Ernest Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises" was dismissed by a critic for the New York Times when it first came out. "His characters are as shallow as the saucers in which they stack their daily emotions," the review, from 1926, said.
The New Yorker had no love for Walker Percy's "The Moviegoer." "Mr. Percy's prose needs oil and a good checkup," someone wrote in that magazine in 1961.
And John Updike's now-classic "Rabbit, Run," was panned in the Chicago Tribune by a critic who called it a "grim little story" that adds up to nothing. "The author fails to convince us that his puppets are interesting."
These, and other mocking, insulting, or just highly critical reviews--amusing given the hindsight of literary history--were collected 25 years ago in a cheeky little book called "Rotten Reviews," compiled by Bill Henderson, editor of the Pushcart Prize series.
Now Henderson sees need to revive his book, with a new introduction explaining that he was inspired by the Internet (even though he doesn't own a computer), where negative and snarky reviews flourish--and are usually anonymous, to boot.
"I realize now that we live in an on-line Wild West," he writes in his new introduction. "All civilty gone. Empathy, balance, decency, knowledge, out the window. Everybody a blogger. Everybody an instant critic."
Henderson believes writers deserve better. "These books had taken the authors years to compose, sometimes a lifetime," he wrote. "And so to have them dismissed so casually, well ... it just wasn't fair."
"Rotten Reviews Redux: A Literary Companion," pubs Nov. 22 by Pushcart Press and sells for $18.95.
A second book that arrived today celebrates books, and book-owning, and book loving, and bookshelves. Several dozen book-lovers--mainly authors, but not entirely--were asked to choose one shelf of books that best represents them and write a brief essay about it.
The design of this book is lovely, with glossy pages and with paintings, rather than photographs, of each contributor's chosen books. Roseann Cash, you'll find, was moved by "The Diary of Anne Frank," "Little House in the Big Woods," and E.B. White's "Here Is New York." What's not to love?
Junot Diaz (you've all heard of him, right?) read voraciously as a child to help improve his own English. "I had come from a family and a place in the Dominican Republic where books were basically medieval--few people had them, and they were very precious," he wrote. "The United States was a country of books."
Francine Prose's shelf contains Chekhov, Chekhov, Chekhov, Chekhov, Chekhov, Chekhov and Chekhov, along with a few others.
What a beautiful way to get to know a writer: to browse his shelves.
"My Ideal Bookshelf," is edited by Thessaly La Force, with art by Jane Mount. It pubs in mid-November and retails for $24.99.
There is something slyly satisfying about being deep in a book and happening upon a literary allusion or a nod to another writer. You stop. You read it again. You feel so darn smart that you got it. And then you look around for someone to share it with.
I spent most of the weekend reading St. Paul author Jim Heynen's new novel, "The Fall of Alice K.," which will be published in the fall by Milkweed Editions. I was cruising along, taking in the story of the Iowa farm girl and her growing romance with a young Hmong man, when Bam! Did that say what I thought it said?
Alice and her boyfriend are planning to go for a drive--away from the small town where everyone knows them, where everyone (except the boyfriend) is Dutch, to a nearby community "where the mailboxes had names like Brekken, Holm, and Rezmerski."
I think when I got to that sentence, I yelled, "Hey!" and then had to go find my husband and read it to him.("You know, Bill Holm, and his wife, Marcy Brekken, and his best friend from grad school, John Calvin Rezmerski.") (He just nodded politely, as any good husband would.)
A few chapters on, there was another, even slyer allusion:
"Mr. Vic also had them read stories by an older guy who grew up around Dutch Center and wrote stories about farm boys. Little tiny stories that were about as long as a sneeze and that some people thought were funny. Mr. Vic said he was the 'Hemingway of farm life.' Ho hum. Alice didn't have much use for this guy's work. Too much animal cruelty. In one of his stories, his farm boys threw live cats from the top of a windmill with homemade parachutes on them."
You probably know who Heynen is really talking about here; the "farm boys" reference is a good hint. If you need to, click on the link to see. And then look around for someone to share it with. Yell, "Hey!" So delicious. Book pubs in September. Watch for it.
Is the scene in "Persuasion" when Capt. Wentworth leaves the love note for Anne Elliot the most romantic love scene ever written? (Oh, to get a letter that says, "You pierce my soul!")
Or maybe the tragic, true story of Abelard and Heloise is the most romantic book ever. The version I read, back in high school, was one I discovered in the stacks of the Duluth Public Library. It was written by George Moore, and the Duluth library had a first edition from 1921--bound in black leather, with yellowed, deckle-edge pages,.
The dialogue was not set off by quotation marks, but flowed through the text in what seemed to me to be a very poetic manner. I devoured that book, weeping a little, wishing, perhaps, just a little, that I, too, could be seduced by my teacher, who would then be castrated, and I would then flee into a nunnery where we would write passionate letters to each other for the rest of our lives.
It seemed, at age 16, to be the perfect relationship.
(And oh, the books you can find in your library!)
And of course there's Catherine and Heathcliff, though they left me colder than they did my friends. And that moment in "These Happy Golden Years" when Laura and Almanzo get engaged, and she offers her cheek to him and says, primly, "You may kiss me." It doesn't take much; it's all about timing and context and, of course, the way the author builds to that moment.
What are your favorites? Your most romantic books, or stories, or scenes? It's Valentine's Day. Let's get those hearts a-pumping.
It breaks our heart--and the hearts of the folks over at the National Book Critics Circle too, apparently--when small presses, obscure presses, university presses and new and emerging presses are overlooked (deliberately or not) when the multitude of year-end "best of" lists come pouring out.
So over at the NBCC's "critical mass" blog, it's become a bit of a tradition for them to deliberately overlook the big publishing houses when they do their list.
This year's "best of the small presses" list includes Carleton College graduate Bonnie Nadzam's novel, "Lamb" (which our reviewer loved) and "Leche," by R. Zamora Linmark, published by Minneapolis' Coffee House Press.
Doesn't this list make you want to find out more about Ig Publishing? Or Salmon Poetry? Or Artistically Declined Press?
Here's the whole list:
1. "A Meaning For Wife," by Mark Yakich, Ig Publishing.
2. "Lamb," by Bonnie Nadzam, Other Press.
3. "Mad for Meat," by Kevin Simmonds. Salmon Poetry.
4. "A Double Life," by Lisa Catherine Harper. University of Nebraska Press.
5. "Ayiti," by Roxane Gay. Artistically Declined Press.
6. "Sing: Poetry from the Indigenous Americas," edited by Allison Adelle Hedge Coke, University of Arizona Press.
7. "Chulito," by Charles Rice-Gonzalez, Magnus Books.
8. "Boneshepherds," by Patrick Rosal. Persea Books.
9. "The Great Frustration," by Seth Fried. Soft Skull Press.
10. "Last Day on Earth," by David Vann. University of Georgia Press.
11. "Ciento," by Lorna Dee Cervantes. Wings Press.
12. "Leche," by R. Zamora Linmark, Coffee House Press.
(He also posted seven tips on how to fake it in book club--my favorite being "Create a diversion," by which he doesn't mean suddenly yell, "Fire!" but change the subject by asking who might play the main character in a movie.)
(Now I seem to be creating my own diversion by bringing up different blog posts. Let's get back to his list.)
He actually posted the list last July, but I first saw it this morning on the place where everybody sees everything nowadays (and the place where you might see this): Facebook. Connie Ogle, books editor of the Miami Herald, had posted a link, saying, "I would argue about the list for a good long time."
I'm always up for a good argument, so I clicked and read the list. I see holes! Big holes! Do you? (Nice to see Louise Erdrich, but where's Anne Tyler? Or Lionel Shriver?) (Although arguably Shriver's best stuff came after 1991, which is when the list ends.)
What else would you include? What would you kick off? Is "American Tragedy" better than "Sister Carrie"? Does "Day of the Locust" deserve to be there over "Miss Lonelyhearts"?
The list is not ranked, but is in chronological order. O'Neal included only books published between 1891-1991. (So, no "Huck Finn," which was published in 1884, for example, and no Franzen, who came later than 1991.)
Here's the list. Argue away:
|Books (32)||Books and resources (5)|
|Awards (8)||Behind the scenes (3)|
|Book news (192)||Galleries (1)|
|Minnesota authors (11)||Museums (1)|
|St. Paul Como Park (1)||Television (1)|
|Author events (129)||Best sellers (6)|
|Book reviews (6)||Book stores (37)|
|Local authors (112)||Readings (49)|
|Book awards (65)||Illustrators (7)|
|Workshops and conferences (29)||Libraries (26)|
|Local publishers (27)||Minnesota Book Awards (6)|
|World Book Night (3)||Club Book (3)|
|Pen Pals (1)||Talk of the Stacks (2)|
|E-books (1)||Coffee House Press (1)|
|Graywolf Press (3)||Louise Erdrich (2)|
|Milkweed Editions (1)||Poetry (7)|
|Robert Bly (1)|