Friday, November 30, 2012

Book Mark: Top 10 Books According to New York Times

So, The New York Times has published their top 10 books for 2012. I always check out their list, mainly because it tends to be go for the more high-brow, possibly esoteric options than others.

Also check out their 100 Notable Books of 2012 as well, if you are looking for gift ideas.


By Hilary Mantel.
A John Macrae Book/ Henry Holt & Company, $28.
Taking up where her previous novel, “Wolf Hall,” left off, Mantel makes the seemingly worn-out story of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn newly fascinating and suspenseful. Seen from the perspective of Henry’s chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, the ruthless maneuverings of the court move swiftly to the inevitable executions. Both this novel and its predecessor were awarded the Man Booker Prize. Might the trilogy’s forthcoming conclusion, in which Cromwell will meet his demise, score Mantel a hat trick? 

By Chris Ware.
Pantheon Books, $50.
Ware’s innovative graphic novel deepens and enriches the form by breaking it apart. Packaged in a large box like a board game, the project contains 14 “easily misplaced elements” — pamphlets, books, foldout pages — that together follow the residents of a Chicago triplex (and one anthropomorphized bee) through their ordinary lives. In doing so, it tackles universal themes including art, sex, family and existential loneliness in a way that’s simultaneously playful and profound. 

By Dave Eggers.
McSweeney’s Books, $25.
In an empty city in Saudi Arabia, a ­middle-aged American businessman waits day after day to close the deal he hopes will redeem his forlorn life. Eggers, continuing the worldly outlook that informed his recent books “Zeitoun” and “What Is the What,” spins this spare story — a globalized “Death of a Salesman” — into a tightly controlled parable of America’s international standing and a riff on middle-class decline that approaches Beckett in its absurdist despair. 

By Zadie Smith.
The Penguin Press, $26.95.
Smith’s piercing new novel, her first in seven years, traces the friendship of two women who grew up in a housing project in northwest London, their lives disrupted by fateful choices and the brutal efficiency of chance. The narrative edges forward in fragments, uncovering truths about identity and money and sex with incandescent language that, for all of its formal experimentation, is intimate and searingly direct. 

By Kevin Powers.
Little, Brown & Company, $24.99.
A veteran of the Iraq war, Powers places that conflict at the center of his impressionistic first novel, about the connected but diverging fates of two young soldiers and the trouble one of them has readjusting to life at home. Reflecting the chaos of war, the fractured narrative jumps around in time and location, but Powers anchors it with crystalline prose and a driving mystery: How did the narrator’s friend die? 

Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity.
By Katherine Boo.
Random House, $27.
This National Book Award-winning study of life in Annawadi, a Mumbai slum, is marked by reporting so rigorous it recalls the muckrakers, and characters so rich they evoke Dickens. The slum dwellers have a skillful and empathetic chronicler in Boo, who depicts them in all their humanity and ruthless, resourceful glory. 

Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity.
By Andrew Solomon.
Scribner, $37.50.
For more than a decade, Solomon studied the challenges, risks and rewards of raising children with “horizontal identities,” traits that they don’t share with their parents. As he investigates how families have grown stronger or fallen apart while raising prodigies, dwarfs, schizophrenics, transgendered children or those conceived in rape, he complicates everything we thought we knew about love, sacrifice and success. 

The Years of Lyndon Johnson.
By Robert A. Caro.
Alfred A. Knopf, $35.
The fourth volume of Caro’s prodigious masterwork, which now exceeds 3,000 pages, explores, with the author’s signature combination of sweeping drama, psychological insight and painstaking research, Johnson’s humiliating years as vice president, when he was excluded from the inner circle of the Kennedy White House and stripped of power. We know what Johnson does not, that this purgatory is prelude to the event of a single horrific day, when an assassin’s bullet placed Johnson, and the nation he now had to lead, on a new course. 

The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy.
By David Nasaw.
The Penguin Press, $40.
Nasaw took six years to complete this sprawling, arresting account of a banker-cum-speculator-cum-moviemaker-cum-ambassador-cum-dynastic founder. Joe Kennedy was involved in virtually all the history of his time, and his biographer persuasively makes the case that he was the most fascinating member of his large, famous and very formidable family. 

An Existential Detective Story.
By Jim Holt.
Liveright Publishing/W. W. Norton & Company, $27.95.
For several centuries now, thinkers have wondered, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” In search of an answer, Holt takes the reader on a witty and erudite journey from London to Paris to Austin, Tex., as he listens to a varied cast of philosophers, scientists and even novelists offer solutions that are sometimes closely reasoned, sometimes almost mystical, often very strange, always entertaining and thought-provoking.

Adaptation: Rise of the Guardians

Although based on William Joyce's The Guardians of Childhood series, this story takes place about 200 years after that series. The focus of the film is on the Guardians (Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, and the Sandman) enlisting the help of Jack Frost to stop the Bogeyman.

Hahaha - I laughed just reading the basic plot though I know it is meant as a darker tale. Looks to be good entertainment for the holiday season!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Book Mark: 19th-Century Century Novel Dioramas

Artist Julia Callon’s Houses of Fiction is a series of photographed models depicting rooms from five 19th-century novels by women writers. The models explore both the sedate surfaces and the chaotic subtext of each novel. “The dichotomous representation of women — mad or sane — is crucial to represent in this series,” Callon writes. “Therefore, each story is presented as a diptych: one image represents the passive, subservient woman, while the other represents ‘madness.’”

You can view all the models on Callon's site; below is just one set based on George Eliot's The Lifted Veil.

The Lifted Veil, No. 1

The Lifted Veil, No. 2

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Book Mark: 2012 Scotiabank Giller Prize

A little behind with this one, as it was awarded the end of October. Nonetheless, it is a significant win for humorist / travel writer / fiction writer Will Ferguson.

Will Ferguson has won the 2012 Giller Prize, the $50,000 award considered one of Canada's most prestigious literary honours.

Though best known for his humour and travel writing, the Calgary writer won for his dark novel 419 on Tuesday night, accepting the prize at a star-studded gala in Toronto.

"I want to thank the jury for putting together such a fresh list of books," Ferguson, who was dressed in a traditional kilt, said after taking the stage to accept the prize.

"I commend them for taking the books on their own merit, without preconceptions — which is how a jury should act."

Then, reaching into his sporran for a flask, the author concluded his speech by leading the audience in a toast.

"Ladies and gentlemen: To the written word," Ferguson said before taking a sip from the flask he procured from the pouch.

"And finally, to answer the question you're all wondering — yes I have something on underneath!"

A departure and a continuation

419 is a provocative tale of an email scam and a woman who sets out on a wide-ranging search for those she believes responsible for her father's death. It's different sort of writing for many fans of Ferguson, a three-time winner of the Stephen Leacock Medal.

"Everyone's saying it's a departure, which is understandable, but I think it's a continuum from Spanish Fly," he told reporters after the ceremony, referencing his earlier book.

"Spanish Fly was about con artists in the 1930s. It was a historical novel. So I didn't think of [419] as out of the blue, but I think of it as a continuation."

Ferguson didn't worry as much about writing in a genre for which he isn't as known.

"I think my publisher really took more of a risk than I did, to be honest, when I switched to literary fiction," he said.

Despite the kudos he's received for 419, he not ready to limit himself to one type of writing either.
"If a funny story grabs you, it grabs you. If travel grabs you, it grabs you," he said, noting that his next book will be a travel narrative about Rwanda, Burundi and potentially eastern Congo.
"I try to switch between fiction and travel. It uses different parts of your brain. No, I'm not giving up on travel writing, but I'm certainly enjoying fiction."

Book Mark: 2012 Governor General's Literary Awards

This year's Governor General's Literary Awards were announced a couple weeks ago at a ceremony in Montreal. Below is a list of the winners; all winners and nominees are available on the Canada Council for the Arts site.

English Winners
Fiction: Linda Spalding - The Purchase
Poetry: Julie Bruck - Monkey Ranch
Drama: Catherine Banks - It is Solved by Walking
Non-fiction: Ross King - Leonardo and the Last Supper
Children's Text: Susin Neilsen - The Reluctant Journey of Henry K. Larsen
Children's Illustration: Isabelle Arsenault - Virginia Wolf 
Translation: Nigel Spencer - Mia at the Predators' Ball

French Winners
Fiction: France Daigle - Pour Sur
Poetry: Maude Smith Gagnon - Un drap. Une place.
Drama: Geneviève Billette - Contre le Temps

Non-fiction: Normand Chaurette - Comment teur Shakespeare
Children's Text: Aline Apostolska - Un été d’amour et de cendres
Children's Illustration: Élise Gravel - La clé à molette
Translation: Alain Roy - Glenn Gould

Monday, November 26, 2012

Book Mark: The Biblio-Mat

Back in March I had a post about a Brazilian company that created a book vending machine. A bookseller in Toronto has taken this idea and flipped it about 90 degrees. Whereas with the Brazilian model one can select the book to be purchased, the one in Toronto is built to make a surprise.

This vending machine is great for book lovers who can’t decide on their next read. Built by Craig Small for antiquarian bookshop The Monkey’s Paw in Toronto, the Biblio-Mat gives you a random old book when you insert $2. Sporting the claim of 112 million titles and no two alike, the Biblio-Mat offers customers a literary surprise that can vary widely in size and subject matter.
The sound of an old telephone bell and a clunk signal that the mystery book has been dispensed. The machine was created as a fun alternative to a bargain bin where customers can dig through discounted books. You can check it out in the video below:

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Saturday Snapshot: Art Missing

Saturday Snapshot is a weekly meme hosted by Alyce at At Home With Books. The guidelines are to post a photo that you or a friend or family member have taken and then link it back to Alyce's original post for the week. Photos can be old or new and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see.

A nifty example of art as advertising as art located on a local bridge. Sometimes the simplest concepts resonant the best!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Saturday Snapshot: Movember

Saturday Snapshot is a weekly meme hosted by Alyce at At Home With Books. The guidelines are to post a photo that you or a friend or family member have taken and then link it back to Alyce's original post for the week. Photos can be old or new and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see.

This is the window from a local business in celebration of Movember!

I support the cause and Movember turning into another method for businesses to make money off a collective movement without having to do, like, anything? I have conflicted feelings about all the products supporting breast cancer research too. I donate directly to organizations rather than buy 'pink' breath mints, pens, appliances, etc. This way the orgs get all the money. I see no point in rewarding companies for doing what they should do anyway - be philanthropic! Why should consumers be put in the position of deciding how much a company is going to help people; that seems a cop-out to me and an easy way to not be responsible for one's own humanity. But, anyway, this unexpectedly turned out to be a half-asleep rant. Oops...!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Adaptation: The Central Park Five

Documentary Synopsis:
In 1989, five black and Latino teenagers were arrested and charged for brutally attacking and raping a white female jogger in Central Park. News media swarmed the case, calling it “the crime of the century.” But the truth about what really happened didn’t become clear until after the five had spent years in prison for a crime they didn’t commit. With THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE, this story of injustice finally gets the telling it deserves. Based on Sara Burns best-selling book and co-directed by her husband David McMahon and father, filmmaker Ken Burns, this incendiary film traces tells the riveting tale of innocent young men scapegoated for a heinous crime, and serves as a mirror for our times.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Saturday Snapshot: Sticky Snow

Saturday Snapshot is a weekly meme hosted by Alyce at At Home With Books. The guidelines are to post a photo that you or a friend or family member have taken and then link it back to Alyce's original post for the week. Photos can be old or new and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see.

We were hit with a rather cool but surprising snowstorm this past Wednesday. A range of 6 to 14 inches of heavy, wet snow ( I call it 'sticky snow') blanketed the city. I snapped this of my balcony, where the combination of sticky snow and southerly winds created a nifty snow shelf under the railing. The shelf sticks out about 6 inches, free form and with no support. I'm curious as to how long it will last.

During a walk the previous day, I had snapped the following as it reminded me of spring. Spring seems an awfully long ways away now!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Adaptation: Zero Dark Thirty

I've been trying to decide how I feel about this film. I enjoy the director and her storytelling abilities, but the story itself is not really all that appealing. I understand why it is for so many, but I get hung up on political machinations of it all. I do admire the hell out of the people who actually executed the mission. And if they feel the film is 'accurate' then who am I to disagree?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Book Mark: 2012 Taste Canada Food Writing Awards

This past Monday, the best Canadian cookbooks were honoured at the 15th annual Taste Canada Food Writing Awards at a gala event in Toronto.

The 2012 English language winners were:

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Saturday Snapshot: Dr. Maya Angelou and Storytelling

Saturday Snapshot is a weekly meme hosted by Alyce at At Home With Books. The guidelines are to post a photo that you or a friend or family member have taken and then link it back to Alyce's original post for the week. Photos can be old or new and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see.

Dr. Maya Angelou made her way to our snowy city on October 28 for "An Evening with...". Her talk was part of the Unique Lives and Experiences lecture series. This was my second talk with Dr. Angelou, the first being maybe 10 years ago or so in the same location.

The stage below (I really need to get a new phone with a better camera) was a little bit odd when first entering the venue. The left side was blocked by a large curtain. The middle was set like a front porch, with Dr. Angelou's chair in front. And the right side held a piano and microphone.

I initially thought maybe there was some performance art taking place as well. This was true, to some extent, as a local singer started the evening with a couple songs. Then Dr. Angelou came out and enthralled us all for about an hour. When she came it out, it became clearer as to why the curtain and low lights - respect and grace. It was there to provide some privacy, as she required assistance from two individuals on and off the staff through the curtain.

It hit me at the end just how time may weaken the physical but not the mental. She was as acutely on point as last time, and she is just an amazing storyteller. It really is all in the narrative and how it reaches out the audience on varying emotional and psychological levels. But it takes a skilled narrator to propel the reaching out and there are not many of this calibre. I could just listen to her talk 24/7 about poetry, history, anything really.