Tuesday, April 29, 2008

PEN Festival, I love you!

If you love books, work with books, or live in New York, you already know that the PEN World Voices Festival started today. I love this festival! It reawakens my love of literature and reminds me why I moved to New York. This year, my office is sponsoring Jutta Richter, a German children's book author, to attend the festival. I am her new biggest fan for the following reasons: 1) she believes that drinking gin and tonic is good for your health; 2) she lives in a real castle; and 3) she agrees with me that the first two Harry Potter books were the only ones worth reading.

The only event I attended today was the reception at the French Embassy in which Salman Rushdie gave Edmund White a French literary award. The champagne and mini quiches were delicious. I arrived with Jutta Richter just after the actual handing out of the award, but we did get introduced to Mr. White. It was awesome.

I will attend many more PEN events and will try to report on these events in as timely a manner as my schedule allows. Check back in as the week continues.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Blog Tag

Tag? In cyberspace? Does anyone use the term cyberspace anymore? Anyway...

I have been tagged by loves german books to complete the following task:

1. Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages).
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people.

So here it goes. The closest book, The Cat: Or How I Lost Eternity by Jutta Richter, is only 63 pages long. Reach farther and find The Book of Words by Jenny Erpenbeck (translated by Susan Bernofsky), also not long enough. The rest of the books within arm's length are in German, except for the Chicago Manual of Style, so I have to stand up and find the next closest book, Facing the Bridge by Yoko Tawada, translated from the Japanese by Margaret Mitsutani.

Sentences 6 through 8, page 123: "Roman Catholics had occupied the island some five hundred years ago the doctor said and for some reason this date alone stuck out clearly in my mind while I had forgotten the many others such as the years of volcanic eruptions which seemed like a terrible loss now. The doctor often talked in statistics. So often in fact that I couldn't remember any of them."

Yoko Tawada is a Japanese writer who moved to Germany in her twenties and has lived there for nearly 20 years. She writes in Japanese and German. Of writing in different languages, Tawada says, "Whether to write in German or Japanese depends on which language lets me play or experiment more freely with images and motifs at the time."

Facing the Bridges was published by New Directions Publishing, which releases tons of wonderful books in translation and which discovered Roberto Bolano for English-language readers. Coincidentally, Yoko Tawada is participating in a seminar today (April 18) at UC Berkley with Zafer Senocak called "Where Europe Continues...Translingual Writers and the Cosmopolitan Imagination". I could ramble on, but I won't. Here is a sample of Tawada's writing translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky.

So now I have to tag more people to do this. First I will tag Facing South because she will probably do it. Second, I pick Richard Nash because he read my blog once and because I want to know what he's reading now (he publishes such cool books!). Third, I pick my long-time blog buddy, ramblings of a princess (happy birthday!).

Friday, April 11, 2008

Reading Steven Hall

I finally finished reading The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall. I recommend it. Our hero, Eric Sanderson, wakes up with no memory of who or where he is. He finds a letter that contains an address of a psychologist and a set of car keys. The letter is from "The First Eric Sanderson." Through a series of letters from his first self, Eric discovers that he is being hunted by a "conceptual fish," a shark that lives in the waters of collected "human knowledge" and feeds memories.

While some of the concepts in this book require a little flexibility of mind from the reader, Hall has not created an overly complex storyline or included too many details to keep track of. I found the love story a little forced and the dialogue seemed stilted at times. As The Elegant Variation noted in his review for the Philly Inquirer, "[Hall] is a clever writer, but one is left wishing he'd given his prose and character the same level of attention he gives the conceptual ebb and flow of things." Well said, Mark!

This book has also generated a fairly significant web following, including a wiki and several YouTube videos. The book's official website is pretty good. Hall was even interviewed on NPR. The film rights to the book have been optioned by Film Four in association with Blueprint Pictures and PathÉ in the UK. So keep an eye out for the movie. If it's done well, it should be great.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

My Two Cents

The book critic vs. blogger debate continues to rage. What do I think? I think they serve different functions. I also think that critics and bloggers need to deflate their egos just a little.

Book reviews serve two purposes. One, they provide information for readers about which books to read. Two, they provide timely commentary on books and become secondary source material, which is important if these books ever make it onto the syllabi of future college classes.

Both of these functions are necessary. It seems however, that most book critics strive towards academia. They write to impress each other and the scholars that are and will study the book under review. So where is a normal reader, who doesn't know anything about Pushkin or Flaubert, to turn?

They turn to blogs, of course. Bloggers picture themselves as being "of the people." Some are, some aren't. This blog post, for example, is probably not interesting to your average reader who doesn't care why book critics and bloggers can't get along. This reader just wants to figure out what book to read next.

Let me admit something to you all and unveil my inner "average reader" beneath my blogger disguise. Before I started working in book publishing, my primary method of identifying cool new books was to show up at my local Barnes & Noble and check out whatever books were on the front tables. I've had interns tell me this is what they do, too.

A normal person looking for a book to read doesn't read the book critics or the blogs. Perhaps if our ambitions were a little less lofty than, say, being crowned in glory as the smartest book critic of all time or the blogger with the most insider connections of all time, we might reach a larger audience.

*Today's post was inspired by my conversation with a wise media mogul.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Drano

I didn't take pictures of the ordeal, and you all should be thankful. I was going to spend my evening with a good book (I've been meaning to crack open Collected Stories by Roald Dahl), but an unfortunate event befell my bathroom sink.

Admittedly, my sink has been slow-draining for a week or so. The problem came to a head this morning when my sink became no-draining. Turning to the internet in my time of crisis, I found many articles about plunging out a clog. Unless your clog is a cooperative clog, all this does is dredge up some of the black nasty gunk and turn you sink into a basin of grotesque waste. But it was time to go to work, so the grotesque waste had to wait until this evening.

On my way home, I bought some soup and some Drano. I was skeptical of Drano's ability to unclog my sink. This was one stubborn clog. The directions on the Drano bottle sufficiently freaked me out about touching, inhaling, and generally being near this stuff. However, I risked life and limb, opened the bottle, and dumped it into my basin of waste. 30 minutes later...

...that clog was no more! I don't know exactly what is in Drano, or what it might do to your skin, eyes, or mucous membranes, but I do know this: Drano is powerful stuff. My sink is clean and clear. Thank you, Drano!

Monday, April 7, 2008

Junot Diaz is good!

He is so good that he won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. If you have not read this book, you should.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Seen and Heard at Idlewild Books

Thursday evening was a very exciting one for Literary Rapture. I attended a reading and discussion at a soon-to-be-open bookstore in Manhattan, socialized with book people, learned about a great wine store, and ate at a great French restaurant. So let me start at the beginning.

Idlewild Books will open in a couple weeks on 19th Street in Manhattan. This bookstore, dedicated to travel and world literature, is located in an amazing space perfect for readings and literary events. From the website: "A bookstore organized by country rather than genre, Idlewild will carry fiction and non-fiction from all parts of the world, including new and classical works in translation, travel guides, books about politics and culture, graphic lit, language-learning books, maps, and more."

The inaugural event at Idlewild on Thursday evening was a reading and discussion of Five Years of My Life: An Innocent Man in Guantanamo by Murat Kurnaz. The English translation of the book was just released in the US by Palgrave Macmillan on April 1 of this year. Kurnaz, a Turkish citizen with German residency, was arrested without explanation in Pakistan when he was 19 years old and sold to American forces there for $3,000. He was held at Kandahar, Afghanistan and then sent to Guanatamo. He was interrogated and tortured there for five years before finally being found innocent and released.

There is a slight sense of uncertainty in Germany as to Kurnaz's complete innocence, and the media coverage of his case and his book in Germany raises the question, why did Kurnaz travel to Pakistan in 2001-2002. At that time, it was not exactly a vacation spot. On the other hand, the US government found no solid evidence of his guilt of anything at all.

Although Kurnaz could not get a visa to come to the US, the co-author of the book was at Idlewilse to read from the English translation of the book. Kurnaz's American and German lawyers discussed the case and difficulties of getting him released. Also present was journalist Justine Sharrock, who has interviewed soldiers at Guantanamo about the procedures and torture they inflicted on detainees. A big crowd turned up at the event and bookstore owner David del Vecchio sold tons of copies of the book.

A reception followed the discussion, at which 24 bottles of wine and many Cheez-Its were consumed. I don't know how long it has been since you've had Cheez-Its, but they are delicious, especially the white cheddar variety. They go quite well with wine bought from a great wine store across the street from Idlewild called Bottlerocket. If you are looking for a German or Austrian red wine, go there!

After talking about blogs and books and other things, the last partiers standing went around the corner to L'Express for a midnight meal. The onion tart was great, as was the steak au poivre. One more reason Manhattan is awesome: restaurants are full at 11:30 pm.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Roundup

A brief smattering of what is happening in books and blogs:

From the Literary Saloon, Mr. Pip by Lloyd Jones has just won the Kiriyama Prize ($15,000), which celebrates literature from the Pacific Rim. I do not understand why this book won over David Malouf's The Complete Stories. I do not understand why people like Mr. Pip so much.

Ed Champion on Rachel Donadio's essay in the New York Times: "Rachel Donadio continued her regrettable declivity into the morass of embarrassing personal essays" and "this has not prevented literary experts from asking why Donadia, who is in her mid-thirties and really should know better, would bang out such remarkably judgmental tripe"

World Literature Tour to Germany in the Guardian UK (from Three Percent)

The Times thinks that internet piracy is the downfall of writing


Paper Cuts, the NY Times book blog, gives us some words you should never use when writing a book review. Crap, I am guilty of at least three! Also, I especially like the explanation of the correct use of "poignant" because it's true.

Lastly, I've observed recently that reading a book with a catchy titles gets you noticed in the subway. Ever since I've started reading The Raw Shark Texts, people have been craning their necks in a variety of uncomfortable positions to get a look at the cover. So if you want to get noticed, read a cool book!