Tuesday, May 31, 2011

New in Paperback: The Passage by Justin Cronin

One of the novels we ended up talking a lot about last year was The Passage by Justin Cronin. This was the book that Entertainment Weekly described as “The Stand meets The Road,” a faintly weird comparison that, nonetheless, isn’t without some merit.

“OK, I’ll put it right out there,” January Magazine contributing editor, Tony Buchsbaum, wrote when the book came out in hardcover last June, “The Passage is certainly the best read of the summer -- and possibly the best read of the year.” This in a review that Buchsbaum followed up with an interview with author Cronin later in the year and a write up for our Best of 2010 feature later still.

“The best book of the year, in my view?” Buchsbaum wrote at year’s end, “Justin Cronin’s The Passage. This post-apocalyptic thriller, the first of a trilogy, is an electrifying drama that follows a group of survivors after a virus turns much of the nation’s population into ultra-violent bloodsuckers.”

In paperback, this fat novel will be much easier to lug to the beach. Die-hard fans (and a lot of them have sprouted up over the past year) will want to know that this paperback edition includes a taste of The Twelve, the next novel in the series, due out in 2012. Obviously, we can hardly wait.

Battle for Digital Dominance Heats Up

The numbers coming out of the book industry are staggering and tell the story. The Association of American publishers reports that, in the first part of this year, sales of electronic books increased by close to 160 per cent to $233.1 million. While sales of e-books were heating up, print book sales were tanking: diving 23.4 per cent over the same period in the previous year.

In an environment this clearly receptive to e-books, it’s no wonder both interest and investment in the future of the technology is heating up. If any of this needs confirmation, the news out of Book Expo America last week does just that. After all, with the book business eyes of the world focused on New York City, it proved to be a perfect time for both competition and speculation. As Kobo chief Michael Serbinis told Reuters, “Every second counts. This is absolutely a critical time in the market's development, some would call it a land grab.”

Reuters looks at some of the e-book players and their offerings here.


Monday, May 30, 2011

Fiction: Then Everything Changed by Jeff Greenfield

Today in January Magazine’s fiction section, Brendan M. Leonard reviews Then Everything Changed: Stunning Alternate Histories of American Politics: JFK, RFK, Carter, Ford, Reagan by Jeff Greenfield. Says Leonard:
Greenfield packs Then Everything Changed with some wonderfully fresh alternative realities. His gifts as a journalist and a student of American politics lend Then Everything Changed a real authenticity. Some of the scenes presented here, such as Robert Kennedy facing down protesters in Chicago’s Grant Park at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, are inspiring and memorable. Greenfield also peppers his tales with little winks and nudges. When writing about VP nominee O’Connor, for instance, the author has a Reagan aide remark, “It’s not as if she’s stuck for an answer when you ask her what she reads.” In another case, he has a young Newt Gingrich praising President Robert Kennedy’s domestic policies.
The full review is here.

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Literary Festival Meet-Up Ends Long-Standing Feud

A meeting partially engineered by Booker-winning author Ian McEwen (Saturday, On Chesil Beach) at the Hay Festival at Hay-on-Wye in Wales has ended VS Naipaul and Paul Theroux’s 15-year-old feud. From The Telegraph:
Mr Naipaul and Mr Theroux, the travel writer, first met in Uganda in 1966. Their friendship spanned three decades but came to an abrupt end after Mr Theroux discovered that one of his books, which he had inscribed and given as a present to Mr Naipaul, had been put on sale for $1,500. Mr Naipaul had apparently been angered by an exchange between Mr Theroux and his wife Nadira and broke off all relations with his former friend.

Deeply hurt, Mr Theroux wrote a memoir of their friendship, Sir Vidia’s Shadow, which portrayed the older writer as a brutal, unforgiving man who referred to Arabs as “Mr Woggy” and Africans as “bow-and-arrow men”.

Mr Naipaul claimed not to have read the book but took to damning Mr Theroux in interviews, saying they had barely known each other. He also dismissed his work as “tourist books for the lower classes”.
January Magazine’s 1999 review of Sir Vidia’s Shadow is here.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

New Next Week: Pacific Air by David Sears

Even though the book won’t be published until June 1st, today is a good day to look at Pacific Air (Da Capo) by former U.S. Navy officer and Vietnam veteran David Sears.

How Fearless Flyboys, Peerless Aircraft, and Fast Flattops Conquered the Skies in the War with Japan is Pacific Air’s subtitle but could just as easily be a quite accurate sell line because it describes the book so completely. This is not a fast, light look at an important slice of military history. Sears knows his stuff and is not shy about sharing it properly, with the sort of careful details that serious fans of militaria especially enjoy.

The Pacific theater during World War II saw a new generation of lethal aircraft. The F4F Wildcats, F6F Hellcats and TBF Avengers piloted by superbly trained US military aviators brought a new and deadly dimension to war. Pacific Air is the story of the engineers and aviators -- and their airborne steeds -- and how this not widely known chapter of military history played out over the Philippine Sea.


Friday, May 27, 2011

Inappropriate Thoughts About Fictional Characters

If you could hook up with a character from fiction, who would it be?

That’s what Nerve asked readers recently and it may not be surprising that some of the responses were surprising!

Books aren’t necessarily part of Nerve’s mandate, so some of the 15 fictional characters their readers said they wouldn’t mind taking for a roll in the hay included fictional characters from film and television. 30 Rock’s Jack Donaghy was near the top of the pile (and he seems to be pile-topping on just about every list made) as were Mystique from X-Men (not a surprise!) and Lewis Skolnik from Revenge of the Nerds. (Really?)

There were more surprises from fiction, though. The Fountainhead’s Dominique Francon inspired one reader’s lust and and another mentioned Terry Pratchett’s creation, Esmeralda Weatherwax. “She is tough, proud, smart, cynical, and like eighty-years old.” Maybe it’s just me, but that’s not a combination I would have figured would inspire lust. The inclusion of Batman and Holden Caufield, meanwhile, are interesting choices, but no surprise at all.

You can see Nerve’s fabulous 15 here. Meanwhile, what fictional character inspires your inappropriate thoughts? I’m guessing Twilight’s Edward Cullen. (Robert Pattinson, the actor who plays him, is pictured in character, above left. But, once again, I’m prepared to be surprised.)

Happy Birthday to the Continental Op

Dashiell Hammett (The Maltese Falcon, The Thin Man) was born on this day in 1894. From The Writer’s Almanac:
In 1915, he got a job as a detective for the famous Pinkerton Agency, and this experience provided fodder for his later novels. He enlisted in World War I, but contracted tuberculosis, and that -- combined with his distaste over the increasing Pinkerton involvement with strike-breaking -- effectively ended his gumshoe career. He tried writing, using his Pinkerton experiences as a source for stories, and published his first story in 1922. It was published in a society magazine, The Smart Set, but his stories were really better suited to pulp detective magazines, and that's where they found a home. They weren't intellectual brain-teasers in the "Sherlock Holmes" mold; they were gritty and unsentimental and cynical -- what came to be known as "hard-boiled." His first two novels, Red Harvest and The Dain Curse (both published in 1929), starred a character known only as the “Continental Op.”
In 2005, when The Maltese Falcon turned 75, January Magazine spent a lot of time with Hammett with a multi-part feature edited and executed by senior editor J. Kingston Pierce. “While he was often highly critical of his own writing,” Pierce wrote at the time, “Dashiell Hammett also came to recognize during his lifetime the unexpected impact of his labors. ‘I’ve been as bad an influence on American literature as anyone I can think of,’ he once remarked, undoubtedly in jest. Indeed, it’s hard to find people, at least in North America, who haven't been introduced to Hammett -- either by way of his novels or through the films made from his books and short stories.”

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Art & Culture: Art + NYC: A Complete Guide to New York City Art and Artists

With Book Expo America behind us for another year, what are the hordes of book industry types who aren’t based in New York City going to do to fill the time they have left in the Big Apple? Granted, there’s never any shortage of fun and interesting things to do in the city that never sleeps. However, if one of the things those out-of-towners want to do is get a primo art fix, Art + NYC: A Complete Guide to New York City Art and Artists (Museyon) is just the book to get them started.

Like other books in the Museyon line, Art + NYC is the full palette. It takes on its topic with two feet on the ground, and combines everything you need for a primer on the New York City art scene, and crams it elegantly into a book small enough to push into your purse or extra-roomy jacket pocket.

The book begins with a concise overview of art in the City, then briefly but complete looks at various movements and how they fit into the local scene. A sidebar introduces the major players of each movement. Next, the book offers profiles of nine celebrated New York artists: Mark Rothko, Robert Rauschenberg, Yoko Ono, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Donald Judd, Cindy Sherman and Jeff Koons.

The balance of the book -- its most significant portion -- is given over to detailed maps and listings of galleries in New York City, by area, including Queens, Brooklyn and a section called “Extended Travel” that takes you beyond the city and into the surrounding areas, including the Hamptons, Montauk and so on.

Art + NYC
is the bomb. Necessary for art-minded travelers and locals with a desire to immerse themselves in the art scene. The book also offers a great deal to art lovers everywhere who want to feel more plugged in to one of the most exciting and important art cities in the world. ◊

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


Book Expo America: Day Two

Day two of Book Expo America was a bit quieter than the first. The aisles weren’t as frantic -- though there’s always a sort of running of the bulls as people rush to get the galleys they crave -- and the discussions seemed a bit more... whispered. The Big Book I heard about was Wonderstruck, the new children’s illustrated novel by Brian Selznick, author of The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Scholastic was handing out galleys of the book, which vanished within fifteen minutes of the nine am opening (see running of the bulls, above). They also handed out commemorative totebags featuring some of the book’s amazing artwork.

The other book that made me tingle was a new Michael Ondaatje novel, The Cat’s Table (Knopf). It’s not due until fall, and there’s no dust jacket art available yet, but the book sounds amazing. Not surprising, from the author of The English Patient and Divisadero.

I leafed through the Grand Central catalog, which lists the books coming out this fall, and on virtually every other page is a book by James Patterson. It got to be a bit... much. Even one of the executives at the booth agreed. It feels as if Patterson has become a syndicated novelist, an industry all his own: all Patterson, all the time, kind of like when Seinfeld's NBC run ended and it appeared on every other channel, at any moment of the day. Of course, to celebrate one of Patterson’s many new books, A Christmas Wedding, Grand Central threw a party in the afternoon, complete with wedding cake.

Cake, in fact, was everywhere. Wiley’s Dummies series turned 20, and there were trays of large cupcakes. Yummy ones.

Celebrities were all over the place. Patterson, of couse, and Diane Keaton, Susan Orlean, Michael Moore, Rick Riordan, Charlaine Harris, Harlen Coben, and Guns N' Roses guitarist Duff McKagen, to name but a few.

The most interesting thing I discovered wasn’t a book, but a website for writers. Bookcountry.com is a new destination, a little project funded Penguin to help writers share some of their work with the public while it’s still in development. Book Country launched just a few weeks ago, and already there are more than 300 books available for reading and a few thousand readers registered. The authors aren’t known yet, but they might be soon. And there are some name-brand authors on the site, commenting on what they read. The deal is that you join for free and read three pieces of work by someone else. At that point, you’ve earned the right to post your own work -- and see what people have to say about it. You might find you’re on the right track... or the wrong one. Already, agents and editors are trolling for new books and new authors. It seems like a fun -- and potentially illuminating -- place for would-be authors.

Book Expo’s last day is today, but I won’t get there. I’m simply too exhausted. But in about a year, I’ll be at Book Expo again, prepping for a run with the bulls, racing to get the galleys everyone will be talking about. And you’ll hear all about it.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Book Expo America: Day One

It: the world’s biggest publishing trade show. Attending: hundreds of publishers, from one-man tiny to conglomerate massive. In the booths: advance copies of books, by the thousand, all for the collecting. Me: a kid in a candy store.

This year’s Book Expo America -- BEA for those in the industry -- started off with a bang. Thousands of people connected to the book business lined up and jammed into the Jacob Javits Center in New York, hungry for books and canvas tote bags and assorted gimmes. Usually, there’s one book everyone’s talking about. Last year, it was The Passage. This year, there isn’t one -- not yet. But there are two days to go, so anything could happen.

The one book that was pushed to me was When She Woke, a novel by Hillary Jordan that’s coming soon from Algonquin Books. It sure looks great. The matte-finish cover is stunning, the first sentences appear on the front and a blood red profile appears on the back. It looks rich, and it looks like a great read. In other news, the new Jeff Kinney book -- the 6th Wimpy Kid title -- is due this fall. Thus, the six-foot translucent snowglobe at the Abrams booth shown above left.

As for star sightings, I spotted Margaret Atwood, David Baldacci and Florence Henderson, who looks perfectly perky, as if Carol Brady herself had returned from the land of cancelled sitcom moms.

The aisles -- nearly 50, and all of them very long -- were choked with attendees with shoulders aching from carrying their spoils. The mood seemed friendly and warm, like the weather. As always, the autographing aisles were packed, and so was the food court at lunchtime. In a way, that tells the whole story. Celebs... books... bags... and food.

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E-Books in the Library

Electronic Books are adding a new wrinkle to the library business and libraries are having a tough time keeping up, says the Vancouver Sun’s Janet Steffenhagen:
The book-lending business at public libraries used to be a simple affair: Buy books, catalogue them, loan them out and keep them in good repair. But that’s all changing with the soaring popularity of ebooks.
According to Steffenhagen, libraries are increasingly offering e-books and, in some cases, making e-readers available to their patrons. Despite confusion from the book industry and roadblocks from some publishers, the demand for e-books from library patrons is growing rapidly.
About 1,800 cardholders with the Vancouver Public Library (VPL) now borrow ebooks, and last month they registered a total of 3,000 such checkouts, said Christina de Castell, the VPL’s manager of online information and news. While that’s only a tiny fraction of the library’s print circulation, it’s been growing by about 20 per cent each month this year.
Steffenhagen looks at how one region is dealing with the challenges here.

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New Today: Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World by Lisa Bloom

In Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World (Vanguard), Lisa Bloom, lawyer, author, famous daughter (to women’s rights attorney, Gloria Allred) and frequent television talking head, is trying to rekindle girl power. Think is a smart book that calls on women and girls to assess what it means to be part of a culture that often rewards beauty over brains.
Twenty-five percent of young American women would rather win America’s Next Top Model than the Nobel Peace Prize.

Twenty-Three percent would rather lose their ability to read than their figures.
Bloom tells us that, while women are now outperforming men at almost every educational and professional level, some time in the last decade “our brains became devalued.”

This, Bloom tells us, is unacceptable, not only for our own happiness, but for our culture:
Bottom line: your critical thinking skills are desperately needed right now for you own good as well as for the sake of your community, your country, and your planet.

That nagging like voice? It’s your brain, and it’s telling you that it wants back in the game.
You go!


SF/F: Mind Storm by K.M. Ruiz

Truth be told, I liked Mind Storm (Thomas Dunne) a lot better than I thought I would. Even in a market that seems heavily saturated with post-Apocalyptic tales (is it just where we are as a culture that we’re flocking there?) Mind Storm stands out and even above.

Two Hundred and Fifty years from now, Threnody Corwin is a soldier-slave to the human government. Threnody is of the human class known as psion, the result of nuclear fallout. Like all of her kind, she has special psi skills. Hers is the ability to channel electricity.

Mind Storm is the first of the Strykers Syndicate novels that set genetically clean humans against those, like Threnody, whose DNA has been damaged by nuclear activity. At present, only two novels are forecast for the series.

There is a strong cyberpunk vibe here that puts one in mind of Blade Runner or Gattica. Though Ruiz’s prose is compelling, there’s something intensely grotty about it in a way that will not appeal to all readers. Even so, Ruiz’s voice is confident -- even muscular -- though there are also passages of real beauty.

If occasionally gruesome tales from the Apocalypse appeal to you, make sure you put Mind Storm near the top of your list. ◊

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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Fiction: Soldier of the Horse by Robert W. Mackay

Most historians agree, the First Great War was one of the most horrible conflicts in history, coming as it did at a time when new technologies -- in the forms of modern arms and chemical warfare -- were being introduced to battlefields still entrenched in the tradition of hand-to-hand combat. Some of the stories and art that came out of World War I were truly awful and thousands of young men suffered unthinkably.

In his first novel, Soldier of the Horse (Touchwood), former lawyer and navyman Robert W. Mackay explores the struggles on the Western Front through the eyes of Tom Macrae, a young Canadian soldier intent on just keeping his feet under him in France during the War.

In 1914 20-year-old Tom is studying law in Winnipeg when he is caught in a scandal that leaves him in extreme dilemma. In the end, he must choose between incarceration -- and, with it, professional ruin -- or service to his country in France. Tom chooses France.

Serving with Lord Strathcona’s Horse in the Canadian Cavalry Brigade, Tom discovers that war really is hell. Before long he knows two things: if he gets out of this alive, it’ll be due to luck and the cooperation and support of his constant companion; his horse, Toby.
In the instant before he slept, an image of Toby came to mind. His horse had been nervous and unsettled in the morning, just before Tom had spotted the enemy. If they had been a hundred yards closer to the Germans before seeing them, he, Simpson, and René would be bloating corpses, bled out on the Picardy grass. Next time he’d pay more attention to what Toby had to say.
Soldier of the Horse is an engaging first novel. What new writer MacKay lacks in finesse he makes up for with interesting material, a strong feeling for his story and some really terrific research. ◊

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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Monday, May 23, 2011

Pierce’s Picks

Regular readers know that, every week, January Magazine features a crime fiction pick from Rap Sheet editor and January senior editor J. Kingston Pierce. Pierce’s Pick this week will be of interest to an even wider than usual audience as it highlights Kiss Her Goodbye by Max Allan Collins and the late Mickey Spillane.

The novel, lovingly completed by Collins and featuring Spillane’s best-known characters, will especially appeal to readers who loved Spillane’s inimitable voice.

Collins, an acclaimed and celebrated author in his own right, manages the very finest of homage: in Kiss Her Goodbye, you feel like you’re once again reading the work of an old friend, one you feared you wouldn’t encounter again.

“Working from an unfinished novel by the late Spillane,” Kirkus said, “Collins provides the franchise’s trademark winking salacity, self-congratulatory vigilantism and sadistic violence, topped off with a climax that combines the final scenes of two of Mike’s most celebrated cases.”

In his Pick, Pierce lets us know what’s going on. “Returning to Manhattan from Florida in the 1970s, P.I. Mike Hammer finds his world out of joint. His partner, Velda Sterling, has disappeared and his old police mentor has supposedly committed suicide. But Hammer, doubting the suicide explanation, opens up a case that leads to drug racketeers and a stock of Nazi diamonds.”

This is crime fiction from an era most of us would not want to go back to, but for a short visit? Bring it on!

And while we’re on the topic of The Rap Sheet, yesterday Pierce pointed out to readers that it has been five years since that worthy blog was spun off on its own. Says Pierce:
It hardly seems possible, but today marks five years since The Rap Sheet was launched as a blog separate from its great mother ship, January Magazine. Little did I know then what would come of this project. I didn’t ever expect it to last as long as it has, or to gain the popularity it now enjoys. But I’ve been pleased by it all. And I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the many contributors who have added their voices to The Rap Sheet since 2006.
Congratulations to us and to The Rap Sheet! It’s been a fantastic journey for all of us.

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Losing the Library: A Cultural Tragedy

In the current cultural and financial climate, the library as part of our community seems under constant attack. In The New York Review of Books, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Charles Simic, offers some stirring thoughts on libraries and their importance, while contemplating the impact of their potential loss on a society in peril:
All across the United States, large and small cities are closing public libraries or curtailing their hours of operations. Detroit, I read a few days ago, may close all of its branches and Denver half of its own: decisions that will undoubtedly put hundreds of its employees out of work. When you count the families all over this country who don’t have computers or can’t afford Internet connections and rely on the ones in libraries to look for jobs, the consequences will be even more dire. People everywhere are unhappy about these closings, and so are mayors making the hard decisions. But with roads and streets left in disrepair, teachers, policemen and firemen being laid off, and politicians in both parties pledging never to raise taxes, no matter what happens to our quality of life, the outlook is bleak. “The greatest nation on earth,” as we still call ourselves, no longer has the political will to arrest its visible and precipitous decline and save the institutions on which the workings of our democracy depend.
Meanwhile, at the San Francisco Public Library’s Jewett Gallery, look for *Public Library: An American Commons, a photographic exhibition that runs until June 12.

The exhibition is the work of San Francisco photographer, Robert Dawson, who since 1994 has photographed “hundreds of libraries in nineteen states. From Alaska to Florida and from New England to California the photographs show a vibrant, essential yet vulnerable system. This exhibition includes approximately 70 black and white and color photographs of urban, suburban and rural libraries across the U.S.”

Simic’s NYRB piece is here. More information on the exhibit at the San Francisco Library is here.


New in Paperback: Our Tragic Universe by Scarlett Thomas

Out in paperback from Mariner, back in September contributing editor Sienna Powers liked Scarlett Thomas’ third novel (after The End of Mr. Y and PopCo), Our Tragic Universe. Said Powers at the time:

It is apparent that Thomas thinks. A lot. About stuff. And she thinks about a lot of stuff. And those things? They’re not necessarily connected.

This latest work, for instance, is about Nietzche, tarot, cosmology and knitting patterns. More things, too, but you get the idea. In a larger way, Our Tragic Universe is about relationships and the things that connect us, personified here by book reviewer-turned-genre-novelist Meg Carpenter and her grumpy boyfriend.

Our Tragic Universe is a whimsical book, sure it is. But it also tackles all of our big, important questions and practically no one is better suited to be asking them than Thomas, nominated for the Orange Prize (for The End of Mr. Y) and named as one of the Telegraph’s 20 best writers under 40. If you haven’t heard of her, you will. Because the future of fiction? I think it looks a lot like this.
Thomas was named one of The Telegraph’s 20 Best Writers Under 40.


Cookbooks: Gluten-Free on a Shoestring: 125 Easy Recipes for Eating Well on the Cheap by Nicole Hunn

You don’t need me to tell you about Gluten-Free on a Shoestring (Da Capo Lifelong). If you are celiac or otherwise gluten challenged or limited, the cover alone will sell you on this book. It’s a popover. A simple popover. Nothing in it. No big deal, right? But for the many people who can’t or shouldn’t eat wheat, it’s a promise. One that, ultimately, author Nicole Hunn fulfills.

The other part of the promise is in the title itself: that shoestring stuff. As anyone who has cooked for a celiac knows, gluten-free baking can be super expensive. Up to 250 percent more than conventional foods according to the book. “If you’re newly gluten-free,” Hunn warns, “you’re probably still suffering from sticker shock. One day you’re spending a modest $2.50 for a loaf of bread at the supermarket, and the next, you’re paying $8.00 or more for the gluten-free version.” It’s enough to drive you to do your own baking! Especially when the results can be this good.

In Gluten-Free on a Shoestring Hunn attacks every meal of the day with superb results. Banana-Blueberry Muffins. Potato Gnocchi. Spinach Pie. Chicken Pot Pie. Cookies, cupcakes, scones, cakes, breads. Hunn’s approach is delicious, inexpensive and easy: no mystery at all.

I’m betting that, for some wheat sensitive households, Gluten-Free on a Shoestring will be life-changing. ◊

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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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Harry Potter Finale Trailer Released

The final battle between good and evil will be played out when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part Two is released in theaters on July 15th.

While we wait, Warner Bros. has been releasing a series of tantalizing trailers. The Huffington Post shares it with readers here.
Warner Bros. has released the latest spot for their epic wizard finale, which features the final face off between the absolute good of Harry Potter and the pure evil of Voldemort. Directed by David Yates, the film strikes a tone of bleak darkness, yet contains the thread of hope that The Boy Who Lived can save the world, once and for all, from the Dark Arts uprising.


Young Adult: Liberator by Richard Harland

Liberator (Allen & Unwin) is the sequel to the YA steampunk novel Worldshaker, which was set in a world dominated by the huge dreadnoughts, who roam the planet bearing the descendants of the various monarchies of 19th century Europe. The dreadnought Worldshaker was ruled by Queen Victoria III and her husband, Albert, in a perpetual Victorian era, not much changed from the original Victorian era.

At the end of Worldshaker, the oppressed slave class, the Filthies, had rebelled against their rulers, assisted by some of the upper class who supported their right to justice. Col, whose family were high up in the rulership, has fallen for Filthy Riff and the last book implied that there was a future for them, when he stayed on board while other ruling class members left.

Two months later, the Worldshaker, now the Liberator, is ruled by a committee of Flithies. Like many revolutions, this one has started to turn against those who helped it to happen and Col finds himself and his family in an uncomfortable position. Does Riff, now a ruler, still care about him? Does she understand that he is sincere in his support for the rebels? And who is the saboteur who has been destroying the fragile relationship between “Swanks” and Filthies along with the equipment? Does any of it matter with other dreadnoughts on their way to put down the rebellion?

Richard Harland’s tale is non-stop action while carefully making sure the characterization doesn’t suffer. At the same time, there’s still plenty of the sly humour that made Worldshaker such an entertaining read. The last novel was pretty much all set on the ship. In this book, we get to see a lot of the world outside, including the convict colony of New South Wales, and learn more about how this world diverged from our own. The author refers to actual events in our own history and then asks, “What if this had happened just a little differently?”

Liberator is a fine addition to the recent spate of Australian-written steampunk. ◊

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

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Our Rapture Was Short-Lived

After an unprecedented hiatus of more than a week, regular readers of January Magazine may well have feared that we’d been Raptured away or had otherwise shuffled off this mortal coil. Au contraire. We’ve been here, biting nails and biding our time, waiting for Blogger to repair damage done to our front-end after a system-wide shakedown on May 13th. The damage has yet to be repaired and aspects of January Magazine’s blogger-run front-end are currently suffering quite acutely, but we’re hoping that getting things back-to-business will serve the same purpose that going to the bathroom does when you’re in a restaurant waiting for an overdue dinner to arrive at table. The second you step away, your food appears. That's what we’re hoping for here.

While we were gone, a lot happened in the book world. Too much for us to reasonably try to catch up on. The Man Booker got a black eye. The Rap Sheet checked in from CrimeFest, UK and The Huffington Post (always a practical bunch) opined on books to take to the End of Days.

We’re going to put energy into getting things back to normal around here. Watch your step in the debris and if you spot something odd, please let us know.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Publisher Gives Levi Johnston Tell-All a Spoof Cover

If there was ever a book I hoped people would not waste their hard-earned dollars on, it’s this one.

It’s hard to believe that Sarah Palin’s daughter’s boyfriend will actually have a book’s worth of interesting stuff to say. Still, in September of this year, we’re going to find out when Touchstone publishes Deer in the Headlights: My Life in Sarah Palin’s Crosshairs.

Will the book sell? As I said, I hope not. But Jason Linkins at The Huffington Post has his own theory. “If Levi is willing to indulge the wild fantasies of the Trig Truthers,” Linkins writes, “this book will probably sell like hotcakes.”

Linkins’ very entertaining piece is here.


Stop Missing the 1990s!

Do you still pine for your eight-hole Doc Martens? Or sigh coquettishly at thought of your bra strap slipping out from under your top? Are you still wondering about the mysterious demise of Kurt Cobain and do you wonder just what happened to girl power when your back was turned?

If any of these 1990s images make you sad, just stop it: you don’t have to miss the 1990s. And why? Because they’re back. From NPR:
MTV has decided to rededicate itself to showing music videos, and Newt Gingrich may be running for president (a move that SNL spoofed with an "I Love the 90s" speech last Saturday). '90s director-darling Whit Stillman will debut his first film since that decade later this year. Even our own All Songs Considered team got in on the phenomenon with an entire show devoted to the era.

So literary types can't help but wonder -- could '90s books be the next big retro comeback? Will the big bookstore hits of the decade suddenly become the hot accessory to be seen reading at a bar? Sure, it used to be uncool to admit you hadn't read Memoirs of a Geisha. But could sporting a vintage copy of Arthur Golden soon be the bookish equivalent of kicking down the street in Doc Martens?
NPR explores the question here.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

New Today: The Elephant’s Journey by José Saramago

Because The Elephant’s Journey (Mariner) is being published posthumously, it seems all the more special; all the more bittersweet.

Portuguese author, José Saramago, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998, was prolific and beloved. Over two million copies of his various books are in print, but he is perhaps best known for the novels Blindness, All the Names and Death With Interruptions. He died just under a year ago at the age of 87.

For those of us who enjoyed Saramago’s work during his lifetime, The Elephant’s Journey seems a fitting good-bye. Slender, magical, charming and thoughtful, in some ways, the book is like a fairytale for adults. As with a fairytale, we are being told things beyond what we see and, even if -- like me -- you’re never really sure what those things might be, it’s a wonderful journey.

In this case, it really is all about the journey. In 16th century Portugal, King Joao comes to the realization that he was neglectful of his nephew, Archduke Maximilian of Austria, by not giving him a wedding gift. As it turns out, the King has an elephant, Solomon, that he hasn’t been paying much attention to. He instructs that Solomon be given a good cleaning, gets the elephant’s keeper, Subhro, some new duds, then sends the two of them off with a royal guard and a motley entourage on a mad journey from Lisbon to Vienna.

The Elephant’s Journey is enchanting. It is lighter than most of Saramago’s novels; a sweet and easy read. For all of that it is no less thoughtful and insightful than what we’re used to from this author. All in all, a fitting way to say good-bye. ◊

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


New in Paperback: The Natural Laws of Good Luck by Ellen Graf

Ellen Graf’s The Natural Laws of Good Luck (Trumpeter) is one of those memoirs that, if it were presented to you as fiction, you’d scoff and send it back. Incredible but true, then, that this is the story of the author’s own marriage.

Alone and lonely at 46, and emotionally exhausted firm trying to find someone through the conventional methods open to her, Ellen is ready for a new suggestion, even if it sounds outlandish. So when her friend hatches a plan for Ellen to travel to China to meet her brother, Ellen surprises herself by entertaining the idea and, before very long, she’s getting off the plane in Beijing, never having seen even a photo of the man who will, not much later, become her husband. Here she is -- very, very early in the book -- getting off the plane:
I saw one solid figure standing absolutely still. A multitude swayed around him. I had never seen a photograph of him, yet recognized this density, this shape -- its decisive statement, “I am here.” Condensed and contained, he appeared at the same time to have been waiting there for a thousand years and to have just parachuted down through a hole in the world above this one.
Of course the way for Ellen and Zhong-hua to make a life together is not easy. At the beginning, they don’t even share a language. But what they do share is intense and often reassuring.

Graf, a writer and sculptor, tells her story with rare vision and self-assurance. Her observations on life and love are sharp, to the point and often dead-on. The Natural Laws of Good Luck is a modern love story, beautifully told. ◊

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, May 09, 2011

NYC Bookstore Sells a Single Title

Between e-books, competition from Internet booksellers and an ever-changing literary landscape, no one is really sure how to sell books anymore and the field is open for brand new ideas. So what’s a debut author to do?

New “non-famous, scandal-free author” Andrew Kessler has pulled out all the stops and is trying something that is getting him ink all over the world: he’s opened a shop in NYC’s West Village to sell his new novel, Martian Summer (Pegasus). Kessler told CNN that reactions to the store “vary so wildly. A lot of people are scared to come in. Some people wonder if we're Scientologists.”

Kessler opened the Hudson Street store in mid-April and will keep it open until the middle of this month. From The Guardian:
Kessler, who calls his project "monobookism", opened his shop on Hudson Street in New York last month. It contains 3,000 copies of his book Martian Summer, displayed in "new and noteworthy" sections, under "new in non-fiction", under "science" – and with a sign for the wary, "We have one book but we're NOT scientologists", sitting outside.

An "armchair astronaut's" account of the 2008 Nasa mission to Mars, Martian Summer was published by Pegasus in April. It sees Kessler, a writer and creative director at an advertising agency, charting the day-to-day dramas of the Phoenix mission that explored the planet's north pole, after he won "the nerd lottery" to spend three months in mission control with 130 scientists.


Whitney Houston to Star in Exhale Sequel

More than 15 years after she starred in the film version of Terry McMillan’s charming and inspired Waiting to Exhale, it looks as though Whitney Houston is coming back for the sequel, Getting to Happy. This time out, however, there may be less charm.

For one thing, Houston has added a lot of miles since Waiting to Exhale came out in 1995. And if half the press reports are to be believed, most of them have not been the kind that brings an actor seasoning and experience for her craft. Perhaps more to the point, reviews of McMillan’s sequel were mostly not good. Publishers Weekly called the book “disappointing and uninspired” and Kirkus said the book was “Full of sitcom moments and windy dialogue -- aging chick lit at its most superficial.”

Though official sources have yet to confirm, Angela Bassett, who starred in the original and says she is slated to reprise her role in the sequel, confirmed the project on CBC’s The Talk, revealing “that everyone from the original cast is on board and Forest Whitaker will direct,” according to Shadow and Act, who also included a clip of Bassett talking about the project. And though, when you watch it, it feels a bit like Bassett may be talking out of school, the industry has been buzzing with news of a possible sequel -- and the fact that McMillan was again involved with the screenplay -- since the book was published last fall.


Happy Birthday Mr. Men!

Today is the birthday of Roger Hargreaves, who would have been 76 today. Though his name is not well known, his pen and imagination continue to be beloved by children worldwide.

Hargreaves was the creator of a series of the whimsical Mr. Men children’s books which have been delighting readers worldwide since the first was released in 40 years ago.

Mr. Bump, Mr. Tickle, Mr. Lazy and others in the Mr. Men series first went on sale in 1971. They were an overnight success and had sold over a million copies in the first year. At their 40th anniversary, they have now sold over 100 million copies worldwide.

Today Google honors Hargreaves and the Mr. Men books. Visiting the Google home page you will encounter one of several Hargreaves-inspired doodles. Click on the illustration and get Google’s results for the search term: Roger Hargreaves.

But don’t think that Mr. Men would have been forgotten without Google. Not only do the books continue to sell briskly, 20th Century Fox and the people who brought you Horton Hears a Who and Ice Age are currently working on an animated feature featuring the Mr. Men characters.


Friday, May 06, 2011

New This Week: The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon

Expect to be hearing a lot about The Story of Beautiful Girl (Grand Central) by Rachel Simon (Riding the Bus With My Sister). It has all the right stuff to be a big book club favorite when it comes out in paperback, probably around this time next year.

Out in hardcover just a few days ago, it is already an Indie Booksellers Pick for May and I think we’ll be hearing so much more about it. The Story of Beautiful Girl treads ground I’ve never even seen approached in fiction. It is the unlikely love story of a couple who are different abled.

Lynnie, a young white woman with a developmental disability, falls in love with Homan, a deaf man of color. Both have been institutionalized at the interestingly named School for the Incurable and Feebleminded. They run away and find refuge with Martha, a widowed schoolteacher. The authorities find them almost right away. Homan escapes, but Lynnie is taken back to the school, though not before she leaves Martha an incredible gift: a tiny, newborn daughter. “Hide her,” Lynnie instructs before she is taken away.

So begins a saga that spans four decades and sees the lives of these four fully entwined by love and circumstance and a society that spurns those who are different.

The Story of Beautiful Girl is not my usual reading fare and yet to begin is to be enchanted. It is not a page-turner in the way we tend to think of these things, yet I found myself fully entranced by this unusual and deeply affecting love story. ◊

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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New Next Week: In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson

If In the Garden of Beasts (Crown) had been by any other author, I would have given it a pass. In this second decade of the 21st century, I find I’ve finally had enough true account from Nazi Germany. We know it’s true: horrible things happened and it’s important that we don’t forget. However, it turns out that doesn’t mean I want to be reminded every second and my thirst for knowledge about the era was quenched years ago.

So when I saw the swastika on the cover of In the Garden of Beasts I prepared myself to move on by. And then I saw the name on the cover: Erik Larson. And all bets were off.

You see Larson is a phenomenal writer and his ability with creative and narrative non-fiction is near-legendary. A former Wall Street Journal and Time contributor, Larson is best known as the author of Devil in the White City, his riveting 2003 look at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. The thing that set that book apart was Larson’s approach. He weaves a real life murder mystery through the text of his tale and he does it so skillfully, sometimes you really don’t know if you’re reading fact or fiction.

He takes the same approach in In the Garden of Beasts. This time, however, we see early Nazi Germany through the lens of an American family -- the Dodds -- living in Berlin. We watch -- and almost participate -- as Berlin is transformed from a vibrant, glittering international center to a menacing and xenophobic city, where the populace at large is justifying and even supporting behavior that would been unthinkable just a few years before.

If you thought you’d read deeply of Nazi Germany, think again. Larson has here painted a portrait unlike any you’ve ever read. ◊

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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Thursday, May 05, 2011

“Pencil-Necked Weasel” Neil Gaiman Bites Back

Minnesota Republican majority leader, Matt Dean, publicly called author Neil Gaiman a “pencil-necked little weasel who stole $45,000 from the state of Minnesota.” From The Guardian:
The astonishing attack from the Minnesota House of Representatives majority leader, published in the Star Tribune yesterday, centred on a fee of $45,000 (£27,000) paid to Gaiman – "who I hate," Dean added -- from state art funds last year for a speaking appearance at Stillwater Library in Minnesota.

Describing the comments as “bullying schoolyard nonsense,” Gaiman said Dean’s assertion that he stole the money “is a lie.” “Yes, I gave the money to charities -- a sexual abuse one and a library/author one, long ago, when the cheque came in, well before this ever became a political football.
When it came to the name-calling, though, Gaiman had more trouble with parts of it than others.
Gaiman was less perturbed about the “pencil-necked weasel” insult. “I like ‘pencil-necked weasel.’ It has ‘pencil’ in it. Pencils are good things. You can draw or write things with pencils. I think it's what you call someone when you're worried that using a long word like 'intellectual' may have too many syllables. It's not something that people who have serious, important things to say call other people," said the author, whose 1.5 million Twitter followers managed to crash Dean's website after he posted a link to it. ("Bugger. Did not mean to #neilwebfail the twit's site. Sorry," tweeted Gaiman.)
The Guardian has the full story here. You can read January Magazine’s 2001 interview with Gaiman here.

SF/F: Sleight of Hand by Peter S. Beagle

Though the work of Peter S. Beagle has been widely awarded and celebrated, it’s possible you don’t know his name. Even if that is the case, however, you probably do know his work. Beagle was both the author and the writer of the screenplay for The Last Unicorn, made into a much-loved animated film in 1982, starring Jeff Bridges, Mia Farrow and Angela Lansbury. The book, first published in 1968, remains the author’s best known work. Beagle also wrote the screenplay for Ralph Bakshi’s animated version of Lord of the Rings as well as episodes of Star Trek: TNG and other television shows.

Though writing for film and television detoured what had been a successful career as a novelist in the 1980s, by the late 1990s, Beagle was back to books and his literary work has been published regularly ever since. Hollywood’s loss is our gain because Beagle’s literary voice is unforgettable; his talent formidable and even his short stories often leave an indelible mark.

Take his new collection, Sleight of Hand (Tachyon). In 13 stories, Beagle seems to explore the very boundaries of his chosen corner of the genre. Beagle’s stories are touchingly moral and, despite the fantasy settings, they deal with issues of import to many of us.

Considered by many of his peers to be one of the of the leading authors in his field, Sleight of Hand is as good an illustration of why as can be had. ◊

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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Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Fiction: The Social Climber’s Handbook by Molly Jong-Fast

Though I would imagine she grows weary of being compared to her family, it astonishes me to see the literary gene this sharp and present. Molly Jong-Fast is the daughter of two very talented novelists: Erica Jong (Fear of Flying, Sapho’s Leap) and Jonathan Fast (Stolen Time, The Jade Stalk) and the granddaughter of Howard Fast (Spartacus, April Morning).

As a result, though, so you don’t come to Molly Jong-Fast’s work without expectation. But it doesn’t disappoint. The Social Climber’s Handbook (Villard) has been called “Heathers meets The Talented Mr. Ripley,” and while that doesn’t quite cover it, it does give you some idea of what you can expect.

Daisy and Dick Greenbaum are not a particularly likable couple. When their gentle life on the Upper East Side of Manhattan is jeopardized by the Recession, Daisy determines to dispatch anyone who would stand in the way of her children’s private schools, their summers in the Hamptons or her own designer clothes.

Molly Jong-Fast’s tone in this black comedy account of the life of a Park Avenue “Recessionista” is flat, cool and perfect. There is such detachment in Daisy’s madness, one is put in mind of Brett Eston Ellis’ American Psycho, another book that looked at a rarified white collar world with a sordid, jaundiced eye.
Daisy hated books where the protaganist’s child dies. She found them pornographic in the worst possible way. Adversity (however huge) did not (in her mind anyway) make an unlikeable character likable.
In the same way, Daisy Greenbaum never becomes likable to us. But she’s so well and sharply rendered, her plight is so well told and her solution to her problems so outlandish and so horrible, we just can’t look away. ◊

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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Cookbooks: 300 Best Taco Recipes by Kelley Cleary Coffeen

There was a time -- not long ago -- when I thought of a taco as a regional specialty. More than that: something regional to be eaten only at a fast food place. In fact, when I was first sprung the idea of writing about 300 Best Taco Recipes (Robert Rose) I scoffed. Three hundred recipes for tacos. Not only could I not conceive of such a thing, I wasn’t even sure why anyone would want to.

As it turns out, author Kelley Cleary Coffeen once had the same idea about tacos:
The only tacos I knew growing up in the late ’60s were stale store-bought corn tortilla taco shells filled with a big spoonful of greasy ground beef, garnished with shredded iceberg lettuce and topped with a dab of grated Cheddar cheese and chunks of tomatoes.
What changed for her was a family move to Arizona, were tacos were a more serious business and where she was introduced to the more rarified fare that shaped her passion. Viewed from her eyes, the taco can take on a whole new place in your family’s meal planning:
The taco, a festive version of the North American sandwich, is aromatic, juicy, flavorful, spicy, textured and simple in presentation but complex in flavor.
And, suddenly, a door opens and things begin to make sense. Not the gross-out tacos of our youth, then. Rather, a slightly more exotic sandwich, with the potential to suit many tastes and needs. The balance of 300 Best Taco Recipes makes that point and though we begin with “The History and Evolution of Tacos” and “Taco Fillings,” “Toppings” and other literary explorations, most of the book is taken up with recipes and that’s what we’re here for.

We begin, of course, with several recipes for flour and corn tortillas. And then the tacos themselves, with recipes suitable for every taste and meal of the day. A few favorites (although, remember: there are 300 of them!): Grilled Jerk Chicken Tacos with Hot Pineapple Sauce. Chorizo and Egg Tacos (breakfast, anyone?). Tacos Benedict. Chicken Cordon Bleu Tacos. Peachy Praline Soft Tacos. I could go on, but you get the point: if it can be a taco, it’s here.

A very thorough section on Salsas, Relishes and Sauces puts the finish on many of the recipes, plus who can’t use a new salsa recipe… or six?

300 Best Taco Recipes
is a terrific book for families looking for new ideas for easy, inexpensive, healthy and delicious meals to add to their repertoire. Busy working parents will find a lot of answers to life’s difficult dinnertime questions right here.


Monday, May 02, 2011

The End of Osama Bin Laden

It is, of course, on all of our minds today: after so many years, so many lives and so much lost hope, Osama Bin Laden is dead, killed in a targeted U.S. operation.

The books that chronicle the deeds that led to the Al Qaeda leader’s demise are likely even now being wrangled through the beginning of the publishing process. It would not be surprising to read announcements of same during the course of this day.

Meanwhile, at the New York Times, Michiko Kakutani beats us all to the punch with a timely round-up of some of the books from the top of the existing Bin Laden pile.

“Since 9/11,” Kakutani writes, “there has been an outpouring of books about Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda, the Sept. 11 attacks and the war in Afghanistan. Here is an annotated list of some of the more useful books on those subjects.”

That list is here.

Electronic Books Will Wreck Publishing Industry

It seems to me that E-Week’s assertion that electronic books may ultimately be bad for the publishing industry misses the mark. It’s a little bit like the dude who predicted the automobile would be tough on blacksmiths and the harness and buggy industry. And, sure: those businesses have changed a great deal since the invention of the horseless carriage, but people still had to get places.

From E-Week:
For the traditional book publishing industry, the implications of the rise of the e-book and e-book reader markets are frightening, given the decline in paper book printing, distribution and sales,” Steve Mather, IHS iSuppli’s principal analyst for wireless, wrote in an April 28 statement. “The industry has entered a phase of disruption that will be as significant as the major changes impacting the music and movie business.”
The firm predicts that physical book sales will decline at a compound annual rate of 5 percent. While e-book sales will rise during that same period, the increase won’t cover the revenue gap created by the decline in the physical book market. By 2014, the research note predicts, e-books will occupy some 13 percent of U.S. book publishing revenue, more than twice its current level.
E-Book or paper book? We still gotta drive.

Here’s the full piece.


Non-Fiction: Pragmatics of Human Communication by Paul Watzlawic, Janet Beavin Bavelas and Don D. Jackson

Our first reaction when it spilled out of its packaging was, “Wait. Really? What?” The title, after all, does not inspire the idea that this will be an easy Sunday read and, truly, it felt as though some sort of mistake had been made. Pragmatics of Human Communication (W.W. Norton) is not the usual January fare. But this edition of a classic of interpersonal communication is celebration in itself.

Pragmatics of Human Communication has been called one of the best books ever written about human communication. First published in 1967, in the foreword to this first paperback edition, Bill O’Hanlon writes:
The Pragmatics of Human Communication fired the first shot to signal a revolution in the field of psychotherapy. Previously, most therapeutic approaches were focused on the individual. The approach introduced here, very radical for its time though not so now, dine its message has been absorbed into the mainstream, was that behavior and symptoms in the area of mental health cannot be understood properly without considering, interaction and communication.
Though Pragmatics of Human Communication is no one’s idea of a little light reading, if you have an interest in communication and connection, you are likely to find this 30-year-old book most rewarding.


Sunday, May 01, 2011

Fiction: Alone in the Classroom by Elizabeth Hay

Because I’m a Canadian who travels in somewhat international literary circles, I am sometimes asked to explain CanLit. Because Canadians are an enigma internationally, aren’t we? Everyone talks about how polite we are. How unassuming. Sometimes they talk about how much we like cheese. And then they encounter the fiction we identify as the literature that represents us -- CanLit -- and they’re not quite sure what to make of it because it throws who they thought we were out of focus. That’s because the fiction that is most typical of the title is connected, in a way. Certain names spring to mind. Jane Urquhart. Carol Shields. Margaret Laurence. Timothy Findley. David Adams Richards. I could go on, but you get the idea. The work by the writers in this list is lyrical. Often understated. On the surface there is beauty and everything seems just as it should be. It’s great writing, by most standards. But you don’t have to look far beneath that surface to see the snakes the writhe just below.

It is no work at all to add Elizabeth Hay to that list, either. She’s got the right CV and she certainly has the chops. Her last novel, Late Nights on Air, won the Scotiabank Giller Prize and those of us who have been watching her knew it was only a matter of time before that happened. Knew, also, that the best was yet to come.

Alone in the Classroom (McClelland & Stewart) is that novel and, as I read it, I couldn’t help but think of how typical it is of the type of reading that gets shelved as CanLit inside of Canada. Shelved and then celebrated because this, my friends, this is CanLit.

The Ottawa Valley in summer during the Depression and a young girl is about to disappear. Just before she does:
Early August. The jewelweed was in the air. Every child felt it. She was aware of precious time running out.
Hay evokes first beauty then fear as she explores the connections between two women separated by generations: narrator Anne and her aunt, Connie Flood who, as a student, is both compelled and repulsed by the principal, Parley Burns. Between the two timelines -- Anne’s and Connie’s -- Hay obliquely examines the twinned natures of love and hate and how obsession can cross generations.

This is CanLit. Flawlessly rendered. Confidently told. A story that, viewed from above is gorgeous and rich and complete, the imperfections in the world created revealed only to those who jump in with both feet and look beyond the polite veneer to the flawed humans who give the story its pulse. ◊

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


Non-Fiction: Snip, Burn, Solder, Shred: Seriously Geeky Stuff to Make with Your Kids by David Erik Nelson

Ever sat around and said, “Wow: I wish I could help my kids make an electro-didgeridoo.” Or, why think small? Why not a whole Electro-Skiffle Band? And, sure, not all of us are into music. So maybe you’ve always wanted to make a water rocket with your children, but you just didn’t know how.

I’m kidding, of course. Most of us would never even conceive of making any of the stuff in David Erik Nelson’s Snip, Burn, Solder, Shred (No Starch Press), let alone involve our poor, unsuspecting kids. Yet Nelson makes it all seem not only accessible, in many cases, he makes it look easy.

In truth, some of the projects author and former high school teacher Nelson outlines are more complicated than others. The cross-stick boomerang is simple. The Putt-Putt Boat that explores elementary locomotion is somewhat more difficult, yet Nelson puts even that within reach:
… the Putt-Putt Boat maneuvers around a bathtub or swimming pool under its own power with no moving parts, driven by a simple, valveless flash boiler made from a coil of copper tubing and a rudimentary alcohol burner.
Never mind the kids at this point, right? A flash boiler? I wanted to make this one myself!

Robots, marshmallow muzzleloaders, screen printing, an electric guitar. This is seriously not your average do-it-yourself-with-kids book. This is the stuff that magic and dreams are made of in childhood, at least for those kids who have the idea that magic can be handmade. Snip, Burn, Solder, Shred is a seriously cool book. ◊

David Middleton is art director and art & culture editor of January Magazine.

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