As part of our Best Books of 2010 coverage, our editors weigh in on some of their personal favorites from the list.
You've all heard everything there is to hear about this summer blockbuster, right? This is one case where the hype is more than justified. But rather than sing the novel's praises once again, I'll let Justin Cronin take it from here with some quotes about his vampire-novel-with-a-twist that I couldn't fit in to our June interview:
This is a book about how human beings lose their way. How humanity can get lost. The experiment that produces the great viral cataclysm is essentially an act of human greed—it’s trying to steal the future from your kids. The scientists who are seeking to engineer a virus that makes human beings so long-lived that they are essentially immortal have missed the true immortality that we possess, which is that the future we will not live to see is the future our children will live in. This is essentially the story of a world that has forgotten its children and needs to mend this broken chain. . . . .
The circumstances of my book are extreme, but they are versions of what happen to us all the time. Fear of the dark, you don’t know what’s out there. You get the bad moods at some point in your life. But in the meantime, the people in that place, they live in constant and overwhelming danger, but they have a job, they have families, they form relationships, they have a sense of clan and kin. They know the world that they know, and within that they assemble themselves domestically. So the world as we know it has in some way continued. It’s at the brink, and there’s not much left, but it’s there.
Here's the best news I've heard all week. The third-graders of Dalton, Georgia, who wrote letters to Books-A-Million found out this week that their hard work paid off: They asked for a new bookstore, and they're going to get one.
Books-A-Million CEO Clyde Anderson made the special announcement in the kids' classroom and delivered some special gifts:
I love the quote from Charlie McClurg, the student who spearheaded the letter-writing campaign: "It makes me feel SUPER excited. I got the whole season of Goosebumps!"
The young readers of Dalton might miss out on this Saturday's Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day . . . but they won't have long to wait for their shopping. The new store should open this month.
What book blogs have you been reading this week?
Famous inboxes from the literary world
Posted on Famous Inboxes
Ever imagined what your favorite characters' email inboxes would look like? I certainly hadn't, but little did I know . . . they'd be hilarious! I love the inboxes for Elizabeth Bennett and Severus Snape (favorite email in Snape's inbox: "Google alert—Lily Potter"). If you're looking for a laugh this Friday afternoon, give this blog a browse.
Posted on Tumblr
I came across this lovely Tumblr page on Entomology of a BookWorm, one of my favorite book blogs. Here's the description for Booklover: "Sharing and spreading her book love with delicate pictures, amazing shelves, memorable libraries and intense quotes." Click over to the blog, and I guarantee you won't be able to stop scrolling through those gorgeous pictures of bookshelves.
What's in a Name 4: Information and Sign-Up
Posted by Beth Fish Reads
Many of you enjoy participating in reading challenges, so I thought you'd appreciate this link. Beth Fish Reads is hosting this fourth-annual challenge for which you read books based on their titles. There are seven categories, such as "a book with jewelry or a gem in the title" (like, Girl With a Pearl Earring) and "a book with a size in the title" (like, Little Bee). The challenge begins on January 1, so sign up now and start brainstorming a book list!
As part of our Best Books of 2010 coverage, our editors weigh in on some of their personal favorites from the list.
My grandmother is one of BookPage's most devoted fans. Every month, she visits her local branch of the Central Arkansas Library System, picks up BookPage and reads the issue cover-to-cover—always scanning for my bylines. After I interviewed Chang-rae Lee in March, she immediately put a copy of The Surrendered on hold.
She asked if I thought she'd like it. Before I could fully recommend The Surrendered to my grandmother, I felt like I had to give her some background information—a warning, I suppose, or at least a preview of what she'd be in for. Today, I'm going to give the same information to you.
The Surrendered is the only book I have read (in recent memory at least) that made me feel physically ill. Lee's descriptions of violence committed by Japanese officers in Manchuria of 1934—or by American soldiers during the Korean War—are so vile and viscerally painful to read that I had to put the book down (several times) and take a deep breath.
During these sections, I thought—why should I read this? Why would anyone want to read this?
And then I picked the book up and kept reading because Lee's writing is so enthralling—his world is so complex and complete—that I absolutely had to know what happened to the very real characters that live through his words.
The Surrendered is told from three points of view: a young Korean girl who is a refugee of the war; an American soldier who ends up working for the orphanage where she lives; and the woman who is married to the missionary who runs the orphanage. It's quite remarkable how well Lee inhabits these three vastly different personalities. As the characters move back and forth through time and across points of view, I did not feel a sense of disjointedness.
The novel is bleak, but there are certainly moments of beauty (and let me note that Lee's prose is always lyrical, even if he's writing about torture); a high point is the reflection on mercy that weaves throughout the story. Plus, the novel forces you ask the difficult questions that have been so relevant this year in the wake of earthquakes, oil spills, conflict abroad—like how can people live their lives after tragedy? After disaster?
Lee himself summed up the book best during our conversation: "It’s a book about historical traumas and how those traumas exhibit themselves and find expression in individual people. It’s a book that ends in awe of life and all that life is. Not really judging it one way or the other. Just agape. Saying: wow. Look at these people [who have suffered] and how they’ve expressed themselves.”
(And yes—I did tell my grandmother to read The Surrendered . . . but only with a strong stomach.)
Which book from our list is your favorite?
Getting closer to the top! Sign up for BookPageXTRA to get an early look at our Top 10 Books of 2010, to be revealed on December 7.
11. The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman (Dial, May 2010)
12. The Passage by Justin Cronin (Ballantine, June 2010)
13. My Reading Life by Pat Conroy (Doubleday, November 2010)
14. Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff (Little, Brown, November 2010)
15. The Widower's Tale by Julia Glass (Pantheon, September 2010)
Find the rest of our Best of 2010 coverage here.
This year, we asked several best-selling authors a few very important questions about the holiday season. As we approach Christmas, we're sharing some of our favorite answers from these conversations with you. First up: What's your favorite holiday tradition?
Which holiday tradition are you most looking forward to this season?
I have loved Steve Martin ever since I watched him fall into the MacKenzie Family's pool in Father of the Bride. And though I knew he was reviewed favorably for his novella Shopgirl—praised as "a serious, intimate, rather dark comedy of manners" in BookPage—I know I have never really taken Martin seriously as a fiction writer.
Enter An Object of Beauty, which went on sale last week.
This novel "chronicles the rise and fall of a determined dreamer whose aspirations are larger than life," according to reviewer Stephenie Harrison—who went on to characterize the work as being "in the tradition of the great American novel" and mentioned Martin alongside Henry James and Edith Wharton. (Don't believe anyone could make such a statement? You've got to read it to believe it.)
Well, Martin did read it, and he shared the review with the world via this tweet:
In the past day or so, you might have heard some online grumbling about Martin's appearance at the 92nd Street Y, where Monday night he was interviewed by New York Times Magazine Q&A columnist Deborah Solomon. Solomon, a former art critic, asked Martin extensively about the art world (the backdrop for An Object of Beauty)—but apparently the conversation was not satisfactory for some members of the audience who wanted to hear more about Martin's career (i.e. showbiz). Solomon was asked to change the course of her questions mid-interview.
The Y's Director of Media Relations said in an e-mail that “the evening with Martin and Solomon just didn’t gel," and all in attendance have been offered a $50 gift certificate to be used at the Y in the future. Since then, Martin has tweeted:
(Does this episode not sound like it belongs in a book?)
I apologize for providing all of this background information to those of you who have already been following the kerfuffle, but all this is to make the point that BookPage's reviewer very much enjoyed the discussion of art in the novel.
Or, in her words:
Even if you don’t know your Monet from your Manet, much of what Martin writes—like the evanescent American dream—is universal in its appeal.
As a fan of Brooks' fiction and nonfiction, I just couldn't omit the exclamation point from the title of this post. Her second novel, March, a riff on Little Women, won the Pulitzer for fiction [read our interview with Brooks about March] and her two other novels were also BookPage favorites.
Her third novel, Caleb's Crossing (Viking), takes place in the 1660s and is also inspired by a historical event—this time, the graduation of the first Native American from Harvard University. Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck is taken under the wing of a minster who sees the opportunity to convert his tribe through education. Caleb's story is juxtaposed with that of the minister's own daughter, who, despite a similar yearning for knowledge, becomes an indentured servant.
Brooks writes some of the smartest historical fiction around, and I can't wait to read her take on this era of American history—and see if there are any allusions to her debut novel, Year of Wonders, which took place in England around the same time.
This is not an exaggeration: I'm pretty sure that every one of my girlfriends has at some point read Jezebel.com, the Gawker Media-owned blog with a tagline of "Celebrity, Sex, Fashion for Women." The website reports on everything from airbrushing to reality TV to election news to teen novels (the Jezebel column "Fine Lines" inspired Lizzie Skurnick's book Shelf Discovery). The tone of the site ranges from snarky to hilarious to crude (and sometimes trivial)—but never boring.
So, I couldn't help but smile when I saw that Anna Holmes, Jezebel's creator and founding editor, has signed a deal with Grand Central to write Jezebel.com: The Book of Jezebel. The listing in Publishers Marketplace explains that Holmes will lay out the "ethos of 'the Jezebel' from her take on sex, power and ambition to the people who inspire her from Harriet the Spy to Michelle Obama."
[The Book of Jezebel] will explore the mindset and ethos of the modern "Jezebel" using essays, illustrations and other contributions from a whole host of formidable women, some of whom work for this very site. It will also be a reader-friendly affair: We'll be workshopping the project with you throughout the writing and production process, and want to highlight the best and brightest Jezebel readers within the book. You can learn more by following the book's brand-new Twitter account and a dedicated website to be launched soon after the New Year.
Do you read Jezebel? Will you read The Book of Jezebel?
This week's recipe comes from What to Cook and How to Cook It (Phaidon), a phenomenal new cookbook that takes readers through recipes step-by-step for "foolproof cooking," says our cookbook columnist.
Economical, warming, and delicious, this lightly spiced soup will brighten up even the coldest of evenings. It thickens as it stands, so stir in a little extra water or broth if you need to re-heat it.
Heat a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the cumin seeds and chili flakes and cook for 1 minute, or until they start to jump around the pan and smell toasty. Scoop half of the spices out of the pan and set aside. Take the pan off the heat while you prepare the vegetables.
Chop the onions very roughly, crush the garlic, and finely grate the ginger. Gently heat the 2 tablespoons olive oil in the pan, then add the onions, garlic and ginger and cook gently for 5 minutes until the onions are starting to soften.
While you wait, peel and roughly chop the sweet potatoes.
Stir the sweet potatoes, chickpeas, and broth into the pan, cover with a lid, and simmer for 15 minutes, until the potatoes are soft.
Use a potato masher to mash most of the potato to a pulp to make a thick soup. Season with salt and pepper, then roughly chop the spinach and stir it in. After a few seconds the spinach will wilt.
Serve in bowls topped with a spoonful of the yogurt, a sprinkle of the reserved spice mixture, and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.
MAKE IT WITH SQUASH
Butternut squash or pumpkin work wonderfully in this soup, but can take a little while to prepare. Either buy pre-cut cubes or allow 10 more minutes to peel and seed the flesh