Thursday, January 31, 2008

Indie Writers Death Match Starts… Now

Broken Pencil reports that the top eight stories in the lit magazine’s first ever winner-takes-all online short story contest have been given the big nod. The chosen eight “have been selected from aspiring writers around North America and the world. Now it’s time for our readers to vote and our competing writers to do whatever it takes to make it into the top four.”
Each week, two stories will be pitted against each other in the online arena. The authors will be in constant communication with their audience through a blog which they can use to hype their story or talk trash their opponent.
But with stakes this high, you can see why things might get crazy:
The bruised but triumphant writer will have his or her story published in Broken Pencil’s upcoming Fiction Issue, and will also receive an Indie Lit Library -- tons of great books from groundbreaking small presses ECW, Conundrum, City Lights, Brindle & Glass, and Arsenal Press -- as well as $250 cash and a Broken Pencil prize pack!
You can see the Broken Pencil Deathmatch here.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Oprah’s Book Club: Enlighten This

We don’t have a lot to say about Oprah’s latest choice for her book club. It’s not that we have anything against “waking up to a new, enlightened mind-set” or even “seeking a more loving self and a more loving planet” but, let’s face it, Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now and, more recently, A New Earth, can’t really fill the literary footsteps he’ll be treading as part of this club.

C’mon: Gabriel García Márquez, Cormac MacCarthy, Ken Follett, Toni Morrison, Wally Lamb, Maya Angelou… and Eckhart Tolle? See what I’m saying? I’m not even sure we’re talking about the same planet, never mind the same league.

Still, a lot of people will care about Oprah and Eckhart’s New Earth Web Event. I’m just not so sure why they’d bother stacking it with the really great literature -- and even the kinda questionable literature that was still nonetheless literature -- Oprah has included in her book club in the past. Please, Oprah: next time? Give us a real book.



From the Nevada Appeal newspaper:
An acclaimed novelist lost his office in Carson City on Thursday when he threw a lit piece of paper into gasoline.

Fantasy writer David Eddings, 75, said he was using water to flush out the gas tank of his broken-down Excalibur sports car, when some fluid leaked. In a lapse of judgment he readily admitted, Eddings lit a piece of paper and threw into the puddle to test if it was still flammable. The answer came in an orange torrent.
Eddings explained that many of his original manuscripts were consumed by the blaze, but he was at least as much disturbed by another casualty of that calamity:

The loss of the sports car, which he bought in the 1970s, was a little painful as well, he said.

It made for a real fancy vehicle, right up until it burned.
(Hat tip to Bill Peschel.)

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Theodora Keogh Dies

Like a lot of people I guess, I had never heard of Theodora Roosevelt Rauchfuss Keogh until The Telegraph ran her obituary today. An obituary, as a matter of fact, Keogh had requested not run at all, according to The Charlotte Observer who said that one time novelist, socialite and ballet dancer had requested there be “no funeral or obituary and leaves no children of her own, according to family and friends.”

Keogh died January 5th at age 88 and was, according to The Telegraph, the granddaughter of President Theodore Roosevelt and “the author of nine novels, all of them dark in tone and many of them peopled with sinister figures.”
The remarkable early novels treated young girls facing sexual conflict in New York and Paris, and critics could not decide whether Theodora Keogh possessed extraordinary understanding of these matters or was merely aiming to shock.
Though Keogh’s work gained some critical respect, in the United States her novels were produced as pulps and are all out of print, though in the last few years, reports The Telegraph, “she was tracked down by a disparate group of new readers from various lands, some bearing offers of republication.”
Theodora Keogh published her first novel, Meg, in 1950. Partly autobiographical (the heroine came from an Upper East Side family), it tackled dark areas - the heroine was raped, and passed her history exam by threatening to expose her teacher as a lesbian.

John Betjeman described it as a “brutally frightening picture of what may happen to a little girl in New York”, and Nigel Nicolson wrote: “A great many people will be outraged by this book, but I place it first on my list because of its remarkable originality, good sense and utter lack of sentimentality.”

In the Saturday Review, Patricia Highsmith gave an unknown woman a rare favourable review: “She writes with a skill and command of her material that should set her promptly into the ranks of the finer young writers of today.”
Though from the little I’ve been able to learn about Keogh, I think she would have hated all this fuss about her, The Telegraph obituary paints an amazing portrait of a life well lived. The author herself might have paused before making some of this stuff up. The Charlotte Observer adds a bit here and here.

Ironically, we bring you the news about Keogh’s death on the very day former first daughter and mystery author Margaret Truman Daniel passes away at age 83. The Rap Sheet has that story here.


Literary Police Blotter

Who says literary sneakiness can’t have a big payout?
In a brazen attempt to attract students to the pleasures of reading by associating classic literature with acts of senseless violence, a professor at a well-known liberal-arts college ran the following log in the pages of the campus newspaper. The local bookstore noted a sudden spike in sales of The Iliad.
The full story is in The Chronicle of Higher Education and it’s here.

Hat tip to Barbara Fister.

Review: The Diving Pool by Yoko Ogawa

Today, in January Magazine’s fiction section, contributing editor Cherie Thiessen reviews The Diving Pool by Yoko Ogawa. Says Thiessen:
The three pithy works contained in this new publication are as sleek and muscular as Jun, the young diver in the first story. He’s the oldest child at the Light House, an orphanage run by Aya’s parents, who are also church leaders. Aya is the narrator; she’s the only one who’s not an orphan, although she has often wished she were:
... If I could have one of the tragic histories so common at the Light House -- an alcoholic mother, a homicidal father, parents lost to death or abandonment, anything at all -- then I would have been a proper orphan.
The full review is here.

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Review: To the Boy in Berlin by Elizabeth Honey and Heike Brandt

Today, in January Magazine’s children’s book section, contributing editor Sue Bursztynski reviews To the Boy in Berlin by Elizabeth Honey and Heike Brandt. Says Bursztynski :
Well-known Australian writer Elizabeth Honey here collaborates with her German translator to produce a very readable novel. To the Boy in Berlin is told entirely in e-mail and postcards, which proves to be an easily read format for reluctant readers, because you can put it down after each section.

A 13-year-old Australian girl named Henni spends a holiday in Cauldron Bay, a coastal town in Victoria, where she finds books and papers belonging to the Schmidts, a German family who lived there in 1914. Henni becomes fascinated with them, especially Leopold Schmidt, the son of the family, who was her own age at the time. Leaving a note for whoever comes next, she is pleasantly surprised to receive e-mail from Berlin, from a modern-day Leopold Schmidt. He’s no relation to the original, but he’s happy to become a penpal and to help her out in her research when she decides to do a school project on the 1914 Schmidt family, and what happened to them.
The full review is here.

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Monday, January 28, 2008

Review: Swimming in a Sea of Death by David Rieff and Final Exam by Pauline Chen

Today, in January Magazine’s biography section, contributing editor Diane Leach reviews Swimming in a Sea of Death by David Rieff and Final Exam by Pauline Chen. Says Leach:

Reading two memoirs about death within two days, whilst bedridden from chronic illness arguably isn’t an effective method for rapid recuperation. The reader may instead extrapolate her readings to her own (momentarily) failing body, or find so much pain, both within and without, unbearable. But Rieff and Chen’s books are such fine contributions, so beautifully, movingly written, that they did what great books do best: they made me forget myself.

Rieff is Susan Sontag’s son. His memoir of her final battle with the cancer is eloquent, elegant and pained. Three years after the death of one of our great intellectuals, her son remains in a state of deep, guilty grief. His is not a year of magical thinking; it is a lifetime ration, and we can only hope writing this book gave him some solace.
While Pauline Chen’s Final Exam: A Surgeon’s Reflections on Mortality
… shifts the perspective from family member to doctor. Like Rieff, Chen faces death uneasily, casting about for the right words, the right gestures, the right decisions. But where Rieff is unable to draw meaningful conclusions, Pauline Chen is more fortunate. A surgeon specializing in oncology and liver transplants, her memoir examines the ways the medical profession and its practitioners are taught to manage -- or not -- the lives and deaths of their patients.
The full reviews are here.

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Friday, January 25, 2008

Feelin’ Special

The American Library Association’s annual Notable Books List hasn’t traditionally included categories for genre titles. (See the 2008 list here.) In order to recognize quality genre fiction, then, the ALA has created a new and separate commendation called--how’s this for imagination?--The Reading List. This year’s first-ever winners are featured in eight categories, including “Adrenaline,” which covers thrillers, suspense, and action adventure titles.

Here’s the complete list of winners:

The Second Objective, by Mark Frost (Hyperion)

The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss (Daw)

Historical Fiction
The Religion, by Tim Willocks (Farrar Straus and Giroux)

The Heart-shaped Box, by Joe Hill (Morrow)

The Mistress of Death, by Ariana Franklin (Putnam)

Natural Born Charmer, by Susan Elizabeth Phillips (Morrow)

Science Fiction
In War Times, by Kathleen Ann Goonan (Tor)

Women’s Fiction
Garden Spells, by Sarah Addison Allen (Bantam)

For more information, click here.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Who Are We to Argue?

From B.V. Larson’s In Reference to Murder: “The Western Writers of America announced yesterday they are giving Tony Hillerman their Owen Wister Award for lifetime contribution to Western literature. President Cotton Smith said, ‘Tony Hillerman is truly a national treasure, bringing all of us wonderful stories of the modern West while giving us memorable glimpses of the distinctive ways of the Navajo Nation.’” Read more here.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Review: David Golder, The Ball, Snow in Autumn, The Courilof Affair: An Everyman’s Library Original by Irène Némirovisky

Today, in January Magazine’s fiction section, contributing editor Diane Leach reviews David Golder, The Ball, Snow in Autumn, The Courilof Affair: An Everyman’s Library Original by Irène Némirovisky. Says Leach:
These four early works explore the great conundrum of Irene Némirovsky’s work: her apparent disdain -- even revulsion -- for her fellow Jews.

By now the amazing and sad story of her masterwork, Suite Française, and ensuing revival of her work is well known. Sandra Smith has since ably translated those works that eluded English readers: Fire in the Blood (a separate volume), The Ball, Snow in Autumn and The Courilof Affair.

The cumulative impact of these collected works is mixed: Némirovsky’s facility with language and her ability to capture humanity, notably greedy humanity, is well evidenced. So is the bewildering manner in which she wrote of her religious brethren: many are called “little Jews,” given “hooked” or “beaked” noses, and in all cases are presented are unsavory characters ever grasping for more wealth. That said, her prescience is chilling. The subject matter turns on those areas she knew best: those fleeing a war-torn homeland -- in this case, Russia -- the ensuing griefs of assimilation and homesickness in a new land, Anti-Semitism and, ironically enough, bankers specializing in oil. Her themes, now over 70 years old, could not be more timely.
The full review is here.

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McCarthyism Comes to the UK

I enjoyed reading January Magazine’s take on the popularity of Cormac McCarthy’s work. As the Coen brother’s adaptation of No Country for Old Men opens in cinemas throughout the United Kingdom, all things McCarthy are taking root in Britain as well.

I’ve enjoyed McCarthy’s writing for what it is: spare, brutal and pessimistic existential musings on the darker side of mankind. But do the literary critics here in Britain agree with my spare and brutal distillation of McCarthy’s work?

Last week, The Guardian took a run at McCarthy’s work:
The style of late-period McCarthy -- he was born in 1933 -- is characterised by its philosophical pessimism, pared-down sentences and restrained vocabulary. In contrast, there is nothing stylistically restrained about his earlier work, especially the mid-period novels Suttree (1979) and Blood Meridian (1985). Set in the mid-19th century, Blood Meridian ostensibly concerns the wanderings of a band of scalp-hunters in south-west Texas and Mexico. But most important is McCarthy’s grand style, his astounding gift for language. Take his description of a raid by horse-riding Native Americans on a group of white settlers making their way across an isolated plain: “A legion of horribles, hundreds in number, half naked or clad in costumes attic or biblical or wardrobed out of a fevered dream with the skins of animals and silk finery and pieces of uniform still tracked with the blood of prior owners, coats of slain dragoons, frogged and braided cavalry jackets, one in a stovepipe hat and one with an umbrella and one in white stockings and a bloodstained weddingveil and some in headgear of cranefeathers or rawhide helmets that bore the horns of bull or buffalo ... ”

And so the sentence goes on, unbroken, for at least another half-page, the spillage of hundreds of words, with clauses linked only by the most important word in McCarthy's lexicon, the connective “and”. (You read his novels and search in vain for a colon or semi-colon or long dash.) It's a virtuoso performance, as is the entire novel, a gothic extravaganza and one of the oddest books I've ever read.
You can read the entire piece here.

The Times recently picked The Road as one of their bookclub reads with “star-reader” Monnie Black describing it thusly:
I had no idea that The Road would be quite so moving. I settled down to read the last 30 pages wearing a face mask. What a mistake! I was supposed to keep my features still, but I twitched in sorrow. I have been recommending the book to my friends who are concerned that it sounds too sad. But I have reassured them that at the very end you feel uplifted. It is hardly a happy ending in the traditional sense but is as happy as it could be, given that the Earth has practically been burnt to a crisp. In a strange way the ending felt realistic.

The only way for mankind to struggle on would be to believe in God or to believe in the goodness of those who have died while protecting the ones they loved. The boy does not have to be religious but he does need to believe in goodness while, all around him, some choose an evil path for survival
The Times’ Book Club report is here.

The Sunday Times dissects and delineates McCarthy and his work staring with this introduction:
Until the publication of All the Pretty Horses in 1992, Cormac McCarthy was considered the best unknown novelist in America. None of his previous novels, which included Suttree (1979) and Blood Meridian (1985), had sold more than 2,500 copies in hard cover. There was good reason for his obscurity: McCarthy’s books were, and are, implacably grim and violent. They are also stylistically challenging, often plotless, lacking traditional punctuation and arcane in their vocabulary. And McCarthy did nothing to publicise them or himself. As “the most celebrated recluse in American literature since JD Salinger”, he refuses to go on book tours, won’t teach or lecture, and (reluctantly) gave his first substantive interview only in 1992, to The New York Times.
Then The Times brings up these interesting facts about this enigmatic and reclusive writer:
CORMAC McCARTHY IS NOT HIS REAL NAME McCarthy was born in 1933, the third of six children, and named Charles after his father, a well-to-do lawyer. In 1937, the family moved from Rhode Island to Knoxville, Tennessee. McCarthy dropped out of the University of Tennessee and in 1953 joined the air force. At some point, he changed his name to Cormac, apparently after the Irish king. For a while, he lived on Ibiza with his second wife, the singer Anne DeLisle. From the mid1970s until the mid1980s, he lived in El Paso, Texas. He is now married to Jennifer Winkley, an academic, with whom he has a son. He lives just outside Santa Fe, New Mexico.

For most of his life, McCarthy was extremely poor, living in barns and shacks and writing in motel rooms. He carried a high-wattage light bulb around in a lens case, and would screw it in so he could see better in motels. Somehow, partly through grants, partly through some kind of inexplicable providence, he survived. “I had no money – I mean none,” he said recently. “I had run out of toothpaste, and I was wondering what to do when I went to the mailbox and there was a free sample.” CORMAC McCARTHY IS OLD-FASHIONED He likes people to be punctual. “If you can’t know where a man is going to be when he says he’s going to be there, how can you trust him about anything else?” he says.
The Times piece is here.


Monday, January 21, 2008

Review: Duma Key by Stephen King

Today, in January Magazine’s fiction section, contributing editor Ali Karim reviews Duma Key by Stephen King. Says Karim:
I was about a quarter of the way into Stephen King’s Duma Key and feeling a sense of growing dread and dark foreboding when I came upon this passage spoken by the elderly property owner Elizabeth Eastlake. It serves as a taste of what Edgar Freemantle might experience upon relocating himself to Florida, to an idyllic beach-front residence called Duma Key:

“Edgar, one is sure you’ll make a very nice neighbour, I have no doubts on that score, but you must take precautions. I think you have a daughter, and I believe she visited you. Didn’t she? I seem to remember her waving to me. A pretty thing with blond hair? I may be confusing her with my own sister Hannah -- I tend to do that, I know I do -- but in this case, I think I’m right. If you mean to stay, Edgar, you mustn’t invite your daughter back. Under no circumstances. Duma Key isn’t a safe place for daughters.”

The hairs on the back of my neck bristled and a chill fell upon the room and I swear I thought the lights dimmed for a second. The first thought that came into my head was: “some books are dangerous.” Trust me, Duma Key is one such book.

The full review is here.

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Battling Bonds

Former James Bond actors Roger Moore and Sean Connery “will go head to head with rival books this autumn, after Weidenfeld cajoled Connery into telling his story, and Michael O'Mara won the battle for Moore’s memoirs,” according to The Bookseller. Both Weidenfeld and Michael O’Mara are prominent--and competitive--publishers in the United Kingdom.

Michael O’ Mara himself has said his company is “delirious with anticipation,” for Moore’s book. “What I have read so far bubbles with wit and is peopled by a ‘Who’s Who’ of Hollywood.” HarperCollins US echoed their excitement by reportedly plunking down close to $1 million for the US rights to the 80-year-old Moore’s My Word is My Bond, due in stores this October.

For his part, Connery had been playing coy with his autobiography. He was previously signed by HarperCollins but, according to The Bookseller, “pulled out in 2005 after reluctance to discuss certain areas of his private life.” Connery has apparently worked through his shyness and The Bookseller had this to say about his Being a Scot:
Billed as “an intensely personal account”, the book will fuse Connery’s own experiences, including his acting career, with his efforts to track down what Scots have given to the world in art, science and sport. “Sean Connery is not calling it an autobiography but it’s probably the nearest we will get to it,” said Samson. “He’s a legend--one of the absolute, out and out, movie stars.”
Being A Scot
will be available August 25th, which means that both books will be out in plenty of time for the holiday gift giving season: the one most booksellers agree is by far their most important.

The Bookseller piece is here.


Friday, January 18, 2008

Contemplating a Future Without Laura

It is perhaps one of literature’s most significant moral dilemmas; one worthy of Nabokov’s own work.

A stern patriarch commands that his final manuscript should never be seen. Should, in fact, be put to the match. His son and heir vacillates between obeying the wishes of his father or the clamoring of a world mad for the secret words of an author who was equally criticized and lauded.

The patriarch in question is the late Vladimir Nabokov, author of Lolita (1955), Pale Fire (1962) and Speak Memory (1967), among others. The put upon offspring is Nabokov’s son and translator, Dmitri, and the manuscript is known as The Original of Laura. And the whole affair is detailed, outlined and even sculpted a bit for Slate Magazine by Ron Rosenbaum.
Here is your chance to weigh in on one of the most troubling dilemmas in contemporary literary culture. I know I’m hopelessly conflicted about it. It's the question of whether the last unpublished work of Vladimir Nabokov, which is now reposing unread in a Swiss bank vault, should be destroyed—as Nabokov explicitly requested before he died.
It's a decision that has fallen to his sole surviving heir (and translator), Dmitri Nabokov, now 73. Dmitri has been torn for years between his father's unequivocal request and the demands of the literary world to view the final fragment of his father's genius, a manuscript known as The Original of Laura. Should Dmitri defy his father's wishes for the sake of “posterity”?
It doesn’t take much in the way of mental gymnastics to see the dilemmas involved here. In his way, Nabokov was one of the most celebrated and reviled authors of the 20th century. (Though usually not by the same readers.) There is, of course, going to be strong – even passionate – interest in this author’s final work. From a moral standpoint, sure: the manuscript should probably be destroyed. Nabokov was a wonderful writer, an important writer. Do we really want to contemplate a future without the possibility of Laura?

Rosenbaum’s Slate article examines the issue from all possible angles. And it’s here.

Ed Hoch Passes

The crime fiction blogosphere let our a collective cry of sadness yesterday when word began to spread that novelist and prolific short story writer Edward Dentinger Hoch had passed away at the age of 77.

The Rap Sheet leads us through some of this outpouring here.


Thursday, January 17, 2008

Interview: Richard Marinick

Today in January Magazine, Cameron Hughes chats with novelist Richard Marinick, author of 2004’s Boyos and, more recently, In for a Pound. In an affectionate preamble to the interview, Hughes says:
It is my fear that Richard Marinick’s novels will be overshadowed by his past. You see, he was a prolific thief of armored cars. To put it in crime-fiction terms, he was the Parker of his thievery gang, the planner. But he was caught before anyone was killed by his gang and served 10 years in the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Norfolk. Before getting into the robbery game, Marinick was a state trooper in Massachusetts. Now, at 56 years old, he proves that you can always turn your life around.

Marinick’s also a damn fine writer. His debut novel, Boyos (2004), was a fierce and violent heist novel, brimming with passion and, yes, humanity. There are no cardboard criminals in Boyos, spouting Tarantino dialogue; nor does the author rip off heist masters like Richard Stark (aka Donald E. Westlake). His novels are completely original and fresh.
The interview is here.

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George Michael Plans to Wham Them with Biography

Two decades after he was the pretty front man for the bubblegum punk band Wham!, it’s amazing that anyone still cares. Or rather, cares enough to get HarperCollins UK to put together a “multimillion-pound deal to pen a ‘no-holds-barred’ autobiography” as was recently announced.

The book is being called “one of the hottest remaining untold celebrity memoirs,” and, according to The Press Association, it “will cover the pop star’s personal and professional life and will hit the shelves in autumn next year.”

But, wait, wait: check this quote from the singer’s manager, Andy Stephens: “People aren’t stupid, they’re beginning to notice that the truth is more interesting than the stories the press come up with.”

While I get what Stephens is saying here, he misses one obvious point: there’s such a thing as fiction. (Easy to forget, I guess, when you’re busy flogging the past glories of a potentially paunchy middle-aged rocker.)

The singer, who was born in 1963 with the customs-agent-stopping name of Georgios-Kyriacos Panayiotou, seems to bring out the hyperbole in those around him. Take, for instance, this quote from Belinda Budge, managing director and publisher of Harper NonFiction UK. She starts off with Michael’s super powers as a pop star but then loses traction -- and credibility -- when she says that Michael’s autobiography “will be a truly authentic book -- and an exceptional one, as he’s going to be writing it entirely himself.”

So what is Budge saying here? It’s going to authentically be a book? As opposed, perhaps, to all those inauthentic books they currently publish? And, truly: is the fact that he’s writing the book -- all by himself -- actually worthy of note? Since he’s not 12, and can still make complete sentences, and his name is going to be on the cover, is it really such a stretch that he’d actually write it? Authentically, one would imagine.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Review: Artists In Their Studios: Where Art Is Born by Robert Amos

Today, in January Magazine’s art and culture section, contributing editor Cherie Thiessen reviews Artists In Their Studios: Where Art Is Born by Robert Amos. Says Thiessen:
Ever wanted to wander into Robert Bateman or Ted Harrison’s studio to see how they work? Ever wondered what Carole Sabiston or Pat Martin Bates’ studios might look like? It is a heady thing to be in the presence of a celebrated and gifted artist, and this book is the closest many of us will ever get to that.

The full review is here.

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Cormac McCarthy’s Papers Hit the Road

There’s bound to be more on this soon but, for the moment, it’s just a teensy squibble in the New York Times’ arts section. The (living) Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Cormac McCarthy (The Road, All the Pretty Horses) has sold his archives for $2 million.

We last reported on McCarthy’s comings and goings in this space back in March 2007 when Oprah selected the author’s 2006 novel, The Road, for her book club.

Meanwhile, The New York Times’ squibble is here. They’ve also put together a great collection of McCarthy facts and internal links here.


Monday, January 14, 2008

2008 Newbery Honors Creative Librarian

This year’s Newbery Award-winning book, Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices From a Medieval Village (Candlewick), began life a decade ago as a classroom project at the Park School of Baltimore, where librarian-turned-author Laura Amy Schlitz has been working since the early 1990s.

The Newbery Medal was founded in 1922 and is awarded for “best children’s book in the United States.” Previous Newbery winners include Louis Sachar’s Holes (1999), Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson (1978), Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time (1963), King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry (1949) and The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting (1923).

A complete list of Newbery-winning books is here.

Three Newbery honor books are chosen each year. In 2008 they are Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis (Scholastic), The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt (Clarion) and Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson (Putnam).

At the same time, the Randolph Caldecott award for top picture book went to Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Orson Scott Card won the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in writing for young adults while Mo Willems was awarded the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award for the most distinguished book for beginning readers for her There Is a Bird in Your Head!

The awards honor books for children published in the United States and were announced by the American Library Association, currently meeting in Philadelphia.

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Birthdays for Dowd and “Nobody Said Not to Go” Hahn

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Maureen Dowd was born on this day in 1952. Though the Washington, DC-based New York Times columnist has likely churned out millions of words in her career and her name is so well known it’s practically a household word (depending, I guess, on the household) there have only been two books thus far: 2004’s Bushworld: Enter at Your Own Risk (Putnam) and the slightly ridiculous Are Men Necessary? When Sexes Collide (Putnam) from 2005.

The year her most recent book came out, New York Magazine called Dowd, “the most dangerous columnist in America.” Which seems at least a little like overstatement, especially since she’s sometimes a little slow on the uptake.

Emily (“Mickey”) Hahn, who shares Dowd’s birthday, was considerably more prolific. Born in 1905, Hahn wrote 52 books and had a career at The New Yorker that lasted 68 years. Today in Literature asks the obvious when they point out that she had a “personal life of storybook proportions” and when they ask “why Hahn is not better known.”
Similar nay-saying and head-shaking attended her cigar-smoking, her enjoyment of men and alcohol, her trip across the U.S. in a Model T with her girlfriend (both disguised as men), her journey to the Belgian Congo as a Red Cross worker, her time as the concubine of a Chinese poet in Shanghai, her addiction to opium, her affair and illegitimate child with the head of the British Secret Service in Hong Kong, her pioneer work in environmentalism and wildlife preservation, and the captivating candor with which she wrote about all of this “Though I had always wanted to be an opium addict,” one of her collected New Yorker pieces begins, “I can’t claim that as the reason I went to China.”

The Literature Today tribute is here. Hahn’s Wikipedia entry includes a bibliography.


Friday, January 11, 2008

Review: Memoirs of A Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

Today, in January Magazine’s children’s section, contributing editor Sue Bursztynski reviews Memoirs of A Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin. Says Bursztynski:
Memoirs Of A Teenage Amnesiac is Gabrielle Zevin’s second young adult novel. The first, Elsewhere, was a fantasy tale in which the heroine woke up in the afterlife and found it not too different from this world except you aged backwards and eventually returned as a baby. She hadn’t resolved her life when killed in a road accident and so needed to manage a coming-of-age while living backwards. An interesting idea and it seems to have worked, at least for the students at my school, who borrowed it frequently and enjoyed it.
This novel has another unusual idea for a coming-of-age story. What if you had to sort out a life you didn’t remember because a head trauma had knocked out the last four years of your life, from puberty onwards? Would you be the same person anyway?
The full review is here.

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Reading Crisis and Bibliotheraphy

As an avid reader I was alarmed to notice in The Daily Mail that one quarter of Britons admit to not having read a book in the last year. But what is more appalling is that many of them lie about reading books they haven’t -- just to appear more intelligent. How sad.
Ministers published the findings as they urged bosses to set up libraries in former workplace smoking rooms to transform employees’ reading habits. Launching the National Year of Reading campaign, they said research showed nearly half of adults had read at least five books in the previous 12 months. Yet a quarter had not read a single book during the same period, including almost half of males aged between 16 and 24, according to figures from the Office of National Statistics.

A separate survey had shown a third of Britons read “challenging literature” in order to seem well-read even though they could not follow what the book was about.

It also found that 40 per cent had lied about having read certain books “just so they could join in with the conversation”.

Around half of 4,000 adults who responded to the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council poll said reading classics makes you look more intelligent.
The full piece is here. And, interestingly enough, we reported on something similar about this time last year, right here.

Seasonal disorders notwithstanding, to help in the fight back, 2008 has been designated as the UK’s Year of Reading.

It is my opinion that there is a direct link between the decline of reading and the rise of anxiety, depression and mental illness in western societies. Blake Morrison of The Guardian agrees, as the lead-in to a recent article by Morrison explains:
The idea that literature can make us emotionally and physically stronger goes back to Plato. But now book groups are proving that Shakespeare can be as beneficial as self-help guides. Blake Morrison investigates the rise of bibliotherapy.
Then Morrison himself goes right to the heart of the matter:
Bibliotherapy, as it’s called, is a fast-growing profession. A recent survey suggests that “over half of English library authorities are operating some form of bibliotherapy intervention, based on the books-on-prescription model”. That’s to say, an increasing number of people are being referred by their GPs to the local library, where they’ll find shelves or “reading pharmacies” set aside for literature deemed relevant to their condition. Lapidus, an organisation established in 1996 “to promote the use of literary arts in personal development”, has played a key role in bringing together writers and health professionals; as has the current chair of the Poetry Society, the poet Fiona Sampson.

Bibliotherapy might be a brave new word but the idea that books can make us better has been around for a very long time. Matthew Arnold and FR Leavis temporarily hijacked it when they argued that great literature - “the best that has been thought and said in all the world” -- can make us morally better, by kindling “our own best self”. That idea disappeared with the Holocaust, when immensely civilised and well-read men brought up on Schiller and Goethe proved capable of the most barbarous acts. But the idea that books can make us emotionally, psychologically and even physically better goes back to the ancient world.
You can read Morrison’s piece here.

Personally speaking, I find reading a way to dispel the anxieties that riddle my world and form a way to escape from a sometimes dark reality that clouds our world from time to time.

Recently I found a novel entitled The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson really rocked my world. So if you want to escape the world around you for a few hours, but wish to have a story haunt your mind seek out this remarkable novel.

Obama Wins at the Bookstore

Will the battle for the US presidency be won in a bookstore? Probably not, but in an era when the media likes to make much of the goofiest little things, expect to be hearing more about this: U.S. presidential contender Senator Barack Obama’s books Audacity of Hope and Dreams From My Father have recently been outselling Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Living History by a fair margin.
According to Nielsen BookScan, which tracks about 70 per cent of industry sales, Living History averaged around 1,000 sales a week in December and early January, compared with more than 7,000 a week for Audacity of Hope and more than 2,000 for Dreams From My Father.
The quoted piece is here.


Plagiarism Plight Plagues Romance Writer

A publishing tale this sordid could only spring from romance. In fact, it’s so sordid we don’t even want to comment on it. It’s turning into the kind of he said, she said shouting match one would expect to find at Dog the Bounty Hunter’s family reunions and we don’t want to go there.

There are others, however, who are not as delicate as we are and they have plenty to say. If you’re interested, give ‘er.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Excerpt: Death Was the Other Woman by Linda L. Richards

Today in January Magazine, an excerpt of Death Was the Other Woman by Linda L. Richards. As the lawlessness of Prohibition pushes against the desperation of the Depression, there are two ways to make a living in Los Angeles: join the criminals or collar them. Kitty Pangborn has chosen the crime-fighters, becoming secretary to Dexter J. Theroux, one of the hard-drinking, tough-talking P.I.s who pepper the city's stew. But after Dex takes an assignment from Rita Heppelwaite, the mistress of Harrison Dempsey, one of L.A.'s shadiest -- and richest -- businessmen, Kitty isn't so sure what side of the law she's on. Booklist says:
“Using a female narrator for a Depression-era noir tale seems a calculated strategy, but Richards makes it work naturally. Kitty, whose life of privilege disappeared when her father killed himself after the 1929 stock market crash, brings a peculiarly ironic point of view, filtering the tough guys, broads, gats, and gunsels through a patrician context that makes all the hard-boiled posturing seem as silly as high-society tomfoolery. Honoring the noir tradition while turning it on its head, Richards’ richly detailed period portrays a world in which lifestyles, whether high or low, become an elaborate defense against a harsh environment in which there is only one final act and the trick is to determine the time the curtain falls. Expect to hear more from Kitty Pangborn.”
January has the excerpt here.

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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Legacy Series Lacks Magic

I’ve been reading the Pern series since childhood. My introduction to the series came when I found two battered paperbacks in a used bookstore and, entranced by the covers, bought them. These two were the first in the Dragonriders of Pern series: Dragonflight and Dragonquest, first published in 1968 and 1970 respectively. Not only did I love both books, it’s probably safe to say that this early encounter with the work of Anne McCaffrey quite possibly altered the course of my reading forever. And since I was introduced to them many years after they were first published, I had great pools of this wonderful author’s work in which to swim before I had gotten all the way through her backlist.

Almost anyone who has given McCaffrey a serious read understands her magic. The connections she weaves between her human and dragon -- as well as other animal -- characters moves far beyond charm into some primal place where we all understand what might be possible if all the circumstances were correct.

The Pern series has, quite understandably, fostered more than its share of fanfic. So when it was announced that Anne McCaffrey’s son, Todd, would co-write a Pern book with his mother, there was much anticipation, but not a whole lot of surprise. That first book, 2003’s Dragon’s Kin was successful enough that the younger McCaffrey tried again -- on his own this time -- with 2005’s Dragonsblood. Another collaboration with Anne in 2006, Dragon’s Fire, leads us right here to Dragon Harper (Del Rey, 300 pages). Well, not exactly leads us: Dragonsblood actually takes place chronologically after Dragon Harper and the other collaborative McCaffrey books. But that’s another -- ahem -- thread.

The thing is, the younger McCaffrey is a competent enough writer. Heck: he might even be a very good one. Trouble is, I loved Anne McCaffrey’s books so well and believed in her magic so thoroughly, it’s tough to look at the collaborative efforts and judge them on their own merits, without having those judgments colored by the earlier, solo, books.

Do you understand what I’m saying? Dragon Harper is fine. It might even be good. It is not, however, magic. It does not transport and it will probably not alter your life. It did not alter mine. Will I read future efforts from the younger McCaffrey? You bet.

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Mailer’s Folly

Two months after his death, just as the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin opens their extensive archive of over one thousand boxes of Norman Mailer’s papers to the public and to researchers, The Guardian’s Mark Hooper thinks about Mailer’s Ancient Evenings:
I had the rare pleasure of chancing across a copy while staying in a rented cottage over the holidays. To say I read it would be an exaggeration, but I read bits of it, with a growing sense of bewildered awe. It's an unintentionally hilarious tale of mysticism and royal bloodlines in ancient Egypt, a grandly misguided folly in the best traditions of Mailer.
Oh, ouch.

More ouch: I suspect that this passage from the press release the Ransom Center sent out to let the public know that the papers were ready for perusal would have had the late author reeling:
“Norman Mailer’s ambition was to write the greatest American novel,” said Thomas F. Staley, director of the Ransom Center. “Perhaps he failed, but he was indeed a major American writer. His engagement with the culture, sometimes combative and bombastic, but always interesting, made him a dominant literary and cultural figure of the second half of the 20th century.”

The Guardian piece is here. The Ransom Center press release is here.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Review: Slash by Slash with Anthony Bozza

Today, in January Magazine’s biography section, contributing editor Diane Leach reviews Slash by Slash with Anthony Bozza. Says Leach:
Initially I was dubious. Many rock biographies (Danny Sugarman’s Wonderland Avenue and Jimmy McDonough’s abysmally written Shakey: the Biography of Neil Young come to mind) suffer from awful writing by those “close” to the band. But co-author Anthony Bozza takes an admirable step back, allowing Slash’s voice, intimate, direct, highly colloquial, to roll right in your ear. What comes through is a largely easygoing, earthy guy. Slash ain’t Hegel, but to borrow a quote from Paul Simon, he can read the writing on the wall.
The full review is here.

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Saturday, January 05, 2008

David Rakoff and the Bat

With all of our own end of year madness to get through, we took our time about noticing that Bat Segundo had posted not one, but two interviews with essayist, journalist and NPR correspondent David Rakoff, who we interviewed ourselves in this space several years ago.

“I’m very indulged,” Rakoff says to Segundo at one point, “I am allowed to be at least 50 per cent of the story, which is a weird thing to do. And I should learn how to do a little bit less of that. Simply because I think it’s a good set of tools to have. I think all of them are good sets of tools to have. Because of that, because I am allowed to be 50 per cent of the story, I’ve been tremendously careful. From day one, I was tremendously careful about what I revealed and what I didn’t reveal.”

Rakoff’s most recent book is 2006’s engaging, charming and deliciously offensive Don't Get Too Comfortable: The Indignities of Coach Class, The Torments of Low Thread Count, The Never-Ending Quest for Artisanal Olive Oil, and Other First World Problems.

Part one of Rakoff’s Segundo interview is here, part two is there.

Segundo has been busy since the last time we put our heads in. January Magazine alumni, Edward Champion – and Bat Segundo’s keeper – has put the mothership blog, Ed’s Return of the Reluctant, on hold while he rethinks various aspects of the machine he has – perhaps inadvertently – built. Part of this is quite likely due to the fact that Champion’s own career has been quite understandably taking off and recent reviews, essays and articles have appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Guardian and Penthouse, to name a disparate few.

Meanwhile, the Segundo interviews continue to appear at a good pace. In addition to Rakoff, Segundo has recently skewered Will Self, Stewart O’Nan, Ken Kalfus and Jess Walter. More as they appear.

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Friday, January 04, 2008

Royalty Visits The Rap Sheet

Today, all day, bestselling novelist Laurie R. King is guest-blogging over at The Rap Sheet. King is the author of the new historical thriller Touchstone, reviewed here at January just a few days ago.

In an introduction to King’s blogging visit, Rap Sheet editor J. Kingston Pierce writes:
King’s first novel, the Edgar Award-winning A Grave Talent (1993), introduced crime-fiction readers to Kate Martinelli, the lesbian San Francisco homicide inspector who has since headlined four more books, the latest of those being 2006’s The Art of Detection. King may be better known, however, for her series featuring Mary Russell, the resourceful younger woman and scholar who, in The Beekeeper’s Apprentice (1994), met an aging Sherlock Holmes in Sussex in the early 20th century, learned his methods, and eventually married him -- at least in King’s fiction.

On top of those popular series installments, the 55-year-old King has penned a handful of standalone novels, including
A Darker Place (1999) and Keeping Watch (2003). Of her latest, Touchstone (which came out just before the new year began, but carries a 2008 publication date), critic Dick Adler wrote in January Magazine:
Everything Laurie R. King writes is first-class, from her modern, totally feminist and often surprisingly touching Kate Martinelli mysteries to her Mary Russell thrillers, which manage to carry on with (and improve upon) Arthur Conan Doyle’s tales of Sherlock Holmes and give the Great Detective a new life. King’s new novel, Touchstone, is one of the best books of any kind published in 2007 -- a terrific combination and culmination of her work so far.
King’s first Rap Sheet post is here.


Review: The Sound of Language by Amulya Malladi

Today, in January Magazine’s fiction section, a review of The Sound of Language by Amulya Malladi:
The Sound of Language is an almost impossibly beautiful book. The coolness of the Danish landscape, juxtaposed against the heat of the immigrant’s heart. Raihana is a stranger in a strange land, of course. But with his own actions and the choices he has made, Gunnar has become almost as much of a stranger as Raihana. And, as seems always to be the case with the very best of this sort of tale, while we begin seeing everything that is different, before very long, we see all that is the same. And not all of those commonalities are good.
The full review is here.

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Thursday, January 03, 2008

Quote of the Week: Christopher Morley

There is no mistaking a real book when one meets it. It is like falling in love, and like that colossal adventure it is an experience of great social import. Even as the tranced swain, the booklover yearns to tell others of his bliss. He writes letters about it, adds it to the postscript of all manner of communications, intrudes it into telephone messages, and insists on his friends writing down the title of the find. Like the simple-hearted betrothed, once certain of his conquest, “I want you to love her, too!” It is a jealous passion also. He feels a little indignant if he finds that any one else has discovered the book, too.
-- Christopher Morley (1890-1957)

Though the American essayist, poet and novelist wrote or contributed to over 100 books, Christopher Morley might be best known for his 1939 novel Kitty Foyle: The Natural History of a Woman which was adapted for the screen the following year. Morley was also one of the founders as well as a long time contributing editor to the Saturday Review of Literature. A big Sherlock Holmes fan, Morley founded the Baker Street Irregulars.

And you don’t have to spend much time around the work of Christopher Morley to know that this was a very quotable guy.

“When you sell a man a book, you don't sell him 12 ounces of paper and ink and glue -- you sell him a whole new life.”

What book lover is going to argue with that?

(Hat Tip to My Random Acts of Reading.)

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Flashman Creator Passes

Author George MacDonald Fraser passed away earlier today, following a battle with cancer.

Born April 2, 1925, the author was best known for his Flashman series of historical novels featuring the dashing and daring Sir Harry Flashman. His most recent novel, The Reavers, was published in the United Kingdom by HarperCollins UK last autumn and will be published in the US by Knopf this coming April. From the synopsis on the UK edition:
Elizabethan England, and a dastardly Spanish plot to take over the throne is uncovered. It's up to Agent Archie Noble to save Queen and country in this saucy and swashbuckling romp from the bestselling author of “The Flashman Papers” and “The Pyrates”.
Born in England and educated in Scotland, the author served in the Gordon Highlanders in India, Africa, and the Middle East. He incorporated many personal anecdotes from this time of his life in his McAuslan series including Quartered Safe Out Here, The General Danced at Dawn, McAuslan in the Rough and The Sheikh and the Dustbin.

Fraser also worked extensively in film, writing or co-writing such well known movies as The Three Musketeers, The Four Musketeers, Royal Flash, Octopussy, Red Sonja and others. He was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1999.


The Best Books of Last Year

With all the holiday madness, it’s possible you missed January Magazine’s end of year features. If so, you can find January Magazine’s Best Books of 2007 here and (though it’s way too late to talk about Christmas, it’s never too late to talk about great books) January’s Holiday Gift Guide here. And, while we’re about it, see my own unlucky 13 -- the books of 2007 that got away -- right here.

The Bestselling Books of 2007

It’s long been understood that the January Magazine annual bestseller list is unlike the lists belonging to anyone else. Very few of these books appeared on anyone else’s bestseller list throughout the year. Some of the books -- in fact, many of them -- weren’t even published last year.

So what are they doing here? These are the books that actually sold the best on January throughout the year. (Hence, you know, the name: “bestseller list.”) The result? “A list that reflects the diverse and eclectic tastes of the January Magazine readership.” It’s also a spot of interest and fun. And who can have too much of that?

The 2007 January Magazine bestseller list is here.