By now you probably know that Yann Martel’s Beatrice and Virgil was published yesterday. This is Martel’s first novel since Life of Pi, which won the Man Booker Prize and sold more than two million copies. (Click hear to read an interview with Martel about his new novel.)
If you’ve been following review outlets, you’ll also know that critics are divided over the novel. (I reviewed it for BookPage, and I liked it.) In the New York Times, Michiko Kakutani uses adjectives like “misconceived,” “offensive” and “perverse” to describe the novel. In USA Today, Deirdre Donahue suggests that the book is “a masterpiece about the Holocaust.” In the blog world, Ti at Book Chatter calls Beatrice and Virgil “brilliant.” Rebecca at The Book Lady’s Blog says it’s “one of the most disappointing” books of the year.
My conclusion? Depending on taste, you'll either love this book or hate it, and you just need to read it to find out. It's a short read at only 200 pages, and I can guarantee one thing: Beatrice and Virgil will at least leave you thinking.
It is difficult to summarize the novel's plot in just a couple sentences, but basically the story follows Henry (whose life parallels Martel's), a novelist, who comes to have a weird friendship with a taxidermist who's writing a play. The play stars Beatrice and Virgil, a donkey and a howler monkey, and Henry comes to see their story as an allegory for the Holocaust.
The passage I've chosen to excerpt is from my favorite scene in the book, in which Virgil describes a pear to Beatrice, who has never eaten or seen one before.
By the way: What are you reading today?
Virgil: If you could magnify it a hundred times, do you know what it would sound like, the sound of fingertips running over the skin of a dry pear?
V: It would sound like the diamond of a record player entering a groove. That same dancing crackle, like the burning of the driest, lightest kindling.
B: A pear is surely the finest fruit in the world!
V: It is, it is! That’s the skin of a pear for you.
B: Can one eat it?
V: Of course. We’re not talking here of the waxy, thuggish skin of an orange. The skin of a pear is soft and yielding when ripe.
B: And what does a pear taste like?
V: Wait. You must smell it first. A ripe pear breathes a fragrance that is watery and subtle, its power lying in the lightness of its impression upon the olfactory sense. Can you imagine the smell of nutmeg or cinnamon?
B: I can.
V: The smell of a ripe pear has the same effect on the mind as these aromatic spices. The mind is arrested, spellbound, and a thousand and one memories and associations are thrown up as the mind burrows deep to understand the allure of this beguiling smell—which it never comes to understand, by the way.
B: But how does it taste? I can’t wait any longer.
V: A ripe pear overflows with sweet juiciness.
B: Oh, that sounds good.
V: Slice a pear and you will find that its flesh is incandescent white. It glows with inner light. Those who carry a knife and a pear are never afraid of the dark.
B: I must have one.
V: The texture of a pear, its consistency, is yet another difficult matter to put into words. Some pears are a little crunchy.
B: Like an apple?
V: No, not at all like an apple! An apple resists being eaten. An apple is not eaten, it is conquered. The crunchiness of a pear is far more appealing. It is giving and fragile. To eat a pear is akin to. . . kissing.
Dean King is known for his impeccably researched nonfiction books, such as 2004's Skeletons on the Zahara: A True Story of Survival. His latest work, Unbound, tackles the "Long March," the Red Army's 4,000-mile walk in 1934. King focuses on the 30 women who took part in the journey, and for research, he traveled the length of the Long March himself and talked to survivors.
Have you seen any good book trailers today?
Ever wondered what best-selling authors like Amy Tan, Stephen King, Greg Iles and Mitch Albom do on their days off? We haven't. Because we know that they're rocking out with BookPage's own Author Enablers, setting readers' hearts afire with rousing performances of classics like "The Leader of the Pack" in a group called The Rock Bottom Remainders.
I had the good fortune of seeing the group at Webster Hall on their last tour—BEA, 2007—and it was a blast.
Now they've announced their WordStock tour, which will raise money for various charities, including relief efforts in Haiti. Does it include a city near you?
APRIL 20 — WASHINGTON, D.C.
Besides the Music: The Remainders in Conversation with Sam Donaldson at Harman Center for the Arts
APRIL 21 — WASHINGTON, D.C.
Concert at the 9:30 Club—with special guest Roger McGuinn
APRIL 22 — PHILADELPHIA
Concert at The Electric Factory
APRIL 23 — NEW YORK
Concert at the Nokia Theater in Times Square
APRIL 24 — BOSTON
Concert at The Royale
At the Guardian, they're running an interesting series of brief essays by writers about "the writers who inspired them." Though some of the writers veer off course to describe artists (Margaret Drabble, for example, chooses Van Gogh—and John Banville shares a story about his yellow Lab, Ben!), all are worth reading.
It got me thinking about who my literary hero would be. I'm not a writer myself (unless blogging counts!), but maybe in the "if I ever write a novel . . ." sense. Who is yours?
The 2010 Pulitzer Prizes were announced this afternoon in New York City, and many people (including your BookPage editors) were surprised by the results–specifically, the Fiction winner and finalists.
Paul Harding won for his debut novel Tinkers, which was published in January of 2009 by Bellevue Literary Press, a small, non-profit publisher that was founded in 2005. The Press is affiliated with New York University’s School of Medicine, and its mission is to "bring together medicine, science, and humanism through literature." Tinkers is about a man on his death bed who revisits his father, an "epileptic, itinerant peddler," through memory.
This news is huge because it's quite rare for a debut novelist to win the Pulitzer; the last time it happened was in 2000, when Jumpha Lahiri won for Interpreter of Maladies. One aspect of Harding's background is fairly typical; he attended the Iowa Writers Workshop. Before that, though, he was a drummer in a grunge/rock band called Cold Water Flat. Now, he teaches creative writing at Harvard's Extension School.
Harding has already already signed a contract to publish his next two books with Random House's The Dial Press. The next novel is called Enon and will be set in the same fictional town as Tinkers.
For more on this author, read an interview with Powell's Books, in which he talks about his inspiration for the novel. Also check out this interview with Bookslut for info on Harding's writing process and career as a musician.
Have any Book Case followers read Tinkers? What'd you think? I have just put in a request at the Nashville Public Library for their next available copy, so I'll report back as soon as I finish the book.
Fiction: Tinkers by Paul Harding (Bellevue Literary Press)
Finalists: Love in Infant Monkeys by Lydia Millet (Soft Skull Press) and In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin (W.W. Norton & Company)
History: Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World by Liaquat Ahamed (The Penguin Press)
Finalists: Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City by Greg Grandin (Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt & Company) and Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815 by Gordon S. Wood (Oxford University Press)
Biography: The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt by T.J. Stiles (Alfred A. Knopf)
Finalists: Cheever: A Life by Blake Bailey (Alfred A. Knopf) and Woodrow Wilson: A Biography by John Milton Cooper Jr. (Alfred A. Knopf)
Poetry: Versed by Rae Armantrout (Wesleyan University Press)
Finalists: Tryst by Angie Estes (Oberlin College Press) and Inseminating the Elephant by Lucia Perillo (Copper Canyon Press)
General Nonfiction: The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy by David E. Hoffman (Doubleday)
Finalists: How Markets Fail: The Logic of Economic Calamities by John Cassidy (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) and The Evolution of God by Robert Wright (Little, Brown and Company)
A few months ago I blogged about the new film adaptation of Wuthering Heights, and now it seems that buzz surrounding Emily Brontë's classic has only grown.
In the fall, HarperCollins released a Twilight-themed version of the novel in Britain (because Wuthering Heights is Bella Swan's favorite book). Over the weekend, The Telegraph reported that sales of the re-branded book have quadrupled, from 8,551 to 34,023 a year in Britain.
If you're eager to read about Heathcliff and Cathy with a group—whether you've been inspired by Stephenie Meyer, you're revisiting the classic or it's always been on your TBR list—check out the Wuthering Heights Read-along on book blog Fizzy Thoughts.
I want to draw your attention to a note from The Pulitzer Prize website:
The 2010 Pulitzer Prizewinners and Nominated Finalists in all categories will be announced on April 12, 2010 at 3 p.m. Eastern daylight time. Finalists are not announced in advance. Winners' names, photos and bios will be posted on this Website at 3 p.m., along with all winning photographs and cartoons. Links to winning news stories will also be provided where available. The 2010 Prizes are awarded for work published, produced or premiered in 2009.
What book do you think should win the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction? Remember that it has to be a work of fiction published in 2009. According to the Pulitzer website, the prize will go to "distinguished fiction by an American author, preferably dealing with American life."
We all love libraries for different reasons—they give us complete access to thousands of books; a comfortable place to read and study; a place to gather with reading groups or friends. This week, we're celebrating all that is wonderful about libraries in National Library Week, which runs from April 11-17.
Besides winning the Orange Prize and PEN/Faulkner Award for her fiction, Ann Patchett has also been honored with the Nashville Public Library Literary Award. We thought she would be a perfect person to comment on the value of libraries in our communities. Read on for her thoughts on supporting the library, broadening its appeal and why libraries are still relevant in a technological age.
In an age of rapid technological change in books and publishing, why are libraries still vital to their communities?
Well, in part because there are so many rapid technological changes. I certainly don’t understand what’s going on half the time and the library is the first place I’d turn to help me figure out the new landscape. But libraries are so much more than that, they’re also learning centers for the community. That can mean children’s story hour or a seniors’ book club. Not all of our intellectual needs can be met sitting at home in front of a computer screen.
Do you have a favorite library? Do you have a fond memory of spending time there?
I have a deep connection to the extremely grand downtown branch of the Nashville public library. I have a lot of friends there and frankly the building itself feels like a friend. I love the murals in the downtown library in Los Angeles and the dioramas in the Widener library at Harvard. The architecture and the energy in the Seattle library and the Salt Lake City library is nothing short of thrilling to me.
Do you have any suggestions for how people can support their local libraries?
Call me crazy but money is never a bad place to start. If you have a child who is a voracious reader and you’re checking out ten books a week, stop and think every now and then how lucky you are to have access to those book for free and make a donation to cover some of the cost. Times are tight for libraries and they need our help and our involvement.
Is there anything you think libraries can do to broaden their appeal?
I think the recession has already done wonders to broaden the appeal of libraries. More and more people are using their local libraries to fill out applications on line, to check out CDs, DVDs, and, yes, books, as a means of free entertainment. There are smart people there to help us when we can’t figure out how to use the computers, there are programs to take part in when we feel like being with other people. Libraries are always there for us. All we have to do is walk through the door.
If you were trapped in a library overnight, how would you spend your time?
Libraries are famous for comfortable couches, good lighting, and loads of books. I might finally start Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel, or I might go and take out the rare books that are locked away in glass cases or I might go and see if anyone had checked out any of my books lately. I’d never have the nerve to do that if someone else was around.
If you had to come up with three “buzz words” for the library, what would they be?
Books, books, books, but then I’m old fashioned. I never get over the joy of walking into a building stuffed full of books.
Just in case you haven't heard: Tomorrow at 8am EST marks the beginning of this year's first 24-Hour Read-a-Thon. Check the official site for a list of participating bloggers, or to add your name to the list!
Unfortunately we won't be hosting a challenge this time around, but we're looking forward to checking out everyone's blogs to see how much reading they can get done in 24 hours. Anyone using the read-a-thon to check off a major item in your to-be-read stack? If I weren't setting out on a road trip tomorrow (alas, reading + driving=dangerous), I'd be participating in hopes of knocking out War & Peace.