On Novels and Novelists

Annie Proulx, Downton Abbey, Kazuo Ishiguro, Jonathan Franzen, Toni Morrison, Alan Bradley, David Mitchell

Annie Proulx regrets writing Brokeback Mountain? She needs to let it go

“I wish I’d never written the story,” Proulx told the Paris Review. “It’s just been the cause of hassle and problems and irritation since the film came out … So many people have completely misunderstood the story. I think it’s important to leave spaces in a story for readers to fill in from their own experience, but unfortunately the audience that Brokeback reached most strongly have powerful fantasy lives. And one of the reasons we keep the gates locked here is that a lot of men have decided that the story should have had a happy ending … So they rewrite the story … I can’t tell you how many of these things have been sent to me as though they’re expecting me to say, ‘Oh great, if only I’d had the sense to write it that way.’”

Writing for The Guardian, Ryan Gilbey argues:

When an author puts her work out into the world, it takes on a life of its own. That’s to be celebrated, even if some fans insist their endings would have been better.

‘Downton Abbey’ and History: A Look Back

As a chronicle of the ups and downs of fictional British aristocrats and servants, “Downton Abbey” weaves a surprising amount of authentic historical context into its plots. Here is an episode-by-episode look at some of the show’s period details, and how those events have been covered in The New York Times. “Downton Abbey” returns for its fifth season on PBS on Sunday — check back each week during the new season for updates.

OK, Downton Abbey isn’t a novel, but lots of people who like books also like this television show. Here’s a fascinating documentation of the historical events that figure in this on-going series.

Books in 2015: the essential literary calendar

A month-by-month schedule to help you plan your reading for the upcoming year.

New novels by Kazuo Ishiguro, Jonathan Franzen and Toni Morrison; film versions of Suite Française and Alan Bennett’s Lady in the Van; the 150th birthdays of Alice in Wonderland and WB Yeats – we look forward to the literary treats of 2015.

Some of the works listed have already appeared here in the U.S., since this article is from the U.K.’s The Guardian.

My New Year’s resolution: read more John Updike

In The Christian Scientist Monitor Danny Heitman announces his intention to read as many works by John Updike as possible during 2015:

He appeals to me because, quite frankly, I finally have a decent chance of finishing one Updike book before another one comes out. Updike died six years ago this month – in January, 2009 – but he was too prolific a writer to let something as small as death completely stop his output. Posthumous collections of his work have appeared since his passing, but there must be an end to that stockpile at some point. What we now have, finally, is the prospect of seeing Updike whole. That’s a territory I’d like to explore the next 12 months, continuing a journey started many years ago.

I have to admit that I’m jealous. What a luxury it would be to devote most of my time to reading the collected works of such a substantial figure in recent American literature.

Q&A: Alan Bradley, author of Flavia de Luce series

In the heartening news department, I’m glad to learn that Alan Bradley’s first Flavia de Luce book was published when he was 70.

Catherine Mallette begins this article with a quick summary of last year’s big literary controversy: whether adults should read and admit to liking YA literature. After this bit she confesses:

Flavia, the brilliant, motherless, chemistry-obsessed, poison-loving kid at the heart of these books has become one of my favorite literary characters.

She lives in a dilapidated old mansion in the English countryside with two older sisters who are mostly horrid to her and a father who’s a bit distant and vague. In each book, she solves a murder, but she also comes a bit closer to understanding the larger mystery in her life: who her mother, Harriet, really was.

After this bit Mallette talks with Bradley about his novels and the BBC television series, still in the planning stage, based on them.

What I found most interesting here is Bradley’s description of how Flavia and her world came about:

I was trying to write my first novel — what I think of now as my ‘Alan Bradley’ novel —and this unknown little girl had popped out of the inkpot and hijacked the entire enterprise. It took me a long time to realize that she knew perfectly well what she was doing, and that all I really needed to do was to stop resisting her and start listening.

I read the first book in the series, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, published in 2009. I found Flavia’s precociousness quite cloying by the time I got to the end. For that reason this is a series that I would not read straight through from start to finish. I’d enjoy it with quite a bit of time between books, however, especially now that I know there is a larger arc to the series, Flavia’s inquiry into who her dead mother really was.

‘A Temporary Future’ Unpacks David Mitchell’s Nesting Doll Novels

John L. Murphy discusses Patrick O’Donnell’s A Temporary Future: The Fiction of David Mitchell, the first study of Mitchell’s six works:

[Mitchell’s] books tackle the complexity of how people approach mortality. These tales blur genres, leap across time and space, and dramatize disruption, individually and communally, as threat nears.

The novels O’Donnell analyzes (Murphy says O’Donnell’s book is aimed at an academic audience) are these:

  • Ghostwritten (1999)
  • Number9Dream (2001)
  • Cloud Atlas (2004)
  • Black Swan Green (2006)
  • The Thousand Autumns of Jacob Van Zoet (2010)
  • The Bone Clocks (2014)

The only one of Mitchell’s novels I’ve read in Cloud Atlas, which I loved. I have The Bone Clocks on my TBR shelf. This article makes me want to read through all the novels carefully and in order.

12 Reading Challenges for 2015 That’ll Make Sure You Conquer Plenty of Books In the New Year

If you’re looking for some structure to help fulfill that amorphous New Year’s resolution to “read more,” this list is for you.

Even if you’re not looking for such a challenge, this article is worth looking at just for the animated gifs.

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