Monday, March 29, 2010

2010 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction

Congratulations to Seattle author Sherman Alexie, the winner of the 2010 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. The announcement was made on March 23rd and honors Alexie for War Dances, a book of 23 stories, essays, and poems that examines themes of love, the hazards of love and betrayal, as well as Indian stereotypes, race relations and the corrupting nature of success. Also honored were finalists The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver, Homicide Survivors Picnic and Other Stories by Lorraine M. Lopez, A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore, and Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead.

The PEN/Faulkner Award is America's largest peer-juried prize for fiction in the United States. It was founded in 1980 by National Book Award winner Mary Lee Settle. Her goal was to establish a national prize that would recognize literary fiction of excellence, an award juried by writers for writers, free of commercial concerns. The prize was named for William Faulkner, who used his Nobel Prize funds to establish an award for younger writers, and PEN, the international writers’ organization.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Broken Teaglass

The Broken Teaglass by Emily Arsenault says it is a novel but it is really a mystery. What happens when co-workers find coded clues that makes them think that something is amiss in their quiet workplace? The workplace in question happens to be a dictionary publisher and the clues are words. Is this just a puzzle? Is this just a workplace prank? There are several eccentric people who work here. Is it one of them? And what happens when the slip of paper says murder?

This slowly moving story combines a love of words, a deadly puzzle and a recovery/coming of age story all in one. The author draws you in and involves the reader in the discussion about words (how they change, develop and grow) and the lives of the lexicographers who are working on the changes to the new edition. And was there really a murder?

It is a very interesting first work by a new author. It will be intriguing to see what she writes next. A book for the word lover.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Alex Chilton RIP

Very sad news from the Memphis Commercial Appeal that legendary singer, songwriter and musician--whose music with Big Star and the Box Tops left an incalculable mark on rock music--died yesterday at the age of 59. Sadder still that Chilton was in New Orleans and scheduled to perform with a reunited Big Star at the year's SXSW festival in Austin, Texas. I wrote about the Big Star box set Keep An Eye On The Sky in an earlier blog post last year. If you still haven't checked out Chilton's music I'd urge you (again) to do so. There's a bunch of great music clips posted at Pitchfork Magazine today. I know I'll go home today, open the windows to some beautiful spring weather, and blast a little Big Star.

Thank You, Alex. RIP. "I loved you, well, never mind. I've been crying, all the time."

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Each year as we anticipate spring, our thoughts turn to gardens. We have the Chicago Botanical Gardens to visit and enjoy. Visiting gardens promises a return to a state of wonderment with freedom to explore and discover. Most gardens also promise tranquility and peace.

Our Library has numerous garden books including specialty gardening. Here are three books on specific kinds of gardens:

Creating a Garden of the Senses by Jenny Hendy
This special book was written for the gardener who wants to create a sensory paradise. Ms. Hendy shares ways to use fragrance, touch, sound, taste and visual drama in your garden. She includes 250 exquisite photographs of flowers, gardens and water features.

Delia's Kitchen Garden by Delia Smith and Gay Search
In the beginning there are basic chores to do before planting vegetables: preparing your soil, starting a compost pile. Then there are tips on sowing seeds indoors and outdoors. The two authors take us through the year of the life of a kitchen gardener. Seasonal recipes are included.

Shade by Keith Wiley
Even though every garden has some shade, many are heavily shaded. Keith Wiley, an award-winning garden expert presents shade gardening in a positive light. He recommends using wild woodland plants from around the world to create colorful gardens in shaded areas.

Here are two fascinating books of fiction; one about a gardener for royal gardens in 17th century England and the other about tulip fever in the 1630's in Amsterdam.

Earthly Joys by Philippa Gregory
John Tradescant's fame and skill as a gardener are unsurpassed in 17th century England. He is also a valued servant for Sir Robert Cecil, adviser to King James the 1st. He witnesses the making of history from the Gunpowder Plot to the accession of Charles the 1st.

Tulip Fever by Deborah Moggach
In 17th century Amsterdam, the populace is intrigued with the newly discovered exotic tulip. Wealthy merchant, Cornelis Sandvoort, has one love, his beautiful and young wife, Sophia. As he yearns for an heir, he commissions a portrait of the couple by a talented young painter, Jan Van Loos. As the portrait grows on canvas, a love grows between Sophia and Jan. Events move toward a climax, bringing to life a world of art, beauty, lust, greed, deception and tulips.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Her Royal Spyness

Lady Georgiana has some problems. She wants to do something with herself instead of mope around the family's cold Scottish estates. But they have no money and she decides to earn some. It's better than waiting around to be married or being a companion to a great aunt in the middle of nowhere. She's not in great demand - she's only 34th in line for the throne and there's a depression on!

So she goes to stay in the London house (for free!) and get a job. The problem is she doesn't know how to cook, set a fire in the fireplace, or take care of herself. She's a bit naive but willing to learn. After getting fired from Harrod's, she starts a business of being a maid who will "open your London house" for you. With the help of her non-royal grandfather, and her best friend Brenda, she is starting to make it on her own.

But her brother Binky gets accused of murder, and then her cousin the Queen wants her to keep an eye on her cousin David, the Prince of Wales. Hmmm. What's a lady to do?

In Her Royal Spyness, Georgie learns to make her way in the world - she's not stupid - just rather sheltered - and discovers that good manners can get you far. And then someone gets murdered in the house. and he turns out to be a blackmailer. She just has to clear Binky of the charges!

Rhys Bowen has another great series on her hands. Lots of fun and froth. And a bit more information on what was really going on behind the scenes of royalty in the 1930's. Great fun, and I am eagerly awaiting the next one.

Others in the series:

A Royal Pain (2008) Georgie keeps us her cleaning business and the Queen decides to have a foreign princess stay with her. Thank goodness the princess seems to like "Bubble and Squeak".

Royal Flush (2009) After Georgie makes a big mistake by putting the word "escort" in a ad, she gets sent back home to Scotland to with orders to keep an eye on a certain Mrs. Simpson. But it seems someone is injuring royals, even lesser ones!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Crazy Heart: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

This edition features 16 songs, from various country artists, including all the original songs preformed in the Oscar nominated film of the same title starring Jeff Bridges. I was amazed at how good Jeff Bridges and Colin Farrell sounded together when signing “Fallin’ & Flyin”. Who knew Jeff Bridges could sing? After watching the movie credits and really enjoying the music both old and new from the motion picture Crazy Heart. Anyone who appreciates genuine country music will enjoy this soundtrack. The theme song “Weary Heart” by Ryan Bingham is beautiful; vocals and guitar are so soothing.

Oscar nominated for “Best Song”, T Bone Burnett, 10-time Grammy Award winner, who co-produced the soundtrack along with guitarist/songwriter Stephen Bruton(who died after a long bout with cancer in 2009) seems to create collections of songs that compliment the film.

Real country music along with great lyrics and the array of talented artist make this a must listen to CD. Although Jeff Bridges (Bad Blake) sings many of the songs, he is joined by such great talents like Buck Owens, The Louvin Brothers and who can forget Waylon Jennings just to name a few.

Monday, March 8, 2010

P. D. James and the Golden Age of Detective Fiction

The Golden Age of Detective Fiction is loosely considered to be the twenties and thirties. Many of these authors are British: Agatha Christie (of course), Michael Innes, Philip MacDonald, Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy L. Sayers and Josephine Tey are some prime examples. These authors can be found in Glenview’s collection. They are often reprinted with new covers and introductions by contemporary authors who reflect on the strengths and influence on those writing today. Also, release of a movie or Masterpiece Theatre drama will encourage many to read the book that inspired it.

These novels had certain rules and expectations. According to rules stated by Ronald Knox in the preface to Best Detective Stories 1928-29, which he edited, there must be a mystery presented early on and it must be clearly solved by the end. A lack of political correctness was evident in the rule that “no Chinaman must figure in the story”. Ms. James posits that this could be a reference to Dr. Fu Manchu, the oriental genius of crime created by Sax Rohmer. The doctor’s evil pursuits contributed to a racial prejudice and fear of “The Yellow Peril”. The detective must not commit the crime and twin brothers and doubles cannot appear unless the reader is prepared for them; not more than one secret passage must appear and the criminal must appear early in the story.

In her recently published Talking About Detective Fiction, P. D. James has written both an authoritative and loving portrait of the important writers who have shaped the detective novel. It is a wonderful introduction to those who want to read these classics and know more about the authors who produced them. P. D. James shows such respect for her fellow writers, knows their work so well and is quite modest about her own work. She also reflects on the growing international popularity of this genre. There are few writers better suited to educate those wanting to know more about this aspect of the mystery novel. This is an enjoyable reading experience.


Monday, March 1, 2010

Erin Go Bragh and Viva Italia!!!

Erin Go Bragh and Viva Italia!!!

As I think about what to feature this entry, I think about current events and what have I been reading. I just finished reading Sometimes I Dream in Italian by Rita Ciresi, but St. Patrick’s Day is around the corner so I also ponder something Irish. But, why can’t I do both? Because I am of both Italian and Irish decent I often feel the need to address both sides of my heritage. Lucky for me St. Joseph’s Day (you may know the Italian feast day for the popular pastry called Zeppole) falls two days after St. Patrick’s Day. So after the corned beef sandwich, head out to any Italian bakery on March 19th for your Zeppole.

Here is a short list of some titles and a few films that I have enjoyed with either an Irish or Italian element in no particular order.

ItalianSometimes I Dream in Italian by Rita Ciresi (Some of the characters in this book could have been my own relatives.)

Gringa Latina: A Woman of Two Worlds by Gabriella De Ferrari. (I read this book years ago, but I enjoyed it not only for the Italian element but the South American as well. I also love all things Spanish.)

Cíao America by Beppe Severgnini (Funny and insightful, Beppe comments on Americans after a year long stay through the eyes of an Italian)
Also by Severgnini La Bella Figura : A Field Guide to the Italian Mind
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. (This is the book I have been wanting to read for years, by the very famous Italian author.)

All time favorite Italian films, Cinema Paradiso and Il Postino
IrishRound Ireland with a Fridge by Tony Hawks (This book is hilarious and reminded me why I love being Irish.)

Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt (Also a motion picture, this beautifully crafted work reminded me of my grandparents who grew up in Ireland and had no choice but to leave their homeland. I might even put this book in my top ten list.)

Rosewater and Soda Bread by Marsha Mehran
(Well I love soda bread and since I love all things foreign, this book depicts three lovely Iranian sisters' experience while living in Ireland.)

After Rain by William Trevor (A collection of short stories, chosen by the editors of The New York Times Book Review as one of the eight best books of 1996. This is the book I plan on reading next.)

All time favorite Irish movie Waking Ned Devine.