Thursday, April 28, 2011

Caribbean Fiction at its Finest: Three new releases in paperback

It's no secret among the staff that I am a serious Caribbean addict.  From the food to the music to the people to the fiction of the region, I am a devotee.  And that's why I am so pleased to tell y'all about three novels just out in paperback that span the Caribbean in space and time.  [Drumroll, please]

Isabel Allende's Island Beneath the Sea is a beautifully written novel.  Born a slave on the island of Saint-Domingue, Zarite -- known as Tete -- is the daughter of an African mother she never knew and one of the white sailors who brought her into bondage. Though her childhood is one of brutality and fear, Tete finds solace in the traditional rhythms of African drums she discovers through her fellow slaves.When twenty-year-old Toulouse Valmorain arrives on the island in 1770, it's with powdered wigs in his baggage and dreams of financial success in his mind. But running his father's plantation, Saint Lazare, is neither glamorous nor easy. It will be eight years before he brings home a bride -- but marriage, too, proves more difficult than he imagined. And Valmorain remains dependent on the services of his teenaged slave.Spanning four decades, Island Beneath the Sea is the moving story of the intertwined lives of Tete and Valmorain, and of one woman's determination to find love amid loss, to offer humanity though her own has been battered, and to forge her own identity in the cruellest of circumstances.
The White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey is a beautifully written, unforgettable novel of a troubled marriage, set against the lush landscape and political turmoil of Trinidad.  Monique Roffey's Orange Prize-shortlisted novel is a gripping portrait of postcolonialism that stands among great works by Caribbean writers like Jamaica Kincaid and Andrea Levy. When George and Sabine Harwood arrive in Trinidad from England, George is immediately seduced by the beguiling island, while Sabine feels isolated, heat-fatigued, and ill-at-ease. As they adapt to new circumstances, their marriage endures for better or worse, despite growing political unrest and racial tensions that affect their daily lives. But when George finds a cache of letters that Sabine has hidden from him, the discovery sets off a devastating series of consequences as other secrets begin to emerge.

Told in the irresistibly willful and intimate voice of Miss July, with some editorial assistance from her son, Thomas, Andrea Levy's The Long Song is at once defiant, funny, and shocking. The child of a field slave on the Amity sugar plantation in Jamaica, July lives with her mother until Mrs. Caroline Mortimer, a recently transplanted English widow, decides to move her into the great house and rename her “Marguerite.” Resourceful and mischievous, July soon becomes indispensable to her mistress. Together they live through the bloody Baptist war, followed by the violent and chaotic end of slavery. Taught to read and write so that she can help her mistress run the business, July remains bound to the plantation despite her “freedom.” It is the arrival of a young English overseer, Robert Goodwin, that will dramatically change life in the great house for both July and her mistress. Prompted and provoked by her son’s persistent questioning, July’s resilience and heartbreak are gradually revealed in this extraordinarily powerful story of slavery, revolution, freedom, and love. This book was a finalist for the 2010 Book Prize.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

My Name is Nieves... and I'm a cover lover!

Poetry Lovers edition part dos. 

This one brought by local Amherst College Professor Ilan Stavans. I speak of course of anthology he edited for Farrar Straus Giroux. The FSG Book of Twentieth Century Latin American Poetry, is serious business at 50.00. It is a veritable tome of bilingual (Spanish/ English) poetry. This anthology captures the varying ideas, thoughts and moods of different Latino poets, "during a century of extraordinary change, poets became the chroniclers of  deep polarizations." *

The cover was what drew me to the book in the first place, but the subject kept me captivated far longer. Stavans is no stranger to Latino literature, having worked on numerous biographies and anthologies that include Pablo Neruda, Ceasar Chavez, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Read a selection below, or come in to see this and more of our extensive poetry collection!




Poem XX: Tonight I can write the saddest lines 
by Pablo Neruda.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.

Write, for example,'The night is shattered
and the blue stars shiver in the distance.'

The night wind revolves in the sky and sings.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too.

Through nights like this one I held her in my arms
I kissed her again and again under the endless sky.

She loved me sometimes, and I loved her too.
How could one not have loved her great still eyes.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
To think that I do not have her. To feel that I have lost her.
To hear the immense night, still more immense without her.
And the verse falls to the soul like dew to the pasture.

What does it matter that my love could not keep her.
The night is shattered and she is not with me.

This is all. In the distance someone is singing. In the distance.
My soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.

My sight searches for her as though to go to her.
My heart looks for her, and she is not with me.

The same night whitening the same trees.
We, of that time, are no longer the same.

I no longer love her, that's certain, but how I loved her.
My voice tried to find the wind to touch her hearing.

Another's. She will be another's. Like my kisses before.
Her voide. Her bright body. Her inifinite eyes.

I no longer love her, that's certain, but maybe I love her.
Love is so short, forgetting is so long.

Because through nights like this one I held her in my arms
my sould is not satisfied that it has lost her.

Though this be the last pain that she makes me suffer
and these the last verses that I write for her. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

April is... National Poetry Month

One of my favorite poetry books to come out this year is a collection put together by Caroline Kennedy.

She Walks in Beauty, A Woman's Journey Through Poems, (Hyperion Books, 24.99) is a selection of poems honoring, exploring, and celebrating womanhood. It is an excellent collection broken up into the various facets of the human (and woman) experience. Kennedy has chosen some of my favorite poems and included some new gems! Pick up a copy at the Odyssey Bookshop to check it out for yourself. Read one of the poems picked below!

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
by e.e. cummings

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
                                  i fear
no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want
no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)




Monday, April 18, 2011

Book Review: Pulitizer Prize 2011 Winner--A Visit from the Goon Squad

 (NB: On the left is the hardcover/ARC edition and on the right is the new paperback edition.  While I find the left one more visually appealing, the abstract pb cover art I think is more appropriate to the subject.)

A Visit From the Goon Squad  by Jennifer Egan has been earning so many accolades that I finally picked it up a few weeks ago to see what it's all about.  The New York Times named it a Top 10 Book of that year and  it's also the winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award (incidentally, the prize I most respect out of the "Big Three" literary prizes in the US: the Pulitzer, the National Book Award, and the NBCC). Today the Columbia School of Journalism announced that it is also this year's Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction.

While I cannot say that I loved it, I can say that it's a pretty impressive and interesting novel.  What none of the reviews I read mentioned, however, is that it seems to be less a cohesive novel than a full length work of disjointed stories.  The key characters are so randomly interspersed throughout the book that it took more than a little effort to keep up with them, though admittedly that might have more to do with my attention span the week I read it.  In most cases I just write up my own little cast of characters and chart them, but I didn't care enough about these people to do that. The book's description tells us that Bennie and Sasha are the main characters, but since they don't actually appear in most of the book, I'm not sure I agree with that assessment.  Mostly the book jumps back and forth in chronology and we get various back stories and future stories for Bennie and Sasha, which means we're hearing more about their parents, children, uncle, spouses, bosses and significant others than we do about Bennie, a music mogul, and Sasha, his erstwhile assistant. 

Along the way, Egan takes us for a ride through American pop culture with sidetrips to Africa for a safari, to Naples for a look at the city's underbelly, and to NYU for reasons that remain obscure to me.  We get alternating first, third, and even second person points of view (used with only limited success) and sometimes it takes longer than it ought for the reader (and I figure I'm at least as astute as most) to figure out just who the heck we're dealing with and where (and when) in the overarching chronology of the book we are.

Which is not to say I disliked the book or think it's not good, despite the bizarre section near the end that is done in the style of a Power Point presention, presumably to show how an autistic child named Lincoln sees the world visually and compartmentally.  By the time I closed the book and reflected on the ride Egan took me on, I was left feeling like this really is a novel of our time, reflecting the disjointedness and fragmentation of our society--and that is, ultimately, what the Pulitzer Committee is looking for ("For distinguished fiction by an American author, preferably dealing with American life," according to the website).

Egan's prose is always serviceable and occasionally elegant.  Here's a short passage that I liked, which I'd say is pretty representative of her style: "But eventually a sort of amnesia had overtaken Susan; her rebellion and hurt and melted away, deliquesced into a sweet, eternal sunniness that was terrible in the way that life would be terrible, Ted supposed, without death to give it urgency and shape."  I think this may be the first time that I've encountered deliquesce as a verb, and it's a word worth using.

A Visit from the Goon Squad is, for me at least, a more interesting read than a great one, but I am quite glad that I went along for the ride.  I recommend it for people who don't mind working a little bit at their novels and for those looking for something a little off the beaten track in terms of narrative and structure.

What about y'all?  Have you read this one yet?  Do you think it is deserving of the many accolades and awards that it has received so far?  Do you think other books published in 2010 are more worthy?  What has been overlooked, in your opinion? I'll put myself out there and say that I am disappointed that Karl Marlantes' mammoth novel Matterhorn wasn't at least shortlisted for any of the big awards, but I'd love to hear *your* opinion now!


Book Review: The Sojourn by Andrew Krivak

  Coming from Bellevue Literary Press, the same small publisher that brought us last year's Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction, Tinkers, is a tiny gem of a novel--The Sojourn by Andrew Krivak.  I hope that because of the publisher's track record that the book will get more review attention, because it certainly deserves it and, I suspect, would otherwise get overlooked.  Like Tinkers, it is a deceptively quiet novel filled with beautiful language and painstakingly crafted prose.  While I did not love it (I need to care more about my characters for that), I think it is a very fine novel. 

Jozef Vinich's life is marked by early tragedy when his father packs him up from the Americas and moves them both back to a small village in the Austro-Hungarian empire.  Life gets even more difficult with an unpleasant stepmother and a harsh, subsistence life life as a shepherd.  When he and his half brother enlist in World War I, little do they realize that their dream of escape from their impoverished rural life is about to become a nightmarish struggle for survival in the trenches.  Round that off with the life of a sniper who is then taken prisoner and you'd think it would all make for some pretty exciting reading, right?

Well, actually not.  It is a very deliberate book, holding the reader always at arm's length, and though the atrocities of war are not skimped on, it was hard for me to work up more than a vague horror at any given point, or for that matter, more than a vague relief when each unpleasant situation passed.  The writing is beautiful, but more in a clinically precise way; the level of passion implied by the action never quite reaches the writing.  This may sound like I'm damning The Sojourn with faint praise but that's not true.  Just because I find it to be reserved doesn't mean I do not admire it.  I do, in fact.  And when customers talk with me about wanting a book that is finely crafted, whose writing is precise (Krivak always finds his mot juste), I will unhesitatingly recommend it (like Cold Mountain, or Tinkers,or Fugitive Pieces, where the writing is also beautifully lyrical).

Here's a sample of the writing. Krivak frequently writes paragraph-long sentences, (think Jose Saramago among the modern greats) and while they make take a bit more effort to read, the effort is certainly rewarded:
The northwestern Carpathians, in which I was raised, were a hard place, as unforgiving as the people who lived there, but the Alpine landscape into which Zlee and I were sent that early winter seemed a glimpse of what the surface of the earth looked and felt and acted like when there were no maps or borders, no rifles or artillery, no men or wars to claim possession of land, and snow and rock alone parried in a match of millennial slowness so that time meant nothing, and death meant nothing, for what life there was gave in to the forces of nature surrounding and accepted its fate to play what role was handed down in the sidereal march of seasons capable of crushing in an instant what armies might--millennia later--be foolish enough to assemble on its heights. 
Lovely, no?  And when read with a deliberate pace, really considering what he is putting forth here, one finds ultimately that it is worth reading.  And worth the little extra effort.  And if  one comes away feeling less than fervent about the characters or the events and is moved more by the language itself, then so be it.

~Emily Crowe

Friday, April 15, 2011

My Name is Nieves... and I'm a cover lover!

April Poetry Month edition!

Nobody loves tom foolery and epic nonsense like us booksellers here at the Odyssey Bookshop. So it goes without saying we love writers like Lewis Carroll. If you doubt me check out Marika's blog or click here.

But what convinces a reader to pick up a nonsensical and delicious epic poem ? Why the cover of course.

by Lewis Caroll
British Library 

The British Library has reprinted a complete facsimile of the 1st edition. And in the book's 135 years of existence it has had quite a few covers (see below). However there is just something to be said for the aesthetic appeal of gold on red clothe. Maybe it's my inner mocking bird that loves to collect shiny objects but I love this reprint!

From "The Hunting of the Snark"
by Lewis Carroll

"Friends, Romans, and countrymen, lend me your ears!"
(They were all of them fond of quotations:
So they drank to his health, and they gave him three cheers,
While he served out additional rations).

"We have sailed many months, we have sailed many weeks,
(Four weeks to the month you may mark),
But never as yet ('tis your Captain who speaks)
Have we caught the least glimpse of a Snark!

"We have sailed many weeks, we have sailed many days,
(Seven days to the week I allow),
But a Snark, on the which we might lovingly gaze,
We have never beheld till now!

"Come, listen, my men, while I tell you again
The five unmistakable marks
By which you may know, wheresoever you go,
The warranted genuine Snarks.




Wednesday, April 13, 2011

April is... National Poetry Month

I read this article on NPR from New York Times poetry columnist David Orr a couple of days ago. In the article Orr discusses his new book Beautiful and Pointless, Harper, 25.99. In it Orr looks at modern poetry and why reading it may, or may not matter.

The book's purpose was not to highlight his favorite poets per se but to encourage people to discover poetry and different themes and thereby find for themselves poets who inspire the reader to read poetry.

To buy his book click here.  I can't help but agree that even if poetry is an under-appreciated (if not completely outdated) art form, when someone discovers for themselves the power of a poets words it can be a powerful thing.

Case in point:

What is Poetry
by Lawrence Felinghetti
art by Frederic Amat (see above picture)
House of Anansi Press

Ferlinghetti's book was first published in 2007 as Poetry as an Insurgent Art, Amat has created art specifically to go with this limited edition book. It is a completely inspired way of looking at Ferlinghetti's words and drives home the point that when one discovers poetry or writing of any kind that resonates with the reader doors are opened and worlds are discovered. 

Come down to the Odyssey and check it out, it really is one of the coolest books I've read this year! 



Constantly Risking Absurdity (#15)

By Lawrence Ferlinghetti b. 1919 Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Constantly risking absurdity
                                             and death
            whenever he performs
                                        above the heads
                                                            of his audience
   the poet like an acrobat
                                 climbs on rime
                                          to a high wire of his own making
and balancing on eyebeams
                                     above a sea of faces
             paces his way
                               to the other side of day
    performing entrechats
                               and sleight-of-foot tricks
and other high theatrics
                               and all without mistaking
                     any thing
                               for what it may not be

       For he's the super realist
                                     who must perforce perceive
                   taut truth
                                 before the taking of each stance or step
in his supposed advance
                                  toward that still higher perch
where Beauty stands and waits
                                     with gravity
                                                to start her death-defying leap

      And he
             a little charleychaplin man
                                           who may or may not catch
               her fair eternal form
                                     spreadeagled in the empty air
                  of existence

Monday, April 11, 2011

April is... National Poetry Month!

I love poetry. It gives one a shared understanding, a level of comprehension and compassion with the rest of humanity. Sometimes it is packaged in a silly rhyme:

Well, my daddy left home when I was three,
and he didn't leave much to Ma and me,
just this old guitar and a bottle of booze.
Now I don't blame him because he run and hid,
but the meanest thing that he ever did was
before he left he went and named me Sue.

    ~ from "A Boy Named Sue," by Shel Silverstein.

or as a wise old haiku: 

So many things 
they call into my thoughts--
cherry blossoms! 


Poetry has a way of bringing to light aspects that we might miss otherwise in the hurdy gurdy turmoil of day to day living. As Billy Collins says:
                 "Poems can inspire and make us think about what it means to be a member 
                   of the human race. By just spending a few minutes reading a poem 
                     each day, new worlds can be revealed."

And just in time for poetry month, Collins has come out with an excellent book of new poetry. Horoscopes for the Dead, Random House, 24.00.

This book is just another excellent example of Collin's wit, and superb lyrical style of someone who writes poetry for those who do and do not consider themselves poetry readers. 

To buy his latest book of poems click here. But for now enjoy this selection!

What She Said
by Billy Collins

When he told me he expected me to pay for dinner,
I was like give me a break

I was not the exact equivalent of give me a break.
I was just similar to give me a break.

As I said, I was like give me a break.

I would love to tell you
how I was able to resemble give me a break 
without actually being identical to give me a break,

but all I can say is that I sensed
a similarity between me and give me a break.

And that was close enough 
at that point in the evening 

even if it meant I would fall short 
of standing up from the table and screaming 
give me a break,

for God's sake will you please give me a break?!

No, for that moment 
with the rain streaking the restaurant windows 
and the waiter approaching,

I felt the most I could be was like

to a certain degree

give me a break. 

I hope you enjoy! 




Sunday, April 10, 2011

April is... National Poetry Month!

We have been very busy (and happily so) at the Odyssey with some great events in the past two months! If you have made the trip down to the Odyssey or South Hadley I'm sure you know what I'm talking about. Of course you can check out our website to see what we have coming up next.

The unfortunate truth however is that I haven't blogged in over a month... yikes! And this month is probably my favorite literary month! National Poetry Month!

I'm going to kick it off with a poem from one of my favorite poets Elizabeth Bishop
To buy her latest definitive edition of poems click here


One Art  
by Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant 
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

--Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied.  It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.
I hope you enjoy! 

Monday, April 4, 2011

Must-Read Monday: New paperbacks you should check out now!

Outside it's a dark and dreary day here in South Hadley, but inside the Odyssey, our countenances are quite sunny!  That's because we have the inside scoop on all the great new books that are out in paperback now.  Here are a few of them for you to consider:

  The Architect of Flowers: Stories by William Lychack.  There's a saying that those who have spent a lot of time in the dark have the ability to find great beauty in the smallest hints of light, and this book is a great example of this.  This slim collection of stories will introduce you to a case of delicately developed characters facing heartbreak and disappointment.  Lychack's skill is infusing the ordinary with special qualities: the softness of a summer's yellow morning light in a kitchen or the depth of a mother's longing for her adult son and what's willing to do to bring him home.  It's a rare skill and one to be savored on a quiet weekend afternoon with tea and blankets.  ~Sophia (signed copies available of this paperback original)

  A Thread of Sky by Deanna Fei.  Lin Yulan, a revolutionary  and leader of the Chinese feminist movement, reluctantly returns to her homeland after a self-imposed exile for a guided tour of "the new China" with her two daughters and three granddaughters in an effort to heal their collective estrangement.  Each woman arrives in China with her own agenda, and each discovers that some secrets are simply too heavy to bear alone.  This powerful, intricately woven first novel is a meditation on grief & recovery, strength & vulnerability, and the urgency to leave one's mark on the world.  A very promising debut!  ~Emily

  The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano.  This is a beautifully written story of life taking a turn for the weose.  The two characters of Alice and Mattia both have personal tragedies early on in their young lives that drastically define them and separate them from their peers.  For Alice a skiing accident forever mars her physical self-esteem.  Mattia, born a twin to her sister who is mentally retarded, is weighed down by the guilt of her sister's untimely death.  Alice and Mattia meet in high school and this is their love story.  Giordano writes with a sensitivity that is both beautiful and powerful.  ~Nieves

 Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay.  This narrative pas de deux binds Nina Revskay's mysterious past as the Bolshoi's rising young star with her reclusive present as a benefactor of the Boston arts scene.  When a rash, youthful decision based on jealousy and insecurity sets events spinning out of her control, Nina spends the rest of her life guarding a dark secret.  With this sweeping story of art, love, and Soviet politics come hints of intrigue and betrayal in a world where trust is a rare commodity and where even those with the most dazzling artistic talent cannot protect themselves against faceless accusations from Party informants.  ~Emily