This morning we posted in the News section of our website that Colum McCann’s novel Let the Great World Spin won the National Book Award for fiction. We predicted that this title would be the winner, not least of all because of Robert Weibezahl’s rave review in our Well Read column – although McCann has long been a favorite of BookPage. If the National Book Award has piqued your interest in this talented novelist, you might enjoy some of his prior works, too.
Dancer, from 2002, is a “glittering biographical novel,” according to reviewer Julie Hale. McCann “tells the story of Rudolf Nureyev, one of the 20th century's greatest ballet dancers and an international star done in by his own decadent lifestyle.”
This Side of Brightness, a story about a man's struggle to raise a family in New York City, demonstrates McCann’s talent to create “lyrical prose that is both refined and urbane,” writes Charles Wyrick. “McCann addresses the big issues of race, love, and time with a literary majesty that completely befits the nature and scope of this family epic. His tone as novelist is a wonderful reminder of the self-assured poetics of his shorter fiction, yet now even more of a literary treat as he traces out his tale through the vicissitudes of time.”
Wyrick also praises McCann’s short story collection, Fishing the Sloe-Black River: “McCann is a master at making his language float about whatever subject or object he has chosen to describe. In his stories his vocabulary slips easily from the archaic to the profane, proving him to be much more than a literary stuffed shirt. McCann's strong knowledge of words is only out done by his even stronger sense of the way words sound. Whether expressing dialect or trying to evoke the emotion of a certain exchange, one cannot help but admire the way McCann's dialogues draw out sounds. The stories of Fishing the Sloe-Back River are a wonderful testament to a writer with an incredible ear for language.”
We also recommend that you check out Zoli, a novel about an exotic singer and poet. The story is based on a real-life Gypsy poet, and McCann enriches “that story with insightful and evocative prose,” writes Deborah Donovan. In Zoli, McCann creates “a vibrant character who is able to maintain her identity and proud heritage, even when abandoned by those she loves.”
Will you be reading any of these books? Also, what is your favorite novel by Colum McCann?
Thanksgiving is nearly a week away, and if you know little ones who love to read, there are many picture books that will help them celebrate the holiday. A couple releases from this year include Jacqueline Jules’ Duck for Turkey Day and Laurie Friedman’s Thanksgiving Rules.
Duck for Turkey Day is about Tuyet, a Vietnamese-American girl in elementary school, who longs for her family to have a traditional Thanksgiving meal (instead, they eat duck). Tuyet ultimately learns that turkey is the least important part of Thanksgiving “as long as you have a good time with family and friends.”
Thanksgiving Rules is a hilarious guide to getting to the Thanksgiving buffet as fast as possible (“After you’re done cleaning, I’m sure you’ll want to EAT. But you can’t do that just yet. First, you have to greet.”)
Full reviews are below the jump, complete with a trailer of Duck for Turkey Day and a podcast with Laurie Friedman.
At BookPage, we have a copy of Thanksgiving Rules. We think a read-a-loud from Friedman’s book would make a great Thanksgiving Day activity, and we’ll choose a commenter at random to get their own copy.
For a chance to win, answer this question in the comments: What book are you thankful for? We'll announce a winner tomorrow afternoon.
The many ways of giving thanks
In these two Thanksgiving-themed picture books, children learn about multicultural holiday traditions, the rules for getting the most out of your meal and the most important Thanksgiving lesson of all: It’s who you spend it with that matters.
Duck for Turkey Day
By Jacqueline Jules
Albert Whitman & Company, $16.99, 32 pages, ages 4-8
The menu’s not important
From feasts on sitcoms to advertisements in magazines, the image of a “traditional” Thanksgiving meal is everywhere this time of year. There is no doubt about what that meal entails: dressing, cranberries, green beans, pumpkin pie – and most important of all, turkey.
But what if your family doesn’t eat turkey on Thanksgiving? Is it still Thanksgiving?
In Duck for Turkey Day, Jacqueline Jules thoughtfully addresses this topic by way of Tuyet, a young Vietnamese-American girl who is troubled by her family’s unconventional Thanksgiving menu. Tuyet has happily participated in all the requisite Thanksgiving school activities – learned about Pilgrims and Native Americans, made a turkey out of a pinecone – and she’s upset that her family’s tradition veers from the norm.
Tuyet nearly bursts into tears on her classroom’s “story rug” after the holiday weekend; she’s embarrassed to share that her family ate duck . . . that is, until she hears what her classmates had to eat: lamb, enchiladas, even tofu turkey. Tuyet’s teacher explains that turkey is the least important part of Thanksgiving, “as long as you have a good time with family and friends.”
Kathryn Miller’s colorful illustrations realistically portray Tuyet’s range of emotions as she grapples with being different on the most American of holidays. And Jules, who has written 14 children’s books, will convince any child that her family’s traditions have a place in our multicultural nation.
By Laurie Friedman
Carolrhoda Books, $16.95, 32 pages, ages 4-8
A kid’s guide to Thanksgiving
Percy Isaac Gifford, the precocious young narrator in Laurie Friedman’s Thanksgiving Rules, knows the secrets to stuffing yourself on Turkey Day: get dressed (in whatever clothes Mom wants); help clean up the house; be nice to your family . . . and then you get to eat! Percy explains these rules in hilarious, energetic rhymes (“After you’re done cleaning, I’m sure you’ll want to EAT. But you can’t do that just yet. First, you have to greet.”). Teresa Murfin’s wonderful illustrations of turkey, pie and Percy’s large family will keep any young reader alert as they bounce along to the story’s climax – the moment of approaching the Thanksgiving buffet.
For some, Thanksgiving has a reputation of being a tedious obligation filled with strained family reunions and mediocre mincemeat, but you wouldn’t know it from Friedman’s guide to enjoying the holiday. And although food is the main event for Percy Isaac Gifford, there are plenty of small lessons squeezed into this delicious story. Percy explains that appreciating your family – especially the ones who prepared your feast – is a “big deal.” Although he wants to give his family members a giant hug after the meal, Percy gives everyone a “light peck on the cheek” to prevent the overeaters from exploding – and shows us how fun it can be to give thanks with loved ones.
Watch the YouTube trailer of Duck for Turkey Day:
Listen to a podcast with Laurie Friedman, author of Thanksgiving Rules.
Related in BookPage: "A harvest of thankful books."
Sex and the City fans have more to look forward to than “Sex and the City 2” (in theaters May 28, 2010). On April 27, Candace Bushnell’s Sex and the City prequel, The Carrie Diaries (part 1 of 2) will hit shelves. The cover was revealed yesterday.
Whereas Bushnell’s original Sex and the City—published in 1996, two years before we ever saw Sarah Jessica Parker swoon over Mr. Big—was an adult novel based on Bushnell's columns in The New York Observor, The Carrie Diaries are being published by HarperCollins’ kids imprint Balzer + Bray (the novel is for teens 14 & up, according to the pub info). The diary will chronicle Carrie’s high school years.
In a statement from HarperCollins, Bushnell said, “I’ve always been interested in exploring Carrie's teenage years. . . Carrie in high school did not follow the crowd—she led it. It was there that she began observing and commenting on the social scene.”
The cover art is supposedly related to an incident with Carrie’s mother. Any predictions?
Related in BookPage: a handwritten interview with Candace Bushnell.
True Confections by Katharine Weber
January 2010, Crown Publishing Group
In the form of an affidavit, narrator Alice Tatnall Ziplinsky (formerly known as “Arson Girl”) chronicles the history – the good, the ugly and the absurd – of her family-by-marriage’s candy company.
“Candy makes people happy,” Sam used to say as a way of summing up and moving the conversation past a challenging moment, “and I make candy. So my business is to make people happy. Who could ask for anything better?”
Zip’s Candies might make people happy, but it doesn’t make the Ziplinskys happy. I take peculiar solace in finding myself part of a great American tradition of troubled candy families. At an awards dinner during a candy and snack show in Atlanta last year, an inebriated vendor told me fascinating details of two Mars family divorces, which make my situation seem like a piece of cake. And let us reflect for a moment on Hart Crane’s suicidal leap into the sea from a ship sailing between Havana and Florida at age thirty-three, in 1932. His father, Clarence, had invented Life Savers candy twenty years before, inspired by the recent innovation of round flotation lifesaving rings on ships.
Related in BookPage: Katharine Weber writes a behind-the-book essay about Triangle, her fourth novel.
What are you reading today?
Instead of egg and pasta salads, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the kids, tables were stocked with SunButter (peanut butter substitute made from sunflower seeds), Caramel and Apple Bars, and soft Snickerdoodle Cookies (dairy, gluten, wheat, nuts, tree nuts, soy, egg, fish and shellfish free). Other tables were staffed by EpiPen employees, and allergists filtered through the crowd talking to their patients, getting to know these families.
So what was I doing there? A writer without any family members with food allergies?
I was meeting my characters.
When I wrote Matters of Faith I didn't know anyone with food allergies, and I relied on medical research and empathy to imagine what a family dealing with them goes through. Though an adverse reaction figures prominently in the plot, I didn't set out to write a book about food allergies, I simply wrote a book about a family. But once it was published, the reader mail I received was frequently from mothers of food allergic children thanking me for presenting a realistic, if terrifying, possibility that they had to live with every day.
Most surprising and gratifying was that many of them gave the book as a gift to family members, friends and acquaintances in order to help educate them about how serious food allergies can be.
Over the last year I've met many of these families, and on that Saturday in November I was the Honorary Chair of the Tampa FAAN Walk. Copies of Matters of Faith were raffled off, and I signed them to people very much like the Tobias family in the book.
It was a humbling and exhilarating day. I am filled with admiration for these families and thank them deeply for sharing such an important event with me.
One of the first big releases of January 2010 is Elizabeth Kostova's follow-up to her hit debut, The Historian, a literary vampire story that topped bestseller lists in the summer of 2005. Her new novel, The Swan Thieves, is a tale of love, obsession and art that, like The Historian, goes backward and forward in time to unravel a mystery. We asked Kostova a few questions about the book as a teaser for fans--and a preview of our full-length BookPage interview coming in January.
What elements in The Swan Thieves will most appeal to fans of The Historian?
I think readers who enjoyed The Historian will probably enjoy the mix of historical and contemporary settings in The Swan Thieves, as well as the travel to France and through time.
Impressionist art is frequently referenced in books (yours!) and films (Amelie), and probably adorns 8 out of 10 dorm room walls. What is it about these artists that continues to speak to people today?
I think we still look at and love the Impressionists because they capture something about nature that is both vivid and idealized. As we watch the destruction of natural beauty in our world, we probably value these images in a new and piercing way. I think it's also important to note that many people are understandably sick of Impressionist art from sheer over-exposure to it, and because in reproduction it radiates a certain prettiness. Looking closely at an original Impressionist masterwork is still a radical experience, and very different from looking at a notecard or tote bag.
The mystery of The Swan Thieves revolves around a 19th-century female artist, and the sacrifices women in particular must make to pursue art. Is there a real-life artist who inspired this character?
Beatrice de Clerval is not based on a single real artist, but in developing her I was inspired by the life of Berthe Morisot, one of the six original exhibiting Impressionists, a dedicated and very gifted painter who also protected the conventions of her social and family life.
Who is your favorite character in the new novel, and why?
I think I'm fondest of Andrew Marlow, because he changes the most over the course of the book. I feel very close to him in his struggles to figure out who he is, and I like the way he evolves from vanity to love--rather as Professor Rossi does in The Historian.
How was writing this book different from writing The Historian?
In writing The Swan Thieves, I had to move away from using the models of Victorian literature and into something more exactly fitting my story in terms of language and structure. I also wrote it in large swathes, as different episodes became vivid for me, and then rearranged these in the editing, rather than writing straight through from beginning to end as I did with The Historian. I learned a tremendous amount from writing The Swan Thieves and it is a deeply felt book, for me.
We’ve seen fictionalized Emily Dickinson; members of the Tudor court; and more Jane Austen spin-offs than I can count (Austenland, The Jane Austen Book Club and Jane Austen Ruined My Life, for starters -- not to mention Mr. Darcy’s Daughters, Darcy’s Passions, and Darcy & Elizabeth: Nights and Days at Pemberley). I’m intrigued by a new historical novel about a character I haven’t thought about since 10th grade English class: Hester Prynne.
You may remember that at the end of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Dimmesdale had died and Hester and her daughter, Pearl, had left Boston. Many years later, Hester returns alone and Pearl (presumably) lives happily ever after as a wealthy lady (on account of her inheritance from Chillingworth). . . until now.
In Hester, by Paula Reed, the title character moves to England and falls in with Oliver Cromwell. Hester is “entangled in a web of political intrigue, espionage, and forbidden love” as she is forced to help Cromwell in his scheming – or risk a death sentence.
The novel will come out on February 16, 2010, although you can read an excerpt now on Reed’s website.
Which classic literary hero or heroine would you like to see in a contemporary novel? (Or do you think spin-offs ruin the original?)
A couple weeks ago I blogged about upcoming movies based on books. In anticipation of the film adaptation of Fantastic Mr. Fox (the movie is currently out in limited release – it won’t make it to Nashville until November 25), I enjoyed watching an interview about children’s literature and childhood reading with Jason Schwartzman. In Fantastic Mr. Fox, Schwartzman voices Ash Fox, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Fox (a new character that did not appear in the original book). The interview was hosted by Read Kiddo Read, James Patterson’s website that promotes kids’ reading.
In the interview, Schwartzman talks about his favorite books from childhood – The Phantom Tollbooth, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles. Although he loved to read, Schwartzman says he was a slow reader himself. “Reading is a hard thing to learn, and the only way you can get better is by reading,” he said.
Schwartzman also discusses the popularity of Roald Dahl (whom we blogged about in August). In his books, “there is an element of mystery and some darkness – but it’s real," he said. "Kids are intrigued by adventure. With all adventure, there is an element of danger. If there was no danger, there would be no adventure, it’d just be a vacation.”
When asked about playing an animal, Schwartzman said that he did the “human side” of the character and let the animators “do the foxing.” He identified with Ash’s struggles: “feeling littler than the rest, not having many friends, getting pushed around by bullies, liking girls who don’t like him back. . . All of that is part of my experience in my own life.”
Watch the interview below the jump. And tell us: What’s your favorite Roald Dahl book? My favorite has to be Dahl’s autobiography, Boy.
Twlight author Stephenie Meyer appeared on Oprah last Friday, and she answered a question backstage that may leave some fans disappointed. An Oprah Winfrey Show staffer asked if she’d be writing a fifth Twlight book (Oprah didn’t have time to ask the question on air), and Meyer answered:
I am a little burned out on vampires right now. . . I think I need a little break. I might go spend some time with my aliens. I might do something completely different. I’ve got to cleanse the palate. I may come back to it. I did envision it as a longer series. But I wrapped Breaking Dawn in a way that I felt satisfied with, so if that moment didn’t come, I’d be okay.
Will any readers be lining up to see New Moon on Friday? Do you hope that Meyer will change her mind about revisiting Bella and Edward?
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