Friday, August 31, 2007

Extreme Adventure

When National Geographic produces a list they trumpet as “The 100 Greatest Adventure Books of All Time,” we pay attention. That’s like getting advice from Little Debbie about the best Swiss Cake Rolls, right? Seriously: they oughta know.

National Geographic’s list includes some books that are fairly recent (Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer from 1997 comes in at # 9; Sara Wheeler’s Terra Incognita from 1996 makes the list at # 82). Others are inarguably classics (Lewis and Clark’s Journals from 1814 is # 2, Travels, by Marco Polo from 1298 comes in at # 10.

While the list makes fascinating reading, and while it's difficult to disagree with many of these choices, there are a few notable absences. I was surprised, for instance, that something by Paul Theroux didn’t make the cut, especially his very important The Great Railway Bazaar from 1975. Another few surprising no shows: Colin Thurbron’s Behind the Wall from 1987, Bill Bryson’s Notes From A Small Island (1995) and, even though it’s very, very recent and, arguably, more about food than travel (though when is food not an important part of that thought?) Anthony Bourdain’s A Cook’s Tour from 2001.

Still it’s a great list and a serious keeper for those on a life mission to read the very best travel writing of all time.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Shawn

Today would have been the 100th birthday of William Shawn, who served as the editor of The New Yorker from 1951 to 1987.

During Shawn’s tenure, the magazine published stories and writers that have come to be known as quintessentially “New Yorker” in style and content, meaning pieces that were long, detailed, often definitive on their subject, subjected to meticulous editing and fact-checking and ultimately memorable. Shawn devoted the entire August 31, 1946, issue to John Hersey’s account of the atomic bomb’s aftermath on Hiroshima, Japan. Hersey later repackaged that piece into a book, Hiroshima, which continues to be read in high schools and colleges. Another staple of high-school reading lists, Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery,” was first published in The New Yorker.

Truman Capote serialized what would eventually become his masterpiece, In Cold Blood, over six issues in 1965 (Renata Adler’s memoir of her time at The New Yorker, Gone: The Last Days of The New Yorker, tells us that many staffers of the magazine were opposed to Capote’s account of the brutal murder of the Clutter family, thinking it crude and sensationalistic).

Among the writers who graced the pages of Shawn’s New Yorker were: Brendan Gill, John Updike, John Cheever, Calvin Trillin, Phillip Hamburger, Pauline Kael, Woody Allen, John McPhee, Janet Malcolm, Herbert Warren Wind, E. B. White, Roger Angell, Joseph Mitchell (who allegedly reported for work every day until his death in 1996, despite the fact that he ceased publishing in 1964), and cartoonists such as Saul Steinberg and Charles Addams.

The New Yorker’s style is perhaps best illustrated by the “Talk of the Town” pieces that ran in each issue. A collection of brief snippets, they were often comical and breezy, highlighting something or someone unique to New York City. During Shawn’s time, they were written in first person plural and unsigned. Two examples from the November 14, 1977 issue:
Three solid weeks of mental labor went into the seating plan for the recent fiftieth-anniversary banquet of the Literary Guild -- or, roughly, as long as it takes a lot of struggling writers we know to roll page one into the typewriter.

Having read here and there about the growth of the manufacture and use in this country of microcomputers, we decided to drop in to the New York Coliseum the second evening of the three-day exhibition called the First Annual Personal Computing Expo...
Shawn is rumored to have written many “Talk of the Town” pieces himself. In her memoir, Adler notes that “Talk of the Town” stories were the best paid in the magazine, since writers were entitled to a bonus to have their work published without a byline.

Shawn was relieved of his duties at The New Yorker in 1987, the victim of his own reluctance to name a successor, as well as the corporate politics of the magazine’s owner, Condé Nast Publications. Shawn was replaced by Robert Gottlieb, an editor from Random House. Gottlieb’s appointment was met with derision by the magazine’s writers, who wrote a letter asking him to turn down the appointment (even the reclusive J.D. Salinger was recruited, successfully, to sign that letter). Gottlieb refused, and the writers continued to work for the magazine. Gottlieb was similarly replaced in 1992 by Vanity Fair editor Tina Brown. Brown unabashedly chased celebrities for profiles, and she introduced photography to the magazine, as well as a contributor’s page. Brown eventually left The New Yorker to start a new magazine, Talk, which failed after a couple of years. She was replaced by David Remnick, who edits The New Yorker to this day.

To many partisans, The New Yorker ceased being a unique publication when Shawn left (some, including Adler, say the decline started long before Shawn’s departure). After that, it became interested in “buzz” (Brown’s pet phrase) and being topical. Articles became shorter, and profiles concentrated on which starlet was Hollywood’s flavor of the month.

There is no question that the nostalgia surrounding Shawn’s tenure has taken on a fair amount of selective memory. There were, during his days, some pretty boring issues. There’s also no question that the high points were more elevated when “Mr. Shawn” (as he was known) was in charge.

A notoriously shy man, William Shawn would probably disapprove of any fuss made of his birthday, including this posting. I willingly risk his disapproval by highlighting him here today.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Review: A Killer’s Kiss by William Lashner

Today, in January Magazine’s crime fiction section, Cameron Hughes looks at A Killer’s Kiss by William Lashner. Says Hughes:

Man, I hate legal thrillers. They’re just so awful. And there are varieties of awful, too! There’s Small-town Lawyer Standing Up for What’s Right, there’s Small-town Lawyer Who Is Smarter Than the Corporate Bullies, and then there’s my favorite, Big-shot Lawyer Sees the Light and Fights for the Little Guy/Lost Cause. Bonus points if there’s a plucky minority member involved.

Tell me I’m wrong.

So thank goodness for William Lashner, the Philadelphia trial lawyer turned novelist, who probably noticed all of this and has since been proving, rather quietly, that legal thrillers can actually be cool, that they can be character driven and smart and funny as hell.

The full review is here.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Interview: John Scalzi, Author of The Last Colony

In an interview with January Magazine contributing editor James R. Winter, award-winning author John Scalzi talks about the Hugo Awards, his accidental career as a novelist, “gateway” science fiction and the nature of fame. Says Scalzi:
Fame in a literary genre is not comparable to actual, genuine fame, the sort where you can’t go to the grocery store without people staring. In order to get any sort of attention, I have to go somewhere where science-fiction fans hang out, like a convention. I get a couple of days of people being happy I’m around, and then I go back home. It’s single-serving-size fame, basically. I think that’s doable; I’m not sure I’d want to be any more “famous” than that.
The full interview is here.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

“A River of Punishment and Execution”

Authors nowadays are told that they have not only to write good books, but then to promote their literary efforts with tendentious blogs and tours and bells-and-whistles YouTube videos. In that light, I am particularly charmed by a very understated promo video from Peter Ackroyd, who has a new book about England’s Thames River to flog. No technological fireworks here. Instead, the sum of what we get is the doughboyish, bespectacled, and ardently academic Ackroyd in a small boat, drifting along the Thames through London (about which he already wrote a wonderful book) and gabbing about that river’s history while a snippet of classical music reels out in the background. It’s nothing in the way of cinematic come-ons, but nonetheless makes me want to send away for his book post haste. Other authors might want to take note.

(Hat tip to Book/Daddy.)

What’s in a Name?

I am always on the lookout for new written voices, so while at ThrillerFest in New York City this summer I kept my ears open. During my scouting, I bumped into Karen Tintori. Despite my shy and reserved nature (hah!), Karen noticed my English accent and was excited to share a little bit about her debut novel, The Book of Names, co-written with Jill Gregory. The Book of Names has just been published in the UK by independent publisher Snowbooks and in the States by St. Martin’s Press. Translations in many other countries have followed. I asked Karen to tell us a little about their joint work:
More than a dozen years ago, we first learned of the Kabbalistic legend that inspired us to write The Book of Names. We had already written three books together -- two novels (one of which was made into a CBS television movie-of-the-week) and one non-fiction, and were busily concentrating on our individual writing careers. Still, as longtime best friends who write with one voice and have a blast doing it, we occasionally tossed around ideas, always on the lookout for an exciting premise to springboard a new project.

Unexpectedly, a tantalizing idea came our way. One of Karen’s adult bar mitzvah teachers told her about the mystical legend of the Lamed Vovniks -- the 36 righteous souls of every generation on whose merit alone, the Talmud says, God keeps the entire world in existence. Fascinated, Karen told Jill, and we immediately zeroed in on the possibilities, exploring the quintessential writer’s question “what if?”

What if someone knew the identities of this generation’s 36 righteous souls and decided to kill them to end the world? What if someone else had an intensely personal stake in saving them?

We stared at each other in shock, certain we had a knock-out concept for a thriller -- a thriller that would bring together mysticism, the fight between good and evil, and the Jewish concept which teaches that if you save one life, it’s as if you’ve saved the entire world, and if you destroy a life, it’s as if you’ve destroyed the entire world.

But we faced one impediment -- and it was a biggie.

According to the sages, these righteous souls walk among us unheralded and unknown. Humble, compassionate and innately pure, the Lamed Vovniks bring the light of the Divine into the world, and don’t even realize it. They have no idea of their specialness, or of their monumental role in keeping the world intact. Only God knows their names.

We were stumped. We needed to create villains to target the Lamed Vovniks, and heroes to find and protect them, but since no humans know who they are, how would our heroes and villains be able to identify them, target them, save them?

This dilemma stymied us for years. Sporadically, we’d return to our idea, but continued to draw a blank on a way to “out” our hidden Lamed Vovniks. We wrote other books, separately and together, yet kept being drawn back, pulled by the mystical allure of these 36 souls.

In 2003, determined to find a way to bring their story to light, we scheduled a brainstorming dinner, and lingered well past coffee, batting ideas around with the ferocity of a match between Serena and Venus Williams.

And suddenly, it was there. The solution for our protagonist’s special knowledge of the 36 – a solution so clear and luminous and perfect, we marveled that we hadn’t hit on it before. It not only gave us a launching pad for our story, it enhanced the mystical fabric of the tale.

That summer, we walked for hours through Jill’s neighborhood, brainstorming nonstop, intent on fitting together the other puzzle pieces. Who were our villains? What was their motivation for seeking to destroy the world? How did they manage to pinpoint the Lamed Vovniks to eliminate them? And little by little we figured it out.

Once we managed those initial breakthroughs, the plotting of the story which became The Book of Names, and many other elements, fell into place. Rapidly, we outlined an international thriller based on a hidden history, one which would allow us to explore our interest in the Kabbalah, mysticism, gemstone lore, and the classic struggle between good and evil.

Before we knew it, The Book of Names began racing forward through our protagonist, political science professor David Shepherd, a man tormented by the mysterious names circling endlessly through his head. Names he’s been obsessively writing in a journal since a childhood accident that nearly took his life.

Our research took us to the ancient study of Kabbalah, its link to the Tarot, the biblical story of Aaron, the High Priest, and his breastplate of magic stones, as well as Gnostic philosophy and Jewish numerology. From the beginning, we knew that a major event would take place near a specific site in London – and serendipitously, access to the location we created in our imaginations turned out to have a basis in fact. All along the journey, similar fortuitous “gifts” came our way.

Almost mystically, you might say, all of these disparate elements slid together as if they’d been pre-cut for us by a jigsaw. That surprised us. Each bout of research led us to another layer, another connective thread in weaving our doomsday journey of apocalyptic proportions.

We set out to spin a story that would take our readers on a thrilling adventure, but would also allow them to glimpse the world in a different light.

But first we had to glimpse that world ourselves. And we did. We lived in it for the year it took us to write the book. Night and day we were as obsessed with the mystery of the Lamed Vovniks as was David Shepherd.

We are delighted that The Book of Names has touched readers worldwide, with translation rights sold to 20 countries. Whether in German, Dutch, Spanish, Turkish or English, good versus evil has never looked quite like this.
Tintori and Gregory are now hard at work on The Illumination, which they’re calling their next hidden history thriller.

Review: The Moon by Michael Carlowicz

Today, in January Magazine’s art & culture section, contributing editor Cherie Thiessen examines The Moon by Michael Carlowicz. Says Thiessen:
The Moon is a hodgepodge of interesting tidbits, with the narrative reflecting the visuals in its variety and scope. Perhaps the only aspect of the moon that he hasn’t covered is that cheeky little human act of defiance and provocation.
The full review is here.

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Review: The Great Man by Kate Christensen

Today, in January Magazine’s fiction section, contributing editor Tony Buchsbaum looks at The Great Man by Kate Christensen. Says Buchsbaum:
The action here begins when two biographers set about writing about Oscar and his work as a contemporary artist. They start sniffing around, approaching Abigail, Teddy and Maxine for eyewitness-type interviews. At first, the women love the attention, finding it remarkable that two such different men would be interested in committing Oscar’s life to paper. But then they begin to see that the stories they know and tell about Oscar will quickly conflict with one another. Soon enough, this leads to what amounts to historic meetings and unexpected alliances that both surprise and delight each of them.
The full review is here.

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Sunday, August 26, 2007

Mr. Blue’s Novel

An early novel by Edward Bunker, the career criminal turned author turned actor who played Mr. Blue in Quentin Tarantino’s seminal Reservoir Dogs, has turned up two years after the actor’s death.

A press release lets us know that a thriller named Stark was written by Bunker in the early 1960s and was “a harbinger of the books that brought him critical acclaim such as No Beast So Fierce and The Animal Factory, yet it remained unpublished in his lifetime and the forgotten manuscript was only recently discovered in the vaults of British independent crime publisher, No Exit Press.” Cool.

Cut to, “From September 3rd the book is available for the first time in hardback and paperback editions with a specially commissioned foreword by US crime writer James Ellroy and an afterword by the author’s widow, Jennifer Steele.”

The author died on July 19, 2005 at the age of 71.

We Gotta Eat

The weirdest stuff crosses my desk. I can’t explain it. I am editor of a book-related magazine. I’m an author. Those things considered, you’d think marketers would tailor their press releases to my areas on interest: you’d think I was mostly always only hearing about books. And though that’s the bulk of what I read about, I still get sent a lot of non-book-related stuff I just find inexplicable. Information on products I would never, ever in a million years even think to write about.

For instance, when going through a bunch of press releases today, I came across one for something intended to “bring back ‘cool’ to back to school,” the Zojirushi Lunch Jar. Now normally I would have tossed the press kit but there’s just something so solid and sane about this idea, I decided to share it. I mean, what the hell, right? It may not be books, but we gotta eat.

All boiled down, Zojirushi makes these very 21st century bento boxes, intended to allow you to eat well on the road. Since western culture seems to currently be floundering in too much take-out fat, this is a good idea to explore. In each model, a set number of microwaveable and washable bowls with lids live inside a vacuum-sealed cylinder, keeping foods either cold or hot. What you end up with is a new take on several classic ideas -- a blend of east and west, if you will. Inspired on the one hand by the beautiful lacquered Japanese bento boxes of old, and on the other by the western thermos bottle that colored so many youthful lunches. Zojirushi seems to have taken the best of both of these ideas, ending up with a lunch pack that is beautiful and functional and that makes it possible to take hot -- or cold -- home-made lunches to work, school or wherever disgusting foods are sold.

Three models allow mobile diners to tailor their bento to their needs. The Ms. Bento is fashionable -- almost purse-like -- and its vacuum-sealed cylinder comes with two containers and chopsticks in their own special holder. The Mr. Bento comes with four (count 'em) containers and a specially designed forked spoon. The new Mini Bento (pictured above) is the smallest entry. It comes with two small containers, chopsticks in their own holder and a fashionable little tote.

(Here’s where we can segue back to books.) So, OK: with a new century bento in your hot little hands, what do you fill it with? If you don’t already have an inkling -- and maybe even if you do -- check our cookbook section. With not much foresight and a little ingenuity, you’ll have a bento stuffed full of healthy goodness in no time.

Which Fold Is This?

Boing Boing reports that An Alternate History of the 21st Century, William Shunn’s first short story collection, is now available in chapbook form from Spilt Milk Press.

“I’ve known Bill for a decade,” writes Corey Doctorow on Boing Boing, “and even before we met, I’d heard the (true) legend of how he once threatened to blow up an airplane for the Church of Latter Day Saints. He’s not only an incredible writer (and he really, really is, as his string of recent Hugo and Nebula nominations can attest), but he’s also one of the sweetest, nicest, funniest people I know. It was my absolute honor and pleasure to write an intro to Bill's book.”

You can get your mitts on a copy of Shunn’s book here and read Doctorow’s introduction to An Alternate History of the 21st Century here.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Review: Blaze by Richard Bachman, foreword by Stephen King

Today, in January Magazine’s fiction section, Linda L. Richards thinks about Blaze by Richard Bachman. Says Richards:
I hadn’t intended on reviewing Blaze, Richard Bachman’s posthumous novel. Not because it isn’t a good book -- I pretty much knew that it would be -- but because, on a certain level, there’s just no point in reviewing a novel by Stephen King or, as is the case here, a novel closely associated with him.

See, nothing I say or do here will alter your decision with regards to Blaze. You’re either already a big King fan and have read Blaze or ordered your copy or, at most, are waiting for the book to come out in paper. Or you’re one of those tight-lipped types who were warned about cholesterol when you were 12 and thus avoid it. You were told there were things that were better for you. And while King novels, like stuff with cholesterol, might be delicious, the possible downside haunts your joy, so you don’t stand in that line. And, either way, my words won’t alter your resolve. You’ll either read this and nod your head in agreement or toss your hair in indignation. I’m fine with either reaction. Or both. But, either way, most of the time I figure my energy is better spent telling you about books you might not have gotten wind of, rather than those you come to with predetermination.
The full review is here.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Review: Bloodshot by Stuart MacBride

Today, in January Magazine’s crime fiction section, contributing editor James R. Winter reviews Bloodshot by Stuart MacBride. Says Winter:
With Cold Granite, MacBride established his series as a sort of dysfunctional version of Ed McBain’s famous 87th Precinct stories. That hasn’t changed. If anything, McRae is a sane, somewhat bewildered Steve Carella in the middle of Scotland’s biggest group of law-enforcement misfits. Partly because of their British setting, the McRae books resemble Ken Bruen’s Inspector Brant series (Calibre) in many ways. But while Bruen’s characters command grudging admiration, MacBride plays his characters off to neurotic comic effect, counterbalancing the grim world they inhabit.
The full review is here.

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Ian Rankin Starts Potter Rumor

Noted Scottish crime fictionist Ian Rankin has told The Guardian that something he said at the Edinburgh book festival about J.K. Rowling’s new project was a “joke that got out of hand.”
A report that his wife, Miranda, had seen J.K. Rowling "scribbling away" in an Edinburgh café, supposedly hard at work on a detective novel set in the Scottish capital, was dismissed as a classic silly season story when the Guardian contacted him by telephone earlier today.
“This is a joke that got out of hand,” said Rankin, describing how the remark was made on stage during the course of a festival event.

“There were 600 people in the audience, and only one person didn’t laugh,” he added.

With rumours of Rowling’s work on a detective novel squashed in the gate, speculation on what her next project might be continues.

According to her agency, “J.K. Rowling is taking a well-earned break following the English language publication of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and there are no firm plans as yet as to what her next book may be.”

Which doesn’t mean that her millions of fans won’t continue to try and guess.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Review: The Dark River by John Twelve Hawks

Today, in January Magazine’s SF/F section, Patrick A. Smith reviews The Dark River by John Twelve Hawks. Says Smith:
Twelve Hawks owes much to George Orwell’s bleak vision, the cyberpunk martial arts wizardry of The Matrix, the intricate travelogue quality of The Da Vinci Code, Michael Crichton’s cutting-edge tech novels. The Dark River is all of those things.

But much of it is derivative, not subversive, a mishmash of competing ideas and philosophies. The book wants too much, like Gabriel and Maya, to be a part of two worlds: one that mawkishly celebrates the virtues of anonymous living; the other that, despite its strong instincts to the contrary, craves the spotlight.
The full review is here.

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Monday, August 20, 2007

Review: At Large and at Small by Anne Fadiman

Today, in January Magazine’s art & culture section, contributing editor Diane Leach reviews At Large and at Small by Anne Fadiman. Says Leach:
Certain women, myself amongst them, fall for a certain kind of man: irresponsible, plain of face, depressed, tending toward drug and/or alcohol addiction. All too often these types are charismatic and given to poetry. Thus Fadiman’s passion for Charles Lamb and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Lamb, who cared for his sister Mary after she fatally stabbed their mother, penned many an essay while toiling in positively Dickensian conditions at the East India House, where he (poorly) tallied figures. Like his sister, he battled insanity, though somewhat more successfully.
The full review is here.

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Sunday, August 19, 2007


When I hear Joe Andoe’s name, one thing comes to mind. I know it’s not an entirely accurate picture. I know there is so much more. Yet I can’t help it. When I think of Andoe, when his name crosses my desk, I think of a ghostly horse on a dark background. I think of mood and impression in a style that The New Yorker once described as “cowboy noir with a fashionista twist.”

There are a few other things Andoe’s name might conjure for me -- a few other words that might come to mind -- however one of them is not “author.” And yet, here we are with a copy of Jubilee City: A Memoir at Full Speed (William Morrow), Andoe’s look back at a life (thus far) lived alternately well and hard.

Andoe isn’t a writer -- that might be too much to ask of someone who is (arguably) one of the ranking painters in the world. (OK: so I’m a fan.) But what Andoe lacks in literary skill, he makes up for with charm and verve and variety. As Publishers Weekly said about Jubilee City:
... whenever the gonzo stories verge on tedium, Andoe modulates his tone and shows himself as the stay-at-home dad, the outdoorsman, the artist. While Andoe has an occasional tendency to settle scores (his ex-wife receives particularly brutal treatment) or trumpet his status as an outsider, for the most part his wide-eyed sense of wonder and keen observations make the everyday strange and fresh.
Which, when one thinks about it, is not so very different from what he’s done as an artist.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Review: On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

Today, in January Magazine’s fiction section, contributing editor David Abrams reviews On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan. Says Abrams:
The entire plot boils down to two simple questions: Will they or won't they have sex; and, if they do, will it destroy their relationship? I can't remember the last time the mere promise of sex had me as close to the edge of my seat as did On Chesil Beach. McEwan teases us along for 130 pages as tension and suspense build. I could not turn the pages fast enough as I watched Edward and Florence pick at their cooling dinner meal, speak to each other in fits and starts, struggle with an uncooperative dress zipper, and dart their tongues into each other's mouths during a suffocating French kiss. Sex is the hoped-for happy ending, yet we suspect those hopes might be dashed like a cold-water wave against the rocky beach just outside their hotel window.
The full review is here.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Interview: Andrea MacPherson, Author of Beyond the Blue and Natural Disasters

Novelist and poet Andrea MacPherson is having a banner year. Her second novel, Beyond the Blue, impressed critics when it was released early in 2007. And now -- four years late, yet somehow right on time -- the debut of her first collection of poetry, Natural Disasters, is confirming that she has those chops as well.

In her January Magazine interview, MacPherson chats about the connections between poetry and prose, the joys of writing and teaching, the birth of a dream and “the strange and wonderful world of publishing.”

The full interview is here.

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Monday, August 13, 2007

Literary Landmark

Today marks the anniversary of the publication of Earnest Hemingway’s first book.

The collection, Three Stories and Ten Poems, was published in an edition of 300 on this date in 1923. The book was only 58 pages long but, according to The Literary Encylopedia, it “helped to establish Hemingway as one of the leading talents of the Modernist movement.”

When she reviewed the book for the Paris Tribune that November, Gertrude Stein was somewhat cryptic. “I should say that Hemingway should stick to poetry and intelligence,” wrote Stein, “and eschew the hotter emotions and the more turgid vision.”

Hat tip to Today in Literature.

Review: Zoo Station by David Downing

Today, in January Magazine’s crime fiction section, contributing editor Stephen Miller reviews Zoo Station by David Downing. Says Miller:
You can’t and shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but sometimes you simply cannot help yourself. Picture a grainy black-and-white photograph circa 1940 or so. Three women are in the foreground of the image, two of them in conversation and one standing off by herself. There’s a haze that prevents us from seeing what’s in the background. Smoke? Fog? Dust in the air? Off to the left, there appears to be a Gothic church spire, but it might be something else. A torrent of light streaks across the image, upper right down to lower left, coming from the giant windows overhead. The image appears to be that of a train station, perhaps the old Penn Station in New York City or Victoria Station in London. The scene is sinister and subtle, full of secrets kept and secrets betrayed. Without reading the jacket copy, it’s clear that Zoo Station is a spy novel. And if you like your tales spiced with morally ambiguous characters right out of Graham Greene, this is a train you need to be aboard.
The full review is here.

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Friday, August 10, 2007

Review: Happier by Tal Ben-Shahar

Today, in January Magazine’s non-fiction section, Cherie Thiessen reviews Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment by Tal Ben-Shahar. Says Thiessen:
Tal Ben-Shahar is one of the most popular teachers at Harvard. He also teaches the most popular course there. It must make him feel, well -- happy. “Grounded in the revolutionary ‘positive psychology’ movement,” boasts the promo on the attractively simple book cover, “Ben-Shahar ingeniously combines scientific studies, scholarly research, self-help advice, and spiritual enlightenment.”
The full review is here.

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Thursday, August 09, 2007

Review: Rollback by Robert J. Sawyer

Today, in January Magazine’s SF/F section, Andi Shechter reviews Rollback by Robert J. Sawyer. Says Shechter:
Rollback is a dynamite science fiction novel that examines some major themes -- great and small .... I’ve read some trilogies, of course, and I’m a big fan of series books in the mystery genre. But sometimes, I just want to read a book that tells a story; a single story that ends when it should end. Don’t you?

In Rollback we get the big story -- communications with aliens -- and a smaller one -- life extension. Neither is a simple idea; yet the more complicated one is that of life extension. Both are told cleanly, intelligently and woven together well.
The full review is here.

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Review: Five Skies by Ron Carlson

Today, in January Magazine’s fiction section, contributing editor David Abrams reviews Five Skies by Ron Carlson. Says Abrams:
The whole book, really, is about three men searching for ways to span the emotional chasms which have, in various ways, isolated them from the rest of society. Here, in the high Idaho plateau country, they will do their best to overcome past mistakes; some will succeed, others will be cut short by new tragedies, but the point is that they’re trying.
The full review is here.

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Friday, August 03, 2007

Becoming Something Other than Jane

It’s amusing to think about how English novelist Jane Austen (Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice) would have reacted to her current popularity. It seems that a whole new generation of fans have not only discovered Austen -- who was born in 1775 and died in July of 1817 -- they’ve reinvented her. As The Boston Globe reports today:
Given the current bull market in all things Jane Austen, it was inevitable that spinoffs would appear. In addition to the much-praised 2005 Keira Knightley Pride & Prejudice and the announcement that Masterpiece Theatre will soon tackle the entire Austen oeuvre, the 2004 novel The Jane Austen Book Club is on its way to the big screen. Titles like Jane Austen’s Guide to Good Manners crowd store shelves, and you can buy a Jane Austen action figure on Amazon. A McDonald’s “Ironic Meal” is probably in the works.
Though that led doesn’t hint at it, the piece is, of course, really about the new Jane Austen movie, Becoming Jane, starring Anne Hathaway. Unlike some reviewers, The Globe doesn't hate the movie:
It’s not bad, either -- lushly mounted, well played, pleasing to the eye and ear. Girls (and other people) who like the Austen movies and miniseries but haven't yet progressed to the novels will love it. But it’s not Jane.
The Los Angeles Times’ Calendar, on the other hand, stops just short of calling for tar and feathers for director Julian Jarrold and the project’s screenwriters. (Hathaway, oddly, is spared.)
The actress Anne Hathaway may someday fulfill her costume biopic destiny by assuming the role of her literary namesake, Shakespeare’s wife, but in Becoming Jane, she takes on the far more daunting task of playing Jane Austen. Few writers enjoy a following as loyal or fervid or frankly well-organized as Austen’s, and it’s hard to imagine her fans not coming after Becoming Jane director Julian Jarrold and screenwriters Sarah Williams and Kevin Hood with pitchforks and torches, or at the very least a letter-writing campaign.
Not having seen the film, we won’t opine on the necessity of pitchforks, however, considering that back in March, we were commenting on the fact that Austen’s UK publisher was giving the author a makeover because she “was not much of a looker,” one wonders at Hathaway’s representation of Austen as a hottie with a boyfriend.

Jane Austen died at age 41 having never been married. But had she ever been kissed?

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Review: Dead Connection by Alafair Burke

Today, in January Magazine’s crime fiction section, Linda L. Richards reviews Dead Connection by Alafair Burke.
Midway through Dead Connection there’s this moment where everything seems to hang in the balance and you wonder how author Alafair Burke is going to pull this thing off. The story is just so ambitious. And there are enough good ideas here for three smart books. Internet dating. The Russian mafia. Corrupt cops and compromised FBI agents. Identity theft. A possible serial killer. More. And in this midway moment you think there’s just no way that all these things will come together in a manner that will make any kind of satisfying sense. And then it does. I mean, it really does.
The full review is here.

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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Running the Risk in Reverse

Screenwriter-turned-thriller-author Scott Frost is getting marvelous reviews in the UK with his Alex Delillo police procedural series. Frost was brought to British Soil by Headline publishing who have been publishing his work in reverse order, with Never Fear last year, while his debut, Run the Risk, is about to be released in paperback later this month.

In Frost’s startling 2005 debut we find Delillo and her Southern California cop colleagues ensnared in a cat-and-mouse game with a seriously deranged bomber, who may or may not be a serial killer and international terrorist.

As in Never Fear, we see Alex’s family drawn into the mayhem of Risk, only this time it’s the life of Alex’s daughter that hangs in the balance.

After finishing the novel, I was curious how an acclaimed screenwriter ended up as a novelist, as normally it works the other way around, with a novelist becoming a screenwriter. So I decided to ask Frost to tell us a little about how he ran the risk in reverse. Frost did it up by responding at length:
I wasn’t a novelist when I first stepped an uneasy foot into Los Angeles. I was part of that invasion of writers who grew up watching the films of the 1970s that seemed on almost every level an equivalent if not a replacement for the novel. The novel was dead after all. Scorsese was our new poet laureate. Unfortunately no one told me that the 70s were history, and personal films were on life support.

While working for a film studio
William Faulkner once asked an executive if they would mind if he wrote at home instead of coming into the studio lot every day where there were far too many distractions to get any work done. They happily agreed. When after a week of not hearing a word from him they dispatched a man to his apartment in Hollywood they discovered that by writing at home, he had meant Oxford, Mississippi.

Like every other writer,
Faulkner (if you don’t count the Nobel prize, which did separate him just a bit from the rest of the scavengers) had gone west seeking bags of money and discovered what every writer before and after him has learned if they have any sense, or something approaching a soul: RUN WHILE YOU STILL HAVE A CHANCE!

So 14 years after arriving and faced with the prospect of driving across town to the Warner Brothers lot and having a panic attack in the car, flop sweats in the waiting room and an overwhelming sense of self-dread while sitting with 24-year-old executives telling me the great idea they had for a buddy cop alien invasion love story action adventure coming of age movie, I was finally face-to-face with that most terrible of all dilemmas every writer faces at one time or another if they ever bother to look in the mirror very deeply.

Write a book.

I could do it. No problem. What’s the big deal? Hundreds, thousands of books are published every year. I began as a short story writer. I had always intended to write books before I landed on the set of Twin Peaks talking to David Lynch about the inherent darkness and evil hiding in a bowl of cream corn.

In the words of the writer Red Smith, there’s nothing to it. You just slip a piece of paper into the typewriter and open a vein … and now we have computers, what could possibly be the problem?

There’s a reason the streets and cafes of Los Angeles are filled with people carrying three screenplays in their shoulder bags instead of novel manuscripts. The math alone is daunting. A TV script is 50 pages, a movie 120. Novels, even short ones, are a stack of pages half a foot tall. The sheer physical toll of carrying around that much paper would put most screenwriters in the chiropractor’s office if not a psychiatrist’s.

I remember a screenwriter friend looking at me with a puzzled look, then saying, “so you came to Los Angeles, to become a novelist?” It seemed the equivalent of someone moving to Bermuda to study glaciers.

A year and a handful of days later, I was staring at an eight inch stack of paper that after a rewrite or two became RUN THE RISK. I still went to the odd meeting or two about working on a television show where I would talk about having just finished a book which brought a puzzled reaction most often followed by, “A book … I used to read.”

But when one producer kept me waiting 45 minutes while she sat in her car on Sunset Boulevard talking to a caterer, I suggested to her assistant that a mistake had been made and they had meant she should meet with Scott Frost the screenwriter, not Scott Frost the novelist.

Shortly thereafter I followed Faulkner’s example and went home to work … in Montana.

Review: The Maytrees by Annie Dillard

Today, in January Magazine’s fiction section, contributing editor Diane Leach reviews The Maytrees by Annie Dillard. Leach says:
What kept me going were Dillard’s sentences. She is -- or was -- one of the best in the business. Dillard’s prose is breathtaking; her metaphors, to borrow from her lexicon, enough to knock you out. The sea is “a monster with a lace hem.” Pete’s “fondness for humans did not extend to girls, who were less interesting than frogs, and noisier.” Lou “opened her days like a piñata.
The full review is here.

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