Monday, November 29, 2010

How Much Does the Publisher Matter to Readers?

Much of the commentary about the National Book Award for Jaimy Gordon's Lord of Misrule earlier this month focused on the ideas that the win was both a huge upset and also a coup for small, independent publishers. The novel, which Gordon nearly gave up on after it was rejected by several larger publishers, finally found a home at McPherson & Co., a tiny literary press that had only planned to print 2,000 copies of the novel before its NBA nomination.

But this got me thinking, in general, how much do readers really care about who publishes a novel? Sure, everyone likes rooting for the underdog, it's always fun when a David slays the Goliaths, and I certainly understand that some readers enjoy supporting small, independent publishers in the same way that I enjoy supporting small, independent bookstores. But when all else is equal, does a novel's publisher really have any influence on readers' purchasing decisions?

To me, as I suspect for most readers in most cases, the answer is 'no'. Quick, without looking, can you name the publisher of your favorite novel this year? I couldn't — I had to cheat. And when I did, I discovered that the publishers for some of my favorites this year are all different. (See below for a list, if you're interested.)

Of course,  bigger publishers try to force themselves to matter more to readers by spending obscene amounts of marketing dollars on their darling authors — something smaller presses just can't afford to do. And oftentimes, publishers have "imprints" or divisions that focus on particular types of writing. But to me, the big publishers all seem to cancel themselves out in these ways, and I really can't (or don't try to) distinguish between any of them. Is Little, Brown known for a particular type of novel? Does Simon & Schuster publish more womens lit than other houses? I have no idea. (And frankly, don't care.)

For me, the one exception to the rule that publisher doesn't matter is McSweeney's Books. McSweeney's is the San Francisco-based publishing house founded in 1998 by author (one of my favorites) Dave Eggers. Probably better-known for its quarterly literary journal, Timothy McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, than its books, McSweeney's publishes an eclectic mix of young talent and established writers, including Eggers' own books. So I'd been reading a few somewhat mixed reviews (but the positive ones were very enthusiastic) about Chicago-based writer Adam Levin's 1,000-plus-page tome The Instructions. You're always hesitant to pick up a novel it's going to take you several weeks to read if you're not positive you're going to love it. But when I saw the book at B&N, and noticed it's published by McSweeney's, that was it — I pulled the trigger. I figured Eggers wouldn't lead me astray. And so far, so good — I love it!

But again, that's the exception. Generally, for me, the publisher doesn't matter one iota. How about for you?  Do you even look at who published a novel? If you do, what are the circumstances? Do you go out of your way to support smaller houses? 

Bloodroot by Amy Green, published by Knopf; Room by Emma Donoghue, published by Little, Brown; Freedom by Jonathan Franzen, published by Farrar, Straus Giroux; Let The Great World Spin (paperback) by Colum McCann, published by Random House; and Everything Matters! by Ron Currie Jr., published by Viking.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

November's Compendium of Literary Links

Happy Thanksgiving! To help you celebrate, here's an over-stuffed, extra meaty edition of the New Dork's compendium of literary links. Enjoy!

1. James Frey Is a Gigantic Tool — This fantastic article from New York Books Magazine written by a Columbia journalism graduate student named Suzanne Mozes reveals her experience working with Mr. Frey's company, Full Fathom Five. The company is dedicated to churning out commercial fiction, specifically, young adult and sci-fi novels, while ridiculously extorting the writers themselves. My friend Jeff, who sent me this piece, says it best: "...and I thought he was an ego-maniac BEFORE reading this article." It's a long article, but very well worth the time — especially when you get to the " be in a room with the big, bad James Frey" part. He is one teterrimous fella. 

2. Consider David Foster Wallace — This Newsweek piece takes a look at the University of Texas's collection of the more than 20,000 documents that now comprise the David Foster Wallace archive. From a draft of Infinite Jest to DFW's heavily annotated personal books to a story about a tea kettle he wrote when he was nine, it's an eclectic collection that provides even more insight into how one of the greatest writers of all time read, wrote and thought. I highly recommend clicking on the "View Interactive" link to see some of the documents with explanations of DFW's notes, as well as the "View List" link to see some pages that were cut from Infinite Jest. This LA Times Jacket Copy blog also discusses the archive, and points to the Newsweek piece.

3. Save the Words! — This site provides the one-of-a-kind opportunity to adopt a word that is slowly dying from the English language. All you have to do is commit to use the word you adopt as frequently as possible in everyday conversation. My word is teterrimous, which means "most foul." I picked it because the sample sentence the site provide made me giggle like Beavis for a good 30 seconds: "The ninja inadvertently announced his presence when he let out a teterrimous fart." What's your word?

4. Jonathan Safran Foer Reinvents the Book? — This short piece looks at Foer's new experiment in publishing, Tree of Codes. Here's how the article describes Foer's work: "Imagine a book — in this case the 1934 novel The Street of Crocodiles, a surrealistic set of linked stories by the Polish Holocaust victim Bruno Schulz — whose pages have been cut out to form a latticework of words. The result is a new, much shorter story and a paper sculpture, a remarkable piece of inert, unclickable technology: the anti-Kindle." The piece also says the "book" is read-able in about half an hour. Because of the complicated printing process involved, the book will retail for $40. What do you think — groundbreaking or gimmicky? 

5. Renaissance of Literary Magazines — "Literary magazines are getting popular again," proclaims this piece in the Guardian's Books Blog page. To clarify, though, irreverent, non-stuffy literary journals are the ones thriving in this low-attention-span information age. This jibes with many of the arguments put forth by The Power of Print ad campaign you've probably seen in many leading magazines: Magazine readership has actually grown in the last five years and four out of five adults read magazines. As someone who works for a magazine (though not a literary one), I couldn't be more delighted!

Monday, November 22, 2010

C, by Tom McCarthy: Literary Is As Literary Does

Remember the mid-'90s tune "Everything Zen" by Bush? Remember how everyone loved the song 'cause it  rocked, but no one had any idea what it was really about because the lyrics are a goofy mess of seemingly unrelated phrases and ideas? That's kind of how I felt about Tom McCarthy's uber-literary, Man Booker-shortlisted novel C.

There's a pretty straightforward story here that I enjoyed strictly on a "beat and rhythm" level. And then there's what it really means. McCarthy creates a laundry list of themes, images and ideas that recur throughout the novel. The meaning of these in terms of how they fit together and complement each other and the story holistically is frequently tough to decipher.

The story is Serge Carrefax's, who is born to English wealth right before the turn of the 20th century. Serge's father runs a school to teach deaf children to talk and experiments with various wireless communication technologies, and so Serge becomes infatuated with the burgeoning field of radio from an early age. He fights in World War I as a navigator, parties in post-war London and then moves on to Egypt to scout locations for new communications ventures.

Serge is a bit of an odd ball. He finds out early in his life during an art class that he "just can't do perspective: everything he paints is flat." And Serge's lack of perspective — in the broader sense of the phrase — is a cornerstone of the story. Serge is an impartial observer to his own life. In fact, oftentimes, the reader is left to form his/her own conclusions about things Serge tells us about, but doesn't understand or doesn't care enough about to explain more fully. Is that his sister he sees having sex in an early scene in the novel? Or is it something else he's describing? It's hard to tell.

The novel also has its own unconventional logic and rules, which McCarthy uses to pack in his list of tropes and tricks. For instance, he'll mention something seemingly inconsequential at the time, only to have the idea re-emerge later in a more symbolic context. Serge and some of his fellow soldiers discuss free will vs. determinism, and then soon after, they're building a tunnel to nowhere and no one is in charge of its construction. The effect is disorienting — it's hard to figure out which instance is the one McCarthy intends you to decode and add to the meaning of the story.  And then there is the recurrence of several images and themes: Insects, wireless communication, descriptions of shapes and geometry, and drugs all flit in and out of the novel. What do they all mean? 

C is not difficult, as some reviewers have purported. But extracting meaning might be. You constantly feel like you're missing something or left out of a joke or not understanding a reference. And that can make reading frustrating at times. There's so much going on here, it's obviously a novel meant to be read several times — like a Charlie Kaufman or David Lynch film is meant to be viewed several times to pick up a little more each time. The story's interesting, but I'm not sure it's enough of a draw to get me to read again. So, three out of five stars for C.

Friday, November 19, 2010

A List of Totally Unrelated, Somewhat Humorous (Hopefully) Book-Related Anecdotes

I've been at a conference for work most of the week, and as a result, today my brain feels like it resembles the approximate consistency of Southern fried grits. I've had little time to read, or even think about books. So, in lieu of any sort of intelligent, reasonably well-written post, here this instead: A Top 10 list of silly book-related stories. Enjoy! (And please try not to think less of me as a result of any of these.)

10. In college, my senior-year creative writer teacher was novelist A. Manette Ansay (author of the Oprah-selected Vinegar Hill). One of the stories I wrote for her class was so abysmally bad, she accused me of re-purposing an essay she thought I might've written for another class as a story for her class. Wasn't true, and so I managed to squeak by with a C. That debacle put my erstwhile promising fiction-writing career into long hiatus.

9. I once hit on a girl in a bar by asking her if she knew who Zadie Smith is, and that she looked exactly like her. Result: Swing-and-a-miss.

8. A few weeks ago, when in Boston, I visited Harvard and picked up a cheap bookmark at one of the Harvard bookstores. When I got home, I put the bookmark inside the cover of my copy of War and Peace. The rationale (of rather dubious logic) is that they're both "smart" things, so they go together nicely. And so when I read the book next year (it's my literary goal for 2011), because those two smart things are together, maybe I'll be extra smart, too. Right?

7. I've only finished an entire book in a single day on two occasions. The books: The Neon Bible, by John Kennedy Toole and The Five People You Meet in Heaven, by Mitch Albom. I'm really, really not proud of the latter.

6. My favorite book when I was a kid was Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs. I picked it up recently as a gift for a friend's kid, and re-read it quickly before wrapping it. Did you know that the whole story's a simple metaphor for religious freedom and the Pilgrims?! How did I not pick up on that when I was five? 

5. My poorly chosen book for a drunken vacation with my buddies in Negril, Jamaica several years ago was The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexander Dumas. It's not exactly a difficult book, but it's not James Patterson either. And so let's just say my level of mental concentration was sorely lacking for what was required to derive any pleasure from the novel.

4. When I saw novelist and philosopher Rebecca Newberger Goldstein sitting on a bench in Central Park this summer, I turned into the equivalent of a teenage girl who's just seen Justin Bieber. (Yeah, I know that's a recycled analogy. But it's still the best I can do — especially right now.) And I couldn't summon the courage to try to talk to her. Regret. 

3. I used to read a lot of non-fiction, but not so much anymore. The last non-fiction book I read was The Yankee Years, by Joe Torre. Which is odd, 'cause I friggin' hate the Yankees.

2. I just rejoined the Book of the Month Club (for about the 7th time), and this time instead of offering a crappy overnight bag or flimsy tote as the enrollment bonus, they're offering a free "surprise book." That's great, right? Well, yeah, until you discover the free book is Secrets of The Lost Symbol: The Unauthorized Guide to the Mysteries Behind The Da Vinci Code Sequel. Thanks, jerks. I already know The Lost Symbol's secret: It's friggin' terrible. Worst free gift ever.

1. The only book I've ever started but not finished is titled The Iron Wall, by some guy named Avi Shlaim. It's a non-fiction history book about Israel. I'm not Jewish, but I find Israel fascinating. Also, I have an obsessive compulsion to finish books I start, no matter how bad or painful they are. See recent experience with Gravity's Rainbow as evidence.

Your turn — what are your funny, embarrassing or just silly book-related anecdotes? Spill it!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Skippy Dies: Kids Can Be So Cruel

Life is hard. Life can be absurd. And when you're a teenager, you're not equipped with the same perspective as an adult, and every decision, every crush, every cruel joke seems like the most critically important thing that will ever happen. That notion is the foundation on which Paul Murray builds his profound, often-funny, rather lengthy Booker Prize long-listed novel Skippy Dies.

Murray's trick, though, is keeping his readers interested when he kills his main character in the prologue. What emerges after we learn that Skippy really does die — that the title isn't just a gimmick — is a portrait of Seabrook College, a modern-day boarding school in Dublin, Ireland. The novel begins several weeks before Skippy's death, and follows him and his group of kind of nerdy (his overweight roommate Ruprecht is obsessed with astrophysics; 11-dimensional M-theory, in particular), prank-pulling, drug-doing, girl-obsessed friends through their day-to-day trevails.

The brilliance of this book is that we read with the same sense of immediacy that these kids seem to be living their lives. We're constantly looking for clues that might predict why Skippy will die; like everything seems important at the time, but we have no way of know what actually is. Isn't that the way teenagers are? Like everything that happen, or every decision may forge the path for the rest of you life? Ruprecht, wise beyond his years, explains (in example of some of Murray's sagacious prose):
"...that every path you take, no matter how lofty or effulgent, aches not only with the memory of what you left behind, but with the ghosts of all untaken paths, now never to be taken, running parallel." 
Murray's writing (see below for another fantastic theme-furthering passage) and the huge cast of characters make this book tremendously readable. I especially enjoyed the story of Howard the history teacher, his crush on the substitute geography teacher, and his failing relationship with his American girlfriend, Halley. Murray is very insightful and writes with an amazing sense of affinity for his characters, even the ones who are real jerks. After all, life is hard. But reading this novel sure is lots of fun! Four out five stars (minus one for missing a few chances to edit some sections, which drag a tad). But still very highly recommended.

("And she realizes that love doesn't go in straight lines, it doesn't care about right or wrong or being a good person or even making you happy; and she sees, like in a vision, that life and the future are going to be way more complicated than she ever expected, impossibly, unbearably complicated and difficult. In the same moment she feels herself grow older, like she's finished a video game and moved on invisibly to the next stage; it's a tiredness that takes over her body, a tiredness like nothing before, like she's swallowed a ton of weight...")

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Literary Blog Hop, A Difficult Read

Literary Blog Hop The prompt for this week's Literary Blog Hop hosted by The Blue Bookcase (for my non-book-blog readers, a short description of what, exactly this means, is below) is to describe the most difficult literary book I've read and why it's difficult.
Easy one: Gravity's Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon. I spent pretty much the whole summer in close range, hand-to-hand combat with this novel, and have written several times about why it's so hard. Here's my post from May when I was about half way through describing why it's difficult. And here's my post upon finishing it — a fake conversation with Tommie P, in which I took the opportunity to vent about how ludicrously tough it is.

So, since I'm pretty much Gravity's Rainbowed out, the second most difficult book I've ever read is Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace. I read this book from Oct. 7th through Dec. 14, 2008 — right after DFW  committed suicide (in Sept, 2008). So it was extraordinarily difficult to read in the sense that, since DFW is my all-time favorite writer, I was reading his masterpiece when he was no longer in the world. There was just something incredibly sad about that, especially when I came across this quote about two-thirds of the way through: "It’s weird to feel like you miss someone you’re not even sure you know."

But it's a difficult read in the traditional sense of "difficult," too  — it's not exactly a John Grisham. To start with, it's 1,079 pages long. It includes 378 footnotes spanning 96 pages. And for about the first 200 pages, you really have no idea what's going on. DFW jumps around from scene to scene, creating an alternate reality, near-future world. He goes back and forth in time — and because years are sponsored by corporations (Year of the Trial-Size Dove Bar, eg.), you're not really sure whether you're in a scene chronologically after the scene that immediately preceded it in the book, or several years before. DFW's style is often described as difficult as well — dude has quite the vocabulary, can spend four pages on the same paragraph, and can spend 200+ words on the same sentence. It's an acquired taste, to be sure — but one I love! While I was reading the novel, I did a silly little blog about my thoughts. Here's my post with a little more about why Infinite Jest is so difficult.

Infinite Jest is easily in my top 5 favorite novels of all time. The reasons? Other than writing that is some of the best ever rendered in the English language, the genius of the novel is comparing different types of addiction — to substances and to entertainment  — in such a way that the line between the two becomes quite blurry. Last December, I wrote a brief tribute to DFW on my one-year anniversary of finishing the book. Here that is, if you're interested. I'm still incredibly sad that he's gone. 

(The Literary Blog Hop is essentially a networking event for book blog dorks. Several bloggers post about the same prompt, and then get to post a link to their Website on the host's site. The, they Make sense?)

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Top Five Sins of the Book Reviewer

A few months ago, I came across this piece in the Examiner identifying the 20 most annoying book review cliches. Because I am often guilty of several, it made me laugh. But it also got me thinking about my own pet peeves when reading reviews — and as an obssessive-compulsive "book comparison shopper" I read a TON of reviews.

So what follows is a list of "sins" I've noticed, mostly from the 100+ amateur reviewers on my Google Reader feed, and explanations of why I consider them to be no-nos. I hope you won't take this personally if you've committed these sins, as I don't have any particular reviewer, blogger, friend or family member in mind in pointing these out. But since today is Monday, and I'm already draggin' ass, what better time for a good, 'ole fashioned book-related vent?

1. "I really wanted to like this book, but I didn't." — This one always cracks me up. Really? You wanted to like it? Thanks, Captain Obvious. If you read a book hoping to hate it, well, you're not reading for the right reasons. Sure, it's fine if you didn't like a novel, but I already know you wanted to like it. Why else would you have picked it up? My guess is that reviewers mean this as a sort of backwards way of trying to rationalize that the time they spent with a book wasn't wasted. Instead, they've wasted their readers'.

2. "I don't really know what to say about this novel/how to review this novel." — It's amazing how many book reviews lead off with this supposed witticism. If you've ever had any training on public speaking, one thing you'll quickly learn is to never apologize (i.e, "I'm sorry, I don't know this subject as well as maybe I should.") because you immediately lose a ton of credibility. Well, this is the book review equivalent of apologizing right off the bat. While this sentence (or its derivatives) is often used to convey a sense of awe about the book, to me the translation is: "This review is going to be a cluttered, unorganized mess. So you should probably just skip it." And I usually do.

3. "I don't want to say too much about the plot..." — Sometimes, this can work. I did this in my review of The Art of Racing in the Rain. But I still didn't feel good about it. Really, this tactic conveys to me a sense that the reviewer is just being lazy; that he or she isn't willing to craft a review that teases out what a potential reader needs to know about the plot, its themes and characters, without giving away too much. There are ways to do that. It just requires a little work. 

4. Confusing empathy and sympathy — I realize this is quite nit-picky, but when I see this in a review — "I could really empathize with the characters," when it's pretty clear the reviewer means sympathize — it's as much as a turn-off as if s/he'd written "your" when s/he meant "you're." Back in March, I wrote a post about the difference between empathy and sympathy. They are certainly not synonymous as, sadly, many people these days assume. As one commenter said, "There is after all a reason why the two words exist, why they mean something different and to use an excuse of semantics is to mask one's ignorance and lack of knowledge in regards to language."

5. "I didn't connect with or like the characters/plot, so I'm giving it a poor review." — This one requires a little more explanation. There are two ways to review a book, in my opinion: 1) Based solely on how you reacted to book, and 2) Evaluating a novel as objectively as possible on its literary merits, and then providing an opinion. I much prefer the latter, as I suspect most people do. If you can explain why the novel (or particular parts of the novel) did or didn't work based on some objective criteria and logical argument, I'm much more willing to believe you than if I read that you didn't like the book because "I didn't like Character A, because he's a schmuck" or "the plot about 17th century Japan just didn't interest me." I was fairly bored by David Mitchell's The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, but I had to begrudgingly admit that others probably would find it brilliant. Same thing with Richard Power's Generosity: An Enhancement. I realize this is slightly counter-intuitive, because your opinion of a book is the cornerstone of the review. But I'd still maintain that a reviewer telling me that s/he may not have enjoyed it, but other readers might because  X, Y and Z is far superior to simply dismissing a book because it wasn't to your taste or because you didn't "connect" with it. That sort of implies that you think a writer sat down to write a book only to please you. And that's just simple-minded, isn't it?

So, there you have it. What are your reviewer pet peeves? Take issue with any of these? 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

REPOST (with fixed links): Book Dorky Content in 140 Characters

(Eds note: Apparently, because I'm a giant idiot, I coded all the Twitter links wrong. Sorry about that. They're fixed now.) 

I am an unashamed-to-admit Twitter convert — from hater to addict in record time. How did this happen? Several months ago, I signed up on whim to try to snare a few readers for this blog. I quickly learned what a fantastic resource the site is for book dorks. Let's be clear: I still don't care what color socks you're wearing today or how cute your baby is when he's pooping. But because of the numerous book-related feeds — from authors themselves to publications to amateur and professional book blogs — I've never felt more in-the-loop on all things book-related.

Yesterday, I came across this great article listing the best Twitter hastags for readers and writers, so I thought I'd spend a post and point out a few of my favorite book-related tweeters. (And, of course, I'm very interested to hear yours as well!)

@Jtropper — This is the feed for one of my favorite novelists, Jonathan Tropper. He tweets frequently about his writing process, literary events, and other (usually pretty funny) miscellanea. Side note: I wish there were more literary novelists who tweet. Is it too much to ask for Philip Roth to toss out a dirty joke from time to time? Okay, yeah probably.

@arthurphillips — The author of one of my favorite novels of last year, The Song Is You, Phillips tweets rather wittily about just about everything. Example: "Ugh. I spent 163 million on the campaign and forgot to get my name on the ballot."

@amygreenebr — Amy Greene is the author of one of my favorite novels of the year, Bloodroot. I actually just found her as I was working on this post. I tweeted to her that I loved her novel and included a link to my review. She tweeted back that she loved my blog. Talk about a day-maker!

@PublishersWkly — Easily the best source of publishing news on Twitter. Every morning, the feed tweets a link to the fantastic PW Morning report. 

@GalleyCat — This is the feed for the self-proclaimed "First Word on the Book Publishing Industry." Galley Cat's an off-shoot of the fantastic publishing industry site Media Bistro. The feed is especially good for learning about new book deals and new releases.

@The_MillionsOne of my favorite book-related sites also produces one of my favorite Twitter feeds. The feed provides links to its own articles as well as other timely book-related content.

@bookpage — This is the feed for Bookpage Magazine — "America's Book Review." Like The Millions, this feed links both to its own content and book news at large. I especially like this feed  because it occasionally retweets book blogger content. (Mine included, from time to time).

@deadwhiteguys — This tweeter's tagline says it all: "An irreverent blog/feed about classic literature." I've actually quoted her tweets (which are certainly NOT relegated only to books) a few times in my blog, 'cause they usually make me laugh.

@LitMusings — Brenna's fresh, eager take on books comes through both in her great Twitter feed, as well as her blog. Like Dead White Guys above, she's one of my favorite amateur bloggers.

So which tweeters do you follow to keep up on book-related content? Have you found any of your favorite authors on Twitter?

(By the way, here's me — @GregZimmerman33 — if you want to toss up a follow.) 

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Art of Racing in the Rain: Stay the Course!

Wow — what an emotional wallop!  Even as a football-watching, beer-drinking, dude-lit-reading, red-blooded American male, I say the following without an ounce of sarcasm: Garth Stein's The Art of Racing in the Rain is one of the sweetest, most heart-wrenching stories I've read in a long time. I haven't been that near to bawling my eyes out while reading a book since I was like nine years old!

You've heard about this book, right? (No shame if you haven't — I hadn't until about 14 people recommended it on my Dog (Book) Post.) It's narrated by dog named Enzo. Enzo is annoyed that he doesn't have thumbs and can't talk, but comforts himself with the notion that in his next life, he'll be human. In fact, he feels like he's ready to be human now. (He also thinks that the domestication of dogs was a conspiracy by humans to prevent them from evolving further. If I were a dog, I'd buy that for sure!)

Enzo lives with Denny, an amateur race car driver, Denny's wife Eve and daughter Zoe. Life is good for awhile. But then it's not. Eve gets sick. Her parents meddle. And increasingly bad things happen. But Enzo sticks by Denny's side, both as a companion and a voice (so to speak) of reason.

Enzo is a dog, to be sure, so there is much he doesn't understand. But what he does, what he's learned from Denny, is that race car driving can be a metaphor for life. And so, the lessons learned on the track are just as applicable when the dog poo hits the fan in real life. Denny explains that the key to racing in the rain is to remember that "that which we manifest is before us." A driver must be proactive because what he initiates, he can control. What he reacts to, he can't. So, too, in life. And as things get increasingly worse for Denny, he's tempted to give in and quit fighting. But it's Enzo's companionship that carries him forward. Denny is an incredibly admirable protagonist, and you root really, really hard for a happy ending. You root so hard, in fact, you're willing to suspend disbelief quite a bit for a few parts (of course, other than the fact that a dog is telling us the story).

This is a must-read for any dog-lover. But if you're a crier, keep the tissues nearby. It's a quick, frenzied read. It's simple, but intellectually engaging. It's funny, but often very sad, too. I really liked it!