A Tale for the Time Being

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Lydia Kiesling in the Tournament of Books

This week, our own Lydia Kiesling took part in The Morning News Tournament of Books, where she adjudicated a showdown between Scott McClanahan’s Hill William and Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being. Who went on to the next round: the trans-Pacific odyssey, or the tale of West Virginia? (You could also read our own Edan Lepucki’s Tournament contribution from last year, or else read our own Nick Moran’s Year in Reading piece on Scott McClanahan.)

Judging Books by Their Covers 2014: U.S. Vs. U.K.

As we’ve done for several years now, we thought it might be fun to compare the U.S. and U.K. book cover designs of this year’s Morning News Tournament of Books contenders. Book cover art is an interesting element of the literary world — sometimes fixated upon, sometimes ignored — but, as readers, we are undoubtedly swayed by the little billboard that is the cover of every book we read. And, while some of us no longer do all of our reading on physical books with physical covers, those same cover images now beckon us from their grids in the various online bookstores. From my days as a bookseller, when import titles would sometimes find their way into our store, I’ve always found it especially interesting that the U.K. and U.S. covers often differ from one another. This would seem to suggest that certain layouts and imagery will better appeal to readers on one side of the Atlantic rather than the other. These differences are especially striking when we look at the covers side by side.

The American covers are on the left, and the UK are on the right. Your equally inexpert analysis is encouraged in the comments.


So this is interesting. It would seem that us American readers require more orbs to get us interested in a novel of Victorian scope and heft. I like the slightly more subtle U.K. look


The U.S. version is a little dull though it has a pleasing spareness to it and I like the vintage botanical illustration thing going on there. I far prefer it to the U.K. cover. I get that there’s a handmade motif happening but the colors are jarring to my eye.


I don’t think you would ever see a cover that looks so “genre” on a literary novel in the U.S., and it kind of makes sense with Hamid’s self-help-inflected title and the “Filthy Rich” in a giant font. The U.S. cover is aggressively boring.


Both are bold, but I prefer the U.S. cover. The burnt tablecloth is a more original image than the lobster.


I suspect I may be in the minority here, but I prefer the U.S. cover which seems to bank on the Lahiri name, rather than the U.K., edition which seems to telegraph the subcontinental content.


Neither of these seems to be exerting much effort to break out of the Western-genre tradition, but the U.S. version’s painterly affect at least gives it a little intrigue.


At first glance, both of these appear to be going for the creative use of classic Asian motifs, but the British cover is actually pretty wild, using something called “Blippar technology” to produce an animated effect when you look at it with a smartphone. So, points for innovation in book cover design.


Both of these are pretty great, but I love the U.S. cover. It’s clever to have a YA book with a cover that looks drawn by the hand of a precocious teen. It kind of reminds me of the similar design philosophy of the 2007 movie Juno.


Drawings inspired by vintage botany texts must be in this year. Here we have two different versions of the same idea, but the U.S. take is more lush and interesting.


Atkinson is a superstar in the U.K. (as opposed to merely having legions of devoted fans in the U.S.) so that may account for the foregrounding of her name on the U.K. cover. Regardless, the U.S. look is far more intriguing.


The Flamethrowers unaccountably didn’t get a Tournament bid, but it should have, so we’ll include it here, especially because it’s a great example of some seriously bold cover design going on on both sides of the pond.

2013 National Book Critics Circle Award Finalists Announced

The finalists for the annual National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) Award have been announced. The fiction list includes one of the biggest fiction releases of last year and a book in translation. As often tends to be the case, the NBCC is offering up what may be the most well-rounded fiction shortlist you’ll find. Here are the finalists for fiction and non-fiction with excerpts and other links where available. As a side note, the NBCC award is particularly interesting in that it is one of the few major awards that pits American books against overseas (usually British) books. Finally, this was first year of the new John Leonard Prize, which goes to a debut work and was awarded to Anthony Marra for A Constellation of Vital Phenomena.

Fiction

Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch (excerptJanice Clark’s Year in ReadingAdam Dalva’s essay)
Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, Americanah (excerptthe author’s Year in Reading)
Ruth Ozeki, A Tale for the Time Being (excerptDani Shapiro’s Year in Reading)
Alice McDermott, Someone (excerptthe author’s Year in Reading)
Javier Marias, The Infatuations (excerptour review)

        

Nonfiction

Kevin Cullen and Shelley Murphy, Whitey Bulger (excerpt)
Sheri Fink, Five Days at Memorial (excerpt)
David Finkel, Thank You for Your Service (excerpt)
George Packer, The Unwinding (excerptour review)
Lawrence Wright, Going Clear (excerpt, Aleksandar Hemon’s Year in Reading)

    

For more on the NBCC Awards and the finalists in the other categories, visit the NBCC.

A Year in Reading: Dani Shapiro

It was a year of piles of books. Piles and piles stacked around my office floor, resting on my nightstand, even perched precariously on the top of the stairway banister. These piles competed and collided in my mind every day. Do I begin the morning reading for work? Reading for pleasure? Sometimes these were the same.

In the category of re-reading, I discovered Mrs. Dalloway anew, and –– if you’ll forgive the analogy –– it was like being prescribed exactly the right SSRI. Interior life! Laid out in all of its intricacy, and yet the product of a turbulent mind. As a writer, it gave me hope for my own turbulent mind. And as I wrote to the Buddhist teacher and writer Jack Kornfield (whose book, After the Ecstasy, the Laundry, wins my vote for most awesome title) it made me think of Woolf as an accidental Buddhist. Next up on the re-read list was Elizabeth Hardwick’s Sleepless Nights. I’ve been pressing this book into students’ hands for years, and finally it is most deservedly back in print. A hybrid of novel and memoir, an extraordinary evocation of pure consciousness, I fear I’ll turn off readers by saying that Sleepless Nights is entirely without plot, but bear with me when I tell you that this doesn’t prevent it from being its own kind of page-turner.

Ruth Ozeki’s novel, A Tale for the Time Being was one of the only books published this year that I was able to rescue from the endless stacks and read purely and simply for pleasure. It’s a daring, exciting novel that defies categorization. Rebecca Lee’s Bobcat was a favorite story collection, and I now want to read everything she writes. Chris Belden’s novel Shriver  ­­­­­–– an example of a terrific book brought out by a tiny press (Rain Mountain) –– is a send-up of academia and literary pretension, as well as a poignant exploration of writerly insecurity. As a side note, Belden has written a hilarious song all about writerly insecurity, an ode to the author photographer Marion Ettlinger. (“Marion Ettlinger/Won’t you take my picture…”)

This being a year that I was finishing my own book about writing, I also read or re-read a fair number of writing books, and discovered that some of the classics hold up beautifully: Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, of course. As well as Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. A new discovery was Beth Kephart’s Handling the Truth, a must for memoirists.

More from A Year in Reading 2013

Don’t miss: A Year in Reading 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

The good stuff: The Millions’ Notable articles

The motherlode: The Millions’ Books and Reviews

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Famous Names and Newcomers on the 2013 Booker Shortlist (With Excerpts)

Colm Toibin and Jhumpa Lahiri headline the 2013 Booker shortlist, which also offers newer names like NoViolet Bulawayo, making the list with her first novel, and Eleanor Catton, shortlisted for her second. The longlist was offered here with some excerpts a month ago, but since you might not have gotten around to them then, we’ll offer the same with the shortlist below.

We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo (excerpt)
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton (publisher synopsis)
Harvest by Jim Crace (excerpt)
The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri (excerpt)
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki (review)
The Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín (Millions review, excerpt)

The Booker’s Dozen: The 2013 Booker Longlist

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In a welcome change of pace from the customarily masculine lists of years past, the 2013 Booker Prize longlist is notable because women outnumber men. The thirteen novels on this year’s “Booker Prize dozen” are from an eclectic mix of up-and-comers as well as established heavy hitters. Interestingly, only Colm Tóibín and Jim Crace have previously been featured on Booker longlists. Meanwhile NoViolet Bulawayo, Eleanor Catton, Eve Harris, and Donal Ryan are each making their first appearances. This year’s longlist is among the most diverse ever put out by the Booker judges. In total, seven different countries are represented by the authors of these books.

All the Booker Prize longlisters are below (with excerpts where available):

Five Star Billionaire by Tash Aw (excerpt)
We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo (review)
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton (publisher synopsis)
Harvest by Jim Crace (excerpt)
The Marrying of Chani Kaufman by Eve Harris
The Kills by Richard House (author interview)

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri (excerpt)
Unexploded by Alison MacLeod
TransAtlantic by Colum McCann (Millions review, author interview)

Almost English by Charlotte Mendelson (YouTube video of author discussion)
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki (review)

The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan (YouTube video of author reading)

The Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín (Millions review, excerpt)

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