The 3 Rs: Required Reading & The Richardson House

News! Podcasts! Living the Good Life! Happy to report on my new podcast, Required Reading, with my collaborators Matthew Meschery and Steve Goldbloom. We'll be producing one 45-min show weekly(ish) on all the stuff you should have read, watched, and listened to in the previous week but couldn't fit in. Next week: The Life and Death of Mike Wallace, The $1 Billion-Dollar Photo, and The Strange Case of Augusta National. Check us out -- you can listen to RR right there on the link above. And it's FREE!

I went out to California a few weeks ago to finalize podcast details and on the way I had to drop by my dear mom in Truckee, my hometown. Sometimes it's nice to be a tourist in your hometown. For the first time, I did not stay with family or friends but at a (gasp!) hotel! Not just any hotel, though: The Richardson House. Anyone who's ever been to Truckee has probably seen it: a gorgeous Victorian sitting atop the hill overlooking downtown Truckee. I've lived, at different points in my life, within a two-minute walk of The Richardson House yet I'd never stayed in it -- until last month. It did not disappoint.

My son referred to it throughout our trip as "The Mansion" and it did feel like that. Gorgeous, high-ceilinged rooms, beds covered in seven layers of featherbeds, and a view of Mount Rose from our room. It was amazing. I may never stay at my mom's house again (sorry, Mom). The Richardson House is a Truckee treasure -- try it!

That's my Truckee Insider Tip for this month. Hey, I should add that to the podcast....

PS: Here's our podcast crew: Steve, Matthew, Leo (our producer, with pacifier), and Me. Hope you enjoy the show!

Big News: My new novel, EFFIE PERINE, is now available on Amazon.com.

Buy the EFFIE PERINE ebook on Amazon by clicking here.

Yes, that beautiful artwork you see (by genius artist Dan Brereton, author/illustrator of the beloved "Nocturnals" comic books, among many others) is the cover of my new novel, EFFIE PERINE, which is finally available as an e-book for Kindle on Amazon.com today! It will soon be available in all the other major formats and ebook outlets (Nook, Kobo, iBooks, etc.) so stay tuned for that announcement.

EFFIE is available at a low initial price of $0.99 as a special thank-you to family and friends who buy the book and post their reviews on Amazon. Reviews are the major way books get sold on Amazon, so please consider posting something, no matter how short and sweet it is -- thank you!

Synopsis: Effie Perine comes to San Francisco on the hunt for work and her long-lost father, so when she’s offered a job at a detective agency she figures it’s a two-birds-one-stone situation. But when her strange new boss invites her into a world of hardboiled mystery, the line between real life and film noir fantasy becomes as foggy as a San Francisco summer — and Effie’s future happiness is at stake.

A novel of mystery and love as well as a coming-of-age story, Effie Perine crosses the genres of fantasy, mystery, and metafiction. Effie Perine tells the story of a young woman just starting out in the world. Raised in rural Northern California, Effie’s mission to find her lost father gives her a sense of purpose as she tries to find her bearings in the big city. But she soon discovers that San Francisco’s familiar landmarks might not be as solid as they first appear. As she’s seduced by her ever-shifting surroundings, Effie starts to wonder if she’s losing the ability to separate dreams from reality.

Readers of slipstream fiction and fantasy will appreciate Effie’s journey through changing historical eras, while mystery fans will enjoy meeting their favorite hardboiled types in wholly new settings. For everyone who ever wondered, Who was Effie Perine?… here is your answer.

Read "The Call."

I had the pleasure of reviewing Yannick Murphy's new novel, THE CALL, in last week's Boston Globe. You can read it on Boston.com or below...

The Call, by Yannick Murphy (Harper Perennial, 223 pages).

Many readers disdain high-concept novels for good reason: they’re usually more fun to write than to read. But if they give it a chance, most readers will find that Yannick Murphy’s remarkable new novel THE CALL succeeds where others fail. The concept? This novel is written in the format of a daily journal; to be precise, the call log belonging to a veterinarian in a small New England town.

CALL: A horse with lameness. ACTION: Drove to farm. The poorest farm I have seen so far... The owner’s boy sat on the rusted seat of a tractor that did not look like it could move, but grew up from the ground where it was, pushing itself through the dirt and had come to rest…Tall grass grew up high alongside its tires, past the height of the wheel wells. RESULT: After I felt the horse’s leg, I told the owner about the heat. I told her she would do well to stand the horse’s leg in a bucket of ice water. The woman shook her head. “No ice,” she said… WHAT I SAID TO THE WIFE IN BED: Am I getting grayer? The children told me I have more gray here… WHAT THE WIFE SAID: No, you don’t have more gray than usual. It’s just that the children are taller. They can see the gray they have never been able to see before. WHAT THE NIGHT SAID: Coyotes rule.

THE CALL is a portrait of a family, Dr. David Appleton, his wife Jen, and their three children: Sam (12), Sarah (10), and Mia (6). When Jen says, early in the book, “Be careful hunting, David. He’s still so young. You only have one son, you know,” we can tell something terrible is coming.

“CALL: My son. I can’t get him fast enough… I can see the holes in the cloth of his coat, and the goose feathers sticking out from them, wavering in the wind.”

When Sam is shot by an unseen hunter, he falls into a coma and the Appleton family feels everything that was once stable slip away. And yet… as much as David and Jen fret about Sam’s prognosis (“WHAT THE WIFE SAID I DID IN MY SLEEP: Cried.”), life in all its tiny details goes on. (“WHAT THE TRUCK IS TELLING ME: Check engine.”). As David makes his rounds to the horses with toothaches and pregnant goats his community comes into focus. Aging Dorothy, for instance, with her pet sheep Alice, who lives inside the house. The rich couple with their mansion and Great Dane. Jim Bushway, the careless farmhand who shoots “rock tiger” — chipmunks — and leaves them where they fall. With his son frozen in a coma each member of this small town becomes either a source of information about his attacker or a suspect. The person calling the Appleton’s home and then hanging up, over and over, isn’t helping matters.

What will become of the wounded son? Why is David seeing spaceships in the night sky? And who is calling him and what does he want to say? This is a suspenseful novel; the format demands that much be left unsaid, so the reader is constantly looking for clues wherever they turn up. Just how suspicious is that careless farmhand? Will the tension in the Appletons’ marriage finally explode? (“WHAT MY WIFE CAN DO: Make me angrier than I have ever been.”). Although most of these questions are answered, they’re not ultimately the point of this novel, because no matter how tragic Sam’s condition, daily life still includes things like lunch, and sick cows, and swim meets. “WHAT I THINK WE MUST BE: Crazy to spend an entire weekend waiting in the gym of a technical school, but I know years from now we will look back and say these were good times, maybe the best because we were with our children all the time.”

The truthful evocation of family is the real triumph of THE CALL. “When we are alone we like to tell each other how wonderful our children are, but it is something we do not tell others,” David says, describing a conversation with his wife. “We tell each other with abandon, things we have lately seen in our children that prove how smart and wonderful and cute they are… it’s cathartic, as if we need every once in a while to do this bragging, or so that we remind each other of how right it was for us to have married one another.” There is much love in this novel, and just as much truth about the pain and pleasure of family life. “What is taking place is as layered as something in nature,” writes Murphy of an encounter between two of her characters. She could well be describing her own clever and beautiful book.

Poser. (A review.)

It was inevitable, wasn't it? The yoga memoir. Despite apprehension, I thought Claire Dederer's POSER was great. I reviewed it in the Boston Globe a few days back. You can read the review at their website or below.

Don't forget to breathe.

Claire Dederer, POSER: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses Review by Buzzy Jackson

This book is going to be big. Claire Dederer manages to pack everything into this mom-oir: childbirth, money, schools, social class, career anxiety, parenting, sex, friendship, marriage, and yes, yoga. And don’t forget Dansko clogs – “always, always, [the] clogs… ” [31] Thousands of American mothers share Dederer’s clog-shod experience as they glance up from their darling, maddening new babies to find themselves in a new sphere: hip, progressive, trying-really-hard-to-do-it-right mom-world. POSER is written for them. “We were a generation of hollow-eyed women, chasing virtue. We, the mothers of North Seattle, were consumed with trying to do everything right… cook organic food, buy expensive wooden toys… Also, don’t forget to recycle.” [19] Dederer and her husband are freelance writers trying to make their creative careers mesh with the demands of raising two young children. Despite their creativity they find themselves sinking into traditional roles, “he was Earner, I was Mother, like characters in some phenomenally boring Ionesco play.” [33] As a writer, however, Dederer is never boring. POSER achieves a yoga-like balance between pain and humor. While she may skewer the pretentions of her fellow moms and yoginis, she never lets herself off the hook, either. Her honest descriptions of her own fears and shortcomings as a parent, wife, and daughter are at the center of this book. Dederer first attempts yoga to relieve an aching back (thrown out while breastfeeding, natch) but is soon seduced, despite her skepticism and aversion to Tibetan prayer flags, by the calming effect it has on her mind. “I didn’t think of it as an escape; I just felt the relief of moving and not thinking. There was also this relief: It was a room I didn’t have to clean.” [82] Dederer occasionally lapses into Erma-Bombeck-visits-the-ashram mode but in fact her experience with yoga teaches her something profound: how to recognize and face her own pain. “Discomfort, anxiety, dread – they had been lurking there all along, and I had been avoiding them, rushing away from them.” [231] Her acknowledgment of this pain forces her to realize something surprising: “In response to my 1970s mom” – who ditched Dederer’s father for a younger, hipper man and joined the counterculture post-divorce – “I had become a 1950s housewife.” [231] Dederer’s examination of this paradox is one of the most rewarding sections of the book. Her attitude toward her mother is both compassionate - “To be a young mother at the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the ‘70s was to have missed it… They, like everyone else, wanted freedom and meaning.” [57] – and angry – “What happens… when a generation of children grows up with parents who want to be free, and who think that freedom is movement?” [58] For Dederer and her brother, what happened was a desire “to be good, all the time. We would stay married, no matter what, and drink organic milk.” [60] But her quest for total control over her family life, for “an uninterrupted story” in which “no one leaves… [and] everyone sticks together and follows the rules” [232] is nearly as destructive as her mother’s desire to have it all, 1970s-style. Yoga helps her recognize, if not solve, this central issue. From the bendier-than-thou instructors to the more-locavore-than-thou preschool parents, Claire Dederer captures everyone in her Dankso world with humanity and gentle wit. So many readers will relate to her story; not just the long minutes spent in downward dog or the hours lost wandering the aisles of Whole Foods, but the years of pondering the mysteries of family relationships, past and present. And the fleeting moments spent staying, as the yogis say, focused on the breath.

Don't you just adore Scotland?

I do. I visited Edinburgh with my father a long time ago, when I was in fifth grade. What I remember most: Edinburgh Castle; eating baked apples; the story of Greyfriar's Bobby (a cute and heroically loyal little Skye Terrier - hey! I was in fifth grade!)... you get the picture. I loved the trip and still have the kilt my dad bought for me way back then.

Today I was reminded of just how much I love Scotland when I read this review of my book on the ScotGen genealogy blog. Oh, Scotland, you had me at Greyfriar's Bobby... and now this?