Friday, January 5, 2018

End of Year Wrap-Up (2017)

So, I'm back for my yearly list of the best books I read in 2017 (not including my own debut novel, THE BEAR WHO BROKE THE WORLD - *shameless plug*). All of these were read during the past year, but were not necessarily published this year.

Out of 42 books read in '17, here are my top 10:

1) THE COLOR PURPLE by Alice Walker -- one of my favorite books of not only last year, but, frankly, of any year. I can't remember the last time I read a novel with this much depth, emotion, affirmation of life, and unabashed declarations of love. Unforgettable characters, and stunning, truthful writing.
2) HOMEGOING by Yaa Gyasi -- a masterful novel, every page filled with beautiful language, spanning multiple generations, from the African continent to modern-day America. A difficult read at times, but not to be missed.

3) LINCOLN IN THE BARDO by George Saunders -- a mesmerizing, original fable about Abraham Lincoln, his dead son Willie, and the afterworld that welcomes them both. A book that stayed with me long after I finished the last page.

4) THE MOST DANGEROUS PLACE ON EARTH by Lindsey Lee Johnson -- a terrific debut novel by a fellow MPWer. Read my review here

5) WATCH ME DISAPPEAR by Janelle Brown -- a mystery that takes place in my hometown of Berkeley, which kept me guessing till the end. If you liked THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN, you'll really enjoy this one, too.

6) ONE OF US IS LYING by Karen M. McManus -- the best YA novel I've read in some time. Multiple first-person narrators, a dead body, and a whole lot of high school drama.

7) MY STRUGGLE by Karl Ove Knausgaard -- not the easiest book to get through, but a memoir unlike any other I've read.

8) THE FOURTH PALADIN by Maria Mercurio -- fantasy, romance, Biblical figures, and a whole lot of demon butt-kicking.

9) THE WELL'S END by Seth Fishman -- another exciting YA mystery with compelling characters and creepy goings-on in a Colorado town.

10) THE NATURAL by Bernard Malamud -- the classic baseball novel about Roy Hobbs and his bat "Wonderboy." A strange but compelling read.

And a few more terrific reads that came out last year -- ALL IN by Lisa Klink & Joel Goodman is a caper-filled ride into high-stakes gambling and other vices; THE BIG REDHEAD BOOK: INSIDE THE SECRET SOCIETY OF RED HAIR by Erin La Rosa shares all the facts and fables about the fascinating 2% of the world's population; and UNFINISHED CITY by Nan Cohen is a poetry collection full of wonder and lovely language.

For 2018, a few of the books I plan to read:

From the author of the sensational short-story collection THE PALACE THIEF, Ethan Canin's latest novel, A DOUBTER'S ALMANAC.

Jesmyn Ward's National Book Award Winner SALVAGE THE BONES. And, if I have time, her second National Book Award Winner, SING, UNBURIED, SING.


V. by Thomas Pynchon

Michael Ondaatje's THE CAT'S TABLE

Janet Fitch's Russian saga THE REVOLUTION OF MARINA M.

Man Booker winner THE SELLOUT by Paul Beatty

J.P. Donleavy's THE GINGER MAN

MANHATTAN BEACH by Jennifer Egan

Donna Tartt's Pulitzer-Prize winning THE GOLDFINCH

And hopefully, many, many more!


Have a great 2018, full of great books, big & small.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Upcoming Events for "The Bear"

Hi, just wanted to update everyone on the Book Launch and Book Reading/Signing I'll be doing in August to support my debut novel, The Bear Who Broke the World.

I am beyond thrilled to usher my book into the world at Moe's Books on Telegraph Avenue in beautiful Berkeley, California. It's one of my old stomping grounds, and I couldn't be happier.

And then on Tuesday, August 29th, I'll be in conversation for a little Q & A with my mentor Gina Nahai at Book Soup on the Sunset Strip. The fun starts at 7:00 p.m.

I hope to see you at one of these events!

Friday, June 23, 2017

I'm Blogging as Fast as I Can ...

... and yet I can't quite find the time write as much as I'd like these days. I plan to read more great novels, post more reviews and other pieces of interest in the near future. With the release of my debut novel, The Bear Who Broke the World, on Tuesday, August 1st, most of my blogging is happening on my other site, which is all about the novel and Berkeley and the 70's and includes excerpts from the book and reviews of counterculture classics.

So, I will definitely post here from time to time, but if you're interested in the upcoming novel and everything I'm writing about it, please visit me at The Bear Who Broke the World blog and join in on the fun!

Thanks for visiting, and please come back again for more.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Book Signings for August 2017

So I've been doing my own promotion for The Bear Who Broke The World, my debut novel that Wheeler Street Press will be unleashing onto the real world come Tuesday, August 1st. Lots of Advanced Reading Copies of the book going out to possible reviewers and great folks I would love to have write a positive blurb for it. With only a little over 2 months left before the novel's release, I've got a couple of terrific blurbs so far.

I also have my Book Reading/Signing events lined up already, which is very exciting!

Monday, August 7th will be my Book Launch - at Moe's Books in Berkeley. On Telegraph Avenue! So amazing!

If you find yourself in the Bay Area on that date, please swing on by and hear me read from the novel and sign a few of them after.

For all the Los Angelenos checking out my blog, I would love to meet you at my Book Soup reading on Tuesday, August 29th, right there on the Sunset Strip. I'll be in conversation with the amazing Gina B. Nahai to talk about Berkeley and the 1970s.

Maybe you can catch a show at the Whisky or The Viper Room after the reading.

Just thought I'd share my good news. Hoping more good book-related news to come ...

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Trout Fishing in America

Here's a review of a classic book from the 1960's, which I was inspired to read after finishing my novel. I'll be reading (and reviewing) more of these counterculture classics as I get closer to the publication date of The Bear Who Broke The World.


In the late 60’s and early 70’s, what self-identifying stalwart of the hippie lifestyle didn’t own a copy of this series of observations for the counterculture generation? Published in 1967, Brautigan generated simple musings in his own style, while borrowing heavily from Anderson, Hemingway, Heller, Kesey and Vonnegut. Delivering short chapters with the unifying thread of trout fishing, the author explores the outrageous with the commonplace, the placid with the disturbed.

A first-person account of life on the road, a postmodern take on Kerouac’s tale of the Beats, Trout dips in and out of small towns where Americana litter the streets and homes of a changing country. With chapter titles like “A Waldon Pond for Winos” and “Trout Fishing With the FBI,” the book plays with ideas of nature and freedom, addiction and authority with a kind of whimsy that underlies the gravity of idealism lost. In the narrator’s travels, he finds that nothing is quite as it was, while the present has yet to fully form into something coherent that serves as a replacement of what came before.

Name-checking Teddy Roosevelt, Nelson Algren, John Dillinger, Hemingway, and the blues song C.C. Rider in the chapter titles, Brautigan traces the familiar and the influential figures of the past with a reverence that carries a bit of nostalgia, as well. America is changing so quickly, he seems to be saying, that it’s crucial to remember the importance of the early part of the twentieth century. When he writes, “Along with World War II and the Andrews sisters, the Zoot suit had been very popular in the early 40’s,” Brautigan is singing the virtues of a lost era, one that defined an earlier generation and was as much about fighting for freedom and singing for joy as it was about racial identity and the inequality and violence that surrounded it. When he decides that, “I guess they were all passing fads,” it is a lamentation, the realization that everything substantial and once-profound becomes simply what was. These parts of history are meant to be pushed aside, in order to make room for the next transgression or life-changing event in a century filled with them.

Populated with characters that come and go and then appear again, slightly changed, the slim book attempts to make sense of the old and the new, written with equal parts humanity and satire. There is a curiosity at work here, a wonderment that is characteristically American and entrenched in values that must have seemed antiquated in a world where Vietnam and the assassinations of MLK & RFK, along with the corruption of Watergate, made rose-colored reflection something unworthy and frivolous. Where there is definitely a rejection of the racist, stubborn, afraid-of-change belief system that permeates these small towns that Brautigan’s narrator discovers, there is also an embrace of nature and its singular purity. As long as trout can still be caught in the lakes and rivers of America—a simple pleasure that is not attached to politics or economics or human strife–then perhaps the evolving world, with all its social and cultural turmoil, can be found to be bearable.

Maybe what Brautigan is trying to express in his book is that the consequential “fads” of the present will always give way to the next historic moment or state of mind, but those rivers full of trout will continue to run, a small, indelible fact of life that will remain constant and unchanged for this and future generations to come.

Monday, January 2, 2017

End of Year Wrap-Up (2016)

So the good news is, 2016 was the year I finally completed my novel The Bear Who Broke The World and readied it for publication with Wheeler Street Press - it will be released Summer 2017. 

Here’s a sneak look at the cover:

The bad news is that all of that time spent with the novel took me away from reading other books. But I did manage to finish a few, and here are the best of the bunch I read in 2016:

1)      A MOVEABLE FEAST by Ernest Hemingway -- the first book I read in the new year, and my favorite. Chronicling his early years in Paris -- hanging out in the cafes and salons with literary luminaries Gertrude Stein, Ford Madox Ford, and his friend/foe F. Scott Fitzgerald -- Papa writes about his first wife and child with the same fervor as he does about his writing life.

2)      DEADWOOD by Pete Dexter -- a very close 2nd, this rich, detailed, beautifully constructed novel of the Dakota Territories in 1876 is filled with memorable characters whose stories interweave through the Black Hills in fresh and unexpected ways. The prose is glorious, every sentence filled with wit and style.

3)      TROUT FISHING IN AMERICA by Richard Brautigan -- a counterculture classic, I read this as part of my goal to delve into the 60s and 70s books that influenced the fictional characters of my own novel. Brautigan’s book of short chapters is an exploration of America, the changes affecting small towns and big cities alike

4)      CITIZEN: AN AMERICAN LYRIC by Claudia Rankine -- the Keynote speaker at the 2016 AWP conference here in L.A., this amazing prose poet delivers a book filled with anguish, anger, hard truths and hope.

5)      THE WHITES by Richard Price (writing as Harry Brandt) -- rounding out this short list is a crime potboiler by the author of one of my favorite books, CLOCKERS. This latest effort by Price feels a bit lightweight and redundant by comparison, but it still moves at a quick and sometimes lively pace.

2017 already looks a bit more promising, as I’m halfway through Pulitzer Prize-winning THE SYMPATHIZER by Viet Thanh Nguyen and just began THE GIRLS by Emma Cline. Looking forward to reading THE MOST DANGEROUS PLACE ON EARTH, the debut novel by my fellow MPWer Lindsey Lee Johnson (*), as well as finally tackling Adam Johnson’s THE ORPHAN MASTER’S SON and THE CITY ON FIRE by Garth Risk Hallberg.

And very much looking forward to seeing my long-in-progress novel finally in print this year.

Thanks for stopping by, and have a book-happy new year!