Monday, June 27, 2005

Western Writers Get Spurs
That's a good thing. The Western Writers of America give out awards each year to writing which best evokes the American West. In addition to best novel and short story, Spurs are awarded for drama and documentary scripts as well as poetry. See complete list.
Can Americans Handle Faulkner?
The Orange County (CA) Register poses this embarrassingly valid question.
Oprah Winfrey threw down the gauntlet and caused jaws to drop all over America when she unveiled her book club's read for the summer: A triumvirate of William Faulkner, including As I Lay Dying, The Sound and the Fury and Light in August. The three novels are now the hottest-selling boxed set since Harry Potter, causing speculation about how many of the sold volumes will actually be read.
Faulkner, a highschool dropout, went on to win the Nobel Prize for literature in 1949 and is called a tough read. Fellow Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez named William Faulkner as his favorite American writer, and the father of existentialism, Jean-Paul Sartre once said "For young people in France, Faulkner is a god." And how about your average American?
"It's an indication of our appallingly low expectations of contemporary readers to imagine they're too hard. It shows how far we've sunk into our Barcaloungers," says one professor.
"If I were cynical I would say that the ideas are fairly commonplace for the world of Oprah. Dysfunctional families, incest, alcoholism, mental retardation. You could say that Dr. Phil would be the perfect reader of Faulkner," says one professor.
When he accepted his Nobel Prize Faulkner explained his work thus:
"I believe that man will not merely endure: He will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet's, the writer's, duty is to write about these things."
>>> <<< North Korea Opens Door to Writers from South Korea
In an unprecedented move, the North Korean Choson Writers' Alliance has accepted a proposal from the South Korean National Writers Association for a joint conference next month, reports
Since 1945, when Korea was divided, North Korea has been one of the most closed off totalitarian regimes in the world.
The conference will take place in Pyongyang, North Korea and will include more than 200 writers.
Bagdhad's Bestsellers
In between car bombs and kidnappings, some Iraqis find time to visit a local bookstore reports the International Herald Tribune.
In the Dar al-Bayan book store, there are two kinds of readers: Those born before Saddam Hussein seized power and those born after. For Iraqis who grew up before the Ba'ath Party took power, "a time of cultural renaissance in Iraq" books on history tend to be the most popular. Asked who are Iraq's most popular contemporary novelists, a writer replies "the dead ones."
Children of the dictatorship, so to speak, born and raised under Hussein's iron grip, a time when most books were banned and many writers fled or were arrested and tortured, religious books are most popular. Some of the older generation worry about the younger, who were raised in a cultural drought. "They can read, they can write, but they can't understand. That's good for dictatorship and dangerous for democracy."

Friday, June 24, 2005

A Cool Boy Genius
Called one of the best writers of his generation, thirty-something Hari Kunzru pulled in an unheard of $1.8 million advance for his first two books. The money was well placed. Both The Impressionist and Transmission are elegant, humorous satirical novels that have been awarded numerous prizes.
Half British and half Indian, the native Londoner worked as an editor at various magazines before the big advance that changed everything. "There was a general holding of breath as [my friends] waited to see if I was going to go all Puff Daddy. I had to be quite strict with my arseholery," Kunzru tells The Financial Times

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Evanovich, Author and Industry
Every June for eleven years the eagerly awaited next book in the Stephanie Plum mystery series is released. Every year they debut at number 1 on the bestseller lists, and this is no accident, reports The New York Times. Author Janet Evanovich spends as much time marketing her humorous mysteries based in Trenton, as she does writing them.
Edinburgh Book Festival to Feature Variety of Asian Writers
Among the 500 authors appearing at this year's Edinburgh International Book Festival, the world's largest book fair, are a large contingent from south Asia, reports Asians in Salman Rushdie will make his first appearance at the festival in 20 years.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Writer in China Sues Government for Right to Publish
China's economic openess has given way to tougher, draconian censorship rules (it is, after all, still a communist country), which have toughened under President Hu Jintao.
When Wang Yi, a self-published author and law professor had copies of his books confiscated by the government, Yi filed suit, demanding his books be returned and his right to publish be maintained, reports the International Herald Tribune.
"The chances of victory aren't high, but even if the courts let us present our case, let us play the game; that will be a victory, because then we can speak out against this censorship in the public arena," said Yi.
The Literature of a National Pastime
Why do so many writers write about baseball? That was the question under discussion at a panel sponsored by PEN/New England at Fenway Park's .406 club.
Writers Stephen King, John Updike, Roger Angell, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Michael Lewis, Leslie Epstein and Dennis Lehane talked about why the sport is such a compelling subject for writers and readers.
"The bottom line? Baseball in literature is the triumph of imagination over technology." The Lowell Sun reports.
Note: Don't miss Bookblog's interview with Cecil Harris, author of Call the Yankees My Daddy in which he reminisces about his transition from boyhood fan to covering the team as a reporter. coming in July.
Poets' Caped Crusader, Unmasked
Who's the most feared man in American letters? Not an editor or judge of any literary competition, not a writer or reviewer. It's Alan Cordle, a mild-mannered librarian at Portland Community College, reports the Los Angeles Times.
For a year, Cordle has been the anonymous force behind, a site devoted to exposing fraudulent poetry competitions across the country. By requesting documents through the freedom of information act, Cordle has proven what many insiders know but don't discuss. Awards, the only way for poets to advance their careers and stay afloat, often go to students, friends and lovers of judges.

It's cheating. It's criminal. If this was anything other than poetry, the Department of Justice would be all over it. --Alan Cordle

Major poets, some with Pulitzer Prizes and MacArthur Fellowships on their resumes, call him an "attack dog," an "assassin," a "hangman" and, worst, a "brat with a major rage disorder." His supporters regard him a whistle-blower, champion and crusader. All agree that, for good or bad, Cordle has shaken up the establishment," reports the Times.
" Foetry 'confirms what anyone involved in poetry over the past 30 years has known for a long, long time,' says Neal Bowers, poet and Distinguished Professor of English at Iowa State University. Poetry contests are "rigged"."

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Deep Throat Makes Book and Film Deal
Mark Felt, the nonagenarian who last week admitted to being Deep Throat, the anonymous source of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein during their reporting of the Watergate scandal, has been paid almost $1 million dollars for a book and film deal, reports The New York Times.
Universal Pictures and the publisher Public Affairs snapped up the rights.
The book, to be released next fall, will be based on Mr. Felt's recollections combined with writing by attorney John O'Connor, the family friend who wrote the Vanity Fair article "outing" Mr. Felt. The film will be based on the book. How sharp Mr. Felt's recollections will be at age 91 and said to be suffering from alzheimer's disease, is not clear.
Woodward and Bernstein will release their own book about their relationship with Mr. Felt, The Secret Man: The Story of Watergate's Deep Throatto be released in July.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Sun, Surf, Music and Books?
Jamaica's Calabash Literary Festival is heavy on the reggae, reports The Globe and Mail.
"In the Caribbean, the most important form of storytelling is music," said Colin Channer, director of the Festival. "Music is the literary medium that dominates."
Not that anyone forgets the point of the event. Jamaicans, Americans, Brits and Canadians sang along and danced to the reggae but also bought books and packed readings by writers like Amiri Baraka, Russell Banks and Andrea Levy.
Baraka opened the three-day festival with a reading of Somebody Blew Up America, his poem about 9/11 that got him ousted from his position as New Jersey's Poet Laureate.
Two British Writers Snub the Queen
Winners of the UK Commonwealth Writers Prize are invited for an audience with Queen Elizabeth. Caryl Phillips, a native of Leeds, won the prize for best novel for A Distant Shore. When the invitation arrived from Buckingham Palace, he refused it. Repeatedly. Then the winner of the prize for best debut novel, Mark Haddon (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time) was invited and he also refused. Why?
"I'm trying to interrogate British history and mythologies [in my work] and duplicities, and one of the enduring myths is the royal family, which is white and Christian and 'pure-blooded', and on which the sun never sets," Phillips says. A Distant Shore examines the relationship between the British and its immigrants.
"A key theme of The Curious Incident, [in which an autistic boy unravels a murder mystery] says Mark Haddon, is the idea "that no human being is inherently inferior to any other. I felt it would have been hypocritical to meet with someone whose job involves being inherently superior to everyone else."
Read more of their comments in the Guardian

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Hilarity Required: Scottoline on Tour
If a Tastykake hits you in the head the next time you're at your favorite bookstore, Lisa Scottoline is in the house. On tour touting her 12th suspense novel, Devil's Corner, the bestselling Philadelphia writer starts by tossing out her favorite snack food to fans and may or may not break into song, reports The Cleveland Plain Dealer. She gives away tote bags, refers fans with manuscripts to her agent, and talks about the real cases that have inspired her legal thrillers.
"I love what I do," she says. She's also come a long way from the days when no one showed up to her book signings, and loves to interact with fans to show her appreciation.
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Japanese Novelist Claims Literary Roots in America
Despite healthy sales, Japan's literary establishment looks down it's nose at Haruki Murakami, citing his baldly direct prose, which contradicts the accepted writing style. "There was a notion in Japan that novelists write in a certain style. I totally ignored it and created a new style. Therefore, in Japan, there was resistance. I was much criticized," he tells the New York Times Book Review. Another wedge between Murakami and his literary compatriots are his cultural references, which are mostly American. His latest novel, Kafka on the Shore, boasts characters called Johnny Walker and Colonel Sanders. Murakami spent his formative years studying English and reading American novelists exclusively, because he considered Japanese literature "boring." Murakami is heading to Cambridge to become writer-in-residence at Harvard for a year, and hopes to gain some recognition from the country that has inspired him. A film based on one of his short stories, "Tony Takitani" opens July 29.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Manhattan, by the Book
A Literary Map of Manhattan, a new interactive feature from the New York Times online, features a map of Manhattan with clickable sites mentioned in books. Clicking on the book icons gives you pictures of the street or building in the book, or of the author, with accompanying quote. The authors who made it on the map (there are some glaring exceptions) by popular vote, according to the article explaining the process. The more people recommended a particular book the higher it got on the list, because the map has a limited number of slots. Interesting browsing.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

American Wins Orange Prize
Lionel (born Margaret Ann) Shriver won the Orange Prize for the stunning We Need to Talk About Kevin, which deals with a mother's search for the reason her son becomes a murderer. The novel deals with many taboos for women: ambivalence about motherhood, dislike of one's own child and whether killers are born or made. The story unfolds in a series of letters from the mother to Kevin's father, from whom she is separated, in the aftermath of the killings. There are also a couple of unexpected twists. Shriver talks about writing "Kevin" here.
The £30,000 Orange Prize is awarded annually to outstanding fiction by women.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Writers Choose Books They'd Like to See at the Multiplex
USA Today asked six of today's hottest authors which books they'd like to see on film. Among the contenders: The Confessions of Max Tivoli and the 17th-Century bodice-ripper Clarissa : Or the History of a Young Lady by Samuel Richardson.
First Man Booker International Prize Won by Albanian
Ismail Kadaré beat an international contingent of literary heavy-hitters that included Gabriel García Márquez, Günter Grass, Philip Roth, Muriel Spark, Doris Lessing and Ian McEwan to win the first Man Booker International Prize for Literature.
Kadaré's work was censored for decades in his native Albania, and was published elsewhere in Europe by smuggling his work to France in the 1980's reports The Independent. His books are now sold in 40 countries. Kadaré has lived in France since 1990.
"I am a writer from the Balkan Fringe, a part of Europe which has long been notorious exclusively for news of human wickedness - armed conflicts, civil wars, ethnic cleansing, and so on.
My firm hope is that European and world opinion may henceforth realise that this region, to which my country, Albania, belongs, can also give rise to other kinds of news and be the home of other kinds of achievement, in the field of the arts, literature and civilisation," said Kadaré.
This is the first annual Man Booker International Prize, which honors a writer's body of work. The writer may be from any country as long as his or her work is available in English. The £ 60,000 prize will be awarded at a ceremony in London in August.
For more information on Albanian writers translated into English, go here. Check out or buy Kadaré's especially relevant The Palace of Dreams; check out more of his books here.
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Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Sherlock Holmes Lives
Four new books resurrect Sir Conan Doyle's pipe-smoking, cocaine addicted, brilliant detective, reports Reuters (via ABC News).
The Italian Secretary, by Caleb Carr, was commissioned by the Conan Doyle estate; A Slight Trick of the Mind, by Mitch Cullin, is set after the first atomic bomb attack, and Michael Chabon's The Final Solution is set in the UK during WWII. Laurie King's new book, Locked Rooms is the latest in her series of Mary Russell novels, in which Holmes is the husband and co-investigator.
How Literary Couples Survive
Four of the hottest writers of the moment are actually two married couples: American Nicole Krauss and Jonathan Safron Foer, and Brits Nick Laird and Zadie Smith. How do reclusive, neurotic and intense people keep the romance alive? Well, they don't use the Franzen method. "Jonathan Franzen's gruelling writing regime - to which his ex-wife Valerie Cornell subjected herself for years - has assumed an almost apocryphal quality. Working in a tiny flat only 20ft apart from each other, they wrote for eight hours a day and then read for five hours in the evening, existing on a starvation diet of rice, beans and giant packs of chicken thighs. They ate out only once a year - on their wedding anniversary." They split up and Cornell stopped writing altogether, reports the Guardian.
Most other successful literary couples have hit upon somewhat of a formula. It helps if you write in different genres (novelist and biographer, say) and if you spend your working hours as far apart as possible. One husband works in such isolation that his wife was tied up by burglars and he didn't hear a thing.
Admired and Hated, French Novelist Michel Houellebecq isn't Talking
Regarded as Europe's "literary bad boy" whose work has been called both beautiful and repugnant, Michel Houllebecq takes on sex, greed, religion in all their incarnations and takes no prisoners.
In this profile, Reyhan Hamaranci of the San Francisco Chronicle talks to the laconic author of The Elementary Particles and Platform, and analyzes reaction to his work.