Monday, August 30, 2010

Heads up for any Poe fans

I'm a rabid Poe fan.  Just thought I would pass this along to others out there who have a fondness for all things Poe.  There is word from John Cusack's Twitter feed that he will be playing Edgar Allan Poe in a film called the Raven.  With the success of the film "Sherlock Holmes", it's a good bet that this film will be an action packed film too, and I think Cusack is a wonderful choice for the role.  Let's hope there is a corresponding jump in readers of Poe's books and poems.  That would be nice.   

Monday, August 23, 2010

Medieval Copy Protection

Here's another amusing posting on a blog concerning book owners who were so worried about theft and damage to their property that they included book curses on the inside covers.  Gee, as a librarian who has to deal with people NOT returning our books all the time...maybe we should reinstitute some of these!

Fusion: the Synergy of Images and Words

Photographer Steve McCurry has some wonderful pictures on his blog of people around the world reading.  Check them out.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel

This is truly a most amazing book.  If you are a fan of Yann Martel's after reading "Life of Pi", his fantasy adventure novel that was a huge success a few years back, then this is a natural follow up.  If you have not read "Life of Pi" yet, I highly recommend that you do this first.  Then read "Beatrice and Virgil".  You will be exactly in the right frame of mind.

What's the book about?'s about a donkey called Beatrice and a howler monkey called Virgil.  They are characters in a play that a very creepy taxidermist has written.  This taxidermist approaches the main character in the book, Henry, a famous novelist, for advice and help.  This is the bare bones skeleton of the story.  But Martel hangs so many psychological layers upon this framework to shape his story that by the end of the book your head is spinning and your heart is breaking.

This book is being put forward as a satire of the holocaust, and some have said it's not worth the emotional toll...but I highly disagree.  This book represents writing at its most powerful.  A writer who can manage to speak volumes between the lines of a simple basic story structure and who can work your emotions like a concert violinist playing a stradivarius is one who is a master storyteller and magician.

I think the best I can do to convey the nature of this book is to quote the author himself.  In an interview, Yann Martel says this about Beatrice and Virgil:

"I often get asked the question why I use animals in my stories. Life of Pi was set in a zoo and featured a number of animals, and animals once again play a prominent role in my new novel, Beatrice and Virgil. Am I a great animal lover? Well, I suppose I am; nature is indeed beautiful. But the actual reason I like to use animals is because they help me tell my tale. People are cynical about people, but less so about wild animals. A rhinoceros dentist elicits less skepticism, in some ways, than a German dentist. I also use animals in my fiction because people rarely see animals as they truly are, biologically. Rather, they tend to project human traits onto them, seeing nobility in one species, cowardice in another, and so on. This is biological nonsense, of course; every species is and behaves as it needs to in order to survive. But this animal-as-canvas quality is useful for a storyteller. It means that an animal that people feel kindly towards becomes a character that readers feel kindly towards.

Why did I choose to write a novel about the Holocaust? There’s nothing personal to this interest; I’m neither Jewish, nor of German or eastern European extraction. I’m a complete outsider who’s been staring at this monstrous massacre of innocents since I first learned about it as a child living in France. It’s as an artist that I’ve kept coming back to the subject. What can I do as an artist about the Holocaust? I believe that if history does not express itself as art, it will not survive in common human memory. And so I took what I knew of the Holocaust, the cumulative knowledge of my reading and viewing and visiting (both to camps in Poland and Germany and to Yad Vashem in Israel and to various museums), and I set it next to that part of me that wants to understand through the imagination. Then I sat down and wrote Beatrice and Virgil."

Now, I strongly urge you to read this most amazing and powerful book.  At the end I weeped for humanity, for the holocaust that took place emphasizing man's inhumanity to man, and for the animal holocaust that is currently raging.  And I, like Henry, missed Beatrice and Virgil. 

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Twenty Wishes by Debbie Macomber

Anne Marie Roche is a widow and lives alone in an apartment over a book shop she owns.  Her life has certainly not turned out the way she had expected it to.  On Valentine's day, she and several other widows get together and decide to make a list of twenty wishes...not really a bucket list per se, but just things they always wanted to do but just hadn't gotten around to yet.  Anne Marie's list starts with "Find one good thing about life", then she adds "learn to knit", etc.  When she volunteers at a local school to be a "lunch buddy", she crosses paths with eight-year-old Ellen.  As Anne Marie becomes more and more involved in Ellen's life (due to a life threatening illness concerning Ellen's grandmother, her primary caretaker) she finds that this isn't the casual relationship she thought it was going to be going in.  In the meantime, we see how the twenty wishes lists of some of the other women play out in their lives.

This is the first Debbie Macomber book I've read, though she checks out very well at our library;  after all, she has 60 million books in print and is a New York Times best selling author, as well as a leading voice in women's fiction.  Now this quote comes directly from her website, but I find it really tells you all you need to know about the style of her books:  "Debbie is best known for her ability to create compelling characters and bring their stories to life in her books. Drawing on her own experiences and those of her family and friends, she demonstrates an almost uncanny ability to see into the souls of women and to express their emotions, values and concerns. In every book her sense of humor enlivens her writing."

I must say I found the book very heartwarming and funny.  I think I laughed out loud several times in just the early pages, so I was pretty well drawn into the story and characters from the beginning.  Macomber writes a whole series of these Blossom Street books and based on my reading of this one I would definitely pick up another volume from the series, if not another one of her other books in general.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Top 100 Killer Thrillers

NPR's audience nominated 600 novels to its Killer Thrillers poll of the best all time mystery novels.  Here's the final 100 list of "fast moving tales of suspense and adventure" and unexpected darkness.
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