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As usual, I’m so grateful to TLC Book Tours for giving me reason to update my blog!  And this time, it’s to take a look at ONE BIRD’S CHOICE, a memoir from “an overeducated, underemployed twenty-something, living in the big city in a bug-filled basement apartment and struggling to make ends meet” who ends up moving home to live with his parents – a topic to which so many of us can relate in this economy.

Even though I’m not typically a memoir reader, I was excited to read Iain’s story because it very easily could have been my own.  A couple years ago, I was happily residing in Chicago with my two best friends from college, living in an amazing apartment, enjoying wonderful people and a great city and toiling away at an advertising agency.  Did I love my job? No. Was it terrible? Absolutely not.  It was all I knew a couple years out of college.  When the economy tanked, many advertising dollars (and accounts) were pulled – thus leaving me (and many wonderful co-workers) laid off in the new year (hello, 2009).   So…. I job hunted. And I free lanced. And I volunteered at literary organizations.  And I tried a couple trial gym memberships. My days were so busy I had trouble understanding how I ever worked those long 50+ hour weeks.

So could I sympathize with Iain’s predicament? Definitely. Was I baffled by his actions (or lack there of)? Definitely.

Iain and I had similarities: My parents also lived in a small town and are very supportive.  My siblings were also off successfully living their lives.  But Iain seemed content to essentially take a year off from life.  He enjoyed lots of sleep, ate wonderful meals cooked by his parents, drank beer alone, and helped out with the animals; I’m thinking there was personal growth in there or a lesson in humility, but that didn’t come through for me.

The one story that really resounded was when his Dad coerced him to hit the gym one day, and he was in shock at the elderly men standing around nude in the locker room.  Well, those free gym trials I mentioned I enjoyed during my unemployment were often used during the day and my favorite (aka only) class was “low impact jazzercise” so you can imagine who I was hanging out with in the locker room.

If you’re a reader of memoirs and a lover of animals (and Canada – some of the scenery descriptions are beautiful) then pick up ONE BIRD’S CHOICE.  It’s an enjoyable read, just try not to over analyze the characters (I admit this is a fault of mine).  In the meantime, I suggest you meet the fabulous animals in the ONE BIRD’S CHOICE book trailer:

Also, check out the entire tour available on the TLC website here.

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I’ve been living in NYC for well over a year now and I feel pretty at home in my ‘hood – which I’d consider to be the area below 14th Street and above Canal. Having lived in the East Village and now in SoHo, I have the East -> West covered.  Once hailing from St. Marks on the verge of the  area known as Alphabet City, I would skip through Tompkins Square Park to drink Mimosas at the great brunch spot of Sunburnt Cow on Avenue C.

Author Josh Karlen recently taught me that Avenue C hasn’t always been the eclectic, colorful place it is now in his memoir LOST LUSTRE: A New York Memoir.  While I still wouldn’t hang out there alone after dark (I don’t necessarily suggest one do that anywhere, really), when he grew up on this street it was colorful due to the bruises and bleeding that would happen after his repeated beatings and muggins, and eclectic because you could buy any drug you wanted.

Karlen’s recent memoir tells of the NYC your parents used to warn you about: the grimy and dangerous, yet vibrantly alive city of the past.

Composed of separate essays, this book did have many repeating parts (I can’t tell you how many times growing up on Avenue C was referred to in varying degrees of detail) but for lack of a better term, it had a good heart.  You cared about the author as a young boy coming of age in a dangerous time, and his talented and aspiring friends.  In a vein similar to The Glass Castle, I was shaking my head at the actions (or lack thereof) of the adults in this book.  He acknowledges the lack of authority and rules, but it’s mind bogling to think that parents were that unaware, uncaring and/or oblivious.

If you’re interested in social history through the years, music, or have a tie to the Village in Manhattan this memoir may be for you!

 

About Josh Karlen:

Josh Karlen, a native New Yorker, grew up on the Lower East Side and in Greenwich Village.  A former journalist, he was a correspondent in the Baltics for United Press International, Radio Free Europe, and other news organizations.

Josh lives in New York City with his wife and two children and is a media relations specialist.

Wiki says: A southern belle (derived from the French word belle, ‘beautiful’) is an archetype for a young woman of the AmericanOld South’s upper class.

RoadTrip Success!

Well maybe the definition of a Southern Belle is a little archaic and superficial, but I plan to become more intimately acquainted with those states who once made up a Confederacy.

For better or worse, Michigan has always been my home.  Although I often detested and felt limited by the small town I was raised in, heading back to MI from college, Chicago, and then NYC was always a trip that I looked forward to.  There’s a feeling of calm when you’re heading back to a world so recognizable – knowing every street, where the creaky floor board is, how to sneakily turn up the heat on the pool just enough that your dad won’t notice, and being able to walk to the bathroom in the dark without tripping and no fumbling for lightswitches, since hell, you’ve been in the same house you entire life (well, except for the first eight months but who’s counting).

Well as of last week, the life I knew has changed by… 692.77 miles and an 11 hour drive (Mapquest).

That’s right, folks, my parents, Northerner’s born and bred, have relocated to Tunica, Mississippi!  You may be familiar with the city (no judgments here) because it is the third most popular gambling destination in the United States, behind Vegas and Atlantic City!  My Dad is not a professional poker player and I doubt my mom will ever wear the costume of a cocktail waitress, but they will live a mere ten minutes from the lights of the casinos.

My mom and I road-tripped down to Tunica last week for the final move – the two of us, Skippy the dog, and a load of my mom’s favorite plants (the “greenhouse” had much more room than poor Skippy and I who had to share the front seat!).  Tunica is a very cute little town overflowing with nice, friendly southerners.  I got my hair done (note to self: always get hair done in South; much better pricing than NYC extravagance!) and in that two hours, was given a brief lesson in Southern etiquette and history.

Dad in front of the Tunica Times newspaper

But I need to know more.  The South truly is a different world. Not only do people have accents  (which is #1 on my Southern Belle list – I hope to pick mine up over the Christmas holidays) but a different history than what I grew up with.  So while I’m searching for all the light switches in our new house next time I visit (when I left after my stay, there were outdoor lights on that we had no idea how they came on, or how to turn off!), I plan to be educating myself on the life from my perch in NYC.

My Southern Book List:

Mom & Skippy in the MS living room pre-moving truck arrival

I wouldn’t even know where to begin to make this a Southern Belle Challenge, but I would love to hear if anyone wanted to dive in to the deep south with me!  Also, I’m sure I’m missing valuable southern literature so please y’all, feel free to make suggestions.

There is endless entertainment to be found in the incorrectly, humorously translated signs featured in the “Strange Signs from Abroad” article on the NYT:

I found myself laughing in the obvious, and for the most part harmless, confusion on display as language barriers turn toilets into fishing ponds and the occasional crude translation.

But it also makes me think to my own confusion (and I admit, occasional irritation) as I try to order take out from the delicious Thailand Cafe (for you NYC’ers, make note they open their front windows and have $5 pineapple lychee mojito specials) down Second Ave, and I look at my iPhone in confusion, wondering is my voice breaking up? It says I have full service so why are they not understanding that I want pad thai and cashew chicken with brown rice?  So I speak louder, thinking if only I can enunciate enough it will be understood, and my order won’t incorrectly be beef chow-mein or spicy noodles.

Obviously, the problem isn’t my phone (though seriously, AT&T if you’re reading this, do something about my dropped calls pleasssssssssssssse) but the language barrier between my English and the order-taker’s non.  I’m not ignorant though – I only speak one language (and I think to think I speak it well, but still – single language speaker here) as opposed to these people crossing oceans and coming not understanding a single word spoken and somehow picking it up… which is just incredible.

My thoughts seem to be all over the place, but really my point is to suggest that you read GIRL IN TRANSLATION, the amazing debut novel from Jean Kwok.  A Riverhead title, I first read this book in manuscript form on my patio last year and was instantly hooked.  I could feel the pain of protagonist Kimberly Chang as she and her mother immigrated from Hong Kong to Brooklyn and lost everything along the way.  History, tradition, language… everything was gone, and replaced with poverty and sweatshops and a freezing cold apartment during NYC winters.

What really struck me about this novel is how Kwok was able to capture the confusion of languages.  She explains how Chinese sounds to outsiders, and her mother’s struggle at understand the English language.  And in this situation, when it really is life, it’s not funny like the signs shown above.  Also incredible is how Kimberly measures cost by how many skirts she and her mother would have to clean at the sweat shop:  “…the jackets cost at least 20,000 skirts each.” – it gives a whole new value to the dollar.

So my point to  you (and a reminder to myself) is to have tolerance and patience.  My intention is not to make this book sound like a downer – it’s a lovely summer read and definitely one you can share with your mom, sister, and any YA reader in you life.  In fact, I suggest you do share it with them; it will give you lots of discussion and things for which to be thankful!

For being the biggest city in the U. S., NYC is quite a lonely place.

I tell my friends back in Chicago that it’s really fun because you can truly wear whatever you want without people caring or noticing (if you’d like me to illustrate with pictures of other East Village locals wearing neon colors, animal prints, or an occasional live cat on the head let me know) – but you’re often invisible as well.

Maybe it’s because I’ve led a spoiled life – always had close family and friends, but NYC is a test.  Not just because it’s ridiculously expensive w/less than optimal living space (I don’t allow pictures to be taken of my apartment; I insist upon visiting for the experience over a still image) but because you’re by yourself.  A lot.  And the crazy thing is, I think I’m starting to like it.

With the exception of my mom reprimanding me for drinking wine alone tonight (before you judge, I was trying to write and I now understand why real writers are notoriously heavy drinkers), I’ve learned I may not be quite as social or as talkative as I would have previously believed.  I actually enjoy eating dinner out by myself (usually with a good book) and the solitude when my roommate leaves and is no longer  constantly trying to speak to me.

I recently read Jen Lancaster’s memoir, BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG ASS.  It resonated with me not only because she hails from my beloved Chicago and the bus lines she spoke of were so familiar, but when she talks about the fast and easy friendships of the past giving way to new living, and relationship, situations:

“Suddenly I found myself living around people very different from me.  We were diverse not due to ethnicity, race, or age, but because we didn’t come from a shared past; our jobs, hometowns, educations, and experiences were all vastly different and we had no instant commonalities…” (pg. 178)

This I can commiserate with.  Yes, I’ve made acquaintances here in this huge, vast city that sparkles in the night and grimy by day… Even some people I call friends.  But it’s hard work when you don’t have the baseline from which to start.

Luckily, I have books to escape the real world and I find myself disappearing into them quite often.  For the second “luckily”, this trait is advantageous to being in a job I love.  So while I desperately miss my friends in Chicago (there’s nothing comparable to living with your two best friends in a downtown highrise boasting a pool on your rooftop with a view of Lake Michigan) I like to believe I made the best decision in transferring my life to the East Coast.  While I admit I’m not exactly living an Into the Wild survival expedition, I think I have given up some basic luxuries.

This may be a pointless post, but thanks for indulging in my slightly-wine induced thoughts and joining me all the way out here in NYC.  In fact, I think I officially belong in that annoying group of people that think “everyone should live, and thrive, in NYC at least once in their life.”

 

Update: Oprah (along with some kind words and admittances of solo and proud drinking from OUB & OAD) has made me realize that moving to NYC is a worthwhile adventure for a job I love.  Recently, Oprah shared a list of “The Top 20 Things I Know for Sure” and I’m happy that I am totally in line with several, including #13:  Let passion drive your profession.

 

My booklist has taken an R-rated twist

I consume books regularly and try to be open to all genres (except Twilight and Harry Potter; I refuse based on principle), but tend to stick with titles that offer some literary content or even just a thrill.  Lately, my titles have been more suspect and less something I would proudly read while riding on public transportation (yet another reason I need an EReader!).  Strippers and womanizers have dominated a few of my recent literary ingestions.

 

Tucker Max

Tucker Max

Drunkenness & Debauchery with Tucker Max: To some, Tucker Max is a hero: One to emulate, live vicariously through and high-five. To me, he is a cringe-worthy example of all that’s wrong in society today – a mediocre looking man who somehow has managed to find innumerable women who willingly exploit themselves and become a topic of Max’s only talent – writing.  I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell is written as a memoir, filled with vignettes of stories, aka one-night stands.

For Max, sex is an activity akin to my shopping habit.  He just walks out on the street, sees something he likes and takes it home – nothing personal or even especially friendly.  I don’t even care enough to go on a tirade about this, because the strongly offensive nature is exactly why this exaggerated content is so popular.  If everyone just ignored it, Max would hopefully disappear, and suffer from some STD, alone.

  • Novelwhore’s Grade: C (Mediocre, like the author)
  • Title: I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell
  • Author: Tucker Max
  • Publisher: Citadel Press (Kensington)

candygirlOn-Stage with Juno’s Screenwriter, Naked: The blockbuster success of the Summer Movie of 2007, “Juno”, about the pregnant high-school giving her baby up for adoption, resulted in an umbrella effect of PR for the author, Diablo Cody.  Not the typical glitzy Hollywood Screenwriter, Cody had already been around the block before achieving fame and there is no doubt many people who became fans experienced her naked at multiple strip clubs in Minnesota.

Yes, Minnesota.  The cold state in which the taking off of clothes makes me shiver was the setting of Cody’s memoir Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper. College-educated with a normal childhood (if there is such a thing), she had a job in an advertising agency before wandering into an Amateur Stripping contest and becoming rather addicted to the thrill.  This memoir reminds me of Chelsea Handler’s Confessions of My Horizontal Life, as both women managed to maintain a conversational, self-deprecating voice while describing intimate things.  Entertaining throughout, this memoir offers a subversive thrill to a taboo subject and ends before getting overly disgusted from the vivid descriptions of what is done for cash.

  • Novelwhore’s Grade: B+
  • Title: Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper
  • Author: Diablo Cody
  • Publisher: Gotham (Penguin)

Expected Stripper-Tale, with Political Twists: From my experience, Carl Hiaasen takes a normal murder/suspense/power plot and adds tidbits of sex and humor to keep the reader engaged.  Striptease (an old title, found at library sale for $1) stays to this obviously successful formula and follows a young mother, driven to strip by the piling up of legal bills as she fights her ex-husband for custody of their young daughter (typical stripper sob-story, right?).

Seedy tale with the emotional mother-daughter pull, Hiaasen weaves his web of politics, blackmail and murder through the sleazy Governor of Florida, who’s in love with the stripper (like that Akon song!) and in bed with $millions$ behind the illegal farming of sugar cane.  The stripper is realistic and smart, the bouncer muscular and clever, the Congressman aging and not aware of all that’s happening for his behalf, this book is another look at the different cogs in society and what happens when they interact.  Definitely entertaining, but without the introspective angle of Candy Girl or the disgust-worth content of I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell.

  • Novelwhore’s Grade: B-
  • Title: Striptease
  • Author: Carl Hiaasen
  • Publisher: Vision

As I finally got around to uploading photos from January to current on Facebook, I realized that 2009 has already been a year to remember (although I don’t look photogenic in any of the moments!).

Yes, it’s true I have joined the ranks of the unemployed, but I’ve also been motivated and inspired to follow my dreams of launching a career in book publishing, started this blog which has become quite an enjoyable hobby, begun to really appreciate Chicago and all it offers, been to my first Bulls game, Cocokey Resort with three of my best friends, had the #1 bracket in my pool as of NOW (sorry, MSU, I bet correctly that UNC would pull off the win), started a volunteer relationship with a worthwhile organization (<3 to you, Open Books), been blessed with a baby nephew, and been lucky enough to have the love, support and enjoyment of a wonderful family and system of friends.

Alright, fine, I may be a little tipsy from watching the pathetic game that MSU just played, but I am thankful for all this year has already brought (I cannot believe Easter is this Sunday – time has flown by) and all it promises in the future.  I hope you all enjoyed my Miller Lite induced ramblings (potentially found some inspiration yourself?), but hopefully this little nugget will serve as a reminder for the important things next time I get frustrated when job searching or waiting for spring to come to  Chicago.

Heading home on the train tomorrow, looking forward to some quality MI time with the family and good books, while curled up in my favorite chair!  Hopefully book reviews to come shortly… Hitting the “publish” button before I can overthink and delete this…

Though I abhor Facebook status updates, gchat away messages and the like, I’ve recently embraced Twitter.  Hypocritical? Narcissistic? Pathetic? Maybe all of the above?  So yes, my title “tweeting” is a verb.

twitter-pageDon’t judge, you can choose to opt in to my random thoughts, current activities, literary commentary and things for which I am thankful  at your will – no obligation here.  Twitter is a surprisingly simple social media network in which I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the content and users.

Give it a try – find me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/novelwhore.

The other night a group of 11 of us girls got together for a 25th birthday dinner for a friend.  Quartino’s, the fun Gold Coast spot we chose for shared small-plates and affordable wine was smart enough to seat our loud-chattering and wine-induced crowd into our own private, window enclosed room.  In which we could look through the glass at the other diners if we so chose, or had the option of pulling the shades, making out own secret room.  Romantic? Maybe with a different crowd.  Prestigious? Potentially, if we weren’t buying the cheapest liters of house wine from the menu.  Secretive?  Definitely.  My mind immediately went to the “Mob-like” activities that could have, and most likely did, occur in similar rooms throughout Chicago in the 1990s.

“Most cities have one overriding claim to fame.  Say Los Angeles and you think about the movies; say Paris, you think art; Detroit, cars.  But when people the world over, say Chicago, they think of something less marketable:  Organized Crime.” -Robert Cooley

Since I’ve been unemployed, I’ve had time to wander the city (please note my updated To Do: Chicago list) and really have begun to appreciate the history that’s apparent on every street.  To delve into the past, I’ve decided to embark on a trip down the darker side of Chicago, that of the Mob, and Robert Cooley, cited above, is the rabble-rousing teenager -> policeman -> lawyer -> crooked lawyer -> government informant who is the source to take us behind the scenes of the once all-powerful Chicago Outfit.

Certain aspects of mob life are rather appealing… The glitz and glamour, bottles of champagne (as opposed to the house wine!) at all the hottest bars and clubs, the notoriety and special attention, almost like a modern day celebrity with an underlying aspect of danger (Chris Brown, anyone?!)… But of course, that’s ignoring the drugs, violence, total un-loyalty and the all too common occurrence of being unaware you’re being treated to your last supper before being violently disposed of in a very inhumane way, most likely by a trusted confidant.

This is a memoir/autobiography told from one immersed in the mob, and character_cooleynot always on the right side of the law – When Corruption Was King: How I Helped the Mob Rule Chicago, Then Brought the Outfit Down.

Robert Cooley was the “Mechanic” for the Chicago Mafia – nothing to do with cars, he was the lawyer responsible for buying judges and guaranteeing a “Not Guilty” verdict for hitmen and gamblers alike.  In return for his services, Cooley enjoyed protected as well as a steady influx of cash to feed any vice in which he chose to indulge, and there were many.

I tend to be naive, but I believe that even for those jaded, cynical people, the depth of corruption was shocking – from the police force to government officials, the Mob had ties, and typically high-ranking officials, in every office.

Harry Aleman in 1977. He was the Outfit’s top Hit Man, "the killing machine."

The Outfit’s top Hit Man, "the killing machine."

In an inexplicable attack of conscience, Cooley strolled into the office of the FBI’s Organized Crime Strike Force and turned the tables on the mob, wearing a wire from 1986-1989, eventually becoming responsible for more than 30 convictions.

An intense book about a piece of Chicago’s history many would rather was forgotten, this is a nail-biting tale that manages to drag the reader in even though Cooley isn’t always likable.  I guess to put your life in danger with a notoriously violence group who will put a $1MM reward on your head takes a cocky man, and Cooley definitely fits the bill.

Read this if: You’re into gangster lore, crime stories, Chicago’s history, or are still upset The Sopranos went off-air.

Avoid this if: You believe justice is always served fair and equal, and want to remain believe so.

  • NovelWhore’s Grade: B+
  • Title: When Corruption Was King: How I Helped the Mob Rule Chicago, Then Brought the Outfit Down
  • Author: Robert Cooley with Hillel Levin
  • Publisher: Carroll & Graf Publishers, an imprint of Avalon

NovelWhore rambling: Much of this book takes place in my Gold Coast neighborhood, and I have to admit my over-active imagination has been taking me places with every well-dressed man I see walking down the street, especially those with an entourage and a bulge (imagined? possibly…) beneath a suit jacket that could very likely be a gun… Could a group so in-charge and infamous as recent as the 1990s be really be made obsolete?  I can’t help wondering what lucrative business deals the mob has a hold on now, though I like to believe they have refocused their sites on the less-popular prostitution and gambling rings and the courts are now clean… Thoughts?!

A half-century length career in book publishing is my dream, and Jason Epstein is the icon and achiever of this goal.

Epstein is kind enough to expel his knowledge and experience of the publishing industry in his professional memoir, Book Business: Publishing Past, Present and Future.  While catered toward the niche group of people interested in book publishing, this is also a wonderful tale of history and the way relationships with books have evolved throughout the 1900s.

This iconic career began when Epstein stumbled across an editorial position

Epstein sharing his knowledge in 2009

Epstein sharing his knowledge in 2009

with Doubleday in his early 20s (and I do mean stumbled, he claims to have known nothing about publishing at the time when the opportunity was offered him), during which he repeatedly said he was ready to pick up and leave at a moment’s notice, though he ended up staying there a decade.  Within that decade he was the man responsible for the invention of Anchor Books – the imprint responsible for the “quality paperback” book, which made literature more affordable for the masses as opposed to the superior quality, expensive hard cover novels.

After that success, Epstein moved over to Random House, now the world’s largest trade publisher.  When Epstein first made the career transition Random House was a family-style business located within the wing of one New York mansion, in which he tells tales of famous authors delivering manuscripts in slippers and spending the night on couches (and not always alone!).

Epstein is a big-picture businessman.  Able to look at book publishing from the editorial and quality of literature angle, as well as the ability to envision new venues for sales and marketing, he is a man I would trust to carry a book from conception to success.

Responsible for numerous advances in the publishing industry throughout his career, Epstein was among the first to embrace the online retail giant in its struggling years, Amazon (ironically he found fault with Amazon’s business model, which has boomed since the publication of this memoir in 2001).  This enlightening book, surprisingly small in statue considering the wealth of information contained within, cites book publishing to be on the edge of a vast transformation, in which I see future opportunities without bounds.

Since this publication, Epstein has capitalized on some of his own visions mentioned.

Espresso Book Machine - visit ondemandbooks.com

Espresso Book Machine: ondemandbooks.com

In 2004, he launched “OnDemandBooks.”  With yet another invention on his repertoire, the “Espresso Book Machine” is available at locations throughout the United States, Canada and England for on-demand, affordable printing of books

Read this if: You’re interested in hearing  a behind the scenes tale from a publishing great, and how the industry has changed in a mere 50 years and the how the transformation may continue.

Avoid this if: You’re looking for a raucous tale filled with gossip and dirt on some of the most respected authors.  This is not a tell-all, but a memoir of an accomplished career.

  • Title: Book Business: Publishing Past, Present and Future
  • Author: Jason Epstein
  • Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company
  • NovelWhore’s Grade: A-

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