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A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

A Monster Calls by Patrick NessA monster calls on Conor just after midnight in the shape of a yew tree looming over his bedroom window.  But Conor is not afraid.  “I’ve seen worse,” he says.  And he has – his waking life is filled with helping care for his mother during another round of cancer treatments, a father who has largely disappeared to be with his new family in America, a gang of bullies at school, and losing faith in his one true friend.  Amid all this turmoil, it is almost a relief to be visited by the yew tree at night.  Or at least it’s a nice change of pace from the monster in his other nightmare – the one that truly frightens him.

The idea for this book came from a Young Adult author named Siobhan Dowd, who unfortunately passed away from breast cancer in 2007.  (I am not familiar with Dowd’s work, but will certainly be looking it up now.)  Patrick Ness was called in to shape the idea into book form, along with illustrator Jim Kay, and the result is something special.  The language is simple but haunting, and Conor’s pain and uncertainty show in stark and heartrending ways.  The illustrations are dark, textured, and expressive, and add immeasurably to the overall atmosphere of the book.  Simply put, this is a beautiful volume in terms of story, prose, and presentation.

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Guest Review: The Long Goodbye by Meghan O’Rourke

Jamie YatesToday we are excited to be joined by our first guest reviewer, fellow bookseller-in-exile Jamie Yates.  Not only does Jamie run his own review blog, Chicago Ex-Patriate, he is also associate editor and contributor to the newly-launched Instafiction.org, which features a new short story each weekday.  Plus, he’s fun to be around.

If you are a bookseller (past or present) or book blogger who would like to contribute a guest review, please contact us!

Le.Review: The Long Goodbye by Meghan O’Rourke (published April 2011)

by Jamie Yates

In my career as a bookseller, I had a tendency to disdain memoirs. Let me make a distinction—I’m not lumping biographies into this category, but rather clarifying a much needed division between the two. I generally enjoy biographies, even though supposedly “journalistic” accounts are sometimes revisionist histories, but that’s another topic altogether. Memoirs, however, are sometimes unabashedly biased or skewed towards an almost pornographic/voyeuristic look into private lives. Are you a long forgotten 1980s/1990s television co-star with a former co-dependency? Are you a non-famous person who endured unspeakable personal atrocities? If so, then your chances of selling a memoir to a publishing house are probably pretty high. I’m not trying to sound cold or unfeeling towards these sub-genres, but after awhile, there are only so many (likely ghostwritten) accounts that one can handle. The troubling subjects are explored with the stated goal of continuing the healing process, or reaching out to others with the same afflictions. Noble, yes, but after awhile, readers can become desensitized when so many similar titles have been released.

However, in my last days of corporate book selling, I excitedly came across a galley of The Long Goodbye, a memoir by poet/critic Meghan O’Rourke, a former editor with The New Yorker and The Paris Review, and The Long Goodbye by Meghan O'Rourkea current contributor to Slate magazine. My admiration for her writing stems back to 2010. When everyone in the literary community (myself included) was eagerly reading Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, O’Rourke wrote a stunning essay exploring the role of female authors in the goal of writing “The Great American Novel.” She wondered whether Freedom would have been as highly received had it been written by a woman, and almost immediately after, she was the recipient of several critiques herself, as well as a briefly altered Wikipedia page (“Despite her Yale education and privileged life, she believes she is at a great disadvantage as a writer because she is a not a (yawn) white male”). These attacks were utterly unfounded, and that single example of her writing hooked me. Her arguments were precise, but not attacking; rather, the overall atmosphere was that of someone seeking an honest, open discussion about an aspect of the literary community that needed to be out in the open. Plus, while I’m still a huge fan of Mr. Franzen, I agreed with her statements, and was bewildered that people would take her words as personal attacks. I made immediate mental notes to read more of her bibliography. While my hope was to catch up on her poetry, I found myself beginning to read more of her work with The Long Goodbye, an account of her mother’s cancer and imminent death, and their many personal implications.

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