Sunday, September 14, 2008

currently reading

~ The Annunciations of Hank Meyerson, Mama's Boy and Scholar (Scott Muskin)
I'm about 125 pages into this first novel, written by a local writer, to be published in spring 2009. My book group is reading the advanced reading copy for discussion next month, and the author will attend the meeting! Most of the book group members are (or were) publisher's reps or booksellers, local authors often attend. Lorna Landvik and Charles Baxter are just a few authors who have made an appearance. A couple book group members have an additional connection to Muskin (I don't feel as if I'm on a first name basis with him, yet), and apparently he asked to attend. That is some of the back story. Here's more: Muskin entered this novel in the Parthenon Prize for Fiction, and as the inaugural winner, is having his book published by Hooded Friar Press, the prize's sponsor and a champion of new writers.

The jacket copy describes a "story of love, loss, and ultimately, redemption," which certainly wouldn't sell me if I'd found this book browsing in a bookstore. But, Hank is quite a character, and his journey, so far, is a hoot. In the first section, Hank's marriage is falling apart. He's not recovering from his wife's affair. And, while she's on a business trip, Hank embarks on a fling of his own. With his sister-in-law. Before Hank's brother can learn of the infidelity, Hank leaves town, which is where I've left off.

The novel, on a whole, is very promising. I'm looking for comparisons, because that's what we do when we're trying to recommend a title, and so far I'm coming up with Clyde Edgerton and a younger, Midwestern Richard Russo. But I'd also say that Muskin's voice is pretty unique, making him far from derivative if you're looking for fiction that's wholly new.

~ The Man Who Ate the World (Jay Rayner)
A few years ago, I first heard about the British food writer Jay Rayner on the popular food blog, Chez Pim. I checked out his novel Eating Crow upward for four or five times, but was never able to crack the spine. This sometimes happens. Right book, wrong time. His latest book, The Man Who Ate the World, has given me another opportunity to read Rayner, as he searches the world for the perfect meal. Rayner has a great voice, exploring restaurants, food, chefs, and his own position as a paid gourmand. So far, he has visited Las Vegas, Moscow, and Dubai. With just over half of the book remaining to be read, my copy of the book is due back to the library tomorrow. I fantasize about pulling an all-nighter to finish it.

~ Thirty-Three Teeth (Colin Cotterill)
John and I recently took a road trip to Door County, Wisconsin, a six-hour drive from our home in St. Paul. No kids. And, as is our want when we make a long drive, I started reading aloud a book to my husband, the driver. Set in Laos (1977), our sleuth, Dr. Siri Paiboun, is a coroner who has recently discovered that he has psychic abilities. There are two mysteries in this novel, and I suspect they will intertwine, but I can't be certain yet. We still have quite a bit to read. I love a mystery where you have enough information to form a theory, even if it's way off base. Ultimately, the mystery is pretty character-driven: Siri's friends and coworkers populate the story. Also, it's a smart, funny, quick, and totally rewarding read. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

shortlists and one long list

~ The Booker shortlist has been announced. Salman Rushdie and John Berger, whom many bloggers felt were shoe-ins, are out, as are new talents Tom Rob Smith (Child 44) and Joseph O'Neill (Netherland). I haven't read any of the nominees so find it impossible to handicap, especially since there is, historically, a randomness to this prize. What have you read? What would you like to read?
Aravind Adiga, The White Tiger (Atlantic)
Sebastian Barry, The Secret Scripture (Faber and Faber)
Amitav Ghosh, Sea of Poppies (John Murray)
Linda Grant, The Clothes on Their Backs (Virago)
Philip Hensher, The Northern Clemency (Fourth Estate)
Steve Toltz, A Fraction of the Whole (Hamish Hamilton)

~ The Roald Dahl Funny Prize, rewarding the funniest books for children, has announced its shortlists in two different categories. Although I'm not familiar with any of these titles, I do recognize a few authors. Since my boys ages fall squarely within these ranges, and seeing as how they both have fantastic laughs, I'm going to read as widely from these lists as possible. The winners will be announced November 13.

The Funniest Book for Children Aged Six and Under

Stick Man by Julia Donaldson, illus. Axel Scheffler (Alison Green Books)
Elephant Wellyphant by Nick Sharratt (Alison Green Books)
The Great Paper Caper by Oliver Jeffers (HarperCollins Children’s Books)
The Witch’s Children Go to School by Ursula Jones, illus. Russell Ayto (Orchard Books)
There’s an Ouch in My Pouch! by Jeanne Willis, illus. Garry Parsons (Puffin Books)
Manfred the Baddie by John Fardell (Quercus Books)

The Funniest Book for Children Aged Seven to Fourteen

Mr Gum and the Dancing Bear by Andy Stanton, illus. David Tazzyman (Egmont Press)
Paddington Here and Now
by Michael Bond, illus. RW Alley (HarperCollins Children’s Books)
Stop in the Name of Pants!
by Louise Rennison (HarperCollins Children’s Books)
by Frank Cottrell Boyce (Macmillan Children’s Books)
Aliens Don’t Eat Dog Food
by Dinah Capparucci (Scholastic Children’s Books)
Urgum and the Goo Goo Bah!
by Kjartan Poskitt, illus. Philip Reeve (Scholastic Children’s Books)

~ The Washington Post book section has a fairly comprehensive preview of 116 new fall books, an especially satifisfying thing to see at a time when newspapers are seriously shrinking book coverage.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

conversation with books 2009

The date and list of books for the 2009 Conversation with Books has been announced! And, it’s a good list, at that. Each year, I vow to read at least one book by the time of discussion, at the end of January. This year, I’m well on my way. I have already read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and I own Unaccustomed Earth, so will likely dive into that sooner rather than later. A few more titles will be added closer to the event, so stay tuned.

Herewith, the selection:

~ Creating Minnesota: A History from the Inside Out, by Annette AtkinsThough I call Minnesota home, I did not grow up here and so missed sixth-grade state history. This book could help me make up for lost time.

~ The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Anne Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer
This book is hot, hot, hot off the press, but I'm not at all surprised to see it as it's very much the type of book toward which the panelists gravitate.

~ Life Class: A Novel, by Pat Barker
A "Writer Familiar to Our Conversation," meaning the panelists have read many, if not all, of the author's books. This could be the year I finally read Pat Barker.

~ Loving Frank, by Nancy Horan
Although I find it hard to explain why, I am somewhat mistrustful of this book—though it has been wildly popular. A definite maybe.

~ The Plague of Doves, by Louise Erdrich
Another “Writer Familiar to Our Conversation,” not to mention that Erdrich is a local literary darling. Plague of Doves has been on my TBR list since it was announced, and I most certainly will be reading it. And, when I looked up this title at Powell's, Unaccustomed Earth was offered as a comparison title.

~ Unaccustomed Earth, by Jhumpa Lahiri
I bought a copy on the day the book was born but have been saving it for the perfect moment...

~ Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History, by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
Not a typical selection for the Conversation. I'm really looking forward to hearing what the panelist have to say. Also, I suspect that Ulrich is an alumna.