When I went home to Arkansas in December, conversation on more than one occasion drifted toward the Coen Brothers’ new movie adaptation of Charles Portis’ 1968 novel True Grit, which opens on Christmas Day 2010.
Why are they re-making the film that won John Wayne his only Oscar? Were any locals auditioning for the role of 14-year-old Mattie Ross? Had anyone had a sighting of Portis, the novel’s reclusive author, who lives in Little Rock? And why on earth weren’t the Coens shooting the movie in Yell County, Arkansas, where the novel takes place? (Instead it’s being shot in New Mexico, which has high film incentives.)
For a while we’ve known that Jeff Bridges will be Rooster Cogburn, the U.S. marshal who journeys with Mattie on the search to find her dad’s killer (played by Josh Brolin). Matt Damon will play Texas Ranger La Boeuf. But yesterday, Variety reported that newcomer Hailee Steinfeld has been cast in the all-important role of Mattie, who narrates the novel. Although the John Wayne version plays up the role of Cogburn, the Coens plan to focus on Mattie’s point-of-view in their adaptation.
There’s little information available about Steinfeld online, such as her age or hometown.
True Grit fans: Can you see her as Mattie?
Husband and Wife by Leah Stewart
Harper, May 2010
Sarah and Nathan are just your average American couple: still in love after more than 10 years together, they have a toddler daughter and an infant son; Nathan is a novelist poised for commercial success with the release of his new book, Infidelity. But when Sarah learns that the book isn't all drawn from Nathan's imagination, what they thought they knew about their relationship is called into question.
Leah Stewart (Body of a Girl, The Myth of You & Me) is an acute social observer, and her take on this oldest of stories is worth reading. Told from Sarah's perspective, the novel puts readers in her place and asks them to consider the temptations and trials of a longterm relationship.
"Do you still love me?" I asked, as though I was just now following up on what he'd said as we got in the car. Two hours ago it wouldn't have crossed my mind to ask this question. Now I heard how tremulous my voice sounded when I did. I stared at his profile. The corners of his mouth turned down, as in a child's drawing of a sad face.
"Of course I do," he said, but this time he didn't sound sure, and I said so. "It's just . . ." He shot a look at me, gripped the wheel with both hands. "Sometimes, part of me wishes I didn't."
"What do you mean?"
"I wish I could say I didn't love you, or we were unhappy, or I was in love with her. At least then I'd have a reason for doing what I did."
"Yes," I said. "That would be much better." "You're gazing at me adoringly!" I used to cry, when I caught him looking at me, and he'd deny it, and then I'd insist that he was, that he was freaking me out, and I'd pretend to flee his presence, and he'd chase me and tickle me and fix me with wide eyes, a goofy smile, and say, "I love you, I love you, I love you, you can't get away."
"Let me go!" I'd shriek, laughing and squirming. "Let me go!"
"I'm sorry," he said now. "I don't know what I'm saying. I don't really mean any of that. I love you. I just feel so bad."
I said nothing, though what I wanted to say was, Yes, you love me, you do, and how could you ever for one moment wish that away?
I don't know yet if I'm taking a vacation this summer, but if it happens, Ayelet Waldman's latest will be tucked in my suitcase. Red Hook Road is being published in July 13. It's her first novel since 2006's Love and Other Impossible Pursuits, which interviewer Alden Mudge called "sharply observed, completely absorbing and sometimes wickedly humorous. Like Lionel Shriver and Zoe Heller, Waldman has a gift for creating flawed, and therefore human, characters. You may not always like them, but you root for them.
Red Hook Road sounds a little more dramatic than Love, which centered on the not-so-unusual dilemma of a stepmother struggling to accept her role. In an interview with Amazon, Waldman says that Red Hook Road was inspired by a newspaper story—a young couple, killed in a car crash on their way to their wedding reception. On her twitter feed, she describes it more succinctly: "Abt 2 families in Maine, connected & divided by tragedy and hope. Hey, just pulled that outa my butt. Pretty good!"
On Monday, we’re posting the March print edition of BookPage online—but until then, here’s a preview of a few new books I’m particularly excited about. Best of all, each one comes out today! Browse the summaries below, then head to a bookstore or library. Which book will you read first?
John Banville won the Man Booker Prize for his latest novel, The Sea, and today you can read The Infinities—which BookPage columnist Robert Weibezahl describes as “a glimmering world that hovers between the lives of humans and the manipulations of the playful Olympian gods, exploring deep and ageless themes of love, loss and the meaning of time.” If that doesn’t hook you, how about this: Weibezahl calls Banville a “magical writer” with a “superlative gift for limning the essence of our own humanity in all its ungodly imperfection.” Read a full review of The Infinities.
Embezzlement, murder, blackmail, Celtic myth and a mysterious show woman? These elements come together in Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show, Frank Delaney’s passionate tale of a boy’s coming-of-age in Ireland of 1932. Ben McCarthy must go on a quest to bring his father back from the circus, where he’s escaped to fall in love with Venetia Kelly. Delaney weaves Ben’s personal tale with Irish history—and the result is an “inventive, amazing work” writes Arlene McKanic in BookPage. Read a full review of Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show.
Elaine Beale’s Another Life Altogether has been regarded as a debut, although the author did publish a murder mystery in 1997 (now out of print). In any case, I’m glad that Beale is back. Her new novel deals with psychological development, the challenges of fitting in as a teen and a quirky family; it’s a worthy story filled with action and emotional drama. Read a full review of Another Life Altogether.
Any other recent releases you can't wait to read?
This just in: our galley copy of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, which is being released in the U.S. on May 25.
I still think it was silly of Knopf to wait so long to release Hornet (why punish the first, and probably most loyal, fans of the series? not to mention, the below screen cap suggests there were more than a few sales lost to ebooks, the UK edition and illegal downloads) but it has made the release of the finale an anticipated event.
The girl on the guerney could live with a piece of lead in her hip and a piece of lead in her shoulder. But a piece of lead inside her brain was a trauma of a whole different magnitude. He was suddenly aware of the nurse saying something.
"Sorry, I wasn't listening."
"What do you mean?"
"It's Lisbeth Salander. The girl they've been hunting for the past few weeks, for the triple murder in Stockholm."
Jonasson looked again at the unconscious patient's face. He realized at once that the nurse was right. He and the whole of Sweden had seen Salander's passport photograph on billboards outside every newspaper kiosk for weeks. And now the murderer herself had been shot, which was surely poetic justice of a sort.
But that was not his concern. His job was to save his patient's life, irrespective of whether she was a triple murderer or a Nobel Prize winner. Or both.
Are you counting the days until May 25?
There's a new trend in covers these days: bicycles! Is it the environmental movement? The growing popularity of steampunk? Who knows; as someone who rides a bike more often than your average citizen (it's fun, I promise!) I'm happy to see it.
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More are on the way this spring: Roddy Doyle's The Dead Republic (April), the long-awaited final volume of the Henry Smart trilogy that began in 1999 with A Star Called Henry; and Emily Winslow's The Whole World (June), an anticipated debut that is being compared to Kate Atkinson's Case Histories.
Tell me about your favorite bicyclist hero/heroine—or, if you can't think of one, your first bike—in the comments, and you'll be entered to win a copy of The Manual of Detection. ETA: Contest closed.
Maybe I’ve been living under a rock, but last week was the first I’d heard of NPR’s “My Guilty Pleasure” series on All Things Considered, in which “writers talk about the books they love but are embarrassed to be seen reading.” The series has been airing since May 27, 2009, and you can listen to archives here.
A few highlights: Kate Christensen (author of Trouble) likens reading Janet Evanovich to eating Twinkies. Lizzie Skurnick (author of Shelf Discovery) loves Peter Benchley’s Jaws, which she calls “Peyton Place by the sea.” David Sax (author of Save the Deli: In Search of Perfect Pastrami, Crusty Rye, and the Heart of Jewish Delicatessen) can’t get enough of Eat, Pray, Love—also known as “a scented candle of new age wisdom.”
No surprise here, but “My Guilty Pleasure” has me thinking about my own guilty reading pleasure. My philosophy is that reading should never inspire guilt, but a particular series does come to mind: Anyone ever race through Jean M. Auel's 1980 novel Clan of the Cave Bear? What about under your desk during chemistry class? Let’s just say that, in the words of my grandmother, this pre-historical novel includes a lot of “R.” And as a high-schooler, I loved it—although I’d blush if anyone asked what I was reading.
What book do you love, but you’re embarrassed to be seen reading? Spill all in the comments.
Related in BookPage: Read an interview with Evanovich, a hand-written Q&A with Benchley, an interview with Skurnick or an interview with Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert.
The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc. announced the Nebula Award Nominees today. The awards celebrate—you guessed it—the best in science fiction and fantasy writing. The Awards honor a short story, novelette, novel, YA book and movie. View the complete list of nominees here. Click the highlighted titles below to read reviews on BookPage.com.
Best Novel nominees:
The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi (Nightshade)
The Love We Share Without Knowing by Christopher Barzak (Bantam)
Flesh and Fire by Laura Anne Gilman (Pocket)
The City & The City by China Mieville (Del Rey)
Boneshaker by Cherie Priest (Tor)
Finch by Jeff VanderMeer (Underland Press)
Hotel Under the Sand by Kage Baker (Tachyon)
Ice by Sarah Beth Durst (Simon and Schuster)
Ash by Malinda Lo (Little, Brown and Company)
Eyes Like Stars by Lisa Mantchev (Feiwel and Friends)
Zoe’s Tale by John Scalzi (Tor)
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (Wendy Lamb Books)
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In A Ship Of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente (Catherynne M. Valente)
Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld (Simon)
Any one else surprised that Newbery Medal winner When You Reach Me is on that list? Time travel is certainly an important element of the plot, but I never would have placed the book in the fantasy genre. (Although Stead does repeatedly refer to A Wrinkle in Time, which is probably one of the most beloved YA fantasy books of all time.)
Do any of our Sci-Fi fans have award predictions?
Readers these days have an insatiable desire for the undead. Luckily, authors seem to be equally fascinated. The latest to succumb: Karen Essex, a historical fiction author who made a name for herself telling the story of the Egyptian Queen in Kleopatra (read Essex's behind the book story about Kleopatra) and had a bestseller in 2008 with Stealing Athena.
Essex's August 2010 release, provocatively titled Dracula in Love, is the imagined diary of Mina Harker, the woman who escaped the vamp's clutches—but not before he got a taste of her blood. Essex has been researching the book, and the Victorian Gothic sensibility, for the last few years—her blog has lots of details, including a post on a visit to Highgate Cemetery (where a particularly memorable scene in Dracula was set—as well as Audrey Niffenegger's latest novel).
But Essex isn't the only one to find this topic intriguing: Syrie James, who previously wrote The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte, is also publishing, you guessed it, The Secret Diaries of Mina Harker (Avon). In August!
And those are just the two books about Mina Harker and Dracula. May brings a new Sookie Stackhouse mystery from Charlaine Harris; June, the anticipated vampire/apocalyptic novel The Passage by Justin Cronin (see an earlier post on Cronin here) . . . shall I go on? Eternal life might come in handy if you want to read all of these!
ETA: just found a related post from NPR -- if you want a comprehensive vampire reading list, this is it.
I have a confession that will probably embarrass my co-workers: I loved Avatar. Yes, there were holes in the plot. And yes, I thought it was predictably annoying that a white guy had to swoop in and save the natives on Pandora. (Haven’t seen the movie and need a summary?)
Throughout the nearly-three-hour movie, though, I watched with my jaw dropped, enraptured by the vibrant colors and awesome plants and animals of Pandora. I completely bought the love story between Jake and Neytiri, and I liked the environmental parable of the story. To tell you the truth, I don’t think I’ve ever been so engrossed in a movie before, and I might even have suffered from some post-Avatar blues after I returned to regular ole’ Earth.
So, I read with great interest when the news broke that director/writer James Cameron is planning to write an Avatar prequel. The book will not be a “novelization” (a.k.a. summary) of the movie, but rather a “big, epic story that fills in a lot of things,” according to producer Jon Landau. The prequel will be Cameron's first book.
Many reviewers have noted that Avatar’s weak link is the clunky/predictable dialogue (“we’ll fight terror with terror,” “you have a good heart,” etc.), and as the New York Times ArtsBeat blog points out, of the nine Academy Awards nominations Avatar has received, none is for best original screenplay. Are there enough fans out there who’ll overlook Cameron’s shortcomings as a writer, and focus on his ability to transport us to another world?
Since Avatar’s success rests largely on its incredible visuals, I wonder why Cameron’s not choosing to go the graphic novel route with the prequel. What do you think, Avatar fans? Will Cameron’s book be filled with cringe-worthy dialogue and a loose plot? Or will it be a welcome ticket back to Pandora?
If you’ve got a need for fantasy and waiting for Avatar just won’t cut it, check out our February Sci-Fi column on BookPage.com.