Readersforum's Blog

September 25, 2014

The brilliance of Richard Brautigan

Fairytale meets beat meets counterculture: bursting with colour, humour and imagery, Brautigan’s virtuoso prose is rooted in his rural past – and that’s what draws me in.

Over the years, I’ve lived in a variety of places, including America, but I was born and raised in the Lake District, in Cumbria. Growing up in that rural, sodden, mountainous county has shaped my brain, perhaps even my temperament. It’s also influenced the qualities I seek in literature, as both reader and writer. In my early 20s, connecting with fiction was a difficult process. There seemed to be little rhyme or reason to what was meaningful, what convinced, and what made sense. There was a lot of fiction I did not enjoy, whose landscapes seemed bland and unevocative, the characters faint-hearted within them, the very words lacking vibrancy. This was no doubt empathetic deficiency on my part. I wouldn’t say it was lack of imagination – if anything, roaming around moors and waterways solo can lead to an excessive amount of making things up, a bizarreness of mind. I suppose what I wanted to discover was writing that served these functions, and I was in danger of quitting books.

Around this age I first read Richard Brautigan.


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April 23, 2014

The Underrated, Universal Appeal of Science Fiction

Chris BeckettWhy do so many readers still look down on the genre of Orwell and Atwood?

By Chris Beckett

When I’m introduced to someone as a writer, a now familiar pattern of events often follows.

“Oh, really! How interesting!” the someone—let’s call her Jane—says, sounding quite enthusiastic. “What do you write?”

“Science fiction,” I say.

Jane instantly glazes over. “I’m afraid I never read science fiction.”

In other instances, people who know me have read a book of mine out of curiosity and then told me, in some surprise, that they liked it—“even though I don’t normally like science fiction.” Indeed, when a short story collection of mine won a non-genre prize, it was apparently a surprise to the judges themselves: According to the chair of the judging panel, “none of [them] knew they were science-fiction fans beforehand.”

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April 15, 2014

The 13 Best John Steinbeck Books

A Very Rare Book Opens 6 Different Ways, Reveals 6 Different Books

Friday 01.24.2014 , Posted by


A Very Rare Book Opens 6 Different Ways, Reveals 6 Different Books

Friday 01.24.2014 , Posted by


A Very Rare Book Opens 6 Different Ways, Reveals 6 Different Books

Friday 01.24.2014 , Posted by


John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck

By Susan Shillinglaw.

Susan Shillinglaw’s new book On Reading “The Grapes of Wrath” provides readers with a new appreciation for the American classic and John Steinbeck’s craft, and it’s just in time for the book’s 75th anniversary. Shillinglaw, former director of the SJSU Steinbeck Center and author of Carol and John Steinbeck: Portrait of a Marriage, shares with us her favorite Steinbeck books.

Where I live, Monterey County California, Steinbeck also lived, so interest runs high. After twenty eight years traveling long and well with this rumpled, engaging writer, I know first hand that Steinbeck’s appeal extends far beyond his home turf–that his voice roars beyond boundaries of place, time and class. Why this might be so is a question to ask in this 75th anniversary year of The Grapes of Wrath.

Reasons for his popularity abound. His prose is supple–muscular and melodic. Early on, he fixed his gaze on the marginalized and dispossessed, conveying a palpable empathy for ordinary folk who speak a robust and earthy American idiom. Throughout his nearly forty-year writing career, he remained an astute observer of American life—he was “basically, intrinsically and irresistibly a Democrat,” as he said of himself. (He wrote speeches for Adlai Stevenson, drafted some for Lyndon Johnson and was asked by Jackie Kennedy to write a biography of her husband.) Friendship was his great, equalizing subject. He noted the ethnic diversity of California: Chinese Lee in East of Eden, for example, at the helm of the Trask family’s listing vessel. He was an environmentalist, knowing from a young age that humans must share landscapes with other species, not blindly dominate them. And his books are both winsome and wise; he was a writer unafraid to experiment with slight and weighty volumes, as well as work in a variety of genres–filmscripts and journalism and dramas and short stories, travel narratives and novels.

I’ve arranged my favorites into sets with Steinbeck as the common ancestor. Any number of people I’ve met read one Steinbeck novel and then gobble them all. A reader seated at the feast might switch metaphors and consider the branching and “comfortable” Steinbeck oak, the sets as limbs:

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April 9, 2014

Africa And The World Celebrate Wole Soyinka At 80


Wole Soyinka

Wole Soyinka

Global Literary festivities to mark the eightieth birthday of Africa’s first Nobel Laureate in Literature, Wole Soyinka starts from May 5 2014 at the Sheldonian Theatre, University of Oxford in Britain where the laureate will give the major Annual Lecture of the African Studies Centre titled, Literature, the African Condition and My Life.

It will be chaired by the Vice Chancellor of the University, Prof. Andrew Hamilton.

There will also be launch of the UK and North American edition (Ayebia Clarke Publishers) of an anthology, Essays in Honour of Wole Soyinka at 80 edited by Ivor Agyeman-Duah and Ogochukwu Promise with a foreword by the former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku.

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April 8, 2014

Five Great Literary Pranksters

Orson Welles and The War of The Worlds

Orson Welles and The War of The Worlds

” Poetry Association of America initiating controversial program Fly-Over Poetry Drones. Watch / listen for us over your house in April! “

—Joyce Carol Oates, via Twitter @JoyceCarolOates

While I suppose it’s possible the Poetry Association of America is, in fact, all set to deploy an army of rhyming and scheming drones with the purpose of, one can assume, culturing-up this country, it’s far more likely the infinitely talented Oates was engaging in the time-honored tradition of literary pranking. She was merely getting a head start on April Fool’s Day, or, to put it simply, she was trolling us.

It will probably come as no surprise that authors and trolling have been going hand in hand like high school sweethearts for some time now. I mean, it is basically a writer’s job to make up a bunch of lies and sell them truthfully enough that readers suspend their disbelief and go along for the ride, so why shouldn’t this facet of their job leak out into their personal lives here and there?

In honor of this troll-iest of troll-y days, let’s take a look at some of the greatest literary pranksters history has ever known. Bear in mind, though, I’m not talking about literary hoaxes in which the writers in question hoped no one would ever discover their deceit, but rather writers who were just having a bit of fun.

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March 25, 2014

The Junkie Genius

Call Me Burroughs By Barry Miles

Call Me Burroughs
By Barry Miles

A new biography reveals a William S. Burroughs both ghastlier and more impressive than many previously thought.

By James Parker.

How do you write a masterpiece? It’s inside you, you know it’s inside you: How do you get it out? Well, if you’re William S. Burroughs, malingering and malefacting through the mid-20th century, you follow a procedure that resembles something from the nonsense kitchen of the poet Edward Lear, one of his recipes for Gosky Patties or Crumbobblious Cutlets. The instructions, roughly speaking, are these: flit around disreputably between Tangier, Copenhagen, Paris, and London, with coat-hanger shoulders and a love-starved face; irradiate yourself with drugs; consort with boy prostitutes and petty thieves; when you write, spew, expelling without stint the untreated matter, comical and terrible, of your low-life dream life (plot, character, structure—the hell with all that); enlist a couple of your loopiest friends to help you organize the resulting mess; do this for years, drifting chemical years, an endless process, until a publisher of erotica and the avant-garde tells you he wants a viable manuscript in two weeks, at which point you and your friends go into furious sleepless sweatshop mode.

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January 27, 2014

Can reading make you smarter?

 Smarter: The New Science of Building Brain Power by Dan Hurley

Smarter: The New Science of Building Brain Power
by Dan Hurley

There is evidence that reading can increase levels of all three major categories of intelligence. I believe my discovery of Spider-Man and other comic books turned me into a straight-A student.

By Dan Hurley
When I was eight years old, I still couldn’t read. I remember my teacher Mrs Browning walking over to my desk and asking me to read a few sentences from a Dick and Jane book. She pointed to a word. “Tuh-hee,” I said, trying to pronounce it. “The,” she said, correcting me, and that’s when it clicked – the moment when I learned to read the word “the”.

Growing up in Teaneck, New Jersey, in the 1960s, I was what Mrs Browning called “slow”. During a parent-teacher meeting, she told my mother: “Daniel is a slow learner.” I sat during lunch in the gymnasium with the – forgive the term – dumb kids. I was grouped with them during reading and maths: the “slow group”.

And then, a year later, I was rescued by Spider-Man.

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December 11, 2013

SA’s literary giants offer diverse views on Mandela

JM Coetzee

JM Coetzee

By Siyabonga Sithole

South African Nobel laureates Nadine Gordimer and JM Coetzee, as well as acclaimed author Zakes Mda, have all written high-profile reflections on Nelson Mandela this week.

The most talked about is The Contradictions of Mandela, an opinion piece by Mda in the New York Times.

Mda recalls Mandela as a fiery, disciplined young lawyer who would visit his family home.

“I remember Nelson Mandela. No, not the universally adored elder statesman who successfully resisted the megalomania that comes with deification and who died Thursday at age 95, but the young lawyer who used to sit in my parents’ living room until the early hours of the morning, debating African nationalism with my father, Ashby Peter Mda.”

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November 18, 2013

14 Ways to Tick off a Writer

Filed under: Authors — Tags: , , , — Bookblurb @ 3:10 pm

angry-man-200x300by Rebecca Makkai
“I love throwing rocks at tigers in the zoo,” you say, “but now that the weather’s cold, I need an indoor activity.” Look no further. Writers are fun and easy to annoy. Minimum effort, maximum rage. Try these 14 simple tricks, and you might never need to pay for the Large Cat House again.1) Go on Amazon and give the book one star because “the plastic wrapping was slightly ripped when it arrived from the seller.”

2) Ask what the new book’s about. After the writer answers, say, “Oh, that sounds exactly like that T. C. Boyle book that came out last year. Have you read that? You have to read it! Yours sounds exactly like it!”

3) When interviewing an author on the radio, make sure to give the wrong title for her book. Just wrong enough to show you care. Is her book called Please Call Home? You might call it Please Come Home or The Homecoming or Home is Calling. Sit back and watch while the author figures out how to correct you on air. Good times!

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October 31, 2013

Implausible Literary Halloween Costumes No One Will Recognize

480px-Gertrude_Stein_1935-01-04By Blake Butler

Gertrude Stein

Cut your hair down to just fistfuls with a pair of safety scissors and without looking in the mirror. A pretty white scarf around your neck would be very nice, or maybe even one patterned like the American flag. Then put on a dark blue dress and find a stairwell and throw yourself down it. Repeat until you’re no longer sure where you are. When you go out, get up close in people’s faces and breathe hard with your eyes big in your face, not saying anything except when others speak first, then repeating back exactly what they said in a slightly different tone. Maybe carry a gun in your panties but don’t tell anybody or ever get it out. Keep putting on extra lipstick and laughing to yourself. For extra elocutionary damage, bring a little flask full of homemade corn whiskey and take a mouthful every time someone says the word egg, why, water, time, dinner, kindness, more, or what.

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