Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Contest winners to get book deals

Associated Press

NEW YORK - A division of Simon & Schuster has agreed to publish the top three winners of the Sobol Award, a new literary contest that offers a $100,000 first prize, but also has been criticized for charging entry fees and requiring that it serve as the winners' agent.

read this article in its entirety:

AP Wire | 12/05/2006 | Contest winners to get book deals

BOOKS -- Exciting new literary terms! (Litrosexual?)
Isn't it about time we had some new reading lingo? asap's Book Pusher, KEVIN SAMPSELL, comes to the rescue with his funny and knowing list of tomorrow's terminology ... today. - read

Tuesday, December 05, 2006



According to consumer research conducted on what factors matter to people when they decide whether or not to pick up a book in a bookshop, the cover design comes out as most important. So this might be the stupidest thing we've ever done.

However ... Just over two months ago I was standing in the corridor talking with my boss about books, and suddenly we had a new idea: why not publish our favourite books without front covers?! And that's what we're doing. It's been a secret project with about seven people involved, and from the idea two months ago we now have six books that are ready to go into the shops and onto at the end of November.

In essence, we've started a new series because if the first six work we'll publish more. The series was named My Penguin by our rather marvellous Creative Director, who came up with the name after about two minutes. The tag line is 'Books by the Greats, Covers by You', and throughout the rush to design the (back) covers, get the right paper, and tell people about them, we've had a really great time. The covers are art-quality paper, and from internal Penguin efforts we know that they hold ink, paint, pencil and glue (see the first efforts here). Each one comes shrink-wrapped so the paper doesn't get dirty, and I hope people might give them as gifts. They're went round Penguin earlier in the week and we've starting an online gallery that will launch with staff efforts at the end of November (no doubt we'll talk about this here). All of the books talk about the gallery on the back cover, because we want anyone and everyone to send in pictures of their own covers so we can put them up too love this project, because there are no rules, and what we want is for it to be fun.

Helen Conford, Senior Commissioning Editor at The Penguin Press

Wonder if Penguin US will be doing this as well?

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The 10 Best Books of 2006
New York Times

NOTE: This list will run in the Dec. 10 print edition of the Book Review.


By Gary Shteyngart. Random House, $24.95.
Shteyngart's scruffy, exuberant second novel, equal parts Gogol and Borat, is immodest on every level - it's long, crude, manic and has cheap vodka on its breath. It also happens to be smart, funny and, in the end, extraordinarily rich and moving. "Absurdistan" introduces Misha Vainberg, the rap-music-obsessed, grossly overweight son of the 1,238th richest man in Russia. After attending college in the United States, he is now stuck in St. Petersburg, scrambling for an American visa that may never arrive. Caught between worlds, and mired in his own prejudices and thwarted desires, Vainberg just may be an antihero for our times.

Scribner, $27.50.
A quietly powerful presence in American fiction during the past two decades, Hempel has demonstrated unusual discipline in assembling her urbane, pointillistic and wickedly funny short stories. Since the publication of her first collection, "Reasons to Live," in 1985, only three more slim volumes have appeared - a total of some 15,000 sentences, and nearly every one of them has a crisp, distinctive bite. These collected stories show the true scale of Hempel's achievement. Her compact fictions, populated by smart, neurotic, somewhat damaged narrators, speak grandly to the longings and insecurities in all of us, and in a voice that is bracingly direct and sneakily profound.

By Claire Messud. Alfred A. Knopf, $25.
This superbly intelligent, keenly observed comedy of manners, set amid the glitter of cultural Manhattan in 2001, also looks unsparingly, though sympathetically, at a privileged class unwittingly poised, in its insularity, for the catastrophe of 9/11. Messud gracefully intertwines the stories of three friends, attractive, entitled 30-ish Brown graduates "torn between Big Ideas and a party" but falling behind in the contest for public rewards and losing the struggle for personal contentment. The vibrant supporting cast includes a deliciously drawn literary seducer ("without question, a great man") and two ambitious interlopers, teeming with malign energy, whose arrival on the scene propels the action forward.

By Richard Ford. Alfred A. Knopf, $26.95.
The third installment, following "The Sportswriter" (1986) and "Independence Day" (1995), in the serial epic of Frank Bascombe - flawed husband, fuddled dad, writer turned real estate agent and voluble first-person narrator. Once again the action revolves around a holiday. This time it's Thanksgiving 2000: the Florida recount grinds toward its predictable outcome, and Bascombe, now 55, battles prostate cancer and copes with a strange turn in his second marriage. The story, which unfolds over three days, is filled with incidents, some of them violent, but as ever the drama is rooted in the interior world of its authentically life-size hero, as he logs long hours on the highways and back roads of New Jersey, taking expansive stock of middle-age defeats and registering the erosions of a brilliantly evoked landscape of suburbs, strip malls and ocean towns.

By Marisha Pessl. Viking, $25.95.
The antic ghost of Nabokov hovers over this buoyantly literate first novel, a murder mystery narrated by a teenager enamored of her own precocity but also in thrall to her father, an enigmatic itinerant professor, and to the charismatic female teacher whose death is announced on the first page. Each of the 36 chapters is titled for a classic (by authors ranging from Shakespeare to Carlo Emilio Gadda), and the plot snakes ingeniously toward a revelation capped by a clever "final exam." All this is beguiling, but the most solid pleasures of this book originate in the freshness of Pessl's voice and in the purity of her storytelling gift.


A Memoir.
By Danielle Trussoni. Henry Holt & Company, $23.
This intense, at times searing memoir revisits the author's rough-and-tumble Wisconsin girlhood, spent on the wrong side of the tracks in the company of her father, a Vietnam vet who began his tour as "a cocksure country boy" but returned "wild and haunted," unfit for family life and driven to extremes of philandering, alcoholism and violence. Trussoni mixes these memories with spellbinding versions of the war stories her father reluctantly dredged up and with reflections on her own journey to Vietnam, undertaken in an attempt to recapture, and come to terms with, her father's experiences as a "tunnel rat" who volunteered for the harrowing duty of scouring underground labyrinths in search of an elusive and deadly enemy.

Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11.
By Lawrence Wright. Alfred A. Knopf, $27.95.
In the fullest account yet of the events that led to the fateful day, Wright unmasks the secret world of Osama bin Laden and his collaborators and also chronicles the efforts of a handful of American intelligence officers alert to the approaching danger but frustrated, time and again, in their efforts to stop it. Wright, a staff writer for The New Yorker, builds his heart-stopping narrative through the patient and meticulous accumulation of details and through vivid portraits of Al Qaeda's leaders. Most memorably, he tells the story of John O'Neill, the tormented F.B.I. agent who worked frantically to prevent the impending terrorist attack, only to die in the World Trade Center.

A Story of Courage, Community, and War.
By Nathaniel Philbrick. Viking, $29.95.
This absorbing history of the Plymouth Colony is a model of revisionism. Philbrick impressively recreates the pilgrims' dismal 1620 voyage, bringing to life passengers and crew, and then relates the events of the settlement and its first contacts with the native inhabitants of Massachusetts. Most striking are the parallels he subtly draws with the present, particularly in his account of how Plymouth's leaders, including Miles Standish, rejected diplomatic overtures toward the Indians, successful though they'd been, and instead pursued a "dehumanizing" policy of violent aggression that led to the needless bloodshed of King Philip's War.

A Natural History of Four Meals.
By Michael Pollan. The Penguin Press, $26.95.
"When you can eat just about anything nature has to offer, deciding what you should eat will inevitably stir anxiety," Pollan writes in this supple and probing book. He gracefully navigates within these anxieties as he traces the origins of four meals - from a fast-food dinner to a "hunter-gatherer" feast - and makes us see, with remarkable clarity, exactly how what we eat affects both our bodies and the planet. Pollan is the perfect tour guide: his prose is incisive and alive, and pointed without being tendentious. In an uncommonly good year for American food writing, this is a book that stands out.

By Rory Stewart. Harvest/Harcourt, Paper, $14.
"You are the first tourist in Afghanistan," Stewart, a young Scotsman, was warned by an Afghan official before commencing the journey recounted in this splendid book. "It is mid-winter - there are three meters of snow on the high passes, there are wolves, and this is a war. You will die, I can guarantee." Stewart, thankfully, did not die, and his report on his adventures - walking across Afghanistan in January of 2002, shortly after the fall of the Taliban - belongs with the masterpieces of the travel genre. Stewart may be foolhardy, but on the page he is a terrific companion: smart, compassionate and human. His book cracks open a fascinating, blasted world miles away from the newspaper headlines.

The 10 Best Books of 2006 - New York Times

Book World's 10 Best of the Year
Washington Post

Sunday, December 3, 2006


After This, by Alice McDermott (Farrar Straus Giroux). There are no excesses, no look-at-me pyrotechnics in this story of a family over several decades in the middle of the 20th century. With the mastery of a fine poet, McDermott distills each life to its essence.

All Aunt Hagar's Children, by Edward P. Jones (Amistad). With this collection of 14 short stories about African Americans in Washington, D.C., Jones has established himself as one of the most important writers of the present day.

The Dream Life of Sukhanov, by Olga Grushin (Putnam). A sophisticated, ironic and witty story about the midlife crisis of a Soviet art critic on the eve of glasnost.

The Road, by Cormac McCarthy (Knopf). An unnamed man and his young son -- two of the last survivors on Earth -- walk through an incinerated wasteland foraging for food and hiding from gangs of cannibals. A frightening, profound tale.

Shahnameh: The Persian Book of Kings, by Abolqasem Ferdowsi (Viking). A new translation, by Dick Davis, of the great epic of ancient Persia, opening with the creation of the universe and closing with the Arab Muslim conquest. A violent and beautiful work.


The Classical World: An Epic History from Homer to Hadrian, by Robin Lane Fox (Basic). With erudition, drive and wit, an Oxford scholar triumphantly brings the Greeks' and Romans' civilizations to life.

Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, by Thomas E. Ricks (Penguin Press). A reporter's bristling, unflinching account shows that the war soured because of blunders made by a thousand fathers.

The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, by Lawrence Wright (Knopf). A chilling, beautifully written exploration of the rise of Osama bin Laden, his fanatical deputies and their murderous milieu.

The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, by Michael Pollan (Penguin Press). This enthralling explanation of the sources of our diet persuades us that we are what we eat.

Stravinsky: The Second Exile -- France and America, 1934-1971, by Stephen Walsh (Knopf). The masterful, elegant conclusion to an epic biography of one of the 20th century's most influential composers.

Book World's 10 Best of the Year -

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