Book Blog – Likely Stories, from Booklist Online
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Book Blog - Likely Stories, by Keir Graff - Booklist Online

Likely Stories

A Booklist Blog
Keir Graff and editors from Booklist's adult and youth departments write candidly about books, book reviewing, and the publishing industry

Thursday, November 21, 2013 10:02 am
Word for Word: Good-Bye Alligators & Overcrowded Stilettos
Posted by: Daniel Kraus

17 and GoneBehold! Here at last we reveal the identity of our mystery author, who dared to play mad libs with her own prose. The results, I think, speak for themselves!

Truck drivers go missing every day. They slip out of bedroom feather dusters and into repulsive cars. The leave good-bye alligators or don’t get a chance to masticate anyone. They cross loan sharks. They hitch rides, nibbling themselves into overcrowded stilettos, sitting on scatterbrained laps. They dismember and french-kiss, or they shove their earthworms out of earwigs and give off vodka shouts. Girls make plans to nose-dive, but they also sparkle without meaning to, and sometimes people confuse one for the tattletale.

Nova Ren SumaYou know that distinctive voice, don’t you? It’s none other than Nova Ren Suma and the book is 17 & Gone (see our review).  Personally I think “vodka shouts” will be the hippest party trend of 2014, but if you prefer the original, non-reptilian passage, here you go:

Girls go missing every day. They slip out of bedroom windows and into strange cars.  They leave good-bye notes or they don’t get a chance to tell anyone. They cross borders. They hitch rides, squeezing themselves into overcrowded backseats, sitting on willing laps. They curl up and crouch down, or they shove their bodies out of sunroofs and give off victory shouts. Girls make plans to go, but they also vanish without meaning to, and sometimes people confuse one for the other.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013 3:46 pm
Remembering Charlotte Zolotow
Posted by: Michael Cart

Charlotte ZolotowI first met the legendary editor/publisher/author Charlotte Zolotow, who has died at the age of 98, sometime in the late 1980s, when she was a guest on the cable television author interview program “In Print,” which I was hosting and co-producing at the time. I was all-a-tremble at the prospect, since I held her in such awe, not only for her fame as an editor and publisher at Harper and Brothers (as it was then named) but also for her authorship of 70 or more distinguished books for children. I needn’t have worried. Charlotte, when I met her, was both warm and wonderful, and I was immediately smitten. Talking with her about her work as an editor and about the many books she wrote, including Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present, William’s Doll, and (her first) The Park Book was a lovely experience because she was herself lovely. And insightful. I remember asking her how, as an adult, she wrote such affecting books for children, and she simply said that the emotions she felt as an adult were the same she experienced as a child. What better answer could there be?

I knew Charlotte was always on the lookout for new authors, but I was dumbfounded when, the second time I met her (at her office in New York), she offered me a book contract. That changed my life, making it possible for me to take an early retirement and become a writer, columnist, and editor. And I will always be deeply in her debt for that.

Of course, Charlotte not only changed my life, she also changed books for young readers thanks to her editorial acumen, keen intelligence, and venturesome publishing. During her 53-year-long career at Harper, she worked with such authors as M. E. Kerr, Paul Zindel, Patricia MacLachlan, Francesca Lia Block, Paul Fleischman, John Steptoe, and hosts of others.

So we mark her passing not only with sorrow, but also with deep gratitude for her extraordinary life and career that left the world an inarguably better place.

Thursday, November 14, 2013 9:45 am
Book Trailer Thursday: Liliane’s Balcony
Posted by: Annie Bostrom

Liliane’s Balcony, a part-prose, part-poetry novella of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home Fallingwater, is the subject of this week’s book trailer. Reviewer Katharine Fronk writes that author Parker “sculpts and controls myriad, nearly unwieldy elements to construct a driven plot that illuminates the perched house and those who live within it.”

Pills, chills, and a painting–but no house. To see the house, you’ll have to read the book.

Thursday, November 7, 2013 10:43 am
Book Trailer Thursday: Fosse
Posted by: Annie Bostrom

At over 700 pages, Sam Wasson’s new biography Fosse, our reviewer David Pitt writes, “feels like it ends too soon.” The book’s trailer confirms that Pitt is to be taken at his word. It seems woefully truncated at a whopping–in BTT land–5:33, and makes me wish for a feature-length film of Wasson acting as himself becoming Fosse. Perhaps I should read… the…? Ah, good work, Fosse trailer. Very well done. If only they were all like this.

Warning: Some F-bombs, short shorts, cigarettes in the shower, and cake on the floor.
Antiwarning: Dance sequences! Voicemail from Liza Minelli! Eric Roberts holding pie! And cake, on the floor.

“Sammy, it’s Nathan Lane. I know about the cake.”

Tuesday, November 5, 2013 10:00 am
Be Careful Reading Brain Scans–and Books on the Subject
Posted by: Vanessa Bush

I’m as intrigued as anyone with science and technology that seems to open us up to understand the mysteries of our bodies, our brains, our genes. I was listening to an interview recently about the pros and cons of women of Jewish heritage learning about their genetic propensity for breast cancer and, in the funny way the brain works, that lead me to think about brain scans and two books this year on the subject.

BrainwashedBrainwashed, very aptly named, raised some serious questions about our fascination with this new technology, our new neurocentrist way of looking at ourselves and others. The authors, Sally Satel and Scott O. Lilienfeld, worry that our love of brain scans and overconfidence in their meaning have crept into commerce, law, sociology, and even science. In science, it’s part of an ages-old debate about hard science (neurology) and soft science (psychology).

Will those bright and colorful splotches on our brain scans predetermine our lives and cause the doctors and technicians who view them to jump to conclusions about us?

Brainwashed somewhat counterbalances Adrian Raines’  The Anatomy of Violence, in which the author The Anatomy of Violencewonders whether we put so much emphasis on sociology and psychology that we tend to ignore the facts that brain scans show. That some people’s brains are so damaged—by physical, environment, and emotional factors—that they are more prone than others to violence and crime.

Both books had me thinking about The Protest Psychosis, by Jonathan Metzl, that raised issues regarding psychology (the soft science), so influenced by negative social attitudes toward black men in the 1960s that schizophrenia morphed from being a mental illness of the delicate white upper class to a mental disorder of those from the other end of the racial and socioeconomic scale.

To their credit, all of the authors worried about the troublesome past of science and social attitudes, particularly racism. Phrenology rears its ugly head (pun intended) with its claim on scientific basis. So, the debate continues, the research is endlessly fascinating; but it all bears cautious reading.


Monday, November 4, 2013 11:23 am
31 Horror Films in 31 Days 2013: The Soul-Swallowing Conclusion
Posted by: Daniel Kraus
Even the cat was scared.

                    Even my cat was scared.

The 5th Annual 31 Horror Films in 31 Days challenge is now but matted red roadkill in my rear-view mirror. For the fourth year straight, I staggered across the finish line in a ghastly state, choking down film #31 mere minutes before the fateful witching hour.

Now, of course, I find I cannot sleep, for I am braced for a last-second back-from-the-dead surprise: “No, you fool, you miscounted and only watched 30! Now we shall SWALLOW YOUR SOUL!!!

I wasn’t the only writer who eviscerated his or her personal demons this year — for example, check out the lists of these sinew-splattered soldiers: Dan Poblocki and Lex Thomas. Note to these authors: You are now unclean; we’ll need to burn your bodies.

Below is my confession. Please don’t recite it aloud lest you summon something …unspeakable.

THE MOVIES (in order viewed):

1. INSIDIOUS 2. If you thought Insidious was sinister — or that Sinister was insidious, for that matter — then you’ll find this sequel simply sinisidious.

2. THE LORDS OF SALEM. Grungy radio DJ is taken over by witches, and the best kind of witches, too: the writhing-in-their-own-filth kind!

3. SCREAM 4. Watching this is like being back in the 90s, when being scared was so like whatever, man, and horror movies were totally lame-ass anyway because emotions were for preppies, so how bout we just meet out on the quad for some hackey sack and — OH GOD SOMEBODY KILL THESE PEOPLE!

4. THE SNOWTOWN MURDERS. Stark and utterly realistic true story of Australia’s worst serial killer. Who out there loves extended, painful choking scenes? Who loves it?? Aw, I know who! It’s you!!

5. THE ATTIC. Miserable masturbating librarian loses best friend, replaces her with a monkey in a sailor suit, suffers the verbal tortures of her wheelchair-bound father, wonders about the fate of her missing true love, and can we talk about that monkey in a sailor suit again?

6. SPLINTER. Kidnappers and kidnappees alike barricade themselves inside of a gas station to keep out a mutating monster. Deleted scenes probably feature lotto tickets being scratched, Combos snacks being snarfed — more standard gas station horrors.

7. COME OUT AND PLAY. Nice white couple ends up on a Spanish island full of giggling children. It’s awful! Just awful! And then the children start trying to kill them, which is insult to injury.

8. BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW. A dude with a sweet bowl-cut meanders around in front of nonsensical visuals that will look great projected at your next rave.

9. YELLOWBRICKROAD. Team of forest researchers are driven mad by distant big band music. You read that right, folks — big band music is making a comeback.

10. [REC] 3. Past Halloween marathons forged within me an undying devotion for the awesome [REC] series. So seeing this pile of dog-doo was like taking my undying fandom and placing it inside a pile of dog-doo.

11. MANIAC. Fact! Elijah Wood is highly skilled at scalping people. Fact! This was something I did not need to know.

12. TROUBLE EVERY DAY. Cannibals mope around, gnaw upon the occasional human, speak in melancholy riddles. Why, yes, it is French.

13. BURN, WITCH, BURN. Thoughtful 1950s housewife uses witchery to bring good fortune upon her husband. Instead of being like “Gee, honey, that’s swell!” he goes and screws it all up. Men, stand by your witch.

14. ARE YOU IN THE HOUSE ALONE? Spooky phone calls from cackling stalker suddenly, terrifyingly, and without warning turn into an after-school special. I even learned an important life lesson and I shall never forgive this movie for that.

15. LOVELY MOLLY. Newlywed goes crazy in an old house. Instead of scrapbooking takes up chewing on human faces.

16. V/H/S 2. Robot-eye, zombie bicyclist, HOLY EFFING SHIT TERRIFYING SEGMENT ABOUT SUICIDE CULT, aliens.

17. MEGAN IS MISSING. Too . . . disturbing . . .  can’t . . . muster . . . joke . . . wish . . . I’d never . . . seen it . . . [dies]

18. THE BASEMENT. Low-low-low-budget 1980s 8mm anthology film. Watched on VHS tape, because I’m trying to impress you. So . . . you come here often?

19. RESOLUTION. Guy chains his crack-addict pal to a pipe to force him to get clean. Then things in the woods around them start to get weird. Add a six bottles of peach schnapps and you have my usual weekend.

20. BLACK WATER. The first of two(!) giant crocodile movies I watched this year. Really helpful film if you’re looking to add a new phobia to your tired old repertoire.

21. JUAN OF THE DEAD. Take Shaun of the Dead, set it in Cuba, cast it with the most likeable leads ever . . . Wait, are you actually doing what I’m saying? No, no, stop, they already made that movie, it’s called Juan of the Dead.

22. THE WICKER MAN. New restored theatrical version of my favorite film of all time. Why are you staring at my Wicker Man-themed mask that I wore to the theater and then to sushi afterward? And am still wearing right now?

23. THE LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT OF ROSALIND LEIGH. One-man performance follows a gloomy guy who inherits a lonely house from his estranged mom. Features perhaps the scariest magazine ad of all time. (I didn’t sell that well, but I’m serious.)

24. SLUGS. Slugs are off to the races / all over the places / so let’s cover our bases / and burst out of faces. <—poem

25. THE INKEEPERS. Haunted hotel gotcha down? Never fear, dearie. Kelly McGillis has just checked in and she’s the top gun of paranormal mediums! Ug, sorry, it’s been a long month.

26. THE HOUSE OF EXORCISM. Rip-off scenes of The Exorcist, straight down to the pea-soup vomit, are spliced together with an unrelated film about creepy mannequins. No, seriously, the two are unrelated. Look it up.

27. THE GIRL NEXT DOOR. Fun, permissive 1950s mom invites neighborhood kids over to torture her niece, who is chained up in the cellar. Ah, it was such an innocent time.

28. ANGST. A young woman’s woman-parts eat any man who gets too close. If that doesn’t doesn’t float your boat, there’s a subplot about a nerd who has an affair with Siamese twins.

29. SUSPENDED ANIMATION. Man falls into hands of woodland cannibal sisters, escapes, becomes obsessed with one of their daughters, tries to make an animated film about it, becomes involved with said daughter’s zit-eating delinquent son, discovers a dried-out body part in a junkyard — well, why bother continuing, it’s the same old story.

30. THE CROCODILE MAN. This comes direct from Cambodia, where apparently one can make drastic shifts from Scooby-Doo-style shenangians to ultra-violence without people giving you the evil eye. Highly amusing subtitles include shaky translations like “You will be died by love.” (h/t: AEM.)

Crocodile Man

31. WINTERBEAST. First off, it didn’t take place in winter. Second, there were many beasts. Third off, I’ll stop my complaining because, good lord, does this movie rock. Tons of stop-motion monsters and very, very self-conscious nudity. Winterbeast, let’s make it official. Will you be my life partner?

Friday, November 1, 2013 3:00 pm
More Than a Grim Statistic: Voices of Youth Violence
Posted by: Donna Seaman

How Long Will I Cry?Youth violence leaves everyone feeling helpless and heartbroken, emotional quagmires intensified in Chicago by the city’s notorious racial divide. For concerned Chicagoans living far from the stricken neighborhoods, the possibility of doing something productive seems remote at best.

This is just how Miles Harvey, author of the best-selling The Island of Lost Maps (2000) and Painter in a Savage Land (2008) and a creative writing teacher at DePaul University, felt as the number of attacks and shootings escalated, especially in the aftermath of the brutal mob murder of 16-year-old honor student Derrion Albert in 2009, which was captured in a video that went viral. Then he had a pivotal conversation with Hallie Gordon of the famed Steppenwolf Theater. Gordon told Harvey that as the artistic and educational director of Steppenwolf for Young Adults she longed to produce “a documentary theater piece about youth violence” based on the stories of real people. But how, she wondered, could she collect such oral histories? In one of those meant-to-be moments, Harvey suggested sending his creative writing students out in the field. Now Is the Time was born.

Gordon and Harvey received enthusiastic backing from their respective institutions as well as other arts and cultural organizations and the Chicago Public Library for  Now Is the Time, a “citywide initiative aimed at inspiring young people to make positive change in their communities and stop youth violence and intolerance.” DePaul students fanned out across Chicago’s violence-riddled neighborhoods to talk to teens and adults affected by violence, and they gathered an astonishing number of intensely emotionally, stunningly philosophical, and utterly devastating personal stories. The result was 4,000 pages of transcripts, a precious oral history archive from which a play, How Long Will I Cry?: Voices of Youth Violence, was created, premiering at Steppenwolf Theater in February 2013. Now Harvey and his student interviewers have created a paperback book containing many more stories. Stories readers won’t soon forget.

In his hard-hitting foreword, Alex Kotlowitz, author of the groundbreaking, award-winning bestseller, There Are No Children Here (1991), the story of two boys growing up in Chicago public housing, and producer of the acclaimed documentary, The Interrupters (2011), reports on the horrific toll grief exacts from young people who have witnessed and survived violence and who have lost family members and friends, as well as the parents of the slain, the injured, and the traumatized. Kotlowitz candidly addresses the battering of communities, where hope and trust are smothered and fear rules. The title of the book is taken from the Old Testament, a passage from the Book of Habakkuk cited by the Rev. Corey Brooks, a socially active pastor on Chicago’s South Side: “O Lord, how long will I cry, and you will not hear? I cry out to you ‘Violence!’ and will you not save?”

In his stirring introduction, Harvey explains that How Long Will I Cry? is both a lament and a call to action. He credits his students for their profound commitment to this difficult undertaking, which often involved their returning for second interviews, during which people were even more forthcoming, their stories even more harrowing. And he praises the interviewees for their “courage and honesty.” The result of these conversations—of the brave acts of telling painful truths and of listening to them, the latter, as Harvey observes, seemingly a lost art in our loud, contentious society—is an arresting and revealing book of testimony that arcs from anguish to conviction, and that transforms the shattering statistics of youth violence into intimately human experiences.

The book opens with the jolting tale of T-Awannda Piper, a community activist whose center was across the street from where Derrion was killed, and who ran out to try to help him. Next up, a young Latino man on the West Side who quit his gang and fears for his life. A retired Chicago police officer. Each person is vividly and thoughtfully introduced. A man who survived two shootings, a mother who lost a son, teens living in violent neighborhoods, trying to stay out of the line of fire, a nine-year-old boy whose older brother was shot to death for no reason. LaToya Winters says, “Gunshots in our neighborhood was like hearing the ice-cream truck, as sad as that is to say.” A 19-year-old talks about a being born into a gang-affiliated family; his story is titled, “Like Walking through Baghdad.” Hyinth Davis begins, “I’m not trying to say it’s a curse, but it feels weird knowing that five of your friends got killed within the same year.” Each person is vividly introduced; each tale is a glinting concentration of the human spirit.

This is a book everyone should read, and everyone can: it is free.

Thanks to Big Shoulder Books, which produces one book, one “quality anthology,” a year meant to engage “intimately with the Chicago community,” while giving DePaul students “hands-on, practical experience in book publishing.” This book will engage the entire country and beyond, and school and public libraries are invited and encouraged to request copies. A brief study guide is provided, and, clearly, How Long Will I Cry? is an ideal book for book clubs and group discussions and programs.

For information on acquiring free copies of the book, visit Big Shoulders Books. (You can see the book trailer here.)

As T-Awannda Piper tells us, “No matter what your circumstances are, you don’t have to allow someone else to write your story. It’s not how you start; it’s how you finish.”

Thursday, October 31, 2013 9:45 am
Book Trailer Thursday: Chain Saw Confidential
Posted by: Annie Bostrom

It’s hard to beat this trailer’s own opening line in order to intro it, so I won’t try. In lieu of a Booklist review, I have some “chainsaw shenanigans” to share with you on this dark and stormy Halloween. That sounds almost cute, doesn’t it?

More trick-or-treating advice from BTT.

Friday, October 25, 2013 12:19 pm
Flappers and Button Men: Touring the World of “Dollface”
Posted by: Keir Graff

I don’t usually write about book launches, but then again, the most interesting thing I could say about most book launches is that a lot of people stood around drinking cheap wine from plastic cups and wondering why the cheese is always cut into those little cubes. Last night, however, I joined a group of Chicago booksellers and media for an event worth writing about—and other publishers and authors should take note.

Wanting a memorable way to launch her forthcoming novel Dollface: A Novel of the Roaring Twenties, author Renee Rosen worked with her publisher, Penguin NAL, to plan an evening that reinforced the theme of the book. Invited guests were treated to a special edition of Untouchable Tours‘ sampling of Prohibition-era Chicago, with Rosen joining guides “Rocco” and “South Side” to highlight the locations and historical figures that populate her novel. The professional guides’ patter was corny but entertaining, while Rosen’s welcome interjections provided insight into her settings, characters, and research. (Seeking verisimilitude, she toured one of Chicago’s few remaining killing floors—an investigation that caused her to lose her taste for lamb.)

Attendees disembarked from the bus to enjoy a party at an authentic 1920s speakeasy in the basement of The Green Door Tavern. Among other perfectly legal libations, bartenders served up a special signature drink, the Dollface Stinger, and Manhattans made with Templeton rye (reputed to be Al Capone’s favorite hooch).

And nary a cheese cube in sight.

Dollface party

Thursday, October 24, 2013 9:45 am
Book Trailer Thursday: Afterlife with Archie
Posted by: Annie Bostrom

Book Trailer Thursday this October has gone a little like this: scary, scary, franco (thanks, C!). In other words, all horror all the time. And this week, I will not back down! But I will give you animated scary, in the form of this trailer for the new graphic novel Afterlife with Archie. This ain’t no marriage plot. What’s going on with Hot Dog?

“Some spells lead to GRAVE consequences.” Just a friendly reminder to trick-or-treaters next week.

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