Friday, February 27, 2009

New This Month: The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa

Think 50 First Dates without all the zany antics or Memento without the buckets of blood and you have the central conceit of The Housekeeper and the Professor (Picador) the latest translation from contemporary Japanese literary icon Yoko Ogawa.

The title’s Professor is a brilliant mathematician whose mind is stuck in the 1970s and whose short-term memory is only 80 minutes long. The Professor shows the Housekeeper the poetry in numbers and the magic in the everyday.

While The Housekeeper and the Professor lacks some of the controlled madness that spiked Ogawa’s previous translation, the short story collection The Diving Pool, there is a certain sweet delicacy here -- a sure hand, a subtle touch -- that gives this novella more resonance than its slight stature would indicate.

The Housekeeper and the Professor was first published in 2003 in Japan where it has sold 2.5 million copies and been adapted into a feature film.

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Minnesotan Bill Holm Passes Away at 65

Minnesota poet and author Bill Holm, the “Polar Bear of American Literature,” and the author of The Heart Can Be Filled Anywhere On Earth, died Wednesday. From the Minneapolis Star Tribune:
He was larger than life, a man of letters, a man of the prairie, a man of the world. Poet and essayist Bill Holm collapsed Tuesday after getting off a plane in Sioux Falls, S.D., and died Wednesday night of complications from pneumonia. He was 65.

Six-and-a-half-feet tall and bearded, with a passion for justice, and a booming, generous personality, Holm was the author of "Coming Home Crazy," "Boxelder Bug Variations," and, perhaps his most beloved book, "The Heart Can Be Filled Anywhere On Earth," his homage to his hometown of Minneota, in western Minnesota near Marshall.
The full story is here. Holm’s Web site is here.


Thursday, February 26, 2009

Book Celebrations Should Go On Forever

Wow: do I ever feel like a dope. Library Lovers Month is nearly over and it just this minute sunk in that the future is now.

On the one hand, though, I have a good excuse: I love libraries all the time. On the other, well... even though there’s only a few days left in February, you still have time to party. Here are a few links to help out with that.

And on a related and ever so important note, Canada’s 25th national Freedom to Read Week runs from February 22nd until the 29th. (I know: I’m a little slow on the uptick on that one, as well.) From the Freedom to Read Web site:
Freedom to read can never be taken for granted. Even in Canada, a free country by world standards, Freedom to Read Poster 2009 books and magazines are banned at the border. Books are removed from the shelves in Canadian libraries, schools and bookstores every day. Free speech on the Internet is under attack. Few of these stories make headlines, but they affect the right of Canadians to decide for themselves what they choose to read.
Some really great support material (like the nifty poster at left and much more) can be found on the Web site.

Because it’s never too late to celebrate books, literary freedom and libraries. We need to do it all year ‘round.

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Translating Their Way to Publishing Success

We’ve had enough hard news from the publishing trenches of late. Good news was bound to come eventually. We just didn’t expect it from such an unlikely source.

Imagine: a small New York-based publisher kicking things up old-school by translating little known European works of literary fiction and publishing them and making a profit without the aid of either vampires or magical boys. Impossible? One would think so. The New York Times’ Motoko Rich says no:
It does not sound like a recipe for publishing success: a roster of translated literary novels written mainly by Europeans, relying heavily on independent-bookstore sales, without an e-book or vampire in sight.

But that is the formula that has fueled Europa Editions, a small publisher founded by a husband-and-wife team from Italy five years ago. As large New York publishing houses have laid off staff, suffered drastically reduced book sales and struggled to adjust to a digital future, Europa turned its first profit last year and is enjoying a modest but growing following.

The company, which operates out of a pair of tiny offices near Union Square in Manhattan, also has its first best seller with “The Elegance of the Hedgehog,” a French novel by Muriel Barbery narrated by a secretly intellectual concierge in a fashionable Parisian apartment building and a precocious preteen girl who lives there with her wealthy family. Filled with philosophical ruminations and copious references to literature, art, film and music, the book is in many ways as much of a surprise hit as its publisher.

The piece is lengthy, detailed, interesting and here.

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Remembering Bill Buckley One Year On

William F. Buckley Jr. died on February 27th, 2008. On The Daily Beast, son Christopher (Thank You for Smoking, Little Green Men), a wonderful writer in his own right, wonders what his father would have made of the year that was:
My father, William F. Buckley, Jr, died a year ago this week, and I thought to mark the occasion in this space, normally devoted to making raspberries at the cosmos and endorsing Democrats for high office.

I’ve found myself reaching for the phone so many times since last February 27, not just to hear his voice, but to ask him what -- on earth -- he would have made of (in no particular order): Sarah Palin, the future of the GOP, John Thaine’s $35,000 commode, these trillion-dollar “stimulus” programs, Senator Roland Burris, Caroline Kennedy’s about-face, Judd Gregg’s about-face, the on-going nationalization of the U.S. banking industry, and President Obama as he deals with one of the worst in-boxes in U.S. history.
And -- stylishly, beautifully, publicly -- Buckley misses his dad and makes us miss him, too:
My father was a man of devout, unflinching, sometimes exasperating Catholic faith. He believed absolutely in heaven and hell. I lost (or misplaced) my faith, but I find myself on this anniversary hoping that I’m wrong, and that he’s there, correcting God’s grammar. I have on my desk an editorial cartoon showing him arriving at the Pearly Gates, St. Peter whispering to an angel, “I’m going to need a bigger dictionary.”
It’s a lovely piece and it’s here.

Less lovely, but from the same publication (because The Daily Beast is nothing if not comfortably all over the place) Dale Hrabi takes a silly but somehow satisfying look at the “10 Most Horrendous Oscar Gowns in History.”
As Oscars coverage rolls on, all eyes turn to fashion -- and then quickly glaze over as the inevitable parade of safe, beige gowns unfolds. Discerning style lovers sigh, and unreflective tabloid editors ask themselves why, yet again, actress after actress has chosen to dress, unremarkably, in the color of gruel.
That piece is here.

Philip Jose Farmer Dies at 91

Science fiction great Philip Jose Farmer died yesterday morning “peacefully in his sleep,” according to his official Web site, just weeks after his 91st birthday. From CNN:
Farmer was known for his science-fiction and fantasy novels and short stories. He was 91.

The Peoria, Indiana, native’s most popular work was his "Riverworld" series, written in the 1970s.

Joe Lansdale, a critic, writer and friend of Farmer’s, credited Farmer with changing the face of science fiction.

“I just can’t begin to tell you how important he is to the field as well as other fields,” Lansdale said.

Critics said Farmer was the first author to address adult sexual themes in science-fiction novels.

Jonathan Strahan, an editor and critic for Locus magazine, said Farmer treated sex seriously, not in a juvenile manner or for cheap thrills.

“It wasn’t pornography and it wasn’t just about the sex of it,” Strahan said. “It was about the sexuality of people in an interesting and intelligent way.”

Graham Sleight, who wrote eloquently about Farmer’s work for his “Yesterday’s Tomorrows” column early in 2008, had this to say on the Locus blog:
All the weird stuff he loved to pack into his stories -- Tarzan, Richard Burton, sex, Joyce, loopy epistemology, historical trivia, flat earths -- made it a brew like nothing else.
From Farmer’s Web site:
He will be missed greatly by his wife Bette, his children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, friends and countless fans around the world.

January 26, 1918 - February 25, 2009. R.I.P.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Review: The Ten Year Nap by Meg Wolitzer

Today in January Magazine’s fiction section, contributing editor Diane Leach reviews The Ten Year Nap by Meg Wolitzer. Says Leach:
Wolitzer’s terrific novel follows the lives of four women who have left the workforce to raise children. Amy Lamb, Jill Hamlin, Roberta Sokolov and Karen Yip are all talented, highly educated, happily married New Yorkers when their babies arrive. And those babies change everything. Suddenly the twelve-week maternity leave is insufficient; each woman, with varying degrees of remorse and financial security, leaves the workforce to tend her offspring.

Wolitzer’s over arching theme is the arguable failure of Feminism: yes, women can now be nearly anything they wish (glass ceiling notwithstanding), but somehow somebody forgot about childcare. Yes, men are getting better about equal parenting, but the workforce in general is achingly slow to accommodate those women who, at the height of their careers, are also anxiously feeling their biological clocks ticking. So the hot young lawyer/doctor/statistician/artist “drops out.” It’s only temporary, she reassures herself. Besides there is the child, or children, who, when small, demand every waking (and often sleeping) moment.
The full review is here.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Bezos’ Jon Stewart Visit Kindles Laughter

The best thing about the launch of Amazon’s shiny new Kindle was watching Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos laugh his fool head off on the Jon Stewart Show last night. If you missed it, you must see it. And, fortunately, Gawker makes that possible here as well as in a snarky piece on the same page and quoted below:
Jeff Bezos turned up on the Daily Show couch to promote's newest Kindle e-book reader. And as this clip shows, he laughed, and laughed, and laughed. Why wouldn't he?

Host Jon Stewart seemed discomfited by his guest’s wild, table-slapping howls. But any tech reporter who's interviewed Bezos knows that the’s CEO hooting laughter is his most distinctive personal quality, the hook of every headline.
I don’t agree: I didn’t think Stewart seemed at all discomfited. Let’s face it: Stewart is a comedian. He likes making people laugh. And Bezos really did laugh.

That’s all the time I feel like spending writing about the new Kindle right now. And why? I’m just sick of hearing about it. In case you’re not, you can get the 4-1-1 here and here and here.


Your Coverage May Vary

One of the things you’ll have noticed if you spend much time either here or at our sister publication, The Rap Sheet, is that we give a lot of thought to book covers. This is especially true over at The Rap Sheet, where editor J. Kingston Pierce has turned the whole matter into something of a fine art.

So it was with some amusement today that I came across this short piece on the Abe Books Web site entitled “30 Novels Worth Buying For the Cover Alone.”

And are they? Well, you decide. Personally, there is no book I would buy simply because I thought the cover was good. (Even though, on the author side of things, I consider myself very lucky because my publisher does a killer job on the covers of my books.)

In fairness, though, some of the books included in Abe Books’ 30 would be worth reading even with stinky covers. Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, for example. Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (although I must admit I’ve seen it with covers I like better than the one shown here.)

In any case, if you think it’s fun to see what books others think are well covered, the piece is worth a peek. (And a peek is all you’ll need here: it’s very brief. Not much reading required.)

Still hankering to revel in the art of the book covers? Pay attention to anything J. Kingston Pierce has written on the topic. It’s turned into something of a hobby for him. He even recently developed a blog called Killer Covers (“Because it’s What’s Up Front That Counts”). Also, check out his ongoing -- and engaging -- series on copycat covers. It’s astonishing. As well, for the last couple of years, he’s been rounding up the very best in crime fiction covers and asking readers to vote on same.


Monday, February 23, 2009

Author Snapshot: Elizabeth Kelly

Elizabeth Kelly’s overnight sensation status need not come as a surprise: a magazine editor and award-winning journalist, Kelly has spent a lifetime wrangling words. That shows in her debut novel, Apologize, Apologize!, an in-depth visit with the dysfunctional Flanagans, an old money Massachusetts family with many branches and quite a lot of dogs. Apologize, Apologize! is charming, funny, accomplished and oddly muscular.

And it seems likely that Apologize, Apologize! will only be the beginning for this Ontario, Canada-based author. The book has thus far been sold to five countries and the film rights have been optioned by Daryl Roth and Richard Gladstein who produced Finding Neverland, The Bourne Identity, The Cider House Rules and others.

In her Author Snapshot, Kelly tells January Magazine that the easiest thing about being a writer is... writing, something she can’t imagine not doing.

Most recent book: Apologize, Apologize!
Born: Brantford, Ontario

What’s your favorite city?
I’m too untraveled to have a favorite city unless you count Hamilton [Ontario]. My favorite place isn’t a city but a beach town in southwestern Ontario called Long Point, miles and miles of practically deserted sand and surf. The poor man’s Malibu.

You only have six hours to spend there what do you do?
Sit on the beach and drink tea.

What food do you love?

What food have you vowed never to touch again?


What inspires you?
Other people’s courage.

What are you working on now?
The screen adaptation of Apologize, Apologize!

Tell us about your process.
Computer, computer, computer. I can’t remember how to write in longhand. Morning, noon and night, when I’m on a roll.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
When I was too little to formulate any sort of proper plan for my life -- eight, nine years of age, I knew I was going to be a writer.

If you couldn’t write books what would you be doing?
Probably not much of anything. Daydreaming and hoping someone else would do the healthy lifting. So, nothing -- or I would be a wildly celebrated performer in the musical theater.

What’s the easiest thing about being a writer?

What’s the most difficult?
Getting paid.

What question do you get asked about your writing most often?
What’s your book about?

What’s the question you’d like to be asked?
Has anyone ever told you that you look like Annette Bening?

What question would you like never to be asked again?
Has anyone ever told you that you look like Broderick Crawford?

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Book Deal Announced for Condoleezza Rice

Condoleezza Rice, former Secretary of State, has signed a three book deal with Crown. According to AP, the trio of books will begin with a memoir that focuses on her years in the Bush administration. The book will be published in 2011.
“Rice will combine candid narrative and acute analysis to tell the story of her time in the White House and as America’s top diplomat, and her role in protecting American security and shaping foreign policy during the extraordinary period from 2001-2009,” according to a statement issued Sunday by Crown, a division of Random House Inc. Crown also published then-Sen. Barack Obama’s “The Audacity of Hope.”
Also included in the deal: a Rice family memoir and a book for young adults. AP said the deal is worth $2.5 million.

Booking to the Oscars

Today’s Los Angeles Times Jacket Copy blog takes a decidedly Oscarish approach to its coverage, offering up two very distinct stories with a strong connection to film.

“Just in time for the Oscars,” the headline promises, though, in truth, the exhibit created around filmmaker Federico Fellini’s Book of Dreams runs longer than that and is a much deeper exhibit. On display in the Academy’s Grand Lobby and 4th Floor Gallery from January 24 through April 19, 2009. From The Times:
For much of his life, Federico Fellini did not want to be seen as bookish or intellectual, which adds interest to the first exhibition of his library. There is added piquancy in the fact that it takes place while Fellini’s “Book of Dreams” is on display during the Academy Awards.

The well-mounted exhibition of more than 2,000 books is on the ground floor of a three-story 20th century apartment building, where his parents lived and some relatives still reside, in Fellini’s hometown of Rimini, Italy. The exhibition does not consist of serried book spines but of many open volumes, books in suspended, tinted plastic cubes as well as in bookcases, where the volumes alternate with reproductions of Fellini’s textual notations, film scripts and videos of his films.
The exhibit is really a kind of “making of” for Fellini’s The Book of Dreams (Rizzoli), published last year. It includes not only the support material used for its creation -- all those books! -- but also actual drawings and notations that were used in the book.

The LA Times story is here. The Academy has their own page on the exhibit and that’s here.

Also in today’s Jacket Copy, a look at Murder at the Academy Awards (Simon & Schuster) by Joan Rivers, co-written by established Los Angeles mystery author Jerilyn Farmer (The Flaming Luau of Death). From Jacket Copy:
Listening to Joan Rivers flay the fashion choices of celebrities on the red carpet, it's easy to think she might just have imagined one or two of them dead. That's exactly how her new co-written novel, "Murder at the Academy Awards™," begins -- with a starlet dropping dead on her way into the Oscars. Joan’s fictional alter-ego, Max Taylor, is right there, holding the mike as the girl slurs, falls and stops breathing.
Needless to say, on this of all days, sales of the book are brisk. Not sure how it’ll hold up to history, but that probably isn’t the point. The story is here.

And, honestly? I’m not sure how I missed this but Rivers is being tres prolific these days. She had a (ahem) self-help guide published just a few months ago. Men Are Stupid and they Like Big Boobs: A Woman’s Guide to Beauty Through Plastic Surgery (Pocket) is a tongue-in-cheek (I think) book of “straight-talking advice on better living through looking better.”

Let’s segue back to Oscars: Rivers has said she figures “101% of the people who walk the red carpets of Hollywood have had work done.”

Saturday, February 21, 2009

New this Month: Rifling Paradise by Jem Poster

It sounds like hyperbole but I don’t care: Jem Poster’s sophomore effort, Rifling Paradise (Overlook) is as near perfect a book as I have encountered in a very long time. It is a work of historical fiction and the history here -- Australia in the Victorian era -- is pitch perfect. Rifling Paradise looks like a book, but it is not: it’s really a time machine.

The story finds minor English landowner, Charles Redbourne, heading to Australia to make an impression as a naturalist, at a time when that was a weirdly competitive field. If Rifling Paradise was just Redbourne’s story, it would be interesting enough: it would be a good book. But when Redbourne’s specimen collecting takes a terrifying turn, we find ourselves with a page turner on our hands.

So what is Rifling Paradise? Is it historical fiction? Literary fiction? Is it a psychological thriller? Or the portrait of an age? Well, actually, it’s all of those things. And more. A wonderful book.

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Friday, February 20, 2009

Paltrow Poised to be New Oprah?

So, first of all it needs to be said: a headline is just meant to be a headline. We don’t actually need a new Oprah. As far as I can tell, there’s nothing very much wrong with the one we already have.

That said, though, Gwyneth Paltrow recently launched a new magazine-format lifestyle site -- with the unlikely name of GOOP, no less -- and has even launched her own neo look at that old staple, the book club. In setting up her fun book club antics, Paltrow writes:
I feel a bit swallowed up in January, the days are so short, the sky is so close and gray. The best way to escape (not to mention the least expensive, most hassle-free way) is to curl up by the fire with an amazing, transportive novel. This week I have asked a couple of my best and most literary-minded girlfriends to share their top picks.
Said girlfriends include Christy Turlington and Madonna and while their picks are interesting, don’t anticipate a little light reading. These read more like the lists of what you want people to think you’re reading. Check it: lots of Russians plus all of the Americans have as many syllables as can be crammed into a name.

Now don’t get me wrong: I love Tolstoy and have read more than my share. That’s one of the weird things about me that my friends tolerate. As a result, I’ve been straw polling about Tolstoy for a long time and, over the years I’ve found that, while a lot of people were forced to read some Russian literature in high school of college, very few would claim a Tolstoy novel as one of their “top picks.”

“I always like knowing the literary preferences of people,” Paltrow continues. “I think it gives a better understanding of their inner life.”

And she’s right, you know. Of course she is. But don’t expect to get either illuminated or inspired by many of the titles on this list. Don’t get me wrong: these women are talking about great books. Some of the greatest, in fact. Throughout history. Ever. And through all time. But, come on: lighten up already. Sure: read your Love in the Time of Cholera, please. And dig on your The Sound and the Fury and your Middlemarch. But perhaps, while you’re at it, dig into something absolutely au courant. Something new and different to set your heart racing and jangle your nerves. And there’s some of that here: sure there is. But not enough.

Now all of that said, aside from a weird-but-smooth navigation system, GOOP is fairly terrific. In a review, EW sums it up quite well:
Without the celeb factor, GOOP would feel like a self-indulgent, if also helpful, blog. But Paltrow is famous, and given how much we clamor to be like Hollywood's elite -- from the contents of our makeup bags to the spots where we vacation -- isn't she just giving us what we want?
GOOP is here. Gwyneth and pal’s look at literature is here.

Ang Lee Might Bring Life of Pi to Screen

Is it just me or does it seem like there are more big, big, big book-to-film adaptations being talked about right now than is usually the case? The latest: Canadian novelist Yann Martel’s “unfilmable” Man Booker Award-winning novel Life of Pi. From The Telegraph:
Many had thought Yann Martel’s best-selling fable of a boy cast adrift on the ocean with a Bengal tiger for company to be 'unfilmable', and several Hollywood treatments have fallen by the wayside.

However, studio Fox 2000 is hiring a new screenwriter and Lee is seriously considering the project, according to Variety.

Life of Pi is the best-selling Booker Prize winner of all time and became a global phenomenon after its 2002 win, translated into 40 languages.
Lee is the director of Brokeback Mountain, The Ice Storm, Sense and Sensibility, just to name some of his literary adaptations.

Lee’s involvement, however, is not yet a done deal and The Telegraph points out that “M Night Shyamalan, director of The Sixth Sense, and Harry Potter’s Alfonso Cuaron were previously linked to the project.”


Thursday, February 19, 2009

News Stories Regarding Lead in Children’s Books Misleading

A spate of stories about the impact of new rules regarding lead content in children’s books published prior to 1985 will not be as disruptive as we’d been brought to believe.

Widespread media and Internet stories had libraries fearing ruination over the testing of their collections and thrift stores afraid they’d have to throw out large quantities of inventory. According to Snopes, the leading authority on urban legends, neither of these things is true. Snopes very sensibly points searchers to a page on the US Consumer Product Safety Commission Web page that clarifies the whole matter. From the CPSC Web site:
The new safety law does not require resellers to test children’s products in inventory for compliance with the lead limit before they are sold. However, resellers cannot sell children’s products that exceed the lead limit and therefore should avoid products that are likely to have lead content, unless they have testing or other information to indicate the products being sold have less than the new limit. Those resellers that do sell products in violation of the new limits could face civil and/or criminal penalties.
As Snopes says:
In other words, used children’s items offered for resale after 10 February 2009 must still meet the new CPSIA standards regarding lead and phthalate content, but vendors will not have to have such items tested and certified. Vendors should therefore “avoid products that are likely to have lead content, unless they have testing or other information to indicate the products being sold have less than the new limit.”

While the CPSC says “Those resellers that do sell products in violation of the new limits could face civil and/or criminal penalties,” a reasonable interpretation of that statement as it applies to the sale of used goods would be that the agency will focus its attentions on those retailers who blatantly take a cavalier attitude towards the used children’s’ items in their inventory by continuing to vend merchandise items they have good reason to suspect contain lead.
Bookmark the Snopes site for future use. It’s a great place to find answers for odd questions.

New This Month: Raising Freethinkers: A Practical Guide for Parenting Beyond Belief

Raising Freethinkers (AMACOM) by Dale McGowan, Amanda Metskas, Molleen Matsumara and Jan Devor is a newly revised edition of a popular 2007 book. It was published in a hailstorm of controversy. The very premise of the book invites it. As the authors say in the preface to the new edition:
The sound you heard upon opening this book was the other shoe dropping. Raising Freethinkers: A Practical Guide for Parenting Beyond Belief is just that -- a practical guide. You’ll find ideas and ponderings in these pages, but also specific answers to common questions and hundreds of activities and resources to make those ideas come alive.
Now, clearly, Raising Freethinkers is not a book for everyone. At all. However, those faced with raising children outside of organized religion and looking for answers on how to proceed will find them here. McGowan writes:
Even though we can and often do end up pursuing the same ends, religious and nonreligious parenting really aren’t the same. There is a profound difference in the context, the space in which religious parenting and nonreligious parenting happen.
A really active and simple example of this comes from one brief line in the book: “Skepticism -- the simple request for reasoning or evidence before accepting a proposition -- is a virtue to treasure and cultivate in our kids.”

Questions of community, ethics, religious literacy “without indoctrination” and other important matters are considered and discussed. Raising Freethinkers is dynamic, thought-provoking reading for anyone, but non-religious parents will discover they no longer need to feel quite so alone.

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Widow Will Self-Publish Philip K. Dick’s Final Work

When I first saw the story in The New York Times, I found it difficult to believe that any SF/F publisher worth the title wouldn’t jump at the chance to publish the final novel of Philip K. Dick, even if his wife did have a hand at drawing some fictional conclusions, but that was pretty much how it sounded:
Philip K. Dick’s last wife has reworked the novel he was working on when he died in 1982 and is publishing the book herself, The Guardian reported. Tessa Dick, the fifth wife of the science-fiction legend, told Self-Publishing Review, an online magazine (, that her version of “The Owl in Daylight” seeks to express “the spirit” of the proposed book, about which little is known.
It was difficult to credit. After all, this is Philip K. Dick we’re talking about. At the time of his death (at age 53 in 1982), in addition to having been married and divorced five times, Dick had written 36 novels and over 100 short stories, nine of which have been adapted into blindingly popular movies including Blade Runner, Total Recall and Minority Report. How could publishers not be mauling Tessa Dick to get to The Owl in Daylight?

In the interview that the NYT references, things come a little more clear. Dick says:
I started writing The Owl in Daylight when some of Phil’s loyal readers begged me to write it. I had (somewhat foolishly) posted a comment on a blog about the Owl that I knew the story and could write it. This was followed by pleas that I do so at once. I attempted to express the spirit of Phil’s proposed novel, without using his plot or the one character that he had created.

Phil had written very little about this novel. In fact, all that has been found is a letter that he wrote to his editor and his agent (same letter, two copies). It was very sketchy and did not even name any characters. It did mention Dante’s Inferno and the Faust legend.

I did not use Phil’s ideas as he expressed them in that letter to his editor and his agent.
So, OK, wait: the Times’ “reworked” is pretty generous here. From the sounds of things, Tessa Dick took the broad strokes of her late husband’s idea, discarded some of his suggestions and... wrote her own book. Not exactly the same thing. Still, I imagine Dick fans will want a gander.

The official Philip K. Dick site seems not to have updated their “News” page since early 2008. They do, however, have this to say about unfinished Dick novels:
Only one novel by Philip K. Dick remains to be published, Voices from the Street, a long and very early “experimental mainstream’ novel written circa 1952-53. There are several other unpublished novels he is known to have written, including Pilgrim on the Hill and Nicholas and the Higs, but the manuscripts for these were lost or destroyed by him while he was still alive. At the time of his death in March 1982, he had made plans for a novel called The Owl in Daylight but had not yet started writing it.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Deighton Turns 80

British historian and spy novelist Len Deighton -- the author of such familiar works as The IPCRESS File (1962), Funeral in Berlin (1964), and XPD (1981) -- turns 80 years old today. To help celebrate, The Telegraph features an interview with the “famously publicity-shy” writer. For more background on Deighton’s life and literary endeavors, check out Rob Mallows’ The Deighton Dossier and the “Unofficial” Len Deighton Home Page.


Several Ludlum Thrillers Head for Big Screen

Protothriller writer Robert Ludlum died in 2001. Eight years on, he’s never been more popular as news of possibly four more of his blockbusters head for the big screen.

According to 411mania, this is likely due in part to the fact that Captivate Entertainment, who control the screen rights to Ludlum’s novels, made a deal with Universal last year:
Run by Jeffrey Weiner and Ben Smith, Captivate’s new deal gave Universal exclusive rights to continue the “Bourne Identity” series, and gave the studio first look at all Ludlum titles, 25 of which haven’t yet been optioned for the screen.

Universal is working on a fourth “Bourne” film for Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass based on an original idea, and Universal and Strike Entertainment are prepping an adaptation of Ludlum’s “The Sigma Protocol.”

The early talks for “The Parsifal Mosaic” come in the wake of Tom Cruise entering negotiations to star with Denzel Washington for director David Cronenberg in the Ludlum thriller “The Matarese Circle” at MGM. The “Matarese” deal was made before Captivate landed at Universal.
The Guardian
confirms the scuttlebutt around Matarese:
Tom Cruise and Denzel Washington look set to play rival spies forced to team up in David Cronenberg's forthcoming adaptation of the Robert Ludlum thriller The Matarese Circle, Variety reports.

Cruise is in talks to play one of the spooks, while Oscar-winner Washington is understood to have already signed on to play the other. Ludlum's 1979 novel is set during the cold war era and centres on rival US and Russian spies who have been vieing for supremacy for several decades. The screenplay for the new film, by Wanted's Michael Brandt and Derek Haas, will bring the story up to date, but will still focus on the elite group of the title, an organisation that has infiltrated every layer of society.
More book-to-film news in that same 411mania piece: Clive Barker talks about the possibility of releasing the movie version of Tortured Souls from development hell (“I think it'll happen. I think it'll happen probably only when I've got back into the swing of directing. There's a script I like very much.”)


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Children’s Books: A Small Free Kiss in the Dark by Glenda Millard

A Small Free Kiss In The Dark (Allen and Unwin) by Glenda Millard is a story about ordinary people in an unexpected war.

Skip, a boy who has been living in abusive foster homes, runs away. On the streets, he meets Billy, an old man who has his own painful memories and has been living rough or in refuges. Billy has learned how to survive there without losing his soul and he has begun to teach Skip how to do the same when, overnight, the city is bombed.

The old man and young boy take refuge, at first, in the State Library, where they meet Max, a little boy who was waiting for his mother to pick him up after school when the bombs started to drop. The city is becoming less and less safe and the three head along the railway tracks towards Dreamland, a now-abandoned amusement park by the sea. There, they are joined by dancer Tia and her baby, Sixpence. Skip overcomes his grief at his loss of his father with this family, something he has not known in a long time. Billy also needs to purge his own grief at having made a mistake that lost him his own son.

The city in the novel is clearly meant to be Melbourne, but is never named and there are some differences. We are never told who the invaders are, or why they have invaded, because that’s not the point. The point is, how might people treat each other when suddenly home is no more -- for anyone? In A Small Free Kiss in the Dark, people can be kind to each other -- even an invading soldier can suddenly realize that this horror isn’t what he signed up for. There is a new family made up of Skip, who can’t remember having a family apart from a soldier father suffering post-traumatic stress disorder; Billy, who lost his child; Max, who had a family and misses his mother and Tia, who has become a mother far too young and has no one to care for her and her child.

The book provides food for thought and should appeal to children of 11 or 12 and upwards.

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Writers Conference Cancels 2009 Events

The Santa Barbara Writers Conference events scheduled for 2009 are the latest victims of the current economic crunch.

The SBWC’s executive director, Marcia Meier, has officially announced that the organization’s March Weekend of Poetry and the conference itself in June are “on hiatus this year due to a worsening economy. For a business dependent on discretionary income, like the Santa Barbara Writers Conference, a bad economy means fewer people are able to attend. And since most of the conference costs are fixed, this presents the prospect of operating at a loss. So, given the current conditions, and after long and difficult deliberation, we have decided to put our efforts into making the March and June 2010 conferences as successful as possible.”

The news is especially distressing in light of the fact that the 36-year-old SBWC is one of the most established and respected in the United States.

The announcement comes days after a similar one from the Halifax International Writers Festival. Quill & Quire broke the story last week:
In another dismaying sign of the times, this year’s Halifax International Writers Festival has been cancelled. The fest, which was scheduled to take place April 1-4, was preparing to celebrate its fifth anniversary.

Festival founder and organizer Heather Gibson says there were a number of factors in her decision to call off the spring event – some professional, some personal. “This recession has perhaps made audiences a little more cautious with their money, so there might have been a greater risk involved with ticket sales than in previous years,” she says. “[Also], I think that it was time for me to look at other priorities in my own life.”

Monday, February 16, 2009

Canadian Poet Nellie McClung Dead at 80

Nellie McClung, a talented and eccentric Canadian poet, died recently in Vancouver. She would have been 80 on March 21st.

McClung was the granddaughter of the Canadian feminist of the same name who played such an important role in fighting for women’s right to vote and who was also the first woman to serve on the Canadian legislature.

McClung’s best known work is probably My Sex is Ice Cream (Ekstasis Editions), a 1996 book of poems based on the life of McClung’s hero, Marilyn Monroe. Her most recent book was I Hate Wives! a “short collection of terse verse and aphorisms on sexual politics” published by Ekstasis Editions in 2003.

McClung died of conditions resulting from lung cancer at Mount St. Joseph’s Hospital in Vancouver on February 13th.


Review: Skin and Bones by Tom Bale

Today in January Magazine’s crime fiction section, contributing editor Jim Winter reviews Skin and Bones by Tom Bale. Says Winter:
It starts off quietly enough. Julia Trent ventures to the tiny hamlet of Chilton, north of London, to clean out her recently deceased parents’ home. On a quiet January morning, Julia finds herself stalked by a man with a gun. He’s already murdered several people in the village. She runs, hoping to get away, and is saved by Philip Walker, the hamlet’s anti-development crusader. Walker’s been shot already, but he stares down the killer, a local man named Carl Forester, known for being a bit mental as it is. Walker threatens Forester and is shot again, this time fatally. Just when Julie thinks all is lost, a man in a motorcycle helmet arrives. She’s saved.
The full review is here.

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Children’s Books: Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw by Jeff Kinney

By Ian Buchsbaum, as told to his father Tony

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw (Amulet) is the fourth book in the highly successfuly kids’ series; however, it’s the third one your kids can read, since the previous book was a do-it-yourself diary. The series is about a kid named Greg who lives in a world of mischief. Because this is Greg’s diary, the book contains lots of little stories -- and sketches that help to bring those stories to life.

In The Last Straw, Greg spends time trying to impress a girl named Holly. Also, his brother Rodrick does some crazy antics and his little brother Manny makes up a new word (“ploopy”). Trouble is, their mother doesn’t like the word, so Rodrick breaks it up into syllables (“pl,” “oo,” and “py”) and says a different one each day to Greg. Fun! There’s another kid named Shawn, who has a new baby brother.

Greg’s little stories are written in a quick, easy style that’s fun for kids to read. I’m pretty addicted, to tell the truth. The sheer number of little stories throughout the book feels just like every kid’s day -- lots of stuff to do and think about, and lots of fun to have.

I really enjoy the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, and lots of my friends do too. Basically that would be everybody in my class. The Last Straw is my favorite one, and it’s so good that I’m bummed that I have to wait for the next one. (Note to Jeff Kinney: Please hurry!)

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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Non-Fiction: Love in 90 Days by Diana Kirschner

This time of year, the pressure to be paired is almost palpable. And whether or not society is supportive of singles seems to be a cyclic thing. Sometimes the pendulum swings one way and everyone is looking for a reason to justify both unpairing or even just celebrating your single state. But that’s not the cycle that we’re currently in. In Love in 90 Days (Center Street) author Diana Kirschner makes this abundantly clear:
Love is life’s golden ticket. It brings in the brightest of colors and the rich high and low notes. There is no mistaking it; you know when you have love. And you definitely know when you don’t. The big question is, What are you doing about not having love in your life? Are you going to risk being alone and lonely, missing out on all that love can give?
So, okay: no pressure, right? But wait, it gets worse. It turns out there are health benefits to being in a relationship, too:
Study after study has shown that love relationships have a huge impact on our psychological, economic, and physical well-being. Having a life partner can create a higher sense of self-worth, provide intimacy and emotional support, which fulfills the deepest need for human connection, and lead to greater wealth and economic stability.
So much for accepting your single self as you are. If you thought you were happy alone, think again. Doctor Diana makes it clear: single sucks. But here’s the problem: what’s a guy to do.

In Love in 90 Days, Kirschner offers up all the answers. And that’s not tongue-in-cheek, either. After all, the subtitle is The Essential Guide to Finding Your Own True Love. That’s a tall order, so Kirschner doesn’t spend too much time on making potential readers feel bad about their partnerless state: she snaps us right to work.

Unfortunately, I was well into Love in 90 Days before I realized that the book is completely not aimed at me. What was my first clue? Try this chapter heading: “Field Report of DUDs and STUDs.” And though some of this advice could work for either gender, Love in 90 Days is most obviously (obvious to anyone but me, I guess) a book aimed at helping women find their ideal man. So I can not tell you if the book works. I can tell you this, though: it’s a 13 week program that takes a sensible and pro-active approach to helping women zero in on their “own true love” in less time than the average sitcom season. Works for me.

From everything I can see, the book is doing very, very well and getting Kirschner a lot of attention. And that’s good, because here is what I hope: she’ll do so well with Love in 90 Days that she’ll write a follow-up, and that follow-up will get me going on finding my “own true love.” There are worse things to hope for.

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Lovers and Word Lovers

Is your heart full, but you just don’t have the words? No worries: The Poetry Foundation offers up a Valentine’s feature that matches up poems and the various stages of love. Classic, romantic, breakup, teenage, timeless, erotic, friendship and so on.

While you’re there, be sure to have a good poke around. The Poetry Foundation’s site is one of the very best we’ve seen. Dynamic, well-executed, with a great (seamless) navigation system and ripplingly fast response. The site would seem to meet the organization’s mandate in all ways:
The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine, is an independent literary organization committed to a vigorous presence for poetry in our culture. It exists to discover and celebrate the best poetry and to place it before the largest possible audience.
Podcasts, audio, poetry reading guides, if anyone out there is making a more compelling case for poetry in the everyday, we have yet to see it. Lovers of words will find it well worth a visit.

The Valentine’s feature is here, the Poetry Foundation’s main site is here.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Cooking for Two by Jessica Strand

It’s not that the idea behind Cooking for Two: Perfect Meals for Pairs (Chronicle Books) is so unique. In fact, lots of cookbooks have been published on this theme. Author Jessica Strand hits her mark perfectly, though, creating a book that will meet the needs of chefs at many levels.

And when Strands says Cooking for Two, she means it. She doesn’t just mean dinner for two or recipes for two, but rather food that you can build together, right down to a list of tips to ease the way for couples cooking.

Strand’s food choices are perfect, as well. From the complicated and time-consuming (Two Pizzas with Two Toppings would qualify as one -- or two -- of these. And the Chicken Tagine isn’t complicated, but there’s a bit of work involved) to recipes so simple, they practically make themselves (Antipasti Dinner for one. Quesadillas for another.) For the most part, though, the recipes are about medium in the complicated department. Easy for the accomplished home chef, challenging but not impossible for those less experienced in the kitchen. For example, the Poached Eggs with Prosciutto and Heirloom Tomatoes, Drizzled with Basil Oil offer a fantastic and easy alternative to the classic eggs benedict. And the Split Broiled Lobster with Lime Butter and Celery Root Remoulade is wonderfully simple and appropriately elegant, a wonderful choice for a romantic dinner for two.

With the current economic dust-up going full force, I think a lot of people will be looking for reasonable alternatives to the big night out this year. Jessica Strand’s Cooking for Two is a great and romantic alternative. Rush down to your independent bookstore pronto and demand your copy while there’s still time to arm yourself for Valentine’s Day.

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Da Vinci Code Author Holds Key

It seems likely that January Magazine’s readers won’t really care that Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code, has written a follow-up Robert Langdon novel. Especially when you consider the source: Entertainment Tonight Online. We’re going to repeat it anyway. Even if you don’t want to know, you can remember that you saw it here first:
ET breaks news from the 'Angels & Demons' set in Geneva. Ron Howard tells ET that The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons author Dan Brown has completed a third book featuring Professor Robert Langdon.
Unsurprisingly, The Los Angeles Times seems more excited about the news than we are:
There is no word yet from Brown’s official website or from his publisher, Doubleday, though Brown has given some information about his "Da Vinci Code" follow-up on his website, assuring readers there that "the next Robert Langdon novel ... is set deep within the oldest fraternity in history ... the enigmatic brotherhood of the Masons." The Wall Street Journal's Jeffrey Trachtenberg reported in January of last year that the new novel even carried the tentative title, "The Solomon Key."

These shreds of information about the next book resulted in plenty of preemptive marketing: I can't even tell you how many books about Masons, secret societies and the hidden meanings of Washington, D.C., landmarks have arrived in our offices over the last few years. In the wake of "The Da Vinci Code," there was a billion imitators. Now they aren't even waiting for the new book.
If nothing else, word about the new book should help get some butts into seats when the Dan Brown-penned, Ron Howard-directed Angels & Demons opens on May 15th.


Art & Culture: Falling in Love Again edited by Stacey Abbott and Deborah Jermyn

For those who insist their Valentine surprises have deeper meaning and perhaps a bit more meat, Falling in Love Again: Romantic Comedy in Contemporary Cinema (I.B. Tauris) is surprisingly fresh, on-target and deeply interesting.

Falling in Love Again points out that while romantic comedy has long been a staple at the movies, they’ve not often been taken seriously. In this anthology, an international list of contributors take that serious look at all aspects of contemporary comedy in film. And yet, that look is not too serious: we’re left with an expert view at an often artically underappreciated medium.

Both editors are senior lecturer in film and television at Roehampton University in the United Kingdom and both have contributed to or edited other film-related books for I.B. Tauris. Stacey Abbott is the author of 2007’s Celluloid Vampires while Deborah Jermyn is the author of Crime Watching: Investigating Real Crime TV, also from 2007.

Falling in Love Again was published in the UK late in 2008 and will be published by Macmillan in the US next month.

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Without Him, What Would We Call Lincoln Logs?

Many Americans are getting ready to celebrate what would have been the 200th birthday of the 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, born on this day in 1809. Lincoln died April 15, 1865, the first Republican president as well as the first U.S. president to be assassinated. Lincoln was also “the last U.S. chief executive to be elected from Illinois before Barack Obama,” notes J. Kingston Pierce at The Rap Sheet.
In addition to all of the published works commemorating this occasion, scholar and author Henry Louis Gates hosts Looking for Lincoln, a two-hour documentary to be shown tonight on PBS-TV. (Gates’ essay about “Honest Abe” was published earlier in The New York Times.) And National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon broadcast an extraordinarily fine essay last week that looks at the Great Emancipator, warts and all.
You can find these links, and a few more, right here. A few weeks ago, we looked at The Lincolns: Portrait of A Marriage by Daniel Mark Epstein. That review is here.

And in one of those odd cosmic coincidences, today is also the 200th anniversary of the birth of British author and naturalist Charles Darwin.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Author Snapshot: Alan Bradley

Most recent book: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
Born: Toronto, Ontario
Reside: Kelowna, British Columbia
Birthday: October 10th
Web site:

What’s your favorite city?
London, England.

You only have six hours to spend there. What do you do?
Squeeze in a visit to all of Nicholas Hawksmoor’s remaining churches. That’s a church an hour.

What food do you love?
Egg salad sandwiches.

What food have you vowed never to touch again?

What’s on your nightstand?
Conceit, by Mary Novik, and The Frozen Thames, by Helen Humphreys.

What inspires you?
What Peter Ackroyd (and others) have called “Albion” -- the idea of England as part of the collective imagination. Ackroyd wrote: “I truly believe that there are certain people to whom or through whom the territory, the place, the past speaks .... Just as it seems possible to me that a street or dwelling can materially affect the character and behaviour of the people who dwell in them, is it not also possible that within this city (London) and within its culture are patterns of sensibility or patterns of response which have persisted from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and perhaps even beyond?”

By observing myself, I can see that this sense extends not only throughout time, but through geographical space; that I am linked to England by more than genetics.

What are you working on now?
I’ve just finished the second book in the Flavia de Luce series, The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag. And begun work on the third.

Tell us about your process.
For me, inspiration springs from the thinking process. I might be ploughing through a rather dry old chemistry text, when I spot a certain suggestive phrase, such as “the egg shell will now be seen to assume a reddish tint,” and I think -- or rather Flavia thinks -- “Aha!”

As others have pointed out, plot springs from character, and character springs from plot, and they both spring from that kind of book-browsing inspiration. It’s rather like the recycling symbol: a circle of arrows that recycles, in itself, the idea of the alchemical Ouroboros, or Uroboros: the snake that swallows its own tail.

Lift your head and look around. What do you see?
Two cats cuddling, one teakettle boiling.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I began a novel at the kitchen table when I was five, but never got much past the first couple of paragraphs.

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

Reading books. For years I longed to be a theatre projectionist, but now I’ve done that.

To date, what moment in your career has made you happiest?
The moment when The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie won the Debut Dagger Award.

For you, what is the easiest thing about being writer?
The actual writing -- and the research.

What’s the most difficult?
Forcing myself to stop researching and get writing.

What question do you get asked about your writing most often?

“Do you actually get paid for doing this?”

What’s the question you’d like to be asked?
“Would you be willing to provide a good home for a Steinway concert grand and a complete collection of Chums annuals?”

Please tell us about The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.
It’s a book about how far youthful idealism can carry you if it’s not stamped out, as it so often is. And besides that, I like to think that it’s a rattling good mystery, too -- the sort of book that makes you feel better when you’ve finished than you did when you started.

Tell us something about yourself that no one knows.
That I share, with hawks, the ability to see into the ultraviolet part of the spectrum (at least, with one eye).

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Regional Book Events Make Nothing But Sense

I felt very honored to be asked to give a presentation about my most recent book at the Western Book Rep Association’s spring Book Fair in Victoria, British Columbia yesterday. It’s a great event and I met a lot of interesting and passionate people; people who care about books.

The WBRA does this twice a year: one in late winter in Victoria, then one in summer in Vancouver. It’s very intimate but superbly functional. A small trade fair. Some professional development. I’m not sure how many people attend, but I would guess it’s under 500 in total. Perhaps even fewer. Honestly: were you to attend the entire event from start to finish, you would have a reasonable expectation of meeting everyone if you were so inclined. So “intimate” really does cover it. I was only there for one evening and one morning but in that time, I heard a lot of laughter and a good number of interesting conversations. It’s a great event.

Like a lot of Canadians in book-related industries, I’ve been giving a fair amount of thought to the state of trade book events in this country of late. I even editorialized a bit about it in this space last week. Because, of course, BookExpo Canada -- the Canadian sister fair to BookExpo America that was held by the same company -- died a fairly unlamented death recently. Unlamented because, according to most of the people I’ve spoken with about it, BEC came out of the gate broken and just kept getting worse. Bottom line: it was expensive for most people to get to and since its usefulness for booksellers was never that clear, it got to be less and less important to the industry. And now it’s gone. The only question now is: what happens next?

Since Reed announced BEC’s death, several people have mentioned how powerful small, regional exhibitions can be. Having now experienced WBRA’s wonderful Book Fair I completely get that. At the Book Fair, a handful of invited authors spend a generous amount of face time with the people who will ultimately be selling their books to the public. Since it is a regional fair, those same booksellers enjoy meeting the actual reps who manage their accounts and perhaps the occasional sales V.P. who has come out to add their expertise. That’s a very different story than one finds at the large centralized bookfairs of yore, where senior executives could be counted on to spend very little time at the booth, opting instead to give their time to larger clients. Which means that most booksellers -- i.e. most small independent bookstore owners -- quite often ended up at the booth talking to whatever publishing company staffer could be tricked into spending time there.

In a country as large as Canada, small regional book events are the logical next step. Richer experiences for booksellers and publishers and less investment for everyone, in terms of both travel and venue outlay, it’s an idea that makes nothing but sense.

Meanwhile, the book industry in Canada is aquiver with discussion about what will take the place of the BookExpo, for several years the central bookfest. Some of those answers might come in Toronto in June at BookCamp. The Quill & Quire blog adds the 4-1-1 here.


Review: Good People by Marcus Sakey

Today in January Magazine’s crime fiction section, contributing editor Jim Winter reviews Good People by Marcus Sakey. Says Winter:
If you suddenly had half a million dollars, what would you do with it? In Marcus Sakey’s latest thriller, Good People, Tom and Anna Reed find out. After a fire alarm goes off in the ground-floor unit of their Chicago duplex, they discover their tenant dead in his bed from a drug overdose and a stash of cash in his kitchen. Perhaps they should have asked themselves where it came from before they claimed those riches as a windfall.

Their renter, who called himself Bill Samuelson, seems to have secreted more than $300,000 in flour sacks, cereal boxes and other receptacles. The Reeds don’t miss their tenant so much. Samuelson wasn’t the friendliest neighbor, but at least he paid his rent on time and minded his own business. And his demise looks like a blessing.

The full review is here.

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Friday, February 06, 2009

Children’s Books: The Diary of Laura’s Twin by Kathy Kacer

In The Diary of Laura’s Twin (Allen & Unwin) we meet Laura, a middle class Canadian Jewish girl about to do her bat mitzvah, the coming-of-age ceremony Jewish girls do at the age of 12. She has already raised money for African charities and as far as she is concerned, she has done her bat mitzvah project.

The rabbi running the bar/bat mitzvah preparation class has other ideas. He asks his students to do another project, in which each of them will be “twinned” with a child who never had the chance to do their own coming of age during the Holocaust.

At first, Laura is annoyed. She has studied the Holocaust at school and right now, she has homework, sports and other activities to keep her busy. However, she agrees to pay one visit to Mrs. Mandelkorn, an elderly woman who hands her a diary, translated into English, of a girl called Sara Gittler, who was in the Warsaw Ghetto, just before the uprising. Despite herself, Laura is drawn into Sara’s story. She begins to wonder how she would feel if, like Sara, she had a lot more to worry about than her own small problems. Sara’s diary also inspires her to help a friend find the courage to do the right thing after witnessing an incident of racist vandalism. If people had had such courage during the war, she believes, perhaps the Holocaust wouldn’t have happened.

The Diary of Laura’s Twin ends with some biographies of real people involved in the Ghetto uprising, plus a man who looked after orphans, mentioned in the novel. It includes some useful Web sites for those who want to follow up the subject. The photos throughout the book are well chosen and remind you that while the characters are fictional, the background isn’t. In these days of Holocaust denial that’s important.

I declare my interest, here, as the child of Holocaust survivors, one of whom, my father, was a survivor of the Ghetto uprising. As such, I found it hard even to start this book, though I’m glad I did. To be honest, I didn’t find it quite as powerful as Once, Morris Gleitzman’s child Holocaust novel. However, it’s a good introduction to the subject for children. Apparently, “twinning” is a genuine activity, which the author had witnessed, giving her the idea for the story. I haven’t heard of it, myself, but found it interesting.

The language is simple and even reluctant readers should be able to manage it. Recommended.

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Thursday, February 05, 2009

SFF: The Steel Remains by Richard K. Morgan

Back in 2002 when Richard K. Morgan’s first book, Altered Carbon, hit the shelves, both readers and reviewers went nuts. In January Magazine’s Best of 2002, gabe chouinard made the book one of his picks for best of the year. “If Raymond Chandler had ever spent any amount of time wallowing in the cyberpunk movement of the 1980s,” wrote chouinard, “I’m pretty sure he could have written Altered Carbon, an absolutely stellar first novel from Richard Morgan.”

It was a feeling that was echoed throughout reviewerdom and has been echoed since in subsequent books and which, in fact, is bound to be echoed for The Steel Remains (DelRey), another stellar novel, and one that takes Morgan into a new-for-him world: epic fantasy which, in his hands, is darkly gritty, violent and entirely gripping. And from the book’s opening paragraph, we know we’re back into territory that chouinard described so well: Chandler on hard drugs. Or maybe, Chandler on synth drugs, rather than the hard booze he was known for.
When a man you know to be of sound mind tells you his recently deceased moth has just tried to climb in his bedroom window and eat him, you only have two basic options. You can smell his breath, take his pulse, and check his pupils to see if he’s ingested anything nasty, or you can believe him.
If you have thus far missed out on Morgan’s work, do yourself a favor and try whichever one of his six books strikes your fancy. It might be good to know that a couple of Morgan’s books -- Altered Carbon and Market Forces -- have been optioned for film. Also homophobes might want to brace themselves for The Steel Remains, intended to be the first book in a new trilogy. Whatever you’ve heard about him, you’ll be hearing more soon.

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Video Book: What’s Wrong with this Picture?

HarperCollins has a new solution for people who lack the time to read: the video book. Paid Content reports:
For those who don’t have the time to listen to an audiobook, let alone read a hardback or e-Book, HarperCollins brings you: the video book.
Way to go, Harper: sounds like you just invented television.

The piece in question is here.

Meanwhile, still on the HarperCollins front, BookArmy, the book recommendation site the company has been scheming on for a while, has been put on hold while Authonomy, the social networking site they launched last September, continues to chug along.


Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Not Much Surprise About BookExpo Canada’s Demise

Though some media are acting surprised by Reed Exhibitions’ pulling the plug on their BookExpo Canada event in June and others are chalking it up to yet another bite from a hungry economy, it seems to me that the answer is somewhat more simple. The book industry in Canada never seemed that comfortable with the Reed-run events, which were always essentially little more than smaller, lamer versions of Reed’s big U.S. book event.

The fact is, the Canadian book industry is different than the one that serves the American market. There are some important differences in both the culture of the book industry in both countries as well as the culture itself. Who would even imagine that simply scaling down and laming up a formula that works well in one country is going to work in another, different one? The idea defies logic.

I never heard anyone going into raptures about BookExpo Canada, the way some exhibitors and attendees can about the U.S. event. In fact, the reverse was true: you’d hear lots of grumbling and dissatisfaction and not a lot of scurrying about on the Reed end to put things right.

Like many of the book industry shifts that are being attributed to the economy, the end of BookExpo Canada is happening now, but it was a long time coming and no one I’ve talked to sound either very surprised or exceedingly disappointed.

Part of this is due the fact that good things are on the horizon: things that make sense in this economy and the culture of the Canadian market. Bookbrunch UK talked to Kim McArthur, “the effervescent founder and President and Publisher of McArthur & Company,” who said she was in favor of an event modeled on the American Booksellers Association’s Winter Institute. Says McArthur:
It was really impressive -- two days of educational seminars for booksellers, with a keynote breakfast with industry leaders (Morgan Entrekin of Grove Atlantic, Bob Miller of Hyperion, Nan Graham of Scribners). Participating publishers of all sizes, from the smallest indie to the largest multinational, had two rounds of ‘speed dating,’ pitching their spring lists to the 500 booksellers in attendance, going from table to table where the booksellers were sitting.
McArthur even feels it may still be possible to organize a Canadian event for this year.

According to Publishers Weekly, Susan Dayus, executive director of the Canadian Booksellers Association, said she still believes “there is a need for a national gathering of booksellers, publishers, authors and others connected to the book industry.”
She said the CBA is looking at the possibility of launching a new event this year. She noted that the association had always held its annual general meeting in conjunction with a convention and said the CBA will immediately begin exploring the feasibility of putting some sort of show together, but was uncertain what form it would take.
The Bookbrunch article is here. The PW piece is here.


Ponzi the Musical

Ever since the Madoff incident erupted late last year, I’ve been wondering about the term “Ponzi scheme.” In The New York Times yesterday, Patrick Healy explains it, while also letting us know about a musical retelling of the story heading to a stage or theater near you.
“Ponzi’s Scheme” tells the story of Charles Ponzi, a charismatic charlatan who came to Boston and fleeced investors for millions of dollars in the 1920s by promising them huge, swift returns on their money — then used the money to pay big sums to earlier investors and repeated the cycle with tier after tier of investors to convey the appearance of earnings.
Jean Doumanian Productions, who produced August: Osage County and several films by Woody Allen, will develop Ponzi’s Scheme, a 2005 non-fiction book by Mitchell Zuckoff, into a musical.

The New York Times piece is here.


Tuesday, February 03, 2009

New Today: Mr. Darcy’s Dream by Elizabeth Aston

One of the most amazing things about Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is how, almost 200 years after the death of the author, her characters continue to inspire others to enter her world, sometimes in the most public of ways.

Some of the fanfic inspired by Austen’s work is the very worst of fanfic of any kind: weak little pastiches that barely captures the flavor of Austen’s work, let alone the comforting majesty.

And then there’s Elizabeth Aston. With Mr. Darcy’s Dream (Touchstone Fireside) she’s six novels into an internationally acclaimed series inspired by characters who first breathed in Jane Austen’s most famous work.

Aston describes herself as a “passionate Jane Austen fan” who also happened to have studied at Oxford with Austen biographer Lord David Cecil. But Aston is more than a studied fan: she’s also personally talented and assured, as a growing readership for her series will attest.

In Mr. Darcy’s Dream, Darcy’s niece Phoebe has returned to Pemberley after a failed romance... only to hook up with her uncle’s brilliant landscape designer.

Eighteenth century chicklit... Regency style, but man: this stuff has legs.

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New Today: Evermore by Alyson Noel

Into the ever-increasing fray of books attempting to compete with Stephanie Meyer’s phenomenally successful Twilight series, Alyson Noel offers up her first paranormal romance for young adults, Evermore (St. Martin’s Griffin).

Sixteen-year-old Ever lost her parents, sister and even the family dog to an accident. Beyond the obvious tragedy, Ever is different than she was before. With a single touch she can get more deeply inside a person than she would ever want. She can hear their thoughts, sense their tragedies, even see their auras. And it sets her apart even more than she would otherwise be: she is different in so many ways.

As soon as she meets Damen, she senses a kindred spirit. But what, exactly, is beyond his gorgeous and exotic façade? And does Ever really even want to know?

Aside from the obvious metaphors of teen angst and separation (Oh, the pain!) Evermore is certainly no worse than some of the paranormal schlock the competition is churning out. In some ways, it’s much better. The writing here is clear, the story well-defined and narrator Ever has an engaging voice that teens should enjoy. And, anyway, schlock is in the eye of the beholder. One can not go anywhere teenagers can be seen right now, without seeing one of them clutching a Twilightish-looking book. Subtext: they’re reading when not so very long ago, they were not. That’s about as much as anyone buying books for teens can ever ask.

New next month: yet another offering from the mother-daughter team of P.C. and Kristin Cast. An embargo keeps us from mentioning anything much about the book at all just yet, but we will say it’s called Hunted and is part of the Cast’s House of Night Series. It is the fifth book in the series -- after 2008’s Untamed. Hunted goes on sale on March 10th and, properly shelved in a bookstore, you’ll find it not very far from Evermore and the same sophisticated young readership has definitely been kept in mind.

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Massive Dose of Motherhood Leads to Book Offers

Want a book deal? Aside from doing baseball-related stuff, or being a teen queen, one way to do it is to have a lot of children. That is a real lot of children. At least, that’s what a 33-year-old single mom in California has discovered.

It’s beginning to look like Nadya Suleman, who gave birth to octuplets on January 26th and who already had six children, aged two to seven, will have a book deal before very much time passes. With 14 tiny mouths to feed, though, I can’t imagine she’ll get much time for writing for the next decade or so.

The moral issues are plentiful and you don’t have to go far to find them. Here we’re just tallking book stuff though, and on that topic, Suleman’s publicist had a couple of things to say to AP:
The mother of the world’s longest-living octuplets is being deluged with offers for book deals, TV shows and other business proposals, but has not decided what she might do other than care for her children, her newly hired spokeswoman said Monday.

Hundreds of requests have been made since Nadya Suleman gave birth to six boys and two girls a week ago, said Joann Killeen, president of Killeen Furtney Group, a public relations company.

“She’s the most sought after mom in the world right now,” Killeen said. “Everyone wants to talk to her.”


Monday, February 02, 2009

New in Paperback: The Book of Dead Philosophers by Simon Critchley

The Book of Dead Philosophers (Vintage) is shockingly lucid, surprisingly good, unexpectedly funny. It’s a book that meets its initial mandate, then passes it by a country mile. Clearly, I liked it a lot. I find it difficult to imagine anyone with even a passing interest in philosophy who would not enjoy it.

Author Simon Critchley looks chronologically at those who dedicated their lives to thinking about intellectual matters of life and death and how they themselves exited the material world. “Very simply stated,” writes the author, “this is a book about how philosophers have died and what we can learn from philosophy about death and dying.”

But it’s more than that, too. Critchley points out that we, as a society, are almost ridiculously frightened of death. And what can we do about that? Critchley has the answer: philosophy.
It was a commonplace in antiquity that philosophy provides the wisdom necessary to confront death. That is, the philosopher looks death in the face and has the strength to say that it is nothing.
That’s in theory. In practice... well, Critchley gives us short profiles of close to 200 philosophers, a little about how they lived and -- more importantly in the context of this book -- how they died. On that journey, we encounter all that life has to offer: wit and wisdom, tragedy and comedy. There are bizarre ends and others that are pathetically unexceptional. In short, he gives us the tools we need to begin to “learn to have death in your mouth, in the words you speak, the food you eat and the drink that you imbibe.”

It’s a remarkable book.

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Sunday, February 01, 2009

African Heritage Month Begins

The New Jersey Star-Ledger kicks off Black History Month with reviews of four books that look at the history of black experience in America.

Under review are Freedom Facts and First: 400 Years of the African American Civil Rights Experience by Jessie Carney & Linda T. Wynn (Visible Ink Press); Mrs. Dred Scott: A Life on Slavery’s Frontier by Lea VanderVelde (Oxford University Press); King’s Dream by Eric Sundquist (Yale University Press); and Through it All: Reflections on My Life, My Family and My Faith by Christine King Farris (Atria).

“Since 1926,” writes reviewer Tom Mackin, “February has been celebrated as Black History Month. It is a time when the contributions of people of African heritage are recognized. These four books are representative of that tradition.”

The Star-Ledger piece is here. The History Channel offers interesting links and programming here while the Biography Channel does likewise here.

Rare Books Roadshow

Would you love to get your mitts on a book late rocker Jim Morrison created with his own doomed hands? What about a handwritten manuscript fragment by Marcel Proust? Or maybe you’re sitting on a book that you just know is valuable and, short of chasing down the Antiques Roadshow, you don’t know what to do with it?

If any of these questions makes your heart pitter patter, start making plans to get to the 42nd annual California International Antiquarian Book Fair which gets underway later this month at the Concourse Exhibition Center in San Francisco. With over 240 rare booksellers from around the world converging on the Bay area, this is the largest antiquarian book fair in the United States.

Dealers will be offering rare and antiquarian books, manuscripts and other related materials priced from just a couple of bucks to hundreds of thousands. Collectors will find early printed books and manuscripts, illustrated books, fine bindings, early American and European literature, modern first editions, books for children, maps, autographs, ephemera and antiquarian books on every imaginable subject.

Those with questions about their own treasures can bring their rare books to the fair on Discovery Day, February 15th between 1:30 and 3 pm for a free appraisal. Experts will offer informal appraisals for up to three books. As part of the Discovery Day activities two related sessions are available: “Book Collecting 101” and “What is This Book Worth” should both offer a wealth of information for the new collector.

The California International Antiquarian Book Fair runs from February 13th until the 15th. You can visit the event Web site for full information.

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