The idea of this blog is to facilitate the love of reading by collecting news about new books, or sometimes good old books. It is also dedicated to stamping out the scourge of e-books, Kindles, Kobo's, i-Pads, and all other such abominations.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Booker Longlist: The Long Song Is No Long Shot

Bookmakers William Hill have installed Andrea Levy as the favourite to win the 2010 Man Booker Prize following the announcement of the longlist today. David Mitchell, is the second favourite in the betting for his novel The Thousand Autumns Of Zacob de Zoet.

"This is one of the hardest longlists that we have had to price up, but the early stand out is Andrea Levy and it will be very interesting to see who the money comes in for," said Hill's spokesman Graham Sharpe.

William Hill odds - to win Man Booker Prize:

4/1 Andrea Levy - The Long Song

9/2 David Mitchell - The Thousand Autumns of Zacob de Zoet

5/1 Helen Dunmore - The Betrayal

6/1 Rose Tremain - Trespass

7/1 Peter Carey - Parrott and Oliver in America

8/1 Howard Jacobson - The Finkler Question

8/1 Paul Murray - Skippy Dies

12/1 Emma Donoghue - Room

12/1 Tom McCarthy - C

12/1 Alan Warner - The Stars in the Bright Sky

16/1 Damon Galgut - In a Strange Room

16/1 Lisa Moore - February

16/1 Christos Tsiolkas The Slap

Man Booker Dozen Announced

The judges for the 2010 Man Booker Prize for Fiction today, Tuesday 27 July, announced the longlist for the prize, the leading literary award in the English speaking world.

A total of 138 books, 14 of which were called in by the judges, were considered for the 'Man Booker Dozen' longlist of 13 books.

The longlist includes:

Peter Carey Parrot and Oliver in America (Faber and Faber)

Emma Donoghue Room (Pan MacMillan - Picador)

Helen Dunmore The Betrayal (Penguin - Fig Tree)

Damon Galgut In a Strange Room (Grove Atlantic - Atlantic Books)

Howard Jacobson The Finkler Question (Bloomsbury)

Andrea Levy The Long Song

(Headline Publishing Group - Headline Review)

Tom McCarthy C (Random House - Jonathan Cape)

David Mitchell The Thousand Autumns of Zacob de Zoet (Hodder & Stoughton - Sceptre)

Lisa Moore February (Random House - Chatto & Windus)

Paul Murray Skippy Dies (Penguin - Hamish Hamilton)

Rose Tremain Trespass (Random House - Chatto & Windus)

Christos Tsiolkas The Slap (Grove Atlantic - Tuskar Rock)

Alan Warner The Stars in the Bright Sky

(Random House - Jonathan Cape)

The chair of judges, Andrew Motion, comments: "Here are thirteen exceptional novels -books we have chosen for their intrinsic quality, without reference to the past work of their authors. Wide-ranging in their geography and their concern, they tell powerful stories which make the familiar strange and cover an enormous range of history and feeling. We feel confident that they will provoke and entertain."

Monday, July 05, 2010

This Just In: American Novel Dead

Book pundits in the United States are being urged to line up on one side or other this summer: Is the American novel finally dead or not? The row began when the controversial critic Lee Siegel wrote a piece for the New York Observer declaring that the American public no longer talk about novels and that this creative form, once so full of fire, has lost its spark for ever.

"For about a million reasons," Siegel claimed, "fiction has now become a museum-piece genre most of whose practitioners are more like cripplingly self-conscious curators or theoreticians than writers. For better or for worse, the greatest storytellers of our time are the non-fiction writers."

As the Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction, awarded on Thursday in London, recognised the importance of the new book by American journalist Barbara Demick, Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea, the debate Siegel has re-started raged on in books pages and on literary websites. Will American fiction ever compete again with non-fiction for contemporary relevance, critics in both camps are asking.

Siegel's assault on America's novelists was prompted by the publication of the New Yorker's annual "20 Under 40" list of new writers, but it has exposed a bitterness at the heart of the world of books.

Railing against "the New Yorker's self-promoting, vulgar list" of favoured newcomers, Siegel smears the whole literary pack as being damagingly self-referential and led by the nose by publicists. Calling for new talent and new genres, he laments the fact that nobody bothered to question the "20 Under 40" selection.

The British critic James Wood, now perhaps the leading voice in literary journalism in America, is at the centre of the row. For Siegel, the prominence and fame of Wood – who writes for the New York Times – sums up the current crisis in fiction.

"May the gods bless my former New Republic colleague, and may he keep reviewing novels for another hundred years, but the very emergence of Mr Wood signals the decline of fiction, his driving passion," Siegel claims, going on to argue that the death of an artistic form is evident when the analysis of it has become so top-heavy.

But the literati have hit back. They argue Siegel is using his contentious thesis to get at a rival publication and a rival critic. A riposte published in the Los Angeles Times first pointed out that other journals had criticised the New Yorker's selection of writers and then took on Siegel's theory, point by point. Another response to Siegel carried online in the Huffington Post last week went so far as to suggest it is not the American novel we should mourn, but the American literary scene.

Critics like Siegel, it urges, "have refused to even open the curtains in their ivory towers to see the wonderful, burgeoning literary world that has sprung up around them. They are dismissive of book blogs, of genre fiction, of pretty much anything that, say, wouldn't be covered in the New Yorker".

Declaring the death of the novel is now almost as much of a literary tradition as the novel itself. American writers, proud of their canon – from Mark Twain, Herman Melville and Ernest Hemingway, to John Steinbeck, Joseph Heller and Saul Bellow – are, alternately, eager to kill off the genre and exasperated by their long wait for the next big writer.

Back in 2003, a column by renowned critic Harold Bloom decried the National Book Foundation's decision to give Stephen King an award for a "Distinguished Contribution to American Letters". Attacking JK Rowling in the same article, Bloom suggested that good literature could never be as popular as King's horror stories and Rowling's Harry Potter books. Andrew Marr, writing in this newspaper in 2001, also declared the British novel dead.

For the author Geoff Dyer, speaking this weekend, the problem now lies much more in the flawed category of literary fiction. "I don't have the patience to read novels these days unless the author has either jettisoned most of the stuff that is considered essential to novel-writing or is a complete and absolute master, like Alan Hollinghurst, say," he said.

"So-called literary fiction seems a particular degraded category in the UK these days, often devoid of any and all things literary in so far as the word suggests some kind of value judgment." But the publisher Jamie Byng, head of Canongate, said Siegel's reasoning was "preposterous", adding: "There is important, challenging thought-provoking fiction out there, just as there is non-fiction. I just don't buy any broad-brushstroke statement like 'fiction is dead'."

It could be that Siegel simply hoped to shake novelists up. The critic Frank Kermode once said the novel was a form that revived itself periodically. "The special fate of the novel, considered as a genre, is to be always dying; and the main reason for this is that the most intelligent novelists and readers are always conscious of the gap, consisting of absurdity, that grows between the world as it seems to be and the world proposed in novels," Kermode wrote. As a result, writers, from Jane Austen and Laurence Sterne to JD Salinger, plan to write an anti-novel and then end up, Kermode said, pointing "the way to a new novel, a new convention".

Beryl Bainbridge dies, aged 75

The grande dame of British literature passed away in the early hours of this morning, her literary agent has confirmed.

Writer Beryl Bainbridge at home Grande dame of British literature ... Beryl Bainbridge.

Maverick, unique and horribly funny, according to her fellow authors: the world of British literature felt an emptier place today following the death of Beryl Bainbridge, aged 75.

She was admitted to hospital last week following a recurrence of cancer, and died suddenly in the early hours of this morning.

One of the grandes dames of the UK's literary scene, Bainbridge was a prolific writer whose short, dark comic novels – which invariably included a streak of tragedy - landed her five shortlistings for the Man Booker prize (and the label of perennial Booker bridesmaid), made her a two-time winner of the Whitbread award and saw her awarded a DBE in 2000.

"She was a wonderful writer in the tradition of British petit guignol that included Evelyn Waugh and Muriel Spark: coolly stylish, meticulous, beady-eyed and horribly funny. I would have wished her more injury time, but her record stands," said the Man Booker prize-winning author John Banville. "I met [her] on a couple of occasions and was much taken with her manner of stark lugubriousness tempered with high and subversive irony - just like her books."

"Beryl had an absolutely original voice: she was a serious comedian, all of whose novels ended tragically," said the biographer Michael Holroyd. "She presented herself sometimes as a clown, an entertainer, but behind that mask was a committed novelist. She was unique."

"What was so splendid about her was that she was completely maverick," agreed the novelist Penelope Lively, winner of the Booker and Carnegie awards. "When she first began you were very aware of her fresh, startling voice. I remember coming across her first novels and thinking 'goodness, I haven't read anything like this before'."

"Very sad," tweeted Margaret Atwood of her "old pal" Bainbridge this afternoon. "Wondrous original, great sport, loved her books. Hope she has champagne in heaven & a smoke..."

Bainbridge's literary career can be divided neatly in two: her earlier novels, from The Dressmaker and Sweet William to Guardian fiction prize winner The Bottle Factory Outing, drew on her own life – her upbringing in Liverpool, her time working as an actor (including a stint on Coronation Street), her life in Camden in the 1960s. She then began to write historical novels, tackling Scott of the Antarctic in The Birthday Boys, Samuel Johnson in According to Queeney and the voyage of the Titanic in Every Man for Himself, and died with 18 novels, two collections of short stories and a handful of plays for stage and television to her name.

She was, said Lively, "so versatile". Her historical novels "were completely different from her earlier books. She had a distinctive voice, but also a wonderfully pliable and versatile one".

Bainbridge was "putting the finishing touches" to a novel – her 19th – which she had been working on for the last six months when she died, said Ed Wilson at her literary agency Johnson & Alcock. Little, Brown will publish the book, The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress – about the assassination of Bobby Kennedy - next year.

It's "fantastic - more like her early, more comic work", said Richard Beswick, her editor at Little, Brown, who called her "a one-off, a total original, a legend that deserves to be a legend". "I don't think anybody else writes like her [although] she's got elements of other people - bits of Harold Pinter and Kafka, that morbidly humorous take on life, that very dark humour," he added.

Known to chain-smoke while she wrote her novels (at an ancient computer), Bainbridge gave up smoking in 2004 but took it up again - "though I smoke far fewer now - about six a day", she told the Observer last year. She was also a keen whisky drinker, getting through half a bottle a week. "It began as a social thing because if you go out to launches you were always offered a drink," she said. "I never saw the point of drinking wine, because you have to drink so much to get that feeling, so I'd always have a whisky."

Lively said that Bainbridge "was always good fun at a party - and unexpected, because you never knew what she was going to say or do".

"I have huge admiration and respect for her," she added. "She was someone who, when she entered a room, you thought 'oh good, there's Beryl'."

Bainbridge told the Guardian in 2007 of how she had become convinced that she would die at the age of 71, like her parents and grandparents. "My generation weren't expected to get as old as this; they all died off quite soon," she said. "I've always been interested in death."

In an interview with the Guardian in 2005, Bainbridge said that she had "everything ready" for her death. "In files. I'm extremely ... no, I'm very ordered in that sort of way. I think it's important. You have to know where things are and how and what."

Friday, July 02, 2010

North Korea book wins top non-fiction prize.

An account of life in North Korea drawn from interviews with defectors has won the £20,000 BBC Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction.
Nothing to Envy, by Los Angeles Times journalist Barbara Demick, beat five other works to the accolade.

Evan Davis, presenter of BBC Radio 4's Today show and chairman of the judges, called the book "gripping and moving".

He said it was "a real testament" to Demick's work "that a book on such a grim topic can be so hard to put down".

This year's winner was announced at a ceremony at the Royal Institute for British Architects (Riba) in London.

Subtitled Real Lives in North Korea, Demick's book tells of six North Korean citizens living in the only country in the world not connected to the internet.

Its title comes from a song North Korean children are taught entitled We Have Nothing To Envy in the World.

"Nowhere will you find a better account of real life in North Korea," said Davis, who scrutinised the shortlist with Financial Times arts editor Jan Dalley and historian Stella Tillyard.

"I think we knew this book had something when we found ourselves reading it out loud to spouses and partners," he added.

The five runners-up - whittled down from an original longlist of 19 books - each receives £1,000.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Worst Writing Prize Goes to Gerbil-Kiss

A gerbil in a cage Love rat ... Judges praised Molly Ringle for her gerbil-based lampooning of public displays of affection. Photograph: Paul Brown/Rex Features

A sentence comparing a kiss to the sucking of a very thirsty gerbil has won Seattle-based novelist Molly Ringle the world's worst writing contest.

Ringle, who says she only writes bad fiction when she fails at good fiction, took the Bulwer-Lytton prize for the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels yesterday with: "For the first month of Ricardo and Felicity's affair, they greeted one another at every stolen rendezvous with a kiss – a lengthy, ravenous kiss, Ricardo lapping and sucking at Felicity's mouth as if she were a giant cage-mounted water bottle and he were the world's thirstiest gerbil."

Given annually since 1982, the competition, sponsored by the English department at San Jose State University, is inspired by the melodramatic first line of Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton's 1830 novel Paul Clifford: "It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents – except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness."

Ringle, the author of the published novel The Ghost Downstairs, in which the romance between a nurse and a houseboy is played out against growing paranormal activity, is the 28th winner of the contest. "I feel quite ridiculous. But there are definitely worse ways to get 15 minutes of fame," she wrote on her blog.

The author told the Seattle Times that she had been inspired to write her winning sentence as she nursed her infant son. "Something about his attitude and posture ... It reminded me of those guinea pigs we used to have as kids," she said. "I've asked myself, probably belatedly, is that what I want to be famous for? But hopefully people in the publishing world know it's all in the name of comedy."

And anyway, she added, "you kind of have to have a certain amount of skill to write a sentence so bad it would win. You have to work at it."

Contest judge Scott Rice, a professor at San Jose State University, praised her "outlandishly inappropriate comparison" to the paper. "It is a send-up of writers who try too hard to be original, and it is a send-up of those revolting couples whose public displays of affection make them poster children for celibacy," he said.

The runner-up in this year's competition was Tom Wallace with: "Through the verdant plains of North Umbria walked Waylon Ogglethorpe and, as he walked, the clouds whispered his name, the birds of the air sang his praises, and the beasts of the fields from smallest to greatest said, 'There goes the most noble among men' – in other words, a typical stroll for a schizophrenic ventriloquist with delusions of grandeur."