Longtime writers know how hard it can be to tell when a piece is finished. Tolstoy famously tried to revise War and Peace right up to the book’s publication. At the Ploughshares blog, Amy Jo Burns offers tips for evaluating a piece before deciding to give it to someone else.
New this week: Pushkin Hills by Sergei Dovlatov; The Divorce Papers by Susan Rieger; Hyde by Daniel Levine; Cambridge by Girl, Interrupted author Susanna Kaysen; Decoded by Mai Jia; Visible City by Tova Mirvis; The Moon Before Morning by W.S. Merwin; and Caribou by Charles Wright.
The 87th annual California Book Awards, which “recognizes the state’s best writers and illuminate the wealth and diversity of literature written in California,” announced this year’s finalists. The nominees include Rachel Khong‘s Goodbye, Vitamin, Viet Thanh Nguyen‘s The Refugees, and Zinzi Clemmons‘s What We Lose (here’s the full list). From our archives: The Millions’ interview with Khong.
“This is what set Geeshie and Elvie apart even from the rest of an innermost group of phantom geniuses of the ’20s and ’30s. Their myth was they didn’t have anything you could so much as hang a myth on.” John Jeremiah Sullivan investigates more mysterious musicians in The New York Times Magazine. Bonus: You can listen to their music as you read. For more of Sullivan’s music journalism, read his piece on the origins of ska.
“I wanted to offer my students an alternative to the purely confessional mode. I wanted them to write about themselves without falling into a paralyzingly portentous tone. I wanted more humor in their work, more complexity, more detail, more balance—more good writing. I wanted fewer italicized passages, less use of the breathless present tense. I wanted no more tears in the workshop, no more embarrassing scenes.” Emily Fox Gordon writes about trauma narratives in the classroom, the trouble with writing as therapy, and the key differences between confessing and confiding in an essay for The American Scholar.
Thomas Piketty, author of Capital in the 21st Century, has said that he drew inspiration from the social-criticism novels of Austen, Dickens, and Balzac. According to the LA Review of Books, the new Gilded Age that Piketty critiques has generated–and will continue to generate–social novels of its own.
“The joy of reading about the meals of others shows that, in many ways, we are simple creatures: by merely looking upon someone else eating we can feel better fed.” In the New Yorker, Bee Wilson considers the “Pleasures of the Literary Meal,” something Seth Sawyers wrote about for the Millions last year.
Ursula K. Le Guin has died at the age of 88, according to the New York Times and Le Guin’s family. The prolific science fiction and fantasy writer — best known for her Earthsea series and The Left Hand of Darkness — explored themes like politics, gender, religion, and environmentalism. However, Le Guin wrote across genre and published over 20 novels, 100 short stories, 7 essay collections, 13 children’s books, 5 volumes of translation, and a writer’s guide. No stranger to awards, Le Guin most recently won the 2017 Hugo Award for Best Related Work for Words Are My Matter: Writings About Life and Books, 2000-2016. From our archives: The Millions interview with Le Guin from 2013.