One of the most talked-about books of the summer, Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, has an official cover. HarperCollins unveiled the jacket of the book, with president and publisher of general books Michael Morrison noting that the design “draws on the style of the decade the book was written, but with a modern twist.”
Puget Sound seems to be a center of fandom for what’s often called speculative fiction. For one thing, Tacoma was the home of Frank Herbert, author of the 1965 science fiction classic “Dune.”
In 2015, the calendar is filled with fan functions devoted to science fiction and fantasy from Emerald City Comicon, in Seattle from Friday through Sunday, to Tacoma’s Jet City Comic Show in October
In the Tacoma newspaper The News Tribune, Craig Sailor interviews Brett Rogers, assistant professor of classics at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma. Rogers “pursues a wide range of subjects that include Homer and classical drama, superhero narratives and ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer.’”
Rogers and colleague Ben Stevens recently published The Once and Future Antiquity: Classical Traditions in Science Fiction and Fantasy, a book of essays about the links between the ancient classics and present day science fiction and fantasy.
This Friday and Saturday the University of Puget Sound will host a conference that focuses on “all things related to speculative fiction.”
Asked how he defines science fiction, Rogers replied that it’s not just about robots and space travel:
We’re more interested in how science fiction is not product oriented, cyborgs (for example), but process oriented — the way it gets people to think differently and imaginatively about their interaction with the world.
Rogers says he doesn’t believe in rigid definitions for terms such as science fiction, fantasy, and speculative fiction. To Sailor’s question of what science fiction and fantasy allow us to do that regular fiction does not, Rogers replied that many people say they allow us to run thought experiments: If you have different starting premises, how might things turn out differently? Mystery and wonder, a way to explore the unknown, are other aspects of the power of speculative fiction, according to Rogers.
This year is the 50th anniversary of Tacoma writer Frank Herbert’s Dune. Rogers praised Herbert’s ability at creating a complete world: “What Tolkien does with elves and dwarves and dragons, Herbert does with prophetic powers and spice that is mined from the desert planet of Arrakis.” Rogers also says that Herbert plays with narrative structure in the novel in a way that challenges readers’ expectations. By presenting various parts of the narrative from different characters’ points of view, Herbert requires readers to put the various pieces of the story together.
In addition to this weekend’s conference at UPS in Tacoma, the Emerald City Comicon will take place Friday through Sunday at the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle. Tickets for Comicon are sold out.
Mary Ann Gwinn reports that spring used to be a quiet time for publishing, but not any more. Here she lists notable books to be published between March and June, including the following:
- Fiction by Kazuo Ishiguro, Sara Gruen, Toni Morrison, Kate Atkinson, Jane Smiley, Neal Stephenson, Judy Blume, Stephanie Kallos, and Stephen King
- Nonfiction by Robert Putnam, Tony Angell, David Brooks, David McCullough, Val McDermid, Willie Nelson, and Oliver Sacks
The finalists for the prestigious literary award the Man Booker International Prize were announced on Tuesday by the chair of judges, Marina Warner, in South Africa at the University of Cape Town. The Man Booker International Prize recognizes an author’s achievement through a body of work covering the writer’s career. Previous winners include American novelist Philip Roth, Canadian writer Alice Munro, and the late Chinua Achebe.
Here is the list of finalists:
- Mia Couto of Mozambique
- Marlene van Niekerk of South Africa
- Ibrahim al-Koni of Libya
- Alain Mabanckou of the Republic of Congo
- Cesar Aira of Argentina
- Maryse Conde of Guadeloupe
- Amitav Ghosh of India
- Fanny Howe of the United States of America
- Laszlo Krasznahorkai of Hungary
- Hoda Barakat of Lebanon
“This is a most interesting and enlightening list of finalists,” said Jonathan Taylor, chairman of the Booker Prize Foundation. “It brings attention to writers from far and wide, so many of whom are in translation. As a result, our reading lists will surely be hugely expanded.”
The prize is 60,000 pounds, or about $90,000. The winner will be announced in London on May 19.
Now the State of Alabama has been drawn into the debate. Responding to at least one complaint of potential elder abuse related to the publication of “Watchman,” investigators interviewed Ms. Lee last month at the assisted living facility where she resides. They have also interviewed employees at the facility, called the Meadows, as well as several friends and acquaintances.
The debate over whether Harper Lee is capable of consenting to the publication of her first novel, the forerunner of To Kill a Mockingbird, has intensified.
Last week’s announcement that another novel by Harper Lee, author of the beloved classic To Kill a Mockingbird, had been discovered and would be published in July stirred up a lot of controversy and questions. The recently discovered novel is titled Go Set a Watchman. Lee wrote this novel, set 20 years after the events in Mockingbird, first, but her publisher suggested that she rework the flashback sections into a new novel set at the time of the crucial events and narrated from the perspective of the young girl. That reworking became Mockingbird, narrated by the young Jean Louise “Scout” Finch.
Much of the uproar about news of the new novel involved questions of whether Harper Lee, now 88 years old, reportedly nearly blind and deaf, and living in an assisted-care facility, was mentally competent to participate in the decision to publish the discovered manuscript. Over the years Lee has repeatedly told people that she had said all she had to say in that book and would not be publishing another novel. The questioning was exacerbated when Tonja Carter, Lee’s attorney and the reported discoverer of the old manuscript, refused to answer inquiries or furnish more information.
This article reports that yesterday (Saturday) Carter finally answered questions through text messages and email:
Answering questions on Saturday through both emails and text messages, Ms. Carter said that Ms. Lee is “extremely hurt and humiliated” at the suggestion that she had been duped.
“She is a very strong, independent and wise woman who should be enjoying the discovery of her long lost novel,” Ms. Carter said. “Instead, she is having to defend her own credibility and decision making.”
Much of the concern over the sudden announcement of the discovery of the manuscript was over Carter herself, who has become the gatekeeper over all issues involving Harper Lee, including who is allowed to visit her. Many sources have reported that Carter is really no johnny-come-lately to the scene. She worked at the law firm run by Alice Lee, Harper’s older sister who died last fall, and handled the settlement of Alice Lee’s will. But her initial refusal to provide more information about the discovery and planned publication of Harper Lee’s old manuscript raised questions:
Asked why she had not provided more detail about the discovery, which might have quelled suspicions, she said: “I am a lawyer, not a celebrity. The focus should be on the gift Harper Lee is giving the world.”
While some acquaintances of Harper Lee remain concerned over possible exploitation, others report that Lee is aware of and supports the publication of the novel that she thought had been lost.
When Ms. Carter revealed her discovery to Ms. Lee in August, the author was shocked, Ms. Carter recalled. Ms. Lee immediately asked her friend to repeat herself. Ms. Carter reiterated that she had found a novel, calling the book “Go Set the Watchman.” She was swiftly corrected: “It’s ‘Go Set a Watchman,’ ” Ms. Lee said.
Yesterday’s announcement that Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, would publish a second novel this July rocked the literary world. Here’s a collection of articles on the significance of the news.
Alexandra Alter reports in the books section of The New York Times that Harper Lee, now 88, “wrote another novel after all — a sequel of sorts to “To Kill a Mockingbird,” featuring an aging Atticus Finch and his grown daughter, Scout.”
This 304-page novel, Go Set a Watchman, takes place 20 years after the events depicted in To Kill a Mockingbird in the same fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama. In this follow-up novel an adult Jean Louise Finch, Scout from Mockingbird, returns to visit her father. The novel “tackles the racial tensions brewing in the South in the 1950s and delves into the complex relationship between father and daughter.”
Lee wrote Watchman first, but her publisher liked the flashbacks featuring the younger Scout and told Lee to rewrite the book as a tale of the events narrated from the point of view of the young girl. The rewritten version became Mockingbird.
“I was a first-time writer, so I did as I was told,” Ms. Lee said in a statement released by her publisher.
Reportedly, Harper Lee thought that her original manuscript for Watchman had been destroyed. But last fall her friend and attorney, Tonja Carter, discovered it hidden among Lee’s papers.
Charles J. Shields, the author of a biography of Ms. Lee that was published by Henry Holt in 2006, said he had come across references to “Go Set a Watchman” in Ms. Lee’s early correspondence with her literary agent. “’I figured it was an early draft of To Kill a Mockingbird.’ ” Mr. Shields said. He also saw references from Ms. Lee’s editor to repeated revisions of “To Kill A Mockingbird,” as she tried telling the story from three different perspectives.
Alter quotes Shields as wondering whether Lee’s original writing in Watchman will hold up against Mockingbird, which was the product of heavy editing.
Literary critics and historians have long wondered why Lee never published another novel. Lee has shunned public appearances for decades, saying that the publicity surrounding her famous novel overwhelmed her and that she had said all she has to say in that novel.
Harper Lee issued a statement expressing her delight at the upcoming publication at the time of the announcement. But many people were surprised by the recent announcement and question whether the author had much say in it. Harper Lee has always been protective of the legacy of her famous novel. She suffered a stroke in 2007 and has been living in an assisted-living facility. Her older sister, Alice Lee, previously acted as her attorney and has handled legal issues involving unlicensed infringements on the novel. Alice Lee died last year.
Jonathan Burnham, senior vice president and publisher of Harper, the company that will publish Watchman, says that he never spoke about the deal with Harper Lee directly but communicated with her through Carter, her current attorney, and Andrew Nurnberg, her literary agent. “The statement Ms. Lee provided expressing her delight that the new novel will finally be published was delivered through her lawyer, Mr. Burnham said.”
Russell Berman interviewed Harper publisher Jonathan Burnham about the discovery and publication of Harper Lee’s new novel. This edited version of their discussion appears on The Atlantic’s web site.
When asked about how the manuscript of Go Set a Watchman was found, Burnham replied:
It was found in this safe location near Harper Lee’s home. It was attached to an original copy of the manuscript of To Kill A Mockingbird. Harper Lee’s lawyer and friend, Tonja Carter, discovered it, sort of picked up the manuscript and flipped through it and then saw that some of the scenes and characters in the book had no relation to Mockingbird and realized it was actually two different books. This was the first time the manuscript had been found since heaven-knows-when. Harper Lee lost track of it in the ’60s.
Here’s what Burnham said when asked about Harper Lee’s reaction to the discovery of the manuscript she thought had been lost:
She was thrilled. She believed it to have been lost. She was delighted it was found. She’s always been a self-critical writer, so she shared it with some close friends and advisers, and they told her that it was extremely and eminently publishable. So she was thrilled. She’s very much engaged in the process, and she’s happy that it’s coming out. She knows that today’s the announcement date. She won’t be doing publicity for the book. She never has done—well, she hasn’t done any interviews since 1964, so that probably won’t change.
And here’s what Burnham had to say when asked about Harper Lee’s health, including reports that she is now blind and deaf:
Well I can only report that her agent spent a couple of days with her in January down in Alabama and described her to us as feisty and full of good spirits. She’s a fanatical reader. She reads all the time. She just started reading a biography of Queen Victoria by A.N. Wilson—just embarked on. So, no, she’s in fine fettle, by reports.
In answer to the question about how much editing the manuscript needs, Burnham replied that it’s a finished and polished work that will need only light copy editing. “So it’s not going to go through any extensive editorial process,” he added.
Jay Reeves reports for the Associated Press on the reaction in Harper Lee’s hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, to the announcement of the upcoming publication of a new novel.
In the small Alabama town author Harper Lee made famous with “To Kill a Mockingbird,” the Southern classic novel can be seen and felt everywhere.
Signs in Monroeville are decorated with mockingbirds. The old courthouse, a model for the movie version of the book, is now a museum that sells souvenirs including coffee cups, aprons and Christmas ornaments. A statue in the town square and a mural decorating the side of a building depict characters who inhabited a fictional version of the town Lee called “Maycomb, Alabama.”
“Monroeville calls itself the “Literary Capital of Alabama,” a designation bestowed by the state Legislature in the late 1990s.” Other literary lights who lived in the city are Truman Capote, most famous for In Cold Blood, and editorialist Cynthia Tucker, winner of the Pulitzer Prize.
Since the closing of the Vanity Fair mill and outlet nearly 20 years ago, tourism based on To Kill a Mockingbird has been Monroeville’s main source of income.
The nonprofit Monroe County Heritage Museum opens the old courthouse to visitors and features a display about Lee’s life in her own words. Fans can sit in the courtroom balcony depicted in the Academy Award-winning screen version of the book.
Area residents put on a play based on the book each spring, holding the first act of sold-out performances on the courthouse lawn, then taking patrons inside for the climactic courtroom scenes. While visitors are few in shops right now, they’ll return once winter is over.
In another article on The Atlantic web site, Megan Garber looks closely at the issue of why Harper Lee has now changed her mind about the publication of a second novel:
Harper Lee, née and known to those close to her as Nelle, spent the majority of her life not wanting Go Set a Watchman to be published. Or, at least, she has spent the majority of her life telling the media that she didn’t want Go Set a Watchman to be published.
Lee once told Oprah Winfrey, over a (private) lunch, why she’d never appear on her show: While people tended to compare her to Scout, she explained, “I’m really Boo.”
Boo is Boo Radley, the Finches’ reclusive neighbor in To Kill a Mockingbird.
Garber speculates on why Harper Lee has now changed her mind:
perhaps Lee, alive but ill, is being treated the way so many deceased authors are: as ideas rather than people, as brands and businesses rather than messy collections of doubts and desires.
Finally, another report by Associated Press writer Jay Reeves raises serious questions about Harper Lee’s competence to participate in the decision to publish her other novel, Go Set a Watchman, after all these years. Reeves reports on two friends of the Lee family who observed Harper Lee at the funeral of her older sister, Alice Lee, last November:
Grieving, ill and seated in a wheelchair, Lee talked loudly to herself at awkward times during the service for her beloved older sister and attorney, Alice, according to two family friends who attended the November service. Lee mumbled in a manner that shocked some in attendance, said one of the friends.
The Feud Between Amazon, Hachette Publishing, and Readers Heats Up
It’s difficult to keep up with all the nuances of this issue. Here are a couple of recent articles:
Maybe Amazon really is rattled by the whole Authors United phenomenon organized by Douglas Preston. The writers are encouraging their readers to email Jeff Bezos, the Amazon chief executive, and tell him to stop holding books hostage as the company negotiates with Hachette Book Group.
Late Friday, Amazon unveiled Readers United, and encouraged e-book buyers to email the chief executive of Hachette, whose address was helpfully provided.
In introducing the group, Amazon made the same arguments it has been making in the last few weeks: e-books need to be cheaper and Hachette is robbing readers by preventing this from happening.
And read how, according to this article, Amazon has misrepresented the views of George Orwell.
And here’s the view from Amazon’s own hometown newspaper, The Seattle Times:
In this city famous for its independent bookstores and pungent coffee shops — brick-and-mortar institutions that value touch, taste and long, rainy afternoons — a high-profile conflict about the business of selling e-books has left many readers feeling conflicted.
Their dilemma: balancing an addiction to the convenient and wallet-friendly services of the local Internet giant with their devotion to the local literary culture.
When some think of Persian literature, their minds might immediately turn to the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. There’s much more than that, of course, and this online exhibition from the Library of Congress explores over a millennium of Persian printed works. Designed to complement an in situ exhibit, the sections here include The Persian Language, Writing Systems and Scripts, Religion, and Science and Technology. Each section contains a narrative essay, along with examples of illuminated manuscripts and other relevant pieces of historical ephemera. First-time visitors shouldn’t miss The Epic of Shahnameh area. Here, they can learn about this epic poem that recounts the history of pre-Islamic Persia or Iransahr (Greater Iran). All told, it contains 990 chapters with 50,000 rhyming couplets.
From The Scout Report, Copyright Internet Scout 1994–2014. https://www.scout.wisc.edu
Interesting remarks from one of my favorite authors, Val McDermid, on the task of updating Jane Austen’s novel in a modern setting.
Rowling’s publicist, Rebecca Salt, confirmed Friday that the British writer sent a letter and package to 15-year-old Cassidy Stay, but she declined to describe their contents, saying it was a private matter. Rowling spokesman Mark Hutchinson also said the gesture “and how it came about are private and between her and Cassidy.”
A sliver of blue sky in a horrific landscape.
But I’m not ready to make up a fall reading list. I’m still woefully behind on my summer list.
And so it goes…
In the new novel Aspen by Rebekah Crane, the teenage title character is an awkward, artsy kid who gets into a car accident that kills the most popular girl at school. The book traces the bizarre fallout in her Boulder, Colorado, community, as well as Aspen’s relationship with her stoner mom. But unlike the typical after school-special YA fare, the drug part of the tale isn’t entirely cautionary.
There’s been a lot of discussion lately about the lack of diversity in books for children and young adults. Here’s a look at publisher In This Together Media of Denver, whose mission is “offering more diverse, realistic, unwhitewashed representations of kids, especially girls, in YA and middle-grade literature.”
The following list is composed of male characters in literature that have been brought to the screen by some of the greatest actors of all time. While this list represents a group of wildly different men — good guys and bad guys, heroes and antiheroes — all of these compelling characters address complicated issues regarding masculinity while taking on the delicate task of transferring a character from the page to celluloid.
See if you agree with the following choices:
- Sam Spade, The Maltese Falcon
- Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird
- Tyler Durden, Fight Club
- Stanley Kowalski, A Streetcar Named Desire
- Randle “Mac” McMurphy, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
- Rhett Butler, Gone With the Wind
- Sherlock Holmes
- Tom Joad, Grapes of Wrath
The editors at BuzzFeed choose the first strong female characters they related to as illustrating Nora Ephron’s directive “Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.”
Tom Robbins, the hyperimaginative author of “Another Roadside Attraction,” “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues” and “Still Life with Woodpecker,” discusses his new memoir, “Tibetan Peach Pie.”
Robbins discusses life’s epiphanies and the influence of his southern childhood.
We’ve hit a turning point in our understanding of autism, but I think it comes from literature, not science. Not to downplay the science: The newest studies on amino acid deficiencies, faulty neurotransmitters, and disruptions in the cortex may shine light on the whys of the disorder. But to find out the whats — what it’s like to be autistic, from the inside — there’s now a critical mass of books written by those on the spectrum. They are extraordinary, moving, and jeweled with epiphanies.
In The Boston Globe, Katharine Whittemore discusses these books:
- The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism by Naoki Higashida, translated into English by K.A. Yoshida
- Thinking in Pictures, Expanded Edition: My Life with Autism by Temple Grandin
- Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s by Augusten Burroughs
- Life, Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes, and Autism by Ron Suskind
- The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
- The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
- Born on a Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant by Daniel Tammet
Miguel de Cervantes, Spain’s greatest writer, was a soldier of little fortune. He died broke in Madrid, his body riddled with bullets. His burial place was a tiny convent church no larger than the entrance hall of an average house.
No more was heard of the 16th century author until the rediscovery of a novel featuring an eccentric character called Don Quixote rescued him from oblivion.
By then, nobody could remember where his grave was. Four centuries later, Spain intends to do the great man justice.
Preeti Chhibber, who works in marketing for HarperCollins, writes on BookRiot that “there are inherent racial issues that exist inside publishing a book with multicultural themes written by a person who doesn’t have a historical connection to that culture or race.” For example:
A few weeks ago, the news broke that Simon & Schuster would be publishing a prequel to Gone With the Wind, called Ruth’s Journey. This book is going to be about Mammy. This book is going to be written by a 73-year-old white man named Donald McCraig.
There are, she says, really two issues here: “The first issue is diversity. The second issue is authenticity of voice.”
We want diverse characters written by everyone, and we want enough writers of color that come to mind just as easily as white authors. We have to stop defaulting to white writers, from both the publisher’s and the reader’s perspective. And we have to stop seeing multicultural characters as an anomaly. I want to see those characters in my literary fiction, in my sci-fi, in my historical fiction. And I want stories of their lives and their cultures.
The Telegraph [U.K.] presents the best books from the science fiction and fantasy genres
This is quite a varied list. Since I don’t read a lot of fantasy or science fiction, I was surprised at how many of the books on this list I’ve read.
And be sure to look at the comments, which will suggest many more titles to add to your TBR list.
No matter what the title under discussion, book lovers almost inevitably say, “The book was better than the movie.”
But visual media—film and television—are very different from books, because our brains process written and visual material differently. Therefore, changes from the book in the film or TV versions are often necessary for a successful adaptation.
Of course there are also times when the film or TV version makes wholesale changes in the book that aren’t necessary for the adaptation between formats. For example, in his film of David Baldacci’s novel Absolute Power, Clint Eastwood changed the whole story line. The reason? Eastwood starred as the lead character, who is killed about midway through the book. This plot change wrecked the whole point of the book. But it’s no surprise that Eastwood would not want the character he portrayed eliminated so early. Hence the change.
I have not read Game of Thrones nor watched the HBO series. Nevertheless, I found this discussion of differences between the books and the TV shows informative. What do you think?
Over at Lovely Literature bloggers Ashley and Anne have each compiled a fun list of despicable characters.
Are there any other literary characters you’d add?
From NPR comes a delightful tale of how Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer, came to be, first in a story, then in a song, and finally in a movie.
A federal judge has issued a declarative judgment stating that Holmes, Dr. John Watson, 221B Baker Street, the dastardly Professor Moriarty and other elements included in the 50 Holmes works that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle published before Jan. 1, 1923, are no longer covered by U.S. copyright law and can therefore be freely used by others without paying any licensing fee to the writer’s estate.
This article provides some insight into the complex workings of copyright law in the United States.
According to the article, all of the Sherlock Holmes are in the public domain in Britain.
The BBC reports:
Archaeologists have discovered “as much as they can” about the house where William Shakespeare spent his final years, the project leader says.
The house, called New Place, was built in 1483. Shakespeare bought it in 1597. In the eighteenth century the house was demolished and a new house built. Experts believe they have now separated the newer building’s features from those of the older house inhabited by Shakespeare. According to the project director:
“We have identified pretty accurately the footprint of Shakespeare’s New Place and can say what kind of activities would have gone on in the rooms, such as the brew house, which ran down the side of the house, and the kitchens.”
The article contains photos of the restoration project and links to related news stories.
What’s old is new again in the pages of “Poor Yorick: A Journal of Rediscovered Objects.”
If you like to write and pursue other creative endeavors, you’ll want to learn more about this new literary publication from Western Connecticut State University in Danbury. It’s connected with the school’s master of fine arts program in creative and professional writing, and is a free, online journal that’s now taking submissions.
“Poor Yorick” will publish poems, stories, essays, profiles, digital video shorts, photo-essays and other innovative works. The thing is, they have to be about or inspired by rediscovered objects and/or images of material culture.