Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Non-Fiction: The Life of Super-Earths by Dimitar Saddelov

It doesn’t take long for Harvard professor of astronomy Dimitar Saddelov to get down to business in The Life of Super-Earths (Basic Books). The second line in the book: “What is life and how did it come to be?" In a conversational tone, Saddelov sets out to answer that, as well as anyone can. As he points out, “The actual origin of Earth remains as elusive as ever and may well stay that way. After all, it is a historical question that requires knowing environments that are not preserved in the Earth’s geological record.” Even so, Saddelov points out, there are things we can look at -- and other branches of knowledge and science -- that can perhaps bring us closer to understanding.

From life here on Earth, it’s a short journey to looking for life in other places. As an astronomer, this isn’t a new thought for Saddelov and, as he points out, “it seems likely that on some of these Earth-like planets, we will find signs of life.”

But the quest for life is not Saddelov’s only mission with The Life of the Super-Earths. The author looks also at synthetic biology. “These two milestones,” Saddelov writes, “are going to teach us about our place in the universe in ways we could never have imagined.”

Beyond anything, it seems to me that The Life of Super-Earths is an exploration, both of discoveries and possibilities. As the the sub-title promises: “How the hunt for Alien Worlds and Artificial Cells Will Revolutionize Life on Our Planet.” Considering the nature of the beast -- Saddelov is a scientist, after all -- this subtitle might be a bit of oversell. He is here exploring what is real and what may well be real, after all. Still, this is exciting, thought-provoking stuff. These are the latest and most cutting edge thoughts on that age old question: are we alone in the universe? And perhaps a new wrinkle: If we are alone, will it be for very long? ◊

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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Picture Book Museum Plans 10th Anniversary Celebration

In November 2012, The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts, will kick off its 10th anniversary with a year of special events, including parties, exhibitions, festivals, professional workshops and family activities. The Carle, which opened its doors November 22, 2002, has become a major cultural resource, drawing more than a half million visitors from around the world and engaging audiences of all ages in picture books.

“Our founders, Eric and Barbara Carle, dreamed of creating a museum that would celebrate picture books and inspire a love of art and reading,” says Alexandra Kennedy, executive director. “We’re very proud of the many ways the Museum has fulfilled that mission. In just ten years The Carle has become a vital center for artists, writers, teachers, librarians, scholars and families -- a place where important conversations about the future of art, books, and education happen every day.”

On November 10, 2012 the Museum will host its anniversary launch party, inviting back the many renowned artists who have exhibited their work in its galleries. The evening will include tours of “Iconic Images: Ten Years of Collecting,” the first major exhibition drawing on the Carle’s permanent collection of more than 10,000 illustrations. Guests will have a chance to view works by William Steig, Ludwig Bemelmans, Maurice Sendak, and many more.

The other special exhibitions on view will be “Eric Carle’s Independent Art” -- a look beyond his famous book illustration -- and an exhibition of the work of British artist Lucy Cousins and her beloved Maisy character. Other exhibitions slated for the anniversary year include Garth Williams’s rarely viewed original drawings from Charlotte’s Web and a major exhibition of work by Mo Willems.

In addition, the museum is planning a full slate of activities to run during the anniversary year. Those interested in attending should check the museum’s web site for updated information.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

New Charlotte Brontë Story Will be Published Online

A long-forgotten short story by Charlotte Brontë has resurfaced and will be published online tomorrow.

“L’Ingratitude” was written in “erratic French” as a homework assignment for a man who tutored the sisters while they were in Brussels. From The Guardian:
The fable-like story is dated 16 March 1842 and is about a thoughtless young rat who escapes his father's protective care in search of adventure in the countryside and comes to a sorry end. The tale contrasts the solemn paternal devotion of the father with the reckless abandon of his "ingrate" offspring.
It is thought that the young woman who would one day write Jane Eyre was so enamored of her married tutor that this Brussels interlude would later become the source material for her novel Villette and the tutor, Constantin Heger, was the inspiration for the character of M. Paul Emanuel, who causes such a flutter in the heart of 14-year-old Lucy Snowe.

The London Review of Books will publish the complete short story on its web site on Wednesday and in its paper edition the following day.

Berenstains’ Bears Author Dies

Jan Berenstain died Friday at the age of 88. With their Berenstains’ Bears franchise, Berenstain and her husband Stan gently helped guide generations of children through the sometimes confusing maze of childhood. From the New York Times:
The Berenstains’ ursine family most often confronted issues common to most families — the arrival of a new sibling, getting homesick at summer camp, the etiquette of trick-or-treating.

“Family values is what we’re all about,” Jan Berenstain told an interviewer last year.

More contemporary and quasi-political issues had arisen in recent years, though, including bullying, the dangers of online dating, and children bringing guns to school.
Before Stan Berenstain died in 2005, the couple had created more than 300 books that collectively sold over 200 million copies.
In an interview with Scholastic, the children’s magazine, Ms. Berenstain said she and her husband were always being asked why they had decided on bears rather than some other animal. Their standard answer was that “they stand on two legs, their mothers are very good mothers, and so on,” she said.

“One student asked why we didn’t use a fish,” she said, recounting a visit to a classroom. “And our answer was that they aren’t enough like people.”

Why not monkeys, then, asked another student.

“Because they are too much like people,” she replied.

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Friday, February 24, 2012

J.K. Rowling to Write Novel for Grown Ups

We don’t know when or where or what, we only do know that it will happen and, when it does, we don’t need to be told that the world will watch. And closely.

J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series and one of the wealthiest women in the world, has announced that she’s signed a deal with Little, Brown for publication in the United Kingdom and the United States. UK publisher David Shelley will act as editor while US responsibility will fall to executive VP Michael Pietsch, who famously edited David Foster Wallace.

Though nothing has been said about title, date or anything about the book, Rowling has said that the “next book will be very different to the Harry Potter series, which has been published so brilliantly by Bloomsbury and my other publishers around the world. The freedom to explore new territory is a gift that Harry's success has brought me, and with that new territory it seemed a logical progression to have a new publisher. I am delighted to have a second publishing home in Little, Brown, and a publishing team that will be a great partner in this new phase of my writing life.”

No details -- or even hints -- about the monetary value of this deal have been announced. However when the news has spread a little wider, speculation will likely be deep.

Meanwhile, fans can expect more details about the upcoming project over the coming months.

January Magazine’s 2000 interview with Rowling is here.


Hannibal the Cannibal Heads for Television

While we’re betting it won’t be a comedy or a musical, our arms are still a bit akimbo at the thought of a television series based on Thomas Harris’ most famous character, Hannibal Lecter.

Last week, Deadline broke the story that NBC will be airing 13 episodes of Hannibal beginning in November of this year. No word yet on who will star in the series to be executive produced by Bryan Fuller (Heroes, Pushing Daisies) and Martha De Laurentis (Hannibal, Hannibal Rising), but this is one casting we’ll be paying close attention to. With the right talent, it’s bound to be a killer show. (Sorry.)


Monday, February 20, 2012

Fiction: The Quiet Twin by Dan Vyleta

When Dan Vyleta’s debut novel, Pavel & I, was released early in 2008, I said that I could not imagine that a book of such staggering quality could be given less attention. Unfortunately, I was wrong. Vyleta’s second outing, The Quiet Twin, out this month from Bloomsbury in the US and last year from HarperCollins Canada, has been given even less push and attention. Tragically -- and almost unimaginably -- it’s an even better book.

The Quiet Twin is a fully nuanced nightmare of reality. Set in Vienna in 1939, it is not immediately apparent that an apartment building is either a metaphor for or a microcosm of the rise of fascism in Europe. But it is not the topic that makes this book a complete and perfectly wrought work of literary genius. Or maybe more accurately, it is not just that. Instead, as with Pavel & I, Vyleta starts us off thinking we’re involved in a particularly good war-time thriller. It’s not until we’re deeply involved with Vyleta’s completely compelling story that we realize that more is going on here than meets the eye.

Dr. Beer unwillingly makes a house call in his own building where he is shown into the bedroom of a young woman who doesn’t appear the least bit ill. Through her window, the young woman shows the doctor a whole world he didn’t know existed. She guides him to see the hive of activity right across the courtyard. Dr. Beer is both enthralled and repulsed by what he is shown.

The building is down-at-the-heel and has certainly seen better days. With the building’s Jews already taken away to the camps, the residents left are hateful, mistrustful and, as it turns out, much, much worse. As Beer looks deeper into the lives of his neighbors, he sees the very worst of humanity and Vyleta’s strength as a writer is such that we can see and feel the evil and when Beer tries to air out his apartment, we can smell the decay that comes the open window.

The Quiet Twin is a searingly good book. It’s even better than Pavel & I, a book I found nothing short of astonishing. I find that I must once again be careful in writing about Vyleta’s work. The temptation to reach for hyperbole is almost overwhelming. It astonished me also that, in the US, The Quiet Twin is published as a paperback original. Read it now, while Vyleta is still our secret. If there is justice, that will not be the case for long. ◊

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


Art & Culture: Movies of the 2000s by Jürgen Müller

Art critic Jürgen Müller continues Taschen’s movies decades series with Movies of the 2000s, a look at the important films made since the turn of the century.

“There is a good argument that the first decade of the 21st century will be the last in which cinema as a mass medium will continue in the form we have always known it,” Müller writes, reminding us that, as an internationally respected film critic, it’s important for him to maintain a somber, thoughtful stance. And he does.

Despite an overall tone that is austere and often bleak, the films Müller has chosen to include here truly do seem to be the best of the best, with very little left out. It’s joyous, at times, to be reminded of them. And terrific to be prodded towards the ones that got away. From me, these include the 2005 political thriller Munich, directed by Steven Spielberg; Ron Howard’s Frost/Nixon from 2008, the Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man from 2009 as well as A Single Man, directed by Tom Ford and Lars Von Trier’s Dogville from 2003.

For all the films I’d meant to watch and somehow didn’t get to, there are many more that it is sweet to be reminded of and skillfully chosen photos and Müller’s careful words kick up the memory dust as you sift through. Included are important international films as well as award winners and seminal movies of various kinds. 8 Mile, Bridget Jones’ Diary, Spider-Man, Bowling for Columbine, The Lord of the Rings, 25th Hour, Hotel Rwanda, No Country for Old Men, Juno, In Bruges, Slumdog Millionaire. I could go one, but you get the idea. Movies of the 2000s anthologizes a mythology, in a way. It captures an era in a very special way. An absolute must at Oscar time. ◊

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

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Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Merging of Books and the Internet: Go Hard or Go Home

We live in a time when only the largest assertions get any attention. Go hard or go home. It may be silly, but it’s true. And you can make those big assertions and they can be empty because, a year from now? Pretty much no one besides Jon Stewart will remember what you said. So when Hugh McGuire of Pressbooks released the part of an upcoming book that says that books and the Internet will merge, he got a fair amount of attention. Even The Guardian sat up and quoted which is always a big, hairy deal.

McGuire’s rationale is not imperfect, but it is fatally flawed (sez me). It all began with a tweet McGuire made a year ago: “The distinction between ‘the internet’ & ‘books’ is totally totally arbitrary, and will disappear in 5 years. Start adjusting now.”

In Book: A Futurist’s Manifesto, to be published by O’Reilly (print) and Pressbooks (electronic) on March 22, McGuire explains further:
If you think about “books”—which are, more or less, collections of words, sentences, and images arranged in a particular way—and compare them to, say, websites—which are, more or less, collections of words, sentences, images, audio, and video, arranged in a particular way—there is a jarring distinction that presents itself. We have decided, for mostly historical reasons, that collections of words and sentences of one kind go into a “book” and collections of words and sentences of another kind go onto the “Internet.”
And while I get what he’s saying here, it isn’t quite as true as he makes it sound. Think, for instance, of people tooling around Stuttgart in Daimlers in the late 1800s. And someone says, “the ‘car’ and the ‘bicycle’ are the exact same thing: mark my words. The distinction between them will soon disappear.”

On one level, all of that is true. Both cars and bicycles have wheels. And you use both of them to get from one place to another. An argument could even be made for the mechanical skill involved in creating/building/maintaining them. And in both cases, you have to know what you’re doing, at least a little bit: you can’t just hop on.

But see, here we are, more than a century later and though there have been times when the technology has blended, we still have cars. We still have bikes. They are distinct. Unique. Separately important. And you can store them in the same place and think about them in the same way but they’re not ever going to be the same thing. And some of us? We need them both. ◊

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

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Dirty (and sometimes Douchey) Love Letters from Authors You Thought You Knew

We thought we were done with all that hearts and flowers stuff yesterday, but The Huffington Post had other ideas. Today they deliver surprisingly nasty love letters from authors. Some of these are sexy, some nasty dirty and one, from Benjamin Franklin to Madame Brillon, is just plain douchey.

“What a difference, my dear friend, between you and me!” Franklin writes. “You find innumerable faults with me, whereas I see only one fault in you (but perhaps that is the fault of my glasses). I mean this kind of avarice which leads you to seek monopoly on all my affection, and not allow me any for the agreeable ladies of your country.”

See? Douchey, right? And it gets worse.

For January Magazine, James Joyce’s letter is unquotable (so make sure you sneak a peak), but HuffPo sums it up: “The king of the dirty love letter, this is only one of Joyce's many graphic missives to his wife. What can we say? The man was into flatulence.” And other stuff, too.

Franz Kafka (pictured above), on the other hand, was unsurprisingly moved by metaphor: “Last night I dreamed about you. What happened in detail I can hardly remember, all I know is that we kept merging into one another. I was you, you were me. Finally you somehow caught fire.”

You can read the piece here, but be prepared to blush.

And if you liked that, you might just dig this 2010 piece from Cracked called “6 Famous Geniuses You Didn’t Know Were Perverts.”

New Today: Writing in Pictures by Joseph McBride

With the Golden Globes just behind us and the Oscars just ahead, a lot of attention is focused on the movies right now. And when that happens, those of us who love books inevitably think of the words that make those films. In some cases, we take all of that another step and think about writing for film. If all this movie talk turns your head in that way, you might want to take a peek at Writing in Pictures (Vintage) by film historian, writing professor and screenwriter Joseph McBride.

“Who needs another book on screenwriting?” McBride begins. Who indeed? Yet this author does things differently. He goes on to tell us that, in Writing in Pictures, he has created the book he himself went looking for when he was breaking into the business many years ago.

One thing is clear throughout the book: McBride knows this territory. He shares his information with the assurance and polish of someone who understands the way there. As he says, “Your own talent and drive will carry you into your professional career. But every professional writer has to start with the basics.” That’s what he supplies here. And more.

McBride breaks down the complicated-seeming challenge of writing a screenplay into a series of approachable tasks, along the way giving a clear illustration of process by adapting a classic short story right in front of our eyes, using it to show all aspects of what goes into telling a story that will be told on screen.

Writing in Pictures: Screenwriting Made (Mostly) Painless is absolutely different than any other books on this topic I’ve seen. It’s clear, lucid and possibly life-changing for the right reader. ◊

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, February 14, 2012

A Valentine’s Kiss… or 10

What do The Great Gatsby, Romeo and Juliet, The Princess Bride and Byron’s Don Juan all have in common? According to Flavowire, each contains one of the great kisses in literature:
After all, there’s nothing more romantic than that most elemental of expressions of affection, and who could paint it better than the likes of Shakespeare, Nabokov and Byron? So if you’re looking for a few ideas (or just some steamy bathtub reading) this Valentine’s day, click through to read through ten of the greatest kisses in literature...
Each mentioned kiss, excerpts the great literary kiss in question. Here’s a bit of that steamy bit from Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex:
The rims of Clementine’s eyes were inflamed. She yawned. She rubbed her nose with the heel of her hand. And then she asked, “Do you want to practice kissing?”

I didn’t know what to answer. I already knew how to kiss, didn’t I? Was there something more to learn? But while these questions were going through my head, Clementine was going ahead with the lesson. She came around to face me. With a grave expression she put her arms around my neck.
Meanwhile today, in honor of Valentine’s, Killer Covers of the Week features the covers of 29 books with the word “kiss” in the title. You can find those here.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Power of the Prison Library

Though the place of prisons in our society has often been at the core of political and philosophical debate, one thing about them is not up for discussion and that’s the power of the prison library. An article in Best Colleges Online explains:
Yet of all the liberties afforded to prisoners, access to a library, and the materials and classes it provides, can be one of the most useful in preparing them for life outside of prison. The majority of inmates in America’s prisons have low levels of education and some can barely read, write, or use a computer. These are all skills that are necessary to make it on the outside without returning to a life of crime, and prison libraries offer inmates the chance to learn all of these things and more. While prison libraries aren’t a panacea for what ails America’s prison system, they do offer some important benefits that are well worth considering.
You can see Best Colleges Online’s “15 Amazing Effects of Prison Libraries” here.

Irish President’s Poems Slammed

When a critic says that a poet’s work is “a crime against literature,” you know punches are not being pulled. But when it turns out that the poet in question just happens to be the president of your country, something larger might be at play. In the Irish Independent, books editor John Spain writes:
BEING President is no protection from the critics. In one of the most scathing reviews ever published here, the new book of poetry by Michael D Higgins has been torn apart by a leading critic.

Professor Kevin Kiely says that the President's latest book is "lame, stale and stilted", that it is "bland, imprecise and ultimately incomprehensible" and that it's so bad that Michael D Higgins "can be accused of crimes against literature".
The book being ripped up here is called New and Selected Poems and was published recently by Liberties Press. Kiely, whose credentials to pronounce on Irish poetry are firmly intact, seems determined in his review to eviscerate the work.
Prof Kiely is particularly dismissive of the attempts at philosophising in some of the poems, saying Mr Higgins's "quasi-philosophical verse, not even humble fireside or armchair philosophy, is similarly cringe-worthy".
President Higgins’ reaction to the critique was not reported on though, as Spain points out, at an upcoming PEN event where Higgins will be presenting an award, “They won't be stuck for a topic of conversation at the dinner.”

Michael D. Higgins is the ninth president of Ireland. He took office on November 11, 2011.


Thursday, February 09, 2012

Young Adult: Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan

If, like me, you’ve grown up on Celtic folk tales, you’ll be familiar with the story of the human male who gets himself an otherworldly bride. With a few exceptions, it’s really only in modern YA paranormals that it’s the other way around.

Basically, there are two kinds: There’s the one where she’s the daughter of a king of the otherworld, whether it’s the sea or Faerie; and there’s the one where she’s a selkie (seal-maiden) whose skin is stolen while she’s dancing around in human form. There is always a condition -- the groom has to promise not to ask her certain questions, not to hit her without cause (Welsh -- The Physicians of Myddfai), not to see what she gets up to on Saturdays (Melusine, who is, in theory, the ancestress of the British royal family), or he has to keep her sealskin hidden because once she finds it, she’ll grab it and go home, even leaving her children by her land husband. Invariably, the husband breaks the contract, mostly by accident, and loses his wife and any wealth she brought with her.

Margo Lanagan’s Sea Hearts (Allen and Unwin) asks: Yes, but what happens generations later when there are descendants of those seal maidens in a small community where presumably the gene pool is pretty small?

In the 19th century, Miskaella Prout is a girl none of the limited supply of men on the island of Rollrock wants to marry. After being treated as a minor goddess by the old folk and like dirt by everyone else, she discovers that she can actually draw girls out of the seals, without having to wait for them to drop their skins and dance in the moonlight. And those girls are absolutely gorgeous and better still, they’ll pretty much do as they’re told and go with the man who’s there when they emerge. This is a way not only to make a living but also to get revenge on all those other girls who managed to catch husbands.

It succeeds beyond her wildest dreams and Miskaella is rich, while the men all owe her money for their Stepford wives.

But the island’s culture changes, once the only girls left in town are seals -- and unlike the Ira Levin robots, these women have emotions and can be unhappy.

Sea Hearts (to be published in the U.S. and UK as The Brides of Rollrock Island) is a series of connected novellas, told from the viewpoints of a number of characters, including Miskaella herself. Despite this, there is still a twist at the end, when you realize that Miskaella didn’t tell you quite everything.

The writing is beautiful, your heart aches for those selkie girls and you can even understand why Miskaella is so bitter. It’s a fascinating take on the old folk tales, a wonderful “what if ... ?”

Margo Lanagan is one of the best writers of literary spec fic around. Her writing is always beautiful and she creates characters you can care for -- even if, like Miskaella, they’re ruining everyone else’s lives.

Damn, I wish I’d written this one. ◊

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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James Joyce Children’s Story Gets First Publication

A children’s story sent in letter form by James Joyce (Dubliners, Finnegans Wake) to his grandson, Stephen James Joyce, in 1936 has been published for the first time by a small press in Ireland. From the Guardian:
Joyce's The Cats of Copenhagen is a "younger twin sister" to his published children's story The Cat and the Devil, which told of how the devil built a bridge over a French river in one night, said publisher Ithys Press.

"Nearly lost and forgotten, it is a joy to see this delightful story in print at last," added the publisher.

Like its predecessor, The Cats of Copenhagen was written in a letter to Joyce's grandson, Stephen James Joyce, while the author was in Denmark and the four-year-old Stephen was in France. The new tale is "exquisite, surprising, and with a keen, almost anarchic subtext", said Ithys, which has printed a limited run of 200 illustrated copies, ranging in price from €300 to €1,200.
All is, however, not entirely well in the world of the influential Irish novelist and poet who died January 13, 1941. Though his work came into the public domain last month, there is some disagreement about whether The Cats of Copenhagen, never before published, should be included with the balance of Joyce’s work. You can read more about that here.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

War Horse: The Making of the Motion Picture

The Oscar race this year is upon us. Nine films are vying for Best Picture, and I myself have a few favorites. The Artist is amazing, with an idea and performances that are nothing short of stunning. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, heartbreaking in so many different ways, is a pretty faithful adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s brilliant novel. But for me the movie that really stands out this year is War Horse, Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of the Michael Morpurgo novel, which was also the basis for the London and Broadway shows.

War Horse (It Books) is now getting the royal treatment, with a making-of book that’s as emotional as the movie itself. With four forewords -- by Spielberg, producer Kathleen Kennedy, Morpurgo, and screenwriter Richard Curtis -- the book starts off with an impressive bang.

Morpurgo’s crafting of the novel. Kennedy’s discovery of the stage show and her surprise that no one had bought the film rights. Curtis’ take on cracking the story, which is told from the perspective of the horse, Joey. And Spielberg’s own take on committing it all to film, especially his feelings about the Devon region, where he shot.

These essays aren’t long, but they’re written with clarity, from the heart of the people at the heart of the project. It’s easy to see how such a gorgeous film was produced.

Though there is a section about how the film was made, the book almost sidesteps this entirely. The largest section is devoted to the narrative of the film, as we meet Joey, Albert (the young man who becomes his best friend), and the people Joey meets along the way as he is drafted into World War I, captured by German soldiers, rescued by a Frenchman and his granddaughter, recaptured by the Germans, and on and on.

This section includes scores of photographs of the finished film and the production, as well as snippets of the screenplay. The episodic nature of the film belies is real depth, as we see people from so many cultures, in a time of great global stress, focus their attention on a very special animal. The film focuses on the humanity of these people instead of the inhumanity of the war.

That, too, gets a section, illuminating the role of horses in the battles of World War I and included is a terrific collection of drawings, paintings, and photographs from that era.

How wonderful that the director of Saving Private Ryan can create a war movie that turns away from war to tell the story of a horse -- and that the horse’s own story is more about people than the war that rages around them.

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Fiction: I Hate You, Kelly Donahue by Mark Svartz

On his first day of work at his new job (“New job has free coffee. I like it.”) Mark lays eyes on Kelly Donahue and vows to “PHYSICALLY DEFEAT HER IN A PHYSICAL FIGHT TO THE DEATH. PHYSICALLY” Mark spends the next eight months pressing, stalking and planning the demise of his co-worker, Kelly Donahue.

I Hate You, Kelly Donahue (Adams Media) has been created to look just like a spiral-bound notebook. The pages appear hand-written on unlined paper, with sketches, taped in newspaper clippings, maps and other ephemera relating to the plot against Kelly Donahue.

According to his bio, author Svartz is “an author, artist and award-winning advertising creative,” so the work itself is unsurprisingly good. And there is even something like charm in certain aspects of the book. His obsession with Kelly Donahue, for instance, at times seems very much like a school boy’s crush on the girl in the seat in front of him: though he might talk about punching her at recess, he really has love in his heart.

The thing is, even with that charm, there are distressing aspects. The narrator alternately stalks his subject and plots her demise, right down to planning the best places to stash body parts or area rugs to hide evidence. And, sure: there is an element of levity about all of this and you really get (at least, I did) that it’s all tongue-in-cheek, but there’s still something uncomfortable about it. Like the racist joke you can’t help laughing at, even while you hate yourself for it.

All of that said, I’m still not sure how I feel about I Hate You, Kelly Donahue. To be honest, parts of it made me laugh out loud even if, afterwards? I felt like I needed a shower. ◊

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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A Tale of Three Birthdays

In typically fine form, today, Google celebrates the anniversary of the birth of storyteller supreme, Charles Dickens. Dickens, who would have been 200 today, was the author of A Christmas Carol (1843), Great Expectations (1860-1861), David Copperfield (1849-1850) and many others. Today’s celebrational Google Doodle features some of the better known characters from Dickens’ work, including Ebenezer Scrooge, Oliver Twist and Philip Pirrip.

The Washington Post tell us that many people don’t realize how very famous Dickens was during his lifetime:
“He was so handsome when he visited Boston,” said Diana Archibald, a professor at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, which is hosting a citywide party today for Dickens. “He had long hair like a woman, and they treated him like a rock star.”
Meanwhile, The London Telegraph points out some of the celebrations taking place today in Dickens’ honor:
Events to be held across the country include a wreath-laying ceremony at Dickens' grave in Poets' Corner, Westminster Abbey, and at his birthplace in Portsmouth, Hampshire.

The congregation at Westminster Abbey will include the largest ever gathering of descendants of the Victorian novelist as well as representatives from the worlds of literature, film, theatre and the media.

Charles will lay a wreath on Dickens' grave where he was buried in 1870.

The author had asked to be buried at Rochester Cathedral but a public outcry led to him being placed in Poets' Corner.

Ralph Fiennes, who will next be seen as Magwitch in a new film adaptation of Great Expectations, will read an extract from Bleak House with readings also being given by Mark Dickens, great-great-grandson of Charles Dickens, and biographer Claire Tomalin.
Meanwhile, Writer’s Almanac points out that it is also the birthday of Nobel Prize-winning author Sinclair Lewis (Main Street, Babbitt), born in Sauk Centre, Minnesota, in 1885 and Laura Ingalls Wilder (Little House on the Prairie) born in Wisconsin in 1867.


Thursday, February 02, 2012

SF/F: The Thirteen Hallows by Michael Scott and Colette Freeman

Whatever you’re expecting when you first pick up The Thirteen Hallows (Tor), lay it aside. This will never be the book you guessed it would be. And while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s best to go in with your eyes open.

For one thing, the book is surprisingly violent. Again, that in itself might not be a dealbreaker, but it’s a good thing to know before you start to read. If you are the type of reader who is put off by careful and graphic descriptions of violence, this might be a journey you’d best not begin. But will it be a worthwhile journey, in the end? Well, this whole reading thing is pretty subjective, isn’t it? Some readers will be so put off by those details, they won’t ever forgive these authors. And, in a way, that’s not surprising. They write so well that even readers normally comfortable with a certain amount of graphic this and that might at times feel close to losing their lunch.

Just in case you’re getting the wrong idea, there’s more to The Thirteen Hallows than violence. A lot more. The title’s thirteen hallows refer to a series of carefully guarded artifacts. Alone, each one is powerful but their combined power could be unthinkable. Because of this, they have been watched over by their Keepers since the Second World War. But now the Keepers are being murdered; the hallows compromised.

One of the Keepers convinces a stranger to deliver her Hallow -- a broken sword -- to her nephew, inadvertently involving two innocents into a mystery centuries old.

Prolific novelist Michael Scott (who also writes as Anna Dillon) co-authored The Thirteen Hallows with international playwright Colette Freedman and the result is electrifying.

There is a bit of confusion about where this book should fit on bookstore shelves. Though I’ve heard the book described as a thriller, stack this one with fantasy, albeit a thrilling one. The Thirteen Hallows is an exciting beginning to what should prove to be an engaging series. ◊

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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Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Scruples for Natalie Portman

Judith Krantz’s steamy, sexy 1970s fiction would seem like the perfect answer to the television success of AMC’s Mad Men. It seems ABC agrees and have greenlighted a miniseries adaptation of Krantz’s bestselling 1978 novel, Scruples.

Natalie Portman, who will not appear in the series, will make her television production debut in the one hour drama, while Tony Krantz -- son of the author -- will serve as executive producer.

More from the Hollywood Reporter who adds that the last television run at the book was taken in 1980 and starred six million dollar woman, Lindsay Wagner.

Nikky Finney Bares Arms for Black History Month

As Black History Month gets going, we can think of no better way to get into the spirit of things than with a gorgeous essay by poet Nikky Finney (Head Off and Split, Black Poets Lean South) at the Huffington Post:
We are called angry Black women because we are not afraid of bare arms. We pay close attention to our arms, holding our children tight inside of them. We are called angry Black women because we use our arms to wave to each other, because we boldly swing our arms when we walk, because we know arms reach out, give regard, sometimes we even hire haute couture designers who have done their homework, who know we are no armless hipless mannequins.
Finney’s piece is rich, measured and beautiful. The sentiment is well worth paying attention to, as well. You can read it on the Huffington Post here.

HuffPo will continue their celebration of Black History month tomorrow with an essay by another National Book Awarding-winning author, Jesmyn Ward (Where the Line Bleeds, Salvage the Bones).