Will Technology Drive Readers to Demand More?

It rarely happens, but this year, I had the opportunity to go somewhere nice on vacation. Not only was it somewhere nice, but it was on a river cruise, a “cozy” setting where I had a week to get up close and personal with 140 people, pretty much all of whom had disposable income, at least one variety of electronic reading device, and no shyness about whipping out their TBR lists.

Really, authors. Stop salivating. It’s unbecoming. And you’ll short out your electronic reading devices.

Okay, I sold a few books. But during the week, I had a lot of chances to talk to readers. Not like at the usual events, where I’m reading and signing, answering questions, having the briefest of exchanges. But really talk to them about what they read, why, and how technology is changing their experiences.

“I’m disappointed in e-books,” one gentleman told me at dinner. Continue reading

The Keep: A Review

Because I loved A Visit from the Goon Squad, I went straight to my library to find Jennifer Egan’s earlier works. The Keep, published in 2006, is another example of how brilliant she is with flawed and sometimes unlikable characters. As I wrote in my review of Goon Squad, we can still love and root for unlikable characters if the author treats them with compassion and makes us empathize with them. This is a tricky tightrope. Jonathan Franzen, in my opinion, failed at that in Freedom. He built a universe of flawed characters, but his judgment of them was palpable. Not so with The Keep, where Egan’s compassion shines through.

The story begins when Danny, the “cool” kid whose adulthood has left him wanting, is reunited with his socially backward, nebbishy cousin, Howie, after twenty years. The last time Danny saw Howie was at a family picnic, where Danny and some other kids had abandoned Howie in a deep, frightening cave. Now cool, tanned, blond, and a millionaire, Howie has purchased a castle in Germany and invites Danny to help him renovate it.

To give away any more of the plot would spoil a tale with some well-done twists and turns. The Keep is a fascinatingly circular story, tantalizingly creepy, and plays out like a snake, winding around to bite its own tail. The point of view characters are definitely flawed, absolutely well drawn, and I had complete empathy for them.

This is another example of Egan’s gleeful rule breaking and terrific writing. For aspiring authors, it’s a great teaching tool, as is Goon Squad.

I’m looking forward to finding the rest of her work.

Get Your Hands on This Book

Apologies that I’m late with this one (with a book coming out, I’ve been a little distracted), but I just finished reading Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad.

It’s fabulous. It’s one of the best books I’ve read in recent memory. And well worth its Pulitzer.

Ignore the media flap. Ignore what might or might not have been said, ignore who or who did not get her panties in a bunch, and get your hands on this book, especially if you are a writer. This is a master class on structure, the use of fictional time, character development, dialogue, and point of view selection.

For me it combined the three best qualities of a “literary” novel: I couldn’t stop reading it, I didn’t want it to end, and I’m still thinking about it.

The novel is laid out as a series of linked short stories circling around a rock promoter and his assistant. I don’t want to spoil too much, although this has been a topic of media consternation since its early reviews, but one of the stories is told as a PowerPoint presentation. And it was one of my favorites.

As a reader, I appreciated the compassion Egan had for her characters. Some of them are deeply flawed and make choices that could be considered unsavory, like Sasha, a young woman who can’t control her impulse to lift an unguarded wallet in the first story. But Egan doesn’t judge her, or her other characters. She helps us understand them and empathize with them.

As a reader, I also enjoyed trying to figure out where I was in time and space in each story, depending on the characters that showed up, and where they were chronologically. Rather than, say, employing an easy chapter subtitle like, New York City, 1983, Egan conveys the time and place as an integral part of the story, using the cultural events going on in the background or the stage of the recurring characters’ relationships with each other. Readers like to feel smart, like they’ve figured out the riddle without having it spoon-fed to them.

I’m looking forward to reading her earlier books.

Did you read “Goon Squad”? If so, what did you think?