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All stories relating to Pynchon

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Daily book biz round-up: Costa Book Award nominees; world’s best bookstores; and more

Today’s book news:

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Bookmarks: Duranie lit, fun with Pynchon, and more

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BookNet blogging

sonyreaderBookNet Canada, the agency that, among other things, tracks books sales across Canada (the data that Q&Q uses to assemble its bestseller lists), has started a blog. In the latest entry, BookNet president Michael Tamblyn makes an interesting point about the kinds of titles available for download to the Sony e-book Reader:

Have you ever rented a cottage or stayed in an inn or hostel where owners and past guests have left books on the shelves for your reading pleasure? It is usually a mixed bag of thrillers, mysteries, romance novels, maybe some history, sometimes some real wildcards and surprises. You don’t have a lot of choice, but you do get this strange snapshot of what people read when they’re on vacation.

Getting books for the Reader at the Sony Connect store had a similar feeling. As I browsed around looking for titles, I realized that I was seeing a composite picture of the consumers that publishers believe are reading digital books. At the moment, they appear to be a group of randomly selected airport travellers. Lots of thrillers, mysteries and romance novels. Some science-fiction. Plenty of business books and sports titles.

One book Tamblyn would like to have available in digital form while on vacation is Thomas Pynchon’s 1,000-page 2006 novel Against the Day. Unfortunately, it’s not available for download.

Quillblog would humbly like to suggest that part of the problem Tamblyn faces may be due to his definition of a “cottage read.” Remember: Thomas Pynchon in town, Stephen King in the country.

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Major U.S. book awards announced

The nominations for the U.S. National Book Critics Circle award were announced last weekend, and, as always, a few big names were snubbed in the fiction category, most notably Thomas Pynchon. The fiction list was also noteworthy in that none of the 2006 National Book Award nominees – including the eventual winner, Richard Powers’ The Echo Maker – were included.

Two of the nominations went to relative newcomers: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for Half of a Yellow Sun (Knopf), and Kiran Desai for her Man Booker-winning The Inheritance of Loss (Grove/Atlantic, and Penguin here in Canada). The other nominations went to three authors already ensconced at the top of the American literary scene: Dave Eggers, for his tale of a refugee from the Sudanese civil war, What Is the What (McSweeney’s), Richard Ford, for the third installment in his Frank Bascombe series, The Lay of the Land (Knopf), and Cormac McCarthy, for his post-apocalyptic tale The Road (Knopf).

Just a day after the Book Critics Circle announced their nominations (the full list of which can be seen here), the American Library Association announced the winners of their annual Newbery and Caldecott awards for children’s literature.

The Newbery Medal, for a work of prose fiction, went to a surprise winner: the relatively untouted The Higher Power of Lucky (Simon & Schuster), by Susan Patron, about a motherless girl in a small California town. Meanwhile the Caldecott Medal, for picture books, went to illustrator David Wiesner for his wordless tale Flotsam (Clarion), about a boy who finds an underwater camera at the beach. The award makes Wiesner a three-time Caldecott winner: he won for Tuesday in 1991, and for The Three Pigs in 2001.

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Reviewing Mailer

Norman MailerThe 83-year-old Norman Mailer has a new book coming out next week – his first in over a decade – and The New York Observer’s Philip Weiss has just weighed in with an early review.

Weiss says at the outset of his piece that he sat down to read The Castle in the Forest (Random House) “wondering how many rounds [Mailer] can still go with a pencil,” but then he spends the rest of the review basically apologizing for ever having doubted the man.

This work has vigor, excitement, humor and vastness of spirit. There are a few signs of strain, but they hardly count against the power of the language and the ideas. Here’s Norman Mailer in Act V, and he has all the wit and magic of old Prospero.

If Weiss is right, it’s certainly good news for Mailer’s fans. But he has so much trouble synopsizing the nearly 500-page tome – even though his review runs a lengthy 2,000 words or so – that you may come away worried that Mailer has succumbed, like Pynchon and DeLillo, to the everything-plus-the-kitchen- sink approach to novel writing. As has been established elsewhere, The Castle in the Forest is a fictionalized biography of Adolph Hitler, but Weiss makes it sound as if Mailer is barely interested in Hitler:

There’s little history here at all, and more about czarist Russia in the late 1800s than about Hitler as a fascist leader. [And] any thought you have that the book will take up Jews and the Jewish question – again, no. Mr. Mailer finishes with Hitler in 1905, at age 16 or so, in Linz, Austria, at about the time when he’s figured out how to masturbate.

Weiss basically gives up trying to tell us what The Castle in the Forest actually is, and instead gives over to transcribing a long series of interesting (but rambling) phone discussions with Mailer about history, fathers and sons, incest, the Devil, demonology, his Jewishness, and the kabbalah. Let’s hope the book itself is a little more focused.

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The amazing adventures of Bart and Lisa

Plenty of writers — most notably the reclusive Thomas Pynchon, who, according to a Los Angeles Times article, faxed in a list of possible jokes before his turn — have appeared, so to speak, on The Simpsons. But an episode of the show that will be broadcast next year will feature four very well-known American authors — Tom Wolfe, Gore Vidal, Jonathan Franzen, and Michael Chabon. The premise for the episode is that Moe the Bartender is a poet.

These are the two best paragraphs from Steven Barrie-Anthony’s article in the L.A. Times:

• “This is the only show of any sort that I watch on television,” Wolfe says, sitting in the greenroom after recording. The immaculately dressed author is surrounded by a group of scruffy Harvard-educated Simpsons writers, hanging on his every word. “My son, Tommy, who’s now 20, one of his first words was [Homer's trademark exclamation] ‘D’oh!’ And now any conversation he has with anybody, he’ll reference The Simpsons.

• “My kids and my father are very excited,” Chabon says. He’s not kidding. Reached later by phone, his father, Robert Chabon, said that he always expected Michael to win a Pulitzer (which he did in 2001 for The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay). “And I still think he’s going to win the National Book Award,” said the Kansas City, Kan., pediatrician. “But him being on The Simpsons is beyond my wildest dreams. You envision certain successes for your children, but this kind of success — I never envisioned.”

Related links:
Click here for the story from the Los Angeles Times

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Greasing the hype machine

A hot topic of conversation in the online literary community is the commercial success of The Traveler, an ambiguously fictional first novel written by the strangely pseudonymed John Twelve Hawks. Climbing the New York Times bestsellers list, making its way onto the pages of the international press, and being optioned for a film without so much as a book tour or interview with its mysterious author, The Traveler has become the source of much bewilderment and hoopla.

The reclusive author with a potentially true story passing as fiction is nothing new, as is shown in a recent story posted on The Times Online. The article begins with a discussion of the mother of all ambiguously fictional novels, Henri Charrière’s Papillon — about the author’s supposed imprisonment, subsequent escape and adoption into an aboriginal community in French Guiana — segues into a discussion on veracity in an author’s biography, ends with a short write-up on reclusive authors that that includes J.D. Salinger, Harper Lee, Don DeLillo, and Thomas Pynchon, among others, and ultimately blasts The Traveler, saying “the writer too shy to be named has become a cliché, and a marketing tool. The Traveler is shooting up the bestseller lists, in part because the author has declined to be identified.”

Related links:
Click here for the Times Online article
Click here for a reviewer’s discussion of the book’s hype
Click here for The Traveler‘s cryptic official website

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Eva Stachniak's Empress of the Night

Eva Stachniak poses with a copy of her book, Empress of the Night

Tea and snacks inspired by Eva Stachniak's Empress of the Night

Rimma Burashko with author Eva Stachniak

Eva Stachniak talks to the audience about the best and worst of Catherine the Great's favourites

Eva Stachniak smiles as she signs a copy of Empress of the Night for a fan

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