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April 23, 2014

Nadine Gordimer: The Great Post-Mandela Disillusion

No TimeBy Michael Skafidas

Nadine Gordimer, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991, is the leading lady of letters in South Africa. Through her fiction and non-fiction writings she has captured the despair and the triumph of a country that went all the way from the ignominy of apartheid to the heights of Nelson Mandela’s presidency.

In this conversation, Gordimer speaks with Michael Skafidas for the WorldPost about the disillusion of post-Mandela South Africa, her distrust of the digital era and her decision to retire from writing fiction.

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June 14, 2013

All That Is, by James Salter, review

James Salter: we are “born in disregard of the times”

James Salter: we are “born in disregard of the times”

Long admired by Roth and Bellow, James Salter is set to join their ranks. David Annand hails the great American writer’s first novel in thirty years.

For 50-odd years James Salter has been the writer’s writer. Richard Ford calls him “the Master”, Bellow was an admirer, Roth, too, and all over Brooklyn satchels bulge with copies of Light Years and The Hunters.

It was something, I suspect, that always worked better for us than it did for him. We got that insider buzz of knowing that we were part of the cloistered few. He got lots of writerly plaudits about the precision of his sentences, but was denied, perhaps, the deep thematic engagement that comes with central cultural import.

Either way, it’s over. In a late flurry he has picked up The Paris Review’s Hadada Prize, the PEN/Malamud lifetime award, and, now, to coincide with the publication of what will surely be his last novel, across-the-board adulation.

You might have thought it irritating for old Jim that all this has happened deep into his eighties, past the age when you would want to take full advantage of the perks of full-blown literary celebrity. But really it’s of little consequence – he’s already done enough living and then some. Improbably masculine and accomplished, he was a combat fighter pilot in the Korean War. He became an accomplished skier (he wrote the screenplay for Robert Redford’s Downhill Racer); a daring mountain climber (Solo Faces, a novel, appeared on the topic in 1979); and found time to write five novels, dozens of short stories, non-fiction and some poetry.

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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 4, 2013

Books I Love: Edith Grossman

Edith Grossman

Edith Grossman

The Ingenious Gentleman and Poet Federico Garcia Lorca Ascends to Hell by Carlos Rojas is the latest book to be translated by Edith Grossman, one of the most renowned translators in the world. And though she’s spent her career translating authors like Gabriel García Márquez, Mario Vargas Llosa and Cervantes, she shared with Tip Sheet some of her personal favorites.

At first I thought I’d put together a list of ten translated books that have affected me deeply but decided not to when I realized, with some astonishment, that certain English-language books actually did turn my life around, change my thinking, and seriously influence my decision-making. I’m avoiding the issue of the precise number because books often came to my attention in groups rather than as individual volumes.

I had favorite books when I was a girl, especially The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Story of King Arthur, and Little Women, all of which I read over and over again, but the book that made a huge impression on me and invariably brought more tears to my eyes than the heartbreaking death of Robin Hood or the image of King Arthur sailing off to Avalon was Bambi. I read the book countless times and, as a consequence, developed a deep dislike of hunting, which I found incomprehensible. The effect has lasted to this day.

The other book that had a major impact on me a few years later, when I was about twelve and read it against my parents’ wishes and behind their backs, was The Naked and the Dead. Because I was so young I couldn’t comprehend all of the novel, but what I took away with me was an on-going commitment to pacifism. This came as a surprise: I grew up during the Second World War, and my mind was filled with a comic book version of villainy and virtue, a movie image of heroism. After reading the novel, I couldn’t imagine any cause that could justify subjecting vulnerable human beings to the kind of suffering and brutality depicted by Mailer. I still can’t.

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March 19, 2013

Binocular Vision by Edith Pearlman – review

Through a glass darkly … Binocular Vision by Edith Pearlman.

Through a glass darkly … Binocular Vision by Edith Pearlman.

A genius of the short story will finally have her due, says Mark Lawson

The literary establishment tends to be sceptical about the phenomenon of undiscovered greats. Even before digital self-publishing offered a corrective, it was a common view that agents, publishers, reviewers, readers and the law of averages would, between them, eventually discover the authors most deserving of an audience. The legends of bestsellers repeatedly rejected by the gate-keepers – Gone With the Wind, Dubliners, The Day of the Jackal – paradoxically consolidated the consensus that the system ultimately works.

If it does, then American author Edith Pearlman has had to wait an embarrassingly long time for vindication. At 76, she has spent four decades publishing short stories – at least 250 of them – in regional or academic periodicals. Prizes such as the O Henry and the Pushcart increasingly went her way: last year she won four trophies and was shortlisted for three for Binocular Vision: New and Selected Stories.

This volume of 34 stories from across her career has popularised the view that an American writer from the decade that produced John Updike, Joyce Carol Oates, Philip Roth and Anne Tyler had been seriously under-valued and may even be their equal. Even now, though, the book’s British launch comes from a plucky smaller publisher, Pushkin Press.

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March 12, 2013

The novelty value of Publishers Weekly’s novel list

Philip Roth and John Grisham: both authors made the Publishers Weekly list of the 20th century's annual bestsellers – but Roth just once, with Portnoy's Complaint

Philip Roth and John Grisham: both authors made the Publishers Weekly list of the 20th century’s annual bestsellers – but Roth just once, with Portnoy’s Complaint

This compilation of 100 years of No 1 bestsellers is oddly melancholy. Who knew literary immortality was so transient?

By Emma Brockes

The number of books and blogposts written around the premise of Doing an Arbitrary Thing Over the Course of a Year is long enough, now, that you could probably greenlight a meta-project to Do Everything Arbitrary You Can Do in a Year, in a Year. (AJ Jacobs is to blame for the Year of Living Biblically, followed by Julie Powell’s Julie and Julia, Gretchen Rubins’ The Happiness Project and all those books in which a lady with love troubles learns to do three things, the last of which is “and make spaghetti”.)

Anyway. The latest loose addition to the genre is 100 Years, 94 Books, a fun-sounding plan by Matt Zahn, a creative writing student at California State, to plough through the Top 100 books of the last 100 years, one a week, because why not?

The data comes from Publishers Weekly and lists the No 1-selling book of each year from 1913 – Winston Churchill’s The Inside of the Cup – to EL James in 2012.

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March 10, 2013

Bookish Has a Dirty Little Secret

bookish_logo1-250x57By Nate Hoffelder

When Bookish launched a couple weeks back I didn’t think much of the site. The press release claimed that Bookish would be a great community that would help readers find their next book, only there was no community and the discovery engine was less than amazing.

I suspected at the time that Bookish would turn out to be little more than a marketing tool for the 3 publishers who financed the site, and today I learned that my suspicions were correct.

Peter Winkler, writing for The Huffington Post, noticed that all of the books promoted on Bookish were published by either Hachette, Penguin, or Simon & Schuster.

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January 29, 2013

Finding an Audience Abroad: Who’s Read in France

570_shakespeareBy Anne Korkeakivi

Most literary novelists feel relatively confident they can sell copies of their newly published book to their parents, probably to their siblings, maybe (if they haven’t sparred too often over loud music or lawnmowers or leaf blowers) to their neighbors. Their local bookstore, if they still have one, is likely to agree to carry the book too and may even put a copy in the shop window or on a central table.

With a review or two in a local paper, these same writers may also experience the disconcerting ecstasy of seeing their book in the palms of a stranger sitting across from them on a bus or subway. With a few reviews in a national publication or by powerful bloggers and Twitter pundits, he or she may receive SMS’d pics from friends who have seen it in bookstores in other U.S. towns and cities.

But how about beyond the fruited plain? Whose work gets read outside of America?

In 2008, Horace Engdahl, then permanent secretary of the Nobel Prize selection committee, infamously called American authors “too insular,” and “too sensitive to trends in their own mass culture.” The last American to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature was Toni Morrison in 1993; American writers, Engdahl said, “don’t really participate in the big dialogue of literature.” The implication was no one cares about contemporary American fiction but Americans.

During the ten years I lived in France, I witnessed firsthand the regional limitations of American literary fiction. But not all American novels go unnoticed.

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January 17, 2013

Philip Roth picks his best novels

SabbathSettled into retirement, the author names his favourites from a half-century career

By Alison Flood

Any Philip Roth fans hoping that the celebrated American author might change his mind about his retirement from the world of letters, announced in November, look likely to be frustrated: Roth is thoroughly enjoying his life of leisure.

Speaking earlier this week, the novelist said that retirement was “great so far”, adding that after working every day of the week during a literary career that ran from 1959 to 2010, he is now taking things a little easier. “I wake up in the morning, get a big glass of orange juice and read for an hour-and-a-half. I’ve never done that in my life,” he said.

Roth was speaking at a Television Critics Association panel for a programme about his life due to air in March, and attended by journalists including David Ulin of the Los Angeles Times and Tim Molloy of The Wrap.

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November 10, 2012

Philip Roth: ‘To tell you the truth, I’m done’

Filed under: Authors — Tags: , , , , , — Bookblurb @ 5:55 am

American novelist announced his retirement in October in little-noticed interview with French magazine.

By Ben Quinn

Philip Roth, the US novelist widely regarded as America’s best hope of ending a 20 year drought without a winner of the Nobel prize for literature, has said that he is calling it a day.

The writer announced his retirement in a little-noticed interview with a French magazine and said that Nemesis, which was published in 2010, would be his last book.

“To tell you the truth, I’m done,” Roth told Les Inrocks last month, adding that he had not written anything for the past three years.

Having reached the age of 79, he realised that he was running out of years and had chosen to reread his favourite novels, as well as his own books.

“I wanted to see if I had wasted my time writing,” he said, according to a translation from the French by Salon.

“And I thought it was rather successful. At the end of his life, the boxer Joe Louis said: ‘I did the best I could with what I had.’ This is exactly what I would say of my work: I did the best I could with what I had.”

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