Remember Karen Russell whose story "Haunting Olivia" appeared in the 2005 Debut Fiction issue of the New Yorker when she was 23? Her first collection of stories, St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves is now out. NPR has another of her stories on its Web site, "Ava Wrestles the Alligator."
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On Zadie Smith in the Guardian: The new novel arrived fully-formed: Zadie Smith woke up one morning, and On Beauty was all there, in her head. She wanted to write a long marriage - she'd just got married herself, was curious what 30 years of it would be like - and she had a plot. When she described it to her new husband, poet and novelist Nick Laird, however, he pointed out she was simply rewriting Howards End. But she has never been afraid of tribute, and [E.M.] Forster was a "first love"; she had a couple of serious wobbles but this did not put her off.The Guardian also gives the book a good review. On Beauty comes out September 13.Every once in a while I spot an interesting looking item in those ads at the top of the page. Today I saw one for Out of Eden: Odyssey of Ecological Invasion by Alan Burdick. It looks like the sort of book you'd like if you like Jared Diamond's books. It describes how different invasive species have managed to relocate to new parts of the globe.Tattoos and literature are becoming ever more enmeshed, it seems. Recent novels by Jill Ciment and John Irving dwell on tattoos, and now a Brooklyn writer, Shelley Jackson, "has been having volunteers tattooed with individual words of her 2,095-word short story ("Skin") since 2003. Only 700 words remain to be tattooed." Read about it here.Another online book-tracking and tagging application: Reader2
You may have heard that Pulitzer laureate Oscar Hijuelos passed away on Sunday at the age of 62. Hijuelos, who won the prize in 1990 for his novel The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, broke ground as the first Latino author to take home the prestigious award. On NPR, David Greene talks with Columbia professor Gustavo Perez Firmat about the author’s legacy. (Related: Thea Lim on people of color and American writing.)
My Shakespeare intake is up sharply this season. So far, I've attended about one performance every six weeks. Two comedies (a .333 average), three tragedies (.500), and even one romance (.167). My mother, a high school English teacher, must be pleased with the numbers I've been putting up. And I'm prepared to testify before any grand jury that will have me that the only performance-enhancing drugs I've touched have been brewed from the choicest hops and barley.Here in New York, it's possible to indulge in Bardolatry whenever you want. At least two Shakespeare productions are running on any given night. And of course, the plays are meant to be seen, rather than read. Or so say the experts. This week's Shakespeare-in-the-Park performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream left me wondering, though... are they right?Having read AMND thrice and having seen four previous stage productions, I was surprised at how many great speeches I'd managed to forget. "The lunatic, the lover, and the poet / are of imagination all compact," Duke Theseus theorizes. "Be as thou wast wont to be," Oberon tells a sleeping Titania, on the verge of reconciliation. "See as thou wast wont to see." On a more Global level, though, the Shakespeare-in-the-Park production was a mess - part Broadway razzle-dazzle, part Three Stooges routine, part Ibsen. Rather than mining the subterranean connections between the play's disparate tones and textures, director Daniel Sullivan seemed hellbent on obliterating them.Yes, it was free, on a beautiful night in the Park, and yes, there is fun to be had picking holes in any performance. But the contrast between this Dream and Michael Grief's Romeo and Juliet (this summer's other Shakespeare-in-the-Park offering) suggested a crucial lesson for any director of Shakespeare: one must surrender to the imperatives of the material, rather than trying to bend it to one's will. Such a surrender does not slough off the burden of interpretation; indeed, it requires it. But Grief's decisions about the nature of love and lust, the relative costs of innocence and experience, and the place of the individual in society, flowed from Shakespearean preoccupations; whereas the current production lacks a point-of-view on love, on imagination, or on anything at all. Sullivan's rope tricks and glowsticks threaten not just to jazz up but to gloss over A Midsummer Night's Dream.Grappling with the big questions Shakespeare wrestled into blank verse can yield a refreshlingly classicist take on a play, like Grief's, or something as riotously new as the Wooster Group Hamlet. In the case of slightly weaker source material, such as The Taming of the Shrew, strong direction may produce something in between, like Propeller's excellent staging at the Brooklyn Academy of Music... while commenting on our own times.When a director aims to displace the Bard's magic with its own, however, I'd just as soon save my money, drag out my brokeback Riverside Shakespeare, and stage a play in the round of my own mind. Which doesn't mean I'd ever pass up tickets to any live performance... provided someone else is buying.