Monday, June 24, 2024

The Book Pages: The case of the screeching parrots

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Some of you know how much I enjoy coincidences involving books I’m reading.

Possibly my favorite was at a family reunion in Colorado. I was on a couch reading Philip Glass’s memoir, “Words Without Music,” next to my wife’s aunt when Glass mentioned a brief visit 50 years prior from an artist friend and the artist’s unnamed spouse. My wife’s aunt had been married to someone with that name, and I leaned over and asked, Hey, is this you?

It was! She and her then-husband had paid a visit to Glass all those years ago, something she hadn’t thought about in ages but was now in a book.

So, that’s a high bar – sitting next to a person who is randomly mentioned in a book you grabbed on impulse to read on vacation – but I had another fun one a few months back.

I was reading Sara Gran’s “Clare DeWitt and the City of the Dead,” about a disgraced Sherlock Holmes-type detective searching for a missing man in post-Katrina New Orleans. As I got ready to walk the dog, I switched over to the audiobook on hoopla digital to continue the story.

In the novel, the narrator, who was once a promising prodigy, is understood to be either the world’s greatest living detective … or a drug-addled, delusional mess. Or both. She makes a big deal about questionable, random-seeming items that she considers important clues – say, an old business card from a defunct business she finds lying on the floor of a restaurant – and often seems completely unreliable. I was enjoying it.

In one of her a-ha moments, the detective DeWitt zooms in on a photo of the missing man’s tie to view its pattern: It’s green dots, no –

It’s green parrots.

“This is the case of the green parrots,” DeWitt declares.

This deduction seems, in the context of the story, bonkers – what does it matter what the tie looks like? — but the moment was even more striking because just as audiobook narrator Carol Monda said “green parrots” an eruption of birds launched out the tree above my head.

And the birds? Green parrots.

Of course.

This is just the kind of “clue” detective DeWitt would love. I know I did.

One of the parrots who stalked -- sorry, squawked -- me while listening to Sara Gran's
One of the parrots who stalked — sorry, squawked — me while listening to Sara Gran’s “Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead.” (Incredible photojournalism by Erik Pedersen)

Since we live in a “pics or it didn’t happen” world, I took a few pictures of The Parrots Who Definitely Did Not Make Me Jump Like a Scared Little Baby, but you’re free to just think I’m bonkers if you want.

You are also free to note that, during some parts of the year in Southern California, it’s nearly impossible to avoid encountering huge screeching flocks of parrots pretty much everywhere, and you would not be wrong.

Finally, it’s worth adding that I’ve read three or four books in the past week and have had zero encounters with anything weird or parrot-y.

But if I am occasionally fated to see creatures from a book appear in the sky above my head, I guess I’m glad I wasn’t reading “Moby Dick.”

• • •

Last week was San Diego Comic-Con, and I hope you got to experience it or read the reporting we did with our new colleagues at the San Diego Union-Tribune. We covered cosplay (and examples of indigenous beadwork by author Darcie Little Badger), one or two comic book pioneers, a day in the life of a new creator and much more.

Union-Tribune reporter Blake Nelson spoke with Jeff Smith, the creator of the graphic novel “Bone,” which you or your kids may know. Mine did, having read the 1,300+ page single-volume brick that is the “Bone” collection, and I’ve always wanted the chance to thank Smith for this wonderful series.

Well, I got my opportunity.

While leaving the main floor on Friday, I came across him sitting at table that had a line with just few people in it — a line so short it wasn’t clear if it was just one of the human pile-ups that occur on the crowded convention floor whenever someone pauses to, say, check their phone or just take a breath. (Fact: Most lines at Comic-Con are so long they just fade off into the horizon.)

Though I needed to keep moving, this was a chance not to be missed. So I queued up and watched as Smith talked to fans, took photos and drew pictures with the patience of someone who had absolutely nothing else he’d rather be doing.

Once I got to the front, I said what I needed to say: My kids loved his books – the huge collected “Bone” edition was the first extended story my younger son read from start to finish – and I was grateful. Smith asked questions, remembered their names and then pulled out a piece of paper and drew a picture for them.

If you’ve ever wondered how to create a lifelong fan or just add some light to the world, it’s moments like this. Smith spent the afternoon making people happy by giving his readers his full attention for a few minutes. He listened. And among the hordes of colorfully costumed heroes roaming the loud, chaotic convention floor, his was maybe the greatest superpower of all.

Jeff Smith, the creator of the graphic novel series
Jeff Smith, the creator of the graphic novel series “Bone,” draws a picture at San Diego Comic-Con on July 21, 2023. (Photo by Erik Pedersen / Cover courtesy of Cartoon Books)

Please feel free to email me at epedersen@scng.com with “ERIK’S BOOK PAGES” in the subject line and I may include your comments in an upcoming newsletter.

And if you enjoy this free newsletter, please consider sharing it with someone who likes books or getting a digital subscription to support local coverage.

Thanks, as always, for reading.


Henry Hoke says he dreamt Anthony Bourdain named his novel

Henry Hoke is the author of the novel
Henry Hoke is the author of the novel “Open Throat,” which was inspired in part by the mountain lion P-22. (Photo credit Myles Pettengill / Courtesy of MCD/Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Henry Hoke turned his fascination with the wild mountain lion known as P-22 into a novel inspired by the creature, “Open Throat,” published last month by MCD/Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Hoke’s book follows a queer mountain lion that lives in L.A. and tries to understand the city’s humans. “I try to understand people but they make it hard,” the cat laments. Hoke spoke with Michael Schaub and responded to our Q&A.

Q: Is there a book or books you always recommend to other readers?

I sling copies of “300 Arguments” by Sarah Manguso at people like hotcakes. It’s the kind of triple-distilled prosaic expression that I’m always striving for in my own work. I actually threw the book at the wall a few times, parts hit that hard.

Q: Do you remember the first book that made an impact on you?

The Calvin & Hobbes collection “Something Under the Bed is Drooling” by Bill Watterson. I learned to read with it, big words and big weirdness. It inspired me to create, and also to be terrified of my creation.

Q: Is there a book you’re nervous to read?

Ooh. I’m putting off reading “A Horse at Night: On Writing” by Amina Cain, because I love her style and her ideas about writing so much, and I’m sure it will push me to start grinding out my next novel, which I’m procrastinating doing until I’m done touring.

Q: Which books do you plan, or hope, to read next?

I’m about to go on my first long train ride since March 2020, and am excited to spend it with “Easy Beauty” by Chloé Cooper Jones. She’s a nonfiction pyromancer who never fails to set your synapses ablaze.

Q: Is there a person who made an impact on your reading life – a teacher, a parent, a librarian or someone else?

I owe everything to my parents. They filled my life with books, read aloud to me each night before bed (including child-friendly staples like “The Iliad” and “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”), and have been steadfastly encouraging of my writing, even when I’m exploring all the dark corners of childhood.

Q: What’s something about your book that no one knows?

Anthony Bourdain came to me in a dream and gave me my title. I was leaving a restaurant on Sullivan Street in Manhattan and he was leaning against a wall finishing a cigarette. He dropped it, stamped it out and said “By the way, your book’s called ‘Open Throat.’”

Q: If you could ask your readers something, what would it be?

What animal consciousness should I inhabit next?


New York Times best-selling author Jillian Lauren offers a personal account of confronting Samuel Little in
New York Times best-selling author Jillian Lauren offers a personal account of confronting Samuel Little in “Behold the Monster: Confronting America’s Most Prolific Serial Killer.” (Photo by Robyn Von Swank / Courtesy of Sourcebooks)

Monster hunter

“Behold the Monster” author Jillian Lauren exposes America’s most prolific serial killer. READ MORE

• • •

People work at desks in the Bill Blass Public Catalog Room at the New York Public Library.
People work at desks in the Bill Blass Public Catalog Room at the New York Public Library in 2016 in New York City. William McLaughlin knew that patrons who put in requests can borrow books from other branches, and he traced the likely borrower to the library’s Ephiphany Branch at E. 23rd Street on Manhattan’s East Side. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/TNS)

Mystery money in book

Sure, you can find knowledge in a book. But what happens if you find cold hard cash. READ MORE

• • •

“Crook Manifesto” by Colson Whitehead is the top-selling fiction release at Southern California’s independent bookstores. (Photo by Doubleday via AP)

The week’s bestsellers

The top-selling books at your local independent bookstores. READ MORE

• • •

Bye! (Getty Images)
Bye! (Getty Images)

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