Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Yet Another Reason to Go On Living

From Critical Mass, the blog of the National Book Critics Circle Board of Directors, comes word that Ross King (The Judgment of Paris, Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling) is hard at work on another book on the never-exhausted subject (at least for me) of artists. King tells us his next major project is, “a study of Leonardo da Vinci’s last years in Milan – his paintings, inventions and writings. I’m a bit superstitious about saying more at this early stage, but it’ll be published by Walker & Co., who have done such a wonderful job with my previous books.”

To further drive away any idle time, King will also be curating an exhibit of Canadian post- impressionist painters, the Group of Seven, at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, near Toronto.

King, who has also published two works of historical crime fiction, Ex Libris and Domino, goes on to say, “I’m looking forward to my researches taking me everywhere from the churches and cafes of Milan to the lakes and forests of northern Canada. But I suspect I’ll also be spending a lot of time sweating over my computer back at home as I try to meet my various deadlines.”

Great news, indeed. Read the brief encounter here.


Graphic Witness: Four Wordless Graphic Novels edited by George A. Walker

It’s difficult to know quite what to make of Graphic Witness (Firefly Books, 423 pages). As soon as you hold it, you know you have here an impossibly important book. It seems at once seminal and historic, a graphic witness, as the title indicates, of the very roots of the graphic novel.

Here we have four important stories told in woodcut and without words, collected for us by George A. Walker, himself an award-winning engraver, book designer as well as an author, teacher and illustrator. In his introduction to Graphic Witness he explains his passion eloquently:
As a woodcut artist, I’ve always been attracted to black-and-white art. I think it has something to do with the rich contrasts. I love a deep rich black that you can stare into, forever. The effect is like our colorful world torn down to its base so that we can read the underlying message.
Belgian artist Frans Masereel (1899-1972) has been considered the father of the wordless graphic novel. Here we see the first publication of his classic work, The Passion of a Man, since its original publication in Munich in 1918. From American artist Lynn Ward (1905-1985) we have Wild Pilgrimage, first published in the United States in 1932. Giacomo Patri (1898-1978) was Italian-born, though he worked and lived primarily in the United States. From Patri we have 1929’s White Collar, a work that was used as a promotional piece by the labor movement. Finally Canadian Laurence Hyde (1914-1987) in Southern Cross criticizes American bomb testing in the South Pacific.

The messages of the four artists and storytellers represented here are sometimes uneasy. “Wordless novels,” writes Walker, “have often treated controversial themes and been associated with protest movements.” And, as he points out, though the challenges they address were specific to their times, the broader issues are “sadly, still relevant to our contemporary eyes.”

Sadly and yet, it’s difficult to feel anything but triumph to see them collected so carefully, presented so beautifully. Where else could one see the birth of a medium in such a perfectly wordless fashion?

Labels: ,

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Measured by Measure

The Rap Sheet has announced a winner of its Elmore Leonard Limerick Contest. He’s Robert Holland of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and he will receive one free, signed copy of the new non-fiction book Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing, which was finally released today under the William Morrow and Company imprint.

Holland’s winning submission, titled “Less Is Elmore,” nicely sums up this novelist’s modus operandi:
At his best, he is not even there.
No descriptions obscure our true care.
All his characters speak
In a voice so unique
That their innermost selves are laid bare.
Two additional limerick entries, plus comments from contest participants, can be found in The Rap Sheet.

In addition, Rap Sheet editor J. Kingston Pierce today presents a short interview with Leonard on the subject of his “rules.”


Monday, October 29, 2007

Bird Songs from Around the World by Les Beletsky

Bird Songs from Around the World (Raincoast/Chronicle, 368 pages) is so much more than just a book, I almost don’t know where to begin.

In the first place, it’s quite heavy for its size. This is only in part due the 368 color pages featuring glorious botanical paintings of birds. It’s also due the mechanical apparatus that is part of the binding of the book and that makes the sound possible. And what sound! The audio itself was supplied by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and so you know, for instance, that when you hear the distinctive chirp of the Stout-Billed Cinclode from South America or the haunting rattle of Asia’s Greater Goldenback, you can be pretty sure you’ve got the real deal.

Strictly speaking, Bird Songs from Around the World is probably slightly less useful than its predecessor, 2006’s Bird Songs: 250 North American Birds in Song. Where that book could, presumably, be used as something of a field guide (as in, “Honey, was that an Ocellated Turkey we saw today?” “I dunno, dear. Let’s listen to the book and find out.”) you are less likely to find yourself in a situation where you need to know exactly what a bird from Africa and one from Australia sound like on the same day. Still, “need” is seldom the bottom line when it comes to books. Bird Songs from Around the World is well written and illustrated, it’s interesting and -- because of that crazy voice box -- it’s even kinda fun.


The Big Book of Pop Culture by Hal Niedzviecki

And while we’re on the topic of Hal Niedzviecki’s Big Book of Pop Culture (Were we? Kinda.) the book, which was published by Annick Press earlier this year, is amazing. In some ways, it’s quite beyond the scope of anything I’ve seen done for kids before, by someone who knows this topic about as well as it can be known. From the book:
Creativity is often confused with originality. But when you create, the challenge isn't to think of something that no one has done before; it's to figure out what you want to say and why you want to say it.
Which reminds me of something either Henri Matisse or the designer Paul Rand said. Matisse supposedly told his students “Don’t try to be original. Be simple. Be good technically, and if there is something in you it will come out.” Celebrated graphic designer Paul Rand said, “Don’t try to be original, just try to be good.” Either way, the point is clear and not so very far, I think, from what Niedzviecki is saying here.

Niedzviecki’s book is very good and could be an important one for kids at that delicate age of understanding. At worst The Big Book of Pop Culture will offer a few interesting hours of entertainment, as it explores the development of pop culture and our place in it. At best, the book will provide a key of empowerment for young people poised on the threshold of creativity. I’m betting most parents would be at least fine with either outcome.

Labels: ,

Review: Vanilla Bright Like Eminem by Michel Faber

Today, in January Magazine’s fiction section, contributing editor Diane Leach reviews Vanilla Bright Like Eminem by Michel Faber. Says Leach:
Some years ago my husband and I read Jane Smiley’s Greenlanders, her attempt at Norse Saga. Character after character abruptly died by falling through the ice. It became a joke between us: whatever happened to so and so? He fell through the ice and died.

The characters in Michel Faber’s Vanilla Bright are about to fall through the ice and die. A very few survive their falls, somehow bobbing to the surface, stunned, badly foundering as loved ones stand by, numbly unable to assist.

Faber is rare in that he moves easily across genres, which become, beneath his amazing pen, visitations to places we are hard pressed to name.
The full review is here. January Magazine’s 2002 interview with Faber is here.

Labels: ,

Lipton and Pinker and Wolf, Oh My

And even more on the five most recent installments of Ed Champion’s wonderful Bat Segundo Show featuring literary podcast interviews with some really terrific authors:
The latest five installments (Shows #146-150) of The Bat Segundo Show ... are now up. These shows include Inside the Actors Studio’s James Lipton as you haven’t heard him before, talking candidly about his work as one of the leading television interviewers (#150), a heady discussion about thought and language with noted cognitive scientist Steven Pinker (#147), a political conversation with Naomi Wolf about whether we are close to the end of America (#148), a lively and controversial conversation with The Wonder Years’s Danica McKellar about girls and math (#149), and, last but not least, an investigation into the life of Peanuts creator Charles Schulz with biographer David Michaelis (#149).
The main Segundo site can be found here.


Sunday, October 28, 2007

Skype and Annick Team Up for Kids

Annick Press has teamed with Skype Technologies to put together an online program for middle and junior high school kids.

LIVEbrary brings students together with authors, experts and teachers virtually in a secure online environment. Funded in part by a two-year grant from Canada Council for the Arts, the program is free, but teachers and librarians must register their classrooms in advance to participate in the live chats. Parents and homeschoolers are also welcome.

Every week a lesson plan is distributed containing reading material, an assignment, a quiz and questions for discussion. Students participate using a variety of technologies, including blogging, e-mail and Skype chat. Each week a noted author expert serves as instructor and meets with students for a live one-hour chat via Skype. Annick Press is providing tech support for schools and libraries to ensure smooth connections.

This coming week, LIVEbrary visitors will be joining Hal Niedzvieki whose lesson is called “DIY ZINES: Your Own Pop Culture Machine.” Niedzviecki is the editor of Broken Pencil and the author of The Big Book of Pop Culture.

To register or get more information, drop a note to or pop on by the blog to see LIVEbrary in action.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

There Once Was a Writer So Hairy...

The countdown has begun on The Rap Sheet’s contest to win a free signed and numbered copy of the about-to-be-released book Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing.

Rap Sheet editor J. Kingston Pierce makes the whole thing sound probably easier than it is. “To enter, simply send us one clever Leonard-related five-line limerick. You might incorporate into that doggerel the titles of Leonard’s novels or the names of his characters, or perhaps one or two of the 10 rules of writing that this crime novelist comments more fully on in his forthcoming book. But it’s not essential.”

With your limericks all happily written, e-mail them to Pierce at by midnight tonight. Write “Elmore Leonard Contest” in the subject line.

As Pierce writes in The Rap Sheet today, “If you haven’t already submitted your Leonard-related five-line limerick, and hope to do so, you had better get crackin.’ Those things aren’t going to write themselves.”

The contest winner will be announced on The Rap Sheet this coming Tuesday.


Friday, October 26, 2007

Review: Turtle Valley by Gail Anderson-Dargatz

Today, in January Magazine’s fiction section, contributing editor Cherie Thiessen reviews Turtle Valley by Gail Anderson-Dargatz. Says Thiessen:
... in Anderson-Dargatz’s fictional world that evil is never stamped out, remaining indelibly to stain space and haunt its victims. The reader hopes that the raging forest fire has been heaven-sent to finally raze the earth so that new growth can flourish here, hopefully in time for Kat. She has already made several wrong choices in her life, beginning with a youthful affair with a married man that resulted in a miscarriage, and then rebounding way too quickly into a rushed marriage.

Disaster continues to dog her: her husband, Ezra, suffers a debilitating stroke that renders him unable to work, and thrusts her unwillingly into the role of nursemaid, the last thing Kat needs as they already have a young child, Jeremy, who, not surprisingly, has to act out himself in order to get the attention he needs.
The full review is here. You can read January’s 2003 interview with Anderson-Dargatz here.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Review: Fremantle Impressions by Ron Davidson

Today, in January Magazine’s art & culture section, contributing editor Sue Bursztynski reviews Fremantle Impressions by Ron Davidson. Says Bursztynski:
The port of Fremantle in Western Australia is old. Founded in 1829, it’s actually older than Melbourne, which didn’t begin until 1835. Fremantle has been a center of whaling, of imports and exports, it has had convicts and Aboriginal rebels and union strikes and has seen the foundation of business dynasties. In the 1980s, it was the site of the America’s Cup race. This was the first time in many years that the Cup was won away from the United States and it was won by a millionaire yachtsman who later lost his hero status in Australia when he was caught out in crooked business dealings.
The full review is here.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Kenyon Rolls Out Festival of “Literary Goodness”

The clock is ticking down on the first annual Kenyon Review Literary Festival to be held in Gambier, Ohio November 9th and 10th.

“Plans are rolling along nicely,” says a recent e-mail update from Kenyon, “and the event promises to be filled with literary goodness.”

The Festival will coincide with the presentation of the sixth annual Kenyon Review Award for Literary Achievement. The 2007 winner is Margaret Atwood who will -- for some unexplained reason -- receive the award in New York City, then travel to Ohio to offer up the keynote for the Festival.
The festival is designed to bring literature home with seminars, readings, and more, available to Ohio residents and visitors across the country. The festival will also host the Midwest Literary Magazine & Small Press Fair in conjunction with the Council of Literary Magazines & Presses (CLMP), attracting editors throughout the region to meet writers and readers. In addition to panels and readings, the Fair offers dozens of literary magazines for sale at discount prices, and will include a community used book sale.
The Kenyon Review is one of the most respected literary magazines in the United States. Their mission is to “identify exceptionally talented emerging writers, especially from diverse communities, and publish their work (fiction, poetry, essays, interviews, reviews, etc.) alongside the many distinguished, established writers featured in its pages.”

Information on the current issue of The Kenyon Review is here. The KR blog is here. The Festival Web site is here.

Review: An Incomplete History of World War II by Edwin Kiester Jr.

Today, in January Magazine’s non-fiction section, contributing editor Pedro Blas Gonzalez reviews An Incomplete History of World War II by Edwin Kiester Jr. Says Gonzalez:
An Incomplete History of World War II does not pretend to be an exhaustive tract on the history of this devastating world conflict. Yet this may be the most enticing aspect of this work and what makes it so readable. The book is not a jargon-filled, hair-splitting, jaw-snapping academic text. It is instead a highly digestible account of the events that made up this world war, as this is reflected in the lives and stories of those who took part in it. In some respects, An Incomplete History of World War II is comparable to Jacques Barzun’s lively history, From Dawn to Decadence. This attention to historical minutiae is what the Spanish thinker and writer of The Revolt of the Masses, Jose Ortega y Gasset, calls historical reason, or what is essentially the individual vitality that underscores our interpretation of history as a monolithic human endeavor.
The full review is here.

Labels: ,

Monday, October 22, 2007

Review: All Over by Roy Kesey

Today, in January Magazine’s fiction section, contributing editor David Abrams reviews All Over by Roy Kesey, the first entry from Steve Gillis and Dan Wickett's brand new Dzanc Books. Says Abrams:
In these 19 stories, Kesey takes the reader on a tour of post-modern fiction that is at once bizarre and completely familiar. Here you’ll meet a man named Martin who thinks he's a guitar string, honeymooners who are threatened by llamas, a homeless couple who initially thrive during a garbage strike, and two girls who build a castle -- complete with crenellated parapets -- out of the ingredients at a Pizza Hut salad bar.

Each story is out of the ordinary, and yet we can always point to the page and say, “That could be me,” or “Dude, he totally snagged my neighbor on that one -- you know, the secretly-gay anesthesiologist who’s totally in love with the obstetrician, the one who’s completely stuck on himself?” Yes, that guy is here, along with dozens of other offbeat oddballs who, let’s face it, are really just shredded pieces of you and me.
The full review is here.

Labels: ,

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Makin’ All the Rules

Just over a week ago, we reported that The Rap Sheet would be holding a contest through which some lucky reader could win a free copy of crime novelist Elmore Leonard’s forthcoming non-fiction book about the art of fiction composition, appropriately titled Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing. The contest rules have now been posted. To quote from The Rap Sheet:
We’ll give a copy of Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing to the person who can send us the cleverest Leonard-related five-line limerick. Feel free to integrate the titles of Leonard’s novels or any of his characters into your submission, or you might incorporate one or two of the 10 rules of writing that this author has spelled out before, and about which we assume he has more to say in his forthcoming book. Alternatively, you could set out deliberately to break as many of his rules as possible in your limerick. Anything you can do to make your doggerel distinctly Leonard-esque is fine with us. Extra points will be given for rampant creativity.

All limericks must be submitted to The Rap Sheet by next Saturday, October 27. E-mail them here. And please write “Elmore Leonard Contest” in the subject line.
The Rap Sheet will announce a winner on October 30, the official publication date of Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing.

For more information, click here.

Labels: ,

In Defense of Indies

Whether or not the helpful small-town retail clerk is to you a fond memory or a beautiful fiction, an increasing number of people are mad as hell and determined not to take it any more. At least on paper.

And let’s face it: few industries have been as impacted by the growing trend towards mega-retailers as the book business, with many consumers bemoaning the passing of a favorite independent bookstore. Bemoan they may do but, on a certain level, a lot of people aren’t really sure what to do about it.

Larry Portzline has no such hesitations. Portzline is a college instructor and writer from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and if you’ve ever heard the term “bookstore tourism,” Portzline is probably the reason why.

According to the National Council on Bookstore Tourism -- another one of Portzline’s pet projects -- he launched the movement in 2003 as “a grassroots effort to support locally owned and operated bookshops, many of which have struggled to compete with large bookstore chains and online retailers.”

The movement now has a blog and a Web site but Portzline figured he still had a lot of miles to travel before he reached his destination and cooked up the “Why Indie Bookstores Matter” book tour, an event he himself will undertake starting next April when he launches his 1999 Dodge Caravan -- “the light blue ‘soccer mom mobile’” -- at the open road in search of awareness for long-suffering bookstores everywhere.

The Why Indie Bookstores Matter Tour is a 10-week, cross-country road-trip that will include stops at 200 independent bookstores. “If I can get people to see how important indie bookstores are to their communities,” Portzline said on the tour’s blog a few days ago, “not just as retail establishments but as places of culture and learning and belonging, then maybe those same people will start to see how important other independent businesses are in their hometowns. Maybe they'll remember how great it was to have a locally owned pharmacy, grocery store, hardware store or department store. And maybe they’ll start to see that a community's economic health doesn't come from outside but from within.”

Portzline is currently trying to raise money to finance the trip and promises, while the tour is underway, he’ll update the trip blog while on the road, “post pictures, podcasts and even video. And when the trip is over, I plan to write a book about the experience.”


Tinseltown Update

This just in from The Rap Sheet:
Rumors have been flying fast and loose lately concerning the possibility that 32-year-old actress Charlize Theron (2 Days in the Valley, The Italian Job, North Country, etc.) will play Howard Hughes movie starlet Glenda Bledsoe in the pending film adaptation of James Ellroy’s 1992 novel, White Jazz. The film is already slated to star George Clooney as 1950s Los Angeles vice cop Dave Klein, who -- suddenly realizing that the police commissioner and others have set him up for a fall -- determines to expose the LAPD’s well-established corruption.
Read the full article here.

Shortlist Announcements Spike Sales

Around awards time, there’s always a swell of debate: do they or don’t they? Affect sales, that is. Canada’s Quill Blog brings some great news: at least in the case of the Giller Awards, they do:
According to just-released statistics from BookNet Canada, the shortlist announcement for the Scotiabank Giller Prize sparked a sales spike that averaged a 388% increase in weekly sales for the listed titles.
You can read the piece from Quill & Quire’s blog here.


Saturday, October 20, 2007

Rowling Pulls Dumbledore from the Closet

JK Rowling’s revelation that Albus Dumbledore is gay is creating a firestorm. Some groups are applauding the author of the bestselling Harry Potter books for outing the fictional headmaster of Hogwart’s School. Others... not so much.

Rowling dropped her bomb last night in New York at Carnegie Hall at an event hosted by MSNBC news anchor Keith Olbermann. Entertainment Weekly’s blog reported today:
Responding to a question from a child about Dumbledore’s love life, Rowling hesitated and then revealed, “I always saw Dumbledore as gay.” Filling in a few more details, she said, “Dumbledore fell in love with Grindelwald.... Don’t forget, falling in love can blind us. [He] was very drawn to this brilliant person. This was Dumbledore’s tragedy.” She added that in a recent meeting about the sixth movie, she spied a line in the script where Dumbledore waxed poetic about a girl, so she was forced to scribble director David Yates a note to correct the situation.
Predictably, the airwaves have today been abuzz and atwitter with the news. “Welcome to out of the closet Dumbledore,” said the Gay Socialites blog, “Where’s your PEOPLE magazine cover?”

While the Red State blog rambled on incoherently for a while under a headline that summerizes the gist: “Turns Out Dumbledore Was More Flawed Than I Thought.”

CBC Arts today reported that “Harry Potter fans have long speculated over Dumbledore’s sexuality, in part because of his mysterious past and lack of ties with female characters.” Which is certainly a bit of speculation I never heard a hint of (maybe I don’t hang out at the right watercoolers?)

And according to Ireland Online, “A spokesman for gay rights group Stonewall said: ‘It’s great that JK has said this. It shows that there’s no limit to what gay and lesbian people can do, even being a wizard headmaster.’”

Albus Dumbledore was portrayed by Richard Harris in the first two movies in the successful franchise. Upon Harris’ death in 2002, the role was played by Michael Gambon.


Social Networking for Book Lovers

Just when you thought that you’d had all the social networking you could stand, along comes something that seems destined to put a book club spin on the whole concept. From the Wall Street Journal:
Shelfari, a social-networking site for bibliophiles, joins a host of other social book sites. It functions like an online book club: Users can post titles they own and make lists of books they want. Each entry is then placed on a virtual bookshelf that is publicly viewable.

And though Shelfari has been growing like mad, partnership with existing social networking sites might see user numbers go up even more quickly:

The site launched a year ago, but co-founder Josh Hug says he hopes a new Facebook application will expand its audience. Although Shelfari doesn't disclose the number of users, Mr. Hug says the community has grown to “six digits.”

The Wall Street Journal comments on Shelfari here. Go directly to the social networking for books site here. Those with a taste for mystery can check out the social networking site Crimespace here.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Review: The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food by Judith Jones

Today, in January Magazine’s biography section, January contributing editor Diane Leach reviews The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food by Judith Jones. Says Leach:
Judith Jones hails from another era, one where garlic-fearing bluebloods hired cooks who served fish on Fridays and no upright person consumed French food, a cuisine that, with all those sauces, surely had something to hide. Daughters, after educations at Spence and Barnard, were expected to make good marriages and carry on the family lineage. Jones managed to escape this almost-forgotten mold, moving to Paris after college, where she hung out with an artistic crowd who loved foods that gave her mother fits: oysters (which, young Jones assures writes her parents, “had no ill effects”), entrecote, chicken liver pate, and the unpasteurized cheeses still widely feared on North American shores.
The full review is here.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Review: Uncovered by Thomas Allan

Today, in January Magazine’s art & culture section, Tony Buchsbaum reviews Uncovered by Thomas Allan. Says Buchsbaum:
What Allen has done is to take the covers of mass market paperbacks and carefully cut and fold and combine them. The result is an anthology of sorts, a gathering of intriguing, alluring stories unto themselves -- all without having written a word.

And speaking of words, they’d do these pieces zero justice -- but imagine, if you can, a Shane-like cowboy pushing through the slatted, swinging doors of an Old West-style bar, surrounded by the aged pages of the book he’s featured in.
The full review is here.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

“Bleak” and “Depressing” Novel Wins Man Booker

Irish novelist Anne Enright, 45, has been named the winner of the £50,000 Man Booker Prize for Fiction for her novel The Gathering, published by Jonathan Cape.

Howard Davies, chair of judges, said the novel was both “bleak” and “depressing” going on to say it was a “very readable and satisfying novel.”

Enright didn’t disagree with the assessment, telling Radio 4’s Today that if they’re looking for a cheery read, “they shouldn’t really pick up my book … my book is the equivalent of a Hollywood weepie.”

Also nominated:

Darkmans by Nicola Barker (Fourth Estate)
The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid (Hamish Hamilton)
Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones (John Murray)
On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan (Jonathan Cape)
Animal’s People by Indra Sinha (Simon & Schuster)


Review: Matrimony by Joshua Henkin

Today, in January Magazine’s fiction section, M.J. Rose spends some time with Matrimony by Joshua Henkin. Says Rose:
’Tis the season of matrimony. At least that’s true when it comes to television, where I’ve been watching Tell Me You Love Me, HBO’s new sex-soaked series about marital discontent, and American Movie Classics’ Mad Men, which, despite its focus on 1950s advertising men, is ultimately a show about marital discord. In her New York Times essay “Say, Darling, Is It Frigid in Here?” Alessandra Stanley notes that not since Thirtysomething has television been so preoccupied with marriage ... and miserable marriages at that.

Yet this season’s most compelling depiction of marriage isn’t a TV series but a book. Joshua Henkin’s Matrimony is a brilliant, beautifully written novel that tracks a couple from the time they meet in college until 20 years later as they approach middle-age.
The full review is here.

Labels: ,

Monday, October 15, 2007

Review: Grave Matters by Mark Harris

Today, in January Magazine’s non-fiction section, contributing editor Caroline Cummins reviews Grave Matters by Mark Harris. Says Cummins:
Don’t dig the conventional funeral industry? As Mark Harris describes in his new book, Grave Matters, you don’t have to wind up six feet under.

Harris, an environmental reporter, has assembled a collection of short profiles documenting the experiences of families who have chosen different paths to the grave. Like Carlson’s book,
Grave Matters is a handbook as well as a good read, with resources and how-to lists at the end of each chapter. The work is organized on a sliding scale from least environmentally friendly to most; it opens with a gruesome chapter describing a “traditional” embalming and funeral and closes with a chapter about “natural” burial, or burying an unembalmed, uncasketed body directly in the ground.
The full review is here.

Labels: ,

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Surprise, Surprise, Surprise!

This video clip of Doris Lessing is just priceless. I don’t know exactly how I would react to being told by reporters that I’d just won the Nobel Prize for Literature, but I can guarantee you it would not be like this.

(Hat tip to Dwight Garner via GalleyCat.)

READ MORE:Prizing Doris Lessing,” by Christopher Hitchens (Slate); “What’s It All About?” by James Lincoln Warren (Criminal Brief); “Longevity Is Not Pleasing,” by Melodie Johnson Howe (Criminal Brief).

Friday, October 12, 2007

Get Elmore

While Elmore Leonard (Get Shorty, Up in Honey’s Room) turned 82 yesterday, fans might celebrate his birthday later this month with the purchase of the author’s first work of non-fiction, Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing. We’ve yet to see the book, but Leonard’s notoriously no nonsense style, as well as the tantalizing tidbits about writing he’s let fly over the years, makes us think the 96-page book will be one to stand up for.

Leonard has been credited with telling writers not to “write what the reader will skip over anyhow,” and advising them to “never use an adverb to modify ‘said.’” So it’s hard not to try to imagine which few words this man of not many of them will choose to impart in Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing.

One lucky reader of January Magazine’s sister publication, The Rap Sheet, won’t have to imagine. The Rap Sheet will be giving away a signed and numbered copy of the book, one of only 10 the publisher is producing. “It’s being left up to us to decide how this exclusive edition ought to be disseminated,” writes editor J. Kingston Pierce. “Because we just received this invitation ... we haven’t determined yet how to choose this book’s lucky winner. Maybe through a trivia contest? Or perhaps a beauty competition, with the signed volume going to whoever looks best in a bikini? While that latter approach might brighten up our rain-dreary days, it’s altogether too commonplace. There’s got to be a better idea.”

Pierce is taking suggestions prior to deciding what sort of contest will determine this rare copy’s new owner. We’ll let you know when he nails down and posts the rules. Pierce’s first post on the topic is here.

Labels: ,

Review: Nim at Sea by Wendy Orr

Today, in January Magazine’s children’s book section, contributing editor Sue Bursztynski reviews Nim at Sea by Wendy Orr. Says Bursztynski:
The only book by Wendy Orr I had read before was the rather grim Peeling The Onion, in which a teenager who had been an athlete is now confined to a wheelchair and has to get her life in order. Of course, teenagers enjoy tragic tales -- at least, the ones I know do -- and it was a good story for its audience. Nonetheless, it was a pleasant surprise to come to Nim at Sea -- a book intended for younger readers -- and find it gentle and funny and warm.
The full review is here.

Labels: ,

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Doris Lessing Awarded Nobel

Doris Lessing has been awarded the Nobel Prize in literature. According to the Quill & Quire blog, Lessing is “only the 11th woman in the prize’s 106-year history” to be awarded this honor.

The New York Times does a great job of summarizing the 87-year-old writer’s amazing life thus far, while The Bookseller does an equally great job in giving it to us in tiny but important bites:
Lessing’s most famous novels include her début The Grass Is Singing (1950), The Golden Notebook (1962), The Good Terrorist (1985) and Under My Skin (1994). She was born in Persia (now Iran) to British parents in 1919; she grew up in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe); went to school in Salisbury; and moved to London in 1949, where she still lives.
Ed Champion wraps it all up even tighter (“A nice choice.”) with a collection of really terrific links, while asking, “Is Doris Lessing the first Nobel laureate with a MySpace page?” where Lessing herself asks, “Think wrongly, if you please, but in all cases think for yourself.”


Review: Women of Our Time by Frederick S. Voss and Women Who Write by Stefan Bollmann

Today, in January Magazine’s art & culture section, contributing editor Cherie Thiessen reviews two books that celebrate the lives and art of women.

Thiessen finds a lot to like in Women of Our Time by Frederick S. Voss:
Women of Our Time ... gives us a sampling of notable women in the 20th century. In addition, we are privileged to see them through the eyes of great portrait photographers and can often chart how women’s roles have changed throughout the years by studying the women themselves: their clothes, their pose, their expressions and their surroundings. We can also get a sense of history from the style of the images themselves.
Thiessen is overall less impressed with Women Who Write by Stefan Bollmann:
I had expected this book would appeal more to me, but a slightly pedantic and petulant tone is set in the foreword, where well published academic, Francine Prose, explores the times when these women wrote, and their challenge in pursuing their love and passion. It’s perhaps a little more strident than we need. We know it’s been a rough ride for women writers, but hey -- we’re there now.
Thiessen’s review of both books is here.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

2007 NBA Shortlist Bound to Invite Controversy

The shortlists for the 2007 National Book Awards were announced today and include at least one title bound to bring the competition more press coverage than usual.

Within an hour of the announcement that Christopher Hitchens’ controversial bestseller God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything had been nominated in the non-fiction category, news agencies started filing stories that featured Hitchens’ inclusion. “Anti-religion book a nominee for National Book Awards,” CBC News told its readers.

Overall, the 2007 shortlist seems to represent a larger than usual percentage of books that many readers will find accessible: and might even find on their shelves including Time and Materials, former US Poet Laureate Robert Hass’ first collection in 10 years; The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie; Jim Shepard’s collection of stories, Like You’d Understand, Anyway; Edwidge Danticat’s memoir, Brother, I'm Dying; Arnold Rampersad’s biography of Ralph Ellison and Legacy of Ashes, Tim Weiner’s history of the CIA.

2007’s very tough field will be narrowed down on November 14th at a benefit dinner and ceremony in Manhattan to be hosted by writer, humorist and best dressed list hall of famer Fran Lebowitz. The winner in each category will receive $10,000 plus a bronze
statue while each finalist has received a bronze medal and a $1,000 cash award. That evening Joan Didion and Terry Gross will receive special awards: Didion will receive the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters and Gross for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community.

There are several events planned leading up to the festivities on November 14th. You can read about them here.

Here’s the full list of finalists for the 2007 National Book Awards:

Fieldwork, by Mischa Berlinski (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Varieties of Disturbance, by Lydia Davis (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Then We Came to the End, by Joshua Ferris (Little, Brown & Company)
Tree of Smoke, by Denis Johnson (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Like You’d Understand, Anyway, by Jim Shepard (Alfred A. Knopf)

Brother, I’m Dying, by Edwidge Danticat (Alfred A. Knopf)
God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, by Christopher Hitchens (Twelve/Hachette Book Group USA)
Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution, by Woody Holton (Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Ralph Ellison: A Biography, by Arnold Rampersad (Alfred A. Knopf)
Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA, by Tim Weiner (Doubleday)

Magnetic North, by Linda Gregerson (Houghton Mifflin Company)
Time and Materials, by Robert Hass (Ecco/HarperCollins)
The House on Boulevard St., by David Kirby (Louisiana State University Press)
Old Heart, by Stanley Plumly (W.W. Norton & Company)
Messenger, by Ellen Bryant Voigt (W.W. Norton & Company)

Young People’s Literature:
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie (Little, Brown & Company)
Skin Hunger: A Resurrection of Magic, Book One, by Kathleen Duey (Atheneum Books for Young Readers)
Touching Snow, by M. Sindy Felin (Atheneum Books for Young Readers)
The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick (Scholastic Press)
Story of a Girl, by Sara Zarr (Little, Brown & Company)


Review: The Draining Lake by Arnaldur Indridason

Today, in January Magazine’s crime fiction section, contributing editor Ali Karim reviews The Draining Lake by Arnaldur Indridason. Says Karim:
Structurally and thematically, The Draining Lake bears a resemblance to Peter Robinson’s award-winning 1999 novel, In a Dry Season -- at least insofar as it alternates between a back story that relates to the murder, and the present-day investigation. The obvious difference between these works is that Robinson’s back story was set firmly in World War II, while Indridason’s has its feet in the later Cold War. Both novels do, however, share a similar style of conclusion, with the solution to the crime being delivered only late in the game, and far from what the reader might have anticipated.
The full review is here.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Review: Fire in the Blood by Irène Némirovsky

Today, in January Magazine’s fiction section, contributing editor Diane Leach reviews Fire in the Blood by Irène Némirovsky. Says Leach:
Returning, momentarily to transplanting oneself -- as Joyce did for Dublin, Hemingway for Michigan, and later, Paris. Némirovsky did not -- could not transplant herself. The author was Jewish, and instead, with merciless acuity, documented the shrinking world around her. With Hitler’s troops drawing near Paris, Némirovsky and her family fled to Issey-l’Evêque, where she wrote the stunning Suite Française and possibly reworked drafts of Fire in the Blood. In 1942 she was arrested and deported to Auschwitz, where she died. She was 39 years old. Her husband Michel was also killed. Their daughters, Denise and Elisabeth, were passed hand to hand, hiding until the war’s end. For their entire lives -- Denise is now elderly, Elisabeth deceased -- Némirovsky’s daughters carried their mother’s unopened suitcase, assuming it contained diaries. Finally the women decided to donate their mother’s papers. Denise began typing the handwritten papers therein, finding the handwritten Suite Française and bits of Fire in the Blood. Suite Française was published to deserved acclaim in 2006. After some searching, Fire in the Blood, which Némirovsky had distributed in bits to various friends for safekeeping, was pieced together and now appears in English, beautifully translated by Sandra Smith.
The full review is here.

Labels: ,

Friday, October 05, 2007

Review: Earth: A Visitor’s Guide by Ian Harrison

Today, in January Magazine’s children’s book section, contributing editor Sue Bursztynski reviews Earth: A Visitor’s Guide by Ian Harrison. Says Bursztynski:
Earth: A Visitor’s Guide is a book of fascinating facts and trivia for those readers who enjoy the Guinness Book of Records. It is more than just records, of course. ...

The facts don’t stop. Did you know that in Tudor England, the ruler had someone whose job it was to wipe the royal bottom after it used the toilet? That the first artificial limb was made by an escaping criminal in ancient Greece, who had to cut off his own leg to get away? There are also some debunkings of previously accepted “facts” and a section on urban myths. There is even a recipe for a football-sized scotch egg and some unusual origami patterns.
The full review is here.

Labels: ,

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Excerpt: Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself by Alan Alda

Today on January Magazine, an excerpt of Alan Alda’s Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself, a follow-up to his 2005 memoir, Never Have Your Dog Stuffed: And Other Things I’ve Learned.

This time out, Alda ponders the imponderables of life with the startling intelligence and careful thought of the accomplished philosopher and the humor, style and charm of the entertainer we know and love. At one point, Alda muses on the fleeting nature of time:
So, there I was, setting the timer on the microwave every morning, and three minutes of my life would go by while molecules of moisture jumped around inside the oatmeal. Then, one morning, when the bell dinged and I opened the door to the oven, I was hit with a new wave of my unfortunate disease of self-improvement. It came in the form of a question: Where did those three minutes just go?
The excerpt of Alda’s book is here.


Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Tintin Controversy

At the start of the year I reported on a special celebration of the Tintin comics in France to mark what would have been writer Herge’s 100th birthday. The article indicated that many writers recall spending their youth in the company of Tintin, Snowy, Captain Haddock and the eclectic gang as they traveled the world seeking adventure.

With the upcoming big screen adaptation of Tintin by Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg we report some controversy in respect to publisher Little, Brown’s re-issues of the Tintin Tales. The 1931 title, Tintin in the Congo, has reportedly been pulled from the publishing schedule due to its portrayal of colonial Black Africans. It seems there has been a groundswell of opinion to ban this book from many sources. The BBC reported earlier this year:
The Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) is calling on high street books to pull a Tintin adventure from its shelves over claims it is racist. Complaints about Tintin in the Congo have led to Borders and Waterstones moving it to their adult section.

A spokeswoman said the book contained “words of hideous racial prejudice, where the ‘savage natives’ look like monkeys and talk like imbeciles.” Borders said they are committed to let their “customers make the choice.”
Publishers Weekly also reported on this controversial re-issue:
The book was first published in 1931, then updated and colorized in the 1940s. While this is the first U.S. publication of the newer version, San Francisco-based publisher Last Gasp released a black and white fascimile edition of the original in 2002. Also as part of its centenary celebration of Hergé’s birth, Little, Brown will publish a boxed set containing all 24 Tintin books in November. The set will include all its previously published Tintin books, as well as the final three. Valerie Koehler, owner of Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston, Tex., said she could not decide where she will shelve Congo until she sees the book. But she said the series is not very popular in her store: “We’re not talking about Harry Potter here. By and large, the mom who walks in here who grew up in Houston, she doesn’t know who Tintin is.” Leslie Reiner, owner of Inkwood Books in Tampa Bay, Fla., plans on shelving the book in her store’s graphic novels section. She said Tintin books “haven't been selling that well, but I anticipate more sales with the fall release.” Barnes & Noble and Borders did not respond to requests for comment.
This pressure has lead Little, Brown to reconsider the re-release of Tintin in the Congo, as reported in Publishers Weekly:
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, which had been planning to publish Tintin in the Congo, a book criticized for its racist, Colonial-era depictions of Africans, has quietly pulled the title from its fall list, PW has learned. The publisher also said it will not include the book in a forthcoming box set of all 24 books in the Tintin series.

Publicist Melanie Chang did not give a reason for the standalone book’s cancellation, but of its omission from the box set she said, “Given the controversy surrounding the Congo title, we felt including it in the box set would eclipse the true intention of the collection, which is to showcase Hergé’s extraordinary art and his remarkable contribution to the graphic arts.”
The republication of classic works of fiction that reflected the attitudes of a less enlightened generation can cause controversy and even confusion. Remember the original title of Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians?

Labels: ,

Read a Banned Book. Now

Though a whisper of controversy caresses Banned Books Week this year, the spirit of the beast remains untouched. From the American Library Association’s Web site:
First observed in 1982, Banned Books Week reminds Americans not to take this precious democratic freedom for granted.
Nor does the ALA go it alone:
The event is sponsored by the American Booksellers Association, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the American Library Association (ALA), the Association of American Publishers, the American Society of Journalists and Authors and the National Association of College Stores. It is endorsed by the Library of Congress Center for the Book.
The list of most challenged books of last year is full of great reading material, making it super easy to find a challenged book to choose. The list includes And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, “for homosexuality, anti-family, and unsuited to age group;” both The Bluest Eye and Beloved by Toni Morrison “for sexual content, offensive language, and unsuited to age group;” and The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier “for sexual content, offensive language, and violence.”

This year, Banned Book Week runs from September 29 to October 6, 2007. To find an event in your area, check out the BBW Events Finder here.


Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Review: Walla Walla Suite by Anne Argula

Today, in January Magazine’s crime fiction section, Linda L. Richards reviews Walla Walla Suite by Anne Argula. For the most part, Richards likes the book, saying that:
Our heroine is earthy. She has been cut loose by a longtime mate. She is an ex-cop from Spokane, Washington, who has recently become a P.I. And she is suffering though a menopause of otherworldly proportions: her hot flashes get to be like the atmospheric weather descriptions in other books. Actually, since Walla Walla Suite is set in Seattle, we of course get some conventional weather reports, as well. But this writer's prose is so lean and muscular, you never get tired of either kind. Quite the opposite, in fact. Argula has the gift, that classic noir gift, of describing things amply in just a few words. Argula evokes more with a shrug of the shoulders and a flick of the wrist than other writers call forth in whole chapters.
The full review is here.

Labels: ,

Looking for a New Publishing Paradigm

I’m imagining a room -- probably a big one -- at Amazon Books HQ occupied by people whose desks have disappeared under envelopes stuffed with hopes and dreams and manuscripts. Motoko Rich of The New York Times explains what’s got me thinking this way:
From today through Nov. 5, contestants from 20 countries can submit unpublished manuscripts of English-language novels to Amazon, which will assign a small group of its top-rated online reviewers to evaluate 5,000-word excerpts and narrow the field to 1,000.
So stop here for a minute and imagine the possible numbers that might be involved here. Thousands. Nay possibly hundreds of thousands. If the volume is anywhere near what I’m imagining, the whole thing might be worth it for the publicity alone. So, OK, again, with the field narrowed down to a manageable thousand:
The full manuscripts of those semi-finalists will be submitted to Publishers Weekly, which will assign reviewers to each. Amazon will post the reviews, along with excerpts, online, where customers can make comments. Using those comments and the magazine’s reviews, Penguin will winnow the field to 100 finalists who will get two readings by Penguin editors. When a final 10 manuscripts are selected, a panel including Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of the current nonfiction paperback best seller “Eat, Pray, Love,” and John Freeman, the president of the National Book Critics Circle, will read and post comments on the novels at Amazon. Readers can then vote on the winner, who will receive a publishing contract and a $25,000 advance from Penguin.
On paper, it all looks pretty good. If you take into account that most publishers seem capable of doing anything to get an inside track on the bestseller list, the potential circus getting ready to erupt here begins to make even more sense. The business of publishing books may be many things, but it’s seldom democratic. If this scheme is successful, that might begin to change. And the apple cart won't just be upset, it will be totally pissed.

With the apple carts neatly stacked to the side, Borders isn’t sitting around letting their arch rivals have all the fun. They’ve put together their own publishing party, though the advance is smaller and there’s a sexy, spacy cyber component via Gather:
Separately, Borders Group, the bookstore chain, is teaming with, the social networking site, and Court TV to solicit unpublished manuscripts from mystery or crime writers. A panel of judges that includes the writers Harlan Coben and Sandra Brown will crown the winner from a pool of finalists selected by voters on The winner will receive a $5,000 advance and will be published by Borders itself.
The future of publishing looks democratic. We won’t know for a while if that’s a good thing or not.

The full piece is here.


Monday, October 01, 2007

Review: The Worst Thing I’ve Done by Ursula Hegi

Today, in January Magazine’s fiction section, contributing editor Cherie Thiessen reviews The Worst Thing I’ve Done by Ursula Hegi. Says Thiessen:
If The Worst Thing I’ve Done was strictly about an engrossing plot, it would be enough. But it’s far, far more than that. This, after all, is Hegi, who was 18 when she emigrated from Germany and who has endeared herself to readers and critics alike with novels like Stones from the River and Floating In My Mother’s Palm, books that explore her conflict over her cultural identity and simmering sense of inherited guilt.
The full review is here.

Labels: ,