Thursday, August 27, 2009

Science Fiction for Those Who Don't Read It, Part 3

Hello book lovers:
I don't know about all of you, but lately my life has been HECTIC. Which is why it's been awhile since I've had a chance to push science fiction books on the unsuspecting public. That's right I'm actually telling people to read sci-fi. So here it goes, if you don't read sci-fi you should read Neal Stephenson. Well not just anything by him, but some of his stuff is good for those not inclined to read sci-fi. I think his works will always be classified as sci-fi partly because of the success of Snow Crash and Diamond Age, both fantastically good novels heavily steeped in sci-fi themes. In fact if you LIKE sci-fi and haven't read both those books, go out and get them ASAP.
There are two of his books that I would like to recommend today, Cryptonomicon and Anathem. Cryptonomicon is a novel that has two story lines running through it. One is in the South Pacific during the end of WWII, following a group of POWs being held by the Japanese and forced to build secret tunnels to hide their gold before retreating from advancing Allied forces. The other story line is during present day and follows a group of fortune hunters looking for this gold. There aren't really any major sci-fi themes in this work. Cryptology and computing is as 'sci-fi' as it gets, and I think those are themes that are important to us all, even if we don't realize it. One of the most interesting themes is the idea of privacy rights and distribution and protection of information.
Anathem(just released in paperback!) is a story about a group of monastic scholars who have sequestered themselves from the rest of the world as a repository of knowledge and learning. Then a threat to their entire world draws the scholars out from behind their walls as they help deal with it. I don't want to give away what the threat is as the characters don't know at first either and Stephenson is masterful at revealing things to the characters and reader at the same time. I will say that this book is one of the most thought-provoking books I've read in years, more so than many philosophy texts I read in college, while being exciting at the same time. This one has a bit more in the way of sci-fi themes but not to the extent that it should distract anyone. The themes used compliment the ideas in the story instead of substituting as the ideas themselves.
Both these books are long but Stephenson ambitiously and successfully tackles big ideas with some of the best character development of anyone writing fiction these days, and he's FUN. He is easily one of my top ten favorite authors and deserves a wide readership, even more so than the group of devoted fans he already has.

Listen to an interview with Neal Stephenson talking about Anathem by clicking here.

And to listen to a podcast of the author's November visit to the Tattered Cover by clicking here.

Until next time,

Friday, August 14, 2009

Happy Birthday, Julia Child!

Tomorrow would have been Julia Child's 97th birthday. (Yesterday is the 5th anniversary of her death.) I, for one, am so thrilled at this upsurge of interest in all things Julia! A few years ago, I read her memoir, My Life In France, and fell back in love with Julia. After I read that, I had to go out and buy Mastering The Art of French Cooking, Volume 1. Fell in love with that. Then went and watched every episode of the French Chef I could. Fell in love all over again!

In My Life In France, Julia's zest for life comes out on each page of the book. And talk about inspiring: I was 37 when I read it, the same age that she was when she enrolled in Le Courdon Bleu, and began what was to become her life's work. It made me realize that it's a perfectly fine age to be looking to the future and weighing what is it I want to be doing!

And then there's the cookbook. Mastering the Art of French Cooking is no mere cookbook. It is an entire lesson in cooking. (And priced at $40, it's a great bargain!) Julia walks you through, with her good humor and folksy charm, some very daunting recipes. With her help, I can no longer go out for eggs benedict. The hollandaise she taught me to make is the best I've ever had!

And of course, most of this Juliamania is due to Julie & Julia, Julie Powell's blog-turned-book about cooking each and every recipe from Julia's seminal cookbook. It's a fun read, and honestly, even more fun with all three books by your side. I found myself flipping from Julie Powell's book back to Mastering the Art to re-read Julia's own words. And making a few things along the way.

My bookclub is meeting to discuss My Life In France this weekend, and I'm hoping we all bring a dish from the book. (Of course, I haven't mentioned it. I'm just hoping we all do it.) I know that I'm going to make baked cucumbers (Concombres au Beurre, page 499). It's a dish I hadn't even looked at until I read Julie Powell's description of the dish: "Verdict: baked cucumbers? ... They don't melt away, and they actually taste like cucumbers. Only better, because I don't like cucumbers." Now I love cucumbers, but it sounds to me that these are going to be even better than cucumbers the way I have always eaten them: raw. And I'm willing to give that a shot.

I'll let you know how the cucumbers turn out, and I'd love to hear from you about your own adventures with Julia!

And for even more things about Julia, click here to read Michael Pollan's great New York Times article about Julia Child and the state of cooking in America.


Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Introducing VIB

Greetings everyone. It's a new month, and we here at the Tattered Cover are proud to announce a new initiative: V.I.B., or Very Impressive Book. Every month or so, the staff here are going to announce the arrival of a new book we are very impressed by, and think you will be, too.

Our very first V.I.B. is the latest book by Joyce Maynard, Labor Day.

Here is what some of our booksellers have to say about this book:

I haven't read anything by Maynard before, but she's certainly on my list of authors to read more of now. This story, which I easily devoured in a lazy day at home, is touching on so many levels. Told through the eyes of a 13 year old boy, it's the story of five days when an escaped criminal comes to live with him and his mom, changing their lives forever. Henry feels responsible for his recluse mother, Adele, and spends all of his time with her. He's a bit of an outcast himself, being rather small for his age yet beginning the inevitable battle with his raging hormones. They meet Frank in one of their rare shopping excursions in town, and both immediately take to the bleeding man with the kind eyes. Frank does just enough "bad guy" stuff to help them pass a lie detector test should the need ever arise, but mostly he brings both of these broken people out of their shells and into remembering what being loved and being a family is like. This gentle story of love and hope is sure to be a hit.

I think this is a little gem of a book. When you're tired of just another story, this is the book for you, because it is definitely not just another story. Utterly unique and charming, I was quickly pulled into this quirky meeting of lost souls. And, in the most unlikely of places and in the most unlikely of ways, love manages to sweetly rear its hopeful head. You won't forget these characters or this weekend they spend together or they way it changes all of them, and you, just by having read it.

Wow. I feel as if I have just read one of the books of the year. Joyce Maynard's "Labor Day" is simply put: gorgeous. What, on the surface, seems like such a small story: a bleeding man approaches a boy in a discount store, and he & his Mom take him home for the long Labor Day weekend, becomes a stunning work on the nature of love and forgiveness. This book made me weep, I'm not ashamed to say. I wept from the beauty and simplicity and deep truths contained in its pages. Maynard's prose is perfect. An absolute must read.

And don't take just our word for it, it's also the main selection for the August Indie Next List.

"In Labor Day, Joyce Maynard has created three well-written and engaging characters, has put them in an extraordinary situation, and has delivered a wonderful book. I admit to being teary during the last few pages." --Lisa Sharp, Nightbird Books, Fayetteville, AR

So come into any one of our stores, and look for the V.I.B. displays, or order it from our website.