Friday, February 5, 2016

A Good Man in Africa at Escape Into Life

My review of Willam Boyd's first novel, winner of the Whitbread Prize and the Somerset Maugham award, is up at Escape Into Life. Check it out!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Call Me Ishmael

I'm a little behind on the reviewing end of things here, but that doesn't mean I don't have news. I just got an email from Poets and Writers magazine this afternoon about an innovative and book related idea. It's called Call Me Ishmael. Apparently, if you happen to be in one of a few select but soon to be expanded places, you will see an old-fashioned rotary phone and  that phone might start ringing. When you pick up the receiver, someone will tell you about a book they read that's had a major impact on their life. From what I understand of it, the idea is a little bit like Storycorps, where "ordinary people" tell some key story from their lives. Only this one is all about books.

If you don't see any old style phones  near you, fear not. You can also just go to the Call Me Ishmael website and watch an old-fashioned typewriter type out someone's message as they speak it. New features apparently weekly. At the bottom of that page, you will find the steps that you too can use to tell a story about a book you loved.


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Hav and Euphoria at EIL

I'm a little behind on my reviews here, but I do have a couple of links to some reviews I've written for Escape Into Life recently, which I've either been too busy or too lazy to post about here. The first is for Hav, Jan Morris's book about a city that may be a fictional place, but is really an amalgam of all the places she ever visited in her long and celebrated career as a travel writer. It reminds me a bit of Rebecca West's Black Lamb and Grey Falcon in being a sort of wisdom book, a distillation and a summing up.

The second is Euphoria, Lily King's novel based on the lives of Margaret Mead, Gregory Bateson and Reo Fortune. It veers rather significantly away from the actual lives of the famed anthropologists, a fact which in retrospect I may have gotten a little hung up on. There's some great writing and wonderful observations in this book, so don't let my quibbles stop you from taking a look.

More reviews to come soon. Meanwhile, happy holiday reading, everyone. 

Friday, December 11, 2015

Kristine Ong Muslim at Escape Into Life

We've started what I think is a new thing over at Escape Into Life, which is that occasionally we are going to publish some short, short fiction. It's a little bit like the poetry feature there, as it incorporates art along with the printed work, a combination that I find very winning.  The featured author is Kristine Ong Muslim, who has numerous short stories and poems to her credit, among other things. Please check out her work and you can look forward to a review from me on her forthcoming short story collection Age of Blight sometime around the time of its release in January.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

A Little More Free by John McFetridge

It's a funny thing about Canada. Although it's probably different for those in regions abutting our northern neighbor, in general Americans don't really know much about it. Or at least they don't if I'm a representative example, which I think in many ways I am. Although we share much more of a common cultural history than we do with Mexico, we don't really study Canada much in school, or at least didn't the last time I checked. And, over my long career at the bookstore, where part of the time I looked after the history section, I really don't remember many books specifically on Canada coming through at all. As our main buyer was actually a Canadian, I'm pretty sure that this wasn't a lack of interest on her part, but had more to do with the American publishing industry believing that books on Canada wouldn't really sell to the general public. In some ways, I think we tend to feel we already know about Canada, and so don't have to bother learning more.

But Canada has just as interesting a history as the U.S. does, and in many ways they are linked. That's why it's been so interesting to read about the period of history that I came of age in through Canadian eyes. Specifically through the eyes of one Constable Eddie Dougherty, who makes his second appearance in this book. I reviewed Black Rock over at Escape Into Life a while ago, but you don't necessarily have to read it first. There are references in this book to some of its incidents, but I don't think they are particularly of a spoilerish quality.

As was the case in Black Rock, the story starts off with a historical event, a tragic nightclub fire in Montreal that killed 37 people. Eddie Dougherty, having done a stint with the Morality Squad which didn't work out, is back to driving a squad car, and so answers a call that takes him right to the scene of the carnage.

The year is 1972, and as McFetridge tells us in an afterword, this horrific fire was eclipsed by an event that consumed Canadian consciousness--a  hockey match between the Canadians and the Soviets, which Canada initially saw as an easy win. Montreal also knew that it would be hosting the Olympics in 1976, so the hostage situation at the Munich Olympics that unfolds in the background of the novel is not simply a tragedy watched from afar. And on top of all this, there's a murder right on Dougherty's turf.

This death takes Dougherty into another area of Canada's history, that of Americans fleeing the draft. As Dougherty tries to decide what he thinks about war resistance, he becomes involved with a woman in the movement, and they sidle up warily to each other. The very fact that they find themselves fraternizing is a symptom of a larger phenomenon--whatever cohesiveness the counterculture had is now fracturing and people are going their own way again. "Self-actualization" is a key term.

I'm struck as I was reading Black Rock with the similarities to Adrian McKinty's Sean Duffy series, in which a young policeman also remains in a police force where he's something of an anomaly. Eddie Dougherty isn't as cynical as Duffy is, yet. But finding that he doesn't progress up the ranks as he thinks he should and not understanding why, he may headed on a similar journey. I look forward to the next book in the series to find out. 

Friday, October 30, 2015

Happy Halloween!

And happy All Hallow's Read as well. As I'm sure you know by now, Neil Gaiman instituted a tradition of giving someone a scary book for Halloween and named it All Hallow's Read. I haven't gotten my act together to actually give anyone a book this year, but I do have a couple of recs which I've put up at Escape Into Life. And they are from two very different parts  of the spooky spectrum. The first, State of Grace by Joy Williams is spooky in a very Southern Gothic kind of creep factor way, and the second, Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow, is a novel about werewolves in L.A. written in free verse. So look to your own creeped out preferences and check one--or both--of these out.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

A Season of Migration to the North reviewed at Escape Into Life

For some reason (okay, laziness), I haven't mentioned here that I have a review of Sudanese born writer Tayeb Salih's short novel Season of Migration to the North  up at Escape Into Life. I read the book a little while ago for a GoodReads discussion group and in order to refresh my memory to write about it, I went through some other reviews, more knowledgeable than mine. I was struck by how much more there was to the story when revisiting it. I understand now why a panel of Arab writers and critics chose it in 2001 as the most important novel of the 20th century (not that I know whether they are right). You can read some of the other essays about it at the links before my piece.

Some good stuff up at EIL right now. New art, comic musings, poetry nominations, and the world of television all up quite recently. Take a look.