Friday, June 19, 2009

Reminder: David Sedaris Reading is Tomorrow!

Bestselling author David Sedaris will read from his latest book, When You Are Engulfed in Flames, at 7 p.m. on Saturday, June 20 (tomorrow!) at the University Bookstore. He will sign copies of all his titles after the reading. Come early to get a good seat and enjoy music and stand-up comedy beginning at 2:30 p.m. For more information, contact the store at 472-7300.

From what I've heard, the plan is to issue numbers to customers as they arrive and the number will correspond to a seat. I'd suggest getting there early!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Frank Tallis, A Death in Vienna

I just read Frank Tallis's A Death in Vienna, and I really liked it.

Detectives: Max Liebermann (a psychotherapist/doctor) and Oskar Rheinhardt, a police detective

Type of series: The series (there are three books so far, I believe) is set in Vienna in the early 1900s around the time of the birth of psychoanalysis and before World War I. I'd probably characterize it as detailed and gritty historical fiction; the focus is on police procedure and on therapeutic procedure, although the characterization is also quite nicely done.

Sigmund Freud was living in Vienna at this time, and Liebermann talks to him once or twice in A Death in Vienna. Anti-Semitism was alive and well in Vienna as well, and the book hints at the emergence of the nostalgic Germanic groups that would give way, later, to Nazism.

The author: Frank Tallis is, the author description tells me, a "practicing clinical psychologist and an expert on obsessional states." In a "dossier" after the novel, he gives an excellent description of how the tasks of psychoanalysis and detective/police work dovetail. This reminded me of a work I read in graduate school wherein Jacques Lacan (a postFreudian psychoanalyst literary theorists were into at the time) did a similar thing in a reading of Poe's story "The Purloined Letter" (Poe's detective story that features C. Auguste Dupin). I like the arguments that Tallis/Lacan have made and think it is fascinating to consider the links between psychoanalysis (solving problems about the mind/character through clues) and crime fiction.

Oh yes, and a word on the book: A Death in Vienna provides great descriptions of the food, music, architecture, clothing, and manners in upper middle-class (I think) Vienna at the time. It also highlights the struggles that the emerging field of psychoanalysis was causing for the medical profession: this gets played out in an argument in the book on the best way to treat women with hysteria.

The mystery--well, I enjoyed it, but it was less compelling to me than the characters and the descriptions. There are many gorgeous passages about elaborate Austrian pastries; I long to try one of these some day.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Ariana Franklin, Mistress of the Art of Death series

Mistress of the Art of Death
The Serpent's Tale
Grave Goods

Have just read the three books in Ariana Franklin's "Mistress of the Art of Death" series; they are a lot of fun. The series takes place in the early 1100s in England. The main character, Adelia Aguilar, is a medical examiner of sorts--she went to school to learn to do autopsies and to be a medical doctor in Salerno, Italy, where women were seen as the intellectual equals of men. At the behest of Henry Plantagenet (King Henry II), Adelia is sent to England to help solve a murder, and as the series progresses, she ends up working on several cases. She has a companion, an Arab named Mansour, who is a eunuch. She becomes romantically involved with someone else in the course of the series, but I don't want to tell too much here so I won't mention who it is.

What I love about these books:
1. They feature a strong, well-rounded female character with both strengths and flaws. Adelia is passionate, smart, and bad-tempered; she tends to yell a lot and is frequently incensed by the backward habits of the English.
2. Henry II is a very interesting character; the author spends lots of time discussing how various reforms he introduced in England made things better for the common people.
3. The crimes are pretty horrifying and very interesting.
4. The books are feminist in nature--they point out (the many, many, oh god) instances of gender inequity both in the Catholic church and in English society in general in the 1100s. They also portray working class people as human and smart. The specific issues facing women of all classes are highlighted.

1. Henry II is lionized. I get that he was great, but this sometimes verges on hagiography.
2. Social issues arise with a vengeance in the pages of this series and perhaps sometimes feel anachronistic. Tally thus far includes: homophobia, racism, classism, rape.

But the downsides don't bother me a bit, to be honest. I am loving this series. I actually listened to the audiobooks: the first is done by Roslyn Landor; two and three are by Kate Reading. Both women are excellent readers, and the books were a lot of fun to listen to.

In conclusion, congrats to Roger Federer for his win at Roland Garros!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

2008 Independent Publisher of the Year: University of Nebraska Press

From the Independent Publisher of the Year 2008 Awards speech by Victoria Sutherland, Publisher, ForeWord Magazine:
. . . And that’s the reason why we’re here, isn’t it. Because editors and publishers know how to make choices. Of course different editors will make different choices, but there still remains that responsibility for the acquisition, subjective as it may be, and the care of the manuscript. There is monitoring for quality. And ultimately, there is the accumulation of a house’s taste—call it cultural heritage—through backlist.

This is where independent publishers can and do differ from the conglomerates. When an independent chooses to publish an author, it’s because they truly believe that the author’s work contributes to the press’s “cultural heritage.” Independents don’t have the luxury of throwing authors up against walls to see what will stick.

Luxury is probably—is definitely—the wrong word. It isn’t luxury to publish thousands of titles a year, It’s glut. It’s flood. It’s content chaos. It’s what editors and publishers are supposed to prevent.

So, we’d like to honor today a publisher that excelled in its role of keeper of the cultural heritage. A university publisher that has deliberately made a place for itself in the world of trade as the curator of consistently wonderful books in several special markets. This university press not only publishes scholarly work, fine translation, classic reprints, and regional fiction and poetry, but it has made a name for itself in the categories of memoir, combined with history and travel, and in sports.

This publisher fulfills its roles of editor and curator in a way that makes them indispensable in libraries and bookstores. Whomever or whatever they choose to look at, to listen to, to get to the bottom of, is important or beautiful or entertaining, and always, always enduring. At ForeWord, we are always excited to receive a new catalog from them because we’ve discovered over the years that if they’ve chosen to publish a book, then it is surely a contribution to the world library, not just another wet noodle.

Please join us in recognizing the University of Nebraska Press as the 2008 ForeWord Magazine Independent Publisher of the Year.
In addition, The Wide Open: Prose, Poetry, and Photographs of the Prairie, edited by Annick Smith and Susan O'Connor, won the Gold Award in the anthology category; and Good Neighbors, Bad Times: Echoes of My Father's German Village, by Mimi Schwartz, won the Bronze Award in the autobiography and memoir category.

Here's a link to a little local coverage of the award.

Three cheers for UNP!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Catching Up: Three Books I Finished Recently

Three quick reads, all enjoyable. Especially the one by Elinor Lipman, who is new to me (via Laura Lippman).

Picture Perfect by Jodi Picoult
ebook 1-4295-3335-8
iPod Touch, eReader Pro
copyright 1995
As Picture Perfect begins, it is daybreak in downtown L.A. A woman suffering from amnesia is taken in by an officer new to the L.A. police force, after he finds her wandering aimlessly near a graveyard. Days later, when her husband comes to claim her at the police station, no one is more stunned than Cassie Barrett to learn that not only is she a renowned anthropologist, but she is married to Hollywood's leading man, Alex Rivers.

A Date You Can't Refuse by Harley Jane Kozak
ebook 978-0-307-58871-5
iPod Touch, eReader Pro
copyright 2009
Wollie Shelley isn't happy about taking the job as a "social coach" at MediaRex, but the FBI makes her an offer she can't refuse. If she agrees to infiltrate the company, they'll guarantee that her schizophrenic brother will have a home at the federally subsidized halfway house he's come to love.

So Wollie launches into teaching three foreign celebrities how to cope with the customs of Beverly Hills, improve their English, and become Oprah-ready. And when a coyote-chewed corpse appears in the MediaRex compound, Wollie realizes that her colleagues are concealing some serious secrets of their own.

The Dearly Departed by Elinor Lipman
ebook 1-58836-013-x
iPod Touch, eReader Pro
copyright 2001
With her latest work, Elinor Lipman expertly serves up her usual delicious dish of entertainment. When the story opens, the not-so-sunny Sunny Batten has just received news that causes her to be even more morose than usual: her mother, Margaret Batten, has died in a freak accident with Margaret’s alleged fiancĂ©, Miles Finn. Thus Sunny returns to the small New Hampshire town of King George and to the charity bungalow on the edge of the country club’s golf course where Margaret raised Sunny by herself. While at the funeral, Sunny catches her first glimpse of the brash Fletcher Finn, Miles Finn’s son and self-described possessor of “a heart of plutonium.” And who can’t help but notice, as they sit together at the graveside, the resemblance between Sunny and Fletcher, “the flagrant display, wherever one looked, of Miles Finn’s genes” [p. 79]?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

David Sedaris Update 3

This just in:
Bestselling author David Sedaris will read from his latest book, When You Are Engulfed in Flames, at 7 p.m. June 20 at the University Bookstore. He will sign copies of all his titles after the reading. Come early to get a good seat, and enjoy the stand-up comedy of Scott Muilenburg, Cody Hustak, Ryan Cownie, Joe Choi and Christian Stokes. Comedy begins at 2:30 p.m. For more information contact the store at 472-7300.
Link to NYTimes review of When You Are Engulfed in Flames