Saturday, November 28, 2009

My Top Ten Films Adapted From Novels #5: Out Of Sight By Elmore Leonard

Stylish. Sexy. Cool. Steven Soderbergh's comic caper announced him as a director of immense skill and talent. Flawlessly adapted by Scott Frank in a non-linear narrative, Out Of Sight follows a bank robber along with his friend and accomplice on their quest to rob $5 million dollars in uncut diamonds from a former white collar inmate. It doesn't seem like the movie was made in this contemporary era of film. I could see Howard Hawks or Billy Wilder taking this story, these characters, and creating a classic by adding their own sensibilities to the film. One of the most important things in film is casting and this film hit it out of the park. Don Cheadle. Dennis Farina. Albert Brooks. Ving Rhames. Steve Zahn. Viola Davis. Isaiah Washington. Jennifer Lopez. George Clooney. Lopez and Clooney work well together. They work very well together. It is there obvious chemistry that adds a bit of fire to the mix. Both of them are made for their roles. This was the role that made George Clooney a leading man. And to this day he is the closest thing we have to Cary Grant in films today. Highly underrated and neglected by the studio, Out Of Sight doesn't follow the formula of what a story is suppose to be. No one changes. It's just fun entertainment. It's what a good story is made of.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Don't Try This at Home

The shortlist for the Literary Review's "Bad Sex in Fiction" award were recently announced, and as usual, they're a squick-inducing comedy goldmine. In case you've never had the pleasure, and it is not evident from the award's title, this is an honor bestowed on authors who have written the most uncomfortable and unpleasant descriptions of sexual activity in a given year. The list itself is here, and features such literary luminaries as Philip Roth, Amos Oz, and Nick Cave. And some of the passages, well, there are some real doozies, most of which would make me blush to excerpt in any great detail (which is the point, I suppose).

Here's a sure-fire crinkler from Paul Theroux's Dead Hands:

"'Baby.' She took my head in both hands and guided it downward, between her fragrant thighs. 'Yoni puja – pray, pray at my portal.'"

And honestly it just gets worse from there. Another florid winner is the floridly titled The Naked Name of Love by Sanjida O'Connell (who is also the only woman nominated this year):

"...it was as if he were splashing about helplessly on the shore of some great ocean, waiting for a current, or the right swimming stroke to sweep him effortlessly out to sea. He felt they were lacking some vital ingredient; she was only partly engaged, the building explosion of sensation that had made her unfurl like a flower, a morning glory greeting the sun, was missing."


What is even happening in that passage? Enough to make me wonder if any of these writers have ever in fact made the beast with two backs.* Also "The Naked Name of Love" (which, alas, is not in print in the United States) sounds to me like the kind of title a scriptwriter would make up when he wanted Hugh Grant's love interest to be demonstrated as reading something goofy and frivolous.

The winner of the award will be announced in a ceremony on November 30 at London's In & Out club. I don't know if that was chosen as the site because it's actually a swank and famous club, or if it was just the punniest place the Brits could find. The award itself is a plaster foot and it ... wait, the award is a plaster foot? Seriously? God, that is weird. What is wrong with people?
*Shakespeare reference for +10 points.
[Image of advertisement from 1926 voyeurism magazine from Wikimedia Commons.]

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Portable Dorothy Parker, Marion Meade

I do like a collection that has been curated by its author. And the first part of this portable consists of stories Parker chose to comprise a Viking Press anthology in 1944 for those in uniform. It is a "tidy package of quality wares that has remained continuously in print." This expanded edition leaves that material intact and includes along with it a selection of articles, letters, interviews and poems in order to present a fuller picture. As a newcomer, I am still working my way through the work of an author whose reputation for acerbic wit precedes her. From Arrangement in Black and White to Big Blonde or Here We Are, this has been a real treat of an introduction; she was a prolific natural writer with a careful eye for human behavior and ear for exchanges. Excessively quoted for a reason, she achieves her trademark humor, really, through heartbreaking accuracy on the human condition across a range of characters. From the back flap:

"I know this will come as a shock to you, Mr. Goldwyn, but in all history, which has held billions and billions of human beings, not a single one ever had a happy ending."

Parker must appreciate the fact that she is buried in Baltimore. High-hat! Seriously, with rough cut cream paper and a masterfully illustrated jacket courtesy of Seth, this book has a satisfying heft, fit for the treasure inside. Beautiful both to gift and own, and of course, read. Recommended, recommended.
Books spied on the train today: Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, by Chogyam Trungpa.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Monday Round-Up



ITEM: What are your favorite authors giving as gifts this holiday season? Penguin Books will tell you! Walter Mosley's list features some smoking hot sci-fi. China Mievelle? Someone buy me that for Christmas.

ITEM: 15 (Male) Literary Characters We'd Totally Sleep With (via LemonDrops.com) and 15 (Female) Literary Characters We'd Totally Sleep With (via Asylum.com).

ITEM: The Greenlight Bookstore's blog posted photographs of all their staff, which I might do as well if I decide I hate all my employees. Relatedly, Brokelyn posted a bunch of really uncomfortable-looking photographs of customers buying books at a bunch of independent bookstores in Brooklyn.
Saw tons of people reading on the train today, but couldn't identify any of the books without being like, Show me what you are reading. It's for my BLOG. Creep.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

SOLVING YOUR PROBLEMS THROUGH BOOKS (BUT NOT SELF-HELP LITERATURE) AKA INTELLECTUAL & LITERARY SELF-THERAPY (EPISODE 1)

SUB-PLOT: LIGHT READING TO HELP US COME TO TERMS WITH OUR FATHER ISSUES (OR HOW TO DEAL WITH THAT PESKY ELECTRA COMPLEX)!

Sometimes we don't have enough money to go to the therapist... and sometimes we're afraid our therapist might be too much like our father. So don't waste money you could use to buy a single malt and risk finding another father figure when one is enough! I offer this reading to you instead:

1) Sigmund Freud Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality
(See: Oedipus complex)
While Freud only refers to it as the female Oedipus attitude it's the initial point of reference for a problem that once had no name (and we're not talking Betty Friedan here..) so use this as a starting point to really understand that complicated relationship between you and your father.

2) Carl Jung Collected Works of C. G. Jung
(See: "Psychoanalysis and Neurosis")
Hey! Thank you Jung for allowing woman to have their own name for parental issues, and not inverts of the male counterpart. Without you, we'd still be depending on derivatives of the Oedipus complex to find the complicated sources of our daddy issues.

3) Sylvia Plath Ariel
(See: "Daddy")
This is the most flagrant of her Electra complex themed poems, but start here and delve into Sylvia's personal relationship with her father and hopefully find a bridge to yours.

4) Anne Sexton Transformations
(See: "Briar Rose")
An interpretation of the classic Briar Rose tale-with an electric twist. Finish Transformations and attempt to read any fairy tale with out psychoanalyzing it. I dare you.

Time is up for now! Come back next week and we'll delve into some more deep dark issues via books!

P.S. The bill is in the mail.

My Top Ten Films Adapted From Novels #6: Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? (AKA Blade Runner) By Phillip K. Dick

"We need ya Deck. We need that old magic." Delivered with potent creepiness by character actor M. Emmet Walsh, is one of the many reasons why I have an affinity for this Sci-Fi classic. Directed by Ridley Scott and adapted by David Webb Peoples, Blade Runner is a feast for the eyes and its story makes you think long after the credits roll. Harrison Ford is Rick Deckard whose job is to track down and kill replicants, thus the name Blade Runner, who have come back to earth seeking to find who created them. Some might see it as just a cop movie on the surface, but it's more than that. In between the gripping action and suspense, is the question of where do I belong in the world? Where do I fit in? Is a Deckard a replicant? What happens to Deckard and Rachael? You be the judge.
As I sit here in the dog run on 4th Ave I wonder: what is the classic literature about dogs? I KNOW books about dogs exist, but I've never read any.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Houellebecq and Pop

"I'd like to thank Michel Houllebecq for his great f***ing book!" So shouts Iggy Pop during a May 2009 show in Paris. The book, Houellebecq's Possibility of an Island (2005), is a somewhat depressing tale of love and life. And clones. Boy meets girl, boy and girl are sort of happy together, boy grows disgusted with world, girl ages, they drift apart, boy joins religious cloning cult, planet ravaged by nuclear war, boy's future clones write diaries. The usual stuff. Dissolution of humanity through technology, disappearance of emotion. Fun! But seriously, Iggy Pop is right as always, and this is a great book - if sometimes a horrible, horrible downer. There's a good message in there. Go find it.

What's more, art begets art as they say (Do they say that? They should). Iggy Pop's 2009 album Préliminaires was inspired by The Possibility of an Island, and it is also, in keeping with the theme, great. More jazz-oriented and a lot more quiet than most of his other stuff, it is a satisfying departure and suits the tone of the novel perfectly. Pop's crooning of "Les feuilles mortes" is haunting, as is his rendition of the other standard on the album, "How Insensitive." "I Want to Go to the Beach" and "Spanish Coast" are downright depressing, playing on themes and emotions pulled right from the book. Dogs feature prominently in the novel, and one of my favorite songs from Préliminaires is "King of the Dogs"; but there is also "A Machine for Loving," which is just Iggy reading a passage from the book in which the narrator's dog dies. It is difficult to read, and even more chilling when heard. Now I've made myself sad. Still: read the book, get the album. You'll agree with us.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Did They Live Happily Ever After or Not...?

Only in New York City will you honestly be able to walk down Ninth Avenue on a rainy Sunday afternoon and see something as frightening and interesting as this... I mean, is the recession so bad that even Snow White and Prince Charming can only make collect calls? Or have our divorce rates skyrocketed to the point that Snow White and her Prince Charming could not live happily ever after, after all.

I would love to know the man/woman behind the genius of this. First off, where in the world do you find a cut out of Snow White? And this is not a cardboard cut out, but a child size, wood cut of Snow White. Even though the dress is not Snow White's typical attire, it is a real fabric, following down to the dirty street.

So, is someone trying to make a point with this? Is it art expressionism? Is it a gag? Or did someone just have a bratty child with them and decided they were not worthy enough to have their woodcut of Snow White? Who is genius behind the "Phone Booth Snow White"? If you know the answer or have seen him/her on your own account, please let me know.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

What's In A Cover?, part I

November 18th -- that's a couple of days from now -- is International Science Fiction Reshelving day. Or, at least, it it was. ISFRD was canceled for being, well, a pretty bad idea, but here's the idea in a nutshell: A ton of the books that we consider "Literature" are indistinguishable from sci-fi, and that's a problem. Case in point: Nobody would look for The Time Traveler's Wife in the sci-fi section, and "time travel" is in the title, for crying out loud.

There's something respectable and New York Times Book Review-y about The Time Traveler's Wife. It's got an arty picture of a little girl's feet on the cover. John Varley's 1983 time travel novel, Millennium, has some kind of girl in a futuristic catsuit jumping out of some kind of nutty time portal thing with a robot in the background. They're probably on some kind of spaceship, too, by the looks of it. Not exactly a New York Times Notable Book.

The catch is that there's some kind of vaguely insulting value judgment behind what gets shelved where, and how classy its cover looks. Who gets to decide whether or not to present a book as pulpy nerd-fare or Kakutani-bait? Margaret Atwood once famously took exception to classifying her novel, The Handmaid's Tale, which is about a dystopian theocratic future-world, as science fiction because sci-fi was about "talking squids in outer space."

The idea behind ISFRD was that on November 18th, activists around the country would go into bookstores and re-shelve books like The Time Traveler's Wife in science fiction. It was, of course, a noble but terrible idea, which is why it got nixed; I have a hard enough time stopping people from mucking up my precious book order without having to worry about ideologues that I half-way agree with.

Oh, and in case you were wondering: Atwood later softened on her "no sci-fi" stance. Next week, we'll take a look at a couple really great novels that straddle the line between "genre fiction" and "literary fiction." I promise it won't all be about time travel.
Books spied on the R today: an embarrassment of riches. Too many to list. Favorite: Boss Tweed.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Positive Review, Statement of Fact


Full disclosure: this is from a starred review. And to be clear, this is not about David Baldacci. The man sells a number of books, none of which I have had the opportunity to read, so I am without the ingredients to form an opinion. This is about the ubiquity of the blurb and the hilarious results that can occur as a result. I alarmed a number of people on my morning commute with peals of laughter over this advertisement for True Blue.

I think a fun game to play would be to blurb a classic like a new release. It could last the ride to work or the rest of your life, depending on how hard you played.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Monday roundup

ITEM: Consumerist offers some strategies for not getting trampled to death during the crowding on Black Friday. We're having our own Black Friday sale here which, we can assure you, will be free of fatalities.

ITEM: Amazing holiday gifts for people who love books, courtesy of Etsy.

Savage Encounters

Yeah. We got our copies of the new set of Dungeons & Dragons miniatures today: SAVAGE ENCOUNTERS. I haven't opened my boxes yet, because if I did it without my girlfriend, she'd kill me, so that'll have to wait until later. I haven't even used any of the minis in my game from the Legendary Evils set, but it's not possible for me to be unexcited about this.

Yesterday I gamed with Erica, our newest employee (in our store) who is our cat-like druid (in our game) and I almost immediately got the entire party killed. Good times.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

My Top Ten Films Adapted From Novels #7: High Fidelity, Nick Hornby

The newly single man with broken heart manifesto. No one delves into the mind of the male species like Nick Hornby and when it comes to the subject of the breakup, nothing but pain, insecurity, and hilarity ensues. Adapted by the same writers who gave us, Grosse Pointe Blank, John Cusack plays thirty-something record shop owner, Rob Gordon. To many he's the grown-up version of Lloyd Dobler, which I can understand. A recent breakup with his long time girlfriend Laura has him recounting his top five list of breakups to examine what went wrong. Through this journey comes an awareness of fear. Fear of what a man's limits are in a relationship and conquering that fear as not to let it hinder what could be with that special someone. Not only for Cusack's character is this a revelation but for his two record shop employees the rock snob played by Jack Black and the understated underachiever Todd Louiso.

I would have to say my favorite part of the film is its ending sequence giving us all thoughts of the somewhat antiquated notion that when we fall in love it will be forever.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Neglected Classics: The Fannie Farmer Cookbook

Originally published in 1896 as The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook, this comprehensive and instructive volume is one of the foundation stones of American cuisine. It also introduced a number of seemingly basic concepts like standardized measurement to home cooking. Before Fannie Farmer you might be called upon to put in as much salt as a sparrow would spit or a king's handful of sugar. Maybe people weren't eating only gruel but Fannie Farmer did make cooking better, which is exactly what it's done for myself and will likely do for you.
The current edition, updated in 1996, offers modern day cooks updated versions of the recipes with instructional advice on ingredients and utensils for the modern kitchen. Much like the far more lauded Joy of Cooking, all commonly available ingredients have a breakdown on types and guidelines on buying, storing, and preparing. Unlike that other worthy volume, and the thing that makes this book far more deserving of universal use, Fannie Farmer is committed to providing simple guidelines and straightforward recipes. It will also have you flipping back and forth through the book in the middle of preparing your dinner far less than the heavily cross-referenced Joy of Cooking. As part of it's commitment to everyday use, and unlike most cookbooks which turn their noses up at the very notion, this book will tell you how to get some mileage out of your microwave and save some kitchen time while letting you know when the results of microwave cookery will be unacceptably inferior (generally always, but you don't actually need to spend an hour baking that pumpkin for a pie, ten minutes in a microwave and the result is indistinguishable).

The recipes are not the most artful iteration of the dish but are usually the simplest and, for the novice cook, easiest to prepare. They function almost as a basic course in ingredient usage, after a week you'll find yourself better understanding the basic properties of things like butter. This is the book that will make an amateur baker out of a Hamburger Helper cooker and will also serve well as a reference for the more experienced cook who should find the recipes easy to modify to personal tastes.

Books spied on the train: Trouble in High Heels, Christina Dodd.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Seconds of My Life, Jamel Shabazz

Seconds of My Life has the photography of Jamal Shabazz with text by Lauri Lyons. This book is basically a scrapbook of pictures that Jamal Shabazz has taken over his life. It has photos starting from the 1980's, when Hip Hop was becoming popular in music up until the new Millennium.

This book truly captures New York City and Brooklyn through years of new fashion and new phases of music. In the 1980 section, we see our modern day Brooklyn, pushed back through time. The fashion, the lifestyles, the hair, are different. We see people dancing, posing, in cars, in the streets, gang members and even the subway system, when it was more littered with graffiti art.

In the 1990's section (entitled: A Time of Change), we see what a difference a decade makes. Even though we're in the same settings: the parks, the subways and Union Square, the fashion has changed. Men now have Afros and their pants have become more baggy and lower. Women are now wearing small tight "bootylicious" skirts and shorts. We see breaking battles in the street, even down to their single piece of cardboard and overly huge boomboxes. We see the death over Tupac, Biggie, and Big Pun. He also captures Puff Daddy's club scandal. We now see graffiti art becoming a little more mural like, instead of a signature. Even the music scene has grown showing kids involved in school programs. Capturing bits of pieces of not only his life, but all the people around him.

As we hit Y2K and beyond (2000-2007), he hits the school scene with school bands and dance teams. He also, once again, has capture the change in fashion where we see velor track suits. He also touches on the ethnicity side of the city focusing on Native American traditions, African traditions and even a little Puerto Rican Pride Parade. We see children being children, playing in the streets and having fun together. The graffiti art is now full blown works of art, showing portraits of celebrities. The music and the culture have combined as one to form this great city.

At the end, he captures true photos on the day that will not be forgotten in this country, September 11, 2001. There is one photo over all, that captures it all called "At A Loss". This photo is a shot of volunteers, fireman, and policemen cleaning up the aftermath with one fireman in the front, gazing over the mess. In this piece you can hear the silence of the city, even though people are working. You can breathe the dust from the debris. Pictures of the newspapers and the protesters against the war, showing even a sad clown holding a banner that says "Study War No More". A mother with a folded American Flag to show her child's death in, "How Many More Must Die?"

This book truly captures the essence and culture of New York City.

Indie booksellers week! Kick off party.

“The value of indie bookstores is the value of the humane.” Joseph O’Neill, Netherland

Hey! Next Monday is the beginning of the first Independent Bookstore Week. And heads up: Shakespeare & Co. is an independent bookstore, and one of the Independent Bookstores of New York City. Hoo-rah for us and for Brooklyn.

Last night I went to the kick-off party at powerHouse Arena, which is half bookstore, half Roman Colosseum and skate park. I've been there a couple times before. It's a wild and very pretty space, though mostly a frontlist-only store. Also enormous. It was neat event; I snarfed up sandwiches and beer and pocketed a couple Vertigo galleys. I'm pretty excited about the Peter Milligan one, The Bronx Kill.

Michael Greenberg gave a shout-out to Shakespeare & Co., and the other speakers were fine too. I have to say I sometimes feel a disconnect with some "indie bookstore" people, a few of whom sound to me less interested in making sales and running a store than in curating a collection of books they like, to ultimately like-minded people. There are good arguments for indie bookstores, but a lot of the language I heard last night was pretty abstract lovey-dovey stuff, like you usually hear from people with very obscure hobbies, yacht enthusiasts for example. There were also many wistful reminisces about "that old indie bookstore on ____ street" (usually followed by "that went out of business in ____").

Not to disparage our bookselling comrades in arms!--there is a very real sense in which we are all in the same tiny, tiny boat. Although when a speaker mentioned that most big-box bookseller chains were no longer expanding and were in fact planning to close more and more of their stores, a little cheer went up and I thought, "Why are people cheering the idea that this business is shrinking like Colorforms? None of these corporations are closing stores because independent booksellers are kicking their keisters."

I grooved on the Q&A with John Sargent (yeesh, that Wiki article stinks), CEO of Macmillan Publishers, because his was the most direct, straightforward and unsentimental attitude towards the subject. When asked if he would get get tough with retailers like Amazon.com and B&N , whose predatory pricing wars indie booksellers could never hope to match, he basically replied, "Those companies make us buckets of money. We're in the business of selling books." POW. Which should be a no-brainer, right?, but is hilarious as a "tell it like it is" statement--which is what I think it was taken as by some folks--at what was basically a TRADE CONVENTION.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Post-Brown: Four Novels To Read Now That You've Finished The Lost Symbol

A couple of weeks ago we tipped you off to a few places to head if you liked The Da Vinci Code (and its recently released, titanic sequel, The Lost Symbol). If you're one of the bazillions of Americans tickled by Dan Brown's brand of historical detective/conspiracy drama, here are four books that might satisfy your appetite until the next billion-dollar Dan Brown heavyweight rolls off the assembly line:

The Rule Of Four, Ian Caldwell & Dustin Thomason
The Rule Of Four is a no-brainer for "what's next" -- and while it was the New York Times #1 bestseller upon its release back in '04, it never quite became the pop culture juggernaut that Da Vinci became. The focus of the history-mystery is the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, a notoriously labyrinthine book published 500 years ago in Venice, and four Princeton students' mission to unravel its various mysteries. The Rule Of Four will satisfy readers disenchanted with Brown's sometimes questionable history; the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili is a very real and very awesome book, and Caldwell and Thomason -- Princeton and Harvard graduates, respectively -- are much better at making clear to the reader where fact ends and fiction begins -- a frequent criticism of Brown's pop-history approach.

Foucault's Pendulum, Umberto Eco
Eco is a heavyweight in the field of "professional smart guys" and he practically invented the history-thriller that put Brown in the top 1% tax bracket. Foucault's Pendulum, which predates The Da Vinci Code by about a decade, hits a lot of the same notes -- secret codes, museum intrigue, the Knights Templar -- and is even more meandering and erudite than Brown's novel, running everywhere from kabbalah to Cthulhu. Foucault's Pendulum is a ton of fun, but was also written as a satire of the sort of super-thick conspiracy theory that makes up a good part of the allure of Brown's novels, but the density and complexity of the plot will reward readers who can untangle it. Foucault's Pendulum was originally published in Italian, but has been available in excellent English translation since 1990 or so.

Cryptonomicon, Neal Stephenson
A perennial favorite here at the store -- like most of the literary output of half-crazed book wizard Stephenson -- Cryptonomicon, which weighs in at 918 pages and seems more suited to use as a doorstop or murder weapon, looks like a challenge and it probably is. Its equally ginormous plot, which runs from World War II to the present day back and forth, jumping between nearly a dozen protagonists, is about as dense as it sounds. Plus, Stephenson isn't afraid to step back from the plot to spend ten pages explaining concepts of cryptography and computer hacking. But -- and trust me on this one -- if you commit to Cryptonomicon you'll come out a different person. A better person. A person with great biceps from hauling a copy of the book around, too, but a better person in general. Cryptonomicon is more tech-heavy than some of the other contenders in the genre, which will be a boon to some and a bane to others, but Stephenson's tongue-in-cheek tone -- less relentlessly deadpan than Brown's and less professorial than Eco's -- will make help make it all worthwhile. Stephenson, better known for his works of science-fiction, hews pretty closely to reality. Mostly. You'll find out. Plus, if you like Cryptonomicon you won't go hungry for long: Stephenson's epic, The Baroque Cycle, revisits many of the same themes and characters, and is (somehow) about three times longer.

The Club Dumas,
Arturo Pérez-Reverte
I'll be up front: The Club Dumas is the basis for the bizarre 1999 Roman Polanksi thriller, The Ninth Gate, which is more or less faithful to the plot of the novel with a few notable exceptions. But -- hear me out. The Club Dumas sticks much closer to the detective noir to which the modern crop of historical fiction owes a lot of its conventions. It's a bibliophile's mystery novel, revolving largely around the questionable authenticity of an original manuscript by Dumas. There's also some Satanism. If you've seen the movie, much of the first two-thirds of the novel will seem familiar, but the loving affection paid to the obsession with rare books and the complexity of the narration (like many of my favorite novels, the narrator is actively involved in the plot and is frequently unreliable and sometimes outright deceptive) make for a pretty good time. On the downside, the protagonist, Corso (who had the benefit of looking like Johnny Depp in the film) is kind of a repugnant dirtbag, and whether or not you can tolerate him will probably determine whether or not you can tolerate the novel.

Roxana Robinson: Signing & Discussion

Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Brooklyn College
Barker Room, Boylan Hall
6:00pm
FREE

One of Five Best Fiction Books of the Year - Washington Post
Best Books of the Year - Library Journal
One of the Best Books of the Year - Seattle Times
Twelve Best Books of the Year - Wall Street Journal


"Loss, grief and regret are the central subjects of Roxana Robinson's harrowing new novel, which applies the writer's trademark gifts as an intelligent, sensitive analyst of family life to the darkest subject matter she has tackled to date... Bleak though it undeniably is, 'Cost' is also a warmly human and deeply satisfying book, marking a new level of ambition and achievement for this talented author." - Chicago Tribune

"'Cost' is unusual for being as plot-driven as it is character-driven, and the assured manner in which Robinson builds toward the inevitable train wreck is matched by her acuity in bringing us inside the characters' minds." - The New York Times Book Review

http://www.roxanarobinson.com/

Rebecca Stead: Signing & Discussion

Monday, November 16, 2009
Brooklyn College
Woody Tanger Auditorium
2:30pm FREE

Four mysterious letters change Miranda’s world forever. By sixth grade, Miranda and her best friend, Sal, know how to navigate their New York City neighborhood. They know where it’s safe to go, like the local grocery store, and they know whom to avoid, like the crazy guy on the corner.But things start to unravel. Sal gets punched by a new kid for what seems like no reason, and he shuts Miranda out of his life. The apartment key that Miranda’s mom keeps hidden for emergencies is stolen. And then Miranda finds a mysterious note scrawled on a tiny slip of paper: I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own. I must ask two favors. First, you must write me a letter.

The notes keep coming, and Miranda slowly realizes that whoever is leaving them knows all about her, including things that haven’t even happened yet. Each message brings her closer to believing that only she can prevent a tragic death. Until the final note makes her think she’s too late.

http://www.rebeccasteadbooks.com/

The New York Public Library grooms its lion & other design related items

ITEM: Behold new logo for the New York Public Library. Pretty spiffy, eh? You can watch a video about the design process on YouTube. I sure am a sucker for intelligently dissected graphic design. The New York Times has a neat article about it today as well.

ITEM: Apropos of that, the incomparable Todd Klein has done some marvelous archaeological work on the Batman logo (see part 1 and part 2), and now has sussed out the hitherto anonymous designer of one of the earliest major Batman logos. Pretty neat stuff.

ITEM: Twenty-one Nabokov covers redesigned as butterfly specimen boxes. They're all pretty amazing, but my favorite is the redesigned cover for Laughter in the Dark by ... Dave Eggers?

ITEM: Here's a great blog I've just been hipped to: Curious Pages. Their subtitle/motto is "Recommended Inappropriate Books for Kids". They post images of lots incredible children's books you've never heard of.

ITEM: Similarly, the New York Times also has released a list of their best illustrated children's books of 2009 list.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Books spied across two planes: The Associate, John Grisham. Heat Lightning, John Sandford. Over and over.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Books spied on the train: Step On a Crack, James Patterson. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

My Top Ten Films Adapted From Novels #8: Zodiac, Robert Graysmith

Underrated. Underrated. Underrated. Director David Fincher's Zodiac
is easily one of the best films based on a piece of non-fiction work in a long time. It's sleek. It's gruesome. It's unflinching. It chronicles the investigation of the Zodiac killings that terrorized the San Francisco Bay area in the late 60's - early 70s. Although the film is named after the killer, it never focuses on Zodiac himself. We follow the reporters and detectives whose lives are taken over by the killer's exploits. Along with the richness of the film's look, I mean it is a beautifully shot motion picture, its casting is one of the high points. From stars like Robert Downey Jr. and Jake Gyllenhaal to superb character actors like Mark Ruffalo and John Carrol Lynch, each of the actors provide subtle on-point performances. If you know the story of the Zodiac Killer, then you know how this film ends. We are trained to believe in perfect endings, but this ending fit. It fit the tone of the film and it bookmarked a film void of sentimentality. Void of bravado. Full of intrigue and grit.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Vanishing Bookstore

It was announced today that Borders Group, the second largest bookstore chain in America (behind B&N), is going to be closing 200 of its stores, pretty much all of them mall stores or similar. Yikes. The list of closing stores doesn't include anything in the New York City area--there used to be a Borders' Waldenbooks in Kings Plaza, which is a bit south of here, but they went kaput years ago.

Part of me wants to be like, haha suckers! But this is a symptom of the shrinking need for book stores in general, and neighborhoody ones like ours in particular (Borders isn't closing any of their giant megalopolis superstores). I ain't gonna lie: it's tough for tiny stores like ours to stay open in belt-tightening times like these, especially with the loony-tune rents you find in New York City. But we do okay.

Now if we could only drive the Brooklyn College Barnes & Noble out of business, that would be something. Smackdown! C'mon, I can dream.

[Image by Ildar Sagdejev from Wikimedia Commons.]

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven, Susan Jane Gilman

Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven is Susan Jane Gilman's second memoir that leads us into a crazy, yet extremely interesting time in her life. After her first memoir, Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress, we learn Susan's background as a child growing up in New York City, which continues on into her life as an adult.

In this book however, we are introduced to the twenty-one year old Susan, and her friend Claire. After a late night at the IHop, and a menu of international pancakes, they were just two young women who wanted to take on the world and start in a city where not a lot of people had been to in the early 1980s.

Claire and Susan decide to take a trip and backpack across Europe, starting in the Communist country of China, which had just opened their doors for immigrants.

They had set rules of where they would stay and how they would travel. They would do everything rough. Instead of staying at the typical Holiday or Comfort Inn, they would stay in hostels and local hotels that they would find out about from citizens. We also get to witness the experience of a hospital in the middle of nowhere in China. These girls went through everything and anything.

We meet different characters who helped them travel. Their friend Jon, who is a citizen of China, helps the girls travel into a world where Americans weren't allowed, his home. He took them there to have a traditional Chinese meal with almost every person in his family. Susan also got to spend her birthday on the Great Wall of China, with tourists from all over singing "Happy Birthday".

This memoir really makes you experience China in the early 1980's and gives you the real detail of a city that you will never see again in the twenty-first century. This book will make you laugh, like all her other pieces, but also fill you with sadness and remorse. She has captured the city for its real side and as she went back many years later, the city that she saw, had changed greatly. It makes you appreciate the time you have and how much the world can change over a time of fifteen years.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Trendcasting: After Vampires, What's Next?

Last week, we took a look at some of the lesser-known (but even more awesome) contenders in the crowded, glammed-up vampire arena. But like all good things -- and pogs -- every trend has an expiration date. So, after publishing gets bored of bloodsuckers... well, where do we go from here?

Angels, my friends. Angels. Tipped off by Publisher's Weekly, the blogosphere is falling into general agreement that angels are the new forbidden supernatural hunk of choice. Here are a few choice selections from this Fall's (increasingly extensive) collection of angel-themed fiction:

Hush, Hush, Becca Fitzpatrick
The big contender of the impending angel rush, Hush, Hush promises to scandalize and titillate with the forbidden high-school attraction between moony-eyed Nora and a mysterious young man named Patch -- the latter of whom knows more and can do more than any teen ought to. I'm betting Patch is probably an angel. The star-crossed drama is set against the backdrop of an oncoming war between fallen angels and loyal angels, a battle in which Nora will play a key role. Big-box retailers like Barnes & Noble are betting the house on Hush, Hush, which comes complete with an eerily Twilight-ish cover design; according to PW, a formidable first print run of 250,000 copies is planned. Hush, Hush is out now.

Angel Time, Anne Rice
Anne Rice pretty much invented the modern, mincing, glammed up vampire. Well, kind of. You can't really see Christopher Lee romancing high school girls, even if he's wearing a bit of make-up right? Kind of hurts your brain, doesn't it? Sure does. (Let's not think about how, in terms of immortal vampire years, Ed Cullen is probably just as old.) I digress. Angel Time is about a hired hitman who is contracted by angels to travel through history and do good deeds. Rice, who found God some time around 1998, has given up vampires for novels based in Christian mythology. Angel Time, which is out now, is expected to be the first of a series, entitled Songs Of The Seraphim.

Fallen, Lauren Kate
Fallen doesn't hit shelves until Dec 8th, but it's already making waves. The book's pitch -- girl attends haughty boarding school, girl is mysterious drawn to equally mysterious boy, boy turns out to be angel, girl and boy endure supernatural hijinks -- sounds a little familiar (especially if you read the first third of this article). Still, advance buzz says the book has a third act that will hook fans of the genre without fail. Those that are should brace themselves -- next installment of the series won't see the light of published day until Fall of 2010.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Sesame Street Book of Opposites With Zero Mostel, George Mendoza

This is a quick advocacy piece for having this book be in print again. That is all. It would be my staff recommendation for the rest of forever, perpetually in my small corner of the shop window. One of my favorite picture-books as a child, I still have a well-worn copy at home that must secretly belong to my older brother.

There is a photography exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Looking In: Robert Frank's The Americans which runs through January 3, 2010. In the show's satellite gift shop sits the slim collaboration Zero Mostel Reads a Book. It's worth a thumbing through, even if doesn't travel home with you. He has a magical face that I think of whenever I eat banana cream pie and for now, it's the closest you can come to his Book of Opposites.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Ladies and Gentlemen, Start Your Engines

November is National Novel Writing Month. Among the observant of those of us here, it is traditionally the pre-holiday ritual to generate a novel of 50,000 words in the 30 days from November 1 to November 30. NaNoWriMo, the project, was started in the 90s by a couple of people in San Francisco. It has since become international in scope. The goal is something dear to my heart: writing, just doing it. The point is not to create a brilliant work (although if you do, that's a nice side benefit), it's to sit down, every single day, and write, until you have finished your novel. If you complete your novel, you win.

In 2008, 119,000 people signed up on NaNoWriMo's website, Nanowrimo.org, with 21,720 winners. Altogether, the writers generated over 1,643,343,993 words. This year, I think the only two people here who are doing it are me and Alicia (tho she hasn't signed up yet, it looks like--get on that!), and Shakespeare & Co. alum Mordicai, out in the internet aether is also joining us in spirit. Join us! Anyone with a writerly bent will be glad they did.
Spied on the 2 train: Twilight, Stephanie Meyer. Cryptonomicon, Neal Stephenson. Something by Edith Wharton. (The Buccaneers, I think.)