Guernica sits down with political cartoonist Ted Rall to talk about his new book, Snowden. “I spent a lot of time drawing Snowden for this book, and I really don’t understand his hair. If I ever meet him, I’m going to request to touch his hair.” For more on cartoons, we reviewed The Best American Comics 2014 (guest edited by Scott McCloud, who we interviewed earlier this year).
“Once certain hurdles are cleared (a bit of talent, years of work), being a writer is like flying a kite in a storm in a field full of people flying kites in a storm.” Garth Greenwell on writing his first novel, the importance of failure, and giving oneself privacy to make mistakes. Pair with Meredith Turits's Millions piece, featuring six writers looking back on their first novels.
One might have imagined that the emergence of an online kommentariat would have made The New Yorker's 2010 "20 Under 40" Fiction Issue, released last week, an even bigger buzz engine than its 1999 predecessor. For some reason, though - high humidity in the mid-Atlantic? the preponderance of Knopf and FSG authors? the preexistence of a Granta theme issue with significant overlap? the nebulous formulation "writers who we believe are, or will be, key to their generation"? - the magazine's list of the best young American fiction writers has met mostly with polite golf clapping. To be sure, it's hard to begrudge these 20 terrific writers their honor. We've been excited to read in the issue new work from friends (and interested to observe the generational influence exerted by 1999 honoree George Saunders). But, as the accompanying Comment suggests, "to encourage . . . second-guessing is perhaps the best reason to make lists." And, wishing to see more such second-guessing, we've decided to rise to the bait and offer our own, non-overlapping, list of young-ish writers to watch. The exercise gave us a new appreciation for The New Yorker's editorial staff: It turns out to be damn hard to figure out who to call American. (There's also a shocking number of writers who are 40 this year: Brady Udall, Nathan Englander, Ed Park, Danzy Senna, Paul LaFarge...). It's nice to be reminded, however, as we all wring our hands about the future of fiction, of the preponderance of of thirtysomething talent out there. So, with apologies for obviousness, we hereby present an informal, unscientific, alternate-universe "20 Under 40" list. Calvin Baker's three works of fiction range fearlessly across the expanse of American experience from the Middle Passage forward. In Dominion, one of several recent novels to tackle the antebellum period, Baker finds his own, hybrid solution to the challenge of voicing the past. Jesse Ball's first two novels, Samedi the Deafness and The Way Through Doors, both reviewed here, show off a fabulist sensibility that's somehow both minimalist and maximalist - Paul Auster by way of The Arabian Nights. Ball won The Paris Review's Plimpton Prize for fiction in 2008. Chris Bachelder, author of Bear vs. Shark and U.S.! wields the two weapons all great satirists need: an eye for the absurd and a deep moral sense. For what it's worth, Bachelder's remarkable lexicon had at least one reader convinced for a few weeks in 2007 that he was a pseudonym of David Foster Wallace. Mischa Berlinski's first novel, Fieldwork, like the best fieldwork, moves beyond the parochial concerns of the American writing program without resorting to exoticism. It was a National Book Award finalist. Berlinski is currently in Haiti, we're told, working on another. Tom Bissell, who has lately published nonfiction in The New Yorker, might have been a plausible candidate for inclusion on its list. His first collection of short fiction, God Lives in St. Petersburg, was a finalist for the Believer Book Award. Judy Budnitz is one of America's great unsung short-story writers. Her two collections, Flying Leap and Nice Big American Baby marry Kafka-esque premises with a ruthless willingness to follow them to their conclusions. Also a novelist, she made the Granta list a couple years back. Joshua Cohen, a prolific (and quotably bellicose) 29-year-old, just published his sixth book, a Ulyssean 800-pager called Witz. Expect serious reviews to start appearing in the fall, when people have actually finished the damned thing. Kiran Desai is now a permanent resident of the U.S....or so says Wikipedia. Her 2006 novel, The Inheritance of Loss, was a Booker Prize winner and was on a lot of people's year-end lists. Myla Goldberg may have lost some credibility with literary mandarins when her first novel, Bee Season, became a Richard Gere vehicle. However, her second novel, Wickett's Remedy, shows that her ambitions extend well beyond orthography. Sheila Heti, a puckish Canadian, can be on our list if David Bezmozgis can be on The New Yorker's. Her first collection, The Middle Stories, featured fables skewed sui generisly. She's since published a novel, Ticknor, and appeared as Lenore in Leanne Shapton's Important Artifacts. Samantha Hunt's most recent novel, The Invention of Everything Else, was a fabulist meditation on Nikola Tesla; her previous piece, The Seas, was similarly inventive. Like Heti and Bissell, she cut her teeth in McSweeney's. Porochista Khakpour's debut, Sons and Other Flammable Objects, showed off her acrobatic voice; recent work in Guernica suggests more of the same. Benjamin Kunkel, aside from having mastered the voice of bemused neuroticism in Indecision, has one of the most interesting minds around, as evidenced by his far-ranging criticism in The London Review of Books. A play, Buzz, is forthcoming from N+1. Victor LaValle's third book, the splendidly eccentric Big Machine, has been his breakout. A Publisher's Weekly best novel of 2009, it has won him many fans, including our own Edan Lepucki, who reviewed it here last fall. Fiona Maazel's Last Last Chance is one of the most ambitious debuts of recent years, covering plague, addiction, and chicken processing. Maazel was a Lannan Foundation fellow in 2005. Joe Meno, unlike any writer on the New Yorker list, published his first few novels with an independent press, Brooklyn's Akashic Books. A writer of considerable range, the Chicago-based Meno last year published a rollicking family novel, The Great Perhaps, which occasioned an interview with and profile by Edan. Julie Orringer spent the several years of radio silence that followed her feted story collection, How to Breathe Underwater, productively. Her expansive first novel, The Invisible Bridge, has been hailed for its historical sweep and intimate portraiture. Salvador Plascencia's memorably and typographically strange novel, The People of Paper, rivals Chris Adrian's The Children's Hospital for the title of Most Interesting Novel McSweeney's Has Published (Non-Eggers Division). We have no idea what he's working on now, but we look forward to it. Eric Puchner is the author of Music Through the Floor, a collection that won the NYPL's Young Lions Award. This year, he published the similarly well-received novel Model Home. His wry essay about being married to the novelist Katharine Noel can be found here. Anya Ulinich's debut, Petropolis, rendered the life of a post-Soviet expatriate with Bellovian figurative brio. She's got a great story called "Mr. Spinach" floating around out there somewhere...hopefully part of a collection?
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Electric Literature held a Twitter contest recently in which their followers invented new literary neologisms for a chance to win copies of Carson Mell’s new e-book Saguaro. For my money, the clear winner was “Vonnegutsy: having the fortitude to mix aspects of genre fiction with literary fiction.”
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 May. This Month Last Month Title On List 1. 1. The Pale King 3 months 2. 2. The Late American Novel: Writers on the Future of Books 4 months 3. 3. The Imperfectionists 5 months 4. - The Enemy 1 month 5. 4. Atlas of Remote Islands 6 months 6. 9. Farnsworth's Classical English Rhetoric 2 months 7. 5. Skippy Dies 5 months 8. - The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry 1 month 9. 7. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption 6 months 10. - The Hunger Games 3 months David Foster Wallace's The Pale King retains our top spot, but that's not where the real action was this month. In May, a pair of new titles debuted and a third returned to our list after previously slipping off. The biggest news story of May was the killing of Osama bin Laden by U.S. forces, and that event was the catalyst for the first appearance of a "Kindle Single" (or any e-book original, for that matter) on our list. Clearly, many readers wanted Christopher Hitchens' take on this event, and Amazon managed to lock down the 17-page essay he produced. The Enemy would have appeared as a magazine piece not too long ago and would likely have therefore been pretty ephemeral. It will be interesting to see if this essay's status as a Kindle Single affords it any staying power. Also debuting was The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry, which our staffer Janet Potter reviewed this month. Returning to our list after a one-month hiatus is YA bestseller The Hunger Games, whose return was perhaps spurred by headlines surrounding the casting of the upcoming film version of the book. The other big mover was Farnsworth's Classical English Rhetoric, climbing three spots. As I wrote last month, Only Millions readers would make a book of rhetoric a bestseller. Departing from our list were The Finkler Question, Cardinal Numbers, and Unfamiliar Fishes. Finkler's Booker glory has faded; Cardinal Numbers was touted in these pages by Sam Lipsyte, but that was back in December; and Unfamiliar Fishes, with its somewhat obscure topic, lost some steam after the book's initial publicity push waned. Other Near Misses: A Moment in the Sun, The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them, How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One, and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. See Also: Last month's list
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Yesterday I told you about a ridiculously rare signed copy of T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land, a poem famously loaded with coldness and sterility and failed human intimacy. Later this month, some new letters will be published that reveal the depth of Eliot's mental anguish over the breakdown of his first marriage with his wife, Vivien. Eliot has long been accused (maybe fairly) of treating Vivien with intolerable cruelty and attributing to her mental state, and these letters aim to complicate that narrative.
The Millions Walking Tour of NYC Indie Bookstores is only a week away. Get all the details and RSVP.Little Dorrit is must-see-TV in the Packer household.For those considering undertaking Infinite Jest, we recommend Slate's Audio Book Club discussion.Meanwhile, in the first installment of New York Magazine's new "Reading Room" feature, participants get, er... wet."'I never wanted to write this book,'" [Alec Baldwin] tells us... 'It was also a book I never wanted to read, but here we are, Alec and I, making the best of a bad situation.'"The influence of the late J.G. Ballard, who died this week, reached from Jonathan Lethem to Thom Yorke.What's Bret Easton Ellis up to? Not much, apparently.An inspired blog feature collects one-star Amazon reviews of the classics (via HTMLGIANT).In praise of Peter Handke and A.J. Liebling.Senator Arlen Specter realizes that there's no way to endear yourself to Republican primary voters like writing for The New York Review of Books.William H. Gass goes for baroque. (via The Complete Review)Some small presses are trying out a subscription model.The earliest known dust jacket for a book has been found. (via LitKicks)The Orange Prize shortlist has been announced.Ben Yogoda writes a defense of common English.Trade paperbacks thrive in tough times. (Our suggestion: make them even smaller.)Earth Day was this past week, and now we know: used books are "greener" than new.