How renegade sci-fi writers of the 1960s paved the way for today's blending of literary and genre fiction [more inside]
"Longings and Desires", a Slate.com book review by Amanda Katz:
[Sarah] Waters, who was born in Wales in 1966, has carved out an unusual spot in fiction. Her six novels, beginning with Tipping the Velvet in 1998, could be called historical fiction, but that doesn’t begin to capture their appeal. It is closer to say that she is creating pitch-perfect popular fiction of an earlier time, but swapping out its original moral engine for a sensibility that is distinctly queer and contemporary, as if retrofitting a classic car.[more inside]
Her books offer something like an alternate reality—a literary one, if not a historical one. There may have been lesbian male impersonators working the London music halls in the 1890s, as in Tipping the Velvet, but there were certainly not mainstream novels devoted to their inner lives and sexual exploits. Waters gives such characters their say in books that imitate earlier crowd-pleasers in their structure, slang, and atmosphere, but that are powered by queer longing, defiant identity politics, and lusty, occasionally downright kinky sex. (An exception is her last novel, The Little Stranger.) The most masterful of these books so far is Fingersmith, a Wilkie Collins-esque tale full of genuinely shocking twists (thieves, double-crossing, asylums, mistaken identity, just go read it). The saddest is The Night Watch, a tale told in reverse of a group of entwined characters during and after World War II. But among many readers she is still most beloved for Tipping the Velvet, a deliriously paced coming-of-age story that is impossible to read in public without blushing.
Ian McEwan: the law versus religious belief. [The Guardian]
The conjoined twins who would die without medical intervention, a boy who refused blood transfusions on religious grounds…Ian McEwan on the stories from the family courts that inspired his latest novel.[more inside]
In the LA Review of Books, Stephen Marche reflects upon the Literature of the Second Gilded Age. In his recently published book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, economist Thomas Piketty argues that when r>g, that is, when an economy's annual rate of return on capital exceeds the economy's annual rate of growth, wealth inequality tends to increase, and that this condition has held both during the 19th century and since around the latter quarter of the 20th century. Unusually for an economics book, Piketty's work makes reference to several pre 20th-century works of fiction. Stephen Marche discusses role of this literature in Piketty's book. He goes on to critique the modern American social-realist novel. Although these books are not discussed by Piketty, according to Piketty's research they too pertain to a time in which r>g. Marche however accuses the more modern literature of being a "restrained, aspirational product" with "most of its sting removed".
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.
Daniel Handler, best known for A Series of Unfortunate Events and his accordion work with Stephin Merritt and The Magnetic Fields, reads a chapter from his novel Adverbs, which made Dave Eggers describe Handler as "something like an American Nabakov". An excerpt from another chapter, Immediately, is available courtesy of the New York Times. Handler's first adult novel, the nightmarishly satirical The Basic Eight (think the movie Heathers with a less reliable a narrator), is also well worth a read (excerpt from Google Books).
Literature and Form is a series of four lectures by Oxford literature academic Dr. Catherine Brown. The lectures are on the themes of unreliable narrators, chapters, multiple plotting and what comparative literature is. You can listen to it as a podcast or through iTunes U. In this lecture series Brown primarily looks at some central structures of the novel as well as examining what the study of literature entails. Brown weaves in examples from world literature, especially English and Russian literature of the 18th, 19th and 20th Centuries.
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?"
A small piece of Truman Capote’s famously unfinished novel Answered Prayers has come to light. The six-page story, “Yachts and Things,” found among Capote’s papers in the Manuscripts and Archives Division of the New York Public Library, is published in the December issue of Vanity Fair, out now in New York and nationally next week. The story will be available online in mid-November. [more inside]
James Salter's A Sport and a Pastime is one of those very rare novels that seems not so much to have been written as discovered. At its heart is a love story, an encounter, that transforms its relatively ordinary protagonists into beings around whom the entire cosmos shapes itself. The love story is delicate and ephemeral, put together out of bits and pieces, like a bird's nest. The vulnerable lovers tremble, in the most mundane circumstances, on the edge of catastrophe. Simply the way one of them moves across the room to meet the other seems miraculous and hazardous. Were they to become aware of themselves everything would be lost. But there is no danger of that. Oblivious, they tiptoe on a precipice. They do not and cannot know that their innocence cloaks them in a kind of divinity and infallibility. Actions and attitudes we expect to bring them down don't. They do things that seem so perfect, so poignant, without knowing they are doing anything at all. They arc beautifully across our path, and then vanish. - Michael Doliner (previously) [more inside]
For his 2008 novel The Museum of Innocence, about a man who obsessively collects objects associated with his beloved and eventually creates a museum of those objects in his beloved's old house, Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk has built a museum in a house in Istanbul containing the objects mentioned in the novel, including a half-eaten ice cream cone (made of plastic) and 4,213 cigarette stubs, complete with lipstick and ice cream stains. Elif Batuman reports on how the museum, which opened in April, came to be.
simply read Finnegans Wake. Since it is said to make more sense when recited aloud, you could start with this recording of James Joyce performing a passage from the "Anna Livia Plurabelle" section - which has been described as "one of the most beautiful prose-poems in English". [more inside]
‘You will never go wrong anticipating doom in my books, any more than you’ll go wrong in anticipating doom in ordinary life’—László Krasznahorkai. [more inside]
"The Threat to Proust" by Roger Shattuck: When Proust’s novel fell into the public domain in 1987, three Paris publishing houses were ready with new editions that had been in preparation for several years. They all carry the same basic 3,000-page text with few variations. The differences lie in packaging and presentation. Laffont-Bouquins chose to publish three fat volumes prefaced by elaborate historical and biographical materials. Garnier-Flammarion produced ten pocket-sized volumes competently edited by Jean Milly. The new Pléiade edition, published by the original copyright holder, Gallimard, made the boldest, most ambitious, and most expensive bid to claim the market. In a combination of editorial, literary, and commercial decisions, Gallimard proposed to influence the way we read Proust and, to some degree, the way we approach all great literary works. [more inside]
The Great American Novel -- will there ever be another? ...even if a new Melville or Twain, Faulkner or Fitzgerald were to appear in our midst, his work would fail to achieve the critical traction and existential weight of those earlier masters. We lack the requisite community of readers, and the ambient shared cultural assumptions...The diffusion or dispersion of culture brings with it a diffusion of manners and erosion of shared moral assumptions. Whatever we think of that process—love it as a sign of social liberation or loathe it as a token of cultural breakdown—it has robbed the novel, and the novel’s audience, of a primary resource: an authoritative tradition to react against.
Noel Perrin, "The Best American Novel about World War II": Guard of Honor is a classic (I think), but it is a hard one to put in an American literature course. Why? Because [James Gould] Cozzens was not a romantic. ... Its rightful place is as one of the greatest social novels ever written in America. [more inside]
In Praise of Older Women was condemned by some as some as pornography. In spite or perhaps because of that, it was a phenomenal seller. There is nothing pornographic about it. It is a beautiful and tender book, the semi-autobiographical tale of the amorous adventures of a young man who learns much, not only in matters of sex, from older women. It is a primer for men on the threshold of adulthood and a paean of elegant praise for older women. Unlike many male writers who write about women, there is no fear or hatred. In Praise of Older Women is warm and wise.
The main thing about impersonation, Tom thought, was to maintain the mood and temperament of the person one was impersonating, and to assume the facial expressions that went with them.
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
This is what the cultural elite wants us to believe: if our writers don't make sense, or bore us to tears, that can only mean that we aren't worthy of them. [more inside]
"This is a novel born out of the intersection of two eras. The first is a story of the Cultural Revolution, a time of fanaticism, repressed instincts, and tragic fates, similar to the European Middle Ages. The second is a story of today, a time of subverted ethics, fickle sensuality, and every kind of phenomena, even more like the Europe of today. A westerner would have to live four hundred years to experience the vast differences of the two eras, but a Chinese would only need forty years for the experience." Yu Hua's Brothers, a sprawling, foul-mouthed, comic-historical epic, and the best-selling novel in China's history, is available in English. [more inside]
Marguerite Young - whom Kurt Vonnegut called "unquestionably a genius" - first achieved success with a study of the utopian commune at New Harmony, Indiana called Angel in the Forest. She then spent 18 years writing Miss Macintosh, My Darling - a 1,198 page novel that William Goyen praised in The New York Times Book Review as "a masterwork". She spent the last 30 years of her life writing an unfinished biography of Eugene V. Debs that was posthumously published, in heavily edited form, as Harp Song for a Radical. [more inside]
"... many critics and editors, especially male ones, make a fetish of "ambition," by which they mean the contemporary equivalent of novels about men in boats ("Moby-Dick," "Huckleberry Finn") rather than women in houses ("House of Mirth"), and that as a result big novels by male writers get treated as major events while slender but equally accomplished books by women tend to make a smaller splash." [more inside]
The Iron Heel, published a century ago this year, is a novel by Jack London about socialist revolution in the United States. It is set mostly between 1912 and 1932, with a foreword and numerous footnotes written from the point of view of a historian who has just discovered the manuscript some 700 years later. Here is an excerpt (which is printed on the back cover of some editions) from chapter five:
"This, then, is our answer. We have no words to waste on you. When you reach out your vaunted strong hands for our palaces and purpled ease, we will show you what strength is. In roar of shell and shrapnel and in whine of machine-guns will our answer be couched. We will grind you revolutionists down under our heel, and we shall walk upon your faces. The world is ours, we are its lords, and ours it shall remain. As for the host of labor, it has been in the dirt since history began, and I read history aright. And in the dirt it shall remain so long as I and mine and those that come after us have the power. There is the word. It is the king of words--Power. Not God, not Mammon, but Power. Pour it over your tongue till it tingles with it. Power."
Dystopian storytelling is pillar of Western narrative tradition, but this decade has seen a significant shift in the way our apocalypse is told. Orthodox tales of government tyranny are giving way to visions of humans running helpless in the wake of environmental meltdown. From the plausible to the fantastic, most of this fiction remains hauntingly real while the non-fiction can get downright scary. In 2008, the 20th anniversary of climatologist James Hansen's landmark speech before Congress, popular art is beginning to reflect an increasingly bleak public sentiment on the future, playing out some of our worst nightmares. It may be that these writers and directors are wishing for the end of the world, but even so, they are certainly giving voice to the creeping feeling that indeed, we might not make it.
Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey is Chuck Palahniuk's eighth novel. It takes the form of an oral history of one Buster 'Rant' Casey, in which an assortment of friends, enemies, admirers, detractors and relations have their say on this (in Chuck Palahniuk's words) 'evil, gender-conflicted Forrest Gump character'. His work is controversial, but I imagine a few Palahniuk fans who read The Blue might have missed the fact that he has a new book out. [ Previously ]
"Stone Reader makes you want to pick up a great novel and consume it in one long gulp. It’s a love letter to literature and literacy, a bibliophile’s dream film, dedicated to the joys of fiction and the passions of those who need books like they need food, water and air." (The Dallas Morning News)
Monday is the last day to declare your intention to write a 50,000-word novel during National Novel Writing Month (Nov. 1-30). "Dubious fiction writers from all nations are invited to participate," says organizer Chris Baty. So far, around 3,000 writers have pledged to bring 150 million new words into the world.
Nick Hornby on Hollywood. The author of High Fidelity talks about its movie adaptation: "It is not possible to extract from the novel its central high-concept idea and chuck the rest away, simply because there is no central high-concept idea. Anyone attempting to do so would find that they had spent a reasonable amount of money on a story about a guy who works in a record store and splits up with his girlfriend."