jeudi 29 mai 2008

When we unpacked the box, it was the bright red cover that first grabbed my attention. That, and the enigmatic face peeking out of the window. I flipped the book over and noted the many praises heaped upon the book by such authors as Penelope Lively, Karen Joy Fowler and Kim Edwards to name a few. I remember thinking to myself that it must be an interesting book.
A bit of research turned up a few things. In fact, Chez Moi by Agnes Desarthe was originally published in French under the title Mangez-moi (Eat Me) to great acclaim. It is her sixth novel. Luckily for us Anglophone readers, it has now been translated in English.

It’s the story of Myriam, who at 43, decides to open a small restaurant. The story gradually unfolds in careful layers and slowly it becomes apparent that it is as much as story of redemption and new beginnings as much as it is about a restaurant. She comes to open a restaurant without knowing anything other than cooking. And because she has literally talked her way through the bank and suppliers, she is forced to live in the restaurant in order to conserve her ever dwindling resources.

The story’s theme of starting over after a grave misfortune is a universal one. Myriam’s character is a fully fleshed and sympathetic one. Her foibles are even endearing. Desarthe has a real talent for writing scenes that ring with the truth. There is one particularly memorable scene in the book which captures perfectly the double life that Myriam leads. She is caught between the actual universe which consists of what is going on in the restaurant and the virtual one which are what she receives in the post and is instantly lost in the labyrinth of drawers: “the forms and summonses crouched in terms that are barbaric…. and figures which always seem to accumulate in the same column, the debit column.” It evokes a sentiment that I’m sure we can all identify with. I for one can confess to often feeling as Myriam does, “like those parched landscapes where the depleted groundwater can no longer hold together the cracked soil, those sterile expanses cleaned out by summer storms but never actually slaked by them.” And her wondering plea why the money that comes into the till never reaches into that dark parched pipework, not even the tiniest droplet to quench the thirst of the paper monster, is another resounding element.
It is for this reason that Chez Moi can be a highly personal read. We can identify with her and as such root for her more deeply than we would in other redemptive stories.

mercredi 28 mai 2008

New Titles

Lots of new titles in the store for all of you voracious readers....

New in Hardcover Fiction
1. The Spies of Warsaw by Alan Furst
2. Human Love by Andrei Makine
3. The Other by David Gutterson
4. Attachment by Isabel Fonseca
5. Careless in Red by Elizabeth George
6.Love Curse of the Rumbaughs by Jack Gantos

New in Hardcover Non-Fiction
1. We've Always Had Paris by Patricia and Walter Wells
2. Audition by Barbara Walters
3. Havanas in Camelot by William Styron
4. A Free Wheelin Time by Suze Rotolo

New in Paperback and Trade Cover Fiction
1. The Host by Stephenie Meyer
2. Free Food for Millionaires by Min Jin Lee
3. Alfred and Emily by Dorris Lessing
4. Falling Man by Don Delilo
5. Chasing Harry Winston by Lauren Weisberger
6. Lollipop Shoes by Joann Harris
7. Spook Country by William Gibson
8. Girls of Riyadh by Rajaa Alsanea
9. Trespass by Valerie Martin
10. Septembers of Shiraz by Delia Sofer
11. Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich
12. The Secret of Lost Things by Sheridan Hay

mardi 27 mai 2008

A lovely afternoon surprise

Today the weather proved to be all gray and rainy. Not the cheeriest of times, even if I am surrounded by my most favorite things in the world. Things perked up considerably when the lovely Kristin Espinasse walked into RWB. She is the author of Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love and Language from the South of France. She came in quietly with her uncle and aunt in tow and introduced herself rather shyly. After we excitedly realized who she was (and which book she wrote) we were more than happy to tell her that her book was quite a success in the store with us constantly ordering and re-ordering the book in order to keep up with the demand. She very nicely agreed to sign the remaining copies of her book!
Her book actually evolved from her very successful blog (French-Word-A Day) which in turn came about because of her move to France to marry her husband and raise a family. It was when her children started learning French that she rediscovered the beauty of the language all over again. The blog is designed to share her experiences in settling down in the South of France. What makes it unique from other blogs is her use of one French word at a time as a starting point of her stories.
I’m happy to say that the book is a charming and well written one and after having met Kristin, it is clear that it is but a reflection of this lovely person.

News and Events

The time draws near for the announcement of the winners for the annual Red Wheelbarrow Creative Writing Contest! This year, the announcement will be made on the 31st of May (Saturday) at 6PM at the Ecole Massillon Chapel. We have the honor of having prize winning author Jack Gantos as the Master of Ceremonies. For all of those interested in attending this exciting event, Massillon is at located 2 bis, Quai des Celestins 75004.

For other news, we would like to invite everyone to a book signing with National Book Award Winner Clayton Eshleman on the 17 of June 2008 7PM at the RWB. Mr. Eshleman will be reading poetry from his new new translation of The Complete Poetry of Cesar Vallejo as well his own poetry.

And for all academics, the required books for this year's CAPES /AGREG are now available at the RWB.

lundi 26 mai 2008

A Prize Winner

Junot Diaz recently won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (2008) as well as the National Book Crictics Circle Award of 2007 for The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Little wonder since his novel is easily one of the best and most remarkable of the year.
The story revolves around Oscar, whose unfortunate obesity gets in the way of his search for love and career. It is also the story of his family particularly their life in the Dominican Republic and their subsequent flight to New York. Woven into this family story is the greater saga of the country and their travails under the dictator Rafael Trujillo. But this is no normal family saga because of the involvement of fuku. Fuku for all of us unitiated is a curse, one that afflicts the whole island –especially personified by the dicatator Trujillo and unfortunately for Oscar, his family is particularly cursed. You might say that this book is chock full of magical realism but it is vastly different from the fiction of other Latin American authors such as Allende or even Cortazar. And this is due in large part to Junot’s writing. It is by turns engaging, imaginative and powerful.
His language is full of humor; it is contemporary, pungent and street wise with nonetheless its own kind of poetry and panache. He manages to capture with exactly the right nuance the voice of each memorable character. Another element to love about this book is the way it describes Oscar’s passion for all things science fiction, fantasy and even manga. Yes, he’s a dork but a truly well read one. So there are references to the grand high master Tolkien, Andre Norton and of course Ursula Le Guin to name a few. Rarely has a book managed to be such a great source (a bibliography even) of great science and fantasy fiction. If you’re not a fan of such genre, you will appreciate the flashes of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and even Herman Melville.
This wonderful book is guaranteed to keep you glued til the last page and even after that is turned, you will still be thinking of Oscar Wao's brief and wondrous life.

mardi 6 mai 2008

A Writer's Paris: A Guided Journey to the Creative Soul

As can be gleaned from the title, this book is designed as a guide to writers with Paris as the creative inspiration. Why Paris you might ask? As Maisel points out, Paris has long served as the symbolic home for creative people everywhere, serving as inspiration to countless artists and writers.
This is not however a cheesy self help guide, instead it is a practical and encouraging guide to anyone who’s ever dreamt of being a writer. It is written in the form of 50 essays with witty sayings and interspersed with clever vignettes and anecdotes. It is designed to be an inspirational guide to writers, and is written with a deft and affirmative hand. Maisel doesn’t bludgeon his readers over the head with his lessons, but instead leads, or should I say write by example. Inspirational writing aside however, he has included practical details in planning a trip to Paris. It is all very well and good to dream about writing in Paris, but without the practical details like finding tickets and lodging, a trip to Paris wouldn’t be possible.
Aside from the art of writing itself, Paris is very much in the spotlight (as the title suggests). There are beautiful little chapters on Place des Vosges and the Musee d’Orsay and even the little church of St. Julien le Pauvre, all with the end view of making these places inspire the creative spirit. Who after all, wouldn’t be inspired when you are sitting there and absorbing the ambiance of these wonderful places? And if these places are not enough, Maisel suggests learning the art of the strolling about while soaking up everything. For this reason alone, Paris is the perfect place to stroll as every street corner and building is enough to inspire creativity.
A consistent theme of this book is that every writer must put in the necessary work inorder for the writing to succeed. More than being inspired to write, the would be writer must be prepared for long hours of sitting alone and writing. Just like with every other endeavor, consistency is key to writing, especially if it is not going well. This is a worthy message that sadly doesn’t get emphasized often enough in our culture of immediate gratification.
For anybody with writing aspirations or lovers of the City of Lights, this is the perfect little book to read.

lundi 5 mai 2008

Carried off by a tale

One of RWB's favorite books is Away by Amy Bloom. And one of the nice surprises we had with our week's shipment was the arrival of the paperback copies of this particular favorite. Thus, I thought it might be a good idea to introduce this book to those who haven't had the pleasure yet of reading Amy Bloom.

The story revolves around Lilian Leyb who loses her family in a horrific pogrom in Russia. She makes her way to America where she ends up a seamstress in the Burstein theater and subsequently the mistress of both father and son. One day her cousin brings her news that her daughter Sophie, whom she believes perished in the pogrom is alive. And currently living in Siberia. She has no choice but to go and find Sophie. What distinguishes the trip she makes is that she decides to go all across the width of the US till she reaches the Canada where she will sail the Yukon river till it she reaches the Bering Straight where she will finally cross over to Siberia. Needless to say her journey is fraught with all sorts of danger and involves encounters with prostitutes, jail inmates and lonely telegraph operators all across the Yukon line.

The words well written and moving doesn’t even begin to cover this virtuoso work by Bloom. She has written a special kind of road trip novel that is by turns funny, sexy, bitter, sometimes shocking and always intelligent. Lilian is quite a character and I mean that in the best possible sense. The things that happen to her are at times incomprehensible but Bloom’s writing makes it all believable and its not hard to be swept away by the story. There is something so beautiful about Bloom’s writing that one is completely carried off by it. I love the fact that every character that Lilian meets is given his or her own proper ending within the book. Bloom’s prose carries off these mini-stories if you will, on their own wave and intersects beautifully with Lilian’s own tale. If you haven't read this book yet, now is the time to do so.