Scott Gummer’s Parents Behaving Badly appealed to me right away – a novel about Little League, what more fun could you want? Baseball is one of my greatest passions and having been a Little League parent and coach, I was looking forward to reading a novel set in this rich environment that so full of potential for conflict and frustration, as well as great joy.
In any kid sports environment, you have parents’ overwrought desires and expectations, the fraught interactions of coaches and parents, and the difference in outlook between any given 10 year old and any parent is especially fertile ground. And don’t forget the potential for unexpected romance among the suburban parental set.
Reading Parents Behaving Badly, which is, by the way, laugh out loud funny, did not disappoint in any way. Gummer is funny and extremely perceptive, and what really makes the novel work is that he tells a good story, writes believable characters, explores their inner lives, and keeps us guessing about what will happen next.
And there’s more here than Little League, fun and sometimes as painful as that particular piece of Americana can be. His main character is back in the hometown he grew up in, along with his wife, and they’ve been married long enough for them to know each other all too well. Gummer is very sharp in his depiction of the mid-life married life of modern American suburban couples, especially the challenges they face as their lives become focused on their children at the risk of losing sight of themselves and their relationships. He uses Little League, small town life, pop culture and thwarted desires as fodder for a wonderful story that ultimately ends better than one might have imagined.
Tom Perrotta gave a great blurb to author Gummer for this book: “Parents Behaving Badly isn’t just a sharp satire about Little League madness; it’s also a shrewd and sympathetic portrait of a mid-life marriage. Scott Gummer writes with equal insight about wayward spouses and conniving coaches.” Perrotta is among my favorites of contemporary novelists, and I’m happy to say that if you like his work, you will love Parents Behaving Badly, which while in no way derivative, is certainly in the same vein as Perrotta’s novels.
Scott gives a great interview, doubtless because of his years of experience as a working journalist. He knows how to talk about his work and to present his story vividly without giving too much away. I recommend his website as well. He’s also written a couple of very interesting nonfiction books about golf (this is his first published novel).
“When Julia Hernandez leaves her husband, shoots a real estate developer, and then vanishes without a trace, she slips out of the world she knew and into the Simulacrum—a place where human history is both guided and thwarted by the conflict between a species of anarchist wasps and a collective of hyperintelligent spiders. When Julia’s ex-husband Raymond spots her in a grocery store he doesn’t usually patronize, he’s soon drawn into an underworld of radical political gestures where Julia is the new media sensation of both this world and the Simulacrum.”
Nick Mamatas is an incredibly inventive writer. Sensation combines comedy, inter-species communication, fantastic imagination, social and political critique into a fast moving, tightly plotted and very unusual storyline. By combining a science fiction bent with a hyper-real portrayal of modern digitally connected culture, Mamatas is able to play with all the elements of modern everyday life, so we see things differently, perhaps even more clearly.
In some ways like The Matrix, there is an invisible world around and behind our own. Fittingly, in Sensation, that world is essentially woven by a species of spiders that has created an very special relationship with the human world, one that is far from predictable and complicated in its own right. These spiders care about humans, protect them, and use them for their own purposes in an ongoing war with a parasitic species of wasps. On this unlikely and unusual premise, Mamatas has built a fantastic story.
I enjoyed reading this book on a number of levels, not the least of which for the author’s simultaneously dark, comedic and critical approach to our modern digital, paranoid, corporatized and controlled society. I do like it when a novelist can successfully include political critique in a work of fiction. Mamatas is an accomplished writer with a dystopian outlook I enjoy. And similarly I enjoyed our conversation about this book and the author’s approach to writing. I think you will appreciate his approach to talking about his work.
“Nick Mamatas continues his reign as the sharpest, funniest, most insightful and political purveyor of post-pulp pleasures going. He is the People’s Commissar of Awesome.” — China Mieville, award-winning author of Kraken and The City and the City
In this ongoing series of interviews, called Publishing Talks, I have been talking to book industry professionals and other smart people about the future of publishing, books, and culture. This is a period of disruption and change for all media businesses. We must wonder now, how will publishing evolve as our culture is affected by technology, climate change, population density, and the ebb and flow of civilization and economics?
I believe that these Publishing Talks conversations can help us understand the outlines of what is happening in the publishing industry, and how we might ourselves interact with and influence the future of publishing as it unfolds.
These interviews give people in and around the book business a chance to talk openly about ideas and concerns that are often only talked about “around the water cooler,” at industry conventions and events, and in emails between friends and they give people inside and outside the book industry a chance to hear first hand some of the most interesting and challenging thoughts, ideas and concepts being discussed by people in the book business.
I was recently introduced to the apps and books created by the new UK based children’s publisher Nosy Crow. I bought their first app, the Three Little Pigs and immediately understood that this company had a vision and an approach that made sense to me. Here is the message from their website that caught my attention right way:
“We make innovative, multimedia, highly interactive apps for tablets, smart phones and other touchscreen devices. These apps are not existing books squashed onto phones, but instead are specially created to take advantage of the devices to tell stories and provide information to children in new and engaging ways.” Books too by the way.
When I finally got a chance to talk to company founder Kate Wilson, I found out right away why the company is so smart, and off to such a great start. I believe that Kate deeply understands how technology and publishing can and will intersect for the creation of great experiences for children readers. She has a vision, one that makes sense, and she has combined creativity with a keen sense of what parents and children want both from new technologies and from traditional books. And her experience in publishing has taught her important lessons which she is now applying in this new publishing space (after attending Oxford University, she worked for a number of UK children’s publishers, including Macmillan Children’s and Scholastic UK, both of which she ran. If you are interested in how children’s publishing is going to evolve, I suggest paying close attention to Nosy Crow, and of course listening to this conversation with Kate Wilson.
Anna Lappe´ is the daughter of the well-known activist and writer Frances Moore Lappe´, author of the classic Diet for a Small Planet, a book that introduced Americans to the idea of thinking about food and its role in ecology and the world economy, and how food is so deeply intertwined with economics and politics. Anna has therefore been involved in food issues since she was a child. She and her mother collaborated on another interesting and challenging book, Hope’s Edge in 2002. So it’s not a surprise that she is so thoroughly cogent and coherent writing and talking about food issues in the context of climate change.
As Anna says on one of her many website, takeabite.cc, “the food system is responsible for as much as one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions. These emissions are particularly alarming because the food sector is the biggest driver behind methane and nitrous oxide emissions, which have global warming effects many times more powerful than carbon dioxide.” In Diet for a Hot Planet, Lappe´ goes straight to the heart of the issue: if we are going to think about the global climate crisis, we have to think about our food system, and if we are going to make change to mitigate the effects of climate change, we must make changes (now) in the global industrialized food system that dominates most of the world today.
This book was extensively and deeply researched; Lappe´ talked to many scientists, went to UN, governmental, corporate, and grassroots agriculture conferences, worked her way through many lengthy and dense reports and studies, and also visited organic farms around the world.
In this book she has put together an impressive array of facts proving that global industrial agriculture—specifically the use of hazardous chemicals, concentrated animal feeding operations, biotech crops, and processed foods—is impoverishing the land, destroying rain forests, polluting waterways, and emitting nearly a third of the greenhouse gases that are heating the planet.
By contrast, intelligently designed and operated organic-farming methods reduce carbon emissions and toxic waste while at the same time nurture soil and biodiversity. Lappe´is convinced (and will likely convince you) that eating according to ecologically appropriate principles can not only influence the marketplace and help combat world hunger and climate change, but will make us healthier and safer as well. Lappé also decodes food labeling, exposes Big Ag’s “greenwashing” tactics, and offers “seven principles of a climate-friendly diet.”
With a terrific foreword by the brilliant Bill McKibben, Diet for a Hot Planet should be essential reading for anyone who is trying to grapple with making real change in the way we live on this fragile planet. Anna is a terrific public speaker and our talk for WritersCast is lively, full of information, and optimistic and positive as Anna herself.
Anna Lappe´related organizations and websites should be on your bookmark list:
I have been posting two podcasts a week for the better part of the last year, which has been great fun. But with the summer in full swing, weather wonderful and plenty of work in the hopper, it looks like I may be posting slightly less frequently for the next couple of months. I’m not reading fewer books, but scheduling interviews seems to be more difficult in the summer too. And publishers and technologists take vacations! I do have some really good interviews coming along soon: Anna Lappe, Nick Mamatas, Dean Bakopoulos among other writers, and Kate Wilson of the great new kids publisher Nosy Crow for Publishing Talks. And there will be more.
I’ve also started a new website I hope you will visit – it’s called New Book Media (newbookmedia.com) featuring a long list of digital book events around the world, and a steady stream of news and information about the wildly expanding world of digital publishing. Livewriters.com now has more than 2500 book and author related videos, and is still the only website focused exclusively on video about books, along with an entertaining and original literary blog called LiveWires.
If you’ve read a great book lately I want to know about it. Direct message your recommendations to @writerscast.