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  • The Gift of Thanks

    Wed, 18 Nov 2009 09:54

    A review of Margaret Visser's fascinating-looking The Gift of Thanks: The Roots and Rituals of Gratitude in the New York Times:

    "It is a fact of life that people give dinner parties, and when they invite you, you have to turn around and invite them back," Laurie Colwin wrote in her bite-size masterpiece, Home Cooking, published in 1988. "Often they retaliate by inviting you again, and you must then extend another invitation. Back and forth you go, like Ping-Pong balls, and what you end up with is called social life."

    Colwin wasn't complaining, exactly. She liked dinner parties. But she would also have liked Margaret Visser's observation, in her new book, The Gift of Thanks, that the word "host" is related through Indo-European roots to the words "hostile" and "hostage." Dinner parties are complicated things, where obligation and gratitude collide and overlap -- and sometimes crash and burn.

    Ms. Visser writes with as much scholarly wit about dinner and dinner parties -- what we put in our mouths, and why and with whom -- as any writer alive. She was a foodie before everyone was, and the author of the authoritative books Much Depends on Dinner (1988) and The Rituals of Dinner (1991), each of which is as crisp and tasty as the day it was published.

  • Each Monday, here on Editor's Corner, I'm going to take a look at some of the news that has been dominating the book industry in the preceding week.

    The news, as usual, is mostly gathered thanks to the excellent resources that are the Publishers Weekly website and the GalleyCat blog.

    • following more than a month of renegotiation, "the Authors Guild and Google handed in a revised version of the Google Books settlement to U.S. District Judge Denny Chin on Friday the thirteenth. According to the NY Times, only books from United States, Britain, Australia or Canada can be included in Google's efforts to digitize millions of books under the new settlement. In addition the new settlement has created an "independent fiduciary" who will decide how Google can handle "orphan works" -- books where the original copyright holder cannot be determined..."
    • former Alaskan governor Sarah Palin has "criticized the AP for 'erroneously reporting' on her memoir when the news organization broke an embargo and reported on a leaked copy of her memoir"... Palin wrote: "As you probably have heard, the AP snagged a copy of my memoir, Going Rogue, before its Tuesday release. And as is expected, the AP and a number of subsequent media outlets are erroneously reporting the contents of the book. Keep your powder dry, read the book, and enjoy it! Lots of great stories about my family, Alaska, and the incredible honor it was to run alongside Senator John McCain. We can't wait to hit the road and meet so many on the book tour! See you in Michigan first..."
    • running with the success of its mash-up titles, "launched with the surprise bestseller Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Quirk Books has unveiled a Web site dedicated to the tongue-in-cheek series, QuirkClassics.com..."
    • with earnings up despite a 22.5% decline in revenue, to $769.9 million, "Worldcolor has made a 'satisfactory beginning' after emerging from Chapter 11 earlier this summer, CEO Mark Angelson said in comments about third quarter results. The printer, formerly known as Quebecor, reported net income of $13.3 million in the most recent quarter compared to a loss of $64.2 million in last year's third period; both quarters had one-time charges associated with bankruptcy issues"
    • the University of Minnesota Press "is going Hollywood. The Minneapolis-based university press announced Thursday that it is collaborating with the Weinstein Company to release a movie-tie-in edition of Christopher Isherwood's novel, A Single Man, originally published by Simon & Schuster in 1964, and reissued by UPM in 2001. The press has sold 10,000 copies of its paperback edition since its publication"
  • An extract from Homicide, David Simon's true crime classic, has just been posted up at Meet At The Gate:

    In the decade and a half since David Simon finished writing this book he has transformed himself from a T-shirt wearing, wet-behind-his diamond studded-ear, notebook-toting journalist of questionable prowess into an award-winning author, acclaimed screenwriter and accomplished television producer. During that same fifteen years, I have advanced exactly one rank.

    The years passed by and I had not seen much of Dave, save for a couple homicide reunions and the retirement parties of Gary D'Addario and Eugene Cassidy. Then one day my son called from North Carolina, "Dad, there is a show on HBO all about your police department." I replied that I was familiar with The Wire and asked Brian whether he actually watched the show. His response seemed almost reverential, "Dad, everyone in the Marine Corps watches The Wire."

    Simon had done it again.

    Back in 1988, when a confused command staff allowed Dave to spend a year with us, my cronies and I smirked and played with him like infants who had found a new toy in their cribs. To our delight, Dave, a youthful teetotaler, would get noticeably intoxicated after only a few measly beers. He would join us after work, perhaps hoping to glimpse homicide's Holy Grail, but eventually he realized that we merely wanted to marvel at the spectacle of someone getting drunk on three little cans of liquid.

    Dave took the good-natured ribbing and soon was operating unnoticed in our midst. He became the proverbial roach on the wall, soaking it all in while we were too busy fending off murders to calculate our behavior in his presence. At first we were wary of what transpired in front of Dave. We would check ourselves, our language, even our methodology. But, after a time, we were too busy to care; the busier we got, the more he scribbled. Though we allowed him to be present during routine interviews, legal concerns sometimes precluded his being physically in the room for certain interrogations. Back then we didn't have the viewing portals and microphones now common in every police department's interview rooms. We learned to open the door slowly, to avoid smashing Dave in the face. He would listen through cracks in the door frame, and he had excellent hearing, judging by how accurately he would later chronicle entire interrogations. When Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets came out, we were gratified by how clearly Dave had captured the controlled chaos that permeates every urban homicide unit: the rollercoaster tempo of some investigations, the frustrations, the triumphs, the steady stream of unfathomable violence (more...)

  • The Children's Book

    Thu, 12 Nov 2009 09:56

    The Children's Book is English novelist A.S. Byatt's richly detailed saga of a free-spirited English family in the Edwardian age (review by Valerie Ryan from The Seattle Times):

    There is a story in The Children's Book, and it is a good one, but the reader must persevere to find it. In a style that can only be described as uber-rococo, A.S. Byatt has brought to life the Edwardian age, that period named for King Edward VII, preceded by the Victorian era and followed by World War I, and there are generous slices of both those times as well. Nothing gets by Ms. Byatt. This novel is as lushly detailed as Possession: A Romance, the 1990 Booker Prize winner which tells a richly textured story, through poems, journals and letters, of two academics in search of the buried truth about two Victorian poets.

    In The Children's Book there are disquisitions on German puppetry, the building of the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Fabian Society, Women's Suffrage, Midsummer's Eve celebrations, the art and politics of Germany, France and England, to name just a few, and finally, the end of all frivolity with the beginning of World War I.

    Olive Wellwood, the center of the tale, is a children's author styled somewhat after Edith Nesbit of The Railway Children fame. Writing at the time of Peter Pan and Kenneth Grahame, she is the mother of seven children and nearly the sole support of her brood, despite her loving husband, Humphry's, financial forays. They are both free-spirited and freethinking members of The Fabian Society, a British intellectual socialist movement. Olive has created a book for each of her children, a special volume unique to each child's temperament and personality; indeed, as their lives unfold, the books become eerily self-fulfilling prophecies (more...)

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    Voyage to the Heart of Matter: The ATLAS Experiment at CERN is one of the most amazing pop-up books I've even seen. No budding little scientist is not going to want to get their hands on this. It's really great...

    It's an astonishing and "unique collaboration between CERN and renowned paper engineer Anton Radevsky, 7000 tonnes of metal, glass, plastic, cables and computer chips leap from the page in miniature pop-up, to tell the story of CERN's quest to understand the birth of the universe."

    "Protons, travelling at nearly the speed of light, collide within the heart of the ATLAS detector, sending out showers of debris to recreate 40 million times a second the conditions that existed millionths of a second after the Big Bang, the event that set our universe in motion."

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