For best novel:
Click here to see a complete list in other categories, including novella, short story and anthology.
For best novel:
Click here to see a complete list in other categories, including novella, short story and anthology.
Starting Tuesday, readers can get a free download of Todd's short story The Girl on the Beach (at Amazon and some other e-tailers) - but only for two weeks. As of Sept. 14, it's gone. The story features Bess Crawford, a recurring character in the Todd books, and readers who download the story also get excerpts from An Impartial Witness, A Duty to the Dead and the upcoming A Lonely Death, which is due out in January of 2011.
Chalres Todd is the pseudonym for a mother/son writing team.
"Amy Bloom's Where the God of Love Hangs Out. The writing is so crystalline that each chapter just about breaks my heart, but I can't stay away from it. Bloom's understanding of our souls, of the nature of love and of loss, is so profound, and the writing so perfect, that I keep re-reading chapters just to try to understand how she does what she does. Which is like trying to understand how Old Faithful does what it does."
SARA PARETSKY, author of Body Work
We are globally doomed, Jonathan Franzen's new novel insists. We fight endless wars, usually for profit. We're greedy and selfish. We lie and cheat and care little for human suffering. We put tremendous strain on the planet, reproducing without thought, destroying habitats and extinguishing other species at an astonishing rate. And those transgressions are nothing compared to what we do to the people we are supposed to love.
Franzen's first novel since The Corrections in 2001, Freedom is even more gloomy than that astounding epic of family dysfunction and postmodern malaise. Like its predecessor -- a National Book Award winner and Pulitzer finalist -- Freedom is full of regret, pain, infidelity, tragedy, stupidity, disastrous ego and careless manipulation. It's political and personal, surprisingly funny at times and devastatingly insightful, a grand examination of what's gone badly wrong on every level of contemporary life, from music (``I think the iPod is the true face of Republican politics,'' a character asserts) to mountaintop-removal mining. That Franzen, so adept at painting a vivid if not particularly flattering portrait of modern Americans, manages to sound even the faintest note of hope by the end is miraculous. But then, so is this book.
Freedom -- a more painfully ironic title never existed -- focuses on Patty and Walter Berglund, college sweethearts with two kids and a reputation around their gentrified St. Paul neighborhood as ``the super-guilty sort of liberals who needed to forgive everybody so their own good fortune could be forgiven; who lacked the courage of their privilege.'' Scrutiny reveals they aren't really all that privileged. Bright Walter is the son of a drunk and a mother worn to the bone by caring for the old man; Walter's brothers are cads, so he had to keep the household running even after he left for college. Former basketball star Patty (``Success at sports is the province of the almost empty head,'' she will write years later in her journal) doesn't even speak to her family once she wiggles free of their influential but neglectful sphere.
Still, as adults, the Berglunds are liked in the neighborhood until a dizzying fall from grace. Freedom begins with an overview of the Berglunds' descent, a succinct and compelling opening chapter detailing their reign on Ramsey Hill and eventual collapse. Then the story doubles back in time for a more intimate exploration of Patty and Walter and their relationship, defined by his insistence that she is ``a genuinely nice person.'' Patty's error, ``the really big life mistake, was to go along with Walter's version of her in spite of knowing that it wasn't right.''
Patty makes other really big life mistakes, too, among them preferring her difficult son Joey over her obedient daughter Jessica. Joey will become a terrible disappointment, choosing an unacceptable, possibly psychotic girlfriend far too early and an entirely different set of values from those of his parents. Freedom is nothing if not an indictment of the Bush years, but it does not let NPR-loving liberals off easily, either: the hideous compromises that ``greener than Greenpeace'' Walter makes to preserve a bird sanctuary are as ugly as the war profiteering to which Joey will eventually be drawn. Whatever side you're on, Franzen seems to tell us, you can still screw things up.
Nothing, however, is quite so devastating to the Berglunds' marriage and mental health as the influence of Walter's best buddy Richard, his college roommate, a musician careless with women and sex and, as it turns out, his closest friends. And yet Franzen never demonizes him. He only lets Richard remind us of how terribly fragile human bonds can be.
What links these troubled characters is their inability to reconcile this notion of freedom that we're all meant to enjoy. We're free to choose our destinies here in the U.S.A., and they have money, influence. They're ahead of the game. Why aren't they happy? Without a job and her kids grown, Patty grows depressed -- her neighbors might say she's unhinged -- sensing a ``more general freedom that she could see was killing her but she was nonetheless unable to let go of.'' She sees ``what it meant to have become a deeply unhappy person.''
Walter has the means to pursue his dream of rescuing the tiny, endangered cerulean warbler but can't save Patty from her self-hatred. After finally fleeing his parents' protective umbrella, even hard-headed Joey learns some tough lessons in being truly on his own: ``He was beginning to see, as he hadn't in St. Paul, that things' prices weren't always evident at first glance.''
But Franzen reveals a compassion for his characters in spite of their bad behavior. Patty ``pities the younger Patty standing there in the Fen City Co-op and innocently believing that she'd reached bottom: that, one way or another, the crisis would be resolved in the next five days.'' Such long-term crises as these characters face won't be resolved for decades, if ever. Maybe the Berglunds deserve redemption; maybe they don't. Either way, there's hope for all of them, Franzen promises in this marvelous book, the best novel of 2011 so far. There's hope for them after all.
Yes, the blog is back after a two-and-a-half week absence, during which its author visited the great Pacific Northwest to eat salmon and Dungeness crab and fried oysters and to sit spellbound by the magic worked at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. Six plays in three days with no ill effects, although I may never stop marveling at the festival's absolutely stunning contemporary production of Hamlet, the best I've ever seen, and yes, that includes the Laurence Olivier film. That's the fantastic Dan Donahue with the sword up there as the melancholy Dane, inadvertently ending Laertes' life. I wish I could fly back out and see it again.
The festival is a paradise for Shakespeare fanatics (me); when I saw people trying to scalp tickets to Merchant of Venice, I knew that Ashland was the place for me. Also saw a rollicking Henry IV Part 1 and a very funny Twelfth Night, a creepy stage production of Throne of Blood (based on the Akira Kurosawa film, which is based on MacBeth), a delightful Pride and Prejudice and the musical She Loves Me, on which the films You've Got Mail, In the Good Old Summertime and The Old Curiousity Shop were based.
I didn't spend my entire vacation seated in the outdoor Elizabethan theater, however. Also did a bit of reading on the trip. First up was Benjamin Black's Christine Falls, an excellent noir mystery set in 1950s Dublin, starring the requisite drunken Irish protagonist (Black is in reality award-winning author John Banville). Then, because I absolutely had to buy something at the new Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle - it has moved from Pioneer Square to Capitol Hill - I bought and read David Nicholls' modern romance One Day, which was charming until it broke my heart. Damn you, Nicholls! Also liked the more serious A Short History of Women by Kate Walbert and spent the flight back across the country immersed in Michael Connelly's upcoming The Reversal, which is terrific and much better than his last novel 9 Dragons.
``I want to go someplace where I can marvel at something,'' the unhappy Liz (Julia Roberts) tells her sympathetic but skeptical best friend (Viola Davis) in Eat Pray Love. Liz, a writer based in New York, has good reason to shake up her life: She's gone through a painful divorce (is there any other kind?). Her relationship with the rebound guy (James Franco) isn't working out, and she feels disconnected from everything. What's left to do but journey to Italy, India and Indonesia in search of herself?
Based on the mega bestseller by Elizabeth Gilbert -- who made this same trip, albeit with a book contract -- the film version is pure wish-fulfillment fantasy. Who doesn't want to eat her weight in pasta, fill the spiritual gaps in her life and then fall madly in love with Spain's finest export (Javier Bardem)?
Director/screenwriter Ryan Murphy (creator of TV's Glee and Nip/Tuck) really only had to hire a good cinematographer and a solid cast to keep from screwing up things, and he manages beautifully. Bali is going to look fabulous pretty much any way you shoot it. And if Eat Pray Love offers little in the way of surprise and a few too many platitudes about ``balance,'' if it lacks the self-deprecating humor and emotional connection of Gilbert's book, it's still an entertaining travelogue that urges you to eat carbs, forget dieting and just go up a jeans size because men will want you anyway. Fantasy, yes. Male cynics will sneer, but any woman who ever turned down a gooey slice of pizza will know what I'm talking about.
Roberts, of course, makes the movie. If you have ever doubted that she's a star, note the scene in which Liz, sitting outdoors at a little Roman cafe, watches a couple kissing and then glances down at her gorgeous plate of pasta. The lascivious grin she gives her spaghetti packs enough voltage to light up the theater.
Also excellent is Richard Jenkins as a straight-talking Texan whom Liz meets at the ashram and who guides her matter-of-factly on her spiritual journey, and Bardem as her eventual love interest, who actually weeps at one point. You think women liked him before? Wait until they see him sniffling over saying goodbye to his vacationing son. Billy Crudup fares less well as Liz's husband, possibly because the script has turned him into something of a buffoon instead of just a guy from whom his wife has grown apart.
The adult promotional tie-ins for Eat Pray Love -- Lonely Planet and STA Travel are the ``official'' travel partners of the movie, just for starters -- are off-putting but understandable. The film is far from perfect, but it's likely to inspire more than few quests for balance -- or at least a fabulous bowl of linguine.
Craig Morgan Teicher asked readers of his PWxyz blog to come up with a list of the most underrated writers. Here are his favorite 15 among the authors they chose:
Click here to see other "underrated" authors the readers suggested (Richard Ford? Really? Isn't he generally lauded?)
It's funny, the disparate views of authors toward the new technology. Some have adapted quickly to the changes while others resist - or at least remain clueless.
For example: Susan Orlean, staff writer at the New Yorker and author of The Orchid Thief, Tweets and blogs and confesses to reading books on her iPhone before she got her hands on an iPad. She waxes rhapsodic about her iPad over at MacWorld: "I was really happy with it. And I was so happy not carrying a heavy laptop. It’s not that iPads are so light. But I can keep it in my handbag. I think for women, they’re great. Because I always have a handbag."
Click here to read the entire interview with Orlean.
And then we have novelist Pat Conroy. In a recent Associated Press story, he admits his ignorance with technology.
From the story by Hillel Italie:
"Pat Conroy says he knows so little about e-books that he didn't realize his work could be downloaded until a fan showed him during a recent promotional tour.
'I was at a signing in Georgia, and a guy came up to me with a Kindle and he pressed a button and there it was, my book (South of Broad'),' Conroy said uring a recent telephone interview. "I'm a complete ignoramus when it comes to everything about the Internet. I kept noticing people in planes and shops were reading these things. I couldn't understand these instruments. I didn't know what they were.''
Conroy's not resistant to change, though - a lot of his work is already available in digital form, and starting this week several older books - including The Great Santini and The Prince of Tides - will be available for download. In the meantime, Conroy isn't too worried about the future,
"I imagine there will be paper books, at least until people like me die out,'' he told AP. "But I don't think there's any reason to worry about it. I remember talking to my grandparents when I was a little kid and they both told me about the first time they had seen an airplane and the first time they had seen an automobile and they both would say, 'This'll never work.' But that's how progress works. That's how the future happens.''
The pieces aren't all in place yet, but the puzzle that is Miami Book Fair International is beginning to take shape.
Officials for the fair, which runs Nov. 14-21 at Miami Dade College's downtown Wolfson Campus, have confirmed appearances by authors including Jonathan Franzen, whose novel Freedom, due out Aug. 31, is one of fall's most anticipated books. Also confirmed: Ann Beattie (Walks With Men), Sebastian Junger (War), one-time prison poet Jimmy Santiago Baca (Adolescents on the Edge: Stories and Lessons to Transform Learning) and Jennifer Egan, at right (A Visit from the Goon Squad).
The "Evenings with . . . '' programs are not fully set, but here's a partial list:
Monday, Nov. 15: Actor Michael Caine and screenwriter Nora Ephron.
Thursday, Nov. 18: Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper columnist Eugene Robinson and novelist Pat Conroy.
Friday, Nov. 19: Pulitzer-winning biologist E.O. Wilson and rocker Patti Smith.
Tickets for the Evening with .‚.‚. '' appearances will cost $10 and go on sale later this fall. Tickets for the Nov. 19-21 street fair will be $8 for adults and $5 for seniors; kids under 18 will be admitted free.