Wednesday, April 02, 2003

2003 - 2004 Reading Group Suggestions Book Sense 76 Top Ten
Mar 27, 2003
This week, Book Sense This Week is publishing the top ten of the 2003 - 2004 Reading Group Suggestions 76, with bookseller quotes. Next week, BTW will feature the full listing, also with quotes.

The Reading Group Suggestions 76 was a great idea from stores, and many, many thanks to all those who gave so much help throughout the nomination process! It's our hope that this 76 will extend the reach of the program into the backlist and also provide you an effective new resource to market to all those great book buyers in reading groups. Stores will be receiving copies of the 2003 - 2004 Reading Group Suggestions 76 in the April white box.

For more information about this -- or any of the upcoming 76 lists, e-mail Dan Cullen at

2003 - 2004 Reading Group Suggestions Top Ten

1. THE POISONWOOD BIBLE, by Barbara Kingsolver (Perennial, $15, 0060930535) "Kingsolver transports the reader to the Congo in 1960, as a Baptist minister and his family try to convert Africans while dealing with the explosive dynamics within the country's political situation and within their own family. Book groups especially enjoy the distinct points of view of the mother and the four daughters, which Kingsolver masterfully crafts and develops throughout the book." --Kathy Schultenover, Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Cincinnati, OH

2. THE RED TENT, by Anita Diamant (Picador, $14.95, 0312195516) "This richly detailed story of a family caught between two cultures, matriarchal and patriarchal, is told by Dinah, daughter of the Biblical Jacob. The Red Tent offers reading groups the opportunity to discuss women's history and families struggling with conflict." --Rita Moran, Apple Valley Bookshop, Winthrop, ME

3. GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING, by Tracy Chevalier (Plume, $13, 0452282152) "A young servant is asked to model for Vermeer against the wishes of the artist's wife and family. You'll find intrigue, jealousy, and an extraordinary look into the life and work of the artist from the young woman's point of view." --Donna DeLacy, Portrait of a Bookstore, Studio City, CA

4. HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG, by Andre Dubus III (Vintage, $14, 0375727345) "More than a riveting story of two people -- a formerly wealthy Iranian immigrant and a troubled young American woman -- fighting to own the same house, it is also a story of the clash of two cultures. It's an especially relevant book for discussion today, providing readers with insights into both the Muslim and American mind-sets." --Jeanne Morris, Bethany Beach Books, Bethany Beach, DE

5. MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA, by Arthur Golden (Vintage, $14.95, 0679781587) "Book groups will enjoy discussing the gender issues, including that the author is a man and an American and the story is told in the voice of a famous geisha. Golden convincingly portrays this exotic, mysterious side of 20th century Japan." --Margie Skinner, Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza, Albany, NY

6. THE SPARROW, by Mary Doria Russell (Fawcett, $12.95, 0449912558) "A vivid, believable tale of space exploration and first contact, seamlessly woven into a story with ethical and religious overtones. Even if you're the type to avoid science fiction, do not miss The Sparrow! It is an engrossing, intelligent recount of a mission gone horribly wrong despite all the right intentions." --Rosemary Pugliese, Quail Ridge Books & Music, Raleigh, NC

7. THE HOURS, by Michael Cunningham (Picador, $13, 0312243022) "This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel makes brilliant use of Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway to interpolate the stories of three women--two set in contemporary America, the third that of Woolf herself. Beautifully written and totally engaging, we watch as the characters' lives come together and illuminate each other. It's no wonder that The Hours is a book group favorite." --Karl Kilian, Brazos Bookshop, Houston, TX

8. ANGLE OF REPOSE, by Wallace Stegner (Penguin, $13.95, 014016930X) "This book epitomizes the difference in viewpoints in America between East and West 150 years ago. A young New Englander marries a mining engineer and settles in a small town in Colorado. This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel raises age-old questions about how free women are to lead their own lives and what happens to marriage when partners cannot compromise." --Carla Cohen, Politics & Prose, Washington, DC

9. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, by Harper Lee (Warner, $6.99, 0446310786; Perennial, $11.95, 0060935464) "A classic that everyone should read. Two children's exposure to racism, prejudice, friendship, and loss is tempered through the loving guidance of their father." --Liz Morgan and Jean Brandt-Lietzau, Village Bookstore, Menomonee Falls, WI

10. PLAINSONG, by Kent Haruf (Vintage, $13, 0375705856) "A 17-year-old girl, pregnant and with nowhere else to turn, is persuaded to live with the two old McPherons brothers, bachelors who know far more about cattle than teenage girls. The deceptively 'plain' language and structure of this novel mask its complex view of what we owe, and what we can give, to each other. How the characters' lives are changed and their trajectories beyond the novel's close are questions you'll ponder long after you're finished reading." --Russ Lawrence, Chapter One Book Store, Hamilton MT

Tuesday, April 01, 2003

Web filters at libraries are overdue

By Alex Beam, Globe Columnist, 4/1/2003

I once wrote that ''librarians are indeed the unacknowledged legislators of the universe,'' and I meant it. Their pay stinks, their working conditions are worse than at the post office, but they bring the world to us. Now librarians are caught up in a dramatic First Amendment imbroglio over the recently adopted Children's Internet Protection Act. The case, US v. American Library Association et al., has reached the Supreme Court, with the ALA and the American Civil Liberties Union aligned against the government. The government's position is: We provide $200 million annually to public libraries for computer-related programs. As a condition of this aid, we demand that you filter out Internet pornography, especially for juvenile users.

The ALA and ACLU oppose the law on more or less classic First Amendment grounds, arguing that libraries' Internet terminals are ''public forums'' where the government may not restrict speech. They feel strongly that filters or ''blocking'' technologies end up weeding out legitimate sites -- e.g., the Flesh Public Library in Piqua, Ohio -- along with the illegal child pornography and the garden-variety smut clogging up the Internet.

Well, we're all against censorship -- or are we? While the ACLU and the usual band of First Amendment zealots are demanding let-it-all-hang-out Internet access in libraries, some resistance has arisen from an unexpected constituency: librarians. In Minneapolis last week, 12 librarians sued their employer in federal court, charging that the library's three-year-old Internet sites displayed ''virtually every imaginable kind of human sexual conduct,'' contributing to an ''intimidating, hostile and offensive workplace.'' ''We were living in hell, and they were unwilling to acknowledge the problem,'' plaintiff Wendy Adamson told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. In Toronto -- admittedly a city that won't be affected by the Supreme Court's decision -- a group of unruly teenagers chased a librarian out of her building when she shut off their Internet porn connection. A police officer told The Toronto Sun that teenagers consider the library better than an amusement arcade because the latter doesn't allow them free, unfettered access to all kinds of pornography.

When writer Chris Rodell interviewed librarians for a column posted on the literary website, none wanted to question the ALA/ACLU First Amendment party line, at least not for attribution. ''This is happening in libraries all across the country,'' one unidentified librarian told Rodell. ''Some of these children tell their parents, `Mom, I'm going to the library,' and the parents feel proud. But then some of these same kids and many adults will spend hours watching pornographic web sites right out in the open. It's very upsetting to some of our older librarians. But it's a First Amendment issue and there's not a thing we can do about it.''

That's not quite true. We can do several things. One is to accept the limitations of the much-derided filters and use them anyway. The government argues, convincingly, that when libraries use the filters, ''They are simply declining to put on their computer screens the same content they have traditionally excluded from their bookshelves.'' A second possibility is the so-called ''Boston solution,'' adopted several years ago in Copley Square by the nation's oldest public library.

At the Boston Public Library, president Bernard Margolis explains, the children's and teenagers' rooms have Internet terminals that filter out porn. The grown-ups use different computers and can visit the Flesh Public Library or order the Flesh Gordon video. If a person under 18 wants access to the wider world of Web wonders, he or she can get it, with signed permission from a parent. ''That puts the decision with the parent, where it belongs, and not with us,'' Margolis says.

I know where I stand on this. I'm behind the government and I'm tired of First Amendment shilly-shallying that fills my children's Hotmail screens with dozens of porn come-ons every day. But I will defer to Justice David Souter's eventual opinion in US v. ALA, (1) because he cares about the First Amendment in an intelligent way, and (2) because it was once said of him, correctly, that ''he regards Boston as the center of the civilized world.''

Alex Beam is a Globe columnist.

His e-dress is

This story ran on page E1 of the Boston Globe on 4/1/2003.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.

Monday, March 31, 2003

March 31, 2003
Two Identities, but One Compulsion

In the fall of 1959 Rosalie Silver, a teacher at the Yeshiva of Central Queens in Jamaica, informed her fourth-grade class that poetry didn't have to rhyme. Mrs. Silver encouraged her students to experiment with words and drilled them in the fundamentals of grammar. I sat in that class and began writing fiction. I've continued to do so, compulsively, since that autumn.

That same year I found a volume of short stories by the great social realist James T. Farrell on my parents' bookshelves. Farrell's take upon urban life was raw, morose, assertively sexual. The book was completely inappropriate for a 9-year-old. I read it under the covers by flashlight and was astonished by the author's forging of a brutal yet strangely sanctified world. A fantasy seeded: it would be great to do this.

Still, I saw writing as release, not a career possibility. I loved to paint, too, but the notion of art as a job was remote. I decided I was going to become some sort of scientist.

In 1966 I entered U.C.L.A., having graduated from a private high school with a senior class of 21. Now I was sitting in lecture halls with 600 fellow freshmen. My niche was the student newspaper where for four years I drew five editorial cartoons a week, wrote arts reviews, tried straight reporting and ended up as an editor.

In my senior year I was co-writer of an allegedly comic novel that won a Samuel Goldwyn Creative Writing Award. Film agents called me into their offices and barked, "Well, kid, what do you wanna do?" I had no desire to write movies and told them I was planning to get a Ph.D. in psychology. They stared at me as if I were psychotic and shooed me out. What I did want to do was write books, and when a New York literary agent agreed to take me on as a client, I wondered if I could make a living fooling with words. A prize, an agent: I was hot stuff at 21.

That was 1971. My first novel, "When the Bough Breaks," was published in 1985.

For 14 years I was a failed writer with a really good day job. I married, had kids, earned that Ph.D., got a medical school professorship and a job at a pediatric hospital. I specialized in childhood trauma and augmented my academician's salary by treating private patients after hours.

For 14 years I typed away from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. in a spider-infested garage, churning out a slew of novels that earned me enough rejection slips to paper my house.

During that time, creating fiction remained catharsis rather than profession. I wrote but didn't rewrite, assiduously neglecting the basics of story structure.

More damaging, I segregated my identity as a psychologist from my writing, partly out of concerns about patient confidentiality but mostly due to cowardice: I was afraid of revealing anything about myself and conjured tales that bore no semblance to my reality or anyone else's.

Stripped of the life I lived as a psychologist, I had nothing to say.

By day I treated thousands of children afflicted by tragedy, deformity, disease. Rather than finding all of this depressing, I got hooked on adrenaline and was buoyed by what I learned about the resilience of the human spirit.

During the 1970's I happened to be the psychologist who treated several children who were sexually molested by a day-care operator. As I helped my patients deal with the emotional fallout, I found myself, atypically, shocked. Knowledge about sexual crimes against children was so skimpy back then that when a colleague attended a seminar on incest, the rest of us were puzzled why she'd want to learn about something so arcane.

The children who'd been molested responded well to treatment, but their ordeal continued to resonate. This was a betrayal of innocence so profound that even I, who thought I'd seen everything, couldn't put it out of my mind.

I quit my hospital job and expanded my private practice to full time, determined to attempt yet another novel. My practice booked up quickly, and I continued to type away from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. in the spider-infested garage.

This time I outlined meticulously, dreamed about my characters, gave myself headaches nailing down the twists and turns of my story. Confidentiality remained sacrosanct, and I took pains to avoid exploiting real patients. Instead I stretched the "what if?" and concocted a tale of perversity, deceit and multiple murder set in the third world colony where I live — Los Angeles.

I plunged in and created a psychologist protagonist who bore similarities to myself. Alex Delaware evolved as a troubled, restless man, overwhelmed by horror. He emerged braver, thinner and better looking than I was: a Walter Mitty fantasy sprung to literary life.

Though I was less concerned with solving mysterious puzzles than in exploring human behavior under extreme conditions, this was shaping up as a crime novel. I needed a cop.

I created a gay homicide detective because I wanted to avoid clichés, and a gay officer was a revolutionary concept. But Milo Sturgis's homosexuality would not be glossed over. Being an outsider in a paramilitary organization that one Los Angeles police detective had described to me as "devoted to destroying the individual" would provide great dramatic tension. Milo was created out of whole cloth, as are all the characters in my novels.

"Bough" was a hard sell. Publishers praised my style, but were repelled by the subject matter. Finally, three years after submission, the manuscript was accepted. Violating everyone's expectations, including my publisher's, the book won the Edgar and the Anthony awards and became a word-of-mouth best seller.

I said, "Well, as long as they've let me in the club, I'll try another." The dark tone and childhood cancer subplot of my second novel, "Blood Test," seemed to preclude fat sales. It, too, became a best seller.

Since 1985 I've published 18 novels, including 16 Delaware books, translated into a couple dozen languages. I'm not frustrated by writing a series. Alex Delaware is a terrific vehicle for telling a certain type of story, one that explores the unpredictability of human nature. A series imposes limits, and I do my best to test them. Delaware and Sturgis go through life changes, including the aging process, though their maturation occurs in mercifully slow time.

As a psychologist I attempted to construct rules about human behavior. As a novelist I'm obsessed by the exceptions.

I love my job, look forward to the blank computer screen every morning. Protracted periods of no writing leave me grumpy. I outline in fine detail; an editor who worked with me, a man with a background in literary fiction, told me our relationship gave him a new appreciation for "the architecture of writing," and I believe that to be a perfect description of skillful story construction.

I write for myself, never for an audience, but I do strive for entertainment as well as erudition. The crime novel employs an abhorrent act to catalyze the human chess game, but I believe all good fiction is mystery writing; the reader must be compelled to find out what happens next.

I have never combed my patient rolls for characters, and virtue has been much more than its own reward. Too much reliance upon reality stiffens and cripples fiction. The roman à clef is an inferior art form.

Professional ethics forced me to imagine, and that made me a better writer. The reading public has been very kind to me. I'm thrilled but puzzled because my tastes are not commercial: movies I admire usually bomb, the music I listen to rarely makes the charts. No complaints; this beats honest labor.

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