J.D. Salinger at Home

Notoriously private, J.D. Salinger would not have liked the new exhibit of his family photos, letters, and notes currently on display at the New York Public Library, organized by his son, Matt Salinger. Despite this, the carefully curated collection includes a “phony” publication acceptance letter from Salinger’s mother, a metal bowl Salinger made as a child, and hand-drawn mock-ups of the minimalist book covers that accompany his works. “He sat down in his leather chair in the living room. I remember it was winter time. And he sketched it out. He was focused,” Matt Salinger told The New York Times. “He writes about distrusting the word ‘creativity.’ He always thought it was a space you’re allowed to enter. You’re given things to share by whatever God you think is operative. There’s a release in that, and an ease. It’s not the tortured artist, pounding things out. That was not his affect at all when he was writing. There was joy in it.”

Sarah M. Broom’s New Orleans

In her debut memoir, The Yellow House (which was recently nominated for a National Book Award), Sarah M. Broom writes vividly of her childhood in New Orleans East and charts the city’s drastic changes over the decades. She discusses her connection to her childhood home with Greg Mania in Paper Magazine. “I’m deeply connected to place,” Broom says. “This is an inheritance, I think, an intuitive way for me to be. But also, the yellow house was the place my mother owned, where my mother, Ivory Mae, raised her family. It was a place she made. I knew it was my story to tell the moment I left it. This book, as I see it, is only the beginning of that story.”

‘Goodnight Moon’ Revisited

Margaret Wise Brown’s classic Goodnight Moon has influenced generations of bedtime readers, as seen recently in Eric Betts’s take on the book’s world-building. For the Los Angeles Review of Books, Brian Goedde takes a closer look at the characters within the book, particularly the bunny at the center of the tale. “Children don’t buy their own books, after all,” Goedde writes. “We parents, grandparents, nannies, family friends, babysitters, quiet-old-lady caregivers of every kind continue to read this book because we need to know: while we want our little bunnies to separate-individuate themselves, once they do, what becomes of us?”

The Poet Laureate of Happiness

For The New Yorker, Stephanie Burt examines how the work of poet Seamus Heaney became synonymous with happiness and joy—and how it came to be quoted by presidents and casual readers alike. “It is this later, happier Heaney who comes into his own in his family’s idiosyncratic selection. Almost buoyant, occasionally repetitive, surprised by himself at least as often as he surprised readers, this Heaney remained self-conscious, revisiting and answering earlier verse. ‘The Conway Stewart’ is a fancy pen, the first the poet owned, and the sharp-lined, short-lined poem of that name returns to a three-way comparison in ‘Digging’ (the first poem in his first book), between spade and pen and gun.”

Jane Austen Goes Electric

When we set out to see a film or TV adaptation of Jane Austen’s work, we usually expect a fair amount of bonnets, coy smiles, and men in cravats. For the Atlantic, Helen Lewis looks at more recent Austen adaptations that are turning those expectations on their heads: “These new adaptations make a simple case: Costume dramas are not about wallowing in nostalgia, and Austen was not writing straightforward romances. Sanditon, for example, has an ‘acerbic, screwball tone,’ according to its director, Olly Blackburn—in it, Austen was trying something new. ‘It’s like [Bob] Dylan going electric,’ he told me.”

Tuesday New Release Day: Smith, Jones, Jemc, Dancyger, Marantz

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Zadie Smith, Saeed Jones, Jac Jemc, Lilly Dancyger, Andrew Marantz, and more—that are publishing this week.

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Grand Union by Zadie Smith

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Grand Union: “In Smith’s smart and bewitching story collection, the novelist’s first (after the essay collection Feel Free), the modern world is refracted in ways that are both playful and rigorous, formally experimental and socially aware. A drag queen struggles with aging in ‘Miss Adele Amidst the Corsets’ as she misses the ‘fabled city of the past’ now that ‘every soul on these streets was a stranger.’ A child’s school worksheet spurs a humorous reassessment of storytelling itself in the postmodern ‘Parents’ Morning Epiphany.’ ‘Two Men Arrive in a Village,’ in which a violent duo invades a settlement, aspires to ‘perfection of parable.’ Some stories, including ‘Just Right,’ about a family in prewar Greenwich Village, and the sci-fi ‘Meet the President!,’ in which a privileged boy meets a lower-class English girl, read more like exercises. But more surprising and rewarding are stories constructed of urban impressions and personal conversations, like ‘For the King,’ in which the narrator meets an old friend for dinner in Paris. And the standout ‘The Canker’ uses speculative tropes to reflect on the current political situation: people live harmoniously in storyteller Esorik’s island society, until the new mainland leader, the Usurper, inspires ‘rage’ and the ‘breaking of all the cycles [Esorik] had ever known.’ Smith exercises her range without losing her wry, slightly cynical humor. Readers of all tastes will find something memorable in this collection.”

How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about How We Fight for Our Lives: “Poet Jones (Prelude to Bruise) explores sexual identity, race, and the bond between a mother and child in a powerful memoir filled with devastating moments. As a gay African-American boy growing up in Texas, Jones struggled to find his way. In 1998, at age 12, ‘I thought about being gay all the time,’ he writes, but at home the subject was taboo. Here, Jones candidly discusses his coming of age, his sexual history, and his struggle to love himself. He describes engaging in destructive behavior in college, including repeated relations with a sadistic, racist man, and their encounters graphically illustrate how sex and race can be used as weapons of hate. Jones writes that, at that grim time in his life, he appeared to others to be a happy young man: ‘Standing in front of the mirror, my reflection and I were like rival animals, just moments away from tearing each other limb from limb.’ Jones beautifully records his painful emergence into adulthood and, along the way, he honors his mother, a single parent who struggled to support him financially, sometimes emotionally, but who loved him unconditionally until her death in 2011. Jones is a remarkable, unflinching storyteller, and his book is a rewarding page-turner.”

False Bingo by Jac Jemc

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about False Bingo: “Jemc’s electric, nimble collection (after The Grip of It) plumbs its characters’ most intimate relationships and unearths potent hidden truths. In ‘Delivery,’ a father’s sudden spike in online shopping signifies a troubling development. In ‘Don’t Let’s,’ a woman stays in the Georgia Lowcountry, trying to clear her mind after leaving an abusive relationship, but finds signs of a ghost’s presence in her house. ‘Pastoral,’ about the work of a porn actress who has a husband and two sons, defies convention by having no conflict at all (‘There are no wolves at the door…. There is no obstacle that requires overcoming’). A woman’s stay at a wellness retreat is impinged upon by an overbearing fellow retreater in ‘Maulawiyah.’ In ‘Hunt and Catch,’ a woman named Emily is ominously followed by a man in a garbage truck (‘When he waved, Emily felt like someone had shoved the skin of her face in the direction of his hand’). In ‘Trivial Pursuit,’ an unnamed couple is irritated by the eccentricities of a couple known as the Board Game Couple before dumping them for the Artist Couple, followed by a succession of other couples, each with their own problems. Many of these stories are only a few pages, allowing Jemc to deliver a range of payoffs, some unsettling, some poignant, all evocative. This constantly shifting collection will leave readers beguiled.”

Burn It Down edited by Lily Dancyger

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Burn It Down: “Editor Dancyger collects essays from 22 female writers contemplating (and unleashing) anger, continuing the #MeToo ethos of emotional transparency and righteous indignation, to bracing and powerful effect. The writers are a diverse group and cover a wide range of experiences. Samantha Riedel recalls unlearning a lifetime of aggressive masculine social conditioning after transitioning from male to female, while still harnessing the power of anger to scare off harassers and put TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists) in their place. Lisa Marie Basile documents years of suffering from a chronic illness and having her symptoms minimized by doctors and friends alike, declaring her refusal to be dismissed: ‘There is too much beauty in being alive to silence my intuition, to ignore my body, to not sing its needs and demand they be met.’ Evette Dionne writes of the ‘angry black woman’ stereotype, and how it silences women and shapes perceptions of famous African-American women such as Serena Williams. Other rage-inducing topics include intentional misgendering, religious discrimination, sexism in the classroom, and perimenopause. As Dancyger notes in her introduction, women’s anger has long been trivialized and discredited, but this collection allows that anger the space to flourish. It is a cathartic and often inspiring reading experience.”

Ghosts of Berlin by Rudolph Herzog

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Ghosts of Berlin: “Everyday problems are complicated by weird plot thickeners in these seven vivid and intriguing stories from the author of A Short History of Nuclear Folly. A filmmaker as well and the son of director Werner Herzog, Herzog writes relatively lengthy stories told in short cuts; the reader has time to inhabit the world of the protagonist before the plot turns dark, often with a strain of deadpan humor. In ‘Needle and Thread,’ Bjorn is so wrapped up in his corporate dealings that he ignores, at his own peril, the pleas of his daughter, Alena, about a figure lurking in her bedroom. In ‘Key,’ the admittedly neurotic violinist Stiebel struggles to adjust to his new apartment and a move to Berlin. He develops a complicated relationship with a prickly neighbor named Wondrak, who triggers inexplicable emotions in him. In ‘Tandem,’ Greek immigrant and language teacher Dmitri finds himself drawn to his sweet German student Lotte, until she commits a shockingly rapacious act. The common thread in the stories is the city of Berlin and the dark shadows in its history. These links unfold in different ways as each story progresses. That this history is rarely addressed directly adds tension and resonance. The macabre mischief in Herzog’s tales is far from benign and speaks eloquently to the anxiety of modern life.”

The Furies by Katie Lowe

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Furies: “Lowe’s powerful and atmospheric debut features a troubled young woman who becomes entangled in witchcraft and murder at a private British all-girls school. Soon after starting at Elm Hollow Academy, teen Violet Taylor falls in with Alex, Grace, and their chain-smoking, impossibly cool ringleader, Robin, and begins drinking, shoplifting, and taking drugs. She especially bonds with Robin and joins an exclusive study group where the girls explore the ‘great women of art and literature,’ including the rumors that Elm Hollow’s founder was a powerful witch. After Violet is sexually assaulted , she and her friends perform a dark revenge ritual involving animal sacrifice. When the brutalized body of student Emily Frost, who was missing for months, is found in the elm in Elm Hollow’s courtyard, the girls pin her murder on the dean, leading to further shocking violence. Lowe’s sinuous prose weaves a disturbing tale of friendship, obsession, and revenge, and readers must decide whether Violet is a trustworthy narrator. Those who thrill to dark coming-of-age tales with a dash of the uncanny will find much to enjoy.”

Antisocial by Andrew Marantz

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Antisocial: “Marantz, a staff writer at the New Yorker, makes a timely and excellent debut with his chronicle of how a ‘motley cadre of edgelords’ gleefully embraced social media to spread their ‘puerile’ brand of white nationalism. In examining how ‘the unthinkable became thinkable’ in American politics, he narrates that tech entrepreneurs disrupted the old ways of vetting and spreading information—including the traditional media of which Marantz identifies himself as a part—but refused to take up a role as gatekeepers, and the white nationalists seeped in like poison. Marantz profiles alt-right figures and tech titans alike: vlogger Cassandra Fairbanks, Proud Boys leader Gavin McInnes, antifeminist Mike Cernovich, Reddit founder Steve Huffman (who experimented with gatekeeping by deleting the site’s forum dedicated to the ‘Pizzagate’ conspiracy theory), The Filter Bubble author and tech entrepreneur Eli Pariser, and clickbait startup CEO Emerson Spartz, who opines, ‘If it gets shared, it’s quality.’ A running theme is how journalists should cover ‘a racist movement full of hypocrites and liars,’ and, indeed, Marantz doesn’t shy away from asking pointed questions or noting his subjects’ inconsistencies. This insightful and well-crafted book is a must-read account of how quickly the ideas of what’s acceptable public discourse can shift.”

A New Generation of Historical Epics

A new generation of African women writers are taking on the task of narrating their histories and imagining their futures. For the Christian Science Monitor, Ryan Lenora Brown delves into the ways these writers are rewriting the historical epic. “This is a generation [of African writers] that isn’t just writing about colonialism and postcolonialism, or just looking at African governance and its failures,” says Petina Gappah, a Zimbabwean writer and author of the novel, Out of Darkness, Shining Light. “We write history. We write romance. We write science fiction. In this generation we have gained the freedom to write about the things that American and European authors write about, which is to say anything we choose.”

Jane Eyre Goes Global

Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre has been reaching readers across generations and languages, as seen by the fact that it has been translated into at least 57 languages, at least 593 times. Matthew Reynolds examines how the novel became a global phenomenon, as well as how translators all over the world approach the text. “What was a thoroughly English book—anchored to Yorkshire and published in 1847—becomes a multilingual, ever-changing global text, continually putting down roots in different cultures. In Iran there have been 29 translations of Jane Eyre since 1980. When Korean is taught in a school in Vietnam, a translation of Jane Eyre is on the syllabus, as an example of Korean literature.”

To the Far Sector with N.K. Jemisin

With a list that includes Roxane Gay, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Rainbow Rowell, and more, it seems that more and more authors are writing for comic books. Hugo award-winning sci-fi and fantasy writer N.K. Jemisin spoke to Charles Pulliam-Moore at io9 about scripting the new Green Lantern series, Far Sector, for DC Comics. “To me, a good story leaves them thinking about how societies are structured and how criminal justice actually operates,” Jemisin says, “how government, in some cases, defend themselves instead of their people. Things like that. I want people to think about these things, because, to me, that’s what makes a good story. But if they want to just do, ‘Oh my God, the new Green Lantern’s eyebrow game is always on point. It’s the best.’ That’s cool, too.”