Wish I Could Be There

Tales from the Reading Room have a review of Allen Shawn’s memoir Wish I Could Be There. Allen’s book explores how his agoraphobia has shaped his life and career as a pianist and composer. This is a fantastic review of Shawn’s book and makes a strong argument for why you should read it.

Tales from the Reading Room

wish i could be thereThe feeling of panic that overwhelms the sufferer of a phobia must be one of the most unpleasant feelings that we are routinely forced to endure. I think that being set upon from behind and strangled must be akin to it – the increasingly laboured fight for breath while the heart hammers in terror, digestion deliquesces, vision dims and dizzies, sound is cut off and comes from far away. But worst of all, the urge to turn and run, fuelled as if by the energy of a nuclear explosion, has to be ignored. The phobic must sit and smile and try and look normal, while inside chaos rages, the Titanic sinks, great earthquakes rent the foundations of the self. Oh yes, I speak from personal experience.

Which is why I had to get hold of Allen Shawn’s amazing memoir, Wish I Could Be There, as soon as I heard…

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Libraryreads.org’s Top Ten Books for November 2014

Libraryreads.org has named their Top Ten books for November.  These books are picked by librarians across the country.

David Nicholls, Us (Harper)

Sarah MacLean, Rule of Scoundrels #4: Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover: The Fourth Rule of Scoundrels (Avon)

Marilyn Johnson, Lives in Ruins: Archaeologists and the Seductive Lure of Human Rubble (Harper)

Michael Connelly, The Burning Room (Harry Bosch Novel) (Little, Brown and Company)

Robin LaFevers, His Fair Assassin Trilogy #3: Mortal Heart (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books)

Jojo Moyes, The Shop of Brides: A Novel (Penguin)

Bradford Morrow, The Forgers (Mysterious Press)

Ed. Leslie S. Klinger and Laurie R. King, In the Company of Sherlock Holmes: Stories Inspired by the Holmes Canon (Pegasus)

Stephanie Barron, Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas: Being a Jane Austen Mystery (Being a Jane Austen Mysteries) (Soho Crime)

Lydia Millet, Mermaids in Paradise (W.W. Norton & Company)



Two Brief Reviews: China Dolls and Owen’s Daughter

Victoria Best has reviews of two books, Lisa See’s China Dolls and Jo-Ann Mapson’s Owen’s Daughter, at her blog Tales from the Reading Room. Best found both of the books to be interesting and engrossing. Check out her reviews.

Tales from the Reading Room

ChinaDollsI was very curious to read Lisa See, having seen her previous books travel around the blog world to mixed, but mostly positive reviews. China Dolls focuses on the situation for Oriental immigrants in America around the Second World War, and in particular the life of dancers and entertainers. Starting in 1938 in San Francisco, three young women come together in friendship as they try to make a living, and a life, for themselves. Grace is American-born Chinese, running from an abusive father. Helen comes from a large, traditional family in Chinatown and Ruby, as no one knows at first, is actually Japanese but hiding it. The Oriental nightclub, Forbidden City, is holding auditions for showgirls and over the course of these, the girls get to know one another and bond, though the friendship they share will always be shot through with rivalries and tensions, caused by the competitiveness of…

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The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber

A Little Blog of Books has a review of Michel Faber’s anticipated new book The Book of Strange New Things. This genre crossing book combines science fiction and biblical elements to tell a story about a pastor ministering to inhabitants of another planet. Check out Little Blog of Books new review.

A Little Blog of Books

The Book of Strange New ThingsI was lucky enough to receive an advance review copy of Michel Faber’s new novel ‘The Book of Strange New Things’ which is due to be published in the UK this month. It tells the story of Peter Leigh, a Christian minister who is chosen by a mysterious corporation called USIC to embark on an out-of-this-world mission to a planet called Oasis in a far-away galaxy. Expecting a hostile reception from the native population, Peter is surprised to find the Oasans are keen to learn from the Bible which they refer to as The Book of Strange New Things and discovers that he isn’t the first pastor to visit them. However, Peter’s pregnant wife, Bea, is struggling to survive as various apocalyptic events unfold back on Earth which is putting a strain on their extremely long-distance relationship.

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Reading Jane Austen with Vladimir Nabokov

How did Nabokov read Jane Austin? Janine Barchas has a fascinating post at the JHU Press Blog about how Vladimir Nabokov both read and taught Jane Austin to his students. Barchas closely read Nabokov’s lectures and examined his “battered and marked-up teaching copy” of Austin’s Mansfield Park. Nabokov’s notations demonstrated that Nabokov not only closely read Austin’s book, but demonstrate that sought to completely understand the world that Austin had created. We all should take Barchas’s advice and read more like Nabokov.

Jane Barchas’s is the author of Matters of Fact in Jane Austen: History, Location, and Celebrity

Johns Hopkins University Press Blog

Guest post by Janine Barchas

Great writers are great readers. And nothing dials up the magnification on a book like the green-eyed gaze of a fellow author.

In 2014, many Jane Austen fans have been rereading what is arguably her darkest and most difficult novel in celebration of Mansfield Park’s bicentenary. One unique copy of that novel, formerly owned by Russian-born American novelist Vladimir Nabokov (1899–1977), enables the rereading of one great novelist over the shoulder of another.

nabokov 1

During the 1940s and 1950s, Nabokov taught at Wellesley and Cornell. He lectured there on fiction, placing Austen on his syllabus alongside Flaubert, Dickens, Proust, Kafka, and Joyce. The Austen novel he chose to teach was, ambitiously, Mansfield Park. Nabokov’s battered and marked-up teaching copy (an Everyman’s Library reprint from 1948) currently resides in the New York Public Library as part of the Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection…

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The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

A Little Blog of Books has a review of one the Kirkus Prize Finalists for Fiction, The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters.

A Little Blog of Books

The Paying GuestsI feel very spoilt having two of my favourite authors publish new books this summer. First, ‘Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage‘ by Haruki Murakami and now ‘The Paying Guests’ by Sarah Waters. Set in London shortly after the First World War, unmarried Frances Wray and her widowed mother have fallen on hard times and are forced to rent out rooms at their home in Camberwell. Frances becomes increasingly close to their young and modern “paying guests”, Leonard and Lilian Barbour. However, her relationship with Lilian soon triggers an unexpected and violent chain of events.

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Ranking Haruki Murakami’s Books

Haruki Murakami’s new book Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage  was recently released to wide acclaim.  Murakami is not only recognized as one of the greatest writers of his generation, but also one of the most unique.  To the dismay of Japanese literary critics, Murakami has been strongly influenced by several Western writers including Raymond Carver, J.D. Salinger, Franz Kafka, and Kurt Vonnegut.  Despite his Western influences, Murakami’s books are still strongly influenced by his Japanese heritage.  Matthew Carl Strecher argues that while Murakami is a Japanese author, “he is also a global one” whose works should be seen as “as examinations of questions that concern all humanity.”

Ranking Murakami’s books is a foolhardy task.  Even the worst Murakami book (if there is such a thing) is better than most authors’ best book.  In other words, it is almost impossible to go wrong when you pick up one of his books.

Here’s our rankings:

 1.  A Wild Sheep Chase

 2.  Norwegian Wood (Vintage International)

 3.  After the Quake: Stories

 4.  The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

 5.  Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World

 6.  Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman (Vintage International)

 7.  1Q84

 8.  Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

 9.  Kafka on the Shore

 10.  Hear the Wind Sing

 11.  Pinball, 1973

 12.  Dance Dance Dance

 13.  What I Talk about When I Talk about Running

 14.  After Dark (Vintage International)

 15.  South of the Border, West of the Sun: A Novel

 16.  The Elephant Vanishes: Stories

 17.  Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche

Here’s the link to the Publishers Weekly Rankings of Murakami’s books by Matthew Carl Strecher who has written several books on Murakami, Dances with Sheep: The Quest for Identity in the Fiction of Haruki Murakami, Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: A Reader’s Guide, and the upcoming The Forbidden Worlds of Haruki Murakami. Slate also has an article where they recommend the five Murakami books you should read first.

The Lives of Others by Neel Mukherjee

A Little Blog of Books and Other Stuff has a review of Neel Mukherjee’s book The Lives of Others which was shortlisted for this year’s Man Booker Prize. The Little Blog describes the book as “an ambitious and richly detailed family saga” of three generations of Indian family in 1967 Calcutta. The Little Blog states that the book “deserves it place” on the Booker shortlist. Check out The Little Blog’s review.

A Little Blog of Books

The Lives of OthersShortlisted for this year’s Man Booker Prize, ‘The Lives of Others’ by Neel Mukherjee tells the story of twenty-one year old Supratik Ghosh who has left his comfortable family home in Calcutta/Kolkata to join the Communist Party of India. Set primarily in 1967, the story alternates between Supratik’s new life as a Naxalite activist and guerilla fighter working in the rice fields of West Bengal and the everyday lives of the relatives he has left behind. 

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Behind the Covers: “No-No Boy”

The University of Washington press recently republished John Okada’s classic novel No-No Boy. In the story, the protagonist, Ichiro Yamada is interned with his family during World War II. When he filled out “a compulsory government questionnaire as to whether he would serve in the armed forces and swear loyalty” he answered no to each of these questions. After answering no, no Yamada was imprisoned for two years. The story follows Yamada after the war as he tries to negotiate his life as a no-no boy. Originally published 1956, the University of Washington is re-introducing this book to American readers. Take a look the post from the University of Washington Press blog to understand why they have re-published this classic work.

University of Washington Press Blog

NoNo-OkadaJohn Okada‘s classic novel, No-No Boy, tells the story of Ichiro Yamada, a fictional version of a real-life “no-no boy.” During World War II, Yamada answered “no” twice in a compulsory government questionnaire as to whether he would serve in the armed forces and swear loyalty to the United States. Unwilling to pledge himself to the country that interned him and his family, Ichiro earned two years in prison and the hostility of his family and community when he returns home to Seattle. As Ruth Ozeki writes in her introduction to the new edition of the book, Ichiro’s “obsessive, tormented” voice subverts Japanese postwar “model-minority” stereotypes, showing a fractured community and one man’s “threnody of guilt, rage, and blame as he tries to negotiate his reentry into a shattered world.”

First published in 1956, No-No Boy was virtually ignored by a public eager to put World War II and…

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The Man Booker Prize for 2014 Shortlist

On September 9th, the Man Booker Prizes announced their shortlist this years award.

The Nominees include American authors for the very first time.  This year’s nominees are:

Joshua Ferris (US), To Rise Again at a Decent Hour (Viking)

Richard Flanagan (Australian), The Narrow Road to the Deep North (Chatto & Windus)

Karen Joy Fowler (US), We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (Serpent’s Tail)

Howard Jacobson (British), J (Jonathan Cape)

Neel Mukherjee (British), Lives of Others (Chatto & Windus)

How to be Both

Ali Smith (British), How To Be Both (Hamish Hamilton)


The Man Booker Prize Shortlist