“To use the lingo of their era, these novels are square. The protagonists have names like Jane and Barbara; they are not the misfits of which much teen literature is made but instead fundamentally good girls who long to fit in, and usually do … Viewed through the lens of contemporary culture, and especially contemporary teen lit, these girls should be boring and shallow. But Beverly Cleary’s supposedly ordinary girls are complex: resentful of their mothers one moment and sympathetic toward them the next, willing to do anything for one special boy but indignant when they’re taken for granted.” On the unexpectedly complex nature of Beverly Cleary’s boring protagonists with Ruth Graham at Slate.
Why is it okay to say “I’m working on a novel” but not okay to say “I’m working on my novel”? The former is a normal, straightforward, expression, while the latter smacks of arrogance and self-absorption. At Bookforum, Jesse Barron writes about the oddity of Working on My Novel, a collection of retweets (you read that correctly) of writers telling the world about their labors. It might also be a good time to read Dominic Smith on the number of novelists at work in America. (h/t Arts and Letters Daily)
When Electric Literature tells me that Jonathan Lee has "unleashed a literary bombshell of a novel," I set aside my skepticism of the hyperbolic and give it a look. Lee's High Dive "asks us to look at the plethora of thought and self-indulgence—that beautiful minutia—that flourishes in an unharmed life, and to consider how much generous freedom there is in nonviolence."
Out this week: The Big Green Tent by Ludmila Ulitskaya; Hotels of North America by Rick Moody; A Wild Swan: And Other Tales by Michael Cunningham; Dear Mr. You by Mary-Louise Parker; and Rules for a Knight by the actor Ethan Hawke. For more on these and other new titles, go read our Great Second-Half 2015 Book Preview.
What's the best book of the 21st century? To date, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao seems to be the favorite - the BBC polled a few dozen US critics and Junot Diaz's novel came in first place. The full list is available from The Guardian, and includes Zadie Smith's White Teeth and Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, both of which appeared alongside Oscar Wao in our own "Best of the Millennium" list a few years ago.