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November 2011

War, Maps & Fonts: Our Best Nonfiction Books of 2011

Capture2This year's best nonfiction books examine the world we live in and the ways in which it has evolved over time. From the sub-cultures of font and geography lovers to the first civilations on the Mediterranean Sea, 2011 was a brilliant year in nonfiction.

Our top three books focus on different aspects of a war, spanning the 20th century from Berlin's glamorous pre-Nazi days to the lingering effects of returning home from the jungles of Vietnam. What it is Like to Go to War is Karl Marlantes's very personal memoir of what he witnessed during his service during the Vietnam War and the tragic way he was treated upon returning home. With In the Garden of Beasts, Erik Larson brings 1933 Berlin to life through the eyes of William E. Dodd, America's first ambassador to Hitler's regime, and his wild-child daughter Martha. We get to know the strange and sinister personalities that gave rise to Nazi Germany and see how the city could succumb to Hitler's reign. In contrast, Lost in Shangri-La recounts the heroism of the three Americans who survived a terrible plane crash in the New Guinea jungle toward the end of World War II and the brave paratroopers who staged the daring rescue.

MoonwalkingOn the quirkier side, Moonwalking with Einstein chronicles Joshua Foer's participation in the U.S. Memory Championship and examines the ways we can train and improve our memories. Just My Type explains how something as seemingly simple as a font--something we take for granted--is actually quite complex and holds great power over our cultural climate.

Jeopardy! winner Ken Jennings returns to writing with Maphead, a meditation on why people love maps and the joys of being a "geography wonk." The charming writing style and funny observations will appeal to map lovers and novices alike. And if geography is your thing, The Great Sea is a compelling human history of the Mediterranean Sea and a wonderful addition to geographical scholarship. Its 800-plus pages are a surprisingly fast-paced read due to the adeptness of David Abulafia's storytelling and ability to distill large chunks of history into its most important parts.

Check out the rest of our Top 10 Nonfiction books and see our Top 100 Best Books of 2011.

--by Caley Anderson

Graphic Novel Friday: Classic Comics Made New

If you are at all a fan of classic comic strips, then chances are great that Pogo: The Complete Daily & Sunday Comic Strips, Vol. 1: Through the Wild Blue Wonder has long been on your wishlist—emphasis on “long,” because, as fans know, this special project from publisher Fantagraphics has been in the works for years. The good news: it’s here, it’s real. The better news: it’s incredible. Walt Kelly’s lively, robust, and poetic world is faithfully and lovingly produced in this, the first of a proposed twelve volume series. The hardcover is printed horizontally, maintaining the integrity of the “strip” format, with ample margins to avoid any gutter-loss. Fantagraphics knew this first volume would be scrutinized by hardcore Pogo fans, and they’ve outdone expectations, dating each strip, providing historical context for the more esoteric 1940s references, and even reproducing the color Sunday strips. This volume even collects the earlier New York Star strips, where Kelly is still laying the groundwork for his world and finding bits that he liked enough to later rework into the proper Pogo run.

Through the Wild Blue Wonder is one of our Best Comics and Graphic Novels of 2011, and there might not be a better gift this holiday for the historical and literary comics fan.

Continue reading "Graphic Novel Friday: Classic Comics Made New" »

Tips from the Pros: Kemp, Pauley, and Cordell on How to Wrangle Your Muse

WritersdontcryIt’s the Friday after Thanksgiving, and with NaNoWriMo over in just a few days, surely you are taking advantage of the holiday for a weekend of writing to remember! (I know I am!) But just in case that turkey has you dozing, here are some inspiring words from award-winning and New York Times best-selling authors who’ve learned to wrangle their muse against all manner of temptations and distractions.Jumpstart

This culminates a week-long party celebrating the thousands writing for NaNoWriMo. If you missed it, be sure to check out Monday and Wednesday's posts for more inspiring tips from some of my favorite professional authors.

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Kimberly Pauley (read her books)
Author of Sucks to Be Me (YALSA Quick Pick) and Still Sucks to Be Me (VOYA Best Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror list 2010)

We’ve all been there: transfixed and empty, staring at the blank page, our head in our hands and our hair standing on end. Usually, it happens when you’re under a deadline (either official or of your own doing) or when there’s some other pressure upon you to GET THE WORDS DOWN. And that’s the key thing--we often get stuck because we don’t have the time to get stuck. So, how do you get un-stuck?

Continue reading "Tips from the Pros: Kemp, Pauley, and Cordell on How to Wrangle Your Muse" »

A Personal Remembrance of Anne McCaffrey by her Longtime Editor, Shelly Shapiro


Anne McCaffrey was one of the major influences that shaped my love of science fiction, so when, early in my editorial career at Del Rey Books, I first met her in person, I was beyond thrilled. And nervous as hell. But Anne was so warm and welcoming and reassuring that she put me at east almost immediately. When I edited my first McCaffrey manuscript, I was thrilled, too. And nervous as hell! But again, Anne was warm and welcoming, humble and open to editorial suggestions. When I made my first trip to Ireland to work with her at her home, I was thrilled—but no longer nervous. I knew Anne would be warm and welcoming, and indeed, she made my husband and me feel like family. We visited almost every year after that, sometimes staying with Anne, sometimes staying nearby, but always being pulled into the warm embrace of the McCaffrey circle of family and friends—Anne drew people like the proverbial flame draws moths (except she never, ever burned them!). She cooked for us, arranged babysitters for us so the adults could go out to dinner, and even took my then-toddler daughter up with her on her horse for a ride around the paddock. She was also one of the most wonderful storytellers I’ve ever known.

Continue reading "A Personal Remembrance of Anne McCaffrey by her Longtime Editor, Shelly Shapiro" »

Best Mystery and Thriller Books of the Year

This year's best Mystery & Thrillers span the genre, from psychological or technological thrillers to murder-mysteries. But they all have one thing in common: they kept us reading late into the night, desperate to find out what happens next.

S. J. Watson's debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, BeforeIGotoSleepgripped our imaginations back in June and has haunted us ever since. Christine forgets everything while she sleeps at night. When she wakes up, she depends on her husband, Ben, to fill in her memory for her. She keeps a daily journal in an attempt to jog her memory, and one morning she opens it to read: "Don't trust Ben." Equal parts fascinating and terrifying, Before I Go to Sleep is impossible to put down. The questions it raises (how can our past define us if we can't remember it? What happens if you can't trust anyone--not even yourself?) will linger long after the last page is turned.

Continue reading "Best Mystery and Thriller Books of the Year" »

President Clinton talks to Amazon about his new book "Back to Work"


We talked to President Bill Clinton about his new book Back to Work: Why We Need Smart Government for a Strong Economy, a book that the Los Angeles Times calls "a rallying cry for Americans to see beyond partisan politics and sets out a blueprint for a return to prosperity."




Click here to listen to President Clinton



Pioneering Sci-Fi/Fantasy Writer Anne McCaffrey Has Died

Anne-McCaffreyProlific and beloved fantasy and science fiction author Anne McCaffrey--the first woman to win a Hugo Award and a Nebula Award--has died at age 85. She had been living in Ireland, where she raised show horses.

The author of dozens of novels, she was best known for her Dragonriders of Pern series, about the elite riders of genetically engineered dragons on the planet Pern, which has been settled by colonists from Earth. McCaffrey began the series in 1967 and later shared writing duties with her son, Todd.

Among the two dozen novels and novellas in the series: McCaffrey

After writing a few short stories in the 1950s, McCaffrey began writing novels in the 1960s, once her three children started attending school. Her Dragonriders series was an international success. Other series include "The Brain & Brawn Ship Series" and "The Crystal Universe."

She influenced and encouraged many up-and-coming science fiction writers, including Neil Gaiman, who met McCaffrey at a writers' convention in the 1980s. Gaiman told the Washington Post that McCaffrey took him under her wing offered advice over the years.

"I liked her as a writer," he said. "I adored her as a person.”

You can read McCaffrey's biography on her Dragons of Pern website.

>Watch this space for more about Anne McCaffrey's legacy, and see all of her books at

Tips from the Pros: Greenwood and Evans on How to Jumpstart Your Writing

WritersdontcryDeadlines seem anathema to inspiration. But for some writers, deadlines are actually quite inspiring. And not just in the “my editor’s going to kill me” kind of way. These writers take a strong work ethic, shape it with a little creativity, and come out looking at inspiration in an entirely new—and surprisingly efficient—light.Jumpstart

To celebrate the deadline-driven inspiration of NaNoWriMo, this Monday, Wednesday (today!), and Friday, some of my favorite professional authors are spilling their secrets on how they write even when the muse is M.I.A.

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Ed Greenwood (read his books)
Creator of the Forgotten Realms world, and author of over 140 Books, including Bury Elminster Deep

I never get stalled in writing. No, I'm not boasting or preening, I'm sharing my survival strategy.

I don't get stalled because I'm brilliant or so frothingly full of ideas that they pour out of me whenever I so much as pass a keyboard, but because I always have six to eight projects on the go at any one time, and when I start to run down or hit a wall on one, I just switch to another.

Continue reading "Tips from the Pros: Greenwood and Evans on How to Jumpstart Your Writing" »

The Magic of "Hugo"

HugoMovieCompanionLast night I was lucky enough to attend an advanced screening of Hugo, the movie based on Brian Selznick's amazing novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret. I'd seen the trailer a few times during my movie trailer marathons, but didn't get really excited about the film, directed by Martin Scorsese, until I read Selznick's Hugo Movie Companion, which includes not only information by and about nearly everyone invovled with the movie, but also chapters about Paris in the 1930s, the invention of cinema, and the real-life works of Georges Méliès, as well as photos from the set and artwork from the original novel. After reading about everything that went into the movie, my expectations were ramped up.

It certainly didn't disappoint. It was filmed in 3-D, and now I can't imagine watching it any other way. Hugo lives in a Paris train station, winding the clocks every day, and the clock gears coupled with the steam that permeates the station makes for perfect 3-D viewing; I rarely see InventionHugoCabretmovies that really warrant 3-D like Hugo does. It's hard to believe that this was Scorsese's first time filming in 3-D.

Anyone who hasn't read the book may think that the first quarter or so of the movie seems to wander, but the mysteries soon start dropping, and watching them unfold is a delight. From the hilarious moments (the station master attempting a smile) to the heart-wrenching scenes (Hugo and Isabelle talking about how they each coped with becoming orphans, and Hugo's memorable line that he thinks of the world like a machine because a machine has no unneccesary parts, which means that he's needed for the world to work), the audience is eager to follow Hugo wherever he leads. 

Though based on a children's book, there's plenty here for adults, too. The station master's gossiping and his attempt to describe Verdun--one of the biggest bloodbaths in World War I--in positive terms by talking about the cows will be appreciated by adult audiences, and the reproductions of some of the earliest movies will engage cinephiles of any age.

Hugo opens on November 23rd; watch the trailers here.



Q&A with Neil Gaiman: Author, DC Comics Superstar, and Character on "The Simpsons"


DC has sent us this exclusive Q&A, in which they talked to Neil Gaiman about his appearance on ‘The Simpsons,’ the Sandman series finally being available digitally, and more.

DC: How does it feel to have all ten volumes of Sandman available digitally for the first time?

NG: A relief. Now that so much reading is being done on tablets and eReaders, I was getting embarrassed when people asked me why Sandman wasn't available digitally.

DC: You've officially reached pop culture icon status with a guest appearance on "The Simpsons" What was that like? Some eagle-eyed viewers thought they noticed Sandman as an Easter Egg in the scene - is that true?

NG: It is true. And, we discovered, Moe the barman has definitely read the first volume of Sandman, "Preludes and Nocturnes".

DC: Annotated Sandman is coming in January, do you think it will drive collectors to go back and read the original volumes digitally now?

NG: I don't know. I would love, one day in the future, a digital version of Sandman that included annotations and links and such, a version that would really take the digital nature of the medium as far as we could.

DC: Do you think digital is a different reading experience than print? Do you have a preference?

NG: I love holding books. But people have injured themselves reading the 16-lb Absolute Sandman volumes. Right now the best thing from my point of view about a digital Sandman is that it doesn't weigh anything at all...

DC: Does the digital books format change how you write or think about writing?

NG: No. Or at least, not yet.

DC: What is your favorite volume of Sandman?

NG: Probably "A Game of You," because it's most people's least favourite volume, and I love it all the more for that.

-- Alex Carr