So Much for That by Lionel Shriver
Harper, March 2010
Shep could feel it, that for Zach suddenly the whole happy-family playacting was too much. The boy didn't know that until a week ago his father was about to abscond to the east coast of Africa, and he didn't know that his mother had just been diagnosed with a rare and deadly cancer, much less did he know that as far as his mother was concered the disease was his father's fault. But these highly incidental unsaids emitted the equivalent of the high-frequency sound waves that convenience stores now broadcast outside their shops to keep loitering gangs from the door. What dulled adult ears could no longer detect was unbearable to adolescents, and the same might be said of emotional fraud. Zach popped his pizza pocket early from the taoster and took his half-frozen dinner in a paper towel upstairs without even bothering with "See ya."
Roast chicken, boiled potatoes and steamed green beans. Glynis commended his preparation, but only picked. "I feel fat," she admitted.
"You're underweight. It's only fluid. You have to stop thinking like that."
"Suddenly I'm supposed to become a different person?"
"You can be the same person who eats more."
"Your chicken," she said, "is probably not what I feel so little appetite for." This was surely true. Given the purpose of food, an appetite at meals implied an appetite for the future.
The 2010 Golden Globe nominations were announced this morning, and I was happy to see that many of the picks were based on books. Here are the highlights:
Up in the Air, based on Walter Kirn’s 2001 novel, led the pack with six nominations: best picture (drama), best actor in a drama, best director, best screenplay and best supporting actress (two nominations here, for Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick).
The Blind Side, based on Michael Lewis’s book of the same name, was nominated for best actress in a drama.
Fantastic Mr. Fox (a BookPage favorite!) and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs were both nominated for best animated feature film.
Invictus, based on John Carlin’s book Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Changed a Nation, was nominated for best actor in a drama.
The Lovely Bones, based on Alice Sebold’s novel, was nominated for best supporting actor.
Precious, based on the novel Push by Sapphire, was nominated for best picture (drama), best actress in a drama and best supporting actress.
Sherlock Holmes was nominated for best actor in a comedy.
A Single Man, based on Christopher Isherwood’s 1964 novel, was nominated for best actor in a drama, best supporting actress and best original score.
See a complete list of nominees. How many of the books-to-movies have you read? What book would you like to see as a movie next year?
And finally, the last of our "Best of 2009" lists: nonfiction. This year's picks include a little of everything, with an emphasis on memoir—it was a good year for getting personal.
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Changing My Mind by Zadie Smith
Lit by Mary Karr
Louisa May Alcott by Harriet Reisen
Stitches by David Small
Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder
Googled by Ken Auletta
Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon
The Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes
Home Game by Michael Lewis
The Secret Lives of Buildings by Edward Hollis
As always, share your picks in the comments. Is there something we missed?
I can’t believe this has escaped my radar until now, but one of my all-time favorite authors, Isabel Allende, has a new book out in April! Last night I gave away a copy of The House of the Spirits at a book swap, and I’m currently in the middle of Daughter of Fortune... It must be fate—a dose of Allende-esque magic—that I received word of the new book today.
Out on April 27, The Island Beneath the Sea is another historical epic – what Allende does best, in my opinion. The original Spanish version of the novel was released in August as La isla bajo el mar and is already a bestseller. From what I can gather from the pub copy, the novel will tell the story of Zarité, a slave fighting for freedom in Saint-Domingue (now Haiti) at the end of the 18th Century. Her owner will ultimately take her to New Orleans.
Note that the jacket image I’ve posted is of the Spanish edition of the novel, published by Knopf. The English edition will be published by HarperCollins. That jacket hasn’t yet been released.
The Island Beneath the Sea is Allende’s first novel since Inés of My Soul in 2006. In her review of that novel, BookPage reviewer Kelly Koepke wrote that Allende’s “singular talent for storytelling...grows stronger with each new work.” If The Island Beneath the Sea only lives up to Allende’s past work (marked by dreamy, detailed and emotional descriptions of character and place), then we’re all in for a treat.
So far, the novel seems to have healing powers -- at least for the author. In an interview with the Latin American Herald Tribune, Allende said that a stomach ailment convinced her she had cancer as she was writing The Island Beneath the Sea. “I went from one doctor to another and no one could cure me,” she said. “When I finished the book, the symptoms went away and so far [they haven’t returned].”
Related in BookPage: Read a 2003 interview with Allende, “a gifted storyteller who forges an enchanting amalgam of memory and imagination.”
Will you be reading The Island Beneath the Sea? What is your favorite book by Allende?
As far as I can remember, though, few giveaways have come close to our holiday giveaway. We are sending a box'o'books filled with SIX January titles to an incredibly lucky reader. We're giving away:
Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert
The First Rule by Robert Crais
Witch & Wizard by James Patterson
The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova (Read a sneak preview here)
A Mountain of Crumbs by Elena Gorokhova (Read about the memoir's fantastic blurbs)
Roses by Leila Meacham
Plus we’re giving away Books-A-Million gift cards.
If that list makes you drool as much as it does me, sign up to receive Tuesday’s edition of BookPageXTRA. You'll get an email from us on Tuesday morning with contest details inside. Good luck!
By the way, if James Patterson is your thing – maybe you’ve already bought a copy of Witch & Wizard, which hit shelves today – then you will love our Q&A with Patterson himself, in which the author writes the following of his YA novel: “For those who have been waiting for a series as mouthwatering and addictive as Harry Potter, this’ll do it.” Decide for yourself and let us know what you think of the book.
It took two rounds of voting and several discussions, but we've finally distilled the long list of wonderful novels published in 2009 into a list of 10. Unlike a certain book trade publication, we went overwhelmingly female with this list, which nonetheless includes a variety of genres and combines old favorites with new names.
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A Friend of the Family by Lauren Grodstein
A Short History of Women by Kate Walbert
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
Lark and Termite by Jayne Ann Phillips
The City & The City by China Mieville
The Girl Who Played with Fire by Steig Larsson
We at BookPage have been fans of J.A. Konrath and his "winning cocktail of humor, suspense" since Whiskey Sour was released in 2004. And we can attest to his savvy marketing techniques—the autographed coasters he sent along with his 2006 Meet the Author piece still bedeck our cubicle walls.
On his blog, Konrath talks frequently about his inventive attempts to go viral—using social media like twitter and Facebook, creating videos, and even making some of his works available for free on his website. All have grown his audience; none have been the next "Wedding Dance" video. In a post published Friday, he shares his latest tactic: an eBay auction.
The main goal of the auction isn't to sell the books. It's to introduce people to my sarcastic brand of humor. The product description is essentially 500 jokes. The point, of course, isn't to be viewed by people who already know me. It's to be viewed by folks who had no clue who I was before looking at the auction.
p.s. Auction ends today at 1, so check it out now if you're going to.
I went out to see Fantastic Mr. Fox last night, and I am happy to report that it is, in fact, fantastic. The animation is lively and unusual, and the script is full of grace notes and genuinely funny moments, but what really makes the movie work is the characters, who are voiced with such intelligence, compassion, and deadpan humor that I found myself truly caring about them and whether or not they would survive their adventures.
I loved Roald Dahl as a child, and I couldn't count how many times I read and re-read The Witches, The BFG, and Dahl's autobiography, Boy, among others—but somehow I never read Fantastic Mr. Fox. So I can't comment on how faithfully the movie sticks to the story, but I can say with some certainty that it possesses one of the central qualities of Dahl's work: imagination.
And imagination goes hand-in-hand with the knowledge that the world is essentially a wild place. There's real danger here, as in many of Dahl's books, and the audience senses that, partly because the world of the movie is deceptively big. Though it all takes place in (and under) a very small town and the surrounding countryside, it feels expansive—there are tree homes, sewers, helicopters, broad fields, and a train going by in the distance—and the characters move through it with the ease and exploratory fervor of wild animals. Which, of course, they are, and the movie gets some mileage out of the tension between their wild natures (tearing out the throats of chickens) and their genteel demeanors (Mr. Fox's fondness for making toasts).
If that tension seems more like director Wes Anderson's preoccupation than Dahl's, it's certainly possible; Anderson has built his career on characters (particularly men) who are trying to understand their own natures and find their way in the world, and Fantastic Mr. Fox has plenty of these. But these personal quests never detract from Dahl's story; in many ways, they drive the action and keep us invested in the outcome. (In that way, Fantastic Mr. Fox is similar to my favorite of Anderson's films, Bottle Rocket, which also tells the story of a gang of inexperienced and essentially good-hearted people who band together under a charismatic leader to pull off a series of mild heists, more mischievous than malicious.)
Fantastic Mr. Fox is a thoroughly delightful movie, and one of my favorites from this year. Fans of Roald Dahl or Wes Anderson are in for a treat; fans of both are very, very lucky.
Saving money, saving time and saving the planet by eating sustainably and seasonally has been the mantra of many cookbooks this year. But, in looking back and thinking about the ones that I know I'll go back to again and again (the true sign of a worthwhile cookbook), I was drawn to the more classic—books that focus on fabulous food, without preaching and beseeching.
—Sybil Pratt, BookPage cooking columnist
Longtime BookPage interviewer Alden Mudge talked to Greg Mortenson for our December issue. Here, he shares his impressions of the best-selling author and a few of the more memorable quotes that didn't make it into the finished piece.
I am by temperament knee-jerk skeptical of heroes and hero worshipers. So for several years I resisted the Three-Cups-of-Tea fever that had infected a good number of my intelligent, well-read friends. Then I was assigned to interview Greg Mortenson about his new book Stones into Schools. Call me a believer.
During a long phone call, I was utterly convinced and charmed by Mortenson. He was both forceful and self-effacing, remarkably candid, completely dedicated to his cause, and very opinionated. Not all of his opinions fit in the BookPage print interview, so I thought I’d offer a few outtakes here:
“I love to talk with students around the country, and one of the main topics we end up talking about is failure. As a society we’re very loath to talk about failure. When I ask an adult audience ‘who can tell me what the first chapter of Three Cups of Tea is called?’ not one hand goes up. But if I ask college kids or high school kids, nearly all their hands go up. They know it’s called “Failure.” Kind of interesting. I think in order to succeed you need failure. If we could admit that we failed a little bit once in a while—especially our government—we’d be better off. I think the military actually gets this. They’re willing to admit that in many ways they failed originally in Afghanistan.”
“The Afghanistan government was set up at the Bonn Conference in December 2001. Eighteen countries met and decided how to rebuild Afghanistan. The problem was that it was set up as a centralized, deprovincialized system, very U.S.-oriented, very bureaucratic. But Afghanistan is a feudal, multiethnic society. Power is really with the shura, the elders. I’ve studied the Marshall Plan extensively. It was quite a brilliant plan. The main component was that it was provincialized and decentralized, especially in Italy and Japan. In Afghanistan the U.S. completely flipped it around, made it exactly the opposite. Only in the last two or three years—ironically through the military—has this started to change.”
AFGHANISTAN, THE POSITIVE AND THE NEGATIVE
“What I try and tell the public is here’s what you have to look at, the positive things and then negative things in Afghanistan. The positive things are: In 2000, which was nine years ago at the height of the Taliban, there were 800,000 kids in school, ages 5 to 15, and 99 percent were boys. Today there are 8.4 million in school, including 3.5 [million] females. The goal is 13 million, so that is like 60 percent of the way there. The Afghan army is at 80,000 and the goal is 180,000, so that’s 40 percent of the way there. There is now a central banking system in the country, which started in 2006, which is huge. There’s an Eisenhower-era road building program; the road now from north to south is completely done and the road from the east to west is about half done, so the roads are about 70 percent finished—the main trunk roads. If you go into a district court, the amount of women and men, but especially women, filing titles and deeds for landownership is just skyrocketing. So those are the positive things.
And the negative things are: the U.S. is taking more hits. A lot of that is because starting two years ago—it was actually General McKiernan and now General McChrystal—have put a huge emphasis on cutting down on bombings. There have unfortunately been some deaths from bombings, very tragic. But the amount of bombings has gone down 70 percent in the last three years—the number of bombs and the frequency and the weight. Two years ago the U.S. started deploying forward operating bases out into the very rural areas. Their job was to embed with villagers or with the Afghan army and build relationships. Unfortunately what that does is exposes the U.S. so we’re going to take more hits, more casualties. But the alternative is to do more bombings. One thing that all the shura agree with—and they’re very vehement about it—is that the top priority is not to kill innocent civilians. And their message is being heard quite loud and clear in the military. The military kind of has a choice—pull back our troops, put them in garrisons or compounds— but if they do that they’re going to have to do more bombing and then the civilian casualties will go up and there will be public outcry both there and here at home. The other thing that I think the military and our government has done a very poor job at is telling the public that nearly half of these troops are trainer troops, or brainpower; they’re not firepower. Eight thousand of the 22,000 troops that the U.S. put into Afghanistan this year are dentists, engineers, agronomists, horticulturalists, civil engineers, nurses, doctors, trainers, police trainers, anti-mining personnel. Of these 40,000 new troops they’ve asked for, they want approximately 15,000 of them to be what I call brainpower or trainer troops. I don’t know if the public is aware of that.”
ON BOOKS THAT SHAPED HIM
“The first real relevant book I read—I was about eight—was called Reverence for Life by Dr. Albert Schweitzer. He was a medical missionary in the Congo. He talked about how all living things are sacred—animals, plants, and humans. It actually had a big impact on me. My first big book—I read it at about 11 or 12—was called The Territorial Imperative which looked at the animal kingdom and at how humans also are territorial. It was a pretty heavy read but it had quite a dramatic influence on me. So did Jonathan Livingston Seagull—remember that book?—about thinking out of the box. After I read those books I was really inspired.”
Alden Mudge has been interviewing authors for BookPage for more than 15 years. He lives in Berkeley, California.