Paul Beatty’s ‘The Sellout’ is first US Booker Prize winner

The book, a satire of race and class, marks the first time an American author has won the Man Booker Prize.

Source: Paul Beatty’s ‘The Sellout’ is first US Booker Prize winner

14 Spectacular Reads From Oprah’s Book Club

Oprah Winfrey started her book club in 1996 and, for the last twenty years, millions of books have been sold and read because of her recommendations and her dedication to promoting brilliant writers. Here are just some of the bestselling, award-winning, and truly life-changing books that she has selected for her book club.

Source: 14 Spectacular Reads From Oprah’s Book Club

Bob Dylan Awarded Nobel Prize in Literature – The New York Times

The singer and songwriter Bob Dylan, one of the world’s most influential musicians, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature on Thursday for “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition,” in the words of the Swedish Academy.

Source: Bob Dylan Awarded Nobel Prize in Literature – The New York Times

Viet Thanh Nguyen wins Dayton peace prize for The Sympathizer | Books | The Guardian

Vietnamese-American writer, whose Vietnam war novel also won the Pulitzer, awarded for ‘profound and startling’ debut

Source: Viet Thanh Nguyen wins Dayton peace prize for The Sympathizer | Books | The Guardian

Finalists for 2016 National Book Awards Announced

The finalists of the 2016 National Book Awards have been announced, and include Colson Whitehead, Viet Thanh Nguyen and Peter Gizzi. Winners will be named at a ceremony in New York City on November 16.

Here, a list of the nominees and a look at PW’s complete coverage of their work, including reviews, interviews, and essays.

Source: Finalists for 2016 National Book Awards Announced

National Book Foundation, Presenter of the National Book Awards,

The National Book Foundation has announced the Finalists for the 2016 National Book Awards for Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Young People’s Literature. The Winners will be announced on November 16 at the National Book Awards Ceremony and Benefit Dinner.

Source: National Book Foundation, Presenter of the National Book Awards,

Last Week’s Links

How Stephen King Made Pop Culture Weird

If you’ve ever been to Austin, TX, you’ve seen the bumper stickers: “Keep Austin Weird.” Even my new hometown of Tacoma, WA, likes to call itself weird, as does Portland, OR, in the photo above.

Lincoln Michel explains that these are not isolated occurrences:

If you haven’t heard, “weird” is back in style. From hit TV shows like Stranger Things and True Detective (season one only, please) to best-selling novels like Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy and George R.R. Martin’s weirder-than-the-show A Song of Ice and Fire, pop culture is getting increasingly strange. Odd beasts, dark tunnels, and writhing tentacles are cool again. And, in the wake of his 69th birthday, it seems time to celebrate the person who is the most responsible for weirding up pop culture: Stephen King.

He singles out King because “Plenty of authors write books that are equally dark, weird, and genre-bending, but few have King’s impact on pop culture.” This article caught my eye because one of my recent reads was King’s 11/22/63, a time-travel alternate-history romance (“genre-bending,” although “genre-blending” would be more accurate) that kept me spellbound.

A theory of creepiness

If you’ve been hanging out around Notes in the Margin for a while, you’ve heard me say that I don’t read books about zombies, vampires, or werewolves. Even though I know these unnatural beings can be potent metaphors for contemporary life, I just don’t like them.

But, until I came across this article, I had never examined my revulsion with these creatures until I came across this article, which made me realize I dislike zombies, vampires, and werewolves because of their creepiness:

creepiness – Unheimlichkeit, as Sigmund Freud called it – definitely stands apart from other kinds of fear. Human beings have been preoccupied with creepy beings such as monsters and demons since the beginning of recorded history, and probably long before. Even today in the developed world where science has banished the nightmarish beings that kept our ancestors awake at night, zombies, vampires and other menacing entities retain their grip on the human imagination in tales of horror, one of the most popular genres in film and TV.

In this article David Livingstone Smith, professor of philosophy at the University of New England and director of the Human Nature Project, examines psychological theories in looking to answer the question “Why the enduring fascination with creepiness?”

Bending Mind and Time: 6 of the Best Time Travel Books

11_22_63I’ve always been fascinated by the use of time travel as a literary device. Matt Staggs begins this brief article with a look at the new book Time Travel: A History by James Gleick, a scientist’s look at representations of time travel in popular culture and science. Staggs then discusses five of the best known novels featuring time travel:

  1. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells (1895)
  2. Kindred by Octavia Butler (1979)
  3. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut (1969)
  4. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (1991)
  5. 11/22/63 by Stephen King (2011)

He concludes:

In the absence of the real thing, novels function as time machines in their own right, allowing us to look at what was, and what may yet be, at a safe distance.

RELENTLESSLY RELEVANT: The Dangerous Legacy of Henry James

I’ve long thought that, with the possible exception of “The Turn of the Screw,” the works of Henry James shouldn’t be studied until graduate school. James’s insight into the human psyche is so subtly complex that only people with a lot of life experience can understand and appreciate it.

Paula Marantz Cohen, Dean of the Pennoni Honors College and a Distinguished Professor of English at Drexel University, uses the recent issuance of a stamp honoring Henry James by the U.S. Postal Service as a springboard for this article. Cohen sees James’s “dense and difficult” late writing — The Ambassadors, The Wings of the Dove, and The Golden Bowl, all written between 1902 and 1904 — as a bridge from the Victorian era into modernity (the age of James Joyce and Virginia Woolf) and then, further, into our age of postmodernism:

His superficial kinship was with European modernists like James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence, and Virginia Woolf. Late James is often opaque, … and opaqueness was a hallmark of the modernist rejection of facile realism.

There is an indeterminacy with respect to truth that his later work supports in such an aggressive way that it becomes a worldview. Words, normally meant to communicate, are deployed more as obstacles to communication than as facilitators to it. The fragmented nature of his dialogue leaves meaning unresolved between characters (he describes them as continually “hanging fire”).

Cohen writes that James’s characters “were always trying to make the most out of situations and see the best in people through their imaginative flexibility — to salvage meaning to some positive, creative end.” However, she laments, in academia this process became subverted into giving truth “purely provisional meaning based on what the speaker wants to relay and the listener/reader wants to hear.” The result “betrays the ideals of [James’s] moral imagination. And yet his great later writing can be seen as its precursor.”


© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown

13 Banned Books That Will Always Have a Place on Our Shelves

Off the Shelf celebrates Banned Book Week with a list of inspiring books that have been banned throughout literary history, including “Fun Home” by Alison Bechdel. Visit and for more information.

Source: 13 Banned Books That Will Always Have a Place on Our Shelves

This list contains some books challenged in recent years, not just the same classics that are perennially challenged. How many of these banned books have you read? I’ve read six.

What the List of Most Banned Books Says About Our Society’s Fears | TIME

Censors are increasingly focusing on books that represent diverse points of view

Source: What the List of Most Banned Books Says About Our Society’s Fears | TIME


In honor of Banned Books Week, Time looks at how the focus of book challenges has changed over the past several years.

Articles That Caught My Eye Last Week

These are the most interesting of the articles I spent time with last week.


In this interview fiction writer Christine Sneed, whose latest work is the story collection The Virginity of Famous Men, discusses why fame and our human flaws are good subjects for fiction. She also weighs in on the question of how reading literature makes us better people:

“I really do think that reading literature, literary fiction, and poetry especially, will make you a better person. One thing literature does is offer you access to points of view and consciousness different from your own.”


September is National Translation Month. In honor of this event, Scott Esposito suggests 10 Big Books in translation.

‘We ought to read only the kind of books that wound us’: How literature teaches us to be human

Robert Fulford gives some examples from published articles and interviews of people explaining how particular books influenced them. But the most interesting aspect of this article is his opening vignette about Kafka, which I had not heard before:

One day in 1904 the young Franz Kafka wrote a letter to a friend defining the books that are worth reading. “I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound us,” he wrote. “If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow to the head, what are we reading for? So that it will make us happy, as you write?

“We need books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is my belief.”

How Literature Can Improve Mental Health: A Free Course

Open Culture recommends a free online course from The University of Warwick, offered through FutureLearn, that presents “the work of famous writers like Austen, Shakespeare and Wordsworth – exploring how they can impact mental health and why works of writing are so often turned to in times of crisis.” In addition, throughout the six-week course doctors add a medical perspective on several mental health conditions.

You can read the course description here, then follow the links to learn more about the course and to enroll.


© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown