Here is the shortlist for the prestigious Orange Prize for fiction, which honors female writers of any nationality for the best full-length novel written in English:
The Lacuna, Barbara Kingsolver
Black Water Rising, Attica Locke
Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel (of course - it's already won the National Book Critic Circle Award and Man Booker Prize)
A Gate at the Stairs, Lorrie Moore (if you read this blog, you know I'd love this one to win)
The White Woman on the Green Bicycle, Monique Roffey
Last year's winner was Marilynne Robinson for Home, her sequel of sorts to the breathtaking Gilead.
A side note worth checking out: On his Open Page blog, Chauncey Mabe wonders if it's time to get rid of an award solely designated for female writers, simply because women make up most of the general reading public. Let him know what you think.
I had read mixed reviews of the book, which has been billed as Harry Potter for grownups (Scott Smith, author of The Ruins and A Simple Plan summed it up well: Anyone who grew up reading about magical wardrobes and unicorns and talking trees before graduating to Less Than Zero and The Secret History and Bright Lights, Big City will immediately feel right at home with this smart, beautifully written book...") Herald sci fi reviewer John Williford loved it and recommended it without hesitation.
The book is about sulky teenager Quentin Coldwater, who is obsessed with a Narnia-like series of books. Quentin is discontent, but then he's recruited to attend a secret university for magicians, kind of like Hogwarts only with less colorful teachers (Professor Snape, I miss you). Quentin proceeds to meet other budding magicians, learns spells, boozes it up, falls in love. So far, so good. I liked the idea of these college-age Rons and Hermiones, dabbling in drugs and sex and dark magic.
But then they graduate, and, amid endless partying, they learn they can travel to Fillory, the magical land from the books Quentin so loves. Naturally Fillory is not exactly the way he imagined it. It's much more dangerous.
On the surface, that sounds reasonable enough - this is fantasy, after all - but by this time I had taken a violent dislike to Quentin that grew into outright hatred. I fought my way through the Fillory section of the book with much difficulty, and I realized when I got to the end - FINALLY - that I wouldn't be reading any more books about Quentin or his friends (the sequel The Magician King is due out in the summer of 2010).
I don't have to like a character to like a book. Emma Woodhouse is, quite frankly, a pain in the ass. Heathcliff is a sociopath. Even Harry Potter has his obnoxious moments. But Quentin was in a whole new category of obnoxious. And I didn't much care for the book's jump into all-out fantasy; it was better when it straddled the lines between the real world and the magical one.
Take that, LOLcats of Icanhazcheezburger.com - the LOLdogs will have their day, starting...now.
Grand Central has just released I Has a Hotdog, a collection of absolutely ridiculous (and funny) photos with poorly spelled captions ("Cat is frend...not fud") of dogs doing, well, goofy dog things. The cats already have their own book, and, like theirs, this one is based on the website. There's a lot of that going around lately - prepare for the book versions of Twitter's Sh*t My Dad Says, Awkward Family Photos and more.
Anyway, while BtC is not by any means anti-cat, we are definitely pro-dog, and we (and by we I mean I - why am I talking like this?) spent a good half an hour laughing at the mutts in this book. Get a copy of I Has a Hotdog - which is written by "Professor Happycat," aka Ben Huh, CEO of the Cheezburger network, which includes the FAIL blog - put it on your desk and flip through it when you need a laugh.
This week over at FiveChapters.com - a website that usually posts a short story in five parts over five days - they're thinking bigger. This week's free offering is an excerpt from Julie Orringer's upcoming historical novel The Invisible Bridge, which is due out in May.
From the website:
"In this section, it's September 1937 as we meet Andras Levi, a young Jewish man from Hungary who is the fortunate recipient of a scholarship to study architecture in Paris. Only as he arrives in France, believing he will have a wonderful opportunity for study that would likely be closed to him at home, his funding is in trouble. (Andras is one of two brothers in the novel, part of a family dramatically affected by World War II.)"
Orringer's debut was the excellent short story collection How to Breathe Underwater (and if you haven't read it yet, what's stopping you?) She read a few years back at Miami Book Fair International.
``I love Orhan Pamuk's Turkey, and his latest novel, The Museum of Innocence, is like a melodic, haunting, tango song. There's seduction and love, and then so much heartbreak that the city of Istanbul is a landscape of loss. The lovelorn protagonist experiences `hüzün,' a sort of spiritual loss that causes a person's melancholic soul to fall so deep into despair that it experiences divine desire. Pamuk writes `What I am trying to explain is the hüzün of an entire city: of Istanbul.' ''
- MARIA FINN, author of Hold Me Tight & Tango Me Home
O, what a noble mind is here o'erthrown! Just in time for the anniversary of William Shakespeare's life and death (April 23) comes a new sort of literary mashup featuring the Bard. No, not Troilus and Cressida and Zombies. Even better: Canadians Conor McCreery and Anthony Del Col are publishing Kill Shakespeare, the first comic series that makes use of Shakespeare's greatest heroes and villains.
I'm sure purists are shuddering, but the idea makes me laugh. Apparently in issue 1, Hamlet is banished from Denmark for slaying Polonius, gets attacked by pirates and ends up at Richard III's castle. There are also apparently some shenanigans between the melancholy Dane and Juliet (hopefully before she pulls out that happy dagger.) Talk about sweet bells jangled out of time and harsh.
"Anthony and I are not re-inventing the works of the greatest writer of all time," says McCreery in a press release. "Rather, we're re-imagining his characters in provocative situations."
In that case, carry on, gents.
I offer this comment from Friend of the Blog Nan, who commented on the item on how self-published books were growing in number. I wanted to be sure everyone saw it, because it perfectly sums up one of my problems with self-published books - not everyone can or should write:
Two of my favorite things all wrapped up in the same seminar! The 2011 Key West Literary Seminar (which runs Jan. 6-16) will explore food and its place in contemporary literature.
Slated to appear as part of "The Hungry Muse": Miami's own Diana Abu-Jaber (whose descriptions of baklava can set you drooling within moments), Elizabeth Berg, Roy Blount Jr., Frank Bruni, Kate Christensen, Billy Collins, John T. Edge, Jason Epstein, Jonathan Gold, Darra Goldstein, Adam Gopnick, Gael Green, Daniel Halpern, Jane Hirshfield, Madhur Jaffrey, Judith Jones, Mark Kurlansky, David Mas Masumoto, Harry Mathews, Nicole Mones, Bich Minh Nguyen, Molly O'Neil, Julia Reed, Ruth Reichl, Michael Ruhlman, Calvin Trillin and Calvin Young.
Slots fill up fast; click here to register.
In its ongoing efforts to give me a heart attack, Publisher's Weekly reports that a whopping 764,448 books were self-published in 2009. PW goes on to say: "The number of "nontraditional" titles dwarfed that of traditional books whose output slipped to 288,355 last year from 289,729 in 2008."
I know there are writerly friends and acquaintances of mine who will say: But Connie! This is the future of publishing! It's too hard to get a publishing deal in this day and age, when money is tight and everybody's looking for the next Stephenie Meyer. And now legitimate authors are turning to self-publishing because that's the only method they have.
I say: Show me a self-published (ie unedited) book that's any good, and maybe you will change my mind.