Year in Reading contributor Kevin Smokler’s new essay collection, Practical Classics, explores the benefits of revisiting the first books you read (even if you hated them). In fact, the difficult and excruciating books have a particular value. “Books aren’t all supposed to be our best friends,” says Smokler in a new Rumpus interview. “Sometimes they’re supposed to be that difficult friend who encourages us to do things that we don’t feel are rational or grown-up.”
It's another huge week for new releases. Happy Murakami day! Haruki Murakami's long-awaited 1Q84 is finally here - look for our review tomorrow, as is Walter Isaacson's headline-making biography of Steve Jobs. Also out is another massive and hotly anticipated work in translation (1152 pages!), Hungarian Peter Nadas's Parallel Stories. Lydia Millet has a new novel out, Ghost Lights, and Thinking, Fast and Slow is set to arrive from Nobel-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman.
Pietru Caxaro composed “Il Cantilena” in the late 15th century, and his poem is widely considered to be the oldest known literary text in the Maltese language. Recently conservator Theresa Zammit Lupi worked to restore the original manuscript’s paper, binding and cover in order to “bring new life” to the historic work. You can read an approximate English translation of the poem courtesy of Wikipedia.
We've seen a lot of interesting literary fundraisers (and are still a bit in awe of Catstarter) but a recent campaign goes beyond the usual Kickstarter: a group of well-known American writers, from Heather McHugh to Philip Levine to Rebecca Makkai, will be selling manuscript critiques later this month to benefit Caregifted.org.
On Monday we mentioned that the MTA has started offering free e-books underground as part of its Subway Reads program, but they weren't the first to make books an integral part of the public transit experience. London's Books on the Underground was first, but then came a more interesting development in Australia: book ninjas. Books on the Rails is a gonzo experiment started by two Melbourne residents who began releasing free books – actual, paper books – into the wilds of the city's tram system. About 300 books are currently in circulation in what's possibly the world's most open lending library.
The University of Texas at Austin has recently acquired Kazuo Ishiguro’s archive. The collection reveals early drafts, a pulp Western novel that Ishiguro thought had been lost, and his early attempts at songwriting. "For many years," he said, "I've been in the habit of keeping a large cardboard box under my desk into which I throw, more or less indiscriminately, all papers produced during my writing that I don't want to file neatly and take into the next stage of composition: earlier drafts of chapters, rejected pages, scraps of paper with scribbled thoughts, repeated attempts at the same paragraph, etc.”
"In a genre that has long been dominated by white men and Western mythological tropes, Ms. Okorafor’s stories, which feature young black girls in starring roles as superheroes and saviors of humanity, have been hailed as groundbreaking." The New York Times shines a spotlight on Nnedi Okorafor and other African American science fiction and fantasy writers building on -and popularizing-a tradition of African and African American folklore in the sci fi and fantasy genre.