And more whatnot.

Looking for sharable whatnot?

Last week PBS NewsHour and the New York Times announced their joint bookclub, “Now Read This.” Today they published a list of discussion questions for bookclub participants to consider as they read the January selection, Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward.

Yesterday The Millions published “Most Anticipated: The Great 2018 Book Preview.”

“I’d like to start a book club/support group for folks who dog-ear their pages.” – Tweet from Rebecca Lang, publicity manager at St. Martin’s Press.

Atlas Obscura published this piece about the village of Hobart, NY, population 403: “A Tiny New York Town With Not One, But 5 Indie Bookstores

And finally, Jacqueline Woodson officially became the 6th National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature today. NPR’s Lynn Neary took a look at the current state of young people’s literature, and where Woodson would like to see it 2018.

Do you have enough business cards for Memphis?

Are you heading to Memphis in a couple of weeks? You should probably check your stock of business cards right now. Even though it probably will not take 2 weeks to produce more, it’s not a bad idea to allow the extra time.

If you do need a reprint, now’s the time to check if any of the information has changed. Here are some of the components to keep in mind when designing a business card:

  • Personalization: your name, followed by what you do.
  • The name of the store, either in text or through your logo, should be prominently placed. If your logo is your brand, use it.
  • All of your locations: the address of your brick-and-mortar store and the address of your online store.
  • Other ways you can be reached, like phone numbers (include your mobile number if you want to be reachable) and email addresses. If you depend on faxes, go ahead and list that number.
  • If you’re active on Twitter, you might consider adding your handle. Otherwise, other social media locators can be found through your website.
  • Do you find yourself continually writing missing information on the back? Consider adding that to your card.
  • And speaking of writing on the card, be sure to leave plenty of white space on the front or back. White space is not only aesthetically pleasing, but it’s necessary for those who want to write notes on the card. Even if you’re not a “card writer,” the recipient of your card might be.
  • One final thing before you send them off to the printer: Proofread it. Call the numbers listed, email the address you provide, and have another set of eyes make sure you didn’t miss a “dot” in your email or accidentally provide your home phone number (if you still have one of those).

If you’ve been putting off reprinting cards because of some changes expected in a few months, it’s still a good idea to print a small batch for the conference. Then send the large order to the printer when you get back in town.

Say As I Do: Chloe Benjamin

Say As I Do: Chloe Benjamin

I interviewed Chloe Benjamin last Friday for an upcoming Marginalia episode. The podcast is still in production, but you can be prepared for The Immortalists publication day armed with the knowledge of how she says her name:


Review: ‘The Immortalists’

Though fate propels the plot of Chloe Benjamin’s new novel, The Immortalists, the book brims with magic and life. Its premise is simple: on a muggy summer day in New York’s Lower East Side, four siblings pay a visit to a fortune teller who reveals to each of them the exact date of their death. While the siblings do not share the death date revelation with each other, they nonetheless go on to live very different lives across the next five decades influenced, often driven by, this information. The book begs the question: how would you live if you knew how long you had? Would you want to know?

Benjamin sets only the very beginning of the novel in New York City; you certainly wouldn’t call The Immortalists a New York novel, though the Gold family’s progenitors, Gertie and Saul, are Eastern European Jewish immigrants who have settled there. The narrative structure of the book divides the story into four chronological, sequential sections each following a decade of one of the siblings’ lives. The first part, titled “You’d Dance, Kid,” follows Simon, the youngest sibling, as he moves to San Francisco and becomes a pillar dancer at a club named Purp and then studies in a ballet corps, amidst the burgeoning AIDS crisis. Indeed, the title of his section offers one answer to the novel’s abiding question of how you might live if you knew exactly how limited your time on Earth would be. Simon’s ballet teacher offers this instruction, a passage that captures the novel’s ultimate conundrum: “‘From control,’ he says, ‘comes freedom. From restraint comes flexibility. From the trunk … come the branches.’” This section, fittingly, reads with zestful energy and the pages turn effortlessly.

“Proteus,” the novel’s second act, follows Simon’s next oldest sibling, Klara, who is a student of transformation and a sometime pickpocket, as she pursues a career as a magician, beginning in San Francisco and ending in Las Vegas with her partner, Raj. Klara, deeply affected by Simon’s experience, holds herself mostly apart from her other siblings. She wonders if her influence caused Simon’s troubles, or if, as Simon assures her, it contributed to his fulsome life. Above all, though, she seeks an answer to the finality of death. Introducing Klara to her theater audience before a magic show, Raj remarks, “Life isn’t just about defying death… It’s also about defying yourself, about insisting on transformation. As long as you can transform, my friends, you cannot die. What does Clark Kent have in common with the chameleon? Right when they’re on the brink of destruction, they change. Where have they gone? Nowhere we can see. The chameleon has become a branch, Clark Kent has become Superman.” Alas, Klara is also unstable. She periodically hears mysterious knocking sounds that she suspects are communications from beyond the grave. She drinks excessively. She needs proof, and this leads to her undoing.

The final two sections follow the eldest Gold siblings, Daniel and Varya, both of whom have dedicated their lives to science. Daniel becomes a military doctor whose job certifying young men for armed service leads to ethical complications for him. Varya heads a primate research project in California whose aim is to study and promote human longevity. Daniel’s section, “The Inquisition,” ties together earlier plot elements and characters and propels the plot forward; however, it also requires the reader to suspend disbelief to a point where the story feels less organic and more contrived. Since Daniel originally had the idea to visit the fortune teller as a child, perhaps more than any other sibling, he bears the greatest burden of guilt. In that context, his confrontation with the Roma fortune teller makes sense. In the moment of crisis, Benjamin tells us, “Simon and Klara were pulled magnetically, unconsciously; Daniel is in full possession of his faculties. Still, the two narratives float like an optical illusion — a vase or two faces? — each as convincing as the other, one perspective sliding out of prominence as soon as he relaxes his hold on it.” A similar dual perception of reality floats throughout the novel as a whole tugging readers from one interpretation to another.

The ultimate section focuses on Varya, the eldest and oldest surviving sibling, and the staid career she’s built working with primates, and one sad specimen in particular, a monkey named Frida, who seems a bit like Varya’s emotional doppelgänger. Varya suffers from a lifetime of repercussions stemming from the childhood fortune teller visit, though her every effort and fiber seems designed to contradict this knowledge. For example, Daniel’s experience leads her to speculate that “his death did not point to the failure of the body. It pointed to the power of the human mind, an entirely different adversary — to the fact that thoughts have wings.” She is determined to conquer death and fate with science and mindfulness, but at what cost? A visitor to her lab sets into motion a revelation that re-orients her entire carefully constructed existence. The novel finally pays off, as Benjamin allows Varya to develop and change and grow, something largely denied the other siblings in their shorter life manifestations. This fits because Varya is graced with the longest predicted life span, an enviable 88 years.

Chloe Benjamin does not, finally, rule on the perplexing questions she raises about fate and self-determination, deed and thought, quality of life versus inevitability of death. Instead, she conjures a tantalizing brew of how these elements work together over the course of different lives and different decades. With its focus on the deep push and pull of sibling dynamics and family legacy, its light overlay of Jewish philosophy and Romani mysticism, its examination of scientific inquiry, and its ultimate focus on what essentially gives life meaning, The Immortalists will surely satisfy a broad swath of book groups and readers whose taste runs toward the plot driven but cerebral story. By turns entertaining and affecting, the pages turn effortlessly, and the whole blossoms into something greater than the sum of its parts.

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin (G.P. Putnam’s Sons | 9780735213180 | January 9, 2018)

Marginalia: Woody Skinner

Marginalia: Woody Skinner

For the latest Marginalia podcast, I interviewed Woody Skinner about his debut book of stories, A Thousand Distant Radios. Skinner grew up in Batesville, Arkansas, and now lives in Chicago. He holds a BA in Southern Studies from the University of Mississippi, an MFA from Wichita State University, and a PhD from the University of Cincinnati. He has a unique voice and offers an odd spin on reality in this collection that’s difficult to forget. Glean some marginalia for your own hand-selling arsenal. Or if you just want to hear him say his name, here you go:

A Thousand Distant Radios by Woody Skinner (Atelier26 Books, available through IPG | 9780989302395)