Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The City of Falling Angels

Author Profile: John Berendt

John Berendt was born in New York in 1939 and graduated from Harvard University in 1961. While at Harvard, he was on the editorial board of the Harvard Lampoon. From 1961 to 1969, he was an associate editor at Esquire and later wrote for David Frost and Dick Cavett. Berendt served as editor of New York magazine from 1977 to 1979 and wrote a monthly column for Esquire from 1982 to 1994. Berendt's first book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, was published in 1994 to great acclaim and was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.

The City of Falling Angels

John Brendt is back with a new city, Venice. It is Berendt and only Berendt who can capture Venice-a city of masks, a city of riddles, where the narrow, meandering passageways form a giant maze, confounding all who have not grown up wandering into its depths. Venice, a city steeped in a thousand years of history, art and architecture, teeters in precarious balance between endurance and decay. Its architectural treasures crumble--foundations shift, marble ornaments fall--even as efforts to preserve them are underway. The City of Falling Angels opens on the evening of January 29, 1996, when a dramatic fire destroys the historic Venice opera house. The loss of the Fenice, where five of Verdi's operas premiered, is a catastrophe for Venetians. Arriving in Venice three days after the fire, Berendt becomes a kind of detective-inquiring into the nature of life in this remarkable museum-city-while gradually revealing the truth about the fire.

In the course of his investigations, Berendt introduces us to a rich cast of characters: a prominent Venetian poet whose shocking "suicide" prompts his skeptical friends to pursue a murder suspect on their own; the first family of American expatriates that loses possession of the family palace after four generations of ownership; an organization of high-society, partygoing Americans who raise money to preserve the art and architecture of Venice, while quarreling in public among themselves, questioning one another's motives and drawing startled Venetians into the fray; a contemporary Venetian surrealist painter and outrageous provocateur; the master glassblower of Venice; and numerous others-stool pigeons, scapegoats, hustlers, sleepwalkers, believers in Martians, the Plant Man, the Rat Man, and Henry James.

More information about this book is available here:
The City of Falling angels.

Previous Works: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

Writing this book John Brendt immidiately earned himself a great success. Chronicling the real-life events surrounding a murder trial in Savannah, Georgia, the book spent 216 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. Never before in the history of publishing has a fiction or non-fiction book spent as much time on The New York Times Bestseller List as Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. A movie version directed by Clint Eastwood appeared in 1997 to mixed acclaim.

Random house reviews this book:
Shots rang out in Savannah's grandest mansion in the misty, early morning hours of May 2, 1981. Was it murder or self-defense? For nearly a decade, the shooting and its aftermath reverberated throughout this hauntingly beautiful city of moss-hung oaks and shaded squares. John Berendt's sharply observed, suspenseful, and witty narrative reads like a thoroughly engrossing novel, and yet it is a work of nonfiction.
You can buy and read more about this book here:
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

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Sunday, November 20, 2005

Best of 2005

Amazon has released their list of Best Books of 2005. There are two categories, Editor's Pick and the customers' favorites. A quick look at these lists and I realized that this year we had some really great books. J. K. Rowling's Little Wizard still making people go crazy. And then we had 'YOU: The owner's Manual', 'The World is Flat: A Brief history of Twenty-first Century',
and 'The Blink'.

We had some great Memoirs, such as A Million Little Pieces and The Year of Magical Thinking. We had Nicole Krauss' debut novel 'The history of love' and her husband Jonathan Safran Foer's 'Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close'.

Remaindered link: Thomas Hayden talks about 'The man who knew too much' and 'The Discoveries'; two books giving new insights into great scientific discoveries and the minds that made them.

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Sunday, November 13, 2005

Anne Rice - Christ the Lord : Out of Egypt

Anne Rice, famous for her vampire sagas now comes up with something different. Your vampire folklore author is now telling the story if seven year old christ.

Publisher's Weekly praised Anne Rice's prose:

Since it is told from Jesus' perspective, the childlike language can be simplistic, though as readers persevere they will discover the riches of the sparse prose Rice adopts. The emotional heart of the story—Jesus' gradual discovery of the miraculous birth his parents have never discussed with him—picks up steam as well, as he begins to understand why he can heal the sick and raise the dead. Rice provides a moving afterword, in which she describes her recent return to the Catholic faith and evaluates, often in an amusingly strident fashion, the state of biblical studies today.

But I like the Melvin Jules Bukiet's detailed review in Washington post:

Nor do the surroundings of this fabulous tale provide any greater reward. At the beginning of the book, Jesus's family leaves a sojourn in Egypt to enter into a tumultuous Judea. King Herod the elder has just died, and the population is stuck between contending Roman soldiers, rebels and pillaging bandits. But this potentially dynamic setting remains inert. Aiming for scrupulousness based on her self-described extensive research, Rice takes no imaginative leaps and refuses to offer any but the scantest of detail. For example, she describes Jerusalem's Holy Temple as "a building so big and so grand and so solid . . . a building stretching to the right and to the left" so that the reader sees effectively nothing. In fact, real research would have provided abundant imagery, from the billowing purple curtains that veiled the Holy of Holies to the zodiac symbols embroidered upon them.

Book: S is for Silence (Kinsey Millhone Mysteries) by Sue Grafton

"S is for silence," is Sue Grafton's latest (upcoming until I write this) book in the alphabate series. This story revolves around a daughter who hires Kinsey Millhone to learn about the fate of her mother who disappeared when she was only three years old.

The Booklist:
Part of the intrigue from this case comes from Grafton's sensitive portrayal of the psychological consequences of neglect. Boldly departing from the conventions of victim fiction, Grafton portrays the daughter as sniveling and annoying as well as desperate. Millhone doesn't have much hope for the case but starts digging (it's fascinating in itself to see how Millhone flounders and flounders until she finds a crack in the case). Grafton juxtaposes flashbacks to 1953, when the mother disappeared, with the current investigation, giving different points of view on the woman. Although she gives us a bit too much of Millhone's eating and living habits (probably in response to fan enthusiasm), this novel also presents strong character portrayals, a mosaic of motives, and a stunning climax.

Author Profile: Sue Grafton

Sue Grafton is a contemporary American author of detective novels. Her most famous works are a chronological series of mystery novels. Known colloquially as "the alphabet novels," or Kinsey Millhone Mysteries. Stories in this series are set in a fictional town of Santa Teresa which is based on the author's primary city of residence Santa Barbara, California. Grafton's first book of this series is "A" is for Alibi, written and set in 1982. The series continues with "B" is for Burglar, "C" is for Corpse, and so on through the alphabet. The timeline of the series is slower than real-time - "Q" is for Quarry, for example, is set in 1987, even though it was written in 2002. Her next book, "S" is for Silence, is due to be published in December 2005.

She has also written some movies for television "Walking Through the Fire" for which she won a Christopher Award, 1979, "Sex and the Single Parent," "Mark, I Love You," and "Nurse." In addition, with her husband Steven Humphrey, she adapted two Agatha Christie novels, "Caribbean Mystery" and "Sparkling Cyanide." You can have a look at all the books published in the Alphabate Series here.

Kinsey Millhone

Kinsey Millhone is the fictional character of a female private investigator in Sue Grafton's 'The alphabate series'. Read Kinsey Millhone Biography to learn more.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Book review: Do As I Say (Not As I Do) : Profiles in Liberal Hypocrisy by Peter Schweizer

Peter Schweizer argues that the popular liberals idealists are not what they pretend that they are. He tries to show the contrast by pointing out the differences between what liberals say and what they really do. Although Schweizer agrees that the same hypocrisy could easily be found among conservatives but then he insists that liberal hypocrisy needs to be investigated by the journalists as much as they investigate the hypocrisy of conservatives.

Publishers Weekly blasts this book:

But many of his charges are egregiously hyperbolic, as when he suggests that Cornel West is a "segregationist" because he bought a home in a largely Caucasian suburb. Schweizer clearly knows the limitations of his argument, since he backpedals from many of his most damning statements in his closing remarks. For all its revelations, in the end, this volume reads less like a critique of liberal philosophy than a catalogue of ammunition for ad hominem bloggers.

An amazon reviewer ' W. Hall' recommends this book:

The quality of investigative research in this book would make even Woodward and Bernstein proud. What's so difficult to understand is how the liberals he profiles have flown under the radar screen for so long. Why have reporters and television journalists not uncovered the explosive findings Schweizer uncovers? The answer, of course, is that reporters don't find what they aren't looking for. And it's sad, honestly, because the level of ideologically driven reporting has further eroded the fourth estate.

While talking to the National review online, Peter Schweizer was asked about the funniest story he learned while compiling the book. He answered:

It has to be one about Michael Moore. In his books Michael Moore goes on and on about the fact that Americans are racist because they live in white neighborhoods. It's an example of latent segregationist attitudes in his mind. When I checked the demographics on Michael Moore's residence I burst out laughing. Michael Moore lives in a town of 2,500 in Michigan. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there is not a single black person in the entire town.

Peter Schweizer is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution. Other books include The Bushes: Portrait of a Dynasty, which the New York Times called "the best" of the books on the Bush family, and Reagan's War: The Epic Story of His Forty-Year Struggle and Final Triumph over Communism.

You can buy this book or other books by Peter Schweizer here.

Friday, November 11, 2005

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

Madeleine L'Engle is best known for her book 'A Wrinkle in Time', which won her Newbery Award. First published in 1962, Bantam Doubleday Dell published an special edition of Madeline's Time Quartlet in 1998 on the occassion of the 35th anniversary of the book. This special addition has A Wrinkle in Time; A Wind in The Door; A Swiftly Tilting Planet; and Many Waters.

L'Engle's best-known works are divided between "chronos" and "kairos"; the former is the framework in which the stories of the Austin family take place, and is presented in a primarily realistic framework, though occasionally with elements that might be regarded as science fiction. The latter is the framework in which the stories of the Murry and O'Keefe families take place, and is presented sometimes in a realistic framework and sometimes in a more fantastic or magical framework. Generally speaking, the more realistic kairos material is found in the O'Keefe stories, which deal with the second generation characters.

The Murry-O'Keefe and Austin families should not be regarded as living in separate worlds, because several characters cross over between them, and historical events are also shared.

A theme often implied and occasionally explicit in L'Engle's works is that what humans call "religion", "science" and "magic" are simply different aspects of a single seamless reality: a similar theme may be discerned in the fiction works of C. S. Lewis or Laurell K. Hamilton. However, it doesn't seem as though L'Engle is trying to solidify or canonize a set philosophy or belief system. The questions that she raises engage the thoughtful reader.

Orrin C. Judd, an amazon user reviewed this special edition. He writes:

...The phenomenal success of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books (see Orrin's review)--the first two are currently both in the Top 10 of most Bestseller Lists--lead me to reread this Children's Classic, which was one of the big favorites of our generation. I must have read it around fifth grade--I imagine most every kid in America reads it at some point--and no one will be surprised to hear, it turns out I wasn't as smart as I thought I was when I was ten. Madeleine L'Engle managed to hoodwink me, but good. I thought this was just a great Science Fiction/Fantasy story, but now I discover that the whole book is a religious allegory.

Meg Murry and her brothers, Charles Wallace and the twins, live with their mother. Their Father has been missing for years, supposedly working on a top secret government project. Meg and Charles Wallace are strange children, noone seems to know quite whether they are idiots or geniuses. In short order they meet Calvin, a tall gangly boy, who also feels like a misfit and three women who have moved into an abandoned house in the neighborhood. The old women, Mrs. Whatsit , Mrs. Which & Mrs. Who, inform the children that Mr. Murry is in dire straits and needs their help. They travel through time and space via wrinkles, called tesseracts, to the planet Camazotz, where Mr. Murry has gone to battle the forces of darkness that are closing sections of the universe in shadow. There they battle the evil being known as IT, a disembodied brain who offers people complete security if they will only give up their freedom and their individuality, as have the inhabitants of Camazotz.

Most of the allegorical stuff is easy enough to see, the children can fight evil by finding The Father. Meg despairs that evil is allowed to exist at all and blames her father, and so on. But I really liked the fact that L'Engle portrays Camazotz (or Hell) as a place where there is complete conformity and security, but no personal freedom. Personally, I believe that Camazotz closely resembles both a Socialist or Communist State and the Garden of Eden. Just as the great struggle of Ms L "Engle's time was the fight for freedom against the security of Socialism/Communism, Man chose to leave the security of a pastoral existence in the Garden and accept the vicissitudes of life without because we prefer freedom.

I highly recommend this book as the perfect gift for children on Thanksgiving day. There are some other recommendations available here.

A Million Little Pieces by James Frey

James Frey, a 23 year old writes about his fight against drugs and alcohol addiction. Many critics lauded the book as 'war and peace' of addiction. Featured in Oprah's Book Club, this highly sentimental and powerful memoir creates a long lasting impression on the reader's mind.

One of the more harrowing sections is when Frey submits to major dental surgery without the benefit of anesthesia or painkillers (he fights the mind-blowing waves of "bayonet" pain by digging his fingers into two old tennis balls until his nails crack). His fellow patients include a damaged crack addict with whom Frey wades into an ill-fated relationship, a federal judge, a former championship boxer, and a mobster (who, upon his release, throws a hilarious surf-and-turf bacchanal, complete with pay-per-view boxing). In the book's epilogue, when Frey ticks off a terse update on everyone, you can almost hear the Jim Carroll Band's brutal survivor's lament "People Who Died" kicking in on the soundtrack of the inevitable film adaptation.

An Amazon.com reviewer "hllib" writes:
This is a worthwhile read. But it's not the War and Peace of addiction, as it says on the back cover

Also by James Frey:
My Friend Leonard, On this page you will also find James Frey answering amazon.com's significant seven series of questions.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

Author of Slouching Towards Bethlehem, regular contributor to the New York Review of Books and the New Yorker, Joan Didion (Wikipedia: Joan Didion), comes up with a powerful collection of personal essays. The Year of Magical Thinking is the year after the death of the author's husband, John Gregory Dunne (Wikipedia: John Gregory Dunne), with whom she shared more than 40 years of her married life.

From The Washington Post's Book World:

Out of excruciatingly painful personal experience, Joan Didion has written a lacerating yet peculiarly stirring book "about death, about illness, about probability and luck, about good fortune and bad, about marriage and children and memory, about grief, about the ways in which people do and do not deal with the fact that life ends, about the shallowness of sanity, about life itself." In December 2003 two terrible things happened: her only child, Quintana, married months earlier, was hospitalized in a coma, and five days later her husband, John Gregory Dunne, died "in the living room of our apartment in New York [after] a sudden massive coronary event" just as he and Didion were about to have dinner. For more than a year, Didion's life was completely taken over by these events; The Year of Magical Thinking is the story of that year.

Mourning Becomes Joan Didion

Knife of Dreams by Robert Jordan

Eleventh and probably the second last book in Robert Jordan's (Wikipedia: Robert Jordan) Wheel of Time series has arrived in the market. The previous book in the series 'Crossroads of Twilight' disappointed many. Fans of Robert Jordan expected more action but Robert Jordan has decreased the pace significantly since the seventh book in the series. If you haven't read the series from the beginning it is time for you to start reading. But since these books are HUGE you can skip some of them by reading summaries at wotmania.