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Archive for the ‘Books’ 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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Water Street, (DUMBO) Brooklyn (February, 2010)

(See more photos from the “Literature Versus Traffic” project @ luzinterruptus)

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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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“The final chapter has been written for the lone bookstore on the streets of Laredo (Texas).

“With a population of nearly a quarter-million people, this city could soon be the largest in the nation without a single bookseller.

“The situation is so grim that schoolchildren have pleaded for a reprieve from next month’s planned shutdown of the B. Dalton bookstore. After that, the nearest store will be 150 miles away in San Antonio.

“The B. Dalton store was never a community destination with comfy couches and an espresso bar, but its closing will create a literary void in a city with a high illiteracy rate. Industry analysts and book associations could not name a larger American city without a single bookseller.” (cont’d @ NY Times)

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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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old-books-300x205“Old books smell like grass, with a tang of acidity and a hint of vanilla, according to scientists who have discovered a way to tell the condition of an [sic] works by their odour.

“The system can measure the degradation of old books and historical documents on the basis of their aroma.

“Now the scientists say their non-destructive ‘sniff’ test could help libraries and museums preserve a range of prized objects, some of which are degrading rapidly due to advancing age.

“Matija Strlic, a chemist at University College London, and lead author of the study, and her team note that the well-known musty smell of an old book, as readers leaf through the pages, is the result of hundreds of so-called volatile organic compounds (VOCs) released into the air from the paper. . . .

“Conventional methods for analysing library and archival materials involve removing samples of the document and then testing them with traditional laboratory equipment. But the new approach involves no damage to the document.

“The new technique analyses the gases emitted by old books and documents without altering the documents themselves.” (more @ The Telegraph UK, via Melville House)

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Gopnik Cookbooks“Vicarious pleasure? More like deferred frustration. Anyone who cooks knows that it is in following recipes that one first learns the anticlimax of the actual, the perpetual disappointment of the thing achieved. I learned it as I learned to bake. When I was in my early teens, the sick yearning for sweets that adolescents suffer drove me, in afternoons taken off from school, to bake, which, miraculously, meant just doing what the books said and hoping to get what they promised to yield. I followed the recipes as closely as I could: dense Boston cream pie, Rigó Jansci slices, Sacher Torte with apricot jam between the layers. The potential miracle of the cookbook was immediately apparent: you start with a feeling of greed, find a list of rules, assemble a bunch of ingredients, and then you have something to be greedy about. You begin with the ache and end with the object, where in most of the life of appetites—courtship, marriage—you start with the object and end with the ache.” (more @ The New Yorker)

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OED“Ever wonder how people really talked in the 1800s, or 1500s, or earlier?

“You can stop building the time machine. Such questions are now easier to answer than ever before, with the publication—after 44 years of work—of the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary. At almost 4,000 pages and about 800,000 meanings, this mind-boggling reference work is the biggest thesaurus ever and the world’s first historical thesaurus: It takes the enormity of the OED and arranges it thematically and chronologically.” (cont’d @ GOOD)

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Levi-StraussClaude Lévi-Strauss, the French anthropologist who transformed Western understanding of what was once called ‘primitive man’ and who towered over the French intellectual scene in the 1960s and ’70s, has died at 100. . . .

“A powerful thinker, Mr. Lévi-Strauss was an avatar of ‘structuralism,’ a school of thought in which universal ‘structures’ were believed to underlie all human activity, giving shape to seemingly disparate cultures and creations. His work was a profound influence even on his critics, of whom there were many. There has been no comparable successor to him in France. And his writing — a mixture of the pedantic and the poetic, full of daring juxtapositions, intricate argument and elaborate metaphors — resembles little that had come before in anthropology. . . .

“A descendant of a distinguished French-Jewish artistic family, Mr. Lévi-Strauss was a quintessential French intellectual, as comfortable in the public sphere as in the academy. He taught at universities in Paris, New York and São Paulo and also worked for the United Nations and the French government.

“His legacy is imposing. ‘Mythologiques,’ his four-volume work about the structure of native mythology in the Americas, attempts nothing less than an interpretation of the world of culture and custom, shaped by analysis of several hundred myths of little-known tribes and traditions. The volumes — ‘The Raw and the Cooked,’ ‘From Honey to Ashes,’ ‘The Origin of Table Manners’ and ‘The Naked Man,’ published from 1964 to 1971 — challenge the reader with their complex interweaving of theme and detail.” (more @ NY Times)

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Bookcover1Bookcover2

Two examples from the extraordinary selection of twenty-five Weimer-era book covers and posters from the sadly out-of-print book Blickfang: Bucheinbände und Schutzumschläge Berliner Verlage 1919 – 1933 (Holstein, 2005), posted by Will on his blog, A Journey Round My Skull. (via thebookslut)

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lonely_planet“It was bought amid a flurry of raised eyebrows and has sat uneasily in a global broadcasting and media stable ever since — and yesterday Lonely Planet was once again the subject of speculation, uncertainty and possibly even a little controversy.

“The backpackers’ essential guides to, well, pretty much everywhere may, it seems, be heading back into the uncharted territory of the marketplace, barely two years after BBC Worldwide paid £90 million for the company.

“As part of Lonely Planet takeover in October 2007, its founders Tony and Maureen Wheeler, who published their first guide — South East Asia on a Shoestring — 34 years ago, were left with a 25 per cent stake, valued at A$67.3 million before the credit crunch, which they could have sold to the BBC at any time before Saturday.

“However, BBC insiders said yesterday that the Wheelers’ put option had been extended, triggering speculation that the broadcaster is preparing to offload the travel publisher, whose original purchase has so damaged its reputation.” (cont’d @ Times Online)

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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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HopperChopSuey“Is there anything more American than Chinese food? Remember that scene in ‘Manhattan’ where Woody Allen and Mariel Hemingway cozy up in bed in his cramped apartment with cardboard boxes of something in black-bean sauce while W. C. Fields plays on the television? Or the scene in ‘A Christmas Story’ when the holiday meal is rescued by crispy duck? Both examples highlight one of the key features of American Chinese food: it’s always there when you’re in a tight spot. And it really is always there. One of the fascinating facts in Andrew Coe’s new history ‘Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States’ is that there are today over forty thousand Chinese restaurants in the country, ‘as exciting,’ Coe writes, ‘as the corner gas station or the Super 8 Motel down by the highway entrance.'” (cont’d @ The New Yorker)

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Pastrami“He may have written a book about Jewish food, but David Sax is quite a ham. He refers to a deli’s finances as ‘pastraminomics,’ describes a knish as being ‘baked to a George Hamiltonesque hue,’ and titles a chapter on Las Vegas’s deli scene ‘Luck Be a Brisket Tonight.’

“But in addition to Catskills shtick, journalist Sax brings passion and substance to Save the Deli, his paean to the Jewish delicatessen experience. The heart of the book is his cross-country road trip, during which he sizes up the state of the deli in cities obvious (New York, Los Angeles, Miami) and unlikely (Boulder, Salt Lake City, Houston).” (cont’d @ Barnes & Noble Review)

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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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