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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.”

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On Novels and Novelists

How the Modern Detective Novel Was Born

Cover: The Golden Age of MurderHere Martin Edwards, author of the new book The Golden Age of Murder: The Mystery of the Writers Who Invented the Modern Detective Story, gives a concise history of the development of the modern detective novel. Authors he discusses include the following: Edgar Allan Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle, G.K. Chesterton, E.C. Bentley, Agatha Christie, Freeman Wills Crofts, G.D.H. Cole, Henry Wade, Ed McBain, Anthony Berkeley, Patricia Highsith, Margaret Millar, Ruth Rendell, Sophie Hannah, Dorothy L. Sayers, and J.K. Rowling (writing as Robert Galbraith).

Edwards places the detective novel within the changing social, historical, and cultural characteristics of its development and argues:

Golden Age novels reflected the times during which they were written. Inevitably, many of the attitudes on display are different from those of the twenty-first century. But for too long, even the best of these books have suffered unfairly from critical prejudice. Hugely enjoyable in their own right, they give a fascinating insight into a vanished world. What is more, they set the pattern for crime fiction for decades to come. The time is ripe to rediscover the Golden Age of Murder.

When Did Books Get So Freaking Enormous? The Year of the Very Long Novel

In an article from last month Boris Kachka admits “it’s tempting to proclaim this the era of the Very Long Novel (VLN).” The classic example of the recent VLN era is David Foster Wallace’s 1,079-page opus Infinite Jest, published in 1996. As more recent examples of such tomes he cites Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries and Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. Another illustration of this trend is the current emphasis on series works such as the Harry Potter collection and Game of Thrones.

Yet long books are really nothing new, Kachka points out (think Eliot’s Middlemarch and Tolstoy’s The Brothers Karamazov). Here’s one possible explanation for the current crop of VLNs:

“People seem to be seeking wholly immersive experiences,” says Knopf publicity director Paul Bogaards. “They’re binge-watching, they’re cooking from scratch, going on ecotours. And there’s no more immersive experience than reading a good long book.”

Another possible explanation is the concept of “_World-building_, a term once exclusive to physicists and game designers, [that] is now on the tip of every book publicist’s tongue.” Bigger books create bigger worlds. Both individual VLNs and series VLNs parallel the growing obsession with binge-watching multiple episodes of television series and online-created content.

This whole discussion reminds me of a scene from the film Amadeus, about the life of Mozart. When someone criticizes the composer for using too many notes, he asks, “Exactly which notes would you have me leave out?”

I don’t mind long books. In fact, I read eagerly through The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, enthralled until the very last word. What I don’t like is a long book that’s longer than it needs to be. I thought Moo, Jane Smiley’s satirical take on the small world of land-grant academia, should have been cut by about one-third.

What about you? Do you like to read long books? Are there any VLNs that you’ve particularly liked or hated? Let us know in the comments section.

Can Reading Make You Happier?

Novelist Ceridwen Dovey describes personal experience with bibliotherapy, or reading by prescription. Initially skeptical, Dovey discovered:

The insights themselves are still nebulous, as learning gained through reading fiction often is—but therein lies its power. In a secular age, I suspect that reading fiction is one of the few remaining paths to transcendence, that elusive state in which the distance between the self and the universe shrinks. Reading fiction makes me lose all sense of self, but at the same time makes me feel most uniquely myself.

Along the way Dovey provides a short history of bibliotherapy:

The practice came into its own at the end of the nineteenth century, when Sigmund Freud began using literature during psychoanalysis sessions. After the First World War, traumatized soldiers returning home from the front were often prescribed a course of reading… . Later in the century, bibliotherapy was used in varying ways in hospitals and libraries, and has more recently been taken up by psychologists, social and aged-care workers, and doctors as a viable mode of therapy.

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And here are a couple of lists of reading recommendations, if either of these topics grabs you.

10 Books to Read If You’re Not Traveling This Summer

Writer Emma Straub’s most recent novel, The Vacationers, is set in Mallorca. Because a “good book is the cheapest form of transportation there is,” Straub here recommends some books you can read if you’re not traveling this summer—or even if you are.

10. In the Woods by Tana French

9. The Fun of It, Stories from the Talk of the Town edited by Lillian Ross

8. Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link

7. Savage Beauty by Nancy Milford

6. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos

5. The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

4. Going Clear by Lawrence Wright

3. Arcadia by Lauren Groff

2. The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst

1. Bad Marie by Marcy Dermansky

About Straub’s 10th pick, In the Woods by Tana French: This is the first book in what is known as French’s Dublin Murder Series. I did not particularly like it and almost didn’t read the subsequent novels. But a good review for the second book in the series made me give it a try, and I’ve read the rest and like them all. These books are related in that each one focuses on a different character of a Dublin murder squad, but each book is self-contained and can be read on its own.

10 Best Noir Novels

I like noir novels as much as the next reader, so I was surprised that I had never even heard of any of these books. Read why Ken Bruen, whose own most recent noir novel is _Green Hell-, singles out these titles:

10. Dark Passage by David Goodis

9. Sing a Song of Homicide by James R. Langham

8. Cold Caller by Jason Starr

7. The Lucky Stiff by Craig Rice

6. A Swollen Red Sun by Matthew McBride

5. The Shark-Infested Custard by Charles Willeford

4. He Died with His Eyes Open by Derek Raymond

3. The Fever Kill by Tom Piccirilli

2. The Whisperer by Donato Carrisi

1. Killing Suki Flood by Rob Leininger

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Monday Miscellany

The big literary news of the past week was the death of Gabriel García Márquez and the announcement of Pulitzer Prize winners. But there is other news as well, particularly about upcoming publications:

Spring brings bounty of new titles for book lovers

Mary Ann Gwinn, book editor for the Seattle Times, lists both fiction and nonfiction titles to be published in May and June. Her list includes books by Stephen King, David Guterson, and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Best Summer Books 2014

Publishers Weekly chooses some books worth looking out for this summer, both fiction and nonfiction.

 

Reading Agency survey finds 63% of men rarely read

The Bookseller has some distressing news: the results of a survey conducted by the Reading Agency:

Researchers found that being too busy, not enjoying reading and preferring to spend their spare time on the internet means men read fewer books, read more slowly and are less likely to finish them than women.

Here’s one finding I find particularly interesting: “Nearly three quarters of the men surveyed said they would opt for the film or television adaptation of a book, whereas the same percentage of women were as likely to go for the book itself.”

The research was conducted in Britain.

The Death of Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe
From Wikipedia (public domain photo)

American writer Edgar Allan Poe died under mysterious circumstances, and many sources attribute his death to chronic alcoholism. But this post on The Medical Bag offers a different explanation, posited in 1996 by Dr. Michael Benitez, a cardiologist at the University of Maryland Medical Center who practices a block from Poe’s grave.