Aspiring authors, take note. If you want to sell your latest book, grow another set of legs, some fur, and bark adorably. That’s what earned Uggie, the dog from The Artist, his forthcoming memoir, Uggie: My Story. Suddenly, our dog-book pun-a-thon from a while back seems prescient.
“If only the interest he provokes were limited to his immediate surroundings, but, alas, it is not!… Still farther away, great mountains of data mining sum up, in zeroes and ones, the ultimate truth of his being.” KA Semënova updates Nabokov‘s short story “Signs and Sumbols” (and works by other famous Russian authors) for McSweeney’s, “teh internets” and the digital world.
The “staff picks” shelf in any good independent bookstore is a treasure trove of book recommendations. Unmoored from media hype and even timeliness, books are championed by trusted fellow readers. With many bookselling alums in our ranks, we thought it a good idea to offer our own “Staff Picks” in a feature appearing irregularly. We hope you discover something you like.+ Inside by Kenneth J. Harvey recommended by AndrewA tough, spare, bruising novel from Newfoundland author Kenneth J. Harvey, Inside depicts the experience of a man released from years in prison, cleared on DNA evidence. Not guilty but far from innocent, our man attempts to reconnect with his family and reclaim his life. The novel’s edgy, fragmented prose is sometimes tough reading, but I read it a year-and-a-half ago when it first came out here in Canada, and its images and tone still haunt me.+ Sarajevo Marlboro by Milijenko Jergovic recommended by GarthAmong the splendors of the short-story is that it needn’t teach us anything. Also among its splendors: that it often does, anyway. With this collection, journalist Jergovic uses a deceptively casual style to tally the cost of war. Stories like “Beetle” and “The Excursion” bring to life the human beings caught in Sarajevo during the war, moving us without ever hectoring. They are exemplars of the William Carlos Williams dictum: “No ideas but in things.”+ Silence by Shusaku Endo recommended by BenIt’s strange to me that Shusaku Endo’s fine novel Silence has yet to be canonized as a masterpiece of world literature. Although I’m not generally a booster of Japanese writers, this story of faith and suffering is one of the best novels I’ve read.Endo was a Japanese Catholic, and many of his works explore the conflicts between his faith and his culture. Silence takes place in the 17th century and follows two Portuguese priests as they try to introduce Christianity to Japan. The Japanese government resists their efforts, and the two are forced to go underground, running from a public official who tracks them relentlessly. As their flock is captured one by one, the priests are forced to a final showdown, where their faith is put to the test. Equal parts heart-wrenching and thought provoking, this beautifully written and moving book grapples with the meaning of faith in a world where prayers are met only with silence.+ Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin recommended by EmreForget about global warming for a second and pick up Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale – a perfect companion to the season that will immerse you in a world steeped in fantasy. Peter Lake’s journey from the end of the Gilded Age to a futuristic 1990s world doesn’t cover much ground; most of it is in New York. But, the creation of the City as a central character, the use of Winter to tickle warmth, and the struggle between the ideal-imagined and real-lived will take you on a ride that illuminates beauty in the ordinary via the fantastic.+ The Compleat Angler: or, The Contemplative Man’s Recreation by Izaak Walton recommended by EmilyAlthough I am not “a brother of the angle,” I count Izaak Walton’s 1653 Compleat Angler among my favorite books. And it would seem that I am not alone: Walton’s book has been in print continuously for the past 355 years and by some counts it is the most reprinted work in English after the Bible and Pilgrim’s Progress. To describe this delightful book, however, is no easy task. “The waters are nature’s storehouse in which she locks up her wonders,” Walton writes, and his book sets out to be the meandering catalogue of these and much else. Like so many other books of its age, Walton’s Angler is hard to classify. It is part fishing manual, part meditation on the joys of rural life, contemplation, and patience, part compendium of whimsical fishing and river lore (an account of the Sargus, a fish who crawls onto land to impregnate sheep, stories of mythical rivers that dance to music, light torches, or cease to flow on the Sabbath), part miscellany of pastoral verse, and part cookbook, all united by the deeply humane and amiable voice of the narrator, Piscator. Recommended for: All restive souls, especially city folk afflicted with pangs of bucolic longing.+ The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene recommended by MaxThis Graham Greene classic takes on crises of faith as a “whiskey priest” in Mexico is pursued by a stern lieutenant and the specter of a firing squad and must contemplate his own shortcomings, his worthiness, and his ordained duty to his flock. Heavy stuff, but as winter takes hold in northern climes, readers will appreciate Greene’s backdrop of the humid closeness of the Mexican jungle – you may feel some perspiration on your brow – not to mention a cast of characters who serve only to heighten the priest’s moral ambiguity. Whether read as a layered allegory of faith or a tense romp through the tropics, The Power and the Glory deserves its place among Greene’s best works.
In order to prolong the conversation around his Atlantic cover story, “The Case for Reparations,” Ta-Nehisi Coates recently took to Twitter to engage in a Q&A session with his readers. You can scroll through the entire exchange over here. Coates was also interviewed by Ezra Klein for Vox this week, and the resulting video is probably the most valuable piece of content that site has produced since its inception.
Who killed the literary critic?: “In the age of blogging, great critics appear to be on life support. Salon’s book reviewers discuss snobbery, how to make criticism fun and the need for cultural gatekeepers.” The ongoing, seemingly never ending discussion of the death of literature and criticism continues, though Salon’s interest in “how to make criticism fun” is a promising sign.Online used book marketplace AbeBooks looks at the yearbook collecting subculture. The most expensive yearbook to every be sold on the site? The Ole Miss Yearbook 1921 containing “William Faulkner’s poem, ‘Nocturne,’ in facsimile of the author’s stylized printing over a two-page spread along with several Faulkner drawings.”Buzz presents the Nixon Rock on his Madonna of the Toast blog.Carolyn has been on an enviable literary-themed roadtrip. Luckily we can read along at home.
In The Guardian, Year in Reading alum Joshua Ferris writes a tribute to the novelist Jim Shepard, who taught him at UC Irvine when Ferris was a student there in the early aughts. Ferris makes a case that Shepard single-handedly settles a modern debate: “A lot of critics dislike the professionalisation of creative writing. They have never had Shepard in a workshop.”
It was probably inevitable that someone would turn the ravings of Charlie Sheen into found poetry. But unlike similar collections “by” Donald Rumsfeld and Rod Blagojevich, this one offers us the opportunity to compare it to the real thing – Sheen’s early ’90s chef d’oeuvre, A Peace of My Mind.