Natural disasters force us to think about man vs. nature, a conflict that is no doubt in many of our minds as we watch devastating footage from Haiti.
Considering this, I attended historian Jeffrey Jackson’s talk at Davis-Kidd Booksellers in Nashville with great interest. Jackson’s latest book (published January 5 by Palgrave Macmillan) is titled Paris Under Water: How the City of Light Survived the Great Flood of 1910.
The Flood of 1910 is fascinating because it has long existed, in the words of Jackson, “in the realm of myth and legend.” The author argues that because the flood occurred in 1910—between the Dreyfus affair (a political scandal that divided France) and World War I—it has faded into the background of more prominent historical events.
Most Parisians’ knowledge of the Flood is based on postcard images, which remain collectable. According to Jackson, prior to his publication there was only one book on the event—a picture book from 1997—although families do pass down stories of how their ancestors dealt with the rising waters. Jackson explained: “[The Flood] is not totally forgotten, but not totally remembered.”
In Paris Under Water, Jackson explores how communities came together and, against all odds, saved Paris in the midst of collapsing infrastructure, looters and failed electricity and public transportation. Although media images from natural disasters typically represent chaos, Jackson explained that in uncontrollable, dangerous situations “people generally pull together. . . collaborate to save themselves.”
Although he promises no bullet-pointed list of “what to do in a disaster,” Jackson did say that his research has made him think about “how and why communities are viable, how communities form.”
Read Jackson’s book for yourself to learn why the Great Flood of 1910 was a “perfect storm situation,” and how Parisians triumphed over nature to save the city they loved. This book has contemporary relevance and incredible detail. For a preview, visit Jackson’s website: Paris Under Water.
Anyone interested in urban planning, disaster relief or French history would enjoy Paris Under Water — and lucky for you, we’re giving away an AUTOGRAPHED copy. Respond by Wednesday for a chance to win: What is your favorite work of nonfiction?
For another take on what happens after natural disaster, read journalist Jed Horne’s behind-the-book essay on Breach of Faith: Hurricane Katrina and the Near Death of a Great American City.
A new release from Pulitzer Prize winner Jane Smiley is always a big deal, and Private Life, her first novel since 2007's Ten Days in the Hills, is no exception. The book, which will be published by Knopf on May 4, is a departure from Smiley's previous work—it's historical, a sweeping saga that spans the life of an American woman, from the 1880s to World War II.
Margaret Mayfield marries late, but she also marries up: Captain Andrew Jackson Jefferson Early is an influential person in their small Missouri town, one who is a military officer and a brilliant scientist/astronomer. Though Margaret realizes soon after their marriage that Andrew is more interested in his work than his wife, they stay together—until the start of World War II reveals a dark side to her husband's scientific work.
Will you be reading?
The Solitude of Prime Numbers, by Paolo Giordano, has sold more than 1 million copies in Italy, and Pamela Dorman—the force behind The Secret Life of Bees and Saving CeeCee Honeycutt—snagged the American rights for her eponymous imprint at Viking. After hearing all the buzz about this debut, which was penned by a 27-year-old physicist, I had to take a sneak peek. And folks: this one’s going to be good. I casually started reading before bed last night, and ended up waking up early to squeeze in some more pages. All I’ll say is that the opening chapters include a disaster on a ski slope and a REALLY bad decision in a park. And good news for everyone: Solitude is not really an April release, although we’ll cover it in our April issue. The pub date is March 18.
In 2000, Connie May Fowler told us that the world becomes a clearer place with stories, which are filled with magic and might. We’re hoping that her latest story, How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly, will live up to that lofty description. About an unexpected midlife awakening, we predict that How Clarissa will be a perfect pick for your book club. Read it on April 2.
Sue Miller’s 2003 memoir, The Story of My Father, was billed in BookPage as being “impossible to adequately praise.” We hope The Lake Shore Limited, her first novel since the bestseller The Senator’s Wife, will also blow us away. The novel is publicized as a “tour de force about the dislocations wrought in our lives by accidents of fate and time,” and in this case, the accident is a terrorist bombing of a train. Miller is a BookPage favorite, so we have high expectations for this April 6 release.
If you think it’s unfair for us to tease you with books that are coming out in two months, revisit some of our older posts about upcoming titles. The January books we previewed in August are out now. February books are coming soon (click here and here for previews). And March books are about a month away.
Which book are you most excited about?
Stay tuned for an April nonfiction preview. . .
For Outlander fans, this week brought good news and bad news. First, the good news: Last week, Diana Gabaldon sold the 8th book in the saga to her current publisher Delacorte. Bad news: The new book won't be published until 2013. But then, Gabaldon fans are used to waiting four years for a new installment. 600 pages weren't written in a day, after all. In an interview last fall, Gabaldon gave BookPage a peek into her writing process:
“I don’t write with an outline. In fact, I don’t write in a straight line. I write when I can see things happening. What I need on any given day to start writing is what I call a kernel. A line of dialogue, an emotional ambience, anything I can sense very concretely. I write very painstakingly in these little disconnected bits. But as I write these disconnected pieces, and I continue doing research and of course thinking about the book all the time, they begin to stick together. They develop little connections." (read the rest of the interview)
Author photo © Jennifer Watkins
If you read James Frey's much-contested memoir, A Million Little Pieces, or his followup novel, Bright Shiny Morning, and thought to yourself, This guy should be writing young adult books!—well, you were way ahead of me. But indeed, Frey and a co-writer, Jobie Hughes, signed a deal last summer with HarperCollins for their young adult science fiction novel I Am Number Four, the first in a projected six-book series.
Dreamworks immediately snapped up the film rights to I Am Number Four, which won't hit bookstores until this fall, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Initial reports named Michael Bay as a potential director, but the latest news is that D.J. Caruso, of Disturbia and Eagle Eye fame, has signed on to direct. (Bay will still produce the film.)
According to the New York Times, I Am Number Four is about "a group of nine alien teenagers on a planet called Lorien, which is attacked by a hostile race from another planet. The nine and their guardians evacuate to Earth, where three are killed. The protagonist, a Lorien boy named John Smith, hides in Paradise, Ohio, disguised as a human, trying to evade his predators and knowing he is next on their list."
What do you think about Frey's latest project? Why do you think he made the jump to the YA market? Are you looking forward to the book or the movie—or both?
Three months before the April 13 release date, the cover for Yann Martel's second novel has been revealed! And so, a monkey and a donkey in the desert take the place of a boy and a tiger on a life raft. Now, if we could only get galleys! (via)
Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane
With a movie adaptation set to hit theaters in just a month, now felt like the right time to finally read Dennis Lehane's best-selling suspense novel, Shutter Island. Nothing creeps me out more than something set in a mental institution, and this novel was no exception. It's 1954, and Federal Marshal Teddy Daniels and his partner have been sent to an island insane asylum to find a missing patient. But when a storm sets in and the doctors start acting suspicious, Teddy begins to question his mission—and his sanity.
"Beyond the wall, that way"—he pointed past Ward B—"is the original commander's quarters. You probably saw it on the walk up. Cost a fortune to build at the time, and the commander was relieved of his duties when Uncle Sam got the bill. You should see the place."
"Who lives there now?" Teddy said.
"Dr. Cawley," McPherson said. "None of this would exist if it weren't for Dr. Cawley. And the warden. They created something really unique here."
They'd looped around the back of the compound, met more manacled gardeners and orderlies, many hoeing a dark loam against the rear wall. One of the gardeners, a middle-aged woman with wispy wheat hair gone almost bald on top, stared at Teddy as he passed, and then raised a single finger to her lips. Teddy noticed a dark red scar, thick as licorice, that ran across her throat.
Related in BookPage: our interview with Lehane for The Given Day.
After the jump, you can watch the trailer for Martin Scorcese's adaptation Shutter Island—like the novel, it's guaranteed to give you the creeps!
One of the more anticipated novels of the year just hit the BookPage offices, and so far it more than justifies the hype. Justin Cronin's The Passage was inspired by his 9-year-old daughter—she asked him to write a novel about a girl who saved the world. Four years later, Cronin, known for his quiet literary works, had completed a 700-page manuscript that was the talk of the 2007 Frankfurt Book Fair and sold for $3 million.
Layered and complex, The Passage is the type of vividly imagined book that really draws readers in. Cronin is able to make characters who only appear on 10 pages as alive as his main characters, and in the novel's first 100 pages he has set the stage for what promises to be an epic saga: a young girl is abandoned; a scientific team on an expedition in South America discovers a mysterious, deadly virus; a death row inmate is released and transported to a secret location by a military operative for experimentation.
The story begins like this:
Before she became the Girl from Nowhere—the One Who Walked In, the First and Last and Only, who lived a thousand years—she was just a little girl in Iowa, named Amy. Amy Harper Bellafonte.
The day Amy was born, her mother, Jeannette, was nineteen years old. Jeannette named her baby Amy for her own mother, who'd died when Jeannette was little, and gave her the middle name Harper for Harper Lee, the lady who'd written To Kill a Mockingbird—truth be told, the only book she'd made it all the way through in high school. She might have named her Scout, after the little girl in the story, because she wanted her little girl to grow up like that, tough and funny and wise, in a way that she, Jeannette, had never managed to be. But Scout was a name for a boy, and she didn't want her daughter to have to go around explaining something like that.
There are a few narrators that stick out in my mind as being foundational personalities in my tween identity: Claudia Kincaid, Meg Murry, Vicky Austin, Polly O'Keefe, Margaret Simon, Harriet Welsch, Sal Hiddle. . . the list goes on.
When I recently finished Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me, the winner of the 2010 Newbery Medal, I felt like I had met a girl who deserves a spot on that list of superstars: Miranda, the spirited protagonist of Stead’s novel, named for both Miranda warnings and Miranda of “The Tempest.” Miranda is a natural fit between Claudia (From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler) and Meg (A Wrinkle in Time). She is savvy on the streets of New York City, curious, thoughtful—but not without a bit of attitude, interested in time travel.
Her story takes place in the late 1970s, but young readers today will identify with her life. When the novel beings, Miranda is helping her single mom, a paralegal who wears funky tights and blue nail polish, study to win big on “The $20,000 Pyramid.” In an opening funny moment, Miranda explains that she’s creating study guides for her mom “instead of watching after-school TV, which is a birthright of every latchkey child.”
Over the course of Stead’s 200-page middle-grade novel, Miranda deals with changing friendships, bullying, racial prejudice directed toward a classmate, a first crush, different income levels within her school—all while solving a mystery that could save her friend’s life. There are clues sprinkled throughout the book, not least of all Miranda’s love for A Wrinkle in Time, which she carries around and reads compulsively.
In a review for BookPage, Dean Schneider summed up the merits of When You Reach Me: “What could be better: a great setting, believable characters and a mystery deftly woven by a fine writer.” He couldn’t be more right. Read the book and see for yourself.
What characters will you always remember from childhood favorites?
One of the more interesting literary stories floating around the blogosphere these days comes from France, where two of the country's most respected female authors are once again disputing a charge of plagiarism in the public eye.
Back in 2007, Camille Laurens accused Marie Darrieussecq of taking elements from her 1995 book, Phillipe, inspired by the death of her newborn son, to write the novel Tom est mort, about a grieving mother who loses a child. Though only one sentence from the two works was actually identical, according to Laurens, Darrieussecq was guilty of not just plagiarism but "psychological plagiarism" (plagiat psychique). In her turn, Darrieussecq said Laurens was trying to "assassinate" her.
For the next year, the two traded highbrow insults and accusations: charges of plagiarism against Darrieussecq from 1998 resurfaced; Laurens was said to be jealous of the younger writer's success; their shared editor, Paul Otchakovsky, dropped Laurens.
The two authors both have books out this month that prove neither is ready to forgive and forget. Darrieussecq's is not the expected novel: Rapport de police (Police report) is a treatise on plagiarism, which she claims comes from the secret desire of the plagiarist to be plagiarised themselves. In interviews with the French press, she calls Laurens insolent "to imagine herself as the center of my novel, to think that I had written the book thinking of her and not my mother" and says the accusation came from the Freudian desire to be the only "child" of Otchakovsky.
Laurens' new book, Romance nerveuse, doesn't necessarily disprove that: it's a thinly veiled account of the entire incident that places huge emphasis on the emotional devastation of the writer dropped by her editor.
A recent piece in the Guardian reminds us that literary feuds are nothing new. But to me, literary feuds couched in the language of philosophy and psychoanalysis seem uniquely French.