Wishing you a happy New Year! We look forward to reading many amazing submissions in 2011!
this is what we've been waiting for
Wishing you a happy New Year! We look forward to reading many amazing submissions in 2011!
Yes, it’s true: We’re suckers for kids. Watch the video below and you’ll see why.
Every year, The Fresh Air Fund gives thousands of inner-city children the priceless gift of fun – and opens the door to a lifetime of opportunities.
Whether it’s a two-week trip to the country to visit a volunteer host family, or a fun-filled and educational stay at one of the summer camps, The Fresh Air Fund programs make for unforgettable memories – and open a world of new friendships and fresh possibilities.
To learn more about The Fresh Air Fund and how you can help, visit their website.
Each year, Merriam-Webster creates a list of the top words culled from the trends, mood, and interests of American culture.
Merriam-Webster’s Top Ten Words of 2010:
The top word, austerity, is defined by the dictionary as “enforced or extreme economy,” amply appropriate in a year of global economic worries and seemingly continuous financial bad news.
BY THIS ZINE STAFF
“Best Of” and “Favorites” lists have been coming out all month long (we published our own yesterday), but what about the worst books of the year? For a cheat sheet on which books to avoid, check out our least favorites of 2010.
– C by Tom McCarthy
McCarthy needs to get out of the Victorian era if he wants the new generation to read his books.
In addition, John’s “on the fence” about David Bergen’s The Matter with Morris : A relevant and needed look at the lives of war parents. Although not as drab as Martel's 2010 offering, there are times when Morris whines about his life in excess. If you don't want to read about male menopause, don't read Morris.
Sweetman’s 2010 Hit List – because some books are just so much fun to hate!
– The Entire Twilight Series by Stephanie Meyer
Dreadful with dull teeth. I never thought I’d get tired of seeing the word sparkling. I reviewed them on my blog but don’t feel you have to read the ranting – just believe me, I loathed it to the point that Stephanie Meyers really, really, really, really hates me – oh, sorry, I start to write like her when I think about the books!
– The Help by Katherine Stockett
A young white woman in the 1960’s in Mississippi is the only person on the planet who strives for racial equality in really annoying Suthun’ patois. Took the book clubs by storm and took every ounce of Sweetman’s will to not throw it against the wall because she was reading a friend’s copy.
– The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman
Cursed with Jane Austen praise, Ms. Goodman fell far short of any Austen comparison. A long, overwrought, drivel about…well there were a few cookbooks in there somewhere.
– Brooklyn by Colm Toibin
I was disappointed in this quick read due to the lack of depth. It read like a condensed version of a more substantial novel.
– House Rules by Jodi Picoult
I can’t honestly comment on this because I didn’t finish it. Ms. Picoult appears to have a burning desire to write about the wrenching societal dilemma of the moment with as much engaging flair as the list of ingredients on a cereal box.
– The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
I was confused, disappointed and felt stupid because I just could not get into this book! Was it the translation? The violence? The irrelevant details? The boringness? What did I miss? See the movie.
– The Talented Miss Highsmith by Joan Schenkar
Boy did I struggle with this biography of writer Patricia Highsmith! Call me rigid and inflexible but I find it easier to read a biography in chronological order and found myself wanting to call up Ms. Schenkar to ask her if that would have been so difficult given the maniacally rigid order that Miss Highsmith reportedly kept of her life and writing.
– Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
Ugh Ugh Ugh.
URSULA K. RAPHAEL
One of the biggest waste of trees that I’ve ever read was This Book Is Overdue: How Librarians and Cybrians Can Save Us All by Marilyn Johnson.
Want to know why? Read Ursula’s review, forthcoming in our blog.
LACEY N. DUNHAM
– The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster
All the hipsters and Brooklynites will hate me for this one but I found Auster way overrrated, especially after I considered the superb meta-fiction of Mark Z. Danielewski and read David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas about a month after I finished The New York Trilogy.
– Imperial Bedrooms by Bret Easton Ellis
A sort-of sequel to Ellis’s first novel, Less Than Zero, which so perfectly captured the zeitgeist of the ’80s, Imperial Bedrooms attempts a Raymond Chandler-esque noir and fails to hit anywhere near the mark. While the prose keeps very much to Ellis’s typical style, he can’t seem to successfully merge the type of provocative writing from which he’s largely built his fame and the type of genre writing perfected by others.
– So Much For That by Lionel Shriver
Shriver’s novel, shaped by the issue of health care in the U.S., was released shortly before the eventual passage of actual health care reform (or Obamacare, depending on your politics). In a novel so carefully wrought, so precisely personal, it’s too bad So Much For That’s stiff prose and exhausting machinations of plot lacks the muckraking ululations for change.
– In the Land of Believers by Gina Welch
Welch’s undercover foray (as a writer, not a journalist) into the world of Evangelism at the Thomas Road Baptist Church (founded by Jerry Falwell) offers strong writing but lacks new insights into the life and beliefs of Evangelical Christians and certainly doesn’t add much to the conversation between Evangelicals and non-believers. Walking a fine line of respect for her subjects, Welch eventually comes clean to her friends at Thomas Road that she’s an atheist who doesn’t need Jesus to save her soul, but only after her book contract is wrapped up and her editor gives the green light.
– The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova
So little action occurs in the first two-thirds of Kostova’s novel that even the overarching sweep of a mysterious woman inching the narrative forward is too minuscule to make me care about what is, ostensibly, the real story that happens in the last hundred or so pages. Even when the mystery is resolved, there is no satisfaction in the predictable ending, nothing that makes the long wait through six hundred pages pay off. Without any real definition to her characters, a lackluster plot, and an ending the fizzles rather than bangs, Kostova delivers a wholly forgettable book.
– Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen
Ugh, this was awful. I mean, seriously, terrible. It reads fast and still I couldn’t get through it. Yet, it seems to be popular among book clubs, which is why I don’t belong to any book clubs.
BY THIS ZINE STAFF
Yes, it’s the time of year to reflect on our favorite books of the year. We asked our staff to give us some insight on what they’ve loved this year from what they’ve read. Keep in mind, not all the books were necessarily published in 2010, just enjoyed in 2010.
NICHOLAS Y.B. WONG
Louise Gluck’s A Village Life, no doubt about it.
– This Cake Is For The Party by Sarah Selecky is a great contemporary vision of mid-life Canadians’ issues, written with the sharpness of a sword.
– The Sentamentalists by Johanna Skibsrud Giller Prize-winning novel, showing underdogs can dominate Can Lit, in both style and subject matter.
I love to love books more than I love to hate them – honest! My “Top Shelf” books for the year include:
-Stoner by John Williams
This was the best book of 2010 and possibly one of the best novels I’ve ever read.
– Bicycle Diaries by David Byrne
A travel book from the seat of a bicycle, Mr. Byrne’s essays and observations while on his bike were insightful, interesting, funny and evocative. A great book to take-along for intermittent reading.
– First Lessons in Beekeeping by C.P. Dadant
This beekeeping book was written in 1917, revised and rewritten over the years by Dadant’s descendants, has everything for every level of beekeeper. One of the best beekeeping books out there.
– Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
It held up despite the controversy, Franzenspec and Oprah. Dragging parts aside, Freedom was well done.
– Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese
This book was placed in my hands by a bookstore manager and it was possibly the best novel of 2010 that I’d never heard about. I completely lost myself in this beautifully written novel.
– Tinkers by Paul Harding
This small novel, elegantly written, is a hefty, substantial read and has stayed with me since I finished it.
– Up In the Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell
My finest library find of 2010, this a collection of stories about New York city from the 1930s and 1940s that are so well done, I traveled back in time with these stories in my hands.
– The Man In The Wooden Hat by Jane Gardam
The prequel to my second-favorite novel of 2010, this is the story of Betty Feathers, wife of Old Filth. Jane Gardam is one of the most insightful, sharp, skilled and brilliant writers I have had the pleasure to happen upon.
– The People on Privilege Hill by Jane Gardam
This collection of stories demonstrates the versatility and wit of my new favorite author.
– Old Filth by Jane Gardam
I finished this book wishing I hadn’t read it so I could enjoy it again. This was the first Jane Gardam novel I read and, as you can see by my list, I couldn’t get enough of her. Old Filth was her masterpiece. A close second to Williams’ Stoner for me.
LACEY N. DUNHAM
My favorite book of the year was David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, which is the type of novel that converts you to an author and leaves you determined to read everything he’s ever published. This novel is the type of meta-fiction that puts Paul Auster to shame: clever, beautiful, and intricate without descending into flashy showmanship. My other favorites of the year include:
– Object Lessons: The Life of the Woman and the Poet in our Times by Eavan Boland
An autobiographical meditation on the act of writing poetry as an Irish woman, Boland’s breathtaking prose and shrewd synthesis of the traditions of poetry, both as a male pursuit and as a political act in the Irish tradition, is required reading for women as readers of good poetry and literature and for women intent on carving themselves a name as a writer.
– A Short History of Women by Kate Walbert
The story of five generations of women unable to reconcile the dissatisfaction with their lives to their heritage as progeny of a revolutionary, Walbert reaches forward and backward in time to shape this vibrant, richly expressed narrative through each woman’s voice.
– The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
Set in post-WWII England, the myriad specters that haunt Waters’ novel – social class, class envy, sexual repression, and the rapidly changing world – are vibrantly rendered as the isolated and suffering gentry family at the tale’s center witness increasingly violent and preternatural acts. The Little Stranger is a chilling Gothic novel enveloped by beautiful prose that imbues the malevolence with careful restraint.
– Wolf Hallby Hilary Mantel
Hilary Mantel utilizes every aspect of history to re-create a vivid world while providing dramatic tension from a contemporary vantage point and knowledge of history. Her prose is perfect. Her themes ring true to the current political climate (and, one suspects, to every political climate).
– The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu
Mengestu’s novel is set Washington, DC’s Logan Circle neighborhood which, as a DC resident, I thought I knew well. Reading Mengestu’s novel taught me how wrong I was. The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears is more than an immigrant story: it’s a novel about missed opportunities – in relationships, in life – and the inevitability of, sometimes violent, change. What is gentrification if not sanctioned class violence against the less privileged? And in a country built by immigrants, how does the contemporary, unfiltered immigrant experience compare to the mythology of America’s promise? Mengestu speaks to both of these questions in this stunning, beautiful novel.
– Tinkers by Paul Harding
For the first 40 or so pages of Tinkers, I was unconvinced that Paul Harding should have won the Pulitzer for this father-son novel. However, as the two stories about father and son enter the same frame the magic of Tinkers comes through in its striking imagery and gentle pacing that quietly build momentum through to the powerful ending.
photo by Ethan Anderson
A novel about revenge, old age, and Southern charm, Elizabeth Stuckey-French’s Revenge of the Radioactive Lady is due from Doubleday in February 2011.
BY KULPREET YADAV
John Lennon – We Imagine you!
The two people who impacted me the most when I was teenager growing up in downtown Pune, a large city in India’s Midwest, were John Lennon and James Hadley Chase. John’s gone for thirty years now.
Why do crazy people spot and erase such geniuses? It’s a question that I have been wondering about recently. Imagine if we had John’s songs for a decade or two more. I can’t imagine, can you? I think only John could tell me how and with his untimely demise our right to vivid imagination has been stolen away. The BBC, in a specially aired show on the eve of the anniversary of his death, showed young college students singing his songs at campuses in America and other places. I guess the songs of John Lennon will continue to live forever – just like him. This I sure can imagine.
Publishing ruckus in India
Throughout India, there is a lack of publishers, surely not enough for the appetite of millions who have the aptitude to pen down their stories, poetries or observations. Understandably, many from foreign shores are queuing up, which leads to strong emotion here, but if you are alongside me here in India you will see the point. A recent article in a leading weekly has pegged the publishing industry in India growing at twenty percent, an enthusiasm that is slated to sustain for at least five more years. Recently, U.S.-based publisher Hachette set up their India office and more are rumored to follow.
The traditional Indian publishing industry, if they intend to survive this invasion, need to put their houses in order. Distribution and sieving through each submission that comes their way is the key. While the former might be easy to figure out, it is the latter that is the real problem. A publisher friend says he has time and resources to read only five percent of what he receives.
Winters at Port Blair
While my family is braving the chills in Delhi, I am all bandana, shorts and T-shirt clad here at Port Blair, an island city in the middle of the Bay of Bengal. It’s December and here the weather is as good as it can get. There are people – Indian tourists and irregular foreign ones – everywhere you see. It’s good fun to visit bars in the evenings and I do just that on most days. At the bars everyone wants to sing, most men can be heard boasting their stories at the tables with others around the table not necessarily listening, and the girls are their giggly best. But I still miss my family. Anyone who has stayed away from his wife and kids for over two months at a stretch can feel my pain.
Kulpreet Yadav is a novelist, short fiction writer and a poet from India. You can visit his blog here.
LAIDENN THE DARK ELF
by Lyle Perez-Tinics
(November 2010, $8.99, 134 pages)
The great thing about zombie authors is their dedication to the genre. Just when I think they have reached the limits of the imagination, I stumble upon something that expands zombie fiction into other genres – engulfs them, really. NOM NOM NOM! While other genres add glitter to their monsters, one author has brought the zombie culture to the North Pole.
When I read the introduction to Laidenn The Dark Elf by Lyle Perez-Tinics and realized that I would be reading a story about vampire snowmen and zombie elves, I didn’t know whether to laugh or beat myself with my laptop. After carefully noting that Perez-Tinics loves Christmas and the holiday season, I decided to approach this book with the same seriousness I would give to any fantasy tale. Keep in mind, this is young adult fiction, with the goal of appealing to both children and adults, so not quite as dark as you might expect, and age appropriate for grade school and up.
There are Light Elves and Dark Elves. The Light Elves make the toys and are enjoying a well-deserved night off at an enchanted amusement park when Laidenn realizes that they are about to be attacked by vampire snowmen. Perez-Tinic’s talent for detail shows when Laidenn prepares to fight with bags of salt. As Laidenn tries to make the other elves aware of the impending danger, we learn more about how light and dark magic work at the North Pole. We also discover that there are actually two different breeds of vampires as well.
I laughed at the description of the horrible things that took place in Santa’s workshop, such as Barbie heads with Ken bodies! Santa defends his workshop with the stealth and swiftness that would make Van Helsing proud. Don’t let the fat, jolly appearance fool you – this Santa has the moves of a warrior. He also has command of zombie elves! This is the Santa I want at my house.
When I read Laidenn The Dark Elf to my five-year-old (we’re talking about a kid who has already acted in a zombie film), he thought this would make a great movie and I agree. (Maybe a joint Pixar and Full Moon production?) This is a great holiday story for the whole family, especially if you’re already fans of the classic monsters: vampires, zombies, and the like. I know Christmas will never be the same at our house again.
Lyle Perez-Tinics is the writer and creator of UndeadintheHead.com, a site dedicated to zombie books and the authors. He dreams about opening a bookstore filled entirely with the horror genre. You can contact him at Contact@undeadinthehead.com or follow him on twitter www.twitter.com/Lyleperez
BY LACEY N. DUNHAM
Little Librarian is a DIY kit with the tag line: “Be a real librarian. Just add books!”
Although I think it’s awesome that there’s a toy aimed at turning children onto reading books (the type without batteries or screens) I feel this item should also come with a warning: USE OF THE LITTLE LIBRARIAN PERSONAL LIBRARY KIT COULD TURN YOUR CHILD INTO A LITTLE MONSTER. PURCHASE AT YOUR OWN RISK.
I love librarians. I love libraries. I love librarians and libraries so much that when I was eleven, I geeked out in the stationary supplies aisle of Wal-Mart and purchased a pack of 3 x 5 unlined index cards, a blue plastic index card filebox, a black sharpie, Scotch tape, a rubber date stamp, and a hot pink stamp pad. At home, I took the items to my bedroom and glued an index card into the back of all my books, writing in the neatest handwriting I could manage “RETURN BY” at the top of each one. I reinforced the spines with the Scotch tape and tested the rubber date stamp on sheets of my father’s tax return.
I own a lot of books and at age eleven, this habit was already well on its way to becoming an obsession. Because my middle school had no library, my peers frequently asked to borrow books from me and, always happy to lend them, I was frustrated that many were not returned, or were returned in poor condition. My solution: create a formal lending library.
The next time a classmate asked to borrow a book, I went home and filled out an index card with her name, the title of the book, the date borrowed and due date. I filed the card in my blue filebox and stamped the due date in the book. I was officially in the non-profit business of running a library.
I began to lend out three or four books each day, sometimes to kids in other classrooms whom I didn’t even know. R.L Stine and Christopher Pike were popular authors, so I created waiting lists for especially sought after titles. The American Girl series of books that I’d outgrown a year or two before were frequently requested; less popular were Scott O’Dell and Paula Fox. I lent Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. Even The Boxcar Children found new life among my classmates.
Whenever I delivered a book, a single sheet of paper was tucked into its pages: the borrowing rules. Based on the rules of the actual library, I had typed my list of rules on my electronic typewriter and assumed that anyone receiving a sheet with the word “rules” in bold at the top would adhere to them.
Thus began my first lesson as a little librarian: people do not follow the rules.
Books were returned after the due date and were sometimes damaged: covers bent or torn, pages dog-eared, crumbs scattered in the spine. I prided myself on taking excellent care of books and their mishandling at the sticky fingers of my peers angered me. Fortunately, the borrowing rules had delinquents covered.
Per the rules, I was already charging a fine of 10 cents per day for each overdue item. Why not fine people for returning books in a damaged condition? I re-typed the borrowing rules and began to collect payments. Frequent violators had “DO NOT LEND” scrawled across their borrower’s card. Friends were granted clandestine extensions and had their fines forgiven. Boys I liked were secretly moved to the top of waitlists.
At home each night, I sorted through my filebox, checking on upcoming due dates and noting who had outstanding fines. At school, my classmates crowded around my locker as I pulled their book requests from my backpack.
Then it happened. As I would learn two years later from my history teacher Mr. Meiner, absolute power corrupts absolutely. My library was so successful, I doubled the fines. Friends were no longer given amnesty. I spent my lunch period demanding payments. Having learned a thing or two about boys, girl were automatically placed first on all waitlists. Students began fighting over the books as I pulled them from my backpack each morning. My friend Angela had a borrowed a very popular R.L. Stine from me and it was subsequently stolen from her. I still made her pay the late fee and, because book was never found, the $4.99 to replace it.
I can’t recall exactly who or how or why but, eventually, my library was shut down. My rubber date stamp fell to disuse and the stamp pad dried up. The index cards became flashcards for memorizing war battles in social studies class. The blue filebox was tucked into my closet to gather dust. Years later, the R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike books were donated to the town library (I kept Nancy Drew, Scott O’Dell, and Paula Fox), where they were sold for twenty-five cents each at the annual library book sale.
The 2010 Man Asian Literary Prize longlist was announced on Tuesday. The longlist nominees are:
– Three Sisters by Bi Feiyu
– Way to Go by Upamanyu Chatterjee
– Dahanu Road by Anosh Irani
– Serious Men by Manu Joseph
– The Thing About Thugs by Tabish Khair
– Tiger Hills by Sarita Mandanna
– The Changeling by Kenzaburo Oe
– Hotel Iris by Yoko Ogawa
– Monkey-man by Usha K.R.
– Below the Crying Mountain by Criselda Yabes
The list includes 1994 Nobel Laureate Kenzaburo Oe and represents fiction writers from countries as disparate as India, China, the Philippines and Japan. This year’s judges are Monica Ali, Homi K. Bhabha and Hsu-Ming Teo. Finalists will be announced in February and the winner will be named in March at a ceremony in Hong Kong.
The Man Asian Literary Prize was founded in 2007. Awarded annually to an Asian writer, the Man Asian Literary Prize is given for the best novel either written in or translated into English.
THE MATTER WITH MORRIS
by David Bergen
(September 2010, CAN $29.99, 254 pages)
A link is drawn between Morris Schutt, fifty-one year old writer and main character of David Bergen’s Giller Prize-nominated novel The Matter With Morris, and Haggai, whom Bergen’s third person narrator tells us is “a less than minor prophet [. . .] who in the Bible gets two chapters.” The image of Haggai – a silenced prophet – is a lot like Morris. Once a syndicated columnist read by people worldwide, he loses his writing contract when his thoughts turn sour. Wouldn’t yours after your son dies at war?
Indeed, the matter with Morris and the Schutt family is the death of their son and brother Martin while serving in the Canadian army in Afghanistan. The fallen infantryman haunts this text; his absence tears apart a modern family along with their aging home. Solemnly, Morris and his wife, Lucille, part by way of a death they never expected. And Morris holds squalid relations with his daughters: Meredith, a working class mother with a grudge toward her selfish father, and Libby, a distant teen too smart to be trapped by adulthood’s hypocrisy. In a touchingly realist depiction of the new millennium as war era, the Schutts are today’s army family strewn by tragedy.
Living alone in a condo, Morris is patted down by moral anguish. Museless and desperate, he focuses on his life’s worst moment: a father-son huff, daring Martin to join the army. To boot, Martin was killed accidentally by one of his own men. For Morris, it’s just as well as pulling the trigger himself.
Mentally and spiritually unhealthy, Morris copes through self-destruction. Most pertinent of all, he is hooked on a woman’s touch and hires prostitutes to relieve his inner tension. There is also Ursula, an American reader of Morris’s column who, too, lost her son to war (in Iraq). Ursula and Morris become intimate pen pals, and eventually meet. Contemplating his choices in a hotel room as Ursula sleeps, Morris yearns for the solace he is searching for. Eventually, he does declare a breaking point. Things will change, he will get his family back, even if it takes some extreme measures.
Bergen admits in Morris’s afterword to borrowing ample inspiration from Cicero, Plato, Socrates and Bellows when creating Morris’s deep philosophical rhetoric. For some readers, his pondering of freedom, humanism and rabid individualism may seem pretentious, constantly lathered on without letting the last big question settle. However, I empathise with the abstractness needed to make sense of this character’s gall-filled world.
This empathy solidifies in many scenes that war parents and families can relish in. “[Morris] had heard of the Highway of Heroes near Toronto,” Bergen writes in sardonic prose, “he wondered how it was that he had come to live in a place where a fallen soldier was driven ignominiously past warehouses and big box stores.” Revenge is also offered through Morris’s habitual letter writing, one to the Prime Minister and another to the company who manufactured the gun that killed Martin. Morris notes the absurdity of sending a letter that will never be read, nodding at Bergen’s apostrophe technique and the simple closure the act offers.
Aside from lashing outward, Morris’s hurt drives hard toward nihilistic tendencies too. His son’s death causes him so much despair, loneliness, inadequacy, guilt, and scepticism, it’s no wonder he contemplates suicide more than once. His existential traits, borrowed from Kafka and Kierkegaard, lead him to declare solitude and to have feelings of despair and worthlessness. Don’t worry Morris, we hear your story, along with the 152 lonely Canadian fathers that live it every day. It’s the bleak story of modern global politics and its disastrous impact on the family. And, it’s something Bergen obviously wants us to consider.
THE COOKBOOK COLLECTOR
by Allegra Goodman
The Dial Press
(July 2010, $26, 416 pages)
I waited several weeks for my turn to throw myself into The Cookbook Collector because the wait-list at my library was that long. Was it NPR’s palavering reviews which bestowed the crown upon Allegra Goodman’s not-so-humble head as the modern-day Jane Austen? An honor Goodman neither accepted nor declined, she just side-stepped by stating she had many, many influences and inspirations, not just Jane Austen.
Hmmmm, not too modest for such high praise, I thought but I didn’t want to begin in the wrong frame of mind. I wanted The Cookbook Collector to be great. It was important for me as a Janeite and because 2010 was the summer of Franzenfeud, when Jonathan Franzen reigned supreme. There was a dire need of a strong female novelist to knock Jonathan Franzen out of his Ivory Tower. Alas, Ms. Goodman comes up decidedly short.
The Cookbook Collector is a confusing ramble into the decline of the shallow and greedy days of the Dot Com boom. The central characters, Emily and Jessamine, are sisters with opposite personalities and lifestyles around which this story — no, make that multiple stories or, better yet, multiples of multiple stories — revolve. Emily is a smart, reserved and successful CEO of a start-up on the brink of becoming incredibly successful while making her incredibly rich. Jessamine is the artistic, philosophic and free-thinking perpetual student/vegan who makes the reader wonder if she’s about to wander right off the pages of the novel in pursuit of a butterfly. Emily is focused and driven; Jess is scattered and flighty.
Their stories take the reader back and forth from West Coast to East Coast on a wild roller coaster ride of an IPO and up to the top of a protected Red Wood tree. Enter an array of characters, each with their own subplot: Emily’s ruthless and brilliant fiancee CEO, Jonathan, who just needs a set of jagged teeth and some fins to complete his image; Jessamine’s sanctimonious tree-hugging beaus; their father and his second family, Hassidic Bialystok Jews (also bi-coastal!); software programmers and their messy affairs; their dead mother who wrote the girls birthday letters until their 25th birthdays; a woman with a valuable cookbook collection looking to make a sale; and George Friedman, the bookstore owner and collector of valuables, he’s also a jaded Microsoft millionaire that delights in perpetually jabbing Jess with his wry insights into her chaotic life and loser boyfriends. The story shoots between Yorick’s, an antiquarian bookstore where Jess works at an hourly rate while Emily is prepared to rake in millions as CEO of her wildly successful company Veritech.
If that’s not confusing enough, throw in the Dot Com crash and 9/11, mix it with love, loss, more love, more loss, some misunderstandings, inconceivable connections that neatly wrap up all the loose ends and a happy ending for one, a sad new beginning for the other. Unfortunately, this is no modern Sense and Sensibility. It’s a distracting and predictable yarn that reaches far and wide but lacks heart and soul that allows the reader any satisfaction in its boring and overwrought finish.
The Cookbook Collector is loaded with inconsistencies that yanked me right out of the story. For example, the birthday letters from the sisters’ dead mother, an artistic woman, are written on the computer. This was designed to add depth to the story but was actually one of several events that brought my reading to a screeching halt. The time frame for the story was 1999. Was Microsoft Word around 20 years before the story took place? Wouldn’t a woman writing birthday letters for her daughters to read after her death prefer the touch of handwritten letter? Then there was George Friedman, the wealthy proprietor of Yorick’s antique bookstore. Curmudgeonly and jaded at the ripe old age of 39, he had lived through the hippy days of the 60s and 70s then landed a job at a little company known as Microsoft… wait a minute… a hippy in the 60’s? He was just born if he was 39 years old in 1999! Emily’s fiancee Jonathan owned one of the first Blackberrys, which sent me off to Google the history of the Blackberry. This is the first novel I’ve ever made the effort to factually verify.
It is also one of a very few novels I’ve continued to read after giving up on it out of sheer spite, which was probably a good thing for the author. Allegra Goodman had passages of stunning writing scattered throughout The Cookbook Collector but those brief and rare interludes simply hinted at her potential and provided nothing to improve her story. I bestow upon Ms. Goodman a quote from Jane Austen regarding The Cookbook Collector: “Commonplace nonsense but scarcely any wit.”
The Grave of Rimbaud
by Bill Yarrow
I visited the grave of Rimbaud.
It was pale blue like the blood
of a baby penguin.
– – – – – – –
The Empty Bed
by Bill Yarrow
Bright falcons nested in the cracks of the cathedral
ceilings. Every closet had its owl.
– – – – – – –
Most people would probably think that Milan, Italy and Grand Rapids, Michigan don’t have anything in common, but they are the only two cities that have the world’s largest horse sculptures (of equal size) designed by Leonardo Da Vinci. Milan has “Il Cavallo.” Da Vinci’s “The American Horse” can be found at Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan (halfway between Chicago and Detroit).
Larry ten Harmsel, the historian for Meijer Gardens, presents us with The American Horse (August 2010, Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, $11.99), the story of how this great horse came to be. He is also a member of the Sculpture Advisory Committee and describes in vivid detail how “The American Horse” has helped Meijer Gardens become one of the world’s premier cultural institutions.
The first chapter touches on the creations of this 132 acre site, which includes boardwalks and nature trails that lead through small forests and wetlands, complete with native wildlife, as well as greenhouses, sculpture loops, and an amphitheatre. Fred and Lena Meijer donated the original 80 acres garden park and many of the permanent sculptures. In addition to the generosity of the Meijers, volunteers, members and visitors have helped Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park become a wondrous experience of art and nature blended together.
Subsequent chapters give the history of the horse going back more than 500 years. Initially planned as a life-sized equestrian statue, changes were constantly being made. While waiting for the needed bronze, Da Vinci completed “The Last Supper.” Due to complication, namely the Second Italian War, the horse was never actually made. The non-profit organization Leonardo Da Vinci’s Horse, Inc (LDVHI) resurrected the long-lost project. Eventually, Nina Akamu, a sculptor who had studied in Italy, became the creator of a model based on Da Vinci’s notes and sketches.
Included in this monumental story of art, history and determination, Larry ten Harmsel references many other beautiful pieces added to the Sculpture Park over the years, including “Mad Mom” by Tom Otterness and temporary exhibits like “The Thinker” by Rodin. It has been completely awe-inspiring to bring my five-year-old son to Meijer Gardens since he was a baby – one of his first words was “Da Vinci.” One of the most wonderful aspects of Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park is that it is constantly changing from one season to the next, year after year, so no two visits are the same, as aptly proven by the breath-taking photographs included in ten Harmsel’s book.
I highly recommend adding Grand Rapids, Michigan (home of Art Prize, incidentally) to your list of must-see cities, and pick up a copy of The American Horse while you are there.
The gift shop at the Meijer Sculpture Park & Gardens accepts orders via phone and will ship the book upon request. Please visit the gift shop website for more information or call 616-975-3176 to order.
Chicago fuzz-pop indie trio Geronimo! released their debut video for “Design Yourself A Heart” off their recent debut full-length record Fuzzy Dreams.
Still unsigned (you can find them on iTunes) but racking waves of cred in the East Coast indie scene, Geronimo! has a diverse sound throwing back to late nineties ska and pop-punk, as well as early nineties grunge. Their main forte is up-beat songs mixing experimental tones and vast psychedelic trips, creating poppy indie punk often leaping the two minute safety zone.
The video for “Design Yourself A Heart” features the band members on a wild chase down back alleyways and dark forest trails, intermittently drowning in mouthfuls of water. It’s a fun video debut with a good single to back it. The song features all the favorite aspects of Geronimo!’s sound: clean guitar chord melody, power-pop keys alongside distorted guitar hooks, dance beat drums, and a Geronimo!-esque fuzz-punk outro.
Northern Outpost claims production creds on the video. They are a video production company out of Minneapolis, MN aimed at promoting indie bands and music in the Twin Cities region.
Contributing music writer Jordon Chiarelli reviewed Fuzzy Dreams a couple months back for this. You can check out his review here.
BY LACEY N. DUNHAM
That I am a book nerd should not come as a surprise to any of my friends or to anyone who reads this ‘zine’s blog on even the occasional day. I’ve loved and treasured books since I was a little child and I definitely have a pack-rat complex to keeping books: it’s nearly impossible for me to give any away. Library book sales, garage sales and bookstores are my Achilles’ Heel. Doing laundry in my apartment building is dangerous – the giveaway shelf is next to the laundry room and I almost always return to my apartment with a stack of excellent literature cradled in one arm, the detergent and laundry bag dragging from the other.
Random House’s The Library of America imprint is for me what Manolo Blahnik was to Carrie Bradshaw.
At least books aren’t cocaine, otherwise, I’d have a very serious problem.
Earlier this summer, I decided to reorganize the bookshelves in my apartment. I pulled all the books from their shelves and separated them by category: novels, short fiction, poetry, plays, young adult and children’s, essays and memoir, biographies, books about writing, gender and sexuality, general history, philosophy, education policy, and miscellany. I reserved one entire bookcase for books signed by the author. Segregating my collection began as a restless summer activity borne from a desire to fit all of my recently acquired books onto the shelves but ended as an peek into my personal interests – and surprised even me.
I knew I owned hundreds of novels (219 when I counted them at the start of this project) and nearly a hundred (98) short fiction collections. What surprised me was how many books on education policy I still own (approximately 50) and, even though I am no longer a teacher, the plethora of children’s and young adult books I kept (somewhere around 150). I own much of Orhan Pamuk and Annie Dillard’s ouvre, both fiction and non-fiction (and for Dillard, poetry), which is something I hadn’t realized prior to my project. I own two copies of Bitch Magazine’s “best of” collection, Bitchfest (oops!). Previously, I never classified myself as a reader of memoirs, biographies, or writers’ letters and journals but my collection includes everything from Guy du Maupassant and Eduardo Galeano’s histories cum memoirs to Antonina Fraser’s letters to her husband, Harold Pinter, to the hilarious memoirs of John Waters and Dan Savage.
I stopped counting individual books after the fiction was shelved. I estimate that my apartment holds about 1,100 books. Many of the books I collected while growing up and later as a college undergraduate are boxed away in the basement of my parent’s house where I estimate there are another 500 or so books tucked beside my father’s weightlifting equipment from high school and my mother’s Singer sewing machine.
While sorting through my beloved treasure, I realized I acquire many more books than I could possibly read in my lifetime. As my two cats jumped between the naked shelves, excited for their temporary playground, I wondered if I should give up my books, donate them to a library or home for the elderly or sell them on e-Bay for a decent sum of money. And why shouldn’t I? Despite the number of books I read each year, I hadn’t read half of the ones I own. Why keep my sprawling collection intact when I could just as easily borrow from the library or download them on an e-reader that takes up a sliver of the space? After all, I live in Washington, DC where rents are high and apartments (at least what I can afford) are tiny. My books crowd bookshelves, the dining room table, the bureau in my bedroom, my desk and both living room end tables.
Shortly after, I ran into a woman who frequently purchases books from the same independent bookstore where I shop. I had once asked her how many books she thought she owned and she gave a shrug when she said, “I don’t know. Four or five thousand, maybe.” She only purchases hardcover first editions. It’s her beloved quirk because, unlike most book collectors, she doesn’t keep them in pristine condition. She lives in an apartment, too, and told me she stacks her books in waist-high piles that she pushes together and covers with un-hemmed fabric to make tables.
I asked her why she doesn’t sell them or give them away. I imagine her apartment as a landscape of colorful spines, books pressed against walls and tumbling into the hallway. “They’re mine,” she said simply. “They’re who I am.”
I returned home that night and looked at the piles of books scattered around my apartment, my project half-completed before my crisis of faith. I opened a grocery bag and dropped in ten books for a donation to a charity that collects books for deployed U.S. troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Apparently, there’s a lot of down time for reading in the desert. The rest of my books I tucked lovingly away on my bookshelves. My books are part of me, part of my identity. Walk into my apartment, browse my bookshelves, and you’ll know who I am.
BY JOHN COLEMAN
A couple of months ago I explained in THIS Reads how my library is home to an exhausted number of big-name titles and not so many lesser known, underdog books. Believe it or not, the problem is still troubling me. No, I haven’t been brainwashed by Penguin and Random House into zombie-walking to the nearest Chapters or some other chain store looking for the ex-president’s memoirs. And no, it’s not an odd catch-22 that I’d like to go out and pick up a copy of The Sentamentalists, the biggest small press book in a long time (although if you happen to miraculously find a copy, I’d love to borrow it once you’re finished).
No, the only problem troubling me is that I can’t find enough independent literature. I’ve become a bloodhound sniffing out anything under the radar. I thrive on the minnow-like, unheard author’s view of the sharks and whales in the rest of the sea. I obsess over the small press.
Lately, in order to feed my habit, I’ve taken on a risqué lifestyle quite frowned upon in the current reality TV age: hoarding. But my home isn’t billowing with pocketbooks and paperbacks. I want to avoid all the dirty stares. So, I’ve come up with the perfect little secret – the big “H” without any of the kickback – e-Hoarding. I’ve taken to spending many late nights turned early mornings searching the web for any sort of underground-lit I can find. And this month in THIS Reads, I’m going to let you in on some of the best online literature collectives I’ve found so far. I must say, in terms of niche writing, finding stuff that’s brand new and fresh is easiest through online journals. How ironic, you’re reading one right now.
Without further ado, I give you my e-picks of the month:
PANK – This is one of the best free literary magazines I’ve come across. They publish monthly with tonnes of new poetry and prose from writers worldwide. But that’s not saying much once you read a bit of PANK – the stuff they put out is very high calibre. Contemporary, relevant, cutting edge, the best adjectives represent what PANK is all about.
Abjective – Along the same lines as PANK, Abjective e-publishes great fictional prose and poetry, but there’s a catch. Abjective comes out weekly with only one piece of either poetry, prose, or creative non-fiction. It’s a stripped down literary ‘zine – the only thing on the site is the current piece and a minimalist description of the Abjective manifesto. If anything, it keeps you on your toes in anticipation for the next issue only every few days away.
My e-journeys in the past month have also brought me to Mel Bosworth’s Grease Stains, Kismet, and Eternal Wisdom available as a free e-book (yes, free!) at Brown Paper Publishing. The short novel of about one hundred pages is an interesting read, it definitely doesn’t bore with its parameters of lust, drugs and borderline insanity. But I won’t ruin it for you because you can, just as easily as I did, read it yourself.
Oh, and keep reading this, it’s also free, independent and full of great writing.
Serial books are terrific gifts because they can be given individually over the years or as a set, particularly if there’s more than one young reader in a household. Individual books by a multitude of young adult authors – the genre churns out more books than I can follow – I like to give for gifts as well. A few timeless and enjoyable old school books impart a love of reading thanks to the excellent caliber of writing. They are true gifts to bestow upon young readers.
White is one of the most eloquent and writers I have ever read. He has a wonderful way of writing incredibly appealing novels for children that avoid the pitfalls of “writing down” to young readers. His stories include The Trumpet of the Swan, Stewart Little, and, of course, Charlotte’s Web. These classics should probably be given with a box of tissues.
What fun it is to read novels from a child’s point of view about evil villains (and villainesses) when you’re a kid. Roald Dahl’s children’s stories are full of dark humor, mistreatment and peril – and kids love it. These short, funny and very engaging books for young readers are hilarious to read out loud. Dahl, a disciplined father of five, allegedly regaled his children with these dark tales at bedtime before writing them as novels. Some classic Dahl favorites include The Gremlins, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, James and the Giant Peach, and Fantastic Mr. Fox.
Reading shaped my life when I figured out the beauty of words on a page. I was never without a book, hence I was rarely bored (although I was almost always late.) Of the all the books and authors mentioned above, Roald Dahl probably influenced me the most. I love dark humor, I adore an evil villain and the best stories for me are where good conquers all. I never consciously reflected on the influence, though I named my sons James and Charlie.
Many, many of these stories have been made into movies, some good, some not so good but they are nothing in comparison to the actual novels. So give books this season and give the gift of reading. Kids today are so connected, scheduled, sheltered and overloaded with electronics that they need the freedom of imagination and to learn that the power of words has the ability to take you anywhere.
Read Sweetman’s previous THIS Reads: Mama, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Twihards
Are you wondering what to give the tween or teenager in your life? Think books. Reading is a gift that never stops giving. Give books, real books, not anything electronic – kids today suffer from waaaaaaaaaay too much electronic crap cluttering up their brains. The act of reading sustains the brain’s ability to solve logic problems and operate on a higher level of processing and reasoning. And there’s nothing like the physical reminder of a thoughtfully given book.
I am not well-versed in books for babies, toddlers or young children although I’ve had two babies (then toddlers then young children). It’s been my limited experience that “popular” and “educational” are somewhat less satisfying for both parents and children. I always leaned toward the classics and books about trucks because I have two sons. Whatever you give to a toddler or non-reading child, make sure it’s something that you’ll love reading over and over and over again, too.
For school age to young adult, here’s what not to give: any of the Twilight books. I know they have a legion of followers breathlessly fainting into the pages because Edward is so amazing and Bella is so amazing and the Twilight books are so amazing and there you have it: indoctrination to repetitively bad writing. Let the tween or teen borrow Twilight from a friend or the library and let’s stop shoving money into Ms. Meyer’s overflowing coffers. There are far better things to read:
C.S. Lewis, Chronicles of Narnia
A classic masterpiece, Lewis’s seven book series takes the reader into the fantastic world of Narnia. Four children – Peter, Susan, Edward and Lucy Pevensie – find the magical world of Narnia through a wardrobe in Professor Digory Kirke’s mansion. In Narnia they join forces with the noble Aslan to save the wintry world from the evil White Witch. Readable chapter books for even the youngest children, The Chronicles of Narnia series has widely influenced and guided the talents of many influential authors, musicians, directors and artists since they were published in the 1950s.
J.K. Rowling, The Harry Potter Series
We can’t thank J.K. Rowling enough because she didn’t just ignite the spark of love for reading in young people: she set the house on fire. The Harry Potter Series, seven epic novels about Harry Potter, Hogwarts School for Wizardry and Witchcraft, and the battle of good versus evil, have become instant coming-of-age classics. J.K. Rowling masterfully narrates an epic and, at times, very dark tale full of memorable characters in a magical wizarding world. These books are excellent on many levels and the writing is superb. I confess I was reluctant – no disdainful – of the books when they first came out because I had no interest in the magical world of wizardry. Fantasy was not my genre but my sister gave a copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stones to my youngest son for his 5th birthday. It was a gift that I believed was a curse because I had to read it out loud to him. However, before the first chapter ended I was hooked and waited as anxiously as all the other Harry Potter fans for the next installment. I read each word of all seven books to my youngest son, a literary experience like no other in my life.
Lemony Snicket, A Series of Unfortunate Events
Thirteen quick-paced, sharp and witty books chronicle the adventures of Violet, Klaus and Sunny Baudelaire, beginning with the fiery deaths of their parents and propelling them through a number of unfortunate events as they are pursued by their distant relative, the evil Count Olaf. The books in A Series of Unfortunate Events are cautionary tales with dark Grimm undertones but they are clever and engaging. It’s a series that is sure to develop and secure a young reader into a life of good reading.
In tomorrow’s THIS Reads, Sweetman discusses more beloved children’s books by Roald Dahl and E.B. White.
photo: Stephanie Skidmore