Standing up for unlikeable characters

Lately I’ve heard people trash certain novels and short stories because the central characters are “not likeable” — characters who do or think the wrong things, and don’t pass the personality test. The characters are too ornery, too brazen, too selfish, too full of themselves. The charge has been levied at Jonathan Franzen, among others. Personally, I’m fine with challenging, off-putting, confounding or “difficult” characters. If the story and the characters are compelling, and if the character is striving for something (even if it is something unsavory), I don’t care if the central character is someone I wouldn’t invite to my house for dinner. I think it’s a strange reason to dismiss a book out of hand. A couple of weeks ago, Vendela Vida addressed this question when she passed through town to promote her new book, The Lovers, which features a challenging central character, a widow returning to the…

Australians embark on Cactus Eaters themed adventure hike

Crazy coincidence. My folks are in town to visit, and the people next to them on the airplane had read The Cactus Eaters, are from Australia, and (from what i understand) are planning a three-week PCT hike. I hear they are going to write into this blog, and when they do, I’ll post the whole thing. By the way, I don’t think they actually plan to eat an opuntia. My father explained that he was the “gap-toothed” paterfamilias featured in the book, and throughout the entire flight, the Australians good-naturedly referred to him as Gappy. If you hear of any other spontaneous Cactus Eaters themed events, let me know, and I’ll post something. http://cactuseaters.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Not your neighborhood stink bug expert

For some reason I am getting a lot of emails and inquiries lately about stink bugs, perhaps because I blogged about them a couple of years ago. I just want to point out that I am (sad to say) not a stink bug expert, but if you are interested in a one-stop-shopping site with interesting factoids and pictures of stinkbugs, I suggest you look at this website instead. It covers the topic from every angle. http://cactuseaters.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Coming soon: the dumbest author reading Q and A questions of all time

How many times have you gone to an author’s reading at a book store and heard someone ask a question that made you want to crawl under your chair? Groan? Cover your ears? Flee the store? Cry? Move to another neighborhood? There’s one in every crowd — that one person who’s got to raise his hand and ask Alice Munro if she’s related to Marilyn. Personally, I think these questions — and the responses — are often the most revealing part of a Q and A because they reveal more about authors’ personalities, their capacity for empathy, and their ability to think on their feet, than any of the usual questions. I’m putting together a partial list of the daffiest Q and A questions of all time — and no, I won’t spare myself on this list because I’ve asked a few staggeringly dumb questions to authors over the years,…

Coming soon: the dumbest author reading Q & A questions of all time

How many times have you gone to an author’s reading at a book store and heard someone ask a question that made you want to crawl under your chair? Cover your ears? Flee the store? There’s one in every crowd — that one person who’s got to raise his hand and ask Alice Munro if she’s related to Marilyn. I’m putting together a partial list of the dumbest Q and A questions of all time — and no, I won’t spare myself on this list because I’ve asked a few doozies in my time, including a question to Janet Malcolm that was so confounding, even to me, that she couldn’t answer at all. So far I’ve got a list of dumb, cringe-worthy questions that people have asked to such luminaries as Toni Morrison, Joan Didion and others. If you have any examples of your own, send in. If not, stay…

“J-Dog’’ launches book tour: Jonathan Franzen and Freedom at the Capitola Book Cafe

It’s hard to believe nine years have passed since I saw Jonathan Franzen read from The Corrections at the Book Café. He was so much more of a performer this time, and relaxed enough not to take offense when someone shouted out “Go, J-Dog” right when he approached the podium. There was a distinctly local flavor to the reading, his very first for this book tour and his only Bay Area book store appearance. His friend Claudia Sternbach introduced him by sharing a funny, rueful story about giving him some advice before The Corrections came out. “I told him that my book had sold dozens of copies and it didn’t really change my life all that much.’’ Of course, The Corrections went on to sell three million copies, win a National Book Award for fiction and end up at the center of an Oprah’s Book Club kerfuffle. Last time around,…