Wednesday, January 30, 2008

OLA Dewey events

Off today to do the non-glamourous stuff of my job - set up our booth in the Bookfair at the Ontario Library Association's Super Conference which starts tomorrow. This is one of my favourite shows of the year although it is a bit nerve-wracking because it is the first show; one is not quite a well-oiled show machine yet. But it's a busy one and full of librarians who want to talk about books. All the Deweys will be there at their respective publishers' booths, so do stop by and say hello and tell us what you're reading.

The Dewey Divas will also be doing two separate sessions, talking about the upcoming books of the Spring season, one focused on adult books (session #311 at 9:05, Thursday, 31st) and one on children's books (session #1028, at 9:05 Friday, Feb. 1st). Hope to see you there!
For those out west, we'll also be hitting Calgary, Edmonton and the Alberta Library Conference in April, and a few of us will also be at BCLA and CLA.

The Independent Dream Lives on. . .

Ever dreamed of opening your own bookstore? Well who hasn't? I certainly have, but my dream store would be so eccentrically stocked it would never make any money. Still we can live vicariously online through these brave entrepreneurs. Jessica Stockton-Bagnulo, an employee at McNally Robinson's New York store, has just won $15,000 in a contest presenting business plans for new ventures. She hopes to open her new bookstore in Brooklyn and has been blogging about her concepts and challenges at The Written Nerd (she also has great book recommendations). Or you can follow the adventures of Simon Key and Tim West, two former employees of a Waterstone's branch that closed in their North London neighbourhood. They have now decided to open their own bookstore, The Big Green Bookshop, and you can look on at their blog, Open a Bookshop, What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Despite the closures of so many independents over the last few years, there still are many success stories. One of these is Crockett and Powell, also in London, also with a great blog. It was at their blog that I first heard of one of their employees, Marie Phillips; her very funny, first book, Gods Behaving Badly, we subsequently ended up publishing. They were also where I first heard of Catherine O'Flynn's wonderful first novel, What Was Lost which we'll be publishing in June. These booksellers were so enthusiastic about it. Support your independent bookstores, both in your own neighbourhood and when you travel: we'd truly be lost without them.

And - just after posting this, I discovered via their fortnightly online letter that Persephone Books is opening another store, this time in Notting Hill. Hooray! You can read about it here, where there is also a lovely photo of the interior of their shop in the Bloomsbury area. I never go to London without stopping by - it' s truly delightful.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Private Eyes, Dames, and... Robots?

I've always enjoyed a good classic PI story (Dashiell Hammett and Philip Marlowe come to mind) and I was thrilled when I read the following two books from my Winter lists that take the essence of this genre and reinvent it in two very different ways.

The first is B.C. native Linda L. Richards' Death Was the Other Woman. Dexter J. Theroux is a hard-drinking P.I. in Depression-era Los Angeles, with a lot of personal demons and not a lot of clients. Kitty Pangborn is his secretary: born to a wealthy family that lost it all in the stock market crash of 1929, she now needs Dex’s pay check in order to survive. So when her boss hits the bottle a little too hard and isn’t in any shape to drive to tail their (only) client’s lover, she acts as chauffeur to get the job done. But when the lover is murdered on their watch and his corpse later disappears, what at first looked to be a simple job is just the beginning of a complex web of betrayals, schemes, and double-crosses that keep you guessing until the end. You've got all of the familiar conventions of the genre (femme fatales, gangsters, speakeasies etc.) but the story is made fresh and unique by telling it from Kitty's perspective. Kitty not only helps Dex with his investigations but also does some snooping on her own, and I like that she's not the type of heroine who clumsily stumbles upon the killer. She's smart, intuitive and is more practical than romantic. Each character in the book, from Kitty to Dex, to the mysterious Mustard and glamorous Brucie are complex and interesting, and I missed them all when I finished the book. The descriptions of 1930’s L.A. are so evocative, you’ll feel as though you are right there with the characters. I hope the author has a sequel in the works!

Completely different, but no less fun to read is A. Lee Martinez's The Automatic Detective. Mack Megatron is a bot (automated citizen) living in the futuristic, heavily polluted Empire City. He was originally built for world domination, but when he spontaneously developed self awareness he decided he'd rather be a productive member of society. Turning in his evil creator to the authorities, he has applied for citizenship and is on probation until the city officials are convinced he won't regress and level the city. When the story begins, Mac is trying to make ends meet by driving a cab: a bot needs a LOT of electricity to recharge, after all, and electricity doesn't come cheap. He also needs to keep out of trouble as officials are just looking for an excuse to send him to the scrap heap. He has befriended Julie in the apartment next door who fixes his uniform tie each morning, as his hands are not really designed for such delicate work. But this morning, she's not her usual friendly self when he knocks on her door and when she and her family later disappear without a trace, he deduces that something very bad has happened. Deciding their friendship to be worth risking his chance for citizenship, he borrows a trenchcoat and fedora from his friend Jung (a Jane-Austen-loving, sentient gorilla), who also is the only person Mack knows with clothes that might fit him, and sets off to find Julie and her family. The search takes Mack all over Empire city from its dive bars and back alleys to the fanciest skyscraper and government offices. Along the way, he meets a brainy biological dame who is very easy on the optical sensors, a six-armed mutant lowlife, a little green mob boss, a few aliens, almost gets blown up a few times, and uncovers a secret conspiracy at the heart of the city. Fans of hard-boiled PI mysteries or science fiction readers will both get a kick out of this story. It is very witty, very smart, and is a highly entertaining way to spend a weekend afternoon.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Hooray for A.L. Kennedy . . .

. . . who wins this year's Costa Prize (formerly the Whitbread) for her novel Day. This is one of the season's most interesting awards because the judges first choose a winner in five categories - best novel, biography, first novel, poetry and children's book. The winners then battle each other for the big prize. A.L. Kennedy ranks right up there with my list of favourite contemporary writers and she is also an astonishingly good reader; if she's ever doing a book event in your town, drop everything and go and see her. Failing that, check out her work. Day is about a WWII gunner who relives his war experiences when, five years later he works as an film extra, playing a POW. Paradise is an extraordinary novel that takes you viscerally into the mind of an alchoholic woman and despite its dark subject has moments of incredible humour. My favourite novel of hers though, is Everything You Need which honestly, was unlike anything I've ever read before or since. It's the story of a group of odd and almost macabre writers living on a bleak island retreat. The main character Nathan becomes a mentor to Mary, a new writer who does not know that Nathan is in fact her father. There are unforgettable scenes in this book of pure brilliance. Truly a masterpiece.
Kennedy's win has totally made my day!

Monday, January 21, 2008


Not terribly book related - but I just wanted to say HOORAY! - wasn't that a great Canadian Figure Skating Championship over the weekend? I love this sport and I love the fact that Canadians always do well and are always in the hunt for podium finishes. The 2010 Olympic Games are shaping up to be a repeat of Calgary in 1988, which is tremendously exciting.

Which makes me wonder - has the great figure skating novel been written? Does anyone have a nomination? I can only think of that great scene in Virginia Woolf's Orlando - Orlando and Sasha skating down the frozen Thames:

It was an evening of astonishing beauty. As the sun sank, all the domes, spires, turrets, and pinnacles of London rose in inky blackness against the furious red sunset clouds. Here was the fretted cross at Charing; there the dome of St Paul's; there the massy square of the Tower buildings; there like a grove of trees stripped of all leaves save a knob at the end were the heads on the pikes at Temple Bar. Now the Abbey windows were lit up and burnt like a heavenly, many-coloured shield (in Orlando's fancy); now all the west seemed a golden window with troops of angels (in Orlando's fancy again) passing up and down the heavenly stairs perpetually. All the time they seemed to be skating in fathomless depths of air, so blue the ice had become; and so glassy smooth was it that they sped quicker and quicker to the city with the white gulls circling about them, and cutting in the air with their wings the very same sweeps that they cut on the ice with their skates.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Not your usual Detective Story

Here's an intriguing, little novella if you are looking for a gripping story that you can read in one sitting. Detective Story by Imre Kertesz, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature a few years ago, was originally published in 1977, but has just been re-issued with a new English translation by Tim Wilkinson. The story takes place in an unnamed South American country and our narrator, Antonio Martens, is currently in jail awaiting his sentence for his involvement in the murders of Federigo and Enrique Salinas, a wealthy father and son who owned a chain of department stores. As Martens informs us, "I wish to tell a story. A simple story. You may ultimately call it a sickening one, but that does not change its simpleness. I wish therefore to tell a simple and sickening story."
Sickening it may be, but simple it is not. As Martens writes his version of events, we follow his downward trajectory from simple police cop to becoming a member of the Corps, a secret police organization responsible for more political and sinister activities leading to torture and murder. But Martens has also obtained Enrique's diary and liberally inserts sections of it into his narrative, so that we also get the story of a spoiled idealist whose naivety leads to tragedy. There is a wonderfully sustained suspense throughout this universal story about bad choices and their inevitable consequences.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Children's Award News

The ALSC Awards were just announced on the ALA website and I'm happy to say that some of my favourite books and authors from the past year were honoured.
  • Knuffle Bunny Too by Mo Willems: 2008 Caldecott Honor Book
  • First the Egg by Laura Vaccaro Seeger: 2008 Caldecott Honor Book, 2008 Geisel Honor Book
  • There is a Bird On Your Head by Mo Willems: 2008 Geisel Award Winner for the most distinguished book for beginning readers.
  • Vulture View by April Pulley Sayre, Illustrated by Steve Jenkins 2008 Geisel Honor Book
  • Hurt Go Happy by Ginny Rorby: Winner of the Schneider Family Book Award (Teen Category Ages 13-18) for books that embody the artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences.
  • Orson Scott Card is the recipient of the 2008 Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in writing for young adults honoring his outstanding lifetime contribution to writing for teens for his novels “Ender's Game” and “Ender's Shadow.”
  • The Poet Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano by Margarita Engle and illustrated by Sean Qualls is the 2008 Pura Belpré Author Award recipient. This award honors Latino authors and illustrators whose work best portrays, affirms and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in children's books.
  • Yuyi Morales, illustrator of Los Gatos Black on Halloween is the winner of the 2008 Pura Belpré Illustrator Award. Los Gatos Black on Halloween, written by Marisa Montes, is also a 2008 Pura Belpré Honor Book
I've heard so much about the following books from my fellow divas, I must admit to getting very excited about the news on their behalf too!
For the full list of winners click on the following link to the ALA website.

I know Xmas is over, but can someone buy me this?

Why haven't I heard of this before? They have a book version of Monopoly! Bookopoly is played exactly the same way except that the properties are books and instead of building houses and hotels, you get to build bookstores and libararies. Dovegreyreader describes how much fun it is to play. I want to be the spectacles.

The Beauty of all things Bookish

Here's an interesting website devoted to exhibiting the art of the bookmark. It's quite interesting to look at the historical ones from the Victorian and Art Nouveau eras. (My personal favourite bookmarks however, are the ones that Persephone Books provides with everyone of their books. They represent the fabric reproduced on the book's endpapers - a fabric from either the time in which the book was published or set in.) And the Guardian picks their top ten most beautiful bookshops around the world here. Out of their list, I've only been to Hatchards in London. My pick for most beautiful? Well, one of them would surely have to be the bookstore on the first floor of Salts Mill in Saltaire, Yorkshire. The textile mill was originally built in 1853 and restored only fairly recently. The artist David Hockney has a gallery on an upper floor and there is an excellent cafe as well as lots of other shops. The town (which my grandparents used to live in - I have ancestors who used to work in the mill) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its preservation of how a Victorian mill town would have looked, and is well worth a stop if one is in the area - on the way to Haworth, for example.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Happy Birthday Simone. . .

Today is the centenary of Simone de Beauvoir's birth. Forget all the fuss about her sex life and go read some of her works. The Mandarins is a masterpiece - a fantastic and complex novel following a group of characters as they struggle with their political conscience and subsequent life decisions following the end of WWII. Her most famous book The Second Sex, is a feminist classic. An interesting travel book penned by her is America Day by Day which is an account of her four month visit to the U.S. in 1947, where she met and began an affair with American writer Nelson Algren (whose Walk on the Wild Side, a novel about the seedy side of New Orleans, I highly recommend). I haven't yet read his travelogue of going over to Paris, called Who Lost an American? but it's on the pile. Their affair is partially chronicled in A Transatlantic Love Affair, a collection of her letters to Algren. Plenty of books exist of course on her relationship with Sartre including Hazel Rowley's recent Tete-A-Tete: The Tumultous Lives and Loves of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, which got decent reviews.
You can test your de Beauvoir knowledge at the Guardian's quiz.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Homecomings. . .

I was going to post a review of Bernhard Schlink's new novel Homecoming today but en route, I checked (as I do every week), Michael Dirda's column in the Washington Post and discovered he just reviewed the same book, and really, he's so eloquent and spot-on, what is there really to add? (This is why he's my favourite reviewer - he has my exact reading taste!) So I'm just urging everyone to read the review here and then of course to read the novel. What really impressed me about the work was the constant change in narrative tone and the craft in which Schlink works his stories-within-stories, so that for a novel of only 272 pages, one feels as if one has almost read an epic. It's an extremely satisfying, challenging read - one of those great books that lingers long after. A great reading companion would be Alberto Manguel's recent Homer's The Iliad and The Odyssey: A Biography. This is part of an interesting series of biographies of great books that trace the cultural history and impact of literature on subsequent writers (and readers). Manguel begins by accumulating all the biographical evidence there is about Homer and then traces how Virgil, Dante, Racine, Joyce of course, and many other writers and philosophers have been influenced by these two poems. One of the writers briefly mentioned by Manguel is Alberto Moravia whose novel Contempt I really enjoyed reading over the holidays. It's the story of a scriptwriter reluctantly working on a film version of The Odyssey as his marriage is falling apart - for reasons that echo theories about Penelope and Ulysses that are debated in the novel. The film version, starring Brigitte Bardot and directed by Jean-Luc Goddard is pretty good too.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Spring 2008 Preview - Mysteries

Continuing my posts previewing the books I'm most excited about in 2008, here are some mysteries and crime novels to start putting your holds on:
I have to admit that mysteries often fall way down to the bottom of my to-be-read piles or wait for the airport. Which is absolutely ridiculous given how much I enjoy reading them and how well they sell in the library market particularly. I suppose since I can sell a "brand" mystery writer easily without having read the book, I feel guilty indulging. But I'm definitely going to rectify this in the future - thank God Rebus has retired!

I'll start with two novels set in Canada. Buffalo Jump by Howard Shrier features Jonah Geller, a Toronto investigator who gets caught up in a pharmaceutical scam that has Jonah doing some cross-border jumping. And my colleagues are raving about The Calling by Inger Wolfe, the pseudonym for a North American literary author. Maclean's has an article in their latest issue speculating it might be Jane Urquhart, but some of their reasons seemed a bit flimsy to me. At any rate, I have no idea who it is and wouldn't tell you if I did. Regardless, the mystery features Detective Inspector Hazel Micallef who has to figure out why someone is killing the terminally ill, and promises a cross-Canada manhunt.

Even though I'm two books behind, I'm very excited that there is going to be a new Maisie Dobbs book, An Incomplete Revenge by Jacqueline Winspear. Maisie was a former suffragist and nurse during WWI, and now is a private investigator whose cases, no matter how many years after the end of the war, inevitably concern themselves with the emotional impact of that horrific time. I've also got several of the latest Dalziel and Pascoe books sitting on my shelves unread yet, but Reginald Hill's latest, The Roar of the Butterflies, is a Joe Sixsmith outing, so I have time to catch up. I adore Alan Furst's writing but again, haven't read him in ages. The Spies of Warsaw will remedy this, I'm sure. It promises to weave the stories of no less than twenty-one spies in 1937 Warsaw and includes a passionate love affair between a handsome aristocrat and lawyer for the League of Nations.

I am doing better with Fred Vargas whose books are just terrific. Her latest, just about to come out is This Night's Foul Work and is another Adamsberg adventure. This time, the deaths of two drug dealers leads to disturbed graves of virgins and a strange search for the elixar of eternal youth. Meanwhile, a new member of Adamsberg's team has ties to him from his childhood and is mysteriously involving himself in Adamsberg's personal life. Many fictional detectives have a quirky sidekick or two; Adamsberg has a whole department of them. It's part of what makes Vargas's novels so complex and satisfying to read, along with her superb plotting skills. This one kept me up till 3:30 am (even though the alarm goes off at 6:00). And another of my favourites - Susan Hill - has a brand new Simon Serailler novel out in June. Vows of Silence has a most delicious plotline. People are getting murdered in the small town of Lafferton, but the only thing in common between all the victims is that they've recently gotten married. (I haven't read this - but wouldn't be surprised if the bridesmaid did it!). A new British writer I'm eyeing is Nigel McCrery, who in Still Waters, has created a detective who suffers from synaesthesia, a neurological condition that causes him to "taste" sound. And I've already heard from one librarian thrilled that a fourth Matthew Shardlake novel will be coming this spring. Revelation by C.J. Sansom will be out in May. His mysteries are set in the Tudor period and feature a hunchbacked lawyer.

I love Nordic crime and am a fan of Henning Mankell, Arnaldur Indridason and Karin Fossum. Fossum's latest is called Broken and the plot sounds like fun - an author has her house broken into - by no less than one of her characters! And I've just started reading a new Norweigan discovery - Jo Nesbo, whose latest, Nemesis, begins with a tense bank robbery.

Michael Dibdin sadly passed away last year but if you're a fan of crime set in Italy, NYRB has recently brought back into print Carlo Emilio Gadda's That Awful Mess on the Via Merulana, (sounds like the title of a Noel Coward song, doesn't it?) featuring Detective Ciccio who investigates the murder of a woman in an apartment building in Rome and discovers that all of the building's residents are connected to the case. I love the book's concluding description: "Unquestionably, it is a work of universal significance and protean genius: a rich social novel, a comic opera, an act of political resistance, a blazing feat of baroque wordplay, and a haunting story of life and death. Can't really ask for more than that, can you? Also check out the work of Leonardo Sciascia.

Lahring has long been recommending Michelle Wan's "Death in the Dordogne" series as much for the locale and the descriptions of food as for the mystery. The next in the series is A Twist of Orchids. She's also a fan of Lisa Unger whose latest, Black Out, comes out in May. Unger may be a bit too creepy for me though. As is Japanese author Natsuo Kirino, but my colleagues are full of praise for her. She's known for her edgy portrayals of women's lives in contemporary Japan (see her previous work, Grotesque, which comes out in paperback in February - great cover, huh - or Out). So I may give one of these or her new novel, Real World a try.

It wouldn't be a new publishing season if there wasn't a new Alexander McCall Smith mystery out. The latest in the No. 1 Ladies' Detective series is The Miracle at Speedy Motors. Finally, I'm intrigued by an upcoming mystery called An Expert in Murder: A New Mystery Featuring Josephine Tey by Nicola Upson - the first in a series with the famous crime novelist actually solving cases in the 1930s. Tey's The Daughter of Time is one of my favourite books.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

2008 Book Preview - Fiction

Now that all the top books of 2007 have been duly listed and noted, it's time to turn your attention to the exciting crop of new books coming in 2008. And it's going to be a terrific year for readers!
A number of newspapers and bloggers have already noted their picks which you can read here and here, for example, but I can give you a better sneak peek because I've already read many of them (or a portion thereof) and I've also heard the buzz from my colleagues. So I'm not just giving you a sales pitch when I write that I am truly, truly excited about tons of books being published in the next coming months. Part of what makes this industry so interesting is its unpredictability; we usually know (or hope we know) what will be the huge commercial bestsellers but reps always have one or two favorites that we're rooting for in the hopes that word of mouth will turn them into sleeper hits. But this year, I have over 20 little babies that I have fingers crossed for and I haven't even heard about the fall books yet! So let me start to tell you about some of them (you can put your holds on early at the library). Today, I'll concentrate on fiction; non-fiction will come in a future post. Note: these books are "new" to Canada - some of them have already been published in the U.K.

If there's a trend for 2008 (at least with the publishers that I represent), it's definately an increase in publishing international literature in translation - a very welcome trend for this reader; I have been introduced to so many new, amazing writers. And this is showing up in crime fiction too, which is terrific. So, along with letting you know about some of the bestsellers on the horizon, here's a whirlwind (or should that be worldwind) tour of the books I'm most excited about and the ones I'm most looking forward to reading.

Canadian fiction:
My favourite upcoming Canadian novel so far, is Nikolski, by Quebec author Nicholas Dickner, translated by Lezer Lederhendler. To say it's the most charming novel I've ever read about fish, garbage and pirates isn't really doing it justice, but it's a quirky, funny, coming-of-age novel for bibliophiles and definately a great YA crossover book for older teens. Steven Galloway looks at those very tiny but essential moments of survival during wartime in his new novel The Cellist of Sarajevo, which follows four characters including a female sniper named Arrow. A beautiful novel. Impending war is the subject of Stephens Gerard Malone's I Still Have a Suitcase in Berlin about a Canadian caught up in the events and intrigue of 1930s Berlin. Paul Quarrington's latest, The Ravine, takes a middle-aged man still haunted by a childhood event in a suburban ravine. Quarrington describes the novel as what would happen if he'd written Mystic River. A colleague of mine has highly recommended Barnacle Love by Anthony De Sa, a collection of linked short stories about a Portuguese fisherman and his son, who grows up in Toronto's colourful Little Portugal. I'm also looking forward to Andre Alexis's novel Asylum, set in Ottawa during the Mulroney years. And Kelley Armstrong fans can note March 25th down on their calendars when her latest Women of the Otherworld book, Personal Demon will be published; Joy Fielding's latest, Charley's Web, also comes out in March.

British Fiction:
Those who've heard me booktalk know that I adore British writers and none more so than Jonathan Coe, so a year with a new book by him bodes well for my universe at large. And even though his latest, The Rain Before it Falls is completely different from his previous work, I loved it for its narrative twists, its wonderful female characters, its desperate portrayal of generational pain, its affectionate nod to women writers like Rosamond Lehmann, and of course for its beautiful writing. It even partially takes place in two Canadian settings - Toronto and Saskatoon. What more could a reader want? It came out in England in the fall and I can't see how it didn't wind up on multiple award lists. My second favourite book is Louis de Berniere's The Partisan's Daughter. Also very different from some of his previous work, this is set in London in 1970 and involves an odd but incredibly engaging relationship between two unlikely people who meet in a very unexpected way. Their stories unfold to each other over a series of coffee meetings, but it's what is held back that makes this novel so intriguing. Adam Thorpe is another of my British literary boyfriends. We have two new books from him this year - I've just started Between Each Breath, which is literally taking my breath away. It's about a happily married, yet childless composer, whose brief affair while on a trip to Estonia comes back to haunt him. Later in the year, we'll be publishing The Standing Pool, about two Oxford academics who take a sabbatical with their young family in France, where all is not as idyllic as it seems. Jeanette Winterson's latest, The Stone Gods is a funny, eco-feminist satire coupled with a strange love story. I also expect laughs from David Lodge's latest novel, Deaf Sentence. And do NOT miss picking up this new debut novel, The Outcast by Sadie Jones. This story of an unhappy teen trying to get over his mother's death and to reconnect with his father and society after a stint in jail, has all the emotional intensity of something like Ian McEwan's Atonement and is my pick for best first novel of 2008. Okay, tied with Catherine O'Flynn's What Was Lost. I originally read the British edition last fall and then found out to my delight that we were going to be her Canadian publisher. I've already blogged my thoughts on this wonderful novel here. And of course, the big British book will be Sebastian Faulks writing as James Bond. Devil May Care comes out in May. Can't wait.

American Fiction:
Some big names and some big books. My pick so far is Russell Banks' The Reserve. Oh, how I love this book. Just good old-fashioned story-telling, a vampish heroine, some stunning writing and even a zeppelin or two. The Open Door by Elizabeth Maguire is a marvellous fictional account of the life of bestselling author Constance Fenimore Woolson. If you think you know her story from having read Colm Toibin's The Master, or David Lodge's Author, Author - think again. Two short story collections I can't wait to dip into are Tobias Wolff's Our Story Begins, and Kevin Brockmeier's The View From the Seventh Layer (I loved his novel, The Brief History of the Dead). Lara Vapnyar's Broccoli and Other Tales of Food and Love also looks promising. But if you only read one short story collection this year, you MUST get a copy of Jhumpa Lahiri's Unacustomed Earth. What a masterclass in short story writing this is - every entry reads like a complete, compact novel. I'm still thinking about them and I read the manuscript over four months ago. I just finished Mary Doria Russell's lovely Dreamers of the Day, about a lonely but feisty American schoolteacher (think Katherine Hepburn in Summertime) who travels to Egypt and gets caught up in the Cairo Peace Conference of 1921, mixing with Winston Churchill, Gertrude Bell and T.E. Lawrence. Other treats to look forward to include Alice Hoffman's The Third Angel, Chris Bohjalian's Skeletons at the Feast, Charles Baxter's The Soul Thief, and David Guterson's The Other. And look for this delightful epistolary novel to become a book club favourite. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer (a former librarian) and her niece Annie Barrows, is about a special bookclub formed during the Germans occupation of Guernsey in the Second World War and how one writer's interest in its members changes her life.

International Fiction:
Where to start? Bernhard Schlink's new novel Homecoming, translated by Michael Henry Heim, is a masterful, modern reworking (in part) of Homer's Odyssey; a novel that constantly changes in tone and narrative style following a man who spends a lifetime trying to understand what type of man his father - who never came back from the war - truly was. Swiss writer Peter Stamm's new novel, On A Day Like This, translated by Michael Hoffman, also looks to the past as a man tries to come to terms with his own life choices. Chilean writer Elizabeth Subercaseaux's A Week in October , translated by Marina Harass, is a delicious book of revenge that draws the reader into the heart of a marriage as a dying woman leaves behind a notebook for her husband, detailing her affair with another man. Of course all doesn't go quite as planned. An early finished copy of Peter Carey's His Illegal Self just dropped on my desk; it takes place in a hippie commune. I'm a hundred pages into Ma Jian's huge new novel Beijing Coma, translated by Flora Drew, which looks at the changes in China since Tiananmen, seen through the eyes of a man who has been in a coma for a decade. I'm also looking forward to Imre Kertesz's Detective Story, translated by Tim Wilkinson, Linn Ullman's A Blessed Child, translated by Sarah Death, Binu and the Great Wall by Su Tong, translated by Howard Goldblatt, Julien Parme by Florian Zeller, translated by William Rodamor and The Painter of Battles by Arturo Perez-Reverte, translated by Margaret Sayers Peden.
Whew. Don't have time today to go into the exciting crime novels and classics coming as well, but stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

New Year's Reading Resolutions

Happy New Year! Did you make sure to jot down a bunch of reading resolutions for 2008? (much, much easier to keep than losing weight or saving money). When one's a book rep, it's never about trying to read more (trust me, there's always more to read), but trying to find a balance between work and pleasure reading, not that the former can't be wonderful in its own way. It's an aesthethic quibble; a pile of manuscript pages still needing a final copy-edit never feels as luxurious as an actual book, with creamy paper, a soothing type and a binding that holds all the pages in (elastics are so unreliable!) As Eleanor says, her resolution is, "to finally stop reading a book with the express purpose of booktalking it, and to savour the read more." Saffron just wants to finish the Sunday New York Times before the next one shows up. Susan resolves to buy a restaurant guide and discover some interesting new places to eat and also to haul out some of her cookbooks and host a dinner party. Me, I'm awfully tempted by the Slow Reading Movement, but it just doesn't fit into my professional reading workouts. The only way I can force myself to read slowly is to read in French with the aid of a dictionary. Since I am by no means bilingual, I have to read a sentence slowly and often to get its full meaning. So I'm going to try for three novels completely in French this year. (I'm also learning German, but I'm such a beginner that if I can read a newspaper article with a dictionary by year's end, I'll be ecstatic!).
A lot of my friends now keep reading journals which is a great way to record reading resolutions and fun to look back on at year's end to see where your reading adventures have taken you. A couple of years ago, I assembled a list of tips for beginning one. You can read them here.