Book Reviews

Captain Underpants Doesn't Need a Newbery Medal

Is the highest honor in children's literature, the Newbery medal, woefully out of touch? Yes, according to children's book expert Anita Silvey, who made her case in a recent issue of the School Library Journal. Silvey reports that many librarians and book critics think the American Library Association, which awards the Newbery annually, has in recent years chosen "quirky" books that appeal to few adults and even fewer children.

Erica S. Perl, writing in Slate, disagrees.

A Favorite Children's Author Writes His Own Tale

...Knucklehead, by Jon Scieszcka. “Knucklehead” is Scieszka’s own tall tale, a memoir organized like a collection of snapshots about growing up with five brothers in the Flint, Mich., of the 1950’s. Ever the teacher, in this slim volume ­Scieszka writes a model memoir. Or as he puts it, when you are getting in trouble “it’s good to be the one telling the story.”

Scieszka gets children, and he gets their humor. Especially boy humor. He tells the truth about what really goes on when parents aren’t looking. Want to hear more? The book is reviewed in the New York Times Sunday Book Review.

If you go in for crazy knuckleheaded kids stories, you might want to check out this accompanying blog from the paper entitled "Are You a Knucklehead"?.

Patience and Fortitude, a Book Review

From the Christian Science Monitor, reprint of a book review from December of 2001. The book by Nicholas Basbanes, is 'Patience & Fortitude' a grand, rambling, serendipitous treasure-house of material about books and the people who have loved them.

This story is told of the Italian humanist Niccolo Machiavelli: "Dismissed from high office, stripped of all his honors, and forced to leave his beloved city of Florence for the primitive countryside, he found solace in his books: “When evening comes, I return home and enter my study; on the threshold I take off my workday clothes, covered with mud and dirt, and put on the garments of court and palace.

“Fitted out appropriately, I step inside the venerable courts of the ancients, where … I am unashamed to converse with them and to question them about the motives for their actions, and they, out of human kindness, answer me. And for four hours at a time I feel no boredom, I forget all my troubles, I do not dread poverty, and I am not terrified by death. I absorb myself unto them completely." -- Read More

Top Ten of 2008 from the New York Times

NYTimes ten best books of 2008, including reviews, excerpts and some first chapters. Included are Toni Morrison's 'A Mercy', Jhumpa Lahiri's 'Unaccustomed Earth' and the new biography of
V. S. Naipaul, 'The World is What It Is'.

V. S. Naipaul, a Man Who Has Earned a Knighthood, a Nobel and Enemies Galore

New book about novelist V. S. Naipaul : THE WORLD IS WHAT IT IS,
The Authorized Biography of V. S. Naipaul, By Patrick French,
Illustrated. 554 pages. Alfred A. Knopf. $30.

According to the review in the New York Times, it’s a handsome volume, jacketed in silver and black, with a disarming cover photograph of Mr. Naipaul stooping, with a gap-toothed grin, to tie a loose shoelace. Reviewer Dwight Garner says author French is "a relative rarity among biographers, a real writer, and at his best he sounds like a combination of that wily bohemian Geoff Dyer and that wittily matter-of-factual cyborg Michael Kinsley. Even the cameos in Mr. French’s biography are crazily vivid. Here is his hole-in-one description of the editor Francis Wyndham: “Popular, gentle, solitary and eccentric, Wyndham lived with his mother, wore heavy glasses and high-waisted trousers, gave off random murmurs and squeaks and moved with an amphibian gate.”

History of the Dot

A review of the History of the Dot. See: "Dot Everything" By Jennifer Schuessler, the New York Times, October 27. Earlier this month, Oxford University Press published “On the Dot: The Speck that Changed the World” — a short and very enthusiastic history of the mark you make when you dip a toothpick into a puddle of stuff.

Forget the almighty and all-explaining cod. Without the dot, coauthors Nicholas and Alexander Humez argue, “the morning newspaper would be a single monster sentence, broken only by the occasional comma; accounts receivable would no longer distinguish between dollars and cents (at least in the United States); Internet addresses and much of the programming that supports the dot-coms that they identify would be unintelligible; the sheet music for your favorite jig would be quite out of kilter with the tune… You get the idea.”

French Writer Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio Wins Nobel Prize

The Swedish Academy on Thursday awarded the 2008 Nobel Prize for literature to Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio, a cosmopolitan and prolific French novelist, children’s author and essayist regarded by many French readers and critics as one of the country’s greatest living writers.

Treasure found on E-bay - Resistance: Memoirs of Occupied France

The BBC reports that an import yet forgotten book appeared on E-bay. As Translator Barbara Mellor notes, "Notre Guerre, Souvenirs de Résistance, Agnès Humbert, 1946. The listing on French eBay didn't give much clue as to the treasure that lay in store...Humbert's journal sent shivers down my spine. The powerful immediacy of the narrative, the raw intensity of the subject matter, the compelling presence of Humbert herself - all were overwhelming, electrifying."

The publisher of the new translation is Bloomsbury

Books Maketh the Man

Attempting to tell an author's life through the books he read is a risky enterprise. In this remarkable new biography of Oscar Wilde, Thomas Wright makes a convincing start with his claim that books were the greatest single influence on his subject's life. Wilde's first reading of some of his favourites was, says Wright, 'as significant as his first meetings with friends and lovers'. Indeed, he later used gifts of books to seduce young men.

His passion (apart from young men) was Balzac. Literary Review of Thomas Wright's new title "Oscar's Books".

10 Books Not To Read Before You Die

The producer of at least three television shows that you may quite like shares with us his definitive list of books that just aren't worth the bother.

1: Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen

From what I can gather it’s Mills and Boon from the olden days, and really boring Mills and Boon at that. I did try reading a Jane Austen novel once, but it hadn’t got going by fifty pages so I guiltily gave up; the characters spoke in a very oblique way and it seemed to be all about hypocrisy and manners and convention; worse than that, it was really difficult to find the doing word in a sentence.

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