It's the rare writer who can consistently release quality work over a 50-year span—but with the February 2015 publication of A Spool of Thread, Anne Tyler joins those ranks. The 73-year-old Baltimore author's first novel, If Morning Ever Comes, appeared in 1964.
A Spool of Blue Thread focuses on the Whitshank family, led by Abby and Red, a long-married couple whose story of the day they fell in love has become legendary. But now their four children are wondering whether—and how—Abby and Red can continue to live alone in the home that Red's father built as they enter their 80s.
Tyler hasn't lost her knowing eye—she explores the inner workings of this family with sensitivity and wit, providing a tender portrayal of what it means to age and the dynamics among children and the distinct relationships they each have with their parents.
Any Anne Tyler fans out there looking forward to this one?
Chloe Benjamin delves into the rich, unsettling world of dreams in her debut novel, The Anatomy of Dreams.
Sylvie Patterson is dubious when she and her boyfriend move to Wisconsin to assist a respected experimental psychologist, Dr. Keller, with his secretive sleep studies. However, Sylvie soon finds herself under the spell of the strange Dr. Keller’s theories—that dreams have something important and urgent to tell us. The trio are fascinated by lucid dreaming and the ability to further understand the self by inspecting dreams. But as they explore the subconscious landscape, boundaries are crossed, and Sylvie’s carefully constructed world begins to crumble.
“Most of us are physically paralyzed during REM sleep, but these patients aren’t, and there’s nothing more dangerous than a dreamer out of bed. They can attack their bedmates, trying to fight off intruders that aren’t there. Some have even jumped out of windows. These people are disturbed at a subconscious level—and in order to help them, we have to meet them there. Lucidity enables them to realize they’re dreaming. It enables them to intervene.”
“So you’re hacking in.”
His face was pleasant enough, but his voice had a new edge.
“What do you mean?”
He leaned back on the bed, his elbows propped up behind him, and cocked his head.
“You’re intruders. Robbing the bank of the subconscious.”
What are you reading this week?
Kate Atkinson's stellar Life After Life was one of the best books of 2013. So the news that the Scottish author is returning with a companion story is most welcome to this fan. In A God in Ruins, which Little, Brown will publish on May 26, Atkinson tells the story of Ursula's brother, Teddy, the RAF pilot who played a key role in Life After Life.
From the catalog:
"For all Teddy endures in battle, his greatest challenge is facing the difficulties of living in a future he never expected to have. A God in Ruins explores the loss of innocence, the fraught transition from the war to peace time, and the pain of being misunderstood, especially as we age."
Style books make a major statement in our November issue. At one point I may have started weeping over the sheer brilliance of some of the editorials in W: Stories. And I plan on giving copies of Women in Clothes to all of my girlfriends—I don't even care if they read it. I just want them to have it. Check out my reviews of all five fashion books here.
Tilda Swinton in W magazine, August 2011. From W: Stories, reprinted with permission.
But it was so hard to narrow down the season's best fashion gift books to only five, so below is an extended list:
This new memoir from the mother of the jersey wrap dress examines her entire life—not just the fashion elements. She's honest, independent and ages so well it's almost unbelievable. Talk about an inspiring gift.
Supermodel and "Queen of Pose" Rocha, dressed in a plain white leotard, collaborated with world-renowned photographer Sebring to produce 1,000 absolutely stunning black-and-white images. Each pose was shot from 100 angles using Sebring's 360-degree photo rig, and the companion eBook allows readers to explore every shot from all angles. Truly remarkable and totally mesmerizing.
She might not be a household name in the way, say, Coco Chanel is, but she should be. Schiapparelli was Chanel's rival in the 20th century—and was more famous at the time. As the "Queen of Fashion," she encouraged women to be different, used unexpected fabrics and collaborated with Salvador Dalí. Her perfume came in a shocking bottle in the shape of a bust, inspired by the body of Mae West. I don't know much about her, but I love her already.
Maybe you've got a stylish guy in your life, or maybe you've always been inspired by Annie Hall. Either way, this book is a must for fans of classic, bespoke tailoring. The legendary Gieves & Hawkes, located on Savile Row in London, has outfitted elegant gents for more than two centuries. This gorgeous book traces the rich history of tailoring, drawing from Gieves & Hawkes’ archives of client ledgers and photographs.
I'm a polyamorous reader. At one point last month I had two books open at the same time: Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison (for this blog post) and The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier. Angus, Thongs is a laugh-out-loud contemporary realistic fiction young adult (YA) book; The Night Gardener is a ghost story set in the mid-19th century and written for middle grade readers (ages 9 to 12, or grades 4 to 7). Both feature 14-year-old protagonists. What makes one YA and the other middle grade?
Literary agent Carlie Webber wrote in 2013 that she eschews manuscripts with 14-year-old characters. Fourteen-year-olds, Webber argues, lack the childlike "outlook of wonder" that characterizes middle grade fiction—but despite beginning to acquire a jaded teenage outlook, they're stuck being chauffered by their parents, so "there’s not a lot they can do to really affect a ton of change." And marketing books with 14-year-old protagonists is tricky, because this age is where two major priorities start to conflict. Conventional wisdom says that young readers like to read about characters a few years older than themselves. But readers also like to be able to relate to characters—and at age 14 "delightful things like puberty" start to differentiate children's experiences from those of teens.
More recently, writer Dianne K. Salerni, author of The Caged Graves, writes of similar issues. At her publisher's request, she reduced the protagonist's age in her middle grade book The Eighth Day from 14 to 13, because "age 14 was a No Man’s Land as far as book stores . . . are concerned. If my main character was 14, the book would be shelved in the Teen section, where it didn’t belong." Salerni goes on to brainstorm factors that might be relevant to character age, including popularity ("Percy Jackson ages past 14" but "I was not . . . Rick Riordan"), character or author gender, and genre and setting. She insists that "the premise of the story, the tone, the voice, and the themes matter more than the age of the main character."
One of this year's standout YA titles, the graphic novel This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki, is a great example of a book that not only avoids these pitfalls but actively subverts them. Protagonist Rose's age is never explicitly mentioned. Instead, she's sandwiched between her childlike friend Windy ("one and a half years younger than I am") and her sort-of crush, who she admits is way too old for her ("He's like eighteen. That's like perverted."). Rose and Windy often joke about sex, but its real implications—like teen pregnancy, marital relationships and infertility—are harder for Rose to process. Because the story is set on a small-town beach, transportation is never an issue, and because it's summer, neither is school. Is Rose an older kid, or a younger teen? How do others see her? How does she see herself? (This One Summer's exploration of these questions is part of what might make it a serious contender for this year's Printz Award.)
With all this in mind, let's take another look at YA Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging and middle grade The Night Gardener, both with 14-year-old main characters. Unlike the realistic Angus, Thongs, the spooky The Night Gardener takes place in a semi-fantastical historical setting. When protagonist Molly and other characters need to travel they do so by horse-drawn wagon, but most of the action takes place in and around a self-contained family mansion in the first place. Middle grade readers can relate to Molly not only because of her inherant hopefulness but also because she doesn't have to contend with, say, the daily social politics of ninth grade (or in British-speak, fourth form) the way Georgia Nicolson of Angus, Thongs does.
And then, of course, there's that puberty thing. Georgia's constantly thinking about boys, makeup and the eponymous undergarments, while these matters never seem to cross Molly's mind. Identity as a sexual being—blended with genre, setting and jadedness vs. optimism—may be what makes some 14-year-olds' stories YA and others middle grade.
What are some of your favorite books with 14-year-old characters—or characters whose age is never specified? Are these characters still open-minded kids, or world-weary teenagers? And who do you see picking up these books—adults, kids or teens?
Locker Combinations is a Book Case feature by BookPage contributor and young adult (YA) literature expert Jill Ratzan. Using a variety of literary, cultural and educational perspectives, Jill guest blogs about the latest in YA lit and the general direction, trends and changes of the field.
The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man by W. Bruce Cameron stars a man in a slump. Ruddy, a failed football pro, has a lame job and no friends. And then he starts hearing the voice of a dead real estate agent in his head. Our reviewer writes that Cameron's smart, humor-filled novel "is a light, breezy read that is pure entertainment." (Read the review here.)
We were curious about the books Cameron has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked him to recommend three favorites.
Because he writes thrillers, this very literary novel by Nelson DeMille, while a bestseller, is rarely mentioned on the same list with important American works. Yet, for me, this is The Caine Mutiny for the Vietnam generation, and I read it every few years just to marvel at how well it holds up: suspenseful, profound and superbly crafted.
According to Malcolm Gladwell, who wrote the fascinating book Outliers, it takes an “expert” about 10,000 hours to truly master his or her craft. Looking at the bibliography of Andrew Gross, one can easily see he’s got his 10,000 hours in—and it shows up magnificently in Everything to Lose, his latest thriller. Don’t open the front cover for a quick look if you don’t have the money to purchase the book—you don’t want to be caught shoving it in your coat and running for the door, but there’s no way you are going to abandon this novel once you’ve started it.
This is very literally “what I’m reading”—I just started it. I was immediately struck by the POV—The book is written in first-person, in the voice of Jack Reacher. I have not yet ventured far enough into the novel to know much more than the fact that this character, Reacher, is as comforting and habit-forming as the first cup of coffee on a cold morning. I cannot wait to get back to the book!
Thank you, Bruce! Readers, do you see anything you'd like to pick up?
(Author photo by Ute Ville)
With increasingly darker, drearier days on the horizon (sorry everyone), 'tis the season for serious comfort foods. Superstar English chef Jamie Oliver has the answer with his new cookbook, Jamie Oliver's Comfort Food, and with 100 recipes to choose from, there should be plenty of good eats to last you until Spring. Ever wondered how to make the perfect grilled cheese? Oliver's got you covered.
No. 1 Toasted Cheese Sandwich
A toasted cheese sandwich is a beautiful thing, but I’m not messing about here—this is the ultimate one and it’s going to blow your mind. But there is a particular sequence of events that needs to happen in order to achieve the most ridiculously tasty, chomp-worthy sandwich. Follow this recipe and it will always make you feel good. It is also especially useful when you’re suffering from a light hangover. This is when the condiments—dolloped onto a side plate like a painter’s palette—really come into their own.
With the No. 1 toasted cheese sarnie we don’t score any points for buying expensive, artisanal bread. It’s important to go for something neutral, and in my eyes, only a white bloomer will do. Lightly butter the bread on both sides (oh, and if you’ve got any leftover mashed potatoes, spread that across one piece of the bread—it’s insanely good). To one piece of bread, add a nice grating of good-quality cheese that melts well, like Cheddar, Red Leicester or a mixture of the two. Place your second piece of bread on top, then cook in a sturdy non-stick frying pan on a medium heat for about 3 minutes on each side. This is important, because if it gets too colored too quickly, you won’t get the gorgeous ooze and melt in the middle, and this is about encouraging that internal cheese lava flow. As it cooks, I like to rest something flat with a little weight on top to ensure maximum surface area and crunch.
When lightly golden on both sides, lift the toastie out of the pan and grate a little layer of cheese into the pan where it was sitting. Place the toastie back in the pan on top of the cheese and grate more cheese over it. Leave it for just over 1 minute—wait for the cheese to bubble and the fat to spill out of it, then add a little pinch of cayenne pepper. Give the toastie a poke with a slotted spatula, and once it has a cheesy, doily-like crust on the bottom that moves as one, lift the toastie out of the pan and hold it on the spatula for 30 seconds so the melted cheese hangs down, sets hard, and forms an impressive cheese crown. Flip it onto the other side and, once golden, serve, remembering to let it cool for a couple of minutes before attempting to tuck in.
The final debate is what do you want on the side? Ketchup, HP sauce, a shake of Tabasco or hot sauce, mango chutney or a mixture—all are fine choices.
From Jamie Oliver’s Comfort Food by Jamie Oliver. Copyright 2014 Jamie Oliver. Excerpted by permission of Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Read our review of this book.
Colby Marshall is a writer by day and a ballroom dancer and choreographer by night, as well as a member of International Thriller Writers and Sisters in Crime. She kicks off her new FBI profiler series, starring Dr. Jenna Ramey, with Color Blind. The FBI has detained a mass murderer, but his partner is still on the loose, so Jenna has been called in to put a stop to any future murders.
Marshall and her heroine share a rather unusual trait—they both have synesthesia, a neurological condition that triggers color associations with people, places and things. We wanted to know—and apparently, everbody Marshall meets wants to know, too—how much of her own experiences contributed to Color Blind. Her answer may surprise you.
As an author, I won’t deny that I love answering questions, even if only so for a minute I can pretend I’m the latest runaway best-selling author letting loose in an exclusive interview for People magazine. Some questions readers ask surprise me. Others come up over and over again.
And while frequent-flier questions aren’t always the same types of things I’d ask an author—I’d rather hear what earned her the most time-outs as a kid than where her ideas come from (mostly because I’m pretty sure we all snag ideas the same way, from that guy on the corner selling them out of his van)—I guess I can understand the curiosity of a reader, a bookstore patron . . . or a stranger I’ve cornered at a party who I’m pretending is my number one fan. If you don’t enjoy or make a bad habit out of telling stories, I guess the details surrounding how we think up imaginary people, make them have sex and then kill them could be interesting, whether in a fascinated way or a the-more-you-know-the-better-you-can-hide-from-the-lunatics way.
Yet, one question used to surprise me every time, no matter how often it cropped up. It’s been put to me by the neighbor dying to sneak a gossip-gathering peak inside my garage door, by the glove-snapping gynecologist only talking to distract me from the forthcoming, oh-so-cold evil, by my mother’s hairdresser in between not-so-subtle hints that I could use a few highlights, and by my devious nemesis of a mailman, who I’m convinced starred in at least one Nightmare on Elm Street sequel before he was featured on "America’s Most Wanted" when I was 8. But I digress . . .
That two-part question asked at every family reunion and inside every white-walled church fellowship hall is: Do I write about myself, and do I get my characters from those who fill real-life roles in the crazy one-woman show that is my life?
Until recently, this question routinely set off a seemingly pre-programmed string of thoughts through my head. Is this a more common practice than I realized? Could all of my favorite authors who have entertained and wowed me with their ability to weave mesmerizing fiction (read: big fat lies) out of nothingness be, in reality, regurgitating personas they see every day onto their books’ pages? Are they using their manuscripts like public journals, only ones they’re willing to turn toward the people close to them to serve as honest-but-sort-of-fictionalized-even-if-most-of-it’s-true mirrors?
My second thought always hit like clockwork: If all authors do this, then damn. After the things Thomas Harris has seen, he’s bound to be a vegetarian by now. And I bet R.L. Stine wishes his parents would’ve moved him to a town where he could’ve taken piano lessons from a teacher without a creepy hand fetish . . . and maybe lived on a cul-de-sac with fewer shadowy homeless men carrying cursed cameras.
But with my newest book, I’ve gained some perspective. A few years ago, I found myself writing about an FBI forensic psychiatrist—something I, a 5’1”, indoor, glitter-heel-wearing blonde girl, am not—and giving her a little bit of something I am. I gave her a brain quirk. Made her a graphemeàcolor synesthete. A neurological phenomenon that causes a person to associate colors with everything from letters to days of the week and even people and emotions, graphemeàcolor synesthesia doesn’t have many practical uses in my own life, unless you count the time I filled awkward silences at my spouse’s company Christmas party by entertaining acquaintances with the colors my brain links to two particularly unpopular high school foreign language teachers with whom everyone in the group happened to share an F-filled history. But for Jenna, it’s useful. It can’t do her job for her—a flying-off-buildings kind of superpower, it ain’t (sadly)—but the subtle flashes of color in her head can illuminate important details and fine-tune theories as she sifts through clues she already has.
On paper, Dr. Jenna Ramey does lots of things I don’t: I like movies with explosions, but she actually shoots at bad guys. I research abnormal pathologies for stories, but she’s a trained expert at getting inside the minds of those relevant to her case. I dream of reaching the cereal box on the top shelf; she stores dishes on all three levels in her kitchen cabinets. But she and I are alike in a big way that helps her life and career run smoother. That little bit of me I used from real-life guarantees she—and I—can save fictional lives in a way no other FBI agent can. At least, none in Jenna’s world.
Maybe in the past I’ve taken the idea of authors pulling personas from their Rolodexes too literally. (Do you know anybody who still owns a Rolodex?) After all, your main character’s partner-in-crime doesn’t have to be an exact replica of your own best pal right down to her neverending coffee mug collection and penchant for breaking the news that the joke you thought was so hilarious five minutes ago only made you laugh because one Fuzzy Navel was affecting you way more than a single wine cooler ought to be. If an author does her job, a character trait can be inspired by someone’s quirks or killer fashion sense and still shape an entirely imagined character. That way, the front-of-the-book disclaimer that says any resemblance of the story’s characters to real-life people is unintentional can hold stronger legal teeth than semantics and a prayer.
Heck, an author can even pay homage to a pal if he likes. As long as he doesn’t blab about his bud’s embarrassing fourth nipple removal (while changing only one letter of her first name), coloring stories with distinctive habits and idiosyncrasies can be just what a book character needs to transform her from so flat she might as well be a paper doll to someone . . . well, someone readers might want to meet. Maybe even hang out with for a while.
Next time I run into another author, I think I’ll ask if he uses people in his real life in his writing. Who knows? I might find out something plucked from reality is that thing I love most about a favorite character.
Thanks, Colby! Readers, Color Blind is out today.
In her 35th novel, best-selling science fiction and fantasy author Tepper brings back two of her favorite characters for another adventure. Abasio the Dyer (first seen in A Plague of Angels) and his wife, Xulai, are on a trip with a mission: to warn the residents of Tingawa of a literal sea change heading their way. The waters are rising, and people must adapt to a sea-dwelling lifestyle. Not exactly the most welcome of messages, as they discover . . .
Though they had been on this journey for almost a year now, their reception from place to place had been so varied that they had been unable to settle on a routine. Words and phrases that were acceptable in one village turned out to be fighting words in the next place, even though they tried to avoid any fighting at all. If hostility seemed imminent, they had the means to leave, and they did leave: horses, wagon, and all. Essentially they had three duties: first to explain that the world was being drowned; second to let people know about the sea-children. Third: to survive!
What are you reading this week?