Not the usual carp(e) libris reviews-type title?  Maybe not, but I couldn’t resist.  I suppose it was the photo of those golden eyes on the cover that drew me in, and who says you can’t judge a book by its cover.  Certainly I have found oftentimes you can.  Because the story of Dewey is every bit as heartwarming as the darling tabby cat on the book jacket.  

Written by librarian Vicki Myron of Spencer, Iowa, the book Dewey tells the true story of an abandoned kitten dropped through the book return slot on a cold January morning.  He landed not only in a stack of books but in the heart of a whole town and how he affected the lives of many simply by being the right cat in the right place and time makes for a wonderful tale.  As Dewey’s notoriety spread, he became known all over the world.  This New York Time’s Bestseller is certainly a warm fuzzy that gives a prime example of how animals affect the lives of their humans.  

I told myself not to cry at the end.  I said, “Don’t be silly, now, you’re not the squishy dribbly type to use up a box of tissue over a cat you never met.” Yeah, right.  Dewey undid me, plain and simple.  I’d recommend this touching true story as a gift for cat lovers, book and library lovers, animal lovers in general.  It fits the bill for a perfect bit of heartwarming when the dreariness of the newspaper just won’t do.

Check Out Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World

Library Cat” is set to hit the silver screen, starring Meryl Streep.

See Dewey in action in this old PBS bit:

There is something about the short but powerful novel that I love. I look forward to immersing myself in an emotional and thought-provoking world, one that hits you with a wallop of depth in just a few sittings. These books often have the ability to stay with me more than the longest of epics. The Albanian Affairs by Susana Fortes is just this sort of novel. Originally published in Spanish as El amante albanes, and now translated by Leland H. Chambers by McPherson & Company (an indie press with a fantastic catalog), The Albanian Affairs manages to offer lust, love, political history, and family intrigue all in a mere 180 pages.
The story takes place in an Albanian villa full of family secrets. Ismail, the youngest son, is growing more and more curious over the death of his Spanish mother when he was only a boy. He also finds himself tormented by the presence of his older brother’s new wife, the first woman to reside in their family in many years. He and Helena find themselves drawn to each other – too much. At the same time he struggles against his growing feelings for his brother’s wife, he begins to unravel his mother’s story.

The Albanian Affairs is a passionate work that is painted rather than written. The language is stunning leaving me to marvel at the translation, and the backdrop of an Albania under the dictatorship of Enver Hoxha makes for a dark and moving novel. 

As for McPherson & Company, there are a few publishers out there that make me drool over their book list like a kid with a department store Christmas catalog. This is one of them. If you love translated works and unique literature as much as I do, you learn to follow the indie publishers as much as your favorite authors, and McPherson & Company is one I like to keep my eye on.

Read the first two chapters of The Albanian Affairs online.

13. August 2008 · Comments Off on The Book of Marie by Terry Kay · Categories: Book Reviews, Fiction · Tags: , , ,


Cole needs to sort out his feelings about what happened in his complicated past. He’s facing his 50-year class reunion, and with that come the questions, the flashbacks, the story of a girl he knew so long ago. She touched his life much more deeply than he seems to be willing to admit, and here she is again, resurfacing. Way back when, in a 1950’s Georgia town, she exploded on the scene with her “controversial” viewpoints about the South, civil rights, and even Cole himself. She never was liked, but she was right–no one forgot her.

The Book of Marie is an aching and heartfelt novel that flashes back and forth between the present day and the events of 50 years ago, giving the reader an interesting perspective on how a life can change so much over the years, and how it stays the same despite the passage of time. I loved the setting of high school in the pre-civil rights South, and the relationship between Cole and Marie kept me riveted to the book.

Terry Kay is an accomplished author with a long line of books to his credit. For me, reading The Book of Marie is only the first of many Terry Kay works I intend on reading. The quality of the writing style and the sensitivity towards his characters have me wishing I would have discovered his sooner, but glad I finally did. He has a real mastery for storytelling, and I can recommend it with confidence. My only warning: Finish the book alone and with tissue nearby. If nothing else, you’ll be sorry to see this one end.

Published by Mercer University Press.


Ross was completely enveloped in love for Iliana. He’d finally found the love of his life, so he married her. They were barely starting their first year of marriage when a brutal accident turned their lives, and their expectations, on end. Iliana, now paralyzed from the waist down and confined to a wheelchair, was looking at life from a whole new angle. And Ross? Ross was laden with the guilt of having caused the accident.

If you’ve ever wondered what life would be like after being yanked off you gravitational center, Sitting Practice sure gives you a good look at the possibilities. They say we don’t really learn who we are until we’ve been through a fire, but for most of us it takes much longer than the fire itself. For most of us, we have to wait for the smoke to clear just to get our bearings. For Ross and Iliana, this is every bit the truth.

Sitting Practice is filled to overflowing with likable, realistically flawed and spiritual characters, with a story line that keeps your head in the book even when it’s regretfully closed. Adderson has a knack for conveying life-giving detail in her writings, making the reader wonder just how many shoes she’s walked in to offer such realistic points of view. From Iliana’s day-to-day experiences in a wheelchair to the simple toddler behavior of Ross’ nephew, each part is played out in vivid 3-D. Sitting Practice is certainly a touching and entrancing look into some of life’s more painful lessons.

Published by Trumpeter Books.


When I was in high school, I discovered opera. I saw my first one (Faust) and was so moved by it that when the opportunity came to actually be in one as a supernumerary, I did it. That opera was Der Fliegende Hollander (The Flying Dutchman) by Richard Wagner. So when I picked up Cahier 3 of The Cahier Series, published by Sylph Editions, I was delighted to note the subject matter. Circles of Silence discusses the opera Wagner Dream by Jonathan Harvey in collaboration with Jean-Claude Carrière, writer of the libretto.

Wagner Dream is indeed a dream realized. Harvey had always desired writing an opera with a Buddhist theme. Apparently, this was also Wagner’s desire, but for him, it never happened. Wagner Dream shows the last days of the famous German composer’s life as he has visions and dreams, talking with Buddha and finally “seeing” his opera come to pass.

The most fascinating portion of the cahier is the interview of Harvey and Carrière by Margery Arent Safir, which allows us an explanation in some detail of this translation between Buddhism and music. The cahier then wraps up with a section by Jonathan Harvey, which will give the true music lover much to ponder, as he shares his parallels between music and Buddhism. After reading Circles of Silence, I will most definitely be looking into hearing Wagner Dream.


When he was a young boy, Manjiro Nakahama ran away from his home in a poor Japanese fishing village. Joining up with some fishermen who took him under their wing, one of their fishing excursions soon turned into a disaster, stranding them on a deserted island. As they awaited their rescue, he had no idea he was about to say goodbye to his country for two decades and hello to what would lead to adventures on whaling ships, tropical islands, and even a life in America. Or that he would someday grow up to be the man responsible for opening the door between Japan and the rest of the world.

The New Bedford Samurai is an amazing and true story in a narrative setting. I’ve read quite a bit of Japanese literature, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover author Anca Vlasopolos’ book reads very much in the Japanese style. The writing has an almost fable-like quality, something I’ve often felt while reading a Japanese novel, and this style works well here, as Manjiro lived a life that could only have come from either a wild imagination or complete truth. One simply cannot read this book and wonder why we haven’t heard of Nakahama before. Vlasopolos has certainly brought forth a story long awaiting a writer to share it.

It is evident Vlasopolos did extensive research for this book, and she even mentions traveling to Japan to do so. Manjiro Nakahama’s life was complex, spanning many countries and major world events, and she takes you through every fascinating corner. She not only provides the reader with a story of a man that had to be shared, she manages to include a look into how the ways of today’s world have affected the environment. The reader will ponder not only how the attitudes of yesterday have impacted the earth of today, but how today’s attitudes will impact our future as well.

Read an excerpt of The New Bedford Samurai.

 


Ever since space exploration first became a real possibility, the people of America have been looking towards the skies with hopeful wonderment. Finally, there is something more mysterious for humans to focus on than our own complicated lives. Susan Woodring’s collection of short stories,Springtime on Mars, captures this sense of the unknown, in regards to all that has been America’s pulse from the 1950’s to today. 

The assassination of John F. Kennedy, walking on the moon, the Vietnam War, and UFO’s are all backdrops to Woodring’s stories as the characters try to understand their own universes of death, disappointment, and fear. If this book has one overall theme, I’d have to say it is fear of the unknown. By placing the stories in various time periods rich with American history, Woodring has managed to bring out the best in each plot, giving a wonderful contrast and lending much more to the flavor of each. 

One thing that impresses me about any book or story, no matter the length, is a good ending. Most tend to peter out after the climax, and while they may tie up loose ends and give the reader a sense of closure, very few leave me with a sigh of good old fashioned readerly satisfaction. But I believe I got that sigh out of every one of Woodling’s stories. I actually found myself putting the book down to say, “Now, that was a good one,” before picking it up to start the next. Combine that with a constant shifting of time periods, most of which any reader will remember and hold a sentimental attachment to, and you have a great combination for staying on Mars straight through to summer.

Note: Published by Press 53.  If you buy from their site, you even have the opportunity to buy a book for a soldier.  They really appreciate reading materials!
10. June 2008 · Comments Off on Walking on Air by Muriel Spark – Book Review · Categories: Book Reviews, Chapbooks, Poetry, Short Stories · Tags: , , , ,


Muriel Spark’s work can be found in every corner of the literary world: Novels, short stories, poetry, reviews, and many other written forms, best known for her novel The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Walking on Air, Cahier 2 of The Cahier Series published by Sylph Editions, was brought into being shortly after Spark’s death. These collected works of both poetry and prose were organized by Dan Gunn, some of them being published for the first time. Gunn’s process of pulling the pieces together for a cahier is what he hopes is its own sort of translation, and I must agree.

Walking on Air
features a few images of the author’s handwritten pages, complete with scribblings and rewrites, which was of particular interest to me. Most of my reviews and other writings are first handwritten (as is this one) with many such scratched out and reworded phrases. To see the written notes of someone of Spark’s caliber is certainly fascinating to any writerly mind.

The reader will also enjoy a few journal entries in which Spark discusses ideas for short stories and tidbits about her daily writing life. These entries are followed by a wonderful short story called The Ormolu Clock, which was discussed in the preceding journal entries.

Walking on Air wraps up with a few more pieces by Spark, including a short work on artist Piero della Francesca. Overall, this collection gives a unique look into the life of a great writer, leaving the reader with a sense of having had a personal encounter with Muriel Spark herself.

 


Two men of very differing personalities have excused themselves into lives of crime. Their upbringings and inner workings may be as opposite as Felix Ungar and Oscar Madison, but here they are, living together as drug traffickers. Arkansas by John Brandon gives the reader a humorous, sometimes dark look into the lives of Kyle and Swin, who are trying their best to be successful drug carriers for the mysterious crime boss “Frog”. As people keep turning up dead, or perhaps getting killed in the wake, they figure they might as well cover up the mishaps and give themselves promotions.

Set in the woods of Arkansas, this story is told from varying viewpoints (including that of the elusive Frog), often written in a catchy repetitive rhythm that gives Brandon his own unique voice while lending more flavor to the humorous yet edgy characters. Brandon is every bit worthy of being published by McSweeney’s, which is known for delivering humorous, slightly off-balance literature to the book-hungry masses. The story line is unpredictable from start to finish, as are all the characters within.

Overall, Arkansas has a solid and complete package: Humor, suspense, criminals you can root for, and even an ugly blue dog. The book holds the attention of its readers with a good pace and no laggy parts. If you’re searching for a good summer read with a darned cool cover to boot, then you best head for Arkansas.

 


I love reading translated works; I devour them. There’s a whole other world of literature outside the U.S. waiting to be read, and I mean to discover as much of it as I can. Translating Music, first of The Cahier Series published by Sylph Editions, is written by translator Richard Pevear, putting a whole new slant and appreciation on the way I perceive translated literature.

The first portion of this 35-page cahier is Pevear’s translation of the poem “The Tale of the Preacher and His Man Bumpkin” by Alexander Pushkin. Part Two discusses the work of a translator and how every translator presents the same text differently and why.

Pushkin’s poem contains his sketches and presents the work in its original Russian text on the left hand pages. On the right are Pevear’s translations. This merges well with Part Two as now the reader has had a taste of translated text.

I’m the first to admit I’ve been sloppy in the past about choosing translations. I never gave a thought to who translated my copy of War and Peace. But Pevear explains simply and clearly why one translation may be vastly different from another. Using several examples from Tolstoy’s War and Peace, the author gives the reader a whole new look and appreciation into the world of a translator.

Sylph Editions has published The Cahier Series in association with The Center for Writers & Translators at the American University of Paris. The series includes two “books” or sets of cahiers, each containing 6 volumes. Sylph has kindly sent me the entirety of Book One for review, and I’ll be sharing a new cahier with you every few days.  You can order The Cahier Series by visiting any of the links in this post.