Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Times and The Swamp

Author Karen Russell and friend

Here the NY Times weighs in with their notable picks of the year.  It is a good solid list though with few surprises. 

I was pleased to see Swamplandia! by Karen Russell make the cut. 
My two cents on that book can be read here:  Don't miss out on this book or her first short story collection, the brilliant St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves.  Russell is an immense talent.

Oddly, the book is to be adapted by HBO and producer Scott Rudin as a "half hour comedy project"(!) with the author consulting.  While HBO has created some real magic, this leaves me baffled.  If it ever makes it to the screen, my high hopes for it will be matched with low expectations.  Then again, I would love to see HBO prove me wrong.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Another Best-Of List

This also gets my pick for best book cover of 2011
Here's another Best-Of (, this time from Publishers Weekly.  Unlike the Kirkus Reviews list, I'm much more in step with PW's fiction picks.  

Readers of this blog will see two books I raved about making the cut; the charming The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt and the unsettling The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock.  

Should you choose, you can read my respective posts here:

DeWitt has won the Governor General's Prize in Canada and I just read John C. Reilly bought the right to make the film.  I can certainly see him as a Sister. 

Don't Tell Me What The Poets Are Doing

Our friends at Shelf-Awareness ran this photo from the Fifth Annual Poets Forum, sponsored by the Academy of American Poets.  Pictured prior to the Chancellor's Reading are the poets Naomi Shihab Nye, Sharon Olds and Ron Padgett.

Wonderful writers, all, who know how to plumb the very depths of the soul.  Sadly, the same cannot be said for their abilities in making fashionable footwear choices.   

Ah, the life of the mind.

Speaking of Shelf Awareness, you can see I've added a widget on the right side of this page where you can sign up for their bi-weekly newsletter, Shelf Awareness For Readers, and enter to win a signed, first edition of Walter Isaacson's Steve Jobs biography.  I have a huge fan-crush on the good folks at Shelf and hope you'll avail yourselves of their excellent newsletter which is packed with news and reviews you can really use. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Best Books I've Never Read

As the year end Best-Of lists start to roll in, here's one from the esteemed Kirkus Reviews that struck me, not because I agree or disagree with their choices, but that I haven't read a SINGLE one of them.  Many I'm familiar with, some I hope to read, others I don't know a thing about.  Shows you how vast publishing still is and that makes me happy (or are just too damned many books being published each year?).

As for Best-Of Lists, I'll pass them on in case you're interested and I'll also start to put forth my own faves from 2011, some of which I haven't blogged about yet.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Strangers On A Train by Patricia Highsmith

I believe I have mentioned here before that my beloved Father told me when I was young the legacy he would leave me wouldn't be financial; it would be an appreciation for books, music, and films.  I have scads of fond memories of watching movies with him, Hitchcock's Strangers On A Train among them.  Watching those same films without him always takes me back to my childhood and presents a happiness and sadness all its own. 

There was something about Hitchcock's movie: Robert Walker alternately oozing easy charm and icy menace while Farley Granger was all curly-headed, desperate and decked out in tennis whites;  the murder scene shot as though through eyeglasses on the ground, appropriately distorted; the merry-go-round scene where the story, quite literally, comes crashing down.   

It wasn't until a few years ago that I learned Patricia Highsmith had worked on the screenplay but it was a novel well before that, her first.  In fact, I knew very little about Highsmith until recently.   I knew of her Ripley character (I had seen the Matt Damon film) but that was about it, despite years as a bookseller and even more as a devout reader.  My friend Susan was kind enough to set me straight, lending me Patricia Highsmith: Selected Novels and Short StoriesThe bio in the introduction is that of a saucy Southerner well ahead of her time and answering to no one's definitions of normalcy, especially in 1950's America.  

That said, the novel Strangers On A Train bears only a passing resemblance to Hitchcock's film so I was really torn at first.  In the book, Guy Haines is an architect, Bruno is the character's last name, there's no tennis, no potentially incriminating cigarette lighter, no merry-go-round.  However, if you can get the film out of your head, the novel is a well-written, taut story of crime, punishment, and self-punishment.  She writes with a hard-bitten tightness reminiscent of Chandler or Jim Thompson, like when she describes how Bruno becomes resolved to kill Guy's soon-to-be ex-wife, "Miriam had become an object, small and hard" and how quickly he grew to hate everything about her ("The red socks with the red sandals infuriated him").  There is a strong homo-erotic subtext between Guy and Bruno throughout the novel that must have been practically scandalous in 1950.  

I do think the second half of the novel dragged a bit and the events leading up to the second murder were less believable but she does manage to get it back by the end.  The collection includes another non-Ripley novel, The Price of Salt, and over a dozen short stories.  There is a great deal to this author's work and the woman herself and I plan on reading more.