The Art of Dog-Earing: Yes, Terry Reads The Books
Books always had this very powerful effect on me because of some communication, somebody seeming even in a very symbolic or displaced way to understand what I was feeling. And I think that is the miracle of literature, is this private communication between one intelligence and another.
Last week, Africa Is a Country, a blog that documents and skewers Western misconceptions of Africa, ran a fascinating story about book design. It posted a collage of 36 covers of books that were either set in Africa or written by African writers. The texts of the books were as diverse as the geography they covered: Nigeria, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Mozambique. They were written in wildly divergent styles, by writers that included several Nobel Prize winners. Yet all of books’ covers featured an acacia tree, an orange sunset over the veld, or both.
"In short," the post said, "the covers of most novels ‘about Africa’ seem to have been designed by someone whose principal idea of the continent comes from The Lion King.”
Read more.[Image: Wikimedia Commons]
"All of these books are about how to become free: how to become free of your conditioning; how to become free of resentment and hatred and the weight of the past. So Patrick is on the case. He may often be very unhappy or self-destructive or confused or say things that are sarcastic, but his whole direction is towards freedom, which he eventually achieves."
—- Author Edward St. Aubyn talks with Terry Gross about his Patrick Melrose novels, which are semi-autobiographical and follow the life of an upper-class Englishman from an abusive childhood to heroin addiction to recovery
Photo by Timothy Allen/Courtesy of Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Imagine an America that has been plagued for years by a mysterious epidemic of insomnia — an affliction so serious that many are dying from lack of sleep. That’s the futuristic premise of Karen Russell's new novella, Sleep Donation. Insomniacs can file for dream bankruptcy and receive sleep donations, even from babies. In the interview with Russell she explains why babies are the ideal donor candidates:
"In our America, most people would agree that an infant doesn’t have the capacity to make a legal gift, but I think the crisis is so severe [that they use babies]. … In my own sleep-deprived state, like, of course everyone wants baby sleep. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? It would be completely uncorrupted by adult nightmares. It would just be some pure black flow from whatever void a baby came from very recently — that kind of deep, pure unconsciousness …
The narrator of the novella discovers accidentally a universal donor; nobody knew that such a thing existed. I was thinking about the horror and the pain and the arbitrary way it seems that some bodies can’t receive transfusions or organ donations; that there’s some kind of congenital suspicion, there’s an immune response, and you [can’t] assimilate this gift. And here’s this tiny [baby and] everyone is elated to discover that she’s a match with every donee. Any insomniac can receive her dreams and sleep. … It’s a silver bullet, that she has this curative property.”
"Let’s get the negative stuff out of the way first. Teju Cole’s Every Day Is For the Thief is not much of a novel. Forget plot or character development: This is a piece of writing that’s all about setting. If you take what Cole is offering here and value it on its own terms, you’ll probably appreciate the curious magic at work in this slim not-quite-a-novel. In chapters that stand as separate, short vignettes, Every Day Is For The Thief describes a young New York doctor’s visit back to his hometown of Lagos, Nigeria. It’s a Clockwork Orange world where policemen routinely stop traffic to collect bribes, where the electricity sputters out at nightly intervals and where 11-year-old thieves are necklaced with kerosene-soaked tires and burned to death. Amidst all the corruption and misery, Cole also makes readers understand the narrator’s longing for a Nigeria he thinks he remembers from childhood.”
Photo via Teju Cole
Author Penelope Lively describes her latest book, Dancing Fish And Ammonites, as “not quite a memoir,” but rather “the view from old age,” a subject she says she can report on with some authority — Monday is the British writer’s 81st birthday.
After her husband’s death, she was forced to sift through all of their belongings. The one thing she couldn’t bear to let go of was her collection of books. In the interview, she tells us why:
"They chart my life. I don’t want to sound ponderous, but they chart my intellectual life. They chart everything that I’ve been interested in and thought about for the whole of my reading life. So if they went I would, in a sense, lose a sense of identity. They identify me. … Most of them I shall never read again, but you never know what you may want to go back to. And it does constantly happen to me that there’s something that I suddenly think, "Oh, I’ve got that book, let me just look that up." I do it every day."
In his novel, The Testament of Mary, Irish writer Colm Toíbín imagines Mary’s life 20 years after the crucifixion. She is struggling to understand why some people believe Jesus is the son of God, and weighed down by the guilt she feels wondering what she might have done differently to alter — or ease — her son’s fate.
Imagining such violent events as the crucifixion, he says, “is really, really serious work. In other words, you have to go in and pretend … it’s happening now and go into absolute detail, so you’re almost working in the same way maybe a painter is working … [except] that it’s occurring word by word, sentence by sentence.”
You can hear Toíbín’s full interview here
The novel is now out in paperback.
image: Titian’s Assumption of the Virgin in Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Venice. Photograph: Mauro Magliani/Alinari Archives/Corbis via guardian
"Kill a tree! Save a book!"
Our #TBT is dedicated to Carrie Brownstein, wunderhost of our 2013 5 Under 35 Celebration last November. (Awesome party photos here.) Carrie’s hit series Portlandia returns tonight on IFC. As a warm up to its premiere, watch Carrie share her alt-reality vision of our 5 Under 35 selection process.
“Since when did trees have it so good?”
For good measure: Here’s our interview with Carrie and Fred
Tomorrow author Ann Patchett speaks to Fresh Air about marriage, divorce, death, and her love of books.
"I’m never lonely when I’m around books. It’s the world of endless possibility and opportunity to be in that building full of books that can come home with me."
Patchett’s latest collection of stories is called This Is The Story of a Happy Marriage. Our book critic Maureen Corrigan reviewed it back in November.
image of Patchett in her bookstore “Parnassus” (Nashville, TN) via CNN
First, a word about this list: it’s honestly just a fluke that my best books rundown for 2013 is so gender biased. I didn’t deliberately set out this year to read so many terrific books by women.
Lets start with Alice McDermott. Without ever hamming up the humility, Alice McDermott’s latest novel, Someone, tells the life story of an ordinary woman named Marie who comes of age in mid-twentieth century Brooklyn and works for a time in a funeral parlor. McDermott reveals to readers what’s distinct about people like Marie who don’t have the ego or eloquence to make a case for themselves as being anything special.
Unlike McDermott’s submissive Marie, the main character of The Woman Upstairs, Claire Messud’s latest novel, is like a dormant volcano getting ready to blow. Nora Eldridge is a single elementary school teacher in her thirties who’s grimly disciplined herself to settling for less. When a glamorous family enters her life and reignites her artistic and erotic energies, Nora, like Jane Eyre, gets in touch with her anger and her hunger. Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland is another stark novel that charts the fate of two brothers in Calcutta in the 1960s, one a political activist; the other a stick-in-the-mud academic. The Lowland is an ambitious story about the rashness of youth as well as the hesitation and regret that can make a long life not worth living.
Ambition is what makes Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch my novel of the year: jumbo-sized, coincidence-laced, it’s Dickensian in its cast of characters and range of emotions. In fact, there’s a lot of David Copperfield in the main character, Theo Decker, who’s thirteen when the sudden death of his mother propels him on a cross-country odyssey that includes a season in hell in Las Vegas and brushes with the Russian mob. Always yearning for his lost mother; Theo is like the goldfinch in the 17th century Dutch painting that gives this extraordinary novel its name: an alert yellow bird “chained to a perch by its twig of an ankle.”
My debut novel of the year is Adelle Waldman’s brilliant comedy of manners and ideas, The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. Waldman thoroughly inhabits the head of a sensitive cad named Nate Piven, a writer living in Brooklyn. There are many throwaway moments of hilarity here, such as when Nate endures his weekly telephone chat with his father, who asks him the question every aspiring writer is asked nowadays: “Have you given any thought to self publishing?”
A boy-girl pair ties for my for best short story collection nod: Karen Russell’s Vampires in the Lemon Grove contains some genuine creepers, like “Proving Up,” a tale of the American Frontier that reads like a collaboration between Willa Cather and Emily Dickinson. The standout in George Saunders’ collection, The Tenth of December, is “The Semplica Girl Diaries”—a story whose power could singlehandedly change immigration policy.
In biography, the winner for me this year was Jill Lepore’s Book of Ages about Jane Franklin, Ben’s little sister. To excavate the remains of Jane’s hidden story, Lepore augments her own training as a historian with literary criticism, sociology, archeology and even some of the techniques of fiction.
Patricia Volk’s boisterous memoir, Shocked, also breaks traditional genre rules. Shocked explores the two titanic women who impressed their ideas of beauty and femaleness on Volk: her mother, Audrey, a famous beauty, and the designer Elsa Schiaparelli. In her writing and in her memoir’s gorgeous illustrations, Volk has embraced something of Schiaparelli’s surrealist approach to art. Roger Rosenblatt’s evocative memoir, The Boy Detective, also challenges easy categorization. His book combines a walking tour around vanished Manhattan, with a meditation, not only on the classic mystery fiction he loves, but also on those larger metaphysical mysteries that defy even the shrewdest detective’s reasoning.
Speaking, at last, of mysteries, my best mystery of the year turns out to be yet another stunner from Scandinavia. The Dinosaur Feather is a debut novel by a Dane named S. J. Gazan, which takes us deep into the insular world of scientists investigating dinosaur evolution. I could be wrong (but I don’t think I am) when I say that Gazan disposes of a murder victim here by an infernal means that no other mystery writer — not even the resourceful Dame Agatha — ever concocted. And, yes, in case you’re wondering, S. J. Gazan is a woman. Everybody knows the female of the species is deadlier than the male.
Happy Reading to one and all.
The list is available here with audio and links to the reviews
Mark your calendars: according to some scholars the next time it might happen is the year 79,811. I’m talking, of course, about the hybrid holiday of “Thanksgivukkah.” The Borsch Belt-style Pilgrim jokes and mish mosh recipes (turkey brined in Manischewitz anyone?) are flying around the Internet; but since Jews are frequently referred to as “the people of the book” and Pilgrims pretty much lived by the book, Thanksgivukkah seems to me like the quintessential (stressful) family holiday to celebrate by escaping into a book. A couple of these recommendations are holiday themed; some are not—but all will have you saying “Thanks a lattke!” for the all-year-round gift of reading.
"Menurkey" image via Thanksgivukkah boston