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August 2010

Omni Daily News

Stopped at customs?: Readers outside of Canada might wonder if even one such case exists, when most of the names on their list, even a homegrown institution like David Adams Richards, are virtually unknown south of the border, but Alex Good and Steven W. Beattie have posted a parlor-game provocation called the "10 Overrated Canadian Authors." By following up with a well-chosen companion list of the 10 Underrated Canadian Authors, they've added some light to the heat, and I'd recommend checking out their underrated writers: I'll second their nominations of Bill Gaston, Lynn Coady, and Russell Smith. Coady's Saints of Big Harbour is sharp and funny and contains one of my favorite opening paragraphs in all of literature, and I agree that Smith's Muriella Pent, which still has yet to find an American publisher, is "hands down one of the best Canadian novels of the new century." Or one of the best North American novels, for that matter.

Who reads? Who writes? Who gets reviewed?: Speaking of light rather than heat, Laura Lippman (whose I'd Know You Anywhere is one of our Best of August picks, by the way) checks in with one of the more useful and fact-filled entries in the #franzenfreude debate spurred by Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner's frustration with the wall-to-wall Franzmania this month:

One last thought: All fiction is women's fiction. Women's fiction is redundant. At the launch for my new book last week, I had an audience of 130 people and 120 of them were women. "Isn't that weird?" someone asked. I said: "I think it's wonderful."

The backlash begins: As I was pulling all those glowing quotes on Freedom for OMM, I had a bit of the feeling that tsunami witnesses describe of the water pulling away and exposing vast stretches of beach before the giant wave arrives. All this praise and hype (mostly deserved in my book, as I've said before, though inevitably preposterous) can't help but draw a skeptical response. And now the first major pan arrives, from yesterday's video star Ron Charles, who in a review today that's full of post-Franzmania even before the book's been published, calls Freedom "brilliant" but argues "Franzen's wit has mostly boiled away, leaving a bitter sludge of dysfunction."

Back when hogs were really wild: On its 40th anniversary, Dwight Garner in the Times pulls the "primal witchery" of James Dickey's novel Deliverance away from the distracting glare of the Burt Reynolds/Ned Beatty pic and Dickey's own personal excesses: "But Dickey’s moral awareness infuses this book with grainy life; guilt and blame are not easily assigned.... In 2010, it’s lonely work looking for its serious successors."

Moving and shaking: Tina Brown called Juliet Nicolson's The Great Silence: Britain from the Shadow of the First World War to the Dawn of the Jazz Age a "must-read" today on Morning Edition, and it's #2 in Movers & Shakers as I type.


New Media Tuesday

Who says you can't teach an old media dog new tricks? Over at the Washington Post, fiction critic Ron Charles tries his hand at a video adaptation of his review of Mona Simpson's My Hollywood (which I linked to, the old-fashioned way, in Old Media Monday last night):

What do you think? I have to say he did us scribes proud, with his confident line readings and his David Pogue-style willingness to go beyond the mere talkingheaddom of, say, A.O. Scott. Curious if he can keep mixing it up (how many rooms does his house have?) for the promised weekly segments. But would you rather read the review or watch it? --Tom

P.S. Side note: those bookshelves behind him, filled with sparkling late-model hardcover editions? The surest sign there is of someone in the business and on all the right mailing lists.

Omni Daily News: Special Mockingjay Edition

Today's the day: UPS drivers beware--today at long last eager Amazon customers finally get their hands on Mockingjay, the highly anticipated final installment of the Hunger Games trilogy, and they are likely to rush your truck--much like they did for Harry Potter. #Mockingjay is a trending topic on Twitter and while we haven't seen any full reviews yet, here are some early quotes "One word: epic", "awesome so far," "Really think this is the best of them all," "excellent first 2 chaps."

An advance read: Mockingjay is expected to be the biggest release of the summer, and perhaps the year, for the young adult and teen market but there is always a fear (at least in this reader's mind) that the final book, long awaited and heavily embargoed, could disappoint.  Not so, says Susan Carpenter of the L.A, Times.  As Tom noted yesterday in his Omni post, Carpenter's review is glowing:

Fans aren't likely to be disappointed...Unfolding in Collins' engaging, intelligent prose and assembled into chapters that end with didn't-see-that-coming cliffhangers, this finale is every bit the pressure cooker of its forebears...a series conclusion that is nearly as shocking, and certainly every bit as original and thought provoking, as 'The Hunger Games.' Wow.

Who will play her in the movies?: Speculation was already underway as to who will play Katniss in the forthcoming Hunger Games movie--said to begin production in 2011--and last time I checked New York magazine was giving Saoirse Ronan, the star of Atonement and The Lovely Bones, 4 to 1 odds.  

How are you spending the day?: I expect there will be many cases of sudden illness today--Mockingjay fever, if you will, as fans decide to spend the day in the Capital with Katniss instead of the office.   What do you think, Omni reader--best ending to a trilogy since J.R.R. Tolkien's Return of the King?  And what will you read now, as we anxiously wait for Suzanne Collins to reveal her next book project?  No spoilers please, I'm still reading...

Here's how four early readers are spending their day:


2010 World Fantasy Award Finalists Announced

Enge Kiernan Mieville1 
Vandermeer2 Whitfield 
As reported by Locus Online, the 2010 World Fantasy Award finalists have been announced, including the five finalists for best novel, first published in 2009. The winners will be announced at the World Fantasy Convention in Columbus OH, in late October.

Blood of Ambrose, James Enge (Pyr)
The Red Tree, Caitlín R. Kiernan (Roc)
The City & The City, China Miéville (Macmillan UK/ Del Rey)
Finch, Jeff VanderMeer (Underland/Atlantic-Corvus)
In Great Waters, Kit Whitfield (Jonathan Cape UK/Del Rey)

Of these novels, The Red Tree has been award nominated before and made Amazon's SF/F 2009 top 10, The City and the City made Amazon's 2009 Top 100 and has won the Arthur C. Clarke Award, among others, and my own Finch has been a finalist for the Nebula and Locus Awards, while also picking up year's best nods from the Washington Post and others. The Enge has not received as much attention despite making the Locus Magazine recommended list, while In Great Waters has received critical acclaim and much support in some quarters. Of the novels that could have made it but didn't, I would point out Catherynne M. Valente's Palimpsest and Michal Ajvaz's The Other City, in particular.

Continue reading "2010 World Fantasy Award Finalists Announced" »

Who Fears Death: An Interview with Nnedi Okorafor by Matthew Cheney

Nnedi Okorafor is the author of the award-winning young adult novels Zahrah the Windseeker and The Shadow Speaker, the children's book Long Juju Man, and, most recently, the adult novel Who Fears Death. (Visit her Amazon page for more information on all of these titles.)

Okorafor was born to Igbo (Nigerian) parents in the United States, and her work draws on Igbo culture as well as American and European styles of fantastic literature, including science fiction. Who Fears Death is a powerful combination of science fiction, African folklore, and stark realism. It tells the story of Onyesonwu, a woman of extraordinary powers in a post-apocalyptic West Africa, a world of perils and mysteries, of lost technologies and brutal wars. Onyesonwu's name means "Who fears death?", and her birth was the result of rape used as a weapon in battle; this legacy affects the woman she becomes, and the novel portrays her education as a sorceress and her quest to bring order and peace to her life and world.

Okorafor is a past winner of the Wole Soyinka Prize for African Literature, the CBS Parallax Award, and the Macmillan Writer's Prize for Africa. We conducted our interview during the summer of 2010 via email. -- Matthew Cheney

       Who-fears-death Nnedi to the side 

Continue reading "Who Fears Death: An Interview with Nnedi Okorafor by Matthew Cheney" »

Old Media Monday: Special Freedom Edition

With so many reviews of Jonathan Franzen's Freedom coming out this week (and so many of them by men named "Sam") in advance of its publication next Tuesday, and with its general anointedness, from Time to the president, as the Book of the Moment (and even the Book That Might Just Save Literature), I thought we could begin tonight's roundup with special Freedom survey, following last week's Kakutani rave:

On Freedom:

  • Sam Tenenhaus in the New York Times (next Sunday's cover review, released more than a week ahead of time): "The family romance is as old as the English-language novel itself — indeed is ontologically inseparable from it. But the family as microcosm or micro-history has become Franzen’s particular subject, as it is no one else’s today.... Like all great novels, 'Freedom' does not just tell an engrossing story. It illuminates, through the steady radiance of its author’s profound moral intelligence, the world we thought we knew."
  • Sam Anderson in New York: "[T]he book would probably be insufferably dull if it weren’t for the fact that it also happens to be a work of total genius: a reminder both of why everyone got so excited about Franzen in the first place and of the undeniable magic—even today, in our digital end-times—of the old-timey literary novel.... Few modern novelists rival Franzen in that primal skill of creating life, of tricking us into believing that a text-generated set of neural patterns, a purely abstract mind-event, is in fact a tangible human being that we can love, pity, hate, admire, and possibly even run into someday at the grocery store."
  • David L. Ulin in the Los Angeles Times: "Franzen pulls it off — as he pulls off nearly everything in this rich and nuanced novel — because for all that it appears to be their book, 'Freedom' is more than just the story of the Berglunds' fall. Instead, they are the tip of the iceberg, a filter through which to explore the unresolved tensions, the messiness of emotion, of love and longing, that possesses even the most willfully ordinary of lives.... For Franzen, this is the trick: not to outgrow who we are but instead to accept it, and in so doing, to accept the world of which we are a part. That's the freedom to which the title is referring, the freedom at the center of this consuming and extraordinarily moving book."
  • Jonathan Jones in the Guardian (a blog post, not a full-fledged review, but notable for the breadth of its claims): "To put it bluntly, The Corrections made it plausible to speak of Franzen in the company of Philip Roth. This new book demands comparison rather with Saul Bellow's Herzog or something loftier – it is self-evidently a modern classic.... Freedom is the novel of the year, and the century."
  • Sam Sacks in the Wall Street Journal: "As with his wallowing memoir 'The Discomfort Zone' (2007), the last 300 pages of 'Freedom' become bogged down with tendentious speechmaking and baleful overanalysis of every mean thought that enters his characters' heads.... Yet despite those frequent lapses, 'Freedom' remains a weirdly addictive reading experience. Whatever you may think of Mr. Franzen's theories (and I don't personally think they bear much relationship to the real world), he has shaped a compelling narrative arc." Ah, a little skepticism...
  • And yes, the first true dissenter: Alan Cheuse on All Things Considered: "There isn't a page that goes by without insights you can mull over and sentences you can admire.... But, forgive me, despite the brilliance, or maybe even because of it, I found the novel quite unappealing, maybe because every line, every insight, seems covered with a light film of disdain. Franzen seems never to have met a normal, decent, struggling human being whom he didnt want to make us feel ever so slightly superior to. His book just has too much brightness and not enough color."
  • For what my 218 words are worth, I'm with the majority on this one, as you can see on our Best Books of the Month page for August. Now back to the rest of the reading world:

New York Times:

  • Sunday Book Review cover: Linda Robinson on The Tenth Parallel by Eliza Griswold: "'The Tenth Parallel' is a fascinating journey along the latitude line in Africa and Asia where Christianity and Islam often meet and clash.... 'The Tenth Parallel' is a beautifully written book, full of arresting stories woven around a provocative issue — whether fundamentalism leads to violence — which Griswold investigates through individual lives rather than caricatures or abstractions."
  • Julie Myerson on Let's Take the Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell: "This may be a book about death and loss, but Caldwell’s greatest achievement is to rise above all that to describe both the very best that women can be together and the precious things they can, if they wish, give back to one another: power, humor, love and self-respect."
  • Robert Darnton on Common as Air: Revolution, Art, and Ownership by Lewis Hyde: "Hyde invokes the founders in order to warn us against a new enclosure movement, one that would fence off large sectors of the public domain — in science, the arts, literature, and the entire world of knowledge — in order to exploit monopolies.... Hyde ... does not merely cull the works of the founding fathers for quotations.... Instead of treating the ideas of the founders as self-contained units of meaning, he explores their interconnections and shows how they shared a common conceptual frame..... Hyde builds his argument by telling stories, and he tells them well. His book brims with vignettes, which may be familiar but complement one other in ways that produce original insights."

Continue reading "Old Media Monday: Special Freedom Edition" »

The Other Ray Bradbury Video

You Omnivores have likely seen this surprisingly literal mash note to the new nonagenarian, which we'll let other, less family-friendly venues embed. (I am looking forward to the response vid that the poor Kurt Vonnegut fan in the video is no doubt working on.) But we posted another Bradbury video on Amazon recently that I wanted to point to, for Sam Weller's Listen to the Echoes: The Ray Bradbury Interviews, and featuring Bradbury reminiscing in his wonderfully cluttered office with Weller about Amos & Andy, Eddie Cantor, and Rod Serling and a cameo by the Pixies' Black Francis (take that, Shteyngart!). And if you listen closely, Bradbury mentions another memory that Weller declines to pursue but that suggests he'd be appreciative of the video linked to above. [Update: We heard back from Sam Weller himself that Bradbury thinks the viral video is "stupid and wonderful," which pretty much says it all.]

I know--just another thinly veiled ploy for all the "eddie cantor" search traffic out there. What can I say? Traffic's traffic. Happy belated birthday, Ray. --Tom

Caitlin R. Kiernan's The Ammonite Violin & Others

Caitlin R. Kiernan is one of our foremost writers of dark, unsettling fiction, often with a supernatural element. In the complexity of her approaches and the tactile ways in which she makes the unreal seem real simple labels don't apply. Southern Gothic? Yes and no. Horror? Maybe, sometimes. Part of a larger tradition of questioning the unknowable? Absolutely.

Now this brilliant writer has a new collection out from Subterranean Press, The Ammonite Violin & Others, which Booklist called, "Brilliantly crafted, tightly woven, and memorable." The cover of the book was also recently featured on the cover of Publishers Weekly

I was honored to be asked to contribute an introduction, part of which is reproduced below. I highly recommend picking up the collection.


Continue reading "Caitlin R. Kiernan's The Ammonite Violin & Others" »

End-o'-the-Week Kid-Lit Roundup

Quick links from around the kid-lit blogosphere:

"We Too Were Children, Mr. Barrie." That's the name of a great new blog devoted to kids' books--for the most part obscure and out of print--by the likes of Graham Greene, John Updike, and Virginia Woolf. WTWCMB hopes "to make more widely known these much-coveted literary rarities (and perhaps stir up enough interest to bring them back into print)." Hear, hear! The most recent rarity was this gem by Graham Greene:
Greene - Little Steamroller (Craigie) - 032

Dt.common.streams.StreamServer.cls "The WondLaful Tony DiTerlizzi." School Library Journal just interviewed Tony DiTerlizzi and talked about his new book The Search for WondLa, which "combines a traditional novel with a graphic novel and the interactivity of a computer." (DiTerlizzi on the book's illustration-intensive format: "I have always wondered why there is an unwritten rule about bookmaking that says, 'the older the audience the less art there should be.' Yet, if you go back a century and examine titles from The Golden Age of Children's Books, they abound with mature and sophisticated tales matched with mature and sophisticated visuals.... The art is exquisite and hardly juvenile--and that was when books were not competing with the highly visual mediums of television, films, and video games for a child's attention.")

New "Notes from the Horn Book." The August installment of the Horn Book's monthly newsletter is out. Highlights include a Q&A with Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan, along with recommendations for preschool picture books, new books for middle schoolers, and kids' nonfiction.

6a00d83451af1569e20133f32e59aa970b-120wi Baby Bookworm update! Jen Robinson is back after her Baby-Bookworm-having hiatus, and--appropriately--she's sharing some of her favorite newborn titles, like Humpty Who?: Crib Sheets for the Nursery for Clueless Moms and Dads. ("It's a little book containing the text of 80 nursery rhymes and songs for kids, along with (in many cases) derivations and suggestions for performing the piece. There's also a CD with sing-along version of 35 of the rhymes. I'm finding it valuable because I have all these scraps of songs in my head, and I want to know the rest.")

"Artemis Rocks!" Eoin Colfer is taking the show on the road next month, with a live "Artemis Rocks!" show in multiple U.S. cities, including music, videos, and an actor who plays Artemis Fowl. You can see the faux Fowl, find city listings (from NYC to San Francisco), and see more videos on the Artemis Fowl site. (Just click on the animated drum kit.) (via Cynopsis Kids)

Tower-Cover Tower of Treasure review. Travis at 100 Scope Notes compares Scott Chantler's Tower of Treasure to a memorable grilled cheese. This graphic novel (for kids age nine to twelve) "will appeal to both boys and girls."

It's a Book book trailer. Check out the very cute trailer for Lane Smith's It's a Book, which came out just last week:

(via Children's Illustration)

Omni Daily News

She said, he hasn't yet said: As part of their wall-to-wall Eat, Pray, Love coverage, the Daily Beast tracks down Michael Cooper, the ex-husband who has become the "before" in Elizabeth Gilbert's bestselling "after," and speculates about the derailment of his own memoir (was it not dishy enough for his publisher?).

Can you govern ironically?: In the New Republic, Adam Kirsch wonders, regarding our current president, whether literary values can translate into leadership. Meanwhile, with the usual massive studies of titans like Washington, Adams, and both Roosevelts coming out this fall, the Christian Science Monitor finds the lessons of failure in "5 Great Books about Obscure Presidents."

"Set limits. Set even more limits." Alexander Chee advises fellow novelists about how to balance the now-almost-mandatory blogging in their writing life. His last point, "Don't be afraid to take a break," links to Maud Newton's recent post, which explains movingly why her excellent blog has been quietly lately and is likely to remain so: she's mourning her father-in-law, and also acting on the memento mori of his premature death (with his book unfinished) by focusing on her own most important project, her novel.

Moving and shaking: Today's Wall Street Journal review of Sissela Bok's "impressive" Exploring Happiness is frustrated at her "unwillingness to take a position," but it still appears to be what has sent the intellectual history of happiness up Movers & Shakers today.