Friday, July 31, 2015

"This is Where We Live": A City Made of Books in Stop Motion to Celebrate UK Publisher 4th Estate's 25th Birthday

Check out this amazing video that Apt Studio made to celebrate British book publisher 4th Estate's 25th birthday.  It's stop motion and Apt Studio used more than 1000 books to create this book city.

Welcome to our city - to our world - of books. This is where we live.

A film for 4th Estate Publishers' 25th Anniversary. Produced by Apt Studio and Asylum Films.

The film was produced in stop-motion over 3 weeks in Autumn 2008. Each scene was shot on a home-made dolly by an insane bunch of animators; you can see time-lapse films of each sequence being prepared and shot in our other films.
(via TrendLand)

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Rachel Riley's Eloise-Inspired Children's Clothing Collection

Children's wear designer Rachel Riley is creating a collection of clothing for little girls that is based on outfits worn by Eloise in Kay Thompson and Hilary Knight's children's classic.  The first book was published 60 years ago, in 1955.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Review: The Professor Is In: The Essential Guide to Turning Your Ph.D. into a Job by Karen Keslky

It says a lot about academia and the academic job market in particular that this book, and the author Karen Kelsky's eponymous website, are profitable enterprises.  Essentially, Kelsky's book and website offer, for a price, help with the academic job market.  This type of information and advice should be provided free of charge by one's academic advisors.  The well-documented problem is that this simply is not the case for the vast majority of graduate students.  The academic job market (at least in the humanities) is appallingly difficult these days, and every little bit of help counts.  Unfortunately, while graduate programs are happy to let students in, they largely fail to help their students get jobs.  There is a great article on the Chronicle of Higher Education's Vitae site about Kelsky and the the relationship between her success and the poor treatment of graduate students.  You can read it here.  Even if you are lucky enough to have an advisor willing to help, there is a good likelihood that that advisor lacks the perspective and information necessary to help.  The academic job market, like many other job markets, took a major dive along with the economy a few years ago and it has not really improved, even though it was already quite bad.  Most professors (and thus advisors) entered an entirely different job market.

And this is why this book could be published by a Big Five publisher.  Kelsky's book, like her website (and presumably her personalized services, which I have never used), provide a tough love approach to job market and publishing advice.  There are other books about getting academic jobs, but I have found that Kelsky's book and website provide advice that is more relevant and thus helpful than other books of this type that I've read.  That being said, I don't usually like Kelsky's tone.  I understand that she's going for the tough love/straight talk approach, and while I appreciate that to a certain extent, it gets old after a while.  This is especially problematic, since, as the Chronicle article hints at, her writing borders on using the abusive tone that is part of what makes her own book and website necessary (i.e. the abusive and neglectful culture of the academic "mentoring" system).  Her advice is often sound, but frankly, as with all of the advice young academics obsessively hoard from any number of sources, there is really no way of knowing if any of it actually works, or is necessary.  If you don't get a job, you can blame her advice.  If you do get a job, you can say it's due to her.  But in the end, it's all about making yourself feel like you have more control over a largely mysterious and random process.  All of that being said, I think Kelsky's book is probably the best source for advice on the academic job market for those desperately in need of support.  

(I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.)

Review: Sorcerer to the Crown (A Sorcerer Royal Novel) by Zen Cho

When I read the description and jacket blurbs for this book, I knew I was going to love it.  It is blurbed on the cover by the wonderful Naomi Novik, who likens Cho's book to Georgette Heyer and Susanna Clarke, two of my favorite authors.  And indeed, I did absolutely love this book.  This is London-based author Zen Cho's first novel, and it is really hard to believe that this is her first full-length book.  It is a beautifully and brilliantly written Regency-fantasy-comedy of manners-social commentary.  The blurbs and description of Cho's book make it sound like a fluffy piece of fun.  It is certainly fun, but it is far from fluffy.  I loved this book, but I think the publisher/marketing department have done this book a disservice by selling it as a sort of light Gail Carriger-type fantasy romance comedy of manners.  In saying that, I certainly am not insulting Gail Carriger, who is one of my favorite authors.  But Carriger is attempting to do something quite different from Cho.  Cho's book is fun, romantic, whimsical, and charming, but it is far more than that.  All of that Carriger-Heyer stuff is what drew me in, but this book is also (or perhaps, more accurately) a social commentary and allegory.  It is written in a deceptively light and charming style, but it deals with race and gender, racism, sexism, and xenophobia.  Racism, sexism, and xenophobia were certainly rampant in Regency England, and are still a large part of Western culture, but of course, authors like Heyer, Elizabeth Peters, and Carriger tend to gloss over those aspects of upper-class English society and politics.  They deal with sexism perhaps a little, but in general, those authors revel in a highly romanticized version of historical England.  I am an unrepentant Anglophile, so that has never hugely bothered me, but Cho's book brings all of this to the surface.  

And yet she somehow manages to keep this book fun and charming, just like all of those books to which it has been compared.  I don't know how she managed it.  From my description of its social commentary aspects, you might think this is a heavy and depressing book, but it is very far from that.  It is written in the wry and archaic style of Susanna Clarke's brilliant Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, and like that book, deals with a Regency England full of stuffy magicians who are, for the most part, more theoretical than active in their magicking.  While it is therefore no surprise that Cho's book draws comparisons to Clarke's novel, due to the superficial similarities between these books, it is really Cho's interest in the ways in which people of color and women would have been seen and treated in such a society that sets this book apart.  This is a wonderfully written, hugely enjoyable, and thought-provoking novel.  Cho is a huge talent, and I certainly hope that this book gets a lot of attention, as it so richly deserves.  I am so happy that this is only the first in a trilogy.  That being said, for those of you who are weary (and wary) of yet another trilogy, you should know that this novel is entirely complete on its own.  The ending is tied up very nicely, as you would expect from Jane Austen or Georgette Heyer, but you will definitely want to hear more from these characters and about this unusual alternative version of England that Cho has created.  The main female character, who is of mixed race, is a delightful creation who does not conform to the usual stereotypes of romantic heroines.  She is brilliant, strong, beautiful, and ruthless.  The main male character is a former African slave, and his race is a major issue throughout the novel.  There is also a talking caterpillar named Gilbert.  What more could anyone want?  

One last note, about the title and cover of the US edition of this novel: the title is bland and forgettable, and not really that evocative of what this book is really about (I won't say anymore, because I don't want to spoil the plot).  More problematic is the US edition cover, which hints rather strongly at a Chinese element.  There is only one Chinese character in this book, and a pretty minor one at that, and while there are major plot points dealing with Asia, the book is really very much about England--its politics, culture, class structure, prejudices, manners, and mores.  Dragons also do not play a large part in this book at all.  I can only guess that the cover was designed by someone who did not read this book, and only looked at the author's name, and went with some (hugely inaccurate) stereotypes (the author is of Malaysian decent)  Or, alternatively, and I don't know which is worse, someone who had read the book still decided that the way to sell this book, given the author's name, would be to play heavily and inaccurately into an audience that is looking for something vaguely Eastern and exotic.  Either way, bad job to the publisher, who is really misrepresenting this book and author, and probably preventing people who would love this book from picking it up.

(I received this book in exchange for an honest review from Penguin Books' First to Read program.)

Monday, July 27, 2015

Friday, July 24, 2015

"I Capture the Castle": Amber Anderson by Koto Bolofo for UK Harper's Bazaar July 2015

This lovely editorial is named after one of my favorite books, 101 Dalmations author Dodie Smith's charming novel about two teenage sisters living in genteel, bohemian poverty in a largely ruined castle in the 1930s English countryside with their artist model stepmother, mentally unstable modernist novelist father, and two gorgeous American brothers living next door.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Review: Armada by Ernest Cline

I am not a geek.  Definitely not the Dungeons & Dragons-fanboy type of geek (not that there's anything wrong with that!).  So if you think Ernest Cline's books are not for you because you don't like video games or science fiction or geeky stuff, give his books a shot.  It took a lot of people talking about Ready Player One for me to finally pick it up, and I am so glad I did.  It turned out to be one of my favorite books of all time, in spite of the fact that I wasn't familiar with the majority of the pop culture references Cline made in that book.  It was, simply put, one of the most purely enjoyable books I have ever read.  I am now constantly on the lookout for books that are just fun (but also well-written).  Andy Weir's The Martian (another book I really didn't think I would like, but ended up loving) certainly falls into this category, as do Katherine Neville's cult classic from the early 80s, The Eight, Daniel O'Malley's The Rook, Alan Bradley's Flavia de Luce mystery series, and Gail Carriger's books.  But truly fun and enjoyable books are surprisingly hard to come by.  You're most likely to find these books in the mystery, science fiction, or fantasy sections, and middle grade is the only "genre" that consistently produces books like this.  The main problem seems to be that literary fiction writers and publishers believe good books can't be fun and enjoyable, or have a propulsive narrative.  And it's true that well-written books like this are hard to come by, even in genre fiction.  That's part of why I was so thrilled to hear that Cline was coming out with a new novel.  Armada, coming out this month, hits the same sweet spot as Ready Player One, and I am so pleased that Cline's second effort avoids the sophomore slump.  Like Ready Player One, Armada is filled with 80s pop culture, science fiction tropes, adolescent male nerds, and video games.  Even as I write this, that sounds like a recipe for my total boredom (with the exception of the 80s pop culture references), but Cline really knows what he is doing.  I think part of his secret, besides just being a talented writer, is that he is simply writing about what he loves.  You can feel his giddy delight in his subjects, and he is supremely talented as conveying that same feeling to his readers, even if they, like me, don't actually feel passionate about the same things as him.  This is almost a magical power, and I really wish other writers could do what Cline does.  I will read anything this man writes.

(I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.)