Monday, October 31, 2011

Garnering Some Attention

And speaking of J. Kingston Pierce, our man at The Rap Sheet does a great job at affectionately grilling James Garner, the former star of The Rockford Files, for an extensive interview that ran, in part, on Kirkus and in part on January’s sister publication.

There are two things that make Pierce’s interview with the star so special. One, Garner has publicly stated that he’d “rather dig a ditch than do an interview.” That being the case, lengthy and candid interviews with Garner are rare and this is one of those. And, two, as Pierce himself says, Garner’s film and television work “over the last six decades make up about half of all the DVDs I own.” As a result, Pierce brings a fanboy’s charm as well as his usual fierce journalistic skill to the piece. As Pierce writes:
Garner may be “a very private person,” as actress (and onetime Rockford Files guest star) Lauren Bacall describes him in her tribute -- one of many from his family and friends -- at the back of The Garner Files. But he chose to live his life in the most public of professions. It took him only six decades in Hollywood before he was willing to step out from behind the characters he’s brought to vivid life on-screen and show himself, in print, to be a character worth knowing in his own right. I’m thrilled to have been around to ask him a few questions when that happened.
Pierce’s efforts help herald in Garner’s new memoir, The Garner Files, written with Jon Winokur (The Portable Curmudgeon, The Rich are Different) and due out from Simon & Schuster on Tuesday. Look for Pierce’s Rap Sheet piece here.

Pierce’s Pick: Prague Fatale by Philip Kerr

This week, J. Kingston Pierce chooses Prague Fatale by Philip Kerr.
No sooner has German homicide cop Bernie Gunther returned to a beleaguered Berlin in 1941, than he’s called away again -- this time to Prague, where a gathering of Nazi officials is taking place. Following a locked-room murder, it falls to Bernie to solve it, or maybe lose more than simply his good reputation in failing.
Looking for previous Pierce’s Picks? Twelve months of them are here.

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Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Greatest Indie Bookstores in the World

Though the pictures make it pretty, in many ways, it’s kind of a lame piece: it includes no thoughts or reasoning, or even what would have helped get these stores on the big list, but I do like the idea of celebrating the very best indie bookstores. In “America’s Greatest Independent Bookstores,” The Daily Beast includes little beyond great photos of 23 great stores.

Mind you, a lot of the books on this list make any list of great stores pretty much all the time. Powells in Portland, for example. The Strand in NYC. The incomparable Book Passage in Corte Madera, California; West Hollywood’s Book Soup; City Lights in San Francisco and Book Hampton (pictured) in East Hampton, New York.

Check it out: the list is here. Are there any truly great bookstores that haven’t made the list? Or, heck: add your vote for one or more of these. And what about other countries? Who says America’s bookstores are best? Anyone care to comment? What are the greatest bookstores in the world… and why? Send us your thoughts on the greatest bookstores in the world, with pictures if you like, and we’ll revisit this thought during the holidays.

Non-Fiction: Context by Cory Doctorow

In his foreword to Cory Doctorow’s Context (Tachyon), publisher Tim O’Reilly calls Doctorow “one of the great context-setters of our generation, helping us all to understand the implications of the technology being unleashed around us.”

This has basically been true about everything Doctorow has cared to share with us, including his sharp and worthwhile novels, beginning with his first book-length work of fiction in 2003, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. This has been true, also, of his work online: all of it notable, including co-editing the irreverent and yet always relevant Boing Boing, as well as a series of essays and commentaries that, as both O’Reilly and the title suggest, give context to that which perhaps has never had it before.

In Context, Doctorow grapples eloquently with the great questions of our age. I think, though, that he would back away from that description. In his thoughts on computers and kids, dealing with encryption, the state of the blogosphere (“Reports of blogging’s death have been greatly exaggerated”) and how Apple is dumbing down computing, as well as all the other things -- large and small -- he talks about, Doctorow is observing as much as anything. His observations are wise, often witty and always entirely clued in, but still: they are clusters of his thoughts, brought together in his distinctive razor-sharp way.

If I have a single quibble, it’s that I would have liked to have seen a stronger edit on Context. The material here has been culled from various sources. The individual pieces started out as newspaper articles, columns, blog posts. There appears to have been little or no effort to making the pieces work with each other or, ironically enough, within the context of the book. I would have less of a problem with that if each piece were given context with a date and a credit line: where did the piece run? And when? This small amount of additional information would help the reader understand where Doctorow was coming from at the time he wrote the piece. But this really is a quibble and I recognize that, for every reader who is bothered by these omissions, there will likely be half a dozen who don’t feel the same way.

Depth of editing aside, Context is a deeply interesting and thought-provoking book. Beyond pure educated wool-gathering, Doctorow muses on creativity, productivity and parenting. The resulting collection is golden: and an absolute must-read for anyone who’s ever asked where all of this technology stuff is heading. It’s not so much that Doctorow provides the answers, but he helps us frame the questions in a way that leads us to manage it all for ourselves.

Context-setting, indeed! ◊

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


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Cookbooks: The Gluten-Free Asian Kitchen by Laura B. Russell

At first glance The Gluten-Free Asian Kitchen (Celestial Arts) seems too esoteric for words. But this book by the “Gluten Freedom” columnist for the Oregonian takes something esoteric and makes it delicious: not just for those battling gluten-related health issues, but for anyone. As author Russell says in her introduction: “Gluten free or not, I want everything I eat to be delicious.” The increasing number of people with gluten sensitivities will find comfort in those words.

There are 100 recipes in The Gluten-Free Asian Kitchen. Russell says that all are based on the Thai, Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese and Japanese cuisines that she loves. The recipes are not fusion, rather they are gluten free adaptations of the classics of these cuisines. And so we have Vietnamese-Style Sizzling Rice Crepes, Thai Seafood Salad, Chilled Tangy Soba Noodles in the Japanese style and Chinese style Seafood and Glass Noodle Casserole.

Russell begins her book with a careful section on how to identify sources of gluten in common Asian ingredients and there are some skills here that will translate to other types of gluten free cuisine.

The author is a former associate editor of Food & Wine cookbooks and it shows. She writes clearly and recreates even complicated dishes without fuss. Those with an interest in Asian cuisine will find The Gluten-Free Asian Kitchen to be a useful addition. ◊

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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Fiction: Lost Memory of Skin by Russell Banks

In a 2003 interview with January Magazine, Russell Banks explained why his characters manage to live and breathe as sharply as they do:
Again, it goes back to: how does the writer view the universe? How do you view human beings? It's the case, I think, that no one is simply one thing or the other -- except for those few beings who are out of their minds, in a literal and ongoing way. But most human beings -- almost all human beings -- are made up of this conflicted mix of good and bad motives, and good and bad deeds, and perception and blindness.
It is this conflicted mix of good and bad that most characterizes the main character in Banks’ latest novel, Lost Memory of Skin.

“The Kid” is 22 and out on probation, having done his time after his involvement with a girl who was underage. Labeled a sex offender, the Kid no longer belongs anywhere and creates a makeshift life with his pet iguana under a South Florida causeway with others who share his brand. When the Kid is befriended by a professor with an interest in homelessness, both men think the older man will be helping the younger. Both are surprised when it turns out to be the other way around.

As in earlier works like Continental Drift and The Sweet Hereafter, in Lost Memory of the Skin, as Margaret Atwood said, Banks “takes us into the dark side of the dark side.” The light never looked so sweet. ◊

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

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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Biography: Sleeping With the Enemy: Coco Chanel’s Secret War by Hal Vaughan

From the beginning, I was entranced by the cover. Simple black sans serif type on a plain white background, and the whole is framed by a strong black box.

Anyone who was ever at all familiar with the work of designer Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel would recognize the design: it is Chanel: elegant, simple, sophisticated. Here captured perfectly in a book cover by legendary designer and long-time Knopf art director Carol Devine Carson. And there’s more to a book than its cover, sure. But in this case, it’s a very good place to start because, ironically enough, this perfectly designed book discusses Chanel’s work and creative life much less than the books that have come before. Even so, and for several reasons, Sleeping With the Enemy (Knopf) might be the best of a very good bunch.

Much has been written about Chanel in the years since WWII, but all of it has played down most if not all of her romantic life and her serious entanglements. But in Sleeping With the Enemy (Knopf), author and journalist Hal Vaughan has dug in deeper and here reveals new information about many things, including Chanel’s romantic involvement with a high ranking Nazi during Paris’s occupation and, even more explosive, her recruitment and activities as a spy.

Sleeping With the Enemy offers us a very different look at Chanel. Vaughan looks not at his subject’s talent or the fabulous aspects of her life that other writers have dwelled upon. Instead he reveals the secrets Coco held about herself… and it’s a revelation that will not sit well with all of her fans. A fascinating, well-researched and executed book that, nonetheless, leaves one with a sour taste. ◊

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


New Today: Mastiff by Tamora Pierce

Fans of Tamora Pierce’s series featuring Provost Guard Bekka Cooper will meet the third book in the series, Mastiff (Random House) with mixed feelings. On the one hand, it seems a long time since the last installment, Bloodhound, was released in the first half of 2009. On the other, this is the end of what has been a terrific, ground-breaking series for Pierce, a prolific writer who, nonetheless, has taken her time about getting caught in the limelight. At least when we were waiting, we knew another book featuring Bekka would be coming down the pipe eventually. Now we know we have to say goodbye to the magical realm of Tortall, at least for a while, along with fearless Bekka Cooper, whose adventures have taken us on such pleasurable journeys.

While the Bekka Cooper series is considered children’s literature, like the best of that genre, these books entrance anyone lucky enough to fall under their spell. Pierce’s magic formula is intense: girl power done up fantasy style, with strong female protagonists creating role models and blazing new trails. It’s wonderful stuff.

In Mastiff, Bekka is back in Tortall, fighting against slavery, corruption and fraud. In addition to these larger, mostly political problems, her personal life is in shambles. She’s dealing with the fallout of losing her fiance, who died just as she was about to cut him loose in the last book. And it is in this spirit that she moves into her most challenging adventure yet: she will travel to the Summer Palace to meet with a powerful mage in order to work out a secret for the royal family.

Mastiff’s powerful ending is bittersweet. Traveling through these three books with Bekka has been a wonderful journey. I can’t help but be sorry that it’s come to an end. ◊

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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Bathroom Reading: Are You Flushing Away Your Good Health?

Though people have likely been reading on the toilet as long as there have been books and bathrooms, virtually no scientific work has been done to determine if reading on the can is a good idea or if doing it helps flush away your health. Fortunately, The Guardian has some answers:
It transpires that toilet readers spend more time on the loo and consider themselves less constipated than non-toilet readers, but other measures of their defecation habits show the two groups hardly differ. Shaoul's work hints that toilet readers suffer more hemorrhoids – something that made for cautionary news stories around the world – but the effect is negligible.
But the miles it takes to come to this conclusion are interesting, including Henry Miller’s stylized toilet reading:
Miller went so far as to recommend toilets for individual authors. To enjoy Rabelais, he advised a plain country toilet, "a little outhouse in the corn patch, with a crescent sliver of light coming through the door". Better still, he said, take a friend along, to sit with you for half an hour of minor bliss.
The full piece is here.

Pierce’s Pick: Bad Signs by R.J. Ellory

This week, J. Kingston Pierce chooses Bad Signs by R.J. Ellory.
Seized as hostages by a fleeing psychopath, orphaned half-brothers Clarence and Elliott -- blind to the world outside their institution’s walls -- are suddenly swept up in a frantic getaway across America’s Southwest. That escape leaves a trail of violence and threatens to consume the siblings in their kidnapper’s frightening vision of the world.
Looking for previous Pierce’s Picks? Twelve months of them are here.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Children’s Books Move Successfully into the Real World

With Pottermore, the new online community based on the world of Harry Potter, preparing to go into beta, The Guardian looks at how children’s books can often lend themselves to leaching into the real world:
Pottermore may be the most ambitious attempt to extend the legacy of a children's book, but it's just the logical technological extension of a process that began when print ceased to be the sole means of mass communication. Kids' books have become radio and TV serials, feature films, cartoons, audiobooks – and now they are becoming apps, websites and more.

But isn't there a risk that all the bells and whistles take away from the original book, restricting the limits of the young reader's imagination – especially with films? "There can be the danger that the visual impact takes over," says Elv Moody, the editorial director of Classic Puffin. "But sometimes it can work the other way. Film can be a great way into a book that might have seemed too grown-up to read." She thinks this autumn's films of Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and The Three Musketeers will attract a new audience to those books, and points out that Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland prompted a massive uplift in sales of Lewis Carroll's original book – even the Puffin edition, which had no film tie-in.
The full piece is here. You can’t register for Pottermore yet, but when you can, you’ll do so here.

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Americans Might Not “Get” Film Version of TinTin

As Stephen Spielberg’s long-awaited 3-D version of the Belgian comic book classic opens in the UK, some critics are not sure how well the 80-year-old comic character will play in the United States when the film arrives in theaters in time for the holidays.

“American audiences may find the film a bit difficult,” TinTin expert Michael Farr told the BBC, “Some have known him and loved him, like Spielberg, but not the audience at large.”

Farr’s concern is that the US, immersed in a tradition of superheroes, might not really understand the charm of the character Belgian writer and artist Hergé created more than 80 years ago.

Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot), who voices the title character, told the BBC why he things the Spielberg/Peter Jackson collaboration will be a hit with TinTin fans:
“I’ve never seen such a realistic Tintin in my life. In the comics the characters don’t look like people -- they’re surrealist drawings,” he adds.

The 25-year-old says that the film -- which is produced by Peter Jackson -- can be “paused at any moment and put back into a comic.”

The Billy Elliot star reveals that while performing the actors, including Andy Serkis and Daniel Craig, had frames from the original cartoons pasted around their studio “so we could look directly at the source”.

Bell believes that Tintin’s transformation will draw in a fresh wave of fans -- on their own terms.
The BBC piece is here.


Saturday, October 22, 2011

New Next Week: The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay

Those who were enchanted by Ami McKay’s 2006 debut, The Birth House, have been anxiously awaiting her sophomore effort. It feels like it’s been a long time coming. And concerned as they are with women and medicine in a different era, The Virgin Cure (Knopf Canada) would seem to feature related themes, in many ways the two books couldn’t be more different, though McKay has opted for a similar storytelling technique. Both books bear elements of scrapbook, though The Virgin Cure less so than The Birth House. Newspaper clippings, sidebars, period ads, letters and other ephemera festoon the pages of The Virgin Cure, adding a feeling of period and reality to this well-conceived work of fiction.

“I am Moth,” the narrating character tells us as the book begins, “a girl from the lowest part of Chrystie Street, born to a slum-house mystic and the man who broke her heart.”

In case you are unclear about Moth’s place in life after the prologue, it’s brought home with the first line of Chapter One: “Mama sold me the summer I turned twelve.” In fact, McKay has a knack -- or perhaps a talent -- for starting chapters leaving you wanting more, rather than ending them that way. It’s an interesting approach. One that grows on you plunked, as we are, into new situations fueled by the stark images McKay paints.

Set in New York City in 1871, Moth runs wild in the Bowery, eventually meeting a woman called Miss Everett who runs The Infant School, where gentlemen will pay a great deal to be in the company of a virgin, some of them with the idea that sex with a virgin will heal whatever ails them.

Luckily, Moth befriends a “doctoress,” a character inspired by the author’s own ancestor. Dr. Sadie helps Moth to understand that the world the young girl has up to that point experienced might not be the only one out there for her.

This will be another big book for McKay. Topical themes twinned with the author’s distinct, almost painterly style, have produced another memorable fictional voyage. ◊

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, October 21, 2011

Which are Better: E-Books or the Printed Kind?

The question is both complicated and astonishingly simple. We maintain that it’s also deeply personal. Which might be true for me may not hold true for you. Mashable doesn’t agree:
Ever wonder which method of reading is better for you -- electronic screen or printed text?

The answer: There is no difference.
Well, that’s a bit of an oversimplification. For one thing, it’s not the same. For another, it’s different. The experts would not agree:
“There are no disadvantages to reading from electronic reading devices compared with reading printed texts,” according to a study by Research Unit Media Convergence of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with MVB Marketing- und Verlagsservice des Buchhandels GmbH, operator of the ebook platform Libreka!.
Study or no, I’m holding fast on this one. What’s “better” in this instance is likely situational. Am I at my desk? In bed? On a beach? In the bath? And it’s personal. What do you like? What do you need?

In a classroom, I think the electronic version would always rock: give me random access so I can find what I need in haste! On vacation, e-books are clearly better: you can haul a whole library around the world with you if you want. But when I’m reading outside, under my favorite tree and a sudden rainshower shows up, I want don’t want to have to worry about delicate electronic parts. But, see? These things are personal, as well.

In the end, none of it matters. (And what if it did?) Here’s what does: we’re talking about reading. We’re talking about books. That’s the important thing. And the rest of it? That’s like Purolator or UPS: the method of delivery is clearly up to you, what matters is getting the package home in the way that makes the most sense to you.


The Princess and the Shock Therapy

Writer, actor and eternal princess Carrie Fisher was born on this day in 1956.

Though she will always be Star Wars’ Princess Leia to many of us, Fisher was born a Hollywood princess. The daughter of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, some would say she was born royal. But Writer’s Almanac brings us Fisher the writer:
“By the time I was 13, maybe even younger, I would write to calm myself down,” Fisher recalled in an interview with the Chicago Tribune. “I had an overflowing of words. And I realized that if I put things down on paper I could get out from the emotions and organize myself. I kept diaries. The writing compulsion emerged at about the same time as the bipolar condition appeared.”

Her literary breakthrough came in 1987, with Postcards from the Edge, a semi-autobiographical novel. She also wrote the screenplay for the 1990 film, which starred Meryl Streep as a drug-addicted actress, and Shirley MacLaine as her mother, a former musical comedy darling.
A new memoir, Shockaholic (Simon & Schuster), debuts in November. We have yet to read it, but the reviews thus far are not stellar. “Not exactly electrifying reading,” complains Kirkus, going for the easy shot (one of the things Fisher talks about in the book is electric shock therapy). We’ll hold judgment, but make a request of the author: isn’t it please time for another novel?

Happy Birthday!

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Increased Transparency for Authors

When it comes to their sales figures, it’s been a tradition to treat authors like mushrooms and keep them in the dark. But it looks as though all of that is about to change. From the New York Times:
Three major publishers said on Wednesday that they would allow their authors to access book sales data directly online, a move that appeared to challenge Amazon and its continued efforts to woo authors.
Simon & Schuster, Random House and the Hachette Book Group have all said “that they were in the planning stages of creating their own portals for authors that would offer sales and other relevant information.”

You can read Julie Bosman’s New York Times piece here.


Young Adult: Angel Arias: The Night Creatures Book 2 by Marianne De Pierres

In Burn Bright, Retra, a girl from the Puritan-like Seal community in Grave, followed her runaway brother to the island of Ixion. On Ixion, where teenagers party throughout the night (there is no day) she discovered some terrifying truths about what happened to those teens once they got too old for Ixion. But Retra, now named Naif, was a lot stronger than she had thought. She has fought for her new friends, been rescued, with others, from the island by pirate Ruzalia, and taken to her own haven.

Thing is, not everything on that island is going well either. People who realise that their Ixion badges will turn off their lives after a while, blame Ruzalia. Some just want to go back to Ixion. When a group of them mutiny, Naif persuades Ruzalia to help her return to Grave, where Ripers, who run Ixion, have been seen talking with the local Elders. This is a little fishy, given that running away to Ixion was a sign of rebellion.

Naif and her friend Markes, the musician, have just two days to find out what’s going on for Ruzalia…

In Angel Arias (Random House Australia), the second book in the Night Creatures series, we see a little more about life in Grave, which then-Retra left at the start of Burn Bright. We learn about Markes’s background in the wealthier community outside the Seal compound -- a community no nicer than her own.

There’s non-stop adventure here -- and some things Naif wishes she hadn’t known. Those who enjoyed Burn Bright will get plenty out of this one as well, but be warned -- it ends on a cliffhanger. ◊

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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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Scorned National Book Award Hopeful Felt “Gutted”

In a Vanity Fair exclusive with Brett Berk, scorned National Book Award hopeful, Lauren Myracle said she felt “gutted and ashamed” when she heard she was nominated, then un-nominated, then nominated again, only to have it all taken away. “The novel in question,” writes Berk, “Shine (Abrams, 2011), concerns a violent hate crime against a small-town gay youth, the ensuing cover-up by local authorities, and a girl who takes it upon herself to find the truth.”

When asked what it felt like to be un-nominated after the high of being singled out for such a prestigious award, Myracle replied that it was like “any bad breakup or any awful thing you go through, if I could go back and have it not happen, I would have it not happen.” Despite this, Myracle said, some good has come out of the experience. “The community of writers has been amazing. I felt ashamed and embarrassed, and they’ve taken my shame and embarrassment away from me. They’ve said, No, we love you, and this is an important book. And that’s made me feel so humbled.”

Myracle, whose New York Times bestselling books are among the most challenged in the United States, said she felt as though the context and content of her work had nothing to do with the confusion. Read, in her own words, how it all came about here.


Biography: Recipes for Life: My Memories by Linda Evans

I hadn’t thought about Linda Evans in a long time. Maybe a lot of people haven’t. According to IMdB, aside from a couple of forgettable television movies in the mid-to-late 1990s, she really hasn’t done very much in a while. Which gets you to thinking: maybe there’s more to life than what you read on IMdB.

The record gets set entirely straight in Recipes for Life: My Memories (Vanguard) a surprisingly candid -- not to mention surprisingly delicious -- collection of both Evans’ memories and her recipes. And who would have thought that when she used the word “recipe” in the title, she actually meant it?

It turns out, that among other things, Evans is a foodie. From her Big Valley days, where she debuted as Audra, to her most famous stint on the 1980s primetime soap Dynasty, and her relationships with producer/director John Derek, musician Yanni and other men.

Throughout, Linda’s voice is bright and engaging, including where she cheerfully recounts early rivalries with Derek’s other wives: Pati Behrs, Ursula Andress and Bo Derek.

And though she dishes on her life, the recipes in Evans’ biography are surprisingly abundant, including John Wayne’s Favorite Chili and Cheese Casserole; Leslie and Tony Curtis’ Lemon Souffle with Raspberry Sauce; Dani and David Janssen’s Caesar Salad and many other even more personal dishes. Fans of Evans and/or Dynasty won’t want to miss this one. ◊

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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Biography: One With the Sea by Richard Daniel O’Leary

In One With the Sea (Jetty House), much is made of author Richard Daniel O’Leary’s affinity and passion for the sea. But it’s more than that that pushes the young man back to become head of a large shipping and cruise company. What started as a one-man operation grows to be a national company. By the time O’Leary retired in 2005 after 34 years as head of Cruise International, he was responsible for more than 2500 employees operating out of ten ports.

Though there is a sense of great deeds just below the surface in much of One With the Sea, it never moves very far beyond the realm of family memoir. The wife, the daughters, the poodles take up many of the pages, and that’s fine. O’Leary comes across as warm and loving, and that’s pleasant, as we spend a lot of time with him. But, for the most part, the book meanders rudderlessly. One is sure the book is accurate and that all the necessary facts are there, but it’s never anywhere as interesting as it could be and you get the feeling that, just below the surface, great stories are waiting to be told.

This is the biography of an interesting man’s long and well-lived life. His time in the Merchant Marine leading him to start a significant business that has led to a prosperous life for his beautiful family. The book includes correspondence and documents and sometimes feels more like a corporate monograph than one man’s biography. So be it: O’Leary is a captain of industry and a master capitalist, not a writer and there’s nothing wrong with that. Just be prepared to bog a bit in places. There are lessons in business to be gleaned here and those captaining their own sea-oriented businesses might make a point of seeking out One With the Sea and spending some time in O’Leary’s company. ◊

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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Non-Fiction: The Joy of the Quickie: More Than 150 Ways to Do It Now! by Kate Stevens

“In the world of sex, the ‘quickie’ is like a fun-size candy bar you pop into your mouth for an instant burst of feel-good satisfaction.” So we are instructed in the introduction to The Joy of the Quickie (Adams Media) by Kate Stevens who wrote the book and thus oughta know.

But it’s a whole book, right? So defining the quickie is not enough. She also has to tell us how to do it and, for a lot of us, she also has to explain where. In as much detail as possible, if you please.

And she does. “More than 150 possible locations are listed alphabetically,” Stevens tells us, “from ‘AA Meeting’ to ‘Zoo.’ And, honestly? I live in a world where she could have skipped both of those places. So then where? Airplane. Airport. Bridge. Bus. (“Buses may not be as smelly and unpleasant as they were 20 years ago, but they’re still public.” Thank you.) Car Show. Car Wash. (“Car” itself is not listed. Perhaps just too mundane?) Cave. Cemetery. (Yuck.) Chair Lift. Elevator. Factory. Gym. Horse-Drawn Carriage.

Enough! You get the idea. It’s silly fun, but the book is small enough to fit in a big pocket or an average-sized purse, just in case you want to take it along because “Getting down has never been so right now!” ◊

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


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Bookies’ Favorite Wins International Prize

Julian Barnes, the bookmakers’ favorite, has been named the winner of the £50,000 Man Booker Prize for Fiction for The Sense of an Ending (Jonathan Cape). Barnes has been shortlisted for the award three previous times -- for Arthur and George (2005), England, England (1998) and Flaubert's Parrot (1984). This is his first win.

When Barnes’ place on the Man Booker shortlist was announced, judge Gaby Wood commented on The Sense of an Ending, sayings that the “tragedy trapped in this mundane life should be so moving, and so keenly felt by the character that he can only confront it half-blindly and in fragments, is the mark of a truly masterful novel.”

The awards were announced at a dinner at London’s Guildhall last night. 2011 chair of the judges, Dame Stella Rimington, commented that “Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending has the markings of a classic of English Literature. It is exquisitely written, subtly plotted and reveals new depths with each reading.”

It’s interesting to note that the books shortlisted for this years’ prize have outsold any previous years. Sales of the novels are up 127% year-on-year and up 105% on the previous record in 2009.

The 65-year-old Barnes is the author of ten previous novels, three books of short stories and three collections of essays. He is the only writer to have won both of France’s highest literary honors: the Prix Médicis (for Flaubert’s Parrot) and the Prix Femina (for Talking it Over). He was awarded the Austrian State Prize for European Literature in 2004 and the David Cohen Prize for Literature in 2011 for his lifetime achievement in literature. He lives in London.

Also nominated:
  • Jamrach’s Menagerie, Carol Birch (Canongate Books)
  • The Sisters Brothers, Patrick deWitt (Granta/Anansi)
  • Half Blood Blues, Esi Edugyan (Serpent’s Tail/Profile)
  • Pigeon English, Stephen Kelman (Bloomsbury)
  • Snowdrops, A.D. Miller (Atlantic)


A Holiday Gift for the One Percent

When it comes to gift-giving, we’re all really searching for the very same thing. For each of us, it might come in a different package, but we have a single goal in mind. We want the gift that will make the recipient happy. Full stop. The right present. The one of a kind gift.

Fortunately for one lucky person -- no doubt, someone in the one per cent -- the buyers of Neiman Marcus have put their (no doubt expensive and super-exclusive) thinking caps on and come up with the gift for booklovers: a custom designed and stocked library by Assouline. From the catalog description:
The publishing house renowned for its beautiful volumes and cultural perspective is offering the ultimate enriching addition to your home: a bespoke library. From floor to ceiling and wall to wall, every nuance of this room will reflect the company’s brilliant style -- through custom carpeting, objets d’art, and beautifully framed prints -- as well as your intellectual viewpoint. When the decor is complete, the shelves will be lined with a one-of-a-kind Assouline collection, consisting of 250 current and vintage volumes in the genre of your choice. You’ll enjoy published works from the world’s foremost artists, photographers, writers, architects, interior designers, and fashion and culinary masters. Get ready to ditch your high-tech tablet and kick back with a real book in the comfort of your very own literary haven. With this purchase, NM will donate $2,500 to First Book, an award-winning nonprofit organization that provides access to new books for children in need throughout the U.S. and Canada.

To learn more about the charity, please visit
Cost of all this wonderfulness is just $125,000, but there really is only one on offer. No word if shipping is included.

The Assouline library is only one offering from the 2011 Neiman Marcus Fantasy Gift collection. Other gift ideas include Dancing Fountains from WET at a cool mil, a special Neiman Marcus-Edition Hacker-Craft Speedboat (a real bargain at just $250,000), and a Tom Burr Table-Tennis Table that will help keep the kids entertained and in shape, just $45,000.


SF/F: American Apocalypse by Nova

An Internet success story when it was self-published, now in an edited and redesigned edition from Ulysses Press, this newly published edition of American Apocalypse: The Collapse Begins makes dystopia a little more stylish.

One of the things I find difficult to understand about the book is its success. After all, in many ways, it’s hitting a little too close to home. Like any good post-apocalytpic novel, a disaster has occurred and the people of the world are picking up the pieces and figuring out how to survive. But rather than the natural or technological disasters we’re used to seeing, what we witness here is the beginnings of global economic meltdown. Sound familiar? All of American Apocalypse is like that. It’s an interesting mental exercise… and it’s a little too close to home.

It is the not-too-distant future and the world has moved on. As things get underway, our narrator is looking back on his old life with a kind of wonder. “I was never rich by the prevailing standards of the time,” he tells us. “I had a job, a car, some cool toys, a girlfriend, and a condo -- what I thought of as the basics of life. Nowadays… well, we all know; the standards changed -- and changed so very fast.”

Now the world looks very different -- think almost any Kevin Costner movie from the 1990s -- and all anyone can hope to do it survive.

At worst, American Apocalypse is a gripping, entertaining read. At best it is a handbook for the future. Either way, those who enjoy dystopic stories will find a lot here to like. Look for further installments, some already published. It turns out there is a need for disaster fiction that looks a little too much like home. ◊

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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Young Adult: The Witch Hunter Chronicles: Army Of The Undead by Stewart Daly

The year is 1666. The hero: Jakob, a teenage member of the Hexenjager, a German military witch and demon hunter organization. Jakob has been a member for only about
a month when, one night in a cemetery, investigating something fishy involving exhumed bodies, he learns something the Witch Hunters weren’t expecting. Something a lot nastier than a bunch of warlocks or minor demons.

Try fallen angels, never sent to hell because they’d be an asset to Satan. They’re not, by any means, hot teenage boy angels with an angst issue. They’re more like something out of your worst nightmare. If they get hold of something called the Tablet of Breaking, the world will be wiped out.

A team has to find this relic before they do or the world goes down the gurgler. Guess who is assigned to be a part of it?

From here it’s non-stop action as Jakob, his friend Armand, teenage girl Francesca, a tomb robber who collects relics for the Vatican and a crack team of the Church’s best fighters head for the Dead Sea via Greece, fighting zombies, death traps and monsters all the way.

The story is a sort of Three Musketeers-meets-Matthew-Reilly with a touch of Indiana Jones. In this case, Indy is female. Francesca is the expert on whom the fighters rely to get them through all those traps she’s encountered often in her career.

The author is a history teacher who knows his 17 century history. There’s a handy set of historical notes at the end and a bibliography for those who want to read further. Weapons, locations, even the primitive submarine, are all a part of history as it was.

The Witch Hunter Chronicles: Army Of The Undead (Random House Australia) is great fun and while it will appeal especially to boys, girls should enjoy it as well. Francesca is one classy chick. Even among all the gore, the bloodshed, the lurching zombies and having a limited time to save the world, there’s plenty of humor. The main characters are flawed enough to be likeable.

The book is the second in a series, but you don’t have to have read the first one to follow this one. There are mentions of things that happened in the first book, but the story is stand-alone.

Recommended for boys and girls from about 13 upwards. ◊

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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Monday, October 17, 2011

Pierce’s Pick: Troubled Bones by Jeri Westerson

This week, J. Kingston Pierce chooses Troubled Bones by Jeri Westerson.
“Disgraced knight-turned-sleuth Crispin Guest takes on a job for the Archbishop of Canterbury: figure out who’s behind threats to the displayed bones of martyr Thomas à Becket. But he’s distracted from that task by the arrival of an old acquaintance, poet Geoffrey Chaucer, who’s been accused of murdering a visiting pilgrim.”
Looking for previous Pierce’s Picks? Twelve months of them are here.

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Sunday, October 16, 2011

When Books Turn Into Pumpkins

The last couple of years, it seems like everyone keeps talking about the death of the book. What no one warned us about, though: how a book might turn into a pumpkin.

Seriously, though: there’s a part of me that is appalled at this desecration. And another part can’t help but admire the innovation.

Long story short, someone else might want to use this information to turn some of their unwanted books into pumpkins, but you’d best leave my books the hell alone.


“All Art is Useless”

Oscar Wilde was born in Dublin on this day in 1854. He is well known for his brilliance, a life lived large, his wonderful plays, including The Importance of Being Earnest, and for a single novel, The Portrait of Dorian Gray, which was published in 1890.

The Writer’s Almanac remembers Wilde today, reminding us that in the preface to The Portrait of Dorian Gray, Wilde wrote:
“All art is quite useless.”

A student at Oxford named Bernulf Clegg was intrigued by that statement, and he wrote to Wilde and asked him what he meant by it.

Wilde responded:

My dear Sir

Art is useless because its aim is simply to create a mood. It is not meant to instruct, or to influence action in any way. It is superbly sterile, and the note of its pleasure is sterility. If the contemplation of a work of art is followed by activity of any kind, the work is either of a very second-rate order, or the spectator has failed to realize the complete artistic impression.

A work of art is useless as a flower is useless. A flower blossoms for its own joy. We gain a moment of joy by looking at it. That is all that is to be said about our relations to flowers. Of course man may sell the flower, and so make it useful to him, but this has nothing to do with the flower. It is not part of its essence. It is accidental. It is a misuse. All this is I fear very obscure. But the subject is a long one.

Truly yours,

Oscar Wilde
Writer’s Almanac points out that it is also the birthday of Gunter Grass (1927) and Eugene O'Neill (1888). You can read more about them here.


Ian Rankin on Battling the Blank Page

As The Impossible Dead, Ian Rankin’s 31st novel is about to be released, the author who put the Tartan in Noir talks to The Independent about process, production and the deadly fear of staring at the blank page.
“No matter how many awards you’ve won or how many sales you’ve got, come the next book it’s still a blank sheet of paper and you’re still panicking like hell that you’ve got nothing new to say,” he admits. “I still panic that the ideas aren’t going to come, it’s not going to be as good as my previous book, I’ve got nothing new to say, people are fed up with me, younger writers are doing better work. There are all kinds of fears that keep pushing at you. Thank God, otherwise you’d just sit back and write any old crap.”
And it certainly doesn’t seem as though the second book to feature Rankin’s creation Malcolm Fox would fit that description. Again from The Independent:
The action in The Impossible Dead is set mostly in Fife, the region just over the Forth Bridge from Edinburgh, and the place where Rankin himself grew up. Like all Rankin's work, it's impeccably plotted, and what seems like a simple case of police corruption gradually spreads its tendrils back to the mid-Eighties, a period of recent history involving a brief outbreak of Scottish nationalist terrorism. It's loosely based on the real-life story of Willie MacRae, an SNP activist with alleged links to extremists, who was found dead in his car one night in suspicious circumstances. This linking of past and present is a familiar theme in Rankin’s work, something that gives it a depth and resonance sometimes lacking in rival crime fiction.
The Independent points out that though Rankin is an international bestselling author now, he was anything but an overnight sensation:
It’s hard to picture these days, but there was a time when Rankin’s name wasn’t ubiquitous at the top of the bestseller list. In fact, Rankin didn't have any kind of breakthrough until the eighth Rebus novel (and his 15th book in all), Black and Blue, won the Macallan Gold Dagger for fiction in 1997. And even then he didn't have a bestseller until two years later, with Dead Souls.

“My publishers were taking a punt on me for a long time,” he says. “That probably wouldn’t happen now. I was having panic attacks, I was driving through the French countryside where we lived at the time, screaming at the top of my voice just to get it out my system. I was waking up in the night with this adrenalin rush like a heart attack. It was a pretty horrible time.”
And it was around the time that J. Kingston Pierce interviewed Rankin for January Magazine back in 2000. That interview is here. More recently, Pierce selected Rankin’s new novel as his pick of the week.

The Impossible Dead is out now in the UK and Canada and will be available in the US in November.

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Saturday, October 15, 2011

When Dating Advice Goes Bad

Maybe if you’re looking for dating advice from Steve Harvey, Jwoww or Neil “On talking to women: It’s not lying, it’s flirting” Strauss, you’re just asking for it, but The Huffington Post rounds them up anyway.

Which books have the worst dating advice ev-ah? You can check the brief, witty piece here.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Super Green Edition of Atwood’s New Book Available Now

Margaret Atwood, an author well known to be deeply concerned about the environment, will see a special edition of her newest book, In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination (McClelland & Stewart) printed on special super environmentally friendly paper.

The paper, created by Vancouver-based Canopy, is made using with a special blend of wheat straw, flax straw, and recycled paper. From Quill & Quire:
Straw is already used to make up to 20 per cent of papers in China and India, but In Other Worlds is the first commercial book in North America to be printed on straw-based paper, says Nicole Rycroft, Canopy’s founder and executive director.
The focus here, of course, is on preserving the environment.
Currently, about 60 per cent of trees in the boreal forest in Canada’s North are logged to make paper pulp. Second Harvest paper uses straw left over from the food-grain harvest, which has significant environmental benefits.

“[Straw] uses less water, less energy, less chemicals – all around it has a much lighter footprint,” says Rycroft, adding that the 20 million tonnes of leftover straw burned after harvest each year in North America could keep some 800 million trees standing annually, if the straw were used to make paper.
Though the bulk of the print run of In Other Worlds will be on recycled paper, a special edition of 300 signed books is available directly through Canopy. At time of writing, there still appear to be copies available, but it’s hard to imagine that will continue to be the case.

In Other Worlds collects Atwood’s thoughts on contemporary science fiction. From the publisher:
At a time when speculative fiction seems less and less far-fetched, Margaret Atwood lends her distinctive voice and singular point of view to the genre in a series of essays that brilliantly illuminates the essential truths about the modern world. This is an exploration of her relationship with the literary form we have come to know as "science fiction,” a relationship that has been lifelong, stretching from her days as a child reader in the 1940s, through her time as a graduate student at Harvard, where she worked on the Victorian ancestor of the form, and continuing as a writer and reviewer.
January Magazine’s 2000 interview with Atwood is here.

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New Yesterday: Crafting With Cat Hair by Kaori Tsutaya

We all have our limits. We all have our lines. Thing is, you’re never sure where yours will be drawn until you hit it. When we saw Crafting With Cat Hair (Quirk), we knew we’d hit ours.
Are your favorite sweaters covered with cat hair? Do you love to make quirky and one-of-a-kind crafting projects? If so, theCrafting With Cat Hairn it’s time to throw away your lint roller and curl up with your kitty! Crafting with Cat Hair shows readers how to transform stray clumps of fur into soft and adorable handicrafts.
Oy vey.

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Pierce’s Pick: The Impossible Dead by Ian Rankin

This week, J. Kingston Pierce chooses The Impossible Dead by Ian Rankin.
“Detective Inspector Malcolm Fox and his Internal Affairs investigators are back (after The Complaints, 2009), this time looking into misconduct charges against a fellow policeman. But that simple case soon adds dimensions and dangers, connecting to a vicious murder and to terrorist attacks by Scottish separatists in the mid-1980s.”
Looking for previous Pierce’s Picks? Twelve months of them are here.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Publishing Industry Ready for Reboot as Frankfurt Gets Underway

Publishing is facing a revolution, author Mitch Joel told a rapt audience at the Frankfurt Book Fair, which opened today. Joel, a digital marketing expert and the author of Six Pixels of Separation (Grand Central), told his audience that the industry is ready for a reboot. From Publishers Weekly:
Consumers in today’s networked world are moving faster than marketers, Joel noted, and their expectations are only growing. He noted the impact of tablets and smartphones, and how innovations like Amazon Prime have turned virtually everything into an impulse buy—and suggested this was the new normal. He said the issue facing publishing was not “paper or plastic,” but about where books fall among the choices consumers make. “What are we going to do to connect readers with our authors?”

Like Stein, Joel said harnessing the power of social networks is key, and that the digital age has made the most powerful marketing tool of all “word-of-mouth” more powerful than ever before. He urged publishers to “break the mass media mindset" and take advantage of “real interactions, between real people.” In fact, cultivating “direct relationships” is critical for publishers, “because if you don’t, your authors will, and retailers will.”
The Frankfurt Book Fair is the largest book and media trade show and conference in the world with around 7500 exhibitors from over 110 countries. The official web site is here.


Friday, October 07, 2011

Eugenides’ Page Six Plot

Jeffrey Eugenides’ latest novel, The Marriage Plot, will be published early next week. Now normally, that would have me thinking about the details of plot and the delicious treat the book is likely to provide: an unlikely ivory tower romance that Kirkus called “A stunning novel -- erudite, compassionate and penetrating in its analysis of love relationships” and Booklist said it was an “extraordinary, liquidly written evocation of love’s mad rush and inevitable failures [that] will feed your mind as you rapidly turn the pages.”

This is Eugenides’ first novel since 2002’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Middlesex and the third since his stunning debut, The Virgin Suicides, in 1993, the film on which Sofia Coppola hung her own debut.

So I should be thinking about all of these things. And I am looking forward to reading The Marriage Plot. I have every reason to believe it will be fantastic. Right now, though, all I can think about is the Page Six-documented item from last summer that saw the author allegedly assaulted on a “New Jersey train by a drunken lout allegedly obsessed with his own genitalia.” January reported on that here. (And I’ll bet Eugenides would just prefer we let it go.)


A Different Animal for Kalla

Today in “The Afterword,” the National Post’s book section, Adam Gopnik prepares to deliver the Massey Lectures; Philip Marchand looks at Human Happiness, by Brian Fawcett and several other reviews, including January Magazine editor Linda L. Richards’ look at The Far Side of the Sky by Daniel Kalla:
When approaching Kalla’s writing, it’s important to remember he was an emergency-room physician long before he became an author. As a doctor, he doesn’t need to be a fantastic stylist. He isn’t expected to dazzle with his bedside manner or win needlework prizes for his stitchery. While he needs to be good, he doesn’t have to show off. In his six previous novels, Kalla has written with competence, though not always with elegance. His half-dozen novels, including his 2004 bestselling debut, Pandemic, have all focused on contemporary medical issues with the urgent pacing and life and death meanderings of the modern thriller. The Far Side of the Sky is a different animal.


Swedish Poet Wins Nobel Prize for Literature

Tomas Tranströmer was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature yesterday, recognition that former U.S. poet laureate Rita Dove told the Washington Post was “long overdue” the 80-year-old Swede.

In a press release, the Swedish Academy, who awards the prize, said that Tranströmer, who is widely considered to be one of Sweden’s most important writers, was recognized “because, through his condensed, translucent images, he gives us fresh access to reality”.

Tranströmer edged out betting favorite Bob Dylan, (Yes: that Bob Dylan.) the Syrian poet, Adonis, and Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami.

And if all of this has you wondering about other Nobel Prize winners, check out this interesting feature on the Prize’s official web site. Visitors are asked to comment on books by their favorite Prize-winning authors. The authors are listed in alphabetical order, with a list of important works and a link to reader’s comments. A great way to put together a reading list of contemporary classics.


Thursday, October 06, 2011

Passages: Steve Jobs at 56

His contributions were significant, his vision clear, Apple Computers co-founder Steve Jobs passed away yesterday after a lengthy battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 56.

This quote, from a commencement speech Jobs gave at Stanford University in 2005, gives us a tiny glimpse of the man credited with some of the 21st century’s most important inventions thus far.
Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything -- all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure -- these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.


Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Spelling for a Cause

Here’s a fun event: on October 24th in the Highline Ballroom of the Standard Hotel in New York City, Nancy Franklin and Francine Prose “return to defend the coveted aluminum foil crown against a swarm of usurping spellers.” That’s right: a spelling bee for a good cause. What could be more fun?

The Place to Bee starts with canapes and cocktails and a silent auction at seven pm, followed by the main event at eight when a cadre of celebrity spellers will do their best, all to raise money for the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses.

Spelling competitors will include HarperCollins publisher, Jonathan Burnham; The New Yorker’s Nancy Franklin; James Frey (Bright Shiny Morning); David Rakoff (Half Empty); Elissa Schappell (Blueprints for Building Better Girls); Simon Winchester (The Alice Behind Wonderland); Meg Wolitzer (The Uncoupling) and others.

Want more information on how to sign up and take part? It’s here.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Crime Fiction: Following Polly by Karen Bergreen

I know it sounds odd to call a book about a stalker “charming,” but that remains the best word to describe Following Polly (St. Martin’s Griffin), the debut mystery by lawyer-turned-comedian Karen Bergreen.

Usually stories about stalkers are too creepy for me, not the sort of thing I want on my bedside table. But this tale of Alice Teakle, a shy and rather forgettable woman who loses her dead-end job in a Manhattan booking agency, is a different kettle of fish.

Alice has never found her passion. Or, rather, she has never figured out how to achieve it.

Ever since they were both Harvard students, Alice has resented the beautiful, popular and selfish Polly Dawson. Now, after bumping into Polly again, and quite on a whim, Alice decides to follow her former classmate around New York City, hoping to perhaps get a clue about what to do with her own life.

She soon learns, though, that despite the appurtenances of success, Polly is far from being a useful role model. Indeed, not only has Polly offended people right and left, but there is plenty of evidence that she leads a double life. These discoveries do not help Alice find direction; however, they do have a fascination all their own, both for Alice and for Bergreen’s readers.

But then Polly is killed. Alice is the first person to happen upon her corpse, and immediately becomes suspect No. 1. In the aftermath it is up to Alice -- who’s unable to go home, because the police are looking for her -- to use her limited resources to clear her own name and get her life back in some semblance of order.

Not that her life holds much richness or meaning. Or even personal associations. There are basically three main characters in Alice’s life ... well, two people and an obsession:

Alice’s mother loves her, but her attention has been monopolized by her husband.

Her best friend is a lawyer who likes to drink, and has a penchant for bad relationships.

Then there’s her longtime, and unspoken, adoration for another former classmate, who is now a lawyer trying to clear his father’s name in an unrelated case.

Following Polly’s cast is not large, but its players are believable and well-constructed. Bergreen displays a nice touch in weaving the different plot strands together.

And while there is a whodunit to solve in these pages, the more interesting subtext is watching this rather wimpy woman, Alice -- normally part of the background of other people’s lives -- figure out not only how to survive, but to thrive. Maybe the resolution of the mystery is a little too tidy, but it’s so nice to see a semi-loser character like Alice re-create herself that I’m inclined to be forgiving. ◊

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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Art & Culture: Learn World Calligraphy by Margaret Shepherd

If you’ve ever thought you’d like to learn -- or learn more about -- calligraphy this is your book and Margaret Shepherd is your perfect guide. The author of 14 books on the topic, she is also the person responsible for the classic in the field, Learn Calligraphy. Shepherd is the source on this topic. As a result, CBS Sunday Morning, Oprah Magazine, Vogue and many others have interviewed her on the topic. So if you want to know more about calligraphy, you know where to go.

In Learn World Calligraphy (Watson-Guptill) extends her teachings to scripts of the world. From the introduction:
This book guides you on a trip around the world -- and beyond -- to visit the native land of any calligraphy that interests you. It maps out the landscape of writing and suggests where to go on your visual voyage, offering you many perspectives on the world’s scripts and the calligraphers who write them.
Examples, tips and instruction fill out this incredibly practical and beautiful guide. If this is your interest, then this is your book. ◊

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, October 03, 2011

Fiction: The Price of Escape by David Unger

It seems that just about everyone who has read or reviewed The Price of Escape (Akashic) has referenced Franz Kafka or Joseph Conrad. Or both. You don’t have to be a literary genius to understand that’s not necessarily a good thing. Both of those writers were brilliant, sure. And both of them touched a lot of people with their prose. But there’s some crazy dark shit that goes on in both of their works and not only does everyone not find them accessible, some readers find the work of both Conrad and Kafka horrifyingly dense and self-examining.

These are all reason why you may or may not love Guatemalan author David Unger’s quirky voice and style and story. If you have to compare The Price of Escape to the work of some other writer, those are definitely the two that come to mind. So if you loathe Conrad and Kafka, you might want to give Unger a miss. Seriously. But if you loved, say, Heart of Darkness or The Metamorphosis, The Price of Escape might just be for you.

Samuel Berkow jumps out of the Nazi fire only to find himself in a Guatemalan frying pan when he finds himself in Puerto Barrios at the whim of a host of almost supernaturally horrible characters. And it becomes impossible for Samuel to tell the good guys from the bad guys as seeming help turns into more despair and vice versa. What do they want with Samuel? Are they, as it seems, out to destroy him? Or are they hoping to evoke a complete metamorphosis? Or is something still more sinister -- or less? -- at work here? After you’ve finished reading, let me know if you’re sure. Weeks later, though I know I enjoyed The Price of Escape, I’m still hard-pressed to explain exactly how it all comes out.


Discworld Author Prepares for Battle

“Movies are a sore point,” noted fantasy author told me in an interview in 2002. “There’s always things in development heck.”

Nearly a decade later, Practchett’s “development heck” seemed to have dropped to a whole new level when the author, who is famously battling early onset Alzheimer’s disease, prepares for a very different battle. From The Telegraph:
The 63-year-old novelist is suing Paul Bamborough and Camel Productions, who had an option on film rights for the fantasy. Sir Terry argues that the rights ran out and is seeking a legal declaration to that effect.

If he is successful, it would open the way for another company to make a film based on Mort, the fourth title in his highly successful Discworld series.
In the 1990s, Practchett was the bestselling author in the United Kingdom. More than 65 million copies of his books are in print.