Content Tagged ‘Lanie Tankard’

Icy Nordic memories

December 22, 2014 | 6 Comments

Per Petterson, long loved by Norwegian readers, has become well respected outside the Scandinavian region as his books are rendered in other tongues. The prize-winning 2007 novel Out Stealing Horses was tagged one of that year’s Top Ten by both the New York Times and TIME Magazine, and has been translated into forty-nine languages. He’s written other fiction, but it’s been several years since the last book.

Until now. Number Nine, I Refuse, is due out in April—and it’s a gem.

The concise title symbolizes Petterson’s latest work. It’s short, as is the novel at less than 300 pages. The two-word label is clean, almost Spartan, conveying details through brevity—like most of the sentences found within. Yet one still encounters protracted sentences that reverberate like a drum, steadily provoking a sense of dread. One such powerful linguistic unit containing 156 words focuses on memory.

Rights to the novel have been sold in sixteen countries. For the American edition, designer Kyle G. Hunter used a single row of black leafless trees ringing a frozen pond to slash the utterly white cover in half. One must look closely to find two dark silhouettes trudging toward one another on its surface. Or, are they? The title’s succinct words appear in red against this cold backdrop, almost as a semaphore to signal the reader about what’s inside this lean Nordic tale.

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Novel as waking dream

October 19, 2014 | 7 Comments

Where do ideas begin? How are they spread? Researchers at GDI, an independent think tank in Zurich, consider such questions. They study significant creative intellectuals in our world. Seven novelists made their most recent list of Top 100 Global Thought Leaders. Japanese writer Haruki Murakami was one of them, at Number 47 for his most notable idea: the “utopia of love.”

Murakami continues to explore aspects of the idea of love in his latest book released in English this past August: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, which is considerably easier to tote around than his last one—if you like tactility in your tomes. The story of Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki spans a mere 400 pages, whereas Murakami’s previous novel, 1Q84, clocked in around 1,000. Tazaki is also more compact, making it a delight to hold.

I have a Kindle version as well, but I kept returning to the hardback—partly due to Chip Kidd’s masterful design. In his 2012 TED talk, Kidd said he considers what stories look like when he gives form to content: “A book cover is a distillation—a haiku, if you will, of the story.” He also designed 1Q84, in which Murakami played with ideas about the moon and love in parallel universes. One dictionary definition of the word moonstruck is “in another world,” which certainly fits the themes of 1Q84—almost as if they arose from a line by Ovid writing of love in his narrative poem Metamorphoses: “It’s not as though the moon had interposed its own pallor between the earth and you.”

Which makes it all the more interesting, then, to find Murakami’s book that followed 1Q84, the recent Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, segueing so neatly into Ovid’s very next line in Metamorphoses: “Love is the force that leaves you colorless.”

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Lepucki’s post-apocalypse novel

August 13, 2014 | 7 Comments

The plot of Edan Lepucki’s debut novel California is quite absorbing, but the story about her book is pretty engrossing as well. First a recap—then a review.

Award-winning author Sherman Alexie was a guest on Stephen Colbert’s television show, The Colbert Report, June 4 to discuss the dispute between Amazon and Hachette Book Group. Books by both Alexie and Colbert are part of the Hachette Group, as is Lepucki’s novel. Colbert had asked Alexie to recommend a forthcoming Hachette book that he liked. Alexie picked California. Colbert held up a copy of the book and implored his viewers, “the Colbert Nation,” to preorder California (but not from Amazon) to demonstrate their power. Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon, agreed to handle the process. Before long, Lepucki found herself signing over 10,000 copies in just three days to meet those preorders. California was published July 8. Then, on July 21, Lepucki herself was a guest on The Colbert Show. Her book tour included a talk on July 30 at BookPeople in Austin, Texas, which I caught.

“I didn’t realize how much power Colbert had,” Lepucki told the audience. Someone asked how the unexpected event had changed her life.

“I’m in a different city every day. I know how hotels work now,” she replied. “It’s no stage. I’m on this publicity machine that is like a real monster. I figure it’ll end by September. I’m still a good ol’ girl.”

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A salute to sentences

July 2, 2014 | 15 Comments

Jenny Davidson loves to read. In fact, she’s spent her entire life immersed in words as a professional reader. A professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, Davidson has written four novels and two academic works. Her blog is called “Light Reading.”

In a new book, Reading Style: A Life in Sentences, she explores literature while weaving together vignettes from her two worlds of reader and critic. She likens the reading habit to a compulsion or an addiction. For fellow reading addicts, she suggests keeping a field notebook, as an ornithologist might on bird sightings, to record those sentences that “glimmer.”

Davidson debunks the “self-improvement” motive to read, calling reading “a form of intellectual play” rather than a lesson. She boils it down to the “details of language” and states firmly: “All sentences are not created equal.” She labels sentences “verbal artifacts,” believing style is everything. A person’s temperament can be discerned by sentences written, she says, adding, “a sentence is the key to the heart.” She confesses she was a “word child.”

While weighing the merits of a comma versus a colon or semicolon, she champions the comma for being less judgmental—but loathes the Oxford comma.

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Awake at the wheel

June 11, 2014 | 12 Comments

One day Mark Schimmoeller decided to do a little traveling, “attempting to visit people living for something other than what our consumer society deemed was important.” Thus was his mission when he set off in 1992 atop one wheel for a cross-country unicycle trip.

Body balance steers this upright one-wheeled vehicle driven by pedals. Unicycles appear to date back to the late 1800s and a bicycle called a “penny farthing.” The benefits of riding a unicycle are documented, and riding on one wheel has even been pushed to an extreme sport.

The author of Slowspoke meets all types of people living along the byways of America as he buys provisions, dodges cars, and seeks out places to camp for the night. He sketches word portraits of folks who don’t trend on Twitter, just as real as the ones who populate reality shows on television.

Schimmoeller muses as he rides, in no hurry to arrive. The reader ponders along with him, about topics such as time: “It had become cool to have no time, to be busy.“Ah, I thought, but Socrates long ago warned: “Beware the barrenness of a busy life.”

It was just this type of recurring silent mental dialogue I found myself having with a unicyclist that decelerated my progress through Slowspoke. We ramble along in our thoughts, he and I, noticing patchworks of woods and fields, hearing the sound of the wood thrush, and feeling the hot morning sun on our faces.

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Stories of medicine & society

March 20, 2014 | 6 Comments

Louise Aronson’s book of short stories, A History of the Present Illness, was published in 2013, and just came out in paperback a few weeks ago.

Each protagonist in the sixteen tales, all set in the San Francisco area, is a different doctor treating a new patient, but Aronson varies the voice, the gender, the age, the venue, the disease or circumstance, and the background of both. As we turn the pages, either physically or electronically, we view assorted scenarios through the eyes of a changing cast of physicians as the dramatis personae move from one theater to another. Aronson examines the traditions of their globe-spanning histories as if she were watching culture grow in a Bay Area petri dish, so much do these immigrants vary.

The author, a doctor herself, describes these fictional cases in a dispassionate, clinical manner while at the same time imbuing them with an underlying humanity that explores the ethos of the events. Not all the characters are likable. Aronson details the course of an illness alongside the complexities of assimilation in a different nation with a minimalist touch. The characters inhabit a shared community within a medical setting—which represents yet another new nation in which they must adjust to an unfamiliar culture.

Aronson maintains a running commentary on the surrounding society all the while. She notes in passing, for example, the architecture of prisons as she gradually peels back the layers of a psychiatrist designated to determine for the court how a prisoner (who is a doctor) came to be where he is. One encounters moments of brilliance here, such as when the physician under examination realizes for the first time what “doctor mode” actually looks like—a demeanor that a medical person “could apparently turn on or off at will.” He mulls over the ensuing “silence standoff” between himself and the psychiatrist, allowing the reader in on his musing.

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Creating creativity

January 22, 2014 | 7 Comments

Writer’s block is an expression introduced by psychoanalyst Edmund Bergler in 1947.

Certainly all kinds of tips and rules abound for polishing the craft of writing:

• Show, don’t tell.

• Develop your characters.

• Use dialogue.

Yet at some point, most writers get blocked. Then what?

Creativity is the ability to generate original notions or think of different slants. Which techniques can jumpstart new ideas?

Barbara Diane Barry suggests artistic expression as a solution in her new book Painting Your Way Out of a Corner: The Art of Getting Unstuck.

She established a program called Art for Self-Discovery in New York City, and offers ways to get the creative juices flowing again for anyone—writer or not.

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