Sunday, September 30, 2012

Let's start the foodie backlash

Food is the new sex, drugs and religion. Cookery dominates the bestseller lists and TV schedules. Celebrity chefs have become lifestyle gurus and cooking is referred to as a high art. Steven Poole has had his fill of foodism

Stalls at Borough Market, Southwark, London
'We are living in the Age of Food' … stalls at Borough Market, London. Photograph: Alamy

On a crisp autumn evening in a north London street, a rôtisserie trailer is parked outside a garden flat, green fairy lights blinking on and off, warm chickens perfuming the air. A thirtyish hipster wanders out to where I'm standing with a friend on the pavement and drawls his unimpressed judgment of what is going on inside. "I think the arancinis are not quite spicy enough," he informs us, with an eaten-it-all-before air. "Could have more flavour, not really exotic." Right now I haven't the faintest idea what "arancinis" are (or that arancini, like panini, is already an Italian plural), but I nod knowingly while typing his thoughts into my phone, and my friend keeps him talking. "I thought the Korean burger was quite good," the hipster goes on, without much kimchi-fired enthusiasm, "but I think a lot of people don't make their food with enough shbang … They kind of cater to the middle of the road." Twenty-five years ago, he could have been an indie-rock fan bemoaning the blandness of chart music. Now he's a social-smoking, foodier-than-thou critic at a "Food Rave".

The name of the Food Rave is entirely appropriate for a modern culture in which food is the last ingestible substance you can indulge in with obsessiveness without being frowned on by society. Alex James, the Blur bassist turned gentleman cheese farmer and Sun food columnist, has said: "My 20th birthday party was all about booze, my 30th birthday was about drugs, and now I realise that my 40s are about food." And he is not alone. Food replaces drugs in the gently ageing food-fancier's pantheon of pleasure, and brings along with it traces of the old pharmaceutical vocabulary. You hear talk of taking a "hit" of a dish or its sauce, as though from a spliff or bong; and a food-obsessive in hunter-gatherer mode is thrilled to "score" a few chanterelle mushrooms, as though he has had to buy them from a dodgy-looking gent on a murky Camden street corner. Food is valued for its psychotropic "rush"; Nigella Lawson refers to salted caramel as "this Class A foodstuff". Yes, food is the new drugs for former Britpoppers and the Ecstasy generation, a safer and more respectable hedonic tool, the key to a comfortingly domesticated high.

Western industrial civilisation is eating itself stupid. We are living in the Age of Food. Cookery programmes bloat the television schedules, cookbooks strain the bookshop tables, celebrity chefs hawk their own brands of weird mince pies (Heston Blumenthal) or bronze-moulded pasta (Jamie Oliver) in the supermarkets, and cooks in super-expensive restaurants from Chicago to Copenhagen are the subject of hagiographic profiles in serious magazines and newspapers. Food festivals (or, if you will, "Feastivals") are the new rock festivals, featuring thrilling live stage performances of, er, cooking. As one dumbfounded witness of a stage appearance by Jamie Oliver observed: "The girls at the front – it's an overwhelmingly female crowd – are already holding up their iPhones […] A group in front of me are saying, 'Ohmigodohmigodohmigod' on a loop […] 'I love you, Jamie,' yells a girl on the brink of fainting." The new series of The Great British Bake-Off trounced Parade's End in the ratings, and canny karaoke-contest supremo Simon Cowell is getting in on the act with a new series in development called Food, Glorious Food! – or, as it's known among production wags, The Eggs Factor.

Read his full rave in The Guardian

JK Rowling: is she the guardian of our children's minds?

Will JK Rowling's The Casual Vacancy mean parents turn their backs on Harry Potter? asks Lorna Bradbury.

JK Rowling

You might have thought from the initial shocked reactions to JK Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy as it was published around the world yesterday that this 500-page fictional cry of despair was the eighth volume in the Harry Potter series.
But in case anyone needs reminding, this book is not aimed at children. The Casual Vacancy clearly echoes many of the themes of Harry Potter; as Rowling has put it in interviews this week, as a writer she’s concerned with mortality and morality. And it most obviously comes to life when its focus shifts to the teenagers who are coming of age in the godforsaken town of Pagford, battling their own demons of a kind rather more prosaic than Lord Voldemort.
But it’s clearly absurd – and not a little misogynistic – to view Rowling as some kind of benevolent aunt, and someone whose job it is to protect and to nurture our children. And it is something she has roundly rejected, declaring: “There is no part of me that feels that I represented myself as your children’s babysitter or their teacher.”
And quite right. Why shouldn’t a children’s writer, even one as successful and as generation-defining as JK Rowling, be permitted to write for another audience? Roald Dahl’s zany children’s stories are celebrated, untainted by the suggestion that his much darker adult work will damage children’s health, should they get their hands on it. Anthony Horowitz is as famous for his screenplays for Foyle’s War and Midsomer Murders as he is for his two series of teenage thrillers, Power of Five and Alex Rider. And he has written novels for much younger children too. 

Full story here.

Also in The Telegraph:

1.The Casual Vacancy is just like Harry Potter - 

2.'The Casual Vacancy' breaks Harry Potter's spell - In 'The Casual Vacancy', JK Rowling bewilders her fans with an uneven, often harrowing book, says Allison Pearson

A Tablet Still Is Not a Book ... Not Yet

Reading on an iPad, or a tablet, just isn't the same as reading a book. And for me, it's not better. Even though I was, of course, excited about the prospect of an infinitely accessible library in a carry-on form, the fact is that when I try to read on the iPad, I'm doing so reluctantly, and I get through far fewer pages in a sitting than I'm used to.
In theory, I have thousands of paragraphs in that aluminum-and-glass enclosure that I'd love to get to, but in practice, it feels like a chore. Sure, I'm in the minority here, but I know I'm not the only one: Researchers from Sven Birkerts (The Gutenberg Elegies) to Margaret Mackey (Literacies Across Media) have explored whether and how the growth of digital reading has changed our reading behaviors. In my case, it has—for the worse. But why?

Black Marks on a White Page: The Physical

We have intense emotional reactions to books as physical objects. We turn books over in libraries and stores; we smell them and suddenly it's Proust with a cookie (being anosmic, I cannot address this directly); we schlep boxes and boxes of books each time we move; we browse them on shelves; any single one may instantly remind you of a particular time or relationship. And this physicality, along with the haptic nature of page-turning, has real effects on the cognitive act of reading.
Research has shown that the physicality of books is linked to comprehension and memory. A 2005 study by Thierry Morineau et al. found that readers link, at deep levels of the brain, the physically and functionally "unitary object" of a book with the text content; much as repeating something out loud helps us memorize it, this sensory-motor experience reinforces focus and comprehension. In e-books, though, the connection between the text and material is at a remove that removes this reinforcement.
That haptic problem may not be avoidable with today's technology. We can, however, look at a few more immediate issues that I, and others, have with reading on an iPad. We can look at why they're issues, and what can be done to improve the experience.
Putting a Gloss on Things
The glossy, reflective screen of the iPad can be seriously distracting—sometimes it's a physical strain, sometimes it's a mental strain, but both degrade the reading experience. As a graphics professional friend of mine pointed out, you have to adapt to the iPad in ways you don't have to adapt to a book. He then demonstrated the not-quite-graceful pose he had to hold when he last was on a plane to keep screen glare to an acceptable level. Maybe it's an unintended consequence of my screen-cleaning OCD, but this happens a lot, and makes sitting with an iPad often less comfortable than sitting with a nice, matte-paper book.
The second problem with Apple’s glossy screens is that I often find my eyes refocusing to bring the reflection in the screen into focus (I'm not vain, I'm just always there). This is a physical strain, but more importantly it takes me from reading the words on the screen to "reading" the image that's suddenly unavoidable. Once this happens I have to take action to refocus my eyes and my attention, just to get back to what would have been uninterrupted on paper.
This is forcing the user to task switch. Task switching, an active concept in psychology since the 1920s, is when we have to change our attention from one thing to another. It's important to realize that each time you ask a user to task switch, there is some switch cost; the best-known contemporary research shows how talking on the phone impairs driving performance. These costs may be large or trivial, but I think we can all agree that any cost can totally ruin it when the user's goal is to concentrate on or "get lost" in, say, Twilight fanfic.
Full piece at UX Magazine

New license plate supports libraries

FRANKFORT, Ky.– A new Kentucky license plate gives drivers the opportunity to show their support for libraries. Kentucky Department of Libraries and Archives Commissioner Wayne Onkst recently presented the “Support Kentucky’s Libraries” license plate to Gov. Steve Beshear and First Lady Jane Beshear.
“Kentucky’s public libraries welcomed more than 20 million visitors last year who checked out more than 30 million books and other items,” said Gov. Beshear. “It’s clear that Kentuckians love their public libraries, and now they have another way to show their support.”

The new plate is available at any county clerk’s office with a $44 application fee. The annual fee on the plate thereafter is $31. At the time of issuance, an optional $10 can be paid to fund library science scholarships. Those who signed the initial petition to create the license plate and paid the $25 application fee will be receive a $25 credit when the plate is purchased.

“Public libraries not only make reading possible and more accessible to Kentuckians, they offer computer access and a place in our communities for continued education and job training courses,” said Mrs. Beshear. “People truly value the positive impact public libraries have in our communities and this license plate is a perfect way for them to display their support.”

The Kentucky Library Association (KLA) worked with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet to make the license plate available. Citizens from across the Commonwealth signed the application petition, which requires a minimum of 900 signatures to create a new plate.
“In this difficult economic climate, public libraries fill a critical need in the community,” said KLA Library Awareness Committee Chair and Logan County Public Library director Linda Kompanik, who spearheaded the effort to bring such a license plate to Kentucky. “For years, we’ve had library users who expressed interest in a way to show their support for libraries of all kinds – public, academic and special libraries. This new license plate is a great way to do just that.”

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Britishisms in American English? Brilliant!

As British expressions go mainstream, it may help to make living with the language police in my own house less exhausting
British author JK Rowling

Author JK Rowling: partly responsible for the drift of British English into America? Photograph: Scanpix Denmark/Reuters

The British are coming! The British are coming! For decades, you British have been kvetching (or as you might say, "whingeing") about the way we Yanks have been spritzing our two cents plain ("sparkling water" to you) American argot into the limpid, lambent loveliness of the Queen's English.

And though I generally try not to be "chippy" about the widely held view that my countrymen and women are bunch of rubes and yahoos – on display most recently in Downton Abbey, where Shirley MacLaine's caricature of a rich American finally drove me out of the room with annoyance – whenever I am asked to assent to the proposition that American influence is driving the English language to hell in a handbasket, my response is: get over it!

Well, that's the polite version. I mean first of all, when did the British need any help from anyone else with being vulgar? Ever heard of Geoffrey Chaucer? And second of all, just as I hope we are properly grateful for the immense linguistic riches bequeathed to us by Shakespeare and the committeemen who wrote the King James Bible (and no, I'm not being ironic. Americans don't do irony – or so my children tell me), so you ought to thank us for the swell examples of colloquial communication found in Hollywood films like His Girl Friday or Bringing Up Baby. I mean what's not to like?

But are you grateful? No way, Jose! There are exceptions, of course. James Joyce had Molly Bloom schlep around Dublin in 1922 – but Joyce was an Irishman, and without the Irish (and the Jews and African-Americans) the American slanguage would still be stuck on first base.

Only now the shoe (or boot) is on the other foot. At least that's what the BBC tells us, in a recent report by the magnificently monikered Cordelia Hebblethwaite. It seems that more and more British words are entering the American language. Now of course some Americans have always favoured a bit of British to try and raise the tone of their discourse. We call such people "stuffed shirts", though "toffs" is close enough. Indeed the shame of being seen as a linguistic striver is strong enough that despite 17 years in London, I still cringe at the memory of being caught offering to "hold the lift" for my sister last year.
Read full story at The Guardian

10 ‘Nonrequired’ Reading Recommendations from Us to You

by . Posted on Flavorpill. Friday Sept 28, 2012

Ten years ago, Dave Eggers published the inaugural volume of his Best American Nonrequired Reading series, which has since attracted a devoted following of outside-the-box readers of all ages. It’s hard to believe the series that anthologized so many of our favorite pieces is already celebrating its tenth anniversary this month, but hey, time flies when you’re reading. Once again, Eggers and his team of student volunteers have outdone themselves, bringing together a compilation of irreverent lists, timely journalism, top short fiction, and graphic pieces representing the best of the year, kicking off with a love letter to the art of reading by Ray Bradbury, completed just weeks before his passing.

To celebrate ten years of the beloved anthology, we picked ten additional “nonrequired” reading selections that stood out to us in 2011 and beyond, all available for you to read online. While we didn’t envy Eggers and his team the task of choosing their twenty best, we embraced their idiosyncratic spirit by choosing the pieces that excited us most. This is in no way a comprehensive list, so be sure to share your favorite pieces that didn’t appear on any college syllabi or required reading lists in our comments section, and then check out The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2012 when it hits bookstores this Tuesday.

Librarian Patience Has Run out on E-Book Lending Issues, Library Association Says

| | Digital Book World

Speaking at a private gathering of publishers organized by the Association of American Publishers, Sullivan was explaining why earlier this week the ALA sent a strongly worded open letter to publishers about the need to figure out way for publishers to sell libraries e-books for “equitable use at a reasonable price.”
Later in the week, the AAP sent its own letter in response to the ALA letter, citing anti-trust concerns and other reasons for a lack of collective publisher action and criticizing the ALA’s letter in light of the private audience the association would have the AAP’s New York offices on 5th Avenue later that week.
While squabbling publicly with crossing missives, behind closed doors, the ALA and AAP played nicely, thanking each other for the event and for past support. A video was played at the beginning of the meeting praising cooperation on an issue both organizations support: Banned Book Week.
Publishers in the room, however, were not so conciliatory.
An executive from Perseus Book Group who did not identify herself said, “our executives are confused as to what is a library?” She cited concerns that the free and wide availability of e-books to library patrons could undercut publisher business.
Tim McCall, vice president of online sales and marketing, digital sales at Penguin Group USA, criticized the ALA’s supposed stance, as written into its letter earlier in the week, that e-books should should be available to libraries under the same business models as print books.
“We recognize that e-books are a different character than books in print,” said Sullivan, clarifying the ALA’s position. “We want to ensure with e-books that there is equitable access and that access is at a reasonable price.”
But the most pointed questioning came from Wiley’s director of digital business development Peter Balis.
“When will the ALA start proposing to us some best practices on what models you think will work from your digital solutions working group? You put a lot on us and it’s created a lot of chaos and clearly it’s [e-book library lending] broken. We have twelve different models,” he said. “You have to come back to us with more than just ‘equitable access at a fair price.’”
As the question was being posed, many heads in the publisher-heavy audience were nodding in ascent.
More at Digital Book World

‘The Casual Vacancy’ Review: J.K. Rowling Cuts Loose From Harry Potter, and The Bookman cuts loose too

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Malcolm Jones on J.K. Rowling's novel for adults, 'The Casual Vacancy'.   
                                                                                                 Considering that J.K. Rowling’s novel The Casual Vacancy took over the #1 bestseller on Amazon well before its official publication date of Sept. 27, it’s safe to assume that the first adult work by Harry Potter’s creator is about as review-proof as a book can get. Horrible or wonderful, it is already a runaway success                                     Full review at The Daily Beast                                                     
And at Vulture:                                                                                        What’s Missing From J.K. Rowling's The Casual Vacancy? Let the Critics Tell You                                                                            FOOTNOTE:                                                                                        The Bookman is feeling somewhat virtuous - I could Have bought The Casual Vacancy from Amazon for US$20,90 plus freight or from Barnes & Noble for $35 less 30%, or waited two weeks until I got home to read the review copy that will be waiting for me, but no, I went to a great Indie bookstore in Soho, McNally Jackson,and paid US$35 plus tax $3.11, $38.11. Why? Simply because if we do not support Indie bookshops, where ever we are, they will soon be no more and what a tragic loss that would be.
 I despise the freeloaders who go into Indie bookshops in their lunch hour, browse around at the books and then go back to the office and order the books from Amazon. Shame on them and if they keep doing it then they will kill off the Indie bookshops and then they will not be able to view before they buy.                                                                                                    Long live the independent bookstore !

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From We Love This Book

Wondering what J.K. Rowling's first adult novel is really like? Read its opening with We Love This Book

First, this is not Harry Potter. Those hoping for a dusting of Dumbledore or a sprinkling of Snape will be disappointed. Instead this is a closely examined portrayal of a typical – perhaps mythical – English village, and the consequences that follow on from the death of local councillor Barry Fairbrother. J.K. Rowling has said it is a very personal book, a book she "needed to write"; it is also a profoundly political novel, surprising and controversial. It is radical departure for the writer, and will redefine her image. In short, it is about living under the Coalition, with Voldemort recast as the "Big Society". Some will call it a satire but it is not comic. The final chapters left me cold, and I don't mean that as a criticism.

Poet Gary Snyder Wins $100,000 Wallace Stevens Award

By Dianna Dilworth on Galley Cat, September 28, 2012

Poet Gary Snyder has won $100,000 Wallace Stevens Award from The Academy of American Poets. Snyder was picked by the Academy of American Poets’ Board of Chancellors.
“Gary Snyder has brought to American poetry a lyric poem whose subjects and views are objectively epic,” explained Jane Hirshfield, chancellor of The Academy of American Poets, in a statement. “His words look into the world and our human lives with acuity, affection, and the ethics of a ten-thousand-year perception. They have altered and marked both how we know and how we say.”
Brenda Hillman won the Academy of American Poets Fellowship, which includes a $25,000 award. David Wojahn won the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize for his work World Tree, which also includes a $25,000 award. Catherine Barnett won the James Laughlin Award for her work The Game of Boxes which fetched her $5,000 in prize money.

Charlotte Grimshaw and the Frankfurt Book Fair both feature in New Zealand Book Council newsletter #45

Five Easy Questions with Charlotte Grimshaw

We celebrate the upcoming release of Charlotte Grimshaw's new novel Soon by asking her Five Easy Questions about the book, its characters and what she's working on next.
1. If you could choose five words to describe Soon what would they be?
How about six words: Pillar of the community or criminal?

2. The title Soon hints at something impending, or that’s brewing on the horizon. Is this a strong thread in the novel?
The Prime Minister and his guests are rich, the weather is beautiful, David Hallwright is popular and successful, but trouble is on its way. Soon.

3. Is there a particular character from the novel that kept you on your toes while you were writing him/her?
All the characters kept me on my toes. This is actually a book of quite complicated ideas, not only to do with politics, but also about morality, art and the role of the artist vis a vis art and politics. I’m fond of a line from a Woody Allen film: ‘The artist makes his own moral universe.’  Simon Lampton is trying to enjoy his holiday but there’s scandal brewing, he’s being forced to listen to a child’s story about an obnoxious dwarf and a conscientious starfish, and there’s a writer sniffing about who could prove to be a nuisance.

4. What are you working on now?
For my next project, I’m writing a novel about a man who’s been acquitted of a serious crime. But is he really innocent?

5. What’s on your bedside table?
On my bedside table are short stories by Philip O'Ceallaigh, The Pleasant Light of Day, powerful stories set in Egypt, Georgia and Chechnya. I’ve got A.N. Wilson’s biography of Hitler, called Hitler; I’ve got the new Ian McEwan, Sweet Tooth, which I haven’t started yet, and Machiavelli’s The Prince.

New Zealand at the Frankfurt Book Fair
Numerous events and activities are planned throughout the fair and we'll keep you up-to-date about the goings-on on Twitter and Facebook. Our new Chief Executive Catriona Ferguson will be posting regularly from Frankfurt on our books blog Open Book. She will also post audio soundbites with authors and publishers on the ground during the book fair.
For more information about New Zealand at Frankfurt visit the NZ at Frankfurt website.

The Big Draw with Quentin Blake

He has the most distinctive and widely-loved illustrating style in children's literature.
Quentin Blake, chiefly through his collaborations with Roald Dahl, has left an indelible mark in the minds of generations of youngsters and their parents with his deceptively untidy, quick-brushed figures that are as loaded with personality as any of the author's written characters.
The poster below was created by Blake in support of The Big Draw, a drawing event that takes place this weekend of which he is a patron.
big draw poster
Patterned with Nintendo, The Big Draw invites people of all ages, talents and backgrounds to embrace their inner artist and get involved in the hundreds of drawing events taking place across the country and beyond.
"Drawing knows how to convey both information (how a machine works) and feeling (how a person feels) and sometimes, with amazing economy, both at once" says Blake of his craft, a sentiment encapsulated in this beautiful competition prize.

Favourite crime writer Peter James on Nigella Lawson and other subjects in The Daily Express

Salman Rushdie & PEN President Protest Ai Weiwei’s Travel Restrictions

By Maryann Yin on Galley Cat, September 28, 2012

PEN president Peter Godwin and World Voices chair Salman Rushdie have written a letter to the Chinese government, protesting its recent travel restrictions for artist Ai Weiwei.
This confinement means that Weiwei will most likely be unable to attend a PEN American Center event scheduled for October 11th in New York City. Here’s an excerpt from Godwin and Rushdie’s letter:
Like our colleagues throughout the world’s art and literary communities, we were shocked when Ai Weiwei was detained in 2011, and we are deeply disappointed to learn that he remains unable to travel freely and participate in international fora and conversations in which he has so clearly earned a place. We believe restricting his right to travel abroad risks violating Chinese and international laws, and that it does little to advance the goals and aspirations of the Chinese government and its people. We therefore entreat you to return Ai Weiwei’s passport immediately and lift all restrictions against him, allowing him to travel to represent his own work and his ideas.
Weiwei has made himself a publicly-recognizable activist in China; he has been a vocal critic of his country’s government policies. He has endured detention and probation for his work. Earlier this year, filmmaker Alison Klayman released a documentary called Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry profiling him and his activism.

Don Donovan's World - Castiglione di Garfagnana

Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

29 September 2012

Leaves From My Sketchbooks. 41. Castiglione di Garfagnana

The castellated wall and circular tower to the right of my drawing are parts of the walls that encircle 'fortress' Castiglione. The tower has a pyramidal cover that is bright red and looks like something from a Disney Camelot.

I worked from a small, quiet garden of remembrance that commemorates the fallen (caduti) of the world wars; not only soldiers but also the partisans who took to the hills in World War II and fought with fierce courage.


Dotti Irving reports from Four Colman Getty in London

Four Communications
September 2012
Leicester Sq stock image - for CG April mailer
Leicester Sq stock image - for CG April mailer
Leicester Sq stock image - for CG April mailer
The gold, silver and bronze medals have disappeared from the trees in Leicester Square and London is settling into a busy autumn schedule. There’s certainly been lots going on at Four Colman Getty and the book prize season is in full swing.
September saw the announcement of the Man Booker Prize shortlist, which was universally acclaimed as one of the most exciting list of recent years. The Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction longlist was also announced this month and attracted a lot of attention, not least because it included Salman Rushdie’s memoir, Joseph Anton.
Leicester Sq stock image - for CG April mailer
World Event Young Artists

World Event Young Artists festival launched

Early in the month the Four Colman Getty team were in Nottingham to help launch the first ever World Event Young Artists (WEYA). The 10-day interdisciplinary arts festival invited 1,000 of the best emerging artists from 100 nations all over the world to the city for the event, which took place across more than 30 cultural venues and alternative spaces.

Some of the many highlights included literature readings from European and South American writers at Backlit on Friday, a huge party curated by Gilles Peterson and including performances by Ayanna Witter-Johnson and Flavio Renegado at the beautiful Barton’s Bus Depot on Saturday and a spectacular Mandala performance in the Market Square on Sunday, marking the end to the Cultural Olympiad in the East Midlands.

New York Scenes from yesterday - I reckon I walked at least 10 miles !!

 Times Square

 Interesting plaque
 Freedom Tower at dusk
 Walking the High Line
Superb wall painting seen from High Line
Impressive screen covering construction site in Meat Packing District

The Bookman checking out mini portable bookstore on the High Line

A Possible Life By Sebastian Faulks

RRP $37.99

Reviewed by Maggie Rainy-Smith

You cannot help but be a little awed by the scope of Sebastian’ Faulk’s imagination.     In this novel he explores not just A Possible Life but many ‘possible lives’.  They are all quite fascinating as stand-alone stories, so the question arises...  is this a novel?  That’s what I asked myself as I was reading it.   The back blurb tells us “From the pain and drama of these highly particular lives emerges a mysterious consolation; the chance to feel your heart beat in someone else’s life.    And it’s true.   For Faulks has this extraordinary ability to make you feel as if you do inhabit his character’s lives. 
               It’s true too that the stories are sometimes linked by a chance detail that catches you unaware suggesting our connectedness, or at least that of his characters.  The first story ‘A Different Man’ begins with the mostly unremarkable Geoffrey Talbot who having been rejected from the Diplomatic Service takes up a teaching career.   And then at the start of World War II, he volunteers for service and through interesting circumstances (a failure as a trainee officer), instead of the front-line, he ends up working as a spy in France.   It’s a benign sort of story as it begins, but remember this is the writer who called the most harrowing account of trench warfare ‘Birdsong’ – so don’t be fooled.   The first story moves unexpectedly into the gruesome heart of a concentration camp.  I found myself deeply shocked at the imaginative detail of this part of the story.   And then the story returns to the more benign, as Geoffrey resumes his teaching position, traumatised by his war experience.  It ends on an affecting note when he falls ill and one of his former students visits him in hospital, a small but very touching incident – this mixing of the extreme and the ordinary, something Faulks is so good at.
               The second story,  Part II the Second Sister, begins rather bleakly with the narrator aged seven being dropped off at the Union House by his Mother  because the family have hit hard times(he’s one of the middle children of five so they had to cruelly choose which child they will abandon to the Union House).    But bleak as it may begin, this story is of survival and I found strangely sad, but also oddly uplifting.   The narrator learns to live by his wits and to get ahead and finds love and it is his love story that is the most unusual.   I’d just been to Bats theatre and seen ‘White Cloud’ by Ken Duncum and Tim Finn, and one of the Pakeha settler characters sang/spoke a narrative about an ancestor who had suffered a peculiar malady, a sort of temporary loss of sanity and mobility.  In this Second Sister story, a similar thing occurs and I think had I not been to the play, I may well have doubted this story’s even fictional credibility.   
               ‘Everything can be explained’ is the third story and set in the future, 2029 in fact.  It is the story of Elena and Bruno, raised as brother and sister.    It’s both a story of and explanation for love and a rather complex almost parable.       The mutant gene for human self-awareness is discovered by accident.  There’s a moment when Bruno and Elena meet up, as adults with separate lives and Bruno says “ ... ‘But the trouble with me, said Bruno,  ‘is that I have more than one story.  You’re the main character in this one.  In the hills here.’ He put his hand against his head.”   I recall reading something very similar recently in Iain Banks’ ‘Stonemouth’, a line I loved but forgot to quote in my review of this book  “we all sort of secretly think our lives are like these very long movies, with ourselves as the principal characters.”
               Part IV – A Door into Heaven is primarily the story of Jeanne who ‘was said to be the most ignorant person in the Limousin village where she had lived most of her life.’  Indeed, this is the first sentence of this section.   But Jeanne’s very small ignorant life is magnified to have meaning through her constant and enduring faith, the very thing that keeps her ignorant is both beautiful and terrible.   And even when Marcel one of the young children she is responsible for as a child, returns maimed from war to find comfort at the family home where Jeanne still lives - and begins reading to her from the bible (awful stories she’s never heard before that she hates), her faith remains unshaken.  A farmhouse that is part of Geoffrey Talbot’s story, a century or so later, is also, briefly part of Jeanne’s life.
               Part V – You Next Time is a small masterpiece really.   Faulks has inhabited the life of a musician in 70’s California. I had no idea, but I see from other reviews I have read, that it is loosely based on Joan Baez (Guardian review by Helen Dunmore) and then locally, Christopher Howe reviewing on his blog for the Booksellers NZ reckons it is “the re-imagining of the love affair between Joni Mitchell and Graham Nash”.   Whomever it is loosely based on, the imaginative detail is impressive and you could almost believe that Faulks himself had inhabited this life. Of course, I’ve not been a muso in the 70’s in California and so I can only join Faulks here in the imaginative leap, but it was fascinating.   If you are the good fortune to be something of an old muso and have a half decent knowledge of music, this section will reward two-fold.  I know I missed out here, having no technical skills in the understanding of music and how it is created, but for a short while, I felt I did.    This too is a powerful love story.
               I end with the question still on my lips… is it a novel and how is it a novel?   I think about Fiona Kidman’s latest collection of short stories ‘The Trouble with Fire’ and how the stories are linked by the theme of fire both actual and metaphorical – and how too, characters reappear in stories and yet, this is unequivocally, a collection of short stories.  Is this because Kidman tells us so, and is ‘A Possible Life’ a novel merely because Faulks has the audacity to say so?   
               Well, here is the final sentence from the final section (and not a plot spoiler I might add). “So when eventually my hour comes and I go down in that darkness, into the blackness of the black-painted wings, there’ll be no need to mourn me or repine.  Because I think we’re all in this thing, like it or not, for ever.”
               So, does the last sentence somehow make this collection, finally, a novel -.....? I’ll leave it for you to decide for yourself because whatever genre you agree or disagree on, you’ll no doubt agree with me, the stories are a fascinating look at the human condition, what makes us who we are, nature versus nurture, the whole existential shebang. 

Maggie Rainey-Smith (right) is a Wellington writer and regular guest reviewer on Beattie's Book Blog. She is also Chair of the Wellington branch of the NZ Society of Authors.