Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Free Passes to The Girl Who Played with Fire

Want to win a free pass to The Girl Who Played with Fire showing at the Kendall Square Cinema? Porter Square Books is giving away two passes, each admitting 2 people. One will go to one of our followers on Twitter and the other to one of our fans on Facebook. If you follow us on Twitter (PorterSqBooks), suggest us to your followers and have them message us, direct or otherwise, with your name. The person who gets us the most NEW followers by noon on Thursday 7/1, will win a pass for two people. See our Facebook page for details on how to win the Facebook pass.

New in Science Fiction & Fantasy

July's crop of new SF/Fantasy is in. Let's see what we've got:

First up is Wizard Squared by K. E. Mills, the third in her "Rogue Agent" series. In this installment of his amusing adventures, bureaucratic wizard Gerald Dunwoody is confronted by his evil twin from a parallel universe. Hilarity ensues.

Next up is Prospero Lost by L. Jagi Lamplighter. In this updating of Shakespeare's Tempest, Miranda is alive 400 years later and running Prospero, Inc. using the family magic to help the mundane and the mythic coexist. A lesson in not judging books by their covers, this novel is not a lyrical meditation but a ripping yarn that ends on a cliffhanger.

Kitty Goes to War by Carrie Vaughn is the latest story of Kitty Norville, alpha werewolf and host of "the Midnight Hour", a call-in radio show. This time around Kitty is hired to help a group of veteran soldiers fresh out of Afghanistan and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Problem is, the soldiers are werewolves too and their PTSD has stripped them of their ability to control their shape-shifting. Also, Kitty is being sued for libel. Compelling and fun, these novels are great summer reads.

Just released in mass market paperback is The Eternal Prison by Jeff Somers, the third Avery Cates novel (book 4, The Terminal State will be released at the end of July). Somers continues to deliver hard-boiled action in his bladerunner-like near-future. Avery Cates faces bioengineered plagues, incarceration, betrayal, and death, and it's beginning to take its toll . . .

Famed director Guillermo Del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth) has given us a gory and terrifying vampire novel in The Strain. Monstrous vampires (remember when that adjective wasn't necessary?) have unleashed their plague upon the world and humanity seems unable to stem the tide. It's Blade meets Outbreak awash in blood. This is the 1st volume in a projected trilogy chronicling humanity's struggle with the vampire menace (book 2 is scheduled for September).

Speaking of vampire, Bullet is the latest Anita Blake novel by bestselling author Laurell K. Hamilton. Anita, vampire hunter and U. S. marshal, is trying to settle down to a normal life (a herculean task to say the least). But her past will not let her go, namely The Dark Mother, creator of all vampires. Not as dead as Anita had hoped, this malevolent god is looking for vengeance and things look grim for Anita's "normal" life.

Normal has no place in a China Mieville novel, and Kraken is no exception. A strange, frightening, and funny novel, Mieville's latest follows a humble London Museum curator as he is sucked into an underworld of criminals, cultists, and cops by the theft of perfectly preserved giant squid from the museum.

Last but not least is Nights of Villjamur, Mark Charan Newton's debut novel and the first in his upcoming Legends of the Red Sun series. Mixing fantasy, murder mystery, and a little science fiction, Newton gives us the brooding tale of an imperial capital torn by madness and intrigue within and besieged by an encroaching ice age without. Reminiscent of Gormenghast, this bold debut marks the start of a promising career.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Introduction to the Novel

Two weeks ago, we featured an interview the Stephen Moore about his new book The Novel: An Alternative History: Beginning's to 1600. The book is an ambitious attempt to correct the commonly held fallacy that the novel is a relatively recent literary genre with a tradition of realistic plots and straightforward storytelling. Moore argues that the novel has a long history defined by constant innovation and experimentation.

The introduction to the book (one of the best critical essays I've read in a while) is a vibrant, illuminating, call to arms in defense of all that is fun and inventive about the novel form, written with passion and intelligence. Anyone interested in novels, fiction, and literature in general should read it. Follow this link: Introduction to The Novel to a book preview and scroll down to get to the introduction.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

New Audio Books for Week of June 14

The Girl Who Played with Fire
Steig Larsson

The Moviegoer
Percy Walker

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest
Stieg Larsson

Spies of the Balkans
Alan Furst

Imperial Bedrooms
Bret Easton Ellis

Role Models
John Waters

Born to Run
Christopher McDougall

The Left Hand of God
Paul Hoffman

Blind Descent
John Tabor

The Nobodies Album
Carolyn Parkhurst

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Other Hunger Games

A class of junior high students is taken to a deserted island where, as part of a ruthless authoritarian program, they are provided arms and forced to kill until only one survivor is left. Collars are strapped to their necks containing monitors that keep track of their movements and bombs that will go off if a certain amount of time passes without a death. This isn't the Hunger Games trilogy, it's Battle Royale, a novel written in Japan by Koushun Takami in 1999.

The teenagers (in Japan middle schoolers are usually 14) wake up in a classroom after being gassed unconscious. They are given their instructions and sent out into the island one at a time, each given a duffel bag containing a random weapon. Some of the bags contain guns, crossbows, knives, and other obvious weapons. One bag contains a bulletproof vest. Another a common dinner fork. Then the students decide how they react to the game.

Koushun Takami's novel triumphs in a couple of different ways. The first is by showing a broad range of reactions to the situation while fully developing dozens of well-rounded characters. Some students completely break down. Some decide to play the game. Some focus on using weapons, others on using cunning. Some form teams. Others go it alone. The heroes of the story are constantly trying to organize the students to not fight each other, but the system that created the game. Another group uses their computer and engineering smarts to try to attack the adult compound using a computer virus delivered by a makeshift weather balloon. What's amazing is how Takami maintains a sympathy for the students, even those who act evil, by always showing how they were put in situations they could not control. Only the adults and their system are accused of being evil.

The second triumph is that, despite the bite-your-nails pace of action and tension, and the stomach-churning violence, Takami tells a story about the importance of trust and love in the human community. The tragedies that occur, and there are many, are always preceded by a break down of trust, by fear temporarily defeating love. In all the horror and gore that distinguishes this book, there is a beautiful undercurrent. By the end of the book, it isn't cunning or violence or physical strength or martial prowess that triumphs, but love and trust.

I should warn readers that the violence in the book is akin to contemporary "Mature" rated video games and that parents should use their discretion in deciding whether it is appropriate for their teenagers. But the violence has a point. It's not just for the adrenaline rush; it critiques the violence inherent in any society that treats people like objects. This is a difficult, emotionally challenging book, but it is worth the heartbreak. In the end, the other Hunger Games is a beautiful appeal to what is best about people, and I for one, was more willing to trust when I closed the book.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Interview with critic and author Steven Moore

Steven Moore is the author of several books and essays on modern literature. From 1988 to 1996 he was Managing Editor of the Review of Contemporary Fiction/Dalkey Archive Press, and for decades has reviewed books for a variety of journals and newspapers, principally The Washington Post. His new book is The Novel: An Alternative History. The Novel is an attempt to tell the complete story of our most popular literary form, beginning not with 18th century England or Don Quixote, but in ancient Egypt, and exploring Greek romances; Roman satires; medieval Sanskrit novels narrated by parrots; Byzantine erotic thrillers; 5000-page Arabian adventures; Icelandic sagas; delicate Persian novels in verse; Japanese war stories; even Mayan graphic novels. David Markson, author of Wittgenstein's Mistress and The Last Novel, says "Moore's range here is staggering and the intelligence he brings to bear on his materials is awesome, from the subtlest of insights to the boldest of (seemingly always valid) judgments." Michael Dirda, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for criticism says, "The Novel: An Alternative History is a breathtaking achievement. Steven Moore isn't just incredibly well read, he's also funny, irreverent, argumentative, and sometimes even downright mean. There's nothing dryly academic about this magnificent book--it's as personal as a love affair and just as thrilling." Below is an interview with Steven Moore.

What is a novel?

In order to include everything that is labeled a novel these days, especially those by experimental writers, we need to keep the definition as wide and simple as possible. That's why I like E. M. Forster's definition of a novel as "any fictitious work over 50,000 words" (that is, about 150 pages), though I'd lower that to around 30,000. Many critics want to limit the term "novel" to fictions that are realistic, set against a recognizable cultural background, and have a certain psychological depth, but once you start adding qualifications like that, you omit countless modern works that novelists themselves and their publishers call novels, and I don't see the point of that. Novelists should be allowed to tell/show us what a novel is, not critics.

The novel is the dominant form of literature in our culture. Why do you think the appeal of the form is so powerful?

People like stories, obviously, but also crafted stories give order, shape, and meaning to life in a way that actual living doesn't. For example, if your life were a novel, what chapter would you be in? Impossible to say, because you can't see the narrative arc you are participating in at this moment--you're maybe at the start of a new phase, or you may drop dead tomorrow: who knows?--so novels provide a satisfying if illusory sense that life happens a certain way for a reason. I'm flailing a bit here, because I'm trying to guess why other people like novels. I'm in it for the language: for me, novels are displays of linguistic prowess, and I'm always more interested in language than plot, more interested in how the author writes than what he's writing about.

Why do you think the very early forms of the novel that you deal with in this volume aren't included in the standard history of the novel?

First problem is nomenclature. Most of the early novels I deal with are labeled romances, or sagas, pastorals, picaresques, chronicles, folk epics, or any number of other terms. The term "novel" (not the genre itself) is fairly new, and the earliest scholars to write about ancient novels didn't think to use that term. But the only difference between, say, Chariton's Chaereas and Callirhoe, which was written in Greek around the time of Christ, and any novel on the New York Times' best-seller list is that the former is called a "romance" and the latter a novel. Structurally, formally, they are identical--except that Chariton's novel is better than most of them on the best-seller list.

Second problem is ignorance. Most literature teachers have never heard of Chariton, for example, or are even aware there are ancient Greek novels, much less ancient Sanskrit or Chinese ones. They were certainly never mentioned in any of the literature courses I took in college. These novels are familiar only to specialists, who write for each other, not for the general public. That's one reason I wrote this book: to spread the word.

What does it mean for a work of fiction to be "experimental?"

It means to depart from the norm and try something new. In every generation of writers, 90% just follow the conventions, while 10% are experimenting with new approaches, new techniques--some of which become conventions and then are imitated by 90% of the next generation. Those who want to be professional writers look to see what's selling, and try to imitate those; those who want to be experimental writers avoid what's selling and look to the other arts or disciplines for ideas on how to expand the novel's repertoire.

Whenever someone tries something different with a novel, invariably someone criticizes it by saying that whatever the author did was done before by Joyce or Sterne, and yet no one ever seems to criticize a book for replicating the style or themes of Austen or Hemingway. Why are conventional novels and experimental novels held to different standards of originality? Is it because experimental novels invite the criticism for trying to be original, is there a belief that conventional style is inherently justified? Or is there some other force?

I think there's always resistance to the new--remember the crowds booing the premiere of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring?--so critics, in effect, say to experimental writers, "Don't give us anything new unless you can surpass Ulysses." And even then, they'll find something to complain about. You're absolutely right: experimental writers are held to a much higher standard, whereas less ambitious, conventional writers get a pass as long as they keep delivering the expected goods.

There's this mythical figure sometimes referred to as "the common reader," who is assumed to be incapable of untangling the webs of language and style woven by Joyce, Pynchon, Delillo, etc. How would you define "the common reader?" What should authors assume about the reading abilities of their readers? What responsibilities do readers have in relation to "hard" books?

Most people read for entertainment and/or relaxation, so I guess they would be "the common readers." Uncommon readers don't mind working a bit at deciphering a novel, and rise to the challenge of untangling a knot of words. They are flattered by novelists who treat them as smart people, and don't talk down to them. And "hard" books invite you back for a second look. A conventional novel is like a one-night stand; a difficult novel encourages a second, and third date.

In the introduction you say, "Great entertainment is better than bad art; but one shouldn't condemn artistic works for not being more entertaining, nor entertainment for not being more artistic." Why do you think people are compelled to attach value to the terms "art" and "entertainment" in relation to each other? Why do we resist simply acknowledging their differences?

In the context I made that statement, the problem arises when entertainers want to be taken seriously as artists, or when a person dislikes a work of art because it's not entertaining enough. I can't answer your question; why not indeed?

How can you tell when a style, motif, or trope, in a work of fiction is a "gimmick?"

I suppose when it's nothing more than a trick. For example, when Georges Perec wrote an entire novel without using the letter "e," it wasn't just to see if he could pull it off; in that novel (A Void) he was dealing with loss, specifically with the loss of his Polish Jewish compatriots during World War II, whose disappearance is formally replicated by the disappearance of the letter "e." A gimmick would not have that thematic function. Gilbert Sorrentino wrote an entire novel in interrogatory sentences (Gold Fools), not just to see if he could pull it off, but because he wanted to interrogate our cultural assumptions about the Old West.

In the introduction you say, "Literature is a rhetorical performance, a show put on by someone who possesses greater abilities with language than most people." A lot of the negative criticism of experimental novels targets the performance aspect of language, accusing the author of "showing off." Yet, we accept when a professional athlete or singer shows off. Why do you think people respond positively to displays of greater ability in sports or music and negatively to displays of greater linguistic ability in novels?

I have no idea. That drives me crazy too.

Of the many novels you deal with in the book, which do you think is the one people should absolutely read?

That's a tough one, but maybe A Tale of Genji (written around 1010), first because it will show people that sophisticated novels were written long before the 18th century, which is when most people thought the novel was born; and second, it was written by a woman, which shows that Jane Austen wasn't the first major female writer. It has the things people look for in conventional fiction--a dashing leading man, unforgettable characters, several romantic subplots, exotic background--as well as complexity and depth for the art crowd. It's a slow read, but it will reset your assumptions about the novel as a literary genre.

What contemporary writers are fitting into the tradition of the novel presented in your book?

Ben Marcus, Mark Z. Danielewski, William Vollmann, a young Jewish kid named Joshua Cohen--but to be honest, once I started writing my book in 2004 I had to declare a moratorium on reading new fiction, so I'm behind the curve at this point.

What are you reading now?

A French writer named Claude-Prosper de Crebillon, who shook up the French novel in the 1730s with several bold experiments, like writing a one-sided epistolary novel and novels consisting solely of the dialogue between two characters. You can read all about him in my next volume.

New in Science Fiction & Fantasy (& one old classic)

Windup Girl -- Paolo Bacigalupi
Set in a dystopian, post-oil, near-future Thailand, this dark novel follows the stories of four different characters including Emiko, an artificial woman abandoned by her owners. It is a story of corrupt politics, brutal realities, twisted economies, and racism. The perfect summer read . . . if you find summer too bright and cheerful.

Naamah's Curse -- Jacqueline Carey
Book 2 in the Moirin trilogy follows Moirin, priestess of the goddess of sex as she journeys across a fantastic version of Asia in search of her literal soul-mate. But the course of true love never did run smooth and Moirin must deal with the Great Khan, waves of assassins, and an angry wife
(oh my!). A rollicking tale of adventure, love, and of course, sex.

Ambassador's Mission -- Trudi Canavan
This is book 1 of the Traitor Spy (isn't that redundant?) trilogy which is itself a followup to the Black Magician trilogy. Like all Canavan's books, this is a tale of magic, romances, politics, and secrets lost and fun.

Blonde Bombshell -- Tom Holt
This very odd book is about an intelligent bomb sent to destroy earth that instead decides to tour the planet a bit first. No, seriously. Tom Holt is a very strange, very funny writer already famous in the U.K. See what all the Brits are laughing about.

Dead in the Family -- Charlaine Harris
This is #10 in the bestselling Sookie Stackhouse series, so if you've read the rest you can count on more of the same undead joy. If you've not read the series, go get Dead Until Dark.

For the Win -- Cory Doctorow
Multiplayer online gaming meets real world social and political upheaval in this novel of conspiracies, wargaming, economical collapse, and international hacking. All good, clean fun. Well, maybe not clean but certainly good and fun.

Terminal World -- Alastair Reynolds
Science fiction virtuoso, Alastair Reynolds has done it again. But this time instead of a marvel of hard-SF wonder, he has given us a distant future steampunk novel. As always, Reynolds is adventurous and imaginative. Newcomer or longtime fan, give Terminal World a try.

Blood Oath -- Christopher Farnsworth
A vampire on the president's secret service? I think I'll let this trailer explain:

Android Karenina -- Ben H. Winters
And the looting of the Western Canon continues. In the questionable tradition of Pride & Prejudice & Zombies Quirky Classics brings us Tolstoy's immortal tale of Russian love . . . with robots. Read them to spite your English teacher or revel in lowbrow perversity (or just relish the original Anna Karenina).

And an old classic climbs back in the ring to take another swing . . .

Battle Royale -- Koushun Takami
This classic Japanese novel of teenagers forced to kill each other on a deserted island is back with an improved translation and new material from the author. If you thought Lord of the Flies was OK but not violent enough, then brace yourself for Battle Royale!

John Waters

I still remember seeing the outrageous Pink Flamingos for the first, and only, time back in college. John Waters' new memoir Role Models is now available. Waters will be discussing the book at the BPL Thursday night, 6/10, at 6 pm. During his visit to Boston, he will also come to PSB to sign our stock and is willing to personalize copies for any customers who would like one. Give us a call to reserve one and we'll see that it gets signed for you. Following are links to reviews of the book in the Washington Post, http://bit.ly/bB9yPb in the Boston Globe, http://bit.ly/blB5EA, and an interview in the NYT Magazine, http://nyti.ms/bhxodM.

Monday, June 7, 2010


The latest issue from Concord Free Press has arrived. Titled IOU: New Writing On Money, it's a collection of prose and poetry from authors such as Jonathan Ames, Augusten Burroughs, Mark Doty, Robert Pinsky, and Mona Simpson on the subject of money. Once again, we have a case of books that we're distributing for FREE. The only request is that if you take a book, you make a donation to the charity of your choice or give some money to someone who needs it. It would be great if you'd also document your donation at their website. When you're done with it, pass the book along to someone else so they may help someone in need as well.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

New Audios Week of May 31st

Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Objective by Eric Van Lustbader read by Scott Sowers

I Know What I Am, But What Are You? by Samantha Bee read by the author

The Good Son by Michael Gruber Read by Neil Shah

Nelson Mandela's Favorite African Folktales Various

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Good Men Project Magazine

The Boston area Good Men Foundation, publisher of last year's book The Good Men Project, has just launched a new online magazine "that explores issues facing modern men and that seeks to answer the question, 'What does it mean to be a good man?'"

The Good Men Project Magazine's inaugural issue features:

  • John Badalament on how to be a good dad (just in time for Father’s Day)
  • Helen Peppe on raising a son who hit puberty at age 9, acted like a teenager at 10, and dated a 21-year-old when he was 15
  • A.J. Jacobs on his loveless youth, his repressed emotions, and his scary computer
  • Pulitzer Prize winning author Junot Diaz on screwing up, cowardice and the difficulty of true intimacy
  • Andrew Tolve on how not to propose to your girlfriend
  • Tom Forrister on taking the most radical step to becoming a man: testosterone injections
  • Henry Belanger on ethics and Goldman Sachs’ road to redemption
  • Andrew Ladd on Justin Halpern’s bestselling book, Sh*t My Dad Says
  • Brantley Hargrove on witnessing the execution of convicted murderer Steven Henley
  • Victoria Medgyesi on how men can (and occasionally do) exceed our expectations
  • Matthew Salesses on accidentally setting his girlfriend’s hair on fire
  • Benoit Denizet-Lewis on the fine art of parallel parking

NPR Summer Reading

Susan Stamberg interviewed three independent booksellers on Morning Edition about their picks for Summer reading. If you missed it, both the list of books and the archived interview are available on their website.

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