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Books, authors and all things bookish
In Ishiguro's 'The Buried Giant,' memory draws a blank

Kazuo Ishiguro has made a career of the unexpected. His best-known novel, 1989's Man Booker-winning "The Remains of the Day," is narrated by an English butler looking back on the love he let elude him on a country estate in the years leading to World War II. "When We Were Orphans" (2000) comes framed as a detective novel, while "Never Let Me Go" (2005) appropriates some of the tropes of science fiction to tell the story of a boarding school where clones are raised for body parts.

What these books share is a fascination with memory, identity, with the tension between obligation and desire. "I'm wondering," an elderly woman named Beatrice says in Ishiguro's new novel "The Buried Giant," "if without our memories, there's nothing for it but for our love to fade and die."

Beatrice is one of the central figures in "The Buried Giant," which takes place in an ancient England, within living recollection of King Arthur's reign. As the book begins, she and her aged husband, Axl, set out in search...

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Quan Barry's 'She Weeps' listens to the stories of Vietnam's dead

Here's a true dumb American confession: I have a hard time with historical novels that take place outside of the U.S. I'm not much of a history buff, and I find it takes a skillful, engaging author to both situate and dazzle me with beauty at the same time. Quan Barry, as it turns out, is just that kind of author. In her debut novel, "She Weeps Each Time You're Born," the Saigon-born poet guides us through the history of modern Vietnam with a deft mix of folklore, magical realism and stories of struggle and hardship that feel yanked right out of history.

The book spans three turbulent decades, beginning with the unusual birth of a girl named Rabbit along the Song Ma River at the height of the Vietnam War, "under the full rabbit moon six feet below ground in a wooden box, her mother's hands cold as ice, overhead the bats of good fortune flitting through the dark." By 2001, when the narrative ends, she has become a living legend — in a "silvery room inside Rabbit's head," she hears and...

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J.K. Rowling bibliography reveals secrets of the 'Harry Potter' books

An exhaustive new J.K. Rowling bibliography being published in the U.K. reveals secrets behind the workings of her Harry Potter books, the Guardian reports. "J.K. Rowling: A Bibliography 1997-2013" by Philip Errington includes correspondence between Rowling and her editor and details the revisions of the Potter works in progress.

Rowling herself blurbed the book. "As someone who respects comprehensive research, I am in awe of the level of detail and amount of time Philip Errington has dedicated to this slavishly thorough and somewhat mind-boggling bibliography," she writes.

Among the secrets fans will discover:

-- Alternative titles considered for "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" were "Harry Potter and the Death Eaters," "Harry Potter and the Fire Goblet" and "Harry Potter and the Three Champions."

-- The manuscript of "The Order of the Phoenix" was handed over in a London pub, spy-style: brought in by an agent who left it behind with the editor, never mentioning the enormous sack...

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Eleanor Marx led a revolutionary life with a tragic ending

The idea of Eleanor Marx is terribly attractive. Here was a young woman born in Victorian England, holding her own while living among some of the great intellectuals of her time — and ours. All those history books that depict the march of ideas and politics as the exclusive interests and provinces of men, leaving the Angels in their Houses? They ought to be revised to reckon with the likes of Eleanor Marx.

In a relatively short lifetime she managed to translate Flaubert, introduce literary London to "A Doll's House" and help birth a new union movement. Oh, right, and usher along the publication of her father Karl's masterwork, "Das Kapital." Then, just as Marx hit her 40s, she learned that the man whom she'd lived with for years, Edward Aveling, had gone and secretly married a young actress. Soon after, a devastated Marx committed suicide with chloroform and prussic acid.

All of that sets her up as the perfect subject for a lively, juicy biography. Yet somehow Rachel Holmes, in...

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A story in a deck of cards, 'The Family Arcana,' takes off at Kickstarter

"The Family Arcana" goals were modest: $2,800 to create and print decks of cards that would tell multiple variations of a strange story. It's a classic deck -- four suits, deuce through ace -- that includes several sentences of the surreal, slightly creepy story on each card. Play a card game, hold a story in your hand.

This week, when it was featured as a pick on Kickstarter, "The Family Arcana" took off. Almost 1,000 donors have pledged a total of more than $22,000 to the project. 

Penned by Jedediah Berry, "The Family Arcana" is, they explain on Kickstarter, "the portrait of a sprawling family bound to their decaying farmhouse by a web of passions and strange obsessions." Watch the video and you'll learn that men from the bank come to take the house, and they don't always get away.

The characters include: Sleepwalking Mother, heartbroken Father, bitter old Grandfather, loopy Grandmother, suspicious aunts, uncles and children "who are impossibly numerous, darkly vindictive, and ever...

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'Going Into the City,' rock critic Robert Christgau's back pages

If we peg the birth of rock writing to Richard Goldstein establishing his "Pop Eye" column in the Village Voice, the form turns 50 next summer. If instead we tie it to Jane Scott's Cleveland Plain Dealer report on the Beatles in September 1964, we should have been celebrating last fall.

Either way, Robert Christgau ("Xgau" to insiders) was on the beat early. When Goldstein "lost the rockcrit calling," Christgau stepped into his shoes at the Voice with a new column in summer 1969, Rock & Roll &. At age 72, he's still going strong, though not for the Voice, which laid him off in 2006.

In what he swears was a champagne-fueled joke, Christgau once dubbed himself "the Dean of American Rock Critics" — and the name stuck. Not only that, it's true: With the possible exception of his friend Greil Marcus, no American music writer has exerted more influence over the tastes of rock music "consumers" (as he'd insist on calling them) and on the craft of other rock critics. By his own estimation,...

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