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Sunday, March 14, 2004

Back with the weekend roundup 

And oh, where to start? Why, with that unique coyness of Marilyn Stasio, who takes ever so much care to write non-blurbable copy. But it's a style, and it works, and she manages to get excited over several of the latest crime fiction releases, like Laurie King's THE GAME, John Dunning's THE BOOKMAN'S PROMISE, Luis Alfredo Garcia-Roza's SOUTHWESTERLY WIND and Olen Steinhauer's THE CONFESSION (which, incidentally, I'm reading now.) Stasio is less thrilled with the new Robert B. Parker, but even that's not a surprise. Those who like him will keep on reading him, those who don't, well, won't. Simple as that.

And as for the rest of the Book Review, in the dying days of the McGrath years? Smartly, they elected to make Tom Perrotta's LITTLE CHILDREN their featured review, because I suppose it really would have been unseemly to trumpet Jack Shafer's smackdown of Jayson Blair (Schadenfreude only goes so far, after all.) Meanwhile, Margo Jefferson tries to go against the shifting tide that's blanching at the memoir craze. But I wonder: didn't Laura Miller do a similar piece a few months back? Or am I just hallucinating (lack of sleep will do it every time.)

Next up: my new favorite paper, and--what's this? Hans Blix's memoir? Why, I remember when it was just a wee bairn, the deal reported on by Publisher's Lunch. Now it's fully grown and under the scrutiny of the watchful eye of the WaPo. Anyway, they dig it, emphasizing its timeliness and critique of what went wrong in the search for those pesky WMDs. Otherwise, there's a rather unenthusiastic review of Aaron Hamburger's debut collection on what it's like to be Jewish and gay in Prague (good lord, talk about marginalizing oneself) and the Brad Meltzer Show; episode one: Brad tells us his inspiration for writing thrillers. Episode two: Marie Arana (and not, as the web monkeys would have you believe, Scare Monger) interviews Meltzer about his newest bestseller, THE ZERO GAME, and other new projects. Finally, Michael Dirda serves up his take on a new biography of Anthony Burgess of CLOCKWORK ORANGE FAME, but whose works have slowly fallen out of print since his death in 1993.

We turn now to the Guardian (which I would very much like to be my next favorite paper, if they'll have me) and they celebrate Salvadore Dali's centenary. An odd man, certainly, but why let his eccentricites surpass his artistic achievements, especially, if you believe Robert Hughes, Dali's work is up there with Picasso? On the books side, I'm surprised--happily so--that Tom Franklin's HELL AT THE BREECH is now available in the UK. Xan Brooks thinks it brilliant, thus agreeing with my own conclusion when I read the book a couple of months back. Gorgeous storytelling, heartbreak, and some fine, fine writing. Meanwhile, Jim Dodge rhapsodizes about a writer's best friend: imagination, Dan Rhodes argues the case for Patrick Hamilton, the unjustly neglected author of HANGOVER SQUARE and other tales of deepest, darkest wartime London, Lucasta Miller talks about the difficulty of choosing a biography subject that will actually lend itself to scrutiny, and Gail Rebuck declares that the written word is more powerful than ever, even in an age of constant bombardment of television, video and digital images.

The Globe and Mail is fairly sparse this week but even so, they manage to spice things up a little bit with Jessica Warner's roundup on the best books about pot. They've come a hell of a long way since Emily Murphy railed against its evils back in the 20s, and hey, let's not forget about REEFER MADNESS (a movie, granted, but still.) And also, Rebecca Caldwell, who's doing a nice job covering the book beat for the paper, takes a look at the upcoming London Book Fair and asks the seminal question: so where, if at all, does CanLit fit in the overall scheme of publishing? My answer? It does, but just barely, alas.

Over at the Sun-Sentinel, the lead feature is an interview with Khalid Hosseini, author of the critically acclaimed THE KITE RUNNER. He's still rather amazed at the success of the book, as all he was trying to do was tell a story of his native Afghanistan, never realizing it would strike such a chord in American and UK readers. Also, Oline Cogdill puts aside book reviewing this week for a look at Sleuthfest, one of the few mystery conferences geared strictly for writers.

And as for more isolated bits of news:

Happy St. Paddy's Day! Um....OK maybe not, but Helen Doogue at the Sydney Morning Herald talks about her Irish heritage living in Australia, and ponders the whole Irish thing in general.

Great sex is hard to have, let alone write, but evidently, Natalee Caple's MACKEREL SKY has set a new benchmark for literary lovemaking, if you believe Keith Nickson of the Toronto Star.

The David Peace interview where, among other things, he slags off Granta is finally up at the Telegraph's site. I have also been told that my copy of GB84 is forthcoming. I really really hope so.

Everybody Googles. Hell, I just used the term as a verb. But it's just a robotic program, with no thought as to what it's actually looking for. Are such programs on the horizon? Joel Achenbach certainly hopes so, and looks at a few promising candidates.

Debut authors Keith Hunter and Ian Reynolds are faced with the usual quandary: how to promote their work? Their answer is to take a cue from the BookCrossing site and leave 300 free copies around Manchester for people to take home and try. Will their efforts succeed? Only time will tell....

Allen Massie ponders the whole centenary business. Should some authors languish in obscurity while others remain permanently in the public eye? He uses the curious career of Christopher Isherwood as a springboard for ideas on the matter.

With those new, updated-for-the-21st-century Nancy Drew books hitting bookstores, maybe it's a good idea to reflect on just how many changes the Titian-haired wonder has undergone in the 70+ years since her inception. Kari Wergeland does just that in a feature for the Seattle Times.

John Dunning talks to the Rocky Mountain News about his sudden surge in output (his new novel is just out, and a subsequent Cliff Janeway book will be on shelves next year) and why he's not such a great fan of mysteries: "I don't mean to be snobbish about them, but I find mysteries hard to read. . . . I very seldom find one that isn't written for the best-seller lists." Whether it was a misquote or just a throwaway comment, it's not worth the time to argue the point, really.

And finally, how else to end a weekend roundup without tipping the hat to Robert McCrum? He gets on his high horse (amusingly so) about authors' reactions to the proposed elimination of recommended retail prices (or RRPs) and issues a nice reality check, that really, folks in Britain had never had it so good compared to the "small, dark overheated bookshops" and books were "badly printed, sloppily edited, horrible to look at and impossible to find":

That's the real cultural revolution: the shift in the balance of power from the publisher to the bookseller. Thatcherism, which made the market king, empowered the bookseller and put the publisher on the defensive. For the past 10 years at least, most published writers in Britain and America have enjoyed a golden age of remuneration, publicity and, yes, sales scarcely dreamed of before. In 2004, the author's lot, though far from ideal, is better than it has ever been.

I don't know whether I fully agree with his assessments, but as usual, McCrum's screed is thought-provoking, as ever.

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