Monday Miscellany

A Pearl Buck Novel, New After 4 Decades

Pearl S. Buck
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Big recent literary news is the discovery of a final novel by Pearl S. Buck, the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature.

The manuscript was discovered in a storage unit in Texas. Buck’s son, Edgar S. Walsh, believes that Buck completed the manuscript for the book, The Eternal Wonder, shortly before her death from cancer in 1973.

Peter Conn, a professor of English and education at the University of Pennsylvania who wrote “Pearl S. Buck: A Cultural Biography,” said that of Buck’s contributions, she most notably commanded the imagination of American readers with her descriptions of China.

“Pearl Buck strongly shaped Western and specifically American perceptions of China to an extent that had not been seen in the past,” he said. “She actually can make claim to a unique kind of cultural achievement, which is to prepare Americans for the increasingly tangled relationship we were going to have with China for the next 70 or 80 years.”

I Like Likable Characters

Novelist Jennifer Weiner participates in the latest dust-up among women writers:

Quick: What’s the most unforgivable sin a writer can commit in fiction? A writerly crime so awful that major, award-winning novelists are condemning it on the pages of Publishers Weekly and inveighing against it in The New Yorker? If you said lazy plotting, dull language, or cardboard-thin characters, well, shame on you. Currently, the most gauche thing a modern-day writer can do is write protagonist who is—-oh, the horror—-likable.

Why is likable worse than, say, boring, or predictable, or hackneyed or obscure? When did beloved become a bad thing? And, now that likable has become the latest code employed by literary authors to tell their best-selling brethren that their work sucks, is there any hope for the few, the shamed, the creators and consumers of likable female protagonists?

In this piece Weiner takes on both Claire Messud, author of The Woman Upstairs, and Meg Wolitzer, author of The Interestings.

Apparently Weiner chooses to fight the stereotype that girls should play nice.

Beware of book blurbs

Warning: You can’t judge a book by the blurb on its back cover:

The Washington Post did not review Martin Amis’ latest novel favorably, but the book blurb suggests otherwise

New Research Tools Kick Up Dust in Archives

Read how smartphones and computers have changed the face of archival research.

The pros: Researchers have become more productive and can easily make their findings widely available.

The cons: Use of these tools raise issues of intellectual property protection and deprive institutions of income from document copying.