Jack London: A Man for All Seasons

In honor of Banned Book Week (September 26−October 3) I present to you, Jack London. I was surprised to learn that The Call of the Wild (1903) was banned in Italy and Yugoslavia in 1929 for being “too radical” – although the banning of the book may have had more to do with the fact that London was a well known socialist, rather than the story itself - which is about a sled dog named Buck during the Klondike Goldrush. However, regardless of his political leanings, it was The Call of the Wild which brought the charismatic author the most success and fame.

So, if you haven’t read The Call of the Wild, To Build a Fire, or White Fang since childhood, maybe it’s time for another look. I also recommend Martin Eden – London's semi-autobiographical novel about a young working class sailor in California struggling to become a respected writer against all odds. Want to learn more about Jack London? Check out some of these biographies available. Also, you may want to take a peek at The Jack London Online Collection – a fantastic resource. Most of his writings are available on the site, as well a photo archive, research aids and much, much more.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #179

Swedish short-story writer Ninni Holmqvist has created a debut novel of "humor, sorrow, and rage about love, the close bonds of friendship, and about a cynical, utilitarian way of thinking disguised as care."

The Unit* is set at the Second Reserve Bank for Biological Material, where men and women of a certain age without families or indispensable jobs are sent to participate in medical experiments and donate organs to more essential members of society.

50 year-old Dorrit Weger finds "The Unit" a pleasant, clean, lovely place, where friendship is easy and the experiment harmless. But soon, she begins to notice other campers faring less well. When her roommates are being ushered off one by one to their final donations, she panics. An unlikely development as a result of an expected alliance forces Dorrit to confront choice.

For Orwell and Huxley fans and those who enjoyed Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale and Kauzo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go.

* = starred review

Simon's Cat

If you are a cat lover check out the hilarious wordless comic strip collection called Simon's Cat by Simon Tofield. Tofield, a British animator, started with animated shorts of the same name, available for free on his website. Tofield does all the characters including the 'meows'.

Here is one of my favorites:

If you are interested in knowing more about cats and caring for one, AADL has many books to choose from, click here for a list

Teen Stuff: Being and Nothingness

In his 1943 essay, Being and Nothingness, Jean-Paul Sartre claims, "It is evident that non-being always appears within the limits of a human expectation." Sartre's awareness of the ability of death and/or absence to create meaning in life continues to resonate with authors and readers sixty years later. What has brought the authors below to reexamine this theme of loss and recovery? The sudden destruction of the WTC towers perhaps, or the disappearance of a viable American job market, or maybe something darker still.

Take Gregory Galloway's 2005 fiction, As Simple As Snow, a teen/adult crossover novel about a homogenized high school boy whose life suddenly becomes meaningful when his quirky, spontaneous girlfriend disappears the day before Valentine's Day. Or Carol Plum-Ucci's 2001 Printz Honor Book, The Body of Christopher Creed, where the titular character's mysterious absence casts a menacing shadow over a small town, eventually exposing the dark secrets of the people closest to him. And in John Green's 2006 Printz Award Winner, Looking for Alaska, Miles Halter's new life at Culver Creek boarding school is everything he could have hoped for in the "great perhaps" he was seeking, until tragedy gives his life new focus. Check out all of these novels from the AADL today.

September's Books to Film

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Written by 2003 Nobel Prize laureate J.M. Coetzee, Disgrace was awarded the Man Booker Prize (1999). In stunning prose, it tells the story of Professor David Lurie's extended stay at his daughter's smallholding and the incident of unimaginable terror and violence that forces father and daughter to confront their strained relationship —and the equally complicated racial complexities of the new South Africa.

Starring John Malkovich, the film is shot in the ruggedly beautiful landscape outside of Cape Town, South Africa. See the New York Times review. Limited release September 18, nationally October 2nd.

The Informant, starring Matt Damon, is adapted from Kurt Eichenwald's 2000 bestseller, the "true story" about Mark Whitacre, a rising star at agri-industry giant Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) in the early 1990s, who blew the whistle on the company's price fixing tactics and became the highest-ranked executive to ever turn whistleblower in US history.

Coco avant Chanel (Coco before Chanel) is based on Edmonde Charles-Roux's biography of Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel, who begins her life as a headstrong orphan, and through an extraordinary journey, becomes the legendary couturier. In French - with Audrey Tautou playing the title role. Sumptuous cinematography and a sensational soundtrack.

Intersex Immortal Tilda Swinton

Oscar-winning actress Tilda Swinton is one of those people who make me want to see a movie just because she’s in it. The last film I saw her in was Orlando, a beautiful film adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s novel about an English nobleman who stays eternally young, but does not stay eternally male. After about 200 years of life, Orlando becomes a woman and gains a new perspective on life. The film continues for another 200 years of life and ends showing Orlando as a mother in present-day England, a time and place added to the original story which Woolf did not live to see.

Tilda Swinton has a knack for being cast as characters who are androgynous, ageless, or both. In Constantine, a dark fantasy/action film based on the graphic novel series, she plays for both sides of the heaven/hell divide as the angel Gabriel, a genderless immortal. In the 2006 film version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, she rules with an icy fist as the ageless villain Jadis, the White Witch.

Swinton has also appeared in such popular films as Burn After Reading, Michael Clayton, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

Youth Stuff: When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead

When You Reach MeWhen You Reach Me

When You Reach Me is Rebecca Stead’s follow up to the acclaimed First Light, and it’s a good one, worthy of the Newbery Medal Award buzz that surrounds it. Miranda is a 6th grader living in New York City in 1979 with her mother. Her best friend Sal stops talking to her one day, and then she starts receiving mysterious notes predicting the future. So on top of day to day city living, being a latch key kid of a single mom (who is trying out for The $20,000 Pyramid), squabbling with other girls in her class, and having a slight crush on a boy, she has to figure out who is sending these notes and why. She finds it soothing to carry around a beat up copy of A Wrinkle in Time, and eventually has a rather interesting conversation on time travel with the new kid on the block. In the end Miranda figures it all out.

I liked the nostalgia in this book. I liked the setting, a few of the characters, the laughing man, the bit of time travel involved. I do wonder about the idea of having A Wrinkle in Time play such an important role in the book, but at the same time I love how young Miranda finds a book so fantastic she has to read it over and over and carry it around with her.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #177

10 years ago, rumors of human sacrifice, ghosts and magic were just that - until journalist Paul Seaton came face to face with unspeakable evil at the abandoned Fischer House and barely escaped with his life. Still haunted by his loss, he is asked to return to prevent the house from claiming more unsuspecting souls.

Riveting and seductive, The House of Lost Souls* is a brooding and sinister tale of supernatural horror that unfolds gradually, building up suspense, and drawing the readers in. Atmospheric and cinematic, rich with historic details, a complex plot, engaging narrative devices, nonstop chills and gore, this U.S. debut from British F.G. Cottam terrifies and entertains. Likely first of a projected series. Don't miss it.

For fans of horror master Stephen King's Duma Key*; and newcomer Christopher Ransom's spanking new The Birthing House* (another FFF); and of course, a perennial classic - The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson.

* = Starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #176

Utah Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Gerald Elias capitalizes on his musical background in his "witty and acerbic" debut Devil's Trill*. The title is borrowed from Giuseppe Tartini's famous Violin Sonata in G minor, known in musical circles as the Devil's Trill Sonata, for being extremely difficult and technically demanding.

The Grimsley Competition, held once every 13 years, open to child prodigies 13 and under, culminates at New York's Carnegie Hall with cash, concert appearances, and most coveted of all - for the winner the use of the world's only 3/4 sized Stradivarius, known simply as the Piccolino.

When this prized instrument is stolen, Daniel Jacobus, a former Grimsley contestant, now a blind, bitter recluse who cobbles together a livelihood by teaching, is accused of the theft. Suspicion mounts when the winner's teacher is murdered, who happens to be one of Daniel's old enemies.

This thoroughly engaging mystery, packed with violin and concert lore brings to mind the fabulous film The Red Violin . Fans of mystery with a musical theme should also consider The Rainaldi Quartet by Paul Adam; Voice of the Violin by Andrea Camilleri; and Canone Inverso by Paolo Maurensig. And along the way, enjoy some cinematic armchair traveling...

* = Starred Review

60 Years of Honoring Great American Books

NBANBA

For the first time in its history, the National Book Award for Fiction is open to public vote. To participate, cast your vote for your favorite National Book Award recipient from 1950 to 2008.

Why fiction? You might wonder. Well, for one thing, 74 of the 77 fiction winners are in-print and available, the highest percentage of any category. Here is a complete list of the winners.

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