On average, Neda Ulaby of NPR writes, someone in the world buys a copy of Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar every 30 seconds. The classic picture book, first published in 1969 and since then translated into more than 62 languages, turned 50 yesterday. Asked about its appeal earlier this year, Carle said, “I think it is a book of hope. Children need hope. You, little insignificant caterpillar, can grow up into a beautiful butterfly and fly into the world with your talent. Will I ever be able to do that? Yes, you will. I think that is the appeal of that book.” We’re not crying, you’re crying…
In 2014, Édouard Louis published his first book, The End of Eddy, about his traumatic childhood in northern France. He was 21. This year, he published his third, titled Who Killed My Father. The title, he tells The Guardian in an interview, is “not a question; it’s a declaration.” Louis talks about violence, poverty, and the gilets jaunes movement: “I was bowled over when the movement started and suddenly I saw these bodies we see very little in public spaces and that I try to make visible in my books. The gilets jaunes movement made reality smash right into politics.”
It’s that time again. Out come the bathing suits, floppy hats, and…beach-focused marketing campaigns? For Vulture, Allison Duncan dissects the category of the “beach read,” noting that the typical beach read is written by a woman, and is probably not about the Byzantine Empire—unless that’s what you’re into? “If historical nonfiction has a place in your beach bag,” Duncan writes, “then it’s a beach read.” For the most part, of course, “the best beach reads go down like Hallmark holiday movies—and I mean that in the best possible way.” The beach read, it turns out, contains multitudes.
Tayari Jones won the 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction for her novel An American Marriage.Jones also won the Aspen Words Literary Prize this year, and beat out two Booker Prize winners for the award. Kate Williams, chair of judges for the Women’s Prize, said of An American Marriage: “This is an exquisitely intimate portrait of a marriage shattered by racial injustice. It is a story of love, loss and loyalty, the resilience of the human spirit painted on a big political canvas—that shines a light on today’s America. We all loved this brilliant book.”
Formerly the Orange Prize and Baileys Prize, the Women’s Prize for Fiction recognizes the best English-language novel by a woman published in the U.K. in the previous year. The £30,000 prize celebrates “excellence, originality and accessibility in women’s writing from throughout the world.” It is the U.K.’s only literary prize for fiction by women. Bonus Link: Our quick guide to the 2019 Women’s Prize shortlist—it’s never too late to read the other nominees!
In 1994, Wanda Coleman published American Sonnets, full of sonnets (14 lines, 10 syllables) that—among other things—don’t rhyme. The sonnets in Terrance Hayes’s American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin (2018) pay tribute to Coleman, and continue her project of experimentation with an old, often revered form. For Slate, Stephanie Burt writes about Hayes, American sonnets, and confinement: “Lyric poetry—the poet imagines—works by finding words for someone’s passions, which could also be your own: it can get you out of your one situation, your one body, your one life, though it will not literally free you from a literal jail.” Hayes’s sonnets may intentionally evoke feelings of confinement or discomfort in us, but they also contain the potential to lead toward liberation.
The Lambda Literary Awards named its 2019 winners in a ceremony last night in New York City. The annual award, now in its 31st year, celebrates the “best lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender books of the year and affirm[s] that LGBTQ stories are part of the literature of the world.”
In addition to the category awards, Lambda’s Trustee and Visionary Awards were given to Alexander Chee and Masha Gessen.
The winners of the 2019 Lambda Literary Awards were announced in 24 categories. Here are some highlights:
Lesbian FictionThe Tiger Flu by Larissa Lai
Transgender FictionLittle Fish by Casey PlettLGBTQ NonfictionLooking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry by Imani Perry (A “must read” according to Well-Read Black Girl’s Glory Edim)
Bisexual NonfictionOut of Step: A Memoir by Anthony Moll
Transgender NonfictionHistory of the Transgender Child by Julian Gill-PetersonLesbian Memoir/BiographyChronology by Zahra PattersonGay Memoir/BiographyNo Ashes in the Fire: Coming of Age Black and Free in America by Darnell L. Moore
Graphic NovelThe Lie and How We Told It by Tommi Parrish
Lesbian PoetryEach Tree Could Hold a Noose or a House by Nina Puro
The full list of winners can be found here.
And like that, he was gone. Moby, the electronic music producer (and descendant of Herman Melville) currently elbowing his way back into the cultural imaginary, has cancelled the tour for his new book, which revisits his boom years in the 1990s and 2000s. Among the many famous people Moby writes about in the book is Natalie Portman, who, in a recent Vanity Fair interview, refuted Moby’s claim that the two had dated when she was a teenager and he was in his 30s. As Trupti Rami writes in The Cut, “Dudes need to stop instrumentalizing Natalie Portman’s immense talent and charm to sell books.” Looking at you, Foer.
Photo credit: CiRo
At the University of Virginia, college student book borrowing has decreased from 238,000 books annually to 60,000 books annually in the last 10 years; at Yale, it’s decreased by 64 percent. For The Atlantic, Northeastern University Vice Provost for Information Collaboration Dan Cohen describes the changing landscape of university library use, and the attendant ways in which academics and college students alike do research differently. “These stark statistics,” he writes, “present a conundrum for those who care about libraries and books.” But responses to proposed changes in library organization and administration often rely on emotional, not practical, ideas about what a library should be. Some people even suggest that libraries should retain on-site physical books, despite decreased readership, as a kind of background noise or “beneficial ambiance.” And yet, Cohen writes, “As beautiful as those libraries appear—and I, too, find myself unconsciously responding to such surroundings, having grown up studying in them—we should beware the peril of books as glorified wallpaper. The value of books, after all, is what lies beneath their covers, as lovely as those covers may be.”
Photo credit: Dr. Marcus Gossler.
For The New Yorker, Jill Lepore brings a critical eye to the memoirs of 2020’s Democratic presidential candidates, comparing the lyricism and romance of Pete Buttigieg’s Shortest Way Home to the force and anger of Elizabeth Warren’s This Fight Is Our Fight to the less inspired liberal-cum-Republican coming-of-age narrative in Ronald Reagan’s Where’s the Rest of Me? “Most of the books,” Lepore notes, “are not great books, and some of these people just don’t seem like good people. That doesn’t mean they wouldn’t make good Presidents, I guess, but it raises a question: Why do they write this stuff?” What are political autobiographies really for?
Game of Thrones is dead. Er, over. Oh no! What to read now? Over at Electric Literature, Seth D. Michaels has you covered, suggesting a list of books to read post-GoT that includes work by N.K. Jemisin, Nnedi Okorafor, and Kirstin Downey. “At its best,” Michaels writes, the original book series “is both a page-turning adventure and a revisionist fantasy, surfacing some of the hard questions underneath the tropes of the genre. Who has a legitimate claim on power, and what can they do with it? How does the past determine and constrain today? How can women exert power in a cruel and oppressive world? How do personal relationships shape politics, and vice-versa?”