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January 2009

Orhan Pamuk and the Books He Couldn't Help But Collect

I'm a few issues behind in my New York Reviews of Books (I'm a few issues behind in everything), but I just came across Orhan Pamuk's piece about his "Turkish Library" in the December 18 issue, and had to pass along his evocative list of some of the books that washed up on his shelves:

I wasn't buying like a book collector but like a frantic person who was desperate to understand why Turkey was so poor and so troubled. When I was in my twenties and my friends came to visit the house where I lived with my parents, and they asked me why I was buying these books that were filling up the house so fast, I could never give them an answer that satisfied them. The house motif in the Gümüshane Legends; Ethem the Circassian's behind-the-scenes description of the rebellion against Atatürk; the inventory of political assassinations during the Second Constitutional Period (1908-1922) when the Young Turks were in charge; the story of the parrot that the ambassador in London sent to Sultan Abdülhamit; the collection of prototype love letters for the bashful; the political memoirs of the doctor who opened Turkey's first sanatorium; the lecture notes of a commisar who taught students in the police school about minor street crimes committed by pickpockets, confidence men, swindlers, and suchlike.

Then there were the six-volume, document-laden memoirs by a former president; another book detailing the ways in which the moral code of Ottoman guilds had influenced modern business practices; the Paris memoirs of a forgotten 1930s artist; a book about the tricks played by merchants to increase the price of hazelnuts; a weighty five-hundred-page collection of critiques of Marxists aligned with China and Albania, written by Marxists aligned with the Soviet Union; the story of the transformation of the city of Eregli following the opening of its iron and steel factories; a book for children entitled 100 Famous Turks; the story of the Great Aksaray fire of 1911; a collection of columns written between the two world wars by a journalist who'd been utterly forgotten for thirty years; a two-hundred-page history covering two thousand years in a small city in central Anatolia whose location was hard to pinpoint with any confidence on a map; and the claims made by a retired teacher who, though he had no knowledge of English, had worked out who shot Kennedy just by reading the Turkish papers. Was I interested in the authors of such works to read them from cover to cover? In later years, whenever someone asked, "Mr. Pamuk, have you read all the books in your library?," I would, without taking the question at all lightly, say, "Yes. But even if I hadn't read them all, they still might prove useful."


--Tom

Enlightenment Man 2.0: Talking Joseph Priestley with Steven Johnson

1594488525.01._MZZZZZZZ_ It made perfect sense, the other day, to be talking with Steven Johnson about the 18th century while watching our voices be transformed into the jagged digital rise and fall of ProTools tracks: he's comfortable moving from century to century and making the connections between them. The past, to him, seems a kind of future--not that we could return to it, but we could reclaim parts of it to help us move forward. His first books, Interface Culture, Emergence, Mind Wide Open, and Everything Bad Is Good for You, were about the future, or rather that part of the future we were living in now, but in his next book, The Ghost Map, he started to dig into the past, finding in London's response to the outbreak of cholera in 1854 an early instance of modern information science. And now in his new book, The Invention of Air, he's dug a little further back, to the story of Joseph Priestley, a not-quite-forgotten figure who should nevertheless be better remembered: a friend and colleague of Benjamin Franklin with some of the same omnivorous interests: science, religion, and politics. We talked about why there were so many Renaissance men in the Enlightenment, whether we should care what presidential candidates think about evolution, and what the Carboniferous Age has to do with a mouse stuck in a jar with a sprig of mint. You can listen to the podcast below or, after the jump, read the full transcript.

For more from Steven Johnson, visit his own blog at stevenberlinjohnson.com, and check out his guest blogging stint at BoingBoing the past couple weeks (posts here, here, here, and here--my favorite is the anti-Candy Land post, which as a game-playing dad, I fully agree with). It's only fitting he sat in there, since BoingBoing, with its open-source ethic, wide-ranging interests, and friendly marriage of technology, ideas, and hands-on tinkering, seems the closest thing we have to the sort of coffee-house societies that proved so fertile for Priestley, Franklin, and their friends.


Amazon.com: Your book is not a biography in the usual sense but it does have a hero, I think you could say: Joseph Priestley, who is known to people these days, if at all, as the "Discoverer of Oxygen," which you point out he very well may not have been.

Steven Johnson: Right [laughter]

Amazon.com: So how would you describe him? Usually people describe him with a list.

Continue reading "Enlightenment Man 2.0: Talking Joseph Priestley with Steven Johnson" »

Graphic Novel Fridays: Shaun Tan's Tales from Outer Suburbia (On a Thursday)

IMG_6765   
Detail from the endpapers for Tales from Outer Suburbia

(Published on a Thursday due to travel commitments...)

Shaun Tan's The Arrival was the publishing event of the year in 2007, one of the most breath-taking accomplishments I've encountered in the graphic novel form. (Read our interview with Tan.) Now he's back with Tales from Outer Suburbia, first published in Australia last year. It's a much different book and as quietly satisfying in its own way. With varying degrees of illustrative narrative, Tan weaves stories about beached ghost dugongs, foreign exchange students that look remarkably like leaf creatures carrying their belongings in peanut shells, alienated adults wandering neighborhoods in old-fashioned deep-sea diving gear, and a lovely two-page faux newspaper spread about an "Amnesia Machine," among other treasures. The quality and subtlety of both the black-and-white and color art reflects a deep understanding of how to use space. Nothing feels cluttered, everything feels balanced. And, in encountering Tan's written stories for the first time, I was pleased to find that text doesn't detract from his work. The Arrival gained its power from being mute, in a sense. But Tales from Outer Suburbia, while not as ambitious, achieves a pleasant balance between image and words. Even more fascinating to me is how Tan manages to capture the numinous in the mundane and insert the fantastical in ways that seem timeless and natural. In "The Nameless Holiday," Tan uses thumbnail illustrations to punctuate a short-short that ends:

What a remarkable, unnameable feeling it is, right at the moment of his leaping: something like sadness and regret, of suddenly wanting your gift back and held tight in your chest, knowing that you will certainly never see it again. And there there is the letting go as your muscles release, your lungs exhale, and the backwash of longing leaves behind this one image on the shore of memory: a huge reindeer on your roof, bowing down.

That unnameable feeling suffuses The Art of Suburbia, and confirms the wonderful, effortless nature of Shaun Tan's art.

Tales from outer

The Yankee Hater's Guide to The Yankee Years by Joe Torre

0385527403.01._MZZZZZZZ_ [Ed.: See also our Yankee Fan's Guide to The Yankee Years.]

I'm not sure if I'm the right audience to judge whether Joe Torre sold his soul for publishing gold in The Yankee Years, because, well, stirring up clubhouse dissension in the new Yankee Stadium? I might sell my soul for that. I've been a Red Sox fan for longer than my friend Chris has been alive, most likely (and for a lot longer than they've been the smart-and-successful Red Sox Nation juggernaut that I can hardly recognize now), so I opened my advance copy of The Yankee Years looking forward to the second half of the book (the "sad decline" years, if making the playoffs every year can be considered a sad decline), and to an inside look at a team that I had watched intensely from the other side of the diamond for years.

And I got it. Despite all the attention given so far to the various Yanks Torre is supposed to have slammed in the book, The Yankee Years doesn't come across as bitter score-settling (well, except for the very end), but rather a warts-and-all story about the delicate job of managing--and sustaining--success at the very top. (And how thin the line is between fame and infamy at that level: if Jorge Posada had thrown out Dave Roberts at second in 2004, or if one of a thousand other things had happened that could have derailed that miraculous (though now inevitable-seeming) handover of AL East power, I'm sure I wouldn't have read the book with the same pleasure.)

As Chris and others have mentioned, the way the book is written, as a third-person story with Torre often treated as one of many quoted sources, and with long reported digressions onto subjects--like steroids and the rise of the Red Sox--that Torre didn't have a close view of, makes it something other than your average sports memoir: it's more like a mix between The Bronx Zoo, Moneyball, Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty, and the Mitchell Report, all rolled into one. But whoever's telling the story, it's one in which personality is paramount, and Torre and the other sources (especially the brainy pitchers David Cone and Mike Mussina) make perfectly clear what they thought of the many people who spent time in pinstripes, and in management's luxury box, in those years.

For those other Sox fans considering getting their own copies of The Yankee Years when it comes out next Tuesday (and I'm sure all the A-Rod disses quoted in the media have raised that number immeasurably), here's a short preview of some of my favorite moments from the book, a top-ten list of Yankee hater's highlights (although some are just great baseball moments, with no Yankee hating required):

  • Roger Clemens's standard pregame ritual, starting with a super-hot whirlpool bath, then an ankles-to-wrists rubdown with hot liniment, with the "hottest possible liniment" applied by the trainer to, well, the one of the most sensitive parts of his body. "'He'd start snorting like a bull,' the trainer said. 'That's when he was ready to pitch.'" In case I needed reminding why I don't want to be a major league trainer.
  • Yanks owner George Steinbrenner was so--I don't know--cheap, or petty, or spoiled by victory that his scouts had to wait a full year to get their World Series rings after the 1999 season, and never got rings for the last year they won, in 2000, even though Steinbrenner pals like Billy Crystal did.
  • After the Yanks came back to tie game 7 of the 2003 series against the Sox, closer Mariano Rivera ran off the bullpun mound to cry in the bathroom, from the sheer emotion of the game. Not a Yankee-hater moment, particularly, just a great window into what a crazy game it was, when even the iciest closer in baseball history was overcome. As Chris said, there's a whole lot of crying in the book, almost all of it by Yankees pitchers: by my count Rivera, John Habyan, Kevin Brown, Clemens, and Kyle Farnsworth were all reduced to tears at one point or another. Tom Gordon, on the other hand, just threw up.
  • Torre and Sox manager Terry Francona giving each other a call after every one of the tense, hyped series between the teams: Torre: "Are you sick of this yet?" Francona: "I'm glad it's over." Torre: "You and me both, pal. See you in about six weeks."
  • Pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre, after Kevin Brown breaks his hand punching a concrete pillar in the clubhouse: "Tell me that wasn't your right hand." Brown, sour and broken down after a brilliant career, haunts the book like the dad in a Eugene O'Neill play. Later, when Torre has to start Brown in a pivotal game in the series the Sox finally won, Verducci writes, "The Yankees' season, and the possibility of warding off the greatest collapse of all time, had come down to this: they were giving the ball to Kevin Brown, a guy with a bad back, and a guy his teammates did not particularly trust, understand or like."
  • The treatment that Alex Rodriguez gets in the book is already well-documented and pretty relentless, but for a Sox fan this might be the most enjoyable line (italics from the original): "It would be the last time Rodriguez drove in a baserunner in the postseason in this series and the next three postseason series combined, a span of 59 at-bats overall in which he batted .136, including 0-for-27 with 38 total runners on base."
  • After the Sox come back to win that improbable series in 2004, Torre calls over to the Sox clubhouse and asks to speak to Tim Wakefield, the pitcher who had given up the series-losing home run to the Yankees the year before: "After he hung up the phone, Wakefield said out loud, to no one in particular, 'I'll never forget that phone call. That shows so much class.'" That made me want to cry like a Yankees pitcher.
  • The greatest comic relief throughout is the Carl Pavano saga: The Pitcher Who Didn't Want to Pitch, which peaks either with Mike Mussina's offhand comment that the disabled list is now called the "15-Day Pavano," or with Pavano's girlfriend's line, when she calls to say Pavano can't make an offseason banquet: "Carl's not going to be able to make it. He wants me to tell you that he's sick, but he's not. But that's what he told me to say."
  • The newest addition to the Yankees' family-focused management team: Felix Lopez, the new son-in-law, who married one of Steinbrenner's daughters--and thereby became a baseball expert--after he met her while landscaping her yard.
  • Bullpen catcher Mike Borzello, giving his assessment of the first throwing session for Kei Igawa, the Japanese import the Yankees brought in for $46 million to compete with the Sox' signing of Dice-K Matsuzaka: "I hope he's either seriously hurt or badly hung over, so there's an explanation for throwing like that."

Oh, good, good stuff. And if you think I've squeezed out all the best parts in the book, there's plenty more: I had a list more than twice as long that I pared down for this final ten. Torre may lose his sainted reputation around baseball as a result of this book, but you, dear readers--Yankee fans and haters alike--will be the beneficiaries. It comes out next Tuesday. --Tom

The Yankee Fan's Guide to The Yankee Years by Joe Torre

[Ed.: Joe Torre's upcoming book on his incredibly successful run as the Yankees manager, The Yankee Years, comes out next Tuesday, February 3, but, thanks to some copies that found their way to the media ahead of time, it's been the source of headlines, tabloid and otherwise, across the sports world this week (and it's spent the past few days in our top 10 bestsellers). The other people who have written about the book so far have all been sportswriters or New York Times book reviewers, but we were lucky enough to get to see an advance copy here, and thought we'd give you the fan's perspective on the book before it came out. Or, rather, two fans' perspectives: one, a lifelong Yankee fan, my Amazon colleague Chris Brucia, here, and the other, a lifelong Yankee hater, me, in a separate post. Enjoy.]

0385527403.01._MZZZZZZZ_ When Tom asked me if I wanted to read The Yankee Years and write a reaction from the perspective of a Yankee fan, my answer was an immediate "yes." One of my favorite sports books this decade was Buster Olney's Last Night of the Yankees Dynasty and this seemed to have the potential to serve as a perfect bookend to Torre's long managerial rein in the Bronx. I was not disappointed.

If you're a sports fan, by now you've heard endless amounts of coverage and "expert analysis" of what is supposedly featured in the book. Don't believe the hype. Almost all of the people talking about it on TV and radio haven't read anything more than a few strategically selected excerpts to build hype and sell more copies. Is Torre honest and sometimes brutally so? Yes. Does he "rip" his former players and front office co-workers? I wouldn't go that far. Sure, there are a few selections that feel like sour grapes and maybe he goes a little too far with the criticism of sensitive superstar Alex Rodriguez, but it's nowhere near as nasty as what's being portrayed by the talking heads right now.

First, the book is really more "by" Tom Verducci than it is Torre. Verducci is the storyteller here, with major contributions from Torre, but this is not a tell-all, first-person account. For his part Verducci writes a very compelling story, taking readers from Torre's beginnings in New York as "Clueless Joe," to the top of the world as he won championship after championship, to the almost tragic way his employers more or less forced him from the job.

Although the Yankees are known for internal drama, what wasn't expected is how extensive the real-life soap opera was. Tom Hanks may have famously said "There's no crying in baseball," but that rule clearly does not apply to the most storied franchise in sports. You can't read 10 pages of this book without another account of some tough-guy player breaking down from the pressure of playing in New York and/or playing for owner George Steinbrenner and his merry band of mischievous and sleazy underlings. Some of these revelations were pretty startling to read about:

  • Former All-Star pitcher Kevin Brown, he of the stone-faced intensity and $100 million contract? Found curled up in the equipment room of the clubhouse half-naked and bawling during a game he was still pitching!
  • Serial tough man Roger Clemens? Uncontrollable sobbing in the clubhouse during a game he was pitching in the World Series! This after his got all macho and threw a shard of bat in the direction of nemesis Mike Piazza.

And these are just two examples. For someone who has passionately followed the Yankees over the last 25 years or so, reading about these emotional breakdowns is both surprising and fascinating. After all, these athletes are idolized and get paid millions, but they are apparently not immune from the pressures of the big stage.

Yankees fans will enjoy Torre and Verducci taking them into the clubhouse during both the good and bad times. Predictably, Torre wears a huge set of rose-colored glasses for the 1996-2000 seasons, when he guided the team to four World Series titles in five years, doing so with an astounding 16-3 record in the Fall Classic against the National League's best. Much of the commentary about the players he managed in future years (surprise! He liked many of them less) is done in comparison to his beloved warriors like Paul O'Neill, Tino Martinez, David Cone, Derek Jeter, and Mariano Rivera.

Although the Yankees continued to make the playoffs for the rest of Torre's time in the Bronx, the second half of the book details how--as Olney points out in his book--the 2001 World Series was a turning point for the franchise as they lost several cornerstone players (and personalities) and started turning more toward overhyped and high-maintenance players. Verducci's reporting here is most excellent, as he also weaves in the story of how other teams--most notably the rival Boston Red Sox--embraced a revolution of statistical analysis and over the course of the next few years overtook the Yankees as the pre-eminent team in the game.

While Torre is taking the heat in this initial wave of media coverage, it's really Verducci who, with surgical precision, exposes the franchise's failures over the past 6 years. In fact, he lays out the facts that the assembled roster each season was getting worse and worse but Torre managed to get them into the playoffs every time. No, they didn't win a whole lot in the postseason (never making the World Series again after 2003), but only in New York is that considered an utter failure. Once fans get to read this book, it will be interesting to see how they react to Verducci's candid criticisms of GM Brian Cashman, who many assume is the glue holding the Yankees together. Verducci puts together some analysis on Cashman's record of player development and free agent signings that might turn some heads. --Chris

YA Wednesday: The Dogs

In this edition of YA Wednesday, we say goodbye and thanks to non-YA author John Updike. Rabbitrun His suburban Northeastern Rabbit, Run was a bizarrely soothing salve for my inland rural Northwestern, I-don't-want-my-life-to-be-conventional YA woes. He was the first writer I ever met in real life, and I was a little blown away that this extremely well-mannered, quiet man had written that book. 

Dustdogs The Dust of 100 Dogs by A.S. King 
Okay. This book is officially coming out February 1, but people (including me) have been blogging about it for months. With good reason. The Dust of 100 Dogs is complex. It's disheartening and terrifying one minute and twisted and fun the next. The story opens when Emer, an Irish farmgirl turned murderous pirate, dies and is cursed to live 100 times as a dog. On the 101st reincarnation, she is human again, and much of the first half of the book rests with Saffron, who lives in current-day Pennsylvania with a vaguely alcoholic mom and a druggie brother. Saffron tells her story along with Emer's (throwing in a few "dog facts," or things she learned during her various dog lives). By the end we are firmly with Emer, and her cinematic Caribbean adventures take over with some surprising twists. And, it doesn't hit you in the face, but King gets into some pretty interesting philosophical territory about people owning dogs, and the ways in which they have also "owned" other people. But don't let that fool you, this is a romantic adventure, and a totally fun read.

The book trailer matches Saffron's wry narration pretty well. (It has some spoilers, I think, but it doesn't give away too much):

You can also read an excerpt on the 100 Dogs website and at Flux.

Quick links...
Catchingfire Publisher's Weekly unveiled the cover for Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games sequel, Catching Fire, due out September 8.

Parties and Potions author Sarah Mlynowski has been making the blog rounds. On Sunday, she hijacked Lauren Myracle's blog. Monday, she talked with Ally Carter, and Tuesday she was on Cynsations.

Molly Ringwald is writing a book. (Thanks, Galley Cat!) It's not YA. But if anyoneSamanthaandjake says that her 80s characters have not completely influenced the world of YA, you have to be kidding. And she's on ABC Family's The Secret Life of The American Teenager. She plays the mom, but still. She talked with the L.A. Times about the show, and the book, which is due out this fall.

And the Buffy v. Twilight war continues.

Buffystakeedward

Poor Edward. --Heidi

John Updike and Amazon.com: "Sticking My Head into the Mouth of the Electronic Lion"

Photo Credit: Robert Spencer, New York Times

Yesterday, after we heard the very sad news of John Updike's death, among the many shared in-house memories was the fact that over a decade ago, way back in 1997, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author took an early step into cyberspace and collaborated with Amazon.com on an exclusive online writing contest dubbed "The Greatest Story Ever Told." Updike wrote the opening and closing paragraphs to the serial story he called "Murder Makes the Magazine," and starting on July 29, 1997,  for over 44 days visitors to Amazon could submit their own paragraph to keep the story rolling (and have the chance to win $1,000 if their entry was selected). Updike concluded the story on September 12, 1997.

I don't think any of the current Amazon book editors were on staff back then, but I can only imagine how exciting it must have been--to think that a literary legend like Updike would take part in such an experiment in our early days. (Or overwhelming. On the peak day the editors received nearly 20,000 entries!) Then editor James Marcus, Amazon employee No. 55, was there and in his behind-the-scenes memoir, Amazonia, summed up the mood: "It was like Mozart appearing on American Idol."

Here is the introduction to "Murder Makes the Magazine," from Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com's Founder and CEO:

"I am understandably leery of sticking my head into the mouth of the electronic lion," were John Updike's first words when he agreed to author for us the opening and closing to the first-ever on-line, collaborative writing contest. His opening three paragraphs hit our Web site on July 29, 1997.

Though the uniqueness of the Web, for 46 days, people from all over the world enthusiastically followed the story of Tasso Polk. Thousands of authors contributed superb entries, expressing strong and sometimes hilarious (Elvis Presley, John Updike himself, and many others showed up in some of the non-winning entries) vision of how Tasso should behave. Each day Amazon.com's judges whooped, hollered, and pleaded for their favorite entry to win the day's prize and be added to the story. Each day the mystery grew more intriguing.

Enclosed is a special publication of this collaborative and eclectic story. We had a lot of fun with it. We hope you did too!

Updike jokingly told USA Today that "['Murder Makes the Magazine'] has gotten more ink than my last six books." And in The New Yorker he added: "When the last entry was in place, I just tried to tie up some of the bundle of loose ends and reward Tasso Polk for her patience. I came to love her--she was the one who leaped into cyberspace, not me."

Read "Murder Makes the Magazine" [PDF, 21.6 MB]

PS: If any of those 44 winning writers happen to come across this, we'd love to hear your memories of collaborating with the literary master.

--BTP

More on Updike: His Own Elegies

Updike_John It's hard to imagine that John Updike is dead: he was so patiently prolific, right up to his latest book, The Widows of Eastwick, and in his regular reviews and stories in the New Yorker, and had made no public mention of his illness. But people have been imagining the event for some time: the New Yorker posted today a famous passage from John Cheever's Journals, in which he gets a false-alarm phone call in the middle of the night that Updike has died. He makes the kind of sweepingly elegiac statements about the supposed deceased that one makes at a time like that, but is more memorable for the bitter and generous asides about his own family life that make those journals so incredible:

The telephone rings at four. “This is C.B.C. John Updike has been in a fatal automobile accident. Do you care to comment?” I am crying. I cannot sleep again. I think of joining Mary in bed, but I am afraid she will send me away. I think I am right. When there is a little light I feed the dogs. “I hope they don’t expect to be fed this early every morning,” she says. I do not point out that John will not die every morning, and that in any case it is I who feed them. This restraint costs me nothing. When I go into the kitchen for another cup of coffee, she empties the pot into my cup and says, “I was just about to have some myself.” When I insist on sharing the coffee I am unsuccessful. I do not say that the pain of death is nothing compared to the pain of sharing a coffeepot with a peevish woman. This, again, costs me nothing. And I see that what she seeks, much more than a cup of coffee, is the gratification of a sense of denial and neglect—and that we so often, all of us, put our cranky and emotional demands so far ahead of our hunger and thirst. As for John, he was a man I so esteemed as a colleague and so loved as a friend that his loss is indescribable. He was a prince. I think it not difficult to kiss him goodbye—I can think of no other way of parting from him, although he would, in my case, have been embarrassed....

0679735755.01._MZZZZZZZ_ And one of my favorite one-of-a-kind books, Nicholson Baker's U and I, is constructed entirely around the conceit, inspired by the death of one of Baker's literary heroes, Donald Barthelme, of writing an obituary for another hero, Updike, while he is still alive. (In fact, in a perfect Bakerian moment, I had conflated the two--I had remembered U and I as beginning with that false alarm about Updike's death when it in fact begins with Barthelme's. Incredibly to me, since it fits so well into his subject and theme, Baker doesn't mention the Cheever anecdote, or even Cheever's name, as far as I can tell, anywhere in his book.) Here's a bit of his charge to himself:

I knew now that I had a real deadline: I had to write about Updike while people could still conceivably sneer at him simply for being at the top of the heap, before any false valedictory grand-old-man reverence crept in, as it inevitably would. The literary world demanded some sort of foreignness as the price of its attention: failing geographical distance, senile remoteness would do. But what it lost in this demand was the possibility for real self-knowledge; for you can never come up with truths of an acceptable resolution if what you select for study is estranged by time or language or background or by a physiognomy in its authoritative, slow-talking decline. I would study my feelings for Updike while he was still in that phase of intellectual neglect that omnipresence and best-selling popularity inspire.


And he does. It's the best thing I've ever read on the actual relationship a writer (or a reader) has to the books he reads and authors he admires, including his refreshingly honest list of all the Updike books he has hardly begun or never finished, despite being "obsessed" with him. My own relationship with Updike is a few steps removed from obsessed. My strongest association with him is that he was one of the writers my dad, who reads a lot but not a whole lot of contemporary fiction, was interested in, I think mostly because they both grew up in small-town Pennsylvania, not too far from each other. My dad's favorite of his books, I think, was The Centaur, that early autobiographical novel.

Continue reading "More on Updike: His Own Elegies" »

John Updike: 1932-2009

We at Omnivoracious join readers around the world in mourning the loss of literary lion John Updike, who passed away today at the age of 76 at his home in Massachusetts. The Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist also wrote poems, essays, criticism, and memoir, but is perhaps best known for his Rabbit series, which chronicled the life of suburban "everyman" Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom. His publisher Knopf shared in a statement, "He was one of our greatest writers, and he will be sorely missed."

Lev Grossman at Time writes "Updike's hallmark was his glittering, gloriously vivid style. His talent for spotting detail, for capturing the slightest shift in light or in a character's mood in prose was unmatched. It was not the most fashionable of gifts--while his contemporaries practiced the rock-ribbed realism of Hemingway and Carver, or the high-concept contraptions of the Metafictionists, Updike conducted his pursuit of eloquence and wit almost alone."

We hope to share more tributes about Updike and remember his work in the days to come.

--BTP

Found in Translation: Finalists for Best Translated Book of 2008

Three Percent announced the finalists this morning for Best Translated Book of 2008, a new award that we've been following since they published the longlist back in early December. It's exciting because it gives critics and booksellers a chance to bring attention to amazing books from other countries that we finally get to read in the U.S. because someone went through the work to translate them, and then someone else took a chance and published them. If you aren't familiar with these titles, you can read all about them on Three Percent.

Here are the finalists in fiction and poetry. Winners will be announced on February 19.

Fiction:
Tranquility by Attila Bartis, translated from the Hungarian by Imre Goldstein
2666 by Roberto Bolaño, translated from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer
Nazi Literature in the Americas by Roberto Bolaño, translated from the Spanish by Chris Andrews
Voice Over by Céline Curiol, translated from the French by Sam Richard
The Darkroom of Damocles by Willem Frederik Hermans, translated from the Dutch by Ina Rilke
Yalo by Elias Khoury, translated from the Arabic by Peter Theroux
Senselessness by Horacio Castellanos Moya, translated from the Spanish by Katherine Silver
Unforgiving Years by Victor Serge, translated from the French by Richard Greeman
Bonsai by Alejandro Zambra, translated from the Spanish by Carolina De Robertis
The Post-Office Girl by Stefan Zweig, translated from the German by Joel Rotenberg

Poetry:
Essential Poems and Writings by Robert Desnos, translated from the French by Mary Ann Caws, Terry Hale, Bill Zavatsky, Martin Sorrell, Jonathan Eburne, Katherine Connelly, Patricia Terry, and Paul Auster
You Are the Business by Caroline Dubois, translated from the French by Cole Swensen
As It Turned Out by Dmitry Golynko, translated from the Russian by Eugene Ostashevsky, Rebecca Bella, and Simona Schneider
For the Fighting Spirit of the Walnut by Takashi Hiraide, translated from the Japanese by Sawako Nakayasu
Poems of A.O. Barnabooth by Valery Larbaud, translated from the French by Ron Padgett and Bill Zavatsky
Night Wraps the Sky by Vladimir Mayakovsky, translated from the Russian by Katya Apekina, Val Vinokur, and Matvei Yankelevich, and edited by Michael Almereyda
A Different Practice by Fredrik Nyberg, translated from the Swedish by Jennifer Hayashida
EyeSeas by Raymond Queneau, translated from the French by Daniela Hurezanu and Stephen Kessler
Peregrinary by Eugeniusz Tkaczyszyn-Dycki, translated from the Polish by Bill Johnston
Eternal Enemies by Adam Zagajewski, translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanagh

--Heidi