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February 2012

Graphic Novel Friday: John Severin (1921-2012)

I grew up reading Cracked and Mad magazines, hunting in various grocery newsstands for old and new issues and then checking my Velcro wallet for the cash and change to afford my habit. Even if I didn’t understand all of the jokes, I returned again and again for the film parodies--and much of this was due to artist John Severin, who passed away at age 90 last week.

Among his many illustrative talents, Severin excelled at capturing the likenesses of celebrities while adding his flair for caricature. Even when he played it straight, Severin’s characters expressed a herky-jerky sense of movement that suggested a smirk on behalf of the artist behind the pencil. He had ink in just about every mainstream comics publisher--from EC to DC, Marvel to Dark Horse, among others--and he continued to perfect and express his art until his passing; his latest work published only last month in Witchfinder: Lost and Gone Forever, a project written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi. It’s worth repeating that he was 90 years old and still producing professional artwork. 

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Revolution 2.0 Comes to Amazon: A Conversation with Wael Ghonim

Wael Ghonim is a true historical figure. He is also the author of Revolution 2.0: The Power of the People Is Greater Than the People in Power: A Memoir.

In the summer of 2010, Wael Ghonim was a little-known, thirty-year-old Google executive when he anonymously launched a Facebook page to protest the death of one Egyptian man at the hands of security forces. The page’s following expanded quickly and moved from online protests to a nonconfrontational movement.

The youth of Egypt made history: they used social media to schedule a revolution. The call went out to more than a million Egyptians online, and on January 25, 2011, Cairo’s Tahrir Square resounded with calls for change. Yet just as the revolution began in earnest, Ghonim was captured and held for twelve days of brutal interrogation. After he was released, he gave a tearful speech on national television, and the protests grew more intense. Four days later, the president of Egypt was gone.


A Conversation Between Gregory Maguire and Madeline Miller, Author of "The Song of Achilles"

Gregory Maguire, author of Wicked and Out of Oz, interviews Madeline Miller on the forthcoming publication of her magnificent first novel, The Song of Achilles. (Spoiler Alert: It's a bit of a lovefest between these two authors.)


Gregory Maguire: Ms. Miller, you write with the confidence of the zealously inspired, taking as your material one of the great foundation texts of world literature. In three millennia or so, The Iliad has garnered somewhat wider attention than The Wizard of Oz, with which I have played, so I have to ask in admiration and in real curiosity: where do you get the noive? I would almost be tempted to bandy about the word “hubris,” just to prove some point about not having lost my notes from tenth grade World Civ, but really, you handle the material so alertly, so respectfully, that hubris doesn’t enter into it. But nerve does. How did you come to dare to take on such a daunting task, and for your first book? And without training wheels?

Madeline Miller: A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and in my case it was just dangerous enough to get me started writing. If I had stopped to ponder, I think I might have been too intimidated. But I had a few things working for me, which included the fact that Patroclus is such an underdog. Giving him voice felt a little like standing up for him, like some kind of Lorax of ancient Greek mythology. I had been intensely frustrated by a number of articles I had read that kept side-stepping the love between him and Achilles, which to me felt so obviously at the story’s heart. There was even one article—I’ve repressed who wrote it—that kept commenting that Achilles’ grief and anger at Patroclus’ death was out of character, and they couldn’t understand why he was so upset. So partially I was propelled by a desire to set the record straight, as I saw it.

The other thing that helped me, I think, was the fact that I never imagined the book as re-writing Homer. Instead, I made the Iliad a fixed point on the horizon and wrote towards it. I knew what Achilles and Patroclus became; I wanted to describe how they got there, and what went on between them in the scenes that Homer doesn’t show.

I will say that at some point a friend of mine—let’s be honest, an ex-boyfriend—referred to the story as “Homeric fan fiction.” That was fairly dampening. But I decided: so be it. If it’s fan fiction, it’s fan fiction. I’m still going to write it.

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2011 Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalists announced

The Oscars aren't the only thing creating buzz in LA this week. Here are the 2011 Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalists. It's an eclectic mix of excellent books. Congratulations to all the finalists, and good luck on April 20th when they announce the winners!



Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned by John A. Farrell (Doubleday)

Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable (Viking)

Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie (Random House)

Reading My Father: A Memoir by Alexandra Styron (Scribner)

My Long Trip Home by Mark Whitaker (Simon & Schuster)



Current Interest

Is That a Fish in Your Ear? Translation and the Meaning of Everything by David Bellos (Faber & Faber/Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

El Narco: Inside Mexico's Criminal Insurgency by Ioan Grillo (Bloomsbury Press)

Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

Pakistan: A Hard Country by Anatol Lieven (PublicAffairs)

The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science and Fear by Seth Mnookin (Simon & Schuster)




Ghost Light by Joseph O'Connor (Frances Coady Book/Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

The Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje (Knopf)

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka (Knopf)

Binocular Vision: New & Selected Stories by Edith Pearlman (Lookout Books/University of North Carolina Wilmington)

Luminarium by Alex Shakar (SoHo Press)

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YA Wednesday: An Exclusive Interview with Lauren Oliver

6 days, guys, 6 days.

If you're a Delirium fan you know what I'm talking about: Pandemonium is out next Tuesday!

A while back I interviewed Lauren Oliver about both Before I Fall and Delirium. Now in the second part of that chat, Lauren talks about what would be on her Pandemonium playlist, gives us a few hints about what will happen in Requiem, the third book in the trilogy, and even admits to loving high heels, pasta, and Mr. Darcy.

(Note: there are some spoilers in the video)


J.J. Abrams on Creativity and The Mystery Box

J.J. Abrams has created some big, albeit occasionally frustrating, hits (I'm talking to you, LOST). Here he is at TED talking about the creative process. It's an oldie but a goodie. And for people who care about stories and story creation, it's a pleasure to watch.

Down These Strange Streets: Editor Gardner Dozois on Urban Fantasy

Down These Strange Streets

Urban fantasy is hot right now, and the editors of Down These Strange Streets have been on a bit of a roll themselves-- so we thought we'd highlight this relatively recent collection of cases of death and magic in the city by some of the biggest names in Urban Fantasy. Contributors include New York Times bestselling authors Charlaine Harris, Patricia Briggs, Diana Gabaldon, Simon R. Green, S. M. Stirling, and Carrie Vaughn.

The editors are similarly august. George R.R. Martin has had some modicum of success with a little series called Song of Ice and Fire, while Gardner Dozois, who edits a year’s best series and used to edit Asimov’s SF Magazine, has won fifteen Hugo Awards and twenty-eight Locus Awards for editing, plus two Nebula Awards for writing.

I was curious to ask Dozois—to whom I made my first professional sale back in the Jurassic Era—for his take on “Urban Fantasy.” By the late aughts, the term seemed to have shifted from its original meaning—my recollection being that a publicist at a major NY house deliberately and successfully tried to apply it to what we might broadly call paranormal romance.

Dozois’s take mirrors mine in the sense of noticing a change in taxonomy: “Defining ‘Urban Fantasy’ is a bit tough these days, and it may be that the term has been made too all-inclusive to be really useful. In their The Urban Fantasy Anthology, editors Peter S. Beagle and Joe R. Lansdale divide ‘Urban Fantasy’ up into three sub-categories--Mythic Fiction, Paranormal Romance, and Noir Fantasy. Of these, Mythic Fantasy seems closer to what I would have called Urban Fantasy throughout most of my career, stories--often (but not always) lighthearted--that deal with the intersection of magical realms with the modern world, with the intrusion of fantasy creatures into everyday reality, and, occasionally, with what happens when mortals blunder into enchanted lands where they shouldn't go.”

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Prince Charles and David Ha-Melech: A Tribute

My name is Mia Lipman, and I never made it through Infinite Jest. In fact, you couldn't pay me enough to read most of David Foster Wallace's fiction to the end.

DFWGo ahead—revoke my literary credentials. I'll pretend to understand. But if I've learned anything from working as an editor and critic for the past dozen years, it's that the world is too rich in great writing for me to finish a book I'm not enjoying. The next one in the stack is always right there, batting its Garamond eyes.

That said: The Cult of DFW has a point. Wallace's writing was rich, his brain a diamond mine, and his early death left a gaping hole in modern thought. Many of his essays were masterful, especially this one, and he was hot in the way a man in coveralls with dirt under his nails can melt college girls into butter and sugar.

I have a bias against footnotes, coupled with an inherent distaste for ponderous tomes that extends to the Russian masters and horrified many of my professors—but that doesn't mean I don't get it. Wallace was a mad genius cut from the classical self-destructive mold. He did what poets seek to do: interpret the intangible in a way the rest of us can't begin to imagine but can immediately recognize. I saw him read once in a church in San Francisco; he looked like a lumberjack and seemed to be gently spoiling for a fight. Nobody could stop staring.

Today would have been David Foster Wallace's 50th birthday, and it's a damn shame he's no longer here to practice his craft. Lord knows his work spoke volumes, even if it didn't always speak to me.

ChuckAs it happens, another mind bender was born the same day DFW shuffled on this mortal coil: Chuck Palahniuk, who's still very much alive. The author of Fight Club and Damned uses one word for every hundred of Wallace's, but their writing shares an inability to be categorized or, thus far, successfully imitated. 

Often hailed by adjectives like "eccentric" and "transgressional," Palahniuk's fiction is so bizarre and otherworldly that I've never quite understood its widespread popularity. Except when he pulls off lines like this: "It's green the way a pool table with green felt looks under the yellow 1 ball, not the way it looks under the red 3."

Again with the poetry. Again with a raised glass, even from those of us who earn our keep by finding chinks in the armor.

Happy 50th, David and Chuck. I don't get it, but I absolutely get it.

Media Monday - Presidents Day Edition


Today is George Washington's birthday, also known as Presidents Day, and I hope you got the day off. A mid-February holiday has to be about the best time to sit down and enjoy a good book-- you've got the day to yourself, the winter months are dragging on, and spring is still at least a month away. Here's what the media had to say about books over the weekend.

Bonus Question: What is it with all the dark covers this week?


The New York Times

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    We start off with some sad news. Anthony Shadid of The New York Times died in Syria last week of an apparent asthma attack. The paper points out that he faced many dangers while on recent assignment in Syria, "not the least of which was discovery by the pro-government authorities in Syria." He had sneaked into the country across the Turkish border, at a point where the two countries were only separated by barbed wire. According to the Times, "Mr. Hicks (a photographer traveling with Shadid) said they squeezed through the fence’s lower portion by pulling the wires apart, and guides on horseback met them on the other side. It was on that first night, Mr. Hicks said, that Mr. Shadid suffered an initial bout of asthma, apparently set off by an allergy to the horses, but he recovered after resting." A week later, on return to the border, he collapsed and died.

    Shadid is the author of House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East, which is scheduled to be published on March 27th. You can listen to an NPR interview with him here.


  • Stacy Schiff has a review of Nathan Englander's excellent new collection of short stories What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank. Schiff compares this new collection to his 1999 debut collection For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, writing that both are "poised at the trapdoor between spiritual thirst and physical hunger." The final sentence of Schiff's review simply states, "Terrific collection," and I would second that. Englander visited Amazon last week for an interview, so look for that on Omnivoracious in the coming weeks.

  • Another author who we recently interviewed (again, the interview will be on Omni soon) is the journalist Jodi Kantor. She is the author of The Obamas, of which the Times states, "call it chick nonfiction, if you will; this book is not about politics, it’s about marriage, or at least one marriage, and a notably successful one at that. This is a couple who listen to each other, and no one believes more in America’s 44th president than his wife." You may recall hearing some controversy around this title, but it's mostly overblown. In fact, the review calls it "a dimly controversial palace intrigue that attempts to explain how the first couple’s marriage works," and states later that, "taken as a whole, The Obamas is more valentine than vitriol," and that's true. But it's also a fascinating account of a very successful, yet in many ways very normal marriage. It was a unique, and in many ways, more real, look at the White House. And it's a book that's difficult to put down.

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2011 Nebula Award Finalists Announced: China Mieville, N.K. Jemisin, Jo Walton, and More

The Nebula Award finalists for 2011 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. You can read the full list here. The finalists for best novel are as follows:

Among Others, Jo Walton (Tor)

Embassytown, China Miéville (Macmillan UK; Del Rey; Subterranean Press)

Firebird, Jack McDevitt (Ace Books)

God’s War, Kameron Hurley (Night Shade Books)

Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti, Genevieve Valentine (Prime Books)

The Kingdom of Gods, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit US; Orbit UK)

It’s a very strong list, with four of the six on my own year’s best list for Locus Online, and a fifth, The Kingdom of Gods, acknowledged as another strong read. The Kingdom of Gods is the conclusion to a great epic fantasy series that readers should seek out if they haven’t encountered it already.

Nebula finalists--row 1

Departing from a sometimes staid tradition of honoring established writers, Nebula voters also turned the spotlight on two great first-time novelists whose work has received considerable acclaim: Kameron Hurley and Genevieve Valentine. Not only are these two novels wonderful reads, but both writers took considerable chances. In God’s War, Hurley created a unique science fictional world settled by Moslems that featured bug-based tech/magic along with a centuries-old war. Valentine’s Mechanique, meanwhile, fused Steampunk and circus fiction while creating brilliantly complex characters. God’s War recently won a Kitschie Award and Mechanique won the Crawford Award for best first fantasy novel.

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