books & reading

Modern Mexico's Greatest Novelist, Carlos Fuentes

The Crystal FrontierCarlos Fuentes (November 11, 1928 – May 15, 2012), Mexico's famed novelist and prolific writer, died on the 15th May aged 83 years. He is regarded by many as the father of modern Latin American literature. Aside from his career as a novelist, Fuentes was an essayist and commentator on matters political and cultural, a playwright and screenwriter and an ambassador for his country. Born in Panama (his father was also a diplomat), he spent much of the latter half of his life living in either Europe or the United States, and was fluent in English from an early age. He was the winner of numerous literary prizes, most notably the Cervantes Prize in 1987, the most prestigious Spanish-language literary award.

If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need. ~Cicero

Outdoor Living

I'm staying optimistic that Summer will arrive and we can look forward to long sunny evenings. So while we all come down from the land of soggy books, dripping umbrellas and cloudy skies we can start to get in the mood and think about the outdoor living that lies ahead of us. You can prepare now by checking out the many titles in the library that will inspire you to tidy up and prepare the garden so you’ll be ready to sit back after a long day and relax when the sun does come out.

Here are some titles to get you in the mood! 

Dublin Bookbinding Styles

Ornate bookcoverWhat design features come to mind when we think of 18th-century Dublin? Terraces and squares of classical houses with individual fanlights over each hall door, ornate plasterwork ceilings created by Italian stucco workers, elaborately chased Dublin silverware? Certainly, but perhaps not so well known is one of the quintessential and recognizably “Dublin” elements of design, which can be seen in the fine bookbindings carried out by master craftsmen throughout the century.

Utilitarian sheep and calf bindings were surpassed as the century progressed and gilt ornamentation was given free rein. Fine morocco or goatskin was used in rich deep colours of dark red, crimson, green and sometimes, but more rarely, blue, often with cream leather inlays. However, it was the variety and sophistication of the gold tooling that was characteristic of the finest bindings.

Let the Wild Rumpus Start!

Where the Wild Things areMy daughter texted me yesterday...'Maurice Sendak died!'. If she had been at home we would probably have re-read Sendak's classic 'Where the Wild Things Are' and acted out a 'Wild Rumpus' for old times sake. She might even have donned a variation of a wolf suit (as a child she dressed for half a year as Robin Hood and another half a year as Batman, so she has form). Instead, we made do with watching YouTube clips and following #wildrumpus on Twitter.

Stephen King is King

11.22.63Recent winner in the mystery/thriller category of the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes for his novel '11.22.63', Stephen King is a name so well known that little introduction is needed; think The Shining, Carrie, It, Misery, Christine, Pet Sematary, Salem's Lot, Insomnia, to name just a few. I think it interesting that he has won this award insofar as I have seen it said that in the past critics have not viewed him as a serious writer. But whatever the views of the critics past or present, such a view if it is held has never detracted from his popularity with the reader.

As an aside, also nominated in this category was Irish author Eoin Colfer for his book, 'Plugged', and the subject of a previous post here on our blog.

'11.22.63' is the story of a time traveller from 2011, a young teacher from Lisbon Falls, Maine, who gets the chance to prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy by Lee Harvey Oswald. 

Rocks in the Belly by Jon Bauer

Rocks in the Belly'Rocks in the Belly' by Jon Bauer came to my attention when it was shortlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award 2012.  As I read this book, I found its subject matter dark, deep and somewhat disturbing. But the plot is free flowing and gripping and the characters are interesting, intense and realistic. Though the character of "Auntie Deadly" does not feature prominently in the story, the author cleverly uses imagery to help create a lasting impression of this person in the readers mind. 

The author also has the ability to draw the reader into commonplace situations which helped me get to know the characters very well. Jon Bauer cleverly creates a sense of foreboding throughout the book. The plot in Rocks in the Belly moves from the life of the narrator as an eight year old boy and his life as an adult. I can sometimes find it hard to read books that move from the past to the present and I can sometimes lose my way in the plot. But the author does this superbly and clearly and it gives an added dimension to the plot and contributes greatly to the storyline. 

The Testament of Jessie Lamb Wins Science Fiction Award

The Testament of Jessie LambBritish novelist Jane Rogers has won the UK's top science fiction prize, the Arthur C Clarke Award, for her novel 'The Testament of Jessie Lamb'. Rogers has been a prize winner before, but this is her first venture into science fiction. The book was also on the longlist for the Man Booker Prize last year.

'The Testament of Jessie Lamb' is the story of a 16-year old girl who wants to save humanity after an act of biological terrorism releases a deadly virus which only affects pregnant women. It would seem that the book is  somewhat of a surprise but popular winner.

Of James and John

Mural in Cannery Row - the only remains of the fish canneries today

As Dublin: One City, One Book 2012 draws to a close and we come to the end of 'Dubliners', I am thinking back to last month when I was in California and stopped in Monterey at Cannery Row. This is the background of one of my favourite authors, John Steinbeck, and set me thinking about these writers and where they come from.

James Joyce and John Steinbeck - both world renowned writers, both part of the very fabric of their home place, and both the authors of seriously weighty, literary novels.

Steinbeck had his first success with a lighter work, 'Tortilla Flat', a series of humorous stories about the paisanos who lived around the fish canneries of Monterey just after WW1.

Right: Mural in Cannery Row - the only remains of the fish canneries today.

Shopping for books in Dublin: 1782

Rocque's Map of Dublin 1756

Of all the wonderful shops in the city I love the bookshops best. In the past they congregated in Skinner Row, but now, since the mid 1770s, they have more visible presences on Dame Street and in the little courts off it. I love the way they display their new publications outside the front door or pinned to the door post. You can smell the fresh ink and feel the lovely texture of the new paper. I love the leisurely atmosphere as readers slowly work their way around the shop examining all the exciting new books and pamphlets.

Dublin City: 1780

Rocque Map of Dublin 1756I feel at home in the 18th century. I’ve no desire to live here permanently, without 21st-century comforts and modern medicine, but to come as a visitor to a beloved destination. I am acquainted with many of Dublin’s citizens through their writings and through newspaper reports of their actions and concerns. I feel I know them well, I know their wives or husbands, and their children, and I know what they enjoyed to read, which gives me an insight into their minds and hearts. The layout of the city is also familiar to me and I can make my way around without getting lost, or feeling like an alien.

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