Archive for the ‘Literary’ Category

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 Benedict Cumberbatch, originally set to play the lead, has been replaced by Jack Huston, reports Deadline.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 highly 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.”


Tuesday, September 15th, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-09-06 at 1.00.33 PMFollowing closely on the heels of a chorus of praise for Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies (Penguin/Riverhead; BOT Audio; Overdrive Sample), publishing today, NPR announces that it is the third pick in the Morning Edition Book Club.

The previous picks for the program, Deep Down Dark and A God in Ruins enjoyed dramatic sales and holds increases as a result.

Each title in the club is picked by another author. Doing the honors this time is Richard Russo.

Harper Lee: Nothing New in
That Safe Deposit Box

Tuesday, September 1st, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 10.13.27 AM Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 10.12.26 AMDespite hints by Harper Lee’s attorney, Tonja Carter, there is no new book in Lee’s safe-deposit box.

As we reported earlier, Carter had suggested there could be more than one new title on the way.

As the Wall Street Journal now reports, those hints turned up empty. A rare-book expert, James S. Jaffe, brought in to review the box, has issued a report stating that it only contains pieces of Lee’s two published novels and copyright documents.

According to Jaffe, the pages show the transformation of Lee’s original draft into the published form of To Kill a Mockingbird and where segments of Go Set a Watchman appeared in Mockingbird.

Jaffe’s full report is posted at the end of the WSJ article.

Of course, for all those invested in even more books by Lee, there could always be other papers in other places and there is still the rumor of the true crime novel floating around.

Showtime Options LOVING DAY

Thursday, August 20th, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-08-19 at 10.59.34 AMShowtime has optioned Mat Johnson’s novel Loving Day (RH/ Spiegel & Grau; OverDrive Sample) as a potential comedy series. According to Deadline  talks are “underway with high-end writers to collaborate with the author on penning the adaptation.”

About a mixed race man and the daughter he never knew he had, the novel has received a fair amount of critical attention:

NPR’s reviewer, Michael Schaub, heaped praise on it, calling it a “beautiful, triumphant miracle of a book.”

Jim Ruland’s review in the Los Angeles Times was equally strong, “To say that Loving Day is a book about race is like saying Moby-Dick is a book about whales. Indeed, the subtitle to Mat Johnson’s exceptional novel could read “the whiteness of the mixed male.” [His] riff on racial identity starts as a scene, turns into an episode and morphs into a motif that never lets up. His unrelenting examination of blackness, whiteness and everything in between is handled with ruthless candor and riotous humor.”

Writing for The New York Times, Baz Dreisinger calls it a “ribald, incisive the novel … [that] ultimately triumphs because it is razor-sharp, sci-fi-flavored satire in the vein of George Schuyler, playfully evocative of black folklore à la Joel Chandler Harris — yet it never feels like a cold theoretical exercise. Loving Day is that rare mélange: cerebral comedy with pathos.”

Ron Charles on PURITY

Tuesday, August 18th, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 11.58.49 AMRon Charles, book critic for The Washington Post, is among the first to review Jonathan Franzen’s new novel Purity (Macmillan/FSG; Macmillan Audio), which he calls a “trenchant analysis of the sins of parenting, the destruction of privacy, and the irresistible but futile pursuit of purity”.

With his trademark wit he summaries the novel over the course of the review: “[It] traces the unlikely rise of a poor, fatherless child named Pip. When we meet Pip — short for Purity — she is buried beneath $130,000 of student debt and working at a marginally fraudulent business in Oakland that sells renewable energy… For those of you sitting in the back, purity is the theme of this novel, and — spoiler alert! — it turns out that nobody is as pure as he or she claims to be: Everybody harbors secrets: shameful, disgusting, sometimes deadly secrets. If that adolescent revelation gets a bit too much emphasis in these pages, at least it’s smartly considered and reconsidered in the seven distinct but connected sections that make up the book.”

The Cliff Notes version of his long and detailed consideration is this: he thinks it is better than Freedom and not as much fun as The Corrections.

This will be, of course, one of many reviews to come. The Atlantic, The New Republic, The Telegraph, and The Independent have already weighed in. At this point, holds are in line with orders for the September 1 pub. date.


Tuesday, August 18th, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 11.02.03 AM2015 might be termed the year of the famous lost manuscript given that new old writings by Harper Lee, Truman Capote, and Dr. Seuss have come to light.

Now comes another twist, the reemergence of an author somewhat lost to time, Lucia Berlin.

Don’t know who she is? You are not alone. For decades only a handful of people were aware of her work, most notably championed by short story master Lydia Davis.

Berlin was born in Alaska in 1936 and lived in multiple locales, from Chile to NYC. She had a hard childhood, was an alcoholic, and lived a peripatetic, rowdy life, according to The New York Times in a Books section profile.

She wrote short stories that were thinly veiled slices of her own life. Her first was published when she was 24, in Saul Bellow’s magazine The Nobel Savage, according to the NYT. Small presses published collections of her stories at various times after that but she largely stayed below the radar, dying in 2004.

FSG is betting on her again with A Manual for Cleaning Women (Macmillan/FSG; OverDrive Sample), a collection of 43 stories that remind Elizabeth McCracken, she tells the NYT  “of Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son, which is the most beloved book of stories I know from the past 20 years among writers.”

The collection is getting strong and glowing attention. Entertainment Weekly gives it an A saying, that the stories are written “in sentences so bright and fierce and full of wild color that you’ll want to turn each one over just to see how she does it. And then go back and read them all again.”

O the Oprah magazine made it the top pick in their “16 Books to Curl Up With This Fall,” saying the collection “reilluminates a neglected talent.”

The New Yorker has a piece on Berlin by Davis who says that the “stories make you forget what you were doing, where you are, even who you are.”

John Williams, who wrote The New York Times profile, weighs in with “Her stories speak in a voice at once direct and off-kilter, sincere and wry. They are singular, but also immediately accessible to anyone raised on the comic searching of Lorrie Moore or the offbeat irony of George Saunders.”

Holds are strong and the collection has risen to #52 on Amazon sales rankings.

UPDATE: The daily NYT‘s critic Dwight Garner reviews it Aug 19. While  full of praise for the author (“Reading Ms. Berlin, I often found myself penciling curses of appreciation in the margins”), he thinks many of the lesser stories should have been left out.

E.L. Doctorow dies at 84

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-07-22 at 10.39.30 AMScreen Shot 2015-07-22 at 10.39.58 AME.L. Doctorow, best known for the novels Ragtime, The March, World’s Fair, and Billy Bathgate, has died at age 84 from complications of lung cancer.

In an exhaustive obituary The New York Times says, “he consistently upended expectations with a cocktail of fiction and fact, remixed in book after book; with clever and substantive manipulations of popular genres like the Western and the detective story; and with his myriad storytelling strategies… Mr. Doctorow was one of contemporary fiction’s most restless experimenters.”

The NYT also includes a link to a video of Doctorow discussing his work process.

Other notable obituaries include those by the LA Times, NPR, and New York magazine.

The LA Times reports President Obama posted his reaction on Twitter:

Screen Shot 2015-07-22 at 10.40.22 AM Screen Shot 2015-07-22 at 10.40.42 AMNPR’s obituary points out that Doctorow was once a book editor working with a diverse range of writers, including Ayn Rand, Ian Fleming, Norman Mailer, and James Baldwin. The site also includes a video of Doctorow accepting the 2013 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters given by the National Book Foundation for lifetime achievement.

New York magazine includes a charming film clip of Doctorow discussing how difficult writing can be.

Readers Advisory: for those who haven’t read Doctorow’s books, a good place to begin is Ragtime, an exploration of America at the start of the 20th century, including historical characters such as Sigmund Freud, Harry Houdini, Henry Ford, and Booker Washington.

Harper Lee Vindicated

Tuesday, July 21st, 2015

The release of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman has raised many issues, but it’s laid one controversy to rest.

There has been a persistent rumor that Lee’s longtime friend, Truman Capote actually wrote To Kill a Mockingbird.

According to a new computer text analysis system created by two literature scholars, “Harper Lee is the author of both To Kill A Mockingbird and Go Set A Watchman.” (via the Wall Street Journal).

Potential FOURTH Harper Lee Book

Wednesday, July 15th, 2015

This is getting confusing. Earlier this week,  Harper Lee’s lawyer Tonya Carter hinted in an article in the Wall Street Journal that there may be yet another unpublished Harper Lee manuscript in the safe deposit box where Go Set A Watchman was discovered, and that it may be “an earlier draft of Watchman, or of Mockingbird, or even, as early correspondence indicates it might be, a third book bridging the two.”

Back in March, the New Yorker ran a story about yet another unpublished book by Lee, a crime novel titled The Reverend. Based on a true story, it is about a minister who took out insurance policies on several family members, only for them to die mysteriously. Four pages of it exist, pages that Lee sent to the lawyer who worked on the case and shared his files with her.

CNN now reports that there may have been a full manuscript for the book. Harper Lee’s long-time friend, Wayne Flynt says he was told by Lee’s sister Louise Conner that she read the completed manuscript and found it “far superior to” To Kill a Mockingbird or to the true crime story Harper Lee helped Truman Capote research, In Cold Blood.

Flynt doesn’t know if it still exists, however, saying to CNN, “Could [Lee] have given a copy of the manuscript to somebody, and somebody’s been sitting on it all these years, and will the publication of Go Set a Watchman drag it out of wherever it is? I don’t know. Will it be found as Tonja Carter, the lawyer, goes through more and more of [Lee’s older sister] Alice’s papers?”

It’s becoming more and more likely that Go Set a Watchman will not be Lee’s final published book.

Trailer for BROOKLYN

Tuesday, July 14th, 2015

9781439148952_33d23The first trailer has been released for the movie Brooklyn, based on the 2009 novel by Colm Toibin.

Considered an Oscar contender after it was a hit at the Sundance Film Festival, it is set for release on Nov. 6., starring Saoirse Ronan and directed by John Crowley. The screenplay is by Nick Hornby.


Colm Toibin
S&S/Scribners; 9/1/15
9781501106477, 1501106473
Trade Paperback
$15.00 USD, $18.00 CAD