Bookish news making the rounds this week:
- “And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting…” in our minds after all this time! Edgar Allan Poe’s famed poem “The Raven” has been around almost one hundred seventy years, and has since been embedded (parodied, filmed, read, acted) in our culture. What is it about Poe that keeps readers fascinated, and many academics furious? Jerome McGann, distinguished professor and critic at the University of Virginia, has published The Poet Edgar Allan Poe: Alien Angel (Harvard University Press), which investigates the persistent tension between Poe’s popular admiration and academic scorn. (Washington Post)
- Certain universities refuse to grant degrees to students with outstanding library fines. After the Office of Fair Trading in the United Kingdom declared it unlawful to keep students from graduating over non-academic debts, the University of Sheffield has removed library fines entirely. (BBC News)
- Bizarre, uncanny, and beautiful. Over at the Atlantic, fiction writer and editor of The Weirdanthology Jeff VanderMeer considers the universal elements found in “weird tales.” Works by Jamaica Kincaid, Helen Oyeyemi, and Haruki Murakami are among those that VanderMeer suggests take on a “luminous quality.” “Just as in real life, things don’t always quite add up, the narrative isn’t quite what we expected, and in that space we discover some of the most powerful evocations of what it means to be human or inhuman.”
- Remember when J.K. Rowling promised new Harry Potter materials on Pottermore for Halloween? Well, today she delivered. For those without a membership to Rowling’s website, NBC’s Today show has republished Rowling’s profile of Dolores Umbridge — a villain whose desire to control is, according to Rowling’s accompanying essay, “every bit as reprehensible as Lord Voldemort’s unvarnished espousal of evil.” And like many villains, this character has roots in reality: an old, “spiteful” teacher of Rowling’s with a “taste for twee accessories.” (NPR)
- To raise money for Freedom from Torture, seventeen authors—including Margaret Atwood, Julian Barnes, Ken Follett, Hanif Kureishi, Will Self, Alan Hollinghurst, and Zadie Smith—are offering the rights to name characters in their new novels. (They call this an “Immortality Auction,” which implies that all the authors involved expect to have healthy readerships in the coming eons.) (Paris Review)
Here’s the book news making the rounds online today:
- From NPR: Lily King, Roz Chast and Kate Samworth have all taken home the inaugural Kirkus Prize. The winners in the award’s three categories — fiction, nonfiction and young readers’ literature — were announced Thursday night at a ceremony in Austin, Texas. Each author received $50,000.
- How “curationism” influences our reading identities — over at Quill & Quire, David Balzer examines how the art world’s obsession with curationism came to influence our personal reading identities
- From NPR: We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live, a proposed documentary about iconic author Joan Didion, is currently being funded through Kickstarter. Didion’s nephew Griffin Dunne is producing the film, which will piece together the author’s life and legacy through her memories, old footage, and interviews with over a dozen artists including Vanessa Redgrave and Patti Smith.
- Why do we love Sherlock Holmes and Jack the Ripper? At the New Republic, Britt Peterson investigates our fascination with Victorian crime stories, and reviews three contemporary books on the subject. Peterson discusses how these books “to varying degrees…both indulge our own detective-fever, and seek to de-sensationalize the people who originally experienced it—sometimes a tricky juggling act.”
- From the Paris Review: Is transrealism “the first major literary movement of the twenty-first century”? “Transrealism argues for an approach to writing novels routed first and foremost in reality. It rejects artificial constructs like plot and archetypal characters in favor of real events and people, drawn directly from the author’s experience. But through this realist tapestry, the author threads a singular, impossibly fantastic idea, often one drawn from the playbook of science fiction, fantasy and horror … ”
I have been compiling a list of excellent books that would make wonderful gifts for Father’s Day. I think there is something on this big list for every reading father, or father-figure, in your life. (If you are stuck on what to get someone who says they are not a reader, you could always try to show them the bookish light! I have had success giving nonfiction books to people who claim to not be readers and it has been met with great success!)
Anyway, here…the giant list:
- My Antonía, by Willa Cather
- East of Eden, by John Steinbeck
- Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes – this Edith Grossman translation, as linked, is excellent!
- Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley – this Penguin edition I have linked is awesome.
- The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas (pére)
- Moby Dick, by Herman Melville – Yes, seriously! And, again, advocating for this particular edition to which I have linked you.
- Out Stealing Horses, by Per Petterson
- Homer & Langley, by E.L. Doctorow
- The Sea, by John Banville
- High Fidelity, by Nick Hornsby
- Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan
- The Submission, by Amy Waldman
- Breath, by Tim Winton
- March, by Geraldine Brooks
- The Wasp Factory, by Iain Banks
- The Shipping News, by Annie Proulx
- The Ha-Ha, by Dave King
- A Case of Exploding Mangoes, by Mohammed Hanif
- Embassytown, by China Miéville
- Straight Man, by Richard Russo
- Wolf Hall & Bring Up the Bodies, by Hilary Mantel
- In the Orchards, the Swallows, by Peter Hobbs
- Telegraph Avenue, by Michael Chabon
- The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach (This book would actually be well-paired with Moby Dick. And, as people say Rocky isn’t a boxing movie, The Art of Fielding isn’t really a baseball novel.)
- The Good Lord Bird, by James McBride
- Gold Diggers: Striking it Rich in the Klondike, by Charlotte Gray (Canadian)
- The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary, by Andrew Westoll (Canadian)
- Into the Silence, by Wade Davis (Canadian)
- Quiet: The Power of Introverts In a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain
- Life, by Keith Richards
- The Emperor of All Maladies, by Siddhartha Mukherjee – yes, it’s a book about the history of cancer and cancer treatment – but it is so fascinating, amazingly researched and just a fantastic book that I feel is almost required reading.
- Mo’ Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove, by Ahmir Questlove Thompson
- Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand
- Moneyball, by Michael Lewis (The movie started life as a book.)
- Eating Animals, by Jonathon Safran Foer
- The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot
- Every Love Story is a Ghost Story, by D.T. Max – this would be awesome paired with: This is Water by David Foster Wallace
- Packing for Mars, by Mary Roach
- The Noble Hustle, by Colson Whitehead
So – as you can see, it’s a huge list. I do hope you find something of interest here and would love to know about the books you plan to give as gifts.
If you would like a personal recommendation, I would be happy to make one for you. Just give me three books you (or your dad) love(s) and I will offer an excellent suggestion. Or two. Or three. You can post your request in the comments below. :)
I have linked all the above books to Goodreads. It is a great place to read book descriptions, and see what others think. When it comes time to buy, I encourage you all to visit an independent bookseller for all your book shopping. These stores are vital parts of our communities and it would be wonderful for you to support a local business. (If you need a recommendation here, I would be pleased to help.)
Happy Father’s Day, and happy reading to you all!
New in bookstores today, The Transcriptionist, by Amy Rowland.
From the book’s description: No one can find it. That’s the first thing. The Recording Room is on the eleventh floor, at the end of a rat-hued hallway that some workers at the newspaper have never seen; they give up on the ancient elevator, which makes only local stops with loud creaks of protest. Like New Yorkers who refuse to venture above Fourteenth Street, there are newspaper workers who refuse to go above the fourth floor for fear of being lost forever if they leave the well-lit newsroom for dark floors unknown. In this room you’ll find Lena. She works as a transcriptionist for the Record, a behemoth New York City newspaper. There once were many transcriptionists at the Record, but new technology and the ease of communication has put most of them out of work, so now Lena sits alone in a room on the building’s eleventh floor, far away from the hum of the newsroom that is the heart of the paper. Still, it is an important job—vital, really—a vein that connects the organs of the paper, and Lena takes it very seriously. And then one day she encounters something that shatters the reverie that has become her life—an article in the paper about a woman mauled to death by lions in the city zoo. The woman was blind and remains unidentified, but there is a picture, and Lena recognizes her as someone whom a few days before she had met and talked to briefly while riding home on a midtown bus.
Obsessed with [understanding the woman's death], Lena begins a campaign for truth that will ultimately destroy the Record’s complacency and shake the venerable institution to its very foundation. In the process she finds a new set of truths that gives her the strength to shed what she describes as her “secondhand life” and to embrace a future filled with promise, maybe even adventure. An exquisite novel that asks probing questions about journalism and ethics, about the decline of the newspaper and the failure of language. I am so happy to recommend this wonderful debut novel to you. I had trouble putting it down as I was completely swept into Lena’s world. In our ever more technologically dependent world, human connection has become a more important issue – we are all plugged in all the time, but how much of our time is spent engaging with people in meaningful and important ways? Rowland explores this theme beautifully in her book, as Lena attempts to solidify her presence in her own life, in an increasingly alienating world.
Amy Rowland wrote a great essay, sharing how the idea for The Transcriptionist came about.