Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

The Inimitable

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

Hello, friends. Yesterday, I began reading Claire Tomalin’s latest biograpy, Charles Dickens: A Life. I had extremely high hopes for this book, so much so that I worried that my hopes were unreasonably high and I might inevitably be disappointed. But it begins beautifully, and this week I just want to share some of my glee with you.

The biography starts with three maps and a Cast List – essential in a book as jammed with places and personalities as this one. One of the reasons I love this kind of front matter and pore over it for ages before launching into the actual book is because they reveal so much about the author’s interests. Her voice is as strong there as anywhere else in the book, and diving into a list like that is a perfect way to get acquainted (or reacquainted, in this case). I’ll show you what I mean:

On the map called Dickens in Central London, the Garrick Club is described thus: “Dickens a member from 1837, resigning and rejoining frequently”. A perfect window into the man, in four words!

Here are a couple of the extremely varied people he associated with:

“Cooper, Louisa… sent to Cape, returned 1856, bringing D[ickens] an ostrich egg…”

“Elliott, Frances… heiress with rackety marital history… persuaded D to intervene in her difficulties in 1860s, questioned him in vain about his private life”

And Tomalin’s judgement on others:

“Morson, Mrs Georgiana… matron of Miss Coutt’s Home [for reformed thieves and prostitutes] from 1849 to 1854 when she remarried. A pearl.”

“Townshend, Chauncey Hare… rich, Cambridge-educated hypochondriac… dedicated poems to D, who dedicated Great Expectatiosn to him, gave him manuscript – huge reward for foolish friend”

Also, Dickens gave his kids really florid names! They often seem to be modified versions of the names of famous people, as in “Walter Landor” (why skip the “Savage”?) and Alfred D’Orsay Tennyson (really? He chose to interrupt Alfred Tennyson’s name with “D’Orsay”?). Other times, he went for the full homage, naming two of his sons “Henry Fielding” and “Edward Bulwer Lytton”.

I’m hooked.

Bookmark and Share

A reading streak

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012

Hello! I’m just popping in to say that I’m on a Hilary Mantel streak. After finishing Bring Up the Bodies again (I started with Bring Up the Bodies, went back to Wolf Hall, then was impelled to re-read Bring Up the Bodies), I moped and pined for a while. Do you ever feel suspended between books? It’s a strangely unanchored feeling, for me, and I’m never quite settled until I’ve found my next book. I may start one or two novels or long works, or pick through a collection of poetry or essays, but I only really feel at home once established in a new book.

My husband finally ended my misery by giving me Beyond Black.

I eyed it suspiciously for a few days. After all, I was carrying Thomas Cromwell around with me, and Beyond Black is not about Tudor politics. It’s set in contemporary England (well, 1997). It’s about ghosts. Hmph, I thought.

I didn’t love the first, very short, chapter. It was heavily descriptive, with some sharp and compelling images, but it seemed to hover.

And then I turned the page and was completely sucked in.It’s nasty and hilarious and ruthless. It’s about some extremely unpleasant people. And it’s genuinely frightening.

You guys, I love it.

What are you reading, this week?

Bookmark and Share

This is the month!

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

Hello, friends. Is it just me, or was this the shortest January ever? I’d still be in denial about its passing, except that I’m so excited for the North American publication of The Traitor in the Tunnel. So it was utterly appropriate that yesterday, as I sat eating lunch, a chipper FedEx guy turned up at my door with this:

I wish this photo did justice to how exquisite this book really is. It could be the colour scheme (my favourite colour is red) but I think this is the most beautiful Candlewick edition yet. And in 27 days, it will be in bookstores everywhere! There’ll be a blog tour happening that week, involving some of my favourite YA book bloggers. And I’ve also begun planning a launch party in Kingston, so if you’re local, I hope you’ll plan to pop in on Saturday, March 3 for food, festivities, and general frippery.

Finally, here’s the bit of the cover that I always have trouble visualizing, even after seeing an electronic version of the cover: what the spine looks like, lined up with the others.

So, what do you think?

Bookmark and Share

Think you love books?

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

The mad geniuses at Type Books (which hosted my Toronto launch for The Body at the Tower) do. The proof? This absolutely charming stop-action short, showing what books get up to at night. You’d have to be a total grinch not to love this.

Go on – tell me you’re not haunted by the idea of your own books larking about in the near-dark. Mine certainly waltz, trade bookmarks, and commiserate about the recent purge.

And elsewhere on the internet, a very talented reader, Melyssa, made a painting inspired by Mary Quinn! Check it out at her Tumblr.

What are you up to this week?

Bookmark and Share

A Picture-book Christmas

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

Hello, and I hope your holidays were properly blissful! We had a wonderful Christmas and today I thought I’d share with you the picture books we unwrapped as a family this year.

I’m one of those parents who squints at a toy and thinks, “Huh. That’ll be a hit for all of eleven minutes,” before clutching my wallet tighter. But I love, love, love buying books for my kids. This year, we chose:

Someday, by Alison McGhee and Peter H. Reynolds

Okay, this is not actually a book for children. This is a gorgeous, shamelessly sentimental book for adults, and I confess that I can’t read it without crying. In fact, I first saw it when doing a bookstore visit in Toronto. There I was, standing beside my publicist, waiting to meet some booksellers, when I picked this up off the shelf. Three minutes later, I was misty-eyed and desperately hunting for a tissue. The book shows a mother imagining her infant daughter’s life and all the things the child might do as she *sniff* grows up. The illustrations are very Quentin Blake, but softer, which means I’m a sucker for them, too.

This New Baby, by Teddy Jam and Virginia Johnson

This new baby sleeps in my arms

like a moon sleeping on a cloud,

like apples falling through the rain,

like a fish swimming through the sky…”

Teddy Jam might be my favourite pseudonym. (His real identity was a secret until the death of award-winning Canadian novelist Matt Cohen in 1999, when they were revealed to be the same person.) Jam’s poetry is spare and surprising, and the illustrations in this re-issued edition of the book work beautifully with Jam’s free verse. It’s a gorgeous and subtle book.

In the Night Kitchen, by Maurice Sendak

I’d heard of In the Night Kitchen, but never before read it. Crazy, I know! I’m so glad this was prominently displayed in my local indie bookseller’s very small picture-book section; I might never have noticed it otherwise. And it is pure gold. I love that Sendak makes no attempt at logic, no effort to please a particular age bracket. It’s lunatic and brilliant as a result, and we can’t stop chanting, “Milk in the batter! Milk in the batter! We make cake, and nothing’s the matter.”

Ruby, by Colin Thompson

Another crazy one! We chose this one for the amazing illustrations, but the story (about a family of tiny, tree-root dwellers who accidentally get caught up in an Austin 7 Ruby) is slowly growing on me. At one point, the mother in the story exclaims of her impetuous son, “He hasn’t even grown his second button yet!” My guess is that there’s a time at which this story will seem completely reasonable, but at the moment I’m still shaking my head at the Green Virus who climbs out of the car’s ashtray. Our resident 3-year-old, however, thinks it makes perfect sense. Delightful nonsense, of the Alice-in-Wonderland variety.

What books did you give and receive this holiday?

Bookmark and Share

The Great Purge

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

In a perfect world, I would never discard books. I would save the ones I no longer wanted until just the right person walked into my life, and I could gift them the ideal book for their needs in that moment. (Maybe I’m a librarian manqué…)

In this world, however, we have six bookcases and they are crammed. There are stacks of books on the piano. There are more in the bedroom. There are yet more in the living room, and have I mentioned the study, the bathroom (repository of magazines), and the kids’ room? It’s time to purge.

Happily, books have more lives than cats. A few of mine will go to friends and neighbours. Most will go to my local library’s Neverending Book Sale, which fundraises for the library. But still, it hurts.

I love paper books because they contain powerful memories of when I acquired them (I’ll never part with the first book my husband ever gave me – Middlemarch – although I have 2 other editions of the same book), my priorities at the time (a hideous and battered 1970s paperback copy of The French Lieutenant’s Woman reminds me how tight my budget was as I began my fourth year as an undergrad), and where I read them (a train ticket from Manchester to London is a bookmark that reminds me of what I was reading on our last trip to England).

Some books are easier to shed: literary theory that I held on to, because I couldn’t quite believe I’d escaped the academy; books I haven’t thought about in years; books I know I’ve read but whose content has leaked from my brain. But for the most part, getting rid of books feels like an eviction. I hope the little darlings (even the ones I disliked and disrespected) don’t take it personally. And I hope they find new homes soon. But they’ve got to go.

How do you manage your book collections? And how do you feel about getting rid of books?

Bookmark and Share

This is when it feels real

Thursday, December 1st, 2011

Hello, friends. Look at what turned up at my house recently!

Yes, these are ARCs of The Traitor in the Tunnel (publishing February ’12). That gorgeous cover is even better in real life (mitigated only by the knowledge that the finished copies will be even more stunning). As for its contents…

It’s a curious feeling, holding the book in my hands. You might expect that after having written, rewritten, and edited it, and having been edited, line-edited, copy-edited, and proofread, that it might feel, um, somewhat familiar (resorting to understatement). And it’s true: there are parts of it I’ve unintentionally commited to memory.

But seeing it bound is astonishing because it also distances me from the production of the book. After all, this is the part I know nothing about. It becomes less my book, and more like a strange and staggering miracle. The cover is lovely and intriguing and slightly nostalgic (because I have, after all, seen it before). And then I flip open the pages and the experience becomes terrifying because it feels like looking into part of my brain. From the outside.

It’s at this moment that the panic sets in. I’m about to send this out into the world? Without anyone to protect it? Or even an explanatory preface?

This is far from rational, of course. I know, at some level, that this is a strong book. Actually, I think it’s the best of the three Agency novels so far. But still. Still. This is the curious push-pull of the almost-published moment, for me.

Is it like this for you, fellow authors? And how about you, aspiring writers and fellow bloggers and readers? How do you feel when you’re about to send something Out There?

Bookmark and Share

A Reader Reports: Hot Streak

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

Hello, and welcome to the second instalment of A Reader Reports, which is very much what the title promises. I’ve had an absolutely wonderful streak of books lately – so much so that I’m a bit worried about what’s coming next, in case it doesn’t live up to its predecessors. The Fabulous Four, in the order I read them, are:

Shadows on the Moon, by Zoë Marriott

I flicked this one open quite casually, thinking that I might just browse a little before saving it it for a while. Then I read the first paragraph: “On my fourteenth birthday when the sakura was in full bloom, the men came to kill us. We saw them come, Aimi and me. We were excited, because we did not know how to be frightened. We had never seen soldiers before.” But it’s not just a tense, fast-paced adventure story. Zoë re-tells the Cinderella story in a way that makes Suzume, the main character, a real heroine: determined, resourceful, intelligent, and brave. She folds into the story cultural details about a country that resembles, but is not, feudal Japan. And she plays with the idea of what it means to be exotic with witty, thoughtful results.

Jane Austen: A Life, by Claire Tomalin

I’ve raved about Claire Tomalin here before, so I’ll keep this brief. I cannot imagine a more sensitive, satisfying exploration of Jane Austen’s elusive life story. Tomalin fills in the gaps gently, suggests enticing possibilities, and offers a thoroughly convincing theory for Austen’s quiet period. She also reads the novels with authority and her argument about Sense and Sensibility (until now my least-favourite Austen novel; Tomalin claims it’s a conflicted debate about propriety and Romanticism, which intrigues me) makes me want to re-read it more attentively.

Plain Kate, by Erin Bow

This book just won – and entirely deserved to win – the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award! It’s a stunner of a novel about an orphaned carver girl, the Plain Kate of the title. The novel is a fairy tale, a ghost story, a coming-of-age tale, and a meditation on family, all told in beautifully precise and elegant prose. And did I mention the talking cat? I cried myself to a  pulp reading this and the world is a better place for its existence.

Faith Fox, by Jane Gardam

I love Jane Gardam’s work. She’s a ruthless observer of human weakness, yet affectionate towards the ridiculousness of her characters’ behaviour. She creates absurd situations with outrageous levels of coincidence, yet they feel absolutely realistic at the same time. Faith Fox is a baby whose mother dies in childbirth, setting off a series of actions and reactions – Faith is just the catalyst. As always with Gardam, it’s not about the plot at all; instead, I revel in her language, her astoundingly precise and surprising characterization, and her gift of being able to see into so many different times and places and minds with such clarity.

Whew. So. What have you been reading?

P. S. I bought Shadows on the Moon and Plain Kate with my own money; Jane Austen and Faith Fox were gifts from my husband, who is also clearly on a hot streak.

Bookmark and Share

Autumn’s here

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

My name is Y. S. Lee and I’ve been a sloppy blogger all summer long. Now that it’s late September, it is time to change my inconsistent ways. Starting this week, I’ll return to my weekly blogging schedule and post something each Wednesday. Promise.

What’s up with me?

As a reader:

My husband just gave me a copy of this book.

If you know how I feel about Claire Tomalin and Jane Austen, you will know that I am over the moon and can’t wait to rip into it (figuratively, figuratively). But he outdid himself this time, because he gave me this edition:

Did you hear my scream of delight? I’m torn between sleeping with it under my pillow, locking it away under archival conditions, and reading it in one sitting while children scream and my life crumbles around me. Ahem.

As a writer:

Tomorrow, I’m appearing at Kingston WritersFest with YA author Adwoa Badoe. We’ll be reading and talking to memoirist Susan Olding on the subject of “Life Lessons”. This is my first literary festival as an author, rather than as reader and fan, and I’ve been looking forward to this for ages!

I’ll also be skyping in to Lethbridge, AB’s Word on the Street festival this Sunday. I’m very excited for this, too, and glad that I’ll never know how big my head looks on a projection screen. If you happen to see it, don’t tell me, okay?

As a human being:

My three-year-old’s been singing his favourite fall song, Hawksley Workman‘s “Autumn’s Here”, without consideration for parental feelings of musical satiety. The child is merciless, so I’ve decided to inflict it on you, too. This link takes you to a superlong live rendition.

How are you all? What are you up to? What did I miss, while I was not really here over the summer?

Bookmark and Share

The Agency 4!

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

Hello friends! I have lovely news to share with you today.

First, A Spy in the House has been nominated for the Canadian Children’s Book Centre’s brand-new John Spray Mystery Award! Can I possibly hold my breath from now until the winners are announced in October?

Second, I’ll be reading, signing, and talking about the Victorians at the Mississauga Public Library on August 27, as their Teen Summer Reading program concludes. I’ll post more details here closer to the event.

And finally, I’m absolutely overjoyed to announce that there will be a fourth and final Agency novel. Its working title is Rivals in the City. There’s no publication date yet (I have to finish the book first!), but I’m so thrilled to be immersed in Mary Quinn’s world, one last time. I hope you’ll agree.

Happy long weekend, Canadian and American readers!

Bookmark and Share