There are reality TV shows for aspiring designers, singers, and chefs, so what about writers? The Italian reality show Masterpiece will pit writers against each other in competition for a book deal. As judge Giancarlo De Cataldo said, “The book is dying, and we must do everything we can to save it. Even a talent show.” We expect a lot of dramatic crying at typewriters.
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 last week’s Brandeis commencement speech, Leon Wieseltier argued that never has there been a moment in American life when the humanities were respected less but needed more. “In recent years I have come to regard a commitment to the humanities as nothing less than an act of intellectual defiance, of cultural dissidence,” he said.
“I’m trying to think of something really suitable to say. What do you think I should say? Look, you tell me what to say and I’ll say it.” That was Doris Lessing, who found out she’d won the Nobel Prize from a group of journalists who surrounded her when she was exiting a taxi. NPR has that great audio, plus other reactions of former Nobel literature laureates, including Toni Morrison, William Faulkner, and Mario Vargas Llosa.
Our own fearless editor-in-chief, Lydia Kiesling, admires Lessing, but felt rather differently about reading one of her most famous works, The Golden Notebook: “Among other things, she did an uncanny job of creating a malaise that was actually infectious. It oozed right off the page and into my own spirit.”
Fans of Seinfeld and Arrested Development might be interested in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, a comedy about a band of hapless, self-interested pub owners in which slapstick hijinks obscure the fact that nothing much ever happens (for example: a wheelchair race/brawl in a mall between two characters pretending to be handicapped to get girls). The first episode of the fifth season premiers this Friday but you can watch past episodes free at FX.
Idris Elba, Sean Penn and Javier Bardem have signed on to star in a film adaptation of Jean-Patrick Manchette’s novel, The Prone Gunman. According to Christian Blauvelt of Hollywood.com, “Elba will be playing a cloak-and-dagger agent named Dupont who tangles with Sean Penn, who also plays an agent for a clandestine operations outfit who is betrayed by his organization, forcing him on the run across Europe.”
“Patriarchal domination, even — despite appearances — in the West, is still very entrenched, and each of us, in the most diverse places, in the most varied forms, suffers the humiliation of being a silent victim or a fearful accomplice or a reluctant rebel or even a diligent accuser of victims rather than of the rapists. Paradoxically, I don’t feel that there are great differences between the women of the Neapolitan neighborhood whose story I told and Hollywood actresses or the educated, refined women who work at the highest levels of our socioeconomic system. ” In a rare interview, Elena Ferrante discuses the #meToo movement, Naples and her writing process for the Neapolitan novels in a rare interview translated from the original French.