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February 2011

My Best Books of February

My reading schedule, by necessity, tends to be organized around months: around our Best of the Month picks, to be exact. I read around as much as I can, going on first dates as it were, looking for books I might love enough to make our list. Some months the search for love is not as easy as others, but for February I was overwhelmed: it seemed like I found a new crush everywhere I turned. I was able to shoehorn a couple of them into what turned out to be a very crowded Best of the Month lineup, but while we still have just the tiniest bit of February left, I wanted to pass them all along to you here, since I liked the two that didn't make the cut nearly as much as the two that did.

To start with, the two that did make our Best of February list:

Townie by Andre Dubus III
I had never read Andre Dubus III--not even his NBA-nominated, Oprah-picked, Oscar-contending House of Sand and Fog--or, as far as I remember, his father, the Carver-era short story writer Andre Dubus, but something made me hungry to pick up Townie, the younger Dubus's memoir, and it wasn't just the gorgeous, matte cover. And I loved it from the beginning. Dubus is not what I usually think of as my kind of writer--I like funny, and ironic, and even vicious, in a dark and chilly Muriel Spark kind of way, and Andre III, at least as a memoirist (and I'm guessing as a novelist too), is none of those things. He is dead earnest, and full of empathy (which, I'll admit, I like too). The cliche of modern memoir is revenge taken on a miserable childhood; Dubus's story fits the latter (after his father ran off with a young student, he and his three siblings were pretty spectacularly neglected, if not unloved), but not the former. It's a story about anger, but not an angry story, and it's full of compassion even for those who treated him the worst (and for those he treated badly himself). And it's that compassion that led him to writing, which for him grows--in a path whose clarity is actually rare in the memoirs of writers--out of his empathy for the lives of others. His memoir embodies that quality, and now I want to go look for it in his fiction too (and his father's).

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Reviewing the Reviewers: Post-Oscars Edition

OMM 2-28
Shake off your post-Oscars disappointment (or ease yourself down from your post-Oscars euphoria) with some reviewer-vetted great reads:

New York Times:

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2011 Golden Kite Awards for Children's Books

The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) has announced the 2011 winners and honorees of the Golden Kite Award and the Sid Fleischman Award for Humor.  The Golden Kite is awarded to books published the previous year and is unique in having the winning authors and illustrators chosen by their peers.  The Sid Fleischman Award honors a work of humor for children, a category often overlooked by other children's award committees. The winners will be feted at an awards ceremony and luncheon on Sunday, August 7th during the annual SCBWI Conference on Writing and Illustrating for Children.

Here are the 2011 winners and honorees:

Golden Kite Award Winners:

Golden Kite Honor Recipients:

2011 Sid Fleischman Award for Humor Winner:  Milo: Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze By Alan Silberberg

Congratulations to all the winning and honored authors and illustrators!

--Seira Wilson


Graphic Novel Friday: Swords, Sorcerers, and Spaceships

I’ve been in a 1970s mood lately, fleshing out my tiny vinyl collection and catching up on classic comics. I’ve trumpeted Dark Horse’s Creepy and Eerie Archives, but lately the publisher has been hard at work feeding my nostalgia with great reprints of lost gems from the 70s.

When an advance copy of John Carter of Mars: Warlord of Mars crossed my desk, I could not stop obsessing over it. I am a sucker for “complete” collections, and this 630-plus page tome boasts “all twenty-eight issues of John Carter: Warlord of Mars, plus all three annuals, collected for the very first time!” Sold! Underneath that: “Featuring a foreword by Michael Chabon.” Sold! Chabon edited McSweeney’s Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales and contributed a short story entitled “The Martian Agent, A Planetary Romance,” and its influence was clear: Edgar Rice Burroughs. To have Chabon now introduce Burroughs’ John Carter comics is perfect casting. After I finished the foreword, I looked at the table of contents and marveled at the names associated with the stories contained therein: Chris Claremont, Marv Wolfman, Gil Kane, Frank Miller, Walt Simonson, Carmine Infantino, George Perez, and more. You do not have to keep selling this collection to me, Dark Horse--but sold!

I first flipped to the chapter penciled by Frank Miller and it’s a stunner. John Carter’s love interest, the incomparable Dejah Thoris, lies captive, and Miller’s depiction of her is far removed from his jagged, splotchy portrayals of femme fatales in Sin City. The chapter also features a wild sword battle between multi-armed aliens, resulting in a tangled flurry of limbs, blades, fangs, and action lines. Dark Horse has reprinted these stories in crisp, sharp, black and white pages, drawing attention to the very fine details in expressions--both human and alien, costumes, weaponry, and otherworldly landscapes. These late-70s stories are alive with ideas, strange spaceships, and exclamation marks. The trade paperback comes with sturdy front and back covers, preventing the hefty collection from buckling or warping with all the loving attention that’s sure to come.

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The 2010 Nebula Award Finalists: Trending Personal and Next-Gen

NebulaThe Nebula Award finalists for 2010 have been announced by SFWA (the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America). Presented in several categories, from novel to short forms, The Nebula Awards are voted on, and presented by, active members of SFWA. The novel finalists are:

Of the six books in the novel category, two---Who Fears Death and The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms---appeared on Amazon’s SF/F top 10. Who Fears Death has, in particular, been one of the most talked about SF/Fantasy releases from 2010. For finalist Nnedi Okorafor, the nomination is just another step in an ongoing and unpredictable journey that started with a book signing  on the Michigan State campus. During the event, she was verbally attacked by African academics for addressing issues of female circumcision in a science fiction setting.

Who Fears “Since then," Okorafor told me, "I’ve had plenty of Africans attack me via email and snail mail for the same thing [but] even more Africans have applauded me for writing ‘African science fiction’ and addressing such volatile issues. Nigerians of the Diaspora continue to let me know how interesting it is to read fantasy/sf based in mythology and cultures specifically germinated and grown in ‘Naija’ (slang for Nigeria). I’ve had feminists both applaud and condemn the way I handled the circumcision scene [in the novel]. I had one guy email me in a fit of rage because something happened to a character that he really loved. I read a wonderfully glowing review of Who Fears Death written by a '30-something white American male' who usually typically preferred '30-something white American male stuff.' I recently learned that male prisoners have been 'devouring' my novels, including Who Fears Death…Considering the plethora of reactions to the novel I’ve encountered, all so strong and passionate, I think did something right.”

As for the short fiction categories, a trend toward more representation from online magazines was blunted somewhat this year, with publications like Realms of Fantasy, Analog, Asimov’s SF Magazine, and The Magazine of Science Fiction & Fantasy earning nods. However, the new online magazine Lightspeed, edited by John Joseph Adams, had two nominations, including "I'm Alive, I Love You, I'll See You in Reno" by Vylar Kaftan. Kaftan, who is helping organize FOGCon next month, describes "I’m Alive…" as "a love story about two people who just can't get in sync…Add to that the time adjustments caused by nearly-light-speed travel, and they've got a lot of problems." Kaftan’s story was the first chosen for publication by Lightspeed.

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Books + Stop Motion Animation=Fun!


[via Paul Constant.] Enjoy!


The Door to Lost Pages: An Imaginary Books Contest!


Here's a contest that seems well-suited to Omnivoracious readers: make up your own imaginary book! This neat little promotion for Canadian author Lalumière's The Door to Lost Pages should delight those who wish there were actually more books in the world than there actually are. Yes, you too can will a book into existence with just your mind-powers and a little ingenuity.

Beginning February 17, 2011, submit, via the form on the contest page, the title and synopsis of an imaginary book you think would be found at Lost Pages, the imaginary bookshop in Claude Lalumière's [novel], which stocks books never seen anywhere before: bizarre bestiaries in arcane languages; histories of forgotten lands; theological essays on mysterious religions; dictionaries of dead, obscure languages; maps to lands that may never have been; antediluvian mythologies; accounts of wars unknown to recorded history...Two grand prizes will be awarded—the Author’s Choice selected by Claude Lalumière and the Readers’ Choice voted on by you!

For more details, click here. Lalumière's novel will be published in April.

Minsoo Kang's Sublime Dreams: Automata, with Mechanical Duck

DuckHistorian and writer Minsoon Kang's first nonfiction book has just been released by Harvard University Press. The title is Sublime Dreams of Living Machines: The Automaton in the European Imagination. I'm not going to attempt to re-summarize this complex topic, so here's the jacket copy:

From the dawn of European civilization to the twentieth century, the automaton—better known today as the robot—has captured the Western imagination and provided a vital lens into the nature of humanity. Historian Minsoo Kang argues that to properly understand the human-as-machine and the human-as-fundamentally-different-from-machine, we must trace the origins of these ideas and examine how they were transformed by intellectual, cultural, and artistic appearances of the automaton throughout the history of the West. Kang tracks the first appearance of the automaton in ancient myths through the medieval and Renaissance periods, marks the proliferation of the automaton as a central intellectual concept in the Scientific Revolution and the subsequent backlash during the Enlightenment, and details appearances in Romantic literature and the introduction of the living machine in the Industrial Age.

That may sound a little dry, but the book itself is entertaining and fascinating. How can it not be when it contains discussions of such marvels as Vaucanson's mechanical duck?!

Here's an excerpt from the introduction to get you started...

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Omni Daily News

A word about the pictures: Emily Gravett, author-illustrator of several children's picture books including The Rabbit Problem, gives some background to her illustrations in this photo gallery.

A du Maurier discovery: A bookseller and collector of all things Daphne du Maurier has unearthed five lost short stories including "The Doll", published in 1928 and mentioned in du Maurier's autobiography.

Speaking of discoveries: 28 titles in 74 volumes, roughly half of the retirement library collection owned by Thomas Jefferson, have been discovered at Washington University in St. Louis.

Moving & Shaking: Mary O' Donohue, author of When You Say "Thank You", Mean It, talked with ParentDish yesterday, bumping her book up our Movers and Shakers list.


New Debut Fiction: Regarding Ducks and Universes

In Neve Maslakovic’s debut science-fiction novel, Regarding Ducks and Universes, protagonist Felix Sayers isn’t as unique as he’d like to think.

On an otherwise mundane Monday morning in 1986, the universe split in two, a bifurcation that gave life to a second universe: “Universe B.” The surprisingly not-so-cataclysmic split is known as “Y-day,” given that both Universe A and B stem from the same timeline but then diverge, allowing for subtle differences between the two. Felix’s favorite lunch spot, The Coconut Café, may exist in both realities and serve the same soup, but that soup might not taste the same to Felix in Universe B as it does in A. Of course, in order to taste such a difference, travel between universes would have to be possible, and in Regarding Ducks, it’s not only possible--it’s actually commonplace. It’s become so common, in fact, that travelers pass along tips like The Lunch Place Rule, warning others of the disappointment in trying to visit familiar haunts in both universes and expecting the same result (or taste).

The government, however, issued far more stringent rules and regulations to make sense of this event and to guarantee the safety and privacy of the populations settled in both universes. Any character born before Y-day in Universe A has a double, or “alter,” living in Universe B--and meeting this alter violates the Department of Information’s laws. But the further a character is born after Y-day, the less likely it is he or she has an alter in Universe B. This is where Felix’s troubles begin, as he was born after Y-day, or so he thought. A revealing photograph soon sends him on a universe-hopping adventure to find his supposed alter, a doppelganger who may or may not have already written the book Felix has always meant to write and who may or may not be trying to kill him.

Regarding Ducks and Universes is not “hard sci-fi,” meaning its main focus isn’t explaining the “hows” of Y-day or the ability to travel back and forth between universes. Sure, it has to make sense and it certainly does--the author has a Ph.D. from Stanford's STAR (Space, Telecommunications, and Radioscience) Lab, after all--but Regarding Ducks has more in common with Douglas AdamsHitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy than, say, Star Trek in terms of tone. It’s a fun premise that gives its characters the ability to look at the choices they made in one universe and how they might have turned out differently in another, even if the alternative is as subtle as a spoonful of soup. It’s the ultimate “What If?”--a question readers may ask themselves every day, but it’s rarely one with the consequences that threaten Felix.

And as for the “ducks” promised in the title? Well, I can say there is a particularly important one, and it’s made of rubber. But in order to discover more, you’ll have to travel to the universe(s) created by author Neve Maslakovic. Thankfully, your journey is only a single click away.