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On the Books: How to Keep Track of New Releases

I have a list of every book that I’ve read since July 1991. I started keeping it on my very first computer, an IBM PCjr. Over the years I’ve managed to maintain the list through several computer and computer program changes, including the biggest computer move I ever made: the jump from Windows/PCs to Mac.

But one thing I’ve never been able to track effectively is upcoming releases I definitely want to read. Here, prolific reader Liberty Hardy offers several suggestions on how to do this.

“The Leftovers” Is Teaching Me Who I Want to Be After Covid

Extrovert Michael Colbert explains how the HBO adaptation of Tom Perrotta’s 2011 novel The Leftovers is helping him learn to live with life after COVID:

The Leftovers portrays all the ways this return is abnormal, messy. The show’s outlook is somewhat pessimistic: maybe we’ll never go back to the way we were. Yet I find comfort in Mapleton, watching people muddle through their new normal.

Philip Roth, Blake Bailey and publishing in the post-#MeToo era

“WW Norton withdrew Bailey’s Roth biography after a series of allegations about its author. As generational conflict rages in the book world and across culture, we ask: who decides whether we can separate the art from the artist?”

Yes, this is yet another installment of the publishing story that won’t go away. But this question of separating the artist from the art is one that has nagged at me since long before the Philip Roth biography brouhaha. 

W.W. Norton, the U.S. publisher of the Bailey biography of Roth, withdrew the book shortly after publication and announced that it would pulp the remaining copies. Vintage, the book’s U.K. publisher, announced that it would not withdraw the book but would continue “assessing the situation closely.” Here’s how The Guardian, a U.K. newspaper, assesses the situation:

What’s clear from the silence is that withdrawing the book, and also not withdrawing it, are hugely sensitive issues. They plug into a range of contemporary debates about censorship, moral responsibility, freedom of expression, corporate governance, social justice, due process, workplace safety, and the ongoing critique of so-called toxic masculinity, among others.

But my question goes back to way before all these social and moral issues. I came of age, literarily speaking, back in the 1970s, when New Criticism was still the dominant force in academic literary study. The bedrock of New Criticism is that a literary work stands on its own, completely dissociated from its creator. The meaning of the work comes only from what the work itself contains, not what the author personally believes, feels, or espouses outside that particular piece of created work. This approach therefore forestalls any criticism of the book because of the personality or morality of its author, although discussion of themes such as misogyny in the work are possible with explanation and textual support.

I guess there are really two theoretical levels of evaluation going on here. The first level involves evaluation of and reaction to Roth’s fiction itself. On this level New Criticism is very clear: You can look for evidence of misogyny in the novels themselves, but you can’t condemn the novels because you’ve read that the author treats women badly. But we reach a second level when we evaluate the merits of a biography written about a public figure, such as an author like Philip Roth. While it’s certainly up to critics to point out if a biographer has not created a complete picture of the subject, I’m not sure that criticism of a published biography warrants an end to publication and the destruction of all remaining copies.

Or maybe it’s true that there really is no such thing as bad publicity?

Life in the Stacks: A Love Letter to Browsing

However, I take no issue with Jason Guriel’s lamentation of how much he misses old-fashioned browsing of media content, both in those long-gone video houses called Blockbuster and, more recently, bookstores and even libraries shuttered by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Writers to Watch Fall 2021

Here’s a heads-up call from Publishers Weekly: “Explorations of class, race, and sexuality play into many of this fall’s notable fiction debuts, including a novel about a young Black woman working in financial services, a South Korean gay romance, and more.”

Rivka Galchen on the Particular Horrors of Actual Witch Hunts

Carianne King talks with Rivka Galchen, whose latest novel, Everyone Knows Your Mother is a Witch, portrays the trial of Katharina Kepler, mother of mathematician and astronomer Johannes Kepler. King describes the book this way:

A reimagination of the trial of Katharina Kepler, told in her voice, it’s a novel about the power of narrative over rational, or factual, truths that plays with layers of belief. In all of these ways, it’s a 17th-century witch novel that feels especially relevant for our fractured, divided, complicated times.

Galchen explains why she found Katharina to be a captivating character:

I also connected Katharina to women in my life—older women who don’t read the room, who are really smart, really capable, but who rub people the wrong way, or who people process weirdly because they have their own norms and their own way of doing things.

A Young Naturalist Inspires With Joy, Not Doom

Alex Marshall introduces us to Dara McAnulty, 17, of Northern Ireland, whose book Diary of a Young Naturalist won last year’s Wainwright Prize for nature writing. Marshall says that McAnulty is open about his autism and even started writing because of it: “‘I need to write, to process what’s going on,’ he said, ‘otherwise everything’s just banging around in my brain causing damage in there.’”

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

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