July 8, 2010
I’ve run across some interesting lists lately. My favorite is The Best Bad Books You’ve Never Read. This obviously isn’t a shopping list, rather a hilarious column by a reader whose bookshelves include Crabs on the Rampage and God Is for Real, Man. He’s also the author of Bad Book Club: One Man’s Quest to Uncover the Books That Taste Forgot. It’s available on Amazon’s Kindle or via U.K. sellers. Robin Ince writes:
“It’s easy to find a classic – there’s no epic journey required to get your hands on one. How much trickier it is to track down exquisite drivel, horribly misguided prose plumbing unimaginable depths, dreadful hacks who traverse the mundane to make the bland blissful. You can’t walk into a bookshop and say: ‘Where are the wrong books, please? Do you stock any books that should never have been published?’”
A more useful list is Publisher’s Weekly’s Start-ups for Fall: First Fictions. Here are 10 debut novels considered promising. You get a plot summary, a pitch from the publisher, first lines of the novel and more. One of the 10, The Wake of Forgiveness, has gotten attention from a few other sources and is on my own list for fall books to consider.
Tired of the predictable beach reads? Here’s some eclectic choices from Library Journal’s Classic Returns: Reprints, Updates, and Bargains. An odd list of four, for sure, that includes The Trade by Fred Stenson — “One critic likened it to Lonesome Dove with beavers replacing cattle. Fans of that book and sprawling adventure stories in general will go for this.”
The beavers provide a nice segue to Audubon Magazine. Its online edition published a list of Top 11 Climate Change Books. No escape reading here, but the topic fits the moment, considering we’re boiling up in this hot summer of 2010.
Finally, to settle things down a bit, In Defense of Privacy: The 20th Century’s Most Reclusive Authors. No real surprises in the list of Marcel Proust, J. D. Salinger, Thomas Pynchon, Cormac McCarthy and Harper Lee, but the stories are interesting. (I didn’t know Pynchon studied under Nabokov at Cornell.) The source, Flavorwire, explains “…we decided to examine why a few authors of a certain age chose to shut themselves away from the media, and in some cases, from publication and society, as well.”
October 1, 2009
I made some purchases in a used bookstore recently. As I headed toward the door, the store owner quipped that it won’t be long before stores like his become extinct, thanks to the Google Book Project.
I sure hope that’s not true. One of my great escapes is getting lost in a shop filled with used, old and/or rare books. Time and worries vanish. His concern is real, though. The proposed Google settlement would allow Google to sell out-of-print books still under copyright in digital format on the Internet. Why would anyone need to go to a used bookstore? he asked.
Because many of us will still want the hardbound book and will pay the extra cost for it, I replied, but I don’t think it made the bookshop owner feel better. He asks everyone who enters his store if they want to buy it.
Here are three books I brought home with me:
Sheila Levine Is Dead and Living in New York
by Gail Parent
This 1970s best-seller was on the syllabus of one of my college lit classes along with Alix Kates Shulman’s Memoirs of an Ex-Prom Queen and Mary McCarthy’s The Group. I wasn’t looking for it, but what a fun surprise to find it.
Parent’s story was made into a film in 1975 that wasn’t near the success of the book. The New York Times film critic wrote this great first line: “Something disastrous happened to the heroine of Gail Parent’s funny novel, Sheila Levine Is Dead and Living in New York, on her way to the silver screen.”
Erdrich is scheduled to give the keynote address of the Kenyon Review Literary Festival on November 7 at 8 pm in Kenyon’s Rosse Hall. The lecture is free, but tickets are required to manage the limited space. Erdrich is the 2009 recipient of the Kenyon Review Award for Literary Achievement.
Slow Learner by Thomas Pynchon
This is a 1984 collection of early stories Pynchon wrote between 1958 and 1964. In the introduction, Pynchon speaks of middle-aged tranquility, “…in which I now pretend to have reached a level of clarity about the young writer I was back then.”
He adds, “It is only fair to warn even the most kindly disposed of readers that there are some mighty tiresome passages here, juvenile and delinquent, too.”
August 28, 2009
I walked into Barnes & Noble to purchase Thomas Pynchon’s new novel, Inherent Vice. It’s currently on The New York Times and Publisher’s Weekly best-seller lists, but I couldn’t find it.
I first looked on the big display of hot new and popular books a few steps from the entrance. Not there. I wondered if I was just not seeing it, as there’s such a gluttony of titles on that table.
I then went to the bookshelves that claim to display New Fiction. Not there. (Thomas Pynchon’s book was published this month.) But I did see and pick up Sarah Water’s book, currently long-listed for the Booker, The Little Stranger. It came out four months ago.
Next I went into the Fiction aisle under “P”. There were paperbacks of Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49, V, Vineland, Gravity’s Rainbow and Mason & Dixon but Inherent Vice? Not there.
Next I went to an overstacked table of New Fiction on the way to the café. Books are piled up like bricks at a patio retail store. (See below.) Inherent Vice was not there. Or so I thought. Here I experienced what I often experience at B&N: so many books crowded together that my eyes don’t see what I’m looking for.
I finally asked for help, and the Information Man lead me back to this table where, sure enough, Inherent Vice sat high up under the New Fiction sign between Nora Roberts’ Black Hills and John Sandford’s Wicked Prey. (That’s like putting a Nobel Laureate economist next to Suze Orman.)
Nothing indicated that here lies a novel getting rave reviews and — yes — on best-seller lists. A new book written by a formidable writer known for his dense, complicated narratives, whom the Los Angeles Times describes as “worthy of intense inquiry,” whose novels are so complicated they’ve been hard to read … until now.
Shame on you Barnes & Noble for burying this unique opportunity to bring to the forefront the phenomenon of a very readable work by this 72-year-old Great American author.
How can the many who walk through the B&N doors — who are unaware of the best-seller lists and the critical reviews and commentary and who are overwhelmed by so many book choices shouting at them – be given the chance to be introduced to Pynchon at this moment of his readability, if he’s treated with such disregard?
May 23, 2009
I’m not sure I need to know the answer to that question, but in case I change my mind, Overlook’s publishing a book in July that will fill me in - Where Do Underpants Come From: From Checkout to Cotton Field – Travels Through the New China and into the New Global Economy by Joe Bennett.
Other summer books catching my eye at the moment are:
Do Not Deny Me: Stories by Jean Thompson published by Simon & Schuster (June)
12 stories that received a Publisher’s Weekly starred review stating “Thompson immerses readers in details and emotions so consuming and convincing that the inane vagaries of modern life can take on near mythic importance.”
City of Strangers by Ian MacKenzie published by Penguin (July)
The Publisher’s Weekly forecast got my attention: “A novel as grim as it is extraordinary, MacKenzie’s debut tells the story of two estranged brothers at odds on how to view their Nazi-sympathizer father….MacKenzie sets up a New York rampant with alienation and misunderstanding, and his visceral narrative, powered by taut prose and braced with sturdy philosophical and psychological underpinnings, is a winner.”
Late Edition: A Love Story by Bob Greene published by St. Martin’s Press (July)
Greene writes about his days working in the newspaper offices of the Columbus Citizen-Journal. It’s about the hometown, so gotta take a look. (My mother read the Citizen-Journal every morning with her cup of coffee.)
St. Martin’s website states, “With current-day developments in the American newspaper industry so grim and dreary, Late Edition is a Valentine to an era that was gleefully cocky and seemingly free from care, a wonderful story as bracing and welcome as the sound of a rolled-up paper thumping onto the front stoop just after dawn.”
That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo published by Knopf (August)
I love Russo’s Bridge of Sighs (that sighs over my neglect, as it sits on my reading table). It’s the reason I’m interested in his new book (and want to hurry up and finish his previous novel).
Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon published by Penguin (August)
I collect Pynchon’s books, only lacking the expensive 1963 novel V. I’d like to think I will read Inherent Vice, not just buy it for the collection.