According to Millions reader James who emailed Random House, the publisher has plans to put Haruki Murakami's 1Q84 out in fall 2011. Millions contributor Ben has covered much of the news surrounding Murakami's mysterious new novel, which was recently published in Japan, including the recent revelation that there will be a third volume.
Book award season enters high gear as the National Book Award finalists have been released in a series of four longlists consisting of ten books apiece. Five finalists in each category will be announced on October 13, and winners will be announced in New York City on November 16. The fiction list seems well balanced but also includes many familiar names. Alongside highly touted books by Colson Whitehead and Garth Greenwell are critical darlings like Lydia Millet and Karan Mahajan. It's a great time to be a reader. You read about nearly all of the books on the Fiction longlist here first, of course, as they appeared in our indispensable first-half and second-half previews. Here’s a list of the finalists in all four categories with bonus links and excerpts where available: Fiction: The Throwback Special by Chris Bachelder ("Men in Tights Crammed into Confined Spaces") What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell ("ISO the Next Great Gay Novel") Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett (A Most Anticipated book) News of the World by Paulette Jiles (excerpt (pdf)) The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan (I Want Complete Freedom When I Write: The Millions Interviews Karan Mahajan) The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie (excerpt) Sweet Lamb of Heaven by Lydia Millet (Lydia Millet, writing at The Millions) Miss Jane by Brad Watson (Brad Watson's Year in Reading) The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead ("Scars That Never Fade") Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson (A Most Anticipated book) Nonfiction: America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History by Andrew J. Bacevich (excerpt) The Firebrand and the First Lady, Portrait of a Friendship: Pauli Murray, Eleanor Roosevelt and the Struggle for Social Justice by Patricia Bell-Scott (excerpt) Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck by Adam Cohen (interview) Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell Hochschild (Most Anticipated) Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi (excerpt) Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War by Viet Thanh Nguyen (Viet Thanh Nguyen's Year in Reading) Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O'Neil (Most Anticipated) The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America by Andrés Reséndez (excerpt) The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition by Manisha Sinha (interview) Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy by Heather Ann Thompson (Most Anticipated) Poetry: The Performance of Becoming Human by Daniel Borzutzky Collected Poems 1974–2004 by Rita Dove (Race and American Poetry: Dove v. Vendler) Archeophonics by Peter Gizzi (Peter Gizzi on J.H. Prynne) The Selected Poems of Donald Hall by Donald Hall (Sonya Chung on Donald Hall) The Abridged History of Rainfall by Jay Hopler (poem) Bestiary by Donika Kelly (poem) World of Made and Unmade by Jane Mead Look by Solmaz Sharif (the title poem) Blackacre by Monica Youn (Siobhan Phillips on Monica Youn) Blue Laws by Kevin Young (poem) Young People's Literature: Booked by Kwame Alexander (excerpt) Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo (Susan Orlean on Kate DiCamillo) March: Book Three by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell (our review of Book One in the series) When the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace Lin (excerpt) When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore (excerpt) Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina (excerpt(pdf)) Pax by Sara Pennypacker and Jon Klassen Ghost by Jason Reynolds Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor's Story by Caren Stelson (excerpt) The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
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Next Saturday (April 29) is Independent Bookstore Day! If you’re looking for a place to celebrate, check out our staff recommendations of tried and true mainstays. You can also map out the stores Janet Potter’s “bookstore resume,” which she freely admits has taken “the shape of a relationship history.”
“Sentimental Journeys,” Joan Didion’s famous essay on the trials of the five young black and Latino men accused in the 1989 Central Park Jogger rape case, follows the template of so much of Didion’s best nonfiction: she lays out the narrative of the case as it has taken hold in the public mind, and then, taking up a sledgehammer in the shape of a reporter’s notepad, she smashes that sentimental version of events to bits. In the essay, included in her collection After Henry, Didion reminds the reader that the brutal rape of a young, white investment banker was only one 3,254 other rapes reported that year, but concludes that the point is merely “rhetorical, since crimes are universally understood to be news to the extent that they offer, however erroneously, a story, a lesson, a high concept.” The “high concept” in the case of the Central Park Jogger, Didion says, lay in the way the crime pitted a young, white, notionally virginal member of New York’s financial elite against five teenaged members of its dark, angry underclass, who according to prosecutors and the local press, had set upon the young jogger like a pack of wild animals. “Teen Wolfpack Beats and Rapes Wall Street Exec on Jogging Path,” one headline read. Another newspaper supplied the lurid details: “One [assailant] shouted ‘hit the beat’ and they all started rapping to ‘Wild Thing.’” In a city beset by violent crime, a foundering economy, and troubling racial unrest, Didion writes, “the case of the Central Park jogger came to seem a kind of poetry, a way of expressing, without directly stating, different but equally volatile and similarly occult visions of the same disaster.” In 2002, after another man confessed to the crime, the convictions of the five accused rapists were formally expunged, but in 1990, when Didion published the essay in the New York Review of Books, her willingness to cast doubt not only on a jury’s verdict but on the received opinion of virtually all of white New York was courageous. But such is the stuff upon which the cult of Joan Didion has been built. In her long career as an essayist, novelist, and screenwriter, Didion has made a specialty of slaughtering our most sacred cows. John Wayne, Nancy Reagan, second-wave feminists, Haight-Ashbury hippies, even her own pioneer ancestors – all these have undergone the Didion treatment, which is to say that she has laboriously detailed their public myths, their most fondly held visions of themselves, and then set about pounding those myths into submission with the truth, usually in the form of their own words. In recent years, however, following a run of calamity that claimed the lives of her husband and only daughter, Didion has turned that famously pitiless observational apparatus inward, first in The Year of Magical Thinking, and now Blue Nights, out just this week. The Year of Magical Thinking, which chronicles Didion’s first year of widowhood after the death of her husband, John Gregory Dunne, became a runaway bestseller and spawned a Broadway play of the same name, starring Vanessa Redgrave. Blue Nights, though it covers similar terrain – in this case, the death of Didion’s daughter, Quintana Roo – is a much pricklier beast, and I would be surprised if it finds as many readers as her previous book. In purely economic terms, The Year of Magical Thinking had two very important things going for it. First, coming out as it did as baby boomers began to hit retirement age, it caught the zeitgeist of an aging population just coming to terms with the losses and diminishment of old age. Second, because Dunne died from a heart attack while their daughter lay comatose in the hospital, the book put Didion in the position of the victim beset by an almost Biblical tide of woe that she had no hand in creating. In describing the kind of “magical thinking” that leads a widow to refuse to give away her dead husband’s shoes in case he should ever come back and need them, Didion, the least cuddly of authors, presented herself for perhaps the first time in her career as a woman the reader could identify with and care about. In Blue Nights, on the other hand, Didion is not a victim, but at least putatively the villain of the piece. Quintana died of complications of a blood clot in her brain, but as Didion makes clear, she was a troubled woman who drank to excess and contemplated suicide long before she got sick, and one of the central questions of the book is whether Didion’s failings as a mother, directly or indirectly, led to her daughter’s death. In other words, Didion is once again following her time-tested template of setting out a fondly held personal mythos and then smashing it, except that this time the mythos is her own vision of herself as a good mother. In concept, this sounds like a formula for a tough-minded examination of our society’s sentimental attachment to the myth of the perfect mother, and if any writer in contemporary American letters is equipped for such a project it would be Didion. Not only is she one of the best reporters we have, not only does she have a justly earned reputation for ruthless honesty, but she is a mother by choice. After some years of trying to have a biological child, Didion and Dunne adopted Quintana hours after she was born at St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica. Didion’s descriptions of the circumstances surrounding the adoption, her desire to have a child and her fears of not being up to the task, are among the most moving passages of the book. The infant Quintana spent her first two nights in the hospital, she writes, and at some point during each of those nights I woke in the house at Portuguese Bend to the same chill, hearing the surf break on the rocks below, dreaming that I had forgotten her, left her asleep in a drawer, gone into town for dinner or a movie and made no provision for the infant that could even then be waking alone and hungry in the drawer in Portuguese Bend. This passage sets the tone for much of the rest of the book, as Didion wrestles, page after painful page, with her own ambivalence toward motherhood. She castigates herself for being emotionally cold, for expecting her daughter to be in effect a third adult in the house, for being too busy writing books and screenplays to pay attention to the early signs of her daughter’s distress. Over and over, as if picking at a bleeding scab, Didion rehashes nightmares Quintana suffered as a young girl, weirdly solemn poems she wrote for school, a phone call she made at age five to a nearby mental asylum “to find out what she needed to do if she was going crazy.” “How could I have missed what was so clearly there to be seen?” Didion asks herself. The sheer repetitiveness of these questions, the way the book keeps circling back to a few snapshot memories of young, troubled Quintana, speaks with its own eloquence of the pain Didion is suffering in the wake of the loss of her family. It is hard to blame her. I am a parent, and I can only imagine how painful it must be to bury one's own child. But as a reader I found myself wondering whether Didion’s obsessive rehearsing of the evidence “against” her wasn’t simply more of what she called in her previous book “magical thinking”? To take a Didionesque interrogative approach, couldn’t it be said that wondering whether you played some role in your daughter’s death is tantamount to wondering if your daughter’s death was somehow preventable – or, to put the point more finely, that you could have saved her life by being somehow a different person? If so, aren’t you really asking not “Was I responsible for letting my daughter die?” but instead, “Couldn’t I, by being a better person, somehow bring her back?” Or, to put it still another way, is it not true that to ask “How could I have missed what was so clearly there to be seen?” is merely another way of saying, “If I had only seen what pain she was in, she would be alive today,” and “Thus, because I do now see it, in a way, she is alive”? I don’t know. To state the obvious, I am no Joan Didion. I am, however, fairly certain of two things. First, Blue Nights, despite some lovely writing, is finally a closed loop, a personal missive from a grief-stricken mother to her dead daughter that fails to make enough space for the reader to work as literature. Second, at least given the evidence provided in Blue Nights, Didion is not responsible for her daughter’s death. Didion may have been cold, she may have been busy, she may have even ignored some obvious warning signs, but if this book is any indication of the depth of her love for Quintana, and I strongly suspect it is, then Didion loved her daughter with every fiber of her being – and, really, what more can a parent do? Image Credit: Bill Morris/[email protected]
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The Guardian reports that the British Library has made its archive of world and traditional music available online. And it's free for everyone. What might you hear? "There are Geordies banging spoons, Tawang lamas blowing conch shell trumpets and Tongan tribesman playing nose flutes. And then there is the Assamese woodworm feasting on a window frame in the dead of night." You might also check out the British Museum's free online image database. Here you'll find thousands of images of paintings, etchings, drawings, and artifacts from every country and era of human history, easily searchable by era, country, artist, or subject. In using the database for dissertation research, I also found copyright permissions relatively easy to acquire.