Saturday, April 16, 2005

Book-buying binge

I've been on an all-out book-buying binge for the past few days. It's really all Borders's fault -- they are currently having their semi-annual educators' appreciation weekend, and who can resist 25% off?

I can't.

So, bottom line: I have spent way too much and have tons of new books to read. And I'm going back tomorrow for more!

Yes, I'm shameless!

PS I'm still having Blogger problems and I'm also trying to figure out how to set up my own website, but all I have right now is a huge headache... Argh!

Friday, April 15, 2005

Check out Mitch Cullin's Blurb Project

Thanks to MJ Rose for pointing us to this amusing site (an author's page on a publisher's official website, no less), which offers another take on the quest for the holy blurb. It even provides fill-in-the-blank examples for your own use. Rock on, Mr. Cullin!

2 observations:

  • The Blurb Project did make me want to buy Mitch Cullins's new book, A Slight Trick of the Mind, which I had already heard about but hadn't bought... And isn't that what publisher websites are all about -- selling books? Kudos!

  • I really hate blurbs that contain false superlatives, overstating the work's true qualities. For example, "an extraordinary novel", "a brilliant debut novel", "a tour de force"... when the book is neither extra-ordinary nor especially brilliant (though it indeed is "funny", "poignant", "evocative" -- all excellent qualities that, while perhaps more mundane than "extraordinary" and "brilliant", are ultimately more truthful and satisfying. So please, blurb-makers, publishers, and authors: keep it honest!

Do a little bookstore tourism today!

Blogosphere surfing yielded an interesting website promoting an equally interesting concept: bookstore tourism. Basically, it means making special day trips (or longer visits) to areas that have interesting independent bookstores (and author-related sites) -- it's just a more organized way of doing what we booklovers do naturally: visiting bookstores wherever we go. I know that I've visited bookstores all over the world (I seek them out even in places where I don't speak --or read-- the language); it's fun to see what kinds of books are displayed, what their merchandising is like, and of course, if I can score some good buys. I started bringing boxfuls of books when I was about 10 years old, and have kept it up ever since.

The originator of the bookstore tourism concept, Lary Portzline, also has a new blog devoted to the topic, as well as a book. In his blog, he has an entry on how he self-published his book, including an explanation of why it's important to get an ISBN (International Standard Book Number).

Let's go visit some bookstores, people! The books await!

A little McEwan on reading and writing

I really enjoyed Ian McEwan's latest novel, Saturday, and so I have looked for McEwan interviews online (Google is the greatest invention ever!). Here's a little compilation of interesting McEwan tidbits related to reading and writing.


On writing:

  • " I like to feel that novelists are seriously dedicated to their art, which means doing a lot of reading and thinking about the novel. Sometimes it seems like writing novels has become a contemporary form of expression, expression of self. Much like being a Renaissance gentleman writing a sonnet. It's seen as a thing that anyone with a reasonable amount of education can do, and it's your duty as a citizen to write a half-dozen novels." From his recent interview

  • "I often have spent a while writing a paragraph that I know is a first paragraph of a novel. I just let that paragraph sit there for eight weeks. These sentences are like keys; they really can just turn a lock." From a 1998 interview.

  • "I think of novels somewhat in architectural terms. You have to enter at the gate, and this gate itself must be constructed in such a way that the reader has immediate confidence in the strength of the building. I'm careful not to overload with information, but not to deny too much either." Also from that 1998 interview.

  • "Not many things in life get better as you get older. But in a writer's life, perhaps there's a little plateau that you hit somewhere in your mid-40s to your mid-50s. You've still got the physical stamina to write a novel without too much pressure, thoughts of mortality."

On reading:
  • "I read a lot of the beginnings of contemporary novels. I get sent hundreds of them. I always read the first 10 or 20 pages. Well, sometimes not 10, sometimes one and a half. It's rare that I feel that sense of being in good hands. It's almost impossible to find." Also from his recent interview

  • "Writers we admire and re-read are absorbed into the fine print of our consciousness, into the white noise of our thoughts, and in this sense, they can never die." From his tribute to Saul Bellow in the Guardian.

  • "I have this twin hunger. I need fiction, although I find it harder to find any that really satisfies. But I nearly always have two books. At the moment, I'm reading the Ted Hughes poems and I'm finishing the latest Updike and I'm reading Steven Pinker's book on the brain. I do have to hump around two or three books at once." From a 1998 interview.

  • "Reading Philip Roth's "Portnoy's Complaint" seemed to offer amazing life -- brilliant use of embarrassment, in terms of paralyzing the reader. For an American writer such as Roth to address something so commonplace as masturbation, and wrapped around it is an extraordinary meditation of what Jewishness is about. It was bold and profoundly apt. I took something from that. And "Naked Lunch" -- something in the kind of scamperous cruelty of it, again was like a jolt." From the 1998 interview

My first reading copy arrived!

Last night I received my very first reading copy since becoming a litblogger! I used to get a lot of advanced reading copies when I was a bookseller, but that was more than five years ago...

The book is Cover the Butter, the first novel by Carrie Kabak, who used to be a succesful illustrator of children's books. She gave that gig up to become a full-time fiction writer.

Pub data: $23.95 hardcover to be published by Dutton in June 2005

Genre: chick lit

First impressions: This is not a book I would have picked up at the local bookstore, because I don't find the cover or the title immediately appealing (which is usually what triggers my book-perusing instincts). So I guess it's a good thing I had already decided to read it! Plus, the author promised that the reason for the title choice would become apparent within the first three chapters. What seems to be the summary for the inside flap of the dust jacket does mention that the protagonist has "one crazy mother too repressed to leave the butter uncovered." If I had gotten so far as to read that in the bookstore, that would have soothed some of my title-related worries.

I have started reading it and will post more about it later, I promise.

By the way: If anyone out there wants to send me other advanced reading copies, please do so! I can't promise to read them all (I might be buried under an avalanche of books), but I will do my best. Just know that I will post my honest opinions, good, bad, or middling. To get my snail mail address, just e-mail me.

Please forgive the typos!

Today's Camille Paglia post (hopefully just below this one!) has been posted with the help of the w.bloggar software, because for the last 24 hours or so I have been having Blogger problems. While I can access Blogger and even create posts, it won't post or publish them. What's up with that?

The w.bloggar application can post to Blogger, but I can't do any editing once the post is inside Blogger (as Blogger won't post or publish changes or new messages!). It's frustrating, and it is driving my inner perfectionist crazy. So, while I figure out why cutting and pasting Word documents doesn't work perfectly in w.bloggar (it omitted some apostrophes and quotation marks... and changed the font by itself), please bear with me and kindly overlook any typographical mistakes.

Thank you.

Camille Paglia just can't resist...

In a recent interview to promote her latest book, Camille Paglia slams blogs (among other targets):

The blogs, for example, are becoming so self-referential. If people want to be better writers, they can't just read the blogs! You've got to look at something that's outside this rushing world of evanescent words. Nowhere in blog pages does anyone pay attention to the individual word -- things are moving too fast. Someone like Emily Dickinson was working with the dictionary and looking at the etymology of the word, so that you have all this tremendous stuff going on within a single word!
I for one don't read blogs with the sole purpose of becoming a better writer -- that's what I write for. Blog reading is for entertainment, information, a feeling of community.

About Emily Dickinson: Her talent was huge but her life was limited, circumscribed to her protected domestic sphere. She was a reclusive woman obsessed with words.

And for every writer who feels too old or too rejected, heres a little Paglia trivia, straight from the source: "You have to remember, my first book wasn't published until I was 43, and that book had been rejected by seven publishersand five agents. I came on the scene without any publicity. "

Mmm... There's hope for me yet. I'm only 35!

New word for the day (the month, year, decade...): flibbertigibbet
Use it in a sentence, Ms. Paglia, please: "Some people think I must be some sort of a flibbertigibbet, running around the world in front of cameras."
Definition: A silly, flighty, or scatterbrained person, especially a pert young woman with such qualities. Ms. Paglia as pert young woman...interesting...

Oh, the power of self-promotion: In this interview, Paglia finds occasion to mention the 60 Minutes profile, the Vanity Fair photo turned cartoon, the New York Magazine cover story...and then, proclaiming herself the impetus behind Stephen Greenblatt's Will in the World (a book which of course sucks), and a phenomenon parallel to Cornel West... Yes, we get it, you're a self-made media star!

It must be nice to be Paglia the writer who needs little editing:
My work is never edited in that sense. My excellent editor will make a suggestion or a request here and there, but there is never wholesale rewriting or reorganization of my prose or alteration of my voice. What you're getting from me is entirely my work.
Perhaps her editor is afraid of her?

As well as the researcher who needs little documentation:
And what gets me is when a reviewer says in awe, "This is a very erudite person -- there are so many pages of footnotes!" I want to laugh! Well, pages and pages of footnotes in the back of a general interest humanities book usually indicates weakness. You don't need all that if your scholarship is solid. And the idea that the trendy professors of the elite schools have actually read all those books is usually false. Not only haven't they read them, they haven't even gone to the library to get them.
Would the very act of picking books up at the library confer knowledge, wisdom, transcendence? Is that a process of literary osmosis which transmits erudition through the physical labor of checking out one's own library books?

I was also under the apparently mistaken impression that references meant depth and breadth of research, as well as accountability and an acknowledgement of intellectual indebtedness...

And hail Paglia the great communicator:
I've won a very wide audience in that way. I listen to or monitor a huge range of opinion, including on talk radio, which I love. I want to understand how most people think! That's why I can communicate with large numbers of people. What's the secret? The secret is I cannot stand the coterie mentality, whether it's in downtown Manhattan or in Cambridge, Massachusetts, or in L.A. I cannot stand the cool in-group -- "We are the special people, we are the best people, everyone else is just rubes and hayseeds." Get over that!
But isn't Paglia herself guilty of this? Perhaps the difference is that she is a clique of one. I get a sense she doesn't need anyone else to proclaim her queen bee.

This interview just makes Camille Paglia seem utterly detestable: cantankerous, arrogant, self-serving, overbearing. I wonder if she really is like that or if it's a side effect of having her words transcribed; maybe in person, her voice, her mannerisms, and the force of her personality make her charming?

I don't expect I'll ever find out.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Cloning, Embalming, Dissection, and the 18th Century Felon

These are a few of the elements woven together by Jenny Davidson in her debut novel, Heredity (Soft Skull Press $14), the story of protagonist (and narrator) Elizabeth Mann’s stay in London as she tries to sort out her life and her relationships.

While working as a freelance writer for a budget travel series, Elizabeth resumes a relationship with the much older –and very much married—Gideon. She accompanies him to an antiques auction, where he is bested by his father-in-law in a bid to acquire more 18th century surgical tools for his collection. Disgusted, Gideon gives Elizabeth the box of worthless papers he ended up with, and there she finds the mildewed diaries of Mary Wild, second wife of notorious 18th century executed criminal Jonathan Wild, whose skeleton Elizabeth had seen –and been intrigued with—on a visit to the Hunterian Museum in London. Elizabeth becomes obsessed with the Wilds; she wants to have Jonathan’s baby and to recover Mary’s words from the damaged pages. The rest of the novel basically chronicles Elizabeth’s attempts to accomplish those goals, while having plenty of smokes, drinks, and sex.

This plot summary hardly does justice to Heredity – there’s much more here than just plot twists. There’s plenty to like, including Elizabeth’s voice, if not her character; while she’s not a very sympathetic character, she is a compelling narrator – cynical and drily witty:

* The double narrative. The main narrative is Elizabeth’s first person present-tense account, set in London circa 1998. This narrative is periodically interrupted by Jonathan Wild’s story, which seems to have initially been a problematic arrangement for Davidson:

I wrote at least half-a-dozen versions of Wild's story without finding a voice and structure that worked (third-person omniscient; first-person confessional; Q&A, with hack writer Daniel Defoe interviewing Wild in the condemned cell the night before his execution; you get the idea). But I couldn't figure out how to bring to life any of the things that made the story so compelling to me in the first place, including the casual violence of life in the 1720s and the intense vividness of people and places as they are represented in contemporary accounts. (From Jenny Davidson’s essay about Heredity in her British publisher’s site)

Fortunately, Davidson found the appropriate narrator –and narrative structure-- to present Jonathan Wild’s story:

The voice of Mary Wild - the author of the manuscript that Elizabeth Mann unearths and deciphers over the course of the novel - came later, when I realized that my schematic let's-contrast-first-person-present-tense-female-narrator-in-1998-with-third-person-past-tense-narration-of-1720s approach was outrageously misguided. (Ibid.)

The contrast between Mary and Elizabeth, and between 18th century and 20th century England, provides both interest and depth to the novel.

* The protagonist’s penchant for research and arcane knowledge. I enjoyed following Elizabeth into the British Library to learn about body snatching, the history of dissection, 18th century embalming practices, and of course, the life and death of notorious outlaw Jonathan Wild.

* The narrative thread relating to Elizabeth’s father and her relationship to him. I admit I was shocked at what the root of Elizabeth’s problem with her dad turned out to be. I also found the underlying issues related to father figures interesting, although perhaps undeveloped.

* Resolution of the cloning issue within the narrative. It was believable and while that shouldn’t have been surprising, it was. I was prepared for an ending that was more science fiction. I only wish that Davidson would have taken some more time (and pages) to develop the ending – it felt rushed.

Overall, I enjoyed Heredity, and would recommend it. But I do have some issues:

* Heavy-handed use of research. One particular example stands out: Elizabeth’s imaginary conversation with the creator of Dolly the Cloned Sheep. What was the point of that? Fortunately, it was a short conversation…

* Continuity problems (I feel like I’m working on a movie, nitpicking, but still…): In one chapter Elizabeth mentions she has given Gideon a key to her apartment, which he uses to get in. A little later, Gideon buzzes and Elizabeth has to let him in. A minor thing, I know, but it stopped my reading flow. I was also somewhat nonplussed that Elizabeth desperately wanted to become pregnant and yet she continued drinking for some days after the IVF procedure – without even giving it a thought. Granted, it could be part of her characterization, but still it nagged at me.

* Rushed ending. I would have preferred more time and space invested on developing the ending and exploring the dynamics of Elizabeth’s relationship with Gideon and with her father, instead of having so much attention spent on Elizabeth’s various self-destructive habits. In particular, the resolution of Elizabeth’s relationship rang a bit hollow, probably because it was rather rushed. Gideon butted head-on against Elizabeth’s Wild obsession, and yet, it hardly seemed to affect her. I also thought it was odd that Gideon and Elizabeth never even considered the implications of having children together (particularly given the apparent infertility of Gideon’s wife).

[In the interest of self-disclosure: Jenny Davidson is a fellow blogger and a frequent visitor at Bookish Marginalia. And she gave me leave to be brutally honest.]

For more information:

  • Jenny Davidson's essay on Heredity in the Serpent's Tail Publishing site, explaining her interest in Jonathan Wild, how she developed the voice of Mary Wild, and why sex is a prominent part of the novel (trust me, the actual novel is much less prurient than any summary would seem):
Depending on your reading preferences, this novel is either value for money or else a complete nightmare. (The mother who ill-advisedly brought her young daughter to a reading in Berkeley fixed me with a look of utter horror and leaned over literally to cover up the girl's ears when my narrator told her married lover to unbutton his pants and take out his cock.)

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Some people's noise...

is other people's song.

Apparently, the good people of Maui, Hawaii are all in an uproar about the "annoying screech" of the coqui frog (according to USA Today), because as everyone must surely know, "swarms of coqui frogs... can drive reasonable adults mad." SWAT teams of neighbors band together to go annihilate the evil creatures, and even the state has gotten into the spirit of the hunt:

Nowadays, the invasion has reached the point that, in January, Big Island Mayor Harry Kim told the state Legislature his county should be declared in a “state of emergency” because of the frogs. Although Maui hasn’t reached that crisis level, Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa has asked the Legislature for $2 million to help get rid of the frogs here while it’s still possible. That’s in addition to $450,000 that the county grants to MISC to attack alien species in general. (Maui News, April 10)

Money well spent, I'm sure the Tylenol-popping, earplug-using, sleep-deprived Maui residents would say. After all, continues Maui News reporter Valerie Monson, "[t]he story of the coqui frogs illustrates in horror-movie fashion how an alien species that looks as harmless as a fly can have entire communities in an uproar in less than 10 years."

Don't these people and this reporter have anything better to do?

On the upside though, the frogs have provided an incentive for neighbors to unite against the common threat of declining property values, invading alien animals, and incessant loud screeching. There are even meetings on the subject, to get on record the expert opinion of the frog-squad's most prominent (and promoted) member, Bob Flint. (I kid you not; here are the minutes of one such meeting). And the state government has even created an anti-coqui site (another example of money well spent), which gives several hotline numbers, an online reporting form, and a stern warning about the dire consequences of being caught with a coqui.

But there are dissenters among the throngs of frog-haters. CHIRP (the Coqui Hawaiian Integration and Reeducation Project) has launched its own website, which includes a recording of coqui song (so you can judge for yourself) and an online form to protest the use of tax dollars to fund the coqui eradication campaign.

Of course, in the other side of the US, in the Atlantic Ocean, the coqui's "annoying screech" is actually considered a treat. In Puerto Rico, the coqui's native land, residents so admire the little frogs that the coqui has become the beloved national symbol. Legend even had it (erroneously, to the despair of the aforementioned Hawaiian residents) that a transplanted coqui would die of grief if ever taken from its homeland...

In Puerto Rico, there are coqui magnets, squeaky toys, plush toys, ornaments, brooches... cartoon coqui frogs decorate tourism company billboards, as well as the ubiquitous towels, t-shirts, glasses, and other assorted souvenirs. And the fact that coqui song is slowly fading away from (human) overpopulation is received with sadness, not viewed with exultant relief. That's how invested the people of Puerto Rico are in the fate of these harmless, tiny, loud-voiced tropical tree frogs.

I should know. I live here.

Here's Ellie!

The 2005 National Magazine Awards have been awarded. The New Yorker trumped all again. [The link is to the official press release, which includes the commendatory language for each category -- I thought it was interesting to see why the judges liked each winner...]

Many of my favorite magazines are mentioned, but some winning publications I'd never even heard of. I guess I'll look more closely at the Borders magazine racks next time I visit (probably tomorrow!)

Interesting tidbit: The Atlantic won for fiction... I wonder if that will make the editors reconsider their decision to confine fiction only to a single annual issue (August is the chosen month).

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Book Sense winners announced

Here are the winners of the American Booksellers Association Book Sense Book of the Year awards, as well as the four books given honorable mentions in each category:

Honorable mentions
Eventide by Kent Haruf
The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant -- In my pre-blogger days I read this book and I remember that I liked it...
The Plot Against America by Philip Roth
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon -- Love, love, love this book! It's a literary mystery, which starts when a father takes his son to choose one book from a secret library of forgotten books. Of course, the boy loves the book and is mystified when he cannot find other books or even any information about the author. His booklust is inflamed, and the quest for answers begins. It's also set in Barcelona, one of my favorite cities.

Candyfreak by Steve Almond
The Complete Cartoons of The New Yorker, Robert Mankoff (Ed.)
Magical Thinking by Augusten Burroughs
Truth & Beauty by Ann Patchett - This is a memoir of her friendship with the late Lucy Grealy, poet and author of The Autobiography of a Face. It's the book I'm currently reading, so you'll hear more about it soon!

Children's (Literature):
Becoming Naomi Leon by Pam Munoz Ryan
Ida B... and Her Plans to Maximize Fun, Avoid Disaster, and (Possibly) Save the World by Katherine Hannigan
Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
The Sea of Trolls by Nancy Farmer

Children's Illustrated
Kitten's First Full Moon by Kevin Henke
Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems
Mister Seahorse by Eric Carle
Wild About Books by Judy Sierra, illustrated by Marc Brown

Click here for a list of all ABA Book Sense 2004-2005 Reading Group Picks with brief descriptions.

Saturday excerpt in Granta 88

The Winter 2004 edition of Granta has an excerpt from Ian McEwan's Saturday. Since the issue is devoted to mothers, the excerpt is about Henry Perowne's visit to his mother at the nursing home where she lives:

He knows the routine well enough. Once they're established together, face to face, with their cups of dark brown tea, the tragedy of her situation will be obscured behind the banality of detail, of managing the suffocating minutes, of inattentive listening. Being with her isn't so difficult. The hard part is when he comes away, before this visit merges in memory with all the rest, when the woman she once was haunts him as he stands by the front door and leans down to kiss her goodbye. That's when he feels he's betraying her, leaving her behind in her shrunken life, sneaking away to the riches, the secret hoard of his own existence.
Lily Perowne, former competitive swimmer and indefatigable homemaker, is now lost to Alzheimer's. Her conversations with her son are now grammatically correct nonsense, incapable of conveying meaning between them. [I read somewhere --maybe in the Newsweek profile?-- that McEwan wrote down his own conversations with his mother, who suffered from Alzheimer's, and used them years later to give Lily Perowne her distinctive voice.]

I wish I could write half so poetically about my own visits to my grandmother at her nursing home. She doesn't have Alzheimer's, but she does have dementia associated with aging, and when she's off her antipsychotic meds she turns from the inoffensive (if annoying) drama queen she has always been to a demanding, manipulative shrew who thinks my cousin's boyfriend is a CIA operative and the light fixtures have recording devices built into them (because the feds are building a case against her for receiving a fragance purchase-with-purchase gift set without making any purchase thirty years ago...) I kid you not.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Now reading (and enjoying): Heredity by Jenny Davidson

Over the weekend I received my copy of Jenny Davidson's first novel, Heredity (Soft Skull Press $14). So far it's highly enjoyable -- I'll keep you posted.

A tease:

In this little excerpt, narrator Elizabeth Mann talks about both her minimum-wage job as a glorified fact-checker for a budget travel guide and her new passion for executed 18th century felon Jonathan Wild:

Three weeks into the travel guide work, a familiar malaise has hit me. I have a passion for research, but it's bad luck for my editor that I find the past so much more engaging than the present. I have a toxic inability to carry through on projects I don't like. I'm sleeping late, then drifting in to the British Library around eleven for a session with the eighteenth-century pamphlets that recount the life and crimes of Jonathan Wild. (p53)

BTW, Jenny is a fellow blogger. Drop by for a visit at Light Reading.

More on Peter Temple and Shooting Star

I'm still in a Temple sort of mood!

Things I loved about Shooting Star:

1) Descriptions. Temple's style is sparse, but when he decides to use precious narrative time to describe people or places, every word packs a punch. Here's an example of the way Frank Calder describes the place the kidnap victim was allegedly last seen in:

I went for a walk down the street, around the corner, in the glass side door of TRIPLE ZERO!, the record store. I was in a small vestibule, pulsating music audible, facing another door. I opened it and the sound was like a blow to the whole upper body. It hit you, then it invaded you, stuck probes up your nose, into your mouth. My filings seemed to be transmitting sound and I could taste them. I subdued the impulse to flee, stood my ground. When my brain accepted that it could function in these conditions, I went around the bend into the long leg of the store. (p76)
I remember stores just like this one from my college days, small, cluttered, noisy, impossibly crowded stores that just vibrated with sound.

2) The ending. Unlike many mysteries, crime novels, and thrillers, in Shooting Star all the narrative threads are not tidily concluded. Yes, the main crime, which is the kidnapping, is solved and the case closed, but several other related possible-crimes are not. These are intentionally ignored, giving the reader an ambiguous resolution -- has justice truly been served? by what means? is there a murderer still on the loose? were other family members involved in criminal activities? The reader gets partial answers to these questions, much like Frank himself, who has his own theories but nothing to prove them with.

Peter Temple's Shooting Star

Yesterday I read Shooting Star, an award-winning novel by Australian (despite his South African birthplace) crime novelist Peter Temple. I found this book (and this author) through Jenny at Light Reading. She calls Shooting Star 'the perfect book' -- I'm not sure if I would call it perfect, but it's damned good.

In Shooting Star, narrator Frank Calder, an ex-soldier, ex-hostage negotiator, and financially-strapped independent mediator, is hired by the wealthy Carson family to hand over a ransom payment for a kidnapped 15-year old Carson heiress. Frank advises the family to call the police, regardless of the kidnappers' instructions: "'[We're] At the point where we phone the cops,' I said. 'You're not dealing with the greedy. The unhinged, that's what you've got here. And this is personal.'" (p51). Of course, the Carson patriarch refuses. Things quickly get complicated and Frank starts a little investigation of his own on the missing girl and her assorted relatives (including MIA dad, institutionalized mom, black sheep cousin...). He brings in an army buddy to be his wingman, Michael Orlovsky.

Here's a little sample, to show you why this novel was so entertaining:

In the car, driving back to the Carsons', I said to Orlovsky, 'We may have to rethink this. They may have smart technology but these people are not A-list kidnappers. They would be lucky to get onto any list. Not without expanding the alphabet.'

'Is that good or bad?'

'Bad, very bad. The stupid are capable of anything.'

'Unlike the clever, who are generally capable of nothing.'

'Nothing this clumsy,' I said.

'On the other hand,' Orlovsky said, 'they may not be stupid. Perhaps they just don't care very much.'

I didn't want to hear that. I said, "Don't say that. Not caring is much worse than stupid.' (p78)

More information about Peter Temple:
  • Peter Temple's bio.
  • A review of another Temple crime novel, In the Evil Day.
  • A blogger reviews Temple's Jack Irish series.
  • A holiday gift-giving suggestion from Peter Temple via
  • has this to say about Peter Temple:
Of the more hard-boiled writers, Peter Temple is clearly the leader of the pack. His seven novels to date are all consistently very good and have won a record four Ned Kelly Awards for excellence in Australian crime writing. Four of his books have featured Jack Irish, a disgraced lawyer and habitual gambler who has fallen on bad times and now earns a living finding people who do not want to be found. They are slickly written and exciting tales and, along with his two stand-alone crime novels, An Iron Rose and Shooting Star, paint an evocative picture of the rain-swept streets of Melbourne. Temple has also written a terrific international thriller, In the Evil Day, about dark deeds and old secrets set in England and Europe.

Ever stumble across an author whose work is new to you and wonder how you could possibly have missed his (or her) books all your life? Peter Temple is just such a find! He’s a very popular Australian crime novelist and three-time winner of the Ned Kelly Award. We are extremely pleased to introduce his outside-Australia debut. Identity Theory is a multi-layered espionage thriller which follows three damaged people whose lives have been shaped by events beyond their control. First, there’s Con Niemand, an ex-mercenary whose body-guard job goes violently south, salvaging only a video-tape showing what appear to be American soldiers eradicating a tiny African village. Then there’s John Anselm, a former journo whose days as a hostage in Beirut ended his reporting days forever. He works for a shady surveillance/information retrieval firm in Germany, permanently in the shadows… Add Caroline Wishart, a London tabloid reporter with a reputation for stories than rent-boys and insipid scandals, who wants to tackle REAL NEWS…and you have one explosive cocktail!

Sunday, April 10, 2005

For all the Google searchers...

... looking for the posts on Ian McEwan's Saturday and on Henry Perowne, please scroll down to March 27 (or click on the archive for that week).

BTW, why such an interest in Saturday and Henry Perowne today?

A little Nectar

Just finished Jane Guill's debut novel, Nectar from a Stone (S&S Touchtone, $15). I thoroughly enjoyed it. Guill has a deft touch with dialogue, a delightfully unexpected dry wit, and a sensualist's approach to atmosphere and setting.

As a reader of romance, I would have liked to see more of how Gwydion and Elise fell in love. It's not satisfying just to be told that they had lots of interesting conversations -- I wanted to eavesdrop on those conversations. Guill really does a good job with dialogue elsewhere, which is why I can't understand why she shies away from showing the relationship between these two characters through their extended conversations (especially since this is how they fell in love, because the relationship is chaste). The author built enough credibility with me as a reader before the falling in love phase of the book that I believe Gwydion and Elise did, but it still chafes that it wasn't shown. I would have sacrificed a few of the scenes that develop the characters of Elise's husband and Sir Nicholas, to have gotten the space to develop Gwydion's character further and to explore his relationship to Elise.

That said, these missing elements really didn't interfere with my enjoyment of Nectar from a Stone as a whole. I was more aware of the lack of narrative time Gwydion and Elise got as a couple after I finished reading, perhaps because the novel ends very much as a romance novel would, with a stereotypically happy ending. I wonder why -- not why the book ended well (I WANTED that), but why this particular scene was chosen as the final one. Somehow it doesn't fit, though I'm not exactly sure what my discomfort is with it -- perhaps that I've read many scenes like it in historical romances and I expected different from the ending of a novel that does not otherwise conform to generic rules?

I hope Jane Guill is working on her second novel right now -- I'm so looking forward to reading more from her. She crafts beautiful sentences, and weaves the details of time and place lightly, making them an integral part of the narrative but not an obvious one. A pet peeve of mine with historical novels is the author's desire to display the breadth and wealth of their research by adding paragraphs better suited to scholarly books. There's none of that blatant display of scholarship here, just well-placed, unobstrusive use of details. (My favorite is when Elise places one of her dresses under her mattress so that it will get pressed while she sleeps.)

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