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Niagara on the Lake, Ontario, Canada
My virtue is that I say what I think, my vice that what I think doesn't amount to much.

Monday, October 20, 2014

I Am Zoe Handke

I've had this book by Eric Larsen on my shelf for decades and finally pulled it down to read. What a find!
``I was born into my mother's madness,'' observes Zoe Handke whose mother was physically and emotionally abusive to her. Zoe's father was not equipped to deal with the drama and her grandmother was ill and also the victim of her mother's rages so little Zoe was left without an advocate. At college in Minnesota, Zoe experiences episodes of hysterical blindness and deafness in reaction to the abuse. No motive is provided for her mother's mental illness but Zoe makes sense of the dysfunctional relationship by repetitively studying childhood events, reorganizing her past. Vignettes of her childhood are still, quiet and evocative. The last chapters of the book show the 40 year old Zoe righting herself, marrying and having children of her own.
Eric Larsen's prize-winning first novel, An American Memory, is about Malcolm Reiner, who married Zoe Handke. I'm going to seek it out.

The Assassination Of Margaret Thatcher

Yay! A new book by Hilary Mantel! And a good one it is. Each of the ten short stories in this collection is a little jewel, as we would expect from an author who has won the Man Booker Prize twice. Most of the stories are about unhappy, isolated women: the lonely, ill woman in her apartment in Saudi Arabia, the author on a depressing book tour, the anorexic girl who could no longer trust her food, the disturbed, deprived girl who torments a disabled child, the woman whose apartment is chosen as the perch for an IRA sniper who intends to assassinate former PM Margaret Thatcher. All these women are outwardly passive but inwardly seething and we wait on tenterhooks for the moment when the membrane between interior and exterior breaks down.

The title story was received with immediate outrage by British Conservatives who accused Mantel of advocating assassination of political figures who evoke negative public opinion. But it is just a what if? fantasy, no reason to get knickers in a twist.

I'm not sure if these stories appeal specifically to women of a certain age but I devoured them and wanted more. I highly recommend this book.

UPDATE: Here is a clip from the audiobook that the publisher sent to me. It's the title story read by Jane Carr. Give it a listen.


Scheherazade, a short story by Haruki Murakami in the New Yorker.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Literary United States: A Map of the Best Book for Every State

illustration by Sarah Lutkenhaus

"We wanted to come up with a list that was more than just a general reflection of a place, but rather paid attention to the specifics, even at the risk of the exclusion of the whole."
Read about the choices at Brooklyn Magazine

Saturday, October 18, 2014

'Am I being catfished?' An author confronts her number one online critic

When a bad review of her first novel appeared online, Kathleen Hale was warned not to respond. But she soon found herself wading in. A fascinating read.

More: The Guardian

America’s Legendary Book Cover Designers

Famous for their artistry as much as for their innovation, these book jacket designers have all played their part in making the industry what it is today.

Cover by Chip Kidd (Pennsylvania, USA)
Cover by S. Neil Fujita (Japan and Hawaii, USA)

More: Culture Trip 

Friday, October 17, 2014

‘Maus’ Artist Art Spiegelman Gives a Tour of His New York City Studio

Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist cartoonist Art Spiegelman showed off his private library, artwork and a one-off Maus action figure to promote his current ‘WORDLESS!’ multimedia comics show.


Thursday, October 16, 2014

Dylan Thomas in Fitzrovia

This year is the centenary of the birth of poet Dylan Thomas and there is a festival being held to celebrate his time in London. I wish I could be there but it starts in just 4 days so doubt that I could pull it together in time.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Dissident Gardens

I'd been interested in Jonathan Lethem's Dissident Gardens since I read mostly positive reviews when it was published so when it was released on Audible I added it to my listening queue for the treadmill. I spent my working life in the political realm working for a social democratic party so this book about the radical left seemed right up my alley. This is an old fashioned story spanning several generations with the furious, more communist than Lenin,  Rose Zimmer, as the lynchpin. Lethem gives us a somewhat preachy history of political activism in America from anti-Nazi Jewish immigrants to the Occupy movement. Rose was dispelled from The Party for having an affair with a black policeman but never abandons her communist principles. Rose's daughter, Miriam, is a hippie married to an Irish folksinger. The couple embraces the civil rights agenda of the era and go to Nicaragua to support the Sandanistas. There are a lot of other characters introduced but the mother-daughter relationship is the main focus (although Lethem takes it nowhere). I tried to hang in, I really did, but felt like I was wading through waist-deep sand and bailed about three quarters of the way through. Too many uninteresting/cliched/one dimensional characters, too much sermonizing, not enough interaction between characters to keep me engaged. I have not read anything else by this author and after this experience likely won't.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Hampstead Heath and the Rise and Fall of the author Colin Wilson

The always fabulous Another Nickel In The Machine has posted a fascinating article about the British writer and philosopher, Colin Wilson. While writing The Outsider in the British Library by day he slept rough on Hampstead Heath at night.

On this day in 1956 he met Marilyn Monroe and according to Wilson  there was a definite ‘connection’ with Marilyn and she actually grasped his hand as they made their way through the throng to their waiting cars.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Haruki Murakami Stories Free Online

Short stories by Haruki Murakami free to read at The New Yorker for a limited time.

Via Open Culture

Monday, October 06, 2014

The 2014 Scotiabank Giller Finalists Are:

  • David Bezmozgis, The Betrayers (HarperCollins Canada) 
  • Frances Itani, Tell (HarperCollins Canada) 
  • Sean Michaels, Us Conductors (Random House Canada) 
  • Heather O'Neill, The Girl Who Was Saturday Night (HarperCollins Canada) 
  • Miriam Toews, All My Puny Sorrows (Knopf Canada) 
  • Padma Viswanathan, The Ever After of Ashwin Rao (Random House Canada)


Sunday, October 05, 2014

My Absent Father

 The New Yorker has published Jane Smiley's account of what it means to be a fatherless daughter.

London Short Fiction

A traffic accident where all is not what it seems...

This story by Ryan Cartwright is part of Londonist's series of short fiction set in, or influenced by London.

Read the story at Londonist