Friday, March 30, 2007

Review: Healing Our World by David Morley

Today in January’s children’s book section, contributing editor Cherie Thiessen looks at Healing Our World: Inside Doctors Without Borders by David Morley.
We all know the expression, think globally, act locally, but David Morley takes it one step further, showing his readers how easy it is to put your body where your mouth is and actually get out there to make a difference, one pair of hands at a time.
Thiessen’s review is here.

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

On The Road with Oprah

We told you it was coming, and now it’s here. Amid a great rush of fanfare, Oprah has made her choice. The author is brilliant and celebrated and the book in question was adored by both critics and readers when it was released last fall, but the story of a father and son coming to grips with each other and life in a post-apocalyptic America still seems an odd choice for Oprah. Says Popmatters:
What seems to have been a nuclear winter has settled over the world, leaving little in its wake. There are references to the immediate aftermath, when “the roads were peopled with refugees shrouded ... creedless shells of men tottering down the causeways like migrants in a feverland ... The frailty of everything revealed at last.” By the time The Road is set, however, even those years are a distant memory, the only people the father and son come across are best avoided, desperate creatures with little left to eat but each other.
The California Literary Review seemed almost to go into raptures stretching for the right -- and sufficient -- praise for the book:
Post apocalyptic novels are a dark, bleak and often illuminating genre that are highlighted by titles that include The Day of the Triffids, A Canticle for Leibowitz, Eternity Road, On The Beach and Galapagos. J.G. Ballard carved out a large section of this wasted landscape with The Crystal World, The Drowning World, The Burning World and The Wind From Nowhere. But among all of these fine works and dozens more I’ve read, none compares, holds a candle to or rings such gloomy, bleak chords as does Cormac McCarthy’s The Road; all accomplished with an economy of words that is beautiful in its execution.
And I love this line from the same review. How could you not? “I read this book in one take late at night and immediately headed downstairs to kick up the fire and drink some bourbon. I was cold, chilled emotionally, stunned, awe-struck by McCarthy’s words.”

But on Oprah’s Web site, the motivation for choosing The Road becomes more clear. Not only is it a wonderful book, it’s one that invites conversation and even discussion, like the kind Oprah asks for on her book club Web site. “What do you think destroyed the world? How far would you go to protect your child? What is the difference between ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’? Share your thoughts with others on the message board.”

Though his first novel, The Orchard Keeper, was published in 1965, McCarthy, 73, is perhaps best known for 1992’s All the Pretty Horses. And the book did very well on its own, long before the release of the movie based on the work came out in 2000 starring Matt Damon, Henry Thomas and Penelope Cruz.

McCarthy is notoriously private and has only rarely granted interviews. An interview with the writer is promised, however. It will be interesting to see how the interaction between the Chicago media maven and the reclusive literary giant unfolds.

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Reading in a Combat Zone

People who love to read understand that a book can transport you. Without any special additional materials, without electricity or satellite signals or outside intervention of any kind, a book can provide a magic carpet to another time, a better place. Even at times of great stress. Even, as Abe Books points out this week, if a war is raging around you.

“If you love books, you have to keep reading,” says the Abe Books feature on reading in Iraq, “even if you’re living in an active war-zone like Iraq.”

One of the soldiers featured is January Magazine contributing editor David Abrams, who we missed deeply when he did an 11 month tour in Iraq in 2005 through 2006. Abrams, who is currently working on a novel based on his time in a combat zone, tells Abe Books how reading might have saved his life:
There were at least two incidents when enemy mortars landed in our camp, not far from the trailer where I lived. In both cases, I was holed up reading -- the first time I was deep into Don Quixote; the second mortar attack found me engrossed in Jarhead by Anthony Swofford. I could very well have been wandering around the camp at the time of the attack .... Instead, I chose to stay inside with my books -- my comforts and mainstays. In that first attack ... one soldier was killed and 16 others were injured. So, I guess you could say Cervantes really did save my ass.
While it's been super to have Abrams back home, we don't get nearly enough of his time and talent (though I can’t imagine a saturation point with this writer: his work is just that good). But the Army is keeping Abrams busy stateside, he maintain the official Agatha Christie blog, plus there's that novel to look forward to. More on that when it happens.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Potter Cover Art Ready to Roll

It won’t be long before you’re seeing it everywhere but, for the moment, you can see it right here: the cover art for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the seventh and final book in J.K. Rowling’s astonishingly successful series.

Here we have the new cover in three flavors: (from left) U.S., UK adult and UK junior. (And, incidentally, the UK covers are also the Canadian covers.)

I must say, I'm a little disappointed by both cover designs. (And I mean the junior covers: the UK adult covers have always been too bland to bother commenting on. What else would one expect from an object cover intended to provide little beyond camouflage on the Tube?)

Maybe both illustrators were so mesmerized by their design briefs (“The final book! The final book!”) they lost track of just creating something attractive and enduring.

Or it’s possible it’s just me. Though I don’t think I’m alone in having impossibly high hopes for the final book. Even the accompanying art. I was expecting covers that produced a deeper response than a shrug and a “Meh.”

Right then: ‘nuff said. For now. There will be plenty of Potter brouhaha between now and the release date of the book on July 21st. We’ll try to keep it to a minimum.


Review: Too Soon to Say Goodbye by Art Buchwald

Today in January’s biography section, Mary Ward Menke considers Too Soon to Say Goodbye by Art Buchwald, published not long before the Pulitzer Prize-winning humor columnist passed away early this year.
Buchwald was well aware of the challenge of writing a book about dying: death may be inevitable, but nobody wants to talk about it. He starts by explaining that the purpose of hospice is to make death easier for the dying person and their family and allow the individual to die with dignity. And then his sardonic self takes over: “The average stay (at the Washington hospice) before you go to heaven is a few days to two weeks. If you are going downhill, Medicare pays for it. If your condition stays the same as when you arrived, Medicare will not pick up the tab,” Buchwald said, summing up the situation thusly: “Dying isn’t hard. Getting paid by Medicare is.”
You can read the review here.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Review: The Dark Streets by John Shannon

Today in January Magazine’s crime fiction section, contributing editor Kevin Burton Smith waxes euphoric about John Shannon’s latest Jack Liffey novel. Says Smith:
Because right now there’s nobody -- and I mean, nobody -- in crime fiction or the broader realm of literature who writes about Los Angeles (and us) as powerfully and with such keen vision, wit and passion as Shannon does.

Right now, L.A. belongs to John Shannon.
You can read the review here.

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Sunday, March 25, 2007

A Founding Reader

Among the American Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson is always considered the one world-class bibliophile. A voracious reader and correspondent, he sold his personal library as the foundation of the rebuilt Library of Congress in 1814.

However, John Adams, Jefferson’s predecessor as President and longtime political confidant (not that they didn’t have a lengthy estrangement), was certainly Jefferson’s equal in "the gentle madness".

A highly opinionated and easily irritated man (Adams famously referred to rival Alexander Hamilton as “that bastard son of a Scotch peddler”), Adams consumed books at a furious pace, and his marginalia commentary continues to be pored over by scholars.

The Boston Public Library is in the final month of a unique exhibit: 3500 of Adams’ books, handwritten notes, and other pieces of Adams memorabilia. The exhibit, John Adams Unbound, offers twice-weeky tours now through April 29. Admission is free.

Stop the Presses: Oprah Will Choose

Everyone’s talking about it. Forbes. AP. The Charlotte Observer. It must be a big hairy deal.

Windy City multimedia maven Oprah Winfrey will make a new selection for her book club. On Wednesday. And, apparently, the world is holding it’s breath.
A new Oprah book club pick will be announced Wednesday on her television talk show, the same day Winfrey hosts the author of her current selection, Academy Award-winning actor Sidney Poitier.
More details when she actually, you know, chooses.

And while we’re talking about Oprah, people who care about such things will be interested to learn that a former intern to Oprah’s production company has been named Miss USA. It’s kind of too bad for her. The headlines have gotten skewed. Instead of blasting “Rachel Smith Wins Miss USA” media outlets like ABC are saying “Ex-Oprah Intern Crowned Miss USA.” Funny old world, when the biggest part of a story about a pageant winner is which media mogul she doesn’t work for anymore.

Details are here.


Saturday, March 24, 2007

Jane Austen Gets a Makeover

Every now and then there are whispers that the book industry is getting as shallow and superficial as so many others. But it’s usually only, as I said, a whisper. Just a hint. Then, yesterday, a slap in the face that brings it all home: this is no whisper, no hint. This is a bad reality show, just waiting to happen.

The problem, according to Helen Trayler, managing director of Wordsworth Editions, is that Jane Austen, author of such beloved works as Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Emma and Mansfield Park, “was not much of a looker.” She was, in fact, so little of a looker that Trayler and her crew are in the midst of giving ol’ Jane a makeover for a new edition of a memoir by Austen’s nephew.

“I know you are not supposed to judge a book by its cover,” Trayler said. “Sadly people do. If you look more attractive, you just stand out more.”

The BBC piece is here.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Who Killed Houdini?

It’s long been held that Harry Houdini died on Halloween 1926 when his appendix ruptured after he was hit in the stomach. However a book published last year has raised some questions: and Houdini’s family is now looking to find the answers.

According to AP, The Secret Life of Houdini by William Kalush and Larry Sloman (Atria) convinced some people that he might have been poisoned and -- in case that’s not a strong enough literary link -- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes novels, is among those implicated.
The likeliest murder suspects were members of a group known as the Spiritualists. The magician devoted large portions of his stage show to exposing the group's fraudulent seances. The movement's devotees included Sherlock Holmes author Arthur Conan Doyle.
In the Houdini biography, authors William Kalush and Larry Sloman detail a November 1924 letter in which Doyle said Houdini would “get his just desserts very exactly meted out ... I think there is a general payday coming soon.”
Now, 81 years after his death, Houdini’s descendants want some answers, and they’ve approved an exhumation order to get them.
The team working on the exhumation includes internationally known forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden and professor James Starrs, a forensic pathologist who has studied the disinterred remains of gunslinger Jesse James and “Boston Strangler” Albert DeSalvo.
Expect more developments in this story. In the meantime, you can read the whole AP item here.

By the way, had Houdini not died of mysterious causes, he’d be turning 133 on March 24th.

Thomas Hardy Cottage For Sale

First of all, it’s important to understand that the information I’m about to share comes by way of a real estate agent (or rather, an estate agent, since our tale is set in the UK). That being the case, every aspect should be scrutinized for grains of truth. With all that out of the way, the rest is kind of fun.

An ad in Easier Property for a cottage “deep in the Berkshire Downs” mentioned in Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure offers said cottage up for £645,000. That sounds like a small enough price to pay for a piece of literary history complete with mod cons.

Easier Property lets us know that Jude the Obscure was “the last novel written by famous West Country writer Thomas Hardy with Jude, its central character, a stonemason desperate to improve himself.”
The world was so scandalized by the themes of Hardy’s novel that he never wrote another book, turning instead to verse and poetry. But while the outcome may not have been ideal for Hardy, anyone looking at Jude Cottage will find it an idyllic place.
If you’re ready to pack your bags and move to Jude Cottage, you’ll find the item here.


Ban the Blog!

Celebrated Vogue editor Anna Wintour steps up a little late to the plate to put the hex on the word “blog.”

According to Tim Dowling on the Guardian Unlimited’s ... er, blog:
The editor-in-chief of US Vogue has apparently decided that the word blog is vulgar and refuses to let it be used on the Vogue website. It is said that she has even told staff to come up with a replacement before the website is relaunched.

Wintour may be mistaken in assuming that she can bring her personal taste to bear on the language like some one-woman Académie française, but there is a wider point to consider: many of our internet neologisms have been foisted upon us by a small band of technogeeks with a weakness for portmanteau words, bad puns and unwieldy acronyms.
While it’s a point well made, it’s too little too late. I can’t imagine we’ll be re-christening the blog any time soon. As Dowling concludes, aside from being a corruption of the words “Web” and “log,” the word “blog” has come to mean not only a technology, but a specific style of communication. And though she might successfully pronounce on hemlines, lipstick shades and whose shoes to choose, I can’t imagine that Wintour’s declaration will have any result other than slowing Vogue’s progress into the 21st century.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Review: Ragged Islands by Don Hannah

Today, in January’s fiction section, contributing editor Cherie Thiessen reviews Ragged Islands by celebrated Canadian author and playwright, Don Hannah. Says Thiessen:
The sustained mood of loneliness and longing also weaves a melancholy spell. Don't read Ragged Islands to be entertained. Read it because you want to be moved and perhaps even just a little enlightened.
The review is here.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Review: Storm Runners by T. Jefferson Parker

Today in January Magazine’s crime fiction section, James R. Winter looks at Storm Runners by T. Jefferson Parker. Says Winter:
T. Jefferson Parker has been getting ambitious ever since his 2003 San Diego-based police thriller, Cold Pursuit. He’s been casting a wider net with his characters, his back stories and his narrative flow. ... So it's no surprise to find Parker once again flexing his literary muscles, while using a borderline science-fiction scenario as his MacGuffin. This time out, he does it with Storm Runners, a P.I. novel that doesn't read like a P.I. novel at all.
The review is here.

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Monday, March 19, 2007

Amis and Jeremy and Lynch, Oh My!

You’ve got to pay close attention to what’s going on at the Bat Segundo Show over at Ed Rants or you’re likely to miss something. For instance, this past weekend was a jackpot for interview lovers, as new interviews were posted with Martin Amis, Charlie Anders and Annalee Newitz, Ron Jeremy and Jane Ganahl.

Ed Champion, the primary perpetrator of Segundo and Ed Rants, has this to say about their latest crop of literary podcasts:
The latest batch features a little bit of something for everybody: Martin Amis, in one of our best interviews, discusses his latest novel, House of Meetings, and confesses to us his crisis in confidence; journalist and memoirist Jane Ganahl searches for love in middle age; the infamous Ron Jeremy reveals a lot more than you might expect; and the whip-smart Annalee Newitz returns to discuss the geek gender divide with the divine Charlie Anders.
And still another important interview we’ve missed until now: on March 8th, Bat Segundo released a podcast interview with David Lynch (yes: that David Lynch). “Let’s talk about suffering,” Lynch says at one point. “Like in movies, people die. Well, you say, you don’t have to die to show a death. And there’s all kind of suffering and torment and all these things in a story. And, for me, those things come from ideas. Now when you catch an idea, you see the thing. You hear the thing. You feel and see and hear the mood of it. And you see the character. You almost see what the character wears. And you see what the character says and how they say it. That it’s an idea that comes all at once. And you know that idea.”

You can catch up with all of these great interviews -- and more and more and more -- here.

When Computers Take Over the Library

Computers and libraries go together like peanut butter and jelly. (Well, like peanut butter and jelly that don’t make a mess on books, anyway.) Let’s face it: stacks of books to keep track of, reference material to organize, lists of patrons to keep tabs on. I’m sure that, by this point, there must be more than a few librarians out there who quake at the thought of running a library without some electronic assistance.

Ordering, however, still requires the human touch. Here’s a case in point: the computer at YBP Library Services created a community college selection list for Black History Month that was unacceptable, to say the least.

According to Library Journal, the books on the list included a biography on Black Sabbath, the vintage rock band, as well as a book about a commercial shipping accident, Black November: The Carl D. Bradley Tragedy.

Library Journal has the story here.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Review: Elysium by Catherine Jinks

Today in the January Magazine children’s book section, contributing editor Sue Bursztynski reviews Catherine Jinks’ Elysium, book four in the Allie’s Ghost Hunters series.

While Bursztynski enjoyed Jinks’ engaging style, she asks one burning question: where are the ghosts?

The review is here.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Don’t Judge a Blook by Its ... er... Cover

Where many writers -- yours truly included -- keep personal blogs in part to let readers of their books sneak a peek inside the author’s skull, increasingly things are working the other way around: where the ramblings inside a human skull are given air on a blog that eventually -- and one way or another -- ends up being available in book form.

Author Cory Doctorow even thinks that writing that begins in blog form can alter the creative process. “Previously, such jottings might have been kept in the author’s notebook,” Doctorow told the BBC, “but something amazing happens when you post them online: readers help you connect them, flesh them out and grow them into fully fledged books or blooks.”

When you have a trend that flows towards being something like movement, after a while you end up with an awards program. Enter the Lulu Blooker, “the world’s first literary prize devoted to ‘blooks’ -- books based on blogs or other websites, including webcomics.”

The $15,000 Blooker Prize is sponsored by Lulu, a POD company. Though, when you think about it, it’s likely not that much of a reach. After all, since Technorati estimates that 175,000 new blogs are fired up each day, it stands to reason that not every single book-destined blog will find publisher support. It might make sense for self-styled self-publishing experts, Lulu, to stay in the center of the books-to-blogs soup. Although, according to the BBC, last year’s Blooker winner blook, Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously, “has now sold over 100,000 copies and is being made into a film.”

Here’s the shortlist for the 2007 Lulu Blooker Awards.

  • Crashing The Gate by Jerome Armstrong and Markos Moulitsas (Chelsea Green)
  • My Secret: A PostSecret Book by Frank Warren (Regan/HarperCollins)
  • My War: Killing Time In Iraq by Colby Buzzell (Berkeley/Penguin)
  • Small Is the New Big: and 183 other Riffs, Rants, and Remarkable Business Ideas by Seth Godin (Portfolio/Penguin) by Kristin Espinasse (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster)
  • So Close: Infertile and Addicted To Hope by Tertia Albertyn (Oshun)
  • Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love and Language From the South of France by Kristin Espinasse (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster)
  • Albert the Third by Slim Palmer (Exposure Publishing)
  • BreakupBabe: A Novel by Rebecca Agiewich (Ballantine)
  • The Doorbells of Florence by Andrew Losowsky (Prandial Publishing/Lulu)
  • Messages from the Lost Continent conceived and edited by Horst Prillinger (Books on Demand GmbH)
  • Methuselah’s Daughter by J. A. Eddy and Dean Esmay (Lulu)
  • Monster Island: A Zombie Novel by David Wellington (Thunder's Mouth Press/Avalon)
  • Born of Nifty: Sluggy Freelance Megatome 01 by Pete Abrams (Sluggy Freelance)
  • The Definition of Awesome: Another Joe and Monkey Collection by Zach Miller (Boxcar Comics/Lulu)
  • Mom’s Cancer by Brian Fies (Abrams Image)


Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Review: On the Wrong Track by Steve Hockensmith

Today in January’s crime fiction section, contributing editor David Thayer reviews Steve Hockensmith’s follow-up novel to 2006’s very successful Holmes on the Range. As much as Thayer liked that book, he likes this one better, enjoying the history as much as the mystery.
When not inciting guffaws, California writer Steve Hockensmith manages to establish enough of a plot -- complete with red herrings, gunplay and bad guys -- to keep his story on the straight and narrow, and chugging full steam ahead.
The full review is here.

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Monday, March 12, 2007

The Publisher Hits Back

I rather enjoyed Stephen Page’s recent comments in The Guardian about what role publishers fill in the changing world of books. Page is the publisher and CEO of Faber & Faber, an independent house in the UK, and president of the Publishers Association, so naturally he has some bias. Yet I must admit that most of his comments ring true to me. He begins:
In February 1934, Geoffrey Faber, founder of Faber & Faber, gave a lecture to the Oxford University English Club entitled “Are publishers any use?” It may come as no surprise to hear that he felt they were, despite “the modern view of a publisher as ... less an arbiter of taste than a parasitic middle-man”.

This came to mind when, at last year’s Frankfurt Book Fair, I read an article in the
Bookseller by an agent who suggested that, in the digital age, writers would no longer need publishers. They would simply post their work online with various retailers and offer their books as downloads or through print on demand. For this they would receive full value for their work, minus a (rather surprising, I thought) 20 per cent commission to the agent. He didn’t go into what the agent might do to earn 20 per cent, but he was very clear that publishers were unlikely to add value to this process.

So I am prompted to ask again: are publishers any use? What reasons do they have to exist? What will they do in the future? And, crucially, has the book entered the last phase of its physical life?

I want to begin where our industry begins: with writers. The world emerging at the start of the 21st century is full of threat to those who create. The desire to commodify all art as some form of entertainment, and the growth of a monoculture based around mass-market tastes and distribution, make many writers feel precarious. In the United Kingdom, the declining price of books is resulting in lower royalties and less range in bookshops. No wonder this prompts writers to wonder about a different model where they are more their own masters, receive fuller recognition for their work and feel less brutalised by the experience. The digital world is presented in such a utopian fashion by its evangelists that it seems to provide an alternative model. While none of us knows exactly how this future will evolve, I believe writers will be best served by continued partnership with publishers, though publishers will have to adapt, too.

Publishers are a bridge between the market and writers. While providing an expert route to creating economic value in the work (i.e., the author’s work is rewarded), they can also act as a sustaining and supporting partner.
Page concludes his piece by talking about what the future might hold for publishing:
Publishers are not book manufacturers, they are about creating businesses from reading. There will be a revolution in reading around digital technology: there already is in education and academia. But I do not believe that the much-heralded disappearance of the book will happen soon. The history of technology simply doesn’t work like that. We will have roll-up books, books on Palm organisers and iPods, mobile phones and PCs. But that is no reason to think that the parallel technology of books on paper will not continue. Also, new technology often reawakens old technology--think of the new audience for radio that has been created by the Internet.
You can read the full article here.


Review: The Albanian Affairs by Susana Fortes

Today in January Magazine’s fiction section, contributing editor Pedro Blas Gonzalez reviews The Albanaian Affairs, the first English translation for Susan Fortes:
Novels set in totalitarian countries always possess a closed-room, double morality ethos that few people in open societies can begin to imagine. These works depict a bare bones realism that more often than not is nothing less than a test of survival.
According to Gonzalez, this runner-up for the Planeta Award for Fiction does not except that rule. You can read the entire review here.

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Hunting for an Envelope

While trying to find an explanation of the Planeta Award for Pedro Blas Gonzalez’s review of The Albanian Affairs, I came across the list of literary awards on Wikipedia.

Now I’m not going to get into a discussion on the usefulness -- or otherwise -- of this resource. This isn’t the time or the place. No debating, for instance, the merits of an unsupervised collective contributing to a megalithic resource that is international -- and unparalleled -- in scope. Whatever the case, this list is the best of one of its kind that I’ve seen. And if you’ve seen better, please let me know so I can share it with our readers.

Meanwhile, here’s the link.


Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Big Dick

As many of you know from my book reviews, I love the work of the mad literary genius Philip Kindred Dick (1928-1982). And I’m glad to see that he’s finally receiving some of the recognition denied him during his short and troubled life. Interest in his work was most recently reinvigorated by Richard Linklater’s rotorscoped version of Dick’s A Scanner Darkly, which was released last year to great acclaim. Dick spoke about the paranoia that fuels this novel back in 1997 (see the video here).

In the London Times recently, American-born science-fiction writer Lisa Tuttle (The Silver Bough), presently living in Scotland, offered up a retrospective on Dick’s fiction. Her article is particularly insightful, because she knew Dick. As Tuttle writes:
Dick’s great subject was the nature of reality, and how it is shaped by human consciousness. When he began writing in the early 1950s, his obsessions were too weird for main-stream fiction. He was ahead of his time. The Man in the High Castle, his brilliant evocation of a world in which the Allies had lost the Second World War, was appreciated by few outside the world of sci-fi when it appeared in 1962; 30 years later Robert Harris had a bestseller, Fatherland, with a similar theme.

When I met Phil Dick in the spring of 1974, he was living in a small, rented apartment in Fullerton, California, with his fifth wife and their baby, desperately broke and worried that the Internal Revenue Service was out to get him.

Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said -- his 28th novel -- had just been published to great acclaim, he was one of the greatest science-fiction writers alive, yet he had no money.

This was a shock. His books had shown me that science-fiction could explore inner space just as well as outer, and had made me determined to write it myself. But the life of the man himself could have been a warning against trying to make a living at it.

Things were about to change, however. Dick’s reputation began to spread out beyond his loyal fans in the U.S. and France after interviews in
Rolling Stone and The New Yorker.

John Lennon had read
The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (one of Dick’s best, and quite possibly the weirdest book yet written) and wanted to make a film of it. Perhaps, in some alternate universe, Lennon survived to do that, but in our world the big breakthrough was Ridley Scott’s 1982 movie Blade Runner, based on one of Dick’s most popular novels, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
You can read Tuttle’s entire article here.

And speaking of Blade Runner, the excellent documentary The Edge of Blade Runner, from the UK’s Channel 4, is available in full now from Google Video and provides wonderful insight into the adaptation of Dick’s novel to screen. Click here to watch. If you want to learn more about Philip K. Dick, click here to see a BBC Arena documentary, which is again archived at Google Video.

The Boomer Bookshelf

In the current issue of Newsweek, Malcolm Jones looks at the books that define the boomer generation:
Though really, boomers should probably be flattered that someone still considers us a target audience at all. But the underlying suggestion is valid enough: was there ever a time when the boomer generation could be defined by a common bookshelf? Certainly most people can, without much trouble, think of titles and authors and characters that serve as a kind of shorthand for readers who came of age in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Holden Caulfield needs no introduction. “Fear and loathing” is a catchphrase that won't die. Green eggs and ham are on everyone’s menu.
Clearly, what defines boomer reading material is in the eye of the beholder, as well as how you opt to determine the slice (opinions vary). Take, for instance, Jones’ nomination for the book that defines “his” generation. Please:
...if I had to nominate one book to stand for my generation, it wouldn’t be a novel, or a memoir, or a graphic novel. It would be The Whole Earth Catalog. First published in 1968, the brainchild of Stewart Brand went through many subsequent editions. In it you could find information on raising goats, building a geodesic dome -- just about anything.
You can read the whole piece -- and maybe make up your own reading list -- here.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Review Un Lun Dun by China Miéville

Today in January Magazine’s children’s book section, contributing editor Andi Shechter looks at Un Lun Dun, China Miéville's first book for young adults.

Shechter reports that Un Lun Dun works on all levels. “The best praise I can offer is that Un Lun Dun has made me want to read the “adult” fiction of China Miéville.”

The review is here.

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Why Sam Leith Hates Deepak Chopra

In a posting on The Telegraph’s Arts blog, literary editor Sam Leith, author of Daddy, Is Timmy In Heaven Now?, doesn’t mince words when slamming Deepak Chopra’s latest pearls of wisdom:
I have a conviction, perhaps irrational, but no less deeply felt than the Pope’s belief in a benevolent and omnipotent God, that anyone who goes for this kind of tree-hugging hippie crap is a morally and intellectually defective human being.
There’s more. Quite a lot of it. The item is posted under the heading “How I Hate Deepak Chopra” and it’s here.


Hitler Tome Vetoed During Freedom to Read Week

When the Saskatoon Public Library asked Yann Martel to read from any banned or challenged book for Freedom to Read Week, the author of Life of Pi chose Mein Kampf.

“It's a horrible book,” Martel told The National Post, “but a horribly important book, because you get in the brain of one of the monsters of the 20th century.”

However, for a CBC Radio Saskatchewan interview in support of the event, Martel was told not to read from the book.

The National Post has the story here.

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When Imperial Power Wanes

Spoiler Alert! (Or, maybe, “newsflash,” depending on your take on the matter.)

Captain America is dead.

According to The Guardian:
As a symbol of waning imperial power, it is unmistakeable. Captain America, the stars-and-stripes wearing, blond and blue-eyed “pinnacle of human physical perfection,” is dead. The Marvel comics superhero, aka Steve Rogers, is gunned down by a sniper in the latest installment of the comic.
Comic Fodder was a bit more skeptical of the whole thing:
With a movie in the works, Cap’s face splashed across dozens of licensed products and a successful comic series, if Cap is dead, I shall eat my hat (yes, I wear hats made of marshmallows and jelly beans, but that's hardly the point). However, someone at Marvel must have noted how well the “Superman is Dead” bit played back in the early 90‘s, because today’s press took this one hook, line and sinker.
Like everyone else, we’re gonna reserve judgment until we see the movie.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Where Does He Find the Energy?

It seems that Marshal Zeringue, who we first got to know through his terrific Web log Campaign for the American Reader, now has five blogs going at once, all of them presenting opportunities to learn about authors and their works.

In addition to the original Campaign site, we’ve previously mentioned that he has spun off a Page 69 Test site. But he also now has a Page 99 Test site, picking up on author Ford Madox Ford’s assertion that “the quality of the whole [book] be revealed to you” by reading page 99. Then he also has My Book, the Movie, which asks writers how they would like to see their written masterpieces adapted to film. (Bill Crider answers that question here.) And let’s not forget Writers Read, where wordsmiths from Libby Fischer Hellman (A Shot to Die For) to Gregg Hurwitz (Last Shot) and William Haywood Henderson (Augusta Locke) let us peak at their current reading piles.

If Zeringue has a fulltime job beyond all of this blogging, I don’t know how he holds onto it. Given the time he spends quizzing authors and writing about it for these various sites, he must have much better drugs keeping him going than I do.

Review: The Echelon Vendetta by David Stone

Today in January Magazine’s crime fiction section, contributing editor David Thayer examines The Echelon Vendetta, a debut novel by the pseudonymous David Stone, reportedly a former soldier and intelligence officer.

The Echelon Vendetta is an intelligent, sophisticated thriller,” writes Thayer, “an impressive debut and a strong entry in the espionage genre.”

Read Thayer’s review here.

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Another Random Purchase

A 90 per cent chunk of Virgin Books has been acquired by Random House UK. According to Booktrade.Info, the deal “gives the company worldwide use of the Virgin brand in the field of book, audio and digital publishing.”

Not strictly part of the Random/Virgin deal, but announced at the same time, Virgin founder, Sir Richard Branson, will pen five new books for the new Random imprint. According to The Independent, Branson will receive over one million £ for his literary stylings:
The 56-year-old entrepreneur, who published an autobiography called Losing My Virginity in 1999 and a business book, Screw It, Let’s Do It, last year, is to deliver the new books over the next five years. Work is under way on a couple of the books. Sir Richard, who is dyslexic, will receive royalties on top of the seven-figure advance.


Monday, March 05, 2007

Review: Travels in the Scriptorium by Paul Auster

Today, in January Magazine’s fiction section: a review of Paul Auster’s 13th novel, Travels in the Scriptorium.
Paul Auster’s 13th novel is almost wonderful. One gets the feeling that the author was reaching for something here, something he doesn’t quite attain. Part of the reason for this might be a simple lack of scope. The book is called Travels in the Scriptorium: A Novel. But that word -- Novel -- is misleading in this instance. At not quite 40,000 words, Travels in the Scriptorium is a novella, in every way one might think to use that word. As a novella, it feels like an experiment, a good one, at that. An extreme exercise in “what if?” But it lacks the heft and emotional weight one wants to associate with a novel of this type.
Read the whole review here.

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Happy Birthday, Demon Dog!

Sunday in The Rap Sheet, Megan Abbott (The Song Is You) paid tribute to “the Demon Dog of American Literature” on the occasion of his birth:
James (né Lee Earle) Ellroy was born on this day in Los Angeles, back in 1948. Coming off last fall’s overwrought Black Dahlia movie adaptation and attendant noise, it is a very good time to, for the moment, set aside Ellroy’s larger-than-life “Demon Dog” persona (a persona that can be hypnotic and that surely helped burnish the Ellroy legend, but can also prevent clear-eyed visions of his literary turnout) and instead look more closely at the written works themselves.
You can read the whole piece here. Ellroy himself was The Rap Sheet’s first guest blogger back in October. You can read his musings here.

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Pierce’s Pick

Mystery and thriller fans who aren’t making a weekly pilgrimage to January Magazine’s crime fiction page are missing out on a regular feature. Every Monday, J. Kingston Pierce selects a book that headlines January’s crime fiction section for the next seven days. The selection for the week of March 5th is On the Wrong Track by Steve Hockensmith while, for the week of February 26th, Pierce chose Fools Rush In by Ed Gorman.

If you haven’t been keeping track of what Pierce has been Picking (say that five times fast), you actually haven’t the boat: 52 weeks of Pierce’s Picks are archived here.


Sunday, March 04, 2007

A Stage Play of Magical Thinking: Didion on Broadway

Today’s New York Times Art & Leisure section contains a piece by Joan Didion. Scientists could probably use me as a study in magnetism whenever I pick up a periodical and discover a new essay by Didion; she’s just that powerful.

Readers of Didion’s most recent work, the National Book Award-winning memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking, know that Didion’s husband, John Gregory Dunne, died unexpectedly from a heart attack on December 30, 2003. The couple had just returned from a local hospital where their only daughter, Quintana, lay comatose with septic shock. Didion’s book tells the story of her life in the year following her husband’s death and during the course of her daughter’s illness. As the manuscript went to press, Quintana died, leaving Didion alone for the first time in 40 years.

Didion has since transformed her book into a one-woman Broadway show, which is about to begin previews. Vanessa Redgrave stars as Didion. The director is British dramatist David Hare. She explains in the Times:
I have no clear memory of when the notion of making a play took hold, but it was sometime in October 2005. My daughter had died in August, and my sense of the season that followed remains what she would have called, at a point when she was recovering from brain surgery, “mudgy.” Early that October, when Scott Rudin asked if I would consider doing “The Year of Magical Thinking” as a play, I was negative, even vehemently so. I had devised a narrow track on which to get through the fall. The book, an account of the year that followed the death of my husband, was just published. I had promotion ahead, flights, 5 a.m. pickups, Starbucks cappuccino at the gate in lieu of breakfast, Boston, Dallas, Minneapolis, Washington, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver, Seattle, Chicago, Miami, Toronto, check in, check out, stay on track. I did not want to write a play. I had never wanted to write a play. I did not know how to write a play.

I repeated this.

I repeated it to Scott, and I repeated it to myself.

Yet at some point in the days that followed I was seized by the idea that the fact that I had never written and did not know how to write a play could be the point, the imperative, the very reason to write one. My husband had died, our only child had died, I was no longer exactly the person I had been.

It was necessary to try something new.

Something the person I had been would not have tried.
Didion goes on to say that the play is not a mere adaptation of her memoir. The play will, in fact, go deeper and reveal what Didion did not know at the time the book was written. It is, in essence, a continuation of the book.

Read the whole essay here. For those of you lucky enough to be near New York City, ticket information is here.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

A Fighter for History Gone

February, the shortest month of the year, finally brought to a close the life and career of one of America’s foremost political historians and social critics, Pulitzer Prize-winner and former Kennedy administration advisor Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. He died in Manhattan last night, after being stricken with a heart attack while dining out. Schlesinger was 89 years old.

Born in Columbus, Ohio, in October 1917, Schlesinger was the son and namesake of Arthur M. Schlesinger, a Progressive Era intellectual and Harvard University history professor who may have been best known for surveying U.S. historians on the significance of past presidencies. After graduating summa cum laude from Harvard himself in 1938, during World War II “Schlesinger drafted some statements for President [Franklin D.] Roosevelt and served as an intelligence analyst for the Office of Strategic Services, forerunner to the CIA,” according to an Associated Press obituary. His emergence from his famous father’s shadow was most clearly realized in 1945, when he published The Age of Jackson, a historical text that “offered a new, class-based interpretation of the [Andrew] Jackson administration, destroying the old myth that the country was once an egalitarian paradise. The book remained influential despite eventual criticism -- even by Schlesinger -- for overlooking Jackson’s appeasement of slavery and his harsh treatment of Indians.”

In the mid-’40s, Schlesinger helped found (with Eleanor Roosevelt, Hubert Humphrey, and others) Americans for Democratic Action, a liberal organization that, while it espoused anti-communism, also opposed the dogmatic Communist witch-hunting practiced during the 1950s by Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-Wisconsin) and the nearly as “obsessive” anti-communism promoted by the Left. In 1949, he saw published The Vital Center: The Politics of Freedom, in which he advocated liberal democratic ideals but adamantly rejected totalitarianism (“Neither fascism nor communism can win so long as there remains a democratic middle way,” he wrote in The New York Times in 1948). Schlesinger’s staunch liberalism led him to pen speeches for Democratic presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson in 1952 and 1956, and then to do the same for John F. Kennedy in 1960. (Schlesinger conceded that switching his loyalty from Stevenson to the junior U.S. senator from Massachusetts was difficult; he called Stevenson, the former governor of Illinois, a “much richer, more thoughtful, more creative person,” but was drawn to Kennedy’s “cool, measured, intelligent concern.”)

After Kennedy’s thin conquest over GOP candidate Richard M. Nixon, Schlesinger served in the White House as a speech writer and presidential special assistant for Latin American affairs. At the time of Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, Schlesinger was left with voluminous notes he’d taken for the president, which Kennedy planned to use in writing his autobiography. Instead, Schlesinger used them to craft his own book, A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House, which won both the Pulitzer and the National Book Award in 1966. He returned to the Kennedy family more than a decade later with Robert Kennedy and His Times.

Although his job and inclination was to view politics through the lens of what had gone (and failed) before, he could also be a fierce Democratic partisan. And that had the unfortunate result of coloring his perceptions of what was possible. During the 1972 U.S. presidential election, for instance, Schlesinger forecast a decisive win for South Dakota Senator George McGovern “because he was ‘leading a constituency as broad as Roosevelt’s coalition in 1932,’” recalls Britain’s Guardian newspaper. Nixon, though, won re-election in a landslide. Schlesinger bet the wrong horse again in 1980, when he laid wagers on Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy stealing the Democratic nomination away from incumbent President Jimmy Carter. “Anyone observing that campaign,” opines The Guardian’s Harold Jackson, “could foresee the outcome almost from the start. Clearly Schlesinger was talking from his heart not his head and, as the years went by, it became increasingly important to determine which organ prevailed.”

Despite such disappointments, however, Schlesinger remained what he called, upon turning 80 in 1997, “an unrepentant and unreconstructed liberal and New Dealer. ... That means I favor the use of government to improve opportunities and to enlarge freedoms for ordinary people.” But he vociferously opposed the misapplication of political authority to advance extremist causes. In 1998, he joined more than 400 historians to denounce the poisonously partisan impeachment of President Bill Clinton, and he blasted George W. Bush’s decision to invade Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in 2003, calling Bush’s supposed “preventive war” strategy “a fatal turn in U.S. foreign policy.” His 2004 book, War and the American Presidency, spoke disparagingly of Bush’s expansion of presidential power and the dangers of an “imperial presidency,” a term Schlesinger popularized (if not coined) during the Nixon administration. During an interview he did with Salon in 2004, the then 87-year-old historian predicted that Americans would come to “hate” themselves for sanctioning George W. Bush’s abuses of power:

Well, there’s a lengthy history of us doing just that. The Red Scare from the First World War, for example. The Wilson administration arrested a lot of people, sent them to prison, including Eugene Debs, the Socialist Party candidate, and deported some others of foreign birth. After the war, people began to wonder what the actual threat had been and we hated ourselves in the morning. As a result, the American Civil Liberties Union was founded and [Oliver Wendell] Holmes [Jr.] and [Louis] Brandeis led the judicial reaction.

After the Second World War, we finally paid reparations to the Japanese who had been interned. After the Civil War, the Supreme Court regarded
Mulligan [a case in which a Confederate sympathizer from Indiana was imprisoned without charges] as a miscarriage of justice.

I think the best current example might be the
Patriot Act -- its excesses are a lot like those of the Alien and Sedition Acts. In fact, the spinmeisters of 1798 should have called the Alien and Sedition Acts “the Patriot Act.” America was engaged in undeclared naval warfare against France at the time, but afterward, the Alien and Sedition Acts were quickly repented as an overreaction to criticism of government.

We overreact and then we’re sorry. Panic is not a wise basis for judgment. I think it will happen like that again. The rather conservative Supreme Court has already rebuked the imperial president by ruling that the Guantánamo prison detainees are subject to due process.

However, as we’ve seen, the great virtue of democracy is its capacity for self-correction.

But it wasn’t as a result of his political confrontations that Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. became most important to those of us who thrill at the thoughtful examination of American historical developments and presidencies. It was his books that made his name known to us, whether we’re talking about The Age of Jackson or Robert Kennedy and His Times (both of which I have displayed on a high shelf beside my desk), or his three-volume history of the New Deal, The Age of Roosevelt, and what was to have been the first part of his memoirs, A Life in the 20th Century: Innocent Beginnings, 1917-1950.

Lately I’ve been working my way through a still-growing series of U.S. presidential biographies, edited by Schlesinger for Times Books, and have been reminded not only of this bowtie-wearing historian’s knowledge of America’s past, but his curiosity about it, as well. Contrary to what many history teachers seem to believe, the past isn’t merely a collection of occurrences with dates and players attached. It is a vital, ever-revealing stew of truths, tragedies, and triumphs that can only be fully understood by those who are made curious about its twists, not made resentful of having to learn it by rote. Schlesinger, understandably inspired to his future by his father, showed an obvious curiosity about what had been and what was to come, together with a faith that history is more tutor than tyrant -- indicating but not demanding repetition. We owe him greatly for what he left behind, now that he himself is history.

Review: Steve Nash by Paul Arseneault and Peter Assaff

Today in January Magazine’s biography section, contributing editor Cherie Thiessen looks at Steve Nash by Paul Arseneault and Peter Assaff.
Basketball fans of all ages will rate this slim read a three-pointer. With not an ounce of fat on it, it's lean, it looks good, it keeps its audience enthralled, and it never lets up. Several other books about Canada's super hero have been published, but as long as the Steve Nash story continues to unfold, there will be room for more.
The full review is here.

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The Wait Is Over

Small Press Month is finally here. Sponsored by a boatload of book-related entities -- including Small Press Center; PMA: The Independent Book Publishers Association and The Council of Literary Magazine and Presses -- Small Press Month is intended to bring attention to the work produced by small and independent publishers.

You can visit the Small Press Month Web site to see what delights the organizers have in store for us. Or, even better, rush to your favorite bookstore and plunk down some of your hard earned on a book published by an independent publisher.