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Mara Hvistendahl's book on the consequences of too many boys and not enough girls is a Pulitzer finalist.
Photoby: Danielle Van Der Schans
Our modern techno-abbreviations are efficient and all, but sometimes they can leave a person in suspense. Mara Hvistendahl, author of "Unnatural Selections: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men," lives in Shanghai, China, the base from which she covers science news and features across Asia for Science magazine. The native of Northfield, Minn., turned on her phone yesterday to find an SMS from a friend, congratulating her on being a finalist "for the P." "I went and made coffee, the whole time thinking, surely not THAT "P,' " she told us via email. "Then my mom called. I figured, ok, it's that P."
Hvistendahl's book explores the disturbing numbers of parents in China, India, parts of Eastern Europe and elsewhere who are self-selecting only boy children, and the eventual results (a shortage of potential brides is already a reality in some countries). Read a previous interview with her about it here: http://www.startribune.com/a1228
New York's Morgan Library and Museum is celebrating, through February 12, the 200th birthday of novelist Charles Dickens with a big show of his memorabilia including original manuscripts, letters, books, photos and original illustrations. Besides the manuscript for his ever popular "A Christmas Carol," the show includes his manuscript for "Our Mutual Friend," part of which the author apparently retrieved from a train wreck.
The Morgan will drop its $15 admission charge and admit visitors free if they mention Charles Dickens' birthday on the great man's big day, February 7.
For one day only, the magic words not only grant access to the Dickens' exhibit, but to the entire sumptuous museum which is housed in a 1906 Italian-Renaissance style palazzo that was once home to banker-aesthete Pierpont Morgan. A 2006 expansion by Renzo Piano added a glass courtyard, new shop and restaurant, concert hall and other modern amenities that make the Morgan a highlight of midtown Manhattan. It's collections range from manuscripts by Mozart, Byron, Poe, Mark Twain and Dickens to contemporary poetry and music. Plus art.
More museums should offer get-in-free passes to celebrate artists' birthdays. Think of Michelangelo (March 6, 1475); Dante Gabriel Rossetti (May 12, 1828); Andy Warhol (August 6, 1928); Diego Velazquez (June 6, 1599); Pablo Picasso (October 25, 1881); Rembrandt (July 15, 1606); Maxfield Parrish (July 25, 1870). The list goes on.
The novelist Jonathan Safran Foer has had good fortune in selling his fiction to moviemakers, but the results have been mixed.
His first novel, "Everything Is Illuminated," came out in 2002 and became a movie, directed and with a screenplay by Liev Schreiber, in 2005.
Safran Foer's second novel, "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close," is being released at year's end, barely in time for Oscars consideration. It's a big deal, with the 9-year-old protagonist's parents played by Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock, and with a cast that also includes Viola Davis and Max Von Sydow.
The New York Times review of "EL&IC" was negative, dismissing its take on the events of 9/11as "kitsch" and describing it as "an impossible movie that has no reason for being other than as another pop-culture palliative for a trauma it can’t bear to face."
I don't know how Safran Foer views the upcoming movie version of novel #2, but I interviewed him in 2005 and asked him for his view of the movie based on his first novel. Foer laughed and said "Can I just not answer that?" The movie, starring Elijah Wood, focuses on the part of novel in which the protagonist travels to Ukraine in search of a woman who may have helped his grandfather escape Nazi persecution in World War II.
"Even the third it used, it changed so dramatically," Foer said. "Asking what I thought of it is like asking a father if his daughter looks sexy on prom night. There's no good answer."
Jonathan Safran Foer / Star Tribune file photo by Judy Griesedieck
The year-end buzz could hardly have been buzzier. Novelist (and Time cover guy) Jonathan Franzen popped up in the British newspaper The Guardian calling Ben Lerner’s first novel “Leaving the Atocha Station” “hilarious and cracklingly intelligent.”
The story of a pot-smoking, self-referential young American poet on a fellowship in Spain in 2004 was, Franzen wrote, “original in every sentence.”
It’s the kind of love generally lavished on fiction from big houses and big authors. In this case, the object of affection is a writer from Kansas known previously for his poetry, and a book published by the small Minneapolis publisher Coffee House Press.
Ben Lerner's first novel has won praise from all over.
“It’s by far our biggest title of the year,” said Christopher Fischbach, who took over this year as publisher of Coffee House after the semi-retirement of founder Allan Kornblum.
Coffee House rolled the book out with a first printing of 3,000 copies this fall. The small-press version of heck broke loose when “Atocha” was praised in a lengthy New Yorker review by James Wood in late October, and a rave by Lorin Stein, editor of the Paris Review, in the New York Review of Books.
It went into additional printings, and has now been sold to foreign publishers. Look for it in Spanish, Italian and other languages in 2012. Fischbach estimates that about 5,000 copies of the novel have sold, with about 10,000 copies now in circulation. That’s peanuts by “Twilight” standards, but significant for Coffee House.
“This is a book that’s difficult,” Fischbach said, “about art, by a poet.” He said that when Lerner, whose poetry has been published by Copper Canyon Press, pitched the novel to Coffee House, he was immediately taken by the manuscript. “It was dealing with authenticity and art, in a way that spoke to a younger age group in a post-ironic age.”
The critical response, paired with “I Hotel” being a finalist last year for a National Book Award, proves that “Coffee House, though small, has the potential to publish a book just as well, to get just as much, if not more, attention, than a big press might,” Fischbach said.
The Star Tribune review of "Atocha Station" is here.
They sing, craft poetry, start punk and folk-rock bands, star in movies, put on festivals with 18,000 attendees, tour with Flea, teach kids, council kids, fight homophobia, and many, many other things. And now we can add this to the list of things Twin Cities rappers do: write books.
One of the scene’s more colorful and seasoned MCs, Zach Combs -- a k a Big Zach of Kanser and More Than Lights – has just self-published his autobiography of sorts, titled, “Headspins, Headshots & History: Growing Up in Twin Cities Hip-Hop.” The 277-page book is at once a semi-subjective overview of the history and characters here, and an ultra-personal account of Combs’ own involvement in the scene and of his youth in south Minneapolis (here’s hoping no cops or possible future employers read this thing). It also includes his ranking of the 25 best rappers in the scene (which I won’t spoil, except to say Zach himself is pretty high up on the list).
Even if you’re not familiar with Zach and his groups, the book includes stories on everyone from Atmosphere, Eyedea, the Doomtree and Heiruspecs crews and other big-wigs. On a practical note, it could also serve as a guide to younger scenesters on self-promotion and tenacity. Definitely a lot of tenacity here.
Combs, 34, is hosting a unique “release party” for the book Thursday at Honey, 205 E. Hennepin Av. (catty-corner from Nye’s). The free all-ages party, 6:30-10 p.m., will feature a discussion with the author, Truth Maze and other vets, plus a lot of rare, classic videos, such as a 1999 battle between Eyedea and Carnage. Zach will also tout the book at More Than Lights’ Dec. 17 gig with Heiruspecs and Muja Messiah at the Cabooze.
Click here for more info on the Honey party and details on ordering the book.