The finalists for the John Leonard Prize — for a first book in any genre — were announced by the National Book Critics Circle. This year’s finalists are Lesley Nneka Arimah‘s What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky, Julie Buntin‘s Marlena, Zinzi Clemmons’ What We Lose, Layli Long Soldier’s Whereas, Carmen Maria Machado‘s Her Body and Other Parties, and Gabriel Tallent‘s My Absolute Darling. The winner will be announced in January. Pair with: Buntin’s 2017 Year in Reading entry.
“I do not find it unusual that many writers I know acquire vintage clothes, buy old homes, and rescue animals. For one, we don’t have Wall Street salaries, and secondly, we’re suckers for backstory, particularly that which is left to the imagination. Our job, after all, is to make up lives, engage in epic games of pretend.” Megan Mayhew Bergman writes for Ploughshares about collecting cast-off objects, “the chaos of memories,” and becoming a writer. Pair with David L. Ulin‘s reflection on Bergman’s essay and the way we think about memory, written for the LA Times.
“It is so chic to be an author. To be known for one’s writing is to be truly known, do you not think?” Mindy Kaling states in the beginning of B.J. Novak’s French New Wave satire book trailer. Novak isn’t just Ryan from The Office, he also writes fiction. His short story collection, One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories, will be out February 4th, but in the meantime, you can read an excerpt at NPR.
“I lived alone for three years in Brooklyn, paying $1,700 a month ($61,200 all told) for a pretty but small one-bedroom within eyeshot of the Brooklyn–Queens Expressway. I also spent $400 a month on health insurance. At one point I thought I would find another full-time job after finishing the book, but then I must have convinced myself that teaching yoga part time would better enable my writing.” Emily Gould on poverty and the writing life.
Jessica Love writes for The American Scholar about some recent psychological studies on the art and perspective of storytelling. Of particular interest is the way “the first person does seem to encourage us to identify with the narrator, especially when that narrator is a lot like us.” Not that identifying with narrators is the primary purpose of reading, as the New Yorker reminds us in a piece against “relatability,” but it’s something to consider the next time you pick up a novel and find a character who seems to be just like you.
What inspired Samuel Clemens to change his name to Mark Twain? Was it a Mississippi riverboat captain? Did he earn it by “drinking at a one-bit saloon in Virginia City, Nevada?” Or, as rare book dealer Kevin Mac Donnell now alleges in the new issue of Mark Twain Journal, did the author find his pseudonym in a popular humor journal?