America! America! Literature picks for July
American writers star this month. In a predominately British culture it can be refreshing to look at the world in a different way. We feature three American writers: the very well-known Jonathan Franzen of The Corrections fame, the very reputable John Leonard who will be recognised by readers of The New York Review of Books and a new study of the life and work of Kurt Vonnegut. This ground-breaking novelist wrote books which combine satire, black hmour and science fiction. He was also a critical left-leaning intellectual and a free thinker who was president of the American Humanist Association. All in all a most fascinating man.
Reading for my life : writings, 1958-2008 / John Leonard ; edited by Sue Leonard ; [with an introduction by E.L. Doctorow].
“Reading for My Life is a monumenal collection of Leonard’s most significant writings–spanning five decades–from his earliest columns for the Harvard Crimson to his final essays for the New York Review of Books.” – (adapted from Book jacket summary)
Reading like a writer : a guide for people who love books and for those who want to write them / Francine Prose
“A distinguished novelist and critic offers an inside look at how the professionals read–and write. Written with passion, humor, and wisdom, “Reading Like a Writer” instructs listeners to return to literature with a fresh eye and an eager heart.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)
The Oxford book of parodies / edited by John Gross.
“The task of anthologists is inherently thankless, inasmuch as most readers will have reason to debate the editor’s decisions of what to include and what to exclude from a collection. Gross (an editor, journalist, and award-winning writer) acknowledges this and also the limitations of his method of choosing the roughly 200 entries that make up this volume; not least of his criteria is “to choose items that [he] enjoy[s].” – (adapted from Book jacket summary)
Crusoe : Daniel Defoe, Robert Knox, and the creation of a myth / Katherine Frank.
“This is a fresh look at a familiar classic, one that provides deep background into the origins of the great shipwreck story and its author, the father of the English novel. It may be familiar territory for Defoe scholars, but Frank offers a terrifically entertaining and detailed comparison of Defoe’s life with that of Robert Knox, a sometime author and shipwreck survivor and the probable model for Robinson Crusoe. Knox was 19 years old in 1660 when he was shipwrecked in Ceylon. Along with his father and crew, he was taken captive by the King of Kandy. He was held there for 20 years and, in 1681, published An Historical Relation of the Island Ceylon, which details his day-to-day captivity and his escape. The author of Robinson Crusoe was almost certainly aware of Knox’s book, as Frank demonstrates. Defoe began writing in earnest after he got out of debtor’s prison in 1693, and by the time he published Crusoe in 1719, he had penned scores of books and pamphlets, offering advice on everything from politics to business, road construction, and religion. With light, dead-on humor, Frank shows that Defoe’s great survivor story is really about the power of positive thinking and tags it the ultimate how-to book.” – (adapted from Booklist summary)
Beowulf and other Old English poems / edited and translated by Craig Williamson ; with a foreword by Tom Shippey.
“The best-known literary achievement of Anglo-Saxon England,Beowulfis a poem concerned with monsters and heroes, treasure and transience, feuds and fidelity. Composed sometime between 500 and 1000 CE and surviving in a single manuscript, it is at once immediately accessible and forever mysterious. And in Craig Williamson’s splendid new version, this often translated work may well have found its most compelling modern English interpreter. Williamson’sBeowulfappears alongside his translations of many of the major works written by Anglo-Saxon poets, including the elegies “The Wanderer” and “The Seafarer,” the heroic “Battle of Maldon,” the visionary “Dream of the Rood,” the mysterious and heart-breaking “Wulf and Eadwacer,” and a generous sampling of the Exeter Book riddles. Accompanied by a foreword by noted medievalist Tom Shippey on Anglo-Saxon history, culture, and archaeology, and Williamson’s introductions to the individual poems as well as his essay on translating Old English, the texts transport us back to the medieval scriptorium or ancient mead hall to share an exile’s lament or herdsman’s recounting of the story of the world’s creation.” – (adapted from Global Books in Print summary)
Agatha Christie : murder in the making : more stories and secrets from her notebooks / John Curran.
“John Curran reveals the secrets of the world’s greatest mystery writer in Agatha Christie: Murder in the Making, the fascinating follow up to Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks featuring more insight into Christie’s captivating life story and a new windfall of Christie’s unpublished work-including letters, archival papers, and a keenly incisive analysis of Christie’s last, unfinished novel. For readers new to Christie’s mysteries and for life-long fans of Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, and Tommy and Tuppence, either from classic Christie novels like Murder on the Orient Express or from the popular Masterpiece Theater adaptations, ‘Curran’s discoveries will shape how Christie is read’.” – (adapted from Independent on Sunday summary)
Farther away / Jonathan Franzen.
“The new book of essays from Jonathan Franzen, author of Freedom. Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom was the runaway most-discussed novel of 2010, an ambitious and searching engagement with life in America in the 21st century. Now, a new collection of Franzen’s non-fiction brings fresh demonstrations of his vivid, moral intelligence, confirming his status not only as a great American novelist but also as a master noticer, social critic, and self-investigator. In Farther Away, which gathers together essays and speeches written mostly in the past five years, the writer returns with renewed vigor to the themes, both human and literary, that have long preoccupied him. Whether recounting his violent encounter with bird poachers in Cyprus, examining his mixed feelings about the suicide of his friend and rival David Foster Wallace, or offering a moving and witty take on the ways that technology has changed how people express their love, these pieces deliver on Franzen’s implicit promise to conceal nothing from the reader.” – (adapted from GLobal Books in Print summary)
The joy of English : 100 illuminating conversations about the English language / Jess Karjalainen.
“This book will teach you not just about grammar but important aspects of spelling, punctuation, word order, common errors, capitalisation, language myths and subtle differences between British and US English.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Writing on the edge : great contemporary writers on the front line of crisis / a book by Tom Craig ; photography by Tom Craig ; edited by Dan Crowe ; [essays by] Martin Amis … [et al.].
“For this compelling book, fourteen writers (including Martin Amis and Daniel Day-Lewis) accompanied medical teams from Doctors Without Borders/Medicins Sans Frontieres into some of the planet’s most dangerous and troubled areas. Their essays from places such as Cambodia, Uganda, Palestine, the Colombian city of Cali, and Uzbekistan lend these crisis spots more reality than do the usual few lines in the newspaper or brief video clips on television news. Photographer Tom Craig accompanied all of the writers on their journeys, and his striking (and sometimes gut-wrenching) images are an essential companion to the text.” – (adapted from Booknews summary)
The death of King Arthur / translated by Simon Armitage.
“First appearing around 1400, The Death of King Arthur is one of the most widely beloved and spectacularly alliterative poems penned in Middle English. While it is more than six centuries old, this magisterial new translation has finally given American readers the ability to experience the splendor and poignancy of the original. Echoing the lyrical passion that so distinguished Seamus Heaney’s Beowulf, Simon Armitage has produced a virtuosic translation of a timeless masterpiece, one that follows Arthur’s bloody conquests across Europe, all the way to his spectacular and even bloodier downfall. This unparalleled presentation of the greatest Arthurian tale promises to become the definitive edition for generations to come.” – (adapted from Global Books in Print summary)
A time for new dreams : poetic essays / Ben Okri.
“Booker-winning novelist and one of Britain’s foremost poets, Ben Okri is a passionate advocate of the written word. In A Time for New Dreams he breaks new ground in an unusual collection of linked essays, which address such diverse themes as childhood, self-censorship, the role of beauty, the importance of education and the real significance of the recent economic meltdown. Proving that ‘true literature tears up the script’ of how we see ourselves, A Time for New Dreams is provocative and thought-provoking. In an intriguing marriage of style and content, the concise but perfectly formed essays in this collection push the parameters of writing whilst asking profound questions about who we are and the future that awaits us.” – (adapted from Global Books in Print summary)
Unstuck in time : a journey through Kurt Vonnegut’s life and novels / Gregory D. Sumner.
“Named for the mental dislocation experienced by Billy Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse-Five, Sumner’s exploration of the iconic writer’s life begins with a brief biography and an outline of the recurrent themes found throughout his 14 novels. The significant elements include Vonnegut’s preoccupation with technology, which stems from his scientific studies at Cornell and later work at General Electric, and his penchant for stories reminiscent of his experience as a soldier and POW during WWII. Fourteen chapters follow, providing plot, background, and analysis for each of Vonnegut’s books.” – (adapted from Global Books in Print summary)