by Campbell Geeslin
Moments after Alice Munro, 82, learned that she had won the 2013 Nobel in literature, she told Canadian Broadcasting, “I would really hope this would make people see the short story as an important art--not just something you played around with until you got a novel.”
Most commentators on the award noted that Munro, alone, had done that years ago.
DOGGED: “Dogs are perfect companions,” poet Mary Oliver said. “They don’t speak.”
Oliver's new book of poetry, Dog Songs, was an immediate bestseller. She told The New York Times, “People want poetry. They need poetry. They get it. They don’t want fancy work.”
After 50 years in Provincetown, Mass., Oliver, 78, now lives with a Havanese named Rickey in Florida. Her dogs have been Bear, Ben, Ricky, Lucy, Luke and Percy. She said, “I think [dogs] are companions in ways that people aren’t. They’ll lie next to you when you’re sad. And they remind us that we’re animals, too.”
STORY TIME: The New Yorker’s review of Margaret Atwood’s new novel, Maddaddam, started off with a quote from her book: “There’s the story, then there’s the real story, then there’s the story of how the story came to be told. Then there’s what you leave out of the story. Which is part of the story too.”
PARABLE: For many years, the late Anatole Broyard wrote about literature for The New York Times.
In 1977, he wrote, “A parable, in my opinion, is a prostitution of fiction in the service of philosophy. It is a mildly interesting quasi-literary conundrum, an aphorism force-fed to obesity. Nothing could be less suited to the intricate temper of our age. As I see it, parables are a bastardized form of prayer for those who are too inhibited to get down on their knees.”
A NEW PARABLE? In the Business Section last week, the Times asked, “Has Dave Eggers written a parable for our time, an eviscerating takedown of Silicon Valley and its privacy-invading technology companies?” Eggers’s new novel is The Circle, a look at a fictional company that has reminded reviewers of Google, Twitter or Facebook.
Jennifer Jackson, Eggers’ editor at Knopf, said, “I hope that [the book] allows people to step back and have a conversation about how we want to use technology.” Although Eggers refuses to do readings or publicize his novel, the conversation has begun.
ALONE: Andre Dubus III is an associate professor at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell. His fifth novel, Dirty Love, was published this month.
He was featured in the November issue of The Writer, and he made it clear that he did not believe in writers’ groups. He thought they led members astray from the work at hand.
Dubus's father, who was also a writer, told him that a novelist is like a whale submerged in the ocean. You are down there alone, and you’re supposed to be down there alone. Dubus III said, “Working alone on a 300-to-400 page project for five years all by yourself brings you right to the starkness of coming into the world alone and leaving alone, as we do.”
THE LAW: Scott Turow’s new novel is Identical. The author-lawyer, interviewed in the October 13th Times Book Review, was asked, “What’s the best book about the law ever written?
Turow said, “A Theory of Justice, by John Rawls. It’s not beach reading, but I don’t know of a more lucid articulation of the intuitions many of us share of what is just.” In fiction, Turow named Herman Melville’s Billy Budd.
SIN IN THE PULPIT: Fifteen years ago, Kimberla Lawson Roby began writing a series of novels about an African-American pastor, a Reverend Curtis Black. Some of the 10 books have made the bestseller lists. The behavior of her fictional Rev. Black is scandalous, but Roby is often asked to speak in churches.
Roby lives with her husband in Rockford, Ill. Her titles include A House Divided, Sin No More and The Best-Kept Secret. Her Web site says her books have sold two million copies.
The New York Times said, “As much as her novels traffic in Mr. Black’s sin—living large and cheating on two wives while presenting himself as the symbol of moral authority—they also depict in knowledgeable and even tender ways black Christianity’s deep sense of community and a fabric of meaningful ritual.”
UPDATING: Alexander McCall Smith, a Scot and the author of several series, including The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, will rewrite Jane Austen’s Emma “for the social-media generation,” one of four Austen reworkings under contract with HarperCollins.
Smith told The Guardian, “Freud will be looking over my shoulder as I write. I can’t wait to begin my encounter with these delicious characters. On which subject, I have great sympathy for Mr. Woodhouse. The original felt very anxious about draughts. My Mr. Woodhouse is extremely interested in vitamins.”
Sense and Sensibility, published by Austen in 1811, has been “re-imagined by Joanna Trollope” in a version to be published this month. Val McDermid is rewriting Northanger Abbey. Curtis Sittenfeld is doing Pride and Prejudice. That leaves only Mansfield Park and Persuasion to be updated. Why on earth are they doing this? One of Austen’s greatest charms is the way her novels take the reader back to early 19th century England.
P.S. Jo Baker’s new novel Longbourn — not part of the HarperCollins series — retells Austen’s Pride and Prejudice with an Upstairs/Downstairs twist. Baker's main characters are not the lively Bennets, but their servants. The New York Times Book Review assured readers that the book is not a sequel, but “original and charming, even gripping, in its own right.”
TRILOGY: Veronica Roth of Chicago has two novels on the Young Adult bestseller lists. They are Divergent and Insurgent. The third book in the trilogy is Allegiant. The books are about a young girl “who must prove her mettle” in a heartless land.
Roth put a message on her blog about a shipping error that distributed copies of Allegiant before the scheduled release date of October 22. “I am disappointed, and I’m sure you are too," she wrote. "I personally have been waiting since the trilogy began, for the day when the last book would come out and we would all experience it together—you for the first time and me, with the giddy anticipation of an author who finally gets to watch everyone finish the story that has been so dear to me.”
If you got an early copy, Roth begged, “please preserve the mystery.”
TECHNOLOGY: Rachael Cole is art director of Schwartz and Wade children’s books, a Random House imprint. On a recent Random House blog she discussed the impact of technology on children's books.
With the Internet, Cole says, she can work with illustrators anywhere in the world. Technology has given illustrators many more tools to play with. Almost all of them use computers to enhance drawings and add color, yet picture books have not, as a group, translated into great e-books, and Cole is fine with that. “We still believe printed children’s picture books are special. An actual picture book reminds us to slow down, put a child on our lap, and just read.”
A LAMENT: Oscar Hijuelos, 62, died Oct. 12 in Manhattan. His novel, The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love won the Pulitzer Prize in 1989.
A native New Yorker with deep Cuban roots, Mr. Hijuelos served as a member of the Authors Guild Council from 2005 to 2011. In addition to Mambo Kings, he wrote six other novels. His first, Our House in the Last World, was awarded the Rome Prize by the American Academy in Rome in 1985. His most recent work was Thoughts Without Cigarettes: a Memoir, in 2011.
In her review of Mambo Kings, the New York Times' Michiko Katutani wrote that his "memorable new novel is another kind of American story--an immigrant story of lost opportunity and squandered hopes. While it dwells in bawdy detail on Cesar's sexual escapades, while it portrays the musical world of the '50s in bright, primary colors, the novel is essentially elegiac in tone--a Chekhovian lament for a life of missed connections and misplaced dreams."