lundi 30 mars 2009

Mondays, being the beginning of the week are often a bit quieter for us than the rest of the week. Sometimes though, we'll get a visit that considerably brightens our morning! The special visitor this morning was the charming Lynn S. Meskill whose new book Ben Jonson and Envy has just been published by Cambridge.

And if you're wondering what the fuss is all about, her new book is being hotly touted as "tackling a previously overlooked, but vital aspect of Jonson's poetics."And if you think that's only for academics, consider this--the book in fact, illuminates the way in which the literary is or seems to be informed by popular culture! How can you resist that?

24 reasons to stop by the Red Wheelbarrow....

1.About Face by Donna Leon
2. Long Lost by Harlan Coben
3. Winter Vault by Anne Michaels
4. Amenable Women by Mavis Cheek
5. 10 Story Love Song by Richard Millway
6. English byWang Gang
7. John by Niall Williams
8. The Immigrant by Manju Kapur
9. Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

and more that you can now carry in your pocket....

10. The Reserve by Russell Banks
11. Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
12. Past Imperfect by Julian Fellowes
13. The Lady and the Poet by Maeve Hearan

and for those of the more serious bent...

14. The Beats by Harvey Peckar
15. Chaplin: The Tramp's Odyssey by Simon Louvish
16. A Revolution in Taste by Susan Pinkard
17. Warlord by Carlo D'Este
18. The Art Instinct by Denis Dutton
19. Saint Francis and the Sultan by John Tolan
20. South Africa's Brave New World by R.W. Johnson
21. Adam's Tongue by Derek Bickerton
22. The Weight of a Mustard Seed by Wendell Steavenson
23. The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work by Alain de Botton
24. Rebel Land by Christopher de Bellaigue

mardi 24 mars 2009

War and its aftermath

De Niro's Game is the tale of two childhood friends growing up during the turbulent years of Lebanon’s civil war. Bassam and George ( known also as De Niro for his love of Russian roulette like Robert De Niro’s character in Deer Hunter) have a precarious future before them. Many of their friends and family are dead or missing, and the city is in a perpetual state of war. The foremost question in their lives is how to survive. And if they do, at what cost?

This is an impressive debut novel from Rawi Hage, who himself fled Lebanon for the safe shores of Canada. The book received much critical praise and since its publication has won a heap of prizes. It is brilliant work and betrays none of the usual flaws of a novice writer. Hage infuses his writing with palpable passion and the pages practically crackle with tension as you tear through the narrative. This is by no means an easy book, dealing as it does with the war torn landscape of Lebanon and its aftermath. It is infused with savagery where scenes of people hunting down the street dogs and the even more harrowing scenes of the Sabra and Chantilla massacres have the power to haunt even after you turn the page. Even as he writes about the savageness and horrors of war, Hage is also able to write beautifully poetic passages. A reminder, I suppose that even in the midst of horror, glimpses of beauty remain.

jeudi 19 mars 2009

Endless war

Nadeem Aslam received much critical praise for his two earlier works Maps for Lost Lovers was the winner of the Kiriyama Prize and was longlised for the Booker prize. Little wonder that there was great anticipation for his next novel. Unlike the eleven year wait between the first two books, the wait for this new one was a mere four years. I have to warn you that Wasted Vigil is by no means an easy read.

It’s the story of a Russian woman Lara who arrives in Afghanistan to look for her brother Benedikt, who was sent to fight during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The book’s tone is set when misfortune befalls her at the beginning of her trip. Fortunately for her she falls into the hands of Marcus, a kind Englishman who has been living in the country for the past 40 years as he was married to an Afghan woman. It turns out that Zameen, Marcus’ daughter who was captured by the Soviets might have knowledge of Benedikt's disappearance. From this beginning we slowly discover that their stories are more closely intertwined than we can imagine.

Aslam certainly takes his time to build his story and characters into place. And he spares the reader not one single grim detail of the travails and horrors (mutilations, rapes and landmines are just some of them) that have befallen Afghanistan and its people. If the author’s goal was to provide yet more reasons to fear and loathe the Taliban, he has succeeded admirably. One is left with the impression that there is no redemption for the people who are caught under the Taliban’s yoke. He is likewise unsparing of the US for their responsibility in creating the monstrous oppression that is now entrenched in Afghanistan. To read this book is to have your breath taken away by the horrors. This is not to say that Aslam has written a bad book. Far from it. He has a beautifully poetic way with words and there is a certain tenderness, lyricism even, in the way he writes passages of this difficult story. More importantly he is able to fully present the complexity that is the political history of the country. This is an important book to read if you want to make some sense of the hotbed that is now Afghanist and and Pakistan though I wish he had written it with a bit more hope. I'd like to think that the Afghan history is much more than death and horrors.

lundi 16 mars 2009

Important Update on Anita Desai Event

Due to some changes, Anita Desai's talk on her book In Custody will be held at the Ecole Normale Supérieure Amphithéâtre Rataud 45 rue d'Ulm, 75005 Paris at 6PM in the evening.
We hope to see everyone there!

mardi 10 mars 2009

Where lost things are kept

Two things often attract me to a book at first glance—how the cover looks (one good example would be Chez Moi) or the title (how can you resist something called “The Atlas of Impossible Longing”). With Stella Duffy’s new book, it was the title that first grabbed my attention. The Room of Lost Things sent a nice shiver down my back in anticipation of the read ahead.

It’s the story of Robert Sutton who is retiring after 40 or so years of being in the business of dry cleaning. His advertisement attracts Akeel Khan, a young second generation east Londoner who wants to make his mark in the world. Robert trains Akeel in the business and introduces him to the room of lost things where Robert keeps all the secret odds and ends that people leave behind in their pockets. Robert himself is hiding his own big secret. And as they move tentatively towards understanding each other, a curiously moving friendship develops between them. This is only the barest description of a novel brimming in memorable characters and rich details. Ms. Duffy’s great strength lies in her skill at fleshing out characters that grip you till the last page without sacrificing a strong plot.

It's really nice the way the author interweaves Robert and Akeel’s friendship with snippets of other people’s lives. There is Helen who only wants to be loved but is stuck in a fast going nowhere relationship and Stefan who fears intimacy with a passion. And then there is the “Poet” who peeks into other people’s lives as he travels by bus. I shouldn’t forget to mention that one character which was as vivid if not more so than the others in the book, is the city of London, specifically the area of Loughborough Junction. Often, this area is described as a rather rough neighborhood but while reading this book one gets an altogether different view. True, it maybe rough and a little shabby but there is a sense of community and the mix of different people make it a lot more interesting than more fashionable or homogenous neighborhoods. At the end of the day these are ordinary people with ordinary stories but they are somehow imbued with a certain grace that makes reading about them as satisfying as a cup of tea on a cold day.

vendredi 6 mars 2009

RWB Events of the Month

This March, your favorite bookstore in the Marais will be coming out of the neighborhood to participate in several exciting events. Write them down in your agendas!

March 12th- Dan Gunn and George Craig will be launching The Letters of Samuel Beckett 1929-1940 published by Cambridge University Press at 7:30 pm at the Centre Culturel Irlandais, 5 rue des Irlandais 75005 Paris.

March 12th, 13th and 14th- the Congrès de la Société Française Shakespeare will have its annual Shakespeare conference at the Institut National d'Histoire de l'Art, 6, rue des Petits Champs, 75002 Paris. This year's theme is Shakespeare et l'Orient. The list of distinguished speakers include Gary Taylor and Francois Laroque. For more details on the conference please check out their website

March 18th- the Ecole Active Bilingue Victor Hugo School will be hosting the 14th Annual Teacher Development Day organized by the English Language Schools Association. This year's theme is Dealing with Diversity. Ecole Active Bilingue Victor Hugo School is at 23, rue de Cronstadt, 75015 Paris.

March 18th- La Sorbonne Paris IV in cooperation with E.R.C.L.A. will be hosting Anita Desai at the Maison de la Recherche (28 rue Serpente 75006). Organized by Alexis Tadie and Vanessa Guignery, Ms. Desai will be discussing her novel In Custody. Entrance is free to everyone.
Lots of great books for this merry month of March....

New in Fiction (Hardcover and Trade Editions)
1. Murder in the Latin Quarter by Cara Black
2. Strangers by Anita Brookner
3. Leaving the World by Douglas Kennedy
4. Solo by Rana Dasgupta
5. The Russian Dreambook of Color and Flight by Gina Ochsner
6. Drood by Dan Simmons
7. The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell
8. The Vagrants by Yiyun Li

New in Fiction (Paperback)
1. Wasted Vigil by Nadeem Aslan
2. American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld
3. Wolf Totem by Jiang Rong
4. The Gulf Between Us by Geraldine Bedell
5. The Atlas of Impossible Longing by Anuradha Roy
6. The Voluptuous Delights of Peanut Butter and Jam by Lauren Liebenberg
7. Homesick by Eshkol Nevo
8. Say You're One of Them by Uwem Akpan
9. The Age of Shiva by Manil Suri
10. Six Suspects by Vikas Swarup
11. The Rowing Lesson by Anne Landsman
12. Lush Life by Richard Price
13. The Girl who Played by Fire by Stieg Larsson

lundi 2 mars 2009

A rock star day

I admit it, I've gotten a bit used to having authors come into RWB on a rather regular basis. Not that meeting them has lost its thrill, it's still great and yes, I'm still waiting for J.K.Rowling and Cornelia Funke walk through our doors but I think its all just a question of time. Today though we had someone else come in and it wasn't someone we would normally expect, though today wasn't his first visit. Pete Doherty came by to buy some books, looking very "rockish", if I do say so myself. He has interesting taste in reading material to say the least and was gracious about having his picture taken.
A few posts ago, I did wonder who would be coming next, and look who turned up! Now if only Cornelia or J.K would come by....

An unusual contest

Very often, a book will come in the store and just sell itself right off the table. When that happens I don't get the chance to talk about it here. Luckily though a second chance comes around when the book gets published in its paperback format. I was so glad today when I saw on our table of fiction new releases Nicholas Drayson's A Guide to the Birds of East Africa in its lovely paperback form. I'd read this book months ago and enjoyed it immensely. In fact thinking about it now makes me like it even more. Contrary to its title, it’s a novel set in Nairobi Kenya and its actually the story of an unusual contest.

Rose Mbikwa has long led the Tuesday morning bird walk of the East African Ornithological Society. One faithful attendee of the walk is Mr. Malik who has long nursed a secret love for the widowed Rose. Unfortunately he is much too shy to declare his feelings for the fetching Rose. As he attempts to figure out how to ask Rose to the annual Hunt Ball, an unexpected rival, in the shape of the much wealthier, flashier Harry Khan, arrives on the scene. And when Mr. Malik unwittingly blurts out his secret, a bet is set between the rivals. Whoever sees the most number of birds in the week, will ask Rose to the ball.

This is a good old fashioned romantic novel that is both heartwarming and funny. I'm always told that my choice of reading material is often grim or depressing or both, and its true that I'm often stumped when I'm asked for a book that's light but I've found a good one in this book! Drayson writes his characters with great feeling and you can’t help but root for the hapless Malik, who very much resembles David battling Goliath. What's nice as well is that the author is able to infuse his book with the color and sounds of Africa. He even manages without being preachy or heavy, to plausibly weave into the narrative the different problems that beset Kenya. But he does this in a very simple and artless way that keeps the book from being too gloomy or heavy. And unlike Q and A, which I enjoyed reading a lot a few weeks ago, the Guide to the Birds of East Africa doesn't require a suspension of belief. For all you realists out there who prefer their fiction a bit grounded in reality, this is one lite reading that you should be added to your books-to-read pile.