When last October I began talking to friends about Ten Thousand Saints, I got in the habit of starting with a question: “Do you know about the straight edge scene?”

The answer, invariably, was No.

Undoubtedly, this lack of awareness can be pinned on my bookish, Portland-centric social circles, at least in part. No matter, eight months later, most conversations about Eleanor Henderson’s debut include a brief tutorial on the boys and bands that spawned a movement three decades ago in response to the drugs and drinking and generally hedonistic tendencies associated with punk music.

Now, as glowing reviews greet the novel’s publication — on the heels of a New York Times Book Review feature, Vogue and Entertainment Weekly have joined the joyous chorus — I’m starting to wonder whether “straight edge” might finally enter the mainstream vernacular.

If you’re curious to learn more, here’s Wikipedia on the subject. Also a straight edge FAQ. [click to comment]

Here’s Stacey D’Erasmo, writing for the front cover feature of this coming Sunday’s New York Times Book Review:

“The ambition of Ten Thousand Saints, Eleanor Henderson’s debut novel about a group of unambitious lost souls, is beautiful. In nearly 400 pages, Henderson does not hold back once: she writes the hell out of every moment, every scene, every perspective, every fleeting impression, every impulse and desire and bit of emotional detritus.”

“What is your novel about?” I’d asked Eleanor, months ago, in her Ithaca home. I’d read an advance copy of the book by then, of course, and brought my own ideas to the interview, but what did she think? After working with her characters for nine years, their story had grown to accommodate any number of interpretations. [click to comment]

In October 2010, I visited authors Diane Ackerman and Paul West at their upstate New York home, where we spent two days talking about Diane’s forthcoming book. Several early readers had called it her best to date; without question, it’s the most personal, affecting work of her career.

Six years earlier, Ackerman had been on tour, promoting her twentieth book, An Alchemy of Mind: The Marvel and Mystery of the Brain, when her husband suffered a vicious stroke that stole not only his capacity to speak and write but also his ability to decipher language and symbols of all kinds. Global aphasia, the condition is called. Should Diane count it as a blessing or a curse that she’d spent the previous years studying—and celebrating!—the delicate intricacies of the brain?

Before his stroke, Paul had published more than forty books: novels, stories, poems, and a wealth of nonfiction. He’d been a professor of writing and literature at Penn State when Diane enrolled in his Contemporary British Literature course. That was in the early seventies. Their relationship thrived on a shared love for wordplay from the start.

Despite the frightful event that initiates its action, One Hundred Names for Love: A Stroke, A Marriage, and the Language of Healing is no simple, tragic tale. Paul does recover. Within several years, incredibly, he’s writing books again. As Donna Seaman noted in a starred Booklist review, from these challenging times Ackerman manages to create “a gorgeously engrossing, affecting, sweetly funny, and mind-opening love story of crisis, determination, creativity, and repair.”

On the day of the book’s publication, we’re proud to present two videos, both constructed out of that October visit. First, the official trailer. And next, Diane’s short introduction to the “one hundred names” referenced in the book’s title. [click to comment]

How has Aimee’s approach to storytelling evolved from book to book?

At what point in the three-and-a-half years that she worked on The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake did she feel like she understood what she was writing?

Do you remember that part of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with the square candies that suddenly look round? [click to comment]

“It never would have occurred to me to set something in the future,” Anthony Doerr says, if the editors of McSweeney’s hadn’t challenged a number of writers to set stories in 2024. Other contributors to McSweeney’s 32 include Jim Shepard, Wells Tower, Heidi Julavits, and Salvador Plascencia.

“Memory Wall,” the title piece in Doerr’s new collection, wound up running almost 20,000 words—and winning the National Magazine Award for fiction. Here he describes its genesis, aided mightily by the direction and uncommon freedom that McSweeney’s provided. [click to comment]

“People expect you to know what you’re doing,” discovered the book-publicist-turned-author. “I don’t know what I’m doing.” [click to comment]

Memory Wall is “crazy good,” says the Oregonian. It’s “a small classic of contemporary literature,” according to the National Post. Adds the New York Times Book Review, “Doerr writes about the big questions, the imponderables, the major metaphysical dreads, and he does it fearlessly.”

The collection’s title piece—call it a long story or call it a short novella; at 85 pages, it safely straddles the line—won the National Magazine Award for Fiction. But how did Alzeheimer’s and black market fossil trading wind up in the same piece? At ReadRollShow studios during a break from the Tin House Writers Workshop, Anthony Doerr described “the long, looping way” that the elements came together. [click to comment]

What’s a reading preserve, you ask? No, it’s not a story cooked with sugar and then canned to protect against fermentation (though in fact that sounds like a detail you might find in one of Aimee Bender’s stories).

Five years ago, in an interview, I asked Aimee where she takes friends who visit L.A. She told me about The Museum of Jurassic Technology. “They have this wonderful, very dark exhibit of trailer parks in America,” she said, “little dioramas of trailer parks with chirping crickets. It’s beautiful! They have letters to the observatory and bats that fly through walls.”

And she raved, “It’s great for writers, because it’s half real and half not, and no one knows what’s what.”

Last winter, I finally saw the place, thanks to the hospitality of a good friend at Vroman’s Bookstore. In the context of Bender’s latest novel, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, it makes perfect sense. A character who can taste the feelings of the people who make her food? Lemon Cake could generate an exhibit unto itself. [click to comment]

Sloane Crosley: Lit Crush

August 5, 2010

Sloane Crosley’s reading list includes several books you’ve been hearing about: the forthcoming Franzen novel (Freedom), the new Shteyngart (Super Sad True Love Story), Jonathan Lethem in paperback (Chronic City) and a sequel of sorts by Bret Easton Ellis (Imperial Bedrooms). But she reserves her true excitement for “a dark, little Canadian pellet” whose new book comes out this fall. [click to comment]

Says Bender: “Books should help you be a person, right? That’s what a book, I think, hopefully, ideally could do. All these books in some way, in some underground way, are guides.”

Subscribe to ReadRollShow using the form on the right and you could win a signed first edition of Aimee’s new novel, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake! [click to comment]