Spring in fiction, as well as in real life, means all kinds of lovely things: hope and renewal and rebirth and a new beginning and second chances (or third). Right now we are waiting for the latest blizzard to blow in, and next week and maybe the week after that we'll be back in the clutches of the Polar Vortex (and can't you just picture him, with his long icy fingers and his flowing gray robe..). But spring will come, eventually, as it did last year (though not until late May, I admit), and as it does every year.
In the meantime, here are five books set in the springtime, or about springtime, or otherwise redolent of new grass and sunshine and baby animals.
"Onward and Upward in the Garden," by Katherine A. White. White was the New Yorker's fiction editor, and also an inveterate gardener. In the late 1950s and through the 1960s, she wrote a series of pieces about gardening for that magazine--elegant, thoughtful pieces, collected and published as a book after her death by her husband, E.B. White.
"The Beginning of Spring," by Penelope Fitzgerald. Talk about new beginnings.... In this novel by the Man Booker Prize-winning novelist, a wife leaves her husband behind in Russia on the eve of revolution, where he cares for the children, lusts after the housemaid, and contemplates revolution.
"The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone," by Tennessee Williams. The story of an aging actress who heads to Rome to, well, feel young again. The young gigolo she meets says, "I'll help." Because it's Tennessee Williams, you know nothing can possibly go wrong. (You could also just watch the movie.)
"The Wind in the Willows," by Kenneth Graham. Remember how it begins? With Mole fed up with spring cleaning? That opening, with Mole throwing down his whitewash brush and scrabbling and scrooging out of his hole and the popping out into a place of sunlight and warm grass.... Oh, it could make you weep. And then there are picnics, and those lovely picnic baskets, motor-car rides, and more picnics, and simply messing about in boats...
"Make Way for the Ducklings," by Robert McCloskey. Because nothing says spring like waddling, chirping baby ducks. And oh I cannot wait!
So many familiar titles and publishers on the list of the L.A. Times Book Award finalists--Lawrence Wright's "Going Clear," and A. Scott Berg's biography of Woodrow Wilson, and Ruth Ozeki's fine novel, "A Tale for the Time Being."
But also--tiny little Two Dollar Radio press! And Minnesota's Joyce Sidman, and UM MFA grad (and occasional Star Tribune book critic) Ethan Rutherford, and Graywolf Press, and Coffee House Press. Also (I have just learned), Anders Nilsen, a finalist in graphic novels, is back in Minneapolis after about 20 years away, and the publisher of yet another graphic novel finalist--Uncivilized Books--is also in the Twin Cities. Whew. So much to love about this long list. The winners will be announced on April 11.
Here's the full list, with links to Star Tribune reviews:
The 2013 L.A. Times Book Prize finalists:
Marie Arana, “Bolivar: American Liberator,” Simon & Schuster
A. Scott Berg, “Wilson,” G.P. Putnam's Sons
Benita Eisler, “The Red Man's Bones: George Catlin, Artist and Showman,” W. W. Norton & Co.
Edna O'Brien , “Country Girl: A Memoir,” Little, Brown & Co.
Deborah Solomon, “American Mirror: The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell,” Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Sheri Fink, “Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital,” Crown
David Finkel, “Thank You for Your Service,” Sarah Crichton Books/Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Charlie LeDuff, “Detroit: An American Autopsy,” The Penguin Press
Barry Siegel, “Manifest Injustice: The True Story of a Convicted Murderer and the Lawyers Who Fought for His Freedom,” Henry Holt & Co.
Lawrence Wright, “Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief,” Knopf
Percival Everett, “Percival Everett by Virgil Russell,” Graywolf Press
Claire Messud, “The Woman Upstairs,” Knopf
Ruth Ozeki, “A Tale for the Time Being,” Viking
Susan Steinberg, “Spectacle: Stories,” Graywolf Press
Daniel Woodrell, “The Maid's Version: A Novel,” Little, Brown & Co.
The Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction
NoViolet Bulawayo, “We Need New Names,” Reagan Arthur Books
Jeff Jackson, “Mira Corpora,” Two Dollar Radio
Fiona McFarlane, “The Night Guest,” Faber & Faber
Jamie Quatro, “I Want to Show You More,” Grove Press
Ethan Rutherford, “The Peripatetic Coffin and Other Stories,” Ecco / HarperCollins
David B., “Incidents in the Night: Volume 1,” Uncivilized Books
Ben Katchor, “Hand-Drying in America: And Other Stories,” Pantheon
Ulli Lust, “Today is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life,” Fantagraphics
Anders Nilsen, “The End,” Fantagraphics
Joe Sacco, “The Great War: July 1, 1916: The First Day of the Battle of the Somme,” W. W. Norton & Co.
Richard Breitman and Allan J. Lichtman, “FDR and the Jews,” Belknap Press of Harvard University
Christopher Clark, “The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914,” HarperCollins
Glenn Frankel, “The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend,” Bloomsbury USA
Doris Kearns Goodwin, “The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism,” Simon & Schuster
Alan Taylor, “The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832,” W. W. Norton & Co.
Richard Crompton, “Hour of the Red God,” Sarah Crichton Books/Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Robert Galbraith, “The Cuckoo's Calling,” Mulholland Books/Little, Brown & Co.
John Grisham, “Sycamore Row,” Doubleday Books
Gene Kerrigan, “The Rage,” Europa Editions
Ferdinand von Schirach, “The Collini Case,” Viking
Joshua Beckman, “The Inside of an Apple,” Wave Books
Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge, “Hello, the Roses,” New Directions
Ron Padgett, “Collected Poems,” Coffee House Press
Elizabeth Robinson, “On Ghosts,” Solid Objects
Lynn Xu, “Debts & Lessons,” Omnidawn
Science & Technology
Matthew D. Lieberman, “Social: Why Our Brains are Wired to Connect,” Crown
Sally Satel and Scott O. Lilienfeld, “Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience,” Basic Books
Virginia Morell, “Animal Wise: The Thoughts and Emotions of Our Fellow Creatures,” Crown
Annalee Newitz, “Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction,” Doubleday Books
Alan Weisman, “Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth?” Little, Brown & Co.
Young Adult Literature
Elizabeth Knox, “Mortal Fire,” Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Rainbow Rowell, “Fangirl,” St. Martin's Griffin
Joyce Sidman, “What the Heart Knows: Chants, Charms and Blessings,” Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers
Jonathan Stroud, “Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase,” Disney-Hyperion
Gene Luen Yang, “Boxers & Saints,” First Second/Macmillan
Chapter 2 Books in Hudson, Wis., which has been a friend of writers and readers for many years, hosting events and story time and writing workshops as well as selling all the latest national and regional titles (in print and in Kobo), has lost its lease and is almost certain to close.
Owners Brian and Sue Roegge of St. Paul have tried to find other space in Hudson's little downtown, but their last effort--Tuesday night--came up short. "I think we're done," a deeply discouraged Sue Roegge said in an e-mail. Even presenting the potential new landlord with a petition signed by more than 300 people who want the bookstore to remain in Hudson made no difference. "Goodbye, bookstore," Roegge said. "It's hard to think positive."
To show their gratitude to customers and authors, the store will host an author appreciation day on Saturday. Between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., more than 15 local writers will come by the store to sign books, chat with customers and say goodbye to the Roegges. "We invited nearly every author who has ever been in the store," Roegge said. Some, she noted, are regional, some are national best-sellers, "and some are both!"
A partial list includes William Kent Krueger, David Housewright, Kate Hopper, Sarah Stonich, Barbara Deese, Susan Sims Moody, and many others. A full list is on the store's website here.
Chapter 2 Books is at 422 2nd St. in Hudson.
"Ordinary Grace," the latest novel by St. Paul writer William Kent Krueger, is a finalist for an Edgar Award for best novel. Krueger's book was well-received by critics (you can read the Star Tribune review here) and has already won the Midwest Booksellers Choice Award for best fiction.
Other finalists for the Edgar are: "Sandrine's Case," by Thomas H. Cook; "The Humans," by Matt Haig; "How the Light Gets In," by Louise Penny; "Standing in Another Man's Grave," by Ian Rankin; and "Until She Comes Home," by Lori Roy.
To read a full list of finalists (other categories include Best First Novel, Best Paperback Original, Best Short Story, and many others) go to the Edgars Website.
The Edgar Awards are given by the Mystery Writers of America, and winners will be announced May 1.
Over a period of a couple of months earlier this year, I received a series of ingriguing postcards in the mail. They were ostensibly sent from Pine Haven Retirement Center, a care home somewhere in the Carolinas. The cards were part of a promotional campaign for Jill McCorkle's latest novel, "Life After Life," which came out at the end of March.
McCorkle is a fine, fine Southern writer, and one whose work I've admired for years. So here's her new book: A novel by a highly regarded writer, bolstered by a quirky and imaginative marketing campaign, released just before the onslaught of the Big April Books. What could go wrong?
And then, the very next week, enter British writer Kate Atkinson. And her new book: "Life After Life."
Atkinson is a great writer as well, both populist and literary, creator of the popular Jackson Brodie mysteries. Her "Life After Life" ended up on several "best-of-the-year" lists and was short-listed for the Costa Novel Award. (It also won the Guardian's "Not the Booker Prize" award, which goes to what readers believe to be the best book of the year.)
So sorry, McCorkle! I worry that every time "Life After Life" showed up on a best-of list, she felt that little spray of hope that it was hers.
Twins like these happen fairly often in the world of publishing--books whose titles, or topics (there were two major biographies of silent film star Gloria Swanson published this year--two!), or jackets are so similar that there is room for confusion.
It is not yet 2014, but already I'm on Twins Watch. In today's mail, Lucie Whitehouse's "Before We Met," which looks so similar to Rachel Joyce's "Perfect" (she's the author of "The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry") that there's bound to be confusion. Take a look:
Really, what are the odds?
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