Authors often appear in their own works of fiction as thinly veiled surrogates — Kilgore Trout is widely believed to be Kurt Vonnegut’s alter ego, and Hunter S. Thompson is barely distinguishable from Raoul Duke — but occasionally authors also infiltrate their own stories as characters named for themselves. Whether purely narcissistic or a tool of artistic commentary, the author-as-character literary technique lends an element of surrealism to the reading experience and draws attention to both the act of narration and the act of creation — as well as their shared unreliability. Check out these novels in which the author appears as himself (or at least a fictionalized version thereof) and see for yourself. … Read More
Animated celebrity and noted philosopher Homer Simpson once mused, “Rock stars. Is there anything they don’t know?” Although many musicians parlay their stage success onto the printed page with memoirs, few make the foray into fiction. Last week, news broke that Bob Dylan signed a six-book deal, set to include two follow up volumes to his 2004 autobiography Chronicles as well as three other books of undetermined content. Dylan crossed over early in his career with the experimental novel/stream-of-consciousness liner notes/poem Tarantula in 1966, placing him among a small group of musical chameleons who — like their academia-inclined and thespian colleagues — have jumped artistic genres. While we wait to see if Tarantula 2 is among Dylan’s new literary offerings, here’s a list of stand-out works of fiction by other rock stars. Missed your favorite? Let us know in the comments section. … Read More
A well-written character can come to life outside the walls of his or her prescribed narrative. This was most recently the case with Mad Men’s Roger Sterling, whose fourth-season memoir Sterling Gold recently hit real shelves as Sterling Gold: Wit and Wisdom of an Ad Man, a time-traveling stocking-stuffer straight from the fictional mouth of the sharpest mind on mid-century Madison Avenue. Far from being the autobiography portrayed on the show, the slim volume is a collection of Sterling’s barbed witticisms (“When God closes a door, he opens a dress”), which are sure to sate Mad Men fans jonesing for sustenance between seasons.
The idea of a fake-memoir-turned-real-book got us thinking about tomes we wish our favorite literary characters — the ones who jump from the page and occupy a place in time and space — would write. Here’s a list of fantasy books we’d love to read by our favorite fictional personalities. Tell us in the comments section who else you’d like to read and what they’d likely write. … Read More
Few places are as synonymous with isolation and vast emptiness as Siberia. Stretching across eight time zones and occupying one-twelfth of the world’s land mass, the region is as much a place as it is a metaphor. Although it’s faraway, unpleasant, and inhospitable — in other words, the cheap seats of the international baseball park — it is now the subject of Ian Frazier’s Travels in Siberia. Based on the New Yorker scribe’s experience over a dozen years and five visits to the often-frozen wasteland, this engrossing travelogue is full of infectious curiosity and surprising insights. Frazier shares his love of a place he calls “the greatest horrible country in the world” so that we might experience his awe (and the sub-zero temperatures) without ever leaving the warmth of home.
Frazier’s book got us thinking about other dispatches from distant (and often daunting) destinations that, for most of us, are better visited via the safety of an armchair. From the tips of the Himalayas to the depths of the Earth, here are ten other intrepid travelogues about remote places we’d probably never set foot but are glad that someone else did. … Read More
Forget summer in the city. This year, the heat is on in the suburbs. Whether in music — Arcade Fire’s third album is an extended rock homage to the burbs — or on television — Mad Men is back for its fourth season and still toggling back and forth from the leafy mid-century hamlets of upstate New York to the cutthroat world of Madison Avenue — or in books — Jonathan Franzen’s breathlessly awaited follow up to The Corrections, Freedom, centers on life and its discontents in suburban St. Paul — the vast sprawl is having its moment in the cultural spotlight.
In anticipation of Franzen’s book (due in stores on August 31), we found ourselves thinking about the literary tradition of the suburban novel — the fictive portraits of damaged domesticity, day drinking, and disillusion. As an American invention, novels of suburban ennui are only as old as their subject, but we’ve polled the last half-century (and beyond) to bring you these ten essential novels of suburbia and its displeasures.
Have we missed your favorite? Tell us in the comments section. … Read More
Why do we read memoirs of illness? Is it to be confronted with the weakness and fragility of the human body and the unjustness and cruelty of fate? To experience vicariously the vagaries of an unexpected life? To be reminded of our own relative health? No matter the reason, these narratives have become increasingly ubiquitous in recent years, so much so that the genre has a name. Chicago writer Paula Kamen — who added her story to the shelf with her 2006 book All in My Head — dubbed it “sick lit,” and, in her manifesto, defined it as “women fighting shame and isolation through telling their stories about ‘invisible’ illness.” … Read More
As recently as a year or two ago, the phrase “book trailer” conjured images of a library in a double-wide. But now the trailer is an essential part of book buzz-building, and Melville House Publishing has recognized this by organizing The 1st Annual Moby Awards to celebrate the best and worst of the medium. Publisher and award organizer Dennis Loy Johnson explains, “For a long time, Big Publishing has been wishing it was either the movie industry or the music industry — first writers needed agents, then they had to be young and beautiful, now they need to be in actual movies. It just all cried out for a spoof.” … Read More
We all know how it ends. In September 2008, David Foster Wallace hanged himself. But do we know how it begins? In 1996, shortly after the publication of Infinite Jest, the novel that would define his style and propel him into the literary pantheon, Wallace was interviewed by David Lipsky for Rolling Stone magazine. Over five days, the two Davids discussed everything from television addiction and book tour sex to philosophy and mental illness. That conversation is recorded in Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself. A gift to all those who worship at the alter of DFW, this is a hauntingly beautiful portrait of Wallace as a young artist, a raw and honest account of a writer struggling with what it means to have all of his dearest dreams come true. Read on for more on the book and some of our favorite… Read More
Mary Gaitskill’s prose is the literary equivalent of a Robert Mapplethorpe nude: it’s full frontal sexuality, but it’s also deeply human. Her turns of phrase are both poetic and raw; she penetrates her characters’ psyches — lays bare their feelings, their fears, their kinks — like no other writer.
In her most recent collection of short stories, Don’t Cry, now out in paperback, memory converges with present, fantasy collides with reality, and sparse prose reveals deep craft. The stories are about love, loss, death, and art. And sure, there’s lots of sex here, too, but it’s Gaitskill’s unmatched ability to render human nature so precisely that makes this book so haunting. Her writing is not for prudes, but those who follow her into the dark places are rewarded with pure pleasure. Gaitskill recently spoke to us about Dick Cheney, vampires, and other frightening specters of modern life. … Read More
In the late 1950s, the Ford Motor Company introduced the Edsel, a car that failed so spectacularly it became synonymous with a corporate cluelessness. For two decades, the Edsel reigned as one of the most boneheaded blunders in all of automotive manufacturing. But in the mid-80s, the Edsel was usurped by an even more disastrous debut: the Yugo. It was an ugly car made cheaply in a communist country. What could possibly go wrong?
Nearly everything. From sub-par craftsmanship and disastrous safety ratings to gross corporate mismanagement and Cold War distrust, the Yugo is remembered best today not for its brief success but for its dismal failure. But if the Yugo was a lemon, Jason Vuic’s surprising page-turner is the lemonade: even though we know how it’s going to end (watch out for the iceberg, Yugo!), we’re held rapt by Vuic’s careful reconstruction of the peculiar history of a terrible idea. … Read More