Tuesday, May 31, 2011

An "Unorthodox" Story by a once Orthodox girl

Born into one of the strictest sects of Judaism, the Satmar Hasidim, Deborah Feldman experienced a life of shelter and repression. Now she writes about her experience as part of one of the most impenetrable religious sects in America in her upcoming book Unorthodox (SOHO Press).  

                The Satmar Hasidim was founded in the 1950’s by Rabbi Teitelbaum in Williamsburg, NY. The movement boasts stricter rules than other Hasidic sects to prevent even the glimmer of assimilation to the rest of the world. Women are married young and are expected to have children and attend to their husbands while the men study Talmud fervently, never getting a formal education. This is the world that Deborah rejects.
                From a very young age, Deborah had a spark of rebellion in her. At the age of twelve, she would sneak off to the public library in Brooklyn. Books became a nonthreatening way for Deborah to experience the way others lead their lives, especially other women like Ann of Green Gables or Jane Eyre. Soon, her love of literature blossomed into a love of writing. “My actual voice became a dangerous seductive tool, I learned to whisper instead of shout, and I began to write instead of speak, using the language of my library books to convey all my hopes and fears in a way in which they could never be criticized.”

At the age of 17, Deborah was married off and not long after she gave birth to a son. It would seem that her fate was sealed, but in an act of courage that most of us could not even imagine, she left it all. “I drove away from my marriage, and my religion, for good on the one eve of my 23rd birthday, with nothing but my son and some garbage bags filled with clothes. I changed my phone number and address and didn't tell anyone where I was.” It is hard to imagine what it is like to leave behind everything for a new life, especially one where everything is unfamiliar and new. Not long after she left, Deborah enrolled in Sarah Lawrence College where she is currently pursuing her degree. Her book Unorthodox detailing her life growing up in and eventually escaping her Hasidic community is forthcoming in 2012, SOHO Press.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Raise Your Glass to Tin House's Publication "The Hour: A Cocktail Manifesto"

Tin House is on a mission to showcase not only the best of well-established authors and poets, but also to shed light on the great and forgotten and the new and unrecognized. As a result, Tin House has sent out into the world an impressive array of literary works, both through their magazine and through their own publishing house. In fact, UTNE recently gave praise to Tin House, nominating them for a Utne Independent Press Award in best writing. UTNE says, “These magazines are literally what Utne Reader is made of. Though we celebrate the alternative press every day and with each issue, once a year we praise those who have done an exceptional job.” Tin House has done an exceptional job. UTNE  praises the small publication, “In its 10th year, Tin House is wildly delightful, showcasing a roster of writers both emerging and established.” As evidence to such a feat, Tin House recently received a lot of praise for their republication of the book, The Hour: A Cocktail Manifesto, by Bernard Devoto.

The Hour was originally published in 1948 as one man’s manifesto and tribute to the best hour of any adult’s day, cocktail hour. DeVoto, the book’s author, was a well-known literary critic in his time, as well as author and historian. In fact, the same year that The Hour was published, DeVoto received a Pulitzer Prize for another book of his, Across the Wide Missouri. It seems amazing that such an esteemed author has wandered into obscurity over the years. Daniel Handler’s introduction presents the book as sort of a cult masterpiece for the cocktail enthusiast. Handler himself discovered the book in a bookstore window sandwiched between vintage cocktail recipe compendiums. It is sad to think that such a great find would only be viewed by a select few lucky enough to discover it, but thanks to Tin House, the book is now once again available for the rest of the world to enjoy and with much praise from critics everywhere.

From The New York Times to an enthusiastic review from Blogcritics, the reviewers seem to enjoy DeVoto’s comedically snobbish tone as he frequently bashes rum and espouses whiskey as the most patriotic drink. As far as rum is concerned, it is clear from the second sentence into the book that he is not a fan, “Let us candidly admit that there are shameful blemishes in the American past, of which, by far the worst is rum.” All critics seem to agree: rum fans will not find this book entertaining. The third part of the book, “The Enemy” is dedicated to juice, another cocktail ingredient that DeVoto bans from the canon. In fact, the only two drinks that DeVoto does accept are “a slug of whiskey” and a martini with no added olives or orange bitters. For those who are looking for a 127 page long book espousing the beauty of a six o’clock martini or a glass of whiskey, then by all means, kick back with a nice glass of your favorite drink and enjoy. To end with a quote from DeVoto, “May six o’clock never find you alone.”

Monday, May 9, 2011

Red Lemonade

The first of Cursor’s planned online communities opened to the public today.  Red Lemonade provides a space online for writers to come together, post their work, receive feedback and attract the attention of agents, publishers and other writers.  I like to think of it as an all-night writer’s workshop for forward-thinkers, populated by proven talent and eager students in a digital venue that transcends high gas prices and incongruous schedules.  The site is currently peppered with sharp literary fiction and quite a bit of poetry from emerging artists, and open to any writers looking for a place to showcase or polish their stories.

Cursor’s founder, the maverick Richard Nash, has earned a reputation in the world of publishing as a risk-taker and visionary since his days running Soft Skull Press.  In a blog post earlier today, Nash addressed the current state of publishing and the need for a community like Red Lemonade:

We have tended to speak of the model of publishing for the last hundred years as if it were a perfect one, but look at all the indie presses that arose in the last 20 years, publishing National Book Award winners, Pulitzer winners, Nobel winners. What happened to those books before? They weren’t published! They. Were. Not. Published. Sure, some were, but most? Nope. We cannot know how much magnificent culture went unpublished by the white men in tweed jackets who ran publishing for the past century but just because they did publish some great books doesn’t mean they didn’t ignore a great many more.
So we’re restoring the, we think, the natural balance of things the ecosystem of writing and reading. The writers read, the readers write.
The rest of Nash’s entry as a whole is inspiring, as much a call to action as an introduction to his newborn publishing house and webspace.  It has been reproduced all over the internet where industry news sites have announced Red Lemonade’s official unveiling.  Nash’s latest venture has set the publishing industry a-twitter, including a tweet earlier today by NPR Books.

I was fortunate enough to be allowed to test-drive the site during its beta over the last month.  RedLemona.de has an attractive, minimalist presence that brings the authors and their works to the forefront.  Finding an interesting story to read is as simple as glancing over the Library page and once there it was easy to comment on a work in progress or reply to previous critiques.  Red Lemonade has an intuitive highlighting system that makes pointing out a specific passage as easy as passing a yellow marker across a piece of paper and without the annoying squeak.

With the doors wide open and Nash inviting everyone inside, it’s time for the world to see what Cursor has building for the past months.  I encourage everyone to click through to the site and see the next step in publishing.  This one looks to leave big prints behind.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Love Lost and Found

Soho books and authors have received quite a bit of attention lately.

Marriage counselor and love expert Sharyn Wolf gave an interview with Kirkus Books today to promote her new book, Love Shrinks.  Kirkus’ Michelle Daugherty drew out some excellent responses from Wolf regarding the inspiration for the book and how Wolf was taking the negative press attention following her guest blog on the Huffington Post where she admitted to a failed marriage.  

“I’m very surprised,” Wolf told Daugherty regarding the media’s response, “because they haven’t read the book. And they don’t know the complexities of this marriage, and I think of so many marriages that are really floundering. I’ve been saying lately that you can be a heart surgeon and have a heart attack; I can be a marriage counselor and have a divorce—they’re not mutually exclusive.”
The video below shows Wolf’s interview with Fox News and highlights some of the controversy mentioned above, specifically the ramifications this book may have on Wolf’s relationship to Oprah Winfrey on whose show the marriage counselor was featured as an expert eight times.

Meanwhile, Katharine Beutner won the Edmund White Award for Debut Lesbian Fiction for Alcestis, her version of the mythological tale of a woman who sacrifices her life to the underworld so that her husband may live instead.  Young Alcestis finds the world of the dead to be not much worse than her own and in time discovers that there is passion even among the unloving when she is drawn to the embrace of Hades’ stolen wife, Persephone.  There is certainly something alluring about this gothic-sounding tale of womanly love and the abyss, which explains why Alcestis has also been nominated for the Lambda Awards later this month as well.

Finally, the paperback of Sara Gran’s horror novel, Come Closer, will be appearing on bookshelves by the end of the month.  The book is tightly written and has been praised by both Bret Easton Ellis and Sam Lipsyte.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Noir Down Under

Soho Press will be bringing Australian author Gary Disher’s latest entry in the Wyatt series to American shores this August.  Named simply Wyatt, the book follows its unscrupulous main character of the same name as he attempts follows stolen goods, grabbing as much as he can for himself while staying alive. 

Disher’s novel has been compared favorably to the work of noir master Richard Stark in at least two places this month, while grabbing additional respect for tight writing and a main character who is as thoughtful and methodical as he is callous and without mercy.  Wyatt gets his hands dirty often enough to satisfy fans of action, but it is the way he approaches situations, and the other people he meets in Melbourne’s shadows, which drives the narrative forward.

In the end, Wyatt faces a challenge unlike all the inept thugs and the femme fatales he has maneuvered through in the series.  Wyatt comes face-to-face with another of his kind, a man without morals or pity, who is only interested in the next big score.  If you like your crime dark and your heroes anti, Wyatt is sure to satisfy.