Saturday, June 30, 2012

Lit in the Sticks

Can a Pacific Northwest town of just 230 people support an literary festival? We’ll see in August, when the inaugural Mazama Festival of Books takes place in Mazama, Washington, located about 3.5 hours east of Seattle and even farther west from Spokane.

The Los Angeles Times reports that admission to this event, which is scheduled to take place on the weekend of August 18-19, will be free. “Its lineup so far leans heavily toward authors from the Pacific Northwest, led by Washington poet laureate Kathleen Flenniken,” Times writer Carolyn Kellogg explains. “Other authors include children’s book author and illustrator Erik Brooks, young-adult author Blake Nelson and memoirists Lidia Yuknavitch and Colleen Mondor. Also on the bill are the novelists Jim Lynch, Pauls Toutonghi, Ryan Boudinot and Danbert Nobacon -- the [last] of whom started out as a founding member of the anarchist pop group Chumbawumba, giving the literary festival its own little dose of rock ’n’ roll. Katherine Lanpher is on tap as an interviewer. Additional authors are expected to be announced in July.”

More festival information can be found here.

Friday, June 29, 2012

LP Store Takes Flight

Why shouldn’t the largest producer of travel guidebooks in the world have its very own specialty outlet? And what better location for it than inside an airport?

That was presumably the thinking behind Lonely Planet’s decision to open -- just today -- a single-brand bookshop in Manchester, England’s international airport. Located at Terminal 1, it’s the only Lonely Planet store operating in Europe, though another one can be found at Sydney Airport in Australia. It is such a logical service to provide curious travelers, it’s a wonder that other guidebook publishers -- Fodor’s, for instance, or Rough Guides or Let’s Go -- haven’t tried such a thing already.

According to a piece in The Bookseller, Manchester’s 100-square-meter Lonely Planet store stocks not only as many LP titles as can be crammed onto its shelves, but also boasts “interactive audio screens. In a unique feature, visitors will be able to touch the area in the world they are travelling to on an interactive globe and be given travel advice on it about the region via Lonely Planet’s website.” Presumably, that modicum of electronic information will incite visitors to the bookshop to pick up a print edition of the guide to wherever they’re headed. With 19 million passengers streaming through Manchester Airport annually, the possibility for such last-minute sales seems favorable.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Publishing Power

What are the largest publishers in the world? Publishers Weekly has put together a list. All of it won’t surprise you, but some of it definitely will.

Speaking of publishing powerhouses, Forbes offers up Traackr’s Top 10 Social Media Influencers: Book Publishing. The piece in question isn’t called that, though. But, come to think of it, readers will be interested in that, too: “Are You the Next New York Times Bestseller?” Forbes has the idea that social media is key.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Non-Fiction: Gifts of the Crow by John Marzluff and Tony Angell

Think about it: few creatures are as misunderstood as the crow. Their black plumage and watchful demeanor can evoke fear and even shadows of future evil. But in reality, contend authors John Marzluff and Tony Angell, in many ways crows are much more like us than most people would care to admit. “The gifts of the crow are physical, metaphorical, and far-reaching,” they write in Gifts of the Crow (FreePress), setting us up for a journey of stories that demonstrate the almost magical intellect of the crow. From the book:
Most people consider birds to be instinctual automatons acting out behaviors long ago scripted in their genes, but Giifts of the Crow celebrates the fact that some birds -- particularly those in the corvid family, which we generally call “crows” -- are anything but mindless or robotic. These animals are exceptionally smart. Not only do they make tools, but they understand cause and effect. They use their wisdom to infer, discriminate, test, learn, remember, foresee, mourn, warn of impending doom, recognize people, seek revenge, lure or warn of impending doom, recogznie people, seek revenge, lure or stampede other birds to their death, quaff coffee and beer, turn on lights to stay warm or expose danger, speak, steal, deceive, gift, windsurf, play with cats…
In short, say the authors, crows are more like humans than most of us have ever suspected. The creatures depicted here could not be further from the classic birdbrain we think about when imagining our feathered friends.

This isn’t this authorial duo’s first visit in the corvid world. In the Company of Crows and Ravens (2007) gives a first intimate look at the birds. Gifts of the Crow extends the lessons shared in that work but does not depend on readers having read the first one. Apparently in a corvid world, everything must stand alone.

Gifts of the Crow (FreePress) is a deeply astonishing book. At the same time, it is also oddly satisfying. Somehow seeing the similarities between humans and crows makes us feel less alone. ◊

Jones Atwater is a contributing editor to January Magazine.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

New This Week: Capital by John Lanchester

The main character in John Lanchester’s new novel is a once down-at-the-heel London Street. In Capital (McClelland & Stewart/W.W. Norton), we spend a lot of time on Pepys Road, an ordinary street that’s about to undergo a big change. The book takes place at the height of the financial crisis, as the excesses of the first decade of the new millennium give way to the crash of 2008.

 “I was interested in lives that barely touch,” Lanchester recently told Craig Taylor in an interview for The Daily Beast.

“With Capital,” Taylor writes, “his fourth novel, Lanchester was interested in a double microcosm: London as a microcosm of the world, and a single street as a microcosm of London. The setting Lanchester creates is Pepys Road, which by the first decade of the new century has become less a street and more of a collection of entities that need tending to.”

All of this make Capital sound much less interesting than it is. The reason is Lanchester’s deep talent: his searing prose, his sharp wit, his creation of you another well-considered moral tale. The author of The Debt to Pleasure and Fragrant Harbour delivers another thoughtful and entertaining commentary on our times. ◊

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


Book Covers: The Worst of the Worst

The squeamish and faint of heart should not read further: what you’re about to see can’t be unseen.

As our constant readers know, we have a deep interest in covers at January Magazine and we’ve talked about them a lot over the years. That is to say, we know what a bad cover looks like, so we don’t necessarily agree with So Bad So Good that the covers featured are, in fact, the “10 Worst Book Covers In The History Of Literature,” a lot of them are super bad. And some of them are just covering really stupid books. (Something had to.)

Consider some of the titles: The Big Coloring Book of Vaginas (no, really) and The Best Dad is a Good Lover (the mind reels). And, as January art director David Middleton wants to know, “When was it ever okay to put the word ‘retarded’ on the cover of a book?”

So Bad So Good shows us all 10 truly terrible books and covers here.


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Desk Dreams

If the only thing between you and the execution of the perfect novel is a wonderful desk, Flavorpill has the answer (as they truly so often do!).
As legendary science fiction author and Flavorpill favorite Ray Bradbury once said, “Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things.” Wise words Ray, but usually it’s the doing that’s the hardest part! 
Enter the right desk. 
The magazine offers up a dozen of them, in varying shades of cool. That piece is here.

Monday, June 18, 2012

SF/F: Rasputin’s Bastards by David Nickle

Back in 2009, I was so impressed with Monstrous Affections, David Nickle’s collection of short stories, that I selected it as one of my picks for best books of the year. At the same time, I made a note to keep an eye out for future offerings from this talented author. Now here we are with Rasputin’s Bastards (Chizine) and Nickle? He hasn’t disappointed.

It’s interesting because Nickle is best known for his tightly woven short stories. It’s a difficult form, the short story. That is, to do it well demands talent and discipline and it does not necessarily follow that an artist who has mastered the short form will do well with more rein and scope. Rasputin’s Bastards has both along with an intricate plotline, a carefully created pace and a whole lot of pages and words. It is the exact opposite of a short story in just about every way imaginable and I was much relieved to discover that Nickle could go this distance, as well. In fact, it’s almost as though Nickle was honing his muscles on the collection, in order to go the whole way in the longer form here because once again he proves himself to be the master of showing us innocuous, everyday things, then dialing us closer and showing us something else.

I find it difficult to talk about Rasputin’s Bastards without either giving too much away or oversimplifying a plot and structure that are far from simple. What begins as a fairly standard -- thought perfectly executed -- Cold War tale rapidly shows itself to be anything but as Nickle unravels a fascinated and complicated tale of international intrigue and -- yes -- horror.

As always, Nickle is right on point. The prose here is thoughtful, energetic and sharp. Most importantly of all, the plot of Rasputin’s Bastards is complicated and it’s told in a complex way. Despite this, it’s stiffly compelling. Once you’re done, there’s no question: the hours spent enfolded in Nickle’s imagination are well spent. You won’t ever feel the desire to ask for them back. ◊

David Middleton is art & culture editor of January Magazine.

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Sunday, June 17, 2012

Cookbooks: Slow Fire and Grilling Vegan Style

This is a day a lot of people get fired up about. Somehow or another, Father’s Day and grill cooking seem to go hand in hand. You don’t have to look very far or throw a rock very hard to find cookbooks that focus on the barbecue. But great and different barbecue books? That’s something else entirely. Here are two I loved recently.

Slow Fire: The Beginner’s Guide to Barbecue is by Ray “Dr. BBQ” Lampe (NFL Gameday Cookbook), one of the acknowledged experts in the field and someone who can push barbecue prose towards poetry. “There is something magical about barbecue that makes it different from any other cuisine,”  Lampe writes on the opening pages of Slow Fire (Chronicle). He takes us through Tools and Techniques, including a tour of the cookers one might encounter and aspire to. As well, Spices and Sauces are covered in some depth and if you’ve ever aspire to creating a mean rub, Lampe here takes you through it.  From there you’re off to the races with the most varied barbecue offerings I’ve ever seen, including wings, ribs, steaks, chops and a whole welcome section on The Necessary Sides.

If there’s a single theme here, it’s meat with your meat, and even just surfing the photos is heady, though I acknowledge, for a certain type of reader, they might have the opposite effect. For that particular reader -- and a growing number of others -- there’s Grilling Vegan Style (Da Capo Life Long) by John Schlimm (The Tipsy Vegan) who could well become to non-meat grilling what Lampe is to the other kind.

That said, it’s possible Grilling Vegan Style would give Lampe a headache or a heartache. This is barbecue that Lampe and his like would probably say should never, ever be. This is bright, light, essentially healthy food an the style of the book reflects this.

I enjoyed the Grilled Tomato Suns: so easy and tasty, not to mention visually appealing. I also really like the Flame-Glazed Eggplant with Hoisin Sauce, but then I have an acknowledged soft spot for eggplant, plus it was really fun actually making my own hoisin from scratch.

Frankly, these two are likely books that should never be compared: they're as different as fire and ice. That said, it was fun holding them side-by-side and enjoying the sub-messages of each. To my way of thinking, the books aren’t mutually exclusive, either. A lot of home grillers would find a happy place for both books. ◊

Sienna Powers is a transplanted Calgarian who lives and works in Vancouver, B.C. She is a writer and conceptual artist.

New Last Week: Sunday Brunch by Betty Rosbottom

A special Father’s Day begins with breakfast. Though, of course, so many special days do. The fact is, though, you don't need a special occasion at all to enjoy Betty Rosbottom’s truly terrific Sunday Brunch (Chronicle Books), perhaps the best breakfast book I’ve enjoyed out of a sea of them.

In addition to the standard scones, popovers and pancakes, Rosbottom wins by filling her book to the brim with great new takes on really satisfying standards.

The breakfast on the cover of the book is as good a place to start as any. Though it’s visually arresting -- not to mention delicious-looking -- the food represented here is surprisingly simple. Pan-Fried Eggs and Mixed Mushroom Sauté on Toasted Sourdough Slices. That's the name of the dish, but that’s also what it is: perfectly fried eggs on a big bed of mushrooms and some toast. What could be simpler than that? Yet Rosbottom’s elegant touches elevates the dish to something you could happily serve at your best brunch.

For those who like things rich but can do without the sweet, I was simply blown away by the Parmesan Flans with Parmesan Crisps. Essentially savory puddings, flavored with garlic and rosemary, an elegant touch for a brunch where you're wanting to impress without actually taking the time you’d like to in order to do it. The flans can be mixed and even poured in advance, then bake them off while you calmly greet your guests.

And though this is meant to be -- and is -- a book about brunch, there are several recipes here that would work for lunches and dinners when you’re trying to impress. For instance, The Grape Tomato and Blue Cheese Tart would be lovely with a nice salad at lunch-time, or even dinner. However, if you do that, make sure you make a lot of it: this one is easy and delectable.

Eggs benedict, pancakes, waffles plus various hashes, omelets and coffee cakes, Sunday Brunch is a very good book. It collects all of your favorite morning flavors and recreates them in a way that is both understandable and modern. ◊

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

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Friday, June 15, 2012

Beyond the Gutter

This just in: “If you haven’t heard, Out of the Gutter, ‘The Modern Journal of Pulp Fiction and Degenerate Literature,’ is back in action, live online, and taking submissions!”

Out of the Gutter launched in 2008, produced seven issues, then the company began publishing books, at which point publication of the quasi-punk ’zine ceased.

“But today,” says the Out of the Gutter website, “we’re breathing new life into the endeavor, finally moving into the twenty-first century by combining Gutter’s rapid-fire, no-holds-barred attitude with the instant access and live discussion offered by the Internet.”

All of that, plus “bareknuckles news, views and pulp,” are available here.

Crime Fiction: The Woodcutter by Reginald Hill

By the time he died in January 2012, British crime writer Reginald Hill had earned legions of fans worldwide for his engaging novels (and long-running TV series) featuring two improbably paired police detectives. Andy Dalziel (known as “Fat Andy,” but only behind his back) is opinionated, outspoken, sometimes rude and almost always politically incorrect; his university-educated, liberally oriented ally, Peter Pascoe, spends much of his time trying to minimize the damage his boss can inflict merely by walking through a room.

Hill was no one-trick pony, though. Given the appeal of his odd-couple series, it’s all too easy to overlook his other writing -- in particular his 15 standalone novels written over a period of 40 years. Readers who venture into this wooded area will be rewarded with a varied range of novels that encompass football hooliganism, the English Civil War, spy thrillers, collaborators during the Second World War, psychological thrillers, and in his final published work -- The Woodcutter (released last year in the States) -- the tortuous path of revenge.

Wilfred “Wolf” Hadda is, by any standard, a singular man. Rising from modest roots as a woodcutter’s son, he has carved out a successful business worth millions. He has homes in Holland Park, Devon, New York, Barbados and Umbria, and a private jet with which to reach them. Knighted for his business achievements, he is married to a vivacious and intelligent woman from a wealthy family, to the envy of all.

But without warning, one day his life suddenly comes crashing down around him. In the early hours of the morning police force their way into Hadda’s house, armed with a warrant and accompanied by a phalanx from the press. His computer is seized, and when the police find kiddie porn on it, he is arrested. Wolf Hadda is accused of being a pedophile, and a credit-care trail indicates payments to hotels and Internet porn sites -- adding to the increasing mountain of evidence incriminating Wolf. The press have a field day, and Hadda is disgraced.

As bad as that is, once convicted and imprisoned he finds his ordeal is only beginning. While in prison Wolf is faced with the death of his daughter, followed by his wife divorcing him to marry his former lawyer. Adding to his miseries, Wolf’s father suffers a stroke, and his best friend seems curiously detached from his tragedies. Wolf Hadda seems to be a contemporary Job, totally friendless in an unforgiving world.

Always a force to be reckoned with, and pushed to the brink in a series of events that would destroy most men, his years in prison have hardened and honed Wolf Hadda. Now he strives to convince prison psychiatrist Alva Ozigbo that he has become a new man; but first she must understand the old Wolf, and his history is far more complex, and far darker, than she can possibly imagine. Their relationship becomes a macabre dance of their intellects: Has Wolf actually reformed, or is he a consummate con artist? And is Alva up to the task of deciding which is which?

At last, after serving seven years in prison, Hadda is paroled, with only two thoughts on his mind: to learn the truth, and to exact revenge. Who did this to him, and why? How can he balance the scales of justice?

A cracking psychological thriller on a par with the best of them, The Woodcutter is also a sumptuous, layered novel about the complex interplay of forces that shape a troubled boy into a man. Wolf Hadda is dangerous, but no mere psychopath; think The Silence of the Lambs, but with the menace much more understated, and a protagonist with, er, much more flesh on his bones.

Hill’s own literary allusions can at times be maddening, seemingly intrusive to his story line; but they are unfailingly provocative, taking the reader in unexpected directions. The various plot lines converge as this book nears its climax, carrying the reader along effortlessly. The Woodcutter is, in short, a fine work, and a fitting grace note to one of the most accomplished crime-writing careers in recent history. Rest in peace, Reginald Hill. You did yourself proud. ◊

Jim Napier is a crime-fiction reviewer based in Quebec. His book reviews and author interviews have been featured in several Canadian papers as well as on such websites as Spinetingler Magazine, The Rap Sheet, Shots, Reviewing the Evidence, Crime Time and Type M for Murder. Napier also has an award-winning crime-fiction site, Deadly Diversions.

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Gwyneth Inspires Cameron to Write Book

Cameron Diaz is hard at work on a memoir-style book about nutrition. She says that the inspiration for the teen-focused tome was Goop! created by her friend and fellow actress Gwyneth Paltrow. From TVNZ:
The 39-year-old star is penning a tome about the importance of nutrition and staying healthy for young girls after gaining inspiration from her friend Gwyneth Paltrow's weekly lifestyle journal Goop!, which sees the US actress provide wellness tips, recipes and fashion advice.
A publishing source said: "Cameron has become very close to Gwyneth and it's been very interesting for her to see what Gwyneth is doing with Goop!.
"She's been inspired by Gwyneth and the way she uses her fame to influence and help people. Now Cameron wants to do the same."
Last year, Paltrow worked with celebrity chef Mario Batali on My Father’s Daughter (Grand Central Life & Style), a memoir-style cookbook celebrating Paltrow’s late father, director and producer Bruce Paltrow.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Mandatory Poetry Will Alter Curriculum

Things could be looking very different for British school children soon, thanks to the strong emphasis on language arts being put forward by education secretary, Michael Gove. In the near future, children as young as five will be learning and reciting poetry from memory. From the Guardian:
From Year 1, at the age of five, children will be read poems by their teacher as well as starting to learn simple poems by heart and practise recitals.
The programme of study for Year 2 will state that pupils should continue "to build up a repertoire of poems learnt by heart and recite some of these, with appropriate intonation to make the meaning clear".
More generally the curriculum will place a much stronger emphasis on reading for pleasure with children from Year 1 "becoming very familiar with key stories, fairy stories and traditional tales".
English isn’t the only thing in Gove’s sights:
At the same time, Gove will put forward proposals to make learning a foreign language compulsory for pupils from the age of seven.
Under his plans, primary schools could offer lessons in Mandarin, Latin and Greek, as well as French, German and Spanish from September 2014.
Gove is said to be determined to make the teaching of English at primary school "far more rigorous" than it is at present.
The full piece is here.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Bestseller Lists and Dodo Birds?

Do bestseller lists have a place in modern bookselling? Warren Adler (The War of the Roses, The Serpent’s Bite) doesn’t think so. Stating an eloquent case in The Huffington Post yesterday, Adler writes:
It may be time for the media that covers the book business to stop publishing best seller lists. They are, in today's book choosing environment, disorienting, unhelpful and confusing, a valiant but failed attempt to make sense out of disorder.
We’re not sure we agree, but Adler states his position very well. And who can resist adding a knowing smirk when he nails it by calling The New York Times Book Review, “a cracked mirror of the fractionalized, overstuffed and disorganized image of contemporary book publishing.” But his reasoning goes far beyond cheerful name calling.
Once upon a time, they might have served their purpose for devoted general readers who based their choices on the premise that a book which sells best might be worth the investment of time and money. It was assumed, too, that what sold best might provide the reader with a better reading experience than what was not on the list. In other words, follow the crowd. They may know where they're going. Or may not.

As everyone knows, popularity rarely equates with quality. On the other hand, quality is too subjective to be quantified and it would be the essence of snobbery to condemn all of the books on best-seller lists as potboilers. Many are. But some have stood the test of time and have introduced authors who have shown remarkable durability, and given pleasure and insight to generations of readers.
You can see the piece in its entirety here.

Hobbit Will Premiere in November

Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson has announced that his new film, a 3-D extravaganza based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, will take place in New Zealand on November 28th, a full two weeks before the general release of the film in mid-December.

Jackson has opted to tell the Hobbit story in two parts, with both set roughly 60 years before the action in The Lord of the Rings. In the first, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Bilbo Baggins tries to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor from the dragon, Smaug.

The second part, The Hobbit: There and Back Again, will be released one year after the first, in December 2013.


Book Expo 2012: Day 2

The names of three people can sum up Book Expo on Wednesday for me: Ian Buchsbaum, my son and fellow January Magazine contributor; Tom Angleberger, author of The Strange Case of Origami Yoda and the forthcoming The Secret of the Fortune Wookie; and Chris Alexander, author of the forthcoming Star Wars Origami.

Ian has been corresponding with Tom for many months now, and this morning they finally met, at a Book Expo presentation stage.

Tom was there to introduce booksellers to his latest, about the Fortune Wookie, which involves an origami fortune teller-like Wookie. Tom brought along Chris, who’s written his own Star Wars origami book. Both are due in August. Before long, these three were fast friends, and Tom had Ian come up on stage to help him demonstrate how to make the Fortune Wookie. Later, Chris helped the audience make origami Boba Fett figures. After the event, both held autograph sessions and paid special attention to Ian, and later in the day Ian met Wimpy Kid author Jeff Kinney, Big Nate author Lincoln Peirce, Goosebumps author R.L. Stine. Needless to say, my 11-year-old had quite a day.

Several times throughout the day, I was struck by the idea that while we all have favorite books and authors, while we all love a wonderful story, what we all love about books is that they’re an opportunity for people to connect. For authors to connect with readers -- and vice versa. Today, Ian felt that connection profoundly, and I believe Tom and Chris did too. Today, which would normally have been about the business of books, was about the emotions they convey and inspire. What better way to spend a Wednesday than watching a child’s spirit light up, thanks to five very kind men and the stories they tell.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Ray Bradbury Dead at 91

Although he often looked toward the future in his fiction, author Ray Bradbury is now part of the past. He died last night at age 91.

As is probably the case for most people noticing this post, I have read Bradbury’s most famous works of fiction--The Martian Chronicles (1950), The Illustrated Man (1951), Fahrenheit 451 (1953), Dandelion Wine (1957), and Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962). Surprisingly, though, I was less good about tackling his mystery novels--Death Is a Lonely Business (1985), A Graveyard for Lunatics (1990), and Let’s All Kill Constance (2002)--but only because I was distracted at the time by other, newer wordsmiths.

I enjoyed a great deal of science fiction in my youth (the same stage of life when Bradbury himself discovered the genre), before I turned mostly to crime fiction in my college years. And even then, I could see that Bradbury was another rung up from most of his contemporaries in the genre. As the Los Angeles Times explains in an obituary:
Bradbury has frequently been credited with elevating the often maligned reputation of science fiction. Some say he singlehandedly helped to move the genre into the realm of literature.

“The only figure comparable to mention would be [Robert A.] Heinlein and then later [Arthur C.] Clarke,” said Gregory Benford, a UC Irvine physics professor and Nebula Award-winning science fiction writer. “But Bradbury, in the ’40s and ’50s, became the name brand.”
Bradbury inspired devotion and sometimes remarkable passions in his followers, and his longevity and great popularity as an author contributed to his influence over the genre. His presence in our world, our time, our space will most certainly be missed.

January contributor Jim Napier has this to add: “Just heard that science-fiction author Ray Bradbury died. The passing of a giant. The best SF -- and Bradbury’s books were clearly at the very top of that list -- go way beyond entertainment, to invite readers to imagine the consequences of possibilities before they become actualities. He painted pictures of alternative universes, and prompted us to consider the implications of emerging, or even merely possible, ways of living, giving us the opportunity to say “no” or to embrace such changes. With Bradbury, it was never just about stunning SFX; it was always about substance. Contemporary filmmakers would do well to keep that in mind.”

READ MORE: “Ray Bradbury: Twitter Pays Tribute to SF Writer,” by Hannah Freeman (The Guardian); “Ray Bradbury, The Art of Fiction No. 203,” by Sam Weller (The Paris Review).

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Book Expo 2012: Day 1

Book Expo America, the annual confab where publishers give away thousands of advance copies and canvas bags to booksellers, press and other industry folk began yesterday in earnest when thousands of book lovers stormed the gates inside New York City’s Jacob Javits Convention Center as if it was the running of the bulls.

Every year, the anticipation grows to a fever pitch as the line to enter gets longer and longer, and then when the guards let everyone in, there’s a mad dash for one’s favorite publisher to see what books they’ll be putting out. Believe me, it doesn’t take long for stacks of books to vanish.

After that first half hour, the whole vibe softens to a much more cordial, relaxed atmosphere. At this stage, attendees roam the aisles, their eyes sweeping the stands for something that looks interesting. A book cover. A familiar author’s name. A bag that looks very gotta-have. A cool flash drive or some other trinket.

In recent years there’s been a push to distribute advance copies as digital books, but that seems to have waned. The people who attend BEA like books, not pixels. Interestingly though, many more publishers this year are no longer printing catalogs of upcoming releases; that material can be found online. (Several people told me they thought that pendulum, too, would swing back.)

The most excitement this year? Justin Cronin, by far, whose sequel to The Passage, The Twelve, hits stores in October. People started lining up an hour early and Ballantine distributed 200 advance copies. The thing is, the line was a lot longer than 200 drooling readers (see photo above left). Also signing books on the first day were Ruth Rendell, Michael Connelly and James Patterson, among many others.

One particularly cool thing for January’s readers? Our own David Abrams’ novel, Fobbit, due from Grove/Atlantic in September, was on display (see lower photo). By the time I got to that booth, the copies were dwindling. (Very cool, huh, David?) Overall, I found BEA’s first day more subdued than that of previous years. But there are two more days for the excitement to build, and it generally does. For me, this event is like being a kid in a candy store -- and everything’s free. Subdued or not, this is thrilling stuff, truly like crack for anyone who loves books as we do.


Monday, June 04, 2012

Non-Fiction: Falling for Eli by Nancy Shulins

Nancy Shulins’ fantastic personal journey is made all the more powerful by her fierce talent. The twice Pulitzer Prize-contending journalist knows how to tell a story; knows how to bring us along.

“Letting go of a dream is a process,” she tells us early in Falling for Eli (Da Capo Lifelong), “a series of openings and closings of the hand, as you watch the magic dust you’ve been cradling so carefully trickle away in thin streams.”

The word “cradle” in this context is, no doubt, a conscious one. In Falling for Eli, we watch Shulins come to terms with the fact that she’ll never have the baby she always longed for. What surprises her, as well as all of those around her, is when the heartbreak she feels at the loss of something she never even had is eased from an unexpected place: when she decides to fulfill a life-long dream by learning to ride a horse. The riding leads her  to her own horse, a chestnut gelding named Eli, and we participate in the complex relationship that builds between the two.

Like the very best memoirs, Falling for Eli is a wonderful story, but it is also so much more. We are made, in a way, to think about motherhood and how the definitions around it have changed and continue to change. In other ways, it is a story of redemption and even triumph of spirit, as Shulins moves from depression at the realization that she will never give birth to a child, through her transformation as she works through a difficult period of relationship building with her new horse, to triumph as she enjoys a satisfying -- if complication -- relationship with her 1200 pound “baby.”

I can’t imagine the once horse-mad girl who won’t enjoy Falling for Eli. A paperback original, it will nonetheless be one of my top picks of the year. ◊

India Wilson is a writer and artist.


Saturday, June 02, 2012

Oprah’s Back!

Of course, Oprah Winfrey herself was never gone, but her book club has been sadly silent for a couple of years. And mostly silent for a few years before that. Now she’s back with what she’s calling Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 and, however her readers respond, it’s a cinch that the book industry will rejoice. After all, no one has ever been able to move books quite like Oprah. As the New York Times reminds us:
Before she stopped selecting books altogether in 2010, Ms. Winfrey had picked 65 books since 1996, a mix of contemporary and classic works. For many years, a book’s selection as an Oprah-sanctioned title translated into instantly skyrocketing sales of more than a million copies, extraordinary numbers for any title.
But time has marched on since earlier incarnations of Oprah’s Book Club and, always a style setter, Oprah has marched on, as well. Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 arrives social media ready, with strong interactive elements and an e-book component.

Oprah’s first pick for 2.0 is Wild (Knopf) by Pushcart Prize-winning author Cheryl Strayed who many know best at Dear Sugar from The Rumpus.

Wild is a memoir that recollects the epic physical and emotional journey Strayed took when she was 22 and at a place in her life when she felt she had nothing to lose. On little more than an impulse, she decided to take on the 1100-mile Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State. The demanding journey broke her physically but lifted her again spiritually, despite run-ins with bears, snakes and the natural perils of the trail.

“I considered my options,” Strayed writes at one point in Wild. “There were only two and they were essentially the same. I could go back in the direction I had come from, or I could go forward in the direction I intended to go.”

We can guess how it all turned out, though: clearly books by quitters are unlikely to ever sport an Oprah sticker.

Remembering Carol

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Carol Shields was born on this day in 1935.

Though strongly identified as a Canadian author, Shields was born in Oak Park, Illinois. She moved to Canada in 1957 after marrying Donald Hugh Shields, a Canadian engineer. The couple had a son and four daughters and Shields later became a citizen of Canada.

Shields is best known as the author of The Stone Diaries (1993) for which she won the Pulitzer Prize, the Governor General’s Award and the National Book Award, a trifecta it is unlikely to ever be duplicated, due to the restrictions of birth and residence.

The Stone Diaries is the fictional autobiography of Daisy Goodwill Flett. Shields created parts of it in scrapbook style, adding authentic touches with photos she found in antique shops. Later books included the collection Dressing Up for the Carnival and the 2002 novel Unless which won the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, was shortlisted in for the Man/Booker Prize, the ScotiaBank Giller Award andthe Orange Prize for fiction.

“Open a book this minute and start reading,” begins one of the most oft-cited Carol Shields quotes. “Don’t move until you’ve reached page fifty. Until you’ve buried your thoughts in print. Cover yourself with words. Wash yourself away. Dissolve.”

Shields died in 2003 of breast cancer. She was 68.

Friday, June 01, 2012

New Today: Magnified World by Grace O’Connell

Much is made of the zircon stones used by the protagonist’s mother in Magnified World (Random House Canada) in order to kill herself. She fills her pockets with them, then wades into the Don River, weighted down like some new age Canadian Virginia Woolf.

Her daughter, 23-year-old Maggie, is left bereft and ill-prepared to cope, despite the fact that, after the death, Maggie opens the family’s New Age shop, deducts the zircon stones from the ledger and gets on with life, business as usual.

Only not. Maggie’s blackouts start almost immediately. The doctor attributes them to grief and prescribes more iron in an improved diet. Around the same time, a mysterious stranger named Gil makes himself known. But is he real or the product of Maggie’s grieving imagination?

Clearly, grief is the subtext here. More than that. Grief lingers on almost every page: how it arrives, then takes over, permeating every aspect of Maggie’s life. To be clear of it, she must make some decisions that seem even crazier than she feels.

While there is magic in Magnified World, it is not the book it could have been. The grief that overwhelms the novel has a sameness to it and the intensity of feeling that is implied never really makes it beyond the page.

For all that, Magnified World is a satisfactory first outing, even if not on a par with some of its New Face of Fiction alumni from Random House of Canada. The program, now in its 16th year, has graduated an impressive class that includes Ann-Marie MacDonald, Yann Martel, Gail Anderson-Dargatz, Timothy Taylor, Ami McKay and others whose first novels were launched through the New Face of Fiction program. ◊

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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