Book love: J.R. Moehringer’s Sutton

I read the last line of my friend J.R. Moehringer’s new book Sutton while seated next to him, after dinner, piles of copied pages from Kinko’s in our hands. He’d been saving the last bit, he said, because he wanted to watch me read it. And so I turned his pages in my lap, and when I got to the last sentence, my  hand flew up to my chest. I looked up at him, mouth open, eyes wet. I looked back down, read it three more times, as slow as I could.

And then I think I hit him.

It’s been since The Great Gatsby days of college since I’ve finished a book and found a sentence that made every page before it click together like an arrow aimed straight for my heart — a message that changed the way I think about love.

I hit my friend J.R. because it just wasn’t fair, his book was already brilliant enough. And he’s had a Pulitzer already. And a best-selling memoir, The Tender Bar. And it’s tough to be friends with someone like that, who also happens to be my favorite person to talk to, about anything.

Sutton is a historical novel  about one of the greatest bank robbers of all time, Willie Sutton, and it’s set in New York back in the ’20s, when men wore suits on the street just because they could. Willie was a writer, a romantic, and a bank robber who could steal, but never kill. It’s also a book about American heroes and evil banks, rose gardens and satin shoes, and burying little sacks of money in Central Park. But mostly it is about love.

J.R.’s parade of praise has begun. Amazon says the book rivals The Shawshank Redemption. This week,  Sutton was featured in The New York Times in a story about the literary heavyweights of the fall season.  And I’ve had that last sentence dancing around in my head since the night I read it.  I think about it every time I look up and see the moon.

Sutton hits shelves Sept. 25, and if you pre-order it now, maybe it will even come early. Send me a note when you’ve finished — because then, you’ll know.

J.R., above, and Sutton in the New York Times, below. I like seeing my friend J.R. in the company of Tom Wolfe, Junot Diaz and Ian McEwan. That’s where he belongs.


By |2012-09-06T08:06:34-07:00September 6th, 2012|Stories|1 Comment

Three Beach Books

I went on a seaside reading spree, which is surely the best kind. To me, a beach book requires two things: smart writing, so I feel as if I’m accomplishing something, and a plot so engrossing that I can’t stop, not even to go for ice cream. I have three new recruits to suggest for nightstands and beach bags alike.

(Tyson, reading in Coronado.)

First discovery: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, which I picked up because it hit the top of the best-seller list, and then bought because I turned it over to find that my friend had blurbed the book on back.

I held my friend accountable for my purchase. “Nothing not to like,” he promised.

OK, I said.

Then, I read it in two days.

This book goes down easy, friends, a murder-mystery-modern-marriage-media thriller. It’s perfect beach fare. Also, Reese Witherspoon is already producing the adaptation.

Secondly, Three Junes is a book that’s been around awhile, and I feel sheepish for ignoring it this long. The thing won the National Book Award, and I dogeared page after page after page of sentences I want to memorize. And, it keeps you in it, all day long. The book follows a family across the years, checking in for three separate months of June. The last one ends in the Hamptons. This helps. I got mad at my poor fiance for talking to me while I read the last three pages. Yes, it’s that good.

Lastly, I finally finished Michael Ondaatje’s The Cat’s Table, after dragging it around for months. It’s been rained on, walked on, left in the sprinklers and filled with sand. Another sign of a good beach book: how bedraggled the thing looks at the end.


This book’s been through it all. It was as gorgeous as you’d expect from Ondaatje, who also wrote The English Patient. It’s set on a ship — a trio of boys crossing from Sri Lanka to London — and it’s about love, and comings-of-age, and hiding in rowboats at night. I adored it.

Tyson is reading The Catcher in the Rye, which he somehow missed in high school. “It’s really good,” he marveled aloud. And yes, it is. Now, he’s reading The Great Gatsby. I’m jealous that he gets to discover these treasures for the first time as an adult, but I have some stern words for his English teachers.

Now, I’ve started The Witches of Eastwick, commencing a John Updike spree, but I need more summer books for my stack. Can you recommend anything you’ve read and loved? I’d be grateful!


By |2012-08-01T06:56:07-07:00August 1st, 2012|Stories|2 Comments

Summer Book Reports

First the credible choice, the suck-you-in-and-steal-your-Saturday choice, a book I ADORED for the first half, and liked for the second half and you should all pick up for your summer reading stack:

Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding is a book about baseball and college and love, and like all the best books, it’s about a dozen things more. And the idea of having to explain the merit of the books I read makes me not want to post book reviews here, because I know writers. They all have Google alerts on their names, and they read every sentence written about them. As a writer-type myself, that’s a dark hole of stress, writing for people I admire all the time.

So I’ll tell you this: I started The Art of Fielding on Friday afternoon, finished it Saturday afternoon, and it’s 512 pages long. This is Harbach’s first book. He spent nine moneyless years writing. Read more about him here. The NYTimes review is here.

Book number two is from Daniel Handler and artist Maira Kalman, and a volume you don’t read as much as sigh through, and pretend you’re in the 8th grade, heartbroken. (For that, it is almost certainly the perfect summer book.).

Why We Broke Up is a novel — one long breakup letter illustrated by Kalman. You’ll love it. And then you’ll want to tear out all the pretty illustrations and frame them for your wall. (New York Times review is here.)

Buy it here.

Also, it’s technically for teenagers, which made me love it all the more.

What’s on your summer reading list? Seriously — I’d love to know. My stash is looking sparse. I like books that suck you in and won’t let go til you’ve finished. And then the sentences still dance around your head.

By |2012-05-16T06:00:16-07:00May 16th, 2012|Stories|0 Comments

The Spirit of Union Station

My Grandpa had his first kiss at Phoenix’s Union Station. He was a soldier, getting on a train and headed to war. The girl he kissed became my Granna. They were married for 67 years. I was curious about this old train station, which I was surprised to find still standing — and even more surprised and delighted to find a special kind of story within.

From Sunday’s paper, read The Spirit of Union Station here. Photos by Michael McNamara.

Thanks as ever to Michael McNamara for the gorgeous and spooky photos.

And thanks to Fred, for existing — or, not.

(You’ll want to read the story to learn more.)

By |2012-05-10T06:12:07-07:00May 10th, 2012|Stories|0 Comments

The ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing

I have a writer friend with whom I like to close down restaurants. Once, I sat with him in a cafe for three hours and did nothing but drink a glass of water. He teased me, after — but it’s also the slowest I’ve ever seen a person drink a cup of a tea.

I’m celebrating something — a thing only another writer can understand, and this weekend, when we were the second-to-last people to leave another restaurant, he brought me a celebratory gift: a book of Kerouac’s advice for sentences and general human existence.

He has a copy, he explained, and the pages are starting to get wrinkled.


Genius treasure friend.


(Post title from one of my favorite Kerouac lines, which I have framed in giant proportion at home.)

By |2012-04-23T08:47:08-07:00April 23rd, 2012|Stories|1 Comment

A book to love

Book love

The first sentence of a newspaper story is called the lead. Journalists have been known to obsess about crafting a clever offering until they drown in a pot of coffee or Diet Coke, depending.

In books, I use the first sentence as a gauge. If it’s good enough, I’m all in.

JR sent me William Boyd’s “The New Confessions” to read, with his highest praise.

First sentence:

“My first act on entering this world was to kill my mother.”

So there you go.

By |2012-02-22T07:51:05-07:00February 22nd, 2012|Stories|1 Comment

Stories: Tucson, One Year Later

A tough assignment: a year after the Tucson shootings, what is left to say? Some victims talk. Some still can’t, or don’t think they should. The words about Tucson are sputtering, halting, choking. Talk, some hope, can heal them.

I listened to all they had to say, and my story on the Jan. 8 anniversary is here. It’s a story about all the words of this year.

Photo by Pat Shannahan/The Arizona Republic

By |2012-01-12T12:42:18-07:00January 12th, 2012|Stories|1 Comment

Stories: Bucks and Buxom

A favorite story from 2011:

Bucks and Buxom

It is a spectacular 10-point rack – a state-record set of antlers, even – but some of the points are interfering with a green bra and the model within.

“It’s a hard rack to shoot,” Scottsdale photographer Sal Corbo says as he ponders his tableau. The bra and its contents have got to fit between the antlers, and one of these things is larger than the other. “It’s just so narrow, and she’s got so many curves. I don’t want to cover them up.”

“Hold the rack up a little bit,” he calls from behind his camera, and the model scoots the antlers higher on her body.

“It was better to the left,” he says. She shifts the points across her decolletage.

“Beautiful!” he says. “Now eyes, eyes!”

The camera lens snaps and shutters. A makeup artist hovers as a fan blows the model’s hair. She grins, flexes her stomach.

She will be Miss August, a vision in seafoam green.

The idea came to Corbo one day in his antler room, a little neuron party in the back of his mind. He loves to hunt. He collects antler racks. He knows bras. He spent his professional life photographing models, mostly in lingerie.

It was a double entendre whose time had come: his two passions paired in a calendar, called Racks.

Read the rest of my story here. I enjoy writing newspaper pieces that involve hunters, taxidermists, fish, and man vs. wild in general. Add lingerie to that mix? Yes, please.
Photo by Michael McNamara
By |2012-01-11T12:51:26-07:00January 11th, 2012|Stories|1 Comment

Twin stories, and maybe a baby for Gabby Giffords

The first time she tried to talk, to pull a word  — any word — through the broken pathways of her brain, no word came.

Gabrielle Giffords began sobbing, hyperventilating, waving her good hand next to her mouth, eyes wide with fear.

Her nurse shouted for Giffords’ husband. He found his wife in her hospital bathroom.

“She had just figured out that she was trapped . . . trapped inside herself,” Mark Kelly writes in “Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope.”

After 10 months spent following Giffords’ recovery, my twin stories on the cover of USA Today and The Arizona Republic share the raw, painful details of her journey.

In an excusive interview with Kelly, and in 32 minutes of home videos of her recovery Kelly shared with me, we see Giffords find her voice again.

Kelly told me the couple was trying for a baby when Giffords was shot Jan. 8 — a longtime dream. And they’re still hoping — they might have a baby in the next year, he said.

Read the story here, and listen to Giffords read an excerpt from the book’s final chapter — 189 words she wrote herself — right here. Her voice is different, but it’s still her own.

By |2011-11-15T12:34:29-07:00November 15th, 2011|Stories|0 Comments


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