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Book News for Monday, March 9, 2009

  • In Memoriam: "New Journalist" James G. Bellows, author of the memoir The Last Editor, died on Friday at the age of 86.
  • For Whom the Rooster Crows: The 2009 Morning News Tournament of Books is underway!

    The first round pits Roberto Bolaño's ginormasticalacious 2666 against Fae Myenne Ng's sadly overmatched Steer toward Rock.

    There isn't really much of a contest here, and the first-round judge (some snarky lit-blogger nobody's ever heard of) rules along predictable lines.

    However, I smell a whiff of high-school book-report panic in the judge's overextended (according to commentator Kevin Guilfoile) basketball metaphor.

    One almost gets the impression the judge started every book of 2666, but couldn't quite make it to the end of any of them. One senses he was maybe a little too intimidated to admit he couldn't see the luxurious robes the literary establishment (and some of his uber-literary coworkers) were shrieking about — he just saw a naked emperor with sagging man-boobs and knobby knees.

    It could be the judge was partly baffled that this "all-time greatest masterpiece of our century" wasn't even able to give the literary critics in the first book distinct personalities — you could only distinguish them because one was a woman, one was in a wheelchair, and the other two... weren't.

    There's no denying that the intensity builds stronger in the later books, especially the much-written-about third one (despite the ultimately numbing effect of a subject that should retain its shock), but perhaps the judge kept wishing a writer with a better sense of drama and character were at the helm — like Richard Price (see Lush Life, whose absence from this year's TOB is really a crime).

    And so, like a public schooler who's terrified to admit he doesn't think A Farewell to Arms is hot snot and, not wanting to be the idiot who didn't "get it," tries to cover it up by writing his book report in a too-clever satire of Hemingway's style, one can glimpse the Round One judge cowering behind his own metaphor.

    In fairness, although the judge may have succumbed to cowardice in failing to present these quibbles, he really did like 2666 more than Steer toward Rock. So, the outcome is not a lie by any means.

    It's just a shame that Guilfoile and John Warner's comments ended up much closer to the judge's full opinion than the printed verdict.

  • There Will be Half-Blood: There's a new trailer for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the penultimate entry in the series (well, unless you count Part 1 of the two-part final film).

    Is it me, or are the Harry Potter movies starting to look more and more like the Apocalypse? I guess that's the idea in the books. I just want to know which nefarious wizard cast a spell to turn all the film's colors to gray and black.

Book News Round-up:

  • NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday interviewed The Kindly Ones author Jonathan Littell about his fictionalized memoir of a genteel Nazi exterminator.

    [F]or Littell, who is himself Jewish, today's moral necessity is not to comprehend or bring empathy to the victims — 50 years of Holocaust history have documented their stories, he says. Rather, he says, it is the perpetrators whom we must understand, including the possibility that ordinary Americans and ordinary French — like ordinary Germans — are also capable of the most grotesque acts.

  • An unpublished Mark Twain story about an undertaker will finally see print.

    Twain's story has less in common with the glossy "Six Feet Under" than something by Charles Dickens: It's got a dirty hungry wretch, who finds solace in the undertaker's home, and a wicked sense of humor.

    The story runs in next week's Strand Magazine.

  • NPR reviews Delicate Edible Birds by Lauren Groff: "excellent, smart-alecky chick-lit that offers something more intense that will appeal to men as well: stories about how seemingly powerless people can shift their societies."

    Get your signed first editions while they last!

  • This just in — slaughterhouses are pretty gross and inhumane. So the San Francisco Chronicle concludes from reading Righteous Porkchop: Finding a Life and Good Food Beyond Factory Farms by Nicolette Hahn Niman:

    "The book is full of astonishing and sometimes horrifying facts. If you want a crash course in the mechanics of feedlots, confinement pens and 'manure lagoons,' this a good place to start, though you're sure to learn things you'd rather not."

    I just wish somebody would write about how disgusting vegetable gardens are. The mulch is made from poop, people! There's feces everywhere — YOU ARE EATING POOP!!!!

  • The Irish Book of Kells has been turned into a film: "The iconic tome is the inspiration for a new Irish film involving serpents, Vikings and a bold young hero — and there's not a single leprechaun in sight." But is there U2 or Van Morrison on the soundtrack?
  • The SF Chronicle has five questions for Jane Vandenburgh, author of the memoir A Pocket History of Sex in the Twentieth Century.

    If you have any questions, Vandenburgh is reading at our Hawthorne store on Thursday, March 26.

÷ ÷ ÷

Brockman is the head writer for the daily Book News posts on the Powells.com blog. In his free time he's hard at work on his fictional memoir, which changes titles daily.

The views and commentary posted by Brockman are entirely his own, and are not representative of the whole of Powell's Books, its employees, or any sane human being.

Books mentioned in this post

  1. 2666: A Novel
    Used Hardcover $12.95
  2. Steer toward Rock Used Hardcover $7.50
  3. A Farewell to Arms (Scribner Classics)
    Sale Hardcover $12.98
  4. Lush Life: A Novel Used Hardcover $5.50
  5. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood...
    Used Hardcover $8.50
  6. Delicate Edible Birds: And Other Stories
    Used Hardcover $5.50

  7. Righteous Porkchop: Finding a Life... Used Hardcover $6.95
  8. A Pocket History of Sex in the... New Hardcover $23.25

2 Responses to "Book News for Monday, March 9, 2009"

    maro March 25th, 2009 at 9:59 am

    just piping up here to say that I loved your execution of the basketball metaphor. I just read your judgment through for the first time, and I was totally impressed with your writing. I'm here checking out the archive of your Powells blog posts for that reason! I think what impressed me was exactly that the metaphor never seemed over-extended or forced. I expected that it would, at that length, but you kept the description of court action vivid *and* clearly representative of actual qualities in the narratives of the two books. I have not yet read the commentary from the box, but before having Kevin Guilfoile's opinion mix with my reaction (and then maybe I'll weigh in there with a late comment), I want to say to you Bravo! a top-notch, totally enjoyable bit of writing. thanks!

    white May 28th, 2009 at 9:38 am

    the only thing hipper than bolano's 2666 is the ultra hip, mondo-modern, uber-critic. there's just enough of them to hide but not enough to yet to be called a minority. they're the trendiest group this side of the eggerselites. they've never seen ET and they don't know who created the star wars franchise. you're the dissenters of dissent. how hip of you.

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