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Recap: Joan Didion’s night in Toronto

Margaret MacMillan interviews Joan Didion on stage. Photo: readings.org

While Canadian publishing executives and literary stars gathered at Toronto’s Four Seasons Hotel for the Scotiabank Giller Prize gala Tuesday night, across downtown, another large group gathered at the Harbourfront Centre to see American author Joan Didion, in town with her new memoir, Blue Nights. The sold-out event was part of the International Festival of Authors’ Ontario touring program.

City website Torontoist was there, and brings this summary of the evening’s highlights.

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Fall preview 2011: international books

In the July/August issue, Q&Q looks ahead at the fall season’s biggest books.

FICTION
Originally excerpted in The Paris Review in 2002, Denis Johnson’s novella Train Dreams (Farrar, Straus and Giroux/D&M Publishers, $19.95 cl.) rolls into stores this September. Known for his stories in Jesus’ Son and the National Book Award–winning novel Tree of Smoke, his latest work tells the story of Robert Grainer, a forlorn labourer in the 20th-century American West, struggling to cope with the loss of his family. • Fans of The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex have been waiting with bated breath for the arrival of Pulitzer Prize winner Jeffrey Eugenides’ new novel, The Marriage Plot (Knopf Canada, $32 cl., Oct.). In it, a naive English major endures a paradigm shift when she enrolls in a semiotics class and meets a charismatic loner. • The White Tiger author Aravind Adiga returns to the theme of a rapidly modernizing India in his third novel, Last Man in Tower (Bond Street Books, $32 cl., Sept.). The new novel is about a real estate developer who meets resistance when he tries to buy out the inhabitants of a Mumbai apartment he wants to turn into a luxury residence.

The late Portuguese author and Nobel laureate José Saramago’s posthumous novel is Cain (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Thomas Allen & Son, $28.95 cl., Oct.), a retelling of the story of humanity’s original bad brother • Appearing for the first time in English, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Apricot Jam and Other Stories (Counterpoint/Publishers Group Canada, $30.95 cl., Sept.), first published in Russia in the 1990s, is a collection of eight paired stories that exemplify the Nobel laureate’s “binary” approach to literature, in which interconnected stories are juxtaposed. • From Umberto Eco, the thinking person’s Dan Brown, comes another enigmatic tale of 19th-century Europe rife with intrigue. The Prague Cemetery (HMH/Thomas Allen, $33.95 cl., Nov.) imagines that a single evil genius is behind the era’s most infamous conspiracies and world-shattering events, from the Paris Commune to the Dreyfus Affair to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

This season will see new novels from two of the U.K.’s finest literary authors. The Stranger’s Child (Knopf Canada, $32 pa., Oct.), Alan Hollinghurst’s follow-up to the Man Booker Prize winner The Line of Beauty, is all about love, passion, and art in the face of destruction, telling the story of a 16-year-old girl transformed by a love poem written by a soldier before he is killed in the First World War. • In the vein of Margaret Atwood’s Penelopiad, A.S. Byatt’s Ragnarok: The End of the Gods (Knopf Canada, $25 cl., Sept.) examines how a book of Norse mythology changes the course of a young girl’s life as she seeks refuge in the British countryside during the Second World War.

Following the success of his debut novel, Submarine, which was recently adapted for film, Joe Dunthorne returns with another whimsical coming of age novel. Wild Abandon (Hamish Hamilton Canada, $30 cl., Aug.) is the story of two teens who escape a crumbling Welsh commune while preparing for the apocalypse. • Shock-author Chuck Palahniuk continues to churn out the bizarre with Damned (Doubleday Canada, $29.95 cl., Oct.). Try to envisage Dante’s Inferno, The Breakfast Club, and the world’s first death by marijuana overdose. Well, what else would you expect?

Harry Whitehead is a British writer whose first novel has a very Canadian setting. The Cannibal Spirit (Hamish Hamilton Canada, $32 cl., Oct.), inspired by Whitehead’s time at a writing workshop at the University of British Columbia, is based on the life story of the historical figure George Hunt, a mixed-race shaman who is driven to confront his dual heritage when his son dies of tuberculosis.

Stephen King indulges in one of the ultimate “what if” scenarios in his latest novel, 11/22/63 (Scribner/Simon & Schuster, $40 cl., Nov.), about a man who travels back in time to prevent the JFK assassination. • Lev Grossman may be best known as the book critic for Time magazine, but he is also the author of the best-selling novels Codex and The Magicians, both of which offered literary twists on the fantasy genre. Grossman returns with The Magician King (Viking, $31 cl., Sept.), a sequel to The Magicians, billed as an epic fantasy for fans of J.K. Rowling and C.S. Lewis. • Questions about individuality and privacy in a society obsessed with surveillance are addressed in British novelist, critic, and journalist Philip Hensher’s King of the Badgers (Faber & Faber/D&M, $28.95 cl., Sept.), in which the disappearance of a young girl places a small English town under the microscope.

Ghost World’s Daniel Clowes returns with a new graphic novel, The Death-Ray (Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95 cl., Oct.), about a nicotine-fuelled teenage vigilante.

MYSTERY AND CRIME
Best-selling author Ian Rankin returns with the second instalment of the Malcolm Fox detective series. In The Impossible Dead (Orion/Hachette, $34.99 cl., Oct.), Fox encounters police corruption, terrorism, and a murder with a weapon that shouldn’t exist.

Readers can’t seem to get enough of Nordic crime fiction. Following in the footsteps of Stieg Larsson, Henning Mankell, and Jo Nesbo, Denmark’s top crime writer, Jussi Adler-Olsen, makes his North American debut with The Keeper of Lost Causes (Dutton/Penguin, $30 cl., Sept.). The first instalment of the Department Q series introduces readers to Carl Morck, a homicide detective on a downward spiral who uncovers a cold case that could revive his career.

The Great Leader (House of Anansi Press, $22.95 pa., Oct.) by Jim Harrison follows a Michigan police detective who, before he retires, is determined to close an investigation involving a nefarious cult leader. • In Bad Signs (Orion/Hachette, $34.99 cl., Nov.) by R.J. Ellory, the lives of two orphaned half-brothers become even worse when they are taken hostage by a convicted killer on death row. • James Lee Burke tells of violence along the Texas-Mexico border in his latest, Feast Day of Fools (Simon & Schuster, $29.99 cl., Sept.).

BIOGRAPHY AND MEMOIR
Joan Didion
’s The Year of Magical Thinking, about the death of the author’s husband, was hailed for its honest portrayal of mourning. Didion’s new memoir, Blue Nights (Knopf Canada, $28.95 cl., Nov.), is a meditation on the death of her daughter just before the publication of Magical Thinking. • Paulo Coelho’s Aleph (Knopf Canada, $27.95 cl., Sept.) is a personal story about the author’s mystical journey toward self-discovery after experiencing a crisis of faith – and his encounter with a lover from a past life. • In 1985, at the age of 24, Jeanette Winterson rocketed to literary celebrity with the publication of her first novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. Her memoir, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (Knopf Canada, $29.95 cl., Oct.), is about the author’s rift with her Pentecostal parents, and her search for her biological mother.

Fifty years after the death of Ernest Hemingway, the author’s granddaughter, actress Mariel Hemingway, has delved into the family photo album to compile a pictorial biography of the literary giant. Hemingway: A Life in Pictures (Firefly Books, $40 cl., Sept.) is accompanied by a biographical essay by scholar Boris Vejdovsky. • Compiled from thousands of pages of journal entries, letters, story sketches, and other ephemera, The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick (HMH/Thomas Allen, $49.95 cl., Nov.), edited by Pamela Jackson and Jonathan Lethem, is being billed as the definitive edition of the science-fiction author’s unfinished final work. • Cambridge University Press is publishing The Letters of Samuel Beckett Volume 2: 1941–1956 ($50.95 cl., Oct.), edited by George Craig et al., which will inevitably peel back the layers of the man responsible for some of the most enduring literary output of the 20th century.

D&Q is set to publish a graphic (as in, illustrated) biography of Tintin creator Georges Prosper Remi, better known by his pen name, Hergé. The Adventures of Hergé ($19.95 cl., Sept.), which addresses (among other things) accusations that the author was a Nazi collaborator, is a collaboration between French authors José-Louis Bocquet, Jean-Luc Fromental, and Stanislas Barthélémy.

If you enjoy films (and using your thumbs to signify quality), then Roger Ebert’s memoir Life Itself (Grand Central Publishing/Hachette, $29.99 cl., Sept.) is for you. • In Diane Keaton’s memoir Then Again (Random House, $30 cl., Nov.), the famed actress explains how the bond she shared with her mother gave her the strength to catapult from ordinary girl to movie star.

HarperCollins Canada is set to release an intimate look at the life of former Israeli Prime Minister and army commander Ariel Sharon, who has been in a coma since suffering a stroke five years ago. Sharon ($38.99 cl., Oct.) was compiled by the controversial leader’s youngest son, Gilad Sharon, from his father’s meticulously detailed journals and personal archive.

Professional wrestler Chris Kanyon recounts his tumultuous life story in Wrestling Reality: The Life and Mind of Chris Kanyon, Wrestling’s Gay Superstar (ECW Press, $21.95 pa., Nov.). The as-told-to memoir, by journalist Ryan Clark, details Kanyon’s life in and out of the ring, including his decision to come out in 2004 and the events leading up to his recent suicide.

POLITICS AND CURRENT AFFAIRS
Do you think we’re living in the most tumultuous time in human history? Well, Steven Pinker politely disagrees in his latest book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (Viking, $46 cl., Oct.). The Harvard University professor of psychology mixes insights into history and human nature to dispel the myths of mankind’s violent nature as we move toward a more peaceful society.

After tackling seemingly intractable problems in the developing world in books such as The End of Poverty, U.S. economist Jeffrey Sachs turns his attention to his home country, offering ways of reforming American-style capitalism. The Price of Civilzation: Economics and Ethics After the Fall (Random House Canada, $29.95 cl., Oct.) looks at the role government ought to play in the lives of its citizens. • Three-time Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas L. Friedman teams up with Michael Mandelbaum, director of the American foreign policy program at Johns Hopkins University, to diagnose America’s ills, and offer a way out of the trap the country has fallen into, in That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World We Invented – And How We Can Come Back (FSG/D&M, $31 cl., Sept.). • Polemical columnist Christopher Hitchens is sure to ruffle feathers in Arguably: Selected Essays ($34.99 cl., Sept.), published by McClelland & Stewart’s new non-fiction imprint, Signal.

Philanthropist and U.N. special envoy Ray Chambers has done everything in his power to eradicate the spread of malaria. Time magazine’s Africa bureau chief, Alex Perry, looks at Chambers’ campaign and investigates the scope of this often overlooked issue in Lifeblood: How to Change the World One Dead Mosquito at a Time (PublicAffairs/Perseus Books Group, $30 cl., Sept.).

Washington Post investigative reporters Dana Priest and William Arkin delve into the expansion of the U.S. national security apparatus since 9/11 in Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State (Little, Brown/Hachette $32.99 cl., Sept.), which exposes how a new, secret “fourth branch” of government is becoming ever more powerful.

HISTORY
Civilization: The West and the Rest (Allen Lane, $32 cl., Nov.) is Harvard historian Niall Ferguson’s study of how Western culture has risen to world dominance over the past 500 years. • James Palmer documents a single tumultuous year in China’s history (1976), when the deadliest earthquake in modern history helped end the Cultural Revolution. Heaven Cracks, Earth Shakes: The Tangshan Earthquake and the Death of Mao’s China (Basic Books/Perseus, $32.50 cl.) ships in December.

Thomas Keneally, author of the Booker Prize–winning Schindler’s Ark – later adapted into the film Schindler’s List – explores how, historically, famine is not caused by food shortages, but rather by social injustice and government neglect. Three Famines: Starvation and Politics (PublicAffairs/Perseus, $32.50 cl., Aug.) documents past tragedies in Ireland, Bengal, and Ethiopia. • Journalist and economist Sylvia Nasar, who won the National Book Critics Circle Award for her biography A Beautiful Mind (about Princeton mathematician John Nash), returns with a look at the men and women who invented modern economics in Grand Pursuit: The Story of Economic Genius (Simon & Schuster, $39.99 cl., Sept.).

Stephen Clarke, author of the best-selling novel A Year in the Merde, is set to release a companion volume of sorts. 1,000 Years of Annoying the French (McArthur & Company, $24.95 pa., Aug.) explicates (with humour) the ongoing British effort to pester the French, from the Norman Conquests up to the present.

BUSINESS AND TECHNOLOGY
Journalist Warren H. Phillips offers a behind-the-scenes account of a dying profession in Newspaperman: Inside the News Business at The Wall Street Journal (McGraw-Hill, $34.95 cl., Oct.). Phillips began his career as a copyboy, eventually working his way up the ranks to become publisher of the WSJ. • In The Mountain Within: Leadership Lessons and Inspiration for Your Climb to the Top (McGraw-Hill, $28.95 cl., Sept.), Herta von Stiegel, founder and CEO of Ariya Capital Group – a private equity firm that focuses on sustainable investments in Africa – shares how she led a group of people with disabilities to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, and how readers can apply the same leadership skills to the business world.

The Conficker worm baffled cyber-security experts when it infected millions of computers across the globe. Mark Bowden, author of Black Hawk Down and Guests of the Ayatollah, investigates the impact of the computer virus in Worm: The Story of the First Digital War (Atlantic/PGC, $26.50 cl., Oct.). • U.K. journalist Misha Glenny follows up 2008’s McMafia with DarkMarket: CyberThieves, CyberCobs and You (Anansi, $29.95 cl., Sept.), an exposé of the online underworld.

LIFESTYLE & SELF-HELP
Neuroscientist, professor, and former drug addict Dr. Marc Lewis explains the propensities behind addiction in Memoirs of an Addicted Brain: A Neuroscientist Examines His Former Life on Drugs (Doubleday Canada, $32.95 cl., Oct.). The narrative bounces between Lewis’s experiences as an addict and his study of how our brains cyclically crave what we don’t have.

Alexis Stewart (daughter of Martha Stewart) and Jennifer Koppelman Hutt – co-hosts of the Sirius Radio program Whatever with Alexis and Jennifer, as well as a growing empire of TV shows – share their insights on, well, just about whatever they feel like in Whateverland: Learning to Live Here (John Wiley & Sons, $29.95 cl., Oct.). • Actress, author, and fitness enthusiast Jane Fonda looks at her own life to offer a blueprint for living well in Prime Time: Love; Health; Fitness; Sex; Spirit; Friendship; Making the Most of All Your Life (Random House, $30 cl., Sept.). • In Breast Cancer: 50 Essential Things You Can Do (Conari Press, $18.95 pa., Sept.), cancer survivor and author Greg Anderson offers vital information regarding the issues patients encounter, from diagnosis to recovery.

FOOD AND DRINK
World-famous French chef Jacques Pépin unveils a compendium of his favourite recipes – from haute cuisine to Pépin’s twist on fast food – in Essential Pépin: More Than 700 All-Time Favorites from My Life in Food (HMH/Thomas Allen, $49.95 cl., Oct.). • The Oxford Companion to Beer (Oxford University Press, $65 cl., Oct.), edited by Garrett Oliver, is an all-encompassing guide to everything you wanted to know about the world’s third most popular beverage (after water and tea).

Known for the lofty Veganomicon, Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero’s Vegan Pie in the Sky: 75 Out-of-this-World Recipes for Pies, Tarts, Cobblers and More (Da Capo Lifelong Books/Perseus, $19.95 pa., Oct.) will be fattening up vegans with these dessert recipes. • The Healthy Voyager’s Global Kitchen: 150 Plant-Based Recipes from Around the World (Fair Winds/Canadian Manda Group, $21.99 pa., Dec.) is Carolyn Scott-Hamilton’s guide to plant-based ethnic eating.

Firefly has two cookbooks slated for September: Ken Hom’s Complete Chinese Cookbook ($35 cl.) is an introduction to Chinese cuisine and cooking techniques. • Superfoods for Pregnancy: The Healthiest Foods for the Expectant Mother and Her Baby ($19.95 pa.) by Susannah Marriott is a comprehensive guide to nutrition for expectant mothers.

The fine print: Q&Q’s fall preview covers books published between July 1 and Dec. 31, 2011. All information (titles, prices, publication dates, etc.) was supplied by publishers and may have been tentative at Q&Q’s press time. • Titles that have appeared in previous previews do not appear here.

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No Canadian books, but we probably make good candles

Indigo’s CEO and chief booklover Heather Reisman was on the tube the other day announcing her favourite books of the year. (In Other Media had Canada AM on because we were waiting for Live! with Regis and Kelly to start — their banter is genuine and delightful!) A couple of the picks were standard, like Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, which now officially has to be included on all year-end best books lists or else the taste police will confiscate your library (or Indigo Rewards) card, and the latest Doris Kearns Goodwin book about Lincoln or Taft or somesuch. But you know what wasn’t on the list? That’s right, a Canadian book. Adam Gopnik’s kids book, The King in the Window, could, in some marginal way, qualify, since he lived in Montreal, but otherwise, there were none.

The full list is on the CTV site, where your official Giller Prize network has listed James Frey’s memoir, My Friend Leonard, under “good fiction.” They also have a link to the video of Reisman’s appearance. Take one drink every time Reisman says “delicious.” And two drinks every time you think you see a little part of host Seamus O’Regan’s soul leaving his body.

Related links:
Click here for the CTV story

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Eva Stachniak's Empress of the Night

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