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The Knife of Never Letting Go
Patrick Ness
James Joyce: A New Biography
Gordon Bowker
Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932: A Novel
Francine Prose

The Daily Beast Reviews Queen Anne

Queen Anne: The Politics of Passion - Anne Somerset

This sounds intriguing.

Slate Reviews Johnny Cash: The Life

Johnny Cash: The Life - Robert Hilburn

I'm not often drawn to biographies of musicians, but this one I really want to read.

NPR Interviews Terry Pratchett

No longer able to read, Pratchett used dictation software to revise The Carpet People, which he wrote when he was seventeen.


I am really sad that Pratchett can no longer read. I just can't imagine anything worse.

The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells - Andrew Sean Greer
"They say there are many worlds. All around our own, packed tight as the cells of your heart. Each with its own logic, its own physics, moons, and stars. We cannot go there--we would not survive in most. But there are some, as I have seen, almost exactly like our own--like the fairy worlds my aunt used to tease us with. You make a wish, and another world is formed when that wish comes true, though you may never see it. And in those other worlds, the places you love are there, the people you love are there. Perhaps in one of them, all rights are wronged and life is as you wish it. So what if you found the door? And what if you had the key? Because everyone knows this:

That the impossible happens once to each of us."
Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro celebrating Munro's Nobel win.
Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro celebrating Munro's Nobel win.

I love this picture. The fact that Munro won the Nobel still makes me ridiculously happy.

New Books about JFK

The Interloper: Lee Harvey Oswald Inside the Soviet Union - Peter Savodnik JFK, Conservative - Ira Stoll If Kennedy Lived: The First and Second Terms of President John F. Kennedy: An Alternate History - Jeff Greenfield Camelot's Court: Inside the Kennedy White House - Robert Dallek

The Times surveys several new books about JFK. Perversely, the one that I'm dying to read is the one about Lee Harvey Oswald in Russia. (I will also give the Dallek a look, as he is always worth reading.)


The Jeff Greenfield book that imagines what might have happened if JFK had lived sounds like a fun thought experiment if you're the one writing it, but honestly the three paragraphs in the review completely satisfied my curiosity about Greenfield's conclusions.

The Austen Project

Sense & Sensibility (Austen Project) - Joanna Trollope The Three Weissmanns of Westport: A Novel - Cathleen Schine The Cookbook Collector - Allegra Goodman Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen Northanger Abbey - Jane Austen Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen Emma - Jane Austen Mansfield Park - Jane Austen Persuasion - Jane Austen

How was I not informed? Harper Collins is publishing six reimaginings of Austen's novels by six contemporary authors. So, for example, Joanna Trollope has written a new version of Sense and Sensibility that takes place in the twenty-first century (I understand there are iPads involved). 


I am always interested in reimaginings of classic works, although I'm not sure why it was necessary to hire authors for this specific task -- after all, Cathleen Schine and Allegra Goodman already rewrote Sense and Sensibility last year without even being asked! Does the world really need three twenty-first century versions of this novel?


That said, of course I'll read it. Trollope seems to be a good fit for Austen, and I'm downright excited to see Val McDermid's take on Northanger Abbey. (In my view, Northanger Abbey is far and away the worst of Austen's novels, so I might find myself preferring McDermid's version.) I'm less enthused to see that Curtis Sittenfield is taking on Pride and Prejudice, and slightly ill at the idea of the terribly twee Alexander McCall Smith being given custody of my beloved Emma


Mansfield Park and Persuasion have yet to be assigned. If I were in control of the publishing universe, Jeanette Winterson would be adapting Mansfield Park and Valerie Martin would handle Persuasion. (Martin is probably not a big enough name, but she should be.) Here's hoping Harper Collins resists the temptation to hand them over to J. K. Rowling or Stephenie Meyer.

The Artistry of John Updike

A Month of Sundays - John Updike Roger's Version: A Novel - John Updike S. - John Updike In the Beauty of the Lilies - John Updike John Updike: The Collected Stories - John Updike

James Santel rereads John Updike's Collected Stories:


While not willing to go as far as Franzen, who argues that Updike was “wasting” his “tremendous, Nabokov-level talent,” I was surprised by how many of Updike’s stories impressed me while I read them, and how few left an impression. One can open the Collected Stories to almost any page and find a surprising metaphor, a lovely description, or a wry morsel of irony without remembering much of anything about story that contains it....


The curious paradox of Updike is that he made art into a craft, but only rarely did he transcend craft to achieve art. In a sense, then, the answer to Wood’s question is that beauty is not enough, at least not the beauty of finely tuned prose and vivid images that was Updike’s specialty. Art requires the wedding of aesthetics and morals, and the case might be made that the morals are more important; few people would call Dostoyevsky a beautiful writer, but even fewer would contest that he was a great artist.


I have long been a fan of Updike, if only because he was one of the first really serious writers I read as a teenager. (This is the same reason why I will always have a soft spot for Joyce Carol Oates.) But he writes beautifully and has more to say than he is sometimes given credit for. I prefer his novels to his short stories, which I think are more successful in avoiding the beautiful-nothing problem. One of the projects I have in mind for "someday"--most probably when the kids are out of the house--is to reread his Scarlet Letter trilogy as well as my favorite of his novels, In the Beauty of the Lilies.

The Flamethrowers - Rachel Kushner
"What occurred did so because I was open to it, and not because fate and I met at a certain angle. I had plenty of time to think about this later. I thought about it so much that the events of that evening sometimes ran along under my mood like a secret river, in the way that all buried truths rushed along quietly in some hidden place."