Category Archives: Books

Lit Links: Remembering ‘El Gabo’, 2014 Pulitzer Prize Winners, When Memoirs Go Bad

Celebrating the Conjurer of Literary Magic
The New York Times ran a wonderful obit of Gabriel García Márquez, who passed away on Thursday, reminding us all how Márquez changed the literary landscape. Time to re-read One Hundred Years of Solitude.

The Cost of Spilling Family Secrets Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard’s six-part, brutally honest autobiographical novel, My Struggle, has turned him into an international literary sensation – and made him an outcast to his friends and family. The New Republic looks at the personal cost of writing the truth.

Catching up on the 2014 Pultizer Prize Winners
Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch won the 2014 Pulitzer for fiction (well deserved in our opinion).  Longreads compiled pieces from the winners of the other categories – perfect for your weekend reading.

Saint-Exupéry, Saintly Hands, Sainted Innocence
Guernica looks at what inspired the man behindThe Little Prince.

The Disillusionist
Imagine a family like the Downton Abbey clan gone bad. ” Edward St. Aubyn is from a failed aristocratic family, headed by a sexually abusive and tyrannical father. From a bleak childhood, he grew up to be “a raging heroin addict and also a brilliant, corrosive master of Wildean one-liners.” The Atlantic looks at his new novel, Lost for Words, which chronicles his strange and curious life.

Radka Denemarková on translating Herta Müller
Czech novelist, playwright and translator Radka Denemarková on the joys and trials of translating the work of Nobel Prize winner  Herta Müller.


Lit Links: Top 10 International Novels, CIA and Doctor Zhivago, The Wisdom of Adrian Mole

The Male vs. Female Perspective
The London Book Fair is in full swing and a lot of debate on gendered writing has been swirling around.  “Although the majority of readers are women, many publishers are more interested in reaching male readers,” writes Susan Harris for Words Without Borders. “Because publishers assume that women will read anyone, but men will read only other men, they tend to choose work by male writers—the
 message being, of course, that male experience is universal, while the female perspective is niche.”

The CIA and Doctor Zhivago
Declassified documents were released this week detailing how CIA operatives printed and circulated copies of the banned book to sew seeds of dissent in the USSR and the Eastern Bloc.

The Legend of Vera Nabokov
Vladimir Nabokov wrote some of the most brilliant books of the 20th century, but his wife, Vera, made that possible by taking care of every other aspect of his life. The Atlantic looks at the importance of a a supportive spouse for writers—and why this may be hindering gender parity in literature.

The Wisdom of Adrian Mole
The sad news of the passing of British novelist and playwright Sue Townsend prompted The Telegraph to revisit her brilliant Adrian Mole series and select some of the best quotes. To wit: “I was racked with sexuality but it wore off when I helped my father put manure on our rose bed.” We’ve all been there.

Top Ten International Novels 
The 2014 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award nominees were announced this  week. Five novels in translation made the cut, making the award truly international. Nominees includeAbsolution by Patrick Flanery, The Garden of Evening Mist by Tan Twan Eng, and A Death in the Family: My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard.

Read this Magazine: The Cleaver Quarterly
Our pals at The Cleaver Quarterly, a Chinese food magazine, aim “to tell you everything you wanted to know but never knew to ask about Chinese food.” From longform journalism to gorgeous photos and illustrations, this new print gem is the bastard child of Lucky Peach and your favorite Chinese takeout.  Check out their Kickstarter to get involved.

Check back each Friday for new Lit Links, a roundup of some of the best literature news from across the interweb.

Lit Links: Faulkner in Hollywood, Jargon Wars, Breaking Bad Memoir

William Faulkner’s Hollywood Odyssey
What happens when the greatest Southern writer tries to make it in Tinseltown? Movies stars, true love, and a lot of bourbon.

Mark Twain and the American Voice
How does a nation find its voice? When did American novels become American, and not just imitations of British ones?  This excellent article in The New Yorker looks at how America learned to hear itself talk (spoiler: Mark Twain taught us).

Are We Losing the War Against Jargon?
OMG. IMHO this is SRSLY NP. FWIW the Telegraph RBTL.
(ed. note: I am so old and uncool that just typing those abbreviations exhausted me.)

Flash Fiction Fridays
“Celery green sage green celedon. Ceylon. Iced tea sweet tea cubed coned shaved syrup. Sno-cone. Home.” This week’s installment of Tin House‘s flash fiction feature (under 1,000 words) is a real gem from Caitlin Corrigan.

The One Who Knocks: A Memoir
Bryan Cranston lands a book deal to write a memoir about his time on Breaking Bad. We’re huge BB fans but is this really necessary? Perhaps it’s time to let Walter White rest in peace.

Check back each Friday for new Lit Links, a roundup of some of the best literature news from across the interweb.

Lit Links: China’s Dan Brown, ‘The Road’ as a Children’s Book

The Chinese Novel Everyone Should Read
The Economist reviews Decoded by Mai Jia, who has been referred to as China’s Dan Brown, just way more literary.

 Life’s Too Short to Read a Bad Book
The Millions gets Little, Brown editor Allie Sommers to talk about what, exactly, editors do, and why it’s okay to put down a book before you finish it.

Dark Novels Reimagined as Children’s Books
Why not tuck your kids in with a bedtime reading of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road?

Go Midwest, Young Writer
Flavorwire posits that the Midwest is the new Brooklyn and that we should all pay attention to Rust Belt fiction.

Famous Writers Who Hated Writing
Quote James Joyce: “Writing in English is the most ingenious torture ever devised for sins committed in previous lives.” See what nine other famous scribes have to say in this roundup on the Huffington Post.

Check back each Friday for new Lit Links, a roundup of some of the best literature news from across the interweb.

It’s Westeros Madness!

Since I missed the entry for the Billion Dollar Bracket Challenge, I’m going to play Westeros Madness instead. Thanks to, we can pit Tyrion Lannister (no. 1 seed, naturally) against his father, Tywin (no. 8, though no underdog here) in a true Game of Thrones. And I bet no. 5-seed Samwell Tarly won’t be able to talk his way past the bracket’s scrappiest grandma, no. 4-seed Olenna Tyrell. What about the battle of the would-be queens, Margaery Tyrell (no. 4) v. Sansa Stark (no. 5)?  Margaery’s devious, but Sansa has enough suppressed angst to take down a dragon.

Speaking of dragons: Why is Drogon only a no. 5 seed?! Let’s discuss.

The new season of Game of Thrones premieres April 6 on HBO. March Madness is going on now, I guess.

Is ‘Divergent’ the Next ‘Hunger Games’?

Given the year-long lull between Hunger Games films, YA addicts have been scrambling for a fix. It comes this weekend with the release of Divergent (March 21), the first film in a trilogy inspired by Veronica Roth’s dystopian-romance novels. (If you’re bringing a guy along, tell him there’s knife throwing and street fighting.)

But can the new series live up to the serious hype of The Hunger Games? We pit them against each other in our own Culture Binge Arena.

My Dystopia Is Worse Than Yours
The former city of Chicago, now centuries in the future, has been divided into five factions to keep the peace. People are  either members of Erudite (the intellegencia, also the city’s teachers and scientists), Amity (peaceful farmers), Candor (overly honest, loud-mouthed lawyers), Abnegation (the selfless, who form the city’s government), or Dauntless (the bold and brave, security forces).
Hunger Games Panem, a post-apocalyptic nation formed in the western reaches of the former United States, is divided into 12 Districts, each with its own function (agriculture, mining, fishing, textiles, making weapons, etc). A totalitarian ruler, President Snow, quashes any spark of rebellion by forcing two children from each district to fight to the death in the annual Hunger Games.
Advantage Hunger Games. That whole “kids fight to the death” thing is pretty bleak.

Four (Theo James) and Tris (Shailene Woodley)
Four (Theo James) and Tris (Shailene Woodley)

Fierce Heroines
Divergent Beatrice “Tris” Prior is a meek-and-mild member of Abnegation taps into her inner Xena Warrior Princess when she turns 16 and joins Dauntless. Played onscreen by 22-year-old Shailene Woodley, she of long, flowing hair and The Secret Life of the American Teenager.
Hunger Games Katniss Everdeen is a cool, no-nonsense hardass who supports her mother and younger sister by hunting game in the forest outside District 12. Played onscreen by Jennifer Lawrence, a 23-year-old Oscar winner and everyone’s wannabe best friend/spirit animal.
Advantage Are you kidding? Hunger Games.

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence)
Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence)

Girls with Skills
Hunger Games Katniss can shoot a bow like she’s an Olympic archer, build a fire, skin a squirrel, sing on key, and make boys cry.
Divergent Tris can toss knives, shoot a gun, fight dudes, withstand a tattoo needle, climb great heights, and resist mind-altering drugs.
Advantage Divergent.

Made-for-Movie Action Sequences
Climbing a Ferris wheel, ziplining from the top of Chicago’s Hancock building, jumping on and off trains, and navigating a fear landscape that’s basically a hallucinogen-induced obstacle course through your worst nightmares.
Hunger Games The Arena.
Advantage Draw.

Love Story
Hunger Games A love triangle that 1) is a strategic play to stay alive in the Arena, 2) keeps President Snow off their backs, and 3) is kinda sorta something special.
Divergent Relationships born of lusty teenage hormones and a full-back tattoo. Every. Touch. Is. MAGICAL!!!
Advantage Hunger Games.

Divergent Tris’s BFFs — Christina, Will, Al, Four — are all Dauntless warriors in their own right, each with an extra skill (Will is bright, Al is a gentle giant, Christina can sniff out the truth and run quickly, Four is a reluctant leader and a hunk).
Hunger Games Peeta bakes delicious pastries, Haymitch appreciates a fine whiskey, Rue is good at hiding, Cinna makes gorgeous dresses….oh, forget it. Katniss is on her own.
Advantage Divergent.

Divergent Jeanine Matthews (played by Kate Winslet), leader of the Erudite, has the biggest brain in the land and a utilitarian approach to the greater good. She’ll take drastic measures to rid the city of its factionless/homeless and its outliers, or Divergent.
Hunger Games President Snow (played by Donald Sutherland) gets a sick kick out of orchestrating the Hunger Games and squashing hope across Panem. His beard can’t be trusted either.
Advantage Hunger Games.

The Trilogy
Divergent Starts off strong. Second novel Insurgent is forgettable (and I just read it). Allegiant creates a clever world “outside the fence” but has an insanely disappointing ending.
Hunger Games Starts off strong. Second novel Catching Fire is a snooze fest until the Arena. Mockingjay is a mixed bag of high-stakes rebellion and long, long walks down alleyways.
Advantage Hunger Games.

Final tally: Hungers Games – 5. Divergent – 2. One draw.

The real winner: Lionsgate, for producing both film series and laughing all the way to the bank.

SnarkNotes: Memoir

These days, it seems like everyone has a memoir: celebutantes, reality show contestants, moaning hipsters. The genre is full of books about lives that are not even a quarter lived. Thankfully, a few writers still find fresh ways to chronicle their personal histories. We’ve chosen three recent memoirs that nudge the genre in new directions.

white_girlsWhite Girls by Hilton Als
Hilton Als, culture writer for The New Yorker, turns the critic’s eye inward for his memoir, White Girls. As a gay, black man, Als is also one of the book’s titular “white girls” — not a club but a state of mind — along with public figures such as Truman Capote,  Malcolm X, Flannery O’Connor, and Louise Brooks who influenced his life and work. Using cultural criticism and pop references, Als tells the story of complicated and beautiful relationships, of soulmates and “twinships,” while also meditating on race, sexuality, and identity.  The book’s essays vary in length and style, and at times can be difficult to follow. But no one ever said understanding a white girl was easy.
You Should Read It If… you like deeply emotional stories flecked with cultural critique and a dash of NYC art-world gossip.
Culture Binge Mashup: Basquiat meets The New Yorker meets Kids

downloadThis Is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett
For her latest, novelist Ann Patchett (Bel CantoState of Wonder) pens a literary memoir-as-essays that examine her writing life, her marriage, and her latest chapter: opening an independent bookstore in her hometown of Nashville. The book is full of colorful, humorous pieces about driving cross-country in a Winnebago, tough love from early writing teachers such as Russell Banks, and her relationship with her cop father.  But it also applauds romance rooted in reality rather than teenage fantasy, and celebrates Patchett’s unerring dedication to literature. When her first marriage ended, Patchett vowed never to marry again. Her perspective on what constitutes “a happy marriage” changes over the course of these pages.
You Should Read It If… you like colorful essays with tight prose, stories about the writing life, and romance for adults.
Culture Binge Mashup: Wild by Cheryl Strayed meets Black Books meets Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert

mo_meta_bluesMo’ Meta Blues by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson
A founding member of the seminal hip-hop band the Roots, Questlove delivers a love letter to music that doubles as a memoir. The drummer-DJ draws on the hip-hop, punk, rock, and pop music that shaped his life, not just as an artist but as a man. Born in Philadelphia to two musicians, Questlove spent time on the road, touring with his family, before going to art school and finding his own voice in the rich music community of Philadelphia, where he started the Roots. Unlike the typical rise-fall-rerise narrative of most musician tell-alls, Mo’ Meta Blues contemplates and confronts race, the politics of pop influence, and the problems of artistic communities. Plus, it’s just really fun.
You Should Read It If… you mark life’s milestones with records/albums/songs and like your intellectual debates sprinkled with backstage gossip.
Culture Binge Mashup: Just Kids by Patti Smith meets Chuck Klosterman meets that DJ who knows every song from ever genre, no matter how obscure