igloo book buzz

How the “Million-Dollar Brain” Replaced the “Million-Dollar Arm”

Why couldn’t Michael Jordan, master athlete that he was, crush a baseball? Our new Igloo Book Buzz selection, Zach Schonbrun’s THE PERFORMANCE CORTEX, published by Dutton on April 17, provides an answer to that question and many others while revealing what actually drives human movement and its spectacular potential. Whether it is timing a 95 mph fastball or reaching for a coffee mug, movement requires a complex suite of computations that many take for granted. With this book, Schonbrun ushers in a new way of thinking about the athletic gifts we marvel over and seek to develop in our own lives. It’s not about the million-dollar arm anymore. It’s about the million-dollar brain.

[caption id="attachment_111171" align="alignright" width="249"] Stephen Morrow[/caption] Stephen Morrow, Vice President, Executive Editor, Dutton, said, “From the first moments of engagement with Zach Schonbrun’s proposal, his passionate curiosity was captivating. I had the impression he was a sports reporter, but that oversimplification of his immense journalistic talent was quickly swept away. I didn’t grow up with baseball (cricket guy), but I loved Moneyball and this book promised to take the science of sport to a new level. Zach had found two neuroscience start-up entrepreneurs, an unsung brilliant researcher at John’s Hopkins, and was burning to talk to someone in England. All this in pursuit of an understanding of what exactly makes the best athletes so good at making impossible feats look easy. It has been an utter delight and profound pleasure to work with a first time author of such skill and poise on the page and in the field, wherever his investigations take him. Including airline flights themselves, as you can see here. [caption id="attachment_111174" align="alignright" width="261"] Zach Schonbrun © Curtis Cort[/caption] Schonbrun reveals the stories behind THE PERFORMANCE CORTEX: “I came across the topic when my wife found a small blurb in the Columbia alumni magazine about neuroscientists trying to work with Major League Baseball teams. I certainly didn't think at the time that it might lead me here, but I kept tugging at that thread of neuroscience and sports and there was just so much to unravel. I began to realize, well, maybe I've been looking at athleticism all wrong. And I figured if I had, then probably others had as well. The book formed from my own curiosity, and a desire to kind of set the record straight. “My background is in sports journalism, not science, so there was a fairly steep learning curve for me. I leaned on the researchers that I profiled to make sure that what I was writing was fair and accurate. And I also leaned on Stephen, whose own knowledge and vision kept this as a science-sports book, rather than the other way around. But one thing I never struggled with was enthusiasm for and interest in the subject, and I'm grateful for that. It made this experience much more enjoyable.” Here is a sampling of advance media praise for THE PERFORMANCE CORTEX: “A must-read for the cerebral sports fan…like Moneyball except nerdier. Much nerdier.” --Sports Illustrated “Fans of sport science, sport psychology, robotics, and neuroscience will find this to be informative and inspiring.” --Library Journal “[A] revealing tour of the minds of winning athletes… readers interested in the applications of neuroscience to everyday life will find plenty of value here.” --Kirkus Reviews “Poised to guide the sophisticated sports fan in such examination, Schonbrun lucidly explains the fascinating new world of neuroathletics…The stereotype of the dumb jock may not survive this explosive jolt!” --Booklist

A Vet’s Tales of Caring for Our Beloved Pets – Plus a Furry Friends Photo Gallery

National Pet Day was April 11 and our new Igloo Book Buzz selection, Suzy Fincham-Gray’s MY PATIENTS AND OTHER ANIMALS: A Veterinarian’s Stories of Love, Loss and Hope, was published by Spiegel & Grau on April 10. Looking at her life spent in the company of animals, veterinarian Fincham-Gray invites readers into her personal world of loving, healing, and assisting with the loss of our beloved pets, while showing the many ways they change our lives. In her literary debut, she writes with the same tenderness she brings to her patients, whose needs she must meet with her mind, her hands, and her heart.

[caption id="attachment_110808" align="alignright" width="183"] Suzy Fincham-Gray
© Robin Dayle[/caption] “When I first considered writing a book,” says Fincham-Gray, “I was determined not to write a memoir; however, as I explored the subjects that interested me, I returned again, and again, to the career I have pursued for almost thirty years. This journey has required that I take a deeper and clearer look at my role, as both a veterinarian and as a pet owner, and has helped me understand more about human-pet relationships. The stories in this book are the ones that demanded I write them, the cats and dogs who revealed, in a new way, what it means to care for the animals we love.” The book was acquired and edited by Spiegel & Grau Editor Annie Chagnot: “When I first read Suzy’s manuscript I was riveted by her ability to craft such suspenseful scenes (think Grey’s Anatomy but with animals) and I was surprised by how much the material moved me. There’s an intimacy and grace to her writing that makes it transcend the ‘pet lit’ category—which made sense when I learned that in addition to being a veterinarian, Suzy also has an MFA in creative writing, which makes her a rare breed! This is a book that any animal lover MUST read, but it’s also so universal in its theme of how we care for the ones we love, that I can’t imagine a reader who wouldn’t be moved by it.” In celebration of the release of MY PATIENTS AND OTHER ANIMALS and National Pet Day, this week several Random House and Spiegel & Grau colleagues’ cats and dogs posed for the camera.    

How Meg Wolitzer Illuminates Female Ambition, Power and Mentorship

Our new Igloo Book Buzz selection is Meg Wolitzer’s THE FEMALE PERSUASION, an eagerly awaited, much buzzed about book published by Riverhead today, April 3.  Charming and wise, knowing and witty, Wolitzer delivers a novel about power and influence, ego and loyalty, womanhood and ambition. At its heart, THE FEMALE PERSUASION is about the flame we all believe is flickering inside of us, waiting to be seen and fanned by the right person at the right time. It’s a story about the people who guide and the people who follow (and how those roles evolve over time), and the desire within all of us to be pulled into the light.  

[caption id="attachment_10497" align="alignright" width="215"] Meg Wolitzer Photo: © Nina Subin[/caption] Wolitzer comments: “People always say ‘write what you know,’ but I've always felt that it's really more ‘write what obsesses you.’ And I realized that there are some things that I kept returning to. Female power — who has it, what does it mean? What about mentors and protégés?  Making meaning in the world but also the person you meet who can change your life forever.  All of these things were ideas that were kind of percolating in my mind for a long time.  And, of course, feminism.  As a feminist, that's somewhat of a given in me, but at the same time, a story that could address some of these things just sort of began to reveal itself to me.” [caption id="attachment_10496" align="alignleft" width="139"] Sarah McGrath[/caption] Riverhead Vice President, Editor in Chief Sarah McGrath said, “It's exciting to see the way that THE FEMALE PERSUASION is connecting to the moment that we are in right now, but the truth is that the ideas and relationships and emotions in this novel are much deeper than any particular snapshot in time.  As her editor (this year marks our 15th anniversary) I know that female ambition and power and mentorship are things that Meg has been thinking about and working with for years. What I love about this book is that its characters are even more unforgettable than its themes, and their story is going to be relevant for decades to come. “ There has been an outpouring of media praise for THE FEMALE PERSUASION.  Here is a sampling:
  • “[Wolitzer] writes in warm, specific prose that neither calls attention to itself nor ignores the mandate of the best books: to tell us things we know in ways we never thought to know them… [She] is an infinitely capable creator of human identities that are as real as the type on this page.” –The New York Times Book Review
  • “Wolitzer understands—seemingly on a cellular level—the puzzled, needy heart that beats within any teenager…the book is full of Wolitzer’s trademark wit and insight.” —The Washington Post
  • “Finally, a novel about a complicated relationship that doesn’t get nearly enough attention: that between mentor and mentee. Full of Meg Wolitzer’s signature acumen and insight.” —Esquire
  • “Equal parts cotton candy and red meat, in the best way.” –People

Having the Courage to Be True to Yourself, Stand Up and Empower Others

Our new Igloo Book Buzz selection is Sarah McBride’s TOMORROW WILL BE DIFFERENT: Love, Loss and the Fight for Trans Equality, published on March 6 by Crown Archetype.  Before she became the first transgender person to speak at a national political convention in 2016 at the age of twenty-six, Sarah McBride struggled with the decision to come out—not just to her family but to the students of American University, where she was serving as student body president.  Informative, heartbreaking, and profoundly empowering, TOMORROW WILL BE DIFFERENT is McBride’s story of love, loss and a powerful entry point into the LGBTQ community’s battle for equal rights and what it means to be openly transgender. 

In the following interview, McBride and her editor, Jen Schuster, Executive Editor, Crown, discuss what was involved in the creation of this book and how they hope the personal experiences shared will resonate with readers. How did you first become aware of Sarah and the stories she wanted to tell? [caption id="attachment_9870" align="alignright" width="247"] Jen Schuster[/caption] JS: I was first introduced to Sarah when she made her powerful speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2016 – the first openly transgender person to speak at a national convention. But I really became aware of her remarkable story when her agent, Katie Zanecchia, called to tell me about her new client. When the proposal arrived, I immediately fell in love with Sarah’s fearless voice as she wrote candidly about her experiences as a young trans person and her evolution to becoming the fierce activist she is today. And Sarah also wrote so affectingly about the love of her husband Andy and her tragic loss when he passed away, just four days after they were married. Sarah channeled this devastation into her work, determined to continue Andy’s life mission as much as her own. This, to me, spoke volumes about Sarah’s character. LGBTQ rights have been heavily debatedduring the last several years, and particularly during the campaign cycle. As the national press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign, Sarah is in the epicenter of the national fight for trans equality. She is a natural and effective storyteller who can brilliantly weave together her own experiences with insights into the legislative process. In the book, she’s able to contextualize the key issues in a way that will change minds and open hearts. What were the most challenging and rewarding aspects of writing TOMORROW WILL BE DIFFERENT? SM: In many ways the most challenging and rewarding parts are one in the same. Writing TOMORROW WILL BE DIFFERENT was a deeply emotional experience for me. Re-living some of the most difficult moments of my life, particularly the passing of my husband Andy, was exceptionally difficult, but I also felt blessed to have the time and opportunity to dive back into my positive memories with him. It was healing to pull out the memories that bring a smile to my face, rather than a tear to my eye, and to remember all of those experiences that had, unfortunately, been so consumed in my mind by his later battle with cancer. In many ways, writing this book was the grieving process that I never let myself have after Andy passed because I jumped so quickly back into our advocacy work. [caption id="attachment_9871" align="alignleft" width="245"] Sarah McBride, Credit B Proud[/caption] This book also came at an important time in my own advocacy work and evolution as an activist. I started writing this shortly after Donald Trump's election and during the first few months of his administration and, in writing the book then and drawing lessons from my experiences through the previous six years, I was able to rekindle my hope. I was reminded of all of the progress I've been able to see and was re-convinced of the goodness of people and the simple fact that change remains possible. During the last month of Andy's life, my brother, a radiation oncologist who has seen far too many people pass away, told me, "This is going to be difficult, but look around you and take stock in acts of amazing grace that you see." It was sage advice that helped me find light in that darkness. But I had never universalized that perspective in my life after Andy's death. So as I was writing this book and remembering those lessons while simultaneously seeing unprecedented marches, protesters filling airports to protect refugees, and diverse voices finally being heard, I thought to myself “amazing grace.” In many ways, that amazing grace is the story of the last year. In the end, hope only makes sense in the face of hardship. It took writing this book for me to fully realize that and to find the light once again. What was most inspiring about helping to bring TOMORROW WILL BE DIFFERENT to publication? JS: Sarah came into the office to meet with us about a week before the 2016 presidential election.  To say it was an intense time would be an understatement. We were all keenly aware of how important Sarah’s story and message were, but when the poll results began coming in on election day, it felt all the more dire. The agent held the auction the day after the election – a gloomy, difficult day in the office. With a decidedly anti-LGBTQ administration about to take power, I knew it was more important than ever to give a platform to voices from that community, to ensure that their stories, issues, and messages would never be censored. Sarah is poised for incredible things in her career as an activist and, perhaps, as a future politician. Helping to bring her book to market has been one of the greatest honors of my career in publishing. How do you hope readers will embrace your book and the experiences you share? SM: In the book, I talk a great deal about the power of vulnerability. I think in just laying it all out on the table, in saying this is who I am, this is what I fear, these are my dreams, we are actually able to bridge significant divides. Those shared hopes and dreams transcend ideology, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation and geography. That vulnerability unlocks empathy which leads to passion. My earnest hope in being as vulnerable as I'm being in this book is that readers will be able to find a greater degree of empathy and passion for transgender people and our basic equality. And then empowered with the knowledge about the challenges facing the transgender community that I include in the book, I hope readers will feel a renewed sense of urgency and confidence in joining the growing alliance of allies we have standing with us to open hearts, change minds, and move equality forward in every corner of this country.

Friendship, Secrets & Thumps in Surgical Scrubs

Our latest Igloo Book Buzz selection is Kimmery Martin’s debut novel, THE QUEEN OF HEARTS, published by Berkley on February 13.  An emergency medicine doctor, born and raised in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky, Kimmery sets her book’s narrative in a world of hospital rounds and life-or-death decisions, while exploring the heart’s capacity for forgiveness. 

[caption id="attachment_9577" align="alignright" width="239"] Kimmery Martin Photo: © Stephen B. Dey[/caption] “My goal in writing THE QUEEN OF HEARTS,” said Kimmery, “was to create a story about female friendship that is both entertaining and smart.  The kind of books I enjoy the most as a reader are the ones that give you the sense you are learning something in depth about a particular subject, but you don’t necessarily realize it at the time because you’re so hooked in the action or transfixed by the characters. TQOH gives a detailed insider’s look at the medical world, in a way that would be difficult to do without having lived it, or at least without having done a lot of research. Interestingly, when the publisher asked me to raise the stakes for one of the characters by placing her in a difficult surgical situation, I squirmed even writing about losing a patient.” Berkley Executive Editor Kerry Donovan: “I first fell in love with Kimmery’s voice for the emotional intensity of the setting she chose.  THE QUEEN OF HEARTS offers an up-close-and-personal look at the lives of two female doctors working in trauma surgery and pediatric cardiology—and I savored this chance to learn more about the stakes of committing to a surgery career, especially when the central characters are also juggling responsibilities at home.  An ER doctor who knows firsthand the sacrifices demanded by a successful surgical practice, Kimmery’s writing hit every emotional note I craved: hilarity in the domestic scenes, the gratification of a career running along its charted course, and sudden despair after a tragedy threatens to derail everything. Kimmery puts it best in her Author’s Note where she details what inspired her to set her debut novel in a hospital environment: “Medicine is a consuming field and a career without equal in its reward. Doctors have the immeasurable blessing of seeing life in all its anguish and glory.”
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A Book about Coffee? Dave Eggers and Mokhtar Alkhanshali Spill the Beans

Our latest Igloo Book Buzz selection is THE MONK OF MOKHA by bestselling author Dave Eggers. Published by Knopf, this book tells  the remarkable true story of Mokhtar Alkhanshali, a young Yemeni American man, raised in San Francisco, who dreams of resurrecting the ancient art of Yemeni coffee but finds himself trapped in Sana’a by civil war. 

Mokhtar is 24 years old and working as a doorman when he discovers the astonishing history of coffee and Yemen’s central place in it. He leaves the Bay Area and travels deep into his ancestral homeland to tour terraced farms high in the country’s rugged mountains and meet beleaguered but determined farmers. But when war engulfs the country and Saudi bombs rain down, Mokhtar has to find a way out of Yemen without sacrificing his dreams or abandoning his people. Here is a conversation with Dave Eggers and Mokhtar Alkhanshali revolving around coffee, research for THE MONK OF MOKHA, and the road trip of a lifetime. This book is about coffee, but I understand that neither of you were longtime coffee drinkers? [caption id="attachment_9336" align="alignright" width="400"] Dave Eggers and Mokhtar Alkhanshali
     Credit: Jeremy Stern[/caption] DE: I had my first cup of coffee when I was 35. My wife and I were new parents and sleep was elusive, so to stay awake and have even a little acuity, I needed a new source of caffeine—Diet Mountain Dew wasn’t working anymore. I will say that when you come to coffee relatively late in life, it has an otherworldly kick. But Mokhtar taught me how to appreciate coffee as more than a caffeine-delivery tool. MA: I didn’t drink coffee much, mainly because the only coffee I was exposed to was cheap diner coffee that tasted like burnt popcorn. I thought coffee was too dark and bitter. One day I walked into a specialty coffee shop and had a cup of naturally processed coffee from Ethiopia’s Yirgacheffe region. I tasted blueberries, honeysuckle and it had a sweet lingering after taste. The barista spoke to me about where it was grown, the elevation, varietal, how it was processed— but most of all, how their direct relationship to these growers make it possible for the farmers to make more money and live a better life. That part of it really became my entry point to the world of coffee. Mokhtar, you discovered your family’s connection to coffee, and the Yemeni connection to coffee, when you were in your early twenties. What possessed you to actually go to Yemen and re-invent yourself as a coffee importer?  MA: That’s a question that a lot of people ask me. In many ways, I’m still trying to figure it out myself. To be honest, I didn’t have a master plan, I just felt there was a disconnect between Yemen and the world of coffee and I believed I could be that bridge. Looking back, I don’t know if I would have gone on this journey knowing all of the things I’d have to learn and go through. I was naïvely arrogant. Dave, as a relative newcomer to the coffee world, what was the research like for THE MONK OF MOKHA? DE: Mokhtar and I had met before, but the first time we saw each other after he returned from Yemen was at the Blue Bottle headquarters in Oakland. James Freeman, the founder, happened to be there that day, so between Mokhtar telling me much of his story, and the setting, it was a really immersive first step. But I was still skeptical. My impression was that there was a lot of pretension in the specialty coffee world. But I learned that the obsessive care that goes into one cup of coffee is coming from the same place much of the slow-food movement is coming from. It’s a reversal of the dehumanizing effects of industrial food consumption. When it comes to coffee, listening to Mokhtar’s enthusiasm—and utter lack of pretension—really made me a convert. With any comestible, if you care about its quality, and if the people making it care, too, it will take longer and cost more. Otherwise, the research took place on many levels, because the story has so many facets. There’s Mokhtar’s personal story—his upbringing and ambitions as a young man in San Francisco. There’s the Tenderloin neighborhood and, in contrast, the high-rise world of the Infinity, where Mokhtar worked as a doorman. There’s his extended family in the Central Valley, where we went early in the research process. Then there’s the world of coffee, from plant to cup. There’s Boot Coffee in Mill Valley, where Mokhtar learned about roasting and grading. I had to get familiar with all these worlds before we even went to Ethiopia, Djibouti and Yemen. Mokhtar, you’ve done a fair amount of public speaking, and you’d given presentations many times to various audience before meeting Dave. How was that kind of storytelling different than what you did with Dave for the book? MA: What I went through with Dave was a very intimate road trip. Dave was incredibly warm and someone I felt comfortable being vulnerable with. Some of those memories were hilarious and others required lots of tissues. Dave’s caring and loving personality were what made this book possible because I know I wouldn’t have been able to do this with anyone else. Dave, what drew you most to Mokhtar’s story? DE: For me it was first of all a story of towering will and imagination. For a guy as young as Mokhtar to simply reinvent himself, to risk so much to re-create his life, it’s astonishing. The more I learned, the more remarkable his story became. I think it was about 18 months into our interviews when he told me that he sometimes had to carry a grenade on his jacket in Yemen, just to imply he was not to be trifled with—in the pursuit of coffee beans. When I met Mokhtar, he was a doorman, so to see what he’s built in these last five years, is just awe-inspiring. Mokhtar and Dave, you two traveled to Ethiopia, Abu Dhabi, Djibouti and Yemen together. Do you have favorite stories from your travels?  MA: Hmm that’s a hard one. Besides those international trips, the local ones here were a lot of fun. Going down to visit my grandmother in southern California and hearing her tell her story, visiting my friend Jay Ruskey’s farm in Santa Barbara, probably the most impactful trip for me was Djibouti. I didn’t tell Dave this but at the time I was terrified about going. Part of my therapy was to go into these places where I had a negative association because of past trauma. I wanted to go to Djibouti and face my fears. Experiencing 130-degree weather and getting stuck in a sandstorm didn’t help, but when I left I felt a huge weight lift off of my shoulders and I’m always going to thank Dave for being there with me. DE: I have a story. We spent a few years trying to get into Sana’a together, but when the war broke out, it was impossible for me to safely get into the capital. So we went to a more remote part of Yemen, and there we encountered an Italian man who was on a quest to visit every country on earth. He was very cynical, with a mordant humor that seemed at odds with a man so curious about the world. When he heard that Mokhtar imported high-end coffee from Yemen, and that Mokhtar was a Q grader—the equivalent of a sommelier in the wine world—he scoffed. He thought this was a pretentious affectation, a sign of the world’s decadence. “A coffee sommelier? What’s next?” he asked. But then, Mokhtar told his story, and explained the world of coffee to this man—how Q graders can improve the lives of farmers, and how caring about where coffee, or any crop, comes from is actually a deeply humanistic thing. Mokhtar did all this while grinding and brewing fresh Yemeni coffee. By the time Mokhtar was pouring him a cup, the Italian wanted to know how he could invest in Mokhtar’s company. No joke, that all happened in about 15 minutes—this guy went from cynic to believer. The same thing happened to me, I guess.

Beyond Shark Tank: Daymond John Shares Life Lessons

With the New Year just getting rolling, our latest Igloo Book Buzz selection, Daymond John’s RISE AND GRIND, presents a diverse series of practical, anecdotal, and motivational success stories. 

Published on January 23 by Crown Publishing Group imprint Currency, the subtitle of this book is “Outperform, Outwork and Outhustle Your Way to a More Successful and Rewarding Life.” ABC-TV’s Shark Tank star not only writes about himself, aspects of his multi-billion-dollar entrepreneurial career, and recent cancer scare, but he also delves inside the daily routines, work ethics and paths to personal fulfillment of a diverse mix of individuals, including television executive and woman’s advocate Nely Galan, serial entrepreneur and bestselling author Gary Vaynerchuck, Grammy Award-winning musician Carlos Santana, and renowned pastor Joel Osteen. Here Daymond talks about what sparked his dedication to books that provide inspiration, how RISE AND GRIND came to be, and what he hopes will be reader takeaways:
Daymond John

Daymond John

“I discovered the transformative power of the written word when I was 14 years old, and picked up a copy of Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill.  It was just as relevant to me then – and today – as it was when it was published way back in the 1930s.   Because I’m dyslexic, I had to read it a few times to absorb it fully, but once I did, it lit a fire in me. I think that’s when I knew that I wanted to someday write books that would move people the way that book moved me. Books that would inspire people to chase the life they’d always dreamed of; to push and challenge themselves to be the best version of themselves that they can, and to believe – as I always have – that if you work hard enough, anything is possible, no matter your circumstances. “My new book, RISE AND GRIND, is all about sharing the message that my mother instilled in me as a kid – that if we think big, and strive relentlessly, we really can do anything. Another huge inspiration for this book came out of something I noticed in the many remarkable people I met while traveling around the world with President Obama as a Presidential Ambassador, and while researching my previous book THE POWER OF BROKE.  It just blew me away how all these incredibly successful people I met were so different in so many ways, and yet, they all had one thing in common: a fierce work ethic and incredible drive forward. And the more I learned from them, the more I realized that these lessons were too valuable to keep to myself. “So I decided that for my next book I wanted to sit down with people I admired to learn about what gets them going (or what I call ‘rising and grinding’) in the morning: what inspires them to push themselves tirelessly in pursuit of their goals and ambitions, how they sustain that determination and focus, and how they power through their days to get the most out of their 24 hours.  Because we all get the same 1,440 minutes in the day, no matter who we are, right? So what I really wanted to know was, how did these exceptionally successful people use that time so productively, meaningfully, and purposely.  The goal, of course, was to come away with a blueprint that would help readers implement some those habits and routines in their own lives. “So I picked about 15 people from all different backgrounds, professions, and walks of life – entrepreneurs, artists, activists, leaders, and so on – and asked them questions they told me they’d never been asked before. I asked them what they do as soon as they get up in the morning, where they turn for energy and inspiration, how they structure their days, and more. What came out of those interviews amazed me, and left me more inspired than ever to distill these insights – along with what I’ve learned about grit and persistence from pushing myself to overcome challenges in my own life – in a way that would be meaningful to readers. “There’s this great quote from the Dali Lama about how man ‘lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.’ I wanted to get inside the heads of those people who really live – people who get up every morning and live every hour of every day to the fullest – so that every one of us, no matter what we do or where we live or what obstacles we face, can learn to do the same.”

“What Happens After We Die?”

Some of the biggest questions and mysteries that many humans ponder are at the heart of Thomas Pierce’s new Riverhead novel, THE AFTERLIVES, our latest Igloo Book Buzz selection.  The author reveals, “I set out to write a story about a guy trying to find bedrock in a world that often feels so ridiculous and so full of spectacle and along the way wound up writing about love and death and ghosts and holograms.  Go figure..” 

[caption id="attachment_9229" align="alignright" width="200"] Thomas Pierce
(c) Andrew Owen[/caption] Riverhead Editor Laura Perciasepe says, “This was the second book I worked on with Thomas but his first novel, after the story collection HALL OF SMALL MAMMALS.  It was a joy to dive back into Thomas’ writing in THE AFTERLIVES. He has a style and a perspective all his own, funny and profound, intimate and infinite. He takes this cosmic question – what happens after we die? – and makes it real and familiar. He gives you answers, and entertains along the way.” Fellow Penguin Random House author Emily St. John Mandel (STATION ELEVEN) is among the many fans of THE AFTERLIVES: “A bracingly intelligent, beautifully rendered meditation on ghosts, technology, marriage, and the afterlife. This is a remarkable novel.”

“It was Time to Tell the Truth.” Welcome to John Hodgman’s VACATIONLAND

Peddling fake facts was John Hodgman’s stock in trade on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and in his three bestselling books.  That all changed with the release of VACATIONLAND: True Stories from Painful Beaches, published by Viking on October 24 and featured as this week’s Igloo Book Buzz selection.  Hodgman writes about his journeys, navigating three distinct wildernesses: one, rural Western Massachusetts where he spent much of his youth; two, coastal Maine, home to the most painful beaches on earth; lastly, the metaphoric wildernesses of middle age.  

Hodgman says, “My first three books were, first of all, BESTSELLERS, and second of all, packed to the margins with absurdist false history and invented trivia.  It was fun writing about the secret history of the nine US presidents who had hooks for hands.  But after my third book of false knowledge, THAT IS ALL, came out, I looked up and realized I was 40. I had changed, and the world was changing as well. Now EVERYONE is doing fake facts, at every level of our media and society. It’s neither new nor funny anymore. And disarmed of falsehood, I was confronted with the mere and awful truth: that I am a dad, husband, and middle-aged white male monster with bad facial hair facing down the second half of his life (or so I hope) who could not think of one more single joke about zeppelins or mole-men. It was time to tell the truth.” Hodgman answers the following three questions truthfully: The book's title VACATIONLAND refers to the nickname for Maine, but you also focus many of the chapters on the “vacationland” of your youth (Western Massachusetts) in addition to your wife’s (Maine), where you now spend much of your time. Do you think having those escapes can be formative in both childhood and adulthood? How has it shaped you throughout your life? Joe McLellan was the permanent French department substitute when I was attending Brookline High School. I liked him. He once told me that the academic calendar—9 months on to work hard, 3 off to recover and reflect—is the most suitable calendar for human happiness.  And he rode a motorcycle and wore a beret, so he knew what he was talking about.  I’m lucky to have married a teacher and to be sufficiently self-employed that, for now, we get to share time and travel with our kids. It is important to show them different people and ways of life, and to learn how easily one life can be left behind if it doesn’t make you happy.” Why do you compare middle age to “navigating a wilderness?” Being in middle age feels like following a path in the forest that was very clear and easy for a while. If you’re lucky, you reach some destination you were hoping for. But even if you don’t, time passes, and before you know it, night comes and you are scared. You can’t follow the path back, and you don’t know which direction to take next, or if it is better to simply stop here forever. But you have to keep going. After you have reached the age which, in previous centuries would have marked the likely end of your life, you have to find a new path forward. Like the wilderness, age is painful, full of unexpected drops and heights, and it doesn’t care whether you live or die. Another good metaphor for it would be MAINE.” You describe Maine as a hellish place, but seem to have a deep fondness for it. What is it about the state that can cause such conflicting feelings? It is undeniably beautiful, but its beauty is rugged bordering on harsh, and the sky gets gray quick and the fog envelops you. See above: it has metaphoric power if you are morbidly minded.  And then it reveals incredible beauty in the rose light across more sky than you are used to seeing. You swim in the ocean and scream from the cold but then you get used to it. Maine’s pleasure is that you survive it. “

Discover James McBride’s FIVE-CARAT SOUL

Our new Igloo Book Buzz selection is FIVE-CARAT SOUL, the new story collection from James McBride, published by Riverhead Books on Tuesday, September 26.  This represents the first new fiction from McBride since his last novel, THE GOOD LORD BIRD, which won the 2013 National Book Award for Fiction.  He is also the author of two other bestselling novels, a James Brown biography, and his #1 bestselling memoir, THE COLOR OF WATER: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother.   In FIVE-CARAT SOUL, McBride writes stories with humor and insight, about how we struggle to understand who we are in a world we don’t fully comprehend. 

[caption id="attachment_7917" align="alignright" width="200"] Jake Morrissey[/caption] Riverhead Books Executive Editor Jake Morrissey edited this book and says, “As James McBride is both an extraordinary writer and a talented musician, it was fascinating working with him on FIVE-CARAT SOUL to help discover the melody in the collection itself, harmonizing and counterpointing the stories, and finding the right tones for his characters. The result is a terrifically readable, even musical, riff on identity and humanity.” When McBride was asked what it’s like to write stories instead of a novel, he responded:  “Writing a short story is like picking up a 747 and flinging it into the air. You heave it skyward and hope it flies.  Except it’s a heavy item to pick up. Novels give you a runway to get started. You have the space to gather speed and get it rolling before it eases off the ground. Short stories involve a lot more muscle. They’re harder to do. You have to engage the reader and keep them engaged.” [caption id="attachment_7918" align="alignleft" width="200"] James-McBride
Credit: Chia Messina[/caption] Looking at the characters in FIVE-CARAT SOUL and their lives on the page, McBride says, “I’m every one of those characters. I’m the talking animals. I’m the toy collector. I’m the kid who thinks Abraham Lincoln is my dad. I’m all of them.  You have to be all those characters if you want them to be strong enough to get up and walk across the room.” What draws the stories in this collection together? McBride says, “The stories are drawn together by my desire to show we are more alike than we are different. We all want the same thing: love, family, comfort, comedy. The stories are meant to be funny and illuminating. They’re relief from a world that doesn’t seem to be working well. That’s why I wrote them. I wanted relief. I needed an out, and they gave me one. They allowed me to see the possibility of the good and understanding that humans are capable of. If I didn’t have the desire to feel or see that, I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed in the morning.”