Books & Fiction

Top Literary Cities in the U.S.

Gabriella Tutino

What determines a city as ‘literary?’ It’s not enough to have a large library, unique bookstores, or be the birthplace of a famous writer. Nor is it enough to be one of the top literate cities in the United States  Most literary cities have a strong writing program at one of their numerous colleges and universities, as well as bookstores and institutions hosting event after event. If anything, a literary city is a blend of the historical, cultural, and modern parts of literature, encouraging and inspiring future generations to appreciate and take part in the literary world.

Why Ralph Ellison Still Matters

Greg Thomas

Never out of print since it became a best-seller in 1952, and winner of the National Book Award in 1953, Ellison’s fictional masterpiece is generally recognized as one of the most influential novels of the 20th century. This is the tale of the often slapstick (mis)adventures of a nameless African American protagonist whose blues-drenched, pinball-like journey from the South to the North and from rural to city not only mirrored the historical trajectory of black folk, but whose search for identity resonates, even today, with all.

Between the Covers with Wendy Lesser’s ‘Why I Read’

Lee Polevoi

As the founder and editor of The Threepenny Review, a prominent American literary magazine, Wendy Lesser is uniquely positioned to explore the pleasures and strategies of reading. In Why I Read, she embarks on a free-ranging and broad analysis of certain novels, stories, plays, poems and essays that have resonated with her over a lifetime of reading. “ … When I ask myself why I read literature, I am not really asking about motivation,” Lesser writes. “I am asking what I get from it: what delights I have received over the years, what rewards I can expect to glean.” 

Leading the Life of (Not So) Quiet Desperation in Robert Stone’s World

Lee Polevoi

Whether engendered by war and heroin, in Dog Soldiers, revolutionary zeal and madness in A Flag for Sunrise, madness again in Children of Light or religious fanaticism in Damascus Gate, these men and women find themselves headed for total meltdown. Waiting to see if the worst will happen—as it invariably does—is part of what has made Stone's work so compelling over the past five decades. But while the same kind of drug-ridden and mentally deranged anguish compels the various characters in his new novel, Death of the Black-Haired Girl, the scope of the novel is smaller than before. 

‘The Maltese Falcon’: Fact or Fiction?

Sandra Bertrand

The biggest mystery of all, however, concerns Hammett Unwritten itself.   In Gordon McAlpine’s afterword, he admits to the 2012 discovery of the manuscript and the falcon in the Lillian Hellman collection at the University of Texas, Austin.  Subsequently, he recognizes the author’s name, Owen Fitzstephan, as a character in Hammett’s novel, The Dain Curse.  Fitzstephan not only resembles Hammett physically but is that novel’s own evil mastermind.  

Philip Schultz and the Perceived Conundrum of the Dyslexic Writer

Kara Krauze

When we think of failure, our thoughts do not first adhere to beauty, emotional truth, and the deep resonance that introspection allows; the timbre of an experience that can call to us in life’s darkest hours be they night or despair. But this is precisely what poet Philip Schultz’s work pulls forth, whether poems such as those in his collection Failure winner of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, or Schultz’s beautifully told account of his childhood in the “dummy class” and life as an adult with a learning disability in My Dyslexia.

Best Books of 2013

Lee Polevoi

A novelist who uses well-known historical figures in his work risks having readers judge the quality of his characterization by what they know (or think they know) about these real-life individuals. In TransAtlantic, Colum McCann takes this approach a step further by introducing Senator George Mitchell of Maine, a “character” drawn from real life. McCann succeeds in pulling it off, while simultaneously displaying the drawbacks inherent in this narrative strategy. 

A Decline in Black-Owned Bookstores Signals a Worrisome Publishing Trend

Frederick Lowe

The number of African-American-owned bookstores has dropped significantly since the late 1970s and 1980s due to a variety of factors, including corporate control of the Internet, waning literacy and fiscal mismanagement. In the 1970s and 1980s, more than 1,000 black-owned bookstores were in business in the United States. Now only slightly more than 100, possibly 116 to 117, if that many, remain open.

007 Shaken, Not Stirred, in William Boyd’s ‘Solo’

Lee Polevoi

Solo, a “James Bond Novel,” is the latest in a series of post-Ian Fleming books written by different authors (Kingsley Amis, Jeffrey Deaver, Sebastian Faulks, etc.). Now it’s William Boyd’s turn. Boyd, the hugely gifted author of Any Human Heart and the accomplished thrillers Restless and Ordinary Thunderstorms, certainly seems on paper like a great fit to extend Fleming’s legacy, breathing new life into this decades-old franchise. From the start of Solo, the tone feels different. 

Remembering Albert Camus

Karolina R. Swasey

Camus was presumably the most photogenic and charismatic French writer of all time and doubtlessly one of the greatest minds and authors of his century, an expounder, if not hero, of hopelessness and absurdity. On the occasion of his 100th birthday it’s about time we demystify the icon of the incorruptible intellectual, whose magical sentences — pointing fingers that burst the most fundamental dreams of humankind like bubbles — remain unwavering boulders in the word-landscapes of the 20th century.

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