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On Novels and Novelists

Out with vampires, in with haunted houses: the ghost story is back

Just in time for Halloween (or shortly thereafter), here are several new ghost stories:

It has been supplanted in recent years by vampires, witches and other monsters, but now the good old-fashioned ghost story is back with a bang, with everyone from debut novelists to established literary stars such as David Mitchell and Gillian Flynn hoping to raise the hairs on readers’ necks this Halloween.

Read here about the following upcoming publications:

  • The Grownup by Gillian Flynn
  • Slade House by David Mitchell
  • Little Sister Death by William Gay
  • Rawblood by Catriona Ward
  • The Watchers by Neil Spring
  • The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley
  • The Taxidermist’s Daughter by Kate Mosse

“A good ghost story asks the reader to examine the horror within – but it’s in a safe and contained way,” says Catriona Ward. See what the other authors mentioned here have to say about why they have written a ghost story and why they think readers enjoy ghost stories.

Edna O’Brien: from Ireland’s cultural outcast to literary darling

Ed Vulliamy profiles Irish author Edna O’Brien. Now 84, O’Brien has not always been appreciated in her native land. Her “first and great novel,” The Country Girls was hailed in London, where it won the Kingsley Amis award, but banned in Ireland. This difference in the reception of her book, Villiamy writes, “etched the course of O’Brien’s life.”

Vulliamy explains how O’Brien’s relationship to Ireland while living and writing abroad played out. He places her squarely within the context of other Irish writers:

The extent of the Irish domination of literature in English during the 20th century – per capita – is staggering. From a country of its size, consider: Yeats, Joyce, Shaw, Stoker, Wilde, Beckett, Synge, O’Casey, Butler, Flann O’Brien, Heaney, Trevor – and it continues in Mahon, Banville, McGahern and Tóibín.

Jonathan Franzen’s Crackling Genius

In a long article for the New York Times, Rachel Kushner visits Jonathan Franzen in Santa Cruz, CA. Having just finished reading Franzen’s latest novel, Purity, Kushner wanders through a conversation with Franzen about the background of the novel.

Read here how Kushner and Franzen meandered through topics that include Catholicism, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Flannery O’Connor, East Germany, Edward Snowden, capitalism, and the death of Franzen’s cousin—“how this cousin made sense of his difficult life.”

Truman Capote’s Brooklyn: Never-Before-Seen Pictures of Truman Capote, Taken by David Attie

Eli Attie, son of photographer David Attie, describes how he found previously unknown photos his father had taken of Truman Capote in Brooklyn, NY.

Eli Attie wrote the afterword for _ Brooklyn: A Personal Memoir_ by Truman Capote, with the lost photographs of David Attie, to be published on November 3, 2015.

Andy Weir on his strange journey from self-publishing to Hollywood

I haven’t read Andy Weir’s novel The Martian, but I loved the movie. (I saw it in 3-D, which I highly recommend.) I knew the general story of how the work had come into being: how Weir did massive amounts of research, published it serially online, then crowdsourced some of the science concepts to make the science part of science fiction incredibly accurate.

Here writer Sara Vilkomerson explains how the main character, botanist Mark Watney, came into existence:

He’s a lovable character who’s part Han Solo, part MacGyver…and one big part Andy Weir. “My theory is that every protagonist is someone the author wants to be or who the author wants to screw,” says Weir, 42. “Just so we’re clear, Mark Watney is who I want to be. He has all the qualities I like about myself magnified without any of the qualities I dislike.”

This article appeared in Entertainment Weekly in November 2014, just as production on the film version of The Martian was commencing.

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On Novels and Novelists

The ghostwriter, the secret plot and a ‘grave-robbing’ Stieg Larsson sequel

You may remember that Swedish author Stieg Larsson dropped dead shortly after delivering the manuscript of the third novel in what has come to be called his Millennium trilogy. His long-time live-in companion, Eva Gabrielsson, said that his laptop contained a nearly completed manuscript of a fourth book in the series. She and Larsson’s family fought in the courts over possession of the laptop and its contents, but because Gabrielsson and Larsson were never married, his family got the prize.

Now comes word that the official launch of the fourth book, The Girl in the Spider’s Web, will take place on August 27. (The Swedish title of the novel translates as That Which Doesn’t Kill Us.) The book has been written by Swedish author David Lagercrantz. Gabrielsson isn’t happy about the takeover of Larsson’s work:

“This is just business, because you know the publisher has been in financial crisis for a couple of years,” she says. “It’s all a question of money.”

Swedish publisher Norstedts is going to great lengths to keep the contents of the book a secret. Lagercrantz and the many translators all worked on laptop computers not connected to the internet, and the publisher is not issuing any advance copies. Critics and ordinary readers alike will have to wait until the official release date to find our what’s new in the life of Lisbeth Salander.

Every Grateful Dead Song Annotated in Hypertext: Web Project Reveals the Deep Literary Foundations of the Dead’s Lyrics

The online annotated Grateful Dead also includes “Thematic Essays,” a bibliography and “bibliography of songbooks,” films and videos, and discographies for the band and each core member. There may be no more exhaustive a reference for the band’s output contained all in one place, though readers of this post may know of comparable guides in the vast sea of Grateful Dead commentary and compendiums online, in print, and on tape… . the proliferating, serious study of their songcraft and lyrical genius shows us that they will, indeed, survive.

11 Science Fiction Books That Are Regularly Taught in College Classes

“College professors often reach for classic science fiction when they’re planning classes on literature, society or philosophy.”

The texts students are likely to find listed on their course syllabi include the following:

  1. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  2. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
  3. Lilith’s Brood by Octavia Butler
  4. Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
  5. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  6. A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
  7. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
  8. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  9. Dhalgren by Samuel Delany
  10. 1984 by George Orwell
  11. Neuromancer by William Gibson

I read Brave New World and 1984 in college and Frankenstein in graduate school. A few others I’ve read on my own: Slaughterhouse Five, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Neuromancer.

How many of these books have you read, either for a course or on your own?

Children’s classic ‘Watership Down’ is based on real science

Richard Adams’s famous novel Watership Down came along well after I was an adult, and I have yet to read it, although it’s on my Classics Club reading list. But I found it interesting that Richard Adams did not make everything up.

Rather, Adams based his novel on research done in Wales by Ronald Lockley in the 1950s. Concerned about the spread of a rabbit disease called myxomatosis, the British Nature Conservancy sponsored research into the life of rabbits. Lockley watched and recorded the behavior of rabbits living in a warren behind a glass window. Lockley published his findings first in a scientific journal, the Journal of Animal Ecology, in 1961. He then expanded the work into a book, The Private Life of the Rabbit, published in 1964.

Adams based much of his rabbit society on Lockley’s book, although the novel includes some anthropomorphization not supported by Lockley’s study. But Adams consulted Lockley, and the two became friends.

Doyenne or Jezebel, Ireland’s Edna O’Brien Is a Master

Lucy Scholes describes Irish author Edna O’Brien as “an astute chronicler of female interiority.” O’Brien’s first novel, The Country Girls, was first published in 1960. But the focus of this article is O’Brien’s recently published The Love Object, a collection of 31 short stories that span her career.

According to Scholes, many of the female characters in these stories “are alienated due to a deep sense of unfulfillment, sacrificed to marriage or motherhood.” And “Many of the stories hinge on similar moments of realization that silently shake the very foundations of their subjects’ worlds.” Overall:

One of the wonderful things about The Love Object is how one can trace the developments in O’Brien’s career through its pages, watching the subtle shift between these earlier narratives of female experience and her later work that addresses the broader issues of Irish history and politics.

I keep discovering new authors whose works I’d like to read. So many books, so little time…