Reading Jess Walter

We-Live-in-Water

I’ve landed into a period of heavy reading again and it feels like getting back to yourself after a period of confusion. I want to thank Jess Walter for bringing me back into the land of books through his novel Beautiful Ruins, but also through his other books The Financial Lives of Poets and the short-story We Live in Water (pictured above).

There is something about Jess Walter’s  writing style that appeals deeply to me. Brutally honest and with a wry sense of humour, it captures something I strive hard to accomplish in my own writing. In a self-deprecating way it frames the essence of life with all its blemishes and it makes us see that maybe life is beautiful because it’s far, far from perfect.

Beautiful Ruins (click the link for more about that book) led me to The Financial Lives of the Poets, which is darker and more blatantly funny.  Like his 2006 novel The Zero, it deals in part with USA post-September 11 and in part recession era America. The narrator and main character of the book is Matthew Prior, a 46-year-old ex business journalist who thanks to a ill-advised idea of starting a business poetry website has killed his career in journalism and is instead, through coincidence and a dire financial situation, planning to sell weed to his “peers” in the equally despondent middle-class.

Prior’s dire financial situation isn’t his only worry. His wife Lisa has late night conversations with an old boyfriend via Facebook (is she cheating?), she pursues an unhealthy shopping affair with eBay and to add to this, Prior’s alzheimer-plagued father is living with them and keeps repeating the same line over and over until his son’s head is going to explode. And…as most parents do, Prior is also constantly worried what kind of people his two sons will grow up to be.

You can say he has his plate rather full.

And Prior wants to solve all this by selling marijuana. (Not really all his troubles, but at least the financial ones).

financial-lives-of-the-poets

The first thought I had when I understood that Prior’s plan to solve his economic distress was to sell drugs, I thought of the TV series Weeds, which, if not entirely similar plot-wise, works with the same themes: How to cope in today’s fast-paced financial jungle? Why not do something taboo-ish like selling pot? Because doing so will obviously lead to some funny and unexpected situations (story-wise).

Yes, I first I thought: I’ve seen this idea before. But the way Walter pulls it off is clever and humorous and at times also a bit sad.

But he does one of the most important things in all writing – he makes you relate to the characters in his stories and he makes you laugh.

So with this very short review, I can really recommend The Financial Lives of the Poets.

The Financial Lives of the Poets in turn lead me to purchase We Live in Water, Walter’s short story collection.

If The Financial Lives of the Poets was dark and funny, this is more sharp and poignant. The stories in the book deals with loss, abuse, addiction and although many of them are heavy in storyline, they’re always a breeze to read, the reason being Walter’s skilful handling of the American language. In some way his writing he reminds me of another author favourite, Richard Ford.

Among all the destruction and broken people, there is, and here’s the trick, love. And real love, not Valentine’s Day love, not postcard love, not romantic love, but deep and heartfelt love. Between father and son (several of the stories deal with this), but also relationship love and what We Live in Water shows is how much we all hurt  because of it.

Writing that’s “real” is, to me, the best kind of writing and We Live in Water has it in spades.

I also like the contrast between this dark short story collection and the more romantic Beautiful Ruins. It shows that a talented writer doesn’t have to step inside a box and put a label on it. Write whatever you feel like, treat writing as an experiment, don’t think about sales, and publish something that’s you all over it. No matter what topic you write about, the voice will be there, the you will be there.

But I digress.

What I wanted to say with this post is that I’m thankful for books, for reading and for writing and I hope you are too. And if you are, why not check out Jess Walter, a talented writer with some very powerful work.

PS. Here’s a good interview with Jess Walter. DS.

The Liberty Tree – a Review

The Liberty Tree
Drunk to Sober, via Love, Death, Disintegration & Freedom
Suzanne Harrington

Check out Liberty Tree at The Book Depository.

This book took some guts to write.

17674750-205x300Because it can’t be easy writing a book directed to your kids about the sometimes very dark days in your life and how their (then ex-husband to the author) father, Leo, commited suicide. The Liberty Tree is in part an ode to Leo and in part a very revealing and emotionally heavy autobiography.

Thankfully, Suzanne Harrington has the writing skills to make a sad story compelling and somewhat entertaining to read. You get the feeling nothing is spared in the pages, no secret is left unrevealed. And for that: big kudos to the writer.

I must say though that the book made me angry at times. You think: how can someone be so desperate and take so many drugs, drink so much and be so lost? It almost makes your head spin at times and I can imagine it makes her kids kind of crazy to read about too.

But I understand why she wrote it; when you have so much inside of you dying to get out, so many untold stories – you need to do something like this. And I can imagine it feels like a giant relief once it’s done.

Kind of like: This was me. It’s over. I’m saying goodbye to it.

What I think is a big benefit from a book like The Liberty Tree and one reason she wrote it, is that it can help others battling with depression, alcoholism, drugs, and self-loathing. I think that is the book’s ultimate value: “Look at Suzanne, once she was this complete wreck and now she’s this talented author. There’s hope. No matter what, there’s hope.”

A powerful book. A needed book. But not for the faint of heart.

Check out Liberty Tree at The Book Depository.

Reading right now: Wool and The Liberty Tree

However crazy it may sound, I’m usually reading two books at the same time; one e-book on my iPhone in the gym and one at home in print.

My gym book at the moment is Wool by Hugh Howey, a book with a crazy amount of five-star reviews on Amazon and already hailed as a sci-fi classic. I’m not a huge fan of sci-fi, but the reviews and the storyline intrigued me so I couldn’t really pass it up. Check it out for yourself, I’m about 20% in and it’s a really great story.

Description for Wool:

This is the story of mankind clawing for survival, of mankind on the edge. The world outside has grown unkind, the view of it limited, talk of it forbidden. But there are always those who hope, who dream. These are the dangerous people, the residents who infect others with their optimism. Their punishment is simple. They are given the very thing they profess to want: They are allowed outside.

The other book I’m reading is The Liberty Tree: Drunk to Sober Via Love, Death, Disintegration & Freedom by Suzanne Harrington. It seems like a very interesting book. I will review both The Liberty Tree and Wool on the blog soon.

Description for The Liberty Tree:

Touching and brutally honest, The Liberty Tree is like nothing you have read before. It raises questions many of us will find difficult to answer, but it is ultimately life affirming in its humour, warmth and candour. It will be the most talked about memoir of 2013.

Book review: Spirit House by Mark Dapin

I just finished Spirit House by Mark Dapin today and I must say it’s one of those books that make you want to stop writing altogether. The reason being it’s so well-written that, as a fellow author, it’s easy to lose your motivation. You think, how will I ever be able to write something that good?

But that is obviously not critique towards Spirit House, because it’s a very entertaining read that I have only good things to say about.

Spirit House is much about the relationship between an old man and his grandson. The man, Jimmy, was a prisoner of war and a Digger on the Thai-Burma railway during the second world war and suffers greatly from the horrors of his past. He wakes up in the middle of the night screaming, being right in the middle of the memories that haunt him and the only way to alleviate this pain is to tell the story to his grandson, David.

David is really excited by the stories at first, but the more gory and brutal they get, the less he wants to hear about them. You could say he’s fascinated, but at the same time slightly sick to hear what he’s grandfather had to experience.

Spirit House is a deeply moving book. Dapin’s excellent use of the English language really paints a vivid picture of how it was to be involved in the war, not only as a POW but in general. The book is full of humor, especially in the dialogue of Jimmy and his old Digger friends, Solomon, Katz, and Myer who meet up to talk about the past from time to time, something which usually involves pretty harsh but mainly very funny conversations.

This is what Dapin writes himself about Spirit House: I wrote it as a war of remembering my own grandfather, and the generation who fought in the Second World War. I tried to capture their dry, sometimes brutal humour, their love of profanity (but only when there were no “ladies” present) and equally pronounced love of a drink. My granddad was not a POW. He served in the Air Rescue Service in the East End of London during the Blitz, but the characters of the old men in my novel are based loosely on him and his ex-service mates, and the conversations they used to have on Sunday afternoons in the club.

Dapin draws up great characters and he tells the story much like had been there himself. It obviously helps that Dapin is the editor of The Penguin Book of Australian War Writing, but still you can’t be nothing but impressed by the amount detail and emotion with which he tells the story. To be able to capture such a tale is no small feat, but Dapin does it brilliantly and he has crafted a novel  that is equally distressing and tragic as it is funny and clever.

But before I end my review by recommending you to read this beautiful book, I should tell you what a spirit house is. A spirit house is a shrine to the protective spirit of a place. It’s found in Southeast Asian countries like Burma, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand. The spirit house is usually shaped like a miniature house or a temple. The house is intended to provide a shelter for the spirits.

And that’s why Jimmy is building a spirit house, to make the spirits leave him in peace. If he succeeds, you’d better find out yourself by reading Spirit House.

Looking for book reviewers

(Yes, it’s an adorable kitten reading a book. All to get your attention.)

How do you market a book without reviews or testimonials? The answer is you don’t. Book reviews sell books, there’s no question about it. And for indie authors reviews are an even more important tool, because some e-book marketing sites won’t even accept an ad if the book has less than 4.0 stars out of 5 in average (I find this rule very strange), so without reviews or with a poor review average you will have little chance to get your writing out to a wider audience.

This is why I’m asking for your help. I’m looking for book reviewers for my stories, most importantly Hollywood Ass. which was recently published on Amazon Kindle.

So, I will offer you free copies of my books, either Hollywood Ass. or The Wake-Up Call in return for a review on your blog or Amazon site of your choice.

If you’re interested in reviewing either of the books (or my free short stories A Killer Date or The Development Talk) please write a comment on this post or send me an e-mail to jonaswrites_at_gmail.com (“_at_” equals @).

I have a selected number of print copies that I will send to you who can motivate why you should get a print copy instead of a file or a download link. I’ll even sign them 🙂

Hollywood Ass. print version: Print UKPrint US.

Links for Hollywood Ass kindle version: USUKDEFRESITJPCABR.

Recently consumed culture

Lately we’ve been watching loads of documentaries and I’ve also managed to finish a string of books. Here’s a list and a few words about them:

Broken Paradise by Cecilia Samartin

A fantastic book. Really deserving of the 5 star rating it has on Amazon.com. Samartin writes in a way that make you feel stupid for ever attempting to write something yourself. It’s beautiful and passionate writing about a topic she obviously feels very strongly about. The book description.

Cuba, 1956: Cousins Nora and Alicia are accustomed to living among Havana’s privileged class — but their lavish dinners, days at the beach, and extravagant dances come to an end after Castro’s rise to power. Food becomes scarce, religion is forbidden, and disease runs rampant. Although Alicia stays behind while Nora emigrates to the United States, both of their identities are challenged as they try to adapt to the changes forced upon them. As the situation in Cuba deteriorates, Alicia is beset by bad fortune, while Nora — whose heart is still in Cuba — painfully assimilates into middle-class U.S. culture. Letters between the cousins track their lives until Alicia’s situation becomes so difficult that Nora is forced to return and help. But what she finds in Cuba is like nothing she ever imagined.

Making Ideas Happen by Scott Belsky

Creative people are not the most productive and disciplined in the world – that’s at least what the stereotype tells us. The founder of Behance, Scott Belsky, tells us how it can be otherwise and how we can make sure to be both creative and productive at the same time. Very interesting and thought-provking.

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

A brilliant book about thinking and specifically intuitive thinking. Book description: Intuition is not some magical property that arises unbidden from the depths of our mind. It is a product of long hours and intelligent design, of meaningful work environments and particular rules and principles. This book shows us how we can hone our instinctive ability to know in an instant, helping us to bring out the best in our thinking and become better decision-makers in our homes, offices and in everyday life. Just as he did with his revolutionary theory of the tipping point, Gladwell reveals how the power of ‘blink’ could fundamentally transform our relationships, the way we consume, create and communicate, how we run our businesses and even our societies.You’ll never think about thinking in the same way again.

The Queen of Versailles

A dark and upsetting documentary about a billionaire couple wanting to build the largest home in America. It really shows that money and intelligence aren’t linked. I got mostly amazed and pissed-off at the same time, but it was very entertaining viewing. IMDB description:

A documentary that follows a billionaire couple as they begin construction on a mansion inspired by Versailles. During the next two years, their empire, fueled by the real estate bubble and cheap money, falters due to the economic crisis.

Searching for Sugarman

Academy award winner and rightly so. Fantastic documentary about a forgotten musician who gets his just revival. IMDB description: Two South Africans set out to discover what happened to their unlikely musical hero, the mysterious 1970s rock ‘n’ roller, Rodriguez.

This World – Cuba with Simon Reeve

This documentary about the mystical and enticing country of Cuba goes well with Broken Paradise. Simon Reeve is a good presenter and you really get an understanding of how Cuba has been run over the years.

Romes Lost Empire

An interesting watch for Rome junkies such as Lenah and myself. It shows how new technology can change the way we learn about history.

Rome – a history of the eternal city

A more dry take on the history of Rome, but still very interesting. With such a fascinating history you really understand why it’s called The Eternal City.

Jiro – Dreams of Sushi

If David Siegel (the billionaire in The Queen of Versailles) is the time-share king, then Jiro is for sure the king of sushi. Endearing documentary about passion for your craft and really believing in what you do.

Canada – Richard Ford

The latest novel from one of my favorite writers. I loved The Bascombe Trilogy, and liked this one too, but it was definitely a slower read. If you have patience with reading fine, but lingering writing, check it out. From the back cover:

When fifteen-year-old Del Parsons’ parents rob a North Dakota bank, his normal life is altered forever, and a threshold is crossed that can never be uncrossed. His parents’ imprisonment threatens a turbulent and uncertain future for Del and his twin sister, Berner. Fierce with resentment, Berner flees their Montana home for California. But Del is not completely abandoned. A family friend spirits him across the Canadian border toward safety and a better life. There, afloat on the Saskatchewan prairie, Del finds only cold refuge from Arthur Remlinger, an enigmatic and alluring American fugitive with a dark and violent past.

Undone by the calamity of his parents’ robbery, Del struggles to remake himself. But his search for grace only moves him nearer to a harrowing and murderous collision with the forces of darkness that shadow us all.

Inside the Saudi Kingdom

Interesting documentary following the Prince Saud Bin Al-Mohsen Bin Abdul Aziz. It gives you a glimpse of life in a country governed by the slightly terrifying Sharia Law, but doesn’t really go as deep as you would like it to. There were probably quite tough restrictions on the film team for this one.

 

Spirit House by Mark Dapin

My friends at The Book Depository sent me Spirit House by Mark Dapin today. I’m really looking forward to reading it.

Spirit House is about a POW (prisoner of war) on the Thai-Burma railway who drinks too much trying to escape the horrors of his past. But when his thirteen-year-old grandson comes to visit him, the stories of what happened in the days of the war comes back to him. The story is about “the bonds of a life-long friendship and the bonds of grief, and of a young boy making sense of his future while old men try to live with their past.”

It was published 2011 in Australia (author Mark Dapin is called a “major new voice in Australian fiction” after Spirit House and his previous novel King of the Cross) and has been called “Best Australian novel of the year” and been longlisted for Miles Frank Award 2011, shortlisted for The Age Book of the year Award, commended for the Christina Stead Prize and featured in four Australian “Books of the Year 2011” roundups. ABC said this about Spirit House: “This is a book destined for classic status in every sense of the word. It is powerful, poignant, moving, tragic and intensely distressing. It is a feast of a story which will almost simultaneously move you to tears and bring a smile to your face.”

It’s hard not to be curious about Spirit House. Will keep you posted on my progress.

 

Stephen King: 11/22/63

I read loads and loads of King books when I was a young kid and I can actually credit him for helping me develop my interest in writing (how I ended up writing about human relationships and not thrillers/horror/paranormal is another story), so it was nice to reconnect with him for his latest work (since he’s so prolific, by the time you read this, it might not be his latest work).

The novel with the cryptic title 11/22/63 is about a man that gets the possibility to travel back in time and stop the assassination of JFK. I’m not going to say more than that, because I’m only 30% into the book at the moment, but so far it’s been a thrilling ride. King really has a masterful storyteller’s voice and really makes you want to dip back into his world, again and again and again.

Recommended!

Buy it on Amazon

 

 

Some Kind of Cure – David Berkeley

I rarely get into an album the way I have with David Berkeley‘s Some Kind of Cure and a week ago I didn’t even know the guy existed.

But thanks to Harlan Cobens Twitter I was informed about a song called Shelter (a soundtrack to a book, pretty original) which I really liked that led me to David’s homepage where you can listen to his songs.

After that I was pretty much hooked. As soon as you enter the page you’re met by David’s husky voice almost whispering out the lyrics to The Blood and The Wine.

Tell me that you still remember,
When we caught lightning in a jar.

Now you have put the sway back in the grass.
You have put the fire back in me.

There were times when you were hiding.
And I know I’ve been hard to hold.

But you have put the wine back in the glass.
You have put the blood back in me.

And oh, oh my word.

There’s a blue house in the distance.
There’s a stream beside it, too.

Well you have put the sails back on the mast.

You have put the breeze back in me.

Oh, oh my word.
Oh, oh my word.
Oh, oh my word.

Now you have put the wine back in the glass.
You have put the blood back in me.

And after that slow and hypnotic tune he launches into George Square which is a bit more poppy and suddenly you’re transferred to a Springtime walk under a boulevard of sun-streaked trees with your loved one. The mood in Berkeley’s songs are that strong, they tell such a rich story and they paint a imagery so vivid, I’ve been listening to the same songs daily for more than a week and I still can’t get enough.

Two fantastic verses from George Square:

She was walking cross George Square in the rain.
I was high. I was so high in a plane.
I was trying to see through the clouds, 
Looking for places we’d been,
Like a sign, like a sunburst, like the letters in her name.

We were back in George Square when the rain gave way.
There’s something in how the spring comes so suddenly.
And the dress she wore was yellow.
And the rain was in her hair.
How bad I wanted to tell her that I would always be there.

The whole experience made me not only buy Some Kind of Cure but also buy the book about the album called 140 Goats and a Guitar which describes the year David, his wife and his son spent on Corsica. This stay resulted in many of the songs on Some Kind of Cure and each anecdote is followed by the lyrics to that particular song. I’ve read about 30% (I’m reading it on my Kindle) and I really love it so far.

But then I’ve become something of a David Berkeley fan of late.