The art of summarizing great works, or “trucks turn in”

Pssst, do you ever read the New York Times bestseller list for children’s picture books?

Have you realized that each picture book listed includes a one-sentence summary?

(The one in the title is for Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site)

Take a look, either online or the next time you’re reading the NYT book review over Sunday breakfast. You might laugh into your coffee. . .

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Booker prize 2012 long list (with wine gums)

Still in VacationLand, still reading. I’m about halfway through A Suitable Boy. There’s nothing more relaxing that lying down on your bed on a summer afternoon, reading a large book with hundreds of pages to go, and eating a large bag of Maynard’s Wine Gums (not widely available in the US – pity).

I continue to LOVE A Suitable Boy – I’m learning so much about India that I never knew before (including the fact that monkeys seem to gambol freely around public parks), yet the characters inhabit a place that seems entirely familiar. It is a very funny book too.

I happened to see on the Guardian website today that the
Booker Prize Longlist has been released. I’ll be interested, when I return to Madison, to see how much media play and shelf space (in both bookstores and libraries) is given to Booker Prize Nominees. The prize receives a fair amount of attention in Canada because only authors who are citizens of the U.K., the Commonwealth, and the Republic of Ireland, are eligible. I’ve noticed before, and discussed it with my American librarian colleagues, that the fiction markets in the U.S. and Canada are remarkably distinct; my husband, for example, had never even heard of David Foster Wallace and his big fat crazy novel, Infinite Jest, until he moved to the States to attend graduate school. and my husband’s a tennis-playing logician. On the other hand, I had a great time pulling several well-known (in Canada) Canadian novels to lend to a Madison English-teacher friend for her summer reading this year, including Fall on Your Knees and Lives of Girls and Women.

This year’s Booker longlist, unlike in some previous years, contains many almost unknown titles; the exception is Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies, the sequel to Wolf Hall. Mantel’s book is also the only nominee that I have read – I devoured it in a beachside marathon of Renaissance machinations and gore during the first three days of our holiday. I’ll definitely post a longer review soon. In the meantime, I think I’ll agree with the London bookies, cited in the Guardian article, who are calling it: I think Bring Up the Bodies will win the Booker.

Warm weather reading

beach

(July will be spent reading on this beach on beautiful Lake Huron)

A colleague of mine, who is studying to be a children’s librarian, was slightly flummoxed the other day when she happened upon an online book list titled “Warm weather fiction for boys.” I suppose the author thought that boys wouldn’t like the term Beach Reads?

I have a confession: when I said the other day that the semester was over, I wasn’t telling the truth. I haven’t finished my grading (or, as us Canucks call it, marking) yet. So I will let The New York Times recommend the reading for today, in an excellent article about Beach Reads.

I should mention, though, that in case you liked the sound of the Bachelor Brothers Bed & Breakfast, you can find more Canadian humour (with a U, naturally), by perusing the list of past winners of the Stephen Leacock Award for Humour. I’ve certainly enjoyed several books on this list during summer camping trips and cottage visits, and in the wintertime too:

Leaven of Malice by Robertson Davies (1955 winner)
The Fencepost Chronicles by W.P. Kinsella (1987 – Kinsella is, of course, the author of those two other great summer baseball books: The Iowa Baseball Confederacy and Shoeless Joe ), but his short stories are less well-known, and hilarious)
Prayers of a Very Wise Child, by Roch Carrier (1992)
Barney’s Version Mordecai Richler (1992)
The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis (2008)

Listen [list]

Do you know about the RUSA Listen List?

I hadn’t heard of it until recently: it’s a new award established by the Reference and User Service Association of the American Library Association, to honor excellent audiobook narration. While it’s really difficult to see if you like the narrator of an audiobook until you actually listen, this list is still an excellent idea, I think. I especially like the way that “listen-alikes” for each book are suggested, so that if you enjoy the winner, you can find three more titles with a similar style or content.

I will admit that, compared to many people I know (especially knitters!), I’m not a huge listener of audiobooks. This is likely to do with the fact that my commute is only a short bus ride, if I do take the bus, and I often ditch the bus and ride my bike. But I think, also, that it’s because of the way that I consume text: I find it hard to maintain my attention while someone is reading a complex text (or giving a complex lecture), without having something to look at: it’s hard to explain, but I feel like I consume text in chunks, rather than in lines, and I like to be able to go back and forth between pages often as I read. That being said, I do enjoy audiobooks in specific situations, like during long car trips or when I have a tedious household task to complete. In fact, I first listened to Bachelor Brothers’ Bed & Breakfast while hand-sanding the finishing touches on a wall that my Dad had installed in my teenage bedroom!

I also know, from experience and from professional reading, that it can be difficult to find e-audiobooks to borrow from your public library, since they are often listed along with print ebooks in catalogs that can be hard to use. Here are a few of the titles on this year’s RUSA Listen List that I’m looking forward to taking out of my public library – I’ve linked each one to WorldCat, where you can enter your zip code or location and find a copy in a library near you.

All Clear by Connie Willis. Narrated by Katherine Kellgren

Bossypants by Tina Fey. Narrated by Tina Fey.

The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey by Walter Mosley. Narrated by Dominic Hoffman.

Middlemarch by George Eliot. Narrated by Juliet Stevenson.

The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht. Narrated by Susan Duerden and Robin Sachs.

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. Narrated by Simon Prebble. Blackstone Audio.

One of Our Thursdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde. Narrated by Emily Gray

“eccentrics and eccentricities–fiction”

Novels don’t often receive subject headings when they are cataloged, but two of my favorite books received this gem: “eccentrics and eccentricities–fiction.” And it couldn’t be more appropriate.

IMG_1727

(last summer’s foray to BBB&B land – the Strait of Georgia)

The books in question are Bachelor Brothers’ Bed & Breakfast and Bachelor Brothers’ Bed & Breakfast Pillow Book, by Bill Richardson, a Vancouverite who writes light fiction, non-fiction and children’s books while working as a radio host for the CBC.

(fun fact of the day: Bill Richardson used to be a children’s librarian – he has a library degree from UBC.)

The books (which stand alone, but are probably best read in order) chronicle the adventures and misadventures of fraternal twin brothers Hector and Virgil, who run a book-focused bed and breakfast on a small island in the Strait of Georgia, between Vancouver and Vancouver Island. The island is never identified by name: it is a mythical addition to the Gulf Islands, a group of islands that, to some observers, might as well come out of a storybook. The islands have a reputation for good wine and food (especially cheese), beautiful scenery, eccentric architecture, and low-key inhabitants. Guests come to the BBBB&B from a variety of Canadian towns and cities with the goal of either solitary or social reading of books ranging from Proust to P.D. James. They are encouraged to write their stories in the inn’s guestbook, and these are sprinkled throughout the narrative. The second book, modeled on the Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, is more scrapbook-like than the first, and includes recipes.

Hector and Virgil are the product of a dalliance between their mother, a frustrated socialite with a passion for auto mechanics, and a traveling book salesman, and the description of their parentage and childhood is one of the most enjoyable parts of the first book. Although both parents are dead at the beginning of the narrative, the twins are haunted by them, through their father’s boxes of books, delivered annually on their birthdays, which turn them into devoted bibliophiles with extended (sometimes bordering on pretentious) vocabularies, and and by their mother’s ghost, which occasionally appears “in person” but more often makes herself known through the voice of the twins’ parrot, Mrs. Rochester.

A number of secondary characters also pop in and out, sometimes to provide comic relief, sometimes to spur reflection on the part of the twins or the reader. Hector’s girlfriend, Altona Winkler, writes romance novels and tabloid-esque articles in the local paper (both are excerpted); their friends Rae and June run a local cafe called The Well of Loneliness and the second book sees the introduction of their handyman, Caedmon Harkness, who lives in a thatched VW bus with his pet parrot, who is mute. Virgil has a photographic memory for poetry, both serious and comic, and both the twins and their guests (who occasionally take the narrative reins) make numerous recommendations for books of poetry, non-fiction, novels and cookbooks.

While it is a pleasure for the reader to discover new poems through Virgil’s recitations, not everybody will have a taste for one of the books’ dominant running gags, the doggerel moral poetry written by the island’s late resident poet, Solomon Solomon. It will either make you giggle and think, or it will annoy you, and the same could be said of these books’ quirky vocabulary and wordplay and their reflective and slow-moving tone, which sometimes verges on self-indulgent navel gazing. But don’t let me put you off – I wouldn’t be writing about these books if I didn’t enjoy them very much. The first one is definitely best enjoyed in audiobook form, read by the author: the narrative was designed for radio, as Bill Richardson first introduced the characters on CBC radio in the early 90s, and I suspect that the audiobook would be perfect for commuters, as it is divided into short snippets of narrative.

These books will probably be familiar to my Canadian readers (I’m still, frankly, getting used to the idea of having readers! Hello readers!) Richardson won The Stephen Leacock Award for Humour for the first book. But, as I have discussed with friends in Madison, books that are well-known in Canada are not always well known elsewhere, and vice versa, so I hope that I have convinced some new readers to meet Hector and Virgil at the Bachelor Brothers’ Bed and Breakfast!