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April 12th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing; Publishing & Bookselling

#FridayReads, April 11-Stefan Zweig’s “Letter from an Unknown Woman”

The title story in this collection of four tales of psychological disturbance is built around a mysterious epistle an unnamed author receives, announcing a distant lover’s passion for him that due to his own myopia of many years he learns about, for only the first time. Zweig (1881-1942) was born in Vienna and among many works of short fiction wrote the stories that inspired filmmaker Wes Anderson to make the recently released “Grand Budapest Hotel.” Another collection of Zweig’s work has been selected by Anderson, titled The Society of the Crossed Keys, also translated by Anthea Bell. These books are brought out by Pushkin Press, a London publisher of literature in translation and belles lettres, with newly translated works by writers like Zweig, Alexander Pushkin, Antal Szerb, and many other writers, such as the Catalan author Marc Pastor, whose crime novel Barcelona Shadows I look forward to reading soon. While choosing and translating the books very thoughtfully, they also design very handsome editions, as you can see on this page at their website. Pushkin PressBarcelona Shadows

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April 4th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing; Publishing & Bookselling

#FridayReads, April 4–A Week for Bookselling & Publishing Memoirs: “Amazonia” by James Marcus & “Stet” by Diane Athill

Amazonia #FridayReads, April 4–AMAZONIA: Five Years at the Epicenter of the Juggernaut by Employee #55, James Marcus’s witty and winning memoir of working at Amazon from 1996-2001, which he published with The New Press in 2004. Having earlier this year read and written about Brad Stone’s THE EVERYTHING STORE: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon, which briefly cited Marcus’s book, I also read Marcus’s review of it in Harper’s. I made a point to also read George Packer’s February 2014 New Yorker articles on Amazon, “Cheap Words” and “Amazon and the Perils of Non-Disclosure.” In the latter piece, Packer likens Amazon executives, secure in their Seattle redoubt parceling out only the most limited information about the company, to American officials during the Iraq War confined to Baghdad’s Green Zone who only shared information that suggested the war was going great. I found this analogy quite striking, and suggested, that at least from Packer’s perspective, things may not be going so well for the retail “juggernaut.” Seeing that Marcus was a quoted source for Packer, Marcus’s book has been squarely on my radar for a few months, so I’m glad now to have gotten a copy and begun reading it. It’s immediately enjoyable, with Marcus chronicling the decidedly weird and geeky culture of Amazon and his first meeting with Bezos, when the Amazon founder asked him to “explain a complicated process in as simple a manner as possible.” Humor is sprinkled throughout, as when he begins his new editorial job by writing a 45-word spiel on the seafaring novels of Patrick O’Brian.Amazonia back

I’m also reading STET: An Editor’s Life, Diane Athill’s London publishing memoir spanning the end of WWII 40s to the 90s with Andre Deutsch Ltd. Athill knew and edited many great writers, including Brian Moore and Mordecai Richler for several of their early books. She recounts having also published Philip Roth’s first novel, LETTING GO, which did well enough that they were going to make an offer on his second book, WHEN SHE WAS GOOD. I love the way she presents this embarrassment:

Stet “[We] decided to calculate the advance on precisely what we reckoned the book would sell–which I think was 4,000 copies at the best–and that [offer] was not accepted. As far as I know WHEN SHE WAS GOOD was not a success–but the next novel Philip wrote was PORTNOY’S COMPLAINT.

This space represents a tactful silence.”


These are illuminating and humorous recollections, gossipy but never malicious, coupled with a wise presentation of editing essentials. She’s also a very endearing narrator. I heard a lot of good things about this publishing memoir when it came out in 2000, and bought it on a trip to a Bay Area publishing sales conference back then. I’m glad I’ve finally made time to read it.Stet

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March 15th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Personal History, Family, Friends, Education, Travels

#FridayReads, March 14–Jan Wong’s Memoir of Depression, “Out of the Blue”

Out of the Blue


Triggered by a death threat targeting her for a story she wrote, Wong–a career reporter–does a superb job investigating and striving to understand her own illness.

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February 7th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing; Honourary Canadian

#FridayReads, Feb 7–Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer’s Novel “All the Broken Things”

Monday Feb 10 Update: Wow, I loved All the Broken Things, Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer’s exquisite novel. Such a rich story of an orphaned boy, his sister, and the carny world of bears and barkers that both assaults them and supports them. They weather all that is arrayed against them. I give this extraordinary novel my highest personal recommendation.

All the Broken Things
#FridayReads, Feb 7–Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer’s novel All the Broken Things. This is an amazing and compelling novel set in Toronto in the early 1980s, about a Vietnamese immigrant family of three, former boat people–mother Rose, teenage son Bo, 4-year old daughter Orange Blossom, known as Orange, who was born with profound birth defects owing to Rose’s exposure to the Agent Orange that the US used to defoliate the countryside during the war. The killing chemical was manufactured in Ontario, a factual point that Kuitenbrouwer makes in an Author’s Note. I’ve found the writing in this so good, the sheer sentence-making and storytelling, that though I had read terrific reviews of the novel, prompting me to to order a copy, when it arrived I was expecting to only glance at the opening page and then put it aside until a moment when I thought I would have more time for it. Suffice to say, I didn’t put it aside at all, and now a day later, I’m on page 134. The book is commanding my attention, drawing me in, like the wrestling bear does Bo, the teenage boy of the tale, who willingly folds himself into the animal’s embrace.

Bo is the is fulcrum of the tale. He, far better than Rose, is able to handle Orange and comfort her. But he’s having a very hard time in middle school, picked on by a kid who yells ethnic slurs at him and wants to fight. Bo obliges this kid, and acquits himself well in their after-school battles. One of these scrums is observed by a carnival promoter who thinks Bo may be able to help out in his sideshow that features a bear, Loralei, who is trained to wrestle people. The Author’s Note also make the point that bear wrestling was at one time legal in Ontario, even common on the carny circuit. Just as Bo has an uncommonly intuitive way with his sister, he also has a gift with bears. Kuitenbrouwer’s descriptions of the tactile and empathic relationship between boy and bear could be outlandish, but instead are wholly believable. This is the book’s first paragraph:

“1984, BEAR
Look at the bear licking Bo’s toes up through the metal slats on the back porch. Bo is fourteen years old, and the bear not a year. The bear is named Bear. When the boy spreads his toes as wide as he can, Bear’s mottled tongue nudges in between them and this tickles. Bear craves the vanilla soft ice cream that drips down Bo’s cone and onto his feet. Bo imagines it must be glorious for Bear to huddle under the porch–her favourite spot–and lap and lick up the sweet cold treat. He imagines himself tucked in down there pretending to be a bear, and then how wonderful it might be, after a day alone, to have someone drip vanilla ice cream right into this mouth.” 

From Robertson Davies’ Fifth Business to Ellen Hunnicutt’s Suite for Calliope: A Novel of Music and the Circus, a book I edited and published, to W.C. Fields’ 1939 film “You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man,” I have long had an affinity for carny stories, and All the Broken Things belongs in that good company. I want to know what happens next for Bo and his fragile family, and will be spending much of the next few days finding out. Writer Jonathan Bennet has also discovered the charms of this book, in a great appreciation here
All the Broken Things
[Cross-posted on my blog Honourary Canadian.

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February 1st, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing; Music, Bands & Radio; Philip Turner Book Productions

#FridayReads–Barry Lancet’s Thriller, “Japantown” & Dan Richter’s “The Dream is Over,” Memoir of the 60s

Japantown#FridayReads, Jan 31–Barry Lancet’s thriller, Japantown and Dan Richter’s The Dream is Over, a memoir of the 60s.

I’d made Japantown my #FridayReads last weekend, when I had read only about 140 pages of the nearly 400-page fast-paced international thriller. The rest of the book was every bit as riveting, and overall, hugely enjoyable. I liked it so much that, on Wednesday night, heading out to hear live music–I stowed the hardcover book in my knapsack, along with my handy bike flashlight–and read deep in to its last chapters between sets in the dimly lit music room at Pianos, inching toward the suspenseful climax which I reached the following morning. Here’s an abbreviated version of the plot rundown from my post last week:

“The book is at first set in San Francisco where protagonist Jim Brodie works as a dealer in Asian antiquities, while also maintaining connections with the private detective agency his late father founded and ran in Tokyo. Brodie’s widowed, a single dad living with his grade school-age daughter, Jenny. Brodie is the new go-to-guy when the San Francisco Police Department find itself investigating a grisly mass murder with Japanese victims and Japanese cultural characteristics. At the crime scene, Brodie finds only one clue, a paper artifact emblazoned with an obscure written character (kanji in Japanese). Brodie doesn’t realize, though the reader sees, that even as he surveys the scene of the brutal killing he and his Homicide Dept confidant are being surveilled with lenses and cameras by unknown agents. Though not understanding the full extent of the danger he’s in, Brodie senses he’s being watched, at his gallery and even at home with Jenny. With the obscure kanji in hand, Brodie undertakes an investigative trip to Japan, first putting Jenny in to the protective embrace of a police safe house. Once in Japan, the malign forces behind the killings begin taking aim at Brodie and his trusted Japanese colleagues.”

Good set-up, huh? Trust me, it’s much more exciting than my synopsis. After finishing Lancet’s totally satisfying thriller, I’m really excited he’s working on another book set in Jim Brodie’s world.

After finishing Japantown, I needed a nonfiction tonic and so picked up  The Dream is Over, Dan Richter’s personal account of London in the ’60s, his friendship with Yoko Ono and John Lennon, and his struggles with addiction. Richter’s book, released in hardcover in Britain in 2012, carries a Foreword by Yoko. I met Dan in the early 2000s, when I edited and published his first book Moonwatcher’s Memoir–A Diary of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Dan was in his twenties, working as a mime actor, when Stanley Kubrick–searching for the right sort of performer to play the role of the marauding ape wielding a club in the opening scene of the 1968 intergalactic time travel epic–met Dan and cast him in the part. Working with Dan, I learned that he’d met Yoko in the ’60s through his theater work and her early works of performance art. Later, he would meet John Lennon through Yoko. His verbal accounts of those years were fascinating to hear about, so I’m delighted he’s written this second memoir. It focuses on 1969-73, when he was living in London, putting on poetry readings at the Albert Hall, and running with a literary set that included Alan Ginsberg, during his frequent visits to London, and Beat writer Alexander Trocchi, a bad-boy Scotsman who wrote Cain’s Book, a notorious and transgressive book in its time. Dan recently got in touch and asked if I might be able to help him find a US publisher for The Dream is Over, so I’m reading it as work and for the welcome evocation of a rich era that it paints. Characters who walk in and out of the narrative include Eric Clapton, Andy Warhol, Bob Dylan, the rebel psychiatrist R.D. Laing, members of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. I don’t know yet about the prospects for finding a US publisher, but I’m glad to be reading the book. I’ll try to post more about it once I’ve read more. The flap copy promises an intimate account of the making of the album “Imagine.”Moonwatcher's Memoir
Dream is Over

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January 10th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing; Philip Turner's Books & Writing

#FridayReads, Jan 10–Robert W. Fuller’s Visionary Novel “The Rowan Tree”

Rowan Tree cover

#FridayReads, Jan 10–Robert W. Fuller’s The Rowan Tree

In 2011-12 one of the most enjoyable assignments I undertook was the editing of the manuscript of The Rowan Tree, a novel by noted thinker Robert W. Fuller.

Though I last worked on it a year ago, I’m writing about it today because I recently received a copy of the printed book from the author, and have been dipping in to it again, relishing the formal book presentation of a work I had last read on-screen. In 2013 Fuller self-published it and just before Christmas let me know that the book has been doing extremely well, finding readers all over the world. That’s fitting, as it’s truly a global book.

It opens in the late 1960s with the installation of protagonist Rowan Ellway as the new president of a small Midwestern college; it closes in 2030 amid the climax of a U.S. presidential campaign involving Rowan’s son Adam, who was earlier Speaker of the House of Representatives. The novel’s sixty-year arc touches on campus life, ballet, college basketball, interracial relationships, world government, and the bright red berries that drop from the rowan tree. At the same time, readers are treated to memorable characters like Easter Blue, a female African-American student who becomes Rowan’s ally in reform and soul mate in life; Marisol, a talented ballerina and Adam Blue’s half-sister; Élodie, a French-Vietnamese doctor with Doctors Without Borders; and Lahiri, a metaphysically-minded professor of geology in India. The Rowan Tree captures the universal quest for dignity in our time and envisions this quest in the decades to come. The novel relies on realism for its storytelling yet is unabashedly speculative in its vision of the future, in the sense that Margaret Atwood uses the term ‘speculative fiction.’

Fuller’s background is as fascinating as the novel, and key to the writing of it. His father worked at Bell Labs where he invented the solar cell. Bob was a childhood prodigy who attended Oberlin College at age 15, then got his Ph.D. in Physics from Princeton, at 18. At 24 he co-authored Mathematics of Classical and Quantum Physics, a textbook still widely used today. At 33 he was named president of Oberlin College, then the youngest college president in the nation. In the years that followed, he worked with the government of Indian Prime Minister Indira Ghandi to alleviate famine; with President Carter on the Presidential Commission to End World Hunger; and with Soviet scientists to reduce nuclear stockpiles during the Cold War. With the collapse of the USSR, Fuller’s career as a citizen-diplomat ended. From his status as a former college professor, president, and envoy, he reflected that at times in his life he had in society’s eyes been a ‘somebody,’ whereas now he was a comparative ‘nobody.’ This led him to identify the abuses of power inherent in unmerited rank as the unexamined prejudice of our age, and write through that prism.

While the novel outlines his vision of a just society, it is no mere manifesto. It’s an exciting and pacy story with an engrossing plot, structured like an Arthurian quest, climaxing with a vision of a world in which the attainment of dignity for all—the holy grail—is at last within reach. You might say the novel is a “Fountainhead for liberals.”

I’m happy for Fuller–his book is totally worthwhile and it’s a great read. He also sent me a screenshot (shown below) that shows that his book is finding readers on Amazon, where readers have left worthy comments like this one, which I’ll assign the last word in this post: “The narrative takes the reader to unexpected places, cleverly spanning history with glimpses of a future possible. The philosophy could have so easily been overdone, but instead allowed the characters to evolve in each of their own story arcs. I have been reflecting on my own responses ever since. Read it and allow the lessons to shape your own story…” The Rowan Tree


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January 3rd, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Personal History, Family, Friends, Education, Travels

#FridayReads, Jan 3– Julian Symons’ “The Color of Murder”

The Color of Murder#FridayReads The Color of Murder, a 1957 chiller by Julian Symons, a great scholar of the genre & a terrific crime writer. This one is narrated largely through use of a statement that the suspect of the murder ostensibly makes to a court-mandated psychiatrist in his case. Symons (1912-94) was the younger brother of biographer A.J.A. Symons, author of The Quest for Corvo: An Experiment in Biography, an intoxicating book on the mysterious and eccentric Frederick Rolfe (the self-styled Baron Corvo who in the world of the book becomes the first English Pope). The younger Symons also wrote Mortal Consequences, an excellent critical study of the mystery genre. I always pick up his books when I see them second-hand, as I did with this pulpy old edition I found on a table in Greenwich Village earlier this week. It’s in good shape, a very pleasing pick up.Color of Murder back cover

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December 27th, 2013

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing; Philip Turner Book Productions

A Basket Full of Holiday #FridayReads

PT #FridayReads photoDelighted to have so much free time this week for this terrific collection of great recreational and work-related reading. Here’s a quick rundown on each book with the tweets I put out about them tonight.
My fave books by suspense writer Michael Connelly are his Harry Bosch novels, but the ones involving defense attorney Mickey Haller are enjoyable too.

Dave Bidini, longtime member of The Rheostatics, is a triple threat–stellar musician, compelling writer, and all-around good guy. I love oral histories like this one: the memorable voices of many musicians are soldered together in to an alternately hilarious and heartbreaking narrative of stalwarts traveling and playing music across one of the largest countries on the planet.

I admire CUNY Graduate Center Professor William Helmreich’s civic enterprise–he walked on nearly street in the five boroughs, meeting and speaking with hundreds of New Yorkers to weave together a fascinating portrait of the 21st century city enriched by new immigrant groups.

I’m hopeful that Chicago writer Haas’s suspense novels will merit rediscovery and publication. I was delighted to be asked to look at them by Shirley Haas and old Chicago friend Kevin Riordan.