Archive for the ‘Literary’ Category

Saunders a Bestseller, Again

Thursday, February 23rd, 2017

9780812995343_73f0aLincoln in the Bardo (PRH/RH; RH Audio/BOT; Overdrive Sample), George Saunders’s first novel, debuts at #9 on the USA Today list. Expect to see it in the top five on the NYT Hardcover Fiction list when it arrives tomorrow.

Saunders made the leap from well-respected short story writer to household name four years ago when the NYT Magazine declared on its cover, “George Saunders Has Written the Best Book You’ll Read This Year.” That book, the short story collection Tenth of December then landed at #26 on USA Today‘s list.

Glowing reviews continue to mount for Lincoln, adding to those we rounded up two weeks ago. In the Chicago Tribune, author Charles Finch says it is “profound, funny and vital, a meditation on loss and power … The work of a great writer.” It was People’s “Book of the Week. They call it “Devastatingly moving.” Tor.com writes that the book “will still be necessary in three hundred years.” The NPR reviewer says “there are moments that are almost transcendently beautiful, that will come back to you on the edge of sleep.”

Saunders continues to make the talk show rounds as well. Filling in for Charlie Rose, Saunders talks with Seth Meyers on the Charlie Rose show.

Holds are growing and there is pent-up demand for the audio. In libraries we checked, where audio copies have yet to enter into circulation, holds are running as high as 115 to 1.

Reviews Swell for
THE DARK FLOOD RISES

Monday, February 20th, 2017

9780374134952_139acThe focus of critical attention, Margaret Drabble’s newest novel, The Dark Flood Rises (Macmillan/FSG; OverDrive Sample) explores death and old age, but is enlivened by humor and enriched by deeply dimensional characters. The central figure is 70-something Fran who spends her time examining retirement homes for those older and more infirmed than she. The novel follows her circle of friends and family, all suffering in their own ways.

NPR’s reviewer says the novel “is a beautiful rumination on what it means to grow old [populated by] an unforgettable character [Fran], steely but likable … This isn’t a sentimental book, but it’s a deeply emotional one [asking readers] to consider how sad, how funny, how genuinely absurd aging is.”

The Washington Post‘s Ron Charles says “Margaret Drabble has written a novel about aging and death, which for American readers should make it as popular as a colostomy bag. That’s a pity because Drabble, 77, is as clear-eyed and witty a guide to the undiscovered country as you’ll find.” He continues, “the novel’s humor vaccinates it from chronic bleakness.”

The Guardian says “With their echoes of Simone de Beauvoir and Samuel Beckett, this quiet meditation on old age seethes with apocalyptic intent” and continues, that while not much happens in terms of plot, the characters are “brilliantly drawn.”

In its front page NYT Sunday Book Review, Cynthia Ozick calls it “humane and masterly.”

Perhaps fulfilling Ron Charles’s prediction, holds are light in most of the libraries we checked, but Salon points out the grimness of the topic is not the point of the novel, “A vein of black humor pulses in Margaret Drabble’s The Dark Flood Rises, which, thankfully, makes the novel’s reflections on how we age and die as entertaining as a conversation with a dear friend.”

Best Seller Debut: UNIVERSAL HARVESTER

Sunday, February 19th, 2017

9780374282103_b809eJohn Darnielle’s second novel debuts on the NYT Hardcover Fiction list at #10.

Universal Harvester (Macmillan/FSG; Macmillan Audio; OverDrive Sample) received strong advance publicity, including two starred prepub reviews and listed as a most anticipated novel by sources as diverse as The Millions, Tor.com, and Bustle.

The author is also known as the singer/songwriter for the cult indie rock group Mountain Goats. His debut novel, Wolf in White Van (Macmillan/FSG, 2014), was longlisted for the National Book Award for Fiction.

Set in the Midwest, his new novel opens with a horror novel premise, someone has spliced creepy footage into mainstream movies rented from the local video store. But after that, it turns into something far more subtle, filled with shifting questions, taking place over multiple time periods, and ending as the Spin reviewer puts it, “in a more tender place than I could’ve anticipated.”

Booklist says the “masterfully disturbing [novel] reads like several Twilight Zone scripts cut together by a poet.”

NPR says it is full of “knife-jab sentences” and is “a fairy tale — an old, un-Disney-fied one — filtered through the fragrant, dusty Iowan air; a ghost story that’s all too real; a detective story with no simple solution.”

More from Darnielle is on the way. Publishers Weekly reports in a profile of the author, that “FSG has already signed Darnielle for two more novels” and they plan to “release a limited vinyl edition of the Harvester audiobook, with the author narrating and providing original instrumental music.”

Colbert Loves Saunders

Thursday, February 16th, 2017

9780812995343_73f0aCalling him “quite possibly my favorite living author,” Stephen Colbert hosted George Saunders on The Late Show yesterday to discuss his debut novel, Lincoln in the Bardo (PRH/RH; RH Audio/BOT; Overdrive Sample).

Colbert asks why, after a successful career writing short stories, Saunders wanted to write a novel. He decided to try his hand, he replies, because he had heard a story about president Lincoln holding the body of his dead son in a graveyard crypt and could not get it out of his mind. 

Colbert calls the novel “heartbreaking” even as he jokes about all the white space on the page, caused by the line breaks between the 166 speakers in the novel (which led to the audio with a celebrity-studded cast of an equal number of narrators. In addition, the NYT has created a virtual reality adaptation).

The two also talk about the concept of the bardo, a space of transition where. Saunders explains. all the regrets, issues, and concerns one has while living are magnified and must be worked through before a soul can move on.

The book  been racking up an impressive number of rave reviews, as tracked by Book Marks. In a NYT Book Review cover piece Colson Whitehead says:

“It’s a very pleasing thing to watch a writer you have enjoyed for years reach an even higher level of achievement … George Saunders pulled that off with The Tenth Of December, his 2013 book of short stories. How gratifying and unexpected that he has repeated the feat with Lincoln in the Bardo, his first novel and a luminous feat of generosity and humanism.’’

Check your holds. After a slow start they are climbing in several systems.

LATE NIGHT Lit

Friday, February 10th, 2017

9780802126399_db599Continuing his literary salon, Seth Meyers hosted Pulitzer Prize-winner Viet Thanh Nguyen on Late Night yesterday.

Meyers opens by saying he is a fan of Nguyen’s writing and loved The Sympathizer (Grove Press, April 2015) before it won the Pulitzer. His newest book is a short story collection entitled The Refugees (Grove; OverDrive Sample). Nguyen came to the US with his parents from Viet Nam when he was four years old. He says refugees face the double sorrow of being “unwanted where they come from, unwanted when they arrive.”

The two-part interview, below:

The new book is stocked at Costco, a sure sign, says Nguyen. that he has “made it.” The reviews give further proof:

The Washington Post writes it “couldn’t come at a better time,” and that it is “as impeccably written as it is timed … an important and incisive book written by a major writer with firsthand knowledge of the human rights drama exploding on the international stage — and the talent to give us inroads toward understanding it.”

NPR calls it “an urgent, wonderful collection that proves that fiction can be more than mere storytelling.”

The Guardian says it an “accomplished collection,” continuing it is “With anger but not despair, with reconciliation but not unrealistic hope, and with genuine humour that is not used to diminish anyone, Nguyen has breathed life into many unforgettable characters, and given us a timely book.”

Writing for The New Yorker, Joyce Carol Oates calls it “beautiful and heartrending.”

On the Rise: Saunders’s Debut Novel

Tuesday, February 7th, 2017

9780812995343_73f0aThe debut novel by acclaimed short story writer George Saunders,  Lincoln in the Bardo (PRH/RH; RH Audio/BOT; Overdrive Sample), is rising on Amazon in advance of its release next week.

It has enjoyed an enviable range of critical coverage, including the cover of in the upcoming NYT Book Review written by Colson Whitehead. He says:

“It’s a very pleasing thing to watch a writer you have enjoyed for years reach an even higher level of achievement … George Saunders pulled that off with The Tenth Of December, his 2013 book of short stories. How gratifying and unexpected that he has repeated the feat with Lincoln in the Bardo, his first novel and a luminous feat of generosity and humanism.’’

The novel centers around the death of President Lincoln’s 11 year-old son Willie, who is laid to rest in a crypt in a DC graveyard populated by a number of people in a kind of limbo, including the President himself. Whitehead explains “The bardo of the title is a transitional state in Buddhism, where consciousness resides between death and the next life.”

Michiko Kakutani, in a NYT daily review published today, says the novel is like:

a weird folk art diorama of a cemetery come to life. Picture, as a backdrop, one of those primitively drawn 19th-century mourning paintings with rickety white gravestones and age-worn monuments standing under the faded green canopy of a couple of delicately sketched trees. Add a tall, sad mourner, grieving over his recently deceased son. And then, to make things stranger, populate the rest of the scene with some Edward Gorey-style ghosts, skittering across the landscape — at once menacing, comical and slightly tongue-in-cheek.”

Critics compare it to multi-voiced works such as Edgar Lee Masters’s Spoon River Anthology, Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, and Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio. New York magazine, however, says that “polyphonic approach can be dizzying … it can be hard to follow and tricky to keep in your head” and calls the book “very, very weird” with a “premise loaded with pathos but thin on dramatic tension.”

In his ultimately positive review, Washington Post critic Ron Charles says it is “a strikingly original production, a divisively odd book bound either to dazzle or alienate readers … an extended national ghost story, an erratically funny and piteous seance of grief … [it] confounds our expectations of what a novel should look and sound like.”

Expect more to come. Already Zadie Smith has called it a “masterpiece” in a “By the Book” column in the NYT and the WSJ provides a mix of review and interview.

For such a heavily anticipated novel, libraries have ordered surprisingly few copies and are showing 1:1 holds. Those that ordered very few copies are showing ratios as high as 11:1.

Back to the Future

Thursday, January 26th, 2017

1484156264-atwood1-1484154644UPDATE: Another older title experiencing a sudden boost is Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (Houghton Mifflin, 1985). As the NYT reports, several signs spotted at the recent Women’s Marches made reference to the book. In addition, producers of the upcoming Hulu TV adaptation, which debuts April 26 starring Elizabeth Moss, say it  intentionally parallels the current political atmosphere.

1984-01George Orwell’s 1949 classic dystopian novel, 1984 (PRH/Berkley; Blackstone Audio; PRH/Signet mass market) is making headlines and is the bestselling book on Amazon.

Its popularity has brought a 75,000 copy reprint from Penguin USA, and a possible additional printing.

The NYT reports that demand for the novel rose on Sunday, after Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway, used the phrase “alternative facts” during a contentious interview on Meet the Press about White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s first press briefing.

Entertainment Weekly reports “The connection between ‘alternative facts’ and Orwell’s dystopian novel was made on CNN’s Reliable Sources, where Washington Post reporter Karen Tumulty said, “Alternative facts is a George Orwell phrase.’ ”

The Guardian writes that readers and reporters were quick to make comparisons to the novel’s “fictional language that aims at eliminating personal thought.”

Outside of the United States interest is strong for the novel as well. The NYT reports that this January “sales have risen by 20 percent in Britain and Australia compared to the same period a year ago.”

happen-hereAs we posted earlier, 1984 is not the only classic getting increased attention since the election. Sinclair Lewis’s 1935 novel, It Can’t Happen Here (PRH/Signet; Blackstone Audio; OverDrive Sample), is also selling well, both in the US and the UK. Penguin re-printed it in Britain last Friday for the first time since its original publication date and adds that they are “already on to our third printing.”

The NYT published a new essay on Lewis’s novel, which Jon Meacham also mentioned in his newly launched book essay series for the paper,”The Long View.”

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Other dark political classics doing well on Amazon include Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (HC/Harper Perennial; Blackstone Audio; OverDrive Sample), Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (S&S; Tantor; OverDrive Sample), and Orwell’s Animal Farm (PRH/Berkley; Blackstone Audio).

Holds Alert: HISTORY OF WOLVES

Monday, January 23rd, 2017

9780802125873_cb9d6Demand is continuing to build for Emily Fridlund’s debut novel History of Wolves (Atlantic Monthly Press; Recorded Books; OverDrive Sample), with library holds ratios topping 4:1 in a number of systems.

As we reported earlier, it was released to the kind of buzz that generally signals a hit. Since then, the NYT and LA Times have also weighed in.

The reviewer for the NYT Sunday Book Review says that this “novel of ideas …  reads like smart pulp, a page-turner of craft and calibration.”

The L.A. Times writes “the chilly power of History of Wolves packs a wallop that’s hard to shake off … Fridlund … has constructed an elegant, troubling debut, both immersed in the natural world but equally concerned with issues of power, family, faith and the gap between understanding something and being able to act on the knowledge.”

On the other hand, the critic for the daily NYT Jennifer Senior, objects that the novel’s tension is drawn out too long and as a result “Those thunderheads massing on the horizon let loose only a weak drizzle.”

George Saunders on Audio

Wednesday, January 18th, 2017

9780812995343_73f0aThe literary world is eagerly awaiting the debut novel from George Saunders, Lincoln in the Bardo (PRH/RH; RH Audio/BOT; Feb. 14).

Audiobook fans should start the countdown as well.

Time magazine reports it will be an event, an audiobook with 166 narrators, each reading a single character. So many readers will contribute, in fact, that Time says Penguin Random House Audio is applying for a Guinness World Record.

The cast for the production looks like a Hollywood red carpet. Nick Offerman, Lena Dunham, Ben Stiller, Susan Sarandon, and Don Cheadle all have parts. So do Jeffrey Tambor, Bradley Whitford, and Megan Mullally.

Authors David Sedaris, Mary Karr, and Miranda July narrate, as does Saunders himself. Award-winning professional narrators Kirby Heyborne and Cassandra Campbell participate as well.

Saunders tells Time, “This was a really gratifying artistic venture … I love the way that the variety of contemporary American voices mimics and underscores the feeling I tried to evoke in the book: a sort of American chorale.”

Readers and listeners might want to keep the concept of a chorale in mind. Early reviews point out the complexity of the reading. As Booklist puts it the “surreal action … resembles a play, or a prose variation on Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology (1915), as [the multiple characters] tell their stories.”

A clip of the recording gives a taste of the mix of voices:

A Less Private IDAHO

Tuesday, January 10th, 2017

9780812994049_c7c00The debut novel by O.Henry Prize-winner Emily Ruskovich’s Idaho (PRH/Random House, Jan. 3; RH Audio; OverDrive Sample) is getting glowing reviews from a wide range of sources, from major outlets to local newspapers, from print and online, and from one coast to another.

The Dallas News, reprinting the Kirkus starred review, offers the novel “opens to the strains of a literary thriller but transforms into a lyrical meditation on memory, loss, and grief in the American West.”

The San Francisco Chronicle says it is “shatteringly original” and will upturn “everything you think you know about [the] story.”

The NYT writes “With an act of unspeakable violence at its heart … [it] is about not only loss, grief and redemption, but also, most interestingly, the brutal disruptions of memory.”

The Huffington Post ‘s headline is  “What Does A Literary Novel For The True Crime Era Look Like?” while The A.V. Club calls it “Poetic and razor sharp.”

It also tops the list of “15 Must-Read Books in January” as selected by Flavorwire and is the #1 pick by Real Simple of “The Best New Books To Read This Month.”

Holds are respectable on low orders thus far, making it available to readers advisors.

Running Start: HISTORY OF WOLVES

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017

9780802125873_cb9d6Emily Fridlund’s debut novel, History of Wolves (Atlantic Monthly Press; Recorded Books; OverDrive Sample), just got a rave review on NPR’s web site.

Calling it “electrifying,” reviewer Michael Schaub says it “isn’t a typical thriller any more than it’s a typical coming-of-age novel; Fridlund does a remarkable job transcending genres without sacrificing the suspense that builds steadily in the book … History of Wolves is as beautiful and as icy as the Minnesota woods where it’s set, and with her first book, Fridlund has already proven herself to be a singular talent.”

Among other buzz, it is an Amazon best of the month title as well as their featured debut for January. As we pointed out in Titles to Know for the week, People magazines picks it in the new issue, calling it, “a compelling portrait of a troubled adolescent trying to find her way in a new and frightening world.” It is also the #1 Indie Pick this month.

Holds are growing, ranging from 3:1 to 12:1 where ordering is light. One library we checked has a 25:1 ratio, triggering a large second order. 

Chabon’s Glowing Reception

Sunday, December 4th, 2016

9780062225559_e399cMoonglow byMichael Chabon (Harper; Harper Audio; OverDrive Sample) is a critical and library darling and has the holds figures to prove it. In the majority of library systems we checked hold ratios are well over 3:1, with some reaching 5:1. Even where holds are within acceptable ratios, all copies are in circulation and have active hold lists. It is a LibraryReads November selection with the following annotation:

“A grandson sits by his dying grandfather’s bedside as his grandfather slowly reveals the light and shadows of a marriage and of a family that kept secrets as a way of life. He learns of his grandmother’s life growing up during World War II; her coming to America and living with a man who kept to himself, even lying to her about his short time in prison. Chabon’s signature style includes carefully observed characters that are both new and familiar and shimmering prose that reflects and refracts light much as moonlight does.” — Jennifer Winberry, Hunterdon County Library, Flemington, NJ

The critical community is just as impressed. The Washington Post says “Chabon aims for the moon and successfully touches down on the lunar surface [offering] an emotional tale of love and loss; fabulous, at times magical, writing; and a story rooted in real-world events told from a unique perspective.” Michiko Kakutani reviews it for the NYT, saying Chabon “writes with both lovely lyricism and highly caffeinated fervor.” BuzzFeed offers an in-depth profile complete with photos and “day in the life of” coverage. Entertainment Weekly features the title, and the photos that inspired it.

It is on the Carnegie Medal shortlist (winners to be announced at MidWinter) as well as multiple end of the year best lists. It is also the #1 Indie Next pick for December.

Slate Book Club Reads UNDERGROUND

Sunday, November 27th, 2016

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Slate critics Jamelle Bouie, Laura Miller, and Katy Waldman return with the newest Audio Book Club. They “discuss two novels that reimagine our racist past and present,” The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (PRH/Doubleday; RH Audio; BOTOverDrive Sample) and Underground Airlines by Ben Winters (Hachette/Mulholland Books; Hachette Audio; OverDrive Sample).

The panel discuses each book on its own and then compares them in a wide ranging conversation that dips into the roots of hard-boiled genre fiction, the history of slavery, and segments of the history of the abolitionist movement.

Whitehead recently won the National Book Award for his novel, which is also on most of the year-end best of books of the year lists. PW picked Underground Airlines as one of the best Mystery/Thriller books of 2016.

The next discussion will be about the winner of the Nobel Prize, Bob Dylan, focusing on The Lyrics: 1961-2012 (S&S).

SILENCE Gets A Trailer

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2016

Director Martin Scorsese has adapted a book he has “reread countless times,” one that has given him “a kind of sustenance” that he has “found in only a very few works of art.”

The novel is Shusaku Endo’s Silence: With an Introduction by Martin Scorsese (Peter Owen Publishers, Dec. 1; trade paperback, Macmillan/Picador Modern Classics), first published in 1966 and winner of the Tanizaki Prize, one of Japan’s highest literary honors.

Entertainment Weekly writes that the film is about “a Portuguese Jesuit priest who is persecuted along with other Christians in 17th-century Japan … the hardship inflicted upon them [the priest and two others], and especially on their fellow Christians, puts their faith to the test.” It stars Andrew Garfield, Liam Neeson, and Adam Driver.

9780720614480_052afIn  addition to the quotes above, Scorsese also writes in his introduction to the tie-in, that the priest in the novel, played by Neeson, “begins on the path of Christ and … ends replaying the role of Christianity’s greatest villain, Judas.” Endo “looks at the problem of Judas more directly than any other artist I know. He understood that, in order for Christianity to live, to adapt itself to other cultures and historical moments, it needs not just the figure of Christ but the figure of Judas as well.”

This is not Scorsese’s first film about religious subjects. He directed The Last Temptation of Christ in 1988 and Kundun in 1997 (about the Dalai Lama).

At a press conference in May, held to promote the first look at the film, Scorsese told reporters that he’d been trying to adapt the book for over 25 years and that “The subject matter presented by Shusaku Endo was in my life since I was very, very young … I was very much involved in religion, I was raised in a strong Catholic family. … Further reflection is how [we] want to lead our life in the Christian faith … so ultimately this book drew my attention when it was given to me in 1988.”

Silence will open Dec. 23 in a limited Oscar-qualifying run before opening in wide release in January.

The Appeal of Nell Zink

Monday, October 31st, 2016

9780062441706_c4837The author of Mislaid (HC/Ecco, 2015), which made the National Book Award Longlist in 2015, as well as many best books lists, and most recently Nicotine (HC/Ecco; Harper Audio; OverDrive Sample), an Indie Next pick, is a reviewer favorite.

Laura Miller, the books and culture columnist for Slate, tries to understand why Zink is so beloved, while reviewing her newest novel as well.

She is a fearless writer, not worried about a backlash in the form of a “moral, political, or artistic reproach” says Miller. Perhaps this is because she was already mature, 51 years old, when she broke big in writing circles, and the fact that she is far from a product of the “MFA approach/”

Miller says that while reading her work she seems “to be the only novelist who truly does not give a fuck what you think of her.”

Second, she writes as she wishes, without regards to accepted rules. “Her willingness to simply tell you a story without adopting all the elaborate pretenses of dramatic realism, with its carefully constructed, allusive snapshots” is a big draw Miller contends.

Third is her style.  She has a “fundamentally comic sensibility” and excels at “Romantic farce.” She is also “remarkably subtle—too sympathetic, perhaps, to qualify as satire, but uninclined to let anyone off the hook.”

Finally, and most of all says Miller, she is willing to simply let her stories be, “the most transgressive thing of all about Zink’s work [is] that it has nothing it wants to teach us.”

As for Nicotine, Miller concludes “It spills out like the endlessly unfolding events of life itself, in discernible patterns of the wholesome and the toxic but refusing to stay still long enough to resolve into some kind of life lesson.”