Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Trouble in the Suburbs. . .

I just finished reading Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates in preparation for the movie that is coming in December and that will (hopefully) get Kate Winslet an Oscar. Here's the trailer. It looks fantastic. The novel was heartbreaking - the story of Frank and April, a couple in a rut, not really knowing what they want out of life or how to get it, and unable to communicate with each other. It also makes one grateful to have a job one loves; the toil and misery that boring and unfulfilling work can wreak on a person's soul is illustrated in painful (and sometime humourous) detail through the characters, past and present, who inhabit the cubicles at Knox Business Machines starting with the story of Frank's own father. This is a world where nothing really lives up to its promise and the characters know it. Worse, they accept it - perhaps the crux of this tragedy.
This might be the start of a little Richard Yates revival. In the spring Everyman's Library will be bringing out a lovely hardcover edition of three works - Revolutionary Road, The Easter Parade and Eleven Kinds of Loneliness. And Vintage is bringing back into print A Special Providence and Young Hearts Crying. I'll certainly be reading more of his work.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Manuscript in the Suitcase. . .

If you're in New York over the next few months, you should make your way down to The Museum of Jewish Heritage near Battery Park. They have an exhibit entitled Woman of Letters: Irène Némirovsky and Suite Française that displays the suitcase in which the now famous manuscript was found, along with the manuscript itself. If you can't make it in person, do check out their website where you can see both artifacts online plus family photos and learn more about her life and work. (thanks to the Literary Saloon for the link).

And if you enjoyed reading Suite Française, do check out some of her other books that have recently been brought back into print: David Golder, Fire in the Blood, Le Bal, The Couriloff Affair (out this October) and All Our Worldly Goods (out this November).

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Inspector Norse: Kenneth Branagh takes on Kurt Wallander. . .

Kenneth Branagh is currently getting rave reviews from the London theatre critics for his portrayal of Chekhov's Ivanov (and oh, how I wish I could see this production!). But this article in the Guardian on Branagh's comeback, also shows a photo of him playing Inspector Kurt Wallander in one of three films that he is shooting for the BBC. They will be airing this fall in England but hopefully will cross the pond soon. While waiting, you could dip into the terrific series by Henning Mankell; the films are based on the novels Sidetracked, One Step Behind and Firewall. The British press is already affectionately dubbing this series Inspector Norse - hee hee - and I think Branagh will definitely do the character justice.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Calling all Walkers. . .

Here's a terrific reference book for your travel section, either in your public or personal library. If, like myself, you revel in walking holidays, then Coast: The Walks, a new guide from BBC Books, will tempt you with 5o self-guided walks along the 10,000 miles of British, Scottish and Irish coastline. The walks range from 1 1/2 to 12 miles and each are graded for difficulty and include the time it will take for the average walker to complete. There are maps for each outing along with written directions and all the main historical, literary and cultural sites are highlighted along with wildflowers and animals native to the area. And of course the whole book is lavishly illustrated with colour photography. I love that there is a nice combination of urban and country walks, so whether you want to stroll around Dublin or Dover, or lose yourself in a reverie on the Isle of Mull (I can personally recommend this one!), this book has something for everyone. Many of the walks are wheelchair and baby buggy accessible as well.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Maud versus Maurice. . .

Two huge Canadian icons, two big centenaries, lots and lots of books.
If you're Canadian, you would have to have been living under a rock not to know that 2008 marked the 100th anniversary of the publication of Anne of Green Gables. And coming this November, will be a big, meaty biography of its author. Mary Henley Rubio has spent over twenty years researching Lucy Maud Montgomery: The Gift of Wings and this promises to be the definitive biography. I've only read snippets so far, but I can already tell this will be my major reading over the Christmas holidays.

And then there's the inevitable hockey frenzy that will accompany the centenary of the Montreal Canadiens in 2009. It's inexplicable to me, despite over fifteen years in the book business, how the Canadian market can sustain so many hockey books on every conceivable subject, season after season after season. However, even I fully understand the gluttony of books that will appear on this historic occasion. Growing up in a suburb of Montreal, I too had a Guy Lafleur hockey card. And of course, who hasn't cherished Roch Carrier's The Hockey Sweater? First out at the end of this month is D'Arcy Jenish's The Montreal Canadiens: 100 Years of Glory, in which he constructs the history of the team using the work of the contemporary sports journalists as his major source material. His goal was, "to recapture the spirit and excitement of events as they unfolded" because "history is never more exhilarating than the day it happens." And though there are photos and illustrations, this is really a solid biography of the team and its personalities, not a glossy coffee table book.
I actually have a bet with my boss as to which book will have sold the most after one year. I expect both will be very popular as gifts during the holiday season and based on initial orders, hockey has taken a lead in the first period. But don't count Maud out just yet, or the power of Anne. Maybe I'm naive but don't more women than men read and buy books? (and yes, I know there are tons of female hockey fans out there as well). I've also got my hopes pinned on the P.E.I. summer tourists. Look for Lucy Maud to take it in the third. Let the battle begin.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Classic Crime Series Back in Print. . .

At the end of the month, the first two books in the Martin Beck police series written by Swedish husband and wife team Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, will be published by Vintage. This series originally came out in the 1960s and early 1970s and influenced generations of subsequent crime writers, many of whom (Henning Mankell, Val McDermid, and Jo Nesbo to name a few) will be penning the introductions to these new editions. I finished the first book, Roseanna, far too late last night, but I was too mesmerized to close the pages. Roseanna is a librarian from Lincoln, Nebraska. Unfortunately, she is also the victim, killed as a tourist on a cruise ship and her body thrown into a canal. The police at first have no idea of the victim's identity and no clues. And there were over eighty passengers and crew on board, from several different countries who could be potential suspects. Where to start?
This series is notable for describing in rivetting detail the meticulous daily grind of the police and the toil it takes on their family lives and their psyches. In the pre-computer, pre-DNA testing era, these investigators have to rely on hunches and the mind-numbing (and sometimes body-numbing) sifting through paperwork, interviews with witnesses and the trailing of suspects. There are frequently periods of intense boredom and frustration - the case takes over six months to solve. But there are also liberal doses of humour; Beck's colleague Kollberg always has a saracastic and cynical running commentary going and in this particular case, Beck receives assistance (and some enigmatic telegrams) from an appropiately named Nebraska detective called Kafka. This is a good series to read in order (there are ten books in all) as it promises much character development, particularly of the obsessive Beck, who currently is unhappily married, not much of a father and feels sick everytime he eats.
The second book, The Man Who Went Up in Smoke will also be available at the end of September. Each season, two more will be published, so look for The Man on the Balcony and The Laughing Policeman in February. Can't wait.

Monday, September 15, 2008

What is Colin Firth reading?....

We can't help it. When book reps go to the movies we inevitably look at the books that the characters are reading on the screen. And sometimes the reading material will provide deep insight into the character's mindset.

And so it was that during a screening of Michael Winterbottom's new film Genova at the Toronto Film Festival (starring Colin Firth), I was happy to note that two of the books his character is reading happen to come from two of my favourite small presses - NYRB Books and The Other Press. The film is about a father (played by Firth) who moves his two daughters to Genova after the death of their mother in a car accident and follows the family as they try to cope with their grief. It's an uneasy, disturbing film, full of old, dark and narrow side streets contrasting with the cacophony of metallic modern day traffic and both landscapes are equally menacing. It certainly keeps the viewer on edge. Firth's character is a university professor and he's seen twice reading on a couch while waiting for his elder daughter to get home from her partying. Not surprisingly, he's reading Italian literature - Alberto Moravia's Conjugal Love and Leonardo Sciascia's The Day of the Owl. Now, I know, I know - this is what the character is reading, not the actor. However, I can definitely picture Firth picking up his props after the shoot and thinking, hmmm, this looks interesting, and reading the books between takes. Let's face it - part of what makes Firth so sexy is the intelligence that oozes out of every pore of his acting being. Of course he's a reader! And if you needed any additional confirmation, thanks to Oprah, you can take a tiny peek into his reading preferences. One of the most interesting parts of her website is her feature "Books that made a difference" where many of her guests not only list books they love, but write about why.

You can see Colin's list here. And Colin, anytime you want to have a discussion about Faulkner - just call me!

Not surprisingly there are classics and literature in translation among the contemporary novels. As is the case with a bunch of other actors who I admire enormously - again for the intelligence they bring to their acting, their choice of film projects and their incredible talent. So it's fun to take a peek at their bookshelves - just click on their names to see their reading recommendations.

Giller Prize Longlist announced. . .

So, what do I know? My pick for winner (for the record, it was Miriam Toews' The Flying Troutmans) didn't even make the longlist. I'm not out of the contest yet (my colleague is ahead 8 points to 5) but I've already told him to pick his restaurant. Phooey. Nice to see a couple of short story collections on the list. I'm surprised the small presses were mostly ignored, especially with Atwood on the jury, but there you have it. I'd love for Steven Galloway to win but wouldn't be surprised if Patrick Lane takes it.

Anyways, here's the longlist. The shortlist will be announced on October 7th and the winner on November 11th.

The Lost Highway by David Adams Richards
The Retreat by David Bergen
Through Black Spruce by Joseph Boyden
More by Austin Clarke
Barnacle Love by Anthony De Sa
The Sealed Letter by Emma Donaghue
Good to a Fault by Marina Endicott
The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway
Cockroach by Rawi Hage
Blackstrap Hawco by Kenneth J. Harvey
Red Dog, Red Dog by Patrick Lane
The Withdrawal Method by Pasha Malla
The Ravine by Paul Quarrington

Friday, September 12, 2008

Giller Prize 2008 anticipation: My picks for possible longlist glory. . .

The longlist for Canada's glitziest literary award - the Giller Prize - will be announced on Monday. Every year I have a fun wager with a colleague and we have an elaborate point system. We pick 12 books and the ultimate winner and then get 1 point for each book that makes the longlist, 2 points if it makes the shortlist, 3 points if it wins and 5 points if we had originally picked it as the winner. We've been doing this for a few years now and it's always gone down to the wire on the final night.

As we all know, literary prizes are never just about which books are the best. There are politics involved and of course the subjective opinions of the judges (this year, the jury is quite interesting consisting of Margaret Atwood, Bob Rae and Colm Toibin). Dinner and a movie are on the line, and we both competitively want to win, so you'll understand that in picking our lists, it's not necessarily about our favourite books, but what we think will be the favourites of the judges (and sometimes what book we think will appeal most to the average Canadian reader - a look at some of the winners in the past might have one thinking that this is a major criteria, though certainly not one I'd agree with).

So here are my 12 picks. I've read two and am halfway through a third, but I can honestly say there isn't a book on the list that I wouldn't want to read if I had the time - they all sound intriguing. I want to emphasize that I have NO inside knowledge about what books have been submitted by the publishers I work for. And I'll keep my pick for ultimate winner a secret for the moment as that always seems to be the kiss of death, and I want to win! We'll see how good a call I've made on Monday. Wish me luck. And please, comment, if there's a terrific Canadian novel published this year that you think should definately be recognized.

The Retreat by David Bergen
Through Black Spruce by Joseph Boyden
Stunt by Claudia Dey
The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway
Cockroach by Rawi Hage
Blackstrap Hawco by Kenneth J. Harvey
Girls Fall Down by Maggie Helwig
Coventry by Helen Humphries
The Great Karoo by Fred Stenson
The Flying Troutmans by Miriam Toews
The Push and the Pull by Darryl Whetter

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Novelist turns filmmaker. . .

I had a funny Proustian Powerpoint moment last night. I was at the Toronto Film Festival again, seeing a French film called Il y a longtemps que je t'aime, starring Kristin Scott Thomas (who I love) and directed by Philippe Claudel (here in the photo on the left). This was his directorial debut and the brief programme biography only mentioned that he was a professor of literature who had written a number of novels. When the film started and the credits came on (white type on a simple black screen), I had a flashback to a powerpoint presentation I did three years ago (which in publishing time is nine seasons ago, so forgive me the odd memory lapse) - because of course, one of his novels was a Dewey pick of mine. By a Slow River (the French title is Les Âmes Grises) is part literary detective novel and part examination of the devastating effects of WWI on a small French village situated close to the battlefield. The main character is a policeman who twenty years after the end of the war is still mourning the death of his wife who died alone, while in labour. Two other deaths from the past also haunt him - a young school teacher who hanged herself, and the murder of a young girl. The policeman is convinced that the real killer of the girl has never been found and he decides that the only way to put his ghosts to rest is to re-investigate the case. I remember that when I was book-talking this novel, I made the comparison to the British television series Foyle's War. Even though that is set during the Second World War, many of the same themes run throught the two works. Why should the death of one little girl matter when thousands of soliders were dying every day? By a Slow River gives you resounding and affirmative answers to that question.

You can read this powerful novel while waiting for Claudel's film to hit theatres (which surely it MUST - it is SO good). Kristin Scott Thomas is Juliette, a woman who has just been released from prison after spending a fifteen year sentence for killing her six year old son. She is picked up by her much younger sister, now married with two young children of her own, and has to not only re-integrate herself into the ordinary rhythms of daily life, but deal with people's reactions to her crime, which she has never really talked about - even to her sister. It's a very moving film about guilt, secrets, trust, family relationships and, as in Claudel's novel, coming to terms with a traumatic past. This is not a movie you watch for a huge surprise revelation; there are enough early clues to suggest why Juliette killed her child. Rather, it's a complete and intimate character journey and from the very first frame to the last, Scott Thomas is riveting. Every thought, doubt and emotion Juliette is suffering, is in her eyes and body language - she had me in tears by the end. An incredible performance. There was an instant standing ovation at the end.

After the screening, Claudel came out on stage to talk about the film and mentioned that he'd spent over ten years teaching in prisons where he learned that the line between what (and who) is good and bad is very fragile. The other highpoint of the night was the surprise appearance of Kristin Scott Thomas on the stage with him. Which was a huge and delightful treat; she hadn't made the Easy Virtue premiere because she's rehearsing The Seagull in New York. No big fuss, no red carpet, no media spotlight - just a quiet appearance to help support the film and director. And of course she's so elegant and beautiful. I don't care what or who she's wearing - though she looks terrific - I'm just glad she was there in person to receive all the audience appreciation and love.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Easy on the eyes. . .

Sorry about the blurry photo but it's as close as I (or my zoom lens) could get from the balcony of the Elgin Theatre last night. The Toronto Film Festival is taking over the city and it was the world premiere of Easy Virtue, based on the Noel Coward play, starring Colin Firth, Kristin Scott Thomas, Jessica Biel and Ben Barnes and directed by Stephan Elliott, best known as the director of The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
There aren't too many men I'd spend two hours in the pouring rain lining up for, but Coward is definitely one of them (I'll have you know I am a proud, card-carrying member of the Noel Coward Society) Colin is just the icing. Actually, I love Kristin Scott Thomas as well, but she couldn't make it. The important thing is that the film was terrific - it stayed fairly close to the play but Elliott has had so much fun expanding the characters with great comic success - there are more gags, some clever photography shots, great music throughout, and even though he's changed the ending - boy, does it work!

There are three major defining moments in the evolution of Colin Firth as one of the, if not THE sexiest actor alive.

#3: His wet shirt scene in Pride and Prejudice.

#2: Telling Bridget Jones, "I like you very much, just the way you are."

And #1: Dancing a smoldering tango with Jessica Biel in Easy Virtue. There was an audible collective sigh from the female population in the theatre after it ended. What can I say - it was hot!

Don't miss this movie when it hits theatres. I can't wait for the DVD.

Booker Shortlist announced. . .

And the race is on! A very interesting shortlist, notable for Rushdie not making it, but a list that I really want to read in its entirety. I've only read The Northern Clemency so far in manuscript ( the edition that will be available in Canada is the U.S. edition which isn't scheduled to come out until next February - hopefully the shortlisting will move up the pub date - it's very good and is already one of my Dewey picks for spring).

However, the other five books are currently available. The short list is:
The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry
Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh
The Northern Clemency by Philip Hensher

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Telling Tales Out of School. . .

Ah, it's September - the start of a new school year and oddly enough, professors have featured as the main character in the last three films I've seen (all of which I highly recommend - two are based on bestselling novels).

I've just come back from seeing the world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival of the Australian adaptation of Disgrace, directed by Steve Jacobs. It's based of course on J.M. Coetzee's incredibly powerful Booker-winning novel, which I love - even though it is one of the most disturbing books I've ever read. And the film didn't disappoint. It's no easier to watch than to read it, but the film is very respectful of the novel and stays fairly close to its narrative structure. David Lurie is a university professor in Cape Town who is forced to resign after having an affair with one of his students. He goes to visit his daughter Lucy who lives alone in an isolated farmhouse where she grows vegetables and runs a kennel. Following a horrific act of violence, David is forced to re-examine not only his relationship with his daughter but also with his country and the changes since apartheid. Disgrace brutally and viscerally challenges ideas of gender and racial politics, and its possible solutions, which can appear simultaneously shocking and heartbreaking. John Malkovich plays David and is excellent at progressing from arched arrogance to broken acceptance. But it's Jessica Haines as Lucy who gives the grittiest performance. She's tough and vulnerable and utterly believable when she has to make the difficult and complicated decisions about her future. I really hope Disgrace gets wide distribution and is screened at lots of North American theatres. It's a gutsy film and while it's difficult to "enjoy", it certainly leaves you with lots to think about.

Elegy is based on Philip Roth's novel The Dying Animal - one of a series of novels featuring his recurring English professor David Kepesh, here played by the amazing Ben Kingsley. Kepesh has started yet another affair with one of his students, the beautiful Consuela, played by Penelope Cruz. But David is becoming ever more conscious of his age 9and the age gap) and impending mortality along with pride and vanity gets in the way of the relationship. Then Conseula has to face some personal challenges and has only him to turn to for help. This movie really works due to its excellent casting, unlike say, other Roth offerings (The Human Stain comes to mind - what were they thinking casting Nicole Kidman in that one?). Kingsley is terrific in the role - all the inner turmoil and doubt convincingly played out on his face. One can almost feel sorry for the guy. Patricia Clarkson is also wonderful as David's brash and sexy and needy mistress. You can see the trailer here.

Finally if you want a movie where the professor works against stereotype and actually doesn't behave badly or bonk a student, check out The Visitor, written and directed by Tom McCarthy and starring Richard Jenkins. A tiny gem of a film about a lonely Connecticut professor still mourning the death of his wife, who forms an unusual friendship with two illegal immigrants that he finds living in his New York apartment. This film is beautifully acted and contains some very touching and funny moments amidst the sadness. And it has a wonderful soundtrack to boot.
Who knew that professors led such interesting lives away from their lecturns?

Thursday, September 4, 2008

New Mo Willems Picture Book!

We finished our Winter 2009 sales conference last week and I'm all fired up with excitement-there are so many good books coming next year! One of the children's titles that I'm most excited about is the new Mo Willems picture book Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed, coming in January 2009.

Admit it- you are snickering already just from the title and I haven't even told you what the book is about! Wilbur is a little naked mole rat who is just a little different from the others in his colony. He (gasp) likes to wear clothes, much to the horror of the other naked mole rats. They decide that something has to be done about Wilbur, so they ask the wise, heroic Grand-pah for advice. I won't spoil the ending for anyone, but as with Willems' previous books, young readers are sure to be in stitches at both the story and the characters. Parents will love the positive message about being true to yourself. Pigeon fans should take a close look at the illustrations when reading this book, as Pigeon makes a surprise appearance.

I know that it is a long wait until January, but there is always the new Elephant & Piggie book Are You Ready To Play Outside coming in October to tide Mo Willems fans over. If you haven't done so already, check out the new Elephant & Piggie Dance game on the website www.pigeonpresents.com. My favourites are the Piggie Jiggie and the Elephant Slide...