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Posts Tagged ‘thrillers’

But Is It Reading?

March 22, 2016 | by

Photo: Herman Turnip. Via Flickr.

Yesterday morning, the New York Times reported that the prolific James Patterson is starting a new venture: a series of exciting, novella-length books called BookShots. Says the story:

Mr. Patterson said the books would be aimed at readers who might not want to invest their time in a 300- or 400-page novel. And he hopes they might even appeal to people who do not normally read at all. If it works, it could open up a big new market: According to a Pew Research Center survey released last fall, 27 percent of American adults said they had not read a book in the past year.

“You can race through these—they’re like reading movies,” he said during a recent interview in New York. “It gives people some alternative ways to read.” 

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Impressive Propaganda, and Other News

February 10, 2016 | by

A book designed by Klaus Wittkugel on display at P! Gallery. Photo: Sebastian Bach

  • If you’ve been holding off on reading Elena Ferrante’s Neopolitan novels because there’s, like, four of them, and that’s just kind of a lot of books, and you secretly don’t even really enjoy reading that often anyway, you’re in luck: they’re being adapted for television. “FremantleMedia’s Wildside and Fandango Productions will adapt the four novels as four eight-episode series, one for each of the books—My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and The Story of the Lost Child. And just in case you were worried, The Hollywood Reporter reports that Ferrante herself will be involved in the production of the series, and it will be shot in Italy.”
  • With his Jack Reacher thrillers, Lee Child writes what are certifiably—at least according to Forbes—the most addictive novels in all of commercial fiction. In this, Christopher Tayler writes, Child owes a debt to Donald Westlake, an earlier thriller writer with a formula that varied in intriguing ways: “Westlake was hailed as a master by John Banville and Stephen King, but he never troubled the bestseller lists, and it’s part of [his series protagonist] Parker’s charm that he’s a bit of a cult property, a creature of the drugstore paperback carousel rather than the airport bookstore … Luc Sante—who published one of the first serious appraisals of the Parker books in 1985—argues persuasively that the master theme of professionalism is as much writerly as criminal. Westlake said that he devised the series because he wanted to write about ‘a workman at work’, and the books offer a double lesson, showing not only, say, each step in the process of breaking though a Sheetrock wall with a claw hammer, but also how to turn the process into mesmerizing fiction.”
  • In the fifties and sixties, you couldn’t step into an East German bookstore (and clearly I speak from experience) without encountering the work of Klaus Wittkugel, one of the GDR’s most prominent graphic designers. A new exhibition in New York collects his striking book designs and propaganda posters. If you doubt his significance, just have a look at this unstinting praise from none other than the East German State: “For nearly every important political event in the history of our Workers’ and Peasants’ State, there exists an artistic statement by Wittkugel, who, through his work, has contributed considerably to the new orientation of our applied graphics.”
  • The author photo, once the foundation of any decent book-publicity campaign, has seen some changes in the Information Age—some might wonder if there’s really any reason for it at all anymore, when you just Google an author and find pictures by the dozen. But when Matthew Shaer saw Sven Birkerts’s author photo, he felt something different. “Its anomalousness shook me: If the vast majority of author photos fit into one of a handful of standard poses—the Fist-on-Chin (conveying thoughtfulness), the Stare-Out-Window (inner depth), the Icy Stare (strength), the Hearty Laugh (confidence!), etc.—here was an author photo that threw centuries of literary convention in our face. Here was a man who was not even fully dressed in his author photo.”
  • In which Alice Gregory ventures to the shadow of Geneva, with a friend and a ten-week-old baby: “Malka is in the other room pumping, ‘like a cow.’ She returns and tells me about a Scandinavian balloon that you insert into your vagina for ten minutes per day for the last month of pregnancy. If you do this, she promises, you won’t need stitches. Malka is full of advice that I don’t need but want anyway. We talk about lots of things up there in the mountains: Buchenwald, deviant sex, how Italians sound like roosters when they try to sing lieders. They use too many vocal effects, apparently. Or, as Malka says, ‘lots of cream all over.’ ”

Poor Judas, and Other News

April 3, 2015 | by


Giovanni Canavesio, The Remorse of Judas (detail), 1491.

  • Poor Judas. He just can’t seem to catch a break—his is perhaps the most reviled name in history, even though he’s the only one of the apostles who has any identifiable human qualities. “At the ancient French Catholic shrine of Notre-Dame des Fontaines, Giovanni Canavesio’s 1490s fresco was undoubtedly the most horrifying depiction of the traitor I came across … Judas hangs from a rope, looking deranged, eyes flashing madly, half in fear, half in threat, his hair a spiky mop … As he breathes his last, a stream of sweet-potato-like entrails spills out of his open stomach, as well as (with Christianity’s usual scant regard for science) a miniature adult. A golden-winged demon is on hand to catch the newborn, with the implication that it will continue to sow the seeds of Judas’s treacherous legacy into future generations.”
  • A refutation of yesterday’s claim that thrillers are conservative and crime novels leftist: “Consider the supreme master of the spy thriller, John le Carré. His cold war novels stood against the mindless jingoism of the period, resisting the Manichean equation of east-west with evil-good … that kind of fury is typical of the fuel that burns through many thrillers. This is a genre whose most frequent theme is injustice: the urge to right a wrong.”
  • “Lewis Carroll, like many other Victorian ‘innocents’, was obsessed by the beauty and incorruptibility of young girls. The camera was a fairly recent invention. He used it to make images of girls dressed as princesses or beggars or—the clearest image of innocence—naked … Carroll’s maneuvers were awkward on the edge of innocence. In 1880 he mistakenly kissed the daughter of one of his Christ Church colleagues who turned out to be seventeen years old. His amusing ‘apology’ to her mother was ill-received, and not long after that he gave up taking photographs.”
  • Mark McGurl on Tom McCarthy and the convergence of avant-garde fiction and lyrical realism: “To produce genre effects is to send up a flare to distracted readers, reminding them of fiction’s capacity to produce its version of the richly artificial pleasures on offer everywhere else in contemporary mass culture. It is to show off the sheer power of fiction to alter the real, to brighten, re-order and re-color it, as in a children’s book. Ironically, this is especially true of the ubiquitous postapocalyptic variant, which imagines profoundly awful, even starkly depopulated worlds … It turns out to be easy for a novelist to kill off almost everyone. This clears the way for the apparently much harder task of rebuilding the social world in terms other than straggling, incipiently fascist authoritarianism. In this mode, every novel is epic again.”
  • Adventures in surreal estate: talking to the developer of a new luxury condo building in Canarsie, at the far end of Brooklyn. “We call it Loft 87 because it’s a little bit more contemporary-sounding … It’s obviously a regular apartment … I’m bringing everything you would see in Bushwick for half the price.”

Strandelion, and Other News

April 2, 2015 | by


From a 1960 German postage stamp.

  • The politics of genre fiction: “the current preoccupations of the crime novel, the roman noir, the krimi lean to the left. It’s critical of the status quo, sometimes overtly, sometimes more subtly. It often gives a voice to characters who are not comfortably established in the world … The thriller, on the other hand, tends towards the conservative, probably because the threat implicit in the thriller is the world turned upside down.”
  • Mark Strand’s final interview takes a fittingly existentialist turn: “I don’t know why I was born ... here I am: a sentient being, talking about life. I had the luck to be born a human being who can speak. I might have been a dandelion or a goldfinch. I might have been a buffalo in the zoo. A fly! I don’t know why I’m here.”
  • Philip Pullman has a transcendently simple (and hyperrealist) way of working through writer’s block: “If you’re stuck, if you’re really desperate—dialogue: ‘Hello.’ ‘Oh hello.’ ‘How are you?’ ‘Not too bad, thanks. How are you?’ ‘Not too bad.’ Half a page already.”
  • Anita Loos’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes “was one of the only books that James Joyce, his eyesight fading, allowed himself to read while taking breaks from Finnegans Wake.” (Other admirers: Edith Wharton, William Faulkner, E. B. White, Sherwood Anderson, William Empson, and Rose Macaulay.)
  • Before he decamped for England and a lifetime of Anglophilia, T. S. Eliot “spent his formative childhood summers in a wood-shingled, seven-bedroom seaside house on Gloucester’s Eastern Point, built for his family in 1896.” The T. S. Eliot Foundation plans to turn the house into a writers’ retreat.

Kingsley Amis’s James Bond Novel

April 16, 2014 | by


Happy birthday to Kingsley Amis, who was born on this day in 1922. In his 1975 Art of Fiction interview, Amis says,

I think it’s very important to read widely and in a wide spectrum of merit and ambition on the part of the writer. And ever since, I’ve always been interested in these less respectable forms of writing—the adventure story, the thriller, science fiction, and so on—and this is why I’ve produced one or two examples myself. I read somewhere recently somebody saying, “When I want to read a book, I write one.” I think that’s very good. It puts its finger on it, because there are never enough books of the kind one likes: one adds to the stock for one’s own entertainment.

Amis was always a staunch defender of genre fiction—and one of the “examples” he speaks of having produced is Colonel Sun, a James Bond novel he published in 1968 under the pseudonym Robert Markham. Read More »