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Wednesday 19 December 2001

§ USA Today 12/18/2001 11:32 PM ET
The "Life" section of Wednesday's paper has a feature article on alternate history novels and how the subgenre has been affected by the Sept. 11 events. Included are comments from Harry Turtledove (with a photo), Jennifer Brehl, Ellen Datlow, Gardner Dozois, Kuo-Yu Liang, and Colleen Lindsey; plus a list of recent alternate histories that are "creating a buzz" by Jack Womack, Harry Harrison, Dennis Danvers, and others.

§ San Francisco Chronicle Book Review December 16, 2001
John Freeman reviews Jim Munroe's Angry Young Spaceman (Four Walls Eight Windows).

In his hilarious, futuristic novel, "Angry Young Spacemen," Jim Munroe transports this rite of passage to the year 2959, when his hero leaves home to teach English to the squidlike denizens of a planet called Octavia. The result is a quirky, snicker-producing lark of a novel that ought to be required reading for people teaching abroad.

Tuesday 11 December 2001

§ Tolkien
Slate begins a "Book Club" dialogue this week between Geraldine Brooks and Sarah Lyall about becoming reacquainted with a childhood friend...
[T]here was hardly anything about my old friend that I recognized, and yet the reunion was a smashing success. The book one reads on the cusp of adolescence is very different from the book one reads in the middle of the journey of your life. There was much in The Lord of the Rings that I hadn't noticed as a teen-ager or hadn't cared about. I had perceived it then as the story I had needed it to be: an Underdog Triumphant tale well-suited to a protected child who longed to be recognized as ready for adult freedoms. I hadn't sensed the keening lament that runs through the narrative: the certain knowledge with which the High Elves confront their own diminishment and accept the dissolution of their civilization as the price of defeating evil.

And in The New Yorker (December 10, 2001), Anthony Lane revisits the trilogy, all 1,077 pages.

There is so much that is wrong and flabby with the book, but there is one big thing that Tolkien got right: he got rhythm. His instinct for the procedures of Dark Age saga was as reliable as his indifference to the mores of the machine age, and he soon established a beat—a basic pulse, throbbing below the surface of the book and forcing you, day after day, to turn the page. We can no more leave Frodo stranded on his mission than his friends can. Not all works of literature share that pulse: the Odyssey has it, "Ulysses" doesn't. This is a way of suggesting that "The Lord of the Rings" may be the final stab at epic, and there is invariably something risky, if now downright risible, in a last gasp....

The Sunday Times of London has an long essay by biographer Michael White about Professor Tolkien...

The impression one gets from his diaries and letters between 1925 and the late 1960s suggests a gruelling schedule of lectures, committees, meetings and academic writing. He submerged into a fantasy world late at night when the family was asleep. From 10pm to 2am he would wrestle with convoluted plots and chisel out his characters. He was immensely pedantic, later driving his publishers to distraction with his minutely annotated manuscripts and endless revisions. But it was this very attention to detail — the Elvish alphabet, the timelines, the maps — which made his fiction so rich. It also meant he was tortured by what he was doing and each book took many years to perfect.
Tolkien could have written 10m words about Middle-earth and it would still not have been enough to satisfy his fans. Today, fantasy literature is gradually infiltrating the literary world. The commercial success and critical acclaim for J K Rowling, Philip Pullman, Iain Banks and other modern storytellers owes much to Tolkien's lead.

§ New York Times December 9, 2001
Maureen Dowd's op-ed Veni, Vidi, Voldemort reports that...

J. K. Rowling will publish her first book, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," in Latin and ancient Greek, hoping to inspire children to study those two languages, just as she inspired millions of kids to read.

§ New York Times Book Review 9 December 2001
Mary Elizabeth Williams reviews Ray Bradbury's From the Dust Returned: "Bradbury may not have much to say in this slim volume, yet he says it with fairy-tale panache."

§ San Francisco Chronicle Book Review 9 December 2001
Michael Berry reviews Clive Barker's Coldheart Canyon, Maureen F. McHugh's Nekropolis, and Kelly Link's Stranger Things Happen.

Friday 7 December 2001

§ Washington Post Book World December 2, 2001
A selection by various contributors of their "comfort books" includes a choice by Neil Gaiman: Roger Zelazny's Lord of Light.

And, among the items Michael Dirda wants for Christmas: Richard A. Lupoff's The Great American Paperback (Collectors Press).

§ The Independent 14 November 2001
Jonathan Myerson can't understand why adult readers would read novels written for children--like J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books.

They may indeed be the best children's novels ever written. But I'm sure JK would be the first to agree that they are children's books, that they are successful precisely because they appeal so directly to the childish imagination, address the problems and questions of childhood, enact the hopes and dreams of childhood. Now this is a completely different set of questions from those that mesmerise us in adult life. A child is free to wonder about magic, to believe in the clear purity of the struggle between good and evil, to bask in simple, unquestioning friendships. As adults, we deal with the constantly muddled nature of good and evil, we take on things like the constraints and longevity of love, we carry a responsibility for the safety of others, we crave success and fear failure, we confront the reality of dreams.
Also, 1 December, various literary luminaries pick their favorite books of 2001; scroll down for selections from Philip Pullman and J.G. Ballard. (Ballard picked a different book on Nazis the week before in The Guardian.)

§ The Spectator 1 December 2001
Robert Edric reviews J.G. Ballard's Complete Stories.

It is no exaggeration to say that, in their scope and depth, in the single-minded achievement they represent — in their ability to keep alive those hopeful, needed futures while at the same time creating and dwelling within a ‘visionary present’ — Ballard’s stories are beyond compare, and to regard the 90 works collected here purely as science fiction is to misunderstand completely what he has accomplished over half a century.

Colin Wilson reviews Mike Ashley's Starlight Man: The Extraordinary Life of Algernon Blackwood (Constable), summarizing Blackwood's life and saying almost nothing about Ashley's book except

Mike Ashley’s amusing and beautifully researched biography, the first so far, is an important step in that direction.

§ Guardian Unlimited December 4, 2001
A profile of Lemony Snicket (real name Daniel Handler), author of the series of books about the Baudelaire siblings (The Hostile Hospital, etc.), positions him as a potential successor to J.K. Rowling.

Handler confesses to not much liking children's books (actually, he calls them "crap") - by which he means books "where everyone joined the softball team and had a grand time or found true love on a picnic". As a child he liked "stories set in an eerie castle that was invaded by a snake that strangled the residents... Edward Gorey's The Blue Aspic was the first book I bought with my own money".

Items in the UK press not online (courtesy Matthew Davis):

  • The Times Literary Supplement for 29 Nov 2001 has a lengthy review of Mike Ashley's "Algernon Blackwood" biography. Phil Baker examines Blackwood in the light of late Victorian/Edwardian paganism, recounts Blackwood's own adventures into "Psychical Research", and circumspectly investigates his sexuality.
  • Book and Magazine Collector #213, Dec 2001, has a lengthy article by Mike Ashley about Algernon Blackwwod, with a bibliography and standard book prices.
  • The Literary Review Nov 2001 has a 5-page interview by Sebastian Shakespeare of J.G. Ballard.

November Field Inspections

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