NY Times 100 Notable Books of 2014

Holiday season is book time–time to read and time to give and receive. What better place to tap into the best contemporary writing than The New York Times‘ “100 Notable Books of 2014“?  Which ones have you read?

Henri Cole Interviewed in The Paris Review

There’s a wonderful interview with Henri Cole in The Paris Review–many insights on craft and the artistic mindset. Here’s a glimpse into how he wrote Middle Earth:

“I decided to try writing free-verse sonnets and bringing to them some of the qualities of Japanese poetry, valuing sincerity over artifice, frequent use of simile, the presence of nature as an emblem for interior states, and so on. The first poems I wrote were in a rather minimalist style, like a rock garden. I tried to write poems of pure contentment, because I was so deeply moved by the setting—the rice fields were being planted and were full of happy frogs that talked all night and accompanied my sleep. It was intense. And slowly, I wrote about it. And these were the poems that became Middle Earth.”

First Paragraphs: Padgett Powell’s “The Winnowing of Mrs. Schuping”

I haven’t read all of Padgett Powell’s short stories, but I’ve read enough to know that “The Winnowing of Mrs. Schuping” is my favorite of his stories.  The first paragraph alone is worth the price of the book, the 1991 collection, Typical. The story setting is contemporary, yet the reference to the eighteenth century oaks immediately pulls us into another time.

Mrs. Schuping lived on a moribund estate that had once been grand enough in trees alone that a shipbuilder scouting live oaks in the eighteenth century had bought the tract for wood to make warships for the British Navy. Oak of that sort, when fitted into six-inch walls, would not merely withstand or absorb cannonballs but repel them a good way toward their source. Mrs. Schuping did not know this, but she had big old trees, and she patted their flanks when she strolled the grounds.


Summer Travel Interviews and Readings: Richard Ford

Richard Ford, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of The Sportswriter, the wonderful novel that first introduced us to Frank Bascombe, is bringing Frank back in a new book, Let Me Be Frank with You, to be released later this year.  In this interview with PBS’s Jeffrey Brown, Ford discusses writing his Bascombe novels, reads from the new book, and tells a wonderful Raymond Carver anecdote.  If you’re traveling and you’d like to add a little depth to your highway-skyway miles, settle into for an interesting discussion of story making.

The Residue of Writing: John Updike’s Garbage

In “The Man Who Made Off With John Updike’s Trash,” Adrienne LaFrance, of The Atlantic, profiles Paul Moran, a man who regularly took John Updike’s trash from the front yard of his Beverly Farms home in Massachusetts.  Moran’s collection includes discarded clothes, photos, letters, royalty checks, an old driver license, broken gadgets, honorary degrees, manuscript pages and more.

“My life is, in a sense, trash,” Updike told the Paris Review.  His words take on new meaning after reading LaFrance’s curiously intriguing article.





Summer Travel Interviews and Stories: Kurt Vonnegut Reads from Slaughterhouse-Five

“Listen: Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.”  This has to be one of the most famous first sentences in contemporary literature.  It’s the first sentence of Chapter 2 of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-FiveAnd it’s here, as part of my summer travel series, where we begin with Kurt Vonnegut reading from his novel.


Realistic Young Adult Fiction Read by Adults

What is young adult fiction?  Is it all fantasy and romance?  How fast is it selling?  Who’s buying it?

CBS news reported last December, “With sales up 24 percent, the fastest-growing market for publishers are young adult books. Long given less attention by big publishers, these books are suddenly bigger than ever, as young adult literature has become more popular among adults.”

You might be thinking of Harry Potter or Twilight, but realistic fiction for young adults has also grown in popularity, and this has caused a rash of articles questioning the merits of adults reading YA (“Against YA,” Slate), the differences in the YA and adult fiction, the best examples of realistic YA writing, and if YA dives as deep as adult fiction (“Of Course YA Books Can Be Complex” and “The Adult Lessons of YA Fiction,” both from The Atlantic).