Archives for the month of: September, 2014

I’ll a little behind with this, but the fiction longlist for the National Book Awards is available! I’m excited to see Emily St. John Mandel’s latest book listed. (Also, Emily St. John Mandel will be at the Texas Book Festival this October!)

BookPeople's Blog

NBA-fiction-longlist

The National Book Award Foundation announced their Fiction Longlist last night. It’s an exciting list! We were happy to see many staff favorites recognized.

thunderstruck

Thunderstruck by Elizabeth McCracken
We have signed First Editions Available!

Elizabeth McCracken is one of our own! An Austinite, she holds the James A. Michener Chair in Fiction at the University of Texas and the Associate Director for UT’s New Writers Project. We hosted a big ol’ event to help her launch Thunderstruck. This is the second time she’s been up for a National Book Award; her previous novel, The Giant’s House, was also a finalist for the award.

Julie thoroughly enjoyed this collection: “McCracken explores the unexpected avenues of loss in this absorbing new collection. What I love about McCracken is knowing that the characters I meet on her pages will never be typical. I come again and again to the little girl dressed as Patrick…

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I had so much fun reading Maggie Shipstead’s first novel, Seating Arrangements, that I picked up her second, Astonish Me, the following month. I confess that I expected something very like Seating Arrangements–a perfect mix of humor and bad behavior. And this second novel is like Shipstead’s first in that her writing is technically just as good. The story itself, however, is less fresh.

The novel spans two decades, beginning  in the 70s in New York City, where we join a young ballet dancer and her friends as they navigate life in an elite dance company. Our heroine, Joan, falls in love with the world-famous Aslan, a Russian dancer who has just escaped his home country to join the ballet in New York. But it’s not a relationship that will stick, and Joan knows she will never be a soloist. So she moves on.

The story is told non-linearly, switching between Joan’s life dancing in New York and her life after she leaves the company. She marries, she moves away from New York, she has a child, she teaches ballet. Her son takes her classes and when, as a teenager, he moves to New York to dance, Joan’s old and new worlds collide. The results are intense, even melodramatic.

The problem with the novel is that the characters are a little empty, a little too stereotypical. They weren’t as engaging, as simultaneously likeable and flawed, as the characters in Seating Arrangements. And… I have to say that I didn’t care for the ending, which I found unsatisfying and even a touch distasteful. Overall, it was an enjoyable read, and I’ll probably read Shipstead’s next book, but this one doesn’t make it to my list of favorites.

 

 

 

“Read, read, read. Read everything.” –William Faulkner

Last summer I spent a lot of time reading. I read for many hours each week. I read Beloved (Morrison), August Light (Faulkner), Jane Eyre (Bronte), To the Lighthouse (Woolf), and a number of others. My favorite was The Ice Palace, a short novel by an author I’d never encountered before–the inimitable Tarjei Vesaas of Norway.

What prompted this literary journey, you ask? I discovered a course–a free course–on Coursera.org. I thought, “That sounds interesting. I’ll give it a try.” The course was called The Fiction of Relationship. It was taught by Professor Arnold Weinstein of Brown University. And it was amazing. The professor is amazing. The content is wonderful. I credit this course with reawakening my love of reading, which in turn inspired me to start writing this blog.

I’m telling you about this because I just learned that Coursera is offering the class again! It’s happening right now. Officially, it began a week ago, but you may still be able to enroll at coursera.org. (And, no, no one asked me to promote this. I just think it’s a genuinely great class.)