News and reviews about writing, writers and written works.
Fearful Symmetry — a poem, by Stephen Collis, excerpt
A poem from the Chapbook New Life, available this month by Above/Ground Press.
How to fix the Toxic State of Public Discourse, by James Hoggan, book excerpt
When I first began thinking about writing I’m Right and You’re an Idiot, I sat down with Steve Rosell and Daniel Yankelovich, two eminent pioneers in an evolving field that uses dialogue to deal with highly polarized public conflict. I wanted to learn more about the power of dialogue, how to mend broken conversations and achieve clear collaborative communication so we can triangulate issues in innovative ways and find creative solutions.
Why children’s books are serious literature. By Catherine Butler
Once a generation, it seems, a cri de coeur goes out, in which a representative of the world of children’s literature speaks with revelatory authority to the literary establishment and makes it reassess the place of children’s books.
Non-fiction: German economist challenges orthodoxy, inequality, by Noah Barkin
Marcel Fratzscher, in contrast to many of his German counterparts, does not believe the German economy and the rules-based governance – Ordnungspolitik – that has shaped it since World War Two is a model that others should emulate.
Man Booker International 2016 Longlist. By Deborah Jones
Household, pseudonymous and new names are included in the longlist of 13 books in line for the prestigious Man Booker International Prize, released March 10.
Fiction: How I watched Lee Child write a Jack Reacher novel. By Andy Martin
Nobody really believes him when he says it. And in the end I guess it is unprovable. But I can put my hand on heart and say, having been there, and watched him at work, that Lee Child is fundamentally clueless when he starts writing. — British professor Andy Martin, who spent much of a year with author Lee Child as he wrote the 20th novel in his Jack Reacher series.
Booker shortlist: bastion against death of the novel. By Stacy Gillis
The 2015 year’s Man Booker shortlist features two Britons, two Americans, one Jamaican and a Nigerian (four men and two women) and has been applauded for its diversity.
Non fiction: Oliver Sacks brought us into his patients’ inner worlds. By Declan Fahy
Oliver Sacks achieved global public renown because his writings melded two particular traits that cut across his dual role as doctor and writer: his focus on single patients rather than large populations and his profound empathy.
Hiroshima’s literary legacy, by Daniel Cordle
Perhaps John Hersey’s greatest achievement is to render the Japanese bomb victims human to his American audience. After years of war, after the brutality of the Pacific campaigns, this is an aspect of the attack that had been neglected. By revealing the experience of some of World War II’s final victims Hersey stressed the devastating personal effects of this new and horrifying weapon.
The Man Booker is stacked in favour of big publishers. By Stevie Marsden
The Man Booker Prize for Fiction has announced its longlist for the 2015 award. Now in its 46th year, the award is among the most prestigious in the literary world. It is also incredibly generous to the big publishing houses.
Remembering EL Doctorow, America’s conscience. By Michael Wutz
EL Doctorow, who died in July 2015, will be missed, indeed. Over the course of almost six decades, Doctorow wrote himself into the canon of American literature. Together with his contemporaries Toni Morrison and Philip Roth, he embodied the virtues of a classical storyteller rendering cultural diagnoses in ambitious and lyrical narratives.
Amazon at 20: evil overlord or positive for publishers? By Simon Rowberry
Amazon is 20 years old this month. And despite this pervasive narrative of the evil overlord milking its underlings for all their worth, Amazon has actually offered some positive changes in the publishing industry over the last 20 years. Most notably, the website has increased the visibility of books as a form of entertainment in a competitive media environment. This is an achievement that should not be diminished in our increasingly digital world.
World’s favourite bookstores ranking shows enduring market. By Paul X. McCarthy
In a business environment that has seen industries decimated by the rise of digital, one sector showing resilience is that of books. “Books are not like recorded music,” says Shaun Symonds, general manager of Nielsen Bookscan. If anything, the total global market for books is growing.
‘Monumental’ generates prize for Hungary’s Krasznahorkai, by F&O
László Krasznahorkai, enthusiast of run-on sentences full of capacious and meandering and digressive observations, is the winner of the 2015 Man Booker International Prize.
Hanging Out With Paddy’s Crowd, by Jim McNiven, Thoughtlines
At the age of 18, in 1933, the charming and restless Patrick Leigh Fermor decided to walk alone from the Hook of Holland to Istanbul. The books that came of that journey, much later, exude feeling for the gradual tightening of the totalitarian state being devised by Hitler, a post-mortem on what was left of the landed aristocracy in Eastern Europe following World War I and the antagonisms between the welter of peoples in the successor states to the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires.
Love letters – from Joyce’s dirty missive to Keats’s paeans. By Emily Bernhard Jackson
Love letters have existed for almost as long as writing itself. The Roman governor Pliny wrote to his wife, “a longing for you possesses me”. In the 15th century, noblewoman Margery Brews confided to her fiancé that to marry him would make her “the happiest maid on earth”. “Remember that once you finish the fresco we will be together forever once and for all,” wrote Frida Kahlo to an absent Diego Rivera. Love letters never get old, and they seem never to go out of fashion: people may think they’re corny, or embarrassing, but they still love to get them. One might even make the argument that the love letter constitutes a genre in itself.
There’s something mysterious about reviving Harper Lee’s Mockingbird. By Richard Gray
Every now and then, the writer Josephine Humphreys has suggested, our lives veer from their day-to-day course and become for a short while “the kind of life that can be told as a story – that is, one in which events appear to have meaning”. As the astounding news breaks that she is to publish a second novel, Harper Lee must be feeling like her life has become a story – a story which the meaning of remains just a little hidden and mysterious.
Harper Lee’s gamble could undermine her Mockingbird. By Paul Giles
Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, has sold tens of millions of copies worldwide, and was voted The Greatest Novel of All Time by a London newspaper poll. To say there was a little pressure on its follow-up – some 55 years later – would be an understatement. Now Lee, 88, has announced she will in July publish her second novel. But Go Set a Watchman will represent a significant risk for this least productive of writers.
Haggis, neeps and badness: Robert Burns’ dark side. By Corey E. Andrews
Our understanding of Robert Burns has been enriched by the thriving scholarship that has grown in the late 2000s. That said, his reputation is still bedevilled by long-standing misinterpretations of his life and work. In particular, he is still misappropriated to aid the causes of endless warring parties (political, religious, cultural, you name it!). But that doesn’t prevent his name and legacy being an opportunity for social pleasure once a year (twice if you count New Year), when the slightly absurd rituals governing the Burns Supper are re-enacted around the world. Whether the poet’s works are much read beyond such occasions seems immaterial when considering his popular cultural esteem as the enduring Poet of Scotland. But the real challenge is to appreciate him in this role while still recognising his very human weaknesses.
Paris attack brings focus to French author Michel Houellebecq. By Louis Betty
When gunmen (thought to be radicalized Muslims) burst into the offices of Charlie Hebdo on the morning of January 7, the front page of the satirical newspaper’s most recent edition featured a caricature of French author Michel Houellebecq. The same day, his new novel Soumission (Submission) had been released – a fictionalized account of France’s election of an Islamist president in 2022. “In 2022, I’m observing Ramadan!” the cartoon of a ragged, cigarette-smoking Houellecbecq exclaims. Submission had generated controversy even before its publication.
Are children’s books “literature?” By Kiera Vaclavik
Maurice Sendak, author of Where the Wild Things Are, was an ardent defender of children’s literature, believing the works of Beatrix Potter to be equal to “the greatest English prose writers that have lived”. One wonders therefore what he would have made of the rather unedifying row between the executors of his estate and the Rosenbach Museum and Library, to which he bequeathed his collection of rare books, including several volumes by Potter, on his death in 2012. His executors are refusing to hand them over, arguing that they are “merely” children’s books.
Reader beware: the nasty new edition of the Brothers Grimm. By Marguerite Johnson
Fairy tales have a tumultuous and fragile history. They originated as tales told by “folk”. They were passed down over generations to while away long winter nights, to provide entertainment at special occasions and for simple enjoyment. Inevitably, as more people became literate and scholars began to record fairy tales, they were published. And then, with a wave of a magic wand, they entered the canon of European literature.
News, Verbatim: Ursula K. Le Guin’s call to action
American author Ursula K. Le Guin on Wednesday slammed the U.S. publishing industry’s “ignorance and greed,” and issued a cri de coeur on behalf of artists in a world where “hard times are coming” and writers will be needed who offer hope and freedom, and “see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being.” Le Guin won this year’s prestigious Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, given by the U.S. National Book Foundation to recognize “individuals who have made an exceptional impact on this country’s literary heritage.”
News, Verbatim: A U.S. Court Sets Sherlock Holmes Free. By F&O
America’s highest court freed the character of Sherlock Holmes from copyright restrictions sought by the estate of his late creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Will electric ink and aromapoetry revive the physical book? By Andrew Prescott
Discussion of the “death of the book” has been going on for many years. We have got used to the idea that the physical artefact of the book may be replaced by e-readers or other forms of access to information. The speed and nature of these changes and the extent to which will the book will survive have been extensively and hotly debated. But given advances in technology, this debate may well prove to have been misconceived in ways we didn’t expect. If paper and ink are being transformed so that they become interactive digital media, surely the same can happen with the physical book.
Man Booker Prize: Colonization’s Long Shadow. By Preti Taneja
Peter Carey suggests a certain kind of book usually wins the Man Booker Prize — one that deals with complicated relationships between cultures and countries linked by a power dynamic located in the violence of colonization, and in the long shadow of cultural imperialism. Richard Flanagan’s winning novel, written with a devastating lyricism, lives up to this “type” entirely.
News: Nobel winner Patrick Modiano, Memory, identity and time
French author Patrick Modiano won the 2014 Nobel Prize for Literature, the Nobel organization announced, “for the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies and uncovered the life-world of the occupation.”
Who is Patrick Modiano, and why don’t most of us know him? By Alan Morris
To the English-speaking world, the awarding of the 2014 Nobel Prize for literature to Patrick Modiano will probably have come as a surprise. He is renowned in his native France for keeping a very low profile, only venturing into the public spotlight momentarily with the appearance of each new novel. But few of his novels have been translated into English — probably because the incredibly distinctive ingredients of his universe do not travel particularly well.
Review: Naomi Klein‘s This Changes Everything. By Mike Berners-Lee
Naomi Klein’s third attack on capitalism, This Changes Everything, has put the urgency of climate change front and centre. As ever for Klein, unrestrained capitalism is the root problem and has to be dealt with, however difficult that might be – and however much money and power is propping it up. Our response so far has been hopeless, but she is able to point to recent signs that we might yet achieve the radical change we need: push hard now is the message.
Column: Judging the Man Booker Prize. By Dinah Birch, The Conversation
This year’s run-up to the naming of the Man Booker Prize winner has just begun, with the announcement of the 13 novels that make up the longlist. They will soon be dissected and analysed by readers and critics all over the world. For the first time, the prize has been open to writers of any nationality, as long as their work was originally in English and was published in the United Kingdom.
News: All the Things Hillary Clinton’s Book Doesn’t Say About Iraq. By Jeff Gerth, ProPublica
Having co-authored a 2007 biography of Hillary Clinton, I know that Iraq is not one of her favorite subjects. But with the bloodshed and sectarian division now crippling Iraq, I wondered what her new memoir, Hard Choices, had to say about a country that’s long been a political minefield for her. The answer is not a lot. There is no chapter on its own for Iraq, like there is for Gaza, or Burma or Haiti.
Alice Munro: Nobel a victory for the neglected short story. By Beth Palmer
The announcement of Alice Munro as 2013’s winner of the Nobel Prize for literature marks the high point in the 82-year old writer’s long career, but also a significant recognition for the form with which she is so closely aligned, the short story.
Review: Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. By Charles Mandel
It takes a particular kind of genius to set an entire novel around a football game’s halftime show. Sure, the halftime extravaganzas at the large NFL games offers lots in the way of spectacle, but you wouldn’t expect to find the experience of a lifetime compressed in one. Yet, that’s precisely what Ben Fountain achieves in his debut novel.
Review: Stephen Reid’s A Crowbar in the Buddhist Garden. By Joyce Thierry Llewellyen
“If you find a pink vibrator washed up on a beach you might laugh and walk on by. But when you find a pink vibrator washed up on a beach and you are in prison — you do a snatch and run.” With those two opening lines, addict, bank robber, and writer Stephen Reid begins his collection of essays, A Crowbar in the Buddhist Garden: Writing From Prison. I first interviewed Reid in 1988 when I was in my final year at the University of Victoria, in Victoria, Canada.
News: Goliath, 1 — Creators, 0: Google defeats American authors. By Deborah Jones
Google won a skirmish in the exhausting copyright war between the company and the United States’ Authors Guild, over its Google Books project to digitally scan the world’s books. The guild maintains that Google is violating copyright – and in 2005 it launched a suit against the company. Judge Denny Chin of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled in favour of Google, on the grounds the project has public benefits, constitutes fair use, and public access to digitized books is actually good for authors because it facilitates their book sales.
Review: George Packer’s Inner History of the New America. By Rod Mickleburgh
On a fall night, I wandered through the dark, foggy campus of the University if British Columbia, replete with cautionary signs to men about treating women right, to hear George Packer, superb chronicler and feature writer for The New Yorker magazine. Packer was on the Canadian campus as part of the Vancouver Writers Festival to talk about his latest book, The Unwinding, a best-selling attempt to get at the root of what the heck has gone wrong in once-mighty America through a series of individual profiles.
Tom Wolfe’s Hooking Up. By Charles Mandel, 2010
T. Coraghessan Boyle’s A Friend of the Earth. By Charles Mandel, 2000
James Houston’s Zigzag. By Deborah Jones, 1998
Literature professor uses Wikipedia as a teaching tool. By Deborah Jones, 2008
Spider Robinson moves on. By Deborah Jones, 1987