The Magician's Book by Laura Miller
December 2008, Little, Brown
The Magician's Book, which details Miller's reconciliation with Narnia, is a thoughtful and heartfelt book, and her exploration of the Chronicles resonates with me as much as the books themselves once did. She discovers that Narnia is big enough to contain not just the adventures she loved as a child, and not just the Christian themes that now appear obvious, but a whole world full of stories and wildness, bravery and treachery, ancient myths and Santa Claus; that loving Narnia allowed her to love all the stories it contained, referenced or built upon, and thus opened up untold worlds.
To me, the best children's books gave their child characters (and by extension, myself) the chance to be taken seriously. In Narnia, the boundary between childhood and adulthood—a vast tundra of tedious years—could be elided. The Pevensies not only get to topple the White Witch, fight in battles, participate in an earthshaking mystical event, and be crowned kings and queens; they do it all without having to grow up. Yet they become more than children, too. Above all, their decisions have moral gravity. In contrast to how most children experience their role in an adult world, what the child characters in these stories do, for better or for worse, really matters, and nowhere more so than in Edmund's betrayal.
. . . To the adult skeptic, the evident Christianity of the Chronicles makes their morality seem pat, the all-too-familiar stuff of tiresome, didactic tales. . . . But that's an illusion, fostered by an adult's resistance to what appears to be religious proselytizing. True, Lewis does populate Narnia with semiallegorical figures who represent eternal aspects of human nature in addition to more realistic characters like the Pevensies. The White Witch is bad through and through, almost as uncomplicated as a fairy-tale villain. But she's not the moral ground on which the story's moral battle is fought. Edmund is.
What are you reading today?
A new release from Pulitzer Prize winner Jane Smiley is always a big deal, and Private Life, her first novel since 2007's Ten Days in the Hills, is no exception. The book, which will be published by Knopf on May 4, is a departure from Smiley's previous work—it's historical, a sweeping saga that spans the life of an American woman, from the 1880s to World War II.
Margaret Mayfield marries late, but she also marries up: Captain Andrew Jackson Jefferson Early is an influential person in their small Missouri town, one who is a military officer and a brilliant scientist/astronomer. Though Margaret realizes soon after their marriage that Andrew is more interested in his work than his wife, they stay together—until the start of World War II reveals a dark side to her husband's scientific work.
Will you be reading?
Three months before the April 13 release date, the cover for Yann Martel's second novel has been revealed! And so, a monkey and a donkey in the desert take the place of a boy and a tiger on a life raft. Now, if we could only get galleys! (via)
Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane
With a movie adaptation set to hit theaters in just a month, now felt like the right time to finally read Dennis Lehane's best-selling suspense novel, Shutter Island. Nothing creeps me out more than something set in a mental institution, and this novel was no exception. It's 1954, and Federal Marshal Teddy Daniels and his partner have been sent to an island insane asylum to find a missing patient. But when a storm sets in and the doctors start acting suspicious, Teddy begins to question his mission—and his sanity.
"Beyond the wall, that way"—he pointed past Ward B—"is the original commander's quarters. You probably saw it on the walk up. Cost a fortune to build at the time, and the commander was relieved of his duties when Uncle Sam got the bill. You should see the place."
"Who lives there now?" Teddy said.
"Dr. Cawley," McPherson said. "None of this would exist if it weren't for Dr. Cawley. And the warden. They created something really unique here."
They'd looped around the back of the compound, met more manacled gardeners and orderlies, many hoeing a dark loam against the rear wall. One of the gardeners, a middle-aged woman with wispy wheat hair gone almost bald on top, stared at Teddy as he passed, and then raised a single finger to her lips. Teddy noticed a dark red scar, thick as licorice, that ran across her throat.
Related in BookPage: our interview with Lehane for The Given Day.
After the jump, you can watch the trailer for Martin Scorcese's adaptation Shutter Island—like the novel, it's guaranteed to give you the creeps!
One of the more anticipated novels of the year just hit the BookPage offices, and so far it more than justifies the hype. Justin Cronin's The Passage was inspired by his 9-year-old daughter—she asked him to write a novel about a girl who saved the world. Four years later, Cronin, known for his quiet literary works, had completed a 700-page manuscript that was the talk of the 2007 Frankfurt Book Fair and sold for $3 million.
Layered and complex, The Passage is the type of vividly imagined book that really draws readers in. Cronin is able to make characters who only appear on 10 pages as alive as his main characters, and in the novel's first 100 pages he has set the stage for what promises to be an epic saga: a young girl is abandoned; a scientific team on an expedition in South America discovers a mysterious, deadly virus; a death row inmate is released and transported to a secret location by a military operative for experimentation.
The story begins like this:
Before she became the Girl from Nowhere—the One Who Walked In, the First and Last and Only, who lived a thousand years—she was just a little girl in Iowa, named Amy. Amy Harper Bellafonte.
The day Amy was born, her mother, Jeannette, was nineteen years old. Jeannette named her baby Amy for her own mother, who'd died when Jeannette was little, and gave her the middle name Harper for Harper Lee, the lady who'd written To Kill a Mockingbird—truth be told, the only book she'd made it all the way through in high school. She might have named her Scout, after the little girl in the story, because she wanted her little girl to grow up like that, tough and funny and wise, in a way that she, Jeannette, had never managed to be. But Scout was a name for a boy, and she didn't want her daughter to have to go around explaining something like that.
Early reviews, and the opinions of your BookPage editors, indicate that the legendary battle of the "sophomore slump" has been won by two anticipated second novels on shelves this month: Joshua Ferris' The Unnamed and Elizabeth Kostova's The Swan Thieves. (Click on the author's name to read a BookPage interview.)
But there are a few other anticipated second novels on the horizon in 2010. Will they be as favored by the publishing gods? Go ahead, judge them by our summary of the publisher's description:
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Horns by Joe Hill (February)
The author of Heart-Shaped Box (and son of Stephen King) returns with a chilling tale of a young man bent on revenge after his girlfriend is murdered.
Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel (April)
His second novel needs no introduction (and besides, we've already been there on this blog!). Will it achieve the stratospheric success of Life of Pi?
The Map of True Places by Brunonia Barry (May)
The author of The Lace Reader returns with a new novel about a woman who lost her mother to suicide. Now a psychotherapist, she must with the suicide of her most troubled patient.
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender (June)
Known for her short stories, Bender has published only one previous novel. This magical second work is about a young girl who discovers she can taste people's emotions in the food they cook, and must deal with what she learns about others. Loving the title and the concept on this one—if Bender's novels are as good as her stories, count me in!
Kings of the Earth by Jon Clinch (July)
His new work (following the acclaimed Finn) is a “mythic” story about three brothers in upstate New York who live together in isolation—until one dies and the other two are suspected of his murder.
Country music superstar Sara Evans was in Nashville Monday night to promote her first novel, The Sweet By and By. Evans teamed up with veteran author Rachel Hauck to write the first in a four book fictional series about a young Southern woman, Jade Fitzgerald, and her evolving quest to balance the traumatic events of her past with the bright prospects on her horizon.
BookPage editors Abby and Trisha were lucky enough to sit down and talk with the lovely and candid Ms. Evans. Press the play button below to hear our chat about the stories behind the book, how Sara balances her work and family life and why she is afraid of elevators.
Our chat with Sara Evans:
The Sweet By and By is on sale now. Will you pick up a copy?
After five years of silence, acclaimed American writer Ann Beattie will return to fiction this June. Her upcoming release, Walks With Men (Scribner) is described as an “intense” novella that captures New York in the early 1980s (when Beattie came to NYC). It follows a young woman’s infatuation and disillusionment with a writer 20 years her senior. Perhaps the most innovative thing about the book is that it will be published simultaneously in two formats, as is often done in the U.K. The trade paper will be $10, and the hardcover edition, $15.
One of the many reasons I like going to London is that I can often find books from my favorite authors a.) sooner and b.) cheaper, even with the crazy exchange rate, since new releases are published in paperback. If things were done similarly here, would you buy more books?
The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris
Reagan Arthur / Little Brown, on sale January 18
Three years after a debut that dazzled the literary world (Then We Came to the End) Joshua Ferris returns with a second novel that is both difficult to describe and hard to forget. In The Unnamed, successful corporate lawyer Tim Farnsworth succumbs to a mysterious compulsion—he can't stop walking. At times, the urge strikes so suddenly that Tim darts out of his Manhattan office or his suburban home and pounds the pavement until his feet are bloody and his body collapses in an exhausted heap. As his marathon walks continue, the blinding urge has a devastating effect on Tim's career, his family and his health. The Unnamed challenges readers with its unlikely premise and lures them with writing that is intense, compelling and relentless in its narrative power.
He walked past neighbors' houses, he walked barefoot down Route 22. He walked past the supermarket: empty parking lot and an eerie glow. He walked past the Korean Baptist church and the Saks-anchored mall into the dreams of the late-night drivers who took home the image of some addled derelict in a cotton robe menacing the soft shoulder. He looked down at his legs. It was like watching footage of legs walking from the point of view of the walker. That was the helplessness, this was the terror: the brakes are gone, the steering wheel has locked, I am at the mercy of this wayward machine. It circled him around to the south entrance of the forest preserve. Five, six miles on foot after a fourteen-hour day, he came to a clearing and crashed. The sleep went as quickly as a cut in a film. Now he was standing again, in the cricket racket, forehead moist with sweat, knees rickety, feet cramped, legs aching with lactic acid. And how do you walk home in a robe with any dignity?
Watch for a Meet the Author Q&A with Ferris in the February issue of BookPage and read an interview with Ferris from 2007.
Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby
September 2009, Riverhead
Juliet, Naked follows the intertwining stories of Duncan, a college professor in a small English town whose one passion is for the music of Tucker Crowe; Duncan's girlfriend Annie, who is beginning to realize how angry she is that she's just spent 15 years with a man who loves Tucker Crowe more than her; and Tucker Crowe himself, who has been in near-seclusion in rural Pennsylvania since shortly after the release of his greatest album, Juliet, in 1986. Hornby has a gift for illuminating the inner lives of his characters, from their moments of petty jealousy to the recognition of their scariest or most humbling needs. I especially appreciate his insight into the kind of fannish obsession that Duncan has for Tucker Crowe, which both embarrasses and sustains him. I always love Hornby's characters, and this book is no exception; I'm almost excited that I have another flight tomorrow, so I can have an excuse to plow through the rest of Juliet, Naked and find out how it ends!
What really frightened him was how spectacularly his transgression had paid off. All these years, he'd done nothing more than read and listen and think, and though he'd been stimulated by these activities, what had he uncovered, really? And yet by behaving like a teenage hooligan with a screw loose, he had made a major breakthrough. He was the only Crowologist in the world who knew about that picture, and he could never tell anyone about it, unless he wished to own up to being mentally unbalanced. Every other year spent on his chosen subject had been barren compared to the last couple of hours. But that couldn't be the way forward, surely? He didn't want to be the kind of man who plunged his arms into trash cans in the hope of finding a letter, or a piece of bacon rind that Crowe might have chewed. By the time he got back to the hotel, he had convinced himself he was finished with Tucker Crowe.
What are you reading today?