I Have So Many People to Thank


“Where readers used to see, perhaps, a paragraph thanking the writer’s editor and agent, a few key researchers, and maybe a family member or two, now we are confronted with a chapter-long laundry list of name after name. [Sheryl] Sandberg’s seven-and-a-half page section, for instance, thanks more than 140 people for contributing to her 172 page book.”
–The New Republic

I have so many people to thank for this book, starting with my agent, Judy Bookstein, who sold the project, Judy’s assistant, Eleanor, who first read the proposal, Eleanor’s boyfriend, Pete, who quietly let her read without interruption, Pete’s psychiatrist, Dr. Jeffords, who prescribed him the medication that allowed him to more patiently indulge Eleanor in her off-hours proposal reading, the entire faculty and staff of The New York University School of Medicine, where Dr. Jeffords received his training, and former New York City mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, who put the tax breaks in place that allowed NYU to first open its medical school.

Thanks also to my parents, their parents, their parents’ parents, their grandparents, and everyone in my family tree back to Adam, Eve, and the lower primates, especially Lucy. They may not ever get to read this book — and, if we go back far enough, may not even understand what a book is, or what to do with it — but clearly I would not be here without them, and so this book would not exist. In that spirit, I must thank Jonas Salk, Joseph Lister, and all of the doctors and researchers who created cures and treatments to some of mankind’s most deadly afflictions, for without them, there is certainly a risk that I would have never been born. Thanks as well to the municipal workers of Marlboro, New Jersey, since I am told that if not for the blackout of November 1974, I would likely not have been conceived. Huge thanks to my aunt and uncle, Sylvia and Oscar Moskowitz, for telling me that story of my conception, and how that cold, dark night brought my parents together for the first time in years. The rich details with which you described what happened that evening fueled so much of the writing that appears in these pages.

My love of writing began in kindergarten, and so I would be remiss not to thank Mrs. Rosemary Porter and everyone at Chester Arthur Elementary School, from Principal Tucker to Esmeralda from the lunchroom, not to mention all of my classmates — Michael, Gregory, Jason C., Jason F., Jason M., Michelle, Jennifer, Kimberly R., Kimberly T., and our exchange student, Lu. Wherever all of you are, I hope you know that you have not been forgotten and your efforts to include me in your spirited games of kickball were not in vain. I know I was not always willing to share my crackers, but it was not because you did not deserve them. No, in fact it was entirely the opposite. You deserved them too much. You deserve everything, and all of the accolades this book receives belong to you. Except for Andrew R., who was and probably still is a bully. And no, Andrew, I’m not just saying that because your literary agency turned down the manuscript. Some Facebook friend you turned out to be.

A book may have only one name on the cover, but in reality it is written by millions of people — or at least this book was, particularly the sections I borrowed from volumes throughout the Rock Creek Public Library system. Thanks for Donna at the circulation desk for turning the other way when I pilfered copies of some of the most in-demand titles, and to Henry at the security desk for failing to search my bag. You will never know how important you were to this project, unless one day you pick this book off the shelf and happen to see. In such a circumstance, thanks to the kind folks at LensCrafters, or wherever it is that both of you buy the glasses that allow you to clearly read printed text like this. Thanks also to Mr. Otis, for inventing the elevator that brought me to the top floor of the library and allowed me to retrieve those volumes. I hate the stairs.

These acknowledgments would not be complete without mentioning my friend and fellow writer Sanford McDonald. Your years of struggle have inspired me to keep going, and this book is in some small part yours, although not to the extent that your name should appear anywhere but here, in the fifth paragraph of the acknowledgments. Thank you as well to all of my friends who volunteered to read drafts, even the ones who never expected to be taken up on that offer. Your critical feedback, at valuable moments during the process, helped to shape, refine, streamline, and possibly even destroy the text, since many of you, if I’m being honest, did not actually know what you were talking about. Nevertheless, I thank you, because it is the polite thing to do.

Drugs played a huge role in the completion of this book, none moreso than amphetamines, which I received from Tyler at the local YMCA. Thanks to Tyler, and to the defense attorney whom I fully expect will get him cleared of most if not all of the charges against him. Tyler also contributed immensely to the text itself, serving as my first and last reader, and suggesting innumerable improvements as well as very detailed plans to overthrow the government. Thanks also to Rue at the front desk of the Y for talking me off the roof when things seemed hopeless, and to Rue’s mother, for what I imagine was a very painful birth. Big-boned, that’s the polite thing to say these days, right, Rue? Good luck with the online dating.

Thank you to my golden retriever, Dixie, for listening to countless drafts of the manuscript read aloud, and offering valued counsel and suggestions. Thank you to Yolanda, my imaginary friend, and, most recently, my imaginary lover. Thanks to my dentist, Dr. Ruben, for extracting just the right tooth to give me the strength to finish this final draft.

And, finally, thanks to you, the reader, for allowing me to share these 892 pages of love with you, even though I know most of the sentences are entirely incoherent, and there is hardly a plot to speak of. You have made such a difference in my life, and I hope I have touched yours as well, both figuratively and literally. To be included by name in the acknowledgments of future editions of this book, just e-mail me a copy of your receipt. And thanks once again to my agent, Judy Bookstein. Now and forever, Judy. Now and forever.

Image Credit: Flickr/woodleywonderworks

A Note on the Paper: An Encomium to Larry

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This book is printed on 60# white paper with an eggshell finish, processed by Walker Paper, one of Pennsylvania’s six largest paper processors. The human touch of proprietor Norman Walker can be seen throughout the pages, but particularly in the tiny nick on the upper-right hand corner of page 33, where Norman inadvertently gave himself a paper cut.

The paper was pulped from a field of Norway Spruce grown in Mifflinville, Penn. The tree that became this particular book was a 37-year-old spruce, tall and sturdy, by the name of Larry. Larry was a happy tree, home to children who enjoyed swinging from a tire attached via rope to one of his lower branches. The marks from the rope can be witnessed in the upper left-hand corners of pages 134 and 136.

The paper is uncoated and completely acid-free, except for that one time when Larry’s friends pressured him into trying some, at a trance club in Harrisburg. Larry experienced hallucinations regarding his Laurel Oak neighbor, Bill, and the way Bill’s branches seemed to sway gracefully in the wind, calling Larry closer and closer before suddenly holding still, and pushing Larry away. Larry’s feelings about Bill can perhaps best be noticed in the barely-visible markings along the edge of page 67, like a heart that’s been scratched by an errant twig.

The paper that makes up this book was originally intended for use in a well-crafted novel brilliantly depicting the ennui of life as a suburban housewife, as per Larry’s final wishes, but due to a mix-up in processing, Larry has instead been employed to carry the words of this far more pedestrian book of practice questions for the Illinois driver’s license exam, a book which Larry not only would never have read, but which he would have found particularly offensive, given that his uncle was injured in a car accident caused by a driver with Illinois plates. Larry spent much of his adolescence crusading against erratic driving and the dangers it posed to his community, and in fact was honored by the local Arbor Association for his service.

You may notice a slight smudge on page 206 of this book. The smudge was caused by one final attempt by Larry to escape his fate, a last gasp where he summoned all of the life force that remained inside the processed substance of his roots and tried to slide his way off the press before the inking was complete. Despite a plan he had been perfecting ever since his mother was taken to provide a new run of Scrabble dictionaries, Larry’s struggle failed to make much of an impact beyond that one slight smudge, which future Illinois drivers may notice as they review the regulations concerning the appropriate distance to leave between a parked car and the curb.

Services for Larry were held at the National Cemetery of the Alleghenies, where many of Larry’s descendants currently reside. There was a heartfelt tribute in song offered by Simon, a winged family friend who makes his home in a nest he built in the branches of Larry’s cousin Deborah. Deborah was shaking throughout the ceremony, as were many of the attendees, due to a slight breeze blowing through the area. Larry’s life was best illustrated by a single leaf, falling to the ground from a branch high in the sky. Or perhaps his life was not illustrated by such an image at all, since the leaves of a spruce tree are not seasonally shed.

Larry was allergic to mushrooms, so try to respect his life by keeping this book away from them. His loved ones would appreciate the effort.

Donations can be sent in Larry’s name to your local chapter of SADD (Spruce Against Drunk Driving). In addition, you are encouraged to read a well-crafted novel about the ennui of suburban housewives, in Larry’s honor. Good luck on your Illinois driver’s license exam.

Image Credit: Flickr/Horia Varlan

Killer Read

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This is the Reading Group Guide for the new psychological thriller, The Reading Group Killer. Based on a true story, The Reading Group Killer tells the story of a gruesome book club-turned-bloodbath when one member, after years of enjoying friendly discussion and light refreshments, transforms into a murderer. The questions that follow are intended to enhance your discussion, as well as perhaps help you defend yourself against one of the hundreds of copycat crimes that have been inspired by the book, leaving the vast majority of book clubs across the country decimated by senseless tragedy.

1. The Reading Group Killer imagines a world where someone pretends to enjoy her monthly book club, when in fact she is a soulless monster. Which member of your group do you think is most likely to be plotting the death of everyone else in the room?

2. Are you sure? Isn’t everyone hiding a deep, dark secret?  Go around the room and guess everyone’s secrets. Try not to censor yourself, like Geoffrey did (pp. 78-81), a decision that ultimately led to his beheading.

3. In Chapter 7 (“It’s Her — The One Eating The Brownie!”), Charlene assembles an explosive device in the bathroom (pp. 106-117). Do you search the members of your book club before they enter your home? Have you removed all toxic chemicals from your bathroom? Do you think it might anger the killer if you were to stop the meeting and take time to do so right now?

4. Was the initial reaction of the book club — insisting that this kind of evil could never happen to good friends like them (pp. 32-36) — merely naive, or did Rebecca purposely try and minimize the potential threat in order to distract the others from paying close attention to her movements? If someone wanted to hide a razor blade between the pages of their paperback, do you think you could tell?

5. Jennifer eats the cookies (pp. 153-155), without for a moment suspecting they could be laced with an undetectable poison. Doesn’t her failure to exercise more caution when eating things prepared by virtual strangers make her largely to blame for her own slow, painful death?

6. Louise makes her first appearance relatively late in the story (p. 66), after hearing about the book club “from a friend.” Doesn’t her sudden interest in reading, and especially her interest in joining this particular book club, make her the most obvious suspect? Who’s the newest member of your book club? Have you searched his home for weapons?

7. In a recent interview, the author admitted that she enjoyed tracking which reading groups were set to discuss her book, and then sneaking into their meetings and slaughtering all of their members, execution-style, like Jack did, in Chapter 19 (“This Lemonade Needs Ice — And Look Out For The Woman In The Mask!”). Are all of your doors locked?

8. It is said that a book can only be truly appreciated if everyone in the group shuts their eyes for thirty or forty seconds, and meditates in complete silence. Ignore the noises coming from the garage, and do this now, like Janet did (pp. 213-18), right before the final massacre.

9. If you reach this last question, congratulations. You have survived, at least for now. If you go to the book’s website and tell us the time and location of your next meeting, we will send you a signed copy, as well as a special, secret prize. Do that. Seriously, it’s a very special prize that you won’t want to miss.

If you enjoyed The Reading Group Killer, be sure to check out the author’s latest, The Assassin in the Bookstore. Available wherever books are sold, but particularly at Books & More on Main and 14th, next Tuesday at 3.

Image: The Woman in Black