New Colson Whitehead UK Editions

Thanks to the runaway success of Colson Whitehead‘s Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award and Arthur C. Clarke Award-winning novel The Underground Railroad, his previous books The Intuitionist, Colossus of New York and Apex Hides the Hurt are getting new UK editions, published by Fleet.

WhiteheadC-IntuitionistUKLet’s take them in publication order. First up is The Intuitionist, which is out now:

Verticality, architectural and social, is at the heart of Colson Whitehead’s first novel that takes place in an unnamed high-rise city that combines twenty-first-century engineering feats with nineteenth-century pork-barrel politics. Elevators are the technological expression of the vertical ideal, and Lila Mae Watson, the city’s first black female elevator inspector, is its embattled token of upward mobility.When Number Eleven of the newly completed Fanny Briggs Memorial Building goes into deadly free-fall just hours after Lila Mae has signed off on it, using the controversial “Intuitionist” method of ascertaining elevator safety, both Intuitionists and Empiricists recognize the set-up, but may be willing to let Lila Mae take the fall in an election year.

As Lila Mae strives to exonerate herself in this urgent adventure full of government spies, underworld hit men, and seductive double agents, behind the action, always, is the Idea. Lila Mae’s quest is mysteriously entwined with existence of heretofore lost writings by James Fulton, father of Intuitionism, a giant of vertical thought. If she is able to find and reveal his plan for the perfect, next-generation elevator, the city as it now exists may instantly become obsolescent.

WhiteheadC-ColossusOfNewYorkUKNext up we have The Colossus of New York, which was published yesterday. Here’s the synopsis:

Here is a literary love song that will entrance anyone who has lived in — or spent time — in the greatest of American cities.

A masterful evocation of the city that never sleeps, The Colossus of New York captures the city’s inner and outer landscapes in a series of vignettes, meditations, and personal memories. Colson Whitehead conveys with almost uncanny immediacy the feelings and thoughts of longtime residents and of newcomers who dream of making it their home; of those who have conquered its challenges; and of those who struggle against its cruelties.

Whitehead’s style is as multilayered and multifarious as New York itself: Switching from third person, to first person, to second person, he weaves individual voices into a jazzy musical composition that perfectly reflects the way we experience the city. There is a funny, knowing riff on what it feels like to arrive in New York for the first time; a lyrical meditation on how the city is transformed by an unexpected rain shower; and a wry look at the ferocious battle that is commuting. The plaintive notes of the lonely and dispossessed resound in one passage, while another captures those magical moments when the city seems to be talking directly to you, inviting you to become one with its rhythms.

The Colossus of New York is a remarkable portrait of life in the big city. Ambitious in scope, gemlike in its details, it is at once an unparalleled tribute to New York and the ideal introduction to one of the most exciting writers working today.

WhiteheadC-ApexHidesTheHurtUKAnd finally, due out at the beginning of next month, the novel Apex Hides the Hurt:

A brisk, comic tour de force about identity, history, and the adhesive bandage industry.

The town of Winthrop has decided it needs a new name. The resident software millionaire wants to call it New Prospera; the mayor wants to return to the original choice of the founding black settlers; and the town’s aristocracy sees no reason to change the name at all. What they need, they realize, is a nomenclature consultant.

And, it turns out, the consultant needs them. But in a culture overwhelmed by marketing, the name is everything and our hero’s efforts may result in not just a new name for the town but a new and subtler truth about it as well.

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Upcoming: CITY OF DEVILS by Paul French (Picador/riverrun)

FrenchP-CityOfDevilsUSI’ve only recently started to read Paul French‘s books. I’ve been aware of his stuff for a long while, but this past Christmas I went on a Penguin China Special reading-binge, which meant I finally read two of French’s titles: Betrayal in ParisThe Badlands and Bloody Saturday — all three of which were excellent.* I promptly bought Midnight in Peking (for myself and family members), and will read it very soon. In the meantime, I thought I’d some information about his next non-fiction book, City of Devils. here’s the synopsis:

1930s Shanghai could give Chicago a run for its money. In the years before the Japanese invaded, the city was a haven for outlaws from all over the world: a place where pasts could be forgotten, fascism and communism outrun, names invented, fortunes made — and lost.

‘Lucky’ Jack Riley was the most notorious of those outlaws. An ex-Navy boxing champion, he escaped from prison in the States, spotted a craze for gambling and rose to become the Slot King of Shanghai. Ruler of the clubs in that day was ‘Dapper’ Joe Farren — a Jewish boy who fled Vienna’s ghetto with a dream of dance halls. His chorus lines rivalled Ziegfeld’s and his name was in lights above the city’s biggest casino.

In 1940 they bestrode the Shanghai Badlands like kings, while all around the Solitary Island was poverty, starvation and genocide. They thought they ruled Shanghai; but the city had other ideas. This is the story of their rise to power, their downfall, and the trail of destruction they left in their wake. Shanghai was their playground for a flickering few years, a city where for a fleeting moment even the wildest dreams seemed possible.

In the vein of true crime books whose real brilliance is the recreation of a time and place, this is an impeccably researched narrative non-fiction told with superb energy and brio, as if James Ellroy had stumbled into a Shanghai cathouse.

City of Devils is due to be published in July by Picador in North America (Raincoast in Canada), and in June by riverrun in the UK.

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* The Penguin Specials series is fantastic in general: around 100 pages or so, compact and focused non-fiction narratives. I’d highly recommend them. They appear to be focusing on a different theme every year (or so). Last year, for example, they released a handful of Hong Kong Specials, which I’ll be buying and reading very soon.

Excerpt: BLACK DAHLIA, RED ROSE by Piu Eatwell (Coronet)

EatwellP-BlackDahliaRedRoseUKPiu Eatwell’s latest book is a narrative history of the notorious Black Dahlia murder in Los Angeles. The inspiration for a number of novels and movies, it’s an interesting new account of the murder that gripped the headlines. Here’s the synopsis:

On 15th January 1947, the naked, dismembered body of a black-haired beauty, Elizabeth Short, was discovered lying next to a pavement in a Hollywood suburb. She was quickly nicknamed The Black Dahlia.

The homicide inquiry that followed consumed Los Angeles for years and the authorities blew millions of dollars of resources on an investigation that threw up dozens of suspects. But it never was solved.

Until now.

In this ground-breaking book, Piu Eatwell reveals compelling forensic and eye witness evidence for the first time, which finally points to the identity of the murderer. The case was immortalised in James Ellroy’s famous novel based on the case, in Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon and Brian de Palma’s movie The Black Dahlia.

This is a dark tale of sex, manipulation, obsession, psychopathy and one of the biggest police cover ups in history.

Now, read on for an excerpt from the first chapter…

Continue reading

Quick Review: A HISTORY OF HEAVY METAL by Andrew O’Neill (Headline)

ONeillA-HistoryOfHeavyMetalUKAn entertaining romp through a comedian’s history of heavy metal

The history of heavy metal brings brings us extraordinary stories of larger-than-life characters living to excess, from the household names of Ozzy Osbourne, Lemmy, Bruce Dickinson and Metallica (SIT DOWN, LARS!), to the brutal notoriety of the underground Norwegian black metal scene and the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal. It is the story of a worldwide network of rabid fans escaping everyday mundanity through music, of cut-throat corporate arseholes ripping off those fans and the bands they worship to line their pockets. The expansive pantheon of heavy metal musicians includes junkies, Satanists and murderers, born-again Christians and teetotallers, stadium-touring billionaires and toilet-circuit journeymen.

Award-winning comedian and life-long heavy metal obsessive Andrew O’Neill has performed his History of Heavy Metal comedy show to a huge range of audiences, from the teenage metalheads of Download festival to the broadsheet-reading theatre-goers of the Edinburgh Fringe. Now, in his first book, he takes us on his own very personal and hilarious journey through the history of the music, the subculture, and the characters who shaped this most misunderstood genre of music.

There is so much to love in Andrew O’Neill’s A History of Heavy Metal. O’Neill’s love for the genres is clear and rings true throughout. He’s opinionated, clear in his opinions, and damned funny. As he mentions at one point, metalheads are nerds, and this book is packed with nerdy details for all metal fans of any age. For me, it evoked my favourite music journalism from the ’90s and early 2000s, but with extra humour. Continue reading

Review: BORN TO RUN by Bruce Springsteen (Simon & Schuster)

springsteenb-borntorunAn interesting, if not-particularly-revelatory memoir from the Boss

In 2009, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band performed at the Super Bowl’s halftime show. The experience was so exhilarating that Bruce decided to write about it. That’s how this extraordinary autobiography began.

Over the past seven years, Bruce Springsteen has privately devoted himself to writing the story of his life, bringing to these pages the same honesty, humor, and originality found in his songs.

He describes growing up Catholic in Freehold, New Jersey, amid the poetry, danger, and darkness that fueled his imagination, leading up to the moment he refers to as “The Big Bang”: seeing Elvis Presley’s debut on The Ed Sullivan Show. He vividly recounts his relentless drive to become a musician, his early days as a bar band king in Asbury Park, and the rise of the E Street Band. With disarming candor, he also tells for the first time the story of the personal struggles that inspired his best work and shows us why the song “Born to Run” reveals more than we previously realized.

Born to Run will be revelatory for anyone who has ever enjoyed Bruce Springsteen, but this book is much more than a legendary rock star’s memoir. This is a book for workers and dreamers, parents and children, lovers and loners, artists, freaks, or anyone who has ever wanted to be baptized in the holy river of rock and roll.

Like many people, I was very eager to get my hands on Born to Run when it came out. I have been listening to Springsteen’s music my whole life, really — Born in the USA was a regular on our family stereo, and was the first album I ever loved. (I used to stage ‘concerts’ of it, using my G.I. Joe figures as stand-ins for the band…) Due to work and other reasons, it took me some time to get around to reading Born to Run, but I eventually got the audiobook. I found it quite interesting… if slightly underwhelming. Continue reading

Quick Review: MONSTER by John Gregory Dunne (Vintage)

DunneJG-MonsterUSAn entertaining, engaging memoir of screenwriting

In Hollywood, screenwriters are a curse to be borne, and beating up on them is an industry blood sport. But in this ferociously funny and accurate account of life on the Hollywood food chain, it’s a screenwriter who gets the last murderous laugh. That may be because the writer is John Gregory Dunne, who has written screenplays, along with novels and non-fiction, for thirty years. In 1988 Dunne and his wife, Joan Didion, were asked to write a screenplay about the dark and complicated life of the late TV anchorwoman Jessica Savitch. Eight years and twenty-seven drafts later, this script was made into the fairy tale “Up Close and Personal” starring Robert Redford and Michelle Pfeiffer. Detailing the meetings, rewrites, fights, firings, and distractions attendant to the making of a single picture, Monster illuminates the process with sagacity and raucous wit.

This is a fascinating, unreserved memoir of John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion’s long, often frustrating experiences writing Up Close & Personal. It’s engaging, entertaining and illuminating. Continue reading

Review: SLEEPLESS IN HOLLYWOOD by Lynda Obst (Simon & Schuster)

ObstL-SleeplessInHollywoodAn excellent follow-up to Hello, He Lied

Over the past decade, producer Lynda Obst gradually realized she was working in a Hollywood that was undergoing a drastic transformation. The industry where everything had once been familiar to her was suddenly disturbingly strange.

Combining her own industry experience and interviews with the brightest minds in the business, Obst explains what has stalled the vast moviemaking machine. The calamitous DVD collapse helped usher in what she calls the New Abnormal (because Hollywood was never normal to begin with), where studios are now heavily dependent on foreign markets for profit, a situation which directly impacts the kind of entertainment we get to see. Can comedy survive if they don’t get our jokes in Seoul or allow them in China? Why are studios making fewer movies than ever — and why are they bigger, more expensive and nearly always sequels or recycled ideas?

Sleepless in Hollywood is an excellent, accessible explanation of the ways in which Hollywood has evolved since the 1980s. This is an account of emergence of the “New Abnormal”, as Obst calls it: the shifting practices and ideologies that dictate how the movie and TV industries operate. Continue reading