Saturday, December 31, 2011
Friday, December 30, 2011
Thursday, December 29, 2011
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Monday, December 26, 2011
Sunday, December 25, 2011
Friday, December 23, 2011
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Monday, December 19, 2011
Chris Matthews, the host of MSNBC's Hardball, doesn't throw readers any real curves in his new biography of John F. Kennedy.
In fact, the usually pugnacious TV commentator sometimes seems like he is playing softball with his subject matter, pitching his account of JFK's personal and political history down the broad ideological middle.
Matthews, like millions of Americans, clearly still feels the spell cast by JFK even now, nearly a half century after his assassination.
PHOTOS: John F. Kennedy's life and legacy
Still, it's sure to be a hit with readers who love the inside baseball of politics and the Kennedy cult of personality.
"My fascination with John F. Kennedy has remained an abiding one," Matthews writes. "He is avatar and puzzle, a beacon and a conundrum... Anytime I've ever met a person who knew him — someone who was there with JFK in real time — I crave hearing his or her first-person memories."
Those memories begin with Jack's childhood, especially his school days at Choate, where he showed the first signs of being "two Jacks." One was "sunny and full of good humor," the other lonely "with a craving for company" and "already a victim of persistent ill health."
Most significantly, he was already proving ambitious. From the start, it seems, he was ready to lead, to be "his own man," to go against the grain of established authority, even as he appropriated or transformed some of its conventions, and to throw off family ties that might bind him while still paying homage or making use of them as the mood struck him.
The biography also offers evidence that JFK's "Ask Not" speech might have originated with his headmaster at Choate; pulls the curtain back on some behind-the-scenes shenanigans at the now-iconic 1960 TV debates with Richard Nixon; and recounts a post-Bay of Pigs chat with Gen. Douglas MacArthur that seems straight out of Dr. Strangelove.
Matthews boldly states in his preface: "I believe I've come to recognize, and even unearth, key clues that help explain the greatness and the enigma of Jack Kennedy."
But, as Matthews also notes, Kennedy's key adviser and legendary speechwriter Ted Sorensen once said: "I never knew everything about him. No one did. Different parts of his life, work and thoughts were seen by many people — but no one saw it all."
Even JFK's wife, Jacqueline, couldn't know "that elusive man, unforgettable man," as she called him. Not completely.
And based on everything Matthews tells us, that's exactly the way Jack Kennedy wanted it.
Saturday, December 17, 2011
By Bob Minzesheimer, USA TODAY
Small, independent book publishers, like Two Dollar Radio in Columbus, Ohio, or Coffee House Press in Minneapolis, tend not to get as much attention as indie music or indie movies, which have their own cable TV networks.
But boosted by online bookselling, which makes it easier for small publishers to distribute their works, there are hundred of independent publishers across the USA. Two magazines are devoted to reviewing books from independent publishers: ForeWord, a semi-monthly, and Shelf Unbound, an online magazine, which has just released a list of its top 10 books of 2011. (USA TODAY will list our favorite books of the year in late December).
Here's what Shelf Unbound likes best from indie publishers in 2011:
-- Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work by Edwidge Danticat (Princeton University Press) -- A collection of personal essays on writing and exile by the celebrated Haitian-American writer.
-- Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner (Coffee House Press) - A comic debut novel that explores the authenticity, or inauthenticity, of our relationships to art and to each other. The main character is a young poet on a prestigious fellowship in Madrid.
-- Quiet Americans by Erika Dreifus (Last Light Studio) -- Short stories that examine the effect of the Holocaust on generation after generation, from prewar Berlin to the present.
-- Airplane Novel by Paul A. Toth (Raw Dog Screaming Press) -- A 9/11 novel narrated by the South Tower, who details his birth, life, and death.
-- The Samaritan by Fred Venturini (Blank Slate Press) -- A sci-fi, coming-of-age tale featuring a character who discovers he has the ability to regenerate his own organs and body parts.
-- Damascus by Joshua Mohr (Two Dollar Radio) -- A novel about the Iraq War seen through various viewpoints, including a pathetic dying man, an alcoholic semi-prostitute, and a naïve performance artist.
-- Iraq: Perspectives, photographs by Benjamin Lowy (Duke University Press) -- A collection of photographs of both daily life and the terror of warfare, taken through the windows of a Humvee and through military-issue night vision goggles.
-- Repeat It Today with Tears by Anne Peile (Serpent's Tail) -- A novel that deals with incest featuring a girl who grows up desperate for the love of her perfect, absent father.
-- Exit by Nelly Arcan (Anvil Press) -- A novel that explores depression and suicide, completed a few days before Arcan, who had written four previous novels, killed herself at age 36.
-- The Final Appearance of America's Favorite Girl Next Door by Stephen Stark (Shelf Media Group) -- A sexy, edgy novel about love, loss and multiple realities.
Thursday, December 15, 2011
Author Janet Evanovich, right, saw Katherine Heigl as Stephanie Plum, but had no say in her casting. The film is due Jan. 27.By Larsen & Talbert, for USA TODAY
Author Janet Evanovich, right, saw Katherine Heigl as Stephanie Plum, but had no say in her casting. The film is due Jan. 27.A major break occurred when Evanovich saw 2008's 27 Dresses, notably the scene in which Katherine Heigl's straitlaced character rushes from a bar cursing at the top of her lungs.Discussing the moment with Heigl for the first time during a joint interview at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, Evanovich explains that, right then, everything clicked."I just knew it," Evanovich says to Heigl. "From that instant, you were Stephanie Plum to me."In January, Heigl, 33, will be Stephanie Plum to the rest of the world when the film adaptation of the first novel in Evanovich's series, One for the Money, hits theaters. Seventeen years after the book was released, the actress will finally put a face to the lingerie saleswoman turned bounty hunter who has sparked a behemoth 80 million copies in book sales (including nine No. 1 USA TODAY best sellers) and an audience of die-hard fans."I don't know why it took so long, but as far as I'm concerned, the search is over," says Evanovich, 68, who last week released her 18th Plum novel, Explosive Eighteen (Bantam, $28). "Every time I write Stephanie Plum, it's going to be Katherine Heigl's face there. She totally nailed it."Amazingly, Heigl's casting had nothing to do with Evanovich's 27 Dresses epiphany, because the author had relinquished any say in production matters when she sold the rights to One for the Money before it was published in 1994. Despite the early sale, there was no concrete movement on a film adaptation for years. Evanovich continued churning out new, increasingly successful novels, while actresses' names occasionally surfaced as potential players — none to the author's total satisfaction.Fans wanted Bullock"Every now and then, I would get a phone call that would be: Jennifer Lopez is going to be attached to this," says Evanovich, clearly unimpressed. "Or Reese Witherspoon. There was never anybody really there." Her fans clamored for Sandra Bullock. "They could see her with the dark hair. And she has great comic timing."The author, who was a successful romance writer before moving to mystery writing in the early '90s, never had a Hollywood personality in mind for the sassy character she was creating. Stephanie Plum featured a little bit of Evanovich herself and some of her daughter Alex, then 20. But that changed once she set eyes on the former Grey's Anatomy star."I had been going around to everybody saying Katherine Heigl has to be Stephanie Plum, and then one day, I got that phone call saying that it was Katherine," says Evanovich. "I was like, 'Oh, my God.' "On the set of 2009's The Ugly Truth, producer Gary Lucchesi had presented Heigl with a copy of One for the Money. The avid reader was hooked."Two months later, someone was able to get me to come out of the bedroom after I had gone through 10 books," says Heigl. "(They are) so addicting."Lucchesi and Lakeshore Entertainment acquired the rights with their choice, Heigl, to star as the unemployed Plum, who takes a job as a rookie bail bondsman hunting down a cop accused of murder. The suspect happens to be her hunky ex-boyfriend (Jason O'Mara). The View's Sherri Shepherd was cast as Plum's street-level informant, Lula, and screen legend Debbie Reynolds signed on as kooky Grandma Mazur.But a major hurdle lay ahead: Fans were not pleased that Heigl is famous for her blond hair while Plum is a brunette. "They had a hard time with it because (Heigl's) blond," says Evanovich. "But 90% of them were just so excited that the movie was going to get made."Heigl tried dyeing her hair, but then had to go to a plan B to get the desired look. "I wigged it," she says. "Sorry." Hair done, Heigl moved onto the finer aspects of bounty-hunter training. She took her first trip to a gun range, where she proved to be a sure shot. ( "I called my dad and kept my target to show him," she says, beaming). Producer Lucchesi says Heigl also showed impressive skill behind the wheel of a 3-ton, stick-shift truck in another scene.Still, there were some low points while delving into the New Jersey crime business, such as Handcuffing 101. "Ugh," says Heigl. "I could never get that smooth handcuffing motion."Even tougher was her first on-camera accent — and a broad one, to boot."It was nerve-racking," says Heigl. "There were moments I saw it wavering. I'm normally the jerk in the audience who goes, 'Blah, they totally lost the accent there.' This was karmic."Her attention to detail also played into her dedication to keeping the movie true to the book."I became very possessive of Janet's material," says Heigl. "I was really loud about how important it was to honor the book."Mutual fans became friendsEvanovich, meanwhile, stayed in the dark during the film process. "I always felt once it goes into movie land, the book belongs to someone else," she says.So neither producers nor Heigl had any idea what Evanovich would think once she finally saw the completed film. Evanovich concedes that she, too, fretted about the final result and put off the screening for months."I was terrified to see it," says Evanovich. "But when I did, it was everything I could have wanted and more. I was almost in tears when the movie ended. I was so relieved."The author's stamp of approval caused the filmmakers to literally pop the Champagne."That was the best call we got in the entire process — that Janet loved the movie," says Heigl, exhaling dramatically. "We were like, 'Thank God!' "Movie wrapped, Heigl reached out to Evanovich, and the two immediately talked over the phone for an hour and a half for the first time about everything from dog rescues to kids. This led to an instant e-mail relationship."I get the funniest, quippiest e-mails from Janet, none of them appropriate for sharing," says Heigl. "I don't have to censor myself. I can just be me.""That's another thing we have in common," adds Evanovich. "I'm from New Jersey. I have an extensive vocabulary. I'm totally politically incorrect."After their first in-person meeting for this interview, the two fast friends even escaped back to Heigl's Los Feliz, Calif., house for a home-cooked meal that lasted late into the evening. Evanovich reported back that she was especially tickled when the Hollywood star searched in vain to find all the ingredients for a martini."It was like Stephanie searching through her apartment for a Snickers bar," says Evanovich. "I knew she was one of us."She had the vodka, she had the chilled glass, but she couldn't find the vermouth," the author adds. "It showed the human side of a person who has a lot going on in her life."The ingredients for a suitable martini were eventually found ("She located an olive, and we were good to go," says Evanovich), and now the duo feel they have the ingredients for future Plum adaptations for the screen. With 18 novels in the can (and counting), it could lead to unlimited possibilities.Or a new set of problems, since Plum remains 32 years old throughout the series — a tough feat to mimic, even for Heigl."You'll have to go to the gym and no Cheetos," says Evanovich."This could be a dilemma. I'll have to keep my face frozen with Botox so I can be ageless for years," jokes Heigl. "Jason (O'Mara) and I were talking about it. It's like, 'Oh, my God, if we do all 18 of these books, how old will we be? How will we pull this off?' ""But if we shoot six at a time," she adds in a light-bulb moment. "There we go."For more information about reprints & permissions, visit our FAQ's. To report corrections and clarifications, contact Standards Editor Brent Jones. For publication consideration in the newspaper, send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include name, phone number, city and state for verification. To view our corrections, go to corrections.usatoday.com.
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
New audio books: 'Battle of the Crater'; 'Midnight Rising'; 'Gabby'; 'Destiny of the Republic.'
New audio books: 'Battle of the Crater'; 'Midnight Rising'; 'Gabby'; 'Destiny of the Republic.'Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope
Written and read by Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly. Simon & Schuster Audio, $39.99, unabridged, 11.5 hours. Rating: * * * out of four.This audio will put any irritation caused by holiday traffic jams in perspective. Effectively read by U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, Gabby is a powerful story about Jan. 8, 2011, the day the vivacious Arizona politician was shot in the head. Six people died, including a little girl.The listener learns quite a bit about politics, the Southwest and the space program, as well as the couple's backgrounds, careers and marriage, but the audio's real impact is the way it never soft-soaps the damage a bullet to the brain does. In harrowing detail, Gabby captures Giffords' injuries and her struggle to regain her life and health.In a halting but clear voice, Giffords reads the final chapter.Destiny of the Republic
Written by Candice Millard; read by Paul Michael. Random House Audio, $40, unabridged, 10 hours. Rating: * * * out of four.Candice Millard's The River of Doubt, about Theodore Roosevelt's voyage down a South American river, ranks as one of the most haunting and insightful works of history in recent years. The material in her new book — about the 1881 shooting of President James A. Garfield by a madman named Charles Guiteau and Garfield's prolonged death resulting from medical ineptitude — lacks River of Doubt's drama.Nonetheless, Destiny of the Republic displays Millard's energetic writing and rare ability to effortlessly educate the listener. And the narration by Paul Michael is appropriately zesty, living up to the subtitle: "A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President."Millard weaves together a fractured nation still recovering from the Civil War, the bitter machinations between the two parties, and the efforts of inventor Alexander Graham Bell to discover a non-invasive method to find the bullet inside the dying president, who had been fatally infected by the germs of his doctors as they probed.Midnight Rising
Written by Tony Horwitz; read by Daniel Oreskes. Macmillan Audio, $39.95, unabridged, 11 hours.
Rating: * * * ½ out of fourHow to explain our ceaseless obsession with the Civil War? Is it that we find solace by reflecting on past crises that the nation survived? Or is it more simple: The Civil War remains the most compelling period in American history?Here Tony Horwitz, author of Confederates in the Attic, takes on the fiery and complicated John Brown who led the Oct. 17, 1859, raid on Harpers Ferry. (Union officer Robert E. Lee would capture Brown and his fiery allies.) Horwitz does a particularly good job in depicting the profound divisions between North and South, while Daniel Oreskes gives his full measure of drama to the narration.The Battle of the Crater
Written by Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen; read by William Dufris. Macmillan Audio, $44.99, unabridged, 12 hours. Rating: * * * out of four.Whether you agree with Newt Gingrich's political views or not, the former speaker of the House and current Republican presidential candidate is passionate about American history. Witness the novels about Gettysburg, Pearl Harbor and Valley Forge he and Montreat College history professor William Forstschen have penned.Now they return to the Civil War and the catastrophic 1864 Battle of the Crater. Trying to seize Petersburg, Va., Gen. Ambrose Burnside attempted to tunnel his way to victory. The result was the brutal slaughter of new Union African-American troops. William Dufris provides a lively narration and handles a variety of accents.For more information about reprints & permissions, visit our FAQ's. To report corrections and clarifications, contact Standards Editor Brent Jones. For publication consideration in the newspaper, send comments to email@example.com. Include name, phone number, city and state for verification. To view our corrections, go to corrections.usatoday.com.
By Bob Minzesheimer, USA TODAY
Try to burn this version of Fahrenheit 451.
Publisher Simon & Schuster today releases the first e-book edition of Ray Bradbury's classic 1953 novel set in a future where reading is outlawed and firefighters burn books.
In print, the novel has sold more than 10 million copies, been translated into 33 languages and remains a standard in high school English classes.
A graphic novel version, illustrated by Tim Hamilton, with an introduction by Bradbury, was released in 2009.
Francois Truffaut directed the 1966 movie adaptation, his only English-language film, staring Oskar Werner and Julie Christie.
In announcing the new publishing agreement that covers digital rights, Simon & Schuster's Jonathan Karp called it was a "wonderful opportunity" to bring the novel "to new generation of readers and in new formats."
Monday, December 12, 2011
Umberto Eco's latest work is rife with fabrications, conspiracy theories, fakery, espionage and political drama. Already a best seller in Spain, Italy and other countries, The Prague Cemetery is a well-executed thriller set in late-19th-century Europe. This is Eco's first novel in seven years. It's provocative and suspenseful, and it's already drumming up controversy.
The enigmatic protagonist, 67-year-old Simone Simonini, is a detestable anti-Semite, misogynist and all-around misanthrope. His maxim: "I hate therefore I am." He earns his living in Paris as a master forger of documents (not to mention as a murderous spy). "It's a marvelous thing creating a legal deed out of nothing," he boasts, "forging a letter that looks genuine, crafting a compromising confession, creating a document that will lead someone to ruin."
Although he becomes enmeshed in the political intrigue of the day — including the Dreyfus Affair and the Paris Commune — it's no surprise that Simonini is such a solitary figure. "Whom do I love?" he asks. "No one comes to mind." His vitriol veers from alarming to comical: "The German lives in a state of perpetual intestinal embarrassment due to an excess of beer and the pork sausages on which he gorges himself." At least Simonini, who expresses love for nothing but devouring gourmet cuisine, is compelling in his repugnance.
Interestingly, Eco notes in an afterword that Simonini is the only fictional character in the novel. All the others — such as Sigmund Freud and Alexander Dumas — actually existed, or are carefully drawn amalgams of historical figures.
At the opening of the novel, in 1897, Simonini feels disoriented and agitated: his memory seems to be slipping, and he starts to feel his identity blurring with the Abbé Dalla Piccola, a cleric who may or may not be entering his home and writing entries in his diary.
The core of the novel is the infamous historical document known as "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," purported to be a Jewish plot to take over the world — and revealed to be a forgery (in this story, one perpetrated by the evil Simonini himself). This text fueled the actions of anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists of the era, and would later influence Hitler.
Don't be mistaken: The Prague Cemetery is no Dan Brown thriller. It's a dense, multilayered mystery, steeped in arcane historical fact. Coming from the erudite author of The Name of the Rose and Foucault's Pendulum, that's to be expected. Eco's latest is a complex exploration (and indictment of) xenophobia and religious fanaticism, revealing how certain events and widespread beliefs led to horrifying acts of persecution and war.
Occasionally, this dark narrative gets bogged down in esoteric asides on theology and more. Yet despite its challenges and its rather contemptible protagonist, The Prague Cemetery is edifying and thoroughly worthwhile. That it is historically accurate makes it all the more chilling.
Carmela Ciuraru is the author of Nom de Plume: A (Secret) History of Pseudonyms.
Sunday, December 11, 2011
The host of MSNBC's 'Hardball' goes back to the president's childhood in 'Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero.'
The host of MSNBC's 'Hardball' goes back to the president's childhood in 'Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero.'Jack Kennedy: Elusive HeroBy Chris MatthewsSimon & Schuster, 406 pp., $27.50, non-fictionLike millions of Americans, Chris Matthews is still fascinated by President John F. Kennedy nearly a half century after his assassination.In this new biography of the "elusive" JFK, the host of MSNBC's Hardball goes back to Kennedy's childhood to discover what made the future president the man he was. There were always "two Jacks." One was "sunny and full of good humor," the other lonely "with a craving for company" and "already a victim of persistent ill health," Matthews writes. And Kennedy was ambitious, if ever enigmatic.USA TODAY says: *** out of four. "Sure to be a hit with readers who love the inside baseball of politics and the Kennedy cult of personality."•11/22/63 byStephen KingScribner, 849 pp., $35, fictionCraving more about JFK? Then Stephen King's time-traveling thriller should fit the bill. Schoolteacher Jake Epping is whisked back in time to try to prevent Kennedy's assassination. Can Jake keep Lee Harvey Oswald from squeezing the trigger in Dallas?USA TODAY says: * * * * out of four. "King's latest epic is as fascinating as the premise sounds. … It is not typical Stephen King. It is extraordinary Stephen King."• The Prague Cemeteryby Umberto EcoHoughton Mifflin Harcourt, 464 pp., $27, fictionUmberto Eco's first novel in seven years - a best seller abroad — is a literary thriller set in late-19th-century Europe. Its protagonist is a detestable anti-Semite - and a master forger of documents (not to mention a murderous spy).USA TODAY says: *** out of four. "It's provocative and suspenseful, and it's already drumming up controversy."•Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hopewritten and read by Gabrielle Giffords and Mark KellySimon & Schuster Audio, $39.99, unabridged, 11.5 hours, non-fictionCongresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, tell the inspiring story of Giffords' road to recovery since she was shot in the head by a would-be assassin. Kelly reads most of the audio book, but Giffords takes over in the final chapter.USA TODAY says: *** out of four. "A powerful story … In harrowing detail, Gabby captures Giffords' injuries and her struggle to regain her life and health."•The Battle of the Craterwritten by Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen; read by William DufrisMacmillan Audio, $44.99, unabridged, 12 hours, fictionWhen he's not running for the Republican presidential nomination, Newt Gingrich (with writing partner William Forstschen) pens historical fiction. Their latest, about the catastrophic 1864 Battle of the Crater during the Civil War, will appeal to history buffs.USA TODAY says: *** out of four. "William Dufris provides a lively narration and handles a variety of accents."To read full reviews, go to books.usatoday.comFor more information about reprints & permissions, visit our FAQ's. To report corrections and clarifications, contact Standards Editor Brent Jones. For publication consideration in the newspaper, send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include name, phone number, city and state for verification. To view our corrections, go to corrections.usatoday.com.
Saturday, December 10, 2011
She's just ducky: Betty White with a Mandarin duck at the Central Park Zoo.By Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY
She's just ducky: Betty White with a Mandarin duck at the Central Park Zoo.White's here at the Central Park Zoo in Manhattan to be interviewed about her new, illustrated book, Betty & Friends: My Life at the Zoo (Putnam, $26.95).But after a few questions about the book, White has one of her own: "Can I see the animals?"The zookeepers are happy to oblige. White is a longtime trustee, benefactor and volunteer at the Los Angeles Zoo & Botanical Gardens. In New York, she gets to feed fish to sea ducks and cradle an African pygmy hedgehog and a Mandarin duck. She addresses them as "darling" and "baby."Zookeeper Josh Sisk asks White not about her 64-year-long TV career but about the L.A. Zoo's new Sumatran tiger cubs born in captivity in August."We lost one," White says, as if announcing a death in the family. "But the other two are doing fine."On an hour-long visit to the zoo, White shows few signs of her age. She asks for an arm to lean on going up and down stairs, but on a day that begins with TV appearances, she looks unstoppable.Despite her life-long fascination with animals, White has never been on a safari in Africa or Asia."Who has the time?" she asks. "I've got too much work to do." Besides her latest role as a judgmental Polish caretaker on the TV Land sitcom Hot in Cleveland (its third season starts Wednesday), there are plans for an NBC reality show, Betty White'sOff Their Rockers, with elderly pranksters, and a TV special marking her 90th birthday Jan 17.Retire? "I don't know that word," she says. "I'm having too much fun working."For more information about reprints & permissions, visit our FAQ's. To report corrections and clarifications, contact Standards Editor Brent Jones. For publication consideration in the newspaper, send comments to email@example.com. Include name, phone number, city and state for verification. To view our corrections, go to corrections.usatoday.com.
Friday, December 9, 2011
British actress Julia McKenzie stars as the beloved spinster sleuth Miss Marple in three new episodes of the popular Agatha Christie?s Miss Marple series.ITB for Masterpiece
British actress Julia McKenzie stars as the beloved spinster sleuth Miss Marple in three new episodes of the popular Agatha Christie?s Miss Marple series.And why not? More than 4 billion of her comfy mystery novels have been sold. And counting. She's only outsold by the Bible and Shakespeare. Not bad company.The Christie celebrations continue this month:•John Curran's Agatha Christie: Murder in the Making ($25.99), on sale Tuesday. It's the follow-up to the Christie historian's 2010 Secret Notebooks. It includes even more unpublished works, letters and archival papers, including a look at the master's final unfinished novel.•A new edition of Agatha Christie: An Autobiography ($29.99), also out Tuesday. The book, first published in 1976 shortly after her death, has been out of print several years. The new edition comes with a CD featuring commentary from Christie herself.• More than 80 of Christie's novels will have been reissued and repackaged in paperback ($12.99) by fall of 2012. Half have already been released.So why does Christie, who began her career in mystery writing with 1920's The Mysterious Affair at Styles (a Hercule Poirot story), still resonate today? No mystery at all, really."Readers still like the world she created, one with recognizable characters in a recognizable setting, one that is momentarily invaded by murder but has order restored by the intervention of The Great Detective," says Curran.Christie remains popular on the TV screen, too, with Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot returning to PBS' Masterpiece in 2013."It's very possible that Agatha Christie might account for more hours from a single writer on Masterpiece than any other," says Masterpiece executive producer Rebecca Eaton. "And they're all winners … the stories do well generation after generation."Curran, who is writing his doctoral thesis on Christie at Trinity College, Dublin, says Christie's success is due to the fact that not only was she "accessible" but prolific."You can read a different title every month for seven years."For more information about reprints & permissions, visit our FAQ's. To report corrections and clarifications, contact Standards Editor Brent Jones. For publication consideration in the newspaper, send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include name, phone number, city and state for verification. To view our corrections, go to corrections.usatoday.com.
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
It sounds like an ambitious — or arrogant — gimmick: Re-envision the quintessential tragedy, Oedipus Rex, as a contemporary novel.
But in Ed King, David Guterson succeeds in recasting one of literature's most haunted and vaunted tales as a plausible page-turner — no small feat considering that any high school English student knows how the story ends, and that on its surface, the patricide-incest plot reads like something more worthy of daytime TV than a library shelf.
Guterson (Snow Falling on Cedars) shifts the setting from Thebes and Corinth to Seattle and Portland. The Pacific Northwest may have never been ruled by a monarchy, but it's arguably under the thumb of something far more powerful: technology. So what does Guterson turn his titular protagonist into? An Internet billionaire.
Like his ancient predecessor, Ed King was born to a man of dubious morals, Walter Cousins. The product of statutory rape, baby Ed is dropped off on a doorstep by his biological mother, Diane, and soon adopted by the relatively upright King family. He acts out in adolescence — engaging in a doomed drag race involving not chariots but a BMW and a GTO that results in the death of you-know-who — but channels his competitive smarts toward a career in computing, emerging as the "King of Search."
(Indeed, where King falters is Ed's all-too-swift skip from high school dope fiend to Stanford math star to master of the virtual universe.)
A compelling metaphor is at play: As Ed uses the very engine he created to search and search for answers about his past, he finds that there is no algorithm to predict the path of fate. His pet program Cybil proves as limited, and ultimately dangerous, as pop culture's most infamous computer, HAL.
Through a taut 300 pages, Guterson deftly weaves the trajectories of mother and son toward their inexorable collision but — gratefully — doesn't linger on too many gratuitous gory details. He also upends the ending slightly, invoking another flawed figure, Icarus, perhaps a bit obviously.
But what's more interesting than the Greek stories Guterson draws from is the composite portrait he sketches of America's modern mythical demigods, the tech-titans. (Even Ed's company, Pythia, sounds mythical.) There are shades of Steve Jobs and his adoptive beginnings and untimely end, Bill Gates and his fully wired fortress — and most remarkably, the ruthlessness shared by both.
By Carol Memmott, USA TODAY
Have you noticed the TV spots that have started airing for the upcoming film version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo? You would have seen one last night during The Walking Dead.
Sony Pictures has released three TV spots as it actively promotes its film version of the Stieg Larsson novel starring computer hacker Lisbeth Salander and disgraced investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist.
The 2009 Swedish film, starring Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist, did very well in its American release and around the world. Sony's film, starring Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig, has fans of Larsson's Millennium Trilogy wondering how the American version will fare in comparison. The film opens Dec. 21.
The novel continues to sell well. It's currently No. 25 on USA TODAY's Best-Selling Books list. It's spent 132 weeks on the list since 2008.
For a look at the TV spots, here's a link to movieweb.com
Monday, December 5, 2011
Sira Quiroga is a young Spanish dressmaker engaged to a solid suitor when a suave typewriter salesman upends her life.
Spain is being upended by a civil war and the new regime's growing alliances with Nazi Germany. But The Time in Between will appeal more to fans of romance novels than the serious spy reader. Think John LeCarre-lite.
First-time novelist Maria Duenas has drawn a memorable character in Sira. Smart, gutsy and resourceful with a Scarlett O'Hara-like ability to whip up designer duds on a moment's notice, Sira has spunk. Over the 600 pages of her saga, Sira gains and loses a small fortune, is dumped by her cad of a lover in Morocco, runs guns to get the cash to start her life anew and becomes couturier to the Nazi wives stationed in Madrid. Urged on by her friend, the real-life British spy Rosalinda Fox, Sira, too, aids the British cause.
An international best-seller, The Time in Between — not the most memorable title — provides a lush travelogue of early-20th-century Madrid, Tetouan, Morocco and Lisbon. From a terrific opening line to the final page, chapters zip by at a pulsing pace. Time is aimed at female readers or the rare metrosexual who won't be put off by lines such as "my impeccable makeup didn't allow her to see the distress that her words were causing."
Looking for a breezy read about the Spanish Civil War and the early days of World War II? This could be your book. But after 600 pages, the reader is left with the feeling this novel is more girlish and glib than gripping.
Sunday, December 4, 2011
Most books about auto racing are lucky to find a lonely place in the garage propping up a worn piston. But The Limit deserves a spot in the library, if not — soon enough — on the DVD rack.
Subtitled Life and Death on the 1961 Grand Prix Circuit, Michael Cannell's narrative rides in the shadows of Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken in the way it introduces a fascinating cast while reviving a time and place in which death danced with glory.
Such scope surely contributed to The Limit selling pre-publication to Sony Pictures and Tobey Maguire. He has plans to produce and star as The Limit's protagonist Phil Hill, a cerebral talent from Los Angeles who, for a brief shining moment in 1961, reigned as the world's top race-car driver.
In often jaw-dropping detail, Cannell explores both Hill's triumph as well as the grizzly world that was auto racing in an age before safety concerns. (Italy's fabled Mille Miglia race was shut down in 1957 only after a driver was cut in half by his loosened hood as his car obliterated nine spectators.)
Were yesteryear's drivers brave knights on metal steeds, or just plain nuts?
Cannell makes the argument for the former, describing British ace Stirling Moss as "flinty-eyed and muscled, with almost superhuman discipline," someone with eyesight "so acute that he could … scan the crowd for pretty girls while entering a curve at 85 mph."
Given that bravado — not to mention a lack of seat belts — it's little surprise a key character in The Limit is the Grim Reaper.
Between 1957 and 1961, 14 drivers were killed. (In the modern Formula One era, no driver has died since 1994.) Everyone from newspaper editors to the pope lambasted motor racing. But what Cannell makes clear is that for a generation of young men for whom the decimation of World War II remained vivid childhood memories, racing's risks built character in a nuclear age with no dragons to slay.
Or, in the words of Hill's fair-haired, high-born rival, the impossibly named and ill-fated Count Wolfgang von Trips, "Danger and fear have become anonymous and invisible — radioactive clouds floating around us. That doesn't change the fact that there are people who thirst for action … who are born to fight."
With characters like that, Cannell could have skipped the book and himself gone straight to a screenplay. Fortunately for the literary-minded, he has sketched out a dizzyingly macho world in which humans and machines were savagely pushed to their limits. Too bad the title Mad Men was already taken.
Friday, December 2, 2011
In 2005, Joan Didion published a remarkable, unflinching portrait of grief, The Year of Magical Thinking, about the death two years earlier of her husband, fellow writer John Gregory Dunne.
At 71, he had a heart attack shortly after the couple visited their daughter, hospitalized in a coma. Later, Quintana Roo Dunne Michael improved, but shortly after Didion finished her book, Quintana died of complications from pancreatitis. She was 39.
"That would take a whole other book to do," Didion said at the time. "It's not a book I'm ready to write." Nor was she sure "what form it will take."
At 76, Didion has written that book, Blue Nights. Despite writing that is lovely and wrenching, it is disappointing.
In Magical Thinking, Didion, a novelist, screenwriter, essayist and reporter, put all her talents to use exploring what she called "the shallowness of sanity" after her husband's death and her only child's illness.
It won the National Book Award, reached as high as No. 16 on USA TODAY's Best-selling Books list and was adapted as a one-woman Broadway play with Vanessa Redgrave.
Blue Nights is less focused. It's filled with unanswerable questions. It's less about Quintana, named after a Mexican town, than it is about Didion's growing sense of fraility.
The comparisons to Magical Thinking are inevitable but perhaps unfair. The earlier book also celebrated her husband's life, in the way that the best funerals can be celebrations.
For a parent, the death of a child, at any age, is different.
"When we talk about mortality we are talking about our children," she writes. Then she adds, "I just said that, but what does it mean?"
Which leads to other questions for parents: "Are we saying what it meant to us to have them? What is meant to let them go? Are we talking about the enigma of pledging ourselves to protect the unprotectable? About the whole puzzle of being a parent?"
Quintana was adopted, which poses more questions about the "muddled impulses of adoption."
For the child, Didion asks, "If someone 'chose' you, what does that tell you?
"Doesn't it tell you that you were available to be 'chosen?"'...Are we beginning to see how the word 'abandonment' might enter the picture?"
Didion is at her best on medicine as an "imperfect art," and how doctors retreat into jargon, but she leaves Quintana's illness as a vague mystery.
She writes about "the ways in which we depend on our children to depend on us, the ways in which we encourage them to remain children...the ways in which we remain equally opaque to them."
Blue Nights is opaque, as if Didion was never able to decide what form this book should take.