sleuth, try Harriet the Spy. You’d have a super comfortable evening in this costume: high tops, jeans, and a hoodie. Complete your ensemble with the obligatory magnifying glass, binoculars, flashlight and a notebook for chronicling all of your fun.

Wild cover imagewildDid you read Wild? This would be a sporty costume: Dig out your hiking boots, or maybe just one, and get your back pack, compass, and water bottle or map. Bingo, you’re Cheryl Strand. And you’ll have a very comfortable and athletic evening to boot.

index (16)31Ign0uBGbL._SL500_AA300_Simply don a pig snout to be one of the villainous swine from George Orwell’s Animal Farm. This is a super easy costume but, on second thought, it’d make it hard to eat and drink all evening. This costume has the added appeal of disappearing into your pocket when you’re tired of the get-up.

index (17)enhanced-buzz-8603-1380754592-12For the super lazy: Just get yourself a red “A” and slap it onto your long dress. Bingo, you’re Hester from the Scarlet Letter. Better still if you’re pregnant… This would be an elegant get up which would surely spark many a conversation. There. Done.

index (18)enhanced-buzz-4504-1380753969-28For the even lazier: Find yourself a name tag which says: “Hello.  My name is…” and instantly become Ishmael from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. This is nothing short of brilliant because it is not only easy, but quite high brow as well.

index (19)enhanced-buzz-7265-1380754757-35How about the wildly popular Fifty Shades of Grey? Surely you’ve seen the photo of the fellow who has taped all sorts of paint chips onto his white t-shirt? Here it is. So fun! So easy! This just involves a trip to the paint store and some scotch tape.

index (20)Bridget-JonesHow about Bridget Jones from Mad About the Boy? This costume has the added advantage of doubling as your home movie attire for after the gala. No need to change clothes and you even have the wine and ice cream ready to go! Will someone please tell me why you need spanx with your pajamas?

index (21)Orange-is-the-New-BlackYet another easy idea: Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman. The problem here is that you’ll need an orange jump suit and that’s not your typical closet staple. Maybe you’ll have to sneak out to the Good Will and just buy anything orange.

index (22)Night-CircusI love this idea: dress like you’re in the Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. This would simply mean only wearing black, white, and red and perhaps painting your face white. This would be a very striking ensemble fit for a gala.

There are so many good ideas for easy literary costumes. Be sure to don one and come to this fun gala. Remember, it’s Saturday March 1 at 7:00 pm at the Main Library. Tickets cost $10 through Brown Paper Tickets or at the door. Enjoy a taste of Everett’s finest restaurants, coffee courtesy of Bookend Coffee, and a cash bar.

The WIld Snohomians will be playing for your listening and dancing enjoyment, and there will be prizes for the best costumes!

As always with Friends events, all proceeds will benefit library services for children and adults. Past Friends events have helped fund the Summer Reading book prizes, the teen area at the Main Library and book group sets.

I hope to see you there!

Did You Know? (Rabies Edition)

You almost certainly can’t get rabies from a squirrel?

squirrelsanswerguideSquirrels can get rabies but there has never been a documented case of squirrel to human transmission.

I found this information on page 130 in the book Squirrels: The Animal Answer Guide. I also never realized that prairie dogs are squirrels or that there are so many varieties of squirrels. You can see many of the varieties pictured in this book, or take a look at Squirrels of the West by Tamara Hartson. For younger kids, Squirrels: Welcome to the World of Animals by Diane Swanson will give them an inside the nest view of the daily lives of these cute little critters!

Rodents such as squirrels, rats, mice and prairie dogs have a genetic abnormality that  generally keeps them from getting rabies. In addition, squirrels usually aren’t around the other types of animals that carry rabies so their risk of exposure is very low.

genesanddnaAs scientists learn more and more about genetics and disease, they are understanding more about the role certain specific genes play in our health and familial hereditary. There are now many diseases that they can detect in your DNA. Genes & DNA by Richard Walker is a children’s book that is very well written and explains the basics of DNA, RNA, the double helix, and genes. It also gives examples that easily explain twins, disease, cloning and more.

rabidIt seems odd to think of a disease as deadly as rabies as being fascinating, but Rabid by Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy (which gives the history of rabies and the attempts by different societies to treat and prevent this catastrophic illness through the ages) was very enlightening. The factual accounts make it that much more interesting.

There are several famous fictional stories of rabies as well. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neile Hurston and Old Yeller by Fred Gipson will touch your heartstrings, while Cujo by Stephen King is suspenseful and will keep you on the edge of your seat!

vaccineFortunately rabies is very preventable now because of the vaccines that our pets can be given, and the advanced treatments that someone can be given if suspected of being infected. Vaccine: the Controversial Story of Medicine’s Greatest Lifesaver by Arthur Allen is informative; it talks about the creation and uses of different vaccines throughout history, while telling us about the controversies and politics of immunizations at the same time .