Last Week’s Links

On Novels and Novelists

My 10 Favorite Books: Michael Cunningham

Author MIchael Cunningham lists the 10 (really 11) books he’d want with him if he were stranded on a deserted island.

The Author of ‘The Nest’ on How She Got Up the Courage to Write

the nestHere’s an interview with Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, author of the hit novel The Nest, which I read last month.

Sweeney decided to go back to school for an MFA in fiction writing at the age of 50. She’s currently writing the screenplay for the feature film version of her novel.

Grave Disruptions: Elizabeth Little interviews Laura Lippman

Laura Lippman is the New York Times –bestselling author of the Edgar Award–winning Tess Monaghan series and nine acclaimed standalone mysteries. A graduate of Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, Lippman worked for 20 years as a reporter, including 12 at the Baltimore Sun.

Elizabeth Little interviews Laura Lippman, whose latest novel is the stand-alone mystery Wilde Lake.

Kurt Vonnegut Diagrams the Shape of All Stories in a Master’s Thesis Rejected by U. Chicago

“What has been my prettiest contribution to the culture?” asked Kurt Vonnegut in his autobiography Palm Sunday. His answer? His master’s thesis in anthropology for the University of Chicago, “which was rejected because it was so simple and looked like too much fun.” The elegant simplicity and playfulness of Vonnegut’s idea is exactly its enduring appeal. The idea is so simple, in fact, that Vonnegut sums the whole thing up in one elegant sentence: “The fundamental idea is that stories have shapes which can be drawn on graph paper, and that the shape of a given society’s stories is at least as interesting as the shape of its pots or spearheads.”

This piece, which features an infographic, also includes a short video of Vonnegut explaining his ideas. There are also links to other articles about Vonnegut.

© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

Recent articles on novels and novelists

THE WILDS OF MONTANA MIGHT BE THE SCARIEST CHARACTER OF ALL

Antonia Malchik writes of the role of setting in Karin Salvalaggio’s mystery novels:

The northwest Montana brought to life in Karin Salvalaggio’s mystery novels has a great deal in common with Hansel and Gretel’s unkind world. Silent, pine-filled mountains offer a hefty dose of frisson, and remind us that in the best mysteries the role of place as character is essential but subtle. From the national parks that form the setting for every one of Nevada Barr’s Anna Pigeon mysteries to the idyllic Three Pines village full of discomfiting undertones in Louise Penny’s acclaimed Inspector Gamache series, literary mystery novels in particular rely on place to create atmosphere and challenge their protagonists.

The Trouble with Knausgaard

Writer Annette Gendler takes issue with Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard’s project, which he calls an autobiographical novel. He calls the work autobiographical because he uses the real names of people in his life and writes about actual events that have happened to them. But he also calls it a novel, which suggests that what he’s writing may—or may not—be fictional. Gendler objects to this blurring of the line between fiction and truth, between fiction and memoir:

His novel is about him, his wife, his kids, his friends, and other relatives: real people using real names. He’s telling stories not only about himself that might be true or not, but he’s doing the same with the people in his life. None of these real people has any recourse over what’s being said about them because, after all, it’s a novel. A novelist is not going to be raked over the coals — like James Frey was — for inventing or embellishing facts.

ACTUALLY, ALL WRITERS STEAL

In a good companion piece to Gendler’s, novelist Rufi Thorpe insists that all writers, including novelists, steal details from their lives:

I had always wondered, as a student of literature, why so many authors made a point of how completely non-autobiographical their work was. I had thought it was because they were proud of their imaginations. But the older I get, the more I suspect it was to ward off the hurt feelings of every person they had ever known.

She admits:

I do not write plots that are autobiographical, or even biographical of the people I have known. But I do steal details. I steal them obsessively. In fact, it is possible that my entire career writing fiction is in fact a fanatical love affair with detail. I steal houses, bowls on counters, perfumes and scents, phrases, anecdotes, realizations, jokes, car accidents, dogs, meals, clothes, plants. It is a metaphysical form of kleptomania.

On Reading ‘Portrait of the Artist’ as a Young Man

On the 100th anniversary of the publication of James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Karl Ove Knausgaard writes about the work’s significance:

What appeared at the time to be unprecedented about the novel seems more mundane to us today, whereas what then came across as mundane now seems unprecedented. Joyce’s novel remains vital, in contrast to almost all other novels published in 1916, because he forcefully strived toward an idiosyncratic form of expression, a language intrinsic to the story he wanted to tell, about the young protagonist, Stephen Dedalus, and his formative years in Dublin, in which uniqueness was the very point and the question of what constitutes the individual was the issue posed.

© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown

On Novels and Novelists

A Little Life author Hanya Yanagihara: ’Writing can be lonely’

In an article for the U.K. publication Telegraph, Hanya Yanagihara discusses her life and the books that have influenced her:

My first book, The People in the Trees, took 18 years to write, largely because there were years when I wrote nothing. But A Little Life took just 18 months: I was very disciplined. When you’re in the zone of the book you want to stay there – it’s simply about finding time.

Writing can be lonely but it’s a wonderful kind of aloneness. I often reach a point where the world I am creating seems more vivid than the world I occupy.

OTTO PENZLER: WHAT TO READ IN MYSTERY AND CRIME

I’m a big fan of mystery and crime novels, so I couldn’t pass up a list by the godfather of crime writing himself:

Each month, I’ll be recommending five works of mystery/crime/suspense fiction, new or old, with no agenda other than to share a distillation of more than a half-century of avid reading in this most distinguished literary category.

This is Penzler’s list from March. If you click his linked name at the top of the page, you’ll be taken to a page with a link to his April list.

ON BEING THE “OLDEST LIVING DEBUT NOVELIST”

the nest

Each time a new book gets snatched up for a lot of money, its author winds up getting a lot of attention. This year’s spokesmodel is Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, whose debut novel The Nest was won by Ecco in a hot auction; Sweeney walked away with seven figures. Since her story is about a family inheritance, it’s kind of wonderful that she now has a nest egg of her own.

Sweeney, 55, recently earned an MFA from Bennington College. Although she now lives in Los Angeles with her family, she spent 27 years in New York City, the setting of her novel. She majored in journalism in college, then took a job in corporate communications.

Among other revelations in this interview, you’ll find out which fiction authors have most influenced her.

WAR NARRATIVES #6: THE RUMPUS INTERVIEW WITH PHIL KLAY

In 2014, Phil Klay published Redeployment, his collection of short stories set in and about the war in Iraq. Each of the twelve short stories looks at the war from a different perspective. Together they make up one of the most powerful literary collections coming out of the recent wars. Redeployment received the National Book Award for fiction in 2014, making it the first short story collection to receive the award since 1996. We spoke with Klay about what he was trying to explore and how his work contributed to the larger cultural conversation about the war and—more importantly—human nature.

Klay studied history, English, and creative writing at Dartmouth College before joining the Marine Corps, where he served as a public affairs officer. He points out, “I think sometimes when a vet writes a novel about war there is a tendency to read it autobiographically, but I didn’t do anything that any of the characters in the book do.”

About the theme of the book, he says:

I was interested in the way people choose to define themselves, the way they choose to fit into broader cultural narratives, and also the slippage between broader cultural narratives and lived experience—how that can either help people find a sense of meaning and purpose and community, or it can cut people off.

© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown

On Novels and Novelists

Alexander Chee

Alexander Chee’s second novel, the recently published The Queen of the Night, is about “famous opera singer Lilliet Berne, following her as she survives brothels, prisons, and imperial palaces in Second Empire and Third Republic France.”

Here Nick Mancusi interviews Chee about Historical Fiction (“capital H capital F”), fiction in general, the source of characters and ideas, how this novel found its shape, and why it took 13 years to complete.

Novelist explains how psychology training honed his writing

Jonathan Kellerman is a clinical psychologist and the author of several compelling mystery novels featuring child psychologist Alex Delaware. The latest novel in the series is the recently published Breakdown. In this article he talks about his two professions:

“Psychology and fiction are actually quite synchronous,” he said. “But the truth is that writers of fiction are born, they aren’t made, and I was one of those kids who wrote compulsively from a very young age. It was always just something I loved to do. I won’t even call it a hobby because it’s more than that, it was just part of me.”

Maybe writing is in his genes. His wife, Faye Kellerman, is also a best-selling novelist. So is their son, Jesse, and their youngest daughter, Aliza, has published a novel cowritten with her mother. Eldest daughter Rachel also has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, and second daughter Ilana is a graduate student in clinical psychology.

Asked what advice he’d give to aspiring writers, he answered:

“Be curious, experience life — and just write. I’ve no sympathy for people who say ‘I’d do it if I had time,’” he said. “The Talmud talks about setting a permanent place and time to study. Consistency counts. In the end, the secret of writing is to be a tortoise, not a hare.”

Michael Cunningham prefers shorter books with lots of voice

Michael Cunningham’s novel The Hours, based on Virginia Woolf’s book Mrs. Dalloway, won the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. More recently, he has published A Wild Swan: And Other Tales, a collection of retellings of classic fairy tales.

In light of my recent discussions on this blog about Big Books, I was interested in his answer to the question of whether the length of a novel influences him as a reader:

No, because years ago I released myself from any obligation to finish a book, which was revelatory. I used to hesitate over an 800-page tome. If I didn’t like it then I would be sentenced to it for months and months. Now I fearlessly pick up a book of any length though I am a little more inclined to shorter ones. I’ve read some novels lately, popular ones, which should have been a third shorter. If a book needs to be 850 pages long, that’s how long it should be. Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” is not too long. But there are some novels out there that are weighing in at 700 to 800 pages that shouldn’t. I’m a bit surprised there is a vogue for these long books when we don’t have any time.

Yes, that sums it up nicely.

10 Great Novels of the Rural

Author Michelle Hoover writes:

I tend to work with emotionally repressed personalities. I find their lack of communication fascinating. But repressed emotion needs its outlet, and so my landscapes not only mirror my character’s psyches but bear the displaced weight of the emotion itself.

Hoover compares her writing to that of Willa Cather, whose descriptive passages about the landscape often also depict the psychological make-up of her characters. Hoover adds that her recently published second novel, Bottomland continues this pattern. She offers a list of other novels, all of which take place in the U.S. and were published in the 21st century, that illustrate the same tradition of writing:

  1. Falling to Earth, Kate Southwood
  2. Gilead, Marilynne Robinson
  3. In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods, Matt Bell
  4. The Known World, Edward P. Jones
  5. The Long Man, Amy Greene
  6. The Orchardist, Amanda Coplin
  7. Plainsong, Kent Haruf
  8. Salvage the Bones, Jesmyn Ward
  9. An Unseemly Wife, E.B. Moore
  10. Winter’s Bone, Daniel Woodrell

Jane Eyre and the Invention of the Self

Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel helped introduce the idea of the “modern individual”—a surprisingly radical concept for readers at the time.

Karen Swallow Prior, writing in The Atlantic, explains how Jane Eyre was the first novel to embody the modern concept of the self as an independent individual:

Brontë’s biggest accomplishment wasn’t in plot devices. It was the narrative voice of Jane—who so openly expressed her desire for identity, definition, meaning, and agency—that rang powerfully true to its 19th-century audience. In fact, many early readers mistakenly believed Jane Eyre was a true account (in a clever marketing scheme, the novel was subtitled, “An Autobiography”), perhaps a validation of her character’s authenticity.

“Unable to find her sense of self through others, Jane makes the surprising decision to turn inward,” Prior writes. The novel, with its emphasis on particular human experience, was the perfect vehicle “to shape how readers understood the modern individual.” Brontë’s creation of Jane Eyre came at a pivotal time in history, when external sources of authority were giving way to the concept of internal interpretations of one’s world.

The refusal of such a woman, who lived in such a time, to be silent created a new mold for the self—one apparent not only in today’s Instagram photos, but also more importantly in the collective modern sense that a person’s inner life can allow her to effect change from the inside out.

On Novels and Novelists

Harvey Weinstein Promises His ‘War And Peace’ Miniseries Isn’t Homework

Oscar-winning film producer Harvey Weinstein may be best-known for producing movies like Pulp Fiction, The English Patient and Shakespeare in Love. But the indie film mogul has also been busy producing TV. His latest project is a version of War and Peace, a co-production with the BBC and Lifetime.

The miniseries — which airs simultaneously on A+E, Lifetime and History — is an updated retelling of Leo Tolstoy’s classic Russian novel. And it’s a passion project for Weinstein.

I haven’t been able to watch this yet. By the time I started looking for it, I had already missed the first two episodes. If you’ve seen it, let us know what you think in the comments.

Also, if you know where I can see this from the beginning, please let me know.

Forget the Caucuses: The Politics of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop

Don’t tell Donald Trump, but he’s about to leave a site of conspiracy, government cover-up, and covert funneling of federal money. Even worse, it has to do with literature. Iowa, you see, where Mr. Trump just lost the Republican caucuses to Ted Cruz, is home not just of arguably the most important presidential predictor in the country, but the most important masters program in creative writing. For more than eighty years, the Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa has produced and employed some of the nation’s most celebrated writers, including Flannery O’Connor, Raymond Carver, John Irving, TC Boyle, Michael Cunningham, Ethan Canin, Marilynne Robinson, and Ann Patchett. It also, for a time in the 1960s, was partially funded by the CIA.

If you doubt the relationship between literature, politics, and government, you must read this. It will make your skin crawl.

10 Best Books Set in the American West

Western writer Callan Wink discusses novels set in the Western U.S.:

When I think of the literature of the American West one hallmark of the genre, as I see it, is the way characters are forced to deal with a powerful, often hostile, landscape. In many cases this basic struggle is what drives the narrative or allows the characters to fully realize themselves. It seems like a simple thing—human response to environment. However, the particular realities of this environment—existing as it does, often largely separate from the trappings of humanity—is at the very core of what separates a Western from a New York novel.

See why he chooses these novels, which present “something elemental—the narrative of survival most basic,” as the best:

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
Winter in the Blood by James Welch
The Collected Works of Billy the Kid by Michael Ondaatje
Legends of the Fall by Jim Harrison
Desert Dolitaire by Edward Abbey
The Son) by Philipp Meyer
Cowboys and East Indians
by Nina McConigley
Rock Springs by Richard Ford
Housekeeping by Marilyn Robinson
Close Range by Annie Proulx

This Author Wrote A Beautiful Handwritten Note To Herself As Inspiration

The Huntington Library in Los Angeles, where the papers of Octavia E. Butler reside, is preparing a series of events in honor of the 10th anniversary of Butler’s death.

See here the note of encouragement Butler wrote to herself.

Legendary Children’s Author Celebrates Her 100th Birthday In the Best Way Possible

In honor of Beverly Cleary’s 100th birthday in 2016, the beloved children’s author re-released three of her most beloved books. The celebration doesn’t stop there. Three of her famous admirers have added their own special touches to the volumes as the world celebrates the author’s influence on children’s literature.

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.”

On Novels and Novelists

Writing Tips: James Lee Burke

Usually I would put writing tips from a big-time author under the heading “on writing” rather than “on novels and novelists.” But I’m including these tips from one of my favorite mystery writers, James Lee Burke, here because he has written them out as an essay rather than a list of bullet points.

I’m going to summarize them as a list here, but I encourage you to click on the link above and read the essay as he wrote it.

  • “If [a person] writes for the love of his art and the world and humanity, money and success will find him down the line.”
  • “The best teachers are the books and poems and plays of good writers. For me, that was Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, John Steinbeck, James T. Farrell, Scott Fitzgerald, Tennessee Williams, Robert Penn Warren, Eudora Welty, and Gerard Manley Hopkins.”
  • “I recommend that a beginning writer find a group, either at a community college or university or city library or church, it doesn’t matter, so he can share his work with others.”
  • “The great dialog of the world is all around us, if we’ll only listen. In similar fashion, the great stories are in situations we see everyday.”
  • “If you keep a manuscript at home, its failure is guaranteed.”
  • “You write about what you know. You also write about injustice and you write to make the world a better place.”
  • “I believe talent comes from outside oneself. I also believe it’s a votive gift… . I believe humility in a writer is a necessity rather than a virtue.”
  • “A great artist finds his voice and then uses it in ways others do not.”
  • “If I have learned any wisdom as a writer, it is to say thank you to the people who have helped me on the way.”

The Secret History of One Hundred Years of Solitude

As Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude turns 50, Paul Elie interviews the author’s agent for Vanity Fair. The author died in April 2014, but “interest in Gabo and his great novel is surging.” Elie describes Solitude as “everybody’s favorite work of world literature and the novel that, more than any other since World War II, has inspired novelists of our time—from Toni Morrison to Salman Rushdie to Junot Díaz.”

This article is the story of how Carmen Balcells, who had just sold the English-language rights to García Márquez’s work to U.S. publisher Harper & Row, became the author’s “representative in all the world” for the next 120 years. It’s also the story of how, over 18 months, Garcia Márquez worked obsessively on the manuscript of what would become his signature work.

“Magic realism” became the term for García Márquez’s violation of natural laws through art. And yet the magic of the novel, first and last, is in the power with which it makes the Buendías and their neighbors present to the reader. Reading it, you feel: They are alive; this happened.

Read the story of “ the first book to unify the Spanish-language literary culture, long divided between Spain and Latin America, city and village, colonizers and colonized.”

How Jane Austen’s Emma changed the face of fiction

Emma coverAs I’ve written before, Emma is my favorite of Jane Austen’s novel. In this article John Mullan explains how that novel, written in 1814, “was to change the shape of what is possible in fiction”:

it was revolutionary in its form and technique. Its heroine is a self-deluded young woman with the leisure and power to meddle in the lives of her neighbours. The narrative was radically experimental because it was designed to share her delusions. The novel bent narration through the distorting lens of its protagonist’s mind. Though little noticed by most of the pioneers of fiction for the next century and more, it belongs with the great experimental novels of Flaubert or Joyce or Woolf. Woolf wrote that if Austen had lived longer and written more, “She would have been the forerunner of Henry James and of Proust”. In Emma, she is.

This novel presents a new kind of storytelling, a new relationship between author, character, and reader: “Emma is not telling her own story. We both share her judgments and watch her making them.” Only in the early 20th century did critics begin consistently using a name for this new technique, free indirect style or free indirect discourse:

It describes the way in which a writer imbues a third-person narration with the habits of thought or expression of a fictional character. Before Austen, novelists chose between first-person narrative (letting us into the mind of a character, but limiting us to his or her understanding) and third-person narrative (allowing us a God-like view of all the characters, but making them pieces in an authorial game). Austen miraculously combined the internal and the external.

Now I realize why, when I finished reading Emma for the first time, I turned back to the first page and started all over again. This is the kind of authorial technique that rewards a rereading—or several.

What’s Your Favorite Poem?

I don’t read much poetry, and that’s a shame. If you, like me, could benefit from some poetic recommendations, here’s a list of favorite poems from several writers, including Julian Barnes, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Alan Cumming, and Junot Díaz.

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.

On Novels and Novelists

Think “The Exorcist” Was Just a Horror Movie? The Author Says You’re Wrong.

Here’s an outstanding piece of creative nonfiction about William Peter Blatty, author of the 1971 bestseller The Exorcist, made into a blockbuster movie that remains on most lists of quintessential horror movies.

I remember hearing back when the book came out that it was based on an actual exorcism performed by a Catholic priest in Georgetown in Washington, D.C. But for me, like most other people caught up in the book/movie mania, the supernatural aspects of the story supplanted any religious meaning or significance. This article documents Blatty’s deep Catholic faith, burnished during his attendance at the Jesuit institution Georgetown University in the late 1940s.

In this piece Eddie Dean looks at Blatty’s life story, including his time at Georgetown and later as a Hollywood writer. But all of that is background for Blatty’s latest book, Finding Peter: A True Story of the Hand of Providence and Evidence of Life After Death, released earlier this year by “the conservative publisher Regnery.” In a book that Dean describes as “part memoir and part argument,” Blatty, now 87, describes reassuring and welcome messages that he and his wife periodically receive from their son, Peter, who died in 2006 at age 19. As Blatty explains:

“For so many people of faith,” he says, “our belief in life after death is often a very intense hope—more than a full knowledge of fact—and this book gives them some tangible evidence. My task was to prove to readers that they could trust my word that these things happened. If I wanted to make stuff up, it’d be light years more dramatic than most of the things I’ve experienced.”

This is a great story that demonstrates, Dean says, “Much of what you thought you knew about The Exorcist is wrong.”

The Next Joan Didion?

Ruth Galm, author of the novel Into the Valley, has been compared to Joan Didion, whose early pieces contain “an almost uncanny sense of place that she brings alive” in writing.

In this informative she reveals much about her writing experience and interests. Read, among other facts, why and how the following writers have influenced her work:

  • William Faulkner
  • Jean Rhys
  • Joan Didion

John Irving wrestles with memory in ’Avenue of Mysteries’

Writer Graydon Royce reports on an interview with novelist John Irving, 73, for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The discussion centers on Irving’s latest novel, Avenue of Mysteries:

It is a book about the strength of memory, the mystery of faith, the weariness of age and the caprice of fate. He has spliced together two stories: the present-day trip of writer Juan Diego to the Philippines to carry out a favor to a lost friend, and Juan Diego’s dreams and memories of his childhood, living on the dumps of Oaxaca, Mexico, with a cast of characters that includes his sister, Lupe, who reads minds.

Although this story is different from his others, Royce says, it deals with the same themes that Irving has presented during his more than 40-year career. According to Royce, Irving “sees himself as a 19th-century novelist, dedicated to plot, characters, narrative. He has griped for many years about modern writers who consciously construct wordplays that can be understood only by other writers.”

Here’s my favorite Irving quotation from this article:

“The most autobiographical element in any of my novels is psychological. I do not write about what’s happened to me. I write about what I’m afraid of.”

Visit Ramona Quimby’s Portland

Beverly Cleary grew up in an old farmhouse about 50 miles southwest of Portland, OR. She translated her knowledge of Portland into fictional settings in her books about Ramona Quimby, Beezus, and Henry Huggins.

Here’s a list of real places from the books that you can visit the next time you find yourself in Portland.