Two Terrific Books (And Amazon Blows it Again)

The most controversial book (by far) at the NCIBA trade show* was Tiger, Tiger, the true story of a pedophile in his 50s who not only befriended a 7-year-old girl but became her “playmate, father and lover” for 15 years before he committed suicide and she ended up in her twenties becoming both an incredibly mature author and a — well, you hafta wait and see.

Not one parent at the show could open Tiger, Tiger to even begin page one because it’s so menacing, so terrifying and so creepy …. or so it seemed by the look of it. The fact that the author, Margaux Fragoso, lived to tell the story would seem astonishing enough; that she writes in a beautiful, gripping narrative voice with the most astounding insights opens our ears (and, incredibly, our hearts) to otherwise unspeakable matters.

I can say that once you do open the book and you do begin reading, it’s impossible to put down. And boy, is it needed. Fragoso refuses to be either victim or avenger. What she learned about herself and human nature keeps us appalled and instructed every step of the way. From the start, her choices in life are so unexpected and in a way so thrilling that … well, again, you hafta see for yourself. The wait may be excruciating, because Tiger, Tiger is going to simmer (and not on the back burner) at Farrar, Straus & Giroux until its March publication.

(BTW, thank you, Autumn, at From The TBR Pile, a blog for readers that’s turned up a good handful of other books named Tiger, Tiger [or Tyger, Tyger in goblin speak] that you can find here. And extra thanks of course to poet William Blake who started it all.)

*About the Trade Show

NCIBA stands for Northern California Independent Booksellers Association, and this group, like a dozen other bookseller organizations across the country, sets up a mini-convention every Fall so that bookstore buyers can be sure they’ve got their inventory ready before crazed gift-givers stampede the store.

This year, Publishers Weekly reports, attendance was down at these regional trade shows all over the country as independent bookstores continue to close. And yet despite eBook readers like the Kindle and iPad stealing storekeepers’ sales by offering so much text space you could fit over a thousand books on a single unit, a new light is dawning. First, customers who love the experience of holding and reading a physical book are buying them in stacks (gosh, it turns out that actual books make better gifts than empty space on a reading device). Second, Google is late but still may launch its own eBook inventory in December, and went it does, Google Editions will be offered exclusively through independent bookstores.

This could be a huge boost and maybe a saving one for indies. Of course Amazon loyalists will resist it, but because the treasure trove of Google Editions is said to be even more massive than Amazon’s and could be faster and more easy to negotiate through indie websites, Google Editions could wipe out the unfair competitive advantage that book vendors from Amazon to chain stores have been using to drive indies out of business.

Equally important, again, is the fact that so many readers are finding that they miss the tactile environment of “real” books and don’t enjoy the impersonal robot look of eBook readers after all. Finally bloggers and Tweeters are discussing what we’re not told about the Kindle experience — the dull screen, sanitized text, lack of page numbers and phony Victorian drawings of authors (Poe, Dickinson, Joyce) who end up looking more funereal than literary. Remember, if you’re a supporter of independent bookstores, November and December are the make-or-break months, plus it’s so much fun to buy personal gifts for everyone on our lists, including kids, in a single bookstore.

DRIB (Don’t Read if Busy)

I hope when Tiger, Tiger is released that Farrar’s publicity department will raise an issue that’s hit the headlines this week and caused a Facebook/Twitter boycott of Amazon regarding a title called The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure: A Child Lover’s Code of Conduct by Philip R. Greaves.

Here’s a book that provides a real service to child molesters by showing how to get around those pesky laws protecting minors and how to stand proud about not using condoms with children, how to make the whole experience kindly and fun for everyone, and much much more.

If you ever needed proof that nobody’s home at Amazon, here it is: The company routinely bars pornography and other sexually explicit or offensive titles, yet Amazon, caught sleeping at the switch when this pro-pedophile book got listed on Kindle — tried to hide behind First Amendment issues as messages of outrage came pouring.

Anderson Cooper of CNN does a good job covering the issue and finding out just how icky and dangerous The Pedophile’s Guide can be by interviewing everyone’s favorite therapist, Dr. Phil McGraw, who makes enormous sense about the difference between free speech and exploitation. Cooper also explores with New Yorker legal correspondent Jeffrey Toobin why “no court in the country” would ever force Amazon to remove the book, and why that’s a good thing (it’s up to you, Amazon, not the courts) in this important video.

This week enough people protested to shame Amazon into removing the book, thank heaven, but the point to make here is that Fragoso’s insight about pedophiles’ sense of entitlement in Tiger, Tiger is mirrored in The Pedophile’s Guide and useful for society to know.

Welcome Back, Laura H

Not so scary but equally mesmerizing is another hot-as-a-firecracker work of nonfiction, Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (Random), which, as lush and addictive as her first blockbuster, Seabiscuit, comes out right on time for the holidays.

And what a book it is. Unbroken takes off like a shot as we watch a manic boy, born to be a juvenile delinquent in the 1920s, named Louis Zamperini running away from cops and storekeepers so fast that instead of going to prison, he’s discovered by track-and-field coaches and wins his way into competing as the youngest distance runner at the Berlin Olympics of 1936.

(Two quickies from the thousands of absorbing details Hillenbrand unearths: 1) German fans were so entranced with American sprinter Jesse Owens that as soon as stepped off the train in Berlin, scissors-wielding crowds surged forward “and began snipping off bits of his clothing” with such fervor that a near-naked “Owens leapt back onto the train.” 2) When not racing, the incorrigible Louis Z. went around Berlin stealing “souvenirs,” including a Nazi flag that was seductively hanging in front of Hitler’s very Reich Chancellery. Two guards caught him, but he talked his way out and was even given the flag to take home.)

Although terrified of airplanes, Louis Z becomes a turret gunner on the WWII bomber Green Hornet but is shot down in the Pacific with two other airmen, and they all slowly starve on a disintegrating raft until Japanese planes spot them in the middle of a million miles of ocean and begin strafing just as Louis dives under the raft where — ta da! — sharks have been waiting for just this moment. And that’s just the end of the Prologue.

Other writers might better describe how it feels to be a speck in an indifferent and watery wasteland, but that giant existential loneliness really hits home, thanks to Hillenbrand’s incredible research and edge-of-your-seat storytelling. Sure to be another dense and luscious bestseller and a great gift for non-sailors, just as her last book Seabiscuit was beloved by non-horselovers.