Literary Links

These are some of the literature-related articles from around the web that caught my eye over the past week.

Quartzy    HALF OF ALL TRANSLATED BOOKS IN THE US COME FROM JUST NINE COUNTRIES

This one caught my eye because I’m trying to read more books translated from other languages this year. 

The good news: “In 2018, 632 never-before-translated books of fiction and poetry were published in the United States. It’s the fifth straight year the US has published more than 600 translations, quite the feat for a country that has long been accused of having an insular book culture.”

The bad news: “Of the nearly 5,800 books of fiction and poetry translated from 2008 to 2018, more than half were from just nine countries, seven of which are in Europe (the exceptions are Japan and China).”

These statistics are significant if one’s aim in reading more translated works is to learn about new cultures. European books, even though from other countries, are still western-civilization centric. Yes, they will teach us about other cultures, but not about the other cultures that are most different from out own, specifically eastern and African. This article points out that “only one book each was translated from Benin, Ethiopia, Kyrgyzstan, Madagascar, Mali, and Myanmar.”

The New York Times   A Glimpse of Virginia Woolf’s Original Manuscript for ‘Mrs. Dalloway’

A look at how “the ‘big’ book she [Virginia Woolf] thought she should write was not really the book she wanted to write. The transition for her was understanding that a book about an outwardly ordinary woman on an ordinary day in London could be every bit as ‘big’ as the books about wars and revolutions.”

The Guardian   Nell Freudenberger: ‘Like many women I believed I didn’t have the right kind of brain for science’

The author of the recently released novel Lost and Wanted laments “the way girls and women are still so often held back from studying science.”

The New York Times    When the World’s Most Famous Mystery Writer Vanished

It was like a plot from one of her own novels: On the evening of Dec. 4, Agatha Christie, carrying nothing but an attaché case, kissed her daughter good night and sped away from the home in England that she shared with her husband, Col. Archibald Christie. (He was having an affair with a younger woman; the public did not know this, but his wife definitely did.) No one knew where Christie was for almost two weeks.

Literary Hub   What the 39,933 Items on Peter Matthiessen’s Computer Mean for the Art of Biography

Lance Richardson, currently working on a biography of writer Peter Matthiessen (1927-2014) discusses the challenges of what he calls “a bifurcated archive” comprising both physical items and digital files. The differences between these two types of materials “will have inevitable effects on the shape and form of tomorrow’s histories” and biographies.

The Seattle Times   ‘No-No Boy’ went from unknown book to classic thanks to UW Press and Asian American writers. Now, it’s at the center of a controversy

This is a local story for me, but it has wider interest because of its tie to copyright law and the David-and-Goliath issue of a small academic (University of Washington) press vs.the publishing giant Penguin Random House. The book in question also keeps alive the story of the internment of Japanese U.S. citizens during World War II. The author, John Okada, was “a Seattle native and University of Washington graduate who served in the U.S. Army during the war, even as his family was forced to relocate to an internment camp.”

The New York Times   Naomi Wolf’s Publisher Delays Release of Her Book

The recent controversy over “Outrages” highlights the perils that publishers face in a competitive market where juicy nonfiction books that feature explosive claims can command the highest sales but are sometimes not vigorously fact-checked or vetted in advance of publication.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Quotation: Susan Sontag Was a Monster

“She took things too seriously. She was difficult and unyielding. That’s why Susan Sontag’s work matters so much even now.”

This is how I see her monstrosity: residing not in whether she was or was not likeable, but in her relentlessness, and her refusal to pander. The word ‘monster’ comes from the Latin monere, to warn. We need monsters like Sontag because they aren’t afraid to speak a certain kind of truth: cutting through cant, received opinion, nationalist rote, the efforts of alt-Right bot farms. We need critics who insist on hierarchies of thought and output, instead of buying into marketing hype that makes everyone really, really good, critics who don’t lunge straight for content, for what a book is ‘about’ or what it ‘says’, but who stop to consider form, and style – which, as Sontag shows us, are inextricably bound up in content. We need critics to keep us on our toes, to question authority, sweeping claims, totalising world views. We need Sontag to help us think for ourselves, and be unafraid to speak our minds. And we need her for these things now, more than ever. Maintaining a lively critical capability isn’t just about snark. It’s how we’re going to make it out of these dark days of nationalism and populism with our democracy intact.

Susan Sontag was a monster by Lauren Elkin

Remembering Those We Lost in 2018

Preparing the annual list of people from the writing whom we lost over the year is the least favorite of my year-end blogging tasks. Rereading the list always painfully takes my breath away.

Ursula K. Le Guin, 1/22

Barbara Wersba, 2/18

Lisa Garcia Quiroz, 3/16

Philip Kerr, 3/23

Anita Shreve, 3/29

Drue Heinz, 3/30

Sergio Pitol, 4/12

Joan Chase, 4/17

Alice Provensen, 4/23

Edwin G. Burrows, 5/4

Peter Mayer

Tom Wolfe, 5/14

Tom Murphy, 5/15

Philip Roth, 5/22

Richard Peck, 5/23

Philippe de Baleine, 6/7

Nina Baym, 6/15

Donald Hall, 6/23

Anne Tolstoi Wallach, 6/27

Harlan Ellison, 6/28

Christine Nöstlinger, 6/28

Jessica Mann, 7/10

Patricia Hermes, 7/11

Anne Olivier Bell, 7/18

Betty Miles, 7/19

Burt Britton, 7/21

Judith Appelbaum, 7/25

Vladimir Voinovich, 8/3

Anita Miller, 8/4

Anya Krugovoy Silver, 8/6

V.S. Naipaul, 8/11

John Calder, 8/13

Tom Clark, 8/18

Carie Freimuth, 8/19

Hanna Mina, 8/21

Neil Simon, 8/26

Peter Corris, 8/30

Amanda Kyle Williams, 8/31

Stephen Jeffreys, 9/17

Judith Kazantzis, 9/18

David Wong Louie, 9/19

Evelyn Anthony, 9/25

Dave Anderson, 10/4

Lee Hochman, 10/6

Kate Dopirak, 10/10

Anthea Bel, 10/18

Todd Bol, 10/18

Tony Hoagland, 10/23

Ntozake Shange, 10/27

María Irene Fornés, 10/30

Jin Yong, 10/30

Christopher Lehmann-Haup, 11/7

Juris Jurjevics, 11/7

Janet Paisley, 11/9

Donald McCaig, 11/11

Stan Lee, 11/12

Fernando del Paso, 11/14

William Goldman, 11/16

James H. Billington, 11/20

Meena Alexander, 11/21

Andrei Bitov, 12/3

Justin Cartwright, 12/3

Meng Lang, 12/12

Amos Oz, 12/28

Jane Langton, 12/22

© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

The History and Future of the Western in 10 Books

Part immigrant story, part adventure tale, and part allegory of truth and justice—the Western has been entertaining American readers for nearly two hundred years. Maybe we’re drawn to the setting: a frontier where mountains claw at the sunset and calamity is just around the corner. Or maybe it’s the almost mythical characters who find themselves thrust into the middle of nail-biting dramas. It could simply be the charming horses.

So many of America’s myths about itself—many of them historically inaccurate, misogynistic, or both—are reflected in the genre that literary writers have been turning their attentions to in recent years. To help make sense of these contemporary efforts, consider this crash course on the origin and future of the Western genre.

How “Little Women” Got Big

Focusing on a new book, Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of ‘Little Women’ and Why It Still Matters (Norton), by Anne Boyd Rioux, an English professor at the University of New Orleans, Joan Acocella offers an exploration of the continuing influence of Louisa May Alcott’s novel Little Women.

Some people complain that university syllabuses don’t accord “Little Women” the status of “Huckleberry Finn,” which they see as its male counterpart. But no piece of literature is the counterpart of “Little Women.” The book is not so much a novel, in the Henry James sense of the term, as a sort of wad of themes and scenes and cultural wishes. It is more like the Mahabharata or the Old Testament than it is like a novel. And that makes it an extraordinary novel.

The Lie of Little Women

Sophie Gilbert offers a different interpretation of Little Women from the one above:

Her [Louisa May Alcott’s] ambivalence emboldened her to unsettle conventions as she explored women’s place in the home and in the world—wrestling with the claims of realism and sentimentality, the appeal of tradition and reform, the pull of nostalgia and ambition. Her restless spirit is contagious. The more Alcott’s admirers seek to update her novel, drawing on her life as context, the more they expose what her classic actually contains.

The Power of Immigrant Stories

Vanessa Hua, author of A River os Stars, “reflects on how untold stories lead to the loss of humanity.”

“So many people in this country think that there’s only a handful of legitimate stories that make you American, but we all belong,” Michelle Obama has said. “We need to know everybody’s stories, so we don’t forget their humanity. And if we share these stories, we can be more inclusive and empathetic and forgiving.”

How Two Thieves Stole Thousands of Prints From University Libraries

A fascinating look at how Robert Kindred, an antique print dealer, and his partner Richard Green spent the summer of 1980 visiting college libraries and stealing nineteenth-century scientific illustrations from rare books and journals.

 

© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown

Missing Malcolm X Writings, Long a Mystery, Are Sold – The New York Times

The title page for an unpublished manuscript related to Malcolm X’s autobiography, one of several long-rumored fragments that were sold on Thursday.CreditJeenah Moon for The New York Times By Jennifer Schuessler July 26, 2018 16 For a quarter century, they have been the stuff of myth among scholars: three missing chapters from “The Autobiography of Malcolm X,” reputedly cut from the manuscript after his assassination in 1965 because they were deemed too incendiary.

Source: Missing Malcolm X Writings, Long a Mystery, Are Sold – The New York Times

Last Week’s Links

100 Books to Read Before You Die

When you find yourself not knowing what book to pick up next, here’s a list that contains “a mix of modern fiction, true stories, and timeless classics.”

The deep roots of writing

Was writing invented for accounting and administration or did it evolve from religious movements, sorcery and dreams?

Writers to Watch Fall 2018: Anticipated Debuts

This fall’s collection of promising debuts features problem children, supernatural freedom fighters, captive mermaids, mad scientists, righteous vigilantes, and, last but not least, a narrating dog.

I used to stay away from narrating dogs, but a recent reading of The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein may have changed my mind—or at least opened it a bit.

Attention, Please: Anne Tyler Has Something to Say

A look at the life of one of my favorite authors.

“Every time I begin a book I think this one is going to be completely different, and then it isn’t,” Tyler said. “I would like to have something new and different, but have never had the ambition to completely change myself. If I try to think of some common thread, I really think I’m deeply interested in endurance. I don’t think living is easy, even for those of us who aren’t scrounging. It’s hard to get through every day and say there’s a good reason to get up tomorrow. It just amazes me that people do it, and so cheerfully. The clearest way that you can show endurance is by sticking with a family. It’s easy to dump a friend, but you can’t so easily dump a brother. How did they stick together, and what goes on when they do? — all those things just fascinate me.”

STRONG WOMEN ARE TAKING OVER THE THRILLER

Novelist Cristina Alger offers a list of novels that present the kind of modern heroine she’s looking for:

I find the collective lack of strong, tough, reliable heroines depressing. Are unreliable women the only women we want to read about? And why do so many female authors choose to focus on them? I’m not asking for female protagonists to be perfect. But I would like to see more fictional women who have a true sense of agency, intelligence and guts—women with the same characteristics we’ve come to expect from the male heroes of traditional thrillers.

© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

John Irving, The Art of Fiction No. 93

I’m not a twentieth-century novelist, I’m not modern, and certainly not postmodern. I follow the form of the nineteenth-century novel; that was the century that produced the models of the form. I’m old-fashioned, a storyteller. I’m not an analyst and I’m not an intellectual.

WHICH BOOKS DO FAMOUS AUTHORS READ AND RECOMMEND MOST?

OR, HOW TO READ LIKE YOUR FAVORITE WRITERS

By examining 68 lists made by famous authors of books they love, Emily Temple has produced lists of the most recommended books and the most recommended authors.

SIX LATIN AMERICAN NOVELS THAT ARE PUSHING BOUNDARIES

Because it’s important to look at literature of other countries besides our own.

Today’s real Latin America is vibrant, raucous, infinitely complex and furiously engaged with the cultural and sociopolitical effects of globalization. In terms of literature, it’s an epicenter of innovation, where the gaze is reversed, boundaries explode and the possibilities of our collective past, present and future are boldly reimagined. Here are six contemporary Latin American novels — all of them slim, all of them brilliant, all of them blowing up boundaries of culture, gender, genre, aesthetics or reality.

The Sublime Horror of Choice

I don’t like horror novels, but if you do, this interview is for you.

Each recent book of Tremblay’s seems to me to take on a subgenre of the horror genre. He both explores it and puts pressure on it to see if he can make it do something new. Paul is anything but a complacent writer — rather than resting on his laurels, he offers work that is consistently new and unique.

Gillian Flynn Isn’t Going to Write the Kind of Women You Want

In a conversation with fellow novelist Megan Abbott, the Sharp Objects writer discusses the female rage that powered her 2006 debut novel—and has since taken over Hollywood.

 

© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown

Internet reading that caught my eye over the past week.

Megan Abbott’s Bloodthirsty Murderesses

The thriller writer probes the psychological underpinnings of female rage.

Because, Abbott says, “girls are darker than boys.”

New Black Gothic

Sheri-Marie Harrison, associate professor of English at the University of Missouri, explains what she calls the new black Gothic in the novels of Jesmyn Ward and in other popular formats such as television, music video, and film.

Ward’s award-winning novels are among a number of works, literary and otherwise, that rework Gothic traditions for the 21st century… Ward engages specifically the Southern Gothic tradition. In American literature, there is a long tradition of using Gothic tropes to reveal how ideologies of American exceptionalism rely on repressing the nation’s history of slavery, racism, and patriarchy. Such tropes are, as numerous critics have noted, central to the work of Toni Morrison.

The Women Who Write: Michelle Dean’s Sharp

A review of Sharp: The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion by Michelle Dean (Grove Atlantic).

This critical history is a rogues’ gallery of literary femaleness – even though most of the women in it rightly bristled at being defined as “woman writers.” Dean’s exemplars are, in chapter if not birth order, Dorothy Parker; Rebecca West; Hannah Arendt; Mary McCarthy; Susan Sontag; Pauline Kael; Joan Didion; Nora Ephron; Renata Adler; and Janet Malcolm. Most have at least a few things in common. While some doubled as novelists, all are distinguished for their non-fiction, with fully half reaching eminence via The New Yorker.

Amy Adams Explores Her Dark Side

An article about the amazing actor about to appear in the HBO production of Gillian Flynn’s novel Sharp Objects.

For the French Author Édouard Louis, His Books Are His Weapon

Édouard Louis uses literature as a weapon. “I write to shame the dominant class,” said the 25-year-old French writer in a recent interview.

© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown

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.