Tagged: nick hornby Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • Dell Villa 3:00 pm on 2015/05/28 Permalink
    Tags: beachy books, , , , , , , , , nick hornby,   

    Beach Reading: Top Paperbacks From Way Back 

    It’s beach reading time. And since I know you don’t want to bring your shiny new hardbacks anywhere near the seaweed and beached jellyfish, I hereby declare the next three months the Summer of Paperback Favorites. While I can’t promise my compilation’s handy acronym (SPF) is accidental, I can assure you I’ve selected several of the awesomest books from the last 60 years to aid in your search for quality vacation fiction. If they’re not dog-eared and waiting on your hammock already, I recommend picking them up straightaway, in saltwater, sand-tested paperback format.

    2005:
    The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak
    In the summer of 2005, we eagerly devoured the penultimate installment in the Harry Potter series, and our infatuations with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Bella and Edward, and Percy Jackson began. What made our hearts pound, however, was an unassuming volume originally intended for younger readers. While it certainly appealed to adolescents, readers and reviewers quickly lauded Zusak’s unique novel as one for all ages, and all lovers of literature. In Nazi-occupied Germany in 1939, Liesel is a foster child who has recently learned how to read and, consequently, has discovered an unquenchable desire for knowledge. The only way she can acquire the books she wants is through thievery, and soon Liesel’s scavenged books are the only thing standing between her and the madness of wartime. Death is the knowing narrator, adding intensity and complexity to this compelling, well-crafted story.

    1995:
    High Fidelity, by Nick Hornby
    It was the season of The Lost World and a long-lost manuscript from Louisa May Alcott (A Long Fatal Love Chase), but the most exciting discovery of the summer of 1995 was Nick Hornby, a British novelist who brought the world fresh, funny fiction from a male point of view. In High Fidelity, it’s easy to pity Rob, the owner of a failing record store who just lost his longtime girlfriend to the new-agey weirdo who lives upstairs. And then it’s easy to hate Rob, as he indulges in excessive daydreaming, self-pity, and generally immature behavior. Yes, Rob can get under our skin, but it’s only because Hornby’s characters are so superbly crafted; it’s fortunate we took notice of this offbeat novelist, for we’ve had no shortage of resonant fiction from him over the last 20 years.

    1985:
    Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel García Márquez
    Summer 1985 was full of instant classics like Lonesome Dove, Lake Wobegon Days, and, my personal favorite, The Castle in the Attic, but the achingly beautiful love story to emerge from Nobel Prize winner Marquez was unlike anything readers had ever read before. The New York Times Book Review called it “one of the greatest love stories ever told,” and readers collectively held their breath for 50 years, 9 months, and 4 days right along with Florentino Ariza as he waited for the precise moment to declare his unending love for Fermina Daza. Wondrous, luminous, and unforgettable, this is a perfect vintage summer read.

    1975:
    Terms of Endearment, by Larry McMurtry
    It was the summer of Tuck Everlasting, Salem’s Lot, and Ragtime. But what sparked readers’ imaginations across the country was McMurtry’s inimitable masterpiece, that would inspire an Academy Award–winning motion picture: Terms of Endearment. Aurora Greenway and her daughter, Emma, captured and broke readers’ hearts, and made them grimace, guffaw, and grieve. No one who read this timeless story of the love and pain between mothers and daughters ever forgot it, and neither will you.

    1965:
    Dune, by Frank Herbert:
    In the heat of summer in 1965, readers heard from Agatha Christie, Flannery O’Connor, and Kurt Vonnegut, and Herbert’s extraordinary new novel flew off the shelves. Quickly hailed as a triumph of imagination, Dune kicked off the Chronicles series, which would eventually go on to win the Nebula and Hugo awards for science fiction, and often be compared to the venerable The Lord of the Rings. In fact, so detailed are the alien landscapes in Herbert’s deeply unsettling series that the New York Times Book Review contended he might have broken ground on a completely new subgenre of “ecological fiction.” You’ll want to join the legions of devoted fans once you crack open this throwback classic.

    1955:
    Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov
    In the summer of 1955, readers were lost in the concluding tales of Narnia and Mordor—and utterly shocked and thrilled by Nabokov’s controversial volume of illicit love. Filled with madness, obsession, and political undertones, if readers could get their hands on Lolita that summer, they read it and immediately passed it along without a word. I’m pretty certain you’ll do the same.

    What paperbacks are you toting to the beach this summer?

     
  • Jeff Somers 3:00 pm on 2014/12/31 Permalink
    Tags: a long way down, amor towles, , George Eliot, , , , middlemarch, nick hornby, rules of civility, , white teeth,   

    Our Favorite Books Set on New Year’s Eve (and Day) 

    Amor Towles' The Rules of CivilityHumans are a funny lot; we invent a totally random way of keeping track of our existence, then assign special significance to certain days, and proceed to do things like go to war over disagreements on which days are especially significant. For most people, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are natural moments for contemplation and resolution—or nursing hangovers—which is why they are also great days to read books. When trying to decide what goals to set for yourself in the coming year, a good book can give you examples of what to do—or what not to do, depending on the book.

    Here then, are five books set on and around New Year’s eve that just might have something to teach you—but will definitely entertain you.

    Middlemarch, by George Eliot

    Only a small portion of this classic piece of literature takes place on New Year’s—but any excuse to pick up this amazing novel is a good excuse. The New Year’s Day portion is a great scene filled with Eliot’s typically sharp observations of her fellow human beings. The party thrown by the Vincys is superficially cheerful and jolly, but tensions roil just underneath the surface, as observed by the smart and good-hearted vicar Mr. Farebrother. This is a great scene to read in preparation for heading out to a New Year’s bash.

    White Teeth, by Zadie Smith

    Smith’s insanely creative book begins on New Year’s Day and explores, among many other finely woven themes, how chance affects our lives. When Archie Jones changes his mind about an attempted suicide and finds his way to the dregs of a New Year’s Eve party, where he meets his future wife, it’s just the first of many ways the book celebrates how our decisions conspire to surprise us—and the story circles around to a later New Year’s to underscore the point. Read this book before making your resolutions, to remind yourself that you never know what 2015 might throw at you.

    Rules of Civilty, by Amor Towles

    This under-appreciated first novel is a brilliant, energetic story set in a Manhattan that no longer exists. With a strong female character at its center, Rules of Civilty presents a mystery that starts at a New Year’s celebration between the end of 1937 and the beginning of 1938, but it’s really a celebration of the energy of New York and the thrill of suddenly seeing someone or something you haven’t seen in decades, bringing back a flood of memories. It also contains the world-beating line, “That’s the problem with being born in New York…you’ve got no New York to run away to.” Read this book if you’re feeling a bit settled and wonder if you could use an adventure in the New Year.

    Bridget Jones’s Diary, by Helen Fielding

    Let’s not dismiss this book—it’s a modern classic of its genre, and it’s easy to forget what a phenomenon it was back in the late 1990s and early 2000s. It’s also a book that begins on New Year’s Day and dives enthusiastically into one of the great inner monologues of modern literature, as Bridget worries, records, and contemplates the proper method of making and keeping resolutions almost from the book’s very first moment. Read it if you’re worried about breaking your New Year’s resolutions—it will remind that ultimately it probably doesn’t matter, as long as you enjoy the debacle.

    A Long Way Down, by Nick Hornby

    Any book that opens with its four main characters accidentally choosing the same roof to jump from on New Year’s Eve is a book that really ought to be read every New Year’s Eve, possibly out loud as a new kind of holiday tradition. And since it’s a book by Nick Hornby, it’s also hilarious and satisfyingly plotted, as these people decide to postpone their suicide and the story unfolds unexpectedly from there. Read this any time you think your New Year’s experience is subpar; you’ll feel better.

    What’s your favorite book to read at the end (or start) of the year?

     
  • BN Editors 3:30 pm on 2014/06/12 Permalink
    Tags: , a tale for the time being, a visit from the good squad, angels in america, , , bel canto, , , brandy colbert, carol rifka, , chris cleave, christa desir, city of thieves, coldest girl in coldtown, , , , david benioff, dickens, dumbledore, eleanore & park, fault line, , henry fielding, , , , , jack finney, , , , , , kafka on the shore, karuki murakami, , kathleen hale, kazou ishiguro, , , , leftovers, , , life of pi, little bee, , mikhail bulgakov, munroe, nerve, , nicholas baker, nick hornby, point/counterpoint, pointe, prep, , ruth graham, , sex & violence, slate, submergence, , , , , the big lebowski, the brief wondrous life of oscar wao, , the fermata, the hakawati, , the insuitionist, , the master and tmargarita, , , the sirens of titan, , time and again, tom jones, , tony kushner, , updike, wharton, , , yann martel   

    Should You Be Embarrassed to Read YA? The Best Debate on the Internet 

    collageRuth Graham’s Slate piece, “Against YA,” has everyone asking, “is YA embarrassing?” We had to weigh in. Below, two contrasting opinions of the debate of YA validity. We can’t wait to hear where you stand!

    Grown-ups: We Are Better Than This, by Ester Bloom

    “Embarrassment” is not a productive emotion, and “should” is not a useful word, so it’s understandable that Ruth Graham’s recent piece in Slate, “Against YA,” subtitled “You should feel embarrassed when what you’re reading was written for children,” rubbed so many people the wrong way. Generally speaking, no one likes being what to do or not do, or how to feel, especially by finger-wagging strangers on the Internets.

    Graham doesn’t do herself any favors when she derides pleasure as a primary motivator for reading.

    YA endings are uniformly satisfying, whether that satisfaction comes through weeping or cheering. These endings are emblematic of the fact that the emotional and moral ambiguity of adult fiction—of the real world—is nowhere in evidence in YA fiction. These endings are for readers who prefer things to be wrapped up neatly, our heroes married or dead or happily grasping hands, looking to the future. But wanting endings like this is no more ambitious than only wanting to read books with “likable” protagonists. Fellow grown-ups, at the risk of sounding snobbish and joyless and old, we are better than this.

    Aristotle, whose Poetics delves into the social function of art, might point out that adults, as well as children, benefit from catharsis. As the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy puts it, “Aristotle criticizes orators who write exclusively from the intellect, rather than from the heart,” which is precisely what Graham is doing when she dismisses the intense emotional power of empathizing with other characters to the degree of weeping over and/or cheering for them. And Graham is not even consistent in her argument. She rolls her eyes at contemporary YA-favorite Eleanor & Park while seeming to give a thumbs up to campy network television and genre fiction:

    Far be it from me to disrupt the “everyone should just read/watch/listen to whatever they like” ethos of our era. There’s room for pleasure, escapism, juicy plots, and satisfying endings on the shelves of the serious reader. And if people are reading Eleanor & Park instead of watching “Nashville” or reading detective novels, so be it, I suppose.

    Could she possibly sound more grudging? I know. And yet. AND YET. Remember what the Dude says to his friend Walter Sobchak in The Big Lebowski? “You’re not wrong, you’re just an a**hole!” Sometimes people raise valuable ideas in awkward ways, and that can be a shame, because a lot of nuance can get lost in the indignant, knee-jerk response people often have when they feel criticized and shamed.

    Kathleen Hale captures that nuance in her response on Nerve, “A Young Adult Author’s Fantastic Crusade to Defend Literature’s Most Maligned Genre,” which is so brilliant the Pulitzer Committee should invent a new category of Satire so they can give her an award. She skewers YA (“We locked eyes. We stared at each other so hard that we went blind. Then we listened to The Smiths and regained our sight”) while simultaneously making all necessary counterarguments to the anti-YA snobs (“Cultural arbiters have always been the richest, whitest, most male-dominated groups. Buying into this anti-commercial mindset that heralds esoteric writing reinforces patriarchal models. The more you lobby for the literary status quo, the more you reinforce sexist paradigms.”)

    YA is comfort food. In this, it is like many other cliché-ridden genres, including Mystery, which for some reason escapes Graham’s censure; and there is nothing wrong with comfort food. We like it because we know what to expect, because, as Graham says, it’s satisfying in a primal way. But as Dumbledore puts it, at some point we all face a choice between what is right and what is easy. As an adult, you do not have an obligation to expand your mind, to challenge yourself, to expose yourself to new and potentially difficult ideas. But it is often the right thing to do. Graham’s tone sometimes gets in her way, but that’s all she is really trying to say.

    Mature readers also find satisfaction of a more intricate kind in stories that confound and discomfit, and in reading about people with whom they can’t empathize at all. A few months ago I read the very literary novel Submergence, which ends with a death so shattering it’s been rattling around in my head ever since. But it also offers so much more: Weird facts, astonishing sentences, deeply unfamiliar (to me) characters, and big ideas about time and space and science and love. I’ve also gotten purer plot-based highs recently from books by Charles Dickens and Edith Wharton, whose age and canonhood have not stopped them from feeling fresh, true, and surprising. Life is so short, and the list of truly great books for adults is so long.

    Dickens, Wharton, Updike, and Munro all make Graham’s cut, even though, as many people have pointed out, Dickens was considered totally middlebrow back in the day and Updike has written about sexy witches. (More than once!) Graham is not saying “Eat your vegetables.” She’s saying, “Try some fruit.” She’s not urging us to give up fun, only to look for it in less expected places, in books that can teach us grown up lessons in addition to ones fit for teenagers.

    Of course, books aspiring to the canon can be laughably self-serious, heavy with ornate description and lacking in any kind of “So what?” factor. I’d much rather read good YA like The Hunger Games or The Fault in Our Stars than supposedly quality books like The Bonfire of the Vanities or Sister Carrie. But most of the time, as Lev Grossman has argued, the distinction between “genre” reads (escapism) and “literary” ones (art) is neither clear-cut nor especially important.

    In that spirit, here is a sampling of great books written for adults that you might enjoy if you like YA. These novels are approachable, entertaining, well-written, exciting, and even occasionally feature elements of the supernatural. Don’t read them to please Ruth Graham, though that might be a fringe benefit. Read them to please—and also nourish—yourself.

    Angels in America, by Tony Kushner
    A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki
    A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan
    Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett
    Beloved, by Toni Morrison
    City of Thieves, by David Benioff
    In the Woods, by Tana French
    Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke
    High Fidelity, by Nick Hornby
    Kafka on the Shore, bu Haruki Murakami
    Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson
    Life of Pi, by Yann Martel
    Little Bee, by Chris Cleave
    Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro
    Prep, by Curtis Sittenfeld
    The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon
    The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz
    The Fermata, by Nicholson Baker
    The Hakawati, by Rabih Alameddine
    The Intuitionist, by Colson Whitehead
    The Magicians, by Lev Grossman
    The Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov
    The Quick, by Lauren Owen
    The Sirens of Titan, by Kurt Vonnegut
    The Time-Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger
    Time and Again, by Jack Finney
    Tom Jones, by Henry Fielding

    Against Being Against YA, by Dahlia Adler

    There’s a strange phenomenon in the journalistic world of reporting on Young Adult literature: reading it doesn’t seem to be a requirement of writing about it. All you really need to do is throw around the word “vampires,” either implicitly or explicitly discuss the silly trivialities of being a teenage girl (whether or not you once were one, because of course You’re Very Above That Now and aren’t teen girls silly, thinking they’re real people), and assess whether John Green is YA’s savior or if the category is just beyond saving. Voila! Instant byline.

    These articles that denigrate YA based on minimal knowledge and palpable bitterness at the category’s success pop up about as often as Now, That’s What I Call Music! comes out with albums, and after a while, they become like flies at a picnic—they’re everywhere, they sure aren’t welcome, and they’re just leeching off of other people’s sustenance. But ultimately, they’re so irrelevant that you halfheartedly swat at them and ultimately learn to deal.

    Then along came the Slate article “Against YA,” and it wasn’t just about the books: it was about the people reading them. It was a call to adult readers to feel ashamed for our love of YA. It was, perhaps, the most condescending, patronizing, shaming article yet, disguising itself as maintaining a shred of credibility because unlike those other articles, which waste their time making claims against “the transparently trashy stuff,” this author didn’t like The Fault in Our Stars! Or Eleanor & Park! Now that’s real YA derision.

    Way to dig deep, Ms. Graham. Alllll the way into…the New York Times best sellers list. Maybe I’ll get embarrassed to read the brilliant work of authors like A.S. King and Melina Marchetta when you get embarrassed that you wrote an article disparaging readers and could only address titles coming to a theater near you.

    The thing about book-shaming—whether YA or Romance or comic books—is that more than anything, it just declares to the world that the person doing the shaming isn’t well-read enough to have found the gems. Because every category and genre has them. And if your response to 50 Shades of Grey is to go off on how Romance is awful, rather than saying, “Maybe I’ll try The Siren instead,” or if Twilight makes you think all YA is about vampires (and even if it were, at least try Holly Black’s Coldest Girl in Coldtown before making blanket YA vampire declarations), how have you managed to convince yourself that you’re any kind of literary expert? In what world does the equivalent of “That was bad pizza—Italian food sucks” make you a legitimate critic?

    For me, the most hilarious irony of the very existence of this Slate piece came to me in the form of it having been posted while I was knee-deep in I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, an incredibly beautiful YA novel that comes out this September and blows many, many works of “acceptable literature” out of the water. And as I was reading it, blissfully unaware of this stupidity happening on the internet, I thought, “This is exactly the kind of book I would recommend to anyone who ever thought YA was ‘Less Than.’”

    Then I went online and thought, “Never mind, you don’t deserve it.”

    When an article includes claims about the universality of “likable” protagonists in YA, those of us who are actually familiar with the category have to think, “Who on earth are you reading?” Because you’re not reading Courtney Summers, one of my absolute favorite YA authors, who’s notorious for her wonderfully layered, “unlikable” characters who never get neat, easy endings. You haven’t read Pointe by Brandy Colbert, one of this year’s best debuts, which is rife with explorations of the consequences of poor decisions. You certainly haven’t approached any of the thoughtful, brutally realistic books addressing the complexities of living in a culture of sexual violence, such as Fault Line by Christa Desir, Sex & Violence by Carrie Mesrobian, or Leftovers by Laura Wiess.

    But literary merit aside—and I could go on about YA books with unquestionable literary merit—there are so many reasons for adults to read YA that have nothing to do with wanting things to be “satisfying.” (Though I’ll unabashedly cop to liking that “general feelings of malaise and suburban ennui, with an affair and some metaphors in there” would never fly as a sufficient plot for a YA novel. And as much as I love contemporary fiction, I do mean unabashedly.) As a woman in the same 30–44 age bracket as the author of the Slate piece, I may not be or feel adolescent, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still possess rawness and malleability as an adult. Who you are as a teenager doesn’t completely and utterly disappear in ten or twenty years. The frank, emotional, at times brutal delivery of YA speaks to me as a person who still feels, as a person who enjoys reliving experiences of youth, as a person who appreciates the ability to look back on her life through a variety of lenses, as a person who thinks teenagers written like teenagers are very worthy subjects.

    I’m thrilled that Ms. Graham agrees with me that there’s no shame in writing about teenagers, although in her version, it’s only okay if done for adults. Looking at a slightly more modern example than “Shakespeare,” Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt has a teenage protagonist, was marketed as general fiction, and has been roundly and rightfully applauded. But the truth is that had it been marketed as YA, I wouldn’t have blinked. If you don’t think those kinds of deeply complex relationships or social issues are all over YA, you’re just. Not. Reading it.

    Which we already knew.

    But at least one great thing came out of that Slate post: this hilarious, phenomenal rebuttal by No One Else Can Have You author Kathleen Hale. And yes, that’s YA.

    You should try it sometime.

    Is reading YA embarrassing?

     
c
compose new post
j
next post/next comment
k
previous post/previous comment
r
reply
e
edit
o
show/hide comments
t
go to top
l
go to login
h
show/hide help
esc
cancel