Archive for the ‘Literary’ Category

Holds Alert: THE MARE

Tuesday, November 24th, 2015

9780307379740_83832Mary Gaitskill’s latest novel, The Mare (PRH/Pantheon; Blackstone Audio; OverDrive Sample), is gaining traction in libraries where holds are soaring as high as 7:1 on light ordering.

As we noted earlier this month, The Mare has been widely reviewed. Maureen Corrigan added yet another glowing review on yesterday’s Fresh Air,

“Mary Gaitskill writes tough … You have to write tough — and brilliantly — to pull off a novel like The Mare … a raw, beautiful story about love and mutual delusion, in which the fierce erotics of mother love and romantic love and even horse fever are swirled together.”

The Future of The Book:
Using Pickles

Tuesday, November 10th, 2015

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An app-based novel that aspires to be the most bonkers book ever written.”

That is how BuzzFeed begins a very long profile about the newest project by Eli Horowitz, one of the driving forces behind the indie publishing house McSweeney’s.

Horowitz wants to change how books and reading are understood. His newest effort in that undertaking is The Pickle Index.

Unlike most books that might be described with a plot summary what really matters here is what The Pickle Index is.

As reviewer Carmen Machado describes it for NPR’s Arts & Life review, it is three books and an app.

One is a paperback illustrated with small black and white images: The Pickle Index (Macmillan/FSG Originals; OverDrive Sample).

There is also a hardcover two-book slipcase set edition with illustrations by Ian Huebert, that a la Brian Selznick, have strong story-telling power: The Pickle Index (Sudden Oak Books).

As Machado puts it,

“the illustrations in each [of the hardback volumes] encourage the reader to read the books back and forth, or at the very least turn and twirl the illustrations to see how they connect with, compliment, or contradict each other.”

If that were not enough, the hardcover books are not, as Machado describes, “simply the paperback with color” but are structured differently than the paperback.

Then there is the app, of which Machado says,

“is [a] different thing entirely, while still being more of the same … Once the reader has read the necessarily elements, they can progress through the story in real time, or with the narrative accelerated. Additionally, the app has one-off jokes and minor side plots — including two soldiers trapped in a submarine together, squabbling in the Q&A section. You, the reader, are also integrated into this frustrating world, and have to (among other things) manipulate the Index’s deliberately clunky interface.”

Lost? Horowitz describes it this way to Anne Helen Petersen of BuzzFeed:

“There are all these different ways that you can read that are valid, so I wanted to fully imagine all of those formats. So: the book-iest book I could do, and the app-iest app. Even the paperback, and the Kindle version. They’ll have their own sort of thing, with different reaches and different audiences.”

It might sound overly elaborate and precious, but Horowitz knows his stuff. He has worked with big-named authors including Dave Eggers, Miranda July, Michael Chabon, and Joyce Carol Oates and, says Petersen, “every book he’s written has been optioned for film or television: The New World, published in May, was optioned by Olivia Wilde; The Silent History, a digital app turned paperback from 2012, is slated to become AMC’s new prestige drama.”

There are plenty of people thinking about the future of the book. Horowitz is one of the most creative, telling BuzzFeed, “That’s why I made The Pickle Index in so many forms … To say there’s not a future; there are futures.”

Still wondering what the book is about? Petersen describes it as featuring “a delightfully unskilled circus troupe against the backdrop of a fascist dystopia, united by a forced devotion to fermented items.”


Colbert Gets Another Bedtime Story

Wednesday, November 4th, 2015

This is becoming a thing. Last night on The Late Show, Stephen Colbert had John Irving read him a bedtime story (last week, Jonathan Franzen did the honors). The source of the story is not identified, but it contains some familiar Irving themes, including bears, circuses, blood and endangered children.

Irving also got the opportunity to talk about his writing. He says his books play out worst case scenarios that are not  happily, based on his own life.

Irving’s 14th novel, Avenue of Mysteries (S&S) published yesterday, came under fire from New York Times reviewer Dwight Garner for just those pre-occupations, saying, “The things that for a while were magical in Mr. Irving’s writing long ago came to seem, instead, like tricks.”

Irving was also interviewed on NPR’s Morning Editon yesterday. Avenue of Mysteries rose overnight to #33 on Amazon’s sales ranking.

Tonight, Elizabeth Gilbert is scheduled to appear on The Late Show. She will be followed the next night by Norwegian memoirist Karl Ove Knausgaard, author of the 3,600-page, six-part autobiographical novel, My Struggle. We’re hoping the “modern-day Proust” gets the bed time story challenge.

Gaitskill Gathers Press

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2015

Gaitskill  9780307379740_83832

The New York Times Magazine features Mary Gaitskill in a lengthy profile written by Parul Sehgal, an editor at The New York Times Book Review. It is online now and set for the Nov. 8 print edition.

Gaitskill just published a new novel, The Mare (PRH/Pantheon; Blackstone Audio; OverDrive Sample), and Sehgal says “she seemed jittery about its reception.”

Perhaps, as Sehgal goes on to point out, that is because:

“at first glance [the novel] feels out of place in her oeuvre … [it] doesn’t have the usual feel of Gaitskill’s fiction, the prickly wit and enveloping sanctuary, the lure of a dark bar on a hot day. It’s earnest and violently of the daylight, stuffed with squalling schoolchildren and focused less on missing connections than surviving them.”

Sehgal says that instead the novel:

“is a more expansive, more elaborately plotted story than we’ve come to expect from Gaitskill, and it’s not a book she ever wanted to write … What, after all, does she know of motherhood or writing from the point of view of a poor child of another race — let alone horses? But Gaitskill has always written from the margins, peering in: Feelings of exclusion and confusion powerfully motor her imagination. And in The Mare, in writing about race, poverty and family life, she has traveled to some of the farthest vistas of her career.”

The novel centers on Velvet, an 11-year-old Dominican-American girl from Crown Heights Brooklyn who is sent to the countryside to spend the summer with a childless white couple. It traces the complications and connections between her family, a horse, and the couple she stays with.

Reviewing for the NYT Dwight Garner was not blown away, saying “The Mare gallops, but on a closed track, not out there in the wild.”

Reviewing for the LA Times, author Elissa Schappell completely disagreed, writing:

“This is a coming-of-age story in the way we are always coming of age, whether we are 13 or 47. What elevates it is the way Gaitskill rides herd on sentimentality, which isn’t to suggest that the work isn’t emotional — it is. It’s just that there are no false notes, no stumbles in the rare moments of tenderness. It’s brave and bold to publish a book like this. Make no mistake: The women in this book, like Gaitskill herself, are mares.”

And booksellers like it, making it an Indie Next Pick for November:

The Mare is the heart-wrenching story of a young inner-city girl in the Fresh Air Fund program who travels to a host family in upstate New York, where she befriends a frightened and abused racehorse at a nearby stable. Gaitskill navigates the ugly realities of both human and equine abuse, but, ultimately, this is a triumphant novel shaped by authentic characters and in which trust and determination win. Readers will be reminded of how our real-life connections with animals can both guide and heal.” —Nancy Scheemaker, Northshire Bookstore, Saratoga Springs, NY.

Gaitskill gets even more attention in Alexandra Schwartz’s profile for The New Yorker, “Uneasy Rider,”  online now and in print in the Nov.9 issue.

Writers On The Air

Thursday, October 29th, 2015

Last night two high profile authors got late night treatment.

Lauren Groff appeared on Late Night with Seth Meyers. She is in countdown mode for the Nov. 18 announcement of the National Book Award and is fresh off her Morning Edition Book Club appearance.

Meyers is proving to be a deft interviewer of authors. That may be because, as he revealed last night in a throwaway aside  he thinks of himself as a writer too, having been the head writer for Saturday Night Live.

The pair discuss Groff’s process, her stereoscopic approach to Fates and Furies, and writing sex scenes.

Jonathan Franzen starred in a skit on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and sat down for a conversation as well.

The skit mocks Amazon through a bedtime story entitled “Little Read Reading Hood.” The US Department of Justice stars as the woodsman and there is a typical Colbert twist at the end.

The conversation, in which Colbert’s snark sometimes got the better of Franzen, ranged from Twitter to reading to football. Nevertheless, n the strength of his appearance, Purity rose on Amazon’s sales rankings, from 445 to 356.

Interviewer-in-Chief, Part 2

Wednesday, October 28th, 2015


The second installment of President Obama’s two-part interview with Marilynne Robinson is now online and will appear in the 11/19 issue of the New York Review of Books (also available in audio),

In it, Obama explains why novels are important to him, “when I think about how I understand my role as citizen, setting aside being president, and the most important set of understandings that I bring to that position of citizen, the most important stuff I’ve learned I think I’ve learned from novels.”

Robinson’s most recent novel is Lila (Macmillan/FSG; Macmillan Audio, 2014). A book of essays, The Givenness of Things, (Macmillan/FSG; Brilliance Audio) was published yesterday.

NPR’s Morning Edition Book Club Convenes

Tuesday, October 27th, 2015

9781594634475_68932The third “meeting” of NPR’s Morning Edition Book Club was held today with Lauren Groff the author of  Fates and Furies (Penguin/Riverhead; BOT Audio; Overdrive Sample) fielding inquires about the story’s origins, character construction, her ambivalence about marriage, and female rage.

Author Richard Russo selected the book for the club saying, “The secrets here are character secrets, not plot secrets, and they are revealed in ways that sometimes take your breath away. You have to wait almost until the last page of the book to get to the last of the secrets.”

Groff said the novel was in part a chance to work out her uncertainty about being a wife, but admitted, “a novel does not answer any questions, it just raises a hundred other questions.”

Groff will appear on Late Night with Seth Meyers on Wednesday.


Surprise Author Interviewer

Tuesday, October 13th, 2015

President Barack Obama turns his hand to book discussion, conducting an interview with Marilynne Robinson for a piece published in the 11/5 issue of The New York Review of Books.

9780312424404_9e782The President reveals that he read Robinson’s second novel, Gilead when he was on the 2004 campaign. In it, he discovered one of his  “favorite characters in fiction,” the pastor John Ames, whom he describes as “gracious and courtly and a little bit confused about how to reconcile his faith with all the various travails that his family goes through.”

The two go on to discuss faith, religion, creativity, small town values, American optimism and pessimism, and the “us versus them” tendency of politics.

In a brief segment the President asks Robinson how she developed such a wide perspective growing up in a small rural location.

how do you think you ended up thinking about democracy, writing, faith the way you do? How did that experience of growing up in a pretty small place in Idaho, which might have led you in an entirely different direction—how did you end up here, Marilynne? What happened? Was it libraries?

Robinson’s immediately answers, “It was libraries.”

The conversation takes place in two parts. The first is available now and the second will be posted in the next issue. A free audio recording of the interview is available via iTunes.

Lauren Groff Coming to NPR’s MORNING EDITION Book Club

Tuesday, October 13th, 2015

9781594634475_68932Last month, NPR’s Morning Edition Book Club announced their third pick, Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies (Penguin/Riverhead), helping to propel it on to best seller lists. In two weeks the NPR show will host a conversation with the author.

In a short tee up to the discussion, the hosts of Morning Edition say the novel as a “story of a marriage in two parts” as both the wife and the husband have their due.

Groff quickly pushes back against that summary, saying “It’s not a book about marriage.”

Rather, she explains, marriage is how she talks about larger ideas concerning creativity, sex, time, and rage. She says marriage becomes a vehicle to dig into some of the things she resisted about the institution, and did not know she resisted, until she spent five years working on the novel.

Readers are invited to submit a smartphone voice memo. Groff will answer some of the queries on Morning Edition.

Fates and Furies is on the National Book Awards longst for fiction; the shortlist will be announced tomorrow.

YELLOW BIRDS Set to Take Off

Thursday, October 8th, 2015

Yellow BirdsThere’s been some major changes on the film adaptation of Kevin Powers’ 2012 National Book Award finalistThe Yellow Birds, (Hachette/Little, Brown). Benedict Cumberbatch, originally set to play the lead, has been replaced by Jack Huston, reports Deadline. The film also has a new director, Alexandre Moors, who replaces David Lowery.

Bringing some extra star power to the production, Jennifer Anniston is joining the cast.

All this activity indicates the project is closer to becoming a reality.

Nobel Prize in Lit: Murakami’s Year?

Monday, October 5th, 2015

The most prestigious lifetime award for literature, The Nobel Prize, will be announced on Thursday at 7 a.m. EST [UPDATE: We originally miscalculated the time difference. We THINK  we have it right now. The announcement is scheduled for 11 a.m. GMT and  Eastern Time  is GMT minus 4:00].

Famously hard to forecast, it is an award that often befuddles odds makers as names circle around in the wind days before the announcement.

Last year the favorite was Japan’s Haruki Murakami with Kenyan writer Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o and Belarusian author and journalist Svetlana Alexievich also in the running.

The winner? French novelist Patrick Modiano who had just 10/1 odds three days before the 2014 announcement.

Modiano had few books translated into English at the time. The Telegraph‘s news story was headlined “Patrick Modiano: the Nobel Prize-winner nobody had read.” Since, there has been a boom of translations, bigger publishing houses buying rights, and a string of articles focused on his work in such places as the L.A. TimesThe New Yorker, and The Millions.

The luckless odds makers at betting firms Ladbrokes and Paddy Power seem to be fully baffled this year. The Guardian reports the bookies are simply rearranging their 2014 picks, leading with Svetlana Alexievich and offering Haruki Murakami and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o as back up.

Americans Philip Roth and Joyce Carol Oates and 2005 Booker winner, Irish writer John Banville are also in the mix as are Korean poet Ko Un and Hungarian writer László Krasznahorkai, winner of the Man Booker International award.

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It could be Murakami’s turn based on frequency alone. The Wall Street Journal says it has become “a seasonal event over the past few years for Mr. Murakami’s name to pop up as a frontrunner.”

He was a favorite in 2013 as well (the year the prize went to Alice Munro). Quite naturally Murakami finds the speculation and horse race aspects of the run up to the announcement “quite annoying,” reports the paper.

If this is finally Murakami’s year, readers will have plenty of his titles in English to choose from, so many that Matthew Carl Strecher, who has written 3 books on Murakami, was able to select “The 10 Best Haruki Murakami Books” for Publishers Weekly.

But Murakami might be annoyed for at least another year. The Guardian quotes one of the lead bookmakers, Alex Donohue of Ladbrokes, as saying, “literary speculators believe we’ll see the winner come from out of leftfield.”

It is no small prize to win. On top of the profound honor and a considerable cash award, it increases book sales.

FATES AND FURIES Hits Bestseller List As Holds Continue to Grow

Monday, September 28th, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-09-06 at 1.00.33 PMAs we predicted last week, Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies (Penguin/Riverhead; BOT and Penguin Audio; OverDrive Sample) has made The New York Times hardcover fiction list at #7.

It is also exceeding a 3:1 holds ratio at most libraries we checked, with some placing second orders for additional copies.

The NYT’s features Fates and Furies in the Sunday Book Review “Inside the List” section as well, where Gregory Cowles, the paper’s preview editor and best-seller columnist, compares it to Gone Girl, “minus the murderous psychopathology.”

In a share-worthy summary, Cowles goes on to say “both tell the story of a marriage first from the husband’s somewhat complacent perspective, then change course midway to reveal a wife far more active and vengeful than expected.”


Wednesday, September 23rd, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-09-06 at 1.00.33 PMLauren Groff’s new novel Fates and Furies (Penguin/Riverhead; Penguin Audio; OverDrive Sample) has gotten a landslide of glowing pre-pub press and made the NBA fiction longlist.

So, a slight adjustment might be expected. NPR critic Maureen Corrigan says it is a “marvel” but “could be better.”

Speaking on Fresh Air, she begins by lavishing praise, saying the novel:

… vacuum packs so many complex narratives between its covers that you feel like you’re reading one of those plot-heavy Victorian door stoppers …What starts off as a fairly realistic novel about domestic life digresses into chapters that read like plays and eventually morphs into a dark fairy tale that also borrows heavily from the conventions of the classic psychological suspense story. Wow. … it is a marvel of language and design … Fates And Furies is alive with wit, with language capable of shifting in the space of a sentence from the snappy to the tragic.”

But then comes the hit. Corrigan could not remember the characters shortly after closing the covers for a final time. They failed to resonate or take fully dimensional shape.

That is a failing Corrigan cannot get over, saying “without the presence of compelling characters at its core, Groff’s novel ends up being an austere, architectural achievement. There are certainly worse things for a novel to be, but there are also better.”

Corrigan’s extraordinarily high bar will not stop Fates and Furies from being a best seller — currently at #58 on Amazon sales rankings, it’s sure to show up on this week’s lists.


Monday, September 21st, 2015

Olive KitteridgeHBO had a good night at the Emmys, particularly for its book-based series, Olive Kitteridge and Game Of Thrones.

Olive Kitteridge, based on Elizabeth Strout’s 2009 Pulitzer Prize winning novel, took home a total of 8 Emmys, including one for best miniseries. A passion project for Frances McDormand, who bought the rights to the novel in 2010, she was rewarded by winning her first Emmys, as star and producer.

In accepting the award, McDormand gave full credit to the source, declaring twice, “It started as a book!” effectively refuting host Andy Samberg’s opening monologue, in which he inexplicably dissed books, saying, “The Emmy’s are all about celebrating the best of the year in television. So, sorry, books, not tonight,” as the words, “SUCK IT BOOKS” appeared on the screen.

McDormand signaled her interest in continuing the series, according to Deadline, telling reporters in the press room after the Awards, “It’s 13 short stories … it was infinitely exciting to read and I thought that it could be a great town to spend some time in,” adding, “We would love to do more and we would love for you all to start a social media campaign to do more.”

PBS’s Wolf Hall, based on the first two books in Hillary Mantel’s Tudors series, was nominated in several categories, but ended up with no wins

Haruf’s Final Novel to Netflix

Thursday, September 17th, 2015

9781101875896_9b5d3Robert Redford and Jane Fonda are teaming up for an adaptation of Kent Haruf’s final novel Our Souls at Night (RH/Knopf; Random House Audio; OverDrive Sample; May. 2015).

According to Deadline, Redford’s Wildwood Enterprises is putting the deal together and hopes to bring the screenwriting team behind The Fault in Our Stars on board. Redford will produce with Netflix backing the project and planning to stream it as well as making it available to theaters.

Redford and Fonda starred together in Barefoot in the Park in 1967 and The Electric Horseman in 1979.

Haruf’s quiet and bittersweet final novel (he died in 2014) is set in the same small Colorado town as his Plainsong trilogy. It features two 70-year-olds who spend platonic nights together for company and conversation – until the judgments of the town and the displeasure of their families get in the way. Hollywood sees it through their own filter. Deadline reports, “the vision of the movie is similar in spirit to the Clint Eastwood-Meryl Streep-starrer Bridges of Madison County.”