Listening

It’s summer, and so I’ve started reading The Hobbit to the kids before bedtime. Even the youngest is entranced, her imagination exploding with hobbits and dwarves. I love to read beautiful writing, well-crafted sentences, dramatic passages, poetic phrases. It’s a joy; and as a writer, I try to learn something from the work, even as I say the words aloud to the captive audience of my children.

My parents read to us before bed, and I loved it. As soon as I got to college and learned about author readings, I was entranced! What a joy to hear the words of beloved writers spoken aloud. Similarly, I love audiobooks–to sit or walk or drive and listen as the stories come alive. It feels decadent, because I’m doing none of the work, just listening to the luscious words and watching the pictures in my mind’s eye.

Recently, I’ve been on a short story kick, so I looked up short story anthologies that were available as audiobooks. I wanted to share two that I really enjoyed. The stories are excellent and well-narrated:

The Best of Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine, a “super-duper triple issue, comprised ten key selections (most of the contents, actually) of FSF‘s September issue and the forthcoming double October/November issue” 2003. All very different, there are some real gems in those issues, including stories by Gene Wolfe, Joe Haldeman, Terry Bisson, and more.

Naked City, edited by the wonderful Ellen Datlow, includes stories by Peter Beagle, John Crowley, Ellen Kushner, Jeffrey Ford, and so many others. Maybe it’s from growing up in Chicago, but I love stories that feature cities as characters or integral backdrops, and this anthology has a fantastic range of responses to the “naked city.” I enjoyed all of them, but I think my favorite may be Delia Sherman’s “How the Pooka Came to New York City.”

While not a short story, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Neil Gaiman’s newest novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane (which recently reached #1 on the New York Times Best Seller List!)

I already had the pleasure of reading the novel (you can read my Goodreads review here), but I was especially looking forward to hearing it read.

If you have attended one of Neil’s readings or listened to an audiobook that he narrated, you quickly get the music of his voice in your head. I think that it gets to the point where you can read the words and hear him there in your mind’s ear, because he is as much a storyteller as he is a writer. In words and performance, he knows how and when to build tension, to make you feel unexpected and conflicting emotions, to surprise you, to scare you, and to create a genuine empathy for characters who come to life in brilliant dialog.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is one of his finest so far, and I could not wait to hear Neil read it aloud. I was not disappointed. It’s wonderful. If people loved the novel, they will cherish the audiobook, because the intimacy, honesty, and raw nostalgia of this mythic, yet very human, tale are even more compelling when listening to Neil’s reading.

xxo

Book reviews & audience in the Internet Age

Book reviews are the published writer’s reality show. Many of us cannot help ourselves. We peruse them to get a glimpse of our beloved audience, for better or for worse.

(Side note: A quick search on the history of book reviews came up with nothing! I cannot help but wonder when the first reviews were published in periodicals. Anyone?)

Remember, much of a writer’s time is spent alone in a room with a notebook or laptop, maybe in a cafe or library. Even when surrounded by people or pets, we’re often in our own worlds. By the time a book is published, we are hungry for ways to eavesdrop on the reader as she reads our words and enters our worlds.

Book reviews give us a window. Of course there are book signings, readings, and book clubs visits–all wonderful way of making contact. But for every one town we visit, there are hundreds we cannot. Historically, how did writers reach loyal readers and gain new ones? Book reviews.

Until the arrival of the internet. Suddenly writers (and artists, musicians, etc.) had new ways to connect with their audience and with each other. It started with message boards and blogs,  then myspace, facebook, and twitter. Ah, twitter.

I know that I’ve written about this before. Sure, there’s a lot of mundane filler on twitter, but there are also gems. For me, it’s nice to know that at 2am I can dip into twitter and connect with others also working during the witching hours, a patchwork picture of the creative process: Felicia Day peruses casting submissions for The Guild, Neil Gaiman works on his Monkey book, Leonard Nimoy shares an old photograph from his early days on film, Molly Robison writes a Ouija-inspired ghost song, Ellen Kushner listens to the final mix of her radio play The Witches of Lublin, Amanda Palmer composes an analysis of Rebecca Black and music today, Kabriel designs a new double-breasted vest, Kyle Cassidy shares his beautiful portrait of Michael Zulli. Along the way they talk to fans and to each other.

But back to book reviews. They carry weight. Depending on where they appear, they carry different types of weight. A New York Times book review is not the same as one posted on a personal blog. However both are online, are collected by google, reach people around the world, and can influence readers.

One twitter friend who reads The Silence of Trees sends out a tweet about how much she loved it. Perhaps ten of her friends go out and buy a copy on Amazon (or on kindle for $.99) Five of them love it and tweet about it, or post it on facebook, and so on it goes. The readership grows. It’s remarkable really. Word of mouth can become viral on the internet.

Speaking of viral and reviews, doubtless some of you have heard about the author who publicly trashed a book review and damaged her reputation (if not, here you go.) She broke the rule, you never respond to book reviews except to say, “Thank you.”

I don’t always share my book reviews, but I do read all that I can get my hands on (thank you, Google Alerts). I’m sure this will change in time. Published writer friends have told me that I will eventually stop reading the reviews. Perhaps.

This book review written by Kristen Thiel on The Nervous Breakdown made me happy:

“The Silence of Trees is a modern American narrative steeped in fairy tale. Though some scenes are rather laborious, most provide excellent vehicles for conveying Ukranian folklore and religion, the surrealism of war and immigration, and a woman sharing her story with both bluntness and wonder, the mixed result of finding her own voice after decades of restrained living.

Few book reviews start with a foot rub but, really, more should. In one of the most thrilling scenes in Valya Dudycz Lupescu’s first novel—exciting for its unabashed passion and feminism, and most important for the new story it promises to start even thirty pages from the book’s end…”    Read the rest here.

Tastes vary in style, story, genre. I understand that everyone will not like everything I write. I understand that people will take issue with a story or poem or book or a character for any of a hundred reasons. Some will love it. Some will just like it. Some will not. I guess that’s why they tell you not to read the reviews. So that you don’t get paralyzed as a writer.

As writers, we can read the reviews; we can share them (if we want); and we can bite our tongues and keep writing.

Thank you to everyone who takes the time to write a review for The Silence of Trees on their blog or on Amazon or Goodreads. For new writers, you are our PR teams.

And thank you, Kristen Thiel. You made my Thursday morning.