Monday, December 22, 2008

Madam Mayo's Top 10 Books Read in 2008

1. The Far Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman
by Nancy Marie Brown

With grace and elegance, a story brought back over a thousand years.

2. The Landed Gentry
by Sophy Burnham

Sophy Burnham's extraordinary, courageous, vividly and stylishly written romp through a heavily camouflaged part of America, first published in 1978, is back in print--- through the Author's Guild's phenomenal program. Highly recommended. But not for the squeamish. Read what the author has to say about it here.

3. In Defense of Food
by Michael Pollan

A bodaciously good book. It will change the way you eat.

4. Tras las huellas de un desconocido: Nuevos datos y aspectos de Maximiliano de Habsburgo
by Konrad Ratz

One of the most important new works about Maximilian in years. I'll be posting more about this book soon.

5. Getting Things Done
by David Allen

If not for this book, by now I would have been a gelatinous blob of neurosis, double-fried. I LOVE THIS BOOK! Certainly, without it I could never have coped with (gasp) facebook and (arrrgh) twitter. This is Mental Management 101 for the 21st Century. Read this and understand why you must-must-must get a Brother labeler and a stack of file folders, like, yesterday.

6. Born Standing Up
by Steve Martin

Jerry Seinfeld calls Steve Martin's new memoir, "Absolutely magnificent. One of the best books about comedy and being a comedian ever written." Yes, it is absolutely magnificent. But no, it is so much more: It is one of the best books about being an artist--- of any kind--- ever written.

7. Across the Territories: Travels from Orkney to Rangiroa
by Kenneth White

White is a Scottish poet and founder of the Institute for Geopoetics. Beautiful and humorous. (Thanks to L. Peat O'Neil for the suggestion.)

8. Sweetness and Light: The Mysterious History of the Honeybee
by Hattie Ellis

Travel on a spoon from Surrey to Sicily, and Paris parks to New York City rooftops-- and gain an all new appreciation of this nectar from heaven, and the reason why bees can tell us more about ourselves than any other creature. (Except, well, pugs. Had to get that in there.)

9. Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster
by Dana Thomas

This deeply researched and elegantly written expose of the luxury business has nothing--- and everything--- to do with today's bloated and WalMartized publishing industry, a subject I admit I care a lot more about than fashion. That said, I found this book riveting. My favorite quote, by shoe designer, Louboutin:
"I see these men who build luxury brands to make money, and I am working in the same industry but I feel I have nothing in common with that... Luxury is the possibility to stay close to your customers, and do things that you know they will love. It's about subtlety and details. It's about service.... Luxury is not consumerism. It is educating the eyes to see that special quality."

P.S. Watch the author read an excerpt about terrorism funding (via YouTube).

10. On Royalty
by Jeremy Paxman

An unusually perceptive meditation on the whys and wherefores of a peculiar but very human institution.

---> Madam Mayo's Top 10 Books Read in 2007
---> Madam Mayo's Top 10 Books Read in 2006

Friday, December 19, 2008

ARCs of The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire (Pub Date May 5, 2009)

The ARCs (advance review copies) of my novel, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, are out, from Unbridled Books. (Want one? Contact Unbridled Books' Marketing Director here.) The book will be published May 5, 2009. Read all about it here. More anon.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Smaller Paler Version of His Head

By all means, support your local bookstore-- and why not also buy direct from the poet? Check out poet and visual artist Christine Boyka Kluge's The Smaller Paler Version of His Head. I'm ordering my autographed copy asap.

Buy Books Locally

An open letter from Roy Blount, Jr., the President of the Author's Guild:
I've been talking to booksellers lately who report that times are hard. And local booksellers aren't known for vast reserves of capital, so a serious dip in sales can be devastating. Booksellers don't lose enough money, however, to receive congressional attention. A government bailout isn't in the cards.

We don't want bookstores to die. Authors need them, and so do neighborhoods. So let's mount a book-buying splurge. Get your friends together, go to your local bookstore and have a book-buying party. Buy the rest of your Christmas presents, but that's just for starters. Clear out the mysteries, wrap up the histories, beam up the science fiction! Round up the westerns, go crazy for self-help, say yes to the university press books! Get a load of those coffee-table books, fatten up on slim volumes of verse, and take a chance on romance!

There will be birthdays in the next twelve months; books keep well; they're easy to wrap: buy those books now. Buy replacements for any books looking raggedy on your shelves. Stockpile children's books as gifts for friends who look like they may eventually give birth. Hold off on the flat-screen TV and the GPS (they'll be cheaper after Christmas) and buy many, many books. Then tell the grateful booksellers, who by this time will be hanging onto your legs begging you to stay and live with their cat in the stockroom: "Got to move on, folks. Got some books to write now. You see...we're the Authors Guild."

Enjoy the holidays.

Roy Blount Jr.
The Authors Guild | 31 E 32nd St | Fl 7 | New York, NY 10016 | US

P.S. Want some suggestions? Madam Mayo's Top 10 Books Read in 2008 will be out this Monday. Meanwhile:
--> Madam Mayo's Top 10 Books Read in 2007
--> Madam Mayo's Top 10 Books Read in 2006

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

SEC etc.

Over at the Big Picture, a blog well worth reading.

Guest-blogger Dianne Ascroft on 5 Novels Featuring Children in WWII Europe

One of the both necessary and richest pleasures in writing a novel (no, it's not all torture!) is reading other novels. Today's guest-blog post, by Dianne Ascroft, is on precisely this subject. Her novel, Hitler and Mars Bars, is the story of a German boy, Erich, growing up in war-torn Germany and post-war rural Ireland. Set against the backdrop of Operation Shamrock, a little known Irish Red Cross project which aided German children after World War II, the novel explores a previously hidden slice of Irish and German history. Over to you, Dianne!
When I was researching my novel, I read many books, fiction and non-fiction, about people’s experiences during the war. Since the central character in my novel is a child, books that told the stories of children caught up in the war especially interested me. Although I’ve heard that adult readers prefer an adult main character, I’ve prepared a list of books featuring children in World War II Europe that I think will interest adults or young adults.

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
Set in Germany, Death narrates the story of Liesel Meminger whose mother sends her to a small town to escape the impending war. But she does not escape; the war’s destruction follows her. She and the other residents of the town encounter all its horrors. When she learns to read her love of the written word has a profound effect on her life, helping her to cope with her circumstances and be a compassionate human being. Death finds her humanity disturbing.

The Boy In The Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
Set in Poland, this novel tells the story of nine year old Bruno. His father’s appointment as Commandant at Auschwitz Concentration Camp brings the German boy to live at this isolated place. Lonely and bored, he secretly befriends a Jewish camp detainee, Shmuel. His loyalty to his friend has an unexpected and devastating effect on his entire family’s lives.

Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli
Set in Poland during the early years of the war, this novel follows a street child who adopts the false identity, Misha Pilsudski, a Gypsy from Russia. He escapes Nazi attention as he struggles to survive but ends up living in a Jewish ghetto. His attempts to help Jewish friends escape the German resettlement plan result in him being shot by the Germans and left for dead. A farmer rescues him and he spends the rest of the war working him. Unable to settle anywhere, he wanders restlessly for many years before finally settling with his long lost daughter and her family.

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
Set in Paris in 1942 and the present day, this novel follows the stories of ten year old Sarah, who is caught in the round up of Jews in Paris’ Vel d’Hiv area, and Julia Jarmond, a modern day journalist, who is researching the events of the Paris roundup that sent Jews to Auschwitz.

True story of Hansel and Gretel by Louise Murphy
Set in Poland, this novel tells the story of an eleven year old Jewish girl and her younger brother who are sent into hiding by their father and step mother to avoid capture by the Nazis. Helped by courageous villagers, they struggle to hide and survive in a forest. Parallels are drawn to the classic fairy tale.

--- Dianne Ascroft

---> For the archive of Madam Mayo guest-blog posts, click here.

P.S. Madam Mayo's favorite WWII novel featuring a child is Ann McLaughlin's luminous The House on Q Street, set in Washington DC.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Ricardo Hausmann in the FT

Wacky! But he could be right.

Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster by Dana Thomas

Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster by Dana Thomas. This deeply researched and elegantly written expose of the luxury business has nothing--- and everything--- to do with today's bloated and WalMartized publishing industry, a subject I admit I care a lot more about than fashion. That said, I found this book riveting. My favorite quote, by shoe designer, Louboutin:
"I see these men who build luxury brands to make money, and I am working in the same industry but I feel I have nothing in common with that... Luxury is the possibility to stay close to your customers, and do things that you know they will love. It's about subtlety and details. It's about service.... Luxury is not consumerism. It is educating the eyes to see that special quality."

P.S. Watch the author read an excerpt about terrorism funding (via YouTube).

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Guest-blogger Francisco Aragón on 5 Books of Latino Poetry

My amigo Francisco Aragón, Washington DC-based poet and editor, has been such an inspiration to me. It was his Momotombo Press's beautiful series of Latino poetry chapbooks that inspired me to bring out Tameme's bilingual chapbooks. The other day we were both interviewed by Grace Cavalieri for her radio program, The Poet and the Poem, at the Library of Congress. More about that anon. In the meantime, herewith Francisco's guest-blog post on what's new and noteworthy in Latino poetry. Over to you, Francisco!

From my perch as director of Letras Latinas, the literary program of the Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame, I try to stay abreast of what's new in Latino poetry, particularly among emerging voices. As 2008 winds to a close, I'd like to recommend five titles, stocking stuffers if you will-all published by small presses, where American poetry is at its most vital, in my view. Here they are, with companion commentary:

1. The Date Fruit Elegies (Bilingual Press) by John Olivares Espinoza.
"Espinoza es una espina en el corazón, a thorn in the heart. Gracias Espinoza for writing about our raza with so much sentimiento, so much love. Sometimes the beauty and pain of our stories are overwhelming, and I am grateful when writers like him recognize this responsibility as a privilege."
-Sandra Cisneros

2. Jane-in-the-Box (March Street Press) by Rita Maria Martinez
"Rita Maria Martínez's Jane-in-the-Box is a Rubik's Cube of Janes. Each poem is a smartly annotated hauntingly revisionist homage to Jane Eyre. Martínez's astounding poems are literary, conversational, personal, fun, as she confidently transports her Janes from Moors to Macy's, from Thornfield Manor to the world of tattoos." -Denise Duhamel

3. Please Do Not Feed the Ghost (BlazeVox) by Peter Ramos
"I've lived with these poems for many years-- they've never failed me. Part Plath's black humor, part Stevens's bright obvious, part Hugo's degrees of gray. Please Do Not Feed the Ghost is an exceptional meditation on family, country, friendship, and language-and on the inevitable loves and thefts to which these things give rise" -Graham Foust

4. Little Spells (GOSS 183 / Casa Menendez) by Emma Trelles
"'The beginning should eat the eyes'. With intimate and imagistic language, the start of Little Spells offers a graceful meditation on how to write a poem, drawing us into a poetry collection filled with humor and sorrow and the bright details of a hyphen-American life. Also a journalist, Emma Trelles is a Cuban-American writer accustomed to crossing cultures, and these poems wind with equal ease between a host of settings, and with a lens trained on the magic of the ordinary. Urban hamlets are painted as fables and saints and musicians offer salvation, as do intricate women, the green wilds of Florida and a spry attention to the beauty of words." -Goss 183

5. The Space Between Our Danger and Delight (Beothuk Books) by Dan Vera
"The poetry of Dan Vera is clear, strong, honest and funny. He's the sharp-eyed observer in the corner who doesn't say much, but makes every word count. He handles the political and the personal with equal grace, even as the lines blur. Whether he's ruminating on the perils of bilingualism, giving voice to the bewilderment of his Cuban immigrant family, cursing the censors who tried to repress gay writers over the years, waiting for the late great poet Sterling Brown to turn the next corner in Washington, D.C., or taking delight in things delightful, Dan Vera is damn good company. You'll see. -Martín Espada

--Francisco Aragón

---> For the archive of Madam Mayo guest-blog posts, click here.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Ellen Prentiss Campbell Reading in Rockville MD

If you're anywhere near Rockville MD don't miss Ellen Prentiss Campbell's reading this Friday, 7:30 pm in the HearARTS reading series, at VisArts.

Vienna: A Traveler's Literary Companion Edited by Donald G. Daviau

This one just landed on the very top of my own personal Himalaya: I mean, the reading pile. Vienna: A Traveler's Literary Companion includes 15 works in translation, including one by Robert Musil, whose unfinished novel, The Man without Qualities, reputed to be a masterpiece, I've long had in mind to delve into... More anon.


Madam Mayo hearts Washington DC's Bit-o-Lit. Grab your free copy on your way into the metro. Would someone please do this in Mexico City? (Or did I miss it?) More anon.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Guest-Blogger Porter Shreve on 5 Favorite Novels of the '70s

Today's guest-blogger is Porter Shreve, author of the novels The Obituary Writer, Drives Like a Dream and the recently-released When the White House Was Ours, which has been garnering some bodacious reviews, from the Washington Post ("[t]urn off the TV pundits, turn down the thermostat, and slip on a comfy cardigan") to the Los Angeles Times ("laugh out-loud scenes and wonderful passages"). Over to you, Porter!
Five Novels of the ‘70s

My novel When the White House Was Ours is set in Washington, DC, in 1976 and narrated by a twelve year old kid who has a dawning awareness of what it means to live in the post-Nixon, pre-Reagan transitional decade that cluttered the world with mood rings, lava lamps, feathered hair, afros, leisure suits, platform shoes, KC and the Sunshine Band and Donna Summer. An outrageous, cartoonish decade on its surface the Seventies are easy to mock as self-absorbed, materialistic, insubstantial. There wasn’t much to celebrate, either: the economy was in the tank; the succession of presidents included a crook, a bumbler and an ineffectual moralist. The critic Howard Junker complained that “the perfect Seventies symbol was the pet rock, which just sat there doing nothing.” And Norman Mailer called the Seventies “a decade in which people put emphasis on the skin, on the surface, rather than on the root of things. Image became preeminent because nothing deeper was going on."

I beg to differ-– and not just because the Seventies made up a good part of my formative years. Transitional eras, moments of betweenness, those times of blending and uncertainty before and after the big battles, provide great material for writers. So when I sat down to research When the White House Was Ours I found a wealth of Seventies novels to drawn on. My list could be much longer, but here are five favorites:

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie.
Talk about betweenness. Alexie’s first book of prose wavers between a novel and a story collection, lyricism and scene-driven narrative, hilarity and bleakness, realism and myth, and is packed throughout with the kind of irony characteristic of a whole era: “During the sixties, my father was the perfect hippie, since all the hippies were trying to be Indians.”

Flower Children by Maxine Swann.
I love a truly integrated story cycle or novel in stories (three of my recommended “‘70s novels” fit the bill.) And one of the finest recent examples of the form is this lush kaleidoscope about the legacy of Aquarius. Without strain or judgment, Swann takes on the perspectives of the kids of back-to-the-land hippies, showing the wonder and perplexity that comes with total freedom.

The Ice Storm by Rick Moody.
If the Seventies was a transitional decade, it was also a rather short one. Many social historians mark 1973 as the end of the Sixties, but for one family in the wealthy Connecticut suburbs the Summer of Love has just arrived. Moody makes a masterful metaphor of the ice storm and even finds meaning in seemingly ephemeral period detail, such as GI Joe, the Fantastic Four, and key parties.

The Women of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor.
A social novel-in-stories, Naylor dramatizes the crisis of ‘70s era public housing through the perspectives of seven women living in the New York City projects. Beginning with the iconic epigraph from Langston Hughes-– “What happens to a dream deferred?”-– Naylor shows the burden of dispossession and broken promises with a rich weave of memorable voices.

Rabbit is Rich by John Updike.
Like all great books, Updike’s third Harry Angstrom novel is both timeless and quintessentially of its time. Here are two lines from the first page that could just as well have appeared in this morning’s paper: “The people out there are getting frantic, they know the great American ride is ending... People are going wild, their dollars are going rotten...”

--- Porter Shreve

---> For the archive of Madam Mayo guest-blog posts, click here.

Voila, the Narrative: Joseph Stiglitz on the U.S. Economic Crisis

A sad, sad story, briefly and expertly told in the latest issue of Vanity Fair by Joseph Stiglitz.

P.S. Donald (now Dierde) McCloskey, If You're So Smart, How Come You're Not Rich? The Narrative of Economic Expertise.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Twittering Ionesco

In his most recent and always thought-provoking newsletter, writer and creativity coach-of-coaches Eric Maisel opines,
I think that this social networking chatter is the new absurdity. It is absurd because it is at once effective and horrible, seductive and mind-numbing, professional and infantile.

Madam Mayo is scratching her head over that one. Yes. No. Not exactly-sort-of. What constitute "professional" and "infantile" in our culture are undergoing a seachange. Just for example, I had thought facebook was childish--- until I had a look at who's on it and what they're using it for. Herewith a few of our finest poets and writers whom you'll find on facebook: Grace Cavalieri, Chris Offutt, Naomi Ayala, Mark Doty, Martin Espada, Richard McCann, and Sandra Gulland.

Furthermore, says Maisel:
What is the state of absurdity today? It is clear to me that I am supposed to be cross-blogging and twittering all day long in order to increase my audience. If you do not know what cross-blogging and twittering mean, you are lucky. It is indeed the case that folks who spend all day doing things of this sort really do sell more of whatever it is they are selling than do people who don’t. I don’t doubt that and I don’t dispute that. But I would rather have a root canal than send out little messages all day about this and that.

But what Great White-Bearded Committee in the Sky says it has to be "all day"? Why not post only on Mondays? Or, once a month?

A couple of weeks ago, I got started with Twitter, a social-networking thingamajig I'd thought beyond absurd until I read Seth Godin on the subject. If you want to follow me on Twitter, or "get the tweets," as they say, I promise not to barage you with news of my weekend plans, what I am eating, the state of my digestion, or the view out my office window. I don't use any of these social networking things (blog, facebook, twitter) to share my life per se, rather, I share books and links, in the spirit of what-goes-around-comes-around. In the past two years, my own life and writing have been immeasurably enriched by the information I've gleaned from the Internet. The challenge is to learn how to discern and dispatch quickly and effectively. And it is no small challenge.

Speaking of which, since I really don't have time for Twitter, I integrated it into the status bar of my facebook page-- two birds with one haiku, as it were.

Two quick links on the challenge:
-->To my blog post about Naomi S. Baron's book, Always On: Language in an Online and Mobile World
-->To poet, editor and web 2.0 diva Deborah Ager's blog post on Time Management for Poets

Maisel shares this link to a delightfully languid --- oh so antique--- interview with the King of the Absurd, (voici le wiki), Eugene Ionesco:<

The Mind

Via Design Observer.

Mexico Cooks! Named Number One Food Blog

Felicidades to Christina Potter's extraordinario "Mexico Cooks!" blog Madam Mayo is not surprised.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Translation on NPR

Via Boston Translation blog, NPR's Rick Kleffel on "The Art of Translation". Emphasis on "art."

P.S. Here's my own interview on NPR about Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion, my anthology of 24 Mexican writers. On the NPR website you can read the excellent short stories by Araceli Ardon and Monica Lavin, and Ricardo Elizondo Elizondo. Makes a not only very enjoyable but very affordable--- and portable--- holiday gift, hint hint. Buy it here. More anon.

Leslie Pietrzyk's Essay in the Washington Post

Well worth reading: The other day, my amiga novelist Leslie Pietrzyk published a thoughtful essay in the Washington Post (read it here). More anon.

On the Writers Center Blog: Agents, Publishers & Book PR

My blog post for the Writers Center is up. Read it here. (The fog of war? How about "the fog of book publishing.") Comments welcome.
More anon.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Jorge Fernandez Granados y John Oliver Simon

Una nota acerca de su cuaderno en el blog de Malva Fores, Casa nomada.

Pat Holt is Back: Holt Uncensored

It's not all lousy news in the book biz, no way! Pat Holt is back! This is really something to celebrate. If you've been away, on say, Planet Mars, and haven't heard of Pat Holt, be sure to read her Holt Uncensored: The Beginning. P.S. Thanks, Peter Handel, for the tip. More anon.

James Howard Kunstler, Marion Nestle, Paula Whyman

Well, it's Monday, and it's the usual prescient doom-and-gloom over at James Howard Kunstler's infelicitously named Clusterfuck Nation blog. Alas, Madam Mayo recommends it. Related to the food scarcity issues Kunstler discusses is the rapid, widespread and largely unnoticed deterioration in the quality of our food supply. For more on that, be sure to check out Marion Nestle's latest, Pet Food Politics: The Chihuahua in the Coal Mine. (Nestle's website is Food Politics.) And, on a happier foodie note, check out my amiga Paula Whyman's blog post on Baking for Writers: Thanksgiving Edition. More anon.