Tuesday, September 29, 2009

New This Month: Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters

On a recent visit to my local independent bookseller, I noticed a handsome stand-up display based on the work of Jane Austen. It was filled with beautifully bound works with lovely cover illustrations. Collectors editions of Emma and Mansfield Park were nestled in between selected versions equally beautifully produced editions of books written in the style of Austen’s work, a sub-genre that controls a huge share of the market.

And then there it was, within this unashamedly Regency display, hardly looking at all out of place with its brilliantly executed cover artwork, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters (Quirk), the only hint that something was amiss being the tentacles flowing down the side of the hero’s face like so many rubbery locks.

And you see this display and you can’t help but say, “What’s wrong with this picture?” It just bubbles out of you.

While it’s difficult not to ask “why” when you see all this Austen-ish loveliness lined up in this way, it’s not a question many people are asking these days. Quirk has dropped two books into the sea of Austen take-offs this year. This new Sea Monster book and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies earlier in 2009. Both have been massive hits. I can’t imagine that anyone could have anticipated how big this thing would get.

There’s a great deal I could tell you about this book, but none of it will alter what you already know and feel. You’re either open to this sort of playfulness... or you’re not and, probably, you already know into which camp you fall. The most basic information, then, can come from the back of the actual book, which sets things up quite well and which I can’t resist quoting:
Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters expands the original text of the beloved Jane Austen novel with all-new scenes of giant lobsters, rampaging octopi, two-headed sea serpents, and other biological monstrosities .... It’s survival of the fittest -- and only the swiftest swimmers will find true love!
Love it or hate it, ambivalence is not an option. And as far as crass spoofs go, this one is very, very good.

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Art & Culture: How the Beatles Destroyed Rock ‘N’ Roll by Elijah Wald

It’s important to know going in that How the Beatles Destroyed Rock ‘N’ Roll: An Alternative History of American Popular Music (Oxford University Press), doesn’t really have much to do with the Beatles at all. Or maybe it is more accurate to say that it has everything and nothing to do with them.

What the book really does is take on everything we think we know about popular music because, as author Elijah Wald tells us, “the past keeps looking different as the present changes.”

In many ways, Wald looks at music from a new and surprising place: the various spots where it is seen and felt. From those who make it and those who, individually, groove to it. This passage explains the title -- and in some ways the book itself -- most succinctly:
If you are not aware of the Beatles, you cannot hope to understand any music of the 1960s, because they are ubiquitous and affected all the other music. Even if some musicians remained free of their influence, those musicians were still heard by an audience that was acutely conscious of the Beatles. They were the dominant, inescapable sound of the era.
And though you might disagree with those words -- or, at least, some of them -- the fact that they are worth arguing is... well... inarguable.

Wald is a musician and writer who has authored six previous books on music including Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues and Global Minstrels: Voices of World Music. How the Beatles Destroyed Rock ‘N’ Roll is highly readable. Wald adds something new to a field most of us thought had been over planted. The book is lucid, innovative and richly worthwhile.

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Monday, September 28, 2009

New This Month: Climbing Patrick’s Mountain by Des Kennedy

If Des Kennedy’s name is familiar to you, it’s just as likely to be due to his work as a journalist as it is to his novels. Not that they haven’t attracted a following: they have. But these are sweetly esoteric books. Lingering looks at matters of importance in the middle of life, all cored by a sensibility in rough tune with the environment. As a journalist, however, Kennedy is the go-to guy for matters of the garden. With all of these things under consideration, Climbing Patrick’s Mountain (Brindle & Glass) is not a surprise, but it’s often a delight.

Ex-pat Irishman Patrick Gallagher is a world-class breeder of roses. And a bit of a nut. Under duress, he accepts an invitation to return to Ireland to lead a garden tour. Along the way he encounters ghosts past, threats present and a future that often seems to sweat under the pressure of uncertainty.

Kennedy is a fine writer -- a novelist, indeed -- and Climbing Patrick’s Mountain is an enjoyable ride. It manages to be both a taut and gentle book. It will be loved especially by those who are entranced by all things Irish.

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Davidson and Doctorow Take Home 2009 Sunburst Awards

Andrew Davidson and Cory Doctorow emerged victorious from two very tight fields in the 2009 Sunburst Awards.

A prized and juried award presented annually, the Sunburst Award is based on excellence of writing and is awarded annually to a Canadian writer who has published a book-length work of speculative fiction. Named for a novel by the late Phyllis Gotlieb, the Sunburst Award consists of a cash prize of $1000 as well as a hand-crafted medallion incorporating the Sunburst logo designed by Marcel Gagné.

The winner of the 2009 award in the adult category was Andrew Davidson for The Gargoyle (Random House Canada). In the young adult category, it was awarded to Cory Doctorow for Little Brother (Tor).

The other shortlisted works for the 2009 adult award were:

  • Night Child by Jes Battis
  • The Alchemist’s Code by Dave Duncan
  • Things Go Flying by Shari Lapeña
  • Half a Crown by Jo Walton
The other shortlisted works for the 2009 young adult award were:

  • The Summoning by Kelley Armstrong
  • Dingo by Charles de Lint
  • Wild Talent: A Novel of the Supernatural by Eileen Kernaghan
  • Night Runner by Max Turner


Kanon’s Stardust is Pierce's Pick

One of the weekly features of January Magazine’s crime-fiction page is “Pierce’s Picks.” Every Monday, J. Kingston Pierce selects a just-published book that goes on to headline January’s crime-fiction section for the next seven days.

His selection for this week is Stardust by Joseph Kanon, while for the week of September 21st, he chose The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny.

If you have not been keeping track of what Pierce has been Picking (just try to say that five times fast), you haven’t missed the boat: 52 weeks of Pierce’s Picks are archived here. Meanwhile, if your hankering for crime fiction goes deeper still, Pierce is also the editor of January Magazine’s sister publication, The Rap Sheet, where the you can find the very best of crime fiction coverage.

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Saturday, September 26, 2009

New Last Week: Spooner by Pete Dexter

In the advance reading copies of Pete Dexter’s long-awaited new novel, Spooner (Grand Central), the author himself not only tells readers what took so long, he also manages to tacitly tell us exactly why he’s worth the wait:
As far as I know, sometime in November of last year, the book you have in your hands was three years late. There was many reasons it was three years late, probably the most conspicuous being that it was once 250 pages or so longer than the version you hold, and it takes maybe half a year to write an extra 250 pages, and at least twice that to subtract them back out. I realize this leaves another year and a half unaccounted for, and all I can say about that, readers, is get in line. Whole decades are missing from my life, and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have it any other way.
There’s more -- including a Dexter-style summary of the trouble to the business of publishing a book three years late can present -- but you get the idea. Dexter is vivacious and his voice is light and bright but he manages at the same time to bring his words home with some weight. Not everyone can manage this neat feat: light and bright and weight.

To my mind, the story in Spooner is less important than the journey. We are immersed in the troubled life of Georgia-born Warren Spooner. A coming-of-age story on one level. The tale of the possible connections between men on another. But this is Pete Dexter, so it’s really none of those things. And more.

There are whispers that Spooner is at least semi-autobiographical. “The novel he was born to write,” says his publisher. Never mind that: the book is terrific. If you’ve not read this National Book Award-winning author before, Spooner is a great place to start.


What the Tweet Is This?

Over the last few days we’ve microblogged about a number of stories on Twitter we haven’t had the time to get to in the Real World. Here are a few of the stories we’ve covered in 140 characters or less over the last few days:

Get ready to read those banned books: Banned Books Week starts now!

Nothing at all to do with books but -- what the heck -- it’s Saturday so play the game that comes to us from @npbooks: is it a font or cheese?

We discovered that Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling was on Twitter midday on Friday when she had about 3000 followers and three tweets. By that evening, it was over 25k... still three tweets. We predict there will be many, many more followers before she’s done. We have no opinion about the possible frequency of her tweets. You can see for yourself here.

Keats at the movies!

Posthumously released books in The Wall Street Journal.

The BBC and HarperTrue are in cahoots on a reality series based around a competition to find “the greatest real-life stories never told.” The prize? A book deal, of course. Survivor Biography, anyone?

Montreal author Nelly Arcan, 35, was found dead in her apartment late Thursday night. Macleans has the story.

Slate asks: “When have we not been in the midst of a vampire craze?”

MacArthur grant for Edwidge Danticat and others.

Little Miss Sunshine and Like Water for Chocolate to be adapted as stage musicals.

Children of Jack Kirby (Spiderman, X-Men) sue for rights to iconic characters.


Snowbird Hits the Road

Iconic Canadian singer, Anne Murray, has announced a cross-country tour in support of her memoir, All of Me (Knopf Canada), which goes on sale near the end of October.

Knopf Canada says the book will offer details of the singer’s 40-year career, including her start in the coal-mining town of Springhill, Nova Scotia.

“Murray achieved her first gold record in 1970 with Snowbird,” says Knopf Canada, “and went on to rack up a string of top-selling hits including Talk It Over in the Morning, What About Me and You Needed Me.


Friday, September 25, 2009

Author Snapshot: Gyles Brandreth

A Snapshot of ... Gyles Brandreth

Most recent book: Oscar Wilde and the Dead Man’s Smile (Touchstone)
Born: 1948 in a British Forces Hospital in Germany
Reside: London and Paris
Birthday: March 8th
Web site: oscarwildemurdermysteries.com

What’s your favorite city?

London, because in my head I am living in the 1890s when London really was the capital of the civilized world. (Followed by Paris, New York and Venice.)

You only have six hours to spend there. What do you do?
Walk along the north bank of the River Thames, from Chelsea embankment, where my hero, Oscar Wilde, lived, to Tower Bridge, near the Old Bailey courthouse where his public life was brought to an end.

What food do you love?

What food have you vowed never to touch again?
Dates. I cannot stand them!

What’s on your nightstand?
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, my favorite comfort reading. And a pencil and pad in case inspiration strikes in the night!

What inspires you?
The amazing imaginations of the great late-Victorian writers: Wilde, Conan Doyle, Bram Stoker, Robert Louis Stevenson -- and from a generation before, the mind and spirit of Edgar Allan Poe.

What are you working on now?
My next Oscar Wilde mystery. He knew everyone and traveled widely: his life was so turbulent: the possibilities are infinite!

Tell us about your process.
I am disciplined. I plot carefully. I visit all the locations while I am plotting -- all of them, whether it is a morgue or the Sistine Chapel. And then I write at the computer, from 7:30 am to 7:30 pm usually. I aim to complete 1,000 words on a good day.

Lift your head and look around. What do you see?
The London subway. As chance has it, I am writing this on my laptop at Baker Street Station. Oscar Wilde used the London subway: it was very new in his time.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
When I was about 8. My first book was an attempt at a life of William Shakespeare. I was 11 at the time!

If you couldn’t write books, what would you be doing?
Running -- or ruining! -- the country. I used to be a politician.

To date, what moment in your career has made you happiest?
None. I am constantly dissatisfied! That said, I am honored and excited by the fact that my mysteries are now translated into 19 languages and appear around the world. From Peru to Russia, people are fascinated by murder and the story of Oscar Wilde.

For you, what is the easiest thing about being writer?
Being able to disappear into a different world, a different era, and to meet extraordinary people, without having to leave my study.

What’s the most difficult?
Beginning. Starting the next one. Writing page one.

What question do you get asked about your writing most often?
Is everything you write about Wilde and his world true? Yes is the answer. All the details are accurate. The mysteries come from my imagination, but the world they inhabit is real.

What’s the question you’d like to be asked?
How does it feel to be Number One on the New York Times best-seller list, Mr. Brandreth?

What question would you like never to be asked again?

Is that really your age?

Please tell us about Oscar Wilde and the Dead Man’s Smile.
It’s a murder mystery featuring some of the most fascinating figures of the late-19th century: from Wilde and Conan Doyle to P.T. Barnum and Sarah Bernhardt. It takes you to the Midwest and Paris and places of laughter and darkness.

Tell us something about yourself that no one knows.
I am descended from the last man to be beheaded for treason in England and from the first man to identify Jack the Ripper.

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Best of the Best of the Very, Very Best

What is the very best work of American fiction published during the last 60 years? I could give you three guesses but, according to the National Book foundation, you’d probably be way off base. Of the 78 winners those 60 years represent, six finalists have already been selected. And, honestly? It’s a funny little list:
  • The Stories of John Cheever
  • Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison
  • The Collected Stories of William Faulkner
  • The Complete Stories of Flannery O'Connor
  • Gravity’s Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon
  • The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty
Still looking to turn their November shindig into a celebration that can be enjoyed by all, the NBF is asking people to help select the finalist of the six. The e-mail address of those who vote will be entered to win two tickets to the 60th National Book Awards celebration in NYC on November 18th, as well as two night in the Marriott Hotel Downtown.

You can cast your vote here. The entire field can be seen here. Once you’ve done that, you might come back and let us know who you would have selected from 60 years of winners.


Chef Michael Smith Does Not Tweet

In the end, a series of tweets gave up the game.

“You can’t tip enough in Montreal,” came a tweet apparently generated by Canadian celebrity chef and cookbook author Michael Smith. “No matter how much money you drop, you still can’t get a smile out of your sullen, bitter server.”

Earlier the same day: “Montreal means grotesque, tragic food served by hateful staff.”

Understandably, The Montreal Gazette’s food critic, Lesley Chesterman, was not amused. Chesterman writes that “As a proud Montrealer and a long time restaurant critic, the comment: ‘Montreal preys on clueless tourists and pretentious locals. Desperate, dated restaurants abound. It’s not a foodie city,’ left me steaming. I Twittered myself about it, and contacted Smith’s PR people to express my dismay.”

Once Smith and his people got wind of it, things happened very quickly, beginning with a press release from his publicist, Debby de Groot of Toronto’s MDG & Associates:
On the eve of launching his new cookbook The Best of Chef at Home and beginning celebrations for Prince Edward Island’s Fall Flavours festival, Chef Michael Smith has discovered that a complete stranger has stolen his identity on Twitter. The fraud was discovered earlier today when a writer for the Montreal Gazette questioned several negative tweets about the Montreal restaurant scene posted by the impostor.

All of this is a complete surprise to Michael Smith, who does not twitter. A lawyer has been consulted, and not only is Michael trying to get his identity removed from that site but he is calling on Twitter to notify all followers of the feed that they have been deceived. “Frankly I’m overwhelmed. I’m very, very angry. I can’t believe that anyone would say such horrible things about Montreal. Worse yet they’ve been writing about my family, they’ve deceived my fans and stolen what I’ve worked so hard to build,” says Michael. “I don’t fault Twitter but I do expect them to help make this right.”
Smith’s dismay is understandable. As I write this, the fraudulent Twitter feed is still online. As you can see, the material posted feels quite authentic. The poster obviously knows who Smith is and has Tweeted things Smith’s fans might actually care about.

Back in Montreal, Chesterman asks the question: “can chefs ignore new media outlets like Twitter and Facebook and risk having someone stand in for them? Or must they go with the flow and engage fans in every way possible in this increasingly competitive field?”

Meanwhile, the timing is really pretty good. As de Groot reminds us, Smith is one of Food Network Canada’s biggest stars, with two hit series, Chef at Home and Chef Abroad. His fourth cookbook, The Best of Chef at Home, has just been released by Whitecap Books.


National Punctuation Day: Stop Dragging Your Comma Around

Do you cringe when you see round brackets used in a square bracket place? Do you snort and choke when someone incorrectly uses a possessive? Do have an opinion on the use of serial commas? If you said “yes!” to any of these questions, you’ll probably be happy to know that, not only is there a national celebration of punctuation, it’s today.

Founded in 2004 by journalist and noted newsletter guy Jeff Rubin, National Punctuation Day is intended to shine an international spotlight on the use -- and misuse -- of punctuation around the world. The day is marked by various contests and events -- like the National Punctuation Day Baking Contest, where contestants send and a recipe and sample of their punctuation-shaped baked product to contest judges.

Clearly, it’s too late to get your school or library involved for 2009. However, take note now for next year. This would be a terrific celebration to plan a program around. Meanwhile, it might be pointed out that it’s never really too late for good punctuation and, the National Punctuation Day Web site takes a friendly approach to explaining all the rules.

Children’s Books: Wow! Animal and Wow! Earth

Wow! Animal and Wow! Earth, like all Dorling Kindersley books, are beautifully presented and gorgeous to flip through. And, like most books in this imprint, they are full of snippets of information, just right for children like my nephew, Max, who are good readers, to browse through and call, “Hey, Dad, did you know that starfish push their stomachs out through their mouths to absorb food?”

Both books are divided into sections that enable children who need them for homework to look up what they want. Wow! Animal has a well laid-out animal classification page that explains how classification works. Wow! Earth starts with the galaxy and works downwards.The double-page spread on the solar system has a paragraph about each planet, with all the information the young researcher will need or that the browser like Max will love to know. A pity it doesn’t mention Pluto. Just because it’s no longer considered a planet doesn’t mean it’s no longer there. But there’s only so much you can fit into a book like this, I suppose.

Wow! Animals reminds me of the books I used to read when I was a child and is nicely broken down, though those ones used to begin with prehistoric animals. But children who read it for fun will enjoy it for the same reason I did: this is a fascinating world and there are some wonderful and horrible creatures in it.

Both books also have good, clear indexes at the back and have handy glossaries. I should repeat, however, that DK Books are usually for good readers. The words are long and difficult and not all of the hard words are explained in the glossary. But if you have a bright, inquisitive child in your life, or a classroom library, or run a primary school library, buy it and watch those young eyes light up.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Review: Galileo’s Dream by Kim Stanley Robinson

Today in January Magazine’s SF/F section, contributing editor Iain Emsley reviews Galileo’s Dream by Kim Stanley Robinson. Says Emsley:
Kim Stanley Robinson's Galileo's Dream is a wonderful beast, managing to come of rather more as a book than an elephant of facts woven together. Though I love Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle, losing myself in its intricacies, it came across as alternate history rivet counting -- perhaps weft counting is more appropriate -- to paraphrase the phrase for Hard SF. It was indeed hard, though meticulous, but at times the detail overwhelmed. Galileo's Dream spelunks in a slightly earlier period, covering Galileo's discoveries and subsequent trial, but it deals with much the same area: the entrance of the scientific age.
The full review is here.

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Review: The beerbistro Cookbook by Stephen Beaumont & Brian Morin

Today in January Magazine’s cookbook section, contributing editor Adrian Marks reviews The beerbistro Cookbook by Stephen Beaumont & Brian Morin. Says Marks:
Much of the time, cookbooks attached to a restaurant the author either owns or cooks for ends up feeling like a big, glossy ad: a come-on for those who happen to pick the book up to actually go on down to the restaurant and enjoy what’s on offer in person. In short, many of those types of book have a very limited appeal, both regionally and, in a way, spiritually. Despite the title, The beerbistro Cookbook is not that book. If anything, linking the book tightly to the popular Toronto eatery seems like a mistake. Sure: beerbistro patrons are likely to want a copy. But what about the rest of us? What’s in it for us?

The full review is here.

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Monday, September 21, 2009

Children’s Books: Liar by Justine Larbalestier

Micah Wilkins lies automatically. She not only lies to family, classmates and police, she lies to the reader. Over and over. Right until the last page, you don’t know what’s true and what isn’t. Not even then.

Micah was Zach’s outside-of-school girlfriend, who ran with him, but now Zach has died and everyone is a suspect: Micah, Zach’s best friend, his official girlfriend -- everyone!

Why is Micah so fast ? Where did she get that incredible sense of smell? Why is it necessary for her to take the pill, apart from the obvious? And why does Micah’s father’s family live out in the middle of nowhere, not bothering with modern technology?

After a time, we realize that Micah isn’t the only member of her family to lie. Her father is a natural liar. Her grandmother is another. She has lied to her son and to Micah. There is a network of lies in the family, centered around “the family illness.”

I can’t go into any further detail without giving too much away. You may guess it as you read -- but bear in mind that Micah is a liar and while she tells you one ending, there are hints in the book that what has happened to her at the end is something very different.

Liar bounces around, backwards, forwards, flashbacks, family history, her own history, and somehow it works and clues build up, but Justine Larbalestier is her typical nasty self and never lets you be sure. All I can say is that at the end, I was thinking “Ouch!”

This may Larbalestier’s best book yet. Highly recommended for older teens -- younger ones tend to like things predictable and may not be happy to have to decide what really happened at the end.

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Friday, September 18, 2009

Art & Culture: Slang: The People’s Poetry by Michael Adams

Michael Adams is that guy. He teaches English language and literature at the university level. He is the editor of a magazine that focuses very tightly on speech. He is the author of a book on the slang of the now defunct hit television show Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Yes, you’ve got it right: Adams is a word geek. So, clearly, if he writes a book called Slang: The People’s Poetry, it’s not going to be the expected compendium of slang that everyone else might do. Especially if said book is published by Oxford University Press.

So take those hints, and construct them into the book you might imagine Slang might be and you’re almost be there. First of all, there is no aspect of compendium to Slang. In some regards, it is an erudite love letter to a verbal form. With footnotes. And joy. Those things might sound separate -- footnotes, that is, and joy -- but Adams pulls it off. Early in the book, the author writes:
We enjoy slang (those of us who do enjoy it) just for its casual, vivid, racy, irreverent, and playful elements, and some combination of those elements is what alerts the ear to lexical trouble: slang rebels against the standard (whether mildly, wildly, or somewhere in between), and each synonym it supplies must add some social meaning to the standard alternative’s lexical meaning.
For me, this paragraph sums up, not only the content of Slang, but the context. Sometimes Adams is playful, sometimes he is verbose (“Whereas the impletive interposing with meaningful infix is a marginal variety of a marginal feature even of slang, let alone English at large, nonpletive infixings and interposings may be trendy.”), sometimes he is insightful (“Saying the wrong thing or saying the right thing in the wrong way, just generally lacking in social finesse, can mean social isolation.”) but there is never a moment when you think he got it wrong.

Slang will not make you laugh from end to end, but I’m quite sure that was not Adams’ intent. This is an intelligent book, executed with passion. Slang offers important comment and documentation on an aspect of our culture that is very often overlooked.

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Dewey Uncovered

Whew! It seems as if I’ve been working on this for weeks, but I finally completed an essay for my Killer Covers blog about the underappreciated 20th-century American detective novelist, Thomas B. Dewey.

Although that article focuses to a large extent on this author’s 1962 detective Pete Schofield novel, the screwballish Go, Honeylou, I was curious enough about Dewey to investigate his entire fiction-writing career. Not only did he compose the Schofield books, the action in which takes place mostly in California, but he’s probably best known for a somewhat more serious (and also longer) series of books featuring the single-monikered Mac, a former Chicago cop who, after being forced out of the department for being too honest, remakes himself as a private eye in the Lew Archer mold. Before he created those characters, however, Dewey developed stories around a bibliophilic amateur sleuth named Singer Batts, a sort of underfed and Midwestern Nero Wolfe.

I’ve tried to cover all of these protagonists, plus the exquisite work of Victor Kalin, one of Dewey’s book illustrators, in Killer Covers. Click here to read the results.

Graphic Novels: The Color of Heaven by Kim Dong Hwa

The Color of Heaven (First Second) is the third book in a coming of age trilogy by celebrated Korean manhwa artist, Kim Dong Hwa. In an interview with Newsarama earlier this year, Hwa said that he was deeply influenced to tell the mother-daughter story in his Color of Earth trilogy by the aging of his own mother:

Since I was very young, I’ve been interested expressing the growth and change (mentally and physically) of a girl in manhwa form. I consider the process of a girl becoming a woman one of the biggest mysteries and wonders of life. And one day when my mother was sleeping in her sickbed, I looked down at her wrinkled face and suddenly realized that she must had been young and beautiful once. Then I started imagining her childhood and youth. What would she have looked like in her 60s, 50s, 40s and etc.? These thoughts inspired me to put my hand to the plow. Ehwa is the result of tracing back my mother’s youth.
Delicate, poetic and sometimes deeply -- though obliquely -- sensual, The Color of Heaven concludes the story of young Ehwa and her own mother. Older in this third book -- she’s a young woman now -- Ehwa is anticipating a love of her own and softly rebelling against the boundaries and realities her mother is trying to set.

Reading, one understands the thorough esteem with which this artist is regarded in his own country. It’s a delight to be able to all three books in the 2003-published trilogy -- The Color of Earth, The Color of Water and The Color of Heaven -- in their English translation.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Biography: Marcus Aurelius: A Life by Frank McLynn

Frank McLynn is a historian of some note. The author of biographies on as historically diverse a cast as Robert Louis Stevenson, Napoleon Bonaparte, Carl Jung, Charles Stuart and Lord Stanley, McLynn was awarded the 1985 Cheltenham Prize for Literature (for The Jacobite Army in England) and is a Visiting Professor in the Department of Literature at Strathclyde University. All of this is not shorthand for saying that McLynn brings substantial credits and busloads of credibility with him to the writing desk. Which is a good thing because, despite the sparkling nature of his topic here, Marcus Aurelius: A Life (Da Capo) is a bit of a slog.

Don’t get me wrong: one gets the feeling that everything one reads in the book is correct. Everything. But -- perhaps unsurprisingly -- McLynn writes like an academic. Marcus Aurelius: A Life is dense and distant and -- perhaps as a result -- seems very, very, very long. Actually, at nearly 700 pages, it is very, very, very long. Not that I mind long books but there’s very little here that is joyous.
There is a self-contradiction right at the heart of the Stoic’s version of goodness or virtue, which is compounded when we come to discuss their conception of evil. We are constantly told that the only good is moral good and that what defines moral good is that it should conform with the law of reason and be located within the domain of humanity…
And so on. Not necessarily what one signs up for when wanting to learn about one of the original philosopher kings.

That said, one never gets the feeling that Marcus Aurelius: A Life is not perfectly researched and accurately put down -- or, at least, as much as history will allow. That is to say that, if the ride is not joyous, it is at least correct. If you want to discover all that is known about Marcus Aurelius and you only want to look in one place, this, then, is certainly it.

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New in Paperback: The Eleventh Man by Ivan Doig

About a year ago, January Magazine contributing editor, Lincoln Cho, really liked veteran novelist Ivan Doig’s The Eleventh Man, out in paperback this month from Mariner Books. Here’s what he said about Doig’s book when it was first out in hardcover:
There’s something sweetly sentimental in all the testosterone lurking not far beneath the covers of The Eleventh Man (Harcourt), a football novel that melds into World War II from Ivan Doig (This House of Sky, The Whistling Season). That would seem a contradiction in terms -- sweet sentiment. Masses of testosterone -- but somehow it’s not. Somehow it works in a book that manages to be epic in scope and fact.
The January Magazine review is here.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

New Today: The Coral Thief by Rebecca Stott

Paris, 1815. After Waterloo. A Scottish medical student makes his way to the city by mail coach. He is traveling there to study anatomy. In his care are “three rare fossils and the bone of a mammoth.”

During the journey he is joined by a magnetic woman. They speak at length and over many miles. Finally, she tires. “I can’t keep my eyes open any longer,” she tells him. I shall sleep. You should too.” And he does.

When he wakes an hour later, she is gone, “along with my travel bag and the small case containing the specimens. She had left me only my identity papers and my wallet, which had been placed under my arm as I slept.”

This is the set-up for The Coral Thief (Spiegel & Grau) a beautiful and oddly haunting novel by Rebecca Stott (Ghostwalk). Cut loose without his belongings but strangely intact, the young man sets out to find the woman and discovers instead a city on the verge of itself.

The Coral Thief
is quite wonderful. Part love story, part mystery, part steampunk-tinged discovery of the scientific. As PW said in their starred review, it is “a novel of ideas.” One finds it difficult to think of higher praise.


New Today: The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

Two years from now -- perhaps three -- you will stop and remember this day. You will be at a saturation point with everything to do with Freemasons and you’ll think back fondly to the point in time when you had only the vaguest idea of what one was. (“Free who?”) You’ll be tired of hearing how wonderful Dan Brown’s books are. You’ll be tired of hearing how stinky they are. You’ll be weary of hearing how this author is single-handedly rescuing a genre. And you’ll be fed up with hearing about how he’s killing it.

While the brouhaha is fairly new and meltingly hot, however, consider this interesting stuff: in North America, The Lost Symbol’s first run of five million copies is the largest ever. And in a bold move for a big publisher, Random House is releasing the hard cover and the e-book versions of The Lost Symbol at the same time, providing a big, visible test case around e-books at a time when such things are of extreme interest. (Don’t ever forget: the sky? It’s falling.)


Monday, September 14, 2009

Biography: Beg, Borrow, Steal: A Writer’s Life by Michael Greenberg

Today in January Magazine’s biography section, contributing editor Diane Leach reviews Beg, Borrow, Steal: A Writer’s Life by Michael Greenberg. Says Leach:
By the time he wrote Hurry Down Sunshine, a memoir of his daughter’s descent into mental illness, Michael Greenberg had been plying his trade, with intermittent success, for over two decades. Sunshine changed all that, catapulting Greenberg to enormous fame. Literature, it seems, is no longer sufficient diversion: we have become a society in love in other people’s suffering. We want the real, the screams and rants, the pills and pains, the hospitalizations and ensuing insurance battles. And Greenberg, who has spent his adult writing life searching out such stories, suddenly had an awful tale crash into his family like a bomb. Voilá.
The full review is here.

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New in Paperback: The Toss of A Lemon by Padma Viswanathan

We loved The Toss of A Lemon when it first arrived in hardcover last year. In fact, we loved it so much, it was selected as one of January Magazine’s top books of 2008. Here’s what we said about it at the time:
Padma Viswasathan’s debut novel pads in on little cat feet and rips you along. You don’t realize you’re on an epic journey in the midst of a generational saga until you’re well along and it’s far, far too late to turn back. Not that you’d want to. Not that you even could. Inspired by the author’s own family history, we join Sivakami in a village in India in 1892, the year of her marriage to the healer, Hanumarathnam. She is ten. What astonishes here is Viswasathan’s virtuosity. In The Toss of A Lemon, we join India at a time of great social and political upheaval. Nevertheless, we experience this only at a distance. The way, in fact, Sivakami might experience it. Our concerns are more immediate, more domestic, though never more mundane. The marriage of a daughter, a granddaughter. The obedience of a son-in-law. The disturbingly progressive thoughts of a son. These concern Sivakami exclusively and, with her as our proxy, they are all that concern us, as well.
With the paperback released this month, Mariner makes the book even better. How? Well, now it’s easier to take along!

January Magazine’s original review is here.


Sunday, September 13, 2009

Author Lyn Hamilton Dies at 65

Canadian mystery novelist Lyn Hamilton died on September 10 after a battle with cancer. The Rap Sheet remembered Lyn yesterday:
After many years of working in the communications field, Hamilton began writing fiction at age 50. She eventually penned 11 books featuring Toronto antiques dealer Lara McClintoch, “who travels the world in search of the rare and beautiful for her shop, finding more than a little murder and mayhem along the way. Each book in the series is set in a different and exotic location and calls upon the past in an unusual way.” Those novels blended Hamilton’s fondness for thriller stories with her interest in archeology. Her most recent McClintoch novel was The Chinese Alchemist (2007).
Read more about Hamilton here.


Once Upon A Time

A social anthropologist who has been studying the development of fairy tales by using of techniques used in evolutionary biology to classify species has set of an interesting controversy that, in the end, probably doesn’t matter much at all. From The Toronto Star:
Once upon a time, there was a social anthropologist who decided to study the origins of Little Red Riding Hood.

How sweet. But naive.

Jamie Tehrani’s claim last week that the famous story is far older than anyone realized is likely to set off another ruckus in the deadly serious world of fairy tale studies. And it's already split on how and when the stories came about.

Tehrani says the Red Riding Hood story has mutated as it traveled around the world and over time, but that it originated in a single source dating back more than 2,600 years.
Nonsense, says Ruth Bottigheimer who is a professor of comparative literature at Stony Brook University. Still from The Star:
Bottigheimer, a well-known revisionist in the field, says the theory that fairy tales are always passed down over the eons by “the folk” is a questionable assumption. She doesn’t buy it.

Scathingly, she says that “Tehrani has bought into the newest wave of biology-based understanding of literature, taking evolutionary genetics as his model. But his views are based on slippery assumptions that can’t be verified and that have no legs in the real world.”
Again: it’s an interesting discussion, even though it sounds as if it might get to be a heated one. But here’s the part I love: even if they started as folklore, most of us got to know these stories as literature and that’s a conversation I love to hear.

Are books still important? That’s a question we hear people asking more and more often. I find myself always answering the same thing: of course they are. Now here’s proof: international university hot shots shouting at each from across the globe. Again. To me, the outcome in this one does not matter. But the conversation? That’s a beautiful thing.

More from The Star here.

Children’s Books: By the Light of the Harvest Moon by Harriet Ziefert, illustrated by Mark Jones

It’s difficult to imagine a prettier fall book than By the Light of the Harvest Moon (Blue Apple Books) by veteran children’s author Harriet Ziefert. Mark Jones’ illustrations hold a luminous, full-bodied quality.

In some ways, the story is unremarkable: a farm in the midst of autumn’s hold. Yet there is a difference here in a special fall magic that sees the leaf people emerge from their sylvan retreats and get busy with their own fall fair-type celebrations.

The story is sweet and the illustrations, as previously stated, are luminous. If you’re looking for a book that will help you and your child celebrate autumn in charming style, you’d have a tough time going wrong with By the Light of the Harvest Moon.

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Friday, September 11, 2009

Interview: Thomas H. Cook

Today in January Magazine, contributing editor Ali Karim interviews Thomas H. Cook, author of The Fate of Katherine Carr and a writer who just might be the best known author you’ve never heard of.

“You like puzzling out the solutions to mysteries?” asks Karim. “Then tackle this one: why isn’t American Thomas H. Cook one of the world’s biggest-selling authors? He’s prolific, with more than two dozen crime and suspense novels to his credit, plus non-fiction books and anthologies he has edited. He won an Edgar Award for his 1996 novel, The Chatham School Affair, and 2005’s devastating Red Leaves was nominated for an Edgar, a Crime Writer’s Association Dagger Award, an Anthony Award, a Barry Award and Sweden’s Martin Beck Award.”

Read Karim’s interview with Cook here.

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Fiction: The Year That Follows by Scott Lasser

I love the dust jacket for The Year That Follows (Knopf). Look at it, right over there. A beauty, isn’t it? Really made me want to read the book.

And, oh, how I loved the first chapter. Kyle, a young New York City professional, is late for a morning meeting. At the World Trade Center. On September 11. He’s in the elevator when the plane hits. And the moment it happens is one of the most thrilling pieces of fiction I’ve read in a long time. It’s just a few lines, but when I’d read them I actually thought: “Holy crap.” Scott Lasser has a terrific writing style: crisp, knowing, even cunning. He knows how to set up a scene, what to reveal, and what not to. Love that.

After Kyle’s death, his sister, Cat, who lives in Detroit with a son of her own, decides she needs to find Kyle’s son. Though Kyle and the child’s mother weren’t together when he died, Cat feels the need to fashion a connection with his flesh and blood. At the same time, she also wants to reconnect with her father, who lives in California. And she longs to connect with someone in a romantic way.

The book, as you’ve probably surmised, is all about connections. The ones based on blood. The ones forged by law. The ones bound by love. It really is a beautiful little book. And when I finished it, I should have been satisfied, swooning. Instead I was angry. I was at my neighborhood pool when I finished the book, and I almost threw it in.

I was on the ride for all of it. I went with the various connections. I went with Cat to California to see her dad. I went with Cat when she rekindled a relationship with her only serious flame, a high school boyfriend who became a doctor. I went with Cat when she finally found Kyle’s son. I even went with her when she convinced the child’s grandparents to let her have him, raise him, far away from them.

And then Lasser ruined it. Killed the whole thing. I won’t do that for you now, but I will say that there are several ways to end a book. Usually, the best way is to say as little as possible, avoid the nice neat package tied up with string. Better to leave the reader some room to imagine. But Lasser really blows it here. Not only does he give us too much ending, he gives us the worst possible ending. I keep trying to figure out why in the world he would have torpedoed his own book. I keep wondering if I’m missing the point. But I’m sure I’m not. Actually, what I think is that Lasser missed it.

There are books I don’t like, and that’s fine. I don’t expect to like everything. But this book I really loved. I admired it, and I admired Scott Lasser. Until the moment he betrayed me -- and worse, until the moment he betrayed the characters he’d so lovingly created. The Year that Follows could have been a sweet book, almost a fairy tale. Damn him.

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

New This Week: The Masonic Myth and Occult America

During this time of economic turmoil, next week Da Vinci Code author, Dan Brown, is expected to pull a J.K. Rowling by single-handedly hauling the publishing industry out of the toilet. And, speaking of toilets, even though lots of reviewers will inevitably heap scorn on Brown’s latest offering, The Lost Symbol (Doubleday), a lot of bookstores are hoping history will repeat itself and that sometimes lazy book buyers will come thundering into their stores ready to buy the newest Brown... and perhaps something else.

It is this “something else” hope that fuels the onslaught of related and kinda-related books every time a new entry by a megaselling author hits the market. Obviously, The Lost Symbol, with its five million (five million!) hardcover first edition printing and massive promotional push will be no exception. A lot of more-or-less-removed-by-one type books are hitting the market even now. For this particular release, the top of these is The Masonic Myth (HarperOne), by inside man Jay Kinney. It’s important to note that Kinney didn’t conceive of The Masonic Myth as an also-ran. As Mokoto Rich pointed out in The New York Times a few days ago, Harper purchased the book two years ago and held it for publication this week, when interest in all things Masonic will reach an all-time high: if everything goes according to plan, that is. It’s kind of a shame, really, because The Masonic Myth ends up coming off looking like one of those cheesy books thrown together to take advantage of a fad and, really, nothing could be further from the truth.

Former Gnosis editor-in-chief Kinney knows his esoteric traditions. In The Masonic Myth he does a great job of sharing a whole lot of never-before-seen inside stuff in an easily understood way. There is a lightness to Kinney’s writing here, despite a topic that seems often to move towards the dark. He keeps things in perspective, even while he helps us do the same.

“Secretive brotherhoods can be excellent devices in suspense thrillers,” Kinney writes near the beginning of The Masonic Myth, “but novels are, by their very nature, fiction …. They say that truth is stranger than fiction. Let’s see if that’s true.”

Along the same lines but with a broader reach and more solid appeal (and -- perhaps not so mysteriously -- the same release date) is Occult America (Bantam) by Tarcher/Penguin editor-in-chief Mitch Horowitz.

As the title implies, Horowitz’ book looks at how the occult has impacted the development of the United States. (Hint: More than a little.) In fact, the book is subtitled The Secret History of How Mysticism Shaped Our Nation.

“Mysteries can be found wherever you look,” Horowitz tells us early on, “especially when you’re not sure what you’re looking for.” There is much in Occult America that is more grounded, less esoteric, but what could be more filled with poetic truth?

Occult America is fantastic: interesting, entertaining, enlightening, sometimes even moving. It’s Horowitz’ first book. I’m guessing it won’t be his last.

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Fiction: A Novel by Ara 13

On the Web site for Fiction: A Novel (Covington Moore) there is a link to Wikipedia’s explanation of metafiction. It is explained thus: “Metafiction is a type of fiction that self-consciously addresses the devices of fiction. It is the literary term describing fictional writing that self-consciously and systematically draws attention to its status as an artifact in posing questions about the relationship between fiction and reality, usually, irony and self-reflection.”

Somehow Wikipedia’s explanation encapsulates Fiction: A Novel rather perfectly. I’m still not sure that’s a good thing. I acknowledge that it might be, but for more sophisticated palates than mine.

I understand there are places in writing -- spots in the craft -- for work that is so self-aware it is experimental, in a way. Work, one might say, that pushes the envelope. For many of us, however, just getting through it is painful. This may just be a matter of perspective.

I’ve thought about all of this a lot since reading Ara 13’s novel and here is what I came up with: when I read, I’m looking to be filled. My life is challenging; is filled with challenges. I don’t require -- or even desire -- strongly traditional story-telling, but neither do I want to expend large quantities of energy on the books I choose. I give the reading experience time. In return, I want the book I’ve chosen to experience to reward me in some fashion. Fill me, as I said. Share knowledge, even of human nature or spirit or heart. A review from an outfit called The Trades Book Review said this about Ara 13’s book, “Fiction has a lot to say, and it takes a heady mind to process just what the message is at times,” and so I think it’s possible my own mind is just not that... er... heady. If you think yours might be, here’s what the publisher says about Fiction: The Novel:
Father Daniel journeys deep into the harsh forest, with romantic notions of converting the fierce Oquanato cannibals to Christianity, but his heroic sense of mission clashes with the farcical antics of sophisticated savages, whose beliefs originate from a peculiar source -- a source that rattles Daniel into an introspective, yet dubious narrative.

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Where the Tweets Are

What with summer crashing to an end and the days getting alarmingly shorter, the book business is getting back to the business of business.

Over the last few days we’ve microblogged about a number of stories we haven’t had the time to get to in the Real World. To get things back in synch, here are a few of the stories we’ve been writing in 140 characters or less over the last few days:

The Last Five Ways to Get A Book Deal: Gawker sticks their tongue in their cheek -- but only slightly -- to bring this arms akimbo look at the industry as we know it in 2009: “Sloane Crosley got a book deal by being the most popular book publicist in New York. Now, Sloane Crosley’s book publicist has gotten a book deal herself. Taste the meta! There are only five other ways to get published now.” And here they are.

Salman Rushdie: Still banned, still a ladies’ man. “Given that the Man Booker shortlist has just been announced,” quips Quill & Quire, “and talk of the Bookers often brings to mind author Salman Rushdie, it’d be interesting to know what he’s up to these days. Well, there’s good news and bad news.”

Meanwhile, the same outfit wants to know: “Will the Kindle be the Betamax of the decade?” We don’t think so, but Q&Q offers up some interesting thoughts.

Identity Theory states the “Case Against Reading.”

The Tolkien Trust, New Line Cinema, and HarperCollins have resolved the lawsuit relating to the Lord of the Rings films. That story is here.

Dick Berg, TV producer and screenwriter, died at home in Los Angeles at 87. Here’s the NY Times obit.

Fledgling digital publisher Quartet Press has disbanded before they really even got out of the gate. “Sometimes, even with the best of intentions, a hard-working team, and the support of the community, things just don’t work out. This is one of those times. It’s disappointing to all of us, but it’s reality and we will all move on.” The good news? No trees died in the run at this dream.

Warner Bros has consumed DC Comics like a corporate version of The Blob. Yikes! But it may well end up being a good thing for superhero economics.

The Scotiabank Giller Prize -- Canada’s richest literary award -- doesn’t need its own spotlight. They’ll be announcing their longlist on September 21st, the same day the ManBooker announces their shortlist. The shortlist will be announced October 6th. Their Web site is here.

Both The Globe & Mail and The National Post offer up their ideas about the best books for fall. “Too many books, too little time,” offers The Post’s headline. You can say that again!


Wednesday, September 09, 2009

New This Month: A Princess of Landover by Terry Brooks

A Chicago lawyer, brokenhearted after the loss of his family, buys a magical kingdom for a million dollars in an attempt to escape his wretched reality. Then -- wonder of wonders! -- the magic is real and the dreams begin to come true.

All of that is the central premise behind Terry Brooks’ Landover series, less well known than his epic Shannara series and, in many ways, so much more fun! In fact, it almost seems as though fun is one of the points of the whole Landover creation. Don’t get me wrong: this series is every bit as well conceived and written as anything we’ve seen from this bestselling author. But Landover is special. It’s lighter than the world of Shannara and, all-in-all, it’s an incredibly pleasant place to pass time. With that in mind, it’s impossible for me to tell you why Brooks has waited 14 years to give us a new installment in what I understand was a bestselling series when initially released. However, that is the case: the series’ first volume -- Magic Kingdom For Sale -- SOLD! – was published in 1986. Books two through five were published in a fairly regularly pattern between 1988 and 1995. And then nothing. Until now.

The new book is sufficiently sweet, charming and skillful to fit nicely into the Landover world. In A Princess of Landover (DelRey) our businessman’s headstrong half sylph daughter (the princess of the title, of course) must be taught a lesson. Magical highjinks ensue.

A Princess of Landover
is an enjoyable journey; a helluva ride.

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Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Man Booker Shortlist Announced

The shortlist for the 2009 Man Booker award was announced in London today. The six books selected, from a longlist of 13, were:
  • The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt (Random House, Chatto and Windus)
  • Summertime by J.M. Coetzee (Random House, Harvill Secker)
  • The Quickening Maze by Adam Fould (Random House, Jonathan Cape)
  • Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (HarperCollins, Fourth Estate)
  • The Glass Room by Simon Mawer (Little, Brown)
  • The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters (Little, Brown, Virago)
“We’re thrilled to be able to announce such a strong shortlist,” said Jim Naughtie, chair of the 2009 judging panel, “so enticing that it will certainly give us a headache when we come to select the winner. The choice will be a difficult one. There is thundering narrative, great inventiveness, poetry and sharp human insight in abundance.”

The Man Booker Prize Web site is here. Meanwhile, yesterday UK publisher Faber and Faber announced that they will be offering readers to win commemorative editions of the shortlisted books here.


Saturday, September 05, 2009

Children’s Books: Vulture’s Gate by Kristy Murray

Some time in the future, much of Australia is Mad Max territory. The outback is filled with folk killing each other, wiping out settlements and running freak shows. Sydney is in ruins with gangs fighting each other and the authorities, from the anti-elder Festers to the nut-case Sons of Gaia who want to wipe out everybody.

Oh, and there are very few women or girls left after a mutated form of bird flu not only killed most females but made it very difficult for the few survivors to produce anything but boys. There is still some technology in service of the Colony government, producing “drones” and “chosen” boys who get to live comfortably with two male parents.

Callum, who has been living with his two fathers in the outback, is kidnapped and sold to a circus, from which he escapes on a motorbike and meets Bo, a girl living on her own since the death of her engineer grandfather, with only the company of a pack of “roboraptors” which hunt for her. Together, Callum and Bo ride off in search of his missing fathers, accompanied by roboraptor Mr. Pinkwhistle, which is as much a computer as a robotic dinosaur.

But there are things Callum’s Colony employee fathers never told him. Like what happens to drones who aren’t useful any more -- and what happens to any girls unlucky enough to be taken.

Vulture’s Gate is an enjoyable adventure kids should like, though I’m not sure at which age group it’s aimed. It reads like YA fiction, but the characters are all very young; Bo is older than Callum, but neither of them has reached puberty. And we’re never told exactly how Australia has been left in ruins -- surely not just the bird flu? It is implied, anyway, that there may be women in other countries. And there is still enough technology to keep the race going, however nasty its use.

But it’s possible to suspend disbelief for the length of the novel, which is a nice road story. The chapters are short enough to make it work for reluctant readers and the characters are good. Who would have thought a robotic dinosaur could be as cute as R2D2?

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Friday, September 04, 2009

Canada’s “Melancholy bard” at 75

Last year the CBC described him as “Poet, musician, novelist, ladies' man, monk, actor.” Whatever you call him, though, it’s hard to believe that “Canada’s melancholy bard,” Leonard Cohen, will turn 75 later this month. It’s less difficult to understand that he won’t do it alone and it will all be done with great style.

Cohen will issue in his 75th year in his home town of Montreal at a birthday gala and silent auction. The event will be held on Monday, September 21st in the Atwater Library Auditorium, 1200 Atwater Avenue in Westmount/Montreal. Special guests will include David Seaman, Erica Ruth Kelly, Paris Elizabeth Sea, Michael Mirolla and other writers and poets. Tickets for the event are $75 and all proceeds will benefit the Leonard Cohen Poet-in-Residence program at Westmount High.

If you can’t wait for your Cohen fix -- or a trip to Montreal is out of the question even though Montréal in September is perfect -- several celebrations are being held across Canada to launch the book, You’re Our Man. In the collection, 75 of the world’s best poets reflect on the poetry of Leonard Cohen. A list of the contributing poets is here.

For more details on both the gala and various launches to be held to celebrate the publication of You’re Our Man, check the Public Poetry’s blog.


Books & Politics?

Now, obviously, January Magazine is not a political forum. Nor -- clearly -- is our sister publication, the crime fiction blog The Rap Sheet. However Rap Sheet editor J. Kingston Pierce has once again drawn the ire of some of his readers with a clearly political posting. One of the ireful comments asks if political opinion really has a place on a blog dedicated to books. My response -- not that anyone asked -- is that if you don’t see the politics in the everyday, you’re not looking in the right places. It’s all around us, it’s important and in these politically charged times, those of us with opinions need to air them when we can. And it’s fairly obvious that Pierce (who has written often about politics in other forums) has opinions! That said, here’s what has some Rap Sheet readers applauding and others fuming today:
Out of power, out of ideas, and obviously out for blood, a minority of U.S. conservatives seem also to have gone out of their minds over President Barack Obama’s planned feel-good address to students bound back to school next week. Reports The Florida Times-Union: “Although the White House says Obama will use the speech to stress ‘the importance of [students] taking responsibility for their success in school,’ Florida GOP Chairman Jim Greer said it would be an attempt to ‘indoctrinate America’s children’ into socialism.” How utterly idiotic. With the country having turned thumbs down on the Republican’t Party after eight years of failures under George W. Bush, GOPers have become unhinged in their attacks upon anything that doesn’t comport with their ideology. Claiming, in the complete absence of evidence, that Obama is trying to indoctrinate young minds in socialism should repulse any moderates who haven’t already abandoned that party. When George H.W. Bush delivered a similar speech to students back in 1991, you didn’t hear Democrats going all loony-tunes on him, did you. Of course not. More on this lunacy here, here, and here.
READ MORE:Hypocrisy Watch,” by Steve Benen (The
Washington Monthly


Thursday, September 03, 2009

New Today: The Complaints by Ian Rankin

When he killed off John Rebus, his well-loved detective, in last year’s aptly named Exit Music, some people feared that might be the last we’d hear from Ian Rankin, as well. Not so. New today, The Complaints (Orion), in which we are introduced to Malcolm Fox. Though Fox is stationed not far from Rebus, his mission is a lifetime away. The Complaints is this week’s “Pierce’s Pick” here at January Magazine and, as is his habit, J. Kingston Pierce does a great job setting things up:
After penning 17 Inspector John Rebus novels, Rankin introduces a new protagonist: Edinburgh policeman Malcolm Fox, who’s tasked with investigating dirty cops. Here Fox is told to probe the activities of Jamie Breck. He doesn’t expect, though, to discover things about Breck that make him a danger to others -- including Fox himself.
But, unless you’re in the UK, don’t rush off to your local bookseller just yet, unless it’s to order: as far as I know, The Complaints is not yet scheduled for U.S. publication.

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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Western Writer Elmer Kelton Dead at 83

Born at Horse Camp on the Five Wells Ranch in 1926, American journalist and novelist Elmer Kelton walked the walk when he described the American west he wrote about in over 40 novels and 60 books over a full half century.

Kelton’s wife of 62 years, Ann, told The New York Times that her husband died August 22nd of “various causes.” The author’s health had been deteriorating throughout the year, even preventing him from completing the novel he had in progress.

From The New York Times’ obituary:
For example, in “The Good Old Boys” (1978), a novel set in 1906 that was later made into a television movie directed by and starring Tommy Lee Jones, Hewey Calloway, an aging cowboy with a self-destructive streak, grapples with the onset of modern times, as automobiles and 20th-century thinking encroach on the Texas frontier.

“I have often been asked how my characters differ from the traditional, larger-than-life heroes of the mythical West,” Mr. Kelton said in an interview with The Dallas Morning News in 2007. “ ‘Those,’ I reply, ‘are seven feet tall and invincible. My characters are 5-8 and nervous.’ ”
You can read that obituary here. The “Kelton Story” is here. A family written obituary appeared in Kelton’s local newspaper, The San Angelo Standard-Times, is here.


Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Art & Culture: Canada by Shelagh Rogers & Mike Grandmaison

Canada (Key Porter) takes my breath away. This is the book so many others have tried to make without this kind of success. A book that includes all of a vast and beautiful country and attempts to showcase it in a way that will have meaning for those who live in the country and those who admire it from afar.

Canada is a gorgeous book. Mike Grandmaison’s photos are -- without exception -- breathtaking as well as brilliantly reproduced. It’s so sad when the reproduction of a book is not as good as the material being printed. That is not the case here: Canada is a first class production from end to end. CBC personality Shelagh Rogers does justice to Grandmaison’s work:
I am having an affair with Canada. Every place I visit intoxicates in its own way. I form relationships with these places, even if they are not long term. They follow the usual pattern: a casual, if cautious, approach. Then a date for further exploration. Next, I get physical: climb its mountains, walk its paths, swim in its waters, depending on the geography, and at nigh, drink in its bars …. When I fall, I fall hard…until the next place comes along.
A coffee table book in format, for a gift, for sharing with your own family, or just to fill your senses with serene beauty, Canada is spectacular.

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New Today: Tall, Dark & Fangsome by Michelle Rowen

Apparently our appetite for post modern vampires is insatiable. The latest comes from Michelle Rowan who also brought us literary lights such as Bitten & Smitten and Stakes & Stilettos. If you’re sensing a theme here, you’re right. I love the way publishers talk about books like this. And this one is too good not to share. Check it out: from the back of the mass market paperback Tall, Dark & Fangsome (Grand Central):
Sarah Dearly’s vampire life is not all B-positive cocktails. A curse made her a nightwalker, the most vicious vamp there is; the charm she wears to curb her deadly tendencies is losing its juice; and a hunter from hell is turning up the heat.
There’s more, but I’m pretty sure you get the idea. Vampire hunters unite… and so on.


F. Scott Literary Conference Set for October

The 14th annual F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Conference will be held October 17th at Montgomery College in Rockville, Maryland.

The Festival annually offers a full day of readings, workshops will award Julia Alvarez (Return to Sender, The Best Gift of All) with the F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Award.

You can find details of the event as well as registration information here.