Canonical literature isn’t the only way to learn about America. The bestseller list can be equally as telling. Matthew Kahn is reading 100 years of No. 1 bestsellers from 1913 to 2013. He blogs about the books and discusses the project in an interview with Salon’s Laura Miller. When Miller asks what makes a bestseller, he claims, “A lot of it is just a matter of accessibility. A focus on plot and character rather than structure and the prose itself.”
The steady stream of books about and by David Foster Wallace is continuing in 2012. We already noted the forthcoming Conversations with David Foster Wallace, and the calendar now also includes The Legacy of David Foster Wallace from the University of Iowa’s New American Canon series, D.T. Max’s biography Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace, and Both Flesh and Not, a collection of as yet uncollected nonfiction by Wallace.
Attention! The finalists for the 2016 Oddest Book Title of the Year award have been announced — my personal favorite has to be Reading From Behind: A Cultural History of the Anus. Pair with the ever exciting Bad Sex in Fiction award and you’ve got yourself your own little literary Oscars party.
“Once certain hurdles are cleared (a bit of talent, years of work), being a writer is like flying a kite in a storm in a field full of people flying kites in a storm.” Garth Greenwell on writing his first novel, the importance of failure, and giving oneself privacy to make mistakes. Pair with Meredith Turits’s Millions piece, featuring six writers looking back on their first novels.
“No one was more grimly adamant that the world was in mortal peril, or had more fun trying to save it from itself.” Over at The New Yorker‘s Page Turner blog, Alexandra Schwartz considers the life and work of Grace Paley, noting that Paley’s slim output “is a great shame, if not so surprising. Activism, like alcoholism, can distract a writer from the demands of her desk.” Also of note: this tribute to Paley that our own Garth Risk Hallberg wrote upon her death in 2007.
At Flavorwire Jonathan Sturgeon considers what we’ve learned from Dubliners in the hundred years since it was first published and argues that “when it comes to realism, Dubliners, more than even Chekhov’s short fiction, is the model we routinely fail to live up to.” Sturgeon’s reflections on Joyce‘s free indirect discourse pair well with Jonathan Russell Clark‘s Millions essay on close writing, and his essay isn’t completely without hope: he concludes with a few books that, “on the surface, look nothing like Dubliners, but, in spirit… show that Joyce’s book still lives 100 years on.”
“Whenever I tried to invent a character or a situation, I felt a stab of guilt. I could hear my teacher’s quavering voice saying, Write what you know! Why had she insisted on this so vociferously?” Writing class mantras are easy to impart but they are also easily misinterpreted. A.X. Ahmad, author of The Last Taxi Ride and The Caretaker, learns this truth the hard way as he tries to become a writer following a personal upheaval. Pair with Ahmad’s Millions essay on “The Thriller, Reinvented.”