Banned Books Week 2015 (September 27–October 3)

(Artwork above courtesy of the American Library Association)

Banned Book Week is an annual event celebrating the right to read usually held during the last week of September. It’s sponsored by the following organizations:

American Booksellers Association

American Booksellers for Free Expression

American Library Association

American Society of Journalists and Authors

Association of American Publishers

Comic Book Legal Defense Fund

Freedom to Read Foundation

National Coalition Against Censorship

National Council of Teachers of English

National Association of College Stores

People for the American Way

PEN American Center

Project Censored

It is also endorsed by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress.

I Read Banned Books
Celebrate the freedom to read

A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict the availability of specified materials. A banning is the removal of materials:

Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others.

Read more about who challenges books and why at the ALA FAQ page about banned and challenged books.

Check the American Library Association’s Frequently Challenged Books list for 2014. Some of the titles might surprise you.

You can also see statistics in the form of infographics on the number of challenges by reasons, challenges by initiator, and challenges by institution.

On Novels and Novelists

14 Women Writers Who Dominate The Universe Of Sci-Fi

For decades men dominated the world of science fiction. But, Maddie Crum reports, the tables have turned. Read why she things these women authors now dominate the field:

  • L. Timmel Duchamp
  • Emily St. John Mandel
  • Octavia Butler
  • Madeleine L’Engle
  • Nnedi Okorafor
  • Jo Walton
  • Hiromi Goto
  • Karen Joy Fowler
  • Tanith Lee
  • Alice Bradley Sheldon
  • Nalo Hopkinson
  • Karen Russell
  • Leonora Carrington
  • Sofia Samatar

Why you need an app to understand my novel

Iain Pears has always written complex books – his latest, Arcadia, has 10 separate story strands. To make his readers’ lives easier, he turned to interactive technology

Iain Pears laments, “What should be a simple task – write story, create software, publish – turns out to be anything but in practice.”

The author of An Instance of the Fingerpost, which my book club loved several years ago and which is on my list of books deserving a reread, explains that he undertook the project of both writing and producing an app for his latest work, Arcadia, because “I had reached the limit of my storytelling in book form and needed some new tools to get me to the next stage.”

His previous novels are all “complex structurally,” he explains, and since he wanted to write a book even more complex, he considered “how to make my readers’ lives as easy as possible by bypassing the limitations of the classic linear structure.”

In developing the software to aid readers, he writes, his main aim was “making the technology the servant of the story rather than its master.”

This is a fascinating look at how a writer attempts to use new technological tools as a way of expanding the possibilities of narrative. He compares his approach to the way the introduction of film influenced narrative: At first people simply set up cameras and recorded plays; only somewhat later did artists begin to explore the different possibilities that film offered to make a movie different from a stage performance.

Writing Arcadia did produce odd effects in ways that an ordinary book or ebook could not; scenes became more episodic and vignette-like; the demands of shifting from one point of view to another, and then to multiple ones in different worlds, required different ways of writing.

Arcadia will be published in Britain on September 3. A link at the end of this piece takes you to iTunes, where you can get the app.

Let authors take the quiet road

One question readers must always consider is how much they want to know about the author—or, more specifically, should what we know about an author influence how we react to or interpret a literary work?

This piece considers the case of Italian author Elena Ferrante, who eschews publicity so ferociously that most people don’t even know what she looks like.

Here writer Arifa Akbar wishes that more authors would follow Ferrante’s lead: “As Ferrante suggests, the book should surely be enough, though that is sadly not the reality for many pressured to deliver a performance after they have delivered their novel.”

11 Big Fat Debut Novels to Keep You Reading All Summer

Julianna Haubner writes:

While the classics have always had a reputation for intimidating length (Tolstoy, Dickens, I’m looking at you), we are now living in the era of an entirely new trend: the big, fat, juicy debut novel. Industry insiders (The Daily Beast and Vulture among them) have put in their two cents, but here’s ours: the bigger the better! Whether they’re fetching huge advances or sleeper successes, here are our favorite first-time tries that keep us reading past page five hundred.

These books are not all from the year. But read why she so enjoyed these authors’ big first novels:

  • The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
  • We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas
  • Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
  • The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
  • City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg
  • House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
  • Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl
  • The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
  • Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
  • A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
  • The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski

On Novels and Novelists

E. L. Doctorow, The Art of Fiction No. 94

Novelist E.L. Doctorow, who died recently, participated in this interview with George Plimpton that was published in the winter 1986 issue of The Paris Review.

Here’s a quotation from Doctorow that I particularly like:

One of the things I had to learn as a writer was to trust the act of writing. To put myself in the position of writing to find out what I was writing… . The inventions of the book come as discoveries. At a certain point, of course, you figure out what your premises are and what you’re doing. But certainly, with the beginnings of the work, you really don’t know what’s going to happen.

Read the interview to learn how the oral history movement influenced Doctorow’s presentation of the protagonist in World’s Fair, how staring at the wall of his study lead him to the topic of Ragtime, and how he feels about the sufferings of writers.

The interview was held in front of a live audience at the 92nd Street YMHA in New York City. This transcript ends with questions asked by members of the audience.

Portlander Ursula K. Le Guin is Breathing Fire to Save American Literature

For more than 50 years now, Le Guin has used incisive critical writing and visionary, psychologically rich fiction to challenge orthodox beliefs—about gender, politics, religion, art—and generally emerged victorious. Far from mellowing her, age has only deepened her willingness to angle after the biggest fish in the pond.

Taylor Clark piece for Portland Monthly magazine features Portland, OR, writer Ursula K. Le Guin, whom Taylor characterizes as “indisputably a Portland writer, perhaps the Portland writer.” Born in Berkeley, where she attended high school with Philip K. Dick, she moved to Portland with her husband in 1958 when he took a position at Portland State University. She wrote a lot while her children were small but without much success. But in the mid 1960s she began a career of publications that “radically broadened our conception of what science fiction could do.”

In works like her 1969 breakthrough novel The Left Hand of Darkness and the “great, transfixing masterpiece, 1974’s The Dispossessed,” Le Guin “relentlessly turned sci-fi’s trappings into innovative new avenues to plumb deeper human conflicts.” But she has written in many other genres as well: poetry, children’s books, mainstream fiction, criticism, translations, and essays.

Read the article to find out why, today, Le Guin’s main concern is the treatment of literature as a commodity rather than as a form of art.

The Strange, Unsettling Fiction of James Purdy

Unsparing, ambiguous, violent, and largely indifferent to the reader’s needs, Purdy’s fiction seems likely to remain an acquired taste. But it is a taste worth acquiring.

Writing in The New Yorker, Jon Michaud discusses the fiction of James Purdy (1914–2009). Here’s why Purdy’s fiction is an acquired taste:

In his novels and short fiction, possibility and potential are always compromised. There is neither transcendence nor transformation. His characters do not grow or develop; they dwindle and unravel. Purdy saw Hawthorne and Melville, “two other Calvinists,” as his literary antecedents, and it is not hard to interpret some of Purdy’s protagonists as latter-day incarnations of Billy Budd and Young Goodman Brown: guileless innocents abused by the world’s depraved sinners.

Nonetheless, publisher Liveright last year released a collection of Purdy’s short stories, and this year they are republishing three of his novels, including Eustace Chisholm [and the Works], which, according to Michaud, “is probably the peak of Purdy’s career, the book of his to read if you’re only going to read one.”

Jason Segel: Reading David Foster Wallace was ‘one of the best experiences of my life’

An interview with actor Jason Segel, who plays the late author David Foster Wallace in the movie “The End of the Tour.”

The film The End of the Tour is a dramatization of Rolling Stone journalist David Lipsky’s five days spent with writer David Foster Wallace at the end of Wallace’s book tour promoting his novel Infinite Jest. Wallace, who struggled for many years with depression, took his own life at age 46.

When actor Jason Segel read the screenplay for the film, he thought he didn’t have a chance at getting the part. But director James Ponsoldt wanted an actor who could portray Wallace’s humor, and he found in Segel a “thoughtful actor who understood comedy.”

Segel then began his own tour of Wallace’s works. He watched the tapes of Lipsky’s interviews with Wallace and read Wallace’s essays. But for Wallace’s masterpiece, the tome Infinite Jest, Segel formed a book club:

“We did 100 pages a week,” Segel remembered, smiling. “It was one of the best experiences of my life.” The vast, experimental and thoroughly literary novel “is the most personal of [Wallace’s] works — he’s every one of the characters.” Segel described it as exploring themes of “pleasure, entertainment, achievement. It was David Foster Wallace trying to express a very fundamental crisis — we’ve been told that these things will satisfy us.”

“I hope the movie is an extension of the themes that he [Wallace] expressed,” Segel said. “It was approached with a lot of empathy and love.”

Lisbeth Salander is back: first plot details of The Girl in the Spider’s Web released

There’s good news for fans of Lisbeth Salander, the unstoppable hacker featured in the books known as Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy. With the blessing of Larsson’s family, and despite criticism from his long-time partner Eva Gabrielsson, Swedish writer David Lagercrantz has finished the partial fourth novel in the series left on Larsson’s laptop at the time of his sudden death.

Scheduled to be released on August 27, the book’s title is The Girl in the Spider’s Web. Recently the book’s Swedish publisher, MacLehose Press, released what it called “key details” in the novel’s plot. It would be unfair of me to steal  The Guardian’s thunder, so I’ll only quote here that the book features a “criminal conspiracy [that] will very soon bring terror to the snowbound streets of Stockholm, to the Millennium team – and to Blomkvist and Salander themselves.”

Click that link and read the (little) further description of the book whose storyline has been a carefully guarded secret.

A List of Reading Lists

It’s hard to resist a list.

That’s probably why there are so many of them all over the internet. Another reason is that bloggers are encouraged to make use of the list format because it’s one of the most popular formats for blog posts.

For some reason, I’ve come across more lists than usual in just the past few days. Here, then, is a list of some of those reading lists. The subject matter ranges widely, so there truly should be something for everyone somewhere.

10 Books to Entertain, Inspire, and Encourage Young Feminists

Molly Lynch looks at books aimed at young women (though she doesn’t exactly define young) and finds that many feature women who define themselves not by their relationships with men but by the pursuit of their own passions in life. Also important, Lynch says, is that the female characters be fully drawn, complex enough to have doubts and fears while strong enough to overcome them.

The language of grief: Four books that will change how you read about loss

Lorraine Berry discusses four books that helped her cope with grief at a time when language failed her.

3 biographies that celebrate groundbreaking women

Mary Ann Gwinn, book editor for The Seattle Times, discusses biographies of three women “who were misunderstood, obscured or ignored: Mary Anne Lewis Disraeli, Svetlana Alliluyeva (Josef Stalin’s daughter) and Mary Wollstonecraft (and her daughter, Mary Shelley).”

In cold blood: 10 thrilling reads

In honor of the 60th anniversary of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, Sarah Gilartin put together this list for the Irish Times.

12 Series To Catch Up On Before The Next Book Comes Out

I have only heard of five of these series. Those of you who keep up with fantasy, science fiction, and romance will undoubtedly recognize more.

‘Paper Towns’ and 21 other books to read before you see the movie

I had not heard of Paper Towns, the novel by John Green (I just recently finished The Fault in Our Stars) whose movie version debuts today. But I did read Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places after finishing Gone Girl and am glad to read that a movie adaptation will hit theaters on August 7.

See what other books you’ll be able to see on screen in the near future.

14 Must-Read Novels About Books

I did better with this list than the previous one: I’ve read seven of these and have another one on my to-be-read shelf. But then I’m always on the lookout for books about books and the people who love them.

8 classic novels that will make you a better leader

I’m always interested in how literature intersects with other disciplines. This list was put together by Scotty McLennan, a lecturer at Stanford Graduate School of Business, who teaches a course for MBA students called “The Business World: Moral and Spiritual Inquiry through Literature. Literature can “show you reality in a way that case studies and biographies and other things that are supposedly about reality can’t touch,” he says.

The Most Anticipated Books of Fall 2015

From more than 14,000 titles to be published this fall, Publishers Weekly has put together this list of the most notable books in the following categories:

  • fiction
  • mystery/thriller/crime
  • science fiction/fantasy/horror
  • romance/erotica
  • poetry
  • comics/graphic novels
  • memoir
  • literary essays/criticism/biographies
  • history/military history
  • politics
  • music
  • science
  • religion

There’s also a link in the opening paragraph to a list of noteworthy children’s and YA books to be published this fall.

On Novels and Novelists

The ghostwriter, the secret plot and a ‘grave-robbing’ Stieg Larsson sequel

You may remember that Swedish author Stieg Larsson dropped dead shortly after delivering the manuscript of the third novel in what has come to be called his Millennium trilogy. His long-time live-in companion, Eva Gabrielsson, said that his laptop contained a nearly completed manuscript of a fourth book in the series. She and Larsson’s family fought in the courts over possession of the laptop and its contents, but because Gabrielsson and Larsson were never married, his family got the prize.

Now comes word that the official launch of the fourth book, The Girl in the Spider’s Web, will take place on August 27. (The Swedish title of the novel translates as That Which Doesn’t Kill Us.) The book has been written by Swedish author David Lagercrantz. Gabrielsson isn’t happy about the takeover of Larsson’s work:

“This is just business, because you know the publisher has been in financial crisis for a couple of years,” she says. “It’s all a question of money.”

Swedish publisher Norstedts is going to great lengths to keep the contents of the book a secret. Lagercrantz and the many translators all worked on laptop computers not connected to the internet, and the publisher is not issuing any advance copies. Critics and ordinary readers alike will have to wait until the official release date to find our what’s new in the life of Lisbeth Salander.

Every Grateful Dead Song Annotated in Hypertext: Web Project Reveals the Deep Literary Foundations of the Dead’s Lyrics

The online annotated Grateful Dead also includes “Thematic Essays,” a bibliography and “bibliography of songbooks,” films and videos, and discographies for the band and each core member. There may be no more exhaustive a reference for the band’s output contained all in one place, though readers of this post may know of comparable guides in the vast sea of Grateful Dead commentary and compendiums online, in print, and on tape… . the proliferating, serious study of their songcraft and lyrical genius shows us that they will, indeed, survive.

11 Science Fiction Books That Are Regularly Taught in College Classes

“College professors often reach for classic science fiction when they’re planning classes on literature, society or philosophy.”

The texts students are likely to find listed on their course syllabi include the following:

  1. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  2. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
  3. Lilith’s Brood by Octavia Butler
  4. Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
  5. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  6. A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
  7. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
  8. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  9. Dhalgren by Samuel Delany
  10. 1984 by George Orwell
  11. Neuromancer by William Gibson

I read Brave New World and 1984 in college and Frankenstein in graduate school. A few others I’ve read on my own: Slaughterhouse Five, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Neuromancer.

How many of these books have you read, either for a course or on your own?

Children’s classic ‘Watership Down’ is based on real science

Richard Adams’s famous novel Watership Down came along well after I was an adult, and I have yet to read it, although it’s on my Classics Club reading list. But I found it interesting that Richard Adams did not make everything up.

Rather, Adams based his novel on research done in Wales by Ronald Lockley in the 1950s. Concerned about the spread of a rabbit disease called myxomatosis, the British Nature Conservancy sponsored research into the life of rabbits. Lockley watched and recorded the behavior of rabbits living in a warren behind a glass window. Lockley published his findings first in a scientific journal, the Journal of Animal Ecology, in 1961. He then expanded the work into a book, The Private Life of the Rabbit, published in 1964.

Adams based much of his rabbit society on Lockley’s book, although the novel includes some anthropomorphization not supported by Lockley’s study. But Adams consulted Lockley, and the two became friends.

Doyenne or Jezebel, Ireland’s Edna O’Brien Is a Master

Lucy Scholes describes Irish author Edna O’Brien as “an astute chronicler of female interiority.” O’Brien’s first novel, The Country Girls, was first published in 1960. But the focus of this article is O’Brien’s recently published The Love Object, a collection of 31 short stories that span her career.

According to Scholes, many of the female characters in these stories “are alienated due to a deep sense of unfulfillment, sacrificed to marriage or motherhood.” And “Many of the stories hinge on similar moments of realization that silently shake the very foundations of their subjects’ worlds.” Overall:

One of the wonderful things about The Love Object is how one can trace the developments in O’Brien’s career through its pages, watching the subtle shift between these earlier narratives of female experience and her later work that addresses the broader issues of Irish history and politics.

I keep discovering new authors whose works I’d like to read. So many books, so little time…

Compendium on “Go Set a Watchman”

I have finished reading Harper Lee’s newly released novel Go Set a Watchman and am collecting my thoughts. I read it slowly, taking copious notes. Probably like most people, I tried to read it in two mutually exclusive ways simultaneously: both with and without To Kill a Mockingbird as a touchstone. Figuring out how to evaluate it most fairly is indeed a conundrum.

Cover: Go Set a Watchman
Cover: Go Set a Watchman

While still working on my own discussion of the book, I offer you a compendium of articles that I began assembling a day or two before the publication date of Watchman, July 14. I have not read most of these pieces because I want to come to my own conclusions first.

I’m sure that there are spoilers galore in many of these articles, so I leave it up to you to decide whether to tackle these pieces before you read the novel for yourself or to wait until later.

I don’t claim that this list is exhaustive. I’m sure there are many other articles out there, but these are the ones that I’ve come across.

Early Reviews Hype ‘Watchman’ Interest

Publishers Weekly comments on early reviews of Go Set a Watchman, including those in the New York Times, Washington Post, and The Guardian. Includes links.

‘Watchman’ Anticipation, in Photos

From Publishers Weekly:

From midnight release parties, to film screenings, to daylong read-a-thons, check out our photos of how bookstores around the country rang in the on-sale date of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, the biggest publishing event of the year.

While Some Are Shocked by ‘Go Set a Watchman,’ Others Find Nuance in a Bigoted Atticus Finch

The revelation will probably alter readers’ views of “Mockingbird,” a beloved book that has sold more than 40 million copies globally and has become a staple of high school curriculums. It could also reshape Ms. Lee’s legacy, which until now has hinged entirely on the outsize success of her only novel, published 55 years ago.

Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee: EW Review

Entertainment Weekly gives the novel a grade of D+. And most of the commenters seem to agree.

A New Account of ‘Watchman’s’ Origin and Hints of a Third Book

Tonja B. Carter, Harper Lee’s attorney, is changing her story.

Harper Lee may have written a third novel, lawyer suggests

More as the plot continues to thicken:

Harper Lee’s lawyer Tonja Carter, the woman at the centre of the mysteries surrounding Go Set a Watchman’s publication this week, has broken her silence. In a lengthy piece in the Wall Street Journal, she intimates that there may be a third novel by Lee residing in a safe-deposit box in her home town of Monroeville, Alabama.

The lawyer, the lock box and the lost novel: Harper Lee book mystery widens

Harper Lee’s lawyer, who negotiated the deal over this week’s controversial launch of Go Set a Watchman, was allegedly far more intricately involved in searching for the manuscript years ago than previously disclosed, the Guardian has been told.

The Invisible Hand Behind Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’

The story of how Therese von Hohoff Torrey — known professionally as Tay Hohoff — guided Harper Lee through a two-year revision process that eventually turned Lee’s original manuscript into To Kill a Mockingbird.

As ‘Watchman’ Hits Stands, Authors Reflect on ’To Kill a Mockingbird’

Several writers reflect for Publishers Weekly on how To Kill a Mockingbird “affected everything from their ideas about race and humanity to their choice of profession.”

The Suspicious Story Behind Harper Lee’s ’Go Set a Watchman’

From the New Republic:

This piece is the first in a three-part series we’ll be publishing this week on Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Lee’s new novel, Go Set a Watchman.

Why I’ll Wait to Read GO SET A WATCHMAN

This post is part of our Harper Lee Reading Day: a celebration of one of the most surprising literary events of our lifetime, the publication of her new book, Go Set a Watchman.

On this page you’ll find a link to other entries in this series on Bookriot.

In this piece Jessica Tripler describes her hesitancy to jump into the new book because “I personally question whether Lee is capable of consenting to or understanding what is going on.”

What Critics Are Saying About Go Set a Watchman

This article itself is a compendium, with excerpts from major reactions to the novel from sources including the New York Times, The Guardian, and NPR.

6 Fascinating Facts About the Life & Literature of Harper Lee


Teachers’ New Homework: a ‘Watchman’ Plan

From the Wall Street Journal, a consideration of how teachers must revamp their lesson plans about To Kill a Mockingbird in light of Go Set a Watchman.

How Should Schools Deal With the New ‘Atticus Finch’?

From the New York Times, a good companion piece to the Wall Street Journal article:

Fans of Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” — a book widely read by students in the United States — are reeling from the revelations that a beloved character, Atticus Finch, is portrayed as a racist in Lee’s recently released second novel, “Go Set a Watchman.”

For many teachers, this presents a conundrum in how the fictional character is taught in classrooms. How will the new book affect or change the way “To Kill a Mockingbird” is taught in middle and high school English classes?

This is the introductory page that links to discussions written by several people.

‘My Atticus’

Megan Garber for The Atlantic:

Go Set a Watchman is a threat not just to readers’ heroic idea of Atticus Finch, but also to the many, many children who have been named in his honor.

Could Harper Lee have written four books?

In an op-ed this week in The Wall Street Journal, Lee’s attorney, Tonja Carter, hinted at a third, as-yet-unpublished novel. And a friend of the author, who is also a professor of history at Auburn University in Alabama, spoke to CNN about a possible fourth book.

This possible fourth book is supposedly a nonfiction study of Rev. Willie Maxwell, who was suspected in the deaths of various relatives.

Mockingbirds, watchmen, and novelists: on Harper Lee and novel-writing

Amy Weldon, a native of Alabama, a fiction writer, and a professor of English at Luther College in Iowa, discusses the writing process by looking at Watchman as an early draft of Mockingbird.

Now We Can Finally Say Goodbye to the White Savior Myth of Atticus

An opinion piece by Osamudia R. James, professor of law at the University of Miami, where she writes and teaches about education, race and the law, and identity.

The literary crimes of Go Set a Watchman

This [Atticus Finch] is a perfectly acceptable hero, living and breathing in the kind of fictional world that many people, including myself, prefer. The problem is that Lee can’t have it both ways. Mockingbird is on a different literary plane than Watchman, and the two can only meet awkwardly, which is precisely what HarperCollins has demonstrated by grafting Watchman onto Mockingbird. They cannot work together in any meaningful sense; one cannot cast a new light on the other, except in the way an apple sheds light on an orange by being, well, different.

All-TIME 100 Novels

Way back in January 2010 Time magazine drew up a list of “the 100 best English-language novels published since 1923—the beginning of TIME”: All-TIME 100 Novels:

The parameters: English language novels published anywhere in the world since 1923, the year that TIME Magazine began, which, before you ask, means that Ulysses (1922) doesn’t make the cut.

Richard Lacayo and Lev Grossman used this approach in drawing up the list:

Grossman and I [Lacayo] each began by drawing up inventories of our nominees. Once we traded notes, it turned out that more than 80 of our separately chosen titles matched. (Even some of the less well-known ones, like At-Swim Two Birds.) We decided then that we would more or less divide the remaining slots between us. That would allow each of us to include books that the other might not have chosen. Or might not even have read. (Ubik? What’s an Ubik?) And that would extend the list into places where mere agreement wouldn’t take it.

They end by acknowledging that there are many titles not included “that we’re still anguishing over.”

I never did anything with this list when it first came out, but I come across references to it often enough that I thought it time to do the math.

This is the key to my list:

Books I’ve read: 45

Books that are on my classics reading list: 3

A – B

The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow

I read this in college in a course on the contemporary novel.

All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren

This is one of my all-time favorite books. I read it as either a junior or senior high school. It was the book that made me realize how all the pieces of a well-crafted novel fall together.

American Pastoral by Philip Roth

An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser

I read this in graduate school.

Animal Farm by George Orwell

Like just about every other American kid, I read this in high school.

Appointment in Samarra by John O’Hara

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume

I read this when my daughter was young. It’s more of her generation than mine, but I wanted to be able to talk about it with her.

The Assistant by Bernard Malamud

At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O’Brien

Atonement by Ian McEwan

I read this with a book group when the paperback edition came out.

Beloved by Toni Morrison

The Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

I can’t believe I still haven’t gotten to this one.

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

I’ve read this one twice: It’s that good. (The first time was for a book group; the second time was on my own.)

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

I read this one for my in-person classics book group.

C – D

Call It Sleep by Henry Roth

Catch–22 by Joseph Heller

I read this on my own early in my college years.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

I’ve read this several times, most recently about a year ago for my in-person classics book group.

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

One of my book groups read this not long after it came out.

The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon

This one’s on my personal to-be-read list.

A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell

The Day of the Locust by Nathaneal West

Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather

I can’t remember if we read this in high school or if I just think we did because I’ve heard of it so much.

A Death in the Family by James Agee

The Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen

Deliverance by James Dickey

I read this one after seeing the movie.

Dog Soldiers by Robert Stone

F – G

Falconer by John Cheever

The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles

I read this one on my own soon after college.

The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing

Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

I read this in college.

Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I read this in college, again in graduate school, and again a few years ago before the movie with Leonardo DiCaprio was released.

H – I

A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh

The Heart is A Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

I read this one several years ago in an attempt to fill in some of the gaps in my knowledge of American literature.

The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene

Herzog by Saul Bellow

I read this one in a course on contemporary literature in college.

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

A House for Mr. Biswas by V. S. Naipaul

I, Claudius by Robert Graves

I read this after seeing the PBS version starring Derek Jacobi.

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

I read this in a college course.

L – N

Light in August by William Faulkner

The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

I’ve read this twice, once in a college course and again later on my own.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

We also read this one in high school.

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein

I devoured this one on my own soon after graduating from college.

Loving by Henry Green

Although I haven’t read this, it looks like one I would enjoy.

The Moviegoer by Walker Percy

I read this one in college in a course on the history of the novel. I reread it on my own many years later.

Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis

The Man Who Loved Children by Christina Stead

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

Money by Martin Amis

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

This one is on my TBR list.

Naked Lunch by William Burroughs

Native Son by Richard Wright

I read this in an introductory literature course in college.

Neuromancer by William Gibson

I read this one quite a few years ago when I decided that I should become at least a little familiar with current science fiction. I was delightfully surprised by how much I enjoyed it as a modern quest story.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

I read this one not long after it came out.

1984 by George Orwell

Again, this is one that I read, probably along with every other American kid, in high school.

O – R

On the Road by Jack Kerouac

I read this one on my own when I was filling in the gaps in my reading of American classics.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

I read this one on my own while in college during the 1960s.

The Painted Bird Jerzy Kosiński

Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov

I read this one while on a Nabokov reading kick between my junior and senior years of college.

A Passage to India by E.M. Forster

I read this one in college.

Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion

Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth

Another one that I read while in college in the 1960s.

Possession by A.S. Byatt

I’ve read this one twice, on my own both times.

The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

Rabbit, Run by John Updike

I’ve read this one at least three times, the latest time within the last year or so for my in-person classics book group.

Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow

This one I read soon after publication. A friend gave me a hardcover copy for Christmas.

The Recognitions by William Gaddis

Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett

This one is waiting on my TBR shelf.

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

I read this one recently for the online Classics Club.

S – T

The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Here’s yet another classic that I read on my own during college in the 1960s.

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

I also read this one during my mid-life attempt to introduce myself to contemporary science fiction. I liked this one, but I liked The Diamond AGe even more.

The Sot-Weed Factor by John Barth

The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

I read this once in college and once again much later.

The Sportswriter by Richard Ford

This is one I read not long after it came out.

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold by John le Carré

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

I read this several years ago for a book group.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

One of my book groups read this quite a few years ago.

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

I don’t remember when I first read this, but I’ve reread it many times over.

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

I read this in a college course.

Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller

U – W

Ubik by Philip K. Dick

Under the Net by Iris Murdoch

Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry

Watchmen by Alan Moore,

White Noise by Don DeLillo

I haven’t yet read this one, but it’s on my TBR shelf.

White Teeth by Zadie Smith

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jeanne Rhys

This is the August selection for my in-person classics book group, so I’m counting it as read because I’ll be reading it in the next couple of week.

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And what have I learned from doing this assessment?

First, I’ve read fewer than half (45) of these “all-time best” novels. Even if I read and add to the total the titles on my classics club reading list, I’ll still be under half (48).

Second, of the listed novels that I have read, I read most of them in my high school, college, and early adult years. Maybe I had better radar then for good books. But I suspect that the real reason is that many newer books haven’t yet had time to prove themselves as classic novels and therefore are not included in this list. (One notable exception to this speculation is Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping.)

Third, however I look at the situation, one thing is clear: I have A LOT more reading to do.

As the Release Date of Harper Lee’s New Novel Approaches

As the July 14th publication date of Harper Lee’s second novel, Go Set a Watchman, approaches, she is much in the news. Here are a couple of representative articles.

Harper Lee Receives Copy of ‘Go Set a Watchman’ as Release Nears

Alexandra Alter and Serge F. Kovaleski report in the New York Times on an “intimate lunch” held on June 30 at which Harper Lee received the first copies off the presses of her new novel, Go Set a Watchman. The reporters did not attend the lunch but were briefed by Lee Sentell, the director of the Alabama Tourism Department, who was present.

There has been lots of controversy since the discovery of the lost manuscript about whether Harper Lee, who is 89 and nearly blind and deaf, was capable of agreeing to its publication. Sentell told reporters that when Lee was asked if she had ever expected this novel to be published, she replied, “Of course I did, don’t be silly.”

If you haven’t followed the story of doubts about how the manuscript was discovered and set for publication, this article contains links to the _Times_’s previous coverage.

Looking for traces of ‘Mockingbird’ in Harper Lee’s hometown

Cover: To Kill a MockingbirdJay Reeves writes for the Associated Press about crucial spots in Harper Lee’s home town of Monroeville, AL, that contributed to the setting in Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird.

To see some of the sites, click through the slide show near the top of the page.

On Novels and Novelists

7 Book Franchises We Really Need To Say Goodbye To

Claire Fallon writes in the Huffington Post:

Let’s be honest: Too many series and franchises are reworked and rebooted until there’s simply no life left in them. As much as fans may clamor to spend more money on another Dune book, for example, they’re more likely than not going to be disappointed by the lackluster result, which only serves to taint the otherwise acclaimed series. We need to learn to say goodbye before we’re entirely ready, instead of waiting until a brand has fully worn out its welcome.

Here are the seven series she lists:

  1. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
  2. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
  3. The James Bond series by Ian Fleming
  4. The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner
  5. The Millennium trilogy by Stieg Larsson
  6. Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  7. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

A quick reading of the comments suggests that many people misunderstood the point of this article. Several commenters list books and series that they say are awful. Some of the authors mentioned are Tom Clancy, Robert B. Parker, and Lee Child.

But I don’t think Fallon is writing about books that shouldn’t have been written in the first place. I think she’s concerned about books and series that have become so beloved by readers that it’s painful to watch someone else—some lesser writer—keep on writing inferior additions to the set. At least that’s how I feel about franchises such as Harry Potter, the Millennium trilogy, Little House, and Hitchhiker’s Guide.

How about you?

The Wachowskis’ Sense8 Is the Philip K. Dick Adaptation We Always Wanted

Here’s another long read, and I have to admit that much of it is way over my head for now. Bram E. Gieben looks at the Netflix Original series Sense8 in relation to the work of author Philip K. Dick and series creators the Wachowskis and J. Michael Straczynski:

The ‘mind-melds’ (lets just call them that) which the characters experience begin to fracture their reality. This is in itself a Phildickian trope, but this ‘reality breakdown’—often the principle focus of a PKD novel—is not a key focus here. Rather, the series is full of scenes where characters listen to each other, and share their stories. This is the way in which the show deals with empathy—and yet, this is where Sense8 is at its most Phildickian. This also accounts for the erratic pacing. The Wachowskis have chosen to show empathy at work, rather than just divesting the story of these ‘emotional’ tropes, and focusing on the game of cat-and-mouse the protagonists are forced to play with a shadowy, quasi-governmental agency (as they would in most flawed Dick movie adaptations, from Total Recall to Minority Report).

I include this piece because it prompted me to add Sense8 to my Netflix list. The next long weekend that comes up I hope to spend watching several episodes of the series to see if I can make sense of them.

Care to join me?

13 Children’s Book Authors Who Would Have Written Beautiful Fiction For Adults Too

Riffing on Judy Blume’s new novel for adults, In the Unlikely Event, Katherine Brooks lists 13 authors she thinks would have written good fiction for adults:

After all, according to a 2012 study conducted by Bowker Market Research, 55 percent of the people buying fiction geared toward young adults are, actually, just adults. And they’re, actually, reading the books for themselves.

See why Brooks wishes these 13 authors had written fiction for adults:

  1. Beverly Cleary
  2. Walter Dean Myers
  3. Zilpha Keatley Snyder
  4. Katherine Paterson
  5. Mary Pope Osborne
  6. Gail Carson Levine
  7. Maurice Sendak
  8. Madeleine L’Engle
  9. Ellen Raskin
  10. Chris Van Allsburg
  11. and 12. Ingri and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire
  12. Lois Lowry

Brooks also lists as runners-up S. E. Hinton and E. L. Konigsburg.

How To Read A Bad Book By A Great Author

“What do we make of a bad book, written late-career, by an acclaimed author?” asks Colton Valentine, who moves on to discuss Milan Kundera’s recent novel, The Festival of Insignificance. According to Valentine, critics almost universally have described this novel as “out-of-touch, sexist, and, worst of all, banal.”

But, Valentine argues, late-career novels such as this must be approached not in isolation, but in the context of everything the author has written before. In particular, Valentine makes sense of Festival of Insignificance by comparing it with what Kundera had to say in his best known novel, 1984’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

And this is the approach we should take to the upcoming publication of Harper Lee’s second novel:

In a few weeks, Harper Lee will release Go Set a Watchman, a book that will inevitably fail to live up to its predecessor but that need not be written off. Broadening our mindset – fitting the novel into a larger textual legacy – may not redeem it. But that mindset can, at least, provide a stimulating exercise, a more productive and respectful way to think about the late works of the greats.

On Novels and Novelists

What’s Changed, and What Hasn’t, in the Town That Inspired “To Kill a Mockingbird”

Cover: To Kill a MockingbirdIn a long piece for Smithsonian Magazine, Paul Theroux describes a visit to Monroeville, AL, home of author Harper Lee and inspiration for the fictional Maycomb in To Kill a Mockingbird:

Monroeville is like many towns of its size in Alabama—indeed the Deep South: a town square of decaying elegance, most of the downtown shops and businesses closed or faltering, the main industries shut down. I was to discover that To Kill A Mockingbird is a minor aspect of Monroeville, a place of hospitable and hard-working people, but a dying town, with a population of 6,300 (and declining), undercut by NAFTA, overlooked by Washington, dumped by manufacturers like Vanity Fair Mills (employing at its peak 2,500 people, many of them women) and Georgia Pacific, which shut down its plywood plant when demand for lumber declined. The usual Deep South challenges in education and housing apply here, and almost a third of Monroe County (29 percent) lives in poverty.

Theroux’s piece anticipates the July 14th publication of Lee’s second novel, Go Set a Watchman, in which a grown-up Jean Louise “Scout” Finch returns home and reminisces about the trial of Tom Robinson that occurred 20 years earlier (the trial depicted in Mockingbird.) Ever since the announcement of the discovery and publication of this manuscript, Harper Lee’s only other novel, there has been speculation about whether this novel will be as good as her first.

There’s also been speculation about whether the second novel, set 20 years after the first, will portray a Maycomb essentially different. Or will it provide the same Southern vision?

And that’s the odd thing about a great deal of a certain sort of Deep South fiction—its grotesquerie and gothic, its high color and fantastication, the emphasis on freakishness. Look no further than Faulkner or Erskine Caldwell, but there’s plenty in Harper Lee too, in Mockingbird, the Boo Radley factor, the Misses Tutti and Frutti, and the racist Mrs. Dubose, who is a morphine addict: “Her face was the color of a dirty pillowcase and the corners of her mouth glistened with wet which inched like a glacier down the deep grooves enclosing her chin.” This sort of prose acts as a kind of indirection, dramatizing weirdness as a way of distracting the reader from day to day indignities.

In a bit more than a week we’ll find out if Go Set a Watchman, written long ago but published only now, is an anachronism in an age when “few Southern writers concern themselves with the new realities” of poverty, education, and race relations in the American South.

What novelist Kent Haruf taught me about writing and life

Cover: PlainsongMichael Rosenwald, a reporter for the Washington Post, talks about what novelist Kent Haruf meant to him. Rosenwald enrolled in Haruf’s beginning fiction class at Southern Illinois University in 1993, six years before the publication of Plainsong, Haruf’s break-out novel.

Storytelling, I’d learn, is about what happens next, and this story, about what happened after I met Kent, proves that what he taught me about stories is true: They have the power to exalt and transform. In this story, a little-known writer — gentle, fatherly, good — shapes a young man’s life, becomes renowned and never changes.

Although Haruf wrote fiction and Rosenwald concentrated on nonfiction, the two remained close:

After the success of “Plainsong,” Kent moved back to Colorado to write full time. I’d call him now and then. We began ­e-mailing, teasing each other about football, sharing news of what we’d read lately. And I began to see him more and more in my life. He was in the stories I pursued about ordinary people, in the strands of dialogue I’d hear and jot down, in the kindness I’d extend to students asking for advice. “Find your Kent,” I’d tell them.

Such a moving tribute to Haruf, who died last November. May we all find our own Kent.

10 influential pulp novels that are criminally good

Pulp fiction is called that because it first appeared in the early 20th century in fiction magazines published on cheap paper made from wood pulp. Read why Molly Lynch recommends these pulp fiction novels:

  1. Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life by Philip Jose Farmer
  2. Lest Darkness Fall by L. Sprague de Camp
  3. Judgment Night by C. L. Moore
  4. John Carter of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
  5. Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett
  6. Sign of the Labrys by Margaret St. Clair
  7. Tunnel in the Sky by Robert A. Heinlein
  8. The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler
  9. No Good From a Corpse by Leigh Brackett
  10. Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith

JK Rowling reveals why the Dursleys dislike Harry Potter so much

Harry Potter boxed setJ.K. Rowling may have finished the Harry Potter series, but she apparently can’t quite let it go. In a piece for her web site Pottermore, she explains the back story of the Dursleys’ dislike of their nephew Harry and the reason why Aunt Petunia does not offer Harry any work of kindness in the final novel of the series.

Here Alison Flood fills in the history of Harry’s relationship with his aunt, uncle, and cousin, for those of us who have forgotten some of the details.