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Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category

PD*4001807“Rather than killing it off, modern technologies like email, social networking sites such as Facebook and online media players are helping poets reach new audiences.”

Signs of growth, by the numbers:

  • The number of entries for the Foyle Young Poets Award more than doubling from 2003 to 2008 to almost 12,000.
  • The number of pamphlets sent to the Poetry Book Society for publication rose from 37 to 90 between 2006 and 2008.
  • Websites like Poetry Archive, which enables people to listen to recordings of poets like TS Eliot and Allen Ginsberg reading their work, are now enjoying unprecedented success. Poetry Archive . . . now receives 135,000 visitors a month and a million page hits. (via Daily Telegraph)

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“Joseph O’Neill’s novel ‘Netherland’ was named the winner of the 2009 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, the PEN/Faulkner Foundation said on Wednesday. The honor for ‘Netherland,’ about a Dutch-born equities analyst, his British wife and their son, who live in New York during the Sept. 11 attack and its aftermath, is something of a comeback for Mr. O’Neill. The novel, though widely praised, was shut out in the National Book Awards and the National Book Critics Circle awards.” (via NY Times)

Michiko Kakutani’s New York Times review of “Netherland” can be found here.

[In many ways “Netherland” is a book about sports — in this instance cricket — and national identity; but the novel also contains some of the finest descriptions of ethnic New York City found anywhere. Related20 Are Detained After Cricket Attack (3/4/09, via NY Times)]

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“Every few years, someone counts up the titles covered in the New York Times Book Review and the short fiction published in the New Yorker, as well as the bylines and literary works reviewed in such highbrow journals as Harper’s and the New York Review of Books, and observes that the male names outnumber the female by about 2 to 1. This situation is lamentable, as everyone but a handful of embittered cranks seems to agree, but it’s not clear that anyone ever does anything about it. The bestseller lists, though less intellectually exalted, tend to break down more evenly along gender lines; between J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer alone, the distaff side is more than holding its own in terms of revenue. But when it comes to respect, are women writers getting short shrift?” (more @ Salon)

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typewriterAhead of their publication later this year of six new short story collections, Harper Perennial has kicked off promotion of its “2009: Summer of the Short Story” campaign by launching a new blog, Fifty-Two Stories.

As reported by Publishers Weekly, the publishing house announced “that each week in 2009 it is posting a new short story. Some are new stories from Harper Perennial’s original collections or from upcoming hardcovers; some are original contributions never before published anywhere; and some are backlist classics. . . .

“Harper Perennial’s editorial director, Cal Morgan, selects a new story each week and posts it Sunday night. In January, Fifty-Two Stories featured stories by Mary Gaitskill, Tony O’Neill, Simon Van Booy and Tom Piazza. Last week, it posted a previously unpublished story from Louise Erdrich’s new collection, The Red Convertible, which Harper published in January. This week there’s a story by Willa Cather from The Bohemian Girl, a forthcoming selection of Cather’s greatest short works. Future selections include works by Katherine Dunn, Jess Walter, Mark Twain and Dennis Cooper.”

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pessl2Writing in The Virginia Quarterly Review, Jacob Silverman denounces the “lazy and shallow tactic” of discussing an author’s looks in a book review. He recalls the often overheated commentary about Marisha Pessl‘s dust jacket photo in her 2006 debut novel, Special Topics In Calamity Physics, and takes Janet Maslin to task for her February 15th New York Times review of Miriam Gershow’s The Local News.

[Related: “The dust jacket photo remains a crucial promotional device. In fact, says Antonia Hodgson, the editor-in-chief at the publisher Little, Brown, it’s more important than ever.” (more @ Looking the part, 4/10/09, The National)]

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upward“With Mr. Upward’s death, on Feb. 13 in Pontefract, England, the last living link was broken to writers like [Christopher] IsherwoodW. H. Auden and Stephen Spender who shaped English literature in the 1930s. In reporting Mr. Upward’s death, London newspapers said that at 105 he was Britain’s oldest author.

“His influence on his contemporaries was both literary and political, silly and serious. The Mortmere tales — for which biographers give the main credit to Mr. Upward — inspired Auden’s poetry. Isherwood sent manuscripts to Mr. Upward for judgment. Mr. Upward helped convert Spender to Communism.” (via NY Times)

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best-sex1In a posting earlier this week on his New York Times blog about books, David Kelly included an excerpt from Daphne Merkin’s essay, “Penises I Have Known,” one of the 23 pieces in the recently released compilation, “Best Sex Writing 2009,” edited by sex commentator and erotic author Rachel Kramer Bussel.

Merkin’s essay, previously published in Playboy, considers Norman Mailer‘s and Harold Brodkey‘s writings about sex as well as D.H. Lawrence‘s curious penchant for naming body parts.

[Available from Amazon.com as a Kindle Edition download, I hadn’t previously thought of the Kindle as the modern-day equivalent of the tried-and-true brown paper wrapper. We’ve come a long way, baby.]

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kahn-catalog“We’ve all gotten pretty used to looking for books electronically . . . with the result that most dealers, for one reason or another, but usually because of the considerable production costs involved, have moved away from the printed catalogs, which is a shame, because there is still nothing like getting a lively new list of offerings in the mail, and going through it with the kind of leisured approach such an exercise demands.” (via Fine Books & Collections)

[As a long-time collector of modern American literature, my collecting interests, if not my spending power, share much in common with Bruce Kahn’s. The sale by Ken Lopez and Tom Congalton of Kahn’s collection of signed first editions, including so many literary “high spots,” is a rare event in the book collecting world. As such, the just-issued sale catalog is, and will remain, an essential reference for collectors in this field. A copy can be obtained from Ken Lopez, a respected “Americanist” who continues to publish first-rate sales catalogs of modern American literature.]

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margaret-atwood-002“The acclaimed Canadian author Margaret Atwood has pulled out of a Dubai literature festival after the blacklisting of the British novelist Geraldine Bedell for potential offence to ‘cultural sensitivities’.

“Bedell’s novel The Gulf Between Us, a romantic comedy set in a fictional Gulf emirate, was due to receive its official launch at the event, which claims to be the ‘first true literary festival in the Middle East’.

“According to Bedell, organisers were initially keen to feature the book, but then backtracked, citing its discussion of Islam and its focus on the Iraq war, as well as the fact that a minor character is a gay sheikh with an English boyfriend.

“In a letter to Isobel Abulhoul, the festival’s director, Atwood wrote that ‘as an international vice-president of Pen, an organisation concerned with the censorship of writers, I cannot be part of the festival this year’.”

(via The Guardian)

Abulhoul’s response to Atwood’s withdrawal has been published on the Emirates Airline International Festival of Literature website.

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kafkaIn his fine essay published earlier this month in The Nation, Alexander Provan considers the recent literature on the life and work of Franz Kafka and argues for a more expansive appreciation of the novelist and short story writer than the impression of him in “the popular imagination [which has] been subsumed by a one-word slogan: Kafkaesque.”

“Kafka’s singular insight,” writes Provan, “was that the ‘rationalization’ of society, with the bureaucracy as its engine, was increasingly shaping individuals and relations between them. His genius was to make this observation into something more than a trope or a theme in his writing, to give this new social force a literary form.”

Yet if “Kafkaesque” is as author Louis Begley describes — the existential predicament of struggling “in a maze that sometimes seems to have been designed on purpose to thwart and defeat [Kafka’s characters]. More often, the opposite appears to be true: there is no purpose; the maze simply exists” — then, as Provan enumerates, these are indeed Kafkaesque times:

Kafkaesque “is the explosion of the international market for mortgage-backed securities and derivatives, in which value is not attached to the thing itself but to speculation on an invented product tangentially related to (but not really tied to) that thing. It is FEMA’s process for granting housing assistance after Hurricane Katrina: victims were routinely informed of their applications’ rejection by letters offering not actual explanations but ‘reason codes.’ It is the Bush administration’s declaration that certain Guantánamo Bay detainees who had wasted away for years without trial were ‘no longer enemy combatants’ and its simultaneous refusal to release them or clarify whether they had ever been such.”

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churchillThe New York Times earlier this week reported that the New York Theater Workshop is considering mounting Caryl Churchill‘s controversial new play, “Seven Jewish Children: A Play for Gaza,” which is critical of Israel’s recent military offensive in Gaza. The play, which runs for only ten minutes, is currently being performed at the Royal Court Theater in London – on the theater’s website, Churchill, described as “one of the titans of British theatre,” is quoted as saying, “Israel has done lots of terrible things in the past, but what happened in Gaza seemed particularly extreme.” The play is being performed without an admission charge – audience members are asked afterwards for contributions to the charity “Medical Aid for Palestinians.”

In today’s New York Times, Robert Mackey gathers opinions from both sides of the Atlantic as well as the Middle East: included are columnists; theater critics; the vice chairman of the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland, Jonathan Hoffman; and Susannah Tarbush, who writes in The Saudi Gazette that the play “succinctly dramatizes the tragedies and ironies of history for both sides.”

The full text (.pdf) of “Seven Jewish Children: A Play for Gaza,” can be downloaded here.

Update: (3/26/09) ‘Tell Her the Truth’ (A response to Churchill’s play by Tony Kushner & Alisa Solomon)

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language_books“Americans have developed an admirable fondness for books, food, and music that preprocess other cultures. But for all our enthusiasm, have we lost our taste for the truly foreign?”

(via The Wilson Quarterly)

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cheever-storiesJohn Cheever‘s long out-of-print short story, “Of Love: A Testimony,” one of a dozen Cheever stories not included in the 1978 Pulitzer Prize-winning anthology “The Stories of John Cheever,” is currently being serialized online at FiveChapters.com(via New York Observer)

[Last week, on his New York Times blog “Talk Show,” Dick Cavett reminisced about the October 14, 1981 edition of “The Dick Cavett Show” when Cheever and John Updike appeared together. In the featured video clips, both writers speak admiringly of the other’s work. (Writers Bloc: When Updike and Cheever Came to Visit)]

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Book Review Widows Of EastwickWhile searching the web for articles on John Updike I was amused to learn that Updike’s “The Widows of Eastwick” had been shortlisted for this past year’s Literary Review Bad Sex in Fiction Award (he did not win, although he did receive a Lifetime Achievement Award).

One link led to another, which led to my thinking about the ubiquity of “pornography,” especially on the web. Shannon Rupp asserts that “the ubiquity of porn has rendered it invisible for most adults” and asks “why has pornographic imagery become such an acceptable part of public culture?” Bob Guccione, Jr., founder of Spin magazine and son of the founder of Penthouse magazine, opines on the future of pornography here.

Finally, here is a video clip from a November, 2008 interview of John Updike by Charlie Rose in which the author considers his “feminist detractors.”

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updikeJoseph O’Neill, author of last year’s highly regarded novel, “Netherland” — one of the finest contemporary novels about New York City and one of the few novels “about” 9/11 worth reading (my very short list would also include “Saturday,” by Ian McEwan and “The Emperor’s Children” by Claire Messud) — writes of the debt owed Updike by contemporary writers. For O’Neill, “The death of John Updike is an instant literary disaster.”  

Why Updike Matters (via Granta)

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upd0-005“My subject is the American Protestant small town middle class,” Mr. Updike told Jane Howard in a 1966 interview for Life magazine. “I like middles,” he continued. “It is in middles that extremes clash, where ambiguity restlessly rules.”

[My first encounter with Updike’s writings was during the summer of 1970 when I was required to complete a summer school course in American Literature to satisfy the requirements of my high school diploma that was provisionally bestowed that June.  As an “extra credit” project, I read Updike’s first novel, “The Poorhouse Fair,” which led me to consider his short story collection, “Pigeon Feathers.”  Updike’s anthology, which even he, apparently, considered among his finest work, kindled my everlasting appreciation for short story writing.  Updike also contributed one of the greatest sports essays ever written, “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu,” about Ted Williams’ last major league game.]

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