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May 23, 2013

Man Booker International prize goes to (very) short-story writer Lydia Davis

Lydia DavisStories by much-acclaimed American writer, some just a sentence long, praised for vigilance ‘down to the very word’.

By Alison Flood

The impossible-to-categorise Lydia Davis, known for the shortest of short stories, has won the Man Booker International prize ahead of fellow American Marilynne Robinson and eight other contenders from around the world.

The £60,000 award is for a body of work, and is intended to celebrate “achievement in fiction on the world stage”. Cited as “innovative and influential”, Davis becomes the biennial prize’s third successive winner from North America, after fellow American Philip Roth won in 2011 – prompting a controversial walk-out from the judge Carmen Callil, partly over her disappointment in the panel’s failure to choose a writer in translation – and Canadian short story writer Alice Munro took the prize in 2009.

Best known for her short stories, most of which are less than three pages long, and some of which run to just a paragraph or a sentence, Davis has been described as “the master of a literary form largely of her own invention”.

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May 6, 2013

Stop Saying That Men Don’t Read Women

belovedIt holds woman writers back, and it’s just not true.

By Ester Bloom

It has become a truism that “men don’t read women.” The assertion is taken as self-evident by feminist publications like Salon (“while women read books written by men, men do not tend to reciprocate”) and shown anecdotally by blogs. It is also perpetuated by male bastions like Esquire, which recently released a list “of the greatest works of literature ever published” featuring one (1) book by a woman out of a total of 75. (Dudes like stuff that is “plot-driven and exciting, where one thing happens after another,” helpfully explains Esquire’s editor-in-chief, who introduced Fiction for Men e-books to widespread scorn last year.)

To be sure, the inequalities of the literary world are as plain as the nose on Jonathan Franzen’s face, and many writers and readers alike remain outraged about this unbalanced state of affairs. The Women In Literary Arts numbers for 2012 (compiled annually by VIDA) have barely budged from 2010 and 2011—men still dominate the major outlets as tastemakers, reviewers, and authors whose works are deemed worthy of review. The Nation recently published a cri de coeur by novelist Deborah Copaken Kagan lamenting “centuries of literary sexism, exclusion, cultural bias, invisibility. There’s a reason J. K. Rowling’s publishers demanded that she use initials instead of “Joanne”: It’s the same reason Mary Anne Evans used the pen name George Eliot.” And a recent Salon interview with Meg Wolitzer addressing these frustrations is titled “Men won’t read books about women.”

The truth is more complicated. Of course men read books about women and have for centuries—what are Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina if not classic books about women? Those canonical examples are merely a couple of the ones explicitly named for their central character. Nobody picking up those lauded works of fiction could claim to have been misled by the title to think they were reading about Hitler’s Germany, or fishing, or fishing in Hitler’s Germany, or whatever else men are solely supposed to want to read about.

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January 30, 2013

Man Booker International prize 2013 reveals shortlist

HomeMarilynne Robinson heads multinational list that includes books in French, German, Hebrew and Kannada.

By Richard Lea

After withdrawals and walkouts at its last outing in 2011, the biennial Man Booker International prize is hoping calm will return with a globetrotting list of 10 finalists for the 2013 award, headed by the American novelist Marilynne Robinson.

Robinson, who was shortlisted for the 2011 award, is one of only three authors writing in English on a shortlist for the £60,000 prize. The rest of the field brings together novelists from around the world and includes writing translated from French, German, Hebrew and Kannada. She is also one of just three women on the list, along with the American writer Lydia Davis and the French novelist Marie NDiaye. Two of the authors, China’s Yan Lianke and Russia’s Vladimir Sorokin, have been censored in their home countries.

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November 7, 2012

US election 2012: Obama vs Romney, battle of the books

For Barack Obama it’s Toni Morrison, for Mitt Romney L Ron Hubbard. As the US election comes to a nail-biting finish we compare the candidates’ favourite authors.

By Sameer Rahim and Felicity Capon

Barack Obama

Barack Obama is the author of an acclaimed memoir Dreams From My Father, a book that had him compared to James Baldwin. (His wife Michelle’s debut publication, American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America, has had less exalted praise.) His taste in fiction emerges from the Walt Whitman school of nature-loving, lyrical radicalism.

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October 11, 2012

Sara Zarr’s top 10 family dramas

Sara Zarr’s new novel How to Save a Life is this month’s Teen book club read, and as you all know by now (!) it is about two girls trying to figure out who they are and what family means to them. Here Sara lets you in on the Top 10 family dramas that inspired her story.

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September 30, 2012

The 10 Best Narrators in Literature

By Antoine Wilson

The first-person narrator descends from the ancient storyteller unspooling his tale around the fire for the delight and edification of his people. But on the page, two things transform him. One, we readers can ask “Who is this speaker? Why is he telling us this story, and what isn’t he telling us?” Two, he can go on as long as he wants. The first case invents the so-called Unreliable Narrator, the second gives rise to what I like to call the World Swallower.

Whether insane, overheated, strung-out, or merely young and naïve, Unreliable Narrators always deliver more than their characters intend to. Comic or tragic, serious or absurd, they can tell just about any story while also reflecting our capacity for self-deception, our limited sliver of knowledge about the world, and the limits of language itself.

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February 25, 2012

The Great American Novel

Salman Rushdie, Nadine Gordimer, John Updike meet the public, 2004. AFP / Getty Images

Will there ever be another?

By ROGER KIMBALL
A couple of years ago, I was asked to give a talk about “The American Novel Today.” It wasn’t my first choice of topic, frankly, partly because I read as few contemporary novels as possible, partly (here we get into cause and effect) because most of the novels that get noticed today (like most of the visual art that gets the Establishment’s nod) should be filed under the rubric “ephemera,” and often pretty nasty ephemera at that. I do not, you may be pleased to read, propose to parade before you a list of those exercises in evanescence, self-parody, and general ickiness that constitute so much that congregates under the label of American fiction these days. Instead, I’d like to step back and make some observations on the place of fiction in our culture today, A.D. 2012. It is very different from the place it occupied in the 19th century, or even the place it occupied up through the middle of the last century.
We get a lot of new novels at my office. I often pick up a couple and thumb through them just to keep up with what is on offer in the literary bourse. The delicate feeling of nausea that ensues as my eye wanders over these bijoux is as difficult to describe as it is predictable. The amazing thing is that it takes only a sentence or two before the feeling burgeons in the pit of the stomach and the upper lip grows moist with sweat. I am not generally a fan of the Green party, but at those moments I feel a deep kinship with their cause: All those lovely trees, acres and acres of wood pulp darkened, and for what? No one, I submit, should pay good money for a college education and then be expected to ruminate over the fine points of what is proffered to us by the fiction industry today.

I know that I am not alone in this feeling. Indeed, whenever I mention the contemporary novel to friends, the reaction tends to alternate between bemusement and distaste. The bemusement comes from those who are at a loss to think of any current American novels I might wish to talk about. “I’ll check my bookshelves when I get home,” one well-read wag with a large private library wrote me, “to see if I have any contemporary American novels.” Those expressing distaste, on the other hand, do have the novels on their shelves, but they have made the mistake of having read them, or at least read in them.

This might be the appropriate moment to issue a disclaimer. I do not deny that there are good novels written today. I think, for example, of the spare, deeply felt novels of Marilynne Robinson, especially Gilead, her quiet masterpiece from a few years back. It might even be argued (I merely raise this as a possibility) that there are as many good novels being written today as in the past.

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November 6, 2011

Philip Connors’s top 10 wilderness books

Filed under: Lists — Tags: , , , , , — Bookblurb @ 10:05 pm

From novels by Cormac McCarthy and Marilynne Robinson to essays by John Fowles and Gary Snyder, the author chooses the best encounters with wild nature.

“‘Wilderness books’ go a long way back. You could make a case for Don Quixote and portions of the Bible falling under the heading, as well as Robinson Crusoe and Moby-Dick, not to mention a great deal of ancient Chinese and Japanese poetry.

Hiking in Canyonlands National Park, Utah. Photograph: Chris Howes/Wild Places/Alamy

“My list is mostly comprised of books I’ve read recently as I grappled with how to write such a book in the 21st century, as we’ve come to understand, rather starkly, that all of life on Planet Earth is affected by global phenomena. Wilderness books once focused on how an encounter with wild nature altered the human soul and human consciousness; now, they tend to ruminate on how wilderness has been altered and diminished by human tools and patterns of consumption.

“Wilderness in its purest sense may be gone, but wild remnants remain, and many of my favourite books in the genre celebrate a particular place (often in America), cherishing what is native and mourning what’s been lost.”

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