Dec 27, 2009



A common complaint is that children's books, especially high-quality picture-books, cost so much. All I can say is that they cost less than a dinner out, or a new pair of jeans. The books I read as a child transformed me, gave meaning and perspective to my experiences, and helped to mould whatever imaginative, intellectual or creative strengths I can lay claim to now. No doll or game had that impact on me, no pair of jeans ever changed my life.
- Michelle Landsberg

Dec 26, 2009

MANHOOD FOR AMATEURS by Michael Chabon


We are accustomed to repeating the cliche, and to believing, that 'our most precious resource is our children.' But we have plenty of children to go around, God knows, and as with Doritos, we can always make more. The true scarcity we face is of practicing adults, of people who know how marginal, how fragile, how finite their lives and their stories and their ambitions really are but who find value in this knowledge, even a sense of strange comfort, because they know their condition is universal, is shared.

Dec 24, 2009

All I want for Xmas...The Year of the Flood and The Other Boleyn Girl

posted by Josee Corrigan

This holiday I have taken the time to sit around and read.  Lucky for me, I received two loaner books just in time for the break - The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory and The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood.  I flashed through Gregory's novel in a matter of days; it is an engrossing tale of the lives of Mary, Anne and George Boleyn, three Boleyn siblings attending the court of Henry VIII.  We know the story of Anne, who met the chopping block within a few years of her brief time as Henry's second wife; alternately, this book explores the story of her rise and fall from the perspective of Mary, Anne's younger sister.  Gregory's novel details the life at Henry's turbulent court: the intrigues and the scandals, his separation from the Roman Church to annul his marriage to Queen Katherine and marry Anne, his obsession with providing a male heir to England, and the extreme ambition driving the Howard family (and their daughters) into the King's court and bed to further their status in 16th Century English society.  I highly recommend this book and look forward to reading the sequels to this book - The Queen's Fools, The Virgin's Lover, The Constant Princess, The Boleyn Inheritance, and The Other Queen.

On an entirely different, futuristic track, I am halfway through Margaret Atwood's newest novel, The Year of the Flood.  I can't say I love it, but I cannot stop reading it!  It is quietly creepy and ultimately apocalyptic.  Like the prequel, Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood weaves a wickedly scary tale of moral decrepitude and the general demise of humanity and the world as we know it.  Most frightening are similarities between Atwood's fictional world and our existence today, for example the "Corps" compounds - gated communities reserved for the rich and corrupt- and the "pleeblands" - the dangerous suburbs where illegal trafficking in women, animals, and drugs, among other things, occurs.  These are just two rather bland examples where comparison only begins.  Don't get me started on the gene splicing, mystery meat, sex-slave trade, environmental degradation for capitalist gain, religious extremism, and political corruption that are hallmarks of Atwood's book.  Definitely worth reading.  Find it in hardcover now at Jennie's. 
Happy holidays.

Dec 18, 2009

Robert J Wiersema's Christmas Ghost Story

from Torontoist: Books

part I                    part V
part II                  part VI
part III             part VII
part IV             part VIII
         

       

Originally posted on Robert J Wiersema's blog.

An announcement…

December 16th, 2009
As promised, some news, direct from books.torontoist.com:
The editors of Books@Torontoist are proud to announce the publication of an original story by Robert J Wiersema, bestselling author of the novel Before I Wake (now published in ten countries) and the novella The World More Full of Weeping. The story, “Just Like the Ones He Used to Know,” will be serialized on the site in eight daily posts, beginning on Thursday, December 16 and ending on Christmas Eve. The story of a man who makes a mysterious journey to his home town on a stormy Christmas Eve, “Just Like the Ones He Used to Know” revives the Victorian tradition of ringing in the holiday season with a story of the ghostly and the miraculous...





Dec 10, 2009

Fun Fantasy for Adults

posted by Josee

It's been a while since I've been engulfed in what many would consider to be "children's literature" or "young adult," but I've been living in the world of fantasy for the past year fairly consistently, with a few breaks of course. It began with the terribly addictive Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer; if you haven't read it yourself you probably know of it by now due to the current Beatlesque teenage obsession with the characters in the new film series. Then I moved into watching the saga of Sookie Stackhouse in the True Blood series, a somewhat gruesome HBO series based on Charlaine Harris' novels. Deliciously vampire again. Then it was on to Alison Croggon's Books of Pellinor (I'm still waiting for The Singing to come out in paperback. Yes, it is terribly painful to wait). Then Graceling by Kristin Cashore and adventures with the characters Katsa and Prince Po. Most recently I've been engulfed in the Earthsea series by Ursula LeGuin - A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, The Farthest Shore, and Tehanu. This series is truly wonderful and beguiling.

What has made the journey through all this fantasy literature and film so interesting is the wonder of seeing the influences of older writers and creators of fantasy, influences such as J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. It is easy to see the roots of some of the newer wizardy-type books out today, like the Harry Potter series and Alison Croggon's delightful Books of Pellinor. The link to the vampire series is not so clear, however the themes of light and dark are ever present.

Recently I was listening to Gian Gomeshi on CBC interview a lit critic about the growth of what she called "Amish fiction". The term does not indicate who is writing or reading this literature, but rather is used to denote genre to books like Stephanie Meyer's. They are often romantic, moral tales that emphasize sex after marriage, among other things. It made me think more about these fascinating vampire tales. Hmmmmn...

My point is: this stuff is fun. Fun to read, think about and critique. Definitely come into Jennie's and peer beyond the veil into our fantasy/fiction section. It's not just for young adults and children, it's adult fiction too!

Dec 7, 2009

Cuban Missile Crises: A Love Story

posted by Jennie

I started reading The Translator by John Crowley because a friend told me that it was even better than Little Big by the same author. It took me weeks to finish it. Read it. It's very good. Don't worry if it takes awhile to get into. Finish it.


Here are a few things that Crowley had to say in an interview about The Translator :

I'm drawn to characters who seem to perceive the secret history of the world, or see a world-story proceeding, and don't trust themselves -- and don't believe that they could know such a thing -- but are drawn to it anyway. That's been a consistent direction all my writing has taken. I can think of people whose minds are active in that way in almost all the books I've written.

We live in more than one universe. We live in an ordinary, commonplace, shared world where things are amenable to reason and in which John Kennedy, Lee Harvey Oswald, and Kruschev are ordinary people who have gotten into positions of power and are subject to historical forces. But, at the same time, we live in mythic universes in which these people take on symbolic import that we can't entirely control and that we summon up when we mention their names. The same way that we summon up mythic power when we mention King Arthur or characters of that kind.

Whenever you use material like that in a book you are at once touching on both. What I hoped to be able to do was to reference their mythical manifestations while altering those slightly for my own purposes. I don't put myself in this class, but Nabokov said that all great novels of the realist tradition are great fairy tales really: Madame Bovary, Great Expectations, Anna Karenina -- they create worlds of their own and beings of power and beauty and angelic appearance who move among us. To a much smaller degree, that's what I was up to. It was a way of telling of telling a fairy tale within our shared world. I think there are certain people who are able to apprehend that alternate reality -- and to whom it comes -- and it comes back out of them as poems.

Dec 4, 2009

Terry Tempest Williams’ New Book Promises Depth, Feeling and Insight

posted by Kate Guthrie

One of my favorite authors, Terry Tempest Williams, has a new book in at Jennie’s. Finding Beauty in a Broken World examines the artistic and metaphoric beauty of mosaic, first in the “jeweled ceilings” of Italy, then in a clan of prairie dogs near extinction in the Southwestern U.S. and, finally, in the building of a memorial in war-torn Rwanda.

Williams first shook me up and made my eyes widen with the deeply moving, gorgeously written Refuge, in which she explores the experience of her mother’s death from breast cancer. Refuge also demonstrates the delicate, stark beauty of the desert where Williams lives, the dance of great birds in one Utah sanctuary and the Mormon faith, in which she was raised. Finally, the book tells the story of Williams’ fierce, passionate awakening as an environmental activist.

Besides being an award-winning author, Williams is a naturalist and environmental activist. To all her writing she brings a strong, physical connection to Earth and an informed academic eye. Her work teaches the reader about the fascinating intricacies of the planet without ever leaving us stuck in our heads—in Williams’ experience of stone, water, animals and the elements, we are always, also, of the world.

Like Refuge, Finding Beauty in a Broken World explores Williams’ process more than anything. How do we make something whole from that which has been broken, she asks, with her usual poetic, meditative, lyrical power. Sure to move, stir and awaken, I can’t wait to read this book.

Dec 3, 2009

Holiday shopping at Jennie's and the Nelson & District Women's Centre Raffle

Here's an exciting opportunity to do some holiday shopping at Jennie's and support the Nelson & District Women's Centre. The Women's Centre is holding a raffle to raise funds to keep their doors open. For this fundraiser there are some Really Fabulous Prizes!! Raffle Tickets are $5 each and each ticket gives six opportunities to win great prize packages.

*Early Bird Prize: two Whitewater day passes, a 90 minute massage and a special gift will be drawn on December 18th and in time for the upcoming holiday season.

Major Draw: March 8, 2010 for International Women’s Day!!
Five Major Prizes will be drawn on March 8. One of the packages is a week-end deluxe stay at the Prestige Inn complete with a $100 dining certificate at Frisco`s. Other prize packages include restaurants, massages, kayak rentals, surprise gifts and a cash prize of $200.

For the last 37 years women and children have been supported at the Women’s Centre through counselling, information, referrals, free food and clothing, training and skill development. This past year nearly 3,000 women and children have come to the Drop-In which provides women with a safe place to go for help. It is often the first place a woman goes for support when in crisis or fleeing violent situations.

These Raffle tickets will make a great stocking stuffer or a thoughtful gift. Tickets are available at Jennie's Book Garden, in addition to the Women’s Centre 420 Mill Street and a few other local venues. If you have any questions, please call the Centre at (250) 352-9916. Any donations of $20.00 or over will receive a tax receipt.

In addition to these great stocking stuffers, Jennie has beautiful books coming in every week just in time for the holidays. Come and check out our best sellers in fiction and non-fiction, crime fiction, travel, art and culture. We've got so many wonderful books to touch, browse, buy and read. We hope to see you soon.

Dec 1, 2009

Canada Reads 2010 list is announced



Canada Reads 2010


Perdita Felicien is defending Fall on Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald

Samantha Nutt is defending The Jade Peony by Wayson Choy
Roland Pemberton aka Cadence Weapon is defending Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture by Douglas Coupland
Simi Sara is defending Good to a Fault by Marina Endicott

Michel Vézina is defending Nikolski by Nicolas Dickner, translated by Lazer Lederhendler

Nov 26, 2009

Local authors and new stuff in the store

I have mentioned my friend K.Linda Kivi before in the blog and I am finally reading a book I have wanted to dive into for a long time, a book she edited called The Purcell Suite: Upholding the Wild. The book is a compilation of essays by local Kootenay and BC biologists, naturalists, forest technicians, First Nations, adventurers, climbers, and outdoor, wilderness enthusiasts. They write about their experiences in the Purcell range of the Columbia mountains, why they love this range of territory and how they want it to stay protected. Within my intention to start a book club I wanted to spend some of it reading books by local writers. Unbelievably, I haven't read enough of them! So, we begin with The Purcell Suite.

On another note entirely, Jennie has been shopping in Vancouver recently and there are lots of fun new items to covet in the store including a sweet little cabinet, some beautiful linens, more gorgeous clothing (scarves, nighties, tops and skirts) and even some shiny, flashy new jewels in the case. Come and have a peak, get ready for Xmas and think about treating yourself!

Crime Spree

posted by Jennie

I just finished three crime novels in a row. The first was Siren of the Waters by Michael Genelin.
Jana Matinova entered the Czechoslovak police force as a young woman, married an actor, and became a mother. The regime destroyed her husband, their love for one another, and her daughter's respect for her. But she has never stopped being a seeker of justice. Now, as a commander in the Slovak police force, she liaises with colleagues across Europe as they track the mastermind of an international criminal operation involved in, among other crimes, human trafficking. Her investigation takes her from Ukraine to Strasbourg, from Vienna to Nice, in a hunt for a ruthless killer and the beautiful young Russian woman he is determined either to capture or destroy.
International criminal operations and human trafficking, these are important issues in International Crime Fiction.

The next was Arctic Chill by Arnaldur Indridason which takes place in Reykjavik, Iceland. This was the best story, most chilling in its representation of the difficult social issues created around immigration. This subject also comes up in almost all of the European Crime Fiction and usually makes a profound impression. The point of these stories is not really the crime, rather it is the author's effort to realistically describe our changing world. Crime is the stage and we are the people.

The last book was The Demon from Dakar by Kjell Eriksson, taking place in Mexico and Sweden. It is the third of Eriksson's mysteries featuring Inspector Ann Lindell of Sweden's Uppsala police force. And this one was the slowest and so the hardest to read. Not a thriller. Not until the very, very end. It wouldn't make any sense unless you have read all the rest, but it's the best ending I have seen in a long time.

I recommend all three of these stories and I'll let you know as soon as I finished the next three...

Nov 18, 2009

Murder in Quebec

posted by Josee Corrigan

I have completed another Louise Penny mystery based in the fictional village Three Pines, located outside Montreal. Dead Cold has everything I look for in crime fiction and more! I've mentioned the Three Pines series before when I was reading my first of her novels, Still Life. Since that time I've finished The Cruelest Month and Dead Cold, now I'm on to another, The Murder Stone - yum.

Inspector Armand Gamache is, much like my favorite old-time detectives Miss Marple and Monsieur Poirot, a searching character (an obvious quality in a detective you might think) with a compassionate eye and introspective nature that ensure you love him and wish he was your father, lover, husband, brother, or son, depending on the context of the book at the moment. Through Gamache, Louise Penny invites you into the idyllic town of Three Pines and an exploration of the human condition by way of murder. Gamache's observations of the other characters in Three Pines during each case brings into question one's own flawed existence. His zen-buddhist/lapsed-catholic approach to those living and dead instigates inquiry not only into each murder, but also the nature of the human mind - rational, insane, evil, joyful etc. These are gentle thinking novels. Perfect for sitting by the fire on a sleeting Sunday afternoon.

On another note, I just watched a great movie: Julie and Julia. It's a screenplay adapted from two books: My Life in France, Child's autobiography, written with Alex Prud'homme, and a memoir by Julie Powell. In August 2002, Powell started documenting online her daily experiences cooking each of the 524 recipes in Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and she later began reworking that blog, The Julie/Julia Project. The film is the first major motion picture based on a blog. The movie explores the life of American Chef Julia Child through the eyes of an aspiring writer and blogger. It's so lovely. It made me want to rush out and buy Julia's classic tome Mastering The Art Of French Cooking. Everytime I think of the movie I want Boeuf Bourguignonne.

Finally, the Tibetan Book Of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche. All I can say is everyone should read this. It's wonderful, inspirational and essential.

Nov 15, 2009

SIREN OF THE WATERS by Michael Genelin

posted by Jennie

I thought this was a good story and I liked learning about Communism in eastern Europe.










"This is an very interesting book as the author cleverly combines a story about Europe's current international criminal gangs with one about the communist past of Slovakia, one of Europe's newest countries, into a thought provoking thriller." - CRIME SCRAPS



A POTTER'S WORKBOOK by Clary Illian

posted by Noam








Once at a Bruce Cochrane workshop, a woman in the audience was compelled to recommend to anyone who throws clay on the potter's wheel A Potter's Workbook by Clary Illian. The next year I was fortunate enough to see Clary herself put on a wheel throwing clinic. There I learned about truth to process, the difference between shape and form as well as methods for complementing one with the other. If you're short on tuition monies, this book is a beginner/intermediate/advanced course all in 112 pages.


description by swaptree

In A Potter's Workbook, renowned studio potter and teacher Clary Illian presents a textbook for the hand and the mind. Her aim is to provide a way to see, to make, and to think about the forms of wheel-thrown vessels; her information and inspiration explain both the mechanics of throwing and finishing pots made simply on the wheel and the principles of truth and beauty arising from that traditional method. Each chapter begins with a series of exercises that introduce the principles of good form and good forming for pitchers, bowls, cylinders, lids, handles, and every other conceivable functional shape. Focusing on utilitarian pottery created on the wheel, Illian explores sound, lively, and economically produced pottery forms that combine an invitation to mindful appreciation with ease of use. Charles Metzger's striking photographs, taken under ideal studio conditions, perfectly complement her vigorous text. A Potter's Workbook is designed to help students who are just learning to throw pots, potters who know how to throw but who feel the need for greater understanding, and skilled craftspeople who enjoy thinking about the objects they love.

"A POTTER'S WORKBOOK offers much for potters with varying degrees of experience, from the new student learning how to throw pots to potters well versed in traditional forms but searching for another vision or understanding. Illian provides a way to see, make, and think about the forms of wheel thrown vessels." - (Bloomsbury Review, 1/1/00)

Nov 11, 2009

FUN HOME: A FAMILY TRAGICOMIC by Alison Bechdel

posted by Jennie

Highly, highly
recommended by
Keiko Devaux.











description by Goodreads


Award-winning comics artist Alison Bechdel has been known for decades as "one of the best, one to watch out for," in the words of Harvey Pekar. Her latest work - the groundbreaking, genre-busting, best-selling graphic narrative Fun Home - has established her as one of Americas most gifted and extraordinary memoirists as well. With its stunning mix of graphic and literary forms, it has garnered exceptional acclaim, receiving exuberant reviews, winning placement on bestseller lists across the country, and claiming seven foreign publishing deals to date. In the wake of this tremendous critical success, Fun Home has also won new readers for Bechdel - on tour for the book she has been greeted by standing-room-only crowds - and the paperback publication will no doubt continue to expand her audience.

In Bechdels affecting account of her relationship with her late father, personal history becomes a work of amazing subtlety and power. Bechdel grew up in a small Pennsylvania town, in a Victorian house that her father was painstakingly restoring to its period glory. Distant and exacting, Bruce Bechdel was an English teacher and director of the town funeral home, which Alison and her family referred to as the "Fun Home." It was not until college that Alison, who had recently come out as a lesbian, discovered that her father was also gay. A few weeks after this revelation, he was dead, leaving a legacy of mystery for his daughter to resolve.

Nov 10, 2009

THE FIXER by Joe Sacco

posted by Noam

"It might be supposed that comics are, by their very nature, bound to be explicit and two-dimensional, but this is untrue. There are kinds of subtlety and metaphorical allusiveness that are easier to achieve in comics than in novels."

description by Michel Faber from The Guardian


When the war reporter Joe Sacco returned to Bosnia in 2001, he was looking for the only person who still seemed willing to talk frankly about the madness into which the country had descended a few years before. That person was a hard-drinking army veteran called Neven, nicknamed "The Fixer" for his ability to arrange anything - access to off-limits places, gang-bangs, a niche in a trench at the frontline - for the right price. When they met up again, Sacco and his frustratingly unreliable informant completed their harrowing journey through the Balkan nightmare. Why has this piece of journalism taken so long to reach us? Well, Sacco had to create each of the 105 pages with pencil and ink.

The Fixer is a comic. (Sacco, in common with most other outstanding comics artists, from Robert Crumb to Peter Pontiac, prefers that term to the over-dignified "graphic novel".) Sacco's drawings are monochrome, intricately cross-hatched and shaded, very much a product of the American underground scene that rejected the superhero ethos. Although the current glut of movies deriving from that ethos might tempt us to look down on comics, in truth the puerility of Spider-Man or The Incredible Hulk doesn't define the form any more than Mills & Boon defines literature. The Fixer is more morally complex and more artistically ambitious than many well-reviewed novels.

The Fixer chronicles the rise of the paramilitary warlords whose fanatical courage was harnessed to defend Bosnia against ethnic cleansing, but who inevitably became corrupted by power, bloodlust and factionalist delusions. Sacco (always a character in his own comics) plays the impressionable, weedy westerner, while Neven boozes, chain-smokes and reminisces about battles and betrayals. There is a fraternal, even homoerotic charge to Sacco's friendship with the man who "knows about muzzle velocity, rate of fire, the effect of over-water air currents on the trajectory of a bullet". Yet Sacco is wise enough to see through the self-mythologising that keeps mavericks like Neven from admitting their own role in a national disaster.

Apart from his gifts as an artist, Sacco has a growing talent as a writer. He handles the treacherously complex material with confidence, and just about pulls off some audacious metaphors, such as "the war pushing back from the table, belching, and motioning lazily for the final bill". The best things in The Fixer, though, are the juxtapositions made possible by the medium. It might be supposed that comics are, by their very nature, bound to be explicit and two-dimensional, but this is untrue. There are kinds of subtlety and metaphorical allusiveness that are easier to achieve in comics than in novels.

Nov 4, 2009

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE BIBLE! by Jonathan Goldstein

posted by Noam

This book is FUNNY. At least I thought so, but I'm already a big fan of Goldstein's radio program Wire Tap. An entertaining read for anyone wanting to brush up on that old tale.







description by goodreads


In the beginning...there was humor.

Sure, it’s the foundation for much of Western morality and the cornerstone of world literature. But let’s face it: the Bible always needed punching up. Plus, it raised quite a few questions that a modern world refuses to ignore any longer: wouldn’t it be boring to live inside a whale? How did Joseph explain Mary’s pregnancy to the guys at work? Who exactly was the megalomaniacal foreman who oversaw the construction of the Tower of Babel? And honestly, what was Cain’s problem?

In Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bible!, Jonathan Goldstein re-imagines and recasts the Bible’s greatest heroes with depth, wit, and snappy dialogue. This is the Bible populated by angry loners, hypochondriacs, and reluctant prophets who fear for their sanity. Basically, a Bible that readers can finally, genuinely relate to.


Oct 31, 2009

THE MAGICIAN'S ELEPHANT by Kate DiCamillo

posted by Jennie

A marvelous heart warming read for 8-13 year olds. And me. Perfect for reading aloud to the whole family. A special story.










Beautiful website as well.
www.themagicianselephant.com

Oct 28, 2009

Vampire rights, why not?

posted by Jennie

I've seen a few episodes of the HBO series True Blood. They were great and I intend to see all of them. Naturally I had to start reading the books and they are not great but they are fun and now I am wasting my life away reading every one.















Oct 27, 2009

How well do you know gothic fiction?

posted by Noam, taken from The Guardian UK (h/t to Duthie Books)

With the nights drawing in and Halloween on the way, now is the time to reacquaint yourself with the shadowy pleasures of the gothic novel.

TAKE THE QUIZ

ISLAND OF THE AUNTS by Eva Ibbotson

posted by Jennie

I like everything by Eva Ibbotson and Island of the Aunts is one of my favourites. Good for all ages, especially 8-12 years.










review by Fantastic Fiction


When the kindly old aunts decide that they need help caring for creatures who live on their hidden island, they know that adults can't be trusted. What they need are a few special children who can keep a secret-a secret as big as a magical island. And what better way to get children who can keep really big secrets, than to kidnap them! (After all, some children just plain need to be kidnapped.) Don't miss this wildly inventive and funny read from master storyteller Eva Ibbotson.

"Readers will not be able to put [Island of the Aunts] down! A fine choice for fantasy lovers." (School Library Journal, starred review)

"Eva Ibbotson does magic, humor, and fantasy for ages 8 to 88+, and you'll wish her books were never-ending, so enchanting are her characters and fiendishly funny her plots!" (Book Sense)

Oct 25, 2009

Winter Fantasy Land

posted by Ms. Kate

As Winter approaches, my family gets really excited. Besides chopping wood, clearing the yard and pulling out our wool, we're searching for a great fantasy series to read aloud during the long, dark nights. We've devoured a couple great ones over the years including Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials and the Earthsea series by Ursula LeGuin. I should mention that my "family" right now consists of me and my partner. We're both in our late twenties and we both love to read and listen to "children's" fantasy.

What LeGuin and Pullman have in common is that they are both excellent writers. Many children's authors adopt a trite tone in an attempt to engage young readers. These two write in a way that is appropriate for pre-teens to adults: complex, moving and intelligent. Both series moved me to tears, not just for their emotional plots but because the writing is so clear.

Pullman's three-part series begins with a quote from John Milton's Paradise Lost, an English classic and a tough read for any age. Pullman takes readers on the epic, world-changing adventure of Lyra, an authentic fiesty and clever pre-teen girl, as she struggles and champions to resurrect "paradise lost." Up against horrific forces of evil that seek to control and diminish the souls of all people, Lyra is pushed to her limits again and again. She is destined to affirm free will, love and life through her actions.

LeGuin is a prolific writer (Jennie once had a good laugh when I told her I wanted to read everything she'd written) and an award winner. The Earthsea books are considered some of her best. In them, readers follow the life of Ged, a legendary wizard, and the people he meets. LeGuin writes with a beautiful pace, so that when Ged spends several months at sea searching and waiting, the reader senses the slow drift of the boat and the long lost days. It is never boring. In the beginning, Ged is a headstrong boy. Over the course of six books, he ages into a wise humble man. One of my favorite books in the series, Tehanu, closely explores the life of the archipelago women.

These books are wonderful winter reading. They're even better shared aloud. You'll grow tense in anticipation--because someone has to get sleepy first, and sometimes it's a challenge to schedule reading time--and you'll love sharing a great, great story with someone you love.

Oct 23, 2009

WHAT WE BELIEVE BUT CANNOT PROVE ed. by John Brockman

posted by Diana

WHAT WE BELIEVE BUT CANNOT PROVE ed. by John Brockman is a collection of essays by leading scientists and thinkers who already know what's impossible then stretch it to the improbable realm of probability. Educational, stimulating and at times a little baffling, a veritable smorgasbord of food for thought. A remedy for brain atrophy, awkward silences and table talk that could use redirection.

THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE by Stieg Larsson

posted by Diana

THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE
by Stieg Larsson is fabulous, more compelling than THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. Finally something that enables my insomnia in an engaging way. I read it to my aesthetician for an hour and now she wants a copy, too.


Publisher Comments:

Mikael Blomkvist, crusading journalist and publisher of the magazine Millennium, has decided to run a story that will expose an extensive sex trafficking operation between Eastern Europe and Sweden, implicating well-known and highly placed members of Swedish society, business, and government.

But he has no idea just how explosive the story will be until, on the eve of publication, the two investigating reporters are murdered. And even more shocking for Blomkvist: the fingerprints found on the murder weapon belong to Lisbeth Salander--the troubled, wise-beyond-her-years genius hacker who came to his aid in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and who now becomes the focus and fierce heart of The Girl Who Played with Fire.

As Blomkvist, alone in his belief in Salander's innocence, plunges into an investigation of the slayings, Salander herself is drawn into a murderous hunt in which she is the prey, and which compels her to revisit her dark past in an effort to settle with it once and for all.

Oct 21, 2009

Time to read an epic?

posted by Josee

I am currently reading two epic novels, War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy translated by Andrew Bromfield and, more happily and easily, A Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin. I've always felt I should read Tolstoy, but never did. So with the arrival of driving October rain, colder weather and general drear I felt I could finally sink into 19th Century Russia for a time. This may seem strange to you, and even me, however after reading Lane Wallace's dialectic explicating the value of books over new electronic mediums for reading (look to our blog from October 18th) I am not so confused. Wallace's emphasis on becoming immersed in the world of the writer with the goal of deep contemplation and, if we're lucky, understanding of the world and ourselves rings true. The two 'gigantic' novels that I've embarked on are a testament to the necessity a kind of slow focus that may not be available to us when reading in an electronic form. I don't have a Kindle, although my mother does and she loves it (she is also a multi-tasking, techi-loving-type person who likes to read), so I don't know if the new mediums for reading in fact offer a more distracting form of the text as Wallace claims. However, I would agree with Wallace that books, especially those like Tolstoy's Russian epic which take place in a time almost forgotten and in a place foreign and surreal to us living in this era, require focus and time to read without distraction. While reading War and Peace I often catch myself mentally adrift while attempting to wrap my mind around a certain phrase, feeling or character and their meaning in the context of the novel. A Winter's Tale is similarly engrossing, but also full of detailed imagery and language that often takes a moment to integrate.

I am enjoying both books immensely if slowly and would recommend to anyone that this is a fabulous time of year to cuddle up with an epic tale. It will slow you down deliciously!

Oct 18, 2009

Brains, Books and the Future of Print

posted by Noam (h/t to Duthie Books)

from The Atlantic

Are print books really about to disappear, overtaken like horse-drawn carriages in the age of Detroit and the Ford Model T? Truth is, nobody knows. Nobody ever really knows what the future is going to hold, no matter how sure they sound in their predictions.

Certainly, for all the fuss made about the Kindle, more than 95% of book buyers are still opting for the print version ... except, possibly, in the hot romance and erotic fiction categories. Earlier this year, Peter Smith, of IT World, noted that "of the top 10 bestsellers under the 'Multiformat' category [of Fictionwise ebooks sold], nine are tagged 'erotica' and the last is 'dark fantasy.'" That's only one list, but it's an interesting side-note that makes sense: just as with the internet and cable television, there's a particularly strong appeal to getting access to what Smith calls "salacious" content without having to face the check-out clerk with the goods in hand.

Nevertheless, the point remains that a greater number of readers are switching over to ebooks in one format or another. So beyond the basic question of "will print books go away" (which I personally doubt, but again, nobody really knows the answer to), the questions I find more intriguing relate to if or how digital reading changes the reading experience and, perhaps, even the brains that do the reading.

Electronic readers like Kindle are too recent a development to have generated much specific, targeted research yet. But a montage of essays titled "Does the Brain Like Ebooks?" that appeared on the New York Times website this week offered some fascinating information and viewpoints on the subject. The collection had contributions from experts in English, neuroscience, child development, computer technology and informatics. And while the viewpoints differed, there was some general consensus about a few points:

1. Clearly, there are differences in the two reading experiences. There are things electronic books do better (access to new books in remote areas of the world, less lugging around, and easier searching for quotes or information after the fact). There are also things print books do better (footnote reading, the ability to focus solely on the text at hand, far away from any electronic distraction, and--oh, yeah. No battery or electronic glitch issues.)

To those factors, I would add two more: First -- I think it's important to remember that Kindle doesn't actually give you a book. It gives you access to a book. For people who don't want to cart around old volumes or make multiple trips to the library, that might be considered a good thing. But at least one potential downside to this feature became painfully clear to many Kindle readers this summer when Amazon reached into its customers' Kindle libraries and took back two books for which the company realized it did not possess the copyright. Ironically, the books were by George Orwell -- including 1984, his book about the perils of centralized information control. Access goes both ways.

Second ... one of the writers of the Times essays, Prof. Alan Liu at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said that he didn't think anyone really made serendipitous discoveries while browsing the shelves of a physical library (so losing a physical library wouldn't be a loss, at least in that sense). Perhaps not, because most people go to libraries with specific search goals in mind. But bookstores, on the other hand ... there I'd disagree. I often browse the aisles of my local bookstores, just to see what's new and what might catch my eye. Most of the books I buy, in fact, are items I discovered while browsing ... something that, ironically, electronic "browsers" do not allow.

Browsing, to my way of thinking, is what I do in Filene's Bargain Basement. The clothes there are a jumbled mass. So even if you go in looking, potentially, for a shirt, you might end up with a pair of slacks that just happened to be hanging nearby. Same with a bookstore. Same, in fact, with the print version of the New York Times I get every morning. I scan the pages just seeing what might catch my eye to read. Sometimes it's a photo that catches my eye, sometimes it's a leading paragraph, sometimes it's a headline, and sometimes it's a callout. Or, sometimes, I'll be reading one article and another on that same page will catch my attention--one I never would have sought out on my own. And my knowledge and understanding of the world is far better and broader for all those serendipitous juxtapositions.

Electronic media and browsers have many good qualities, but they're lousy for that kind of unspecific window shopping. Browsers don't browse. They help you do specific searches. Looking for a black coat, or that article Sam Smith wrote two months ago on synthetic sneaker soles? The internet is great. Not sure what you want? Heaven help you. So to lose physical collections of books, either in stores or on individual bookshelves, would make it harder to make those delightful side discoveries that take us out of our narrow fields of focus and interest and, potentially, broaden our minds.

2. In the case of adults, we probably process information similarly in both electronic and print formats ... with two important distinctions. The first distinction is that electronic books, with hyperlinks and connections to a world web of side-roads, offer far more distractions to the reader. In doing a research paper, this can be useful. But it also offers temptations to divert our attention from a deeper immersion in a story or text that our brains are poorly equipped to resist. (Apparently we change tasks, on average, every three minutes when working in an internet-connected environment.)

"Frequent task-switching costs time and interferes with the concentration needed to think deeply about what you read," cautioned Sandra Aamodt, the former editor of Nature Neuroscience and another of the Times essayists.

The second feature of electronic reading, which may compound this first effect, is that there is evidently something about an electronic medium, with its "percentage done" scale and electronic noises or gizmos, that makes us crave and focus on those rewards. Which is probably why electronic games are more addictive than board games. After a couple of rounds of solitaire with real cards, I'm done and ready to move on to something else. But I removed the solitaire software from my computer almost 20 years ago when I realized that I couldn't seem to tear myself away from it, once I started playing.

Is our comprehension and, more importantly, what Proust apparently called "the heart of reading"--"when we go beyond the author's wisdom and enter the beginning of our own," as one of the essayists, put it, impacted by a heightened drive to make progress through a text? If so, that would be a bad thing. So it seems a point worth studying further.

3. Most adults, however, at least have the ability to process longer and deeper contemplative thoughts from what we read, even if we don't always exercise that ability. But according to Maryanne Wolf, a cognitive neuroscientist and child development specialist at Tufts University, that ability to focus attention deeply and for a concerted length of time is learned, not innate. Children apparently have to develop neural pathways and circuits for reading, and those circuits are affected by the demands of the reading material. Chinese children learning a more symbolic and visual language, for instance, develop different circuits than English-speaking children.

So electronic reading ... especially with hyperlinks and video embeds and other potential distractions, could potentially keep young readers from developing some important circuits. As Wolf put it in her essay:

"My greatest concern is that the young brain will never have the time (in milliseconds or in hours or in years) to learn to go deeper into the text after the first decoding, but rather will be pulled by the medium to ever more distracting information, sidebars, and now, perhaps videos (in the new vooks). The child's imagination and children's nascent sense of probity and introspection are no match for a medium that creates a sense of urgency to get to the next piece of stimulating information. the attention span of children may be one of the main reasons why an immersion in on-screen reading is so engaging, and it may also be why digital reading may ultimately prove antithetical to the long-in-development, reflective nature of the expert reading brain as we know it."

Interesting enough, the one computer scientist in the group was of the opinion that the best use of electronic books and capabilities was to enhance print books, not to replace them. But it's all interesting food for thought ... and, hopefully, more research as electronic readers find their way into more households and hands.

Oct 14, 2009

THE GOOD BROTHER by Chris Offutt

posted by Jennie

Highly recommended by two friends. This is good!






review by JO ANN KISER at
The New York Times Online

As in his book of short stories, ''Kentucky Straight,'' Offutt combines hardheaded realism with a necessary lyricism that enables him to conjure up the ghost-laden images of his native Kentucky with unsentimental clarity. Even when pondering murder and its consequences, Virgil notices ''the sweet air of the woods. . . . The hills surrounded him like a box. The sky was a black slab etched with stars. He wondered how many shallow graves lay in the earth nearby.'' At another, more pleasant juncture in Virgil's youth, ''he inhaled the heavy scent of summer earth, a loamy musk that settled over him like a caul. He was home.''

Offutt successfully evokes the Kentucky hills and the moral complexity of their inhabitants. In time, Virgil sees beyond the model of his lovable but reckless brother, who disregarded the law because it often favored townspeople. Instead, he learns to appreciate more fully his brother-in-law, who, like so many hill people, works hard in a poor land in order to feed and care for his extended family and yet manages to take great delight in that family.

Offutt's inexperience as a novelist emerges once he departs from his native terrain; he can't hold our interest in the lives and motivations of his Montana characters. But this is a minor complaint. ''The Good Brother'' is a fine first novel by a fierce writer. One can only hope that in his laudable determination to be more than regional, Offutt doesn't leave the hills behind.

Photo cards by Marie Racine


Available at Jennie's Book Garden, new cards with photographs of valley landscapes, horses and more.

Oct 8, 2009

Tara Books

















Handmade books from India available at Jennie's Book Garden.


Tara Books is an independent publisher of picture books for adults and children based in Chennai, South India. Now in our fifteenth year, we remain a collective of dedicated writers, designers and artists who strive for a union of fine form with rich content. We continue to work with a growing tribe of adventurous people from around the world. Fiercely independent, we publish a select list that straddles diverse genres, offering our readers unusual and rare voices in art and literature.

HISTORY

Tara was started in 1994 by Gita Wolf, and now comprises a core group of 10 people based in Chennai, and designers working out of New York, London and Bangalore. It helps that Tara is run as a feminist, non-hierarchical set up, which attracts a range of creative people interested in dialogue and creative collaboration. It allows each of us the flexibility to hold a variety of interests and activities while still being a part of the organisation. We are also proud to be able to support a group of talented young printers who create our handmade books. Tara initially started out as a publisher of children’s books, but our list has since expanded to include art and design books for adults, as well as a select list of fiction. The core of our publishing remains in the area of visual books. We publish 10-15 titles a year.


“Tara is one of the most interesting producers of handmade books on the planet… Part of the experience of opening and handling a Tara handmade book is the fragrance it emits from between the covers. The confluence of paper and inks is unlike anything you are accustomed to here. You know you are experiencing a different world, a different culture, as the exotic, bookish fumes enter your nose.
– Fine Books & Collections

“For most publishers worldwide, the imperative seems to be the pursuit of profit rather than the pursuit of creativity. Books nowadays are generally of an above average, but homogenous standard. One exception: Tara Books from Chennai, India, who possess a treasurable catalogue that combines tradition and modernity with genius.”
– Il Manifesto, Italy

“A celebration of storytelling, drawing and the art of bookmaking.”
– Los Angeles Weekly


Sep 29, 2009

THE CHALK CIRCLE MAN by Fred Vargas

posted by Jennie

I love everything by Fred Vargas, especially the quirky Chief Inspector Adamsberg series. The Chalk Circle Man is the best of the lot.



Publisher Comments:

Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg is not like other policemen. His methods appear unorthodox in the extreme: he doesn't search for clues; he ignores obvious suspects and arrests people with iron-clad alibis; he appears permanently distracted.

The Chalk Circle Man is the first book featuring Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg, one of the most engaging characters in contemporary detective fiction.

When strange, blue chalk circles start appearing overnight on the pavements of Paris, the press take up the story with amusement and psychiatrists trot out their theories. Adamsberg is alone in thinking this is not a game and far from amusing. He insists on being kept informed of new circles and the increasingly bizarre objects which they contain: empty beer cans, four trombones, a pigeon's foot, four cigarette lighters, a badge proclaiming I Love Elvis, a hat, a doll's head. Adamsberg senses the cruelty that lies behind these seemingly random occurrences. Soon a circle with decidedly less banal contents is discovered: the body of a woman with her throat savagely cut. Adamsberg knows that other murders will follow.


Vargas' novels have a specific kind of appeal: they are, of course, superbly constructed puzzles, but above all they're wholly original crime novels with a different kind of outlook on the form: they're a bit bonkers, a bit maddening, a lot gripping, and vastly entertaining. They're not for people who demand gritty realism from their crime fiction, but as exercises in the flightful pleasure of reading a crime novel written from a slightly different angle, they are the absolute best you can find. This is a superb first entry in the Adamsberg series.

Fiona Walker
March 2009

IN SEARCH OF SMALL GODS by Jim Harrison

posted by Jennie

I like everything that Harrison has written except his last fiction which I didn't like at all. Maybe it was a test. I like this book of poetry very much.





"Jim Harrison has probed the breadth of human appetites - for food and drink, for art, for sex, for violence and, most significantly, for the great twin engines of love and death. Perhaps no American writer better appreciates those myriad drives; since the publication of his first collection of poetry . . . Harrison has become their poet laureate." - Salon.com


Maybe the problem is that I got involved with the wrong crowd of gods when I was seven. At first they weren't harmful and only showed themselves as fish, birds, especially herons and loons, turtles, a bobcat and a small bear, but not deer and rabbits who only offered themselves as food. And maybe I spent too much time inside the water of lakes and rivers. Underwater seemed like the safest church I could go to . .
.





SKELLIG by David Almond

posted by Jennie

I loved this story. For ages 9-12.


review by Jill Murphy at
The Bookbag

... a sensuous, magical book and a fantastic introduction to David Almond's work.


Michael's life is turning upside down. His mother has just had a baby - a new sister for him. But she was an early baby, far too early, and she's very, very ill. She's is in and out of hospital and there is a great fear she might die. His mother and father are distraught and they're living in a tense atmosphere of fear and worry. They're a close family but it's hard to keep it all together under such circumstances and sometimes Michael feels lonely and left out. Then he feels guilty for being so heartless. Making matters worse is that they've just moved house, right across town. Michael elected to stay at the same school but he needs to take a long bus ride to get there and he can't just walk out of his house to join a football game with his friends any more. The house is in need of complete renovation too and it seems to Michael as though all his familiar comforts have deserted him.

And then, one day, Michael goes into the derelict garage at the bottom of the garden. It's an adventure - he's not allowed down there at all for the structure is dangerously unstable and could collapse at any time. While he's exploring Michael discovers another derelict - it's a man living in the garage, feeding himself on the flies and spiders he finds within. It's Skellig. Skellig begs him to tell no one that he's there and instinctively Michael senses that there's something strange, something special about this scruffy, ragged man and he keeps the secret from his parents. He tries to help Skellig, although he's half afraid and half excited, bringing him medicine and food and drink.


I closed my eyes and tried to discover where the happy half of me was hiding. I felt the tears trickling through my tightly closed eyelids. I felt Whisper's claws tugging at my jeans. I wanted to be all alone in an attic like Skellig with just the owls and the moonlight and an oblivious heart. And then Dad's car came, with its blaring engine and its glaring lights, and the fear just increased and increased and increased.

more on THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER by Stephen Chbosky










Jennie loves this book.





reviewed by jingle at revish.com


A book for your soul

Have you ever thought to yourself, "I'm so lucky that this person came into my life," and if you had been in a different place at a different time, you wouldn't have met, and how unsettling that feels? That's how I feel about The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I am very glad that I happened to be in the library and that I randomly found this book out of all the other books in there. It is a book that reaches to your soul and makes you feel.

The book is about a young teenage boy called Charlie and is in letter format. Who does he write these letters to? We don't really know. They always start with "Dear friend," and always end with "Love always, Charlie." Once I got into the book I found that I ignored the letter format and it read like a regular 1st-person story.

The character of Charlie is a very interesting and likable character. He is honest, blunt, emotional, and deeply caring of others. From the start it seems that Charlie has a unique way of thinking and acting, and you may spend a lot of time trying to work out what's "wrong" with him. Does he have some kind of mental illness? After a while I realised that I related to Charlie a lot more than I thought, and that we all probably relate to Charlie in some way or another. Sometimes we can feel alone in how we think, and we keep things to ourselves because we don't believe that anyone else thinks that way. We don't want to be seen as a freak.

Sep 28, 2009

Ayn Rand and Ralph Nader?

Posted by Josee Corrigan

I was driving back from what was possibly my last camping trip of the year - wah! - and listening to one of my fave radio jockeys on CBC, Jian Ghomeshi. He was in discussion with Ralph Nader about Nader's new book entitled Only The Super Rich Can Save Us! While Ghomeshi teased him about the title, Nader elaborated on topic of his book - that the wealthiest 1% have the power to change the world and are beginning to care. Of course the four-time US presidential candidate's new book has a special focus on our American neighbours to the south, regardless Nader's theory about wealth and responsibility is worthy and timely during an era in which the rich have been demonized for their lack of altruism (see Michael Moore's new film Capitalism: A Love Story) .
Interestingly, Ayn Rand and her famous novel, The Fountainhead, emerged throughout the conversation, at which point I really perked up my ears. Synchronistically, over the past few weeks I've picked up a biography of Ayn Rand by Anne C. Heller called Ayn Rand and The World She Made. Rand was a fascinating writer and theorist who expounded the themes of narcissism, capitalism, and individualism through the characters in her novels. According to both Heller's biography and Ralph Nader, her book The Fountainhead is one of the top five books read in America and has had a profound influence on the cultural development of the United States since its publication. With this in mind, it's interesting to examine Nader's arguement that it is the richest 1% who should and are, in some cases, promoting altruistic cultural action in this tragic age of disintigrating American values. Hmmmmn. So, what do we all think about that?

For more interesting facts and info about Ayn Rand look to the Ayn Rand Institute at www.aynrand.org
To listen to Jian's interview from this morning go to www.cbc.ca/q

On another note entirely, Jennie lent me an excellent book from the coming-of-age genre. The novel is called The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. The anti-hero, Charlie, describes his life in the form of letters written to "Dear Friend," from the perspective of a highschool student/teenager. I love him! Although perceived by the 'cool' crowd as a loser/freak/weirdo, he is sensitive (cries a lot), smart, and perceptive. The novel details his life including descriptions of his group of similarly mifit, but also wonderful friends; a boy-crazy sister; a college-attending jock brother; a wacky, embarrassing, exended family; a set of unbelievably chill parents; and one thank-god-for-him english teacher. I really enjoyed the books that this kid reads and reviews as his teacher assigns them for extracurricular - Ayn Rand's Fountainhead being one of them. This book is worth reading, especially for those who are currently experiencing the joys and pitfalls of highschool.

Sep 25, 2009

OUT STEALING HORSES by Per Petterson

Posted by Jennie

Last year my favourite literary fiction was Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson. It takes place in Norway and gives us a man's life, how everything changed when he was fifteen and out stealing horses, and how that change echoes in his old age. It's a simple story, quiet and intense at once.

--Review by Ken Worpole on 31/05/2006

This fine novel, translated by Anne Born, was the surprise winner of the 2006 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize and it really is a book to cherish and remember.

Out Stealing Horses eschews the knowing realism of much contemporary fiction in favour of the episodic ebb and flow of the "unending conversation" in the mind of the narrator, as he looks back upon a series of traumatic war-time incidents in the past, and in the face of approaching old age. The narrator, Trond, has returned, following the death of his second wife, to a remote settlement in Norway where he and his family spent their childhood holidays under German occupation. Not only do old faces re-appear, but he has to try to finally understand the familial and political betrayals of that bitter period of resistance and collaboration, and the breaking of families.

The detail of the daily round of wood-chopping, shopping, cooking, dog-walking and immersion in the life of the forest of an ageing widower is beautifully achieved. There is also the occasional drink with a neighbour, and a nightly reading of Dickens, the novelist whose work shaped the imagination of the young Norwegian who, like David Copperfield, desperately hoped to become the hero of his own life. That question overshadows the whole novel: did he achieve this heroic role?

Tragedy and epiphany recur in equal parts, though the deep forest interiors seem to absorb all of human hope and suffering. In his childhood Trond remembers the milkmaids singing the cows home every evening just as vividly as the presence of the Germans and the secretive night-time manoeuvres of local partisans. However, there was one terrible incident involving the accidental shooting of a child by its twin brother, that provides the fulcrum of the novel, and seems to instigate a pattern of family ruptures that marks the lives of nearly all of the male characters we meet. The narrator, like his father before him, and his best friend, at some point in his life walks out on his family, never to return or even maintain contact. Going missing seems to be the price men under stress have to pay in these taciturn, unforgiving times and places.

There is salvation in this world through physical labour. The scenes of harvesting and tree-felling (and the subsequent rolling of the trees into the river to be manoeuvred downstream to the sawmills) are imbued with a Tolstoyan love and deep nostalgia. If these days are happily foreshortened by the blue hour of dusk "when everything draws closer", so too are the final days and months of the narrator as he slowly untangles the mysteries of childhood; the threads of fragmented family and village relationships are gathered in again, and finally understood.

Don't be put off by the title and its unfortunate echoes of Cormac McCarthy's overly poeticised All the Pretty Horses, nor the jacket photograph of the author in full horse-whispering mode. Inside is the real thing, a novel artfully conveying a profound sense of time passing, the consolations of landscape, and a prose style and folded-in geology that makes every sentence do the work of ten.


Sep 23, 2009

THE LAST SAMURAI by Helen DeWitt

Posted by Jennie

One of my favourite books is back in the store. The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt. It has a most clever method for learning a new language. It has single mother angst and single child quest. I loved it so did all my friends, well, the ones that read it. It's not the movie script, but it is all about it. It's very original and very good! And it seems to be going out of print...


Helen DeWitt's extraordinary debut, The Last Samurai, centers on the relationship between Sibylla, a single mother of precocious and rigorous intelligence, and her son, who, owing to his mother's singular attitude to education, develops into a prodigy of learning. Ludo reads Homer in the original Greek at 4 before moving on to Hebrew, Japanese, Old Norse, and Inuit; studying advanced mathematical techniques (Fourier analysis and Laplace transformations); and, as the title hints, endlessly watching and analyzing Akira Kurosawa's masterpiece, The Seven Samurai. But the one question that eludes an answer is that of the name of his father: Sibylla believes the film obliquely provides the male role models that Ludo's genetic father cannot, and refuses to be drawn on the question of paternal identity. The child thinks differently, however, and eventually sets out on a search, one that leads him beyond the certainties of acquired knowledge into the complex and messy world of adults.

The novel draws on themes topical and perennial--the hothousing of children, the familiar literary trope of the quest for the (absent) father--and as such, divides itself into two halves: the first describes Ludo's education, the second follows him in his search for his father and father figures. The first stresses a sacred, Apollonian pursuit of logic, precise (if wayward) erudition, and the erratic and endlessly fascinating architecture of languages, while the second moves this knowledge into the world of emotion, human ambitions, and their attendant frustrations and failures.

The Last Samurai is about the pleasure of ideas, the rich varieties of human thought, the possibilities that life offers us, and, ultimately, the balance between the structures we make of the world and the chaos that it proffers in return. Stylistically, the novel mirrors this ambivalence: DeWitt's remarkable prose follows the shifts and breaks of human consciousness and memory, capturing the intrusions of unspoken thought that punctuate conversation while providing tantalizing disquisitions on, for example, Japanese grammar or the physics of aerodynamics. It is remarkable, profound, and often very funny. Arigato DeWitt-sensei.

Review by Burhan Tufail at goodreads.com