Friday, July 31, 2009

We all scream for ice cream. . .

Love this story in The Guardian about an American librarian starting a campaign to get Ben & Jerry's to name an ice cream flavour in honour of libraries. My favourite of the many ideas being pitched - Gooey Decimal System, which "could combine dark fudge alphabet letters with caramel swirls in hazelnut ice-cream". Yum.

Ice cream tastes pretty good after a bike ride - The Guardian also has a list of good summer cycling reads. In particular, I've now added Tim Krabbé's The Rider to my reading pile (an existential cycling novel in translation - oh, yes please! ) and Paul Fournel's Need For the Bike. Fournel is a member of the experimental writing group OULIPO. Yep, another one for me. I ran this list by my friend Ron who reads every bicyling book under the sun. He also recommends Heft on Wheels by Mike Magnuson, Ten Points by Bill Strickland, One More Kilometre and We're In the Showers by Tim Hilton and for some Canlit content, Darryl Whetter's novel The Push & The Pull, which I remember being one of Susan's Dewey picks when it first came out.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Booker Longlist announced. . .

Let the fall award season begin . . .

Here's the first big award - The Man Booker longlist was announced today and I'm thrilled with some of the books that made the list, including A.S. Byatt's spectacular novel The Children's Book (which I'm keeping my fingers crossed for). In addition I've read the Toibin, Waters and Trevor - all worthy contenders. The new Coetzee manuscript has just shot up to the front of my reading pile, and I've had my eye on the Mawer for some time - it keeps staring at me from bookstore tables.
Here's the list in full:

The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt
Summertime by J.M. Coetzee
The Quickening Maze by Adam Foulds
How to Paint a Dead Man by Sarah Hall
The Wilderness by Samantha Harvey
Me Cheeta by James Lever
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
The Glass Room by Simon Mawer
Not True & Not Unkind by Ed O'Loughlin
Heliopolis by James Scudamore
Brooklyn by Colm Toibin
Love and Summer by William Trevor
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
The shortlist will be announced on Sept. 8th. I'm thinking it will come down to a battle between A.S. Byatt and Hilary Mantel.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Time Traveller's Wife Trailer. . .

The trailer for the movie of The Time Traveller's Wife is now out and can be viewed here. Despite the many delays, it looks pretty good. It opens on August 14th. And Audrey Niffenegger's long-awaited second novel will be out in October. Get your library holds now on Her Fearful Symmetry; I've read the manuscript and loved it - a very different type of novel, but does contain as unconventional a love story as that of Clare and Henry. Can't say more than that for now. . .

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Oh, be still my bleeping heart. . .

Do you like being read to? How about by a good-looking British actor who not only has a dreamy accent but looks right at you through the computer screen as he seductively savours every syllable? Penguin UK has teamed up with Carte Noire, a coffee company that seems to be owned by Kraft. This ain't no cheez whiz though. Check it out here.

I highly recommend the reading by Greg Wise of Les Deux Amants - you can get a taste of what Emma Thompson gets to come home to every night. Sigh. Or Dominic West reading Katherine Mansfield's short story Something Childish But Very Natural. Or Dan Stevens reading from one of my favourite books, Jonathan Coe's The Rotters' Club!

And now if you'll excuse me, I have to go swoon somewhere.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Paris, je t'aime. . .

Paris has been on my mind all month. The Tour de France is entering its final week and I've continually been visiting the city on celluloid as Cinematheque has devoted the summer to French movies. So really, the perfect summer read for me has been Gillian Tindall's Footprints in Paris: A Few Streets, a Few Lives.

This book is a lovely combination of biography and history as Tindall tries to reconstruct the lives of several of her ancestors (on both sides of her family), who all came to Paris for different reasons, but were inspired and changed by their experiences. Coincidentally they all gravitated towards the famous Latin Quarter and in addition to the personal stories, is the fascinating history of the city itself and in particular, how that tiny part changed architectually during Baron Haussmann's famous changes to the streets and vistas in the 1860s.

We follow her great-great grandfather, Arthur Jacob, who in 1814 walked over a thousand miles from Edinburgh to Paris to continue his medical training. This section is very interesting on the cultural and political changes brought about by the French Revolution and Napoleon, and their effects on the common working people. Then there's Bertie Tindall, who comes to Paris to learn about the medical bookselling industry amidst the craze for the Bohemian. And Maud, a lonely spinster who nursed in France in WWI and found her "secret garden" - a little bit of freedom - in Paris. The book ends with Gillian's own story. Taking the pseudonym "Julia", she escapes to Paris to forget a personal tragedy, having been fascinated by the city since childhood when her unhappy mother would regale her with wistful tales about her youth spent in the sparkling capital.
Tindall has done some fascinating research and she really makes the streets come alive; this book is a must-read if you're planning a future trip to Paris or just want to get lost among its cobblestones for a few hours. It's a book about how a city buries its past and how Tindall unearths hers. For readers who enjoyed Thad Carhart's The Piano Shop on the Left Bank, or the novels of Edward Rutherfurd. Paris, you've seduced me again.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

This book's got bite. . .

Vampire lit is all the rage now, with many authors trying to capitalize on the success of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series. This parody made me laugh. Nightlight, by The Harvard Lampoon, promises "a hilarious send-up of the teen literature sensation, complete with a klutzy heroine, a sparkly hero, romance, danger, and a vampire prom."
Here's a sample:

He was the most beautiful boy I had ever seen. Yet there was something about him that I couldn't quite name...something curious about the way he poured ketchup on a doll's neck, then furiously licked it off.
Looks like fun. Out in November.

Friday, July 17, 2009

And even more summer reading suggestions. . .

MobyLives points us to this blog post from the L.A. Times that lists the top 61 (how do they come up with this optimal number?) postmodern reads. Everything from Tristram Shandy to Roberto Bolano's 2666 is included. What makes this list fun are the annotations. Symbols beside each title will helpfully let the reader know whether this book is Thin (less than 200 pages) or Fat (over 1000 pages), whether it "comments on its own bookishness" or has a "self-contradicting plot". Some interesting choices here, and by no means are they all fiction. Michael Herr's Dispatches, his reportage on the Vietnam War, is here along with a favourite of mine - Geoff Dyer's Out of Sheer Rage - his very funny account of not writing a biography of D.H. Lawrence. Hamlet is even included (it's "thin", "plays with language", "disrupts/plays with form", is a "postmodern progenitor", "includes fictional artifacts, such as letters" and "comments on its own bookishness".

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Some other Canadian Divas. . .

Love, love, love this CD that I just discovered. I'm a huge fan of cabaret and so I was delighted to come across this collection while browsing in a classical music store. It's called Carmen Unzipped performed by Toronto duo Jean Stilwell as mezzo soprano with Patti Loach accompanying her on the piano. I've listened to Stilwell many times on the morning show at Classical 96.3 FM and always thought she had a wonderful radio voice, so I was curious to hear her singing voice. And it's terrific - clear, powerful and able to beautifully articulate the lyrics. Cabaret is all about storytelling; it works wonderfully with just a singer and a piano riffing off of each other and the choice of songs is varied and fun with a mixture of old, romantic favourites along with selections from contemporary composers such as Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich. You will laugh out loud at Taylor the Latte Boy, about falling in love with a Starbucks barista. It includes these wonderful lines: "So many years my heart has waited. Who’d have thought that love could be so caffeinated?" And for anyone who has experienced the pangs of unrequited love, the song Apathetic Man is for you. Any decent cabaret album will feature a song by Kurt Weill (one of my favourite composers), and he's represented here by a rendition of I'm a Stranger Here Myself. Stilwell also includes the song Marlene Dietrich made famous - Falling In Love Again - and the CD ends with a powerful and touching rendition of Habanera from Carmen - the role she's most famous for.
The CD notes will explain the meaning behind all her tattoos. And after listening to it, I guarantee you will want to go out and buy a new red dress.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

More summer reading recommendations. . .

If you really want to travel the world this summer, Three Percent has just posted a great list of recommended summer reading. All the books are recent fiction published in translation and were culled from suggestions by the panelists who will be judging the Best Translated Book Award. It's an extensive, luscious, intriguing list including my personal favourite - Hans Fallada's Every Man Dies Alone. Gerbrand Bakker's The Twin is also on the list - this novel was recently recommended to me by another international literature aficionado (thanks Brad) and I plan to tackle it soon. You can read the full list here.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Read the Book, THEN Watch the Movie

I'm a big believer in reading a book before seeing a film adaptation, the books being SO much better in most cases. So, in preparation for tomorrow's release of the sixth Harry Potter movie, I've been re-reading Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince. If I didn't have to work tomorrow I would definitely be going to the midnight screening tonight, but as the movie is reported to be 153 minutes long, I decided against it-I just don't seem to be able to function as well on a few hours of sleep as I did in my university days!

The book is just as engrossing upon a second reading as the first- probably better if truth be told, as I'm not in a rush to find out what happens and can relax and enjoy Rowling's storytelling prowess. Darker than the earlier books, this book has more treachery and plotting by Voldemort's legions plus the promise of more romance between the characters. I just wish I had thought to check out the audio edition from the library a few weeks ago. I listened to the audio edition of the fifth book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and was incredibly impressed by the production, particularly narrator Jim Dale who was able to create a different voice for all of the characters. I don't have a long commute, so spent quite a lot of time sitting in the parking lot (and my driveway) so I could hear how the chapter ended.

Anyhow, based on early movie reviews like this one from School Library Journal, reading or re-reading the sixth book prior to seeing the movies sounds like a good move. From the review it would appear that this movie (unlike the last one) stays very true to the book. Many characters who were given short shrift in the previous movie do appear in this new one, which might be confusing to those just familiar with the movie.

Potter fans will have the added bonus of getting to see a trailer for the upcoming Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief movie, based on the popular series from Rick Riordan. The movie, which stars Logan Lerman as Percy and a host of well-known actors as various Greek Gods and Goddesses (Uma Thurman, Pierce Brosnan, Sean Bean etc) is scheduled to hit theatres in February 2010. I'm going to have to re-read this one, as it has been many years since I've read it, and I don't remember an elevator scene...

Also coming to the big screen this October is Whip It based on Shauna Cross' book Derby Girl. This one stars Canadian Ellen Page (Juno) as a smart-mouthed teen who doesn't want to be a pageant queen (as her mom wishes) and rebels by sneaking off and joining a roller derby team. It is directed by (and co-stars) Drew Barrymore. A trailer was just released. The book came out in hardcover in Fall 2007, so copies should be available for those who want to read up before the theatrical release.

Also coming this Fall is the hugely anticipated movie adaptation of New Moon (November). The filming out in B.C. has been the fodder of many a tabloid lately, and the trailer seems to indicate that the new movie will have plenty of action and angst. Little Brown Books for Young Readers has released the cover image of the movie tie-in paperback. Looks great!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Summer reading. . .

Hope everyone's summer is going well and you've found some great reads to dip into, preferably by a lake, on an airplane to somewhere exotic, or just under a shady tree in the backyard. If we tend to have less book reviews on the blog at this time, well, to be honest, we're tired. If there is any "down" time in the book industry, it may just be these few slim weeks in July and at least in my case, there are a lot of fun activities out there competing with my reading time. I'm out on my bike every chance I get, and spending many of my evenings at the Cinematheque watching clever French New Wave films. And this is a great time to catch up on reading other publishers' books. And the classics.

Still, I haven't been entirely idle and have just posted my summer 09 reading picks. You can access them here. Some of the books won't be available until August, but you can put your holds on them now and have them to hand for the Labour Day weekend (sorry, shouldn't have mentioned the "l-word"). Happy summer reading.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Sunburst Shortlist announced. . .

And the shortlist for the Sunburst Award for Canadian Literature of the Fantastic has been announced. There are categories for both adult and YA novels and in addition to the shortlists, the jurors have also listed several honourable mentions. Lots of great reading suggestions for your fantasy lovers. You can see the full lists here. The winners will be announced in September.

In Praise of Cycling. . .

It's Tour de France time again, and I'm up at the crack of dawn every weekend to watch it live on the internet (rooting for Bradley Wiggins and Alberto Contador this year). Biking has become a bit of an obsession with me this summer ever since I acquired my latest baby a few months ago - a Dahon foldable bike. I have the Speed D7 model and I absolutely love it. You can see in the photo above how compact it is when folded - perfect for my tiny apartment hallway, and despite the small wheels, it goes surprisingly quickly and the seven gears easily allow me to tackle hills (albeit slowly). I'm trying to do the 40km of my roundtrip work commute at least once a week.

Now I wear sports gear and change at work, but a friend of mine (thanks Ron!) who is a serious cyclist, sent me this link to the annual Brompton (another foldable bike company) World Championships, taking place near Blenheim Palace, not far from Oxford. It's a 13km race open to both sexes - the fun part is that there's a dress code! Blazer, shirt and tie are mandatory. I think I've just added another item to my bucket list.

Ron also points me to The Bicycle Diaries by David Byrne (of Talking Heads fame) coming this fall. It chronicles his adventures and thoughts as he cycles around the world's greatest cities - seated on his foldable bike. I'll definitely be reading this one.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Win a trip to Antarctica. . .

This is a very cool contest (worth about $25,000) open to Canadian teachers and professors (except in Quebec). The winner will join author and environmentalist Robert Swan on his November trip to Antarctica. To enter, you need to write a 500 word essay on why you want to go and how you would incorporate what you learn on the trip into your classroom. You have until September 4th to enter. You can find all the details and entry forms here.
Swan has personally walked across Antarctica and he is passionate about promoting the continent's preservation against the perils of climate change. His new book, Antarctica 2041: My Quest to Save the Earth's Last Wilderness will be published in October.