With spring in full gear, publishers are pushing some big titles
John le Carré's "A Delicate Truth," his 23rd novel, has to lead the list (it was named "The Most Anticipated Book of 2013" in the UK). Classic le Carré plot: A British civil servant lands in Gibraltar for a top secret counter-terror operation. His mission is to be the eyes and ears for an ambitious Foreign Office minister during the capture and abduction of a jihadist arms buyers. Then three years later, the minister's private secretary, Toby Bell, who was kept in the dark about operation "Wildlife" at the time, must investigate what really happened. Was it a success, or was it bungled and covered up? If you prefer your books on tape, le Carré has recorded the audio book. Here's the first line "On the second floor of a characterless hotel in the British Crown Colony of Gibraltar, a lithe, agile man in his late fifties restlessly paced his bedroom. His very British features, though pleasant and plainly honorable, indicated a choleric nature brought to the limits of its endurance." You know exactly where you are when you are in le Carré country.
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Caroline Leavitt follows up her New York Times bestselling "Pictures of You") with "Is This Tomorrow," a novel about the lasting impact a 12 year-old boy's disappearance has on a suburban Boston neighborhood, particularly his sister Rose, his best friend Lewis and his best friend's mother Ava, a single mother who the missing boy had a desperate crush on. The story starts in 1956 and then picks up again with Lewis and Rose young adults, both still caught up in the mystery of what happened to Jimmy all those years ago. Giving the book an "enthusiastic thumbs up," Wally Lamb credits Leavitt with a "Mad Men-like examination of shifting midcentury American values."
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And the winner of the best and most intriguing title of the week award goes to debut novelist Bill Cheng for his "Southern Cross the Dog," the story of three childhood friends separated by Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. Robert Chatham is only 8 years old when the flood washes away his family's home. Adrift and alone, he considers himself cursed as he makes his odyssey around a South steeped in Jim Crow, meeting fur trappers, hustlers, Klansmen and a host of prostitutes. The book got starred reviews in PW and Kirkus (hard to get both) and Cheng's Southern Gothic voice is winning him comparisons to Flannery O'Connor and Cormac McCarthy.
Just in time for Mother's Day, Joan Steinau Lester's new novel "Mama's Child" centers on the conflict between a white mother and her biracial daughter. Raised in 1970s San Francisco, the daughter, Ruby, is torn between her identity as a black woman and her allegiance to the white, leftist mother who raised her. Years later, when she becomes a mother herself, she starts to reexamine the relationship in a new light. Lester's novel is blurbed by Alice Walker, who calls it "the most passionate, the most honest and brave of books."
Fitzgerald's optometrist remains as "the eyes of God" in new adaptation
Whoever the billboard on the cover is supposed to depict, Luhrmann's new adaptation of the film doesn't hold back from making its own opinion the matter known - those eyes belong to Eckleburg, and the film's frequent shots of the billboard, George Wilson's consistent mentions of them being "the eyes of God," and the inclusion of a Cugat-styled shot of them on the film's poster leave no room for questions on the matter. Does it really matter? Well, depending on who you find more central to the story - Dr. Eckleburg or Daisy herself - it just might. Who would you rather see gaze out upon the vast valley of ashes that "The Great Gatsby" crumbles into - a man we never get to know who serves as a moral cipher, or the woman who single-handedly destroys nearly everyone she loves? Yeah, our money is on Eckleburg, making Luhrmann's choice to stick to the oculist one of the wisest he makes in his flashy, fizzy new take on the classic novel.
Still not sure? Baz Luhrmann's "The Great Gatsby" opens this Friday, May 10. You probably need to see it to believe it (ahem, take that as you will). Till then, check out larger versions of both the new movie poster and the original Cugat cover after the break to make your own comparisons.
In doing so, she becomes the heroine of writers everywhere
Here's what happened. Messud participated in a strangely short Q&A with Publisher's Weekly. The version online includes just two questions (although maybe Messud pulled off the proverbial mike after the offending question; we wouldn't blame her). The first was "What are we to make of Nora Eldridge, the betrayed, middle-aged woman of your new novel? Because she is angry, really angry."
Nora, a third grade teacher who harbors dreams of being an artist when she's not wiping snotty noses and dealing with recess bullies, is angry. She states it throughout the first seven pages of "The Woman Upstairs" with the kind of outraged eloquence that may make many other middle-aged persons (of both sexes), go to their windows and shout into the night "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore." Some of her powerful rage has to do with being lonely and single at mid-life and making nice the way women do. But more of it has to do with feeling cheated out of life's promise; the reality is sinking in for Nora that her gravestone is more likely to say good teacher/daughter/friend instead of Great Artist. I'll let Nora explain.
Really I'm angry because I've tried so hard to get out of the hall of mirrors, this sham and pretend of the world, or of my world, on the East Coast of the United States of America in the first decade of the twenty-first century. And behind every mirror is another fucking mirror, and down every corridor is another corridor, and the Fun House isn't fun anymore and it isn't even funny, but there doesn't seem to be a door marked EXIT.
I don't know how anyone can read even just those first seven pages and be confused about what to make of Nora Eldridge. She's disappointed by life and as the book unfolds, the reader quickly realizes she's crushed by something that went wrong with a new friendship that she felt might save her, or at least point the way out of the Fun House. The book unfolds as a mystery about that relationship.
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Publishers Weekly's interviewer, Annasue McCleave Wilson, then moved on, but only by about a centimeter, to this question: "I wouldn't want to be friends with Nora, would you? Her outlook is almost unbearably grim."
Messud replied: "For heaven's sake, what kind of question is that? Would you want to be friends with Humbert Humbert? Would you want to be friends with Mickey Sabbath? Saleem Sinai? Hamlet? Krapp? Oedipus? Oscar Wao? Antigone? Raskolnikov? Any of the characters in The Corrections? Any of the characters in Infinite Jest? Any of the characters in anything Pynchon has ever written? Or Martin Amis? Or Orhan Pamuk? Or Alice Munro, for that matter? If you're reading to find friends, you're in deep trouble. We read to find life, in all its possibilities." Find the full response here (it's worth clicking).
She had me at Oscar Wao, who I definitely don't want to be friends with.
As the literary stink unfolded, Salon took PW to task for asking a question that "might not be posed" to male writers in the same way. The author and book critic Meredith Maran, whose debut novel "A Theory of Small Earthquakes" features a heroine who isn't always "likeable," came forward with an essay about how female writers are often pressured to make their heroines more sympathetic. Poets & Writers made note of the debate. And meanwhile, McCleave Wilson posted a link to the Salon piece on her Facebook page with this comment. Don't worry about the "poor reporter." The fact of the matter is that Messud and I had a much more expansive conversation about why readers read and why writers write, and it came down to the deep desire of both to explore literature in order to learn how to live. It's absurd to parse the question as Salon did, in terms of gender. I'm sorry to disappoint you, but gender never crossed my mind. The fact is, the question generated an instructive and enlightening response.
Later, she posted this, which suggests she just didn't like "The Woman Upstairs" (it's intense and I loved it, although I could see how people of a certain uncertain age would be turned off): How absurd that Salon suggests that is a question that "might not be posed to a male author." Why ever not? While I don't read to find friends, nor simply to find life, I DO read to learn how to live. All the unpalatable characters Messud sites teach one how to live; Nora is simply self absorbed and pissed.
I would hate to be judged on grammar and spelling on my Facebook page, although if I am in any kind of literary scuffle, I do try to watch my Ps and Qs. Like, spelling "cites" correctly (it's not "sites" unless we're talking about say, where that archaeological dig is.) And at the same time, I have asked some dumb questions in interviews, sometimes out of nervousness, sometimes just because a softball question is a good way to get a ball rolling, conversationally. But two in a row? The other thing is, you have to prepare for an interview with Claire Messud, who happens to be married to the literary critic James Wood (Read all about their lives together in this great Vulture profile by Boris Kachka). This isn't Nicole Ritchie. You have to ask smart questions of a novelist of her caliber. After all, she's got a lot going on upstairs.
Bing: More on 'The Woman Upstairs'
Nope, the 'Song of Ice and Fire' author's next book is not the one fans have been begging for
Writer and journalist recently penned biography of Vladimir Putin
The New York Times reports that the book will seek to "explain who the brothers were, where they came from, what shaped them, and how they came to do what they appear to have done." It "will “reconstruct the struggle that ensued for each of the brothers between assimilation and alienation, and their metamorphosis into a new breed of home-grown terrorist, with their feet on American soil but their loyalties elsewhere, a split in identity that opened them to a deadly sense of mission.”
Gessen of all people should be able to speak to the apparent challenges the brothers might have faced - the writer herself emigrated to Boston from Russia in 1981, when she was still just a teenager. The outspoken author and activist is a bright and bold pick to write the non-fiction book - while she's best known for her 2012 bestseller "The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin," she's also written extensively on all manner of Russian affairs, LGBT rights (she infamously called for the end of marriage in a recent viral video), the Holocaust, the Russian Intelligentsia, and even the future of genes. She currently lives in Moscow, where she will reportedly leave her position as director of Radio Liberty to dedicate her full attention to the book.
No publishing date has been announced as of yet, as Publishers Weekly reports that a spokesperson for the publishing house commented that "we want [Gessen] to take as much time as she needs to do a comprehensive and excellent book." The spokesperson also noted that “It’s not clear how long it will take to get the access required to write the thoughtful and comprehensive book that she wants to write. But she’s probably the only fully bilingual journalist who has contacts in Dagestan, which has been war-torn for years.”
You can take a look at Gessen's controversial Putin book right HERE at Google Books.
Why we couldn't put down the Seattle native's memoir
Yes there was a brief time where I doubted Amanda Knox's innocence. The Italian police had to know something we didn't know, I reasoned. Maybe it was the underwear shopping spree that threw me, the supposed "saucy g-string" her boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito bought for her the day after her roommate Meredith Kercher was found dead while they allegedly discussed having "wild sex." And the cartwheel she supposedly turned in the police station; certainly a girl from Seattle can be a bohemian free spirit, but you'd have to be a social deviant not to understand how inappropriate that was, right? Ditto for the way Knox kissed Sollecito outside her apartment--well documented in video--while investigators combed the apartment and dealt with poor Meredith's body. I judged the beautiful young college student on the basis of what I'd read in the media.
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Here's what I learned from "Waiting to Be Heard" about those particular points. The underwear was actually a cotton bikini, they featured a cartoon cow. Cows. So not sexy. The underwear was in fact red. ("In the long run it probably would have been better if I'd chosen a more sedate color than red," Knox writes.) She needed a change of underwear because she hadn't been allowed back in the apartment, now a crime scene. She was waiting for Sollecito at the police station, stretching in the hallway after days of interrogation and an investigator asked her about yoga; she stretched into a split for him. No cartwheel. She was being foolishly obliging, as was frequently the case in those days when she should have called the American embassy and lawyered the hell up. She'd only lived in Italy for six weeks, the closest connection she had was to Sollecito, who she had been dating for a week. She was 20. The closest she'd been to death before was a grandfather passing of natural causes. "These kisses were consoling. Raffaele let me know that I wasn't alone...Watching a clip of it now, my stomach seizes...I can only see myself as I was: young and scared, in need of comfort."
But by the time I picked up my Kindle and started devouring the book this morning, I'd long ago ceased to think there was any possibility Knox had killed her roommate or even known anything about who had. The first story I read that made me question all I'd vaguely absorbed about the case to that date was written by Judy Bachrach and ran in Vanity Fair in June 2008. The next year, Timothy Egan, a Seattle-based journalist I greatly respected, began writing columns about the case in the New York Times. The first was called "An Innocent Abroad" and mentioned that his own college age daughter was studying in Italy, although she didn't know Knox.
Reading Egan, I was reminded of what it was like to be an American college student in Italy. I studied there briefly in the mid 1980s and was harassed every time I walked through Florence with my friends, particularly my pretty friend with nearly white blonde hair. I'd slept with two people at that point in my life and it was baffling to realize that by virtue of being American, we were all considered readily available. I love Italy and visit it every chance I get, but the harassment in the street was like nothing I'd ever encountered (and yes, I realize how lucky I was that being bugged by some arrogant Italian guys in the street constituted the worst harassment I'd faced at 20).
I'm going to dwell on her sexuality, only because that's what so much of the insane case against her was about--the prosecution believed in some foursome gone terribly wrong, a foursome with a kid from the streets Knox had met twice and her roommate, who had apparently stumbled with embarrassment over trying to tell Knox to use the toilet brush on the Italian low flow toilets. But here are the facts, according to "Waiting to Be Heard." Although as Knox writes, "casual sex was, for my generation, simply what you did," she had came to Italy having had four lovers, all of them since she'd started college. She had only been with people in what she considered meaningful relationships, even if some of them were short. She'd come to Italy determined to be more free, more open to sex as pure pleasure.
In that spirit, she made out with a guy she met on a train. She slept with a guy named Mirko, once, didn't have a great time and balked midway through their second encounter. It was Meredith Kercher who comforted her after she fled his house, ashamed and embarrassed: "Amanda," she said, consolingly, "maybe uninvolved sex just isn't for you." Knox also had a one-night stand with a boy from Rome named Bobby. Her roommates saw him leaving the next morning. "I had no way of knowing what a big price I would end up paying for these liaisons," she writes.
Then she met her seventh lover, Sollecito, 23, at a classical music concert of a quintet called the Quintetto Bottesini. He took the seat Kercher had vacated at intermission, to go have dinner with friends. He asked for her number. He walked her home after work at the club Le Chic where she'd been serving drinks. They spent three days together before he asked her, in essence, to go steady. She agreed, even though she wasn't sure she should be getting into anything serious. She was sure however, that casual sex wasn't going to be her thing. "Even with the minuscule perspective of a few days with Raffaele, I understood that, for me, detaching emotion from sex left me feeling more alone than not having sex at all--bereft, really."
The nickname the press seized on, Foxy Knoxy, came from a thirteen year-old's prowess on a soccer field, but that didn't matter. The story was the story. And Knox? Even wearing bland preppy clothes and no makeup in a courtroom, even after years of prison food and limited time outdoors, she was startlingly pretty. She has the look of a young Mariel Hemingway, but more delicate, more even featured, more Ivory Girl.
For me the surprising thing about "Waiting to Be Heard" is how measured it is. There's some anger there, justifiably, but mostly, Knox tells it as a straightforward narrative. About half way through the book, it gets agonizing to read; Knox seems so trapped, especially in the prison where her every word seems to be recorded or noted and passed onto the police or prosecutors. One piggish investigator asks her constantly how she feels about sex. At one point, her genitals are photographed and measured. And near the end, when she's making a list of what she'll do if the conviction isn't overturned, and "suicide?" appears on the list, I actually started to cry.
If you didn't know how it turned out--Knox's conviction overturned on appeal, her family rushing her out of the country and back to Seattle, where she has been studying creative writing at the University of Washington--it would be difficult to keep going. And of course, the legal battle goes on in Italy, with yet another attempt to bring the case to trial (Knox won't have to attend). Rudy Guede, an immigrant from the Ivory Coast whose DNA was everywhere at the crime scene, is serving time for Kercher's murder. He's alternately accused Knox and Sollecito of helping, tried to hang it all on another guy, and allegedly told one of his prison buddies that he and the other man did it together. For some reason, the Italian authorities have never been satisfied with the idea that a loner with financial troubles who had recently broken with his adopted family could be the lone killer. Go figure.
The book hit #5 on Amazon's rankings today. Chances are that most who read it have already decided, as I had, who or what they believe. But maybe Amanda Knox, the writer, can change some minds about Foxy Knoxy, a character who was fictional everywhere but on the soccer field.
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In a new memoir, the actor, now in recovery, tells of coke w/Robert Downey Jr., sex w/Elizabeth Hurley
But the truth is, I have very little vested in the rehabilitation of Tom Sizemore (the career stuff is ongoing; he has 17 projects in the works or in post-production, according to IMDB.com). He's a good actor, but I haven't been crushed by his absence in the kind of big name productions that the "Saving Private Ryan" and "Natural Born Killers" star used to appear in regularly. In reading his book I was on a mission I'm not particularly proud of: to find the salacious stuff. My Kindle tells me I'm 45 percent through with the book and here are some of the more notable details I've come across.
-After his college girlfriend broke up with him over his infidelity, he left New York briefly to mope around his mother's house. When he got back, he met Edie Falco. He was 24. They were a "funny couple," he writes, "we both basically believed that we deserved to be big stars." He says many kind things about her, including that she is a magnificent actress and that she was smart enough to get into AA when she saw "the writing on the wall." Then he spoils it with this line: "But the truth is, she [expletive] a lot better when she drank." Just what you want your ex-lover to tell the world.
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-According to Sizemore, via Willem Dafoe, director Kathryn Bigelow, who gave him his big break in "Blue Steel" "loves rude people." (Of which he is one.) For some reason, I find the idea of the cool as a cucumber director liking rude people deeply intriguing.
-He became friends with John F. Kennedy Jr. and picked up a workout routine from him where he throws a football against a wall outside. Once they were out to dinner with JFK Jr.'s colleagues from "George" and after a lot of work chatter, JFK Jr. announced "Hey, let's stop talking about 'George' because it's got to be boring for Tom." (It had been.) Good manners, that JFK, Jr..
-He wooed Elizabeth Hurley by using the word "neophyte" to describe himself to her. She did a strip tease for him on a coffee table during their first "date." The sex was "spectacular from the beginning." She was cheating on Hugh Grant at this point, but it took Tom a while to figure this out. Sometimes she made Tom weep. It was a bad idea to weep in front of her. "She didn't like tears--no Brits do."
-He writes that the first time he did coke it was with Robert Downey Jr.. It was instant magic. Downey Jr. complimented him on how convincing he was as a non-first time user. But eventually the fun dwindled and Downey Jr. said to him "Sizemore, I'm so tired of giving you drugs."
-Fleiss gave him his first meth. This leads to a lot of sex. I don't think you want to know more.
-He asked Brad Pitt for permission to ask Juliette Lewis out when they were making "Natural Born Killers." And this is what Pitt supposedly said: "'Is it okay? I'll drive you there! I want to be your agent on this one!' I think she was bothering him--phone calls and stuff."
-Then Sizemore goes on to say that really, it was Lewis who dumped Pitt, because he made them late to the Academy Awards after he couldn't decide what pair of shoes to wear. I am pretty sure Angie has said the same sort of thing about Brad.
-He did a lot of heroin with Juliette Lewis. They debated getting clean at various times. At one point they decided to go to rehab together. Lewis said "we'll go to Scientology rehab and we don't have to really get clean there."
-Warren Beatty recommended to him that he stick with drinking water. He himself did not drink or smoke, he told Sizemore, matter-of-a-factly. "Because of the way I look." The world thanks you Warren, for keeping the beauty pure. Obviously, the lesson here is, always listen to Warren Beatty.
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Art book chronicles Fox Animation and Blue Sky's new film
After the break, take a look inside "The Art of Epic" with our exclusive gallery, thanks to Titan Books.