Monday, January 31, 2011

The Novelist’s Song

Writer’s Almanac tells us that American icon Norman Mailer was born on this day in 1923. Mailer, who died in 2007, was born in New Jersey, though he grew up in Brooklyn, New York. He later attended Harvard and was drafted for military service during World War II. From Writer’s Almanac:
He served in the Philippines, and although he didn't participate in much fighting, he got enough material to go home and write a novel, The Naked and the Dead (1948), published when he was just 25 years old. It was a best-seller, it made him famous, and for the next 60 years he continued to publish books.
Though in some ways noted for personal excess, when it came to his writing, Mailer was very self-disciplined:
Mailer was incredibly productive, and stuck to a strict writing regimen. He said: 'Over the years, I've found one rule. It is the only one I give on those occasions when I talk about writing. A simple rule. If you tell yourself you are going to be at your desk tomorrow, you are by that declaration asking your unconscious to prepare the material. You are, in effect, contracting to pick up such valuables at a given time. Count on me, you are saying to a few forces below: I will be there to write.'

He wrote every day from 9 to 5, up until his death at the age of 84. For the last 27 years of his life, he shared a studio with his sixth and last wife, Norris Church Mailer, an artist and writer. They each had their own space. Mailer sat on a wooden chair looking out at the Provincetown Bay -- he liked to be near water when he wrote -- but he closed the curtains when he really needed to concentrate. Mailer and his wife ate breakfast and lunch on their own schedule, but they would meet up at 6 p.m. to drink wine and eat dinner.
There’s much more on today’s Writer’s Almanac.


Friday, January 28, 2011

The People Have Spoken

Inspired by the recent release of O: A Presidential Novel, penned by the no-longer-anonymous author, Anonymous (actually Mark Salter, a former adviser to Republican U.S. Senator John McCain), and in anticipation of President Barack Obama’s second State of the Union address, Slate’s chief political correspondent, John Dickerson, wondered in print last week, “Why isn’t there a great novel about political Washington?”

He listed his own favorite works of D.C.-rooted fiction--Gore Vidal’s Washington, D.C. (1967) and Allen Drury’s Pulitzer Award-winning Advise and Consent (1959)--but threw it over to his audience for more suggestions.

So which novel about the political machinations of the U.S. capital wins the most votes from Slate readers? By a long shot, apparently, the choice is Democracy, by Henry Adams. “Written in 1880, it proves my point that we must reach pretty far back into history to find a decent tale about Washington,” writes Dickerson. “Readers said that the book captures the conflict of interests and struggle for power that has the city locked up so tight to this day.”

You’ll find more about Democracy, as well as a list of Slate readers’ runner-up choices, here.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Crime in the City of Gardens

Bloody Words, touted as “Canada’s oldest and largest mystery conference,” is scheduled to take place in historic Victoria, British Columbia, from June 3 through 5.

This year’s Guest of Honor (or should that be “Honour?) will be crime novelist Michael Slade, with Tess Gerritsen as International Guest of Honor and William Deverell standing up as the Local Guest of Honor. Oh, and we mustn’t forget to mention the Ghost of Honor, Amor De Cosmos (1825-1897), the founder of British Columbia’s first newspaper.

Hosting the festivities will be downtown’s Hotel Grand Pacific, adjacent to the scenic Inner Harbour. Registration will set you back $190.00 Canadian, and the form you must fill out to participate can be found here.

Finally, if you would like to participate in Bloody Words’ “Bone Pete” Short Story Contest -- open to all convention attendees -- the deadline for entering your work (which must not exceed 5,000 words and must feature Victoria in some way) is March 1.

Chew on This

(Editor’s note: The following squib comes from Dick Adler, a regular contributor to The Rap Sheet).

I don’t write fan letters often, but here’s one I just sent that I thought might enjoy -- especially if you’re a foodie. It went to William Grimes, a former food critic for The New York Times. The book I’m complimenting originally came out in 2009, but I only just had the opportunity to read it.
Dear William Grimes:

My wife gave me
Appetite City: A Culinary History of New York for Christmas, and I wanted to say this to you -- it is one of the best books I have ever read.

I don’t think we have met, but we have similar backgrounds. I’ve been a reviewer (for
The New York Times Book Review, the Chicago Tribune, The Barnes & Noble Review) and a magazine writer and editor (New York, New West). Now I’m writing fiction full-time. (

What impresses me most about
Appetite City is the complete, absolute sense of trust you create. Usually, my tendency is to check on a writer’s research by finding and reading at least one of the author’s choices [of research work]. I never felt the need to do this with your book. From Page 1, I knew instinctively that you had done this for me. So, many thanks, and best regards.
OK, enough gushing for now ...

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

New Today: While Mortals Sleep by Kurt Vonnegut

Late last year when the editors of January Magazine were musing about the ten most anticipated books of 2011, While Mortals Sleep (Delacorte) was high on the list. I would have gone further: I would have called it one of my must read books of the year. And why? For that stellar, questioning, much missed voice.

While I looked forward to reading this new collection, I did not have high hopes for it. While Mortals Sleep collects 16 early Vonnegut short stories, all unpublished. And when you hear a thing like that, you tend to wonder about the reason.

It was a pleasant surprise to find I really enjoyed most of what is collected here. Viewed in the context of the body of the author’s work, one wouldn’t need a date to place thse stories as proto-Vonnegut. They were written for publication at a time when the young writer was trying to make his living at his craft and selling stories to Collier’s and The Saturday Evening Post. These 16, however, never made the cut. As Dave Eggers points out in a foreword, “the way [Vonnegut] wrote at the time was influenced a certain amount by what he knew these publications wanted.” For whatever reasons, though, they didn’t want these. Again from the foreword:
These are what might be called mousetrap stories. This was once a popular ... form. But you don’t see it much anymore. We’re now in an age of what might be called photorealistic stories. What we have with most contemporary short stories is a realism, a naturalism, that gives us roughly what a photographer gives us.
But that’s not what Vonnegut was after at the time:
A mousetrap story exists to trick or trap the reader. It moves the reader along, through the complex (but not too complex) machinery of the story, until the end, when the cage is sprung and the reader is trapped.
This is a lighter, gentler Vonnegut than fans of novels like Slaughterhouse Five and Cat’s Cradle will expect. While Mortals Sleep lacks the gritty darkness of the novels but, as Eggers points out, the stories in this collection have the “bright-eyed clarity of a young man just beginning to understand the workings of the world.”

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Monday, January 24, 2011

Young Adult: Out for Blood: Drake Chronicles by Alyxandra harvey

Out for Blood (Walker Books, Bloomsbury) is the third novel in the series about the peaceful vampire family, the Drakes, and the humans in their lives (or should that be their undeaths?).

In this universe, you can be turned, but you can also be born to the vampire state, although you don’t change states until you’re sixteen. The Drake family has a born-vampire father, a mother who turned by choice and is now queen of the local vampire tribe, a single daughter, Solange, and seven gorgeous sons, two of whom are dating human girls. Solange’s boyfriend, Kieran, is not only human but a hereditary vampire-hunter. Fortunately, the Drakes have made a treaty with the vampire-hunting society, the Helios-Ra. Not everyone on either side agrees with this treaty, which is probably a good thing for the purposes of the storylines or there would be no more novels in the series.

The entire series, so far, has been set over a fairly short time, only a few weeks. Each one takes up shortly after the last. Each novel is seen from the viewpoints of different characters.

This one is seen alternately from the viewpoint of Quinn Drake, the fourth son, and Hunter Wild, a Helios-Ra girl who appeared briefly in the previous novel and is teasingly called Buffy by Quinn. For the first time, we see inside the school where the young hereditary vampire-slayers are trained.

Hunter has been at the school for four years and is just finishing up, but just when she’s falling in love with the annoyingly attractive Quinn, who has a huge number of groupies, she finds that something strange is going on at the Heios-Ra Academy. There are unexpected attacks by the truly horrible Hel-Blar vampires (they’re blue and insane). Students are coming down with mysterious illnesses. Someone is handing out “vitamin” tablets that may be more than vitamins.

Can Hunter and her friends stop it in time? Can she get Quinn’s attention away from all those other girls -- and will it matter if she and the others don’t stop whatever is happening at the school?

What do you think?

This series is a lot of fun, unlike many other vampire romances. There’s certainly enough romance to keep girls reading, but the heroines of these stories are not the standard maiden-in-distress. They kick ass. Even Hunter’s girly roommate, Chloe, is a computer hacker genius. The gorgeous Drake brothers are turned on by strong women.

The girls will enjoy this one as much as the others. I can’t wait to put it in my library, where the first two books are almost always out on loan. ◊

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

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Friday, January 21, 2011

Non-Fiction: Meditation for the Love of It: Enjoying Your Own Deepest Experience by Sally Kempton

Love comes up again and again in Meditation for the Love of It (Sounds True) by former swami Sally Kempton. Love of yourself -- inner and outer -- and, in many very real ways, love of others, too. In her foreword to the book, Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love) likens Meditation for the Love of It to a road map. “Think of the book as the most important travel guide you’ll ever encounter.”

The book is sensible, straight forward and easy to follow. An astonishingly simple map for navigating the often too mysterious road to our own inner lives.

Kempton starts us at A then goes to B and so on, each practically shared and sensibly told piece of information following the last in perfectly logical progression. And, suddenly, what seemed unattainable and, as I said before, deeply mysterious, seems in our grasp. The ultimate how-to guide to your own spirituality.

Along with step-by-step instructions, Kempton offers many tips. Here, for instance, are five tips to help you get out of your head and into your heart:
• The real key to going deep in meditation is wanting to go deep. The more you crave the tastes of the inner world, the easier it is to mediate, the deeper you’ll go.

• Stop worrying about technique. Drop the preconceived notion of a successful meditation. Instead, treat it as an exploration. Your meditation is an entry into the cave of the spirit.

• Be creative, play. For example, when you sit to meditate, you might ask, “What will happen if I breathe with the feeling that I’m being breathed by the universe?” Give it a try and note what happens.

• Pay persistent attention to the energy that presents itself as you meditate. This kind of attention or “presence” is soft. It’s a relaxed, yet intentional willingness to be fully present with yourself. Treat with tenderness whatever arises.

• If your relationship with the inner world becomes troubles, boring, or more intimate than you bargained for, don’t give up. This relationship, like others, requires patience; it changes over time. Undertaken with love, the best is yet to come.

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Young Adult: Wolf Born by Sue Bursztynski

Sue Bursztynski has been reviewing young adult and children’s books here at January Magazine for close to a decade. So it was a special delight to receive word that her newest book, Wolfborn, had been published by Woolshed Press, an imprint of Random House Australia. It was extra special in part because, of all her books, this latest is the closest to her beat here at January Magazine: young adult and children’s books, quite often with a paranormal bent.

For obvious reasons, we make it a general policy not to review books by our own contributing editors. It does not break protocol, however, to tell you how the publisher describes Bursztynski’s new book:
Break the curse or howl forever.

Etienne, son of a lord in the kingdom of Armorique, goes to train as a knight with Geraint of Lucanne. Geraint is brave and kind, a good teacher and master - but he has a secret that he has kept from his family. He is bisclavret, a born werewolf. When Geraint is betrayed, Etienne must ally with the local wise-woman and her daughter, themselves bisclavret, to save his lord. But time is running out. If Geraint's enemies have their way, Geraint will soon be trapped in his wolf form.

And Etienne has his own secret. The decisions he makes will change his life forever...

Inspired by a medieval romance, this engaging novel forces us to question everything we thought we knew about werewolves.
The book has only been out for a few weeks, but has been showered with stellar reviews. Well done, Sue! We’re all as proud as can be.

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Ursula le Guin Confesses Her Sins

A post on the e-reads blog a few days ago informed HarperCollins authors that they are most probably in violation of their contracts:
New language in the termination provision of the Harper’s boilerplate gives them the right to cancel a contract if “Author’s conduct evidences a lack of due regard for public conventions and morals, or if Author commits a crime or any other act that will tend to bring Author into serious contempt, and such behavior would materially damage the Work’s reputation or sales.” The consequences? Harper can terminate your book deal. Not only that, you’ll have to repay your advance. Harper may also avail itself of “other legal remedies” against you.
Writing on the Book View Cafe Blog, an author’s collaborative, the wonderful Ursula K. le Guin sniped back in a public letter to News Corp. and HarperCollins owner Rupert Murdoch:
Dear Mr Rupert Murdoch,

Forgive me, for I have sinned.

Because I did not read my contract with your wonderful publishing house HarperCollins carefully, I did not realise my moral obligations.

There is nothing for it now but to confess everything. Before I wrote my book Emily Brontë and the Vampires of Lustbaden, which you published this fall and which has been on the Times Best Seller List for five straight months, I committed bad behavior and said bad words in public that brought me into serious contempt in my home town of Blitzen, Oregon.
Le Guin’s letter is well worth reading in its entirety and it’s here.

Happy Belated to Killer Covers!

For various crazy reasons, we completely missed wishing a happy second birthday to J. Kingston Pierce’s Killer Covers blog. Pierce, who is editor of The Rap Sheet and senior editor here at January, has a passion for terrific cover art, as almost anyone who reads either January or The Rap Sheet already knows. Like so many of the projects Pierce has involved himself with, Killer Covers began from a place of passion. As Pierce says:
It was all my own damn fault, of course: I was interested in discovering and writing more about the authors and artists whose work I displayed. I didn’t want to simply compose extended captions about each book face, or put up the book covers without any explanation, the way several other blogs already do.
Killer Covers has evolved into an exploration and celebration of great crime fiction covers. Congratulations, Pierce! And thanks for creating this terrific resource. Killer Covers’ birthday post is here.

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

New Book Deal for Bob Dylan

Rock icon Bob Dylan has signed a six book contract with Simon and Schuster that may be in the eight figures. From Crain’s New York Business:
The deal came after [Dylan’s agent] Mr. Wylie had spent months trying to drum up interest in the project among other publishers (see Crain's, Nov. 22), despite Simon & Schuster's insistence that it had the rights to any Chronicles sequels. “Wylie's contention was that S&S didn't own the "memoir,' because Chronicles was "nonfiction stories' from his life and not a memoir,” said the editor. But no house would bite because of the potential for a lawsuit.
The Crain’s piece is here. Rolling Stone speculates on the possible nature of the books here.

The Sheathed Claws of the Tiger Mother

Whoa: Amy Chua is selling a rather large stack of books. I don’t need a crystal ball to be reporting that. All anyone has to do is stroll through the blogosphere or check on Twitter trends to see that law professor Chua’s new book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (Penguin) is making people mad enough to throw things. Are they throwing Chua’s book? Some of them are angry enough that it seems possible they are. But even that could help book sales. After all, you have to buy a book before you can throw it.

The cause for all this vitriol is the the very foundation of Chua’s book: she compares American and Chinese parenting styles. And it’s not really that people are surprised that, in Chua’s view, the west comes up wanting, rather Chua feels she has been greatly misunderstood. From The Huffington Post:
When Amy Chua published a list of things her children "were never allowed to do" growing up, including "attend a sleepover," "watch TV or play computer games," and "get any grade less than an A," in The Wall Street Journal on January 8, the Yale Law professor and author ignited a firestorm of controversy from bloggers, newspaper columnists and, of course, parents across the country. The rules were excerpted from her forthcoming book "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother," which describes her journey as a Chinese-American mother.
HuffPo puts together a list of angry responders here. And, if you’re so inclined, the Wall Street Journal excerpt that started the whole thing is here.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Book Sales and Reading Up and Down

Interest in books, sales of books and reading in general are all up. And down. This from a variety of sources.

The Globe & Mail today reports that while Canadians worry about the amount they read, book sales and reading are up pretty much across the board:
When the first nationwide count of book buying and borrowing weighs in with its numbers Wednesday, Canadians may be surprised by how many books they brought home in just one week: It’s safe to predict the number will be in the millions. Sales figures already show that Canadians buy more than one million a week; urban library systems report weekly print circulation numbers in the tens or even hundreds of thousands.
Even so, many Canadians are still afraid that technology will kill the book:
“There is a kind of anxiety about the new replacing the old,” speculates Jane Pyper, city librarian at the Toronto Public Library, talking about the rise first of computers and then of electronic readers. “In the libraries we have this dialogue between formats, as activities that can support each other, but it is easier to tell a story of competition.”
Meanwhile in a Los Angeles Times blog piece that echoes many of The Globe article’s major points, there are reports of book sales going down... and up.
November book sales numbers are out, and they don't look great, print-wise. But e-books? They're hot.

Print book sales were down, the Assn. of American Publishers reports, in all the major trade categories. Year-to-date hardcover sales in 2010 are down 6.1%; mass market paperbacks have fallen off even more, by 14%. And while adult paperbacks are doing all right for the year, in November their sales fell by a whopping 19%.
So what should readers make of these conflicting reports? How’s this for an idea: grab a book and a nice comfy chair, curl up and read.


Literature’s 10 Best Beards

Have you ever wondered which of all the beards in the literary world are the 10 best? Me neither. Luckily, however, there are others out there taking care of this fantastically important question. Here The Guardian’s John Mullan tackles the question and comes up with a shortlist of 10 of the best.

And if you’re in the mood to be obsessing about facial hair, we still haven’t seen anything better than Allan Peterkin’s One Thousand Beards: A Cultural History of Facial Hair from 2001. As January Magazine contributing editor Adrian Marks pointed out in a review of the book, “Oddly, considering the number of men capable of sprouting facial hair, beards, their evolution and their care and feeding have been given very little ink over the years.”

It seems possible that, with all of this attention, that’s a situation that is changing.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Another Book from the Jersey Shore

We haven’t done a Books You Just Don’t Want to Know About item for a long time, but this is one we couldn’t resist. Seriously, if even (I’m not making this up) is scathing about it, who are we to argue? From that august outfit:
Since when did being a Guido or Guidette become a qualification for becoming an author? The latest Jersey Shore cast member to “write” a book is Jenni “JWOWW” Farley. HarperCollins is about to publish Farley’s The Rules According To JWOWW: Shore-Tested Secrets on Landing a Mint Guy, Staying Fresh to Death, and Kicking the Competition to the Curb.
The article also says that previous Jersey Shore-penned literary (ahem) efforts have not done as well as their publishers might have hoped. Are we entirely sure they’re aiming at a demographic that actually reads?

The Rules According to JWOWW
will be published by William Morrow on February 8th.


Comic Book Movies Too Much of a Good Thing

Is Marvel Killing The Comic Book Movie Genre? That’s what is asking right now and, considering both their name and their mandate, they’re in a position to at least examine the question completely.
Is Marvel over-saturating the market with too many movies? Is this making movie-goers tired of CBMs?

For the past 10 years, Marvel has been putting out CBM after CBM after CBM. Most of these movies have been less than stellar. In fact, most have been quite forgettable. In 2007 alone, Marvel released THREE mediocre and forgettable CBMs: Ghost Rider, Spider-Man 3, and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. It seemed that people had had enough of getting so many CBMs shoved down their throats. And then Iron Man and The Dark Knight took everyone by surprise. They changed the entire genre forever. But this past year, it seemed that people again had gotten bored of CBMs. Kick-Ass barely managed to make a profit, Iron Man 2 couldn't even make as much as the first movie, and Scott Pilgrim bombed horribly even though it was one of the most acclaimed movies of the year. Maybe movie-goers have had enough? Just look at Marvel's movie schedule: This year alone we're getting Thor, X-Men First Class, and Captain America, next year we're getting a Spider-Man reboot, a Ghost Rider sequel, and a Wolverine movie that no one asked for, and to top it all off, an Avengers movie. Not to mention plans to reboot Fantastic Four, Iron Man 3, a Hulk movie with yet another actor playing Banner, and Ant-Man. Believe or not, people might get sick of having so many CBMs shoved down their throats.
I don’t know about you, but there a couple of titles there we’re pretty much looking forward to. The piece is quite a bit longer, considers the competition and can be found here.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

New Jane Austen-Era Detective Series Being Plotted for Bath

According to a news source local to Bath, England, a new television detective series set in Regency England could start filming as early as next year. From This Is Bath:
Talks are under way with broadcasters over a TV detective series set in Bath during Jane Austen’s time.

Eight one-hour episodes have been written for the series, filming for which could begin in the city next year.

The Regency Detective has been created by Bath-based scriptwriters David Lassman and Terence James and is billed as showing the darker side of the period.
The full story is here.

Friday, January 14, 2011

New Next Week: A Cup of Friendship by Deborah Rodriguez

While the tone of A Cup of Friendship (Ballantine) is slick and sleek, I liked the book far less than I anticipated I would. It’s taken me a while to figure out why.

Rodriguez’ debut work, her 2007 memoir Kabul Beauty School, was the author’s passionate recollections about her five years teaching at and directing the first contemporary beauty academy and training salon in Afghanistan. It was fascinating and readers responded to this unique western insight on a culture many people have been struggling to learn more about.

But even though Rodriguez also owned the Oasis Salon and the Cabul Coffee House, A Cup of Friendship is fiction, not memoir. The things that make for magic in one form don’t necessarily extend to the other. That is, if you have something to share and you bring enough excitement and passion to that sharing, chances are you’ll end up with a readable memoir: one that will interest at least some people, because none of us humans can resist genuine excitement in other humans. And if you have a skilled and experienced co-author at your side, so much the better.

Fiction is different. As anyone who has ever read and loved a novel will tell you, great fiction does not necessarily depend on location. Or information. Or agenda. Or anything tangible at all. It can be difficult to put your finger on just what makes a book really great and enjoyable. But you know when it isn’t there.

A Cup of Friendship focuses on American Sunny, living in Afghanistan and running a cafe for fellow expats. And we meet some of those expats, as well as some local women who need help from the Americans. Think Fried Green Tomatoes or Waiting to Exhale, but set in a coffee shop in Kabul and you get the idea.

Is A Cup of Friendship engaging? Sure. Is it readable? Of course. But it’s no Kabul Beauty School. Maybe that was too much to ask. ◊

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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The Top Ten Typefaces for Book Design

Want to know the top ten typefaces used by book design winners? FontFeed did the research:
The American Association of University Presses holds an annual Book, Jacket & Journal Show which catalogs the best in book design and exhibits it around the country .... We ordered catalogs from the last three years of the show and tallied the typefaces used. The results won’t shock you -- each of the top ten is a tried-and-true classic. Yet there is so much more great type out there begging to be used for academic text and titling. So, along with the champions, I’m recommending a few less common alternatives that offer just as much readability, function, and beauty for today’s books and journals.
FontFeed shares their findings here.


Literary Festival For Sale

With Valentine’s Day coming up fast, it’s time to start thinking up creative gifts. And what do you buy for the book lover who has everything? How about a literary festival?

Lillian Avon, founder and director of the five-year-old Bournemouth Literary Festival has announced that the festival is for sale. Avon told Book Trade Info that she felt the successful niche festival she has created is ready for the big time with someone else at the helm:
Avon says, “I strongly believe in the Bournemouth Literary Festival but now want to move on to other personal projects. A small and successful and niche festival that celebrates the ‘world of words’ is the ethos behind the festival and a new owner can capitalise on this and make the festival a bigger commercial success. Indeed a potential buyer could and should be a large publishing house or an independent”. Avon added “the sale might challenge common perceptions on cultural value and I hope that it will stimulate lively debate.”
The full piece is here.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Book-Scanning Device Adding Fuel to “Death of the Book” Fire

From the Sky Is Falling Department: a new device dedicated to scanning whole books is grabbing headlines from journalists keen to illustrate how vulnerable the book has become. From The Ottawa Citizen:

A device coming from a Rhode Island company this spring promises to shake the publishing industry in the same way that CD burners shook the music industry and forever changed copyright laws in the early 1990s.

ION Audio's Book Saver looks like a miniature overhead projector combined with a cradle and can scan a 200-page book in less than 15 minutes.

"We guess that this is going to be the same debate they had in music: could you record a CD to digital?" said Nick Boshart, digital services manager with the Association of Canadian Publishers.
Except, of course, this is a discussion we’ve already been having: not in relation to a scanning device that can quickly burn a copy of a book, but in terms of the electronic reading devices that have already had such an impact on the publishing industry.

Carolyn Wood, executive director of the Association of Canadian Publishers, said the new Book Saver device is sure to open new copyright concerns for her members.

"It does raise questions," she said. "The whole business about what it means to own a book when it's in digital form is not the same as when it's in print form. I am interested in this."
Now that’s a different wrinkle, one that everyone who loves books needs to address. How do electronic books impact copyright and, especially, international rights deals? And how are sagging copyright laws holding up under the onslaught of technology?

In terms of electronic books, though, the sky is not falling and the conversation is already fully fueled. When we’re talking about electronic books, we’re no longer talking about the future. The future is now.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

New Today: A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear by Atiq Rahimi

When A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear (Other) was first published in the United Kingdom in 2006, The Guardian nailed it in their review, calling the book a “taut and brilliant burst of anguished prose .... both a wonderful and a dreadful little book.” For me that covered filmmaker and novelist Atiq Rahimi’s novella with startling precision.

A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear is like a beautiful, yet slightly repellant poem. The structure, the meter, the words chosen, all beautiful. But Rahimi’s prose captures the violence of fact and spirit so completely, you don’t always see the art; just feel the hammering of your heart and taste the blood.

We’re in Kabul in 1979 when we meet 21-year-old Farhad, a typical student bent on a the pleasures of those of his interests and background. One night, not long after the pro-Soviet coup, Farhad goes drinking and falls into the hands of a group of soldiers who brutalize him. Later he wakes up in a strange house where a beautiful woman is looking after him and a child calls him “father.” He thinks he is dead. As he heals, he becomes ever more cognizant of the plight of Afghani women and he realizes he can no longer live in his homeland, but must find his way to Pakistan.

This synopsis might give you the idea that A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear is a more traditionally structured book than it is. But it is not. It reads at times like absolute stream of consciousness. In fact at times it feels like your own dream. The images are so vivid, the violence so close, in the time that I read the book, my own sleep was troubled by nightmares.

In some ways, one suspects elements of this nightmare/dream might be autobiographical. Author Rahimi was born in Afghanistan in 1962 and fled to France in 1984. He is an award-winning filmmaker -- his film version of his novel Earth and Ashes was an official selection at Cannes in 2004 and has won significant prizes -- and though he lives in Paris, he has set up an organization in Kabul that offers training and support to young writers and filmmakers. ◊

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


Non-Fiction: Naked Fitness by Andrea Metcalf

It’s true: there’s nothing quite as sexy as... well... sex. And if you don’t want to be subtle about it, why not be blatant? It worked for Jamie Oliver a decade ago when he erupted onto the international television chef scene as The Naked Chef and it’s not doing anything at all to hurt Andrea Metcalf and her Naked Fitness program even though, as far as I can tell, there isn’t a lot very “naked” about it. As the author herself writes:
Let me reassure you: Naked Fitness isn’t about working out in the nude or exercising in skimpy spandex for all the world to see. No, none of that.

Naked Fitness is about stripping away all the obstacles, barriers, and excuses in your life that keep you from getting your wonderful body into the best shape possible.
Naked Fitness (Vanguard Press) encompasses a “28 day lifestyle program” that really does cover all the bases “for a slimmer, fitter, pain free body.” Early sections deal with the philosophy of fitness. Or, perhaps more to the point, your own philosophy of fitness and body image and how all of these things fit together. Then, cookbook-style, Metcalfe discusses what you’ll need -- and what you’ll need to be doing in both your head and your life to get to the place you want to be.

A core segment of the book deals with Metcalf’s actual “all gain, no pain” program of gentle yet intense exercise and there is even a very good section just on the aerobic and lifestyle benefits of walking. Then nutrition including, again, philosophy, restaurant strategies and then actual meal plans and even what style of clothes to choose for your body type.

Overall, Metcalf’s program is highly palatable: a perfect gift for yourself. Just remember: owning the book is not enough. You really do have to do the work, too! ◊

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


Monday, January 10, 2011

Sam and Dash Remembered

I’m just under the wire -- on the West Coast, anyway -- in reminding readers that it was “50 years ago today, on January 10, 1961, that American detective-story writer Dashiell Hammett -- who’d invented enduring characters such as The Continental Op and Sam Spade, and in the course of it, changed the character of detective fiction itself -- perished of lung cancer at New York City’s Lenox Hill Hospital. He was only 66 years old, but had contracted tuberculosis during World War I and then damaged his health still further by persistently over-consuming alcohol and cigarettes.”

That’s all from The Rap Sheet’s wonderful tribute to Hammett, which can be found here.

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Read Different: Disney iOS Downloads Top One Million

While we don’t expect impartial reporting from DisZine “a magazine dedicated to Disney fans” it’s still interesting to note a headline from one of their current items: “Disney Book iOS Downloads Hit the One Million Mark.” From DisZine:
Here’s one that should encourage parents everywhere: kids aren’t reading less. They’re just reading differently.

Disney Publishing reported Friday that they’ve hit a major milestone – the one million mark – in downloads of Disney book apps for Apple devices, such as iPhones, iPod Touches, and their wildly popular tablet iPad, which debuted last year.
By the way, the image above is from Princess Dress-Up My Sticker Book. Now how does that work in electronic format?

The piece is here.


New Book Gives Nasty Details of “Sex-Crazed Lothario” Nazi

Everyone knows that Hilter’s propaganda master, Joseph Goebbels, was one gruesome piece of work. However a new 912-page book by University of London history professor Peter Longerich introduces us to new depths of possibility in Goebbels’ nastiness, from The Daily Mail:

He walked with a limp and was known to some as the ‘poison dwarf’.

But a book reveals that Nazi Germany’s propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels was an unlikely lothario, nicknamed ‘the ram’ by the many actresses and society ladies he seduced.
Fortunately for history, Goebbels was also a compulsive note-taker.

He detailed many [of his conquests] on more than 30,000 sheets of paper that he left behind, some of them accessed for the first time by Professor Longerich, a German, for his 912-page book Joseph Goebbels: Biography.
The book is published by Random House Germany. At present, no English translation is available. Longerich’s most recent English-language book is Holocaust: The Nazi Persecution and Murder of the Jews (Oxford University Press) from 2010.

Doyenne of American Mysteries, Ruth Cavin, Dead at 92

Ruth Cavin, arguably one of the most influential people in the field of American mysteries, died Sunday morning at White Plains Hospital in New York. She was 92. Cavin had been an editor in the Thomas Dunne division of St. Martin’s Press for many years and was instrumental in starting the influential Minotaur imprint. Over the years, her authors included Charles Todd, Steve Hamilton, Julia Spencer-Fleming and many others.

One of the most beautiful sentiments about Cavin as a person comes from digital publishing specialist Mike Shatzkin’s amazing tribute. “Ruth would teach you without it feeling like teaching,” Shatzkin writes. “Every conversation was with an equal; every relationship was collegial. Her respect for other people was universal and deep and entirely genuine.”

You can read Shatzkin’s tribute here. The Rap Sheet adds its voice here.


Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Crime Fiction: Innocent Monster by Reed Farrel Coleman

Retired New York cop, sometime private eye and reluctant wine merchant Moe Prager returns in author Reed Farrel Coleman’s latest novel, Innocent Monster (Tyrus Books). It’s now 2006, six years since Moe’s ex-wife, Katy, was murdered (in Empty Ever After, 2008). He is divorced again and doesn’t even know where to find his lapsed P.I. license. That doesn’t stop daughter Sarah, though, from approaching him to help out a childhood friend in need.

Candy Bluntstone is the mother of Sashi Bluntstone, the art world’s latest little darling. Sashi is not even 12 years old yet, but already she produces paintings that are favorably compared to those of Jackson Pollack. Or she did, anyway. Sashi has disappeared, and the police are stumped as to her whereabouts. Moe agrees to help Sarah’s friend Candy find her child, if only to get his own daughter back into his life.

Aiding Prager are NYPD Detective Jordan McKenna, the frustrated cop assigned to this missing-persons case, and Jimmy Palumbo, a former NFL rising star reduced to working museum security. Between the three of them, they discover there is no end to the number of sick people in the art community who think that dying to increase the value of one’s work is perfectly reasonable. More than a couple of collectors, as well as one artist with a bad heroin habit, make no secret of the fact that Sashi’s death would be quite a lucrative turn of events for them.

It could also prove advantageous to Candy Bluntstone and her husband, Max: they’re broke. But even Max, who’s normally looked at as a parasite, is having a hard time accepting what’s happened. He is mourning not only the loss of a daughter, but the artistic career he himself could have enjoyed, had things turned out differently. Meanwhile, this case offers up the bizarre and enigmatic John Tierney. A tortured schizophrenic who has an almost mystical love/hate obsession with Sashi, Tierney lives in a cesspool of a house adorned with peculiar suffering Christ heads, their eyes blacked out. Tierney eventually becomes the prime suspect in the girl’s disappearance. Still, Moe finds himself feeling sorry for Tierney, even if he’s guilty of doing away with Sashi. Sometimes a killer is just too pathetic to hate.

Of course, this being a Moe Prager novel (the sixth, in fact), we know that the answer our investigating hero initially arrives at is not the right one. In the past, that pattern has had tragic consequences, and the same proves true in Innocent Monster. However, as in Empty Ever After, the pages of this new book offer signs of renewal for our wayward ex-policeman. In Empty, Moe found solace in the arms of his Puerto Rican P.I. partner, Carmella Melendez. That short relationship and business partnership has ended, and Moe mourns its loss; but Carmella’s influence can be felt throughout Innocent Monster. He seems to be not only a better detective, but a better person because of the brief time he spent with her. And now ...?

Well, in this story Moe Prager manages to heal a few of his oldest wounds, but fortunately for us, author Coleman leaves plenty still open for his man to work on over the years to come. ◊

Jim Winter is a writer, reviewer and occasional comedian in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he works in tech support. He’s a regular contributor to Crimespree and an occasional contributor to The Rap Sheet.

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Cookbooks: The Cook’s Book of Intense Flavors by Robert and Molly Krause

I’ve been wanting to write about The Cook’s Book of Intense Flavors (Fair Winds) for several months now, but was never really sure where to start. For one thing, the subtitle -- 101 Surprising Flavor Combinations and Extraordinary Recipes That Excite Your Palate and Pleasure Your Senses -- almost seemed like a mini review. After all, when all that’s been said, what all needs to be? Yet The Cook’s Book of Intense Flavors is a very special book; one quite worthy of mention. And so here we are.

When looking at cookbooks with an eye to sharing information about them -- as in a review -- I always try to consider who the book has been created for. Obviously, every book has a different end user in mind. Quite a lot of books are intended for beginning home chefs: people with no or practically no kitchen experience. Others are what I call aspirational: they're books, sometimes quite beautiful, who very few people will ever cook from at all. And, of course, there are lots in between, but I don’t ever think I’ve come across a book that seemed quite so intended for me as The Cook’s Book of Intense Flavors, which seems to be written for experienced amateur chefs who consider themselves to be either fairly talented or fairly accomplished. Or both.

While beginning chefs can anticipate to get something out of The Cook’s Book of Intense Flavors, I think almost anyone would. But those with a fair amount of kitchen experience -- those who think they’re already pretty good -- will find themselves pushed to a new and better place. It’s an extraordinary feeling. This book is not just about big flavors, but also about combining unexpected flavors to intensify them. “Cooking is about combining flavors,” the authors say at one point, “as well as applying different preparation techniques.” And yet that’s a revolutionary thought for a cookbook, is it not? When all we ever seem to see is how to chop this or slice that or even grill something over there.

And so here we have a whole cookbook organized not by season or various meals, but by flavor. “Timeless with a Twist,” and “Unexpected Pleasure,” (Can you say fig, apple and anchovy? I knew you could!). Chapter three is “Complex Concoctions” and so on, all the way to my favorite: Chapter Seven, “Decidedly Decadent.”

The Cook’s Book of Intense Flavors is not a book for everyone. It is a book for accomplished home chefs who want to push things to the next level. ◊

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, January 04, 2011

Protective Prose

Just in case you wanted to know which of the really big books released in 2010 would do the most to protect you in a gun battle, the folks at Electric Literature have the answer.

(Hat tip to The New Yorker.)

Non-Fiction: The Best American Crime Reporting 2010 edited by Stephen J. Dubner

Publisher Ecco Books’ Best American Crime Reporting series, now in its ninth year, is a must-read for anyone interested in first-class journalism and reportage, great writing, criminology, true-crime tales and the human (criminal) condition. At 384 pages, the 2010 anthology comprises 15 stories, plus a poem by Calvin Trillin from his “Deadline Poet” column in The Nation. Other source publications include Harper’s, The New Yorker, Texas Monthly, The American Scholar, Rolling Stone, The Atlantic and Denver, Colorado’s 5280 magazine.

In a brave move, this collection leads off with what many readers will see as a hypocritical and unseemly defense, by various Hollywood luminaries, of film director Roman Polanski, who’s been dogged for the last three decades by charges that he raped a 13-year-old girl in the 1970s. A second piece, “The Celebrity Defense,” also deals masterfully with the rape, Polanski’s flight to and exile in Europe, and his more recent detention in Switzerland, much to the shock of film-world celebs. (You might recall that a similarly robust defense was mounted in Ireland by the artistic elite after allegations of pedophilia were raised, in the documentary Fairytale of Katmandu, against prominent Irish-language poet Cathal Ó Searcaigh.) As of this writing, Polanski has been released from house arrest and will not be extradited to the United States.

It’s typical of the Best American Crime Reporting series that it should include black humor, and this new collection keeps up the tradition. “Smooth Sailing” details the story of the totally unsmooth Stacy Stith facing his 112th conviction in 2010. His first conviction dates from when he was just 13 years old , and he accumulated 50 convictions by the time he turned 19. Now Stith faces incarceration until 2028, when he will be 58 years old. Obviously not a natural-born gangster. Meanwhile, “The Great Buffalo Caper” is a splendid tale of mysticism, artistry, insurance fraud and criminal damage that would do Ripley’s Believe It or Not! proud. (Spoiler -- it already has!)

“Sex, Lives and Videotape” details the story of Swiss serial gigolo Helg Sgarbi, who attempted to extort millions of dollars from Susanne Klatten, the already married BMW heiress (worth $12 billion) with whom he once carried on an affair. Sgarbi’s plans backfired in spectacular form when, with Germanic grit, Klatten took her troubles to the police. She was at least the sixth wealthy heiress Sgarbi had managed to relieve of money -- $38 million all told. Although Sgarbi is currently serving a jail term in Germany, the $10 million he finagled from Klatten has not yet been recovered and will, it’s supposed, allow him to start anew when he is released. BMW shares have not suffered as a result of this scandal.

The history of Ponzi schemes, with special emphasis on American investment adviser Bernie Madoff, is examined in depth in “Madoff and His Models.” Charles Ponzi’s original, 1920s scheme was amateurish compared to Madoff’s extravagant one of the last two decades. After building an aura of trust and exclusivity, he siphoned billions of dollars from normally savvy individuals and institutions. Elsewhere in this collection, the historical analysis and investigation of the man who killed John Wilkes Booth, the actor who assassinated U.S. President Abraham Lincoln in 1865, proves that scholarly articles and enquiry can uncover a wealth of information. The focus of “The Man Who Shot the Man Who Shot Lincoln” is Union Army soldier Boston Corbett, who not only killed Booth but castrated himself with a pair of scissors, displayed conspicuous valor during the Civil War, survived the notorious Andersonville prison camp, lived as a recluse, was committed to an asylum, escaped and finally disappeared in the mid-1890s. Corbett’s early career as a hatter -- which exposed him to mercury, an element then employed indiscriminately in hat manufacturing, and known to produce the symptoms of madness (hence the phrase “mad as a hatter”) -- might explain some of his behavior.

Wrongful incarcerations are depressingly routine nowadays. But even the most jaundiced skeptic of the U.S. justice system would be struck by the conviction and later execution of Todd Willingham for the alleged murder of his three baby daughters. In the story “Trial by Fire,” we learn that, despite the absence of any motive for the crime, and in the face of Willingham’s noted devotion to his offspring, he came under suspicion of killing those children in a 1991 house fire in Texas. Witness testimony changed after an arson investigation incorrectly concluded that accelerants had been used to start the blaze. Psychiatrist James P. Grigson, known as Dr. Death because his appearance in a courtroom guaranteed a guilty verdict for any defendant, was later disbarred for offering false testimony. To date, Willingham -- who was executed back in 2004 -- has not been exonerated, but it seems likely he was factually and legally innocent.

Also highlighted in this edition of Best Crime Reporting is the abduction and disappearance of school boy Etan Patz from a busy New York City street in 1979 (“What Happened to Etan Patz?”). Abduction of another hue commands centerstage in “The Snatchback,” which looks at the activities of Gus Zamora Jr., an ex-Army ranger who, for a price, takes children from one parent and jurisdiction, and returns them to what he determines is the “right” parent.

The Chessboard Killer,” which recalls the history of Russian serial killer Alexander Yurievich Pichuskin, aka The Maniac, is sure to cause readers of this book some disquiet. That mild-mannered man was arrested in 2006 and convicted of 48 murders, but his total number of killings could reach as high as 63. In the anonymous urban sprawl of post-Soviet Union Russia, where ennui dominated, The Maniac began his killing spree. Such was the absence of community and an effective police force, however, that no alarms were raised. As Pichushkin’s mania grew, he became less controlled and careful. Although he knew his last victim had left a note with her son, telling him that she was meeting with Pichushkin, The Maniac could not suppress his violent urges.

The most chilling story in this book, though, has got to be “The Sicario.” In it, an assassin used by the Mexican drug cartels explains his modus operandi. A former policeman, he outlines a system of endemic corruption, and tells about the sway of the drug cartels and how he worked for those cartels kidnapping and then executing rival gang members, hostages, informers and ransom abductees without any compulsion. It is a grim reminder of why the drug wars in Mexico are so intractable.

One reason the Best Crime Reporting series has been so popular is that its contributors are seasoned journalists, who hone their stories under the guidance of demanding magazine editors. The other reason is the variety of crimes covered. If you don’t already own them, you should buy the first eight entries in this series. The writing is stylish, taut and absolutely unforgettable. ◊

Seamus Scanlon is a librarian and professor at The City College of New York. He has contributed fiction to the Global City Review, Promethean, the Review of Post Graduate English Studies, and the Journal of Experimental Fiction. Scanlon was a finalist in the 2009 New Irish Writing Awards and has written for The Rap Sheet.

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Monday, January 03, 2011

Best of This Year, Best of Last and Some Friends We Lost Along the Way

The last few weeks of the year are always the busiest time at January Magazine. That’s because, in that time, we produce several features that our readers have come to enjoy and expect. Because a lot of people take breaks from their regular schedule through the holidays, we thought we’d let you know what we'd been up to while you were looking in the other direction. Some of this stuff is just too special to miss!

This year, our annual Holiday Gift Guide started rolling in mid-November and kept picking up steam almost right up to December 25th. That piece is here.

For readers, the segue from Gift Guide to Best Books of 2010 might have been subtle, but around here, it was a huge shift. Both pieces are massive and represent many hours writing for all of our contributors, as well as lots of editing and planning for January’s senior editing team, Linda L. Richards and J. Kingston Pierce, not to mention lots of original design from art director David Middleton.

The Best Books of 2010 feature was one of our most significant ever. We talked about 113 books in total in fiction, non-fiction, crime fiction, art & culture, cookbooks and books for children. The feature is based here.

This year, in a fit of madness, we also produced a Best Books of 2011 feature. This came about when some of our editors realized how much they were looking forward to a number of books that will be debuting over the next few months. The resulting piece discusses just 10 books, all fiction. It’s a great list, though, and these early offering sure seem to indicate some terrific reading is in store over the next year.

Finally -- and sadly -- we talked about the literary passages that we covered in 2010. Briefly, and respectfully, we bow our heads and mourn the stories that will never be told.

In 2011, January Magazine moves into our 14th year. Thanks for letting us share a corner of your reading life. May you and yours have a rich and rewarding new year.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

The Stories That Will Never Be Told

We did not comment on all of the literary passages that took place in 2010. Sometimes timing prevented our contributions. And, to be very honest, on a few occasions, there was sadness that exceeded words. It might have been because, in this year beyond any in recollection, January truly was the cruelest month. We reported on the death of five authors in January of 2010. By the time that month was over, we couldn’t summon the spirit to cover more. Not for a while, anyway. The stories that won’t ever be told: that’s the thing that always hurts the most.

In mid-January, Canadians in particular reeled at the loss of poet P.K. Page. You would have thought it was to have been expected. Page was, after all, 93 when she died. But somehow there have been few writers with her vibrancy. Somehow, through her work, she just always seemed so alive. Losing her was unthinkable. Until, of course, we did.

Within a few days of that we commented on the death of Boston novelist Robert B. Parker, he of Spenser fame. As Rap Sheet editor and January Magazine senior editor J. Kingston Pierce wrote, “In the literary landscape of crime fiction, Robert B. Parker stood as tall and proud as a Sequoia, firm and never wavering, impossible to miss and commanding our admiration and respect.”

Then -- in rapid succession -- we lost Love Story author Erich Segal, Paul Quarrington (Whale Music, The Spirit Cabinet), Louis Auchincloss (The House of Five Talents, Last of the Old Guard) and Catcher in the Rye author J.D. Salinger. In so many ways, it seemed a very long month.

In February, we were sad to report on the passing of two-time Pulitzer Prize nominee, winner of the National Book Award and former poet laureate of Maryland, Lucille Clifton as well as the well-loved and widely read mystery novelist, Dick Francis.

The Ides of March brought the passage of retired head of McGraw-Hill Publishing, Harold W. McGraw, followed in July by the death of Dame Beryl Bainbridge (The Bottle Factory Outing, Every Man for Himself) and, in October, we lost one of the top-selling and best-loved novelists of all time in Belva Plain (Evergreen, Harvest).

In November, we reported on the death of actor, model, painter and author, Norris Church Mailer. Norris had been the sixth and final wife of writer Norman Mailer, who died in 2007.

And a year of passages that began with the death of a prominent poet, sadly ended with one as well, when we reported on the death of the important Russian poet, Bella Akhmadulina.

All of our tributes are labeled as Passages and collected here. Our sister publication, The Rap Sheet, did a much more complete job of reporting on passages relevant to its crime-fiction-focused readership. They’re labeled there as Obits 2010.