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April 2009

Tested All Over the World: The Star Wars Punch Out and Play Book


Every once in awhile something really fun pops up in the post office box--or, in this case, punches out in the post office box. Michael and Karan Feder's Star Wars: Punch Out and Play! is one such book, and as such we thought it deserved a little nontrad coverage. You can punch out (or, er, carefully separate out) 12 iconic Star Wars characters and, as the ad copy says, create a dozen free-standing paper dolls to "decorate your home, office, or any place in need of some intergalactic inspiration and transport yourself to a galaxy far, far away."

Well, here at Omnivoracious, we've decided to stress-test this concept--not all over the galaxy, but at least all over the, or at least three continents and four countries. We've sent copies of Star Wars: Punch Out and Play! to five bloggers renowned for their imagination and experience staging cardboard scenes. (They're also all excellent readers, whose book recommendations really mean something.) Starting in mid-May, I'll report back with photos of their efforts and we'll find out just how fun this book is to play around, punch out.

Who are the Punch Out Five?

Continue reading "Tested All Over the World: The Star Wars Punch Out and Play Book" »

Omni Daily News

Elizabeth Edward's Resilience: Although Elizabeth Edward's new memoir Resilience won't be available until May 12, the New York Daily News managed to get a copy of it. In today's paper it is reporting that  her husband John Edwards admitted his infidelity to his wife just days after he declared his candidacy for the presidency in 2006.  Elizabeth Edwards urged him to withdraw at the time, but he insisted on staying in the race. [NYDN]

New Biography Claims A-Rod Juiced as a Teen:  Selena Roberts' new biography, A-Rod: The Many Lives of Alex Rodriguez (available May 4) suggests that the baseball player may have used steroids as a high school player. According to an article in today's Daily News, "Rodriguez put on 25 pounds of muscle between his sophomore and junior years, and word was that his connection was a dog kennel owner." [NYDN]

Sully's New Title Besides Captain and Hero: Heroic pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger has a new title for his upcoming book--Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters (which releases December 1). This uplifting autobiography will be coauthored by Jeffrey Zaslow who worked with the late Professor Randy Pausch on The Last Lecture. [PW]

The Necessity of Influence: A Conversation with Damion Searls (Part I, Fiction)

Searls_backDamion Searls is definitely doing his part to serve the cause of literature. In a few years, he's gone from translating short nonfiction pieces on his own to translating works by Proust, Rilke, and other prominent contemporary writers for various publishers. This year alone, he has five books coming out: two translations, an abridged version of Thoreau's journal (NYRB, October) that he edited, and a special edition for The Review of Contemporary Fiction on Melville (entitled ; or The Whale), and his first collection of short fiction--What We Were Doing and Where We Were Going--which officially comes out next week.

The thing I like most about these five stories is the way Searls has subtly filled them with literary anecdotes and allusions, which are exciting for bookies to discover but never distract from the characters' humanity or the fun of the stories. It's simply an organic part of who he is as a writer, and who we are as readers of fiction.

In our recent email conversation, Searls had some interesting things to say about the writing life, and the necessity of writing through reading. You're an accomplished translator, and you have several, pretty high profile translations coming up. How does your fiction writing fit into this, chronologically?

Damion Searls: Chronologically, there’s a sort of slow alternating rhythm, but with lots of overlap and crossover because I like the stimulation of different things going on. Facing a deadline on one project is usually when I get my best work done on another one. There were four or five years when I wrote my book of stories and a first novel, Lives of the Painters, which hasn’t found a publisher yet; I’m now in a phase of focusing on translations and on getting things published. Of course that means I’m longing to get back to my second novel! Were you initially trained as a writer or a translator? How did you get into translation?

DS: I’ve never been trained as either, except by reading. I got into translation because there was good stuff in German--short nonfiction vignettes by Peter Handke--that I wanted to try in English. The same as most writers with stories to tell, I think, except that my stories were not particularly mine. (Handke would say that they weren’t his either: he sees himself as a reteller, not a storyteller.) Do you see yourself more as a fiction writer who translates, or a translator who writes fiction? How does translating inform your fiction?

DS: Dubravka Ugresic, a Croatian writer I’ve worked with and a good friend, once told me she thinks every writer should serve the cause of Literature before expecting anyone to read their own writing: serve as a teacher, a translator, an editor or publisher. That seems right to me.

I sometimes say that translation has all the benefits of being a writer--you get to exercise all your creativity--but it also has two extra advantages: you never face a blank page, and you never face a written page and wonder if it’s crap. It has already proven its ability to move the reader, because it’s already moved you. Translation is also excellent training because you get to write much higher quality prose or poetry than you would otherwise.

But ultimately, I think of the two activities as very similar. I have a translator’s imagination. I get inspired by what I read; I like hanging out behind the scenes; I’d rather share something I love with a reader than make the reader love me personally. (The great writer and artist Joe Brainard once said: “Art to me is walking down the street with a friend and saying ‘Don’t you like that building too?’”)

Both writing and translating really belong with a third activity, reading. Borges once said he thought of himself as a so-so writer but a great reader, and I identify with that; and Borges was also a translator too, like Proust, Rilke, Murakami, Handke, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and probably most great writers outside the English-speaking world. I like this response. It gels with my notion of you as a writer who is genuinely engaged with literature on a global, philosophical level, which comes across in your fiction. Have you always been a reader and a writer?


DS: I’ve always been a reader, but I read science fiction as a kid and went to college to be a physics major. (I ended up a philosophy major.) I didn’t imagine myself as a writer. Then again, I was a fan of the “Three Investigators” mystery series and I did try to write an installment when I was ten. Borrowing other people’s narrative forms already! It was about 10 or 12 pages long, and I got bored with the plot so the missing ruby fell out of someone’s bag in the subway and they caught him, the end. The stories in What We Were Doing and Where We Were Going are translations of a sort. Do you see them that way?

DS: I do see them that way. What I want from a book—what I want to find as a reader, and make as a writer—is another world I can lose myself in. And there are several ways a book can make you lose yourself. You can get caught up in a suspenseful story, which transports you; a book can create a vivid atmosphere, so that you feel like you’re somewhere else; and it can connect with other books, because if you make a sort of underground tunnel from your book to someone else’s, then your reader has access to all the space in the other book too. What’s more fun than a secret passageway! My desire to do that third thing, as I do in my book of stories, comes from the same place as my translator’s desire to bring a great book from another language to American readers.

Continue reading "The Necessity of Influence: A Conversation with Damion Searls (Part I, Fiction)" »

YA Wednesday: This and That

What's the best way to promote your book? Take it to your high school! Author Stephanie Dickinson on her book Half Girl, about a 15-year-old who runs away from her Iowa hometown. (Galley Cat.)

Battle of the Kids' Books Update...
Round 3 Match 1: The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol. II: The Kingdom of the Waves triumphs again. This time it's over Laurie Halse Anderson's Chains.

Still to come...Round 3, Match 2: Reader's choice front-runner The Hunger Games takes on The Lincolns.

Awards galore for YA books...
Nation Powers_165x250 Tender morsels

L.A. Times Book Award for young adult fiction: Terry Pratchett's Nation.

Nebula Awards, best novel: Ursula K. LeGuin's Powers.

Tender Morsels has been nominated for a Shirley Jackson Award.

(Thanks, bookshelves of doom for the handy round-up.)

Quick links...
Sparked by a post at Shelf Talker, Roger Sutton talks about adults buying YA books:

When I look at books like Madapple, The Book Thief, Octavian Nothing, Tender Morsels--basically, literary YA fiction--I wonder what the gains and losses were in publishing them as YA. These are all books that undeniably have a YA audience, but without an adult audience as well they would be unviable. But had they been published as adult, would they have an audience at all?
Teen imprint Flux (home to many YA Wednesday favorites) is starting a podcast. We'll be eagerly awaiting episode one later this week.

Someone at the New York Post complains about Jake Wizner's Castration Celebration. I still think it's fun.

Publisher's Weekly posts a run-down of the big books coming up for the rest of 2009. I was excited to see that Maggie Stiefvater (Lament) has a new book coming out. And Jane Smiley has written a middle grade book about horses. Horses!

This week, I was thrilled to have the chance to interview author Michael Scott about The Sorceress, which comes out May 26. Look for the Q&A here on Omni soon. New to Nicholas Flamel? You can download a pdf of book one, The Alchemyst, here for free (!) until May 8. Happy reading...--Heidi

A Preview of Boilerplate: History's Mechanical Marvel


Love Steampunk? How about robots? And what about fictions pretending to be reality? If you answered yes to any or all of those questions, you're likely to love the heck out of Boilerplate: History's Mechanical Marvel by Paul Guinan and Anina Bennett, out from Abrams Books in October. Abrams was kind enough to send me a preview of the book, in unbound form, and it's spectacular. The creators of Boilerplate have meticulously inserted the robot into various phases of twentieth-century history, weaving his story into our own. The book expands on the original online avatar of Boilerplate.

A lovely foreword sets Boilerplate up as "the world's first robot soldier," created by Professor Archibald Campion in 1893 to prevent "the deaths of men in the conflicts of nations." Since then, Boilerplate has "charged into combat alongside such notables as Teddy Roosevelt and Lawrence of Arabia." Not only that, he's traveled to the South Pole, "saved Pancho Villa's life," made silent movies, and "hobnobbed with the likes of Mark Twain and Tesla." The book purports to tell the story of Boilerplate as "one of history's great enigmas, a technological breakthrough that languished in obscurity," until now.

Having created a fictional reality with my own fake disease guide, supposedly edited by a certain Dr. Thackery T. Lambshead, I really appreciate the work that went into this book. It's not easy to fabricate on this large a scale, especially engaging the historical context in an intelligent way. I've seen many people get it wrong. Here it's all done right. Guinan and Bennett get the large-scale context right, but it's the little details that really make it work, from the variety of period-accurate art and photos to the images of Boilerplate action figures and his appearance in comic strips.

You can preorder Boilerplate on Amazon. While you're waiting, though, here are some photos of the interior for the curious...

Continue reading "A Preview of Boilerplate: History's Mechanical Marvel" »

Obama's Book Club Is Back: Netherland

0307377040.01._MZZZZZZZ_ Joseph O'Neill's Netherland, one of the best-reviewed novels of 2008 and the one novel last year that every literary reader felt like they should check out, may have missed out on the Pulitzer Prize and fallen short in the Tournament of Books, but it's gotten what may be a bigger prize. We've made it a pastime at Omni to follow Barack Obama's reading selections (see here, here, here, here, and here), but we figured now that he's in office his reading stack has been cluttered with white papers and classified documents. But maybe now that he's hit the 100-day mark in office he's getting comfortable enough to slip in some recreational reading: in an interview with David Leonhardt for this Sunday's New York Times Magazine (online today), he mentions that he's started Netherland in the evenings.

Will this offhand mention be enough to goose sales for O'Neill, as similar ones did for Fareed Zakaria and Fred Kaplan? We'll see. But as booksellers wait for Oprah to make her next pick (it's been nearly a year since Edgar Sawtelle...), we'll take any recommendations we can get from influential Chicagoan readers. --Tom

Omni Daily News

Fall Fiction Watch: No official word from Doubleday, but PublishersLunch is reporting that John Grisham will be returning to the Mississippi setting of his debut novel, A Time to Kill (which turns 20 this year), in his new book, Ford County. [PublishersLunch]

Wait, The Android's Dungeon Comic Book & Baseball Card Shop Didn't Make the Cut?: Meet your 2009 Top 10 Comic Book Store Clerks of America. [Hero Complex]

The Science of Cooking: Michael Ruhlman's new book, Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking, continues to get plenty of off-the-book-page ink, with features in the Washington Post and NY Times. [Washington Post and NY Times]

Are They Having a Laugh?: Ricky Gervais' children's book series, Flanimals, will be getting the big-screen treatment in a 3-D animated adaptation. [Variety]


Omni Daily News

Beware the vectors: Responding to the story of the day, two authors have op-eds looking backward and forward at the swine flu threat. In the NYT, John Barry, author of The Great Influenza, argues that the previous flu pandemics have come in waves, first mild and then lethal:

In all four instances, the gap between the time the virus was first recognized and a second, more dangerous wave swelled was about six months. It will take a minimum of four months to produce vaccine in any volume, possibly longer, and much longer than that to produce enough vaccine to protect most Americans. The race has begun.

(Barry's historical perspective was also in demand a few years ago, when his history of the Mississippi flood of 1927, Rising Tide, became one of the go-to books after Katrina.) And in The Guardian, Planet of Slums author Mike Davis pins the rapid mutations of pig-to-human flu on industrial meat production:

This has been a transition from old-fashioned pig pens to vast excremental hells, containing tens of thousands of animals with weakened immune systems suffocating in heat and manure while exchanging pathogens at blinding velocity with their fellow inmates.

All those pathogens!: In better news about mass gatherings, the LA Times Festival of Books drew over 100,000 to two days of panels, readings, etc., this weekend. (Anne mentioned the LAT Book Award winners yesterday.) The LAT's books blog, Jacket Copy, has understandably, and admirably, been flooding the zone with coverage, including appearances by Marilynne Robinson, James Ellroy, and others.

Sie wird eine Berlinerin: Jessa Crispin, founder and proprietor of the pioneering (and still thriving) BookSlut, is leaving Chicago for Berlin in July, but she'll still be blogging regularly from there.


ECCC 2009: Interview with Scott Allie

As Senior Managing Editor at Dark Horse Comics, Scott Allie’s name is attached to titles like Hellboy, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and The Umbrella Academy, and—in the vein of a true renaissance man—his own comics series.  At Emerald City ComiCon, Scott shared details about the sequel to last year’s smash The Umbrella Academy, as well as a Seattle-centric graphic novel in 2010, and his upcoming projects in 2009.  Dark Horse’s publishing spectrum covers it all: high profile Horror like Hellboy, properties like Buffy and Star Wars, classic reprint series like Creepy and Eerie, and totally bizarre projects like The Perry Bible Fellowship. What else is Dark Horse going to surprise fans with in the coming year?

Scott Allie: The guiding principle is that we publish what we like, and that is why we hit so many genres. The book that we’re announcing this weekend is a graphic novel about the Green River Killer—written by the son of the detective who caught him. When the writer, Jeff Jensen, first pitched the story to me and told me about The Green River Killer—wow, it sounded like such a spectacular story. He had such an inside track on it, with his dad being the lead detective, the guy who eventually caught Gary Ridgway, but what grew on me as I saw the short pitch, then the longer pitch—and as we started getting more specific—was the saga of his father.

His father was involved in this investigation for about 20 years, and over the course of these years, the investigation affected his life so much. It’s a real story about growth; about his dad, who is still a cop. Tom Jensen has never told his story. It’s such an epic True Crime story, but it’s not a True Crime story in the traditional sense. It’s the growth of this guy reflected in some pretty dark circumstances. A true story like that sounds a little atypical for Dark Horse. Will Green River Killer be available in singles or will it be an original graphic novel?


Scott Allie: It’s going to be an original, 200-page graphic novel. It’s coming out in 2010. There were so many amazing things that happened to Tom over the course of the story that we needed a really big format, and it didn’t make sense to serialize it.  One of the chances that Dark Horse took last year was The Umbrella Academy,’s #1 pick for Graphic Novels in 2008. I know there is a sequel to be collected later this year—can you tell fans what they can expect in Volume 2: Dallas?

Scott Allie: Well, Volume 2 is crazy—it’s really, really nuts. In the first series, we learned about Number Five, the boy who traveled through time to the end of the world and back. He didn’t really give a lot of details about how he got there, but he did drop a casual hint right before Pogo died.

Number Five said, “Well, I suppose I should start with the Kennedy assassination.” That little line was dropped, and a few people asked about it—but not a lot—and that’s basically the crux of Volume 2, called Dallas. [Number Five] was set up by a group of agents to assassinate Kennedy, and he refused to do it. He backed out, and now they are forcing him to do it. So now The Umbrella Academy is being lined up to kill Kennedy. As of this interview, the outcome has not yet been revealed, but it’s pretty crazy what we’re doing in that book. The Umbrella Academy is a really fun book to work on because the story evolves a lot over the course of writing it.

Continue reading "ECCC 2009: Interview with Scott Allie" »

Old Media Monday: Reviewing the Reviewers


New York Times:

  • Sunday Book Review cover: Review editor Sam Tanenhaus on How It Ended by Jay McInerney: "'How It Ended' reminds us how impressively broad McInerney’s scope has been and how confidently he has ranged across wide swaths of our national experience. It reminds us too that for all the many literary influences he has absorbed, McInerney’s contribution — and it is a major one — is to have revitalized the Irish Catholic expiatory tradition of F. Scott Fitzgerald and John O’Hara, with its emphasis not only on guilt but also on shame: on sins committed and never quite expunged, always in open view of the sorrowing punitive clan."
  • Maslin on Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead: "'Sag Harbor' isn’t about much more than the hilariously trifling intricacies of this self-discovery process. Credit Mr. Whitehead with this: He captures the fireflies of teenage summertime in a jar without pretending to have some larger purpose. 'Sag Harbor' is not a book about that special summer when everything changed, when this boy became a man, when the scales fell from his eyes about adult life, or even about when he experienced the balmy joys of first love. Its plot is so evanescent that the removal of Benji’s braces counts as a milestone."
  • Mark Ford on Our Savage Art by William Logan: "The most obvious advantage of Logan’s Diogenes-like approach to much of the contemporary poetry he writes about is that it transforms the normally rather stultifying genre of the poetry review into something more akin to a blood sport. Logan’s hounding and slashing, parodying and chastising, make for what editors call good copy. Occasionally he exempts a passage, or a complete particular poem, from his mocking strictures, but in general one learns to expect — and even, in a slightly shameful way, like a member of the crowd at a Roman circus, to demand — the final turning of the emperor’s thumb down, and the consigning of another poet to oblivion."
  • Joan Silber on Once the Shore by Paul Yoon: "The beauty of these stories is precisely in their reserve: they are mild and stark at the same time. By mild I do not mean cozy. Harshness is always close at hand here, and no one is surprised by betrayals, thefts, brutal mistakes of war. Nor do the stories entirely lack acts of will. A couple whose son has probably been killed in a bombing test resolutely set off at sea to search for him. A child whose family farm has been sold tells the buyer’s wife to go home. But even these resolves feel not altogether voluntary. Most of the collection’s characters move through events with a resignation or forbearance rare in contemporary fiction. 'Once the Shore' is the work of a large and quiet talent."

Washington Post:

  • Dirda on Endpoint and Other Poems by John Updike: "In their last years, many artists cast aside all their usual flourishes, dismiss the circus animals and simply set down, as directly as possible, the realities and inevitabilities of old age. So John Updike has done in this moving book of poems."
  • Yardley on The World in Half by Cristina Henriquez: "I quote that passage at length because I like it a great deal and because everything it says is true. Latin America is simultaneously desperate and hypnotic, and Henríquez gets this aspect of it exactly right, not only in this passage but elsewhere in the novel as Mira gradually comes to love this place that is, in part, her own. For all its implausibility, 'The World in Half' is engaging and touching."

Los Angeles Times:

  • Taylor Antrim on Whitehead's Sag Harbor: "You can't help but admire Whitehead's writerly gifts, but there's something idling and indolent about his method here. 'Sag Harbor' reminded me, not in a good way, of 'The Colossus of New York,' Whitehead's book-length love letter to his home city: stylistically virtuosic but stubbornly hard to finish. It's poor form to speculate, but I'll go ahead: Whitehead seems uneasy with the confessional demands of autobiography. For that's surely what this is -- memoir masquerading as a novel.... Perhaps novels don't require plots, but it seems to me they do need something: a sense of excavation, some deeper fathom of character attained. For all its amusements and felicities of language, 'Sag Harbor' never dives very far below the surface. Emotionally, it's a low-stakes affair, which is another way of saying it's a little too much like summer for its own good."
  • Susan Salter Reynolds on Follow Me by Joanna Scott: "Joanna Scott has one of those imaginations that recasts details in her own image.... You feel the strong powers of observation and imagination at work in her writing, crashing and working against each other: This is true, this can't be true; how could that happen? Of course that's what happened. You feel forces bigger than us swirling around her plots, especially this one, but you don't know what to call them. You think it must be her story, the story of her ancestors, but then you remember she's an accomplished fiction writer. She knows how to ride and break a good, feisty story. After it's broken, and the pieces lay all around, you realize that you could not, in a million years, ever reconstruct it, even though, in so many ways, it has become your story too."
  • Ben Ehrenreich on News from the Empire by Fernando del Paso: "'What happens,' writes the Mexican novelist Fernando del Paso, 'when an author can't escape history? . . . what can you do . . . when you don't want to avoid history, but do want to achieve poetry?' ... Del Paso's answer consists of the page on which those words appear and all the many pages of 'News From the Empire,' his variously fascinating, frustrating, hilarious, dull, mesmerizing, maddening, absurd and tragic novel, which, in its breadth and depth and massive reach, manages to achieve something of the noise and sweep of history itself."

Continue reading "Old Media Monday: Reviewing the Reviewers" »