My post earlier this week about the college course on 9/11 literature was mentioned in a discussion thread on LibraryThing on the same topic. That thread is worth a read—the participants are working toward a comprehensive reading list of post-9/11 fiction.
One complaint on the thread is that there are no women on the main reading list. (The complete syllabus does include numerous essays by women, including excerpts from Susan Faludi‘s The Terror Dream.) I confess that without the LibraryThing list I would’ve been hard-pressed to think of an American female fiction writer who explicitly addressed Age of Terror themes, though I’d argue that Susan Choi‘s A Person of Interest would count, as would Martha McPhee‘s L’America. At any rate, whether all this reflects an inherent disrespect among critics for women writers is an open question, but Elaine Showalter sets the record straight.
Garrison Keillor is busy: four books of his come out this year, including two novels.
Construction begins next month on a replica of the cabin in Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
Andrew Seal on Giovanni’s Room: “One of the truly remarkable things about James Baldwin‘s writing is his ability to represent repression convincingly.”
Tayari Jones finds the connection between Yellow Tail wine and the intermingling of street lit with other fiction by black writers on bookstore shelves.
And an executive at Penguin Books UK is, to say the least, very excited to work on David Foster Wallace‘s final novel, The Pale King.
In hunting for a novel that best exemplified life during the Bush years, Newsweek‘s Jennie Yabroff makes a not-bad choice with Jonathan Franzen‘s The Corrections; though the Franzen vs. Oprah = Obama vs. Bush argument is a bit of a stretch, the book is indeed a “warm social novel on an epic scale.” But I’m not wholly buying the assertion that, “Eventually someone will write a post-9/11 novel that successfully incorporates the attacks with the anxieties that were already simmering in our collective psyche in the summer of 2001.” I figured that’s what Ken Kalfus‘ A Disorder Peculiar to the Country accomplished, and he made it funny to boot.
Besides, I’m not convinced that the great post-9/11 novel needs to confront the matter head-on. A few other suggestions I would’ve tossed out, had I been in the story meeting:
Daniel Alarcon, Lost City Radio—As an allegory for the disconnect Americans felt from their government, Alarcon’s South American tragic fable captured the current mood of fear and anxiety.
Ward Just, Forgetfulness—An intimate profile of how terrorism hits close to home, and the frustrations in policing it.
Philip Roth, Exit Ghost—On top of precisely describing the feeling of profound disappointment in the wake of the ’04 election, it also neatly evoked the feeling of wanting to get the hell out of Dodge for a while.
Susan Choi, A Person of Interest—Without addressing post-9/11 terrorism directly, Choi’s dense novel gets at the identity crises that stem from terrorist provocations.
Paul Auster, Man in the Dark—for reasons already discussed
Others? I didn’t go hunting for post-9/11 novels, and I’m sure I missed plenty.
Once again litblog the Millions has launched its annual Year in Reading series, in which a raft of writers and critics weigh in on their favorite books of the year, regardless of pub date. There are plenty of admirable participants—Joseph O’Neill, Elizabeth McCracken, Nam Le and many more. I gave special attention to Charles Bock‘s list, though, and not just because I admired his novel, Beautiful Children, or because any guy who gives a thumbs-up to Slash‘s autobiography is aces in my book. Bock also plugs a few worthy books that didn’t get nearly as much attention as they deserved (links are to my reviews): Vincent Lam‘s Bloodletting and Other Miraculous Cures, Leni Zumas‘ Farewell Navigator, and Susan Choi‘s A Person of Interest. Part of the fun of year-end lists is learning about something you hadn’t heard about, but it’s also nice to see your own interests validated by a writer you respect.
One quibble: If Bock wants to recommend State by State, a mediocre attempt at rebooting the WPA guides’ mission, that’s his call, but it couldn’t have hurt for him to note that he has a piece in it. (One of the better ones as it happens, on Nevada.)
Keith Gessen went on a book tour and all he got was a stupid feeling of uselessness. He writes in the Stranger:
What’s the point of a book tour? Publishers don’t believe in them anymore, and given the amount of money my publisher blew on my hotel rooms, I can see why. And airline travel, let’s face it, is immoral. But there’s still got to be something valuable about going out to face the people and reading to them directly from your book, taking their friendly questions (from the internet, you’d think I’d be confronted in every town by at least one screaming blogger; in fact, on the whole tour, not a single angry question)—something must happen to them from that. Or maybe only to you. That is, to me.
Which may explain why so much promotion of authors these days try to avoid all that travel. A story on Greatreporter.com covers some of those efforts—BookVideos, Titlepage, and 30-minute features produced by Powell’s Books. As Susan Choi puts it, “I think a lot of us have that experience of stumping around the country trying to connect with our readers, but we can’t be everywhere, and the people who read our books are scattered around.”
- Laurie Muchnick, writing at Bloomberg News, has a guide to some recent Brooklyn lit.
- Newsweek‘s Jennie Yabroff nicely ties–coils, even–together the multiple authors who’ve obsessed over Nikola Tesla.
- Kent Haruf (Plainsong) and photographer Peter Brown discuss their book about the Great Plains, West of Last Chance, at the Rocky Mountain News. (The Photo-Eye Web site has some sample images, which call to mind Richard Misrach‘s dusty western landscapes, though Brown’s photos of people are compelling as well.)
- If you’re in Mississippi next weekend, the Oxford Conference for the Book has an interesting lineup of readings. The conference theme is the work of Zora Neale Hurston, though the schedule looks to be wide-ranging–the Jack Pendarvis–Susan Choi reading in particular looks like fun.
- Michael Cunningham isn’t interested in what Michiko Kakutani has to say: “I don’t read that shit. Any of it. The good reviews or the bad,” he told an audience at Boston’s Northeastern University. “The bad ones feel like they’re true and the good ones feel like you just fooled that one reviewer.” (Kakutani said that Cunningham’s 2005 novella collection, Specimen Days, “reads like a clunky and precious literary exercise….nothing but gratuitous and pretentious blather.”)
The first episode of Titlepage, an online video site featuring much-decorated literary editor Daniel Menaker in conversation with writers, is up now. Featured in episode one: Richard Price, Charles Bock, Colin Harrison, and Susan Choi. I haven’t had a chance yet to process the full hour-long conversation, but there are a lot of things to like: Menaker is an engaging host who’s clearly familiar with the books he’s talking about, he’s made some good choices in writers to feature, and the video format allows you to easily skip ahead to the interview with each author.
Not so great: The “Talking Together” bit at the end, which makes me wonder why four authors are sitting together in the same room if they’re not going to engage with each other too much. Much of the conversation is polite and round-table-y, and while I wasn’t hoping for a Price-Choi cage match, the energy level doesn’t change a whole lot throughout, and one-on-one conversations can be more fun to watch (even if Charlie Rose is the guy doing the interrupting).
My brief review of Susan Choi‘s new novel, A Person of Interest, is now available at City Paper‘s Web site. Choi reads at Politics & Prose on Monday.
Speaking of which: On Saturday (tomorrow) at 1 p.m., P&P will host a discussion of the National Book Critics Circle “Good Reads” project, in which the NBCC compiles recommendations from member critics and other writers, and the upcoming NBCC awards. This stop is part of an ongoing road show that’s being covered by the NBCC’s blog, Critical Mass, and it’s a great set of panelists: critic-blogger Scott McLemee, Washington Post Book World critic Ron Charles, critic and Author Author! host Bethanne Patrick, poet Michael Collier, and novelist-critic Louis Bayard. (Lou’s a friend who’s written the occasional film review for me at the CP.)