Thursday, March 31, 2011

Young Adult: So Shelley by Ty Roth

It’s possible that So Shelley (Delacorte) is the smartest YA novel you will ever read. The writing is sharp and edgy. The premise is intelligent and engaging. But the story? It’ll blow you away. So Shelley takes the most romantic of the romantic poets and reimagines them as contemporary teenagers. Think about it for a moment and you’ll realize: it’s not such a reach.

Debut author Ty Roth teaches literature and English composition at the high school level, so he understands all these moves: both the machinations of the teenage mind and the nuances of English literature. One could say that he’s studied them both.

So here’s the set-up: what if Lord Byron, John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Shelley were American teenagers today? How would their talents manifest and their foibles come forth?

Roth attacks his topic with verve and without gloves. Sophisticated teen readers will enjoy So Shelley: the coming of age of this particular set of characters is not for the faint of heart. ◊

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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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Non-Fiction: The Healthy Home by Myron Wentz and Dave Wentz

The subtitle of The Healthy Home (Vangaurd Press) is frightening: “Simple Truths to Protect Your Family from Hidden Household Dangers.” That is, it would be frightening if the material the book contained had been organized in a less childish way.

The information here is powerful and important and the basic premise is sound: in the West, we surround ourselves with toxic and even dangerous material in every aspect of our lives. Vacuum cleaners generate unhealthy electrical fields. Synthetic chemical pesticides are dangerous to birds, not to mention ourselves and our children. Even that beautifully scented lotion you use on your face and hands might be filled with toxic chemicals. And those CFL lightbulbs that have been pushed on us for the last few years as the perfect green alternative? According to the authors, if you read the directions on the package about disposal of a broken bulb “you'll realize you need a Hazmat suit every time you change one or throw it away.” It turns out that dangers to your health lurk everywhere in your home.

The Healthy Home is filled with important and valuable information. Unfortunately, the way the book is organized and illustrated makes it look more like a children’s book than one designed for grown up, thinking adults. Colored sidebars, childish illustrations, and hard-to-read reversed out type at section heads all contribute to making the book sometimes difficult to follow. The information itself is lucid and clear, but it’s as though, at some point in the book’s development, someone decided that readers wouldn’t be able to handle the lessons to be learned here without some sugar-coating. It means that The Healthy Home is more difficult to read than would otherwise be the case. However, if these are issues that concern you (and I’m quite sure the Wentz -- father and son -- would say that these are issues that concern everyone) you’ll want to persevere. There’s a lot at stake here and, according to Dave and Myron Wentz, there’s a great deal that you can do to make your home a healthier place. ◊

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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Finalists Announced for 2011 Man Booker International

The contenders for this year’s Man Booker International award hail from eight countries and offer a pretty serious slice of some of the best writing in the world. The high stakes are only appropriate: the £60,000 award is one of the richest on Earth, not to mention that it is (arguably) one of the most prestigious.

Notably, the Man Booker organization announced that novelist “John le Carré asked that his books should not be submitted for the annual prize to give less established authors the opportunity to win.” He is on the list anyway, along with David Maalouf, Philip Roth, Anne Tyler, Rohinton Mistry and Philip Pullman.

The 2011 Man Booker chair, writer, academic and rare book dealer Dr. Rick Gekoski, announced the finalists, saying that the “2011 list of finalists honours 13 great writers from around the world. It is, we think, diverse, fresh and thought-provoking, and serves to remind us anew of the importance of fiction in defining both ourselves and the world in which we live. Each of these writers is a delight, and any of them would make a worthy winner.”

The winner will be announced at the Sydney Writers’ Festival on May 18th and celebrated at an awards ceremony in London on June 28th.

The thirteen authors on the list are:

Wang Anyi (China)
Juan Goytisolo (Spain)
James Kelman (UK)
John le Carré (UK)
Amin Maalouf (Lebanon)
David Malouf (Australia)
Dacia Maraini (Italy)
Rohinton Mistry (India/Canada)
Philip Pullman (UK)
Marilynne Robinson (USA)
Philip Roth (USA)
Su Tong (China)
Anne Tyler (USA)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

New Today: Song of the Silk Road by Mingmei Yip

There is something both achingly modern and hauntingly ancient about Song of the Silk Road (Kensington). When you think about it, though, there’s nothing too surprising in that. Author Mingmei Yip (Peach Blossom Pavilion, Petals from the Sky) was born in China and holds a Ph.D. from the Sorbonne. She has held faculty appointments at the Chinese University and Baptist University in Hong Kong. She’s written professionally in both English and Chinese and though she lived in China for many years, she’s made the United States her home since 1992. She knows what it is to have a firm foothold in more than one place and culture and this knowledge -- and how it can manifest in a life -- informs this work.

Lily Lin is a Chinese student living in New York and struggling to finish a graduate degree when a startling offer appears out of the blue, threatening to turn her into a sort of dusty Cinderella. An aunt she wasn’t even aware of contacts Lily, offering her three mllion dollars to travel across a vast Chinese desert, completing set tasks along the way. Though at first Lily wonders at the validity of the wild offer, she eventually accepts: circumstances pushing her in unexpected ways.

The journey is transforming in many ways. Both as a passage of self-discovery, but also a road to love. No big surprise there. In fact, there aren’t a lot of surprises to be found in Song of the Silk Road, but that’s not really the point. Yip’s gentle style and forthright tale are a captivating combination and make the journey well worthwhile. ◊

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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Monday, March 28, 2011

Cookbooks: Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

It’s possible that the reason Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty (Chronicle Books) was such a huge and instant hit when it was published in the UK last year is because, in many ways, it is the sort of book that can define an age. Chef and food writer, Israeli-born Yotam Ottolenghi, seems absolutely of his moment.

More than a decade ago Donna Hay introduced food so minimalist it seemed almost to prepare itself. By comparison, Ottolenghi seems the anti-Hay. It’s not that his food is complicated, exactly, as much as it is involved. Many recipes include multiple processes and long lists of ingredients. The food is healthful, flavorful and beautiful, but even just reading the book, you don’t get the idea that any of this will make itself.

That said, don’t think you need to be an expert level chef in order to take a run at Plenty. It would be helpful to know your way around a kitchen and to not be intimidated by semi-exotic ingredients. And if you are a vegetarian, so much the better because Plenty is a vegetarian cookbook, even if the chef himself is not.

The book comes partly from “The New Vegetarian” column Ottolenghi has been writing for the Guardian since 2006. Ottolenghi says the newspaper asked him because his London restaurant, Ottolenghi, had “become famous for what we did with vegetables and grains, for the freshness and originality of our salads, and it only made sense to ask me to share this with vegetarian readers.”

The 120 recipes in Plenty are organized by ingredients: Roots, Funny Onions, Mushrooms, Brassicas and so on. This makes for a surprisingly coherent cookbook. And it seems especially sensible in a book based on vegetable matter.

In the growing season, I find myself regularly faced with a surplus of wonderful things from my friends who garden and who know I enjoy the challenge of doing something interesting with the things they produce. Boxes of organic chard, zucchinis, beans and other things too lovely to consider wasting. At those times, Ottolenghi’s organization will make the most sense. With an armload of leeks and Ottolenghi’s book, I might make Leek Fritters, or Fried Leeks or I might even be inspired to toss some into a stunning Caramelized Garlic Tart.

Eggplant gets a complete examination and tomatoes have probably never had it so good, especially in Ottolenghi’s Tomato Party, a stunning salad designed to “make use of as many as possible of the infinite types of tomatoes that are available now.” Some are cooked a little, some a lot and some are raw and all are tossed with fregola and couscous. It’s actually quite a simple dish but mind-blowingly good.

Plenty is just as good as everyone has been saying it is. This is vegetarian food as you always dreamed you’d find it. But do prepare to roll up your sleeves. ◊

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


Saturday, March 26, 2011

Tennessee Williams at 100

This week Life magazine offers up a tribute to Tennessee Williams, who was born 100 years ago, on March 26, 1911:
As the world mourns the passing of luminous Hollywood legend Elizabeth Taylor, an anniversary arrives celebrating the man who created one of the actress’ sexiest, most iconic roles. One hundred years ago, on March 26, 1911, legendary playwright Tennessee Williams was born in Mississippi -- the same steamy state where, decades later, he’d set the action of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (adapted into a 1958 film starring Taylor as the drawling, yearning Maggie “the Cat”).
The piece offers up a fantastic photo gallery of images of Williams, some of which have never been seen before. But don’t let that be your only stop at Life this week: their gallery of Famous People Who Simply Vanished is deeply interesting and surprising. After all, you know that most of these people had disappeared, but you really see the oddness when they’re all lined up in this way. Life delivers again.


RIP, Diana Wynne Jones

Though it’s mostly unconfirmed at time of writing, Saturday morning, the Twitterverse was a-buzz at the loss of well-loved children’s author Diana Wynne Jones who reportedly passed away after a lengthy battle with lung cancer. She was 76.

“We’re sad to confirm our wonderful and inspiring author Diana Wynne Jones passed away today,” came a tweet from HarperCollins UK children’s division. “She will be much missed.”

Bestselling author Neil Gaiman, a dear friend of Jones’, tweeted, “Rest in Peace, Diana Wynne Jones. You shone like a star. The funniest, wisest, writer & the finest friend. I miss you.”

Jones was born in London in 1934. She is best known for her novels of fantasy and magical realism for children and young adults including the Chrestomanci series and the novels Howl’s Moving Castle and Dark Lord of Derkholm. You can read reviews of two of Jones’ books on January Magazine here and here.


Crime Fiction: Heads You Lose by Lisa Lutz and David Hayward

(Editor’s note: Today we welcome to January Magazine a new book critic: Roberta Alexander, an editor and mystery reviewer in the San Francisco Bay Area. A former fan of Nancy Drew, Alexander is a member of the National Book Critics Circle and can be reached through her Web site.)

Lisa Lutz broke a lot of rules in her delightful series about the engaging and dysfunctional Spellman family, which ran a detective agency in San Francisco. The stories focused on daughter Izzy’s attempt to create a life for herself under less-than-ideal conditions, while also solving various little mysteries and cases.

Not least of the books’ pleasures was that they allowed readers to comfort themselves with the knowledge that at least their families, however annoying, didn’t spy on each other the way the Spellmans did.

Lutz’s new book, Heads You Lose (Putnam), pushes the envelope in a less successful way.

The story focuses on an orphaned brother and sister, Paul and Lacey Hansen, who run a pot farm in Northern California, and who find a headless body on their property. They think they know who it is. But that man turns out to be still alive.

In fact the story here is soon forgotten, for the twist in this novel is that Lutz invited her former boyfriend, David Hayward, to write alternating chapters. So we get to watch as Lutz sets up a situation, and then Hayward selects a thread from her narrative and spins it out in a different direction. Are these red herrings or important clues? And do the authors care, or are they using this brother and sister, who have frequent disagreements and conflicting desires, as stand-ins for themselves?

Since the co-authors included their comments to one other at each chapter’s end, we get both the story and the back-story. These liner notes are far more interesting than the plot, so after a few chapters it’s hard to remember, or care about, the Hansens and their unidentified corpse.

On the other hand, readers are offered a fascinating backstage view of the writing process as they trace the different approaches of the collaborating authors, their attempts to make the wildly divergent parts of their tale coalesce and their occasional sniping at what seems like unfinished personal business. At one point, for instance, an argument between Lutz and Hayward about how much history they need to give their assorted characters morphs into a disagreement about a trip they once took together.

Whether that’s enough to make up for a meandering fictional yarn is a subject for debate. I would vote for a good story first.

But Lutz is a talented writer, and I look forward to seeing what she tries next.

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Friday, March 25, 2011

Are Literary Journals Dying?

The discussion is raging all over the Web today. Would it be better for everyone if some literary journals were allowed to die peacefully of natural causes? Quill & Quire hones the thoughts down while offering up some links:
It turns out a lot of us think that weeding the overgrown garden of literary journals might make the remaining plants grow healthier. With fewer magazines, content would improve, including writing with more eloquent metaphors than those describing overgrown gardens.

Huffington Will Produce UK Edition

Do you love Arianna Huffington’s Huffington Report? Well, there’s about to be even more to like. The media maven is set to launch a UK edition. From The Guardian:

Arianna Huffington is to launch a UK edition of the Huffington Post this summer, as the US news and current affairs website recently acquired by AOL moves to expand internationally.

The multi-millionaire, who sold Huffington Post to AOL for $315m (£195m) in February, told the MediaGuardian Changing Media Summit on Thursday that the takeover meant she could accelerate plans to hire journalists and create a UK-specific site.
The Guardian piece is here. Meanwhile, in a related piece, you can read about how Arianna Huffington and Tim Armstrong, the Guardian-dubbed “king and queen of content ... plan to reinvent AOL through quality journalism.” You can read the piece here.

Charlie Sheen Cans Literary Agent. Or Not?

Over the past few months, there has been plenty of Charlie Sheen madness on which to report. We’ve resisted all of it with very little effort. Yesterday, however, Digital Spy said that the former Two and a Half Men star reportedly fired his literary agent, Peter McGuigan, “after being disappointed by the money offered to pen an autobiography.”

Earlier this month, Sheen used Twitter to announce his intention to write the book. At that time, Digital Spy said:
“The title of my book has finally been delivered thru vast and extensive Lunar channels (sic),” he wrote.

“Apocalypse Me. Warlock Latin for WINNING.”
Late on March 24th, however, ABC reported that aspects of the agent-firing story may have been overstated. (With Charlie Sheen involved? How could that even happen?) They also said that Sheen “has boasted he could get $10 million for a book.”

Stories of Sheen’s shenanigans with books and agents, however, pale in comparison to just about every other aspect of his life right now. The latest flood of rumors has been around who might replace him as Charlie Harper on Two and a Half Men. Jeremy Piven, John Stamos and Rob Lowe are three of the names that have been talked about as possible replacements.


Hocking Inks Multi-Million Dollar Deal: A “Risk” Worth Taking

In a world gone mad, a bestselling author walks away from a half-million dollar publishing deal in order to sell his own books electronically. The very next, another bestselling author signs a multi-publishing deal so she doesn’t have to. The common denominator here is e-books, how they fit and what to do about them.

Amanada Hocking is a 26-year-old Minnesota-based writer who has sold more than a million copies of her self-published books in less than a year. In a posting on her blog yesterday, Hocking announced she had a four-book deal with St. Martin’s Press for a brand new young adult paranormal romance series. According to Hocking, SMP may be debuting the Watersong Series fall 2012.

For Hocking, taking the “risk” to publish with St. Martin’s is worth the possible loss of income because, as she said, “it’s a calculated risk, and if it works out, the payoff could be enormous. But I’m making enough money on my other books -- and I will continue to make enough on my self-published books -- that I can afford to take this risk.”

Which is a perspective that could make the heads of many traditionally published authors just spin. Those same spinning-headed authors would completely understand something Hocking blogged about a few days ago when her deal with SMP was still just a strong possibility. “I’m [a] writer. I want to be a writer. I do not want to spend 40 hours a week handling emails, formatting covers, finding editors, etc. Right now, being me is a full time corporation.”

The more things change, right? But everything stays the same.


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Steal My Thunder, but the E-Book Writing is on the Wall

I spent last weekend and Monday in heavy geek mode. I had my head down, formatting my financial thriller, Mad Money, to e-book format and preparing my personal web site and my own online world -- Twitter, Facebook, et al -- for the arrival of my carefully birthed electronic baby.

While I was so deeply occupied, I missed a story I would normally have covered. One that was either due to add to Mad Money’s thunder or detract from it. Or maybe what it really does -- for me -- is justifies all the work I’ve lavished on this project: maybe the course I’m setting is the right one. Maybe I’m not actually insane.

While I was coming to conclusions and deciding between page breaks or no page breaks and if the body text of my novel should be rag-rag or justified, bestselling authors Barry Eisler (bekow right) and JA Konrath (below left) were coming to agreement: reaffirming in public things both had clearly decided on their own.

Eisler, whose star has been rising, has recently walked away from a half million dollar publishing deal with St. Martin’s Press in favor of taking the advice of his 11-year-old daughter and going it on his own. Eisler, best known as the creator of the John Rain series, and Konrath, who has made a name for himself beating bushes and turning over rocks that weren’t even previously there, spent part of their weekend discussing the future of the book. They did it, appropriately enough, in public, in a Google docs conversation now available on both of their blogs. It’s a 13,000 word conversation that includes, as Eisler says, “the history and mechanics of the publishing industry as it exists today, analyzes the way the digital revolution reflects recent events in Egypt and the Maghreb, and considers a completely inappropriate YouTube video featuring a randy monkey and an unlucky frog. It clocks in at 13,000 words, and reveals some pretty startling things.”

In those 13,000 words they closely examine a topic that both are clearly passionate about: books and publishing. Some of what they say truly is new and startling. But some of it states what many of us are already feeling in our hearts. Here’s a snippet:
Eisler: Apple sold 15 million iPads in 2010, and the iPad2 just went on sale. And Amazon sold eight million Kindle books in 2010--more digital books, in fact, than paperbacks. Meanwhile, Borders is shuttering 224 stores. So I think it’s safe to say the trends I just mentioned are continuing. And the trends reinforce each other: the Borders in your neighborhood closes, so you try a low-priced digital reader, and you love the lower cost of digital books, the immediate delivery, the adjustable font, etc... and you never go back to paper. The reverse isn’t happening: people aren’t leaving digital for paper. There’s a ratchet effect in favor of digital.

Konrath: In the history of technology, when people begin to embrace the new media tech, it winds up dominating the marketplace. CDs over vinyl and tapes, DVD over VHS. The Internet over newspapers. Even Priceline over travel agents--

Eisler: Yes! Sorry to interrupt, but this is something that interests me so much. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve heard saying, “But paper isn’t going to disappear.” That isn’t the point! If you ask the wrong question, the right answer to that question isn’t going to help you. So the question isn’t, “Will paper disappear?” Of course it won’t, but that’s not what matters. What matters is that paper is being marginalized. Did firearms eliminate the bow and arrow? No--some enthusiasts still hunt with a bow. Did the automobile eliminate the horse and buggy? No--I can still get a buggy ride around Central Park if I want.

Now, some new technologies really have completely displaced their forebears. For example, there’s no such thing as eight-track tape anymore. And yet some people still do listen to their music on vinyl, despite the advent of mp3 technology. The question, then, is what advantages does the previous technology retain over the new technology? If the answer is “none,” then the previous technology will become extinct, like eight-track. If the answer is “some,” then the question is, how big a market will the old technology continue to command based on those advantages?

Konrath: You’re talking about niche markets.

Eisler: Exactly.

Konrath: We’ve discussed this before. Paper won’t disappear, but that’s not the point. The point is, paper will become a niche while digital will become the norm.

Eisler: Agreed. Lots of people, and I’m one of them, love the way a book feels. I used to like the way books smelled, too, before publishers started using cheap paper. And you can see books on your shelf, etc... those are real advantages, but they’re only niche advantages. Think candles vs electric lights. There are still people making a living today selling candles, and that’s because there’s nothing like candlelight--but what matters is that the advent of the electric light changed the candle business into a niche. Originally, candlemakers were in the lighting business; today, they’re in the candlelight business. The latter is tiny by comparison to the former. Similarly, today publishers are in the book business; tomorrow, they’ll be in the paper book business. The difference is the difference between a mass market and a niche.

Konrath: I also love print books. I have 5000 of them. But print is just a delivery system. It gets a story from the writer to the reader. For centuries, publishers controlled this system, because they did the printing, and they were plugged into distribution. But with retailers like Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords, the story can get to the reader in a faster, cheaper way.
You can read the full conversation in several ways including Eisler’s blog, Konrath’s blog and by downloading it for free on Smashwords or at low cost on Amazon.

Meanwhile, my own adventure with e-books -- just begun -- will continue. How can it not with winds like these fanning the flames?


Monday, March 21, 2011

Biography: An Improvised Life: A Memoir by Alan Arkin

While Alan Arkin’s An Improvised Life (Da Capo) is disguised as a memoir, it’s really something more than that; though some would say less.

While some personal details are included, An Improvised Life is no one’s idea of the tell-all biography readers seem to hunger for. It’s more like a journeyman’s thoughtful look back at a long and distinguished career. More than anything, An Improvised Life brings us not Arkin the thrice-married father of three. Rather it is a working actor’s contemplation on a vocation that can be consuming, both personally and professionally.

Alan Wolf Arkin was born on March 26th 1934 in New York City. Arkin says he knew he was going to be an actor from early childhood:
At five, acting was already a fever in my blood, and somehow I knew, even then, that the decision was made and there would be no turning back …. Every film I saw, every play, every piece of music fed an unquenchable need to turn myself into something other than what I was.
Arkin addresses his childish passion with the budding craftsman’s eye and heart:
From my earliest memory I had the strong sense that every character trait, every emotional condition possessed by the personalities I saw on screen, was accessible to me.
Fans and admirers of the Academy Award-winning star will enjoy An Improvised Life for the insight to be gained from this personal visit with an actor who proves to be quite deft with a pen. Those who share Arkin’s interest in the acting life will find a great deal to like here, as well.

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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Literary Rumble: Austen vs. Brontë

A postscript to our story about the newest film version of Jane Eyre: the Washington Post suggests that one of the factors for the success of one or the other -- Austen or Brontë -- during certain periods might be economic:
Some analysts have wondered if the Brontes are built for economic downturn — that difficult times draw us to difficult stories. The Bronte heroes find happiness, but not without losing a hand or their eyesight, or having their manor burned down. It’s a bruised happiness, one that might appeal to the foreclosed modern viewer.

The new version of “Jane Eyre” hits most of the pleasure centers required of any good “Jane” adaptation. It has the horrible Red Room, the “left rib” speech, the muddy moors. It also handles gracefully the last third of the book, in which Jane lives with a minister and his sisters — which other versions have either ignored or totally mucked up.
The same piece insists that there’s an additional contender for this rumble: one that’s overdue for another adaptation: George Eliot’s “study of provincial life” Middlemarch. That’s a fight I’d go see.

The Washington Post piece is here. Our article about the new Fukunaga version of Jane Eyre is here.

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New Jane Eyre Film No Mash-Up

Charlotte Brontë’s best-known work, the moody, broody Jane Eyre, is no stranger to the screen. In fact, that may actually be an understatement. A quick glance at IMDB shows over 20 film projects of that name, and never mind entries that might be “based on” or “inspired by.”

With that in mind, the news that yet another film based on Brontë’s perennial favorite has opened is hardly earth-shattering.

All of that said, this latest film by indie sensation, 33-year-old Cary Fukunaga (Victoria para Chino, Sin hombre) looks to be a worthwhile entry into the ever-growing catalog of Eyres.

At a glance, one of the interesting aspects of this Jane Eyre is the rising sensation aspect of many of the major players. Fukunaga, of course, is a relative newcomer, and while insiders are watching this first major feature with interest, few beyond a select clique have even heard his name.

Moira Buffini, who wrote the screenplay, has likewise done some interesting work, but not a lot of it, with a UK romantic comedy called Tamara Drewe from last year the only recent highlight.

Even the principal stars, Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska, are relative newcomers. Fassbender will be most familiar to viewers from 2009’s Inglourious Basterds (though get used to his mug: you’re going to be seeing a lot more of him over the next year). And while Wasikowska is very young and relatively new, filmgoers saw her in two Oscar-nominated films from last year: the Australian actress was the title character in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland and the likable girl-child in The Kids Are All Right.

Interestingly this new Jane Eyre, which opened in the U.S. on Friday, is moving many reviewers to purple prose. Here, for instance, SFGate:
In a similar way, this latest adaptation of the Charlotte Brontë novel is careful, respectful and even enjoyable, and yet dry, singularly humorless and played without the lavishness of spirit that makes sense of Gothic melodrama. The essence of the Gothic, after all, is in its suggestion of the nightmare, the primitive and the Id, and of pent-up, bottled-up sexuality. These are hinted at in architecture but usually expressed more fully and dramatically by the sky and the elements.
And this, from News in Film:
This is a restrained and mostly quiet film adaptation, but director Cary Fukunaga doesn’t shy away from the book’s grimmer aspects. He explicitly depicts the deplorable treatment of Eyre through her childhood and boarding school days. Later in the film, suspense is maximized during several eerie candlelit sequences featuring Eyre investigating the strange rumblings. There are even a couple of effective and unexpected jump scares.
Bottom line, I think, after reading the reviews: Brontë-enthusiasts will not want to take any of these as read: go see the film for yourself. If nothing else, Fukunaga’s Jane Eyre seems like a worthwhile addition to a huge catalog.


Thursday, March 17, 2011

AAP Says E-Books Up, Mass Market Way, Way, Way Down

The good news is we’re not reading less. The sort of confusing news is, we’re reading differently. Only the fullness of time will show what all of this will mean to traditionally focused book retailers.

According to a report released today by the Association of American Publishers, e-books and downloadable audio books continue to show incredible growth. And it’s a good thing too, because the numbers coming back on print sales would be enough to make most publishers cry into their green beer.

According to AAP, figures for January 2011 show an increase in e-book sales of 115.8 per cent over the same period last year. From $32.4 Million, AAP reports, to $69.9 million.

Downloadable audio books, meanwhile, rose by 8.8 percent over January 2010: from $6.0 million to $6.5 million. Not as impressive a growth factor, for sure, but certainly in the right direction.

Sales across all platforms showed a slight drop of -1.9 percent: from $805.7 million from last year’s $821.5 million.

And while there was actually an increase in the sales of professional and scholarly books, in the mainstream print categories, the news was all bad with adult hardcover down 11.3 percent, adult paperback down 19.7 per cent and adult mass market down 30.9 per cent.

You can read the complete report here.


Shamrock Prose

Those still in need of their fix of the Irish on this St. Patrick’s day might want to head over to former-January Magazine contributor David Abrams’ The Quivering Pen for a big ol’ hit of Frank McCourt. Abrams writes:
It might be a bit obvious for a book blog to highlight the late great Frank McCourt on St. Patrick's Day, but the fact of the matter is, the Pulitzer-Prize-winning author wrote one of the best accounts of Irish life I've ever read. Nuala O'Faolain's Are You Somebody? The Accidental Memoirs of a Dublin Woman is also a good book to read over a pint of stout and a slice of soda bread, but Angela's Ashes has it beat for a singular, unforgettable reading experience.

Last night, I was waffling on whether or not to post a pair of decade-old reviews of Angela's Ashes and 'Tis when I got a phone call from my wife from the Chicago airport. On the flight out of Montana, she'd sat next to a chatty older gentlemen named Rick who said he was a devout reader. The book he pulled out of his carry-on bag, saying it was "an incredibly well-written memoir"? Angela's Ashes, of course. That sealed the deal for me.
While we wouldn’t necessarily disagree with Abrams, we would also suggest Roddy Doyle (Paddy Clark Ha Ha Ha, A Star Called Henry) for a hit of beautifully penned Ireland as it was in the bad ol’ days.

Abrams worthwhile musings on the work of Frank McCourt are here.

The Luck of the (NYC-based) Irish

If you were in New York City and environs today and someone handed you a book, we hope you remembered to say Go raibh maith agate. (To which the giver might have replied, “You’re welcome.”) The Irish Arts Center solves the mystery:
In partnership with Speaker Christine Quinn and the New York City Council, Irish Arts Center will celebrate the inaugural Irish Arts Center Book Day on St. Patrick’s Day 2011! Keep an eye out for Book Day volunteers handing out books by Irish and Irish American authors, free, at subway stops and transportation hubs across all five boroughs, and be in the know on Book Day locations during the day by following our up-to-the-minute Twitter and Facebook updates. Books will be handed out starting at 6:00 am until we run out!
Sadly, the book supplies ran out around 3:00 pm local time, but the city is the richer for it.

To which we say: Tá leabhar agat.

Matthew McConaughey and a Car

With The Lincoln Lawyer, the film based on Michael Connelly’s award-winning 2005 novel of the same name, opening at a big screen near you tomorrow, reviews are appearing from various sources. Not the least of these is the one over at our sister publication, The Rap Sheet, where discussion of work of Michael Connelly in its various forms is nothing new.

Today Rap Sheet contributor Brandon M. Leonard weighs in on the film version of Connelly’s book. Though there are places where he spots weakness in the movie, overall he likes it well enough to recommend a few hours in the dark:
Ladies and gentlemen, Eddie lives.

After years spent in the B-movie wilderness, Michael Paré, the star of Eddie and the Cruisers (1983) makes a triumphant return as Detective Kurlen in The Lincoln Lawyer, the big-screen adaptation of Michael Connelly’s 2005 Edgar-nominated novel, scheduled for release tomorrow. While he’s no longer the James Dean-throwback that he once was, he’s not a bloated monstrosity à la Mickey Rourke either, and he brings a gruff effectiveness to his role. One of the many pleasant surprises in this new film was seeing Paré use the same low-key, tough-guy charisma on Ryan Phillippe and Matthew McConaughey that he once used to face Willem Dafoe in 1984’s Streets of Fire (also known as the best movie ever made--take that, The Rules of the Game!).

”Pleasant surprise” is an excellent way to describe The Lincoln Lawyer, starring McConaughey as Connelly’s series criminal defense attorney, Michael “Mick” Haller (changed from “Mickey” in the original novel). After an excellent opening credits sequence by Jeff McEvoy, set to Bobby “Blue” Bland’s soul classic, “Ain’t No Love (In the Heart of the City),” the film wastes little time throwing us into the life of Mickey Haller and the case that will fuel the plot. While the original novel takes a few chapters to establish Haller and his world, in the movie it’s developed alongside the case of Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillipe), a rich young man accused of attempting to murder a prostitute. This new balance might give fans of the novel whiplash, but screenwriter John Romano balances plot and character with a comfortable ease.
The piece in its entirety includes much insight and many asides and it’s here.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Excerpt: Tales from the Yoga Studio: A Novel by Rain Mitchell

Today in January Magazine, an excerpt of Tales from the Yoga Studio: A Novel by Rain Mitchell:
It's at moments like this -- when she's put the class through their paces and has them settled back onto their mats in a state of collective peace, contentment, and deep relaxation, when their bodies are glistening with a light sheen of sweat, when the afternoon sun is glinting off the end of the Silver Lake Reservoir, which she can see through the wall of windows she and Alan had installed on the southern side of the studio, when all seems temporarily right with the world -- that Lee starts craving a cigarette.

"Inhale through your nose into whatever traces of tension you're still holding on to, and sigh it all out through your mouth," she says. "Let it go."

The craving is just a ghost from the past that visits her from time to time, drops in from the years of misguided study and too much stress at Columbia University Medical Center, when, like a quarter of the students, she would rush out to 165th Street from a lecture on emphysema, abnormal cell growth, or heart disease, light up, and huddle against the buildings in the gray dampness of those New York afternoons.
See the full excerpt of Rain Mitchell’s Tales from the Yoga Studio here.

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Heavy Topics Pack Orange Prize Longlist

The longlist for the 2011 Orange Prize for Fiction is both topic and debut author heavy: an unexpected outcome that might have UK bookmakers shaking their heads. From the Guardian:
Debut novelists will make up nearly half of the Orange prize for fiction longlist, which this year tackles strikingly difficult subjects: incest, sadistic cruelty, polygamy, child bereavement, hermaphroditism and mental illness. There is, though, also alligator wrestling in the 20-strong list, and Susanna Reid, the BBC Breakfast news presenter and judge for this year's prize, insisted there was much joy to be derived from the books.

"There are difficult subjects tackled with incredible sensitivity," she said, "but there are also unexpected moments of pleasure and joy and humour and intimacy. They're found in the least expected places. Even though some of the subjects are difficult, they are handled in such a way that makes the books extremely readable and unexpectedly pleasurable."

The list includes novels that have fared well in other prizes, including Emma Donoghue's Man Booker-shortlisted Room, which tells the story of a mother and son imprisoned in a room, Josef Fritzl-style; and Louise Doughty's Whatever You Love, which made the Costa novel shortlist.
The £30,000 Orange Prize was created to celebrate “excellence, originality and accessibility in women's writing throughout the world,” 16 years ago. The shortlist will be announced April 12th and the winner on June 8th.

Here is the longlist for the 2011 Orange Prize for Fiction.
  • Lyrics Alley by Leila Aboulela (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
  • Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch (Canongate)
  • Room by Emma Donoghue (Picador)
  • The Pleasure Seekers by Tishani Doshi (Bloomsbury)
  • Whatever You Love by Louise Doughty (Faber and Faber)
  • A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (Corsair)
  • The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna (Bloomsbury)
  • The London Train by Tessa Hadley (Jonathan Cape)
  • Grace Williams Says it Loud by Emma Henderson (Sceptre)
  • The Seas by Samantha Hunt (Corsair)
  • The Birth of Love by Joanna Kavenna (Faber and Faber)
  • Great House by Nicole Krauss (Viking)
  • The Road to Wanting by Wendy Law-Yone (Chatto & Windus)
  • The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
  • The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer (Viking)
  • Repeat it Today with Tears by Anne Peile (Serpent's Tail
  • Swamplandia! by Karen Russell (Chatto & Windus)
  • The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives by Lola Shoneyin
  • The Swimmer by Roma Tearne (Harper Press)
  • Annabel by Kathleen Winter (Jonathan Cape)


New Yesterday: Island Wineries of British Columbia edited by Gary Hynes

Check the wine book nearest your elbow for references to Canadian wines. You’ll probably be disappointed. While most wine guides include significant sections on Australia, Argentina and other wine-producing countries you might expect Canada to be on par with, Canada most often doesn’t rate even a sneeze when it comes to international calculations. If you do find a mention of Canada, it will likely be in reference to the wines produced in the Niagara region of Ontario or the Okanagan region of British Columbia. And though there are other regions producing some interesting vintages, when it comes to the winerati, they may as well not exist at all.

Knowing all of these things it was especially rewarding to come across Island Wineries of British Columbia (Touchwood), an interesting, well-produced and intelligent book that focuses on the the relatively new wine industry springing up on British Columbia’s “Big Island.”

Edited by Gary Hynes of Eat Magazine, Island Wineries of British Columbia takes a broader approach than the title would suggest. Though local wineries and their offerings and successful varietals are covered in some detail, the book also examines local microbreweries, meaderies and other related endeavors. Included, also, is a small but complete recipe section that highlights local seasonal offerings from select restaurants. (My favorite of these: the Lemon Thyme Baked Eggs with Wild Chanterelles on Toast from Sooke Harbour House.)

Those with an interest in the wines and foods of this region will definitely want to keep an eye out for Island Wineries of British Columbia. ◊

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


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

New Today: So Much Pretty by Cara Hoffman

Booklist would seem to have cemented interest in So Much Pretty (Simon & Schuster) when they described Cara Hoffman’s debut novel as a “mixture of The Lovely Bones and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.”

So Much Pretty is like neither of those books, except that it’s very good and very hard to put down, as both of those were, as well. If we’re forcing comparisons, I’d add in a third, just for good measure: Daniel Woodrell’s 2006 novel Winter’s Bone (yes, that Winter’s Bone) for the hardscrabble grit of Smalltown, USA. In this case we’re in upstate New York rather than the South, but you get the point: there is little glamor and a great deal of pain not far below the surface in Hoffman’s fictional town of Haeden.

Hoffman knows this beat. A former investigative reporter, in 2000 she received a New York State Foundation Art Fellowship for her writing on the aesthetics of violence and its impact on children.

Violence and children are pretty much the topics here, when a high school girl goes missing and a whole town might -- wittingly or unwittingly -- play a part in the concealment of the perpetrator. So Much Pretty looks searingly at the questions of justice and revenge. Many readers will find some of the answers shocking.◊

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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New in Paperback: Something Red by Jennifer Gilmore

Almost a year ago, we liked Jennifer Gilmore’s second novel, Something Red, quite a lot.

“Delicious, complex and unexpected,” wrote January Magazine editor, Linda L. Richards, in April of 2010. “Something Red is that impossible animal: a novel close to capable of being all things to everyone. A family saga with politics, espionage and a hit of romance. Yet the book is a well-plotted, engaging generational saga.”

New in paperback this month from Mariner Books, January’s praise is joined by the New York Times Book Review, O, Vanity Fair and others. “Gilmore can be hilariously eviscerating,” wrote The New Yorker. We’d agree with that, too.

January Magazine’s 2010 review of Something Red is here.


Salman Rushdie Heads to the Small Screen

Former fatwa-plagued author, one-time husband of a Food Network star and international literary icon. Those hats might be enough for a lot of people, but it seems that Salman Rushdie is ready for a new role.

Rushdie, author of The Satanic Verses and many other books, has been tapped to write and produce Next People for Showtime, “a fictional story which dissects the ‘radical pace of transformation in contemporary American life -- from politics and race to technology, science and sexuality’,” according to The Independent.
There was a time when the giants of literature sneered at the small screen. But now Sir Salman Rushdie is moving from books to the box after signing up to write his first television drama.
The Independent story is here. January Magazine’s 2002 interview with Rushdie is here.


Monday, March 14, 2011

Non-Fiction: Ugly Beauty: Helena Rubinstein, L’Oréal and the Blemished History of Looking Good by Ruth Brandon

British historian, biographer and novelist, Ruth Brandon, has been making a habit of writing very good books on art and culture-related topics. Both fiction and non-fiction. She has written seven novels, primarily detective novels, including 2008’s fabulously good Caravaggio’s Angel (Constable). Her largest mark, however, has been with thoughtful works of non-fiction: a dozen books in all on topics as widely varied as a biographic look at governesses through the ages, a consideration of how the car altered modern life and, released just last month, Ugly Beauty, the story of the modern beauty industry, through the lens of Helena Rubinstein and L’Oréal’s Eugéne Schueller.

Though Rubinstein and Schueller did not meet during their lifetimes, the story plays out beyond both of their deaths. In the late 1980s, L’Oréal bought what was left of Rubinstein’s company. The purchase led to the unearthing of a series of decades old scandals, including the fact that, while Rubinstein had been a jew, Schueller had not only been a Nazi sympathizer, but a collaborator. The scandals would have reverberations throughout French culture, threatening the reputation of even the French president. As Brandon writes:
It may seem odd -- certainly unexpected -- that a history of the beauty business should include an excursion into fascist politics. But cosmetics, unlike clothes, have always been a political hot potato. The stories of Helena Rubinstein and Eugéne Schueller show us why this has been so -- and continues to be so today.
With the sense of drama and timing that have made her novels so enjoyable, Brandon brings us not only the stories of Schueller and Rubinstein, but the hollow-hearted industry of beauty. At one point, Brandon writes, “What (Frued famously inquired) do women want? Madam Rachel could have told him: to be beautiful forever.”

It’s possible no one has ever looked at the cost of beauty in quite the same way Brandon does in Ugly Beauty. ◊

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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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Adaption: What Happens When All the Book-Books Are Gone

As Read an E-Book Week ends, journalist, columnist and editor Mireille Silcoff ponders the question: “What happens to lovers of ink when the e-book takes over for good?” From the National Post:
Every week, I read The New York Times Book Review and ever since they instituted those little grey-on-grey pie charts showing what percentage of bestsellers were bought as books and what percentage as e-books, I feel a drop in my belly which I interpret as my body’s physical reaction to the sight of the happy-tinted world as I know and love it being swallowed up by more darkly shaded forces that I do not welcome.
Silcoff’s vision gets not cheerier and is tainted by the fact that, for her, this is a road that’s been traveled before:
I think my issue in adaption is that I can’t get easily over what’s been forfeited. Take music. I was a pop-music journalist in the era when recorded sound still came in material form. I had hundreds of records and thousands of CDs and mixes from DJs that were like diamond-encrusted gold to me. I had friends who worked in places like record stores and at distributors and friends who did the things that serviced the stores and the distributors, and now all of that is gone. The consolation of convenience doesn’t, in my mind, in any way make up for the loss of a subculture, or an industry, not to mention many of my best and hottest years.
Silcoff’s piece is part personal lament, part cultural query and -- whether or not you agree with her ideas, this is writing worth reading, and it’s here.


Children’s Books: A Sword in Her Hand by Jean-Claude van Rijckeghem and Pat van Beirs

A Sword in Her Hand (Annick Press) is deliciously refreshing. No vampires or werewolves, and not a zombie in sight. In their place, political intrigue in 14th century Flanders, through the eyes of a strong-willed, wrong-born young woman.

Aimed for readers aged 12 and up, A Sword in Her Hand is sufficiently satisfying to please the most demanding reader. Well-paced and well-translated (by award-winning translator John Nieuwenhuizen) A Sword in Her Hand finds Marguerite growing up under the eye of her disapproving father, the Count of Flanders, who is perpetually disappointed in his daughter for not being the son he needs. So, in a way, Marguerite becomes the son he can never have: competing fiercely in the violently male world of medieval Flanders. She does so until her father once again intervenes: coming forward with unacceptable plans for his daughter’s future in order to further his own political ambitions.

A Sword in Her Hand will please all readers. Don’t just give this one to your young readers who appreciate historical fiction, but to any who have stated their enjoyment in a good book. This one has it all: romance, adventure, excitement. It’s a very special book.◊

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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Friday, March 11, 2011

Art & Culture: Power Dressing: First Ladies, Women Politicians & Fashion by Robb Young

If we forgot about the idea of power dressing for a while, we were reminded in 2008 when Sarah Palin erupted onto the American political scene so nattily turned out, voters were for a moment so swayed by the power of her fashion statements, they didn’t bother listening to the nonsense she was spewing. Fortunately for everyone, there was enough time between said eruption and the election that at least some of those doing the voting had gotten control of their senses. But, oh! Those smart skirts! Those glasses! Will the culture ever be the same?

Palin gets some play in Power Dressing (Merrell), but not too much. We’re shown a couple of pre-presidential race makeover photos and then a quintet of images you likely remember. But author fashion journalist Robb Young brings us insights we couldn’t have imagined:
Where her stylist excelled was in the subtle matching of each garment’s finer points to the newly finessed Palin image, as with an oyster Valentino jacket that had its gold buttons removed and its sleeves altered to three-quarter length, leaving a streamlined skeleton of luxurious shantung silk …. Her stylist’s on-key alterations helped to offer Middle America the vision it wanted to see, of someone who had already arrived -- instead of the political arriviste that Palin really was.
Young’s comments on Palin are typical of the clarity he brings to the entire book. Power Dressing is not a just about fashion, nor is it just about culture. It is both of those things, and so much more, looking closely at the text and sub-text shared by the public wardrobe of all of the first ladies, queens, prime ministers and women politicians we see in the news every day. In addition, Young brings us real context in the form of a significant chapter on power dressing throughout history.

In her foreword to Power Dressing, Pamela Golbin tells us that fashion “is a language -- not an oral one, of course, but a highly sophisticated and structured visual language that allows for a personal form of expression.”

Power Dressing
celebrates and illustrates this idea through a lens of international power. It’s a fascinating book. ◊

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

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Authors on Self-Publishing E-Books

The stories coming out of the trenches right now are incredible. Success stories from authors who turned flagging or nonexistent careers around, taking matters into their own hands to instant success and wheelbarrows of money. While anyone who has been around publishing -- or the planet -- for a while will greet these stories with some healthy skepticism, if there are e-book failure stories floating around out there, we have yet to hear them. In the meantime, though, the success stories keep pouring in.

The Next Web recently ran a piece called “The Economics of Self-Publishing an Ebook.” While that doesn’t precisely describe the content of the article, it’s hard not to be blown away by some of the numbers they toss around.
A paranormal and erotic romance author named Tina Folsom had tried for years to land a literary agent and traditional publisher to no avail. Almost on a whim she decided early last year to begin uploading some of her novels to various ebook platforms. Sales, at first, were slow — perhaps only a few hundred a month. But then suddenly in October she sold over a thousand titles. In December it jumped up to 11,000, and in January she sold 27,000 ebooks (February, a shorter month, clocked in around 22,000).
Folsom, The Next Web reports, has quit her day job and farms out the parts of e-book creation that require elbow grease in order to concentrate on writing her novels.

Last weekend, the Vancouver Province newspaper ran a piece that also focused on e-books from the author’s perspective. The title itself was enough to bring writers running. “The book is dead -- long live the ebook: Writers are self-publishing their way to fame and fortune as e-readers take over.”

Author and journalist Peter Darbyshire opted to report his story through the lens of someone who has been taking some heat about self-publishing his latest book electronically on the heels of a traditionally published book.
But, as usual, the bad news for some is good news for others. While publishers and bookstores are hurting, many writers are doing better than ever thanks to ebooks. In fact, some are doing so well they've walked away from careers with publishing houses to go it alone on the Kindle, iBookstore, Kobo and the other e-services that are launching almost daily.
In the midst of this flurry of authors getting busy on their own time, at the annual meeting of the Association of American Publishers, Barnes & Noble chairman Len Riggio cheerfully urged publishers to prepare for “transformational growth.” From Publishers Weekly:
He said it was wrong to view bookselling and publishing as a “zero sum game” in which the only way to grow is to grab market share, with a limit to the number of books people will buy. Riggio said he sees the digital marketplace expanding at a greater pace than many analysts, and said the sale of e-books is adding new customers and is just not replacing bound books. With the addition of e-books, B&N’s long tail is getting even longer, Riggio said. He noted that during the peak two-week holiday period not only did digital sales soar but comp sales of print books rose as well.

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Early Super Agent, Owen Laster, Dead at 72

Though he at one time represented Judy Blume, James Michener and Gore Vidal, late in life, Owen Laster said he was less enchanted with the publishing industry than he had been early in his career. From The Huffington Post:
After stepping down from William Morris, where he had served as head of worldwide literary operations, Laster said he had become less “enamored” with the business because profit had become more important than quality, even if he was among the enriched.

“The dollars have changed -- I retired a much wealthier man than I would have under the old system,” he said in an interview with The Editorial Department, an industry consultant firm. “James Michener, when I became his agent was doing $600,000, $700,000 a year. Now it would be more like $10 million. I have to say, I went with it, I benefited from it, my big authors were huge, the hits were megabits.”
Laster died at home in Manhattan after a brief illness.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Unpublished Kinsella Novel Wins Colophon Prize

The thing that will make fans of Shoeless Joe author W.P. Kinsella happiest about his win of the Colophon Prize is that what it really means is that a new book from the well-loved author is on the horizon. Kinsella’s first in 13 years. Kinsella is best known for his baseball fiction, which includes Thrill of the Grass, The Dixon Cornbelt League, Iowa Baseball Confederacy, If Wishes Were Horses, Magic Time, and the award-winning Shoeless Joe, which became the much-loved movie, Field of Dreams.

The Colophon Prize is organized and awarded by Winnipeg publisher Enfield & Wizenty, who said there was a significant increase in the number of manuscripts submitted for consideration this year, the second in which the Colophon has been offered. The Colophon offers a $5,000 advance for the best novel or story collection that combines literary and commercial appeal.

The winning entry, Kinsella’s Butterfly Winter is “an extraordinary and entertaining blend of baseball yarn, magic realism, and political satire, from a master storyteller,” according to Maurice Mierau, Enfield & Wizenty’s editor. The book tells the story of Julio and Esteban Pimental, twins whose divine destiny for baseball includes games of catch in the womb. In his aging years the Wizard, a mysterious figure who travels by hot air balloon and controls events behind the scenes, tells the story of the twins and their family to a skeptical journalist.

Butterfly Winter will be published this coming fall.


Jordan Fenn to Join McClelland & Stewart

With the Canadian publishing industry still in an uproar at the loss of one of the country’s largest book distributors, H.B. Fenn, it was a surprise to learn that the Fenn family is in the news again.

Jordon Fenn, son of H.B. Fenn founder Harold Fenn and former publisher of the Fenn-owned Key Porter Books, has announced that both he and the hockey and sports-themed books he had been championing, will move to M&S. From Quill & Quire:
McClelland & Stewart announced today the major acquisition of Fenn Publishing, a hockey- and sports-themed imprint owned by the recently bankrupt H.B. Fenn and Company. As part of the deal, Jordan Fenn, the former publisher of Fenn Publishing, will join M&S as publisher of the newly created Fenn/McClelland & Stewart imprint.

M&S publisher and president Doug Pepper was not available for comment on Wednesday, but the deal appears to comprise backlist and titles already under contract with Fenn Publishing. According to a press release, “This imprint will publish the established and bestselling hockey book program Jordan Fenn is renowned for publishing with such great success.”
The Quill & Quire piece is here. January previously commented on the H.B. Fenn bankruptcy here.


Fiction: Tapestry of Love by Rosy Thornton

Disillusioned with her (arguably perfect) life, forty-something Catherine Parkstone swaps her life in England to move to a remote village in the Cévennes Mountains in France in order to start a business as a seamstress and maker of tapestries.

Though the title threatens to give some of the plot away, Catherine doesn’t find her life in the French countryside quite as idyllic as such a life might sound. For one thing, once she moves, it becomes her real world, not just a holiday, and Catherine finds herself dealing with French burecrats, snooty neighbors. And just as she finds herself in a budding relationship with one of her more interesting neighbors, Catherine’s sister turns up and pushes a fly into the ointment.

Tapestry of Love (Headline Review) is a sweet, uncomplicated book, beyond the complications necessary to provide just the right amount of frisson necessary to an interesting read. We’re months away from beach reads, but this would be a good book for that sort of endeavor. In her fourth novel, Rosy Thornton eases us into an easy, graceful journey of transition and change. A 21st century Aga saga. And we don’t mind one bit. ◊

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

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

The Meaning of Life? 42!

The wonderful Writer’s Almanac tells us that it was on this day in 1978 that the first episode of Douglas Adams’ seminal A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was broadcast on BBC radio. Says The Almanac:
It was science fiction comedy, from a writer named Douglas Adams, who was also a writer for the show Dr. Who. The Hitchhiker radio series became popular right away, and so it was turned into a British television series, a movie, and five books: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy; The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (1980); Life, The Universe and Everything (1982); So Long and Thanks for all the Fish (1984); and Mostly Harmless (1992).

The idea for the series came to Adams while he was lying in a field in Austria, drunk and considering the vastness of the cosmos. He imagined a roving reporter who was an alien assigned to write about an 'insignificant planet at the unfashionable end of the universe' -- Earth -- which is destroyed to make way for a hyperspace bypass. The story goes from there.
Sadly, Douglas Adams died of a heart attack much too young in 2001 (he was 49), but not before recreating that radio series as a “trilogy” of five books that sold over 15 million copies during his life.

Today is also International Women’s Day, and the birthday of author Jeffrey Eugenides (The Virgin Suicides, Middlesex).

SF/F: Crucified Dreams: Tales of Urban Horror edited by Joe R. Lansdale

Though Crucified Dreams (Tachyon) reaches beyond SF/F, the roots in that genre are strong enough for this book that this will be its necessary identification.

Edited by Joe R. Lansdale (Mucho Mojo, Bubba Ho-Tep), contributors to the anthology include Neal Barrett, Jr. (The Karma Corps, The Hereafter Gang); Octavia Butler (Kindred); Harlan Ellison; Charlie Huston (Caught Stealing); Stephen King; David Morrell (First Blood) and several others.

Some of these authors are, like King, strongly associated with horror fiction. Others, like Morrell, have strong thriller and crime fiction connections. For the most part, however, the authors represented here number among the very top SF authors writing today. Combine that with the mandate of being a book of “Tales of Urban Horror” and you’ve got a recipe for a collection of compelling short fiction, even if the writers don’t always stick tightly to their urban horror mandate.

If your tastes run towards darkness, Crucified Dreams is a staunchly worthwhile collection, with threads of noir, paranormal, fantasy and horror running through the 19 stories included here. As one might imagine, some of the stories are darker than others, but the bleakness is unrelenting, unsurprising, considering the calibre and reputations of the players here. ◊

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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Monday, March 07, 2011

Fiction: A Guided Tour Through the Museum of Communism by Slavenka Drakulić

Celebrated Croatian writer Slavenka Drakulić takes fiction to its very highest form with A Guided Tour Through the Museum of Communism (Penguin) a book that recalls Eastern European Communism through the perspective of several animals: a Czech mouse, a Yugoslavian parrot, a Polish cat, an East German mouse, a pig from Hungary and Albanian raven and a Romanian dog.

In a note to the reader, Drakulić cautions against taking her fiction here at face value:
From the point of view of person and events described, regardless of whether a story is narrated by a dog, a cat, or some other domestic, wild, or exotic animal, it all really happened.
Was Communism as described wicked? Absolutely. Are there parts of it to be mourned? Maybe. Perhaps the parts that were the dream of Communism, rather than its reality. That does seem to be part of the idea that emerges.

Despite the animal narrators, A Guided Tour Through the Museum of Communism is no one's idea of a romp. Drakulić takes searing looks at Communism and the price that it exacted on an important part of the world.

A Guided Tour Through the Museum of Communism is not as much fun as you might expect, but it is even more important.◊

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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Friday, March 04, 2011

Young Adult: Held by Edeet Ravel

There is a sense of desperation and emergency that fills every corner of Held (Annick Press) bestselling novelist Edeet Ravel’s novel of exploration of suspense and Stockholm Syndrome. Though Ravel’s language is strong and sometimes poetic, Held pushes this particular form to its very limits.

Seventeen-year-old Chloe and her best friend are spending the summer as part of a volunteer program in Greece. Greece is fantastic: everything the two girls had hoped it would be, and more. That is, right up until the time Chloe is kidnapped and confined in a warehouse.

Since the kidnapping takes place on page 20, it’s not giving anything away to tell you these things. The book is not about the kidnapping. Rather, it deals with the result of this act of emotional violence on young Chloe’s psyche as well as how such a thing can be dealt with and what, in a way, it can mean.

Ravel has been nominated for the Giller Prize (for 2005’s A Wall of Light) and the Governor General’s Award (for Ten Thousand Lovers in 2003) so the lyricism in Held comes as no surprise. The story here is simple; straight-forward. Ravel’s handling of her material is more complex. There are many issues at play in Held: some of them more apparent than others and Ravel handles all of it very well. ◊

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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Thursday, March 03, 2011

Cookbook: Bal’s Quick & Healthy Indian by Bal Arneson

Bal’s Quick & Healthy Indian (Whitecap Books) is not just another Indian cookbook. And though author Bal Arneson’s first cookbook, Everyday Indian, was given international attention, Arneson lives in Vancouver, where some really terrific Indian cookbooks have already been published. Arneson’s book, though, isn’t just that. Or maybe it’s more. Which, in a way is only to be expected.

Arneson hails from a tiny village in India. She came to North America when she was 20 -- 18 years ago -- leaving her family behind, but with her love of food and cooking intact. “I started using traditional Indian spices with main ingredients that were new to me,” Arneson writes in Bal’s Quick & Healthy Indian, “and my unique style was born -- fresh, seasonal, and healthy Indian food.”

The food she creates -- both in this new book and on her Food Network television show, Spice Goddess -- reflects all of these things. Absolutely traditional Indian reimaginings of foods you would be unlikely to find in India. Coriander Tuna with Broccolini. Spiced Sweet Potatoes Cooked with Split Red Lentils. Sweet and Sour Chickpeas. BBQ Chicken on Steamed Bok Choy served with Strawberry and Kiwi Salad. And the absolutely fantastic, super Indian and perfectly un-Indian Stir-Fried Sirloin with Figs and Spinach.

Like many of Arneson’s recipes, this last is incredibly simple and uncomplicated. A masala is created and cooked. Sirloin is added and seared. Figs are introduced to the mix. Spinach and rice are steamed (though not together) and then the whole thing is plated and served. And you’ve created a beautiful and nutritious meal that could be proudly served to guests in very little time.

Many of the recipes include some nutritional facts and -- most unusual in an Indian cookbook -- many of the dishes include wine pairing suggestions.

The title suggests it, and I certainly attest that it is true: if you like the idea of Indian-style and inspired food that truly is quick and healthy, you will not go wrong with Arneson’s new book. ◊

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


Primetime UK: A New Love Affair With the Book

Think the book as physical object is on its way out? Think again.

A bouquet of popular British television shows hold out a ray of hope for all of us who love our books to distraction. The Guardian books blog looks at the current crop of shows with either a focus on books or a strong book component:
What's been particularly interesting is how convincingly most of these shows have conveyed the thrills of the book as a physical object. The Beauty of Books has concentrated on those aspects of books which can't be replicated on ereaders. The camera lingered lovingly on rows of leather-bound gold-embossed volumes, while Richard Dormer waxed lyrical about the feel of the paper, the quality of the stitching and illustrations such as John Tenniel's surreal contributions to the original Alice in Wonderland or Penguin art director David Pelham's iconic cover design for A Clockwork Orange. In The Book Show and My Life In Books guests have responded to invitations to smell the artefacts with a swoon, as if they've been momentarily transplanted into Gatsby's own luscious rose garden.
The full piece is here.

Replicants Beware

Almost 30 years after its initial release, a sequel to the cult classic film Blade Runner may finally be on its way.

Released in 1982, the Harrison Ford vehicle was based on a 1968 novel by Philip K. Dick called Do Androids Dream of electric Sheep? Directed by Ridley Scott (Alien, Thelma and Louise), the film also starred Rutger Hauer, Sean Young and a touchingly bizarre Darryl Hannah.

Though the film did not do well at the box office when it was first released, Blade Runner has enjoyed a huge and growing following over the years, so interest in a sequel is not surprising. The only big surprise might be why it took so long. Today SFX breaks the story:
The production company behind The Book Of Eli, Alcon Entertainment (which is owned by Warners) has bought the rights to make sequels, prequels and other movies based on the characters and situations from 1982’s Blade Runner. The company does not have the rights to produce a remake, but provision for making Blade Runner-associated TV series is part of the deal (hang on, didn’t someone already do one called Total Recall 2070, which, despite the name, always felt more like a small screen Blade Runner)?


Beijing Literary Festival Gets Underway

The fifth annual Bookworm International Literary Festival gets underway in Beijing, China, tomorrow, running until March 18th. From the website:
Now in its fifth year, The Bookworm International Literary Festival is hosted across three of China’s most vibrant locales: the political heart of China and its erstwhile imperial seat, Beijing, the romantic canal-driven and one hundred-gardened Suzhou, and the cultural hub of Sichuan’s sultry capital Chengdu.

With China at a historic crossroads, experiencing unparalleled sustained change – looking to the future whilst keeping adrift of the present and without forgetting the past – the Festival provides an open centre for intellectual and creative exchange. We seek to showcase the modern voices of Chinese authors to the world and bring some of the world’s leading literary lights to China.
An impressive array of international authors are on hand for a full slate of panel discussions on literature, publishing and journalism; writing and publishing workshops; film screenings and talks as well as meet-the-author events.

Attending authors include Pallavi Aiyar, Bi Feiyu, Emma Donoghue, Dave Eggers, Michel Faber, Mabel Lee, Guillermo Martínez, David Sedaris, Xiong Liang and many others.

The Bookworm International Literary Festival website is here.