September 27, 2011

Long Lists for Possible Pitches for 2011-2012


Blindness, José Saramago
From Amazon review: "In an unnamed city in an unnamed country, a man sitting in his car waiting for a traffic light to change is suddenly struck blind. But instead of being plunged into darkness, this man sees everything white, as if he "were caught in a mist or had fallen into a milky sea." A Good Samaritan offers to drive him home (and later steals his car); his wife takes him by taxi to a nearby eye clinic where they are ushered past other patients into the doctor's office. Within a day the man's wife, the taxi driver, the doctor and his patients, and the car thief have all succumbed to blindness. As the epidemic spreads, the government panics and begins quarantining victims in an abandoned mental asylum--guarded by soldiers with orders to shoot anyone who tries to escape. So begins Portuguese author José Saramago's gripping story of humanity under siege, written with a dearth of paragraphs, limited punctuation, and embedded dialogue minus either quotation marks or attribution. At first this may seem challenging, but the style actually contributes to the narrative's building tension, and to the reader's involvement."
I think it's a challenging read, but have heard it's fascinating. Won the 1998 Nobel Prize for Literature.
The Hummingbird's Daughter, Luis Alberto Urrea
From Amazon review: "Her powers were growing now, like her body. No one knew where the strange things came from. Some said they sprang up in her after the desert sojourn with Huila. Some said they came from somewhere else, some deep inner landscape no one could touch. That they had been there all along." Teresita, the real-life "Saint of Cabora," was born in 1873 to a 14-year-old Indian girl impregnated by a prosperous rancher near the Mexico-Arizona border. Raised in dire poverty by an abusive aunt, the little girl still learned music and horsemanship and even to read: she was a "chosen child," showing such remarkable healing powers that the ranch's medicine woman took her as an apprentice, and the rancher, Don Tomás Urrea, took her—barefoot and dirty—into his own household. At 16, Teresita was raped, lapsed into a coma and apparently died. At her wake, though, she sat up in her coffin and declared that it was not for her. Pilgrims came to her by the thousands, even as the Catholic Church denounced her as a heretic; she was also accused of fomenting an Indian uprising against Mexico and, at 19, sentenced to be shot. ...An astonishing novel set against the guerrilla violence of post–Civil War southwestern border disputes and incipient revolution. ...Urrea effortlessly links Teresita's supernatural calling to the turmoil of the times, concealing substantial intellectual content behind effervescent storytelling and considerable humor."
Freedom, Jonathan Franzen
From Amazon review: "Nine years after winning the National Book Award, Franzen's The Corrections consistently appears on "Best of the Decade" lists and continues to enjoy a popularity that borders on the epochal, so much so that the first question facing Franzen's feverishly awaited follow-up is whether it can find its own voice in its predecessor's shadow. In short: yes, it does, and in a big way. Readers will recognize the strains of suburban tragedy afflicting St. Paul, Minn.'s Walter and Patty Berglund, once-gleaming gentrifiers now marred in the eyes of the community by Patty's increasingly erratic war on the right-wing neighbors with whom her eerily independent and sexually precocious teenage son, Joey, is besot, and, later, "greener than Greenpeace" Walter's well-publicized dealings with the coal industry's efforts to demolish a West Virginia mountaintop. The surprise is that the Berglunds' fall is outlined almost entirely in the novel's first 30 pages, freeing Franzen to delve into Patty's affluent East Coast girlhood, her sexual assault at the hands of a well-connected senior, doomed career as a college basketball star, and the long-running love triangle between Patty, Walter, and Walter's best friend, the budding rock star Richard Katz. Franzen pits his excavation of the cracks in the nuclear family's facade against a backdrop of all-American faults and fissures, but where the book stands apart is that, no longer content merely to record the breakdown, Franzen tries to account for his often stridently unlikable characters and find where they (and we) went wrong, arriving at--incredibly--genuine hope."

Angle of Repose, Wallace Stegner
Angle of Repose tells the story of Lyman Ward, a retired professor of history and author of books about the Western frontier, who returns to his ancestral home of Grass Valley, California, in the Sierra Nevada. Wheelchair-bound with a crippling bone disease and dependent on others for his every need, Ward is nonetheless embarking on a search of monumental proportions - to rediscover his grandmother, now long dead, who made her own journey to Grass Valley nearly a hundred years earlier. Like other great quests in literature, Lyman Ward's investigation leads him deep into the dark shadows of his own life.
Art of Racing in the Rain, Garth Stein
If you've ever wondered what your dog is thinking, Stein's third novel offers an answer. Enzo is a lab terrier mix plucked from a farm outside Seattle to ride shotgun with race car driver Denny Swift as he pursues success on the track and off. Denny meets and marries Eve, has a daughter, Zoë, and risks his savings and his life to make it on the professional racing circuit. Enzo, frustrated by his inability to speak and his lack of opposable thumbs, watches Denny's old racing videos, coins koanlike aphorisms that apply to both driving and life, and hopes for the day when his life as a dog will be over and he can be reborn a man. When Denny hits an extended rough patch, Enzo remains his most steadfast if silent supporter. Enzo is a reliable companion and a likable enough narrator, though the string of Denny's bad luck stories strains believability. Much like Denny, however, Stein is able to salvage some dignity from the over-the-top drama.
Ordinary Wolves,  Seth Kantner
A first novel, a Milkweed National Fiction Prize winner, offers an unsentimental yet very passionate take on the collision of Eskimo and white culture, as well as the encroachment of materialistic civilization on Alaska's unspoiled wilderness at the end of the 20th century. After his mother flees back to the Lower 40 never to return, Cutuk (Calvin) is raised along with his older sister and brother by his father, Abe, in an igloo in northern Alaska. Abe's attempt to live intimately with nature, with as few civilized distractions as possible, makes him an oddity not only among his educated peers but to the native Inupiaq residents of the nearby village of Takunak, who are happy to accept accouterments of modern life like TVs and snowmobiles. Under his father's tutelage, Cutuk grows up steeped in knowledge of and love for the natural world but also finds himself wanting to fit in with a community. After home-schooling, Cutuk finishes high school in Takunak, where he falls in love with Dawna, the granddaughter of his idol Enuk Wolfglove, who disappeared while hunting wolves. But, in the village, Cutuk feels like a second-class citizen because he's white. As a lonely young man, he decides to explore the city life that has drawn away his siblings. His brother has moved to Fairbanks, while his sister has attended college in Anchorage (though she ends up a teacher in Takunak). While the myriad details, complete with glossary, about surviving in the Alaskan wilderness and the daily village life among the Inupiaq are engrossing, Kantner's description of Anchorage through Cutuk's innocent yet intelligent eyes is equally compelling. After years in the city, Cutuk, with mixed results, returns toTakunak. He eventually finds himself back on the land, alone but with Dawna's future companionship a possibility. Richly poetic and emotionally engrossing. (Kirkus Reviews)


The Good Earth, Pearl S. Buck
This 1932 Pulitzer Prize winning novel is still a standout today. Deceptive in its simplicity, it is a story built around a flawed human being and a teetering socio-economic system, as well as one that is layered with profound themes. The cadence of the author's writing is also of note, as it rhythmically lends itself to the telling of the story, giving it a very distinct voice. No doubt the author's writing style was influenced by her own immersion in Chinese culture, as she grew up and lived in China, the daughter of missionaries.

This is the story of the cyclical nature of life, of the passions and desires that motivate a human being, of good and evil, and of the desire to survive and thrive against great odds. It begins with the story of an illiterate, poor, peasant farmer, Wang Lung, who ventures from the rural countryside and goes to town to the great house of Hwang to obtain a bride from those among the rank of slave. There, he is given the slave O-lan as his bride.
Something/anything by Jane Austin or the Brontes.

The History of Love, Nicole Krauss
A long-lost book reappears, mysteriously connecting an old man searching for his son and a girl seeking a cure for her widowed mother's loneliness. Leo Gursky is just about surviving, tapping his radiator each evening to let his upstairs neighbor know he's still alive. But life wasn't always like this: sixty years ago, in the Polish village where he was born, Leo fell in love and wrote a book. And though Leo doesn't know it, that book survived, inspiring fabulous circumstances, even love. Fourteen-year-old Alma was named after a character in that very book. And although she has her hands full—keeping track of her brother, Bird (who thinks he might be the Messiah), and taking copious notes on How to Survive in the Wild—she undertakes an adventure to find her namesake and save her family. With consummate, spellbinding skill, Nicole Krauss gradually draws together their stories. This extraordinary book was inspired by the author's four grandparents and by a pantheon of authors whose work is haunted by loss—Bruno Schulz, Franz Kafka, Isaac Babel, and more. It is truly a history of love: a tale brimming with laughter, irony, passion, and soaring imaginative power. 
Janet Maslin: There are also two kinds of writers given to the verbal tangents and cartwheels and curlicues that adorn Ms. Krauss's vertiginously exciting second novel: those whose pyrotechnics lead somewhere and those who are merely showing off. While there are times when Ms. Krauss's gamesmanship risks overpowering her larger purpose, her book's resolution pulls everything that precedes it into sharp focus. It has been headed for this moment of truth all along.
Links, Nuruddin Farah
Farah is a Somali novelist, who won the Neustadt International Prize for Literature in 1998, lives in exile in South Africa but, in his fiction, regularly returns to probe the “Dantean complexity” of his homeland. In his ninth novel, an exiled Somali dissident named Jeebleh goes back to Mogadishu after more than twenty years to search for his mother’s grave and to settle old scores in the noxious hodgepodge of clan-based militias, warlords, and trigger-happy American soldiers. Jeebleh, now a university professor in New York with an American wife and two daughters, expects that his voyage will reinforce the great divide between his new life and the violent inhabitants of the “city of death.” Instead, after the abduction of a friend’s daughter, he discovers his own capacity for violence and his thirst for “justice, by any means possible.”

The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery
[Renee Michel and Paloma Josse] provide the double narrative of The Elegance of the Hedgehog, and you will—this is going to sound corny—fall in love with both. In Europe, where Muriel Barbery's book became a huge bestseller in 2007, it has inspired the kind of affection and enthusiasm American readers bestow on the works of Alexander McCall Smith. Still, this is a very French novel: tender and satirical in its overall tone, yet most absorbing because of its reflections on the nature of beauty and art, the meaning of life and death. Out of context, Madame Michel's pensees may occasionally sound pretentious, just as Paloma might sometimes pass for a Gallic (and female) version of Holden Caulfield. But, for the most part, Barbery makes us believe in these two unbelievable characters. (Washington Post)
Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand
From the bestselling author of Seabiscuit, comes Unbroken, the inspiring true story of a man who lived through a series of catastrophes almost too incredible to be believed. In evocative, immediate descriptions, Hillenbrand unfurls the story of Louie Zamperini--a juvenile delinquent-turned-Olympic runner-turned-Army hero. During a routine search mission over the Pacific, Louie’s plane crashed into the ocean, and what happened to him over the next three years of his life is a story that will keep you glued to the pages, eagerly awaiting the next turn in the story and fearing it at the same time. You’ll cheer for the man who somehow maintained his selfhood and humanity despite the monumental degradations he suffered, and you’ll want to share this book with everyone you know. --Juliet Disparte
Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
Set in London and Paris before and during the French Revolution. With well over 200 million copies sold, it ranks among the most famous works in the history of fictional literature. The novel depicts the plight of the French peasantry demoralized by the French aristocracy in the years leading up to the revolution, the corresponding brutality demonstrated by the revolutionaries toward the former aristocrats in the early years of the revolution, and many unflattering social parallels with life in London during the same time period. It follows the lives of several protagonists through these events. The most notable are Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton. Darnay is a French once-aristocrat who falls victim to the indiscriminate wrath of the revolution despite his virtuous nature, and Carton is a dissipated British barrister who endeavours to redeem his ill-spent life out of his unrequited love for Darnay's wife, Lucie Manette.
Murder in the Cathedral, T. S. Eliott
A drama in verse that portrays the assassination of Archbishop Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170, first performed in 1935. Eliot drew heavily on the writing of Edward Grim, a clerk who was an eyewitness to the event. The play, dealing with an individual's opposition to authority, was written at the time of rising Fascism in Central Europe, and can be taken as a protest to individuals in affected countries to oppose the Nazi regime's subversion of the ideals of the Christian Church.



The Tiger's Wife, Tea Obreht
Winner of the 2011 Orange Prize 
Weaving a brilliant latticework of family legend, loss, and love, Téa Obreht, the youngest of The New Yorker’s twenty best American fiction writers under forty, has spun a timeless novel that will establish her as one of the most vibrant, original authors of her generation. 
In a Balkan country mending from years of conflict, Natalia, a young doctor, arrives on a mission of mercy at an orphanage by the sea. By the time she and her lifelong friend Zóra begin to inoculate the children there, she feels age-old superstitions and secrets gathering everywhere around her. Secrets her outwardly cheerful hosts have chosen not to tell her. Secrets involving the strange family digging for something in the surrounding vineyards. Secrets hidden in the landscape itself. But Natalia is also confronting a private, hurtful mystery of her own: the inexplicable circumstances surrounding her beloved grandfather’s recent death. 
Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese
Marion and Shiva Stone are twin brothers born of a secret union between a beautiful Indian nun and a brash British surgeon. Orphaned by their mother’s death and their father’s disappearance, bound together by a preternatural connection and a shared fascination with medicine, the twins come of age as Ethiopia hovers on the brink of revolution. Moving from Addis Ababa to New York City and back again, Cutting for Stone is an unforgettable story of love and betrayal, medicine and ordinary miracles—and two brothers whose fates are forever intertwined.
Middlemarch, George Elliot
One of the best-loved works of the nineteenth century, Middlemarch explores the complex social relationships in a town that moves and breathes with a life of its own.Strangled by the confining terms of her late husband's will, an idealistic young woman throws herself into the struggle for medical reforms advocated by a visionary doctor. Considered by many to be Eliot's finest work and one of the best novels in English ever written.



Death Comes for the Archbishop, Willa Cather
There is something epic -- and almost mythic -- about this sparsely beautiful novel. . . In 1851, Father Latour comes as the Apostolic Vicar to New Mexico.  What he finds is a vast territory of red hills and tortuous arroyos, American by law but Mexican and Indian in custom and belief.  In the forty years that follow, Latour spread his faith in the only way he knows -- gently, although he must contend with derelict and sometimes openly rebellious priests and his own loneliness.
The Three Mustketeers, Alexandre Dumas
The three muskateers -- Athos, Porthos, and Aramis -- are the most daring swordsmen in France, bodyguards to the king who fight to the death.  When d'Artagnan, a brash young man from the countryside, comes to Paris to join their ranks, they become the greatest friends of his life.  And when a villainous plot is hatched against the queen by the sly Cardinal Richelieu and the seductive spy Milady, the four dashing blades must save them -- at any cost.
Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro
Man Booker Prize Finalist from the author of Remains of the Day (which was made into one of my all-time favorite movies starring Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins).  Never Let Me Go tells the story of people who became friends in boarding school, a place of mercurial cliques and mysterious rules where teachers were constantly reminding their charges of how special they were.  Years later they reunite. 
A Gothic tour de force . . . . A tight, deftly controlled story . . . . Just as accomplished as The Remains of the Day and, in a very different way, just as melancholy and alarming.  (New York Times) 
Cleopatra, A Life, Stacy Schiff
Best Book of the Year, New York Times 2010.  Stacy Schiff is a Pulitzer Prize winning author.  Nonfiction.
At the height of her power, Cleopatra controlled virtually the entire eastern Mediterranean coast, the last great kingdom of an Egyptian ruler.  She was a shrewd strategist and an ingenious negotiator.  She was married twice, each time to a brother.  She waged a brutal civil war against the first and poisoned the second; incest and assassination were family specialties.  She had children by Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony, two of the most prominent Roman commanders of the day.  With Anthony, she would attempt to forge a new empire, in an alliance that spelled both their ends.   She died at 39, a generation before Jesus' birth.
Hamlet, Shakespeare

Life, Keith Richards



On Chesil Beach, Ian McEwan
Ian McEwan's emotionally charged novel follows an inexperienced young couple through their disastrous wedding night at a Dorset hotel in 1962. Very much in love, Edward and Florence are predictably nervous, but for different reasons. He longs to consummate the marriage; she is repelled by the very idea. Locked in their inhibitions and utterly unable to discuss their fears and needs, they are victims not only of personal experience but of a distinctively British brand of repression destined to crumble in the sexual revolution. "This breathtaking novel takes on subjects of universal interest -- innocense and naivete, self-delusion, desire and repression, opportunity lost of rejected -- and creates a small but complete universe around them. McEwan's prose is as masterly as ever, here striking a remarkably subtle balance between detachment and sympaty, dry wit and deep compassion. It reaffirms my conviction that no one writing in English surpasses or even matches McEwan's accomplishment." (Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post)
Case Histories, Kate Atkinson
The best mystery of the decade. (Stephen King)
A triumphant new novel from award-winner Kate Atkinson: a breathtaking story of families divided, love lost and found, and the mysteries of fate. Breaking detective-thriller form, Case Histories is told from multiple points of view, reducing the burden on Jackson to "solve" the crimes for us and letting each character bloom in the light of the author's sharp, observant prose. That's something that the genre's hard-boiled forefathers would never have don; for them, the rationcinative novel was a one-man job, and sympathetic characters just gummed up the works. Atkinson, though, seems to have intuied that hte most compelling mystery of all isn't necessarily whodunit, but rather howtodealwithin. (Jeff Turrentine, Washington Post)
Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys
Jean Rhys's reputation was made upon the publication of this passionate and heartbreaking novel, in which she brings into the light one of fiction's most myterious characters; the madwoman in the attic from Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. A sensual and protected young woman, Antoinette Cosway grows up in the lush natural world of the Caribbean. She is sold into marriage to the coldhearted and prideful Rochester, who succumbs to his need for money and his lust. Yet he will make her pay for her ancestors' sins of slaveholding, excessive drinking, and nihilistic despair by enslaving her as a prisoner in his bleak English home. In this best-selling novel Rhys portrays a society so driven by hatred, so skewed in its sexual relations, that it can literally drive a woman out of her mind.
God of Carnage, Yasmina Reza
What happens when two sets of parents meet up to deal with the unruly behavior of their children? A calm and national debate between grown-ups about the need to teach kids how to behave properly? Or a hysterical night of name-calling, tantrums, and tears before bedtime? Christopher Hampton's translation of Yasmina Reza's sharp-edged new play The God of Carnage premiered at Wyndham's Theatre, London, in March 200 and at Bernard B. Jacobs Theater, New York City, in March 2009. The International Heral Tribune calls it "an expert piece of stagecraft, and savagely funny.

September 25, 2011

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