Happy Saturday! Here, for you, is the best the internet has to offer on books and related topics for the week of August 22, 2016.
- The Telegraph names the 15 most depressing books of all time, and I am astonished at the lack of Dickens. (“Is Little Nell dead?”)
- The Guardian has the scoop on the hunt for a forgotten detective novelist:
“It’s a complete mystery who he is,” said [Michael] Bhaskar. “Scott [Pack]’s been in archives, he’s looked through newspapers from the time searching for notices of his death, he’s spoken to people all around the country, put notices up, but there’s been nothing. The trail has gone cold. It’s a very unusual situation - usually when a book is in copyright, it’s known who owns it. We’re hoping that opening this up to the general public will help us find a lead.”
- I’ve already talked at length about how much I liked Jacqueline Woodson’s Another Brooklyn, but her “By the Book” interview at the New York Times is really charming:
I love when writers work with something deeper than the story of self. I want a story in the context of the world so that as a reader I’m bearing witness to how the characters are impacting and being impacted by all that’s happening around them. And again, I love books that pay attention to language.
- Truman Capote’s ashes are up for auction, starting at a mere $2,750! How can you afford not to????
- Curtis Sittenfeld talks to the Times about how to handle criticism as an author:
For my second novel, “The Man of My Dreams,” I got a scathing review from The Times. I found it embarrassing, but now I’m not sorry because I learned two important lessons: 1) Actually, almost no one in the world besides you cares if you get a scathing review from The Times — it’s not unlike walking out of a restaurant bathroom with toilet paper stuck to your shoe.
- At LitHub, Alice Mattison talks about how to write coincidences:
One way to make a coincidence feel less clumsy is to have the author acknowledge that what she is describing is improbable. But [Flannery] O’Connor doesn’t. There’s no disclaimer, no apology, no paragraph saying that sometimes the strangest things happen.
Not only does the coincidence work, but it gives me the same sort of pleasure as coincidences in my life. It delights me. I think the coincidence is O’Connor’s way of letting us know we’re in a slightly skewed place in which what happens does not exactly follow the rules we’re used to.
- The Library of America is publishing a complete edition of Ursula Le Guin’s writing about Orsinia, an imaginary country in central Europe:
Orsinia does not exist, any more than Middle Earth exists. It isn’t real, though its troubles are. One of the problems it poses is to figure out what kind of lever spans the gap between the imaginary place and the earth that is to be moved: in other words, what genre are we dealing with?
- The NYRB explains The Ultimate Ambition in the Arts of Erudition, a 9,000 page tome written in 1314 by an Egyptian bureaucrat who wanted to compile all human knowledge into a single text:
Reading it is like stumbling into a cavernous attic full of unimaginably strange artifacts, some of them unforgettable, some merely dross. From the alleged self-fellation of monkeys to the many lovely Bedouin words for the night sky (“the Encrusted, because of its abundance of stars, and the Forehead, because of its smoothness”) to the court rituals of Egypt’s then-overlords, the Mamluks, nothing seems to escape Nuwayri’s taxonomic ambitions.
- The Paris Review online has unearthed a lovely, rare recording of Jean Rhys’s voice.