Archive for the ‘Literary’ Category

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

Harper Lee May Actually
Be Pulling the Strings

Monday, July 13th, 2015

Go Set a WatchmanOne of the still lingering concerns about the publication of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman is whether the aging author was manipulated into agreeing to it, particularly since the discovery of the manuscript and decision to publish it came after the death of Lee’s sister and caretaker, Alice Lee.

But there is a completely opposite theory, that Alice Lee’s death allowed her younger sister to finally do as she pleases.

Interviewing Charles Shields, author of author of the biography Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper LeeNeely Tucker of the Washington Post asks if Shields sees merits in the theory. He replies, “I agree entirely. Unfortunately, Ms. Carter [Lee’s lawyer] is becoming the fall person and I think she is taking direction from a woman who is quite up in her years and may want a little fillip in her years and have the little extra perk of being on the map again … I have to think that there’s a certain amount of joy in at last publishing the book Alice would never let her publish.”

The interview, which was shown on on C-Span2″s BookTV over the weekend is available online (the section referred to above begins at time stamp 42:00).

Interviewer Tucker has had his own experience trying to learn more about the Lee sisters. He wrote  “To shill a mockingbird: How a manuscript’s discovery became Harper Lee’s ‘new’ novel.”

Hints of a Third Harper Lee Manuscript

Monday, July 13th, 2015

The woman who discovered the manuscript of Go Set a Watchmn, Tonia B. Carter, Harper Lee’s lawyer, has published a story in the Wall Street Journal, “How I Found the Harper Lee Manuscript,” to she says, “tell the full story, fill in any blanks that may be in people’s minds, and provide a historical context for those interested in how this book went from lost to being found.”

The story refutes the July 2 report by the New York Times that she may have seen the  manuscript earlier than claimed, but the real surprise comes at the end when she hints that there may be a third book. Returning to the safe deposit box where Go Set A Watchman was discovered, she says she has found pages that 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.”

She adds that she doesn’t know, but “In the coming months, experts, at Nelle’s [Lee’s first name, used by family and friends] direction, will be invited to examine and authenticate all the documents in the safe-deposit box.”

More Reviews and Debate: WATCHMAN

Sunday, July 12th, 2015

Supposedly under tight security unitl its release on Tuesday, Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman has found its way into a remarkable number of reviewers’ hands. The tide now seems to be turning from the initial “Say its isn’t so” at the discovery of a racist Atticus Finch to, as Time magazine’s headline declares, “Atticus Finch’s Racism Makes Scout, and Us, Grow Up.”

In the New York Times review on Friday, Michiko Kakutani asked, “How could the saintly Atticus  … suddenly emerge as a bigot?”

The Wall Street Journal offers an explanation by examining the model for Atticus Finch, Harper Lee’s father:

Ms. Lee’s father was indeed a segregationist, according to people who knew him and according to Charles J. Shields, author of the biography Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee. But while his daughter was at work on Mockingbird, Mr. Lee had a change of heart that moved him to advocate for integration. Mr. Shields said Mr. Lee’s late-in-life shift could explain the transformation of Atticus through the author’s drafts from a bigot in Watchman to a civil-rights hero in Mockingbird and why in interviews after Mockingbird she spoke glowingly of her father. “She may have been very proud of him,” Mr. Shields said.

Poet laureate Natasha Trethewey, the only African American to review the book so far, says in the Washington Post that Watchman reveals uncomfortable truths:

…the paradox at the heart of Watchman that many white Americans still cannot or will not comprehend: that one can at once believe in the ideal of “justice for all” — as Atticus once purported to — and yet maintain a deeply ingrained and unexamined notion of racial difference now based in culture as opposed to biology, a milder yet novel version of white supremacy manifest in, for example, racial profiling, unfair and predatory lending practices, disparate incarceration rates, residential and school segregation, discriminatory employment practices and medical racism.

GO SET A WATCHMAN, Reviewed by the WSJ

Saturday, July 11th, 2015

Go Set a WatchmanCalling Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman, “a distressing book, one that delivers a startling rebuttal to the shining idealism of To Kill a Mockingbird” the Wall Street Journal reviews the book that was supposed to be under heavy security until its release on Tuesday, following those from the New York Times by Michiko Kakutani and the one in USA Today, concluding, “for the millions who hold that novel dear, Go Set a Watchman will be a test of their tolerance and capacity for forgiveness.”

None of the three publications have explained how they acquired their copies.

Embargo Broken: The NYT &

Friday, July 10th, 2015

Go Set a WatchmanThe daily New York Times has just released a review by the formidable Michiko Kakutani  of Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman, which was supposed to be under heavy security until its release on Tuesday. It’s a review that will crush those hoping for another masterpiece.

Although Watchman is both a precursor, in that it was written first, and a sequel to Lee’s beloved To Kill a Mockingbird, in that it is set after that book, Kakutani says this is a much different story, and will leave readers wondering,

How did a lumpy tale about a young woman’s grief over her discovery of her father’s bigoted views evolve into a classic coming-of-age story about two children and their devoted widower father? How did a distressing narrative filled with characters spouting hate speech  … mutate into a redemptive novel associated with the civil rights movement, hailed, in the words of the former civil rights activist and congressman Andrew Young, for giving us “a sense of emerging humanism and decency”?

Kakutani does not reveal how she got the book.

UPDATE: USA Today also reviews the book and comes to a similar conclusion, “it’s troubling to see the great, saintly Atticus diminished.” but counters, “If you think of Watchman as a young writer’s laboratory, however, it provides valuable insight into the generous, complex mind of one of America’s most important authors.” USA Today also does not explain how they acquired their copy.

Read the First Chapter

Friday, July 10th, 2015

Go Set a WatchmanYou can now read the first chapter of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, coming out on Tuesday, and listen to a sample of Reese Witherspoon reading the audiobook, from the Wall Street Journal:

Harper Lee’s ‘Go Set a Watchman’: Read the First Chapter

Both are also available from the Guardian.

Exclusive extract, Chapter one, Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee

The WSJ also reports on the “extreme security measures” in place for the book’s rollout to libraries and bookstores in more than 70 countries (it appears shrink-wrapping counts as an “extreme measure”).


Thursday, July 9th, 2015

9780812995220_dd7ffBuzz has been building for Julia Pierpont’s debut novel Among the Ten Thousand Things (Random House; Random House Audio; OverDrive Sample). Called by Vanity Fairone of the most anticipated books of the year” based on the manuscript being sold at auction for an estimated six figures in 2012, it carries a cover blurb by Jonathan Safran Foer, “This book is among the funniest, and most emotionally honest, I’ve read in a long time.”

Libraries ordered conservatively, holds are building and many are going back for reorders.

We covered the book last week, pointing out Entertainment Weekly’s praise, which has since been followed by attention from some other heavy hitters.

Described in the upcoming New York Times Sunday Book Review as “a novel about a family blown apart and yet still painfully tethered together” by Helen Schulman whose own novels have also explored modern marital relationships, the review begins, “In some cases, the key to the success of a longstanding marriage may not be in its well-kept secrets but in its tacit agreements.” She calls the author “a blazingly talented young author whose prose is so assured and whose observations are so precise and deeply felt that it’s almost an insult to bring up her age,” which she then does in the very next sentence, “At 28, Pierpont has a preternatural understanding of the vulnerabilities of middle age and the vicissitudes of a long marriage, the habits of being.”

She also credits the author with creating an “an audacious structural move … about half of the way through, when she jumps ahead into the future, leaving no questions about the resolution of this story unanswered. It’s an injection of omniscience reminiscent of Jennifer Egan or Milan Kundera, and it makes the unfolding of what follows more riveting in a slow-mo, rubbernecking way.”

It is the top pick on Oprah’s “Dazzling New Beach Reads” list, called a “twisty, gripping story … [that] packs an emotional wallop.”

The Huffington Post’s “Bottom Line” puts Pierpont in the same company as Virginia Woolf: “Though comparisons to Virginia Woolf will necessarily place most contemporary novels in the shadow of her genius, Among the Ten Thousand Things carries through the late author’s spirit, if not her revolutionary style.”

The Vanity Fair story mentioned above all but anoints Pierpont’s book as the summer’s have-to-read, saying it is “a big, beating heart that soars,” summarizing its draw in glowing terms:

Against a summer smorgasbord of stories about syrupy flings or crime dramas, Among the Ten Thousand Things rises above for its imagined structure, sentence-by-sentence punch, and pure humanity . . .  Pierpont has written a debut so honest and mature that it will resonate with even the most action-hungry readers—perhaps against reason. Her story is the one we’ll be talking about this summer, and well beyond.


Wednesday, July 8th, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-07-08 at 9.33.11 AMHow is this for an endorsement? “Summerlong (Harper/Ecco; Dreamscape; OverDrive Sample) is the Great White Midlife Crisis novel that Jonathan Franzen has tried to write (and failed) and Jonathan Lethem has tried to write (and failed) and Michael Chabon (wisely) half-avoided ever trying to write.”

That is how Jason Sheehan describes Dean Bakopoulos’s newest novel in his NPR review.

The story about a marriage on the rocks told with humor and unflinching candor is getting acclaim from several other notable book sources and could become one of the “it” books of the summer.

It is already among Oprah’s favorite “Dazzling New Beach Reads” and gets the nod from The Washington Post’s Ron Charles as well.

The folks at Oprah say Bakopoulos is “masterful when it comes to imagining the ways that we all long to cut loose from our everyday obligations.”

While Charles remarks that the novel is “sexy but surprisingly poignant” and that “Bakopoulos’s greatest talent is his ability to mix ribald comedy with heartfelt sorrow… finding out how these desperate dreamers get through their summer of love and lovelessness will make your own even more refreshing.”

It is Sheehan’s NPR’s review, however, that gives the best sense of the reading experience: “Do not read this book if you are unhappy. It will kill you. … Don’t read it if you’re sad. Don’t read it if you’re restless. … Don’t read it if, sometimes, you wake late at night and think of just slipping away in the dark, calculating how far away you’d be before anyone knew you were gone because if you do, Summerlong will take you down with it, man. It will break you.”

Holds in libraries are rising on light ordering.


Tuesday, July 7th, 2015

Go Set a WatchmanThe Wall Street Journal will post the first chapter of Harper Lee’s new book, Go Set a Watchman, plus a sample of Reese Witherspoon reading the audiobook, this Friday, four days in advance of the book’s publication. In the U.K., the excerpts will be published by the Guardian.

The chapter will also be discussed on the WSJ Book Club Facebook page.

For an amusing take on the promotion campaign for the book, check out the discussion between Peter Bart, Variety’s former editor-in-chief and Mike Fleming, also formerly of Variety and now at Deadline. Says Bart,  “How do you sell a (sort of) sequel to the great To Kill a Mockingbird when you have no star to promote it (Gregory Peck is long gone) and Harper Lee, age 89, hasn’t been seen in public in sixty years.”

It may seem hopelessly old-fashioned to the Hollywood crowd, but, according to the New York Times, bookstore promotions include “read-a-thons, midnight openings, film screenings, Southern food and discussion groups.”