Monday, March 31, 2008

Eat where Coop eats

One of the fun things about Linda Fairstein's Alex Cooper books is that many of the eateries in the stories are real places. In fact, true fans could make a culinary tour of Coop's favorite NYC eating haunts.

Some examples:
Primola, a delicious Italian restaurant on Manhattan's Upper East Side is decorated with a wall of book jackets featuring Fairstein's bestselling mysteries.

Rao's, a club-like Italian joint in East Harlem that's so good it's hard to get a reservation (we're guessing that Fairstein has no problem there). But if you can't get in, there's always the cookbook.

Swifty's on Third Avenue is another fave Coop spot that's great for people watching.

Forlini's is the place to go if you're on jury duty in lower Manhattan. We're guessing that Fairstein knows it well from her days as a prosecutor in the District Attorney's office. Just cross the street behind the courthouse and you're in for a delicious meal.

Another of Coop's (and Fairstein's) favorite haunts is Martha's Vineyard. Coop's favorite clam shack there is The Bite, well worth the lines that form during high season. Another option is The Galley, where you can sit at the edge of the water and enjoy your lobster roll and soft ice cream for dessert.


Thursday, March 27, 2008

An imaginary journey

It's a cliche, but like most cliches, it's a cliche because it's true. Books take you places. You're sitting in your chair at home but your mind is somewhere else completely. We've talked about this before in this blog.

The Long Walk Home by Will North is an example of a book that takes you somewhere very specific, to wit, Northern Wales. This is not a place I know at all, but after reading North's book, I feel as if I do. There's a bed and breakfast (imaginary) that I would love to stay in, and a mountain (real) that I would love to hike. You get a palpable sense of this country, and the way life is lived there, at least on a working farm with the aforementioned bed and breakfast. And if there's any test of how well a book does its job of transporting you, it would be that you come away from the book with a definite resolve that some day, somehow, you have got to visit that place yourself, for real. I'm thinking of a Great Britain and Wales trip maybe next year. Seriously.

Now if only the dollar would rise up a little higher in value against the pound...


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

More about dogs

Some of us here at Select Editions have already written about our dogs (you can see previous postings by clicking on the Dog stories label below). This is because it seems everyone these days is writing about their dogs, so why not us as well?

Of course, it helps to have something dramatic to write about. A lot of tears have been shed over the untimely passing of a loyal companion (see Anna Quindlen's recent shortie Good Dog. Stay.) We recently ran a great story in our nonfiction series called My Life with George, about a cute but very spoiled Cavalier King Charles spaniel named George. When he contracts a deathly illness, you really felt for his family. (Luckily he survives.)

My Welsh springer spaniel, Tanner, is young and healthy, so no sob story there (yet). What I find interesting about him is how he reacts when I'm reading a book. He sits at my feet and stares at me. Big brown eyes fixated on my face. Right there below me. And then he starts making throaty little whimpers that gradually escalate in volume. I try to ignore this performance but inevitably I soon laugh or glance down at his face and am greeted with the canine equivalent of a wide grin. I've come to realize that my reading looks to him like I'm just staring into space, sort of in his direction, but not quite. It must seem like some sort of maddening teasing game, until finally I look at him. How many books have been put aside to give Tanner's furry white belly a big rub? Too many to count.

The picture above of Tanner checking out Marley & Me might look staged, but it wasn't entirely. I caught the dog sniffing the book intently, due to some dropped chip dip on its pages. Mea culpa about being careless with my book, but at the time it seemed a fitting homage to good ol' messy Marley.


Monday, March 24, 2008

Fountain of youth?

Is it just us here at Select Editions, or does anyone else out there think Andrew Gross, author of The Blue Zone (in SE volume 296), looks considerably younger than his years? Gross was born in 1952, which makes him 55 or 56 at the time of this writing. But his author photo—the one on the book jacket (above left)—has set the female (ahem) members of our editorial staff all atwitter. I, for one, wouldn’t peg him for a day over forty. What’s his secret to looking so young?

Lest cynical readers think that Gross simply submitted an old photograph to his publisher—one that shows him at a younger age—I can vouch for the official one’s relative accuracy: other photos taken of the author around the time of The Blue Zone’s publication (above right) show him looking equally youthful.

If he could bottle and sell his secret as a potion, he’d make more than he makes from all his best-selling books combined, that’s for sure. And that would only be from sales to the female members of the SE editorial department . . .


Friday, March 21, 2008

Simply the best

After stepping into the exotic world of Rosie Thomas’s 1940’s Cairo in Iris and Ruby, with it’s fairy-tale evocation of high-society romance among the British set escaping the war, I couldn’t help thinking of the word posh. I am after all this blog's Word Nerd.

Posh is a wonderfully succinct term that evokes the privileged world Thomas describes of dashing officers and their ladies at nightclubs and dinner parties, of servants and luxurious fashion—all made the more seductively ephemeral by the threat of invasion by the circling Nazi war machine. Appropriately the word gained favor during the Edwardian era and has been use ever since. It means, of course, “the best”—the best table at a restaurant, the best clothes, the best service, and so on, and invites images of plummy upper class accents, dinner jackets, and understated wit.

No one knows for sure what is the exact origin of the word. It might derive from a slang word for “dandy” or the Romany word, also posh, for "half" which became a London slang term for the halfpenny and later any sum of money during the 19th century. The theory—disowned by cranky old lexicographers (who are probably right)—that it’s an acronym coined during the days of the Raj is more fun, though. POSH, the theory goes, was a phrase used by upscale Brits traveling to India who wanted the most desirable berths aboard ship. “Port Out, Starboard Home,” is supposed to have been a code phrase for accommodation with the most shade—literally the “coolest cabins”—on an ocean liner sailing to and from India.

Whatever it’s provenance, humble or high, posh is a great word and one that should always be at hand when doing a crossword puzzle or playing Scrabble.


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The art of the title

A recent article in The New York Times about books with identical titles (like Gone by Lisa Gardner and Gone by Jonathan Kellerman) got me wondering how many of the books we’ve used in Select Editions also have titles used by other authors. Since titles can’t be copyrighted, I expected the results of my informal and incomplete on-line search to be fairly substantial, and I wasn’t disappointed. Below is a partial list:

Daddy’s Girl by Lisa Scottoline ALSO USED BY Charlotte Vale Allen, Clifford Irving
Winter’s Child by Margaret Maron ALSO USED BY Brenda Jagger
A Whole New Life by Betsy Thornton ALSO USED BY Reynolds Price
The Sunflower by Richard Paul Evans ALSO USED BY Simon Wiesenthal
Magic Hour by Kristin Hannah ALSO USED BY Susan Isaacs
No Place Like Home by Mary Higgins Clark ALSO USED BY Fern Michaels
Mosaic by Soheir Khashoggi ALSO USED BY Amy Grant

Of course, it’s easy to create a title that no one can duplicate: just make it really long—like Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All (Allan Gurganus). You could also attract attention by making your title really short—like Them (Joyce Carol Oates). But if a four-letter title isn't short enough for you, you could also just name your book with a single letter: like Z by Vasilis Vasilikos (which was made into a movie starring Yves Montand), a by Andy Warhol, or X by the composer John Cage.


Monday, March 17, 2008

Love among the fossils

I was browsing around the internet and happened to check into Will North's blog. He has some interesting discussion about The Long Walk Home, including a piece exclaiming "Will someone please tell me what’s so surprising about love stories involving older people?" He explains how mature people falling in love is hardly an earth-shattering event: they do it all the time.

Of course, he's right, but the interesting thing is, it doesn't often get written about. I read plenty of love stories, trying to find the right ones for Select Editions, and as I responded to Will's posting, most of them seem to boil down to two categories. First, there's young unmarried people finding each other, and secondly, there's slightly older people who should be married or should be married to someone else finding each other.

Will seems to think the reason for this is that we are hung up on young people, but I wonder if it's something else. My theory is that when we read, we just gravitate to imagining lead characters in their twenties. Quite honestly, when I was a kid reading books, I always imagined lead characters in their twenties, and today I still imagine lead characters in their twenties. Why, is an interesting question. Maybe it does indeed stem from a youth culture mentality, perhaps fed by Hollywood. But maybe it's something more innocent and natural.

Maybe one's twenties inherently seems like a good time of life to have adventures, and books are adventures, so we naturally are inclined to imagine adventurers of the appropriate age. In other words, not just love stories but almost all stories get mentally set in that vague twenty-ish age bracket.

I remember reading somewhere once that one of the secrets of the mind is that no kid ever thinks they're young and no oldster ever thinks they're old. The mind is a timeless place. Maybe we all just think we're somewhere in our twenties.

It's an interesting question.


Thursday, March 13, 2008

On being blue

First, let me apologize to William Gass, author of the seminal 1976 work whose title I borrowed for this posting.

But I couldn’t help thinking about colors as I worked on The Blue Zone by Andrew Gross for the current issue of Select Editions. Gross tells us that the U.S. Marshals describe three stages of a participant’s involvement in the witness protection program: the Red Zone, when a subject is in protective custody; the Green Zone, when the subject, along with his or her family, has been placed in a new identity and location; and the Blue Zone, when there is suspicion that a subject’s new identity has been penetrated or blown.

That got me wondering—what other things can be described as being in a red, green, or blue “zone”? Many more than I would have imagined, it turns out. Here is just a partial list:
- Campus buildings at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks
- Shelves in the library at Lancaster University in England
- Blood alcohol levels, according to a scheme devised by the counseling center at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania
- Asthma symptoms, according to the Pennsylvania Medical Society
- Exhibits at the Natural History Museum in London
- Parking spots in San Francisco

Who knew?


Monday, March 10, 2008

Iris and Ruby and sand

Do you ever think about sand? Okay, maybe while you're at the beach. But it's probably not a daily concern. You can't help thinking about sand, however, once you're deep into the exotic world of Iris and Ruby by Rosie Thomas. Because most of the novel is set in Cairo, Egypt—right on the edge of the Sahara Desert. And then there's that terrific scene where Iris and Ruby nearly get swallowed up in a major sand storm.

Naturally, being the curious sort I am, I began to reflect on sand and trekking the Internet to learn more. There is certainly a lot of it, on land and undersea. But how much? I don’t think anyone knows. (I tried to find out but couldn't.) There is probably just too much of it. There is sand even under the ice of the Antarctic, which is, itself, the world's largest desert—and the setting of Rosie Thomas’s last novel, Sun at Midnight. (I detect a trend.)

Sand, of course, is nothing more than loose formations of small particles of broken up rocks and minerals. But there are many different kinds of sands, I've learned, of many different and often striking colors. There are even people who like to collect sand. Really. They're called arenophiles, or: “sand lovers.” This brings out the word nerd in me. I had to look this one up. Arena actually just means "sand" in Latin. Since they didn't have AstroTurf in those days, the ancient Romans used sand as the groundcover of choice—to soak up, no doubt, all the nasty aftereffects of gladiatorial combat. Over the years, arena has become a sort of shorthand term for any sort of stadium or large stage or performance area.


Thursday, March 6, 2008

Sandhogs: Who knew?

Who knows what a sandhog is? I didn't, until I worked on Bad Blood by Linda Fairstein in the current volume of Select Editions.

Sandhogs are "urban miners," "tunnel diggers," or basically a group of workers whose job it is to excavate the bedrock beneath New York City in order to build stuff: subways, tunnels, building foundations—and huge water pipes. One of the sandhogs' biggest projects right now is building Water Tunnel Number 3, which is the largest capital construction project in New York City's history. Its purpose: to provide the thirsty city with a critical third link to its water supply system in upstate New York. I say critical, because Water Tunnels #1 and #2 are vastly antiquated, and in theory could fail at any time (Fairstein has some fun with that idea in Bad Blood). Construction on Water Tunnel #3 began in 1970, and is not expected to be complete until 2020. Eventually the tunnel will be more than 60 miles long.

And the sandhogs? They're the men and women doing the dirty work, hundreds of feet underground, 24/7. There's an old saying, "If it's deeper than a grave, the sandhogs dug it." To learn more about the sandhogs—and they are a fascinating bunch—check out their website. And if you want to find out why they're called sandhogs, you'll have to read Bad Blood.


Monday, March 3, 2008

You're not just a name, you're a number

While doing research on-line for the AfterWords section that follows The Blue Zone by Andrew Gross in our latest volume of Select Editions, I got so interested in the topic of the Federal Witness Protection Program that I kind of got lost in the various Web sites that describe its history. You know how it is . . . one link led to another, which led to another, which led to another . . .

So I soon I found myself on the government’s Social Security Administration Web site—I have no idea how I got there, but presumably it had something to do with the fact that participants in the Witness Protection Program are issued new Social Security numbers—and what I found was fascinating.

There’s an in-depth history of Social Security numbers on the government site, along with an explanation of what they mean. Did you know that numbers are not assigned sequentially, and that the first Social Security number issued in 1936 (and, by the way, no one knows to whom that number was issued) is not the lowest? And did you know that the first three digits of a person’s Social Security number indicate the geographical area in which that number was applied for?

It brings to mind an interesting little coincidence in my family . . . I was shocked to discover when I married my husband that his Social Security number and my father’s Social Security number contain exactly the same digits (except for one). They’re all shuffled in a different order, but they’re the same—except for that pesky one. That must be the reason I could never memorize either of them!