As a child I stole my mom's Stephen King novels from her bedside table (nothing like the lure of the forbidden!) and continued to read him through my teens. Over the last few years I've been a more sporadic King reader—skipping pretty much everything except Lisey's Story since Bag of Bones—but when I heard Under the Dome was along the lines of one of my favorites, The Stand, I was ready to dive in.
Then I opened our galley and found out it started on . . . page 73. Oops. Gives a whole new meaning to the term in media res, doesn't it?
Apparently we were the only unlucky ones, and Scribner got us a complete copy within a week. I've been working my way through the book ever since and can say that the Stand comparison is not too much of a stretch. After the jump, more on my impressions of the book so far (no real spoilers or plot details beyond those given in the published summary, but if you don't want to know anything about this one before you buy, stop here).
Since Under the Dome takes place in a small town sealed off from the world, it lacks the epic feel of The Stand. However, as in The Stand King uses his characters' predicament to address some major questions about human nature. The Stand asks if humans can avoid repeating their mistakes, and King's answer is ambiguous. In Under the Dome, the emphasis here is on compassion—or, sparing that, pity. What could force us to feel these emotions for the people we hurt, or see being hurt? What makes us stop seeing people as people, and why? The world watches as the situation in Chester's Mill goes downhill fast, and then turns away once the novelty of a town sealed off from the rest of the world fades and other news stories take top billing, recalling tragedies like Hurricane Katrina.
Under the Dome also contains signature King moments—images you'll remember, for better or for worse. And though the cast is huge, the characters manage to stand out as individuals. King fans should definitely mark November 10 on their calendar.
When we blogged about South of Broad, Pat Conroy's new novel, back in April, we were thrilled with the huge reader response we got.
Our readers commented to tell us how much they love Conroy and how excited they are for his new book. (To check out my original blog post, click here).
Today South of Broad goes on sale—and to celebrate, we are offering free copies to two lucky Book Case readers. All you have to do is comment on this posting by Friday, August 14. Tell us what your favorite Conroy novel is, or why you're looking forward to reading South of Broad. We'll select the winners at random. And don't forget to check out our August cover story on Conroy and South of Broad here.
Good luck! And happy reading!
The Book Case is proud to welcome author (and handwriting analyst!) Sheila Lowe. Here, she examines several handwriting samples from famous authors and demonstrates that telling a person's profession by their handwriting is easier said than done.
As part of my work as a forensic handwriting expert, I've studied more than 10,000 handwriting samples from people who work in a wide spectrum of professions and industries, including publishing. Authors like Dean Koontz, Michael Connelly, Anne Perry, and Dominick Dunne are part of my collection. So when BookPage asked me what commonalities there might be in the handwriting of authors, I had plenty of samples to look at.
The fact is, everyone's handwriting reveals a great deal about their personality, social skills, thinking style, ego strengths, and much more. But it's not a matter of merely looking at how a person forms their loops or dots their i's. Handwriting contains thousands of variables, and the experiences the writer has accumulated throughout a lifetime and their response to them creates a distinct pattern in the spatial arrangement of the writing on the page, the way the letters are formed, and the rhythm and movement of the writing.
Emily Dickinson had handwriting that is unusual in its excessive simplification, which reveals a problem with her ego. The extremely wide spaces between letters and words indicate her sense of, and need for, isolation.
Oscar Wilde's writing pattern is similar to Dickinson's in that the spacing, though not as extreme. So, we see these two authors had a strong need for personal space that dominated all aspects of their lives.
One of my favorite handwriting samples came in a letter from Dean Koontz, who kindly replied to a letter of mine. In his sample, the letters, words, and lines are quite close together, but not so close that the lower loops fall down and interfere with the next line (which would mean that he had trouble keeping things in their proper place). The writing looks warm and friendly but self-disciplined (the writer whose books have sold more than a half-billion copies would need to be self-disciplined!).
Dominick Dunne's handwriting is highly stylized, indicating someone who is concerned with image. It also has a left slant, which says he doesn't easily get close to people.
So we can see that despite some common characteristics, these authors have real differences, personality-wise, which makes sense. There is one thing they all have in common, though: their handwritings look nothing like the copybook model they were taught in school, and that means they each possess the characteristics of creativity, artistry, originality.
So coming back to the question, how do you tell who is an author by their handwriting? The answer is, you can't. Because each person is an individual with their own set of experiences and responses, like fingerprints, every handwriting is unique. There isn't just one type of author, so there isn't one type of author handwriting. But if the handwriting is creative, original, and expressive, it might have been done by an author. Or an artist. Or a photographer. Or...well, you get the picture.
Sheila Lowe is the author of the Forensic Handwriting Mysteries series, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Handwriting Analysis, and Handwriting of the Famous & Infamous. Her latest Claudia Rose mystery, Dead Write, is on sale this week.
Today’s publication of Nick McDonell’s third novel, An Expensive Education, probably has more than a few would-be writers twitching with jealousy—McDonell’s first novel, Twelve, was published when the author was just 18 years old.
On Sunday, the New York Times profiled the now 25-year-old writer. McDonell comes from a literary background—his father edits Sports Illustrated, and Hunter S. Thompson was a family friend. Although these connections no doubt helped McDonell get his first book deal, critic Michiko Kakutani validated the writer’s talent by calling Twelve “as fast as speed, as relentless as acid.” In BookPage, the novel was praised as being “energetic and episodic, brimming with tension. . . . McDonell, who is only 18, writes with a worldliness and wisdom that exceed his years.” Currently, Twelve is being turned into a movie by director Joel Schumacher, starring Kiefer Sutherland, Chace Crawford and 50 Cent.
Does anyone have other favorite authors who were discovered at a young age? A few immediately come to mind: Michael Chabon (The Mysteries of Pittsburgh was Chabon’s honors thesis and published when he was 25); Marisha Pessl (Special Topics in Calamity Physics debuted when Pessl was 28; Night Film is forthcoming in 2010); and Jonathan Safran Foer (Everything Is Illuminated was drawn from Foer’s senior thesis and published when he was 25). Young writer Kaleb Nation (age 20) is starting to get some buzz. His YA novel Bran Hambric: The Farfield Curse will be published on Sept. 1.
Over the past year, novelist Ian McEwan (Atonement, Enduring Love) has dropped several tantalizing tidbits about his work-in-progress, an 11th novel—his first since 2007's On Chesil Beach. It's about global warming. It features a physicist whom McEwan has described as “an intellectual thief. He’s sexually predatory. He’s a compulsive eater, a round and tubby fellow who has profound self-belief.” It's not a comedy—but has "extended comic stretches." And just yesterday he revealed a title, Solar, in a long interview with the Eastern Daily Press.
Where's the controversy, you ask? In the new novel, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist suggests that "men outnumber women at the top of his profession because of inherent differences in their brains, rather than any gender discrimination," according to The Guardian.
This plotline revelation has made major headlines since McEwan himself has faced criticism for giving his opinion on such things as radical Islam and Christianity. (Everyone loves an autobiographical angle!) The twist here is that after transforming himself into something of a media scapegoat, Beard makes a discovery that might help save the planet—if only anyone would listen to him. As McEwan explained to the New Yorker in February, “It isn’t angels necessarily who are going to save us."
Doubleday, McEwan's publisher in the U.S., hasn't announced a release date for the novel yet, and it's unlikely to appear before next year. Between now and then, we can probably expect a few more of those revelations . . .
Today’s a big day in Harry Potter-land. J.K. Rowling has said in interviews that Harry’s birthday is July 31, and the author’s own birthday is today, too. (She was born July 31, 1965.)
Harry’s birth year is a bit more mysterious. Lifted from FactMonster.com:
“Near the beginning of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone it says that ‘tomorrow, Tuesday, was Harry’s eleventh birthday.’ July 31 doesn't fall on a Tuesday very often. Most readers of that first book assumed that, because it was published in 1997, Harry attended Hogwarts during the 1990s. In 1990, July 31 fell on a Tuesday. This would mean that Harry was born in 1979. . . . But wait—this theory is contradicted by evidence in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, in which Harry helped celebrate Nearly Headless Nick’s deathday anniversary on October 31, 1992. Harry was 12 at that time. So this would mean that Harry was born in 1980.”
BookPage has featured quite a bit of Potter coverage through the years. Here is an interview with actor Jim Dale, the voice of the Harry Potter audio books, a review of Chamber of Secrets (from 1999!), and a feature about Half-Blood Prince.
And just for fun, let’s revisit some of Rowling’s best birthday-themed prose.
From Goblet of Fire:
“Aunt Petunia didn’t know what was hidden under the loose floorboard upstairs. She had no idea that Harry was not following the diet at all… on Harry’s birthday (which the Dursleys had completely ignored) he had received four superb birthday cakes, one each from Ron, Hermione, Hagrid, and Sirius.”
And Chamber of Secrets:
“Harry left through the back door. It was a brilliant, sunny day. He crossed the lawn, slumped down on the garden bench, and sang under his breath: ‘Happy birthday to me… happy birthday to me…’ No cards, no presents, and he would be spending the evening pretending not to exist.”
Anyone have a favorite Harry Potter scene they’d like to share? Or thoughts on the new movie?
Joyce Maynard's just-released novel, Labor Day, is drawing kudos from all over. In her review for BookPage, Deborah Donovan calls it "a marvelous read" and she notes, as several other reviewers have, that the book is "perfect for one long sitting." In other words, something about the story is so mesmerizing, so deeply engaging, that you won't want to put it down.
Set in the 1980s, Maynard's novel is part coming-of-age, part love story, part page-turner. The story unfolds over one long weekend as a divorced mother and her 13-year-old son head out for what should be a routine trip to the store and meet a mysterious stranger who will transform both their lives. In an interview with Kirkus, Maynard says, "The story I tell in Labor Day is painful, but it’s hopeful too. And I’m a hopeful person."
The book's hopeful quality is beautifully captured in a stunning cover design that pictures a lush end-of-summer scene viewed through a damp window. Outlined on the surface of the glossy window is the shape of a heart, as if someone had traced it there with a fingertip. Trails of condensation drip down from the heart on the window pane, making the image seem at once both lovely and poignant.
The cover was designed by Mary Schuck, VP/Creative Art Director for HarperCollins, who tells us via email, "This was an important book for us, so we went through many ideas and covers to come up with this. Not to give anything away, but the heart drawn inside a steamy hot summer room seemed like a good way to get at least part of the storyline across." Visual relief was added by using a gloss finish on the window pane, and a matte finish on the heart. "I wanted the pane of glass and water to shine and the drawn heart to look removed by human hands, so that’s why we went with the spot matte on top of gloss," Schuck explains. When we received a copy of the finished book at our office a few days ago, I found the effect eye-catching, and as I suspect many others will, I was drawn to trace the shape of the heart with my own finger on the surface of the cover. As for the author herself, Schuck says, "Joyce loved it. She thought it was a nice surprise."
Enter to win a copy of Labor Day by leaving a comment about a book cover that you love (or loathe) by Tuesday, August 4. If you win, you'll not only be able see this very special book cover for yourself, you'll have the perfect novel to read when Labor Day weekend rolls around.
There's no reason why . . . publishers can't be planning for the holiday season. Any best-selling author worth her salt seems to have a holiday-themed book headed to shelves before the Thanksgiving turkey is carved. Many of the usual suspects are appearing—Anne Perry, Donna VanLiere, Debbie Macomber, Richard Paul Evans, Melody Carlson—but this season also brings notable new members of the holiday fiction club:
Kate Jacobs had a smash hit with her debut, The Friday Night Knitting Club -- and its sequel proved equally popular. Now she brings back some of the same characters in Knit the Season (Putnam). We predict: More than a few craft-lovers will find this yarn under their tree.
Gregory Maguire is the modern king of fractured fairy tales, which makes him a natural fit for the Christmas novel. With Matchless (Morrow), he reinvents Andersen's "The Little Match Girl" for the holidays. We predict: This classic story will now inspire more laughter than tears.
In novels like P.S. I Love You, Cecelia Ahern has managed to give a twee-sounding concepts emotional depth without veering into sentimentality. Her holiday novel, The Gift (Hyperion), was published last year in the UK and promises more of the same entertainment with an emotional pull. Plus, it's beautifully packaged. We predict: This won't be her last holiday-themed work.
Garrison Keillor's folksy voice takes on the holiday in A Christmas Blizzard (Viking). When a weathly art collector is stranded in North Dakota for Christmas instead of lounging on a Hawaiian beach as he'd planned, he's changed forever. We predict: An upswing in North Dakota holiday tourism.
July 18 marks Nelson Mandela's 91st birthday, and in celebration Hachette Audio is releasing a remarkable three-disc audio version of Nelson Mandela's Favorite African Folktales.
The 23 tales from across the African continent, all wonderfully enhanced with traditional African music and music composed for this audio, are read by an amazing array of international performers, including Don Cheadle, Matt Damon, Whoopi Goldberg, Hugh Jackman, Scarlett Johansson, Debra Messing, Helen Mirren, Sophie Okonedo, Alan Rickman, Charlize Theron, Blair Underwood, Alfre Woodard and Forest Whitaker, who donated their time and talent.
The elaborate bonus materials include beautiful pieces of artwork to accompany each story, along with a hand-drawn map of Africa. Profits from the audiobook will go to ANSA, Artists for a New South Africa, a nonprofit working in South Africa and the U.S. to combat HIV/AIDS, and The Nelson Mandela Chidren's Fund, so while you and your family listen to these entrancing stories, you'll be contributing to a very good cause. The book's website lets you listen to a free sample.
I didn't catch Little Bee pre-pub, but after reading a few pages in an Oxford bookstore I had to buy it. Luckily the UK practice of putting new books out in paperback made this an affordable and travel-friendly option. If you're put off by the back cover copy (which basically says, this book is so good we can't tell you anything about it), read a few pages and see if you're not captivated by the voice of Little Bee, a 16-year-old Nigerian refugee with a surprising connection to Kidman's well-to-do character, Sarah, and her husband. Unlike many over-hyped novels, this one delivers. Little Bee follows Cleave's Incendiary, a novel in the form of a letter to Osama bin Laden in response to an (imaginary) terror attack on a London football stadium. Unfortunately, the pub date set for Incendiary was July 7, 2005, the day of the London tube bombings, and the novel failed to get the promotion it deserved. We're glad to see Little Bee bring Cleave some well-earned success.
Fun fact: in the UK, Little Bee was called The Other Hand and featured a generic "literary fiction" type cover, a big contrast to the fanciful US jacket. Which do you prefer?
Watch an interview with Chris Cleave here.