Thursday, January 29, 2009

200 and Fine

So we got through January and all in all it looks like it’s going to be a pretty good year!

Highlights in the world of books in 2008:

• Hanif Kureishi described creative writing courses as the "new mental hospitals".

• ‘If You Want Closure in Your Relationship, Start With Your Legs’, won the Diagram prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year, while Rachel Johnson declared herself to be "honoured" to win the Bad Sex award.

• Junot Diaz won the Pulitzer fiction prize for ‘The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao’ and Doris Lessing received her Nobel prize in London.

• It's a bad month for gay penguins as a children's story about a family of penguins with two fathers offends Americans. But that was pre-Obama.

• Devil May Care, the new James Bond novel by Sebastian Faulks, became Penguin's fastest-selling hardback fiction title in history.

• Barrage of faked memoirs uncovered and cancelled including ‘Angel At The Fence’, ‘Surviving With Wolves’ and ‘Love & Consequences’.

• To nobody's great surprise, Salman Rushdie's ‘Midnight’s Children’ is crowned Best of the Bookers.

• JK Rowling has a stupendous year being labeled the richest celebrity (worth £150m), winning her case against the Harry Potter Lexicon, and releasing her charity project ‘Beedle and the Bard’ (which is still selling like wildfire).

• Local writer Henrietta Rose-Innes wins the Caine prize

• British independent publisher Gibson Square bought ‘The Jewel of Medina’ and promptly got firebombed.

• Comic fantasy children's author Eoin Colfer described the opportunity to write the sixth ‘Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy’ book as "like suddenly being offered the superpower of your choice".

• We said a sad farewell to David Foster Wallace, also Jurassic Park man Michael Crichton.

And so on to New Things! Let’s see what the year brings us.

Here are my recommendations of must-have books for 2009:

Child 44 - Tom Rob Smith

"There was a small and slightly silly outcry when Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith (Simon & Schuster) was longlisted for the Booker. A thriller! What is the world coming to? The fact is, it's an enormously well written book with a fantastic premise: in the 1950s, the Soviet government has decreed that crime is a thing of the past. In a perfect communist state everyone has everything they need. The central character is a police chief who gets drawn into a nightmare Alice Through the Looking Glass world, in which, by investigating crimes, he becomes a wanted man himself." - Charlie Higson

Avant Gardeners - Tim Richardson

With distinctive projects by each featured designer, this book gives an encyclopedic look at the most advanced thinking in garden design, offering a rich archive for practitioners and enthusiasts alike. In addition to practice profiles, there are thematic sections that explain the underlying principles of these innovators' highly individual approaches to creating outdoor space. The book's introduction explains how a rising generation has rejected the Romantic, naturalistic tradition of Western garden design, favoring instead the influences of Modernism, Postmodernism, Pop Art, and Land Art. 500+ color illustrations.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Stieg Larsson

A spellbinding amalgam of murder mystery, family saga, love story, and financial intrigue.
It's about the disappearance forty years ago of Harriet Vanger, a young scion of one of the wealthiest families in Sweden . . . and about her octogenarian uncle, determined to know the truth about what he believes was her murder.
It's about Mikael Blomkvist, a crusading journalist recently at the wrong end of a libel case, hired to get to the bottom of Harriet's disappearance . . . and about Lisbeth Salander, a twenty-four-year-old pierced and tattooed genius hacker possessed of the hard-earned wisdom of someone twice her age--and a terrifying capacity for ruthlessness to go with it--who assists Blomkvist with the investigation. This unlikely team discovers a vein of nearly unfathomable iniquity running through the Vanger family, astonishing corruption in the highest echelons of Swedish industrialism--and an unexpected connection between themselves.
It's a contagiously exciting, stunningly intelligent novel about society at its most hidden, and about the intimate lives of a brilliantly realized cast of characters, all of them forced to face the darker aspects of their world and of their own lives.

"As vivid as bloodstains on snow."
- Lee Child

A Mercy - Toni Morrison

"A Mercy" is a powerful tragedy distilled into a jewel of a masterpiece by the Nobel Prize-winning author of "Beloved" and is almost like a prelude to that story, set two centuries earlier.

The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death - Charlie Huston

With a style that is razor sharp, an eye that never shies from the gritty details, and a taste for stories that simultaneously shock, disturb, and entertain, Charlie Huston is one of a kind. And The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death is the type of story-swift, twisted, hilarious, somehow hopeful-that only he could dream up.
Read the NYT review

Handmade Nation: The Rise of DIY, Art, Craft, and Design - Faythe Levine

Today's crafters are no longer interested in simply cross-stitching samplers or painting floral scrolls on china. Instead the contemporary craft movement embraces emerging artists crafters and designers working in traditional and nontraditional media. Jenny Hart's Sublime Stitching has revolutionized the embroidery industry. Each year Nikki McClure sells thousands of her cut-paper wall calendars. Emily Kircher recycles vintage materials into purses. Stephanie Syjuco manufactures clothing under the tag line "Because Sweatshops Suck." These are just some of the fascinating makers united in the new wave of craft capturing the attention of the nation the Handmade Nation.

Twenty-four artists from Olympia Washington to Providence Rhode Island and everywhere in between show their work and discuss their lives. Texts by Andrew Wagner of American Craft Magazine Garth Johnson of Callie Janoff of the Church of Craft Betsy Greer of and Susan Beal author of Super Crafty supply a critical view of the tight-knit community where ethics can overlapwith creativity and art with community.

In Search of the Missing Eyelash - Karen Mcleod

Lizzie is lonely. Her parents have gone and her brother, who believes he's a woman, is missing. Most of all, Lizzie is preoccupied by Sally, her former lover who has gone off with a man with a fat neck. Despite efforts of Petula, who lives downstairs from her, and Ruby, who runs the cafe where she works, Lizzie can't get Sally out of her mind.

A Bathing Ape - Ian Luna

Founded in the mid-1990s and now a leading force in global fashion, *A Bathing Ape(R)--or simply Bape--redefined the height of urban cool for a new generation of Tokyo hipsters. The creation of a young, enigmatic designer simply known as Nigo, Bape has rapidly become one of the most exclusive and sought-after youth brands in Europe and America. With a core product line of limited-edition hip-hop apparel distinguished from its mass-produced competitors by superior manufacture and detailing, the franchise has since expanded to include everything from edgy updates of the classic Chanel suit to an entire catalog of patent-leather sneakers, a full line of women's accessories, collectible vinyl toys, fragrances and its own tres-cool indie record label. Spawning collaborations with Pepsi, adidas, M.A.C. Cosmetics and SONY, *A Bathing Ape(R) is at once a worldwide fashion phenomenon and a leading barometer of the inexorable rise of Japanese pop culture in America.

Beat The Reaper - Josh Bazell

In this wild and hilarious debut thriller, Peter Brown is a young Manhattan emergency room doctor with a past, a secret, and a gun--and he has 24 hours to save himself and beat the reaper.

"BEAT THE REAPER is way cool and ice-cold. A ferocious read." -- Don Winslow, author of THE DAWN PATROL

Breath - Tim Winton

Breath is the story of lost youth, its attractions, its compulsions, its moments of heartbreak and of madness. Bruce Pike is irrsistibly drawn to the sea. One summer he defies his parents and goes surfing for the first time. This experience is to mark his adolescence with astonishing power, throwing him together with his oddball friend Loonie, and their hero, Sando, whose life by the shore is not without complications.

Netherland - Joseph O'Neill

The author of the New York Times Notable Book "Blood-Dark Track" delivers a mesmerizing novel about a man trying to make his way in an America of shattered hopes and values, and the unlikely occurrences that pull him back into an authentic, passionately engaged life.

"Netherland" is suspenseful, artful, psychologically pitch-perfect, and a wonderful read. But more than any of that, it's revelatory. Joseph O'Neill has managed to paint the most famous city in the world, and the most familiar concept in the world (love) in an entirely new way."
--Jonathan Safran Foer, author of "Everything Is Illuminated"

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

John Updike, chronicler of American loves and losses, dies at 76

John Updike, the prolific writer who was an enduring presence in post-war literature and a chronicler of the loves and losses of small-town America, has died of lung cancer aged 76.

His publishing house, Alfred Knopf, announced the death in a hospice in Massachusetts, saying Updike was "one of our greatest writers and he will be sorely missed."

In a writing career that began in the early 1950s at the New Yorker magazine, and kept on going like a literary powerhouse until the very end, Updike conjured up more than 50 books and explored virtually every form open to him. On top of a steady stream of essays, literary criticism and short stories, in addition to the more than 20 novels, beyond the poetry, there was a play Buchanan Dying and a memoir Self- Consciousness.

Since his first book, a poetry collection, was published in 1958, there has only been five years without a new Updike book on the shelves.

Despite the quantity, Updike maintained a quality in his work daunting even to much less prolific writers. He had a love of words, and the precision of language, that resonated through everything he produced.

- Ed Pilkington, The Guardian

Read more here.

Sunday, January 18, 2009


WASHINGTON — In college, as he was getting involved in protests against the apartheid government in South Africa, Barack Obama noticed, he has written, “that people had begun to listen to my opinions.” Words, the young Mr. Obama realized, had the power “to transform”: “with the right words everything could change -— South Africa, the lives of ghetto kids just a few miles away, my own tenuous place in the world.”

Much has been made of Mr. Obama’s eloquence — his ability to use words in his speeches to persuade and uplift and inspire. But his appreciation of the magic of language and his ardent love of reading have not only endowed him with a rare ability to communicate his ideas to millions of Americans while contextualizing complex ideas about race and religion, they have also shaped his sense of who he is and his apprehension of the world.

- Michiko Kakutani, NYT

Read more here.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Your Brain Is Going to Fall Out of Your Head

The New Year has dawned and you, dear reader, are much the worse for wear. But just wait: this physical agony is mere prelude. Yet to come is what Kingsley Amis called the “metaphysical hangover”: “that ineffable compound of depression, sadness (these two are not the same), anxiety, self-hatred, sense of failure and fear for the future.”

- Bake Wilson, NYT

Read more here.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Librarian, there's some bacon in my book

We may never fully understand what prompts people to leave unusual objects inside books. I speak of the slice of fried bacon that the novelist Reynolds Price once found nestled within the pages of a volume in the Duke University library. I speak of the letter that ran: “Do not write to me as Gail Edwards. They know me as Andrea Smith here,” which the playwright Mark O’Donnell found some years ago in a used paperback. I speak of any of those bizarre objects — scissors, a used Q-tip, a bullet, a baby’s tooth, drugs, pornography and 40 $1,000 bills — that have been discovered by the employees of secondhand bookstores, according to The Wall Street Journal and Mystery surrounds these deposits like darkness.

- Henry Alford, NYT

Read more here.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Read Before Dying

Two refugees from television and advertising, Carmen Flowers and Sue Bailey, go way beyond the world of “Six Feet Under” with chapters like “The Rehearsal or Memorial Party: It’s My Party and I’ll Die if I Want To!” and “Freeze, Boil, Liquefy, and Preserve: Other ‘Recipes’ for the Remains.”

- Alida Becker, New York Times

Read more here.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Pooh makes a comeback

He might be almost 90 years old in real terms, but Christopher Robin and his bear of very little brain are set to make a literary comeback after the estate of AA Milne agreed to authorise the first-ever official sequel to the much-loved children's books.

- Alison Flood, The Guardian

Read more here.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Obama and Spiderman fistbump

Barack Obama is teaming up with Spider-Man in a comic from Marvel, which will see the future president exchanging a fist-bump with the superhero. The story sees one of Spidey's oldest enemies, the Chameleon, trying to stop Obama being inaugurated. Spider-Man's alter ego, Peter Parker, is covering the event as a photographer, and saves the day.


Friday, January 9, 2009

Of course Tintin's gay. Ask Snowy.

His adventures have sold more than 200 million copies and been translated into 50 languages, and this weekend he celebrates his 80th birthday. But how well do we really know Tintin? One thing's for certain...

Read more here.