There are plenty of big-name author releases I'm looking forward to this fall (Jonathan Franzen's Freedom, to name one). But a lesser-known British writer, Scarlett Thomas, is also up near the top of that list. Her inventive The End of Mr. Y blended fiction, philosophy and physics to create a fascinating and memorable read. The novel was filled with ideas and had enough plot to carry you through them—I was thinking about it long after the last page was turned.
Our Tragic Universe (HMH), her next novel, seems to have a similar surrealist angle—and a similar, smart-but-down-and-out heroine in Meg Carpenter, a woman caught in a dead-end relationship who's struggling to complete an overdue manuscript. When she takes on a writing assignment to review a book by an author who claims to have discovered a way to live forever, Meg has to wonder—would anyone really want to?
Consulting cosmology and physics, tarot cards, koans (and riddles and jokes), new-age theories of everything, narrative theory, Nietzsche, Baudrillard, and knitting patterns, Meg wends her way through Our Tragic Universe, asking this and many other questions. Does she believe in fairies? In magic? Is she a superbeing? Is she living a storyless story? And what’s the connection between her off-hand suggestion to push a car into a river, a ship in a bottle, a mysterious beast loose on the moor, and the controversial author of The Science of Living Forever?Smart, entrancing, and boiling over with Thomas’s trademark big ideas, Our Tragic Universe is a book about how relationships are created and destroyed, how we can rewrite our futures (if not our histories), and how stories just might save our lives.
There's a new review on our website that will appeal to people who liked Running with Scissors. . . or who are intrigued by families that have 14-bathroom apartments. Or who put hamsters in frying pans.
When I first heard of Wendy Burden's memoir, Dead End Gene Pool, I was skeptical. I reviewed Tad Friend's Cheerful Money in the October edition of BookPage, and I wondered. . . how much is there to say about fallen WASPs? (Friend's ancestors came to America in the 17th century and his father was president of Swarthmore College. Burden's great-great-great-great grandfather was Cornelius Vanderbilt. Both memoirs address the dysfunction in later generations of privileged families.)
I think I'll have to reconsider my position. Although Dead End Gene Pool doesn't hit shelves until April 1, our review is available now online. Nonfiction editor Kate Pritchard called Burden's memoir "darkly funny," writing:
Burden herself is a delightfully strange character, especially as a child, when her fascination with all things morbid was at its peak. (In one episode, she attempts to drive off one of her mother’s suitors by dressing up like Wednesday Addams and trying to cook her pet hamster in a frying pan.)
Sounds like we're not the only ones who've taken notice of this memoir. On Wednesday there was a lengthy write-up about Burden in the New York Times, which includes a slide show of her Portland home. (Note the camel skull on her coffee table.) Penguin also released a video interview with the author which features photos of family members in the book (watch the video after jump).
What do you think—is the WASP memoir a hot genre? Will you read Dead End Gene Pool?
The Romance Writers of America announced the 2010 RITA Award finalists today, and many of the titles are recommended in BookPage by our romance columnist, Christie Ridgway.
Before I get to that, though, we want to give a shout out to Christie for getting not one but two of her own nominations—for Dirty Sexy Knitting and I Still Do. Former BookPage romance columnist Barbara O'Neal is also a finalist for The Lost Recipe for Happiness. Congratulations, ladies!
Click here to view the complete list of finalists. Among the titles covered in BookPage are Fireside by Susan Wiggs (for Contemporary Series) and Laura Lee Guhrke’s With Seduction in Mind (Historical Romance). I was also happy to see that Ally Carter got a nomination for YA romance (I interviewed her in December), and Kristan Higgins got a nod for Too Good to Be True. (We ran an interview with her in February.)
The Awards will be announced on July 31 at the RWA’s National Conference in Nashville, and you can bet there will be BookPage bloggers in attendance to report back on all the fun.
What’s your favorite romance novel?
Less than a year after the publication of South of Broad, Pat Conroy has signed a deal to write My Life in Books, a nonfiction account of the “people, writers and books that made him into the reader and writer he is today, from Tolstoy to Thomas Wolfe and beyond,” according to an announcement yesterday in Publisher’s Marketplace.
This will not be the best-selling author’s first foray into nonfiction. The Water Is Wide (1972) is based on his experiences as a schoolteacher, and in 2002, Conroy published My Losing Season, a memoir inspired by his senior year season as starting point guard on The Citadel’s basketball team. In 2004, he published The Pat Conroy Cookbook: Recipes of My Life, which includes personal stories in addition to recipes.
No doubt My Life in Books will be eagerly anticipated; Conroy is a favorite of BookPage readers—South of Broad was our cover story in August (read a review of this “lush, remarkable new novel”), and we interviewed him in 2002 about My Losing Season.
I wonder how the book will be organized—chronologically based on what he was reading when? By author that inspired him? When Gay Talese (the husband of Conroy’s editor, coincidentally) described some of the stories and inspiration behind his books in 2006’s A Writer’s Life, I thought the result was a bit disjointed; he bounced from anecdote to anecdote, with long digressions thrown in. I hope Conroy’s book has a clearer narrative structure.
Will you read My Life in Books?
Ms. Johnson was the author of a memoir, It Is Well With My Soul: The Extraordinary Life of a 105-Year-Old Woman. Originally slated to be published on April 27, the book's publication date has now been pushed up to March 31. It tells the story of her life, from her early days in Dallas, Texas, living through segregation and the Jim Crow era, to her education (she was the oldest living black graduate of Case Western Reserve University), to her marriage and family life, to her values as a Good Samaritan, and up through her attendance at Barack Obama's presidential inauguration in January 2009.
Another remarkable African-American woman's life is celebrated in a memoir by Ann Nixon Cooper, whom Obama mentioned in his Election Day speech. Ms. Cooper's book, A Century and Some Change: My Life Before the President Called My Name, was also released mere weeks after her death. She passed away on Dec. 21, 2009, at 107 years old.
It's inspiring to read about these women and the incredible change they witnessed over the course of their lifetimes. If you're looking for a similar book, check out Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First Hundred Years, published in 1993. Although the Delany sisters, born in the 19th century, have also now passed away, we are lucky that all of these women have shared their stories with us.
In recent weeks there have been tidbits of information about the movie version of Kathryn Stockett’s The Help—the BookPage reader favorite book of 2009. Stockett herself mentioned the movie in an interview with Katie Couric, and yesterday the Huffington Post gave some background information on director Tate Taylor, who optioned the story before the book was even published, and has been friends with Stockett since they were five:
"She didn't even have a publisher yet and I said, 'You've got to let me option this,'" Taylor said in an interview from New York, where he was having casting interviews. "And she said, 'I'm going to hold you to this. It's going to be so much fun.' And then, of course, she got her agent and I was the last person in the world they wanted."
On The Root, media and culture critic Natalie Hopkinson is skeptical of a Hollywood adaptation, writing that she doesn’t have “particularly high hopes for what will happen to this sweet book when Hollywood gets its grubby hands on it. If the recent piece in People magazine speculating on who the cast would be is any indication, we need to brace ourselves.”
What are your thoughts on casting for The Help?
Between a whirlwind trip to NYC and her departure for PLA (if you're there, check out BookPage at booth #1100), our associate publisher Julia Steele passed along a book recommendation for Book Case readers: I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced. "It made me cry. On the plane!" Is there a higher recommendation? (Maybe books that make me cry in the office . . .)
Written with Delphine Munoui, and first published in France, Nujood Ali's story is almost too incredible to be true. With no support from her family, this little girl from Yemen took the money her parents had given her to buy bread and went to to the courthouse to petition for a divorce from her abusive husband, who was more than three times her age. Given the subtitle, it's obvious that Nujood gets her wish, but the convoluted system she must fight to reach her goal makes this a fascinating read. Nujood was, until recently, the youngest divorced person ever, but she has now inspired a handful of girls in similar circumstances to make a bid for freedom. Her story has been told by major news outlets like Time and The New York Times.
Julia's passing the book on to her college-aged daughter next—it would definitely be a great selection for a mother-daughter book club.
Carol Buckley, co-founder and past President/CEO of The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee, was fired last week after a five-month leave of absence imposed by the organization’s board of directors. Since Buckley’s unexplained termination, a “Supporters of Carol Buckley and The Elephant Sanctuary” Facebook group has been formed—and now it has nearly 3,000 members. Local media has reported that some donors are furious and withholding funds from the Sanctuary, which provides a natural-habitat refuge in the Tennessee hills for endangered African and Asian elephants.
In the midst of this turmoil, we wanted to draw attention to another role Buckley has filled: children’s author. Although many of you are probably familiar with Buckley’s work through the Tarra & Bella video on CBS (and YouTube)—in which Tarra the elephant and Bella the dog eat, play and sleep together—you should also share Just for Elephants, a beautiful picture book released in 2006, with any animal-loving kids.
BookPage reviewer Jennifer Robinson raved about the story, writing:
Upon opening the book, readers will be enchanted by images of elephant skin adorning the endpapers and an oversized eye peering out from the title page. . . There is a genuine sense of setting in Buckley's detailed descriptions of redtail hawks screeching overhead and the herd grazing on river cane and china grass that grows all around.
Do you have a favorite nonfiction book about animals?
It seems that this week has been good to new authors, as two debut novels will make a very exciting debut—on the New York Times’ best-selling Hardcover Fiction list. Danielle Trussoni’s Angelology, which we blogged about a few weeks ago, comes in at #7. Helen Simonson’s Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand is #14. (The list will be published in print on March 28.)
In BookPage, Linda White described the reaction readers will have to Simonson’s novel, set in an English village: “You’ll laugh, you’ll wipe away a tear or two and you certainly will enjoy time spent with Major Pettigrew.”
In her behind-the-book essay on Angelology, Trussoni described what readers can expect in her debut:
You will enter a secluded convent nestled next to a wide, mirror-dark river; you will climb into a narrow gorge cut deep into the granite of an Eastern European mountain; and you will sit in a shadowy lecture hall filled with students during the Second World War. You will meet a young woman named Evangeline, whose family history has drawn her into a centuries-old hidden society of scholars who practice the ancient discipline of angelology, the theological study of angels. You will become acquainted with nuns; a handsome art historian named Verlaine who rushes into Evangeline’s quiet world and changes her life; and a nefarious group of angels called Nephilim.
Have you read a good debut lately?
We’re running a Bananagrams contest this week on The Book Case, and the author’s name—Joe Edley—sounded familiar.
Then I remembered: Joe Edley is none other than the three-time National Scrabble Champion memorably depicted in Stefan Fatsis’ Word Freak, a delightful memoir and history of Scrabble published in 2001. If you read Word Freak, you might remember that Edley is the guy who memorized the entire Scrabble dictionary. Edley was one of my favorite characters in Word Freak, and it’s nice to know what he’s up to these days—in addition to writing Bananagrams books, he’s also written several books about Scrabble, including The Official Scrabble Puzzle Book. Click here for a review of Word Freak—a must-read for any Scrabble player.
If you're interested in the wacky subculture of competitive puzzles and games, I think you’ll also enjoy Louis Sachar’s forthcoming The Cardturner, about a teen who assists his blind uncle in playing bridge. In addition to hilarious insider info on bridge tournaments (Sachar himself is a competitive player), there are also plenty of details on solving the puzzle of specific hands. In May, keep your eye on BookPage.com for an interview with the author.
Do you have a favorite book about games or puzzles?