October 2, 2007

2 Questions with YOU and then 3 with Judy Merrill Larsen

1) I need a new audio book. I got TERRIBLY spoiled because I listened to THE 13th TALE and it is literally the best audio book I have ever heard. Then I tried listening to a caper sort of thing and then a mystery by an author I QUITE like, usually, but BLEH. They both seemed flat and dreadful. I blame The 13th Tale for being TOO good, too twisty, too smart, and TOO BRILLIANTLY ACTED to allow for anything to follow it well. I have finally found an audio that is living up to 13th Tale….THE BOOK THIEF But I have several road trips coming up, this one won’t last through them, and I ask you…WHAT THEN?

Have any audio books rocked your world lately? OR have any books rocked your world and you feel they will be GOOD on audio? A book that is good on audio has, by definition, a fast pace and a BIG scoop of plot. I can’t listen to beautifully written slice of lifey things without running off the road and dying. Spare me anything that purports to have “rich depths explored in quiet, luscious prose,” because that’s for READING. Not 6 hours of highway time.

2) What is the ANGLE on the new spams I am getting that offer me PUPPIES? They are from people named Agnes Buttell and Darlene Cowery – like these FAKEY sounding TV names—Agenes, Darlene, etc all claim to be NURSES who have inherited some sort of PUREBRED dog and the dog accidentally meets up with ANOTHER purebred dog of the same sort and now they have these DARLING purebred puppies that need homes. Are PUPPY MILLS so lucrative that Canadian pharmacies are running them on the side? I don’t even want to MEET the person who thinks a good day’s online shopping involves CIALIS and a Doberman. I don’t want to even know that person exists. BUT STILL, I can’t figure the angle? Is it just to try and get a response so they see if this email is valid? Will it end in RUSSIAN BRIDES or PHARMECEUTICALS or EUROPEAN LOTTERIES or a nice friend, Mrs. Balboa, who just needs my help to move 15 million dollars out of her country, and if I help her, I can keep just BUNCHES of it!

AH well, give me the scoop if you know it. Meanwhile, meet Judy Merrill Larsen. She is the author of ALL THE NUMBERS, a novel that explores how love makes us vulnerable and how very isolating yet very human is the desire for revenge. A trial takes us to a highly charged ending…

Booklist says that “Larsen’s compelling debut…depicts a mother’s year of grief and recovery with a sure and honest voice,” and Cassandra King just LOVED this book, which is reason enough to add it to my TO BE READ pile.

JJ: What's a day in your life like?

JL: A good writing day for me includes nice weather, good coffee and self-discipline. Unfortunately I only have control over the coffee (if I had the self-discipline I wouldn't need it, you know?) But, here's a perfect writing day--everyone in the house is off to school and/or work by 7:30 or so. I watch a little of Matt and Meredith, check my e-mail, drink that first cup of coffee. About 8:30, I put the dog out back, take my next cup of coffee and my legal pads out to the front porch where I write for an hour or two. It's flowing well and the time and pages fly. At 11, I go to the gym, then come home, shower, have some lunch. That afternoon, I have some tea, enter what I wrote that morning into the document on my laptop and do my first edit. I check my word count, and hooray, I'm nearly to 1500 words. I'm so proud of myself and my self-discipline, that I grab a cookie and go over the section again, tweaking, filling in, adding texture. Before I know it I'm way past the 1500 mark, so I hit spellcheck and SAVE. The kids start trickling back home, I fiddle around with dinner, and by the time my husband gets home we're both ready for a glass of wine on the front porch before we eat.

In reality, I go to the porch and get stuck. I decide to do a load of wash (or, worse, yesterday I felt compelled to refill every hand soap dispenser in the house). I finally holler at myself that the book won't write itself and I need to get out there and write 10 pages or I won't be able to look myself in the mirror. So, I do that. I write. And it's pretty good. But when I go back in the kitchen to refill my coffee, I discover I'd forgotten to put the dog out back and he's stealthily tipped over the garbage can and spread it all over the floor. But he's now wagging his tail and looking cute even if he does have coffee grounds all over his snout.
JJ: Who did you dedicate this book to and why?

I dedicated ALL THE NUMBERS to my mom and my sons. The book's about a mom and her sons--the mom I sometimes am, the mom I hope never to be, and the mom I sometimes wish I was. It's about family and friends and love and loss (but I guess, most books are when you break it down to the basics). Anyway, my mom is great, and even though I didn't appreciate her when I was growing up, I found that so much of her mothering comes out in my own mothering. I learned from the best. So I dedicated it to her for setting the standard. And my sons, well, they were my other teachers in how to be a mom. They taught me every day, even when I wasn't much of a student. I know I wasn't perfect, and there were some days I probably really stunk it up. But they loved me anyway. And they watched me and cheered me on all the years I was writing it and trying to get it published. So I dedicated it to them for sticking with me and forgiving me when I didn't live up to those standards my mom had set.

JJ: Tell us about the fears that are part of being a parent.

JL: The essence of All the Numbers is rooted in the fears that every parent has, shoved as far below the surface as we can push them, but present nonetheless.
For me, those universal fears of all parents first bubbled to the surface the night, four weeks before his due date, that my oldest son was born by emergency caesarean section. Up until the last twenty minutes of it, my pregnancy had been textbook perfect. I’d eaten cottage cheese by the bucketful and not a drop of caffeine or wine had crossed my lips. I’d exercised the appropriate amount, put my feet up when necessary, and taken my vitamins. But still, in spite of my care, with no warning, we both nearly died because my placenta separated from the uterine wall. Nothing could have prevented it; nothing could have predicted it. And I learned one of the immutable truths of parenting--no matter how cautious, loving, protective and concerned we are, no matter how long we breastfeed, how many books we read aloud, or how much we limit TV time, bad things can happen. And then what?

When I forced myself to imagine the worst, I always wondered if I would rise to the occasion or sink into the abyss. When I explored these possibilities through Ellen--who is sarcastic and impatient and cluttered--and madly in love with her kids, I tried to be as fair as I could. I wanted her to eventually rise to the occasion (as I hoped I would), but not until she had wallowed in the depths (as I knew I would).

No matter how mundane we think our lives are, many of us will face extraordinary events at least once in our lives. And when we do, it is easy to think, why me? I played by the rules, I’m not a bad person, so why this? Why the illness or the unfaithful spouse or the tornado? When I read about mothers who have faced catastrophe, I always wish I could get a six-month follow-up. How’d they get out of bed the next day? How long before they started making supper? Did they ever genuinely laugh again?

These were the questions I tried to answer for myself through Ellen.

Posted by joshilyn at October 2, 2007 8:48 AM

I am an obsessive audio book listener. My all-time favorite audio book was Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman, which is an awesome book and had the best reader ever. I just listened to a great short one called The Reluctant Fundamentalist (shortlisted for the Booker this year) that is also really great. I'm also a big fan of the Norwegian mysteries about Inspector Sejer by Karin Fossum, they have excellent audiobooks.

Posted by: Jessica at October 2, 2007 10:16 AM

Let's see gods in Alabama is a great listen!

But seriously, my all time favorite listen was Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. I loved, loved, loved this audio. The narrator was fabulous and the story is amazing.

Posted by: Patti D. at October 2, 2007 10:32 AM

This may ultimately be unhelpful, since I've neither read the books nor listened to them, BUT I've heard great things about both "Bridge of Sighs" by Richard Russo and "Run" by Ann Patchett.

Posted by: Keetha at October 2, 2007 10:49 AM

Footprints of God, by Greg Iles. I agree with you, The Thirteenth Tale was a great audiobook. I think you'll like the Greg Iles books.

Posted by: jennielynn at October 2, 2007 12:05 PM

I am useless on the audio book front. I only JUST ripped The 13th Tale to my iPod, and haven't even started listening to it. I am hanging my head in shame.

But CIALIS and a DOBERMAN, lord, there is a very dirty joke in there.

Posted by: Mir at October 2, 2007 12:16 PM

I just recently began listening to audio books. I have always said that part of the book experience was feeling the weight in my hands and listening to the rustle of the pages being turned. Memorial Day weekend, while visiting MS, I took my grandmother to a Cracker Barrel and saw The 13th Tale on the audio book rack. I had been dying to read it so I picked it up. It was a mesmerizing experience as I drove 8 hrs home. I just recently went down to MS and LA again and made sure to pick up an audio book. I selected YOUR book Between, Georgia and LOVED it. Your voice positively drew me in. This was my introduction to your work and brought me here to find out what other books you had written.

My third audio book (for the trip home) was The Tea House on Mulberry Street by Sharon Owens and read by Carlone Winterson. Ms. Winterson's Irish lilt is lovely. This book began as a series of short stories that became a cohesive story about the lives of people that overlap in a Tea Room in Belfast, Ireland.

Posted by: pandoravox at October 2, 2007 12:45 PM

My all-time favorite audio book is The Girls by Lori Lansens. The narrators simply make the story even more amazing. And, on audio books, I am a hard sale.

Posted by: Heather at October 2, 2007 12:49 PM

The Christopher Moore books read by Fisher Stevens are *wonderful* audio books!

Posted by: Courtney at October 2, 2007 12:57 PM

I agree with pandoravox. Between Georgia is a great book to listen to. I think the author is a great reader, too.

Just finished James Patterson's The Quickie. Whew. Twists and turns galore. Loved it. Neta Jackson's series on the Yada Yada Prayer Groups is a good listen, also. The reader, Barbara Rosenblat has so many voice for the characters you don't realize it's one person reading!

I like Hank the Cow Dog for the kids. Even though I listen along with them (and sometimes without them!) I've passed up The Thirteenth Tale three times. Now I will buy!

Posted by: Rhonda at October 2, 2007 2:04 PM

One that I think you will like as an audiobook is The Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin. Very good!

Posted by: Deborah P at October 2, 2007 3:24 PM

Total no-brainer, but very, very enjoyable:
I Feel Bad About My Neck, read by the author, Nora Ephron.

I had NO intention of reading this book, but someone told me to listen to it on my hideously long commute. I laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed!

Posted by: Debra at October 2, 2007 3:35 PM

I loved the Book Thief! It is one of the books that stay with a reader, years afterward. I'm not sure listening to the book would be as good because there is some very important illustration (I can't give too much away) but also I couldn't think of such a good book coming through some speakers and washing over you like elevator music. That's just my opinion of audio books in general, even though The Book Thief sticks in the top 10 greatest novels I have ever read.

Posted by: Nicole at October 2, 2007 6:54 PM

Audio book recommendation: any of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, read by James Marsters (aka Spike from Buffy/Angel)

Posted by: Cheryl at October 2, 2007 10:10 PM

I have listened to so many audiobooks over the years I can't even choose a favorite. BUT, I always try to find one by Recorded Books, because their stable of narrators is incredible. I will even sometimes choose a book because it is read by one of my favorites - George Guidall, Barbara Rosenblat (I agree, the woman has AN AMAZING repertoire of voices), and the incomparable Frank Muller, who was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident a few years ago and will likely never narrate again. I'd recommend Muller's reading of The Prince of Tides or Beach Music. Also, if you want to get TOTALLY HOOKED, start on the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon, read by Davina Porter (another favorite). Okay, I lied, THOSE are the BEST audiobooks I've heard. The story pulls you in and the characters are totally alive. Oh, and Tara Road by Maeve Binchy, read by Jenny Sterlin - fabulous story, lovely Irish accent.

Posted by: Gail at October 2, 2007 11:10 PM

Honestly? The best book I've ever listened to as an AudioBook is....gods in Alabama. Truly.

Posted by: Erin at October 2, 2007 11:32 PM

I have to thank you for leading me/us to The Thirteenth Tale. It was superb and read so very well.

I did enjoy Belle Ruin by Emma Graham

And of course I LOVED Gods in Alabama.

Posted by: gilly at October 2, 2007 11:33 PM

The Book Thief is SOO GOOD.

I hope you let us know what you thought about it.

Posted by: aka nik at October 3, 2007 2:39 AM

See, I moved to Canada a few years back...and dog prices here?

You'd think they were little furry bundles of gold and platinum.

Even the no 'account kinds.

I still don't understand it, so we put a second mortage on the house, and are now the proud (semi-sane) owners of a giant chocolate lab with no papers that I paid less for my first car for.

Sooo happy.

Posted by: daysgoby at October 3, 2007 8:14 AM

I'm no good with audio books--I lose focus & tune them out and think about other things! BUT...we did use them for a few years when my son was young, before he was reading on his own--they'd keep AND my husband happy on long drives, and I could just drift mentally...

If you can get hold of Martin Short's Dr. Doolittle, it is fantastic. He does a different voice for every character, including pretty much BEING Rex Harrison for Dr. Doolittle.

Posted by: Becky Levine at October 3, 2007 10:02 AM

Okay, there's another Erin on here. Not that it's a bad thing *waves hi while changing screen name*, but I've never had the chance to listen to gods. Read it and loved it, but have never listened.

I adored the Book Thief, but I agree with Nicole. It's one of those books that's better read than listened to. But let us know what you think.

Posted by: erinanne at October 3, 2007 4:26 PM

Wellll....the audiobook I finished a few days ago was Between, Georgia, BEAUTIFULLY read by the author. I don't listen to many audiobooks because I only drive about 10 minutes at a time and that takes a LONG time to finish a book. I ended up listening in the parking lot at the end of my lunch hour (with my boss walking by laughing at me for eating in the car) because I just couldn't stop listening to the part near the end when a certain person is temporarily missing. Yes, even though I had already read the darn book! Anyway, also the other night my husband came into the room, held out the actual book, and said, "Chapter 10. All your fault!" He doesn't like to read fiction, but you have sucked him in. I'm sure gods in Alabama is next.

Anyway, the only audio recommendation I have is the Harry Potter series because Jim Dale is such a wonderful reader.

Posted by: Kristin at October 3, 2007 9:58 PM

I read All the Numbers a few months ago and loved it. Found her on Cassandra King's agent's website, actually. You'll love it!

Posted by: Susan Cushman at October 3, 2007 11:33 PM

I think I need to read this book. I recently had a death in the family. I was completely alone in a strange city. I was barely coherent, but I was _alone_. No one was there to help or cook me meals or make sure I slept or to take care of the "arrangements."

I think that maybe was a good thing. If I'd been at home and/or had someone to look after me, I don't think I would have gotten out of bed for a month. It's the first time I've been through anything like this. It would be good to read how someone else coped, someone in a very different situation.

The bad thing is you just don't know how you'll operate until you're there, but it would be good to see another person, fictitious or not, handle something awful.

That sounded grizzly, but I didn't mean it that way.

Posted by: ZaZa at October 4, 2007 1:48 AM

I agree with Kristen about the HP books - Jim Dale is amazing and I have been a fan of his ever since he was on Broadway in Barnum. I also love the Ruth Rendell mysteries - which are dark and I sometimes will put down without finishing in the flesh because they can creep me out - due in large part to the reader, Davina Porter.

Posted by: dara at October 6, 2007 10:56 AM