by Campbell Geeslin
“Girls behaving badly—the thrilling rise of the YA antiheroine,” was the title of a Guardian article by Imogen Russell Williams. “They’ve been nice for too long, but now mean, monstrous and even murderous girls are revitalizing young adult fiction.”
C.J. Skuse is the author of Pretty Bad Things in which one of the book’s twins is a “memorable antiheroine, who many good girls might secretly wish to emulate.”
Emerald Fennell’s Monsters has an unnamed narrator who has a “cheerful relish for death, decay and the grisliest of secrets.”
Derek Landy is the author of the Demon Road series starring Amber, “a monster of the most literal kind.”
Louise O’Neill's Asking for It has a central character who is “thoroughly unangelic.”
But are wicked females in literature really new? In 425 B.C., Euripides wrote: “Neither earth nor ocean/produces a creature as savage and monstrous/as woman.”
BIG AMBITION: Musician Patti Smith is the author of M Train, a memoir. An interview by Penelope Green in The New York Times Style section, said that “books are her deepest love, and writing them is clearly her keenest ambition.”
Smith said, “I’d like to write something as great as Pinocchio or Little Women. I won’t say Moby-Dick because that’s impossible. I’d like to write a book that everybody loves.
GAME CHANGERS: Poet Eileen Myles is the author of I Must Be Living Twice: New and Selected Poems 1975-2014. She is author of 20 books of poetry, art criticism, travel writing, essays and novels. She told PW that she didn’t begin to make her living as a writer until she was in the forties, “and she didn’t truly find her audience until she met and toured with the queer-feminist performance poetry collective Sister Split in the 1990s.”
In the PW interview, she said, “To be a poet, it’s a challenge to do it in poverty, to do it in wealth. To do it in the academy, to do it in a relationship where you are happy. Everything changes the game. To do it in the awkward state of love, despair, dying. You just have to work at it.”
In an interview with The New Republic, Myles said, “Money is much dirtier than sex ever was. That’s why I write about it. . . .I’m proud that I’ve never stopped writing about being poor.”
FETE: Last week, Alfred A. Knopf Books celebrated its 100th anniversary with a party at the New York Public Library. Guests were greeted at the entrance by six borzois, the Knopf mascot. Sonny Mehta, chairman and editor in chief, said, “I’m pretty content that we’ve got through 28 years of almost continuous change, and that we’re still able to publish good books in our own way.”
Authors attending included Toni Morrison, Robert Caro, Orhan Pamuk, Michael Ondaatje, Mona Simpson, Renata Adler, Fran Lebowitz and Bill Buford.
NEW WORDS: Lexicographer Erin McKean, a former editor of the New Oxford American Dictionary, started a campaign last month to unearth one million “missing” English words—words that are not currently found in traditional dictionaries. The New York Times reported that, “she had engaged a pair of data scientists to scrape and analyze language used in online publications. Ms. McKean said she planned to incorporate the found words in Wordnik.com, an online dictionary of which she is co-founder.”
“We really believe that every word should be lookupable,” McKean told the Times. “That doesn’t mean that every word should be used in very situation. But we think that people by and large are entirely capable of making that decision for themselves.”
McKean said, “Every new word added to the expressiveness of English adds to the things that it’s possible to say. English already has one of the world’s largest installed user bases. So why wouldn’t we want to add to it?”
WHY WE TELL STORIES: Joshua Wolf Shenk is the new director of the Black Mountain Institute. In a Q and A in the October Poets & Writers, he said: “I do believe that we tell stories to live, but that line from Joan Didion is often quoted in a superficial way. What she’s saying is there’s a constant danger of entropy, of the center not holding. And I think writers have a critical role in finding the meaning and the underlying structures—the basic human truths that we can organize ourselves around.”
LETTER: In a letter to the editor published in the October 11 Times Book Review, Felicia Nimue Ackerman, professor of philosophy at Brown University, wrote: “The idea that dirty books should have redeeming social value, like the idea that snacks should have redeeming nutritive value, is strictly for people too puritanical to value pleasure in itself.”
BOOK MAKER: T. J. English is the author of Where the Bodies Were Buried: Whitey Bulger and the World That Made Him.
In a PW essay, English wrote: “There have been sixteen books about Bulger with another half dozen or so on the peripheral issues relating to the Bulger story.” The essay ended with: “In this case, what was needed was a book that incorporated all that came before, but also went beyond the cult of Bulger, to detail once and for all, the universe of corruption that gave rise to him and enabled his reign.”
PRIZE: The Belarusian journalist Svetlana Alexievich was named winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature, the 14th woman to be awarded the prize and the first journalist. The 67-year-old Alexievich is the author of Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster (2005), published in English by the Dalkey Press and War's Unwomanly Face (1988), based on interviews with hundreds of women who took part in World War II.
“It’s a true achievement not only in material but also in form,” said Sara Danius, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, “a history of emotions —a history of the soul, if you wish.”
REVIVALS: “Recharging landmark children’s book series has become a popular tactic for publishers,” said Time magazine’s Sarah Begley. “This month, Simon & Schuster will release the 365 Days of Eloise, a holiday-themed version of Eloise.”
There is ample precedent for the revival movement. Peggy Parish’s nephew, Herman Parish, started a prequel to his aunt’s Amelia Bedelia series in 1995, seven years after her death. In 2010, Simon & Schuster re-launched the Hardy Boys franchise with its Secret Files series. Other old favorites being revived include Betty MacDonald’s Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House Series.
RECYCLED: Jeanette Winterson is the author of The Gap of Time, a novel adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, published last week. “It’s an odd play,” Winterson told The New York Times. “It’s almost as if Shakespeare couldn’t be bothered to finish it.”
The novel was written at the invitation of Hogarth Press, which has commissioned novelistic adaptations of Shakespeare's plays from eight contemporary authors. "All Hogarth had to do to recruit award-winning authors for the series was drop the name Shakespeare, which apparently is the literary equivalent of catnip," said the Times.
Stephen Greenblatt, author of Will in the World, said, “Shakespeare was unbelievably clever at figuring out what stories have long lives. He was a great recycler of stories, and there’s no reason why his stories shouldn’t be recycled.”
THEY JUST KEEP ON: Some three-dozen post-Ian Fleming James Bond books written by several different authors have been published. The latest is Trigger Mortis by Anthony Horowitz. PW’s headline: “You Only Live (at Least) Twice.” In 1968, four years after Fleming’s death, Kingsley Amis (writing as Robert Markham) published the first continuation novel, Colonel Sun.
NEW COLUMN: Rachel Cooke, an arts columnist in The Guardian, wrote about autobiographies and memoirs recently. “I’ve a particular thing,” she said, “for stories in which a certain kind of clever, wryly, humorous narrator describes their complications with a parent.”
First mentioned was Vivian Gornick’s Fierce Attachments (1987), which has just been republished. It is about Gornick’s “difficult relationship with her mother.” Second was Edmund Gosse’s Father and Son (1907), “tender and wonderfully comic.”