Monday Miscellany

Ranking Cormac McCarthy’s Greatest Books

child of godI’m a week behind with this, but I include it here because Cormac McCarthy is an author I haven’t yet worked on, and I’m glad to have the suggestions offered here:

Trailing Philip Roth by a few months and Toni Morrison by two years, Cormac McCarthy (who turns 81 this weekend) is one of America’s greatest and most decorated writers. His cultural stock has risen immeasurably in the last decade — whether it’s the Coen brothers adapting No Country for Old Men and winning Best Picture at the Oscars for it, or his recent (disappointing) original screenplay for the Ridley Scott-directed film The Counselor, McCarthy has made the transition from great novelist to phenomenon. He’s continuously successful, but he’s never changed, and doesn’t show any signs of letting his advanced age soften him. His entire body of work includes screenplays, plays, and short fiction — but it’s his novels that remain his greatest achievement, so to celebrate his birthday, we rank the five McCarthy novels you must read (and if it helps, the order in which you should do it.)

Man Booker Prize longlist revealed with U.S. writers included for the first time

This was perhaps the biggest literary news of the past week:

The Man Booker prize longlist was revealed today with American authors in the running for one of literature’s top honours for the first time.

Organisers of the UK’s best-known fiction award – worth £50,000 to the winner – announced last year they were opening up the 46-year-old prize to writers of any nationality writing in English.

The American writers on the list include David Mitchell, David Nicholls, and Howard Jacobson.

The best literary hashtags on Twitter

Michele Filgate tells us, “some of the most interesting and useful hashtags on Twitter are designed to build community in the far-flung literary world.”

To join the community, take a look at these seven hashtags she explains.

Don’t read this book: A history of literary censorship

Banned Books Week pinLeo Robson takes a look at censorship through the lens of three recent books:

  • The Zhivago Affair: the Kremlin, the CIA and the Battle Over a Forbidden Book by Peter Finn and Petra Couvée
  • The Most Dangerous Book: the Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses by Kevin Birmingham
  • The Rushdie Fatwa and After: a Lesson to the Circumspect by Brian Winston

13 Ways To Fit More Reading Into Your Day

Chances are that, if you’re reading this blog, you probably already know some of the tricks listed here.

However, I bet you’ll find something new in these suggestions by Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project. If nothing else, you’ll get permission to stop reading a book that doesn’t grab you instead of soldiering through to the bitter end.

Our 8 favourite literary references on The Simpsons

Cable network FXX will run a non-stop marathon of all 552 episodes of The Simpsons from August 21 through September 1.

If you need a literary reason to justify watching or recording, here it is:

To mark the ultimate Simpsons marathon, we’re highlighting our favourite hilarious literary references that made their way onto the show in past years.

Posted in Author News, Awards & Prizes, Censorship, Reading, Television, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Dozen Mysteries and Thrillers That Blew Me Away

Although we tend to think of mysteries and thrillers together, there is a difference:

  • In a mystery, the reader sees the clues and, near the end, discovers the culprit along with the fictional detective.
  • In a thriller, the reader learns early on who the villain is and watches as the hero and the villain try to outwit each other.

Despite this technical difference, we tend to think of mysteries and thrillers together because they employ similar literary strategies: The author has to dispense information we need while at the same time building suspense. The best writers dispense information bit by bit in a way that ratchets up the suspense while at the same time giving us the clues we need to follow the action. And along the way the best mystery and thriller writers also probe areas of the human psyche that we usually avoid looking into.

Here, listed in no particular order, are 12 mysteries and thrillers that effectively do all that.

I liked the pace and powerful sense of place in crime fiction. I also liked the strong structure–the beginning, middle and end–the crime, the investigation and the resolution. It all made sense to me. I discovered that everything I wanted to say about the world could be said in a crime novel. So, why would I want to write anything else?

—Novelist Ian Rankin

Related Post:

Posted in Book Recommendations, Fiction, List | Leave a comment

The Decline of Harper Lee — Vulture

The Decline of Harper Lee — Vulture.

Yesterday’s Monday Miscellany included a summary of the publication of a new book about Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, and Lee’s denial of cooperation on the book.

This article paints a sad picture indeed. Having outlived most of her family and friends, Harper Lee, 88, now lives in an assisted-living facility near her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama. Ironically, Lee’s careful guarding of her privacy may have backfired:

Silence has not served Nelle Harper Lee. “In the absence of her being willing to talk, the only versions we’ll ever have are other people’s versions.”

Posted in Author News | Tagged | Leave a comment

Monday Miscellany

A New Book About To Kill a Mockingbird Author Harper Lee?

Cover: To Kill a MockingbirdLast week saw the announcement of a new book about Harper Lee, The Mockingbird Next Door by Chicago Tribune reporter Marja Mills. USA Today explains how Mills obtained material about the notoriously reclusive and publicity-shy Lee:

Mills was able to penetrate Lee’s wariness by working slowly: In 2001, she went to Monroeville, Ala., to write a story about the author. Over the next several years, she gained the trust of both Harper — Nelle to her friends — and her sister, Alice, a formidable person in her own right — “Atticus in a skirt,” still practicing law into her 90s. In 2004, Mills, on leave from work, actually moved to Monroeville, to a house right next door to the sisters.

But the USA Today story also claims, “Mills wrote her story with the approval of both sisters,” an assertion that Harper Lee has vigorously denied:

According to a letter penned by none other than 88-year-old Nelle Harper Lee herself—who, mind you, hasn’t written a book since Mockingbird, doesn’t grant interviews, and generally stays out of the public eye—_The Mockingbird Next Door_ was executed without her cooperation or permission and based on false pretenses. Lee first issued a statement on the matter in 2011 when Penguin Press announced that it had acquired the book. Now, on the evening before its July 15 release, she’s reminding us that nothing has changed on her end.

This EW article reproduces Harper Lee’s letters of April 2011 and July 2014. The article also includes a statement from Penguin Press that it is “proud to publish The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee by Marja Mills” and a letter from Mills insisting “that Nelle Harper Lee and Alice F. Lee were aware I was writing this book.”

I bet we haven’t heard the last of this disagreement.

Books By Or About Unconventional Women

From novelist Jessica Levine:

The unconventional woman has, since the beginnings of the novel, been a favorite object of study. Take an intelligent woman with a mind critical enough to consider that the restrictions imposed upon the female sex are ridiculous and unfair, and tighten the noose around her neck with an economic downfall or a father’s choice of a repulsive suitor and voilà! – you have the stuff of tragedy – or comedy, depending on the author’s bent. The unconventional responses to a woman’s lot have included taking a lover, walking away from your children, and breaking a variety of other taboos. The following list includes mostly novels that inspired me while I wrote my novel, The Geometry of Love [She Writes Press, $16.95], as well as a volume of poetry and a couple of works of non-fiction.

A history-spanning list of 10 works that, much to my surprise, does not include The Awakening by Kate Chopin.

The 12 best destinations for bookworms

A useful list for you travel planning, from Kristina Fazzalaro:

The beauty of reading a good book is that it transports you to a whole different world – without ever costing you a penny (at least in travel expenses!). Whether James Joyce guides you through Dublin, or Hemingway fixes you a drink from his home in Key West, literature opens pathways to other dimensions that never require a passport. But sometimes the imagination needs a dose of reality to fully grasp the whole picture. Other times, an author’s words so imbue a reader’s mind, he or she cannot help but pack up bags to experience the same sights, sounds and smells that gave birth to a favorite novel. Poets, novelists, and playwrights give us a little bit of their world on every page – and now it’s our chance to take a bit more for ourselves. The best destinations for book lovers are enumerable: Every person has a favorite author, and every author has a different world view. But there are some spots around the globe that possess just a bit more of a literary spark than others. So pack your bags – and your favorite paperback – because we’re going on a trip perfect for any bookworm.

I’m guessing that she really means innumerable—-“incapable of being counted, countless”—instead of enumerable, which means “capable of being counted.”

Nonetheless, this international list includes suggestions for where to stay in each city.

Ireland a Literary Atlas: INFOGRAPHIC

Someday, I will return to Ireland. And when I do, I’ll take a printout of this infographic with me.

In the meantime, I offer you a couple of photos of the Dublin Writers Museum.

Dublin Writers Museum


Dublin Writers Museum


Posted in Author News, Fiction, Monday Miscellany | Tagged | Leave a comment

“Mr. Mercedes” by Stephen King: The Power of Characters

Literature & Psychology

Cover: Mr. MercedesKing, Stephen. Mr. Mercedes
New York: Scribner, 2014
448 pages
ISBN–13: 978–1476754451

I don’t read a lot of Stephen King’s works because I don’t like horror. But I do love mysteries, so when I saw King’s latest book described as a “straight-up mystery,” I went for it.

Technically, Mr. Mercedes is not a mystery—in which the reader tries to decipher clues along with the detective and finds out the killer’s identity at the end—but a thriller—in which the reader knows the killer’s identity early on and watches the killer and the detective play cat and mouse throughout the story. But the book is a straight-up thriller, and it builds suspense by building engaging and credible characters.

King opens the book with a scene of hundreds of unemployed people lining up in the pre-dawn hours before the opening of a job fare. This introductory narration focuses on three people, a young man and the single mother with an infant whom he befriends. In this short introduction we become emotionally invested in these characters, so when the big silver Mercedes plows into the crowd, we want to know how and why. And we want to see this killer caught and punished.

The story then cuts to Bill Hodges, a police detective who had been unable to solve the case of the Mercedes killer before he retired. Now he spends his time drinking while watching afternoon talk shows on TV and playing with the service weapon of his late father, also a police officer. But when he receives a taunting letter from someone calling himself the Mercedes killer, Hodges finds renewed purpose. He begins to use his old investigative strategies to identify and catch this maniac on his own.

Next we meet Brady Hartsfield, the villain, and overhear his thoughts about why he killed all those people and why he wrote to Bill Hodges. We gradually learn more about him as we follow his twisted logic and see how he keeps his inner life under cover while moving through his everyday existence of holding down two jobs and caring for his alcoholic mother.

Both Hodges and Hartsfield could be only mildly interesting stereotypes. Hodges is the retired policeman, the adrenaline junkie, who’s having trouble adjusting to the dull life of retirement and who is haunted by his failure to solve one of the biggest cases of his career. Like many police officers, his job was his whole life. He has drifted away from his only family, a daughter, and feels lonely and worthless. And Hartsfield could be the typical psychopath of literature, with a now alcoholic mother who was widowed young and has lavished sexually inappropriate behavior on her son. He avoids personal relationships with coworkers and spends all of his free time in the computer center he has created in his basement.

But the devil, as they say, is in the details, and Stephen King is a master of detail. His development of both Hodges and Hartsfield is so specific and complex that we come to understand both of these characters as they play out their mutually driven scenario of action and counteraction.

And just as King uses minor characters in the opening scene to draw us into the world of the novel, he provides a few more along the way to advance the plot and to retain our sympathy. There’s 17-year-old Jerome Robinson, Hodges’s neighbor and only real friend, who provides both the computer savvy and the moral support Hodges needs in his investigation. There’s Janey Patterson, sister of the owner of the stolen Mercedes used in the job-fair killings, who also contributes to both Hodges’s investigation and his confidence. And finally there’s Janey’s cousin, Holly, who turns out to be much more resourceful than she originally seems.

Mr. Mercedes demonstrates the power of good character development in fiction. As crime novelist Karin Slaughter has said, “If you have great plot, but nobody cares about the characters, then nobody’s gonna read it.”

Related Post:

Posted in Literature & Psychology | Leave a comment

Are You a Handwriter or a Typer? | boy with a hat

Handwriting is like making love; typing, like having sex. It’s essentially the same enjoyable activity, but the approach is slightly different.

via Are You a Handwriter or a Typer? | boy with a hat.

Random blog quotation.

Posted in Quotation | Leave a comment

2013 Shirley Jackson Awards Winners

Locus Online News » 2013 Shirley Jackson Awards Winners.

Posted in Awards & Prizes | Leave a comment

Nadine Gordimer, Novelist Who Took On Apartheid, Is Dead at 90 –

Nadine Gordimer, the South African writer whose literary ambitions led her into the heart of apartheid to create a body of fiction that brought her a Nobel Prize in 1991, died on Sunday in Johannesburg. She was 90.

via Nadine Gordimer, Novelist Who Took On Apartheid, Is Dead at 90 –

Posted in Obituaries | Leave a comment

Monday Miscellany

Could reading dark literature harm your teenage children?

kid with booksThis isn’t a new question, but this answer is fairly well balanced, with discussion from scientists for both sides of the issue.

Judy Blume: ’I thought, this is America: we don’t ban books. But then we did’

A delightful interview with Judy Blume, who has her own ideas about why her books are so often challenged:

Blume’s theory is that children read over what they aren’t yet ready to understand. Sometimes, she says, “kids will actually go to Mom or Dad and say ‘What does this mean?’, which is the perfect time to talk to them about it. But that’s when sometimes parents get hysterical. Really. It’s like, ‘Argh, I don’t want to talk to you about this, let’s get rid of this book, I don’t ever want to talk to you about this, I don’t ever want you to go through puberty.’”

Amazon, a Friendly Giant as Long as It’s Fed

From household names to deeply obscure scribblers, authors are inflamed this summer, perhaps more deeply divided than at any point in nearly a half-century. Back then, it was the question of being a hawk or dove on Vietnam. Now it is not a war but an Internet retailer and its unparalleled grip on the cultural machinery that is provoking fierce controversy.

If you’re wondering about the details of this controversy between authors and Amazon, here’s a refresher course.

The Best Books of 2014 So Far

A list of 36 titles put together by Brenna Clarke Gray at Book Riot.

But the article asks readers to add their favorites in the comments, so be sure to look there.

Are modern detectives the new priests?

I like mysteries because the best ones explore the depths of the human psyche without being too preachy.

In this article Giles Fraser looks at the functions of mystery writing with specific reference to HBO’s recent hit show True Detective:

The modern secular imagination prides itself on having got beyond the childish ways of historical theology. But our continued obsession with detective fiction suggests something remarkably adjacent to traditional theological concerns, and its lonely, world-weary hard-drinking advocates – think Luther – have become the priests and theologians of our day. Yes, there are obviously religious detectives – the BBC’s Father Brown, Ellis Peters’s Brother Cadfael character – but they can be seen as seeking (unconvincingly, perhaps) to reclaim something of this new priestly ministry for more traditional ideological purposes.

Sci-Fi’s Best ‘Alien’ Narrators Who Restore Our Humanity

Matt Haig is the author of the novel The Humans, in which an alien inhabits the body of a human mathematician to destroy his ground-breaking theory. But the alien soon becomes fascinated by the everyday lives of humans.

Here Haig writes:

The best science fiction writers use the genre not to escape human life, but to explore it. Sometimes the most illuminating way to examine ourselves is to look at us from a different perspective: an alien narrator, for instance, or a human narrator placed in an inhuman environment, where humans are scarce, dwindling or totally non-existent. Here are my favorite books that get close to us, by losing us.

See his list of four novels that best use the literary device of an alien narrator to explore the nature of human existence.

Posted in Author News, Book Recommendations, Monday Miscellany, Reading | Leave a comment

The Texas Observer Short Story Contest 2014 | The Texas Observer Memberships and Contributions

The Texas Observer Short Story Contest 2014 

The Texas Observer has announced its short story contest. Entrants need not live in Texas (although stories with a Texas setting or theme are encouraged). The winner will receive $1,000 and publication in the magazine. This year’s judge is author Elizabeth McCracken.

Click the link above for more information on how to enter.

Posted in Awards & Prizes | Leave a comment