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On Novels and Novelists

10 Best Novels by Poets

Novelist and poet Naja Marie Aidt offers a list of novels “that bring a poetic sensitivity to language into the history of the novel.” She especially asks us to take a look at the work of the Danish poets included (the first two entries on her list), whom we Americans may not know about.

Read what she has to say about the use of language by the authors of these novels:

Azorno by Inger Christensen
The Murder of Halland by Pia Juul
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
The Notebook by Agota Kristof
The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge by Rainer Maria Rilke
The Making of Americans by Gertrude Stein
Malina by Ingeborg Bachmann
Insel by Mina Loy
Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson
Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner

Harper Lee and Truman Capote: A Collaboration in Mischief

Cover: To Kill a MockingbirdThe recent publication of Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee, the original manuscript that eventually evolved into To Kill a Mockingbird, revived interest in the childhood friendship between Lee and Truman Capote. Soon there will be some new work by Capote as well. In October Random House will publish a collection of lost short stories by Capote that were discovered by Peter Haag, the owner of Capote’s German publisher, while he was doing research in the Capote archive at the New York Public Library.

And soon there will also be a middle-grade novel to introduce young readers to the childhoods of these friends who grew up to be two of the American South’s finest writers. Greg Neri has written Tru & Nelle, to be released next spring.

both [Nelle Harper Lee and Truman Capote] were oddballs who took refuge in detective novels, and they quickly bonded over their mutual love of Sherlock Holmes and the Rover Boys, spending long afternoons reading mysteries in their treehouse sanctuary. To entertain themselves, they started writing their own stories on her father’s Underwood typewriter, taking turns as one of them narrated while the other typed.

Maybe some budding writers will be encouraged to pursue their dreams by reading about two other children who loved reading and writing.

Rescuing Wonderful Shivery Tales

When Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm began collecting and writing down songs, stories, and folklore in the early 1800’s, they were working to preserve the authentic voices of the people. Under the influence of a Romantic movement calling for the unification of Germany, they collected these stories to save what they believed was authentic German popular culture.

In this article in The New York Review of Books, Marina Warner traces the history of Grimms’ folk and fairy tales. She notes how the tales have changed over time and what those changes suggest. Since fairy tales and folklore contain many of the archetypes found in later literature, this is a fascinating read for those interested in literary history and literary criticism.

Why Do I Love New York?

A Crime Writer’s Tour of the City That Never Sleeps

Linda Fairstein is an attorney turned novelist. She joined the Manhattan District Attorney’s office in 1972 and headed the sex crimes unit from 1976 until 2002. She continues to consult as a sex crimes expert. Fairstein is the author of a series of crime novels featuring Manhattan prosecutor Alexandra Cooper. The most recent book, Devil’s Bridge, is #17 in the series.

In this article she describes why New York City is so fascinating for a crime novelist:

Yes, I love New York — and perhaps it’s because I’m a crime novelist that I’m fascinated by its dark underbelly and rich history, which keep me riveted and searching for new discoveries at every turn.

10 Novels with Multiple Narratives

Susan Barker’s novel The Incarnations traces 1,000 years of Chinese history through the reincarnations of two main characters. She explains why she likes novels with multiple narratives:

Truth is often a multiplicity of perspectives, and sometimes the more viewpoints and versions of events there are, the closer the reader gets to an overarching truth. I like the element of mystery these books can sometimes involve, the way the cogs in the reader’s brain have to grind to figure out connections between the various narrative threads.

I like novels narrated from multiple points of view for the same reason. I studied life stories, and I’m fascinated by the way different people experience the same event differently. You’ve heard the adage “There are two sides to every story.” In fact, there are as many sides to every story as there are participants in the event.

Here are the novels with multiple narratives that Barker recommends:

2666 by Roberto Bolano
The Emigrants by W.G. Sebald
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
Five Star Billionaire by Tash Aw
Great House by Nicole Krauss
If on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino
Ghostwritten by David Mitchell
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov

Here are a couple of books I’d add to the list:

An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

“Dune,” climate fiction pioneer: The ecological lessons of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi masterpiece were ahead of its time

I know a lot of people who love Frank Herbert’s Dune, which I’ve never read. But I’m going to have to pick it up soon, since Frank Herbert is the native son of our new home town, Tacoma, WA. We now live very near where the arsenic smelter that Herbert grew up with was located. Just last year a park not far from us was completely dug up for removal of arsenic-contaminated soil. New soil was put down, and the ball fields were reseeded and closed for a year for the grass to grow in.

In this piece for Salon Michael Berry discusses the significance of Dune as it turns 50. He hopes that the novel will take its rightful place in the annals of ecological fiction “now that there is a renewed interest in literature – science fiction and otherwise – that explores the effects of a changing global climate.” Berry concludes:

as “Dune” celebrates its golden anniversary, it stands as a piece of literature with far-reaching influence, inspiring new generations of readers, writers and scientists to look at their own planet in a different light.

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Q&A: Northwest is the new frontier for science fiction fanatics

Puget Sound seems to be a center of fandom for what’s often called speculative fiction. For one thing, Tacoma was the home of Frank Herbert, author of the 1965 science fiction classic “Dune.”

In 2015, the calendar is filled with fan functions devoted to science fiction and fantasy from Emerald City Comicon, in Seattle from Friday through Sunday, to Tacoma’s Jet City Comic Show in October

In the Tacoma newspaper The News Tribune, Craig Sailor interviews Brett Rogers, assistant professor of classics at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma. Rogers “pursues a wide range of subjects that include Homer and classical drama, superhero narratives and ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer.’”

Rogers and colleague Ben Stevens recently published The Once and Future Antiquity: Classical Traditions in Science Fiction and Fantasy, a book of essays about the links between the ancient classics and present day science fiction and fantasy.

This Friday and Saturday the University of Puget Sound will host a conference that focuses on “all things related to speculative fiction.”

Asked how he defines science fiction, Rogers replied that it’s not just about robots and space travel:

We’re more interested in how science fiction is not product oriented, cyborgs (for example), but process oriented — the way it gets people to think differently and imaginatively about their interaction with the world.

Rogers says he doesn’t believe in rigid definitions for terms such as science fiction, fantasy, and speculative fiction. To Sailor’s question of what science fiction and fantasy allow us to do that regular fiction does not, Rogers replied that many people say they allow us to run thought experiments: If you have different starting premises, how might things turn out differently? Mystery and wonder, a way to explore the unknown, are other aspects of the power of speculative fiction, according to Rogers.

This year is the 50th anniversary of Tacoma writer Frank Herbert’s Dune. Rogers praised Herbert’s ability at creating a complete world: “What Tolkien does with elves and dwarves and dragons, Herbert does with prophetic powers and spice that is mined from the desert planet of Arrakis.” Rogers also says that Herbert plays with narrative structure in the novel in a way that challenges readers’ expectations. By presenting various parts of the narrative from different characters’ points of view, Herbert requires readers to put the various pieces of the story together.

In addition to this weekend’s conference at UPS in Tacoma, the Emerald City Comicon will take place Friday through Sunday at the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle. Tickets for Comicon are sold out.

30 books we recommend for spring reading

Mary Ann Gwinn reports that spring used to be a quiet time for publishing, but not any more. Here she lists notable books to be published between March and June, including the following:

  • Fiction by Kazuo Ishiguro, Sara Gruen, Toni Morrison, Kate Atkinson, Jane Smiley, Neal Stephenson, Judy Blume, Stephanie Kallos, and Stephen King
  • Nonfiction by Robert Putnam, Tony Angell, David Brooks, David McCullough, Val McDermid, Willie Nelson, and Oliver Sacks

4 African authors among Man Booker International finalists

The finalists for the prestigious literary award the Man Booker International Prize were announced on Tuesday by the chair of judges, Marina Warner, in South Africa at the University of Cape Town. The Man Booker International Prize recognizes an author’s achievement through a body of work covering the writer’s career. Previous winners include American novelist Philip Roth, Canadian writer Alice Munro, and the late Chinua Achebe.

Here is the list of finalists:

  • Mia Couto of Mozambique
  • Marlene van Niekerk of South Africa
  • Ibrahim al-Koni of Libya
  • Alain Mabanckou of the Republic of Congo
  • Cesar Aira of Argentina
  • Maryse Conde of Guadeloupe
  • Amitav Ghosh of India
  • Fanny Howe of the United States of America
  • Laszlo Krasznahorkai of Hungary
  • Hoda Barakat of Lebanon

“This is a most interesting and enlightening list of finalists,” said Jonathan Taylor, chairman of the Booker Prize Foundation. “It brings attention to writers from far and wide, so many of whom are in translation. As a result, our reading lists will surely be hugely expanded.”

The prize is 60,000 pounds, or about $90,000. The winner will be announced in London on May 19.