Friday, April 30, 2010

Cookbooks: Fast, Fresh & Green by Susie Middleton

Initially I was sent two spring 2010 titles to be reviewed together because, on the surface of things Clean, Green & Lean and Fast, Fresh & Green (Chronicle Books) would seem to have a lot in common. On closer inspection, though, while I actually like both books quite a bit, it was clear almost from the first glance that they didn’t belong in the same review.

Clean, Green & Lean is a lifestyle choice. It might even be the diet book to end all diet books. Fast, Fresh & Green, on the other hand, is every vegetable lover’s dream cookbook. And so while the reviews don’t belong in the very same article, some of the recommendations in the former sent me here to the latter to see if I could find innovative ways to cook up some of the vegetables Walter Crinnion was recommending in his book.

Broccoli, for instance, is touted as close to a wonder vegetable. Let’s be honest, though: how many of us actually have more than one really good idea about what to do with the stuff. Maybe two good ideas at best. Middleton, though, is loaded with good broccoli ideas. In fact, in Fast, Fresh & Green, she does them just about every way possible, including recipes for braising, sautéing, roasting, stir-frying and a special-to-Middleton technique called “two-stepping,” which is basically blanching various vegetables, then cooking them further via one of several techniques in order to sear in flavor.

It’s important -- and interesting -- to note that Fast, Fresh & Green is not a vegetarian cookbook though, as Middleton says, the book is 75 per cent vegetarian and most of the other 25 per cent can be easily transformed to be suitable-for-vegetarian preparation and consumption.

Fast, Fresh & Green
is a very good book. Chef and food writer Middleton brings her focus on rethinking after work meal preparation and planning. It is a fresh a flavorful guide to eating well every day.

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SF/F: The Desert Spear by Peter V. Brett

A year after the publication of his mammoth debut novel, The Warded Man, super skilled thumbtyper Peter V. Brett is back with the second installment in his series that features demons in a setting that should satisfy readers of both fantasy and novels of the paranormal.

In The Desert Spear (Del Rey) humanity as we know it is almost a thing of the past when Ahmann Jardir rides out of the desert with a spear and crown and proclaims himself The Deliverer and an enemy of The Warded Man.

I do not know if The Desert Spear was written on a Blackberry during the author's daily commute to work, as was The Warded Man, but I somehow doubt it. With The Warded Man sold into 14 countries and optioned for film it seems possible that Brett’s writing gear is better and his commute probably a lot shorter. He remains prolific, though: The Desert Spear is a luscious 608 pages and Del Rey is promising at least one more book in the series and hopes for “many more beyond that.”

Meanwhile, if you missed The Warded Man altogether, Del Rey delivered the first paperback edition last month.

This is an epic and highly readable story. It seems likely this author will take his place among the most important writers in his part of the genre.

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Something You Can’t Do With an Electronic Book

What should you do with that horrible book you just tried to slog through? Mobylives says, “Decorate!” The link is here.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Non-Fiction: Clean, Green & Lean by Walter Crinnion

In my lifetime, I have seen diets come and go. You have too. Some of them, when they went, were unlamented. In the 1990s, for example, there was a time when certain diet gurus recommended the avoidance of carbohydrates to such an extreme extent, the health of his followers was at risk. (Bacon? Sure: eat bacon. But go easy on the whole wheat bread.)

The constant to many of these diets is simple: eat to lose weight and keep it off. Whatever the cost might be -- to your health or the environment -- will only be collateral damage and is a price that can be paid.

So it was refreshing to encounter Clean, Green & Lean (Wiley), a diet and lifestyle book written by a leading naturopathic physician. It’s a book that promises to help you lose weight in a healthful way while at the same time helping to save the planet: a combination that’s right for this moment and author Crinnion seems the correct person to bring the message. From the introduction:
But there’s more to this than how great you’ll look and feel. Sure, you'll lose weight without being hungry or increasing the amount of exercise you do. Sure, you'll be healthier, slimmer, and more energetic than you've been in years. But you'll also be helping to save the planet. If you're cleaner and greener, the world will be cleaner and greener.
If there’s a down-side it's that there is a lot of work to do but -- hey! -- no pain, no gain, right? I can’t imagine that Crinnion’s approach to weight loss through toxin attacks won’t lead him to the bestseller list almost immediately. This is the diet book of the moment. The good news? It’s good for you and the planet. May the toxin-fighting begin!

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What’s Old Is New Again

There are a couple of newly reissued novels that crime-fiction fans really ought to lay their hands on soon.

The first is Picador’s 40th anniversary edition of The Friends of Eddie Coyle, a work that Dennis Lehane, in his new introduction, calls “the game-changing crime novel of the last fifty years” and “quite possibly one of the four or five best crime novels ever written.” Part of what distinguishes this gritty tale of Beantown thieves, mobsters, and small-time gunrunners from its literary brethren is its dialogue, “the louts and knuckleheads of Boston’s crime world running off at the mouth,” as another author, William Landay, explained in The Rap Sheet last summer. Higgins, a junior-grade federal prosecutor at the time he penned Eddie Coyle, had listened to many transcripts of trials, hearings, and interrogations, and tried to capture that authenticity in his prose, giving us crooks and assorted other lowlifes who Landay says “mumbled, stumbled, spoke in code, mangled common phrases; sometimes they made no sense at all.”

Also of note: The Leavenworth Case (Penguin Classics). Almost a decade before Sherlock Holmes’ initial appearance, Anna Katharine Green (1846-1935) introduced the first detective star of a book series. In The Leavenworth Case--a once-bestselling 1878 yarn, much lauded by Wilkie Collins (The Woman in White), but now largely forgotten--resolute Ebenezer Gryce of the New York Metropolitan Police Force investigates the locked-mansion murder of Horatio Leavenworth, a wealthy retired merchant and philanthropist. Was one of his nieces, set to inherit his fortune, behind this nefarious deed? Gryce and a rising young lawyer investigate, in a story that modern whodunit fans should not miss.

READ MORE:Paperback Writers: Boston, Down and Dirty,” by Richard Rayner (Los Angeles Times); “Down and Out in Boston,” by Troy Patterson (Slate).


Friday, April 23, 2010

New Next Week: Curious Cats by Mitsuaki Iwago

Internationally known nature photographer Mitsuaki Iwago casts his lens on the common cat with surprising results. Curious Cats (Chronicle Books) is like a love letter to family pets everywhere from someone whose usual oeuvre is somewhat more exotic.

In a way, it seems as though Iwago has photographed these common household kitties like wild animals. We see them comfortable in their own elements: with their offspring, mothers carrying babies, youngsters playing with abandon and rubbing heads lovingly. Hunting, sleeping, jumping. It’s a tiny book and not particularly thick. But the photos are sweet, charming and well-chosen.

“Because as I always say,” writes Iwago in an introduction, “when cats are happy, people are happy, and the world is happy.”

A lovely little book. Cat lovers will be unable to leaf through Curious Cats without a smile.

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Crime Fiction: The Deputy by Victor Gischler

After his takes on the apocalypse (Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse, 2008) and medieval alchemy (Vampire a Go-Go, 2009), Victor Gischler returns to crime fiction with his latest novel, The Deputy (Tyrus Books). Toby Sawyer is an ex-musician who returned home to Coyote Crossing, Oklahoma, when his mother died, and ended up staying. The town’s sheriff gave him a job as a part-time deputy, even though he’s hardly a by-the-book type. After local thug Luke Jordan is shot, Toby is left to guard the corpse until the coroner arrives. Bored, Toby walks a couple of blocks to his girlfriend Molly’s place for a quickie, which she happily provides. But by the time Toby gets back to the scene of the crime, the corpse has gone missing. He tells another deputy, who sends him home.

To his wife and son. Toby’s wife, Doris, a waitress, doesn’t take the news of Luke Jordan’s death very well. In fact, she decides that they all need to move to Houston. Now. Toby is not ready to deal with this, and so heads back into town. By daybreak, he will have destroyed not only his car, but a semi-tractor and part of a motel as well. He will also have done battle with immigrant smugglers. His wife will have left him, and he will have killed several men. In other words, losing that corpse is only the start of a very long and life-changing night.

The Deputy is laced with Gischler’s usual humor. Toby Sawyer is the sort of lovable loser this author has put at the center of most of his novels, Gun Monkeys (2001) being the only exception. Coyote Crossing is the brand of small town that often features in Stephen King novels--a great place to be from, but way out on the edge of nowhere. Gischler’s motif, however, is the classic Western, only set in the 21st century. One can imagine horses and stagecoaches here in place of muscle cars and pickups. Gischler even cuts the town’s phone lines, sending everyone plunging back into the 19th century.

Gischler does a fine job of making Toby’s life more and more miserable as the long night of this tale winds down. His protagonist will not only likely lose his job, but possibly also his life, before the sun rises again. He spends most of the night wondering what has happened to the sheriff, even finding blood at that man’s house.

If you’ve read Gischler’s work before, you know somewhat how this story will end. You also know that The Deputy is going to be a helluva ride.

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Driven to Read

As a strong advocate of literacy and bibliotherapy, even I have to admit to having limits as this story from the BBC indicates:
A bus driver has been suspended after a passenger filmed him apparently reading while driving along a dual carriageway in Birmingham.

The passenger, who wishes to remain anonymous, filmed the National Express West Midlands driver steering with his elbows while holding a small book.

They said they took the footage after getting on the number 61 bus at Selly Oak at 2005 BST on Monday.

National Express West Midlands said “immediate action” was taken.

The footage has since been posted on video sharing website YouTube.
The story is here.

I wonder if he was reading this book as it has become ubiquitous in the UK?

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

100 Years Gone, but Ever Present

It was 100 years ago today that writer, humorist and social commentator Mark Twain (né Samuel Clemens) died of a heart attack in Redding, Connecticut, at age 74. He’d supposedly predicted his demise a year earlier, linking it to the reappearance of Halley’s Comet: “I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with Halley’s Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: ‘Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.’”

In commemoration of this occasion, I just purchased a new biography of the author, Mark Twain: Man in White: The Grand Adventure of his Final Years (Random House), by Michael Shelden, to add to my shelf of books by and about the 19th century’s most famous American man of letters. Like many people, I began reading Twain’s work in high school, beginning with Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, though I recall a couple of his books (among them The Prince and the Pauper) being read to my class in grade school. Eventually, I made my way through all of his novels, most of his short stories and a few of his non-fiction works. If his prose wasn’t always mellifluous, his dialogue was never less than rich and precise, his political opinions never less than biting and revealing. And his stories captured the United States at a point where the old, agrarian and wilderness nation was disappearing under the demands of a growing population, to be replaced by a country that had to battle its tendencies toward narrow-mindedness, greed and dishonesty (battles that we continue to fight today). As Robert Middlekauff, a professor emeritus of history at the University of California, Berkeley once said, Twain was “incapable of writing a dull sentence.”

Not long ago, I stumbled across some rare footage of Twain, shot in 1909 by Thomas Edison at Stormfield, the author’s Redding, Connecticut, estate. There’s no sound, of course, but the film shows his two remaining daughters, Clara and Jean. I don’t remember ever seeing the author in action, and it’s likely you never have either. So I’ve embedded that film below.

Sail on, Mr. Twain. We’re all the better for your having once walked and talked among us.

(The image of Twain at the top of this post is a chromolithograph from the 1898 oil portrait by Ignace Spiridon.)

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Crime Fiction: The Man from Beijing
by Henning Mankell

In the world of crime fiction, sometimes it seems as if the only thing anyone’s talking about is Lisbeth Salander, the heroine of Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium Trilogy.” Those three novels -- The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (due out in the States next month) -- comprise one of the finest series of crime thrillers ever written. In sparse, precise prose, Larsson paints vivid characters, plots nail-biting action and leaves readers wanting what every writer hopes his readers will want: more.

But as good as Mr. Larsson’s books are, they’re not the only game in Stockholm. Henning Mankell, well-known for his Kurt Wallander series of mysteries, has just published a real blockbuster read, The Man from Beijing (Knopf). Set in more or less the same world as Larsson’s series -- Sweden -- this standalone work is a sprawling tale of desperation, crime, revenge, sibling rivalry and relentless investigation. Its plot begins in present-day Sweden, then jumps back to America in the mid-1800s, then on to today’s China, and finally back to Sweden. No single-location mystery for Mankell; by opening up his plot to many nations and time periods, the author is able to pack his story with every manner of conflict, from human to cultural to historical.

Gripping in every way, The Man from Beijing starts off with the slaughter of 19 people in the small Swedish hamlet of Hesjövallen. Naturally, no one saw anything, and the clues are all but nonexistent. There are only a few people left alive in that little town, and they apparently know nothing. The highly detailed police-procedural part of this book happens here, as investigators rip the scene of the crime apart to find anything that might be considered a lead. All anyone can find is a red ribbon.

But then the story shifts location and focus. Enter Birgitta Roslin, an aging, big-city judge who learns she has an interesting connection to the murders. Like us, she’s drawn to it. The investigators do their best to rebuff her, but by that time the case has jumped from the news to her heart. She can’t let it go -- and that’s a good thing, because neither can we.

In the parallel universe of this tale, we then meet three poor Chinese brothers who lived 150 years ago. In their darkest hour, they’re taken -- slave-like -- to America to work on building the young nation’s first transcontinental railroad. They aren’t the only foreigners on the scene. There’s also one particular Swede, who turns out to be a hell of an evil, bigoted taskmaster.

Meanwhile, back in the present, China is preparing to host the 2010 Olympics. Not surprisingly, there’s a lot of politicking, a lot of jockeying for power, for money, for control. And at the center of it all, businessmen whose enterprises aren’t totally legit. While they wrestle for China’s present, they also fight to determine the trajectory of its future, looking for ways to both lower China’s population and spread its political force abroad. They look to Mozambique, where a million Chinese citizens can work the land and build a new destiny for both countries.

How does all of this fit together? To call the story line intricate would only begin to scratch the surface. Mankell treads lightly, for the most part, sketching bits of plot and character in such a way that he seems to provide answers but also manages to ask many more questions. Birgitta Roslin is the most complex player of all, willing to put everything on the line for the purest of motives. A judge by day, she has both health and marital problems. They’re not remarkable, but they are what you might expect -- and this makes her someone with whom we can easily identify. In the midst of such massively surprising revelations about her family and this case that’s drawn her in, her mundane problems are almost a welcome relief to her and to us.

Mankell’s style -- as translated by Laurie Thompson -- is just as spare and direct as Stieg Larsson’s. In a way, Mankell’s sentences straddle two worlds: he stands off a bit from much of the action, offering almost chilly, matter-of-fact descriptions, yet manages at the same time to lodge himself deeply in the minds of his characters. It’s as if he’s stripped out layers of emotion to leave us with the stark reality of the evidence and the equally stark motivations that drive his characters. The result is a fascinating blend of styles that keeps the plot tense and the revelations startling. For so many reasons, The Man from Beijing is a brilliant work that’s both challenging and extraordinarily satisfying.

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Non-Fiction: Becoming Normal by Mark Edick

If the concepts of recovery and fitting in and being normal do not resonate for you, chances are Becoming Normal (Central Recovery Press) is not a book that needs to be added to your shelves. The audience for this book is quite specific, but it’s also large and mostly under-serviced. The central theme in this personal memoir is learning how to regain your life and re-find your way after addiction. It is, in a way, beyond recovery, which is actually the very first steps.

Becoming Normal is a self-portrait of someone successfully and simply working their program day by day. The beauty comes in the poignant way Edick relates his recovery: one day at a time.
For me, normal once meant drinking and drugging. Mood- and mind-altering substances, including alcohol, brought me to my knees. My addiction had many manifestations, but a single common thread. Its power lay in what I thought of myself, what I thought others thought of me, and my reaction to what I was thinking. This is my story -- how I went from being a drunk to being someone who chooses not to drink. My story is about my old idea of normal and how, through recovery, I was able to define and re-create my new understanding of what I believe normal is.
There is a certain peaceful clarity in Edick’s voice. Those who struggle with the issues covered here might find comfort in Edick’s calm and simple telling of his personal struggle.

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Monday, April 19, 2010

London Book Fair Opens Under the Volcano

The London Book Fair gets underway at Earl’s Court today. This is an event I enjoy attending annually to gauge the state of publishing which has been suffering from the twin-pronged approach of economic and technological challenges.

This year the Fair faces another problem: the ash falling over Europe from the Icelandic volcano that has cleared the skies of aircraft. Many people will be unable to attend the Fair due to the air-travel blackout, while others on mainland Europe are changing their air-travel arrangements to ferry, road and Eurostar Rail methods. The result might be a shortage of attendees from the United States and other overseas territories.

As the madness of the Fair arrives in London this week, The Observer’s Robert McCrum spends a day with legendary agent Andrew Wylie in New York:
Today he comes to greet me in the tranquil, overheated hallway of his 12th-floor office as the day closes and the evening light merges into the fluorescent glare of uptown off-Broadway. In person, Wylie is slight, courteous and soft-spoken -- as if with his dark suit and formal good manners he can live down his reputation as competitive, self-willed, transgressive and ruthless.

The contrast between his polite self-presentation and his erstwhile reputation as a hell-raiser and “a lizard” makes for an edgy formality. But it doesn’t take long for his sardonic bad-boy self to break through the mask. Wylie's minimalist office displays several promotional copies of the Nabokov backlist in various foreign editions. When I comment on the number of literary estates (Borges, Mishima, Waugh, Lampedusa and Updike, to name some of the most prominent) controlled by the Wylie Agency, he says, with a mirthless laugh: "People are dying like flies." It's at moments like this that you can see why, in the Anglo-American book world, he is known, simply as "the Jackal".

Once a more than slightly feral predator, however, Wylie has now become something far more menacing in the literary undergrowth. In a business environment where many of the principal publishers, booksellers and rival literary agents are reeling from the remorseless depredations of recession and digitisation (the IT revolution), he can make a good claim to be the most powerfully composed and uniquely global writers' representative on either side of the Atlantic, a king of the book publishing jungle.
McCrum’s piece is lengthy, interesting and here.

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A Website by Any Other Name Would Smell As Sweet

Last week, via the American Copy Editors Society conference and Twitter, AP announced that, effective immediately, the correct way to describe a “computer connected to the Internet that maintains a series of web pages on the World Wide Web” is “website” rather than “Web site,” which is what has been correct until the announcement of the change.

This might not be the only change. AP is considering dropping the usage of state abbreviations (it may not surprise you that I would actually applaud that. We already always spell out state names at January Magazine), dropping the name of Canadian provinces in datelines (i.e., Calgary, Canada) and changing "e-mail" to "email." Not entirely sure how I feel about any of those but, effective immediately, we’ll be using “web site” and “web,” though it will probably hurt my eyes forever.

I go into a bit more detail on the matter on my personal blog here.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Cookbooks: Ancient Wisdom, Modern Kitchen by Yuan Wang, Warren Sheir, Mika Ono

You are what you eat. If we take this saying literally, it would appear that Western culture is lost. Mountains of fast food hamburgers, masses of brown food deep-fried beyond recognition. If we are what we eat, we’re in trouble.

In Ancient Wisdom, Modern Kitchen (Da Capo) this old phrase might take on a whole new meaning. The book is predicated on the idea that not only are we what we eat, we can control our health and longevity pretty closely based on what we put in our bodies. A sidebar to one of the recipes in the book encapsulates the difference in philosophies quite clearly:
Often in the West, people are told only what foods they should not be eating -- don’t eat sugar, don’t eat beef, don’t eat saturated fat -- rather than what foods they should be eating.
Ancient Wisdom, Modern Kitchen is a complete cookbook that corrects that oversight. From the introduction:
Eastern traditions are not part of the Western lifestyle. We go to yoga classes after work, use feng shui to create a welcoming space in our living room, and consult an acupuncturist to relieve our lingering shoulder pain. Yet parts of the Eastern tradition are still to be discovered in the West. One of these is the potential of Chinese herbs to promote health and longevity through everyday cooking.
The resulting book is a revelation. Over 150 delicious and curative recipes that, considered in a deliberate way can be part of your personal health program. Or use the book to enhance your repertoire of healthful, organic foods and, though it’s not a vegetarian cookbook, a very high percentage of the included recipes are either vegan or vegetarian.

Ancient Wisdom, Modern Kitchen
is a deeply interesting book. One that, given the right set of circumstances and half a chance, could change your life.

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Friday, April 16, 2010

Children’s Books: Rat by Fernanda Eberstadt

Rat (Knopf) is a new millennium coming-of-age story told in a frankly lyrical and literary voice. Fifteen-year-old Celia -- nicknamed Rat -- lives in rural Spain with her mother, a self-involved free spirit. When the little family adopts the nine-year-old son of a dead friend, Celia is at first resentful, but she comes to love Morgan and feel protective of him. So much so that when her mother’s boyfriend abuses the child, Celia first fights the man, then takes Morgan and runs away to England to search out Celia’s biological father, a man she has never met.

For two children out in the world alone, this is an adventure that is epic in scope. Eberstadt’s eye is sharp, the details she shares rich and, as she tells it, there is never an absurd moment in two juvenile runaways crossing Europe and the Channel alone together, searching for freedom, safety and -- for Rat -- a sense of belonging.

Rat is a memorable story told in an astonishingly clear voice.

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New This Week: The Authenticity Hoax: How We Get Lost Finding Ourselves by Andrew Potter

No matter what you make of Andrew Potter’s path to bring us back to reality, it’s an interesting journey. A philosophical one, in many ways. On a par with the paths of thought taken by the (thus far) better known Alain de Botton, who is, after all, one of our best known contemporary philosophers. Though he holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Toronto, that isn’t what Potter calls himself, but that does not change facts. Read his work and you’ll see: this is an artful, gymnastic mind and he takes on some of our biggest contemporary foibles in a book that manages to be both sweeping and intricate at the same time. From the introduction to The Authenticity Hoax (Harper/McClelland & Stewart):
The quasi-biblical jargon of authenticity, with its language of separation and distance, of lost unity, wholeness, and harmony, is so much a part of our moral shorthand that we don't always notice that we've slipped into what is essentially a religious way of thinking....the search for the authentic is positioned as the most pressing quest of our age.... My central claim in this book is that authenticity is none of these things. Instead, I argue that the whole authenticity project that has occupied us moderns for the past two hundred and fifty years os a hoax. It has never delivered on its promise and it never will.
The author argues that the quest for authenticity in our lives is nothing more than yet another form of status seeking: ecotourism, performance art, the cults of Oprah and Obama and more.

Potter weaves elements of history, philosophy and pop culture together in a book that will leave an impression even if it doesn’t necessarily show us the path. Is Andrew Potter one of the great thinkers of our age? He may well be: this is great stuff.

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Romancing the Book

After about a decade of electronic see sawing on the future of the book, a handful of very successful electronic reading devices are leading the way. It no longer seems like a question of whether electronic books will ever own a significant portion of the reading market. These days, the questions are focused around how quickly it will happen in a deep and meaningful way.

Now Penguin CEO, John Makinson, has thrown a reminder into the mix: in the frenzy to get on board with electronic books, it’s important we don’t forget the romance of its printed ancestor. From The Washington Post via Reuters:
With the excitement around the launch of Apple’s iPad and the growing popularity of other digital devices, it is a challenge to retain the romance of the printed book, according to the head of publisher Penguin.

The iPad, a cross between a smartphone and a laptop, is helping foster a market for tablet computers that is expected to grow to some 50 million units by 2014, and with it, also expand the market for e-books, which has been hard to crack.
On a trip to India, Makinson commented on the place of the book in our hearts as well as on our shelves:
“We need to keep the emphasis on the reader’s emotional relationship with the book. It’s still important to produce a well-designed, beautifully printed book that looks good on a shelf, and that you can gift to a friend,” he said.

“And the challenge is not to lose sight of the main act, which is still the book. The definition of a book itself is set to change, but there is a tradition, a romance to a book that is essential to retain,” he said.
The piece is here.


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

OMG! Who Will be the New Queen of Teen?

The competition is based in the United Kingdom, but it could have reading reverberations all over the world. After all, no one doubts the power of a teenager and heaven help the poor sod who gets between a girl and her reading material. From Book Trade:
The Queen of Teen award was founded in 2008 to celebrate the feistiest, frothiest and most fantastic writers for the tween and teen market, and the first competition was a huge success, with hundreds of heartfelt nominations from readers and tens of thousands of votes cast for a shortlist that included Meg Cabot, Jacqueline Wilson, Cathy Cassidy and the eventual winner Louise Rennison.
Fast forward to 2010. “Queen of Teen is now inviting nominations for this year’s award, which will be presented at a glittering award ceremony in September 2010. Between 12th April and 14th June 2010, readers can nominate any female author for the award, and a shortlist based on these nominations will be announced on 21st June.”

The Book Trade piece is here. The Teen of Queen Web site is here in all its frothy pink glory.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

New This Week: Hotel Iris by Yoko Ogawa

I love the line in the publicity material where potential reviewers are informed that The Los Angeles Times compared Japanese author Yoko Ogawa to Haruki Murakami, Kazuo Ishiguro and Kenzaburō Ōe. And while, yes, all of those author have Japanese names with loads of syllables, their work is not comparable. Well, it’s all writing. And it’s all very good. But that’s not the basis for drawing this line. Ishiguro, for example, has lived in the United Kingdom since he was six, has a Master’s degree from East Anglia and was listed as one of the “50 greatest British writers since 1945” by The London Times.

Like those other internationally recognized authors, though, Ogawa is terrific and January has liked that of her work that has been translated thus far. The author has been well known and respected since her debut, Disintegration of the Butterfly, in 1988. Though she has enjoyed wide international translation, especially in French, somehow she managed to escape wide notice in English until the publication of The Diving Pool not that many years ago. Like others of her work that have moved successfully into English, Hotel Iris (Picador) was first published several years ago. It appeared first in 1996 and this translation is by Stephen Snyder, who also did The Diving Pool and The Housekeeper and the Professor.

A mother and daughter toil away in a sad old Japanese version of a Fawlty Towers of a hotel, without all the comic relief. Seventeen-year-old Mari becomes intrigued by a middle-aged man who may or may not have killed his wife. Intrigue moves to seduction and it’s not long before the two are on their way to a potentially dangerous affair.

Hotel Iris is spare, uncomfortable, disturbing. I couldn’t put it down.

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Monday, April 12, 2010

Stalking the Reader

I am always looking out for the unusual in my reading -- the unique, the different, the exciting -- all with a view to try and piece together the meaning of the reality I see around me. It is thanks to the viewpoint of others, through from their fiction, that sometimes I get to see beyond my own vista, and occasionally what appears as a parallax view, challenges my own world-view of reality. There is sometimes a cost getting into print, as in the case of John Kennedy Toole, or the flipside, Stephen Benatar, a writer who didn’t give up, nor battle to get his work into the hands of readers.

If you’ve never heard of this writer, then perhaps you’ve not been approached by him in a British bookstore, but fear not as Benatar is now crossing the Atlantic looking for readers as reported in The Sunday Times:
I first met Stephen Benatar in a Waterstone’s bookstore in north London. This well-dressed man in a fedora came up to me and said very softly: “Hello, I’m signing copies of my novel. Would you be so kind as to take a look?” And before I could say, “No, bugger off!”, he had slipped a copy of Wish Her Safe at Home into my hands and disappeared.

“Oh dear,” I thought, “another one of Brit-lit’s deluded losers!” I’ve met so many in my time — writers who have measured out their lives in rejection slips; writers who have written dozens of well-reviewed novels that sank without a trace. So I bought Benatar’s book much in the same spirit as I would buy a copy of The Big Issue: it was a pity purchase.

It just goes to show that you should never judge an author by their hat or their hustle. For, on reading his book, I quickly discovered that Benatar is not one of the deluded; he is one of the talented. He writes wonderfully about failed lives, missed opportunities and the seductive dreams of second chances. Benatar’s terrain, writes the academic Gillian Carey, is “the weird hinterland of ordinary life where eccentricity shades into the bizarre, battiness into delusion and dementia…”

Wish Her Safe at Home
is a gripping and haunting story about a middle-aged, genteel woman called Rachel Waring who inherits a Georgian house in Bristol and slowly goes mad. Professor John Carey, an esteemed reviewer for The Sunday Times, has called it a “masterpiece”. Carey tells me: “It really is one of the most disturbing books I’ve ever read. Benatar manages to hit a raw nerve in the reader and make us uncomfortable by suggesting — very subtly — that Rachel, the mad narrator, is more like us than we would like to think.” Doris Lessing has praised it as “a most original and surprising novel”. And various celebrities — Emma Thompson, Joan Bakewell and Joanna Lumley (who showed interest in it for a possible starring vehicle) -- have declared themselves Benatar fans.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Gatsby’s Birthday

According to The Writer’s Almanac, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby was published to mixed reviews on this day in 1925:
Fitzgerald knew there was something missing in his novel. He wrote in a letter: “The worst fault in it I think is a BIG FAULT: I gave no account (and had no feeling about or knowledge of) the emotional relations between Gatsby and Daisy from the time of their reunion to the catastrophe.”

It didn’t sell very well, either. But The Great Gatsby slowly gained popularity, and by the 1960s, it was considered a classic of American literature. Today it is one of the most-taught books in high schools.
Writer’s Almanac also notes April 10th birthdays for authors Paul Theroux (Sir Vidia’s Shadow, A Dead Hand) and Anne Lamott (Blue Shoe, Imperfect Birds).

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Friday, April 09, 2010

Oprah Winfrey Attacked by Parasite

A book about television host, producer and philanthropist Oprah Winfrey is drawing a sickening amount of attention for “poison pen” biographer Kitty Kelley.

The book, Oprah: A Biography (Crown) will be published on Tuesday. Earlier this week, The New York Times rolled out a spread worthy of a socialite or a rock star in an “interview” by Deborah Solomon called “The Secret Sharer.” With an opening that sounds like it’s straight out of a scandal sheet (is this what the NYT is falling to?) Solomon begins:
Your unauthorized biography of Oprah Winfrey, who turned daytime television into a form of confession and became one of the wealthiest women in the world, comes out this week. The book presents her as a cold manipulator who requires everyone around her to sign confidentiality agreements. What do you consider the most significant disclosure in the book?
And Kelley, with a clear eye to sales, responds:
What I think is the most tantalizing part is that she’s so secretive, that there are so many secrets.
Winfrey is best known for her international philanthropic work and the almost startling success of almost all of her enterprises. She has at various times been called the most affluent African Americans of the 20th century, the most influential woman in the world, the greatest black philanthropist in American history and was, for a time, the world’s only black billionaire. Winfrey’s book club, has often been attributed with the power to sell more copies of books she mentions than any other single source.

Kelley is one of the best known celebrity biographers in the world. She’s written about the Bush family, the British Royal family, Frank Sinatra and others. Kelley is listed as number 80 in Bernard Goldberg’s 2005 book, 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America (HarperCollins).


Choose Your Poison!

According to Lapham’s Quarterly, “A Magazine of History and Ideas,” Raymond Chandler’s drugs of choice while he worked on The Blue Dahlia were gimlets and vitamin shots and while working on 1954’s Doors of Perception, Aldous Huxley tried to enhance his own with mescaline.

It is unsurprising to read that, while tapping away at In Cold Blood, Truman Capote tiffled double martinis while both Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Elizabeth Barrett Browning drowned their various sorrows in laudanum.

The piece -- it’s really more of a sidebar -- lists many more authors and their drug of choice. It’s called “Under the Influence” and it’s here. While you’re there, leave yourself time for a good look around. Recent articles include a reconsideration of the ambition of Ezra Pound’s work and Ross Perlin examines why politicians “are always trying, and failing, to make art.”

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Fiction: The Dream of Perpetual Motion by Dexter Palmer

Dexter Palmer’s debut novel is, in all ways, a beautiful book. The cover evokes a steampunk version of Metropolis. The pages are beautifully designed and deckled-edged.

Palmer’s writing, too, is beautiful. From the first, The Dream of Perpetual Motion (St. Martin’s Press) is lyrical, even haunting. It may be Palmer’s first novel but you know right away that you’re in the hands of a master craftsman. An idea that is not injured by the knowledge that Palmer holds a Ph.D. in English literature from Princeton. From The Dream of Perpetual Motion:
In the morning, when the sun is rising, the building that houses the Xeroville Greeting-card Works is eclipsed by the long, yawning shadow of the Taligent Tower. The Tower is the uncontested dominant piece of architecture in the city, the defining element of its skyline, and it is owned by Prospero Taligent, reclusive genius, the richest person in the known world, the inventor of the mechanical man.
Our hero is Harold Winslow, a greeting card writer who has for a while suspected that the stories he once dreamed of telling are not within him. Or not anymore. As the story begins, we learn that Harold is imprisoned in a zeppelin, alone but for the crazed shell of the only woman he ever loved and the cryogenically frozen remains of her father, Prospero Taligent.

The Dream of Perpetual Motion is the story of these three, but it is also the story of the world as it has come to be in the book: an early 20th century with a definite steampunk twist: it is not a world that any of us would recognize.

I really wanted to love this book and was sure, going in, that I would. I didn’t. And why not? I’m still not sure. As I said, the writing itself is fantastic: taken line-by-line, this is a flawless work. But, somehow, the story never gelled for me. Palmer’s distant, polished voice seems to keep the reader at a distance, as well. At least, it did with me.

I’m willing to entertain the idea that the fault lies with me and that your experience of the novel will be entirely different. I hope so because, on paper, this is one terrific book. I found it bloodless. It’s possible that you will not.

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New Today: Looking for a Love Story by Louise Shaffer

Presumably, when Louise Shaffer’s first book was published -- 1994’s All My Suspects -- the new author had a built-in audience. After all, by that point, Shaffer’s face and voice were familiar to millions of television viewers because, as an actress, she’d been appearing in popular soap operas since the 1960s.

Reportedly, when Shaffer got to an age when available roles started thinning, she picked up a pen. First writing for soaps -- from Ryan’s Hope to Another World, General Hospital and others -- and then as a novelist.

It’s not surprising that Shaffer’s books are aimed sharply at women. Considering her platform -- that whole soap thing -- it would be practically irresponsible for her marketing people not to go that route. After all, few writers start out with the sort of potential readership base that she had.

What is surprising are the books themselves: so much more than they need to be and though the titles and the covers would suggest otherwise, Shaffer’s books are far beyond simple romance.

Take, for instance, her latest novel, Looking For A Love Story (Ballantine). The protagonist is an author whose first novel -- a hilarious look at love through the eyes of a dog -- comes too close to home when she splits with her photographer husband and Francesca gets custody of the couple’s beloved pooch. In order to help her over her rough patch, Francesca takes a job ghost writing the memoirs of an elderly woman’s parents. Joe and Ellie were performers who toured the vaudeville circuit in the 1920s. Looking closely at Joe and Ellie’s lives causes Francesca to look deeply at her own and the twinned stories -- one present, one deeply past -- lead her towards her own emotional redemption: though not without some very good laughs.

It is not the easiest thing to bring two timelines to life in a single book. That is, it must be very difficult: we’ve seen it done badly so often. Shaffer makes it work, though. More: she makes it sing.

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Heaven or Hell: Hottest Teen Fiction Deals in Absolutes

This year in young adult fiction, supernatural is leading the way. We already knew about vampires -- how could anyone not? -- but the latest trend flips the coin in a surprising way. From The Guardian:
“Angels are all around us,” reads the publisher’s blurb for Angel, the first of a British trilogy of books for teenagers. “Their beauty is intoxicating, their presence awe-inspiring, their energy irresistible. Angel fever is spreading.”

And this spring an angelic host does seem to have taken over a key sector of the book industry, with at least seven new literary series about angels targeted at young adults published here and in America, and two further bestselling titles dominating the European market.
The Guardian looks at the trend and some of its top contenders here.


Monday, April 05, 2010

Art & Culture: Hieroglyph Detective by Nigel Strudwick

Picture this: you wake up deep inside a pyramid with only a single clue as to how you got there: there are hieroglyphs plainly visible on the wall but -- alas! -- you have no way to read them. What an Earth do you do?

Well, if you’re lucky and had a bit of foresight before heading out on your locked-in-pyramid adventure, you will have packed a copy of Egyptologist Nigel Strudwick’s handy field guide Hieroglyph Detective: How to Decode the Sacred Language of the Ancient Egyptians (Chronicle Books). With an extra bit of luck, you’ll have had time to study it on the plane during your journey. Or the barge, as the case may be.

And yes, of course: while most of us are quite unlikely to find ourselves awakening in a tomb, there is still a place in the world for this innovative and expertly creative little book. From the introduction:
The aim of this book is to provide a practical, easy-to-follow guide to Egyptian hieroglyphics, giving readers sufficient grounding in the pictorial script to enable them to decipher for themselves some of the many inscriptions they will encounter while pursuing their interest in this fascinating civilization.
One of the things I found really interesting about Hieroglyph Detective is the way it made me think about written language. At a time when many people are in a panic about the state of the book, it is informative to read about one of the most ancient forms of written communication and realize that, as up-in-the-air as things might seem right now, the literacy our culture enjoys has likely never been higher. That is to say that looking at the long-ago can help put things in perspective:
Literacy was restricted to a learned elite, which would have included the king and his officials, particularly scribes. It is thought that as little as one percent of the ancient Egyptian population was literate.
Hieroglyph Detective is a fascinating and informative book. Those with an interest in Egyptology and language will be entranced.

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New This Week: Claude & Camille by Stephanie Cowell

Stephanie Cowell is building a reputation writing beautiful, cinematic books that bring to life artists from various eras. Nicholas Cooke, the story of a young actor in 1593 London, won the American Book Award in 1996. More recently, Marrying Mozart was translated into seven languages and optioned for film.

Cowell seems poised on the cusp of very great things. This feeling is backed by her most recent work, the rich and satisfying Claude & Camille: A Novel of Monet (Crown). The book breaths life into the story of the young Impressionist painter Claude Monet and Camille Doncieux, the well-born Parisian with whom he fell in love.

As Cowell points out in her historical notes to Claude & Camille:
All the world knows Monet as an old man in his gardens at Giverny, but the genesis of that revered painter was a very determined and handsome young man: proud, sometimes haughty, and sometimes humble, in need of love and understanding and someone to buy his work. If he had not stood his ground through all his hardships with the help of those who loved him, there would be no water lily paintings today.
In a way, that and the birth of Impressionism is what Claude & Camille is all about.

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Sunday, April 04, 2010

New This Week: If It Takes A Village, Build One by Malaak Compton-Rock

One of the most refreshing things about celebrity humanitarian Malaak Compton-Rock’s If It Takes A Village, Build One (Broadway) is its accessibility. Part memoir, part guide, Compton-Rock takes Hillary Clinton’s village analogy to heart and runs with it, creating a work that is inspiring in its warmth and simplicity. If you ever thought you wanted step-by-step instructions on how to make a difference, If It Takes A Village, Build One is the book for you.

If Compton-Rock’s name and face are familiar, there are good reasons. In 2008, she was one of the judges on Oprah’s Big Give and she is the (often mentioned, always respected) wife of actor/comedian Chris Rock. Most recently, Compton-Rock founded The Angelrock Project, promoting volunteerism, sustainable change and social responsibility.
The Angelrock Project includes valuable information on how to volunteer, advice on making monetary or in-kind donations, links to life-changing service organizations, recommends wonderful products that you can purchase to sustain third-world artisans, and suggests corporations who donate a percentage of proceeds to worthy non-profit organizations.
If It Takes A Village, Build One feels like Compton-Rock very comfortably walking that walk.

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April is National Poetry Month

In both Canada and the United States, April is National Poetry Month, with official events scheduled all over North America.

In the United States, a good starting point is where the month-long event is explained and where all sorts of poetry related material is collected:
Inaugurated by the Academy of American Poets in 1996, National Poetry Month is now held every April, when publishers, booksellers, literary organizations, libraries, schools and poets around the country band together to celebrate poetry and its vital place in American culture. Thousands of businesses and non-profit organizations participate through readings, festivals, book displays, workshops, and other events.
In Canada, start with the Web site of the League of Canadian Poets where festivities are underway for the 12th annual event. This year, there’s a strong environmental tie-in. Since Earth Day also takes place in April, this seems like a natural link.
As a society we continue to change: politically, ecologically, culturally and economically. Poet and NPM participators across Canada will be exploring these topics through readings and events: how changing climates affect you, your community and the larger communities of Canada... and the world. Each day becomes a defining moment in our history. Do Climate Changes inspire you to write, to express your passion and compassion? Does change necessarily mean progress?
As well as thoughtful rhetoric, the site includes links to national events, contests and other poetry related material.

If Canadian poetry is what does it for you, definitely take a gander at Canadian Poetry 1920-1960 (New Canadian Library/M&S), a fantastic collection of the very best of Canadian poetry during the stated period and including 250 poems by 44 poets from all regions of the country. Writes editor Brian Trehearne:
The poets in this anthology ... considered it one of their primary obligations to modernize Canadian writing, to bring the country's poetry out of late Romantic stasis after the Great War into a fertile and combative response to the .... modern era.
Clearly, then, Canadian Poetry is not a book meant for armchair dreaming, but is a serious study of the animal under discussion. Don’t let that put you off. Fortunately, it takes more than examination from the ivory tower to dampen the verve found in this collection of voices. P.K. Page, Earle Birney, Irving Layton, Dorothy Livesay, so many more. Editor Brian Trehearne is a Professor in the Department of English at McGill University and he really knows his poetry, but he’s sometimes a bit of a buzz kill. Unless you love the smell of academia in the morning, don’t read the editor’s preface or afterword before you’ve engaged deeply in this river.


Exorcist Author Mines Familiar Turf in Dimiter

What do you do when writing an international bestseller and mega-hit screenplay have helped kill your comedy writing career? If you're William Peter Blatty, you go back and mine the territory that so fascinated you in the first place. The Los Angeles Times’ Nick Owchar talks with William Peter Blatty about his new novel Dimiter (Forge):
Set in the 1970s, “Dimiter” introduces us, in a riveting opening scene, to an enigmatic inmate in an Albanian prison during the gray days of Enver Hoxha's regime. The man coolly withstands unbearable torture and then escapes, vanishing like a phantom . . . only to later turn up in the Holy Land. He becomes a shadowy presence in the lives of several people, including an Arab Christian policeman and a Jewish doctor, both of whom puzzle over several mysterious deaths somehow linked to this figure, who is named Paul Dimiter.

If you look more closely, the story also makes a sly, theological nod to the essential mystery of the Gospels that Christians everywhere will celebrate on Sunday: the Resurrection. Blatty has taken a message of religious faith and enfolded it within a fast-paced plot for a basic reason.

“I had to make a page-turner,” he says, “or else who would want to read it?”
Publishers Weekly liked Dimiter quite a lot, saying that “Blatty fans looking for straight-up horror in the vein of The Exorcist will be disappointed, but those with broader tastes will find this a beautifully written, haunting tale of vengeance, spiritual searching, loss, and love.”


Saturday, April 03, 2010

Philip Kerr at The Rap Sheet

Today at The Rap Sheet, J. Kingston Pierce offers up an in-depth interview with Scottish crime fictionist, Philip Kerr (If the Dead Rise Not, A Quiet Flame).

Pierce opens with this charming story, but wastes no time in getting down to business:
No matter how many authors I interview in my life, I may never escape the jitters I feel whenever I start talking with somebody whose writing I admire. That anxiety hit me hard last October, during a trans-Atlantic telephone call with critic and Rap Sheet correspondent Ali Karim in London. He’d just informed me that Scottish novelist Philip Kerr, author of the Bernie Gunther crime series, had been named the 2009 recipient of the prestigious Ellis Peters Historical Award, given to him that night during a special reception in the British capital. In response, I casually told Karim that, if he happened to see Kerr amid the crowd of champagne-swilling celebrants, he should pass along my congratulations. “Well,” Karim said excitedly, “why don’t you tell him yourself?” And with that, my correspondent walked over to Philip Kerr -- and handed him his cell phone.
The interview is in-depth and available in full right here.

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Non-Fiction: Kiss ’Em Goodbye and High Heat

For some fairly obvious reasons, I am not given free rein at January Magazine to indulge in my love for almost all things of a sporting nature. January’s editor has told me on several occasions and in no uncertain terms that the distance between a magazine about sport and one about books might not be intensely different if a lot of the right (or wrong?) kind of words were shed in that direction. As a result, I tend to hold myself back. However, I have recently come across two really superior sports-related books that I wanted to share with you. Since both of them cover a fair bit of ground, I got the all important nod and here I am.

I appreciate everything about Kiss ’Em Goodbye: An ESPN Treasury of Failed, Forgotten, and Departed Teams (Ballantine). I love the light and easy paperback format, the clear and breezy tone but I especially enjoy the material under discussion here: the real stories of the dozens of vanished teams that once graced and disgraced the big leagues of North America. This is history for the sports fan in an easy-to-take-along package. A major league contribution to sports history: it just does not get better than this.

High Heat: The Secret History of the Fastball and the Improbable Search for the Fastest Pitcher of All Time (Da Capo) is an entirely different type of bird.

Tim Wendell, one of baseball’s leading contemporary chroniclers, here dissects the fastball and those who would throw it. Wendell interviews players past and present, baseball historians, managers, scouts and other experts in his quest to demystify the illusive fastball, determine its scientific components and discover who the foremost fastball purveyors of all time might be.

High Heat is a fascinating book written with passion and aplomb by someone who clearly loves the sport nearly as much as he loves writing about it.

Friday, April 02, 2010

On Film: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Adapting great novels into great movies sounds easy -- but it isn’t. Filmmakers constantly bump up against the movie our minds produce as we read ... and seldom is the film as good. While there are plenty of exceptions, sometimes filmmakers just screw it up, like they did with the recent adaptation of Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, which bears only a passing resemblance to the book. And sometimes they get it just right, as they have with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Directed by Niels Arden Oplev, the Swedish book has been made into a Swedish film (though an American version is in the works). In fact, it’s the most successful film in Swedish history.

Oplev’s film is an instant classic, bringing to physical life a character I’d have bet was all but impossible to realize with any real success: Lisbeth Salander, the pierced, tattooed, raped, waif-like creature who drives all three of Stieg Larsson’s wonderful thrillers. As played by Noomi Rapace, Salander is as vulnerable and indestructible as she is in the novel, and the effect is unforgettable. The actress, whose sharp features seem anxious to soften, if only for a moment, embodies the girl with a perfect mix of warmth and ice, making real the photographic memory that embarrasses her and a brilliant mind that sees all the darkness of life but too little of its light.

Mikael Blomkvist, the magazine publisher who becomes a detective, sort of, is played by Michael Nyqvist. The actor’s ragged face and sad eyes don’t hold the fire the character in the book does. In the film, the character seems resigned to his fate, though he doesn’t know what it is. To me, Blomkvist is more of a fighter, a tougher nut. Nyqvist does a good enough job, but in a role that must go head-to-head with Salander, I saw him with a harder edge.

The rest of the cast is perfect -- and more important, believable. But the real star of this film is director Oplev. He harnesses the talents, in particular, of the cinematographer and editor to create a terse, tense thriller of the highest order, tightening the plot with every scene. He’s trimmed the dense book down to its essential moments and crafted a film that’s cohesive and compelling. Stuff is missing, sure, but you don’t miss it.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is often a brutal film, violent and cruel-minded and searing. But then, that’s the point. The original title of the novel and the film translates as “men who hate women.” That’s certainly a truthful title, but it’s got no style. Be warned that in the film, as in the book, the violence frames the action; it’s hard to watch, at times, but every disturbing bit of it serves a marvelous story.

Presented in Swedish with English subtitles, the film is playing in limited release. Check your local listings -- and don’t miss it.

January’s sister publication, The Rap Sheet, covers the film here.

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Thursday, April 01, 2010

Fiction: Something Red by Jennifer Gilmore

Delicious, complex and unexpected, Something Red (Scribner) is that impossible animal: a novel close to capable of being all things to everyone. A family saga with politics, espionage and a hit of romance. Yet the book is a well-plotted, engaging generational saga.

In 1979, the Cold War is drawing to a close, President Carter has just announced the United States’ grain embargo against the USSR and the Washington, D.C.-based Goldstein family is in turmoil. An activist grandfather, an anorexic daughter, a son entering college and the parents -- Dennis and Sharon -- about to embark on their own journeys of dissatisfaction and confusion with who they are and what they want: both culturally and personally.
When President Carter announced the embargo, Dennis did not initially think about the American farmers who would be wrecked, or of the disastrous effects on trade, or the implications of using food to swing politics. What he first thought of was his mother, her hips knocking the linoleum kitchen table as she mixed egg whites and sugar in a porcelain bowl for her tiny meringues, her long, bony fingers, knuckles white, gripping the metal eggbeater.
Gilmore’s first novel, the wonderful Golden Country, was deeply acclaimed. It was a New York Times Notable Book for 2006 and a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Something Red is at least as good as that book. Perhaps better.


Twilight Author’s Novella Free Online June 5

A novella by Stephenie Meyer, author of the wildly successful Twilight series, will be published on June 5th. Two days later, fans will be able to read The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner for free online at, where it will be available for a month. From The Telegraph:
Meyer said she was allowing it to be read for free online “as a special thank you to fans,” according to a spokesman.

The book will not be downloadable, but only available to read online.
Even so, the published version will likely generate brisk sales. After all, this is the first work we’ve seen from Meyer in nearly two years. In that time, the Twilight mystique has been fueled by two successful films.

Meyer has said that she had anticipated writing a short story that might end up on her Web site.
“Then, when work started on The Twilight Saga: The Official Guide, I thought the Guide would be a good fit for my Bree story. However, the story grew longer than I anticipated, until it was too long to fit into the Guide.”

Zombie-less Jane Austen Novel Fetches Record Price

A signed first edition Jane Austen novel from 1816 has been purchased by a British Collector for £325,000:
The book is a first edition copy of Emma which Austen presented to her friend Anne Sharp, the inspiration for Mrs Weston in the novel.

Jonkers Rare Books in Oxfordshire paid £180,000 for it at auction in 2008.

It is understood that a British collector bought the book, which is one of 12 special 'presentation' copies Austen gave to friends and family.
The BBC has the full story here.