Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Banned Books Reading List

Want a good starting point? According to the Banned Books Week web site, “More than 11,000 books have been challenged since 1982.” That’s an awful big list. But the 10 most challenged titles of 2010 provide the basis for an awesome reading list for you and the children in your life. Happy reading!

And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
Reasons: homosexuality, religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
Reasons: offensive language, racism, religious viewpoint, sex education, sexually explicit, violence, unsuited to age group

Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
Reasons: insensitivity, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit

Crank, by Ellen Hopkins
Reasons: drugs, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit

The Hunger Games
(series), by Suzanne Collins
Reasons: sexually explicit, violence, unsuited to age group

Lush, by Natasha Friend
Reasons: drugs, sexually explicit, offensive language, unsuited to age group

What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones
Reasons: sexism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, by Barbara Ehrenreich
Reasons: drugs, inaccurate, offensive language, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint

Revolutionary Voices edited by Amy Sonnie
Reasons: homosexuality, sexually explicit

Twilight (series), by Stephenie Meyer
Reasons: sexually explicit, religious viewpoint, violence, unsuited to age group


Read a Banned Book Now!

One of the things I love most about Banned Books Week is it gives us an opportunity to think about -- and hopefully to read -- a banned book. It’s a wonderful chance to make lemonade. After all, a lot of thought and energy goes in to having books removed from libraries and schools. I can’t think of a better way to reward those efforts than by giving the books that have been banned extra attention and making sure they’re read and even purchased.

As the map (below right) shows, censorship isn’t a regional issue. It can rear its ugly head wherever there are books… and quite often when there are children who apparently need to be protected from nasty literature. (Books kill!)

So who is doing the complaining and just what are they complaining about? The ALA web site offers up some background. From 2001 to 2010 American libraries were faced with 4,660 challenges:

1,536 challenges due to “sexually explicit” material;
1,231 challenges due to “offensive language”;
977 challenges due to material deemed “unsuited to age group”;
553 challenges due to “violence”
370 challenges due to “homosexuality”; and

Further, 121 materials were challenged because they were “anti-family,” and an additional 304 were challenged because of their “religious viewpoints.”

1,720 of these challenges (approximately 37%) were in classrooms; 30% (or1,432) were in school libraries; 24% (or 1,119) took place in public libraries. There were 32 challenges to college classes; and 106 to academic libraries. There are isolated cases of challenges to materials made available in or by prisons, special libraries, community groups, and student groups. The majority of challenges were initiated by parents (almost exactly 48%), while patrons and administrators followed behind (10% each).

And just in case you want to take things a step further, Word & Film offers up The 5 Best Banned Books Turned Films. Wonderful! Fighting censorship with all our senses!

Want to get excited about books banned in Canada? You’ve got a bit of time. Canada’s Freedom to Read week takes place February 26 to March 3, 2012. Start planning your events now.


Stephen King to Publish Shining Sequel

Oh sure: to a lot of people, Amazon’s new flaming Kindle is the big story. But call us old-fashioned: we’re just pleased to hear that Stephen King’s sequel to The Shining is finally heading our way. And soon! From The Huffington Post:
The last we heard of the troubled and mystical Danny Torrance, he had just conquered the malicious Overlook Hotel, losing his father, Jack, along the way. Over thirty years later, his story will be continued via Stephen King's sequel to "The Shining," titled "Doctor Sleep."
HuffPo also has video of King reading from the book. That’s here.

Library Hunks Remove Clothes for a Cause

What’s hotter than a dozen librarians taking off their clothes for fun and fundraising? As even a peek at Men of the Stacks, indicates, really not too much. How did this happen? Well it’s our fault, really: all of us. We made the mistake of not realizing that librarians could be smart, helpful, nice and look good naked. From the Men of the Stacks web site:
There is an entire population of professional librarians out there who disagree with the way the library profession is perceived in contemporary media outlets and in the historical consciousness of the American mind. Different people and different associations will use different means to try to change those perceptions. This is ours.
Point taken. (And it’s a point that Zack, Mr. January at left over there, makes pretty well on his own.) But it also raises the question:
just who are these half-naked hunks?

We are, or course, professionals. We are educators, programmers, project managers, entrepreneurs, program coordinators, contractors, consultants, and speakers. We are academics. We are authors, diversity officers, historians, administrators, deans, professors, and researchers. We are creatives. We are musicians, bakers, painters, and storytellers. We are athletes, yogis, gym-rats, runners, and hikers. We are passionate. We are dog-lovers, radicals, conservatives, Christians, and Buddhists. We are in our twenties. We are in our forties. We are in relationships. We are perpetual bachelors. We are privileged beings who try to use their advantages to better the lives of others.

Who are we? We are The Men of the Stacks.
Proceeds from sales of the calendar are being donated to the It Gets Better Project, a worthwhile initiative to help young people that you can read more about here.

* Hat tip to Diane K. Kovacs for bringing this story to our attention.

iPhone 5 Will Be Released Next Week

Waiting for the iPhone 5? You won’t have to much longer. Apple says their newest smartphone will be released October 4th. From The Guardian:
Internet rumours have suggested that the new model will have a slightly larger screen than the existing iPhone 4, and that it may include an NFC (near field communication) chip which would enable it to be used with payment services such as Google's Wallet service, which launched in the US earlier this week.

NBC’s “Mystery Movie” Turns 40

Fans of a certain type of television drama might be astonished to read that, this month, the NBC Mystery Movie series turns 40. Over the coming weeks, The Rap Sheet will take an affectionate glance back at the various series produced under the Mystery Movie banner. Its first installment looks at the show that started it all, featuring “rumpled, stogie-chomping, and unassuming Lieutenant Columbo of the Los Angeles Police Department [who] matches wits with prominent, devious, and generally prosperous murderers.”

As The Rap Sheet recalls of Columbo’s creators:
Their plan was to hire Bing Crosby as Columbo, but the aging crooner-actor kindly passed on the role. Subsequently, a younger performer from New York named Peter Falk contacted Levinson and Link, saying, “I’ll kill to play that cop,” and he quickly won them over with his offbeat sense of humor and Everyman persona.
Read more here, but also keep your eyes trained on The Rap Sheet over the next few weeks. There is, after all, a lot more where that came from.


Publication of Lost Conan Doyle Novel Would Not Have Pleased the Author

Portsmouth, England, in the 1880s. A 23-year-old Arthur Conan Doyle is working as a doctor but needs to make more money to help support his mother, his alcoholic father and his young brother. He begins scribbling short stories in the hopes of supplementing his income by selling them to magazines. He was successful, too. Successful enough that he tried his hand at a longer work. We know, of course, how all of that turned out. However, his first attempt, The Narrative of John Smith, wasn’t terribly good. As the Independent explains, Conan Doyle probably wouldn’t be very happy to learn that, this week, the British Library, who bought the lost manuscript as part of package of the late author’s papers for one million pounds back in 2004, is publishing the book:
Many years after writing The Narrative, Conan Doyle said that he would be horrified if the book ever appeared in print. But academics have defended the publication because of its contribution to understanding his later work. “This book gives us a unique insight into the developing creative mind of the writer,” says Rachel Foss, one of the book’s editors. “This is his first attempt to make the transition from a short-story writer to a novel writer.”
Even if it’s not terribly good, Sherlock Holmes fans will probably be lining up to read the book. This is, after all, the real and original deal:
Although the novel suffers from a lack of plot, it does conjure a world of boarding houses and pipe-smoking, which fans of Sherlock Holmes will recognise. Conan Doyle called it a novel with a “personal-social-political complexion” and it hints at themes that would appear in the Holmes books, such as an interest in logical reasoning.

An introduction to the new edition says: “The Narrative is not successful fiction, but offers remarkable insight into the thinking and views of a raw young writer who would shortly create one of literature's most famous and durable characters, Sherlock Holmes.”

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Biography: Nica’s Dream by David Kastin

Nica’s Dream: The Life and Legend of the Jazz Baroness (Norton) is one of those books that you wouldn’t find credible if it were fiction. It has everything a good story requires. And more. A glamorous baroness from a famous family. She is a pilot, mother to five children and a former fighter in the French resistance. Then she hears jazz music and is entranced: terminally. The music -- and the people who make it -- will alter the course of he life. She styles herself as a patroness of the arts which, in the case of jazz music at the middle part of the last century also means she becomes a fighter in the rights of racial equality.

Kathleen Annie Pannonica (“Nica”) Rothschild de Koenigswarter’s life of privilege was challenged when Charlie Parker was found dead in her suite at the Stanhope Hotel. When Nica’s husband, the Baron de Koenigswarter, got wind of the scandal, he asked for a divorce and all of this seemed only to underline what popular society felt about jazz music at the time:
From the moment jazz first infiltrated mainstream popular culture, it was perceived as a serious threat not only to the prevailing social order but to the integrity of Western culture itself…. Of course, it was precisely such sentiments -- along with the music’s intoxicating rhythms -- that captivated young people on both sides of the Atlantic.
Music historian and educator David Kastin (I Hear America Singing) brings a deep knowledge of music and a storyteller’s passion for his tale to Nica’s Dream. “Whether frozen in Weegee’s tabloid flash,” Kastin begins, “or shrouded in the murky chiaroscuro of the era’s low-budget movies, New York in the 1950’s is a city in black and white.” And we’re entranced.

This is not only the biography of a deeply interesting woman but in many ways, it’s the story of the birth of bebop and the maturation of cool. A fantastic story and a great book. ◊

David Middleton is art director of January Magazine as well as editor of the art and culture section.

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Monday, September 26, 2011

Is the Kindle on Fire?

It is not. But if Amazon gets its way, their new Kindle Fire will burn up all the other e-book kids on the block. From Techcrunch:
On Wednesday morning in New York City, Amazon will unveil the Kindle Fire. Yes, this is the name Amazon has settled on, to help differentiate the product from the e-ink Kindles, which will still be very much alive and for sale. And while Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos will show off the Fire on stage, it won’t be ready to ship until the second week of November, we’ve learned.
I guess they’re hoping to set their Christmas sales on fire. Sorry: couldn’t resist.


Boomtime for Booker

Books shortlisted for this year’s Man Booker Award are flying off the shelves. The people who count such things report that this year’s top contenders are selling like never before. From the Guardian:
This year's shortlist, announced on 6 September, is already the most popular ever. The six books have sold, collectively, 37,500 copies since the announcement, an increase of 127% year-on-year, and up 105% on the previous record-holding year, 2009. And there's still another three weeks to go until the winner's announced.
The piece goes on to look at the various reasons that this might be so. While they all sound valid, we hope the reason for the increased sales is simpler still: people are reading like never before!


Fiction: We the Animals by Justin Torres

We The Animals (Houghton Mifflin), the first novel by Justin Torres, is a searing series of lightning-flash vignettes that, together, tell the story of three devoted brothers in what appears to be contemporary New York.

These mixed-race sons of a battered woman and a barely-making-it father find ways to survive that are nothing less than astounding. And how they do it is by using their imaginations. The things they see -- the violence and disappointments and betrayals of life today -- are incorporated into their story, but, it seems, not into their lives, into their reality. It’s almost as if the worst of the worst, the very real drinking and the beatings and the running and the cursing and the bonds made and broken end up the meaningless stuff of bad sitcoms. How else to survive their world, if not to marginalize the reality they share, if not to allow it -- even force it -- to slide off their backs?

In this very spare book -- little more than 100 pages -- each chapter comes across like a perfect little snapshot, or at most a finely made short film, that boils down the boys’ experience to its essence (though Torres is wise enough not to tell us what that essence is).

Sometimes the boys are alone, fantasizing their way through reality. Other times they see the rock-bottom worst of their mother or father. Or both. Sometimes the story is filled with vandalism: breaking glass, the cruel teasing and laughter that breaks children’s hearts and souls. There is always a disturbing sense that something terrible is about to happen, that something will be lost and irretrievable, even when everything seems calm, when their father showers them with kindness instead of cruelty. Life lessons abound: the lessons of the street, the lessons of survival, lessons designed to enable these boys to make it out of their surroundings and into the world beyond their playground.

The foreboding never lets up, and not even when the story takes a jarring turn at the end. Only here, when one of the boys’ privacy is breached, when his own private escape plan is revealed, does the family seem broken beyond repair. Only then is the disappointment among the players deep enough and wide enough that it seems nothing can breach it. Only then does the reality of the real world barge into this hard-edged fairy tale, leaving in its wake a bloody mess of destruction where, mere pages before, there was a troubled, troubling family, but still a family bound by love. ◊

Tony Buchsbaum, a contributing editor of January Magazine and Blue Coupe, lives in central New Jersey with his wife and sons. These days, he is writing his second novel. Again.

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Pierce’s Pick: A Bespoke Murder by Edward Marston

This week, J. Kingston Pierce chooses A Bespoke Murder by Edward Marston.
“It’s the early days of World War I, and Britain is already plagued by anti-German violence. So the death of an immigrant tailor and the rape of his daughter are chalked up to more of the same -- until Detective Inspector Harvey Marmion finds inconsistencies that lead him to look more closely into these crimes.”
Looking for previous Pierce’s Picks? Twelve months of them are here.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Best Cities in America for Book Lovers

What makes for the best cities is certainly in the eye of the beholder. What city offers the best steaks? The best veggie burger? The best schools and dog grooming parlors? We’re betting, though, that a lot of our readers will be interested in the top cities for book lovers. Livability looks at that one, too:
We may live in the age of the e-book, but we're taking things back to basics. Before Borders and Barnes and Noble, before the coming of the Kindle, there was the independent bookstore.
As they point out, though, one can not live by books alone.
That’s why the cities we picked offer a great quality of life, plenty of entertainment and awesome outdoor activities. After all, there's nothing worse than reading an inspiring novel and having nothing to do after closing the cover.
Livability’s final assessments consider not only the number of indies in the area, but also the authors who live and have lived there as well as a focus on one special local store.

So what do they come up with? Daedalus Books in Charlottesville, Virgina; Prairie Lights in Iowa City, Iowa; Hicklebee's Children's Bookstore in San Jose, California; Powell's City of Books in Portland, Oregon and six others. Not particularly scientific? Maybe. But certainly a lot of fun.

Would love to see lists like this compiled for other countries. Any takes?

On My Desk: Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick by Joe Schreiber

I can hardly wait to get my greedy mitts on Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick (Houghton Mifflin), the first young adult title for Joe Schreiber (Chasing the Dead, No Doors No Windows). It’s about a bland-appearing Eastern European exchange student who turns out to be an assassin who takes her prom date out on an unforgettable night.

When Publishers Marketplace announced Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick as “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off meets Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” movie people got interested.

“That was catnip, I think, for a lot of studios,” Schreiber told last year. And it wasn’t long before his agent had inked a deal that will see Josh Schwartz (The O.C., Gossip Girl) making a film for Paramount.

Meanwhile, the book won’t even be out until late next month, but it sounds fantastic. “Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick is a high-octane, high-caliber joyride centered on one very loud night in New York City,” blurbed author Michael Northrop (Trapped) “a sort of Nick & Norah’s Infinite Hit List. As Perry deals with flying bullets, exploding glass, and college admissions, your assignment is much simpler (and safer): Read this book!”

You bet!


Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Birthday for Mr. Fitzgerald

Francis Scott Fitzgerald was born in St. Paul, Minnesota on this day in 1896. Author of The Beautiful and the Damned (1922), The Great Gatsby (1925), Tender is the Night (1934) and other novels, short stories and collections. Today Writer’s Almanac boils a fabulous life down to a few salient sentences:
The son of a would-be furniture manufacturer who never quite made it big in business, Fitzgerald grew up feeling like a “poor boy in a rich town,” in spite of his middle-class upbringing. This impression was only strengthened when he attended Princeton, paid for by an aunt, where he was enthralled by the leisure class, tried out and was cut from the football team, and fell in love with a beautiful young socialite who would marry a wealthy business associate of her father's. By the time Fitzgerald dropped out of college and entered the Army -- wearing a Brooks Brothers-tailored uniform -- it was little wonder he called the autobiographical novel he was writing The Romantic Egotist.

Fitzgerald's time at an officer training camp in Alabama didn't turn out as he'd hoped, either; the war ended before he ever made it to Europe, his book was rejected, and when he failed to make it big in New York City, his new debutante girlfriend, Zelda Sayre, called off their engagement.

Fitzgerald was probably much like most young men of his generation who dreamed of being a football star, the war hero, the wealthy big shot, the guy who gets the girl, but for a few things: he had talent, drive, and an unshakeable faith that he could translate all that familiar yearning into something new ... something that would get him, at least, the wealth and fame and the girl. His revised book, This Side of Paradise, got him all that and more when it was published. Requests for his writing came pouring in, Zelda married him, and the couple -- a Midwesterner and a Southerner -- became the quintessential New York couple, the epitome of the Jazz Age, a term Fitzgerald himself coined. And although they eventually died separated, she in a mental hospital, he in debt and obscurity, Fitzgerald’ås two greatest regrets remained, for the rest of his life, having failed to serve overseas and play Princeton football.

He said, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”

And his daughter, “Scottie” Fitzgerald, said about her parents, “People who live entirely by the fertility of their imaginations are fascinating, brilliant and often charming, but they should be sat next to at dinner parties, not lived with.”
Meanwhile Baz Luhrmann’s $120 million adaption of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby has gone into production in Sydney, Australia. The film will star Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby, Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan, Isla Fisher as Myrtle Wilson and Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway.


Children’s Books: The Meerkat Wars by H.S. Toshack

You may have a hard time finding H.S. Toshack’s Paka Mdogo stories but, for children seven to 12, it should prove to be a challenge well worth the effort.

Toshack, a former English teacher and educational consultant, conceived of the series both as entertainment and, at a more subtle level, as working educational tools. To this end, he has created a full set of teaching and learning resources and made them available on the Web. “The main purpose of this extension,” it says on the site, “ … is not to publicize the series but to provide support to teachers who wish to use one or more of the books in the classroom.” And the attention to detail that has gone into these resources make this a credible claim.

As any teacher librarian will tell you, however, you can prepare material until the cow -- or the cat -- comes home, but that won’t ensure that children will care about your book.

Sheena is a domestic cat who is lost in a game park in Tanzania where the author was living when he wrote the first in the series, Paka Mdogo: Little Cat. In the first book, she is separated from her human family, and finds them just in time to save them from a terrible fate.

On their second trip to Baragandiri National Park, The Gradual Elephant, Sheena is again separated from the Allen family. While alone in the park, she teams up with Mpole, a 12-year-old African elephant who has been forced to leave the herd. Sheena helps him pass the tests necessary to become accepted as a young male.

In The Meerkat Wars, with the Allen family heading off on their safari in Baragandiri National Park, Sheena stows away in the back of the family Land Rover and so is on hand to help a young meerkat who’s been poisoned by a scorpion. Sheena discovers, however, that this is the least of the problems, as whole tribes of Meerkats seem to be at war with each other for reasons that the civilized cat initially finds inexplicable.

All three of the Paka Mdogo stories are charming. The moral lessons are present, but subtly presented and deftly handled and though the animals seem to have some very human concerns, in the end they are animals, still.

Author Toshack is working on additional books for this series and new adventures for Paka Mdogo. An increasingly long line of children can hardly wait. ◊

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, September 23, 2011

Cookbooks: Thrive Foods: 200 Plant-Based Recipes for Peak Heatlth by Brendan Brazier

Fans of ironman triathlete and celebrity vegetarian Brendan Brazier have been looking forward to his book. With “200 Plant-Based Recipes for Peak Health” they’re bound to be pleased by Thrive Foods (Da Capo Lifelong).

Make no mistake: Brazier is an athlete and an entrepreneur, not a chef. And that is quite clear in Thrive Foods. The recipes are solid, well-stated and some of them are quite good. But it’s not a book that treats food with passion. Rather for Brazier it is a means to an end, something that is clear from the very first page:
Coming from an athletic background, I developed my interest in food simply as a means for enhancing performance. I wanted the best fuel and biological building blocks available.

In Thrive Foods, that’s just what he delivers. As he points out, aside from the recipes from his favorite eateries across North America, the 200 recipes in the book were created “with help from some top chef friends,” including Amanada Cohen, Matthew Kenny and Whole Foods’ R&D chef Chad Sarno. (In fact, Whole Foods comes up often enough in Thrive Foods that you wonder at the connection.)

As a result, Thrive Foods is rather soulless, though maybe that’s okay. The market for this book is probably more interested in reaching “peak health” and keeping fueled in a way that is both biologically and ecologically friendly than it is in a sublime eating experience. And, as I said, that’s all right: there are plenty of books that talk about passion. But how many of them indicate which recipes are raw?

Those embarking on or considering a raw, vegetarian or vegan diet will find a lot here to like. ◊

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

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S&S Will Publish Governator’s Autobiopgraphy in 2012

If there’s an autobiography from one of 2011’s headline grabbers that seems destined to sell more copies, we can’t think of it. Considering the year -- and the life! -- he’s had, it’s no surprise that former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s autobiography has turned into a real hot ticket item.

Simon & Schuster announced yesterday that they would be publishing the governator’s autobiography, Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story in October 2012. From a press release:
Chronicling his embodiment of the American Dream, the former California governor discusses his high-stakes journey to the United States, creating the international bodybuilding industry out of the sands of Venice Beach, breathing life into cinema's most iconic characters, and becoming one of the leading political figures of our time combating global warming and partisan bureaucracy. Considered one of the most anticipated autobiographies of this generation, Schwarzenegger presents a larger-than-life portrait of his illustrious, controversial and ever-entertaining life in and out of the public eye.


Fiction: Happiness Economics by Shari Lapeña

Though Shari Lapeña (Things Go Flying) borrows the title for her second novel, the economics of happiness is a real and growing field. From Wikipedia:
Happiness economics is the quantitative study of happiness, positive and negative affect, well-being, quality of life, life satisfaction and related concepts, typically combining economics with other fields such as psychology and sociology. It typically treats such happiness-related measures, rather than wealth, income or profit, as something to be maximized.
In Lapeña’s Happiness Economics (Brindle & Glass) a “first-rate” but struggling poet of middle years looks closely at his life. He swapped his potential career as an academic for raising the kids house husband-style, a move his wife now regrets. She had thought that poetry was a passing passion for him when they were both young intellectuals. In college, his “wanting to write poetry someday had seemed like an attractive, even romantic, character trait.” All these later, she does not think so, even though she thinks that “they might have had a happy marriage if Will had make a name for himself as a poet,” or, she concedes, if he’d been too busy growing his own magnificent career to become a successful poet. But he did neither of these things: he stayed home with their children and though she thinks he did a very good job raising them, now that they're nearly grown, she worries about the things he did not do.

In his own way, Will worries, too. Until he meets his muse at a poetry reading: Lily White. “Long, youthful body, long youthful hair; billowy, undisciplined words from seductive lips -- her poetry was awful, but she -- she was perfect.”

In truth, he does not so much meet Lily as rescue her, or try to. And the act -- and in some ways the woman -- begins to change his mind and his life.

Happiness Economics is an enjoyable and thoughtful journey. It muses on the nature of art and commerce; love and romance; marriage and aging, not to mention parenthood: Lapeña looks at the big questions our culture burdens itself with and somehow transforms it all into a deliciously likable romp. ◊

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

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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Non-Fiction: Today We Are Rich: Harnessing the Power of Total Confidence by Tim Sanders

Though at the most basic and obvious level, Tim Sanders’ latest entry would seem to be yet another self-help business book, Today We Are Rich (Tyndale) is so much more. A sought after motivational speaker, bestselling author (Love is the Killer App) and former Yahoo! VP, Sanders has certainly walked the walk.

In Today We Are Rich, he uses his own life as a sort of framework for growth. Part memoir and part guidebook to, as the subtitle says, Harnessing the Power of Total Confidence.

What sets Sanders apart is his entirely giving and upbeat approach. “If you inject negativity into your conversations with others,” Sanders writes at one point, “you’ll generate negative thinking in yourself and your partners.” “Giving is like any other exercise,” he says at another. “The more you do it, the better you get at it and the more you get out of it.”

It is Sanders’ thought that being rich is more than the thinking and growing of it that Napolean Hill espoused back in 1937. Sanders tells us that being rich is a way of being; a way of life. “It’s about being rich in friends, in community, and in gratitude.”

Today We Are Rich is a warm and interesting book. If Sanders gets his way, it’ll change your life. ◊

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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What Goes Around: Canongate Will Publish Wikileaks Creators’ Autobiography Without His Consent

It seems somewhat fitting that when Wikileaks founder Julian Assange changed his mind about publishing his memoir -- without returning his £500,000 advance -- UK publisher Canongate set up a high security operation to publish the book in secrecy to keep Assange from blocking sales of the book. From The Guardian:
Julian Assange's publishers will publish on Thursday the “unauthorized first draft” of his autobiography without his consent, months after the WikiLeaks founder withdrew from a million-pound contract for his memoirs.

In a dramatic move, Canongate has defied Assange’s wishes and secretly printed thousands of copies of Julian Assange: The Unauthorised Autobiography, with the book being shipped amid strict security to booksellers in preparation for imminent release. The enormous security operation was put in place by the publishers, according to a source, to stop the author blocking publication.
Knopf, who had purchased rights to publish the book in the United States, has not gone forward with their publication. Meanwhile, Julian Assange: The Unauthorised Biography goes on sale in the UK today.

There’s much more to the story and you can read about it here and here.

When Assange first hatched his book deal late last year, we reported on it here.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

New in Paperback: American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half Its Food by Jonathan Bloom

Journalist and blogger Jonathan Bloom’s 2010 book American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half Its Food (Da Capo) is one of those non-fiction works that will alter lives and probably end up being made into a film one day. Winner of the IACP Cookbook Award (Food Matters category), it’s an important book that has the power to make a difference.

“Every day,” Bloom begins, “America wastes enough food to fill the Rose Bowl. Yes that Rose Bowl -- the 90,000-seat football stadium in Pasadena, California.” He goes on to tell us that of the nearly 600 billion pounds of food produced in the United States each year, between one quarter and one half is wasted.

And even though the figures in Bloom’s book are compelling and sometimes even shocking, there’s much more going on here than that. In some ways, American Wasteland is as much about the cultural shift that has taken place in America over the last generation or so, moving us to the place where every human in the country is, on average, responsible for five pounds of trash per day. Of that, Bloom tells us, about 12 per cent is food.

But as much as American Wasteland is, on occasion, horrifying reading, Bloom’s overall message is one of hope. He looks at the problems -- and the things that created them -- carefully and in-depth. But he also makes hard suggestions for what we, both as a culture and as individuals, can do to improve things. Here, for example, are Bloom’s hints on shopping strategically:
• Make a list and stick to it -- avoid buying things you don’t need because they’re on display.
• Shop for produce last -- it will lose freshness that compromises its shelf life while you shop.
• Eat before you shop--if you’re not hungry, you’ll fall victim to fewer impulse buys
• Avoid the temptation of the 2 for 1 deal -- if you need one, buy one.
• Beware of bulk/superstores -- do you really need a 3 pound tub of sour cream or just a pint?
• Be realistic about your eating habits -- how many nights do you plan to eat home during the following week, plan for it.

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Fiction: The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s new novel, The Language of Flowers (Ballantine), came with a lot of hype. I wasn’t sure it would live up to it.

The story jumps back and forth in time, between the childhood and adulthood of a woman named Victoria Jones. As a child, she was shuttled from foster home to foster home, eventually ending up at the farm of Elizabeth, who has familial demons of her own to deal with. As a young adult, Victoria is no longer in touch with Elizabeth -- which fact creates a tension and a question -- Why? -- that drives the twin narratives forward.

Elizabeth teaches Victoria about the language of flowers, the hidden meanings, the code, of each flower. What yellow roses mean, versus red. What thistle means. And on and on. And what they mean in combination. This part of the book is fascinating, especially as the flowers are used to deliver messages among the main characters.

I was -- and remain -- completely smitten with Victoria. She’s not always likable, with enough rough edges to draw blood if you get too close, but there’s something about her that makes her irresistible. Her forthrightness. Her honesty. She’s compelling, even captivating—and it’s her personality, above all, that propels the novel forward.

The pages turn almost by themelves, and I found myself purposefully slowing down, to read this luscious book at a more relaxed pace, absorbing its language, Diffenbaugh’s gorgeous sentences. Her prose is direct, simple, and she wisely avoids over-writing, which would have been easy to do in a book about flowers how stunningly beautiful they are, and what they say. I’m sure she was tempted to over-describe them, but she resisted. The result is a book that’s smartly assembled and smartly written.

The structure of The Language of Flowers forces you to keep reading. As the two halves converge, the tension grows to an almost unbearable state. At the end, I was driven to tears as many of the strands of Victoria’s story come together. As for the hype, why was I worried?

Bonus: The glossary at the back. The next time you buy someone flowers, you’ll know what the blossoms you choose are really saying. Or even better, you can buy them based on what you want to say. How much fun is that? ◊

Tony Buchsbaum, a contributing editor of January Magazine and Blue Coupe, lives in central New Jersey with his wife and sons. These days, he is writing his second novel. Again.

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Birthday of Thrones

SF/F luminary George R.R. Martin was born on this day in 1948. According to The Writer’s Almanac, Martin was “named as one of Time magazine’s ‘100 most influential people in the world’ in 2011 and dubbed the ‘American Tolkien,’ Martin is most famous for his best-selling series A Song of Ice and Fire.”
The epic fantasy series of seven planned novels -- only five of which have been published so far -- was recently adapted for HBO’s drama Game of Thrones, which was also the title of the first volume in Martin's series. The television show, which debuted this spring, was such an instant critical and commercial success that it was renewed for a second season immediately following its premiere.

Martin, a former writer on The Twilight Zone and Beauty and the Beast, got his start selling monster stories to kids in his neighborhood.
January Magazine spent some time with Martin back in 2001. That interview is here.


Monday, September 19, 2011

David Abrams Will Be Debut Novelist

Though we don’t, as a rule, report on publishing deals or much in the way of industry news I’m delighted to tell our readers that long-time January Magazine contributing editor and the personality behind The Quivering Pen is about to become a debut novelist.

Abrams, who has been reviewing for January Magazine since 1999, has accepted an offer from Grove/Atlantic to publish his Iraq war novel Fobbit. Abrams reported today that he is “honored and thrilled to have my manuscript accepted by the same publishing house who brought you A Good Scent From a Strange Mountain by Robert Olen Butler, Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes, Peace Like a River by Leif Enger and Lost Nation by Jeffrey Lent -- all books I count among some of my favorites.”

Congratulations, David. We’re so proud of you. And at this point, all I can really add is a heartily delighted, “I told you so.”

Why Valerie Frankel Hates Debut Novelists

“The hate in you has got to come out,” Valerie Frankel writes in It’s Hard Not to Hate You, a sweet, angry, sad memoir out last week from St. Martin’s Press. Today she plugs the book with a heart-felt piece in The Daily Beast talking about why she has a hate on for debut novelists… except The Jersey Shore’s Snooki:
When I set out to write a memoir called It’s Hard Not to Hate You, about embracing toxic emotions and giving myself permission to be an unrepentant rageholic, I knew I had to include a chapter on professional jealousy. Nothing flared my freudeschaden—taking misery in another person’s joy—like New York Times bestselling debut novelists.
The piece is sharp, thoughtful and here.


Harlan Ellison Would Kill Timberlake Film

Notoriously contentious science fiction icon, Harlan Ellison, filed a copyright suit last week that alleges that a new film borrows heavily from his 1965 short story, “Repent, Harlequin! Said The Ticktockman.” The complaint refers to the work as “one of the most famous and widely published science fiction short stories of all time.” In Time was written and directed by Andrew Niccol (Gattaca, The Truman Show) and starring Justin Timberlake (The Social Network, Bad Teacher) and Amanda Seyfried (Mama Mia, Big Love) and, unless Ellison gets his way, is due to open on October 28th.

As The Hollywood Reporter points out, copyright suits are notoriously difficult to prove. However, it seems that Ellison may have a leg to stand on:
For years, according to Ellison, he has resisted producer interest in adapting this story into film, but in late 2010, Ellison's company, The Kilimanjaro Corporation, entered into an agreement with a third party to create a screenplay based on the story so that it could be sold or licensed to a Hollywood studio. Now, Ellison says that In Time jeopardizes an official film adaptation of "Repent Harlequin!"

Ellison says the similarity between the two works is "obvious" and quotes critics such as Richard Roeper who have attended advanced screenings and seem to believe that In Time is based on "Repent Harlequin!"

Both works are said to take place in a "dystopian corporate future in which everyone is allotted a specific amount of time to live." In both works, government authorities known as a "Timekeeper" track the precise amount of time each citizen has left.

The complaint goes on to list similarities in the features of the universe as well as the plot surfaces -- the manipulation of time an individual can live, the type of death experienced by those whose time runs out, rebellion by story protagonists, and so forth.
In Time is scheduled to hit theaters on October 28th. Just in case, though, we’ve included the official trailer.


Pierce’s Pick: Motor City Shakedown by D.E. Johnson

This week, J. Kingston Pierce chooses Motor City Shakedown by D.E. Johnson.
“While pursuing revenge in 1911 against the killers of a friend -- and also struggling to kick a morphine habit -- Detroit auto company heir Will Anderson and his former fiancée, Elizabeth Hume, blunder into murder and the fiery midst of their city’s first mob war. A sequel to 2010’s The Detroit Electric Scheme..”
Looking for previous Pierce’s Picks? They’re here.

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Sunday, September 18, 2011

Across the Fictional Divide: Best Friends

From the bizarre literary match-up department, the Huffington Post pipes up with an especially silly one: “Book Characters Who Would Be Friends in Real Life.” Oh-kay.

So we have Captain Ahab from Moby Dick and Heart of Darkness’s Kurtz chilling together because they’re “two tyrants driven by their desires who are absolutely fixated on a place,” and Lisbeth Salander from The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo hanging with Libby Day from Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places. “Can’t you see,” asks HuffPost, “these two saboteurs working together to take down rapists, murderers, and thugs?”

Ummm… yikes?

The full piece is here.

Children's Books: Crow Country by Kate Constable

In Kate Constable’s Crow Country (Allen and Unwin), Sadie and her mother have moved from their lovely Melbourne home by the sea to Boort, her mother’s home town in regional Victoria, where there is a drought. Boort has a history, both for her mother and further back. The same families have lived in the town for the last century and more.

The local artificial lake has dried up, leaving behind some old graves and indigenous relics. When Sadie is exploring the dried lake bed, with its small cemetery and a circle of stones set up by the indigenous people, she finds herself confronting Waa the Crow, the local totem bird. A past tragedy has influenced the present. Sadie must find the end to that story, which is dark to the Crow.

Time-slipping back to the 1930s, when her mother’s grandparents were running the local store, Sadie discovers the truth behind the tragedy. The key to the story’s end lies in the present -- and she will need help to find it.

Kate Constable is a master of the time-slip fantasy. Actually, she seems to do fantasy pretty well whatever it is. Whether it’s the present-day fantasy of this one and Cicada Summer or the Tamora Pierce-style world-building of the Chanters of Tremaris series, she creates a wonderful sense of the fantastical and characters you can care about.

In this case, we have not only the time-slip but the indigenous theme and the reminder that the racism of the past hasn’t gone away in our own time.

A touching story, beautifully-told. ◊

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

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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Literary Fakes We Love

What do Charles Dickens, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Edgar Allan Poe and Alexander Pope have in common? Digital newswatcher, Mashable, has included them in a list of top Twitter literary fakes.

Of course, because it’s Mashable, you have to endure a lot of noise to get the full story. But if you’re willing to pay that price, it’s here.

Author Dumps Publisher for Sexist Marketing

Successful authors dumping their publishers and going it alone isn’t a new story anymore. But British author Polly Courtney says she dumped HarperCollins UK for marketing her books in a manner which she found inappropriate to the material. From the Daily Mail:
She said: ‘They dressed up my book as something frivolous, light and racy, which is the complete opposite of what’s inside my books.

‘It is degrading to the writing and ultimately degrading to women. It’s sexist.

‘A lot of chick lit patronises women. There’s intelligent writing out there and I don’t know why it has to be sold in such a fluffy package.
Even if the timing of Courtney’s complaint is likely to sell a lot of books, it would still seem to carry some merit. In a review of Courtney’s newest book, It’s A Man’s World, out from HarperCollins UK today, the online book site, Chicklitreviews, gave the book three out of five possible stars, complaining that “where I was expecting a relatively lightish read, instead I get something more hard-hitting and something infinitely harder to take than I’d have liked.” From Chicklitreviews:
It’s A Man’s World is more hard-hitting than I expected, but it was also a little too preachy. I can see where Courtney was going with it – truly, I can – and I can believe that females in real life who do work at lads mags have a hard time, but honestly? I don’t want to read it in my fiction. I’m all for my characters overcoming obstacles, but I draw the line at having to put up with a character who’s protesting that lads mags are the worst thing ever.

New in Paperback: Handling the Undead by John Ajvide Lindqvist

A year ago, Lincoln Cho liked John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Handling the Undead (Thomas Dunne Books) well enough to comment on it:
In a publishing era when anything that even whiffs of Stieg Larssen seems to draw attention, it’s not surprising that John Ajvide Lindqvist’s 2005 novel has been polished up, dusted off and has found its way back to the top of the pile.
The new paperback edition has a less compelling cover than did the American hardcover edition, but in paperback it’s an easier package to huddle with under the covers. And Cho figures huddling is just what you’ll be doing:
Handling the Undead is a frightening, thoughtful book. The two things should not go together and most of the time they do not. Lindqvist pulls it off, though. These are not the garish, neon zombies you’ve encountered in English language fiction. These are proper Swedish zombies, starkly nuanced, fully realized, frighteningly rendered. You might not ever sleep again.


Monday, September 12, 2011

Crime Fiction: Wicked Autumn by G.M. Malliet

Although I’m often intrigued by new and unusual settings for murder, I remain a devotee of the English village mystery. It offers a delightful combination of the mildly exotic (different foods, different slang, different politics) and the familiar (people in small groups getting along, or not, with each other).

What author G.M. Malliet, who was educated in England but lives in Virginia, has done in Wicked Autumn (Minotaur) is produce an authentic village mystery that also pokes fun at the conventions. And she does it without mockery, which is an achievement.

This story focuses on Max Tudor (great name!), a former MI5 agent turned Anglican priest, who must cope with violence in the quiet village of Nether Monkslip in the south of England. (The name Nether Monkslip practically screams small English village. It’s no surprise to learn that residents there must go to the larger Monkslip-super-Mare to handle some business.)

Max is perhaps a somewhat unlikely vicar, yet Malliet makes his protagonist’s choice of joining the Church seem appropriate, given that he’s endured a violent past that continues to haunt him. The good-looking but celibate Max is an important part of the local community. He is involved in the village, and yet a little bit apart. It has taken him a long time to feel at home, and truly welcomed, in Nether Monkslip -- at least as far as he is willing to reveal himself.

In Wicked Autumn, the murder of an insufferable woman, who was rather a tyrant in village affairs, tears apart the fabric of the small community, and Max, who has finally found some peace, struggles to re-establish it. There’s an assortment of characters who are not quite the ones typically found in an English hamlet, but close enough, in an updated sort of way. There’s the browbeaten widower, known as the Major; the owner of the antique store; a sympathetic woman who runs a New Age business; the village doctor and his sexy sister; a restaurateur with a Continental background; and a woman who spins her own yarn before knitting it into expensive garments.

There’s also the village itself; there’s a lovely interactive map of Nether Monkslip on the author’s Web site, for example, that makes me want to move across the Pond.

Malliet deftly juggles all of her characters, making Nether Monkslip both real and a fantasyland. The murder plot here is quite devious and the motive quite evil, which grounds the story. The quintessential English village mysteries featuring the redoubtable Miss Jane Marple also dealt with the existence of genuine evil, and the need to be vigilant against it.

The author provides a story that works on several levels, including the pleasure of a visit to a traditional English village. ◊

Roberta Alexander is an editor and mystery reviewer in the San Francisco Bay Area, as well as a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

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Birthday for a Publisher

Publisher Alfred A. Knopf, a name still imprinted on the spine of many books, was born on this day in New York in 1892. It seems that Knopf, who died August 11, 1984, always had an eye for a bestseller. From The Writer’s Almanac:
He started his own publishing house when he was 23, and it soon gained a reputation for publishing works of literary merit. He was a hands-on boss, overseeing every aspect of production, down to the typeface. He wanted to publish quality books and didn't really care how well they sold. In 1923, he published Khalil Gibran's The Prophet and was nonplussed when it became a huge best-seller.

He co-founded the literary magazine The American Mercury with H.L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan in 1924, and remained its publisher for 10 years. He also published the work of several notable authors of the 20th century, including Franz Kafka, Sigmund Freud, D.H. Lawrence, James Baldwin, Theodore Dreiser, and Langston Hughes; his favorite of all his authors was Willa Cather.
It’s also the birthday of Sri Lankan/Canadian author Michael Ondaatje (The English Patient) who is 67 today and, sadly, this day marks the death of David Foster Wallace (Infinite Jest) who took his own life on this day in 2008 at the age of 46.


Pierce’s Pick: Temporary Perfections by Gianrico Carofiglio

This week, J. Kingston Pierce’s pick is Temporary Perfections by Gianrico Carofiglio.
“Italian attorney Guido Guerrieri must exercise his detective talents in order to reinvigorate the months-old case of Manuela Ferraro, who went missing from a beach resort. As he digs into this woman’s secrets-filled life, Guerrieri discovers a drug ring, revisits his own uneasy past and questions the inevitability of justice.”
Looking for previous Pierce’s Picks? They’re here.

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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Fiction to Mark the Anniversary

Ten years later, media outlets and publishers are remembering the day in different ways. It’s not an easy thing to do. As the Guardian says:
How do you mark an anniversary like 9/11? How do you examine what has changed and what has not in the 10 years since destruction was visited on New York and Washington out of a clear, blue sky? How do you reflect on the lives lost and the lies told in the course of what Pankaj Mishra calls our “low, dishonest decade”?
Like other high profile daily newspapers, the Guardian has chronicled the decade but, as they point out, reportage is not the only way to look at things:
Over the last 10 years, this newspaper has charted the shock, the reverberations and the legacy of those events, but the effect on our imagination – on how we perceive the world – is perhaps as important to determine. Here on the books desk, we felt an attempt should be made through fiction.
The attempt takes our breath away. Works of short fiction from half a dozen writers: Geoff Dyer, Kamila Shamsie, Helon Habila, Laila Lalami, Rob Magnuson Smith and Will Self share, not stories of the day itself, but 10 years on, tracing “the ripples as they headed further outwards.”

You can find the stories here.


Saturday, September 10, 2011

Young Adult: What is Real by Karen Rivers

Dex Pratt’s parents have divorced and his mother has moved on. His father? Not so much. The former pot farm defending attorney is now himself a pot-growing pothead, wheelchair bound after a suicide attempt went bad. Dex moves back to care for him, and ends up caving under the pressure of his world and smoking to the point where reality and fantasy separate in alarming ways.

What is Real
(Orca Books) is not just the title of Karen Rivers’ 14th novel, it’s also the subtext. Midway through the book, we see Dex sprawl:
Maybe now I should be the bad guy. Take this drug thing and run with it. Expand.

Why not?

I’ve already been everything else.

The brain, the jock, the musician, the filmmaker, the athlete, the nurse, the horticulturalist.

I roll over, face down in the dirt. I can feel it in my nose, Chemicals, rocks, bugs, dirt. I think about earthworms, their long elastic bodies stretching taut, their blind eyes reaching for the darkness.
Dex’s voice is sharp, laconic, edgy fresh. On this journey with him -- and through his eyes -- we experience his loss of footing, feel his helplessness, mourn when he loses his way.

While reading, it’s important to remember that, through most of What is Real, the narrator is stoned and his observations reflect that. “Do people still write poems?" Dex asks at one point. “What a bullshitty thing to do.” And when he tells us about seeing aliens, we know just what has inspired the sightings. We see him stumble, fall and -- ultimately -- begin to find his way. What is Real ends on a hopeful note, or we think it does: Rivers has skillfully left us wondering exactly what is real. ◊

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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Friday, September 09, 2011

Google Acquires Zagat

So it’s confirmed: Google is taking over the world. And how do we know this? Yesterday on Google’s official blog, Google VP Marissa Mayer wrote:
So, today, I'm thrilled that Google has acquired Zagat. Moving forward, Zagat will be a cornerstone of our local offering—delighting people with their impressive array of reviews, ratings and insights, while enabling people everywhere to find extraordinary (and ordinary) experiences around the corner and around the world.
Zagat is, of course, the international restaurant and travel guide and today The Street posits why Google might want to do this:
Just integrating Zagat with Google's search engine carries great potential. Aside from seeing Zagat reviews pop up at the top of the page when users search for restaurants, Google might also choose to incorporate reviews into its Open Now search feature so users could find the best-rated stores in their area open at that moment.

Likewise, Google can build Zagat's ratings into its map feature so users could search for restaurants by location and filter the results by price, food quality, service and decor -- the four categories by which Zagat rates businesses. This would be particularly useful for those looking to pick out a restaurant on mobile phones.
Writing for Business Insider, Eric Clemons was less supportive of the purchase:
The Google Zagat acquisition has to be blocked, reversed, annulled, undone, or whatever the right word is, to protect consumers, to protect restaurant owners, and to protect competitors.
You can read more about Clemons’ concerns here.

Keira Knightley to Star in Movie Based on “Greatest Novel Ever Written”

Keira Knightley will star in a new screen adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. The adaptation will be written by Tom Stoppard (Shakespeare in Love, Enigma) and the film will be directed by Joe Wright, who also worked with Knightley on two other book-based novels, Atonement and Pride & Prejudice.

William Faulkner described Anna Karenina as “the greatest novel ever written,” and there have been many adaptations for the screen including a 1997 version with Sophie Marceau and Sean Bean and, perhaps most notably, Greta Garbo in 1935.

Coincidentally, or maybe not, Leo Tolstoy, who was also the author of War and Peace and other works, was born on this day in 1828.

According to Writer’s Almanac, when Tolstoy was a child, his teachers thought he wasn’t very bright:
and although he managed to teach himself about 12 languages, he was less interested in studying than he was in gambling, drinking, and women. He dropped out of college and spent years without direction -- visiting brothels, binge drinking, and racking up such huge gambling debts that he had to sell off part of his estate. Finally Tolstoy's brother suggested that he needed a change and encouraged him to sign up for the army. He agreed, joining his brother's artillery unit in the Caucasus in the spring of 1851. The following winter, 23-year-old Tolstoy wrote his first novel, Childhood (1852). It was praised by Turgenev and established Tolstoy's reputation as a writer. Over the next few years, he published two more novels in the same vein, Boyhood (1854) and Youth (1856).

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Thursday, September 08, 2011

Twentieth Century Poets Immortalized

In 2012, the United States Postal Service will be releasing 10 Forever stamps featuring 20th century poets.

“With the issuance of Twentieth-Century Poets, we're honoring ten of our nation's most admired poets,” says the USPS’s Mark Saunders.

Elizabeth Bishop, Joseph Brodsky, Gwendolyn Brooks, E. E. Cummings, Robert Hayden, Denise Levertov, Sylvia Plath, Theodore Roethke, Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams will all be featured on Forever stamps, which are always of equal value to the current First-Class Mail one-ounce rate.

The stamps were art directed by Derry Noyes of Washington, DC. Each stamp features a photograph of one of the ten poets while text on the back of the stamp includes an excerpt from one poem by each poet.

Since the USPS was thoughtful enough to include a backgrounder on each of the poets who will be honored, we thought we’d include those brief bios here. After all, celebrating poets and poetry seems like a pretty good idea.

The USPS Selected 10 20th Century Poets:

Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979) polished her poems to gleaming perfection, displaying the precise observation, intellectual strength, and understated humor that continue to win readers. Her poems walk the line between the marvelous and the ordinary and other contradictions.

Joseph Brodsky (1940–1996) was an exile from the Soviet Union who became the first foreign-born poet to be appointed Poet Laureate of the United States. Although he embraced the country he came to call home, many of his poems resonate with loneliness and loss.

Gwendolyn Brooks (1917–2000), another former U.S. Poet Laureate, is best remembered for distinctive, lyrical portraits of urban life. A master of traditional poetic forms, she also experimented with free verse, jazz and blues poetry, and colloquial language.

E. E. Cummings (1894–1962) expertly manipulated the rules of grammar, punctuation, rhyme, and meter to create poems that resembled modernist paintings. His works transformed notions of what a poem can do and delighted readers of all ages.

The poems of Robert Hayden (1913-1980) reflect his brilliant craftsmanship, his historical conscience, and his gift for storytelling. Many of his works render aspects of the black American experience with unforgettable vividness; others are more personal.

Denise Levertov
(1923–1997) hoped her poetry would inspire change. Weaving together public and private, active and contemplative, she perfected an organic form of poetry that explored the political and social world through the intimate experiences and perceptions of the individual.

Sylvia Plath (1932–1963) probed the conflict between self and outward appearance. Her complex body of work includes deftly imagined poems about marriage and motherhood, gender and power, death and resurrection, and the sweet, enjoyable moments of everyday life.

Theodore Roethke (1908–1963) created intimate, introspective poems distinguished by lyricism and a sensual use of imagery. Best known for his poems about the natural world, he was profoundly influenced by the events of his childhood and mined his past for the themes and subjects of his writing.

The work of Wallace Stevens (1879-1955) presents a luxurious banquet of language and meaning. Many of his poems -- some highly comic, others somber and spare -- explore the relationship between consciousness and reality.

William Carlos Williams (1883-1963) was a doctor who typed out his poems between seeing patients. His work showed readers the extraordinary in the commonplace -- a broken bottle, a red wheelbarrow left out in the rain -- in deliberately plain language.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

SF/F: The Uncertain Places by Lisa Goldstein

Since winning an American Book Award (for The Red Magician) in 1983, Lisa Goldstein has been a rising star. She has won the Nebula Award several times and has been nominated more than once for both an Arthur C. Clarke Award and a Hugo. In the world of SF/F, then, Goldstein’s is not a new name.

In The Uncertain Places (Tachyon), Goldstein is in fine form with a darkly compelling modern fairytale.

It’s Berkeley in the 1970s and Will Taylor falls for chef and scientist Livvy Feierabend who proves to be just one of a tribe of mysterious women -- all related -- who made an ancient pact that will prevent Livvy from ever truly becoming Will’s, unless he can intervene.

The Uncertain Places is charming, magical and oddly believable… if you completely suspend belief. Goldstein’s strong way with a story makes this entirely possible. The Uncertain Places is a deeply enjoyable book. I can’t imagine that a television series isn’t already in the works somewhere. Holly wood would have so much fun with this one! ◊

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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Art & Culture: The Collected Erotica edited by Charlotte Hill and William Wallace

The Collected Erotica (Connections) attempts to bring together the “very best examples of sexual art and literature, spanning 2,000 years and sourced from both the east and the West.” It’s a tall order, especially considering the near-pocket size of this fat little paperback. On the other hand, this is an illustrated anthology of erotica and for many readers, with a mix like this, it’s tough to go wrong.

The whole 2,000 year thing forces an uneven anthology. It is, after all, a huge bite they’ve taken here and the canvas? It’s quite small. All of the heavy erotica hitters are here: Anais Nin, Oscar Wilde, Erica Jong, Casanova, D.H. Lawrence and even Edith Wharton, who writes:
Then suddenly he drew back her wrapper entirely, whispered: “I want you all, so that my eyes can see all that my lips can’t cover,” and in a moment she was free, lying before him in her fresh young nakedness, and feeling that indeed his eyes were covering it with fiery kisses.
In most cases, the writing collected represents passages from various longer works, often selected to illustrate a point in one of the sections of the book. Chapters with titles like “Forbidden Fruit,” “Dreams of Empire,” and “Fantasy or Reality,” include snippets of writing and reproductions of art and photos that make the intended points. The resulting book, then, is representational, at best. You don’t, for instance, really experience Lady Chatterley’s Lover in the few paragraphs reproduced here, but then there are those who would argue that a taste of D.H. Lawrence is enough.

As far as tastes go, The Collected Erotica is a good one. If you have a passion for this sort of work, there will be little new here. On the other hand, if this is an early foray, the taste may be all that you need. In the end, though, this bad little book is quite good. ◊

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

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Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Cookbooks: Chicken and Egg by Janice Cole

The title of former chef and restaurant owner Janice Cole’s Chicken and Egg (Chronicle) gives only a hint of what might be inside. With a look at the title and the elegant but homespun cover, one imagines something altogether more ordinary than the book Cole actually delivers. I mean, ordinary is here, as well. Breakfast hashes and baked eggs. But what one doesn’t -- can’t -- expect -- are the other components. Cole’s warmth and wit and charm, for one. And the very complete look at cooking with both chicken and eggs that this turns out to be. As a result, Chicken and Egg is both surprise and delight. The book includes 125 recipes and is, also, a “memoir of suburban homesteading.” Add in some really great photos by Alex Farnum and you’ve got the whole package: and it really is a very good book, indeed.

Cole, who lives in urban St. Paul, decided to get chickens when faced again and again with inferior chickens and eggs in the market. She wanted a superior product and set about doing something about it. It happens that Cole has not been alone. All over North America, homeowners are adding small chicken coops to their backyards in order to enjoy something special that our (not so distant) ancestors took for granted. If this is something you’ve done or considered, then Chicken and Egg is the book for you.

Cole shares her journey in a warm and witty style but, because of her strong food background, she adds another layer and, as a cookbook, Chicken and Egg is very strong. This is cookbook that anyone who likes cooking with both chicken and eggs (though not necessarily at the same time) will enjoy. The recipes are highly varied, imaginative and terrific and everything I tried yielded very good results. Highlights for me included Cucumber-Basil Egg Salad, Lemon-Spike Chicken with Sage, Tagliatelle with Saffron Chicken and Blueberry Sour Cream Tart. I could go on, but that gives you a taste.

Chicken and Egg
is a very good book, and there is likely much more to it than you’re imagining. ◊

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, September 05, 2011

Pierce’s Pick: Damage Control by Denise Hamilton

This week, J. Kingston Pierce chooses Damage Control by Denise Hamilton.

“Public relations exec Maggie Silver tries to protect U.S. Senator Henry Paxton of California from a crippling scandal,” Pierce explains, “following the death of a female aide. At the same time, she must cope with re-entering the Paxtons’ sphere of celebrity and recollections of a long-ago tragedy that drove her and the senator’s daughter apart.”

Looking for previous Pierce’s Picks? They’re here.

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Sunday, September 04, 2011

The Day the Paperback Died

Never mind the death of the book, it’s the death of the paperback we’re most concerned with right now. From an interesting piece by Julie Bosman in the New York Times’ business section:
Fading away is a format that was both inexpensive and widely accessible — thrillers and mysteries and romances by authors like James Patterson, Stephen King, Clive Cussler and Nora Roberts that were purchased not to be proudly displayed on a living room shelf (and never read), but to be addictively devoured by devoted readers.

“In those days, you could easily ship out a million copies of a book,” said Beth de Guzman, the editor in chief of paperbacks for Grand Central Publishing, part of the Hachette Book Group. “Then shelf space started decreasing and decreasing for mass market, and it has especially declined in the last several years.”
What’s behind this latest death knell? Why the e-book, of course. Quickly replacing the checkout impulse buy with a cheaper and perhaps more environmentally friendly alternative. One of the saddest losses, though, might not be immediately apparent.
The prices of print formats are typically separated by at least a few dollars. Michael Connelly, the best-selling mystery writer best known for “The Lincoln Lawyer,” said he worried that book buyers would not be able to discover new authors very easily if mass-market paperbacks continued to be phased out.

“Growing up and reading primarily inexpensive mass-market novels, it allows you to explore,” he said. “I bought countless novels based on the cover or based on the title, not knowing what was inside.”
I’m with Connelly on this one. When I was a kid, that was how I navigated my way through the myriad reading possibilities available to me. Not recommendations from friends -- they seldom liked what I did in the first place. Ditto book reviews. How was some stodgy old newspaper writer going to understand what my 12-year-old heart wanted? But standing in front of the colorful displays in the supermarket could get that heart thumping. And, at the time, it seemed that everything I wanted could be supplied by a medium-to-large Safeway books section. I’d examine the covers, read the jackets, perhaps sample a few paragraphs. That was how I found Stephen King, Mordecai Richler (yes, really), James Michener and James Clavell along with the regrettable VC Andrews.

All of that is going fast. What are kids expected to do in the electronic age? Sure you can sample, but it won’t be the same. But I guess we’re dealing with a lot of that now. Things do change and not all change is bad. Some things are lost but, at the same time, some things are gained. Would I be a less well-rounded reader had I not found Flowers in the Attic waiting for me at the check-out? I certainly feel I would be had I not been so entranced by the dark and dangerous-looking paperback cover of Solomon Gursky Was Here.

What’s gone is gone, though. Bowker’s Kelly Gallagher says he doesn’t figure the mass market paperback will be making a comeback any time soon:
“You can’t list a single thing that has caused its demise,” he said. “But as e-books become more affordable and better aligned to the mass-market reader, I would have to say that I don’t think there are encouraging signs that print mass-market books will rise again. When all these things align against a certain format or category, it’s hard to recover.”