Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Review: The Pentagon: A History by Steve Vogel

Today, in January Magazine’s non-fiction section, contributing editor David Abrams reviews The Pentagon: A History by Steve Vogel. Abrams’ review incorporates a surprisingly personal point of view:
At this point, I should confess full disclosure: for the past four months, I have been one of the approximately 25,000 workers who report to the Pentagon every morning, shuffling through the brightly-polished corridors like automatons. I have a desk in an E-Ring office -- in fact, the precise spot where the nose of Flight 77 struck the building on September 11, 2001. The plane entered and barreled through the wall of my office and didn't stop until it got to the inner C Ring. If I’d been there on that day, I would have been vaporized. It’s spine-shuddering to think about all those people who once sat where I now tap on my keyboard. Every day, I work with ghosts.

I have not come anywhere close to walking all of the nearly 18 miles of corridors on the building's five floors. I alternately tell people I work in the "womb" or the "bowels" of the Pentagon, but honestly there's little blood-warmth in the building. For all its brightness and efficiency, the place where I spend the majority of my day remains a mysterious, impersonal hive full of strangers passing strangers.
The full review is here.

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Monday, July 30, 2007

Classics of an Exceptional Vintage

I had an unexpected surprise last week when one of my all-time favorite novels landed on my doorstep. Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley’s Game arrived complete with a wonderfully evocative cover. It came shrink-wrapped with a copy of Fydor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. I was confused why these two books came wrapped together. So I did a little research.

It seems that Vintage Classics is a division of Random House [UK] who are releasing two classic books for the price of one: The first double pack is this limited edition gift pack which consists of beautifully designed separate volumes of Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky and Patricia Highsmith’s stunning novel Ripley’s Game. Which is interesting considering what Highsmith wrote in her classic 1966 volume Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction:
But the beauty of the suspense genre is that a writer can write profound thoughts and have some sections without physical action if he wishes to, because the framework is an essentially lively story. Crime and Punishment is a splendid example of this. In fact, I think most of Dostoyevsky’s books would be called suspense books, were they being published today for the first time. But he would be asked to cut, because of production costs.
I have loved Highsmith’s Tom Ripley novels as, for me, they are a precusor to the amoral villains and heroes that pepper contemporary crime fiction such as Thomas Harris’ Dr Hannibal Lecter. Tom Ripley was first introduced in The Talented Mr. Ripley [1955]. Highsmith wrote five Ripley novels with Ripley’s Game [1974] being the third to feature this charming sociopath. For my money, apart from the debut novel, Ripley’s Game is the best in the series. It features Ripley living a life of luxury in France, until an American gangster asks him to commit a double murder, but instead of carrying out the murders himself, he sets up a poor British picture-framer to carry out the killings. Soon Ripley and the British man are on the run, and a strange bond forms between them; a bond that leads to death, and reveals the title phrase: Ripley’s Game.

The novel was firstly filmed in a loose 1977 adaptation by Wim Wenders starring Dennis Hopper and entitled The American Friend. The novel was more faithfully adaptated for the screen in 2002 in a film that starred John Malkovich as Ripley.

The cover for the new Vintage edition is striking and I have asked the publishers for a print of the artwork for my dinning room.

I discovered that the Highsmith/Dostoevsky double-pack is just one of ten Vintage Classic Twins for collectors. Each twin consists of two books: a specially designed limited edition of one modern classic title and one established classic work. The books in each pair have been carefully selected to provide a thought-provoking combination. And that is the beauty and importance of books: to provoke thought, to challenge the way we look at life and in so doing, challenge our preconceptions.

It seems that the Vintage team is entering the out-of-copyright-classics market for the first time with these illustrious names being joined by the greatest writers from previous centuries, such as Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Lewis Carroll and Henry James. This move is in keeping with the ambition of Vintage as a whole to bring the best writers of yesterday, today and tomorrow to as wide a readership as possible.

Apart from crime, Vintage has developed series of twin-packs for other genres, emotions and human conditions:

VINTAGE FANTASY: The Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

VINTAGE FEAR: The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter and The Complete Fairy Tales by the Brothers Grimm

VINTAGE LIES: Atonement by Ian McEwan and What Maisie Knew by Henry James

VINTAGE LOVE: Possession by A.S. Byatt and Middlemarch by George Eliot

VINTAGE LUST: The Rachel Papers by Martin Amis and Tom Jones by Henry Fielding

VINTAGE MONSTERS: Sexing the Cherry by Jeanette Winterson and Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

VINTAGE SATIRE: Atomised by Michel Houellebecq and Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift

VINTAGE SIN: Inferno by Dante Alighieri and Sabbath’s Theater by Philip Roth

VINTAGE YOUTH: Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh and Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

To read more about the classic books Vintage figures changed the world click here and, look here for our take on The Guardian’s recent survey of novels that defined our era.

And -- perhaps most delicious of all -- if you can’t get enough of the amoral world of Patricia Highsmith, check here for some rare interviews archived by the BBC.

Review: The Cruel Stars of the Night by Kjell Eriksson

Today, in January Magazine’s crime fiction section, contributing editor David Thayer reviews The Cruel Stars of the Night by Kjell Eriksson. Says Thayer:
The Cruel Stars of the Night is the second English-translated work from Kjell Eriksson, author of the much-lauded novel The Princess of Burundi (released in the United States just last year, but winner of the Swedish Crime Academy Award for Best Crime Novel back in 1992). Once more, Eriksson’s large cast of cops is assigned to keep Uppsala (Sweden’s fourth-largest city) safe and secure. I haven’t seen this many Swedish names since the closing credits of an Ingmar Bergman film. Eriksson gives even his minor characters full names, plus a job title, and when the police get together for meetings the entire roster occupies slivers of the spotlight. Readers inclined to put books aside and pick them up later may feel as though their party has been crashed by a phenomenal assortment of Swedes, all of them interesting, if hard to place.
The full review is here.

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Have Book, Will Party

There have been times when I thought that what the book world really needed was a single Web page listing all available book fairs, festivals and other types of literary parties. There were even moments of insanity when I contemplated compiling such a list myself. I’m glad I wimped out at the last minute because, along with a bunch of other things, the Library of Congress’ Center for the Book has done it up right.

While not every literary shindig is listed here -- the big crime fiction and SF/F conferences are notably absent, for instance -- the list does seem to include all the big general events and book fairs. It’s the best list of this nature I’ve seen, at any rate. And if you see a better one, let me know so we can tell everyone.

The big list is here.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

A Big Apple for Your Thoughts

January Magazine and Rap Sheet contributor and Anthony nominee (for service, for his work with Shots) Ali Karim has been blessedly quiet on the topic of Harry Potter for the last week or so. That’s because he’s been hooping it up at various international crime fiction conferences. (Karim is man in black on the left above. Man in black on the right is crime fictionist Vince Flynn.)

Karim’s firsthand reports from Thrillerfest, the International Thriller Writers second annual conference held last week in New York, are here.


Saturday, July 28, 2007

A Mini-Master Class with Annie Dillard

Annie Dillard spoke to NPR’s Scott Simon about her new novel The Maytrees, and about the craft of writing in general. Known primarily for her non-fiction (An American Childhood, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek), Dillard has spent most of her time writing fiction in recent years. Still, as she tells Simon, this most recent effort took ten years to complete and “nearly killed me.”

In this interview, she discusses how she pares down her sentences to their basic forms, always looking for fewer and fewer syllables.

Dillard rarely grants interviews, so it’s a treat to actually listen to this consummate practitioner of the writing craft. She says The Maytrees will be her final book. One hopes that this is a premature retirement, but while listening to her, I couldn’t help but think that she might be serious.

Listen to the interview here.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Review: If Minds Had Toes by Lucy Eyre

Today, in January Magazine’s fiction section, contributing editor Andi Shechter reviews If Minds Had Toes by Lucy Eyre. Says Shechter:
If I had a better grounding in abstract philosophy, maybe I would understand the point of If Minds Had Toes. The book is cute in a lot of ways. It's bright, sprightly, full of dialogue and characters that might work if my eyes did not have a tendency to completely glaze over by the time I hit the second page of discussion.
The full review is here.

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

That Potter Story Has Legs

Since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was released last Saturday, it’s felt as though editors everywhere have been saying “If it reads, it leads.”

Who can blame them? After a decade of ever-escalating stories about the boy wizard and his Titian-haired creator, reporters are looking at a hole where Harry used to be. Best to fill it while there's still a story to be told.

Though the Harry Potter story certainly has legs, some of the connections being made are... well... more tenuous than others. For example, Pink News UK tells us about the lesbian reading material on a bookcase behind Rowling in one of the author’s bio shots.

A closer examination of the image gives us an insight into Rowling's own reading material. Assuming it's her bookcase of course.

After all, it could be her bookcase. But then again... maybe not.

And while some publications are going for the big reach, others have settled for the blatantly obvious. For example, The Atlantic’s Ross Douthat reports that, while some people hate Harry Potter, some people... um... don’t.
There have always been two critical camps on the Harry Potter phenomenon -- the small band of haters, which includes Harold Bloom, A.S. Byatt, and lesser lights like Ron Charles, and the host of apologists, which includes more or less everybody else. I'm a card-carrying member of the latter group; I’m not a Potter obsessive by any stretch, having read each book only once, but I am a great admirer of Rowling’s work, and I’ve always thought that that her skill as a storyteller and world-builder outweighs her literary weaknesses.

I found Douthat’s Rowling assessment somewhat sour grapsey, but to help you to draw your own conclusions, the piece is here.

The business section of The Times Online skates on thin ice connecting Potter mania to book collecting.

The first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was limited to only 500 copies in hardback and over 1,000 in paperback. As a result, a signed copy of a first-edition hardback (which sold for £10.99 in 1997) notched up a world record of £27,370 at Bloomsbury Auctions in London in May this year.

In fairness, part of the sour grapes over this one might be mine: I owned a first edition Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and did not keep it. I console myself with my signed copy of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

Though The Times brings us to book collecting through the lens of Harry Potter, it widens that lens throughout the piece, bringing us a full, if brief, view of collecting books.

Star examples include Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon from 1930 (more than £35,000), and Agatha Christie’s first Poirot novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, from 1921 (more than £20,000) and HG Wells’s The First Men in the Moon from 1901 (£12,000).

Perhaps the ultimate is the first issue of Ulysses by James Joyce from 1922. It was published in various limited states but the rarest was 100 copies on special paper, signed by Joyce. These can now fetch more than £150,000.

The piece ends with some general collecting advice, including, “Go for the first edition of the first book by an author who later becomes popular.” That’s the trick though, isn’t it? And if you have the secret to ferreting out the author who will be popular, there are a lot of agents, editors and publishers who would like to hear from you.

India’s Economic Times goes all literary critic when they ask the unbylined question, “Wanna know the real secret of Potter’s success?” In yet another business-writer-turns-armchair-psychologist attempt at breaking down the Potter phenomenon, the Economic Times lays it all out for us. Simple like, so we don't miss it:

As more individuals experience the product, the benefit to others increases, lifting the incentive to experience the product even more. Woe be unto the poor child who showed up at elementary school in 1999 without a thorough knowledge of wizards and muggles. Such social pressures fired demand, which lured parents into reading the book with their children.

Oh... that’s what is was. And here we thought it was just because a lot of people liked Rowling’s books. Wrong, says Economic Times:

There are many works of art that are equally as entertaining as the Harry Potter books. Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy is as enjoyable, and perhaps more imaginative. But Potter scored the big prize. Why? Clearly, the artistry of Rowling is an important element explaining Potter's success, but the changing economics of the ‘new’ economy clearly plays a role as well.

Of course, the big news since the seventh and final Harry Potter novel was released five days ago has been all about numbers. You’ll have seen some of these stories already: the Harry Potter books are expected to eclipse sales of The Bible. The films will outsell even the mega-hit Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises. No one has sold more books in as many places as J.K. Rowling.

I will remember this moment. I think I’ll remember it all my life: this excitement, this hoopla, this loss of perspective and balance. I will remember the week during the summer of 2007 when everything else was pushed from our minds. When, for a heartbeat, we forgot about limits, we adjusted our sights. And we thought about possibilities and about magic and the fictional orphan who touched so many lives.


The Bat Is Back

After a distressing absence that caused widespread withdrawal and general malaise, it was good to see the return of the original reluctant with new entries from the Bat Segundo Show, “a literary podcast featuring interviews with today’s contemporary writers.”

Look for new interviews with Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Berkeley Breathed (Opus, Bloom County); Austin Grossman (Soon I Will Be Invincible) and several others.

The Bat Segundo Show is here. The wonderful Ed Rants: Return of the Reluctant blog is here.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Review: The Complete Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz

Today, in January Magazine’s art & culture section, contributing editor David Abrams reviews The Complete Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz. Says Abrams:
I can still recall Sunday afternoons -- unimaginably long stretches of time free of the electronic jangle of yet-to-be-invented video games or cell phones -- when I would lay propped on my elbows in our shag-carpeted living room with the bright sheet of comics spread before me. In those moments I became one with Charlie Brown. His world was my world. His dog was my dog. His snatched-away football was mine. His embarrassments turned into my own social failings. On those afternoons, my head indeed felt like an oversized balloon in proportion to the rest of my body.

The full review is here.

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More Consolidation in the UK

The Bookseller reports that independent publisher Piatkus Books has been bought by Hachette Livre’s Little, Brown:
Founder Judy Piatkus will continue as m.d. until the end of the year, when she will retire from publishing. Piatkus, which has a turnover of around £10m, will become an independent imprint within Little, Brown. It will continue trading at its current premises until the end of October, after which the team will move to Little, Brown’s new offices at 100 Victoria Embankment.

Little, Brown said it would ask "the majority of the directors and staff" to stay with the business. It added that while a small number of staff may not have continuing roles within Piatkus, they would wherever possible be offered jobs within Little, Brown or the wider Hachette Livre UK group to keep job losses "to an absolute minimum".

The transaction was structured as a purchase by Little, Brown of a 100% shareholding in Piatkus, which remains intact as a company. All contracts remain valid and will be honoured. The shareholders of Piatkus Books were represented by The van Tulleken Company.

Piatkus, founded by Judy Piatkus in 1979, publishes commercial fiction, including Nora Roberts, and a range of mind body spirit, health, business and self-development titles. Authors include Patrick Holford, David Allen and Brian L Weiss.
The full story is here. Meanwhile, The Bookseller also reports that:
Samedaybooks has bought Country Bookshop, the online bookselling business and community website for £500,000. The deal does not include the shop, but does include Country Bookshop founder Sridhar Siddegowa, who will join the Samedaybooks management team in order to provide "strategic advice on e-commerce activities across the company".

It is Charles Denton's first acquisition since taking a controlling stake in the troubled retail business earlier this year. Denton, deputy chairman of Samedaybooks, said: "This is our first strategic investment to accelerate our expansion of the company. Countrybookshop.co.uk was a pioneer of online bookselling with a well established brand name, valuable technology, community website software and an extensive customer database. We quickly aim to integrate the business into the Samedaybooks platform to deliver a step change in our growth."
That full story is here.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Review: Supermom Saves the World by Melanie Lynn Hauser

Today, in January Magazine’s fiction section, contributing editor Mary Ward Menke reviews Supermom Saves the World by Melanie Lynn Hauser. Menke says:

Is there a mother in the world who hasn’t at one time or another wished she had super powers? Author Melanie Lynne Hauser has taken that wishful thinking and run with it. In Confessions of a Super Mom, she created Birdie Lee, the divorced mom of a teenage son and daughter. Birdie survives a “Horrible Swiffer Accident” that turns her into a super hero with palms like sponges and fingers filled with cleaning fluid. Fast forward six months to Super Mom Saves the World, and we find Birdie, now a card-carrying member of the Justice League of America, still adjusting to her new life.

The full review is here.

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Sunday, July 22, 2007

Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

With the end of the embargo on the seventh and final book in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, January Magazine contributing editor Sue Bursztynski got right to work.

As a children’s librarian and the author of several books for young readers, Bursztynski can see the flaws in Rowling’s final installment. However, she’s quick to point out that they’re not fatal flaws: she came away feeling satisfied that most of the loose bits had been tied up. Says Bursztynski:
Rowling warned us that there would be deaths and the first occurs while Harry is being escorted to the Burrow. Another character loses an ear. By the end of the book, there are more bodies than in the last scene of Hamlet. In previous books, the author killed beloved characters one at a time and left Harry time to mourn. In Deathly Hallows, they are killed en masse, mostly offstage, and there is simply no time to mourn.
The full review is here.

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Saturday, July 21, 2007

What’s That You’re Reading?

I confess, I picked this lead up from Duane Swierczynski at the Secret Dead Blog. The brilliant and brash contributors to a Web site called Pointless Waste of Time have concocted a variety of manly looking book jackets for those folks who want to read the new Harry Potter novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, but don’t want to be seen doing so in public. Some of the specimens offered are pretty outrageous, and a few will absolutely make you persona non grata at your local Starbucks. But, the site reassures visitors, “Print these out and you can safely read your Potter in front of all those ex-Navy SEALS at the local strip club.” And isn’t that what’s really important?

The main assortment of Harry Potter cover-ups is available here, while some equally fine rejects (one of which I have borrowed above) can be found here.


Friday, July 20, 2007

A Little Touch of Harry in the Night

I know it’s been “All Harry All The Time” this week at January Magazine. And, perhaps like you, I’m getting weary of the hype. It certainly didn’t help matters that I spent nearly 10 hours today in U.S. airports trying to fly home from a business trip, and heard endless CNN reports about Pottermania on both sides of the Atlantic. I’ve never cracked open a Harry Potter book, so I can’t speak personally about the series ending. My wife and stepchildren, however, are big fans, and Leslie will pick up her copy from a favorite independent bookstore while she visits her parents this weekend.

Still, I found myself in a local chain bookstore on Friday evening, enjoying the air of anticipation as well over a hundred children waited for the midnight release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

You can’t spend time this weekend in a bookstore and not be captivated by it all. Think of it: This weekend, in the middle of summer, children in North America, the United Kingdom and who knows where else, will put aside their iPods, PlayStations and DVDs. They will take a break from text messaging, instant messaging and chat rooms. They will curl up with a book. A book they’ve anxiously awaited for months. They will talk to their friends about it, and they will debate the relative merits of the book, compared to its predecessors in the series, or perhaps in contrast to other books they’ve read.

Isn’t this what it’s really all about? Connecting with a fictional world and putting aside everything else?

Maybe Harry and his friends don’t appeal to you -- fine. I’m in the same boat. Still, I plan on emulating my young friends this weekend. I’m going to get lost in a book.


Final Countdown to P-Day

I know I said we were done reporting on Harry Potter stuff. But as anticipation for the seventh and final book in J.K. Rowling’s series works its way into an exquisite frenzy just hours before the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, it’s hard to think about anything else.

And, Ali Karimic grumblings aside, it’s also difficult not to be swept up in an excitement this vast. We’re all about books and reading around here. All of this excitement isn’t about a movie or a rock star or a sports personality. It’s about a book. A book for kids. How bad can that be?

This exquisite Potter frenzy is, of course, international in scope. Wherever on earth you look right this second, you encounter kids reading. (Albeit, a lot of them are dressed up in funny costumes.) And if they’re not reading, they’re thinking about reading very soon. And they will be, despite the fact that a rash of Internet spoilers have tried to ruin some of the fun, led -- of all things -- by the New York Times who broke the embargo with a review a couple of days ago. (The lack of link here is deliberate, btw. Embargo breakers don’t get linked to. At least, not from here. Here, however, is a link to one of the stories about how very pissed the author is about getting... um... pissed on.)

I happen to agree with the spokesperson from Rowling’s UK publisher, Bloomsbury, who called the NYT’s early review of Deathly Hallows “very sad.” That wasn't breaking the story, it was breaking integrity.

The Times of India was angry enough about the whole affair, they sometimes skated pretty close to poetic:
Author J K Rowling has reacted with fury after a US paper run a review of the final book in the Harry Potter series two days before its official publication, thereby breaking the cloak of secrecy surrounding the book.
(I like that: “cloak of secrecy.” Too bad there won’t be a book eight: Rowling could have used that one.)

As far as international media for the launch of the new book goes, the NYT’s sad breach was just the tip of the iceberg, especially for an avid Australian fan who, in the dead of winter down under, had to be rescued from a frigid lake when his advance purchase receipt for Potter 7 went fluttering into the drink and he pitched himself in after it. (Note to self: reading the books does not give you magical powers.)

According to the Brisbane Times:
A security guard pulled the man from the water about 4pm (AEST) when he was found splashing around searching for his receipt.

He was stabilised by paramedics after suffering suspected mild hyperthermia and taken to Calvary Hospital in a stable condition.

It is believed a doctor at the hospital made contact with the book store that issued the voucher and arranged for a replacement in time for Saturday morning’s release.
[Editor's note: though two national Australian newspapers have run with this item, neither mentions “the man’s” name. And both refer to “hyperthermia” which means the body temperature is much higher than normal: something one wouldn’t expect after a rescue from “frigid” waters. In all, it would seem to have several of the earmarks of an urban legend. (Or, in this case, a UL in the making.) We suspect the item may be apocryphal, but it was so much fun, we wanted to repeat it. After all, the story has all the heroism one would like to see in an HP fan on this momentous occasion.)

Even Aljazeera has commented, reporting today that “The book’s release has been carefully orchestrated in order to maximise suspense and sales -- from London and New York to Mumbai and Australia’s outback.”

Aljazeera was also the first place I’d read that “in Britain, a phone counselling service for children expects a surge in calls when readers learn who is killed off.”

Which might be their way of saying that, one way or the other -- and but for some crying -- the frenzy is almost over.


Thursday, July 19, 2007

Review: Above the Falls by John Harris

Today, in January Magazine’s non-fiction section, Cherie Thiessen reviews Above the Falls by John Harris. Contributing editor Thiessen advises us to read the book for:
... historical perspective. What the back cover does accurately tell us about the book is that it paints a vivid picture of a now-vanished lifestyle. It portrays trappers living off the land, shooting and drying their meat when they need a fresh supply, catching their fish, sleeping rough, living in small cabins and tents. It reminds us of the frontier mindset -- when the belief that everything in nature was there just for us and just for the taking -- was common. The naïve idea that nature would always provide, no matter how much we took, was prevalent not so long ago. Many of us can still remember a time when a crab trap would yield crabs, when a fishing line would bring up a cod if not a salmon, when shellfish abounded for the taking and when hunting was many of our fathers’ favorite ways of relaxing and filling the freezer. Depending on their points of view, readers may feel nostalgic, or nauseated.
The full review is here.

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Ali Karim, Shut Your Eyes or All Pottered Out

Warning: This is January Magazine’s obligatory 11th-hour Harry Potter post.

This piece should be sprightly and interesting but, frankly, enough already. Even though (forgive me, Ali) I’m as much a fan of the magical orphaned imp as anyone (well ... maybe not anyone) the media saturation of the past week has left me wishing for the good ol’ days when we just complained about too much Paris Hilton. Heck: right this second, Hilton feels like a media wallflower when compared with ol’ Harry.

So, OK. There are many things I should/could be sharing with you on the off chance that you missed hearing about it somewhere else. For instance, I could have let you know that Scholastic, Potter’s US publisher, has slapped a lawsuit on an online retailer that shipped a whackload (perhaps not the official number) a full week before the on-sale date.

Or I could have let you know that Canada’s National Post has managed to join the hoopla with an eco-smart piece on the greening of Harry.

And it would have been fun to tell you about how “Harry Potter’s Israel launch pits wizard vs. rabbis.” (All they needed was the octagon.)

But, honestly? I don’t feel like it. However, I will tell you this: our reviewer is standing by, itchin’ and twitchin’ to get her hands on (a legitimate) copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. She’s going to read it as quickly as possible (try n’ stop ’er!) then share the results of that reading with you.

Our review will not be the first one you see. We’re not even trying to get our hands on a bootleg copy (we don’t play the game that way) and, when we do get our for-real copy, it will actually be properly read before being reviewed. All of this takes time.

Meanwhile, I can’t imagine that this will be anything but our last post on all matters Potterish until we actually have a review to share. If you’re Jonesin’ for more, however, it’s out there. GalleyCat has been doing a great job with its daily Harry Potter roundups. Also, The Guardian has put together a pretty comprehensive page on useful (!?) Potter links.

OK, Ali: you can look now.


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

No Riddle to Film’s Success

Impossibly smart, cleverly cast and wildly entertaining, The Riddle engages from start to finish with an unlikely plot that includes visits with Charles Dickens in 19th century London and a 21st century journalist on the trail of a murderer.

In modern movie terms, think Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels meets The Sixth Sense, but with the sort of stellar cast that would make The Riddle remarkable even if it wasn’t quite this good.

In London, an unpublished Dickens novel turns up in the cellar of a Thames-side pub. Pub patron and sports journalist Mike Sullivan (Vinnie Jones, above center) begins investigating a series of murders he doesn’t immediately connect with the Dickens manuscript. Even so, he gradually finds himself obsessing on a murder bound within the manuscript pages.

Sullivan is aided on both fronts by police press officer Kate Merril (Julie Cox, above left) and a homeless tramp played by Derek Jacobi (above right). We see more of Jacobi in historical sequences where he turns up as Charles Dickens. As startling as Dickens’ appearance is that of Vanessa Redgrave who plays Sullivan’s greedy publisher.

And, speaking of Redgrave, the casting here is both unlikely and magical. I’ve been enjoying Vinnie Jones’ performances since his film debut in Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. In that film, ex-footballer Jones played the sort of man-of-few-words-tough he’s come to be known for, so it was fun to see a different side of Jones in The Riddle. Here he plays a sort of intellectual man of action (the two aren't necessarily mutually exclusive) and you don’t disbelieve him for a heartbeat.

Derek Jacobi is wonderful in his dual role. Of course. Jacobi appeared most recently in Gladiator, Nanny McPhee and Underworld: Evolution, but if you don’t know his name, you know his face.

Although she plays a single character in The Riddle, Julie Cox’ role is somewhat dual, as well. As both police press agent and Sullivan’s love interest, she spends a lot of the film in a visible -- and understandable -- personal conflict. Vanessa Redgrave’s character, on the other hand, is not at all conflicted. Her nastiness is palpable and you can’t help loving to hate her. Vera Day’s performance as pub owner Sadie Miller is just as sharp... if considerably more sad.

Even the smaller roles are cast with jewel-like precision in The Riddle. Mark Asante; Jason Flemying; PH Moriarty; Mel Smith; Gareth Hunt. This is a film to watch carefully: the story is intricate, and the casting such that heavyweights -- former and even a few future -- can turn up at any corner.

Writer/director Brendan Foley draws a line between The Riddle’s casting and the sketches drawn by Boz himself. “We had the acting power to create a group of colorful supporting characters,” says Foley, “in much the same way as Dickens would populate his world with Beadles, Magwitches, Micawbers and Pumblechooks.”

Foley, who is the author of the bestseller Under the Wire, also wrote and directed Johnny Was (2006) and 2007’s Bog Body (currently in post production). Foley says that, in general, he is attracted by projects that promise more -- or less -- than the every day. Foley has been most influenced by “the great writers and directors who want to reach a mainstream audience looking for something smart with a twisty plot and unusual characters. I particularly admire those able to balance the realism of everyday life with the fantastical, unexpected or occasionally the supernatural.”

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

A Lasting Bond

Although Ian Fleming Publications is keeping mum on the details, the big picture is crystal clear: “Forty-two years after the last James Bond novel was published,” reports ABC News, “the world’s most-famous spy is set to go on a new literary adventure.”

When it’s published next May, The Devil May Care will become the 15th book in Ian Fleming’s series featuring the dashing British spy. And though insiders report that the new book reads precisely as though it had been penned by the late author, one can’t help but suspect that, with Sebastian Faulks (A Trick of the Light, Charlotte Gray) at the keyboard, The Devil May Care will be much better than Fleming’s original novels ever were.

Meanwhile, last month Reuters reported that Daniel Craig will again star as James Bond in the as-yet-untitled 22nd Bond film that will be released November 2008:
Filmmaker Marc Forster, the man behind such acclaimed movies as racial drama Monster’s Ball and [the] Peter Pan story Finding Neverland, was named on Tuesday as director of the next James Bond adventure.

Forster will direct the untitled 22nd Bond outing from a script he and Oscar-winning screenwriter Paul Haggis will develop from a draft by previous Bond collaborators Neil Purvis and Robert Wade, the studio and producers said.
You can read the full Reuters report here.

Knitting Blankets for Cats

A little over a year after The Rap Sheet fledged its way from under January Magazine’s wing and into the big ol’ world on its own, editor J. Kingston Pierce offers up his list of “five things that most annoy me about other blogs” including his number three: “The tendency to substitute opinions for facts:”
Just saying something doesn’t make it true, no matter what George W. Bush and Rush Limbaugh might believe. The mere opportunity to vent your spleen doesn’t absolve you of the requirement to back up what you say with reason and substance. And putting your opinion IN ALL CAPS does not necessarily make it more credible.

(I dunno, Pierce: it seemed pretty credible with all that shouting going on, don’tcha think? Yeah, OK. Maybe not.)

Monday, July 16, 2007

Review: Bad Thoughts by Dave Zeltserman

Today, in January Magazine’s crime fiction section, contributing editor James R. Winter reviews Bad Thoughts by Dave Zeltserman. According to Winter:
Dave Zeltserman’s work is usually classic noir. Like James M. Cain, Jim Thompson and, more recently, Jason Starr, he favors enraged protagonists who paint themselves with a veneer of civility that hides their homicidal fires within. In his 2004 novel, Fast Lane, Johnny Lane never denied what he was, but as Zeltserman peels back the layers, Lane clings to his cover story long after his true identity is revealed. Bill Shannon is different. As the layers are peeled back, even Shannon starts to wonder whether he’s a monster.
The full review is here.

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Sunday, July 15, 2007

We Walk the Line

Since most of the people involved with January Magazine have a very real passion for books, it probably would not surprise you to know that many of our reviewers are also authors, or hard on the road to becoming authors.

A lot of people know that Rap Sheet head honcho and January senior editor J. Kingston Pierce is an expert on crime fiction and that he is, in fact, working on a novel. However, Pierce is also a respected and widely published author/journalist in the field of history. His most recent book, Eccentric Seattle, has spawned an Emmy-nominated television series for the Seattle Channel, which Pierce hosts.

I am the author of three novels and a fourth, Death Was the Other Woman, will be published by St. Martin’s Minotaur in January 2008.

Regular contributor Tracy Quan is best known as the author of the Nancy Chan series -- which thus far includes Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl and Diary of a Married Call Girl. (And she’s been hammering away at what I think is a new Nancy Chan, which is why you haven’t seen her byline around here for a couple of months.)

Contributing editor Tony Buchsbaum is already the author of the novel Total Eclipse, and he’s working on another. Contributing editor Mary Ward Menke is the author of The Light at the End of the Tunnel: Coming Back to Life After a Spouse Dies (2006), and Pedro Blas Gonzales, who is also a professor of philosophy, is the author of Human Existence as Radical Reality: Ortega y Gasset’s Philosophy of Subjectivity.

A couple of January alumna -- Andrea MacPherson and Margaret Gunning -- spent the period just prior to the publication of their first long works hammering away at reviews, then, sadly, gave us up like we were Lent when their first books came out. (Sadly, but we so get it: writing books is hard work. And writing about books while you’re facing sophomore slumps and other such hazards isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time. A postscript here: both of these ladies are way beyond their slumps. In fact, I don’t think either ever hit one.)

Many of the writers whose bylines you see at January on a regular basis are currently involved in some aspect of writing or placing their first novel. But we don’t spend a lot of time talking about that in this space. First of all, the writers mostly don’t want -- and certainly don’t expect -- pre-publication mentions. But also, we can’t. Our server stats tell us that many of January Magazine’s thousands of daily visitors check in with us every day or a few times a week. You keep coming back, is what I’m saying. But, if every time you got here, one of us was touting his or her new book ... well, let’s just say that our server stats probably wouldn’t say that anymore.

Then there’s that fine line. Anyone who has spent much time around here knows that we take the whole journalistic integrity thing pretty seriously. (And chocolate won’t help get your book reviewed, so stop sending it. Especially in summer, when it might actually hurt your chances.) And when you’ve written a book, you’re proud. It’s a little like giving birth and you feel like trumpeting about it: it’s kinda primal. But we restrain ourselves. Refocus. Take a very real joy in trumpeting about other people’s new books. We all want the same thing, anyway: we want more people to read.

Even though most of us are always madly writing about something, and a month seldom goes by when one of our number doesn’t have a book coming out, usually, as January’s head editorial-type goddess, I have some sort of handle on who has what coming out where. So I was surprised recently when, opening a package of review books from children’s publisher Annick Press, a slender volume caught my eye. It carried a very familiar and distinctive byline: Sue Bursztynski. It was a surprise and, on a certain level, it was a joy. I felt an almost maternal pride (which is odd, I guess, since I had absolutely nothing to do with the book’s creation. Or Sue’s, for that matter). And even though we don’t as a rule review work by the editors of January Magazine, something in having that book slide into my hands in such an unexpected way -- and in Sue’s modesty about the new volume -- compels me to mention the whole matter here.

The book is called It’s True: This Book Is Bugged. As you might have surmised, it’s about the place of the spy both in our modern world and in history. The Rosenbergs, Hedy Lamarr, the carrier pigeon in espionage, Mata Hari, a glossary of spyspeak and more. Fascinating stuff even for those of us older than the 10- to 14-year-olds for whom the book is intended. And although Sue will have to qualify the first line of the book for me (“Spying the world’s oldest profession ...”), I’m enjoying This Book Is Bugged a great deal.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Review: The End of the Alphabet by CS Richardson

Today, in January Magazine’s fiction section, contributing editor Cherie Thiessen reviews The End of the Alphabet by CS Richardson. Thiessen says:
Using a very clichéd situation -- a man with only a month left to live -- the author manages to create a fresh story you’ll want to read through to the finish in one sitting. That won’t be a problem; it’s only 139 pages.

Surprisingly, this is the first novel from a man who has been in publishing for over 20 years, not as an author but as a book designer. In fact, Richardson is at the top of his craft, having been awarded many high honours for his designs.
The full review is here.

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Review: Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman

Today, in January Magazine’s Science Fiction/Fantasy section, contributing editor Andi Shechter reviews Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman. Shechter calls it a “hugely enjoyable book”:
Soon I Will Be Invincible tells the story of Dr. Impossible (not exactly the best supervillain name, ya think?) and the array of good guys determined to keep him from taking over the world. The timeline at the back of the book tells part of the story. I mean, how good can a bad guy be at being bad when he’s created five -- count ‘em five -- Doomsday machines? Usually, you stop at one because you’ve destroyed the Earth or the universe and can now take over whatever is left. But Dr. Impossible seems to have a little trouble in that regard. He keeps getting caught, locked up, then he escapes, tries again, you know the story, right?
The full review is here.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Where Are they Hiding the Authors?

Do you enjoy going to author events, but have a tough time discovering where the publicists are hiding them? Newly launched BookTour.com thinks they have the answer:
We’re a free online service that connects authors and potential audiences of all sorts, from book groups to civic organizations, from bookstores to corporate events. Authors create their own page (biography, books, tour dates and availability) and any group looking for speakers can find them and contact them directly to arrange for an appearance. Relevant information for both authors and venues can be added in minutes through a simple fill-in-the-blanks interface. Connecting authors with potential audiences then becomes as easy as searching (by geography, book titles, subject, dates of availability) and sending an email.
The site launched on May 31st (read that: at BookExpo), but is fronted by the right kind of tech and media muscle. You can visit BookTour here.

(Hat tip to Buzz, Balls & Hype.)

We’ll Always Have ... Never Mind

I’m tired of people making fun of Paris Hilton. I’m tired of it because it’s just old. Plus it doesn’t make so much sense.

For instance, a lot of people say she’s famous without reason. “Famous for being famous,” is the phrase that gets shot around. But that’s entirely not true. She has a sister and two brothers. Somehow these three manage to fly pretty much under our radar, happily going around doing whatever it is properly invisible Hilton heirs do. (I imagine there’s tennis involved in that. Nice restaurants. Very shiny cars. And shopping. Quite a lot of shopping.)

But Paris... well... Paris does stuff. I mean, seriously: what were you doing when you were 26? Paris, born in 1981, has produced a movie (OK: no one seems to have actually liked 2006’s Pledge This, but that’s not the point), started a record company (the cleverly named Heiress Records), recorded an album (it ain’t high art, but it doesn’t suck any worse than the competition. In fact, AMG says it’s better). She’s been engaged (count ‘em) three times (to fashion model Jason Shaw and greek shipping heirs Paris Latsis and Stavros Niarchos III), she’s been modelling since childhood and has appeared in campaigns for Iceberg Vodka, GUESS, Tommy Hilfiger, Christian Dior and Marciano. She’s appeared in many films and television shows, although it’s true that when you scroll down the Paris Hilton listing in IMDb, for instance, she appears most often as a character named “herself.” She’s written a couple of books. OK, she had help. But still. Books. Wrote ‘em. Hell, even her dog has written a book. Obviously, she’s starred in a hit television series, the enormously vapid and successful The Simple Life. More stuff. Much more. You’ve heard it all before: all of it leading up to the media frenzy this summer when Hilton was found guilty of driving violations and ended up serving 23 days in jail.

Which actually leads me to why I’m dragging you through all of this when, clearly, I could have avoided it. After all, January has managed to publish continually for pretty close to a decade and never once mention the words “Paris” and “Hilton” in the same article. So why start now?

A couple of days ago, I came across a press release with the following headline: “PARIS HILTON ANNOUNCES SUMMER READING LIST IN EFFORT TO ENCOURAGE LITERACY.” And my first though upon seeing it was, “Whoa. Are people ever gonna laugh at that.” Because, when you think about it, people laugh at everything she does. It’s like if you’re blonde, rich and beautiful and try to actually do anything beyond mannies and peddies, it’s a license for people to point their fingers and make fun.

Here’s an example: when Paris the album was released in the summer of 2006, the artists Banksy and Danger Mouse swapped 500 copies of Hilton’s actual album with a parody they’d created. This bootleg version showed up in several locations in the United Kingdom, and included altered topless photos of Hilton, parody remixes of the songs and nasty liner notes. That’s just mean. But when you start off with an open mind and read any amount of stuff about Hilton, you realize just how much of this meanness has been directed towards her. And she goes on smiling sweetly (though some would say “vapidly”) and continues on her celebutant business with a fair amount of grace.

So, OK: back to Hilton’s reading list. “Paris Hilton has decided to use her high-profile status to help increase literacy. She has announced a four-book summer reading list that she feels is varied and will both inspire and entertain readers,” says the aforementioned press release that made the rounds on July 8th. OK: the list is a little bit lame, but the spirit of the thing is good. And anything to get people reading, right? At least, I’m in that school.
Now that she is out of jail, Paris Hilton, the celebrity socialite and actress, is anxious to do things that can have a beneficial influence on people. One of her first actions has been to announce her four-book summer reading list, filled with books old and new, with the hopes that it will help increase literacy. Paris Hilton stated that, “Oprah Winfrey has had such a positive influence on people by encouraging reading with her various book lists, book clubs, and recommended books, that I thought I could join in the effort to encourage people to not only read, but read worthwhile books, and so I have chosen four books that I know people will enjoy reading...”
I would have liked, after reading that well-intentioned paragraph, to come across a list of books that was actually slightly interesting. Unfortunately, that is pretty much not the case. Three are predictable -- The Bible, the mega-bestselling The Power of Now from 1999 and the current mega bestselling The Secret by Rhonda Byrne. The fourth is just weird: a self-published baseball novel called The Knuckleball From Hell by an author whose only other book (coincidentally -- or maybe not so much -- published by the same imprint) has the spine tingling title of Quantum-Integral Medicine: Towards a New Science of Healing and Human Potential. (Try saying that six times fast.)

I haven’t seen an actual copy of Knuckleball, but a quick trip to Amazon indicates the sort of amateurish execution that brings a universal shudder from reviewers when it slides through the mail slot. (Not because we’re all big art critics, but a slapdash cover most often heralds more slapdashery between the covers and that’s not fun for anyone.)

Again from Amazon, the product description for the book:
The Knuckleball From Hell is a story of life, love, the New York Mets...and everything in between. It's the Marx Brothers and Three Stooges meets baseball and the Mets in this highly irreverent and extremely quirky novel. Meet the New York City bus drivers-turned-Mets general managers, the Russian Cossack first baseman, the superhero Donutman, surfer dudes, a Rastafarian quantum physicist, Hare Krishnas, the movie "To Kill a Mockingbird" remade as a feel-good, light-hearted romantic comedy, and much, much more in this wildly hilarious book. It tells the story of a fictional New York Mets team that is horrendous and been driven into the ground by its bankrupt owner, while the protagonist is a high school phenom who only wants to pitch for the Mets. Unfortunately, he blows out his arm and his career is seemingly over, until he has a chance encounter with a Professor on the lam from chicken-wing eating Department of Homeland Security agents, enabling the kid to join the Mets with a new pitch - the Knuckleball From Hell.
Actually it all sounds pretty fun... and so not Paris (not that I’m an expert, but...). Nor does it line up particularly comfortably with the other three titles chosen. So what happened? From doing rather more research into the matter than I should have, it appears that Hilton’s mom, Kathy, is big friends with celebrity socialite and philanthropist Mary Lou Whitney who lives in Saratoga Springs, New York. The author of Knuckleball is Michael Wayne, who currently lives, according to his bio, “159.5467 miles northwest of Flushing,” New York and has an office in Saratoga Springs. And the press release that went out detailing Hilton’s reading choices? You guessed it: it was datelined Saratoga Springs.

So what am I suggesting? I dunno, really. Maybe someone was doing someone a favor. Or maybe borrowing a famous friend’s name. Or maybe Hilton really does just love Knuckleball and really feels it’s “the funniest book,” she’s ever read.

Hmmmm ... I started up defending the beleaguered celebutant and ended up, I dunno, sounding quite cynical. Well, like I said, I am tired of people trashing Hilton. But, until she comes up with something that looks like an actual reading list, maybe we should leave the book suggestions to Oprah, Richard and Judy.

Review: After Dark by Haruki Murakami

Today, in January Magazine’s fiction section, David Dalgleish reviews After Dark by Haruki Murakami. Says Dalgleish:
All of After Dark takes place during the course of a single night, starting moments before midnight and ending at dawn. The plot -- or, rather, the series of linked encounters which make up the book, which is more about atmosphere and personality than story -- is kicked off by a random encounter between Mari and Takahashi, a chatty and endearing young musician who remembers meeting her once before and draws her into a long conversation. From this chance meeting, Murakami’s prowling camera follows Mari as she is drawn into various meetings with denizens of Tokyo’s night world: an ex-female wrestler who manages a love hotel, a young woman on the run from a shady past, a Chinese prostitute. In parallel, we witness scenes of Mari’s beautiful and emotionally troubled sister, lost in a deep, ominous sleep and in danger of being swallowed up by an enigmatic nocturnal force, and a superficially normal salaryman who is capable of brutality.
The full review is here.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Interview: David Shapiro

Today in January Magazine, contributing editor Richard Klin interviews the poet David Shapiro, a winner of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Klin catches Shapiro in a reflective, even pensive, mood. “One shouldn’t think of the future when one is lucky to be alive.” Says Klin:
An erudite sheen runs through the years-long output, an allusive corpus unafraid -- with references to Percy Sledge and Nancy and Sluggo -- to detour into the colloquial. Newark-raised, Shapiro has not shied away from his Garden State roots, (Poems from Deal, its title taken from a Jersey-shore town, came out in 1969) taking his place, along with Ginsberg and Williams, as bards of this much maligned state.

“We are now,” Shapiro says of his poetic peers, “the grandfathers and less hated by the young.”
The interview is here.

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Monday, July 09, 2007

Caged Comics

As a big comics fan, I was amused to read this interesting piece in the London Times about how Hollywood actor Nicholas Cage and Richard Branson, one of Britain’s top businessmen, are teaming up to give Marvel and DC a run for their money:
ZAP! Sir Richard Branson decides to take on America’s superhero comic publishing giants. Bam! He needs a Hollywood sidekick to boost the profile of his newly formed Virgin Comics. Kapow! Enter Nicolas Cage, the Oscar-winning actor, who happens to have a 16-year-old son with a talent for drawing cartoons.

An improbable alliance between the British entrepreneur and the comic-obsessed Cage family will come to fruition this week with the publication on Wednesday of a new series of voodoo-themed comics set in New Orleans after the destruction of Hurricane Katrina.

The series is based on characters and stories dreamt up by Cage’s son Weston. It was developed by Virgin Comics, an India-based publishing venture linking Branson and several of the biggest names in Indian entertainment, among them Deepak Chopra, the bestselling author, and Shekhar Kapur, the film and theatre director.

The Cages are jointly credited as “creative producers” of the Voodoo Child series, which tells the story of a curse imposed at the outset of the American civil war returning to haunt the streets of modern-day New Orleans. A detective investigating a series of murders begins to real-ise they were connected with a violent rebellion on a Southern plantation more than 100 years earlier.
Cage is a huge collector of comics and has stared in many comic-book-type roles, most recently as Marvels’ mysterious Ghost Rider:
Cage recalled that he had first come across the Ghost Rider comics as a seven-year-old: “I saw this comic with this colourful flaming skull on the cover and he’s coming right at you - I was transfixed. It is really how I got into reading and I still have that actual comic.”

Over the years Cage accumulated one of America’s most valuable collections of early comics, among them an original copy of the first Superman comic, published in 1938. Several years ago he sold part of the collection at auction for more than $1.6m (£800,000).

Cage’s comic enthusiasm has proved a boon to Branson’s efforts to challenge Marvel and DC, the two companies that dominate the $2.5 billion US comic business. Virgin’s deal with the Gotham Entertainment Group, a leading south Asian comic publisher run by Chopra’s son Gotham, is aimed at combining western enthusiasm for stories of superheroes with the more spiritual themes that have become popular in the rapidly growing Asian comic market.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

In the Market for Murder

To help celebrate the 100th birthday (in mid-August) of Seattle’s landmark Pike Place Market, thriller writer Robert Ferrigno (Prayers for the Assassin), who lives in the area, today launches the first installment of a four-part novella in The Seattle Times. Judging solely by this initial entry, “Double Strike” follows two paths: one a current story line, following a young woman named Janine (“a pretty, lightly freckled redhead with no self-confidence and better taste in shampoo than men”), who accidentally discovers a double-headed Lady Liberty silver dollar from 1899 jammed between cobblestones in a Market alley; and a second story track, built around a poor and desperate, but still ambitious Seattle boy named Henry who, in 1931, steals what is apparently that same coin from a yellow-suited criminal type, only to have the swell offer him a job. But what sort of job, we’re left to wonder until tomorrow’s installment. You can either read Part I of “Double Strike” here, or listen to Ferrigno read it here.

(Illustration by Gabi Campanario for The Seattle Times.)

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Saturday, July 07, 2007

Swapping the Baton for a Pen

If America’s Fourth of July celebrations could boast a soundtrack, it would be dominated by the rousing patriotic marches of composer-conductor John Philip Sousa (1854-1932), and would have to include two familiar pieces of music: “Stars and Stripes Forever” (heard here in a 1909 cylinder recording) and “The Washington Post March” (available here in an 1897 recording). But as “literary detective” Paul Collins, a writing professor at Oregon’s Portland State University, recalled this morning on National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition, the American “March King” was also a novelist.

During his lifetime, Sousa wrote five books, including the novels The Fifth String (1902), Pipetown Sandy (1905), and The Transit of Venus (1920). Asked by Weekend Edition host Scott Simon to characterize The Fifth String, Collins said:
It’s a very melodramatic and artificial-sounding book in a lot of ways. It’s not a particularly naturalistic voice in the narrative. But it was quite popular. The funny thing is, his second book, which came out three years later, called Pipetown Sandy, was actually much, much better, which to me indicates he was really thinking about his craft at that point. I think he really put a lot of work in between his first and second book[s]. And naturally, the result was that it didn’t sell nearly as well.
It is a fun exchange Collins has with NPR host Scott Simon on the subject of Sousa’s literary legacy. You can listen to all of it here.

HEAR MORE:Commemorating John Philip Sousa’s 150th,” with Scott Simon and Fred Child (NPR).

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Lebanon in 2009

UNESCO has announced that Beirut has been named World Book Capital 2009, “in light of its focus on cultural diversity, dialogue and tolerance, and of its diverse and stimulating programme.” On its path to this distinction, Beirut beat out Bangkok, Thailand; Cape Town, South Africa and Kazan, Russian Federation.

A World Book Capital has been selected annually since 2001 and runs from World Book and Copyright Day (April 23rd) until April 22nd of the following year.

Host cities are decided on by the International Publishers Association, the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions and the International Booksellers Federation. According to Wikipedia, this ensures “the three major branches of the book industry can participate in the decision.”

Since inception, the list of World Book Capital cities looks like this: Madrid (2001); Alexandria (2002); New Delhi (2003); Antwerp (2004); Montreal (2005); Turin (2006); Bogotá (2007) and Amsterdam (2008).

Harry Hoopla Continues

In a blog item that January Magazine contributing editor Ali Karim is gonna love, Reuters UK asks, “Is it time for Harry Potter to be killed off?”

Responses came fast and furious, some of them filled with enough venom to phase a deatheater.

“I despise everything about Harry Potter,” wrote one reader.

“I never liked him from day one but accept that for many young people he has become something of an Icon. But for me he is just a Great Steamimg Pudding!!!” wrote another.

One reader went into some detail on what he considered to be the spiritual implications of Rowling’s yarns. For the most part, however, readers sent the sort of universal love one might expect for the hero of what has become the bestselling series of books ever.

“if harry potter dies i will cry long and hard,” wrote a reader who added in a plea for Rowling not to kill him. (Bad news here, though: if he’s dead, he’s dead. The book ships in less than a month. Rowling’s work here is done, either way.)

Another wrote that “J.K. brings a lovely fresh breath of creativity, adventure, healthy perspective, and lively intelligence -- generating fantasy to a world full of children who are sadly lacking much of what they should be enjoying in this soul-destroying overpopulated world we live in.”

For better of for worse, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows ships July 21st. The Hartford Courant today reported that “nearly 1.6 million people worldwide have pre-ordered” the 7th and final volume in series, compared with “the 1.5 million manic muggles who signed up in advance for a copy of the sixth book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.”

With a few weeks left before the big day, expect the debates and noise to continue. Even from Karim, who has created some disturbances down these paths before.

Having Their Reasons

I know it’s totally none of my beeswax, but I was still kinda sad to read that Salman Rushdie (who needs no introduction) and FoodTV host Padma Lakshmi were calling it quits after three years of marriage. Rushdie has filed for divorce from his fourth wife and word has it (or maybe not) that Lakshmi has been seen on the arm (and stuff) of fellow FoodTV host and author Anthony Bourdain.

News of the divorce comes just weeks after Rushdie was knighted, something that created a flashback to the 1989 fatwa that came about after the publication of Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses. According to the International Herald Tribune:
The Iranian government denounced it as “an obvious example of fighting against Islam by high-ranking British officials.” The Pakistani Parliament passed a resolution condemning the knighthood, while the minister of religious affairs suggested it would justify future suicide bombings. In a letter to The Guardian, the leaders of 12 British Muslim groups decried the knighthood as “a deliberate provocation and insult to the 1.5 billion Muslims around the world.”
So, if the rumors of her re-coupling are true, someone needs to take Lakshmi in hand; set her straight. Bourdain for Rushdie is not an upgrade. Who says swapping an author everyone is mad at for one who is mad at everyone is a step up?

I have to leave the final word for designer Sanjana Jon who, according to The Times of India has “met the couple several times.” Jon told the times that we “shouldn’t be judgmental about the relationship. After all, they must be having their reasons.”

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

A Moving Experience

During our last two moves, my partner -- arms loaded with heavy boxes -- has said, “No more books! Don’t let me buy another book. Ever.”

On our very last move four years ago, David calculated we moved a ton -- and not a metric one -- of books. Two thousand pounds of ‘em ... and he ruptured three discs in the process.

It probably goes without saying that in the nearly half decade since, we’ve not stopped collecting. I wouldn’t even be surprised to hear we were up to a ton and a half. (Though I say it quietly. David doesn’t like to hear such things.)

So when the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported that the Albury Library had moved 52,000 books, my heart gave a funny kind of pitter patter. I’m nowhere near Australia and even if I was, I’d be sure to give that library a wide berth until the new Albury Library Museum opens on July 27th.

“We have got hundreds of little red trolleys with books on them and basically we remove the books from the same part of the old library and put them in the new library in the same sort of order,” says Jim McCann, Albury City’s team leader for cultural operations. “It’s not a case of randomly picking up all the books, but doing it in a way so we know exactly where they come from and where they are going to.”

OK: I’ve got that. And, just in case we move again, I’m taking notes. Anyone know how to get hold of Little Red Trolleys ‘R’ Us?

Review: Art in America edited by Susan Davidson

Today, in January Magazine’s art & culture section, contributing editor Aaron Blanton examines Art in America: 300 Years of Innovation. Says Blanton:
Unlike many -- most? -- art books of this calibre, written with an educated -- even jaded -- reader in mind, Art in America intends a very different audience: a readership perhaps not without art knowledge, but without direct or certainly full knowledge of American art. Davidson has done an incredible job with this aspect of Art in America, creating, in a way, a full introduction to the history of her country. And she’s right: where we’ve been influences not only who we are (though that’s certainly an important piece) but also how we approach our retelling of who we are. That is, we are what we paint and collect, or something very like that.
The full review is here.

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Lew Archer’s Back on the Case

January Magazine’s sister publication, The Rap Sheet, today presents a never-before-published, 2,500-word fragment of a story written by renowned 20th-century American detective novelist Ross Macdonald (1915-1983). Titled “Heyday in the Blood,” this tale is included in The Archer Files: The Complete Short Stories of Lew Archer, Private Investigator, edited by January contributor Tom Nolan and newly published by Crippen & Landru. It’s one of 11 such fragmentary “case notes” featured in the collection, together with a dozen short stories that appeared previously in a trio of books, including 2001’s Strangers in Town, which was also edited by Nolan. In addition, Nolan presents in The Archer Files his 11,000-word biographical sketch of Macdonald’s famed Los Angeles private eye, Lew Archer, which just might be worth the cost of this book alone.

To read the start of what could have become Macdonald’s 19th Archer novel, click here.

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Review: Safe and Sound by J.D. Rhoades

Today, in January Magazine’s crime fiction section, contributing editor Anthony Rainone reviews Safe and Sound by J.D. Rhoades. Says Rainone:
The title of J.D. Rhoades’ third Jackson Keller novel, Safe and Sound, conveys a state of being that runs counter to what really lies at it’s core: the horrible, dark acts that human beings -- especially the central characters here -- are capable of perpetrating. While Keller’s main goal is to rescue and protect those he loves from one of crime fiction’s more ruthless killers, the cost of “safe and sound” is enormous. This is a trip down the murkier passages of the soul, a terrain that philosophers and religionists warn against. No one comes out unscathed -- least of all Keller. Rhoades’ commanding writing will leave readers simultaneously disturbed and hugely enthralled.
The full review is here.

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Monday, July 02, 2007

Review: Later, at the Bar by Rebecca Barry

Today, in January Magazine’s fiction section, contributing editor David Abrams reviews Later, at the Bar by Rebecca Barry. Says Abrams:
Now along comes Rebecca Barry with Later, at the Bar, a collection of linked stories which revolve around the barflies of Lucy’s Tavern in upstate New York. More than a credible example of “Lost Weekend” fiction, Barry’s debut succeeds largely on the merits of her pared-down style and her obvious love for the characters she’s created. Most of these people are on slippery slopes of self-pity and regret, but Barry tenderly gives them occasional glimmers of redemption and hope.
The full review is here.

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