Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Grudging Witnesses

"Louisa May Alcott and Walt Whitman served as nurses and eyewitness reporters in the hideous Union hospitals in Washington, D. C. Alcott contracted typhoid in the septic wards and wrote Little Women, about the daughters of a father wounded in the war, while treating herself with mercury. Whitman ministered to the needs of wounded soldiers while also keeping a careful visual record of everything he saw, 'this other freight of helpless worn and wounded youth,' as he wrote to Emerson. 'Doctors sawed arms & legs off from morning till night,' he reported in his journal. He was dismayed to see 'a heap of feet, arms, legs, etc., under a tree in front of a hospital.' As he moved from bed to bed in the overcrowded wards, he was shocked by the youth of the victims. 'Charles Miller, bed 19, company D, 53rd Pennsylvania, is only sixteen years of age, very bright, courageous boy, left leg amputated below the knee.'
     The remarkable medical photographs of the Civil War surgeon-photographer Reed Bontecou—now published in their entirety for the first time [Shooting Soldiers: Civil War Medical Photography By R.b. Bontecou by Stanley B. Burns] and recently shown at The Robert Anderson gallery in New York—bring us closer still. Bontecou, from Troy, New York, was a classifier of seashells and an ornithologist who had traveled in the Amazon before the war collecting specimens. A pioneer in surgical procedures known for the dexterity and speed of his operations, he was also a photographer of genius. His iconic image, 'A Morning’s Work,' shows a pile of amputated legs he himself had sawed off earlier that day."
— Christopher Benfey, The New York Review of Books

"A remarkable number of well known authors were ambulance drivers during World War I. Among them were Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, E.E. Cummings, and Somerset Maugham. Robert Service, the writer of Yukon poetry including The Shooting of Dan McGrew, and Charles Nordhoff, co-author of Mutiny On the Bounty, drove ambulances in the Great War. [...]
     If the list were expanded to include those working in medically related fields during the war, such names as Gertrude Stein, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, and E.M. Forster could be added."

Strokes Of The Pen: Faust, The Devil, And "Cultivating Literary Friendships"

From: The Manhattan Rare Book Company

"It’s hard to explain to writing students that there are pods of very friendly, arguably moral authors who treat each other as if the literary life is led on a firing range. They meet you alertly, brightly drawing from natty holsters their own signs of power, rank and aid, and then requesting that you do the same. They aren’t evil, really, and the impulse behind it is so close to camaraderie it almost smells right. We all need help, and we all want to help each other, which makes the nuances of the transaction murky. Some people never see the problem at all and others treat every request like you’re asking for a toe of which they are particularly fond. In the end, parsing the aspirational nature of literary friendship is as much of a longshot as sexing the yeti. [...]
     But I thought I’d give it a shot, and luckily I had help. Because I’m a collector of art and old books, I get email notifications of auctions, and the day I was to lecture my students, an old autographed letter appeared on the Ira & Larry Goldberg auction site. It illustrated the nature of 'transactional' so beautifully I read it aloud that night.
     It’s a one-page, single-spaced TLS (as they say) [Typed Letter Signed]
from William Faulkner. He is reacting to a request for a blurb in this, 1961, his final full year of life. To summarize the career until then: he’d struggled, his work had gone out of print, he’d almost drunk himself to death in Hollywood, where he was a failure. In 1946, washed up, spit out, he’d had his forgotten work reissued in The Portable Faulkner. This was the lightning and the thunder that changed his life. Seemingly overnight, he made an entire region of America a viable place to pan for talent and story, he won the Nobel Prize, he won the Pulitzer and the National Book Award too, and by January 1961, he’d spent about 15 years taking what comforts he could as a celebrated, revered, and golden writer.

From: AllStarPics
     The addressee is named Joan Williams. She is 30 years old, and she’s written the manuscript for a first novel called The Morning and the Evening. I mention this because Faulkner doesn’t begin it with 'Dear Miss Williams.' [...]"
— Glen David Gold, Los Angeles Review of Books

Buy all the books mentioned in this article here...

Monday, November 28, 2011

Scribo Ergo Sum

"Franz Kafka was a legal secretary at the Workmen's Accident Insurance Institute for the Kingdom of Bohemia in Prague (later: In the Czech Lands), where he wrote reports like 'Accident Prevention in Quarries,' and rose to a top office position, Obersekretär. Though his bureaucratic labors bore literary fruit—providing context and imagery for his fiction writing—Kafka came to feel bogged down by the daily grind. 'Writing and office cannot be reconciled, since writing has its center of gravity in depth, whereas the office is on the surface of life,' he wrote to his fiancée in 1913. 'So it goes up and down, and one is bound to be torn asunder in the process.'
     T.S. Eliot, on the other hand, was inclined to keep his day job even after it was financially necessary. When the Bloomsbury group offered to set up a fund that would allow him sufficient funding to become a full-time writer, the poet turned them down. 'This idea that Eliot should be freed from the drudgery of work misses the point that he was actually very interested in the minutiae of everyday life—he was a commentator on the quotidian,' British Library curator Rachel Foss told The Guardian. [...]
     Says Von Arbin Ahlander, 'We're kidding ourselves if we think we can make a living on writing.' As for the romantic ideal of the leisurely writer life, slowly crafting one's masterpiece in the calm solitude of a big, empty house: 'I mean, that's over,' she added, 'Unless you're a trust fund baby.'
     Though it's rare to make a living on writing, it's becoming increasingly easy to call yourself one. Without any money at all, anyone can publish digitally with the click of a button or, for a price, self-publish a print manuscript. The ecology of authorship has changed dramatically since, say March 1845, when Charlotte Brontë was working as a governess, miserable, and wrote in a letter, 'I shall soon be 30 and I have done nothing yet.' "— Betsy Morais, The Atlantic

Sunday, November 27, 2011

"Patience is the companion of wisdom." – St. Augustine

From: eBay

"Speaking through a Ouija board operated by Pearl Lenore Curran, a St. Louis housewife of limited education, Patience Worth was nothing short of a national phenomenon in the early years of the 20th century. Though her works are virtually forgotten today, the prestigious Braithwaite anthology listed five of her poems among the nation’s best published in 1917, and the New York Times hailed her first novel as a 'feat of literary composition.' Her output was stunning. In addition to seven books, she produced voluminous poetry, short stories, plays and reams of sparkling conversation—nearly four million words between 1913 and 1937. Some evenings she worked on a novel, a poem and a play simultaneously, alternating her dictation from one to another without missing a beat. 'What is extraordinary about this case is the fluidity, versatility, virtuosity and literary quality of Patience’s writings, which are unprecedented in the history of automatic writing by mediums,' says Stephen Braude, a professor of philosophy at the University of Maryland Baltimore County and a past president of the American Parapsychological Association, who has written widely on paranormal phenomena.
     Almost overnight, Patience transformed Pearl Curran from a restless homemaker plagued by nervous ailments into a busy celebrity who traveled the country giving performances starring Patience. Night after night Pearl, a tall, blue-eyed woman in a fashionable dress, would sit with her Ouija board while her husband, John, recorded Patience’s utterances in shorthand. Those who witnessed the performances, some of them leading scholars, feminists, politicians and writers, believed they’d seen a miracle. 'I still confess myself completely baffled by the experience,' Otto Heller, dean of the Graduate School at Washington University in St. Louis, recalled years later.
     Through Pearl, Patience claimed to be an unmarried Englishwoman who had emigrated to Nantucket Island in the late 1600s and been killed in an Indian raid. For three centuries, she said, she’d searched for an earthly 'crannie' (as in 'cranium') to help her fulfill a burning literary ambition. She’d found it at last in Pearl." — Gioia Diliberto, Smithsonian

Saturday, November 26, 2011

"How many ways can you say that Edgar Allan Poe was born in 1809?" — Jay Parini

"American author Lenore Hart has rejected accusations of plagiarism on Facebook, after allegations she used material from a 55-year-old book by Cothburn O'Neal in writing her fictionalised life of Edgar Allan Poe's cousin and wife, The Raven's Bride.
     Both Hart's novel, published this year, and O'Neal's The Very Young Mrs Poe, published in 1956, tell the story of Virginia Clemm, who married her cousin Poe when she was just 13 years old. Hart's is told in the first person, while O'Neal, who died in 2001, writes in the third person. A host of similarities between the two books have been alleged online, with the charge led by the spy novelist Jeremy Duns – who called this case 'absolutely shocking' – and by the blog The World of Edgar Allan Poe. [...]
     Asking if TS Eliot could have written The Waste Land 'if he worried about quoting without attribution,' [Jay] Parini said that 'the problem with historical fiction, of course, is that history is full of nuggets of knowledge. How many ways can you say that Edgar Allan Poe was born in 1809? If you're describing a certain river, the descriptions of that river will often sound like other descriptions of that river, and so forth. And it's important to remember that literature is a tissue of allusion. We all participate in the language, its writing and thinking; we do so unconsciously more than consciously. It's hard to find a sentence that hasn't been written by someone, somewhere: Isn't that a point made by Borges over and over?' [...]

     Bella Pagan, senior commissioning editor at Tor UK, Pan Macmillan, said that books receive 'a huge degree of scrutiny' before they are published. 'Commissioning editors will have read widely and deeply in their field, and are likely to spot it if something comes up which has been done before,' she said. 'But we can't possibly police everything, and we need to be very vigilant.' Although Pagan does not believe plagiarism has become more rife, she says it is more likely to be uncovered these days. 'Bloggers can police as much as anyone,' she said. 'I don't think there is more plagiarism than there has been historically, but it is probably easier to discover, and easier to publicise.'" — Alison Flood, Guardian

And more here, and here...

Buy these books here...

Friday, November 25, 2011

Palp Fiction

1st edition of TROPIC OF CANCER (1934)
From: Banned Novels

"The first thing that arises out of the nominations for this year's bad sex awards – the excruciating writing highlighted by the Literary Review each year – is just how fecund their writers' imaginations are. If they have done half the things they have ascribed to their characters, their spectacles must have steamed up.
     There are agile tongues, rooms that begin to shake, warm wet caves, volcanic releases, moist meat, bottomless swamps of dead fish and yellow lilies in bloom and cellars filled with a heady store of wines and spirits emitting wafts of gaseous bouquets. And that is before you get to massaging, kneading, stretching, rubbing, pinching, flicking, feathering, licking, kissing and gently biting – which occurs in just one sentence thanks to David Guterson.
     Now in their 19th year, the awards have shortlisted 12 authors before the presentation next month, among them some of the most distinguished – or at least bestselling – authors in the world. They come from Britain, the US, Hungary, Japan and Australia." — Stephen Bates, Guardian

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Market Positioning

"Helen DeWitt’s first novel, The Last Samurai, was published in 2000 to almost universally rapturous praise. It sold a hundred thousand copies in English. If literary publishing were a rational enterprise, even along narrowly capitalistic lines, DeWitt would have no trouble finding a permanent home at a major house. After all, whatever else we might say about her excellence as a writer, DeWitt sells.
     But publishing is far from rational, and so we have had to wait eleven years for her second novel, Lightning Rods. Adding to the absurdity of this long wait, DeWitt completed a draft of this book in 1999, before she even sold The Last Samurai, but was unable to publish it until it was released from its contract with Miramax Books, which had the option to publish it, chose not to, and yet would not allow the book to be released elsewhere. [...]
     Whereas DeWitt often talks about fiction as if it were a vehicle for presenting exciting ideas, the tendency of American culture is toward relaxation. Since the sixties, Americans have systematically de-formalized themselves, on the tacit theory that formality is equivalent to authority, and that authority is, more or less, equivalent to authoritarian oppression. [...]
     We can already see why the good folks at Miramax Books might not have known what to do with Lightning Rods. After all, if the typical American reader doesn’t want to be forced to learn about Greek, Japanese, or Arabic on the beach, it seems quite unlikely that she — and overwhelmingly the American reader is female — will want to read about the frankly bizarre sexual fantasies of a loser who lives in a trailer park. Which is a shame, because Joe’s fantasies — and what his fantasies inspire — get uproariously funny.
     In short order, Joe derives a scheme, inspired by his fetish, to help solve the problem of workplace sexual harassment. Joe will hire women to pose as regular workers — he calls these women Lightning Rods — who will make themselves available for anonymous intercourse according to a computer-determined algorithm. To ensure their anonymity, Joe’s Lightning Rods place their lower bodies through a hole knocked out of a wall separating the disability toilet cubicles in adjoining restrooms. After developing the system, hiring his first few Lightning Rods, and finding his first client — the description of this process takes considerable narrative space — Lightning Rods proceeds to describe in meticulous detail the way Joe transforms his sexual fantasy into a massively profitable business. Joe must conquer reluctant clients, emotionally distraught Lightning Rods, conservative Christians, and, in time, the FBI. All predictably fall to Joe’s entrepreneurial verve, his infallibly optimistic belief that he is making the world a better place."
— Lee Konstantinou, Los Angeles Review of Books

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

What Child Is This?

"[Beverly Lyon] Clark [in her book Kiddie Lit: The Cultural Construction of Children’s Literature in America (2003)] argues, and demonstrates, that our [...] fairly firm distinction between adult literature and children’s literature did not exist in 19th century America (probably not in the UK either). Writers would write for both children and adults, the reviewers would review (what we now think of as) children’s books as well as (what we now think of as) adult books. And magazines such as The Atlantic Monthly assumed their audience included children as well as adults. As one case study, Clark considers Mark Twain, in particular, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. These days we think of Huckleberry Finn as an adult book and Tom Sawyer as a boy’s book. But that distinction was not a firm one for Twain and his contemporaries. In his own statements on both books Twain vacillated in his sense of his audience and so did his reviewers. Similarly, Louisa May Alcott and her audience did not think of Little Women as a specifically girl’s book. It was a book that could be read with pleasure and edification by both children and adults. In fact, at the time, some considered it a mark of excellence that a book was accessible to children as well as to adults.
    The move to differentiate the adult from the children’s audience came in the first and second quarters of the 20th century and succeeded so well that we now assume it without question. And children’s literature has been, for the most part, marginalized.
     Clark devotes her final chapter to Disney. She makes the point that prior to the 40s Disney and his work was quite highly regarded in intellectual circles. Some even thought his cartoons were more aesthetically significant than contemporary live-action films. She also points out that anyone going to the movies assumed they would see cartoons before the feature. It didn’t make any difference whether the feature was a light-hearted comedy or a serious drama, you’d see cartoons first. Cartoons became children’s fare, she argues, after WWII and as a side-effect of TV, which made it easier to develop niche audiences."
— Bill Benzon, The Valve

"[...] Now, if you look at some of our most famous cartoon characters--such as Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse--you'll see that they have characteristics that the minstrel had: white gloves, wide eyes and a huge painted-on mouth, and a complete lack of respect for authority. (This was truer of early Mickey of the late 1920s and early 1930s than it was of later Mickey.)"
— Nicholas Sammond, author of Babes in Tomorrowland, in conversation with Henry Jenkins, Confessions of an Aca-Fan

"Who made the normal American child? In Babes in Tomorrowland [: Walt Disney and the Making of the American Child, 1930-1960 (2005)] Nicholas Sammond traces a path back to the sources of that child—one that links Margaret Mead to the Mickey Mouse Club and behaviorism to Bambi—to demonstrate that the production of a generically normal American child in the early twentieth century was as much the work of popular media as it was of developmental science. To locate that child, Sammond draws on popular child-rearing manuals and periodicals, mainstream sociological texts, and advertisements that targeted a burgeoning youth market. He also examines the films, TV programs, and ancillary products—everything from milk bottles, to school supplies, to wristwatches—of Walt Disney Productions, and the publicity Disney used to pitch its products. Sammond delineates the institutional and discursive ties that bound industry to science to the home, revealing a child that was as much the creature of popular media as the victim of its excesses."
University of Toronto Faculty Bookshelf

Buy these books here...

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

"China Miéville is perhaps the current generation's finest writer of science fantasy [...]" — Michael Moorcock

"[...] Míeville has become renown for the deft manner in which he uses the fantastic to explore such real world concerns as abuses of government power, international relations (not always with human beings), and the role of the subaltern in industrialized society. Míeville is no apologist for his love of genre fiction and much of the pleasure in his work comes from his engagement with familiar topoi of pulp tradition, his subversions of certain clichés, and his willingness to blur the perceived boundaries between various modes of genre fiction. The Scar weaved monsters and quantum theory into the maritime adventure story, while his Hugo award-winning The City and The City fused Hammett-style roman noir with Phildickian weirdness to explore the ways in which city dwellers can be trained to studiously ignore other communities. The recent novel Kraken is an affectionate parody of Lovecraftian apocalypse narratives. In his newest work, Embassytown, Míeville eschews the generic hybridity that has become his calling card in favor of tackling what is arguably the most traditional of science fiction subgenres: the Space Opera. Unsurprisingly, he makes it his own – crafting a narrative that is at once intellectually rigorous and intoxicatingly strange.[...]
     The Ariekei also are a truly marvelous invention, precisely because they feel so alien to the human reader. Their Language, their morphology, their conception of the world around them seems so foreign that it takes a concentrated effort for the reader to get his or her mind around it initially. To create a race of extraterrestrials that doesn’t feel like a thinly disguised caricature of an Earth culture is a significant accomplishment and, in this case, a virtuoso feat of imaginative prowess."
— Andre Shephard, The New Inquiry

Buy China Miéville's books here...

Monday, November 21, 2011

“Beat Poets, not beat poets.”

From: Museum of American Poetics Store
"[...] Once the cordon formed, the deputy sheriffs pointed their truncheons toward the crowd. It looked like the oldest of military maneuvers, a phalanx out of the Trojan War, but with billy clubs instead of spears. The students were wearing scarves for the first time that year, their cheeks rosy with the first bite of real cold after the long Californian Indian summer. The billy clubs were about the size of a boy’s Little League baseball bat. My wife was speaking to the young deputies about the importance of nonviolence and explaining why they should be at home reading to their children, when one of the deputies reached out, shoved my wife in the chest and knocked her down. [...]
     My wife [Brenda Hillman, b. 1951] bounced nimbly to her feet. I tripped and almost fell over her trying to help her up, and at that moment the deputies in the cordon surged forward and, using their clubs as battering rams, began to hammer at the bodies of the line of students. It was stunning to see. They swung hard into their chests and bellies. Particularly shocking to me — it must be a generational reaction — was that they assaulted both the young men and the young women with the same indiscriminate force. If the students turned away, they pounded their ribs. If they turned further away to escape, they hit them on their spines. [...]
     NONE of the police officers invited us to disperse or gave any warning. We couldn’t have dispersed if we’d wanted to because the crowd behind us was pushing forward to see what was going on. The descriptor for what I tried to do is 'remonstrate.' I screamed at the deputy who had knocked down my wife, 'You just knocked down my wife, for Christ’s sake!' A couple of students had pushed forward in the excitement and the deputies grabbed them, pulled them to the ground and cudgeled them, raising the clubs above their heads and swinging. The line surged. I got whacked hard in the ribs twice and once across the forearm. [...] — Robert Haas, The New York Times
     "Robert Hass [b. 1941] is a professor of poetry and poetics at the University of California, Berkeley, and former poet laureate of the United States. [His wife Brenda Hillman is the Olivia Filippi Professor of Poetry at Saint Mary's College in Moraga, California.]"

"[...] Police used batons to try to push the students apart. Those they could separate, they arrested, kneeling on their bodies and pushing their heads into the ground. Those they could not separate, they pepper-​sprayed directly in the face, holding these students as they did so. When students covered their eyes with their clothing, police forced open their mouths and pepper-​sprayed down their throats. Several of these students were hospitalized. Others are seriously injured. One of them, forty-​five minutes after being pepper-​sprayed down his throat, was still coughing up blood." — Gawker

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Book Mavens Everywhere…

"Living the Dream." Several boxes of books commemorating Martin Luther
King Jr. found in the Detroit Public Schools’ Roosevelt Warehouse, where tens
of thousands of other textbooks and countless other supplies have sat rotting
for more than two decades. — Text & photos: James Griffioen, Vice

"On Monday, November 7, 2011 Mayor Michael Bloomberg was in attendance at one of New York City’s top cultural and social events: The New York Public Library’s Library Lions gala. The individuals honored as Library Lions are, according to, 'distinguished individuals who have made significant cultural and educational achievements to increase our understanding of the world around us.' The 2011 honorees included such literary luminaries as Tony Kushner, Isabel Wilkerson, Jonathan Franzen, Stacy Schiff, Ian McEwan, and the songwriter Natalie Merchant.
     On Monday, November 15, 2011 the books of many of those Library Lions mingled with broken shelves, ripped tents, and smashed computers in the aftermath of the raid on Zuccotti Park. The raid, authorized by Mayor Bloomberg, saw, among other things, the OWS People’s Library thrown in the trash. Perhaps, as Mayor Bloomberg enjoyed the library festivities on the 7th he was already planning the action that would destroy a different library on the 15th, or perhaps he was just enjoying the photo opportunity as he exchanged pleasantries with the authors who he held in high enough esteem as to have their works tossed into garbage trucks."
— Xeni Jardin, bOING bOING

Friday, November 18, 2011

Jesmyn Ward's "Salvage The Bones" Wins National Book Award

"The story of a poor black family struggling to weather the horrors of Hurricane Katrina has won the National Book Award for fiction.
     Jesmyn Ward's second novel Salvage the Bones beat books including Téa Obrecht's Orange prize-winning title The Tiger's Wife to win the prestigious US prize, worth $10,000 (£6,300) and won in the past by Saul Bellow, Philip Roth and Thomas Pynchon. Set in Mississippi, in the coastal town of Bois Sauvage just before Katrina hits, Salvage the Bones tells of Esch, 15 and pregnant, and her three brothers as they search for food and try to protect each other.
     Ward, who was in Mississippi herself when Katrina hit, wanted to write 'about the experiences of the poor and the black and the rural people of the South,' the Associated Press reported. Her own experience of the hurricane was 'traumatic … to say the least,' she added. 'We went out into the storm, sheltered in our cars for hours, were denied shelter by a white family who told us we could sit outside in their field but couldn't shelter in their house, and then made our way to an intersection where another family, again white, took us in,' she said." — Alison Flood, Guardian

"Stephen Greenblatt's The Swerve, a dramatic account of the Renaissance era rediscovery of the Latin poet Lucretius, won for nonfiction Wednesday. The poetry prize went to Nikki Finney's Head Off & Split, summation of African-American history from slavery to Katrina, while Thanhhai Lai's Inside Out & Back Again, the story of a Vietnamese family in Alabama, won for young people's literature at a time when the state is reconsidering sweeping anti-immigration laws that went into effect in September." — Huffington Post

Buy all these books here...

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Divine Comedy

From: Cover Browser

"Germany's biggest Catholic-owned publishing house has been rocked by disclosures that it has been selling thousands of pornographic novels with titles such as Sluts Boarding School and Lawyer's Whore with the full assent of the country's leading bishops.
     The revelations made in the publishing-industry newsletter Buchreport concern Weltbild, a company with an annual €1.7bn (£1.5bn) turnover and 6,400 employees. It is Germany's largest bookseller after Amazon and wholly owned by the Catholic Church.
     Buchreport revealed that Weltbild's massive assortment of titles available to customers online includes some 2,500 'erotic' books with unmistakably lewd titles including Call Me Slut!, Take Me Here, Take Me Now! and Lawyer's Whore, to name a few. The publisher's website also pictures the titles' lascivious dust jackets that feature colour photographs of scantily clad women in high heels and erotic underwear."— Tony Paterson, The Independent

"PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island (AP) The ballad 'Danny Boy' has long been played at funerals, wakes and memorial services, its mournful strains conjuring up images of Ireland’s green pastures and wind-swept hills. New York Fire Chief Peter Ganci, killed in the World Trade Center attack, actor Carroll O’Connor and John F. Kennedy Jr. all were laid to rest with the plaintive melody.
     So when the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence banned 'Danny Boy' and other secular songs from funeral Masses, it raised the ire of Irish-Americans. 'I want Danny Boy sung at my funeral Mass and, if it isn’t, I’m going to get up and walk out,' retired Pawtucket police officer Charlie McKenna wrote in April to The Providence Visitor" — Anorak


"A literary novelist writing a genre novel is like an intellectual dating a porn star. It invites forgivable prurience: What is that relationship like? Granted the intellectual’s hit hanky-panky pay dirt, but what’s in it for the porn star? Conversation? Ideas? Deconstruction?
With the human odd couples, the answer stays behind closed doors (until divorce yields the tremulous interview or hemorrhaging memoir), but with their novelistic analogues, it’s all ours for less than $30.
     [...] The novel is set chiefly in Manhattan, some time after a plague has turned a majority of the world’s population into zombies (or, as Whitehead calls them, 'skels,' short for 'skeletons'). Skels are of two kinds. They’re either dozily rabid predators reduced to a monolithic imperative — eat living flesh — or they’re 'stragglers,' harmless catatonics piteously stuck at their former posts.
    Geographically, 'Zone One' is everything south of Canal Street, a barriered region largely cleared of the undead by the military. Local authority is the brass at 'Fort 'Wonton' in Chinatown, while national administrative power lies with the new provisional government in Buffalo. Civilization is attempting a comeback. According to propaganda, the 'American Phoenix' is rising, thanks to frail corporate sponsorship and therapy for those suffering from P.A.S.D. (post-apocalyptic stress disorder). There’s an Orwellian slogan, 'We Make Tomorrow!' (which I heartily wish didn’t remind me of 'Yes We Can') and a new morale-boosting anthem: “Stop! Can You Hear the Eagle Roar? (Theme From ‘Reconstruction’).” There are also 'sweepers' teams of quasi-military volunteers who go in after the Marines to pick off any stragglers the primary purge might have missed.
     [...] There will be grumbling from self-appointed aficionados of the undead (Sir, I think the author will find that zombies actually . . .) and we’ll have to listen for another season or two to critics batting around the notion that genre-slumming is a recent trend, but none of that will hurt Zone One, which is a cool, thoughtful and, for all its ludic violence, strangely tender novel, a celebration of modernity and a pre-emptive wake for its demise. If this is the intellectual and the porn star, they look pretty good together. For my money, they have a long and happy life ahead of them."
— Glen Duncan, The New York Times (Sunday Book Review)

More about Colson Whitehead here...

Get all of his books here...

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Pilfered Not Stirred

In 2007, [Quentin] Rowan self-published a collection of short stories. Using this presumably as his calling card, he signed a book deal with Little, Brown for a series of spy novels starring a James Bond-like hero, Jonathan Chase. He used the pseudonym QR Markham.
     In retrospect, that was a warning - the name had been copied from the pseudonym used by Kingsley Amis for his own James Bond novel.
     The first book in the series, The Assassin of Secrets (sic), appeared at the beginning of November this year. It had a print run of 6,500, plus a deal to publish an edition in the UK. It was launched at a spy-themed party at [Brooklyn bookstore] Spoonbill & Sugartown. The book received a starred review from Kirkus (a 'dazzling, deftly controlled debut'), while Publishers Weekly said that while it 'strays far enough into James Bond territory to border on parody," the book was praised for its 'fine writing. [...] The obvious Ian Fleming influence just adds to the appeal,' it concluded.
     A week later, The Assassin of Secrets (sic) was dramatically pulled from bookstores after a James Bond forum spotted that passages in the book were copied word-for-word from prominent spy novels. The forum discussion was seen by the author Jeremy Duns, who was quoted praising the work on the back of the book. He immediately contacted the book's publishers.
     The book's withdrawal led to a brief spike in sales, and an in-depth confirmation of the charges by Edward Champion on the website Reluctant Habits, who found copied passages in the text from several spy novels including The Tears of Autumn [by Charles McCarry], and James Bond novels License Renewed and For Special Services.
     Champion also discovered that Rowan's stories for BOMB, The Paris Review, and a piece he wrote for us all contained heavily plagiarized material.

[In an interview with Jeremy Duns, Quentin Rowan says:]
"[...] things really got out of hand for me. I just didn't feel capable of writing the kinds of scenes and situations that were asked of me in the time allotted and rather than saying I couldn't do it, or wasn't capable, I started stealing again. I didn't want to be seen as anything other than a writing machine, I guess." [...]
     I rarely slept and mostly felt like an actor on a stage in my day to day life. Signing books made me feel deathly ashamed, around so many good people, but I'd already thrown the dice so long ago by that point I felt there was nothing I could do but play the out the awful pantomime... I can only compare it to other kinds of obsession or addictive behavior like gambling or smoking: in that there was no need to do it initially, but once I'd started I couldn't stop and my mind kept finding ways to rationalize the behavior. Even though, somewhere deep in the chasms of my thick brain, I knew it would destroy me."
— Andrew Losowsky, Huffington Post

"[Quentin Rowan as Q.R.] Markham, Page 13 [of Assassin of Secrets] : 'The boxy, sprawling Munitions Building which sat near the Washington Monument and quietly served as I-Division’s base of operations was a study in monotony. Endless corridors connecting to endless corridors. Walls a shade of green common to bad cheese and fruit. Forests of oak desks separated down the middle by rows of tall columns, like concrete redwoods, each with a number designating a particular work space.'

Taken from [James] Bamford, Page 1 [of Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency] : 'In June 1930, the boxy, sprawling Munitions Building, near the Washington Monument, was a study in monotony. Endless corridors connecting to endless corridors. Walls a shade of green common to bad cheese and fruit. Forests of oak desks separated down the middle by rows of tall columns, like concrete redwoods, each with a number designating a particular work space.' ”
— Edward Champion, Reluctant Habits

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

“You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” ― Ray Bradbury

There is something viscerally disturbing about the destruction of books; especially when it is perpetrated by people wearing uniforms. Read about it here...

"I ran into the library and let the handful of people sleeping in there know what was happening, then unlocked and pulled the OWS POETRY ANTHOLOGY from the shelves and strapped them to my body, then climbed atop a table in the park and read poems from the anthology. Immediately, the people of Liberty Plaza launched into action, a group of about a hundred protesters took to the kitchen and U-Locked/tied themselves down. After reading the third poem, the cops began to enter the park and I realized that I would most likely lose all of my possessions so I quickly grabbed a bag of my personal stuff, ran into the library and dumped a bunch of boxes of books onto the floor to make the cleaning up more difficult for the cops then ran my personal stuff and a few amazing books to a friends house around the corner." — Stephen Boyer, Occupy Wall Street Library Worker (in the Huffington Post)

From: Encyclopedia Britannica Blog

"Over my desk hangs a large print of a photograph [see above] taken in London during World War II. It is of the library of Holland House [...] One night in September 1940 the house was largely destroyed by German bombs. But the library – perhaps fortified by the weight of those books, perhaps (let us imagine) defiant of the book-burning Nazi regime – stood. The roof fell in, great beams hung precariously, but the shelves were mostly intact and the books remained quietly and neatly arranged in their proper order.
     In the photograph, three men stand quietly at those shelves, seemingly oblivious of the rubble all about them. They are hatted, of course – two homburgs and a fedora – which brings home to the viewer the ambiguity of their situation: Are they indoors or out? One of the men is looking into a book; a second is just about to pull one from its shelf; and the third is simply scanning the spines arrayed before him.
     [...] it is an image of respect, all the more remarkable for the circumstance. It is respect for learning, for what man has achieved since moving out of the trees and the caves, expressed all the more poignantly amidst the evidence of the fragility of that achievement." — Robert McHenry, Encyclopedia Britannica Blog

Estrangement in a Strange Land

"I was up in Cheltenham this weekend at the Literature festival, where I chaired several events – including one with SF legend Brian Aldiss, still going strong at 86, and calling to mind in voice and appearance a benign, left-wing John Cleese. When asked by an audience member why he'd tackled the subject of state-endorsed torture in his 2007 novel, Harm, he explained the novel's political charge on the grounds that 'I really do believe that the people in charge at the minute are - well, shits.' Amen to that.
     Anyway, my final event on Saturday was with SF-legend-in-the-making China Miéville, to discuss his latest novel, Embassytown. We talked about the novel for about half an hour (read it: it's excellent) before the conversation veered onto the evergreen territory of the Booker prize's wilful neglect of science fiction. It's a well-rehearsed argument (I went to an event at Cheltenham last year in which Miéville and John Mullan squared off entertainingly over it), but we ran down the familiar points: SF novels are generally sold not on their literary credentials but on the ideas they explore; the Booker is a genre (litfic) award itself, but just doesn't admit it; SF novels DO make it onto Booker shortlists (Never Let Me Go, Oryx and Crake) but once shortlisted they're not called science fiction any more (cf Kingsley Amis's oft-quoted distich: ' "SF's no good!" they bellow till we're deaf./ "But this looks good … Well, then, it's not SF!" ')."
— Sarah Crown, Guardian

Get all the books mentioned in this article here...

Out of Time, Out of Place

"Irma Voth, the narrator of the Canadian writer Miriam Toews’s new novel, has a name that sounds as if she’s a plucky 19th-century heroine, and she has a life imported from another century as well. Irma is a Mennonite living on an isolated farm near the city of Chihuahua, Mexico, where her family fled from Canada after the death of Irma’s older sister.
     'We live like ghosts,' Irma says of the Mennonites. This strict Christian sect has a history of abrupt departures after persecution by governments that grow tired of their quest to live, as Irma puts it, 'purely but somewhat out of context.' Nineteen-year-old Irma herself is now living completely out of context, having been expelled by her father for marrying a Mexican, who promptly disappeared. She lives alone in a house near her family, discouraged from talking to them, not quite sure how everything went so wrong. [...]
     This is Toews’s fifth novel, and I wonder if she would be marketed as a writer of young adult fiction if she were to begin her career today, when that category has finally been recognized for its literary merit and appeal, even to adult readers. She writes with an instinctive grasp of the adolescent point of view, in which concepts like personal freedom and self- determination have the highest emotional charge and adults are powerful but slightly irrelevant beings. Her most celebrated novel, A Complicated Kindness, is narrated by another Mennonite teenager, who also rejects her repressive heritage and is forced to live by her own considerable wits. Like Irma Voth, it’s a sly, humorous but still distressing evocation of a young Mennonite’s predicament, which is your standard small-town adolescent crisis magnified by a thousand — depression thick in the air, attempts to navigate any aspect of one’s life systematically quashed, shame heaped upon any nonconformist behavior."
— Maria Russo, The New York Times

Get all of Miriam Toews's books here...

Monday, November 14, 2011

Spineless Books

"This cultural recession mirrors the economic downturn. Last month, on a visit to the US, I got a rare glimpse into the desperate conditions in which the contemporary writer must operate. Apparently, for at least one prominent literary agent, there is now only one rule, which can be expressed mathematically as 1/10, thus: 'A new novel should be summarised in a single sentence, and should stop dinner conversation for at least 10 minutes.' [...] It's the Ikea novel, shaped by the logic of 1/10. Ikea novels are the kind of fiction that comes direct from the factory, with no intercession of craftsmanship or artistry en route to the consumer. They are created by often talented writers, frantic to make a career, who have acquired a boxed-up fiction kit at a suburban outlet and assembled it in their spare time on the living room floor, with a construction manual in one hand, The Writers' & Artists' Yearbook in the other. [...]
The Ikea novel has all the things that fiction is supposed to have. It is competently written in a simulacrum of fine writing. It has character and situation, conflict and resolution. Somewhere you will find the 'arc of the narrative.' Under its highly painted metalwork there's probably an 'inciting incident' or two. Ikea-fiction writers know all about 'first-' or 'third-person' and 'unreliable' narrators. The latter are fashionable just now, because they can be used to explain away narrative cock-ups.
The thing that Ikea culture manufactures looks like fiction, sounds like fiction and even reads like fiction. There's just one problem: Ikea fiction is not original, and not distinctive, with no inner vision or humanity. It comes from a kit. It's a fake and can never be a work of art. How could it be? It was invented to please a market, and to make money. No wonder so many erstwhile novelists are turning to film and television." — Robert McCrum, Guardian

Pulped Fiction

From: Cover Browser

"In the spring of 1935, the famous novelist Maxwell Bodenheim crashed the New York City welfare office and begged for relief after five years of the Great Depression. His career had stalled, and Bodenheim hadn’t earned a dime since his final novels had flopped. He was working on a manuscript called Clear Deep Fusion, but he would never finish it. His visit to the relief office was his last stand before he was edited out of literary history.
     The New York Herald Tribune mocked Bodenheim’s ragged demonstration: 'he wore high shoes without laces, his shirt was dirty and the rest of his clothes needed cleaning and pressing. He was unshaven, very pale and his hair was mussed.' He brought along five Writers Union activists and a squad of reporters in an effort to inspire other writers to go public with their struggles to survive. One activist waved a sign that read 'starvation standards of Home Relief make real ghost writers.' During the thirties, the rate of newspaper closings rose to 48 percent and magazine advertising plunged 30 percent. Publishers Weekly noted book production had been slashed from nearly 211 million to 154 million books during that period: 57 million books evaporated into thin air.
     Bodenheim’s Slow Vision explored a miserable relationship during the Great Depression, showing the effects of unemployment on a young couple. I paid more than $50 for a copy at a rare books site; not because Bodenheim’s work is highly valued, but because it is nearly extinct. I’ve checked out every single Bodenheim book I could find at my local libraries. At the Los Angeles Public Library, the checkout sleeve for his poetry collection still held an obsolete computer punch card, the brittle cardboard only stamped once since 1930: May 15, 1981. I found more of his poetry in a rare archive of the New Masses magazine, whose 75-year-old pages crumble when you touch them. [...]
    The loss of these radical works is part of a larger loss for print culture, of course. In his book Double Fold, Nicholson Baker investigated the destruction of thousands of newspapers by libraries in a bid to create microfilm archives. In 1997, the San Francisco Library pulped 250,000 forgotten books to make room for computers and reading spaces, consigning works by authors like Bodenheim to oblivion. A group of rogue librarians bucked these orders, stashing books in safe nooks and stamping them with imaginary checkouts to keep them in circulation. They called it 'guerrilla librarianship.' In 1997, The Atlantic Monthly defined the term as 'the use of surreptitious measures by librarians determined to resist the large-scale 'deaccessioning' of rarely used books … [It] can also involve such tactics as transferring endangered books from one department to another and hiding books in lockers, to be reintroduced to the collection.' "
— Jason Boog, Los Angeles Review of Books

Read more about Maxwell Bodenheim here...
and here...

Sunday, November 13, 2011

From: Cynical-C
"After some 30 years of proselytizing about evolution to Christian believers, [Francisco J. Ayala] the esteemed evolutionary biologist at the University of California, Irvine, has honed his arguments to a fine point. He has stories and examples at the ready, even a shock tactic or two at his fingertips. One out of five pregnancies ends in spontaneous miscarriage, he often reminds audiences. Next he will pointedly ask, as in an interview with U.S. Catholic magazine last year, 'If God explicitly designed the human reproductive system, is God the biggest abortionist of them all?'; Through such examples, he explains, 'I want to turn around their arguments.' [...]

From: AbeBooks
     But Ayala thinks that scientists who attack religion and ridicule the faithful—most notably, Richard Dawkins of the University of Oxford—are making a mistake. It is destructive and gives fodder to the preachers who insist followers must choose either Darwin or God. Often students in Ayala’s introductory biology class tell him that they will answer test questions as he wishes, but in truth they reject evolution because of their Christian beliefs. Then, a couple of years later, when they have learned more science, they decide to abandon their religion. The two, students seem to think, are incompatible.[...]"
— Sally Lehrman, Scientific American

Saturday, November 12, 2011

"Layers of Tissue"

"Alice Munro is so routinely called one of the greatest living short story writers that the accolade risks dulling the brilliance of her work, and certainly obscures its strangeness. While the typical setting of her stories is her native small-town southwestern Ontario – although numerous exceptions can be found among her 12 collections and one sort-of-novel – their content is anything but prosaic. Munro slices through domestic surfaces into the emotional and psychological turmoil beneath. As one of her narrators says of her hometown, 'People's lives in Jubilee, as elsewhere, were dull, simple, amazing, unfathomable, deep caves paved with kitchen linoleum.'

     Munro is, in Coral Ann Howells's description, an artist of indeterminacy, a trait on which she pins her inability to write novels. She explained to the Paris Review in 1994 that, 'I have all these disconnected realities in my own life, and I see them in other people's lives. That was one of the problems – why I couldn't write novels, I never saw things hanging together any too well.' She actively resists definite conclusions in her fiction, telling Brick in 1991 that 'I want the story to exist somewhere so that in a way it's still happening, or happening over and over again. I don't want it to be shut up in the book and put away – oh well, that's what happened.' "— Chris Power, Guardian
Buy Alice Munro books here...

Friday, November 11, 2011

From: Wikipedia; The Canadian Encyclopedia; Postal History Corner

"[John] McCrae was born in McCrae House in Guelph, Ontario [Canada] to Lieutenant-Colonel David McCrae and Janet Simpson Eckford; he was the grandson of Scottish immigrants. He attended the Guelph Collegiate Vocational Institute and became a member of the Guelph militia regiment.[...]
     When the United Kingdom declared war on Germany at the start of World War I, Canada, as a Dominion within the British Empire, declared war as well. McCrae was appointed as a field surgeon in the Canadian artillery and was in charge of a field hospital during the Second Battle of Ypres in 1915.
     McCrea's friend and former student, Lt. Alexis Helmer, was killed in the battle, and his burial inspired the poem, In Flanders Fields, which was written on May 3, 1915 and first published in the magazine Punch.[...]
     From June 1, 1915 McCrae was ordered away from the artillery to set up No. 3 Canadian General Hospital at Dannes-Camiers near Boulogne-sur-Mer, northern France. C.L.C. Allinson reported that McCrae 'most unmilitarily told [me] what he thought of being transferred to the medicals and being pulled away from his beloved guns. His last words to me were: "Allinson, all the goddamn doctors in the world will not win this bloody war: what we need is more and more fighting men." '
     In Flanders Fields appeared anonymously in Punch on December 8, 1915, but in the index to that year McCrae was named as the author. The verses swiftly became one of the most popular poems of the war, used in countless fund-raising campaigns and frequently translated (a Latin version begins In agro belgico...). In Flanders Fields was also extensively printed in the United States, which was contemplating joining the war [...] " —Wikipedia

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields, the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; wait and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead, short days ago,
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields!

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands, we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields!

- John McCrea (May 3, 1915)


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Smoking Jackets

More unfortunate cover choices here...
and here...

Amazon is not just a river. Neither is denial.

From: Wikia Brazil

"The news that Amazon is preparing to release more than 100 books this fall was predictably greeted in doomsday tones. ' has taught readers that they do not need bookstores. Now it is encouraging writers to cast aside their publishers,' lamented the Times. The mood was summed up by Richard Curtis, an agent and e-book publisher who was one of the few publishing professionals willing to speak on the record. 'Everyone’s afraid of Amazon,' he said. 'If you’re a publisher, one day you wake up and Amazon is competing with you too. And if you’re an agent, Amazon may be stealing your lunch because it is offering authors the opportunity to publish directly and cut you out.' The trouble isn’t just that Amazon is stealing some money-making authors. It’s that 'the company is gnawing away at the services that publishers, critics and agents used to provide.'
     Note the past tense. If traditional book publishing is failing to provide services that once were standard, someone will inevitably step in to fill the vacuum. There are three major steps in publishing and selling a book, and in each of them Amazon is offering a service that has been neglected by the mainstream: [...]"
— Ruth Franklin, The New Republic

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Travel Books

From: Reanimation Library

"Tom Corwin clearly recalls the day when, on a whim, he decided to buy and restore a classic bookmobile.
     'The best ideas just happen to you,' says Corwin, a writer and musician whose boyish, intense enthusiasm is highly contagious. 'A friend came to dinner, and showed me the ad. He was hoping to use the bookmobile to extend his home library—into his back yard. When he realized it wouldn’t fit, I had an idea: Get well-known authors behind the wheel of the bookmobile, taking turns on a drive across the country, talking about the books that have touched their lives. What a great way to remind people of our connection to the written word, and how powerful it can be.'
     Corwin, who lives just north of San Francisco, picked up the vehicle in Chicago. Made by Moroney— a family-owned company in Massachusetts, and America’s last hand-builder of bookmobiles— the mobile library had just been retired after 15 years of travel. Its sturdy oak shelves had showcased more than 3,200 books.
     [...] The first bookmobile seems to have appeared in Warrington, England, in 1859. That horse-drawn cart, a 'perambulating library,' lent some 12,000 books during its first year of operation—a century before the sleek vehicle that would visit Arlington, Massachusetts, during my own elementary school years.
     America’s first 'traveling branch library' plied the county roads of Maryland, championed by visionary librarian Mary Titcomb. 'Filled with an attractive collection of books and drawn by two horses,' wrote Titcomb, 'with Mr. Thomas the janitor both holding the reins and dispensing the books, it started on its travels in April 1905.' "— Jeff GreenwaldSmithsonian

"Penny Dreadfuls" Revisited

From: Wikipedia

"Self-publishing: it's exploding in popularity, we all know that, with self-published authors selling millions via Amazon's Kindle, pushing traditionally published authors out of the top spots on new ebook charts, etc etc. But did you know that self-publishing websites are attracting more than 40% of all China's internet users every month? I didn't, and I am reeling, a little, from the statistic.
     These aren't Authonomy-esque, publish-and-be-encouraged-by-fellow-writers sorts of sites, though, or even collections of self-published novels. The websites host what is being dubbed 'freemium' publishing. Publishing Perspectives has more details: a growing number of self-publishing websites host thousands of free-to-read web serials – anything from historical epics to sci-fi – posted by their authors. As a serial gathers critical mass, the author is invited to become a 'VIP', and readers have to pay for the new instalments – only a few yuan, but these micropayments from readers can number in the millions: China Daily reports that one author, the 26-year-old Huang Wei, makes more than more than Y1m a year (£100,000).
     'It's pure entertainment, written, downloaded, read and deleted all at top speed,' says Beijing-based literary translator and publishing consultant Eric Abrahamsen, who also writes for the Chinese publishing industry newsletter Paper Republic. 'Basically all of this writing is genre fiction. It is produced by young writers and aimed at young readers.' " — Alison Flood, Guardian

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Birth of Bertha

Painting of the Brontë sisters by their brother
Branwell Brontë (circa 1834)
from: Wikimedia Commons

"A newly-discovered manuscript reveals the author [Chalotte Brontë] imagined the creepy character [Bertha] 17 years earlier, when she was just a teenager. The hand-written story, penned by the author at the age of 14, has laid hidden in a private collection and has never been seen before by scholars. [...] Experts have drawn attention to passages with echo the chapter in Jane Eyre where Mr Rochester’s insane wife, Bertha, sets fire to his house. [...] In another passage, she gives a vivid description of the attic similar to the one which becomes the home of the mentally-ill Mrs Rochester. [...]
     With hand-cut pages, she replicated the format of printed periodicals of the day, complete with table of contents, articles, poetry and classified advertisements, one of which reads: ‘Six young men wish to let themselves all a hire for the purpose of cleaning out pockets they are in reduced CIRCUMSTANCES [sic].’
     Inspired by Blackwood’s Magazine, to which her father subscribed, she called hers The Young Men’s Magazine, Number 2, and dated it August 1830. It is the missing second volume of a series of six.
     Most of her manuscripts are now in public institutions in Britain and America, and the anonymous owners of this one had no idea of its significance when they approached Sotheby’s in London about selling it. [...] It is expected to sell for £300,000 when it goes on sale at Sotheby’s in London next month." — Dalya Alberge, Daily Mail

"This autumn sees two new film adaptations of novels by the Brontë sisters: one, directed by Andrea Arnold, of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, and the other of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, directed by Cary Fukunaga. Making a film adaptation of a classic novel is an ambitious and risky business—both of these books have been read, studied, loved and debated for over 150 years. The destructive passion of Catherine and Heathcliff and the stoic, enduring love of Jane and Rochester have seeped into the common consciousness.
     There are already several film adaptations of both novels, such as Robert Stevenson’s gothic 1943 interpretation of Jane Eyre and Robert Fuest’s unconventional 1970 take on Wuthering Heights. So why make any more? The preoccupations of Victorian ladies, such as status, marriage and inheritance, aren’t as potent as they once were. Yet the darker forces of these books, including their undertones of feminism and concerns with inequities and feelings of alienation, are as relevant as ever."— More Intelligent Life

Monday, November 7, 2011

Merci, Wiki...

"Ever the deadpan comedian, Michel Houellebecq includes in the acknowledgments of the British edition [translated by Gavin Bowd] of his new novel, a brief but perfectly straight thank-you to Wikipedia. Following the publication of The Map and the Territory in France last year, he was somewhat half-heartedly accused of plagiarising the information website, co-opting material on houseflies, a French town and a hunting activist. At the time – which was before the novel had won the Prix Goncourt – Houellebecq was rather persuasively dismissive about the allegations, retorting that his detractors understood very little about either literature or his writing methods. [...]
     His fifth novel is a wonderfully strange and subversive enterprise, in which a semi-satirical examination of the art world gives way to a gory police procedural, realistic fictional characters mingle with utterly improbable figures who are in fact taken from real life, the author himself makes a low-key entrance and a thoroughly dramatic exit, and subjects under discussion range from the changing nature of the French countryside to the possibility of accurate artistic representations of art and the probability of writing a compelling thriller about radiators." — Alex Clark, Guardian