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

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

7 Book Franchises We Really Need To Say Goodbye To

Claire Fallon writes in the Huffington Post:

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

Here are the seven series she lists:

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

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

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

How about you?

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

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

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

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

Care to join me?

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

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

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

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

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

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

How To Read A Bad Book By A Great Author

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

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

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

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

On Novels and Novelists

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What novelist Kent Haruf taught me about writing and life

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

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

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

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

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

10 influential pulp novels that are criminally good

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

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

JK Rowling reveals why the Dursleys dislike Harry Potter so much

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

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

Patricia Cornwell, James Patterson, Norman Mailer, J.K. Rowling, Robert Galbraith, Horace Walpole

Guns, gay marriage and a real-life murder: The private life of thriller writer Patricia Cornwell

Patricia Cornwell’s insecurities are rooted in a life story that reads like an over-ripe work of fiction. Married to neuroscientist Staci Gruber Cornwell is more grounded these days

The Henry Ford of Books

The planet’s best-selling author since 2001, James Patterson has more than 300 million copies of his books in print, an army of co-writers, several TV deals in the works, and an estimated income of $90 million last year alone. But where’s the respect? Exploring the contradictions of this one-man publishing conglomerate, Todd S. Purdum learns how Patterson’s childhood and advertising career made him the ultimate storyteller.

The Great American Novel Buried in Norman Mailer’s Letters

Village Voice. Perhaps no writer of his time endured such keen conflict between his personal voice and his literary voice, and that conflict is at the center of “Selected Letters of Norman Mailer,” edited by J. Michael Lennon (who is also the author of a biography of Mailer, “A Double Life”).

J.K. Rowling’s Galbraith books coming to TV

Good news!

The Cuckoo’s Calling and The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling) are coming to BBC One.

Harry Potter author Rowling’s crime novels are being adapted as a series, with filming expected to start in 2015.

The Castle of Otranto: The creepy tale that launched gothic fiction

Tragic tales of doomed romance and supernatural horror, often set in baroque castles, have thrilled readers for centuries. But many modern-day fans of gothic literature may not be familiar with the 18th Century novel that inspired the genre, writes Peter Ray Allison.

Quite a good introduction to Gothic literature from the BBC News Magazine. The illustrative photos are especially worth a good look.

Monday Miscellany

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:

Dispute Between Amazon and Hachette Takes an Orwellian Turn

Kindle

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.

Amazon vs. Hachette: Soul searching in techie, bookish Seattle

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.


A Thousand Years of the Persian Book

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

Val McDermid: Putting the north in Northanger Abbey

Interesting remarks from one of my favorite authors, Val McDermid, on the task of updating Jane Austen’s novel in a modern setting.

J.K. Rowling writes to girl whose family was slain

Harry Potter boxed setA Texas girl who survived a recent attack in which her parents and four siblings were killed has drawn the attention of “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling.

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.

New fiction from the big names

my bookshelvesNews on upcoming publication by authors including James Ellroy, Margaret Atwood, Haruki Murakami, and Hilary Mantel.

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…