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.

On Novels and Novelists

18 BOOKS FOR WINTER: A SELECTION OF FEEL-GOOD NOVELS, BIG BOOKS, AND CLASSICS TO ENJOY DURING COLDER WEATHER

On Tolstoy Therapy, Lucy discusses books that she has loved and “ snippets of literary interestingness.” In this post she offers some reading choices for your winter reading in the categories of big books, feel-good novels, and literary classics.

Lucy also has a lot of information about bibliotherapy on her blog. Keep in mind, though, that she is not a therapist and that reading cannot replace professional attention for mental health issues.

How One Author Turned the Internet into a Giant Book Club

All authors dream of having a huge readership. And all authors whose last name isn’t King, Patterson, or Rowling know that they have to participate in marketing their work to gain that readership. In this article Nomi Eve describes a plan she launched after publication of her second novel, Henna House:

Grand gestures set you apart from the rest of the world. So I came up with my grand gesture. I challenged myself to personally meet with 100 book clubs. I called it my 100 Book Club Challenge and put the word out on Facebook that I would meet with any book club (either in person or by Skype) that invited me. I asked people to help me reach a goal and to become part of a community of readers.

Read the story of how her challenge succeeded in a way much bigger than she had expected. I’m always glad to hear about authors who welcome interaction with readers because they know that, without readers, their books don’t amount to much.

Nomi Eve’s first novel is The Family Orchard.

J.K. Rowling reveals why she created alter ego Robert Galbraith

In the Los Angeles Times Michael Schaub expands on an interview by J.K. Rowling with NPR about why she chose to publish her mystery series under a pseudonym:

“[T]here was a phenomenal amount of pressure that went with being the writer of Harry Potter, and that aspect of publishing those books I do not particularly miss,” Rowling said. “So you can probably understand the appeal of going away and creating something very different, and just letting it stand or fall on its own merits.”

Rowling’s first novel for adults, The Casual Vacancy, published under her own name, received mediocre reviews.

Her most recent novel, Career of Evil, published as Robert Galbraith, is the third in the mystery series that features Cormoran Strike, an army veteran with a prosthetic leg who is the son of a rock star. The two earlier novels in the series are The Cuckoo’s Calling and The Silkworm.

You can hear hear the NPR interview here.

11 Must-Read Books Coming This Month

My own TBR (to be read) list is so long that any suggestions of new books to add makes me scream and tear out my hair. But if you need some additions to your own list or suggestions of books to gift this holiday season, this article is for you.

Read why Diana Le describes these as “November’s must-read books”:

  1. Make ‘Em Laugh by Debbie Reynolds and Dorian Hannaway
  2. Soundless by Richelle Mead
  3. Unstoppable by Bill Nye
  4. Simply Nigella: Feel Good Food by Nigella Lawson
  5. Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes
  6. Young Elizabeth: The Making of the Queen by Kate Williams
  7. Boys in the Trees: A Memoir by Carly Simon
  8. The Grownup by Gillian Flynn
  9. Dear Mr. You by Mary-Louise Parker
  10. The Emperor of Sound by Timbaland
  11. Hello? by Liza Wiemer
  12. The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende

I have reproduced this list exactly as it appears on the internet, which means that observant readers will find a dozen books here, not just 11.

A cookbook, biography, memoir, adult and YA fiction: there’s something for everybody here.

2 News Tidbits for Today

I was excited to read that CBS is bringing to life yet another Star Trek series. When I stopped in at Twitter, I was surprised to see that lots of other people were excited about it, too.

My husband and I were avid fans of the original series Star Trek. We watched the reruns so many times that as soon as the episode began, we’d tell each other the plot and recite the episode’s most memorable lines. I wrote earlier that we had visited Star Trek: The Exhibition at the Washington State Fair.

Star Trek: The Next GenerationDespite our love for the original series, we had not kept up with all the subsequent related TV shows, although we did see all the movies. Our visit to the exhibition got us started watching Star Trek: The Next Generation on Netflix, although we’re still in the first season.

So yes, I was excited to read about a new installment of the Star Trek franchise. The Atlantic covers the announcement of the new show here. According to this article, “Come January 2017, CBS says, the new show will be the backbone of its subscription-only ‘All Access’ service.”

And that’s the catch: The show will be available only on CBS All Access, the network’s subscription streaming service. All Access currently allows access to more than 7,500 episodes of CBS shows, both past and present, including the various Star Trek series. The service now costs $5.99 a month.

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I love mystery novels because the best of them probe the depths of the human heart and mind. And one of my favorite mystery novelists is Michael Connelly.

Amazon Series: BOSCHWhen Amazon Prime developed a series around Connelly’s most famous character, L.A. homicide detective Harry Bosch, I was reservedly excited. If the shows were well done, they could be great; but if they weren’t well done, I’d be terribly disappointed to see one of my favorite literary characters trashed. I’m delighted to report that the first season of Amazon’s series Bosch succeeded in presenting Bosch as he is in Connelly’s books. The choice of Titus Welliver to portray the detective was a stroke of genius: He truly channelled Harry Bosch.

This morning in my daily journey around the social media universe I came across this article on the web site of Michael Koryta. Koryta says he has known Michael Connelly for many years, since an editor to whom Koryta had submitted a novel manuscript gave him this advice on plotting:

“Re-read Michael Connelly to see how it’s done right.” I re-read them and I’d urge any would-be crime writer to do the same. I’d urge anyone who simply enjoys reading good fiction to try Michael’s work.

Embedded in this article I found this bit of good news: “Season 2 of BOSCH is coming off a smashing success of a debut season.” Now I’m eagerly awaiting the announcement that the new episodes are available for streaming. I hope Amazon puts them all up at once, because this is one series that deserves binge streaming.

Cover: The Crossing by Michael ConnellyBosch is a cop with a complex moral compass, the crux of which is the mantra “everybody matters or nobody matters.” One of Connelly’s other recurring characters is Mickey Haller, the Lincoln Lawyer, who defends the sleaziest criminals as long as they can afford to pay him. Bosch and Haller happen to be half-brothers, a fact that Bosch didn’t find out until well into his adult life.

In Connelly’s latest novel, The Crossing, Harry Bosch has retired from the police force; he teams up with Haller in defense of Haller’s client, but not without feeling that he has crossed over to the dark side. The Crossing has already been released in the U.K. Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand, and will be released in the U.S.A. and Canada tomorrow (November 3, 2015). I’ve already preordered my copy.

(Photo of BOSCH production studio at top of post
from michaelconnelly.com)

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