Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Holiday Gift Guide: The Making of Avatar by Jody Duncan and Lisa Fitzpatrick

Whether or not you liked James Cameron’s industry changing film, Avatar (and based on the box office records it still holds, you probably did), The Making of Avatar (Abrams) is likely to captivate you for hours. It’s a well-executed look at a brilliantly executed film. After all, the film was a technological marvel. Even if this were not a beautifully produced large-scale coffee table book, it would be interesting. With loads of production stills, behind the scenes photos and terrific descriptive narrative, this is one of the best “making of” books I’ve ever seen. Add to this the fact that the movie under discussion is actually super-interesting and you have a sure-fire winner.

From the very beginning, the authors take us straight to a new inside:
Sometime in the late 1970s in Orange County, California, James Cameron painted a picture of a tall, slender blue girl standing in a field of magenta grass.
To make this tidbit cooler still, a detail from that original painting -- the girl’s face -- is included in the book. This is actually a pretty good example of what makes The Making of Avatar really special. It is a consistent combination of never-before-seen facts and tidbits, combined with very good and exceedingly illustrative photos all bundled into a package that might make the Avatar fan on your holiday gift list weep.

The Making of Avatar is an epic story and a very good book.

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Insectile Prose Tops Bad Sex in Fiction Award

The competition was tense for a while, but it’s all over now: the winner of the Literary Review’s Bad Sex in Fiction Award for 2010 is Irish author Rowan Somerville who likely won for a sentence the judges said they were particularly impressed by:
“Like a lepidopterist mounting a tough-skinned insect with a too blunt pin he screwed himself into her.”
According to The Telegraph, there was more where that came from:
Other amorous passages in The Shape of Her contained a female body part “upturned like the nose of the loveliest nocturnal animal, sniffing the night” and described how one character “twisted onto her belly like a fish flipping itself”.
To win the 2010 award, Somerville beat out seven other authors, Jonathan Franzen (Freedom) and Annabel Lyon (The Golden Mean) among them.

The Telegraph reports that previous winners have included Norman Mailer, Sabastian Faulks and Tom Wolfe and in 2008, John Updike was awarded a lifetime achievement award “after being shortlisted for the dubious accolade four times.”

The Telegraph piece is here. The 2010 shortlist is here:

Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen (4th Estate)
The Slap, by Christos Tsiolkas (Atlantic Books)
The Golden Mean, by Annabel Lyon (Atlantic Books)
Maya, by Alastair Campbell (Hutchinson)
A Life Apart, by Neel Mukherjee (Constable & Robinson)
Heartbreak, by Craig Raine (Atlantic Books)
The Shape of Her, by Rowan Somerville (W&N)
Mr Peanut, by Adam Ross (Jonathan Cape)

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Birthday Bash: Montgomery, Mamet and Twain

We have noticed before that literary talent seems to arrive in birthday batches. Today, for instance, is the birthday not only of Canada’s beloved children’s author Lucy Maud Montgomery (1874), author of the Anne of Green Gables series, but also of Mark Twain, who was born in a Missouri log cabin in 1835 and controversial playwright David Mamet (1947) who won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for Glengarry Glen Ross in 1984.

Of these the big news this year goes to Twain who, when he died in April of 1910, left behind thousands of unpublished words along with a will that stipulated they could not be published in their original form. According to Time magazine:
Twain did not rule out the publishing of parts of his manuscript before the 100-year mark, so long as "all sound and sane expressions of opinion are left out." In the decades after his death, three successive versions appeared that were variously sanitized, abridged and tidied up. But as the centenary approached, the Mark Twain Project, a scholarly effort housed at the University of California, Berkeley, got going on this definitive edition of the book. It will eventually run to three volumes, about half of whose material has never been published before.
The book, published earlier this month by the University of California Press, has been a huge seller, far surpassing anyone’s expectations. From the L.A. Times:
Original plans called for a printing of 7,500, which was upped to 50,000 by the time the book actually went to press. It's since gone back again and again, bringing the total number of printed copies to 275,000. But still, it is hard to find -- as the N.Y. Times reported Friday, the book is selling so fast that it's selling out.

On Tuesday night, major L.A. independent bookstores Skylight and Book Soup were sold out of Twain's memoir. Vroman's had a few left in stock, but they warned that they wouldn't last. "We've sold out twice already," said bookseller John Oschrin. "It's incredible."

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Monday, November 29, 2010

Biography The Hilliker Curse: My Pursuit of Women by James Ellroy

Today in January Magazine’s biography section, editor Linda L. Richards reviews The Hilliker Curse: My Pursuit of Women by James Ellroy. Says Richards:
The North American reviews I’ve seen of The Hilliker Curse have mostly been astonishingly lukewarm, at best. This has been a head-scratcher because if you actually read the book you see that the writing here is sterling. Prose-wise, the Demon Dog of American Literature has never been in better shape. Mind you, it’s memoir and, as many people know through Ellroy’s earlier work of autobiographical non-fiction, My Dark Places, this author’s own story rivals that of any of his fictions. But the nail on the coffin for North American reviewers is probably the subtitle: My Pursuit of Women. Before you even get warmed up, a lot of reviewers are going to be compelled to either comment negatively on the book or ignore it. These are the soft and squishy times to which we’ve come.
The full review is here.

Meanwhile, Ellroy fans should take note: the Demon Dog is getting his own television show. According to L.A. Observed, “James Ellroy’s LA: City of Demons debuts Jan. 19 on the Investigation Discovery channel. It will look at notorious L.A. crimes, of course.”

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Saturday, November 27, 2010

Holiday Gift Guide: Making the Moose Out of Life Nicholas Oldland

Even though Making the Moose Out of Life (Kids Can Press) was published last August, and it has nothing to do with Christmas or holidays, there’s something very ... seasonal about it. Is it because the story revolves around a moose and a bear? (Two animals that also have nothing to do with Christmas, but who always seem kind of seasonal, too.) Or maybe because, in this case, the story also seems to have a sort of seasonal rhythm.

Moose lives life on the sidelines. He refuses to take life by the horns. One day, he takes the plunge by embarking on a sailing trip ... and ends up stranded on a desert island. Though you’d think the whole island thing would cure him of ever stepping out on his own, it ends up having the opposite effect and by book’s end he’s ready to go cliff-jumping. (Oddly, to the delight of his friends.)

Making the Moose Out of Life is illogical but charming.

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Friday, November 26, 2010

Crime Fiction: Dead Man’s Chest by Kerry Greenwood

When Kerry Greenwood created the rich, beautiful, intelligent Jazz Age sleuth, Phryne Fisher, she was expecting the series to last for about two books. Because she knew all about 1928, that was the year in which it was to be set, permanently. Seventeen books later, the author has finally had to move to January 1929. Phryne Fisher has returned to the Australian coastal town Queenscliff, scene of her second adventure, Flying Too High. That time she was in Queenscliff as part of a kidnapping case, and stayed at the gorgeous Queenscliff Hotel -- the same place where, because of that novel, I used to have lunch once a year on the verandah, looking out to sea.

Phryne is back in Dead Man’s Chest (Allen and Unwin/Poisoned Pen Press) with her faithful maid and companion, Dot Williams, her two adopted daughters, Ruth and Jane, and her dog, Molly, and they’re staying in a borrowed holiday home. There will, of course, be absolutely no investigations!

But where Phryne Fisher goes, mystery follows -- or, in this case, precedes. When the family arrives, the live-in servants, Mr. and Mrs. Johnson, are missing. No property is unaccounted for except food, and valuables have been stashed away for safe-keeping. But the Johnsons’ furniture is gone and a removalist was seen arriving at the house.

This gives young Ruth, the would-be cook, a chance to make meals for the family while Phryne investigates the disappearance. Queenscliff is never dull, what with the missing couple, a group of surrealists next door, a nosy old lady across the road, who might have seen something, a historical film being made down on the beach and some nasty goings-on nearby.

Phryne investigates, but she takes a step back in this novel and lets other characters come to the fore. She also has a new sidekick to add to her entourage; it will be interesting to see where he goes.

As always, the story is a lot of fun, offering adventure, baddies, and plenty of lovingly detailed descriptions of both meals and Phryne’s clothes. This author knows her era, but doesn’t overwhelm you with it. I remember speaking to an older gentleman in the signing queue for the last book and he said he remembered the ’30s, not that different from the ’20s, and she had it absolutely right. ◊

Sue Bursztynski lives in Australia, where she works as a teacher-librarian. She has written several books for children and young adults, including Crime Time: Australians Behaving Badly and, most recently, the YA novel Wolfborn. Her blog, The Great Raven, can be found at http://suebursztynski.blogspot.com.

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Holiday Gift Guide: The Sugar Mother and Foxybaby both by Elizabeth Jolley

Here’s a gift suggestion for the reader who thinks they’ve devoured everything: Elizabeth Jolley.

Prior to her death in 2007, Jolley has risen to become one of Australia’s best known and most celebrated authors, known for her dark wit, biting characterizations and sophisticated view of relationships and the world. Jolley was unable to find a publisher for her work until she was in her early 50s, but she managed to publish 14 novels, four short story collections and three works of non-fiction before her death.

Though Jolley was read widely in Australia, she never gained much of a following in the United States, despite some critical acclaim and, until recently, she had been out of print in the US for many years. Early in 2010, however, Persea Books published Jolley’s much vaunted and awarded Vera Wright Trilogy, comprised of My Father’s Moon (1989), Cabin Fever (1991) and The Georges’ Wife (1993).

This month, Persea added to the list of Jolley titles available in North America with Foxybaby and The Sugar Mother, both originally published in the 1980s.

In Foxybaby, Alma Porch is hired to teach a summer college course helping overweight adults. Teaching the course, called “Better Body Through the Arts” Alma meets an understandably mixed group of students. Incorporating some of their stories infuses Foxybaby with a story-within-story complexity, very much like a 19th century comedy of manners with a modern sensibility. When it was first published, The Boston Globe said that the book was “hilarious, wry, disturbing and optimistic.” Which seems to me to just about cover it.

The Sugar Mother places an aging english professor in moral jeopardy when his wife does her fellowship abroad and new neighbors -- including a sexy 20 year old daughter -- take over his home and his life.

Both books are almost impossibly engaging and likely to hit a target for the reader who figures they’ve read everything. ◊

Monica Stark is a contributing editor to January Magazine. She currently makes her home on a liveaboard boat somewhere in the North Pacific.

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Thursday, November 25, 2010

SF/F: All Clear by Connie Willis

It seems absolutely appropriate that, the year after she was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Connie Willis should publish not one, but two massive books. The most recent of those two, All Clear (Spectra) starts precisely where Blackout left off, except things start off worse than they did in that book. Much worse.

Time travel and alternate history both have a significant role in All Clear. I mention it in this way because readers who avoid stories that revolve around that type of plot tend to do so for a reason. Since Willis is a science fiction maven, writing here at the top of her game, the alternate history haters will find a lot here not to like. Other readers, however, should find All Clear an entertaining ride.

A couple of caveats. One is that, where many series novels can be read out of sequence, Blackout and All Clear are not two of those. If you haven't read Blackout, I would caution you not to even bother with this newer book. (Which is possibly the reason the two books are being offered so closely together.)

The second quibble (though it, truly, is more than that) is that there’s just too much going on in these two books. A slight simplification of plot and the number of characters would have made All Clear an easier book to follow, not to mention a stronger read. There are times when Willis seems to meander a bit. Others where the story threatens to collapse under its own weight. Neither thing happens, of course -- the very skilled and talented Willis pulls her book out, but I didn’t want to have to need her intervention in order to finish the book

Fans of this very celebrated author will like All Clear. Those who are still waiting to become fans will want to start with Blackout. ◊


Lincoln Cho is a freelance writer and editor. He lives in the Chicago area, where he works in the high-tech industry. He is currently working on a his first novel, a science-fiction thriller set in the world of telecommunications.

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Holiday Gift Guide: The Columbo Collection
by William Link

Lieutenant Columbo with a cell phone? Finding one of television’s most popular fictional sleuths still on the ball and on the job in the 21st century -- 39 years after he first questioned suspects on The NBC Mystery Movie -- can seem a bit disorienting. But nobody could do better at bringing Columbo out of mothballs than his co-creator, William Link, author of the book, The Columbo Collection (Crippen & Landru).

Together with his lifelong friend and screenwriting cohort, Richard Levinson (1934-1987), Link introduced the disheveled and bafflingly brilliant Los Angeles police detective as a secondary character in an installment of a 1960 summer TV anthology series. They brought him back in a stage play that ran for a year and half in theaters across the United States and Canada, before turning Columbo -- finally portrayed by actor Peter Falk -- into a familiar face on one of three series that were originally broadcast under the Mystery Movie banner (Dennis Weaver’s McCloud and McMillan & Wife, with Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James, being the other two). Columbo ran for seven seasons on NBC, before being canceled, only to be resurrected by ABC-TV in a succession of teleflicks shown between 1989 and 2003.

Although others have tried their hands at writing books about the single-monikered lieutenant, The Columbo Collection represents the first time that Link has made a similar effort. Why did it take so long? The author himself isn’t exactly sure. As he told me in an interview I did with him for The Rap Sheet:
I’d written so many dozens of short stories [over the years], all of which have been published ... and then one day I said to myself, “You know, idiot, the most popular character Dick and I ever created was Columbo. Why haven’t you written a Columbo short story?” So I sat down, and now I’ve written almost 28 of them. I’m still working on one of them. I write seven days a week still, can’t stop writing. So this book has 12 short stories. If it’s successful, I’ve already got enough for a follow-up book.
While awaiting that possible sequel, we can at least be satisfied with these initial dozen yarns. All contain the flavor of the original TV series. They find Columbo in intellectual jousting matches with one well-off and supposedly infallible killer after the next, whether it be a criminal defense attorney who’s murdered the client whose case he just won, a woman who has done away with the hit man she’d employed to kill her judge of a husband, or a controlling real-estate developer who’s knifed his son’s fiancée. In each case, it is some critical and overlooked mistake that finally trips up the murderer. Link easily weaves into his fiction the traits we immediately associate with the TV show -- Columbo’s beat-up old Peugeot, his cigars and shabby raincoat, his deceptive tendency to become distracted in his questioning, and his habit of asking “just one more thing” before leaving his trapped-before-they-know-it suspects alone, at least for a while. On occasion, the brevity of Link’s storytelling here makes Columbo’s solution to the crime seem abrupt and unearned, where it might’ve been more understandably rolled out across the 90-minute extent of an NBC Mystery Movie episode. However, it’s ultimately not hard to track the lieutenant’s thinking, and certainly comfortable to be in his presence.

Speaking as a fan of the Peter Falk series, I’m glad of Columbo’s return to L.A.’s busy homicide beat. And I look forward to his reappearance under author Link’s direction. As the lieutenant says in one of the stories here, “I’m not exactly a dinosaur.” We can all be glad that his extinction was greatly exaggerated.

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Cookbooks: Harvest to Heat: Cooking With America’s Best Chefs, Farmers, and Artisans by Kelly Kochendorfer and Darryl Estrine

Thigh-deep in the new food movement, one sometimes wonders where it’s all going to end. Occasionally I came across a book and say: “This. This is it. There is no place -- better, more pure, more perfectly in sync with beautiful food -- than this. And then another book comes along and blows everything that has gone before out of the water.

Harvest to Heat (Taunton) is one such book. It seems to perfectly balance, marry and blend thoughts from the locavore, Slow Food and green movements into one perfectly harmonious whole. This is real world whole food, grown locally, prepared by regional chefs -- some of them internationally known -- at the top of their game. Edited here into book form by a talented, experienced food writer and photographer (doing some writing here, as well). The whole is, well, just as you’d expect: pitch perfect, polished and ready to heat up your home kitchen.

For me, the success of Harvest to Heat comes from that blend. The writing here is not only very good, it’s spot on: and so you have a surprisingly easy, yet elegant recipe recipe from Gale Gand of Chicago’s Tru for Goat Cheese Panna Cotta with Caramelized Figs followed by a section of prose called “Goats from A to Z,” that talks about the goats at Capriole Farm in Greenville, Indiana. Or a recipe from Nancy Silverton from Los Angeles’ Osteria Mozza for Burrata with Speck, Peas, and Mint followed by a discussion with Mimmo Bruno of DiStefano’s Cheese in Baldwin Park, California who is dedicated to making burrata, “Mozzarella’s Sweet Cousin.”

In some ways, this has been done before, but not this well, and the idea has not been taken this far. The recipes here are all very good: all lucidly shared and brilliantly photographed. This is Estrine and Kochnedorfer’s first book: one expects it will not be their last. ◊

Aaron Blanton is a contributing editor to January Magazine. He’s currently working on a book based on his experiences as an American living abroad.

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Biography Storyteller: The Authorized Biography of Roald Dahl by Donald Sturrock

Today in January Magazine’s biopgraphy section, contributing editor Adrian Marks reviews Storyteller by Donald Sturrock. Says Marks:
Roald Dahl, author of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, The BFG and many others, died on November 23, 1990, exactly 20 years ago today. It is no coincidence that the first authorized biography of Dahl’s life should be published on this anniversary. But what a book... and what a life!

In a professional way, Donald Sturrock, author of Storyteller, is one of the leading living experts on Dahl’s work. For starters, he has been artistic director of the Roald Dahl Foundation since 1992. He has been director of multiple television adaptations of Dahl’s work for the BBC and, in 1998, he directed the world stage premiere of The Fantastic Mr. Fox at the Los Angeles Opera. And even though Sturrock has a pretty good idea of what Dahl would have thought of a biography of his life, the new author soldiered on and, in the end, delivers a remarkable, well considered and researched portrait of his mercurial subject.
The full review is here.

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Norris Church Mailer Dies at 61

Actor, model, painter, and author, Norris Church Mailer, the sixth and final wife of writer Norman Mailer, died Sunday after a lengthy battle with gastrointestinal cancer. She was 61.

The Mailers met in 1975 when Norman was 52 and Norris -- then Barbara Jean Davis -- was 26. According to a press release from the family, Norris was a high school art teacher and single mother when she managed to be at a party that had been arranged for the author in Arkansas, where Norris was then living:
Subsequently, they dated, had one son who they named John Buffalo in 1978, and were married in New York city in 1980. She took on as first name her former married name, “Norris,” and took Mailer’s suggestion of “Church,” evoking her intensive religious upbringing, as a surname. In later years she attended the Actors studio and became an actress and playwright. She soon became the artistic director of the Provincetown Repertory Theater, and she continued to develop into an accomplished painter with exhibitions throughout the United States. In recent years she sat on the board of the Norman Mailer Society and was the Co-Founder of the Norman Mailer Center and Writers Colony.
What the press release does not talk about are the rocky, testing years that Norris wrote about in her memoir, published earlier this year, A Ticket to the Circus (Random House). From the Los Angeles Times:
The tension became public by the early 1990s through gossip columns and in an ABC television interview, in which she told Sam Donaldson that “one day Norman is a lion, the next day he's a monkey. Occasionally he’s a lamb, and a large part of the time he's a jackass.”

They drifted, but eventually she stayed.

“I knew I was going to be with him for the rest of my life, and I think he felt the same way,” she wrote. When he died in 2007, she was at his side.
Booklist liked A Ticket to the Circus quite a bit. They felt it was “very much a love story, chronicling the ups and downs of the author’s stormy relationship with one of the twentieth-century’s gale-force literary personalities, another theme is the author’s complicated emotional emancipation from Norman, precipitated by discovery of his many extramarital dalliances but also perhaps by the simple passage of time. All of this happens amid circumstances that are consistently larger than life: parties with the New York literati, summers in Provincetown, and socializing with Imelda Marcos after a Mohammad Ali fight.”

When A Ticket to the Circus was published in April, Norris talked to Alex Witchel of The New York Times:
At 61, Norris is as emaciated as she is beautiful, with auburn hair the same shade as her eyes. Heavily made up and festooned with layers of copper-colored clothing and an assortment of necklaces in the Gypsyish manner she favors, she admitted that she puts on makeup even when she’s alone. “If I walk by a mirror, it’s just too dispiriting,” she said. The apartment is colorful and cozy, jammed with books and paintings by her and other family members. She poured coffee and set out a plate of Milano cookies and Mallomars. She struggles to keep up her weight.

“I always said I wasn’t going to write about Norman because no one would believe it,” she began good-naturedly. “But when you go to bed after you’ve lost your husband, you start thinking about the life together, and it just poured out. It felt good because I got to relive all the happy early stuff and I got to wade through all the bad stuff and sort it out in my head. I didn’t want to make anybody a villain. I just wanted to tell my story.”

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Monday, November 22, 2010

Holiday Gift Guide: Star Trek: The Original Series 365 by Paula M. Block and Terry J. Erdmann

I am a Star Trek fan (I’ll wait while you finish mocking me). I have always been a fan of the original series, mostly because it wEas the one I grew up with. Captain Kirk, Mister Spock, Doctor McCoy, Mister Scott and the rest of the crew were the paragons on which I based a lot of who little me wanted to become. And while bombing around in a space ship and shooting ray guns at multicolored aliens was cool and everything, it was really the message that Star Trek imparted as much as the setting that influenced me.

Now, I need not go into how Star Trek was a ground breaking series and how it influenced a generation of, well, of everything. If you don’t know about Star Trek or its various offshoots, explaining it here will do little to help.

Star Trek: The Original Series 365 (Abrams) by Paula M. Block and Terry J. Erdmann touts itself as a definitive guide to the original program. But, really: how can anything about a show that has survived in one incarnation or another over 44 years be that definitive? There is bound to be more Star Trek stuff to come which could be just as definitive. No matter. This book on the original Trek is quite fascinating. It is also what a fan of the original series will love. It not only contains a synopsis of each ot the 79 episodes but also includes behind-the-scenes histories combined with what any true Trekker (or have we gone back to being called Trekkies; I can’t keep up) loves to hear: never-before-seen images -- as well as really cool before-seen ones.

As a side note: I’m Scottish, my father was an engineer and the guys at work called him “Scotty.” Now as foolish as it seems, I only got the joke about a year ago. The main difference between Trek’s Scotty and my dad, other than he didn’t fix things in interstellar space: my dad had a real Scottish accent.

Neither sappy nor overly romantic, Star Trek: The Original Series 365 is really just a wonderful little book about an iconic television series. True fans will love it. ‘Nuff said. ◊


David Middleton is a graphic artist and like any real and true fan of Star Trek doesn’t endlessly bore his friends or colleagues with his love or knowledge of the show. Unless they ask. You’ve been warned.

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Saturday, November 20, 2010

Dear Franz

It’s the anniversary of the day Franz Kakfa, then 29, wrote to his girlfriend, Felice Bauer, and swore he would stop writing to her. According to the always wonderful Writer’s Almanac, Kakfa spent five years wooing Bauer, mostly through letters. He wrote more often than she did and this alone caused him to despair. The despair would then manifest itself as it did in this letter he wrote 98 years ago today:
Dearest, what have I done that makes you torment me so? No letter again today, neither by the first mail nor the second.

You do make me suffer! While one written word from you could make me happy! You've had enough of me; there is no other explanation, it's not surprising after all; what is incomprehensible, though, is that you don't write and tell me so.

If I am to go on living at all, I cannot go on vainly waiting for news of you, as I have done these last few interminable days. But I no longer have any hope of hearing from you.

I shall have to repeat specifically the farewell you bid me in silence.
I should like to throw myself bodily on this letter, so that it cannot be mailed, but it must be mailed.

I shall expect no further letters.

Franz
As Writer’s Almanac points out, Kafka’s “silence did not last long.” There would, in fact, be many letters after that one.

While Kafka and Bauer were engaged twice, they were never married. However it’s widely thought that the most significant love of Kafka’s life was Milena Jesenka and it would be Jesenka who wrote an obituary of Kafka when he died from tuberculosis in June of 1924:
He wrote books that belong to the most outstanding works of German literature. They express the struggles of today's generation, but without any tendentious words. They are truthful, naked, and painful, so that even where they speak symbolically, they are almost naturalistic. They are full of dry mockery and the sensitive gaze of a person who has seen the world so clearly that he could not bear it and had to die; he did not want to retreat and save himself, as others do, even by the noblest intellectual subconscious errors.

Holiday Gift Guide: Up We Grow: A Year in the Life of A Local Farm by Deborah Hodge and Brian Harris

Almost like a trip to a farm, Up We Grow (Kids Can Press) takes kids on a photographic journey -- through all four seasons -- to a farm where food and animals grow in abundance. Even in the photos you can tell it’s all quite a lot of hard work: people hoeing and raking and collecting, but also talking to animals, eating fresh produce and laughing.

Photographer Brian Harris is committed to several non-profit organizations and is a proponent of sustainable living. All of that shows in Up We Grow, which ends up being a primer on local organic farming and care of the land. The portrait Harris and author Hodge end up painting is an idyllic one, but it’s also hopeful. If children are taught about care of the soil, composting and the joy returned by the land at an early age, will they carry those thoughts and memories through their lives? We’ll see.

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Fiction: Bedtime Story by Robert J. Wiersma

Today in January Magazine’s fiction section, editor Linda L. Richards reviews Bedtime Story by Robert J. Wiersema. Says Richards:
There’s something about Robert J. Wiersema’s voice that I have found consistently disturbing. In three novels now, Wiersema reaches out and grabs his audience, then tortures them where it aches. That isn’t always an easy place for a reader to sit. And, no matter how you feel about that, it’s an uncommon writer who can stir that kind of reaction. Hence the fanfare.

Bedtime Story, out this month from Random House Canada, follows two earlier novels by this author: both widely acclaimed, though neither Before I Wake or the novella The World More Full of Weeping were quite as powerful as this one. That’s a good sign. You get the idea that Wiersema is a writer who is reaching for the full powers of his craft. Where this all is going is yet to be seen. But the journey thus far is well worth watching.
The full review is here.

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Young Adult: Low Red Moon by Ivy Devlin

Avery Hood’s parents were killed brutally in front of her, but she can’t remember a thing. The family lived near the forest next to the small historic town of Woodlake, where there has been a constant argument going between the pro and anti-development lobbies. Avery’s parents were environmentalists who recycled everything and fought to keep the woods. Is this what caused their murder? What about the strange stories about the town’s foundation and the wolves who were more than wolves?

Avery starts to wonder about all of this when she learns that gorgeous new boy at school Ben Dusic is a werewolf. But Ben has a bond with her; each knows what the other is feeling. They’re in love. He has even saved her life. Can he possibly be her parents’ murderer?

Low Red Moon (Bloomsbury) is a paranormal romance with the emphasis on the romance. I liked the fact that when Avery asks Ben how long he has been 17, he says about six months and that he expects to be 18, 19 and so on. One can have enough of the vampires who have been 17 for a hundred or more years and are still romancing teenage girls. Ben is a boy -- one who has had as much tragedy in his life as Avery has, losing his parents and sisters to werewolf hunters -- but still a boy. I suspect the author is having a cheeky poke at the vampire romances in that scene, before turning back to the drama. There’s also a murder mystery here and the clues are scattered through the book, as they should be.

The only thing I found irksome was not the novel itself, but the tendency to print the word “moon” in red letters every time. It’s unclear why. At one point in the novel, Ben tells Avery that actually, the only effect the full moon has on him is to make it impossible to change back before dawn, so he tries not to change on those nights. So why all those red “moons” in the text as if they were somehow significant? Let the author tell her own story -- she does it well.

Girls will enjoy this. Although it reads like a stand-alone story, there are ends left untied that suggest a sequel. They’ll like that too. ◊

Sue Bursztynski lives in Australia, where she works as a teacher-librarian. She has written several books for children and young adults, including Crime Time: Australians Behaving Badly and, most recently, the YA novel Wolfborn. Her blog The Great Raven can be found at http://suebursztynski.blogspot.com.

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Cookbooks: D.I.Y. Delicious by Vanessa Barrington

While a lot of people talk about getting back to basics, few go the whole way home, which is just what chef and author Vanessa Barrington does in D.I.Y. Delicious: Recipes and Ideas for Simple Food From Scratch (Chronicle Books).

There are no half measures here and certainly no “take a can of this and three of that.” From the very beginning, Chef Vanessa has us making ketchup, red wine vinegar and later yogurt, various dressings and spreads, bread, kimchi and granola.

Beyond basics, there are some astonishingly good recipes included here, as well. For example, Sustainable Seafood Stew with Meyer Lemon and Parsley Aioli Croutons is amazing and hearty and surprisingly elegant for a dish this rough. Ditto Barrington’s Artichoke Soup with Crème Fraiche, which is a beautiful use of a vegetable of which we don’t see enough.

While D.I.Y. Delicious is not, strictly speaking, a vegetarian cookbook, there is more here that is vegetarian than that which is not. Barrington’s whole approach is very Slow Food: simple, beautiful ingredients, respectfully treated, easily shared and enjoyed.

“That’s what I want to share with you,” she writes in her introduction, “more than just a collection of recipes, but a way of eating that is uncomplicated, sensible, and at the same time deeply satisfying.”

D.I.Y. Delicious is all of those things. And more.

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Holiday Gift Guide: Northern Kids by Linda Goyette

The fourth entry in Brindle & Glass’ Courageous Kids series, Northern Kids follows the pattern set by the previous books in telling regional children’s stories in their own voices.

Based on archival material and extensive interviews, author Linda Goyette here recreates the stories of children as authentically as her source material allows. A brief section after each chapter called “What Do We Know For Sure” explains just where the source material came from and how much of the narrative is a retelling and how much is a reconstruction.

The stories I personally liked best had historical elements and brought some element of history to life. Children will have their own favorites. Goyette tells a broad spectrum of stories here: different types from different eras. It’s a wealth of information.

Northern Kids focuses on the stories of children and teenagers from Canada’s North. Previous books in the series have offered stories from Edmonton, the Canadian Rockies and Vancouver Island. It’s an interesting premise. I’m looking forward to seeing where it leads. ◊

Monica Stark is a contributing editor to January Magazine. She currently makes her home on a liveaboard boat somewhere in the North Pacific.

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Holiday Gift Guide: Following the Detectives edited by Maxim Jakubowski

During the summer of 2009, British editor and former bookstore proprietor asked 11 authors, including me, to contribute to a volume of 21 essays about cities and other places in the world that are closely associated with famous fictional sleuths. Given that he wanted me to write about Dashiell Hammett and San Francisco, a city I have long adored (and about which I had penned two previous books), I was pleased to accept his invitation.

The finished work appeared in the UK earlier this fall: Following the Detectives: Real Locations in Crime Fiction (New Holland Publishers). While I’m not really in a position to review the book, I will say that it’s pretty darn impressive. Oversized and suffused with photographs and colorful maps of the regions over which the fictional crime-solvers under discussion roam, it is a valuable reference book for mystery and crime-fiction fans, but also a travel guide of sorts for literature lovers.

Chapters cover such pairings as Ian Rankin and Inspector Rebus’ Edinburgh (written by Ross Macdonald and Lew Archer’s Southern California (Michael Carlson), Colin Dexter and Inspector Morse’s Oxford (Martin Edwards), Arnaldur Indridason and Inspector Erlendur Sveinsson’s Iceland (Peter Rozovsky), Philip Kerr, Leonardo Padura, Boris Akunin and Michael Walters.

This book is fairly heavily designed, and there are a few pages on which the type is hard to read against a vivid backdrop. But for the most part, the visual appearance of Following the Detectives contributes to the text’s intrigue. Jakubowski has sprinkled the chapters with sidebars, some of them featuring quirky facts about the authors or their protagonists (did you know, for instance, that Donna Leon “will not sanction translation of her books into Italian”?), others looking at how the fictional characters under discussion have been featured in films. In many cases, lists have been made of other novelists who set their stories in the cities addressed in the main chapters, and in the Boston section--which concentrates on works by and Robert B. Parker--there’s a longer sidebar about Dennis Lehane. Jakubowski must have recognized from the outset of this project that he would be criticized for not commissioning separate chapters about Loren D. Estleman and Detroit, Martin Cruz Smith and Moscow, Kathy Reichs and Montreal, Robert Wilson and Seville, Frank Tallis and Vienna, Earl Emerson and Seattle, and other such obvious pairings, but covering all of that territory might have made Following the Detectives several volumes long. He’s found a middle ground in at least mentioning as many imaginary investigators as possible in this 256-page work.

I shall leave it up to others to applaud more of this book’s assets and nitpick its deficiencies. I can only say that I am proud to appear in these pages with such excellent company, and I look forward to giving copies of Following the Detectives away as Christmas presents (even though I’ll have to order them from Britain). There’s lots of material here to satisfy longtime crime-fiction enthusiasts as well as newcomers to the genre.

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Monday, November 15, 2010

Giller Winner to Get Trade Edition: Copies of The Sentimentalist to be Available November 19th

Douglas and McIntyre have acquired trade paperback rights to Johanna Skibsrud’s debut novel, The Sentimentalists, which won the $50,000 Scotiabank Giller Prize last week.

After the winner was announced last Tuesday, there was much discussion and disappointment when it became apparent that the book was available for purchase pretty much nowhere. This was partly because the publisher of the book, tiny Gaspereau Press of Nova Scotia, is only capable of producing 1000 of their beautiful letterpress copies per week. After winning what has become one of the richest literary prizes in the world, there was no way Gaspereau could keep up with the demand.

“It was important to us that no copy of the book would say ‘Gaspereau Press’ on the spine unless it came directly from our own hands,” says Gaspereau’s co-publisher, Andrew Steeves, “that’s simply the way we work. But when Johanna won the prize it was clear that our method of printing and publishing books wouldn’t meet the demand. It was critical to find a partner who shared our values.”

Steeves said he felt Douglas & McIntyre was the obvious choice to help bring The Sentimentalists to a wider marketplace. “This alliance will ensure that our author’s accomplishment will be honoured, and that readers across the country will have ready access to well-made copies of the book.”

The first 30,000 copies of the Douglas & McIntyre edition of The Sentimentalists will be shipped from the bindery on November 19, less than 10 days after the Giller was awarded. Paper is on hand for an immediate reprint of 20,000 copies. The e-book is already a bestseller on Kobo and Douglas & McIntyre will make it available through other e-book retailers, including the Apple iBookstore, Amazon Kindle, Sony eBook store, eBooks.com and Barnes & Noble’s NOOK Store.

Gaspereau Press will continue to issue copies of its original edition, giving readers a choice of two quality editions of the book. In the meantime, readers keen to read a printed copy of The Sentimentalists will have to dig deep: at the time of this writing, Amazon.ca lists a single used copy for $1600.

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Holiday Gift Guide: Game Day by Kevin Sylvester

Budding athletes and sports fans will enjoy Game Day: Meet the People Who Make it Happen (Annick Press). Brightly illustrated and breezily written, Game Day shows young readers some of the myriad people who make sports go. Not the athletes, but the behind the scenes people who few give any thought to at all.

Each of 21 chapters is a brief and punchy biography of someone you’ve probably never heard of but whose role in the whole is immediately apparent. People like Nicole Sherry, who is the head groundskeeper at Oriole Park in Baltimore. Or Rick Curran, NHL super agent. Sports cameraman Brian Burnett and baseball organist Bobby Freeman.

Clearly aimed at reluctant readers, yet jam packed (action packed?) with great information, photos and other interesting visuals, Game Day will give young sports fans something to think about.

Sylvester knows what he’s writing about here: a broadcaster for CBC Radio, he knows just what it is to be behind the scenes. ◊

Sienna Powers is a transplanted Calgarian who lives and works in Vancouver, B.C. She is a writer and conceptual artist.

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Holiday Gift Guide: The Paper Garden by Molly Peacock

If you were to dream up the perfect gift for the hardcore book lover, it would look a lot like The Paper Garden (McLelland & Stewart) by Molly Peacock.

Peacock takes a very personal look at the life of Mary Granville Pendarves Delany, daughter of the aristocracy, married into wealth at 16 to improve her family’s fortune, widowed by 25. Delany danced, partied, stitched and painted for the next few decades, until she married again in mid-life. Twenty-three years later, when her second husband died, she battled her grief with creativity and, in the process, created a new art-form: mixed-media collage. She was, at the time, 72 years old.

Molly Peacock, a celebrated poet, brings her sharply honed eye and sensibility along to tell Delany’s story. In the process, she embroiders it with her own. The resulting book is more than a beautiful glimpse at Delany’s very interesting life (among other things she dined with Jonathan Swift and fended off Lord Baltimore) but a considered and shared contemplation on art and creativity.

Peacock describes her first encounter with botanical mosaic:
I felt nearly ashamed about how deeply I swooned over her work, because the botanicals seemed almost fuddy-duddy. Somebody like Georges Braque or Pablo Picasso probably would have hated them. They were not shiny, abstract, or hanging in the Museum of Modern Art. They were not avant-garde, even in their own day....How I wished I could love in my heart the art I could love in my mind.
The Paper Garden is just beautiful and, like Delany’s art, it is challenging to categorize. It is the biography of an interesting and creative woman. It is the memoir of another. It includes 35 color illustrations: portraits of Delany at various stages, examples of her (actually not at all fuddy-duddy) art. And, finally, it is a celebration of shared creativity. ◊

Linda L. Richards is editor of January Magazine and the author of several books.

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Saturday, November 13, 2010

Robert Louis Stevenson at 160

Scottish born Robert Louis Stevenson was born on this day in 1850. Arguably one of the great storytellers of his generation, he was the author of (Treasure Island, Prince Otto, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde). According to Writer’s Almanac, much of his success was due to the love of the right woman:
He was a sickly, moderately successful essayist and travel writer, living in France, when he fell in love with a woman after one look at her. The woman was Fanny Osbourne, an American, and she was unhappily married. After a few months in Europe, she returned to California, and Stevenson decided to drop everything and go persuade her to divorce her husband and marry him. He collapsed on Fanny Osbourne’s doorstep. She divorced her husband, and they got married and moved back to Scotland.

One rainy summer afternoon, Stevenson painted a map of an imaginary island to entertain his new stepson, and in a single month, he wrote his first great novel, Treasure Island (1883). It's been in print for 127 years.

He's also the author of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1885), about a scientist who invents a chemical that changes his personality from a mild-mannered gentleman to a savage criminal. Those two books made Stevenson rich and famous. He spent the rest of his life traveling from one place to the next, and he finally settled on the island of Samoa.
Along the way, both the writer and his wife were painted by the great American portrait artist, John Singer Sargent. The painting shown above left, now in the Steve Wynn collection, was not much liked by critics when it was completed in 1885. From the John Singer Sargent virtual gallery:
By and large, the critical review was mixed about this painting. They thought the composition odd and the depiction of Stevenson strange and unflattering, just as some people had said about Daughters of Edward Darley Boit (1882). But Stevenson, himself, thought that Sargent had captured correctly his odd way in which he fidgeted about the room when he wrote.
Sargent reported that Stevenson was most remarkable subject. “Often when he got animated he rose and walked about as he spoke, as if movement aided thought and expression.”

When Sargent painted Stevenson he wrote to Henry James and said that RLS “seemed to me the most intense creature I had ever met.”
Sargent was twenty-nine years old at the time and RLS was thirty-four. it was less than one year prior to the publication of RLS’s hugely popular “masterpiece” The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886). It is fun to think that possibly Robert Louis Stevenson might have been working on the book, if not thinking about it, at the same time that Sargent painted him.
The Writer’s Almanac is here. The John Singer Sargent virtual gallery can be visited here. The National Library of Scotland has an extensive biography of Stevenson, including the entire first edition of Kidnapped, published in 1886.

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Friday, November 12, 2010

Holiday Gift Guide: Go Nuts: Recipes that Really Shell Out by Debbie Harding

Though there is a large bookshelf fairly groaning under the weight of cookbooks in my kitchen, until I started looking closely through Go Nuts: Recipes That Really Shell Out (Touchwood Editions), I didn’t realize I’d never seen a whole book dedicated to nuts before. When you think about it, that’s a bit of a surprise because nuts are so versatile. Go Nuts is testimony to that, including recipes suitable for breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert. In her first cookbook, Harding includes recipes for nut-based soups, sandwiches, appetizers, salads, entrees and side dishes. Under Harding’s careful care, one could, quite easily, incorporate nuts into every meal, every day. Forever.

In some cases, nuts make an elegant addition to a recipe really based in other ingredients. For example, a New Potato Salad with Red Onion and Hazelnuts offers a new and interesting take on an old standby. Green Beans with Lemons and Almonds contributes an easy dimension to something that can be very everyday. In many of the recipes, however, nuts are the main event. The Best Ever Veggie Burgers are a great example of this, as well as a terrific use of many kinds of nuts. The recipe calls for sunflower seeds plus your choice of almonds, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts or pistachios. I used a mix of almonds and hazelnuts, as that's what I had on hand the results were terrific: quite simple and even better than anticipated.

Another very simple recipes that’s all about the nuts are the Glazed Balsamic Almonds. Basic ingredients and slow baking make for some of the tastiest candied nuts you’ll ever encounter. (This one will be terrific for the holidays! A simple seasonal treat.)

Another favorite: Macadamia Madeira Pork Medallions are slightly more complicated but some of the other recipes, but incredibly elegant and easy once it was all broken down. It would be tough to go wrong with this one for a small dinner party.

My favorite, though, is ridiculously simple: Brie and Walnut Stuffed Figs is almost as easy as it sounds: think honey, brandy and walnut pieces stuffed inside brown figs and baked briefly. So simple. So good.

All in all, Go Nuts: Recipes That Really Shell Out is a winner. Clear instructions, versatile recipes and a simple, uncluttered design. I anticipate this is one I’ll return to often for a nut-enhanced recipes over a wide-swath of my table.

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Holiday Gift Guide: The Snuggie Sutra by Lex Friedman and Megan Morrison

It’s difficult to imagine The Snuggie Sutra (St. Martin’s Press) as anything but a gift book. Seriously: it’s really not the sort of book one buys for themselves.

As the title suggests, The Snuggie Sutra is about how to use the pop culture phenomenon Snuggie “blanket with sleeves” for uses quite beyond what the inventor probably originally intended. From the Preface:
Of course, once we owned our Snuggies, and could cuddle up with a good book, we realized the world had changed for the better. Because if you can suddenly reinvent keeping warm while getting cozy with a great novel, there’s no reason you can’t reinvent keeping warm while getting cozy with a great lover.
So that’s the premise. In eight chapters and illustrated with whimsical and surprisingly elastic stick people, the book takes us through “various forms of Snuggie sex, gently guiding you on a fuzzy and warm sexual awakening.”

Just in case you’re taking it all too seriously, the introduction pulls you back:
The key to satisfying Snuggie sex are as follows:

1. Own a Snuggie
2. Have minimal dignity
3. Keep lots of detergent on hand -- maybe a Sham Wow
4. Find a willing partner
And then, Kama Sutra-style and still with these whimsical illustrations, the positions: The deck chair. The Mantle. The Warm Pretzel. The Hi-Ho Silver. I could go on, but you get the idea. The Snuggie Sutra is definitely more about whimsey than satisfaction, but if you’ve got a loved one who likes to smile -- and keep warm -- this might be a welcome gift. (Add a gift Snuggie and the gift takes on extra meaning!) ◊

David Middleton is a graphic designer and photographer and the art and culture editor of January Magazine.

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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Non-Fiction: Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin by Timothy Snyder

Esteemed historian and author, Timothy Snyder (The Red Prince, The Reconstruction of Nations) offers up a more chilling vision of WWII in Europe than has been seen before. In the preface he sets things up with simple words we know are irrefutable:
In the middle of Europe in the middle of the twentieth century, the Nazi and Soviet regimes murdered some fourteen million people.
In the same paragraph, he explains the title:
The place where all of the victims died, the bloodlands, extends from central Poland to western Russia, through Ukraine, Belarus, and the Baltic States .... The victims were chiefly Jews, Belarusians, Ukrainians, Poles, Russians, and Balts,the peoples native to these lands. The fourteen million were murdered over the course of only twelve years, between 1933 and 1945, while both Hitler and Stalin were in power. Though their homelands became battlefields midway through this period, these people were all victims of murderous policy rather than casualties of war.
This taste of Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin (Basic Books) is perfect because it displays the simple power Snyder brings to this work. Throughout the book, his words are straightforward, simple and all the more compelling because it’s easy to recognize the truths he brings us, though sometimes in new and shocking ways.

Bloodlands is not a military history as much as it is a sociopolitical one. As he stresses again and again, the fourteen million he mentions weren’t soldiers, lost on the field of battle. “Most were women, children, and the aged; none were bearing weapons; many had been stripped of their possessions, including their clothes.”

Bloodlands presents some volatile material and I suspect that some of it will be controversial. Yet it gives a fuller and more complete picture of the events that led to all those unthinkable deaths than we’ve seen before. “This is a history of political mass murder,” Snyder writes.

Lest we forget.

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2010 Galaxy Award Winners Announced

During a “star-studded awards ceremony,” held Wednesday night in London, the winners of the 2010 Galaxy National Book Awards were announced:

Sainsbury’s Popular Fiction Book of the Year: One Day, by David Nicholls (Hodder & Stoughton)

National Book Tokens New Writer of the Year: Edmund de Waal, The Hare with Amber Eyes (Chatto & Windus)

International Author of the Year: Jonathan Franzen, Freedom
(Fourth Estate)

Waterstone’s UK Author of the Year: Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall
(Fourth Estate)

Tesco Biography of the Year: The Fry Chronicles, by Stephen Fry (Penguin Group)

Tesco Food & Drink Book of the Year: Plenty, by Yotam Ottolenghi (Random House)

More4 Non-Fiction Book of the Year: The Making of Modern Britain, by Andrew Marr (Pan Macmillan)

WH Smith Children’s Book of the Year: Zog, by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler (Scholastic)

Outstanding Achievement Award: Terry Pratchett

Outstanding Achievement Award: Martin Amis

Members of the public are now invited to vote online for the Galaxy Book of the Year, the nominees being the winners in each of the eight aforementioned categories. Register your vote here. A final result will be announced on December 13.

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The Gift for the Writer Who Has Everything

Looking for a gift for the writer who has everything? Look no further: here’s one that turns even an antique typewriter into a USB keyboard. Seriously, we’re not making this up. From the USB Typewriter web page:

The USBTypewriter™ is a new and groundbreaking innovation in the field of obsolescence. Lovers of the look, feel, and quality of old fashioned manual typewriters can now use them as keyboards for any USB-capable computer, such as a PC, Mac, or even iPad! The modification is easy to install, it involves no messy wiring, and does not change the outward appearance of the typewriter (except for the usb adapter itself, which is mounted in the rear of the machine). So the end result is a retro-style USB keyboard that not only looks great, but feels great to use.

If you’d like one of these, I have the feeling you’d better move fast. USB Typewriter inventor, Philadelphia-Based Jack Zylkin sells his contraption through Etsy, the social commerce website that focuses on handmade art and art-related items.

Prices vary according to model of typewriter that is converted, but they start at about $500. He also sells a conversion kit with instructions for $55 (it comes with a warning that you must have good soldering skills). If you already own a manual typewriter, Zylkin will convert it for you for $350 plus shipping costs.

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Globe & Mail Calls Unavailability of Giller Winner a “Scandal”

The Globe & Mail is looking askance at lack of available copies of The Sentimentalists, the book that won the $50,000 Scotiabank Giller Prize just last night:
Johanna Skibsrud has been a media darling for all of 12 hours, but as the Giller Prize-winning literary debutante took calls from across the country yesterday morning, she quickly developed a veteran politician’s answer to the first questions every reporter asked: Why can’t we read your book? When will we be able to? And is your publisher nuts or what?

The ultra-limited availability of The Sentimentalists, published more than a year ago in a luxe edition of a few hundred copies by Nova Scotia’s Gaspereau Press, became the talk of the town as soon as the novel made the 2010 Giller Prize short list.

Now that the book has won, it is blooming into a scandal.
Scandal isn’t the word we’d use, however. While it’s unfortunate for Skibsrud that, for the moment, her book is largely unavailable in bookstores anywhere, one can rest assured that her tiny, hard-working Canadian publisher is currently cranking out copies as quickly as they can. And I don’t mean that figuratively.

Nova Scotia’s Gaspereau Press is a publisher who prides themselves on producing beautiful limited-edition letterpress projects. Here, for example, January looks at the publisher’s beautiful first edition of Robert Bringhurst’s Selected Poems. Gaspereau is an outfit dedicated to reinstating “the importance of the book as a physical object, reuniting publishing and the book arts,” as they say on their web site. “Many of our covers are letterpress-printed ... and are printed on fine paper, in some cases even handmade. Most of our books are smyth-sewn & bound into card covers and are then enfolded in letterpress-printed jackets.” And such is the case with Skibsrud’s now much-in-demand book.

Long story short: if you do manage to get your hands on a first edition copy of Skibsrud’s Giller-winning The Sentimentalists, hang onto it. It’s worth something, for so many reasons.

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Amazon Defends Decision to Sell Guide for Pedophiles

There is not much we can add to what’s being said all over the ’Net about Amazon’s stand on their decision to sell the Kindle version of The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure: a Child-lover’s Code of Conduct by Philip R. Greaves II. It is a can of worms -- a damn ugly one -- that we’ve seen best covered in a relatively even piece on MSNBC:
Amazon issued a statement that will no doubt fuel the outraged comments multiplying on the “Pedophile’s Guide” Amazon page. “Amazon believes it is censorship not to sell certain books simply because we or others believe their message is objectionable,” it reads. “Amazon does not support or promote hatred or criminal acts, however, we do support the right of every individual to make their own purchasing decisions.”
Oddly enough for a company taking a public stance against censorship, dozens of one-star Amazon reviews disappeared from the site earlier today:
In an unexplained turn of events, more than 103 customer reviews populated the “Pedophile’s Guide” page earlier today, when news first broke about the book’s availability, but dropped down to less than 30 by late afternoon. The number of reviews has since grown to over 60.
Meanwhile on Twitter, the #amazonfail hashtag has been brought out of mothballs while thousands of users tweet in favor of a boycott of the online bookstore until the e-book is no longer available through them.

The MSNBC piece is here. Digital Trends covers the story here. While Bloomberg pipes up here.

Crime Fiction: The Reversal by Michael Connelly

Today in January Magazine’s crime fiction section, contributing editor Anthony Rainone reviews The Reversal by Michael Connelly. Says Rainone:
In crime fiction, it’s often the journey taken that has as much significance as the outcome of the story, and that’s even more true in a series. In Michael Connelly’s The Reversal, the multi-novel journey of Los Angeles police detective Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch has presently come to rest at a turning point. He is the über-sleuth chasing down clues like a “dog with a bone.” He is seasoned and smart enough not to give a prisoner he transports to jail any insight into his thoughts or emotions through idle conversation. Yet, Bosch is older now. Out on surveillance, the former Vietnam tunnel rat clumsily falls down in the dark and nearly gives himself away to a suspect. He directs his energy better now, too. Instead of taking on police politics and archenemies such as LAPD ex-Chief Irvin Irving, Bosch is focused on his case and raising his daughter. The Bosch of The Reversal is immensely likeable, but L.A. bad guys should still tread carefully. He will always be a warrior fighting for the cause of the murdered. At the end of his career -- whenever that may be -- I fully expect him to go down swinging.
The full review is here.

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Debut Novelist Wins Canada’s Richest Literary Prize

Debut novelist Johanna Skibsrud was awarded the $50,000 2010 Scotiabank Giller Prize in a ceremony in Toronto last night. The event, which will be televised on CTV Wednesday evening, drew almost 500 members of the publishing and arts communities including presenters 2009 Scotiabank Giller Prize winner Linden MacIntyre, multi-award winning singer-songwriter Anne Murray, Macleans columnist and award-winning author Barbara Amiel Black, CTV News anchor Lisa LaFlamme and Blue Rodeo frontman and solo musician Jim Cuddy.

The Montreal Gazette
describes the unusual publishing history of the “dark horse” winner, Skibsrud’s The Sentimentalists published by Gaspereau Press:
Set in part in the town of Casablanca, [Ontario], on the edge of man-made Lake St. Lawrence, The Sentimentalists explores the relationship between an unnamed narrator and her father, Napoleon, who fought in the Vietnam War. The novel was originally published in October 2008 -- too late to qualify for last year’s prize -- but came and went without much attention; it garnered scant reviews, sold a few hundred copies, and remained relatively unknown until being named to the long list in September.
The Scotiabank Giller Prize is one of the richest literary prizes in the world. It annually awards $50,000 to the author of the best Canadian novel or short story collection published in English and $5,000 to each of the finalists.

In 2010, the other finalists were:
The Matter with Morris, by David Bergen (Phyllis Bruce Books/HarperCollin)
Light Lifting, by Alexander MacLeod (Biblioasis)
This Cake is for the Party, by Sarah Selecky (Thomas Allen)
Annabel, by Kathleen Winter (House of Anansi)

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Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Art & Culture: Kids of the Black Hole by Dewar MacLeod

Today in January Magazine’s art & culture section, contributing editor Lincoln Cho reviews Kids of the Black Hole by Dewar MacLeod. Says Cho:
In his perfectly rendered look at the emergence of the punk movement in Los Angeles in the late 1970s and early 80s, Dewar MacLeod borrows the title of a song from the era and the area. The song “Kids of the Black Hole” was recorded by The Adolescents in 1980 and released on their debut album the following year. Both the reference and the title itself seems to perfectly capture the mood of MacLeod’s book while setting the stage for the story he’s telling in Kids of the Black Hole.
The full review is here.

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Holiday Gift Guide: A Chip Off the Old Black by Arthur Black

Arthur Black’s special view of the world is a very Canadian take on the sort of corn-fed folksy humor that has gotten to be quite rare in the age of irony. The titles of his books hint at the way his mind works and his humor runs: Black in the Saddle Again, Pitch Black, Black Tie and Tales and now A Chip Off the Old Black (Harbour Publishing) where he explores the quirks, blunders, triumphs and tribulations of our age.

In a chapter called “Too Dumb to Come in Out of the Rain,” Black tells us that over the last dozen years “648 Americans have been flash barbecued into the afterworld by lightening strikes.”

The thing that connected these 648? More than eight out of ten of them were men. According to Black, it took a while for scientists to figure out why this should be. And what, in the end, proved to be the miraculous difference? Simple, Black writes:
They seek shelter.

You won’t find many women casting for trout, driving a golf ball or shagging pop flies in a thunderstorm because, to put it bluntly, such behavior is dumb.

Men? Well...
If this is the sort of humorously told story that puts the chuckle on your toast, you will enjoy A Chip Off the Old Black and it’s possible that someone on your gift list will, too.

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Monday, November 08, 2010

Michel Houellebecq Wins Top French Literary Award

Controversial French author Michel Houellebecq has won le Prix Goncourt, France’s top literary prize. The Globe & Mail reports:
Michel Houellebecq, a bestselling French author who has fanned controversy with his writings and comments on women and Islam, won France's most coveted literary prize Monday.
But even with the prize win, it’s pretty clear that the novel, La Carte et Le Territoire, which translates as The Map and The Territory, won’t be for everyone:
Set largely in Paris, the novel tells of a solitary, misanthropic artist who becomes a critical darling and commercial success almost in spite of himself, first for his photographs of maps of regions of France and then for realistic paintings of business moguls.

In the book, released in September, the character, Jed Martin, befriends a reclusive writer whom the author named after himself, Michel Houellebecq. The writer's solitary nature and prickly personality echo the public persona of the author. The Houellebecq character is the victim of a grotesque murder, his body – and that of his dog – beheaded and cut into paper-thin strips of flesh.

The novel is part murder mystery, part meditation on the decline of postindustrial France – depicted as a sort of Disneyland for Chinese and Russian tourists. It is among Houellebecq's least overtly controversial books.
The Globe and Mail piece is here. We’ve previously covered several books by this author: the novels Platform and The Possibility of an Island, and the biography H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life.

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Holiday Gift Guide: The Black Lizard Big Book of Black Mask Stories edited by Otto Penzler

Three years after New York City bookseller and editor Otto Penzler delivered to the reading public his last behemoth anthology of classic crime fiction, The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps (he probably needed the interval between just to rest from the effort of assembling that project), he’s back with an almost equal-size short-story collection for fans of hard-boiled prose, The Black Lizard Big Book of Black Mask Stories (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard). The former volume covered an extensive range of short fiction from assorted sources. This new one draws solely from the rich publishing files of Black Mask magazine.

Launched in 1920 by journalist H.L. Mencken and critic George Jean Nathan, and intended primarily to help offset the production costs of what they considered their more prestigious periodical, The Smart Set, the pulpish Black Mask was soon sold to its publishers, and came under the editorial control of the legendary Joseph T. “Cap” Shaw. From 1926 until his resignation a decade later, Shaw bought and printed tough, sometimes brutal yarns of criminality and corruption by writers who would together develop modern-day American crime fiction, people on the order of Erle Stanley Gardner, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, John D. MacDonald and Cornell Woolrich. All of those wordsmiths are represented in The Black Lizard Big Books of Black Mask Stories, together with marginally less familiar talents such as Fredric Brown, Talmadge Powell, William Campbell Gault, Frank Gruber, George Harmon Coxe, Carroll John Daly, Brett Halliday, Richard Denning, Bruno Fischer, Norbert Davis and ... well, this list could go on and on. Penzler has compiled more than 50 notable yarns inside these paperback covers. Among the reprints are Hammett’s original, serialized version of The Maltese Falcon, with “more than two thousand textual differences” from its 1930 novel version; and “Rough Diamonds,” a series of six connected stories by Ramon Decolta (aka Raoul Whitfield) starring Filipino sleuth Jo Gar. In addition, we find here “Luck,” a previously unpublished draft of Lester Dent’s first outing for Florida investigator Oscar Sail.

Some of these stories appeared in an important earlier work, The Hard-Boiled Detective: Stories from Black Mask Magazine, 1920-1951, edited by Herbert Ruhm (1977). But so much time has passed since I read that collection that I don’t remember most of them, and the other offerings in The Black Lizard Big Books of Black Mask Stories are numerous enough that I may not even get a chance to revisit the stories I’ve read until sometime early next year. For all of us who missed living through the Black Mask era, Penzler’s new anthology provides both a pleasant trip back to crime fiction’s fast-paced and firepower-filled roots and a welcome escape from the disappointing sameness of so many genre works being published nowadays.

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