Monthly Archives: October 2013

PW Best Books 2013: ‘Forty-One False Starts’ by Janet Malcolm

Jessamine Chan -- October 31st, 2013

fortyonefalsestarts 18-31-42

Leading up to the November 1st publication of PW’s Best Books of 2013, our reviews editors are blogging about some of their favorites from our top 100. Here’s the latest post:

One list begets another, so here are three reasons why you should read Janet Malcolm’s stunning essay collection, Forty-One False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers:

1. Accessibility: I am the sister of an artist, I regularly read about contemporary art, but I don’t have a background in art history and often find art criticism to be chilly and impenetrable. Malcolm’s erudite, lucid, totally accessible essays allow me to study the work of Diane Arbus, Thomas Struth, Edward Weston, David Salle, and others, and learn about their worlds with her. What a pleasure to feel like a student again when you have such a witty and unpretentious teacher.

2. Acquaintance and Reacquaintance: Friends tell me that they started reading The New Yorker in high school or even as children. That’s lovely, but I didn’t start reading The New Yorker until about ten years ago, didn’t learn of its canonical place in the world of nonfiction writers until graduate school, and my introduction to The New York Review of Books was even more recent. For readers, who, like me, cannot call upon a lifetime of reading of these fine publications—where many of these essays were published over several decades—this book is a terrific way to catch up on Malcolm’s work. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself wanting to read her other books (such as Iphigenia in Forest Hills, Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice, The Journalist and the Murderer) when you’re done.

3. Pleasure: As Ian Frazier writes in the book’s introduction: “A lot of journalism is a bedtime story you are sleepily hearing for the hundredth time, but with a piece by Janet Malcolm, you never know where things will lead…The chance of being taken completely by surprise keeps you alert through everything she writes.” One of the joys of reading is communing with an author’s brilliant mind, and this book, above all, is curious and joyful. The collection has much to offer aspiring critics, writers, students of art and literature, artists, teachers, and readers who simply appreciate exceptional prose. I want to cite a particular passage for you, but I’d have to take a highlighter to the entire book.

PW Best Books 2013: ‘Provence, 1970′ by Luke Barr

Mark Rotella -- October 31st, 2013

30book "Provence, 1970" by Luke Barr.

Leading up to the November 1st publication of PW’s Best Books of 2013, our reviews editors are blogging about some of their favorites from our top 100. Here’s the latest post:

Nowadays, food writing seems to have reached high decibels—everyone clamoring to be heard, everyone filling his or her sentences with bold, exciting ways to describe a restaurant experience, a piece of meat, a once downtrodden vegetable.

The pace is furious, and the virtual din can resemble the kitchen of many a hot New York City restaurant on a Saturday night. The bigger the chef, the faster the tempo. There is little time to think, to take a step back.

So it was refreshing to come across Luke Barr’s Provence, 1970, about the time when M.F.K Fisher, Julia Child, and James Beard happened to be in Provence at the same time for a few weeks one year; and how, from that moment, they and a few others would change the course of American cuisine, gradually.

M.F.K. Fisher was Barr’s great aunt, which he discussed with us in an interview. And in his book he beautifully evokes those few days in Provence with an elegance and thoughtfulness that appropriately celebrates his great aunt.

Not every meal, not every bite of a piece of bread is transcendent; food as a meal offers both writers—Fisher and Barr—time and space, especially when dining alone. At one point M.F.K. travels alone to Arles, and Barr subtly captures a moment in the cold December chill:

“The maid at the Nord-Pinus delivered a breakfast tray every morning with a café au lait and two croissants, a small dish of butter, and a large bowl of apricot jam. The café au lait was over-milky and oversweet, an innocent sensuality that always made [M.F.K.] want to go back to bed and read awhile longer.”

PW Best Books 2013: ‘The Flamethrowers’ by Rachel Kushner

Everett Jones -- October 30th, 2013

the flamethrowers

Leading up to the November 1st publication of PW’s Best Books of 2013, our reviews editors are blogging about some of their favorites from our top 100. Here’s the latest post:

Since arriving in bookstores this past April, Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers has stunned readers with a sense of energy and onward-rushing momentum perhaps more to be expected from a genre thriller than a literary novel like this one. Set in 1975 and 1976, the story takes its unnamed narrator, a young woman and aspiring artist known only as “Reno,” from Fun City-era NYC to an Italy seemingly on the brink of revolution.  Through all this, the book creates a sense of speed that’s captured in what, for many people, will likely be its defining image: that of Reno racing an Italian-made motorcycle, a “Moto Valera”, across salt flats in the deserts of Utah. It’s not surprising that among the adjectives critics have used to describe The Flamethrowers, “cinematic,” or some close equivalent, has been one of the most common.

Films and filmmaking take a good deal of space in the novel, albeit alongside such possibly less well-worn topics such as Brazilian rubber-extraction methods, Italian radical politics, and the evolution of skiing styles. Kushner, who would have been around seven years old when the story takes place, finds a shortcut to the feel of the period in citing the titles of movies her characters would have likely seen: Klute, Contempt, Red Desert, Behind the Green Door, and-to less obviously cool effects-the Barbara Streisand remake of A Star is Born. None of these references come as a surprise, any more than it would be surprising for a period film to use a needle-drop soundtrack.

However, some of Kushner’s cinematic allusions go unexplained. Fairly early in the book–-to be exact, page 84 in the hardcover edition–-there’s a description of “a movie about a Belgian widow turned prostitute” that’s “all claustrophobic domesticity, a woman moving around an oppressively ordered space, shining her son’s shoes and making coffee in a percolator.” What she’s describing is 1975’s minimalist, experimental Jean Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, directed by Chantal Akerman and starring Delphine Seyrig, but you won’t find that title anywhere in the text. Nor will you find the title of the “three a.m. movie” Reno watches later in the book (p.198) that begins by showing a woman who “had ditched her husband and kids and was about to set off on a series of sketchy adventures with a jumpy, anxious man.” But since I’m here, I can tell you it’s Wanda, the 1970 solo feature from the actress Barbara Loden. A little easier, on p. 175, is “that movie where poor Karen Black utters the fatal question at dinner with her lover’s higher-class family: Is there any ketchup?” Of course (?), it’s Bob Rafelson’s Five Easy Pieces, also from 1970, and a touchstone for the book’s emphasis on Americans uprooted from their pasts and on the road. These unexplained references might bother some readers, but they’re in keeping with Kushner’s focus on opaque, closed-off worlds–avant-garde artists and radical cells–and her conception of a narrator who misses as much as she perceives.

PW Best Books 2013: ‘Murder as a Fine Art” by David Morrell

Peter Cannon -- October 29th, 2013

Murder as a Fine Art

Leading up to the November 1st publication of PW’s Best Books of 2013, our reviews editors are blogging about some of their favorites from our top 100. Here’s the latest post:

At the first ThrillerFest, held in Phoenix, Ariz., in the summer of 2006, I had a long conversation with a David Morrell fan. This young enthusiast spoke highly of Rambo’s creator, who received his Ph.D. in American literature from Penn State and taught for many years as an English professor at the University of Iowa before turning to writing full time. He persuaded me that the author of First Blood was worth a serious look.

At the ThrillerFest held in New York in 2009, Morrell received the ThrillerMaster Award from the International Thriller Writers. In his acceptance speech, the author made a cogent case for the contribution of Rambo—as incarnated by Sylvester Stallone on the movie screen—to the downfall of Communism in Eastern Europe. Smuggled Rambo films helped inspire Solidarity in Poland, Morrell said, adding that “Rambo” was inscribed on the Berlin Wall as it fell. Rambo, I was interested to hear, was one of five fictional characters with worldwide recognition; the others are Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan, James Bond, and Harry Potter.

I have yet to read a Rambo novel or see a Rambo film, but this summer I couldn’t resist Morrell’s Victorian thriller, Murder as a Fine Art, in which Thomas De Quincy (1785-1859), who wrote a controversial essay entitled “On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts,” plays detective. Aided by his grown daughter, De Quincy investigates the slaughter of a family and their servant that duplicates the brutal murders of the members of a London household decades earlier. A distinctive lead character, an ingenious plot, and plenty of atmospheric period detail help make this book, as the PW reviewer noted, “an epitome of the intelligent page-turner.”

PW Best Books 2013: ‘Italo Calvino: Letters, 1941–1985’

Seth Satterlee -- October 28th, 2013

0Calvino-LettersLeading up to the November 1st publication of PW’s Best Books of 2013, our reviews editors are blogging about some of their favorites from our top 100. Here’s the latest post:

One of the more peculiar choices on this year’s long list for best books is Italo Calvino: Letters, 1941–1985 from Princeton University Press. Selected and introduced by Michael Wood, translated by Martin McLaughlin, the collection is a mesmerizing peek inside the thinking of the great modern fabulist. While Calvino’s fiction is, as Wood says, “part of a greater literary project of hinting and suggesting, making memorable shapes and images, rather than giving information or offering explanations,” the epistolary Calvino is straightforward, direct, and unrelenting.

Early letters deal with the turmoil of Fascist Italy–a young Calvino spars with fellow “comrades” over the future of the Communist Party (he withdrew in 1957).  There are grandiose debates over the fate of the movement and it’s eventual unwinding:  “‘Russia’  and ‘America’… were two utopian countries, two incomplete and complementary utopias, and the sum added up to the great country of utopia that was…the true objective of the Resistance.” Much of his letter writing seems to be an exercise in clear expression. Included from World War II are a short note from hiding, informing his parents that he and his brother are safe, and a letter that begins with the eerie line: “the first night of the curfew imposed by the Germans.” After the war, Calvino worked tirelessly for the leftist publishing house Einaudi, as both editor and writer, and many of his letters are directed to Italian colleagues and authors: Cesare Pavese, Paolo Pasolini, Elio Vittorini, Natalia Ginzburg.  Some of the best entries are Calvino’s “hatchet jobs” (a term he uses for critiques of his own work) delivered on thinkers, politicians, authors, periodicals, friends, you name it. He is often hard on those closest to him, particularly childhood friend Eugenio Scalfari who would go on to found two preeminent journals. Calvino’s letters to Scalfari show a writer with prodigious skills discovering his own voice, defining himself in relation to the thinking of a close friend. As Calvino admits in a later letter, these early reflections are those of a “young man at the end of the forties [trying] to find his way in the worlds of politics and literature.”

Calvino’s later life sees his literary star grow, and so does the breadth of his letters–an entry from his birthplace of Cuba, where he met Che Guevara, and correspondence with Primo Levi, Umberto Eco, and Michelangelo Antonioni. The suicide of his good friend and renowned novelist Cesare Pavese sends ripples through Calvino’s close-knit circle of intellectuals and brings out some of the barest moments: “For months I almost avoided Pavese, because I knew he was full of private worries, though still I followed them with anxiety. Now I can’t get rid of the remorse that perhaps even from a conversation with me he might have had–by pure chance, maybe–an idea that would have borne fruit, a discovery of ‘the broken mesh in the net.’” Although he’d later feel embarrassed by statements of such youthful confidence and unbridled conviction, these very attributes are what make his formative letters so consuming. He is a writer as scrupulous and demanding on himself as he is on the world around him.  Calvino took the role of public intellectual very seriously, convinced in his job to explore the fringes of thought.  In response to a letter concerning Pavese’s suicide, he writes to a friend: “You always move as though you were in a china shop whereas I believe that one can also fling ideas into the air or on the ground or against the walls, too bad about those that end up in pieces.”  He practices this motto throughout the collection, tossing around ideas and suggestions he’d formerly discarded.  But as the letters move through the years, one can see Calvino gradually drawing away from the public world, becoming disillusioned with politics and the fickle nature of celebrity.

When considering Calvino’s legacy, it’s hard not to see his published letters as a gross intrusion of sorts. Wood addresses this in his Introduction: “Italo Calvino was discreet about his life and the lives of others, and skeptical about the uses of biography… [He] was inclined to think that a writer’s work is all the biography anyone really requires. In his letters he returns again and again to the need for attention to the actual literary object rather than the imagined author. But then what are we to make of the letters of such a writer, and what are we doing reading them?” Effacement in service of the work, the role of the author in society, these were Calvino’s concerns throughout his career; this is also the tension that drives these “literary and political letters”–Woods excludes the majority of his personal correspondence. A writer of such great control and refreshing playfulness, Calvino reveals how serious and unsure his journey was in this collection of candid letters.

PW Best Books 2013: ‘A Hero to Come Home To’ by Marilyn Pappano

Rose Fox -- October 25th, 2013

heroLeading up to the November 1st publication of PW’s Best Books of 2013, our reviews editors are blogging about some of their favorites from our top 100. Here’s the latest post:

I edit two sections of reviews: SF/fantasy/horror and romance/erotica. Both cover a lot of ground, and while my tastes are pretty broad and I deliberately read widely, I have particular favorite subgenres. One of the big challenges for me, when Best Books time comes around, is finding a selection of books that represent both my own tastes and the best of what those very large and diverse categories have to offer in a given year.

I admit I especially struggle with this when it comes to contemporary romance. Without fantasy worldbuilding or pretty historical clothes to distract me, the flaws in characters are often glaring. A lot of contemporary romance is set in small towns; I love big cities. A lot of contemporary romance doesn’t question or actively embraces elements of modern life that I have real problems with, such as heteronormativity, entrenched gender roles, and veneration of the military, while neglecting elements of modern life that I appreciate and enjoy, such as diversity of various kinds. Given this, every year I’m a bit trepidatious when I approach the contemporary romances that my reviewers have singled out as worthy of extra attention.

At a glance, Marilyn Pappano’s A Hero to Come Home To is the opposite of anything I’d ever read voluntarily. It’s a contemporary het romance set in a small Oklahoma town, and it’s got a strong military focus. But a closer look reveals some elements that caught my interest. The main characters are an army sergeant’s widow and a paratrooper who’s had a leg amputated; that suggests the author is taking a genuinely nuanced approach to the realities of military life, despite the blithe use of “hero” in the title. Also, I’ve both grieved the death of a partner and spent ten years coping with an intermittent physical disability. If Pappano could handle those issues well, I thought, this might be a book I’d find worth reading. I sat down and gave it a try.

By the end of it I was choked up with emotion. It’s extremely rare for a book to make me cry–I don’t remember the last one that did–but this came close.

Carly’s widowhood is handled really well. Her grief for her deceased husband, Jeff, is real, and so is her newfound passion for Dane. While contrasts are inevitably drawn between the two men, Pappano does a brilliant job of making them both worthy of Carly’s love. Dane is the one who feels like he doesn’t measure up to “perfect” Jeff, while Carly is happy to see Dane as “perfect” in his own way. I’ve read far too many romances where a past or deceased partner had to be tarnished in some way so that the hero could be The One; it gets tiresome, and isn’t true to life. Pappano doesn’t make that mistake. Carly has The Two, and that’s presented as entirely right and appropriate.

Dane’s efforts to adapt to one-legged life are likewise described in ways that rang true to me. He oscillates between trying to pretend he can still do everything he used to do and grudgingly admitting that he can’t. A lot of Dane’s self-image and self-esteem are wrapped up in physical ability, as were all his plans for work after leaving the military. He’s having to rebuild his life and psyche from the ground up. And since a prosthesis lets him walk around and otherwise hide the extent of his injury, he struggles with how and whether to reveal the truth to Carly–a revelation that carries an enormous weight of possible rejection, like any other coming-out. But whenever Dane risks becoming too obsessed with his own struggles, his growing affection for Carly helps him remember that there’s more to life than injury and recovery.

Pappano develops a full cast, laying the groundwork for future books while bringing the town of Tallgrass to life. It’s not at all a stereotypical small town, either. The bustling downtown area feels like a place where even this city kid would be happy to spend a few days. There’s plenty of racial diversity. Carly spends Tuesday evenings hanging out with other military widows, each of whom will presumably get her own second chance at love; a military widower, whose wife died after sustaining combat injuries, hangs around the outskirts of the group and wonders whether the ladies would welcome him. There are grieving widows and angry widows and secretly relieved widows, childless widows and a pregnant widow (a Russian woman who enjoys being fussed over by her Mexican husband’s family) and a widow raising her husband’s children from his first marriage, people living with children or parents or siblings or alone. There are well-off characters and poor characters, townies and ranchers, churchgoers and agnostics, alcoholics and non-drinkers, good-natured people and prickly people.

I was glad to see frank discussion of the toll that military service takes on servicemembers and their families, but would have liked mention of the toll that the American military takes on the inhabitants of Iraq and Afghanistan. Some openly gay characters would be terrific too. But while Pappano is clearly willing to push the boundaries of contemporary romance, she also has to take the mores of her readers into consideration. Much as this isn’t a typical book for me, I’m pretty sure that a queer New York City liberal who skipped high school classes to march in anti-war protests is not a typical reader for this book. And for writing this good–for emotions so vivid and real that they really do bring tears to my eyes–I’m willing to meet her halfway.

When I closed the book I found myself eager to spend more time with Carly’s crowd, even though I have very little in common with them. They’re all so lovable. Perhaps that’s because, in Pappano’s world, everyone is worthy of love. And isn’t that what romance novels are all about?

A review copy of the sequel, A Man to Hold on To, arrived at my office yesterday. I immediately grabbed it and took it home and devoured it. Not only has Pappano written a contemporary small-town military romance that I like, but she’s done it so well that the entire series is now on my must-read-right-away list. There’s no question that A Hero to Come Home To is one of 2013′s best books.

PW Best Books 2013: ‘Amsterdam’ by Russell Shorto

Alex Crowley -- October 24th, 2013

amsterdam shorto

Leading up to the November 1st publication of PW’s Best Books of 2013, our reviews editors are blogging about some of their favorites from our top 100. Here’s the latest post:

Just a few days ago I finished reading Russell Shorto’s Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City, the last in a pile of potential best books through which I’d been making my way. Sometimes it’s clear from the off that a book is special, and that indefinable sense took hold quickly here. Shorto had an inkling of an idea, but it was one that needed exploring rather than something already concrete or definitive. So exploring we go…

Shorto’s premise, in brief, is that the growth of the city of Amsterdam mirrors the development of principles “of what we call liberalism: an ideology centered on beliefs about equality and individual freedom that is the foundation of Western society.” Why Amsterdam specifically? He notes how before there was even a notion of “Dutch” national identity, Hollanders (and Friesians and Gelderlanders and other provincials of the “Low Countries”) had developed a geographically-specific, collectivized existence quite different from the feudalism that defined the rest of Europe in the late Middle-Ages. They lived upon land reclaimed from drained bogs and marshes, the making of which not only demanded a great deal of unity, but also fostered a great sense of pride in its accomplishment. The land didn’t belong to a feudal lord, but was literally made by the people. It was their land to do with as they saw fit.

I’ll save you from any further spoilers and leave the remarkable development of the city of Amsterdam to Shorto, for he turns a somewhat obscure story of water management and international trade into an enthralling tale of radicalism and tolerance of strange and otherwise anathema beliefs and ideas. But what’s worth focusing on is Shorto’s notion of the collectivist origins of individualism, as it seems to be a notion missing from contemporary American notions of individualism. Here, for better or worse, we celebrate that “rugged” strain of the pioneer and the self-made “hero”. It’s a mythical conception at best and dangerously misguided at worst.

Whichever way you want to look at it it’s a major influence on our current American political climate in which a vocal segment of the population rails against any sort of collective endeavor whatsoever, labeling it “socialist” and un-American. Part of me feels that Shorto, who has adopted Amsterdam as his home and has lived there nearly a decade now, has sharpened his eye in this position of “exile”. He’s written us this lengthy letter saying, “Hey, here’s where your cherished ‘individualism’ comes from, and if you stop working together, you’re going to lose it.”

He shows quite clearly how, in the course of its development, when Amsterdammers lost their notion of the collective endeavor, they not only suffered the indignities of intolerant rulers, but lost their position in world affairs.*

We worry today, at least some of us do, that the economic system we enjoy is moving in an unsustainable direction, that it’s leading us back towards a manorial system of feudal lords (who own capital and the means of production) and serfs who scrape by through undignified labor that only serves to exalt the self-appointed lords.** I think it’s clear from Shorto’s work (and I don’t feel an ideological agenda on his part, that’s mostly my own interpretation) that if notions of individual liberty are to flourish, it requires a diverse, tolerant population of people who value unorthodox ideas and have space to take risks with those ideas.

And to finish, a core element of Shorto’s narrative revolves around his interview sessions with an elderly Amsterdam Jew and Holocaust survivor named Frieda Menco (she was a childhood acquaintance of Anne Frank and her story is just one of many amazing ones here). Frieda notes at the end that, “Life is absurd. It has no meaning. But it has beauty, and wonder, and we have to enjoy that.” Perhaps the promise of the liberalism that Amsterdam gave the world is that, in moving whole populations out of a medieval, feudalist worldview, in which archaic institutions defined the parameters and expectations of life, it hopes to provide people with the means to make meaning in their lives and experience the beauty and wonder the universe holds.

Check out our q&a with Russell Shorto where he explains more of the ideas I hint at here.


*He also shows that, from the beginning, capitalism was prone to extreme corruption and financial markets egregiously manipulated, necessitating constant regulation. Hey, they were just like us!

**Excuse me, my Marxism is showing.

Audio Industry Unites to Fight ALS

Adam Boretz -- October 24th, 2013

audioThe audio industry is coming together to host a live, 25-hour audiobook marathon to benefit two ALS charities.

The event was inspired by audiobook producer Bob Deyan’s current fight with ALS. Deyan and his wife, Debra, own and manage Deyan Audio, a studio that has produced multiple Grammy and Audie Award-winning audiobooks.

The marathon will take place at the Victory Theater in Burbank, CA, on Saturday Nov. 9, and feature narrators and celebrity guests reading classics and contemporary best sellers from every genre. Continue reading

PW Best Books 2013: ‘Percival Everett by Virgil Russell’ by Percival Everett

Gabe Habash -- October 23rd, 2013

Percival Everett by Virgil Russell

Leading up to the November 1st publication of PW’s Best Books of 2013, our reviews editors are blogging about some of their favorites from our top 100. Here’s the latest post:

I started working fiction reviews at PW back in June, so I had some catching up to do on the first six months of 2013′s books. One of those books was Percival Everett by Virgil Russell by Percival Everett, a novel that, before I read it, was lodged in my head as the one with the title that I didn’t understand.

Since reading it, though, it’s become the book that I’ve pulled down four different times from my shelf just to flip through and reread. And because I have lines underlined on nearly every page, there is so much to reread. Percival Everett by Virgil Russell combines the philosophical puzzling of Beckett with the oddball discursiveness of Brautigan, and has the playfulness of both.

Take for example, this Brautigan-like line (which also doesn’t not sound like Beckett):

Everything felt off, awkward, like a typewriter that would not sit level on a desk, like a toothbrush with one long bristle that you can’t find when you stare at it, like the smell of gun oil in a baby’s nursery, like a smile in the mouth of the man who is robbing you.

Or this Beckett-like passage (which also doesn’t not sound like Brautigan):

This is where I pause to mull. You might think that I should be mulling something over, but I am a fan of the simple mull. I want to consider the day you were born. There was not a cloud in the sky and there were very few birds as well. Your mother was in the hospital in good time, time enough to even think that she was there too early. These were the days when fathers paced the hallways and waited helplessly, smoking, because everyone smoked everywhere. The obstetrician probably had a Camel filter dangling from his lips as he got a good grip on your oversized head and pulled you into this miserable, good-for-nothing world. You know the world I mean, where the rich get richer and the dumb get dumber and the horny get hornier and the only thing that ever changes is the size of insecure women’s breasts.

Or this line, which sounds like both writers at the same time:

The only person I met at the march that remained a close friend was Charlton Heston. I am Nat Turner and I’m sort of pissed off. Just fucking with you. I’m Bill Styron.

I’m not going to get on the horse, telling you that more people should read Percival Everett and that you should be among them. You should be, but I’m not going to make you. Just know that you’re missing whole pages that remind you how good writing can be.

Everyone’s Talking About Best Books, But Let Me Tell You About Madrid

Louisa Ermelino -- October 23rd, 2013


The Visitors Programme of Accion Cultural Espanola invited me to Madrid for LIBER, the 31st International Book Fair that took place from October 2-4. The Fair alternates each year between Madrid and Barcelona and while it’s small, it’s important. Accion is a public institution that aims to foster and promote Spain’s culture and heritage “within and beyond our borders.”

I said yes. I’d never been to Madrid, I’ve hung on (barely) to my high school Spanish, and I was curious about a European book fair that wasn’t London or Frankfurt. Your assignment, because I know most of you also studied Spanish in high school, is to put the accents in the right place in this article. There will not be grades but great satisfaction.

The city was a marvel, the people wonderful, a highlight being the PICE lunch (Programa Para La Internacionalization de La Cultura Espanola) hosted by Miguel Albero and Ainhoa Sanchez Mateo with publishers from Brazil, Slovenia and Russia. Another was the gala awards dinner on Oct. 3 to which Michael Gordon, the Director of Business Development for Code Mantra, whom I met for the first time at the Guadalajara book fair, an American who been living in Spain since he met his wife many years and children ago, got me invited last minute through unending security because… the Prince of Spain was attending.photo4

I managed that evening to meet Executive Director Antonio Maria Avila of the Federacion de Gremios de Editores de Espana who had made the arrangements for my coming to Madrid and who was gracious despite the fact that I had stood him up for a meeting because I was at the PICE lunch. At the dinner, at La Masia de San Luis, held to honor writers and organizations that contribute to literature, John Banville won for author writing in a foreign language.

And for iberioamericana literature (which includes Spain and Latin America and also Brazil where the language is Portuguese ) the winner was author Eduardo Mendoza who told me that “recognition as a young man is wonderful but I’m getting older so it’s especially wonderful to still be recognized. Or maybe,” he said, “I just won because my name starts with the letter M!” Extremely popular in Spain, Mendoza is from Barcelona and writes historical novels about his city and also parodies of mysteries that look at the social and political life in Barcelona.

photo5Crown Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia gave out the awards. Felipe is drop dead handsome and beloved and no one could resist repeating the story that Letizia was a journalist (read “no royal blood”) and a divorcee when they married. A love match for sure. Approached after the presentation (what do Americans know about protocol) the Prince said he could not name a favorite book because he liked too many but that right now he was reading an economic essay about liquidity.

The elegance of the Spaniard was apparent everywhere despite harsh economic times.