"I cannot live without books." -- Thomas Jefferson

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Author Meredith Maran Remembers Book Soup When...

Have a favorite Book Soup story? In anticipation of our 40th anniversary party on June 12 (that's right -- 40 years!), we're collecting memories from Book Soup-ers everywhere.

First up is author, book critic, and journalist Meredith Maran, who finally (finally!) clarifies what the hell a Book Soup is.

Meredith writes:

"My most profound experience of Book Soup happened long before I'd ever set foot in the store. As an Oakland writer, each time I published a book I'd eagerly await my tour itinerary, hoping to find that enigmatic venue on the list. Again and again, I was disappointed, leaving me to wonder, "What's a Book Soup? Is it like alphabet soup? Stone soup? Duck soup?" It wasn't until I moved to LA that I finally entered that hallowed ground -- as an author/bookseller on National Independent Bookstore Day -- and realized what a Book Soup is: Soup's on!

Aw. Thanks Meredith. I totally get it now.

You can submit your own Book Soup story here.

And if you haven't read Meredith Maran's Why We Write or A Theory of Small Earthquakes yet, you're missing out, dude. 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

6 Questions with Magician Steve Spill

[Photo: Steve Spill]

1. Reading your book, you get the sense that you are a man who has met everyone. How has working with some of the top people in entertainment shaped you own ambitions and outlook on life?

Those who I've worked with or admired most possess tremendous enthusiasm, great energy, and enormous self-awareness. My ambitions is to continually strengthen those qualities in myself and communicate with audiences while being the funniest and most amazing I can be.

2. What was it that attracted you first to magic and has this fascination sustained you throughout your career?

I was 5 and my dad was bedridden for a couple of weeks with an ulcer. That's when he lit the flame of magic in me, which, to this day, had never gone out. He sat up in bed -- his jaws sagging at first, his face pale, stubbled with beard hairs -- and taught me the simple trick with two strings that his father, my grandfather, had taught him. What I witnessed that day was one of the great thrills of my life.

The instant he started teaching me, a transformation came over him or from within him, he was no longer a slumped man in bed suffering from ulcer, suddenly vital and strong as if nothing was the matter with him... a regal master mentor, majestically passing the baton, the magic wand, to his son. Nowadays the same sort of thing happens to me. If I'm ill and have a show to do, another set of reflexes take charge and the ailments seem to vanish while I'm on stage. After that day, instead of Legos or little green army men, the only toys I played with were magic tricks.

One of the tricks of our trade that I love is the lying. Dyslexic displays of honesty that range from tiny little manipulative untruths, to big, fat in-your-face lies. To be a professional magician is to be an expert at dispensing disinformation, duplicity, hypocrisy, distortion, deception and fakery without any of the guilt or unpleasant consequences. And we magicians enjoy the thrill of getting away with it.

3. You explain and mention many original tricks you perfected throughout the years. Which one is your favorite and why?

My favorite is whatever new thing I happen to be working on at any given moment.

4. Your book includes a chapter on all of your failed ideas. Why did you include it?

Not ALL my failed ideas... that would fill many books. These are cherry-picked stories in the continuing saga where I had an idea, worked up a method to do the trick, got the props together, scripted the routine, and rehearsed it. But on stage, in front of real, breathing strangers, for one reason or another, it wasn't a keeper. In other words, these were routines that turned out to be useless and insignificant. I've included them in the book because in one way or another I found them to be poetic.

5. You are an artist, but you also run a business together with your wife, who is also an artist. How do these various identities mesh?

To write, produce, and perform a show in a theater that you designed, built, own, and operate, you have to be equal parts dictator and diplomat. You must be both the astonishing magician and visionary storyteller on stage and the guy shoveling raw sewage in the middle of the night because no one else would and everything would be lost if it didn't get done. You must be both an extravagant artist and a penny-pinching jerk. It isn't easy, and it isn't always fun. It isn't about money or fame. It's about what it takes to share you vision with those who want to see it. 

6. What advice would you give aspiring magicians?

Nobody makes a living as a magician by accident. You have to want it pretty bad. Success is enjoying the journey. The stamina of a marathon runner is more important than talent. Hard work helps you improve, and when you're obsessed, you make your luck.

I'm not big on giving advice, and I hate to give anyone false hope because luck has played a part in whatever success I've had, but I'll say this: By utilizing your skills and by being true to yourself and working hard it is possible to create an act or show that will -- if not rake in millions -- at least not find you on welfare at the end of the day.

[Photo: Skyhorse]

Steve Spill signs and discusses I Lie for Money: Candid, Outrageous Stories from a Magician's Misadventures on Tuesday, May 19 at 7pm. 


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

5 Questions with Author Kevin McEnroe

[Photo: Kevin McEnroe]

1) Our Town is your first novel. How long have you been writing?

I started taking writing seriously when I was about nineteen. I wasn’t a great student, and, floating through college, I took a fiction writing workshop simply because it met once a week, and at night. I didn’t think much of it until our first assignment, which was to write a story from the opposite sex's point of view. I thought, then, of a time when I was young, and I was left alone with my grandmother – my nana – one of my earliest memories. She died soon thereafter, and it’s the only time I remember her at all, but it must have stuck with me, because after that my professor came to me and told me I had something. He told me not to stop. So I didn’t – I’ve been trying to breathe life into her, and thus myself, ever since – and it was because of him that I finally understood what school is for. 

2) Your novel shares a title with Thorton Wilder's famous play, Our Town - although Hollywood is obviously very different than Grover's Corners. Was this a conscious decision of yours?

It was, indeed. It was for a long time called Serenity Side Down – a turn of phrase I liked, and which meant something to me. So, when my editor approached me about calling the book Our Town, I was nervous at first, both legally – not sure whether or not one was even allowed to co-opt a classic name, as such – and in that I didn’t want to disrespect such a legendary work. But, when I thought more about it, it began to feel as though Our Town was always the name, in some ways. From moment one I felt as though a narrator – or “stage manager” – was necessary to guide the action. And I felt that the hope of fame that Hollywood of old could provide a certain type of person was similar to the way people, when reading of Grover’s Corners, could hope for an easier, simpler life. The value systems that the two places offered up were no less than entirely opposite, but I found the hope that life could be better was in some ways the same, and so it began to feel right. Both right, and necessary.

3) Your novel is fiction, but you also come from a long line of Hollywood actresses who have struggled with addiction. How much or how little did your own family history shape this story? 

I’ve always known that Dorothy is based on my nana, Joanna Moore, who is my mother’s mother. However, outside of some attempt to honor her spirit, or, at least, attempt to realize what connected her and I, I view the rest of the novel’s landscape as entirely fictionalized. In many ways, I see the rest of the characters, and in some ways Dorothy, too, as just an extension of me. In the end, I do think I found out what connected her and I, and thus why I was so interested. Her ability to get in her own way – to do the wrong thing because you don’t believe in yourself, because you don’t believe someone like you deserves to be happy – is something that lives in me, too. And I hope, in honoring her, that it will be as though she’s finally able to gain some of the recognition that she should’ve believed she deserved from the beginning.

4) Who (or what) have your writing influences been? Where do you get your inspiration from? 

I have a tack board where I pin up ideas, when I have them. My influences are not all literary, as well. With this book, reading Nathaniel West’s The Day of the Locust and Joan Didion’s The White Album provided the feeling that I needed to write. But music also helped me – I would find songs that suited the tone and rhythm that I needed for a particular scene, and play them over, and over, and over, until it was right. And movies – The King of Comedy comes to mind. Oh, and lastly things like Bravo, for I found the vapidity of that sort of programming has existed in Hollywood since it’s inception, and it helped for me to attempt to incorporate that tone. 

5) Do you have any more novels on the horizon?

Yes. I am working on a New York book now. I think of Our Town as my LA book, and I want to treat the city that I now live in with the same reverence, and also disrespect. Both idealizing the romance of the New York streets at night, and fearing what happens if you continue walking on them until the morning. I’m working now, so I’m not sure, still, if I'll  be able to get this balance right. But I’m going to try, and I can’t wait to do so.

[Photo: Counterpoint]

Kevin McEnroe will sign and discuss Our Town on Thursday, May 14 at 7pm.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Visit Book Soup at the LA Times Festival of Books!

Book Soup will be haunting Booth 88 at the LA Times Festival of Books at USC this weekend (Saturday, April 18, 10am - 6pm & Sunday, April 19, 10am - 5pm)! We'll be selling a selection of Penguin books, books about LA, tshirts, and other fabulous goodies, so be sure to stop by!

For more information, please visit: http://events.latimes.com/festivalofbooks/

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Adriana's Recommendations: Spring Fever Edition

Rejoice! Spring is finally here, which means it's *officially* outdoor reading season. There's absolutely nothing I enjoy more -- in fact, I even prefer reading outdoors to reading in bed, which is saying a lot. I guess it's something about the breeze. Anyway. Here are a couple of recent and forthcoming releases I recommend you dig into while the weather is still right:


Girl in a Band, by Kim Gordon -  Even if you're only a cursory fan of Sonic Youth, Kim Gordon's memoir is inspiring and insightful, a look into a life transformed by art. If you loved Just Kids, then you'll enjoy Girl in a Band.

I'm Very Into You, by Kathy Acker & McKenzie Wark - The heartfelt/vulnerable/compelling/nerdy/tragic email exchange between Kathy Acker and McKenzie Wark, published posthumously almost 20 years after Acker's death. A time capsule that thrusts you right back into the 1990s, when email and the internet was a brand new territory for writers. 

God Help the Child, by Toni Morrison - Because it always comes back to childhood, doesn't it?

Monday, March 23, 2015

Q&A with Self-Help Guru Dr. Pinder Chipps, Author of "So Your Son is a Centaur"

[Photo: Dr. Pinder Chipps]

1) What was your initial reaction when your son revealed his decision to go through the "Wizard's Change" and become a centaur? Take us back to that fateful day.

My initial reaction was confusion, which was followed quickly by anger, then guilt... and finally hunger for some reason. After I ate a sandwich and spoke with parents who had gone through the same experience, I realized the Five Stages of Centaur Awareness are completely normal. The last stage, of course, is acceptance.

2) How is your relationship with your centaur son today?

I have wonderful relationships with both of my centaur sons! Just last weekend my wife and I drove out to Fabian's meadow for dinner and a movie. We watched Seabiscuit (again!). 

3) Are all centaurs lustful drunks?

Yes. Studies show that centaurs do experience higher levels of alcoholism than the greater population. My youngest son, Quintz, has been through the Program and has now been sober for three years. As he now likes to joke when going out with friends, "You can lead a centaur to a bar, but you can't make him drink!"

4) Is it considered "tacky" to ride your centaur child?

Well, personally, I think "exhilarating" is the correct term. However, my sons would be more likely to agree with you.

5) What about forcibly entering your centaur into the Kentucky Derby?

Many parents want to live vicariously through their children. However, whether it's pushing them into baseball, or ballet, or doing a series of jumps over various hurdles and ditches, it's important to remember that parents should motivate and nurture their child's interests and not their own. 

6) What advice would you give parents who are struggling to accept their centaur child?

Remember that it's not a choice. Your child was born this way - they just weren't born into the body they wanted. Once you realize being a centaur is a core part of your child's personality, it's easier to understand and accept them.

7) Is it too much to ask that your centaur child wears pants in public?

Oh, the arguments I've had on this subject! Look, it's a different culture, and there's nothing you're going to say to convince them otherwise. Some sons get a pierced ear, or a tattoo. Others have four legs and refuse to cover them with pants. After years of fighting it, I've just come to tolerate it rather than let it ruin Thanksgiving dinner.

8) What exactly are your qualifications to be giving this advice...?

I have two centaur sons and a psychology degree that I purchased from the back of a hobo's car. I'd say that's plenty qualified. 

[Photo: Obvious Plant Publications]

So Your Son is a Centaur: Coping With Your Child's Confusing Life Choices is available for purchase at Book Soup for $7,000,000. This is Dr. Pinder Chipps's first book. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Q&A with Adam Novak, Author of "Take Fountain"

1) I'm fascinated by Take Fountain's premise. Where did you get the idea to turn a podcast transcript into a noir novel?

I first heard the name Dollars Muttlan when a mysterious briefcase was left at an office building on Camden Drive that belonged to a desperate screenwriter who was attempting to distribute a script to a lit agent. The BHPD responded by evacuating buildings and blocking off streets in the area. The screenwriter Dollars Muttlan was questioned by BHPD and released. The briefcase was destroyed by the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department bomb squad as a precaution. 

It was the suggestion of the Santa Clarita Chief of Police to call the podcast transcript between that briefcase screenwriter Dollars Muttlan and reader Larry Mersault a novel. 

Adam Novak [Photo: Aldo Mauro] 

2) Take Fountain has been compared to the work of Bret Easton Ellis and also James M. Cain. Who are your literary influences?

Leaving Las Vegas by John O'Brien. The last sentence of Michael Tolkin's The Player. Bad Sex on Speed, Pain Killers, and Happy Mutant Baby Pills by Jerry Stahl. And Bruce Wagner, the voice of Los Angeles. 

3) What about cinematic influences?

Cannibal Holocaust: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XiXukKBLpPA&app=desktop

4) What's next for you? Anything we should be on the lookout for?

They never did capture Dollars Muttlan. Expect to hear more from him. 

[Photo: Rare Bird]

Adam Novak will sign and discuss Take Fountain on Thursday, March 19 at 7pm. 


Monday, March 9, 2015

5 Questions with Author and Music Historian Andrew Grant Jackson

[Photo: Andrew Grant Jackson] 

1. So, what was so special about music in 1965? What was happening back then?

Basically the combination of the civil rights movement, Vietnam, the Pill, marijuana, LSD, and long hair on men caused a lot of people to start questioning things and demanding more personal freedom, and the musicians reflected that by creating new genres like folk rock, funk, baroque pop, and psychedelia, and experimenting with new sounds like Indian instrumentation, feedback, and distortion. Bob Dylan inspired his peers to write new kinds of lyrics for rock and pop: surreal, introspective, topical. The civil rights struggle fueled the golden age of soul. Songs began to reflect the changing morality of the Sexual Revolution. 

2. What was the scene like for female musicians in 1965?

Nina Simone accompanied herself on piano, and Odetta, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, and Jackie DeShannon accompanied themselves on guitar. Maureen Tucker started drumming for the Velvet Underground at the end of the year. In R&B, you had vocalists like the Supremes, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, Fontella Bass, Dusty Springfield. In folk you had Marianne Faithfull, the Mamas and the Papas just starting up, We Five, the Seekers, Cher. Petula Clark had pop hits on both sides of the Atlantic.

3. Top three favorite songs that you cover in your book?

Narrowing it down to three is a killer! If you were talking about "influential" or "important" I'd say "Like a Rolling Stone," "Satisfaction," "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," or "People Get Ready." But since you're saying "favorite"... I'll change my mind tomorrow, but "Freedom Highway" by the Staple Singers, "That's the Chance I'll Have to Take" by Waylon Jennings, and "I'm Not Sayin'" by Nico. Can I add one more? The Who's "Anyhow, Anyway, Anywhere." On the book's website there's a list of my favorite 125 tracks from the year: http://www.1965book.com

4. In your opinion, have there been any other years in more recent decades that compare to 1965 in terms of new/popular music?

There aren't too many years that have a comparable level of radical innovation. 1977 had the Sex Pistols' album, Saturday Night Fever, and hip hop starting up. The whole synth revolution was the biggest change in sound - going all electronic with drum machines - but I don't think there's one year you can point to for that. 1992 you had Nirvana at the top of the charts, and Dr. Dre's The Chronic, so that was a huge era for alternative and rap. Naturally, I love the garage revival of the early 2000s. But part of the excitement of 1965 was that the music was contributing to a cultural reformation, and I don't think there's been one on that scale since the 60s. Obviously hip hop changed the culture, but that took place over a longer span of time. I don't know if you can zero in on one explosive year for it.

5. Do you sometimes feel like you were born in the wrong era?

Yes! I came of age in the era of drum machines and crack and AIDS. I would've much preferred the psychedelic early years of the Sexual Revolution with the sounds of jangle pop and classic soul and music recorded live in the studio with lots of vocal harmonies. But then I might've gotten drafted.

Andrew Grant Jackson will sign and discuss 1965: The Most Revolutionary Year in Music on Thursday, March 12 at 7pm.

[Photo: Thomas Dunne Books]


Monday, March 2, 2015

On Fiction & Feminism with Author Elisa Albert

Elisa Albert [Photo: Elisa Albert]

1) Your book is fiction, but like your protagonist Ari you are also a mother in real life. How did your own experience of pregnancy/childbirth/motherhood shape the novel?

It plunged me into a world of which I'd previously had no concept, and opened my eyes. I needed an outlet for processing what I saw and felt and observed around me. Ari became my vehicle for thinking it through. It was like going to live in a foreign country. 

2) Ari is constantly struggling to incorporate her motherhood into her feminist politics. I think this belief has developed - even among feminists themselves - that birth and feminism are mutually exclusive, like you can't be a mother and also be a feminist. What do you think about that?

Feminism and motherhood have long been push/pull. There's a kind of stale understanding of both feminism and motherhood underlying that. As the poet/doula Carrie Murphy says: there's not enough birth in feminism and not enough feminism in birth. The two are in fact spectacularly intertwined, and can inform each other in fascinating ways. I recommend Adrienne Rich's "Of Woman Born" as an excellent place to start.

3) I'm sure you've heard the complaint that Ari is "too unlikeable" of a protagonist. I find this complaint interesting because - while it's true that there are some harsh elements of Ari's personality - I wouldn't say she goes as far as, say, a Bukowski or Henry Miller character, who are often glorified because they are so appalling. Do you think there's a double standard at play here?

A wild double standard, indeed. Regardless, debating the "likability" of fictional characters is a joke at this point. Bukowski and Miller and Nabokov and Roth write fucked up characters well, that's why we adore them. The writing is where it's at. What's actually unlikeable is turgid trite hesitant fearful prose, I'd venture. Written with wit and verve and lust and brains and tits and soul and heart, we can love absolutely anyone, and peek into the darkest reaches of human nature. That's what's awesome about literature. Anyway, usually the folks who cry "unlikeable" are those who just can't tolerate human frailty reflected back at themselves. 

4) Female friendships are a complex subject. Again, I think there's an incorrect assumption that all women naturally band together and are nurturing and loving to each other all of the time. There's also the opposite viewpoint - that women are judgmental, jealous, and spiteful when they're together. Where does Ari's and Mina's friendship land in all of this?

Ari and Mina have a rare and precious friendship that is absent competitiveness, insecurity, and passive-aggressive bullshit. It sucks that their kind of friendship is relatively rare, but it's also great, because it's so special. It's one of the first of its kind for Ari, so it's really vital and healing for her. 

5) I think there's been a recent movement by female artists to represent friendships between women in a more conscious and real way, like you do in your novel. Lena Dunham's "Girls" and Illana Glazer's and Abbi Jacobson's "Broad City" are two TV shows that come to mind. Can you suggest any other examples? 

I liked Hilary Mantel's "An Experiment in Love." Mary Gaitskill is good. "How Should a Person Be?" by Sheila Heti was good. Sex and the City? Laverne and Shirley? The Golden Girls? Representations of female friendship are often subplot, but they're very much there if you pay close attention. 

Elisa Albert will sign and discuss After Birth on Thursday, March 5 at 7pm. 

[Photo: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt]


Monday, February 23, 2015

Don't miss Elisa Albert next week!

"After Birth is a romp through dangerous waters, in which passages of hilarity are shadowed by the dark nights of earliest motherhood, those months so tremulous with both new love and the despairing loss of one's identity -- to read it is an absorbing, entertaining, and thought-provoking experience."

- Lydia Davis, author of Can't and Won't