Monday, December 12, 2011

Pride3 and Prejudice3

Although I have long been a fan of all things Jane Austen, I admit to being somewhat disdainful of the recent spate of mashups involving some of my favorite novels.

A few years ago when Pride and Prejudice and Zombies came out, I had no interest in it, and was horrified to learn that my book club had chosen it as one of their selections. After grudgingly agreeing to try it, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. The Bennett sisters were portrayed as strong young women who were protecting their neighborhood from an onslaught of undead creatures. More importantly, George Wickham received his comeuppance in this version of the story, which is quite different from the original. In Miss Austen’s version, Wickham’s only punishment is marriage to Lydia and a lifetime yoked to her. Perhaps that is enough.

I have just finished the latest offering by PD James, Death Comes to Pemberley. I was thrilled to learn that at age 91, this veteran mystery writer is still cranking out books. In this novel, she combines the delightful characters of Pride and Prejudice some years after the original book ends, with her specialty of criminal investigation and suspense. Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy are happily married and living at Pemberley with their two young sons. Jane and Mr. Bingley are also happily married and living nearby with their offspring. Events take a dramatic turn, when on the night of their annual ball, Lydia arrives uninvited, hysterical, insisting that her husband is dead.
Once the body is discovered and the search for the murderer begins, the story is all PD James. Fans of her Adam Dalgliesh mysteries will enjoy this book as well as diehard Austen devotees.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Something About Childhood Memories, or, Snappy Title to be Determined.

A Blog Post from Mark

I was trying to come up with a list of my 5 favorite books from 2011 for our bookstore newsletter. After going over everything that I’d read during the year, I finally came up with my list. Some titles were fiction, some were memoirs but as I looked over the list, I saw a pattern emerge. A number of books such as We the Animals by Justin Torres, The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje, and It’s All Relative by Wade Rouse all had something to do with childhood, either from a child’s perspective of from recollections from childhood. Particularly from the vantage point of children from 11-13 years of age, which are particularly crazy and volatile years.

I even wrote a small anecdote about a book, by request of our friend John Eklund who is a rep for Harvard University Press regarding a new book called On Rereading by Patricia Meyer Spacks. I wrote about having reread a book that I’d been required to read in high school, a book that I hated at the time, but fell in love with when I read it years later. The book was The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, which is now I book that I cherish. Here was a story about a boy in his early teens setting out (although not exactly by choice) on an incredible, life-changing adventure. Yet as a young teen reading the story, I somehow was not able to appreciate it.

I think as we get older we not only look back fondly on our formative years, but only as adults are we able to evaluate it and put it into some kind of perspective that fits into who we are now. In an interview about her new book The End of Everything, Megan Abbott talks about her 13 year old protagonist and describes the world of a young teen as ‘big, terrifying, and thrilling’ and how everything takes on a heightened sense of drama.

There is something to that transitional point in our lives, in our early teens, when we are no longer ‘little kids’ but we are not yet grown-ups either. The world is full of mysteries and wonder and it is an exciting and scary time. As we read or write books that center on that time in our lives, it gives us an opportunity to connect once again with who we were then. Not to be there again necessarily, because of course we can’t go back, nor should we really want to. We all have to grow up, but maybe by connecting with stories about childhood, we as adults can rekindle some of the sense of wonder that we had, and the sense that anything in the world is possible.

(My apologies for listing the poster as Daniel, but we just set up Mark's account. It really was written by Mark.)

Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Canophile Inside

Nearly two years ago I happened upon an advanced reader's copy of a book titled Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell and Know. I loved it, scribbling out a quick recommendation card to attend the book on our New Non-Fiction shelf:

"Many things a lover/observer of dogs has long known are now being confirmed by scientific research into the fascinating, no longer entirely unknowable, minds of dogs."

It landed, the New York Times gave it a great review and people started coming in asking for it. Then NPR did a story. Sales shot up again and it eventually became a #1 New York Times bestseller. It's a book that has deserved all the press it has been getting. It isn't the first book to really explore life from a dog's senses, backed up by the most current research into canine biology, ethology and evolution but it is certainly the most readable survey of the topic. Did you know that a dog can follow a human's point but our closest relative, the chimp, cannot? Or that a Siberian Husky develops, in some areas, at a rate even faster than wolves? Do you know why your dog is so eager to taste everything? Any guesses as to the true motivations of a dog who saves someone's life? This one is truly for the intellectual canophile.

Just a few months ago, a second book came nipping at the heels of Horowitz's science and cognition narrative: Dog Sense by John Bradshaw. Most notably, Bradshaw is Foundation Director of the Anthrozoology Institute at the Univ. of Bristol, before which he founded the Anthrozoology Institute at the Univ. of Southampton. Dog Sense differs from Inside of a Dog in that it provides a brief history of the domestic dog based on recent research, then takes the (relatively) new behavioral and cognition science and puts it all together in a practically applicable way. He debunks Cesar Millan's infamous resurgence of alpha and domination theories and also explores the changing demands of companion animals' lifestyles.

To capitalize on the recent success of the Bradshaw and Horowitz books, I'd like to share, in no particular order, some of my favorite nonfiction dog books.

{ I'd like to preface this list by sharing my canine CV: I grew up with a Tibetan Mastiff and then a pound mutt. An avid reader of all things dealing with canine including biology and ethology, I also worked for nearly 3 years at a rural animal shelter & humane society and with canine rescue groups. As an adult, I've lived with/raised a Rottweiler, a Border Collie, a Mal/Sibe mix and a Siberian Husky. Currently I live with an Alaskan Malamute and a 2nd Siberian Husky. }

Canine Body Language: Interpreting the Native Language of the Domestic Dog
by Brenda Aloff

A must-have for anyone who really wants to understand the domestic dog. The definitive guide to canine body language, this book breaks down every eye expression, tail wag, ear position and their relative relationships to each other. An intelligent observer can then follow the basics, connect the dots and begin interpreting more complex dog-speak. I firmly believe that knowing this information is a brilliant base to be able to address behavioral issues and begin problem-solving, as well as facilitate understanding of dog-dog interactions (esp. with the abundance of dog parks). One read of this book with careful examination of the hundreds of corresponding photos and you will never watch or interact with dogs the same ever again.

This is my go-to book as gift for all new dog owners. There is also an edition geared specifically for puppies (The Puppy Whisperer) but this one is good for those bringing home a squiggly, wiggly bundle of furry love as well as for adult adoptees. Using a non-violent approach rooted in natural domestic canine behavior, Owens walks the new dog owner not only through what to do but why to do it.

For the Love of a Dog
and The Other End of the Leash
by Patricia McConnell

McConnell is adjunct associate professor of zoology at UW-Madison, a certified Applied Animal Behaviorist, runs a nationally respected training company, is co-host of Wisconsin Public Radio's nationally syndicated Calling All Pets, and was the animal behavior specialist for Animal Planet's Petline. This woman knows her animals, but her books turn the focus onto the humans. She takes basic biology and illustrates, using real life examples from her vast experience, how people can better understand their dogs simply by understanding their own selves. For the Love of a Dog keeps its focus on emotions - ours and theirs. The Other End of the Leash does the same with behavior - the physical and practical application and effects of actual actions.

A very personal, intimate portrait of one woman's life with her dog - a small Shepherd mix puppy ('Lucille') who changes her messed-up life for the better. Freshly out of life as an alcoholic and freshly addicted to a very unhealthy relationship, Caroline Knapp invests herself fully into life with Lucille. As a journalist and writer, she approaches this canine memoir with a keen eye to the rest of doggy journalism and science (as it existed in the 1990s), plus first-person stories from other dog owners. This one hits closest to the heart strings.

Shaggy Muses
by Maureen Adams

This splendid literary foray peers into the lives of five women writers and their dogs: Virginia Woolf, Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Edith Wharton, and Emily Bronte. Equally a biography of writer as that of canine, these beautiful relationships are inspiring to the reader in a way that can really offer only a glimpse into what a connection like this must have provided for each lady author.

A Good Dog
by Jon Katz

Nobody captures dog-life in the poetic images, words, and heartrending honesty that accompanies the human-canine bond, as Jon Katz*. And this title is absolutely his most heartbreaking for anyone who's ever tried (and "failed") to save a dog

Katz Tells the story of his rescue of, and significant relationship with, a desperately neglected Border Collie named Orson. "Failed" is not, of course, the right word. It's simply what it feels like, to work very hard at helping a dog who may be beyond salvaging because of a life that existed before you. It's a feeling, and experience, most commonly known by those in rescues, veterinary or humane animal work. There are many everyday dog owners who have gone through this as well, but it's a difficult thing to share with others, because no matter what wonderful life you gave a dog, if even for a shorter time than deserved, having to choose to end it prematurely is a devastating choice that never leaves you. Katz tells this story while baring his soul - a story that is mine, too.

*More of Jon Katz's books that I love and recommend: A Dog Year, The Dogs of Bedlam Farm, and Izzy & Lenore

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

On classic literature

In my English 110 class during my freshman year at college, we were instructed to read and write a paper on Henry V. Being the ever-responsible young man that I was, I postponed the reading of the work in favor of more important academic pursuits, such as drinking too much and sitting around in front of the television. I wrote the paper the night before it was due, chugging down caffeinated soda and frequently referring to notes found on the internet. I am simultaneously proud and not proud to say that I got an A on the paper. I am not sure how.

This was just one in a long line of classic works of literature I haven't read. There reasons for this are numerous and varied, but it usually boiled down to my deep-seated bias of classic literature being boring and uninteresting to me. Conversations with older, wiser individuals usually went something like this...

Wise and intelligent person: Hey Greg, you should read this work of classical literature!

Foolish, insolent Greg: Yeah, I've been meaning to. I'll put it at the top of my list!

Exit, pursued by bear.

Foolish, insolent Greg proceeds to read some contemporary sci-fi.

To illustrate the severity of this phenomenon, I'll just throw this out there - I've never read Huckleberry Finn. Yes, I know most school curriculums require it. No, I didn't pull a "Henry V." I just never had to read it.

It was with this knowledge kicking around in my brain that I found myself sitting on the couch with nothing to read. I had just come off a long string of fantastic science fiction books that aren't due out for months, and I wanted to read something that was out already. Thankfully, my parents are avid readers, and after a couple minutes of perusing the shelves I located an old mass market copy of 1984, circa before I was born. I figured, what the heck - I could keep on my sci-fi run and read a classic work. And if I hated it, well, then it would just reaffirm my belief that classic literature was boring.

Suffice to say, I was floored. Probably one of the best books I've read in my entire life. I had no idea there was a love story involved. It is probably the first time I felt the hype behind a book truly lived up to the text itself. Fantastic. I could go on forever about it.

My first reaction was, oddly enough, to lash out. Why didn't anyone tell me how good this book was?! I thought to myself.

And then I smacked myself upside the head and recalled that quite a few people for quite a few decades had, in fact, told me exactly how good the book was.

And then it dawned on me. An epiphany of epic proportions.

If 1984 was as good as they say... what other classic works are as good as they say? Surely they can't ALL live up to the hype, but some likely would. My to-read list quadrupled in length overnight.

Since my dramatic paradigm shift, I have still been reading contemporary works. But in the back of my head, I've been debating what my next big classic undertaking will be. I've always wanted to read The Count of Monte Cristo, but I'm not sure I'm mentally prepared for that yet. The length is daunting, to say the least. Perhaps I'll finally buck up and pick up Huckleberry Finn.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Ubik; or is this the real life

There is a part in Ubik where Joe Chip awakens after falling asleep in a hotel in Switzerland and attempts to place a call to room service. On the other end of the line is Runciter's voice, his dead boss.  The boss that Joe and his fellow employees just took to the moratorium after being assassinated by a rival. They were hoping to be able to talk to him, that maybe they could bring him back to get new orders and how handle the mishap on the moon.

It did not work, they could not get through to Runciter, he very well could be beyond them forever.  However, here he was talking on the phone in Joe's hotel room. How did he know that Joe stayed here, how could he even talk on the phone? It is the beginning of a long line of contradictions. Pretty soon, Runciter's image starts to appear everywhere, on money, in ads.  Messages start becoming apparent to the survivors that Runciter needs to talk to them, at one point they find an ancient tape recorded message.  As this goes on, the world starts to decay and to weaken. The survivors start to wonder if they actually survived or if reality was unhinged.

Right there is enough to know why we decided to read this book for our monthly sci-fi book club at Boswell's.  It is classic Philip K. Dick at his best and definitely my favorite. The discussion centered around the fact that it is really hard to critique a book that you really loved. I know I have a problem finding fault in the book, and if I really love a book, then I have a really hard time being critical of it.  Thankfully, the group enjoyed the book and we did not have to find holes or lack of continuity. Though the lack of continuity was one of the main driving factors in the book; in fact time seems to collapse in this book as the fabric of reality slips away.  I would say my favorite part to discuss was the ending and how everybody interprets it (not going to ruin the end for you, so I will not delve into it too deeply).

I was thrilled that the first section in the forthcoming book, The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick begins with his musings on Ubik.  For all of those rabid fans out there, this is the holy grail for Philip K. Dick followers. These are the thousands of pages of writing that he left behind, they were his thoughts on an event in his life that was simply stated as "2-3-74." The date that he discovers a cosmic mystery, it also led to the famously hard to read Valis trilogy; well if not hard-to-read then hard-to-follow (still loved it). There have been conspiracy theories aplenty surrounding this book and the reasons it was never to be published.  The simple fact is this: it is huge and cumbersome.  It took Pamela Jackson and Jonathan Lethem to really put the book into a format that reach all his fans.  Coming this November it is high on my top priorities as a must read.

Up for this June 13th: CJ Cherryh's, A Wave Without a Shore. Check out the the Boswell Science Fiction Book Club's Wikispace here.  Also, I might have some cool postcards to give away.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The New Must Read Fantasy that is not Martin or Rothfuss

I recently finished the new Patrick Rothfuss, A Wise Man's Fear (which was a great read, even after a 4 year wait), and I realized that I still felt like I needed another great fantasy fix.  Easier said than done. There are so many books in the fantasy section. So many new ones, old ones and obscure ones that you could just trip over, which is what I did with The Winds of Khalakovo.  I was shelving away in the fantasy section when I noticed a sizable pile of copies of one book.  I know I did not order that title, it had to be an event (yes, he is coming on April 23rd at 2pm) that I did not know about, and a fantasy one at that! The publisher for the book was Night Shade books, which published the Hugo and Nebula award winning book The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi, a huge plus.  I was intrigued to say the least.

I grabbed a copy to read and was instantly hooked.

The world is incredible: ships that fly, elemental spirits, blight, famine, and characters that try to get their lives right, but are so very flawed. This is not a book where the author creates the world as the story goes along, rather he immerses the reader into a fully realized world, and it is breathtaking.  There are the 'Landed', represented by the Nine Dukes and their type of magic that harnesses the elemental winds to fly their ships between the islands, the Aramahn, who wander the world, never settling down but also practice a different type of elemental magic, and then there is the Maharrat a fanatical group looking to stir up unrest.  Beaulieu weaves these different cultures together to give the reader a unique, complex world to experience.  It is a world that is unraveling, with blight and disease, and political uncertainty.
Nikandr is the Prince of Khalakovo, diseased and doomed to a painful, wasting death, yet betrothed to Atiana.  The Nine Dukes of the land come together to celebrate the political alliances that the marriage will cement together, when an elemental kills the Grand Duke. Nikandr has to protect a small Aramahn boy, who is thought to have summoned the elemental. Somehow this boy might just be the key to that Nikandr has been searching for, to keep Khalakovo and the Grand Duchy out of civil war.

That is all I will tell you about the plot; just know that Beaulieu has amazing twists and turns to spin you around his world. So, if you have finished the new Rothfuss, and you are eagerly anticipating George R.R. Martin's July 12th release of A Dance with Dragons, you owe it yourself to come check out The Winds of Khalakovo and Bradley Beaulieu at Boswell Book Company on Saturday, April 23rd at 2pm.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

the pale footnote king

"the dead can't edit"1

Interested in reading David Foster Wallace's2 newest novel, The Pale King?3 Consider first catching up on his earlier works4.

1I started reading this with mixed feelings. On the one hand, Wallace never finished it, so it's likely not the book he envisioned. BUT IT'S DAVID FOSTER WALLACE!! The result, as with my reading experience, is mixed. When it's good, it's very good. When it's not, it's just unpolished. Read it for the good parts (they're great) and recognize that the dead can't edit.
-Conrad1a, bookseller at Boswell Book Company in Milwaukee, WI1b.

2Wallace (February 21, 1962 - September 12, 2008) was an American author of novels, essays, and short stories, and a professor at Pomona College in Claremont, California2a.

3An unfinished novel being published by Little, Brown and Company on April 15, 2011.3a

4The Broom of the System, Infinite Jest, Girl with Curious Hair, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, Oblivion: Stories, A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, Everything and More, Consider the Lobster, and This is Water.

1aConrad Silverberg is a leftist, orthodox atheist who is married with children and who likes The Beatles, Iggy Pop, Tom Waits and Neil Young, among other musicians.1a-I He has read everything written by David Foster Wallace.1a-II
1bMilwaukee, Wisconsin (nicknames include 'Brew City' or 'Cream City') is located on the Western shores of Lake Michigan, some miles north of Chicago1b-I, Illinois.
3aTax Day

1a-ISource: Facebook profile
1a-IIWell, okay, not everything - not his philosophy or science books.
1b-IPopularly known as the 'Windy City'

Friday, March 25, 2011

Fantasy food for thought.

Well, this is a little embarassing. It has been almost two months since anyone updated this! Let's change that, shall we?
This morning, I was ambling downstairs for my morning coffee when I overheard someone talking about fantasy literature on the radio. Yaay Wisconsin Public Radio! Veronica Rueckert was interviewing Wisconsin native Patrick Rothfuss, of The Name of the Wind fame. You can listen to the program yourself here (10 AM on 3/25).

Mr. Rothfuss said something I found particularly interesting - someone he knew had read his books, and classified him as a literary fiction writer, rather than a fantasy writer. Admittedly, I have not read any of his books myself, except for The Adventure of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle. And while wonderfully written and deliciously subversive, I assume it is not the ideal Rothfuss example. But it's no secret that The Name of the Wind and its sequel, The Wise Man's Fear, are firmly entrenched in the fantasy category.

The reasoning behind Mr. Rothfuss's classification as a literary fiction writer was simple - it was because the book was deemed "good." I've often wondered about this myself. Why do fantasy and science fiction books have such a stigma? Are they really more poorly written than literary fiction books? Is that why they don't sell better?

I don't know the answer. It does seem odd to me that this stigma exists in spite of the Lord of the Rings series essentially shooting it in the foot. The same rule applies to science fiction as well, with powerhouses like Kurt Vonnegut disproving the theory that science fiction is poorly written.

I'd love to hear what this blog's readers think. Leave a comment and give your $0.02! In the end, all I can do is shake my head and continue to recommend some forthcoming science fiction titles that are well-written.

The Passage comes out in paperback in May. I've raved about this before, so I won't subject you to it again. It's available as a bargain book for $10!

Robopocalypse lands in June. Think World War Z with robots instead of zombies. Very entertaining, and set to become a Steven Spielberg flick in 2013.

Warm Bodies comes out at the end of April. I'm currently a few chapters in. It's about a zombie who falls in love. Yes, I realize how awful that sounds. It's actually rather good thus far.