Kseniya Melnik: On Writing about Russia & the Pros & Cons of Getting an MFA

Kseniya Melnik, author of Snow in May - peoplewhowrite

Kseniya Melnik

Kseniya Melnik started writing Snow in May: Stories (set for a May 2014 release) almost 10 years ago, initially conceiving the oldest story in the collection — “Kruchina” — as a short screenplay. Born in Magadan, Russia and raised in Alaska from the age of 15, Melnik sourced inspiration from family memories, personal experiences, and nostalgia.  “Underpinning all of [the stories in Snow] is Russia as a setting,” she explained in an email. “Its history, its weather, the look of its cities and towns, its ‘atmosphere.'”

From the first draft of “Kruchina” through the decade that followed, Melnik juggled a day job and completed her MFA at New York University; eking out writing time before work, during lunch breaks, and on weekends careful not to kill herself with all-nighters. “It’s good to know your limitations and try not to drive yourself to a nervous  breakdown from overwork,” she wrote. “Ultimately, all the hours you write add up — not always to a finished story or novel, but you’re always learning, practicing your art and craft. It’s never a waste.”

Maintaining a marathoner’s steady pace, Melnik read as much as she wrote. “I feel a kind of deficiency of raw material, of basic language DNA, if I don’t read literary fiction for several days,” she continued. She workshopped early drafts of Snow in classes at The New School and in her MFA program. After graduating, she shared material with her fellow NYU alums for feedback over Skype. “I couldn’t do without these talented and smart early readers.”

I asked her specifically how her MFA experience helped her take her work to the next level.

What do you think is most valuable to a writer’s growth — workshop, residency, fellowship, or MFA program?
I’ve never been on a residency or won a fellowship, but I imagine they are valuable for giving the writer time to write and, just as importantly, read and daydream with minimal interruptions. An MFA program is wonderful because it connects the writer to a group of very dedicated readers who take critiquing seriously. On the other hand, you can get all the feedback you can handle, but if you don’t have time to think of your work deeply and revise, then it’s pointless. Residencies and fellowships are good for taking everything out of the picture besides writing.

How did your MFA experience help in your pursuit to become a published author (if at all)?
There were psychological and practical benefits, as well as a few drawbacks. First of all, it was so inspiring to be in the company of people who understood and shared my passion for books and ambition to become a better writer. Though writing is a solitary pursuit, with encouragement and camaraderie, the MFA program makes you feel a little less alone. And as far as pure good times go, I’ve spent countless hours talking about books and writing with my classmates and professors, in class and at bars, and countless hours honing the nerdy art of wordplay. I felt like I was among “my people.” That’s a special kind of high.

I was introduced to many new authors and learned a great deal in workshops and craft classes. Again, not that you can’t do it on your own, but I think the MFA just makes the learning process faster. I made great connections. There are people I can e-mail with questions about publishing or to ask for
letters of recommendation or a blurb.

The negative side is that I have student debt, though part of it comes from staying in New York and quitting my day job while pursuing the MFA degree. It’s an amazing thing to be an aspiring writer in New York, to attend readings and get feedback from the authors you admire, to be shielded by the cocoon of the MFA from the worries of publishing competitiveness and the financial and cultural realities of attempting a career as a writer of stories and novels. You’re living in a fantasy world from which you’ll have to come out eventually, but why not enjoy it for a couple of years?

The other downside is that after graduating I felt some internal pressure to achieve the next thing, whether it’s publishing stories in journals, getting an agent, or finishing and selling a book. By completing the MFA, you’ve announced to the world (or at least, to your family and friends) that you’re a real writer now: so where are the results? what is your next move?

Of course, it’s harmful to the work and one’s sanity to think like that. My advice is to resist that internal pressure as much as possible, to stay in touch with writing friends but also make non-writing friends, to read more, and to keep working.

SNOW IN MAY by Kseniya Melnik_peoplewhowrite

What’s your agent-to-publication story?
I have two agents: Simon Trewin in UK and Dorian Karchmar in US, both of William Morris Endeavor.

Lawrence Weschler, one of my professors at NYU, had read and liked my story and [sent] it to some magazine editors he knew. I believe it was an older version of “Love, Italian Style.” Almost a year later, I got an email from Granta. It was such a fantastic surprise; I didn’t even know he sent the story there. Granta liked it but wanted to consider something under 3,000 words for their online “New Voices” series. I didn’t have anything ready, and usually I write stories that are much longer than that. I decided to take Granta‘s interest as a challenge to create a new story within that word limit. A few months after I submitted “The Witch,” Granta picked it up for the “New Voices.” After the story and an interview went up online, several agents from Britain and US contacted me and I went with Simon.

…I hadn’t written all the stories that ended up in the collection by the time I signed up with Simon. He gave me notes on several drafts of individual stories and then the book as a whole. And my American agent, Dorian, also gave me notes and I did some more revising with her. We also decided to cut two stories because they didn’t quite fit into the arc of the book. One of them was almost novella-length and just wasn’t working. So that was painful but also liberating.

Simon sent out the book to the UK publishers first. I think we got an offer within a few weeks. Then Dorian sent out the book in the US. Two editors were interested here, and I decided to go with Sarah Bowlin at Holt. That also took a couple of weeks.

Would you recommend other writers pursue an MFA?
The MFA route is not for everyone and it’s certainly not a prerequisite to becoming a better writer or getting published, though it can help. If you want to get a lot of feedback on your work and talk about books in almost clinical detail, of course I’d recommend it. I would also advise trying to get into a fully-funded MFA program so as to graduate with as little student debt as possible.

Do you consider yourself a “Russian writer” / “Russian-American writer”?
I don’t think I can be a purely Russian writer if I’m writing in English. Most of my stories (and the novel) are set in Russia and largely concern Russian characters; they are informed by Russian history and philosophy. Yet, my writer’s sensibility is mixed because when I started writing
seriously, I was already in America, reading American and English literature. It was the English language that excited and made me want to write. Stylistically, my short stories are probably more influenced by Jhumpa Lahiri, Alice Munro, and Aleksandar Hemon than Chekhov and Turgenev. Though I respond to Russian literature in a very different way than to American literature, much more emotionally and less critically.

A Russian writer must write in Russian, must wrestle and play and bleed in that language. I think that’s the primary requirement.

Do you feel a responsibility, in your writing, to document the Russia you knew which was such a mystery to most Americans in the ’80s and ’90s, and even now post-Sochi?
Russia can still be a mystery to me, too. I don’t feel a responsibility to explain that period to Americans through my writing; rather, I am inspired to explore it from a more grown-up point of view for myself as much as for the readers. When I write about the Russia of my childhood, I am very aware that a certain note of nostalgia and romanticism of my youth may creep in, so I verify my memories against accounts in books and movies. I interview other Russian people. None of it is objective, of course, but I try to arrive at what is true for my characters. And while my characters certainly don’t represent all Russians, when it comes to historical circumstances, living conditions, details of daily life, I work hard to get the particulars right. The circumstances of everyday life have a huge influence on our dreams and hopes, and our chances of achieving them. I think that most people, when reading fiction set in other places or times, take those details to heart. Readers are not going to run out and do independent research. So as long as research doesn’t weigh down the plot, it can make the story stronger and more interesting.

Follow her on Twitter @KseniyaMelnik.

Work-in-Progress: "What’s Wrong With Forgiveness?"

Scribes, you and I know how hard it is to find someone to read your work and give useful feedback. That’s why I’m trying something new here and inviting writers to share the first 1,000 words of a piece of writing they need fresh, objective opinions on.  The piece below is a work-in-progress by an author who needs honest feedback. Please read, vote in the poll below, and share your thoughts in the comments section. (If you’re interested in submitting your work, email it to peoplewhowrite@gmail.com. You retain the copyright of the original piece you submit. All genres are welcome, though I reserve the right not to post anything that’s gratuitously graphic or explicit for no reason.)

What’s Wrong With Forgiveness?
Why Jesus never said to forgive your enemy
and why the whole world thinks He did!
 
According to Jesus Christ, the Evil One (Satan) is the master of all liars and deceivers.  His expertise in trickery and cunningness has never been more evident than in his ability to convince most Christians to believe false and debilitating concepts of “forgiveness.”   For centuries, his success in frustrating humanity with years of needless stressing over “forgiveness” has met little resistance of truth. He has driven millions off course by causing them to avoid the core issues of love, justice, and meekness.  It is the meek, not the “always forgiving,” Jesus said, who one will inherit the earth.
Most of the world believes the following traditional statements are true:
Jesus said to forgive your enemy.
Jesus forgave His enemies on the Cross. 
Forgiveness is as much for the giver as for the one to whom forgiveness is given.
If you hold unforgiveness in your heart, you will become angry and bitter. Forgiveness means to release yourself of anger and bitterness.
If we do not forgive all who sin against us, God will not forgive us.
The way to be completely free of anger and bitterness is to forgive.
God has forgiven us, therefore we should forgive everyone who sins against us.
We must always forgive every offender seventy times seven.
Forgiveness does not mean that an offender is no longer guilty or accountable or that we must be reconciled
Forgiveness means we should be at peace and move on
This book will clearly reveal that these statements are the opposite of what the Bible actually teaches!
For many Christians, forgiveness is a struggle which they must “work through” for many years.  But, in reality, it is not forgiveness (Greek word – aphiemi) that is the struggle. The real struggle is trusting God and loving our enemy!  A true Christian is already as just as forgiving as God is:  ready to forgive when someone calls upon them in true remorse.  For thou, O God, art good and ready to forgive, and plenteous in mercy to all who call upon Thee. (Psalm 86:5)  But God does not forgive those who do not call upon Him.
By deceiving us into believing that anger and bitterness are caused by retaining anger and bitterness (our definition of “unforgiveness”), we have been distracted from the real reason that we struggle with anger and bitterness.  That is; not having faith to believe that “God allowed the evil to happen to me.”  Releasing bitterness has nothing to do with my relationship to my enemy or offender.  It is through my trusting relationship with God that I can rest, be meek (Matthew 11:28-29), and have faith that He can use the evil (offense) to make me a stronger person.  God, then, can free me from anger and enable me to love my enemy.
In other words, the release of anger and bitterness never comes from being at peace with my offender, but by being at peace with the fact that God allowed my offender to hurt me.
By goading us to be better and more forgiving than God (who never forgives an unrepentant enemy), the Evil One has kept us from kneeling humbly and accepting the grace of God, which can bless us through the evil and wickedness of others even while we lovingly hold them accountable.  (Hebrews 12:15)
By infusing us with false and foolish definitions of forgiveness, by keeping us ignorant of the Jewish cultural practices of teshuva  (repentance), by keeping us ignorant of the two non-interchangeable Greek words for “forgive”, by keeping us from evaluating the two contrasting interchanges of “forgiveness” at the cross (the Roman soldiers and the thief), by confusing us with opposite concepts of  accountability and forgiveness in Matthew 18 and “seventy-times-seven,” by baffling us with “forgiving trespassers” that God will never forgive in the “Lord’s Prayer,” and through many other Biblical deceptions, Satan has kept us satisfied, though extremely confused and frustrated, in our complacency of living in Biblical error concerning forgiveness.  This book strives to reveal the “truth that will make you free.”
Despite thousands of books on the subject, millions of people still go to their graves frustrated about forgiveness.  In order to “forgive,” many spend their lives simply pushing down bitterness.  Even those who have found peace in their own hearts are often cognizant of the still aching memory of a wound or broken bond that was never healed.
For most Christians, the unanswered and even unasked question is:  How can we imitate God who loves billions of people without forgiving them?  How do we explain, and exemplify in our own lives, the always unconditional love of God yet His always conditional forgiveness? 
This book reveals the peace and the power that come from differentiating between love and forgiveness.  When we understand how God loves unconditionally but only forgives conditionally, then we will understand how to truly love others.
When God forgives, those forgiven of sin are rendered unaccountable for their sin.  However, love does what is best for others.  It is not best to “forgive and hold unaccountable” the rapist, pedophile, murderer, liar, deceiver, swindler, adulterer, abuser, cheater, etc., who is unrepentant of their sin.
The unbiblical concept of “forgiving” unrepentant, egregious offenders has caused our society to dive headlong into dangerous misconceptions of God.   We have been led to accept evil in the name of tolerance, to teach generations to be undiscerning of wickedness, and to falsely believe that a loving God must be void of judgment, justice, and wrath.
Most importantly, we use a definition of forgiveness Jesus never used.  Thus, we are telling people to sin by forgiving in ways that the Bible clearly instructs us not to forgive.
It is my hope that the concepts in this book will be explored, debated, and argued for the sake of helping millions of people find freedom and joy amidst their sorrow and pain.
Help this writer out! Vote in the poll, and share your thoughts in the comments section. 

You Can't Be An Insider and a Journalist

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and book critic Janet Maslin  - peoplewhowrite

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and book critic Janet Maslin

Or can you? Journalists require inside access / inside sources to get to the truth of a story, but going too deep inside can compromise objectivity if real care isn’t taken.

It’s been interesting to watch the appearance of compromised journalism unfold via the Dylan Farrow / Woody Allen child abuse coverage. I’ve been keeping up with the dueling op-eds, think pieces, and many of the articles that sparked or responded to them, and personal connections seem to have played an inordinate role in where and how the story has come out.

The New York Times in particular has become a media focal point of this contentious family drama, with different members of the organization appearing to take sides. Columnist Nicholas Kristof basically admitted he’s Team Mia. At the beginning of this month, Kristof gave his New York Times‘ op-ed space to Dylan Farrow to have her say about what happened 21 years ago, in her own words. This, after the New York Times editorial department declined to run the letter.

In the preamble to Dylan’s open letter, Kristof didn’t hide his close relationship to the story: “(Full disclosure: I am a friend of her mother, Mia, and brother Ronan, and that’s how Dylan got in touch with me.) …I reached out to Allen several days ago, and he declined to comment on the record.”

In response, the Times’ opinion section chose to run Woody Allen’s rebuttal. Then New York Times book critic Janet Maslin weighed in, indicating “a friend very close to the story” had given her the impression Dylan Farrow was only speaking out because she wanted attention. She was also quoted as asking a reporter who later asked her about her comments: “Please do not write about what I said in there.”

To be fair, all the Times coverage has been in the opinion / editorial pages, but these particular opinion pieces are not, on their face, about wider issues of child sex abuse, divorce, adoption, or family drama. They are highly personal and specific stories that were co-opted into these sections of the paper because they are not journalism, but blog posts.

From the very beginning of this sad family saga, reports have allegedly been filtered through conflict-of-interest connections. Maureen Orth’s 1992 Vanity Fair feature called out the New York Post and New York Daily News reporters that contributed reporting to the case: “Particularly vicious were the tabloid Hamill brothers, Pete in the New York Post and Denis in the New York Daily News, whose brother Brian has worked for Woody as a still photographer on 17 movies.” 

Meanwhile, The Guardian has questioned the motive behind Orth’s past and recent profile of Mia Farrow and her children — “Momma Mia” — calling the journalist “a long-time friend” of Mia Farrow’s and accusing her of “spin for the Farrow family.” Orth firmly debunked the insinuation, forcing The Guardian to retract.

It seems Dylan Farrow’s allegations have exposed not only her adopted father to scrutiny about the abuse, but the nepotism that powers some aspects of journalism too.

Last April,  New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan pointed out that author Nathaniel Rich, son of NYT columnist Frank Rich, had been “reviewed in the Arts section on April 10, then again in the Sunday Book Review on April 14. Mr. Rich also wrote an essay for the Sunday Book Review, with many references to that novel, “Odds Against Tomorrow.” In addition, the Editors’ Choice section of the Sunday Book Review listed Mr. Rich’s novel second on its list. Back in January, Mr. Rich and his brother were also the subjects of a feature story about literary families.”

When Sullivan asked Theater and Books Editor why certain authors enjoy multiple coverage, Heller admitted, “In the best of all worlds, it would be healthiest to spread the attention around… There are so many deserving writers out there, and it sends a wrong signal.” However, the piece concluded, Heller feels the system “seems to work.”

At what point does a journalist have to recuse herself/himself from a story because the subject is too close to home? When does an editor step in and say, ‘Sorry, but you can’t write this piece about your son/friend/brother’s boss because you might be just a little bit biased?’ or ‘Why don’t you create a WordPress account and post this on your blog?’ Both Dylan and Woody knew what it would mean to have a newspaper with the New York Times‘ reputation for excellent, impartial journalism running their side of the story, even if it was in the opinion section. 

I miss the days when I at least thought I was getting impartial news — when I was given the opportunity to make up my own mind. In what is now the adolescence of the blogosphere and cable news, news that’s heavily filtered through bias and opinion has become the norm, for better or worse. 

On a recent episode of HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher, actor Stephen Merchant half-joked to Maher, “I never quite know where to go to in America for my news sources. I watch [Real Time], but obviously you’re a deeply biased man…” He added, “I think Fox News is presumably a spoof.” 

Truthfully, it’s all going the way of spoof.  Entertaining? Usually. Informative? I can’t tell. 

Need Somebody to Read Your Work-in-Progress?

Read other writers' work - peoplewhowrite

“Does any of this even make sense?”

Trying something new here. Once a week/month/quarter/year/never (depending on how many submissions I get), I’ll post the first 1,000 words of a piece of any genre by an anonymous author and ask you to share your feedback in the comments section. There’ll be a “want to keep reading?” poll at the bottom of the post that will determine whether I post the next 2,000 words, and we’ll go on like that until the complete work is posted or you get bored.

If you’d like to participate, submit your piece to peoplewhowrite@gmail.com.

One of the most crucial things about the writing process is having a reader whose taste you respect give your work an incisive read. Problem is, it’s really hard to find such a reader who has the time to dedicate to a 1,000-word piece let alone manuscript or screenplay of 200+ pages. It’s even harder to find a reader whose personal connection with you won’t bias their response to your work.

But what if you could get feedback from a group of people who have nothing to lose in being completely truthful about the quality of your work?

If you’re interested, submit your piece to peoplewhowrite@gmail.com. All genres are welcome, though I reserve the right not to post anything that’s gratuitously graphic or explicit for no reason.

PS – Here’s a list of sites that offer writing feedback:

Scribophile

Critique Circle

Review Fuse

The Next Big Writer

PPS – WriteWorld has a longer list of feedback sites here.

Zimbabwean Folk Stories Live Streaming on zifmstereo.co.zw

Our Story 'A Narration Without Borders' - peoplewhowriteToday at 1:30p EST, tune into “Our Story ‘A Narration Without Borders'” with Tshila Ndhlela, live streaming on www.zifmstereo.co.zw. Storyteller Gogo Nokuthula Sibanda will be sharing a folk story about two orphaned brothers who run away from home in search of a better life. They decide to settle in in the thick forest home of the ‘Amazimu’–half human, half beasts with huge protruding teeth who feed on human flesh. The forest where the Amazimu live holds dark secrets and supernatural creatures. Today’s narration is in isiNdebele. For more info, visit “Our Story”‘s Facebook page.

 

The Folio Prize Announces Inaugural Shortlist

A Naked Singularity: A Novel by Sergio De La Pava - peoplewhowriteThe Folio Prize which was founded at the end of 2012 by Aitken Alexander and agent Andrew Kidd has released its first ever shortlist today, and the American-heavy roster is further stoking fears about the future of the Man Booker Prize. What initially distinguished the Folio from other prizes is that it would not restrict eligibility based on nationality, gender or genre as with other such prizes like the Caine or Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. The Man Booker,  once restricted to authors of the British Commonwealth, has since opted to open its race to American authors to the consternation of some. We shall see who is deemed worthy to carry Folio’s £40,000 pot when the winner is announced on March 10th at London’s St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel. Until then, the shortlist is:

Red Doc by Anne Carson 
Schroder by Amity Gaige 
Last Friends by Jane Gardam 
Benediction by Kent Haruf 
The Flame Throwers by Rachel Kushner 
A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride 
A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava
Tenth of December by George Saunders 

R.I.P. Sony Reader

The Sony PRS-T3S (via Goodereader) - peoplewhowrite

The Sony PRS-T3S (via Goodereader)

Sony Electronics has decided to close its Reader Store next month, leaving the North American e-Reading public to choose between the Kindle, iPad, and the Kobo. In a press release explaining the move, Sony announced that it will transfer “Sony’s Reader Store customers and their current eBook libraries… to the Kobo ecosystem starting in late March.”

The release adds of the Toronto-based company whose name is an anagram of “book”:

Kobo serves 18 million readers around the world and works with 1.3 million authors to deliver one of the world’s best catalogues of more than 4million eBooks, magazines, and newspapers. From bestselling authors like Dan Brown, Margaret Atwood, Jodi Picoult, Khaled Hosseini, John Grisham, Nora Roberts, and Gillian Flynn, to popular magazines like Vanity Fair, People, Macleans, Food & Wine, and Today’s Parent, Kobo has something for everyone.

NPR says of Sony’s shuttering e-bookshop, “Although initially competitive, Sony’s ebook store and apps have lagged [behind] competitors such as Amazon and Apple for years.” Barnes and Noble’s electronic reader the Nook has also been struggling to compete.

In other e-reading news, Publishers Weekly reports:

In a deal that brings together one of the oldest independent e-book publishers with one of the largest, Open Road Integrated Media has signed an agreement to acquire E-Reads, the digital publisher founded by Richard Curtis in 1999. The purchase, which is set to close April 1, will add more than 1,200 e-books to Open Road’s list and includes authors such as Dan Simmons, Harlan Ellison, Greg Bear, John Norman (in science fiction and fantasy), Aaron Elkins, Barbara Parker (mystery), Laura Kinsale (romance), and Ray Garton (horror). Following completion of the deal, Open Road will publish and distribute the titles through its own platform and the E-Reads site will be taken down.

The Top 10 Talked About Books on Social Media

The January numbers are in and Veronica Roth‘s teen titles Divergent (a movie version is being produced) and Allegiant top the list of most conversed about books on social media in January. You can read the first 100 pages of Divergent here.

* For the week ended January 26. If the book did not appear in the top 100 bestselling titles, the ranking is listed as not available.

** How many conversations took place about the book in question for every 10 comments about book #1

Laurence Kirshbaum Returns to Agenting, Post-Amazon

Larry Kirshbaum - peoplewhowrite

Larry Kirshbaum

WSJ reports Laurence Kirshbaum, who announced his departure from Amazon in October 2013, is headed to the Waxman Leavell Literary Agency. Kirshbaum’s career path has become emblematic of the twists and turns of the book industry over the last 20+ years.

In the ’80s and ’90s, it was all about mergers and acquisitions. Veteran librarian Mary Munroe identified “sixty merger and acquisition events in the years of 1998 and 1999, with more than $20 billion spent by companies to buy other companies” in a 2001 article by Carolyn E. Lipscomb. As the former CEO of Time Warner Warner Book Group, Kirshbaum presided over one of the biggest such companies, created when TIME, Inc merged with Warner Communications in 1990.

In 2005, he left, and shortly thereafter, started his own literary agency LJK Literary. At the time, the New York Times noted Kirshbaum was “part of a steady stream of editors and publishers who, over the last two decades, have jumped to the agenting side of the business.”  In the piece, Kirshbaum lamented the publishing industry’s increasing lack of ability to support authors:

“The demands of publishing and marketing a book today have grown to exceed the ability of a publisher to cope,” Mr. Kirshbaum added. “I felt very keenly that we were leaving so many good marketing ideas unexplored because there were too many authors and too little time.”

That, Mr. Kirshbaum said, has put more of the burden for selling a book onto authors. “The author has to be more involved in choosing the book jacket, in promotion, marketing, dealing with retailers,” Mr. Kirshbaum said. “A nonfiction author has to bring a platform with him – radio, a TV show or some kind of recognizable vehicle to help launch them. And the agent is really necessary to represent all of the business interests of the author.”

He added: “The name of the game is not to make a quick buck for the author and make the publisher take a write-off” on a big advance, he said. “What really matters is what happens after the deal. If the books are selling, the money will follow.”

In 2011, Kirshbaum joined Amazon, two years after the e-tailing giant launched its book publishing arm. Amazon had been — and continues to be — stiff competition for book publishers and bookstores, and Kirshbaum’s role in signing bestselling authors like Tim Ferris served as a major test of Amazon’s power in the book publishing ecosystem. Barnes and Noble refused to carry Amazon Publishing titles, effectively stymying Amazon’s influence with writers (for the meantime).

If Kirshbaum’s return to agenting can be seen as a barometer of where the power is going next, it seems agents are the ones that will come out the best. But if trends continue as they have been with publishers’ power waning as authors take advantage of self-publishing distribution channels, and trusted curators of literary talent becoming more important because so many more writers can enter the market, we might see Kirshbaum taking a role as a book reviewer. We’ll see.