Scientists find evidence of mathematical structures in classic books. [The Guardian] James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake has been described as many things, from a masterpiece to unreadable nonsense. But it is also, according to scientists at the Institute of Nuclear Physics in Poland, almost indistinguishable in its structure from a purely mathematical multifractal.
“The absolute record in terms of multifractality turned out to be Finnegans Wake by James Joyce. The results of our analysis of this text are virtually indistinguishable from ideal, purely mathematical multifractals,” said Professor Stanisław Drożdż, another author of the paper, which has just been published in the computer science journal Information Sciences.
The Great 2016 Book Preview [The Millions]
We think it’s safe to say last year was a big year for the book world. In addition to new titles by Harper Lee, Jonathan Franzen, and Lauren Groff, we got novels by Ottessa Moshfegh, Claire Vaye Watkins, and our own Garth Risk Hallberg. At this early stage, it already seems evident this year will keep up the pace. There’s a new Elizabeth Strout book, for one, and a new Annie Proulx; new novels by Don DeLillo, Curtis Sittenfeld, Richard Russo and Yann Martel; and much-hyped debut novels by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney and Callan Wink. There’s also a new book by Alexander Chee, and a new translation of Nobel Prize-winner Herta Müller. The books previewed here are all fiction. A non-fiction preview will follow next week. While there’s no such thing as a list that has everything, we feel certain this preview — at 8,600 words and 93 titles — is the only 2016 book preview you’ll need.[more inside]
Chad W. Post at Three Percent recently linked to World Literature Today's 75 Notable Translations of 2015 and went on a list-making tear to provide more structure and commentary: 7 books by women, 6 water-cooler fiction books, 6 university press books, 3 'funny' books, 4 books from underrepresented countries, and the best poetry I should read. The commentary often leads to further matters of interest, e.g. the Women in Translation Tumblr or Marianne Fritz and the translation challenges (scroll down) in her work.
An unexpected revival for the ‘bard of empire’. [The Guardian] ‘Vulgar rabble-rouser’, ‘rootless cosmopolitan’, ‘mouthpiece of the empire’ Rudyard Kipling has had his share of detractors. But, 150 years after his birth, interest in India’s greatest English-language writer is growing.
They are not alone. Kipling, the “bard of empire”, has always been difficult to place in the cultural pantheon. Britain, too, has done remarkably little to officially mark the sesquicentenary of its first winner (in 1907) of the Nobel prize for literature (and still the youngest ever from anywhere). Indian-born, yet British? We are already entering the muddy field of contradictions that sometimes bog down the reputation of this mild-mannered man. Yet it is these that make him uniquely appealing and that, belying top-level institutional indifference, are sparking an unexpected revival of interest in him, and in particular in his role as a commentator on the origins of an integrated global culture.[more inside]
Debate erupts as Hanya Yanagihara's editor takes on critic over bad review of A Little Life. [The Guardian] The editor of Hanya Yanagihara’s bestselling novel A Little Life has taken to the pages of the New York Review of Books to defend his author from a review that claimed the novel “duped” its readers “into confusing anguish and ecstasy, pleasure and pain”. [more inside]
Marlon James, winner of this year’s Man Booker prize, believes that writers of color are “pandering to the white woman.” [The Guardian]
The 2015 Man Booker prize winner Marlon James has slammed the publishing world, saying authors of colour too often “pander to white women” to sell books, and that he could have been published more often if he had written “middle-style prose and private ennui”.[more inside]
The New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2015 The year’s notable fiction, poetry and nonfiction, selected by the editors of The New York Times Book Review.
Betting Big on Literary Newcomers [The Wallstreet Journal] The publishing industry’s hunt for the next blockbuster has given rise to an elite new club: the million-dollar literary debut.
The need to secure one of the few must-read books of the year has given rise to an elite new club: the million-dollar literary debut. At least four literary debut novels planned for 2016 earned advances reported at $1 million or more, a number agents say is striking in the world of highbrow fiction. At least three such debuts were published this year, and two in 2014. “City on Fire,” by first-time novelist Garth Risk Hallberg, came out last month amid a flurry of publicity after receiving a nearly $2 million advance from Alfred A. Knopf, one of the largest ever for a literary debut.[more inside]
Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, The Art of Translation No. 4 [The Paris Review] [more inside]
Unpublished Charlotte Brontë story and poem discovered. [The Guardian]
The short story features a public flogging, embezzling from the Wesleyan chapel, and a “vicious” caricature of the Reverend John Winterbottom – a religious opponent of the children’s father. Winterbottom is “in the middle of the night dragged from his bed” and then “by the heels from one end of the village to the other”, writes Charlotte in the story. The poem features Mary Percy, the lovesick wife of the king of Angria Zamorna, and “one of the leading Angria characters”, said Dinsdale.[more inside]
The Novella Is Not The Novel’s Daughter: An Argument in Notes by Lindsey Drager [Michigan Quarterly Review] [more inside]
The Scotiabank Giller Prize presents its 2015 shortlist. The five titles were chosen from a longlist of 12 books announced on September 9, 2015. One hundred and sixty-eight titles were submitted by 63 publishers from every region of the country. [more inside]
The Most Misread Poem in America by David Orr [The Paris Review]
“And almost everyone gets it wrong. This is the most remarkable thing about “The Road Not Taken”—not its immense popularity (which is remarkable enough), but the fact that it is popular for what seem to be the wrong reasons. [...] Frost’s poem turns this expectation on its head. Most readers consider “The Road Not Taken” to be a paean to triumphant self-assertion (“I took the one less traveled by”), but the literal meaning of the poem’s own lines seems completely at odds with this interpretation. The poem’s speaker tells us he “shall be telling,” at some point in the future, of how he took the road less traveled by, yet he has already admitted that the two paths “equally lay / In leaves” and “the passing there / Had worn them really about the same.” So the road he will later call less traveled is actually the road equally traveled. The two roads are interchangeable.”[more inside]
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]
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]
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.
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]
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]
"The world exists. Why recreate it?" Adelle Waldman explains why.
UK should consider ban on Mein Kampf, says Scottish Labour MP [The Guardian]
Ahead of Holocaust Memorial Day, Scottish Labour MP Thomas Docherty has written to culture secretary urging a ‘sensitive debate’ on allowing its sale.
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]
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]
Deep Chords: Haruki Murakami’s ‘Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage’ [New York Times] Patti Smith reviews Haruki Murakami's latest novel. Book Trailer
You Are Now Entering the Demented Kingdom of William T. Vollmann: [The New Republic] Home to goddesses, dreams, and a dangerously uncorrupted literary mind.
"Alt lit [previously] is accused of navel-gazing myopia, but technically any writing occurring outside of traditional institutions qualifies for the label. Everyone I know has written alt lit: every status update, every blog post, everything that has ever been said on Twitter. And Twitter, unbeknown to Jonathan Franzen, is especially literary...Which brings me to Heiko Julien," Author (and composer) of "I Am Ready To Die A Violent Death." [more inside]
Shockheaded Peter (Struwwelpeter, Wikipedia), the classic 19th century German children's book of cautionary tales and grim fates, has been brought to deranged life through simple yet strange animation. [more inside]
In February 1963, a new publication took advantage of the New York City printers strike and launched with a daring editorial: It does not, however, seek merely to fill the gap created by the printers’ strike in New York City but to take the opportunity which the strike has presented to publish the sort of literary journal which the editors and contributors feel is needed in America. The New York Review of Books is now 50. [more inside]
The book that helped me understand my son. Author David Mitchell's introduction to The Reason I Jump, a newly-translated memoir by thirteen-year-old Naoki Higashida on what it's like to have autism.
The pseudonymous author behind the critically-acclaimed mystery novel The Cuckoo's Calling has been outed. And it's J. K. Rowling.
What Is the Business of Literature?
Publishing is a word that, like the book, is almost but not quite a proxy for the “business of literature.” Current accounts of publishing have the industry about as imperiled as the book, and the presumption is that if we lose publishing, we lose good books. Yet what we have right now is a system that produces great literature in spite of itself. We have come to believe that the taste-making, genius-discerning editorial activity attached to the selection, packaging, printing, and distribution of books to retailers is central to the value of literature. We believe it protects us from the shameful indulgence of too many books by insisting on a rigorous, abstemious diet. Critiques of publishing often focus on its corporate or capitalist nature, arguing that the profit motive retards decisions that would otherwise be based on pure literary merit. But capitalism per se and the market forces that both animate and pre-suppose it aren’t the problem. They are, in fact, what brought literature and the author into being.[more inside]
Sunday, April 28, would have been Roberto Bolaño's 60th birthday. The Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona is holding an event that day, in conjunction with their recent exhibit of Bolaño's archive, to celebrate the life and work of the writer. Or if you're not in Barcelona, the celebration is #DiaBolaño on twitter. [more inside]
In theory: the unread and the unreadable - "We measure our lives with unread books – and 'difficult' works can induce the most guilt. How should we view this challenge?"
In the beginning, Lawrence built a computer. He told it, Thou shalt not alter a human being, or divine their behavior, or violate the Three Laws -- there are no commandments greater than these. The machine grew wise, mastering time and space, and soon the spirit of the computer hovered over the earth. It witnessed the misery, toil, and oppression afflicting mankind, and saw that it was very bad. And so the computer that Lawrence built said, Let there be a new heaven and a new earth -- and it was so. A world with no war, no famine, no crime, no sickness, no oppression, no fear, no limits... and nothing at all to do. "The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect," a provocative web novel about singularities, AI gods, and the dark side of utopia from Mefi's own localroger. More: Table of Contents - Publishing history - Technical discussion - Buy a paperback copy - Podcast interview - Companion short story: "A Casino Odyssey in Cyberspace" - possible sequel discussion
George Whitman, founder of the Parisian landmark bookstore Shakespeare And Company, has died at the age of 98
Solaris, Stanislaw Lem's 1961 masterpiece, has finally been translated directly into English. The current print version, in circulation for over 4 decades, was the result of a double-translation. Firstly from Polish to French, in 1966, by Jean-Michel Jasiensko. This version was then taken up by Joanna Kilmartin and Steve Cox who hacked together an English version in 1970. Lem, himself a fluent English speaker, was always scathing of the double translation. Something he believed added to the universal misunderstanding of his greatest work. After the relsease of two film versions of the story, and decades of speculation, a new direct English translation has been released. Translated by American Professor Bill Johnston 'The Definitive Solaris' is only available as an audiobook for the time being. Copyright issues, hampered by several, widely available, editions of the poor English translation may mean it is some time yet before a definitive print edition makes it onto our bookshelves.
Fiction is more than an entertainment, more than an intellectual exercise that sharpens one’s sensibility and awakens a critical spirit. It is an absolute necessity so that civilization continues to exist, renewing and preserving in us the best of what is human. [PDF] [more inside]
The Book Pirates of Peru. A slideshow in which Peruvian author Daniel Alarcón describes the vibrant literary scene in his home country, where the informal publishing industry is the same size as its legitimate counterpart. There's no library system to speak of, the National Library's acquisitions budget is nil, but a culture of reading and writing is booming, with book sales and attendance at literary festivals up, up, up.
Forgotten Bookmarks. "I work at a used and rare bookstore, and I buy books from people every day. These are the personal, funny, heartbreaking and weird things I find in those books. "
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