Sunday, February 27, 2011

But How Did She Know What The Dress Looked Like?. . .

This is too, too funny.  Fiona Goble's Knit Your Own Royal Wedding includes instructions for not only William and Kate, but Harry, Elizabeth and Philip, Charles and Camilla and even a corgi.  A backdrop of Westminister Abbey is also included.  Hey, you still have two months - knit yourself into the guest list.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

An Exclusive Love. . .

Reading Johanna Adorján's An Exclusive Love , translated by Anthea Bell, inevitably makes one think about your own grandparents. Most of us take them for granted, especially when we're very young, and by the time we're adults ourselves and take a greater interest in our family history, sadly they are often no longer with us.  Who doesn't have a slew of questions they'd now love to ask?

In the case of Adorján, her grandparents' deaths together by suicide raised a number of questions that she knew would never be answered, especially as it was a subject her family never wanted to talk about. Her grandparents - both Hungarian Jews - had survived the Holocaust and the communist uprising, fleeing to Denmark where they lived for the remainder of their lives. They also would never talk about their past. Adorján was only twenty when they died.

Her memoir details her search for more information about her grandparents' lives. She interviews their friends and visits the concentration camp where her grandfather nearly died. She doesn't find out much; this is not the type of book that has a huge secret to reveal.  Rather, it's the task itself that not only helps her to grieve, but also to examine the ways she herself fits into her family story, and how that inheritance affects her sense of identity, particularly in terms of her Jewish heritage. Interspersed with her research are imagined episodes from the last day of her grandparents' life, filled with what might seem to be tiny and mundane details, but are all the more moving given the context. The book is thoughtful, never sensationalist, and written with a poignant respect for its subjects and subject matter.  Truly a book that  would interest readers of all ages, and could be shared among three different generations.

The Cat's Meow. . .

This one is for Rosalyn.  Thanks to Bookshelf for the link.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Mildred Pierce Mini-Series. . .

Is it just me, or are movie/tv tie-in covers getting a lot more attractive?  I don't have cable so I'll have to wait until the DVD, but if I did, I'd love to watch this mini-series of James M. Cain's Mildred Pierce.  Not only because I'm a big fan of Kate Winslet, but I'm curious as to how it will differ from the melodramatic, but iconic Joan Crawford film.  It airs on HBO at the end of March.  You can watch a preview here.

Friday, February 18, 2011

One Day Poster. . .

Okay, I'm LOVING this movie poster for the upcoming film of David Nicholls' One Day. It has such a retro feel to it, doesn't it?  I had my doubts about Anne Hathaway playing Emma (though I think Jim Sturgess is perfect for Dexter), but she looks good in this poster.  No trailer yet, but you can see a few more stills from the film here.  It will be out on July 8th.   Can't wait.

Spring 2011 Preview or my Very Large To Be Read Pile. . .

The long weekend couldn't have come at a better time.  I have an enormous pile of books, galleys and manuscripts of upcoming books that are all calling out to me.  I've posted my Spring Dewey Picks on the sidebar at the right. These were mostly read last fall and over the xmas holidays and I also have to add Anne Enright's new novel Forgotten Waltz which is fantastic - a very sexy novel about a destructive adulterous affair, set against Dublin's economic rise and fall of the last few years.

But in that very brief respite before I have to turn my attention to the fall books, the rest of the spring crop is tantalizing me. There's no way I'll be able to get through even a portion of all these books and I have no idea where my weekend whims will take me, but here's just a partial list of what I'd love to get through if I could stop time. Again, many of these have not yet been published, so there's plenty of time to get your name at the top of the library holds list or start a shopping list of your own.  Hope you are as excited about some of these titles as I am.

Irma Voth by Miriam Toews.   I'm a big fan of Toews, and I was lucky enough to see her film debut in the art movie Silent Light, directed by Carlos Reygadas  (see more info and trailer here) . I'm sure she's brought some of her film set experiences to bear in this new novel about a young Mennonite woman and her encounters with a film crew who are making a movie about her community.

Man of Parts by David Lodge.  Another favourite writer and in this new novel, he's re-imagined the life of H.G. Wells and his relations with the many women in his life, including the amazing Rebecca West who should be far better known and read than she is.

The Paris Wife by Paula McCain.  Another fictional novel about writers. In this case it's Ernest Hemingway and his circle of friends in 1920s Paris, narrated by his first wife Hadley.

The London Train by Tessa Hadley.  I loved Hadley's previous novel Everything Will Be All Right and I do have a train fetish, so any novel set on trains immediately gets my attention. The novel is about two journeys that will intersect.  Paul travels from Wales to London in search of his adult daughter who has gone missing in the city. Cora is going the other way, from London to Wales, back to the house she has inherited from her parents while escaping her marriage. Beautiful cover too.

Fred Vargas is back with another Commissaire Adamsberg mystery called An Uncertain Place. This one actually starts off in London as he and his colleagues go to the city to attend a conference and get caught up in the case of a pile of shoes  - with severed feet inside them - found outside Highgate Cemetery.  How this will lead to a trail of vampire hunters in Serbia, I have no idea but I completely trust Vargas to deliver another masterfully plotted book.  Henning Mankell is also back this spring with his final Wallander novel, The Troubled Man.

Seven Years by Peter Stamm, translated by Michael Hofmann.  I've read two of this Swiss writer's previous novels (On A Day Like This, and Unformed Landscape, both translated by Michael Hofmann) and this novel about a love triangle sounds wonderful.  My favourite love stories always seem to be European these days.

The Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Phillips.  Lahring has already read this and has been strongly recommending it to me. It's one of her Dewey picks (also check out her other favourites on the sidebar). This promises to be a clever bit of metafiction involving a main character called Arthur Phillips, a con artist father, a twin sister, a family love of Shakespeare and yes, a lost play found that may or may not be by the Bard.  The entire five act play - The Tragedy of Arthur - is also included in the novel. I'm always intrigued to see what Phillips comes up with next; he certainly doesn't write the same book twice. I think of him as an American Jonathan Coe, which from me, is high praise indeed.  I loved Prague and the bold storytelling of The Egyptologist, and I really must make the time to read his last one as well, The Song is You.

Also on the fiction pile: 

The Lake by Banana Yoshimoto, translated by Michael Emmerich - a quirky love story about a young woman trying to help her partner escape his cult past by a beautiful and mysterious lake.
The Curfew by Jesse Ball.  My U.S. colleagues have been raving about this dystopian novel about a man and his young daughter living in a city of fear.
The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht. Tons of buzz already about this debut novel about a woman seeking the truth about secrets in her family's past.
Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in All the Confusion? by Johan Harstad, translated by Deborah Dawkin.  I know all the focus is on their crime fiction, but Scandinavia has produced some darn fine literary writers as well. I'm always interested in being introduced to new ones - this novel looks like a lot of quirky fun. A young man tries to escape his personal and professional disasters on the Faroe Islands. Buzz apparently will also make an appearance.
Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away by Christie Watson.  One of my colleague's favourite spring books - she says this novel set in Nigeria and narrated by twelve year old Blessing as she assists her mid-wife grandmother, has a terrific voice and is very reminiscent of Chris Cleave's Little Bee.
Irretrievable by Theodor Fontane, translated by Douglas Parmee.  The story of a long time marriage that slowly drifts apart. Another NYRB Classic find.
The Astral by Kate Christensen - the mid-life crisis of Harry Quirk, a poet dealing with literary, marital, financial and parental failures.  I expect a lot of wry humour in this one.
Potsdam Station by David Downing - thriller set in the last days of WWII in Berlin.
All the Time in the World by E. L. Doctorow - short stories.
Games to Play After Dark by Sarah Gardner Borden.  My U.S colleagues compared this debut novel about the destruction of a marriage, to a modern day Revolutionary Road.

 And finally, there are two non-fiction manuscripts on the pile that I think will be important reading to understand, debate, engage with and react to all the changes and challenges going on in the book industry and infiltrating their way also into education and culture.  Basically, I need a little optimism to hold on to and hope to find it in these two books.

This Is Not the End of the Book by Umberto Eco and Jean-Claude Carrière.  From the book's description:
"These days it is almost impossible to get away from discussions of whether the ‘book’ will survive the digital revolution. Blogs, tweets and newspaper articles on the subject appear daily, many of them repetitive, most of them admitting they don’t know what will happen. Amidst the twittering, the thoughts of Jean-Claude Carrière and Umberto Eco come as a breath of fresh air.  There are few people better placed to discuss the past, present and future of the book. Both avid book collectors with a deep understanding of history, they have explored through their work the many and varied ways ideas have been represented through the ages.This thought-provoking book takes the form of a long conversation in which Carrière and Eco discuss everything from what can be defined as the first book to what is happening to knowledge now."

The Use and Abuse of Literature by Marjorie Garber.  This is also an examination of literature and reading in the digital age from a prolific writer, and I like this bit on the jacket copy: "Garber’s winning aim is to reclaim literature from the margins of our personal, educational, and professional lives and restore it to the center, as a fierce, radical way of thinking."  Amen to that!

So that should be plenty to be getting on with.  .  .

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Beautiful Books. . .

In the midst of all the panic about e-books and how they might herald a crisis in the book industry, I'm always looking (and perhaps more crucially now) to celebrate beautiful print books and publishers who are still coming up with some creative ways to package and design books so that they remain valuable objects that real bibliophiles will always lust after. Case in point is Melville House which I blogged about here.

But I've also recently discovered Visual Editions, a new British publisher devoted to exploring creative ways to play with text, and I immediately ordered both of their inaugral books, which I can confirm are every bit as beautiful to hold as they look in the photos.  The first is an edition of the perfect book to experiment with - Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy, in which visual elements were used to "highlight and exaggerate what Laurence Sterne intended when he first wrote Shandy."  You can see some of the pages here.   I love it!

The second is The Tree of Codes by Jonathan Safran Foer.  This is just the coolest thing ever.  He's taken one of his favourite books - Bruno Schulz's The Street of Crocodiles (which I also ordered and will read first) and actually cut away letters and words to carve out his own separate story.  Check out pages (and a video of readers' reactions) here.

And then I'm loving this set of 50 Mini Modern Classics that Penguin UK has put out to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Modern Classics line.  They can be bought separately or in this classy box set and consist of novellas or small collections of short stories. You can see the full list of titles here (and the guinea pig they use in their promotional book trailer is pretty cute).  I will certainly be getting my hands on two stories about addiction by Hans Fallada, published under the title Short Treatise on the Joys of Morphinism. Here's a line from one of them:
…I stare at the coffee I poured myself, and I think: caffeine is a poison that stimulates the heart. There are plenty of instances of people killing themselves with coffee, hundreds and thousands of them. Caffeine is a deadly poison, maybe almost as deadly as morphine. Why didn’t it ever occur to me before: coffee is my friend!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Let Justin Bieber Read You a Bedtime Story

Justin Bieber reads 'The Cat in The Hat' as part of the Book It (U.S.) National Reading Incentive Program. Check it out here!

Friday, February 11, 2011

2011 Commonwealth Prize Shortlists Announced

The Commonwealth Writers’ Prize has announced it's regional shortlists for the Best Book and Best First Book awards. Noted below are the author's home and where to source the book in Canada (if available).

Africa Best Book:
The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna (Sierra Leone, Atlantic Monthly/PGC)
Men of the South by Zukiswa Wanner (South Africa, NB Publishers)
The Unseen Leopard by Bridget Pitt (South Africa)
Oil on Water by Helon Habila (Nigeria, Hamish Hamilton/Penguin)
Blood at Bay by Sue Rabie (South Africa, NB Publishers)
Banquet at Brabazan by Patricia Schonstein (South Africa, Jacana Media)

Africa Best First Book:

Happiness is a Four Letter Word by Cynthia Jele (South Africa)
Bitter Leaf by Chioma Okereke (Nigeria/ Virago UK)
The Fossil Artist by Graeme Friedman (South Africa)
Colour Blind by Uzoma Uponi (Nigeria)
Voice of America by E. C. Osondu (Nigeria/HarperCollins U.S.)
Wall of Days by Alastair Bruce (South Africa)

Canada and Caribbean Best Book:

The Sky is Falling by Caroline Adderson (Canada/Thomas Allen)
Room by Emma Donahue (Canada/ HarperCollins Canada)
The Master of Happy Endings by Jack Hodgins (Canada/Thomas Allen)
In The Fabled East by Adam Lewis Schroeder (Canada/D&M)
The Death of Donna Whalen by Michael Winter (Canada/Hamish Hamilton/Penguin)
Mr. Shakespeare’s Bastard by Richard B. Wright (Canada? HarperCollins Canada)

Canada and Caribbean Best First Book:

Bird Eat Bird by Katrina Best (Canada/Insomniac Press)
Doing Dangerously Well by Carole Enahoro (Canada/Random House)
Mennonites Don’t Dance by Darcie Friesen Hossack (Canada/Thistledown Press)
Light Lifting by Alexander MacLeod (Canada/Biblioasis)
The Cake is for the Party by Sarah Selecky (Canada/Thomas Allen)
Illustrado by Miguel Syjuco (Canada/Penguin)

South Asia and Europe Best Book:

Lyrics Alley by Leila Aboulela (UK/ HarperCollins Canada)
The Betrayal by Helen Dunmore (UK/Fig Tree/Penguin )
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell (UK, Random House)
The Long Song by Andrea Levy (UK)
Sex and Stravinsky by Barbara Trapido (UK, Bloomsbury UK)
Union Atlantic by Adam Haslett (UK, Knoff/)

South Asia and Europe Best First Book:

Serious Men by Manu Joseph (India/ HarperCollins Canada)
Saraswati Park by Anjali Joseph (India, Harper Collins U.K.)
The House with the Blue Shutters by Lisa Hilton (UK, Corvus)
Children of the Sun by Max Shaefer (Granta UK)
Grace Williams says it Loud by Emma Henderson (UK/Sceptre/Hodder)
Sabra Zoo by Mischa Hiller (UK/Telegram)

South East Asia and Pacific Best Book:

Reading Madame Bovary by Amanda Lohrey (Australia)
That Deadman Dance by Kim Scott (Australia)
Time’s Long Ruin by Stephen Orr (Australia)
Hand Me Down World by Lloyd Jones (New Zealand/Random House Canada)
Notorious by Roberta Lowing (Australia)
Gifted by Patrick Evans (New Zealand)

South East Asia and Pacific Best First Book:

21 Immortals by Rozlan Mohd Noor (Malaysia)
A Man Melting by Craig Cliff (New Zealand)
The Graphologist’s Apprentice by Whiti Hereaka (New Zealand)
The Body in the Clouds by Ashley Hay (Australia)
Traitor by Stephen Daisley (Australia/New Zealand)
A Few Right Thinking Men by Sulari Gentill (Australia)

According to the Commonwealth Foundation website, the regional winners of the Best Book and Best First Book prizes will be announced on the 3rd March, with the final programme commencing on the 16th May at Sydney Writers’ Festival in Australia. The finalists from the four different regions of the Commonwealth will be brought together, and the two overall winners will be announced on the 21st May.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Friday Film Fest: Dance Me To The End of Love. . .

It's February, it's cold and Valentine's Day is coming.  Ignore all the mushy stuff and immerse yourself in this hot duo instead.  I owe a debt of gratitude to Lloyd Jones' novel Here at the End of the World We Learn to Dance as it triggered an immediate interest in everything to do with the tango.  It mixes a contemporary love story with one set during the First World War, and not only does this fiery dance feature in both tales, but Jones manages to convey a real sense of the changing history of the tango and how, for example, jazz influenced the traditional music, not without some controversy. And these are very unconventional partnerships, brought together by a love of the dance. I immediately went out and bought several CDs by musicians mentioned in the novel, loaded them onto my iPOD and it's now my favourite music to listen to during wintry commutes. For a complete seductively visual feast, you must rent Carlos Saura's 1998 film Tango.  (You can watch the trailer here. ) It's the story of a director trying to make a film about the history of tango but as with many of Saura's films, reality and illusion often get mixed up. The music and dancing is just superb and showcases all sorts of tangos, done in groups, in trios, with different gender mixes, and of course very sensual duets. Red wine would be a good accompaniment. Beats a corny American rom-com any day.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Snow Day. . .

Well, maybe for you.  I have to trudge down to the convention centre later today and set up our booth for the Ontario Library Association Conference - to all those resilient librarians who are coming to the show, safe travels and we'll see you there.  For those lucky enough to be able to stay at home - what a great day to hunker down on the couch with a cozy blanket and a good book.  It's definitely better to view the cold and snow from indoors, or inside some fictional pages.  If I could stay at home, here's what I'd be taking down from my shelves and re-reading.

Aurorarama by Jean-Christophe Valtat.  
This was one of my fall Dewey picks and a book completely outside of my usual reading habits, but I absolutely loved it. Set in the far north in a utopian city called New Venice, ice and snow are a constant, but often beautiful part of everyday life. Part steampunk and part fantasy with a very modern sensibility and commentary on contemporary global problems, above all the novel is a great adventure story. Think Philip Pullman for adults (more sex and drugs), and add in suffragettes, a mystical Polar kangaroo and even zombies (former polar explorers who perished trying to find the North Pole and are damned if anyone else will get there).  But most of all, I loved the clever play with language and the sophisticated humour. Can't wait for the sequel.

Alex Good reviewed the book on his blog here.  I found this paragraph particularly interesting.

If I could supply another label of my own to go with some of the others that have been thrown at it, I would like to call Aurorarama a great Canadian novel. Not just because the hero hails from Nova Scotia, or because New Venice itself seems to be located somewhere in our icy waters, but for the book's sensibility. The ménage of Old World and native peoples, the "poletics" of British understatement and noblesse cross-bred with French passive aggression, the survivalist/garrison mentality of New Venice, and the various nods to polar explorers (those giants of our own national unconscious), combined with all of the richness of its mythical thinking, give Valtat's work as much the feel of an imaginative guide to CanLit as an alternative pre-modern history. I think it perfectly fair and justified that we claim this Frenchman writing in English and published in the U.S. as one of our own.
Henning Mankell's YA series:

Most people know Mankell as a great crime writer and count me as a fan too.  But I became completely entranced by his series of YA books set in a small Swedish town and following several years of Joel Gustafson's teenage life.  He's had to grow up fast. His mother abandoned the family and his father, a former sailor has become an alcoholic as a result. Joel has to take care of him and himself as well. But the one thing Joel has is a great imagination - both a gift and a curse.  He can see the magic in the woods surrounding him, in the way that light and shadows fall on the snow, and he makes friends with an odd assortment of characters, usually those shunned by the community. As Joel gets older, he has to evaluate his imaginative gifts and decide if he wants to embrace them, or if they will hold him back from the realities and challenges of impending adulthood.  The writing is superb and very moving.  All the books work as stand-alones, but if you want to read them in chronological order, here is the list:

True Deceiver by Tove Jansson, translated by Thomas Teal
Oh, how I love this short but so compellingly creepy novel,  and a lot of that has to do with the continuous snow that keeps falling on this small community throughout, adding a really sinister touch. It's the story of a complicated relationship between an elderly children's book illustrator and the young woman who comes to help her with errands, and slowly insinuates herself into her life. Even the dog is a bit mad.  Definitely a stay-in, shivery type of book.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

I Think I Love You. . .

Sorry - I know you are going to have that song in your head all day now, but this book trailer for Allison Pearson's new novel is a lot of fun to watch and at any rate should take your mind momentarily off the winter weather.    I Think I Love You is the story of two young girls, Petra and Sharon, who are absolutely crazy about David Cassidy and planning to sneak off to see him in concert. Also in attendence is a young writer who works for the pop star's fan magazine.  Decades later, the characters all meet again on a trip to Las Vegas where the two friends - now in their forties - finally get to meet their teen idol.  But will it still mean as much?

I think we can all relate. In the trailer many of my U.S. Random House colleagues - including designer Chip Kidd and Julia Child editor Judith Jones -  confess their own teenage crushes.  For me - my tween crush was Donny Osmond. Yes, I'm embarrased to admit that I even had purple socks in his honour.  And then I moved on to Simon Le Bon.  And Cary Grant.  It's still Cary.

Eye on the Tiger. . .

Congratulations to John Vaillant who has won the B.C. National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction  for his book The Tiger:  A True Story of Vengeance and Survival. The award is Canada's richest literary prize for non-fiction, with $40,000 going to the winner.  Film rights have already been optioned by Brad Pitt.  Read more about Vaillant's win here.