Hidden Gems: Books Unjustly Dusty #11: Booker Bridesmaid

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Novelist Beryl Bainbridge died this past July. The Man Booker Prize Foundation has created a special prize, and asks the public to vote which of her five shortlisted novels deserves the accolade Man Booker Best of Beryl.

Described as “slightly dotty” and having a “mordant wit” Bainbridge wrote several novels and a column in the London Evening Standard.

If you enjoy black humor and historical novels and don’t know about her, you have just hit the jackpot.

The Ann Arbor District Library has several of her titles: According to Queeney about the life and times of Dr. Samuel Johnson, An Awfully Big Adventure delves into 1950s Liverpool with a story of an aspiring actress, The Birthday Boys is her take on the doomed expedition to the South Pole in 1912 by Robert Scott, Every Man for Himself covers the Titanic disaster, and Master Georgie is a wonderful novel set during the Crimean War.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #240

Mr. Chartwell : a novel * is a tragicomic fantasy set in July 1964 when an elderly and retired Winston Churchill summoned Esther Hammerhans, a library clerk at the House of Parliament, to Chartwell, his home in Kent to act as his temporary secretary. Tagging along is Mr. Chartwell, aka Black Pat, "a colossal hound, odoriferous, walking, talking physical mess of an animal, who inexplicably exudes a most charming, seductive manner".

It is not a secret that Churchill struggled with depression - his bête noire as he called it, the "black dog" that accompanied him throughout his life. When widowed Esther decides to rent a room in her London flat to Mr. Chartwell, she has no idea what she's allowing into her solitary life.

One reviewer pleads that we: "Please, willingly suspend disbelief and allow debut author Rebecca Hunt's vivid imagination to take you on this exuberant funhouse ride through a week in the lives of Esther, Winston, two matchmakers, the easygoing love interest, and the buttoned-up library director at the House of Commons".

"Rococo both in its imagination and phrasing", it cleverly combines historical detail, a marvelously subtle sense of humor,and a quirky assortment of characters.

A witty, intelligent curiosity of a novel, longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award.

* = Starred reviews

Author Birthdays: Bernhard, Coetzee, Walker

February 9th marks the birthday of authors Thomas Bernhard, J. M. Coetzee, and Alice Walker.

Thomas Bernhard was an Austrian writer of novels and plays. While we have many of his works in English, according to the man himself, they can't be the same as his original, German novels. Bernhard believed that "translation is impossible".

Among Bernhard's books are Wittgenstein's Nephew, which has been called "a vehicle for Bernhard's captivating prose, his bitter pessimism and anger and his clever, if sarcastic wit"; The Voice Imitator, a collection of 104 short stories; and The Loser, a story of three piano virtuosos, written in first-person monologues.

J. M. Coetzee is a South African-American-Australian writer, and winner of the Booker Prize and Nobel Prize in Literature, among other awards. His novels Life & Times of Michael K and Disgrace are among the books that have won.

Coetzee, a vegetarian, writes about subject like animal cruelty and welfare, in novels like Disgrace and Elizabeth Costello. He has also written a few "fictionalized" autobiographies, including Youth, which focuses on the few years he spent in London after fleeing South Africa.

Alice Walker is an American writer of novels and poetry, and is widely known for her work The Color Purple, which won the Pulitzer Prize and has been made into a film and Broadway musical. She was also the first African-American woman to win the National Book Award, also for The Color Purple.

Walker has also written Possessing The Secret Of Joy, which Booklist says depicts female circumcision "as mutilation of not only the body but the psyche", the multi-historical fiction novel The Temple Of My Familiar, and perhaps the poetry collection with one of the greatest titles I've ever seen, Hard Times Require Furious Dancing.

Author Birthdays: Grey, Oe, Morrison

January 31st marks the birthday of authors Zane Grey, Kenzaburo Oe, and Grant Morrison.

Zane Grey was an American author who wrote primarily westerns; his most famous was probably Riders of the Purple Sage. Many of his books were turned into movies, including Fighting Caravans (starring Gary Cooper) and The Thundering Herd (with Harry Carey).

Grey's westerns also include Betty Zane, which was inspired by his great-great-grandmother of the same name and was his first novel, and The Great Trek: A Frontier Story, which was inspired by Grey's deep-sea fishing trip to Australia in 1935.

Kenzaburo Oe is a Japanese writer and Noble Prize winner. His first novel was Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids, which Booklist called a "bleaker and more pessimistic" Lord of the Flies.

Oe's books are almost all influential. A Personal Matter is a semi-autobiographical story that touches on the subject of his son's brain hernia; also semi-autobiographical is The Changeling, which includes a fictionalization of the suicide of Oe's brother-in-law.

Grant Morrison is a Scottish comic writer and adult graphic novelist. He has done quite a few issues of Batman and Robin graphic novels, as well as many other superhero works with DC Comics.

Morrison's other works include the graphic novel series WE3, which is about three household pets turned deadly cyborgs, and Sebastian O, the steampunk story of an alternate Victorian London and the assassin Sebastian.

Author Birthdays: Hoffmann, Wharton

January 24th marks the birthday of authors E. T. A. Hoffmann and Edith Wharton.

E. T. A. Hoffmann was a German writer of fantasy and horror. His most popular and well-known work is probably The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, which has been translated, reworked, and made into movies and ballets.

Hoffmann wrote many novellas. Among them are "Mademoiselle de Scudery", which is a tale of crime that takes place in 17th-century Paris, and "The Sandman", which is a horror story about the folklore character of the same name. Both can be found in the Penguin Classics collection of Hoffmann's stories.

Edith Wharton was an American writer and Pulitzer Prize winner (for The Age of Innocence). She wrote novels, short stories, poetry, and even some non-fiction travel and descriptive books, and was the friend of fellow author Henry James. Some of her works have been made into movies.

Many of Wharton's works are set in turn-of-the-century New England. Among these are The House of Mirth, which is the story of a woman who is caught up in shallow New York society life, Ethan Frome, which illustrates the unhappy marriage of a rural Massachusetts couple, and The Custom of the Country, which tells the satiric story of a spoiled New York heiress.

Author Birthdays: Hecht, Sontag, Nabb

January 16th marks the birthday of authors Anthony Hecht, Susan Sontag, and Magdalen Nabb.

Anthony Hecht was an American poet. An award was established in his name the year after his death. He became a Pulitzer Prize winner in 1968 for his work The Hard Hours, as well as the 2004 National Medal of Arts winner, which was given posthumously.

Hecht's other collections include The Darkness and the Light, which uses translations of ancient, medieval, and modern poets, and The Transparent Man, which Library Journal said "delivers elegies, lyrics, and dramatic monologs with equal grace and wit".

Susan Sontag was an American novelist, screenwriter, director, playwright, essayist, and activist. Among her awards are the National Book Award for In America and the National Book Critics Circle Award for On Photography.

Sontag's other works include the dramatic play Alice in Bed, the novel I, Etcetera, a collection of essays called AIDS and Its Metaphors, and the comedic film Zelig.

Magdalen Nabb was an English author of both adult and children's fiction. Her most popular works may be those of the Guarnaccia series, which center around the character Marshal Guarnaccia. The books of the series are set in Tuscany and usually center around crimes.

Nabb's children's books include The Enchanted Horse, whose royalties, as her website says, "go to the Brooke Hospital for Animals"; and the Josie Smith series.

2011 Best in Genre Fiction - American Library Association Reading List Council Awards

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The Reading List annually recognizes the best books in eight genres: adrenaline (including suspense, thriller and adventure), fantasy, historical fiction, horror, mystery, romance, science fiction and women’s fiction. This year’s list includes novels that will please die-hard fans, as well as introduce new readers to the pleasures of genre fiction - and what pleases me most is to see many debut novels among the winners and on the shortlists.

Adrenaline
The Nearest Exit by Olen Steinhauer

Fantasy
Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay

Historical Fiction
The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer

Horror
The Dead Path by Stephen M. Irwin

Mystery
Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny

Romance
A Matter of Class by Mary Balogh

Science Fiction
The Dervish House by IIan McDonald

Women’s Fiction
Solomon’s Oak by Jo-Ann Mapson

Author Birthdays: Krantz, Friel, Smith

January 9th marks the birthday of authors Judith Krantz, Brian Friel, and Wilbur A. Smith.

Judith Krantz is an American writer of romance novels. Her first novel, Scruples, was published in 1978. It was made into a TV mini-series in 1980, and then Krantz wrote its sequel, Scruples Two, in 1992.

Krantz also wrote The Mistral's Daughter, which, like Scruples, turned mini-series. In total, seven of her novels were made for TV. Her latest novel, from 1998, is The Jewels of Tessa Kent, was described by Publisher's Weekly as "a romance of motherhood in all its full if tarnished glory".

Brian Friel is an Irish writer, mostly known for his plays. His play Dancing at Lughnasa won the Tony for Best Play in 1992; it tells the story of five sisters living in poverty in Ireland. It was made into a movie starring Meryl Streep in 1998.

Friel also wrote the drama Molly Sweeney, which in two acts tells the story of a woman blind since birth who undergoes surgery to try to restore her sight. The play is told in only monologues, and was awarded the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Foreign Play.

Wilbur A. Smith is a novelist, born in Northern Rhodesia, and now living in London. He has written three series, and many standalone novels, including Elephant Song, which Publisher's Weekly has called "a fast-paced melodrama of greed and political corruption".

Smith's latest work is Assegai, a part of both his Courtney and Ballantyne series; it is set in pre-WWI Kenya, and is his 32nd novel set in Africa. He also has a book coming out next year, Those in Peril, which you can read about on his website.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #231

If you enjoyed historical mysteries by Louis Bayard (Black Tower), and Ariana Franklin (The Mistress of the Art of Death) then I am confident you will find The Rhetoric of Death* * * by Judith Rock just your cup of tea.

This "amazing"* debut is set in 17th century Paris where young Charles du Luc, a former soldier has been sent by The Bishop of Marseilles to assist in teaching rhetoric and directing dance at the prestigious college of Louis le Grand. On his first day, the school's star dancer disappears from rehearsal, and the next day another student is run down in the street. When the dancer's body is found under the worst possible circumstances, suspicion falls on him as a newcomer, and finding the actual killer becomes both a personal mission and a source of deadly danger.

Against the backdrop of a Paris swollen with intrigue and religious strife, first-novelist Rock (a dancer, choreographer, seminarian, and former auxiliary NYPD police office) brings first-hand knowledge of dance, choreography, acting, police investigation, and teaching to a new series rich with historical details and well-drawn characters.

Reader might also like S.J. Parris' Heresy which dramatizes religious strife in an earlier era.

* * * = Starred Reviews

Author Birthdays: Solzhenitsyn, Paley, Harrison

December 11th marks the birthday of authors Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Grace Paley, and Jim Harrison.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was a Russian historian and writer of fiction, as well as a Nobel laureate. His most extensive work of history is called The Gulag Archipelago; it discusses Soviet forced labor in the early 20th century, including the author's own experiences in a work camp.

Solzhenitsyn's fictional works are interesting and extensive. The First Circle is a tale written after the author's experiences at Gulag, as well as his diagnosis of cancer, and exile. Booklist called it a "many-voiced, flashback-rich, philosophical, suspenseful, ironic, and wrenching tale". Along those same lines, One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich is a book about hope and life during Communist tyranny and its Siberian work camps.

Grace Paley was an American short story writer and poet. Among her works of prose are collections like The Little Disturbances Of Man and Enormous Changes at the Last Minute.

Paley's poetry has been described as having a "strong pulsating rhythm". Here at AADL we have a few collections, including Fidelity, Leaning Forward, and her New And Collected Poems. The Collected Stories has many of what are considered her "classic" stories in one volume.

Jim Harrison is an American author, born in Grayling, Michigan. His most well-known work might be Legends of the Fall, which is actually made up of three stories and was later put to film. His latest publications, from last year, are called The Farmer's Daughter, another collection of three novellas, and a collection of poetry entitled In Search of Small Gods.

Harrison also wrote a memoir. The book outlines his life, including childhood tragedy, his alcoholism and cocaine habit, love of nature, and, the hopefully more upbeat discussion of his associations with famous men like Jack Nicholson and Jimmy Buffett.

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