What's so Great about Joyce and James?
I'm offended. How could anyone disparage James Joyce and Henry James. Novelist Sir V.S. Naipaul did, and he called Thomas Hardy “an unbearable write” who didn't “know how to compose a paragraph.” He also noted that Ernest Hemingway “was so busy being an American” that he “didn't know where he was.” Click here for more.

Shakespeare for Sale
This summer Sotheby's will auction the first folio edition of Shakespeare's plays. Estimated value: $7 million.

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The French Can't Stop Writing
A wave of unsolicited manuscripts have been flooding the offices of editors who 99 percent of the time send out one of those: “Sorry but your manuscript does not suit our needs at this time. Good look with getting your work published.” How do the editors attending the Paris Book Fair do it: “You don't need to eat a whole side of beef to know if it is good quality meat,” says Francis Esmenard, director of Albin Michel. Supposedly because of the short work week and early retirement, more French are attempting to write the great French novel.

New Literary Capital?
Hong Kong—it's a city of many things, a beautiful island actually that I visited frequently during the 1980s. With all that it was, literary would not be the word that comes to mind. Novelist Nury Vittachi thought the same thing a decade ago. This month, though, Hong Kong becomes home to a new international literary prize and the relaunch of the Asia Literary Review. That''s the thoughts of Joyce Hor-Chung Lau for the International Herald Tribune.

Celebrating National Poetry Month
Bright Hill press will party with the Academy of American Poets with four books featured on AAP's Web site: Gobbo: A Solitaire's Opera by winner of Bright Hill's chapbook competition David Cappella of Manchester, Connecticut, Degrees of Freedom by New Yorker Nicholas Johnson, Autobiography of My Hand by Kurt Olsson of Germantown, Maryland, and The Artist as Alice: From a Photographer's Life by the winner of Bright Hill's book competition Darcy Cummings of Laurel, New Jersey.

At the end of April, the academy will host the winner of the 2005 Cave Canem Poetry Prize, Constance Quarterman Bridges, and judge Sonia Sanchez at the CUNY Grade Center. Also noted will be finalists Christian Campbell and Raina Leon. Graywolf Press will publish the winning manuscript, Lions Don't Eat Us, in October.

Proofreaders of the World Beware
It's happening again. Someone thinks that he/she can create software that will replace a proofreader. That's not the claim of HWA Test and Data Management but it has developed with it calls paperless proofs that use Acrobat Reader and pdf files. Read more from Publishing News.

Lem Dead
Science fiction writer Stanislav Lem, who was shortlisted for the inaugural Man Booker international award in 2005, died. His best know novel was Solaris. Read more in the Guardian. (It's better than the New York Times's version of his life.)

Lambs or Wolves?
That single question has thousands of Chinese readers, including its intellectuals and industrial moguls, wondering. It is the thesis of a 650-page Wolf Totem written by an individual using the nom de plume Jiang Rong. The book has earned 10 literature prizes for its combination of autobiography, animal stories, and ethnological observations. For more, click.

Another Writing Trend?
In an article for Canada's Globe & Mail, Tralee Pearce argues that more authors are writing what amount to be 12-month memoirs, that being memoirs covering a annual span. There's A Year in the World, The Year of Magical Thinking, A Year in Provence, The Year of Yes, and My Year in Iraq.

Blog Writer Up for Award
The author using the nom de plume of Riverbend is on the longlist for the Samuel Johnson award, which would give the author approximately $60,000. The 26 year old wrote Baghdad Burning. The book, listed as a biography and memoir, already came in third for the Lettre Ulysses prize for Reportage and was shortlisted for an Index on Censorship freedom of expression award. Riverbend began the blog: “I'm female, Iraqi, and 24. I survived the war. That's all you need to know. It's all that matters these days anyway.” Read more. An extract of the book is available from the Guardian.

Mary Lee Settle Dead
She won the National Book Award for Blood Tie in 1978, and she worked to organize the PEN/Faulkner Award. George Garrett called her Charlottesville's dean of letters. The Virginia Quarterly Review, which called Settle a “writer of radiant fiction and nonfiction and tireless advocate for southern literature,” provided links to three of her VQR works.

Rachel Cooke Interviews Poet Hugo Williams
“[Hugo] Williams is just back from the Greek island of Skyros where he was teaching poetry and watching the goat festival, in which young men
dress up in goat skins and dash about the place in scenes straight out of the Bacchae,” writes Rachel Cooke of the award winning poet in the Guardian.

Chapter 13 of Zugzwang
The Observer is running a story by Ronan Bennett called “Zugzwang.” It reads like a Gothic novel mixed with Tolstoy without favorable results. The New York Times is putting out Chris Ware's “Funny Pages” for several months, a graphic novel whose characters and settings are as two-dimensional as the illustrations. The Times also is publishing a serial novel called “The Risk,” another Gothic melodrama of low-intrigue. Finally there's “Family Heirloom,” for which I cannot even fathom why it was published. I thought it me, getting old and farty, not understanding the “new.” Then I read “The Modern Hunter-Gatherer” by Michael Pollan, who provides a rich, three-dimensional look at the gathering of food and its implication on the psyche. It's brilliant for its depth, rigor, and humor, all indicating to me that the Times's staff my judge non-fiction better than fiction.

Parker and Hellman
bloglogo4.jpgIn a Book Forum essay called “Estate of Mind,” Marion Meade writes of the relationship between Dorothy Parker and Lillian Hellman—even after Parker’s death, which made Hellman the executor of Parker’s copyrights that were willed to the NAACP.

Aging Boomers and Their Characters
When she wrote Fear of Flying, Erica Jung wasn’t afraid of getting old, but old she got. In an interview with Bob Minzesheimer of USA Today, she is claiming a literary high ground: “She notes American fiction lacks female characters in their 50s or 60s who are ‘attractive, sexy, and alive. I’d like to claim that territory.’” Or could it be she is defining a sub-genre of chic-lit?

Poet Protests Iraqi War
“Poet Roger McGough has pulled out of a gala concert in honor of U.S. Secretary of State Condeleezza Rice amid protests by anti-war campaigners.” That’s the word from a Press Association blurb that appeared recently in the Guardian.

The Unblocking of Smiley
With the number of works produced by Jane Smiley, one might presume she never encouraged writer’s block. She hadn’t—until a few years ago. She sat one morning in 2001 to write her novel Good Faith and she “ahd wandered into a dark wood. [She] didn’t know the way out. [She] was afraid.” But escape she did.

Five Great Writers and Why?
Lately I have wondered about the future of writing. It’s a problem when teaching English to non-English majors. They don’t read. If the future has no readers, then what of literature. Then Professor Arnold Weinstein, more rightly, his book Recovering Your Story: Proust, Joyce, Woolf, Faulkner, Morrison rescued me. Aside from writing about five of my favorite writers, he explains how and why everyone should read them.

The Galoshes Writer
“Deep down, [Bernard] Malamud was a galoshes kind of guy,” says his daughter Janna Malamud Smith in her My Father Is a Book: a Memoir of Bernard Malamud.

March 24, 2006

Freedom of Thought
The West takes free thought and free speech for granted. Each freedom has become so ingrained in our culture that we presume the rights to be inalienable. Yet much of the world disagrees. For example, a Muslim who converted to Christianity now faces the death penalty for such a choice in Afghanistan, a country for whom Western armies went to defend its liberty against the Taliban. (By the way, the West, particularly the United States, went a long way to buffering up the Taliban after the Soviet Union occupied Afghanistan under more or less the same arguments the West has used for its occupation.) The man’s name is Abdul Radman, as reported by the New York Times.

Several hundred miles to the north and east, the People’s Republic of China is detaining Chinese journalist Zhao Yan. ZhaoThe government has suspected him of passing “state secrets” to the New York Times. What state secret? The prediction that Jiang Zemin would retire as PRC president. Even though the case has been dropped, he remains detained.

Writers depend on freedom of thought. They understand its value better than most. Yet why no outcry about these two incidents? I have no answer.

Manly Discussion
Just as the Booker Prize announced a five-year agreement to stay with the financial organization Man Group, a former Booker Prize winner, DBC Pierre with Vernon God Little, is releasing his second book. And he’s hoping he too is not a one-hit wonder. (Read the BBC’s report.) He might have something to fear. GalleyCat reports that the book, Ludmilla’s Broken English, has received mixed reviews.

GC also notes that while Random House, publisher of the DaVinci Code,  reported a 13 percent increase in profits, the company’s parent—Bertelsmann—remains on “shaky ground.”

Reading
On April 6 at seven, the NY Writers Coalition will sponsor its Best New Poets of 2005 reading. The New York City poets—Gary Joseph Cohen, Chip Livingston, and Leslie Shipman, are featured in the inagugural edition of Best New Poets, edited by George Garrett and published by Meridian/University of Virginia. The reading will be at the McNally Robinson Bookstore at 50 Prince Street.

Poetry ‘Journal’
The Poetry Foundation has started a journal, a blog-like Web site where an invited poet muses about of all things poetry. The current featured poet is Jonathan Galassi.

March 22, 2006

The Brass of Some Authors
Need to get to heaven? There’s a solution. Quick. Maybe easy. (That one is up for debate.) Read Rukhnama three times. That’s the tome of Turkmenistan’s President Saparmurat Niyazov. The Guardian quotes him as having asked Allah for that highway to the pearly gates. That’s a book deal.

What’s VQR? Everyone Knows Now
VQR is a “national journal of literature and discussion,” and that sounds like the description of scores of other literary magazines. There’s one enviable difference. The magazine was nominated for six National Magazine Awards—for general excellence, two for fiction, two for essays, and for reviews and criticisms—beating out arper’s, Esquire, GQ, and Atlantic Monthly. Meghan O’Rourke goes into the history of the magazine dark horse for Slate.

The World’s Screwed Up
Edward Wyatt writes in today’s New York Times: “Knock-offs of the The Da Vinci Code, made-up memoirs, and accounts of life with ornery pets are selling tens of thousands of hardcover copies a week. But publishers say there is no harder sell in the world of books these days than literary fiction.” To pinch a penny and to gain longer shelf-life, publishers, such as Grove/Atlantic, are issuing paperback versions of books, such as White Ghost Girls by Alice Greenway.

Peak at Award-Winning Short Story
The Willesden Herald is a long-running group blog from the streets of Willesden in London. This year, one of the joint winners of its annual short story competition, judged by local resident Zadie Smith, was part-time tiler and sometime writer Mikey Delgado. Pretend Genius Press is to publish his story in a new anthology called Fish Drink Like Us, due out in April; until then, you can read it in full here.” That’s the promise of the Guardian.

Poetry Workshop—Now
Sometimes it’s the very contradictions in a poem, the presence of two or more opposing forces pulling at each other, or interacting, that give the poem its power and energy, as if it were driven along by that friction and struggle.” That’s the opening of awarding-winning poet Jane Duran’s workshop available here.

Brokeback Debate in Print
James Schamus and Joel Conarroe take on Daniel Mendelsohn and his review of Brokeback Mountain in the The New York Review of Books, and I wondered how much of what they write about the movie’s theme relates to the Annie Proulx novel.