The Mysterious, Anonymous Author Elena Ferrante on the Conclusion of Her Neapolitan Novels [Vanity Fair]
Passions run high when you’re talking about Elena Ferrante and her work, particularly her sensational, highly addictive Neapolitan novels, which paint a portrait of a consuming female friendship against the backdrop of social and political upheaval in Italy from the 1950s to the present day. My Brilliant Friend,The Story of a New Name, and Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay have made Ferrante, an enigmatic figure who writes under a pseudonym, and is widely regarded as the best contemporary novelist you’ve never heard of, a worldwide sensation.[more inside]
"Here are some books that will not only make you want to quit doing the thing that is killing you, but also offer an interesting narrative structure for writers because they flout the conventional hero journey template. Instead of a reluctant hero emerging from an ordinary world to delve into the tricky landscape of magic and tests, these heroes begin in chaos and emerge from the grungy ashes of last call and plunge into sober, or at least peaceful, life earned by one’s ability to overcome hurdles associated with addiction." (Antonia Crane at Electric Literature) [more inside]
What books should a critic own? "Each week, the National Book Critics Circle will post a list of five books a critic believes reviewers should have in their libraries." Here are all the lists, from 2007-2011. [more inside]
Living in the Age of Permawar by Mohsin Hamid [The Guardian]
You see from your nook that humanity is afflicted by a great mass murderer about whom we are encouraged not to speak. The name of that murderer is Death. Death comes for everyone. Sometimes Death will pick out a newborn still wet from her aquatic life in her mother’s womb. Sometime Death will pick out a man with the muscles of a superhero, pick him out in repose, perhaps, or in his moment of maximum exertion, when his thighs and shoulders are trembling and he feels most alive. Sometimes Death will pick singly. Sometimes Death will pick by the planeload. Sometimes Death picks the young, sometimes the old, and sometimes Death has an appetite for the in-between. You feel it is strange that humanity does not come together to face this killer, like a silver-flashing baitball of 7 billion fish aware of being hunted by a titanic and ravenous shark. Instead, humanity scatters. We face our killer alone, or in families, or in towns or cities or tribes or countries. But never all together.
Jonathan Franzen 'considered adopting Iraqi orphan to figure out young people'. [The Guardian]
In a setup that would not look out of place in fiction, Jonathan Franzen, the bestselling American novelist, has said he once considered adopting an Iraqi war orphan to help him understand young people better, but was persuaded against it by his editor. Franzen said he was in his late 40s at the time with a thriving career and a good relationship but he felt angry with the younger generation. “Oh, it was insane, the idea that Kathy [his partner] and I were going to adopt an Iraqi war orphan. The whole idea lasted maybe six weeks.”[more inside]
Patter and Patois by Walter Mosley [New York Times] Walter Mosley writes about his relationship to the literature of Louisiana.
“Louisiana flowed in that blood and across those tongues. Louisiana — a state made famous by Walt Whitman and Tennessee Williams, Ernest Gaines and Arna Bontemps, Kate Chopin and Anne Rice. These writers, from many eras, races and genres, took the voices of the people and distilled them into the passionate, almost desperate, stories that opened readers to a new kind of suffering and exultation.”
A Passion for the Void: Understanding Clarice Lispector’s Strange and Surreal Fiction. [The New Republic]
Plenty of writers inspire fierce devotion in their readers—the David Foster Wallace acolytes, with their duct-taped copies of Infinite Jest, come to mind, as do the smug objectivists dressed in tech-world casual who owe their entire world view to Ayn Rand. But no one converts the uninitiated into devout believers as suddenly and as vertiginously as Clarice Lispector, the Latin-American visionary, Ukranian-Jewish mystic, and middle-class housewife and mother so revered by her Brazilian fans that she's known by a single name: "Clarice."[more inside]
If this is a real picture of the Brontës, then I'm Heathcliff! [The Guardian] A collector is convinced that the £15 photograph he snapped up on eBay is of the Brontë sisters. It’s highly unlikely, but the story is a mark of our enduring fascination with the literary family. Plus, a Brontë Society expert gives her verdict. Could this be the only photograph of the three Brontë sisters? asked Seamus Molloy [Daily Mail], who picked the photograph up for 15 quid on eBay.
The Best Books of 2015 (So Far) By Christian Lorentzen at Vulture. "These ten stand out as having made an especially remarkable impression on the past half-year." [more inside]
Obsessively Detailed Map of American Literature's Most Epic Road Trips
"The...map is the result of a painstaking and admittedly quixotic effort to catalog the country as it has been described in the American road-tripping literature. It includes every place-name reference in 12 books about cross-country travel...and maps the authors' routes on top of one another. You can track an individual writer's descriptions of the landscape as they traveled across it, or you can zoom in to see how different authors have written about the same place at different times."[more inside]
From Steinbeck to Cervantes: Confessing Our Literary Gaps by Sarah Galo, Elon Green [Hazlitt] Authors, journalists, and assorted literary stalwarts tell us why they’ve missed the famous books they’ve missed. [more inside]
Most Anticipated: The Great Second-Half 2015 Book Preview [The Millions]
If you like to read, we’ve got some news for you. The second-half of 2015 is straight-up, stunningly chock-full of amazing books. The list that follows isn’t exhaustive — no book preview could be — but, at 9,100 words strong and encompassing 82 titles, this is the only second-half 2015 book preview you will ever need. Scroll down and get started.[more inside]
"Although it has been said that every person is the hero of their own life story, it is more accurate to say that every person is the underdog of their own life story." Why southern gothic rules the world [SLGuardian], MO Walsh
In more innocent days, you could write about cocks and not be misunderstood. Unintentional double entendres.
"In keeping with James Joyce’s own love of lists, here’s a terribly subjective list of ten books published in this century that are in different ways as inventive as Ulysses was in 1922. These novels aren’t necessarily inspired by Ulysses, except insofar as it has affected every subsequent novel, but like Joyce’s masterpiece they challenge us in ways we never knew to expect. If nothing else, Bloomsday should remind us to pick up some books not despite their difficulty but because of it." (Electric Literature) [more inside]
22 Books by Black Authors to Add to Your Beach Bag this Summer In response to recently published summer reading lists from The New York Times and NPR that featured mostly White authors, Blavity shares a list of 22 summer reads from Black authors. [more inside]
I Read The New “Fifty Shades” Book (SLBuzzfeed) (NSFW)
Ulysses and Us by Declan Kiberd [Irish Times]
In some ways the fate of Ulysses reflects this openness, at least in the Dublin of today. It seems a work of high modernism, in the manner of a Proust or a Musil, yet it has become a signature element in the life of the city in which it is set. Each year hundreds, maybe thousands, dress as characters from the book – Stephen Dedalus with his cane, Leopold Bloom with bowler hat, Molly Bloom in her petticoats, Blazes Boylan in straw boater – as if to assert their willingness to become one with the text. They re-enact scenes on Eccles Street, on Ormond Quay and in the martello tower in Sandycove. It is impossible to imagine any other masterpiece of modernism having quite such an effect on the life of a city.[more inside]
"For those who love books, but don’t have enough time for reading. Here are the best books you can read in under an hour each." 24 books to read in under an hour (infographic) by Piotr Kowalczyk at Ebook Friendly. (via Electric Literature) Previously: What to read when pressed for time
László Krasznahorkai, the Hungarian author, wins the 2015 Man Booker International Prize. Awarded for his work, including the only recently available in English Satantango, and the The Melancholy of Resistance (1993 Book of the Year in Germany). Master of the long sentence his work has won praise from critics as a writer who is "fascinated by apocalypse, by broken revelations, indecipherable messages" [See New Yorker link above] and has been praised by many writers, including Susan Sontag, who described the apocalyptic vision of his writing as inviting comparisons to Melville and Gogol. He has collaborated extensively with Hungarian film director and master of the long take, Béla Tarr, including a 7 hour production of Satantango (SLYT) and Tarr's bleak, final work The Turin Horse (SLYT, Hungarian, turn sub-titles if required). Lovingly and expertly translated into English by British poet and Hungarian-born George Szirtes and more latterly by the Hungarian translator Ottilie Muzlet, Krashnorkai caused something of a literary sensation when he visited New York in 2012. As usual The Guardian has a useful summary of, and guide to, his work including many useful links. None are better than the author's own website. I would also recommend the interview with him in The White Review to read what the author has to say for himself. Previous love for Krasznahorkai on Metafilter can be found here and here.
17 Pathbreaking Non-Binary and Gender-Fluid Novels | You might be sexually fluid and not realize it — or even care
William Deriesiwicz takes a contrarian point of view on Knausgaard's critically lauded series of novels: The term “hyperrealism” derives from the visual arts, where it refers to paintings that are designed to look like photographs. To call writing like Knausgaard’s hyperrealistic, to enthrone it as the apotheosis of realism, is to cede reality to the camera. It is to surrender everything that makes literature distinct from the photographic and the televisual: its ability to tell us what things look like, not to the eye, but to the mind, to the heart...How sad it is to imagine that some of our most prominent novelists look at My Struggle and think, That’s the book I wish I could have written. How depressing to suppose that just as modernism culminated in Joyce, Proust and Woolf, the literature of our own time has been leading up to… Knausgaard.
A trio of Haruki Murakami's Advertorial Short Stories: In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Onward spent massive sums on advertising J. Press in the print media. The classic ad format, often seen on the back cover of lifestyle magazine Popeye, showed a Japanese or American man telling a colorful story about their favorite trad clothing item. In 1985, as Japanese pop culture went in more avant-garde directions, Onward came up with a new idea — asking up-and-coming novelist Murakami Haruki to write a very short story inside each month’s advertisement for magazines Popeye, Box, and Men’s Club. [more inside]
"The feature began originally as an idea born from a discussion online with a number of indie press editors, authors, and readers about the deluge of 'best-of' and 'most anticipated' features and how the majority of these articles continue to be disproportionately favorable to the larger publishing houses. A lot gets lost in transit among the smaller presses, and I wondered why this was the case; the question I asked had been, Why wasn’t there a comprehensive gathering of what the indie community has to offer?" [more inside]
The Lesbrary - "The humble quest to read everything lesbian: a lesbian book blog." Also see sidebar for links to other lesbian book blogs, websites, and online resources. [more inside]
Did Amazon Sink the Queen of Online Erotica? - Phoebe Reilly, Vulture
"Engler is an underappreciated pioneer, a self-proclaimed feminist in furry-cat slippers. To put her crowning achievement demurely, she challenged the book-publishing industry's denial of women's appetite for sexually explicit books. She wrote tawdry, lowbrow novels, and published hundreds of others, that freed romance from its lame euphemisms well before Fifty Shades of Grey, and she did so in a digital format long before the Kindle and the iPad allowed e-books to flourish.
"To put it less demurely: There were readers out there, lots of them, who didn't want to read about thick manroots. They wanted hard cocks. So that's what Ellora's Cave gave them. Easily and often."
"The world exists. Why recreate it?" Adelle Waldman explains why.
Harper Lee is publishing a second book this July. "Go Set a Watchman" is essentially a sequel to "To Kill a Mockingbird," although it was finished earlier.... The new book is set in Lee's famed Maycomb, Alabama, during the mid-1950s, 20 years after "To Kill a Mockingbird" and roughly contemporaneous with the time that Lee was writing the story. In the last few years Lee has been embroiled in legal disputes with her agent over the royalties to To Kill a Mockingbird (previously), as well as with journalist Marja Mills, who published an unauthorized biography of her (previously). Title borrowed from Matt Yglesias.
On Edgar Allan Poe by Marilynne Robinson [New York Review of Books]
"Edgar Allan Poe was and is a turbulence, an anomaly among the major American writers of his period, an anomaly to this day. He both amazed and antagonized his contemporaries, who could not dismiss him from the ﬁrst rank of writers, though many felt his work to be morally questionable and in dubious taste, and though he scourged them in print regularly in the course of producing a body of criticism that is sometimes ﬂatly vindictive and often brilliant.
Robert Stone, Novelist of the Vietnam Era and Beyond, Dies at 77 [New York Times]
"Robert Stone, who wrote ambitious, award-winning novels about errant Americans in dangerous circumstances or on existential quests — or both — as commentary on an unruly, wayward nation in the Vietnam era and beyond, died on Saturday at his home in Key West, Fla. He was 77.[more inside]
Does The Handmaid's Tale hold up? , Adi Robertson for The Verge:
"A few weeks ago, I mentioned to a friend that I was in the middle of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. 'It’s like 1984 for feminists, right?' he asked. Sort of, I said. But it's a lot scarier. It's about how you'll lose every right you have, and none of the men you know will care. Then I said he would probably betray me if they froze all women's bank accounts. That was the peak of my paranoia, but it held on for several more days, as I read on the subway while half-consciously figuring out how I might theoretically escape to Canada. 1984 was for lightweights."[more inside]
“I‘ve realized that the perfect length for what I do is 100 pages. In my brevity there may be an element of insecurity. I wouldn‘t dare give a 1,000-page novel to a reader […] My novels became shorter as I became more renowned. People now allow me to do whatever I want. At any rate, publishers prefer thick books. But with books, the thicker they are, the less literature they have.””—César Aira [more inside]
Al-Mutanabbi is an open book, bearing symbols that are deeply etched into the body of today’s Baghdad. The street has no endpoint. [more inside]
"Much has been said about the storytelling techniques of 'Serial,' which comes out in weekly installments even as the show’s host, Sarah Koenig, reinvestigates the conviction of a Baltimore-area teenager for the murder of his ex-girlfriend. The serialized approach teases its audience with cliffhangers, prompts its listeners to construct their own theories and invites outsiders to glimpse the tricky winnowing process of reporting. But 'Serial' also testifies to how much the criminal justice system itself is founded on storytelling." (Laura Miller, Salon: The new "In Cold Blood" revisionism: Why it doesn't matter if Capote’s classic wasn't fully true) [more inside]
The habitual liar may be a very honest fellow, and live truly with his wife and friends; while another man who never told a formal falsehood in his life may yet be himself one lie-heart and face, from top to bottom. This is the kind of lie which poisons intimacy. And, vice versa, veracity to sentiment, truth in a relation, truth to your own heart and your friends, never to feign or falsify emotion—that is the truth which makes love possible and mankind happy. Robert Louis Stevenson on truth and writing.
I never correct anything and I never go back to what I have written, except to the foot of the last page to see where I have got to. If you once look back, you are lost. How could you have written this drivel? How could you have used "terrible" six times on one page? And so forth. If you interrupt the writing of fast narrative with too much introspection and self-criticism, you will be lucky if you write 500 words a day and you will be disgusted with them into the bargain. A year before his death, James Bond author Ian Fleming explained how to write a thriller.
Isaac Asimov's Foundation: The little idea that became science fiction's biggest series [SPOILERS] (io9)
On the planet Terminus, a group of academics struggles to survive as the Galactic Empire crumbles. With no weapons, all they can rely on are the predictions of a dead genius named Hari Seldon. That's right — it's time to discuss Isaac Asimov's Foundation![more inside]
Welcome to Foundation Week, a Blogging the Hugos special event. In 1983, Isaac Asimov won the Hugo Award for Best Novel for Foundation's Edge, in which he revisited his groundbreaking Foundation mythos for the first time in over thirty years. Because the Foundation series is such classic, quintessential, and beloved science fiction — the original stories won their own unique Hugo for Best All-Time Series in 1966, and influenced artists from Douglas Adams to George Lucas — Josh Wimmer and Alasdair Wilkins will be discussing each of the seven books between today and Sunday. We begin with Foundation, published in 1951.
First editions, second thoughts: [New York Times] "On December 2, Christie's will auction 75 first-edition books, each of which is a unique object that has been annotated with words and/or illustrations by its author. Proceeds from the auction will benefit PEN American Center."
What is Literature for? [SLVimeo]
Closing a Chapter of a Literary Life [New York Times] Ahead of the American publication of his latest work, “The Book of Strange New Things,” Michel Faber discusses it and why it will be his last novel.
As the nights are beginning to draw in and Halloween approaches, how about something to make the flesh creep and send a shiver down the spine? Charles Dickens was a master of the macabre, whether it’s in his Christmas ghost stories such as A Christmas Carol, in the chilling Gothic emptiness of Satis House in Great Expectations or the dirty squalor of London in Oliver Twist. But there was another novelist who most people have never heard of, whose books also offered the Victorian reading public a good helping of horror. At the height of his career, he sold more copies of his work than Dickens, who is widely thought to have been the bestselling novelist of the age. This other writer’s name was George W. M. Reynolds, and he has recently been called ‘the other Dickens’. 2014 marks the bicentenary of his birth.
17 Brilliant Short Novels You Can Read in a Sitting by Lincoln Michel at Electric Literature:
This week author Ian McEwan expressed his love of short novels, saying “very few [long] novels earn their length.” Certainly it seems like a novel has to be a minimum of 500 pages to win a major literary award these days, and many genre novels have ballooned to absurd sizes.[more inside]
I love a good tome, but like McEwan many of my favorite novels are sharpened little gems. It’s immensely satisfying to finish a book in a single day, so in the spirit of celebrating quick reads here are some of my favorite short novels. I’ve tried to avoid the most obvious titles that are regularly assigned in school (The Stranger, Heart of Darkness, Mrs Dalloway, Of Mice and Men, Frankenstein, The Crying of Lot 49, etc.). Hopefully you’ll find some titles here you haven’t read before.
Adelle Waldman, author of The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., was a lonely aspiring writer in New York, generally unhappy. Then she moved to Brooklyn and found that community made all the difference.
To Lure Young Readers, Nonfiction Writers Sanitize and Simplify: [New York Times]
"Inspired by the booming market for young adult novels, a growing number of biographers and historians are retrofitting their works to make them palatable for younger readers."
KC Green, the cartoonist currently writing and drawing Gunshow and writing the pre-apocalyptic fantasy-western Back (with art from Nedroid's Anthony Clark) has embarked upon a third project: a chapter-by-chapter adaptation of Carlo Collodi's Pinocchio, currently up to the end of the book's first chapter. [more inside]