We read with interest Nicholas Kristof's column on the importance of summer reading for children—and plenty of other people did, too. The column rose to the top of the most viewed list at nytimes.com. But surely we won’t be the only ones to question Kristof’s reading recommendations. Almost every book on the list was published decades ago (the two exceptions being Harry Potter and the Alex Rider series). Among Kristof's picks for summer reading were the Hardy Boys, Freddy the Pig and Little Lord Fauntleroy. That’s like telling my teenage son to go see a movie, and suggesting that he choose between Gone With the Wind and The Philadelphia Story. Great films, no doubt, but not as likely to interest kids as a well-done recent release.
We all love the classics, but aren’t there plenty of newer books that would hold the attention of children—and teach them a little something as well? Of course there are, and The Book Case is here to prove it! For technical support, we asked husband-and-wife children’s book experts Dean Schneider (a recent Newbery selection committee member) and Robin Smith (an upcoming Caldecott committee member) for quick, off-the-top-of-their-heads recommendations of a few recent children’s books worth reading.
The US/UK jackets for Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol were released today. What do you think? Will you be scouring the cover for "clues" to the book's content, or are you happy to wait until the novel's release?
For those of you who can't read the fine print/details on the US jacket, this red wax seal includes the image of a Phoenix, the number 33, and the Latin phrase, "Ordo ae Chao," (Order from chaos). But what does it mean?!? Apparently if you follow Brown on Twitter (@lostsymbolbook) or Facebook, you too can devote your summer to piecing together clues about the plot of his long-awaited book. Or you can just wait until September 15. I figure with a 6.5 million print run, there will be enough copies to go around.
And now, I'll leave you with a link to a clip from the "Today Show," where Matt Lauer shows the Lost Symbol cover and describes Brown as an author whose books are "pretty well read." You could say that, Matt.
I've said it before and I'll say it again—we get a lot of mail at BookPage! So when something interesting arrives (and that can really mean anything, depending on the day) we take notice. Case and point—this mysterious and intriguing postcard that arrived last week from Random House.
The back of the postcard simply says:
HOMER & LANGLEY
Random House September 2009
Even though the postcard doesn’t say much—if anything—about the book, it’s a really clever idea to get people interested in Doctorow’s latest novel. If we weren’t already reviewing it in our September issue, I would have definitely gone online to look for more info. And speaking of more info, here is a brief summary, from the publisher:
Homer and Langley Collyer are brothers—the one blind and deeply intuitive, the other damaged into madness, or perhaps greatness, by mustard gas in the Great War. They live as recluses in their once grand Fifth Avenue mansion, scavenging the city streets for things they think they can use, hoarding the daily newspapers as research for Langley’s proposed dateless newspaper whose reportage will be as prophecy. Yet the epic events of the century play out in the lives of the two brothers—wars, political movements, technological advances—and even though they want nothing more than to shut out the world, history seems to pass through their cluttered house in the persons of immigrants, prostitutes, society women, government agents, gangsters, jazz musicians . . . and their housebound lives are fraught with odyssean peril as they struggle to survive and create meaning for themselves. Brilliantly conceived, gorgeously written, this mesmerizing narrative, a free imaginative rendering of the lives of New York’s fabled Collyer brothers, is a family story with the resonance of myth, an astonishing masterwork unlike any that have come before from this great writer.
Last week, Walt Disney Studios released some concept and publicity art for the new Alice in Wonderland movie, directed by Tim Burton. Fittingly, this mad movie will be released in March—March 5, 2010—but instead of basing the story on Lewis Carroll's novel, this film is a sequel that finds Alice back in Wonderland at 17, with no memory of having been there before. USA Today describes the story as being "freshened with a dose of girl power" by Beauty and the Beast script writer Linda Woolverton, which sounds like fun to me.
Burton did an amazing job of bringing Roald Dahl's imaginary world to life in his version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (though I prefer the Gene Wilder's Willy Wonka—sorry Johnny!), and the concept art for Alice suggests the same applies for this adaptation, which will be in 3-D. Like any good Burton project, Alice in Wonderland will feature his wife, Helena Bonham Carter (the Red Queen) and the amazing Johnny Depp, along with the likes of Anne Hathaway, Alan Rickman and Stephen Fry. And now, the photos (via):
From vamps and witches to angels, by way of Jesus. That unusual path maps Anne Rice's fictional journey. The Vampire Chronicles author will publish Angel Time: Songs of the Seraphim (Knopf) on October 29. In Angel Time, the first in a series, a contract killer finds redemption after traveling through time to 13th-century England to save a Jewish community.
In blending her renewed religious beliefs with the supernatural themes that made her famous, Rice may have hit on a winning formula—Angel Time has already received a starred review from Booklist, and Kirkus calls it "devilishly clever." What do we think? You'll have to wait until October to find out, but here's a hint: if the opening pages are any indication, the complicated killer for hire Toby O'Dare makes for a compelling lead character; his "guardian" angel Malchia is a powerful presence and the ending will leave readers wanting the next book.
Rice talked with BookPage interviewer Jay MacDonald about her change in course back when Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt was published. She said she'd never return to the "lost souls" who made her famous: "[O]nce I returned to the Church and began to see the universe as a place that really did incorporate redemption and really tried to understand the implications of there being a God, my identification with the vampires as outcasts, as outsiders and lost souls began to totally wane."
As some Book Case readers know, before I came to BookPage in March, I was an Assistant Editor at Random House in New York City. I had the privilege of working with dozens of talented authors on hundreds of fascinating books. But one of my favorite projects—and one of the last ones I worked on before leaving Random House—was Mark Seal's Wildflower: An Extraordinary Life and Untimely Death in Africa.
Published in May of this year, Wildflower is the story of the captivating life and shocking death of world-renowned naturalist Joan Root. Mark Seal, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, is the gifted author. Mark took the time out of his busy schedule to answer a few of The Book Case’s questions about Wildflower and writing in general.
Wildflower evolved from a piece you wrote about Joan Root’s life and death for Vanity Fair. How did you first hear about Joan Root? What interested you in her story?
I read a one paragraph mention of her death in The New York Times Digest, headlined “Conservationist Killed”: “Joan Root, animal lover and conservationist who collaborated with her husband, Alan, on wildlife documentaries in the 1970s, was killed on Jan. 13 in Naivasha, Kenya. Root was shot to death by assailants who invaded her farmhouse, the police said. Two men were arrested, officials said. One of the couple’s films, “Mysterious Castles of Clay,” narrated by Orson Welles, showed the inner workings of a termite mound. It was nominated for an Oscar in 1978.” I had never heard of Joan Root, but was instantly riveted and wanted to know more. When I began researching her, a whole world opened—and I discovered a truly amazing woman who led two incredible lives, first as a famous filmmaker with her husband, Alan, with whom she shared a magical love and almost unbelievable adventure, and, after their divorce, as a brave and independent woman on her own, who put her life on the line to save the ecologically endangered lake on which she lived.
Tell us about your research and writing process. How did you tackle such a complicated project?
For the Vanity Fair story, I traveled to Kenya for Joan’s memorial service, interviewing her friends, fellow naturalists and ex-husband, Alan, as well as the police who investigated her murder. However, I felt like I had to get her voice in order to write a book about her—not an easy task when dealing with an intensely private woman, who barely spoke above a whisper and rarely gave interviews. Then, something incredible happened: Joan Root began speaking. Her ex-husband, Alan Root, emailed me, saying I was right about the speaking, but he had thousands of letters Joan had written to her mother, as well as letters she’d written to him during their painful separation and eventual divorce, and meticulously kept diaries over the years. I returned to Kenya and got the letters and diaries, which enabled me to find Joan’s voice, which became so critical for the book.
What do you hope readers will take away from Wildflower?
That we are all capable of second acts and second lives, and that one person can make a difference. Joan was an unlikely activist, but she put herself on the line for what she believed in. “It’s all talk, talk, talk, meetings, meetings, meeting but nothing ever gets done!” she once said. Her legacy is that she showed how action, instead of talk, can bring about change.
What can we expect from you next?
I’m working on a new nonfiction book as well as articles for Vanity Fair.
Any advice for aspiring writers?
Stay with it. And always concentrate on finding a great story. It’s often said that characters begin to speak to you—and they do. But it takes hard work and perseverance to get them talking.
For more on Mark Seal, check out BookPage’s review of Wildflower. Thanks for reading with us!
As one half of "The Whisky Couple," Hans Offringa conducts whisky nosing and tasting sessions throughout Europe and the USA. Offringa has just published Whisky & Jazz, a coffee-table book that combines two of his great loves. Read more about his inspiration for this book, volume two in a four-part series that combines whisky and the four senses.
Whisky & the Senses
guest blog by Hans Offringa
At the age of 18 I graduated from high school and, as a celebration ritual, was offered my first glass of Scotch whisky by a good friend. I instantly fell for the drink, and my natural curiosity made me go on a quest. It would turn out to be a lifelong quest. As a professional writer with more than 30 years of writing articles, books and manuals under my belt, I have been doing some serious traveling, mostly for research, from Scotland to Kentucky, from Hong Kong to San Francisco, from St. Petersburg, Russia, to the Sinai desert in Africa. My favorite country, however, is Scotland.
When I first visited that wonderful place some 20 years ago, the main purpose was to meet a series of distillers for interviews and photography. I fell in love with the countryside, with the people and with nature as a whole. Over the years I have traveled countless times to this part of the world and accumulated a wealth of knowledge and perhaps a bit of wisdom on the side thanks to the many people who were willing to help me: distillers, marketeers and fellow writers. In 1999, I published my first work about whisky with a Scottish business partner. It proved to be the start of a whole series of books and articles about the craitur. Three years ago I developed the idea to write four different coffee table style books about whisky and the senses. After all, we appreciate a good dram of whisky with our ears, our eyes, our nose and our palate. We hear a gurgling sound when we pour the whisky, we watch the colour, we smell the aromas and when we taste a sip, we feel a prickling sensation. Five senses cooperate closely to give us an impression of what we savour.
In 2007, part one, A Taste of Whisky, was published. In the book I describe how flavors and aromas come into being and how you can learn to discern them yourself. To top it off I asked four chefs from four different countries to create a 10-course menu with 10 single malt whiskies I selected specially for them. They all took an entirely different approach, as I had hoped for. On May 29 this year, part two was launched: Whisky & Jazz. In the first chapter, I compare the history of jazz with the history of whisky and identify areas of resemblance. In the second chapter, I describe the life stories of 10 jazz musicians followed by a chapter about 10 fine distilleries. The last chapter is a sipping and tasting guide, where I blend a particular song with a particular whisky, enhancing both the enjoyment of listening to music and the tasting superb whiskies. For each blend I wrote a blue note and a tasting note. Here you can find a link to the 10 pieces of music and listen to them while savouring your dram. Part three (looking) and four (feeling) of Whisky & the Senses are scheduled for publishing in 2010 and 2011. All four books can be read independently.
Trivia question: what was the very first pick for Oprah’s Book Club? Answer: Jacquelyn Mitchard’s Deep End of the Ocean, a critically acclaimed tale of catastrophe: losing—and finding, nine years later—a child. In the intervening years, the book was made into a film (starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Treat Williams) and Mitchard wrote several bestsellers for adults, young adults, and children.
Fans will be thrilled to learn that Mitchard has finally written a sequel to Deep End of the Ocean. No Time to Wave Goodbye is due to hit bookstores and libraries on September 15. For a sneak peek, here is a quote from the publicity material:
“Now, 13 years later, Mitchard returns to the Cappadora family...Vincent, the oldest Cappadora son, has become a filmmaker. With the help of his brother Ben and sister Kerry, Vincent makes a documentary film about the lifelong trauma of child abduction and receives an Academy Award nomination for his work. On the night of the award ceremony, the Cappadora’s world turns upside once again as their courage, loyalty and faith are tested as never before.”
The BookPage staffers are no strangers to book signings at our local Davis Kidd. But last night, things were a little different at the Green Hills area bookstore. Lauren Conrad, reality television starlet (known for “Laguna Beach” and “The Hills”), was in town signing copies of her young adult novel, L.A. Candy – and Nashville fans sure took notice. Over 350 people turned out for the signing, and when Trisha and I arrived at 5:15 (for a 6pm signing) we were relegated to the farthest corner of the bookstore (and at the end of the dreaded ‘standby’ line).
Luckily we found some interesting books to pass the time.
And we certainly enjoyed the people-watching.
At long last, the woman of the hour arrived, and was met by shrieks of joy from her many eager fans.
The signing line actually moved pretty quickly (“No personalizations, no posed photos, Ms. Conrad will only sign copies of her book”) and at the end of the night, we were two happy campers, with freshly signed copies of L.A. Candy.
Trisha gets the “Good Sport of the Night” award, since she was probably the only person at the signing who hasn’t ever seen a complete episode of “The Hills.” And Abby, well, she’s thankful she has coworkers happy to indulge her guilty pleasures (including, but not limited to: reality television, celebrity magazines and so-bad-they’re-good romantic comedies).
Have you ever been to a crazy celebrity book signing? Leave us your stories here!
It has been four years since her blockbuster debut, The Historian, but Elizabeth Kostova is rising again on January 21 with a second act, The Swan Thieves. Instead of literature, this time Kostova's subject is painting—and painters who struggle to balance love and art. The novel goes from 1870s France to the modern day as a Washington, D.C., psychiatrist tries to discover why one of his patients attacked painting in the National Gallery.
She told Powell's she began work on The Swan Thieves before The Historian was even published. "I felt it was important for me to get back to writing right away — to draw that magic, private circle again."
After the jump, a video of Kostova discussing the novel.