Alex Clark, a literary critic, wrote about “the most eagerly awaited fiction in 2015” in The Guardian.
Among the notable books due early in the year are Jane Smiley’s Early Warning and Anne Tyler’s A Spool of Blue Thread in February. In March will be Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant. Sarah Hall’s The Wolf Border is due in April, and May is publication month for Kate Atkinson’s A God in Ruins.
John Williams added to this list in the January 4 New York Times Book Review. He noted that Toni Morrison’s God Help the Child is due in April, Anthony Marra’s The Tsar of Love and Techno in September, and Kent Haruf’s Our Souls at Night in November. (Haruf died last month at 71.)
PROBLEM: The bedtime read has been the soporific of choice for centuries, but it turns out that form matters, and an e-book on the comforter won’t help you doze off. As reported by The New York Times, The Guardian and others, a Harvard study of 12 young adults showed that e-book readers took longer to fall asleep and were groggier the next day than those who turned real pages. One exception is the nearly extinct original Kindle.
“The light emitted by most readers is shining directly into the eyes of the reader,” one of the Harvard researchers explained to the BBC, “whereas from a printed book or the original Kindle the reader is only exposed to reflected light of the book.”
PAPER: Louis Menand wrote about the history of paperback books in the January 5 New Yorker. “On June 19, 1939, a man named Robert de Graff launched Pocket Books. It was the first American mass-market paperback line, and it transformed the industry.” Menand was reviewing Paula Rabinowitz’s American Pulp: How Paperbacks Brought Modernism to Main Street.”
Menand said, “Paperbacks, even paperbacks that were just reprints of classic texts, turn out to have a key part in the story of modern writing.”
STORIES: Edith Pearlman, 77, is the author of Honeydew, her fifth collection of short stories, published January 6 by Little, Brown.
The winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award (2011), Pearlman told The New York Times that all her work was directed toward “a single imaginary ideal reader, someone wishing to be entertained and not averse to being enlightened.”
Ben George, her editor, said that reading one of her stories made him feel understood and “somehow forgiven for being human. It may simply come down to wisdom. Like the greats, Edith has it. The irrepressible soul always shines through.”
A REAL CENSOR: In a review of Robert Darnton’s Censors at Work: How States Shaped Literature, in the New York Review of Books, Timothy Garton Ash described his own encounter with a censor in Poland in 1989.
“I knocked on the door, only to find a bored-looking woman in a floral dress, with a cigarette on her lip and a glass of tea at hand. She slowly scanned the cartoon and the article to which it related, as if to demonstrate that she could read, and then stamped her approval on the back of the cartoon.
“My taskmistress showed few obvious signs of being an intellectual, but one of the leitmotifs of Robert Darnton’s new book is how intellectually sophisticated censors have often been.”
TRIPLE THREAT: Alexandra Monir is the author of a new YA novel, Suspicion. Monir is also a recording artist and songwriter. She includes song lyrics in all her books. Earlier novels were Timeless (2011) and Timekeeper (2013).
Monir told PW, “Before I write my novels, I ask myself the question, ‘What would I want to read?’ and my stories take shape from those things I’m most passionate about.”
A READING: It’s an annual event—a marathon reading of a literary classic. This year, on January 3, the book was Sigmund Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents. The readers were writers, psychiatrists, philosophers, war veterans and others at the Judson Memorial Church in Manhattan.
The subject was intended as “a response to the beheadings, school shootings and other violence that its organizers say defined 2014,” The New York Times said.
INSIGHT? The bestselling book in Japan in 2014 was about the importance of massaging one’s legs. A rough translation of the title: If You Want to Live Long, Rub Your Calves. It has sold more than a million copies since it was published in June 2013.
This information was provided by The Wall Street Journal’s blog: Japan Real Time.
BEDTIME READING: Janet Evanovich is the author of The Job and many other crime novels. In an interview in the Times Book Review she was asked what she read at night just before bed.
She said, “When I’m writing (and I’m almost always writing) I can’t go to sleep with someone else’s book in my head, because then I’ll wake up with someone else’s book in my head. This doesn’t make for a productive day. So I read magazines at night: Star, Architectural Digest, People, Cooking Light, National Geographic, Shape, Food Network, Bon Appetit, Guns & Ammo. Great pictures, snippets of info—great right before bed when I’m tapped out from writing all day.”
AUSTEN’S TOWNS: Charles Lovett is the author of First Impressions, a novel featuring Jane Austen (1775-1817). He wrote an article about the villages where she lived for The New York Times travel section.
Lovett wrote: “As I sat in the cathedral choir listening to the soaring music of evensong—repeating prayers that Austen would have known well—I felt I had come a little closer to the great ‘authoress,’ to whom life in the small villages of Hampshire had given the peace and the insight to create works that are more widely loved than she could have imagined.”
MEMORY: Edith Grossman was a translator of many works by the late Gabriel Garcia Marquez. She contributed a brief obituary note about him for a year-end issue of The New York Times Magazine
She wrote, “I met with him only a few times. But I find it hard to believe that an author who could move me to tears more than once as I was translating his books could countenance so vast a disconnect between the life he led and the work he created. I think he went out to meet the world he lived in and the world he wrote about with his arms spread wide.”
THE HOT ONE: Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See was the “unexpected breakout fiction bestseller of 2014,” The New York Times said. There are 920,000 copies in print.
The author is now considering three ideas for his next book. The Times provided clues: “One story takes place during the siege of Constantinople in 1453. Another centers on the construction of the Panama Canal. The third is set on a spaceship bound for a habitable planet so distant that the only way for humanity to reach it is through a voyage that lasts for generations.”
Doerr said, “You just try to water these things like plants and see which one gets the most light and flourishes.”
FACT IN FICTION: Elaine Blair is the author of Literary St. Petersburg. In an article for the January 5 New Yorker, she wrote, “Today, writers who are trying to expand the possibilities of the novel talk about incorporating the techniques of memoir and essay, of hewing closer to the author’s subjective experience, of effacing the difference between fiction and their own personal nonfictions.“ Then she asked, “Haven’t we been reading about a character called ‘Philip Roth’ for years?”
REGRETS: “I wish I’d never written that story,” Annie Proulx told The Paris Review. She said that Brokeback Mountain is not “about Jack and Ennis. It’s about homophobia; it’s about a social situation; it’s about a place and a particular mind-set and morality.”
In the story, Jack is killed by gay bashers. Ennis saves Jack's shirt to remember their love. ”A lot of men have decided that the story should have had a happy ending,” says Proulx. “They can’t bear the way it ends.” So many men would like to persuade her to change the tragic ending that Proulx says she keeps her gate locked.
THE BEST: Patton Oswalt is an actor and the author of Silver Screen Fiend. He was asked by The New York Times Book Review, “What’s the best book you’ve read about Hollywood?”
Oswalt said, “The Kid Stays in the Picture, by Robert Evans. Hands down, the best Hollywood memoir ever. I loved it so much I bought it on cassette, back in the late ‘90s, and I’d drive around the Hollywood Hills, listening to his cocaine-ravaged voice telling the equivalent of local ghost stories, all those anecdotes about the wild ‘70’s.”