2013 National Book Award Winners

Is your Kindle finger itching? Do you have a yearning to go to the bookstore or library but don’t know what sounds good? Well, maybe this will help.  Last night, this year’s National Book Awards were announced. Here is the complete list of winners and finalists.

James McBride took the fiction prize for his novel The Good Lord Bird (Riverhead Books/Penguin Group USA):

the-good-lord-bird-james-mcbride

Abolitionist John Brown calls her “Little Onion,” but her real name is Henry. A slave in Kansas mistaken for a girl due to the sackcloth smock he was wearing when Brown shot his master, the light-skinned, curly-haired 12-year-old ends up living as a young woman, most often encamped with Brown’s renegade band of freedom warriors as they traverse the country, raising arms and ammunition for their battle against slavery. Though they travel to Rochester, New York, to meet with Frederick Douglass and Canada to enlist the help of Harriet Tubman, Brown and his ragtag army fail to muster sufficient support for their mission to liberate African Americans, heading inexorably to the infamously bloody and pathetic raid on Harpers Ferry.  Starred Review, Booklist  –Carol Haggas

Finalists for the prize included:

Rachel Kushner, The Flamethrowers (Scribner/Simon & Schuster)

Jhumpa Lahiri, The Lowland (Alfred A. Knopf/Random House)

Thomas Pynchon, Bleeding Edge (The Penguin Press/Penguin Group USA)

George Saunders, Tenth of December (Random House)

The winner for non-fiction is George Packer for The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Read the rest of this entry »


Do It Now: Advice from Doris Lessing and Junie B. Jones

The world lost two influential literary voices this week. Nobel Prize-winning author Doris Lessing, best known for her novel The Golden Notebook passed away Sunday at age 94.  And Barbara Park, author of the beloved children’s books featuring her irascible character Junie B. Jones, died Friday after a long battle with ovarian cancer.  Park was 66.

While it may not seem that these two very different authors have a lot in common, what Park and Lessing shared was a love of vocal women as well as sense of appreciation for life and its transient nature. Park captured what few writers for children manage to do successfully: the energy and curiosity of a girl with a questioning mind.  For her part, Lessing was always adjusting the lens.  As we get older, the clarity of a Junie B. Jones is harder to maintain, but Lessing asks us to remember, and to seek the authentic in an often exhausting world.

I wonder what Junie B. and Lessing might have to say to each other:

carpe

Read the rest of this entry »


Double, Double, Toil and Trouble: Branagh’s Macbeth is a Wonderfully Tempestuous Production

Image

For a brief week, the Seattle International Film Festival was able to bring Manchester International Festival’s production of Macbeth to the Uptown Theater in Seattle. As a part of a series called National Theater Live (which includes Othello with Adrian Lester and Frankenstein with Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller), this production stars the illustrious Kenneth Branagh as the titular Scottish King. I was lucky enough to get tickets to see this thunderous play.

Co-directed by Branagh and Rob Ashford, the production was spectral, but appropriately stark. A lot of the eerie desolation came from the fact that it takes place in a deconsecrated Manchester church. The floors of the church were ripped out, so the stage was a pit of austere earth across which the witches skulked and the Scottish thanes clashed bloodily. Rain was poured unsparingly onto the actors. The dim lighting was the perfect harshness for this sinister play.

Read the rest of this entry »


Joseph Brodsky’s Reading List for Essential Conversations

Josef_Brodsky_Michigan-e1384239418659

Nobel Prize-winning poet, essayist, and professor Joseph Brodsky

In 1972, poet Joseph Brodsky angered government officials in his native Russia and was expelled from the country.  With the help of fellow poet W.H. Auden, Brodsky settled in the United States, found a position at Yale and taught classes at Mount Holyoke as well.  Later, he accepted professorships at both Cambridge and the University of Michigan.  (Not bad for an autodidact!)

Of the many opinions Brodsky espoused to his students was that they could not carry on intelligent conversations unless they had done fundamental reading in what he considered influential texts. He passed out a list of these works to everyone in his classes.

Monica Partridge, a former student at Mount Holyoke recalls an early class meeting with Brodsky.  On the Brodsky Reading Group blog, Partridge wrote that

“Shortly after the class began, he passed out a handwritten list of books that he said every person should have read in order to have a basic conversation.  At the time I was thinking, ‘Conversation about what?’ I knew I’d never be able to have a conversation with him, because I never thought I’d ever get through the list. Now that I’ve had a little living, I understand what he was talking about. Intelligent conversation is good. In fact, maybe we all need a little more.”

Here are the books or works on that list. I’m proud to say that unless the conversation turns to “Icelandic Sagas” I could pretty well hold my own at a Brodsky cocktail party…

Brodsky-List-1_web_without-notes-e1384239010903

Read the rest of this entry »


One Hundred Years: Celebrating Albert Camus

camus_cig

Today would have been Albert Camus‘s 100th birthday.

I have had a crush on Albert Camus for a long time.  C’mon… he’s hot, rebellious, an intellectual, and like most artists I’m madly in love with, dead… the ultimate unattainable.

Although he is often called an existentialist, Camus rejected that label (“Sartre and I are often surprised to see our names linked,” he once remarked.)  Some critics and readers have instead called him an “absurdist,” which is sometimes thought of as the philosophy of the absurdity of the individual experience. However, Camus rejected this label as well.  Camus’s philosophy is often called the “Paradox of Absurdity“:

The essential paradox arising in Camus’s philosophy concerns his central notion of absurdity. Accepting the Aristotelian idea that philosophy begins in wonder, Camus argues that human beings cannot escape asking the question, “What is the meaning of existence?” Camus, however, denies that there is an answer to this question, and rejects every scientific, teleological, metaphysical, or human-created end that would provide an adequate answer. Thus, while accepting that human beings inevitably seek to understand life’s purpose, Camus takes the skeptical position that the natural world, the universe, and the human enterprise remain silent about any such purpose. Since existence itself has no meaning, we must learn to bear an irresolvable emptiness. This paradoxical situation, then, between our impulse to ask ultimate questions and the impossibility of achieving any adequate answer, is what Camus calls the absurd. Camus’s philosophy of the absurd explores the consequences arising from this basic paradox.

Camus’s intellect is even more impressive when you know his background. His father  died when he was very little. His mother worked as a washer woman and was deaf.  Mother and son lived in Algiers (the setting of one of my favorite short stories, “The Guest“) where Albert was eventually accepted into the University of Algiers.  His first  and most famous novel L’Etranger (The Stranger) was published in 1942.

Read the rest of this entry »


Happy Birthday, PBS!

pbs

On Sunday, November 3, PBS turned forty-four years old. Wow.   That’s a lot of numbers.  I’d have to count with this vintage piece from Sesame Street a bunch of times to count THAT high!

PBS’s mission, from the beginning, has been to “inform and inspire the diversity reflected in the American audience.”  Astonishingly, even with the plethora of choices in broadcasting today, 90% of households watch PBS annually.

There are many reasons to continue to love and support your local PBS station.  Its news programming has “been named the most trustworthy institution among nationally known organizations, for ten consecutive years.”

How about Masterpiece Theater, which just celebrated its fortieth birthday and is enjoying wild success with its hit show Downton Abbey?  Here’s a preview of Season 4, which premieres on December 17, 2013…

Read the rest of this entry »


Erudite Frights for All Hallow’s Night: Ten Spine-Tingling Lines from Literature

Scary-book-story-e1326297545593

Here at eNotes, we would NEVER let Halloween pass without a few good scares from the masters of horror!  Let’s all take a break from the tedious terror of government shutdowns and 404 Errors of the new healthcare law and enjoy some scares that are a lot more fun.

hopper_manalone

1.  “The shortest horror story:   The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door.”
― Frederic Brown

stephen_king_cell

2.  “At bottom, you see, we are not Homo sapiens as all. Our core is madness. The prime directive is murder. What Darwin was too polite to say, my friends, is that we came to rule the earth not because we were the smartest, or even the meanest, but because we have always been the craziest, most murderous motherfuckers in the jungle. And that is what the Pulse exposed five days ago.” –   from Cell by Stephen King 

Read the rest of this entry »


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 821 other followers