Category Archives: Charles J. Shields

Autumn Leaves

It’s fall, the publishing industry is back in full swing, and that means there are plenty of great new books to choose from.  Let’s see. . .

Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the book launch for American Emperor: Aaron Burr’s Challenge to Jefferson’s America, by my  colleague David O. Stewart. Stewart views Burr’s tale as both an adventure story and a political/legal thriller, and why not? Imagine a novel in which a sitting Vice President is charged for murder in two states, plans an elaborate military coup to overthrow the U.S. government (and have himself installed as the head of the new upstart government installed in its place), is indicted for treason, and is put on trial — and acquitted! — before the Chief Justice of the United States. A tale too unbelievable to be true? You bet — and yet it is.  Stewart’s book is available now—and getting spectacular reviews—so go get it (and look for a cameo appearance by Washington Irving, who made sure he had a good seat in the courthouse every day of Burr’s trial in Richmond).

The book currently sitting on my nightstand is Walter Issacson’s biography Steve Jobs, which is already kicking ass and taking names on numerous bestseller lists. Those of us who were keeping tabs on Issacson’s book for the past year (and who rolled our eyes when it was rumored, probably falsely, that the book was going to called either The Book of Jobs or iJobs) watched with interest as it was updated and revised after the manuscript was already completed to reflect Jobs’s resignation from Apple due to health reasons — and then revised again immediately following his death. That gives Issacson’s book the wonderful weight of immediacy—though it’s not like most us weren’t chomping at the bit to get our hands on this one anyway.

Coming up next week is the long-awaited And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut: A Life by my pal (and fellow BIO member) Charles J. Shields, who pulls back the curtain on the enigmatic writer whose Slaughterhouse Five has been picked up by countless high school students who thought they were reading a horror novel.  Ahem.

I’m anxious to get my mitts on this one as well, though I’ll admit to having some inside information: namely, I know how hard Shields worked not only on the book itself, but on getting Vonnegut to allow him to write the story in the first place.  You can read that story and more  over on Shields’ way-cool blog  Writing Kurt Vonnegut, where you’ll learn all about his adventures as Vonnegut’s biographer — as well as beer, kids’ TV, and writing in general. Go. Now.

Over the past decade or so, I’ve largely given up fiction—but I’m still a sucker for Stephen King (yeah, guh head, make the face!) and I’ve gotta admit to being psyched for his newest, the massive, 960-page 11/22/63: A Novel. I had to fling aside the review in today’s Washington Post, which seemed too eager to commit the major foul of Giving Too Much Away.

And finally, I just read this afternoon that the fourth — but not yet final! — book in Robert A.  Caro’s biography of Lyndon Johnson comes out next May.

What are you looking forward to reading this fall? You don’t have to post it here, just talk amongst yuhselves.

Literary Detectives? Or Just Plain Nosy?

Over at the Washington Independent Review of Books, my colleague Charles J. Shields discusses the art and craft of research in biography—from rooting through personal belongings and private letters and papers, to rummaging through newspapers and digital archives.  Has the rise of the internet and online sources made it easier to research a life? Or has it merely made for more “I Wake Up Screaming” moments?

Charles discusses it all with his usual good humor (and a really great headline), and picks the brains of other biographers—including, I must humbly admit, yours truly.  But don’t let that stop you from reading it.  Go get it — and there’s more to come, so stay  tuned.

You Better, You Bet

My pal Scott S. Phillips has just released his new novel Squirrel Eyes, and it’s ready for you to download right now in either ePub or Kindle format over on Amazon. Scott is one of the funniest and most talented writers I know — he can turn a phrase like no one’s business, and make even a mundane activity like eating Froot Loops sound funny or exciting — so I can guarantee you’ll have fun.

In fact, if you agree to write a review of Squirrel Eyes for Goodreads, you can download the thing for free between now and March 1, 2011.  Go on; shoot him an e-mail at edpscott (AT) gmail (DOT) com, and tell him I sent ya.  (Or leave a comment, and I’ll put you in touch.) I’ve known Scott for more  than 25 years, so believe me — I know what I’m talking about when I tell you he’s great.

If you don’t wanna write a review, but want to read Scott anyway, you can still get Squirrel Eyes right here.

Speaking of book reviews, there’s a new player in town, courtesy of my colleague David O. Stewart.  It’s the Washington Independent Review of Books, “a labor of love,” as David put it, “produced by dozens of writers and editors, mostly in the Washington area, who are dismayed by the disappearance of book reviews and book review sections in the mainstream media.”  It’s only been live about a week, but it’s already crammed with lots of good stuff, including interviews and an up-to-the-minute news feed on all things publishing.  Bookmark it now.

Finally, Kurt Vonnegut biographer Charles J. Shields has a new blog, Writing Kurt Vonnegut, where he’ll write about . .  . well, writing Kurt Vonnegut, but also pretty much anything else that crosses his mind.  Light fuse, then stand back — Charles, like Vonnegut, is always a helluva lotta fun to read.