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Sunday, March 21, 2004

My Big Fat Weekend Update 

Forgive the haziness and general malaise that seems to have afflicted the blog in the last few days. Alas, it was an extension of what your hostess was feeling--but some time away from the computer, extra social interaction and much-needed sleep seems to have done the trick as a restorative tonic.

Let's start with the Paper of Record, because they have finally seen the light and anointed George Pelecanos as an author of serious literature--how else to explain the thoughtful review that appears this week? Though usually, I get annoyed if a book is reviewed both in the daily paper and the Book Review, this time I'm happy that someone other than Maslin can get their own viewpoint out there. Also of note is Jennifer Gonerman's LIFE ON THE OUTSIDE, detailing how the convict life is becoming all too commonplace in many communities, something that fascinates Brent Staples.

Margaret Cannon's crime column leads off the Globe and Mail coverage, which is positively bursting at the seams with arts and books coverage this week. In brief: Cannon is happy to have Cliff Janeway back, is similarly positive about offerings by Jenny Siler, Thomas Hettche, Pierre Magnan, and Joe Lansdale, is extremely impressed with Scott Phillips' COTTONWOOD, but isn't nearly as much with John Connolly's BAD MEN, which contrary to popular belief, happens to be a Western. OK, so there's all that supernatural stuff and loads of gory violent deaths but really, look at the structure. (Yeah, I'm having trouble convincing folks about this, but I keep trying...)

Peter Robinson is interviewed in the national paper as well, although to be honest, Sarah Hampson doesn't really add much new insight that couldn't be gleaned anywhere else. Though, I suppose, it's great to see him meriting attention all over. And it is. His Canadian tour is underway and he'll be signing books here in Ottawa on Tuesday and in Toronto on Wednesday with George Pelecanos.

The G&M also features Nancy Kilpatrick's disappointment with Kelley Armstrong's DIME STORE MAGIC, T.F. Rigelhof's assertion that Michael Posner's new biography of Mordecai Richler is "a very good book indeed" (and one I must get my hands on at some point), Ingrid Peritz's wrapup of the recent symposium at McGill University that focused on Richler's work and his place in academia, Simon Houpt following around Irshad Manji as she tours the US with her new book that's critical of the tendencies of fundamentalist Islam thinking, Lisa Gabriele likening Natalee Caple to Juli Zeh, and Lionel Shriver's take on Katherine Newman's RAMPAGE, a thoughtful examination of the psychology of school shootings (a book, I suspect, would be of much interest to this author.)

The other major Canadian paper I actually care about, the Toronto Star, leads off with a look at Joy Goodwin's THE SECOND MARK, an in-depth look at the 2002 Olympics and the pairs figure skating judging scandal which ended up awarding a second gold medal to Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier. Garth Woosley is impressed with Goodwin's level of detail and research here, saying that it offers up everything that would have otherwise "been swept under the rug." (this one's for you, A.)

Otherwise, Jack Batten's crime column craps all over the new Grisham and Reed Arvin, and Jean Charbonneau is enthralled by Trezza Azzopardi's REMEMBER ME.

The Washington Post isn't quite as chock-a-block with good stuff this week but there's still plenty of it, like a review of Lisa Jardine's biography of 17th century scientist Robert Hooke, Jennifer Howard (blogeur extraordinaire) on David Markson's VANISHING POINT, David Cooper's examination of a new book that details how the birth of the blues may have been more commercially driven than once thought, and Michael Dirda's delight with Jasper Fforde's newest novel, THE WELL OF LOST PLOTS.

Over at the Guardian, Richard Eyre ponders what, exactly, is Britishness, Jeet Heer is charmed by John Updike's early ambition to be a cartoonist like those he idolized and badgered (in letter format) for signed copies of their work, Michel Faber's puzzlement over Andrey Kurkov's PENGUIN LOST, a sequel to a charming book translated from Russian, Chris Petit gives a thumbs-up to Boris Starling's Russian-based thriller VODKA, Nicholas Clee does his usual Bookseller-y roundup, which includes the catty competition for the right to publish Alex Barclay's debut thriller, and Lauren Henderson (who seems to have a weekly column going or something) ponders the merging of straight and gay culture, as best personified by New Paltz mayor Jason West.

Then there's the Observer, where the pickings are somewhat slimmer. Harriet Lane finds Joan Didion's memoir WHERE I WAS FROM to be somewhat lacking, and Stephanie Merritt guesting in Robert McCrum's "World of Books" column, where she discusses whether the Lit Idol competition was fraught with more voting irregularities than Florida in the 2000 election.

Having dispatched of the major book reviews, let's turn to some isolated goodies:

Trevor Ferguson is a pre-eminent literary writer in Canada, living in Montreal. But a few years ago, his books did amazingly well, and made him some mint. Why? A new name, a thriller structure, and Ferguson was now John Farrow and a huge success. It raised some eyebrows, but now he's melding his two personae for his next book, THE EARTH IN ITS DEVOTION.

Unlike Michel Faber in the Guardian, David Smith in the Scotland on Sunday is rather impressed with Andrey Kurkov's PENGUIN LOST.

Joanna Smith Rakoff is mightily impressed with Stephanie Cowell's MARRYING MOZART, a comedic novel that imagines what young Mozart was like as he meets all four of the Weber sisters--of course, which one he ends up with is well-known, but the fun is getting to that point.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer gets to Ian Rankin's A QUESTION OF BLOOD long after everyone else, but it goes with the consensus opinion and gives the book a rave review.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel focuses their attention on Joe R. Landsdale's new "mainstream" crime novel, SUNSET AND SAWDUST. It looks to be another winner from the man who won the Edgar a few years back, and deservedly so, for THE BOTTOMS, which wonderfully evoked the goings-on in a small Texas town with a shadowy menace that lurked not too far from the surface. It's one of my favorite crime books and so I'm looking forward to Lansdale's latest with much enthusiasm.

Kimberly Hartnett of the Oregonian wonders why Philip Margolin took the serial-killer route in his latest novel, SLEEPING BEAUTY, which evidently doesn't seem to transcend the now-cliched plot device.

And finally, the New York Review of Books talks masturbation. Quite the juxtaposition, and frankly, I'm still not sure what to make of it....

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