Monday, July 30, 2007

Look at Rare Books Without Leaving Your Desk!

If you've ever wanted to view the rare book collection at the British Library, but don't have the money for airfare, you'll want to take a look at this site! The British Library has an online gallery, and one of the features is called 'Turning the Pages'. Using this program, you can take a close up look at selected rare books, using your mouse to turn the pages. There is a 'magnify' option to view illustrations up close, and there are notes that provide further information on the spread you are viewing. Audio readings are provided for some titles. The book selections include the first atlas of Europe, Mozart's Musical Diary, William Blake's notebook (I thought my handwriting was messy!), Alice's Adventures Underground with handwritten text and illustrations by Lewis Carroll, and much more!

The Book Club that knew everything...


I love Sundays. I guiltlessly indulge in afternoon naps. I sprawl on my couch with a bowl of popcorn and catch up on movies. And if the reading that I should be doing for work or school hasn't got me completely enthalled, it's only on Sundays that I give myself full license to turn to something else. Which is how I stayed up too late last night finishing Sean Dixon's The Girls Who Knew Everything. But what an engrossing, imaginative, thrilling read. This was one of my fellow Dewey's picks and I've had the book on my to-be-read pile for a few months now. This is the story of the Lacuna Cabal Montreal Young Women's Book Club - a motley group of eccentric and intense women who nevertheless jointly tremble when one of their members pronounces, "those five most exciting words in the Lacuna Cabal lexicon: 'I've been to the library.'" They meet in unusual places and go one step further in their discussions by actually acting out scenes in the book, often with disastrous consequences. The crisis in their club comes as a group of strangers accidentally stumble on a meeting, and are reluctantly manipulated into participating with the group's latest pick - The Epic of Gilgamesh.
Now I haven't given a thought to Gilgamesh since undergrad days when I dropped Northrop Frye's famous and famously tough course on world mythology and the Bible (and why, you may be asking, would anyone drop a course taught by Northrop Frye? I know - I was young and silly. I panicked. We had to do seminars on the meaning of key words in the Bible and I had drawn the word "fire". I had left my term paper to the last minute and I was supposed to be comparing Eve to Guinevere and Helen of Troy. I was doomed. I fled. Someday, in an ideal world, tuition will be actually be affordable so that students don't have to spend so much time working part-time jobs and they can actually enjoy the courses they are working so hard to take. As it turned out, Frye died later that year. But I still did experience several unforgettable lectures, although I have yet to finish reading the Bible. But I digress.)
Back to Dixon's book. It' s full of quirky characters, has not one but two omniscent narrators with an axe to grind, contains witty footnotes, and at its core is a smart, urban tale combined with an improbable and yet irresistable adventure story. Robots, the war in Iraq, blogging and commentary on Canlit (the group particularly reveres In the Skin of a Lion and Fall on Your Knees) all play a part. It's definately a book for bibliophiles and what a great choice for a book club! Could we maybe say Giller Prize shortlist?

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Pat Barker returns to WWI


I'm a bit of a WWI buff, especially when it comes to portraying the war in literature so I've been eagerly awaiting Pat Barker's latest novel Life Class. And while, I don't think the book matches anything in her Regeneration trilogy, I give her props for exploring a different aspect of the war, in this case, its effects on three young art students studying at the Slade Institute. The novel is divided into two parts, pre-war and the war itself, and essentially repeats the actions in varying permutations and with different results in both sections. Triangular relationships, a memorable trip, attitudes towards sex, jealousy and violence, and the attempts to convey something meaningful in art all become slightly distorted and confused when placed in the contex of larger events. And yet this is a novel about intensely private and individual responses to the war. Barker has created a very intricate and complex character in Elinor Brooke, (loosely based on the fascinating artist Dora Carrington) who retreats from the war as much as possible in her life and art - which is impossible for the two men she becomes involved with. I enjoyed the novel, but wish Barker had explored the artistic impact of the war in more detail. We get minute and graphic descriptions of the horrors of the war, but not in the paintings that emerge from it. My other wish is that some publisher would put out a really thick, thorough, beautifully illustrated (in colour) book of art from the First World War. There are smaller books available and ones on individual painters, but no encylopedic overview of all the styles and subject matters. It would be absolutely fascinating and haunting.

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune...


We lost one of Canada's great actors just a few weeks ago, but you catch a bit of William Hutt's greatness in the third and last (sniff, sniff) season of Slings and Arrows, that just came out on DVD. It's a bit eerie to watch Hutt (who died of leukemia) play Charles Kingman, a cantankerous, heroin-shooting, aging actor dying of cancer whose last wish is to play the title role in King Lear. But of course he does it marvellously and you also get a sense of how powerful his performance as Lear must have been a few seasons ago at Stratford (I never saw it, although I did get to see his Prospero). If you haven't seen this fantastic Canadian series that both skewers and lovingly pays tribute to the world of the theatre, then what the heck are you waiting for? Terrific writing and acting and it is so wonderfully funny and romantic. And it stars the cream of Canadian theatrical actors including the very dishy Paul Gross (whose carefully tousled hair, you just want to continually run your hands through), Martha Burns, Mark McKinney and Susan Coyne. This season also includes Sarah Polley and a war of egos and ideology between the cast of Lear and the new actors of (heavens!) a musical. I also love Don McKellar in his recurring role as the eccentric director Darren Nichols. Season One revolves around a production of Hamlet, Season Two around Macbeth.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Tour de Farce


Oh, I'm so pissed off today. As some of my fellow travelling Deweys know, I've been glued to the Tour de France for the past two weeks and within 48 hours, my two favourite riders have been kicked out - Alexander Vinokourov for blood doping (Christ, the guy was riding with stitches in his knees and elbows after a bad crash- he was ALREADY a hero for just continuing the race - why did he have to be so incredibly stupid?) and now the leader, Michael Rasmussen, an amazing climber who I have admired for the last few years, has been pulled because he lied about his whereabouts and didn't show up for a drug test - which casts suspicion of course that he has been doping too. Fortunately the top three riders left have never been suspected of doing drugs so we might still have a race worth watching, but this is what I absolutely detest about professional sports. And it's not about stress and pressure - it's about too much money and too much ego and too much corruption. And I feel so bad for the riders who are clean and have to withdraw when their team does, because of some stupid teammate. Poor Bradley Wiggins. I'm now rooting for the man in dead last - Wim Vansevenant - just to make it to Paris.


I feel I've wasted almost three weeks of prime reading time (although I've gotten a lot of knitting done). I should have re-read Tim Moore's very funny French Revolutions instead - an amusing travelogue of a non-cyclist trying to ride the route (although come to think of it, he takes drugs too). Or I should have read a biography of Eddie Merckx. And I'll be looking forward to Jeremy Whittle's new book in September, Bad Blood: The Secret Life of the Tour de France, which hopefully will help me understand this whole mess.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Summer Reading List updated

Having now read both Borderlands and In the Woods, I can heartily recommend them both.

Borderlands reminded me of the early Ian Rankin Inspector Rebus books, which I'm currently re-reading. The story opens with the discovery of a murdered teenager in the borderlands region, between the North and South of Ireland. Both the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic's An Garda Siochana respond. Jurisdiction is determined to fall in the hands of Garda Inspector Benedict Devlin after he recognizes the girl as a local named Angela Cashell. Despite evidence that her death might be drug related, the girl’s father has definite ideas about who has harmed his daughter, and his own idea of how justice should be served. Devlin finds that he’s got his hands full keeping the peace, especially when a second teenager is found murdered. As the investigation unfolds, it becomes clear that these two deaths are somehow connected to the unsolved murder of a prostitute twenty years ago. This book has it all: murder, revenge, politics, secrets, love affairs, family drama, police corruption, and enough twists to keep you guessing to the end. A very satisfying read!

In The Woods combines a straightforward police procedural with a look at the psychological impact of a case on Dublin Detective Rob Ryan. He and his partner Cassie are investigating the murder of young Katy Devlin who was found laid out on an altar stone at the edge of a wooded area. The death has ties to a horrific experience Ryan went through as a child. When he was twelve, he and his two friends disappeared while playing in this same woods. He was the only one found- standing with fingernails dug into a tree, shoes filled with blood, with no memory of what happened to either himself or his friends. Next to Katy's body a hair clip belonging to Detective Ryan's missing friend is found. Rob and Cassie have to figure out if there is a connection between the two crimes. The writing is very tense, and in retrospect, probably not the best book to read while in the middle of a forest when camping (as I was). There is a scene out in the woods at night that will give you goosebumps!

Musings On Waterfowl in Fiction

I sometimes notice the oddest similarities in books that I have recommended. Looking back at my list of book picks from the past few years, I noticed that I had recommended not one, but three fiction books that feature waterfowl. In The Highly Effective Detective by Richard Yancey, the hit and run murders of a family of goslings crossing the road is bumbling PI Teddy Ruzak's first case. A Nameless Witch by A. Lee Martinez is a comedic fantasy novel in which a cursed undead witch sets out to avenge the murder of her mentor Gastly Edna. She is accompanied by her familiar- a demonic, wisecracking, and very bloodthirsty duck named Newt. Fly By Night by Francis Hardinge is a fantasy for readers Gr. 5 and up. The book features a girl named Mosca whose passion for words and reading leads her on an adventure in which she gets caught up in a political revolution. On her journey she is accompanied and protected by (you guessed it), her fierce pet goose.
So why the fascination with waterfowl? Who knows? Maybe I watched too many Donald Duck cartoons as a child! However, they seem to have noticed me noticing them! The photo below was taken when I left work late one night and had the oddest feeling of being watched as I crossed the parking lot to my car...



Monday, July 23, 2007

Harry Potter Parties Galore!!!

Harry Potter Parties Galore!!!

At the KWAC office












Friday night was Pottermania! After an exhausting day talking to accounts about Harry Potter, who for the most part, very excited, our office went out for a well deserved dinner. However...we had to dash as one of our accounts did not have their books...we literally had to hunt for the lost truck, stop traffic and jump aboard to make sure the driver got the books to the event on time.

The lost truck











After we went up to the Indigo store at Manulife where they had a ginormous street party with magicians, a bouncy castle performers and all sorts. The store itself was 5 million degrees and was jammed packed with people in costume.
Countdown clock at Indigo


Our next stop was Mabel's Fables where the atmosphere was very different...kids and adults were lined up around the block in anticipation of the moment. Eleanor LeFave set the atmosphere with lit candles and a flute player. There was a definite hush over the crowd as they were counting down the minutes.
The lovely Witches at Mabel's Fables


Flying Dragon had a real mixture of adults + kids; who were being entertained with goodies and magic tricks provided by Cathy Francis and her crew.
Party at The Flying Dragon

First customer to get his book at Book City
Our last stop was my local book store: Book City on the Danforth, where at this point people's emotions were at a fever pitch. Not as many costumes there but the age range was the oldest I'd seen. Customers started counting down the last minute and when it got to the last ten seconds, it was pretty deafening! The folks at the beginning of the line literally screaming when they got their book.
As for me, the kid's were away for the weekend so both my husband and myself were able to spend all day Saturday reading and we both finished that day....and it is definitely worth the wait!!!

Life in the library

The Toronto Reference Library is turning 30 and wants interesting stories about your memorable moments there for a commemorative booklet. If you had a brilliant eureka moment while perusing a book on their shelves or met the perfect partner at their photocopying machine, they want to know about it. You can submit your stories here. I spent a lot of time at Toronto Ref, particularly in high school, studying up on the fourth floor and doing research with their huge collection of newspapers on microfilm. But that's hardly interesting stuff. Now the stories I could tell (but won't) about Robarts...

Thursday, July 19, 2007

You'll never look at laundry the same way again


As a former librarian, I often think back to the days of the 'new book truck'. Having almost disappeared now with system collections and immediate holds fulfillment, the anticipation of finding hidden jewels to covet was truly one of the perks of the job. While presenting to one of my favourite selectors, she mentioned a title that had been making the rounds of her staff room. And THEN she followed up with a link. Librarians are the best. I offer you, The Lost Art of Towel Origami. The ultimate bathroom book!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Waiting for the DVD...

There's a reason I'm a DVD addict and it's because there are so many great independent films and documentaries that never make it to the big screens even in a big cosmopolitian city like Toronto (film festivals aside where it's often hard to get tickets). So I patiently wait and hope that eventually they'll come out on DVD. Here are two very interesting documentaries that I would love to see. The Hollywood Librarian: A Look at Librarians Through Film will be screened at libraries around the U.S. during their Banned Books week at the end of September. Let's hope it makes it over the border. And I missed Helvetica at the Toronto Hot Docs festival but it will be out on DVD this fall. This is a documentary celebrating the 50th anniversary of a font! How cool is that? (I'd write this post in Helvetica but the software doesn't offer it as an option) If you live in Vancouver, you can catch it in August at this event.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Books By the Bay

If you are in the North Bay/Callender area this weekend, check out their Books By the Bay Festival running from Friday to Sunday. The Dewey Divas will be there book talking our summer reading recommendations on Saturday afternoon. It's our third year participating and we love the wonderful venue where we can look out over the lake as we talk. People bring their portable chairs and a picnic and settle back for a day of author events for both adults and kids. This year they have a great line-up of authors including Margaret Atwood, Graeme Gibson, Barbara Reid and Lynn Johnston.

Friday, July 13, 2007

What type of summer reader are you?

The Guardian has this amusing list of summer reading recommendations based on your literary personality type. There are suggestions for the "Urban Liberal", "Yummy Mummies and Daddies", "The Great Literary Pretender", "The Comfort Reader", "The Thirtysomething Peter Pan" and "The Universal Literary Smartarse" among others. Should I be worried that I have all four books recommended to the "Twentysomething Female Ironist" currently sitting on my to-be-read pile?

Riffing on the classics


It is a truth universally acknowledged that a writer in possession of a good talent must be in want of a subject. And frequently the inspiration comes from the classics. Here are two recent but very different takes on eternal and much loved themes. For some light, summer reading I recommend Shannon Hale's Austenland. Our heroine Jane (of course) has a history of bad relationships because, in her mind, no man can ever live up to attributes of Mr. Darcy (she is obsessed with BBC Colin Firth production). Her wealthy aunt leaves her a unique vacation in her will - Jane is sent to a Georgian mansion in England for three weeks, populated by actors who dress, talk and act as though they were in Regency England (with differing levels of success). Will a dose of manufactured historical "reality" cure Jane of her Darcy blues? Will she fall for the disdainful Mr. Nobley, the congenial Colonel Andrews, the (gasp!) gardener Martin or renounce all men forever? Well, if you know your P & P you can pretty well guess the outcome but you'll encounter a few giggles along the way.
However, the book I really want to rave about is Lloyd Jones' Mister Pip which will be available in North America at the end of July. The novel was first published in Jones' native Australia where it won the Commonwealth Writer's Prize for Best Book and it's getting rave reviews in Britain. The excellent book blog The Literary Saloon which regularly reviews books, gave this novel an A+ (a rating which it almost never gives out). You can read their review and roundup here. The novel is not so much a retelling of Great Expectations as an homage both to the book and some of the shared themes especially about the wonder and confusion of childhood. Matilda lives on an island in the South Pacific that is undergoing a civil war. The only white person left in her village is Mr. Watts, who as the children's schoolteacher, reads to them from Great Expectations. Matilda becomes entranced by the story and the characters and one day lovingly scrawls "Mister Pip" into the sand on the beach. When the soldiers see the writing and demand to know who this Mister Pip is, they aren't convinced he's just a fictional character, especially when Mr. Watts' copy of the book has disappeared. The devastating repercussions on Matilda's village and her subsequent life occupy the rest of the story. The writing is beautiful and at its core is the imaginative power of a single work of literature to influence and change lives. This is a book for those who loved Dai Sijie's Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, Yann Martel's Life of Pi, or even William Golding's Lord of the Flies. And as with all these novels, this coming of age story is absolutely one to recommend to YA readers. Slip them Great Expectations as a follow-up, and hopefully they will become Dickens fans for life. For another fictional take on the novel, you could also read Peter Carey's Jack Maggs.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Faulks, Sebastian Faulks

Here's some exciting news. Sebastian Faulks, author of the bestselling WWI novel, Birdsong and the wonderful On Green Dolphin Street, will be writing the next James Bond novel set to come out next spring and entitled Devil May Care. Set in 1967, Faulks promises an ageing, damaged Bond on one last mission. You can read about it here. In the meantime, you can delve into Faulks' latest novel, Engleby, a sardonic look at a man living in Thatcher's England.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Vie Francaise


I initially picked up this novel purely on the basis of its cover which I found strangely alluring. And the title was also appealling, evoking something vaguely more exotic than say, An Ontario Life. Vie Francaise by Jean-Paul Dubois, translated by Linda Coverdale, traces the life of a French Everyman named Paul Blick by mirroring his experiences with the changing political climate of the nation - the turbulent sixties, the consumerism of the eighties, the millennial existential self-doubt (this is a French novel after all - a certain amount of philosophical introspection is expected). The chapters are even named after French presidents and their length of terms (also corresponding to the length of the chapters) from Charles de Gaulle to Jacques Chirac. Paul is a bit of a slacker, always searching for a way to avoid committing to a profession (marrying a rich wife helps) but as the comforts of his life, both personal and material are slowly stripped away from him, he is forced to confront the meaning (if any) of it all. While I probably would have benefitted more from this novel if I had a better handle about French politics, I did enjoy the writing and found myself curiously absorbed in Paul's ethical dilemmas, which often involved many humourous episodes. The book won France's prestigous Prix Femina when it was published there in 2004.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Typewriter Nostalgia

I'm desperately waiting for some company specializing in retro to start mass producing typewriters again (and easily found ribbons). I still remember the thrill of learning to properly type during high school using those old portable machines with their blank keys which you had to really push to hit the paper. And I miss the sound of the keys and the lovely ping of the return carriage. However, I am excited that they seem to be making a comeback as the coolest cultural icon around. The Royal Ontario Museum has just mounted an exhibition of early typewriters containing much of the collection of Torontonian Martin Howard (see more at his own website here). Australian writer David Malouf has just released his latest collection of poetry called Typewriter Music (alas, not yet available in this hemisphere). You can listen to an interview and a reading of some of these poems here. One of my favourite new independent bookstores in Toronto, Type Books at 883 Queen St. pays homage to the machine and its iconographic keys. And there's an interesting site that not only sells old typewriters but has a list of authors and the model of typewriter they used.
A fascinating book not only about the history of typewriters, but typewriting itself (and its use and appearance in literature) is The Iron Whim by Darren Wershler-Henry. Of course the term typewriter used to refer not to the machine itself, but to the person doing the typing (mostly women). Broadview Press has re-issued some wonderful New Woman fiction from the turn of the century that embodies the early days of typewriters. The Type-Writer Girl by Grant Allen features a woman who works in publishing and falls in love with her employer. An early prototype for Bridget Jones with less emphasis on dieting. But my personal favourite is The Girl Behind the Keys by Tom Gallon - a series of melodramatic detective tales in which our feisty typewriter heroine has to foil the criminal activities of her boss (using her typewriter of course!). Deliciously silly reading.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Coe Cravings...

Those who know me, know that Jonathan Coe is one of my favourite contemporary writers and certainly the one that I am constantly urging people to read. So even the anticipation of a new Jonathan Coe novel gets me all giddy. We will have his new novel The Rain Before It Falls next March and I can't wait. I may have to start a count-down calendar. In the meantime I will have to settle for this great interview with him about the new novel which sounds wonderful - an examination of three generations of women's lives. At the end of the piece he pays tribute to Rosamond Lehmann as an inspiration - another writer I adore.
What is it about his writing that I love? He just combines a heady mixture of comedy, pathos, contemporary British sensibility and creates wonderfully quirky yet humanly recognizable characters. Honestly, he's one of those few writers that can truly make you laugh and cry at the same time - sometimes even in the same paragraph. He's a hard writer to compare with others, but I think he's a contemporary Evelyn Waugh with a bit of Alan Bennett, Ali Smith and early Kingsley Amis thrown in. At any rate, you MUST read him. I suggest starting with The Rotters' Club that follows four school boys in 1970s Birmingham and then follow up with the sequel, The Closed Circle which continues their lives in Tony Blair's England.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Summer Reading

I saw Markus Zusak at BEA where he was speaking about The Book Thief. He was wonderful + told a hilarious story about his childhood in Australia, where he finally got his back on his brother. It may seem odd to want to curl up with a book about (and narrated by) Death; but that is what I am looking forward to reading.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Tons of Summer Reading Recommendations

As many of us head out for some much needed vacation time, we're packing our suitcases full of books and not surprisingly, we're using this time to read many of our fellow Dewey picks. If you are looking for some inspiring reading, here's what some of the Deweys are reading this summer (for more recommendations, click on their name which will link you to their picks for the best books of this spring).

I am a mystery book fanatic, and often have to force myself to read other genres. So, on my holidays I get to indulge in as many mysteries as I like! I’m going to start off with two Irish crime novels. Both books are by debut authors, and both have been getting fabulous reviews on U.K. websites. The first, Brian McGilloway’s Borderlands, has just been shortlisted for the CWA New Blood Fiction Dagger 2007 . The second is Tana French’s In the Woods which was recommended by another Diva and sounds deliciously creepy…

I have a rather large stack of books that I would love to curl up with this summer. Here are just a few. The Linnet Bird by Linda Holeman is a book that I brought to my book group and we are reading it for our next meeting in September. The story takes place in India in 1839 as a respectable young wife and mother begins writing her life story. It is a tale of a young child prostitute turned social climber turned colonial wife and adventuress. I have heard the book described as a box of chocolates. Once you start it, you will not be able to put it down. Borkmann’s Point: An Inspector Van Veeteren Mystery by Hakan Nesser will fill the gap while I am waiting for Peter Robinson to continue the life of DCI Banks. Nesser was awarded the best novel award in 1994 for this novel plus he has won several other awards in Sweden for previous books. It will be interesting to have the Swedish perspective and a different locale. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert is the journey of a young thirty something woman, who after a divorce and debilitating depression, travels to Italy, India and Indonesia to examine three different aspects of her nature. I have started this book and felt like I was gaining poundage as Elizabeth described the luscious food and wines of Italy. I suspect I will lose some as I travel along to India. This is a wonderful, soothing type of read. Our situations may differ, but at the heart of things, our need for comfort, love and spiritual fulfillment are pretty much universal. I must admit that I'm a sucker for books that give some insight into the women behind and beside the men. Patriot Hearts: A Novel of the Founding Mothers by Barbara Hambly covers the lives of Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, Dolley Madison, and Sally Hemings – four exceptional women who prevailed against many hardships at a time when America was in its infancy. Although it is a novel, Hambly does thorough research and if this is like her previous books, I shall be treated to fascinating characters, and many glimpses of life behind the scenes in American politics. Hambly was nominated for the Michael Shaara Award for Excellence in Civil War Fiction for The Emancipator’s Wife, the story of MaryTodd Lincoln. Blind Submission by Debra Ginsberg is a novel about a girl who loves books, reading, and anything to do with the written word. This just begs a glass of good Shiraz, a soft breeze and a comfy chair. Angel works in a bookstore that is squeezed out of business. She is forced to find a new job and ends up working for a world-renowned literary agent with a huge ego. Angel is about to discover the lengths some authors will go to to get published and when she reads a chapter from a mysterious manuscript that centers on the ambitious assistant to a successful literary agent, the lines between reality and fiction soon blur. And finally in The Lost Garden by Helen Humphreys, it is spring 1941 and London is being destroyed by the Blitz. Gwen Davis, a young horticulturist, leaves her beloved city for the Devon countryside, where she will instruct a group of girls in growing crops for the home front. On a beautiful but neglected country estate, she meets two people who will change her life: Raley, a Canadian officer awaiting posting to the front and Jane, a frail but free spirit whose fiancĂ© is missing in action. This book was recommended to me as “possibly my favourite book.” I just may have to start with this one first.

Eleanor
Family Secrets by Judith Henry Wall is an absolutely terrific read that you cannot put down!! About changing dynamics within a family once the father passes away and the secrets that are revealed - while trying to find the key to a family secret a mystery is to be solved . Are their lives in danger??? Can’t say more as I don’t want to give anything away. A great read!! The Lady in Blue by Javier Sierra is another incredible page turner with lots of action- enough to keep everyone happy with a touch of everything, including time travel, prehistoric Indians, controntation and betrayals. Great short chapters ideal for beach reading!

Ann
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling. OK, I dare you to tell me you’re not going to read it too if you’ve read the other six. It would be like getting to the last stage before summiting Everest and saying “no, I don’t think so.” You just have to. The Cruellest Month by Louise Penny won't be published until October but I’ve got a galley. I really enjoy mysteries and really like this series set in rural Quebec. Cruellest… is # 3 and I’m dying to find out what Penny does with Inspector Gamache and the residents of the Town of Three Pines (i.e. which one will she kill off next, and why?). I really enjoyed The Know-It-All by A. J. Jacobs – found it smart, funny and informative – and so can’t wait to see what he does with his year-long attempt to live by the exact tenets of the Bible in The Year of Living Biblically. Next is Michael Connelly's The Overlook. For any mystery fan, a new Michael Connelly is reason to rejoice; a new Harry Bosch, doubly so. The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is Michael Chabon's latest. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay was, well…amazing. Any novel referred to as “a murder-mystery, speculative-history, Jewish-identity, noir chess thriller”, let alone one from as gifted a novelist as Chabon, is just too good to miss. I’ve been hooked on Jasper Fforde since I bought a very expensive imported British hardcover of The Eyre Affair in 2001, and have devoured every subsequent installment in the adventures of ‘literary detective’ Thursday Next (Lost in a Good Book, Well of Lost Plots, Something Rotten). He took a three-year break, creating another series – Nursery Crimes – so the return of Thursday Next in First Among Sequels is an event for me. And finally, I first experienced the extraordinary To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee as an eleven-year-old, sitting on my grandmother’s porch one summer in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Maybe it was my age, maybe it was the place, certainly, it was the novel; for me, it’s become a book that, if I don’t re-read it every few years, I start to miss. It’s been a few years. Of course, this won’t be it for the entire summer, heaven forefend, this is just what I know about so far.



Two of my friends are vacationing in London right now and I'm jealous. So I'll be reading Michele Roberts' new memoir, Paper Houses. She details how she became a writer through chapters that are named after the various places she lived in London during the 1970s and 80s. It's also very much a story of her participation in the feminist movement during those decades (and she started out as a librarian!) In mysteries, I'll be catching up on the latest Maisie Dobbs novel by Jacqueline Winspear - Messenger of Truth. These are set in the interwar years and Maisie is a former suffragette and WWI nurse who now solves crimes that always have their root in the trauma of the First World War. For fluff, I'm turning to Austenland by Shannon Hale about a woman who is so obsessed with the Colin Firth BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice (well, really aren't we all?) that her aunt sends her on holiday to a Georgian mansion filled with actors playing the roles of people from Austen's period. For something more literary, I'm intrigued by Vie Francaise by Jean-Paul Dubois. It's the life of a Frenchman (Dubois is being compared to Philip Roth, John Updike and Richard Ford) where each of the chapters are named after the French presidents at the time from de Gaulle to Chirac. I'll also be reading Patrick Hamilton's Slaves of Solitude on the recommendation of one of my colleagues at the NYRB who was raving about it. Holidays for me are also a chance to catch up on some school reading, so I've also popped into the suitcase South Riding by Winifred Holtby, Female Intelligence: Women and Espionage in the First World War by Tammy M. Proctor and the scintillating Poetry as Discourse by Antony Easthope.


And if you STILL need more recommendations, last week's Guardian had a super round-up of suggested titles by some of the world's great contemporary authors (yep David Mitchell and Jonathan Coe are in the bunch), along with an anecodote about a memorable vacation. It's in two parts which you can start reading here. This should keep you busy while we take a few days off.