Looking Back: January

January wasn't as big of a reading month for me as I had wanted it to be, but despite the fact that I spent several full days painting, packing, moving, and unpacking, I managed to squeeze in a collection of some very excellent reading. I'm excited to have kicked the year off with such great books, and already can't wait until February rolls in with all new stacks (because what I was lacking before was enough to read...):

entomology of a bookworm books read in january: chasing the scream, the magician's lie, broken harbour, in the woods, getting things done, teach a woman to fish, tell the wolves i'm home

Chasing the Scream, by Johann Hari: Technically I read this one in December, but it just came out this week, and I can't stand on enough rooftops to tell enough people to read this book quickly enough for my satisfaction. Hari's in-depth exploration of the history of the war on drugs and how we got to where we are today is mind-boggling, eye-opening, occasionally sickening, and downright important. He sheds light on the myriad ways that race and racism have shaped our thoughts on drugs, the surprising ways scientific studies do--and do not--support the common theories of addiction, and so. much. more. Read my full review.

The Magician's Lie, by Greer Macallister: One-sitting historical fiction, where readers are left to guess what is truth, what a lie, what is real and what is nothing more than sleight of hand. Bound to interest anyone with a passing interest in the traveling magic shows of the early 20th century, to boot. Read my full review at Shelf Awareness for Readers.

Teach a Woman to Fish, by Ritu Sharma: The indie bookstore in my new town (which is downright awesome, by the way), has a book club called "Our World: Women and Their Extraordinary Stories." You bet I signed up for that one without missing a beat, and the inaugural book pick, Teach a Woman to Fish, was not only interesting to read, but interesting to discuss with a group of smart women who know how to pick at the social issues in our country and globally.

Getting Things Done, by David Allen: This has been on my shelf for at least three years, and on my amorphous TBR list for at least twice as long as that, and I finally read it! Allen's approach to organizing your life is based on my favorite thing of all time: common sense. The book's a little outdated (Palm Pilots and Lotus Notes, anyone?), but still relevant. More thoughts on this to come, and you know I'll be rushing out to get the new edition scheduled for publication later this year.

In the Woods, by Tana French and Broken Harbour, by Tana French: I accidentally read French's Dublin Murder Squad series slightly out of order, but that hasn't diminished the intense psychological suspense in every volume. Thoughts on the full series to come later next month (as soon as I finish The Secret Place, and have nothing to do but pine for another book...), but I will say that if you're considering any of these books, they are well worth exploring on audio.

Tell the Wolves I'm Home, by Carol Rifka Burnt: A different book club in my new town had this as their January pick, and I am so grateful to have had the kick in the pants to get it read. Adored it. Loved it. Devoured it in two days. Can't say enough about it, but also can't seem the words to say anything at all about it, either.

Everything else I read this month pubs in February, March, or beyond... so stay tuned for more thoughts on Find Me, by Laura Van Den Berg (spoiler: loved it); The Bullet, by Mary Louise Kelly (talk about unexpected); I am Not a Slut, by Leora Tanenbaum (didn't love this as much as the rest of the internet did, but still thoughtful and thought-provoking); and Dorothy Parker Drank Here, by Ellen Meister.


So far this year, I've finished:

Of the 13 books I've picked up so far this year:
  • 1 was a DNF
  • 10 were by female authors (10!)
  • 2 were by non-white authors (a mere 15%)

Other January activity (here and elsewhere):

What was the best stuff you read in January? What are you looking forward to next month?

Book Review: Chasing the Scream, by Johann Hari

This review originally ran in Shelf Awareness for Readers. Reprinted here with permission.

British journalist Johann Hari spent three years traveling around the world to understand the war on drugs, culminating in Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs. His book spans the start of the war in the U.S. nearly a century ago in the small office of Harry Anslinger, an assistant prohibition commissioner and, later, the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, to the more recent beginnings of its end in Canada, Colorado, Portugal and Sweden. Hari lays out heartbreaking, often gruesome and unbelievable stories of prohibition and legalization to illustrate how historical battles to eliminate drugs have succeeded and failed, how they have shaped--and been shaped by--race and racial tensions in the United States and beyond and how they have influenced so much of our contemporary cultural thinking.

In 2011, Hari was the subject of a journalistic scandal involving, among other things, sourcing and citing quotations. This experience seems to have made the research in Chasing the Scream all the more thorough; each chapter is introduced with an explanation of how and why Hari came to interview people on a given topic. This approach results in book that is more than the sum of its parts; Hari does not just present information for readers to interpret, but invites readers along on his process of discovery. Though not all readers will agree with Hari's conclusions, it's likely that Chasing the Scream will invite a careful reevaluation of what we thought we knew about drugs and why we fight so hard against them.


A copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review.
Chasing the Scream | Johann Hari | Bloomsbury USA | Hardcover | January 2015 | Buy from an independent bookstore near you

Checking in on Challenges

It's the last week of January already (how did that happen, exactly!?) and those of us on the East Coast are desperately longing for beaches and warm weather (well I am, at any rate). As the month draws to a close, both Clean Your Reader and Jazz Age January will be wrapping up:

Clean Your Reader

I had hoped to read 5+ ebooks from my collected, accumulated ebooks, but I'm only at 3 so far. I may squeeze one more (short one!) in this week to round out at four, but that depends on workloads and the like. How are the rest of you doing? Any last-minute pushes for a few more ebooks? (I'll be posting a final link-up at the end of the month.)

Jazz Age January

Like Clean Your Reader, I had better intentions for this challenge, but I'm not entirely disappointed with what I've read so far. The time-period focus finally got me to pick up Eve in Hollywood, though I realized after I started it that it was really set in the 30s, not the 20s (it's the thought that counts, though, right?). I read an ARC of Dorothy Parker Drank Here, a story set in modern times using the premise that Dorothy Parker's very real ghost still haunts the Algonquin Hotel. And the short e-book I may still try to squeeze in this week is The Great Gatsby (which I own in multiple formats, e-book included, and tend to re-read every year or two anyway).


Despite the fact that both the TBR 2015 Challenge and the Read Harder Challenge last all year, not just the month of January, I've actually made a few dents there as well:

2015 TBR Challenge

Completed Getting Things Done, picking up Daring Greatly next (not all my picks are self-help/business books, but they seemed fitting for the start of a new year...)

Read Harder Challenge

Books completed:

  • Find Me, by Laura Van Den Berg (book published this year)
  • Getting Things Done, by David Allen (self-help)
  • In the Woods, by Tana French (book that someone recommended to you)
  • (currently reading) Trigger Warning, by Neil Gaiman (short story collection)


Are you participating in any challenges this year? If so, how's it going?

This Week in Reading: Monday, January 26th

2015 started off with a bang: my husband and I closed on a house the last week of December and spent the first two weeks of January packing and painting and planning our move. As of last week, we're officially residents of a new town, in a new county, about an hour west of where we used to live. We're loving it so far: great restaurants, incredibly nice people, and an awesome independent bookstore. Added bonus: most everything we could need is in walking distance, so we're trying things out as a one-car household for a while, to see if we can make that work.

This is all to say that while January's been a great month so far in a lot of ways, it hasn't included a lot of reading time. But as we start to wave goodbye to the last of the boxes (I think? I hope), and with only a few rooms left to paint (I am seriously so very sick of painting...) I'm looking forward to some more time curled up in front of the fire with a good book:

The Bullet, by Mary Louise Kelly: This is one of those read-in-one-sitting kinds of reads. I barely looked up once I started this story of a 37-year-old woman who has an x-ray only to discover she has a bullet lodged in her neck--and no memory of how it got there. Full review and author interview to come in Shelf Awareness in March.

Teach a Woman to Fish: Overcoming Poverty Around the Globe, by Ritu Sharma: The aforementioned indie bookstore has a book club centered on women and their extraordinary series, and this is their pick for January; it's also right up my alley in terms of what I do for a living, so I can't wait to dive in.

Trigger Warning, by Neil Gaiman: New Gaiman! I'm trying to savor the stories in this collection with limited success--they are just as strange and whimsical as anyone could want them to be, coming from Gaiman. Read Harder Challenge (Collection of Short Stories)

Book Review: Information Doesn't Want to Be Free by Cory Doctorow

At first glance, it may be tempting to dismiss Information Doesn't Want to Be Free: Laws for the Internet Age as a dry, dull account of copyright law as it relates to the Internet. But Cory Doctorow (Little Brother; Makers), coeditor of Boing Boing, is anything but boring, and this is a McSweeney's publication. Doctorow's short little book presents a fascinating and thought-provoking account of the laws, the Web and how the two struggle to coexist.

Doctorow structures his argument around three basic rules for understanding--and engaging with--copyright law online. The first rule addresses digital locks, including digital rights management (DRM), while the second moves on to the importance of distribution for achieving fame, and vice versa. The third, which gives the book its title, explores regulations, human rights and censorship. Taken together, Doctorow's rules present a multifaceted approach to understanding these potentially confusing laws, from what motivated governments to pass some of the first copyright regulations to more recent U.S. legislation, such as SOPA, PIPA and net neutrality. 

Lest the theory behind these laws become too esoteric, Doctorow peppers his work with real-life examples of regulations in action online; lest it become too detailed to be easily understood, he offers analogies that bring the legalese back down to earth. Introductions from Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer make an incredible work even more impressive. Information Doesn't Want to Be Free is the most entertaining and informational book on copyright law you'll ever read.


A copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review.
Information Doesn't Want to Be Free | Cory Doctorow, introd. Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer | McSweeney's | November 2014 | Buy from an independent bookstore near you

Time Behind Bars: A Prison-Based Reading List

This post originally ran in Shelf Awareness for Readers. Reprinted here with permission.

orange is the new black, the enchanted, alphabet, running the books

After making its debut on Netflix last year, Orange Is the New Black this year was nominated for 12 Emmys (it won three) and renewed for two more seasons. It's safe to say we're hooked on this captivating glimpse of life in prison, and after binge-watching the first season, many viewers picked up Piper Kerman's memoir, on which the series is based.

There's no reason to stop with Kerman, though. Avi Steinberg never expected to work in the penal system, but when the need for health insurance sent him job hunting, he found himself working in a prison in Boston. His memoir, Running the Books, catalogues his time at the prison's library counter, detailing the inmates with whom he worked and the myriad ways they used the library to learn, connect with the outside world and even break the rules.

Rene Denfeld works as a death-row investigator, a professional experience that shapes her stunning, imaginative novel, The Enchanted (review). The book tells the story of a group of death-row inmates by focusing on the prison as a whole, rather than on their individual crimes. With just a touch of the fantastical, Denfeld masterfully brings to light the despair that lurks in one of the darkest places in our society.

Kathy Page's novel Alphabet (review) centers on one inmate, Simon Austen, in prison for murdering his girlfriend. Austen wears his history quite literally on his skin, as he tattoos onto his body all the names and words he has been called: "dumb," "waste of space," "threat to women." As Alphabet tracks his incarceration over many years, what emerges from beneath his crude exterior is not the cold-blooded killer one might expect, but a surprisingly sympathetic character caught in a web of startlingly cruel prison politics.

Orange is the New Black | Piper Kiernan | Spiegel & Grau | Trade Paperback | March 2011 | 352 pages | Buy from an independent bookstore near you

The Enchanted | Rene Denfeld | HarperTorch | Hardcover | March 2014 | 237 pages | Buy from an independent bookstore near you

Running the Books | Avi Steinberg | Nan A. Talese | Hardcover | October 2010 | 416 pages | Buy from an independent bookstore near you

Alphabet | Kathy Page | Biblioasis | Trade Paper | October 2014 | 304 pages | Buy from an independent bookstore near you

One Little Word 2015: Light

Year after year after year, I make resolutions. And year after year after year, I break resolutions. Except more than break them, I just... forget they were resolutions. I sometimes manage to do what I resolved to do, but that is generally haphazard and almost accidental; the fact that I ate more vegetables in 2013, for example, had very little to do with the fact that I resolved to do so in January, and very much to do with the fact that I discovered how much I like roasted Brussels sprouts.

In 2014, I tried something different: I made resolutions that were more like un-resolutions: sleep, eat more chocolate, run in new places. I hoped to make them fun, so I would stick to them. I did some of them, forgot about others, and never looked at the list once between the day I wrote it and the day I looked it up to link to in this post.

So when I saw Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness posting about her One Little World project for 2015 (from Ali Edwards), I was intrigued. This, I thought, seemed like a better route for me than resolutions. This seemed like something I could do, something I could use to center my year and bring myself the focus that I've felt I've lacked recently.

In that vein, I considered selecting FOCUS as my word for 2015, but it felt too strict and too burdensome; too much like work. Which is actually what ultimately led to the the word I did choose:

I kept debating whether or not this word was right for me, at this time, in part because it carries two significant meanings: 1) the opposite of dark; and 2) the opposite of heavy. But I kept coming back to it, again and again, because ultimately, both of those meanings are want I want to center on this year: focusing on the positive, on the illuminated, on the opposite of dark, while also reducing the burdens I place on myself, allow others to place on me, and the feeling of crumbling under the weight of it all, from to-do lists to just plain ol' stuff. While I'm at it, I even want to stop wearing so much black and grey.

I want to feel light.

It was hard to find a quote that captured this duality: most of the quotes about light focus solely on light versus dark, or, less often, light versus heavy. Perhaps because so much of my own desire for lightness stems from a need to shed the idea of perfection--and because my rejection of resolutions this year comes from the same place--these lines from Leonard Cohen stood out to me:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

Anyone else doing One Little Word? Yes or no, what are you focusing on this year?

Book Review: God'll Cut You Down, by John Safran

This review originally ran in Shelf Awareness for Readers. Reprinted here with permission.

John Safran--a young, white, Jewish Australian who makes comedy films--seems an unlikely candidate to write a true-crime book, but that's what he's done with God'll Cut You Down: The Tangled Tale of a White Supremacist, a Black Hustler, a Murder, and How I Lost a Year in Mississippi. It explores the murder of Richard Barrett, a white supremacist, by Vince McGee, his black neighbor. Safran heads to Mississippi expecting a case tinged with the embedded racism of the South. What he finds instead is a complicated crime with no clear motive--race or otherwise.

The account of the author's yearlong investigation can be hard to follow: short sections with strange titles track Safran's moves through time, from one interview to the next, which presents the story in the order Safran uncovered it rather than the order in which the events happened. His journalistic approach can be brusque and perhaps misguided at times, as when he can't pay the convicted murderer for an interview outright, but gets around that law by giving McGee prepaid charge cards from Walmart. But his candid, informal style is endearing, revealing that God'll Cut You Down is as much the story of how Safran learned to write about crime as it is the story of why Barrett was murdered. Despite Safran's best noodling and puzzling and nagging of the police, lawyers, witnesses, family and friends of both the convicted murderer and the victim, the story of that murder is never made entirely clear; the entertainment comes from reading about Safran's experiences as an outsider snooping around an insular community.


A copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review.
God'll Cut You Down | John Safran | Riverhead | Hardcover | 368 pages | Buy from an independent bookstore near you

This Week In Reading: Monday, January 12th

I'm moving on Thursday, which means most of my spare time has been spent painting rooms, packing things, and driving back and forth from our new house to our old house to get things set up. This has seriously diminished my reading time, and I expect it will continue to do so this week, but I'm still working on some gems as I go:

Find Me, by Laura Van Den Berg (out in February): I've long heard good things about Van Den Berg's short story collections, though I've yet to read either, and her novel is proving just as lovely as I'd hoped it would be. I only made it 12 pages in last night before the Tylenol PM kicked in (painting gives me headaches), but I'm already hooked on her writing style. | Book Riot Read Harder Challenge (Book Published This Year)

Getting Things Done, by David Allen: I've joked for years that the first thing I need to get done is actually read Getting Things Done. I can't believe I waited this long; this book is a list-lover's dream, and I'm already nerding out thinking about the amazing GTD system I'm going to set up in my home office just as soon as we move... | Book Riot Read Harder Challenge (Self-Help task), 2015 TBR Challenge

Eve in Hollywood, by Amor Towles: I picked this up for #JazzAgeJan, though realized after starting it that it is set in the 30s, not the 20s. Oh well--it's the thought that counts, right? While I didn't love this as much as Rules of Civility (it would be hard to do that, after all), it was fun to jaunt down Eve's storyline after her NYC exit, and Towles has a way with storytelling that comes through crystal clear in this novella.  | Clean Your Reader Challenge, Jazz Age January

Broken Harbour, by Tana French: I'm hooked on French's atmospheric mysteries, and Broken Harbour on audio has been my companion on the hour-long drive from old house to new as I truck back and forth getting things ready to move. This week, I'll remember my headphones when I go to paint so I have something to think about besides how much I truly hate edging a room.

Despite loving several of the books I've picked up this year, I've got two on the might-not-finish stack: The Monopolists, by Mary Pilon (which is interesting, but feeling too academic for my move-soaked brain) and Dorothy Parker Drank Here, which I may have appreciated more if I was more familiar with Parker's works and life before picking it up. Verdict is still out on both--I'm taking a wait-and-see-if-they-call-to-me-again approach here.

What are you reading this week? How are your challenges (if you're doing any) going so far?

Dipping Into Comics: The Story of a Newb

I'm a comic newbie*. Until the last few months, I found comics--and, by extension, graphic novels--a completely foreign entity, something I either wasn't interested in or wasn't capable of understanding. The comics world seemed tight-knit, exclusionary, full of insider baseball, and to an outsider like me, it was impossible to tell where to start. Or why I'd even want to.

That's not to say I'd never read a comic before coming to this conclusion: I read (and adored) Bill Willingham's stunningly imaginative Fables series years ago. Someone along the line had also pressed Watchmen, that much-loved classic of comics, into my hands, and I devoured it in just a few days. I even volunteered at the Titan Books booth at New York Comic Con and got to a) go to NYCC and b) meet Dave Gibbons (and have him sign my copy of Watchmen). 

But somehow, those felt like exceptions to a rule rather than the start of something new.

Over the last year, though, comics have started to issue a siren song I've found impossible to ignore. I discovered that my local library carries the Saga series, and I moved from the first three trade volumes of that to Brian K. Vaughan's other two series: Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina. I tried Rat Queens (which I didn't love as much as the rest of the internet) and read all six volumes of Sweet Tooth in one morning (I cried at the end).

What this new-to-me dive into comics has taught me, though, is not just that there are some epically wonderful series in the comics world. It's that my entire concept of comics was wrong:

The Comics Culture

Comics people are not exclusionary. With very few exceptions, I have found that what I once took to be clique-like and full of insider baseball is actually just a series of rare and enviable instances of a community of people finding "their people." And this community is always looking for--and willing to help indoctrinate--new members.

The staff at my local comics, for example: pretty freaking awesome. Awesome and willing to spend 15 minutes walking you (me) through the store to find just the right new series based on the limited experience you've had so far. They know their stuff, but they don't lord their knowledge over you: that knowledge is there for the sharing.

Comics Change the Way You Read

You have to learn to read the pictures. I've gotten better at this, though I admit I still finding myself reading only the dialogue in a desperate attempt to find out what happens, and thereby realize I've missed the incredible artwork on the page. Reading comics has taught me to read more slowly, and to savor the page. I've also found the urge to re-read--something I do occasionally with my most favorite of novels and non-fiction books, but not often--is ten times more prominent in my comics reading: once I know what happens, I want to go back and revel in the beauty of each page. 

You have to learn to appreciate a story in small episodes. Whether you read individual issues or trade volumes, comics come in episodes. I'm used to reading multiple books at one time, so the idea of enjoying multiple series--and therefore multiple storylines--in one time period, albeit over the course of several weeks or months, is not foreign to me. It’s still not easy, but learning to appreciate this style of reading is enjoyable in and of itself.

It’s OK to Admit What You Don’t Know

I don’t know all the most famous, most iconic, most important comic series in history.

I don’t know how to set up a pull list. I only vaguely know what a pull list is.

I don’t know if I like reading individual issues, or if I will continue to read all trade editions.

I don’t know what other series I should be reading.

I don’t even know what else I don’t know.

And that’s ok. Because comics (and reading in general, I’d argue), are about more than being an expert in something. They’re about being an expert in trying new things, experimenting with new ideas and formats and approaches and styles and art and beauty and what-have-you, and going into it all with an open mind.


*Newbie as in new-to-something, not to be confused with noob/n00b/noobie, which I've learned has a slightly different meaning (and definitely different connotation). 


Fables | Created by Bill Willingham | 2002 - present | Vertigo

Watchmen | Written by Alan Moore, Illustrated by Dave Gibbons | 1986-1987 | DC Comics

Saga | Created by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples | 2012 - present | Image Comics

Y: The Last Man | Written by Brian K. Vaughan | 2002 - 2008 | Vertigo

Ex Machina | Written by Brian K. Vaughan | 2004 - 2010 | DC Comics

Rat Queens | Written by Kurtis J. Wiebe | 2013 - present | Image Comics

Sweet Tooth | Created by Jeff Lemire | 2009 - 2013 | Vertigo

#ReadHarder: Challenge Accepted

In recent years, I've shied away from challenges for a variety of reasons, most of which drill down to this: I don't like reading on a schedule. I even failed (miserably) at last year's TBR Challenge (I read one book from my list), and those were all books I already wanted to read (and already owned, for goodness' sake).

But here I am again, joining in on Book Riot's Read Harder challenge. Why? Because I like the idea of using the challenge to read books I own and books I don't; books in new-to-me genres and well-loved genres; books I've heard of and those I have to seek out to fill some category or another.

So we'll see how it goes. I'll keep track of my progress and what books I read on this page and on a Goodreads shelf. I can already tell you that some categories will be no-brainers (a book published this year) while others will push me very far outside my comfort zone (a collection of poetry).

The Categories:

(With Rachel's originally recommended links for reading suggestions linked with each category)

Are you joining the Read Harder Challenge this year?

Looking Ahead: January Books

Whoa, there. January is apparently a huge month for books this year. That or I just happened to latch on to more books this month than I usually do...

What are you most looking forward to this month?

Dissecting the 2015 Tournament of Books List

It's here! The annual Tournament of Books, the bracketed contest that holds so much more appeal than March Madness (sorry, basketball fans, but I just can't get into it).

This year's list, as The Morning News notes, holds a few twists: Anthony Doerr's incredible novel, All the Light We Cannot See, is included despite a long-standing rule that contributors to TMN are not included on the shortlist; fifteen of the finalists were selected by TMN staff, while the sixteenth (All the Birds, Singing) was recommended by the staff of an independent bookstore--and the TMN staff admits it wasn't even on their radar before then.

So, without further ado, the list:
  • Silence Once Begun, by Jesse Ball
  • A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall, by Will Chancellor
  • All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr
  • Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, by Elena Ferrante
  • An Untamed State by Roxane Gay
  • Wittgenstein Jr, by Lars Iyer
  • A Brief History of Seven Killings, by Marlon James
  • Redeployment, by Phil Klay
  • Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel
  • The Bone Clocks, by David Mitchell
  • Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng
  • Dept. of Speculation, by Jenny Offill
  • Adam by Ariel Schrag
  • The Paying Guests, by Sarah Waters
  • Annihilation, by Jeff VanderMeer
  • All the Birds, Singing, by Evie Wyld
This is the first year I've ever felt like I had a reasonable headstart on the shortlist -- of the 16 books listed above, I've read 7 (the bolded ones), own 1 more, and have already located 2 on Oyster.

Of the seven I've already read, the only one I would immediately discount myself is Annihilation; I know I'm in the minority here, but the suspense of the first of Vandermeer's trilogy just didn't cut it for me (and I found myself with no real desire to read the next two volumes in the series).

Redeployment was one of my hands-down favorite reads of 2014, but Station Eleven, An Untamed State, Dept. of Speculation, and Everything I Never Told You are all incredibly strong contenders. As is All the Light We Cannot See; see also: the fact (above) that the TMN staff made an exception to the no-TMN-contributors rules for this year's contest.

So, who are you backing this year? Which have you read and which are new to you? 

(I'll admit I'd never heard of several of these, including Adam and Silence Once Begun.)

An Interview with Laurie King: Inspired by Sherlock Holmes

This interview originally ran in Shelf Awareness for Readers. Reprinted here with permission.


Laurie King is the author of more than two dozen crime and mystery novels, including the Mary Russell series, inspired by Sherlock Holmes. She was inducted into the Baker Street Irregulars in 2010. King worked as co-editor, with Leslie Klinger, on the story anthology In the Company of Sherlock Holmes (Pegasus), the second volume of Holmes-inspired stories the duo has worked on (the first was A Study in Sherlock, published in 2011).
Both anthologies (In the Company of Sherlock Holmes, 2014, and A Study in Sherlock, 2011) take an unorthodox approach to collecting Sherlock Holmes stories. Where did the original idea came from, and how that has shaped the collections?
It all started because Leslie Klinger suggested to the organizers of [the mystery convention] Left Coast Crime that he and I do a panel on Sherlock Holmes with people who aren't normally connected with Sherlock Holmes (Lee Child, Michael Connelly and Jan Burke). We had a great time with the panel itself, and afterward, he and I looked at each other and said, "Hey... I know what to do with this."
So we started asking people to contribute to an anthology. From the beginning, we looked for writers you don't think of as Sherlockians. With the exception of Neil Gaiman, who had written an earlier Holmes story, most of the authors that we have in the collections have never published something to do with Sherlock Holmes. That has really lent both collections an energy of newness.
Since you weren't looking for known experts on the Holmes canon for In the Company of Sherlock Holmes, how did you go about selecting the contributors?
Some of them were people we met at a party or conference who said how much they enjoyed the first collection, so we asked them to be in the next one. For the rest, we started with a core number of people who we knew we wanted to include in the second volume, and from there we spread out trying to get a balance in flavor and style.
How much direction did you give the contributors about the types of stories you wanted?
What we said was that anything inspired by the Holmes canon would work, so long as it was vaguely connected to Sherlock Holmes. And then we stood back. That was the shocking thing about this process: seeing what a first-rate, professional writer could do with an absolutely free slate.
The only time Les and I stepped in during the writing process was to answer questions about some Sherlockian detail, like where a certain character is in a given story. We functioned as a kind of resource for the contributors. As editors, we also made suggestions on how the stories could be tugged closer to the Sherlock canon, or made a bit tighter.
The range of style--from graphic story to a play on a series of Facebook posts--is as diverse as the time periods included in these stories.
In any collection inspired by Sherlock Holmes, you expect to get things set in the Victorian era, or modern-day adaptations of the stories. Then there are stories in this collection like "Dunkirk," which shows that John Lescroat had clearly done a lot of research on the battle, and in looking for a way to use that exciting material in a story, asked himself how old Sherlock might have been in 1940. When he realized it could work, he brushed off the older Sherlock Holmes and saw what he could do at Dunkirk.
There are many clever nods to the original Holmes stories throughout the whole collection. Do readers need to be familiar with the original canon to appreciate the stories?
I think it's like many reading experiences: your background can enrich a book, but any fiction that requires a certain background is, I think, not a valid form of fiction. The story has to stand on its own.
It's also one of the advantages of choosing writers outside of the Sherlock community, as it were; they realize that not everyone speaks the "Sherlockian" language.
It's impossible discuss In the Company of Sherlock Holmes without asking about the "Free Sherlock" campaign, which resulted in a court ruling that Sherlock is now in the public domain. What was it like, being at the center of legal dispute over one of the most popular characters in literature?
I was somewhat removed from it, because it was more Les's thing, but, obviously, because it was sparked by a book that I was one of the editors for, I was involved. He had just decided that this assumption of possession of the first 50 stories on the part of the Conan Doyle estate was generally accepted--but flawed.
In the first volume, the issue of copyright was got around by paying the estate; over our objections, our first publisher's legal department decided it was simpler to pay for the usage. And indeed, most of the film companies have decided the same--that it's easier just to pay the Estate. But Les said no--they don't have the right to do this. He's a lawyer, and he felt they had no right to claim this character.
In the introduction of In the Company you wrote that you were already planning this second volume before you had even completed the first. Does that mean a third volume is already in the works?
Oh, yes. Les already has a list going. We have a conference coming up, and we're working on a list of people we can shoehorn into a corner and ask to write for us. These collections are just so much fun.


A copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review.
In the Company of Sherlock Holmes | ed. Laurie King and Leslie Klinger | Pegasus Books | 2014 | Buy from an independent bookstore near you

A copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review.
A Study in Sherlock | ed. Laurie King and Leslie Klinger | Poisoned Pen Press | 2011 | Buy from an independent bookstore near you

Book Review: Alphabet, by Kathy Page

This review originally ran in Shelf Awareness for Readers. Reprinted here with permission.

In Alphabet, Kathy Page (Paradise and Elsewhere) explores the inner workings of Simon Austen, a complicated, confused and confusing criminal sentenced to life in prison for murdering his girlfriend. Tattooed across Austen's body are words he has been called in his lifetime of mistakes: "threat to women," "dumb," "waste of space." They mark him as a criminal and a killer--but they also give some insight into how Simon came to be the man he is today, shaped as much by his mother's abandonment and his experience in foster care when he was a young child as by the crime he committed and by the British penal system of the late 1980s.

Alphabet tracks Austen's time in prison over several years, from the high-security facility where he struggles to show remorse to the rehabilitation clinic where various therapies aim to "cure" him of his dangerous sexual leanings and help him reinvent himself. Page weaves together Austen's complex inner dialogues and accounts of his experiences in prison, revealing him as a multifaceted human being: not a cold-blooded killer, but rather a sympathetic character, struggling to understand that love and friendship are ultimately what free us, not what jail us. Along the way, Alphabet transforms from a novel of crime and punishment into a nuanced psychological profile of a killer, ultimately providing a gut-wrenching reminder of the atrocities contained within institutional walls and the lengths to which we are willing to go in order to protect our innermost selves.


A copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review.
Alphabet | Kathy Page | Biblioasis | Trade Paper | October 2014 | Buy from an independent bookseller near you

Jazz Age January: A Starting Line

I'm focusing most of my January reading on cleaning out my e-reader for the #CleanYourReader challenge (not to mention catching up on February and March review copies already...), but since I can never resist the lure of the '20s, I'm also hoping to read a few books for Jazz Age January, a reading event hosted by Leah at Books Speak Volumes.

great gatsby, so we read on, the paris wife, paris without end, eve in hollywood

Of these, The Great Gatsby, Paris Without End and Eve in Hollywood all reside on my Nook, so will lend themselves well to the Clean Your Reader challenge as well. And since I want to re-read The Great Gatsby before reading So We Read On, and read Paris Without End before reading The Paris Wife, both seemed like they could be the kick-in-the-pants I need to finally pick those up.

leah bsv jazz age jan button

Are you participating in Jazz Age January? What are your favorite 1920s-era reads?

The Numbers Are In: 2014 in Reading Stats

I love stats. Numbers, pie charts, graphs, comparisons: it all makes me giddy. Reading stats are no exception. Without further ado...

I use this spreadsheet to track my reading (the first tab is where I input all data; the second tab contains all calculations). Feel free to grab it for yourself if you're interested in tracking your own reading stats; I'm happy to help adjust formulas or answer questions if I can!

Happy New Year!

2014 was quite a year. It was the year I realized I didn't want to be what I was on track to be when I grew up, the year I quit my job because of that, the year I started a new career path in the non-profit sector, the year my husband and I decided to relocate to a new town and the year we bought our first house. The year I recklessly and gloriously took a month of unpaid leave to travel around Europe.

The year I read Tiny Beautiful Things until the spine cracked, looking for answers and comfort and advice in the words of strangers, the year I opened my eyes back up to the world of comics and graphic novels and found there a wealth of stories I'd never known existed, the year I decided to read more classics (again) and failed miserably (again), the year I tried to read War and Peace (again) and failed miserably (again), the year I stopped running and vowed to start it up (again), the year I spent a month eating no alcohol, grains, dairy, or sugar and lived to tell the tale. The year I lived with my father and got to know him in a way so different from how I knew him as a child; the year I first watched Dead Poets Society; the year I learned how terrible the world can be (again) and yet how amazing it is to watch people come together (again).

Bring it on, 2015. There's a lot we can do better this time around, but that doesn't mean you don't have big shoes to fill.

What are you all doing to celebrate today? Happy to see 2014 go? Looking forward to 2015?