They’re Back: Best Books of the Year Lists

The best books of the year lists seem to appear earlier and earlier every year. Here’s a first look at some of the offerings.

100 Notable Books of 2016

The New York Times announces its choices in the following categories:

  • Fiction & Poetry
  • Nonfiction
BAFFLING OMISSIONS FROM THE NY TIMES’ 100 NOTABLE BOOKS LIST

Emily Temple isn’t satisfied with the New York Times list because it omits several books that she thinks it should include. She offers her list of notable omissions here.

Best books of 2016 – part one

A list from The Guardian, in which “writers choose their best reads of 2016.” Selections include fiction, poetry, and nonfiction.

Best books of 2016 – part two

A companion to (or, rather, a continuation of) the entry above.

Best Philosophy Books of 2016

Philosophy raises fundamental questions about the world around us and how we should live our lives. Fortunately, a range of popular books now available mean you too can grapple with some of these issues. Philosopher and author Nigel Warburton picks his favourite philosophy books of 2016.

 

© 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

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

Introducing Book Marks, Lit Hub’s “Rotten Tomatoes” for Books | Literary Hub

Book Marks will showcase critics from the most important and active outlets of literary journalism in America, aggregating reviews from over 70 sources—newspapers, magazines, and websites—and averaging them into a letter grade, as well as linking back to their source. Each book’s cumulative grade functions as both a general critical assessment, and, more significantly, as an introduction to a range of voices.

Source: Introducing Book Marks, Lit Hub’s “Rotten Tomatoes” for Books | Literary Hub

I’m still checking this out. Let us know what you think about this new service in the comments.

On Novels and Novelists

Joyce Carol Oates: ‘People think I write quickly, but I actually don’t’

Joyce Carol Oates, often described as “America’s foremost woman of letters,” recently talked with writer Hermione Hoby for The Guardian. At age 77, Oates has written more than 100 books and has been a Pulitzer finalist five times.

What Hoby calls “a pronounced gothic streak” runs through much of Oates’s fiction. Hoby explains why by quoting a passage from the afterword to Oates’s 1994 collection Haunted: Tales of the Grotesque:

“We should sense immediately, in the presence of the grotesque, that it is both ‘real’ and ‘unreal’ simultaneously, as states of mind are real enough – emotions, moods, shifting obsessions, beliefs – though immeasurable. The subjectivity that is the essence of the human is also the mystery that divides us irrevocably from one another.”

Hoby says that Blonde, Oates’s fictionalization of Marilyn Monroe’s interior life, is often regarded as her best novel. My book club back in St. Louis read it several years ago and loved it. We also read and loved her novel We Were the Mulvaneys, which remains one of the most memorable books I’ve ever read.

Michael Connelly Chooses ‘The Long Goodbye’ for WSJ Book Club

Prominent mystery writer Michael Connelly has chosen Raymond Chandler’s novel The Long Goodbye for the Wall Street Journal Book Club. Connelly credits this book with launching his writing career. He was majoring in construction engineering in college when he saw Robert Altman’s 1973 film adaptation of the novel. He bought all of Chandler’s novels, read them back to back, then changed his major to journalism and creative writing.

Amazon Series: BOSCHAlthough Connelly has written some stand-alone novels, he is best known for his fictional detective Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch of the Los Angeles Police Department. The Bosch novels are the basis for Amazon’s series Bosch, starring Titus Welliver. The series’ second season will be released this year.

There’s a link in this article for joining the WSJ Book Club, but I think you have to be a subscriber of the paper to sign up.

Inside Lisa Genova’s medical best sellers

Lisa Genova was trained as a neuroscientist, but she has left that career behind to write full time. She self-published her first novel, Still Alice, and sold it out of her car trunk because she couldn’t land a literary agent or publisher. That book was eventually picked up by a major publisher, and Julianne Moore won an Oscar for her portrayal of the lead character in the film version.

Still Alice tells the story of a Harvard neuroscientist who develops early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. While most writing about Alzheimer’s features the point of view of care givers, Genova’s novel portrayed the experience of the patient. Genova has written three more books about neurological conditions: Love Anthony, about autism; Left Neglected, about traumatic brain injury; and Inside the O’Briens, about Huntington’s disease. Her next novel, she says, will be about ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

10 underrated novels from great authors

Sure, you’ve heard of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, but what about Pudd’nhead Wilson? Read about this less well known work of Mark Twain, along with underrated novels by the following writers as well:

Fyodor Dostoevsky
Cormac McCarthy
Haruki Murakami
Edgar Allan Poe
George Orwell
Stephen King
Graham Greene
James Salter
Richard Yates

J.K. Rowling reveals statue she marked after completing ’Harry Potter’

J.K. Rowling recently revealed on Twitter that she defaced a statue in her Balmoral hotel room after finishing the final volume in her Harry Potter series. See the evidence here.

A good sport about the whole thing, the Balmoral has renamed the room the J.K. Rowling Suite and protected the statue inside a glass case. This is certainly a case of “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.”

Herman Wouk Says He’s A ‘Happy Gent’ At 100

Herman Wouk has written a lot of famous novels, including The Winds of War and The Caine Mutiny, which won a Pulitzer Prize. Now, at age 100, he’s issued a spiritual memoir, Sailor and Fiddler: Reflections of a 100-Year-Old Author.

It’s a memoir, he says, that “sums up what it means to be a writer.”

Alan Rickman’s Best Bookish Roles

On Thursday, January 14th, Alan Rickman passed away from cancer and leaves a horrible gaping hole in the entertainment world. As every Harry Potter fan (and casual observer) knows, Rickman was most well known for his role as Severus Snape, the villain-turned-redemptive-hero that plays a central role in the film adaptations.

Source: Alan Rickman’s Best Bookish Roles

Books in 2016: a literary calendar

From a new novel by Julian Barnes to the film of The Girl on the Train, from the most hotly tipped debuts to Henning Mankell’s farewell essays – everything you need to know about the literary year ahead

Source: Books in 2016: a literary calendar

Calendar contains dates for appearances in the U.K.

From coloring books to Harper Lee, a good year for the physical book | The Seattle Times

As e-book sales remain stalled at some 25 percent of the market, hardcovers and paperbacks held steady at a time digital has upended the music, film and television industries.

Source: From coloring books to Harper Lee, a good year for the physical book | The Seattle Times

On Reading

If you enjoyed a good book and you’re a woman, the critics think you’re wrong

Jennifer Weiner never passes up an opportunity to lament how the world of literary criticism mistreats authors (like her) and readers of popular literature. “Every once in a while,” she explains, “a literary novel becomes tremendously popular, transcending the typical sales for literary fiction and making its way onto bestseller lists.”

Those juggernaut books have a few things in common: they’re written by women; they are read (as is most fiction) mostly by women; and, as they ascend toward peak popularity, perhaps even winning a prize or two, some highbrow critic will announce that they are not literature at all but, in fact, sentimental trash, unworthy of a single honor or accolade, written by bad people and read by awful – or, at least, silly and stupid – fans.

She calls this process “‘Goldfinching’, after Vanity Fair’s 2014 yes-but-is-it-art interrogation as to whether Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer prize-winning, mega-bestselling book The Goldfinch is or is not literature.”

Goldfinching isn’t about elevating good books at the necessary expense of bad ones. It’s about once more reminding the wrong kind of reader of just where she stands, and how little her enjoyment or endorsement matters.

You can follow Weiner’s article in depth by clicking on the many links she provides to examples of the disparagement of popular literature she provides.

For the record, I loved Tartt’s The Goldfinch, as well as Gone Girl, another of the novels whose criticism Weiner cites as examples that support her thesis.

When Popular Fiction Isn’t Popular: Genre, Literary, and the Myths of Popularity

This article picks up where Weiner left off in the previous article. The term popular literature usually occurs as a synonym for genre fiction, and that’s how Lincoln Michel uses the term here. As Michel puts it:

When we get into a debate like … “genre” vs. “literary,” we’ve wandered into the book world version of conservative vs. liberal. Arguments revolve around feelings, constantly redefined terms, and moving goal posts rather than any interest in truth or understanding.

Much of the problem with such debates stems from the lack of any specific and generally accepted definitions of terms like genre fiction and literary fiction. Like Weiner, Michel cites a lot of critics’ opinions about what those terms mean. He even crunches a lot of sales numbers in trying to determine what makes literature popular. He does all of that in order to draw the following conclusion:

If you are determined to compare popularity, at least do so with actual facts. But it would be far better if we focused less on popularity, and more on the wide range of amazing books from all genres and corners of the globe that are daily ignored for yet another think piece on already popular books.

What I like about this piece is that it gives me permission to dismiss the whole tiresome question of popular vs. literary fiction.

#42: Defining ‘Fair Play’ in detective fiction

On his or her blog The Invisible Event, Invisible Blogger (IB) writes about classic crime fiction. In this post IB discusses what he or she calls “fair play detective stories”:

I think I’m relatively safe in saying that for many people the appeal of the detective story is the opportunity to have a go at fitting the puzzle together before the author explains all at the end (differentiating here from the crime novel or the thriller, which for brevity’s sake we’ll simply say have different intentions).

Like IB, I take the term fair play detective stories to mean those in which the attentive reader has as much chance of figuring out who the villain is as does the novelist detective. In fact, solving the puzzle is one of the biggest attractions of this type of story. So I agree with IB’s list of unacceptable requirements in such a novel:

  • “there must be sufficient declared clues and no deliberate narrative chicanery on behalf of the author in withholding something without appearing not to”
  • “burying the key information in a higgledy-piggledy mess of deliberately confusing cross-talk does not, to my mind, make it fairly declared”
  • no “specialist knowledge” or “esoteric knowledge” should be required for solving the crime
  • also not allowed is “nonsense invention – no poisons previously unknown to science, not-of-this-world unexplainable influences, or just plain old invention for the sake of surprise”

So what does make a novel a “fair play detective story”?

Put simply, if I get to the reveal of a detective novel and can see how each crumb along the path of reasoning to the solution was given to me to pick up and examine at my leisure then it’s a fair play puzzle.

The big question: are books getting longer?

Richard Lea reports in The Guardian:

Books are steadily increasing in size, according to a survey that has found the average number of pages has grown by 25% over the last 15 years.

A study of more than 2,500 books appearing on New York Times bestseller and notable books lists and Google’s annual survey of the most discussed books reveals that the average length has increased from 320 pages in 1999 to 400 pages in 2014.

Some people attribute the increasing page count to e-readers, which do not emphasize the length of a book as visually as does a huge hunk of a printed book. One other possible explanation is that “people who love to read appear to prefer a long and immersive narrative, the very opposite of a sound bite or snippets of information that we all spend our lives downloading from Google,” says literary agent Clare Alexander. But, Alexander also says:

“I would argue that a countervailing force is also in play with the revival of interest in the short story (also reflected in a growing and excellent prize culture) or the brief but perfectly formed novel.”

Books vs. e-books: The science behind the best way to read

This is one of those debates that just won’t go away. Here CBS News takes “a look at some of the science to consider before you spring for a Kindle, a Nook or a stack of new hardcovers” for someone on your holiday gift list.

Here’s a list of the major points. Be sure to read the explanations of the science behind each one.

  • Young, reluctant readers prefer e-readers
  • Reading on paper may boost retention
  • Paper suits readers with sleep problems and eye strain
  • E-books help the visually impaired
  • Avid readers tend to prefer reading on paper

On Novels and Novelists

To give and reconcile: Lois Lowry discusses childhood, importance of fiction

In a recent talk at Bowdoin College in Maine, award-winning author Lois Lowry discussed how her books in many ways reflect her own life:

In a winding narrative of her life story, Lowry intertwined personal anecdotes, beginning with her childhood, with their parallels in the subject matter of her subsequent novels. She told of her first novel, “Autumn Street,” which was inspired by her life as a child in Pennsylvania.

Reporter Surya Milner reports that it became clear from students’ remarks that one of the features of Lowry’s work that they most appreciate is “a style that, at times, integrates harsh or uncomfortable realities with the familiar comfort of childhood.”

Lowry said that her own experience taught her “how profoundly affecting a book can be for a kid at a particular time in his or her life.”

75 Years After Steinbeck Sailed, a Boat Is Readied to Go Back to Sea

In 1950 John Steinbeck and his friend, marine biologist Ed Ricketts, along with a crew of four sailed a wooden boat, the Western Flyer, down the coast from California to Mexico. They spend six weeks collecting marine specimens. Steinbeck wrote a book, The Log From the Sea of Cortex, published in 1951, about their experiences. The trip also provided the outline of the character Doc in Cannery Row.

John Gregg, a geologist and businessman from California, bought the boat for $1 million this year and is having it restored at a boatyard in Port Townsend, WA. Restoration of the badly damaged boat as a science education vessel will require an additional $2 million.

The restoration is a labor of love for Gregg:

When he was 11 and growing up in southern Georgia, a bookmobile carrying a copy of the book came to his neighborhood. That one book, Mr. Gregg said in an interview on the Flyer’s deck — the air full of the scent of pine tar, gulls cawing on the waterfront — turned him into a scientist and a lover of boats at the same time.

Plans call for the boat to be sea-ready by 2018. In the meantime, juniors and seniors from Port Townsend High School are studying Steinbeck’s books about boats and fishing: Cannery Row, The Log From the Sea of Cortez, and The Pearl. The literary unit will also include visits to the boatyard to study the boat and its history.

Ross Macdonald at 100

The Santa Barbara Independent celebrates one of the city’s most famous residents:

On the eve of what would have been his 100th birthday, the great detective novelist Ross Macdonald is poised to enter into his greatest period of renown since the 1970s, when his books were international best-sellers and he was on the cover of Newsweek magazine.

Ross Macdonald, pseudonym for Kenneth Millar, was one of the most influential writers in the genre of hard-boiled detective fiction. Born in 1915, Millar was raised mainly in rural Canada. He first came to Santa Barbara, CA, in 1946 and settled permanently there in the 1950s.

This long article analyzes the work of Macdonald, which has influenced many other writers, including Sue Grafton, James Ellroy, Michael Connelly, Richard North Patterson, and Jonathan Kellerman.

Fortunately, Macdonald’s singular voice as a writer has not been silenced. His effortlessly flowing prose, his intuitive feel for the human condition, and his enduring integrity ensure that his work will continue to be read by people who care about what the detective novel can accomplish. The combined publication of the 1950s crime novels, the Archer short stories, and the Welty-Macdonald letters constitute a treasure trove for readers, those new to Macdonald and those returning to his works, those interested in detective fiction and those simply interested in great prose.