Books in General

Pellerin under fire over reading admission

28 October 2014

From The Bookseller:

The French culture minister has sparked controversy after admitting she hasn’t read for pleasure in the past two years.

Fleur Pellerin, who has only been in the post two months, was interviewed on Sunday (26th October) on television about French novelist Patrick Modiano who recently won the Nobel Prize in Literature.

When asked by the Canal+ presenter which was her favourite of Modiano’s books, Pellerin answered: “I admit without any problem that I have had no time to read over the past two years,” she said. “I read a lot of notes, and legislative documents. I read a lot of news, but I read [for pleasure] very little.”

Her confession has sparked a row on Twitter, with some commentators sympathetic of her situation and others calling for her resignation.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

In Wales, a Toast to Dylan Thomas on His 100th Birthday

27 October 2014

From The New York Times:

Down the footpath from his writing shed, along the curve of the water and up the hill, you see what the poet Dylan Thomas once saw: tall birds on the “heron priested shore,” a “sea wet church the size of a snail” atop the ridge, the castle ruin to your left still “brown as owls.”

“Poem in October,” in which Thomas reflects on his 30th birthday, unfolds verse after verse as you walk through the landscape that made him, and that he remade in turn, culminating with a final cliff-top exclaim:

“O may my heart’s truth

still be sung

on this high hill in a year’s turning.”

Thomas died young, at 39, after boasting that he had downed 18 straight whiskeys (“I believe that’s the record”) in New York in 1953. On Monday, he would have turned 100. His small country, long ill at ease with its hard-living, hard-loving son who wrote in English, not in Welsh, and caricatured his roots as much as he claimed them, is celebrating perhaps its greatest poet.

Thomas has been called the James Joyce of Wales and compared to his own hero, John Keats. He wrote some of the most recognizable verse of the 20th century: “Do not go gentle into that good night/Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

. . . .

Many here say Thomas’s poetry has been denied the recognition it deserves on teaching plans and in academic circles. The colorful stories of his drinking and womanizing — some true, some invented (often by himself) — might have contributed to a James Dean-like notoriety in the United States, where he counts two former presidents, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, among his fans. (Mr. Carter was instrumental in winning Thomas a memorial stone, belatedly, in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey, in 1982.)

But that reputation appalled many in Wales, as did Thomas’s flawless English accent. Denied the Welsh language and sent to elocution lessons by his father as a boy, Thomas was long considered too English for the Welsh and too Welsh for the English. (“He belongs to the English,” the Welsh nationalist Saunders Lewis scoffed.)

. . . .

 Thomas’s birthplace, Swansea, that “ugly, lovely town,” where he wrote two-thirds of his work in a teenage outpouring, is erecting another statue. Thomas quotations zip around the city center on public maintenance vehicles and the No. 5 bus: “Swansea is still the best place,” reads one, an extract from a letter he wrote to a friend in 1938.

. . . .

 But nothing is as it was in Swansea, badly bombed during the war. A more timeless glimpse can be found 40 miles west in Laugharne (pronounced LARN), in Thomas’s words, “The strangest town in the world.”

Thomas’s parents grew up across the estuary, and he spent his childhood summers in Fern Hill, his aunt’s farm and the title of one of his most famous poems. He lived in the area on and off for 15 years, including the last four, and is buried in the village cemetery with his wife, Caitlin.

“The soul of his poetry is here,” Ms. Clarke said.

The Boathouse, where Thomas lived (“a seashaken house on a breakneck of rocks”), is still there, as is Browns Hotel, his local haunt and now a boutique hotel that calls itself “a bar with rooms.” At the corner table facing the door, Thomas would “molder,” collecting stories and picking up colloquialisms. “Under Milk Wood,” his best-known play, which locals insist is based on their town, chronicles a day in an imaginary seaside village called Llareggub. (Read it backward for a sense of his mischievous humor.)

“If Dylan Thomas walked into Laugharne today, he could write ‘Under Milk Wood’ all over again,” Carl Thornton, a 48-year-old architect, said over a pint one recent evening. “In this town, if you say good morning to the wrong person, within 10 hours you are having an affair.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Ruth Rendell Readies Her 65th Novel

26 October 2014

From The Wall Street Journal:

“People don’t grow old like they used to, do they?” asks a gossipy neighbor in English crime novelist Ruth Rendell’s new book, after learning of an affair between two sprightly 70-somethings.

The senior citizens in Ms. Rendell’s latest work, “The Girl Next Door,” commit adultery, brandish knives, wear studded leather jackets and hide terrible secrets. They also serve tea and consider hip replacements. “Things like this didn’t happen to old people, but evidently they did,” she writes.

The book’s 84-year-old author has been publishing for 50 years but shows no sign of slowing down. “The Girl Next Door” which will be released in the U.S. Tuesday, is her 65th novel.

Ms. Rendell brushes aside the milestone and says she doesn’t monitor how many books she has written. “It just feels that I’ve been publishing 50 years. I don’t know how else it could feel,” she says during a recent phone interview from her home in London. “It’s what I do. Many people have a profession, or a job—most people do, I should think. And they do it. And that’s what I did.”

Retirement isn’t in the cards. “If I were to stop writing, which I will not do, I would hate it,” she said. “I don’t know what my life would be like without my writing. It’s very important to me.”

. . . .

Barbara Fass Leavy, author of “The Fiction of Ruth Rendell: Ancient Tragedy and the Modern Family,” says Ms. Rendell’s books are closer to “whydunnits” than “whodunits.” She made her name with the Inspector Wexford series but also has been lauded for her nuanced treatment of complex characters in the Barbara Vine stories and stand-alone Ruth Rendell novels.

“She’s in a class by herself,” Ms. Leavy says. “She’s a first-rate novelist in whose books crimes are committed. I don’t think she is to be classified mainly as a mystery writer.”

Most mornings, Ms. Rendell is up at six and at her computer writing from about 8:30 to noon. During the week, she spends three or four afternoons at the House of Lords, where her friend and fellow crime novelist, P.D. James, also is a member. She takes Pilates classes once or twice a week, goes for long walks and exercises on fitness machines at home.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)

Can any kind of writing become literature?

26 October 2014

From Venture Galleries:

HE WAS A WRITER of pulp fiction and nothing else.

That’s what the critics said.

He wasn’t one of the literary giants.

That’s what the critics said.

But Raymond Chandler could out-write them all. At least, he was as good as the best and better than the rest. His prose was poetry. His written lines might hit you between the eyes like a sledgehammer, but when you could think clearly again, those were the lines the great authors wished they had written.

It was said that Raymond Chandler wrote deliberately and with a sense that even in the most disposable pulp story, quality was non-negotiable.

He believed that a good story could not be devised.

It had to be distilled.

He said, “When a book, any sort of book, reaches a certain intensity of artistic performance, it becomes literature.”

. . . .

Raymond Chandler changed his entry in the Los Angeles phone book to “Writer” and signed up for a correspondence course on how to be one. He wrote and sold his first story, Blackmailers Don’t Shoot to a pulp magazine called Black Mask.

Yet, the greatest mystery of all, some said, was how Chandler was able to transform himself from an English Edwardian literary critic and poet to a hard-boiled American pulp modernist.

Some critics believed that the writer developed his distinctive style by using American spoken English and vernacular for dialogue and British English sentence structure for description.

Link to the rest at Venture Galleries and thanks to Glinda for the tip.

Why Doctors Need Stories

19 October 2014

From The New York Times:

A FEW weeks ago, I received an email from the Danish psychiatrist Per Bech that had an unexpected attachment: a story about a patient. I have been writing a book about antidepressants — how well they work and how we know. Dr. Bech is an innovator in clinical psychometrics, the science of measuring change in conditions like depression. Generally, he forwards material about statistics.

Now he had shared a recently published case vignette. It concerned a man hospitalized at age 30 in 1954 for what today we call severe panic attacks. The treatment, which included “narcoanalysis” (interviewing aided by a “truth serum”), afforded no relief. On discharge, the man turned to alcohol. Later, when sober again, he endured increasing phobias, depression and social isolation.

Four decades later, in 1995, suicidal thoughts brought this anxious man back into the psychiatric system, at age 70. For the first time, he was put on an antidepressant, Zoloft. Six weeks out, both the panic attacks and the depression were gone. He resumed work, entered into a social life and remained well for the next 19 years — until his death.

If the narrative was striking, so was its inclusion in a medical journal. In the past 20 years, clinical vignettes have lost their standing. For a variety of reasons, including a heightened awareness of medical error and a focus on cost cutting, we have entered an era in which a narrow, demanding version of evidence-based medicine prevails. As a writer who likes to tell stories, I’ve been made painfully aware of the shift. The inclusion of a single anecdote in a research overview can lead to a reprimand, for reliance on storytelling.

My own view is that we need storytelling in medicine, need it for any number of reasons.

Repeatedly, I have been surprised by the impact that even lightly sketched case histories can have on readers.

. . . .

This summer, Oxford University Press began publishing a journal devoted to case reports. And this month, in an unusual move, the New England Journal of Medicine, the field’s bellwether, opened an issue with a case history involving a troubled mother, daughter and grandson. The contributors write: “Data are important, of course, but numbers sometimes imply an order to what is happening that can be misleading. Stories are better at capturing a different type of ‘big picture.’ ”

Stories capture small pictures, too. I’m thinking of the anxious older man given Zoloft. That narrative has power. As Dr. Bech and his co-author, Lone Lindberg, point out, spontaneous recovery from panic and depression late in life is rare. (Even those who put great stock in placebo pills don’t imagine that they do much for conditions that are severe and chronic.) The degree of transformation in the Danish patient is impressive. So is the length of observation. No formal research can offer a 40-year lead-in or a 19-year follow-up. Few studies report on both symptoms and social progress. Research reduces information about many people; vignette retains the texture of life in one of its forms.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

The past week or so has been passing strange

17 October 2014

From author Tom LoCicero:

The past week or so has been passing strange. Every day I’ve driven 15 minutes to the house I lived in for about two decades with the woman I divorced about seven years ago. When I moved out back then, I left behind almost all of my most cherished possessions, my books, stacked in boxes in a basement back room.

Now having decided to return to her New England roots, my ex had sold the house, in one of Detroit’s nicest suburbs, a place I could no longer afford. So the books finally had to be moved, and on each trip I filled my car, a smallish station wagon type, with those boxes and brought them back here to my small apartment to stash them in a garage where I had spent days throwing things out and shifting stuff around to make room.

Through all of this unusual (for me) physical exertion, as I hauled box after heavy box up the basement stairs to shove them in my car, I was teased and bashed by memories filled with hopes, regrets, dreams and disappointments. I must have moved about 60 boxes, but obviously this was not just physical labor.

In that basement I had practically all my books, from the beginning of my college days, first at Notre Dame and then at the University of Michigan.

. . . .

But, in any case, each time I grabbed a box marked “Prentice-Hall,” my publisher back then, I wondered why the hell I was doing this. It seemed almost like blind instinct was driving me. I knew only that I could not possibly leave those books behind to be thrown in a dump.

This was the third time over the past 40 years that I’ve moved them, from basement to basement to garage, and now (unlike those previous moves when I still clung to fanciful hopes) I was quite certain I would never be able to do anything with them that would be right and appropriate for books.

Online I’ve sold only a handful of those hard covers, with their garish purple dust jacket featuring a bullet-split menorah on the front and a photo of my hopelessly naïve 30-year-old self on the back. And there’s no place I can think of to even give them away now. Talk about the baggage of my life.

. . . .

A slim book of poetry by my favorite professor at Notre Dame, a brilliant, no doubt tortured man who had left his wife and children because he finally knew he was gay. My treasured copy of Crime and Punishment with all my scribbles and notes from my Russian Lit class at U. of M.

. . . .

And again they’ll all probably remain in boxes in the garage because I have only a few small bookcases in this crowded little apartment, and I’m very unlikely to live again in a place with enough shelves for my books.

Link to the rest at The Books of T.V. LoCicero

Here’s a link to Tom LoCicero’s books

John Grisham: men who watch child porn are not all paedophiles

17 October 2014

From The Telegraph:

America is wrongly jailing far too many people for viewing child pornography, the best-selling legal novelist John Grisham has told The Telegraph in a wide-ranging attack on the US judicial system and the country’s sky-high prison rates.

Mr Grisham, 59, argued America’s judges had “gone crazy” over the past 30 years, locking up far too many people, from white collar criminals like the businesswoman Martha Stewart, to black teenagers on minor drugs charges and – he added – those who had viewed child porn online.

“We have prisons now filled with guys my age. Sixty-year-old white men in prison who’ve never harmed anybody, would never touch a child,” he said in an exclusive interview to promote his latest novel Gray Mountain which is published next week.

“But they got online one night and started surfing around, probably had too much to drink or whatever, and pushed the wrong buttons, went too far and got into child porn.”

The author of legal thrillers such as The Firm and A Time to Kill who has sold more than 275m books during his 25-year career, cited the case of a “good buddy from law school” who was caught up in a Canadian child porn sting operation a decade ago as an example of excessive sentencing.

“His drinking was out of control, and he went to a website. It was labelled ‘sixteen year old wannabee hookers or something like that’. And it said ’16-year-old girls’. So he went there. Downloaded some stuff – it was 16 year old girls who looked 30.

“He shouldn’t ’a done it. It was stupid, but it wasn’t 10-year-old boys. He didn’t touch anything. And God, a week later there was a knock on the door: ‘FBI!’ and it was sting set up by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to catch people – sex offenders – and he went to prison for three years.”

“There’s so many of them now. There’s so many ‘sex offenders’ – that’s what they’re called – that they put them in the same prison. Like they’re a bunch of perverts, or something; thousands of ’em. We’ve gone nuts with this incarceration,” he added in his loft-office in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Asked about the argument that viewing child pornography fuelled the industry of abuse needed to create the pictures, Mr Grisham said that current sentencing policies failed to draw a distinction between real-world abusers and those who downloaded content, accidentally or otherwise.

“I have no sympathy for real paedophiles,” he said, “God, please lock those people up. But so many of these guys do not deserve harsh prison sentences, and that’s what they’re getting,” adding sentencing disparities between blacks and whites was likely to be the subject of his next book.

. . . .

However Mr Grisham’s remarks are likely to anger child-rights campaigners that over the past decade have successfully lobbied the US Congress to demand tougher sentences for those who access child pornography online.

Link to the rest at The Telegraph and thanks to M.P. for the tip.

PG says several people at Grisham’s publisher immediately refilled their prescriptions for anti-anxiety medication.


16 October 2014

From The Oxford English Dictionary Word of the Day:

perhorresce, v.

. . . .

To shudder (at)

. . . .

1882 Princeton Rev. Jan. 31 Scarcely a decade ago most of us would have perhorresced the idea that there could be a seven years’ course of Bible study adopted in common by most of the Protestant sects.

Link to the rest at Oxford English Dictionary

Have we fallen out of love with e-readers?

7 October 2014

From Caroline Corcoran at the Independent via The Digital Reader

“Print is where words go to die.” So went the theory in 2007 when Amazon launched the Kindle. . . .

But while it’s true that e-books show no signs of disappearing – the new Kindle Voyage launches next month hot on the heels of the “Kindle Unlimited” subscription service that came to the UK last month – neither does print.

Recently, I realised that I had become so addicted to the speed of new book buying on my Kindle that I had barely bought anything in print in the past year. . . .and I was sad that such great books were missing from my bookshelves. Worse than that, though, was a feeling that plots had started to blur, even with books that I had loved. The only way I could explain it is that they had never had a physicality.

So I decided to go back to books. On my first trip to Waterstones, I left with a hardback of the new Howard Jacobson that there is absolutely no way I can take on the bus. But I don’t care – somehow a story like that should have weight, and it feels so luxurious to get into bed and prop up that beast of a dystopia on my knees.

More at the Independent, including facts and figures about “falling ebook sales.”

Filling-in-for-PG vacation guest post by Bridget McKenna

Sometimes it just feels right-

5 October 2014

A Kickstarter success story – Napa Bookmine.



View the the store here.




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