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Posts Tagged ‘Man Booker Prize’

A Parish for Slang Bedouins, and Other News

November 4, 2014 | by

John Frederick Lewis, A Bedouin, ca. 1841.

  • Edgar Allan Poe filed for bankruptcy in 1842. Here’s a long list of his debts, with creditors listed in Philadelphia, Richmond, and New York, and orderly columns of numbers that grow large enough to give you a sympathetic panic attack.
  • “If ambitious writers work at the boundaries of the written language (as they should), then they ought do it from a path of mastery, not ignorance; broken rules carry no power if writers and readers don’t notice the transgressions. Proper usage shows us where the earth is, so that, when the time comes, we know what it means to fly.”
  • Not unrelatedly: “Dickens published an essay on slang, probably by George Augustus Sala. The 1853 article expressed the view that either slang should be ‘banished, prohibited’ or that there should be a New Dictionary that would ‘give a local habitation and a name to all the little by-blows of language skulking and rambling about our speech, like the ragged little Bedouins about our shameless streets, and give them a settlement and a parish.’ ”
  • In which Ann Patchett reminds readers of the New York Times that she’s not married to her dog.
  • “I found it odd that there had never been a scientist as a Man Booker judge. There have been many non-literary types amongst the judges: a former spy, a former dancer, a Downton Abbey actor—but science, apparently, was a step too far. Until this year, when I joined the judging panel.”

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Wish You Were Here, and Other News

October 15, 2014 | by

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A still from a film recording of Eugen Weidmann’s execution, June 17, 1939.

  • Richard Flanagan has won this year’s Man Booker Prize for his novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North. “He instinctively hugged the Duchess of Cornwall as he received the award at a black tie dinner in London.”
  • Last night everything was peachy, but the Booker has a history of dust-ups and disorder. Also idiocy—Julian Barnes recalls an encounter after his novel Flaubert’s Parrot failed to win the prize: “I was introduced after the ceremony to one of the judges, who said to me: ‘I hadn’t even heard of this fellow Flaubert before I read your book. But afterwards I sent out for all his novels in paperback.’”
  • The guillotine at the dawn of the media age: in the Paris of 1939, the simplest way to stop executions was to film them. “Unbeknownst to Parisian prison officials, a film camera had been set up in one of the apartments overlooking the Place Louis-Barthou. The film recorded [an] execution and by the next morning photographic stills appeared on the cover of nearly every French newspaper … The public was scandalized by their own violence; the government embarrassed. In response France banned public executions.”
  • James Wood on the Australian novelist Elizabeth Harrower, whose work is back in print after twenty years: “[Harrower] essentially terminated her literary career. She has said that she thinks of her fiction as something abandoned long ago, buried in a cellar. She can’t now be bothered with writing. ‘I don’t know anybody who knows I’m a writer,’ she said in 2012.”
  • Against basic, the most modish putdown of 2014: “While what it pretends to criticize is unoriginality of thought and action, most of what basic actually seeks to dismiss is consumption patterns—what you watch, what you drink, what you wear, and what you buy—without dismissing consumption itself. The basic girl’s sin isn’t liking to shop, it’s cluelessly lusting after the wrong brands, the ones that announce themselves loudly and have shareholders they need to satisfy. (The right brands are much more expensive and subtle and, usually, privately owned.)”

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Nothing Happened: An Interview with Joseph O’Neill

October 3, 2014 | by

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Photo courtesy of the author

The narrator of Joseph O’Neill’s new novel, The Dog, decides to move to Dubai. Transitional places make more sense to him than those in which “everything has been built and all that remains is the business of being in buildings.” He sees his own life, in the aftermath of a recently disintegrated relationship, as somehow “posthumous” and shameful. And meanwhile his legal training, instead of arming his intellect, merely alerts him to the inadequacies of the language he’s forced to use. “Lost in a fantastic vigilance of ambiguity, obscurity, and import,” caged in by the feeling that “the very project of making sense [is] being mocked,” he drafts endless disclaimers and other corporate documents that he only slenderly understands. His new apartment tower is called The Situation. His preferred spa is called Unique. But even recreation is an exercise in compromise—“there’s more than one Unique.”

Javier Marías, paraphrasing Faulkner, once told an interviewer that “when you strike a match in a dark wilderness it is not in order to see anything better lighted, but just in order to see how much more darkness there is around.” The Dog isn’t much interested in bright epiphanies. Instead it shows the extent of one man’s ignorance—his helplessness in a foreign world. The evocative sentences that helped to win O’Neill’s previous novel, Netherland, the 2009 PEN/ Faulkner Award and a wide readership, are largely absent here. With its deadpan existentialism and playful corporate-speak, The Dog is perhaps closer to a book like Joseph Heller’s Something Happened. It is bleakly, unexpectedly funny.

I met O’Neill in Manhattan on an afternoon in mid-September. We talked about the fact that Netherland “very nearly didn’t get published at all,” the relationship between his work and that of Louis C.K., and why he is “deeply uninterested in the chattiness you get in so many contemporary novels.”

It’s been mentioned by various reviewers that The Dog is a very different book to Netherland, at least in its tone. What sort of sentences did you find yourself looking for as you sat down to write, and what kinds of sentences did you find yourself striking out?

Generally, I want sentences that are both conscientious and surprising. For me, plot happens most of all at the level of the sentence. As I reader, I want to start a sentence and then be surprised by what happens to it, or intelligently happens. To be surprised by the conscientious movement of emotion and attention over the course of the sentence. I used to write poetry, and I think good poetry does that—captures a movement of intelligence. Still more generally, I want a verbal landscape that’s unusual—that I haven’t read a million times before, and that isn’t easily replicable in other forms. This approach animated the writing of Netherland.

In The Dog, my main character is a theorist—he is disposed toward theorizing and rationalizing, as well as to deep emotion, and is only occasionally given to recollection. To my mind, this makes him a comically urgent character—a man who is constantly caught short by this thoughts, who constantly needs to take a mental leak. That being the case, it wouldn’t have made sense to reuse the highly particular, contemplative voice of Netherland.

I’m not interested in writing stuff that’s indistinguishable from other stuff. I’m trying to avoid that deathly sense that here’s something you’ve read before, but with different characters, or with one situation replaced with another. I’m also deeply uninterested in the chattiness you get in so many contemporary novels. Read More »

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The World’s Most Average Typeface, and Other News

July 23, 2014 | by

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Z, from BIC’s Universal Typeface Experiment.

  • On the Booker longlist: Joshua Ferris, Joseph O’Neill, Richard Powers, Siri Hustvedt, Howard Jacobson, David Mitchell, David Nicholls, and others. Notably excluded: Donna Tartt.
  • Earlier this month came news of Charlotte and Branwell Brontë’s tiny books; now it’s the Brontë sisters’ school progress reports. In the early nineteenth century, a minister at Cowan Bridge noted that Charlotte “writes indifferently … knows nothing of grammar, geography, history, or accomplishments.”
  • Do you seek a bland font, a middling font, a dutifully average font? Try the Universal Typeface, “a constantly evolving, algorithmically produced font created by averaging hundreds of thousands of handwriting samples submitted to BIC’s website. Anyone with a touchscreen can help shape the Universal Typeface by linking their phone or tablet to the website and writing directly on the touchscreen—the lettering is quickly transferred to the Universal Typeface algorithm. As of this writing, more than 400,000 samples have been collected from around the world, and the resulting alphabet is … well, sort of boring.”
  • Wallace Shawn discusses playwriting and his new take on Ibsen’s The Master Builder: “If a man can presume to make a list of men who contributed to the feminist view of life, you’d have to put Ibsen at the head of the list. But he’s laying out on the table some of the worst male fantasies. I mean, he was a very daring writer, and he dared to be sort of sickening. He dared to create these characters who were sort of dreadful.”
  • “The jukebox musical can be an embarrassing phenomenon: a living, breathing pop-music wax museum. It can be pandering and disingenuous, fostering a dynamic that the Times has called ‘ovation-by-coercion.’ It can repackage your happiest memories as a Vegas revue … Our instinct is to sigh about it, but we shouldn’t. The form is evolving.”

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The Real Hunger Games, and Other News

September 16, 2013 | by

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  • Presented without comment: The Jewish Hunger Games: Kvetching Fire. (One comment: yes, it is about Yom Kippur.)
  • Word is, the Man Booker may open its doors to Yank authors come 2014. Needless to say, this is controversial.
  • Electric Lit starts an… irreverent take on Eat, Pray, Love.
  • Marmee, Mme. Swann’s Way, and other great mothers of literature.
  • Marshall Berman, an author and scholar whom the New York Times calls “a lyrical defender of modernism,” has died at seventy-two.
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    Saving the Harriet Beecher Stowe House, and Other News

    September 11, 2013 | by

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  • A federal grant will help the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center—based in the author’s Hartford home—to stay open.
  • Middlemarch, in emojis.
  • A map plots the location of every Booker Prize nominee since 1969. London leads the pack, at thirty-eight.
  • Tumblr has launched a book club. Reblog kicks off with Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl.
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