A survey finds which books British readers are most likely to re-read. The top positions go to works by Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, J.R.R. Tolkien and J.K. Rowling. Read the entire list here.
Mark Twain's family kept his Letters from the Earth hidden from view for more than a half century following his death -- fearful that his combination of sacred and profane views would prove too shocking to his admirers.
Writing about writers: In Philip Roth's latest novel, Exit Ghost, protagonist Nathan Zuckerman takes verbal potshots at biographers of famous literary figures. But how does Roth deal with his own hand-picked biographer? “I make up the stories, ... and now he's going to make up a story about me,” the author noted in a recent interview. But Ross Miller (nephew of Arthur Miller, and the scholar working on the Roth book) sees things differently.
Many literary stars are currently "biographer-free" -- a list that (according to the New York Times) includes Cormac McCarthy, E. L. Doctorow, Don DeLillo, Toni Morrison, Thomas Pynchon and Salman Rushdie, among others. Hard to believe in this age of degraded literary theory -- when, one might hope, a budding academic would look for a project with substance -- that no scholar has stepped forward to tackle the job of chronicling these fascinating lives. Yet, as another writer quips "the Mitford sisters have had more biographers than some of us have had hot dinners."
Chinese author Guo Jingming make more money than any other writer in China. He earned 11 million yuan (equal to about a million-and-a-half greenbacks) in royalties for his novel The River of Sorrow. Great sales . . . but he definitely needs a new hairdo. How do you place a value on scholarship? Easy . . . just look at the royalty statement. Yu Qiuyu, China's "most renowned scholar" according to China Daily, only placed tenth on the list. But his 'do is much more respectable.
Even more interesting (to this curious scribe) is the fact that a list of the wealthiest writers is published each year in China, and triggers controversy among the general public.
Can I get that quote as my ring tone? Semiotican Umberto Eco sees the "imbecile" who bleats into his iPhone, as "in reality strutting around like a peacock with a crown of feathers and a multicolored ring around his penis."
Next question: What is a semiotician? Quick answer: It is an "imbecile strutting around . . ." etc. etc.
And The Raw Shark Texts should have found a place on the list, if only in the Sci-Fi category. But the literary world continues to struggle when trying to pigeonhole books that fall between the sometimes arbitrary categories of serious fiction and genre fiction. Which, to some degree, also describes the plight of the Chabon books.
This takes the prize: A fictional autobiography of Zelda Fitzgerald -- Alabama Song written by Gilles Leroy -- wins the Goncourt Prize. And who says the French dislike Americans? This year an American subject won, while last year an American author (albeit one who wrote a 900 page novel in French) was awarded the distinguished honor.
"All writers are bastards, no?": Check out an interesting interview with author Paul Verhaeghen. This cognitive psychologist turned novelist, recently published Omega Minor, a 695-page cross between a thriller and "novel of ideas."
Papercuts highlights a gallery of intriguing photos taken of various items found in the book cart at a Wisconsin jail library.
Stephen Metcalf recalls the quip that "there are only two possible stories: a man goes on a journey, or a stranger comes to town." But Richard Russo, in his new novel Bridge of Sighs, discovers a third.
Why Yanks win so few Nobel Prizes in literature . . . November 5, 1930: Sinclair Lewis receives a phone call from Sweden telling him he is the first American to win the Nobel Prize in literature. Lewis thinks it is a prank, and mimics the caller's Swedish accent.
Own a bit of literary history: A Dorset home where Dickens once slept will be put up for sale.
Why are books so bloody expensive? An insider admits that prices have nothing to do with what consumers are willing to pay. It's all about squeezing as much money as possible out of the libraries. "There are SO few sure things in this business . . . " and one of them is that the lady who says "sh-h-h-h-h!" has to buy the book no matter what it costs.
The first great work in Western literature? According to one critic, nothing surpasses the final book of The Iliad.
And the worst book ever? According to The Gawker, it is the new James Lipton memoir. Here's a passage -- you make the call:
"April may be the cruelest month to Eliot, but to me it's the kindest, with the portents of spring, which is crammed with beginnings. Of holidays, I enjoy Memorial Day because it officially begins the pleasant summer season, and dislike Labor Day because it ends it."
I can hardly wait to read his grand sentiments on Groundhog Day and Arbor Day.
And if you mix up the Iliad and the Lipton memoir (= The Lipiad?), you get a fair-to- middlin' read for a slow afternoon.
(This award should not be confused with the Janet Heidiger Kafka Award, given out annually by the University of Rochester. Past winners of that Kafka Award -- which focuses exclusively on female authors -- include Mary Gordon, Toni Morrison and Ann Patchett.)
"When I think of a writer, I think of a person who locks himself up in a room": Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk comes to Washington, D.C. to share some unconventional thoughts on the political impact of fiction.
A truism of libel law is that you can't be sued for what you write about a dead person. But are you free to write openly about a fictional character? J.K. Rowling thinks not.
Useful additions to our vocabulary
Trick Lit, according to Seth Grodin, is "the term for a chick lit novel that pretends to be something else, hoping to rope people in with an interesting premise. 30 pages later, you discover that you were deceived, that it's just another piece of genre trash."
Multi-slacking (from the ever useful Urban Dictionary) is the ability to engage in several mindless pursuits simultaneously, while avoiding productive work.
Hollywood marriage: A little longer than a New York minute. It represents a time period of approximately one month.
SITCOMS are a growing demographic in my neighborhood. The initials stand for "Single Income, Two Children, Oppressive Mortgage" -- or what yuppies become when the condo flops instead of flips.
And our favorite . . .
Micro-persuasion: A tendency to convince people through blogging instead of via mass media channels.
Hard-work, virtue, honesty, dedication describe which American man of letters? No, not Benjamin Franklin, rather Hunter S. Thompson. (At least according to his wife.)
Don't judge a book by its movie, sayeth the sage. But I can't help getting excited about forthcoming movie versions of Ian McEwan's Atonement and Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections. And how can I not be jazzed about Pixar tackling John Carter of Mars?
Six degrees of separation: Today our game involves connecting novelists and military leaders. Answer #1: Long before the Cuban revolution, Fidel Castro practiced shooting with Ernest Hemingway's gun. Answer #2: Toni Morrison rubs shoulders with General Norman Schwarzkopf, but only in the New Jersey Hall of Fame. And #3? Who can guess the important link between Mark Twain and Ulysses S. Grant?
Joseph Heller wanted to call his novel Catch-18 . . . but the publication of another book with a similar title forced him to reconsider. Then the book almost became Catch-11, but the Rat Pack film Ocean's Eleven intervened. Read here the surprising story of modern fiction's most famous integer.
Does the death of Norman Mailer really mean the death of the Great American Novel? The Independent goes too far. I refuse to bury the American novel so long as we can still count on Philip Roth, Don DeLillo, Jonathan Franzen, Marilynne Robinson, Michael Chabon, Jonathan Lethem, Richard Powers, Edward P. Jones, Ray Bradbury, Marisha Pessl, Ann Patchett, Denis Johnson, Paul Auster, Mark Z. Danielewski, Tom Wolfe, Cormac McCarthy, Joyce Carol Oates, Neal Stephenson, Orson Scott Card, Toni Morrison and Thomas Pynchon among others.
Denis Johnson's exceptional novel Tree of Smoke wins the National Book Award. Read our review here. Other honorees include Joan Didion, Robert Hass and Terry Gross. For more on the National Book Award recipients click here.
Johnson's book is the fifth novel published by Farrar, Straus, Giroux to win the honor during the last eight years. But this is not just a string of good luck . . . rather much deserved success driven by outstanding books, such as Tree of Smoke, The Corrections and The Echo Maker.
Departed literary lions in recent months include Norman Mailer and William Styron and Kurt Vonnegut. Which of these reached the largest audience? Find out here.