Thursday, August 27, 2009

Turkish Literature. . .

Istanbul is one of those cities that I definitely want to visit some day. The Guardian's latest top 10 list is on Turkish literature, chosen by author Sel├žuk Altun. You can view the full list here. It includes Memed, My Hawk by Yaskar Kemal, translated by Edouard Roditi and available as one of NYRB's Classics, and two books by Nobel prize winner Orhan Pamuk - My Name is Red, translated by Erdag Goknar, and Istanbul: Memories and the City, translated by Maureen Freely. Pamuk will also have a new novel - his first since winning the Nobel - out this fall. It's called The Museum of Innocence and is a romantic love story that involves obsessive collecting.
I have a few advance galleys of this new novel available. If you'd like a copy, send me an e-mail to with "Museum of Innocence" in the subject line. I'll accept requests until noon EST on Thursday, Sept. 3rd and then randomly draw from all the entries received. Regrets that this offer is only available to Canadian public, school or academic librarians or teachers.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Becoming obsessed with our favourite authors. . .

I think many of us who are passionate readers go looking for advice and wisdom as much from our favourite authors as any self-help guru. I think of that scene in Mike Leigh's movie Career Girls when one of the characters waves a copy of Wuthering Heights around, her thumb randomly selecting a passage to channel Emily Bronte's messages from beyond the grave.

In Rosalind Brackenbury's new novel, Becoming George Sand, Maria is a happily married academic living in Edinburgh and working on a biography of the flamboyant and passionate 19th century French writer George Sand. Happy that is, until she meets a young, sexy colleague in a bookstore and the two begin an affair. All sorts of logistical problems ensue as Maria discovers how difficult it is to commit adultery in these modern times. And she wonders, how did George Sand ever manage all of her affairs (with Chopin and Alfred de Musset, among many others), take care of her children, and still find time to write multiple novels? As she continues her research Maria follows in the steps of her heroine, seeking inspiration from Sand's life to enable her to make tough choices in her own. In particular she retraces (with her husband) the memorable and miserable trip Sand and Chopin took to Majorica and this literary pilgrimage has a definitive impact on Maria's marriage. This was a very enjoyable novel to read; lighter in tone than say, Michael Cunningham's The Hours, but similar in reflecting on the ways literature and past lives can influence or shed insight into the moral conundrums of today. And it will have you searching out some of Sand's own work. For some added fun, you can combine a reading of this novel with a couple of films that explore aspects of Sand's life. The stunning Juliette Binoche plays her in Children of the Century, which focuses on her relationship with de Musset. Then you can switch to the fabulous Judy Davis in Impromptu which looks at her affair with Chopin (played unfortunately by a miscast Hugh Grant who irritatingly coughs his way through the entire film). Still, Emma Thompson is terrific in this movie as a silly, rich, society woman desperate to belong to this bohemian crowd that delights in making fun of her. Both films are available on DVD.

And coming at the end of September is a novel I'm looking forward to reading - Stephanie Barron's The White Garden: A Novel of Virginia Woolf - a mystery involving the discovery of Woolf's last diary, which sheds light on her relationship with Vita Sackville-West and the wonderful White Garden that Vita and her husband created at Sissinghurst Castle (I've visited this famous garden and it's definitely worth a trip if you are ever in Sussex). You might recognize Barron's name from the many popular mysteries she has written starring Jane Austen as her sleuth. I haven't read these, but I think I may be reading my first ever vampire novel. Coming later this fall is Jane Bites Back by Michael Thomas Ford. The premise is that Austen is alive and well, living as a vampire and bookstore owner in upstate New York. But she's frustrated that she can't capitalize on the royalties from her previous novels and her new book is being rejected by publishers everywhere. Yeah, I'll bite.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Dewey Top 100: Recent Elementary Books

With school just a few weeks away, the Dewey Divas and Dudes created this brochure for our school wholesalers listing 100 picks of excellent, recently published children's books. The list is separated into three grade categories - books suitable for K-3, 4-6 and 7-8. We thought this might be of interest also to teachers, public librarians and any readers who have little ones in their lives. If you'd like a copy of the brochure, please e-mail me directly at and I'll e-mail you the PDF (sorry, I'm not techno-savvy enough to figure out how to post it on the blogsite).

Please note that this is by no means a "Best of all children's books list" as of course it only reflects those publishing imprints that the Deweys represent. They do all come with the Dewey seal of approval however - the reps have read and loved them, and these titles were chosen also because they compliment school curriculum. This list reflects books that have all been published in the last two years and all publishing and price information is Canadian. However, if there are any U.S. or International readers out there who would like a copy, I'm happy to e-mail it to you also - just be advised that some of the titles may not yet be available in your country, or they may be published by a different publisher. In Canada, all of these books are available and can be ordered or bought at your regular bookstore, wholesaler or using online sources.

A tale of dandelion derring-do

Christopher Nibble is a guinea pig who lives in Dandeville where the residents rely heavily on dandelions for their daily sustenance. However, because of over harvesting and wastefulness, the much revered dandelion is on the verge of extinction. Christopher wants to help and he decides that the best way to begin is by doing research at the library. Then he devises a clever plan to save the dandelions and becomes a hero in Dandeville. This strong environmental message is accompanied by fun and unique collage-style pictures that mix
photographs and drawings.
Christoper Nibble

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Shirley Hughes - for adults!

Shirley Hughes is beloved for her children's books, but the bestselling author has recently published her first graphic novel - for adults. Bye Bye Birdie is a scream; I was chuckling all through it. It's a completely wordless story about a man who sees an attractively dressed woman on the street, follows her, courts her and marries her. She seems shy and demure, hiding behind her thick muff, with her feathered hat pulled low. But when the couple gets home and she reveals her hidden beak, the man turns and runs. And runs. But if you know your Hitchcock, you know there's nothing like a scorned bird. Will the man be able to escape her claws, and still keep his hat on?
The energetic illustrations are just wonderful in this surreal, madcap story. Older kids will get a laugh out of it as well.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Julie and Julia . . . and Judith!

The film is fabulous!

If you haven't yet gone to see Julie and Julia, you are in for a wonderful treat. But be prepared. You will come out of the theatre with an irresistible urge to buy a baguette and lots and lots of butter (which is perfectly fine - both Julia and her husband Paul lived into their nineties) and go home and saute some mushrooms (being very careful not to crowd them). I'm thrilled that Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking has hit the bestseller list again but you will also definitely want to get your hands on a copy of her memoir My Life in France.

I tore up my apartment last weekend desperately searching for my unread copy only to realize I'd left it at the office. But my shelves did yield up The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food by Judith Jones, who was Julia's long-time editor and is also portrayed in the film. And this memoir more than satisified my need to wallow just a bit longer in Paris and submerse myself in the seductive and sensual world of food.

Just like Julia, Judith also lived for a number of years in Paris following the end of the Second World War and fell in love with the city, French food and her future husband. We then follow her career back in the U.S. where she became an editor at Knopf and - as illustrated in the movie - championed what became Mastering the Art of French Cooking after the massive manuscript had been turned down by several publishers. The movie ends with the book being published but Judith continues the story, following Julia as she promotes the book on the road and detailing the huge impact the success of the cookbook had on Julia and Paul's life. There's a fascinating section about creating and writing the bread chapter in the second volume of Mastering, all in the pursuit of coming up with a recipe for the perfect French baguette (it ends up being eleven pages long and I'm not going to give away the secret here). Judith also worked with many other incredible chefs and cookbook writers such as Claudia Roden, Edna Lewis, Marion Cunningham and Madhur Jaffrey, just to name a few. Her memoir is not only filled with great stories but certainly demonstrates how incredibly labour intensive it is to edit a cookbook. Luckily Judith is passionate and fearless when it comes to food. For me a beavertail is a delicious deepfried pastry sprinkled with sugar and lemon that is sold along the frozen banks of Ottawa's Rideau Canal; for Judith, it's something a little more literal. Julia couldn't have been in better editorial hands.

The last section of The Tenth Muse is filled with some of Judith's favourite recipes - many of them French (including a shorter one for a baguette, but still based on Julia's recipe). Some look quite complicated but there are many that even I will attempt, such as "Freeform Apple Tarts" and "Sorrel and Leek Pancakes". I also love the section that offers nine ways to use up roast lamb leftovers (my favourite meat). She will also have a new book out this September that already has me salivating - The Pleasures of Cooking for One.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Till Death Do Us Part? . . .

Despite the rash of rash weddings that the summer seems to bring, I'm usually more interested in reading about how couples make it through in the longterm rather than how they first got together. So, for better or worse, I really enjoyed these three fictional examinations of the modern North American marriage.

Richard Russo for me, is one of the most dependable writers I know and I write that as the highest compliment. I never have to second guess him. With every novel he draws us into this completely real world with characters that we understand and emotional situations that gnaw at our empathy because we've all experienced in varying degrees the same thing. Or we know we will in the future. Plus, he is so, so funny. His latest novel That Old Cape Magic, is one of his best. It's really the story of two marriages, dissected as our hero travels to two weddings, a year apart. Griffin's parents were bitter, unhappy academics stuck in the mid-west when both longed for Ivy League careers and a permanent house at Cape Cod. Instead they had to settle for short holidays each year at the Cape where inevitably things never lived up to expectations. Divorce was inevitable. Griffin is now middle-aged, happily married and driving to the wedding of his daughter's friend. In the trunk are the ashes of his father waiting to be scattered, but as he revisits his old childhood haunts, Griffin begins a complicated trip into the past, as he struggles to understand and untangle the emotional legacy his parents have left him. One year later, his mother's urn has joined his father's - still unscattered - and the procrastinating Griffin is on his way to his daughter's wedding. Only he and his wife are now separated. How did this happen, he keeps asking himself.
This lovely, questing novel is for anyone who has suddenly stopped in their tracks and thought, "Oh, God, I'm turning into my parents." Sometimes that's a good thing; other times it sends you running and screaming. But it happens - and increasingly so as we get older. It's also a novel about the false sense of security time sometimes gives us, about shifting memories, dealing with your partner's crazy family, and ultimately questions if a comfortable long-time marriage is strong enough to weather unexpected challenges. What is it about love - and the loved one - that sustains us? This is one of the best and most touching novels I've read this year and perfect for bookclubs. The cover reminds me a bit of Graham Swift's Last Orders. Different beach, different ashes, but definitely for the same readership.

I'll admit to struggling sometimes with John Updike's novels, but I think he was a superb short-story writer. Over several decades, he wrote eighteen stories featuring Joan and Richard Maple, chronicling their twenty year marriage, subsequent divorce, and one last story, "Grandparenting", when they both show up - now married to other people - at the hospital for the birth of their first grandchild. These stories have previously been scattered in various anthologies, but Everyman Pocket Classics has now re-issued them all together in chronological order, as The Maples Stories. We follow the couple through their house moves, their fights, and their affairs, and there is plenty of pain and drinking along the way. But there are also many tender and unexpected moments; Richard can fall in love with his wife all over again in, of all places, a sterile hospital room where he is reluctantly giving blood, yet during a romantic trip to Italy the two fall out of love. This couple spends so much energy trying desperately to get the other's attention, that they fail to celebrate and cherish the very real connection that they do share. A lot of relationship lessons to be learnt here. My favourite stories are "Giving Blood", "Your Lover Just Called" and "The Red-Herring Theory."
I also have to mention what a lovely little package this is as well - hardcover but the size of a mass market, and bound in a cheery (ironic?) yellow with Everyman's traditonal ribbon bookmark. And cheaper than most trade paperbacks. Come on - I dare you to give this as a wedding shower gift.

And finally for pure fun, there's Jane Hamilton's novel Laura Rider's Masterpiece. I was first drawn to the book by its fun pulpy cover. Laura has been happily married to Charles for a number of years and they run a successful plant nursery together. But Laura has made two recent decisions in her life - she wants to be a writer, particularly of romance novels, and she wants to stop having sex with her rather energetic and incredibly flexible husband; she equates a night with him to doing, "the complete regime of the Bowflex Home Gym." When Laura's idol, a popular talk show host named Jenna Faroli, moves to their town, meets Charles, and starts an initially innocent e-mail correspondence with him, Laura latches on to the potential both of them could serve as inspiration for her main characters. To observe their growing relationship more closely, she starts writing Charles's e-mails for him but things quickly spiral out of control culminating with a fanastically written, cringe-worthy confrontation between the two women on Jenna's radio show. This novel is a very original take on the effects, sometimes even positive, an affair can have on a marriage. It also very much explores the lures of the writing life and dissects our popular and prejudiced attitudes between high and low-brow fiction. A great summer read.