Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Neil Gaiman!

Congratulations to Neil Gaiman for recently winning the Carnegie Medal (the U.K.'s most prestigious prize in Children's Literature) for his novel The Graveyard Book. I've heard so many great things about The Graveyard Book, and I'm looking forward to picking up a copy one of these days. The book is about a toddler who wanders into a graveyard where ghosts and other supernatural residents agree to raise him as one of their own.
In addition to the Carnegie Medal, one of Gaiman's short stories, "Songs of the Dying Earth" won best short story at the Locus Awards, which is strictly for science fiction and fantasy.
Gaiman has always impressed me with his unparalleled imagination and sheer inventiveness. His ideas may be strange or downright weird at times, but they always challenge the reader's sense of believability in the best way possible. I'm a huge fan of Gaiman's comic books The Sandman series (which, apparently, you can now read on your iPhone using the comixology app...I needed another thing to suck away my life), as well as Stardust and American Gods. He definitely deserves recognition as one of the best children's/young adult authors of our time. Make sure you watch his acceptance speech.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The New Yorker's 20 Writers Under 40

The New Yorker's Summer Fiction Issue features twenty talented young writers who "capture the inventiveness and the vitality of contemporary American fiction." You can find the writers here, as well as read their Q. & A.'s and links to their winning stories. I was thrilled to see that both Jonathan Safran Foer (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Everything is Illuminated, Eating Animals) and his wife, Nicole Strauss (Man Walks Into a Room and The History of Love), made the cut. They are two of my favorite authors, and definitely represent "inventiveness" and originality in their works as well as simply beautiful prose. Strauss' Q.& A. is particularly interesting because she provides some insight into her new book Great House, which will be published this October. Her winning story, "The Young Painters" is an excerpt from this novel. Definitely read it if you have a few minutes to spare!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Dreamtigers, by Jorge Luis Borges

"... he thought that the rose was to be found in its own eternity and not in his words; and that we may mention or allude to a thing, but not express it."

After enjoying a few of Borges' short stories, I wanted to read more of him. Dreamtigers was a compulsive buy last week when Andy and I went to Barnes and Noble just as it was about to close. I usually spend a significant amount of time researching and deliberating over a book before purchasing it, but this slim volume immediately caught my eye. Mortimer J. Adler called Dreamtigers "one of the literary masterpieces of the twentieth century," and it is said to be Borges' most personal work.

The book is composed of poetry and short prose sketches (other reviews have called them "parables"). Though these pieces are on a variety of topics, from toenails to Shakespeare, they are unified by threads of Borges' insight. Borges treats this book as a kind of sketchbook illustrating his own philosophical thoughts: time, human nature, and perceptions of self are recurring topics. He also uses this book as an opportunity to engage in dialogues with the masters--comparisons between Homer's blindness and his own failing sight are made, and he also devotes several pieces to Shakespeare and Don Quixote.

I really enjoyed this book, and I'm glad I read it. I'm excited to read more Borges, in particular his master work Ficciones. The prose pieces in Dreamtigers were phenomenal. The poems were interesting as well, but did not illicit the same breathless response. This is when I wish I could read Spanish fluently, as I suspect the poems are better in the original language. The translator kept rhyming schemes intact, and I suspect that this might at times weakened the verse.

At only 96 pages, this is not a long book. That does not mean, however, that it is a light read. What strikes me most about Borges is his ability to pack so much into a single sentence. Every sentence is needed, every sentence has a purpose. The book might be small but it is certainly dense and will have you asking questions long after you finish it.