The earthquake-triggered tsunami that hurtled away from Chile today smashed into Robinson Crusoe Island, a remote, rocky island named for the fictional, stranded sailor. Daniel Defoe drewn his novel -- sometimes considered the first English-language novel -- from the experience of Alexander Selkirk (or Selcraig), a hot-headed pirate who preyed on ships along the South American coast and was marooned for four years on the island. Defoe took the real-life tale and ran with it in Robinson Crusoe (1719). He shifted the island's location, gave the hero a more suitable back story, and extended the ill-fated sailor's stay to 28 years (maybe he was thinking in terms of dog years). It stands as one of the great adventure tales, along with "Treasure Island" and "Gulliver's Travels." As for Defoe, he went on to write another classic, Moll Flanders.
Synopsis: In "Shadow Tag," painter Gil and wife/subject Irene struggle to cope with a bad marriage, as their three children look on, victimized and yet hopeful.
Review: Maybe I've been watching too much of the Winter Olympics, but the book reminded me of a short track speed skating race, seen in super slow motion. The characters follow a circular path of dishonesty and small human failures, even as they jostle and claw for advantage, for a chance to emerge redeemed. But almost from the first pages, the reader is enveloped by a sense of foreboding, of a finish-line pileup. Erdrich's prose is simple, yet can be very poetic. She adds depth with short back stories on each character, expertly drawing them with quick brushstrokes.
Read this if: You're looking for a well-written, well-told tale that is thought- and discussion-provoking. It would a great book club choice.
Move over Percy Jackson and Wimpy Kid -- John Grisham has a new series for kids
Here's more evidence that kids aren't a lost cause when it comes to reading. John Grisham, king of the courtroom thriller, has signed a deal to create a kid-oriented series featuring 13-year-old Theodore Boone. According to publisher Hodder & Stoughton and the Bookseller blog, Boone "knows more about the law than most lawyers do", as he becomes caught up in a local murder trial. The books -- the first will be released in June, the second next year -- are aimed at 9-12 year-olds but will also be sold in the adult sections of bookstores.
In Virginia, where I once lived, there's a saying: "I may be dumb, but I ain't stupid." No one's accusing Grisham, a lawyer, successful author and part-time Virginian, of being dumb. And this move -- extending the Grisham brand to a new, highly lucrative audience -- shows he certainly ain't stupid.
The movie/book mojo extends further on the best seller list. At #1 is "Dear John" by Nicholas Sparks, which evidently got a boost from the movie (and may have helped to carry "The Last Song" to the #3 spot). At #5 and #9 are "Shutter Island" by Dennis Lehane and "The Lovely Bones" by Alice Sebold, which also have been released as movies this year.
I'm actually less likely to read a book once I've seen a movie -- I don't like having the ending spoiled. But I sometimes will postpone seeing a movie, and rush out to get the book. Sounds backward, I know, but I usually find that the book to be deeper, more layered and more enjoyable than the movie. Call it The "Dune" Effect.
OK, after a couple of years of hearing Dave and many of you discuss your great (and sometimes not so much) experiences at your book clubs, I'm finally taking the plunge. Wednesday, March 10, is the date of my first-ever book club meeting.
Maybe it's the only child in me speaking, but I just never really saw the appeal of talking books over with a bunch of people before. I used reading primarily for escapism when I was younger, and ony recently have I actively sought it out for more educational purposes -- outside of the classroom, of course.
But now the social aspect of a reading has really got me excited. I blame the Internet -- sometimes I feel I can barely do anything without assembling a committee and talking it over online anymore.
Our first book is Neil Gaiman's "Neverwhere," which I'd read previously and was a pleasure to read through again. And I'm actually quite excited to talk about the twisted mythology and archetypes Gaiman uses to illustrate the world and keep the plot skipping around in ways that are both familiar and off-balance.
But there's also a homework component to this meeting: I'm supposed to suggest a book for the next month. I've got a couple of ideas, but if you have suggestions, I'd love to hear them.
So help me out! Which books did you find particularly enjoyable or illuminating? And are my choices just plain wrong for a book club setting?
The latest episode of Kids Behaving Badly features Tasha Tudor's heirs. They've been battling for nearly two years in Vermont courts over the $2 million estate of the famed children's book author and illustrator. Tudor's charming illustrations for such books as "Little Women" and 'The Secret Garden" inspired an eccentric, 19th century lifestyle -- she raised her children in a home without electricity or running water. She died in June 2008, at 92.
Tudor's will asked that she be buried with her predeceased dogs and the ashes of her pet rooster, according to an AP report. The bulk of her estate went to a son and grandson; three other children received small amounts -- triggering an all-out battle in court. The heirs couldn't even agree on how to handle the burial of her ashes, so a judge ordered her cremated remains divided in half.
Obama's name has been magic in publishing -- from books to Spiderman comics -- but some of the luster has worn off since his election. He has been taking his lumps in Congress over health care, and some Democratic candidates are distancing themselves from his policies. It will be interesting to see how this bio fares.
Where did Remnick get the title to his Obama book? Here's how the publisher explains it: In the Prologue to "The Bridge," Obama, who has just announced his candidacy, goes to the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, to pay homage to the civil-rights generation, the “Moses generation,” and declares himself the leader of the new generation, the “Joshua generation.” How a young African-American politician, barely out of the Illinois state legislature, came to such a point is a remarkable American story.
Sonny Mehta, chairman of Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, said in a news release about the book: “Obama’s election as President was based less on policy prescriptions than on a sense of his character and biography. "The Bridge" reveals not only his character, but also his trials, motivations, and perspectives in a way that a memoir, even a remarkable one, cannot.”
You've probably noticed that Nancy has been doing the heavy lifting here for lately, while I've been dealing with the death of my mother-in-law, Shirley Feldman. We often highlight the passing of well-known authors -- J.D. Salinger, John Updike, Lucille Clifton et al. Now I'll take the liberty of mentioning Shirley too, because -- in addition to her other notable qualities -- she was a life-long reader.
She grew up in the New York apartment building that was home to Herman Wouk, so he was always a favorite author. She favored historical fiction, and was always asking me for recommendations on the latest novels. She also loved art, and I still have many books from her trips to museums around the world. (She's probably also the source for my family's Francophile tendencies.) Until she passed away last week at 90, she kept a book near her chair and was a faithful borrower at the Baltimore County bookmobile that visited her senior living center.
Rest in peace, Shirley. May we all be so alert and curious and well-read at 90.
Last weekend, my husband and I were going through his childhood -- baseball cards, along with other sports paraphenalia, and a few old comic books, to be precise. For him, it's a trip down Memory Lane. For me, it's a large pile of possibly profitable collectibles, and strange antiques that I will probably never understand.
It's OK. He wouldn't understand my unhealthy love of my first copy of "Pride and Pejudice" or the Care Bear I've had since I was a baby.
But it turns out he was the smart one. As soon as I heard the news that a near-mint edition of Action Comics #1, with the iconic image of the caped superhero lifting a car over his head, had sold for $1 million in auction, I looked through the collection on the dining room table a tad more carefully.
"It's considered by most people as the most important book," said John Dolmayan, a comic book enthusiast and dealer best known as the drummer for the rock band System of a Down. "It kind of ushered in the age of the superheroes."
The likelihood that your comics collection holds a similar gem is pretty small. Then again, if you wait around for 70 years, who knows what could earn you a cool million, too.
"As in the original novel, our story follows two relationships: the tragic adulterous romance of Anna Karenina and Count Alexei Vronsky, and the much more hopeful marriage of Nikolai Levin and Kitty Shcherbatskaya.
"These four, yearning for true love, live in a steampunk-inspired 19th century of mechanical butlers, extraterrestrial-worshiping cults, and airborne debutante balls.
"Their passions alone would be enough to consume them — but when a secret cabal of radical scientific revolutionaries launches an attack on Russian high society’s high-tech lifestyle, our heroes must fight back with all their courage, all their gadgets, and all the power of a sleek new cyborg model like nothing the world has ever seen."
Now, I just need to re-read the original so I can properly appreciate the "improvements."
Tomorrow is the release date for "The Night Fairy," the latest novel by 2008 Newbery Medal winner Laura Amy Schlitz. The Baltimore Sun's Mary McCauley profiled the author and longtime Park School librarian, who used a group of second-graders as a sounding board. Here's an excerpt from the article:
The book is about a young fairy who scrambles to survive after she loses her wings and is plunked down in a garden full of predators. In 2007, a classroom of Park students, then 7 and 8 years old, became the novelist's editorial board.
"As an author, you think you know where the good parts and the bad parts are," Schlitz says. "And then you read to a group of children, and you learn when you're boring them, and you hurry through those sections to get to the parts where they're interested again. You start to get a sense of your story's rhythm and flow."
The kids also provided feedback that changed her story in very specific ways. Daniel Neiman, now 11, told Schlitz, "Flory knows all about magic, but she doesn't know how to make a friend" - an observation so apt it became the novel's theme. ...
That honesty helped Schlitz win the 2008 Newbery Award for "Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!" a collection of monologues spoken by children living in a medieval village. Schlitz's version of town life in 1255 is populated with fleas, maggots and lice - of the insect and human variety - but also with nobler specimens who display kindness, courage and wit.
Alexander Haig, the general-turned-political adviser died Saturday, at age 85. Many will recall his role as an adviser to presidents NIxon, Ford and Reagan. He survived the Watergate scandal -- and for a time some speculated that he was Deep Throat, the shadowy source portrayed in "All the President's Men." (He wasn't.) His political career went south after Reagan was shot and some thought he was trying to steal the spotlight (and power) from vice president Bush. In his book, "Caveat," Haig said he had been "optimistic if I had imagined I would be forgiven the imprecision out of respect for the tragedy of the occasion." For more of the bookish Haig, check out "Inner Circles: How America Changed the World" and "Leadership Defined."
It's Friday, the snow is melting, and I don't care to examine the forecast too closely for more of the white stuff. So I'm feeling pretty good right now.
Besides the weather, I'm also having a grand old time dorking it up with Dante's Inferno, the video game. Let me be clear: this game is graphic, profane and has tons o' nudity. It also follows the storyline of the source material only tangentially. BUT! Having read Longfellow's translation of the 13th-century poet's masterpiece, it is exciting to see each level of hell as the game creators imagined them. They've recreated Rodin's Gates of Hell for the, well, gates of Hell, the circle of hoarders has a river of molten gold with shrieking souls drowning in it, and the lust storm is pretty terrifying.
Dante may be a sin-filled crusader, as opposed to a poet, but Virgil is still on hand to lead him through hell.
But let's move on to the giveaway portion of this post. Congratulations, John! You've won "Staying True," by Jenny Sanford.
Next up is Man Booker Prize-winner John Banville's "The Infinities." His latest novel centers around the complicated family of a dying mathematician and the attentions of the Olympic gods. The story is even narrated by Hermes!
So tell us what you're reading, and you could be our next winner!
This is a big week for literary movie mysteries set on Massachusetts islands. If you don't want to be creeped out by "Shutter Island," Martin Scorcese's take on the criminally insane in Boston Harbor, try "The Ghost Writer." It's fugitive director Roman Polanski's adaptation of "The Ghost," a novel by British thrill-writer Robert Harris set on Martha's Vineyard. The plot: A ghostwriter, hired to finish the memoir of a former British prime minister, finds evidence linking the politician to war crimes. Here are excerpts from reviews of the movie, which had its weekend debut at the Berlin Film Festival:
Los Angeles Times -- These people not only act beautifully, they all work in concert with the director toward creating the across-the-board mood of nagging unease, of nefarious doings just outside our line of sight, that has always been one of Polanski's strengths.
New York Times -- Mr. Polanski is a master of menace and, working with a striking wintry palette that at times veers into the near-monochromatic — the blacks are strong and inky, the churning ocean the color of lead — he creates a wholly believable world rich in strange contradictions and ominous implications.
Wall Street Journal -- Mr. Polanski is a magician, his movie a synthesis of Mr. Harris's sturdy narrative, a Mamet-like appreciation for the shadows that lurk between words, and a drollery that most directors wouldn't even think about attaching to a thriller.
Variety -- All the ingredients are here for a rip-roaring political thriller, with corruption in the highest places and a cast of sexy and/or suspicious characters, but for the first hour there's little accumulated atmosphere or any sense of a bigger story hiding in the wings. Polanski simply transfers Harris' undistinguished prose direct to the screen and, though the pace picks up marginally in the second half, there's little wow factor in the revelations as they appear.
Bloomberg -- Not a scene is wasted and this is Polanski on top form. The raw material helped: The film is based on the novel “Ghost” by Robert Harris, who also collaborated with the director on the script. Harris’s compact, caustically witty dialogue scarcely needed adapting for the screen.
The Guardian -- Polanski keeps the narrative engine ticking over with a downbeat but compelling throb. This is his most purely enjoyable picture for years, a Hitchcockian nightmare with a persistent, stomach-turning sense of disquiet, brought off with confidence and dash.
I LOVED BSC growing up. And I was at just the right age to enjoy Baby-sitter's Little Sister, which followed the incorrigable Karen's misadventures, before "graduating" to Kristy, Mary Anne, Stacey and Claudia's middle and high school dramas. Though the books weren't very challenging, and my mother quickly grew tired of buying me a new one every couple of days, the subject -- girls growing up -- is perennial.
"Writing about these characters and stepping back into the world of Stoneybrook was like having a reunion with old friends -- friends who truly haven't changed a bit." Martin said in a press release. "I'm very excited about introducing The Baby-sitters Club to a new generation of readers."
Of course, there is a downside to returning to the '80s. Many of today's readers won't be able to understand Kristy and Mary Anne's practice of signaling to each other with flashlights from their bedroom windows in order to talk. Why didn't they just go online, or pick up their cell phones?
I imagine lots of fun conversations between young mothers and their kids, trying to explain the almost Neolithic state of the world just 20 years ago.
This week's literary movies are led by "Shutter Island," the Martin Scorcese adaptation of Dennis Lehane's super-creepy novel. The book won widespread praise- -- reviewers callied it "utterly absorbing," "startlingly original," "instantly cinematic" and "as good as entertainment gets." High praise, but Lehane is a master of grit and suspense -- especially when it's served Boston-style. Here are excerpts of reviews, starting with the weekend debut at the Berlin Film Festival:
Chicago Tribune -- "Shutter Island" is hysterical, in the clinical and cinematic senses, followed by plodding, just when a potboiling contraption cannot afford to be.
New York Times -- Mr. Scorsese in effect forces you to study the threads on the rug he is preparing, with lugubrious deliberateness, to pull out from under you. As the final revelations approach, the stakes diminish precipitously, and the sense that the whole movie has been a strained and pointless contrivance starts to take hold.
Los Angeles Times -- In its own way, Laeta Kalogridis' screenplay, which is based on the Dennis Lehane bestselling novel, turns into Teddy's most formidable adversary -- never letting him rest as obstacles are thrown in his path and paranoia rises with every step he takes.
Wall Street Journal -- It won't be a beloved movie. It will inspire doctoral dissertations. And while this news may not bring unbridled joy to the folks at Paramount Pictures, let them be consoled by the thought that it possesses a kind of obsessive perfection.
Reuters -- The movie certainly keeps you in its grip from the opening scene: It's a nerve-twisting, tension-jammed exercise in pure paranoia, and possibly Scorsese's most commercial film yet. ... Nearly every camera move is fraught with excitement. The music, costumes, props and the many rooms and halls of this fortress-prison are designed for maximum emotional impact.
Times of London -- Everything, from [the] garish choice of necktie to the jumpy, exaggerated sound design, charges the film with a sense of inchoate menace. Occasionally you wish that Scorsese had reined it in just a little — snapped twigs sound like revolver shots, a buzzing lightbulb evokes a brain-frying blast of ECT.
The Guardian -- I'm of the opinion that DiCaprio is still far too lightweight a performer to carry the grizzled, haunted character that Scorsese is asking him to portray here.
The Telegraph -- The plot doesn’t so much thicken as curdle with every heebie-jeebie encounter – we’ve taken a U-turn at the terrific Cape Fear and wound up at Cape Folly.
For those who don't use Amazon on a regular basis, and therefore don't get bombarded with pleas to become an Amazon Prime subscriber, it goes like this: If you pay $79, you get free two-day shipping on all packages from Amazon for a full year.
For people who buy Amazon products at least a couple of times a month, this would clearly save you some money in the long run. And it keeps the company's most active (and hopefully loyal) customers coming back for more.
And adding this incentive? Well, it makes a lot of sense, as soon as they -- as TechCrunch puts it -- "can work out how to do it without losing money."
I had an Amazon Prime subscription last year, that I let expire, but with perks like that, I might just be lured back in.
The tributes for poet Lucille Clifton, who died Saturday, keep coming in, and the eloquence will continue at three memorial services in her honor. A small gathering for relatives and close friends will be held Thursday, at noon, at the Wilde Lake Interfaith Center in Columbia, Md. A second will be held Saturday, April 10, at 7:30 p.m. at Montgomery Hall, St. Mary's College of Maryland, where she taught from 1989 to 2007. Meanwhile, the Poetry Society of America, which was to have given Clifton its Centennial Frost Medal during a ceremony on April 1 at the National Arts Club in New York City, plans to go ahead with the event, turning it into a series of tributes from fellow poets and friends.
In a release from St. Mary's, Michael S. Glaser, former professor of English and a former Maryland poet laureate himself, said, “Lucille Clifton was among the very best of American poets. Her poems had a profound impact on many readers in many lands because she was a courageous truth teller. Her work is graced with compassion, generosity, and light.”
That release included more tributes from St. Mary's. Among them:
Larry Vote, acting president of the college: “Lucille Clifton taught and inspired generations of poets, including many students at St. Mary’s College. She was beloved by the faculty, staff, and community. She brought to campus many poets of international renown, creating a legacy and special love of poetry that exists to this day, and was a great teacher and friend to the college. Lucille Clifton’s presence continues to be tangible on campus with her poetry adorning both the Campus Center and in a special installation encircling St. John’s Pond. She will forever be a significant part of the college’s history.”
Colombian-born Henry Arango ’10, who came to the U.S. at age eight and has written poetry ever since: “As someone who has experienced marginalization, I was drawn to Lucille's work, which embraced and encouraged me to continue to give voice to my experience. Outside of her work, Lucille was able to invoke the nurturing feelings so familiar of a daughter, mother or grandmother, the people who we look to comfort us and cast their blanket of warmth and love over us. Lucille Clifton was not just a poem written on the wall at St. Mary's College, she was a celebration of life and all the wonderful things that make us human.”
James Patterson gets bigger -- graphic novels next
USA Today has an interesting story about plans by James Patterson, the one-man mystery/thriller conglomerate, to move into comics and graphic novels. He'll start with a five-part comic series that will be based on his YA novel "Witch & Wizard" and written by Dara Naraghi. The deal with IDW Publishing (Transformers, Star Trek, Dr. Who) is the latest move for JP Inc., an empire built by partnering with other authors. They do the bulk of the writing, and he supplies the big ideas, supervision and marketing firepower.
That assembly-line format has yielded popular series such as Maximum Ride and Alex Cross (who has a Ph.D. in psychology from Johns Hopkins, by the way). A recent New York Times story noted that in recent years the combined U.S. sales of John Grisham, Stephen King and Dan Brown don’t match his. His formula has been insanely lucrative: A deal last year with Hachette, reportedly worth $150 million, calls for him to produce 17 books in three years. Patterson also is a presence on the big and small screens. "Private," a series that begins in June, may morph into a TV show, according to his website, which also notes that a movie based on Alex Cross is in the works.
What's next? How about the iPatterson, a dedicated e-reader that can download only his books, movies and TV shows, and play video games based on his characters. With his prolific pace, you'd never be bored.
I've already read all the comments eviscerating "The Lightning Thief," which opened this weekend. And I completely understand the complaints and disappointments. But let's be honest: This movie wasn't given the time, the budget or the attention that the Harry Potter movies were. Comparing the two is just silly.
I went into this movie expecting a good time with some familiar characters, and that's exactly what I got. I felt that the casting was brilliant, even with the older actors, and the basic premise remained: The Olypmic gods depend on their children and humanity to keep the traditions of Western civilization alive.
Was I disappointed that the Great Prophecy was ignored? Sure. But you know what made me happier? The fact that they didn't set this movie up to be an automatic five-picture deal.
They're giving people a chance to explore Rick Riordan's world, and if this movie leads to a sequel, than great. (But I should note: Any sequel should include the more complicated villian arc. Hades being the bad guy is too pedestrian, even for a children's movie.)
If not, we were given an entertaining film that stands well on its own. And what it lacked in plot, it more than made up for in special effects, in my book. In the future, they can bring more complex elements, but if they don't I'll still enjoy the gist of the highly imaginative world the author brought to us in the first place.
In my mind, this movie is the perfect example of staying true to the vision without treating the source material like an ironclad gospel. And if you are truly upset that a certain character is brunette instead of blonde, or that another is black instead of white, well ...
Those who were still snow-bound last weekend might not have heard the sad news: Former state poet laureate and National Book Award winner Lucille Clifton died Saturday at age 73, after a long battle with cancer and other illnesses. Her obituary in the Baltimore Sun noted that the long-time Columbia resident was known for a mix of profundity, earthiness and humor in her 11 books of poetry. UPDATE: This 2/16 post includes details of memorial services.
The obit listed some of her many honors: She was state poet laureate from 1979 to 1985. She was the first black woman to win the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize award (2007), which is among the most prestigious awards for American poets and which carries a $100,000 stipend. She won the National Book Award in 2001 for "Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems, 1988-2000" and was a two-time Pulitzer finalist.
This week in The Baltimore Sun, you'll find a review of “The Poker Bride,” the new nonfiction book by UMBC journalism and English professor Christopher Corbett. It's the tale of Old West legend Polly Bemis, a Chinese woman who rode into an Idaho mining camp in 1872 to become the concubine of a wealthy Chinese man – only to be lost in a poker game to a white gambler named Charlie Bemis. Here's an excerpt from Michael Sragow's review:
At least, that’s how the legend goes — and Corbett uses it, skillfully, to flesh out the gold-rush years when Chinese men flooded into the West to make money for their folks back home, and poor Chinese families sold their girls into American prostitution. Polly escaped that plight: she lived with Bemis on a remote spot on the Salmon River, married him and outlived him. When she finally wandered down into Grangeville and then Boise from her country lair, after 50 years in the high country, newspapers treated her with affection and respect. They celebrated her as a female Rip Van Winkle. But most of the time, Corbett focuses not on her uniqueness but on the experience she shared with her fellow Chinese. He illuminates a spectral strata of American history. ...
“The Poker Bride” also contains elements of myth, but at root it’s more contained and sinewy — and at its widest reach it grows even more expansive, encompassing and pertinent than [Corbett's earlier book on] the Pony Express. This book is the opposite of a melting-pot fable. The Chinese of the Gold Rush era never wanted to become part of the great American caldron. They were remote by choice (most aimed to return to the Motherland) as well as marginalized by racism. But they left a huge imprint on the Western landscape.
“In some ways, it’s a small story,” says Corbett. “It’s not Gettysburg. This gal just got lucky and we know something about her. But she provides a way to talk about the Chinese experience. I’m not Mr. Kumbaya here, but the story of the Chinese in America is greatly undervalued and underappreciated. You read 19th-century newspapers and you see it was truly a nightmare to be Chinese on the frontier. The Chinese were treated as figures of fun or rascals up to no good — it was said no chicken was safe from them, they would steal anything that wasn’t nailed down. They were also mysterious.”
With the Winter Olympics starting tonight in Vancouver, it's a good time to consider literary connections. I don't have a lot of lasting images of the winter games -- most of those were triggered by summer heroics: Bob Beamon in Mexico City, Michael Phelps in Beijing, the Dream Team in Barcelona, Jesse Owens in Berlin. Winter's high point was the Americans' incredible 1980 gold medal in hockey. (I confess that I still get chills when I see a replay of the closing seconds and hear the words: "Do you believe in miracles?")
For a closer look at that incredible win, read "The Boys of Winter" by Wayne Coffey. It includes an intro by Jim Craig, the former Boston University hockey goalie who was between the pipes for the Olympic team.
For a softer version of the Olympics, try "A Skating LIfe" by transplanted Baltimorean Dorothy Hamill. She launched a thousand crushes with her gold medal gracefulness, but also writes about her long battle with depression.
If skiing's your thing, consider these books, she says: "Hermann Maier: The Race of My Life," an as-told-to account of the world's greatest alpine skier, and "Bode: Go Fast, Be Good, Have Fun," about U.S. skier Bode Miller.
Happy Friday, everybody! I hope you've been able to dig yourselves out and are enjoying the sunshine that's found it's way to Baltimore.
I spent most of the week catching up with the Percy Jackson series, as I mentioned last week, in preparation for today's opening of the movie. The reviews have been lukewarm and I'm a bit perturbed that they made Percy 17 instead of 12, but I'm excited to get out of the house and enjoy some special effects, nonetheless.
This week, I'll be enjoying "You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up: A Love Story," by comedians Annabelle Gurwitch and Jeff Kahn. The book is a marriage memoir (of sorts) and seems like it'll be an eye-opener for me.
But on to the winner of "House Rules." Congratulations, Danielle, you've won! I just hope you can dig your way to the mailbox when the book arrives.
Next up: Jenny Sanford's new memoir on her marriage with South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, "Staying True."
So let us know what you're reading, and it could be yours!
Chicago Tribune -- Percy, who has dyslexia and attention-deficit challenges, has been bumped up in age from 12 to 17. That's too bad, I think: This is an adolescent's odyssey. The movie, which of course owes a lot to Harry Potter and company, won't ruin anybody's life. But even with all its computer-generated fireballs, it's lukewarm medium-budget blockbustering.
Los Angeles Times -- The problem, though 10-year-old boys might disagree, is not so much that the "Lightning Thief" team has eliminated or changed numerous key plot points and scenes, but that it has done it without any particular grace or skill. This is generic filmmaking at its most banal, a simple-minded simplification of a not overwhelmingly complex book.
New York Times -- The movie, in which virginal teenagers do battle with fire-belching monsters, belongs to the same family-friendly genre as the “National Treasure” films. Although the standard allegorical bases for mythical-quest movies are dutifully covered, the obvious similarity of “Percy Jackson” to the Harry Potter movies inevitably makes it feel somewhat secondhand.
Washington Post -- Percy's sense of humor, as realized by Riordan, was a sardonic delight. And Percy's literary adventures, while they could at times be violent, were always tempered with narrative wit. ... But the movie suffers by taking itself a little too seriously. It's not just that it's a lot less funny than the book. It's also a lot less fun.
Variety -- In the book, Riordan went to great lengths to imagine contempo roles for key figures of Greek mythology, though screenwriter Craig Titley largely avoids the notion that clues to the gods' ongoing presence exist right under our noses. ... Action movies of this scale often start off strong and wind down to forgettable finales, but "Percy Jackson" is the opposite, overcoming a clunky setup to deliver nearly all its thrills in the last half-hour.
Arizona Republic -- "Percy Jackson" isn't a great movie, but it's a good one, trotting out kernels of Greek mythology like so many Disney Channel references. For the most part, it works. And [Logan] Lerman's a likable-enough fellow as he goes from high-school nobody to world-saving demigod hero.
Associated Press -- The trouble with this return to youth fantasy by director Chris Columbus, who made the first two "Harry Potter" flicks, is that it's more a list of ingredients than a movie-magic potion to enjoy from start to finish. ... For every worthwhile moment in this adventure about modern teen heroes bred by the Olympian gods, there's a clunker that merely fills up time, or worse, wastes it.
It might be hard to imagine life beyond the snow globe that Baltimore has become, but Sunday is Valentine's Day. And for those of you who may have waited a bit too long to find the perfect gift may be wondering how you can prove your love, without risking your hide.
So here are a few ideas that could make the more literary-minded lover swoon:
Here's a roundup of literary news that caught my eye:
-- Scholars have found a mid-1800's plantation diary that appears to be the inspiration for names, incidents and details of William Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County, the New York Times reports. “I think it’s one of the most sensational literary discoveries of recent decades,” said John Lowe, an English professor at Louisiana State University who is writing a book on Faulkner.
-- Herb Simon, owner of the Indiana Pacers pro basketball team, has bought Kirkus Reviews, the Times reports. The journal of prepublication book reviews was targeted for closure in December. Simon, who made millions as a shopping center developer, may seem like an unlikely angel, but the Times notes that he also is co-owner of Tecolote Books, an independent bookstore in Montecito, Cal.
Smithsonian roof collapse part of Dan Brown's "Lost Symbol" conspiracy?
When I saw the Washington Post report that a warehouse used by the Smithsonian Museum Support Center in Prince George's County had suffered a roof collapse, I figured it was a religious/scientific conspiracy related to Dan Brown's "The Lost Symbol." You may recall that the natural history collections at the support center figure prominently into Brown's best-seller, as the villain hunts down a scientist conducting experiments in human cognition there. As it turns out, the warehouse contained about 1,500 artifacts for the National Air and Space Museum, and a spokeswoman told the Post that they were unharmed. So no extended conspiracy after all -- unless this is the sort of cover-up typical of a Brown novel.
Hunkered down at the office amid another (another!) snowstorm in Baltimore, I can't help dreaming about the Puerto Rico vacation that's coming up in a few weeks. A few days in Old San Juan -- visiting the historic forts, eating spicy seafood and browsing in bookstores such as La Tertulia and Libreria Cronopios -- sounds great right about now, when the power is out at home and the driveway is covered in snow. I've never taken this sort of warm weather vacation, and this is sure is the winter to try it. If you have any recommendations on restaurants, places to visit or books about the island, please fire away.
A lot of writers have dreams of penning the Next American Novel. In the past, you heard a lot about starving artists, writers who spent years toiling in the middle of the night or during lunch breaks at their day jobs, until finally a manuscript was accepted.
She says today's publishing world has become what amounts to a get-rich-quick scheme: New authors have to hit it big time right out of the gate, or they lose contracts. And even established writers who have a dud on the market could be left out in the cold in a hurry.
Another problem she sees: social networking.
"But in the last several years, I've watched friends and colleagues suddenly find themselves without publishers after having brought out many books. Writers now use words like "track" and "mid-list" and "brand" and "platform." They tweet and blog and make Facebook friends in the time they used to spend writing. ..."
I think this is the only part of her essay that I find issue with. Authors have done book tours for decades, in order to advertise their book and connect with readers. Now, instead of spending weeks or months traveling the country, they can do the same thing from their homes. I feel that's got to help the writing process along. Moreover, many new authors have created a loyal fanbase through blogging even before their first book is published.
Bud Light Super Bowl ad: insult to book clubs? Or to guys?
A Bud Light commercial during the Super Bowl has kicked up some controversy. In case you missed it, the ad features a couple of male softball players (Marmots, the shirt says) who notice that Bud Light is being served at an all-women book club. They scrap the softball and make themselves at home. GalleyCat said the ad was "mocking book clubs, male readers, female readers, and book reading in general." Commenters called the ad "totally obnoxious," "dumb," "insulting to intelligent women and men."
As an avid reader and long-time softball player, I say this is much ado about nothing. It's a beer commercial, folks, not a political manifesto about the inherent characteristics of all men or all women or all book clubs. And I laughed at the kicker: Woman says, "Do you like 'Little Women'? " And scruffy guy answers, "Yeah, I'm not too picky, you know."
Brentano's in Paris to reopen -- the rich get richer
Good news for ex-pat Americans wandering the streets of Paris: Brentano's is preparing to reopen, after months of being dark. The Bookseller reports that the store at 37 avenue de l'Opéra closed last summer -- after 113 years in business -- when its rent in the tres chic neighborhood tripled. But the lease and brand were taken over by Iranian-born Farokh Sharifi, who plans to broaden the lines of merchandise. About 35 to 40 percent of the store will be devoted to English-language books.
The opening would restore another famous name to Paris' bookstores. When I last visited the city a couple of years ago, I loved being surrounded by books -- there seemed to be a store on every corner and second-hand-sellers (les bouquinistes) lined the walls along the Seine. If only the book culture could be as strong in America. I didn't get a chance to wander into Brentano's -- and now I'm sorry. I did enjoy spending time in two English-language bookstores on the Left Bank -- Shakespeare & Company and the Village Voice -- as well as the large French chain, Gibert Jeune.
Speaking of literary Paris, "The Letters of Sylvia Beach" is scheduled for an April 12 release. She's the Baltimore-born woman who ran the original Shakespeare & Company and published James Joyce's "Ulysses." Her letters to luminaries such as Joyce, Richard Wright, Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound in the pre-war period make for interesting reading about a vanished era.
Baltimore's Enoch Pratt library will get a prime time appearance Tuesday, in the premier of "Past Life" on Fox. Rooms in the Central branch will play several roles, including those of FBI and lawyer's offices. Here's Pratt director Carla Hayden examining a set in the board room. (She may be wondering why she doesn't get a director's chair.)
"Past Life" -- about investigators who use clients' past lives to help solve their cases -- has strong literary ties. It's written by David Hudgins, who adapted "Friday Night Lights," and is inspired by "The Reincarnationist" by M.J. Rose. Unfortunately, we won't see a lot of Baltimore. Although the pilot was filmed here last spring, the series was shot in Atlanta.
Here's an excerpt from the review of Rebecca Skloot's book: [She weaves] an unwieldy mix of memoir, biography, social and scientific history into an engaging whole. Using concrete details and quoting the African-American dialect of her subjects, she brings the Lacks’ family alive, especially Deborah, the youngest daughter. All of which gives Henrietta Lacks another kind of immortality — this one through the discipline of good writing.
Scharper also takes a look at "Becoming a Doctor" by Lee Gutkind. From her review: A doctor’s job is as big as life. That point informs [this] collection of memoirs edited by Lee Gutkind, who directed the creative nonfiction conference at Goucher College and is editor of the “Best Creative Nonfiction” series. Only a few of these essays can be considered “best.” Some are written poetically and seem like prose poems; others have a strong narrative drive; still others feel like rambling recollections whose theme has become clouded.
Stuck in Maryland's winter wasteland, roads clogged by snow, you might be tempted to reach for the bottle of absinthe as you sit reading. But beware, drink and drugs doomed many artistic geniuses, including, many speculate, Edgar Allan Poe. Life -- yes, it lives on, in pixelated form -- has an interesting gallery of "Famous Literary Drunks and Addicts." It starts with Charles Baudelaire (booze, opium) and includes such luminaries as Louisa May Alcott, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Which leads to the question: What's the role of drink and drugs (and even madness) in sparking literary creativity?
Gov. Martin O'Malley had some good advice today for Marylanders, as the massive snowstorm approaches: "Curl up with a book and stay off the roads." He didn't say which book he'd be reading, there are many to carry you through the whiteout. As we noted during the big December storm, snow is a theme in many excellent books, including "Snow Falling on Cedars," David Guterson's mystery, set against the Japanese-American internment issue. Others: "My Antonia" by Willa Cather's heart-breaking tale of pioneer life; "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan," Lisa See's poignant tale of friendship; and "Snowball: Warren Buffet and the Business of Life" by Alice Schroeder.
More recently, I read "Tide, Feathers, Snow," a memoir by Marylander Miranda Weiss, who moved with her boyfriend to Homer, Alaska. They live off the land -- and sea -- as much as possible, and her recounting captures both the constant beauty and constant struggle of life in the far north. You'll met pioneers and eccentrics -- often rolled into one -- while following Weiss as she re-evaluates the meaning and direction of her life.
If you want something more current, here are a few well-received novels that can easily be read in a weekend:
But on to our winner. Congratulations, Julie P.! You've won "You Couldn't Ignore Me if You Tried." I hope it brings back lots of good memories!
Our next giveaway is Jodi Picoult's latest, "House Rules." The novel tells the story of Jacob Hunt, an 18-year-old with Asperger's Syndrome, a form of autism that makes it impossible for the boy to have friends, live without a routine, or even tell his mother he loves her. So when he's accused of murdering his tutor, his fragile world goes completely out of control.
You know the deal: Tell us what you're reading, and you could be reading this one next week.
"I’ve been trying to locate an action-packed best seller I read that I believe was published in the early '90s. Of course, I can’t remember the title or the author, and I read it with Books on Tape, which is no longer renting, so I don’t even have details of a book jacket.
The opening is memorable. A successful businessman with a lovely wife goes to work one day and everyone he sees tries to kill him. They even bring in his wife to get him. He has no idea why. Eventually they evacuate the building to try to capture him (conveniently he’s an ex-Marine so he doesn’t make it easy).
As I remember, this is the only book he ever wrote."
So, any idea what this book might be? I like the "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" vibe, so I'm really curious to know myself!
This week's literary movie is "Dear John," a tear-jerker adapted from the book of the same name by the King of Tear-Jerkers, Nicholas Sparks (who's a high school track coach in his spare time). It's a love story interrupted by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Practical Army guy (played by Channing Tatum)meets idealistic girl (Amanda Seyfried), he abandons her to fight Osama, and a "Dear John" letter follows. (Here's the trailer and official site.) Sparks' novels have sparked other romantic movies, including "The Notebook," "Night in Rodanthe" and "A Walk to Remember" -- "Dear John" appears to be another weeper. Here are excerpts from reviews for the new movie:
San Fracisco Chronicle -- Sure, it sounds corny. But director Lasse Hallstrom ("Chocolat") and screenwriter Jamie Linden give the whirlwind romance an appealing, straightforward decency, and Tatum and Seyfried click rather effortlessly. They're not Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams from "The Notebook," but they'll do.
New York Times -- [T]he latest attempt to bring his warm, earnest, therapeutic sensibility to the screen, falls in the upper middle range of Sparks film adaptations. the latest attempt to bring his warm, earnest, therapeutic sensibility to the screen, falls in the upper middle range of Sparks film adaptations.
Miami Herald -- "Dear John" is at its date-movie best in the first half; it's the sort of pretty weeper that will draw young women in droves. Later on the film gets a bit bogged down in its noble ambitions.
Los Angeles Times -- What we don't really have is an actual film but a very long music video with lots of montages of John and Savannah "moments" as they read their letters in absentia, which means neither the fans nor the foes of "The Notebook" are likely to be satisfied.
Variety -- Ultimately, the story feels as if it's killing time before throwing the next hurdle at the couple, seizing on a favorite Sparks theme that in matters of love, life isn't fair.
Reuters -- The mad passion at the center of the movie raises the temperature not one degree, and all the sentimentality that surrounds the movie -- an autistic child, a shy, emotionally stunted father, a wounded vet and later a character with a stroke and another with cancer -- feels like so many tugs on the heartstrings.
Pratt Booklovers' Breakfast with Hill Harper canceled due to snowstorm
This just in: the Enoch Pratt Free Library's Booklovers' Breakfast, scheduled for Saturday and featuring author and actor Hill Harper, has been canceled due to the impending snow storm. A new date will be announced soon, a library spokesman said.
Over on the Guardian's culture blog, Charlotte Higgins askes her readers: What is the best British novel since the war? Even before I considered possible answers, I was struck by the question itself -- one that would seem sillly in American. The war? Which war? The Brits' reference point remains World War II -- understandably, considering that Londoners faced annihilation from Hitler. But here, we've been through so many wars, semi-wars and police actions that some lose their punch as cultural touchstones. Consider Korea, Vietnam, Kuwait, Afghanistan, Iraq, not to mention the various actions in Africa and around the globe.
So, does this make you more likely to buy the next generation of Kindle? And those of you who already own the e-reader, would you lay down the money for what would probably be a larger screen, without the keyboard?
After the affair was exposed, the governor asked her permission to visit his lover again, saying that would be a testament to Jenny's love for him.
He also wondered -- aloud, to her -- whether he should follow his heart to Argentina, and whether he would regret it if he never did.
From the publisher's description: In Staying True, Jenny Sanford recalls her shock and anguish upon discovering that her husband was having an affair with a woman in Argentina, and the further pain when she learned—just a day ahead of most Americans—that he had not ended the affair when she believed he had. She reveals the source of her determination to be honest and forthright instead of the victim in the tabloid passion play that gripped the nation in June 2009.
You'll find many well-known images in the pages. Here are photos of the three black girls who posed to capture the iconic 1964 image of a little girl, surrounded by U.S. Marshals, on her was to a desegregated school -- "The Problem We All Live With." Here's a pajama-ed boy, mouth agape, who just found a Santa suit in his parents' dresser. And here's a girl, both forlorn and hopeful, seated in front of a mirror, for a Saturday Evening Post cover.
Juxtaposing the posed photos with Rockwell's finished illustrations gives insight into his methods -- and his genius. It's a book worth spending time with.
A lot of people wear a love of books on their sleeve -- carrying around a novel or two where ever they go, making literary references in casual conversation, possibly even naming their pets and children after beloved characters.
But did you know you can literally wear your favorite classic books on your shirt?
According to the Web site, the company works with "artists, authors and publishers to license the content that ends up in our collections." So the ever-looming threat of copyright infringement need not worry loyal booklovers.
With Valentine's Day coming up, this might be the perfect gift for that reader in your life.
One Maryland, One Book short list: T.C. Boyle, Julia Alvarez and more
The choices narrowed Tuesday for the 2010 One Maryland, One Book community reading program, as a half-dozen contenders were eliminated, including Michael Lewis' "The Blind Side." The four books on the short list share common themes of immigration and assimilation, and should meet OMOB's goal of sparking group discussions on the issue of community. Interestingly, most of the short list mirrors the comments on Read Street. As we move ahead, let me know which of the four you'd recommend. I've read -- and enjoyed -- the Alvarez book, and plan to read the others before making my recommendation to the Maryland Humanities Council in two weeks. Here's the list:
"Outcasts United" by Warren St. John. How a soccer team of immigrant kids came together.
The Oscar nominees released Tuesday are brimming with literary makeovers, showing that Hollywood still depends on authors to generate great stories. For example, Meryl Streep is up for Best Actress for her portrayal of Julia Child in "Julie & Julia," adapted from Julie Powell's book. Here's a sampling of the bookish nominations in the Best Picture category:
"The Blind Side," adapted from Michael Lewis' book of the same name, tells the story of Michael Oher, who overcame challenges of poverty and a dysfunctional family to become a football star.
"Precious," starring Baltimore-born Mo'Nique, is a tale of street survival based on the novel "Push" by Sapphire.
This isn't just your usual "blog becomes book" story, though. Three women, one from our own Calvert County, who only know each other through Twitter brought their combined experiences together and created a gardening book -- in 60 days.
Using Facebook, Twitter and their own blogs, they gathered information about herbs, vegetables, fruits, diseases and even recipes from their thousands of followers and made a resource that, in turn, all those followers and fans have a stake in.
Imagine, going from a few tweets to a contributing author. Crowd-sourcing really is amazing. I wouldn't be surprised -- or disappointed -- to see many more such collaborations in the future.
Amid the glitz of Beyonce and the Michael Jackson tribute, let's not forget that the Grammy awards also honor more substantive fare. Michael J. Fox won in the Spoken Word category for the audiobook "Always Looking Up."
Dave Rosenthal came to The Baltimore Sun as a business reporter in 1987 and now is the Maryland Editor. He reads a wide range of books (but never as many as he'd like), usually alternating between non-fiction and fiction. Some all-time favorites: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole; Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupery; and anything by Calvin Trillin or John McPhee. He belongs to a book club with a Jewish theme.