Touch

Hey-ho.  I’m back from ICFA, the International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts, which is held every year around this time down in Orlando, Florida.  It’s one of my new regular conferences to attend now.  It’s a hybrid conference for both academics and creative writers, so you get both academic panels about the literature of the fantastic side by side with readings from some of the best authors in contemporary speculative fiction.  Last year I attended to accept the Crawford Award, which is presented there each year.  This year I returned because I had such a great time last year.  And since I am both a writer and a creative writing instructor in academia, it’s a good fit.

Also, Florida in March is an awesome break from wintery Ohio.  Which, truth be told, was not all that wintery this March, but still gray and brown from winter.  I’ve been excited to return home and see thick buds on the trees, starting to fill the air with a bit more color.

I’m also excited to return home and discover this awesome review of The Love We Share Without Knowing at Becky’s Book Reviews today.  Here’s a sample of what Becky, one of the winners from my book give-away a couple of weeks back, had to say:

This isn’t your traditional novel. If you know that going in, I think you will appreciate it more. Think of it more as a collection of loosely woven short stories. Some stories are more ‘connected’ than others. The stories share a common thread or two–mainly that of theme. To sum it up in one word: Humanity. What it means to be human, to experience the ups and downs, highs and lows of being human. Love. Loss. Pain. Anger. Bitterness. Frustration. Disappointment. Heartache. Homesickness. Loneliness. Some stories are darker than others. Some seem to be without hope or redemption. Others are more uplifting. What they all have in common, however, is the Barzak touch. He, quite simply, has a way with words. Even if you don’t like where the story is going, he keeps you so in love with the words on the page, that you just have to keep reading.

The Barzak touch.  It is nice to know I have a touch.  That is very happy-making for me, mainly because I think that it’s difficult for some authors, maybe most or even all authors, to see their touch (what I’m somewhat thinking of as style, I think), the same way it’s difficult for a person to see themselves objectively, the way other people see them.  I was just thinking about that movie Perfume (also a novel of the same title) and how the main character in it is a perfumer who is trying to capture the essence of other people by recreating their scents.  Okay, so he’s also a total whack job who ends up serially killing people trying to capture their scents and transform it into perfume, but it’s an allegory, in its own way, for the creative artist’s endeavor to capture the essences of people.  One of the things about this character in Perfume is that he cannot sense his own scent.  That, to me, is one of the truths that narrative states about artists in regards to the things they are making.  

So thank you, Becky, for showing some of the passages from my book that you feel are representative of my “touch”.  

We’re in the second half of the semester here.  Six weeks left to go.  I’ve got a lot of work to do both for the classes I teach and the classes I’m taking in Chatham University’s MFA program, so I’ll be off and on here, as usual these days, but will hopefully be around a bit more in May and June, when I have a bit more time to myself.

And another

Another review I missed, this one from Karen Burnham over at SF Signal:

Excerpt:

The Love We Share Without Knowing is a beautiful and only lightly fantastic book. It follows the lives of different people in modern day Japan as they intersect with each other, often tangentially, sometimes meaningfully. It looks at friendship, love, and alienation. In its depictions of both Japanese and American citizens living in Japan, it illuminates culture and cultural difference.

A review and an unintended twist

Two things:

A very cool review that I somehow missed, which appeared in The Pacifican, the newspaper for The University of the Pacific, out in Stockton, CA. Yo, Stockton!

An excerpt:

With lovely descriptions of Japan’s countryside and cities, this novel is rife with astute observations about people and the relationships they have with nature and each other. Not all the characters find closure in their decisions, but they become more enlightened about life, as readers of this magnificent and emotional book will.

You can read the whole thing by following the link below.

book review the love we share without knowing 

And secondly, I should never have put “no girls g-ne w-ld” as part of the title of a post a couple of entries back.  Legions of people looking for…umm…photos of a particular sort have been, by accident, stumbling upon this blog in their internet searches, and discovering that it’s the complete antithesis of what they really want.

Things Mean A Lot

Updated at bottom

One of my favorite book bloggers is Nymeth, of Things Mean A Lot.  I discovered her blog last year when she reviewed One for Sorrow, and have consistently returned ever since because the way she writes about the books she’s read is really lovely, and almost always spot on when something she’s written has compelled me to seek a book out.  Today she posted a review of The Love We Share Without Knowing, which is, as usual, lovely writing.  Here’s a clip:

This novel is filled with things like shape-shifting foxes, old Japanese curses, ghosts, and blind men regaining their sight. But above all it’s filled with beautiful, melancholy stories about grief and loss, love, longing and loneliness, intimacy and connections or the lack thereof. About being alive and feeling all the things that it implies, or not feeling them and wanting to feel them so desperately. About trying to find a place, real or imaginary, that feels like home.

I don’t even know if I should be trying to pinpoint what The Love We Share Without Knowing is about. It’s just a really beautiful book. It’s so human, so full of warmth, so quietly perceptive. It broke my heart and it put it back together again. Not many books achieve this, but Christopher Barzak has done it twice now. When I finished this book, I wanted to laugh and cry; I was both immensely sad and very glad to be alive.

It’s the sort of thing a writer is pleased to hear from readers, obviously, and I’m grateful that something I’ve made can have this effect on others.  I know how difficult it is to find books that move me in particular ways.  My favorite sort are the kind that do make me want to laugh and cry, sometimes at the same time, a blend of levity and gravity.  In any case, Nymeth has proposed to her readers that she will send them chocolates and bookmarks (and if envelopes could hold puppies, then puppies, too) if they’ll read and blog about The Love We Share Without Knowing in the next couple of months.  She’s giving a free copy away next week, I believe, if I read correctly, and you can enter to win it.

In that same spirit, I’ve decided to offer up some free copies of the book as well.  If you’d be interested in reading The Love We Share Without Knowing and then blogging about it or reviewing it somewhere afterward, drop me a line at the e-mail address listed in the sidebar of this site, and I’ll send the first ten people who do contact me a free copy.  Deal?

Update: The tenth emailer is in and the giveaway over.  Thanks for all the interest.  I look forward to reading all of your reviews of the book, whether it be on your blogs, Amazon, Goodreads, or wherever you post your thoughts on books.  Thanks, all.

Days like today

Today was a good day.  Three really nice things happened, and I’ll go backwards in the order of their appearance.

Tonight I went to Kent State’s Trumbull County campus, a satellite of the main campus which is actually in Kent, Ohio.  The Trumbull campus is a place where a lot of students in this region get a start, and tends to function, in its own way, hovering somewhere between community college and full-on university.  I began my own undergraduate studies there back in 1993, staying for a year before moving on to Youngstown State University.  It’s a place where small town-y people like myself go for a variety of reasons:  tied to the region out of inability to access resources to take them to a different university, tied to a marriage or children or a job they can’t afford to leave or don’t want to leave.  I was the sort of kid who had grown up in so small a rural community that my graduating class was around 50 people.  The prospect of going far away to school was really frightening to me, but aside from that I didn’t really have a lot of people around me that could help me figure out how to get funding to go away in the first place.  So I started my education beyond high school at this little campus.  This afternoon I went back to meet students in classes who have been reading my first novel, set of course in and around their own home places, and to give a reading.  It felt like a bit of a homecoming (as Youngstown, which I write about as a setting often, is sometimes mistakenly thought of as the place where I grew up–it’s not, it’s where I came to eventually complete college, and is my second home, really; Ami, Japan being my third after that), and I saw people I hadn’t expected to ever see again (an old schoolmate from kindergarten through senior year’s mother) and people who knew me when I was a child, though my recollection of them, like a child’s, was a bit fuzzy.  I love this sort of thing.

Secondly, I was asked by The James Thurber House in Columbus, Ohio to come this summer, the day after my birthday in July, to participate in a reading by New Voices in Ohio for their literary summer picnic series.  I’ve added it to my list of appearances on the site, and am incredibly excited to go and do this, even though it’s months away.

And last (or first, since I’m listing backwards) I came across the most beautiful review of The Love We Share Without Knowing at Bookspot Central, posted just today.  Here’s a clip from it:

Indeed, I don’t know if people who have grown up in the post-Cold War years have a stronger literary advocate than Christopher Barzak. Half of this is that Barzak gets it: it’s not that Barzak’s young characters are apathetic, it’s that they desire to feel strongly and truly in a time when all existing cultural systems of thought and action have been revealed as simplistic, confining, and false. Too often cultural traditions seem at war with a desire for self-awareness and self-expression, sharing and intimacy. Magic and the supernatural in Barzak’s writing become a way of articulating the disconnect between what characters are told of the world and their own intuition of its possibilities. So many of Barzak’s characters are ghosts because they are unable to instantiate themselves, unable to find anyone able to listen to what they need to say. So many of his characters are able to speak only through impulse decisions and actions that break with norms and traditions—his characters reflect a sense that the only choices that are truly ours, are our impulses: to fall in love, to leave, to remain; a lover, a nation, a life.

And there’s plenty more lovely review writing where that came from, courtesy of one Matt Denault, who has provided a really amazing perspective on some of the aspects of my novel.  Stuff like this, too, I love.  It’s one of the things about writing that makes it hit all the right spots for me.  Sending out messages in a bottle, getting messages back in return.  

I’d say I wish every day could be as nice and good a day as today was, but then, if that were so, I’m sure days like today wouldn’t feel at all special.

Library Journal review

I missed this review when it came out in early December, but having come across it now, am putting it up as I have with the other reviews that have come in since The Love We Share Without Knowing has been published.  It’s a good one!  🙂  (Deserving of a smiley face, especially since I have maintained smiley face restraint throughout the other good reviews.)

Barzak, Christopher. The Love We Share Without Knowing. Bantam. 2008. c.290p. ISBN 978-0-553-38564-9. pap. $12. F

Verdict: In this follow-up to his notable debut, One for Sorrow, Barzak offers an otherworldly novel made up of linked short stories set in contemporary Japan; recommended for public and academic libraries.

Background: Barzak’s varied players spin their stories of love, grief, and growing up in first-person narratives that artfully collide with each other to stunning emotional effect. In one narrative thread, a teenage boy lost in Tokyo is led home by an ethereal girl in a fox costume; he later discovers she is dead. The childhood best friend of the fox girl is a casualty of her planned group suicide, but not in the way she anticipates. The author finds rich territory in situating his characters in places steeped in personal loss and letting them fumble toward acceptance of their own frailties.—Anne Garner, NYPL

Snow Day

It’s a snow day here in Youngstown, always one of my favorite sorts of days since I was a little boy.  Magical things happen on them, it seems, or at least they do in my memory, which is simply the other side of dreaming, so perhaps that’s where some of the magic in my memories of snow days originates.

One very nice thing that’s already occurred on this snow day, though, is coming across a very insightful review of The Love We Share Without Knowing by Paul Kincaid at the SFSite.  A sample:

I am coming to the conclusion that Christopher Barzak could be one of the best new writers that America has produced in recent years. Not one of the best science fiction writers or fantasists; one of the best writers, period.

I’m blushing on the other side of this screen you’re reading, of course.

You can read the rest of the review by clicking here.  

Mr. Kincaid’s reading of the book was a delight for me to read.

Indie Next

I mentioned in an earlier post that the new book was selected as a notable book for January 2009 on the American Book Seller’s Association’s Indie Next List.  From what I’ve gathered, books are nominated for the list by independent booksellers.  In the list’s pamphlet for the month, a statement from the bookseller that nominated my book is quoted.  Here’s the quote for the bookseller who nominated mine.  

The Love We Share Without Knowing

by Christopher Barzak 

“Christopher Barzak has woven such a fabulous story of the lives of several characters in Japan that I was hooked right away. This work of interrelated stories is an amazing contemplation on love.”

Sydne Conant, A Room of One’s Own Feminist Bookstore, Madison, WI

A Room of One’s Own Feminist Bookstore, by the way, is awesome.  I always make a trip there when I’m in Madison, which is also, incidentally, a really awesome town.

New Year’s review

My New Year’s Day starts with a great, eerily knowing review of The Love We Share Without Knowing by Elizabeth Hand.  Why so eerily knowing?  Well, in this review, Elizabeth Hand recognizes several books and films that were very influential during the making of this book.  They’re all Japanese books or films, and one would have to be at least somewhat a Japanophile to recognize their traces in my book.  It was amazing to see someone do that.  Also, I love the way she describes the structure of the book.  In her reading, it’s what I was hoping I had made.

An excerpt:

Christopher Barzak is another young writer who has avoided sophomore slump. One for Sorrow, his first book, was a lovely, lyrical ghost story, a melancholy ode to working-class adolescence that managed to be both affecting and humorous. His second novel, The Love We Share Without Knowing, is even better, one of the best books of the year.

You can read the whole thing here.

Aside from this, Happy New Year.  One of my goals for the year is to write something joyful instead of melancholy, extroverted instead of introverted, playful instead of serious.  I suspect I will have to change some of the ways I perceive things to do so.  But that could be a good thing.  Fingers crossed and intentions set.  Full steam ahead.

Another review

Missed this one while I was traveling last week.  Another review of The Love We Share Without Knowing, this time from Paul DiFilippo over at SciFiWeekly:

Fox maidens, mystical blindness and a host of other Asian supernatural oddities as seen through Western eyes.  This sophomore offering from the author of the well-received One for Sorrow (2007) is a mosaic narrative depicting life from a variety of angles in contemporary Japan—a place with more than its share of subtly bizarre and uncanny happenings and characters.

DiFilippo looks at the book in comparison to Murakami (whose work the book is compared to on the book dust jacket).

The thing I find most interesting about reviews is discovering what things different people see when they read the same object, the overlaps and the departures in interpretation, and the focal points for different eyes.  It’s all made me look at reviews a lot more carefully and with more interest than I perhaps had prior to being a reviewed author.  There’s an art to writing a good review, I’ve come to discover.  I think one of the best sorts of reviews are those that somehow present the feeling of the book to a reader without telling the whole story, and that provides a window of some kind of context for how to view the book (or film, album, etc).

You can read the whole thing, by clicking here.