Archive for the ‘Literary’ Category

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.”

y6489781451673319_c23889780452277502

 

 

 

 

 

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

9780385542364_9d8d89780316261241_e6d12

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.”

Man Booker Announced Tomorrow

Monday, October 24th, 2016

eileen-01 sellout

do-not-say hot-milk

bloody-project-01all-that-man

Literary history may be made when the winner of the UK’s Man Booker award is announced at a ceremony in London tomorrow night beginning at 8 p. (3 pm, Eastern). For the first time, two US authors are on the shortlist, Paul Beatty for The Sellout (Macmillan/FSG,  OverDrive Sample), which received awards and was on many best books lists when it was published here last year, and Ottessa Moshfegh for her debut, Eileen (PRH/Penguin; OverDrive Sample).

Most consider the field wide open, but in the UK, where it’s legal to do such things, bets are on Canadian Medeleine Thien for  Do Not Say We Have Nothing (Norton; OverDrive Sample). Recently published here, the daily NYT reviewed it warmly this week, calling it “a beautiful, sorrowful work.”  That followed an equally warm review earlier in the NYT Sunday Review. 

Second in odds is  the UK’s Deborah Levy for Hot Milk (Macmillan/Bloomsbury; OverDrive Sample), reviewed when it came out this summer in the daily NYT, the Washington Post and the NYT Book Review

Coming is third is His Bloody Project: Documents Relating to the Case of Roderick Macrae, by Scotsman Graeme MaCrae Burnet (Skyhorse; OverDrive Sample). As we wrote earlier, its selection for the longlist was a major surprise, both because it is a crime novel, a genre that has not received recognition from the Booker judges before, and because it is from the tiny two-person Scottish press, Saraband. In the US, it was recently released by a much larger small press, Skyhorse.

Beatty comes in fourth and Ottessa Mosfeght is last, but the punters rarely predict winners for literary awards. The only thing that can be said for certain is that someone’s literary reputation will be made tomorrow.

Zadie Smith: The Interview

Tuesday, October 18th, 2016

9781594203985_d6a1a

One of the most heavily anticipated literary events of this fall is Zadie Smith’s new novel, Swing Time (PRH/Penguin; Penguin Audio/BOT), set for release on Nov. 15. Previewed on the majority of the fall reading lists, it a Carnegie Medal Longlist title, and a LibraryReads selection for November, with the following annotation:

“Spanning over twenty years and two continents, Smith’s new novel is a charming account of one woman’s coming-of-age. Smith’s unnamed narrator, a mixed-race child lives in one of London’s many low-end housing units.  She meets Tracey and the two are bonded over the shared experience of being poor and ‘brown’ in a class that is predominantly white. As the two stumble towards womanhood, the differences become more stark and divisive, and their friendship is fractured by Tracey’s final, unforgivable act. This book will appeal to lovers of character-driven fiction.” — Jennifer Wilson, Delphi Public Library, Delphi, IN

This week’s NYT‘s Style Magazine T, gets a jump on the more literary media, featuring an interview with the author by fellow novelist Jeffrey Eugenides. The two have clearly been friends for some time, resulting in an interview that comes across as an intimate, personal, somewhat confessional conversation.

Some highlights:

Smith says that therapy which has helped her write more confidently and in new ways, allowing her to use the first person voice in Swing Time, “I’ve always felt very cringe-y about myself … It did seem to me, when I was a kid and also now that I’m a grown-up writer, that a lot of male writers have a certainty that I have never been able to have. I kept on thinking I would grow into it, but I’m never sure I’m doing the right thing.”

About Swing Time Eugenides says “Like the black-and-white musicals that feature in its pages, the book is a play of light and dark — at once an assertion of physicality and an illusion … The novel cloaks existential dread beneath the brightest of intensities.”

Much of the profile is about her search for and expressions of identity. Of her own self, Smith says she aspires to be more like Darryl Pinckney, who “claims the freedom” of just being himself “in all his extreme particularity.” Eugenides responds that she “already seems that way” to him. After a pause she replies, “Oh” and the interview ends.

Accompanying the article is a video of Smith in the first person.

Heading to Screen: WAITING FOR THE BARBARIANS

Friday, October 14th, 2016

jmcoetzee_waitingforthebarbariansIn what might be some consolation for not making it to the Booker shortlist this year, J.M. Coetzee’s award-winning novel, Waiting For The Barbarians (PRH/Penguin) is being adapted as a feature film.

Coetzee won the Booker Prize in 1983 for Life & Times of Michael K and in 1999 for Disgrace. He also won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2003. This year,  The Schooldays of Jesus (PRH/Viking; Feb. 2017) was on the longlist, but did not make the cut to the shortlist.

Deadline Hollywood reports that Coetzee adapted his novel for the film. Oscar winner Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies) will star and Oscar nominated director Ciro Guerra, who earned praise for Embrace of the Serpent, will helm the project says the trade source.

In their review of the book, the NYT wrote “Mr. Coetzee tells the story of an imaginary Empire, set in an unspecified place and time, yet recognizable as a ‘universalized’ version of South Africa. This allows Mr. Coetzee some esthetic distance from his subject, for even while remaining locked with the history of his moment, he isn’t completely at the mercy of its local chaos and ugliness. The result is a realistic fable, at once stark, exciting and economical.”

NPR brought new focus on the novel in 2014 when they named it “This Week’s Must Read” after the Senate Intelligence Committee issued its report about the “brutal interrogation techniques used by the CIA after Sept 11.”

Finally, the Final Finalists

Monday, October 10th, 2016

news-world All That Man Is 9780393609882_59ec7

The final three of the finalists for major book awards in fiction have just been released and are getting media attention.

Selected as the number one LibraryReads pick for October, News of the World by Paulette Jiles (HarperCollins/Morrow; Brilliance Audio) is one of five finalists for the National Book Awards in fiction. Entertainment Weekly hails it this week on their “Must List,” saying, “Jiles’ gorgeously written novel … follows a retired soldier in 1870 tasked with bringing a kidnapped 10-year-old girl to her faraway relatives after her rescue.”

Just released in the US., the Man Booker finalist, David Szalay’s All That Man Is (Graywolf; OverDrive Sample) gets double coverage from the New York Times. Dwight Garner in the daily paper uses an arresting analogy, “you climb into … All That Man Is, as if into an understated luxury car. The book has a large, hammerlike engine, yet it is content to purr. There’s a sense of enormous power held in reserve.” He notes the book is not actually a novel, but “closer to a collection of linked short stories,” In the Sunday Book Review, author Garth Greenwell, whose debut novel What Belongs to You (Macmillan/FSG; Recorded Books; OverDrive Sample) is a National Book Award finalists, writes, “there’s very little explicitly interlinking its separate narratives. The stories cohere instead through their single project: an investigation of European manhood. ” The New Yorker ‘s esteemed critic James Wood goes further, saying that Szalay is “The latest novelist to give voice to what he has called a ‘disaffection with the novel form,’ ”and that the result “takes the novel form and shakes out of it a few essential seeds.”

Tthe last of the Booker finalists to be published in the US arrives this week, Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien, (Norton; OverDrive Sample; Recorded Books audio coming in April).  Publishers Weekly gave it a star, but it has not yet been reviewed in the US consumer press [Update: The Wall Street Journal reviews it, calling it “elegant”]. Earlier this summer, Canada’s The Globe and Mail wrote that the book “cements Madeleine Thien as one of Canada’s most talented novelists” with a “gorgeous intergenerational saga, stretching as far back at the 1940s and traversing China” told from the perspective of a woman living in present-day Vancouver, who begins the book with the story of her father’s suicide.

The winner of the Man Booker will be announced on Oct. 25, the National Book Awards on Nov. 16.