Monday, January 30, 2006

Empress, Shan Sa

Initially in french, this will be the first time Imperatrice has been published in English. Current date for publication is May 2006.

The narration style is very unique for a novel. I've read numerous works of fiction that have been translated from other languages so I do believe that the writing style was very deliberate and not a result of translation style. We trace the rise and reign of China's first female emperor, Empress Wu, who reigned for 50 years (think China's version of Queen Elizabeth). Empress reads like the annals of history must read. It feels like more of a listing of events and conversations that have been recorded by attentive poet-scribes than a flowing narrative. This does not detract from the book, but rather enhances it. It gives a sense of authenticity. We never leave the point of view of Empress Wu, starting with her birth and continuing after her death.

Works of historical fiction that look at the lives of great historical women can vary so greatly from the stunning, lyrical, yet well-researched writings of Anchee Min or Indu Sundaresan to the too-colorfully-painted, highly fictional accounts by Philippa Gregory or Sarah Dunant. It is difficult to tackle the lives of women in places where while there were incredibly detailed accounts of daily life down to conversations held in court, but the private points ov view of these women are, for the most part, hidden forever. We can only speculate based on these public records, private letters and even poetry. Shan Sa does an exquisite job of drawing you into a world that while brutal in its bloodshed, was decadent and virile. The arts thrived and wars virtually non-existent except for minor rebellions. Commoners were given a chance to get involved with their imperial government and women had freedoms unparallelled either before the tang Dynasty and, in many ways, since.

For a great article on this era, specifically with regard to women, see Women of the Tang Dynasty. It just goes to show that even when women have freedom, choice and even power....the tide can be overturned by political power, ego and religion and send women back to being submissive slaves of men for hundreds of years. No matter how it looks now, we must always be aware that things can change. Again.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Mostly Bob, Tom Corwin

Courtesy of an evil co-bookseller, I was forced to open this book yesterday. Then I was forcecd to read it. Then cry. Geez. As if John Grogan's Marley and Me wasn't bad enough in its heart-searing, gut-wrenching attack on your heart, mind, soul and any part of you that's ever even looked a dog fondly let alone be stolen away with affection and love for one. Tom Corwin's tiny little 5-minute-read is nearly as devastating emotionally without all the details. When done right, simplicity is a powerful tool. In a matterof pages you meet Bob, fall in love with Bob, being to realize what is happening, then lose Bob. All while looking at a little silhouette in the corner of...who else?....Bob. If this isn't worth purchasing to loan to every dog-lover you know, it is definitely worth a trip to the bookstore with a kleenex to honk your nose and wipe your eyes when you're done. Thanks guys. *sniff*

Saturday, January 21, 2006


I do sometimes think that I sholdn't be around books so much. Here's an example of my literary explorations as of, literally, today.


~Another blank book with the front and back covers featuring the artist Jean Michael Folon


Empress: A Novel by Shan Sa


Friday, January 20, 2006


I am in the middle of reading both The Penelopiad and The Tent - Margaret Atwood's newest. It's so nice to have one follow so close on the tail of the other when we so often have to go what feels like decades between books from her. I am reading too many books at once right now to just do cover-to-cover, but its working nicely with these two since they are full of short, little chapters of exploration. I probably should be reading about Penelope straight through, but its fun doing it in bits. Makes it last longer. So far, I am liking The Tent more out of the two but that could change. I love the minimalism of it, like eating one oreo at a time instead of trying to down the whole lot of them. You know? And the illustrations are fantastic - all Atwood's of course. Below is a sample from her website where she has several comic strips that are caustically funny.

“All children ‘write.’ (And paint, and sing.) I suppose the real question is, why do so many people give it up? Intimidation, I suppose.”

Margaret Atwood

Tingle Alley: P967

This is the blog I most hope to emulate or at least draw inspiration from.

From one of the most recent Tingle Alley posts:

Pardon the ongoing lapse in blogging around here. It’s not, as you may have imagined, because the proprietress was on some sort of Schnapps Bender (always great fun until one wakes up one morning on a deserted slope in the Alps, wearing nothing but underwear and a sprig of edelweiss, after an ill-advised “field trip” to the schnappsian fount). Rather, I have been up against one of the great labor inequities of our day, namely the prohibition against blogging in meetings. Since I’ve been in meetings all day every day — in Asheville, in Poughkeepsie, across the Atlantic seaboard; sometimes I just wander into strange businesses and go and sit in their conference rooms, looking around expectantly till someone brings in some coffee and lets me show them my PowerPoint — this has radically curtailed my blogging. In an attempt to find a middle ground between business and blogging, I have even volunteered to live-blog the daily proceedings (“10:31 Jack requests materials for project. 10:32 Client asks for clarification on requested materials. 10:33 James Frey breaks into conference room in crack-fueled rage and combats various cops and authority figures placed around the room, wielding a numchuck in one hand and a 1993 Oldsmobile Cutlass Cierra in the other. The Powerpoint screen is getting sprayed with snot and vomit and blood. Also, my binder. 10:34 James Frey takes seat and admits that this last bit may have been an exaggeration. He was really just wielding some figures from Accounting. He asks that this remain strictly off the record.”) but so far I haven’t been able to get sign-off.

Funny, funny, funny stuff. If you haven't visited yet, do.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Come, I will have thee; but, by this light, I take for pity

I know its not technically a book I "read" but it is literary.


A Chicago Shakespeare production.

A dear friend of mine got tickets from a subscriber friend of hers who couldn't make it to their picked date for Chicago Shakes' Much Ado. So of course I dropped everything to go with her.

The theatre space at Navy Pier is gorgeous. It is so simple in its lines; lots of wood; a shape that is reminiscent of the old Globe; every seat provides at a minimum a good view. Others, of course, offer great views. It is clear in the staging of the play, the Director takes the shape of the space and the layering of the seats into account. The actors are very aware of the space they have to play in and will often physically open themselves up to the upper levels of seating with gestures, faces tipped upwards, etc. Even in the top tier of seats, you feel included.

I forgot how much I loved this play. It has been too long since I have seen it or read it. The dialogue is so witty and the characters are marvelously created. It never ceases to amaze me that Shakespeare created women characters of such diversity in personality - not jut the demure, obedient, sweet childlike women that all were expected to be, but also characters that were full of pissnvinegar, wit, intelligence and more. Beatrice - the middle-aged witty bachelorette who is insistent upon never marrying - because she can never find her match - one to be her equal or who can handle her. She is very opinionated and not afraid to be so. Uppity Women Unite!! I love that when she does find love it is in a man who is truly her other self. We know that nobody but someone like Benedick could woo her successfully and with whom she could truly be happy. He will let her be herself - loves her spice and sass and independence. If Shakespeare could visualize this hundreds of years ago, why do we women today still settle? Hello!!

My favorite performer in yesterday's show was James Vincent Meredith, playing Don Pedro. He is strong, handsome with a melllifluous voice that resonates in your soul. Yet he played Don Pedro with such sweetness, heart and even vulnerability that it only made him the more attractive of all the characters. In the end, when he lingers back as the lovers dance, you truly ache for him.

My second favorite was definitely Benedick, played by the utterly delightful Jim Mezon. His spit (literally) and swagger only made him more pathetic when he lets down his guard and realizes he is in love. His manliness seeming more a front than something real. His bravado and vocal expressions were perfect. Although I will admit that I was a little unsure at first. Not sur eif he just found his energy or if it was deliberate, but his spark shone brighter the more we saw him.

Constable Dogberry was brought to charming, bumbling life by Scott Jaeck. His constant stumbling around like a drunk when we all knew this guy just simply didn't know how to put one foot in front of the other (or one word in front of the other) although his heart is in the right place and he tries sooooooo hard to be the best Master Constable there could be.

Kevin Gudahl's Leonato was to fall in love with. If only I could have had a father so caring, passionate and sensitive.

Beatrice, Kelli Fox, is a character so well drawn that it is hard to play her poorly. Kelli Fox was no exception. She was given every word in such a way that the words themselves practically are stage instructions on where to look, how loud or quiet to be. What made her stand out was her physical comedy. Fun, fun, fun. Great body language. That woman knows how every subtle movement impacts a character like Beatrice.

Minor player Alan Schmuckler was so ridiculously cute and attractive that it was hard not to drool when he was on stage with his guitar. Yummy!

The one person I didn't care for was Sean Fortunato as Don John. I know the guy is supposed to be a slimy villain but it seemed too forced and stilted. Line delivery was not consistent and while I knew he was a bad guy, I didn't *feel* like he was a bad guy. I really just didn't care for him at all.

Overall, I was so pleased with the show. I laughed my ass off, loudly and heartily. When it was over I felt so light, free and happy. I truly cannot complain about any of it. It was so much fun visually and aurally.

I love Shakespeare.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Ariel Gore

So just a couple of weeks ago, I picked up an ARC (advanced readers copy) of a book titled, beautifully, The Traveling Death and Resurrection Show. Look, even booksellers are swayed by book covers. Maybe more so than average Joe Q. Public because we have so many damn books to read or at least know something about in order to discuss intelligently with customers. So I picked up this book because of several factors.

A) The cover is awesome.
B) The title was intriguing
C) It was slim and I needed something smallish to get back into a fiction groove since I've been reading so little of it lately.

Anywho. I picked up this book and started reading it the next morning. I finished it after work that night. I could not put it down. Compelling characters, structured stream of consciousness writing and an interesting but simple plot. Perfect! A note of redemption and hope found. Some dashes of tragedy and hardness. It's a dark tunnel with a bright light at the end. Maybe a few lanterns along the way. And you just keep going forward because you know eventually that light will reveal itself as something beautiful and open or a train. Either way, the darkness is over and you are satisfied. Incredibly satisfied.

So then I decided I needed to pick up Atlas of the Human Heart, Ariel Gore's memoir. As soon as I saw the cover I remembered seeing it on shelves and wanting to buy it, but not - for whatever reason at the time I have since forgotten.

Dear reader, do you know how hard it is to find a writer whose fiction and non-fiction nearly reads the same? I mean this as a compliment to the writer's voice. As an example, I love Anne Lamott's non-fiction but I think her fiction is terrible. Seriously. Ariel Gore has this voice that is so tough and introverted and exploratory and un-self-conscious all at the same time. I love it. I love the rambles and rants as much as I love her descriptions of the places she visits and the people she meets. Atlas... reads like fiction in its journey forward but is so sincere and honest and revealing that it can only be real. How much of any biography is ever really real, though? With Atlas, it doesn't matter. You don't care.

Come Spring, when her novel comes out, explore for yourself and see if you can figure out which is more true to life than the other - novel or memoir?

And I hope they keep the cover for TTD&RS. Marvelous.

Click here to visit Ariel Gore's website