In his book Decoded, Jay-Z said, “Hip-hop has always been controversial, and for good reason…The music is meant to be provocative – which doesn’t mean it’s necessarily obnoxious, but it is (mostly) confrontational, and more than that, it’s dense with multiple meanings. Great rap should have all kinds of unresolved layers that you don’t necessarily figure out the first time you listen to it. Instead it plants dissonance in your head.”
Check It Out
Todd Robinson, also known as Big Daddy Thug, is similar to Pat Benatar in one essential way – he hits you with his best shot. His debut novel, The Hard Bounce, is a fast-paced, heart-pounder of a gritty mystery. Unlike Benatar, who shoulder shimmied her way out of knife fights, Robinson looks like he could punch a knife out of your hand, catch it mid-air, and fling it past your ear as a warning without breaking a sweat. He’s broad, bearded, often in black – and thank the literary gods – a peaceable author, too busy writing to get in many fights.
Robinson is the Chief Editor of Thuglit, a crime fiction journal dedicated to “writing about wrongs”. His novel, The Hard Bounce, came out in January. It focuses on Boo and Junior, two regular guys who are bouncers at a Boston punk rock bar. Their security company, 4DC (Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap), is hired to find a missing girl. What begins as an easy job quickly spirals out of control.
Robinson kindly took time out of his editing and writing to speak a piece to the Mount Prospect Public Library.
Mount Prospect Public Library: Where did the idea for The Hard Bounce come from?
Todd Robinson: Many years ago, I worked at a legendary rock club in Boston called The Rathskeller that would throw all-ages punk shows on Sunday afternoons. One afternoon, this young girl in pink dreads caught my eye. I remembered her, because I marveled at the courage of that kid—to do her own thing at an age when most kids try anything to “fit in”. A few hours later, her father showed up at the bar looking for her. I guess she broke curfew. He had a picture of her that showed a clean-cut kid, not the dreadlocked individualist I’d seen only a few hours later. Three things stuck with me from that incident. The first was that I never found out what happened from that point. The second was: what turned that kid from the one in the picture to the one I saw? The third was: were I suddenly put in a position to find that kid, how would I go about it?
MPPL: The Hard Bounce is set in Boston. Do you think this story could have been told anywhere else?
TR: I don’t know. I live in New York now, and I know that the same story couldn’t happen here the way it did in Boston. I’m not even sure that it could unfold the way it does in today’s Boston. I more or less dropped the story into the old Boston that I knew and loved—that really isn’t there anymore. It’s a love letter to a particular time and place in my life.
MPPL: Is The Hard Bounce a standalone novel or can we expect to see more of Boo and Junior?
TR: As of right now, it’s a standalone simply because I only have a one book contract. Hell, right now my “career” is a standalone. However, I always planned out the stories of Boo & Junior as a series, and am working on #2 right now.
TR: Less like they’ve been on a wild ride, but that they’ve shared a particularly rough and tumble episode in a person’s life. That’s what I want the entire series to feel like. I want the reader to experience moments within the character’s lives more than skipping through individual episodes. I want there to be repercussions in book 4 from book 1.
MPPL: Have you ever been called to write in a genre outside of noir or mystery?
TR: Matter of fact, I was working on a horror novel when the call came in on The Hard Bounce. Frankly, I’d given up on it. I wrote one horror short story, and then adapted it into a screenplay. That screenplay made it very far in the Nicholl Fellowships Competition, so I thought I should try my hand at horror on a larger scale.
MPPL: You are the creator and Chief Editor of Thuglit. What has editing others taught you about your own writing?
TR: Man, nothing has taught me more about the flaws in my own writing than nitpicking the work of others. It’s an epiphany when you find something that you absolutely hate in someone else’s work—and then realize that you do the exact same thing.
MPPL: Recently on The Daily Beast, Frank Bill asked, “Is Masculine Writing Dead?” He laments the loss of physical labor and ruggedness represented in contemporary fiction. Do you agree with this? Do you feel yourself to be a “masculine” writer?
TR: Beyond him being one hell of a writer, I consider Frank Bill a friend, so I’m not going to go into detail on the piece (since the Internet has already praised to high heaven AND torn it a new butthole). So, without sounding judgmental or getting political and avoiding the question, I’ll just say this about the piece: I agree with a lot of the sentiment within the opinion, but I don’t necessarily agree with Frankie’s narrow definition of masculinity.
I do consider myself to be a writer of masculine fiction, which is why I’m a little surprised at the incredibly positive response that The Hard Bounce has been getting from female readers. Just goes to show you how much I know about women. (Sighs)
MPPL: What are several classic crime novels or short stories that everyone should read?
TR: John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee series is a must. They were just re-issued. Start with The Deep Blue Good-by. He created the classic template for the modern American crime series. Then read The Friends of Eddie Coyle by George Higgins. It’s THE classic Boston crime novel. More people need to read it. I’m amazed at how little known it is outside of the hardcore fans.
MPPL: What about several newer writers you’ve enjoyed lately?
TR: I already mentioned Frank Bill, so let’s add Josh Stallings, Matt McBride, Johnny Shaw, Chris Holm, to name the most recent that I’ve read. Two guys to watch out for are Joe Clifford, Justin Porter, and Jordan Harper. All of these guys absolutely kill it on the short story scene and have in-the-works novels that I’m really looking forward to reading.
TR: It is. I like setting a musical tone to write to, to help set a scene in my head emotionally. For the longest time, I couldn’t listen to anything with a lyric. I was such a bad typist any external words would f— up my own. I did most of my writing to jazz and opera—opera not counting, since I couldn’t understand what the hell they were saying.
MPPL: What albums are always on your rotation?
TR: Anything by Social Distortion, Clutch, The Cramps, and Tom Waits. Those are my big four. Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of Black Keys, Mumford & Sons, and Florence and the Machine. I know that’s all over the place, but it’s what I dig.
MPPL: It took 10 years, 5 agents, 4 publishers, and 37 drafts to get The Hard Bounce out…how’s the timeline looking for your next novel?
TR: No better…(Sighs)
MPPL: What does success mean to you? How do you know when you’ve “made it”?
TR: I pay my bills with bartending. Every once in a while, somebody comes in and asks, “Hey! How goes the writing?” My answer is always the same. It’s, “I’m still on this side of the bar, ain’t I? You’ll know it’s going well by either my absence or when I’m sitting at the bar next to you.”
Be sure to check out Todd Robinson’s tough-talking, hard-hitting first novel, The Hard Bounce. Then come to the Fiction/AV/Teen desk to share your thoughts or get great suggestions on what to read next.
SPOILER WARNING: These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points, if you have not read the book.
Title: We Need to Talk About Kevin
Author: Lionel Shriver
Page Count: 400
Genre: Epistolary Fiction
Tone: Disturbing, Compelling, Sobering
1. Can a child be born bad?
2. What do you think the epigraph meant? Does it tell us anything about how the author feels about her subject?
3. What did you think of the epistolary style? Do you enjoy novels in letters?
4. If you were in Eva’s place, would you have stayed living within the community?
5. Would you have visited Kevin in jail if he was your child? Do you think that it did Kevin any good to be visited by his mother every Saturday?
6. Eva didn’t have painkillers when she gave birth to Kevin. She says there is a “…little competition between women about childbirth.” (p.73) Is there a right and a wrong way to give birth? Does having a c-section or using anesthetics “downgrade” the motherhood experience?
7. Eva made sure that Kevin got her last name. What does this say about her? (p. 59)
8. Do you think a baby is capable of liking one parent more than the other? Was this the case with Kevin?
9. Did Eva’s sabbatical from AWAP help her relationship with Kevin? What about with Franklin?
10. While waiting to see Kevin in jail, Eva meets another prisoner’s mother. That mother says
“It’s always the mother’s fault, ain’t it?…that boy turn out bad cause his mama a drunk, or she a junkie. She let him run wild, she don’t teach him right from wrong. She never home when he back from school. Nobody ever say his daddy a drunk, or his daddy not home after school. And nobody ever say they some kids just damned mean. Don’t you believe that old guff. Don’t you let them saddle you with all that killing.” (p. 166)
Do you agree with this statement? Why or why not?
11. Why do you think that Eva didn’t want to move to the suburbs? Franklin seemed to believe that a child could not be raised positively in a large city. Do you think he was right?
12. Do you think Kevin purposefully ruined his mother’s wall of maps? Why? Do you think Eva deserved it? (p. 155)
13. Why do you think Eva’s relationship got better with her own mother after the school shooting?
14. If you were Kevin’s mother, would you have participated in the documentary made about him?
15. Eva has this exchange with Kevin during a jail visit:
“All right…I need to know. Do you blame me? It’s all right to say so, if that’s what you think. Is that what you tell your psych consults, or they tell you? It all traces back to your mother.”
He snapped, “Why should you get all the credit?” (p. 172)
What does this conversation expose? What does it say about Kevin?
16. Kevin then goes on to talk disparagingly about his father in a baby talk voice. He plainly didn’t like Franklin. (p. 173) Why do you think he faked being close to his father for so long?
17. Kevin tells his mother that he was proud of her when she used violence against him to use the bathroom (p. 174 & 194). Do you think he meant this? How do you think this made Eva feel?
18. Why do you think Eva did better with her second pregnancy?
19. Celia seemed perfect from birth. Do you think this was Eva putting on rose colored glasses? Do you think that Eva is reliable when talking about her children?
20. Why do you think that Lionel Shriver included a passage about Kevin being helpless and sick? (p. 235) What did this show about both Kevin and his mother?
21. Do you think that there’s ever a time when it is better for both a child and a parent to separate from one another at an early age?
22. If you were the parent of one of Kevin’s victims, would you have allowed Eva to come to your child’s funeral?
23. Is there any way for Eva to make amends for what her son did? Should Eva have to make amends?
24. Do you think that Kevin burned his little sister’s eye out with Liquid Plumr? What was Eva’s reaction to this situation? How about Franklin’s? (p. 292)
25. Do you think Kevin’s drama teacher molested him? (p. 336)
26. Why do you think Kevin wanted to be on Prozac? (p. 349) Was it part of a plan for his future defense?
27. Were you surprised when Kevin had his mother’s picture in his jail cell? (p. 353)
28. Why did Kevin kill the children that he did?
29. Why do you think he killed the one teacher that cared about him?
30. Why do you think he killed his father and sister?
31. Eva finds Franklin and Celia dead in the backyard. Did you see that coming?
32. How did you feel when you found out that Franklin and Eva weren’t separated via divorce, but through death?
33. Eva asks Kevin why he didn’t kill her and he says, “When you’re putting on a show, you don’t shoot the audience.” (p. 394) What did he mean by that?
34. Has Kevin grown as a person by the end of the novel?
35. Kevin received 7 years for the murder of 11 people. Do you think this was a fair sentence?
36. Do you think that the parents of school shooting victims should be able to sue the parents of the shooter for parental negligence?
37. If you were Eva, would you allow Kevin to live with you after he got out of jail?
38. What do you think Lionel Shriver’s purpose was in writing We Need to Talk About Kevin?
39. Did you finish the book?
40. Did you like the book?
Reading Group Guide book discussion questions
BBC HardTalk interview with Lionel Shriver
ITV Local interview with Lionel Shriver
Big Think interview with Lionel Shriver
Lionel Shriver on not having children
Lionel Shriver’s personal experience with a mass shooting
“Genetic Basis for Crime” article in The New York Times
The Notebook, Dear John, The Last Song, The Lucky One – all of these movies are based on books written by Nicholas Sparks. Sparks has a penchant for penning bittersweet love stories. He can make you reach for the Kleenex box as easily as send your heart aflutter.
If you have already seen and read what Nicholas Sparks has out there and want to explore similar authors, click here.
Alice Prin, otherwise known as Kiki de Montparnasse, was the queen of 1920s bohemian Paris. She was unmistakable in a crowd, with her black bobbed hair and joie de vivre. Kiki was not only a model – she was the model, posing for Man Ray, Cocteau, Soutine, and others. Her evenings were spent as a nightclub singer, her days poised for art, and her life became a testament to spontaneity and creativity. Kiki de Montparnasse is a graphic novel biography that portrays the highs and many lows of Alice Prin’s all too short life.
To see Kiki and her world in real life, follow the graphic novel with the coffee table essay and photography book, Kiki’s Paris.
Mary Karr says her third memoir, Lit, is about “leaving home to find home.” It is a hard look at her early adulthood wrought with insecurity, denial, and alcoholism. Fortunately, she tells her story with sharp observations and a sometimes dark humor that helps make this a powerful story of redemption.
John of Fiction/AV/Teen Services recommends The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz:
Much of Junot Diaz’s Pulitzer Prize-winning debut novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao isn’t even about the hapless New Jersey nerd of its title. The impressive scope of the book expands to include multiple generations of Oscar’s family and the supposed curse which first befell them in the Dominican Republic’s oppressive past. Real or imagined, this curse encompasses tragic events for both Oscar and his forebears—but the story unfolds in a voice that’s lively and playful, rich with allusions and digressions. This ingeniously nimble prose will draw you into an unforgettable mix of geeky dreams and nightmarish history.
Recently the U.S. passed the 10-year anniversary of the Iraq War. The U.S. continues to see effects from the War in Afghanistan as well. One of the results of both conflicts has been the creation of fiction – from thrillers to quiet stories of PTSD.
SPOILER WARNING: These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points, if you have not read the book.
Title: Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
Author: Laura Hillenbrand
Page Count: 473
Genre: Nonfiction – Biography
Tone: Inspirational, adventurous, engaging
1. Was there something special about Louie that could be seen at an early age or did his actions reflect more on a style of parenting? (e.g., climbing out the window and running down the street as a two year old with pneumonia or jumping off the train to California)
2. Louie moved from being a rambunctious toddler into what some would call a delinquent. Did you find it difficult to empathize with Louie given his devious behavior?
3. Do you think in today’s society Louie would face more trouble with the law or school authorities as a young person?
4. What are the ways in which Louie’s childhood prepared him for his time in the war?
5. What impact did seeing the German dirigible Graf Zepplin have on Louie as a12-year-old boy? Why did Hillenbrand choose to open the book with this image?
6. If his older brother Pete had not come up with a plan to get him into track, would Louie’s life have been different? How?
7. Did the Great Depression prepare Louie, and perhaps others of his generation, to persevere through the great hardships they would later face in the war?
8. Why did young Louie long to be a cowboy?
9. How was Louie able to set the NCAA record for the mile with a cracked rib, cut shins, and a bloody foot?
10. What did you take away from Louie’s time on the boat to Berlin? Can you believe he gained 12 pounds eating the almost unlimited amount of food?
11. Louie came in 7th place at the Berlin Olympics, but had such a fast stride at the end that Hitler wanted to meet him. What did you think of this experience?
12. Do you think Louie would’ve broken the 4-minute mile if it hadn’t been for the war?
13. How many of you knew Zamperini survived? Did that affect your reading of the book?
14. Did anyone find it unusual that Louie had so many photographs of these different times in his life, especially the war photos?
15. When Louie, Phil, and the crew of Superman returned from their first mission, they found that their friends’ plane crashed on take-off and the entire crew was killed. How did this affect Louie’s view of the war?
16. Were you surprised the majority of Army Air Force casualties in World War II were due to accidents? (p. 80)
17. After Superman’s dramatic return from Nauru, the plane was barely intact. Louie attributed the crew’s survival not only to Phil’s expert flying, but to the plane itself. How important was it that the crew knew how to fly their specific plane?
18. Why did the lieutenant ask the men to take the Green Hornet on the search mission, in spite of their misgivings that it wasn’t airworthy?
19. What devices did Zamperini and others use to survive and maintain their sanity during their time on the raft and in the POW camp?
20. What explains how Louie and Pete were able to survive on the raft while Mac, who seemed to have no physical injuries, did not? Are survival skills learned or inherent?
21. Why were many of the Japanese who first found Louie and Pete kind to them? Why were they surprised that the men had been fired on in their raft?
22. What do you find the most horrifying about Louie’s captivity? Were you aware of the biological experiments the Japanese were conducting on POWs and civilians alike?
23. Why didn’t the guards kill the prisoners when they knew the end was in sight for Japan?
24. Do you think there is less of a focus on Japan’s role in historical accounts of WWII than on Germany’s? If so, why would that be?
25. How was Japan able to reinvent itself after WWII? Has Germany been able to reinvent itself as well?
26. How was Louie able to readjust to life after the war? How was he able to overcome the struggles that were common to many veterans such as alcoholism and depression?
27. It wasn’t until the 1980s that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was identified as a legitimate condition. Why did this diagnosis take so long to be recognized?
28. Which do you think was more responsible for Louie’s drastic life change, the idea that his wife was going to leave him or his attending the Billy Graham revival?
29. What role did Jimmy Sasaki play in the book and in Louie’s life? Why was he on campus at USC when Louie was in college and what did he do when he showed up at the POW camp? (p. 357)
30. How was Louie able to forgive The Bird and his other captors? How did you feel about the punishments the guards received after WWII? What happened to The Bird?
31. Like Louie, Bill Harris survived the war and the Japanese POW camp. Why do you think he chose to remain in the military? What do you think happened to him when he went missing in Korea?
32. Did you learn something new from this book?
33. Were there parts of the story you found difficult to believe?
34. What did you think of Hillenbrand’s style of writing? Was there anything you didn’t like in the writing or anything you wished Hillenbrand would’ve covered more deeply?
35. Are you familiar with Hillenbrand’s own health struggles (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome)? Did you know she was unable to leave her house for more than two years while she wrote this book? She tells The New York Times:
“Writing is a godsend to me that way. Without it I wouldn’t have anything. I am completely still almost all the time. A lot of time I don’t leave the upstairs. What I have is the story I’m working on. It’s a wonderful thing for me to get out of my body for a while.”
How, if at all, does this affect her writing?
36. What does Unbroken add to the already voluminous collection of WWII research? What value is there, or is there any at all, in telling the story of one man’s experience in the war?
37. Tom Brokaw coined the term “The Greatest Generation” to refer to people from Louie’s time who came of age during the Great Depression, fought during WWII, and took care of the homefront. Is this moniker accurate?
38. Why did Hillenbrand include this quote from Walt Whitman’s The Wound-Dresser, “What stays with you latest and deepest? Of curious panics, of hard-fought engagements or sieges tremendous, what deepest remains?” What do you think are the “deepest remains” for Louie Zamperini?
Laura Hillenbrand’s website
Laura Hillenbrand interviewed by NPR
Laura Hillenbrand interviewed by the Kenyon Collegian
Louis Zamperini interviewed by CBS
Louis Zamperini in discussion at USC Annenberg
New York Magazine review of Unbroken
The Wall Street Journal review of Unbroken
If you think of Shakespeare as stuffy and staid, get ready to experience the drama in a whole new way. Christopher Moore, known for his irreverent humor and wacky plots, takes on the weighty King Lear in Fool. This time the king’s jester, Pocket, is the lead, and he tells a story full of bawdy adventure, murderous mayhem, and outright vulgarity that exposes the royal family as anything but regal. Traditionally, the fool’s role was both to entertain and to expose the truth. This clown goes much further, engineering a complicated scheme to start a war, save a girl, punish the stupid, and do it all with more raunchiness than Shakespeare himself might have imagined. Oh, and there’s a ghost. There’s always a ghost.