Saturday, October 30, 2010

10 in '10-Reading New Mexico

The Lumiere Affair: A Novel of Cannes by Sara Voorhees Despite the fact that this novel is primarily set in Cannes, its author, a film critic, lives in Corrales, & its heroine Natalie Conway (also a film critic), though currently based in L.A., grew up in France & Crownpoint, New Mexico. In brief asides, New Mexican landscape & culture are singularly evoked. However, most of the action is set during an imaginary Cannes Film Festival. For anyone who has attended any kind of festival, the madness is clearly defined-total immersion, lack of sleep, bonding with people you've only just met. For a film festival, add celebrities into the mix. Sara Voorhees has brought her experience as a critic to bear here! There are some completely fictitious celebrities such as Jacques Vidanne, a producer who plays a large part in Natalie Conway's story, but many of the celebrities at Voorhees' brilliantly imagined festival are quite real-Johnny Depp has directed his first movie, scored by Iggy Pop; Charlize Theron & Bruce Willis make appearances. This madcap romp at Cannes, which feels very real & also very funny, is a magnificent send-up of the famous festival & takes up a good deal of the action. But there's more! Natalie Conway is at Cannes to review films, but she was also born in Paris & hasn't been back to France for 25 years, since the death of her mother in a freak lightning strike. Nattie's reunion with her mother's ex-boyfriend Claudel & her research into the mysterious nature of her mother's death round out the rest of the narrative. This might make for 2 plot lines awkwardly pieced together, but Sara Voorhees manages to carry it off & keep the reader interested until the end. It's the sum of both its divergent parts-the fluffy film festival is nicely balanced by the poignancy of Nattie's story. A light, zippy read.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Books about Books

I am no great scholar, but I do like a nice non-fiction tome to open my eyes about something. I'm pretty catholic in my tastes: I've enjoyed titles ranging from Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach to Flower Confidential by Amy Stewart to The Sushi Economy: Globalization and the Making of a Modern Delicacy by Sasha Issenberg. Right now I have at home Elizabeth's London: Everyday Life in Elizabethan London by Liza Picard, a recommendation from a friend who knows I like to read about history.

Twice this year I have found my non-fiction reading involving books about books (& their authors), a phenomenon I hadn't experienced before. I've read biographies of authors before, & I've seen those books of critical essays about books (& the ubiquitous CliffNotes), but I don't think I've ever read 2 books that go more in-depth about the books, their history & their impact on society than Anne Frank: The Book, the Life, the Afterlife by Francine Prose & Jane's Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World by Claire Harman.

Of course, I can see how you could have a whole book about Anne Frank's diary-the library catalog, after all, boasts the critical & definitive editions alongside the standard Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. Prose's book talks about the difference between the editions, the role on Anne's father Otto in the editing, & goes on to take on the writing of the play & the movie. You might think this is overkill, but it actually was a very interesting read for those curious about Anne Frank. What I did not know before was about the "internecine, nasty struggle to bring Diary to the stage", as Kirkus Reviews terms it, & "Meyer Levin's descent into near madness as he sought, unsuccessfully, to be the diary's playwright". Prose also discusses how Anne Frank's message has been dumbed down by stage & screen versions of her writings. Publishers Weekly asks if "Prose contributes to a queasy-making idolization and commodification of Anne Frank", but admits "the author lucidly collates material from a wide range of sources, and her work would be valuable as a teaching guide". I would agree with the latter.

Jane's Fame is similar but different. Like Anne Frank, Jane Austen's posthumous fame is huge. For someone who wrote very few books & who we know very little about, Austen looms large in literary history these days-& her life & fiction have become the springboard for other authors to dive into related topics. The latest Jane-related books in the catalog include: A Truth Universally Acknowledged: 33 Great Writers on Why We Read Jane Austen; Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters; The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen bySyrie James; & Jane and the Barque of Frailty ("Being a Jane Austen Mystery") by Stephanie Barron.

Jane's Fame is about Jane Austen's short life-which I have read about before, but Claire Harman's take is still interesting-&, borrowing from Francine Prose, her afterlife. Harman explores topics ranging from famous fans (or "Janeites")-George IV was a fan, Mark Twain was not-to Edith Head's incorrect costume design for one of the first films of Austen's work (Pride & Prejudice, starring Laurence Olivier & Greer Garson) to a discussion of the accuracy of portraits of Austen. I found there was much I did not yet know about Jane Austen & her works, &, even though I have watched the films & read some of the Jane-related fiction, there was still more to talk about on that front as well.

I enjoyed both these books & learned from both, but I did get an odd feeling, reading books about books. Am I just supporting the further commodification of both these authors? What's more important, the books themselves or the backstory?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Henry V & the Battle of Agincourt

Recently I found myself becoming enamored of the works of William Shakespeare and how they have translated to film and television. Two weeks ago I spent the entire weekend watching five films based on Shakespeare's plays and one of them, Henry V, has an anniversary of sorts today. In 1415 King Henry V defeated the French at Agincourt furthering his advances to reign over France, which finally occurred in 1420. The young king's rousing speech to his troops is mesmerizing to watch and gave us that wonderful first line: "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers", which of course became the title of the HBO series Band of Brothers.

Other Shakespeare films that I enjoyed were Much Ado About Nothing, As You Like It, Love's Labour's Lost, and Hamlet. The library does not have a copy of Love's Labour's Lost, but you should be able to obtain one through the Interlibrary Loan system.

I have also prepared myself for the newest Shakespeare movie The Tempest starring Helen Mirren by reading the play in its original form and the No Fear version to fully understand the story. Instead of a male character playing the lead of Prospero, the director Julie Taymor went a different route creatively and Ms. Mirren will be playing the role of Prospera. It should make for a lively film. While Shakespeare is often seen as dull and boring by many, the Bard of Avalon had his finger on the pulse of humanity and all of our foibles, thus making his words as powerful today as they were then.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


I love the Moomins. I have loved them since first discovering them as a child. For children, there are a series of books by Tove Jansson, beginning with Finn Family Moomintroll; for adults, using the same characters but more adult themes, there is the Moomin comic strip. I heartily recommend both.

Never heard of them? Not entirely surprising. Tove Jansson was a Swedish-Finn author & illustrator who started writing the series in 1945. For years they were best known in Scandinavia, until the "Moomin Boom" of the '90s, when the first animated series was produced. (Watch the opening sequence for the animated series here.) New markets included Japan, where they became official mascots of the Daiei chain of shopping centers & a Japanese reggae singer took the name Moomin. Moomins have also been used to advertise Finland abroad: the Helsinki-Vantaa International Airport was decorated with Moomin images and Finnair painted big Moomin figures on its Japan-line airplanes. (See the Wikipedia entry for more details.) There has been Moomin music: visit here or here to check some out. Bjork also recorded a song for a new Moomin film!

The list goes on! In Finland there is a Moomin museum & a Moomin theme park called Moominworld. For now, all we have is the books (although you can buy the animated series on Amazon.) Follow the exploits of Moomintroll, our protagonist, his parents Moominmamma & Moominpappa, & a panopoly of friends: Snufkin; the Hemulen; Fillyjonk; the Mymble's Daughter & Little My; Thingummy & Bob. From the dreary cold world of Moominland Midwinter to the theatrical aspirations of Moominsummer Madness, these books will delight an enchant all ages.

Friday, October 22, 2010

New in the Catalog

Here are a couple of 2010 titles I'm putting on my reading list...maybe you will too!

The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise by Julia Stuart

"Bleak times have fallen upon the Tower of London's residents. Grief, infidelity, loneliness, and other sorrows have begun to shadow the lives of those who guard and run the tower—everyone from the barmaid to the Beefeaters have felt the touch of misfortune. Until, suddenly, their splintering lives are drawn back together by a most unexpected decree; the queen wishes to house her menagerie of gifted pets within the tower's confines. Before long, the animals take merely complicated lives and send them into mayhem. Strained marriages crumble, long-simmering feuds spark back to life, and precious personal possessions turn up in the strangest places. Life works in mysterious ways, however, and the animals may just be the breath of fresh air that the tower's inhabitants need to repair their broken hearts." ~Library Journal Reviews

Daniel by Henning Mankell

"Set in the 1870s, this earnest and heartbreaking story opens with the unsolved murder of a mentally retarded Swedish girl, but this isn't a mystery in the mode of Mankell's international bestselling Kurt Wallander novels (Firewall, etc.). Hans Bengler, a Swedish entomologist, travels across southern Africa in search of undiscovered insects. In the desert, he finds an orphaned native boy, whom he adopts on impulse and calls Daniel. Bengler brings Daniel back to Sweden to exhibit him for money. A link eventually emerges between the girl's murder and Daniel's story, which dramatically illuminates the evils of colonialism (Bengler notes that he "had to make the important decisions for these black people") and the cultural chasm between Europeans and Africans. " ~Publishers Weekly Reviews

The Farthest Home is in an Empire of Fire: A Tejano Elegy by John Phillip Santos

"Encouraged by an uncle who traced family ancestors to the Texas-Mexico border country in the 1800s, the narrator makes his first trip to Spain in 1980, and returns in 1987 while making a documentary. During an intervening research trip to South Texas, he finds family names in a 1767 document; subsequently, on a 1992 trip to Seville, he discovers the village his ancestors left in the 1580s, the precious link to his family's "Iberian past." Santos' novel is brimming with historical details, which he poetically enriches with myth, dream sequences, and conversations with helpful ghosts. While painstakingly pulling together the varied threads of his fictionalized family drama, Santos connects the story to the larger tale of global migration and racial intermingling." ~Booklist Reviews

Fathom by Cherie Priest

"During a summer vacation to her aunt's coastal Florida home, innocent teen Nia sees her cousin Bernice commit a brutal murder and then get dragged into the ocean by a monstrous water witch. Nia becomes inadvertently entangled in a conflict between primordial creatures that endangers the very existence of humankind. Entombed in stone for countless years, Nia eventually emerges from her cocoon transformed, only to realize that an old god is close to awakening and destroying the world. Priest's haunting lyricism and graceful narrative are complemented by the solemn, cynical thematic undercurrents with a tangible gravity and depth." ~Publishers Weekly Reviews

Your Presence is Requested at Suvanto by Maile Chapman

"A novelist in search of an appropriate setting for a bleak novel in the 19th-century tradition, where tuberculosis kills thousands and women are routinely deprived their societal voice, would be hard-pressed to find a more fitting venue than the Finnish convalescence ward where Chapman has set her anxious debut. Ex-dancer Julia is a reluctant tenant of the Suvanto Sairaala, attended to by an American nurse named Sunny Taylor with whom she shares an uneasy connection. The two women weather a succession of historical set pieces involving the consequences of imperfectly understood obstetrics, Finland's changing relationship with Russia, and madness. " ~Publishers Weekly Reviews

The Lady and the Poet by Maeve Haran

"Mistress Ann More doesn't like her uncle's secretary, John Donne, from the moment she meets him. He is dark and brooding, writes scandalous poetry about noble women, and is rumored to have Catholic sympathies. But Ann is a troublemaker, too. She refuses a spot at the aging Elizabeth I's court and angers her father with her fiery spirit, most unbecoming in a young lady. The more she is thrown together with Master Donne, the more she comes to understand his mind. But because of John's lack of a living and his reputation, Ann will never be permitted to marry him. Not only are the historical details well presented but the love story that unfolds is exciting and beautiful. Filled with excerpts of Donne's poetry, this love story is not to be missed." ~Library Journal Reviews

The More I Owe You by Michael Sledge

"In his first novel, memoirist Sledge imagines the life of poet Elizabeth Bishop and her lover, socialite and architect Lota de Macedo Soares, while they lived together in Brazil during the 1950s and '60s. Both women struggle with their demons as, from a remote mountain compound in Samambaia (where Lota has designed and built a glass house), Elizabeth wins the Pulitzer Prize and Lota rises to power in the turbulent political sphere of Rio de Janeiro. The book imagines much of the couple's tumultuous, tragically short relationship, based partially on Elizabeth's surviving letters, journals, and drafts (though her correspondence with Lota was burned by Lota's ex-lover)." ~Publishers Weekly Reviews

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Barnes & Noble Bookfair Supporting Library Services for Children

The Friends for the Public Library and the Barnes & Noble Bookstore at Coronado Center, 6600 Menaul Blvd (at Louisiana) are having a Bookfair.

A portion of both in-store and online book purchases on October 21-24 will be donated to support Library Services for children at ABC Libraries. Even your café purchases count! Online shopping available through October 28. Special events are planned throughout the day, including a special Halloween Storytime on the 23rd & a musical performance by harpist Gabrielle Coffing on the 24th. More information: Shopping voucher. You must present this voucher prior to making your purchase-you can print it out, or pick up a voucher at any branch library.

ABC Libraries & the Friends for the Public Library thank you for your support!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Observations

Continuing my Victorian reading challenge, I just finished The Observations by Jane Harris. This novel takes place in 1863 Scotland, but was written in 2006. Stylistically, it's a Gothic novel, & the protagonist is one Bessy Buckley.

First off, I would like to say that Bessy makes this novel & it is well worth reading for her alone. Ranging from comic to poignant, Bessy & her story were, for me, the best parts of the book. I should probably explain that the Gothic genre is not one of my favorites-perhaps it's not racy enough for my jaded brain, because the denouement generally disappoints a little. At least, it did with this novel, & another I recently read, The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield.

The story concerns Bessy's arrival at Castle Haivers, where she is hired as a maid for Arabella & James. James is an aspiring politician who bites his nails with alarming gusto; his wife Arabella has an agenda for the new maid. Arabella's marked attentions, unusual habits & strange requests first endear her to Bessy, & then things go awry between them. As the blurb on the inside cover attests, "As is usually the case in isolated Victorian houses, all is not as it seems." And so the Gothic tale builds to an inevitable climax.

But Bessy, from her vocabulary on, is full of enough juice to keep this reader engrossed in the story! I loved her slang-"Flip the scutting devil!" & "Jesus Murphy my heart all but stopped" & "The rest of the house was that silent you could have heard a spider fart" & "she was all prinked up...but you might as well have stuck primroses in a cowpat" are just a couple of examples of her colorful turn of phrase. Her past, revealed in spurts throughout the novel, is the stuff of melodrama, but is not handled in a mawkish fashion. One of the reviews called Bessy a "bawdy, picaresque character"-I can only agree.

I would highly recommend checking out this novel! 405 pages was not enough Bessy, in my opinion.

Monday, October 18, 2010

It's a Magical Realist World After All

"One guideline (just a guideline, not a rule) for distinguishing magical realism from other types of fantasy is that in magical realism, no one controls the magic; there are no wizards. Magic just happens, much like the weather. Magical realism is often intentionally vague, and (as in Kafka's The Metamorphosis) it can be hard to determine if the protagonist actually is experiencing magical transformations, or if he's just going insane. To sum it up, magical realism is a story that takes place in an ordinary setting (this excludes futuristic space colonies, lost ancient cities et al.), where extraordinary or even impossible things are viewed as normal and thus, nobody really bothers to explain why such things happen. "

In November, the Cherry Hills Library Book Discussion Group will be talking about one of my favorite novels, One Hundred Years of Solitude (Cien años de soledad) by Gabriel García Márquez. This book is a famous example of what is called the "magical realism" school of literature. I hadn't given it much thought before, but after talking it over with my co-workers who run the book group, I realized I am actually a fan of magical realism in fiction. Why do I like it so much? I enjoy reading fantasy novels, with their elaborately created worlds, but sometimes I just enjoy stories of everyday life that are slightly askew. I like to imagine that there could be magic mixed in the mundane day-to-day, that there is a deeper world than one I could see-often delightful, sometimes frightening. I read One Hundred Years of Solitude back in college, but I still like to suspend my disbelief once in a while. Here are some more of my favorite magically realistic titles, in no particular order:

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende

Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie

The Mistress of Spices by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Dona Flor & Her Two Husbands by Jorge Amado

Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link

The Girl in the Flammable Skirt: Stories by Aimee Bender

For more about magical realism, check out these online resources:

Margin-exploring modern magical realism online

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Links of Note

Are you a J.D. Salinger fan? Check out Dead Caulfields, a site dedicated to the life and works of J.D. Salinger. Latest posts include rare Salinger footage & Joyce Maynard on Salinger's death. A Salinger biography by site founder Kenneth Slawenski is due out in 2011.

  • Visit the site the National Book Foundation website to see the 2010 National Book Award nominees.
  • National Book Award v. the Man Booker Prize: read an article here. Also, an older (but still interesting) history of judgiing for the Booker Prize is available here.

California's Huntington Library-one of the most beautiful sites in the world-has opened an exhibition about Charles Bukowski.

Nelson Mandela's new memoir, Conversations with Myself, has just been released. Put a hold on a copy today! The Omnivoracious blog says the book "delves into his private archive of letters, private recordings, and diaries--including those he kept during 27 years in prison, recording everything from his blood pressure to the content of his dreams".

Monday, October 11, 2010

10 in '10-Reading New Mexico

The Clovis Incident by Pari Noskin Taichert

In conjunction with the Cherry Hils Library Mystery Book Group (1st Tuesday of the month, 6 p.m. - 7:30 p.m. ...all are welcome to attend!), we recently read The Clovis Incident. This book is the first in a series Ms. Taichert has written & we were lucky enough to have the author in person at the book discussion group!

The book was an Agatha Award finalist for Best First Novel & Tony Hillerman said The Clovis Incident had a "Great plot idea, well developed (and interesting) characters, lots of action, & best of all, Pari Noskin Taichert is a skilled & witty writer." We found it fun to read about places we recognized & had visited-in other novels amateur detective Sasha Solomon, a PR consultant, goes to Belen & Socorro. The Clovis Incident was full of references to Roswell & UFOs, which is always an entertaining topic. If you like quirky characters & humor, this cozy mystery may be right up your alley!

Pari Noskin Taichert is currently "working on the 4th Sasha book and...starting a new series featuring Darnda Jones, a singularly misanthropic and quirky psychic". Her advice to aspiring writers is: "Read. Write. Learn to edit yourself well. Learn to accept constructive criticism. Don’t be afraid to revise and rewrite. Let your work breathe and ripen before you send it out. Never, ever, give up."

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Girl Who: The Millennium Trilogy on abcreads book banter

First off, the news: according to the L.A. Times, Stieg Larsson's father & brother will be on CBS Sunday Morning (tomorrow!) to talk about Millennium Book #4! Don't miss it!

But back to our book banter forums. We have a new section called "The Millennium Trilogy" for you to write about all things Stieg Larsson-the books; the movies; the new biography of Larsson, The Man Who Left Too Soon; Reg Keeland of Albuquerque, Stieg Larsson's English translator; the author himself; the tour of Salander's Sweden; Larsson's disputed legacy... Love the books? Hate the books? Let us know your opinions on our forums! Here are some articles to give you something to talk about (may contain spoilers):

The Girl Who Read Enough of Stieg Larsson

The Stieg Larsson Phenomenon

The Original Stieg Larsson

Göran Lindberg and Sweden's dark side

The World of Millennium (includes a plug from the 2010 Nobel Prize Winner for Literature!)

"The Author Who Played With Fire" by Christopher Hitchens

"Stieg Larsson’s Heir? Camilla Läckberg"

Stieg Larsson's biographer Barry Forshaw explains what makes the Millennium Trilogy such a worldwide phenomenon:

Happy 70th Birthday, John Lennon!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Unhappy Hour

Here at abcreads, occasionally we hit a dry patch thinking of subjects to blog about. Then we start looking at's "What Happened Today in History" or the New York Times' "On This Day" or other such sources for inspiration-which led us to Edgar Allan Poe. We thought October 7th was his birthday. Unfortunately, it's the anniversary of the day he died, which is not something we tend to blog about.

However, it's almost Halloween, it's Poe, & the Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia, has some interesting celebrations this month! On October 7th, they're celebrating a Poe Memorial Service, which they claim puts "the 'fun' back in 'funeral'." The memorial service will be an "evening with Poe's last fiancée, Elmira Royster Shelton", with live music, a coffin race, & a chance to learn about Victorian mourning customs. On the 28th, the Poe Museum will have their "Unhappy Hour". This month's theme is The Fall of the House of Usher, & there will be live music, games, activities, & something called "The Madeline Usher Experience". Costumes are encouraged.

This would be a good time to mention Poe's grave & the "Poe Toaster". The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore has the full scoop on the Toaster, who "since 1949, on the night of the anniversary of Poe’s birth, ...has entered this cemetery and left as tribute a partial bottle of cognac and three roses on Poe’s grave." Also, his month the Poe Society sponsors an annual commemorative lecture on the life and/or works of Edgar Allan Poe, presented by a noted Poe scholar. This lecture has been held since 1923 on the first Sunday in October, more-or-less coinciding with the anniversary of Poe’s death. "Prior to this event, it is traditional for members of the Poe Society to gather at Poe’s grave, placing flowers on the monument in a brief and informal ceremony to honor Poe’s memory." On Halloween night, there will be a tour of the cemetery & catacombs!

I had no idea there was so much fun stuff to do to celebrate Edgar AllanPoe. Even just online-visit for a selection of Poe's poetry online; you can also read his story "Murders in the Rue Morgue". How about a list of Poe-related songs from the fansite House of Usher? Take a tour of the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site! Or, make a selection from our library catalog!