From the gaggle of books I have read over this past year Beautiful Ruins, Gods Without Men, and The News from Spain stand out as especially special. Jess Walters’s novel Beautiful Ruins is a lovely story in which a handful of likable characters wend their disparate ways across nearly a half of the last century, from an obscure Italian coastal town to an array of locales on the shores of America, to resolve an unlikely but plausible narrative. Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor make appearances. Gods without Men is a sprawling high-powered multi-threaded story that diverges into some rarified and elevated subjects -- parents flailing at the near impossible task of raising a seriously autistic child, a stock trader searching for and believing he has found an algorithmic formula for trading that in its Kabbalistic form is the Holy Grail, recondite anthropologists studying southwestern Native American culture, hippy cults, and more, spark a steady forward fugal motion. Reading this story sometimes feels like a breathtaking roller coaster ride as it shoots from one dissimilar point of view to another. It’s an exciting read with some brainy and amusing digressions. Andre Gregory’s blurbs on Joan Wickersham’s collection of stories The News from Spain asserted that the stories were sufficiently weighty that they could be read twice in succession -- an unusual notion, methinks. And yet I found that the stories were so engrossing and rich with thoughtful characters that I easily followed Gregory’s suggestion. And was indeed rewarded with another pleasurable read. Not linked stories, but bound by the author’s conceit of having the phrase The News from Spain appearing in each -- without, I must say, an appearance of contrivance or showiness. I volunteered to participate in this exercise because it required me to focus my attention on my own reading habits -- which I otherwise wouldn’t do, as I am not usually interested in the meta-gesture of thinking about or reading about reading (though I do recommend Andrew Piper’s Book Was There: Reading in Electronic Times). What did I learn? Looking over what I read in the past 12 months, the list confirmed what I already knew -- that I am a literary omnivore and any litany of books tells more about the reader than individual the books listed. No big surprise there. More from A Year in Reading 2012 Don't miss: A Year in Reading 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005 The good stuff: The Millions' Notable articles The motherlode: The Millions' Books and Reviews Like what you see? Learn about 5 insanely easy ways to Support The Millions, and follow The Millions on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr.
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Last week I posted about the Gather.com contest to get into Amazon Shorts, and yesterday I got a note about another opportunity for writers that sounds interesting. This one is from the very cool online literary magazine Narrative:For any of you who may have overlooked the Editors' Note in our most recent issue, we're writing to let you know that we are looking for short short stories. In conjunction with Robert Shapard and James Thomas, who edit the popular anthologies Sudden Fiction and Flash Fiction, we're planning a feature in Narrative to coincide with the publication of New Sudden Fiction, which will be forthcoming from Norton in January 2007. Our feature will present a collection of short short stories by both well-known and newer writers, and we're inviting submissions of stories that run between seven hundred and fifty and two thousand words, or no less than three and no more than five pages in manuscript length.Concurrently, Narrative is also seeking book-length manuscripts for serialization in the magazine. The details are available on their Submission Guidelines page (You'll need to register before you can see this page).There's also a catch - isn't there always? - Narrative charges a reading fee: $5 for the short shorts and $30 for book-length works. Not being particularly well-versed in the world of literary magazines, I don't know how prevalent such fees are (feel free to enlighten me on this one), but for what it's worth, my understanding is that Narrative uses such fees to pay contributors, fund a prize, and make the magazine free for all.
"How is it possible that a smallish army of discerning readers agree that Jim Harrison is one of the few truly great living American writers, yet he has not gotten the wider audience—or the widespread praise—he so plainly deserves?" Our own Bill Morris has some theories.
Author Jim Crace reflects on his final book in Abu Dhabi's The National: “The thing is, I’ve written an appalling amount of books. ... The writing life doesn’t last forever. I am fit and well, and there are plenty of other things to do that I’m excited about, which are incompatible with spending most of my life shut up in a room. So that’s what I’m going to do, write a final book, and that will be it.”