Displaying articles for: May 2012

Naomi Benaron Picks Four Favorites

Naomi Benaron, author of the Spring 2012 Discover Great New Writers selection Running the Rift, selects four great reads, including a collection of poetry that evokes the lost world of provincial Portugal.



Do you recall the tagline from the very first Superman movie? "You'll believe a man can fly!" Well, I'm tempted to craft such a hyperbolic assertion for China Miéville's off-the-wall yet utterly convincing new "all-ages" novel, Railsea. Something along these lines: "You'll believe a mole can terrify!" Or perhaps "You'll believe in the majesty of mole hunts!" But of course such silly quips impute a kind of Monty Python-style vibe to the book, and nothing could be further from the truth. This coming-of-age questing tale is completely engrossing, not parodic, and, in its own genius-skewed way, totally naturalistic.


Leonard Cohen Live

"Rock and roll," says Robert Christgau,  "has produced a surprising bounty of old men with something to say. Leonard Cohen fits this paradigm, with two significant differences. The first is that he's rock and roll only by association. He's really a Gallic chansonnier, in it for the lyrics rather than the liberating musical intensity even Dylan has made a vocation. The second is that he was always old -- older than Elvis and also more sophisticated, the kind of artist you'd look up to at 24 only to find yourself surprisingly, alarmingly entering his age group four decades later."


Death Sentences

The science-fictional motif of lethal, infectious information -- bad memes -- is a fascinating one, with an extended history. One of the earliest instances is Robert W. Chambers's The King in Yellow from 1895. Chambers's conceit is a malevolent play: read beyond Act II, and you go mad. And of course, Chambers certainly influenced Lovecraft and his sanity-destroying Necronomicon. Now, thanks to the good offices of Minnesota Press, aided by the excellent translating prowess of Thomas Lamarre and Kazuko Y. Behrens, English-language readers get to fill in a missing link in this fascinating lineage, with Kawamata Chiaki's Death Sentences, a fine novel from 1984 that extends the riff to the realm of surrealist poetry.


Sendak in the Library

A few years ago, Maurice Sendak gave a talk at the Harvard Library where I worked. Having recently assisted on the editorial periphery of one of his projects -- a klezmer version of Peter and the Wolf he undertook with my brother-in-law's band -- I was tapped to squire him through the Printing & Graphic Arts department to view a selection of books illustrated by a hero of his, the nineteenth-century artist Randolph Caldecott.


"Begin with a Question.": A Conversation with Shehan Karunatilaka

Sir Lankan sportswriter W.G. Kaunsena is dying; his doctor has told him that he must quit drinking, but books and booze have kept W. G. alive -- albeit alienated from his wife and son (though he loves them both), and slightly deluded about work and the world around him. Madcap, yet trenchant – with emotional echoes of Joseph O'Neill's Netherland and Frederick Exley's  A Fan’s Notes -- Summer 2012 Discover pick The Legend of Pradeep Mathew is as much about family, country, and identity as it is about cricket.


Artists' Postcards

Sometimes magnificent visual art takes root in the humblest of soils. Advertisements painted on old barns, tattoos, fruit crate labels, hot rod embellishments -- all these media and many other non-galleried forms have hosted and fostered esthetic delights that satisfy any rigorous definition of art. In Jeremy Cooper's expansive, eye-popping new history of the humble postcard in the hands of artists, we see that this small pasteboard canvas has played its own large role in the history of twentieth-century art.


July 24: On this day in 1725 John Newton, the slave trader-preacher who wrote the hymn "Amazing Grace," was born.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Paradise and Elsewhere

Canadian short story marvel Kathy Page emerges as the Alice Munro of the supernatural from these heartfelt tales of shapeshifting swimmers, mild-mannered cannibals, and personality-shifting viruses transmitted through kisses.


When a persuasive pastor arrives in a sleepy farm town, his sage influence has otherworldly results (talking sheep, a mayor who walks on water). But can he pull off the miracle of finding kindly local Liz Denny the love of her life?  Small wonder looms large in this charmer from Andre Alexis.

The Hundred-Year House

When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).