Books & Fiction

A Toast to Cocktails in Literature

Benjamin Wright

Throughout the works of Russian writers, like Tolstoy and Chekhov, the characters drink vodka like there is no tomorrow, and also wine, as in Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Mead, the delicious honey wine first created by the ancients, played a significant role in Beowulf, with Beowulf, the hero, defending the king’s mead hall against the terrifying beast, Grendel. In works like Steinbeck’s classic moral tale, The Pearl, the featured drink of choice is pulque, a beverage made from the maguey plant’s fermented sap. 

New Fiction: Douglas at the Diner

Sam Chapin

Douglas opened his eyes and was temporarily blinded by the light from his lamp. He squinted as he sat up, replaced his reading glasses with the glasses on the nightstand, and inserted a bookmark into The Disenchanted. He slipped on his slippers and walked to the window, drawing the blinds. The light from the sun overwhelmed the light from the lamp, as he became temporarily blind once again. He squinted out the window, looking for what had woke him. He looked down the three floors to the street and saw, lying on the sidewalk, a dead pigeon. 

Zadie Smith Lays Claim to a Patch of London in ‘NW’

Lee Polevoi

Throughout NW, Smith demonstrates a deep understanding of the constant ebb and flow of human relationships—between mothers and daughters, between best friends, between a reformed addict determined to stay clean and his flamboyant, drug-using ex-girlfriend.  Even forewarned of an impending tragedy, the reader becomes so absorbed in these characters’ lives that when  calamity does strike, it comes as a breathtaking surprise and with a penetrating sense of loss.

Welcome to the Literary World: Conferences, Retreats, and Hobnobbing With Like Minds

Gerry LaFemina

Although some writers conferences date back to the 1940s and ‘50s (Bread Loaf being the most prominent, which featured among other literary luminaries, Robert Frost and Louis Untermyer), poet, editor and writers conference organizer Kurt Brown notes that “the rise of writers conferences really took place during the 70s, 80s and 90s when these (mostly summer) programs spread from border to border and coast to coast.” It’s not surprising, as conferences allow writers an opportunity to escape their day-to-day routine in order to be immersed in literary fellowship. 

Martin Amis Amongst the Thugs: The World of ‘Lionel Asbo’

Lee Polevoi

What living novelist brings more baggage to the publication of a new book than Martin Amis? Each occasion triggers a recounting of wildly irrelevant details from his past (no need to repeat them here), generating a media frenzy to which Amis often contributes with outspoken views on culture, politics and history. By now (Lionel Asbo is his 13th novel), this frenzy serves not to enlighten but to distract from the work itself. In that respect, Amis remains one of the most consistently interesting and—on a purely sentence-by-sentence level—one of the best writers we have.

Are Printed Books Now Extinct in the Digital Age? Not Yet

Emma Mincks

Book lovers around the country are wondering what will happen to their favorite bookstores as the increase in digital publishing and the closure of brick and mortar book monoliths like Borders signifies. When Borders announced its closing last year, NPR published an article questioning how much longer the “bookstore experience” might last, and what the store’s closure might mean for other bookstores. Many have speculated that independent bookstores will thrive, while others project a gloomy end for anyone associated with the book business. 

The Life and Death of David Foster Wallace

Lee Polevoi

In Every Love Story is a Ghost Story, a sympathetic and engrossing biography of David Foster Wallace, literary journalist D.T. Max deftly outlines the early years of the writer’s life, from his birth in Ithaca, New York, growing up in Champaign, Illinois, where he became a promising junior tennis player, to his education (with a double major in English and philosophy) at Amherst College. The novel he wrote for his senior thesis, The Broom of the System, was published when Wallace was 25 years old, launching a career that went on to see creation of a range of exceptional works of fiction and nonfiction.

Nobel Prize Winner Vargas Llosa Examines the Doomed Life of an Irish Patriot

Lee Polevoi

Had Roger Casement’s tragic and eventful life been a work of fiction, no one would have believed it. In The Dream of the Celt, a re-imagining of the doomed Irish patriot’s life and times, Mario Vargas Llosa has opted for a sort of combined fact/fiction approach. First published in 2010 (the year Vargas Llosa received the Nobel Prize in Literature), and recently translated into English, this scarcely fictionalized life resembles, in many ways, a straightforward biography, with the spark of literature flickering intermittently throughout. 

John Lanchester Explores Money, Character and Destiny in ‘Capital’

Lee Polevoi

British author John Lanchester displays an impressive range of skills in his books—from a gourmand/serial killer’s disturbing confessions in his first novel, The Debt to Pleasure, to a beguiling memoir Family Romance and an incisive examination of the global economic crisis in IOU: Why Everyone Owes Everyone and No One can Pay! Lanchester’s interest in the global economy bears full fruit in Capital, the finest novel yet from this hugely talented writer.

NY Times Writer Researches Michelle Obama’s Ancestry in ‘American Tapestry’

Cynthia Gordy

In her new book, American Tapestry: The Story of the Black, White, and Multiracial Ancestors of Michelle Obama, Rachel L. Swarns digs up the first lady's family roots. Throughout the meticulously researched tome, Swarns, a New York Times correspondent, uncovers a diverse history that Mrs. Obama hadn't even known herself. Swarns speaks  about what struck her most about the project, her extensive research process and what she hopes readers will take away from learning about a family that went from slavery to the White House.

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