It’s Monday! What Am I Reading?

on_mondaysAnother Monday is here and a literary awards week is behind us.  So what did everyone think?  I’ve never read anything by Hilary Mantel, though I already own Wolf Hall.  This weekend I went out and purchased two more of her novels:  A Change of Climate & Vacant Possession.  Both books are described as black comedies on the back cover – perfect October & November reading in my opinion.  Strangely, it never even occurred to me to look for something by Herta Mueller, even though I was at my favorite used bookshop of all time (Carroll & Carroll, Booksellers in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania) and spent a few minutes discussing the new Nobel laureate with the owner.  His verdict – who was last year’s winner?  I responded: I have no idea.  He nodded, Exactly.

Added to the Mantel stack were a few random books from Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael series.  I’ve never read Peters, but a lovely couple who bought a bag of my books at a garage sale this past summer recommended her.  (And if you can’t trust random people who show up in your garage, in the rain, to buy your old paperbacks – well I ask you, who can you trust???)  What’s neat about the Brother Cadfael series is that it takes place during the English civil war, approximately 1139, between King Stephen & Empress Maud.  This it the war which immediately preceded Henry Plantagenet’s rule – for all the Mistress of the Art of Death fans out there.

The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood is finished, and the review will be up this week.  This is by far my favorite book of 2009.  So much so that after listening to the audio book I bought the hardcover.  The search is now on for “new” used copies of Oryx and Crake to force on family, friends & unsuspecting strangers passing me on the street.  (Remember, there will be a quiz).

My current nightstand steady remains Eating Air by Pauline Melville.  This is one of those books that has me wishing for a blizzard, a log cabin in Maine, and enough food to last a week.  Barring that, I hope to finish by Friday.

Until then, my review for Amphibian by Carla Gunn went up over the weekend.

And for even more recommendations, please don’t forget to check out J. Kaye’s blog.  Happy Monday!

Amphibian by Carla Gunn

Amphibian by Carla Gunn

Phineas William Walsh is on a mission.  He’s going to save the world one endangered species at a time – and he’s depending on the Green Channel to help him do it.  That is until things go terribly, horribly wrong… as they only can in the life of a fourth grader.

Carla Gunn’s first novel, Amphibian, is both entertaining and engaging.  Written in the first person, it’s greatest strength may be it’s  narrator –  who owes a significant debt to Holden Caulfield (the hero and narrator of Catcher in the Rye).  And I mean that in the best possible way.  Because there’s more going on in Phin’s life than meets the eye – and he has a lot on his mind other than the planet.   His grandfather just passed away and his grandmother is sad.  His parents are separated and his Mom is dating a guy Phin doesn’t like. Not that he likes the idea of her dating. Period.  His father is out of the country 80% of the time and doesn’t know what’s going on.  He’s also the class bully’s favorite target.

And then (if that wasn’t enough!) there is the issue of the Gorachs from the planet Reull.  They’re destroying the planet and the other creatures of Reull need to figure out what to do before it is too late:

When my mom went to do some work in her study, I went upstairs and wrote about Reull and drew some pictures of them.  I drew the Jingleworm, who is red and white and has a part on the end of its body that jingles like a bell wherever it goes.  The Jingleworm’s predator is the Three-clawed Wren and it jingles so much that the Wren doesn’t have any problem finding it to eat.

But then the Jingleworms started to hide in the coat of the Green-tailed Squirrel, which didn’t mind because the loud jingling noise of the Jingleworm scared away its predator, the Electric Cat.  The Electric Cat’s ears are very sensitive to the jingling noise.  To it the Jingleworm sounds like somebody scraping their nails on a chalkboard sounds to us.  Sot the Jingleworm and the Green-tailed Squirrel have a symbiotic relationship.

The problem again is the Gorachs.  They are starting to collect Jingleworm tails for jingly bracelets, which they give to their Gorach children.  The Gorachs are parasites, so many of the animals are working on making more symbiotic relationships.  The Gorachs are in for a surprise.

Sure, it has become a cliché to compare novels narrated by juveniles to Catcher in the Rye, but in the case of Amphibian it works.  I’ve always believed that readers tend to miss the whole point of what Salinger was trying to do, – not surprising since his novel has mainly been defined by controversy.  The focus has always been on Salinger’s creation of a smart ass kid doing scandalous things, at least by 1950’s standards.  (You can just imagine what the reaction would have been to Gossip Girl)!

Subsequently, the story Salinger was trying  to tell is too often overlooked.  It is about a young boy, whose even younger brother has just died of leukemia.  Catcher in the Rye, at its heart, is about Holden attempting to deal with his grief.  And doing so in the absence of (I’d even go so far as to say his abandonment by) the adults who should be comforting him.  All the rest, the celebrated language and famous scene with the prostitute, is just so much white noise put up by Holden between himself and his emotions.

I do not want to misrepresent Amphibian as being a heavy novel, though it does touch on some surprisingly heavy material.  Phin is dealing with kinds of grief (and accompanying feelings of helplessness) that he’s too young to put a name to.  Or, like Holden, to even recognize.  But to Gunn’s credit, she chose to tell her story through the eyes of a 9-year old boy – which gives it a very different flavor than if it had been told by, let’s say, that boy’s mother or teacher.  Gunn reveals what’s going on with Phin in a way that perfectly captures a young child’s lack of perspective.   Divorce, bully, species extinction and permission to watch the Green Channel all carry equal weight and importance in Phin’s world.  Because everything is the end of the world – nothing is.  And Phin is a really funny kid.  His humor moves the book along quickly and, thankfully, saves it from becoming the angst-fest it might have been.

This morning I woke up to an awful sound – it was like a wolf trying to howl after swallowing one of those birthday-party noisemakers.  And it was standing over me.

I was a little worried about what I might see – maybe a pack of wolves having a birthday party and the cake just happened to be me – but I took a chance and opened my eyes.  My mother was standing there and that awful noise was coming from her.  She was smiling so I figured she wasn’t choking or something, so I asked her what the heck she was doing.

“I’m yodeling, Phin,” she said.

“But you’re not on a mountain,” I said.  “You’re standing over me making that awful sound.  I thought you were a wolf with something caught in its throat.  If you were a wolf, you’d have to be the alpha because if you were a submissive, the others would attack you for making a sound like that.”

Overall, Amphibian tells a good story about an average child working his way through a world where very little is under his control.  Carla Gunn allows us to smile at his tribulations knowing, even if he doesn’t, that Phin is one of the lucky ones.  Unlike Holden he has grown-ups around who love him and have his best interests at heart.  In the end, that makes all the difference.

Note:  Amphibian is Carla Gunn’s first novel.  While I’ve no knowledge of it being marketed as a YA, it is definitely  straddling the line between categories.  It does not rank high on the BookSexy scale, but it shouldn’t be dismissed.  Think of it as enviro-lit made more palatable by added sugar.

The book, itself, is more attractive than your average paperback  – with bright glossy covers.  The front end paper is a full page bleed b&w photo of a South America Red-eyed frog (the same little guy who made the cover).  The pages are nice and thick with a slightly corrugated texture.  The publisher is Coach House Books, out of Canada.

It’s Monday? What Am I Reading?

Another Monday is upon us…  *yawn*.

Fortunately, this week should be a bit more exciting than most:  October is the month of book awards!

  • October 6th – 2009 Man Booker Prize Winner Announced
  • October 8th – Nobel Prize for Literature Announced
  • October 13th – 20 Finalists for the National Book Award are Announced (come on guys – you couldn’t come up with something snappier???)
  • Also, we missed the Scotiabank Giller Prize Longlist (thank you to KevinfromCanada for making us aware of Canada’s prize.  It seems all of North America needs to work on marketing our literary awards).

The winners of The National Book Award and the Scotiabank Giller Prize will be announced in November.

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Amphibian by Carla Gunn

As for my personal reading – I’m hoping to post reviews for Dan Simmon’s Drood and Amphibian by Carla Gunn this week.  Both were great, though very different, books.

I’m in the middle of The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood, which is better than even I had hoped (and I had some high hopes for this after reading Oryx & Crake).   I know the reviews keep saying that this book can be read as a stand alone, and in its way it can.  But I very much recommend reading Oryx & Crake, either before or after The Year of the Flood, because it adds another layer to the story that it would be a shame to miss.Eating Air by Pauline Melville

Also, I’ve just begun reading Eating Air by Pauline Melville.  (This is a review copy I requested from the publisher, Telegram Books).  It’s out in the UK, but I have no idea when it will be released in the States.  I’ve been picking it up and carrying it around all week because it makes me so happy.  The dust jacket is beautiful and the book itself is the perfect proportions (I’m a big fan of short, squat books).  And the writing is stunning!  Hopefully, I’ll have a review up soon.  For now, here’s a teaser from the book’s first two paragraphs –

I want to tell the story of these extraordinary events without drawing attention to myself or implicating myself in any way.  I was involved only in the most tangential way, I can assure you – more by association than anything else.  These days it is possible to be locked up for even hinting that terrorism can be glorious or for having the wrong friends and courts don’t take into account the law of unintended consequences.  So it’s sotto voce for me.  To be on the safe side I have to present the truth as fiction.

I prefer to write in cafés.  I move around.   The Head in the Sand café in Camden Town is my current haunt.  Every morning the proprietor brings me a glass of rum steeped in hot peppers, a black coffee, two dishes of grilled peanuts and my newspaper.  I wear dark glasses with the right, coffin-shaped lens knocked out to make sure, in these lean times, that no-one steals my food.  The place is a little down-at-heel but I like the sludge-olive décor and those trendily scuffed wooden floors, bentwood chairs and the menu chalked on a blackboard behind the counter.  Who am I?  I come from Surinam.  My complexion is cinnamon.  I am as slim as Barack Obama.  My style is that of a graveyard dandy; black hat, black coat and a silver cane – it’s possible to dress like this in London without attracting undue attention.  Oh… and I think highly of myself which is always good for one’s health…

Please don’t forget to go to J. Kaye’s Book Blog to see what the rest of her friends & followers are reading.  Happy Monday! *strrrretttch*

It’s Another Monday! What Am I Reading?*

All these Mondays are starting to add up…  So what’s coming up on BookSexy for everyone to look forward to?

First, check out the  review of Walter Moers’ The Alchemaster’s Apprentice that was posted over the weekend.  It’s a wonderful October read, especially if you have a YA in your life going through Harry Potter & Twilight withdrawals.  It’ll stop the shakes – promise!

And I just downloaded The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood from Audible.com!  That TBR stack is just getting too high – so I thought this book might be a better use of my commute than BBC podcasts.   To be honest, I’m interested in seeing how this goes.  The last “serious” novel I listened to was His Illegal Self by Peter Carey, which was definitely slow going at times (and a bit of a downer).  I usually save my downloads for lighter fare… but we will see.

Amphibian by Carla Gunn is my current reading read (and the next book from my Brooklyn Book Festival haul ).  I’m about 25 pages in and moving along nicely.  The story is told in the first person by Phineas William Walsh, a young environmentalist who’s about to go Greenpeace on his fourth grade class.  Gunn has perfectly re-created the feeling of being trapped in the car with a  precocious 9 year old.  And the physical book, itself, is a pleasure and a prime example of why the transition to digital books will be a slow one.   My copy is a paperback with bright, glossy covers and tightly bound.  The first page you open to is a black and white photo of a tree frog (which features prominently in the plot).  The paper used has a slightly corrugated feel to it, and the typeset is in Legacy & Legacy Sans.  These are details I don’t always notice, but I had to give props to the Coach House Press for a beautiful product.

Happy Monday everyone!

*It’s Monday!  What Am I Reading? is a meme originating from J. Kaye’s Book Blog.  Please check out what other bloggers are reading here.

It’s Monday, Again! What Am I Reading?

It’s Monday! What Am I Reading? I wish I could say something more exciting than this… but I’m working my way through A.S. Byatt’s The Children’s Book.  I’m embarrassed to admit that I’m  under halfway in… and I’m still waiting for something to happen.  Anything.  A meteor from the sky might liven things up a bit.  What is getting me through is the sheer beauty of the writing and… well, that’s about it.  I will finish this book.  My hope is that at some point it will turn around and blow me away.  It’s happened before.

While I should have been reading my Byatt I finished Homer & Langley.  It’s a refreshing, well written and  a nicely thought out book.  The review will be up by Thursday night.  I’m pleased to say that this was a wonderful intro to E.L. Doctorow and predict a long and beautiful relationship ahead of us.

Tuesday I’ll be posting an interview I did with another blogger (which is why I’m waiting until Thursday to post my review of Homer & Langley).   Definitely come back to check it out.  Stop by at Bookduck in the meantime.  She leans towards  YA and some adult fiction, mainly in the historical and fantasy genre.  She also has great taste in music.

And the best thing about my Monday?  It’s telling you about what I did on Sunday!  The 2009 Brooklyn Book Festival!

Brooklyn Book FestA free yearly event, the Brooklyn Festival features new and emerging figures in literature – as well as some not so new favorites like Edwidge Danticat, Jonathan Ames, Pete Hamill and Steven Millhauser (to name just a few).  The authors participate by giving readings, taking part in panel discussions and signing their books.  And next year I intend to do all that – attend the panels, listen to the readings and have my books signed.  This year I was weak… I couldn’t tear myself away from the tables!

Everywhere you turned there was something to see.  Several small presses are represented – the ones that put out the great books that don’t always make it to the shelves of your local B&N, let alone get put on the feature table.  There were the literary reviews and magazines (Bookforum, The Paris Review & The New York Review of Books), and tons of new writer anthologies.   They even had a children’s section with readings and authors who took questions – exactly like they do for the adults.  I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face when I heard an author announce very seriously to the crowd, “The question is:  Why was the cow silly?”.

The Brooklyn Book Festival (and other festivals of its kind) is a great opportunity to see what’s going on outside of the bestseller list.  It’s also a chance to connect with authors and publishers.  So, here’s a sample of what I got to take home.  (Remember: this is just the stuff I found interesting and put in my tote.  I’ll be posting reviews in the upcoming weeks with my final thoughts).

  • The Coral Press is an independent press dedicated to a fiction genre they call musical fiction.   They gave out a nice sampler of six of their novels.  You can check them out at www.coralpress.com.  The website features musical accompaniments to their novels.
  • This Republic of Suffering: Death & the American Civil War by Drew Gilpin was a freebie courtesy of the  people from The National Book Award.  I’ve always had an interest in the American Civil War, so while it doesn’t sound all that upbeat I’m looking forward to giving it a try.   But here’s a question thats been troubling me:  Why doesn’t the National Book Award get the attention of, say, the Booker Prize or the Pulitzer?  There are some great books that have won over the years… and this year is their 6oth Anniversary.  To celebrate they’re opening voting for the best of the best to the public (voting begins September 21st).   On September 30th they post their 5 Under 35 (which I’m assuming is their shortlist?) for 2009.  Click here to see their website.  Sheesh, people, it’s time we got serious about our own awards!  The British bookies make ODDS on the Booker!
  • Museum Legs: Fatigue & Hope in the Face of Art by Amy Whitaker (who was kind enough to sign my copy) is a new book by a new author published by a new press.  Hol Art Books specializes in books by authors writing about the visual arts.  They also have a nice selection historical writings, including pamphlets put out for the International Exhibit of Modern Art in 1913.  Definitely a niche market, but an interesting one I’d like to learn more about.
  • Amphibian is a novel by Carla Gunn published by Coach House Books.  This is one of those books I can’t wait to start.  The nine-year-old hero’s name is Phineas William Walsh and he’s an environmentalist.  And I quote from the description on the back cover: “So, when a White’s tree frog ends up in an aquarium in his fourth grade classroom, it’s the last straw, and he and  his best friend, Bird, are spurred to action.”  Tell me, what’s not to like???

And my #1 score of the 2009 Brooklyn Book Festival (drumroll)…

  • The Alchemaster’s Apprentice by Walter Moers and published by The Overlook Press.  Moers is a German author and this is his fifth book published in the U.S.  It’s the fourth that takes place in Zamonia (and yes I’ve read the other three).  It’s about a Crat.  It’s fully illustrated.  It makes me want to learn German just because I know there are books of his that haven’t made it into English yet.  If you like J.K. Rowling, you’ll like Moers.  Not because this is anything remotely like Harry Potter…it’s probably the farthest thing from Hogwarts.  You’ll have to take my word for it:   Moers is just fun… and in terms of his books there’s no one out there writing anything like them.  Click here to see.

So there’s just a taste of what followed me home.  For the rest of the month I’ll be posting bits and pieces of the rest of it.

Happy Monday!