Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Amazon Ranking = Crack

My friend Jack wrote two memoirs, Home Ice and Open Ice, both well-received, along with the novel, Saved, a book that found a large readership among women hockey players. All of them are wonderful books in which Jack's voice and his warmth are forever preserved. In the weeks following each release, I could always look forward to receiving emails from him that would contain his ranking in fantasy hockey as well as his ranking on

In fact, he would sometimes break down the ranking for handy analysis. It always made me smile to learn that he was at 26,783 overall, but number 6 among hockey books and number 50 among sports books.

Now I know he was practicing restraint. The amazon page just sits open on my computer so I can refresh it every few minutes. In this way, I read a new meaningless number and have a new emotion about it. Micro elation if it goes up slightly, micro panic if it goes down. And all the while, there's bright sunshine outside. Someone down the street is mowing a lawn. Larry and the kids have gone off to the pool. I'm supposed to be preparing to teach tonight. This is crazy, far crazier than the phone call I got from my co-author yesterday announcing that he couldn't find the book in any bookstores. The store owners were insisting that the book hadn't come out yet, or they said they had it but couldn't find it. Hey, at least my co-author was outside, doing something active. We've both gone mad.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

It's Out

The summer is almost over and the release date (different from the pub date for reasons no one will explain) is here. The Way of Boys is available to purchase. You can buy it in hardback, or in electronic versions for the Kindle or the Sony reader thingy. And I think you can get it in installments on a cell phone. (And why would anyone do that? Again, no explanations are available.) When I started writing here the project was a quasi proposal, each draft of which was greeted by our agent with the same tepid response.

Somehow, during this summer I've lost the urge to write here--or anywhere. The only cure for dry spells is reading, so here is a list of books to read when you're wallowing in fear and self-loathing.

1. Tender at the Bone. Ruth Reichl's memoir about growing up with food against the backdrop of growing up with a crazy mother. I read Garlic & Sapphires first, which is much lighter, a fun account of being the NYT food writer. This one is better, a bit darker, as it must be and readable in one sitting. Plus, there are recipes. What strikes me about Reichl is her ability to be so generous toward the people in her past. I've now read all of her books this summer and may make a class prompt based on her work.

2. The Horned Man, by James Lasdun. He has a new book of short stories out (It's Beginning to Hurt) that I'll be reading this fall. It's selling really well in hardback, which is all you need to know about his popularity. In this bizarre and dark novel, Lasdun takes his unreliable narrator all the way to the edge and then pushes him over. The high point of the book comes about 130 pages in when the narrator describes an anecdote about spending time with his step-sister at an exclusive club to which he doesn't belong. He thinks he's getting along beautifully with her and her tony friends, and he's not. It's so beautifully told, with so much restraint, and it's so haunting (and creepy and sad).

3. The Time of Your Life. Okay, it's a play by William Saroyan, and not a book. But it's a lot of fun. Written in that little slice of time between the great depression and WWII, it is a play about a group of regulars at a bar, and the main character, Joe, is trying to help everybody with his money and this kind of New Agey optimism, and all the while despair keeps creeping in. The Broadway Theater Archive has a version of this with a very young Kevin Kline as the longshoreman, available on Netflix.

4. Twin Study. These stories by Stacey Richter have been a kind of lifeline during the past month. They are surreal and funny and cool, and I love almost all of them, which I can't normally say about a story collection. They have served as great inspiration.