True Story: I remember getting my library card more vividly than I recall getting my driver’s license. My best memories of childhood were going to the library with my mom and checking out armfuls of books, which she would read to me for hours on end. At two, I am told, I would stand on tiptoe at the librarian’s desk and request favorites or authors (I didn’t know why the lady laughed at me. I guess most toddlers weren’t as particular.) I would rather go to the library than the movies, or the park, or anywhere else. Still true. The libraries I recall were nothing fancy. Maybe some bulletin boards heralding an upcoming holiday or new books perched half-open, standing on top of shelves. Of course in 197…(cough, cough), there were not nearly as many ways for a child to be entertained. The television had four channels (as God intended): ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS. Cartoons were from 7am to 10am, period. No LOL cats, no Youtube…. I like to scare my son with these tidbits. Today, libraries are competing to keep your child reading and finding some interesting ways to do so, by engaging the imagination. Here are a few of my favorite new spaces, and some words from others who continue to love libraries:
If you’ve waited to celebrate the chance to be Officially Subversive during Banned Books Week, it’s not too late! Sure, you probably figured that Huck Finn is a perennial favorite for its politically incorrect language and Fifty Shades of Grey for its Crimes Against Ink and Trees, but I am willing to bet there are quite a few that will make you say, “Ummm. What?” The alleged ”reasons” for protecting Our Nation’s Youth are even more bizarre than you can imagine.
Take our quiz and see if you can guess the actual arguments that succeeded in getting the following ten books on the Naughty List. Answers at the end of quiz!
a) The National Pork Council feared declining bacon sales
b) Children were trapping dangerous spiders and being bitten
c) A Kansas school district decided that talking animals are blasphemous and unnatural
d) Girls were being encouraged to defy their fathers
a) Removed from classrooms in Miller, Missouri, for ‘making promiscuous sex look like fun.’
b) Removed from Texas libraries for “encouraging revolution”
c) Attempted ban in California for “focusing on negativity.”
d) Both a and c
Though I’m still reeling to catch up on the great new releases of 2012, and though I already have a set list of books to tackle as my New Year’s resolution, I’m already salivating over the following sneak previews that come courtesy of The Millions. Apparently the first stage of overcoming literature fatigue is admitting that you will never catch up to all the amazing books out there. Maybe I’ll get around to these promising reads in 2016 or so. Til then, well hello Booker Prize winner of 2010…
What new releases are you looking forward to this year?
Umbrella by Will Self: Shortly before Umbrella came out in the UK last September, Will Self published an essay in The Guardian about how he’d gone modernist. “As I’ve grown older, and realised that there aren’t that many books left for me to write, so I’ve become determined that they should be the fictive equivalent of ripping the damn corset off altogether and chucking it on the fire.” Umbrella is the result of Self’s surge in ambition, and it won him some of the best reviews of his career, as well as his first Booker shortlisting. He lost out to Hilary Mantel in the end, but he won the moral victory in the group photo round by doing this.
Scenes from Early Life by Philip Hensher: In his eighth novel, Scenes from Early Life, Philip Hensher “shows for the first time what [he] has largely concealed in the past: his heart,” writes Amanda Craig in The Independent. Written in the form of a memoir, narrated in the voice of Hensher’s real-life husband Zaved Mahmood, the novel invites comparison with Gertrude Stein’sThe Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. Described as a hybrid of fiction, history, and biography—and as both “clever” and “loving”—the inventive project here is distinctly intriguing.
My Brother’s Book by Maurice Sendak: When Maurice Sendak died last May he left one, final, unpublished book behind. It is, according to a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly, a beautiful, intensely serious elegy for Sendak’s beloved older brother Jack, who died in 1995. The story, illustrated in watercolors, has Guy (a stand-in for Sendak), journeying down the gullet of a massive polar bear named Death- “Diving through time so vast—sweeping past paradise”- into an underworld where he and Jack have one last reunion. “To read this intensely private work,” writes Publisher’s Weekly, “is to look over the artist’s shoulder as he crafts his own afterworld, a place where he lies in silent embrace with those he loves forever.”
See Now Then by Jamaica Kincaid: For See Now Then, her first novel in a decade, Jamaica Kincaid settles into a small town in Vermont, where she dissects the past, present and future of the crumbling marriage of Mrs. Sweet, mother of two children named Heracles and Persephone, a woman whose composer husband leaves her for a younger musician. Kincaid is known as a writer who can see clean through the surface of things – and people – and this novel assures us that “Mrs. Sweet could see Mrs. Sweet very well.”
Give Me Everything You Have: On Being Stalked by James Lasdun: English poet, novelist and short story writer James Lasdun’s new book is a short memoir about a long and harrowing experience at the hands of a former student who set out to destroy him and through online accusations of sexual harassment and theft. J.M. Coetzee has called it “a reminder, as if any were needed, of how easily, since the arrival of the Internet, our peace can be troubled and our good name besmirched.”
All That Is by James Salter: Upon return from service as a naval officer in Okinawa, Philip Bowman becomes a book editor during the “golden age” of publishing. The publisher’s blurb promises “Salter’s signature economy of prose” and a story about the “dazzling, sometimes devastating labyrinth of love and ambition.” In our interview with Salter in September, he told us it was “an intimate story about a life in New York publishing,” some 10 years in the making. From John Irving: “A beautiful novel, with sufficient love, heartbreak, vengeance, identity confusion, longing, and euphoria of language to have satisfied Shakespeare.” Tim O’Brien: “Salter’s vivid, lucid prose does exquisite justice to his subject—the relentless struggle to make good on our own humanity.” April will not come soon enough.
You Are One of Them by Elliott Holt: You Are One of Them is Pushcart Prize-winner Elliott Holt’s debut novel. You might be forgiven for thinking she’d already published a few books, as Holt has been a fixture of the literary Twittersphere for years. Holt’s debut is a literary suspense novel spanning years, as a young woman, raised in politically charged Washington D.C. of the 1980s, goes to Moscow to investigate the decades-old death of her childhood friend.
A Guide to Being Born by Ramona Ausubel: A short story collection that includes the author’s New Yorker debut, “Atria”. If that piece is any indication, the book is more than a bit fabulist – the plot involves a girl who finds herself pregnant and worries she’ll give birth to an animal. The specter of parenthood, as the title suggests, appears in numerous guises, as does the reinvention that marked the protagonists of her novel (the genesis of which she wrote about in our own pages).
His Wife Leaves Him by Stephen Dixon: Stephen Dixon, a writer known for rendering unbearable experiences, has built his 15th novel around a premise that is almost unbearably simple: A man named Martin is thinking about the loss of his wife, Gwen. Dixon’s long and fruitful career includes more than 500 shorts stories, three O. Henry Prizes, two Pushcart Prizes and a pair of nominations for the National Book Award. His Wife Leaves Him, according to its author, “is about a bunch of nouns: love, guilt, sickness, death, remorse, loss, family, matrimony, sex, children, parenting, aging, mistakes, incidents, minutiae, birth, music, jobs, affairs, memory, remembering, reminiscence, forgetting, repression, dreams, reverie, nightmares, meeting, dating, conceiving, imagining, delaying, loving.”
Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish by David Rakoff: Rakoff passed away last summer at the age of 47, shortly after completing this slender novel “written entirely in verse.” His previous books have been largely satirical, so this final work is a departure: stretching across the country and the twentieth century, the novel’s stories are linked by “acts of generosity or cruelty.” Ira Glass, who brought Rakoff to the airwaves for more than a decade, has described the book as “very funny and very sad, which is my favorite combination” (a fair descriptor of much of Rakoff’s radio work, likethis heartbreaking performance from the live episode of “This American Life” staged just a few months before his death.)
Blast, this Top Ten only made it halfway through the year! There’s just too much brewing to be able to discern what will be the true standouts. For the full list, arranged by release date, head over to The Millions immediately.
For many of us, pets offer companionship, love, and a patient ear to listen to the wild thoughts we cannot share with fellow members of our species. It’s no wonder, then, that so many artists crave the company of furry (or feathered) friends, so often held in high regard as either the inspiration behind or the initiator of the creative process. Just take a look at the special relationships between the following writers and their pets for example. Either as a retreat from humankind, a reminder to take a pensive walk outside, or the means by which scraps of paper find their way into the bin, these pets are so essential to their writers, it’s hard to imagine that they did not choose their artistic owners themselves.
Read on to see for yourself, then tell us what role you feel pets can play in stirring creativity in a comment below.
Hemingway had multiple cats, for which he held massive respect, remarking, “A cat has absolute emotional honesty: human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings, but a cat does not.”
with her dog Pinka.
“This you’ll call sentimental — perhaps — but then a dog somehow represents — no I can’t think of the word — the private side of life — the play side.”
Woolf’s dog biography, inspired by Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s dog Flush, is surprisingly her bestselling work to date.
The larger than life author with his tiny friend, Pumpkin.
Williams named his black cat Sabbath. He also named his best-known play after a feline in a precarious position:
“What is the victory of a cat on a hot tin roof? — I wish I knew… Just staying on it, I guess, as long as she can…”
Throughout her life, Wharton was often photographed with her dogs, of which she had many. She so loved canines, she actually helped to found the SPCA in the United States. Wharton even included her pups in her writing process, working in bed alongside them–what a picture! She also wrote a beautiful little poem in dedication to them:
My little old dog:
At my feet.
O’Connor’s stories are full of surprises, as was her taste in pets. This writer had quite the collection of peacocks.
“When the peacock has presented his back, the spectator will usually begin to walk around him to get a front view; but the peacock will continue to turn so that no front view is possible. The thing to do then is to stand still and wait until it pleases him to turn. When it suits him, the peacock will face you. Then you will see in a green-bronze arch around him a galaxy of gazing haloed suns. This is the moment when most people are silent.”
Warren’s love for his cocker spaniel Frodo (named after Tolkien’s character) was commemorated in his poem “Rumor Verified”:
English cocker: old and blind
But if your hand
Merely touches his head,
Old faithe comes flooding back—and …
The paw descends, His trust is infinite
In you …
…and his French poodle Charley, with whom he traveled the country, detailed in his book Travels with Charley.
“I’ve seen a look in dogs’ eyes, a quickly vanishing look of amazed contempt, and I am convinced that basically dogs think humans are nuts.”
Burroughs remarked of his beloved cat Ginger, “Like all pure creatures, cats are practical.”
And lastly, the lovable curmudgeon and creator of Where the Wild Things Are succinctly summarizes his love for his companion Herman (after Melville) with a simple phrase:
“I hate people.”