Sunday, March 30, 2008

Review: Shellfish: The Cookbook by Karen Barnaby

Today in January Magazine’s cookbook section, Linda L. Richards looks at Shellfish: The Cookbook by Karen Barnaby. Says Richards:
The title of Karen Barnaby’s ninth cookbook puts me in mind of the first time I encountered this chef’s food. It was my first visit to Vancouver’s Fish House in Stanley Park and it was deep in the 1990s. In retrospect, at the time Barnaby could only have been executive chef there for a couple, three years, at most. I ordered the cioppino, a special favorite of mine and one I’ve discovered is a good test of a chef whose work is new to you. It seems to me that a cioppino will show you something of a chef’s soul.

When my cioppino arrived that first night it took my breath away. For starters it was, quite simply, the loveliest food that had ever been set in front of me. At a glance it all looked perfectly cooked. But more: it was artfully presented. It was beautiful. Eating it brought no disappointments. I instructed my server to send compliments to the chef and after a while Barnaby appeared at our table. I supplicated accordingly, telling her just what I felt: that no one had ever served me food quite so lovely. She took these compliments as was her due: pleasantly but without surprise. One got the feeling she’d heard these effusions before.
The full review is here.

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Book Obsessed

Barnes & Noble continues its scattershot approach to enriching its retail site with content with a really good new addition, Book Obsessed. These are well-produced and interesting video segments on -- as the name implies -- readers who have heard the call of the book and gone beyond, putting together literary collections that would put the best endowed librarians quite to shame.

B&N calls Book Obsessed “a mini-documentary series that travels the length and breadth of the USA to meet folks whose love for books knows no bounds! From New York to L.A., from Texas to Wisconsin, our intrepid crew tracks down obsessed readers and spends time with them, revealing a fascinating glimpse into their world and the books they love. Each week, you’ll meet a new bibliophile who is truly Book Obsessed.”

Only a few Book Obsessed segments have “aired” thus far, including a very interesting one with friends-of-January Jon and Ruth Jordan of Crimespree magazine. You can see Book Obsessed for yourself here.

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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Review: Amelia Dee and the Peacock Lamp by Odo Hirsch

Today in January Magazine’s children’s book section, Sue Bursztynski looks at Amelia Dee and the Peacock Lamp by Odo Hirsch. Says Bursztynski:
Odo Hirsch’s books range from the Bartlett adventures, set in a sort of 18th century Europe, with imaginary countries, to the Hazel Green novels, centered around a block of flats in an imaginary city in an unnamed country, and the children who live there.

Amelia Dee and the Peacock Lamp is closer to Hazel Green than Bartlett, but is different again. The Hazel Green tales usually have a bit of adventure and a bit of mystery and a moral. This novel is fairly strong on the moral, with some mystery and no actual adventure.
The full review is here.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Author Snapshot: Rachel Cline

Last month, we told you a bit about Rachel Cline’s journeyman’s eye and poet’s heart when the author’s second novel was published. My Liar (Random House), follows up 2004’s highly acclaimed What to Keep.
The Los Angeles film community provides the backdrop for My Liar, and though this community is well rendered (it’s a world this author once inhabited) it really is just the setting. The real meat here comes through the relationships between women: the complex connections, the competitions and self-definitions. Cline serves it all up with pathos and heart and great dollops of dark humor.

A Snapshot of Rachel Kennedy Cline...

Born: New York Hospital, but was taken home to Brooklyn
Resides: Brooklyn, New York
Birthday: 1957
Web site: rachelcline.com


Please tell us about your most recent book.
My Liar is about a creative woman working as a film editor in Hollywood, on the scruffy or “indie” end of the movie business -- and particularly looks at her twisted friendship with another woman, the director she works for. A critic named Helen Eisenbach recently wrote this sentence, which I love as a summary: “My Liar is the doomed ménage a trois between an artist, her art and that dirty mistress, commerce.”

What’s on your nightstand?
What Maisie Knew by Henry James, because I’m thinking about writing something about a child who knows too much and because I’m always feeling remiss about not having read enough of James.

A Dream from My Father by Barack Obama, which I picked up while checking to see whether the local McNally-Robinson bookstore had My Liar in stock (it didn’t). So, I buried my sorrows and my nose in the book on the ride home and couldn’t stop reading -- it’s such a nuanced self-portrait, full of confusion and ambivalence. In other words, it’s a lot more interesting than what I expected to find in a book authored by a presidential candidate.

Last Resorts by Clare Boylan, a book with a tacky-looking cover that I picked up at a second-hand shop, but which turned out to be the best thing I’d read in ages. I’m keeping it close to remind me to look out for more of Boylan’s work -- she died in 2006 (at only 58) but left seven novels and three story collections.

What inspires you?
Finding a great book by an author I’d never heard of. Reading a great book by anyone.

What are you working on now?
Don’t want to jinx it.

Tell us about your process.
Establishing a practice is the most important part of learning to be a writer and everyone’s approach is different -- I didn’t find my own way until I finally just gave in to the fact that it requires sitting there and tolerating feeling completely uncomfortable until you don’t feel that way anymore. For me, the only way to do that is to get to the desk when I’m still half-asleep and to not let myself flake out until I’ve either sat there for two hours or produced 1000 words.

Lift your head and look around. What do you see?
It’s winter and the leaves are down, so if I really crane my neck, I can see the Statue of Liberty.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
The idea of becoming “a writer” crystallized for me when I was nine or ten (around the time my parents’ marriage broke up, and also around the time I first read Harriet the Spy). Of course, my mother was a writer, so that was where I really got the idea. The hard part wasn’t knowing that being a writer was what I wanted, but realizing that it was something I had to do whether or not I could ever figure out how to get paid for it.

If you couldn’t write books, what would you be doing?
Probably writing them anyway. Unless you mean, in a coma or something -- that’s really the only circumstance I can imagine keeping me away from writing, entirely.

To date, what moment in your career has made you happiest?

Looking around at all my friends and the people who had helped me at the publication party for What to Keep. I figured that was what a bride must feel like, except I was actually being praised for something I had done (versus a role I had assumed in society) and so even my snotty little inner voice couldn’t find a way to berate me at that moment. Added bonus: I was wearing a red dress.

For you, what is the easiest thing about being writer?
None of it’s easy. But I think I’m better at taking criticism than a lot of people. I find it strangely satisfying to hear what’s wrong with my work -- as long as it’s at a point where I can still fix it. (And even after publication, if the criticism is based on a serious reading, I don’t mind that so much, either. It’s being dismissed that kills me.)

What’s the most difficult?
Getting out of the habit of thinking of myself as a failure.

What question do you get asked about your writing most often?
Isn’t [enter character name here] really you?

What’s the question you’d like to be asked?
Anything about the ideas and images in the book, itself.

Tell us something about yourself that no one knows.
I’m afraid that one day I’ll unconsciously lick the spoon I just used to serve the cat food from the can. Ick!


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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Review: Moonlight Downs by Adrian Hyland and The Fourth Man by K.O. Dahl

Today in January Magazine’s crime fiction section, Stephen Miller looks at Moonlight Downs by Adrian Hyland and The Fourth Man by K.O. Dahl. Says Miller:
In the international world of crime fiction, it seems that Australia and Norway have been chronically underrepresented. Debut author Adrian Hyland seeks to correct the Australian oversight with his new tale, Moonlight Downs.

Hyland’s heroine is Emily Tempest, a half-Aboriginal roustabout, who has returned home to Moonlight Downs, her tribal homeland in the Outback after years of wandering the globe and racking up what she believes to be adventures.
Later in the same piece, Miller says:
From the opposite end of the world comes veteran author K.O. Dahl and The Fourth Man, his series debut featuring Oslo Detective Inspector Frank Frolich, a sad sack of a man with little going for him other than work. While participating in a raid on a local store, Frolich literally falls upon an attractive young woman, in the wrong place at the wrong time. Elizabeth Faremo becomes the object of his obsession, nearly causing an eclipse in every other aspect of Frolich’s life. To call their eventual association an “affair” is to almost grant it a dignity that it doesn’t quite deserve; it’s more like a series of one-night stands.
Read the complete review here.

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New Today: Tales Before Narnia edited by Douglas A. Anderson

In many respects, this seems like the collection that real SF/F aficionados -- and those who love the history of the twinned genres -- have been waiting for. Editor Douglas A. Anderson -- a recognized expert on all things Hobbity -- here takes on the very history and roots of the form. Tales Before Narnia: The Roots of Modern Fantasy and Science Fiction (Del Rey) explores the stories that fired C.S. Lewis, author of The Chronicles of Narnia, Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra and others. In total, 14 novels and several short stories.

“Many of Lewis’s inspirations can be traced to his wide reading,” writes editor Douglas A. Anderson. In Surprised by Joy (1956) an autobiography of his early life, Lewis noted that one of the experiences forming his pleasure in literature occurred when as a youth he read the poem ‘Tegnér’s Drapa’ by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.”

It’s great to read about that in Anderson’s introduction, but it’s also great to then be able to look not far ahead and find “Tegnér’s Drapa” and sample the poem for yourself. (“I saw the pallid corpse of the dead sun borne through the Northern sky.”) In all, 21 works Anderson considers important to Lewis’ development as an author, including writing by Hans Christian Andersen, Sir Walter Scott, Charles Dickens, J.R.R. Tolkien and others.

The publication of the book is meant to tie in with the second Chronicles of Narnia film, Prince Caspian, starring Tilda Swinton, Liam Neeson, Eddie Izzard and others and due to be released by Disney Pictures May 16th.

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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Amber for Indies

It still feels like a big, ol’ mostly empty warehouse space where much has been planned but little, thus far has had a chance to happen, but what Amber Square already has in place looks promising.
AmberSquare.com has been created to help indie publishers reach a wider audience and to provide readers with a far greater choice; bringing to their attention books that they miss simply because the dominant industry leaders prefer populating shelf space and column inches with big-name “fast-sellers”. So many wonderful books go unnoticed because the high street book stores and literary media can’t (won’t?) stock or promote them.
Despite the sour sounding grapes, this collective idea -- well done -- could go a long way towards alleviating some of the marketing problems facing independent publishers even if, at a glance, it is currently impossible for the casual visitor to determine if all English-language indies are welcome, or if this is going to be a UK-only affair. Also, though it’s possible that insiders know exactly what’s going on here, it seems to me there are more of us in the world who aren’t part of Amber Square’s inside and we’d like a page that tells us clearly how the site came to be, who is doing it and what their hopes and dreams look like.

More as Amber Square takes shape but, at the moment, what’s in place looks good. You can visit the fledgling Amber Square Web site here.

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Holiday Treats: Green & Black’s Chocolate Recipes

Almost everyone knows that the true meaning of Easter is… chocolate. (If this interpretation shocks you, you’ve seriously come to the wrong place.)

A lifetime of Easter Creme Eggs; of annual garden hunts for chocolate treats of various description; of family meals focused on all sorts of action, but hinged on a chocolate-laden dessert has taught many of us everything we need to know about Easter: the holiday is the celebration of spring in many cultures and it culminates in the exchange and enjoyment of that sweet, dark, sensuous treat.

The beauty of this reading of the holiday is obvious: if Easter is really about chocolate, there is no religious axe to grind, no debts to pay, nothing to prove. There is only the celebration, and chocolate is on our minds. And if all of this is true, there is no better book for this particular celebration than Green & Black’s Chocolate Recipes (Kyle Books), first published (to great fanfare) in 2004, now available in a revised edition. If you’re a chocolate fan, or even have a strong sweet tooth, a single trip through the book will push all the other Easter silliness right out of your head. Perhaps for good.

My favorite recipe for the season is Mayan Gold Stolen. This is rich, decadent, beautiful: dried fruit, marzipan, yeast dough and chocolate and chocolate and chocolate. I was blown away by the easy no-bake elegance of Konditor & Cook’s Chocolate Cookie Cake. The over-the-top complication of Sunday Chocolate Cake (complicated enough, I admit, that I’ve not tried this one: just drooled over it).

And though the sweet’s are the highlight, it would be possible (a stretch, but possible) to do your entire Easter menu from these pages: especially if you’re not that into vegetables. How about Swedish Chocolate Coffee Lamb; Italian Venison Agrodolce or Mole Poblano de Guajolote (dark chile, nut and chocolate mole with turkey)?

The book is beautifully executed and while the recipes aren’t necessarily for beginning cooks, all of them are manageable.

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Seeing Double

Over at The Rap Sheet, my colleague J. Kingston Pierce is now almost two years into his amazing project tracking down copycat covers. In fact, I’d venture that no one can put a candle to his collection. As Pierce said in his first copycat covers piece back in May 2006:
How many times have you spotted a novel or other book that duplicates the cover photo from a different work you have seen or read?

The causes of this trend seem pretty obvious. Corporate publishers, looking to enhance their bottom lines by producing more and more titles, and trying to capitalize on marketplace crazes … are prone these days to hasten the draft-to-finished-book process. As a consequence, they’re susceptible to using the same art as others. The fact that they can use identical artwork results from the creation and consolidation of stock photography companies, notably Corbis, Getty Images, and JupiterMedia, which make it easy and relatively cheap for publishers to find high-quality images that designers can use in putting together book covers. Also in the mix here, I suspect, is a calculation by publishers that their readers simply won’t notice that they’re employing the identical book jacket art (or even titles) that others have used before.
His latest two installments come less than a week apart and again present a surprising list of original cover art infractors. These two most recent copycat cover articles are here and here but, if you have the time, ride with Pierce through the whole catalog. It’s an eye-opening journey.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Spilling the Five Secrets

Suddenly, everything’s a bucket list. In fairness to him, author John Izzo might not merely be jumping on this bandwagon. As the author of Second Innocence and the co-author of Awakening Corporate Soul -- bestsellers both -- Izzo understands exactly the path you want to take. After all, as his bio tells us, he’s “spoken to over one million people on four continents about living more purposeful lives.” That’s a lot of speaking. A lot of souls.

If Izzo is trying to keep The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die (Berrett-Koehler) an actual secret, he’s doing a terrible job. The press material that arrived with January’s copy of the book had them all lined up, one through five. Plus you don’t even have to read the book to figure out what they are: chapters three through seven are secrets one through five.

In the interest of spilling our guts and helping you get the fast track to everlasting happiness (and who the hell doesn’t want that?) here they are:

  • Secret One: Be true to yourself
  • Secret Two: Leave no regrets
  • Secret Three: Become love (clearly that’s a tricky one if you haven’t also read the accompanying chapter.)
  • Secret Four: Live the moment
  • Secret Five: Give more than you take

Obviously, this is one of those deals where you don’t benefit from just reading the secrets. Heck: I just typed them and I’m not feeling any better.

Despite the fact that I am, here, having a little bit of fun, in his prologue, Izzo warns us that the title of the book “was not chosen lightly. The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die has two key elements. The first is the idea that there are indeed ‘secrets’ to life .... The second element, ‘before you die,’ reminds us that there is urgency to discovering what really matters.”

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Minghella Passes

A day meant for sadness: Anthony Minghella died earlier today. Minghella was, arguably, best known for his brilliant adaptations of several books that, on the surface of things, you might not have thought would make terrific films. (The English Patient, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Cold Mountain.) According to AP:
Minghella’s publicist, Jonathan Rutter, said the Oscar-winning filmmaker died at London’s Charing Cross Hospital. He said Minghella was operated on last week for a growth in his neck, “and the operation seemed to have gone well. At 5 a.m. today he had a fatal hemorrhage.”
The BBC looks back at Minghella’s life:
Born on the Isle of Wight to Italian parents in 1954, Anthony Minghella went on to become one of Britain's most celebrated film-makers and screenwriters.

His crowning achievement came in 1997, when The English Patient won him the Academy Award for best director -- more than 20 years after he began directing on the stage.
At the time of his death, Minghella was working on a television adaptation of Alexander McCall Smith’s The No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency for the BBC.

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Arthur C. Clarke Dies Tomorrow

Sir Arthur C. Clarke died today in hospital in Sri Lanka where he had lived since the 1950s--and where it is already tomorrow. He was 90. Somehow one can’t help but think that the timing of the thing would have pleased him: that for so many of us that would report on his passing, from the perspective of date, we’d be reporting on something still to occur. Says MSNBC:
Clarke, who had battled debilitating post-polio syndrome since the 1960s and sometimes used a wheelchair, died at 1:30 a.m. local time after suffering breathing problems, aide Rohan De Silva said.

Clarke moved to Sri Lanka in 1956, lured by his interest in marine
diving -- which he said was as close as he could get to the weightless feeling of space. “I’m perfectly operational underwater,” he once said.
Sir Arthur was born in Somerset, England in 1917 and is perhaps best known for his authorship of 2001: A Space Odyssey but his body of work and contributions to the fields of both science and fiction are almost too vast to relay in their entirety. For starters, though, Clarke wrote 32 novels, 29 book length works of non-fiction and saw the publication of 13 collections of his short stories. And his publication history only touches the surface. The Arthur C. Clarke Foundation offers a full biography here. Bloomberg hits some of the highlights here.

READ MORE:Arthur C. Clarke’s Down-to-Earth Legacy,” by Ed Park (Los Angeles Times); “For Clarke, Issues of Faith, but Tackled Scientifically,” by Edward Rothstein (The New York Times); “R.I.P. Arthur C. Clarke,” by Edward Champion (Edward Champion’s Filthy Habits); “Sir Arthur C. Clarke: 90th Birthday Reflections” (YouTube).

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Review: The Chainbreaker Bike Book by Shelley Lynn Jackson and Ethan Clark

Today, in January Magazine’s art & culture section, contributing editor Aaron Blanton reviews The Chainbreaker Bike Book by Shelley Lynn Jackson and Ethan Clark. Says Blanton:
The first glance brought me nothing but confusion. The cover illustration -- of a bike shop goin’ hard -- reminds one of the soft competence of the very best of Robert Crumb’s work. Here it is reproduced in black and the shade of pink I can never think of as anything besides “bubblegum.”

The title adds another clue: The Chainbreaker Bike Book: A Rough Guide to Bicycle Maintenance. This combination -- title, well and garishly drawn cover plus a certain devil-may-care attitude in the execution put one in mind of another famous book that concerned itself with maintaining a two wheeled conveyance.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig’s monumental 1974 work, had little to do with motorcycles, let alone their maintenance, philosophically delving into the metaphysics of quality. Put another way: very few among the millions who bought that book actually made the purchase to help them fix their bike.
The full review is here.

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New Today: Knockemstiff by Donald Ray Pollock

Donald Ray Pollock is Cinderella. The bio in Knockemstiff, his debut collection -- published today by Doubleday -- tells that story. Among other things, it says Pollack “dropped out of high school to work in a meatpacking plant and then spent over thirty years employed in a paper mill in southern Ohio.”

What it doesn’t say: the title of this much ballyhooed new collection, is also the name of the southern Ohio town where Pollock came to maturity. What else it doesn’t say: no one -- but no one -- has served up the midwest like this. Donald Ray Pollock makes Jonathan Franzen look like Judy Blume.

Here is the thing that startles: in the very moment of Pollock’s debut, the American economy is foundering, the dollar is staggering, the housing market feels as though it may never fully recover. And just as we put to bed this era of real stone countertops and stainless steel appliances, here comes an author to remind us where we’re really from. And more. Pollock’s arrival feels ordained. Mark my words: you will be hearing more from this author. And mark another set: when you’re done reading, it’s possible you’ll want a shower.

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Monday, March 17, 2008

Review: Michael Sweeney’s Method by Sean Condon

Today, in January Magazine’s children’s book section, contributing editor Sue Bursztynski reviews Michael Sweeney’s Method by Sean Condon. Says Bursztynski:

Michael Sweeney and his friend Dud attend an expensive private school in a wealthy suburb, although they come from a less wealthy area. They aren’t in the “loser” bunch, but aren’t at the top, either; that’s reserved for the rich, cool kids. Michael has never been in trouble at school and actually enjoys most of his studies.

It is their final year of high school. Michael’s decision that they will be kind to the new student, an American boy who doesn’t seem to have made any friends in the first few weeks of school, changes their lives. Tom is friendly and lively and his attitude to life is different from theirs -- different enough to get them all into trouble. He also turns out to be the son of a famous American actor, in Australia for a year to make a film. Nobody has taken an interest in him because the family name has been changed for school purposes, precisely to keep away the hangers-on and the press.

The full review is here.

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New This Week: Green Chic by Christie Matheson

The shift was so subtle, for many of us, it happened right in front of our eyes while we weren’t looking.

It seems like, one day, saving the planet was like guerilla war-fare. Not only were people chaining themselves to trees, throwing paint on fur-wearers, and protesting all manner of protestable things, they were looking distinctly frumpy while doing it.

Then, almost overnight, green became the new black and a new breed of advocate picked up the banner. They were different because not only were they determined to save the world, they were convinced you could look good doing it.

Enter fashion writer Christie Matheson, author of Green Chic: Saving the Earth in Style (Sourcebooks). Matheson wants us to “embrace the fabulousness of green living. And it is fabulous. Being green can help you look gorgeous, have a killer wardrobe, feel amazing, travel in style, create a home that’s an oasis, host fun parties, eat incredible food, and drink phenomenal wine, all while feeling more connected with your friends, family, and nature.”

Nor is any of this nearly as stupid as it sounds. I mean, it could have been. It really, really could. Matheson is, however, a talented and accomplished writer and it’s clear she really cares about her topic and has walked this particular walk. So it’s a good book. Despite the fact (or, perhaps, for some reason because of the fact) that she insists on saying things like “None of the designer cakes, martinis, or Italian sheets are even remotely as chic -- and I mean really, truly, deeply, timelessly, Jackie-O-and-Audrey-Hepburn chic -- as living green.”

Most of the book offers up fetchingly stated green living alternatives. (“Fetchingly stated” because, I assure you, this writer does not do things without style. Ev-ah. But you guessed that already.) She deals with all aspects of green living in the real world. Long story short: follow Matheson’s path, heed her advice and you will decrease your footprint. And, needless to say, you’ll look fabulous doing it.

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Sunday, March 16, 2008

Bomb Threat Shakes Book Fest

The threat of a bomb at the Paris Book Fair on Sunday forced organizers to clear the building. It is thought that there may have been a political motivation for the scare. From AP:
A bomb alert Sunday at the Paris Book Fair, which this year honors Israeli writers, prompted the evacuation of thousands of people but appeared to be a false alarm, Paris police officials said.

An anonymous caller phoned the central phone number for the fair and said a bomb would go off at 5 p.m., according to Jean-Daniel Compain, director of REED, a company that organizes the Paris Book Fair. He said 25,000 people were evacuated.

Special police squads moved in quickly and conducted a search but did not find anything, Compain said.

A little over an hour later, the fair reopened and visitors began streaming back in.
The full story comes to us by way of the International Herald Tribune and it’s here. The Book Fair is scheduled to run until the 19th.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Author Snapshot: Anne Simpson

She dazzles us with lyricism, with meter and cadence as well as story. That should not surprise: Anne Simpson, the novelist, came after Anne Simpson, the poet, at least for the purposes of her bibliography.

Simpson’s first published collection, 2000’s Light Falls Through You, was the winner of the Gerald Lampert Award and the Atlantic Poetry Prize. Her debut novel came the following year: Canterbury Beach (Viking Canada) was published to much applause in 2001.

Simpson’s most recent book is called Falling (McLelland & Steward) and it shows early signs of outstripping even that first novel’s acclaim.

“Simpson’s skill is such that the sum total here is far greater than the parts,” said Emily Donaldson for The Toronto Star. “We don’t quite realize the force of what’s built up until near the end, when we suddenly find ourselves fully invested in this compelling web of characters.”

Here’s hoping that she gets the chance to see her Luna moth, after all.


A Snapshot of Anne Simpson…
Born: Canada
Resides: Antigonish, Nova Scotia


Please tell us about your most recent book.

This novel really had its beginnings, in an article that I think I read in Saturday Night Magazine -- this was five or six years ago -- about someone who was obsessed with designing barrels meant to go over Niagara Falls. I asked myself the question: why would anyone be obsessed with doing that? Why would anyone go over the Falls? And the more I thought about it, the more I became interested.

I guess I’d say that Falling is a novel about how ordinary people rise to meet enormous challenges in their lives. I was especially interested in two characters: Damian, who is in his early 20s, and his mother, Ingrid. I wondered whether they would move towards creativity or towards destruction. And I think they move towards creativity, ultimately.

What’s on your nightstand?

If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho, a book of Sappho’s poem fragments translated by Anne Carson. And Scar Tissue by Charles Wright. I also have a couple of books in the pile from Gaspereau Press, a really fine small press in Nova Scotia: one by Don McKay, Deactivated West 100, and another by John Terpstra, Falling into Place.

What inspires you?

Here’s one thing that would inspire me: being outside on a winter night -- with a full moon -- cross country skiing with my two Labrador dogs. But I take inspiration wherever I find it, anything from what people say as they’re getting their hair cut, to the things they talk about when they’re on the bus.

What are you working on now?
I’m working on a book of essays about a hodgepodge of things, from the connection between poetry and art to the idea of poetry as play, or poetry as an act of witnessing.

Tell us about your process.
I work in an office -- not at home, but at St. Francis Xavier University, where I work part-time. I go to work at the same time as other people; I try to write in the morning, and then I switch and do other work in the afternoon. I write on the computer, but I take notes with pen and paper now and then. As for the actual process of writing, it really is very organic for me. I don’t always know where I’m heading -- I have a rough idea, but I like to allow for change.

Lift your head and look around. What do you see?

From the window near my computer I can look out and see a courtyard with trees. From the other window, I can see the cathedral, which is the most imposing building in town, and a road leading out to hills in the northwest. The hills are rolling, with pockets of spruce here and there, and patches of snow on the fields. I can’t see the ocean from here, but it’s close by.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I’m not sure when I began writing seriously, but it was after I came to Nova Scotia, years ago. I read something by a woman living in a small town in New Hampshire and she said she’d started writing when she realized she could watch television or she could write stories. And even though I was caring for my young children at the time, I realized I could make a similar choice.

If you couldn’t write books, what would you be doing?
I’d be painting large canvasses -- the kind that take up the whole wall.

To date, what moment in your career has made you happiest?

I don’t know if I can pin it down ... it’s not the big moments in my life as a writer, it’s the unexpected pleasures, like meeting other writers and talking over a certain sticking point in a book someone is working on, or collaborating with other people on projects, or talking to people after a reading.

For you, what is the easiest thing about being writer?

I live in a very supportive environment: our Nova Scotia Writers’ Federation is just tremendous. So it’s great to see other writers in Atlantic Canada flourish. One of the best things is seeing someone -- with whom I’ve worked -- get a book published.

What’s the most difficult?

It’s hard to watch writers get discouraged. It’s such a roller coaster ride at the best of times.

What question do you get asked about your writing most often?
I’m asked about what inspires me, and I always find this question hard to answer. Don Domanski was asked, by a student here, whether the muse comes to him, and he answered that he once had a landlady called Mrs. Muise. It was very funny. But it’s also true that the nearest thing we might ever get to a muse is the landlady who lives downstairs. Someone else said that writing in Canada happens between home and the nearest Kwik-Mart, and I’m inclined to think that’s true. It’s whether you’re open to what’s happening to people at the Kwik-Mart that allows for inspiration.

Tell us something about yourself that no one knows.
I would really love to see a Luna moth just out of the blue. I’ve only seen one Luna moth in my life; I’m hoping another will come along.

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Harry Potterland (RowlingWorld?) Here We Come

The world is abuzz today with the news that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the seventh book in J.K. Rowling’s übberbestselling Harry Potter series will be split into -- count ‘em -- not one, but two films. As told by E-Online:
And for his final trick, Harry Potter will split himself in two.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the final book from J.K. Rowling's mega-selling series, will be made into not one, but two, movies.

As first reported Wednesday by the Los Angeles Times, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I will hit theaters in November 2010, to be followed six months later, in Kill Bill and Matrix fashion, by Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II in May 2011.
The thing I don’t get about this is: why all the big surprise? After all, if faced with the final episode of what has also been an übberbestselling movie franchise, and you suddenly sense the possibility of making two, two, two films instead of just the one -- thereby reaping the rewards on two moves -- well… it ain’t brain surgery, is it? (And, let’s face it, most of these Hollywood types appear not to be brain surgeons.)

There aren’t too many slouches at The Guardian. They got all the implications and ramifications right away:
It might have been called Harry Potter and the Eternal Sequel. Faced with the last in a series of books that ended with a climactic showdown, the producers of the $4.5bn-and-counting Harry Potter film franchise did what came naturally: they decided to turn the final installment into two films.
And they have the schedule pretty much set:
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I will come out in November 2010, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II will appear the following May.
One would suspect, then, that the two films will be made like one, big giant movie, then released half a year apart. Especially since, let’s face it, at 18, the star Daniel Radcliffe isn’t getting any younger.

Releasing the two films near the same time will also provide other opportunities:
The double release will also help sustain marketing activities, including a theme park opening in Florida next year; and it means the two final films will be eligible for the 2011 and 2012 Oscars respectively.
It really is a small world. After all.

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Cosmetics Cop in Action

You don’t actually need a review of Don’t Go to the Cosmetic Counter Without Me (Beginning Press). You already know about this book. You just need to be told that the latest edition -- the seventh -- is available now. It’s been about 25 years since author Paula Begoun, a former make-up artist, put together the original version of the book that would lead to her being called “the Ralph Nader of Rouge” and “Cosmetics Cop” (a nickname she likes well enough to own the dot.com for).

This latest edition is right up to the minute and makes for some fascinating reading. Literally every product I’d heard some buzz about was listed and had been reviewed. (In fact, if I’d had the book a few weeks earlier, I would have saved some money: some of my most recent skincare purchases had earned Begoun’s frowns.)

The book is grouped into three major sections. Section one -- by far the largest – takes you through each product by company. You read that right: about 30,000 products in all. The second hits the highlights: summarizing the best in each category. And a third is a dictionary of cosmetic ingredients for those times when, say, you’re wondering exactly what that watercress extract in a moisturizer is actually going to do for (to?) your skin, or just what the hell Seamollient is, anyway. (Note: according to Begoun, “Seamollient” is a trade name for an algae extract. I would guess it costs more, though.)

I found it interesting that some of the technological changes I have sensed in the cosmetic industry over the past decade or so have been noted by the cosmetic cop herself. Changes in serums, for instance, have warranted a different kind of look than previously. And prefacing the “best powders” section, Begoun writes, “Quite honestly ... it is getting more and more difficult to find a bad loose or pressed powder.”

There is, for me, one huge mystery around Don’t Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me: as in previous editions, there’s a picture of Begoun right on the cover. How is it that, with every new edition, she appears even younger? Maybe testing 30,000 products will do that for you!

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Knocking on Heaven’s Door

Those standing on the sidelines might not be blamed for thinking Anne Rice and Jodi Picoult have slipped a cog. Both authors enjoy a status something beyond bestersellerdom. Rice, of course, is best known for her vampire books, Picoult for the sort of puddingy nonsense fraught with moral dilemmas and adult emotional angst. However, as Bloomberg says while Rice’s Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana (Knopf) and Picoult’s Change of Heart (Atria) hit the stands, both writers have recently been trying on a different stance:
Fornicating vampires helped Anne Rice sell more than 100 million copies of her books worldwide. Lately she has been writing about Jesus.
Bloomberg
’s Edward Nawotka is fairly gentle with the goddess Rice. However, the gloves slides off when he moves to Picoult.
The plot allows Picoult to transubstantiate her book from an intriguing melodrama into a contrived disquisition on morality, religion and the separation of church and state.
Ouch. The full piece is here.

Review: The Ghost by Robert Harris

Today, in January Magazine’s fiction section, contributing editor Tony Buchsbaum reviews The Ghost by Robert Harris. Says Buchsbaum:
There’s something interesting about writers who write about writing. Robert Harris (Fatherland, Enigma) has done just that with his latest novel, The Ghost. For those expecting Harris’ usual brainy thriller, this might not be the book for you, but if you’re into crisp, clean writing by an author at peak performance, then by all means jump in.

I was completely absorbed by
The Ghost, which is, from the look of things, about a ghostwriter writing in the first person about doing his job. That this particular ghostwriter remains unnamed is a cheeky bit of fun. That he’s hired to write the memoirs of Great Britain’s ex-Prime Minister after the first ghostwriter is found dead is the switch that turns this story on.
The full review is here.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Great Man Wins PEN/Faulkner

Kate Christensen has been awarded the PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction. The award is a national prize which honors the best published works of fiction by American citizens in a calendar year.

The Washington Post breaks the story:
PEN/Faulkner judge Molly Giles called the novel “intelligent, consistently entertaining and original.” Fellow judge Victor LaValle called the women at its center “defiant, infuriating and alive.”
**(I guess that “alive” thing would be to contrast and compare with The Lovely Bones, where the central female character was not.)

The Post found Christensen in her laundry room:
“I’m really shocked,” said Christensen, 45, who was doing the laundry in her Brooklyn home when the phone call came. All writers know about the PEN/Faulkner Award, she said, but to her “it’s always seemed unattainable.”
Also in the running:

The Maytrees (HarperCollins) by Annie Dillard
The Indian Clerk (Bloomsbury USA) by David Leavitt
The Gateway: Stories (Southern Methodist University Press) by T.M. McNally
Chemistry and Other Stories (Picador) by Ron Rash

Last year, January ran a review of The Great Man by Tony Buchsbaum:
Christensen’s writing is luminous and enviably informed. I found things to love on every page. Using the telling detail, the thought, the gesture, she builds characters -- but even more impressive, she builds character. Reading about these people, you like them. You feel warmed by them, entertained by them. You can see yourself sitting down for dinner with them and delighted to say not one word for hours, listening to their every reminiscence.
You can read all of Buchsbaum’s review here.

** To avoid the confusion possible by introducing the idea of Alice Sebold’s wonderful 2003 novel here, I should say that The Lovely Bones was neither a winner of nor shortlisted for The PEN/Faulkner. (Frankly, there are people spinning at the mere whisper.) However, the book won the American Booksellers Association Book of the Year Award for Adult Fiction in 2003.

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The Oscars of Type Design

Typographica once again brings us the boldest and the best:
Typographica’s fourth annual review showcases the best in new typeface design. Twenty-five of the world’s brightest graphic and type designers selected their favorite font releases of the year.
It’s interesting to note that the feature, “is more accurately a celebration of new typefaces than new fonts. Keeping these two terms distinct may be a losing battle at a time when some have already declared the words interchangeable, but we’re going to go down fighting.”

So, OK: if they’re fighting a battle, we’ll help by passing on the definition. (I mean, you can’t pick sides if you don’t know where you’re standing. Am I right, or am I right?)

According to designer Mark Simonson, “The physical embodiment of a collection of letters (whether it’s a case of metal pieces or a computer file) is a font. When referring to the design of the collection (the way it looks) you call it a typeface.”

So there.

The story is here.

Tori’s Story (and Other Goofyness)

This just in from the “ask me if I care” department:
After years of whispers and unconfirmed gossip, poor little rich girl Tori Spelling spells it all out in her biography, Stori Telling (Simon Spotlight Entertainment).
Stori Telling. Get it?

Gasp.

USA Today has more than their share of nasty details here.

Other celebrity bios out in the last month that you probably don’t want to know about:

Valerie Bertinelli’s Losing It: And Gaining My Life Back One Pound at A Time (Free Press) where Mrs. Former-Van-Halen transforms her weight loss experience into a bestselling book, unlike fellow former fatty Kirstie Alley who turned hers into a must-watch television series. (No, really: if you haven’t seen Fat Actress you really need to. It’s very funny stuff. As far as I know, the no longer fat Alley isn’t making the show anymore, but you can find them on cable or DVD.)

Kathleen Turner’s Send Yourself Roses: Thoughts on My Life, Love, and Leading Roles (Springboard Press) is a much more stately affair, which might explain why it hasn’t been screaming up the charts in quite the same way the other two have.

I love this snippet from the Publishers Weekly review:
With great candor, she details some of her worst struggles, battling both rheumatoid arthritis and alcohol. In the end, she’s realized it comes down to taking the lead role in her own life. While she may indulge in swear words a bit much for some readers, Turner’s vision of life’s many possibilities -- even as she gets older -- is surely inspiring.
So you get the idea that A/ the PW reviewer was a Mormon and B/ Turner is contemplating, not trashing or dishing. (And I love that cover image: Turner laughing. I’ve always had the idea that she was a person who spent a lot of time laughing.)

It Ain’t Easy Bein’ Green

Last week we told you about Christie Matheson’s engaging Green Chic: Saving the Earth in Style (Sourcebooks). This week it’s Gillian Deacon talking about her new book Green for Life (Penguin).
“It’s so fulfilling and rewarding to take steps on your own and do something you know is making your family healthier or your home less toxic or your small personal footprint just a little smaller,” she said.
Is it just me, or is there lot of buzzing in the room? Ah well: it’s for a good cause, right? Canadian Press has more of the same here.

And while we’re on the topic of the environment, The Toronto Star reports that, when it comes to the publishing industry, Canada is winning the battle of the green:
U.S. publishers are gradually going green, but Canada remains the book industry leader when it comes to forest-friendly book production, a comparison of recent studies in each country indicates.
The Star
story is here

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Author Snapshot: Edward Hardy

Edward Hardy weaves the sort of fiction that is most often described as “poignant” and “moving,” though as Amanda Heller of The Boston Globe pointed out in a recent review, “Edward Hardy keeps the narrative sufficiently off-center to evade any charges of outright heartstring-tugging.”

The point Heller seems to miss in her review (or perhaps I miss seeing her get it) is the fact that Hardy is an author of the old school. More: in a sense, the path he’s taken to authordom is Ivy League. Hardy has an MFA from Cornell and though there has thus far only been one other novel -- 1996’s Geyser Life -- his short stories have appeared in virtually all the important literary magazines including Ploughshares, Epoch, The New England Review, Witness, Prairie Schooner, Ascent, Boulevard, Yankee and The Quarterly. The some-time journalist and editor has taught creative writing at Cornell and Boston College and currently teaches non-fiction writing at Brown.

The fact that Hardy has spent at least his adult life thinking about words and how they fit together is something that shows in his beautiful and expertly wrought work. You do not merely read a novel like Keeper and Kid, Hardy’s latest. You inhale it. And if you let it, it touches you forever.

A Snapshot of Edward Hardy...

Born: Ithaca, New York
Resides: Providence, Rhode Island, USA
Born: November 25, 1957
Web site: edwardhardy.com


Please tell us about your most recent book.
Keeper and Kid is the story of what happens when a 30-something guy, happily living his antiques dealer/salvage yard life in Providence, inherits a three year-old, is suddenly pulled through the portal of parenthood and the rest of his life nearly falls apart in the process.

What’s on your nightstand?
Really it’s the stack on the floor beside the bed, but right now there’s: Washington’s Crossing, by David Hackett Fischer, Magic For Beginners, by Kelly Link, The Best American Poetry 2006, The Playhouse Near Dark, by Elizabeth Holmes, (poems), Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, by Haruki Murakami and Housekeeping vs. The Dirt, by Nick Hornby.

What inspires you?
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly. With stories sometimes an idea or a situation will just pop up and you can go: Oh look, there’s a story. Other times something small will happen and I’ll go through old notebooks looking for other events that might go along with that first one until it feels like there’s a story there. With novels it feels like something of the same process, but slower. And starting a novel is always a much bigger leap than jumping into a story.

What are you working on now?
At the moment I’m collecting scraps for a new novel, which might be about a group of over-extended grown-ups who start an alt-country band with unintended consequences, but that’s all I can say.

Tell us about your process.
I’m a keyboard person all the way and that started back when I was working in newspapers. I used to be a late night writer, but these days once the wheels start turning I can’t get to sleep, so I’m restricted to daylight hours, usually mid-morning to mid-afternoon. Plot-wise it seems to work best if I more or less know where I’m going but not exactly, that way there’s room for a few surprises along the route, and when you’ve signed on for a novel you need a few surprises.

Lift your head and look around. What do you see?

I’m at the kitchen table (old, oval, oak, a little tippy), to my left there’s a foot-tall stack of kids’ library books (The World of Castles and Forts, etc.) and grown-up CDs (Bella Fleck and Alison Krauss) that need to go back, plus my to-do list on a small yellow pad. In front of me is a vase with pale pink roses from Valentine’s day, all gloriously turning brown and falling apart. To the right is my half-full coffee cup, a white clay sculpture our five-year old won’t let us take off his placemat and next to that his blue plastic plate, still holding the remains of a half-eaten, syrup-soaked toaster waffle. The house is very old so the drafts come from all directions, but the radiators are whistling and from the table you can see into the cold and windy backyard and it’s bright out there.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
When I was about eight or nine, my best friend at the time announced to his mom that he was going to be a writer and this voice in the back of my head said: No, that’s what I’m going to do. Little did I know what was involved or that there could be more than one writer in the world.

To date, what moment in your career has made you happiest?
There are lots of them. It’s always a kick to open that envelope from the publisher and see the galley of your book for the first time or to see a magazine with a story of yours in it on an actual newsstand somewhere. With this new book I got an e-mail from a high school friend who said he read it straight through on the plane while on a business trip to Germany and it made him laugh out loud, and I thought: OK, I made my friend’s plane trip a little shorter, that’s worth it.

For you what’s the most difficult thing about being a writer?
These days with kids and teaching, carving out the time and psychic space to get the work done is much more of a challenge than it used to be. That, and I never have all that much fun cranking out a first draft.

What’s the easiest thing?
Revising. I can sand sentences all day long.

What question do you get asked about your writing most often?
Mostly they seem to be how-to questions. How did you start with a certain book or story? Where did it go next? How long did it take?

What’s the question you’d like to be asked?

Where would you like to go to dinner?

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New Today: Blind Fall by Christopher Rice

Thrillers are sexy. By now, everyone knows that. And, just in case you weren’t sure, there’s a newish organization ready to pounce and set you straight. Not sure where a book fits? Call it a thriller and those in the know will be certain to stand in the right line to buy the thrilling book.

The problem, of course, is that the plan is flawed from the get go. Christopher Rice’s lovely new Blind Fall is the perfect example. It’s not a thriller by any but the loosest definition. Yet it’s a great book with strong, memorable characters. More: young Rice has, once again, illustrated that he is a writer with something to say and the chops to say it well.

In Rice’s fourth novel we meet Iraq veteran John Houck who, upon returning stateside, discovers that his old captain has been horribly slain. He quickly discovers that his captain was gay and that the man’s partner may be the killer’s next target.

Despite all these thrillerish trappings – an ex-military protagonist, killers, targets and so on -- the most engaging aspects of Blind Fall have more to do with the book’s human elements -- notably homophobia and the morality of war.

Here’s hoping that with Rice’s next effort, he won’t feel tempted by the call of the faddish thriller. Rice’s vision is true and his pen is strong, he doesn’t need some of the gimmicks he’s delivered to us here.

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New Today: Pale Male by Janet Schulman

I can’t think of another wildlife story that has captured the hearts and imaginations of New Yorkers in quite the same way. Since the red-tailed hawk known as Pale Male started squatting on a posh Fifth Avenue apartment building with a series of partners and their offspring in the early 1990s the story has reached epic proportions. Pale Male’s story has all of the elements of a good hero’s tale. Pale Male has had to overcome incredible adversary -- and nasty co-op boards -- in order to get the simple things that we all want: a quiet haven, a comfy nest and, occasionally, an unsuspecting pigeon or maybe a nice, fat squirrel. Viewed from that angle, it seems inevitable that the legend and the poetry that have accompanied Pale Male’s rising fame should inspire a book. Or three.

New today is Pale Male: Citizen Hawk of New York City (Knopf Delacorte Dell). Author Janet Schulman brings obvious passion and a great deal of knowledge to her telling, but it strikes me that the quasi journalistic tone she’s taken here might have been better served by a different presentation. Young readers who persevere will learn an awful lot about Pale Male, his challenges, calamities and triumphs, however Meilo So’s watercolor illustrations leave one expecting a very different sort of book. The paintings, while certainly competent, are also somewhat vapid. I find it difficult to imagine the child who would be captivated by what they see in this book. Schulman’s well-researched and organized material might have been better served by photo-based illustrations or even something a little less amorphous than what we find here. As it is, the package presents a somewhat confusing message, one I’m not sure the younger children in the book’s ages six-to-12 year readership will understand, or that the older ones will sit still to listen to.

Still, of the three children’s books published on this topic in the last 12 months, Schulman’s is by far the strongest editorially. If you want the Pale Male’s tale with all the nuances intact, this is the place to look.

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Monday, March 10, 2008

Review: You Must Be This Happy to Enter by Elizabeth Crane

Today, in January Magazine’s fiction section, contributing editor Diane Leach reviews You Must Be This Happy to Enter by Elizabeth Crane. Says Leach:
I had a mixed reaction to this book. Few writers today are offering stories with titles like “Sally (Featuring: Lollipop the Rainbow Unicorn)” or admitting, in the press materials enclosed with the book, that she wanted to focus on happiness, which, as literary topics go, is not too cool.

Crane’s characters, to borrow Emily Dickinson’s term, are slant. Really, really slant. Take “Betty the Zombie,” a woman bitten by a zombie in a Minnesota Fabrics store. Betty’s zombiedom leads her to begin eating the neighbor’s pets, and in one case, a small child. In an effort to break this disconcerting habit (and not gobble husband Ed), Betty agrees to participate in a reality television show housing troubled women who work intensively with life coaches. Despite her disintegrating body and garbled zombie speech, Betty discovers her inner crafter, works through her zombie issues, and gets her very own reality telelvision show.

The full review is here.

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Sunday, March 09, 2008

Pacific Festival of the Book Gets Underway

The Pacific Festival of the Book will dominate the Victoria, British Columbia arts scene from March 10th through the 20th. Organizers say that the festival “seeks to deepen awareness, experience and appreciation of the literary arts by embracing a collaborative and interdisciplinary approach to artistic expression and creativity in the Pacific Region.”

And make no mistake: if you’re traveling to the festival from outside of the area, this is the best time of the year to hit the city by the sea. While a lot of the balance of Canada huddles near their hearths waiting out the snow, Victoria is already groaning under the weight of all its spring blossoms.

Of course, weather isn’t the only thing going for the fledgling festival. In its second year, the festival is offering a vibrant line-up including John Barton (Seminal), Robert Bringhurst (Everywhere Being is Dancing), Ken Cathers (World of Strangers), Vicki Delany (In the Shadow of the Glacier), M.A.C Farrant (The Breakdown So Far), Andrea MacPherson (Beyond the Blue), P.K. Page (Up on the Roof), Sharon Rowse (The Silk Train Murder) and many, many others.

You can see the full list of presenters and their bios here. You will find the full list of workshops here.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Tangled Web Ad Nauseam

A lot of ink has been spilled over the last few days over the latest brace of “fake” books to be unmasked. If you want to learn more about the publishing history of or the moral dilemmas presented by either the Jungle Bookish Born with Wolves or the fake quasi gang memoir Love and Consequences this is not the place.

While there’s lots to be said, others have been saying it.

The New York Times
’ Motoko Rich pipes up here.

At The Guardian, John Crace gets a little bitchy here.

At The Nation, Amy Alexander checks her amateur psychiatrist badge here. (“Not being a mental health professional, and never having met Margaret Seltzer, I am hardly qualified to say that the young lady is a sociopath.” And then, of course, she says exactly that.)

Ooh, and I love Bob Thompson’s line from The Washington Post, when he calls Seltzer “a bigger, fatter liar than the immortal James Frey.” When did it get to be a contest?

And if you just want the facts, ma’am, Agency France-Presse does a good job here.

Right then, ’nuff said.

There’s a lot of great book news out there and a lot of terrific books filled with stories that are real and others filled with stories that are honestly made up.

Let’s move on.

READ MORE:Memorable Literary Hoaxes,” by Kristina Lindgren (Los Angeles Times).

Not a Peep

I was recently washed away in a brightly colored flood of fun by Peeps!: Recipes and Crafts to make With Your Favorite Marshmallow Treat (Chronicle Books). Let’s face it: this is a ridiculous book. In a world of serious cookbooks filled with recipes for all sorts of important and self-important foods, who needs a book on what to do with those weird marshmallow treats you possibly haven’t thought about since childhood? Yet Peeps! Is a merry blast of happy colors tinted all the more bright by nostalgia.

If you do not know what Peeps are, I am not going to explain them, but these people can. Calling them “sugar dusted chicks and bunnies” really doesn’t quite cover it, yet that’s just what they are. And though Peeps! tells us the confection has been around since the 1950s, like the author, I strongly associated them with the mad sugar rush that was growing up in the 1970s. The author sums this up quite sharply:
Like most kids in the 1970s, I had a sweet tooth that could not be sated. The sweeter – and more brightly colored – the better, was my motto.
And, certainly, Peeps fit that bill on all counts.

So it’s one thing to wax poetic about an odd confection from your childhood. After all, no matter where or when you grew up, you certainly have one of those. But to write a whole cookbook about it? That’s another thing altogether. And yet, here we are.

And so we have Peeps Fondue (bring on the chocolate), Peeps Affogato (bring on the espresso) and even Peeps in a Blanket (bring on the crepes). A different section brings us crafts featuring Peeps, including a Peeps printed tote, a Peepiñata (I’m not even going to explain. I don’t need to) and a Sugar Cookie Peeps Coop.

As I said earlier, this is a ridiculous book. It works, though. And it only works because author Charity Ferreria has the food and creative chops to pull it off. Her projects -- both food and craft -- are often sweet but never to the point of cloying and even if you don’t, for instance, care one whit about a Garland of Peeps or a Peeps Wedding Cake Topper, you can’t help but admire the panache with which she puts together these Peepsish dreams.

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Diaz and Danticat Take Home Prizes

Bloomberg boils the National Book Critics Award down so neatly, no more need be said:
Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Riverhead Books) won the National Book Critics Circle award for fiction, while Edwidge Danticat’s Brother, I’m Dying (Knopf) won for autobiography. Joyce Carol Oates, who was nominated in both categories, won no prizes.
The full piece is here.

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Thursday, March 06, 2008

World Book Day

Today is World Book Day of the United Kingdom and Ireland, which sounds like a bit of a contradiction. How can you have a “world” day, and then tie it into a single geographic region?

Here’s what I say: bugger what “they” say: World Book Day it is. March 6th sounds as good a day as any. Despite the fact that I’m nowhere near Ireland or the UK, here’s what I’m going to do to celebrate: I’m going to pick something that looks wonderful off my towering TBR pile, and I’m going to read it, right now.

How are you going to celebrate?

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Author Snapshot: Diane Wei Liang

One wonders how fiction will ever compete with fact. Just reading her bio induces a sense of wonder.

Diane Wei Liang was born in Beijing in a time of turbulence and spent a portion of her childhood in a remote Chinese labor camp. She was one of the students who took part in that protest in Tiananmen Square in 1989. She has a Ph.D. in business from Carnegie Mellon and was a professor of business in the United States and the United Kingdom for a decade.

Now living in London with her husband and two children, Diane Wei Liang has reinvented herself once more, this time as a mystery novelist. Though it’s early days yet, reviewers have been falling in line. With her debut novel, The Eye of Jade (Simon & Schuster), out in 23 countries just last month, The BBC’s Mark Coles promptly compared her to Alexander McCall Smith. “Now it’s China’s turn,” Coles said.

We are fairly confident about one important thing: it would be ill-advised to stand between this author and whatever she desires.

A Snapshot of Diane Wei Liang...

Born: Beijing
Resides: London
Web site: dianeweiliang.com


January Magazine: Please tell us about The Eye of Jade.
Diane Wei Liang: The Eye of Jade is the first book in the Mei Wang mystery series. It features Mei Wang, a female detective in Beijing. In her first case, Mei is asked by a family friend to track down an ancient jade that had been lost in the Cultural Revolution. Her search leads her into the underbelly of Beijing and into the dark past of China’s recent history. Meanwhile, Mei’s mother has a stroke. Her illness intensifies the conflict between Mei and her younger sister Lu, a celebrity. When Mei’s former lover returns from America, it complicates her life further. The Eye of Jade is a mystery and also a portrait of Beijing and its inhabitants.

What’s on your nightstand?
Henry James’ The Ambassadors, V.S. Naipaul’s A Bend in a River, e.e. cummings’ Selected Poems, Shakespeare’s Sonnets.

What inspires you?
Music, books, Beijing and solitude

What are you working on now?
The third installment in the Mei Wang Mysteries.

Tell us about your process.
I write on a computer when my children are in school and at night after they’re in bed. I’m someone who does not need much sleep so I normally work until midnight.

I start each book with a theme. For example, The Eye of Jade is about betrayal and forgiveness, and the next book, Paper Butterfly, is about revenge. Then I work intensely for weeks on the characters, sketching them out as much as I can. They are the cornerstone of my books. After that I work on the plot, which would have by now been shaped during the first two processes. I don’t wait until I’ve worked out every detail before putting words down. Inevitably the characters and the plot will take over and dictate how the story will move.

Lift your head and look around. What do you see?
A desk lamp, a bookshelf, a telephone, a bottle of water, a vase of red roses, a picture of my children, a scented candle.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I had wanted to be a writer when I was about 14 or 15. However my mother, who was a professor of Chinese literature, discouraged me because, at that time, writing was a dangerous profession in China. Writers had been among the first to be purged in the political movements of Mao. So I put the idea to the back of mind and went on to study psychology and then business in the United States. I only went back to visit that idea again when my second child was born six years ago.

If you couldn’t write books, what would you be doing?

I’d probably still be teaching business. I remain interested in economic matters and read The Financial Times to relax. I’d also like to be a psychotherapist -- something of a dream of mine that was never fulfilled.

To date, what moment in your career has made you happiest?

Finishing my last book.

For you, what is the easiest thing about being writer?
The flexible lifestyle. It’s perfect for a mother.

What’s the most difficult?
The self-reflective nature of the profession – writing is ultimately a creative process that feeds on one’s own emotions and thoughts. It’s very draining. It alters you.

What question do you get asked about your writing most often?
How do you come up with the idea?

What’s the question you’d like to be asked?

I don’t know, since no one has yet asked it.

What question would you like never to be asked again?
How old are you?

Tell us something about yourself that no one knows
I’m sorry, I’d like to keep it an eternal secret.

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Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Review: The View from Castle Rock by Alice Munro

Today, in January Magazine’s fiction section, contributing editor Diane Leach reviews The View from Castle Rock by Alice Munro. Says Leach:
I’ve always envied people like Alice Munro, who can trace their lineages, who know their family names -- Laidlaw, in this case. By reading Church histories, Munro found ancestors dating back to 1799. Possessed of a whitewashed Jewish name, an Ellis Island name, I can only go back to 1899, when my mother’s grandparents emigrated from Romania to Montreal. The rest -- names, birthplaces, the fate of those left behind -- is forever unknown.

Not so Munro’s family, who emigrated to Canada. A splinter group settled in America, specifically Joliet, Illinois, but only briefly. Few records remain.

So Munro took history and mingled it with imagination, fleshing out her ancestry, peopling the book with oft-told family stories. She is likely the only one who could parse truth from fiction, but that’s fine. More important is how good these stories are, how they evoke the pioneer life of Canadians, which is neatly excised from all American histories of colonialization and immigration.
The full review is here.

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Marley Story Optioned by Weinstein

Variety reports that the Weinstein Company has optioned rights to Rita Marley’s 2004 autobiography No Woman No Cry: My Life With Bob Marley (Hyperion), “with plans to develop and produce a biopic about the legendary Jamaican singer.”
The project is in early development, with a late 2009 release date anticipated.

Published by Hyperion in 2004, book chronicles the couple's tempestuous marriage, which began in 1966 and weathered numerous separations and affairs, the birth of four children together (Marley may have fathered as many as 22 in all, 10 legally recognized) and an assassination attempt in 1976.
The Variety piece is here. January ran an excerpt of the book when it was first published. You can see that excerpt here.

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Monday, March 03, 2008

Review: Sins of the Assassin by Robert Ferrigno

Today, in January Magazine’s crime fiction section, contributing editor Anthony Rainone reviews Sins of the Assassin by Robert Ferrigno. Says Rainone:
Three years have now passed in the Islamic States of America, since it was first introduced to readers in Prayers for the Assassin 2006), Book One of Robert Ferrigno’s Assassin Trilogy. In the sequel, Sins of the Assassin, things are looking decidedly gloomy. For starters, former Fedayeen shadow warrior Rakkim Epps, the single most important agent carrying out covert operations on behalf of President Damon Kingsley, doesn’t feel like his old self. Raising no less concern, Rakkim has spotted the Black Robe strangler Tariq-al Faisal in Seattle’s Zone (“officially called the Christian Quarter, a thirty-or-forty-block section of the city where nightclubs and coffeehouses flourished, where cybergame parlors and movie theatres operated largely free of censorship”), and he is displaying suspicious activity that can only mean ill-doings aimed at the Islamic Republic. And most critically, recent activity in the Bible Belt (the old Southern Confederacy) indicates imminent danger from the likes of Colonel Zachary Smitts, a Catholic enemy. With this blockbuster beginning, Ferrigno’s readers should buckle in for an exhilarating ride of thriller proportions, with high stakes: the continuation or demise of the American Muslim nation.
The full review is here.

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Gwyn Awarded 2008 Charles Taylor Prize

Richard Gwyn has been awarded the seventh annual Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction for his book, John A.: The Man Who Made Us: The Life and Times of John A. Macdonald (Random House Canada). The prestigious $25,000.00 prize was awarded at a luncheon today in the Sovereign Ballroom of Toronto’s Le Royal Meridien King Edward Hotel.

The jury described the winning book as “a lively but thorough biography of John A. Macdonald up to the day of Confederation in 1867, Richard Gwyn brings to life the young Scottish-born lawyer who found himself unexpectedly entering politics in Kingston in 1844. Gwyn writes from a twenty-first century perspective while painting for his readers a vivid image of nineteenth century Canada: its society, customs, characters and politics. Gwyn helps us understand Macdonald’s genius and vision, which would shape the nation that grew to the north of the United States.”

The Globe & Mail felt that Gwyn’s win was “something of an anomaly for the Taylor prize. Since its creation in 2000, its juries, regardless of their composition, have tended to favour books of a personal, autobiographical or family nature, not works of historical biography or social history.” The single exception, The Globe noted was the late Carol Shields’ 2002 win Jane Austen: A Life.

Richard Gwyn is an award-winning author and journalist. He is the author of two previous biographies: The Unlikely Revolutionary, about Newfoundland premier Joey Smallwood and The Northern Magus about former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

Also nominated:
  • The Film Club: A True Story of a Father and Son by David Gilmour (Thomas Allen)
  • From Harvey River: A Memoir of My Mother and Her People by Lorna Goodison (McClelland & Stewart)
  • Lost Genius: The Story of a Forgotten Musical Maverick by Kevin Bassana (McClelland & Stewart)
  • Kasztner’s Train: The True Story of Reszo Kasztner, Unknown Hero of the Holocaust by Anna Porter (Douglas & McIntyre)

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Sunday, March 02, 2008

Modern Libraries Considered

Witold Rybczynski is one of my favorite writers about current trends in architecture and city life. While he is an architect by training and temperament, he’s also an astute commentator of how we live in a post-industrial digitized society. He contributes frequently to Slate magazine, and earlier this week, Slate posted a slide show and commentary from Rybczynski on the state of urban public libraries. The title of the piece, “How Do Your Build a Public Library in the Age of Google,” is intriguing but left questions frustratingly unanswered to any real degree. His thesis appears to be that public libraries are among the last bastions of downtown revitalization, perhaps endangered, and starting to move away from the printed media and into computers, the Internet, and as the location for downtown hangouts; hardly a “stop the presses” type of newsflash, but it does allow us to view a slide show of some cool architecture.

As it happens, I’ve been to two of the libraries featured -- Chicago and Seattle. I visited the Harold T. Washington Library in downtown Chicago several years ago. The exterior is every bit as bold as Rybczynski’s photo demonstrates: a lot of rooftop ornamentation and nearly pink in color. It clearly makes you think of the building as a modern-day temple of learning. I have no active memory of its interior, which makes me think it must be pretty standard issue. In any other city, the Washington Library could be the postcard image. In Chicago, with its world-class collection of architecture, it’s pretty much an also-ran. Look it up if you’re in the neighborhood, but hardly worth an excursion out of one’s way.

The organizers of 2007’s Left Coast Crime were thoughtful to book the convention at a hotel just two blocks from Rem Koolhaas and Joshua Prince-Ramus’ enormous library in downtown Seattle. This building was all the rage when it first opened in 2004, getting buckets of ink in architectural trade journals and in the mainstream media (it’s always looked to me like a symbolic “to be read” pile of books, not cleanly stacked, but still managing to stay vertical). And, it’s clearly become a tourist attraction for archigeeks like me, as I took the 45-minute guided tour with several out-of-towners.

My first thought upon walking into the street-level “Living Room” space was “thank God this wasn’t built in a warmer climate.” The thousands of windows that form a greenhouse-type environment would surely sautee’ patrons in a city like Phoenix or Orlando. As it happens, it’s a nice inviting space full of light (when the Seattle weather deems fit to bestow some sunshine), but it left me a little, well, cool. With all of the activity both inside the front revolving doors and the street scenes, I don’t feel like I could read anything requiring any degree of concentration. One gets the idea of sitting inside a department store window.

For all of the hype regarding the design and distinctive features like the bright yellow escalator well and the 4th floor blood red hallways, the Seattle Library struck me as an act of architectural hubris that failed to consider that libraries need to be user-friendly and easy to navigate. It’s really easy to get hopelessly turned around in there.

The Seattle Library contains all the bells and whistles necessary in a large civic book repository these days: the state-of-the-art book retrieval and return system (much of which is on view), an auditorium, a separate ground floor section for “popular” books that are in frequent demand that you can grab and run without having to wander into the upper floors, and music rehearsal rooms (music rehearsal rooms in a library?). But it’s intimidating and I felt I was being processed instead of being welcomed.

Of course, if you want to talk about libraries as tourist attractions, there’s no better example than the Reading Room, now in the center of a glorious refurbishment of the British Museum, where the British Library once resided. Architect Norman Foster has created a magnificent piazza inside this old war horse of a building, and the Reading Room positively gleams. It’s not difficult to imagine Karl Marx skulking in his carel scribbling away at what would become Das Kapital, or Charles Dickens, George Bernard Shaw, Virginia Woolf, or any of the other British literary luminaries stopping in while walking the streets of Bloomsbury. The Reading Room continues to be used for exhibits and special presentations, but the rest of the British Library moved in 1997 to its current location near King’s Cross.

Both Rybczynski’s Slate essay and the slide show that accompanies it are here.

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