Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Buy BEFORE I FORGET and if you hate it, I'll send you something else!

Novelist and book marketer M.J. Rose has a brilliant idea. Today is the day Dan Brown's new novel is out. Rose has started "buy+Brown" which suggests other books that you could buy in addition to Dan Brown's while you're in the bookstore (because why only buy one book?). My buy+brown suggestion is BEFORE I FORGET by Leonard Pitts Jr. I really loved this novel. I gobbled it up like turkey and dressing and greens and sweet potato pie (weather has turned fallish here in Colorado, which makes me think Thanksgiving). This book has so many great characters that you will root for and laugh with and cry over. Buy it. Buy it today even if you're planning to skip THE LOST SYMBOL. If you buy it and hate it, send me your receipt and I'll send you a copy of something else. How's that for a recommendation?

Leonard Pitts Jr. is also the next author I want you to meet. But before I introduce you to Pitts, what would you suggest for buy+Brown?

About Leonard Pitts Jr.

Leonard Pitts, Jr. is already a major voice in contemporary journalism, as his column (which won the 2004 Pulitzer for commentary) is syndicated to more than 200 papers. His writing is clear, simple, and direct, accessible but also engaged with truly urgent and substantive concerns. Both Jamie Foxx and Don Cheadle have expressed interest in bringing this work to the screen.


Before I Forget is the story of Mo Johnson, a faded soul star of the ’70s who learns he’s developed early-onset Alzheimer’s. Taking stock of his life, he’s overwhelmed with regrets. Most have to do with his 19-year-old son, Trey, who’s been involved in a stickup gone bad, and with his own father, Jack. When Mo learns Jack is dying, he takes Trey on a cross-country road trip to L.A., where Mo grew up and Jack still lives. As Mo tries to connect with the increasingly tuned-out Trey, he realizes that the grief and anger he carries over his own father have everything to do with his struggles with his son. Before I Forget is both an in-depth anatomy of fatherhood and an absorbing, brilliantly plotted piece of fiction—a multigenerational road story that spans rural Mississippi in the ’40s, swinging South Central L.A. in the ’50s, the soul music scene of the ’70s, right up to present-day L.A., Vegas, and Baltimore. In this sweeping, ambitious yet accessible first novel, Leonard Pitts, Jr. steps forward as a major new voice in American fiction. His writing reveals a profound understanding of the difficulties facing black men as they grapple with their role as fathers—as well as the crucial importance of fulfilling that role.

My Q&A with Leonard Pitts Jr.

White Readers Meet Black Authors: Describe your work for someone unfamiliar with it. What's your writing style like? What subjects/themes do you explore?

Leonard Pitts Jr.: I think good writing is analogous to good jazz: rhythmic, spontaneous and improvisatory. That’s usually what I’m going for. And I tend to write about a lot of things, but probably the theme that fascinates me most is prejudice in its many forms (e.g., anti-Semitism, racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, misogyny).

WRMBA: What's your latest novel about? What inspired this story?

LP: “Before I Forget” is the story of a dying man attempting to connect with the father he hates and the son he barely knows before time runs out. The story was inspired out of my own questions/concerns over how well or poorly I was doing as a father to my own kids. I think every conscientious parent goes through second (and third) thoughts. I wanted to toy with that theme and take it to an extreme.

WRMBA: You write a lot about fathers and sons. Why?

LP: I think the relationship of fathers to their children (not just their sons) is one of the great unexplored issues of American culture in general and African-American culture in particular. Writing my previous book, “Become Dad,” left me convinced that much of the dysfunction that we see in our children these days is directly traceable to the fact that we have by and large written fathers out of the family picture.

WRMBA: What's your goal(s) as a writer? Do you set out to educate? entertain? illuminate?

LP: Assuming we’re talking about fiction, the primary goal is always to entertain. It’s fine to want to educate and illuminate, but if you’re not entertaining first and foremost, readers won’t stick around for the rest.

WRMBA: What's next for you?

LP: I am about two thirds of the way through the first draft of my next novel. It’s called “Freeman’s Walk” and it’s about a freeman’s cross-country journey at the end of the Civil War to find the woman he loves.

WRMBA: What's the best book (or who's the best writer) that not enough people know about?

LP: Easy. “Song Yet Sung” by James McBride. I read it earlier this year and it absolutely blew me away. I’d probably place it Top Five on the list of my favorite books of all time.


Wilhelmina said...

I'm with you, Carleen. At 3:00 this morning, having been totally incapable of sleep until I finished this book, I wrote this on my Facebook page:

"I was inspired by Carleen Brice to read the novel by Leonard Pitts, BEFORE I FORGET. I now want to run up and down the streets of Atlanta, accosting people and making them read it, especially men of any age. It's a wonderful book and fills a gap in African American fiction - healing those fractured father-son bonds. Read it! You won't be sorry."

I want to add that I rank this book in a category with your books, Carleen, and Pearl Cleage's books as books which can be read and enjoyed by a wide audience but which deal with important, deep questions and are impeccably written. Ver high praise from me!

Carleen Brice said...

That's what people need to understand about social networking: it keeps up from running up and down the streets shouting out the names of great books in the middle of the night! I'm sure your neighbors are grateful for FB. :)

Claudia said...

Carleen, in the short time that I've known you, you have always been enthusiastic about new books and good writers, but your rave reviews of BEFORE I FORGET have me wanting to leave work to pick up a copy right now!!!! I will definitely, definitely be reading this. Thank you for this interview.

Carleen Brice said...

Yes, Claudia, I've kinda lost my mind over this one. But you see Wilhelmina's comment. I'm not alone!

Beverly said...

I read this book a couple of months ago and feel the same way. What a wonderful refreshing read! I am glad that my bookclub choose this book for its October BOM. I cannot wait to discuss with the other bookclub members.

Candy Minx said...

Great review. I'm going to pick up this novel, thanks!