Monday, 30 November 2009

Book of the Week - Wells Tower, Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned

Wells Tower is an American writer of short stories and non-fiction. He was born in Vancouver in 1973. He is the recipient of The Paris Review Discovery Prize, a Pushcart Prize and a Henfield Foundation award. He lives in Greenpoint, Brooklyn and owns a house in North Carolina. Farrar, Straus and Giroux published Tower's first short story collection, Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned in 2009, to outstanding reviews. It has recently been published by Granta in paperback, and is highly recommended. Perfect for reading when time is limited.

A man is booted out of his home after his wife discovers that the sweat-smudged footprint on the inside of his windscreen doesn't match her own. Teenage cousins, drugged by summer, meet with a reckoning in the woods. A boy runs off to the carnival after his stepfather bites him in a brawl. In the stories of Wells Tower, families fall apart and messily, hilariously try to reassemble themselves. His characters - marauding Vikings, washed-up entrepreneurs, and jobbing hacks on local papers - are adrift from the mainstream, confused by contemporary masculinity, angry and aimless. Combining electric prose with compassion and dark wit, this is a major debut.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Stiff competition for bad sex award

I have done well this year in predicting winners and shortlists for some major literary awards, but somewhat to my surprise three of my selections feature in the shortlist for the bad sex award. Nick Cave, Jonathan Littell and Richard Milward join a select group of overwhelmingly male authors, but Philip Roth looks a good bet to me this year. The award is meant to be for bad writing about sex, rather than good writing about bad sex, so I think that maybe some of the books have been shortlisted for the wrong reasons. Anyway, good coverage in the Guardian for those who are interested, and I will update this entry after the climax of the ceremony.

PS - Victory for Jonathan Littell - and well deserved!

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Book of the Week and bibliography - Johan Theorin, The Darkest Room

Nothing especially takes my eye in this week’s book releases, so I have selected a book released earlier this year. Scandinavian Crime Fiction is on a high at the moment, and I particularly recommend Henning Mankell and Stieg Larsson. Johan Theorin is a relatively new exponent on the scene, with two novels released in the UK. Theorin is a journalist and author, born in 1963 in Gothenburg, Sweden, where he still lives. Throughout his life, he has been a regular visitor to the island of Öland in the Baltic sea. His mother’s family – sailors, fishermen and farmers – have lived there for centuries, nurturing the island’s rich legacy of strange tales and folklore. His first novel was Echoes from the Dead (originally published in Sweden as Skumtimmen by Wahlström & Widstrand). In 2007 it was voted Best First Mystery Novel by the authors and critics of the Swedish Crime Writers' Academy, and it has been sold to eighteen countries. It was awarded the CWA John Creasey New Blood Dagger in the UK in 2009. His second novel, The Darkest Room, (in Swedish Nattfåk) was voted the Best Swedish Crime Novel of 2008 and won the Glass Key award for Scandinavian Crime Fiction in 2009. The books form the first half of a loose quartet of novels set on the island of Öland, with each one intended to take its mood from one of the four seasons on the island. Both books were published in softcover only in the UK by Doubleday, and first printings do not seem widely available. Now is a good time to pick both up at cover price if you are lucky.


Echoes from the Dead - Doubleday, 2008
The Darkest Room - Doubleday, 2009

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Book of the Week - Attica Locke, Black Water Rising

Most UK collectors prefer UK first editions, even for American authors where the true first is likely to be the US edition. Sometimes, however, the American first may be a better buy. Black Water Rising, a first novel from Attica Locke, has just been released in the UK as a paperback with jacket from Serpent’s Tail. However, the American edition released earlier this year was a hardback from HarperCollins. The book has impressed almost all reviewers and is into multiple reprints; a few signed first editions are still available, whereas at present no signed copies of the UK edition have appeared (although this might change). I was able to purchase a signed American first at cover price, although these have now gone. The author is an experienced screenwriter for both film and television, and there must be a good chance that this book will translate through to the screen in due course.

"Reminiscent of early John Grisham and Walter Mosley, this taut, fast-paced novel heralds an exciting and powerful new voice in fiction. Big oil and its twin, corporate corruption, meet their match with Jay Porter, a struggling personal injury attorney down on his luck, who suddenly finds himself in a situation spiraling out of control. Jay knows a boat ride on the Bayou won't measure up to his wife's expectations of a birthday celebration, but it's all he can afford. Once a man of virtuous ideals, he is now just waiting for a break. All that changes when midway through dinner, gun shots and sharp cries for help ring out. When he fishes a woman out of the Bayou, his sixth sense tells him this charitable act will lead to no good. Unraveling the woman's past, Jay finds himself enmeshed in a web that weaves together greed, politics, and corporate corruption. And the secrets of his own past come back to either haunt or save him."

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Book of the Week - Ryan David Jahn, Acts of Violence

Macmillan New Writing is an imprint which does exactly what it says – introducing previously unpublished writers to the unsuspecting public. Some of these writers may well publish little else in their careers, but others will go on to have successful careers, Brian McGilloway being a good example. Ryan David Jahn is an American writer, whose first novel has just been published and has attracted considerable attention. Acts of Violence is based on a real event - in 1964, Kitty Genovese was stabbed to death outside her home in New York City. Thirty eight people witnessed her attack, but did nothing to help, leading to what became known as the "Bystander Effect". This is a book full of violence, and not for the weak hearted. Goldsboro books published a 250 copy edition, signed, numbered and with the author’s thumbprint in red ink. These copies, and the trade edition, are published in decorated boards with no dustwrapper. The limited edition is now sold out, but a couple of copies are available at a not unreasonable price on ABEbooks and there are also a couple on Ebay. Jahn has signed a deal for a further two books which will be published in 2010 and 2011.

“ Katrina Marino is about to become America’s most infamous murder victim. This is Katrina’s story, and the story of her killer. It is also the story of Katrina’s neighbors, those who witness her murder and do nothing: the terrified Vietnam draftee; the woman who thinks she’s killed a child, and her husband who will risk everything for her; the former soldier planning suicide and the man who saves him. And others whose lives are touched by the crime: the elderly teacher whose past is catching up with him; the amateur blackmailer who’s about to find out just what sort of people he’s been threatening; the corrupt cop who believes he is God’s “red right hand.” Shocking and compassionate, angry and gripping, Acts of Violence is a sprawling, cinematic tour-de-force, a terrifying crime novel unlike any other.”

Friday, 6 November 2009

Simon Armitage - The Twilight Readings

I am a big fan of Simon Armitage's writing, and I have been browsing through The Twilight Readings, a short volume of readings which he gave while writer in residence at Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Armitage is always an interesting poet, whether writing his own verse or translating the classics into contemporary language, and in his prose he is a wry and humorous story teller. The Twilight Readings is no exception, as in this excerpt from the start of a short story:

"The Apprentice

So George has this theory: the first thing we ever steal, when we're young, is a symbol of what we become later in life, when we grow up. Example: when he was nine he stole a Mont Blanc fountain pen from a fancy gift shop in a hotel lobby - now he's an award winning novelist. We test this theory around the table and it seems to check out. Clint stole a bottle of cooking sherry, now he owns a Tapas Bar. Kirsty's an investment banker and she stole money from her mother's purse. Tod took a Curly Wurly and he's morbidly obese."

The story subsequently takes a slightly sinister turn for the worse, but it still sounds like an interesting party game, and Armitage without doubt would be a very entertaining guest.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Book of the Week - Barbara Kingsolver, The Lacuna

Barbara Kingsolver was born in Annapolis, Maryland in 1955. She spent some of her childhood in Africa where her father was a medical doctor, but mainly grew up in the US. She initially attended DePauw University, on a music scholarship (studying classical piano), but eventually changed her major to biology. In the late 1970s, Kingsolver lived in a number of places, including Greece, France, and Arizona, working variously as an archaeological digger, copy editor, housecleaner, biological researcher and translator. She earned a Master's degree in ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona. She then took a job as a science writer for the university. The science writing led to some freelance feature writing and journalism. In 1986, she won an Arizona Press Club award for outstanding feature writing. Her first novel, The Bean Trees, was published in 1988, and The Lacuna is her thirteenth book, and her first novel since The Poisonwood Bible, shortlisted for The Orange Prize in 1999. The Lacuna is set in a period in which I am interested, and I am looking forward to reading it. Reviews are very good, and it will be a contender for The Orange Prize next year.

“"The Lacuna" is the story of a man's search for safety in the grinding jaws of two nations, at a moment when the entire world seemed bent on reinventing itself at any cost. Born in the U.S., reared in a series of provisional households in Mexico, Harrison Shepherd is mostly a liability to his social-climbing flapper mother, Salome. Sometimes she gives her son cigarettes instead of supper. Making himself useful in the household of the famed Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, his wife Frida Kahlo and exiled Bolshevik leader Lev Trotsky, young Shepherd inadvertently casts his lot with art and revolution, and the howling gossip and reportage that dictate public opinion. A violent upheaval sends him north to a nation newly caught up in the internationalist good will of World War II. In the mountain city of Asheville, North Carolina he remakes himself in America's hopeful image. But political winds continue to throw him between north and south, in a plot that turns many times on the unspeakable breach - the lacuna - between truth and public presumption. This is a gripping story of identity, connection with our past, and the power of words to create or devastate. Crossing two decades, from the vibrant revolutionary murals of Mexico City to the halls of a Congress bent on eradicating the color Red, "The Lacuna" is as deep and rich as the New World.”