Lists

Brontë Essentials: Six Modern Books Inspired by ‘Jane Eyre’

As we celebrate Charlotte Brontë’s 201st birthday this month, it’s hard not to feel awe for a woman who not only rose to literary stardom against all odds, but managed to keep her storied place in literary history for two centuries. Evidence of Brontë’s enduring popularity is everywhere, not least in the large number of adaptations and re-tellings her books have inspired. Spin-offs have produced wonderfully beloved novels in their own right, and their pace of production doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Check out these six books -- wildly different in tone and style -- that all share the same inspiration: Charlotte Brontë. 1. The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde The Eyre Affair takes place in an alternative 1985, where you can, quite literally, become lost in a novel. The protagonist, Thursday Next, is a seasoned “literary detective” who faces a career-changing challenge the day that Jane Eyre is suddenly and inexplicably kidnapped from her own novel. “The barriers between reality and fiction are softer than we think,” warns one Fforde’s characters, “a bit like a frozen lake. Hundreds of people can walk across it, but then one evening a thin spot develops and someone falls through; the hole is frozen over by the following morning.” A fun, clever read for anyone who loves speculative fiction. 2. Reader, I Married Him, edited by Tracy Chevalier Jane Eyre’s famous line, “Reader, I married him,” is the springboard for this recent short story collection, which features Brontë-inspired short stories from 21 of today’s great female writers, including Helen Dunmore, Sarah Hall, Emma Donoghue, and Evie Wyld. The central quote is an important one; “Reader, I married him” was a revolutionary declaration in 1847. Jane was not being chosen -- rather, she was doing the choosing. Brontë fans will particularly enjoy the stories told from the perspective of Rochester and Grace Poole. 3. Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier This is terrific read for anyone who loves mystery, romance, and Jane Eyre. Rebecca, while not a governess, is similarly undignified as a "paid companion." Both Rebecca and Jane are barely adults when they meet their mysterious future husbands, both men with dark secrets in their past (the secret in each case is an estranged wife). Both Jane and Rebecca go to live in a gothic manor that is, conveniently, brimming with secrets. However, the comparison between the two novels is not perfect, and Rebecca has many delightful surprises of its own, the most interesting being the oft-debated subtext surrounding Mrs. Danvers. If you love the book, definitely watch Alfred Hitchcock’s film adaptation. 4. The Brontë Cabinet: Three Lives in Nine Objects, by Deborah Lutz It’s hard to believe there’s anything left to reveal about the Brontës' lives, but Lutz proves us wrong! This detailed biography tells the story of the Brontë sisters through the lens of the physical objects they used every day, from their portable writing desks to their walking sticks. Each possession paints an intimate picture of the Brontës and gives us a unique window into their lives. One of the most powerful chapters centers around an amethyst bracelet Charlotte wore after the death of her sisters. The bracelet is made from the hair of Anne and Emily, a symbol of Charlotte’s grief and enduring affection. 5. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys In this spell-binding novel, Rhys gives us the prequel to Jane Eyre, starting from when Bertha (then named Antionette Cosway) was an heiress living in Jamaica. Rhys uses the backstory of Jane Eyre’s infamous madwoman to explore the legacy of colonialism, and what happens to a woman who no longer has control over her life. Suffering from a deep identity crisis and spiritual suffocation at the hands of her husband, we learn how and why Bertha spirals into insanity. “I often wonder who I am and where is my country and where do I belong and why was I ever born at all,” she says. 6. Jane Steele, by Lyndsay Faye Reader, I murdered him? In this Brontë-inspired novel, Jane Steele is a orphan who appears similar to Jane Eyre except for one small thing: she’s a serial killer. The novel explores what happens when a defenseless underdog in Victorian England takes an inner rebelliousness to the ultimate extreme. In an interview with Read It Forward, Faye explains her unorthodox choice: “Is Jane Steele right to consider herself evil? If you kill for self-defense, is that unforgivable? What about killing for love? What about killing to protect a helpless child from a predator? When is doing the wrong thing actually the right thing?” Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Prizes

The Man Booker International Prize Shortlist

Last year, the Man Booker International Prize evolved from its previous iteration and joined forces with the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize to award £50,000 to a single work of fiction in translation, split between the author and translator (Han Kang and translator Deborah Smith took home the 2016 honors for The Vegetarian). This year's shortlist is below -- find more details about the titles here. Mathias Énard (France), Compass, translated by Charlotte Mandell (Fitzcarraldo Editions) David Grossman (Israel), A Horse Walks Into a Bar, translated by Jessica Cohen (Jonathan Cape) Roy Jacobsen (Norway), The Unseen, translated by Don Bartlett and Don Shaw (Maclehose) Dorthe Nors (Denmark), Mirror Shoulder Signal, translated by Misha Hoekstra (Pushkin Press) Amos Oz (Israel), Judas, translated by Nicholas de Lange (Chatto & Windus) Samanta Schweblin (Argentina), Fever Dream, translated by Megan McDowell (Oneworld)
Prizes

The 2017 BTBA Finalists for Fiction and Poetry

Last month, we unveiled the longlists for the Best Translated Book Awards (BTBA), an award founded by Three Percent that comes with a $5,000 prize for author and translator alike. Below, behold the finalists. The winner will be announced at a ceremony in New York and at The Millions on May 4. For more information on the award, its history, the judges, etc., please visit the official Best Translated Book Award site and the official BTBA Facebook page, and follow the award on Twitter. Best Translated Book Award 2017: Fiction Finalists Wicked Weeds by Pedro Cabiya, translated from the Spanish by Jessica Powell (Dominican Republic, Mandel Vilar Press) Chronicle of the Murdered House by Lúcio Cardoso, translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa and Robin Patterson (Brazil, Open Letter Books) Eve Out of Her Ruins by Ananda Devi, translated from the French by Jeffrey Zuckerman (Mauritius, Deep Vellum) Zama by Antonio di Benedetto, translated from the Spanish by Esther Allen (Argentina, New York Review Books) Doomi Golo by Boubacar Boris Diop, translated from the Wolof by Vera Wülfing-Leckie and El Hadji Moustapha Diop (Senegal, Michigan State University Press) War and Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans, translated from the Dutch by David McKay (Belgium, Pantheon) Umami by Laia Jufresa, translated from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes (Mexico, Oneworld) Oblivion by Sergi Lebedev, translated from the Russian by Antonina W. Bouis (Russia, New Vessel Press) Ladivine by Marie NDiaye, translated from the French by Jordan Stump (France, Knopf) Among Strange Victims by Daniel Saldaña Paris, translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney (Mexico, Coffee House Press)       Best Translated Book Award 2017: Poetry Finalists Berlin-Hamlet by Szilárd Borbély, translated from the Hungarian by Ottilie Mulzet (Hungary, New York Review Books) Of Things by Michael Donhauser, translated from the German by Nick Hoff and Andrew Joron (Austria, Burning Deck Press) Cheer Up, Femme Fatale by Yideum Kim, translated from the Korean by Ji Yoon Lee, Don Mee Choi, and Johannes Göransson (South Korea, Action Books) In Praise of Defeat by Abdellatif Laâbi, translated from the French by Donald Nicholson-Smith (Morocco, Archipelago Books) Extracting the Stone of Madness by Alejandra Pizarnik, translated from the Spanish by Yvette Siegert (Argentina, New Directions) (read our review)  
Prizes

The 2017 International DUBLIN Literary Award Shortlist

The International DUBLIN Literary Award (formerly known as the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award) is the world’s most valuable annual literary award for a single work of fiction published in English, clocking in at €100,000. Now in its 22nd year, the award is sponsored by the Dublin City Council and managed by the city's libraries. This year's titles were nominated by public libraries in Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Croatia, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Scotland, Sweden and the USA, according to the award's website. The shortlisted titles are: A General Theory of Oblivion by José Eduardo Agualusa, translated from the Portuguese by Daniel Hahn Confession of the Lioness by Mia Couto, translated from the Portuguese by David Brookshaw The Green Road by Anne Enright The Prophets of Eternal Fjord by Kim Leine, translated from the Danish by Martin Aitken The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli, translated from the Spanish by  Christina MacSweeney The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta A Strangeness in My Mind by Orhan Pamuk, translated from the Turkish by Ekin Oklap A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler, translated from the German by Charlotte Collins A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara 
Prizes

The 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction Goes to Colson Whitehead

  The Pulitzer jury named Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad this year's winner in the fiction category. Here are this year's Pulitzer winners and finalists with bonus links: Fiction: Winner: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (Millions review) Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett The Sport of Kings by C. E. Morgan     General Nonfiction: Winner: Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond In a Different Key: The Story of Autism by John Donvan and Caren Zucker The Politics of Mourning: Death and Honor in Arlington National Cemetery by Micki McElya   History: Winner: Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy by Heather Ann Thompson Brothers at Arms: American Independence and the Men of France and Spain Who Saved It by Larrie D. Ferreiro New England Bound: Slavery and Colonization in Early America by Wendy Warren   Biography or Autobiography: Winner: The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between by Hisham Matar In the Darkroom by Susan Faludi When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi (Millions review)   Poetry: Winner: Olio by Tyehimba Jess Collected Poems: 1950-2012 by Adrienne Rich XX: Poems for the Twentieth Century by Campbell McGrath   Winners and finalists in other categories are available at the Pulitzer Web site.
The Millions Top 10

The Millions Top Ten: March 2017

  We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for March. This Month Last Month Title On List 1. 1. Norwegian by Night 4 months 2. 3. Lincoln in the Bardo 2 months 3. 2. The Trespasser 6 months 4. 4. Moonglow 5 months 5. 8. A Separation 2 months 6. 5. The North Water 4 months 7. 6. Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living 2 months 8. 10. Homesick for Another World 3 months 9. 7. Commonwealth 6 months 10. - Swing Time 2 months   News broke recently that Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad will be adapted for the screen by Moonlight director Barry Jenkins, and it's hard to say what Whitehead's going to celebrate more: that wonderful development, or the fact that his novel, after a six-month run on our Top Ten list, has at last graduated to our site's hallowed Hall of Fame. Regardless, it can be said that good news seldom comes alone. Filling the open spot on our list is Zadie Smith, whose latest novel, Swing Time, returns to our list after a three-month absence. (It first cracked the rankings in December.) At this pace, look for Smith, who's previously reached our Hall of Fame four years ago with NW, to send her second work there in March 2018. Elsewhere on the list, several titles swapped positions, and George Saunders's Lincoln In the Bardo overtook Tana French's The Trespasser to claim second place. On our site this week, Millions staffer Jacob Lambert penned a simultaneously hysterical and haunting "modern" adaptation of Saunders's first novel, featuring a lumbering, slovenly beast by now familiar to us all: Even in the gloom, his skin held an unhealthy rusty glow; his hair, if one might call it that, had an aspect of spun sugar, though it did not appetize. Meanwhile, Manjula Martin's Scratch anthology - which chronicles the ways writers do and do not make money from their craft -- held fast in the middle of our list. Millions editor Lydia Kiesling caught up with Martin last week to discuss the way the book came to be, the struggles of trying to make a living from writing, and how writers, editors, and publishers alike feel about the same: On the one hand I’m like yeah, people who do work should be paid. On the other hand…there is a way in which artistic value cannot be quantified. These two things can be true at the same time. But I think where things become far less ambivalent is when it comes to writing for publications and companies that make a lot of money off your work while you’re not making money off your work. Skulking just beyond our Top Ten ranks this month are two particularly notable titles: Ill Will by Dan Chaon, who was recently interviewed by Edan Lepucki; and Yaa Gyasi's Homegoing, which made it to the Championship Round of the Tournament of Books. Will either break into the rankings of our list next time? Well, there's only one way to find out. This month's other near misses included: Here I Am, Version Control, and The Nix. See Also: Last month's list.
Book Previews, Lists

April Preview: The Millions Most Anticipated (This Month)

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We wouldn’t dream of abandoning our vast semi–annual Most Anticipated Book Previews, but we thought a monthly reminder would be helpful (and give us a chance to note titles we missed the first time around).  Here’s what we’re looking out for this month. For more April titles, check out the Great First-Half 2017 Preview, and let us know what you're looking forward to in the comments. Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout: “As I was writing My Name Is Lucy Barton,” said Strout, the New York Times bestselling author and Pulitzer Prize winner, of her 2016 novel, “it came to me that all the characters Lucy and her mother talked about had their own stories.” Anything is Possible was written in tandem to Lucy Barton. For Strout’s many devoted readers, this novel promises to expand on and add depth to the story, while exploring themes for love, loss, and hope in a work that, “recalls Olive Kitteridge in its richness, structure, and complexity.” (Claire) Marlena by Julie Buntin: I was lucky enough to read an advance copy of Buntin’s remarkable debut novel, about an intense friendship between two young women in rural Michigan, and I agree with Stephanie Danler, author of Sweetbitter, who calls it “lacerating.” Aside from a riveting story and nuanced characters, Buntin has also delivered an important story about addiction and poverty in middle America. In its starred review, Booklist called it “Ferrante-esque.” (Edan)   American War by Omar El Akkad: El Akkad is an award-winning Canadian journalist, whose reporting has ranged from the war in Afghanistan to the protests in Ferguson, Mo. His brilliant and supremely disquieting debut novel opens in 2074, at the outbreak of the Second American Civil War, and follows a young Louisiana girl, Sarat Chestnut, as time and conflict gradually transform her from a child into a weapon. (Emily)   The Last Neanderthal by Claire Cameron: Our own Cameron returns with a new novel about two women separated by, oh, only 40,000 years: Girl, the eldest daughter in the last family of Neanderthals, and present-day archeologist Rosamund Gale, who is excavating Neanderthal ruins while pregnant. How these two stories echo and resonate with one another will be just one of its delights. Such an ingenious premise could only come from the writer who brought us The Bear, which O, The Oprah Magazine deemed “a tender, terrifying, poignant ride” and which People gave 4 stars, saying “it could do for camping what Jaws did for swimming.” (Edan) No One Is Coming to Save Us by Stephanie Powell Watts: A novel about a black family in North Carolina dealing with economic decline, outsourcing, and the legacy of Jim Crow. Watts's debut has been pitched as a contemporary retelling of The Great Gatsby, but Ron Charles writes in the The Washington Post that Watts hasn't done merely another reboot; she has written a "sonorous, complex novel that’s entirely her own." (Lydia)     A Little More Human by Fiona Maazel: A new novel from the author of Woke Up Lonely, Maazel's latest is a superhero story about a mild-mannered mind-reader slash nursing assistant from Staten Island dealing with personal and professional strife. It sounds as though Maazel has rifled deftly through genres to create something in a class entirely by itself. (Lydia)       Borne by Jeff VanderMeer: A much-awaited new offering from the author of the breakout hit Southern Reach trilogy (the first volume of which will be a movie later this year). The titular Borne is a small, living "green lump" adopted by a lonely young woman living in a post-apocalyptic city plagued by a roving bear and hazardous waste. Colson Whitehead calls Borne "a thorough marvel." (Lydia)     The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch: In a new kind of world, we need a new kind of hero and a reimagined Joan of Arc from Yuknavitch seems like just the thing. Following her widely lauded The Small Backs of Children, this novel takes place in the near future after world wars have turned the Earth into a war zone. Those surviving are sexless, hairless, pale-white creatures who write stories on their skin, but a group of rebels rally behind a cult leader named Jean de Men. Roxane Gay calls it, “a searing condemnation, and fiercely imaginative retelling.” (Claire) The Woman Who Had Two Navels and Tales of the Tropical Gothic by Nick Joaquin: The first U.S. appearance of one of the Philippines' most distinguished writers, pegged to the centenary of his birth. Joaquin, who died in 2004, wrote in English and set much of his work -- which included two novels and several collections of short stories in addition to essays, plays, and criticism -- in post-WWII Manila, exploring themes of colonialism and liberation, Catholicism and folklore. An exciting introduction for uninitiated American readers into Joaquin's oeuvre. (Lydia) What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah: This debut collection of short stories, which takes its name from a story published in Catapult in 2015 to wide acclaim — one that seamlessly blends magical realism and a kind of sci-fi, resulting in a one-of-a-kind dystopia — announces the arrival of a brilliant new talent. Don’t take our word for it: one story, “Who Will Greet You at Home,” appeared in The New Yorker and was a National Magazine Award finalist, and others are already drawing high praise from across the publishing community. These stories explore the ties that bind us together, but in magical, even subversive forms. (Kaulie)   Such Small Hands by Andrés Barba: The first offering from a new, Oakland-based, translation-focused nonprofit publisher Transit Press Books, this is the fourth of Spanish novelist Barba's books to appear in English. The novel relates the story of a new girl in an orphanage, and the sinister game she invents with her co-residents.  The novel is translated by Lisa Dillman, with an afterword by Edmund White. In a starred review Kirkus warns, "Barba’s girls, and their game, will linger in the minds of his readers." (Lydia)  
Prizes

Announcing the 2017 BTBA Longlists for Fiction and Poetry

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Listed below are the 35 titles on this year’s Best Translated Book Award longlists for fiction and poetry -- the 10th time that these lists have been released. And the sixth year in which, thanks to an Amazon Literary Partnership, the winning authors and translators will each receive $5,000 cash prizes. Founded in 2008 by Three Percent at the University or Rochester, the award has grown exponentially over the past 10 years. The focus on finding the best books in translation from the past year has been constant, but the pool of eligible titles has expanded from 360 in 2008 to more than 600 for this year’s award. For these longlists, the 14 judges -- nine for fiction, five for poetry -- considered works written by authors from 87 countries in 54 different languages, and published in English by 179 distinct presses. This increase in the number of books coming out is incredibly impressive, but so is the fact that so many more translators are getting their works published in comparison to a few years back. Reflecting that, of the 40 translators included on these longlists, 29 (73 percent) are receiving this honor for the first time ever. In short, it’s an exciting time for international literature, and the breadth and diversity of these longlists reflect that. From established authors like Javier Marías to new voices like Basma Abdel Aziz, from works of speculative fiction like Wicked Weeds to family sagas from Senegal like Doomi Golo, there’s something on here for every type of reader. To help you find the books that you most want to read, Three Percent will be running short “Why This Book Should Win the BTBA” posts for all 35 titles over the next few weeks as we build up to the announcement of the finalists on Tuesday, April 18. (Also right here at The Millions.) For more information on the award, it’s history, the judges, etc., please visit the official Best Translated Book Award site and the official BTBA Facebook page, and follow the award on Twitter. Best Translated Book Award 2017: Fiction Longlist The Queue by Basma Abdel Aziz, translated from the Arabic by Elisabeth Jaquette (Egypt, Melville House) (read Abdel Aziz's Year in Reading) The Young Bride by Alessandro Baricco, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein (Italy, Europa Editions) Wicked Weeds by Pedro Cabiya, translated from the Spanish by Jessica Powell (Dominican Republic, Mandel Vilar Press) Chronicle of the Murdered House by Lúcio Cardoso, translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa and Robin Patterson (Brazil, Open Letter Books) On the Edge by Rafael Chirbes, translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa (Spain, New Directions) Eve Out of Her Ruins by Ananda Devi, translated from the French by Jeffrey Zuckerman (Mauritius, Deep Vellum) Zama by Antonio di Benedetto, translated from the Spanish by Esther Allen (Argentina, New York Review Books) A Spare Life by Lidija Dimkovska, translated from the Macedonian by Christina Kramer (Macedonia, Two Lines Press) Doomi Golo by Boubacar Boris Diop, translated from the Wolof by Vera Wülfing-Leckie and El Hadji Moustapha Diop (Senegal, Michigan State University Press) Night Prayers by Santiago Gamboa, translated from the Spanish by Howard Curtis (Colombia, Europa Editions) Angel of Oblivion by Maja Haderlap, translated from the German by Tess Lewis (Germany, Archipelago Books) (read our review) War and Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans, translated from the Dutch by David McKay (Belgium, Pantheon) Umami by Laia Jufresa, translated from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes (Mexico, Oneworld) Last Wolf and Herman by László Krasznahorkai, translated from the Hungarian by George Szirtes and John Batki (Hungary, New Directions) Oblivion by Sergi Lebedev, translated from the Russian by Antonina W. Bouis (Russia, New Vessel Press) Thus Bad Begins by Javier Marías, translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa (Spain, Knopf) In the Café of Lost Youth by Patrick Modiano, translated from the French by Chris Clarke (France, New York Review Books) Ladivine by Marie NDiaye, translated from the French by Jordan Stump (France, Knopf) Among Strange Victims by Daniel Saldaña Paris, translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney (Mexico, Coffee House Press) Moonstone by Sjón, translated from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb (Iceland, FSG) Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada, translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky (Japan, New Directions) Vampire in Love by Enrique Vila-Matas, translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa (Spain, New Directions) My Marriage by Jakob Wassermann, translated from the German by Michael Hofmann (Germany, New York Review Books) Moshi Moshi by Banana Yoshimoto, translated from the Japanese by Asa Yoneda (Japan, Counterpoint Press) Super Extra Grande by Yoss, translated from the Spanish by David Frye (Cuba, Restless Books) Best Translated Book Award 2017: Poetry Longlist Berlin-Hamlet by Szilárd Borbély, translated from the Hungarian by Ottilie Mulzet (Hungary, New York Review Books) Of Things by Michael Donhauser, translated from the German by Nick Hoff and Andrew Joron (Austria, Burning Deck Press) Instructions Within by Ashraf Fayadh, translated from the Arabic by Mona Kareem, Mona Zaki, and Jonathan Wright (Palestine, The Operating System) Cheer Up, Femme Fatale by Yideum Kim, translated from the Korean by Ji Yoon Lee, Don Mee Choi, and Johannes Göransson (South Korea, Action Books) In Praise of Defeat by Abdellatif Laâbi, translated from the French by Donald Nicholson-Smith (Morocco, Archipelago Books) Extracting the Stone of Madness by Alejandra Pizarnik, translated from the Spanish by Yvette Siegert (Argentina, New Directions) (read our review) Thief of Talant by Pierre Reverdy, translated from the French by Ian Seed (France, Wakefield Press) tasks by Víctor Rodríguez Núñez, translated from the Spanish by Katherine M. Hedeen (Cuba, co-im-press) Building the Barricade by Anna Świrszczyńska, translated from the Polish by Piotr Florczyk (Poland, Tavern Books) Antígona González by Sara Uribe, translated from the Spanish by John Pluecker (Mexico, Les Figues Press)      
Lists

A Brief Review of Walls in Literature

1. Funny Walls When I was at school, we had a teacher called Mr Wall. When he wasn’t listening, we’d tell this joke: (Kid mimes holding a phone.) ‘Is Mr Wall there, please?’ ‘No.’ ‘Is Mrs Wall there, please?’ ‘No.’ ‘Are there any walls there?’ ‘No.’ ‘You’d better get out because the ceiling’s about to fall down.’ This is the only joke in existence about a wall. Because walls aren’t funny. In literature, there’s also one single funny wall and it’s in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The Mechanicals, a set of poor players, put on a production of Pyramus and Thisbe. Tom Snout plays the wall that keeps the lovers apart. In this same interlude it doth befall That I, one Snout by name, present a wall. The comic possibilities of someone pretending to be a wall were lost neither on William Shakespeare nor the many thousands of English teachers obliged to stage a version of the play. And such a wall, as I would have you think, That had in it a crannied hole, or chink, Through which the lovers, Pyramus and Thisbe, Did whisper often very secretly. As a schoolboy, I saw a production about which I remember nothing other than the Wall, as played by Snout, farting in the face of Pyramus, as played by Bottom (also funny). It was a light-bulb moment: maybe Shakespeare could be something other than a dead man teachers use to bore kids. 2. Scary Walls Gothic writing, according to Angela Carter, "retains a singular moral function--that of provoking unease." As the genre moved from the haunted ruins of Italian castles to more domestic settings, writers like Edgar Allan Poe employed bricks and mortar to do just this. A number of his stories rely on walls. Consider "The Cask of Amontillado," for instance. Montresor, a nasty sort, takes revenge on Fortunato for an unreported slight. The unfortunate Fortunato falls for the trick of being invited to a private wine-tasting ceremony (wouldn’t we all?), only to be first chained up and then walled away in the catacombs underneath Montresor’s palazzo. In "The Black Cat," the protagonist’s wife, accidentally axed in the head, is walled up behind a house’s interior wall. In "The Tell Tale Heart," it is beneath a floorboard, rather than behind a wall, that a corpse is hidden. H.P. Lovecraft, the spiritual descendant of Poe, came up with "The Rats in the Walls," a short story featuring rats in the walls of an ancestral home. The scurrying sound, enough to drive anyone to distraction, leads the protagonist to discover the entrance to a subterranean city in which his family have raised generations of human cattle. To eat. Unlike the character in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s "The Yellow Wallpaper," the narrator is driven mad by what lies behind the walls, rather than what covers them. In these examples, walls screen past indiscretions. What you can’t see can’t hurt you. They obscure dark history, but only for so long, as in Poe’s "The Fall of the House of Usher." Walls in literature, as well as history, have a tendency to collapse. 3. Prison Walls We may suppose that walls are erected to keep a threat, be that a metaphorical secret or a literal danger, apart and out of sight. In Jorge Luis Borges's "The House of Asterion," it initially appears that the reverse is true. We’re introduced to a character of royal blood, Asterion. He tells us how he spends his days roaming the corridors of his infinite house. There are no locked doors, only endless passageways. His world is walls. The story ends: Would you believe it, Ariadne? The Minotaur scarcely defended himself. The house is the Labyrinth, Asterion is the Minotaur. His walls are those of a jail. The reader understands that it sucks to be the Minotaur, especially as he gets killed and, who knows, maybe he’s not so much of a monster after all but, as my father used to say, it’s better to be safe than sorry. The Minotaur looks bad, after all. Harvard University is transformed into a prison in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Prisons need walls, for, as in the story of the Minotaur, wardens tend to prefer prisoners on their side of the perimeter. The Wall in Atwood’s story has "ugly new floodlights mounted on metal posts above it, and barbed wire along the bottom and broken glass set in concrete along the top." Not a structure you’d fancy climbing and mildly reminiscent of English lower league football stadia. You don’t need to have studied high-school English to mark the significance of a university converted to a prison. Citizens of Gilead are forced to attend ritual viewings of the dissidents that are hanged on the Wall. 4. Office Walls There’s a chance that you’ve spent at least a portion of your working life gazing blankly at an office wall. In Herman Melville’s "Bartleby the Scrivener," Bartleby, the Wall Street worker who prefers not to, spends hours staring at a "dead" brick wall through his office window. The narrator describes these periods as "dead wall reveries." When Bartleby is finally admitted to jail, he is found with "his face towards a high wall." Clearly, there’s something significant going on here. Bartleby begins the story walled off from his colleagues, his job the only thing with which he is able to form a connection. When even this fades, he stares at walls, symbols of urban separation in Melville’s story of capitalism’s forced individualism. 5. Biblical Walls Let down by works of fiction, I look to The Bible because I remember that it’s full of good stories and also walls. The Walls of Jericho, felled by marching and horn blowing, is one of the most famous moments, found in Joshua 6:1–27. Therefore he said unto Judah, Let us build these cities, and make about them walls, and towers, gates, and bars, while the land is yet before us; because we have sought the Lord our God, we have sought him, and he hath given us rest on every side. So they built and prospered. (2 Chronicles 14:7) God loves walls. At least, according to the Old Testament, he does. I’ve been to cathedrals with fantastic walls and it’s a sin to doubt His judgment. Yet, like the notion of eternal grace in a place called Heaven, I still feel this nagging doubt. The Old Testament, like the modern world, may contain walls, but it also contains smiting. 6.Great Walls Franz Kafka wrote about walls, most famously castle walls and bedroom walls, but in "The Great Wall of China," written in 1917 but not published until 1931, he describes an elderly mason looking back at the piecemeal construction of the Great Wall. Each team of builders is allocated 500 meters of wall to build over five years. When finished, they are transferred to a different region to do the same again. As they journey to their new project, they see other sections of the wall, built by other teams. This proves, therefore, the success of the project, despite there being "gaps which have never been built in at all." The "invaders from the North," against whom the wall is protecting China, never invade. When children are naughty, we hold up these pictures in front of them, and they immediately burst into tears and run into our arms. It doesn’t matter, the construction occupies the people. And the building of the wall illustrates the power and wisdom of the Emperor, for such a huge undertaking cannot be anything but impressive. Unity! Unity! Shoulder to shoulder, a coordinated movement of the people, their blood no longer confined in the limited circulation of the body but rolling sweetly and yet still returning through the infinite extent of China. Fear of invasion, suggests Kafka, is a more powerful form of control than bricks and mortar. 7. Your Neighbor’s Wall Robert Frost is no fan of walls. Or, at least, the poet-persona in "Mending Wall" isn’t. The verse describes a springtime meeting between neighbors, during which they repair the wall that divides their property. The speaker is happy for the structure to fall down. Before I built a wall I’d ask to know What I was walling in or walling out, And to whom I was likely to give offence. The neighbor isn’t persuaded. Described as "like an old-stone savage armed," he "will not go behind his father’s saying:" Good fences make good neighbors. He builds a wall because we always build walls. There may be nothing to wall in or wall out, but that doesn’t matter: the wall is all. Image courtesy of the author.
The Millions Top 10

The Millions Top Ten: February 2017

We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for February. This Month Last Month Title On List 1. 1. Norwegian by Night 3 months 2. 4. The Trespasser 5 months 3. - Lincoln in the Bardo 1 month 4. 5. Moonglow 4 months 5. 6. The North Water 3 months 6. - Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living 1 month 7. 8. Commonwealth 5 months 8. - A Separation 1 month 9. 4. The Underground Railroad 6 months 10. 7. Homesick for Another World 2 months We sold so many copies of The Sellout over the past seven months that Paul Beatty's novel is now off to our Hall of Fame, and if current trends hold it looks like it'll soon by joined by Tana French's The Trespasser and Ann Patchett's Commonwealth. Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad, too, has the Hall of Fame in its sights, although it'll need to hang on for one more month, and momentum is not on its side – it dropped five spots on our list this month. Newcomers on this month's list include George Saunders's Lincoln in the Bardo, Katie Kitamura's A Separation, and Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living edited by Manjula Martin. All three were previously featured on our Great 2017 Book Preview. "Reading Lincoln in the Bardo is thus, itself, its own kind of bardo," wrote Louise McCune in her recent review for our site, which bound the novel – Saunders's first – to the Tibetan Buddhist concept of "something other than death." It is an intermediate state. In Buddhist cosmology, it is most commonly understood as the period of transmigration, between death and new life, when the consciousness is waiting on the platform for the proverbial next train. Scratch, meanwhile, concerns itself with something far more immediate: money, and the making of one's livelihood. The collection includes more than 30 essays, each focused on writers' precarious quests to earn income from their craft. Its appearance on our list was no doubt aided by "Ghost Stories," an excerpt from Sari Botton's contribution to the anthology, in which the author highlights some of her "most memorable deals from almost two decades in the [ghost writing] trenches." For me, ghostwriting is a job — one I wouldn’t do if I didn’t need the money. Like any job, it has its pros and cons, its ups and downs — lots of freedom, the satisfaction of helping someone tell their story; but also, frequently, having to handle intense personalities with kid gloves. Dropping out of this month's list were Jonathan Safran Foer's Here I Am, which was not exactly celebrated on our site (citation), as well as Yaa Gyasi's Homegoing, which most certainly was (citations 1, 2, 3, and 4). Until next month, I'll leave it to y'all to sort that out. This month's near misses included: The NixSwing Time, and Hillbilly Elegy. See Also: Last month's list.