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.

Poet Anne Coray was born and raised in Alaska. Her book of poetry, Bone Strings, reflects not only the beauty and grandeur that haunts anyone who has even seen a picture of the state, it presents the harshness and disquietude of Alaskan nature as well.

Bone Strings reads with a graceful rhythm, smooth and melodic. However, the poetry is often quite the opposite, describing the things that happen in nature we humans wish didn’t occur-like watching the wildlife channel and always hoping to see the rabbit escape the jaws of the wolf. Coray speaks from the vantage point of one who is well acquainted with all that is Alaska and its wilderness, and one who loves and honors it as well.

For the reader who loves the great outdoors and stands in awe of its complexities, its gentle beauty as well as its unforgiving hardness, Bone Strings will satisfy your urge to experience it all through poetry. I have one copy of Bone Strings to give away to a reader chosen at random. To win, enter here before midnight, Thursday June 12, 2008.

3 Ways to Win

1.) Leave a comment telling me something about your views on Alaska. Have you been there? Do you want to visit? Or do you live there? (Something more than “I want this book” is kindly suggested.) If the randomly chosen winner doesn’t reply to my email telling them they’ve won, I often choose the #2 winner based on their comment.

2.) or Subscribers are automatically entered into this and all future giveaways. Just enter your email address in the little white box on the upper part of the right hand column. (Please make sure to verify your Feedburner subscription by responding to the email they send you. If you don’t receive it, check your junk mail.)

3.) or Blog about this giveaway on your blog with a link back.

If you do all three, you have three entries to win.

Published by Scarlet Tanager Books.


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. 
04. June 2008 · Comments Off on Book Review & Giveaway Mishaps Etc. · Categories: Book Talk · Tags: ,

If you tried to enter the giveaway for A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness yesterday and were unable to do so, you were the victim of a computer mishap and a wee bit of errant code. The problem is fixed, to my great relief! If you did enter already, you’re still entered. For some reason, the post worked just fine in certain browsers.

If you were unable to enter and would like to, please click this link for A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness. It’ll work now, really!

Also, I am a little uncertain what Feedburner will be sending to all my subscribers this evening, as I tinkered away with my site in the morning. So in the interest of making sure today’s regularly scheduled review is not overlooked, I’m linking it here for you. That’s because it’s a review with a wonderful 88-year-old poet who has her first book published, and I would not want anyone to miss out on discovering her. Here’s the link to that interview: A Cartography of Peace. Please don’t miss it.

Thanks for your patience, and to make sure everyone has an opportunity to enter the giveaway for A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness, I’m extending the deadline to June 8, 2008.

Everyone has a skeleton in the closet, and Tanner’s has been dogging him for over 20 years. It followed him from Belize after a two-year Peace Corp stint that was supposed to help him do something good. But Tanner wonders if some people do good things naturally while others have to work a little harder at it.

In The Baker’s Boy, a tragic event on Tanner’s first day back to college after a 25-year break, pushes him to the brink. The trauma of the present conjures up images of a past he’d rather forget, teaching boys in a school for Belize delinquents. As he tries to figure out how to deal with marriage and impending fatherhood, he lapses into the past, unburdening his story bit by bit to his best friend and his pregnant wife.

Author Barry Kitterman doesn’t paint the picture of the lush green Belize you’d find in the travel brochures. Kitterman’s Belize is real to the core, impoverished, and gritty. His descriptions of the New Hope School for Boys and those who live there are achy, sometimes funny, always able to hold the reader’s attention. As the narration progresses, the book gains more and more momentum right up to its unexpected ending.

I have one copy of The Baker’s Boy that I’d like to give away to one of you. Enter to win by midnight, May 6, 2008.

3 Ways to Enter:

1.) Leave a comment telling me what interests you about the book. (Something more than “sounds good” is kindly suggested.) Don’t worry -you don’t have to share the skeletons in your closet - unless you want to!

2.) Subscribers are automatically entered into this and all future giveaways. Just enter your email address in the little white box on the upper part of the right hand column. (Please make sure to verify your Feedburner subscription by responding to the email they send you. If you don’t receive it, check your junk mail.)

3.) Blog about this giveaway on your blog with a link back.

Do all three, and you’ve got three entries to win!

Narrated by an unnamed man, The Unforeseen gives us a good look at a most uncommon human. The man, who suffers from a perpetual cold, finds himself alone in a strange city. At the mercy of strangers from beginning to end, he starts going by the name “Serge”. Although he often blurts out an embarrassing detail or two about his current situation, he never really tells anyone about himself, despite the fact he’s been given every opportunity.

You see, this newfound “Serge” has no social skills. Zip. Zero. Zilch. And since every situation he finds himself in is a very social atmosphere, the reader is left dangling between sympathy and outright laughter. Our stiff and obsessive narrator never seems to see himself as lacking social skills - in fact, he appears to think he’s the sort that goes the extra mile in politeness and decorum. But social graces he has none. The reader can only guess at what are the true reactions of those he meets along his journey, as “Serge” seems a little confused as to what people are actually thinking.

The Unforeseen was originally written by Christian Oster in French, published first in 2006 as L’imprevu. Oster has published 12 novels in all, including My Big Apartment, winning him the Prix Médicis in 1999. He currently resides in Paris.

The novel was translated by Adriana Hunter who managed to keep the prose fluid, and the style is consistent throughout. The subtleties of the narrator’s ability to make others slightly uncomfortable were no doubt tricky to translate, yet they remain humorously intact.

If you would like to win a copy of The Unforeseen and perhaps brush up on how to embarrass yourself in public, I have a copy to give one winner. Enter before midnight, April 29, 2008.

3 Ways to Enter:

1.) Leave a comment telling me what interests you about the book. (Something more than “sounds good” is kindly suggested.) If you’d like, you can instead tell me something you did that embarrassed you in public, but this is just to make things more interesting, and besides I’m nosy.

2.) Subscribers are automatically entered into this and all future giveaways. Just enter your email address in the little white box on the upper part of the right hand column. (Please make sure to verify your Feedburner subscription by responding to the email they send you. If you don’t receive it, check your junk mail.)

3.) Blog about this giveaway on your blog with a link back.

Do all three, and you’ve got three entries to win!

Voices of the Lost and Found gives the reader a well-written collection of short stories, each crafted in a distinctively different voice than the one before. How author Dorene O’Brien manages to carry all these personalities around in her head, I can’t even begin to imagine. But this, together with edgy story lines and delicious irony, is what makes Voices of the Lost and Found an impressive work.

Eleven stories in all, the characters are truly the heart of the book. From the gripping story of a graffiti artist (Way Past Taggin’) to the humorous tale of a fishery worker whose boss was murdered with only his left hand remaining (No Need to Ask), the narration is so realistic you’ll swear you’re hearing voices. I don’t know if it’s this way for everyone, but when I read, it’s usually my own voice slightly altered to fit the character. Men are a little lower register, sometimes with an accent, but it’s still me in there. With O’Brien’s work, I heard actual voices. Please don’t turn me in. I just tell it like it is.

I had the honor of interviewing Dorene O’Brien about her experiences writing this book. I’ll be posting that tomorrow, so make sure and stop by.

If you want to hear voices in your head too, you’re in luck. I have one extra copy of Voices of the Lost and Found to give away. There are three ways to win: All subscribers are already entered into this and all future giveaways, so if you aren’t subscribed, you can do so in the right hand column of this page. Or you can leave a comment telling me what interests you about this book. (Something more than “sounds good” is kindly requested.) You can also link back to this post in your blog for an entry. Do all three, and you have three entries! I’ll draw a winner on at midnight EST on April 27th, 2008.

Special thanks go out to Bloggy Giveaways, who does a fantastic job of promoting. They’re hosting a giveaway carnival right now, so if you like winning things, this is your spot.

Ever read a book that haunted you? One that would not, no matter how you tried, allow you to put it down until the last page was read? If it’s been awhile since you’ve had that type of a reading experience, then it’s time to read Sandrine’s Letter to Tomorrow by Dedra Johnson.

Sandrine, a girl of nine living in New Orleans in the mid-1970’s, has had to grow up much faster than any little girl should have to do. Her mother makes it painfully clear she was never wanted and has interfered in her mother’s life in every way possible. Her father loves her, but only from a distance. She seems to be tossed aside carelessly by everyone who is supposed to love and care for her; no one protects her.

Written in first person, Sandrine is a very real character from page one. Despite the fact that it is told through the eyes of a child, the voice is intelligent and mature for her years. But Sandrine is still only a child. The reader will understand much more of what is happening in Sandrine’s life than she does. Sandrine is taken through difficulties no child should experience, including racism (even among her own family due to her light skin) sexual assault, and child abuse.

Dedra Johnson has a unique voice, and with her skills at writing page-turning narrative, I’m certain it’s only a matter of time before we hear more from her. Her work has an appeal that can easily hook you; with the right promotion, hers will become more than just another book on the shelf. I’m not the only one who feels this way - she’s been compared to Toni Morrison, and I have to agree it has that beautiful yet heartbreaking quality Morrison is known for.

Dedra Johnson is a New Orleans native. Dedra was a finalist for the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Award for College Writers and Sandrine’s Letter to Tomorrow was a finalist for the 2006 William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Award. Check back tomorrow to read my interview with Dedra where she’ll give us some insight on her book.

I have a copy of Sandrine’s Letter to Tomorrow to give away to one reader. As always, subscribers are automatically entered in this and all future book giveaways. (If you’re not subscribed, please type your email address in the box in the right-hand column. Make sure you add Feedburner to your address book so you can verify your subscription.) You can also enter by leaving a comment telling me what interests you about the book, or link to this giveaway from your own blog. Do all three, and you have three entries. I’ll draw a winner on April 24, 2008, 12 midnight. (***Note: Contest is now extended to April 25, 2023 midnight. This drawing is now listed on Bloggy Giveaways, which is having a huge giveaway carnival. If you like giveaways, this is the place to be this week!)

A carp(e) libris reviews goldfish award book.

I have been a fan of McSweeney’s Quarterly for a very long time. I have also been a regular lurker on their website. It’s quirky. I like quirky.

The founder of McSweeney’s is Dave Eggers, who I’d love to sing about right now, but it would eat up this entire post, make your ears bleed, and leave no room for the upcoming book review (and there is one) so I shall instead suggest this Wikipedia link where he’s been wiki’d.

You Shall Know Our Velocity was written by Eggers and is published in hardcover by McSweeney’s. The book tells the story of Will who has acquired a large amount of cash from posing for light bulb packaging. Due to his inner turmoil caused by the death of a best friend, he decides to travel the world to give away his light bulb earnings - in only 7 day’s time. His surviving best friend comes along to help him, but it seems that nothing goes according to plan. They find themselves changing their plans on the fly, landing them in unpredictable situations. Giving away money is a tricky business that seems to involve things like perfect timing, staying up all night, packing tape, and finding the perfect donkey.

From Senegal to Latvia, (forget Greenland - they have wind issues) Will and his friend Hand spend time searching for the best ways to unload the cash, all the while working through the death of their friend. No postcard destinations for this book. Instead it takes readers to back streets, seedy bars, narrow alleys, and mountains in total darkness of night. I swear I was getting jet lag. My backpack was calling me, hoping to get its own dose of international hullabaloo. The book itself was printed in Iceland which makes me ponder if McSweeney’s intention was to add another uncommon destination to the list.

You Shall Know Our Velocity also contained just the type of humor I was hoping to get from Dave Eggers. He throws in lots of bumps in the ride and unexpected visuals, not to mention starting the book’s contents smack on the front cover. If you’re looking for an out-of-the-ordinary literary spin around the globe, then grab your backpack and a spare t-shirt. The donkeys are waiting.