Archives for the month of: January, 2014

The entry period for Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Awards Contest is coming up! They begin accepting submissions in mid-February and the final deadline is March 2. They accept submissions in five genres. Entrants are required to submit a pitch, an excerpt, and the complete manuscript, so if you have a novel to enter, don’t delay! You need to be crafting the pitch now. The contest’s official page has more information. Good luck!

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First, a confession: for breakfast this morning, I had two cups of coffee and two oatmeal-raisin cookies. This was bad.

Second, another confession: sometimes when I say I’ve read a book, what I really mean is that I listened to an audiobook of the book.

Third, more about the second confession: I work at a desk for at least 7.5 hours each workday. After work, at least several times a week, I work out. This is not optional; if I skip it, my energy levels reset to zero and I feel miserable. After working out, I have to find food and eat it, and then there’s usually some household task that needs doing, like grocery shopping or washing dishes or doing laundry. On days when I don’t work out, I try to socialize, so I might go to a happy hour or something. It’s a rare day when I leave work and go home and have quiet time to sit and read. I know you all can relate.audiobook2

But I still want my stories! I want lots of them. So, I get some books in audio format, which I download to my phone. And I listen to these while cooking, doing dishes, sweeping, going for walks, etc. Between audiobooks, print books, ebooks, and the various storytelling podcasts that I follow (This American Life, Snap Judgment, The Moth, Radiolab), I am able to consume stories almost nonstop. This pleases me. (But it might not be good for my hearing.)

This weekend I finished the audiobook What I Was. Afterward, I thought about how taking in the story via audio instead of reading it subtly changes the experience. And I decided it would be good to identify the format when reviewing books. So I’ll start doing that.

I finished this book weeks ago, but I delayed writing my review because I wasn’t sure what to say about it. I can’t rave; it didn’t capture me in that way. I can’t dismiss it or offer criticism; it is too good, too well written for either or those reactions. What it is, perhaps more than anything, is real. The writing is understated and powerfully descriptive, conveying the steady pace of life in the small fictional town of Holt, Colorado where the novel is set. The characters are skillfully depicted; each of them seemed like someone I know, or once knew—a pregnant teenager, a high school teacher, a pair of elderly farmers, two young brothers. Likewise, the setting is vivid and realistic.

Plainsong was a finalist for the National Book Award (NBA) and won other prestigious awards. Critics loved it. I tried to, but I kept wishing that something would happen. I was impatient. Each chapter follows one character, so that first you learn what is happening with the young girl, then the two little boys, then the teacher, and so on. It takes some time for the reader to see the threads coming together. But as the characters’ lives become more and more intertwined over the course of a year, we see a community growing together, a family being created. The story, then, is that of the quiet acts of bravery, kindness, and generosity of the characters, who each seek to connect to others.

There is something very lovely and powerful about this book. There is the truth that to truly connect with others, one must become vulnerable. One must show need, expose the self. There is also a profound sense that everything will be okay, that people’s capacity to love is abiding, and that everyone can find a home.