November 20, 2006

Review of A Woman from Cairo by Val Landi

Red Storm Rising Deja Vu Intoxicated: A Novel of Money, Madness, and the Invention of the World\'s Favorite Soft Drink Grumpy Old Bookman How and Why Lisa\'s Dad Got to Be Famous A Woman From Cairo Book Business: Publishing Past, Present, and Future

The term “indie” became a cliche some time ago.  Indie film, indie music, indie video games, etc.  Being outside the mainstream is the traditional common theme in all things “indie”.  Labeled by marketers as a member of “Generation X”, I will assert my Madison-Avenue-given right to be cynical, and suggest that this rebellious term went corporate before Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John penned their first advert to the Corinthians.  You can thank me later for that little cutting-edge piece of insight, but I digress before I begin.

Starting less than a year ago, a first-time author named Val Landi began marketing his self-published A Woman From Cairo, which he had been shopping around to the publishing establishment for sometime. The novel got some buzz from the literary blog “establishment” (here, here, and here) back in the spring, and after reading about it I contacted Mr. Landi, who was kind enough to send me a book.  (The book lacked the advertised autograph, but I’ll live.)

As some of my three readers may know, I spend the school-year grading papers and the summer at the gravel pit, so I don’t always get to all of my extra-curricular enjoyments in a timely fashion.  Reading is high among those enjoyments, but Mr. Landi’s book had dropped slowly down the literary Jenga game next to which my wife and I sleep as more recent interlopers got placed on the top.  Due to my participation in the Winter Stacks Reading Challenge, I finally finished Mr. Landi’s book.  The first chapter took me seven months, the rest took two days. Good for you, Mr. Landi!

Mr. Landi is identified by some (including himself) as an “indie author.”  Before jumping into the review, I want to comment on the “indie” status of Mr. Landi and his book. 

In his most recent post, the author wrote:

“I find it delightfully ironic that A Woman from Cairo, an “Indie” book being launched on should be signed for development as an Indie film to be presented at the Sundance Film Festival…”

Ok.  Before moving on, let me point you to this short interview with Kevin Smokler.  I’ll wait until you come back…

The truth in labeling A Woman From Cairo as “indie” really depends on where one sits.  On one hand, if “indie” is a do-it-yourself term describing how one creates, publishes, and markets a finished product, than Mr. Landi is most definitely an “indie” author.  From reading the discussions about his book, publishing insiders and published novelists seem to agree that “Big Publishing” snubbed Mr. Landi in spite of his having a saleable product.  He then found an alternative and “independent” route to publish and sell his book.  This is certainly the “indie” blueprint.

On the other hand, it seems to me that Mr. Landi is pushing the limits of the spirit of “indie.”  If “indie” is a way of doing something, it is also, I think, a reason for doing something.  It provides an idea or an aesthetic that one cannot find in mass media.  In his website bio, we find that the author has worked for Bantam, IDG, and Microsoft.  He is currently the president of Realtime Publishers, where his bio reads, “senior sales and marketing executive for both Fortune 500 companies and entrepreneurial startups.”  Not really an “indie” resume.  In fact, one might argue that Mr. Landi has the resume of a successful e-publishing industry insider.  His blog subtitle is “Notes on Technology, Politics, and Religion”, but the posts are really focused on the marketing of his book.  At times the blog feels like a marketing research project right down to what looks to me like the censoring of comments.  Corey Doctorow and Ian Hocking types get on, but one finds no comments from fans or readers without their own blogs.

Anyway, two of Smokler’s comments stick in my mind here.  He said, “indie lit is ultimately based on sort of romantic notions that don’t apply anymore.”  Perhaps this is true.  We don’t need “indie” anymore because technology has provided just about anyone with the drive, the means to produce, publish, and distribute.  We are all “indie” now.

Another quote also sticks out when viewed through Mr. Landi’s blog as lens. “A book will become a calling card for people with mini-media empires. So people will use a book to kind of advertise themselves.”  Sometimes I get the feeling that writing a good book wasn’t the purpose here, marketing it was.

Either way, a good read was written.  This isn’t high brow literature, but decent genre fiction, which will appeal to the spy novel set.  Mr. Landi has a winner in my opinion, albeit with flaws.  If he has some longevity, he might do with terrorism what Tom Clancy did with the Cold War.  I agree with several other blog reviews I read that A Woman From Cairo is too long.  There is dead wood among much of the character development. Some of the characters, like Julie and Nan, were superfluous and could have been easily eliminated.  The character best written, in my opinion, was Sanna. 

The strength of the book is the plot, which slowly unravels what we don’t know through fast paced events.  Some of the Red Cell stuff was excellent, and probably what reminded me of Clancy.  Mr. Landi successfully juggled multiple intersecting plotlines with clarity and tension, then brings them all together in the end.  I have one suggestion for the Man From Madrid, the planned sequel to this book.  Surprise the reader at the end.  Give us a twist, or unexpected ending.  I liked the end to this one as it maintained the tension using Sanna’s decision to detonate (or not detonate) the bomb.

My mom wrote a review for the book during this past summer.  She is not a spy novel aficionado, but did introduce me to Clancy’s Red Storm Rising so she’s not a beginner either.  Here is what she had to say:

If you are looking for a good beach read, Val Landi’s A Woman from Cairomay be just the ticket, if you don’t mind running the risk of a sunburn.  The opening scene pulls the reader in immediately as you witness the assassination of El Sheik (Osama Bin Laden) by Al Qaeda’s number two man, El Tabib, who, coincidently, also played a role in the assassination of Egypt’s Anwar Sadat.  This event is captured on film, and getting this film out to the public drives the plot forward.  The intrigue and topicality of this first chapter compels you begin chapter two, and by then you’re hooked.  The structure of the novel is very controlled, and this enhances the feeling of being drawn in, bit by fascinating bit.  The chapters are short and move quickly from character to character and place to place, each adding another piece to the puzzle, until finally they all converge in the climax.  It is an effective structure. It allows Landi to keep you engaged and to keep the plot moving quickly. This is especially appreciated by those who do read on the beach.

The characters in A Woman from Cairo are cleanly cut.  There is little superfluous information on each; yet, there is enough background given so the reader has an understanding of motives, and enough knowledge to make them believable.  This is appropriate as it is, essentially, a plot driven book.  However, I found the anti-heroine, Sanna Hamaj, to be unsympathetic despite her tragic background.  The brutality of L’Houssaine’s torture and death, at her hands, and her cold and cruel treatment of Alika, made her seem more of a killing machine than a human being. This may be a lack of empathy on my part and not the author’s.  I simply do not understand the mentality of suicide bombers, not on the evening news nor in Landi’s book.  There is much to admire in the character, Alika, however, and she makes a perfect foil to Sanna.

I did appreciate Landi’s use of the various settings to move the plot forward.  The action races from Afghanistan, to Egypt, to Manhattan, and finally, to Utah and the Sundance Film Festival.  The settings are disparate, which makes them interesting, but each place gives us a different take on the action; each gives the reader a feel for its own part in the story.  This is especially true of the Utah sequences.

I was somewhat disappointed at the lack of world response to the showing of L’Houssaine’s documentary.  This fact, added to the closing chapter with El Tabib sending his new protage off to New York City until the time is right for him to become a part of history, screams for a sequel.  The message that they are here, unnoticed, living among us, and waiting, is frightening enough in fiction; in reality it is too terrible to comprehend.

I agree with Mom, that Mr. Landi has a possible movie success on his hands.  He has grabbed a topic that will have some shelf life, as we watch the bumbling “War on Terror” with no end in site.

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November 1, 2006

The Slanket: A Great Gift for Cold Climate Book Buffs

Filed under: Book Technology,Books,Off Topic,Reading,Reviews — seth @ 5:48 pm

 Edison: A Biography The Fire of His Genius: Robert Fulton and the American Dream The Salesman of the Century The Evolution of Useful Things: How Everyday Artifacts-From Forks and Pins to Paper Clips and Zippers-Came to be as They are The Papers of Wilbur & Orville Wright, Including the Chanute-Wright Papers Signor Marconi\'s Magic Box: The Most Remarkable Invention of the 19th Century and the Amateur Inventor Whose Genius Sparked a Revolution

Every now and then I come across something that makes me say, “Now why the hell didn’t I think of that?”  The latest is The Slanket.  I don’t really do product reviews, but this one is a winner.  For those of you who live where winter’s withering wind never rears its icy head, stop reading now.  Readjust the g-string, align yourself with the sun, and resume tanning.  For those of you who annually stock rock salt, firewood, and an emergency kerosene heater, get whatever hot beverage you love to mug and cozy up to the computer screen.  The Slanket is for you.

Quite simply, the Slanket is a large fleece blanket with sleeves.  I just got mine yesterday, and people are already fighting over it at my house.  Below is my friend Jen, who drove .43 miles just to try it out.  The picture below is actually a live feed and Jen will be holding that pose indefinitely.

In all seriousness, this is a winning idea.  For anyone who has wrestled to keep one or both arms free while sitting under a blanket, this is for you.  The Slanket is serious couch potato technology.  Ron Popeil would be proud.  I can see the T.V. ads now.  A middle aged, doubting Thomas sort who slaps both hands on top of his balding pate and yells in a poor Brooklyn accent as the camera zoom in on him, “It a blanket!  With sleeves!”  Book lovers will find warmth and a turned page no longer mutually exclusive.  My wife and I will be wrapped up in our slanket by the time you read this post.

May 11, 2006

The Future of the Book Conference

The Future of the Book Self-Publishing Ebooks & Pods: One Step At A Time The eBook Self-publishing Guide: Desktop to Amazon in 10 Easy Steps How To Start And Run A Small Book Publishing Company: A Small Business Guide To Self-Publishing And Independent Publishing 

Looking for something to do this week-end?  Check out the Future of the Book Conference at the Memorial Art Gallery.

The Future of the Book Conference

  • Saturday, May 13 & Sunday, May 14, 2006
  • Sponsored by Writers & Books and The Rochester Regional Library Council
  • Panels will be held at the Memorial Art Gallery at 500 University Ave, Rochester, N.Y.
  • One-day pass: $10 (Saturday or Sunday), Two-day pass $15
  • Register online at or by phone at 473-2590 x107
  • Seatin for some panels is limited. For more information call 473-2590 x107, or visit the Writers & Books website at


Saturday, May 13, 2006

  • New Technologies (1:30-3:10 p.m.): A discussion of digital, print-on-demand, and other new develeoping book-manufacturing technologies, including technologies that may move readers away from books as we know them. Also, how will copyrights be protected? Panelists: Brian Segnit, Xerox Corp.; Frank Cost, Rochester Institute of Technology; Jeffrey Newman, Attorney.
  • The Future Marketplace (3:30-5:10 p.m.): What will the bookstores and libraries of the future be like? How will their roles be modified by new technologies? How will libraries preserve documents for future access? Panelists: Archie Kutz, Lift Bridge Book Shop; Katie Clark, University of Rochester Libraries; Terry Buford, Director of Irondequoit Public Library.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

  • Editors, Publishers, & Writers (11 a.m.-12:40 p.m.): How will the new technologies change the way writers, editors and publishers work and interact? Will editors lose their primacy in the process of bringing manuscripts to publication as writers gain access to faster publishing technologies? Panelists: Nancy Kress, Novelist; David Pankow, RIT, Cary Graphic Arts Collection; Mark Mirsky, Fiction Magazine; Bruce McPherson, Publisher, McPherson & Co.
  • Off the Page (1-2:40 p.m.): A look at how literature is translated into other media, such as audio books, film, stage performance, and future media. Panelists: Bob Holman, Poet and Director of Bowery Poetry Club; Joan Naturale, deaf Librarian, RIT Wallace Library; Eric Gansworth, Poet and Native American Storyteller.
  • The Art of the Book (3-4:40 p.m.): This panel will explore relationships between art and literature and what new visual possibilities for literature and limited-edition and artists books might be set in motion by new technologies. Panelists: Chris Burnett, Executive Director, Visual Studies Workshop; Scott McCarney, Book Artist; Mitch Cohen, Letterpress Artist; Tate Shaw, Book Artist and Co-Publisher of Preacher’s Biscuit Books.

April 4, 2006

Check Out This Post

The Google Story 1984  Brave New World Powershift : Knowledge, Wealth, and Power at the Edge of the 21st Century Future Shock Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business

Intoxicated : A Novel of Money, Madness, and the Invention of the World\'s Favorite Soft Drink


Check out the links in this post on John Barlow’s Blog.  Huxley or Orwell?  Toffler or Postman?  You make the call. 

Also, the saga of Barlow’s book, Intoxicated, is an interesting read.  Barlow left a comment on one of my posts and I have been visiting his blog on a regular basis.  He linked to Grumpy Old Bookman’s take on it a few days ago, and I think that is a good place to start.  I also think the book should be marketed to my mom.  She is a retired English teacher, and although she is American, from the description of the book, she would love it.  She is reading the Val Landi book right now, maybe I’ll get her to read that one next.  I’ve been too busy reading my student’s stuff to read anything else.

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