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Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category

“Author Barry Hannah, whose fiction was laced with dark humor and populated by hard-drinking Southerners, died Monday at his home in Oxford, Miss. He was 67. . . .

“Hannah’s first novel, ‘Geronimo Rex,’ was published in 1972. It received the William Faulkner prize for writing and was nominated for a National Book Award. His 1996 short story collection, ‘High Lonesome,’ was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.

“Novelist and Mississippi native Richard Ford called Hannah ‘a shooting star.’

“‘Barry could somehow make the English sentence generous and unpredictable, yet still make wonderful sense, which for readers is thrilling,” Ford said from his home in Maine. ‘You never knew the source of the next word. But he seemed to command the short story form and the novel form and make those forms up newly for himself.'” (more @ NY Times)

Related: Writers Remember Barry Hannah (via Vanity Fair)

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J. D. Salinger, who was thought at one time to be the most important American writer to emerge since World War II but who then turned his back on success and adulation, becoming the Garbo of letters, famous for not wanting to be famous, died Wednesday at his home in Cornish, N.H., where he had lived in seclusion for more than 50 years. He was 91. . . .

“Mr. Salinger’s literary reputation rests on a slender but enormously influential body of published work: the novel ‘The Catcher in the Rye,’ the collection ‘Nine Stories’ and two compilations, each with two long stories about the fictional Glass family: ‘Franny and Zooey’ and ‘Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction.’

“‘Catcher’ was published in 1951, and its very first sentence, distantly echoing Mark Twain, struck a brash new note in American literature: ‘If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.’

“Though not everyone, teachers and librarians especially, was sure what to make of it, ‘Catcher’ became an almost immediate best seller, and its narrator and main character, Holden Caulfield, a teenager newly expelled from prep school, became America’s best-known literary truant since Huckleberry Finn.” (more @ NY Times)

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“When Jack Kerouac wrote his will shortly before his death in 1969, he was broke. Forty years later, a ferocious battle rages over his multi-million dollar literary estate. Kerouac, at odds with his third wife, Stella Sampas, had left everything to his mother, Gabrielle Kerouac. But when Gabrielle Kerouac passed away in 1973, her will indicated that the entire estate would go to Sampas, news that had shocked Kerouac’s remaining blood relatives—his daughter, Jan, and his nephew, Paul Blake Jr. When Sampas died in 1990, her siblings inherited the Kerouac literary estate, with the youngest brother, John Sampas, acting as executor. It was a stunning series of events for Kerouac scholars and fans, but the real surprise was yet to come. Last July, a judge in Tampa, Florida ruled that Gabrielle Kerouac’s 1973 will was a forgery.

“Gerald Nicosia, author of the acclaimed Kerouac biography, Memory Babe, first suspected foul play in 1994, when Jan Kerouac saw a copy of the will for the first time and noticed that her grandmother’s name was misspelled.

“‘We are dealing with perhaps the most influential American novelist of the twentieth century, after all, and it is now proven that his $30 million estate was stolen, plain and simple,’ said Nicosia.” (cont’d @ Fine Books & Collections)

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“Why do novelists write essays? Most publishers would rather have a novel. Bookshops don’t know where to put them. It’s a rare reader who seeks them out with any sense of urgency. Still, in recent months Jonathan Safran Foer, Margaret Drabble, Chinua Achebe and Michael Chabon, among others, have published essays, and so this month will I. And though I think I know why I wrote mine, I wonder why they wrote theirs, and whether we all mean the same thing by the word ‘essay’, and what an essay is, exactly, these days.” (cont’d @ Guardian)

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“In an online poll conducted by the National Book Foundation, [Flannery O'Connor's] collection ‘The Complete Stories’ was named the best work to have won the National Book Award for fiction in the contest’s 60-year history. The competition was steep: other finalists in the poll were ‘The Stories of John Cheever,’ William Faulkner’s ‘Collected Stories,’ ‘The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty,’ Ralph Ellison’s ‘Invisible Man’ and Thomas Pynchon’s ‘Gravity’s Rainbow.'” (more @ NY Times)

Related: Colum McCann Wins National Book Award

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“The story of the seduction of a lesbian by an ageing stage actor, which includes an eye-watering scene with a green dildo, has won Philip Roth the dubious honour of a place on the shortlist for the Literary Review’s bad sex in fiction award.

“Roth can comfort himself with the fact that a roll call of literary fiction’s great and good, from Booker winner John Banville to acclaimed Israeli novelist Amos Oz, Goncourt winner Jonathan Littell and Whitbread winner Paul Theroux, have made it into the line-up for this year’s bad sex prize, set up by Auberon Waugh to ‘draw attention to the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel, and to discourage it.'” (cont’d @ Guardian)

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ToniMorrison“The most overrated novel ever has got to be Beloved. Upon its initial publication, it was rightly passed over for the 1988 National Book Award, which went to Larry Heinemann’s Paco’s Story, while the National Book Critics Circle handed its fiction award instead to Philip Roth for The Counterlife. In protest, forty-eight ‘black critics and black writers’—their own self-description—wrote to the New York Times Book Review, ‘asserting [them]selves against the oversight and harmful whimsy’ by which white males were preferred to Toni Morrison. ‘The legitimate need for our own critical voice in relation to our own literature can no longer be denied,’ the forty-eight declared.

“Not quite ten weeks later Beloved was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. Everyone quoted on the record agreed that the protest and demands for recognition did not influence the prize committee’s decision—not a chance, no way, no how. Just to be sure, the Swedish Academy gave Toni Morrison the Nobel Prize in literature four years later. ‘She is the first black woman to receive the prize’ the, Times helpfully noted on the front page.” (cont’d @ A Commonplace Blog)

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lowboy“The last dozen years or so have seen the emergence of a new strain within the Anglo-American novel. What has been variously referred to as the novel of consciousness or the psychological or confessional novel—the novel, at any rate, about the workings of a mind—has transformed itself into the neurological novel, wherein the mind becomes the brain. Since 1997, readers have encountered, in rough chronological order, Ian McEwan’s Enduring Love (de Clérambault’s syndrome, complete with an appended case history by a fictional “presiding psychiatrist” and a useful bibliography), Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn (Tourette’s syndrome), Mark Haddon’s Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (autism), Richard Powers’s The Echomaker (facial agnosia, Capgras syndrome), McEwan again with Saturday (Huntington’s disease, as diagnosed by the neurosurgeon protagonist), Atmospheric Disturbances (Capgras syndrome again) by a medical school graduate, Rivka Galchen, and John Wray’s Lowboy (paranoid schizophrenia). And these are just a selection of recently published titles in “literary fiction.” There are also many recent genre novels, mostly thrillers, of amnesia, bipolar disorder, and multiple personality disorder.” (cont’d @ n+1)

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Roth NewarkPhilip Roth came home again Saturday, which is not so unusual because he’s been a frequent visitor in recent years. ‘As you get older, you get closer to home.’ Roth said this as he entered the Newark Museum yesterday as the surprise guest on a bus tour of Newark. Now 76, the man once called one of America’s greatest authors is now called America’s greatest living author as contemporaries like Saul Bellow, Norman Mailer and John Updike have passed on in recent years.

“Saturday, he was among another group of contemporaries, though a decade younger: graduates of Weequahic High, 1960, who, as part of their 50th reunion, signed up for ‘Philip Roth’s Newark.’ Still, the ‘kids’ knew him. As Roth stepped on to the bus, the murmurs turned into buzz, the cell phones and digital cameras flashed. America’s greatest living author is also Weequahic High’s most famous graduate. . . .

The author, who today lives in Connecticut, had never done the whole route. But on the first tour, he was honored at his childhood home at 81 Summit Street, where the block was ceremoniously named Philip Roth Plaza and a marker unveiled on the house.” (more @ NJ.com)

Related: (10/21/09) Philip Roth Unbound (Video interview with Tina Brown @ The Daily Beast)

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wolcott-0908-01Pity the culture snob, as Kindles, iPods, and flash drives swallow up the visible markers of superior taste and intelligence. With the digitization of books, music, and movies, how will the highbrow distinguish him- or herself from the masses?” (James Wolcott, via Vanity Fair)

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Orwell“[Orwell's] classic was published on 8 June 1949 – and has had a deep impact on millions. Andrew Johnson talks to writers about it – and asks them to cite their favourite reads.” (via The Independent)

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“In a 21st-century version of the age of discovery, teams of computer scientists, conservationists and scholars are fanning out across the globe in a race to digitize crumbling literary treasures.

“In the process, they’re uncovering unexpected troves of new finds, including never-before-seen versios of the Christian Gospels, fragments of Greek poetry and commentaries on Aristotle. Improved technology is allowing researchers to scan ancient texts that were once unreadable — blackened in fires or by chemical erosion, painted over or simply too fragile to unroll. Now, scholars are studying these works with X-ray fluorescence, multispectral imaging used by NASA to photograph Mars and CAT scans used by medical technicians.

“A Benedictine monk from Minnesota is scouring libraries in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and Georgia for rare, ancient Christian manuscripts that are threatened by wars and black-market looters; so far, more than 16,500 of his finds have been digitized. This summer, a professor of computer science at the University of Kentucky plans to test 3-D X-ray scanning on two papyrus scrolls from Pompeii that were charred by volcanic ash in 79 A.D. Scholars have never before been able to read or even open the scrolls, which now sit in the French National Institute in Paris.” (cont’d @ Wall Street Journal)

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duffy“Few positions in public life, apart, perhaps, from Pope or manager of the England football team, have proved quite so unattainable to women over the years as that of Britain’s Poet Laureate. For centuries, from Ben Jonson onwards, the prestigious honour with its peppercorn salary and liquid remuneration of a ‘butt of sack’ has been a masculine stronghold, handed down from man to man.

“But that dominance could well be set to come to an end this week after it was let slip that the name of Carol Ann Duffy has been put forward for the Queen’s approval to assume the role from the outgoing Laureate Andrew Motion. If all goes as planned, the Glasgow-born poet will become not only the first woman to hold the post but the first openly gay one.” (more @ The Independent)

Update: (5/1/09) After 341 Years, a Woman Is British Poet Laureate

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wordsworth-grave“The 23rd of April is a bad, bad day to be a poet. It’s the cruellest day in the cruellest month, as TS Eliot almost said.

“Lots of people know that today is the day William Shakespeare, the greatest poet in the language, was born in 1564 and that it’s the day he died in 1616. I don’t want to sound like a local radio DJ doing a less than cheery ‘on this day’ feature for dark times, but for poets in particular, and for creative literary people in general, this day really is hard to ignore: William Wordsworth wandered his last lonely walk on this day, as did the great Spanish author CervantesHenry Vaughan, the Welsh metaphysical poet, breathed his last lungful of gorgeous Welsh air on this day. Rupert Brooke died today in 1915, and Harold Arlen – whose songs such as Stormy Weather and Let’s Fall in Love (mind you, he didn’t write the lyrics) approach the status of poetry – passed to the far side of the rainbow on 23 April 1986.” (more @ Guardian UK)

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“Good writers show us new places. Great writers give us new ways of looking at the old one. Just as Ruskin enabled a generation of Europeans to see the landscape that was actually in front of them rather than the conventionalized approximations they carried around in their heads, so is Gaitskill one of those rare artists who can endow us with braver, more vigilant senses. You step out of her books and into a whole new world.”

So says William Deresiewicz in his fine review of Mary Gaitskill‘s novels and early short fiction.

But not so, concludes Deresiewicz, with her new short story collection, Don’t Cry:

“A young writer pours her agonies of soul into work of uncompromising honesty. She stares into an abyss of pain so that we may see the truth. But few have the energy to sustain such effort indefinitely. Eventually, the spirit seeks rest–seeks comfort, seeks consolation, seeks peace. It happened to Wordsworth and Conrad, and now it seems to be happening to Mary Gaitskill. The hunger has gone out of her work. Gaitskill was a great poet of youthful suffering. Whether she can reinvent herself as a chronicler of maturity remains to be seen.”

I am among the many fans of Gaitskill’s fiction disappointed by the largely unfavorable reviews for Don’t Cry. Readers new to Gaitskill’s work — and she deserves a wide audience — are best to begin at the beginning, with her first short story collection, Bad Behavior.

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shakespeare-on-bookBaptized on April 26, 1564, William Shakespeare‘s actual birthday is unknown but is traditionally observed on April 23rd, St. George’s Day. But how likely is it that today is the Bard of Avon’s real birthday?

“There is no evidence, alas, to support the popular belief that William Shakespeare was born — as fifty-two years later he was to die — on 23 April, the date celebrated in England since 1222 as the feast day of dragon-slaying St George. As the poet’s posthumous fame grew, securing a unique niche for his country in the cultural history of the world, it was a natural enough temptation for posterity to unite the birthday of England’s national poet with that of its patron saint. But the tradition is based on a false assumption, that Elizabethan baptisms invariably took place three days after the birth.” (more @ English History)

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rossetFrom NPR, a profile of publisher Barney Rosset, former owner of Grove Press and The Evergreen Review, in advance of the publication of his autobiography, The Subject Is Left Handed, which takes its name from his FBI file. The article includes a clip from Obscene,” a film biography (2007) of Rosset, in which Rosset discusses acquiring Samuel Beckett‘s Waiting for Godot.

“Independent publisher Barney Rosset was there for some of the most important — and controversial — developments in 20th century American literary history. The first to publish Samuel Beckett in the United States, Rosset has been honored by the National Book Foundation, the Association of American Publishers and the French Ministry of Culture.

“Born to a wealthy Chicago banker, Rosset served as a photographer in World War II and afterward tried his hand at filmmaking and writing before buying a small, nearly defunct publishing company named Grove Press in 1951. . . .

“Rosset knew nothing about the business of publishing, but one of the first books Grove put out in 1954 became one of its most important: Waiting for Godot, by Samuel Beckett. . . .

“Over the years Grove did have a couple of best-sellers, including A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole and Games People Play, by Eric Bern. And Grove championed the avant garde and politically inflammatory. It published the work of noted 20th century playwrights like Eugene Ionesco, Harold Pinter, Tom Stoppard and David Mamet, as well as The Autobiography of Malcolm X, which had been dropped by Doubleday.

“In 1957 Grove Press got into magazine publishing; The Evergreen Review became one of the most important magazines of the counterculture . . . Two years after launching The Evergreen Review, Rosset stepped into the national headlines when he decided that Grove would publish Lawrence’s novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which other American publishers had shunned because of its frank sexuality. After the postal service impounded more than a hundred copies of the book, Rosset went to court claiming it was protected under the First Amendment. He won, but that was only part of his strategy. His real goal, Rosset says, was to publish another banned book: Henry Miller’s 1934 autobiographical novel, Tropic of Cancer.” (more @ NPR)

Related

[INTERVIEWER: Didn't you say somewhere, "I am for obscenity and against pornography"?

MILLER: Well, it's very simple. The obscene would be the forthright, and pornography would be the roundabout. I believe in saying the truth, coming out with it cold, shocking if necessary, not disguising it. In other words, obscenity is a cleansing process, whereas pornography only adds to the murk.]

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nabokov“Penguin is to publish Vladimir Nabokov‘s unfinished final novel, The Original of Laura. Penguin Classics editor Alexis Kirschbaum bought the book, together with continuing rights to the Nabokov backlist, in a six-figure deal through Andrew Wylie. The Original of Laura will be published as a Penguin Classics hardback at £25 on 3rd November, and simultaneously by Knopf in the US.

“Nabokov left the novel unfinished when he died in 1977, asking for it to be destroyed. His son Dimitri Nabokov finally took the decision to publish, bearing in mind that his father once also intended to burn his best-known work, Lolita. . . .

“The novel is narrated by a man who, when young, fell obsessively in love with a young girl, but who is now unhappily married to a promiscuous wife with whom he is infatuated. Kirschbaum said the book was both dark and comic, and continued the theme of nostalgia for young love begun in Mary and continued in Lolita and Ada.” (more @ The Bookseller)

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Judith F. Krug, who led the campaign by libraries against efforts to ban books, including helping found Banned Books Week, then fought laws and regulations to limit children’s access to the Internet, died Saturday in Evanston, Ill. She was 69. . . .

“As the American Library Association’s official proponent of the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech since the 1960s, Ms. Krug (pronounced kroog) fought the banning of books, including ‘Huckleberry Finn,’ ‘Mein Kampf,’ ‘Little Black Sambo,’ ‘Catcher in the Rye’ and sex manuals. In 1982, she helped found Banned Books Week, an annual event that includes authors reading from prohibited books.

“She also fought for the inclusion of literature on library shelves that she herself found offensive, like ‘The Blue Book’ of the ultraconservative John Birch Society. The book is a transcript of a two-day monologue by Robert Welch at the founding meeting of the society in 1958.

“‘My personal proclivities have nothing to do with how I react as a librarian,’ Ms. Krug said in an interview with The New York Times in 1972. ‘Library service in this country should be based on the concept of intellectual freedom, of providing all pertinent information so a reader can make decisions for himself.’ (cont’d @ NY Times)

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evesedgwickEve Kosofsky Sedgwick died in New York yesterday, at the age of fifty-nine, following a long battle with breast cancer. The literary critic, who taught most recently at the CUNY Graduate Center, is best known for her formative work in the field of queer theory (in the books ‘Between Men’ and ‘Epistemology of the Closet’), including a number of provocative — and often scandalous — readings of classic literary texts. In the nineteen-eighties and nineties, her visibility as a member of Duke University’s English Department placed her at the forefront of the culture wars, but her largely symbolic role in those conflicts meant that criticism of her work seldom did justice to the subtlety and searing wit of her writing, nor to her sensitivity to the social and sexual bonds that tie us to each other and to the world.” (more @ The New Yorker)

RelatedEve Kosofsky Sedgwick, a Pioneer of Gay Studies and a Literary Theorist, Dies at 58

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