Tag Archives: Nan A. Talese

Win The Piano Player

On May 27, 2011 on this site we reviewed The Upright Piano Player: A Novel by David Abbott (“Lonely Days”) and we concluded that it is highly recommended.   Now, thanks to Doubleday, we’re offering you a chance to win one of two (2) copies of Piano Player, which has a value of $22.95.Here is the official synopsis of this book:

Henry Cage seems to have it all: a successful career, money, a beautiful home, and a reputation for being a just and principled man.   But public virtues can conceal private failings, and as Henry faces retirement, his well-ordered life begins to unravel.   His ex-wife is ill, his relationship with his son is strained to point of estrangement, and on the eve of the new millennium he is the victim of a random violent act which soon escalates into prolonged harassment.

As his ex-wife’s illness becomes grave, it is apparent that there is little time to redress the mistakes of the past.   But the man stalking Henry remains at large.   Who is doing this?   And why?   David Abbott brilliantly pulls this thread of tension ever tighter until the surprising and emotionally impactful conclusion.   The Upright Piano Player is a wise and acutely observed novel about the myriad ways in which life tests us – no matter how carefully we have constructed our own little fortresses.

And in a review in The Huffington Post (“Upright Piano Player is gracefully constructed”), Michelle Wiener called this: “(A) quietly devastating debut novel…  It moves slowly and deliberately in delicate prose, gracefully and wholly consuming.”

In order to enter this giveaway, just post a comment below with your name and e-mail address, or send an e-mail message with the heading Piano Player to Josephsreviews@gmail.com .   This will count as a first entry.   For a second entry, tell us when you encountered a test in your life (literal or otherwise) and how you got past it.  

In order to be eligible to enter this contest, you must live in the continental U.S. or in Canada, and be able to supply a residential address if you’re contacted as a winner.   Books will not be shipped to a P. O. box or to a business-related address.   You have until 12:00 Midnight PST on Tuesday, July 19, 2011 to submit your entry or entries.   The winners names will be drawn at random on July 20th, and those contacted by e-mail will have 72 hours within which to supply their residential mailing addresses. 

This is it for the complex contest rules.   Good luck and good reading!

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Lonely Days

The Upright Piano Player: A Novel by David Abbott (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, $22.95, 264 pages)

“In the old days he would inspire them, lift their spirits, and send them back to their desks with renewed energy and enthusiasm.   Now he simply wanted to say goodbye and slip away.”

Henry Cage is a man who has earned the right to enjoy a quiet life.   At least it appears this way before his life turns into a series of explosions.   Cage, the founder of a highly successful international advertising firm based in London, is suddenly forced into retirement in November of 1999 – outfoxed by a legion of new, young and restless (rudely ambitious) partners who cannot wait for him to ride off into the sunset.

Henry Cage is barely out the door of the advertising firm when he learns that his ex-wife, Nessa, is gravely ill.   Nessa lives in Florida.   She does not have much time left and would like to see Henry.   Henry very much loved Nessa until she had a well-publicized affair with an actor, something that brought shame and ridicule to Henry once it was mentioned in London’s daily papers.   Although decades have passed, Henry’s not sure that he’s forgiven Nessa and he certainly has no desire to revisit past events.

And then there’s an angry young man out there on the streets of the city, a failure in life – a man with a broken arm (broken like his future) – who seeks to take his anger out on a symbol of success.   By chance, this man happens to pick Henry as the person whose life he will make miserable…  So miserable does he make Henry that it appears a confrontation between the two is inevitable; it’s likely to be a confrontation so dramatic that only one of them will survive.

The reader also learns, through a non-chronological device, that Henry will have even more to deal with – the loss of the one thing that he sees as irreplaceable.   This is a morality tale about good versus evil, hope versus surrender, and love versus despair.   You’ll want to root for Henry to survive as he’s a representation of us all as we battle the unexpected (and often undeserved) events in our lives.

If you’ve read and loved the novels of Catherine O’Flynn (What Was Lost, The News Where You Are), you will no doubt also love this work.   Like O’Flynn, Abbott writes in a quiet, reserved English voice.   Although you may rush through it, the impression is given that the writer had all of the time in the world to construct the tale – there is never a sense of modern-day impatience.

Abbot’s ability to capture and make meaningful the small details in life calls to mind John Burnham Schwartz (Reservation Road, The Commoner), whose novels are always engaging.   Further, there’s a tragedy in Piano Player that mirrors something that happened in Reservation Road.

David Abbott, whose real life just happened to be a lot like the life of Henry Cage, has fashioned a wonderful debut novel.   I certainly look forward to reading his next story.   Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was received from the publisher.   The Upright Piano Player will be released on June 7, 2011.

“David Abbott’s The Upright Piano Player is a wise and moving debut, an accomplished novel of quiet depths and resonant shadows.”   John Burnham Schwartz

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Coming Up Next…

A preview-review of The Upright Piano Player: A Novel by David Abbott.

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Jailhouse Rock

Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian by Avi Steinberg (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday; $24.95; 416 pages)

“…many of the prophets were either criminals, or prisoners, or had spent time among criminals.”

Avi Steinberg’s story will ring true for anyone who has ever worked inside of or visited a prison.   This is the account of a Harvard graduate, a once highly ambitious and religious person, who accepts a job among society’s outcasts.   Steinberg worked as a freelance writer before being hired as an afternoon shift librarian in Boston’s oldest prison.   He winds up, in Running the Books, telling some great stories of the inmates he was both attracted to and repelled by.   This, however, leads to one of the faults with this telling…  The author never seems to be sure whether the inmates he worked among were unlucky people who were not truly bad, or truly bad people who may have been fortunate to be incarcerated (a number of the inmates died of drug overdoses and violence after being released).

This is like one of those nonfiction narratives where someone with money decides to live without a job to see what it’s like among the working poor.   Here, an upper middle class highly educated young man goes to work in an alien culture and writes about it.   What seems to be lacking is the life’s lesson to be learned from it all.

This review was written by Joseph Arellano.   A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Giving Away the Books

Thanks to Doubleday Publishing, we have three (3) copies to give away of a memoir that was released just a week ago today, Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian by Avi Steinberg.   This hardcover release with a Deckle Edge has a value of $26.00 and runs 416 pages.   Here is the official synopsis:

 “Avi Steinberg is stumped.   While his friends and classmates advance in the world, he remains stuck at a crossroads, unable to meet the lofty expectations of his Harvard education and Orthodox Jewish upbringing.   And his romantic existence as a freelance obituary writer just isn’t cutting it.   Seeking direction – and dental insurance – Steinberg takes a job as a librarian in a tough Boston prison.   Over time, Steinberg is drawn into the accidental community of outcasts that has formed among his bookshelves – a drama he recounts with heartbreak and humor.   But when the struggles of the prison library – between life and death, love and loyalty – become personal, Steinberg is forced to take sides.   Running the Books is a trenchant exploration of prison culture and an entertaining tale of one young man’s earnest attempt to find his place in the world while trying not to get fired in the process.”

Here are some early comments on this book:

“Acidly funny…  Steinberg proves to be a keen observer, and a morally serious one.   His memoir is wriggling and alive – as involving, and as layered, as a good coming-of-age novel.”   Dwight Garner, The New York Times

“Hysterical, ingenious, illuminating.   I wish I had left yeshiva for prison right away.”   Gary Shteyngart, bestselling author of Super Sad True Love Story.

Running the Books presents [Steinberg’s] experiences working in the prison’s library as a fiendishly intricate moral puzzle, sad and scary, yes, but also – and often – very funny.”   Salon.com

If you would like to try to win one of the three available copies of this unique – and clearly funny – memoir, just post a comment here or send an e-mail with your name and e-mail address to Josephsreviews@gmail.com .   This will count as a first entry.   To submit a second entry, tell us briefly about the most unusual or strange job you’ve ever had.   Did you like it or hate it?   Did you learn anything from it?

This is it for the complex contest rules.   To be eligible for this giveaway, you must live in the continental U.S. and have a residential mailing address.   Books cannot be shipped to P. O. boxes or business-related addresses.  As always, the winners will be drawn at random by our experienced contest administrator, Munchy the cat.   (Munchy reserves the right to change this contest’s rules and/or dates at any time.   That’s because he’s the boss.)  

You have until midnight PST on Saturday, November 20, 2010 to get your entry or entries in.   Good luck and good reading!

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Stand By Me

My Reading Life by Pat Conroy (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday; $25.00; 192 pages)

“I was born into the century in which novels lost their stories…”

Pat Conroy is the ultra-successful author who has been disparaged by some as a mere “storyteller” and “Southern writer.”   Both are labels he gladly accepts, in fact he revels in the descriptions that are often used to damn him with faint praise.   Conroy is a writer who has remained true to his craft, to his own personal style even if it is not the fashion of the hour or day with critics.   Fortunately, writers are not politicians who must appeal to the majority; nor need they comport with the latest trends.

For this reviewer, Conroy is far from being a minor writer.   In fact, his true story My Losing Season remains as perhaps the best sports-related memoir ever written, one that fairly balances the rewards, life lessons and harsh punishments of competition.   My Losing Season chronicled Conroy’s role as a successful athlete on a far from winning basketball team at The Citadel.   Anyone who has played competitive sports at any level will recognize themselves in the eyes of the young and still naive Conroy.

This memoir might well have been titled My Life in Books, My Favorite Authors and Books, or In Defense of Great Writing.   Conroy, now in his mid-sixties, claims to have read 200 pages a day since early in high school.   In My Reading Life, he gets to serve as the reader-reviewer-judge of a lifetime of books.   He is clearly partial to the works of southern male writers, some of whom served as his instructors or idols, and all of whom served as substitute father figures.   Which brings us to the one big problem with this memoir…  Anyone who saw the film or read the book The Great Santini knows how much Conroy hated his father.   Everyone knows that and yet in this memoir Conroy constantly drags the dead horse of his hatred for his father around, as if it were some type of perverse trophy.   His father has been long-buried, so when is Conroy going to be satisfied with putting his sad childhood to rest?   Enough already.

To his credit, Conroy does not idolize all of the authors he references in this work.   Clearly he never “got” whatever it is that was supposed to be so strong and moving in the works of Ernest Hemingway, and he quite accurately points out that Hemingway’s skills – however one measured them – quickly eroded.   Conroy also paints a cold picture of the hazards of fame, something that – if it should come either too early or is poorly timed – can paralyze a writer like Hemingway or James Dickey.

Conroy does pay fine tribute to three writers, two male and one female:  Thomas Wolfe (not to be confused with Tom Wolfe), Leo Tolstoy and Margaret Mitchell.   Atlantans will find the book worth purchasing simply for Conroy’s profile of Mitchell, his mother’s cultural idol.   Conroy’s mother attended the Atlanta premier of Gone With the Wind, and taught him to hate General Sherman with every fibre of his then-young being.

Of Tolstoy, Conroy writes, “…Tolstoy makes us strive to be better people:  better husbands and wives, children and friends…  Reading Tolstoy, you will encounter a novelist who fell in love with his world and everything he saw and felt in it.”   He also makes the case that with Tolstoy, “There has never been a writer of his mastery who wrote with such clarity and ease.”   This reader wonders, however, whether one could rate a Tolstoy above an English writer whose name was William Shakespeare?

As one reads My Reading Life, one revisits his/her favorite books of a lifetime.   As we revisit these favorites we may well find that something has been lost in modern storytelling.   So many novels these days (as reflected in the quotation from Conroy that introduces this review) appear to be over-told, overly complicated and overpopulated with characters.   Return to a classic from an earlier time, such as Robert Penn Warren’s Pulitzer Prize winning story All the King’s Men (1946), and you can see Conroy’s point.   Regardless of how one comes down on this matter of the past versus current writing talent, Conroy’s memoir is a loving tribute to writers, words and the plain but so often brilliant tales of human life.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was received from the publisher.

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In My Life

Must You Go?  My Life with Harold Pinter by Antonia Fraser (Nan A. Talese; $28.95; 336 pages)

Lady Antonia Fraser has produced a memoir that is a loving and memorable tribute to the late Nobel prize-winning playwright, screenwriter and poet, Harold Pinter.   Fraser happened to meet Pinter while he was married to his first wife.   They spent many hours talking until Pinter indicated that it would be wise for him to return to his home.   This was when Fraser, who was also married, asked him, “Must you go?”   Pinter stayed and this, for all practical purposes, was the beginning of the 33-year-period that they spent together – first as an unofficial couple and then as married partners.

The reader never doubts the accuracy of the events recounted in this memoir, as it was based on Fraser’s daily diary entries (most of which were read by Pinter).   Fraser admits that married life was not without conflict, although they made it a rule to never go to bed angry…  Sometimes this meant going to sleep just before daybreak.   And Fraser admits to never quite knowing or understanding the genius that her husband embodied.   At one point a Washington Post reporter asked her a somewhat absurd question, “What is Harold Pinter like about the house, all those pauses and enigmatic statements, I’ve always wondered?”   Fraser’s response was, “Keep wondering.”

“Living with Harold the writer was a rewarding experience since he behaved exactly like artists behave in books but seldom do in real life.”

Pinter was to find true happiness with Fraser, the love of his life but it may well have affected his creativity.   His initial marriage resulted in several successful plays that revolved around, in Pinter’s words, “unhappy frozen married relationships.”   As he was to admit to Antonia, “Happiness is not dramatic.”   But Pinter was to find a new outlet for his energies and his intellect, and this was in taking positions on the world’s political issues.   He was, in a sense, like John Lennon who took strong positions on war and peace even though he knew it alienated many.   Lennon was to say that this was just the way he was.   Fraser writes of Pinter that, “…he took for granted what we might euphemistically call his outspokenness and could not quite see why other people sometimes objected.”

Pinter was to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize at a time, late in his life, when he was too ill to attend the award ceremony.   But he took an ambulance to a television studio in London where he videotaped his acceptance speech.   It seemed that the discontented Prodigal Son had finally been called home.

“Harold and I now love each other more than ever, now and forever.”

If the first two-thirds of Must You Go? chronicles the adventurous life of a man of letters, than the last third documents the struggle of a man who fought cancer and survived it in his seventies, only to eventually lose the good fight.   This last third is a tale of bravery and self-pride and triumph.   Pinter was to leave this mortal coil but only when his body had completely failed him – he never lost his mind nor his heart.   Pinter died on Christmas Eve of 2008.   His life justified the line in one of his favorite poems by Philip Larkin, “What will survive of us is love.”

Highly recommended.

This review was written by Joseph Arellano.   A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Must You Go? was released by Nan A. Talese/Doubleday on November 2, 2010.

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