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  • Brian Boone 2:00 pm on 2017/11/02 Permalink
    Tags: a thousand acres, ana of california, andi teran, , , , dorian an imitation, going bovine, , jane smiley, , , , maya lang, , , page to page, , the sixteenth of june, , will self,   

    5 Books You Didn’t Know Were Remakes 

    Many standup comedians have made the amusing joke/observation that us creative humans in the Western world don’t hesitate to remake movies or songs but we never remake books. The most famous variation on the gag—after expressing that sentiment, the comedian mentions that they’re writing a word-for-word remake of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. The thing is, authors remake other authors’ material all the time. It’s just that in the world of books they’re called “adaptations” or “re-imaginings.” Here are some books that offer a brand new take on pre-existing works.

    A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley is a remake of Shakespeare’s King Lear
    One of big reasons why Shakespeare is regarded as the greatest author, or playwright, of all time, is because his stories and characters continue to resonate through the centuries. The Bard wrote his stuff 400 years ago, and it’s still solid, because his themes are universal and his characters are relatable. Once in a while, an author will use one of Shakespeare’s plays as a jumping-off point—they just need to update the language. And the settings. And the plots. And into prose from dialogue. Perhaps the best example of Shakespeare 2.0 is Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres. Because a king deciding which daughter to bequeath his kingdom to is a little irrelevant to the modern United States, Smiley made it about three daughters up to inherit their aging father’s farm. Smiley won a Pulitzer Prize for the novel.

    Going Bovine by Libba Bray is a remake of Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote
    Miguel de Cervantes’ epic comedy Don Quixote is about a man with both mental illness and delusions of grandeur—it’s pretty modern and sophisticated for having been published four centuries ago. But hey, funny is funny, and comedy is eternal. Libba Bray deftly reworked the vast, complicated classic into a digestible modern tale set in high school. A regular guy named Cameron contracts Mad Cow Disease, as one does, and suffers from all kinds of delightful hallucinations.

    The Sixteenth of June by Maya Lang is a remake of James Joyce’s Ulysses
    James Joyce’s crowning achievement is Ulysses, an astonishingly detailed, hyper-realistic look at a single day in Dublin, Ireland—June 16, 1904. Commemorations of that day are now known as Bloomsday, after one the book’s many, many characters, Leo Bloom. Almost as real as Joyce’s physical descriptions are the richly rendered characters. “A day in the life” is a repeatable formula, but difficult to do well. Author Maya Lang pulls it off with The Sixteenth of June. It’s a cutting, insightful, emotional look at the good people of Philadelphia on June 16, 2004. A couple of people even throw a Bloomsday party! (Of course, if you want to get technical, Ulysses itself is a remake of the ancient Greek epic The Odyssey.)

    Ana of California by Andi Teran is a remake of L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables
    You can’t improve on Lucy Maud Montgomery’s moving story of plucky, idiosyncratic red-headed orphan Anne Shirley charming the once crusty townsfolk of Avonlea. You can only re-create it in another time and place. At its core, Anne of Green Gables is a story about how hard it is to a new place, and fit in while maintaining your identity and integrity, and Andi Teran maintains all of Montgomery’s themes in her Anne reimagining, Ana of California. And she does it quite well, telling the tale of a teenage orphan named Ana Cortez who leaves the foster care system and East L.A. for a farm work program in Northern California.

    Dorian by Will Self is a remake of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray
    What if Oscar Wilde were Bret Easton Ellis? Then he’d write Dorian. Of course, Will Self already wrote this book in 2002. Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray story of a fresh-faced man and his grotesquely aging portrait called out and satirized the superficial. Self logically adapted the novel to take place in the equally hollow and image-conscious world of the 1980s London art scene.

    What are your favorite literary remakes?

    The post 5 Books You Didn’t Know Were Remakes appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Jenny Shank 3:30 pm on 2015/07/07 Permalink
    Tags: , festivals, , jane smiley, Jim Lynch, Nina Mcconigley, Pauls Toutonghi, Seattle, , state fairs, , Wyoming   

    Get into the American Spirit with 5 Fairbound Works of Summer Fiction 

    Summer is a splendid time to enjoy America. If you happen to be in Roswell, New Mexico, you can participate in the annual UFO Festival, where the alien-lamp-lined main street closes to traffic in favor of a big party with an alien chase run, costume contest, and light parade. Meanwhile, on Coney Island, you can witness the nation’s premier gut-busting event, Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest. And across the country, gourd maniacs are busy growing the biggest possible pumpkin for state fairs that are just around the corner. Here are five books that will get you into the American spirit with their depictions of fairs, contests, and community celebrations.

    Some Luck, by Jane Smiley
    The Iowa State Fair (running this year August 13–23) plays a big role in the first installment of Jane Smiley’s masterful projected Century Trilogy, following Iowa farm family the Langdons from 1920 through 2020. At the 1934 fair, eldest son Frank “was fourteen, but he looked sixteen and acted eighteen.” While Frank’s more farming-inclined twelve-year-old brother Joey shows a Southdown ewe named Emily at the fair, Frank manages to steal onto the midway and make it past second base with an older girl. And neither Frank nor Joey throw up from too much funnel cake, watermelon, and hot dogs, despite their mother’s dire predictions. (The Iowa State Fair also figures in Smiley’s second book in the trilogy, Early Warning.)

    Evel Knievel Days, by Pauls Toutonghi
    The biggest party in Butte, Montana, is Evel Knievel Days (running this year July 23–25), during which daredevil motorcycle riders celebrate all things Evel, including flaming trucks, pyrotechnics, and the “American Motordome Wall of Death.” Pauls Toutonghi, who titled his winning first novel after the annual event, tells the story of Khosi Saqur Clark, the son of an absent Egyptian father and a cuisine-obsessed mother who’s a descendant of Butte’s famous “Copper King.” Khosi works as a tour guide in the Copper King Mansion, but a crisis forces him to leave his beloved Butte for the first time ever, to seek his father in Cairo. Madcap hilarity and emotional connections ensue.

    Truth Like the Sun, by Jim Lynch
    The Seattle 1962 World’s Fair is at the heart of Jim Lynch’s fine novel Truth Like the Sun. Planners rushed to finish the Space Needle in time for the fair, hoping it would beckon newcomers to the city. “Where better to start afresh?” Lynch writes, “A whole new way of living in a city of things to come. That’s right. A city so short on history it’s mostly all future anyway.” Lynch cuts between the events of the 1962 fair and the mayoral run, 50 years later, of Roger Morgan, the now-70 visionary who spearheaded the fair. It looks like the political winds are blowing in Morgan’s favor until an investigative journalist gets hold of his story and digs into the secrets of his past.

    Cowboys and East Indiansby Nina McConigley
    McConigley’s fantastic debut story collection, which won the PEN Open Book Award, introduces many characters who are “the wrong kind of Indians living in Wyoming.” In the story “Reserve Champion,” Casper woman Delia Chalk is busy sewing for a doll dressing competition at the National Bank of Wyoming. “Next to the table was her trophy case,” McConigley writes. “It was stuffed with ribbons from the county and state fair, contests, and competitions—all from her handiwork. Reserve Champion. Reserve Champion. Reserve Champion. The pale pink rosettes made a garden in her case. Reserve Champion. It was better than first place all right, but not quite the best. It was a kind of purgatory of ribbons.” Delia feels sure she can finally win first place at the bank’s contest, but she hadn’t counted on stiff competition from Mrs. Gupta, an immigrant from India who sews a mean miniature sari. A new edition of Cowboys and East Indians has just been released.

    John Henry Days, by Colson Whitehead
    Colson Whitehead’s second novel remains one of my favorites out of his many books. Freelance journalist J. Sutter is a “junketeer,” surviving on freebies, buffets, and complimentary trips offered by companies that want him to write about their products. In July of 1996, a website sends Sutter to cover John Henry Days in Talcott, West Virginia. The event will commemorate the steel-driving folk hero and celebrate the release of a new John Henry postage stamp. Hilarity and deep thoughts about America follow.

  • Melissa Albert 8:50 pm on 2015/03/30 Permalink
    Tags: , , ann b. ross, ann packer, , , jane smiley, , , , ,   

    April’s Top Picks in Fiction 

    This month we’re getting long-awaited sequels, the latest from a Nobel Prize-winning novelist, an ice-cold noir thriller, and a delicious contemporary reimagining of a classic Jane Austen comedy of manners. These are the books you should be pairing with your coffee, your commute, and your late-night “just one more page” protests all month long.

    A God in Ruins, by Kate Atkinson
    A God in Ruins is the companion novel to Atkinson’s astonishing, award-winning Life After Life, which followed Ursula Todd from birth to death again and again, tracking the progression of her soul as she lives out her life in countless iterations. Now Atkinson turns her focus to Ursula’s beloved brother, Teddy, whose safe return from World War II was one of the first novel’s emotional high points. The focus is on his postwar life, which he, as a former RAF pilot, didn’t really expect to be granted. In telling his story, Atkinson again bends time and tests the boundaries of traditional narration; she’s a master storyteller, and A God in Ruins is not to be missed.

    Early Warning, by Jane Smiley
    Smiley’s 2014 book Some Luck, the first in her Century Trilogy, followed Iowa farm couple Walter and Rosanna Langdon from 1920, when they’re newlyweds, to the early 1950s, each chapter covering a year in their family’s life. Book two, Early Warning, opens in 1953 just after Walter’s death. Smiley follows the lives of Rosanna, her five children, and their children over the 33 years following that death, through the social tumult of midcentury and beyond. She keeps a tight hold on her fascinating, miraculously distinct cast, through whose eyes readers experience cultural touchpoints like the Vietnam War and the 1970s boom in cult activity, as well as the more intimate triumphs and disasters of family life.

    Inside the O’Briens, by Lisa Genova
    Lisa Genova, of Still Alice fame, is back with another exploration of degenerative disease’s effects on families. When respected family man and cop Joe O’Brien’s constellation of strange symptoms is diagnosed as progressive, incurable Huntington’s disease, he and his children are at a crossroads: he has to find purpose and peace despite the rapid decline of his body and mind, and they must decide whether to get tested for the genetic condition in the face of 50/50 odds. Once again O’Brien delivers an insightful, moving story of human frailty and the strength of familial ties.

    Blood on Snow, by Jo Nesbø
    In the latest standalone from the acclaimed author of icy Norwegian thrillers including The Son and the Harry Hole series, complicated contract killer Olav is touched by conscience at a very inconvenient moment. He’s a “fixer” for a crime lord whose latest assignment hits close to home: he wants Olav to kill his wife. But when Olav decides the wife’s crimes against her husband are less straightforward than they appear, he begins planning a double-cross, attempting to both save the wife’s skin and keep himself out of his dangerous boss’s crosshairs. Complete with a beautiful femme fatale, a dangerous yet sympathetic hero, and a world of bad choices, Blood on Snow is pitch-black noir.

    Miss Julia Lays Down the Law, by Ann B. Ross
    In the 17th installment of Ann B. Ross’s Miss Julia series, a rude new neighbor in the steely southern belle—and sometime detective’s—beloved North Carolina town is found murdered in her home. Before her death, the victim offended a dozen members of Miss Julia’s social circle by talking trash about Abbotsville. At her pastor’s behest, Miss Julia visits in the hopes of convincing her to make peace with one of them, the pastor’s highstrung wife—and thus becomes the one to discover the body. Fans of cozy mysteries will drink up this twisty, genteel tale like sweet tea.

    Emma, by Alexander McCall Smith
    The Jane Austen project, kicked off in 2014 with Val McDermid’s retelling of Northanger Abbey, commissions selected authors to transpose Austen’s timeless stories to contemporary times. In McCall Smith’s retelling, Emma Woodhouse is an interior designer, her homebody father is a germaphobe, and protegé Harriet Smith is the naive daughter of a single mother and a sperm donor. McCall Smith brilliantly revives Austen’s talent for smart social commentary and ear for the ridiculous, with fun modern touches that will delight fans of both authors.

    The Children’s Crusade, by Ann Packer
    The four Blair children grew up in Portola Valley, California, under the shadow of their artist mother’s thwarted ambition, which stunted and spurred them in various ways. This epic jumps among narrators and time periods, weaving a marvelously textured family tale. The return of prodigal son James kicks off a plot thread set in the story’s present day, one that causes his siblings to reexamine what they believed to be true about their upbringing.

    At the Water’s Edge, by Sara Gruen
    A woman who believes she’s lost all the things that matter most—her money, her wealthy father’s approval, her privileged place in East Coast society—finds her inner world changed forever when she’s stranded in a tiny village in the Scottish highlands. Madeline Hyde’s father cut off her and her husband, Ellis, after a public disgrace; in an effort to get them back in his father-in-law’s good graces, Ellis drags Madeline to Scotland in search of the Loch Ness Monster. Madeline is forced to reexamine the values she built her life on, against the stark beauty of an impoverished countryside near the end of World War II.

    Beauty’s Kingdom, by Anne Rice
    Twenty years after the close of Rice’s erotic Beauty trilogy, which traced the titular fairy-tale heroine from her enchanted sleep in a tower, through forced sexual imprisonment, to her eventual release, Rice delights fans with an unexpected fourth installment. As the new rulers of the kingdom of Bellavalten, Beauty and her prince make working as a pleasure slave voluntary, paving the way for more enlightened erotic adventures. A must-read for those who shelve their fairy tales right next to their copy of Fifty Shades.

    God Help the Child, by Toni Morrison
    Lula Ann is a dark-skinned girl born to a mother who can pass for white, and her mother’s physical distaste for her reverberates throughout her life, twisting her but also making her strong. As an adult she reinvents herself as Bride, a head-turning career woman. But the kernel of unloved Lula Ann remains, and Bride fears total reversion when the departure of her lover, and the return of a woman who signifies the deepest shame of her past, threaten to undo the life she’s built. It’s a thoughtful, often chilling addition to Nobel Prize winner Morrison’s canon.

    Shop the Bookstore >
  • Ester Bloom 7:30 pm on 2014/12/10 Permalink
    Tags: , , jane smiley, ,   

    Jane Smiley’s Some Luck, the First in a Trilogy, Stands on Its Own 

    Jane Smiley's Some LuckA famous American post–World War I song struck a nerve by asking parents, “How Ya Gonna Keep ‘Em Down on the Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree)?” Pulitzer Prize–winning author Jane Smiley (A Thousand Acres) addresses this concern in her absorbing, meditative new novel Some Luckeach chapter of which covers a year from 1920 to 1953 in the life of both the ever-expanding Langdon family and its land. Will city life, higher education, and the looming threat of another war lure Rosanna and Walter’s children from the cornfields? If so, is that a tragedy or a triumph?

    Rosanna and Walter are, in 1920, thrifty, hardworking, mind-your-own-business yet still socially conscious Midwesterners. Though God-fearing, they are the kind of people who look down on too-enthusiastic revival meetings, declaring that “you can be saved perfectly well without making a spectacle of yourself,” and who claim that “if you have to go to Texas for something, you don’t need it.” At least at first. Not conservative—sick of Hoover, Walter votes for FDR—they are still, by nature, suspicious of change. And change is what the 20th century, as well as good fiction, is all about.

    The 20th century careens forward like Santa Claus on his sleigh, tossing out electrification, tractors, the Great Depression, Communism, the Second World War, and much, much more to the good little boys and girls of America. Rosanna and Walter cope the best they can, bending without breaking, even after the Crash. They’re aware throughout, though, that their situation is precarious. Even if they survive the transition from horses and buggies to mechanization and hybrid corn, perhaps the best gift they can give their children is not the farm itself but the farm as a launching pad to something better. After all, Rosanna and Walter have no illusions about their chosen path. Eking one’s living out from the land is a tenuous choice, often a desperate one, as Smiley makes clear early on:

    If anyone remembered that rearing a child on a farm was dangerous, it was Rosanna….What she did know was that some farmers understood that the death of someone around the farm, often a child, was the price of farming.

    The menace of the farm is one of the novel’s main antagonists. Time is another. For that reason, it feels appropriate that Some Luck came out in not long after Richard Linklater’s movie Boyhoodwhich was filmed with deliberate slowness over 12 years. Audiences observe as members of a family—primarily its older son—grow and change; there’s no plot, exactly, except observations on the effects of time. In Smiley’s work, too, our main character is a son: Frank, Rosanna and Walter’s first child. Tall, handsome, shrewd, energetic, and forward-facing, he’s a perfect match for his era. Too savvy to swagger, he still makes his way with confidence through Chicago, where he lives with his radical aunt and her English Jewish émigré husband; then to college; and then to war, having more adventures than his younger siblings combined. Their quieter, though still varied and detailed, lives make a vivid counterpoint to his.

    There is some incident but not much drama, even when death swoops down and makes off with a character we care about, or another character strongly considers suicide. If there’s an exclamation point anywhere in the text, I missed it; Smiley is as low-key and matter-of-fact as her protagonists. Her point seems to be to subvert our expectations of a contemporary American novel, while at the same time exposing us to an often ignored or misunderstood part of the American experience. In many ways, this is a throwback to sprawling, agricultural European novels like Anna Karenina and Middlemarch, about which it should be said Smiley is an expert. Yet the conceit—one chapter for each year, no matter what—helps it stand out among both current novels and older ones.

    The ambiguity of the title could be read as positive, neutral, or negative, depending on your tone of voice. Say it bitterly (“Some luck…”) and it’s bitter. Say it with appreciation (“That was some luck!”) and it’s appreciative. Say it without any intonation and it’s merely descriptive: “We had some luck,” good and bad. That’s history in a nutshell. The fact that Smiley handles it so adroitly, while still telling several stories at once, is remarkable.

    Although intended as the first installment of a trilogy, Some Luck can stand alone: as an occasionally challenging but worthwhile novel, as a complete world, as a monument to American resiliency and a lost way of life that manages to never be sentimental about the way we were.

    Some Luck is on sale now.

  • Dell Villa 3:30 pm on 2014/09/23 Permalink
    Tags: alyson richman, , , , , , jane smiley, , , , the storied life of a.j. fikry   

    What Your Book Club Should Be Reading This Month 

    September book club books

    It’s back-to-school season, so the time is nigh for you to reinvigorate your book club’s reading list. To help, we’ve handpicked a selection of some of this fall’s best fiction. Dissected over wine, coffee, or chamomile tea, the stories below are bound to stir up some great discussions.

    The Garden of Letters, by Alyson Richman
    In World War II–era Italy, Fascists endeavor to control every aspect of daily life, threatening anyone in their path to power—even ordinary people like cellist Elodie Bertolotti and Dr. Angelo Rossilli. In such a tumultuous world, courageous, defiant acts begin to define people and their futures, and love is considered an impossibility. Or is it? Curl up with this engrossing historical novel, and see what your friends have to say about it. We suspect they’ll be as dazzled as you are!

    The Children Act, by Ian McEwan
    McEwan—a master of piercing prose that seeps unapologetically into our moral consciousness—has constructed yet another beautiful story that tackles the uneasy relationship between religion and the legal system. Fiona Maye is a family court judge who, while known for her precision and farsightedness in the court, presides over a turbulent domestic life. When a case involving a critically ill teenager refusing treatment for religious reasons arrives in Fiona’s court, her personal struggles are brought to the forefront. A stimulating, necessary conversation will ensue when you and your friends reach the complex conclusion of this brilliant novel.

    The Perfect Witness, by Iris Johansen
    As a young girl, Teresa Casali discovered her unique ability to read people’s memories, but, exploited by her mob boss father in his corrupt business dealings, she eventually came to regard the gift as more of a curse. Unprotected and on the run from her family and enemies, Teresa encounters a man who is willing to save her, but who wants something in return. Filled with betrayals and spellbinding twists, this novel will grip you and your fellow bookworms until the very last page.

    The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, by Gabrielle Zevin
    Because we can’t imagine a better way to energize your book club than to introduce a novel that celebrates a life of books, Zevin’s latest page-turner makes our list. A.J. Fikry, the cantankerous owner of Island Books, has had a protracted run of bad luck. About to give up on all that motivates him—including the very books that have defined his career (and life!)—Fikry is faced with important decisions, and an opportunity for redemption.

    Some Luck, by Jane Smiley
    From Pulitzer Prize–winning, Iowa-loving Jane Smiley comes Some Luck, an enormous gift for book clubbers everywhere. The first in a trilogy that will span the most stormy periods in the last century, Smiley’s richly imagined epic begins at the end of World War I, and, broken into chapters that each focus on one year, tells of several decade in the life of a quintessentially Midwestern family that loves, fights, deceives, and demands our unwavering attention.

    What book would you bring to a book club?

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