The final novel in the series is available in the following formats: (Tom Gauld)

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David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks (Book Acquired, 8.19.2014)

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David Mitchell’s new novel The Bone Clocks showed up at Biblioklept World Headquarters earlier this week, but I’ve been busy with the start of the Fall semester and haven’t had a chance to get into it yet. Here’s publisher Random House’s blurb:

Following a terrible fight with her mother over her boyfriend, fifteen-year-old Holly Sykes slams the door on her family and her old life. But Holly is no typical teenage runaway: A sensitive child once contacted by voices she knew only as “the radio people,” Holly is a lightning rod for psychic phenomena. Now, as she wanders deeper into the English countryside, visions and coincidences reorder her reality until they assume the aura of a nightmare brought to life.

For Holly has caught the attention of a cabal of dangerous mystics—and their enemies. But her lost weekend is merely the prelude to a shocking disappearance that leaves her family irrevocably scarred. This unsolved mystery will echo through every decade of Holly’s life, affecting all the people Holly loves—even the ones who are not yet born.

A Cambridge scholarship boy grooming himself for wealth and influence, a conflicted father who feels alive only while reporting on the war in Iraq, a middle-aged writer mourning his exile from the bestseller list—all have a part to play in this surreal, invisible war on the margins of our world. From the medieval Swiss Alps to the nineteenth-century Australian bush, from a hotel in Shanghai to a Manhattan townhouse in the near future, their stories come together in moments of everyday grace and extraordinary wonder.

Rich with character and realms of possibility, The Bone Clocks is a kaleidoscopic novel that begs to be taken apart and put back together by a writer The Washington Post calls “the novelist who’s been showing us the future of fiction.”

An elegant conjurer of interconnected tales, a genre-bending daredevil, and a master prose stylist, David Mitchell has become one of the leading literary voices of his generation. His hypnotic new novel, The Bone Clocks, crackles with invention and wit and sheer storytelling pleasure—it is fiction at its most spellbinding.

RIP Walter Dean Myers

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RIP Walter Dean Myers, 1937-2014

Books transmit values. They explore our common humanity. What is the message when some children are not represented in those books? Where are the future white personnel managers going to get their ideas of people of color? Where are the future white loan officers and future white politicians going to get their knowledge of people of color? Where are black children going to get a sense of who they are and what they can be?

–From a March, 2014 piece Myers published in The New York Times entitled “Where Are the People of Color in Children’s Books?”

I taught for seven years in an inner city high school. I cannot overstate how important Myers’s books were to my students. His novel Monster—a classic—was one of the first books I wrote about on Biblioklept. I love the book, and I loved reading it with my students. Monster was an especially effective bridge to others by Myers–Slam!, HoopsBad BoyThe Beast—and one of my favorites, Fallen Angels—but I also saw it turn kids who hated reading into voracious readers. I read Myers myself as a young teen (his book Scorpions is especially good), but reading them again with my students revealed a depth and precision I hadn’t detected as a kid. Those books are all true, even the ones that are made up. RIP Walter Dean Myers.

Biblioklept Talks to Daniel Nayeri About Capturing Voice, Being a YA Gatekeeper, and Writing His Novella Quartet on an iPhone

Daniel Nayeri was born in Iran and spent a couple of years as a refugee before immigrating to Oklahoma at age eight with his family. He is the author of Straw House, Wood House, Brick House, Blow, a collection of four novellas; Kirkus called it, “Provocative and deeply satisfying,” Bookpage named it “a delightful amalgam of the high and the low, the silly and the sublime,”and the BCCB mentioned the “breathtakingly vivid word smithery” in its starred review.

In addition to his writing, Daniel is an editor of picture books, novels, and graphic novels at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, an accomplished filmmaker, and a professional pastry chef.

Daniel was kind enough to talk to us about his work via email.

Biblioklept: Your book was composed entirely on an iPhone. Can you tell us a bit about that process? How did you start? How intentional was the process in the beginning? Did you use a specific program? Did you edit on the iPhone at all?

Daniel Nayeri: Several years ago, I was reading an article about the “cell phone novel” phenomenon in Japan. The tone of the article was basically, “check out this super popular thing in Japan that all the literary folks hate.” It described the authors as these quiet teen girls, and early-twenty-something women, who would dash off a few chapters on the subway and email them to a website service. The authors didn’t do themselves any favors by saying they disliked reading “real” books, and the critics didn’t do themselves any favors by flipping out and wondering out loud if this trend meant the “death of the author.”

For me, the fascinating tidbit came from a few comments that noted the possible effects of writing on a cell phone. Every undergrad discusses the interplay of form and content (Dickens’s serialized form, the oral iterations of the Iliad, etc). I got really excited about forcing my imagination to live in an incredibly small space. The Japanese authors discussed that when they moved to computers, their vocabulary became “richer” and their “sentences have also grown longer.” I wanted to see if I could push those boundaries out a little (maybe I’m the crazy person who tries to paint the Mona Lisa on an Etch-a-Sketch).

As for the program I used. I bought the first-gen iPhone, so I was using the notepad app that comes with the phone (without cut and paste). To edit, I got very tired of deleting sentences and retyping them three pages down, so I created a code system. For example, if I wanted to move a paragraph up by two pages, I would bracket off the section I wanted and place a symbol next to it. Then I would go up two pages and just place the same symbol. By the end of my editing, there would be pages of work that were nothing but symbols, connected with various prepositions.

Biblioklept: Did you always have the idea to write a quartet of novellas over different genres? How did the idea come about?

DN: I think in general, novels have gotten fatter. As an editor, my first pass on nearly every manuscript is to ask for major cuts. I’m actually kind of petulant about it. My position is that if a book isn’t going to be as good as Anna Karenina, then it probably shouldn’t be as long.

It’s a reactionary position to take, so I thought I would challenge myself with telling stories and building worlds as large and as complex as I could possibly make them, with the limitation of 35-45 thousand words. Obviously, I sort of cheated by connecting some of my thoughts and themes in a collection of four. Hypocrisy and petulance—that’s the sort of delightful company you’ll get if you find yourself working with me.

(Another reason was that I’m still young, and I’d like to learn a lot more before I start demanding the attention of readers for five hundred pages at a time).

Biblioklept: What challenges did you face when working in the variety of genres you worked in?

DN: Presenting four very different voices (to whatever extent one might think it succeeded) is the aspect of this project I am most proud of, actually. The nicest thing anyone has said about the book so far has been to say it is, “the literary equivalent of a singer with a four-octave range.”

To me, it represents the ability to assimilate—a quality any first-generation immigrant valorizes at one point or another. When I first came to the states, I quickly took up the Texas/Oklahoma speech patterns. I was a voracious cataloguer of idioms. When I moved to New York, I did the same. I picked up “kitchen Spanish” in my years as a pastry chef. I love local parlance. As a kid struggling with English, having a proficient knowledge of colloquial expressions represented mastery over the language.

So to me, genres and forms with heavy use of lingo (sports writing, noir, poetry) were the height literary achievement. It sounds backwards, but if you learned the queen’s English first, then you value Huckleberry Finn’s jargon highest of all.

Biblioklept:  Straw House, Wood House, Brick House, Blow is being marketed as a YA book. There’s been some debate in the past few years about a perceived sense of darkness or violence in YA. What place do dark or violent themes have in YA fiction?

DN: I almost never think about this as a writer. I almost never stop thinking about it in my capacity as an editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. My personal interests keep me PG-13, generally. But geez, people send me some crazy-inappropriate material—even for general consumption. Lots of incest. Lots of racial hang-ups. Lots of creepy.

I believe strongly in an editor’s responsibility to put out well-written work (whether or not it’s politically or ethically aligned with one’s self). The old Voltaire quote -– “I disapprove of what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it” –- has difficult implications for “gatekeepers” in any media.

But just because there is an ethical challenge to acquire broadly, doesn’t mean the public can’t resist-—meaning that the marketplace often creates pressure to move material toward the unobjectionable. When minors are involved, however, I would hope there are adults who will curate the material. I think the majority of adults agree that there is such a thing as “age appropriateness.” I think both sides of the argument are often concern-trolling-—one side saying kids shouldn’t hear the f-word, and the other side screaming censorship to the culling of anything short of snuff-porn.

The conversation seems to dance around a rating system (as with the MPAA for films, or the ESA for video games), but that has a ton of complications. I’m not sure what I think of a rating system, personally. I just think the discussion would be more interesting than making fun of people over Twitter.

Biblioklept:  What are you working on next?

DN: Straw House has four very western genres, so I’m working on another set of four stories, but this time in eastern genres. I’m from Iran and immigrated to Oklahoma, so collections about the East West interaction have always fascinated me (Rushdie wrote a great essay collection call East West).

There’s an Ibn Battuta travelogue, a 1001 Nights tale, a parable, etc. I’m about halfway finished.

Biblioklept: Have you ever stolen a book?

DN: I’ve never stolen from a retailer, but when I was in middle school, I volunteered at the local library. When I forgot to return books after a long time, the head librarian would let me go into the database and erase my fine, as well as the book itself. That’s how I got my first copy of The Fellowship of the Ring, a CD of Boston’s greatest hits, and a book on juggling. So basically what I’m saying is that I was pretty hardcore.

Book Acquired, Sometime Last Week (I’m Not Exactly Sure, It Showed Up While I Was Doing the Thanksgiving Thing in South Florida)

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This one looks pretty cool: Daniel Nayeri’s quartet of novels  Straw House, Wood House, Brick House, Blow. Publisher’s description—

Written entirely on an iPhone, this quartet of YA novellas by Another Pan and Another Faust author Daniel Nayeri showcases four different genres.

This bold collection of novellas by Another series author Daniel Nayeri features four riveting tales. These modern riffs on classic genres will introduce young adult readers to a broad range of writing styles that explore universally compelling themes such as identity and belonging, betrayal and friendship, love and mortality.

Straw House: A Western sizzling with suspense, set in a land where a rancher grows soulless humans and a farmer grows living toys.

Wood House: This science-fiction tale plunges the reader into a future where reality and technology blend imperceptibly, and a teenage girl must race to save the world from a nano-revolution that a corporation calls “ReCreation Day.”

Brick House: This detective story set in modern NYC features a squad of “wish police” and a team of unlikely detectives.

Blow: A comedic love story told by none other than Death himself, portrayed here as a handsome and charismatic hero who may steal your heart in more ways than one. With humor, suspense, and relatable prose, this hip and cutting-edge collection dazzles.

The book also came with this cool, I dunno whatchacallit, bookmark? It’s flat:

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—and then it pops up, 3-D style. Zing!

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Yeah Yeah YA — New Novels from Laurence Gonzales and Simon Rich

Once upon a time, young people who were lucky enough to have the leisure to read what they wanted gravitated toward texts like Little Women, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and Great Expectations. These books weren’t necessarily written for or marketed to teenagers, but they found (and continue to find) a hungry audience in adolescents. The rise of the modern publishing industry saw a way to feed these voracious young readers, and Young Adult–YA–has since solidified into its own genre, complete with its own set of conventions and tropes, found in fantasies, romances, adventures, and sci-fi novels alike. YA tends to enlarge themes that predominate literature as a whole–alienation, isolation, shame, transformation, and (of course) identity. The best YA literature speaks to adolescent fear, channels it into thought experiments and fantasies that help teens to cope with their changing identities. However, YA, like any genre, puts a writer at risk of being ghettoized, of having her own work thrown in with a good many bad books. In recent years, established writers like Sherman Alexie and Nick Hornby have purposefully written YA books and worked to have their books marketed as such, but perhaps many writers don’t want to be pigeonholed into a genre by having their books directed squarely at teens.

I was thinking about this problem today when I read Michiko Kakutani’s somewhat negative review of Laurence Gonzales’s new novel Lucy in the The New York Times. I received a review copy of Lucy back in March and breezed through it in a few afternoons. It’s an enjoyable read with a preposterous plot that somehow doesn’t come across as a gimmick. The eponymous Lucy, you see, is a genetic experiment, a humanzee born of a bonobo and raised in the middle of the jungle by a (not so) mad scientist named Stone until the age of 14, when insurgents murder her erstwhile dad/creator. Lucy is summarily adopted by another scientist, Jenny Lowe, who takes her to Americaland where she learns to be a normal teen. That is, until her super-chimp powers are revealed to the good American people, who come after her, mob-persecution style. Kakutani insists on reading Gonzales’s work as a Frankenstein story, and picks at it for not explaining its science as well as Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park. What Kakutani is failing to see is that the novel is not really about scientific hubris–it’s about how hard it is to be a teenager; specifically, it’s about how hard it is to be a teenage girl with a teenage girl body. Kakutani, apparently mistaking books for gravy, also takes Lucy to task for being “lumpy.” If Lucy lacks the finesse, explication, or subtlety that Kakutani would like it to have, then perhaps that is because she misunderstands its audience (to be fair though, Kakutani seems to frequently forget that not all books should be written to her taste).

Again at The New York Times, Tom DeHaven made a similar, if less boorish mistake, earlier this summer in his review of Simon Rich’s début novel Elliot Allagash. Here’s his lede:

If I were in the eighth grade, I’m pretty sure I’d love Simon Rich’s first novel, “Elliot Allagash.” I might even press it on my friends. (“It’s about this 13-year-old evil genius who does whatever he wants because he’s, like, a billionaire. And it’s funny. And short.”) But since more than 45 years have passed since I took up space in a middle school, I simply like it, very much — while wishing this flippant little parable about the puerility of greed had a deeper, sharper bite.

DeHaven wishes Rich’s book had a “deeper, sharper bite” — like Kakutani’s quibble with Gonzales, he wants the kind of acuity that ultimately is not best suited for the eighth and ninth grade boys who will love this book, who will press it on their friends. In my own review of Elliot Allagash, I wrote: “I don’t think that Elliot Allagash is being promoted directly as a Young Adult novel, but it will have a ready audience in the same smart crowd who dig funny, bright novels like C.D. Payne’s Youth in Revolt and Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian .” But even though Elliot Allagash and Lucy aren’t being promoted by their respective publishers Random House and Knopf as YA, that doesn’t mean that they don’t have a potential audience of young adults–and it seems impossible to me that seasoned critics like Kakutani and DeHaven could be ignorant of that. Older readers might enjoy Lucy or Elliot Allagash but young readers might love them; critics shouldn’t condescend authors for not overreaching. A pretentious book is a sin and neither of these books is pretentious.

Monster–Walter Dean Myers

In Walter Dean Myer’s Monster, sixteen year-old Steve Harmon is on trial for felony murder in New York City. He participated in a robbery that went bad when the store owner was killed with his own gun. Only Steve wasn’t in the store at the time of the robbery/murder–he was playing the role of the lookout. In fact, he didn’t even send a signal of any kind, he just walked out of the store. Before he wound up in jail, Steve attended Stuyvesant High School, where he excelled in his film class. Steve, a sensitive kid from a stable home, despises the violence and cruelty of jail and feels utterly alienated from the reality of his trial. To avoid the intensity of his situation, he writes a diary where he records his feeling. These handwritten passages introspectively contextualize the rest of the narrative, which is composed of Steve’s screenplay of the events of the trial.

Walter Dean Myers (Scorpions, Fallen Angels) is one of the founding writers of the YA movement that emerged in the early seventies (other writers include S.E. Hinton, Robert Cormier, and Judy Blume), and Monster is written to appeal to high school kids. Although Myers always has his teen audience in mind, he never talks down to them, and even though Monster features a discussion of some “edgy” content (uh…prison rape) it’s always purposeful to the narrative and never lurid or used for the sake of crude shock value. I’ve used this novel in my 10th grade classroom for a few years now and it’s always a big hit (this year we’re reading it in conjunction with Antigone and a viewing of Lumet’s 12 Angry Men). The students generally love it–they get to read the parts in Steve’s film–and it provides a fantastic platform to discuss a number of relevant issues, including justice, prejudice, guilt and innocence, and how we perceive (and sometimes dehumanize) others. At the heart of the novel is Steve’s inward battle to see himself as human and resist the gaze of the prosecutor, jury, and judge, as well as his attempt to escape the way that jail will shape his personality. This psychological/ethical/perceptual dilemma dominates the novel and Myers is content to let moments of irresolution stand in place of easy, platitudinous answers or dogmatic moralizing. This is a great novel for the classroom, but I think adult readers would also enjoy it. Highly recommended.