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  • What we're reading...

    Thu, 03 Dec 2009 06:11

    We not only sell books here at The Book Depository, on a personal level we're all pretty nuts about books too. So we've set up a staff reviews page where you can see what books are currently amusing, occupying and diverting members of our UK team...

    For instance, Alex Sore, our Publishing Manager, is reading One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

    Alex says:

    Goodness knows how long it'll take me actually to finish this one. Its been on my bookshelf for a while but now I've finally taken the plunge. It's a classic -- and I love this kind of tangled, enchanted, passionate tale -- but you know when there is a family tree at the beginning to help you follow the story it's only going to get more complicated! I've got into it enough to love it, but I just hope I can persevere and actually finish the darn thing.

    Will Smith, our IT Director, is listening to The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest by Stieg Larsson.

    Will says:

    Audio books are perfect for the daily commute. I listened to the first two of Larsson's trilogy in quick succession. The third book is another exhilarating ride and I'm keen to find out Salander's and Mikael's fate in this roller coaster story.

  • Very nice indeed: a signed, limited edition boxset of Donna Tartt's two international bestsellers The Secret History and The Little Friend.

    The Secret History: A misfit at an exclusive New England college, Richard finds kindred spirits in the five eccentric students of his ancient Greek class. But his new friends have a horrific secret. When blackmail and violence threaten to blow their privileged lives apart, they drag Richard into the nightmare that engulfs them. And soon they enter a terrifying heart of darkness from which they may never return.

    The Little Friend: Twelve-year-old Harriet is doing her best to grow up, which is not easy as her mother is permanently on medication, her father has silently moved to another city, and her serene sister rarely notices anything. All of them are still suffering from the shocking and mysterious death of her brother Robin twelve years earlier, and it seems to Harriet that the family may never recover. So, inspired by Captain Scott, Houdini, and Robert Louis Stevenson, she sets out with her only friend Hely to find Robin's murderer and punish him. But what starts out as a child's game soon becomes a dark and dangerous journey into the menacing underworld of a small Mississippi town.

    Packaged together for the first time as signed, limited editions.

    More beautiful, limited editions here.

  • The Talented Miss Highsmith

    Wed, 02 Dec 2009 02:01

    Patricia Highsmith, one of the great writers of 20th Century American fiction, "had a life as darkly compelling as that of her favorite 'hero-criminal', talented Tom Ripley. In this revolutionary biography, Joan Schenkar paints a riveting portrait, from Highsmith's birth in Texas to Hitchcock's filming of her first novel, Strangers On a Train, to her long, strange, self-exile in Europe. We see her as a secret writer for the comics, a brilliant creator of disturbing fictions, and erotic predator with dozens of women (and a few good men) on her love list."

    The Talented Miss Highsmith is "the first literary biography with access to Highsmith's whole story: her closest friends, her oeuvre, her archives. It's a compulsive page-turner unlike any other, a book worthy of Highsmith herself."

    Review, below, from the New York Times:

    The photo on the cover of The Talented Miss Highsmith depicts the young, sultry author of Strangers on a Train holding one of her pet cats. There's no question which is the more spookily feline-looking creature.

    Pretty as it is, this picture is hardly representative. As a pet owner Highsmith was much more remarkable for keeping hundreds of snails and for liking to watch those mollusks mate. As a sex object she was far more androgynous in affect than she appears in the photograph. "In Paris restaurants, where French waiters are uncomfortably good at reading gender code, Pat is sometimes directed to the men's lavatory," writes Joan Schenkar, Highsmith's enterprising new biographer. Ms. Schenkar adds: "Pat thought that waiters stopped her 'because I have big feet and skinny thighs.' She had to think something."

    This is no ordinary literary biography. Ms. Schenkar, also a playwright, is not one of those thorough, respectful scholars who let the facts and the literature speak for themselves. Hers is an unusually assertive voice, which makes it well suited to Highsmith (as it was to Dolly Wilde, Oscar's niece, who was the subject of Ms. Schenkar's earlier book, Truly Wilde). Her approach is innovative, sometimes confoundingly so. And her sensibility is sufficiently ghoulish to keep her undaunted by what she calls Highsmith's "hundreds of raspingly acute portraits of quietly transgressive acts," which is a relatively mild way of characterizing the shock value of Highsmith's tirelessly misanthropic work (more...)

  • Tuesday Top Ten -- Jane Ray

    Tue, 01 Dec 2009 04:48

    Jane Ray won the Smarties Book Prize for her illustrations for The Story of Creation and has been nominated four times for the Kate Greenaway Medal. She lives in London.

    Jane's new book is beautiful version of Snow White retold and illustrated in six exquisite three-dimensional scenes, returning to the original Grimm fairy tale for elements of the story and giving her world a real sense of theatrical drama and romance. Six scenes tell the story of Snow White and each scene is three layers deep (so, for instance, you can peer through the woods to the house of the seven dwarfs). Swathes of red curtain and a wooden stage complete the theatrical effect.

    Findings by Kathleen Jamie

    At a talk I heard her give at the Edinburgh Festival a few years back Kathleen Jamie described these essays as sketches for her poems. I always enjoy people's sketch books and notebooks, sometimes even more than finished work -- it is possible to get a glimpse of the thought process, something fleeting, something in progress. Having said that, there is nothing unfinished about these essays. In subject matter they range from bird life, the sea and the wild lonely places, through to a study of the Edinburgh skyline and thoughts around illness and mortality. In treatment they all reveal Jamie's supreme clarity of observation and an extraordinary ability to listen. There is, running through this book, a stillness, a waiting, a quiet "paying heed" which focuses the mind and heightens awareness.

    Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

    I studied Tess for A level, loved it and love it still. As a teenager I was outraged to the point of tears by the unfairness of Tess's situation, and moved by descriptions of the natural world and the Wessex landscape. Hardy's descriptions of summer coming to the Frome Valley as a background to Tess falling in love are some of the most beautiful in English literature. And, in contrast, his descriptions of the workers labouring in the bitter winter fields give us a totally unsentimental glimpse of the realities of agricultural labour in England in the 1870s. The idea of pathetic fallacy that frames the novel, has stayed with me into adult life and informs the way I work on my illustrations.

    Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees by Roger Deakin

    Another collection of essays, this time exploring the concept of the wood, both the element and the place, and of our relationship with trees. Deakin takes us on a journey through groves and forests, orchards and gardens. He introduces us to the farmers, foresters, sculptors, poets, artists, naturalists and environmentalists who love, live and work with wood. We meet the birds and animals who live there -- the rooks and foxes, moths and badgers. It is a richly satisfying and atmospheric experience that takes you into the very heart of the woods.

    Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

    The contrast in Faulks' first world war novel between the erotisism of the love affair at its heart and the claustrophobia of the tunnelling under the trenches make this a breathless read. The contrast between tenderness and brutality makes each more extreme. It is a powerful and stimulating book, with much to say about the human spirit. Truly unputdownable. I read this almost at one sitting and was exhausted by the end.

    Tales of Innocence and Experience by Eva Figes

    This is an exploration of the relationship between a grandmother and her little grand-daughter, as they wait for a new baby to be born. Although it is warm and alive with the special aspects of this relationship, Figes also explores the darkness of childhood with special reference to her own complex history as a child forced to leave Nazi Germany before the war. Her own Grandparents were left behind and perished there and this tragedy haunts Figes. Through their conversations and the telling of fairy tales grandmother and grand-daughter glimpse each others worlds of innocence and experience.

    Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

    Richard Yates has until recently been something of a well kept secret outside America. I read this novel before the film came out, loved it and I couldn't understand how it had remained so relatively unknown. Yates's story of a young couple desperate to escape the confines of suburban living is a complete masterpiece, with tragedy at its core. The life April and Frank Wheeler live drives them apart and drives them mad as their hopes and ideals are eventually revealed to them as being without foundation. Yates describes their disintegration with compassion and understanding.

    The Summer Book by Tove Jansson

    This book, by the creator of The Moomins, is described on its cover as a literary gem and it is difficult to categorise it in any other way. Jansson writes about the relationship over a long summer, between a(nother) grandmother and her grand-daughter. Refreshingly unsentimental, it encompasses wonderful observations of the natural world, philosophy, religion, death and love. In describing the minutiae of mucking about on the Scandinavian island that is their summer home, it also deals with the truly big things in life. And the observations of the very young and the very old are sometimes closer than one might imagine.

    A Month in the Country by J.L. Carr

    This is the story of the friendship between two survivors of the first world war, both working in and around an ancient English country church. One man is uncovering and restoring an historical wall painting, the other is searching for a lost grave. The story is about their return to a more normal life from the brutality of the trenches, through a connection with the landscape around them, through friendship and love. A novella, it has a perfection in its brevity.

    Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels

    When I read the first few pages of this novel I remember feeling that writing as perfect as this almost negated the need for any other art form. Its rich language evokes music, describes colour and form, fear and love and memory. Seven year old Jakob Beer is a refugee, rescued from the Holocaust by Athos, a Greek archeologist, who smuggles him back to Greece and brings him up. The wonderful writing makes links between the child's apalling memories "rising in me like bruises", and the careful digging and sifting and uncovering involved in the work of the archeologist. This is a poetic and beautiful novel.

    Cider With Rosie Laurie Lee

    I realise in compiling this selection of favourite books, how many of them are centred on the English countryside and landscape. It has always inspired and sustained me. Laurie Lee's language here is so vibrant that you can smell the vegetation. I was about 12 when I first read Cider With Rosie and it was the first time that I had read a novel that was so close to poetry and so close to the experience of being a child. I have read it many times since and it is ingrained in my memory so deeply that I sometimes confuse my memories with Lee's.

  • Paul Auster's 'Invisible'

    Tue, 01 Dec 2009 02:14

    Paul Auster's latest novel, Invisible, reviewed in the Seattle Times:

    A Paul Auster book is like an old-fashioned page-turner that you bring everywhere you go so you can keep reading and reading. But while you may get lost in Auster's world, the experience also can be unnerving. This is part of his enormous appeal as a writer and the basis of his unique stature in American fiction.

    Invisible, Auster's edgy 13th novel, begins straightforwardly, set in New York City in 1967, but is subsequently told by different narrators from varying points of view. Adam Walker is a self-absorbed college student and an aspiring poet. He meets Rudolph Born and his girlfriend, Margot, at a party and is immediately drawn to them. Auster sets up the mysterious nature of the attraction masterfully: "The truth was that I had never run across people like this before, and because the two of them were so alien to me, so unfamiliar in their affect, the longer I talked to them, the more unreal they seemed to become -- as if they were imaginary characters in a story that was taking place in my head."

    In the days that follow, Born offers to bankroll a literary magazine with Adam as editor, and Margot and Adam act on their mutual desire. Adam is skeptical of the magazine venture, but the force of personality of his new friends proves irresistible. Near the end of Part I, a horrifying crime shatters Adam to the core and alters his world.

    Part II takes place 40 years later in 2007, told at first by Jim, a former college classmate of Adam's who has become a famous novelist. Now in his 60s, Adam has fallen gravely ill, and asks Jim to look at a chapter of the manuscript he has written -- the story he, the narrator of Part I, has been telling us. Adam's "nonfiction" narrative is now told in the second person, and the "you" perspective gives the action a relentless and febrile quality, heightening Adam's personal crises present and past, including the death of his younger brother when he was a child and an "incestuous rampage" with his sister, Gwyn (more...)

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