“…electrifying. For a chaste romance, “Like No Other” is surprisingly seductive. LaMarche – a journalist who has often written for The New York Observer – expertly conjures up what high-stakes infatuation feels like…[Devorah’s] struggle to reconcile her strict upbringing with her blossoming desire for freedom drives this riveting tale.” - The New York Times on Una LaMarche’s Like No Other.
Una will be at McNally Jackson Books alongside author Deborah Feldman to launch Like No Other on Thursday, July 24th, at 7pm. If you are unable to attend the event, you can order a signed copy of Like No Other via our website.
Our fantastic Have You Seen My Dragon window, courtesy of Steve Light.
About 75 pages into Guy In Real Life I emailed my high school best friend to say “this sounds exactly like us as teenagers except way, way better.” This was particularly apt considering the friend I was writing to is Steve Brezenoff’s editor. (Aren’t we adorable? We met in middle school and now one of us makes kids’ books for a living and the other one sells them. We’re like a USA Network comedy waiting to happen.) Before I had finished reading the whole book I asked Harper to lend me both my Editor Friend and This Brilliant Author for an event here at McNally Jackson (Wednesday, May 28th, 7pm, upstairs in our cafe). I haven’t met Steve yet but have heard several reports of his awesomeness, all of which were confirmed by his below guest post. Enjoy, and we’ll see you next week. - Cristin, YA Buyer/ Events Manager
I have a theory, and it goes something like this. (Forgive me; I’ve never tried to put it into words before.) I love the books I love for one primary reason: empathy. If I can’t drum up empathy for a story’s protagonist, I won’t engage with any aspect of the story. This doesn’t mean the main character needs to be likeable. It merely means she needs to be well and fully drawn. Maybe a character doesn’t have to likeable in order to be loveable! I don’t know if that’s true, but it sounds snappy so I’m going with it.
If we expand that theory, I think we find the secret to the PC games I connect with best and have the most fun playing, which is why it’s really no stretch for a writer and readers to make a list like this. Also it very conveniently ties into my own novel, Guy in Real Life, which is about a lot of things, including gaming.
I struggled with whether to make this a top-four gaming experience across all consoles, arcade games, computers, et cetera, but frankly narrowing down that experience to only four games would be next to impossible, and I just wanted to give PC games the respect I think they deserve. I’ve never been much of a console gamer, at least not since the Sega Master System proved to be—if excellent—irreparably unpopular. The truth is, I hardly touched games at all after that, aside from the occasional amateurish fiddling with a friend’s or roommate’s PlayStation.
But I’m getting ahead of myself, and I’d better start at the beginning. So without further and further ado: My Top-Four PC Gaming Experiences.
One on One: Dr. J vs. Larry Bird, 1983
This is the first PC game that really struck me. We had it for our Franklin Ace 1000, which was one of the first Apple clones. We played it on our black-and-green display, and I was terrible at it. My brother beat me every time I took him on, and my best friend—who didn’t even have the game on his own Commodore—wrecked me too. I chalked this up to being nonathletic in real life, but now I think maybe it was because unlike PC games of today, this one wasn’t played with WASD and a mouse. There was no mouse, in fact. You had to plug a joystick into the CPU. And joysticks and I just don’t work—they didn’t then, with their stick and single button, and they don’t now, known as “controllers” and boasting I don’t even know … like twelve buttons? Insanity. Or perhaps it was that I came to the game disliking sports, disliking athletes, and only able to scrounge up the teensiest amount of empathy for either superstar. (I favored Dr. J because his son had been born in the adjacent room to my own birth room on the same day at Long Island Jewish Hospital in Queens. It’s the little things.)
Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines, 2004
I’ve skipped way ahead, I know, but as I said, my gaming experience dropped like it was hot. My computers in my twenties were for writing, emailing, and— I don’t even know. What did we do before Web 2.0? If I played a game on those machines, it was Snood or Lemmings or even the Sims. But none of those, addictive or not, reached the immersive role-playing of and tremendous amount of character empathy I felt for Bloodlines, widely acknowledged as one of the best—if buggiest—PC role-playing games ever. At times hilarious, at times sexy, at times scary as shit, Bloodlines was so well loved that game-makers planned an MMO based on the huge VtM universe. Sadly, they announced only last month that they were finally pulling the plug on that project. After so many years of sluggish development, no one was surprised. I should add now that though this game released in 2004, I didn’t play it till a few years later. I feel I need to point that out before I discuss:
World of Warcraft, 2004
I did not join WoW in vanilla—that is, initial release, when the level cap was 50 and most of the five-man dungeons didn’t exist yet. Still, I was a fairly early joiner, signing on about a year and a half after initial release and before the first major expansion. I hadn’t played a single third-person RPG at this point, MMO or otherwise, and I was immediately enthralled. Elves, dwarves, orcs, trolls, and a huge and wide-open world full of monsters and loot. It was like everything I loved about Tolkien come to life in an accessible way, devoid of the quasi-Biblical mythology (unless you really look for it). But more than that, I leveled with my avatar and began to actually care what happened to her. I had no idea such a degree of empathy was possible in a video game. to some degree, it reminded me of my experience reading Jane Eyre—so strong was my concern for my WoW avatar.
I played WoW a lot—an awful lot—for a few years. I remember having a lunch appointment with a former coworker one time that I had to reschedule three times simply because I forgot to log out of Azeroth long enough to get up from my desk chair and go to lunch. I’m sure he thought I was just stoned. It’s probably for the best if he never learns the truth anyway.
Batman: Arkham City, 2011
This was the second Batman action-adventure RPG from Rocksteady Studio, but the first I played, and I’m glad. Though I eventually played the first one—Arkham Asylum—it lacks the open world of Arkham City and the ability to play as another character, namely Catwoman. The story is rich, without sacrificing the not-quite-sandbox aspects of the game. But beyond that, the playability—the second-nature of moving the Dark Knight through his city, swinging up to vantage points, silently taking down thugs, sliding into air ducts to sneak behind the one with a gun—is astonishing. It caters to different playing styles—stealth or rock’em sock’em work just as well. It makes the players feel as powerful as a superhero ought to feel, and as ruthless and limber as a leather-clad burglar when playing as Catwoman, and with both stars I felt deeply invested, perhaps not to the same degree as my WoW avatar—after all, Batman and Catwoman existed before I came along and shuttled them around Arkham city, while my elf avatar was essentially a brand-new character. Still, Arkham City might be the nearest-to-perfect PC game I’ve played.
Then my theory of books extends to my theory of PC games, which should come as no surprise. After all, the primary object of both media is complete immersion in the story, in the action, and in the characters themselves. Without profound empathy, either experience can feel empty, but with it, both can move me more deeply than any other art form.
Leila Sales & Rebecca Serle’s top YA obsessions
Jennifer E. Smith’s top places to read in NYC
Emmy Laybourne’s top dark & scary musical theater songs
The exceptional Kate DiCamillo stopped by yesterday, and as a result we are now rolling in KDC signed stock. On display downstairs in the kids’ section:
Tired of hearing complains that there’s just not enough DRAMA in YA books today, we’ve brought in three Broadway actors to read from Emmy Laybourne’s Monument 14 series this Friday, 5/9, at 6pm. We also asked Emmy for her favorite dark and scary moments in Broadway, and she was happy to deliver:
This Friday, May 9th, we will celebrate SAVAGE DRIFT, the third and final book in the Monument 14 trilogy, which tells the story of fourteen kids from Monument, Colorado who get trapped in a superstore while civilization collapses outside the gates.
We are going to celebrate it with Broadway stars! Three terrific actors, Katie Finneran (Annie, Promises, Promises), George Merrick (South Pacific, High Fidelity) and Kenita Williams (The Color Purple, Xanadu) will each read an excerpt from one of the books in the series.
Post-apocalyptic fiction and Broadway stars?
Yes, I realize that might seem like an odd combination.
I’m the connection. You see, these days I work both as a novelist and on the side, as a lyricist. And in my former career, I was an actor. So when it came time to plan a special celebration for this series, I decided to ask some of my theater friends to come and bring my material to life for an audience.
I’m pretty darn excited about it.
As a lyricist, I study lots of different songs. Here are a handful of dark and creepy theater songs that should put you in the mood for the event Friday night!
My Five Favorite Dark and Scary Musical Theater songs
“City On Fire,” Sweeney Todd - Stephen Sondheim
Top of the list, no question. This song sounds like a nightmare, doesn’t it? It’s cacophonous and hard to hold onto, keeps slipping out from under you. And the scream/steam pipe burst? Terrifying.
“Pirate Jenny,” Three Penny Opera - Music by Kurt Weill, Lyrics by Bertolt Brecht
The narrative in this song is blood-chilling - a hotel-keeping scrub-woman details the apocalypse she imagines headed to the small town where she lives. Do yourself a favor and listen to Nina Simone’s famous version of this song with the lyrics in hand.
“Tomorrow Belongs To Me,” Cabaret - Kander & Ebb
Just thinking of this simple folk tune (that represents Nazi propaganda) makes me sick to my stomach. It’s all in the context - take this song out of the show and you’ll believe you’re hearing an Austrian folk tune.
“Everybody’s Got The Right To Be Happy,” (and the reprise) Assasins - Stephen Sondheim
Any song in which twelve assassins fire guns into the audience is a shoe-in for a list of dark and scary musical theater songs. But what is scarier still, is what this song does to the audience. The music is cheerful, yet slightly slowed down - like a brass band with sludge in their horns. And the lyrics sound like self-help affirmations. Yet, sung by a collection of misfits who are glowering at the audience, they become very, very scary. The disconnect between these elements makes the audience itself feel schizophrenic.
“Whistle A Happy Tune,” The King And I -Rodgers & Hammerstein
I know. This one is supposed to be light and cheerful. But done in a bleak and suspenseful way - I think this could be the most terrifying song on the list.
More Than Words: A challenge for everyone who’s been asking for more diversity in kids’ books -
An action that will speak louder than hashtags. Thank you, Kate.
If you missed HP book club but want to play along at home, here’s what we talked about at our Chamber of Secrets discussion:
If you’d like to join the HP book club email list, please email cristin (at) mcnallyjackson (dot) com.
EB White on the power and importance of libraries, 1971.