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Monday News: Gabriel Garcia Marquez dies, Mark Twain as mentor, fascinating history of paperbacks, and the 2014 Peeps Show

Monday News: Gabriel Garcia Marquez dies, Mark Twain as mentor, fascinating...

Writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Who Gave Voice To Latin America, Dies – Gabriel Garcia Marquez, author of One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera, winner of the Nobel Prize for literature, and innovator of the style known as magical realism, is dead at 87. Garcia Marquez had recently been ill, so his death was not a complete surprise, but he remains a literary star of intense magnitude, not only for his talent and his literary contributions, but also for the way his voice and his presence influenced Latin American literature and politics.

Garcia Marquez was part of a Latin American literature boom in the 1960s and ’70s, along with Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes and Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa, with whom Garcia Marquez differed sharply in his political beliefs. The Colombian got his leftist leanings from his grandfather, and they shaped his writing.

“I write mostly about the reality I know, about the reality of Latin America,” Garcia Marquez said. “Any interpretation of this reality in literature must be political. I cannot escape my own ideology when I interpret reality in my books; it’s inseparable.” –NPR

Mark Twain, Writing Coach and Role Model – Speaking of literary influences, this essay on Twain by Ben Tarnoff is, I think, quite relevant for the current writing and publishing climate, as Tarnoff writes it. Twain was a writer who understood the value of commercial fiction as a business enterprise, in part because he was an investor of varying success, and often needed the money writing brought him to support himself and his family. But Twain was also a journalist and a man who wrote like someone who could do little else (he would literally write page after page, tossing each to the floor as he finished, writing too quickly to stop). A nice little read.

At first I had pictured Twain’s time as a less precarious one for writers. I was surprised to discover that he lived through a publishing upheaval much like our own, when rising literacy, an expanding population, and improving printing methods were conspiring to create a crowded media landscape. In 1776, the country had only thirty-seven newspapers. In 1861, the year Twain went to Nevada, it had more than five thousand. These papers formed a kind of analog Internet. A few big nodes in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia predominated, but smaller papers took root in all corners of the country, networked by telegraph wires and railroad tracks and post roads, churning out everything from jokes to novels to partisan screeds. –Daily Beast

How Paperbacks Transformed the Way Americans Read – There is so much of value in this article, I wish I could quote the whole thing. a history of the paperback (mass market, “pulp,” and beyond), for those who think that digital is the only true book revolution, this history is mandatory reading. Pocket Books and Penguin led the way in the 1940s, with books that sold for a quarter and could be produced quickly and in great numbers. By 1944, Pocket had sold a hundred million copies, and Penguin needed to keep up. Initially they were largely re-publishing books from the UK, so the Ballantines (Ian and his 19-year-old wife), who were in charge of US operations for Penguin, started putting out new books with illustrated covers, shocking Allen Lane, who had hired Ian Ballantine to handle the US market.

After the war, Lane was horrified to see his prestigious Penguin logo stamped on such tawdry covers. In 1945, he forced the Ballantines out. Lane expected his new hires, German publisher Kurt Enoch and American Victor Weybright, to fall in line with his refined sensibilities, but they too failed him. Graphic (and sometimes lurid) illustrations were necessary for the American market, Weybright argued. “The general intention of our covers is to attract Americans, who, more elementary than the Britishers, are schooled from infancy to disdain even the best product unless it is smoothly packaged and merchandised,” Weybright wrote to Lane. –Mental Floss

Peeps Show 2014 winners and finalists – Everyone Peeps might be my favorite; what’s yours? –Washington Post

REVIEW:  Before You Break by Christina Lee

REVIEW: Before You Break by Christina Lee

before-you-break-lee

Dear Ms. Lee,

Last year I read and enjoyed your debut novel, All of You. Enough so that I looked forward to your next book. Before You Break is about Ella, the best friend of Avery, the heroine of All of You.

Ella’s younger brother committed suicide when she was in high school. This left a mark on her entire family. They worked through their grief and moved on with their lives, but it influenced Ella in many ways. She’s studying to be a psychologist. She works at a suicide prevention hotline.

Unfortunately, some of these things are less ideal. She’s dating a guy because of a tenuous connection to her dead brother. Hardly a reason to stick with someone under the best of circumstances and even less so when the guy is an asshole who’s cheating on you. But Ella’s boyfriend is part of a frat and through that frat, she meets Quinn.

Quinn is the university’s star catcher. He’s also not living his own life. Feeling guilty for an accident that happened when he was in high school, he’s living out the life that should have belonged to his best friend. Quinn loves working on cars, not playing baseball. He wants to open a garage, not become a business major.

Given the recent conversation about readers’ hard lines, I want to start off by assuaging any fears. There’s no cheating in this book. Ella ends things with her cheating boyfriend before starting anything with Quinn. But she didn’t end things because of Quinn (and in fact, doing so would have made me doubt the long-term viability of their relationship); rather, meeting Quinn made her realize some deficiencies in her prior relationship.

Before You Break is a novel that plays with dual identities. Ella and Quinn know each other through the frat house and Ella’s ex. They also know each other as Gabby and Daniel, the suicide prevention hotline operator and the guy who calls in when he questions why he’s still alive. Neither knows about the other relationship. Ella doesn’t know Quinn is Daniel, and Quinn doesn’t know Ella is Gabby.

This is clever and all, but I’m not convinced it adds anything to the narrative. I understand why the device is used. Quinn isn’t going to unload all his baggage to Ella. In fact, his opening up about the past is a major hurdle he has to overcome in order to start a proper relationship with her. But I found the dual identity plotline drawn out. When will Quinn find out she’s Gabby? What will Ella do when she realizes the reason behind Quinn’s reticence? These questions only keep you hooked for so long. After a while it becomes “get on with it already.” In some ways, this reminds me of the Lucas/Landon bit from Easy but not as effectively done because Before You Break is told from both the POV of Ella and Quinn, not just Ella.

That said, I really liked the brief glimpses of Ella’s family. Ella’s family is Polish and we get to see what culture played out in their home life when Ella goes home for Easter. I have a fondness for depictions of immigrant families in fiction, and this hit the spot. It’s the little details that worked: the making of the food for an extravagant meal, the men from the older generation having loud conversation outside the house, older members of the younger generation helping their littler counterparts eat their food, and the way you get sent home with tupperware after tupperware after tupperware of leftovers. It’s chaotic and loud and everyone is in your business, but it’s something I really identify with, coming from an immigrant family myself.

Before You Break is about two kindred souls. Ella’s life was changed by the suicide of her younger brother, and Quinn feels unbearably responsible for the death of his best friend, to the point of wondering why he’s still alive when his friend is not. Their home lives are also a study in contrasts: Ella’s tight-knit immigrant family and Quinn’s lonely but politically driven parents. it’s about working through the grief from losing a loved one, exorcising any responsibility you may will, and learning to live for yourself. I like these themes. In fact, I love them.

But Before You Break somehow fails to make them shine. I don’t know if it’s because of the dual identity narrative. I don’t know if it’s because it’s so somber and heavy. I might just not be in the mood for a story like this. I don’t regret reading this book but in the end, it’s a C for me.

My regards,
Jia

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