Books in General

Man Booker prize 2015: US literary agent among 13 writers on longlist

29 July 2015

From The Guardian:

An American literary agent known for his ruthless negotiating and memoirs recounting his struggles with crack-cocaine and alcohol, has made it on to the 2015 Man Booker longlist with his debut novel.

Bill Clegg is one of 13 writers who will compete for the £50,000 prize which, for the second year, allows in writers of all nationalities writing in English.

Previously restricted to Commonwealth and Irish writers, the rule change allowed American novelists in for the first time last year.

. . . .

The academic Michael Wood, who chaired the judging panel, said the judges had a great time choosing the list from the 156 books in contention. “Discussions weren’t always peaceful, but they were always very friendly,” he said. “We were lucky in our companions and the submissions were extraordinary. The longlist could have been twice as long, but we’re more than happy with our final choice.

“The range of different performances and forms of these novels is amazing. All of them do something exciting with the language they have chosen to use.”

There are five US writers, the biggest contingent on the longlist. Clegg is interesting because he is best known for pushing other writers and for securing million-dollar deals in his role as an agent.

His yet-to-be-published Did You Ever Have a Family tells the story of a middle-aged woman struggling to recover after an explosion kills her family.

The book was so coveted by publishers that the winning bidder, Gallery Books, even set up a new imprint for literary fiction, Scout, with the Clegg novel as its opener.

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to Dave for the tip.

Boris Johnson to write Shakespeare biography

27 July 2015

From The Bookseller:

[London mayor] Boris Johnson is to write a biography of William Shakespeare for Hodder & Stoughton for October 2016.

The publisher has confirmed the deal, which was reported in the Sunday Times to have been done for £500,000. The newspaper reported that Johnson’s advance was almost seven times his salary as an MP, which is £74,000.

Last year Johnson authored a biography of Winston Churchill, The Churchill Factor, for Hodder. It has sold 187,568 copies through Nielsen BookScan, for a value of just over £2.6m so far.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Regardless of politics, PG wishes he could think of a major US politician who was capable of writing biographies of Shakespeare and Churchill.

Which Classic Literary Genre Are You?

27 July 2015

From About Education:

Have you ever wondered which genre of classic literature is perfect for you? Do you think you’re best suited for a life of leisure oradventure? Is your imagination out of this world, or are you more interested in the every day experience?

Take our quiz below to find the perfect match for your bookish personality! Just a grab a piece of paper and a pen/pencil, jot down the letter you choose for each of the four questions below and then scroll down for your results!

Here we go!

1. You’re stranded on a desert island. What happens next?

  • A. You decide to investigate the island, looking especially for clues that will reveal how you got there, what happened to the airplane (which has mysteriously disappeared!) and who might have a motive for stranding you and your group in this distant isle.
  • B. You’ll make friends with the island natives and they will eventually lead you to their inland waterfall. When there, you discover that the water has special powers: when you cup your hands beneath the fall and drink from it, your dreams and wishes begin to come true.
  • C. At first, the island appears like any other, so you assume this was just an accident. But then you remember the mysterious visage of the brooding pilot and how he seemed particularly interested in your life’s history. Could the pilot have landed here intentionally? And what is that flickering light just beyond the ridge? A candlelit cave? And this? A bucket of champagne? Interesting…
  • D. Take a look around. Make friends with the native people. Learn how to fish and build a boat. Get rescued and go back to the mainland, where you reflect on all that you’ve learned.

. . . .

4. You’ve been offered an all-expenses paid trip to a destination of your choice. Where do you go?

  • A. Ah, interesting. There’s an archive in Brussels I’ve been meaning to visit. You see, approximately 82 years ago a complicated case was dismissed due to lack of motive; however, I think I’m onto something. If only I could find the records for train schedules leaving Brussels and arriving in Paris on these three exact dates…
  • B. You know, I’ve always wanted to go to the moon. But, now that you mention it, the moon is so close, and other people have already visited. What about a trip to another dimension? No, too risky – I could turn out to be two-dimensional. I know! A trip to the past, but not just any past, an alternative past. Let’s see, now, which former U.S. President decided to pursue life as a clown instead?
  • C. There’s an old Celtic worship site in the southwest of Scotland. I remember my lover once mentioning that a brother of hers became a priest there, in the pagan sense. Perhaps he can explain these headaches and visions I’ve been having. Has she been trying to contact me after all these years?
  • D. A trip? I’m not sure I have time for a trip. Perhaps I could pursue a detailed day in the life of my neighbors. Or spend some time alone, reflecting on life and my place in it. The ladies club does meet on Tuesdays – perhaps we’ll take a day trip to the coast and leave it at that.

Link to the rest at About Education

Do We Have a Great American Novel?

26 July 2015

From Real Clear Books:

Although J.D. Salinger had previously written short stories for The New Yorker, he wasn’t widely known until “The Catcher in the Rye” was published on July 16, 1951. Curious literary sleuths found a few interesting leads. Drafted into the U.S. Army in his early 20s, Salinger had participated in the Normandy invasion and had fought in the Battle of the Bulge.

Later, it was learned that Salinger had carried chapters from “The Catcher in the Rye” manuscript in his pack when he waded ashore on Utah Beach. After the fighting ended, he was briefly hospitalized for what was then called “battle fatigue,” which may help explain his later behavior.

Yet even before the war, some Ursinus College grads would remember a transitory student clad in a black chesterfield with a velvet collar tramping around campus bragging that he was going to write the Great American Novel. That phrase was about as dated as Salinger’s chesterfield coat, but when “The Catcher in the Rye” appeared in 1951 some book critics thought he’d delivered on his boast.

In academic circles, the phase “Great American Novel” is credited to a now-forgotten writer named John W. De Forest. Writing in The Nation magazine three years after the end of the Civil War, De Forest called for a single sweeping narrative that would explain where the United States had been and where it ought to be going.

Was this an as-yet unwritten masterpiece? Or did it already exist in America’s literary canon? De Forest seemed to be of two minds on this question. Although he specifically rejected the romantic literary novels of Nathaniel Hawthorne and James Fennimore Cooper, he did nominate “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” as a possible claimant to the mantle of Great American Novel. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s famous anti-slavery novel was certainly a worthy candidate. Published 16 years earlier, in 1852, it was already a classic.

. . . .

[T]he list of books bestowed the unofficial G.A.N. title over the centuries include “Moby Dick,” written a decade before the Civil War, “The Virginian,” “My Antonia,” “Ethan Frome,” “The Great Gatsby,” “The Sun Also Rises,” “Grapes of Wrath,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Citizen Kane,” “All the King’s Men,” “Lonesome Dove,” “Beloved,” and many more.

I’d personally lobby for inclusion on the list two books set in the American West, though they are not westerns, precisely. These contenders are Wallace Stegner’s 1972 “Angle of Repose,” and the more recent “Snow Falling on Cedars” by David Guterson. A few years ago Time magazine put a contemporary writer, Jonathan Franzen, on its cover with the headline, “Great American Novelist.”

Link to the rest at Real Clear Books and thanks to Julia for the tip.

PG wonders if anyone worries about a Great British Novel or a Great Canadian Novel.

The Obsessively Detailed Map of American Literature’s Most Epic Road Trips

25 July 2015

From Atlas Obscura:

I am a freak for the American road trip. And I’m not alone, as some of this country’s best writers have taken a shot at describing that quintessentially American experience. “There is no such knowledge of the nation as comes of traveling in it, of seeing eye to eye its vast extent, its various and teeming wealth, and, above all, its purpose-full people,” the newspaper editor Samuel Bowles wrote 150 years ago in Across the Continent, arguably the first true American road-trip book.

The above map is the result of a painstaking and admittedly quixotic effort to catalog the country as it has been described in the American road-tripping literature. It includes every place-name reference in 12 books about cross-country travel, from Mark Twain’s Roughing It (1872) to Cheryl Strayed’s Wild (2012), and maps the authors’ routes on top of one another. You can track an individual writer’s descriptions of the landscape as they traveled across it, or you can zoom in to see how different authors have written about the same place at different times.

. . . .

Rolling Nowhere: Riding the Rails With America’s Hoboes, Ted Conover.1984. Conover, our most accomplished method journalist, studies with a merciful lack of sentimentality a subculture of transients that has long been mourned and romanticized more than it has been loved or even tolerated.

. . . .

Blue Highways: A Journey into America, William Least Heat Moon. 1982. Not less critical of America and Americans than Bryson but more interestingly so, the author takes his van on the road for three months after separating from his wife and sticks only to smaller highways while avoiding the cities. He has long debates about local history and current affairs with people on the road and pays especial attention to quirky place-names–a traveler after my own heart.

. . . .

Roughing It, Mark Twain. 1872. Twain’s book about his journey west by stagecoach a decade earlier is a incredible account of transcontinental travel before the railroad made it infinitely easier; his sections about the early Mormons in Salt Lake City, the mining settlements in Nevada and the pre-Americanized Sandwich Islands–aka, Hawaii–are also well worth the read.

Link to the rest, including the map, at Atlas Obscura and thanks to Matthew and several others for the tip.

Facepaint, champagne and antelope skin – writers’ oddball quirks revealed

23 July 2015

From The Guardian:

When writing, I like to pace back and forth across a room. Usually I don’t even realise I’m doing it until I collide with an inanimate object or an unfortunate passerby. Apparently I’m in good company: Charles Dickens, William Wordsworth and Virginia Woolf all paced while writing, while Philip Roth has said he walks “half a mile for every page”.

While we all have our little quirks, some are definitely more bizarre than others. From painting their face green to always writing drunk, here are five of the most peculiar writing habits.

TS Eliot wore green makeup and lipstick when he wrote

After writing The Waste Land, TS Eliot took to wearing green-tinted face powder and lipstick – and his strange complexion did not go unnoticed. In the early 20s,Osbert Sitwell said Eliot’s face was “pale but distinctly green … the colour of forced lily-of-the-valley.” Likewise, while writing in her diary on 12 March 1922, Virginia Woolf remarked: “I am not sure that he does not paint his lips.”

Quite why he assumed a green pallor, nobody knew. But there were rumours. While talking to Woolf’s sister Vanessa, Clive Bell said he thought Eliot powdered his face in order to look “interesting and cadaverous”.

His biographer, Peter Ackroyd, agreed: “Eliot felt wearing face powder made him look more modern, more interesting, a poet rather than a bank official.”

. . . .

George Bernard Shaw wrote in a revolving shed

Shaw constructed a unique invention “the revolving writing hut” which was mounted on a circular mechanism – allowing him to follow the sun throughout the day as he worked.

The shed also afforded Shaw privacy while writing. “People bother me,” Shaw said. “I come here to hide from them.” Quite. And while hidden in his shed, Shaw wrote some of his best-known works, including Pygmalion and Androcles and the Lion.

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to Meryl for the tip.

Self-Censoring Font Redacts Words the Feds Are Watching For

23 July 2015

From Wired:

IF EDWARD SNOWDEN taught us anything, it’s that the government is always watching, always listening. Nothing escapes its notice, even that seemingly innocuous Facebook post you made about your trip to Mexico or your tweet about the amazing pork belly you had last night.

The Department of Homeland Security has a list of 370 words it tracks on social media to identify possible terroristic or public health treats and follow unfolding natural disasters. That list, included in the 2011 Analysts Desktop Binder, includes obvious red flags like Al-Qaeda, North Korea, and suicide bomber. But seemingly banal words like help, pork, and snow are on there, too.

Seen, a downloadable font from designer Emil Kozole, brilliantly illustrates these linguistic triggers by redacting these so-called spook words. Type something as innocent as “facility” or “San Diego” and before your cursor even jumps a space ahead, the word is hidden behind a black strike-through. It’s disturbing, frustrating, and alarming, and that’s the point.

. . . .

Kozole began working on Seen in 2013 after Snowden released a trove of documents outlining the scale of US surveillance. He’d just moved to London from Slovenia to begin a master’s design program at Central Saint Martins. The designer was fascinated by digital surveillance, and the spook words identified by the Department of Homeland Security and Britain’s spy agency, the Government Communications Headquarters.

The designer programmed a custom-made Adobe OpenType font to recognize and redact these words, taken from a list the government released three years ago in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. When a hot word from the DHS or GCH database forms, the code in the typeface automatically strikes it out, leaving your document smeared with bold, black lines.




Link to the rest at Wired and thanks to Joshua for the tip.

Self-published title competes on Polari longlist

21 July 2015

From The Bookseller:

A self-published author will compete against books published by small and large presses for this year’s Polari First Book Prize.

The longlist for the prize, awarded to a writer whose first book explores the LGBT experience, whether in poetry, prose, fiction or non-fiction, was announced last night (20th July) at the Polari Literary Salon in London’s Southbank Centre.

Among the longlist are Al Brooks’ The Gift of Looking Closely, which Brooks has self-published. The book is about a woman coming to terms with the death of her mother.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

OMG, stop

21 July 2015

From author Amanda S. Green:

Just a short post to vent a little. I expect some authors to hate Amazon. A number have bought the propaganda that they have been told by their agents and publishers. They have forgotten that the locally owned bookstores were pushed out of the market by the likes of Barnes & Noble, Borders, Bookstop and others long before Amazon became a serious competitor. They forget that until Amazon came onto the scene with its Kindle Direct Publishing platform, self-publishing was pretty much a dirty word and a kiss of death when it came to trying to sell to traditional publishers. They forget that Amazon is the one place where readers can go to find just about anything they want, unlike the local big box bookstore that is limited to what their corporate purchasing office says it should stock.

But it really gets me when readers start buying into the Amazon is evil bit. Today I saw a post on a private forum I belong to where the poster was going to rush out and buy a certain e-book because he couldn’t trust Amazon to keep it in e-print. What?

. . . .

Amazon does not determine what is in e-print and what isn’t, unless it is something published through one of its imprints. What Amazon does is contract with publishers and indies to sell their works. That means that as long as a contract is in effect between the traditional publisher and Amazon, a work will be “in print”, assuming that publisher has the rights to offer the e-book.

. . . .

Frankly, most folks understood why Amazon had to remove the book from its sales pages. What irked them — okay, pissed them off — was Amazon reaching into their Kindles and apps and removing the books from their devices. Worse, in doing so, it also deleted any notes the customer may have made concerning the book. That is where they had the PR fail. And, as seen by the comment in the forum this morning, it is a fail they are still living down.

Link to the rest at Nocturnal Lives and thanks to Chris for the tip.

Here’s a link to Amanda S. Green’s books

Western Lit, shot to death by ‘trigger warnings’

20 July 2015

From Politico:

Boring bien pensant opinion in Europe has long maintained that low-brow American culture — all the greasy fast food, oafish Hollywood shoot ‘em up films (often starring a muscle-bound Austrian, Belgian, or Swede), and schlock television — has done incalculable damage to highbrow European culture. And it has happened with the assent of the average European, who happily scarfs down a McRib sandwich, feet swaddled in Air Jordans, while queuing for the latest “Transformers” film.

But there is a more pernicious American cultural invasion, as irritatingly destructive as the North American gray squirrel and, unlike the Hollywood blockbuster, wholly immune from free market pressures. It was noticed in 1994 by a reporter for Reuters, who gravely reported that the scourge of political correctness, “an American import regarded by many Britons with the same distaste as an unpleasant virus, finally seems to be infecting British society.” First it poisons the local universities, then within a generation wends its way into the broader culture, wreaking havoc on the native intellectual ecosystem. It’s the most odious, implacable, and least remarked upon manifestation of American cultural imperialism.

. . . .

Writing in the left-leaning magazine The New Statesman, British academic Pam Lowe worried that a new fad in American academia called the “trigger warning” would soon touch down in the UK, requiring the sensible professoriate to valiantly resist the boneheaded ideas of activist students. In his new book, appropriately titled “Trigger Warning,” British writer Mick Hume warns that trigger culture has already “spread across the Atlantic,” and supine European college administrators have given in faster than Marshal Pétain.

. . . .

So what exactly is a trigger warning? Precisely that: a label on a work of literature, history, and memoir, designed to forewarn students that what they are about to read might upset them or “trigger” an episode of PTSD. The warning allows psychologically damaged readers to opt out of an assignment, or at least steady a nervous hand while turning pages of a triggering book. One particularly silly American college gave an example of how professors might warn readers that Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe’s celebrated postcolonial novel “Things Fall Apart” could send them into spirals of despair, explaining that “it may trigger readers who have experienced racism, colonialism, religious persecution, violence, suicide, and more.”

. . . .

Last year, multiple Columbia students objected to the inclusion of Ovid’s 1st century lyric poem “Metamorphoses” in a class devoted to classic Western literature, with one tallying that it contains “roughly 80 instances of assault.” All of them triggering. Indeed, even this tally is an underestimate, she explained, having “treated many of the instances of mass rape on the syllabus as a single data point for simplicity.”

. . . .

European intelligentsia used to ruthlessly mock this type of censoriousness masquerading as sensitivity. Because until the mainstreaming of political correctness, these literary Carrie Nations, for the most part, all inhabited the same side of the ideological divide — they were almost all religious conservatives. I turned to the American Library Association’s 1995 list of banned books — literary works under attack by would-be censors and right-wing moral scolds — and noticed the inclusion of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic “The Great Gatsby,” which was rejected from Baptist College in South Carolina because of “language and sexual references.”

. . . .

Twenty years later, and with social conservatism on the decline, it’s still under attack — but by philistines on the other side. Writing in the Rutgers University student paper, one particularly twitchy undergraduate suggested that professors plaster a trigger warning on “The Great Gatsby” — a book of “gory, abusive, and misogynistic violence”— that warned of the themes of “suicide,” “domestic abuse,” and “graphic violence” contained therein.

. . . .

If a once-prestigious university like Columbia wants to hold itself hostage to the vicissitudes of underdeveloped undergraduate minds, they are welcome to do so. But allowing teenagers who know nothing of great literature the power to determine what should be taught as great literature seems ill-considered.

Link to the rest at Politico and thanks to Barb for the tip.

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