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  • The Cost of Living

    Thu, 17 Dec 2009 10:27

    Mavis Gallant is admired and beloved as one of the masters of the modern short story. Selected from early collections and the New Yorker, where many of the author's stories have appeared over the last fifty years, and with an introduction, this title reveals a writer coming into her own.

    The Financial Times has a great review:

    A lodestar for writers from Michael Ondaatje to Russell Banks, Mavis Gallant is one of the most gifted short story writers of The New Yorker's heyday -- a master of the art in an age when fiction writers and poets could make a living from the form. Encouraged by William Maxwell in 1950 on the strength of one acceptance -- the earliest story in this collection -- in her late 20s Gallant gave up her job as a reporter in her native Montreal and moved, in the great romantic fashion, to Paris.

    The Cost of Living is a rich gift of a collection that gathers the near-perfect stories she was to write over the next 20 years. All but three appeared in The New Yorker; they are set in that city or in Europe, where her travellers and lost figures rarely find their adventures living up to their expectations. In One Morning in May, lust for spring or each other is lacking for the almost lovers, Barbara and Mike, young Americans who've made their way from Paris to Menton. Barbara's diary contains no thoughts of her own. Confronted by great art or monuments, she diligently copies down the museum captions. "She was proud of the year, and of the fact that she had shivered in unheated picture galleries and not spent her time drinking milk in the American Embassy restaurant." (More...)

  • The Tyranny of E-mail

    Thu, 17 Dec 2009 09:41

    John Freeman's The Tyranny of E-mail: The Four-thousand-year Journey to Your Inbox "uses lush prose and invokes examples from great literature to make his points. He comes at things not from a giddy utopian perspective that permeates most writing about technology but from a humanist one. It makes the book refreshing and powerful."

    So says the Boston Globe:

    We are becoming more and more wrapped up in technology. Admit it: You've felt the foot of Facebook upon you, beating you down with its endless status reports. You've shared too much information on Twitter, had your best hours stolen from you by World of Warcraft, sat mesmerized before YouTube. Do you even notice how you're becoming addicted to and enslaved by these digital oppressors?

    John Freeman does. He particularly notes the scourge of electronic mail. As he writes in The Tyranny of E-mail, it "has made us a workforce of reactors, racing to keep up with a treadmill pace that is bound for burnout and breakdown and profound anger." He stands convinced that e-mail is increasingly discouraging the development of complex and nuanced thinking as well as taking the place of direct human contact.

    Freeman swears he is no Luddite, and indeed, he sounds more like a man betrayed. He thinks using e-mail to do much more than send short, focused missives amounts to a societal ill. His personal subjugation to e-mail led him to write what is on some level an elegant self-help book. He has developed a kind of 12-step program to eliminate destructive electronic habits. He includes ideas like scheduling media-free time and only replying to an e-mail after reading and considering the whole thing as opposed to feeling obliged to respond as fast as possible.

    But Tyranny is more than a self-help manual. It also stands as Freeman's "Manifesto for a Slow Communication Movement" (more...)

  • Achebe's Education

    Wed, 16 Dec 2009 14:26

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    Chinua Achebe, the celebrated author of Things Fall Apart, delivers his first book in more than 20 years -- a new collection of autobiographical essays that offers a vivid portrait of growing up in colonial Nigeria and inhabiting its "middle ground."

    The New York Times has a review:

    The first novel and masterpiece from the Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart, is such an economical and lucid depiction of a tribal society cracking under the weight of colonialism that it has become required reading in many American high schools. It's the stinging To Kill a Mockingbird of modern African literature.

    First published in 1958, Things Fall Apart turned 50 last year, to wide acclaim. In 2007 Mr. Achebe won the Man Booker International Prize, a lifetime achievement award. But if Mr. Achebe has been much in the news, he's been silent on the page. His new volume of essays, The Education of a British-Protected Child, is his first book since he was paralyzed from the waist down, in 1990, in a car accident in Nigeria.

    It's a welcome return. Those who have closely followed Mr. Achebe's career won't find much that's new in The Education of a British-Protected Child. He deals only glancingly with subjects his readers might be curious about in 2009, like how the aftershocks of his accident have affected his life and work.

    But in this book he tangles further, and profitably, with the obsessions that have defined his career: colonialism, identity, family, the uses and abuses of language (more...)

  • Halo Encyclopedia on YouTube

    Wed, 16 Dec 2009 09:39

    I mentioned yesterday that the Halo Encyclopedia would make the ideal present for any gamers in your life. Well, there is a great video up on YouTube which shows just what a fabulous title this is:


  • Slate's best reads of 2009

    Tue, 15 Dec 2009 12:06

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    Slate has a nice round-up of some of the best books of 2009:

    John Updike's Endpoint is a final burst of fluency from the New England master. Who else could spin a charming poem out of a trip to Best Buy to buy a new computer? "Brave world! The geeks in matching shirts/ talked gigabytes to girls with blue tattoos." Updike's lyric gift carried him to the end. His words meet death both obliquely and directly. Read this book late in the evening, with a stiff drink by your side...

    With Chronic City, genre mix-master Jonathan Lethem takes the stuffiness out of a Manhattan society novel by overlaying it with dystopian fantasy. An unending winter has descended over a parallel New York. A former child star, whose astronaut fiance is marooned in outer space, befriends an agoraphobic retired street philosopher amid a skunky cloud of pot smoke. A mysterious creature (or is it a machine?) is destroying entire city blocks with each sporadic attack. Needless to say, conspiracies emerge...

    The Liars' Club, Mary Karr's first memoir about her unfortunate childhood in East Texas, was about such a singular experience -- how many other women can say their mamas tried to kill them with a butcher knife? -- that I wondered whether she had used up all her best material. Though her most recent memoir, Lit, is about the more common trials of alcoholism, divorce and spiritual discovery, it is just as compelling, and beautifully written, as that first effort (more...)

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