An Addict, a Confessed Killer and Now a Debut Author – The New York Times

COLDWATER, Mich. — One October night in 2004, Curtis Dawkins smoked crack, dressed up for Halloween in a gangster costume and terrorized a household, killing one man and taking another hostage in a rampage that drew 24 patrol officers and a six-member SWAT team. He is serving a life sentence without parole in Michigan.

On Tuesday, he will also be a published author when his debut story collection is released by Scribner, a literary imprint at one of the country’s top publishing houses.

Source: An Addict, a Confessed Killer and Now a Debut Author – The New York Times

Here’s a thought-provoking story about a convicted murderer who had an MFA before he began a life sentence in prison for murder. Now he’s about to have a book of stories published by a major publishing house. The stories are about life in prison, but not about his specific crime. Proceeds from the book will go into a fund for his children’s education.

Carrie Fisher, a Princess, a Rebel and a Brave Comic Voice – The New York Times

She entered popular culture as a princess in peril and endures as something much more complicated and interesting. Many things, really: a rebel commander; a witty internal critic of the celebrity machine; a teller of comic tales, true and embellished; an inspiring and cautionary avatar of excess and resilience; an emblem of the honesty we crave (and so rarely receive) from beloved purveyors of make-believe.

Source: Carrie Fisher, a Princess, a Rebel and a Brave Comic Voice – The New York Times

RIP Carrie Fisher

In Memoriam: 12 Authors We Lost Too Soon in 2016

In 2016, we said good-bye to many literary luminaries. These authors have inspired us, challenged us to think deeply, and opened windows into the lives and struggles of others. Here we remember some of the award winners, trailblazers, and creators of beloved classics whose works will stand the test of time.

Source: In Memoriam: 12 Authors We Lost Too Soon in 2016

I’ll post my own list of those whom the world of books lost in 2016 at the end of the year, but here’s a select list that includes seminal works of the 12 authors included.

Last Week’s Links

‘The Girl on the Train’: Here’s What It’s Really About

I read Paula Hawkins’s novel The Girl on the Train eagerly because it was touted as a book for fans of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, which I loved. But I was disappointed in Train, which I found nowhere near as suspenseful or as psychologically adept as Gone Girl. Nonetheless, I did intend to see the film of Girl on the Train; however, life intervened and I still haven’t seen it.

This article by Lisa Rosman is about the film, which Rosman calls “a wonderfully faithful adaptation” of the book. Here’s Rosman’s description of what the book/film is “really about”:

What fascinates me most about this “Girl on the Train” … is that it has the audacity to embrace unlikeable female protagonists who don’t even like themselves. What’s more, the film asks us to do the same. Rachel is a self-pitying, explosive drunk; Anna, an unrepentant Stepford mom; Megan, an unreflective viper whose self-esteem relies on male surrender. Yet because we are shown the fissures in their self-reflections and the strength lurking beneath their surfaces, we root for them while accepting their limitations.

I did not have this reaction to the book, which I found shallow and therefore not very engaging. Rosman also raises an issue that has gotten a lot of play recently, namely the question of whether we need to like characters in order to assess a book as “good.” I don’t need to like characters, but I do need to understand them in order to consider a book good.

At any rate, I still want to see this movie, even though I think I’ve missed its run in theaters. Perhaps I’ll find the film more compelling than the book.

What about you?
Have you read the book and/or seen the film? What was your reaction?

Undead on the brain: What we talk about when we talk about zombies

I’ve frequently written that I don’t read books about zombies, werewolves, or vampires. Even though I understand that such creatures often represent certain cultural issues, I just don’t like to read about them. To each his own, I guess.

Nonetheless, Seattle Times writer Brendan Kiley does a good job here of explaining what zombies are all about:

Spoiler alert: This article isn’t really about zombies, and neither is “The Walking Dead,” one of the most popular cable-TV series in U.S. history.

They’re both about people, our anxieties about catastrophe and what kinds of communities we might form if central authority collapses. No government, no Wall Street, no power grid — just you, the strangers you stumble across and a kaleidoscope of dangers roaming the landscape. As the show’s human characters bounce around the southern U.S., they run into a spectrum of mini-societies (dictatorships, democracies, theocracies, loosely organized bands of feral killers) and try to figure out what kind of world they want to live in.

JOYCE CAROL OATES ON GREAT EDITORS, BAD REVIEWS, AND… THE INTERNET

Catherine LaSota carries on an email interview with prolific author Joyce Carol Oates:

Oates’s latest book, Soul at the White Heat, is a collection of her essays on the writing life and her insightful reviews of the work of more than two dozen writers, including H.P. Lovecraft, Lorrie Moore, Paul Auster, and Zadie Smith. The title of the book is taken from its epigraph, an Emily Dickinson poem about the passions that burn brightly within us, and it serves as apt introduction to Oates’s close analysis of writing in the pages to follow. In her dissection of an author’s work, Oates searches for that which drives the artist to create. She is clearly engaged with the writing she consumes, making her essays hugely useful to writers and other students of literature.

 

© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown

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

September is National Translation Month (NTM) — Celebrating Writing in Translation

Celebrating Writing in Translation

Language is a way to express the human experience, yet it also presents communication barriers. With the efforts of accomplished translators, however, those barriers can be overcome to foster artistic unity across linguistic boundaries.

Source: National Translation Month (NTM) — Celebrating Writing in Translation

Last Week’s Links

ALAN MOORE GOES (VERY VERY) BIG WITH JERUSALEM

Alan Moore’s novel Jerusalem weighs in at more than 1,200 pages. Joshua Zajdman has been carrying it around for a while, and people’s questions and comments about its size have triggered him to reflect:

why are “big books” perceived so differently? How long have “big books” been such a phenomenon? Is it just length that makes them seem like more of a commitment? Are they of greater intellectual heft, or conversely, perceived as books in need of a good editor simply because of their size? I started to do some research, dip into some other “big books” and discovered a kind of continuum for the “big literary book.” It’s less a question of “Does size matter?” and more a consideration of “Why?” Either way, it’s a question that’s been on the mind of readers for much longer than we may realize.

Of course this article caught my eye, since I’ve written a bit recently on big books.

“now is the perfect time to pick up Jerusalem or any of these big books. Fall is beginning in earnest, election cycles are winding down, winter is coming. It’s time to make the commitment and see how a great and ambitious novel can be wired. I dare you to make the time and devote the energy to the broad swath of humanity and narrative that only an ambitious and very long novel can tackle. What’s stopping you?”

Haunted Womanhood

Heather Havrilesky examines Ruth Franklin’s recent biography of Shirley Jackson, Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life:

In the novels and many of the stories she wrote in the middle of the 20th century, the polite banter of seemingly innocent common folk develops into outright mockery, subterfuge, or even violence. When confronted by an unexpectedly hostile world, Jackson’s female protagonists experience a climactic rush of bafflement and betrayal that inevitably spills over into a more private realm of second-guessing, self-doubt, and paranoia. Jackson relished untangling the process by which women lose themselves.

Lionel Shriver: ‘This Entire Hoo-Ha’ Illustrates My Point

Novelist Lionel Shriver, perhaps best known for We Need to Talk About Kevin, recently caused quite a brouhaha at the Brisbane Writers Festival with a keynote address that raised the issue of cultural appropriation. If you haven’t followed this story, you can get caught up with the links provided in this Time summary. Then read Nate Hopper’s interview with Shriver about her intentions in her speech and her reactions to the critics.

How the Novelist Megan Abbott Spends Her Sundays

Megan Abbott’s thrillers are explorations, she says, of “women, power and aggression.” Her latest, “You Will Know Me,” is set in the cutthroat world of girls’ gymnastics and was published this summer, just before the Olympics. A Times review in July said Ms. Abbott had resumed “her customary role of black cat, opaque and unblinking, filling her readers with queasy suspicion at every turn.” She recently completed a cross-country promotional tour for the book, and now Ms. Abbott is back in Forest Hills, Queens, where she lives. During her Sunday writing stints, the author, 45, takes a break from the shadowy side of human nature to step into the light of a neighborhood she loves.

 

© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

Under Pamela Paul, a New Books Desk Takes Shape at the ’Times’

One of the book resources I look at most often is coverage by The New York Times. In this article Publishers Weekly looks at recent changes in the way the paper covers book-related news:

In mid August, New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet announced in a note to staff that New York Times Book Review editor Pamela Paul would oversee all Times books and publishing industry coverage. Two weeks later, how exactly this move might change coverage is beginning to come to light.

New study finds that paper books rule with American readers

girl reading

A new study by the Pew Research Center has found that 65 percent of Americans surveyed had read a paperback or hardcover over the past year, compared to 28 percent who opted to read an e-book. Forty percent of those surveyed said they only read print books, while just 6 percent read e-books exclusively.

Ten books you should read this September

Although titles that tell other people what they should do make me cringe, I can’t resist a list of reading recommendations.

Of the books listed here, the one that appeals to me the most is Ruth Franklin’s biography of Shirley Jackson.

What about you?

Can Jonathan Safran Foer Make a Comeback?

Alex Shephard muses on Here I Am, Foer’s third novel recently published after a 10-year hiatus.

Here I Am has some thematic overlaps with the first two books (namely, the question of what it means to be an American Jew in the 21st-century). But despite that kinship and its occasional formal digressions—there’s a Second Life-y video game, transcripts of sexts, excerpts from a screenplay, oh, yeah, the imagined destruction of the state of Israel—it’s more of a self-consciously ambitious Franzen-esque Big Book.

© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown

Rich season of fiction expected this fall

Fall is the time for “big books,” whatever the page length, and some of the top fiction authors from around the world have new works coming, including Ian McEwan, Zadie Smith, Margaret Atwood, T. Coraghessan Boyle, Rabih Alameddine, Emma Donoghue, Jonathan Safran Foer and Michael Chabon. Ann Patchett, owner of Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee, looks forward to selling Jacqueline Woodson’s autobiographical novel “Another Brooklyn” and Colson Whitehead’s celebrated, Oprah Winfrey-endorsed historical novel about slavery, “The Underground Railroad.”

Source: Rich season of fiction expected this fall

HarperCollins to Publish Found Novel by Late Michael Crichton

HarperCollins will publish a new novel [Dragon Teeth] by the late Michael Crichton in May 2017. . . . The manuscript was discovered by Crichton’s wife, Sherri, who, through her company CrichtonSun, has been working on the Michael Crichton Archives. Crichton died in 2008. The book follows the real-life relationship between Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh, who were competing to uncover fossils in the American West during the late 1800s. HC said Sherri Crichton traced the book’s beginning back to a correspondence her husband had with a paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History named Edwin H. Colbert.

Source: HarperCollins to Publish Found Novel by Late Michael Crichton