Cooking with Ruth Reichl

I love to experiment in the kitchen. I’m not afraid to pick out a new gadget be it a sous vide set-up or pressure cooker and go at it. But it can be a bit daunting. That’s why Ruth Reichl is such a joy to listen to. It’s like she’s watching over your shoulder, telling you to add a little more salt or stir more vigorously.

In the video below, Reichl talks about her love for audiobooks, recording My Kitchen Year, and more. Enjoy!


Like listening to cooking books? Check out a few more of our favorites here

Making a Cover at Orbit Books

I only fell down the rabbit hole of sci-fi and fantasy a few years ago. I love the adventures, the crazy characters, and the weird settings. But I don’t always love the cover art. As a graphic designer, sometimes they make me cringe.

The worst looks like dime-store pulp, all giant muscles and goofy outfits. Those aside, there are also some artistically done covers, that feel almost like a Hollywood movie poster. These are the covers that make you stop while browsing at your local bookstore and grab it off the shelf.

So it was really interesting to watch Orbit Books’s videos on making the covers for David Dalglish’s Shadowdance series. They went to great lengths to create costumes and weapons straight out of the books’ descriptions. But they didn’t stop there.

Check out the videos for more.


Piqued your interest? Get David Dalglish’s books here.

Jason Reynolds on Diversity

It’s become a cliche to say that knowledge is power, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Coretta Scott King award-winning author Jason Reynolds talks about diversity in books, maintaining that we need diversity for now and because books are a time capsule to the past. We can learn about other people of all different walks of life and eras through books. For kids and adults alike, this encourages empathy, critical thinking, and more.

Check out the videos to hear more!


Like what you heard? Get Jason Reynolds’s books here.

Ann Patchett’s Twisting, Turning Life and Books

Ann Patchett’s books twist and turn, snaking through crises and into catharsis. Her own life is perhaps not as dramatic, but still full of adventure. Maybe not the kind that involves hostage situations or the Amazon rain forest, but of a literary variety.

And it’s part of why I like her so much. She’s honed her skill, sentence after sentence, writing for magazines including Seventeen, Gourmet, and the New York Times, while living in her hometown of Nashville. When the last independent bookstore in Nashville closed, she and her friend Karen Hayes opened Parnassus Books. As she says, she didn’t want to live in a city without a bookstore. Who can blame her?

She has written many books, all with something special to offer. State of Wonder is mysterious and organic. It’s why it’s our Book of the Month. Bel Canto won both the PEN/Faulkner prize and Orange Prize for Fiction, and for good reason. But if you want to get to know more about Ann and her life, check out This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage, her book of essays.

Bel-Canto

Bel Canto

Themes of beauty, love, and duress intermingle during a hostage crisis at a South American party in Bel Canto. The books tension and characters grab you, turning everything you thought you had figured out upside down.

State of Wonder

Patchett returns to South America in State of Wonder, as Dr. Mirina Singh tracks down her old mentor in the rain forest. Its setting oozes beauty and death; its characters fierce and fragile.

This-Is-the-Story-of-a-Happy-Marriage

This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage

New and old essays are together for the first time in This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage. From willing herself over a six-foot wall to opening a bookstore, to working on relationships to perfecting her craft, Patchett examines her remarkable life.

Run

Run

An accident and a snowstorm disrupt lives in Run. Spanning only 24 hours, this is an emotional roller coaster that will leave you wanting more.

The-Magicians-Assistant

The Magician’s Assistant

A magician’s widow tracks down secrets about her late husband’s family, taking her on a cross-country odyssey. The Magician’s Assistant is a book of beautiful sentences and harrowing loss.

The-Patron-Saint-of-Liars

The Patron Saint of Liars

Rose travels to St. Elizabeth’s, with the intention of giving up her baby once it is born. Moving and complicated, The Patron Saint of Liars is more than it first appears and unforgettable once completed.


State of Wonder is our book of the month! Get it today and let us know what you think.

David Sedaris: Comedy Before All Else

Not all authors can pull off reading their own work for  audiobook editions.

Many publishers hire professionals to fill in because the author can’t do characters’ voices justice, come off rigid, or even lack the confidence to voice their own work. For example, in What If?, our current Book of the Month read, actor and geek-culture figurehead Wil Wheaton sits in for author Randall Munroe.

But David Sedaris is the master of reading his own work, what every author or voice actor should aspire to be. Maybe it’s from his years of radio experience as a guest on This American Life and other NPR shows, or the many, many book readings he’s done. Whatever it is, he gets it right. This is especially important because without the right narrator, the jokes in a satirical or humorous book fall flat.

Sedaris’s humor is deeply personal. He has this ability to turn the tables on himself, to make the most mundane aspect of his life into a greater story about the ridiculousness of his situation, has scored him legian fans over the years. In When You Are Engulfed in Flames, Sedaris sets his essays in Paris and an airplane ride between New York and Denver. In Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls, backdrops include Australia, London, and Costco. And always, everywhere, his childhood home of North Carolina. You can really hear him dryly poking fun of himself and the world around him as he narrates.

But besides making the exotic mundane and the mundane exotic, Sedaris is a master at self-deprecation. One of my favorite stories of his comes from Dress Your Family in Denim and Corduroy. In it, he recounts a kooky family who lived next door to him as a kid. Out of town for Halloween, the father of the family brought the kids trick-or-treating on November 1st. Though the Sedaris family had given out all of their candy the night before, David’s mother insisted that David and his sisters delve into their own, hard-earned candy and share with the neighbors. In a fit of agony, Sedaris stuffs as many candy bars in his mouth before his mother comes and makes him give some away to the neighbors.

I love this story because of the imagery of young Sedaris, with a mouth stuffed full of chocolate, as his mother enters his room, intent on taking what he feels is rightfully his. He writes:

… as she closed the door behind her and moved toward my bed, I began breaking the wax lips and candy necklaces pulled from pile no. 2. These were the second-best things I had received, and while it hurt to destroy them, it would have hurt even more to give them away.”

While the story is hilarious, Sedaris’s willingness to share it is also incredible. He paints himself in the most atrocious light, a gift to his audience. The whole time he tells it, it sounds confessional, like he’s telling you—personally—this embarrassing childhood anecdote.

This is a pattern with Sedaris. In Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls, he explains how he fell into a kind of gross fascination at a taxidermy shop. He went in, hoping against hope to find a stuffed owl and began talking with the store’s proprietor. Believing Sedaris to be a very discerning man of the best taxidermic taste, the proprietor brings out a Pygmy human skeleton from the 19th century, the amputated arm of a sailor his grandfather had met, and the 400-year-old head of a Peruvian teenager. Again, Sedaris is upfront with the amount of his unease, which is only slight, and only because he feels like some modicum of discomfort must be appropriate. He brazenly puts it,

That taxidermist knew me for less time than it took me to wipe my feet on his mat, and, with no effort whatsoever, he looked into my soul and recognized me for the person that I am: the type of person who’d actually love a pygmy …”

I can’t think of anyone, anywhere, other than Sedaris who would have the guts to write this essay, nor the comedic skills to write it so well and the actor’s timing necessary to narrate it.

One of Sedaris’s longest essays, and another that has stayed with me in the years since I first heard it, is “The Smoking Section” from When You Are Engulfed in Flames. In it, Sedaris details his love of smoking cigarettes and his attempt to quit while living for a few months in Tokyo. Overall, When Your Are Engulfed in Flames is Sedaris’s most macabre collection, and book cover echoes that, showing a skeleton smoking a cigarette, a nod to “The Smoking Section” as well as another of the book’s essays. The book’s title also comes from “The Smoking Section,” in a strange phrase Sedaris encountered in Japanese hotel, giving tips for various dangerous situations, including “when you are engulfed in flames.”

Watching David Sedaris perform his work live is a true joy. Sedaris, never quite satisfied with his work, even his long-published essays, will read with a pen in hand, making microedits as he goes. His enthusiasm for his work is apparent from his first words. If you ever have the chance to see him read, don’t turn it down. But until then, fill the void with his awesome audiobooks.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. Listen to the clip below, where Sedaris explains his massive collection of owls.

Find David Sedaris’s contributions to This American Life.


What’s your favorite Sedaris story? Let us know in the comments, and be sure to check out our David Sedaris author page on Libro.fm.

Another Reason to Love James Patterson

Readers love James Patterson for his thrilling plotlines, clever characters, and seemingly never-ending drive that allows him to publish several best sellers each year. His latest in the vast Alex Cross series, Hope to Die, took fans on a riveting journey, as Cross battled criminal masterminds, undergoing a series of trials and tribulations, in order to save his family. In the YA Maximum Ride series, readers engrossed themselves in the avian-human hybrid world of the flock, which saved the world, among other things. Normal everyday issues of marriage, family, and friendship collide with gritty heroism and fast-paced mystery and in his Women’s Murder Club.

But I love him for what he’s done for independent bookstores.

Back in 2013, Patterson took out full-page ads in The New York Times Book Review, Publisher’s Weekly, and Kirkus, asking readers to consider why, given the bank and auto-industry bailouts, the government wouldn’t bail out the book industry.

Patterson-Ad

In 2014, Patterson put his money where his mouth is. Not waiting for a helping hand from the government, Patterson announced that over the course of the year, he would be giving $1 million of his own money to independent bookstores across the country. All stores had to do was apply and note what they would use the money for.

The bookstores must be viable bookstores with a children’s section (Patterson is also the man behind readkiddoread.com), so sorry, your garage sale doesn’t count. But other than that, stores could decide how to spend the money.

Before cofounding Libro.FM, I worked as an independent publisher for many years. Indie publishing is in my blood, and as a publisher, I have long relied on independent bookstores to place books like Brain Rules into eager hands. But I also understand the sacrifices that go into owning an independent bookstore. Without a big operating budget, upgrades, new programs, or even raises get put off year after year.

None of the grants that James Patterson gave out will fix the publishing industry or save a bookstore from shutting its doors permanently (as I said, the stores must be viable to begin with). But they will have an impact on each store, and that’s important.

Libro.fm supports indie stores around the world. Check out our indie bookseller recommendations, including staff picks from Third Place Books (Seattle), Green Apple Books (San Francisco), and Book Passage (San Francisco). As it happens, all three of those stores received money from Patterson. Book Passage was able to buy a bookmobile, that will enable them to travel to more book fairs. Green Apple renovated their floors.

Kevin Ryan and Pete Mulvihill show off the new floor at Green Apple Books, courtesy of a Patterson grant.
Kevin Ryan and Pete Mulvihill show off the new floor at Green Apple Books, courtesy of a Patterson grant.

This year, James Patterson intends to keep supporting independent bookstores. (To recommend a store, visit his page here).

My dream is that we will live in a culture where extra funds aren’t needed to help bookstores distribute great books, curate reading programs, or even keep their roofs up. But I am also a businessman and a pragmatist, so, at least for now, I applaud James Patterson, and keep encouraging my friends and family to shop at their local independent bookstores.

Watch James Patterson discuss his endeavors, along with his romance novel First Love, below.


What’s your favorite indie bookstore? Let us know in the comments. To hear more about James Patterson and similar authors, sign up for our newsletter.

Marilynne Robinson: One of America’s Best Continues to Awe

Jack. John. Lila. These are some of the most enduring characters in modern American literature. They speak to us on many levels, particularly, I think, because they provide no clear answers. At times heroic and at times deeply flawed, they are also some of the most human characters in contemporary fiction.

If you aren’t yet familiar with the town of Gilead, allow me to introduce you. Master writer Marilynne Robinson has made a career out of crafting the fictional town, and at this point many of her readers feel like honorary residents, or at least like they have a summer home there. The first book in her trilogy, Gilead, centers on the elderly Reverend John Ames. Written as a series of letters to his young son, John records his ponderings over the town, their family history, and the deepest questions humans have ever asked. When his friend’s son, Jack, comes back to town after an absence of 20 years, John also wonders what Jack’s role will be when he ultimately shakes his mortal coil.

Robinson followed Gilead, which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, with Home. Rather than acting a sequel to Gilead, Home takes place contemporaneously with the first book. This time, we visit with Jack and his sister Glory, finally hearing their sides of the story. While John had seen Jack as a ne’er-do-well, we are now acquainted with a beautiful and complex character, diving deeper into his life, family, and motivations.

Lila is not set in the same time period as the other two books in the trilogy. Rather, it follows Lila, John’s young wife, throughout her life, beginning with her hard-knock childhood through the birth of their son. As many readers have already noted, it’s gratifying to at last hear Lila’s voice as her character is fleshed out in this novel.

Robinson is a Congregationalist, that Christian sect that included so many of America’s Founding Fathers. Religion is front and center in her novels, as her characters put so much of their lives in the “mystery of God.” But never does she come off as preachy. This is not the Puritanical Christianity of the Pilgrims, but a deeper, more loving approach. Even still, readers of all faiths have flocked to the fictional town of Gilead, and have been met with awe. Personal belief matters less than the questions being asked, the yearning felt, the desire for something more.

My friend Anne Helen Petersen, author of Scandals of Classic Hollywood, wrote a piece for BuzzFeed on Robinson titled “Missing Church, Not Religion: Why I Read Marilynne Robinson.” Petersen writes:

Robinson writes in a way that manages to seem at once spare and expansive. I can’t tell you whether her sentences are short or long, simply that they make my life and thoughts seem like they have a meter. It’s incredibly soothing and yet—remarkably, inexplicably—the opposite of soporific. Even as her characters wade through sorrow, there’s a sharpness to her work, an abundance, an alacrity. I want to swim through the deep lake of each chapter. It’s that immersive and, in its attention to the smallest details of the reflective mind, that otherworldly.”

I can’t put it any better.

Robinson saves her more heady theology and personal faith for her nonfiction pieces. She has also worked for many years as an essayist, with articles published in Harper’s and The Paris Review, among others.

Listen to Marilynne Robinson’s NPR interview here.


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Malcolm Gladwell: Entertaining and Insightful

Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.

Certainly that is the case time and time again in Malcolm Gladwell’s invariably entertaining books. Looking at the world through Gladwellian glasses means homing in on details people don’t often think about. It means asking big and small questions to get at the truth of the matter. It means reconsidering established truths.

One of my favorite examples of Gladwell’s analysis comes from his third book, Outliers. Gladwell presents us with the list of the 75 richest people in the history of the world. This is a list historians have put together and includes everyone from the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt to Bill Gates. Of that list, Gladwell notes, 14 were born in a nine-year span in the 19th-century America. Here Gladwell asks a small question with a big answer. Why is that? Why are nearly 20% of the people on that list so close in age and from the same country?

The answer is opportunity. John D. Rockefeller (Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller), J.P. Morgan, Marshall Field, Fredrick Weyerhaeuser, and nine others were all born between the years 1831 and 1840. Because of the economics of the Civil War and postwar periods followed by the boom of the expanding railways and advent of Wall Street, these 14 were perfectly poised to reshape America and her economy. Those born a decade before were too old, stodgy, and set in their ways. Those born a decade later hadn’t come into their own yet. It always makes me wonder what the next auspicious generation will be.

Of course Gladwell doesn’t lead us to believe success is all about luck. In the same chapter that deals with the above subject he defines the now-famous 10,000-hour rule. This is the amount of time Gladwell believes it takes go from amateur to master. It is also the secret to Bill Gates’s as well as The Beatles’ prosperity. Because Bill Gates had access to a computer and began programming when he was 13 years old at the University of Washington—at a time when this was still unusual—he quickly rose to master computer programming. This sets him aside from many other highly intelligent, ambitious people of his generation who did not become multibillionaires. The Beatles played more than 1,200 shows in Hamburg between 1960 and 1964. There, they developed the skills necessary to become one of the world’s all-time greatest bands at such a young age. Gladwell points out that it takes only 20 hours a week for 10 years to achieve mastery level. In theory, anyone can do it. Gladwell admits that he himself spent about 10,000 hours writing for The American Spectator and then The Washington Post before becoming a master of his craft.

Gladwell was most recently obsessed with the old story of David and Goliath. This is the eponymous story in his latest book. In classic form, he reconsidered the two famous opponents, digging into the details of the tale. Through his critical approach, Gladwell discovered that David was not the underdog at all—Goliath was. David was fast, nimble, and well practiced with the sling, as he used it to defend his herd against predators. Goliath on the other hand was weighed down by his arm, and specifics of the story indicate that he had trouble seeing. Goliath expected David to come to him in hand-to-hand combat, but that was never David’s intention. It goes to show that life, and the stories we tell, are not always what we think they are. Gladwell fills his book with other such insights, sometimes turning what we think on its head.

But Gladwell doesn’t just concern himself with historical story or lofty anecdotes. He uses data to take on real-life problems. In his first book, The Tipping Point, Gladwell uses epidemiology to approach topics like the drop in crime rate in 1990s. He believes that crime is contagious. In the 1990s in New York City, police started targeting small crimes such as jumping the turnstiles in subways. Gladwell concludes that this directly correlates with a drop in larger crimes. Because, like disease, if crime is contagious, then reducing smaller crimes snuffs out the crime epidemic.

Through all of his data studies, anecdotes, and theories, Malcolm Gladwell remains immensely enjoyable. His writing feels like a conversation (even more so with audiobooks!) and not like a textbook.

What’s your favorite Gladwell anecdote? Let us know in the comment section. Also, check out our Libro.fm Malcolm Gladwell author page, where you’ll find all his audiobooks.

Watch Malcolm Gladwell’s other TED Talks here
Read Malcolm Gladwell’s work at The New Yorker here.


Tipping-Point

The Tipping Point

By Malcolm Gladwell

Gladwell’s first book, which looks at issues big and small through the lens of epidemiology. Here you’ll find a wide variety of topics from the seemingly inconsequential (shoe trends) to those that affect society as a whole (crime rates).


Blink

Blink

By Malcolm Gladwell

We think without thinking. Using scientific evidence, Gladwell examines our biases and hunches that lead to sound decisions.


Outliers

Outliers

By Malcolm Gladwell

What makes someone successful? Gladwell looks at this question from every angle, from someone’s date of birth to early access to education and technology, distinguishing the most successful people from everyone else.


What-The-Dog-Saw

What the Dog Saw

By Malcolm Gladwell

Gladwell selected 19 of his articles previously published in The New Yorker to fill this book. Topics include the fall of Enron, late bloomers, the variety of spaghetti sauces, and the inventor of the birth-control pill, just to name a few.


David-And-Goliath

David and Goliath

By Malcolm Gladwell

In typical form, Gladwell flips everything we think we know on its head, looking at the stories of underdogs and success. Besides the eponymous Biblical story, Gladwell details Northern Ireland, revenge scenarios, civil rights leaders, and more.


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