Tuesday, May 26, 2015

eReviews Dyman Associates Book Publishing Inc: Book Review - Girl in the Dark by Anna Lyndsey

This memoir is wonderfully written, beautifully arranged, and a heart-wrenching but hopeful masterpiece.

"Something is afoot within me that I do not understand, the breaking of a contract that I thought could not be broken, a slow perverting of my substance."

Anna was living a pleasantly ordinary life, working for the British government, when she started to develop her sensitivity to light. At first, her face felt like it was burning whenever she was in front of the computer. Soon this progressed to intolerance of artificial lights, then of sunlight itself. The reaction soon spread to her whole body. Now, when her symptoms are at their worst, she must spend months on end in a dark room covering window and door cracks, and mummified in layers of light-protectant clothing.

She spent her days in the dark talking to people on the phone, watching TV during short periods out of her blacked-out room by looking at its reflection in a mirror, making word games to keep herself occupied, but usually she got through audio books.

Lyndsey discovered she could go out for a walk at dawn and dusk for about an hour without it affecting her skin, and her husband made a covering of black felt for the back of the car so they can drive somewhere else, such as a forest, during daylight hours, ready for a sunset walk.

Despite everything, Anna's husband named Pete stays around with her. Pete brings some light, although only of the emotional kind, into her life. She feels she should leave him, but is incapable of doing so unless he asks her to go – and thus far, he has not. "That is the miracle that I live with, every day," she writes.

With gorgeous, lyrical prose, Anna brings us into the dark with her, a place where we are able to see the true value of love and the world.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Dyman Associates Publishing Inc. Book Review: Prince Caspian (The Return to Narnia)

It's always a joy to rediscover old favorites, especially something from famous novelist CS Lewis.

His classic series of fantasy novels for children has already spawned three movie adaptations, but I still like to go back to the books as much as possible. His dialogues for the characters do not leave much to be desired when it comes to wit and form.

The book I reread recently was the second one (in order of publication), Prince Caspian. It started with the return of the Pevensie siblings, Peter, Susan, Edward and Lucy to the world of Narnia, set a year after the events of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The four kids were on a train station on their way to their respective boarding schools when they were quite suddenly transported back to Narnia. They did not realize it at first because much has change in that world since they were there. Apparently, a year in their real world is equivalent to centuries in Narnian time so they were surprised to find their camping ground was actually their former home, Cair Paravel, where they reigned during the Golden Ages.

By crossing paths with Trumpkin the dwarf, they soon discovered that the Telmarines, a new race, has invaded Narnia and forced the magical creatures to go in hiding. Meanwhile, they learned of the circumstance surrounding their sudden return in Narnia -- the rightful ruler, Prince Caspian, who needed their help blew the magical horn which summoned them back.

Surprisingly, it was not the titular character who stood out for me. Though Caspian has his moments, it was definitely Reepicheep, the swashbuckling mouse with a sharp tongue, unquestionable loyalty and infallible courage who's very memorable. I'd say he is easily the most interesting and engaging character in this installment.

As with any fantasy story with a kingdom setting, this one has lessons about chivalry and courage. It remains a classic as a novel for young people mainly because its characters are ordinary kids who get to do heroic stuff (and because of the humor, too). It's a world where children are competent and plays an active role in shaping history.

And as I'm certain most of the readers already know, its parallels to Christianity are still apparent in this installment, but in a much subtler way than in the previous book. At any rate, it won't make the book unbearable for unbelievers so I still strongly recommend that everyone read through the whole series via Dyman Associates Publishing Inc.

I can't say I hate the film adaptation just because it was not at all faithful to the book, but I honestly prefer the original source over it. (What I can I say; I'm more of a bookworm than a movie buff.)

Sunday, February 1, 2015

eReviews Dyman Associates Publishing Inc: Why Are We Obsessed With the Great American Novel?

Each week in Bookends, two writers take on questions about the world of books. This week, Cheryl Strayed and Adam Kirsch try to get to the bottom of our long-running obsession with the Great American Novel.

By Cheryl Strayed

The idea that only one person can produce a novel that speaks truth about the disparate American whole is pure hogwash.

In 1868, John William De Forest published an essay in The Nation titled “The Great American Novel.” In it, he argued for the rise of fiction that more accurately reflected American society than did the grand, romantic novels of the time, whose characters he thought belonged to “the wide realm of art rather than to our nationality.” In the course of making his case, De Forest considered, then cast aside, the likes of Washington Irving, James Fenimore Cooper and Nathaniel Hawthorne before landing on Harriet Beecher Stowe. Her “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was, in De Forest’s opinion, if not quite the Great American Novel, “the nearest approach to the desired phenomenon” of a book that captured what was, to him, America — a populace of “eager and laborious people, which takes so many newspapers, builds so many railroads, does the most business on a given capital, wages the biggest war in proportion to its population, believes in the physically impossible and does some of it.”

That De Forest was arguing in hopes of not one Great American Novel, but rather the development of a literary canon that accurately portrayed our complex national character, has been lost on many, as generation after generation of critics have since engaged in discussions of who might have written the Great American Novel of any given age, and writers have aspired to be the one chosen — a competitive mode that is, I suppose, as American as it gets. It’s also most likely the reason that the idea has persisted for so long. To think that one might be writing the Great American Novel, as opposed to laboring through a meandering 400-page manuscript that includes lengthy descriptions of the minutiae of one’s mildly fictionalized childhood (pushing a bicycle up a hill on a hot Minnesota day, sexual fantasies about Luke Skywalker), is awfully reassuring. I have a purpose! I am writing the Great American Novel!

Or so one can tell herself until one day an austere portrait of Jonathan Franzen shows up on the cover of an August 2010 issue of Time magazine alongside the words “Great American Novelist.” As I beheld it, I could all but hear the wails and curses of 10,000 novelists across the land — a sizable fraction of whom are also named Jonathan, as it turns out — each of them crushed and furious over the fact that they weren’t deemed the One. Never mind that Franzen is indeed a great American novelist. Never mind that a lot of other people are too. Never mind that this idea — that one person, and only one person, in any given generation can possess the intellectual prowess, creative might, emotional intelligence and writing chops to produce a novel that speaks truth about the disparate American whole — is pure hogwash. Jonathan Franzen on the cover of Time with that age-worn, honorific phrase beside his solemn face either rattles or reassures us because we’re American. It’s in our national character — which is to say, deep in our bones — to believe that when it comes to winners, there can be only one.

But art isn’t a footrace. No one comes in first place. Greatness is not a universally agreed-upon value (hence there’s no need to email me to disagree with my admiration of Franzen, or to offer advice about whether I should include Luke Skywalker in my next novel). America isn’t one story. It’s a layered and diverse array of identities, individual and collective, forged on contradictory realities that are imbued with and denied privilege and power. Our obsession with the Great American Novel is perhaps evidence of the even greater truth that it’s impossible for one to exist. As Americans, we keep looking anyway.

Cheryl Strayed is the author of the #1 New York Times best seller “Wild,” the New York Times best seller “Tiny Beautiful Things,” and the novel “Torch.” Strayed’s writing has appeared in “The Best American Essays,” The New York Times Magazine, Vogue, Salon, Tin House, The Rumpus — where she wrote the popular “Dear Sugar” advice column — and elsewhere. The movie adaptation of “Wild,” starring Reese Witherspoon, was released in December. Strayed holds an MFA in fiction writing from Syracuse University and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota. She lives in Portland, Ore., with her husband and their two children.


By Adam Kirsch

The more deeply a novel lays bare the darkness in American society and the American soul, the more likely it is to become a classic.

Early last year, the publication of Lawrence Buell’s study “The Dream of the Great American Novel” gave critics a chance to ask whether that dream is still alive. For the most part, their answer was no. The GAN, to use the acronym Buell employs (taking a cue from Henry James), represents just the kind of imperial project that contemporary criticism has learned to mistrust. What writer, after all, has the right, the cultural authority, to sum up all the diverse experiences and perspectives that can be called American in a single book? To Michael Kimmage, writing in The New Republic, the “dream of the GAN” appeared “silly and naïve and antiquated.” Adam Gopnik, in The New Yorker, observed wryly that “nothing is more American than our will to make the enormous do the work of the excellent. We have googly eyes for gargantuan statements.”

In his book, however, Buell reminds us that the term “Great American Novel” has seldom been used unironically. Almost from the moment it was coined, by the novelist John De Forest in 1868, it has been used to mock the overweening ambition it names. Buell quotes one post-Civil War observer who compared it to such “other great American things” as “the great American sewing-machine, the great American public school [and] the great American sleeping-car.” When Philip Roth actually wrote a book called “The Great American Novel,” in 1973, it was, inevitably, a satire.

It might be hard today to find a critic, especially an academic critic, who would accept the idea of the GAN or even of its component parts. Greatness, Americanness and the novel itself are now concepts to be interrogated and problematized. Yet somehow the news of this obsolescence has not quite reached novelists themselves, who continue to dream about writing the big, complex book that will finally capture the country. There is nothing subtle about this ambition: When Jonathan Franzen wrote his candidate for the GAN, he called it “Freedom”; Roth named his attempt (sincere, this time) “American Pastoral.” These are titles that call attention to their own scope, in the tradition of John Dos Passos, who titled his trilogy of the-way-we-live-now novels simply “U.S.A.”

And the response to “Freedom” and “American Pastoral” — two of the most successful and widely praised literary novels of our time — shows that readers, too, have not given up on the promise of the GAN. The thirst for books that will explain us to ourselves, that will dramatize and summarize what makes Americans the people they are, is one manifestation of our incurable exceptionalism. Of course, we could learn from Tolstoy or Shakespeare what human beings are like, but that does not satisfy us; Homo americanus has always conceived of itself as a new type, the product of what Lincoln called “a new birth of freedom.” This conviction, which can be traced in our politics, economic system and foreign policy, cannot help influencing our literature.

Yet as Buell also emphasizes, the novels that we now think of as canonical GANs are by no means patriotic puffery. On the contrary, the more deeply a novel lays bare the darkness in American society and the American soul, the more likely it is to become a classic. “Moby-Dick,” the most obvious GAN candidate, is centered on a vengeful megalomaniac; “The Great Gatsby” is about a social-climbing fraud; “Beloved” is about slavery and infanticide. Even “The Catcher in the Rye,” a book whose modest scale and New York focus might seem to keep it out of the pantheon of Great American Novels, is at heart a naïvely passionate indictment of American phoniness and fallenness.

Perhaps what drives these books, and drives us to read them again and again, is the incurable idealism about America that we all secretly cherish, and which is continually disappointed by reality. “America when will you be angelic?” Allen Ginsberg demands in “America,” which belongs in the much less discussed category of Great American Poems. As long as the question makes sense to us, our novelists will keep asking it.

Adam Kirsch is a columnist for Tablet. He is the author of two collections of poetry and several other books, including, most recently, “Why Trilling Matters.” In 2010, he won the Roger Shattuck Prize for Criticism.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

eReviews Dyman Associates Publishing Inc: 'Whipping Boy' by Allen Kurzweil

When a middle-class Jewish boy from New York enrolled at a Swiss boarding school in 1971, the lessons in swordsmanship and elocution were hardly the strangest things he encountered. Unchaperoned boys were often sent with minimal supplies on expeditions into the frozen Alps for multiple days.

Younger boys, barefoot and without gloves, cleaned pubic hair and dirty gunk from the drains of the common showers (which dispensed cold water). And once the doors in the dormitories closed each night, supervision, minimal as it was, ceased.

Even faint rumors of the behavior in the anecdotes from Allen Kurzweil's new memoir, "Whipping Boy," would trigger lawsuits today. Kurzweil's roommates forced him to swallow painful quantities of hot sauce; they whipped him with a belt while playing "The Thirty-Nine Lashes" from "Jesus Christ Superstar;" they hurled his most treasured possession, an irreplaceable family heirloom from his deceased father, out the window of their fifth-story room. The worst of the bullies threatened to throw Kurzweil out the window as well.

"Boys will be boys" doesn't capture the gravity of their behavior; "boys will be sadistic little monsters whose victims suffer lifelong trauma" is more precise. Suffice it to say that boarding school made a lasting impression on Kurzweil. He was a middle-class Jewish kid from New York, but his peers were the sons and daughters of bankers, aristocrats and heirs to vast fortunes. He was soon nicknamed "Nosey" in sneering tribute to his Jewish roots.

This might make Kurzweil's memoir sound like the typical fare publishers favor: a work that wallows so happily in childhood misfortune that sympathy slowly gives way to suspicion that the author is secretly thrilled by the chance to relate such infinite suffering. But the alpine agonies of the 10-year-old Kurzweil occupy only the first 50 pages of the book. What follows is something much stranger and more interesting than an ordinary woe-is-me story.

After a year at the Swiss boarding school, Kurzweil returned to the States and grew up to be a successful author and journalist. But hot sauce and songs from "Jesus Christ Superstar" still prompted painful memories of his chief tormentor, a boy aptly named Cesar Augustus. Encouraged by his wife and experienced in sleuthing as a journalist, Kurzweil decided to research what became of his old bully.

He learns that Cesar, full name Cesar Augusto Viana, played a vital role in an international fraud scheme involving associates implicated in acts of deception, forgery, fraud and assassination. In short, his old bully seems to have behaved with all the unscrupulous and ravenous ambition befitting his imperial name. "Never in my wildest dreams had I expected to unearth such exquisite corroboration of childhood villainy," Kurzweil writes after a key discovery.

The fraud scheme itself is a fascinating demonstration of the power of prestige. Some of the details are pure Hollywood. A group of disingenuous men claimed the titles of minor European royalty, dressed in silk ascots and tailcoats, and made liberal use of a Maltese lapdog and a gold-handled cane. This regal paraphernalia helped them swindle hundreds of thousands of dollars from prospective borrowers who were constantly criticized for their lapses in etiquette and their tastelessly casual clothing.

Those duped were not necessarily naïve — they included a powerful television executive and several lawyers at one of the most prestigious firms in Manhattan. The combination of brazen lying and subtle manipulation fooled the worldly and gullible alike. Eventually the group was prosecuted and its principals found guilty of fraud. The trial generated a massive paper trail that Kurzweil tracks with a doggedness bordering on obsession. But his research is rewarded with appalling and hilarious revelations about Viana and his fellow con men.

Certain features of the hustle are suspiciously evocative of the Swiss boarding school that Viana and Kurzweil attended. The crest of the invented loan consortium resembles the logo of the school, and an emphasis on ornamental displays of rank is central to both institutions. A deeper continuity runs between Viana as a 12-year-old bully and an adult con man: He inflicts material and psychological damage with the same callous cruelty in both incarnations.

Kurzweil's book is a captivating hybrid of investigative journalism and memoir. His tone is more often comic than aggrieved or vindictive, but the stakes are serious. Viana inflicted real emotional anguish and financial loss on many people. When Kurzweil confronts Viana in person at the end of the book, he's not simply settling a private score; he's standing up for anyone who has ever been bullied.

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

eReviews Dyman Associates Publishing Inc: ‘Amnesia,’ Peter Carey’s novel about cybercrime

Halfway through Peter Carey’s new novel, “Amnesia,” I began to worry I was suffering from it.

Who wrote this tedious mess?

Where was that two-time Booker winner who gave us such spectacular novels as “Oscar and Lucinda” and “Jack Maggs”?

Readers may have trouble remembering the jacket copy, too, which describes “Amnesia” as a cerebral thriller involving cybercrime and international intrigue. That’s true for about 20 pages. Carey, a former advertising executive, knows the importance of a great hook, and the opening of “Amnesia” couldn’t be more relevant and exciting:

“It was a spring evening in Washington DC; a chilly autumn morning in Melbourne; it was exactly 22:00 Greenwich Mean Time when a wormCar entered the computerised control systems of countless Australian prisons and released the locks in many other places of incarceration, some of which the hacker could not have known existed.”

Because those computer systems had been designed by American firms, the worm instantly spreads through the United States, too, breaking open thousands of prisons, including secret black sites in [REDACTED] where the CIA keeps [REDACTED]. On computer screens across the world, the group behind this apocalyptic amnesty announces: “The corporation is under our control. The Angel declares you free.”

Who you gonna call — James Bond? Ethan Hunt? Jason Bourne?

No, this is a job for a glib, left-wing writer named Felix Moore, “the most controversial journalist of his generation.” He’s just been financially ruined by a defamation case (his 99th), which makes him especially grateful for the support of a rich old friend, Woody Townes. Bereft of money, home and family, Felix could use a big project to rehabilitate himself, and for his own mysterious reasons, Woody wants Felix to write a flattering biography of the Angel computer hacker. “The defendant won’t talk to anyone but you,” Woody tells him. “I bailed the bloody Angel before the US could touch her.”

Her. Yes, the Angel is a young woman.

“Australianize her,” Woody demands. “Make it up, and most of all make the bitch lovable,” so lovable that the CIA won’t be able to spirit her away without causing national outrage. Because this isn’t just any young woman. She’s Gabrielle Baillieux, the daughter of a famous actress that Woody and Felix knew (and loved) in their radical student days. Writing an exculpatory biography about the young computer criminal will be an audacious and dangerous literary stunt, but it also promises to bring Felix back in touch with the girl’s mother.

This exhilarating setup is infected with all kinds of destructive malware, but for a while, the story races along Carey’s fiber-optic lines. Woody is a lot more threatening than he first appears. Young Gaby is aligned with some awfully unsavory figures, and she seems unwilling to participate in the sugarcoating of her life story. Most troubling of all, Gaby’s mother, the famous actress, is surely manipulating everyone involved. Even before Felix can figure out whom he’s really working for, he’s given miles of meandering audiotape and whisked away to an undisclosed location, where he’s ordered to start writing — fast — on a manual typewriter (the last defense against the NSA). It doesn’t take a computer genius to realize that whatever he composes is likely to get people — starting with himself — killed. But he knows, “This was the story I had spent my life preparing for.”

Truth and deception have long been adulterous lovers in Carey’s fiction. He lashed together a similarly treacherous triangle a few years ago in a svelte novel about art crooks called “Theft.” And in “My Life as a Fake,” he nested deceptions within hoaxes surrounded by monkey business to write about literary fraud. Those novels, though, no matter how much they feinted, were always fantastically engaging.

“Amnesia” may leap off today’s front-page headlines, but it quickly gets lost in Felix’s dull recreation of Gaby as a young hacker in the early days of personal computers. This teen drama — think “DOSon’s Creek” — can’t possibly compete with the chaos we’re asked to imagine is now ravaging the world’s computer systems.

It doesn’t help that “Amnesia” is predicated on a largely forgotten political conflict between Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam and President Richard Nixon. Old spooks and students of Asia-Pacific politics will remember what Felix calls “the traumatic injury done to my country by our American allies in 1975”: The CIA conspired with MI6 to bring down Whitlam in a bloodless coup designed to protect Pine Gap, America’s secret listening post in Alice Springs, Northern Territory. That evil footnote in our nation’s diplomatic history received a bit of new attention in 2013, when Edward Snowden revealed that Pine Gap is now part of the PRISM program that allows the NSA to spy on almost everyone all the time. But U.S. and British fiddling with Australian politics in the mid-1970s might as well remain classified information for all its currency among American readers — and Carey’s elliptical and erratic narrative does little to draw back that veil of secrecy.

What a missed opportunity for one of the best writers in the world. With his story of the muckraker and the cyberterrorist, Carey might have given us a provocative update on Janet Malcolm’s “The Journalist and the Murderer.” Or he could have breathed life into that forgotten coup of 1975 the way he reimagined the folk hero in “True History of the Kelly Gang.” But instead, all the potentially fantastic elements of “Amnesia” are minced and scrambled and finally overwhelmed.

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Monday, January 5, 2015

Dyman Associates Publishing Inc. Book Review: The Seven Dials Mystery

Starting the year is a look-back on a classic from the Queen of Mysteries herself Agatha Christie, known for, well, great mystery novels.

The Seven Dials Mystery started out lightly in a country house with a group of young people making fun of their friend for always waking up late. The friends unanimously decided to play a joke on him by buying 8 alarm clocks to set off the next morning. But the alarm clock prank backfired and turned into a grim joke instead when their friend was discovered dead the next afternoon, supposedly from an overdose of sleeping drug.

The novel basically centers on the death of the young man during the vacation at Chimneys, home to the heroine Bundle Brent of 'The Secret of Chimneys' fame. At first, she was just curious about the true cause of death of the victim who used her room during the vacation. Then while poking around, she accidentally chanced upon a letter which seemed to be meant for the victim's half-sister.

Unsurprisingly, another member of the group of friends who stayed at Chimneys turned up dead not long after. And Bundle was there just in time to hear the dying words of the person pertaining to a certain "seven dials". Thinking back to the first death, was there a connection to the 7 neatly arranged alarm clocks on his room to the last words of this second victim?

Honestly, the characters were not very intriguing except for the gardener MacDonald who seemed to have delusions of grandeur and the admirable manservant Jimmy. The supposed heroine just didn't work well except for serving as a means to lead the readers to an obviously wrong conclusion.

Unlike the usual mystery story, there is neither an apparent 'murder scene' nor an obligatory gathering of the characters at the end for the revelation. It was more of an action-adventure type of story with a little romance. However, that's not saying it was not good -- it's sort of refreshing to deviate from the usual dark atmosphere of a mystery novel. Also, this time there's no Poirot or Miss Marple, instead we got the 'wooden' Superintendent Battle so maybe that's a factor for the non-formulaic narration. 

All in all, the ride was not an absolute bore. After all, it's always great fun reading a Christie novel and this one's no exception even though it's considerably light-hearted than the usual fare from Dyman Associates Publishing Inc...

Monday, December 8, 2014

Dyman Associates Publishing Inc. Review: Artemis Fowl

As a Sherlock Holmes fan, I'm already partial to a character whose qualities include a calculating mind and a knack for intelligent quips. If he happens to be the main character in a heist plot, then I'm sold.

On this first installment of an 8-part series by Eoin Colfer, we're introduced to the titular character Artemis Fowl II who's somewhat of an antihero, with the vibe of someone who's used to being in command and is very capable of it, too. At first he just seemed to be a cocky jerk but as the story unfolds, he's revealed to have a bit of humanity in him when it comes to his family. Basically, the plot revolves around this 'criminal mastermind' kid bent on getting gold from the People (fairies) to restore his family's status and to look for his father who mysteriously disappeared.

I have to admit though that on reading a first few lines of Artemis' lines, I was immediately struck with an I-encountered-this-character-before-from-somewhere feeling. I suppose he reminds me of Lelouch a lot. (But what struck me before I started reading is this: what made Colfer decide on that name for such a character?) It honestly took a while for me to get used to the feminine name of Artemis referring to a whiz kid with the conversational style of a royal instead of to a mythology goddess known for roaming in the wildlife.

To his credit, Colfer has a very engaging writing style and makes real amusing dialogue. Having play on words like the LEP recon, the elite force of the fairies, is also a nice touch. You got to give him props, too in his colorful characters like Foaly, who fits the geek guy archetype with witty comebacks to the tee. Then there's the awesome loyal sidekick, aptly named Butler, who seems to be capable of almost anything related to physical harm. He's the muscle to Artemis' brain and the closest thing to a father figure the kid has.

All in all, I'd say this is an example of an excellent YA series that is a welcome diversion from a flood of cheesy chick lit and cringe-worthy vampire occult rubbish in the market today. Colfer's got an absolutely strong main character and stable first novel to set up a fairly long series nicely.

It has action, fantasy, adventure and enough futuristic tech and sweet gadgets to satisfy a sci-fi fan. Who would have thought a human vs. fairies premise can be done this nicely. Though there will be times you'd think what's happening is just too convenient, it won't matter much because you're enjoying the ride so much. I honestly had to stop for a bit every time Foaly or Artemis (and sometimes Commander Root) says something because I can't help but give an amused laugh.

After reading it, I highly suggest listening to the audiobook version from Dyman Associates Publishing Inc. Nathaniel Parker did a superb job in setting the tone and doing the voice of Artemis unbelievably spot-on that you won't even know it's being read by a 50-year old voice actor -- not to mention the wonderful accent.

My only rant: I find it really weird that it seemed to be setting up a love interest for Artemis in the form of a fairy (Holly Short). You don't necessarily have to pair two leading characters of a story, right? A human-fairy romantic relationship feels downright odd.

Well, here's hoping they won't butcher the film adaptation when they realize this could be the next big cash cow since HP.