Monday, October 24, 2011

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 10/22

I find that the most important things need to be said repeatedly, for emphasis. For example, I start every one of these weekly posts with some variation on the same topic: that I've just gotten the books I'm about to list in the mail, from publicists at the various companies publishing them, and that I haven't read any of them yet. And so, as I sometimes mention, the word "reviewing" in this post title is a slight misnomer: I'm not really reviewing these books so much as glancing at them and telling you what they seem to be. [1]

With that out of the way, first up this week is a very old story retold by one of our best contemporary novelists: The Death of King Arthur, by Peter Ackroyd. The book is actually co-credited to Sir Thomas Malory, and is Ackroyd's adaptation and interpretation of Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur into modern English. Ackroyd's version is a zippy three hundred pages, which I recall is substantially shorter than Malory's. (I used to have a two-volume Penguin Classics edition of Malory, but it was destroyed by the recent flood.) Ackroyd is a fine novelist (Hawksmoor) and non-fiction writer (London: The Biography), just to mention a few books I'm personally familiar with; he's also fearsomely smart and piercing, so he's an excellent writer to turn his hand to the Matter of Britain. His new book is coming in hardcover from Viking on November 14th (in the USA; it appears to be already available on Ackroyd's own side of the Atlantic already.)

Also retelling someone else's stories, though in a way much less honored by the literati, is the new novel by Karen Traviss, Halo: Glasslands. It's the first in a new trilogy based on the popular Xbox video games -- none of which I've ever played, I have to admit -- and it hit stores as a Tor trade paperback on October 25th.

And then there's Unicorn Being a Jerk, by C.W. Moss, which is an expansion of a self-published (and web-published; much of it is still up here) book about, well, one particular unicorn, complete with rainbow horn, doing rotten things. It's a funny gift-y, impulse-buy book, of the kind that I keep suspecting the Internet is going to completely smother (though I hope not; I have a lurking fondness for silly books like this). HarperCollins's quirky It Books imprint is publishing this on November 1st, and I'm sure we all know someone who would really appreciate it.

David Moody is a horror writer, and I'm beginning to wonder if he ever sleeps -- though not sleeping could be a benefit in several ways for a writer of horror novels -- since I have in front of me what seems to be his fourth or fifth book this year, Them or Us. It's the finale to his "Hater Trilogy," following Hater and Dog Blood, and I, to be brutally honest, don't intend on reading any of those books. But, if you do like the kind of horror in which most of the human race dies horribly and then the survivors behave appallingly to each other, Moody seems to be just the writer you want. This one is a St. Martin's Press hardcover, coming November 8th.

And last for this week is something completely different: Caroline Preston's The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt, a novel told in the form of a scrapbook, with vintage postcards, advertisements, and other paper ephemera arranged with typewritten text to tell the story of a young woman in the 1920s. I'm always interested in novels using odd formats and appropriation -- and Frankie went to Vassar in the early '20s, making this Vassar '90 man more interested -- so I asked to see this book as soon as I knew it existed. It was published by Ecco on October 25th in hardcover.

[1] Not that there aren't reviewers, now and at various times in the past, that did exactly the same thing and pretended that they'd actually read the books in question. This is, I must admit, a massive time-saver, but it can very easily be discovered, which causes problems.

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