what? I didn’t post them?

February 2, 2011

I guess not. 2010, you are a blur to me. Busy busy busy. But I did read some books, and these were tops of the year that was.

Adrian Hyland / GUNSHOT ROAD
Fantastic and touching. Really, really, really good. Review here.

Timothy Hallinan / THE QUEEN OF PATPONG
Blow your socks off excellence. Review here.

What can I say? It worked for me. YMMV. Review here.

I liked this much more than her first two books. Really good x 3. Review here.

Pensive, enjoyable, with tolerable woo-woo. Review here.

A noir setup is trumped by an optimistic ending.  Review here.

Steve Hamilton / THE LOCK ARTIST
A potentially too-clever concept is rescued by a charming narrator. Review here.

Peter Temple / TRUTH
Hard to follow at times, but with a strange poetry. Review here.

Reggie Nadelson / BLOOD COUNT
I love the voice of this completely implausible detective. Review here.

Arnaldur Indridason / HYPOTHERMIA
Haven’t hit a dud in this series yet. Review here.

read globally, act locally

December 28, 2010

As the year comes to a close, I realized I hadn’t completed the 2010 Global Reading Challenge. I chose the medium challenge, which was to read two books from six continents. Here’s what I ended up reading (as near as I can tell – my record keeping wasn’t always consistent).


Jassy McKenzie – Random Violence (South Africa)
Malla Nunn – A Beautiful Place to Die (South Africa)
—Out of that huge continent, I only read books from one country. I should venture out more.


Tarquin Hall – The Case of the Missing Servant (India)
Christopher Moore – Asia Hand (Thailand)
Timothy Hallinan – The Fourth Watcher, Breathing Water, The Queen of Patpong (Thailand)
—Well, two countries – a bit better.


Peter Temple – Truth (Australia)
Garry Disher – Blood Moon (Australia)
Adrian Hyland – Gunshot Road (Australia)
—About time I read a New Zealand author, eh?


Louise Welsh – Naming the Bones (Scotland)
Mark Billingham – Bloodlines (England)
Harri Nykanen – Raid and the Blackest Sheep (Finland)
Arnaldur Indridason – Hypothermia (Iceland)
Anders Roslund and Borge Helstrom – Three Seconds (Sweden)
Martin  Cruz Smith – Three Stations (Russia)
Jo Nesbo – The Snowman (Norway)
Ake Edwardson – The Shadow Woman (Sweden)
Hennikng Mankell – The Man From Beijing (Sweden, China, US, Africa – does this one book count for four continents?)
John Harvey – Far Cry (England)
Nicci French – The Other Side of the Door (England)
Barry Maitland – Dark Mirror (England)
Jarkko Sipila – Vengeance (Finland)
Tana French – Faithful Place (Ireland)
Stieg Larsson – The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest (Sweden)
Johan Theorin – The Darkest Room (Sweden)
Yrsa Sigurdardottir – Last Rituals (Iceland)
—Better read something Danish next … and perhaps French and German and Italian and Spanish and .,.

North America (incl Central America)

John McFetridge – Let it Ride (Canada)
Brent Pilkey – Lethal Rage (Canada)
—Plus more books set in the US that I care to list. Oddly enough, none were set in the Northwest (or Alaska, or Hawaii).

South America

Claudia Piniero – The Thursday Night Widows (Argentina)
Leighton Gage – Dying Gasp (Brazil)
—The Piniero I read just now expressly to wrap up the challenge, and I’m glad I did though of all the books I read, it has the least “foreign” feel; it’s set in a gated community that is a weird clone of any gated community in the United States full of new, ostentatious and highly-mortgaged houses. Yet it’s part of recent Argentinian culture. Fascinating, if depressing.

There are lots of intriguing reading challenges for 2011, but I think I’ll stick to reading mostly what I feel like and see if, at the end of the year, where I’ve been. I do appreciate those who participate in challenges, though, because their reviews become tempting destinations.

Another challenge I hope all avid readers will consider if they are in a position to do so is shopping at independent bookstores. Businesses like Uncle Edgar’s and Once Upon a Crime (my local mystery bookstores) do so much for the genre I love that I want to keep them around. Independent bookstores often offer discounts and free shipping, so don’t assume you’ll get a better deal online or at a chain; they’ll also take orders online or by phone, so it’s as convenient as buying online. They offer passion and knowledge that is hard to match anywhere as well as a community hub for book lovers. They’re worth preserving and the decisions we make when we buy books matter.

“an appetite for murder and revenge”?

December 12, 2010

This strange bit of reasoning just appeared in today’s New York Times in an editorial about Justice Steven’s excellent book review analyzing why he feels the death penalty is wrong.

The justice says that endorsing capital punishment is touted as a commitment to law and order — whether it was Gov. George W. Bush presiding over 40 executions in Texas in 2000 (the most ever in a year in one state) or elected judges in Alabama favoring the penalty (while unelected judges in Delaware do not). Its cultural power is demonstrated by Americans’ appetite for mysteries about murder and revenge.

Reading crime fiction is evidence that Americans are culturally disposed to violent vengeance? Then how do you account for the popularity of the genre in the UK, where capital punishment was banned decades ago? Or in Scandinavia, where the state does not execute its prisoners but where crime fiction flourishes?

I live in a US state in which a botched execution over 100 years ago disgusted the populace so thoroughly and permanently that capital punishment was abolished, but we have a great many talented mystery writers and not just one, but two fabulous independent mystery bookstores to aid and abet the Minnesotans’ passion for the genre.

Norwegians have a tradition of passkekrim, celebrating the Easter holiday by reading crime fiction. I suspect most Norwegians just want to have something good to read over the holiday, but it certainly is not the case that they mark the occasion by indulging in vicarious bloodthirsty revenge. In fact, when I observe passkekrim this spring I will try to remember that not only did Jesus pardon a condemned criminal and welcome him into his kingdom, but that he himself was arguably the most famous of the many who are wrongfully convicted.


the power of visualization

August 7, 2010

I may need to stop reading comments posted at mainstream media sites because they make me think the world has gone off its rocker completely. This morning, responses to an Al Franken commentary on the importance of net neutrality would lead me to conclude that a sizable percentage of Americans actually believe net neutrality is a government takeover of the Internet.  Someone used the phrase “socialized free speech.” Apparently it’s a whole hell of a lot better if speech is owned by the private sector; the government should just lay off their plans to prevent business from ruling the waves. Anything proposed by anyone in any way affiliated with our black president (as in voted for) is in the cast of bad guys in an action film long on thrills but without a coherent plot. Wait, logical reasoning is a plot! a plot against us! Take to the streets – but first, sell them to the private sector and pay a toll to use them, because right now the government is in charge of public roadways and that’s just wrong.

I’ll wait for some rhetorician to do the dirty work of analyzing those comments and from which black lagoon they arise. For now, I’ll just avert my eyes. Thanks to Siva via Talking Points Memo via Breakup Girl! via GraphJam for this moment of blissful logic. (See? Told you it was a plot.)

the future: TK*

April 5, 2010

My pal Josh Hadro just tumbled an article to FriendFeed that I almost certainly would have missed otherwise: a Harvard Business School Q&A with Peter Olson, a refugee from big book publishing who now has washed ashore at the B school. (Yes, the one that will license its Review to libraries but won’t let professors link to it in their courses. For that, you pay extra. You know the hand gesture that indicates togetherness, usually to illustrate the phrase “Me and X are like this”? Me and the Harvard B School are better illustrated by a much ruder British two-fingered gesture. )

The former CEO of Big Random comments on the iPad launch and all the downloading of books that come with it,

“Traditional trade book publishers are scared,” says Harvard Business School professor Peter Olson. “The world that they have known, of print books and brick-and-mortar bookstores—the whole fiscal distribution system—is on the cusp of changing fundamentally.”

Quite rightly, he puts his finger on it when he says all the pricing and distribution issues, while vexing, are short-sighted distractions.

“The odd thing is that no one is really focusing on the reader. A disproportionate amount of publishers’ resources are dedicated to the manufacturing and physical distribution of books, when in fact their key function is editorial in nature. In a sense, many book publishers are trying to buy time, to postpone a reckoning with reality.”

Right. But here’s where I think he’s worrying about the wrong thing:

“The fundamental question at the very bottom of this is, will people read books at all?”

I know the answer to that one. Yes, they will. People like to read, they need stories, they crave stories, and they’re reading more than ever, contrary to doom-and-gloom scenarios.

How can publishers feed the craving for books without losing readers? First of all, forget everything you know about the publishing industry. Think about what really matters: finding good books, making them better, helping them connect with readers. Find out from readers what they want (and stop assuming they’re on the endangered species list, at least until you’ve observed them in their natural habitat). Talk to people who are good at making the connections – booksellers and librarians – and start over with a blank slate.

But bear one rule in mind above all others: don’t mess with readers. The more you frustrate them on the way to a brave new world, the more likely you’re putting the finishing touches on The End.

Image courtesy of mag3737.

*if you’re wondering what TK means, it’s what publishers put as a place holder when things like dedications are “to come” – though why K? I don’t know.

books locked out of prison

February 5, 2010

The Texas Bureau of Prisons does not want hazardous materials in the hands of its inmates, according to an expose in the Austin American-Statesman, so it has banned 89,795 books and magazines, including works by Alice Walker, Edwidge Danticat, Pablo Neruda, John Grisham, and – wait for it – Jenna Bush. I guess she set a bad example or something, and Neruda was a socialist, but I’d like to know the charges against Danticat. Provoking thought in a dangerous manner?

Texas prison officials said restrictions on reading material are for the good of both guards and inmates. “We have to protect the safety and security of our institution, but also aid in the rehabilitation of our offenders,” said Jason Clark, an agency spokesman.

“And what may not be judged inflammatory in the public at large can be inflammatory in prison.”

No shit. Mention unalienable rights or free speech in there and no telling what might happen. But one thing you can say for Texas officials. They keep very accurate records of how many books they’ve banned.

photo courtesy of curium.

public service announcements and reps x two

February 3, 2010

First, a funny video riffing off the side effects listed in pharmaceutical television ads. Nice job, Unbridled Books! I especially love the literary references to Tolstoi et al.

Second, reported in Shelf Awareness, NAIBA begs publishers to keep reps employed and connected to independent booksellers. This is a part of the process of bringing books to the public that isn’t much known to readers but has a profound effect on book culture. Reps are the link between the publisher and the bookstore shelves, and they are ethnographers of the communities they serve.

Restricting field reps to large stores will give publishers a skewed view of what is a very diverse world–independent bookselling. Sales reps take the time to know our stores, what our customers like, and what is on our shelves. They are the industry worker-bees, travelling the region, taking ideas and trends and pollinating other stores. We learn about other stores from them, what others are reading and loving; what is selling; marketing tips; event ideas; what the publisher is doing; and what authors have books coming out in the next season. They make fans for authors out of our frontline booksellers. They cut through the catalogs to make sure we carry what we’ll be able to sell, and their endorsements are why we buy what we might have ignored.

These reasons are why cuts in field sales reps devastate us. Have you really thought about what this stricture will mean to you? Fewer book sales. Without a doubt, we are not ordering as much through telemarketing. We are definitely not focusing on your backlist through tele-sales, and we definitely miss titles from the frontlist. We also don’t buy as much direct, which makes independent bookselling a less profitable business. The vicious cycle is that we buy less because we don’t have sales reps, and then you devalue our business because we aren’t buying as much as we used to.

Cory Doctorow has previously praised the sales force. Three cheers for reps (and three extra ones for Tom Leigh.)

Finally – squeeeeee! The first book review for Through the Cracks came out in Publisher’s Weekly. “Sociology professor Jill McKenzie hires PI Anni Koskinen to find the man who raped her in Chicago’s Lincoln Park 23 years earlier in Fister’s strong sequel to In the Wind (2008) . . . Koskinen connects with an array of well-drawn supporting characters, including other rape victims, the lead investigator on the McKenzie case, and the attorney who helped overturn Taylor’s conviction. Thoughtful attention to the complexities of police work and social justice lift this gritty mystery well above the norm. Koskinen’s empathy with both cops and victims as well as her fierce, brittle independence make her easy to root for.”


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