ReaderWriterVille

Blog in progress

Book-related thoughts

This is a grab-bag post of things I’ve been mulling over.

Goldsmith Prize: My favorite fiction prize was awarded to a very deserving book. Yes, Lucy Ellmann won for Ducks, Newburyport. There were other novels that I would have been happy to see win, e.g. Deborah Levy’s The Man Who Saw Everything, but Ellman’s work is such an amazing accomplishment. I’ve only read 50 of the 1000+ pages so far but even that short section made it clear to me that something important was going on. This doesn’t change my general attitude to prizes, but I’m very glad that both Ellmann and her publisher, Galley Beggar, will reap the financial rewards that come with a major prize.

Also, reading Ellmann’s interviews as she did her Booker publicity tour has been a hoot. She is completely unapologetic about her dedication to Literature with a capital L and to her belief (one I share) that too many men fail to take women’s work seriously. A man writing a 1000-page book about whatever is brilliant. A woman writing a 1000-page book about a middle-aged married woman in suburban Ohio who bakes pies and thinks about the world around her is doing something weird and unnecessary. Some of the more prize-obsessed readers I follow online were distressed by her answers to questions. She was insufficiently respectful of readers, etc. My reaction: You go, Lucy. You write what you want and you treat the publicity tour crap however you want. It deserves very little respect, frankly, and if writers of literary fiction can’t write what they want and expect readers to come to them, we are truly doomed as a civilization. Which we probably are anyway.


Jeannie Lin has a new book out! It’s a collection of short stories set in the same world as the Gunpowder Alchemy series. It’s her first publication in quite some time, and she made the difficult decision to keep the ebook off Amazon. Lin talks about it at AAR and more extensively at her blog (buy links are at the bottom of her post). This is a major instance of putting your money where your mouth is, given how thoroughly Amazon dominates the book market, especially in the US. Kudos to AAR for hosting her explanation, although of course they don’t miss the opportunity to point out that they make all their money from Amazon (as most blogs with referral links do) and will continue to keep that relationship. And of course there’s that one commenter who spends many, many words explaining how important and wonderful Amazon is for self-published authors. Great place to make that pitch, author-person.

Read the rest of this entry »

Weeknote 21

It’s now November. Where did October go? I failed to write any Weeknotes so I’ll never know.

WORK

Classes are into the final stretch, and we are all feeling it. Grading keeps arriving and I keep falling behind. The classes themselves are fine, and the students are hanging in there. But 14 and 15-week semesters are LONG, y’all. Still, Thanksgiving week is right around a couple of corners.

My administrative responsibilities are almost over! We had The Big Memo and The Big Meeting About The Memo and the forces of good prevailed. And you’d better believe I had TheH pick up a bottle of champagne to celebrate. Three years of trying and we finally got past the biggest hurdle.

Other administrative decisions were also made, some of which will have the effect of reducing my likelihood of being called on to do administrative work. Which is all to the good. I don’t know that all the consequences of those decisions will be as positive, but from a MeMeMe perspective it’s at least a draw. I know I’m being vague but I don’t write details about my job here. Even though I have a tiny readership, you never know.

On the research and writing front, I presented a paper in a seminar and got fantastic feedback, the helpful kind that makes me want to keep working on it. So all in all, a good work week.

READING/WATCHING/LISTENING

My reading and watching has been dismal for the last few weeks, but I l managed to read three books on a weekend with plane flights and down time. I also managed to finally review my October TBR Challenge book in the last post, and I have two more books to review. One was a library hold that came in when a Booker longlist book was finally published here in the US, and it was excellent: Deborah Levy’s The Man Who Saw Everything. The first half left me with a meh feeling, and then the second half kicked in and it all made sense and was brilliant and insightful and all the other praise words. It’s not long, and it’s well worth your time. I also read Sarah Morgan’s newest, a Christmas novel called A Wedding in December and I liked it immensely. It’s women’s fiction but definitely has romance in it, in fact there are two romance storylines. It has plenty of humor and is set at a resort in Aspen but somehow everyone feels normal. I know the holidays are coming when a new holiday-set romance by Morgan appears.

Read the rest of this entry »

SuperWendy’s TBR Challenge for October: Every Secret Thing by Susanna Kearsley

I know, I know, it’s November so I’m really late, but I did read it (late in October but still October!). So here you go.

Kearsley is one of my favorite authors, but shockingly, I haven’t read all of her available books yet. This one has been in my print and ebook TBR piles for years. TheHusband read it quite a while ago and liked it a lot, but I kept saving it for later. The theme of this month’s challenge is Paranormal/Romantic Suspense, and this novel is at the edge of RS, but Wendy is always saying readers don’t have to follow the categories. Anyway, it’s mysterious and somewhat suspenseful and while it deals with the past, it’s not a timeslip or two-era storyline.

Kate Murray is a Canadian journalist living in London. She is just finishing up covering a trial when an old man approaches her and says he has an important story. She brushes him off, politely but still a brushoff, and as he’s walking away he is hit by a car and dies. Her remorse leads her to try and find out more about the man, Arthur Deacon, and the story he wanted to tell her, which was about a long-ago murder. She has a couple of strange encounters in England which put her on her guard, but it’s when she goes back to Canada that the story really heats up. Her beloved grandmother turns out to have some tantalizing bits of information that fit into Kate’s puzzle, but there are any number of people who don’t want that information to come out.

Kate becomes determined to search for the truth of what Deacon was telling her, a search which takes her back to Europe and to sites of events during World War II. She learns much more about her grandmother’s wartime life as a young single woman, which includes a stint in New York City working for the Canadian version of MI-6, and she finds that she is connected to Arthur Deacon in ways she could never have anticipated. Along the way she meets a mysterious man who is also seeking information on Deacon and the events he described, and they keep running into each other while they are conducting their respective interviews and searches for documentary evidence. Is the man a threat or on her side? It takes a while to find out and I wasn’t sure at all what was going to happen.

Read the rest of this entry »

Nobel and Booker prizes 2019: You had one job!

The Nobel Prize for Literature was announced last week and the Booker Prize for Fiction was announced yesterday. Both organizations awarded two winners, for different reasons. The Nobel double award was made up of the 2019 prize and the delayed choice of the 2018 prize, the latter having been suspended because of the discovery of corruption and worse on the part of (some members of) the committee and its allied participants. The Booker two-fer resulted from the jury’s inability to reach a decision on a single winner despite having an odd number of jurists, which rules out the possibility of a tie vote. Its decided, against both the stated rules and the exhortations of the Booker organization, to flout their terms of reference. Good times all around.

The Nobel committee awarded the 2018 prize to Olga Tokarczuk, who seems eminently deserving of the recognition. So are a lot of other authors, but that’s always the case. And hey, if the Nobel crowd can get the number of women up to 15 by choosing Tokarczuk, I’m all for that.

But then there’s the 2019 winner, Peter Handke. I have read none of his written work, although I’ve seen some of the films for which he’s written the screenplays, and they are superb. But in the Year of Our Lord 2019, why are we giving an award to someone who spoke sympathetically at Slobodan Milosevic’s funeral? Who was skeptical that massacres of Muslims by Serbs in Bosnia were actual massacres, and posited that there may not have been a genocide? It’s one thing to separate the art from the artist to recognize great art, it’s another to elevate and celebrate the artist for an entire body of writing, which is what the Nobel does.

The Booker jury’s decision is simpler and less, well, stomach-churning. A massively popular and critically acclaimed novelist, one who has been frequently mentioned for the Nobel, was recognized for a sequel novel which no one believes is as good as the original (which itself was shortlisted but did not win in its Booker year). She shares the prize with Bernardine Evaristo, whose book has been widely acclaimed by critics and Booker-focused readers, and who is highly regarded but not that well known by the reading public (much like Anna Burns, last year’s winner).

Read the rest of this entry »

Weeknote 20

I should just have a standard opening for September: “work is kicking my ass. again. I’ll be back to more regularly blogging soon.”

WORK

We are almost done with the month, which means I might just get my midday hours back. Classes are going reasonably well; the students are engaged and for the most part I am managing not to lecture them in the seminars. I’ve found a rhythm for my law school JSD class, which helps.

I’m almost done with my immediate administrative responsibilities (how often have I typed that sentence?) and now it’s about making sure the stuff that’s been planned is implemented properly. Luckily we have a great staff to support us so it should be fine. I have a few more meetings to set up and a bunch of job talks to attend in October, but at least the faculty meetings are slowing down. Did I mention I had all of three free lunchtimes (our usual meeting and department event time) in September? One got filled at short notice so I went down to two. Come on, October.

I did get my paper revisions done so that it can be sent out, again. Let’s hope for a smooth review process and that it isn’t desk-rejected as not appropriate for the journal. It is turning out to be harder to place than I expected, for a variety of reasons, although it’s morphed into something that looks like other articles in a literature I didn’t foresee, so that’s promising.

With that paper gone I can turn to revisions on another piece of work that I’m refashioning to present in a seminar in early November. It will undoubtedly wind up taking more time than I think it will. Oh, and I have two dissertations to read for defenses in the next two months, neither of which are in political science. Good times.

READING/WATCHING/LISTENING

I’m reading more from the Booker shortlist and I’m about two-thirds of the way through Salman Rushdie’s Quichotte. I’m enjoying it immensely, far more than I thought I would. It’s been ages since I read Rushdie and I’d forgotten how joyous his writing can be. The reviews have been mixed and I can see why, but I’m along for the ride and the bagginess and occasional literary self-indulgence doesn’t bother me. It is very much a novel about where we are now, but written by someone who has seen a lot of life and is coming to terms with age. So the Quixote angle makes sense.

Read the rest of this entry »