Before he began to write novels that would earn him public recognition, Gaiman wrote comic books and graphic novels. The Sandman graphic novels (1989-1996), initially published by D C Comics and later by Vertigo, were particularly popular with a total of 75 issues. The Sandman is about an all-powerful being called Dream, also named Morpheus. He is one of seven god-like siblings who have always existed, and who exert their influence on our world. The series follows Morpheus, who has been the prisoner of a group of wizards for 70 years. Once he escapes, he must find several powerful objects that will allow him to exact revenge upon his enemies. Along the way he must also face up to his mistakes, and find a way to reclaim his kingdom of dreams.
Norman Mailer once described The Sandman as "a comic strip for intellectuals." Among its many awards it was included in Entertainment Weekly's list of 100 best reads from 1983 to 2008, and issue 19 won a World Fantasy Award for Best Short Fiction in 1999 (the only graphic novel to have ever won the award). It is also one of a very few graphic novels to have been on The New York Times bestseller list.
Although Issue #75 was to mark the end of the series, many mini-series and one-off publications related to The Sandman have been published since, most not written by Gaiman. However, in July 2012 Gaiman announced that he had one untold story to tell - a prequel to the series explaining how Morpheus came to be captured. In late June 2013, it was announced that The Sandman: Overture will be published in six monthly issues beginning Oct 30, 2013, with art by J.H. Williams III.
Gaiman has family ties to the Church of Scientology. His childhood religious upbringing was quite unusual; his Jewish great-grandfather immigrated from Poland to England in the early 1900s, and his immediate (and extended) family were practicing Jews until Gaiman was around 4 years old. That was when his parents became interested in Scientology. When Neil was five the family moved to East Grinstead, where the UK headquarters of Scientology is located. His parents studied Dianetics (a set of metaphysical ideas and practices created by L Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology), and raised their children in the Church of Scientology, while continuing to uphold observations of Jewish faith. Gaiman commented, in a BBC-TV interview (Meet the Author, June 17, 2013), that during this time he was also attending a grammar school run by the Church of England. He indicates that it was not confusing, but that it gave him many traditions to draw from.
Apparently, his mother (who was a pharmacist) opened a shop that specialized in Scientology-endorsed supplements and health regimens and his father began working for the Scientology organization doing public relations. A BBC interview was conducted with Neil at age 7 (available only in transcript), in which he tried to explain what he was learning as a young Scientologist. The intricacies of Scientology are hard to understand if you have not been educated in it, and poor Neil seemed to have had a hard time explaining it. Nevertheless, the transcript is said to have been used as a publicity tool by the Church of Scientology. Gaiman's father continued to rise in the hierarchy of the organization until his death in 2009 and, according to many reports, Gaiman's sisters are still Scientologists, as is Gaiman's first wife, Mary McGrath (more about McGrath below). Gaiman himself does not like to talk about his religious beliefs, although he has been clear in saying he is not a Scientologist.
If you're looking for a book or two to pack into the beach bag this summer, look no further! Here are a dozen exceptional books that have already published in hardcover and ebook that will release in paperback in July and August (which also means that the ebook price will likely be reduced too).
Two Well-Known Authors
Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan
Paperback: 2 Jul 2013,
"Sweet Tooth is, in part, a fictionalized memoir of the literary scene in the 1970s (based quite heavily on McEwan's own experiences as a university student and as a young short story writer; the novel includes cameos by a handful of his friends and mentors) and a breathy piece of escapist spy fiction. McEwan is not John le Carre, however, and so the most intriguing aspects of McEwan's novel are not about espionage per se, but rather about the ways in which writers of realistic fiction, by mining their own lives and the lives of those around them, are, in themselves, the craftiest and most artful spies of all." - Norah Piehl Full review, excerpt etc
Dear Life: Stories by Alice Munro
Paperback: 30 Jul 2013,
"Alice Munro writes with an almost invisible, crystalline style that rarely incorporates common literary devices like simile or metaphor. The height of Munro's flourish is a bit of repetition or delicate hints at vernacular language. This clarity allows for a closer proximity to the characters, who speak and act in the straightforward manner of a moment or memory rather than the formality of a performance." - Elizabeth Whitmore Funk.
Alice Munro recently announced that she plans to retire from writing. If you're new to her writing, this would be a great place to start; if you're already old friends, don't miss what will likely be her last book. Full review, excerpt etc
by Roshi Fernando
Paperback: 2 Jul 2013,
"In the end, Homesick emerges as a moving and powerful novel about Sri Lankans in England. In showcasing her characters' everyday anxieties and triumphs, Fernando effectively portrays a slice of humanity we can all - immigrants or not - identify with readily. It is this empathy that Fernando manages to elicit from her readers and that makes Homesick such a compelling, triumphant debut." - Poornima Apte Full review, excerpt etc
by Claire Vaye Watkins
Paperback: 6 Aug 2013,
"Throughout the collection, the stories and their characters convey feelings of loss and regret, for what has - or hasn't - happened to them and to the place where they live, whether globally or more locally. This fear - of smallness, of loss even to the point of extinction - pervades nearly all of the stories. Some are almost painful in their bitterness and brutal in their sparseness. But there's a bleak beauty here too, both in the landscapes Watkins portrays and in the restrained prose she uses to bring this stark place to life for the reader." - Norah Piehl Full review, excerpt etc
Q. "I am trying to get out more and decided to join a book club, in part to get over being socially awkward. I have a tendency to be outgoing, but sometimes in a silly way because of my awkwardness. Can you please provide the top ten guidelines for how one should act and speak in a book club?"- Anne
We get a lot of book-related questions at BookBrowse. Sometimes, when I'm stumped for a response I turn to our wonderful Facebook followers for answers, and they never let me down! Here is their advice for Anne:
Words of Wisdom
"Relax and be yourself. The first time with people you don't know is always nerve wracking. So you are not alone there. Just take a deep breath and if you think you are getting too gidddy just step back and take some deep cleansing breaths and calm yourself down. You will be able to judge how the club is by watching how they act. Some are light and fun while others may be more low key and some may be downright boring from your point of view. Don't give up - if one doesn't work for you then find another. I'm sure they will welcome you with open arms." - Dianne T
"Listen, more than talk, until you get the 'feel' of the group." - Kate M
"Just be yourself and keep trying groups until you find one you are comfortable in. It is great you are getting out! Just accept yourself! You are the only you this world gets to enjoy!" Dorothy B echoes this sentiment adding that that "you should always be yourself, as the more you are 'you' the more comfortable you will become with being who you are, no matter where you are." Mavis D adds that it's okay to be 'shy' until you get the lay of the land, to look for a friendly face and not to be afraid to ask questions about what is acceptable." - Sheila H
"Try to avoid discussions of politics, religion, etc. If you are discussing a possible upcoming book, which you have already read, don't be negative, unless of course it was god-awful." - FE
"I actually have similar issues to the person who asked this question. I am introverted and do have social anxiety which can then become social awkwardness as I 'nervous talk'. Last year, I joined a new in-person book group to help me get out more. Since I love books so much, it's a reassuring comfort zone. I decided to be very upfront about my social anxiety and awkwardness and just told the other group members this is something I struggle with. They were very lovely and supportive, so that was great. But it turns out a lot of people live with these things too. My advice - which I try to remember for my own self each meeting - is to listen well and ensure others are getting a chance to speak and be heard. Sometimes quieter members get talked over by the more outspoken members. I prepare notes beforehand with the things from the book I hope we talk about, or information I have researched in support of the author or book." - Jennifer
Editor's Note: Making notes can be very helpful but keep in mind that many book clubs have been brought to their knees by a member who brings pages of notes and feels the need to speak to them all. I've even heard of book clubs where a member brings a typed book report with them and insists on reading it at the start of the discussion! By all means take notes, but please don't fall into the trap of feeling that you have to express each and every point you've made
And lastly, a note of encouragement from Gayleen T: "I've been part of a book club for a year now - its been a wonderful way to meet new friends and new books that I would not have met otherwise. Being open to learning from others, even if their tastes are quite different has been a key point to having a sense of belonging."
Margie A's Top Ten
Actually read the book.
Don't show up drunk.
Don't sit next to Chatty Cathy, you'll never get a word in.
Bring a chocolatey dessert, like caramel brownies, everyone likes the girl who brings chocolate.
Eat before you come so you're not starving and devouring the snacks.
Think of something from the book that really made an impression on you and speak up early so no one brings it up first.
Compliment others, but not in a fake way.
Get your hair/nails done so you feel your best.
Have a good sense of humor.
Don't fret the small stuff, it's a book club, you're not being judged.
Carrie R's Top 5
Read the book. Sometimes life gets in the way and it's not possible to finish, but the group suffers if you aren't fully able to contribute.
Listen thoughtfully to the other members. All opinions should be welcomed.
Take notes while you're reading. This will help you feel confident & prepared for the discussion.
Stay on topic when you're speaking. There are always tangents, but don't monopolize the meeting.
Enjoy yourself. Being in a book club is a wonderful way to make friends. It's my favorite personal pursuit!
Chaitri D's Top 10:
Explain it simply
Be yourself while doing all this
*I think by correlate Chaitri means to look for connections in what you're reading, perhaps to other books, perhaps to the group's lives)
What advice would you give Anne? Please post below (if you don't see a field to post click here); or respond to the quick poll. The poll is now closed - view the results.
Looking for a book with Jewish content for the teenager in your life? Chances are most of the books you'll find are about the Holocaust. From The Diary of Anne Frank to Sarah's Key to The Book Thief there's endless titles for the teenage (and adult) to choose from. Holocaust stories, despite the horror, make gripping tales of survival. But isn't it all too much? All these Holocaust books can overwhelm a reader. Is there nothing else in Jewish history or culture worth reading about, other than the Holocaust? What about the other centuries of Jewish history, ripe for historical fiction? What about the myriad of stories about contemporary Jewish teens? Where are those books? Well, if you're like me and you've had it with Holocaust tales, here are my top ten Jewish books (in no particular order) for teens and young adults, and the young at heart.
This is a coming-of-age story of Rachel, a girl growing up in a Hasidic town. I love a story about a girl who fights against the grain to wear a bathing suit without a cover-up and secretly reads romance novels. Readers will cheer for Rachel's resistance and independence.
Seventeen year-old Hava Aaronson, an Orthodox Jewish girl, goes to Hollywood for the summer to star on a fictional television show, The Goldbergs. Roth's quirky humorous tale of a girl's first experience away from her Orthodox Jewish world explores questions of faith, God and orthodoxy.
This is a powerful story of abuse in the Chasidic community of Borough Park. When Gittel learns of the abuse her friend suffers by members of her friend's family, she starts to questions everything she was taught to believe. There aren't a lot of books about abuse in the Jewish world and this is a powerfully haunting story.
No list of books for Jewish teens would be complete without this classic. I devoured all of Blume, but re-read Margaret's story with its bust-increasing chants and relationship with God multiple times. A must-read for every puberty-anxious pre-teen.
This was my favourite book as a teenager. It's the story of a Chassidic boy who is a gifted artist and is forced to choose between religion and art. As a teen, all of my knowledge of American history came from Potok's works of fiction. This one exposed me to the plight of post World War Two Jews in the Soviet Union.
Okay so this isn't really a book about a Jewish teenager, but it does take place in Israel and as far as I'm concerned, every teen, (especially every Jewish teen) should read this book about a Palestinian shepherd girl's loss of land to an encroaching Israeli army. It's strong stuff.
This book is exactly what the title proclaims, one woman's memoir of her escape from Orthodoxy, with very scandalous details. While I always suspected a Hasidic lifestyle wasn't for me, after reading Feldman's book, I bristled with feminist rage at the imprisonment of women within the Satmar Hasidic world.
May 12th is Mother's Day in the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and upwards of 70 other countries. But not in the UK where Mother's Day happened almost two months ago in early March - catching me off guard, as it has in many previous years. I've lived in the USA for twenty years but grew up in England, where my parents still live and, despite my best intentions, more years than I'm willing to admit I'm wrong footed by Mother's Day - not least because "Mothering Sunday", as it is traditionally known, is a movable feast, celebrated on the 4th Sunday of Lent, which can be anytime from early March to early April.
You'll find more about the history of Mother's Day in the USA and Mothering Sunday in Britain below, but first whether you're a mother, have a mother, or are just on the hunt for your next great read, here are a few book suggestions to inspire:
"Greene gives the best description I've ever read about what international adoption feels like from the inside, about the agonies of making the decision and choosing a child, and about the ambiguities involved in taking a child out of grim circumstances in the third world and trying to integrate him into an American family by means of Legos and water balloons." - Jennifer G Wilder, BookBrowse
Introduces Evelyn Ryan, an enterprising woman who kept poverty at bay, and her 10 children fed and clothed, with wit, poetry, and perfect prose during the "contest era" of the 1950s and 1960s. Graced with a rare appreciation for life's inherent hilarity, Evelyn turned every financial challenge into an opportunity for fun and profit. From her frenetic supermarket shopping spree -- worth $3,000 today -- to her clever entries worthy of Erma Bombeck, Dorothy Parker, and Ogden Nash, the story of this irrepressible woman whose talents reached far beyond her formidable verbal skills is told in The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio with an infectious joy that shows how a winning spirit will triumph over the poverty of circumstance.
By turns heart-tugging and hilarious, Myron Uhlberg's memoir tells the story of growing up as the hearing son of deaf parents--and his life in a world that he found unaccountably beautiful, even as he longed to escape it.
Uhlberg's first language was American Sign Language, the first sign he learned: "I love you." But his second language was spoken English - and no sooner did he learn it than he was called upon to act as his father's ears and mouth in the stores and streets of the neighborhood beyond their silent apartment in Brooklyn.
"Time, experience, and uncanny coincidence spiral through these pages....When Women Were Birds is an extraordinary echo chamber in which lessons about voice - passed along from mother, to daughter, and now to us - will reverberate differently in each inner ear." - TheSeattle Times
If you've read this book, please do join us to discuss it.
"In The Still Point of the Turning World Emily Rapp examines her son's all-too-brief life - and her own reactions to it - fearlessly and with an honesty that will devastate and astonish not only other parents, but everyone who opens this remarkable book." - Norah Piehl, BookBrowse
"Will Schwalbe's heart-wrenching memoir is difficult to categorize. It is at once a paean to his beloved mother, a treatise on the power of reading, and a handbook on how to live - and die. With direct prose and unflinching courage in the face of sadness, Schwalbe recreates the final months of his mother's life, offering a wealth of insight into how the written word can connect lives." - Sarah Sacha Dollacker, BookBrowse
Well Loved Mystery Series
The great thing about series books is that there's always another book to give. If your recipient's new to the series, give the first book; if they're already fans, give the appropriate book in the series!
"The author's prose has the merits of simplicity, euphony and precision. His descriptions leave one as if standing in the Botswana landscape. This is art that conceals art. I haven't read anything with such alloyed pleasure for a long time." - Anthony Daniels, The Sunday Telegraph
Published in paperback Mar 2013: The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection
Publishing in hardcover Nov 2013: The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon View full series order
Young, feisty Maisie Dobbs has recently set herself up as a private detective. Such a move may not seem especially startling. But this is 1929, and Maisie is exceptional in many ways. Having started as a maid to the London aristocracy, studied her way to Cambridge and served as a nurse in the Great War, Maisie has wisdom, experience and understanding beyond her years. Little does she realze the extent to which this strength of character is soon to be tested.
Published in paperback Oct 2012: Elegy for Eddie
Published in hardcover Mar 2013: Leaving Everything Most Loved View full series order
Meet Inspector Gamache of the Surêté du Québec, who commands his forces--and this series--with integrity and quiet courage while solving unconventional murders in the tradition of the British whodunit.
Publishing in July 2013: The Beautiful Mystery
Publishing in hardcover Aug 2013: How The Light Gets In View full series order
Chechnya has been much in the news this past week due to the two alleged Boston bombers being ethnic Chechens. On the assumption that many of us will be a little rusty with the goings on of this small country in the Caucuses, below is BookBrowse's "beyond the book" article written for Masha Gessen's The Man Without A Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin (2012).
Though it seems that the Tsarnaev brothers had not lived in Chechnya, although the older brother is thought to have visited last year, an understanding of the history of Chechnya is relevant as it explains why hundreds of thousands of ethnic Chechens currently live in countries such as Kyrgyzstan and Dagestan, as did the Tsarnaev family before coming to the USA.
While this article gives you some historic background, to get a glimpse of the humanity of the Chechen people, I strongly recommend Anthony Marra's brilliant debut novel A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, which publishes on May 7.
All About Chechnya
Chechnya lies to the south of the Russian Republic and is bound by Russia on almost all sides - it shares a border with Georgia high in the Caucasus Mountains. The secession attempts following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 are just a couple of many periods of disturbance Chechnya has witnessed. The republic, whose population currently stands at around one million, has been in almost constant battle against foreign rule since at least the 15th century. In fact, the area's original conversion to Sunni Islam may have been in large part so as to receive help from the Ottoman Empire against encroachment by the Russian Empire.
The current resistance has its roots in the late 18th century when Russia expanded its territories into areas formerly under the control of the Ottoman Empire and Persia (Iran) including the Caucasus Mountains. After a prolonged conflict of more than forty years, the area was formally annexed by the Russian Empire in 1859.
Since then, secession attempts have flared up pretty much every time Russia's internal politics have showed signs of weakness - including rebellions during the Russo-Turkish War in the 1870s; the Russo-Persian War (1804-1813), The Russian Revolutions of 1905 and 1917 and the Russian Civil War of 1917-1923.
Under Soviet rule in the 1930s, the oil-rich region of Chechnya was combined with its even smaller neighbor Ingushetia to form the autonomous republic of Checheno-Ingushetia. In 1944, in response to Chech uprisings during World War II, Stalin gave orders that the entire ethnic population of Chechnya and Inguishetia were to be forcibly relocated. Checheno-Ingushetia was dissolved, mosques and graveyards were destroyed, place names changed and vast numbers of historical Chechen texts were burned.
It is estimated that about half of ethnic Chechens died between 1944 and 1948. Checheno-Ingushetia was renamed Grozny Oblast and used to settle refugees from the Western Soviet Union. In the center of Grozny, Chechnya's capital city, the Soviets erected a statue with the inscription, "There is no people under the sun more vile and deceitful than this one."
Metafiction is an elastic concept covering a wide range of fiction but in essence boils down to stories in which the book blurs the line between reality and fiction by drawing attention to itself in some shape or form. To boil it down even further, you could say that it is fiction about fiction.
William H. Gass is attributed with establishing the term metafiction in a 1970 essay titled "Philosophy and the Form of Fiction". Commenting on American fiction of the 1960s, he pointed out that a new description was needed for the emerging genre of experimental texts that openly broke with the tradition of literary realism still dominant in post-WWII American literature.
Some metafiction is like nesting dolls. For example, stories about readers reading books such as Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian (2005). Or writers writing books, such as Andrea Levy's The Long Song (2010), in which a woman is writing a book about Miss July, a slave. That woman turns out to be Miss July herself and she periodically comments on her experience of writing the story with her son looking over her shoulder as editor. Or the story might contain partial or complete stories within them such as David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas.
Books where the reader of the story can influence how the story develops are also considered to be metafiction. Children's picture books, where readers feel they influence the action, provide a rich vein of examples, such as Kenn Nesbitt's More Bears! In fact, there's likely a good case to make that the fast growing wealth of ebooks for children where the reader influences the course of the book by interacting with it are, in essence, examples of metafiction.
In recognition of National Poetry Month (celebrated in April in the USA, UK and Canada), here are a dozen of the best poetry resources the web has to offer.
But first, who reads poetry these days?
Back in 2005 the USA based National Opinion Research Center (NORC) conducted a survey, on behalf of The Poetry Foundation. It found that over a third of men and almost two-thirds of women who read for pleasure are poetry users. The rather awkward term "poetry users" is how the survey describes those who either listen to or read poetry, or both.
These numbers sounds pretty impressive, but keep in mind that the survey was just of those who already read for pleasure - and we readers are, sadly, already a subset of the general population. When you look at the population of the USA as a whole, according to a 2002 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, just three out of twenty adults read or listen to poetry.
Before the poets among us retire to write depressing haiku about the state of poetry, perhaps you'll take heart in the fact that 99% of "non poetry users" in the NORC survey said that they come across poetry in their daily lives - on public transport, at ceremonies, in newspapers and so forth - and about two-thirds had read/listened to these poems and liked them. In short, when poetry sneaks up on people, they enjoy it!
Personally, I love the serendipity of coming across poetry, but rarely do I seek it out, and if I do it's mostly to revisit old favorites. As for reviews of poetry, frankly, most of the time they leave me cold as my attitude to the form is succinctly summed up by that well known Joan Didion quote: "Grammar is a piano I play by ear. All I know about it is its power." It's as if poetry reviewers belong to a private club that I'm not privy to; keeping me at arm's length talking about technical terms I don't understand and, frankly, don't particularly want to.
With all this said, I had serious doubts about writing a blog about poetry websites when there are so many better qualified than I to do so; but then it occurred to me that perhaps I did have a perspective to offer precisely because I am not a poetry insider. So here, with the invaluable input of some of BookBrowse's reviewers who are poetry aficionados, are a dozen poetry websites that have something to offer even the least poetic among us.
General Poetry Sites Poetryfoundation.org. The Poetry Foundation has a huge selection of poems supported by substantial biographical info. I particularly enjoyed browsing poems by geographical region. It's the sort of site that you could dip in for a couple of minutes or a couple of days.
Poemhunter.com. Whether you're looking for themed quotes, the lyrics to an almost forgotten song, to revisit a favorite poem or discover new poets, this vast resource of over 800,000 poems and 80,000 poets will deliver the goods. You can sign up to receive the poem of the day by email and, once you create your free account, catalog your favorite poems for future reference.
Poets.org is affiliated with the Academy of American Poets. At first glance, it seems a little less welcoming than the two sites mentioned already, but when I started digging in its resources are great, not least the very cool regional map of the USA, including bios of key poets, poetry events, poetry-friendly bookstores, and poetry history. The Academy of American Poets inaugurated National Poetry Month so, unsurprisingly, they're also a great resource for that as well.
Poetrysociety.org is the website of The Poetry Society of America - the oldest poetry organization in the USA founded in 1910. It's a membership organization so not a lot for a casual visitor such as me, but if I was somebody who just lived and breathed poetry, and particularly if I was a high schooler who felt that no one else in the world cared for poetry the way I do, I think I would find many free articles and interviews to inspire me.
Poetry180. The Library of Congress's Poetry 180 site encourages schools to share a poem with their students every day. I found Poetry 180 a soothing place to visit precisely because it is limited to just 180 short poems, thoughtfully chosen by former Poet Laureate Billy Collins.
Poetseers.org. Poetseers is created and maintained by followers of the spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy (1931-2007). Here you'll find poetry by religion/belief. There's a particularly intriguing section titled poet seers where you'll find a select gathering of poets that "inspire and illuminate humanity to look beyond the mundane and to gain a glimpse of the Beyond." Here you'll find Shakespeare, Milton and William Blake rubbing shoulders with Dante, Confucius and Buddha. Those who notice a lack of female representation in the seers category (just the one) will find female poets elsewhere, such as Hildegard of Bingen and Julian of Norwich in the Christian section.
Unlike small children, many would say that poetry should be heard, not seen. Here are three sites that provide a wealth of audio readings:
Readers and viewers seem endlessly fascinated by the English country-house genre. From classic and award-winning novels such as The Remains of the Day,
Howards End, or Mansfield Park, to the mysteries of Agatha Christie and P.D. James, to television epics such as Upstairs, Downstairs or Downton Abbey, they offer both the writer and the reader a concentrated glimpse into a rarefied social milieu, one that often prompts both romantic intensity and social commentary. Although many of these works are historical in nature, they nevertheless seem relevant to contemporary society, especially when (as in The Uninvited Guests) the author obliquely or explicitly comments on historical behavior and attitudes through a modern lens.
What is the attraction of the country house as a setting for fiction, whether on page or screen? According to Blake Morrison, writing in The Guardian, "what draws them to a country house setting is the space it offers for everything to happen under one roof; the house of fiction has many rooms, but country house fiction has more rooms than most." It also, Morrison goes on, offers writers a defined canvas on which to explore issues that have resurfaced in British literature for centuries: these include the definition of "Englishness," the fascination of illicit sex, the idea of rightful ownership, and the cheek-by-jowl coexistence of very different social classes.