Friday, January 30, 2009

Author Snapshot: Maria Semple

Most recent book: This One Is Mine
Born: Los Angeles
Reside: Seattle
Birthday: May 21, 1964
Web site:

What’s your favorite city?
Aspen, Colorado

You only have six hours to spend there. What do you do?
Anything, so long as I'm outside and covered with sunblock.

What food do you love?
What food don’t I love, is more the question. I'm a vegetarian and I consider bacon one of my favorite foods.

What food have you vowed never to touch again?

Chocolate chip cookies made substituting white sugar for brown sugar. I did this once. It was midnight and I had to eat something really bad for me, so imagine my good fortune to find a bag of chocolate chips in the cupboard. I went through all the ingredients and miraculously I had everything except brown sugar. It seemed harmless enough to use white sugar instead. Well, I don’t know what the chemistry of it was, but even the smell of them baking made me nauseous. I took one bite and I spent the whole next day vomiting. I have to stop writing about it, because I can taste it now.

What’s on your nightstand?
The galleys for Sarah Dunn’s new novel, Secrets to Happiness. It’s hilarious.

What inspires you?
Renouncing all praise and criticism. Knowing that I’m not special and the only way I can distinguish myself is by working hard.

What are you working on now?
My next novel. I’m so happy to be back writing after doing press for This One Is Mine. I love doing readings, and feel like it's important to honor you work by doing readings and press. But there’s nothing like succumbing to the madness of living in the world of your novel.

Tell us about your process.

I start every writing session copying poetry or part of a short story into a notebook. Then, I copy a random page of the dictionary. That gets me connected with words and the great writers who came before me.

I sketch out the scene I’m writing by hand, with a pencil on a yellow pad. When I get enough down, I move to the computer. In the larger sense, I’m a big believer in outlining and, as we say in TV, “breaking story.” Before I begin the novel, I know the big beats of the story, and where it’s going to end. I start my drafts at the beginning, and from there lots of cool stuff can pop up which can change everything, so I’m constantly revising the outline as I go.

Lift your head and look around. What do you see?
A fabulous map of Aspen, Colorado circa 1893. My next book takes place in Aspen and so I hung a map of the town across from my computer.

Out the window is Elliot Bay. Container ships and the Bainbridge ferry are doing their things. It’s actually sunny today.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
My father was a writer. And I idolized him. So I never thought about becoming anything else.

If you couldn’t write books, what would you be doing?
Being an executive assistant. I’m very organized and like being in the whirl of things, but don’t necessarily want the responsibilities and focus that comes with the whirl. Anytime there’s somebody I admire, I never think, “I want to be that person.” I usually think, “I want to be that person's assistant.”

To date, what moment in your career has made you happiest?

When I got the call that Little, Brown wanted to buy my novel. I hung up and went downstairs to tell my boyfriend. On the way, I passed my daughter’s room. She was three at the time. I saw all her little dresses hanging from her closet and I thought, “Her mother is a novelist.”

For you, what is the easiest thing about being writer?
The writing! I’m sorry to say that, but I really do love figuring out the story and the characters and the sentences.

What’s the most difficult?
Finding the time to write.

What question do you get asked about your writing most often?
How much of that is autobiographical?

What question would like never to be asked again?

Has Oprah read your book, because that would be really good for you, if your book got picked by Oprah.

Please tell us about This One Is Mine.
It’s a modern-day Victorian novel about marriages and relationships in LA. It’s funny and serious and passionate and surprising. People seem to really like it.

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Kindle Revamp Sparks Speculation

The portion of the book industry that’s mad for electronics is abuzz with what Amazon’s redesign of its popular Kindle e-book reader might mean in real-world terms. From Information Week:
With Amazon expected to unveil a new version of its Kindle e-book reader in less than two weeks, tech enthusiasts on the Web are taking their best guesses as to what the online retailer has planned for the popular device....

Despite the Kindle's popularity, most experts agree the $359 device is in need of a facelift. While the Kindle gets high marks for ease of use and a free wireless connection that lets users buy books from Amazon, the gadget, which is more than a year old, is ready for a redesign.
Information Week
rounds up the speculation here.


All the King’s Men

The big news in the book world yesterday was the announcement -- long rumored -- that The Washington Post would discontinue the dead-tree version of its long-running book section. From Motoko Rich of The New York Times:
In another sign that literary criticism is losing its profile in newspapers, The Washington Post has decided to shutter the print version of Book World, its Sunday stand-alone book review section, and shift reviews to space inside two other sections of the paper.
On the surface of things, that announcement sounds somewhat scary. But once you get past Rich’s sky-is-falling opening paragraphs, you see that the situation is not quite so dire as it seems. For one thing, Book World will continue to be available in the newspaper’s Web version. For another, it will put in occasional appearances “as a stand-alone print section oriented around special themes like summer reading or children’s books.”

The fact is, book reviews aren’t the only things getting hit in the newspaper business these days: the entire industry is in crisis. The biggest problem: fewer people are reading newspapers. Advertisers know this, and so fewer of them are willing to pony up their currently scarce dollars to put an ad in front of maybe not that many people.

In the death spiral in which the newspaper business currently finds itself, shrinking book review space is the least of the industry’s worries. And, truly? It’s the least of our worries, as well. Newspapers in crisis mean reporters’ jobs in jeopardy and a threat, ultimately, to the way news sections are supplied with their material. And without real journalists digging up real news for real newspapers, we are ultimately going to be in real trouble. Really.

One of the things that just kills me is that the whole loss of book review space was avoidable. Book industry leaders, in their infinite wisdom, decided some time ago that, of all the products in the world that could be sold by advertising, theirs was immune. Newspapers aren’t cutting review space because they don’t like books: they’re cutting it because advertisers aren’t supporting said space. You don’t see broadsheets cutting their entertainment sections, do you? And why? Because movie companies know how to sell their products and keep the review pipeline open at the same time. Here’s the Times again:
As it happens, Book World never garnered much advertising from publishers, who generally spend very little on newspaper ads. Publishers now focus their marketing dollars on cooperative agreements with chain bookstores, which guarantee that certain books will receive prominent display at the front of stores.
So the problem of shrinking review space is solvable: if publishers started advertising their products in newspapers, said papers would happily increase the space devoted to book coverage. That’s just how it works: there is always a predetermined advertising-to-editorial ratio. And everyone goes away happy.

Meanwhile, back in reality, books coverage is really the teensiest problem on the print media’s plate. With readers falling away by the busload, newspaper publishers are busily rethinking everything about their business. People still need news, we know that. But how to get it to them? Television has proven to be a candy floss medium for news delivery. And bloggers can’t function in a vacuum. I mean, truly: imagine Watergate in the era of blogs. Wonderful! Now imagine it without Woodward and Bernstein. You see what I’m saying? Without them, we’re sunk.

So don’t go away sad or even mad. Go away and think about how you’d like news -- real news -- delivered. We need it: that’s clear. What is not yet known is exactly what form it will take. But whatever one it does? I’m betting books coverage will be a part of the package.


Sheep and Books and the Poetry of
Garrison Keillor

In today’s Baltimore Sun, the wonderful Garrison Keillor wrestles with the “struggle for inner tranquility amid unread books:”
It is God that has made us and not we ourselves, we are his people and the sheep of his pasture, and George W. Bush is no longer the top sheep. Altogether a cause for rejoicing as we forge ahead in the struggle to achieve inner tranquility, which for me the other morning included misplaced glasses, a madcap dash to the airport, and en route in the taxi a call from my wife saying, “You forgot your billfold.” One more sheep with a thorn in his hoof.
The books come into play later in the piece, but it’s poetry, any way you slice it. The full piece is here.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Adding to the President’s TBR Pile

It’s hardly surprising that a U.S. president who has already written two excellent books of his own should bring his enthusiasm for reading to the Oval Office. Unlike his predecessor, the incurious and poorly spoken George W. Bush, President Barack Obama is already being viewed as “the new Oprah,” able to sell books merely by the fact of their being shown in his hands or reported to be in his traveling bags.

But even the new First Reader can probably use some suggestions on what to page through next--books to entertain, as well as enlighten. At least that seems to be the thinking among editors of The Washington Monthly, a delightfully brainy, solidly liberal magazine out of Washington, D.C., that will celebrate its 40 anniversary next month. For a feature in its latest issue, a few of the mag’s “favorite writers and thinkers ... offer their suggestions on what the new president should have by his bedside.”

Among the 25 recommendations--some obvious, some rather more offbeat--can be found:

The Coldest Winter, by David Halberstam. This history of the Korean War “is yet another reminder of the danger that every decisionmaker faces: the arrogant refusal to consider that his or her assumptions may be fatally flawed,” remarks CBS News senior political correspondent Jeff Greenfield.

The Quiet American, by Graham Greene. He should [read it] ... to remind himself, when the clever, idealistic briefer comes to tell him about the ‘third way’ that will produce a breakthrough in America’s tangled relations with the world, that we’ve been down this road again, and again, and again.”

A Demon of Our Own Design, by Richard Bookstaber. “Bookstaber, a risk manager, chronicles the rising complexity of Wall Street, through the prism of his own experience,” explains Joseph Nocera, a business columnist for The New York Times (and once an editor of the fondly remembered New England Monthly). “Taking us through such traumatic events as the crash of 1987 and the collapse of Long-Term Capital Management in the late 1990s, he makes a powerful case that ‘these breakdowns come about not in spite of our efforts at improving market design but because of them.’”

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain. “It’s the greatest long-view provider--ever--of fresh reminders why you cared,” writes Washington Post staff writer Joel Garreau. “Cared about these perverse, ornery, unpredictable, cussed people you chose to lead. It never lets you forget that in the face of unprecedented threats, the ragged human convoy of divergent perceptions, piqued honor, posturing, insecurity, and humor will wend its way to glory.”

Furthermore, Huck’s canniness, native intelligence and determination might all prove to be inspirations for an extraordinarily popular president who, nonetheless, must deal with a recalcitrant opposition that apparently believes it’s better to score political points than solve America’s economic ills.

You’ll find The Washington Monthly’s full rundown of book picks for the new president here.

READ MORE:The Presidential Bond,” by Ali Karim (The Rap Sheet).

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Updike at Rest

Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist John Updike, who became famous not only as a result of his remarkable writing but because he exposed “suburban adultery” in his fiction, has died of lung cancer. He was 76 years old.

As the Associated Press reports today:
A literary writer who frequently appeared on best-seller lists, the tall, hawk-nosed Updike wrote novels, short stories, poems, criticism, the memoir “Self-Consciousness” and even a famous essay about baseball great Ted Williams. He was prolific, even compulsive, releasing more than 50 books in a career that started in the 1950s. Updike won virtually every literary prize, including two Pulitzers, for “Rabbit Is Rich” and “Rabbit at Rest,” and two National Book Awards. ...

His settings ranged from the court of “Hamlet” to postcolonial Africa, but his literary home was the American suburb. Born in 1932, Updike spoke for millions of Depression-era readers raised by “penny-pinching parents,” united by “the patriotic cohesion of World War II” and blessed by a “disproportionate share of the world’s resources,” the postwar, suburban boom of “idealistic careers and early marriages.”

He captured, and sometimes embodied, a generation’s confusion over the civil rights and women’s movements, and opposition to the Vietnam War.
Updike was the author most recently of The Widows of Eastwick, which reached U.S. bookstores in October of last year and was a sequel to his much-talked-about 1984 novel, The Witches of Eastwick. His other works include Couples (1968, which inspired Time’s April 26, 1968, cover story on “The Adulterous Society”), Memories of the Ford Administration (1992), The Early Stories: 1953-1975 (2003) and the more controversial Terrorist (1976).

READ MORE:John Updike Dies Aged 76,” by Jason Szep (Reuters); “One Reader Who Won’t Be Reading My Blog Today,” by David Terrenoire (A Dark Planet); “John Updike Dies,” by Patti Abbott (Pattinase); “John Updike’s Life and Work,” by David Lipsky (Salon); “John Updike, 1932-2009,” by David Hudson (The Daily, IFC).


Gaiman to Receive Prestigious Newbery

In 2008, January Magazine loved Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, a beautifully illustrated work of more-or-less connected short stories.

We weren’t alone. The New York Times remarks that the book has received the 2009 Newbery Medal:
Neil Gaiman, a renowned author of science fiction, fantasy, graphic novels and comics aimed at adults, won the John Newbery Medal for the year’s most outstanding contribution to children’s literature on Monday.

Mr. Gaiman, 48, won for “The Graveyard Book,” a story about a boy who is raised in a cemetery by ghosts after his family is killed in the opening pages of the novel. In announcing the winner of what is widely considered the most prestigious honor in children’s literature, the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, cited Mr. Gaiman’s work for its “delicious mix of murder, fantasy, humor and human longing,” noting its “magical, haunting prose.”
The New York Times piece is here. January’s review of the book is here. January’s 2001 interview with Gaiman is here.


Berton’s Legacy

When he died in 2004, historian, broadcaster and journalist Pierre Berton left behind many legacies. For Canadians, his huge and important backlist will ensure his immortality. A string of culturally important books, beginning with 1958’s Klondike: The Last Great Gold Rush, shed light on an aspect of Canadian history that had been previously documented by less talented scribes. Berton brought a certain wit and verve to his chronicles, something that had often been lacking in the sort of writing in which he indulged.

Over the years, Berton received many awards including the Order of Canada, three Governor Generals awards, the Stephen Leacock medal, the Canadian Booksellers Award as well as numerous honorary degrees. And, since 1996, four writers a year have been spending three months each on retreat at Berton’s childhood home in Dawson City in the Yukon.

The four writers who will spend time at Pierre Berton House between July 2009 and June 2010 were announced just a few days ago. Pasha Malla (The Withdrawal Method); Linda Goyette (The Story That Brought Me Here); Mylène Gilbert-Dumas (Lili Klondike) and Jeramy Dodds (Crabwise to the Hounds).

Since the program began, 45 writers have spent time at Berton House. While in residence, writers receive a monthly honorarium, perform public readings and involve themselves in other community activities. Eligible writers are Canadians who have published at least one book and are established in any creative literary discipline including fiction, non-fiction, poetry, journalism or writing for the stage or screen. More information on applying can be downloaded here.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

War and Peace and War and Peace and War and...

For all of my adult years, I have been searching out new-to-me translations of Leo Tolstoy’s epic War and Peace. It’s like a hobby with me, or some odd type of life mission. (Odd, at least, to judge by the faces of people when you tell them such a thing. “Oh,” they most often say. “Really.”)

Reading multiple translations of War and Peace becomes a study in linguistics and a crash course in the power of words. It was deeply interesting to me to discover that each new translation I threw myself at was like reading a whole different book. The choices the translator makes are dreadfully important and you discover how certain word choices can alter a sentence, a paragraph or even whole pages of text.

Here’s another thing that reading War and Peace -- a lot -- has shown me: any time we trust translators, we are at their mercy. And so, for instance, from reading War and Peace I have deduced that highly religious people who place great confidence in their English language Bible are taking a lot as given. I’m not saying their translations are wrong, mind you. But it does stand to reason. With so much of translation apparently a subjective art, how could anyone ever trust completely in the words they’re served up? Some would call it “faith” I guess. But if they do, they haven’t read a lot of translations of War and Peace. You get over that faith -- that trust -- real early. It doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of the work, but it lets you dance with the nuance of language and understand just how terrifcally subjective translation is.

So why War and Peace? Why not some other weighty tome? Well for one thing, it’s a very, very long book. I save my new translations for high stress times in my life. Times when a really, really, really long novel can become a sub-plot of my own existence. Times, I guess I should say, when I invite the opportunity of being wrenched out of my own reality for weeks at a time. Fortunately, my life is such that it doesn’t happen often. But when it does? I’m ready with a new-to-me translation of War and Peace.

Here’s another reason: if there’s another more translated non-religious work, I don’t know what it is. You can find many translations of War and Peace because they exist. Not only that, for the most part they’re credible translations: done by a long line of scholars and linguists and other noteworthy wordshifters.

And another still: War and Peace neatly slices off a tasty piece of the human condition. All sorts of things happen in this weighty work. OK, it’s true: with that many trees giving up their lives, something better happen. But, as the title promises, there are healthy chunks of war and peace in Tolstoy’s epic. And the book was written prior to the Revolution, but not eons before. Tolstoy finished the first draft of War and Peace in the early 1860s and poked away at it for many years after that. However, War and Peace was a historic novel: it takes place 60 years before the book was written. And thus you have a semi-romantic look at the Napoleonic war-era -- written by an aristocrat, no less. As a forward-thinking resident of the 21st century, you get to see, really, why the Russian Revolution ultimately happened. Tolstoy’s main characters are, for the most part, not nasty people, but they are aristocrats and they act in a way that is in keeping with both their time and Tolstoy’s own: they treat their underlings like so much furniture. Those without status don’t matter at all. Viewed from this inside track, revolution, of one form another, seems inevitable.

And so, at its very best, War and Peace becomes a magic prism with which to view a place in time that has since been altered completely beyond recognition. (Thankfully, really, because -- from all accounts -- pre-Revolution Russia was not a lot of fun for most people.) The spirit of tsarist Russia is here though, in all its oblivious, beautiful ugliness. Kept intact by an ever-growing phalanx of talented translators.

The latest batch are talented, indeed. Husband and wife team Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky have translated some of the most important works of Russian literature over the last couple of decades. For War and Peace, I’m recommending the Vintage paperback edition of their efforts. At over 1200 pages, this is a heavy book, even in paper. If you read in bed sometimes, it is inevitable that you will, at some point, fall asleep while reading this one. It seems just a little safer to do that with the paperback. The hardcover edition, published late in 2007, is quite capable of knocking you out on your way to slumberland.

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Children’s Books: Everything Beautiful by Simmone Howell

Riley Rose is stuck at Spirit Ranch Holiday Camp, just when she was about to get close and personal with that hunk Ben. It’s filled with Christian teenagers and camp counsellors who blow bugles at you and make you sing around camp fires, when you’re not memorizing Bible quotes or having presentations on the domestic life of the mallee fowl.

Of course, there’s the very hunkish Craig, but he’s not all he seems. Besides, he’s with Riley’s roommate, Fleur, and Fleur is not about to share. Then there’s Dylan, who used to be Craig’s friend and is equally good-looking, before an accident left him in a wheelchair. He’s back at camp, but no one seems sure what the accident actually was, and he’s not saying.

Riley has her own issues, centered party around her mother’s death from cancer, her father’s new partner and her own overweight state.

There’s an entire genre of fiction about a wilderness camp and a troubled teenager who finds answers there, despite being originally reluctant to go. I have reviewed one, Solo by Alyssa Brugman, in the last year. Everything Beautiful isn’t quite as grim as Solo, although it’s also readable and broken into easily digestible short chapters.

Riley has issues to sort out, but she also has things to teach the other campers, even those who mock her weight and call her a slut. That is perhaps less common in summer camp fiction. Before the novel is over, she is also feeling sympathy even for the worst of them, which helps her. And the beautiful Ben, when he appears, is a comical character rather than the hunk she remembers.

I do have a nitpick or two. Dylan’s accident turns out to have been far less dramatic than was implied at the start and has no real bearing on the story. It would be OK if the issue was about how he handles his confinement to a wheelchair, but he seems to have sorted out most of that before the story begins. I can sort of see why the author plays around with the possible reasons for the accident, but for me, it didn’t quite work.

Still, Riley is a likeable, sympathetic character and the novel makes some serious points in a humorous context. Teenage girls will enjoy it, whether or not they follow it up by seeking out Thomas More’s Utopia, which is quoted throughout the book.

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Is Publishing Broken?

Though a lot of people have been forecasting doom and gloom for the publishing industry, some of us have remained confident that not all change is bad. As we remarked in our Best Books of 2008 feature back in December:
The sky is falling. And it has been for some time. The past 12 months have produced the sorts of calamities that can start panics. And it seems that, as delighted with the economy as everyone seemed to be 12 and certainly 24 months ago, they are now willing to believe it’s all coming apart. The reality is this: you must have downs. If you did not, how would you even recognize the ups? It’s all physics. There’s change ahead? Sure. But there’s always change. That’s just how we humans roll.
In the new issue of Time Magazine, on sale today, Lev Grossman offers up a sharp assessment of publishing as we find it at the earliest part of the 21st century. As Grossman points out:
A lot of headlines and blogs to the contrary, publishing isn’t dying. But it is evolving, and so radically that we may hardly recognize it when it’s done. Literature interprets the world, but it’s also shaped by that world, and we’re living through one of the greatest economic and technological transformations since -- well, since the early 18th century. The novel won’t stay the same: it has always been exquisitely sensitive to newness, hence the name. It’s about to renew itself again, into something cheaper, wilder, trashier, more democratic and more deliriously fertile than ever.
But what, exactly, does that look like? As Grossman points out, there are many possibilities. It’s enjoyable to look over his shoulder at his crystal ball. While he’s about it, he considers some of the things that aren’t right with the industry:
What’s the Matter with Publishing?

It isn’t the audience. People are still reading. According to a National Endowment for the Arts study released on Jan. 12, literary reading by adults has actually increased 3.5% since 2002, the first such increase in 26 years. So that's not the problem. What is?
Grossman’s piece is lengthy, well considered and it’s here.

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Resistance Poetry to Land in Toronto

Organizers have announced that the First International Festival of Poetry of Resistance will take place in Toronto April 24rd to 30th. The Festival will “promote opposition to a culture of war, violence and greed and to end racism and discrimination.” From a press release:
This year the Festival is in honour of the Cuban Five, men who tried to prevent the killing of innocent people by terrorist acts hatched in south Florida by extremist Cuban-American groups. After information was shared with the FBI, these five men were arrested and are now serving a total of four lifetimes plus 77 years in maximum security prisons in the U.S.

The coordinating committee of the Festival is made up of poets, musicians and organization representatives: Charles Roach, published “rapso” poet; Arnold Itwaru, two-time National Poetry Award winner in Guyana; Carlos Angulo, published poet from Peru living in Toronto; Asoke Chakravarty, Kolkata Book Fair Festival Award winner; Keith Ellis, Hamid Bashani, Dr. Duam Bangala, Lowell C. Bowen, composer; Maria Elena Mesa Mejia, Suzanne Weiss, Lisa Makarchuk and others.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

New Yesterday: What Obama Means by Jabari Asim

If timing is everything, Jabari Asim, formerly an editor at The Washington Post and currently editor-in-chief of The Crisis -- the magazine of the NAACP -- has it all figured out.

The author of 2007’s The N Word: Who Say It, Who Shouldn’t and Why approaches Barack Obama’s new presidency from a cultural perspective in What Obama Means: For Our Culture, Our Politics, and Our Future (William Morrow). Asim uses his talent, his training and his observations about his own culture to help understand how we came to this point and where we might expect to go from here. It’s a thoughtful and enjoyable ride. You might not agree with everything that Asim posits, but he states his various cases eloquently and he writes so well, it’s enjoyable to follow him on this journey of thought:
With the heyday of Parisian exile long gone and journeys back to Africa exposed as mostly implausible, race men and women have nowhere else to go. There are too many bodies in the earth, and you can’t, as Toni Morrison once wrote, just up and leave a body. Those bones belong to the land, the land belongs to us, and we don’t need to wear lapel pins to prove it.
Asim is a wonderful writer, sure. But he’s also something of a philosopher and, on moving with him through his thoughts on how this moment in history became possible, it’s enjoyable to follow his mental calisthenics.

Did Michael Jordan’s success in the NBA contribute to Obama’s successful run at the White House? How about Sidney Poitier’s Academy Award and Michael Jackson’s Thriller? Now me, I would not have made those connections and, having read What Obama Means, I’m still not sure I’m convinced. But these are engaging mental exercises for this moment in time. Asim has written an entertaining, enlightening and thought-provoking book. Students of contemporary culture will want to put it near the top of their lists.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Excerpt: Death Was in the Picture by Linda L. Richards

Today in January Magazine, an excerpt from Death Was in the Picture by Linda L. Richards.

In 1931, while most of Los Angeles is struggling to survive the Depression, the business of Hollywood is booming. And everyone wants a piece. The movies have always been cutthroat and, as girl Friday Kitty Pangborn is about to find out, that’s more than a metaphor.

Kitty’s boss, private detective Dexter Theroux, has been asked to help leading man Laird Wyndham prove his innocence. The actor was the last person to be seen with a young actress who died under very suspicious circumstances, and the star has fallen from the big screen to the big house. Wyndham’s a dreamboat, but that isn’t the only thing that has Kitty hot under the collar. Dex has already signed a client--one who’s hired him to prove Wyndham’s hands are not as clean as they look.

Mixing Hollywood glitz with hard-boiled grit, Death Was in the Picture captures the essence of life in Depression-era Los Angeles: a world where times are tough, talk is cheap, and murder is often just one scene away. Publishers Weekly says:
“Richards’s swell follow-up to Death Was the Other Woman … handles the slang and patois of the period neatly. Likewise, she paints a vivid picture of the contrast between those just scraping by during the Depression and those living high on the hog. Kitty has plenty of moxie, and while Dex gets top billing on the office door, she’s no second banana in this class act.”
has the excerpt here.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

New in Paperback: The Lincolns: Portrait of A Marriage by Daniel Mark Epstein

As The New York Times’ Janet Maslin pointed out when The Lincolns: Portrait of A Marriage (Ballantine) was new in hardcover, Abraham Lincoln as a topic for biography is territory that is so well worn, there is even a book about the top 100 Lincoln books. One would think that, after all, so much ink has been spilled, there wouldn’t be much new to say. However, if anyone is going to mine new material from the Lincoln mother lode, veteran biographer and poet Daniel Mark Epstein would be the one to do it. More: almost everyone -- including Maslin -- agrees that with The Lincolns, he has.

Epstein approaches his material with a poet’s eye and heart and the award-winning biographer’s soul. You don’t have to get far into The Lincolns to understand this; Epstein entrances us from the very first page: “Walking east on Jefferson Street with the setting sun behind him, Abraham Lincoln followed his shadow toward the house on Sixth Street where he had arranged to meet his love in secret.”

Though Epstein here chronicles the 22 year marriage of Mary Todd and Abraham Lincoln, this is territory not new to this author: he’s tackled aspects of Lincoln’s life before, including 2004’s Lincoln and Whitman: Parallel Lives in Civil War Washington.

First published in mid-2008, The Lincolns is a fantastic book. Beautifully researched, wonderfully told. It would be a better book if it ended more happily -- there’s a lot of sturm und drang in the story of this couple: marital stress, the loss of a child, the pressures of a life lived in the spotlight and it’s probably not too much of a spoiler to tell you Mrs. Lincoln ends up alone. But, obviously, Epstein had no say in how it all turned out. What he brings us is the best imaginable window on a story as yet so fully untold. A happy ending for this particular tale is a little too much to ask.

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Reading on the Rise says Patchett

Bestselling novelist Ann Patchett (Bel Canto, Run) shares her talented pen with the Wall Street Journal in an essay that that helps celebrate something we’ve been hearing whispers about: reading fiction for fun is definitely on the rise. Says Patchett:
There will be those who attribute the rise in reading to our current decline of cash, and if that is actually the case I would at least be able to think I forfeited my retirement account to a worthy cause. It's true, as a source of entertainment reading ranks somewhere between cheap and free, depending on where you get your books. A movie can give you two hours of entertainment, but a book can go on for days or even weeks. My friend Lucy loved to point out that she started reading “War and Peace” on the first day of the first Gulf War and was still reading when the war was over.
But the financial crunch isn’t all of it. As Patchett points out, the biggest reading bump has been seen in the 18-24-year old markets:
But doesn't it make sense? This is the first crop of newly minted adults who were raised up on Harry Potter novels. They came of age attending midnight release parties at their local bookstores and then faking mysterious illnesses the next day for the absolute necessity of staying in bed to read. Some of these children were lucky enough to have their Potter novels banned by witch-hunting school boards and micro-managing ministers. Is there any greater joy than a book you’re not allowed to read, a book you could go to hell for reading? When I was a child I had to make due with a purloined copy of “Valley of the Dolls” which I thought was forbidden because it was dirty and now know was forbidden because it was just so badly written.
More joy: reading Patchett any ol’ way we can get her. There’s a lot more to this essay, and it’s here. Meanwhile, that National Endowment for the Arts report everyone keeps quoting is right here.


Funke Demanded Fraser for Inkheart

Though authors get notoriously little say about who gets cast in movies made from their books, Cornelia Funke put her foot down when the time came to cast the film version of Inkheart. From the Arkansas Democrat Gazette:
A film studio, says author Cornelia Funke, “doesn’t want the writer to say who the leading man should be” in a film adaptation of the author’s book. That didn’t stop her from insisting Brendan Fraser be cast in the leading role of Mortimer Folchart in the film - in theaters Friday -- based on her hugely popular novel Inkheart by threatening to withdraw her book from the project if she didn't get her way.
Funke told Newsday we’re in a “golden age of children’s books.” The author, who has been called the German J.K. Rowling, is certainly in a position to know:
The bestselling children’s author has sold 15 million copies since beginning her career as a writer, published 47 books of varying types in 43 countries and seen six of her stories turned into movies -- including “Inkheart.” “Book eaters” are what she calls people like herself, for whom literature is as essential “as chocolate” and whose numbers may even be growing.

“I think we want the feeling that life has a beginning and an end - and a center,” she said. “We want to feel that everything falls in place. It’s a classic way of dealing with our existence.”
The film version of Inkheart will open January 23rd. It is directed by Iain Softley (Hackers, The Wings of the Dove, The Skeleton Key) and stars Fraser, as well as Helen Mirren and Paul Brittany.

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The 1000 Books You Really Must Read

Casting about for something to read? This weekend, The Guardian comes up with a lot -- a crazy lot -- of suggestions to fill any literary gap that might be lurking in your life.

Broken into two broad categories -- crime and love (though sometimes those two aren’t very different) -- the subcategories alone are enough to keep us reading for a while.

Did you ever wonder, for instance, which books are stolen most often? Which Arabic love stories are the best? And what things have Hollywood most changed? And which spy stories are most likely to keep you on the edge of your seat? Now, clearly, some of this stuff is subjective, but at least they’ve taken a run at it: and put some thought into doing it, that much is clear.

The Guardian’s piece is lengthy, covers a lot of ground and begins right here.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Author Snapshot: Marie-Louise Gay

Most recent book: On the Road Again! (with David Homel)
Born: Québec City
Reside: Montréal
Birthday: June

What’s your favorite city?
Montréal, of course.

You only have six hours to spend there. What do you do?
I live in Montréal. In the summer I might cycle to the top of the mountain, le Mont-Royal, which is in the center of Montréal, have an ice-cream cone and enjoy the view of my city floating on the St. Lawrence River. In the winter I might cross-country ski or skate on the Mont-Royal.

What food do you love?
Wild salmon. Pesto. Fresh raspberries.

What food have you vowed never to touch again?

What’s on your nightstand?
Piles and piles of books.

What inspires you?
Traveling. Reading. Music. Colours and light.

What are you working on now?
A lot of different things: a puppet play for children; a poster for a Festival of theater, art and music for children; a new book project...

Tell us about your process.
I work every day from eight in the morning to the middle of the afternoon. I let my thoughts wander as I sketch little storyboards or characters that I am developing. As a story starts to take form, my drawings get more and more precise, and they, in turn influence the story. And after months of this creative doodling, many ideas and sketches thrown away or redone, a book is born.

Lift your head and look around. What do you see?
Out the window, all the trees in my yard are encased in ice and shining in the sun. In my studio I am surrounded by hundreds of books, plants, sketches and interesting pictures pinned to the walls; seashells, sandollars, starfish on my windowsill, paintbrushes, pens, coloured pencils in jars, paints, pastels and so on...

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
In my late 20s, after illustrating for a decade, I thought I could try my hand at writing also. I fell in love with the process.

If you couldn’t write books, what would you be doing?

I would either be an actress (actually, I was a child actress) or an architect.

To date, what moment in your career has made you happiest?

I am most happy at the very beginning of writing and illustrating a story, when absolutely everything is possible.

For you, what is the easiest thing about being writer?
There is nothing easy about being a writer or an illustrator.

What’s the most difficult?
When you are lost in your story and cannot find your way out.

What question do you get asked about your writing most often?
“Which is your most favorite book that you have written ?”
“Where do you get your ideas?”

Please tell us about your most recent book.
On the Road Again! is the second novel I have written with my husband David Homel. A family of four, two parents who are writers and artists and their two boys, Charlie and Max, have fantastic adventures while traveling off the beaten track. This time the family lives in a small village in France for a year. The eldest boy tells the story and comments with great humour upon their new life, their adventures and how his parents totally embarrass him.

Tell us something about yourself that no one knows.
I can’t, because then everyone would know.

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Would-Be Senator Packs a Publishing Punch

Since beginning her career as an author in the 1990s, Caroline Kennedy has done an about-face. According to The New York Times, she started out playing down her familial connections and did very well. After a while, she embraced those connections... and did even better.
Published by Hyperion, these later books were anthologies of famous poems, stories and prose, handpicked by Ms. Kennedy and packaged with tantalizing, if dignified, glimpses of the life of a Kennedy: pictures culled from old family albums, poems written by her mother, and Ms. Kennedy’s own ruminations on childhood and other subjects.

While her first two books were best sellers, her later books have been sensations. According to independent sales figures, Ms. Kennedy’s five books for Hyperion have together sold well over a million copies, sales that would have earned Ms. Kennedy roughly $4 million under a standard royalty arrangement.
The piece offers a solid portrait of Kennedy and an overview of her books and it’s here.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Atwood Classic Not Suitable For Teens?

The suitability of Margaret Atwood’s 1985 classic The Handmaid’s Tale has been challenged at a Toronto school, according to The Toronto Star.
Toronto's public school board is reviewing Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale after one complaint from a parent whose child was studying the novel in a Grade 12 class.

While the board would not discuss the nature of the concern over the 1985 dystopian novel that is used nationwide -- described by some educators as a staple of its genre – a source said it was believed to be over sexuality and criticism of religious fundamentalism.
This is apparently the first time The Handmaid’s Tale has been challenged in Canada, though it ranks 37th on the ALA’s Top 100 most frequently challenged books from 1990 to 2000.

The original article is here. In a follow up editorial, The Star’s Living columnist Antonia Zerbisias answers the challenge, saying, in part:
It's a great book and, like George Orwell’s Animal Farm, required reading for my Cold War generation, and Aldous Huxley’s timeless Brave New World, is exactly the kind of literature needed to stimulate thoughtful discussion amongst adolescents who might not otherwise debate much more than who should win American Idol.Link
Especially in times like these.

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Library Vandal Gets Time

Librarians take note: there are times when justice is done. From BBC News:
A wealthy businessman who stole and defaced pages from priceless books in the British and Bodleian libraries has been jailed for two years.
Hakimzadeh was smuggling a scalpel into the libraries, then removing portions of rare works, taking them home and placing them in his own copies of the same works.
Police found the altered editions along with several loose pages in the library at his home.

The 10 British Library books he admitted damaging were valued at £71,000 alone. Experts say he had defaced a total of around 150 books.

A map worth £30,000 was cut out of one of the books.
The BBC piece is here.


Making Tracks for Abu Dhabi

It will be interesting to see if the international economic downturn has much impact on the 19th annual Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, to be held this year on March 17th to 22nd.

Dubbed the “Middle East’s fastest growing book fair,” the 2008 event hosted 482 exhibitors from 42 countries. The Gulf News sounds optimistic:
Hundreds of book publishers from around the world are due to take to participate in this year’s Abu Dhabi book fair from March 17 to 22, organizers said.

The 19th edition of the fair is expected to be the largest this year with variety cultural programmes said Mohammed Khalaf Al Mazroui, General Manager of Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (Adach): “The fair is becoming one of the fast growing book fairs in the Middle East and it is becoming more professional and attracts more publishers and intellectuals” he said.
The Web site for the event assures potential visitors that Abu Dhabi is plenty safe and that, should they decided to make the trek, they won’t lack for activities:
Abu Dhabi is fast becoming a beacon of culture in the Middle East, North Africa and Central and Western Asia. Recent developments include a campus of the Sorbonne, a future New York University Campus, branches of Sotheby’s and Christies and a satellite of the New York Film Academy. In addition, plans have been finalised for the Saadiyad Island Cultural District in Abu Dhabi, including the first branch of the Louvre outside of Paris and the world’s largest Guggenheim Museum.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

New This Week: 3 Willows by Ann Brashares

It’s hard to take a book like 3 Willows (Delacorte) seriously. Not with a pedigree like this one. And not when it’s fallen off such a familiar tree.

Author Ann Brashares is the author of the mega-selling Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants books. The books have sold nine million copies and inspired a couple of movies. Read that: they’ve been super popular. And while fans seem fully prepared to love whatever Brashares thinks to follow them up with, it’s difficult to not wonder why she’s opted to follow such a familiar road.

At 14 Polly, Joe and Ama -- the girls in 3 Willows -- are younger than their Sisterhood counterparts, but one could argue that could just give them the opportunity to grow through more books before the author has no choice but to be done with them. Their adventure and their spirit here is not terribly different, either: they even live in the same time and have a pair of shared jeans.

That said, these three girls have their own personalities and their own problems and challenges: 3 Willows really is more than The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants recast. Readers who loved the Pants books will eat 3 Willows right up.

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Mrs. Madoff’s Secret

Reaching into the Low Blow Department, the New York Times’ Alison Leigh Cowan yesterday revealed that while Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff was cooking the books, his wife Ruth wasn’t cooking as much as she said she was. Cowan’s piece suggested that Mrs. Madoff might not actually have cooked any of the recipes in the 1996 cookbook to which she contributed her name and face:
Wearing plain aprons and standing in front of a dishwasher, Ruth Madoff and her friend look like two homemakers ready for serious work in the kitchen.

But like so much to do with the Madoff family, all is not as it appears in the photo.

The picture comes from a 1996 cookbook called “The Great Chefs of America Cook Kosher: Over 175 Recipes From America’s Greatest Restaurants.” Mrs. Madoff and her friend, as co-authors, wrote in the book of a high-minded mission: exposing kosher palates to new sensations by collecting dishes from famous restaurant chefs that could be prepared in keeping with Jewish dietary restrictions.
Karen MacNeil, the editor of the book, however, told The Times that she “had no evidence that Mrs. Madoff, who received a master’s degree in nutrition in 1992 from New York University, ‘ever cooked any of the recipes.’”

Cityfile New York reports that there’s another reason the book is no longer in print: the “Great Chefs” moniker had been copyrighted several years earlier and wasn’t available for use.

One thing’s certain: with Bernie Madoff currently under house arrest, it’s quite possible the book is coming in handy. Cowan’s piece is here.

Not to Be Misunderestimated

Not exactly a newsflash, but Still-President George W. Bush is working on a book. From The Guardian:
After December’s shock revelation that George W Bush reads a book a week, it has now emerged that Dubya is also plotting his own contribution to America’s literary canon once he leaves the White House next week.
Though he has yet to make a deal, Bush said he didn’t think the actual writing of the book would overwhelm him. “Bush was sure that his ‘type A’ personality would mean it wouldn’t be too lengthy a project. ‘I require things to do, and I bet once I get going on this book, I’ll be able to get ‘er done,’ he said.”

As the article points out, the bigger news came late last year when Karl Rove revealed that Bush was a semi-voracious reader, and even read Albert CamusThe Stranger a few years ago. I don’t know: I wouldn’t have expected Bush to be a fan of absurdist literature. Or existentialism for that matter. Or is it just that it’s so very easy to misunderestimate the man? Maybe his book will be a huge surprise to everyone. Or maybe we’ve had all the Bush surprises we can take, thanks just the same.

The Guardian piece is here.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Obama’s Spidey Comic Sells Out

Earlier this month we reported on the teaming up of President-Elect Barack Obama and (almost) everyone’s favorite superhero, the Amazing Spider-Man. The new Marvel comic went on sale this morning, and sold out within hours. Sewell Chan made the scene for The New York Times’ City Room blog:
Hundreds of people were standing in cold weather on a Midtown Manhattan street on Wednesday morning to get copies of Marvel Comics’s special Spider-Man comic book, in which the superhero meets Barack Obama, who is featured on the cover.
Sewell reports that the issue was published under two cover variations and Midtown Comics had sold out of both versions by mid-afternoon.
The line outside Midtown Comics began forming before the store opened at 10 a.m. Bronko Spaleta, 38, and “frostbitten, but otherwise good,” stood at the front door, ushering those in line into the store, which can only accommodate about 20 customers at a time because of fire and building safety codes.

Each customer was allowed to buy only one copy of the Obama comic book (and one copy of the one without the variant Jimenez cover). “It’s one of each cover,” Mr. Spaleta told those waiting on line. “Please do not jump back in the line.”
Chan’s piece is here. According to Comics Weekly, a second print run will ship next week.

New in Paperback: Life Class by Pat Barker

It’s difficult to imagine a more perfectly soft backdrop over which to juxtapose the harsh outlines of war: an art class -- actually, a life class -- in the summer of 1914 and a group of friends in art school forever touched and altered by the onset of war: the first Great One.

Pat Barker, winner of the Booker Prize (for 1995’s magnificent The Ghost Road), here revisits some of the territory she covered in her ground-breaking WWI trilogy, Regeneration (of which The Ghost Road was the third and final novel).

When Life Class (Anchor) was published in the U.S. in hard cover last year, the New York Times’ Michiko Kakutani (whose birthday we remarked upon in this space last week) said:
After several intriguing but lumpy novels set in the present or near-present, it becomes clear to the reader that World War I resonates with Ms. Barker with special force, for “Life Class” possesses the organic power and narrative sweep that her recent books with more contemporary settings lack.
While I’ve not heard many (any?) others ever describe Barker’s work as “lumpy,” Kakutani is correct here: Life Class is certainly possessed of both power and sweep. There is perhaps no one who conveys the horror of that terrible war.


Oh God, You Devil!

Bring on the clay feet...

Somehow I missed this item about the author of Conversations with God being accused of plagiarism. And no: God didn’t say that Neale Donald Walsch ripped Him off, but that is what comes to mind, isn’t it? Here, from AP via MSNBC, is the actual skinny:
Neale Donald Walsch, best-selling author of “Conversations with God,” said Tuesday that he unwittingly passed off another writer's Christmas anecdote as his own in a recent blog post.

As a result, Walsch's blog … has been shut down. The Web site said in a statement that Walsch had failed to properly credit and attribute material from another author.
More here.

DNA: It’s Not Just for Police Work Anymore

Though thousands of them have survived, until very recently, it was difficult -- if not impossible -- to totally nail down the age of manuscripts from the Middle Ages. Scientific American brings news that all of that is about to change:
Timothy Stinson, an associate English professor at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, has started using DNA testing to track the history and age of medieval manuscripts. His goal: to create a DNA database from the books with known publication dates and places (such as calendars and histories) in an effort to use the genetic information gleaned from them as a baseline to date those manuscripts whose backgrounds are unknown.
“There are these tantalizing hints that this would work for parchment,” he says of the DNA testing, “but no one was really using it.” He says that in addition to tracing the roots of written documents, genetic clues may help piece together manuscripts that were separated over time.
The full piece is here.

Bunny Suicides Beats Ban and Burning

Stepping up beside the likes of Voltaire’s Candide and Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, Andy Riley’s 2003 The Book of Bunny Suicides (Plume) has narrowly avoided being banned at a Portland, Oregon school. From Oregon’s Fox12:
"The Book of Bunny Suicides," by British humorist Andy Riley, follows 100 rabbits as they search for new ways to commit suicide. It has been the focus point of a long-running debate among the school board members since October, when parent Taffey Anderson threatened to burn the book after her 13-year-old son brought it home from school.
Back in 2003 The Book of Bunny Suicides was one of those books that made it into the January Magazine stacks, but didn’t make the cut for review. And why? Well, certainly not because we didn’t want you to know about it. Honestly: the book just seemed too stupid to bother with. The kind of book -- hmmmm -- a 13-year-old boy might think was deeply funny.

Riley’s drawings are charming enough, but the humor just seemed a bit too 1998: irony for the sake of irony and a little too heavy handed to be seriously considered funny. (Considered seriously funny?) I mean: bunnies in toasters? Meh.

And here’s a banned book tidbit I came across while researching this piece: one of my favorite books from childhood -- Black Beauty, Anna Sewell’s wonderful 1877 novel about a horse -- was banned in South Africa in the mid-1950s. Why? Because it had the word “black” in the title.


Monday, January 12, 2009

Art & Culture: Dreambook by Mark di Suvero

“Each human saves himself or herself, and no other being can do anything but give insight, show a way, or block. Will, acting across parameters of necessity that are in delicate equilibrium, can change things. History shows this. Those who have changed the course of human history have always believed themselves capable of it. Sadly though, most of the time most humans act from necessity.”
What makes Dreambook (University of California Press) special is that it’s so much more than it might have been. So much, in a way, more than it appears.

Dreambook is said to be “the definitive volume on American sculptor Mark di Suvero” and in some ways it is. Over 200 images track the deep course of his work; the changes it has made; the sharp turns of direction it has taken over the years. But there is very little about di Suvero included which -- taken within the context of the book -- is absolutely right. This is di Suvero’s book. His book of dreams. And so we see his work but, in his own words, we hear his heart. Admired works by other writers are included as well: Walt Whitman, Marianne Moore, Rainer Maria Rilke, many others.

di Suvero was born in China to Italian parents and raised in the United States. Without question, he is one of the most important living sculptors. His work can be found in museums and collections the world over. And though there is a very good biographical section on di Suvero by Francois Barré late in the book, it is only a very small portion of Dreambook.

This is probably not the most definitive book on di Suvero that will ever be. It is, however, purely Mark di Suvero’s book. We get to experience his art, albeit from the distance of photography. Perhaps more importantly, though, through his personal essays and his editorial choices about what other writing should be included in this, his book of dreams, we get to experience his heart.

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

A Tribute to Donald Westlake

Crime novelist Donald E. Westlake’s death in Mexico on New Year’s Eve left the mystery-fiction community both shocked and saddened. “It just couldn’t be possible,” writes Cameron Hughes in The Rap Sheet.
It had to be a different Westlake, or The New York Times had got it wrong, playing a joke on its readership. The man was simply too vital and full of life, wasn’t he? That’s the thing: Westlake’s writing felt like the work of a man half his age, someone still hungry to make it as an author. His storytelling retained its interest right up to the end. Losing James Crumley stung. Losing Gregory Mcdonald was a blow. Losing Westlake? That hurt. Especially since he showed no signs of slowing down in his writing and never lost a step. A rare feat, indeed, dear readers.
To honor Westlake’s multitudinous contributions to crime fiction, Hughes asked dozens of the author’s colleagues and professional admirers to share their memories of him and his work. Those weighing in include Peter Robinson, Laura Lippman, Joseph Wambaugh, Cara Black, Thomas Perry, James Sallis, Ken Bruen, Ed Gorman, Lisa Lutz, and ... well, the list goes on and on.

Part I of Hughes’ tribute to Westlake can be found in The Rap Sheet here, with Part II available here.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

New This Month: Surfing the Menu by Curtis Stone and Ben O’Donoghue

You don’t have to have seen the television series or be Australian to understand the delights of Surfing the Menu (Key Porter Books), a book by the co-hosts of a FoodTV hit show. A decade after Jamie Oliver wowed the world with his “Naked” presence, Curtis Stone and Ben O’Donoghue bring a similar fresh-faced hunkiness into their kitchens. In the book -- as in the series -- there is a travelogue element to the project. Together they explore Australia -- the kitchens and the backroads -- and combine it with their own experiences as professional chefs in order to bring us a book that is every inch worthy of all the attention it’s been getting.

In so many ways, Surfing the Menu is like a loveletter to Australia, a country most of the world longs to visit, but about which most of us really know very little.

If this material looks familiar, it’s because the book was published in Australia and the UK a few years ago. However this new one from Key Porter is the first published for the North American market.

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New This Month: The Judging Eye by R. Scott Bakker

In a very short time, author R. Scott Bakker has proven that he is well on his way to building a universe that is arguably comparable with those created by the likes of Frank Herbert (Dune) and Isaac Asimov (Foundation). What Bakker does that -- again, arguably -- his contemporaries do not and that those SFF luminaries did was completely imagine -- from the ground up -- a universe so satisfyingly detailed you felt as though you could slip inside. The politics, the religion, the very ground beneath your feet. Many have tried but do not have that gift. But Bakker? Bakker has it, is doing it, will do it, or so I predict.

Barely into his forties, Bakker now backs up the first part of his story -- the three books of The Prince of Nothing series -- with a new series, The Aspect Emperor. The first book in this new series, The Judging Eye (Overlook) will be released later this month. It takes place roughly two decades after the events in 2006’s The Thousandfold Thought, where we find the Prince of Nothing himself now made Aspect-Emperor of a huge holding and claiming that he holds the key to a Second Apocalypse which is right around the corner.

The Judging Eye is released just two months before Bakker’s first thriller, Neuropath (Tor Books) will be released in the United States. (It was published by Penguin Canada around the middle of last year, but they seem to have been somewhat secretive about it.) In an admiring review, SFF World called it a “CSI-style thriller with a science fiction edge.” I can hardly wait!

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Friday, January 09, 2009

Calling Canada: Books and CBC’s Radio One

Due to the wonders of modern technology, the fabulous art programing of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation is these days readily available to just about anyone who has a computer. You can get a taste from across the CBC’s book-related menu by checking in with Words at Large here. Here’s a sample of what’s available:

Still Farley, After All These Years... on her show The Next Chapter, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s wonderful Shelagh Rogers talks to Canadian literary icon Farley Mowat about his newish memoir, Otherwise (McClelland & Stewart) and about his larger-than-life.

You can catch the interview, which first aired January 3rd, here. The Next Chapter airs on CBC Radio One and Sirius 137. More details about the show can be found here.

All Points West’s Jo-Ann Roberts regularly hosts authors on her show, weekdays on CBC Radio One. Also, the All Points West bookclub devotes a portion of each week to reading-related discussion.

Writers & Company’s Eleanor Wachtel hosts a different writer for an in-depth interview every week. Recently Wachtel has chatted with Oliver Sacks and Dave Eggers. You can find more information on the show here.

And though Sheryl McKay’s North by Northwest dances all across the arts, McKay’s passion for and strong connection with books and authors makes the parts of the show that deal with those things really resonate.

For example, one of North by Northwest’s popular ongoing segments deals with the lost books of childhood. McKay enlists the aid of a posse of librarians to help locate the stories you’ve loved and lost. McKay also hosts the fantastic Studio One Bookclub. Tune in to hear from authors from across all areas of literary interest.

No Line Up for Laura?

The Village Voice waxes snappy about why still First Lady Laura Bush “won’t be making a bundle from her memoirs.”
Our first lady (tick, tick, tick) Laura Bush is penning her memoirs, and reports say she’s getting a way smaller advance than the eight million whoppers Hillary Clinton nabbed for a somewhat similar work. And I have some pretty good ideas as to why that is. First of all, with the economy (and publishing) in the toilet, book advances are way lower than they used to be, and Laura has one whacked-out person she can thank for that--her husband!
Here’s another reason: we’re still way (way!) more excited about the new Pooh!


New from Pooh

Insiders are banking that the first new book about Winnie the Pooh in 80 years will be one of this year’s significant sellers. From The Times Online:
We haven’t heard from Pooh Bear in 80 years but, in a move that Eeyore would doubtless expect to end in disappointment, the guardians of A. A. Milne’s estate have sanctioned a third book of ursine adventures.

Return to the Hundred Acre Wood will be published in October and booksellers are already inking it in as a Christmas bestseller.
The Wall Street Journal chimes in with a voice that is predictably more edged in the business of business:
The troubled book industry, in need of titles that will pull readers into the stores, will get a much-needed jolt this fall when the first authorized sequel to A.A. Milne’s “Winnie-the-Pooh” and “The House at Pooh Corner” is published Oct. 5 under the title “Return to the Hundred Acre Wood.”
Refreshingly -- and, we think, appropriately -- The Telegraph made it all about the joy:
Return to the Hundred Acre Wood will reflect Milne's idea that "whatever happens, a little boy and his bear will always be playing", author David Benedictus said.

Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh have been fixed firmly in the imagination of British children since Milne and illustrator EH Shephard created the characters in the 1920s.

But up until now they have been left in the “enchanted place”, as Milne called the wood.
Though in some ways Benedictus seems almost bizarrely overqualified to tackled the Pooh story, it will be interesting to see what he dreams up.

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Happy Birthday, Michiko! (or “Let Them Eat Cake”)

According to Writer’s Almanac, today is the birthday of New York Times book critic, Michiko Kakutani who won a Pulitzer Prize for criticism in 1998. According to the Almanac, Kukutani “doesn’t go to literary functions, she doesn’t let people take her picture, and she won’t give interviews.”

In that case, what I want to know is this: with all that going on, how did Almanac manage to find out that today is her birthday? (Other than asking Wikipedia, I mean.)

Kukutani shares her birthday with Judith Krantz (bet she’s lovin’ that, Karel Capek and Simone de Beauvoir.

Today’s Almanac is here.

At the end of November, The Times ran Kakutani’s “10 Favorite Books of 2008.” That piece is here.

And if you’re poking around looking for January Magazine’s top books of the year, that list is here.

Who Crossed the Road?

In a new piece for The Los Angeles Times, Word Play columnist Sonja Bolle asks an important question: why has the humble chicken played such an important role in children’s literature?
Among children’s book enthusiasts, there are passionate collectors of chicken books. What is it about chickens? I wondered as I looked at the new crop of children's books. What do chickens represent? Do chickens have personalities?
In the course of answering her own questions, Bolle visits with some books featuring chickens, as well as a few that don’t. It’s a charming piece and it’s here.

And here’s something slightly related: while you’re reading Bolle’s piece, keep in mind that it is now possible to order The LA Times, as well as many other newspapers and newsmagazines, for your Kindle. Talk about a green alternative: and delivery is pretty much instant.


Thursday, January 08, 2009

New This Week: The Complete Beck Diet for Life by Judith S. Beck

Though diet books are popular throughout the year, late December to early January remains a popular time to debut them. And why? Because a lot of us tend to overindulge in something over the holidays -- and often more than one something! By the time it’s nearly over, we start to realize that something’s gotta give... and it hopefully won’t be our favorite jeans.

In The Complete beck Diet for Life: The Five Step Program to Permanent Weight Loss (Oxmoor House), Dr. Judith S. Beck (The Beck Diet Solution) offers up another tome that uses cognitive therapy to help your battle the bulge. The idea is to “gain control of your eating and your weight, and once you do, you’ll be more in control of your life.”

And while I continue to love comedian Craig Ferguson’s diet advice -- eat less, move around more -- on reading Beck’s book, one can see how training your mind might help you to control what you intake. And why. Much of Beck’s advice seems so sensible, it’s no wonder the book has been screaming up the charts since release.

“This book,” writes Beck, “is your instruction manual for motivating yourself for life.”


Obamamania Infiltrates Marvel

Barack Obama will make a special appearance in Spider-Man #583, to be released January 14th. The President-Elect will be teamed with Spider-Man for, presumably, crime fighting and, as illustrated, even some fist-bumping. From USA Today:
“It was a natural after we learned the new president is a Spider-Man fan,” says Marvel editor in chief Joe Quesada about reports that Obama once collected Spider-Man comics. “We thought, ‘Fantastic! We have a comic-book geek in the White House.’”
It seems possible, though, that calling Obama a “comic-book geek” might be an overstatement:
The White House transition team did not respond to a question about the extent of Obama’s comic-book geekiness, but Obama did mention Spider-Man during the campaign, primarily at children-oriented events. And during an Entertainment Weekly pop culture survey, Obama said Batman and Spider-Man were his top superheroes because of their “inner turmoil.” (John McCain picked Batman.)
The USA Today piece is here.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Mister Darcy Will Go Under the Hammer

A portrait of actor Colin Firth in costume as Jane Austen’s much beloved Fitzwilliam Darcy is expected to raise as much as £7,000 for charity later this month.

The oil painting, together with a signed letter from the star, is expected to raise £7,000 at the Bonhams sale on 21 January.

The portrait was used as a prop in the 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, in which Firth starred.

Proceeds will be split between Oxfam and the Southampton and Winchester Visitors Group.

The role of Mr Darcy earned Firth his heart-throb status.
The BBC piece is here.


Five Books Arrogant CEOs Need to Read

In keeping with the cold new financial day in which we find ourselves, Forbes wants the embattled -- and possibly embittered -- CEO to be prepared -- literally -- for all that may yet come.
The economic downturn has brought even the most arrogant CEOs to their knees, and it has created a potentially valuable teaching moment for those would-be masters of the universe. To help them begin the new year in the proper spirit, here are five books to peruse in 2009.
Included in Forbes’ round-up is Phil Rosenzweig’s The Halo Effect (Free Press) which is not to be confused by a very well-reviewed 2004 novel by M.J. Rose with exactly the same name which, by the way, has absolutely nothing to do with the “Eight Other Business Delusions That Deceive Managers” mentioned in Rosenzweig’s subtitle.

Forbes’ very entertaining piece is here.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Interview: Natasha Cooper author of A Poisoned Mind

International bestselling author Natasha Cooper talks about her professional background, her interest in today’s economic uncertainties and what it is she finds so fascinating about the complex world of laws and lawsuits.

January Magazine contributing editor, Ali Karim, sets up his exclusive interview with great care:
A crime writer who does much to support the crime-fiction genre both in the United Kingdom and United States is the extremely talented Natasha Cooper. It was just before the millennium that I first met Cooper (a pseudonym used by Daphne Wright), back when she held the demanding and prestigious post of chair of the British Crime Writers Association. At the time, I’d just finished reading her novel Creeping Ivy (1998), the first of her Trish Maguire legal thrillers, and I was fascinated with her ability to compose such vivid prose about the darker side of human motivations. I readily ranked her in the same league as Ruth Rendell.
The full interview is here.

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H.I.V.E. #3: Escape Velocity by Mark Walden

Escape Velocity is the third of Mark Walden’s H.I.V.E. novels. While a number of loose ends are tied up in this one, it produces some more, including a new antagonist to the heroes, and there will be more in the series -- perhaps a new story arc, now that this one is finished. One prediction I made in my review of the first novel turned out to be correct, if not complete, since there was more information in the second novel.

In this series, the heroes are all villains. H.I.V.E. (the Higher Institute of Villainous Education) is a sort of Hogwarts for young super-baddies, run by G.L.O.VE, an organisation of international criminals. Each of the students has a special skill of one kind or another. The hero, Otto Malpense, has three friends whose particular skills help him to save the day. Scottish Laura is a computer genius who had been caught hacking into a military communications system to find out what the other girls at school were saying about her. American girl Shelby is a former jewel thief who can open any lock. Otto’s best friend Wing is brilliant in martial arts.

Otto has discovered that he can use his mind to interface with computer systems. It’s a skill he’s going to need. After saving the school and the world from an insane artificial intelligence overlord in the previous book, the friends discover their troubles aren’t over by any means. Principal Maximilian Nero has been kidnapped by a mysterious organisation called H.O.P.E (one has to love all these acronyms). His bodyguard, the ninja Raven, appears to have been killed while attempting to rescue him. Number One, head of G.L.O.V.E., doesn’t seem to care. He has his own plans, including replacing Dr. Nero with a woman who had betrayed the school in the previous novel. She, in her turn, has her orders. One of these seems to be “extracting” Otto and his friends from the school, taking them to an unknown destination. Just as well that Raven isn’t dead after all, and that some other characters thought dead are also still alive.

The first book in this series was very funny as well as an entertaining adventure. The whole notion of a school for super-villains was delightful. The trouble is, you can only get away with the joke for one novel, as the author seems to have realized, so the next two novels have put the accent on the adventure and pretty much left out the humor. Another problem is that you forget that these characters are supposed to be in training to be the next generation of super-villains of the kind who plot to take over the world and try to kill James Bond. Dr. Nero is starting to turn into Dumbledore, if not as shrewd or witty. Otto and his friends enjoy their studies, but really, they’re just a technical version of wizards. I think, in the next book, we need to be reminded what these teenagers are actually supposed to be studying, or what’s the point? There’s a tiny bit of humor, but very little.

Still, as an adventure, it works. There’s a lot of hardware and software in this book -- ah, if we could only create invisibility suits in real life.

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