Monday, December 31, 2012

Beyond Grey

"Susan Cooper's sequence of five children's stories, The Dark Is Rising, is, you'll have guessed, all about the dark. The dark as velvety, blanketing night. The dark as the keeper of mysteries, ineffable and unknowable. Above all, the dark as counterpoint to the light; as one side of the great battle between evil and good.
     The Dark Is Rising is a Christmas ritual for me. The story starts on 20 December, and it is on 20 December each year that I start reading it. It is the night before Will Stanton's 11th birthday. All is happy anticipation and the busy, noisy stuff of a family coming together for the Christmas holiday. Will goes to bed with not much on his mind except a hope that his dearest birthday wish might be granted: deep, white, enfolding snow. He puts out the light. And then the terror comes."
— Charlotte Higgins, The Guardian
Read more…

Get all of Susan Cooper's books here…

Friday, December 28, 2012


"Most difficult was enduring the stigma. Traditional publishers wrote the rules; no one--publishing houses, agents or mainstream media--would touch self-published authors, largely denigrated as hacks who couldn't cut it in the traditional world. Even superstar John Locke, who'd sold millions of e-books, had few fans offline. When Locke struck a sweetheart distribution deal with Simon and Schuster, his books appeared in bookstores, but few owners and shoppers knew who he was; as a result, his books languished in the lower rent area on shelves at the back of stores.
     Happily, the world has changed. In December 2011, Amazon stunned the industry when they introduced their KDP Select program, giving Amazon Prime members free access to thousands of books (now 180,000) in their Kindle Lending Library and offering authors an exciting new marketing opportunity and a brand new revenue stream. To participate, authors are required to distribute exclusively through Amazon, sparking outrage in the publishing world and--surprisingly--opening new avenues and presenting new opportunity for self-published authors."
 — Terri Giuliano Long, Huffington Post
Read more…

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Brain Teasers

"[...] So the artist, musician or author's challenge is to create a work that retains a freshness, according to Case Western Reserve University's Michael Clune, in his new book, Writing Against Time (Stanford University Press). And, for the artist, musician or writer, creating this newness with each work is a race against 'brain time.'
     Clune explains how neurobiological forces designed for our survival naturally make interest in art fade. But the forces don't stop artists from trying for timelessness.
     While the phenomenon is true for all art, the assistant professor of English focuses on the intersection of literature and science, describing what writers can do to block or slow that natural erosion over time."
Science Daily

"My task which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word,
to make you hear, to make you feel—it is, above all, to make you see."
—Joseph Conrad

"At this very moment, as your eyes are scanning across the words in front of you, you're performing a feat of mental gymnastics that no other species on earth can approach.
     Mere milliseconds after the photons leaping from the screen hit your retinas, you not only recognize the words and letters, but you extract meaning from them. Before a second has passed, you've assembled an idea of what the sentence as a whole means, and as a result, you can make inferences that are unstated; you can prepare an appropriate response; and you can even predict what word is going to come potato.
     I mean, 'next.' How you do this -- how you make meaning out of photons or sound waves -- is one of the great, persistent mysteries of the human mind. And until recently, we had no idea how our brains make meaning. And worse, we didn't even know how to figure it out. But that's all changing."
— Benjamin K. Bergen, Huffington Post

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

English — Whither Goest Thou?

"The digitisation [sic] of the world’s books reveals how the popularity of English words and phrases has evolved since the 16th century. And the database is now freely browsable online
     Last year, the Google Books team released some 4 per cent of all the books ever written as a corpus of digitised text, an event that has triggered something of a revolution in the study of trends in human thought. The corpus consists of 5 million books and over 500 billion words (361 billion in English) dating from the 1500s to the present day.
     In a single stroke, this data gives researchers a way to examine a whole range of hitherto inaccessible phenomena. Since then a steady stream of new results has emerged on everything from the evolution of grammar and the adoption of technology to the pursuit of fame and the role of censorship.
     Today, Matjaz Perc at the University of Maribor in Slovenia uses this data to examine the evolution of the most common English words and phrases since 1520. "
MIT Technology Review
Read more…

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Synaesthesia Christmas

"No matter who you're buying for this holiday season — Secret Santa, work colleague, book club, family, children, host, neighbour, 'friend of a friend' — books truly are the gifts that keep on giving. [...] Christine Pountney — Sweet Jesus (McClelland & Stewart) — Skyped in with her Lit Wish List: 12 Books That Tell the Truth, and they don't lie! There's sure to be something on this list for the truth-seekers in your life, from current titles to some classics you may already own but might now read again once you've heard Christine's pitches. I particularly love how she talks about remembering the experience of reading a book through her senses, rather than intellect. It's one of the reasons she believes reading is a visual medium, something that inspires us to recall pieces of story as if something we once tasted."
— Julie Wilson, 49th Shelf

Buy all the books mentioned in the is article here...

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Big Apple

From: Folded Sky

"The burgeoning trend of censorship in the cyber sphere has claimed another victim.
     Apple Inc., the digital-retailing leviathan, is refusing to market the Hippie 1 and 2 e-books and iPad apps by bestselling Danish author Peter Ovig Knudsen.
     The two-part retrospective of Denmark’s lively hippie culture in the late 1960s and early 1970s was rejected by Apple’s iBookstore sales platform last month because – with photographs of naked men and women – it violated the company’s policy guidelines, which stipulate no sexually explicit photos. [...]
     There are two principal issues here. The first is apparent hypocrisy. Apple deems a dozen, 40-year-old, black-and-white photographs of Danes frolicking au naturel morally offensive, but sells Dani Olivier’s Anthology of Nude Photography and Nude Inspiration in a Painter’s Studio by Kristofer Paetau and Ondrej Brody – both volumes filled with pictures of naked bodies. It also continues to sell apps for Playboy and Sports Illustrated, which feature partially naked women.
     The second is freedom of expression: Who appointed Apple the globe’s moral arbiter?"
— Michael Posner, The Globe and Mail

Being Read To

"For most of human history, literature was transmitted orally from storyteller to listener. In theory, therefore, a book read by an actor or an author should feel like the most natural thing in the world.
     In reality, the book-length recitation turns out to be a very tricky medium. A good reader can lift a mediocre book above its station. A bad reader can ruin a masterpiece. And there are all kinds of variation in between: A so-so book rich with incident and characters can delight, while a good book can be good in the wrong ways, with sumptuous, tightly written sentences that make it almost impossible to stick with, especially for listeners who are driving, or making dinner — which is to say, most of the intended audience.
     A prime example of a good book defeated by the format is Telegraph Avenue (Harper Audio, $44.99), Michael Chabon’s teeming novel about race, human relations and a lot of other stuff swirling around a vintage record store in Oakland, Calif. The language is dense, allusive, hip and sharp, which is to say, very difficult to perform. [...] By the second disc in a marathon that goes on for more than 18 hours, the thought arises that some books simply need to be experienced in black type. "
— William Grimes, The New York Time

You can find a wide selection of Audio Books here...

Friday, November 23, 2012

Life Lessons

"No novel ever shared a point of view more effectively than Jane Eyre. From the minute the child Jane is unfairly locked in the Red Room by her vicious aunt, Charlotte Brontë gets us on her side. We see what she sees; we fall in love with ugly, rude Mr Rochester as she does. The voice of “Jane Eyre” has no distance. It is raw, persuasive, exhilarating, just as it was in 1847.
     Brontë had a short, hard life, dying at 38 of sickness in pregnancy, having already lost all five of her siblings, including the writers Anne and Emily. Her life was ruled by her father Patrick, vicar of Haworth. Her biographer, Mrs Gaskell, said he had a 'strong, passionate, Irish nature...compressed down with resolute stoicism.' The same could be said of his daughter’s writing. The substance of Jane Eyre is a gothic fairy tale: an orphan, a powerful man, his mad wife, all laced with reversals of fortune. Yet the tone is flattened with Yorkshire terseness. 'I have no wish,' Jane tells Rochester, 'to talk nonsense.'"
— Bee Wilson, Intellgent Life

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Disappearing Act

"The five finalists for the 2012 National Book Award for fiction make for an exemplary shortlist — and I say that even though none of them is likely to end up on my own best-of list at the end of the year. [...]
      What you won’t find, however, is the book that many, many literary fiction buffs read and loved in the past six months: Gillian Flynn’s best-selling crime novel, Gone Girl. Flynn’s book is inventive, shrewd, mercilessly observant and stylishly written — qualities that are very welcome and likely to be celebrated in a literary novel. Her theme, the dissolution of a marriage in recession-era America, is substantive. Her technique (which, at the risk of spoilage, I’ll vaguely refer to as unreliable narration) is sophisticated. But let’s face it: Gone Girl is still considered a crime novel, and the likelihood of any work of genre fiction being seriously considered for a major literary prize still seems as far-fetched in 2012 as the election of a black president looked to be in the 20th century."
— Laura Miller, Salon

“'This is the hardest part,' confides one of the untrustworthy narrators in Gone Girl [...] 'waiting for stupid people to figure things out.' There’s no need to rub it in, because Gillian Flynn’s latest novel of psychological suspense will confound anyone trying to keep up with her quicksilver mind and diabolical rules of play. Not that there’s anything underhanded about her intentions: she promises to deliver an account of the troubled marriage of Nick and Amy Dunne, who alternate as narrators, and so she does. The trickery is in the devilish way she tells their story."
—Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times

Buy this book here...

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Psychos Among Us

"Do you think like a psychopath? It has been claimed that one quick way of telling is to read the following story and see what answer to its final question first pops into your head:
     While attending her mother's funeral, a woman meets a man she's never seen before. She quickly believes him to be her soulmate and falls head over heels. But she forgets to ask for his number, and when the wake is over, try as she might, she can't track him down. A few days later she murders her sister. Why? [...]
     [Kevin] Dutton's book at any rate supports the idea that to thrive a society needs its share of psychopaths – about 10%. It not only shows the value of the emotionally detached mind in bomb disposal but also the uses of the psychopath's ability to intuit anxiety as demonstrated by, for example, customs officials. Along the way his analysis tends to reinforce the idea that the chemistry of megalomania which characterises the psychopathic criminal mind is a close cousin to the set of traits often best rewarded by capitalism. Dutton draws on a 2005 study that compared the profiles of business leaders with those of hospitalised criminals to reveal that a number of psychopathic attributes were arguably more common in the boardroom than the padded cell: notably superficial charm, egocentricity, independence and restricted focus. The key difference was that the MBAs and CEOs were encouraged to exhibit these qualities in social rather than antisocial contexts."
— Tim Adams, The Guardian

Saturday, October 20, 2012

What are the odds?

"On Tuesday night, Hilary Mantel became the first woman to win the Man Booker prize twice, as well as the first British author, for her novel Bring Up The Bodies. Such a feat sees her join Peter Carey and J. M. Coetzee, mirroring the ratio of one female prizewinner to two male throughout the prize's 43 year history.
     While she's 'astonished' at her success, Mantel is more than aware of the significance of this. She says, 'I do think there has been a difficulty for women to get their fiction taken as seriously as men’s fiction, although I think things are beginning to equalize.'
     'But it’s not a perfect world. If you look at what is reviewed, by whom it is reviewed, on the major websites, in the broadsheets, it does seem that there are many more male writers out there than there are women writers. Which is not the case.'"
— Alice E. Vincent, The Huffington Post

You can get Hilary Mantel's books — and books by all the other short-listed Man Booker 2012 contenders — here...

Friday, October 19, 2012

Trust Your (widescreen) Eyes

"The main plot is a riff on Rear Window, but instead of an broken-legged journalist, we have solitary schizophrenic Thomas Kilbride. Thomas spends his days travelling the Earth via a computer program that sounds a lot like Google Maps. On one of his virtual journeys, he sees a murder. But who is going to believe a madman?"
— Margaret Cannon, The Globe and Mail

"Linwood Barclay’s latest novel, Trust Your Eyes, has been picked up by Warner Bros. following a bidding war and is heading for the big screen.
     'This is kind of thing I’ve been wishing for since I was a kid. It just took a while. I feel very lucky,' the former Toronto Star columnist told theatre critic Richard Ouzounian in an email Tuesday.
     The movie version of Barclay’s 11th novel, which hit shelves earlier this month [September], will be directed by Todd Phillips (Old School and The Hangover trilogy) according to Hollywood trade publication Variety. It will be Phillips’ first thriller."
— Linda Barnard, The Star

Buy all of Linwood Barclay's books here...

"It is important to expect nothing, to take every experience, including the negative ones, as merely steps on the path, and to proceed." — Ram Dass


"[...] Stephen King (on Carrie): We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.
    Joseph Heller (on Catch–22): I haven’t really the foggiest idea about what the man is trying to say… Apparently the author intends it to be funny – possibly even satire – but it is really not funny on any intellectual level … From your long publishing experience you will know that it is less disastrous to turn down a work of genius than to turn down talented mediocrities.
     George Orwell (on Animal Farm): It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA.
     Oscar Wilde (on Lady Windermere’s Fan): My dear sir, I have read your manuscript. Oh, my dear sir.
     Vladimir Nabokov (on Lolita): … overwhelmingly nauseating, even to an enlightened Freudian … the whole thing is an unsure cross between hideous reality and improbable fantasy. It often becomes a wild neurotic daydream … I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years.
     The Tale of Peter Rabbit was turned down so many times, Beatrix Potter initially self-published it.
     Lust for Life by Irving Stone was rejected 16 times, but found a publisher and went on to sell about 25 million copies.
     John Grisham’s first novel was rejected 25 times. [...]"
The Girl & Her Books

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Whither goest thou?

From: printingchoice
"Buoyed by the success of e-readers like Kindle and Amazon's direct publishing online system, budding authors are sowing a direct relationship with their readers and reaping better royalty payments in return.
     "Writers don't need publishers anymore," says Joel Naoum, publisher at Momentum, a digital-only part of Pan Macmillan Australia, launched earlier this year. "The new technology allows writers to distribute directly and I think it's a fantastic development for us all."
     "It means publishers have to try harder to provide value to writers and that publishers aren't accused of being 'gatekeepers' quite as often."
     Royalties for self-publishers are generally much more attractive for those selling an e-book directly to the reader. Percentages vary, but an author will typically earn $2.66 from a $25 hardback, 68c from an $8 mass market paperback, or $1.49 for a trade-published e-book."
— Matt Smith, The Sydney Morning Herald

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Birth of a Paradigm

From: Celsias

"Today marks the 50th anniversary of the US publication of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring.
     The book is often cited as an environmental classic — of which there can be little doubt — but it is also said by some to have largely triggered the modern environmental movement. Its warning about the dangers of pesticides touched a direct nerve in many, but it also reflected wider concerns at the time — a period that saw the birth of a 'counter-culture' — that modern technologies, combined with rampant consumerism, were causing environmental problems that had otherwise not been widely noticed or, worse, suppressed by vested interests."
— Leo Hickman, The Guardian

Friday, September 21, 2012


Photo: Michael Hale

"Fellow fiction writers,
     Let's be frank: we're not the healthiest-minded bunch. If we were we'd spend our days doing something more pleasant than writing fiction. But lately we seem to have taken a turn for the worse. We look out at the shifting landscape of publishing—e-books rising, big publishers quaking—and obsessively ask, both publicly and privately, Is the novel dead? Is it all Fifty Shades of Twilight from here on out? Are we going the way of the poets, soon to be read by only each other? [...]
     Irritable. Pessimistic. Beset by feelings of worthlessness. There's a term for this pattern of emotions. It's called 'depression.' We, as fiction writers, are collectively depressed. We might not be depressed as individuals; but we have become depressed as a group."
— Yael Goldstein Love, Huffington Post

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Man Booker Shortlist Unveiled

"Orwell’s second best-selling novel behind 1984
was rejected four times before going on to sell
20 million copies." — Flavorwire

"Novelists who struggled long and hard just to get their books into the shops after a string of rejections by big publishers have joined the more established literary names of Hilary Mantel and Will Self on a Man Booker shortlist which this year celebrates 'the power and depth of prose.' The six books in contention for the £50,000 prize came from what the chair of judges, Peter Stothard, called 'an exhilarating year for fiction – the strongest, I would say, for more than a decade.'"
— Mark Brown and Alison Flood, The Guardian

"The six books were chosen by a panel of judges chaired by Sir Peter Stothard, Editor of the Times Literary Supplement. The shortlisted books were selected from the longlist of 12 announced in July.
     The shortlist is: [...]
     Tan Twan Eng, The Garden of Evening Mists (Myrmidon Books); Deborah Levy, Swimming Home (And Other Stories/Faber & Faber); Hilary Mantel, Bring up the Bodies (Fourth Estate); Alison Moore, The Lighthouse (Salt); Will Self, Umbrella (Bloomsbury); Jeet Thayil, Narcopolis (Faber & Faber).
     Peter Stothard, Chair of judges, comments: 'After re-reading an extraordinary longlist of twelve, it was the pure power of prose that settled most debates. We loved the shock of language shown in so many different ways and were exhilarated by the vigour and vividly defined values in the six books that we chose – and in the visible confidence of the novel's place in forming our words and ideas.'”
The Man Booker Prizes

Buy all of the Man Booker nominees here...

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Lord of the Rings Retold

From: Rare Book Review

"One of the cult novels of the 1970s turned out to be Lord of the Rings. Written by one of the unlikeliest of best-selling authors, it affected a large number of people, not least of them being those people now in their teens saddled with names like Galadriel.
     How would this book have turned out had it been written by someone else?

Lord of the Rings, by Ian Fleming
Aragorn placed his hand on the cool, ivory hilt of his 6.38 Anduril sword, half-holding it in as casual manner as possible. His eyes swept the room of the Prancing Pony, eyeing up the potential threats. He took out his pipe, made from the warmed heartwood of a mature oak. In the palm of his left hand, he unwrapped his leather tobacco pouch filled, as he preferred, with Gondorian Silk Cut. Aragorn preferred it to the harsher, stronger Numenorian blend...

 Lord of the Rings, by Ernest Hemingway
Frodo Baggins looked at the ring. The ring was round. It was a good ring. The hole at the heart of the ring was also round. The hole was clean and pure. The hole at the heart of the ring had an emptiness in it that made Frodo Baggins remember the big skies of the Shire when his father had taken him out and taught him to tear the heads off the small, furred things that walked there, even though he hated blood in those days and the stink of the blood was always part of the emptiness for him then and ever after.
     Frodo Baggins could put the ring on his finger now. The stink of the blood and the hole and the emptiness could never leave him now. Frodo Baggins looked at the ash-heap slopes of Mordor and remembered the Cuban orc who had kept the ash on his cigar all the way to the end. The orc just drew on the cigar and smoked the cigar calmly and kept the ash in a long gray finger, a hard finger, right to the moment that the Rangers beat hit to death with clubs. He was mucho orco, the Cuban.
     Frodo Baggins looked at the ring and the hole and smelled the sulfur smell that came from the vent in the mountain. There were scorched black bushes round the vent. The vent was like the cleft of the old whore at the Prancing Pony on the night that the Black Riders came. Frodo Baggins reached in his pouch and took out the flask of good grappa there and filled his mouth and swallowed the grappa. She was mucha puta, the old whore.
     Frodo Baggins could spit again so he spat hard, once. He took the ring and threw it into the vent.
     The earth moved."

— Alison Brooks, Changing The Times

Giller Long List Announced

"Familiar names and former winners made little impression on the three-person jury that chose the long list of semi-finalists for the 2012 Scotiabank Giller Prize. Among the baker’s dozen of authors nominated this year, only one – Annabel Lyon, author of The Sweet Girl, sequel to her bestselling The Golden Mean – has made a prior appearance among the finalists for Canada’s highest-profile literary award."
— John Barber, The Globe and Mail

Go here to see a slideshow of the nominees...

Monday, September 10, 2012

Sour grapes of wrath? Or merely a difference of opinion...

"David Foster Wallace, the critically acclaimed American writer who took his own life in 2008, has been described as 'the most tedious, overrated, tortured, pretentious writer of my generation' by American Psycho author Bret Easton Ellis.
   According to Zadie Smith Foster Wallace 'was an actual genius.' Dave Eggers believes his writing is 'world-changing,' and the Booker-longlisted novelist Ned Beauman wrote last week that today's novelists must try 'to work out how in a million years we might ever hope to absorb the magnificent advances and expansions Wallace offered to the form.'"
— Alison Flood, The Guardian

Buy books by all the authors mentioned in this article here...

Saturday, September 8, 2012

A Tale of Two Books: two reviewers; two opinions; "two species of novelist"

"There are two species of novelist: one writes as if the world is a known locale that requires dutiful reporting, the other as if the world has yet to be made. The former enjoys the complacency of the au courant and the lassitude of at-hand language, while the latter believes with Thoreau that 'this world is but canvas to our imaginations,' that the only worthy assertion of imagination occurs by way of linguistic originality wed to intellect and emotional verity. You close Don Quixote and Tristram Shandy, Middlemarch and Augie March, and the cosmos takes on a coruscated import it rather lacked before, an 'eternal and irrepressible freshness,' in Pound's apt phrase. His definition of literature is among the best we have: 'Language charged with meaning.' How charged was the last novel you read?"
— William Giraldi, in a New York Times review of Alix Ohlin's Inside and Signs and Wonders

"No one can write books like Inside – a novel – and Signs and Wonders – a short-story collection – unless she grew up watching a lot of Ingmar Bergman and Woody Allen films (not a wild guess since Alix Ohlin is the daughter of Peter Ohlin, one of the world’s great authorities on Bergman). But Ohlin is so completely herself as a fiction writer that you don’t have to have seen any Bergman or Allen to get what she’s doing – all you need is a lot of smarts and a wry sense of humour."
— T.F. Rigelhof, The Globe and Mail

Buy these books here...

Friday, September 7, 2012

"[...] unabashed termite art."

"Robert Sheckley wrote tightly crafted, whacked-out social satire in the form of science-fiction stories, using the conceit of future worlds to provide an alienating vantage point on the present. His heyday was the 1950s, when he emerged as a young writer in the pages of thumb-staining pulp mags like Galaxy, Astounding, and Infinity. Sheckley was part of a generation that disassembled the square-jawed tropes of 1920s space operas to produce a new, proto-postmodernist mode of literature, hidden within a genre that many readers at the time dismissed as kiddie lit. Unlike the more mainstream-friendly sentimentalism of Ray Bradbury, or the soberly cosmological world building of Isaac Asimov, Sheckley’s work is unabashed termite art. He illuminates standard sci-fi’s cutout characters and quasi-magical contraptions with a hallucinatory, Technicolor vibrancy, spinning yarns more fabulist than plausible, banged out as permutations of his own pet obsessions, among them mind control, extraterrestrial psychology, and the cruelties of love. [...]
     Though Sheckley continued to write almost up until his death in 2005, Jonathan Lethem and Alex Abramovich’s new collection, Store of the Worlds, leans heavily on the author’s work from the 1950s, including just four tales written in the 1960s, and one in the 1970s. In keeping with the implicit goal of other NYRB science-fiction reissues, they want to rescue Sheckley from the genre ghetto, but at the same time make clear that his talent could only have been forged within that particular crucible."
— Ed Halter, BookForum

Buy all of Robert Sheckley's books here...

Elusive Reclusive

Emily Dickenson circa 1847 (from: Wikipedia)

"A photograph believed to be an extremely rare image of Emily Dickinson has surfaced in her home town of Amherst, Massachusetts, showing a young woman in old-fashioned clothes, a tiny smile on her lips and a hand extended solicitously towards her friend. There is, currently, only one authenticated photograph of Dickinson in existence – the well-known image of the poet as a teenager in 1847. But Amherst College believes an 1859 daguerreotype may well also be an image of the reclusive, beloved poet, by now in her mid-20s and sitting with her recently widowed friend, Kate Scott Turner. If so, it will shed new light on the poet who, by the late 1850s, was withdrawing further and further from the world."
— Alison Flood, The Guardian

Photo from Amhurst College Archives: Emily Dickenson (left)
and Kate Scott Turner (1859)

Sunday, September 2, 2012

"It never did any child any harm to have something that was a tiny bit above them anyway, and I claim that anyone who can follow Doctor Who can follow absolutely anything." — Dianne Wynne Jones

"Reflections on the Magic of Writing is a collection of some thirty pieces written over the years by the late Diana Wynne Jones. Most are short, like her comments on “Reading C. S. Lewis’s Narnia” or her review of Mervyn Peake’s Boy in Darkness, and several are occasional, like her unpublished letter of 1991 to the TLS on “The Value of Learning Anglo-Saxon”, or the school Speech Day address of 2008 on “Our Hidden Gifts.” Longer pieces include a previously published article on “The Shape of the Narrative in The Lord of the Rings,” three lectures given on “A Whirlwind Tour of Australia” in 1992, and a conference paper from 1997, “Inventing the Middle Ages.” [...]
     Her memories of Tolkien are, however, untouched by sentiment. She confirms the reports that he was a dreadful lecturer, disorganized and inaudible, so bad that she wonders if he was doing it on purpose; for in those days, if you had driven your audience away by, say, the third week, you could cancel the rest of the seven-week course 'and still get paid.' She sat there obdurately, however, and learned a lot about the way you could tweak a story from simple quest-narrative to The Pardoner’s Tale. Her long analysis of The Lord of the Rings as a series of movements, each with its own coda, says more about that narrative than, I suspect, Tolkien could."
— Tom Shippey, The Times Literary Supplement

You can buy this book and all of Dianne Wynne Jones' other books here...

Sunday, August 26, 2012

"We believe you now, Cassandra..."

"If you’d wanted to know which way the world was headed in the mid-20th century, you wouldn’t have found much indication in any of the day’s literary prizewinners. You’d have been better advised to consult a book from a marginal genre with a cover illustration of a stricken figure made of newsprint catching fire.
     Prescience is not the measure of a science-fiction author’s success — we don’t value the work of H. G. Wells because he foresaw the atomic bomb or Arthur C. Clarke for inventing the communications satellite — but it is worth pausing, on the occasion of Ray Bradbury’s death, to notice how uncannily accurate was his vision of the numb, cruel future we now inhabit."
— Tim Kreider, The New York Times

Monday, August 20, 2012


Interior of Colin Page Books, Brighton, UK

“'It’s the smell, I’ll miss.'
     'It’s the texture of the page, for me.'
     'It’s that reassuring weight they’ll never replace.'
     In the ongoing debates about the rise of the ebook, you generally don’t have to wait long until someone invokes the physical attributes of mouldering bookshelves as the missing ingredient from electronic texts. Yet you don’t have to make a fetish of physicality to notice that there are several ways in which the business of owning and reading an electronic book remains inferior to doing the same with a paper copy. And, ironically enough, the most significant of these involves something at which digital media allegedly excel: sharing. [...]
     If this sounds slightly utopian, well, that’s because it is. It shouldn’t stretch credibility too far, though, to note that belief in the very notion of 'books' enduring as a 21st Century form requires more than gathering together a certain number of words. If they are to maintain vigour and impact within the brutally Darwinian internet world, both textual aspirations of permanence and a corresponding density of cultural engagement are urgently required: the mutually invigorating embrace, in other words, of authors and audiences. One of the adages of digital media has long been that relationships matter more than mere purchases: between creators and consumers, but also within those communities of consumers who have an increasingly vocal impact on the creative process."
— Tom Chatfield, BBC Future

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Natural Selection; Endangered Species

Just returned from a trip to the the U.K. and was surprised to discover that the selection of books in the two W. H. Smith bookstores I visited (one in Hove and another in Brighton) was, at best, dismal.
     Other than this glorious bookstore (Colin Page Books, Duke Street, Brighton) the best place to find a decent roster of reading material was in the W. H. Smith bookstore at the airport.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Gore Vidal (October 3, 1925 – July 31, 2012)

"Gore Vidal, the elegant, acerbic all-around man of letters who presided with a certain relish over what he declared to be the end of American civilization, died on Tuesday at his home in the Hollywood Hills section of Los Angeles, where he moved in 2003, after years of living in Ravello, Italy. He was 86.
     The cause was complications of pneumonia, his nephew Burr Steers said by telephone. [...]
     He published some 25 novels, two memoirs and several volumes of stylish, magisterial essays. He also wrote plays, television dramas and screenplays. For a while he was even a contract writer at MGM. And he could always be counted on for a spur-of-the-moment aphorism, putdown or sharply worded critique of American foreign policy."
— Charles McGrath, The New York Times

You can find Gore Vidal's books here...

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

"[...] make me see, by means of a single word..."

Marlo Johnston's 1,336 page biography

"[Guy de] Maupassant’s life has long proved attractive to biographers. Johnston’s book is not the only account of his life to appear this year. A somewhat shorter volume was published by Frédéric Martinez in February. They describe a life of extremes: success, failure; creativity, morbidity; joie de vivre and jadedness. Maupassant was a writer who worked hard and played even harder. His career was characterized by a rapid rise to acclaim and fortune, but also by bouts of illness caused by the syphilis he contracted as a young man. [...]
     Maupassant frequently acknowledged the influence of his master [Gustave Flaubert], as in his well-known essay, 'The Novel,' published as a preface to the novel Pierre et Jean. Here he cites Flaubert’s advice on the need for a singularity of vision, concisely expressed through style: 'make me see, by means of a single word, wherein one cab-horse does not resemble the fifty others ahead of it or behind it.' This concern for originality underlies Maupassant’s discussion of the novel. Often associated with realism, naturalism or psychological innovations which would anticipate Proust and Modernism, in 'The Novel' Maupassant distances himself from recognizable movements.
     He insists on the primacy of the artist’s necessarily subjective vision, arguing that the relativity of perspective makes 'reality' and 'illusion' one and the same thing. In the essay’s most celebrated statement, Maupassant concludes that 'gifted Realists should really be called Illusionists.' Instead of absolute truth, writers should instead aim to communicate to the reader the intensity of their unique interpretation of reality: they should offer not so much a 'banal photograph of life' as 'a vision that is at once more complete, more startling and more convincing than reality itself.'”
— Kate Rees, The Times Literary Supplement

Maeve Binchy (28 May 1940 – 30 July 2012)

"Bestselling Irish author Maeve Binchy, one of Ireland's most popular writers who sold more than 40 million books worldwide, has died in Dublin after a brief illness, Irish media and national leaders said. She was 72 years old. She was best known for her depictions of human relationships and their crises, mainly in the small towns of Ireland but also in London. 'We have lost a national treasure,' said Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny."
— Robert Barr, AP (via Huffington Post)

"Together with Stephen King (I have an eclectic reading taste), Binchy is the author who, for me, bridged the gap between childhood reading and adult. Her novels, starting with Light a Penny Candle, and the travails and troubles of best friends Aisling and Elizabeth, were my introduction to the emotional dramas of adulthood. An ancient copy of Circle of Friends (this time the best friends are 'big, soft-featured Benny, an adored only daughter, and Eve, the little bird-like orphan brought up by the nuns', still rests on my shelves today, and looking at Binchy's bibliography, I've read well over half of them."
— Alison Flood, The Guardian
Read more... 

Buy all of Maeve Binchy's books here...

Monday, July 30, 2012

Deep Cover

From: Bristow & Garland Booksellers

"Secret ciphers. Death rays. The newest guns and fastest cars. A suave government agent fond of cocktails and fancy cigarettes barely escaping death in exotic locales. The trappings of spy yarns are familiar—we know them from James Bond and other tales of page and screen. But they actually follow a blueprint laid out more than a century ago by William Le Queux."
— Marco Calavita, Wired

"Yes! I'm not mistaken at all! It's the same woman!" whispered the tall, good-looking young Englishman in a well-cut navy suit as he stood with his friend, a man some ten years older than himself, at one of the roulette tables at Monte Carlo, the first on the right on entering the room—that one known to habitual gamblers as "The Suicide's Table."
     "Are you quite certain?" asked his friend.
     "Positive. I should know her again anywhere."
     "She's very handsome. And look, too, by Jove!—how she is winning!"
     "Yes. But let's get away. She might recognize me," exclaimed the younger man anxiously. "Ah! If I could only induce her to disclose what she knows about my poor father's mysterious end then we might clear up the mystery."
— from Madmoiselle of Monte Carlo (1921) by William Le Queux (

Sunday, July 29, 2012


From: Deke's Collection

In this post-analogue age I doubt that there's any room for the accidental creation/evolution of a new book format. The very name itself, "Big Little Books," was the sort of inspired branding that gainsays premeditation.

"[...] In 1910, the name of the company was changed to Western Printing and Lithographing Company and moved into rented space in the Dr. Claredon I. Shoop’s building at State Street and Wisconsin Avenue. Dr. Shoop made patent medicines in the building, and Western printed labels for his bottles. When Shoop retired in 1914, Western took over the entire building. It remained the firm’s main office for several years.
     In 1915, the company was making a comfortable profit, but because the printing jobs were sporatic and in some cases seasonal, there were many weeks when the shop and workers had nothing to do. To resolve the problem, E. H. Wadewitz began to look for 'fill in' work. One of his 'fill in' contracts was the Hammerung-Whitman Publishing Company, a Chicago based publisher that specialized in children’s storybooks. Western contracted to print several thousand newly developed titles, but after the books were printed, Hammerung-Whitman ran into financial troubles and defaulted on payment for the books. Western, which had no experience in distributing books, found itself with a warehouse of titles for which it would not be paid. Wadewitz had to either write off the cost or figure out a way to sell the books to recoup expenses. Wadewitz decided to sell the books, thus Western took its first step toward adding a publishing and distribution component to its printing business. Over the next three years, Western recouped its costs by selling the books to book and department stores.
     In 1918, a second event took place that brought about an important change in Western’s development. The company received its first printing order from a retail firm, S. S. Kresge Company, a major five-and-dime chain. Although the order was for dozens of children’s books, a foreman working on the order confused the 'dozens' to mean 'gross' quantities, and twelve times the correct number of titles were printed. Too many for S. S. Kresge to use, Western was again faced with a decision of whether to write off the error or to try to sell the books. [...]
     During the depression, Western had success with two inexpensive Whitman products. One was its jigsaw puzzle line; the other was the Big Little Book® line. The Big Little Book® was created in 1932 when Sam Lowe conceived of a special book that would be bulky but small so that it could be easily handled and read by a young consumer. He made up three samples using cover and paper stock that would be used in the printing. He had the Art Department do black and white drawings and insert keyline text so that the dummy samples could serve as prototypes. Taking the prototypes to New York, he presented them as a ten-cent retail item, packed one dozen per title in a shipping carton. Retail buyers were intrigued with the concept and were particularly impressed with the titles. Lowe returned to Racine with more than 25,000 books pre-ordered."

Friday, July 27, 2012

What's the Big Deal?

From: Comic Book Realm

"[...] When they are starting out writers rarely make anything at all for what they do. I wrote seven novels over a period of six years before one was accepted for publication. Rejected by some twenty publishers that seventh eventually earned me an advance of £1,000 for world rights. Evidently, I wasn’t working for money.
     What then? Pleasure? I don’t think so; I remember I was on the point of giving up when that book was accepted. I’d had enough. However much I enjoyed trying to get the world into words, the rejections were disheartening; and the writing habit was keeping me from a 'proper' career elsewhere."
— Tim Parks, The New York Review of Books

"What does it take to land a million dollar book deal lately? Well, so far in 2012 there’s been the case of the celebrity memoir (Cissy Houston, Whitney’s mother), the notorious inside story (Amanda Knox), and the dramatic newsmaker (Greg Smith, the guy who quit working at Goldman Sachs with his infamous op-ed).
     With fiction, it gets slightly more complicated. Of course, there’s typically a bidding war for a follow up novel after a major bestselling success. Matthew Pearl’s move to Penguin Press for his next historical thriller called The Bookaneer and Neil Gaiman’s recent deal for five children’s books fall into that category.
     But the most romantic seven-figure book deals—what Publishers Marketplace calls a 'major deal' in their insider publisher code to indicate the amount of money involved—are debut novels."
— Claire Kelley, Melville House

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Land Grab

From: digitalaudrey

Intellectual property is just that—the landscape of the mind subdivided and developed into something marketable. And for writers, especially fiction writers, tilling the soil of that "plot" of land, using the imagination to build fanciful constructs that readers enjoy inhabiting, is the only way we can earn a living.
     But the digital world has changed all that. Books are no longer tangible, frangible, (burnable too, as history has taught us) hefty lumps of pulped wood that smell good and bow the shelves of libraries... and like slow food, take longer to digest. To new generations of readers books are mere fleeting flickers of binary code; no more valuable (in terms of RAM) than a few seconds of a cell phone video recording of grandma playing with a kitten. It has changed the way we perceive books, read them, market them, and value them (a knock-off is no longer second best: it's a replica, indistinguishable from the original).
     And Amazon and e-readers like the Kindle have changed the way we publish books too; by blurring the boundaries between the professional and amateur writer they have compromised quality. The boomer bulge of retirees and unemployed computer-savvy twenty-somethings have turned the cliché ("If I had the time, I'd like to write a book too.") on it's head. Now everyone seems to have the time—the market is being flooded (a tsunami of wannabes and boomers eradicating fence lines, protocols: standards of all descriptions) with a deluge of product.
     And like any real estate bubble—even a virtual one—when supply exceeds demand, the bubble bursts.
Michael Hale

"Ewan Morrison is an established British writer with a credit-choked resume and a new book out, Tales from the Mall, that the literary editor of the venerable Guardian newspaper hailed as 'a really important step towards a literature of the 21st century.' By his own account, Morrison is also being driven out of business by the ominously feudal economics of 21st-century literature, 'pushed into the position where I have to join the digital masses,' he says, the cash advances he once received from publishers slashed so deep he is virtually working for free. [...]
     The economic trajectory of writing today is 'a classic race to the bottom,' according to Morrison, who has become a leading voice of the growing counter-revolution – writers fighting fiercely to preserve the traditional ways. 'It looks like a lot of fun for the consumer. You get all this stuff for very, very cheap,' he says. But the result will be the destruction of vital institutions that have supported 'the highest achievements in culture in the past 60 years.'”
— John Barber, The Globe and Mail

Buy Ewan Morrison's books here...

Saturday, July 21, 2012

"Mine the ore in your own backyard."

We have all become jaded to the admonition "write what you know." But these examples of "famous literary characters based on real people" presented by Stacy Conradt at mental_floss may persuade budding writers to rethink their dismissal of this often ridiculed dictum. Especially when it comes to creating memorable characters.

From: Mujeres Riot

"Even as one of the wittiest female characters in literary history, Nora Charles from The Thin Man doesn’t hold a candle to her inspiration, Lillian Hellman. Lillian was author Dashiell Hammett’s lover for 30 years, but she was also a respected playwright, screenwriter, author and outspoken political activist. Hammett apparently told Hellman that she was the inspiration for his female villains as well."
— Stacy Conradt, mental_floss

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

"This is really bugging me, which shouldn't, considering how good these guys are..."

There is much talk in creative writing circles about finding one's own voice; but there's a fine line between a unique "personal dialect,'' if you will, and a distracting reliance on habits of pat (and pet) phraseology.
     I have just been reading (side by side — I tend to do that: dip into a mouthful of one, then a gulp of the other) Don DeLillo's latest, The Angel Esmerelda (read a related post here...), a collection of short stories that span almost thirty-five years of his career, and Richard Ford's new novel Canada (go here...).
     Both works are by highly acclaimed masters of modern fiction, but reading them in tandem highlights these writers' stylistic quirks. Granted, that's why we read their books (plot is not preeminent among their gifts): for their insights about the human condition, their unique eyes and ears that inform us the way great painters transform mundane objects and scenes into paradigms of universal truth — all done with what seems to be slight-of-hand, magic. But by jumping back and forth between these two word conjurors the techniques they use to work this magic become more apparent.
     Try it yourself. Take any two of your favorite authors and read them in digestible chunks back-to-back. It 's a wonderful way to hone your sense of how scenes are set and characters are illuminated; but most of all, how tone and voice are fashioned into a distinct, stylistic fingerprint.
     Now, if only Don Delilo could avoid the word "this" and Richard Ford constructed fewer sentences that ended with a relative clause beginning with "which."
— Michael Hale

Get books by these authors here...

Monday, July 16, 2012

Liked because people like it...

"So, why didn’t I read [Stephen] King’s fiction? Was I simply an elitist, anti-populist literary snob who felt he would be soiled by reading stuff that sold? I do have some snob in me — it’s my sense that a lot of the books read by practically nobody are often good, whereas a lot of the books read by millions are often crap — but the term doesn’t fully describe my resistance to King’s fiction. [...]
     My wife felt it was wrong to stand in judgment of people who read fiction in order to escape from life, and I said she was right: I didn’t feel morally superior because I read John Cheever or David Foster Wallace or William Styron or Zadie Smith or Mary Lee Settle instead of Stephen King.
     I did feel, however, that I demanded something different (something more?) from a novel than I guessed most of the readers of Stephen King did. (Not that this made me morally superior, just more demanding, a high-maintenance reader.) Though of course I’d never read a King novel (or story), so maybe I was wrong.
     [...] Why, I wondered again, do some people in the literary business regard this extremely successful writer of genre fiction as a first-rate writer of literary fiction, a 'major' contributor to American literary culture? How is it possible that a novel as bloated and mediocre as 11/22/63 is can be deemed by the New York Times Book Review as one of the five best books of fiction of the year? Do we fear being labeled 'elitist' or 'liberal' if we don’t reward commercial success in other ways (as if an enormous advance and a river of royalties are not reward enough)? Or do we believe that commercial success on the King scale signifies, almost by definition, quality, the way a 20,000 square-foot house supposedly signifies to passersby that the owners must be important?"
— Dwight Allen, Los Angeles Review of Books

Buy all of Stephen King's books here...

Friday, July 13, 2012

Malcolm Gladwell's New Book

"Does being an underdog—whether as a team a country or an individual—help foster creativity? Why should people at the top of their fields quit their jobs and try to reinvent themselves? Little Brown has just announced that next year it will publish Gladwell’s new book, David and Goliath, on, as he says, the 'art and science of the underdog.' He sat down with me, and Page-Turner, last week to talk about the book, the Viet Cong, Impressionist painters, and whether his advice about reinvention applies to successful authors, too."
— Nicholas Thompson, The New Yorker (Page-Turner)