Louise Erdrich won the fiction prize for her novel “The Night Watchman.” Here are the 2021 contenders for fiction, nonfiction, poetry, history and biography.
The National Endowment for the Humanities will receive $135 million in supplemental funding as part of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan just approved by President Biden. The funding will be used to assist institutions impacted by the pandemic.
One of the biggest literary stories recently is the decision by the company that controls the works of Dr. Seuss to pull six titles from future republication because they “portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.” Here Ron Charles, book critic for the Washington Post, expresses his agreement with the decision.
Soon after the story of the Dr. Seuss decision, the story blossomed into a full-blown controversy over censorship and cancel culture. Written a few days after the previous article, this article gives an overview of the Dr. Seuss news.
The last several years have seen the rise of a movement to put women’s stories back into a cultural history dominated by men. Here Aisling Twomey lists books “specifically retelling older stories from the perspectives of the women in them who have long been ignored.”
Book recommendations abound across the internet. But I was particularly interested in this article, which suggests current reading based on your favorite literary classic. See what to read next if your favorite literary classic is one of these works: The Great Gatsby, The Crucible, Little Women, Roots, A Passage to India, Pride and Prejudice, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Forever Amber, or Jane Eyre.
Poet Cindy Frenkel created a course called Creative Writing for Video Gamers, a requirement for students majoring in video game design at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Michigan. Here she describes the lesson she learned from one of her student’s presentation: “appreciating classic literature and art could enhance not only the creation of video games but the player’s experience as well.”
“Classic literature has fundamental elements that reappear every day in video games, comics, and movies . . . because the building blocks of a great story remain the same throughout the centuries.”
Danika Ellis asks this question because she usually remembers only her general impressions of books she’s read, not plot details. But, she concludes, she will continue to read: “I’ve taken to heart that the brain is a great place to make creative connections and to come up with new ideas, but it’s a pretty poor place to store information.”
In this article in The New Yorker from way back in 2013, Ian Crouch addresses the same concern that Ellis explains in the article above: “the assembled books [on his bookshelves], and the hundreds of others that I’ve read and discarded, given away, or returned to libraries, represent a vast catalogue of forgetting.”
Read his conclusion on this “minor existential drama.”
© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown
Soledad Fox Maura, professor of Spanish and Comparative Literature at Williams College and soon-to-debut novelist, wonders why World Cat “(the biggest library search engine on the planet)” has classified her upcoming novel, Madrid Again, as domestic fiction:
Why would my novel, about an itinerant bilingual mother and daughter who do not have a permanent home and zigzag across the Atlantic at a frenetic pace, the long and complicated legacy of the Spanish Civil War overshadowing their every move, be in such a category?
After a quick look at the definition of domestic fiction, she suggests that we find some new terms for fictional genres if we, in fact, need such genres at all. “What I question is a genre that is so clearly gendered, with connotations that are so outdated.”
Lucy Feldman writes, “Didion will forever be a certain type of person’s idea of a deity—the literary, the cool.” Here Feldman talks with Didion, now 86, on how she’s enduring the COVID-19 pandemic at her home in New York.
Didion’s latest essay collection, Let Me Tell You What I Mean, was published on January 26th.
As part of its feature Outward, coverage of “LGBTQ life, thought, and culture,” Slate offers this partial transcript of a podcast with author Torrey Peters about her new novel, Detransition, Baby. The book features the characters “Reese, a trans woman in her 30s who desperately wants to be a mother, and Ames, Reese’s former lover and a former trans woman who now has detransitioned and lives as a man.”
“Doom scrolling, oversharing, constantly updating social media feeds – the internet shapes how we see the world, and now it’s changing the stories we tell, writes author Olivia Sudjic.”
Sudjic writes that, since viewing social media is now such a big part of our lives, we are surprised when fictional characters don’t check their screens:
We are hungry for writers who can parse our present, whether in essay form, in works such as Jia Tolentino’s collection Trick Mirror (2019) and Legacy Russell’s Glitch Feminism: A Manifesto (2020) or the fiction about to hit our shelves (or Kindle screens) that put social media front and centre.
Publishers Weekly takes a look at the significance of Simon & Schuster’s cancellation of Josh Hawley’s book after his actions on January 6th as an unruly mob broke into the U.S. Capitol. The article asks several members of the publishing industry “whether, and where, big houses will draw the line with conservative authors.”
(Also see this article from last week’s Literary Links.)
In honor of the 125th anniversary of its Book Review, the New York Times “[dips] into the archives to revisit our most thrilling, memorable and thought-provoking coverage.” Writers featured include Toni Morrison, Joan Didion, Patricia Highsmith, and Kurt Vonnegut.
“The new online Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction probes the speculative corners of the lexicographic universe.”
Check here for the backstory of terms such as warp speed, transporter, and deep space.
I met most of my best friends at book group. Here Moira Macdonald, arts critic for the Seattle Times, features the stories of some local book groups that have been discussing books for more than 30 years.
© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown
“How we evolved to read is a story of one creative species.”
Lydia Wilson explains how writing developed from a system to record the ownership of particular goods to one capable of creating great works of literature.
“If ever there were a new year that called for a new notebook, this would be it.”
Dr. Perri Klass admits that she loves notebooks even if she’s not as diligent in writing in them as she’d like to be. I used to write in a journal just about every day, but for about two years, when we were traveling extensively in early retirement (and hopefully we’ll be able to do that again some time), I let myself fall out of the habit. (Yes, it’s much easier to let a habit lapse than to build a habit in the first place.)
But I’ve been building up the old habit over the last couple of months and intend to do much better this year.
I include this review because Memorial is one of the novels on my TBR shelf that I’m determined to read soon.
“We continue to experience a publishing pile-up, as books postponed from 2020 spill over into the new year’s catalogue. As a result, this season offers an embarrassment of riches for the reader of novels,” writes Cal Flyn, deputy editor of Five Books. Although this article follows the traditional Five-Books approach of featuring five covers, Flyn discusses additional titles in the discussion.
Here novelist Louise Candlish puts a particular spin on the discussion: “dislikable is not the same as irredeemable, and for this reason, there is no place on my list for any love-to-hate Tom Ripleys or morbidly mesmerising Humbert Humberts.”
Here she explains why she dislikes these 10 irredeemable characters. Because this list is in The Guardian, her emphasis is decidedly British. But #9 is the product of an American author, and #10 is from a very recent novel.
“Ray Bradbury is one of the most important American writers of the mid-20th century. He transformed science fiction’s position in American literature during the 1950s. There were other fine sci-fi writers, but Ray was the one who first engaged the mainstream audience. He had a huge impact on both American literature and popular culture.”
In this article, which came out at the end of December, Kelly Coyne writes, “It is often in the home where the plainest expressions of politics appear. This year, you could see it everywhere in the domestic novel.”
Coyne reflects on recent novels that “thrust white liberal parents into a harsh light” in the ways in which they interact with domestic workers.
© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown
This quiz from Book Riot can help you answer the question. “Personally, I’m usually looking for something I think will be a 5-star read to start off the year,” writes quizster Rachel Brittain.
News flash! There’s a new book arriving this month about Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to receive a medical degree in the U.S. (1849) and her sister, also a physician. Elizabeth was the major figure about whom I wrote my dissertation, so I’m excited and have preordered this book.
I place this one near the top of the list because it provides a monthly list of literary events, from specific book publications to award announcements and film/TV adaptations. (Publication dates in countries other than the U.K. might differ from those listed here.)
From Electric Literature: “Start off the new year by pre-ordering books from new and emerging authors.”
A list of 40 upcoming publications from Penguin Random House.
“Every year an abundance of new titles beg for a spot on your crammed bookshelf. Here are some highlights from Australian authors.”
The folks at Off the Shelf advise, “If you pre-order these fabulously gripping reads now, you’ll thank yourself when the books arrive in the new year, and you’ll have plenty to look forward to throughout 2021.”
From BookBub: “From swoon-worthy romances like One Last Stop and Act Your Age, Eve Brown to fantastic fantasies like Hall of Smoke and The Gilded Ones, 2021 is packed with exciting releases.”
List compiler Ann Foster writes, “Several of these works featuring all or mostly-white characters in print have been adapted to change some characters to POC, but the dearth of adaptations of books by BIPOC and women is notable yet again in 2021.”
At Literary Hub, Heather Cleary shares the titles of translated works she’s looking forward to in 2021.
From Moira Macdonald, book critic for the Seattle Times.
From CNN. I’m especially excited about the last book listed here, Women in White Coats: How the First Women Doctors Changed the World of Medicine, by Olivia Campbell, due out in March. 2021 seems to be THE year for interest in the history of women in medicine, with The Doctors Blackwell: How Two Pioneering Sisters Brought Medicine to Women and Women to Medicine by Janice P. Nimura coming out later this month. (See my latest 6 Degrees of Separation post.)
© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown
“Critics lauded her stream-of-consciousness style and described her as glamorous and mysterious. But she didn’t always welcome the attention she received.”
“This article is part of Overlooked, a series of obituaries about remarkable people whose deaths, beginning in 1851, went unreported in The Times.”
From the New York Times, a look at Russian-born Clarice Lispector, who, beginning in the 1940s, fascinated “Brazil’s male-dominated literary world.”
I think I have more than 3,000 books on my Kindle. Because I only recently discovered how to use collections, there’s very little order to my ebooks. Here Ashley Holstrom offers advice on how to organize your Kindle cloud and your Goodreads shelves. She also tells us to create Goodreads shelves to log our entire elibrary, but I’m not sure I’m going to invest that much time in this project.
You may have heard the story of how Charles Dickens never outgrew the fear of incarceration after his family’s stint in debtor’s prison in 1841. Here Laurence Scott reports that “In her 2011 biography, Claire Tomalin notes that, in adulthood, Dickens became ‘an obsessive visitor of prisons’” and looks at examples of passages from his works that illustrate his obsession.
John Maher splendaciously offers 11 words collected by the editors at Merriam-Webster who host the podcast Word Matters.
“Deciphering the most beloved, most reviled children’s-book author in history.”
If you haven’t kept up with the recent controversy swirling around J.K. Rowling, here’s a very detailed analysis of what it’s all about and what it all means.
The New York Times reports on “a mysterious international phishing scam that has been tricking writers, editors, agents and anyone in their orbit into sharing unpublished book manuscripts.”
Both big-name writers—like Margaret Atwood and Ian McEwan—and unknown writers have been targeted, and no one seems to know where manuscripts submitted through the scam end up. “When copies of the manuscripts get out, they just seem to vanish. So why is this happening?”
Deborah Treisman, fiction editor for The New Yorker, comments on some of the fiction that appeared in the magazine during the “historically pivotal” year of 2020: “It’s hardly surprising that some of the anxiety of this unmooring year trickled into fiction—or sent us to stories that explore other historical turning points and what led to them.”
© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown
Without any further ado, you’ll find the third and final installment of our countdown of the 50 biggest literary stories of the year below—so you can remember the good (yes, there was some!), the bad, and the Zoom book launch. It’s time for the top 10, baby.