Thursday, September 30, 2010

How to keep from getting lost in a book

Have you ever finished a great sci-fi or mystery or romance novel that was part of a series and then tried to find out which was the next one you had to read? It is often a giant pain in the butt. For whatever reason, lots of series novels are kinda bad at indicating where in the series they might fall, what came before it and what comes after. Have you had this problem? Is it just me?

Anyway, enter FictFact. They are a database of serial fiction that keeps track of that stuff for you. Just look up an author or series and voila. Oh hey, do you need to know what order you should read all your out-of-print Ellis Peters "Cadfael" novels? Done.

Shakespeare & Co. Fixing all life's problems for you.


(via LifeHacker, via

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

No, really, Canada has a publishing industry, too.

Milestone in Canadian publishing! (It's not every day I get to write that). The Book of Negroes, the lauded novel by Afro-Canadian writer Lawrence Hill, has sold half a million copies in Canada. Seldom do you see such numbers with our bookselling brethren up North, rarer still for an author who is himself Canadian. I've never read him but I've heard Hill praised by a bunch of people whose opinion I respect, so I really need to give this thing a try.

Although I will definitely try to get myself a Canadian copy. It was published here in the states as the altogether more forgettable-sounding Someone Knows My Name, a bland, generic and focus-group sounding title if there ever was one, seemingly predestined for the remainder bin of history. If I saw that thing in a catalog, I'd totally just page right past it. I probably did.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Brand new branding.

Come swaddle yourself in Shakespeare.

A Literary Geography

Q: Where was that guy's apartment in Herman Melville's "Bartleby the Scrivener"?

A: 14 Wall Street

The New York Times Book Review has posted an interesting little widget that lets you look on a map of Manhattan and see the locations mentioned in literature, and how. Pity the other boroughs weren't included.

*A Literary Map of Manhattan - New York Times Book Review

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Finished reading: Lost Children of Wilder, by Bernstein, about NY, fostercare, poverty. Unputdownable. Reads like a crime novel.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

London Review of Books tells MFA candidates to "Get a real degree"

This week's London Review of Books features of a review by Elif Batuman of The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing by Mark McGurl. Her thoughts on the dominance of writers churned out by the conveyor belt of American MFA programs are both scathing and deeply resonant. Sez Batuman:
"I had high hopes that McGurl ... might explain to me the value of contemporary American fiction in a way I could understand, but was disappointed to find in The Program Era traces of the quality I find most exasperating about program writing itself: oversophistication combined with an air of autodidacticism, creating the impression of some hyperliterate author who has been tragically and systematically deprived of access to the masterpieces of Western literature, or any other sustained literary tradition."
Ouch. Also, yeah!

On her blog, Batuman posted a missive saying she hadn't written the mean-spirited (but hilarious) title of the review, and seemed apologetic. And she also posted a picture of her hugging a koala, so I guess no harm, no foul.

Friday, September 17, 2010


Kooky French writer Michel Houellebecq (pronounced WELL-beck) is in hot water again. Last novel it was because he had said some things about Islam. Now he's written a new novel, La carte et le territoire (The Map and the Territory), and it's because he's ... cut and pasted some things from Wikipedia? Uh, okay. I'm not sure that's exactly in keeping with his image as the "bad boy of literature", but whatever. (Also, for a 54-year-old man to be the "bad boy" of anything is pretty gross. Why do adult journalists insist on continued use of the term?)

Houellebecq, despite his flaws, remains one of my favorite living novelists, but this new controversy seems somewhat, I don't know, what's the word. Ridiculous? The new book, up to now considered a heavy to win the Prix Goncourt, is a satire on the French art world, in which alleges Houellebecq copied large blocks of text from the French Wikipedia's articles on a French hunting activist, the town of Beauvais and the common housefly. Also that he copied descriptions of a police officer from the website of the French interior ministry, and the description of a hotel from that hotel's own website.

In his defense, Houellebecq said ... "Yes, I copied all that stuff from Wikipedia. So what?" He also basically said that most of his critics wouldn't know literature if it bit them on the derrière, and invoked the names of other writers who'd routinely mixed in "real" texts with their own writing, like Argentina's Jorge Luis Borges (whom we here at Shakespeare & Co. adore) and France's own Georges Perec.

While most of the French critical establishment gave the book rave reviews, it has some vocal detractors however, like French-Moroccan writer and notable buzzkill Tahar Ben Jelloun, who is not coincidentally a judge on the Goncourt prize board. He's apparently annoyed that he spent three days reading a book about how a cynical jerk becomes the darling of the art world by photographing outdated Michelin maps. Whatever, after reading Don Thompson's The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art, I'm pretty sure the art world deserves all it has coming to it and then some.

My favorite quote about Houellebecq's new novel from the AFP article on this whole story? "Some critics deduced from its lack of weird sex, misogyny or anti-Islamic rants that Houellebecq might finally be showing a softer side."

I can't wait to read it.

[Image from Wikimedia Commons user Kmarius, aka Mariusz Kubik, generously licensed under Creative Commons.]
It never ceases to amaze me how often the books on the NYT bestseller list are completely unknown to me, how far out of the NYT demographic we are.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Book auction to be held, just in time for Christmas

If you like birds and books and have around $9,250,000 to spare, boy, have I got a deal for you. Auction house Sotheby's has announced that on December 7 of this year they'll be auctioning off several books, manuscripts and letters from the collection of dead British book collector (and presumed Harry Potter villain) Lord Hesketh. Among these items will be an illustrated folio of Birds of America, which is one of only 119 known copies, just 11 of which are in private hands. The book was written and illustrated by some Norman Bates type figure named James Audubon who used to travel the country killing birds and then posing them in little scenes and painting them. People are weird.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Fiery End of F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre

I'm a couple days behind on this one, but there is an article you must read in the New York Times about Scottish-Brooklynite and venerable sci-fi author F. ("Froggy") Gwynplaine MacIntyre. He was a writer of no mean accomplishment, and also an eccentric of the first water. Sadly on June 25 of this year MacIntyre killed himself by setting himself on fire in the Bensonhurst apartment in which he'd lived for the last 25 years. The story of his life is pretty spellbinding.

"The Last Story of F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre", by Corey Kilgannon (The New York Times)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Aaaaaand we're back

The Fall 2010 textbook season has washed over us like a tsunami and is now mostly behind us. Yikes. It's like one full month that gets deleted from all our lives. Something we missed in all the higher-education hoopla: the Hugo Awards were given out on September 5 at Aussiecon. For those who don't know, the Hugo is one of the most prestigious (perhaps the most prestigious) award for literary science fiction or fantasy. Also the Hugo has always had a special place in my heart; the first winner was a novel that continues to be very dear to me: The Demolished Man, by Alfred Bester.

And the winners are:

[Tie for first place]
The City & the City by China Miéville (Del Rey; Macmillan UK)
The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi (Night Shade)

“Palimpsest” by Charles Stross (Wireless; Ace; Orbit)

“The Island” by Peter Watts (The New Space Opera 2; Eos)

“Bridesicle” by Will McIntosh (Asimov’s 1/09)

This is Me, Jack Vance! (Or, More Properly, This is “I”) by Jack Vance (Subterranean)

Girl Genius, Volume 9: Agatha Heterodyne and the Heirs of the Storm
Written by Kaja and Phil Foglio; Art by Phil Foglio; Colors by Cheyenne Wright (Airship Entertainment)

Moon Screenplay by Nathan Parker; Story by Duncan Jones; Directed by Duncan Jones (Liberty Films)

Doctor Who: “The Waters of Mars”
Written by Russell T Davies and Phil Ford; Directed by Graeme Harper (BBC Wales)

Patrick Nielsen Hayden

Ellen Datlow

Shaun Tan

Clarkesworld edited by Neil Clarke, Sean Wallace and Cheryl Morgan

Frederik Pohl

StarShipSofa edited by Tony C. Smith

Brad W. Foster

Seanan McGuire

(via Wired)
(image generously licensed under Creative Commons from the Flickr photostream of the renowned blogger and prolific spaceman that Earth people call Cory Doctorow)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Zero History

The io9 review of Zero History makes me very happy. I love love loved Pattern Recognition and while I had issues and troubles with Spook Country, I was still looking forward to Zero History.

And to read the following - "Only Gibson could tell a story that plausibly takes place in the liminal space where the frayed edge of the paramilitary marketplace touches the hem of the fashion industry." - only reminds me about why I am so excited. Because it's true.

Sartorial science-fiction forever.