Over the past year, novelist Ian McEwan (Atonement, Enduring Love) has dropped several tantalizing tidbits about his work-in-progress, an 11th novel—his first since 2007's On Chesil Beach. It's about global warming. It features a physicist whom McEwan has described as “an intellectual thief. He’s sexually predatory. He’s a compulsive eater, a round and tubby fellow who has profound self-belief.” It's not a comedy—but has "extended comic stretches." And just yesterday he revealed a title, Solar, in a long interview with the Eastern Daily Press.
Where's the controversy, you ask? In the new novel, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist suggests that "men outnumber women at the top of his profession because of inherent differences in their brains, rather than any gender discrimination," according to The Guardian.
This plotline revelation has made major headlines since McEwan himself has faced criticism for giving his opinion on such things as radical Islam and Christianity. (Everyone loves an autobiographical angle!) The twist here is that after transforming himself into something of a media scapegoat, Beard makes a discovery that might help save the planet—if only anyone would listen to him. As McEwan explained to the New Yorker in February, “It isn’t angels necessarily who are going to save us."
Doubleday, McEwan's publisher in the U.S., hasn't announced a release date for the novel yet, and it's unlikely to appear before next year. Between now and then, we can probably expect a few more of those revelations . . .
Summer isn't over yet; there's plenty of time left for a fantastic trip to foreign lands and faraway places. If you're planning one and you'd like to meet and greet the locals in their own lingo, you can learn just enough to earn broad smiles, approving compliments and even order a beer.
To this noble end, the fine folks who have made the Pimsleur Method available on audio for many years, now offer goPimsleur. This fast, friendly series, which is officially released today, lets you get your head and your tongue around a foreign language in just four hours—with one 30-minute lesson per day. Half an hour, while you're driving, working out, cooking or taking a break, is doable, fun and instantly rewarding. You can hear yourself improve with every lesson, from saying "danke schoen," or "merci" to asking a new friend to share a meal.
You won't be discussing Sartre or Cervantes in their native tongues, but with goPimsleur you'll have a base and a beginning whether you're headed for Madrid, Moscow or Marseilles, Rio, Rome or the Rhineland.
Author Joyce Maynard heard about my earlier post on the striking cover design of her new novel, Labor Day, and was nice enough to email over the weekend with some reflections of her own about the cover. "First off," Joyce writes, "I WAS consulted and came up with a number of very bad ideas. This is why I'm a writer, not a designer, I guess." She says she was immediately taken with designer Mary Schuck's vision for the cover, which includes an image in matte gloss of a heart shape traced on a window pane. The idea appealed to her "because I am one of those people who draw on misted-up windows (also one of those people whose own car gets so dirty that I've been known to find the message 'Wash Me' written on the back windshield. But that's another story)."
Here's an interesting coincidence about the cover: "Mary did not know this at the time she came up with this design," Joyce tells us, "but three of my novels, before this one (Baby Love, Where Love Goes, and To Die For) all feature some form of heart-shaped image on the jacket. I'm sure this has something to say about my obsessions, and I freely admit to this: I am interested in love, and all the things it makes us do, and in broken hearts, and their occasional mending."This revelation prompted a flurry of emails about other heart-shaped objects, including the heart-shaped rock collection of a favorite blogger of mine. Another coincidence! "It's so interesting that you mention heart-shaped rocks," Joyce replied. "Until you said this I had totally forgotten this, but here is a surprising story:
"Labor Day was written in a little cabin at The MacDowell Colony, deep in the woods in New Hampshire, last September. This cabin was a full mile away from the main lodge where I would walk in every evening for dinner. Evidently the previous resident of my cabin had taken to collecting stones on her walk to the lodge every day—but only heart-shaped stones. So when I moved in, there was a row of heart-shaped stones around the front porch.
I loved seeing that row of stones every day, and added a few over the weeks I was writing there. When I left at the end of September (having finished Labor Day) I left them for the next person."
Our discussion of broken hearts, book covers, found objects and faded love began last week with a post and a chance to win a copy of Labor Day. There's only one day left to enter the contest by joining the discussion on book covers you love or loathe. Here are some of the jackets that have gotten the thumbs-up so far from Book Case readers:
And here are a couple that have gotten thumbs-down:
Which cover sets your heart a-flutter?
On July 7, Lynn blogged about New York Times columnist Nicolas Kristof’s controversial column on must-read children’s books. Also on July 7, Kristof posted an acknowledgement of the huge reader response he received; more than 2,350 people commented on his list.
(For those who weren’t following the debate, Kristof posted a list of the “best kids’ books ever” and neglected to mention many wonderful authors. Personally, I was aghast that Laura Ingalls Wilder got the shaft.)
In his apologetic response, Kristof wrote, “As many readers pointed out, Roald Dahl really should have had a place on the list. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a pinnacle of literature, a bit ahead of Proust.”
Ah, Roald Dahl. How many of us have worn copies of Matilda, or James and the Giant Peach, or The BFG on our bookshelves?
As a huge Dahl fan, I was interested to read Wednesday’s headline from the UK’s Telegraph newspaper: “Roald Dahl proves a man of a great many letters for his biographer.” Apparently Donald Sturrock, a British documentary filmmaker and friend of the Dahl family, was set to finalize an authorized biography of the beloved author when he found an unexpected source: over 300 letters between Roald Dahl and his best friend, Charles Marsh. In order for Sturrock to have time to factor in the new information (“everything from politics and illness to sex, marriage and why he started writing,” says the Telegraph), the biography’s publication date has been delayed until September 2010. Sturrock won’t reveal how he got the letters.
There is, however, something to look forward to in the near future: Farrar, Straus and Giroux will release More About Boy: Roald Dahl’s Tales from Childhood in September, just days before what would have been the author's 93rd birthday (September 13). The publisher promises that this addendum to Dahl’s classic autobiography, Boy, is a “special keepsake hardcover edition” with “some of the secrets that were left out” from the original. Can’t wait!
Simon & Schuster’s The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington comes out in paperback on September 8. (Read BookPage's review here.)
And of course, the movie version of The Fantastic Mr. Fox, featuring the voices of George Clooney and Meryl Streep, is coming November 13. Click here to watch the trailer.
If you could discover a secret collection of letters from an author, who would it be?
To continue the reminiscing . . . does anyone have a favorite character, book or film adaptation from Dahl’s wacky universe?
Today’s a big day in Harry Potter-land. J.K. Rowling has said in interviews that Harry’s birthday is July 31, and the author’s own birthday is today, too. (She was born July 31, 1965.)
Harry’s birth year is a bit more mysterious. Lifted from FactMonster.com:
“Near the beginning of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone it says that ‘tomorrow, Tuesday, was Harry’s eleventh birthday.’ July 31 doesn't fall on a Tuesday very often. Most readers of that first book assumed that, because it was published in 1997, Harry attended Hogwarts during the 1990s. In 1990, July 31 fell on a Tuesday. This would mean that Harry was born in 1979. . . . But wait—this theory is contradicted by evidence in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, in which Harry helped celebrate Nearly Headless Nick’s deathday anniversary on October 31, 1992. Harry was 12 at that time. So this would mean that Harry was born in 1980.”
BookPage has featured quite a bit of Potter coverage through the years. Here is an interview with actor Jim Dale, the voice of the Harry Potter audio books, a review of Chamber of Secrets (from 1999!), and a feature about Half-Blood Prince.
And just for fun, let’s revisit some of Rowling’s best birthday-themed prose.
From Goblet of Fire:
“Aunt Petunia didn’t know what was hidden under the loose floorboard upstairs. She had no idea that Harry was not following the diet at all… on Harry’s birthday (which the Dursleys had completely ignored) he had received four superb birthday cakes, one each from Ron, Hermione, Hagrid, and Sirius.”
And Chamber of Secrets:
“Harry left through the back door. It was a brilliant, sunny day. He crossed the lawn, slumped down on the garden bench, and sang under his breath: ‘Happy birthday to me… happy birthday to me…’ No cards, no presents, and he would be spending the evening pretending not to exist.”
Anyone have a favorite Harry Potter scene they’d like to share? Or thoughts on the new movie?
It’s a fair proposition. Julie Powell’s Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen (reviewed here in BookPage) was born from a popular blog. The blog-turned-book will garner an even bigger audience next week, when the movie Julie & Julia hits theaters.
The distance Powell’s blog has traveled got me thinking . . . is it really possible to turn a daily blog into a full-fledged book?
Research says yes—although success like Powell’s is unlikely. In October, Hachette Book Group will publish Mrs. O: The Face of Fashion Democracy, by Mary Tomer. Tomer—or “Mrs. T,” as she is known online—is the author of “Mrs. O.”, a popular blog that chronicles the fashion of Michelle Obama. A few years ago, The Feminist Press published Baghdad Burning and Baghdad Burning II, both compilations based on Iraqi blogger Riverbend’s site. The first book went on to win third place for the Ulysses Award for the Art of Reportage. (Disclosure: I once interned at The FP.) Lighter blogs like Stuff White People Like, This is why you're fat, and Bike Snob NYC, have also landed book deals.
Anyone out there know of other successful blogs-to-books? How about ideas for clever blogs (or blog concepts) that might encourage Random House, Penguin, etc. to come knocking?
Joyce Maynard's just-released novel, Labor Day, is drawing kudos from all over. In her review for BookPage, Deborah Donovan calls it "a marvelous read" and she notes, as several other reviewers have, that the book is "perfect for one long sitting." In other words, something about the story is so mesmerizing, so deeply engaging, that you won't want to put it down.
Set in the 1980s, Maynard's novel is part coming-of-age, part love story, part page-turner. The story unfolds over one long weekend as a divorced mother and her 13-year-old son head out for what should be a routine trip to the store and meet a mysterious stranger who will transform both their lives. In an interview with Kirkus, Maynard says, "The story I tell in Labor Day is painful, but it’s hopeful too. And I’m a hopeful person."
The book's hopeful quality is beautifully captured in a stunning cover design that pictures a lush end-of-summer scene viewed through a damp window. Outlined on the surface of the glossy window is the shape of a heart, as if someone had traced it there with a fingertip. Trails of condensation drip down from the heart on the window pane, making the image seem at once both lovely and poignant.
The cover was designed by Mary Schuck, VP/Creative Art Director for HarperCollins, who tells us via email, "This was an important book for us, so we went through many ideas and covers to come up with this. Not to give anything away, but the heart drawn inside a steamy hot summer room seemed like a good way to get at least part of the storyline across." Visual relief was added by using a gloss finish on the window pane, and a matte finish on the heart. "I wanted the pane of glass and water to shine and the drawn heart to look removed by human hands, so that’s why we went with the spot matte on top of gloss," Schuck explains. When we received a copy of the finished book at our office a few days ago, I found the effect eye-catching, and as I suspect many others will, I was drawn to trace the shape of the heart with my own finger on the surface of the cover. As for the author herself, Schuck says, "Joyce loved it. She thought it was a nice surprise."
Enter to win a copy of Labor Day by leaving a comment about a book cover that you love (or loathe) by Tuesday, August 4. If you win, you'll not only be able see this very special book cover for yourself, you'll have the perfect novel to read when Labor Day weekend rolls around.
Tennessee is not at the top of the list when it comes to daring culinary trends, so this may not surprise some of you. But today I learned, via press release, that there is such a thing as vegan ice cream.
On top of that (the fudge on my sundae of surprise, if you will), it has a celebrity spokesperson: "celebrity vegan" Erykah Badu, who loves the concoctions of chef Wheeler del Torro, author of The Vegan Scoop.
Now this vegan ice cream may well be delicious (the Thai Chile flavor mentioned in the press release sounds intriguing). But can you really call something ice cream if it's not, you know, made with actual cream? Or does a "soy and nut milk blend" count? Readers, your opinion is needed.
After two other successful Wilde adaptations, director Oliver Parker and Barnaby Thompson have teamed up to bring Wilde's only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, to the big screen.
For the non-Wilde fans out there, the book tells the story of a young, beautiful man who sells his soul to stay that way. Ben Barnes, aka Prince Caspian, plays Dorian and heads up a cast that includes Colin Firth (as Henry Wotton, Dorian's mentor in debauchery).
So far, the film is slated for a 09.09.09 release in the UK—no US date has been announced. But we Americans can watch the very. dramatic. trailer. and marvel at Colin Firth's beard.
Thanks to EBC for the trailer link.
Most of my TV-watching is done online these days, so maybe it's not surprising that I missed the March premiere of "Castle," a new crime drama that stars Nathan Fillion as best-selling novelist Richard Castle, who teams up with a no-nonsense NYC cop to catch a killer who's copying the crimes from his books.
I was immediately entertained by the opening scene, which found Castle at a party celebrating the upcoming release of his new book, Sharpie at hand to sign the cleavage of his many fans (not like any launch party I've ever been to, but if ABC wants to glamorize publishing, I won't complain). A few minutes later, Castle made what I thought was a throwaway reference to a routine poker night with Patterson and Cannell. Ten minutes later, there they were.
The two writers seemed like naturals in front of the camera and the scene, like the rest of the show, was lighthearted fun. By the end of episode one, Castle has been inspired to write a new series starring a heroine based on, you guessed it, the cop, which allows him to follow her on future cases and lays the ground for the rest of the season. Of course, the focus is more on solving crimes than the nuts and bolts of writing (probably a good thing as far as entertainment value goes) but it's seeing a writer on TV that is, well, novel. (sorry)
You can watch the scene in question, and episodes 1-5 of "Castle," here. Have you seen it? Will you watch?