Fabulous Fiction Firsts (Booklist's)

The 2005 Top 10 First Novels selected by the editors of Booklist.

Dear Zoe by Philip Beard

It's All Right Now by Charles Chadwick

A Long Stay in a Distant Land by Chieh Chieng

26a by Diana Evans

Beasts of No Nation by Uzodinma Iweala

The Bad Mother's Handbook by Kate Long

The Missing Person by Alix Ohlin

In the Province of Saints by Thomas O'Malley

First Love by Adrienne Sharp

Islands by Dan Sleigh

Hale County, Alabama, Revisited

Almost 70 years after James Agee and Walker Evans immortalized three white sharecropper families of rural Alabama in Let us now praise famous men, Hale County is again in the news.

It seems like folks have been flocking to this remote and impoverished area of western Alabama to check out the 40-odd modest dwellings for the poorest of the poor, built with soda bottles, car tires, hay bales and Chevrolet windshields. The architects are Auburn University students, working under the Rural Studio program founded by Samuel Mockbee. Proceed and be bold : Rural Studio after Samuel Mockbee chronicles the Studio's recent successes after Mockbee's death in 2001.

Rona Jaffe, 1931-2005

Rona Jaffe

Before there was Bridget Jones, decades before Chicklit entered our lexicon, Rona Jaffe blazed the litery way to modern urban females mixing professional ambitions with romantic shenanigans.

Ms. Jaffe, who died December 30, 2005, while on vacation in London, wrote of what she knew. A Radcliffe graduate at 19, she was approached six years later by Hollywood to write a movie tie-in reverse. Her instructions: write a "guilty plesaure" book to rival Kitty Foyle: The Natural History of a Woman, a Ginger Rogers blockbuster for which Rogers won an Oscar in 1941. Jaffe promptly penned The Best of Everything (1958 -- will be ordered January 15, 2006) and, within six months, she was at the top of the New Times Bestseller, list. The movie came out in 1959, starring Hope Lange, Joan Crawford, and Diane Baker.

Under the Persimmon Tree, a novel about Afghanistan

Najma has lost her mother and infant brother in a bombing raid over her small village during the Afghan war in 2001. After fleeing a refugee camp, Najma makes her way disguised as a boy to Peshawar, hoping to find her father and older brother who were taken by the Taliban. Under the Persimmon Tree by Suzanne Fisher Staples is the story of her journey and in alternating chapters, follows a young American woman, Nusrat, who has married a doctor from Afghanistan and converted to Islam. Her husband is away, treating the war wounded and she fears for his life.

Does hip hop matter?

Confession: When I was about sixteen, I was talking on the phone with someone who was older, "wiser", and definitely more hip than myself. When he asked me if I had a "The Source." I naively responded, quite enthusiastically, that I did. Too bad I thought he said thesaurus and that I had no idea that he was, in fact, talking about a hip hop magazine.

Had Hip Hop Matters been around then and had I browsed it, I would have saved myself the humiliation.

Hip Hop Matters seeks to answer the question of why hip hop matters. The author, S. Craig Watkins is not afraid to delve into the many issues that surround this art form. He explores and complicates the notions of profit versus politics, responsibility, authenticity, identity, economics, bombast, style, credibility, ownership, misogyny, fidelity and much more. This is a far-reaching study about the implications of hip hop with respect to popular culture, politics and beyond.

Some Favorite Series

It’s always fun to discover a new series, or an old one, and settle down to hours of good reading. Here are a few of my favorites, with a slight prejudice for fantasy. The Bagthorpe Saga by Helen Cresswell is a very funny series about a very eccentric British family, sort of an Arrested Development for kids. Jack is the hero who has to put up with the outrageous antics of a demented aunt, a contentious grandmother and a totally self-centered father. Sound familiar? Tales of Gom in the Legends of Ulm by Grace Chetwin is full of mountain lore, wizardry and adventure. After his mother disappears, Gom must solve the mystery of a strange rune that she has left him. Subsequent adventures lead Gom to his mother and to the discovery of his power. The DarkAngel Trilogy by Meredith Ann Pierce begins when Aeriel sets out to destroy the vampire Irrylath, but chooses to love him instead. Her quest is to break the spell of the witch who has enchanted him. My all-time favorite is The Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper. When Will Stanton, age 11, discovers he is the last of the Old Ones, he and his siblings must uncover the items necessary to vanquish the rising forces of the Dark. This series is a wonderful read-aloud. Two of the five of this series are Newbery winners.

The Play Ground

How time flies. Mozart would have been 250 years old this coming January. Remember that movie Amadeus?-he would have been only 228 then. The Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra is celebrating this important milestone with MOZART'S 250TH BIRTHDAY BASH. Saturday, January 21, 8pm at the Michigan Theater. Roll over Beethoven and tell Tchaikovsky the news.

Not the End of the World

“Tff.Tff. Single drops of rain raised little divots of dust, as though invisible feet were running over the dirt…..it had begun.”

Everyone knows the story. How it rained for forty days and forty nights. How Noah collected two of each animal and forbade anyone but his family on the Ark.

But Geraldine McCaughrean’s book, Not the End of the World, tells another story. It’s the story of Shem who cares only for the glory of his lineage and of Japheth whose only concern is the animals. At the center of the story is Timna, Noah’s daughter, who tells us how she rescues a boy and his baby sister from the flood and hides them from her father. The animals, too, have a voice. The terrified rabbit, the defiant raven, and the predatory lion all have their say. Frightened, hungry and desperate human and animal struggle to survive. But in the end it is Noah’s wife who questions her husband’s reasoning, defies him and saves her daughter. Not the End of the World won the British Whitbread Children’s Award for 2004. Well deserved, I’d say.

Luke Goes to Bat by Rachel Isadora

Luke wants to play stickball with his older brother Nicky. He gets his chance and fails. After he is taken to a Dogders game to see his favorite player, Jackie Robinson, he learns the lesson of hard work and determination. Set in Brooklyn, New York, in the 1950's, Rachel Isadora offers a touching tribute to one of America's best baseball players.

Poet Pattieann Rogers wins the 2005 Lannan Literary Award for Poetry

Pattiann Rogers

Pattiann Rogers, one of America's best modern poets, was awarded the prestigious Lannan Literary Award for Poetry for 2005. The Lannan Literary Awards and Fellowships were established in 1989 "to honor both established and emerging writers whose work is of exceptional quality."

In awarding Rogers the $125,00 purse, the Lannan Foundation said of her writing: "Roger's wise and complex poems read like a series of witty but deeply felt explorations of the phusical world and the presence of the divine." Among her twelve volumes of poetry are: Generations (2004), Song of the World Becoming: New and Collected Poems, 1981-2001 (c2001), and The Expectations of Light (c1981).

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