Norse Mythology 
Neil Gaiman, 2017
W.W. Norton & Co.
304 pp.
ISBN-13:
9780393609097


Summary
An instant classic—master storyteller Neil Gaiman presents a dazzling version of the great Norse myths. Neil Gaiman has long been inspired by ancient mythology in creating the fantastical realms of his fiction. Now he turns his attention back to the source, presenting a bravura rendition of the great northern tales.

In Norse Mythology, Gaiman stays true to the myths in envisioning the major Norse pantheon:
  ♦ Odin, the highest of the high, wise, daring, and cunning;
  ♦ Thor, Odin’s son, incredibly strong yet not the wisest of gods;
  ♦ Loki—son of a giant—blood brother to Odin and a trickster and unsurpassable manipulator.

Gaiman fashions these primeval stories into a novelistic arc that begins with the genesis of the legendary nine worlds and delves into the exploits of deities, dwarfs, and giants. Once, when Thor’s hammer is stolen, Thor must disguise himself as a woman—difficult with his beard and huge appetite—to steal it back.

More poignant is the tale in which the blood of Kvasir—the most sagacious of gods—is turned into a mead that infuses drinkers with poetry. The work culminates in Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods and rebirth of a new time and people.

Through Gaiman’s deft and witty prose emerge these gods with their fiercely competitive natures, their susceptibility to being duped and to duping others, and their tendency to let passion ignite their actions, making these long-ago myths breathe pungent life again. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—1960
Where—Portchester, Hampshire, England, UK
Education—N/A
Awards—See below
Currently—lives near Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA


Early life
Gaiman's family is of Polish and other Eastern European Jewish origins; his great-grandfather emigrated from Antwerp before 1914 and his grandfather eventually settled in the Hampshire city of Portsmouth and established a chain of grocery stores. His father, David Bernard Gaiman, worked in the same chain of stores; his mother, Sheila Gaiman (nee Goldman), was a pharmacist. He has two younger sisters, Claire and Lizzy.

After living for a period in the nearby town of Portchester, Hampshire, where Neil was born in 1960, the Gaimans moved in 1965 to the West Sussex town of East Grinstead where his parents studied Dianetics at the Scientology centre in the town; one of Gaiman's sisters works for the Church of Scientology in Los Angeles. His other sister, Lizzy Calcioli, has said, "Most of our social activities were involved with Scientology or our Jewish family. It would get very confusing when people would ask my religion as a kid. I’d say, 'I’m a Jewish Scientologist.'" Gaiman says that he is not a Scientologist, and that like Judaism, Scientology is his family's religion.

Gaiman was able to read at the age of four. He said...

I was a reader. I loved reading. Reading things gave me pleasure. I was very good at most subjects in school, not because I had any particular aptitude in them, but because normally on the first day of school they'd hand out schoolbooks, and I'd read them-which would mean that I'd know what was coming up, because I'd read it.

One work that made a particular impression on him was J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings from his school library, although it only had the first two books in the trilogy. He consistently took them out and read them. He would later win the school English prize and the school reading prize, enabling him to finally acquire the third book in the trilogy.

For his seventh birthday, Gaiman received C. S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia series. Years later, he said...

I admired his use of parenthetical statements to the reader, where he would just talk to you.... I'd think, 'Oh, my gosh, that is so cool! I want to do that! When I become an author, I want to be able to do things in parentheses.' I liked the power of putting things in brackets.

Narnia also introduced him to literary awards, specifically the 1956 Carnegie Medal won by the concluding volume. When he won 2010 Medal himself, the press reported him recalling, "....It had to be the most important literary award there ever was" and observing, "if you can make yourself aged seven happy, you're really doing well – it's like writing a letter to yourself aged seven."

Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was another childhood favourite, and "a favourite forever. Alice was default reading to the point where I knew it by heart." He also enjoyed "Batman" comics as a child.

Gaiman was educated at several Church of England schools, includging Fonthill School in East Grinstead, Ardingly College (1970–74), and Whitgift School in Croydon (1974–77). His father's position as a public relations official of the Church of Scientology was the cause of the seven-year-old Gaiman being blocked from entering a boys' school, forcing him to remain at the school that he had previously been attending. He lived in East Grinstead for many years, from 1965–1980 and again from 1984–1987. He met his first wife, Mary McGrath, while she was studying Scientology and living in a house in East Grinstead that was owned by his father. The couple were married in 1985 after having their first child, Michael.

Early Writings
As a child and a teenager, Gaiman read the works of C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Lewis Carroll, James Branch Cabell, Edgar Allan Poe, Michael Moorcock, Ursula K. Le Guin, Harlan Ellison, Rudyard Kipling, Lord Dunsany and G. K. Chesterton. He later became a fan of science fiction, reading the works of authors as diverse as Alan Moore, Samuel R. Delany, Roger Zelazny, Robert A. Heinlein, H. P. Lovecraft, Thorne Smith, and Gene Wolfe.

In the early 1980s, Gaiman pursued journalism, conducting interviews and writing book reviews, as a means to learn about the world and to make connections that he hoped would later assist him in getting published. He wrote and reviewed extensively for the British Fantasy Society. His first professional short story publication was "Featherquest", a fantasy story, in Imagine Magazine in May 1984, when he was 24.

When waiting for a train at Victoria Station in 1984, Gaiman noticed a copy of Swamp Thing written by Alan Moore, and carefully read it. Moore's fresh and vigorous approach to comics had such an impact on Gaiman that he would later write; "that was the final straw, what was left of my resistance crumbled. I proceeded to make regular and frequent visits to London's Forbidden Planet shop to buy comics".

In 1984, he wrote his first book, a biography of the band Duran Duran, as well as Ghastly Beyond Belief, a book of quotations, with Kim Newman. Even though Gaiman thought he did a terrible job, the book's first edition sold out very quickly. When he went to relinquish his rights to the book, he discovered the publisher had gone bankrupt.  After this, he was offered a job by Penthouse. He refused the offer.

He also wrote interviews and articles for many British magazines, including Knave. As he was writing for different magazines, some of them competing, and "wrote too many articles", he sometimes went by a number of pseudonyms: Gerry Musgrave, Richard Grey, "along with a couple of house names". Gaiman ended his journalism career in 1987 because British newspapers can "make up anything they want and publish it as fact."

In the late 1980s, he wrote Don't Panic: The Official Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Companion in what he calls a "classic English humour" style. Following on from that he wrote the opening of what would become his collaboration with Terry Pratchett on the comic novel Good Omens, about the impending apocalypse.

Comics and Graphic Novels
After forming a friendship with comic book writer Alan Moore, Gaiman started writing comic books, picking up "Marvelman" after Moore finished his run on the series. Gaiman and artist Mark Buckingham collaborated on several issues of the series before its publisher, Eclipse Comics, collapsed, leaving the series unfinished. His first published comic strips were four short "Future Shocks for 2000 AD" in 1986–7. He wrote three graphic novels with his favorite collaborator and long-time friend Dave McKean: "Violent Cases", "Signal to Noise", and "The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr. Punch". Impressed with his work, DC Comics hired him, and he wrote the limited series "Black Orchid". Karen Berger, who later became head of DC Comics's Vertigo, read "Black Orchid" and offered Gaiman a job: to re-write an old character, The Sandman, but to put his own spin on him.

"The Sandman" tells the tale of the ageless, anthropomorphic personification of Dream that is known by many names, including Morpheus. The series began in December 1988 and concluded in March 1996: the 75 issues of the regular series, along with an illustrated prose text and a special containing seven short stories, have been collected into 12 volumes that remain in print.

In 1989, Gaiman published "The Books of Magic" (collected in 1991), a four-part mini-series that provided a tour of the mythological and magical parts of the DC Universe through a frame story about an English teenager who discovers that he is destined to be the world's greatest wizard. The miniseries was popular, and sired an ongoing series written by John Ney Rieber.

In the mid-90s, he also created a number of new characters and a setting that was to be featured in a title published by Tekno Comix. The concepts were then altered and split between three titles set in the same continuity: "Lady Justice, Mr. Hero the Newmatic Man, and Teknophage".They were later featured in Phage: Shadow Death and Wheel of Worlds. Although Gaiman's name appeared prominently on all titles, he was not involved in writing of any of the above-mentioned books (though he helped plot the zero issue of Wheel of Worlds).

Gaiman wrote a semi-autobiographical story about a boy's fascination with Michael Moorcock's anti-hero Elric of Melniboné for Ed Kramer's anthology Tales of the White Wolf. In 1996, Gaiman and Ed Kramer co-edited The Sandman: Book of Dreams. Nominated for the British Fantasy Award, the original fiction anthology featured stories and contributions by Tori Amos, Clive Barker, Gene Wolfe, Tad Williams, and others.

Asked why he likes comics more than other forms of storytelling Gaiman said “One of the joys of comics has always been the knowledge that it was, in many ways, untouched ground. It was virgin territory. When I was working on Sandman, I felt a lot of the time that I was actually picking up a machete and heading out into the jungle. I got to write in places and do things that nobody had ever done before. When I’m writing novels I’m painfully aware that I’m working in a medium that people have been writing absolutely jaw-droppingly brilliant things for, you know, three-four thousand years now. And you go, well, I don’t know that I’m as good as that and that’s two and a half thousand years old. But with comics I felt like I can do stuff nobody has ever done. I can do stuff nobody has ever thought of. And I could and it was enormously fun.”

In 2009, Gaiman wrote a two-part "Batman" story for DC Comics to follow "Batman R.I.P." It is titled "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?" a play off of the classic Superman story "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" by Alan Moore. He also contributed a twelve-page "Metamorpho" story drawn by Mike Allred for Wednesday Comics, a weekly newspaper-style series.

Novels
In a collaboration with author Terry Pratchett (best known for his series of Discworld novels), Gaiman's first novel Good Omens was published in 1990. In recent years Pratchett has said that while the entire novel was a collaborative effort and most of the ideas could be credited to both of them, Pratchett did a larger portion of writing and editing if for no other reason than Gaiman's scheduled involvement with "Sandman".

The 1996 novelization of Gaiman's teleplay for the BBC mini-series Neverwhere was his first solo novel. The novel was released in tandem with the television series though it presents some notable differences from the television series. In 1999 first printings of his fantasy novel Stardust were released. The novel has been released both as a standard novel and in an illustrated text edition.

American Gods became one of Gaiman's best-selling and multi-award winning novels upon its release in 2001. A special 10th Anniversary edition was released, with the "author's preferred text" 12,000 words longer than the original mass-market editions. This is identical to the signed and numbered limited edition that was released by Hill House Publishers in 2003. This is also the version released by Headline, Gaiman's publisher in the UK, even before the 10th Anniversary edition. He did an extensive sold-out book tour celebrating the 10th Anniversary and promoting this edition in 2011.

In 2005, his novel Anansi Boys was released worldwide. The book deals with Anansi ('Mr. Nancy'), a supporting character in American Gods. Specifically it traces the relationship of his two sons, one semi-divine and the other an unaware Englishman of American origin, as they explore their common heritage. It debuted at number one on The New York Times Best Seller list.

In late 2008, Gaiman released a new children's book, The Graveyard Book. It follows the adventures of a boy named Bod after his family is murdered and he is left to be brought up by a graveyard. It is heavily influenced by Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book. As of late January 2009, it had been on the New York Times Bestseller children's list for fifteen weeks.

As of 2008, Gaiman has several books planned. After a tour of China, he decided to write a non-fiction book about his travels and the general mythos of China. Following that, will be a new 'adult' novel (his first since 2005's Anansi Boys). After that, another 'all-ages' book (in the same vein as Coraline and The Graveyard Book). Following that, Gaiman says that he will release another non-fiction book called The Dream Catchers. In December 2011, Gaiman announced that in January 2012 he would begin work on what is essentially, American Gods 2.

Literary Allusions
Gaiman's work is known for a high degree of allusiveness. Meredith Collins, for instance, has commented upon the degree to which his novel Stardust depends on allusions to Victorian fairy tales and culture. Particularly in The Sandman, literary figures and characters appear often; the character of Fiddler's Green is modelled visually on G. K. Chesterton, both William Shakespeare and Geoffrey Chaucer appear as characters, as do several characters from within A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Tempest. The comic also draws from numerous mythologies and historical periods. Such allusions are not unique to Sandman; Stardust, for example, also has a character called Shakespeare.

Clay Smith has argued that this sort of allusiveness serves to situate Gaiman as a strong authorial presence in his own works, often to the exclusion of his collaborators. However, Smith's viewpoint is in the minority: to many, if there is a problem with Gaiman scholarship and intertextuality it is that "...His literary merit and vast popularity have propelled him into the nascent comics canon so quickly that there is not yet a basis of critical scholarship about his work."

David Rudd takes a more generous view in his study of the novel Coraline, where he argues that the work plays and riffs productively on Sigmund Freud's notion of the Uncanny, or the Unheimlich.

Though Gaiman's work is frequently seen as exemplifying the monomyth structure laid out in Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Gaiman says that he started reading The Hero with a Thousand Faces but refused to finish it: "I think I got about half way through The Hero with a Thousand Faces and found myself thinking if this is true – I don’t want to know. I really would rather not know this stuff. I’d rather do it because it’s true and because I accidentally wind up creating something that falls into this pattern than be told what the pattern is."

Awards
British Fantasy Award
British Sci-Fi Awards (2)
Bram Stoker Awards (4)
Carnegie Medal
Eisner Awards (19)
Geffen Awards (3)
Hugo Awards (4)
International Horror Guild Award
Locus Awards (5)
Nebula Awards (2)
Newbery Medal
Mythopoeic Awards (2)

(Author bio from Wikipedia. Retrieved 9/27/2013.)



Book Reviews
Who else but Neil Gaiman could become an accomplice of the gods, using the sorcery of words to make their stories new? The author of American Gods transforms Norse myths into addictive reading for young and old, with high-wattage retellings that preserve the monumental grandeur of the Nordic universe but also turn it into a world that is up close and personal, full of antic wit and dark intrigue.
Maria Tatar, Chair - Harvard University, (Folklore and Mythology)


The fascinating ancient tales in the Prose Edda and Poetic Edda have always needed gifted storytellers to breathe new life into them from century to century, and who better now than Neil Gailman to retell the tantalizing Norse myths with great gusto. Gaiman has such a profound understanding of the conflicts of Odin, Thor, Loki, and other gods that he revitalizes them through his imaginative depictions. His interpretation of major Norse myths will draw readers into a strange realm that will dazzle and baffle and lead to a new appreciation of Norse mythology.
Jack Zipes, Ed. - Norton Anthology of Children’s Literature


Gaiman turns his restless imagination to a retelling of Norse folklor.… [He] provides a dramatic continuity to these stories…[and] has great fun in bringing these gods down to a human level.… Gaiman takes a well-worn subject and makes it his own.
Publishers Weekly


( Starred review.) [T]he classic stories of Norse mythology but with no less humor, sense of adventure, and imagination than when [Gaiman's] playing in worlds of his own making.… A spectacularly entertaining and elucidating collection of stories with wide crossover appeal. —Stephanie Klose
Library Journal


[Gaiman] does a bang-up job of it.… His simple, Anglo-Saxon-canted diction…couldn’t sound better to modern ears used to the clipped, the droll, the laconic that a century of hard-boiled literary patter has made normal.… Gaiman’s retelling of these ever-striking and strange stories should be every reader’s first book of Norse mythology.
Booklist


( Starred review.) Gaiman writes assuredly and evocatively and with a precise eye for the atmospheric detail…. Superb. Just the thing for the literate fantasy lover and the student of comparative religion and mythology alike.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, please use our LitLovers talking points to start a discussion for Norse Mythology...then take off on your own:

1. Talk about each of the primary gods: Odin, Thor, and Loki. Consider their passions, humor, conflicts, bravery, and flaws. Which god do you find most interesting, admirable, cruel, weird, cool? Consider also Odin's wife,Freya, and his son, Balder, as well as Tyr, the one-handed god.

2. Which of the stories do you find most engaging or funny? Are any of the stories instructive or especially tragic? What larger meanings, if any, might the stories offer?

3. What is the role of mythology in culture? Why have all civilizations created their stories: what do myths signify? What do the Norse myths, in particular, say about the Germanic/Norse cultures…and their view of humankind.

4. Follow-up to Questions #3: Does mythology, particularly Neil Gaiman's volume have relevance today? Are they universal cautionary tales? Do they offer age-old wisdom? Or are they primarily for entertaining?

5. What other mythologies are you familiar with: perhaps Ancient Greek, African, Hindi, Native American, Sumerian? How do the Norse myths compare—are there similarities with any other group of myths that you are familiar with?

6. In Norse mythology all roads lead to Ragnarok (also known as Gotterdammerung for Wagner opera buffs). How did they get there? Is the cataclysmic end inevitable—is it dictated by fate or by the innate nature of the gods?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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A Separation
Katie Kitamura, 2017
Penguin Publishing
240 pp.
ISBN-13:
9780399576102


Summary
This is her story.

About the end of her marriage. About what happened when Christopher went missing and she went to find him. These are her secrets, this is what happened...
 
A young woman has agreed with her faithless husband: it's time for them to separate. For the moment it's a private matter, a secret between the two of them.

As she begins her new life, she gets word that Christopher has gone missing in a remote region in the rugged south of Greece; she reluctantly agrees to go look for him, still keeping their split to herself.

In her heart, she's not even sure if she wants to find him. As her search comes to a shocking breaking point, she discovers she understands less than she thought she did about her relationship and the man she used to love.

A searing, suspenseful story of intimacy and infidelity, A Separation lays bare what divides us from the inner lives of others. With exquisitely cool precision, Katie Kitamura propels us into the experience of a woman on edge, with a fiercely mesmerizing story to tell. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—1979
Where—California, USA
Education—B.A., Princeton University; Ph.D. London Consortium
Currently—lives in New York, New York


Katie Kitamura is an American novelist, journalist and art critic. She was born and raised in California to a family of Japanese origin. She trained as a ballerina earlier, but attended and graduated from Princeton University. She earned a Ph.D. in American literature from the London Consortium. Her thesis was titled The Aesthetics of Vulgarity and the Modern American Novel (2005).

Fiction
Kitamura's debut novel, The Longshot, was published in 2009. It concerns the a young fighter and his trainer of championship preparing for a bout against a famed opponent. The cover art of the US edition of the book features a tattooed of the title on her brother's knuckles. Her brother was the one who first introduced Kitmura to mixed martial arts in Japan.

Kitamura's second novel Gone to the Forest, released in 2013, is set in an unnamed colonial country and describes the life and suffering of a landowning family in a backdrop of civil strife and political change.

A Separation, published in 2017, is Kitamura's third novel. The story revolves around a husband's disappearance on a Greek island, his estranged wife who searches for him, and the dissolution of their marriage.

Nonfiction
Kitamura's writings have appeared in Conde Nast Traveler, The (London) Times , Vogue, Travel+Leisure, Wall Street Journal, New York Times Magazine, and Food & Wine. Her essays and literary criticism have been anthologized widely, and she has served as a columnist for the Chosun Ilbo, the leading paper of South Korea. She lives in New York with her family. (Adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved on 2/18/2017.)



Book Reviews
In the hierarchical world of Kitamura’s novel, there is little love or friendship between equals, only manipulation and control, guilt and obedience, humiliation and submission. And behind these power games, one detects an overriding fatalism about the possibility of human connection, a sense that "wife and husband and marriage are only words that conceal much more unstable realities, more turbulent than perhaps can be contained in a handful of syllables, or any amount of writing." It is this radical disbelief — a disbelief, it appears, even in the power of art—that makes Kitamura’s accomplished novel such a coolly unsettling work.
Fernanda Eberstadt - New York Times Book Review


[An] intimate, psychological mystery (Books We Can't Wait to Read in 2017).
Paul S. Makishima - Boston Globe


Kitamura…leaves plot issues unresolved. Instead, she focuses on capturing a disarray of contradictory emotions, delineating the line between white lies and betrayal.… Despite the mysterious premise, readers may find that the narrator’s frequent contemplation frustratingly stalls the novel.
Publishers Weekly


(Starred review.) [A] tautly austere, intensely internal narrative, both adroitly lyrical and jarring. For readers seeking profound examinations of challenging relationships…Kitamura's oeuvre will be a compelling discovery. —Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon, Washington, DC
Library Journal


At once cool and burning, Kitamura’s immersive, probing psychological tale benefits from its narrator’s precise observations and nimble use of language.
Booklist


(Starred review.) Dread and lassitude twist into a spare and stunning portrait of a marital estrangement.… [T]he narrator suggests that "perhaps wife and husband and marriage itself are only words that conceal much more unstable realities, more turbulent than can be contained in a handful of syllables."
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, please use our LitLovers talking points to start a discussion for Separation...then take off on your own... :

1. What kind of woman is the narrator of the book—how would you describe her? Why do you think the author decided not to give her a name? At one point the narrator tells us about her work as a literary translator: "translation's potential for passivity appealed to me." What does that statement say about her?

2. When Christopher's mother calls wondering where he is, why doesn't the narrator tell her mother-in-law that the two have gone their separate ways? What holds her back from sharing this information? And why does she decide to head to Greece in search of him, even though she is reluctant to do so?

3. What atmosphere does the Greek village of Gerolimenas convey? Consider the blackened hills and empty hotels, the faceless saints and stray dogs. How does this setting help create the novel's mood? And what is that mood?

4. What was your reaction when you learned where Christopher was? Were you shocked?

5. What do we learn about the narrator and Christopher's relationship: it's beginning, middle, and it's ultimate end? What kind of emotional harm have they inflicted on one another? In what ways do you discern the narrator's hidden (repressed?) anger despite her outwardly detached personae?

6. What do you make of Christopher? Katie Kitamura never gives him the opportunity to speak for himself. Mostly, what we get of him comes through an unflattering portrait presented to us by the narrator. Is she a reliable, or fair, judge of her husband?

7. As she finds herself on the shore of the Mediterranean, the narrator muses about men's proclivity for infidelity:

Now, they no longer went away—there was not, at least for most of them, a sea to roam or a desert to cross, there was nothing but the floors of an office tower, the morning commute, a familiar and monotonous landscape…it was only on the shores of infidelity that they achieved a little privacy, a little inner life.

Does that mean she forgives Christopher his incessant straying?

8. Follow-up to Question 7: What other ruminations on marriage does the narrator engage in? In her view, for instance, what does marriage mean to wives that it does not, or cannot, mean to husbands? Do you have any thoughts about...well, the narrator's thoughts? What are your thoughts surrounding marriage?

9. Discuss the narrator's final encounter with her in-laws and what she comes to realize about their marriage? How did she see them at first, and how does she see the two in light of her own failed relationship?

10. What does the novel's title, "Separation," refer to? How many kinds of separation are there in this story?

11. What does the narrator come away having learned? Has she changed by the novel's end? What do you predict for the new relationship she is returning home to?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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Pachinko (Lee) 
Min Jin Lee, 2017
Grand Central Publishing
496 pp.
ISBN-13:
9781455563937


Summary
Profoundly moving and gracefully told, Pachinko follows one Korean family through the generations, beginning in early 1900s Korea with Sunja, the prized daughter of a poor yet proud family, whose unplanned pregnancy threatens to shame them.

Betrayed by her wealthy lover, Sunja finds unexpected salvation when a young tubercular minister offers to marry her and bring her to Japan to start a new life.

So begins a sweeping saga of exceptional people in exile from a homeland they never knew and caught in the indifferent arc of history. In Japan, Sunja's family members endure harsh discrimination, catastrophes, and poverty, yet they also encounter great joy as they pursue their passions and rise to meet the challenges this new home presents.

Through desperate struggles and hard-won triumphs, they are bound together by deep roots as their family faces enduring questions of faith, family, and identity. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—1968
Where—Seoul, South Korea
Raised—Borough of Queens, New York City, NY, USA
Education—B.A., Yale University; J.D., Georgetown University
Awards—Narrative Prize for New and Emerging Writer (more below)
Currently—lives in New York, New York


Min Jin Lee is a Korean-American writer and author, whose work frequently deals with Korean American topics. Her first novel, Free Food for Millionaires, was published in 2007 and her second, Pachinko, in 2017. Both were highly regarded. Lee also served for three years seasons as a "Morning Forum" English-language columnist of South Korea's newspaper Chosun Ilbo.

Background
Although Lee was born in Seoul, South Korea, her family came to the United States in 1976 when she was seven. She grew up in Elmhurst, Queens, New York, where her parents owned a wholesale jewelry store. She studied history at Yale and law at Georgetown University. She worked as a corporate lawyer in New York for several years before becoming a writer. She lived in Japan for four years (2007-11) and now lives in New York with her husband, Christopher Duffy, and her son, who is half-Japanese.

Lee has lectured about writing, literature, and politics at Columbia, Tufts, Loyola Marymount University, Stanford, Johns Hopkins (SAIS), University of Connecticut, Boston College, Hamilton College, Harvard Law School, Yale University, Ewha University, Waseda University, the American School in Japan. She has also lectured at World Women’s Forum, the Tokyo American Center of the U.S. Embassy, and the Asia Society in New York, San Francisco and Hong Kong.

Writing
Lee's short story "Axis of Happiness" won the 2004 Narrative Prize from Narrative Magazine. Another short story, "Motherland," published in the Missouri Review, won The Peden Prize for Best Short Story. The story is about a Korean family living in Japan, which is also the subject of her second novel, Pachinko (2017). Her short stories have been featured on NPR's Selected Shorts.

Her 2007 novel Free Food for Millionaires was named one of the Top 10 Novels of the Year by The Times (UK), NPR's Fresh Air, and USA Today. It was a listed as a notable novel by the San Francisco Chronicle and as a New York Times Editor's Choice. Lee's second novel, Pachinko, came out out in 2017.

Lee has also published non-fiction in anthologies and such periodicals as the The Times (UK), New York Times Magazine, Traveler, Vogue, Travel + Leisure, Wall Street Journal and Food & Wine. Further, she has published a number of reviews, among them, Toni Morrison's Home, Cynthia Ozick's Foreign Bodies, and Jodi Picoult's Wonder Woman: Love and Murder. All three appeared in The Times (UK).

Accolades
She received the NYFA (New York Foundation for the Arts) Fellowship for Fiction, the Peden Prize for Best Story from the Missouri Review, and the Narrative Magazine Prize for New and Emerging Writer.

While at Yale, she was awarded both the Henry Wright Prize for Nonfiction and the James Ashmun Veech Prize for Fiction. (Adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 2/15/2017.)



Book Reviews
[S]tunning…. Like most memorable novels…Pachinko resists summary. In this sprawling book, history itself is a character. Pachinko is about outsiders, minorities and the politically disenfranchised. But it is so much more besides. Each time the novel seems to find its locus—Japan's colonization of Korea, World War II as experienced in East Asia, Christianity, family, love, the changing role of women—it becomes something else. It becomes even more than it was. Despite the compelling sweep of time and history, it is the characters and their tumultuous lives that propel the narrative. Small details subtly reveal the characters' secret selves and build to powerful moments…In this haunting epic tale, no one story seems too minor to be briefly illuminated. Lee suggests that behind the facades of wildly different people lie countless private desires, hopes and miseries, if we have the patience and compassion to look and listen.
Krys Lee - New York Times Book Review


The breadth and depth of challenges come through clearly, without sensationalization. The sporadic victories are oases of sweetness, without being saccharine. Lee makes it impossible not to develop tender feelings towards her characters—all of them, even the most morally compromised. Their multifaceted engagements with identity, family, vocation, racism, and class are guaranteed to provide your most affecting sobfest of the year (Most Anticipated Books of 2017).
BookRiot


[A] sprawling and immersive historical work.… Though the novel is long, the story itself is spare, at times brutally so. Sunja’s isolation and dislocation become palpable in Lee’s hands. Reckoning with one determined, wounded family’s place in history, Lee’s novel is an exquisite meditation on the generational nature of truly forging a home.
Publishers Weekly


(Starred review.) [A] beautifully crafted story of love, loss, determination, luck, and perseverance.… Lee's skillful development of her characters and story lines will draw readers into the work.… [T]he author's latest page-turner.  —Shirley Quan, Orange Cty. P.L., Santa Ana, CA
Library Journal


(Starred review.) An exquisite, haunting epic…moments of shimmering beauty and some glory, too, illuminate the narrative.… Lee's profound novel…is shaped by impeccable research, meticulous plotting, and empathic perception.
Booklist


(Starred review.) [A]n absorbing saga.… [L]ove, luck, and talent combine with cruelty and random misfortune in a deeply compelling story.… An old-fashioned epic whose simple, captivating storytelling delivers both wisdom and truth.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, use our LitLovers talking points to start a discussion for Pachinko...then take off on your own:

1. The novel's opening sentence reads, "History has failed us, but no matter." What does the sentence mean, and what expectations might it establish for the reader? Why the tail end of the sentence, "but no matter"?
 
2. Talk about the thematic significance of the book's title. Pachinko is a sort of slot/pinball game played throughout Japan, and it's arcades are also a way for foreigners to find work and accumulate money.

3. What are the cultural differences between Korea and Japan?

4. As "Zainichi," non-Japanese, how are Koreans treated in Japan? What rules must they adhere to, and what restrictions apply to them?

5. Follow-up to Questions 3 and 4: Discuss the theme of belonging, which is pervades this novel. How does where one "belongs" tie into self-identity? Consider Mozasu and his son, Solomon. In what ways are their experiences similar when it comes to national identity? How do both of them feel toward the Japanese?

6. How is World War II viewed in this novel—especially from the perspective of the various characters living in Japan? Has reading about the war through their eyes altered your own understanding of the war?

7. How would you describe Sunja and Isak. How do their differing innate talents complement one another and enable them to survive in Japan?

8. Are there particular characters you were drawn to more than others, perhaps even those who are morally compromised? If so who...and why?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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Universal Harvester 
John Darnielle, 2017
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
224 pp.
ISBN-13:
9780374282103


Summary
Jeremy works at the Video Hut in Nevada, Iowa. It’s a small town in the center of the state—the first a in Nevada pronounced "ay."

This is the late 1990s, and even if the Hollywood Video in Ames poses an existential threat to Video Hut, there are still regular customers, a rush in the late afternoon.

It’s good enough for Jeremy: it’s a job, quiet and predictable, and it gets him out of the house, where he lives with his dad and where they both try to avoid missing Mom, who died six years ago in a car wreck.

But when a local schoolteacher comes in to return her copy of Targets—an old movie, starring Boris Karloff, one Jeremy himself had ordered for the store—she has an odd complaint: “There’s something on it,” she says, but doesn’t elaborate. Two days later, a different customer returns a different tape, a new release, and says it’s not defective, exactly, but altered: “There’s another movie on this tape.”

Jeremy doesn’t want to be curious, but he brings the movies home to take a look. And, indeed, in the middle of each movie, the screen blinks dark for a moment and the movie is replaced by a few minutes of jagged, poorly lit home video.

The scenes are odd and sometimes violent, dark, and deeply disquieting. There are no identifiable faces, no dialogue or explanation—the first video has just the faint sound of someone breathing— but there are some recognizable landmarks. These have been shot just outside of town.

So begins John Darnielle’s haunting and masterfully unsettling Universal Harvester: the once placid Iowa fields and farmhouses now sinister and imbued with loss and instability and profound foreboding.

The novel will take Jeremy and those around him deeper into this landscape than they have ever expected to go. They will become part of a story that unfolds years into the past and years into the future, part of an impossible search for something someone once lost that they would do anything to regain. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—March 16, 1967
Where—Bloomington, Indiana, USA
Raised—Central California
Education—B.A., Pitzer College
Currently—lives in Durham, North Carolina


John Darnielle is an American musician and novelist best known as the primary (and often solitary) member of the American band the Mountain Goats, for which he is the writer, composer, guitarist, pianist and vocalist.

Born in Bloomington, Indiana, Darnielle grew up in Central California with an abusive stepfather by the name of Mike Noonan (1940-2004) (as referenced frequently in The Sunset Tree) and after high school, he went to work as a psychiatric nurse at the Metropolitan State Hospital in Norwalk, California.

For a couple of years, he lived on the Metropolitan State grounds, writing songs and playing his guitar when he wasn't working. During this time he began recording some of his songs onto cassette tapes using a Panasonic boombox. Shortly after working at the hospital, Darnielle attended Pitzer College from 1991 to 1995, earning a degree in English.

Throughout his college education he continued to record music. In 1992, Dennis Callaci, a friend of Darnielle's and owner of Shrimper Records, released a tape of Darnielle’s songs called "Taboo VI: The Homecoming". Around that time, the Mountain Goats were born and began touring with just Darnielle on guitar and a bassist, first Rachel Ware and then Peter Hughes.

Darnielle has lived in Grinnell, Iowa; Colo, Iowa; Ames, Iowa; Chicago, Illinois; Portland, Oregon; and Milpitas, CA. He currently resides in Durham, North Carolina with his wife Lalitree Darnielle, a botanist and photographer (who was featured playing the banjo in the band's 1998 EP New Asian Cinema) and son Roman.

Darnielle became a vegetarian in 1996 and a Vegan in 2007. In the same year, he performed at a benefit for the animal welfare organization Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, New York. He performed again at Farm Sanctuary in 2009.

Writing
Darnielle's first book, Black Sabbath: Master of Reality, was published in 2008 as part of the 33⅓ series. He writes the "South Pole Dispatch" feature in Decibel Magazine every month and also guest edited the poetry section of The Mays, an anthology of the best creative work coming out of Oxford and Cambridge. His first novel, entitled Wolf In White Van was released in 2014. It was among ten books nominated for the National Book Award for Fiction. (Adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 10/12/2014.)



Book Reviews
A captivating exploration of the vagaries of memory and inertia in middle America . . . [Universal Harvester] serves as a stellar encore after the success of [Darnielle's] debut novel, Wolf in White Van.…  Beneath the eerie gauze of this book, I felt an undercurrent of humanity and hope.
Manuel Roig-Franzia - Washington Post


[A] brilliant second novel.… What appears to be a chilling horror tale is also a perfectly rendered story about family and loss.… Darnielle is a master at building suspense, and his writing is propulsive and urgent; it's nearly impossible to stop reading. He's also incredibly gifted at depicting the dark side of the rural Midwest.… [Universal Harvester is] beyond worthwhile; it's a major work by an author who is quickly becoming one of the brightest stars in American fiction.
Michael Schaub - Los Angeles Times


Universal Harvester is a quiet story of grief with the trappings of a Stephen King suspense-thriller.… Its characters are constantly on the move, speeding toward destinations they fear will hold scenes of unspeakable devastation and loss, and Darnielle seamlessly transfers their dread straight into readers’ hearts.… [Universal Harvester is] so wonderfully strange, almost Lynchian in its juxtaposition of the banal and the creepy, that my urge to know what the hell was going on caused me to go full throttle.… [But] Darnielle hides so much beautiful commentary in the book’s quieter moments that you would be remiss not to slow down.
Abram Scharf - MTV News


(Starred review.) [A] slow-burn mystery/thriller.… Darnielle adeptly juggles multiple stories that collide with chaotic consequences…[and] improbable events that have form, and shape, and weight, and meaning.
Publishers Weekly


[U]nsettling.… Darnielle's contemporary ghost story may confound with its elusiveness (who is the mysterious "I" narrator?), but its impact will stick with readers. —Michael Pucci, South Orange P.L., NJ
Library Journal


Darnielle’s masterfully disturbing follow-up to the National Book Award-nominated Wolf in White Van reads like several Twilight Zone scripts cut together by a poet.… All the while, [Darnielle’s] grasp of the Iowan composure-above-all mindset instills the book with agonizing heartbreak. —Daniel Krau
Booklist


Kirkus Reviews
Darnielle’s prose is consistently graceful and empathetic, though plotwise the novel sometimes sputters.… Regardless, Darnielle is operating mainly on a metaphorical plane…what we know, feel, and remember about our families disappears too easily, as if stored on media we lack the devices to play. A smart and rangy yarn.



Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, use our LitLovers talking points to start a discussion for Universal Harvester...then take off on your own:

1. Why might John Darnielle have chosen a sleepy, small town in the middle of Iowa as his setting for this novel?

2. How would you describe Jeremy? Consider, for instance, the fact that better job opportunities pass him by. Or that fact that he falls for girls but never pursues them. What does all this suggest about Jeremy? What about Jeremy's father? What is their relationship and the quality of their life as together as father and son?

3. What role does grief play in this novel, and how does it affect the various characters? In what way does grief, perhaps, unite them thematically?

4. Why does the author provide separate versions of reality, one in which Jeremy moves to a bigger city and finds a better job, and one in which Jeremy stays pub at the Video Hut?

5. What were your original expectations of, or ideas about, the clip embedded into the Target videotape—the dancing woman, the hand painting the hood, the door which gets flipped on its side, and the snippet of speech, "Wait. I did't..."? Did you come to understand what it was about by the novel's end?

6. After her trip to Collins, Sarah Jane talks to Jeremy about her anxiety.

The house,” said Sarah Jane, reaching back into her purse and retrieving the printout of the frame from when my hand slipped and the front porch came into view.

What was your response to the shifting point of view—from third- to first-person—in that passage? What does it do to your sense of Sarah Jane, or your understanding of the novel's narrator?

7. The novel feels like a horror novel without actually finding a monster. In an NPR interview, Darnielle said that he wanted to write about "that moment of dread" that occurs right before "the thing you don't want to see happens." Reading Universal Harvesters, were you gripped by those moments of dread? If so, when did that feeling overtake you?

8. What do you think of the book's ending? Were you satisfied...or let down?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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All Our Wrong Todays 
Elan Mastai, 2017
Penguin Publishing
384 pp.
ISBN-13:
9781101985137


Summary
You know the future that people in the 1950s imagined we’d have? Well, it happened.

In Tom Barren’s 2016, humanity thrives in a techno-utopian paradise of flying cars, moving sidewalks, and moon bases, where avocados never go bad and punk rock never existed...because it wasn’t necessary.

Except Tom just can’t seem to find his place in this dazzling, idealistic world, and that’s before his life gets turned upside down. Utterly blindsided by an accident of fate, Tom makes a rash decision that drastically changes not only his own life but the very fabric of the universe itself. In a time-travel mishap, Tom finds himself stranded in our 2016, what we think of as the real world.

For Tom, our normal reality seems like a dystopian wasteland.

But when he discovers wonderfully unexpected versions of his family, his career, and—maybe, just maybe—his soul mate, Tom has a decision to make. Does he fix the flow of history, bringing his utopian universe back into existence, or does he try to forge a new life in our messy, unpredictable reality?

Tom’s search for the answer takes him across countries, continents, and timelines in a quest to figure out, finally, who he really is and what his future—our future—is supposed to be.

All Our Wrong Todays is about the versions of ourselves that we shed and grow into over time. It is a story of friendship and family, of unexpected journeys and alternate paths, and of love in its multitude of forms. Filled with humor and heart, and saturated with insight and intelligence and a mind-bending talent for invention, this novel signals the arrival of a major talent. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—ca. 1974-75
Where—Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Education—Queens University; Concordia University
Awards—Canadian Screen Award
Currently—lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada


Elan Mastai is a Canadian screenwriter and novelist. He is best known for The F Word, for which he won the Canadian Screen Award for Best Adapted Screenplay at the 2nd Canadian Screen Awards in 2014. His debut novel, All the Wrong Todays was published in 2017 and is rumored to have fetched a seven figure advance. A time-travel-goes-awry tale, the book's breezy, humorous style has been compared to Adam Douglas's The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Mastai was born and raised in Vancouver, British Columbia, to a Canadian mother and an Israeli immigrant father. He studied film at Queen's University and Concordia University. He lives with his wife and children and an Australian Shepherd named Ruby Slippers in Toronto. (Adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 2/9/2017.)



Book Reviews
On top of this brilliant philosophical premise of parallel versions of one’s life and the people in it—of what might have been had history unfolded different—Mastai’s language is also rife with an infectious humor you won’t be able to stop reading.
HarpersBazaar.com


You don’t have to be a sci-fi fan to become totally enthralled with this fresh, time-travel novel by screenwriter Mastai…. [A]n utterly clever, entertaining love story.
RealSimple.com


With humor, grace and dizzying skill, Mastai crafts a time-traveling novel that challenges every convention of the trope, and succeeds brilliantly. His droll, unassuming writing style couches a number of razor-sharp critiques…while the endless array of...possibilities give the story its drive and irresistible exuberance… heartrending, funny, smart, and stunningly, almost brazenly hopeful (a Top Pick).
Romance Times Book Reviews


[I]maginative…. [T]he story takes several startling turns as Tom tries to…change the future of this timeline. Mastai has fun with all the usual conventions of time travel…. and the cherry on top is his dialogue, reminiscent of Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Publishers Weekly


(Starred review.) Mastai creates a fascinating tapestry of interconnected alternate realities…. A potent mixture of sincere introspection and a riveting examination of time travel and alternate realities, this highly recommended novel is reminiscent of Jo Walton’s My Real Children with the breeziness of Robin Sloan’s Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.
Library Journal


Mastai’s utopian worldbuilding is complex and imaginative…. An entertaining rom-com of errors, All Our Wrong Todays backflips through paradoxes while exploring provocative questions of grief and the multitudes we contain within ourselves. Ultimately, it’s a story about love—and the stupid things we’ll do for it.
BookPage


(Starred review.) [T]he story of the world's first and, unfortunately for us all, most unqualified time traveler…. Mastai considers not only the workings, but the consequences (and there are many) of time travel, packing so much into the last 100 pages it feels as if there's literal weight pressing on your mind…. [E]ntertaining.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, use our LitLovers talking points to start a discussion question for All the Wrong Todays...then take off on your own:

1. Talk about the ways in which All Our Wrong Todays' alternate 2016 is similar or dissimilar to the 2016 we know. Which reality do you prefer? How do you view the level of advanced technology in the first 2016? Consider the improvements it makes to life, as well as the ways in which it detracts from life? Overall, how would you characterize the hyper-technological world--as utopian or dystopian?

2. What could possibly go wrong? Tom Barren travels back to 1965, the year the Goettreider Engine (get the play on the name?) was invented. Why does his presence cause the machine to go haywire?

3. What light does Elan Mastai's book shine of the problems and paradoxes of time travel?

4. How do the "Tom Barrens" differ from one another in the alternate timelines?

5. And then there's Penelope. What do you think of her?

6. What does Tom learn by the end of the book? What insights does he gain? And, you: what insights have you gained—about what it means to be human, about the importance of family, and the power of love?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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