Archives for the month of: October, 2013

So the Texas Book Festival has competition this weekend! The Austin Film Festival (AFF) will also be happening. This is the festival’s 20th anniversary, and it looks like it’s shaping up to be a great year. Vince Gilligan of Breaking Bad fame will be participating in several panels, including a stage reading of his new script, 2 Face. And who will feature in this reading? Will Ferrell. That’s right. Will. Effing. Ferrell. That $700 producer’s badge just got more tempting.

But beyond those two flashiest of names, there are many speakers—from Eli Attie to Stephen Falk to Leslie Dixon (She wrote Overboard, you guys!)—who will be imparting screenwriting–film-making–industry-knowing tricks of the trade.

This year the Texas Book Festival is on October 26 and 27.  I just went through the author list and schedule and made a list of everything (and everyone) I’d like to see.  I’m especially excited about Sherman Alexie, who will be speaking on Sunday. I also saw that three National Book Award finalists will be at the festival! This event is always great—well organized, well attended, and full of interesting panels and authors. And it’s free!

So here is an amazing new discovery in neurology: the brain cleans itself. At least, the brains of mice do, as shown in this study. It hasn’t been observed in humans yet, but since nearly all animals sleep, there’s a good chance they do it for the same reasons. This could explain so much, like why people perform so poorly at all sorts of tasks when they’re sleep deprived and why sleep is critical for memory formation (and thus, learning). It may even explain why people get headaches and feel sick when overtired; if you don’t sleep well enough, then the neurotoxins just build up in the brain. Of course, because diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are correlated to sleep problems, scientists will undoubtedly begin to study how well the brains of patients with those diseases clean themselves. For a good summary of the study’s findings, see this article on NPR.

I love this time of year. We get to hear about all of the book fairs, book festivals, and book awards! The finalists for the 2013 National Book Award have been announced, and I’m busily adding titles to my “To Read” list. I already had my eye on Lahiri’s The Lowland, but I’m also looking forward to Tenth of December by George Saunders. In nonfiction, I’ll start with George Packer’s The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America, and in young people’s literature, I don’t  know—all of them?

You can see the complete list of finalists on Publisher’s Weekly.

The winner of this year’s Man Booker Prize is Eleanor Catton of New Zealand. She is the youngest winner ever and the last winner before the prize rules are changed to include U.S. writers.

The new rules have stirred more than a bit of controversy; many fear that opening the prize to Americans will harm British writers and make it more difficult for the Man Booker Prize to compete with the Pulitzer and the National Book Awards, two of the most prestigious writing prizes in the United States.

The Ice Palace was, without a doubt, one of my favorite reads of this summer. Written by the celebrated Norwegian writer Tarjei Vesaas, it was first published in English in 1966. In this novel, Vesaas, who is both a poet and a novelist, uses sparse, poetic language to tell the story of two young girls and their powerful friendship.

Unn is an 11-year-old girl who has recently moved to a new school. Shy and reserved, she keeps to herself even though the other girls in her class have repeatedly invited her to play. But one day she finally approaches Siss, the most popular girl in the class, and invites her to her house. They have one visit together and develop an extraordinary connection. The next day, overwhelmed, Unn goes for a walk in the woods instead of going to school. When she doesn’t return home, the townspeople begin an extended search ranging over the harsh winter landscape near the town. It’s no use; Unn is not seen again.

Vesaas explores the complexities of human connection, loss and grief, and the impersonal beauty and power of nature. The real journey of the novel is Siss’s; we first follow her as she heads through the dark of a late autumn afternoon to Unn’s house for their visit. Then we watch as she realizes, incredibly, heartbreakingly, that Unn will not be seen again; that her friend, only just found, is already lost. We watch as she struggles with memory and loyalty–how best can she honor her friend? Wouldn’t it be disloyal to continue without her?

This is a novel that, though simple, rings with truth, stunningly beautiful.

 

A couple of weeks ago I attended the Austin Teen Book Fair, where I picked up Rats Saw God after hearing the author speak on a panel. Set in the mid-1990s in Houston and San Diego, the story follows a high-school senior, Steve York, a smart young man who’s busy smoking weed and destroying his academic career. He’s headed for summer school and late graduation until the school’s academic counselor offers him a break: Write a 100-page paper, to be turned in directly to the counselor, and Steve could get the extra credit needed to finish on time.

Not surprisingly, Steve accepts the offer. Steve’s paper is the story of himself—how he got to the place where he was when the counselor found him. The book alternates between the narrative of Steve’s life in Houston, where he spent his first three years of high school, and his senior year in San Diego. The parallel plots show us, in lockstep, how he got into a state of deep self-neglect and how he manages to resurface.

The book is full of the sharp sarcasm and whatever attitude that society often associates with teenage boys. But Steve isn’t just a flawed, hostile kid. He’s a complex character with struggles the reader can relate to. In the course of his paper, he exposes his vulnerabilities and explores his mistakes, which makes the assignment exactly the exercise in learning that the academic counselor was hoping for.

NOTE: The back cover of my edition says that this book is for ages 12 and up, but there is a lot about underage drinking and use of marijuana. There is also an explicit sex scene.