Category Archives: Book Talk

Book Review: White Tears by Hari Kunzru

Hari Kunzru’s newest novel White Tears follows a couple privileged hipster college-educated white boys as they try to chase down, record and sell authentic black music from the dawn of the blues era. But what starts out as a snarky take on cultural appropriation and the current music scene in the U.S., ends up taking a dark turn down into the pits of American segregationist history.

For all of the beauty and fresh authentic sounds the American blues brings us, we forget why it’s called the “blues”. The stories, horrors and ghosts that gave birth to all the haunting words and rhythms were real. And it was bad.

Kunzru’s story zips back and forth through time, pulling on threads and connecting dots between the pain that birthed the blues, music laws, the 1960’s music industry and the “only vinyl will do” trends of the current decade.

I enjoyed the beginning of the book and the writing is solid. I wasn’t expecting the honest-to-goodness ghost story that crept up to help drive home the point of cultural appropriation and entitlement, but I have an appreciation for why and how Kunzru did this. Sometimes we just don’t know what we’re messing with and should just leave it alone.

It’s good to stop while reading this book and think about how the ideas are playing out “for real” in the story. It’s easy to forget the sting of all those ideas and themes, once the story starts chugging along and characters start dying and disappearing mysteriously.

I have to admit I’m a sucker for a well done all-type book cover and White Tears does look good (it’s another great one by the modern dust jacket master Peter Mendelsund) face out. Overall, I give White Tears a 3 out of 5 stars.

Happy Holidays & Happy New Year!

I love this time of year. Things seem to slow down just a tad, just before the new year, and allow some room for quiet and even spurts of uninterrupted reading. Joy!

I do hope that you have been able to carve out some moments of peace this holiday and that the stress of things piling up in the weeks ahead isn’t too daunting. It can be a scary feeling.

One of the books I managed to finish last week was Nicholas Basbanes’ Among the Gently Mad and it had a few bookish Christmas facts in there.

  1. The first time “Merry Christmas” appereared in print was in a travel book printed in 1617
  2. The first illustration of Saint Nick was in 1863
  3. The first commercially printed Christmas card was in 1843
  4. The earliest known printed illustration of Santa coming down a chimney is from 1841

I have to admit to being surprised at just how young Santa is.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the book, which offers tours and thoughts behind people who collect books and associated artifacts. Basbanes has been at the bookman game a long time. Though I was bummed that I was coming to this book late. It was published in 2002. So many of the radio shows, blogs, dealers, names, etc. aren’t relevant these days. I hate that I missed out on something called The Book Guys Radio Show, which seems to have had a long life, before being cancelled.

New Year’s Eve has always been one of my favorite holidays. It’s one of the few times there is some semblance of a global party and you get the sense that for a split second everyone is looking forward together. I hope you stay safe and have a fun time as we welcome 2018!

May you read lots of worthwhile words in the new year ahead.

BookTV is Featuring Fiction

BookTV has aired, on CSPAN2, every weekend since 1998 focusing on non-fiction books. That focus shifts a little in January 2018 when their 3-hour-long show In Depth will begin featuring fiction authors as well.

They are going to feature one fiction author, on the first Sunday of each month, all year long. These segments will be conducted as all In Depth shows are, allowing viewers to watch live and call or send in questions via social media.

They haven’t shared the whole line up for the year, but there are some big fiction authors slated to be on the show:

  • January 7th: David Ignatius
  • February 4th: Colson Whitehead
  • March 4th: Jeff Shaara
  • April 1st: Walter Mosley
  • May 6th: TBD
  • June 3rd: Gish Jen
  • July 1st: Brad Thor
  • August 5th: Cory Doctorow
  • September 2nd: TBD
  • October 7th: Geraldine Brooks
  • November 4th: TBD
  • December 2nd: Brad Meltzer

What a great lineup! Those are some smart folks who are writing about big and small topics all over the place. BookTV has chatted with fiction authors before during their coverage of literary festivals or industry events like Book Expo of America. In fact they’re airing a conversation with George Saunders about his book Lincoln in the Bardo, which is a segment I plan on watching.

If you don’t keep up with BookTV, it is well worth your while to check the lineup every weekend. They’ve had some great interviews over the years and they broadcast many author readings, book parties, and book festivals. It’s one of the coolest things our government has every spent taxpayer dollars on. The BookTV YouTube channel is worth a subscription too.