The Literary Life
Posted July 29, 2010
This year is shaping up to be an excellent one for literary biographies. Just this past week, the New York Times Book Review’s front page featured reviews of two: A Great Unrecorded History: A New Life of E.M. Forster, which Colm Tóibín states is “well-written” and “intelligent,” and The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham, which David Leavitt describes as a biography that “does not so much give us a new Maugham as add shadings to the old one.” The authors lived during the same time period and both had romantic relationships with other men, which is explored along with their lives and work. Another contemporary of Forster and Maugham who is the subject of recent biographical treatment is Evelyn Waugh. Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead by Paula Byrne is as much about the man as the people who inspired his popular novel Brideshead Revisited. Kirk Davis Swineheart at the Chicago Tribune calls Byrne’s biography “utterly captivating” and a “brisk read.”
But it isn’t just the male novelists who are piquing our interest. The Talented Miss Highsmith, a biography of Patricia Highsmith, author of the Tom Ripley novels, was recently awarded a Lambda Literary Award. Library Journal states it’s an “imaginative, definitive Highsmith biography, great for literature students, Highsmith fans and mystery readers.” There is also Martin Stannard’s critically acclaimed biography of Muriel Spark, author of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and The Finishing School. Publishers Weekly notes, “Stannard has dug deeply, and with keen and sympathetic insight. His prose is graceful and assured, his literary judgments discerning, and his biography is as definitive as we can expect to find.” And finally, Pearl Buck in China: Journey to the Good Earth by Hilary Spurling is worth noting: Booklist says that Spurling “matches factual rigor with enthralling insights in this brilliantly contextualized and beautifully crafted portrait of a unique cultural interpreter.”
Here are a few more recent titles worth checking out:
Lighting Out for the Territory: How Samuel Clemens Headed West and Became Mark Twain by Roy Morris Jr.
Listen to the Echoes: The Ray Bradbury Interviews by Sam Weller
Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace by David Lipsky
Anton Chekhov: A Brother’s Memoir by Mikhail Chekhov
Wolf: The Lives of Jack London by James L. Haley
Tillie Olsen: One Woman, Many Riddles by Panthea Reid
Theodor Seuss Geisel by Donald E. Pease
The Mystery of Lewis Carroll by Jenny Woolf
Posted July 27, 2010
Need some more ideas for beach reading? You’re in luck. The International Thriller Writers (ITW) recently announced the winners of the 2010 Thriller Awards. Lisa Gardner took top honors for best hardcover novel for her book The Neighbor. Tom Piccirilli scored in the paperback original category for The Coldest Mile, and Jamie Freveletti won for best first novel for Running From the Devil.
Ken Follett was presented a special Thriller Master award “in recognition of his legendary career and outstanding contributions to the thriller genre.” Although he is perhaps better known to readers today as the author of grand historical epics such as The Pillars of the Earth, which was chosen as an Oprah Book Club selection and has recently been adapated into a television miniseries, Follett is also the author of many outstanding thrillers, such as the WWII spy novel The Eye of the Needle, the colonial era A Place Called Freedom and the more recent bio thriller Whiteout, just to name a few. The ITW has also published some incredibly successful anthologies of short stories such as Thriller and Thriller 2, well worth checking out, and on their informative website they also offer a free email newsletter if you’re interested in keeping up with the latest bestselling thrillers.
Made for TV
Posted July 22, 2010
TNT’s newest series, Rizzoli & Isles, based on the novels by Tess Gerritsen, premiered last week to high ratings. Set in Boston, this latest police procedural introduces us to no-nonsense homicide detective Jane Rizzoli and her brainy colleague and best friend, medical examiner Maura Isles. The pilot was based on the first two titles in Gerritsen’s popular crime series of the same name, The Surgeon and The Apprentice. Gerritsen is following the adaptation of her books closely, recapping the episodes on the show’s website. She had the following to say about the first episode: “In just 45 minutes, this episode captured the darkness of my stories. It also managed to add humor and, weirdly enough, charm.” The latest installment in the series is Ice Cold, but for those who want something to tide them over, Gerrittsen is publishing a short story on the show’s site. Every week you can find a new entry in the story, “Freaks.”
You can find plenty more books that have been adapted into TV shows on our shelves. Read about everyone’s favorite serial killer, Dexter, by picking up the book that started it all, Jeff Lindsay’s Darkly Dreaming Dexter. If you enjoy the forensic science of Bones, check out Kathy Reichs’ Temperance Brennan series that began with Deja Dead. On the flip side, there’s the Nikki Heat series that begins with Heat Wave, which actually spun off from the television series Castle. And let’s not forget about HBO’s wildly popular True Blood, adapted from Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire series, which started with Dead Until Dark. Finally, if you want to be ahead of the curve, pick up the first in George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, A Game of Thrones, which is slated to be an HBO series in 2011.
Spotlight on Local Book Reviews
Posted July 20, 2010
There were a number of books by local authors reviewed. Laurence Gonzales’ Lucy was reviewed by both the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times, and critic Donna Seaman recently spoke with Gonzales on WBEZ’s 848. In this sci-fi thriller, Jenny, an anthropologist, brings teenager Lucy from the Congo to Chicago. But Lucy isn’t just a normal girl: she’s “humanzee,” a hybrid half-human, half-ape. Budasi at the Chicago Sun-Times states Lucy “posed some big questions that readers will think about long after turning the last page.” Smith at the Chicago Tribune echoes this stating the book “raises disquieting political and moral dilemmas not easily resolved,” and goes on to call it “beach reading with bite.”
A native of West Rogers Park, author Adam Langer’s most recent novel, Thieves of Manhattan, is about Ian Minot, a struggling writer with a day job at a coffee shop. As Ian toils to get his work published, he watches his girlfriend Anya easily get the success he craves after which she leaves him for a bestselling memoirist. A desperate Ian then plots his revenge. Randy Michael Signor at the Chicago Sun Times says the book is a “wicked attack on the publishing world” and praises Langer’s clever use of language. Kirk Davis Swinehart at the Chicago Tribune calls the book “hysterically funny.”
Also of note is Furious Love, which chronicles the tumultuous relationship between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton and, according to the Chicago Tribune, “reads like a Shakespearean drama.” New City recommends David Means’ new collection of short stories, The Spot, stating that Means “proves he’s a writer capable of consistently bold storytelling.” And Jonathan Messinger at Time Out Chicago recommends fantasist China Miéville’s Kraken noting that Miéville has provided “a nuanced, highly imagined critique of the zeitgeist, dressed up in a crackerjack story.”
Harvey Pekar, 1939-2010
Posted July 15, 2010
Harvey Pekar died this week. The famed underground comics writer and curmudgeon was played by Paul Giamatti in the excellent movie American Splendor, an adaptation of his long-running comic book. Highlights of the long-running series were collected in Best of American Splendor. Various media have reported that, thankfully, Pekar was working up until the end. The online Pekar Project is running some tributes but also reports that his book Cleveland, a personal history of the Midwestern artist’s hometown, is scheduled for release next year.
Pekar gained some measure of notoriety for his confrontational appearances on the David Letterman show in the 1980s. New York Magazine has posted a clip. And Publishers Weekly has a heartfelt tribute. The Library also has many other fine books by Pekar in the collection.
Caught Reading on the CTA: Brown Line Edition
Posted July 13, 2010
It’s time once again for us to share what we’ve noticed on our daily commutes: reading, and lots of it. It seems our fellow commuters love the written word as much as we do. We’ve seen you perusing magazines, newspapers and increasingly we’ve spied you using E-readers. Of course, it’s much harder to catch a glimpse of what you’re enjoying without the handy book covers, but we did manage to note one tech savvy passenger scrolling his way through Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne.
Until we hone our E-book spying skills we’ll stick to surreptitiously glancing at the various print titles you’re toting around. Not surprisingly we’ve seen a few copies of Stieg Larsson’s bestseller, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. We’ve also seen some classics including: Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. The one title that did catch us by surprise was One L: The Turbulent True Story of a First Year at Harvard Law School by Scott Turow, a lesser-known title by the bestselling author. We’d also like to note that even the youngest commuters are joining in the reading fun. We spotted a youngster deeply engrossed in the young adult hit Eragon by Christopher Paolini. It warmed our heart.
Below is a smattering of other titles spotted on the Brown Line:
Daemon: A Novel by Daniel Suarez
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Kraken: An Anatomy by China Miéville
The Love Song of A. Jerome Minkoff, and Other Stories by Joseph Epstein
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet: A Novel by David Mitchell
Posted July 8, 2010
Tom Bissell’s new book, Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter, may not be rocking the bestsellers charts, but it’s one of those many interesting books of the year worth noting. Bissell is a video game addict who decided that video games need and deserve the kind of thoughtful criticism usually reserved for literature and the arts, and his book has got people talking.
“Video games have created what must be the biggest generation gap since rock ’n’ roll,” writes Chris Suellentrop of The New York Times, suggesting that while people of all ages love rock, it may be that what defines old fogies today is the failure to understand the appeal of video games. Suellentrop also discusses the highly controversial blog post by film critic Roger Ebert entitled “Video Games Can Never Be Art.” Also picking up on this question of whether video games can be art (or whether they can tell a story), Jonathan V. Last of the Wall Street Journal says the most interesting part of the book is the material about Jonathan Blow, “a videogame designer and a sort of philosopher of the medium” who designed a game about time travel called Braid that arguably approaches the level of art. Writing for The Los Angeles Times, Abigail Deutsch raises the point that in video games, the player becomes as much a storyteller as the game designers.
Dwight Garner of the New York Times contrasts the book negatively with critic Leslie Fiedler’s classic defense of comic books in 1955, saying Bissell fails to make the case for video games as meaningful cultural expression, but Dan Zigmond of the San Francisco Chronicle says the book is a helpful look at modern video gaming, especially if you haven’t kept up with them since the early days of Pac-Man and Space Invaders. And from most accounts, Bissell’s chapters on particular games he loves are infectious in their enthusiasm. Craig Morgan Teicher, writing for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, usefully reminds us that Steven Johnson’s Everything Bad Is Good for You, a 2005 bestseller, also made a case for the benefits of video game playing. The book has also received thoughtful attention from The Boston Globe and the Christian Science Monitor, among other media outlets.
W.S. Merwin, Poet Laureate
Posted July 6, 2010
W.S. Merwin, a giant in the poetry world, was chosen as the 17th poet laureate of the United States. The relatively reclusive 82-year-old lives on a former pineapple plantation in Maui. He told NPR that his mother read poetry to him as a child and that he was “captivated” by it. “As soon as I could make a pencil make letters and words on the page, I tried to write little poems,” he noted. Dana Gioia, a poet and a former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts said Merwin was “an inevitable choice” for Poet Laureate. “He has created a distinctive style. His poetry is lyrical, elliptical and often slightly mysterious.” The New York Times recently published a short profile of Merwin calling him an “elegant poet” and “an exacting nature poet, a fierce critic of the ecological damage humans have wrought.” His most recent collection, The Shadow of Sirius, received the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Bravo, Mr. Merwin. Check out more of W.S. Merwin’s books here.
20 Under 40
Posted July 1, 2010
The New Yorker’s Summer Fiction issue recently came to our attention. In it the editors published a list of 20 under 40, writers that is. That’s right. They chose to highlight “…20 young writers who capture the inventiveness and the vitality of contemporary American fiction.” The last time they decided to compile such a list, back in 1999, it included the likes of Michael Chabon, Jonathan Franzen, Junot Díaz, Jhumpa Lahiri and David Foster Wallace. Clearly, this magazine knows a thing or two about who’s hot and who’s going to be hot.
The updated list is also quite impressive. Included are both male and female writers of diverse backgrounds ranging from those who have a few books under their belts to newcomers. You can read about the selection process and Q&As with the authors online. Excerpts of some of their work are also linked, and more will appear in future issues. Below we leave you with the complete list along with a sampling of their work available at the Chicago Public Library.
The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Children’s Hospital by Chris Adrian
Lost City Radio by Daniel Alarcón
Natasha and Other Stories by David Bezmozgis
Ms. Hempel Chronicles by Sarah Shun-lien Bynum
Then We Came to the End: A Novel by Joshua Ferris
Everything Is Illuminated: A Novel by Jonathan Safran Foer
The Dissident by Nell Freudenberger
Atmospheric Disturbances by Rivka Galchen
The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
The Vagrants: A Novel by Yiyun Li
The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu
American Rust by Philipp Meyer
All the Living by C. E. Morgan
Téa Obreht (her first novel will be published in 2011)
Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by ZZ Packer
St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves and Other Stories by Karen Russell
The End by Salvatore Scibona
Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart
Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower