Jacket Copy
Books, authors and all things bookish
Haruki Murakami's upcoming novel excerpted at Slate

There is more than a fortnight to wait for Haruki Murakami's new novel, "Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage," but today fans can get a taste at Slate. A review of the book that had been posted by The Guardian early Monday has been removed because it breached an embargo.

Slate's excerpt includes a story within a story within a story: A man in his early 20s relates a story told to him by his father; one of the people in that story tells a slightly unbelievable story of his own.

On one level, the excerpt plays with how we read through a narrative frame. Who is speaking? How far removed is the tale — and at what distance does it become legend?

On another, it asks philosophical questions about the nature of reality and artistic creation. One man in the story plays jazz piano brilliantly — the man observing him thinks he's significantly talented. But artistic talent isn't that simple, the piano player explains:

"You look good, attract attention, and if you’re lucky, you...

Read more
Jason Boog on reading to newborns and other parenting adventures

The journalist Jason Boog has long been a book lover. He’s written about the publishing industry for the Galley Cat blog, and about literary culture for NPR and the Los Angeles Review of Books, among many other publications. Three years ago, his daughter, Olive, was born, and he got an entirely new perspective on books and reading. He’s taken up his new parenting-and-reading obsession in “Born Reading: Bringing Up Bookworms in a Digital Age.” He talks to Times’ writer and parent Héctor Tobar about reading to newborns, the role of digital devices in kids’ reading lives, and other topics.

How has your perspective on reading and kids changed since you became a parent?

When my daughter was born in 2010 I had not looked at a children’s book in maybe 20 years. I had no idea what to do, what books to get. Thankfully my wife received almost a whole bookshelf of books for her baby shower. That was my springboard. I started to read to my daughter from the first weeks of her life. I didn’t know...

Read more
In Amy Bloom's 'Lucky Us,' sisters remain plucky in face of tragedy

"There is no such thing as a good writer and a bad liar," Amy Bloom wrote in her 1999 short story "The Story," which remains my favorite of all her work. It's a vivid bit of double vision, Bloom commenting on the process of storytelling even as she engages in it, and it suggests an edge, a brittle humor that I associate with her. In "The Story," Bloom describes a widow, coming to terms with new neighbors she calls the Golddust Twins — until, halfway through, she changes direction, bringing her narrator out from behind the fictive veil.

"I have made the best and happiest ending that I can in this world," the character (who may or may not be a version of Bloom) announces, "made it out of the flax and netting and leftover trim of someone else's life, I know, but made it to keep the innocent safe and the guilty punished, and I have made it as the world should be and not as I have found it."

I kept thinking about "The Story" as I read Bloom's new novel "Lucky Us," looking for its bite. This...

Read more
'Excavation' digs up memories of an illicit child-teacher relationship

When she was just 13, Wendy Ortiz began to learn important lessons about love, honesty and human depravity. She was a precocious eighth-grader, and she was about to fall under the spell of her 28-year-old English teacher.

"Jeff Ivers," as the teacher is known in Ortiz's new memoir (it's not his real name), was at once charming and manipulative. Almost immediately, he seized on his student's desire to be a writer — she'd already produced a handwritten novel — to get closer to her.

"Mr. Ivers wants you to call him at home," a classmate tells her. "Here's his phone number. So you guys can talk about your book."

"I didn't question why my friend had my teacher's phone number," Ortiz writes. "All I could think about was when."

"Excavation: A Memoir" (Future Tense, $15 paperback) is Ortiz's account of the events that unfolded after she called Jeff back. Ortiz, now 41, is a San Fernando Valley-raised poet, essayist and literary activist. "Excavation" is her first book. It's a work of...

Read more
'Close Your Eyes' looks at normal moments amid nuclear horrors

Chris Bohjalian is a master of depicting the small moments — the inevitable routines — that follow in the wake of a trauma. In "The Light in the Ruins," an 18-year-old girl crafts clothes for two dolls as she watches Axis warplanes fly over Tuscany. In "The Double Bind," after a young woman is assaulted, she returns to her swimming routine.

In Bohjalian's latest, "Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands," a 16-year-old girl named Emily Shepard makes her way around Vermont after a nuclear reactor melts down and blows up. Emily lies, pops Oxies, steals, has sex with truckers and takes a 9-year-old boy named Cameron under her wing as she struggles to survive and avoid authorities.

But Bohjalian somehow diffuses the drama, allowing Emily to narrate her own story in a matter-of-fact manner, describing small moments of normalcy that fill in the gaps between horrific events. At a shelter for teenagers, Emily assesses a friend's makeup: "Andrea often looked like she'd been sleeping in eyeliner — which...

Read more
Frank O'Hara's 'Lunch Poems' -- at 50

Frank O'Hara's “Lunch Poems” (City Lights: 86 pp., $14.95) — which has just been reissued in a 50th anniversary hardcover edition — recalls a world of pop art, political and cultural upheaval and (in its own way) a surprising innocence.

Wide-eyed, curious, off-the-cuff, O'Hara drops names and jots down the most mundane experiences: buying a hamburger or a malted, wandering through Times Square. “Everything / suddenly honks: it is 12:40 of / a Thursday,” he writes in “A Step Away From Them.” A line like this, and its attendant sensibility, first made me, made many of us, want to write poetry.

And yet, it’s a mistake, I think, to believe O’Hara tossed off the poems in this collection, despite their stunning, offhand grace. How else do we account for the formalism of pieces such as “Alma” and “On the Way to the San Remo,” poems that are anything but improvised?

This is among the most vivid charms of the book, that it moves back and forth between styles, points-of-view, that it...

Read more
'Unruly Places' is a guide to weird, ruined and wonderful spots

I've been to only three of the "unruly places" featured in Alastair Bonnett's terrific new book (the City of the Dead in Cairo, the "Time Landscape" in Manhattan, and International Airspace). If that seems a low number, bear in mind that other locations include Pripyat, the town adjacent to Chernobyl; Hobyo, a "feral city" in Somalia run by pirates; the Labyrinth, a series of tunnels under Minneapolis; and a traffic island in Newcastle, Britain.

"Unruly Places" consists of 47 short chapters, each concentrating on a specific location. Bonnett himself has certainly not been to all of them because some exist only temporarily or, in certain cases, not at all.

A professor of social geography at Newcastle University (convenient for that traffic island), Bonnett is a psycho-geographer and a self-described "topophile," or lover of place. The more curious the place, the greater his love.

However, as he explains in his introduction, he hasn't chosen the locations in the book because they're...

Read more
Oooh: 'Fifty Shades' trailer hits the Internet

How long will it take the "Fifty Shades of Grey" trailer to rack up a million views? Less than a day, most likely. As of this writing, it has clocked almost 700,000 since debuting on the "Today Show" on Thursday morning.

This "Fifty Shades" trailer provides the longest glimpse fans have gotten so far of the hotly-anticipated movie adaptation of the erotic novel. Earlier this week, the trailer was teased with a mini-trailer of its own, but the film won't come to screens until Valentine's Day 2015.

The book about the affair between BDSM-enthusiast billionaire Christian Grey and naive college student Anastasia Steele, was a mega-bestseller. It, and its two sequels, "Fifty Shades Darker" and "Fifty Shades Freed," made author E.L. James vault from obscurity to become the top-earning writer of 2013, making an estimated $95 million.

Chalk up part of those earnings to a lucrative option for the film. Bestselling books have proved to bring in big box office receipts -- think Harry Potter and...

Read more
Jim Ruland's 'Forest of Fortune' brilliantly taps casinos' irony

Things are rotten in the state of Thunderclap. Or at least they are rotten for the people who wash up at the remote, desert Indian casino somewhere in the mountains inland of San Diego in Jim Ruland's masterpiece of desperation, delusion and misdeeds, "Forest of Fortune."

Meet: Pemberton, a recovering alcoholic, drug addict and ad man who goes to the reservation for a job at the Thunderclap Casino. It's his last chance to pull his life together.

Meet: Alice the traumatized Indian slot-tech who might be having grand mal seizures or might be experiencing visions. Either way she risks losing her mind or her job or both unless she can figure things out.

Meet: Lupita the successful slot junkie who plays (and usually wins) slots at Thunderclap and whose adulthood rivalry and tension with her younger sister haunts her past and present.

Get to know the supporting cast of misfits, crooks, junkies, tweakers, gambling addicts and thugs — Denise, Mike, O'Nan, D.D. and the rez-gangsta-rappers of...

Read more
'Tigerman' finds Nick Harkaway in retro superhero mode

Nick Harkaway's fiction grapples with the curious power of genre fiction's cheap, potent end, from the post-apocalyptic kung fu of "The Gone-Away World" to the clockwork bees and London gangsters of "Angelmaker." His third novel, "Tigerman," sets the familiar elements of gaudy old superhero comic books — utility belts, kid sidekicks, secret identities — against the background of the British empire's dying gasp.

That gasp is the "Discharge Clouds" of dangerous gases erupting from beneath the former British territory of Mancreu, a lawless little island in the Arabian Sea that's scheduled for imminent destruction. Mancreu's harbor hosts a "Black Fleet" of ships that are up to no good, and the semi-official duty of Tigerman's buttoned-up, burned-out Bruce Wayne type, a British military man named Lester Ferris, is to look the other way.

Ferris is a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, now serving as the Brevet-Consul to Mancreu; his job is to be visibly British and not make waves of any kind....

Read more
Are you a book hoarder? There's a word for that.

How many books is too many books? What makes you a book hoarder? What do you do when you have too many?

In Japanese, there’s a word for it: tsundoku. It’s a noun that describes a person who buys books and doesn’t read them, and then lets them pile up on the floor, on shelves, and assorted pieces of furniture.

Frank Rose had a tsundoku problem. After he retired several years ago from his job as a state employee -- he lives in Sacramento -- he accelerated his purchases. Two years ago, he told the Friends of the Arden-Dimick Library in Sacramento that he’d donate his books when he died, the Sacramento Bee reports. By this summer, his collection had grown to 13,000 volumes.

Finally, this month, Rose, 85, decided he didn’t want to wait any longer. Library volunteers this week began packing the books -- 500 boxes' worth. It was the biggest donation in the library’s history.

A library official told the Bee that “we’re glad he didn’t have to die to give it to us.”

“I bought all of them, so...

Read more
Arianna Huffington shares her way to 'Thrive' at meditation studio

As Ariana Huffington writes in “Thrive,” her latest book, she has joined the masses of people trying to slow down, meditate and find an alternative to the harried, no-sleep route to success. Or, at least, those who are talking about it.

On Tuesday night, she joined a packed meditation salon full of women -- well dressed and painted toenails all -- and men in rows of black meditation chairs at Unplug, a meditation studio on L.A.’s Westside, to talk about the book.

Unplug’s founder, Suze Yalof Schwartz, interviewed Huffington, the president of the Huffington Post, and then Huffington’s sister, Agapi, led everyone in a silent meditation and Huffington signed copies of the book.

Sleep, Huffington said, is lacking for so many people that if one types into Google the phrase “why am I so ...” the No. 1 and No. 2 prompted responses are “so tired” and “always tired.” “It’s kind of sad and depressing, to the point where being tired is the new normal,” she commented.

Huffington said her change...

Read more